Angel Grove Youth Center....
Billy sighed as he stretched in his chair. He had just finished a very strenuous workout with Adam, and now the two were relaxing as they awaited the arrival of the girls. It had been nearly six days since he had assumed the mantle of the Wolf Ranger, with no sign of activity from the Machine SkyBase. Inwardly, that worried him. _If Mondo is being quiet, it means he has something big planned,_ he thought.
"When will Alpha locate those energy signatures? Between the waiting and being powerless, I'm about to go nuts!" Adam reddened in embarrassment as everyone in the Juice Bar had turned to stare at him. He hadn't realized he had raised his voice. "I don't know how you ever dealt with it. Y'know - being unable to join us," he whispered.
Billy smiled faintly. "It wasn't easy. I held my feelings inside, buried myself in helping the others. I seemed happy because I didn't tell any of you how I felt. Don't worry though, we're close to picking up the scent. When we do, I'll get those powers back!"
Something about his friend's behavior troubled the Green Ranger. Billy used to tell him things he wouldn't even tell Kimberly. Ever since his recent transformation, he had remained aloof, distant even. Besides that, he had shown evidence of a heightened awareness of sorts. As if on cue, Billy jerked his head toward the door, smelling the breeze. "Here they come," he commented off-handedly.
Seconds later, Kat and Tanya appeared in the doorway. Adam waved them over, his mind racing. The two girls hurried over, and Kat wrapped her arms around Billy, kissing him. When the young lovers finally broke apart and sat down, Adam refocused his gaze upon his friend.
"How did you do that," he asked.
"I picked up their scent. Somehow - and I'm not sure how - my senses were affected by these powers. I don't even seem to need contacts now." Billy's voice was low, carefully controlled. It bothered him not having the answer, but he did not want to communicate that to the others, particularly his girlfriend.
At that moment, bedlam erupted. A group of teens burst onto the scene, screaming about monsters in the park. Billy exchanged glances with Adam. The Machine Empire had just launched its first strike.
Angel Grove Park....
The entire park was in a state of chaos. Citizens hastened to escape the scene of utter devastation being caused by a phalanx of colossal robot spiders, which were swarming all over the countryside. To the rear of the crowd, two young men dressed in blue and red ducked behind a nearby access building.
Rocky shot a look at his friend, who shrugged. "What the heck are they, Tommy?"
"I don't know Rocko, and I really don't want to go up and ask 'em either."
Rocky dared a quick glance around the corner. Two of the creatures had broken away from the others and were now making their way towards the Rangers' position. "Uh.... I think we'd better call Billy and get the hell outta here!"
Billy's communicator beeped insistently as he fought his way through the panicked teens. The park was only minutes away, and close to the heavily populated downtown business district. Finally, he and the others were in the clear.
"This is Billy."
"Billy, it's Tom! We're down in the park. Some kind of giant spiders are tearing up the place. At least 15 to 20 of them, could be more...." An explosion overpowered the Ranger's voice for a moment, and when it died down, Tommy was frantic. "We've been spotted, need help!"
"Hang on! I'm on the way!" Billy turned off his communicator and turned to his friends. "Adam, Tanya, I need you to get to the Power Chamber. Try to find out where those things came from. Kat and I will try to buy some time."
Angel Grove Park....
Tommy had been in countless battles during his tenure as the Ranger's commander. Each time, he had felt no fear, only a stout confidence in his own abilities. But this was different. This time he had no arcane powers augmenting his skills and reflexes. Dozens of possible tactical plans flashed through his head, and only one made the slightest bit of sense. "I vote we run," he said to Rocky, who nodded vigorously in favor of the proposal.
"Where the heck is Billy," Rocky gasped as they sprinted toward safety. Tommy did not get a chance to answer. A near miss from one of the Spider-Mechs sent them flying. To make matters worse, the concussive force, not to mention their rough landing, knocked both Rangers senseless. The soulless machines closed in for the kill.
A flash of Blue and Pink appeared in front of the prone youths. Assessing the situation quickly, Billy contacted the Power Chamber. "Alpha, get Rocky and Tommy out of here!"
As soon as their friends were safely away, Kat smiled at her love. "You do pick some interesting locales for a date."
"Just trying to make an impression. Let's do it!"
"Zeo Ranger One, Pink!"
Billy raised the Celtic pendant around his neck to the sky. "By the power Above and Beyond, Wolf Ranger Power!"
The transformed Rangers prepared themselves for battle. Katherine drew her laser rifle, while Billy activated his gauntlet blaster. They touched hands unconsciously as they waited for the arrival of the monsters. Breaking the rise of the hill-top, the Spider-Mechs opened fire.
Billy realized at once that he was not a target. Padishar had been right: he was undetectable! Hoping to disorient their battle computers, he pinpointed a unit that seemed to be coordinating the efforts. Two quick shots, and the Mechs began to fight one another. Taking great satisfaction in this, he glanced toward Kat...
...And felt his heart leap into his throat. She was surrounded! Though fighting tooth and nail, it was only a matter of time before she was brought down by the sheer number of attackers. Leaping to her aid, the Wolf Ranger summoned his lance, removing the legs of the closest spider as he landed. Savagely, he tore into the others. Moments later, only he and Kat remained standing.
"Are you okay," he asked.
"Yes. They blasted the ground out from underneath me."
Billy embraced her. "Thank goodness! You had me worried there for a minute."
"Couldn't have that on my conscience," Kat replied with a giggle. A sudden flash of teleportation energy snatched them away before either had a chance to investigate the scene.
Power Chamber - Operations and Tactics....
"Zordon, why did you teleport us back? What's wrong," Billy asked.
"Observe the viewing system Billy. We have discovered the identity of one of the Guardians."
As the team watched, a dark figure became visible. It was at least eight feet tall, and thickly knotted with muscle. It's hands were easily larger than a human head, and Kat recoiled involuntarily as the head came into view. Inhuman eyes scoured the landscape before it.
"Is... is that some kind of bull," Tanya stammered.
"No, it is something far worse than any creature of Earth. Behold the end result of a lost civilization: the Black Minotaur of 61 Cygni."
"Impressive," Billy muttered. "What can you tell me about him Zordon?"
"Very little, I'm afraid. He is incredibly strong, utilizing a mace as his only weapon. I am detecting energy projection abilities housed within its tip...."
As Zordon droned on, Adam thought he saw the eyes on Billy's helmet flash. The youth stiffened, then relaxed just as suddenly. Without another word, the Wolf Ranger teleported away, suprising everyone in the room.
Machine Skybase - Throne Room....
Mondo was in shock. One of his matrix Guardians had actually gone to Earth without Royal consent. The concept was difficult to grasp for one used to blind loyalty.
Ermaciak waited for the news to sink in before continuing. The self-styled Machine "King" had done very little to impress the cyborg as yet. His insistence on waiting was ill-advised, in the bounty hunter's opinion. Giving Zordon of Eltar any time to prepare was a risky, and dangerous, proposition. "There is worse news Sire. The Minotaur's Seeker drones were destroyed just as they were about to finish off the last Zeo Ranger."
"That puny girl couldn't have done that," the flustered King sputtered.
"All things being equal, I would agree. We detected no one else in the vicinity. I can assure you, I will find the one who has dared to interfere with destiny!"
Angel Grove Park....
The Black Minotaur scoffed at his surroundings. He found it hard to believe that anything on this worthless mudball could possibly damage his prized machines of war. And yet, evidence to the contrary was scattered across the grass on which he stood. He examined the remains of one of his Seekers. "Whoever did this will die a slow death," he growled.
A shadow fell across the field. The Minotaur looked up slowly. It was one of the young idiots who dared to walk the Divine Path of Blood, though he was dressed differently than the others. "That fool Mondo had been wrong when he had said the only Ranger left was a broken Earth girl. Somehow, I am not suprised," he mused.
"An' who are you supposed to be?" The Minotaur's voice was low and guttural, the battle fury evident.
"I am the hunter, you are... prey. Surrender," the stranger replied calmly.
"Brave. I suppose that's admirable... but hardly worthy of the Divine Path! DIE!!" The Minotaur grabbed the mace from his belt. With a flick of the wrist, it extended to almost five feet in length. A bright field of crimson crackled with power at it's tip. The target stood impassively, waiting for the attack. Cackling with pleasure, the monster sent the fireball on a collision course with the fool's chest.
Suddenly, Billy whipped the Dragon Dagger from its sheath and brought it to his helmet. A tune emanated from it, activating his shield. The energy bolt dissipated harmlessly against the golden barrier surrounding him. Enraged, the Minotaur fired again and again. Billy continued to play the dagger as he advanced toward the alien, watching with amusement as the Guardian was forced to dodge his own blasts. "Give up, or you will force me to destroy you," the Wolf Ranger demanded.
His answer came in the form of an overhead swing aimed at his head. Rather, where his head had been. Just before impact, a blue mist enveloped him, depositing him directly behind his off-balanced foe. A disgusted front kick sent the creature face down into the ground. As the Minotaur rolled over, he saw the eyes on the Ranger's helmet flare with an unnatural fire. A howl torn from the youth's throat assaulted his senses, and for the first time, the scourge of 61 Cygni felt fear.
The Wolf Ranger lifted the huge beast with one arm, and sent him flying into a stand of trees some twenty feet away. The Black looked up just in time to see the crossbow bolt pin his shoulder to the tree behind him. The Ranger lifted his weapon once more. The voice that emanated from him was sounded different from before... more primal. "You will now return that which was stolen!"
"Never," the Minotaur shouted, and pulled at his restraint. It held fast, however, no matter how hard he tried.
"That was not a request butcher," the Wolf Ranger growled, firing his weapon, the energy collection net.
Though he tried to resist, the minotaur felt the Blue Zeo Energy drain away. Its purpose fulfilled, the net retracted into the Ranger's gauntlet, and he turned to leave. With a grunt, the bolt was finally yanked free, and the Black Minotaur charged, bellowing with rage.
The Wolf Ranger spun around faster than lightning. The Minotaur had stopped, and was grasping at his own throat, where yellowish ichor had begun to gush forth. It also dripped from the blade that had snapped into place on the Ranger's elbow. Gasping at the wound, the Minotaur sunk to the ground. He tried to spit on the child who had bested him, but even that small act of defiance was beyond him now.
The last thing the Black Minotaur, as he lost consciousness for the final time, were the words of the Ranger. "Justice has been done. May the souls of your victims now rest in peace."
The Wolf Ranger materialized into a room totally devoid of sound. The Rangers stared in shock as he removed his helmet and smiled at them. "Guys, what's wrong? We recovered Rocky's energy matrix. You're acting like someone died," Billy said, attempting to lighten the mood.
Kat tried to speak, but no sound escaped her lips. Seeing her difficulty, Adam decided to take the responsibility himself. Considering his actions, Billy's jubilant mood seemed out of place. He spoke softly, his voice carrying a nonaccusing tone. "Billy, don't you realize what just happened?" At his friend's puzzled expression, he took a deep breath and continued. "I think you had better watch the recording of the battle."
Machine Skybase - Ermaciak's Quarters....
Three of the surviving four Guardians stood around the Minotaur's dead body. Ermaciak shook his head in contempt. "As you can see, stupidity receives it's just reward. The next of you to try something like this will not have to worry about our mystery foe, because I will slay you myself."
Sivar nodded affirmatively. "Do we know anything about this so-called mystery foe?"
"Alas, no. The Machine King's instruments recorded nothing. It is as though the wind itself destroyed him."
"I might know a way, if this disgusting beast's excuse for a brain has not yet degraded to the point of nothingness." Kesla pushed past Sivar's bulk and made her way to the creature's head. She began to make a strange series of motions with her hands, chanting in an incomprehensible tongue and then pressed her hands against the Minotaur's temples. Long moments passed before the nomadic princess stirred, and began to speak as though in a trance. "A boy... protected by the wolf spirit...."
"Padishar Lupine? So, the old fool is still alive, is he? And who did he choose as his champion," the cyborg demanded.
"William James Cranston... He wields the Dragon Dagger... in armor forged by Ninjor, of the Council of Meledon," Kesla concluded, as she recovered from her delirium.
Sivar growled his displeasure at the unfortunate turn of events. "The youth still lives, and the only being to ever defeat me is in league with him!"
Ermaciak's eyes blazed with the cold fires of hatred. "Do not be concerned. I believe I know how to take advantage of this development."
The helmet of the Wolf Ranger hit the ground with a clatter as he watched the Minotaur battle reach its conclusion. Billy began to shake convulsively as he realized what had occurred. He had been unable to recall the events pictured, and it deeply disturbed him that he had been responsible for the death of another living creature. With the monsters he had encountered before, there had never been any doubt in his mind that they were not truly alive, merely creations of an arcane magic or demented technology. And now, the rules had been changed.
Billy collapsed into a sitting position. Katherine quickly hurried over and wrapped her arms around him, attempting to calm him. Adam patted his shoulder reassuringly, then turned to stare up at Zordon. "I think Padishar's essence has begun to merge with Billy's. Somehow, that explosion overcharged him, and that energy is manifesting itself like a split personality."
"I fear that you may be right," Zordon conceded. "Wolf Ranger, stand before me."
Billy reluctantly complied, though he was unable to look up at his mentor. _I'm a killer. He's going to take my powers away,_ his mind raced.
"The actions taken against the Minotaur, while reprehensible, were not your own. His death was not your fault."
"Ignorance is no excuse for murder, Zordon." Billy's voice sounded dangerously close to tears. "I'll understand if you want to find someone else."
Rocky grabbed Billy by the arms and shook him roughly. "You're not thinking! That power is your life, man! You can't just go off and leave us again, cuz I won't let you! Billy... I was hurt worse than the others when Mondo was controlling you, so if anyone of us would have a reason to hate you, it would be me."
Billy stared at the feet. He was afraid of what Rocky would say next.
"I don't hate you Billy. None of us do. We were just a little shocked, that's all." Impulsively, the Blue Ranger grabbed his friend in a headlock. "That thing would have killed you and not had a second thought. You're regretting what happened, and that proves that you're a good person. Am I making sense?"
Billy stared at his friend, awestruck. "How do you do it?"
"Do what," Rocky asked, perplexed.
"How can you be so good at putting things in perspective?"
DeSantos laughed. "Try growing up with six younger brothers and sisters. Now then, whose matrix did you recover?"
Billy checked the display screen mounted on his left forearm. "It appears to be the Blue energy. I need your crystal, Rocky. The rest of you had better leave yours here as well." The Ranger hooked the crystal into a receptacle on his gauntlet. A dim glow began to flare inside it. As it grew in intensity, the light took on a deep shade of cobalt, before dying off completely. Billy handed the recharged energy container back to it's owner. Rocky smiled ecstatically as he reconnected it to his Zeonizer.
Adam found himself lost in thought as the others began to break off into groups. An idea had begun to percolate in his subconscious. _If we could somehow drain a small amount of his energy away, then Billy wouldn't have to second-guess himself in the middle of a battle. The question is, how to do it?_
"Hey, are you awake?"
Adam jerked. Apparently, Tanya had been trying to get his attention for the last few moments. "Uh... yeah. What did you just say," he pleaded, while his face reddened in mortification.
Tanya sighed. With anyone else, she would have been annoyed. It wasn't worth the effort with Adam. He was far too sweet. "I said, we still have some time before Ernie closes for the night. Do you want to get something to eat?"
Adam took her arm into his own with a smile. "Should we ask Billy and Kat if they want to join us?"
"Actually, I was going out so they would have some time alone. They've been together for almost a week, and with everything that's happened lately, they've barely even seen each other. So forget about them, you're mine... Romeo."
_Romeo,_ Adam thought. _Hoo-boy, I could be in trouble._
38 West Pendragon Circle - Hillard Residence....
The dining room was dark, lit only by candlelight. The table was set for two, and covered with steaming pans and baskets. Amazed, Billy stared at his girlfriend. "When did you find the time to do all this?"
Katherine felt her cheeks burn, but she smiled anyway. "Actually, I had some help. When Mum heard you were by yourself, and that you and Tommy were haunting the fast food restaurants every night, she came up with this." Timidly she looked back at him. "Do you... like it?"
Billy took her hands into his own. "It's wonderful." Gently, he kissed her forehead. "Almost as wonderful as you."
Gym and Juice Bar....
"...So you both saved a baby carriage from falling off of Blythe's Pointe in the park, and that's how you all became friends?"
"Yeah. It got even crazier before the day was out." Adam paused in his story as their gyros were placed on the table. When they were alone once more, he continued. "Goldar, that golden monkey that tried to steal the Zeo Crystal, showed up and grabbed the three of us, as well as our teacher, the baby's father. We were chained up in this cave, and given the choice to become Zedd's Dark Rangers. When we refused, he said we had one hour to change our minds, or a snake would bite us and turn us into mindless puppets."
"So what happened next?" Tanya was completely engrossed by his colorful storytelling. It was as though she were there herself.
Adam quenched his thirst before resuming the tale. "The hour came and went, and the snake slithered over toward Aisha, who couldn't move. Then Billy and Trini showed up. He grabbed the snake, and it went crazy, wrapping itself around him. Meanwhile Trini freed us, then disappeared with our teacher. After we fought some putties, we followed The White and Pink Rangers inside to see if Blue was okay. Tommy pulled the snake off and threw it against the wall, where Kim blasted it. They had to take Billy's helmet off, and that's how we found out who they were."
"How did the three of you become Rangers," Tanya asked.
Adam grinned. "You want me to talk all night, don't you?"
"What can I say? You're just a really good storyteller," she shot back. "And besides, it's the most I've ever heard you say at one time."
"Oh! I'm sorry. I didn't mean to monopolize the conversation."
"That's all right. You have a cute voice," she smiled.
Adam felt his face flush, and was thankful for the dim lighting inside the Juice Bar. "Ummm... Basically, Tommy transferred the Jason, Trini, and Zack's powers to...." Adam's voice trailed off as an idea popped into his head.
"Hey now, don't zone out on me again," Tanya joked. Seeing the expression on Adam's face, she grew serious. "What is it?"
"I think I just found an answer to Billy's problem. C'mon, we gotta find him!"
The log in the fireplace popped loudly, the only sound to break the cozy silence which had enveloped the darkened living room. While it was early spring, the night air had a definite chill, which suited Katherine just fine. She could think of no better excuse to huddle up next to Billy and rest her head on his shoulder. Amazingly, they had been able to make it through the entire meal without a sound from their communicators. It was a trend which she hoped would continue, as there had been little time for the two youths to spend together over the past few days. "Billy?"
"What is it?" Neither Ranger spoke loudly, as though afraid their voices would cause another emergency to crop up.
"Do you still play guitar?"
Billy stroked her hair. "A little. I'm not very good though."
"Would you play for me?" Seeing his hesitation, she bit her lower lip and widened her eyes, looking for all the world like a helpless puppy. "Please?"
Billy relented with a sigh. She had obviously learned that little trick from Kimberly. "All right, but on one condition. Don't give me that look again." He smiled as she put on an innocent face and nodded affirmatively. "I suppose that you just happen to have a guitar lying around here somewhere, don't you?"
"Of course. Be right back!" She said, pinching him before heading upstairs.
Billy watched her go, and then turned back toward the fireplace. In his mind's eye, he reflected back on the girls that he had been involved with in the past. "Not that I have much of a list." he snorted. Marge had moved away before they had the chance to get serious, and none of the girls that Kim had suggested ever worked out. He had thought he felt something with Tamara, but since she was Israeli, it would have been impractical to start a relationship. They all seemed to pale in comparison to Katherine, and he found himself feeling emotions that he had never thought possible. He simply didn't have words to describe it.
At the sound of light footfalls on the stairs, Billy knew that she had found the guitar. "You certainly plan ahead, don't you," he kidded. Katherine blushed, and handed over the instrument. "What shall I play?"
"I don't know," she smiled, speaking softly. "Why don't you suprise me?"
Billy strummed the guitar thoughtfully, and then his features became more serious. He closed his eyes, and began to coax a quiet melody from the strings. Katherine gasped at the haunting tune, and the depth of feeling it seemed to elicit from him as he played it. It was the most incredible thing she had ever heard, and she found herself wiping away tears as he finished. "That was beautiful! Where did you hear it?"
It was now Billy's turn to be embarrassed. "It's mine actually. I first started playing after my mother... was killed. I wrote that song in memory of her, so I could always remember what she meant to me."
Katherine leaned forward and pulled the guitar out of his hands. She licked her lips, and traced the line of blood vessels in his throat with her thumb. Their eyes met, and they found themselves drifting toward one another.
Inches apart, they found the moment spoiled by the sound of a key in the lock. Seconds later, Adam and Tanya rushed into the living room, completely out of breath. The Green Ranger wheezed as he tried to gather enough breath to talk, not even noticing the withering glance Kat shot his way. "Billy.... I just got... an idea.... on how ... to solve your problem," he managed, between gasps.
"Really? Let's hear it!" Billy bolted upright, excited by the prospect of preventing another blackout.
"Remember how I got Zack's powers? That sword," he asked, finally getting his wind back.
"I think that I am missing the point, Adam."
"What if we modified the process somewhat? Instead of a full power transfer, we could siphon off part of the energy, and store it for an emergency if you needed some extra help."
The Wolf Ranger considered the plan. It's simplicity astounded him. Adam had done it! "That just might work! We could try the procedure tomorrow. Thanks, man!"
Adam grinned, an expression that faded when he took notice of the advancing hour. "I need to get home, before Mom decides to skin me alive!"
"Wait for a moment. I'll walk with you." Billy hugged Katherine, and finally completed the kiss they had been in the middle of when the others had burst in. "Thank you for a wonderful evening, sweetie. We'll have to do it again soon."
"Promise," she asked as they reached the front door.
"Absolutely. I'll call you tomorrow morning before class."
"Not if I call you first! Goodnight boys," she shot back, as she ushered them out into the night.
* * *
Adam smiled at his friend as they trudged down the road. "You two really seem to have something special. I really envy you."
"Me? What about you and Tanya? I was under the impression that the two of you were an item." Billy punched Adam in the arm for punctuation.
The younger boy was slow to respond. "I don't know, to be honest with you. I like her, but I keep getting mixed signals. I just don't want to force her to decide.... Man! I can't imagine how this must sound to you."
Billy patted his friend's shoulder. "You know, that sounds really familiar. I think I heard about it on a talk show."
"So that's how you've been spending your afternoons!" Adam's playful comment triggered a round of laughter in the two teens that lasted for several moments.
When he spoke again though, Billy's voice had grown sedate. "Listen... the reason I asked you to wait for me is... I want to do the transfer tonight."
Adam was bewildered. "Then why did...."
Billy cut him off before he had the chance to finish. "I didn't want Katherine to know. She's been through enough over the past few days, and I don't want this burdening her as well. So... will you help me?"
"I don't agree with you, but I'll help you anyway. Besides, you would just go off by yourself if I didn't. Let's go see Zordon." Adam answered wearily.
Machine Skybase - Throne Room....
Mondo fidgeted impatiently as Ermaciak made his report on the Minotaur's demise. The thought of losing one Zeo Matrix already disturbed him. Of greater concern was the fact that Billy was somehow alive, and once more powered by the Eltarian's precious Morphing Grid. "This is all Klank's fault! His vaunted formula failed, just as I feared it would," the King mused grimly. "I do hope that there is a point to all this, mercenary!"
The evil cyborg glared at the Machine King with barely disguised hatred. The fact that the metallic buffoon had somehow managed to conquer eleven galaxies appalled him. He struggled to keep the hostility from his voice as he replied. "I do Sire. Lupine was only able to give him a finite amount of might."
"And how do you plan to take advantage of this," the Machine King inquired.
"Simple. I plan to utterly deplete his entire reserve. We attack tomorrow!"
Adam and Billy finished the explanation of Adam's plan, and waited for his response. When the ancient warrior finally spoke, he took care to choose his words carefully. "There is a good chance of success with this plan. However, I must remind you that your life energy has not yet stabilized. You shall have to cautious, Billy."
I understand Zordon - and thank you. However, if I don't do this, the cost could be my soul."
Adam had taken a position in front of the Zord interface, and began to set up a containment field for Billy's powers. "We're all set over here."
"Let's do it then. It's morphin time!"
"By the spirits Above and Beyond, Wolf Ranger Power!"
Now morphed, Billy nodded to Zordon that he was ready. Focusing his considerable mental energies, the Eltarian began to drain away the excess energy which had so affected the young man. Adam was fascinated by the current of white lightning, which arced between himself, the Wolf Ranger, and Zordon himself. Alpha, shouting to be heard over the commotion, announced that Billy's charge was now below the danger level. As quickly as it had begun, the pyrotechnic show ended. Adam hurried to his friend's side and helped him remove the helmet. "How do you feel," he asked.
"A little groggy," he admitted. "did it work?"
Alpha subjected him to a quick bioelectric scan. "We won't be able to gauge you for after-effects until tomorrow."
Billy smiled wearily. "Prodigious! Now if you don't mind, I think I'm going to go home and collapse."
The next day....
Morning in California sent hundreds of reluctant students to the steps of Angel Grove High. They moved like lemmings, unwilling participants of public education. Unlike the other teenagers, however, Adam Park was in a hurry to get to his locker. He pushed his way through the crowd, and once in the clear, flew up the stairs and into the school.
The halls had yet to fill, and the Green Ranger risked a glance over his shoulder as he rushed past classrooms at top speed. _Excellent,_ he thought. _All I have to do is grab my books and hide til class starts, and...._
"Look out, Skull!"
Adam turned around to see the Junior Policeman throw out his arms in a desperate attempt to ward off the collision. It failed. Even in his days as an offensive lineman, Bulk had never seen such a violent encounter. Amazingly, Adam was on his feet in seconds. "I'm so sorry Skull, are you all right," the harried youth asked.
"Oh yeah. I'm terrific. I just love being hit by a freight train. What are you in such a hurry for anyway," Skull demanded, as he dusted off his uniform.
Adam thought back to earlier that morning. He had been awakened by the insistent ringing of his phone. When he put the receiver to his ear, he had been jarred to complete awareness by the voice on the other end of the line. "She knows." Five minutes later, he had rushed out the door, fully dressed.
The Green Ranger looked down the hall apprehensively. It was quickly becoming crowded. "Uh... no time guys! Listen, if you see Kat, you didn't see me, okay?"
Bulk and Skull exchanged glances. "Yeah... sure. No problem," Skull deadpanned.
"Just slow down and watch where you're going," Bulk chimed in.
"Thanks guys! And sorry again!" Adam was off in a flash. The two Junior Patrolmen watched him round the corner, and decided to head the exact opposite direction. "And just think Bulkie," Skull laughed. "That's one of the guys you're managing."
* * *
Adam opened his locker and tossed his bookbag into it. He was so intent on finding his textbook that he did not notice the dark shadow descending upon him from behind.
"Hey Adam," Tommy said, clapping his teammate on the shoulder.
"Aaahhhh!!!!" Adam jumped forward, slamming his head into the door of his locker. Fearfully, he regarded the figure who had suprised him, and relaxed visibly when he saw that it was only his leader. "Sorry man, I thought you were someone else," he whispered.
Tommy chuckled. "What's the hurry, pal? You look like you're about to jump out of your skin."
"I'm trying to hide... from Katherine."
The Red Ranger blinked, then cracked up. "You do realize that she's in your first class, don't you?"
Adam flushed in embarrassment. "Well... yeah, but if I wait until the last minute to show up, and then take off after it ends, she won't be able to kill me."
The smile immediately left Tommy's face. "What did you do Adam?"
"No time! Here she comes! You didn't see me, please!" The Green Ranger slammed his locker shut and dove into a nearby classroom.
* * *
Katherine crossed the hall and headed toward Tommy. She was certain that she had seen a telltale flash of green, but now there was no sign of her target. Deliberately, she fixed an accusing glance on the Red Ranger, suspecting that the innocent look on his face was a facade. "Have you seen Adam? I need to talk to him."
Tommy Oliver was the picture of innocence, although Katherine knew better. "Hmmm... not since yesterday. What's wrong? You look upset," he asked, in an attempt to steer the focus of her rancor away from him. The Pink Ranger rarely lost her temper, but when she did....
"He helped Billy drain off some of the Wolf powers. He was supposed to wait until today, so I could be there," she whispered sharply.
Tommy whitened considerably. "Is he all right?"
"Yes, but that is not the point. They should have told me!"
The Red Ranger fell back against the lockers, exhaling sharply. "Kat... before you pass judgement on Adam and Billy, maybe you should try to consider things from their point of view. After all, I'm sure they didn't mean to hurt you, just save you from more stress."
Katherine considered what he had said. "You might be right Tommy." An evil giggle escaped from her lips. "But you might also be wrong."
* * *
Adam frowned as he moped the sweat from his forehead. He could no longer hear either one of his friend's voices. A single thought resounded through his panicked brain. _You're safe now. They must have left._ Allowing himself a slight smile, he opened the door... to see Katherine standing in front of him, arms crossed.
* * *
In a flash of silvery light, Sivar appeared on the roof of the high school. After making sure he was alone, he glanced at the chronometer that Ermaciak had supplied him with. In five Earth standard minutes, the Rangers' classes would begin. It would also signal the start of phase one of the bounty hunter's plan to destroy the insolent boy. For now, the man-beast was content to remove the strange device from his back, and wait.
* * *
"I don't understand. Why did you go behind my back, Adam? I thought that you and I were better friends than that."
Adam Park was too ashamed to look at his teammate, and instead picked a point on the ground as he fought an overwhelming urge to be sick. "I'm really sorry, Kat. Billy didn't want you to be worried. I... I only helped him because I was afraid he'd just go off and do it by himself." When he finally managed to look up at her, his eyes began to blur with tears at the unpleasant memories of seven days ago, when they had almost lost their friend forever. "I didn't want to hurt your feelings... honest! I... I was just afraid... of losing him again."
Kat glared at the sniffling teen for a moment, then sighed in exasperation. "You or Billy. I don't know who's harder to be angry with. All right, I forgive you... this time."
Adam smiled through his tears, then hugged her tight. "I won't do it again, I promise." Just then, he realized that they had less than a minute to get all the way across the building for English Lit. "We're gonna be late!"
"Oh, I think we'll make it. I just have one question."
Adam cocked his head to one side. "What is it?"
Katherine winked at her friend mischieviously. "How were you planning on avoiding me all day?"
* * *
As soon as the sounds of the final bell had died on the morning breeze, Sivar activated his device. A dark lavender energy field snapped into place around the entire school. Satisfied that phase one had been implemented, the Baatezuan Champion-Regent descended into the lower levels. His ultimate destination was known as the "main office," as Ermaciak had put it. The time had come to fetch the bait.
* * *
Bulk had just rounded the corner, finishing the morning truancy sweep, when he had spotted the massive silver clad figure marching down the hall. Not believing his own eyes, he grabbed his partner by the neck and pointed him in the direction of the familiar creature. "Hey nitwit," he growled. "Didn't I tell you to lock the garage this morning."
Skull stared down the hall and began to laugh. "Of course I locked it Bulkie. Besides, that guy's wearing silver, not gold!"
"You mean that's not Goldar?"
"Of course not!"
"Well, good. Then that means...." Bulk trailed off as realization hit the two Junior Policemen like a Mack Truck. "MONSTER!!" they screamed in unison, then ducked into a nearby supply closet.
* * *
No sooner had Gene Kaplan finished the morning announcements, than a silver armored ape man had ripped his office door from it's hinges. The frightening creature leveled a massive spear inches from his throat. "You are in charge here," it asked in a gutteral voice.
Mr. Kaplan was terrified. "Y... yes," he stammered.
"Well then, listen to me very carefully, human germ, and do exactly as I say. You will have the students assemble in your auditorium right now! If you mention my presence in the slightest, I shall be forced to eradicate them, one by one!"
5 minutes later, in the AGHS auditorium....
Despite the mass confusion brought on by the suprise assembly, the Rangers somehow managed to find one another. As with most large high schools, there were more students than seats. The five heroes, among others, had been forced to stand. Rocky scratched his head as he listened to the conversations around him. No one seemed to know why Mr. Kaplan had called for the assembly. Even the teachers were mystified.
All eyes followed the unsteady principal as he crossed the stage and reached the podium. "Students and faculty, I imagine that you're wondering why I called this assembly." Rocky stared up at Mr. Kaplan, and began to get a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach. He had never seen him so nervous before. "I'm afraid that I will have to ask you to remain calm, as we have a crisis at hand."
Sivar chose that moment to walk out onto the stage. A collective gasp rose from the student body and, to the Baatezuan's amusement, several teachers fainted. Cogs materialized at each exit, effectively preventing all avenues of escape.
"Who the heck is that?" Tommy whispered.
"I dunno, but he sure looks a lot like Goldar, without the wings." Adam replied.
The silver-clad warrior snatched the microphone from the trembling administrator, and smiled as he kicked him into the crowd. Tommy and Rocky were barely able to get underneath him in time. Despite their efforts, the principal was still knocked out, and so the Blue Ranger had no choice but to ease him to the ground. "What'll we do Tommy? I can't morph with all these people around."
Tommy's face was grim. "We have no choice but to listen to him. This silver dude is running the show right now."
"Forgive the deception, humans, but I've always loved a captive audience. Your presence is required for a very special day. Be honored, for like your Olympic Games, you will be witnesses to an extraordinary contest as I destroy the Wolf Ranger. And to make things interesting, if he does not show up within one hour, all of your lives are forfeit!"
Zordon stared at the viewing system, fighting the wave of anger which threatened to overtake him. Somehow, another Guardian had slipped through the atmospheric warning system and placed a force field around the high school, effectively cutting off all contact with the Zeo Rangers. The only respite from this had been during the creature's speech to his captives. The Eltarian prayed that Billy had recovered from the ordeal of the previous night, for he was needed. "Alpha, contact Billy. Time is of the essence."
The little robot nodded, and remained uncharacteristically silent as he opened the channel. For a moment, there was no response, and Zordon began to fear the worst; that too much energy had been taken, and that the oldest of his students lay dying. Just then, the Wolf Ranger's voice echoed through the Power Chamber. "I read you Zordon, what's wrong?"
The relief was evident in the mentor's voice. "Are you all right Billy? We could not get through to you."
A slight chuckle was heard at the other end of the communication. "Nothing's wrong, I just got out of the shower, that's all. Is it another Guardian?"
"I am afraid so. He has taken the school hostage as well. You are needed here as soon as possible."
Billy's voice became agitated. "Let me get dressed. I'll be right there!"
Less than a minute later, the Wolf Ranger arrived, looking quite disheveled. His hair was still damp and uncombed, and despite the cool temperature outside, he was dressed in a tank top. Billy had not even wasted time putting on his shoes, which he carried instead. "What do we know about this one Alpha?"
Alpha 5 turned to his friend and shook his head. "Nothing yet. The computer has yet to break the electronic scrambler that he's hiding his identity behind." As the robot spoke, the digitized image on the screen gradually came into focus. A gigantic beast-man adorned in silver armor, and carrying a massive spear, leered back at them. "Ai yai yai! It's Sivar!"
"This Sivar appears to be off the same genus as Goldar, though perhaps a different subspecies." Billy remarked.
"You are correct Billy. He is the silver Champion-Regent of the Baatezu, one of three rulers of his people. Assuming his title on the fields of battle, he was sent to conquer territory in Zedd's name. While his strength rating is not as high as Goldar, he is far more cunning."
The Ranger's voice lowered considerably as he studied the viewscreen. "Are... are Katherine and the others okay?"
Alpha checked his readouts. "I can't be sure. Be careful, Billy, he's sure to have set a trap."
"I'm positive that he has. However, I wasn't planning on using the front door." Billy brought his hands together in a familiar gesture.
"Ninja Ranger Power!"
Angel Grove High....
The Blue Ninja materialized silently, a few feet away from the shield. If his analysis had been correct, Saba would be able to cut through the field, though not without setting some sort of alarm. Fortunately, he knew of another way in. Clearing his mind, he visualized himself as being able to move through the ground beneath him as though it was water. Seconds later, he reemerged on the other side and jumped to the roof of the school.
A small box seemed to be the source of the energy field. The Wolf Ranger toyed with the idea of simply deactivating the barrier, but a cursory evaluation revealed circuitry with which he was completely unfamiliar. "Less than fifteen minutes until the deadline" he muttered. "Now's the time."
"Wolf Ranger Power!"
Garbed in the armored suit once more, Billy descended into the deathly silent halls of the school. Seeing no sign of Cog activity, he had just begun to relax a bit when he heard whispering. The noises appeared to be coming from a nearby supply closet. Swearing under his breath, Billy summoned his lance and threw the door open.
* * *
Tommy Oliver glanced at his watch, feeling the cold trickle of sweat rising on his neck. Billy now had less than ten minutes to show. Exhaling softly, he saw that the others shared his concern. "C'mon buddy! We need you."
* * *
"Don't kill us!"
"Yeah! We're too young!"
Billy let out a deep sigh of relief. Somehow, Bulk and Skull had managed to evade capture. Oh well, he mused. I need assistance to get the hostages out, and it looks like these two are it.
The Ranger stared down at the two cowering teens. "I'm not going to hurt you. I'm a Ranger, and I need your help."
The policemen were stunned. "Us? Help you?" they asked, in unison.
"Yes. I'm about to free the hostages, and I need you to make sure they get out." The Wolf Ranger drew Saba from netherspace, and extended it toward Skull. "Saba can cut through the energy field surrounding the school, as well as protect you. Can I count on you?"
The two former bullies spoke to one another quietly. Finally, they looked back at the Ranger... and saluted.
"When do we start?" Bulk asked.
Machine Skybase - Field of Assembly....
The massive horde of Barakeen Nomads milled around as they awaited their turn in battle. Ermaciak nodded in approval, then turned to their leader. "Well, well Princess. I must admit, you have impressed me."
Kesla appeared disinterested. "This is not for your benefit mercenary. I want what was promised to me!"
The dark warrior smiled at her contempt. "And you shall have it, my dear. As promised, I have located an area suitable for your purposes... the Desert of Despair!"
Sivar looked at his chronometer in satisfaction. In thirty seconds, he would be able to kill all those disgusting teenagers, saving the insipid Rangers for last. Grabbing the microphone from the podium, he sneered at the cowering masses.
"It would appear that your hero is a no-show!" he gloated. "I think you all know what that means! Now then, who will be--"
The remainder of the Baatezu's threat was drowned out by the explosion that blew the center exit's door from their hinges. When the smoke began to clear, the Wolf Ranger stepped into the light. "Not so fast, Sivar. Your time is up... NOW!"
Rocky peered through the thick smoke to see his friend, staff in hand, making short work of the Cog guards. Behind the Wolf Ranger was... Bulk and Skull?? Wielding SABA?? The youth resolved at that very moment to put an end to his Jolt Cola addiction. It was obviously affecting his vision. Realizing that Mr. Kaplan was in no shape to walk, Rocky began to drag the administrator toward the door.
* * *
Billy flashed a thumbs-up to Skull, who had taken on the task of getting the hostages through the exit. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bulk grab the unconscious principal from Rocky and toss him over his massive shoulder.
"Everyone out!" the Ranger cried, seconds before vaulting onto the stage.
Unfortunately, the seasoned warrior was expecting just such a move, and responded by slamming the haft of his spear into Billy's ribs. He yelped in pain, but somehow managed to twist in mid-air and land on his feet. The Wolf Ranger clutched his side, and turned to regard his enemy. "I would prefer not to fight you, Baatezuan. I only want what was stolen from my friends."
Sivar laughed at the boy's appeal. "You are the one giving the Machine King fits? There will be no surrender boy! In fact, I think that helmet will go well with my other trophies!"
Rather than answer, the Wolf Ranger charged. Sivar sidestepped, and narrowly missed the boy's unprotected back. Warily, the fighters circled one another, each searching for a sign of weakness.
* * *
"I sure hope that Wolf guy knew what he was talking about," Skull muttered as he stared at the energy barrier encasing the school grounds.
A calm, English-sounding voice startled him. "Oh, I assure you Mister Skullovich, the Wolf Ranger knows what he is doing." The Junior Policeman suddenly realized that the saber was talking to him. "I must insist that we hurry," Saba continued.
"Uh... yeah... sure, right away!"
As he began to cut through the force field, one thought crystallized within his mind. _If Lieutenant Stone hears about this one, he's gonna really think I'm nuts._
* * *
"Your staff technique is good, boy. In another thousand years, you might even be as good as me."
The Wolf Ranger ignored the jab. Sivar was obviously trying to distract him. _I need to finish this soon,_ he thought. His side was screaming in pain, indicating a possible break. Ducking from a swing meant for his head, Billy then swept his opponent's legs. The Champion-Regent fell to the floor in a heap, but not before scoring another shot to the Ranger's weakened side.
_That spear is deadly in his hands, even when he's on his back. Time to get rid of it!_
Raising the heavy staff above his head, Billy brought it down toward Sivar with as much force as he could muster. As he had expected, the alien brought up his own weapon to counter the blow. An explosion of light bathed the room as the Baatezuan's symbol of authority was destroyed. Underneath his helmet, Billy grinned. "Maybe that will change his mind."
Sivar stared at his shattered weapon in disbelief. "You broke my Haj^toK!" White hot rage engulfed the alien. "You want to play rough, eh?"
* * *
Tommy had joined Skull at the opening in the barrier, and together they were herding the students through. It was a scene of utter pandemonium as the crowd rushed for the safety of the courtyard, and the smaller teens were nearly trampled by the others. Both young men were finding it difficult to keep any semblance of order.
Skull breathed a sigh of relief as Rocky and Bulk emerged from the school. They, along with Mister Kaplan, had been the last to escape. _I just hope that the Wolf Ranger is okay,_ he thought.
* * *
The aforementioned Ranger backpedaled as his lance was knocked from his grip. Sivar was furious, and knocked the boy to the ground with ease. Bellowing, he leapt at Billy, hands grasping for his throat. Again, the Wolf Ranger managed to use the momentum to his advantage, sending the alien flying. Awkwardly, he struggled to his feet and tried to ignore the stabbing pain in his side.
"You're pissing me off, you ugly son of a Grax!" Sivar growled. "What'll it take to kill you?"
"I'm not... giving up." The Wolf Ranger dropped back into a Cat stance. "You have something that does not belong to you and I want it back."
"Very well then, boy. You're going down!" The alien's hands began to glow with a familiar aura of green. Billy recognized what was coming, and hoped that he would be able to weather the attack. "Green Punching Storm!"
An avalanche of blows assaulted the battered Ranger. Though his hands were moving faster than he could follow, several jabs penetrated his defenses. Billy knew that he would be unable to withstand much more damage, and tried to backflip away from the Guardian. In the process, he caught a wicked uppercut on his injured ribcage. Converting his gauntlet to blaster mode, he squeezed off three shots in rapid succession in an attempt to buy a respite.
Sivar laughed as the plasma was reflected away, harmlessly, by his armor. "Your undoing is now boy! No more tricks!" Grabbing the Wolf Ranger by his neck, he slammed him through the wooden floor of the stage. Billy felt his consciousness waver, and flailed helplessly as he was hit by an energy blast from the Champion-Regent's eyes.
Temple of Power....
Ninjor stared at the damaged components sitting on his workbench in dismay. When Zedd had destroyed the Power Coins, he had also effectively ruined the Morphers. He could see no way to find a more stable containment apparatus for Lupine's energies. "Always, they want the impossible," he moaned. "I wonder if Amandon had to deal with this in the old days."
"Do you always complain while you work, ninja?"
Even before he turned, Ninjor knew that Padishar Lupine had joined him. It was just like him to make a mysterious entrance. "Well, what brings the Wolf spirit to my temple?"
"You know why I am here. You are trying to interfere with the prophecy. This can not be allowed."
Ninjor eyed the spirit, ancient even to him. "I don't know what you are talking about," he denied. "And even if I was, I don't see the harm. I only wish to see that your Knight makes it through his trial in one piece." The Ninja Master's voice dropped. "I don't want to see the boy die."
Padishar snorted. "Do you think that I wish it? Billy and his friends are the vanguard in the Army of Light. They have a potential unmatched since the time of your Council. This is a war, Ninjor, and the Wolf Ranger is a soldier. You must cease in your efforts to assist him, or you risk losing him to his internal darkness."
Ninjor's head dropped. The Highlord was right, it was too dangerous to help the boy. "Padishar... Cryphon has been wrong before. Do you think...?"
Lupine looked over his shoulder as he prepared to leave. "That he was wrong about the boy's fate? I do not know... let us hope so."
The Wolf Ranger groaned as he attempted to dislodge himself from the wall. Sivar's energy blast had nearly driven him through the thick concrete, resulting in a deep impact crater. His vision had blurred from the force of the blow, and Billy shook his head in a desperate attempt to clear the cobwebs. A flash of silver in the corner of his eye brought him back to reality: the Baatezu was ready to finish him.
"One... chance," he muttered, gritting his teeth from the pain in his side. As the Guardian took to the air for the killing blow, the Ranger steadied himself. At the last possible second, Billy fired his absorption net, and staggered out of the way.
* * *
It was not a skill that came easily to Tommy Oliver. As the leader of the Power Rangers for almost all of their modern day existence, he was at his best in the midst of battle. Thinking on his feet had saved his team on numerous occasions, and to be unable to assist a friend bothered him a great deal. Worse, with the mass confusion surrounding him, he had no way to contact the Power Chamber. Frustrated, he pushed his way through the waves of humanity until he was able to break into the clear, where he caught sight of another of his team.
Katherine. She stood at the crest of the hill, oblivious to the chaotic scene behind her. Tommy sighed in resignation, he had figured that she would be up there. _I hope Billy's okay,_ he thought. _Because there's one special girl who loves him._ Not wanting to disturb her, he came to a halt behind the young blonde. Her hair whipped in the breeze as her eyes remained locked on the school below.
"He's been in there an awfully long time."
Tommy jumped in suprise. She had heard his approach after all. "He'll be all right, Kat. He's been fighting monsters since before any of us had even met." The Red Ranger put his arm around her as he followed her gaze.
Katherine shivered. "I hope so Tommy, I really do."
* * *
Never in his centuries-long existence had the alien known as Sivar felt such anger. With each movement, the net that held him tightened it's grip. Every fiber of his being yearned for the opportunity to rip out the boy's throat, but he lacked the strength to carry out such a vision. One lucky shot, and the Champion-Regent of House Sivar had fallen.
Billy ignored the Baatezu's idle threats as he probed his side for damage. A sharp intake of breath on his part indicated that he had pinpointed the trouble spot. _Two cracked ribs,_ he mused. _Tape should be sufficient._ Of greater concern to the Ranger was what to do with the Guardian. Killing was out of the question, he would not be a participant to murder. _What are my other options?_ he wondered.
The net began to slacken a bit as the last of the power was removed from its false owner. Sivar's cunning mind recognized an chance when he saw one, and readied himself to attack. "I might have been defeated, but revenge will be mine!" he growled.
Abruptly, the net retracted into the gauntlet, taking Billy completely by suprise. He looked up in time to see the Baatezu leap at him. Battle-hardened instincts took over, and the Wolf Ranger twisted his body into a spin kick, which knocked the alien on past.
Sivar looked down at his belt. The teleportation matrix was completely demolished. As it activated, the Champion-Regent cursed the name of his enemy, his voice dying like the summer breeze. "I'll come back for you!!"
Billy doubled over as a fresh wave of pain washed over him. For once, he welcomed the spasms. Somehow, the outcome of the fight struck him as funny. "Two lucky strikes in one day," he laughed. "And it's not even my birthday!"
AGHS - Exterior....
A wave of apprehension washed over the student body as the energy barrier surrounding the school vanished. Seconds later, a blue and gold flash heralded the arrival of the Wolf Ranger. Grateful teenagers swarmed toward the mysterious hero who had saved them, and as a result, Billy found it difficult to find his quarry.
"Back up kids. Give the Ranger some space."
Billy turned in the direction of his savior. "It is good to see you back on your feet, Principal Kaplan. Sivar has been defeated, though I'm afraid we made quite a mess of your auditorium."
The principal laughed. "That's quite all right. Without you, we would never have escaped."
"I appreciate the sentiment sir, but I should tell you that I had some help. It was Bulk and Skull who got your students to safety, while I fought off that creature." The Wolf Ranger gestured to the junior policemen, who swelled with pride at the mention of their names.
Gene Kaplan scratched his head in bewilderment. "I had never dared to believe this day would be possible. I'm proud of you boys."
Billy chuckled as he walked over to his erstwhile assistants. "My thanks go out to you, my friends," he said, placing his hands on their shoulders. "Without your help, countless lives could have been lost."
Neither Bulk nor Skull could form a response. Instead, they returned Saba, and snapped off a salute. Billy laughed, and returned the gesture of respect. A glimpse of pink near the school indicated the location of his other target, and so he began to move toward it.
"Hey! Aren't you going to do that disappearance thing of yours?" Skull asked.
"Actually, I thought I might walk. It is a nice day, after all."
* * *
"It's so good to see you!"
Billy gritted his teeth as Katherine grabbed him in a bearhug. He knew that his damaged ribs were going to require some attention, but he was enjoying his current position far too much to complain. Rocky and Tommy exchanged grins, which were in fact remarkable facsimiles of the one that Billy wore beneath his helmet.
"You okay pal?" Tommy asked, ever the concerned leader, even without powers.
"I'm fine, man. They're trying to get the students rounded back up though. You and Rocky had better get back."
The Blue Ranger caught the hint. "Of course! Let's go Tommy!"
Billy laughed as his two friends left, leaving him alone with the girl who had stolen his heart. Her eyes betrayed her thoughts. "Are you sure you're not hurt? You were in there an awfully long time."
"Hey," he whispered. "I'm fine. I can't die, you wouldn't let me."
Kat smiled. When he wanted to, Billy could have an extremely obnoxious sense of humor. It was one of his more endearing qualities, ranking up near the little boy shyness he used to exhibit around her. "I guess I'll just have to take your word for it, Mister Cranston."
"Well m'love, as much as I would like to hold you for the rest of the day, if you don't get back soon, they'll send out a search party."
"I suppose you're right." As she moved away, Katherine winked at him slyly. "No kiss?"
In response, Billy reached over and playfully smacked her across the rear. At her mock indignation, he gave his best little boy impression, shrugging his shoulders. "Sorry, just thrilled to be alive I guess. Love you!"
Despite her suprise, she still managed to keep her cool. "Love you more! See you after school." Katherine blew her boyfriend a kiss, then hurried off to rejoin the others.
Beneath his helmet, Billy felt the world's dumbest grin plaster itself on his face. "I could really get used to this relationship!"
Cranston Residence, 45 minutes later....
Billy materialized from the teleportation field in his bedroom. Having successfully recharged Adam's Zeo crystal, he could now afford to worry about his ribs. The pain had subsided for the most part, but he knew that any kind of strenuous activity could be dangerous.
The medical tape was exactly where he had left it. _One thing about being a Ranger,_ he mused, _You definitely get a crash course in first aid. I just hope that I remember how to do this procedure correctly._ Gingerly, he removed his shirt and examined the angry purple welt on his side. The Wolf Ranger winced as he taped up his side, hating every second of it. Thankfully, the ordeal was over quickly.
The state of disarray that had descended upon his house frightened him. Fast food wrappers littered the dining room table, remnants of Tommy's latest answer to cooking. Billy smiled, remembering the day before yesterday. He and Tommy had spent the night watching horror films, even after Adam and Rocky had declared that they could not handle any more and left. That Tommy had ended up spending the night didn't surprise Billy. After all, the Red Ranger kept a number of his own clothes at the Cranston house for just such an eventuality. When they awoke the next morning, Army of Darkness was still playing on the television.
The telephone's insistent ring startled the Wolf Ranger back to reality. Rushing into the living room, he snatched the receiver just before the answering machine picked up. "Hello?"
"Billy, how are you son?"
"Dad!" he exclaimed. "How is the project going?"
"Actually, that's why I'm calling. We've had another labor problem, so it doesn't look like I will be able to make it down for the tournament. I'm really sorry."
Billy found it difficult to mask his disappointment. He had been looking forward to seeing his father after a month's separation. "I understand. At the very least, Kat can record it."
Hank Cranston's voice lightened considerably at the mention of the pretty Australian's name. "And how is Katherine? I hope that you were able to get her through that rough spot in Chemistry."
"Um... she's good. We had dinner together last night."
"That's great son! I'd hold onto that one if I were you. Girls like her don't come along often." Billy heard another voice on his father's end, and knew that another mini-crisis had probably just popped up. Sure enough, when Hank returned to the line, his suspicions were confirmed. "Scott just told me that my presence is requested. I'll call again later."
"Okay Dad. Don't forget to eat, now," he kidded.
Hank chuckled at the old joke. Intensity was a trait shared by all the Cranston males. "Funny. Now don't you eat fast food every night."
Billy was incredulous. "How did you know?"
"Let's just say that with as much time as Tommy spends over, I've come to know what he thinks of cooking. Good-bye Billy," he laughed.
As he hung up the phone, Billy noticed that there was a message on his answering machine. Curious, he pressed the message button as he cleaned off the dining room table. The voice that greeted him was one that he had not heard in quite a long time.
"Hey Billy, it's Jason. Sorry I missed you, but I figured you'd be cooling your heels at home. At least, that's what I would be doing if I'd graduated early. I really need to talk to you pal, but I'm going to be out in the German countryside until the end of the week. I'm going to try to get ahold of you again on Saturday at 10 A.M., your time. Til then, later bro!"
The Wolf Ranger was overjoyed. He hadn't heard from his old teammates in almost three months, even though he tried to write to them every week. To receive a phone call from his old leader out of the blue thrilled him. But then, Jason had always been one to suprise him. Back in Junior High, when the Red Ranger had begun to go out with Kimberly, he had gone out of his way to befriend Billy, and it was a gesture that the Wolf Ranger had never forgotten.
Continuing in a pattern that was beginning to grate on Billy's nerves, the communicator chimed its warning signal. Rolling his eyes, he brought the bracelet up to his lips and spoke into it. "This is Billy."
Ninjor's voice came over the speaker. Explosions could be heard in the background. "Wolf Ranger! You must come quickly! The Temple of Power is under attack!"
Desert of Despair - Temple of Power....
The Wolf Ranger teleported into the center of the enchanted garden. The ground shook violently as the attackers continued to fire on the Temple's mountain wall. It didn't take his scientific skills to realize that they could not withstand a sustained attack of that magnitude. In addition, he already had a pretty good idea of who was behind the assault.
"Billy! Over here!" Ninjor made his way across the Temple, sword already in hand.
"Ninjor, who's causing all this?"
"Barakeen nomads, under the command of their princess, Kesla. I detected Zeo energy within her. Since she is a Guardian, I won't be able to fight her."
Billy let out his breath slowly. He didn't need this, not so soon after the battle with Sivar. "I understand. Can you draw her troops away while I confront her?"
To his amusement, the Ninja Master seemed to puff up in response to his question. "Just watch me!"
* * *
A solitary figure shrouded in black guided the assault against the battered mountain. Once it was breached, her people would have a home once more. More importantly, she would gain access to the Council of Meledon's crowning achievement, the Morphing Grid. Kesla smiled coldly at that thought. With the Grid augmenting her own power, she would finally be able to find the Lost Ones, and return them to their rightful place, alongside her own people.
Billy teleported onto the bluff and quickly assessed his surroundings. Only one Barakeen was nearby. At least, he assumed it was a Barakeen, Ninjor hadn't exactly been specific. _I just hope this battle can be avoided,_ he thought. _I could use some rest._ The Ranger let his hand fall to the Dagger at his waist as he moved cautiously toward the stranger. The princess remained still, ignoring his approach. When he was no more than five feet away, she slowly turned to face him, though her robes continued to obscure her form.
The Wolf Ranger froze. For a moment, he could have sworn that he saw a familiar face beneath the ebon hood. Chalking it up to a case of jangled nerves, he made an appeal to her sensibilities. "Princess, I don't want to fight you. If you're looking for a home for your people, we can help you. This violence isn't necessary. Please... have your nomads cease their attack. There's another way."
Kesla smiled inwardly. An inferior race, speaking to her as though he was an equal. She found his notion... amusing, though nothing more. _This young fool has no concept of who he faces,_ she mused. With a sudden movement, she ripped off her cloak, letting the wind carry it away. The Wolf Ranger was stunned by her appearance. The Guardian was....
"Katherine? Wh... what are you doing here?" he stuttered, lowering his defenses.
So shocked was he by the sight of his girlfriend, that Billy did not notice the barbed object bearing down on him until it was too late. Even as he attempted to jump out of it's way, he felt the stinger bury itself in his thigh. He screamed as he felt his leg go dead. Kesla watched him collapse in agony, the pulled her tail free, leaving the hook behind. The Pink Ranger's features began to melt away, changing shape and color. Billy stared up the massive scorpion, knowing that he was in serious trouble.
"So much emotion," she spat in contempt. "No wonder yours is an inferior species. I shall enjoy crushing your bones into powder. Make peace with your Wolf-God, Ranger, for you are about to join him!"
Angel Grove High....
Katherine Hillard bounced to her locker, exulting in the shortened school day. Following Sivar's abortive hostage attempt, Mister Kaplan had decided it would be in the student's best interests to call it a day after lunch. As she opened her locker, she realized that she had been humming the song that Billy had played for her the previous evening. Throughout the shortened school day, her thoughts continued to meander toward him. Foremost in her thoughts had been a need to get revenge on him. _After all,_ she thought with a smile, _One good spanking deserves another._
"That is without a doubt the dirtiest grin I've ever seen!" Tanya exclaimed, as she joined her friend at the locker. "You have got to be thinking about Billy."
The taller girl felt her face burn, which showed up remarkably well with her pale complexion. "I... um, don't know what you are talking about."
The look on Tanya's face spoke volumes. "Yeah, sure. I believe you." The Yellow Ranger giggled at her friend's behavior. She would never have imagined that the reserved Australian was capable of such... public displays.
Rocky and Adam jumped down the stairs, thrilled by the opportunity to blow off school, and not get punished for it. The sight that greeted them at Kat's locker left them puzzled. Tanya looked as though she was about to fall over from laughing, and Kat was a rather distinctive shade of red. Rocky shot a glance at his friend, who merely shrugged. But then, Adam was utterly clueless when it came to women, which explained why the Green Ranger seemed oblivious to the girls who followed him around from class to class.
"Okay ladies, I'll bite. What's going on?" Rocky directed his question toward Tanya, since Katherine had turned around and buried her head in her locker.
The Yellow Ranger took a deep breath to silence herself. "Oh, nothing really. Unless, of course, you count Little Miss Proper having some kind of fantasy about her boyfriend in the middle of the hallway."
Katherine spun around, totally mortified by her friend's rather graphic interpretation. "TANYA!" She squealed. Seeing the amused look on Rocky's face, she appealed to his better nature, if he had one. "It wasn't like that, really!"
"Mmmm-hmmm. Don't listen to her Rocky. Another minute, and she would have been drooling."
The Blue Ranger cracked up at the mental picture which had asserted itself in his psyche. Tanya, spurred on by his outburst, joined him in laughter. Ever the picture of restraint, Adam merely grinned as he patted her on the shoulder, though it was obvious he was close to joining in.
* * *
Skull passed by the scene without uttering a sound. Half of the time, he did not understand what that group was talking about. On other occasions, such as now, he was greatly appreciative of that same inability. Somehow, life made more sense that way.
* * *
Rocky wiped a tear from his eye as he regained his breath. "I'm supposed to meet up with Tommy at the Juice Bar. Y'all wanna come?"
Tanya readily agreed, but the other two teens begged off, intending to check on Billy. Shrugging his shoulders, the Blue Ranger spun on his heels and headed down the hallway. Adam and Katherine shouldered their backpacks and headed down another passage, eyes peeled for an empty classroom in which to teleport.
Desert of Despair....
Those words were rapidly becoming a mantra in Billy's head. While he had somehow been able to dodge Kesla's tail thus far, he knew it was only a matter of time before he was skewered by the massive scorpion. Worse, he was crippled! His injured leg had remained numb, and completely unwilling to support his weight. Unless he could find a way to regain the use of that limb, he feared that he was doomed.
The scorpion halted it's attack, perhaps weary of the darting Ranger's inability to sit still. Before his eyes, Kesla changed form once again. This time, the Guardian's body shrunk down, taking a more feminine shape. The Wolf Ranger glared at her. Kesla had the audacity to change into his mother! Billy charged the Dragon Dagger with energy as he felt a hot flash of anger wash over him. "You just picked the wrong person to imitate! HUUL!!"
Kesla was sent flying by the sheer brute force of his attack, a flurry of sparks cascading off of her chest as the weapon impacted. She shook her head to clear away the cobwebs and staggered to her feet. To her chagrin, the boy was nowhere to be found. Rage overwhelmed her as she scanned the nearby area for him. No longer did she want to merely kill him, rather, she intended to torture the Ranger. He would suffer first. "You cannot hide from me, coward! You only prolong the inevitable!"
* * *
Billy was, in fact, very close to the Guardian. He had managed a short range teleportation hop to a sand dune on the far side of the plateau. The effort had taxed him considerably, which was evident in his labored breathing. According to the medical scanner which was built into each suit, the barb in his leg was emitting a neural toxin. Therefore, he decided, the only way to regain the use of his left leg was to cut out the weapon. He gripped the Dragon Dagger, which had returned after being thrown, and gritted his teeth. _This is REALLY going to hurt,_ he thought.
It was, he observed, the first time that he wished he had been wrong.
Adam was the first to spot Billy's image in the viewing system. What he saw made him sick; his friend was attempting to dig a strange hook from his thigh. At the Green Ranger's gasp, Katherine spun around, just in time to see the Wolf Ranger's head slam against the dune. Neither teen was able to avert their eyes from the grim spectacle before them.
"Z-Zordon, wh-who did that to him?" the young girl's voice sounded very much like a small child's, and she was beginning to turn white.
"Alpha, readjust the viewing parameters," the Eltarian commanded.
As the four watched, the image digitized, before slowly fading back into focus. A dark creature let loose with a volley of plasma at a nearby sand dune, though nowhere near Billy. As the scene's clarity sharpened, and a second form came into view.
Adam's eyes widened in shock. "What the heck is she...?"
The Pink Ranger was equally astounded. "Kimberly?"
Desert of Despair....
_I will NOT scream.... I will not scream... I wi... DAMMIT! This HURTS!_
Billy's mind raced as he fought to remain silent. The second that he had removed the hook, every nerve ending in his leg seemed to catch fire. Forcing himself to remain coherent, he ran through his first aid. _Have to stop the bleeding,_ he remembered. Covering the wound with his hand, he applied pressure as he searched for some type of bandage. Amazingly, the Guardian's cloak had landed nearby. _Better than nothing,_ he decided. Ripping it into strips, he quickly tied them around his wound. Gingerly, he staggered to his feet, summoning his staff as a crutch.
The Wolf Ranger stiffened. That voice! Billy peered over the cover of the dune. Kesla stood in the center of the plateau, sending an occasional laser shot in the opposite direction. At her feet was a beautiful young girl, his own age, with brown hair. His stomach knotted as he realized the identity of the hostage.
* * *
"How were they able to grab Kim without us knowing?"
"I am unsure, Green Ranger. We began monitoring only shortly before you arrived. I can only assume that the Barakeen have the ability to mask themselves from our sensors." Zordon was alarmed. The fact that one of his former chosen ones could be so easily captured had unnerved him.
* * *
Billy limped toward the Guardian and her captive. Kim's clothes were ripped, and he could see a bruise forming on her cheek. "Are you okay, Kimmie?"
The former Ranger nodded, whimpering. "Please get me out of here. I... I'm afraid."
Billy's voice softened considerably. "Don't worry. Everything is going to be fine, I promise." As he stared at her captor, he had to fight to keep the venom from his tone. She could still hurt Kimmie. "What do you want," he asked.
Kesla laughed at him. "You will surrender your Power Coin, and I might decide to let her live."
"Y... You win. Just don't hurt her... please!" The Wolf Ranger's tone was one of surrender, utter defeat. He reached down, and slowly removed the coin from his belt. Shuddering, he dragged himself toward her, his life in his hand.
* * *
"Ai yai yai! He's going to do it!" Alpha exclaimed, shielding his optics.
Adam's tone was rapidly becoming frantic. "But if he does that, he'll die again! You can't let him do it Zordon!!"
The Eltarian remained silent. There was nothing he could do to help his student, and it appeared as though they were going to lose him, again. Nearby, Katherine stood, completely still. Her face was frozen in horror as she stared at the scene unfolding at the Temple.
* * *
The Wolf Ranger came to a halt, a few feet in front of Kesla. He could see the fear in his friend's eyes. "Kim, tell the others... I tried," he mumbled, choking on the lump in his throat. The golden coin flashed in the desert sun as he opened his hand. The Guardian reached for her prize, cackling at his misfortune.
The gleam disappeared suddenly, as his fist wrapped around the last of ancient coins. Twisting his wrist, he fired his blaster - at point blank range. Kesla was launched into the air, finally coming to a rest at the bottom of the steep embankment. Kimberly stared up at her friend, shocked by the move. Slowly, it dawned on her that she was alive, and she hopped to her feet, grabbing him in a bearhug.
"Omigosh! You saved me, Billy! Are you okay?" The Wolf Ranger did not respond, instead pushing her away and leveling the blaster at her chest.
"B-Billy? What are you...?"
The rest of Kimberly Hart's sentence was lost in the hiss of laser fire.
Adam tasted bile as he watched Kim slump to the ground. He was completely horrified by what his best friend had done. For some reason, Billy had fired his blaster at full power. The chances of Kimberly surviving it were utterly nonexistent. _I don't understand,_ he thought. _They said he couldn't be controlled by King Mondo anymore._
Katherine covered her mouth with her hand. Despite her mission to destroy Kim while under Rita's control. The two had developed a close friendship. It had been she who had convinced the Pink Ranger of Billy's interest, although it had taken her months after that revelation to confess hers. And now, this had happened. She wanted to scream, as though it would wake her from this nightmare.
Unconsciously, she began to back away from the viewing screen. Her body shook, as she began to realize that what she had just seen was real. What she had not counted on, however, was the open access panel where Alpha had been conducting repairs when the alert had come through.
Adam spun on his heels at the sound of the crash behind him. His friend and teammate was sprawled out on the floor, a lump rising on her head from where it had struck a console. He shook her in an attempt to wake her, but she did not respond.
"Alpha, I need some help over here," he yelled.
Desert of Despair....
Billy stared down at the smoking body of Kimberly Hart. His pulse was beginning to race, and a cold sweat had broken out over his body. _What if I'm wrong? I may have just killed my oldest friend!_ He shivered, chilled by the thought.
Just then, Kim's face began to change, features melting away. Her skin tone lightened, fading to a pale white. Where his friend's body had been, a barren form now rested, lacking even a mouth or eyes. The Wolf Ranger sighed in relief, his stomach returning to it's proper place. As he watched, Kesla began to stir, moaning as she recovered from the surprise attack.
"Not this time, Princess," Billy growled, launching his net. As the energy to Katherine's crystal was drained, he hopped back, taking a position to better defend himself. Kesla glared with unrestrained hatred at the Wolf Ranger, though she made no attempt to strike at him.
"You have won today boy, but know this. I do not take defeat lightly. I will return, more powerful, and destroy you and all you hold dear!" With that, she turned her back to him and ordered her people to retreat.
"Billy! The Nomads have retreated," Ninjor exclaimed, rushing up the cliff to stand beside his friend. Billy nodded, his attention still focused on the spot where the Guardian had disappeared.
"You might come back," he whispered. "But I'll be waiting."
The Wolf Ranger's helmet hit the floor when he saw his girlfriend stretched out, unconscious, on the diagnostic table. "What happened," he cried, limping to her side.
Adam answered for him. "She bumped her head on the computer console. Don't worry though, she's already starting to come around."
Billy nodded, then took her hand into his own. "Kat? Sweetheart, can you hear me?"
"Mmmm... Billy?" The Pink Ranger rubbed her eyes, which opened wide when she saw Billy standing over her. "What happened? Why did you shoot Kimberly?"
He managed a slight grin. "That wasn't Kim. It was the shape-shifter in disguise."
It was at that moment that Katherine first noticed the beads of sweat on his forehead. "Billy, your leg.... Are you all right?"
In answer, the leg buckled, sending the exhausted Ranger to the floor in a heap. Billy cried out as his entire body seemed to erupt with pain. Adam and Kat were immediately by his side, lifting him onto the bed which she had just vacated. Every time his leg moved, the Ranger screamed. Katherine gripped his hand tightly and refused to let go, as Alpha rushed over, a strange device in his hand.
"I'll attempt to use this tissue regenerator to heal the worst of the damage," he explained as he waved the device over the wound. To Billy's surprise, it began to knit itself together, and the pain decreased in intensity. He found himself able to breath normally, and smiled at his friends.
"Thanks Alpha, Zordon. That's much better. The pain is almost gone now."
"You are welcome Billy. But how did you know that the person you shot was not Kimberly? Even I was fooled," Zordon asked.
"She tipped her hand during the battle. When she imitated my... my mother, I realized that she had the ability to read my mind. Therefore, I focused on a mental picture of Kim, but with green eyes."
The Eltarian nodded, pleased with his Ranger's ingenuity. "Well done. I believe you have earned a chance to rest. Take advantage of it, and heal your wounds."
Katherine helped him to his feet. He was able to stand, but was very visibly favoring his injured leg. "Don't worry Zordon. I have no intention of letting him out of my sight," she replied, an evil grin on her face.
Adam laughed. "Yeah, I'll just bet you won't."
Ermaciak waited impatiently for Mondo to finish his rant. The cyborg passed the time by examining the finish on his blade. This action was not lost on the enraged machine. Dangerously close to boiling over, he waved a finger in the Guardian's face. "Your plan has failed imbecile! Not only has Billy failed to die, he has recovered two more Zeo Energy Matrixes. Where are your vaunted tactical sk- URRK!!"
Mondo's voice was cut off suddenly when Ermaciak lifted him into the air by his throat. The thought that the self-styled "Machine King" was one of the most powerful beings in this dimensional reality sickened the bounty hunter. "You will be silent," he growled. "Everything has occurred as I have planned it! Do you honestly believe that I expected either of those two to defeat the WolfLord's champion? They were but instruments of my will, their purpose to drain the Ranger's energy. Soon, he shall face me in combat, and I will give him an honorable demise, by my hand!" With that, the Bounty Hunter threw Mondo to the floor and stalked out. Reaching the door, he paused, eyeing the fallen King.
"There is one more thing, my liege," Ermaciak sneered in contempt. "The boy is mine! Stay away from him, lest you become my next target!"
Cranston Residence, early evening....
Rocky pulled into the driveway, pausing for a moment before cutting off the engine to his car. From the look of things, he was the last to show, although Tommy's Jeep was nowhere to be seen. "I hope they haven't eaten yet," he mused, stomach growling in agreement. Chuckling, he hopped over the shrubbery that shaded the front porch and rang the doorbell. Seconds later, Katherine appeared at the door, and invited him in. In the background, he could hear Sting's familiar voice, singing "The Hounds of Winter," obviously a choice of Billy and Adam's.
"Sorry I'm late Kat. My sisters thought it would be funny to hide my CDs." Even as he offered it, Rocky knew it sounded like a really lame excuse.
The Australian considered his reason for a second. "You did bring some music though, didn't you?"
"Of course! Don't forget, I've hung out with them before," he grinned.
"I know. I love those two, but I don't understand why the always listen to such depressing music."
"Are you two getting cozy in there," Tanya yelled, from the other room.
"Uh... we should get in there before they start a rumor," Rocky stammered, his face turning crimson. Kat giggled, before unexpectedly dragging him into the living room. As it was brightly lit, the teen's embarrassment was painfully obvious. Rocky stared at the ground, trying desperately to wish away the color on his face.
Tanya squealed with laughter. "Look at him! No wonder he used to be the red Ranger!"
"You really do have incredible power over women, Antonio," Adam added, before cracking up.
"Okay, fine. Take your shots. I'm a big boy, I can take it," Rocky conceded.
Incredibly, even Billy got in on the act. "If that was your impersonation of me, your face wasn't bright enough."
"Okay, okay. I think he's suffered enough." Kat interjected. Wordlessly, the Blue Ranger thanked her, glad that his torment was over. "By the way," she added "Our wedding is next week, hope that you can all make it."
By now, both Tanya and Adam were wheezing. Rocky stared at Kat for a moment as he realized she had finally had her revenge for all the practical jokes he had played on her. He had to admit, she had really zinged him with that one.
Once everyone had managed to calm down, Tanya cleared her throat. "I guess it's only fair that we let Rocky pick the next CD, since we embarrassed him."
"I guess that was a hint," Billy sighed. "What did you bring, Mariachi?"
Rocky bowed with a flourish. "Let's see.... I've got Gin Blossoms, U2, the Desperado soundtrack--"
"Very funny, Adam! Who's up for some Chili Peppers?" Everyone agreed, so Rocky switched discs and cued up the first song before settling into his favorite chair. Billy and Kat had already claimed the couch, while Adam and Tanya sat on the floor near the fireplace. The Blue Ranger stared at the leg Billy had propped up on the coffee table. The outline of a bandage was evident through the sweat pants he was wearing. "How's the leg," he asked.
"Alpha healed the worst of it, but it's still really sore. I have to keep my weight off or it starts to cramp up. The important thing is, Adam's plan worked. I didn't have another blackout."
"Awesome! Three down, two to go!", Rocky exclaimed, clapping his hands together.
Billy nodded, frowning. "The real question is, how tough are the other two going to be?"
Katherine leaned over and kissed his cheek. "We know you can do it Billy. I have faith in you."
"If anyone can, it's you." Adam added quietly.
The front door opened, and moments later, Tommy Oliver made his entrance. "Man! It's really starting to get cold outside. Who's hungry?"
Almost in unison, the Rangers groaned. "Not more fast food!"
The Red Ranger was taken aback. "Give me a break gang! I wouldn't do fast food when all of us are here. Tonight is a celebration, after all. If you guys set the table, I'll give Billy a hand."
Dark side of the moon....
Klank nervously trudged the length of the cavernous bridge of the Grimorae. Larger than even the Machine Skybase, the massive ship was over three miles long and bristled with weapons. He could only hope that it's owner was not in a foul mood this day.
"Ah, Klank, welcome to the Grimorae."
The robot stared up at the platform floating above his head. Ermaciak reclined in his seat, laughing at the machine's discomfort. "Calm yourself. I have no reason or desire to harm you."
"Ye-ye don't?" Klank stammered.
The Bounty Hunter's eyes flashed. "Not unless you force my hand. But then, you did not become his Major Domo without some measure of intelligence."
The robot straightened, and attempted to gauge Ermaciak's mood. He knew of the outburst in the Throne Room, and did not have any desire to be on the receiving end of one himself. "What can I do for ye?"
"Straight to the point. I like that." Ermaciak stepped off the platform and landed as nimbly as a cat. In his hands he carried a small device, which he handed to Klank. "I want you to plant this on Stunticore's hide."
"I do not have time for this idiocy!", the Guardian exploded. "That beast is too slow-witted to realize when to strike. This will ensure that he makes planetfall near Angel Grove."
Klank backpedaled a step before realizing that it was in his best interest to take Ermaciak's tool. "A wise choice, machine. If I were you, I would advise you to send one of your Cogs with that. I doubt that Stunticore will be very friendly when he is awakened."
"I don't understand how you can wear short sleeves in this weather Adam," Kat rubbed her hands together in an attempt to warm them. "I'm freezing!"
The Green Ranger shrugged his shoulders. "This isn't all that cold compared to a Texas winter. It's only 40 degrees outside."
Billy reached over and put an arm around his girlfriend, a gesture for which she was very appreciative. "I guess I'm just not used to it. It never got this cold in Blackheath, even in the Blue Mountains."
"I just remembered," Billy said, speaking up for the first time since Kat had decided that he and Tommy were not to discuss DragonZord battle tactics anymore. "Jason called earlier!"
"Are you kiddin' me? What did he say?", Tommy asked excitedly. Perhaps more than anyone else, the long-haired teen had missed the sometimes hot-headed Red Ranger.
"That's the bad part. I was fighting Sivar at the time. He did say he would call again on Saturday morning though."
Tommy grinned broadly. "Billy... Have you still got that photo album?"
Billy's face was a mirror of his friend's. "Of course! Do you remember where it is?"
"The lab, where else? I'll be right back!" Tommy chuckled.
Tanya watched him leave, thoroughly confused. "What photo album?" she asked.
Billy smiled. "It's something Tommy and I started a couple of years ago. We wanted a record of our time as Rangers."
"But aren't you worried that someone could find it?" she continued.
"No. Only the two of us know where it is."
Seconds later, Tommy returned with the thick volume. The Rangers gathered around as he opened the book. Pictures of the early days of the team filled the first few pages. Kat smiled at a picture of her boyfriend. "You know, you were pretty cute in glasses and those overalls."
"Remind me to wear them on our next date.", he teased back.
More pictures. -The Green Ranger joining the team, and posing with his helmet in his hand- Tommy flipped the page. -The Homecoming Dance- _Kim looked gorgeous in that dress,_ he thought. -A kiss shared under the mistletoe of their first Christmas together- Billy noticed the pained look in his friend's eye, and patted him on the shoulder.
Adam stared at a picture of Angel Grove's State Champion football team. "Hey, check it out! There's Billy and Tommy!"
"Yeah, and there's Zack and Jason!" Rocky added. He had remembered hearing about the highly touted backfield of Taylor and Scott, and had been surprised to discover that the four boys had also been Rangers.
The rest of the book was filled with snapshots of the last two years of the Rangers' history. There was even a section on the Rangers of Aquitar. Billy smiled as he remembered the month he had spent on their world, and the relief he had felt when peace had been made with the Hydro-Contaminators. The whole time he had been away, thoughts of his friends had kept him going. _Of course, the trip home was something I could stand to forget,_ he mused.
"Billy, are you going to be able to compete in the Team Ninja Contest this weekend?", Rocky asked.
"Alpha thinks I can. I'm just going to give it my best shot, right Adam?"
"Right partner." The Green Ranger winked in reply.
Katherine recoiled as she glanced down at her watch. "It's getting late. Billy needs his rest."
Tommy hopped to his feet and saluted. "Yes ma'am! You heard her gang, time to go. Billy, I'll swing by before class tomorrow."
The leader ushered the others out, leaving Kat alone with her boyfriend. A silence broken only by the pop of the logs in the fireplace settled over the room. Leaning into the crook of his arm, she sighed contentedly. "No interruptions tonight."
Billy stroked her hair. "It's funny how things change. Most of my old friends are gone. You replace Kim. Despite missing her, I'm glad you became a Ranger."
Kat turned to face him. "That's sweet."
Impulsively, he began to tickle her. "Still want me to change? My old clothes are upstairs." Kat shrieked as she tried to pull away, laughing so hard that she couldn't breathe. Together, they crashed to the floor in a heap, still giggling. Gradually, they realized that their faces were only inches apart. Billy stared down into her eyes, and his face softened. Tenderly, he bridged the distance between them with a kiss. The sudden change in mood shocked her at first, but soon Katherine was kissing him back, her fingers tangling in his hair.
The telephone broke the spell with it's insistent ringing. Groaning, Billy rolled off of his girlfriend. "Why does this always happen?" he whined. Kat shot him a sympathetic look as he picked up the receiver.
"Hello? .... Oh, hi Mrs. Hillard .... No, she's still here. Did you need to speak to her?" Billy paused as he listened to the phone intently. "Dinner tomorrow? That would be great .... No, thank you! Let me get her." Billy handed the phone to Kat, pinching her as he flopped back down on the couch.
"Ouch! .... No, not you Mum." Cradling the phone with her shoulder, she punched her boyfriend without missing a beat. "No, I can come get you, I was getting ready to leave anyway .... I can be there in ten minutes. Bye Mum." Kat hung up the phone and glared at Billy. "You little rat!"
"Wolf. What did she say?"
"I have to pick her up. She's stranded downtown." The Australian girl frowned. "I'm sorry. It seems like the whole town is conspiring against us."
"Don't worry. There will be other nights. After all, she did invite me to dinner tomorrow night," he laughed.
Katherine stood up and grabbed her coat. Billy walked her to the door, where she hooked her arms around his neck. "Now promise me that you'll get some rest."
"Good, then I'll see you tomorrow.", she replied, before kissing him goodnight.
Closing the door behind her, Billy reflected on what he had said earlier. "Things do change.", he whispered. "And I hope that the prophecy is one of those things."
"Time to destination?"
A metallic voice answered the Guardian's question. "Thirty- three hours, seventeen minutes at current velocity."
Ermaciak stared at the blue and green planet. "Your time grows short Cranston. Soon, you shall either join with me, or die at my hands, just like Padishar Lupine!"
Gym and Juice Bar....
Billy sat at the bar, waiting for his friends to join him over their lunch break. There had been no monster activity over the last two days, although Alpha was monitoring strange atmospheric conditions in nearby Stone Canyon. It had been a welcome respite, allowing time for his injuries to heal. Support from his teammates had been a big help, and he was now anxious to meet the final Guardians and restore the Rangers' powers.
Pricking his ears at the sound of a familiar voice, he turned to see Katherine and Adam walk through the door. From the look of things, she was relating the story of their dinner date at her house. "I'm serious Adam. He showed up at my front door in a suit. Dad thought that my mum was going to faint. She had never been very impressed with my any boyfriends before that."
Billy kissed her forehead. "All the gory details, huh?"
Kat smiled playfully. "No, not all of them."
The TV screen flashed as a news bulletin broke into the sports show which had been playing. Adam took a step forward in an attempt to hear better.
"We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with news of an extraordinary phenomenon in the city of Stone Canyon. We go live to WKCB reporter Janet Lawton, who is on the scene. Janet?"
The television went to a shot of the airspace over Angel Grove's sister city. A strange distortion, as though the sunlight was being diffused through a filter, passed slowly overhead. The reporter had to shout to be heard over the panicked masses who had taken to the streets. "Hector, Emerson Air Force Base has been at a loss to explain what you are seeing. Speculation runs rampant, with theories such as an invasion by the Machine Empire, to Elvis Presley's return. The question on everyone's mind is, where are the Power Rangers? The team of heroes have been missing for the past week. A new hero made an appearance earlier this week...."
Janet trailed off as the bizarre light show disappeared. In its place, a gargantuan spacecraft emerged. The effect on the crowd was immediate, as the people rushed for what they hoped was the relative safety of the underground subway.
Adam felt the color drain from his face. That ship dwarfed Serpentera. "Billy," he whispered. "You better take a look at this."
Billy turned, and the smile was immediately wiped from his face. At once, he was on his feet and headed for the door.
Billy appeared in a flash of blue and gold light. "Zordon, we have a problem."
Zordon nodded as Kat and Adam made their entrance. "We are aware of the situation, Billy. Alpha is completing a preliminary scan even as we speak, though I fear that I know that ship."
Billy took the report, and his frown deepened even more. An energy field surrounded the warship, making teleportation impossible. Worse, they were unable to get any sort of internal reading on either layout or number of lifesigns.
A sudden whoosh signaled the arrival of the others. Tommy, ever the stalwart leader, was the first to speak. "We got out as quick as we could. The police have begun evacuating the city. What's going on?"
Zordon's voice was much lower than normal. "If my suspicions are correct, the fourth Guardian is Ermaciak. He is a being of complete evil. You must be very careful, Billy."
Billy exhaled sharply, and lifted his pendant toward the sky. "Wolf Ranger Power!"
The room flooded with light, much dimmer than what was normal when morphing. The Wolf Ranger staggered backwards, as though his legs were made of rubber. He could see spots in front of his eyes, and he couldn't breathe.
Tommy assessed the situation at once. He knew the sensations that his friend was feeling, for it had been the same when he had lost his Green Ranger powers. Before anyone else could move, he sprang forward, yanking the Ranger's helmet off. "Speak to me man! Snap out of it!"
Billy tried to focus on his leader. His pulse thudded in his ears. "I can't breathe," he gasped.
Alpha glanced at Billy's life readings. "Your energy readings are fluctuating wildly! The coin has become unstable!"
Adam shoved Tommy out of the way and grabbed the Dragon coin. Billy had begun to shake violently. Slamming the coin down on the control panel, Adam opened an interface with the containment field he had set up earlier as a battery for the excess energy. As soon as the coin was charged, he hurried back to his friend's side. "Take it! Hurry!"
The second he touched the coin, the Ranger's convulsions ceased. Accepting a hand from Tommy, he staggered to his feet. "That's two I owe you Adam," he said.
"Billy, in your current condition, I cannot allow you to confront Ermaciak." Zordon's tone was serious.
The Wolf Ranger shook his head. "We both know this is the only way. I'll be careful."
Katherine stepped forward. "Just make sure you watch yourself, okay?"
Billy kissed her. "I promise."
Ermaciak studied the FalconZord's approaching silhouette on his viewscreen. As he had expected, the boy had wasted no time in responding to his ship's sudden appearance. Soon it would be time to confront the last Ranger.
"Computer, open a gap in the barrier on the upper hull, and allow that ship to land. Internal defenses are to become active only upon my direct command."
* * *
"Stay with the FalconZord Saba. I might need to make a quick escape, and that field is interfering with the feed back to the Power Chamber."
"Very well. Be careful."
The words ran through Billy's head as he made his way into the depths of the Grimorae. The corridors seemed to pulse with living energy. As large as the ship was, he knew that he could spend days searching for the control room. Days that he did not have. The threat to Angel Grove aside, he knew that the powers which had allowed him a second lease on life were fading. He had guessed that they would burn out entirely within another day or two. Thus, his only option was to defeat this Guardian, and then search out the fifth.
"Welcome aboard my ship, Ranger of Earth."
Billy froze. The voice had to be Ermaciak, taunting him. "You have me at a disadvantage. You can see me, but I cannot see you."
The voice on the loudspeaker chuckled. "Indeed. For the moment, that is how it shall remain. Do not worry, you have nothing to fear. Whether or not that continues is up to you."
"What is it you want? I don't suppose you would be willing to surrender the power that was stolen from my friend."
"Ah, yes. If I recall correctly, it was you who stole that energy. It belongs to me now, but that is not what I wish to discuss with you."
Billy scowled as he continued down the corridor. "If you refuse to yield, then we have nothing to discuss."
"You are mistaken, Billy. We are more alike than you realize. Like me, you possess the inner darkness. And like me, you have an intelligence far greater than those around you. We should be allies, not enemies."
"Your reasoning is flawed. I am a Power Ranger. I have an obligation to protect my friends and my planet. I will not turn my back on them again, ever!"
Again the voice laughed. "Do not be so naive boy! Has it ever occurred to you that the wizard has been using you? Think about your friends. When three of them left, they were replaced by people you barely knew! Did he not use Kimberly in the same way?"
The Wolf Ranger stiffened. He had never thought of it that way. Zordon had never even spoken of his former teammates after they had left the fold.
"You were treated the same way Billy. Why was Tommy named the team's leader instead of you? Are you not the most experienced, the most brilliant? And then you were passed over in favor of the others for a Zeo Crystal."
"Perhaps you are right," Billy conceded. "But the past is the past. It won't change anything now." _If I can keep him talking, my suit can home in on his location,_ he reasoned.
"Why do you think that you were the one most often singled out to corrupt by Zedd and Rita? There is a dark side to you, whether you admit it or not. You belong with me. I would even spare your friends, were you willing to join forces."
_Got him!_ "Forget it Ermaciak! Even if I could trust you, which I don't, I won't let you enslave my home!"
A veil of energy surrounded the Wolf Ranger, and then he was on the bridge. Above him, on a floating platform, Ermaciak rose.
"So be it, Ranger of Earth!"
Cascade Mountain Range....
To see the Grimorae on a television screen gave no real clue as to it's true scope. Somewhere on board, a young man who meant the world to Katherine Hillard was fighting for his own life, as well as his friend's. The other Rangers had not noticed when she had slipped away, unable to bear the wait. Although she was well aware that the Power Chamber was a likely first target, she had still been compelled to wait outside.
"Katherine? What are you doing out in the open?"
The Pink Ranger shrugged her shoulders in response to Tanya's question. She herself did not know why she had left the safety of the Ranger's complex. "I can't stay in there. We can't even track his movements."
Tanya's features softened. "Billy will make it. Look at what he's got to come back to." Taking a seat by her friend, she shivered involuntarily. The appearance of Ermaciak's battleship had turned morning to dusk. "We'll wait right here, for him to come back."
"I did not want it to come to this Billy. I had hoped we could avoid bloodshed, and settle this like two rational beings."
Billy Cranston studied his opponent. All things being equal, he had also wanted to avoid a confrontation. Unfortunately, Ermaciak's "rational solution" would mean betraying everything he held dear. "We both know that I will not join with you. To do so would dishonor my friends and my teachers."
The Guardian was quite unlike anything he had ever seen before. The bounty hunter's strength and grace were evident in the way he carried himself. The armor which protected him shone with a strange iridescent finish, even to the clawed tips of his fingers. His long white hair brought images of Tommy to mind, but all such thoughts were quickly erased by the cruelty in his grey, scarred face.
_The eyes,_ he thought. _Something about the eyes, and that blue cloak, that is very familiar._ It was as though they did not match the rest of him.
Ermaciak nodded. "I see that you recognize my eyes. Call it a souvenir, taken from a fallen adversary. I believe that you know him: Padishar Lupine, your wolfoid protector."
The Wolf Ranger stiffened. He could not allow himself to be goaded into making a potentially fatal error.
"One last thing, boy." Ermaciak held up a small hand-held device. "After I dispose of you, this shall ensure that your friends join you in death. Stunticore will tear them apart."
The Moon: Sea of Tranquility....
A jolt of pain brought the slumbering giant back to life. Stunticore searched the area, enraged. _pain stop!_ it thought. A flicker of movement caught his eye.
"Stunticore, the Wolf Ranger did this to you." Ermaciak's voice whispered.
"Yes. You must go to the blue planet, and find him in Angel Grove."
"Go.... Annngelll Grrrrrove. Killlll Whhhlf. Stop hurrrt!"
Billy braced himself as Ermaciak jumped. At the last second, he sidestepped and unleashed a thunderous kick to the Guardian's midsection. It did not have the desired effect, as the alien was able to roll with the impact. His follow-up ridgehand was blocked, as was Ermaciak's thrust kick.
The Ranger was rocked by an unexpected shot to his injured ribcage, and stumbled backward, until he was stopped by the pneumatic tube behind him. Sensing an opening, Emaciak threw a flying side kick at Billy's unprotected head. The Wolf Ranger dropped into a full split and drove his fist into the tube's control panel. Without a cushion to support him, Ermaciak dropped down the long tunnel.
Billy took a moment to catch his breath. The sheer ferocity of the Guardian's assault had caught him off guard. "I lucked into that break." he muttered. "But as Rocky would say, I'm on his turf. I can't afford to underestimate him here." Without another word, Billy dropped into the tunnel, and into the devil's domain.
Adam hunched over the computer console. Even though he had nowhere near the level of competence with the Ranger's mainframe, he was determined to establish visual contact with his friend. Any task, no matter how impossible, was better than merely sitting around. _Although if Tommy and Rocky don't stop looking over my shoulder, I'm gonna strangle them both!_ he decided.
The viewscreen flickered to life. A fuzzy image of Billy, somewhere in a massive room at least fifteen stories high slowly came into focus. Rocky slapped his friend on the back. "Just a little more! You've almost got him!"
Adam glanced up at the screen. It was Billy alright, but where was he? Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a movement among the maze of plasma conduits that crisscrossed the massive chamber. "Guys... Billy's in trouble."
Billy converted his gauntlet to blaster mode. _Ermaciak is playing it smart,_ he thought. _Hiding in the reactor chamber so I can't track him with my suit's sensors. Infrared and subsonics are useless._
As he made his way through the room, he had no idea that his target was a mere ten meters directly above him. Ermaciak dropped onto Billy. Effortlessly, he crushed the blaster with one hand, and then began to rain blow after blow down upon the helpless Ranger. Billy felt his ribs begin to splinter, and collapsed under the relentless assault. The bounty hunter followed him down. Pressing a knee into the boy's lower back, Emaciak pulled back on his shoulders, bending the Ranger's shoulders at an unnatural angle.
* * *
Worlds away, Ninjor felt the tension in the Morphing Grid. His latest project forgotten for the moment, he stared off into space. "The hour of reckoning is at hand. For the fate of his world, let's hope that Billy is up to the challenge."
* * *
Moans of pain permeated the room. To a hardened killer such as Ermaciak, it was a symphony. He laughed at the boy's pathetic attempts to escape his iron grip. The enjoyment which he took from the sounds of vertebrae grinding together would be surpassed only by the killing. Pulling back slightly, he was rewarded with a groan from the youth. "Do you hear that, whelp? That is your spine! The slightest twitch on my part, and you die! Tell me, would you like to beg for your worthless life now? I might only paralyze you."
"G...go to h..hell!"
"Now that disappoints me. I expected something more from a student of the council of Meledon. And now, I believe that it is time for you to di- AAAAGGGHHH!" Ermaciak looked down to see the Dragon Dagger, firmly embedded in his thigh. The distraction proved to be the opening that the Ranger needed. Sliding in the alien's grasp, he drove both of his fists into the Guardian's face. Dazed by the blow, he released Billy, who scrambled to his feet.
"A Power Ranger is not so easily defeated, bounty hunter!" he yelled, hoping that the Guardian would follow him, away from the labyrinth that was the engine room.
"Perhaps not." Ermaciak replied, wiping the blood from his mouth. "Computer: Activate internal defenses and herd the intruder to landing bay four."
Tommy frowned. The battle was not going well for his long-time friend. Billy's collapse also had him concerned. A gut feeling told him that his buddy was hiding the severity of his condition. Already, he had decided to have a long talk with Zordon after this whole mess was resolved. As the team leader, he was baffled as to why he was being kept in the dark, and it ticked him off.
The atmospheric early warning system began to beep. Tommy rushed over to study the readout. What he saw made his skin crawl. Above them, on a direct course for Angel Grove, was something very large.
And it had his Zeo Matrix.
"A hot tub. And a week alone with Kat."
Billy staggered into a small hangar bay, battered and bloody. The entire ship had come alive, gunning for him. All-in-all, he had been relatively lucky, suffering no potentially fatal wounds in his mad dash through the corridors. However, he was certain that every square inch of his body was bruised.
"I have come to enjoy some of your planet's poetry, boy. 'Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us do we not revenge?' As one of your poets said, Our revels are ended!"
Billy held his lance at the ready. "I prefer Dylan Thomas myself: Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright/Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, RAGE against the dying... of the light."
No further words were exchanged, as both combatants leapt at one another. Though he fought valiantly, Billy could feel his strength slipping away.
* * *
Katherine stared up at the Grimorae, fighting the sense of dread which threatened to overwhelm her. "Be strong Billy. Just come back to us, please!"
* * *
"Now you die, boy!"
Ermaciak pulled back on the staff, strangling the boy with his own weapon. Billy felt his windpipe closing down. Already, spots were forming in his field of vision. Within seconds, he would be unconscious, or dead.
Thrashing around wildly in the Guardian's deathgrip, the Wolf Ranger felt his hand close around the hilt of the Dragon Dagger. Desperately, he yanked it from the bounty hunter's leg. Ignoring the pain, Ermaciak rammed the boy into a nearby bulkhead. The collision forced Billy to drop his weapon, which skipped across the floor.
Remember your photon blade!
Billy was unsure if the voice was Padishar's, or merely the product of an oxygen-starved brain, but he had no time to consider it. Fighting the darkness, he extended the elbow-mounted blade and plunged it into the alien's side. Screaming in agony, Ermaciak released him, raking the Ranger's back with his claws.
Billy rolled away as far as his strained lungs would allow. He knew at that moment that it was over. He couldn't run, or even muster the strength to stand. Panting with the exertion, he readied himself, determined not to go down without a fight. Growling deep within his chest, Ermaciak launched himself at the Wolf, knowing that the killing strike was his.
The sapper net met him in mid-air. Unable to alter his trajectory, he was enveloped by it, just before slamming into his target. Billy felt his injured ribs snap in the collision, but did not care. The realization that he was still alive was enough of a painkiller.
To the astonishment of the girls, the massive ship began to move away from the city, picking up speed as it headed for the coastline. Hoping against hope, Kat activated her communicator. "Zordon, the ship is heading west. What happened?"
Adam's jubilant voice was music to their ears. "Billy happened! He just beat Ermaciak!"
Tanya squeezed her friend's hand, shooting her a knowing smile. "That's great, Adam. We'll be right there."
Ermaciak glared down at Billy. Not only had the impudent child somehow defeated him, he had then had the audacity to tie him up like a common animal. "This is not over, Ranger!" he snarled.
Billy sighed as he closed down the computer terminal and smashed the interface. Once again, a fallen enemy had threatened. He seriously wondered why they bothered, they sounded like the villains in one of Rocky's comic books. "I am sending you through the warp gate near Saturn, never to return. It's over." Reverently, he removed the blue-furred cape from the bounty hunter. "And this does not belong to you."
The exhausted Ranger turned to leave, not noticing the pouch opening on Ermaciak's belt. To his shock, Billy found himself covered with strange moth-like creatures. _Strange...._ he thought. _But they appear harmless._
The Guardian began to cackle. Billy spun around on his heels to stare at the alien. Too late, he realized the purpose of the small creatures.
In an instant, the insects liquefied. Billy screamed as he felt his suit begin to burn. Flailing about blindly, in an effort to rid himself of the agonizing pain, he stepped off of the landing bay and into open air.
Katherine and Tanya entered the room just in time to see Ermaciak's devious attack. As they watched, too horrified to move, Billy staggered backwards and toppled off of the Grimorae. In his weakened condition, it was all too obvious that he would be unable to survive the drop of more than twenty-five thousand feet. Tommy rushed over to the control panel. "It's no good! The energy field surrounding that ship is interfering with his signal, I can't get a lock!"
Adam took one look at the anguish on Kat's face, and suddenly felt a desperate plan take shape. "Alpha, calculate his rate of descent and teleport me as close to him as you can. Once I catch him, teleport us both using my signal to boost his."
The little robot's voice was panic-stricken. "R... right Adam. Ready now."
"Zeo Ranger Four, Green!"
* * *
Adam felt the customary disorientation of matter transfer wash over him, and then he was falling. When he opened his eyes, he saw his friend tumbling beneath him. From the look of things, he was unconscious. The Green Ranger pulled himself into a diving position, flattening his arms against his sides. The increase in speed rapidly ate up the distance between the two.
* * *
Tommy could feel the tension eating away at him. He felt as though a bottomless pit had begun to open in his stomach. While the others were transfixed by the events unfolding before them, he had continued to attempt to establish a lock on Billy from the auxiliary control system. What he had somehow stumbled across appalled him. One thing was certain, when Billy was saved by Adam, he and Zordon were going to have a lot to answer for.
* * *
Five feet. That was all that separated him from his teammate. Adam stretched his hand out toward Billy, who was now tumbling end over end. Twice he missed and was forced to reposition himself. Hastened by the notion that while he could probably survive the impact the Wolf Ranger most certainly could not, he tried again. Amazingly, this time he was able to grab the older boy's wrist and pull him in. Holding his friend by the waist, he clicked his teleport button.....
...And nothing happened! Again he tried to teleport, but it was no use. His communicator was dead.
* * *
"What's goin' on? Why aren't they back?"
Alpha ignored Rocky's frantic questions, focusing his attention on the readout. Interference from the Grimorae was still far too strong. Ordinarily, he could cheat the safety margin, but in Billy's current condition, the results could be disastrous. Behind him, the Rangers were frozen. Even Zordon was affected. There was nothing they could do.
* * *
Ermaciak flexed his muscles, and the steel cables finally snapped. Although he still smarted from his defeat, he knew that the boy was finished. All that remained was to override the coordinates he had input into the navigational computer. As he limped over to the drop shaft, he smiled triumphantly. "Fear not, Cranston. Soon your friends will join you in death."
* * *
The Green Ranger stared at the ground which rushed toward him. _If only we could fly,_ he thought. All at once, the answer came to him. He could only hope that his communicator would be up to the task.
"Saba, we need the Falconzord fast! Our teleporters are off-line and Billy's hurt."
Despite the fact that he was a being of artificiality, Saba understood the concept of fear. It was evident in Adam's voice. The feeling that he himself was getting would probably qualify as well. "Not to worry Adam. I am on the way. ETA in twenty-eight seconds."
Never before in his seventeen years had Adam Park felt terror as profoundly as he did now. To be sure, his father's career in the Special Forces made for some harrowing times, but then, he had never had to rescue him from falling out of an alien ship after being beaten half to death. He desperately didn't want to lose Billy again. Whether he would have any say in the matter was rapidly dwindling.
The Green Ranger twisted his body in such a way that he would absorb the majority of impact. Even then, he was smart enough to know that the odds of his friend's surviving were stacked against them. Adam felt tears begin to sting his eyes as he waited for the end.
Saba's voice continued to resonate in his ears, as they plummeted toward certain death. "14... 13... 12... 11... 10... 9... 8...."
Adam hugged his friend as tightly as he could, knowing this was it. "I'm sorry Billy," he sobbed. "I tried."
* * *
Ermaciak's smile faded the instant he set foot on the Grimorae's bridge. Or, to be more accurate, what was left of it. The anti-grav platform from which he controlled ship's operations had crashed into the deck. From the look of things, fire suppression had narrowly averted a shipwide inferno.
The bounty hunter growled in recognition. Even before he saw the hologram, he knew that it was Cranston. It was, after all, what he would have done if the situation had been reversed.
"If you have activated this recording, then you have successfully freed yourself from captivity. This in and of itself comes as no surprise to me. But... I cannot have you return to Earth before my teammates have regained their powers. Therefore, I rigged up an energy pulse directed at the bridge. It was activated when you stepped into the drop shaft."
Ermaciak cursed himself under his breath. It appeared that he too had underestimated the Wolf Ranger. As he fought to rein in his temper, the hologram continued.
"I plan to alert the Aquitian Rangers of your imminent arrival, and they will take you into custody, to stand trial for your crimes against the universe. One more thing. I may be a foolish boy, but I have my friends to stand beside me. Who do you have?"
Clenching his fists, the alien screamed in rage. Unable to control his impulses any longer, he drove his foot through what was left of the navigational computer. Immediately, the massive battleship began to dive toward the Pacific Ocean. In the brief seconds, before his world ended, Ermaciak cursed the name of William James Cranston one last time.
And then he was gone.
* * *
Zordon stared in abject horror as his charges plummeted toward the ground. It appeared as though Adam's selfless act of compassion would be for naught. Deep down, he blamed himself for what was happening. It was, after all, within his power to have prevented Billy from leaving the safety of the Power Chamber. But he had hesitated, and it was going to cost them all dearly. Despaired, he averted his eyes, unwilling to watch.
* * *
Adam gasped as the breath was knocked from his body. Fearing the worst, he was slow to open his eyes. When he finally did, he was shocked by the realization that he was alive. Somehow, the FalconZord had reached them, a mere three hundred feet above the ground.
Adrenaline continued to pump through his veins when he heard Billy moan. _Gotta take care of him,_ he thought. _I can fall apart later._ A cursory evaluation revealed that the acid had not burned completely through the Ranger's armor, but he was concerned how much of a toll the attack had taken on the coin's unstable matrix.
"Saba, get us back to the Power Chamber on the double!"
* * *
Twin flashes of emerald and sapphire light flooded the Power Chamber. As quickly as he could, Adam laid his friend on the table. His face was chalk-white, and he had begun to tremble as soon as he removed his helmet. Tanya took him by the hand and pulled him away from the table.
"Adam, you have to calm down. Billy's going to be fine.... I promise."
The Green Ranger stared at her for a moment before allowing her to embrace him. The reality of Billy's near death experience was hitting him hard.
"Alpha, how is he?" Kat asked.
"It's not good, I'm afraid. While the acid did not penetrate his armor, it took a tremendous toll on the Coin. Billy's system is in a state of biological shock."
Tanya released Adam and turned toward the little robot. "But you can bring him out of it, right?"
Alpha turned away, afraid to voice the answer.
* * *
Billy awoke with a start. His last memory had been one of pain. He had been falling, from a height that he knew would kill him. Or, at least, it should have. The Wolf Ranger pushed the thought aside and took stock of his surroundings. Given his seeming familiarity with the terrain, he decided that he had landed within the Park.
"You are mistaken, my young cub. This is not Angel Grove."
Billy jumped at the unexpected voice. "Padishar? What are you doing here? I thought you were not permitted to...."
The WolfLord gave a shrug. "You are correct. However, I must speak with you on a matter of great importance. The time has come for you to make a choice. The council has decided to give you the opportunity to remain here forever, in reward for your years of service."
"And the other option?"
Padishar's face grew sad. "You return to your plane of reality, to face your destiny. Think carefully, my son. Your body has suffered tremendous damage at the hands of my killer. You will have to fight the final Guardian without my help. And you know what the seer has foreseen."
Without hesitation, Billy answered. "You know my answer milord. My friends need me."
"Very well. Go in peace, Wolf Ranger, and may the Power protect you."
* * *
"Just what the heck are we supposed to do Tommy? He's the only one who can get your powers back!"
_Rocky. That was Rocky's voice._
"Look, my powers don't mean a thing when you measure them up against Billy's well-being. We'll just have to fight without them."
"No." Billy moaned softly.
Katherine's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Billy! You're awake! How do you feel?"
Billy squeezed her hand reassuringly. "I look worse than I feel." he lied. "How did I get here? I remember falling."
"You can thank Adam for that." Rocky chimed in. "He teleported to you and caught you."
Billy smiled at his best friend. "It appears that I owe you again. Thanks man."
Adam managed a shy grin. "You think I'm about to let my best friend die? Besides, you owe me ten bucks."
The Wolf Ranger started to laugh, but the pain in his chest quickly brought that to a halt. Wheezing, he stared up at Zordon. "Has contact been made with the last Guardian? Ermaciak called him Stunticore."
"We began tracking him five minutes ago. He should achieve planetfall in the mountains any second now."
Billy paused to gather his breath. There wasn't time to say goodbye, not in the way he wanted. "I had better...."
Tommy chose that moment to break his silence. The entire time, he had been glaring at both Billy and Zordon. "You're in no condition to face a tame cat, much less that thing! I'll go."
* * *
The mountains that divided Angel Grove from nearby Stone Canyon had weathered countless earthquakes, fires, and harsh winters. Yet even that rugged toughness was no match for the force of nature that was Stunticore. True, the rock-like creature was by no means very intelligent, but then, it had never cared much for such things. Stunticore simply was.
"Sssstopppp Hurrrrttttt. Kill Wlffff Rnnnggrrrr!"
Within the monster's dim but evil mind, a single thought formed. If he was to have any chance in finding the one who had hurt him, he would have to go to the nearby city.
* * *
Billy fought the rising sense of surrender to the inevitable. Tommy's bold gesture had caught him off guard. Even now, he was with the other Rangers, preparing to face the last Guardian. Only Kat had remained by his side.
He knew that only his powers had a chance at defeating Stunticore. If he was to save his friends, he would need a distraction.... and some help. "Katherine, I need your help. If Tommy tries to pilot the DragonZord, he will most certainly die! And if you go to help him, you'll just lose your powers again."
"Billy, you're not thinking straight."
"Yes I am! Without the benefit of increased reflexes and endurance, he will be killed! I have to do this."
Kat sighed. She couldn't resist his eyes. "What do you need?"
* * *
The second Kat had the Rangers' backs turned, Billy made his way to the command console. Knowing he only had a few seconds, he locked his pattern out of the teleportation system. Without it, they would be unable to bring him back against his will.
Tommy glanced over his shoulder and realized at once what his old friend was doing. "Get away from there Billy!"
The Wolf Ranger shook his head. "I'm afraid that I can't do that. Trust me, this is for your own good."
The Red Ranger exploded. "Our own good? OUR OWN GOOD? That's bunk man! Just like you and Zordon lying about your injuries, or the real prophecy."
"What do you mean?" Rocky asked, puzzled.
"Only that Billy here is fated to die in the final battle. That ain't gonna happen, not while I'm around."
Billy felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. This was not the way he had wanted to tell them. "I'm sorry about that, really. I just wanted to spare you the pain. I'm sorry."
"Now you listen up." Tommy's voice was deathly soft. "You're going to stay here, understand?"
"I can't do that. Please remember, I... I love you all."
"Billy, that's a direct ORDER!"
Tommy's command fell on deaf ears, as Billy teleported away. It was, he realized, the first time his old friend had ever stood up to him.
"Be careful." he whispered. "And be safe."
The Wolf Ranger materialized atop the high sheet of granite in a flash of blue light. At once, he dropped to one knee as a wave of nausea overtook him. _This is it,_ he thought. _The struggle ends today._
Billy saw, and felt, the sky darken. A quarter of a mile directly ahead, the last Guardian came into view. Even at that distance, Stunticore seemed enormous. "You have got to be kidding me!", Billy gasped.
The roar which erupted from the Guardian was deafening, and knocked the young hero off of his feet. "Wllffffffffff. You Dieeeee!"
Billy staggered to his feet. "Well, I guess negotiating is out. I call upon the power of the DragonZord!"
Alpha examined his friend's bio-readings worriedly. In summoning the last of the original Zords, Billy's coin had been placed in a dangerous state of flux, and could give at any moment. Worse, with the Zeo Megazord's power supply in the hands of the Guardian, there was nothing they could do to help.
All of this was not lost on Tommy, who snatched the printout away from the robot. Even before he looked, he knew what he would find. Billy was dying. "Zordon... We have to get him outta there! That thing's too powerful!"
"I would agree with you Tommy. However, Billy has seen to it that we cannot interfere. He has placed a lock-out on the teleportation controls. All that we can do is wait."
Tommy turned away from the ancient being and stared into the viewing system, fighting down the urge to explode. "You mean watch my friend die," he muttered darkly.
Aboard the Dragonzord....
As the Wolf Ranger slid into his pilot's chair, two things occurred to him. One, the DragonZord was more sentient than he had imagined, and two, they were no match for the Guardian. But then, things had never exactly been easy for him, so this was just the latest setback.
The voice in his head startled him. Tommy had said that his old zord was different than the others, but the fact that it could speak had taken him totally by surprise. "Y-yes?"
"I cannot match him in strength. I would recommend that you keep him off-balance."
_Easier said than done,_ Billy thought. _I can barely breathe with my ribs injured._
The DragonZord stared down his much larger opponent. Once more, his pilot had placed his own life in danger to save his friends. And yet, never before had he seen a Ranger so close to the eternal sleep. It was not, he vowed, something he would allow to happen.
Stunticore roared out a challenge. In response, the ancient mech fired a deadly barrage of Dragon-Missiles. The explosion was devastating , but it's results were far less than Billy had hoped for. The Guardian was unharmed, and enraged, by the assault.
_Just once,_ Billy thought, _I'd like to see something easy, like the Pineoctopus._
"Yeah! Drop him like a toilet seat Billy!"
Adam and Tanya laughed, albeit nervously, at the Blue Ranger's comment. Leave it to Rocky to remain upbeat, even in a situation like the one they were facing now.
Only Katherine and Tommy were unaffected by the attempt at humor. The former, due to the overwhelming desire to be by her lover's side, and the latter from the fantastic struggle between concern and fury that raged within him. "You better not die Billy," he muttered. "Or I'll kill ya myself."
Billy gasped in pain as the DragonZord rocked from yet another explosion. Already, several gaping wounds had developed on the ancient DinoZord. Armor plate had been peeled back at the shoulder, revealing the titanium skeleton beneath. To complicate manners, the last exchange had completely destroyed the onboard teleportation unit. "No way to retreat," he groaned. "Oh Kat, I'm so sorry about all of this. To lose me once was bad enough, but twice? Even if I survive this battle, there's been so much damage done to my body that I may not even make it through the night."
Billy was jerked back to reality as Stunticore grabbed his Zord. Silently, the Ranger cursed himself and began to struggle. The DragonZord's servomotors screeched with the effort, but were hopelessly overmatched. Hissing in satisfaction, the rock-like giant hurled his helpless enemy into a nearby mountain.
Explosions from the control console rained a shower of sparks down on Billy. Numerous warning lights flashed, giving the cockpit the impression of a Christmas tree. The Wolf Ranger moaned; not only had he felt the damage through his link with the Green Coin, he was certain that the violent landing had broken another rib.
A steady ping drew his attention through the fog of smoke and pain. Somehow, the computer had managed to achieve a positive lock on the Guardian. "Activating Leech Net!" he yelled into the commlink.
* * *
Three times. In the entire history of his young life, Rocky DeSantos had been rendered speechless only three times. What he had just seen brought the total up to four. It was Adam who broke the silence, cheering as he pumped his fist rapidly. "Way to go Billy! You did it!"
Tommy stared at the readouts in disbelief. Already, the Red Ranger powers had been completely restored, with the Zeo MegaZord following close behind.
"No time to celebrate guys. Adam, are you still morphed?"
"Yes Billy! What do I need to do?"
"Remove the sapping device from the Power Chamber's command computer and destroy it!"
Adam ran over to the console and grabbed the insidious machine with both hands. Taking a deep breath, he groaned as the Sapper was ripped from it's resting place. Throwing it to the ground, he drew his Zeo Blaster and destroyed that which had been the source of the Ranger's most recent problems. A cheer erupted from the embattled teens, one that was quickly silenced by Tommy's somber voice.
"Billy's going to need some help against that thing." The Red Ranger turned to face Adam. "Teleport to the Zord Base and get the Zeo Zords prepped."
"I'm on it Tommy!"
"As for the rest of us, let's get to it!"
Zordon's voice interrupted the leader of the Power Rangers. "I'm afraid that you shall have to remain behind, Tommy."
"What? Zordon, if this is about my outburst earlier, I-I'm sorry, but Billy needs our help!"
"And he shall receive it, but I need for you to remain behind. Adam will assume field command in your absence."
"Billy's terrified voice broke the tense silence that had enveloped the room. "He's loose! Guys, I need some help he...." Static hissed as the remainder of the Wolf Ranger's signal was cut off.
* * *
"Shields are down to 15 percent of nominal, Billy. I must inform you that we are unlikely to survive an extended battle. I suggest that you leave."
The Wolf Ranger shook his head. "Tommy never ran out you, DragonZord, and I'm not one to break tradition. Besides, we need to give the Rangers more time!"
The behemoth roared as he charged at the ancient fighting machine. Battered beyond all structural and design limitations, the Zord was far too slow to move out of the way. The resulting collision shorted out all the remaining shield generators, as well as the Zord's higher cognitive functions. On his own, the Wolf Ranger had no chance. Buffeted by blow after blow, he dodged one punch only to see the next a millisecond before it connected with his cockpit. Billy had time to throw up his arms before a falling support beam turned his world to black.
* * *
Stunticore knew that the Wolf Ranger had been knocked unconscious when he had damaged the cockpit. Smiling wickedly, he prepared to strike the killing blow, and put an end to the foolish mortal who had dared to cause him pain. Drawing back his fist, he took aim at the exposed cockpit.
"I don't think so ugly! YEEEEHAH!"
The Guardian staggered sideways as laser bolts dug into his side. "Who darrrrrrrressssssssss?"
Rocky response, like his earlier blast, was short and to the point. "I dare. Now leave my friend alone!" The Sphinx took up a position to the Guardian's left.
"One Rngrrrr is no threattttt!"
Rockets and deadly plasma fire rained down upon the Guardian from behind. Zeo Zords I and II had taken a position above the monster. "Who says he's alone?" Tanya called out.
A jarring blow to his side knocked the Guardian away from the heavily damaged DragonZord. Stunticore turned to see Taurus preparing himself for another charge. "You mess with one Ranger, you'd better be prepared to face them all!" Adam chimed in.
A hail of fire from above staggered the Guardian as the Phoenix bore down upon him. "Who's flying Tommy's Zord?" Kat asked, voicing the question on each Ranger's mind.
Ninjor's voice sounded over the commlink. "No time for pleasantries Rangers. Let's bring them together!"
In an instant, the five Zeo Zords had merged as one, and the Zeo MegaZord stood face to face with their friend's tormentor. Any thought of attack was quelched by the sudden kick to the midsection, which knocked the colossal Zord over the horizon.
The grim-faced features of Janet Lawton related the story of the battle going on in the mountains. Moments before, the sleepy mountain community of Stone Canyon had been shaken to it's foundations by the sight of the Zeo Megazord tumbling overhead, crashing into the valley on the other side of Harper's Peak. It was a fear that had only been heightened by the side of the gigantic creature of living rock that had jumped after the Rangers. Whereas most reporters had fled the scene following the appearance of the Grimorae, WKCB's star reporter had felt compelled to remain behind. It had been a decision that did not sit well with her cameraman, Scott Nash.
"I'm tellin' ya Jan, that's an omen that says get the hell outta dodge!"
Janet stared up at the big bear of a man. At seven feet tall and a little over three hundred pounds, Nash wasn't the sort to shy away from danger. "Give me a break Scotty! You mean to tell me a little thing like a monster made out of rock is going to keep you from getting the scoop of the decade, if not the century?"
"Yeah, that's exactly what I'm sayin!"
"The Power Rangers haven't been seen in two weeks, and now they're back! Plus, I heard a report that the Dragon Zord resurfaced off the Angel Grove Harbor! We have a duty to report what's going on! You're not scared, are you Scotty?"
The big man groaned. He never could refuse her when she put it that way. "Ah hell, I probably won't live to regret this anyway. What's the plan boss?"
Janet grinned. "Do you still have that friend who flies helicopters?"
* * *
Adam yanked hard on his control stick and managed to land the MegaZord on one knee. "Status report," he demanded.
Ninjor's response was businesslike in its efficiency. "Gyroscope damaged. Shields at 90 percent and holding steady."
"We need to buy the repair systems some time to fix the gyroscope."
"I've got just the thing, Adam," Tanya yelled. "Zeo Two Battle Helmet!" Moving into the pilot's seat, the Yellow Ranger fired every rocket at her disposal. The results were less than stellar, as the giant walked through the barrage unharmed.
"Um... new plan guys," Rocky gulped. "Zeo Three Battle Helmet!"
Stunticore took to the air, easily dodging the gravity wave unleashed by the Blue Ranger. Streaking by the surprised team, he raked his claws across the MegaZord's chest. The Rangers rocked back and forth as the mech reeled from the blow. "Oh yeah," Ninjor muttered. "This is fun."
* * *
Billy awoke reluctantly, slow to remember where he was. Feeling a sticky wetness on his forehead, he reached up to check for wounds, only to be stopped by his helmet. To complicate matters even further, he couldn't seem to see out of his visor. Unlocking his helmet, he exposed himself to fresh air.
The sight which greeted him shook him to the very core. The cockpit was a mess. Broken components hung at crazy angles and glass fragments were everywhere. By his feet was the support beam which had struck him. As though on cue, his head began to throb. "I'm probably concussed.", he thought.
Unconsciously, he touched his forehead. His hand came away covered in blood, the dark red staining his white glove. Billy ached all over. The dozens of acid burns on his chest and arms only seemed to add to his misery. A part of him wanted to lie down, to give up, but he forced such thoughts away. "My friends need my help. I just hope I'm not too late!"
* * *
"Jesus Christ! What in the hell is that thing?"
"Quiet Shawn, we're on in five!" Nash turned his attention out the chopper door as Janet prepared to narrate what they were seeing. From the look of things, the Power Rangers were in a bad way.
"This is Janet Lawton, WKCB's eye in the sky, bringing you this exclusive footage of the Power Ranger's desperate struggle against the latest invader from the Machine Empire. For the past two weeks, Angel Grove has been without it's champions. Some feared they had been lost in battle, and that the mysterious Blue 'Wolf' Ranger was the sole survivor. And yet, this reporter has to wonder if the Rangers have come back only to meet their fate at the hands of this creature...."
As the news team watched, Stunticore battered the Ranger's Zord to it's knees, preparing to strike a crippling blow to the machine's defenseless head.
"Uh-uh ugly, Not while Shawn Hall, ace chopper pilot is on the job!" Scott and Jan were forced to hold on as the helicopter buzzed the monster in an attempt to draw attention away from the embattled heroes. To their horror, the diversion worked all too well, as the Guardian snatched them right out of the air and hurled them toward Harper's Peak. Janet screamed as the rock face sped toward them....
...But the expected impact did not occur. Scott looked up the see the DragonZord sitting the wrecked helicopter down near the summit of the tall mountain. Or, to be more accurate, what was left of the DragonZord. "You folks should be safe up here. And thank you, for what you did for my friends."
"No sweat wolf guy," Shawn beamed, flashing a thumbs-up at the Ranger. "Now go kick that overgrown rock garden's ass!"
Beneath his helmet, Billy smiled.
* * *
"Adam, we can't take another shot like that! I need time to reboot the system," Ninjor cried.
The Green Ranger gritted his teeth. "I'd love nothing better. Tell it to him."
Kat stared off at the horizon. She was certain that Billy was still alive. The fact that he was probably unconscious, and in need of help made her blood boil.
"Here he comes again," Tanya screamed.
"ZEO ONE BATTLE HELMET!"
The sheer ferocity of Katherine's attack staggered the monster, seeming to actually wound it. As the Guardian struggled to it's feet, it was hit from behind by ten rockets. The DragonZord had rejoined the fight!
"Billy's back!" Rocky yelled with happiness.
To the team's horror however, Stunticore focused his attentions upon the newcomer. Damaged to the very limits, the DragonZord began to come apart. Billy had no choice but to abandon ship as his Zord was ripped to shreds.
Adam voice was taut. "How long until I have control back?"
Kat's voice was distraught. "That's too long. Look!"
The Rangers could only watch as Stunticore raised his massive foot, preparing to grind the Wolf Ranger under his heel.
* * *
Scott Nash stared at the scene unfolding before them. "Why don't they do something? That thing's about to kill the Wolf Ranger!"
Janet was frozen by what she was seeing. "Maybe they can't move."
"Well, one thing's for sure, if they don't move, their buddy's toast! Wait, what the hell's that?"
* * *
Seconds before the foot came down on him, Billy saw a red and gold blur knock the Guardian away. "Who...?" he asked weakly.
"C'mon bro, surely you recognize one of your own creations?"
"Tommy? Y-you mean that's the Red BattleZord?"
"In the flesh pal! That's why Zordon held me back when the others came after you. Now hang back, it's time to finish this guy!"
The MegaZord came up alongside Tommy's new Zord. "Adam, prepare to form the Mega BattleZord!"
"We're with you Tommy!"
The two Zords clashed wrists, then moved back to back. In seconds, two massive cannon were pointed directly at the last Guardian. "Say goodnight pal!" Tommy yelled, as the Zord opened fire. The twin fireballs connected with Stunticore, and in a cry of rage, he was destroyed.
"Great job everybody! Head back to the Power Chamber. I'll go check on Billy."
* * *
The Red Ranger landed five feet away from where his friend lay. Even with a glance, Tommy knew that the Wolf Ranger was in bad shape. "Billy, can you hear me bro?"
Billy's response was low, as though it were taking all his energy to talk. "Help me get my helmet off... please."
* * *
Shawn stared excitedly down into the valley. "Hey, those two are taking their helmets off! We'll finally find out who the Power Rangers are!"
Both Shawn and Scott turned to look at Jan incredulously. "Whaddaya mean no? Jan, you said it yourself, this is the story of the decade. The public has a right to know, remember?"
Janet shook her head. "Not some things, they don't. We would've died if it hadn't been for that Ranger down there, and now he might be dying. He deserves to die with at least a little bit of dignity. Turn off the camera Scotty, I don't want to make my name this way."
Scott relented. "You really are a piece of work Jan, but you're right. Let's just hope he ain't dyin."
* * *
Tommy ripped off his helmet, then unclasped his friend's. Billy's face was caked in blood, and his eyes seemed far away. "Don't you die on me Billy! I refuse to let one of my team go!"
Billy began to cry. "I'm sorry Tommy. I'm sorry I lied to you. I just didn't want to hurt you... any of you. You're all my family... and I love you all."
Tommy felt his eyes beginning to water as well. "Don't talk like that man! We'll get you back to Zordon and Ninjor! They'll fix you up!"
"I-it's too late for that, Tom. I'm dying... Tell Katherine... th-that I love her, ok?"
"You'll tell her yourself! Now hang on! Billy? Billy!" The light had faded from Billy's eyes, and his chest was still. "No.... NO!"
Tommy's scream echoed through the valley.
Aisha shivered as a sudden chill swept over her. Somehow, she got the feeling that something very bad had happened to one of her friends.
A game of frisbee was disrupted as three members of the peace conference stiffened. "Hey, you all right Zack?"
Zack nodded, even though he didn't really feel that way. A glance toward Trini and Jason confirmed that they were feeling the same thing. _What's going on?_, the former Black Ranger wondered.
Kimberly Hart paled as a sudden feeling of dread washed over her. For reasons she couldn't quite comprehend, she had the sudden feeling that Billy was hurt.
Tommy teleported in, carrying the fallen Ranger in his arms. Reverently, he laid his oldest teammate down on the diagnostic table. The deed done, he began to sob. Katherine embraced him, her own cries echoing his. Rocky stared at the Ranger's body, not wanting to believe what he was seeing, while Tanya attempted to comfort Adam, who was glaring at his best friend.
"It's not fair, damn it!" the Green Ranger screamed. "You were my best friend! It's not fair that you had to die just so I could keep these stupid freakin' powers! Well I don't want them if it means you have to die!" Adam turned and hurled his helmet at the case which contained his old Black Ranger suit.
"That was rather rash, Frog Prince."
Adam stared through his tears at the Wolf HighLord. "What the hell are you doing here Padishar?"
Lupine stared at the boy sadly. "I understand your anger, young Adam."
Tommy pulled himself free of Kat. "Do you? All I know is, one of the noblest souls I've ever known is dead! Is this what being a servant of the Light is supposed to mean?"
"Who says that Billy is dead?" Padishar answered, smiling wryly.
Now it was Katherine's turn to rise. "What do you mean?"
"Ah, little flower. I told you, I would not allow Billy to be taken from one such as you."
Ninjor was incredulous. "But you told me I couldn't interfere in the boy's destiny."
"That's right, you couldn't, nor could Zordon. But I am a spirit warrior of the old code, long before your time, or Zordon's. Those rules don't apply to one who's always been a bit of a maverick, even among the Six," Padishar replied.
Behind the Rangers, Billy's body began to glow with a warm blue light suffused with gold. Before her eyes, Katherine saw the wounds of battle heal. The glow became brighter, until it blinded the Rangers.
When they could see once more, the Wolf Ranger's costume had changed. The blue of his suit had darkened to an almost black shade of midnight. His gauntlets had been replaced with banded golden wrist protectors that spiraled up to his elbows. The Dragon shield remained, a Wolf's head proudly emblazoned across it's chest. Billy smiled at his friends, whole once more. Katherine rushed into his arms, and he welcomed her, kissing her deeply.
Padishar beamed at his knight. "You have done well, young warrior. In your struggles, you showed Mercy, Peace, Humility, Self- Sacrifice, and Cunning. Remember these values, and the power of the Wolf shall always be with you."
"Thank you Padishar," Billy nodded, bowing to his liege.
"As my avatar, you shall need weapons. First, is your Dragon Dagger." The wolfoid motioned with his hand, and the weapon appeared around his waist. "It served you well, and has chosen you as it's new master. And finally, I would like to present you with my gift to you, a blade which served me well throughout the millennia. Behold!"
Billy felt a sudden weight on his back as the Katana and scabbard materialized between his shoulders. Slowly, he drew the ancient weapon and examined it. A wolf's head decorated the ornately laden hilt, flashing in colors of cobalt and gold. "It is called Fhn'Rhil, and will serve you well. Congratulations, my son. You have purged the darkness from your soul."
Zordon nodded with approval as his charges embraced their friend. Once more, his oldest student was home.
Two days later....
Billy walked through the field in the retreating darkness. So much had changed in the past few days. In a sense, it had all started here, in this field, with that early morning run. From the depths of his despair, he had risen like a phoenix to take his place among the Rangers once more. "Things just couldn't get any better," he mused.
The young man smiled, a genuine smile, as he stared at the vision of beauty waiting on him. Together, Billy and Katherine sat down to watch the sun rise.
_Then again,_ he decided. _I could be wrong._