The slow death of the fire sent a shiver of fear through the body of the lone occupant of the most sacred chamber on all of Venus. The slender man rose to his feet from his position of supplication, and stood still as he watched the sacred fire, the energy reflecting off his deep indigo eyes and thin gold of his ceremonial chain-link wrap.
"It is simply beyond my powers as a Ninjetti Priest to accomplish anything," he lamented, running his fingers through his thick blonde curls in slow agony, "My bond with the Great Power isn't strong enough to make contact."
*Perhaps, young Monarch, it is your lack of faith that hinders you.*
The man lifted his head in amazement at the breezy whisper that passed through the shrine. His eyes widened when the faint sparks of silver separated from the flame, creating a silver halo of about six feet in diameter. The halo rose from the fire, the area within the energy ring rippling like a lake. Then, an image appeared within the screen, of a beautiful girl. She appeared about ten years of age, with a wispy silver gown blanketing her slender body and blowing lazily in some unfelt breeze. Her dainty blonde hair was piled in an intricate weave, sitting upon the base of her neck and decorated with strands of silver and pearls. Finally, a pearl shaped like a teardrop hung over her forehead from a fine chain of smaller pearls. She smiled with amusement as the man instantly fell to his knees, prostrating himself before the vision.
*Why is it that every time I contact the world of the mortals, I am received in such a manner?* the girl sighed, rolling her brilliant jade eyes.
"G...goddess," the man whispered, lifting his head just enough to speak.
*You may rise, Hesperus-Apollon,* she decreed, waving her hand gracefully. Apollon did as she commanded, standing to his full height: just shy of six feet. Still, his head was bowed in respect.
*What is it you seek from the Guardian of the Eternal?* she inquired, an expression of urgency giving the child-like countenance an unmatched quality of power.
"Guardian," Apollon began, "Venus is in jeopardy. The forces of the Cum'Alltach have struck brutally. We need your help. You created us to do battle with the Cum'Alltach, but we cannot do it unless we receive aid."
The Guardian's pink lips folded into a tight line, and her eyes narrowed. *I do sense a great disturbance in the Balance,* she revealed, *Far greater than is to be expected.*
"Expected, Great Guardian?"
*Indeed. The forces of the Cum'Alltach... the Nothing... strike anew at the peak of every cycle. For eons the battle between Existence and Nonexistence has raged, with both forces facing stalemate. However, your grand weapon is not complete. The timing is wrong.*
Apollon gazed at the deity in confusion, watching through the magical portal as she began to pace along the brilliant whiteness that served as her background. *How could the Cum'Alltach have broken free so soon?* she pondered aloud, her grimace deepening, *This could prove catastrophic. The Venusians have been the chosen warriors of the Great Power ever since your ancestors Mother-Vespera and Father-Hesperus came under my service. If you lose to the Cum'Alltach now... the universe will not be far behind.*
"That is why we need your strength," Apollon spoke out, lowering himself to one knee. He wavered slightly when a powerful explosion nearby caused the shrine to shake. "Great Guardian of the Eternal, the Nameless Representative of the Great Power... unleash your might into the mortal realm. Vanquish the Cum'Alltach, and save your chosen people!"
The Guardian smiled once again. *Apollon,* she addressed him, *it is clear that you still have much to learn about being the High Priest. I am not a goddess... I am merely a servant of the Eternal, no different than the Venusian race. You lack comprehension of the Great Power, or me.*
Apollon bowed his head. "I cannot refute that, Great One. In all honesty, I should not be the High Priest. But Dulcea, the High Priestess of all Venus, was killed by the Cum'Alltach in their first surprise strike, as well as her apprentice Divatox. All the key members of the Ninjetti cult were exterminated when the Great Temple was razed to the ground. I am doing my best to fill the void their deaths has caused."
*You may not have been completely trained as a Ninjetti High Priest, but that is to be expected. After all, your primary role is king and overlord over this planet. I am sure that even now you yearn to join your warriors in the battle that rages. The king's place is on the battlefield, beside his queen.*
Apollon nodded in agreement.
*However, I must tell you this: the battle is already lost. It was lost before it had even begun.*
Apollon's eyes widened greatly, and he trembled slightly in horror and shock. "But... but... Venus cannot lose to the Cum'Alltach! The entire universe will fall!"
*I know,* the Guardian said, nodding, *but the Nothing is quite clever. Obviously the forces of Nonexistence have managed to break free from their prison early... before Venus is properly prepared. The only chance we have of victory is for one of you to survive.*
With that, the girl raised her hand to her face. In a smooth gesture, she touched her eye with her index finger, and then reached that finger toward towards Apollon. Miraculously, her hand passed through the screen, the brilliant energy exuding from her very pores lighting up the small shrine.
*Take my Tear,* she instructed. *Its power will react to The Child... the one I have selected to be your salvation. She will travel into the past, and help prepare the Venusians for the assault. Then, when the Cum'Alltach do return, the forces of the Great Power will be prepared to their fullest, and finally this eternal battle will come to an end.*
His eyes still wide with awe, Apollon reached towards the ghostly apparition, and took the tiny crystal into his hand. Cradling it in his palm, he backed away from the circle of light, which quickly faded into nothingness. The room suddenly fell into blackness as the flame flickering at the sacred altar instantly extinguished.
Then, a faint violet-blue energy built around Apollon's being and spread out along the floor, flooding the chamber with its eerie magical light. His eyes sparked fiery indigo that matched the natural color of his eyes perfectly.
"Find The Child?" he thought aloud, staring into the prism in his hand, "But, what is a child? We are ageless... eternally young. What could she mean?"
The king bit his lip, stumbling to the floor as the shrine took a direct hit of energy. Gasping, Apollon lifted his head, and noticed the ceiling had been completely blown off the shrine.
"Mighty spirit of the Eregin... help me," he whispered, closing his eyes. The bright energy he used to light up the room flowed back into his body, and in a brilliant flash of light, his body melted into the form of a powerful indigo animal, reminiscent of a griffin. Large feathered wings carried the creature from the ground, allowing him to soar through the air just below a gathering black cloud that formed just over the hole in the ceiling. The beast pushed itself through the dense air of Venus with all its might.
Moments later, a striking force fell from the cloud like a flaming wind, completely crushing the shrine. Sturdy marble walls were instantly reduced to rubble, and nether-flames engulfed what remained.
"By the Great Power!" she shrieked, falling to her knees as all the strength drained from her body, "NO!!"
Tears flooded her hazel eyes as she gazed down from the cliff in despair. She could even smell the nauseating odor of the nether-flames, as they swallowed whole what remained of the Ninjetti shrine. That shrine was Venus' only link to the Great Power, as the Temple was destroyed two days ago.
Two Earth days ago. Forty-eight hours ago. It was astonishing how quickly things change. Just a handful of hours ago, everything was fine on Venus. Everyone was happy. Everything was at peace. Not even the ever-vigilant Dulcea could detect anything amiss.
There wasn't even the smallest hint of warning before the mysterious forces of the Cum'Alltach arrived. In a matter of hours, the beautiful paradise of Venus was reduced to a fiery, chaotic war zone. More than half of the population of the lush planet was brutally murdered, including the most powerful Ninjetti warriors, as well as the most skilled mages. The Temple fell, along with the Royal Palace, and most of the other buildings.
It amazed her how easily the tears flowed, as she stared in denial at the burning embers that once was the final Ninjetti shrine on the planet. After two solid days of bitter tears, it was hard to believe there were any tears left to shed. She had to bid farewell to friends she had known for centuries. She saw her planet fall apart. After over a millennium of effort to finally restore the Venus to all its legendary glory, the fact that it was completely decimated in only forty-eight hours was numbing.
Still, the tears flowed, for her most recent loss.
"Please, Majesty," said a gentle voice, as a sturdy male hand fell upon her shoulder, "You must return your attention to the plan."
The royal Queen swallowed hard, her gaze never wavering from the billowing smoke that poured from the hole in the ground. "But Palamon," she whispered faintly, "Apollon was in there..."
"No he wasn't," another voice chimed, as another figure moved closer to the queen, "C'mon Kim... you know if he died, you'd feel it in your heart. He's your Match, after all, and you're bonded by the Great Power. Besides, Hesperus-Apollon is no slouch! He got outta there before the kra'it exploded."
Queen Vespera, known to her friends as Kimberly, turned around, her eyes wide and her lip trembling. "You saw him escape, 'Ne?" she inquired.
The mocha-skinned orange Ninjetti nodded, a reassuring smile spreading her lips. "I saw an indigo griffin fly out of the shrine. Considering there aren't many indigo griffins, I'd wager it was Polly."
Palamon grimaced, stepping back as Renee helped Kimberly to her feet. "Firstly, Renee, the Ninjetti guide of King Hesperus-Apollon is not the griffin. It is the eregin. Griffins are figures of Earthling legend and folklore. Eregin are real animals of Venus, as well as other jungle-type planets in this corner of the galaxy. It's like confusing a dinosaur for a dragon. Secondly, you shouldn't refer to His Royal Highness as 'Polly.' Since his coronation as King and Regent, he was renamed Hesperus... just as Kimberly was renamed Vespera. Calling him 'Apollon' is a privilege only demonstrated by his closest friends. Calling him 'Polly' is simply degrading."
Renee sighed, standing in front of the much taller man and staring into his dark eyes without the slightest hint of intimidation. "Why do you always act like you've got a branch shoved up your-"
"That's enough, you two," Kimberly sighed tiredly, "This is not the time, nor the place, for another one of your face-offs." She then brushed her fingers over the light fabric of her Ninjetti uniform, and straightened the willowy pink cape that fluttered in the breeze. "We've got to keep climbing," she announced, turning her gaze from the cliff to the mountain peak that was their goal. Her eyes narrowed with disdain, wrinkling her forehead with an immeasurable well of hatred. "We're getting very close."
Both Renee and Palamon followed their monarch's gaze, and kept silent as they looked upon a black spire that stretched from the highest peak on Venus. Immediately following the first onslaught of the Cum'Alltach, the enormous spire fell from the sky like a javelin, embedding it's sharp apex into the rock. The long needle reached about a quarter of a mile above the mountain peak, the width broadening gradually until the very top, where the spire divided into a V formation, with an ebony sphere nestled between.
That ebony sphere was the station of the Cum'Alltach's forces, where the Emissary of the Nothing resided, calmly watching as the once beautiful planet was reduced to cinders.
"According to the history scrolls, the key to defeating the Cum'Alltach is to destroy the Emissary, before he can call upon the full power of Nothing and herald the Darkness into our realm of existence," Palamon recapped. "At each cycle, a new Emissary, a being from our reality, is selected by the Cum'Alltach to decimate the Venusians, and then summon the Cum'Alltach from its dimensional prison."
"This cycle thing is ridiculous," Renee muttered, following Kimberly towards the mountain wall, "Why can't we just destroy the damned thing and put an end to this eternal battle?"
"We don't have the resources to destroy the Cum'Alltach," Kim answered, taking a deep breath as she gripped a protruding edge of rock, "All we can do is prevent it from invading our reality, and laying waste to our universe."
"And in order to accomplish that, we must lure the Emissary out of the protective confines of this Spire, so our entire army can rain down the Great Power upon him," Palamon continued, "I just beseech the Great Power that our forces are strong enough to succeed."
"Perhaps," Renee ventured quietly, "if we summoned Dalal and Hope..."
"Don't even mention it, Renee," Kimberly barked, glancing down at the Tiger Ninjetti following her up the mountain, "Hope is on Earth, completely unaware of this war, and Dalal is protecting her as she always has. She will remain ignorant of this. One Ninjetti won't make a big difference in this battle, and I will not risk my only child's life needlessly. Understood?"
Renee cast her eyes downward, unwilling to meet Kimberly's harsh glare. "Understood, Majesty."
Kim nodded, and continued climbing the mountain. Renee pursed her lips, watching the queen move up the mountain. Palamon positioned himself alongside the motionless Ninjetti, and shook his head slightly.
"You know she is very protective of the princess, Renee," he said, as the pair moved up the mountainside, "So long as Hope is on Earth, she is safe from the Cum'Alltach."
"Palamon, Kim can exclude her daughter from this war, but she can't protect her from the truth," Renee sighed, "Sooner or later, the princess will return home, and see the rubble and ashes that was once one of the mightiest planets in this sector. She never stays on Earth too long, and she'll grow suspicious that no one has contacted her during her visit."
"So long as Hope is on Earth... she is safe," Palamon repeated grimly, "Perhaps we can spare her from the carnage that occurs just above her head."
"It's so beautiful from here, isn't it?" the bright-eyed girl asked, a dreamy grin tugging at her lips as she gazed into the twilight. Near the horizon, only one celestial object other than the sun and moon was visible at sunset... the evening star.
"It is more beautiful on the planet itself, than gazing at it from afar," Dalal said gruffly, casting her vibrant gaze away from the night sky downward. She watched the dark waters of the river pass around the ivory colored boat. She then glanced up at the shore, which grew nearer with every passing moment. "Why is it you prefer to take this archaic mode of transport over flight?" she inquired, "The latter is so much easier."
"You're taking the fun out of it," Hope scolded, smiling at her bodyguard and friend, "Besides, when on Earth, do as the Earthlings!"
"Even Earthlings have hovercrafts, which move far faster than this."
Hope giggled slightly, tossing her dark hair over her shoulder and fixing the rigid warrior with a humored gaze. "You're incredibly impatient for an immortal, Dalal."
Dalal gazed down at the princess, and then leaned against the railing of the boat, watching the waters pass below. "I don't feel comfortable on this planet," she revealed, "I don't like humans."
"Don't forget," Hope said, her smile never wavering, "I'm more human than Venusian. My father was a full human being, and my mother is mostly human as well."
"That's different, Princess," Dalal countered, "You're father was not just a human. He was a Power Ranger. A noble, bold warrior trained in the use of the Great Power. He was the Falcon. And your mother was also a Power Ranger and Ninjetti before becoming Queen. All Ninjetti are worthy and noble beings... even the human ones." She the grimaced again. "Still, I find this planet dismal and boring."
"You didn't have to come with me, you know," Hope commented.
"Of course I did! I am charged with your safety. I wouldn't let you come to this primitive planet alone." She smiled affectionately. "Your life is my only treasure."
Then, the boat pulled toward the dock of a small island, the solitary building gleaming with reflected light, and lamps lining the broad pathway between the building and the dock. Hope grabbed Dalal's arm in excitement, and dragged her to get off the boat. Once they stepped foot on land, a line of booths were set up, each manned by a person in uniform. Hope and Dalal walked to one booth, where an elderly man smiled at them.
"Welcome back to the Power Rangers Galactic Archive, Princess," he greeted, bowing at the waist. Hope nodded her head in acknowledgment, her smile widening.
"It's good to see you again, Arthur," she responded, lying her hand on a small black screen on the counter, "Go ahead and run the security check."
"Identity verification is only procedure, Princess," he said, typing in commands on the computer, "After all, this archive sees over four billion visitors each year."
"Earth's biggest interstellar attraction," Hope commented, watching as the screen lit up her fingerprint identification, "and the third biggest memorial of the Power Rangers, after Eltar and Triforia."
Arthur laughed. "Your knowledge of Power Rangers trivia is second to none, Princess. It's so refreshing to see such a full understanding of some of the greatest heroes to ever live."
"Their exploits deserve to live on forever, in the memories of people across the galaxy," she said, waving as she passed through the booth, "Take care, Arthur!"
"You too, Majesty," he called after her, bowing once again. He then gave a nod of respect to Dalal, who quickly moved through the admission procedure and followed the princess up the cobblestone walkway. She sighed in slight annoyance as the princess bounded along the path with the energy and enthusiasm of a child.
"Hope, you've been here over eight-hundred times, since this museum's creation," Dalal muttered, "How can you possibly be so enthusiastic to see it again?"
"I'm always excited to visit Dad," she responded simply, pausing at the threshold of the building. She tilted her head upwards, and read the marble plaque that hung above the large double-doored entrance. It was embroidered in spun gold, which glowed in the dim light of the evening.
"'Over the centuries of human existence, thousands of men and women dedicated their lives to protecting their nation from enemy powers,' Hope read, 'These brave individuals were heroes to their lands. For a little less than a decade, eighteen extraordinary men and women dedicated their lives to protecting their planet... and their galaxy... from the forces of unadulterated evil. These unequaled youths were superheroes, to the entire galaxy.'"
Hope paused, letting the powerful, historic words sink into her soul once again. Those words were recognized as being the most poignant description of the Power Rangers of Earth, and all they put into their service. Those words were first uttered during a historic Power Rangers Day celebration, which took place in the year 2000. Heralding in the new millennium, Angel Grove's mayor Judith Carrington organized the biggest parade Angel Grove had ever seen, and even included the national government in the festivities, as well as ambassadors and speakers from all over the world. The former Rangers were all awarded Zordon Medallions, the first honors given to those who have promoted interplanetary peace. The award was named after the galactic hero and martyr Zordon of Eltar, who sacrificed his life to prevent the Countdown to Destruction from eliminating all good in the galaxy. Twelve years later, Mayor Carrington went on to become the first female President of the United States, serving from 2012-2020. But her claim to fame will always include amazing obstacles she contended with as the mayor of the first city to ever see alien invasion, as well as her deep respect and gratitude to the Power Rangers.
She was a pioneer in many ways.
Dalal smiled wistfully as her eyes scanned over the words of the speech. "It is truly fitting that the most recognized and respected award of Valor in the universe is named after Zordon of Eltar. He was a hero to the universe, and especially to Venus," she reminisced, "He helped keep the Ninjetti cult alive by aiding Dulcea in the formation of the Ninjetti Temple on Phaedos. Also, his purifying energy restored Divatox to her senses, finally uniting Venusians entirely." She then bowed her head slightly. "He did far more for the good of Venus than I ever did."
Hope quickly embraced her trusted friend in a reassuring hug. "Dalal, all your wrongdoings are in the past. Ever since you sided with my mother, you turned your back on the evils you did as a servant of Syren. Why do you keep dwelling on ancient history?"
Dalal smiled weakly. "So I never forget the person I was, and how far away I was from the person I always wanted to be. A hero."
"You're a hero now," Hope stated, "You are one of my mother's most trusted warriors. If not, she never would have given you the responsibility of being my nursemaid. Caring for the heir is a duty not to be taken lightly."
Dalal chuckled. "Perhaps I was the only one in Her Majesty's court that had enough energy to keep up with you."
Laughing at Dalal's comment, the pair strolled through the vast museum of the Power Rangers with the ease of experts. They passed halls leading to the replica of the Command Center and Power Chambers, as well as the actual Megaship, and the chambers paying homage to alien Ranger teams, such as the Aquitian Rangers, Kerovan Rangers, Phantom Ranger, and Gold Ranger. They continued through the visual history of the Power Rangers, until they reached the individual Ranger shrines. One in particular caught Hope's eye, and a weak smile crossed her face.
"There he is," she said, nodding her head in that direction. Dalal followed the princess' gaze, and smiled at the sight of a marble bust, three times the actual size of his head. Even though his visage was etched in stone, both Venusians could sense the warmth in his smile.
Tommy Oliver always had a warm, friendly smile.
"I'll wait out here for you," Dalal said, leaning against the wall, "I know you'd prefer to be alone with your father."
Hope smiled gratefully, planting a kiss on Dalal's cheek before slowly walking into the room. The room was about twenty square feet, filled with photographs, posters, and actual artifacts displayed through glass cases. Also on display were copies of Tommy's various novels and histories, as well as his biography.
And finally, after gazing in wonder at her father's shrine, she paused in front of a larger-than-life statue of the helmetless White Ranger, holding Saba in one hand and balancing a falcon on his shoulder. Hope wiped her eye for a moment, and lowered herself to her knees before the statue.
"Hi Daddy," she whispered, gazing up at the statue's face, "It's me... Hope. I... just wanted to say hello." She sniffled quietly, letting tears trek down her cheeks as her glance never wavered from the statue's face. "I... I miss you so much," she whispered, "It's not fair that I lost you. There is so much more I could have learned from you. I just can't seem to really open up to anyone else. Not even Mom."
Hope took a deep breath, and continued. "Dad... I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm 1,488 Earth years old, but I still feel like a child. The world is so... big to me. There's so much that's new and interesting for me to discover. I can't just settle into a routine. I have to explore, to try new things, to meet new people. I'd just get so bored handling the responsibilities of being Princess."
Her weak smile returned. "Mom's convinced I get my hyperactivity from you. That's why I feel you're the only one who ever really understood me. Ever since you died, I feel a void. It's been over 1400 years, but I just can't fill that void. Am I supposed to feel alone and isolated forever?"
Hope released a heavy sigh of frustration, and lowered her eyes to her lap. "Will this tiresome cycle of my life ever change, or am I doomed to peaceful, eternal monotony?"
She remained silent for a long moment, as if expecting her father to offer her a response to calm her troubled soul. Part of her felt silly for complaining about her life, for few others had the security of existence she was familiar with. But, was it wrong to ask for something... more?
Still, while she received no verbal answer, she did feel calmer, just because of her surroundings. She took a deep breath, lifting her eyes to her father's etched countenance, and allowed memories of her childhood to swim through her mind.
She was never happier than the moments in which she and her parents vacationed around the cosmos, leaving behind their scripted lives and just enjoying each other's presence. And she was worried she would never feel such joy again, despite the length of her potentially-eternal existence.
With a deep groan of exertion for her tired soul, the Venusian Queen pulled her body over the final few feet of the jagged cliff. The climb was treacherous as the brave trio neared the spire, whose violent insertion into the mountain loosened tons of rock and soil. Still, they made it to their goal.
"Everyone ready?" Kimberly inquired, brushing dust from her willowy cape, "There's no turning back from here."
Renee and Palamon both nodded, their lips thin with determination and their chins lifted with warrior's confidence. Both clenched the mighty Katisch, the famed Whistling Sticks that were the weapon of choice for practiced Ninjetti.
They all knew there was no turning back now, and no option other than victory. If the Emissary wasn't annihilated in this encounter, the entire universe would fall victim to erasure.
"Get that spell going," Kim commanded, walking toward the onyx spire. She passed her hand along the smooth, reflective surface, and gazed hard at her reflection. She almost shuddered at the hollowness that stared her in the eye, which threatened to swallow her whole.
If this last strike didn't work, then she would've failed all existence. She would have been the weak link in a long line of heroic Venusian monarchs, beginning with legendary Vespera and moving through thousands of years of history. With the exception of the century-long reign of Syren, the Venusian dynasty persisted unimpeded, with a brave, noble, worthy leader to maintain the traditions and code of honor that forged the Venusian culture.
She was staring into the eyes of a woman who knew she would be the one to bring about the fall of Venus, and the rest of existence would certainly follow.
"Majesty?" Palamon said quietly, breaking the spell Kim's reflection cast, "Are you well?"
Kim pursed her lips, bowing her head and turning to the stalwart guardian. "No," she answered simply, folding her arms over her chest. "The spell?"
"She is weaving it now," Palamon responded, "I can only assist in the second phase."
Kim nodded, her cold tawny gaze falling upon the head sorceress in her royal court. Renee was on her knees, holding her hands over a small spark on the ground before her. The spark suddenly exploded into a full-fledged silver flame, building heat and power until the flames licked at her palms. Renee then opened her eyes, orange energy pouring from her tear ducts and catching ethereal fire as it trailed down her cheek. She then opened her mouth, and the roar of a mighty tiger shook the ground.
Palamon quickly grabbed the queen to steady her as the silver fire stretched from the ground and spiraled around the tower, reaching its apex at the large sphere on the peak. The fire swirled at a maddening speed, crashing into the sphere in a continuous magical stream.
"Now it's my turn," he stated, stepping away from Kimberly and standing behind Renee. He pressed his palms together, his lips moving as he uttered a silent spell. Red energy swirled around his body, reaching up from the ground beneath him, and building around his hands in flashing ribbons. Once the spell was uttered, the red energy flashed into a silver sphere, and launched from his body into Renee. Renee jumped as the energy channeled through her body, and sailed up the swirling ring of flame into the onyx sphere atop the onyx spire. On impact, the entire mountain shook, and deep cracks stretched around the face of the sphere.
The swirling flames quickly died, and both Renee and Palamon collapsed to the ground as a result of the heavy exertion.
"You did it!" Kim cried, a glimmer of hope elevating her voice, "You broke the first barrier. The Emissary's toast!"
"Is that a fact, little girl?" a voice said, the deep and menacing tone sending a chill up Kimberly's spine. She whirled around and watched as a pillar of black fire crashed into the ground from the sphere, and stretched into humanoid form.
"You are the Emissary?" Kim whispered, her eyes wide with surprise. Her question was answered by a sardonic grin.
"Indeed," she responded, sauntering towards the queen slowly. Flowing white robes brushed along the dusty ground, and a crown of snowy hair tumbled behind the slender figure. "I have been chosen by the Nothing to restore the primordial chaos that filled the universe before Time and Matter were constructed. I shall restore the universe to what it was, and erase all life from existence!"
The Emissary then released a cold chuckle, slowly raising her hand towards the queen. She beckoned with her index finger, strings of black fire following the slow, mocking motion. "Come and get me, little hero."
Kimberly frowned bitterly, her eyes narrowing as she clenched her Katisch. "Now!" she screamed.
Quickly, Kimberly, Renee, and Palamon touched their Whistling Sticks together, forming a silver flash that leapt from them to the Emissary. The energy swirled harmlessly around her, and then leapt into the darkened sky.
"I already know this little trick," the Emissary muttered, sighing nonchalantly as the entire Venusian offensive materialized in the sky, held aloft by gusts of the Great Power. The ring of warriors consisted of thousands, armed heavily and each glowing in the signature color given by the Great Power. What followed was a hailstorm of energy, brilliant as the heart of a supernova, smashing at the focus that Kimberly, Renee, and Palamon created as a signal for them.
When the smoke and dust settled, the Emissary remained standing, completely untouched by the massive energy onslaught whose might could have sunken a continent.
"By the Eternal!" Palamon gasped, recovering his focus, "She lives!"
The Emissary laughed at his horror, sparks of nega-flame flashing in her eyes, "I already told you, I know that trick! And everything else you've been using for the past millennia! But I am not just any representative of the Cum'Alltach! I am invincible! The cycle has finally ended, and Nothing is all that will remain!"
Her voice deepened, as bursts of nega-flame fired from her body and hands. A tornado of powerful winds, black fires, and explosive kra'its assailed the helpless Venusian army mercilessly.
"Down the road, we never know
What Fate may have in store
Winds of change will rearrange
Our lives more than before
But you'll never stand alone my love
Memories will never die
In our hearts they'll always live
And never say... goodbye..."
Hope paused, humming the smooth guitar strum that traditionally accompanied the lullaby her father sang to her when she was an infant nestled in his arms. The song she sang back to him, as he closed his eyes for the last time.
The song was first composed by her mother and the first Black Ranger, as a musical gift to Tommy as his Green Ranger powers slowly died. That song became a bond that united Tommy and Kimberly, and remained at the heart of their love. It had been slightly redone, as a smoother tone transformed it into a sweeter melody and a few words were changed to reflect their changing relationship. Still, it was true to the love expressed by the entire small family, and its reassuring, warm tone helped all fall asleep peacefully time and time again.
"Thanks a lot, Daddy," Hope whispered, rising to her feet. Currents of raven energy carried the child into the air, raising her enough to plant a kiss upon her father's marble cheek. She smiled weakly as she descended, and slowly exited the memorial, her heart filled with a perplexing mix of sorrow and joy.
"How do you feel?" Dalal asked, rising from a bench as the princess appeared. Hope lifted her dark gaze, and shrugged.
"The same way I always feel when I leave here," she answered, glancing back at the memorial, "I feel like he's watching me, but I still miss him terribly."
Dalal nodded, resting her hand on the girl's shoulder. "Would you like to visit his grave? Arlington is only a quick flight away."
Hope frowned, shaking her head. "I don't like cemeteries," she revealed, "I just can't see how people associate the gravesite with the loved one. All that is recorded on the stone tablet is his birth and death dates, separated by a lonely dash. The dash is where everything happened! That dash is immortalized right here, as a tribute to his life. Not his birth and death." She shuddered as a rush of cold invaded. "When I go to Arlington, all I feel is that he is dead and gone. His body is long since decomposed, and his lifespark had faded centuries ago. But here, he truly lives, and his marble body will never fade. This is a more fitting place to visit for anyone who would remember Tommy Oliver, or any other Power Ranger. It is just a shame that only a handful of people are immortalized in such a manner."
"Humans die too quickly to all be remembered so distinctly," Dalal said quietly, "You are fortunate that your father was a man who will never be forgotten."
Hope nodded in agreement, as the pensive pair walked through the crowds and headed towards the gate. As soon as they stepped outside the walls of the museum, a flash of indigo light falling from the sky drew their attention.
"Is that His Highness?" Dalal asked, peering into the distance.
"What's he doing here?" Hope wondered, frowning slightly in confusion, "He disdains Earth even more than you do."
The light descended speedily towards the lake that surrounded the shrine. They watched in horror as the flash crashed into the water like a missile, throwing up a torrent of water at the point of impact.
"By the Power!" Dalal shrieked, racing to the water's edge, "What is he doing?"
She was about to leap in afterwards, but a steady indigo light slowly emerged from the lake. Once it broke the surface, the light dimmed, and Apollon appeared, dripping with water and coughing powerfully. Dalal and Hope both waded into the lake, and aided the monarch to shore.
"What's wrong with you?" Hope demanded, helping him sit down to recover himself, "I've never seen you crash before!"
"I was forcibly transformed back to Venusian form in mid-transit," he revealed, his voice hoarse, "I was in the form of the eregin to travel to Earth, but a disturbance in the Great Power rippled through my body."
"That is unheard of," Dalal affirmed, her eyes widening with worry, "What could possibly cause such a ripple?"
"Death," was his candid response.
"Whose death?" Hope demanded fearfully.
"Massive death," he droned, his mind lost in his own worries, "The disconnection of multitudes from the Great Power shifts the currents of energy we all feel in our bodies. The strike must have failed, and our forces must have been struck severely at the moment I reverted to this body."
His bright gaze rose, and locked with the overwhelmed glances of both listeners. "While you were away, the Cum'Alltach arrived on Venus. It unleashed a force of death unlike anything that has occurred for thousands of years, and crippled our forces."
"The Cum'Alltach should not be able to surprise us," Dalal muttered in disbelief, "It attacks at the peak of every cycle! It should not have been released for thousands more years!"
"Somehow, it has broken free of its prison early, and the Emissary has arrived in the Spire. Kimberly organized an attack squadron, but I fear events may not have turned out in our favor."
Hope shuddered in terror. "This can't be happening..." she said adamantly, "It can't!"
Apollon rose to his feet, and grabbed the princess' limp hands. "Hope, I have spoken with the Guardian. She has revealed that we will lose this battle. Venus cannot defeat the Cum'Alltach in this state."
"Then, all of reality is doomed," Dalal said flatly.
"No..." Hope whispered, tears flooding her eyes, "I can't believe it! It can't end like this!"
"It won't. The Guardian instructed me to find The Child, the one who will preserve Venus and continue the war. That is why I have sought you out."
He withdrew his hand, and the Tear formed in his palm. He unfolded Hope's hand, and lay the gem in her palm. At the touch of her skin, the gem reacted, releasing a steady silver glow that slowly grew brighter and wider.
"I was right!" Apollon sighed with relief, "I knew you were the one. You will always have the heart of a child, despite your years. You will save us all."
"Me?" Hope whispered, glancing from the gem to Apollon's gaze, "What can I do?"
"The Guardian will show you the path," he assured, watching as the pearl grew brighter, "You are our hope, Princess. You are our nation's Child."
He leaned over her, his hands still tightly holding hers, and planted a kiss upon her bowed forehead. "You are not the offspring of my body, but you have always been beloved of my heart. I know you will succeed, in all that you endeavor. May the Nightingale guide you well."
He tried to release her, but she was quick to catch his hands. "Apollon, please care for my mother! I'm... afraid..."
"Make your fear your friend, rather than your enemy," he advised, as her body slowly became saturated with silvery energy, "And your mother is well, for our Bond holds strong."
Hope smiled weakly at the reassurance that practically glowed from the king's warm indigo gaze, and released his hand. Suddenly, the crystal in her palm melted into a glittering silver liquid. She gazed at it amazedly.
Her eyes widened in shock as the droplet spread along her skin in an eyeblink. After her hand was covered in the silver water, it evaporated into nothingness.
After several moments, Hope had completely disappeared.
"She... she's gone!" Dalal shouted, panic overtaking her.
"Rest assured, Dalal, I would rather die than allow any harm to befall..."
A groan of pain put a sharp end to his sentence, as Apollon fell to his knees, his hands grasping his chest above his heart. He forced his eyes open, as tears sprang into existence and slowly slid down the cheek.
"Hesperus?" she asked, watching in shock as his body began to quake violently, "What's happening?"
"The... the queen," he gasped, tensing to regain control of his muscles, "She... she's..."
"Your Bond," Dalal whispered, her hand rising to her lips, "You are feeling her death, at this very moment..."
Apollon forced himself to his feet, forcing air into his choked throat and steadying his trembling legs. "We have to go. Now!"
A ring of dozens of Venusians circled the large bed of the royal couple. Sorceresses hurriedly searched through grimore to locate a magical cure, while other attendants wrapped the queen's numerous wounds. To their infinite horror, even surface scratches continued to bleed.
It was obvious that the battle against the Cum'Alltach was costly, for the queen's restorative powers had been badly compromised.
It was unclear whether her fate was better or worse than that of the others. The Venusian forces were utterly decimated by the nether-flames that leap from the Emissary's hands. She even managed to release a spell that caused the same fires to leap from the bowels of the planet like volcanoes, and scorch entire platoons in moments.
Fire from heaven, and fire from below bowled down Venus' best warriors. Very few escaped with their lives. Most were annihilated instantly, but the Emissary wanted a more agonizing death to assail the queen. So, she weakened the blow, and slowed the process from nanoseconds to torturous minutes... perhaps, even hours.
"Leave me," whispered the queen in a hoarse voice, while she weakly lifted her hand, "There's no saving me now."
"But Queen Vespera!" a seemingly young woman argued while she stirred a bowl of silvery water, "Your wounds are too great to heal without magical aid."
"They are too great to heal by any means," she responded grimly, her eyelids growing heavy and concealing her once brilliant hazel eyes.
"Majesty, don't talk like that," Palamon said gently, stroking her hand, "The best healers on the planet are here..."
"The nether-flames have canceled out the Gift of Life," Kim said darkly, "That is what the Emissary wanted. Without the Gift, I am no longer connected to the Great Power. I am no longer ageless. Therefore, my 1500 plus years are catching up to me." A powerful cough thrust through her lungs, shaking the fragile frame of the once strong queen, and releasing another cloud of chalky dust. "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust," she whispered, closing her eyes, "I'm finally looking my age."
"K... Kimberly?" asked a weak voice, penetrating the dismal silence in the room. The healers all stopped in their tracks, and bowed deeply as Hesperus-Apollon rushed passed them urgently. He paused at the side of the large bed, his large indigo eyes widening with horror. He beseechingly glanced at Palamon, but the stalwart warrior turned away from the begging glance.
That was when Apollon knew the feeling in his heart was true. His wife would not recover.
The king fell to his knees beside the bed, and touched her wrinkled forehead tenderly, for fear she would break under his touch. Astonishingly, the queen had never looked so feeble and weak. She was of small stature, yet she always had a commanding presence. But now wrinkles marred the queen's typically smooth skin, and a powder-whiteness was cast over her caramel-hued mane. In a word, she looked... old.
"I'm dying, Apollon," she whispered, gazing into his overflowing eyes, "My youth has been taken from me."
Kim cringed at an inner pain, sending a shiver through Apollon's body.
"There's nothing that can be done?" he asked, once again glancing at Palamon.
"No, Sire," he responded grimly, "Our magic can't even prolong her life... but every moment she lives is intense pain to her."
"Apollon," Kimberly rasped, "please... take care of Hope. I don't want her to see me this way. I want her to remember me as a strong warrior, not this... shell. Please keep her safe from the horrors that have befallen Venus. Our world is doomed, but so long as one Venusian survives, there is hope for the future."
"Your daughter shall be safe from the Cum'Alltach," Apollon vowed, placing her withered hand on his heart, "I swear on the Great Power itself."
Kim nodded, a small smile crossing her dry lips. "Now that I have seen you one last time, and insured Hope's survival... I don't have to hold on to fleeting life any longer. May the Great Power continue to protect you."
Apollon released a sob of despair, and rested his head upon Kim's chest as she closed her cloudy hazel eyes for the last time. The attendants were all frozen, and fell upon their faces in respect for the royal passing. Palamon lay his forehead to the ground, and then rose to his feet, grasping Apollon's upper arm.
"I... I'm sorry," Palamon whispered, tears streaking down his face, "I couldn't save her. Renee sacrificed her life to keep Kimberly safe, but I couldn't finish the job."
"I know you did your best, my friend," Apollon whispered, lifting his head. He stumbled to his feet, with Palamon's help.
"What is our next move, my King?" Palamon asked, keeping one hand tightly wrapped around the king to insure he didn't fall. Apollon kept his gaze on Kimberly, and weakly covered her face with her blanket.
"The princess is the only one who can save Venus now."
Hope continued to tumble through the thick white liquid, her lungs burning as she was pulled to her destination by some unknown force. Her slender fingers were closed in a tight fist, and her large hazel eyes tried to peer through the thick whiteness, in the hopes of seeing just where she was going.
All she could see was bright white waves, which slowly began to sting her eyes.
After a few more seconds, suddenly the liquid vanished, and Hope collapsed onto hard marble. She grunted upon collision, and began panting furiously in an effort to feed her starving lungs. Once she had recovered her balance, Hope pulled herself to her feet.
She was awed when she noticed that she wasn't even the least bit wet. Her clothing and hair were perfectly dry, as if she had never touched the heavy, creamy ocean. She opened her hand, and gasped in shock at the small brown bruise, in the shape of a teardrop, that marred her palm.
The magical Tear was gone, and it had left a scar.
Her eyes panned across the scenery, seeing nothing but brilliant white marble, tall pillars, and heavy ivory curtains. She remained where she stood, glancing around frantically at her sterile surroundings, while her fear mounted.
True, she feared for herself. But her greatest fear was for her mother, her stepfather, and all her other loved ones on Venus. It was her mission to save them somehow.
*Child, why do you always doubt yourself?* said a gentle voice, startling Hope. Hope continued looking around the chamber in confusion, unable to discern the origin of the voice.
"Who... who's there?" Hope inquired, her voice wavering with fear.
Then, a flash of light heralded the arrival of the Guardian of the Eternal. The waif-like child appeared just a few feet from the bewildered princess, and smiled warmly. Hope instantly fell to her knees, and bowed her head.
"The Great One..." she whispered, trembling slightly in alarm, "But... if I am in the same realm as you... then I am..."
"Yes," the girl interrupted, her voice losing its ethereal quality and becoming normal, "you are in the Realm of the Eternal. The dimension separated from your reality, where I reside. Where your foreparents Vespera and Hesperus reside, to watch over the Venusian culture as it continues its battle against the Cum'Alltach."
Then, two other forms flashed into existence, appearing on opposite sides of the Guardian. One was female, with flowing ebony curls and gentle hazel eyes. The other was male, with thick blonde hair, a neat moustache, and fiery blue eyes. Both wore silver cloaks similar to that of the eternal, as well as silver crowns upon their brows.
Hope's jaw dropped when she laid eyes upon Mother-Vespera and Father-Hesperus, the first monarchs of the Venusian culture.
"As we speak now," said Hesperus the First, "the planet Venus is being ravaged by the Cum'Alltach. The queen's effort to destroy the Emissary has failed. The Emissary is far more powerful than any one prior, which is why she has managed to summon the Nothing into this realm early. The reason why is because the Emissary chose to serve the Cum'Alltach. In the past, the Emissary was sequestered, and forced by dark powers to serve the Nothing. This time, a mighty sorceress has chosen of her own free will to bring about the total desolation of your realm of existence."
Hope blinked in shock. "But... who would want to be the harbinger of destruction of our entire universe?" she whispered.
"Someone who has no reason to care for what yet exists," Vespera the First whispered enigmatically, a tinge of regret in her voice, "Her power has increased exponentially, and is a far more potent threat to Venus... and the rest of the universe... than ever before. In time, though, we hope you shall defeat the Emissary, and prevent the Cum'Alltach from destroying our realm."
"Then my destiny is to destroy the Cum'Alltach," Hope affirmed.
"No," Vespera answered, "The Cum'Alltach cannot be destroyed. The Darkness of the Eternal Night cannot be destroyed. Even though we Venusians are ageless, we conceive that nothing lasts forever. Eventually, this universe will end, at the hands of Nonexistence. Our duty as Venusians... the chosen warriors of the Eternal Great Power... is to postpone the eventual destruction for as long as we are able."
Hope blinked in astonishment at her far-removed grandmother's words, her brow wrinkling with shock and denial. Her lips trembled, and she turned away from the mighty trio, gazing at the reflective surface of the marble floor as she tried to come to grips with the decree. She swallowed hard, staring into her own hazel eyes for a few moments.
"...no," she whispered, turning back to the legendary heroes of Venusian myth.
"Excuse me?" Hesperus said, his eyebrow raising.
"I don't believe it," Hope said, staring each figure in the eye in turn, "Our mission cannot be to only delay the forces of destruction! We are chosen defenders of life and existence. How could our millennia-old mission possibly be for nothing?"
Vespera crossed her arms, slightly annoyed. "And do you consider the thousands of generations of billions of intelligent species that have lived and died since the inception of the Venusian culture to be nothing?" she demanded, "Hope, you must realize that every single life you save... even if it is only temporary... is precious. Every day that the universe continues to exist is a victory. If you keep your focus on eventual defeat, you will feel your life useless."
Hope pressed her lips together, gazing at Vespera I in bewilderment. "Venusians are ageless. They live for thousands of years, often without any end in sight. There is no determined lifespan... we live until we are killed. That makes it difficult to plan out the course of our lives, since we potentially can live forever. Instead, we fall into a routine. Everything about Venus is cyclical... we continue a course of action indefinitely, living only for each day, or each small goal. The only real goal we have is our ultimate mission... to defeat the Cum'Alltach. Now you tell me that ultimate goal is in itself doomed to be forever cyclical? That there will never be a final reckoning... a final victory? Instead there will be a final defeat? How could the only thing that can finally end the monotony of our existence be death and failure?"
Vespera's harsh expression softened into a small grin, and she turned from Hope to her husband, as well as the Guardian. "I knew it," she said, her smile deepening, "She is the one!"
Hope's anger once again melted into confusion, as she shifted her gaze between the three legends.
"I must admit, I did doubt you, my dear," Hesperus confessed, stepping closer to Hope. He planted his broad hands on her shoulders, and his crystal eyes stared into her wide hazel ones. "She has passion. She has determination. She looks at reality in a way different from other Venusians. Most of our children have been dulled by the passage of time. They have fallen into routine. They fight, without the same purpose we had during our lives in the mortal realm. But this one has the outlook of one untouched by that apathy. She has the outlook of an eternal Child."
Hesperus then stepped away from the baffled princess, and clasped his hands with his wife's. "Finally, the cycle will end."
Then, the child-like Guardian moved closer to Hope, and grasped her hands tightly. "Now, listen to my instruction," she said, "You will be sent back in time by 1500 Earth years, to the year 1997 A.D. Once you arrive, your memory will be completely erased. Only bits and pieces of your life will remain. Gradually, as time passes, more of your memory will be preserved."
"But... why would you handicap me in such a manner?" Hope wanted to know.
"Consider it a further test. We want you to be guided by your heart and your instincts rather than the knowledge you have accumulated. Also, there is the danger that your knowledge of the future might interfere with the decisions made by those around you. But fear not... you will remember what you need to remember, and by the end of your mission, your memory will be completely restored."
"And what is my mission, exactly?"
"You must guide the Venusian people. Prepare them for the Cum'Alltach. Find the sacred Bow Eternal, the weapon Vespera the First used to first imprison the Cum'Alltach, and save the universe."
Hope's eyes widened. "The Bow Eternal? You mean it still exists?"
Vespera nodded, stepping closer. "It does indeed, and it served me well during my reign. And now, it is time for another to take my place. Over the millennia, all Venusian queens have been named after me, thereby carrying on in my behalf. However, you are different. You won't be just another queen. You will be the final queen in a long line of my daughters. I am the Mother, and you are the Child. Then, this path of existence will change, and you will become the Mother, to a new Venus."
"I... I don't understand," Hope whispered.
"You will understand," Hesperus commented, "Once you reach the Moment, when your destiny will be fulfilled, all will be understood. At that Moment, all your memory will be restored, so you can complete your mission to its fullest. You will speak the name of the Guardian, which has remained unspoken in the mortal realm since the dawn of our existence."
"How will I know this moment?" Hope asked, overwhelmed by the information being thrown at her, "and how will I know the name of the Nameless One?"
Then, both Hesperus and Vespera glanced toward the Guardian, and lowered to one knee. Hope prepared to mimic their motions, but the Guardian caught her arm, and motioned for her to stand up.
"Over the millennia, your first parents have been revered by your culture. They are the Heroes, that all other Venusians try so hard to emulate. But you are different. You will complete the mission they started. You will surpass all those before you, and forge a new dynasty. You will become the Mother. You will succeed even where I have failed, in service of the Great Power."
Then, to Hope's astonishment, the Guardian sank to one knee, clutching the princess' hand which was permanently marked by the Tear. "For countless eons, I have been the representative of the Great Power. I was to protect Existence from Nonexistence. I could not carry on the war by myself, and when Vespera and Hesperus came to my aid, I welcomed them. Together, they were granted the Gift of Youth, which they passed to their descendants. They started a new race... the family that relocated from their planet of origin to Venus, the second planet from a young star. They became Venusians. They became fellow servants of the Great Power with me. They are my equals. You, however, will be much more. When next you step foot in this realm, you will be my superior. When the time comes, you will remember my name... the name that no other of the mortal realm has known."
The Guardian rose, and touched Hope's forehead. "By my name of Anoxa-Elille you will call upon me, and my powers will be at your hand."
Hope opened her mouth to voice another question, but her voice failed as the mysterious silver water once again passed over her skin, causing her form slowly faded from the Realm. Her eyes wide, she stared at her hands as they blinked out of reality. Seconds later, she was gone.
"She has the outlook of a child," Hesperus pointed out, "That automatically makes her na´ve. May the Great Power protect her."
"Her only hope of success is the aid and support of her parents," Vespera said, clutching her eternal husband's arm, "and all the forces at their disposal."