DISCLAIMER: Yes..it is still the case that Saban owns the Power Rangers. Sigh. But there are a fair few things in here that belong to me i.e stuff you do not recognise. This is the 11th in the series and it really does help if you have read some of the others.. Enjoy!
An afternoon in Angel Grove, and it was raining. Actually raining. Tommy Oliver, ex-Power Ranger, stood at the window watching the surprising phenomenon. He had been threatened with parental wrath if he did not clear some of the boxes of junk he had stored in the garage, and this seemed a good a time as any.
Ever since Kimberley's triumphant win at the Panglobals she had not let up from the idea that had inspired her routine. She wanted them all back together. So did he for that matter, but exactly how it was going to happen he did not know. Kim in fact had hatched a plan to speak to Kat and Tanya under the pretext of a shopping trip this very afternoon. By agreement he was meant to tackle the others, which would prove a little more difficult.
As he half-heartedly sorted through boxes in the dim light and reluctantly consigned some things to an ever-increasing junk pile, he came across a large package addressed to him which had not been opened. The writing looked somewhat familiar but not immediately recognisable. When had this arrived? He had a dim memory of his parents mentioning something about a parcel whilst he was driving for his Uncle Frank and he had told them...that he would take a look the next time he was over. Damn, that had been months ago! Curse his memory, and to think he had thought he was getting better.
Hurriedly he did his other chores so he could take a good look at the mysterious box in detail, his curiosity piqued. Finally, after some of the swiftest and most ruthless cleaning seen on the planet, Tommy sat down with the box in front of him. He tied back his long dark hair to stop it from falling in his eyes and, taking a key from his pocket, scored the tape so he could get into the contents easily. Inside were rolls of paper...no, they were sketches and paintings, and Tommy took a sharp breath.
"Skye." He muttered in recognition of their distinctive style, an almost painful wave of nostalgia washing over him at the coinciding thought of Billy and Trini. They hadn't heard from him since, well, since that message just after they assumed the Turbo powers. It worried him more than he would like to admit. Throughout everything, that knowledge in the back of his head of the strange Ninjetti warning persisted like a nightmare that leapt into his thoughts when he least expected it. Before, they had had to stay and protect the Earth and they had done that, and the decision had been correct; but now, now they were all without the Power and had been for some time. It showed as well. Having been through it before, Tommy recognised the signs of Power withdrawal in the others. They had all tried to isolate themselves, bury themselves in their work and generally became depressed and irritable. Hesitantly Tommy began to unroll some of the sketches and then found an accompanying note near the top of the box.
You will receive this package not long after we have gone. Not long ago you allowed me to share the darkest parts of your past that you thought no-one else would understand. Now I return your trust; I show you my darkest visions of a future that have plagued me for a long, long time. Images from dreams I hoped were just nightmares, but more and more seem to be coming true. If we don't make it, Tommy, and as you will see, we may not, someone has to carry on and make sure that the Ninjetti stand against the Darkness Visible. I know I can trust you to do what you know is right with this information and the other gifts I have left.
I hope I am wrong.
Tommy unrolled sketch after sketch, some pencil or ink, others full colour canvases, his eyes widening in shock. This one...this was of Justin. Skye had never met Justin, so how had he managed to...and this one, of Rocky lying injured sprawled on the ground.
Oh dear God Skye, why didn't you say something? he thought to himself. Rocky had been turned into a wreck by the accident and the Powerloss - if he had only known before...Maybe he could have prevented it from happening...somehow.
A traitorous voice sounded inside his mind. Exactly how long has this package been here? Has it been forgotten down here when it might have forewarned of the accident? Guilt welled up within him. He picked up another and nearly flinched. It showed Trini's face looking into a rising sun in such emotional pain that Tommy did not even want to think about what had caused it. There were more. Some glorious, some hideous, and ones that he hoped to all the Powers were just nightmare visions of the artist's mind.
"We should have gone with you, Billy," he said aloud. "I should have been there..." He picked up another roll, and it was heavy. Two boxes slid out, one locked but the other openable. Tommy unrolled the sketch with it and adrenalin rushed as he began to frown in recognition
"Phaedos!" A picture of a group of them on Phaedos. Maybe it was one about their first trip. He took a closer look; no, there were too many of them in the picture - there was Kim, Adam, Rocky and himself - and there were the others. Jason, Justin, Kat, Tanya ... and Zack and Aisha! Zack and Aisha? Where was he going to find them? He rummaged around a little more and found another picture of Zack talking to Aisha in front of a familiar building. It took a while, but it came to him.
"I don't believe it! Angel Grove University?!" Tommy said aloud. What was going on? Would the two ex-rangers have returned and not told anyone? He thought for a moment, and conceded he hadn't exactly made himself easy to get hold of recently; none of them had. That made what he had to do even more important -- and if Kim managed to get Tanya and Kat to agree to meet up, then they would now at least have something to discuss. Out of curiosity he cracked open the unlocked box and took a deep breath when he saw the five carved glittering crystals inside on light silver-looking chains. Oh yeah, now it's really time to get things moving.
Kim, Tanya and Kat sat down at one of the convenient tables in the mall, resting their weary arms from carrying around anymore purchases. They sipped at their drinks in companionable silence for a while before Tanya said, "So, you going to tell us why you've really called us?"
Kim nearly choked on a mouthful. "Whatever gave you the idea that I was up to anything in particular?"
Kat smiled tiredly "We haven't been out together for months, Kim, and all of a sudden we've had calls from you all the time arranging to meet."
"It has been pretty obvious." Tanya affirmed.
Kim shook her head ruefully. "I guess subtlety didn't work. Let's face it, how many times can you guys be washing your hair or have to work on your latest project, huh?"
Kat and Tanya exchanged glances.
"Truth be told Kim, I don't feel much like seeing anyone" Tanya said heavily. "It's hard enough trying to get through to Adam at the moment."
"You don't even want to know about Rocky," Kat said darkly.
"This is exactly what I wanted to see you about," Kim replied forcefully. She leaned closer. "Power Withdrawal...you are all undergoing it. I've experienced it before - so has Tommy, for that matter, and let's just say he has been no picnic to live with since you all passed on the Turbo Powers. Let me guess...you are all irritable, depressed, feel useless, exhausted, don't want to see anyone, don't want to speak, don't want to get up in the morning?"
Her two friends were staring at her in shock "Did you just take a look at my journal?" Kat asked aghast.
Kim shook her head in mild amusement "No, but I remember it well. The point is that we need to be together. Ever since the Panglobals...I have felt this need to get everyone back together." She finished with a rush.
There, that was the bit that she thought they might choke on. But to her surprise they nodded in unison.
"I could see that." Tanya said sagely, nodding slightly.
Kat nodded. "If I could put across in my dancing what you did then...well..." she said.
Kim was relieved. "Tommy and I are trying to get everyone back together... has anyone spoken to Jason recently?"
There were two reluctant shakes of their heads. "I think ...I think Billy's father might be able to get hold of him." Tanya contributed, shrugging slightly.
Kim nodded. "Okay, I'll get hold of him," she said decisively. "I want you guys to get Adam and Rocky to Tommy's tomorrow night ...come hell or high water."
"Er, Kim, I don't know..." Kat began, looking troubled.
"Please Kat," Kim said. "This is more than just a little important." She wasn't sure if she could exactly explain how important it appeared to be to her. She fixed her fellow ex-pink ranger with a determined gaze.
Eventually the ex-Pink Turbo Ranger sighed. "Okay, I'll do it, somehow."
"Great." Kim said with a sigh of relief. Time was running out. She didn't know how she knew that, but time was definitely running out.
A dark claw across his vision, a feeling of profound danger, glowing golden eyes, nighteyes of an Owl -- Come now, fly fast, come alone, come now, the pattern, the pattern, come now, come alone, come now...
Skye gasped and shot awake from another nightmare vision, the same one. Over and over for the last four days, whenever he closed his eyes, the same thing happened. His mind filled with burning desperate images that would not let him rest, waking him more and more frequently as time went on. He tried to shake it off, but the dream images left him with a profound feeling of disturbance that lingered through the waking hours, making his mind feel raw and vulnerable. He swung out of bed, not wanting to go back to sleep again, and made his way up to the cockpit of Wolfzord where Billy was intently reading a book, with his feet up on a console. The Star Ninjetti entered without a word and sat down, just wanting to clear the images from his mind.
Billy blinked in surprise and looked up at the Star Ninjetti. "Skye, you only went to lie down an hour ago!"
Skye shrugged. "I can't sleep." The dark rings around his eyes stood testament to his words. He looked like he was exhausted and yet here he was awake...again.
"But you put in a 20 hour day yesterday of constant scanning of the sector ahead." Billy said with concern. He had been unsure why the Star Ninjetti had been pushing himself so hard, but maybe if he wasn't sleeping, he was trying to tire himself out. Either that or another, longer standing problem. "I thought you had stopped having the dreams?" Billy asked, putting the book down.
Skye shook his head. "I have never stopped having the dreams and normally I can live with them," he said quietly. "But this one will not let me sleep!" There was the sound of light footsteps behind them.
"Can you two keep it down?" Trini said, yawning as she came in, brushing her dark ebony hair back. "Skye? Aren't you meant to be asleep? I told you what I would do if you didn't get a proper rest after the past week we've been through..."
Billy mock-shuddered. "Careful, Skye...you're in trouble now..."
Skye gave a tired grin "Okay, fine! I swear I will go back to sleep and stay there for 8 hours minimum."
"Good!" Trini said triumphantly. "Now go!" she gestured imperiously, and Billy smiled quietly as Skye adopted a hangdog demeanour and began to trudge out of the cockpit.
Skye turned to say one last retort when...
Moons over the temple, a dark claw across his vision, a feeling of profound danger, eyes, gold eyes burning, summoning, the wing of a white owl. Come now, come fast come, alone, the pattern, the pattern will be lost, come...come NOW!!
Billy and Trini watched as their friend froze mid step and then winced as the final deafening demand reverberated through the Star Crystal into their spirit crystals and from there into their own heads.
"What the..." Billy began as Skye blinked and just sat down, looking dazed.
"I have to go..." the Star Ninjetti said finally. He looked at Trini. "I need to borrow TigerZord, I have to go...I have to go NOW!"
"Wait a moment, wait a moment" Billy said in a calming voice. "What, where...when?"
"I don't know," Skye said helplessly, just in the grip of a feeling that was tugging him inexorably away from this place. "But I have to go...Now...I must go now...time is running out!"
*He must go to the Owl Spirit* Billy's wolfspirit contributed from within Billy's mind.
"To Dulcea?" Billy questioned aloud and saw a dawning recognition in both Trini's and Skye's expressions.
"Of course! Phaedos! Yes," Skye said, relieved. One part of the mystery solved. "I have to go there."
Billy and Trini exchanged worried glances. "Are you sure? We would be losing time on our mission," Trini asked delicately. If time were so short surely they should focus on the really important task of swelling their ranks.
*You misunderstand young Tiger.* her Tiger spirit said. *He must go alone, you and the Wolfcub must continue. He will rejoin with you when his purpose there is complete.*
"But..." Trini protested.
*If the Owl needs him on Phaedos, then he must go, but there is no need to imperil our search. That must continue.* the Wolf spirit said firmly.
"I have scanned most of the sector ahead." Skye said, burning to leave now he had a goal. "I have marked the planets with potential Ninjetti that I have sensed. Please, I need to go...I will have no rest until this is done!"
Billy was struggling with the thought of them splitting up even temporarily. Despite the assurances from the Animal spirits it still seemed wrong somehow. "I don't like this, Skye" he said slowly.
"I never said I liked it," Skye replied forcefully, "but if I don't do it, I'm going to go mad. You saw it, the summons is coming through even when I am awake. That's just too dangerous for all of us..and you both know that!" For once he turned the well-worn and familiar argument of him being a comparative liability physically against them.
Billy sighed. "Fine. Fine. Trini, if you program TigerZord to take him directly to Phaedos ... and for the return journey I will rig a homing beacon in Wolfzord." They both knew that Tigerzord was the most heavily armoured of the two Zords and would protect Skye more than Wolfzord, should something go wrong.
In a surprisingly short period of time, Skye was ready to leave. He looked at his friends' grim faces and smiled "Relax! Everything will be fine. It's probably nothing much," he said lightly.
"You take care," Trini said, giving him a warm hug. Much to his surprise, Billy did likewise, though he remained silent.
Skye flushed a little and then paused just before teleporting. "Just think what mischief you two could get up to whilst I am not around," he said with a wide, knowing grin. "Just think of it as an impromptu honeymoon!"
And before they could respond, he teleported away.
"Dark Spectre, Emperor of the known universe," fawned Divatox . "The first representatives of the One have been sighted entering the Galactic rim."
Dark Spectre's magma lines began to glow brightly illuminating the dimly lit throne room. "I wish to speak to them," he rumbled eagerly. "I wish them to know of our wholehearted support and carry our regards to the Darkness Visible."
Dark Spectre was playing a dangerous game. He was speaking for other ears than that of the space pirate before him.
"I will make sure that one of our ships goes forth to meet them." Divatox replied, stressing the "our". She had managed to subtly slide up the ranks into Dark Spectre's favour and she was doing everything to reinforce that position. There were three blurs of movement in the room.
"That will not be necessary," an alien voice said from the shadows. Three shrouded alien figures appeared to shimmer into visibility before their eyes.
"Guards!" Divatox shouted in alarm, her hand going immediately to her laser pistol.
"Hold, Divatox." Dark Spectre rumbled. He had been correct then. They had already arrived. He had not become the undisputed leader of the Evil forces of the galaxy without having some sort of talent for reading situations. "Emissaries of the Darkness Visible, I presume?" he inquired.
Divatox took a hurried intake of breath. Looking at the figures in more detail, they were certainly impressive. A strangely beautiful race, but totally unfamiliar to her, except maybe from stories and legends. They looked like they should be reptilian, with elegant sculpted features that reminded her of a refined version of those disgusting Drakin, but they were furred rather than scaled, and their imposing crests of swept-back horns rose like crowns over a cascading mane of hair.
"We are of the Nid-hi," one of the creatures said in a sweet tone. "We are the children of the One, we are his Chosen. The One has devoted aeons to our race to lead us from perpetual night to our destiny."
"We are the Masters of the Outer Darkness," said another, its eyes glittering even in the darkened room. "Now it is time to extend that mastery into the heart of the stars."
"Welcome are the Nid-hi. Dark Spectre, keeper of the powers of Darkness within this Galaxy, stands ready to assist as required." the magma lord said humbly.
Divatox could not believe what she was hearing.
"Dark Spectre! What are you doing...?" she challenged. "These are mere lackeys to the One...you need not bow and scrape to the likes of them!"
"Silence, Divatox!" Dark Spectre snapped. The Nid-hi fixed her with a cold implacable gaze. A chill seemed to sweep the room and Divatox shivered. A horrifying presence began to steal over her. Something was watching her, scrutinising her, and a terrible fear of not being useful enough swept over her. Before she knew it, she had dropped to her knees babbling, "Pleaseohplease...let me show you I can help you, let me do something, anything -- only let me do something..! Please...please!"
Dark Spectre laughed. The One had obviously taught the Nid- hi much of the ways of the Spirit Power.
"You are wise, Dark Spectre," the tallest Nid-hi stated, watching the grovelling space pirate with a certain degree of distaste. "Of all who have approached the Emissaries of the One, you have not tried to bargain for Power, you have placed yourself within its Will and not haggled for benefits. The One needs a Wise leader until the arrival - you will be that Leader."
Dark Spectre bowed his head and exulted quietly. He had been right then. That tiny passage in the Ancient texts ...Those that embrace the power of night in humility will receive the powers of darkness in full measure... had shown him the way. In their overweening pride, Master Vile, Lord Zedd and all the others had tried to usurp his rightful place by trying to impress the Nid-hi with their power ... and in doing so robbed themselves of opportunity. He, on the other hand, had humbled himself to receive the powers of darkness. Then...when those powers were his... would they see about bowing and scraping.
"I am honoured to be of service," he said, inclining his head. "May I ask when the One will be with us?"
"Not for some time," admitted the Nid-hi. "The One stays within the heart of our race, travelling slowly but inexorably towards this Haven of Stars. We have been sent to prepare. There is much to be done before that time. All must be ready for when the Darkness Visible comes forth."
"All you need do is ask." Dark Spectre rumbled, an anticipatory thrill running through his molten lava-filled veins. He had no intention of treating the One like a God as these Nid-hi did but even so he could recognise and appreciate the type of power that would convince such a strong race of its Divinity. "Please...describe what it is that you plan to do."
The Nid-hi explained their mission and the means by which they hoped to accomplish it. There was an astonished silence and Divatox finally said in an incredulous tone, "You can do this?!"
The sculpted elegant draconic features regarded her briefly. "We entered here undetected, did we not? Do they all have guards skilled in the Khi-han? Spirit-sensing? No, we thought not. Besides, those they watch over will be very busy dealing with surprise attacks - your part of the bargain."
"Besides," the tallest Nid-hi said, "You know that we have already accomplished this once. This is fact. Why should it fail?"
"That was you three? On Eltare?" Divatox asked sceptically. How could so few of them triumph where the combined forces of the United Alliance of Evil had failed for so long?.
The smallest Nid-hi threw back her hood, revealing delicate silver-white features and a gold-tinged mane that spilled out over her dark cloak. Even being of another race, Dark Spectre could appreciate her outstanding beauty.
"That was me alone," she said melodiously. "It only required one of us to seize the Enemy of Order." Her liquid ebony eyes gleamed and shimmered with purple highlights as she watched him intently. Dark Spectre nodded in acquiescence, acknowledging that the United Alliance of Evil would throw their lot in with the Nid-hi with such an outstanding accomplishment attributable to them.
The audacity of the plan was frightening, and the even more astonishing thing was that it probably would work incredibly successfully. Divatox did not know what to say. All this time the various villains of the Galaxy had plotted and schemed and they had made headway, yes, but now in a moment you could feel the tide turning completely in their direction. She was rendered speechless.
That silence was broken by a low rumbling laugh as Dark Spectre, with delighted Evil mirth, filled the hall with his appreciation for the diabolical plan.
"Please, Rocky, it is important!" Kat pleaded for the umpteenth time.
"I have a late class, and I might be too tired to make it," Rocky said as if he hadn't been wriggling around like a worm trying to get off of a hook for the past hour.
Kat's crystal blue eyes flashed dangerously. "Rocky deSantos, don't you DARE give me that!" she said with a dangerous edge. "This time last week you were up until four in the morning on that computer after that class."
Rocky sighed and sat down, his back cramping a little. "Kat please...I just don't want to go," he said flatly. What more was there to say? He didn't want to go to an ex-ranger reunion even if they were all Powerless now. It still didn't change how he felt.
She crossed her arms and stared at him resolutely. The pressure of the silence weighed on him like a lead weight. Damn it all, ever since she had learned that little trick he had rarely gotten away with anything. He wondered if Adam had let it slip to her.
"I don't want to see Tommy and Jason...or any of the others. They remind me of what I used to be like." He looked away, embarrassed at the tightening emotion that seemed to be burning in his throat, threatening to make his voice crack with self-pity.
Kat took his hand "Rocky...Rocky, look at me," she said softly.
Reluctantly he did so, glancing into those crystal blue eyes and knew he had probably lost the argument there and then.. "Rocky, have I forced you to do anything that you have not wanted to over the past year?" He shook his head. No, now he came to think of it, she hadn't.
"Well, if I have to drag you through the streets on a chain, I will get you there tonight...THAT is how important I feel this is....!" Kat said, her voice ringing with sincerity. "If you won't do it for yourself, then for once do it for me." She fixed him with that gaze and hopeful smile that he had no defence against, and he groaned.
"Fine. Fine, okay, I will go!" he said explosively. "Though I won't enjoy it one bit."
Kat kissed him softly and said with a sad smile, "You just have to go, enjoying yourself is optional!."
Tommy paced nervously. "What time did you say they were getting here?"
"Around seven," Kim replied, watching him stalk back and forth. "Tommy, just relax...they are our friends! We know them."
Tommy fiddled with his long hair irritably. "I know, I know, but I haven't seen them in so long...and I have the strangest feeling about this." In fact, if I didn't know better I would say I felt like I used to just before we morphed and went into battle, he thought to himself.
Kim nodded; she felt it too, a burning anticipation particularly since she had come back a couple of days previously and found Tommy pouring over the myriad sketches he had discovered. The sketches were lying out on the lounge floor where they had cleared some room, and the two ex-rangers hoped that the others would be able to help piece them together.
"Doesn't it seem just slightly odd that Aisha and Zack have both come back here, right now?" Kim mused. "Coincidence?...Not!" she said, sounding like she was a good six or seven years younger than she actually was.
"What else could it be?" Tommy said, checking the window again, pausing as he saw a car pull up. Jason! And he had given a lift to Adam and Tanya by the looks of it. Right. Time to get things moving.
Kim shrugged. "I don't know...just seems like there is some sort of pattern," she said, wondering if it had anything to do with Skye. The last time she had felt like this was when he had tried to explain why he thought saving her had been important enough to risk everything because without her, the pattern would be lost.
"Well, maybe we can discuss it later..." Tommy said, nearly bounding to the door in his eagerness to see his friends. "They are starting to arrive!"
Within half an hour of each other all the ex-rangers had congregated at Tommy's house, until the place was abuzz with a muted sense of expectancy. Tommy looked around at them all before standing up to set things going.
"Guys...guys!" he raised his voice and they quieted down. He grinned as he took in the sight of them all there; Rocky and Kat, Tanya and Adam, Jason, Justin, Zack and Aisha ... and of course Kim. "Guys, it's great to see you all. I guess word might have filtered through that we've all been undergoing Power Withdrawal, so we haven't been the best company in the world recently, and it is a shame that I actually needed a reason to get you all here like this...but we do have a reason."
Kim then got up and continued. "I think only Justin did not know Billy and Trini," she began.
"But I've heard all about him!" Justin chipped in.
" But I am not sure if Zack and Aisha know the full story behind why they are not here with us." Kim continued. She gave them a brief synopsis of the events leading to Billy and Trini going into Space.
"Also, Skye went with them. Fewer of you know him, but he is an artist and has some...unique talents." Kim said, setting the scene for Tommy's revelation.
"I discovered this package that he sent me before he left," Tommy said. He indicated the vast array of sketches all over the room. "We need your help to piece together what we have to do, and what has happened and what could happen."
Some of the ex-Rangers looked astonished as they glanced around at the pictures. Not at the remarkable quality, but at the content, images seemingly stolen from their lives when they knew that the artist had not been around to witness them or even be told about them.
"Like I said, a unique talent," Tommy said, picking up a picture of him driving a race car at speed.
Aisha stepped forward, picking up a picture with a faintly trembling hand. "This...this is my village, the view across the Veldt in the morning...but...I've never even MET this Skye!"
" I know, Aisha...I know," Kim said. Tommy picked up one of Kim glowing like a star dressed in white with an ecstatic look on her face "I know what this one is now...I've seen it happen."
"The Panglobals." they all chorused and laughed at Kim's discomfiture.
"Well it could have been last Saturday when we... hey!" Tommy ducked as Kim, blushing, threw a cushion at him to shut him up, and the group around them chuckled.
"Anyway, you get the idea...we need to eliminate pictures that have occurred and see what we are meant to do in the future. If there is one thing we are both certain of is that there is something we must do in the future," Tommy finished, and the ex-rangers pored over the various sketches and pictures laying them out as if they were all trying to do an enormous jig-saw puzzle.
A surprising quantity of pictures proved to have some personal significance to them all, and at the picture of the destroyed Power Chamber, Justin had to explain to them all what had happened and where the others had gone. "But, the Power Chamber has been rebuilt," he finished with a heavy sigh. "Dimitria is still there at the moment, though since Zordon was abducted from Eltare..."
There was a communal explosion of outrage around the room
"Zordon? Abducted?!" Jason said, clenching his fists unconsciously.
Justin nodded miserably. "The last I heard, yes...Carlos, T.J, Cassie and Ashley are looking for him...but they don't know who took him or where he is being held.
Jason paced up and down, nearly crumpling the sketches in his anxiety. "We have to do something about this!" The others agreed. Zordon had been a major part of their lives for years, they couldn't just forget about him.
Tommy picked up the picture of Phaedos and held it up. "I think this is the answer. Those of us who were Ninjetti recognise this place...Phaedos, where we sought the Great Power. Skye drew us there...all of us here. He drew many pictures of Phaedos...in fact Billy got to know him because he and Adam went to an exhibition and found themselves staring at pictures of what had happened when we first went there." Adam nodded.
Tommy looked around at them all meeting their eyes one by one. "You've seen how many of the things that he drew came to pass? What do you think?"
There was a murmur of agreement around the room from all except Rocky who had remained unusually quiet throughout the whole discussion.
"Getting to Phaedos wasn't easy, not like Zord teleporting," Aisha said. "How do you expect us to get there, and what do we do when we are there?"
"As I recall..." Adam mused, "it required a burst of energy from the Power Chamber, but if the Power Chamber has been destroyed..."
Justin bounced up. "No, no..it's been rebuilt! I still have local teleport access," he said excitedly. "I can get us all in if I go up and explain things to Dimitria. After all ... you all have been Rangers, after all." The young teenager's enthusiasm was infectious, and everyone perked up.
"Then Justin, if you can arrange for Dimitria to teleport us to Phaedos tomorrow," Tommy said. "By then we will have been able to have come up with some sort of cover story to explain an absence of a couple of days, maybe. Then we can find out what our place in this is going to be!"
Dimitria had been surprisingly agreeable about the whole thing, and the large group stood assembled in the latest version of the Power Chamber, preparing for their long trip. Rocky shook his head. He couldn't go and he knew it. He had gone along with the others up to now, getting his hopes up, but it was time for a reality check. He was injured and a liability. His back could go into spasm at any time, and what would that do to them in the middle of a fight? He looked at Kat, smiling and laughing with Aisha, and sighed. There was no good time to do this.
He stepped away from the others, as they stood poised to teleport.
"Rocky?" Kat queried, sounding alarmed.
"I'm sorry, but I can't go with you all." He said it heavily, depression clouding his tones. More than anything in the world he wanted to, but he was incredibly afraid that because of him something would happen to some of them, or worst of all, to Kat.
"Rocky, man...what are you talking about?" Jason asked, stepping forward as well.
"My back," he said simply. "I can't take a Power when I am injured. That's all there is to it."
The look of consternation on their faces was pleasing in some ways, as it meant that they had forgotten enough not to pity him as he feared that they would. But the fact remained, he wasn't going anywhere.
"Rocky, please..!" Kat pleaded. "Just come with us...for me!"
Rocky turned away stiffly. "Don't you see, Kat? It is for you that I have to stay behind. Has an injured person ever been able to assume the Powers, Dimitria?" he asked, raising his voice.
The Inquirian remained silent for a long moment. "It would be foolish to consider the fact that none have before as complete proof, would it not?"
"That is a close to a definite answer as you are going to get," Rocky said. "Now go...all of you."
There was a chorus of refusals, and Rocky strode over to a console, turned and said abruptly "Good Luck" ... and pressed the teleport activation and the Power chamber was echoingly empty once again. Rocky leant over the console, his back to Dimitria, his shoulders heaving silently.
"Are you alright, Rocky?" asked the Inquirian finally.
"Yes...yes...just my back spasming," he lied, wiping across his eyes with the back of his hand. "It tends to get the better of me when I least expect it."
Dulcea was weary beyond belief. Continual testing, looping the time over and over, pulling the ones out who failed, churning out Ninjetti spirit warriors as the candidates flooded in from the worlds that her proteges visited. They appeared to be working hard...the sheer quantity of people she had processed, beings of all races ... it surprised even her. But however she twisted it and looped it and tied it up in knots, time was running away with her, and not all who quested made it through. She sighed as she felt the arrival of ANOTHER group...a large group at that. She made her way to the beachhead.
"Hold! Do you seek the Great Power!?" she challenged.
"Dulcea!" called Tommy loudly from down below her. "It's us!".
She took a closer look and then somersaulted down gracefully. "By all the Powers! A pleasant surprise." She looked them all over appraisingly. "Where is Rocky, the Red Ape?" she asked, concerned.
Kat flushed. "He...he wouldn't come because of his injury," she explained.
"He is Ninjetti, he must come! Everyone of us is needed! If he comes not of his own accord, then he will be summoned," Dulcea said assertively. "But in the meantime....I see new candidates amongst you. Stand forward..."
Jason stepped forward with the others, seeking her emerald green eyes, feeling something indescribable as he met her gaze. He watched her, his mouth going dry at the mere sight of her walking up and down their line. She appraised the others, seeming to know about their Ranger histories and nodded after each one.
She hesitated before him, frowning slightly, and placed a hand loosely on his shoulder. "Jason of Earth, I have met you before and you were holding the Gold Powers - I see that you managed not to be ripped apart by the three-fold nature of that Power?"
"Not quite, Dulcea" Jason replied, feeling an unaccountable blush lurking. "I have recovered now." He didn't want to sound like he was unworthy of questing for the Great Power.
"This is good, you are strong," Dulcea said formally, but her touch seemed to linger and her eyes met his for the briefest moment and Jason knew he was lost to them forever. In just one moment everything had changed. Dulcea turned, taking a deep steadying breath before announcing, "Come...follow me to the Temple."
Kim nudged Tommy as they followed the Master Warrior of the Ninjetti up to the plateau. Tommy turned to her and frowned and mouthed a silent "what?" Kim nodded her head towards Jason and then flicked her eyes over towards Dulcea. Tommy frowned, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Kim sighed heavily. Men could be so blind sometimes. Aisha looked across at her, nodded and winked and then the four girls of the group burst into broad smiles as they caught each other's eyes. Why the men never saw it she didn't know...ah well, this could be interesting -- VERY interesting indeed.
Dulcea made those already Ninjetti stand outside of the immediate confines of the spirit fire she had built and Jason, Zack, Justin, Kat and Tanya stood before it much as had the others all that time ago. It brought back poignant memories for all of the others as they watched that incredibly moving ceremony where their animal spirits revealed themselves to them and pronounced them worthy of questing for the Great Power.
Eventually, Dulcea walked before them and took out a hand full of the spirit dust and mentally called the Animal Spirits to attend and claim their own.
"In each of us is an animal spirit buried deep in our hearts," she said. "For those who can face themselves, they will reveal their hidden secrets. Look closely within and let your animal spirit come forth." She threw the handful of spirit dust upon the fire and it flared with the special energy that made it possible for the animal spirits to make their wishes known. The fire died down and Dulcea smiled as all of them stood before her dazed and excited by their transformation.
"Justin, you are the Blue Dolphin, intelligent and playful," she said, touching the leaping dolphin insignia. The youngest Ninjetti grinned delightedly as she moved onto Kat, dressed once more in pink with the image of a sprinting feline on her gold insignia.
"Kat, you are the Pink Cheetah, swift and loyal." Kat gave a dazzling smile.
The Master Warrior moved along to Zack who was curiously trying to work out what his animal spirit was from the gold emblem. She smiled. "Zack, you are the Black Mongoose, fluid and deadly," and nearly laughed at his comical look of relief.
"Thought I was a rat for a moment," he said, flashing a grin. Dulcea moved along down the line, touching Tanya's emblem depicting an elegant strong antelope with graceful swept back horns.
"Tanya, you are the Yellow Oryx , powerful and fierce," she said and moved along finally to Jason. Immediately as she touched the emblem, her owl spirit began to trill within her. She had been right, his animal spirit had been waiting all that time to show itself.
"Jason...you are the Red Lion, courageous and strong." She said it quietly, her hand resting on the Lionspirit insignia as if reluctant to let it go.
Dulcea looked away, her mind whirling. Seldom, certainly not in the past few millennia, had she been so affected by the mere sight or...touch of someone. That part of her life had died long ago, before she became the first Warrior of Phaedos when Kerrin had been killed. Maybe that was it. Kerrin had been a Black Lion Ninjetti, maybe this new Lion Spirit Chosen just reminded him of her long dead love. There was no room in her life for love, she had the Duty of being the guardian of Phaedos ... which was more vital than any vague and probably unreciprocated feelings. This was just not appropriate, think of the age difference for a start! No, the whole thing was ridiculous...and Jason was a completely different person from Kerrin. Kerrin had the introspectiveness and quietness of the Black, whereas Jason had the fire and warmth of the Red and the harmony and courage of the Gold. Her mind lingered uncertainly as she finally removed her hand and turned away, steadying her state of mind.
"Now, you must prepare for your Quest." She took out the boxes that Tommy had brought with him and opened the locked one. She took out the first Spirit crystal, carved with the image of a lion and held it up as it caught the light from the fire, blazing with red and gold highlights. She went back to Jason and slipped the crystal over his head, acutely aware of his close proximity and his presence. Remaining outwardly calm as her emotions churned inside, she repeated the process with the other Ninjetti until they had all received their own Spirit Crystal.
"You five will become Spirit Warriors if you gain the Great Power. The transformation will take place automatically, but first you have to prove yourself worthy,"she informed them in a serious tone. She then looked around to the others who were standing, watching the familiar process.
"Those of you who have undergone the quest will need to meditate to find your own joining to the Spirit Warrior Powers. Come forth into the circle and receive your own Spirit Crystals."
Tommy, Kim, Adam and Aisha stepped forward and were each presented with their own Crystal, and Dulcea stood dangling the last crystal from her hand, the tiny carved Red Ape glittering as it spun and twisted from the chain. Her expression became determined.
"Now to settle this." She walked to the fire and made a strange gesture, spoke a command in an unfamiliar language and the image of Dimitria appeared.
"What can I do for you, First Warrior of the Ninjetti?" the veiled Inquirian asked.
"Rocky of Earth, the Red Ape Ninjetti - I wish him sent here immediately," Dulcea said firmly.
"Is it not against our ways to force someone against their will?" Dimitria responded evasively.
"He is Ninjetti, I invoke the Right as the Guardian of the Great Power to bring him to Phaedos." Dulcea pointed out tersely. She had no time for the questioning games of this young mentor.
"Did you not lose your claim on him when time became reversed?" Dimitria pointed out.
"No....and you well know that. The Great Power is a power of the Spirit, and Time does not rule the Spirit, the Spirit rules Time. Now send him to me," Dulcea demanded.
"If this is truly your will?" Dimitria asked finally.
Dimitria gestured and then vanished, and a few minutes later, Rocky tumbled into a heap before them.
Dulcea took one look at the ex-Zeo Ranger and said shortly "You are late," before continuing with her address. "Time is short. Those Questing for the Great Power must battle their way to the Monolith to receive it and prove their worthiness to hold it. You will leave soon. Those who have already been judged worthy, will reactivate their animal spirits and awaken the dormant Ninjetti Power by bonding with their Spirit Crystals. This you will begin now." He voice brooked no contradiction.
Rocky stood with a stern expression on his face, having recovered his composure, and shook his head. "I cannot." He said flatly.
Dulcea looked swiftly at Jason. For some reason she felt that they were under pressure of time and that it might already have slipped through their grasp. She had to get the Quests under way as soon as possible. She addressed the Red Lion Ninjetti who was looking like he was about to get involved in the upcoming argument. "We will resolve this issue, waste no more time in waiting."
Jason nodded in response and automatically began to call the others together, slipping very neatly back into the role of leader. "C'mon then guys, that Monolith isn't going anywhere!" he encouraged them.
Dulcea watched them turn to leave and said suddenly "Jason..!" He turned and looked over his shoulder.
"May the Power protect you..all." she called out.
He gave a brisk nod and a half smile and the team heading into the denseness of the wild and savage Neola forest.
A grey clad figure walked up to the Temple unnoticed as the group of Questing Ninjetti departed. Rocky's teammates and friends stood around him, trying to persuade him to join them and reclaim the Great Power.
"No! I can't!" Rocky nearly shouted again "Can't you see that? I'm hurt, I can't fight, I am liability and a cripple!" His voice held an edge of bitterness.
Tommy gripped his friend's shoulder "Please, just try it!" he pleaded. It was his responsibility to keep the team together, what sort of job was he doing if he couldn't persuade one of them to take the Power?
"And what will that prove? How much of an idiot I am? How useless I am?" Rocky said in despair. "You have all felt that way during Power Withdrawal...well, the difference is that I know it is actually true!" He shook off Tommy's hand and turned and walked away from them, holding his back stiff and rigid..
"Rocky!" Adam called out after his friend, hurt by his rejection "There is no reason for you to go!"
"Do you want me to get you hurt by being unable to fight? By having a back spasm in a battle and you dying? Do you? You know what that feels like, Adam...you told me!" Rocky shot back at him and Adam flinched, reliving the moment when a monster had thrust a laser spear through Billy because he had been incapacitated. He had eventually told Rocky all about it, and now it seemed it was more that fear than anything that was crippling him. Adam had no answer for his question. How could he argue when it seemed that Rocky was trying to protect them all?
"Just leave me alone!" Rocky shouted, sounding like a stranger to them, turning and fleeing from them all. He disappeared into the Sacred Heart of the Temple, out of their view.
Unnoticed, the grey figure with a peculiar halting stride silently followed the ex-ranger into that familiar stone circle. Dulcea paused, sensing the presence of a ninjetti mindtouch and gave an imperceptible nod to herself.
"I should go after him," Adam said, his dark eyes following the direction his friend had gone.
Aisha also stepped forward. "I will." They had known him the longest, despite the timeline alterations.
"None of you will" Dulcea said firmly. "It will be taken care of. It is more important that you become Spirit Warriors right now. You will sit around the Summoning Fire and the Animal Spirits will come and make their wishes known." She gestured imperiously for them to sit, and with worried looks on their faces they obeyed. Aisha in particular kept glancing behind her.
Dulcea abruptly thumped her Singing Staff on the stone floor of the temple. "Enough! I give you my word that he is being dealt with, and Spirits willing, will be returned to us. Now focus, all of you. This is vitally important!" Dulcea's voice softened. "This will be the time where you accept what role you will play in the Darkness to come. The choice may seem easy and obvious, but consider this...you fight for more than just Earth if you accept the Path of the Spirit Warrior. Those that hold the Power have the responsibility to use that Power for the good of all. There is no telling what might be asked of you. Consider carefully for there can be no doubt."
Obediently they followed her instructions and began to meditate upon the Summoning Fire until time seemed to slow and vanish, and each felt to be alone with themselves and the Fire and the imminent return of their Animal Spirit.
My Daughter.... The Crane spirit soared from within the fire to join Kimberly. This is the moment where you chose your Path. Whether you fight and fly against the Darkness Visible or you stand as The Sun Goes Down. The bright Spirit spread its wings against a setting sun, poised to stand or to fly.
"I will fight the Darkness," Kim communicated. "I was given back my life to be a part of the pattern, and I cannot be a part of it if I do not join the fight."
The Crane bowed her graceful head. I do honour to your Spirit...you are worthy of being a Spirit Warrior!
A deep rumbling noise alerted Aisha Cub- daughter the Bear said softly, padding forth from the glowing embers; I am roused from my slumbers...there is a need for your power and strength. This is a false winter and Darkness and much will be taken from us. Chose now...Chose whether it is your path to take the fight to the Darkness for battle is nearly upon us.
"I will...I choose the way of the Spirit Warrior," Aisha replied decisively.
Out of the curling smoke of the fire the image of the Frog coalesced. Adam...my young Frog, your transformation is nearly complete, the Balance achieved. Accept the path of the Spirit Warrior and it will fall to one side, stand as you are and it will fall to the other. Choose now and stand at the axis point of change.
Adam nodded, his face serene and calm. "I am a Spirit Warrior."
A fiery Spark dove down from the sky, transforming into a stooping bright Falcon. Fledgling, would you risk all you have gained to follow the call of your warrior soul? To strike against the Darkness Visible as the Sun Goes Down?
Tommy agreed without hesitation. "Yes, I would have the chance to fight, whereas if not I would be helpless, and the Darkness would still come."
The Animal Spirits swirled back into the fire and it flared bright white for a dazzling moment. The Choices are made. Walk forth from this place as Ninjetti Spirit Warriors of the Great Power, echoed a chorus of voices.
Around their necks, the Spirit Crystals pulsed and crackling unleashed in a burst their long restrained dormant Powers. They transformed as their Spirit Warrior armour flowed over them, bonding to their bodies, much as it had to Billy all that time ago. The four of them stood slowly, feeling the immensity of the Great Power surging within them as it had once before, remembered only from their dreams of that other time. Each of them bore the marks of the various colours they had been touched with by the Power. Kim and Aisha were Pink and Yellow respectively and Adam had managed the combine Black and Green, though he was predominantly Black, Tommy was White with the Falcon's eyes glittering Red and Green. They were back and ready for action.
Dark Spectre stood up, massive and intimidating in his command ship throne room as the Silver Nid-hi approached.
"Everything is in place, Ilana," he addressed her with more familiarity now.
The silver-maned Nid-hi stared at the 12 separate split- screen views of different planets. "It is well done," she said melodically. "Why is there no fleet above Phaedos?" she asked suddenly, zooming in on the appropriate screen.
Dark Spectre rumbled, "It is an empty world save for the objective of our quest. There are no defenders to distract our purpose. Still, Dulcea is a Master Warrior..."
"I will send three Nid-hi there. This is not a time to take chances. Sehaine, Jerol!" she called. A chestnut brown Nid-hi and a massive ebony black creature appeared on the screens. "I give you glory, you will join with Vahn and take the heart from the Ninjetti, by stealing it from Phaedos itself."
The two Nid-hi looked elated. "Your will Ilana," they both replied and were on their way immediately.
The silver Nid-hi turned her mane gleaming as it cascaded, silver and gold over her shoulders. "In the meantime there is no need to delay the other attacks;" she said, her eyes glittering with amethyst highlights. "Dark Spectre...the command is yours."
Dark Spectre rose from his massive throne, the lava coursing through his magma body pulsing brightly with fiery excitement. Now THIS was more like it!
"It is time!" he thundered. "United Alliance of Evil, now is the moment when we break the rule of the Council of the Wise. Prepare your attack fleets!" He paused for one thrilling anticipatory moment, and then ordered,
The skies across 12 disparate worlds became blackened by veloci-fighters, Quantrons, monsters of all shapes and sizes ... and deep in the heart of each attack fleet a tiny dark needle of a ship hid, piercing its way to the planetary surface. At each place a small force of courageous defenders sallied forth against the foe, completely missing the import of that one minuscule ship in the grand scheme of things. Until it was too late.
"Rislarr!? Where did he go?" J'Shaar yelled to his fellow Sunstar Rangers as they found themselves hard-pressed by strange monsters, the like of which they had never seen before on the desert world of Drakan.
Sisthaa looked up from her controls. "He was heading back to the Solar Chamber," she reported breathlessly as her Sunstar Zord rocked under another volley of strange energies. "He said he had picked up a mysterious signal."
"Brak shalar!" swore their leader under his breath. "He picks the worst times sometimes. See if you can get him back here! I'll try and distract this big ugly...primate with wings."
Rislarr ran into the Solar Chamber, hoping against hope that he had been wrong. He had seen the merest hint of a pattern on his screen, but enough to make his eyescales burn green with concern.
He stopped, horrified. There on the floor of the Chamber lay C'Haal their mentor, unconscious or ... dead, and standing over him a creature like being drawn from the legends of his people, a golden, elegant dragonlike face, delicate swept back horns and glowing golden, alien eyes .
"A Neeshi!" he whispered under his breath in superstitious awe. Nonetheless, this creature, however like the fabulous creatures with magical powers that littered their culture, had attacked C'haal. And more to the point, had defeated him, C'Haal...a Warrior of the First Sun!
"Hold!" he challenged, his Sunstar blazing in his forehead, ready to strike. "Leave him alone!"
"Enemy of Order! Begone and I will free you from the servitude of this warped being!" hissed the golden Nid-hi in response.
Rislarr frowned. What?
"You will not take him! I will be forced to stop you!" he warned, preparing himself to strike. The creature looked unconcerned, and stooped again to lift his victim. Maybe they were not aware of how dangerous the power of a Sunstar could be! Rislarr focussed and one of his most powerful blasts of energy blazed towards his enemy and struck him in a blinding flash. Energy sparked from the impact, dazzling him for a moment.
Rislarr blinked ... but .. . that couldn't be!
The Nid-hi was standing seemingly unscathed. "I see that the One was correct. You are beyond hope. We have the Great Power, there is no Power of yours that can stop us, and in time all beings will rejoice that this was so...you strike from ignorance." It sighed and then drew energy from itself. "I strike from sure knowledge."
It flung the blast of Ninjetti Power at the Drakin Ranger, and Rislarr had a moment of absolute horror before receiving a mortal injury from the creature. The golden-furred Nid-hi turned and sighed once more as the sounds of explosions and devastation rocked the walls of the Solar Chamber, lifted its unconscious prize and slipped away unseen through all the drifting smoke and choking fumes.
Othass, Sisthaa and J'Shaar ran into the Solar Chamber, having finally pushed the attacking monster back.
"Rislarr! We could have used...." J'Shaar stopped as he saw a still, familiar form splayed on the Chamber floor, surrounded by devastation.
"Rislarr!" he cried out, running to his friend's side. He cradled his body in his arms as the others filed in around him. "What happened?" he asked urgently, looking up at Sisthaa who had been assessing his wounds. Her eyescales glittered ebony black with grief and J'Shaar took a shuddering breath.
The wounded Drakan was barely clinging to life. "...C'Haal...Neeshi..." he gasped out, his life fading away. "Only...Great Power....nothing else..."
"Stay with us!" J'Shaar tried to order in a choked voice. "Stay with us, Rislarr! We need you!"
Rislarr gave the merest hint of a smile. "...never could...take orders.." he gasped and squeezed Sisthaa's taloned hands tightly until the life fled from his body. The Sunstar in his forehead glimmered and then blazed, consuming his body in a pyrrhic emanation of pure light until there was nothing remaining of the Sunstar Ranger save the faintly pulsing Sunstar that he had worn with such honour and pride.
Dulcea looked up from her inspection of the four new Spirit Warriors, having tested some of their moves and instructed them how to develop their awareness of their own Spirit Warrior abilities, as a low chime sounded. With a frown she raised a holographic image in the centre of the ceremonial fire. The familiar shimmering form of Dimitria looking veiled and uncertain flickered into life.
"Dimitria? Why do you call me?" Dulcea asked, perturbed.
"Why should I not call you when the Earth is being attacked?" the Inquirian replied in a tone of desperation. "Help me, Dulcea!" she pleaded.
Things must be dire, the Master Warrior reasoned, if the Inquirian had forgotten to ask a question. She looked at the four warriors in front of her. They would be outmatched, but they had the courage and experience to try. It was their home ground, after all, and given the choice they would demand a chance to defend their home and families.
"Tommy, you must go back and see to this attack," she said as if it would be an easy task. The White Ninjetti nodded, eager to try out his new Spirit Armour.
"I will send reinforcements as soon as I can. You have Zords, but without the Red Zord you cannot combine to produce a Megazord. May the Power protect you!"
The team looked at each other, half excited, half fearful of the coming conflict. It had been a long time for most of them and there were more than a few doubts flickering in their minds.
Tommy stood in front of them all, took a deep breath and said in a commanding tone, "Back to Action!" and they began the intergalactic teleport home, right into a whole heap of trouble.
Rocky sat disconsolately on the edge of the hidden circle, trying very hard to hide from himself how hurt he was inside about not being able to be with the others, to be a part of that team again. The fact that he had had to throw it back in their faces for their own good, to protect them from his weakness was the salt being rubbed into an old and festering wound. He'd probably finished any chance he had ever had of making it with Kat, and they would be out saving the world or galaxy or universe or whatever and he would be here...kicking his heels.
"Oh, get a grip." Rocky said to himself, disgusted at his self pity.
He suddenly caught sight of a figure standing within a few metres of him, silently watching him, its face obscured by the hood cowled around its face. Rocky cursed and leapt to his feet as swiftly as he could into a defensive stance as the figure limped towards him.
That movement stirred a feeling of recognition, but he still challenged the newcomer "Who are you? What are you doing here?"
"Looking for a friend of mine," a familiar voice said and brushed back the hood, revealing the easily recognisable features of Skye. Bright blue eyes met his and he asked tentatively, "Is he here?"
Rocky stood rooted in shock. It had been over a year since he had seen the artist in the flesh, and the passage and experience of that time had left its marks on them both. He was not sure what to say. For a while he had ... hated Skye in his absence, for having seen the vision of him injured and off the team and not warning him, blaming him for his inability to adjust and Powerloss, because it was easier to blame someone who was not there to fight back. Then he had realised what it was he didn't like anymore, which was the bitterness that he had carried around inside of him that made him feel less than who he was.
He missed Billy, he missed Skye, he missed what had been, and it had taken a long time before he could acknowledge that it wasn't really the artist's fault. And then for the longest time he had wallowed in the depression brought about by the fact that it was his fault if anyone's at all!.
He nodded slowly in response to Skye's hesitant query and with a broadening smile walked forward and gripped the surprised Star Ninjetti in a hug.
"I'll take that as a yes." wheezed Skye as the air was momentarily squashed from his lungs.
"Ah man, it is so good to see you! Is Billy here?" Rocky asked, his mood swinging to anticipation. He hadn't seen Billy for ages and he had been surprised at how much the absence of the Wolf Ninjetti had affected him. Billy hadn't always been quite as active in doing things as some of the others, but he was ALWAYS there. Always. He would stop whatever he was doing and help, or just talk as if his own things were of secondary importance to him. Skye was like that, too. After his initial reticence about being friends with an artist, Rocky had found in him a wicked sense of humour that matched his own and who never assumed that he would not understand or that whatever they discussed would go above his head.
Sky shook his head "I'm sorry, I came alone...I will rejoin them soon," he said regretfully.
"Then why are you here?" Rocky asked. "Not that it isn't great to see you, but I will be heading back to Earth soon, as soon as Dulcea whistles up the Great Power or whatever..." there, despite his best intentions, a flash of that old bitterness that Kat had suffered through showed its ugly head.
"I was summoned ... to make sure that things go as they should ".Skye said, wishing he could be a little more specific. He cleared his throat. "I guess, to make sure that you joined the Ninjetti Spirit Warriors," he added finally, though now he was here he wasn't sure if that was the whole of the story.
"I've just been through all this with the others," Rocky said wearily, his anger dissipated.
"I know; I heard," Skye said and added dryly "I expect Billy and Trini did, too - wherever they are!"
"So...you've had a wasted journey - my back is still wrecked." Rocky held up a hand to forestall any comments. "I can accept that part of it now, I cannot do the things I used to, and that is fine. I've adapted. What I cannot accept is being a cripple and a liability to the team and getting them hurt!"
He noticed that the artist was unusually quiet for a long while before he replied quietly, "I understand."
"How can you understand?" Rocky said with a flash of anger; "what do you know...oh." His expression dropped when he realised how tactless he had been, as he looked at Skye's damaged leg.
"Oh geez, Skye...I didn't mean ... well, what I meant to say was..." Rocky began, trying to extract his proverbial foot from his mouth.
"No, it is quite true," Skye said with a sigh. "There have been a lot of occasions where Billy and Trini have become hurt because of me, because of my comparative weakness. But there have been as many occasions now where despite my physical limitations, I have managed to save them."
"Sounds rough," Rocky commented, trying to accept that whilst he had been safe on Earth, Billy, Trini and Skye had been out ... getting hurt.
"It has been. I suspect it will get worse," Skye said. "It bothered me a great deal to start with," he continued. "But, I finally realised that I was underestimating their strength and courage and will. I was trying to deny them their choice, by making it for them. Exactly what you are doing."
"What do you mean?" Rocky asked, knowing but not really accepting it inside.
"You are trying to 'protect' them by taking away their choices. I had to finally realise that Billy and Trini had the strength and willingness to accept without resentment the burdens that being my friend placed upon them...as I did for them. You have to realise that you are not the only one who can make a sacrifice." Skye lapsed into silence.
Rocky pondered that. This was true, just think of Kat. After all she had been through with him, she had accepted everything without reservations, him as the Power Ranger, him as Rocky the moody, deep in the throes of Power Withdrawal...all this time she had shown him the way and he had been too blind to see it. He groaned. "What do you want me to do?"
"Become a Spirit Warrior," Skye said promptly.
"Even like this?" he indicated himself.
"I can't make that decision for you." Skye countered flatly.
Rocky took a deep breath. "If it can be done, I will do it without hesitation. But, I want to make it absolutely clear that they will have the right to throw me out at anytime for their own good."
Skye nodded. And then grinned broadly.What's so funny?" Rocky asked suspiciously.
"Nothing...just lie down".
"I'm going to heal your back now." The artist said nonchalantly and then ducked as Rocky stared in astonishment and started to hurl imprecations at him along with gravel and sand.
"What the...why didn't you just say so!? Can you? Really? What was all that about?" Rocky babbled at him, hope rising unbidden.
Skye brushed the sand from his long white hair. "You had to have truly accepted that you would be willing to be a Spirit Warrior, and not because you were 'bribed' to do so by a promise of healing. There is no room for doubt."
"But can you?" Rocky pressed with barely concealed hope.
Skye nodded slowly, his blue eyes sparkling. "Now I can. Healing is one thing I have been perfecting and practising during the trip. I've certainly had opportunity to use my new skills."
Rocky lay down immediately and a feeling of anxiety began to build. "I guess this will hurt, right? I mean, when I have physio, it can be excruciating..." he turned onto his front as indicated.
"No, it shouldn't hurt at all, in fact it should feel pleasant. You may well drift off ... okay?" Skye said, readying himself.
"Fine, go ahead." Rocky said nervously, and felt Skye place his hands on his back and an intense heat from them which he would not have believed that filled him with a warm, floating, golden glow. Despite his best intentions he slipped into a semi-dreaming state.
He was in a jungle, luxuriant foliage and life all around him, and he could feel that he was being watched. His Apespirit approached.
It is time now...take the lessons you have learnt and decide whether or not you want to accept the responsibilities of being a Spirit Warrior.
"If my back is healed there is no question..." Rocky replied. A twist of bitterness appeared. "But why? Why did this have to happen to me? Why all this pain?" he demanded.
The Apespirit fixed him with a warm and slightly disappointed look. My young one...you know the answers. It was a testing of the Blue....
"Damn it! Why?.." Rocky shouted bitterly to the jungle surrounding him. He paused to think. A revelation dawned.
"This is why, isn't it? To change the way I think, how I behave. To stop me from leaping into action without thought...but why did it have to be so damn painful?"
Change is always difficult, and the more resistance there is the more pain is experienced, the Ape Spirit replied sagely.
Rocky nodded and then paused. "Hang on a moment ...was that you just telling me if I hadn't been such a blockhead, this would have been over and done with a lot sooner?"
There was a rumble of amusement from the Apespirit. When you learn a lesson, my young one, you obviously feel the need to learn it very thoroughly!
"You were, weren't you?" Rocky started to laugh. And laugh....and laugh. All the good humour that had been locked away behind his self-pity surged forth suddenly as if it had be dammed behind the break in his back and just now been released.
The Apespirit waited until the laughter subsided. Your testing by the Blue is over, but its lessons are vital. Action is now tempered by thought and in this you are worthy of your place in events to come. You are ready to become a Spirit Warrior.
The Ape stood back and bellowed, thumping its chest, and a fiery red light seemed to consume Rocky from within...
Skye connected the last of the damaged nerves and by using the immense power of the Star Crystal was able to reduce the inflammation and damage to the spinal disks that had been untreatable on Earth. This was what he found very fulfilling - being able to heal. It was the only skill he could point to that actually was definitively Ninjetti, that gave him the right to call himself Star Ninjetti. Nevertheless, it had been a complex healing and as he finished, along with the beads of perspiration on his forehead a shadow fell across him. He was concentrating too hard to look up, but he knew who it was.
"Dulcea," he said quietly, acknowledging her presence. "I am nearly done."
The First Warrior dangled the Spirit crystal pendant in front of him. "I thought this might be required to complete the healing." She slipped it over the prone Ninjetti's head and almost immediately a consuming red surge of the Great Power burned through Rocky, linking him to the Spirit Warrior powers. Skye finished his healing and sat back, and saw Dulcea's worried frown.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"For the first time in a year there has been an attack on Earth and I have sent the others back to deal with it," Dulcea said. "They will need a full team. Rocky should join them as soon as possible."
Skye stood up slowly, feeling somewhat tired from his efforts. Strangely the driving force that had forced him here from across the galaxy had not abated. "He will awaken shortly. You are concerned, aren't you?" he asked, scrutinising her expression.
"Yes...something is not right. " Dulcea said softly, looking out at the sky. "Something is not right at all."
Billy and Trini directed Wolfzord into a well-mapped sector, which held the planet of Ayaho.
"Takope's home planet," Billy mused to himself. "Do we stop at a planet with one of the Council of the Wise on it? Surely they will be covered by their agreement with Dulcea? " he half asked, half stated.
Trini drummed her fingers on the console. "I understand what you are saying, but we have had to persuade a lot of the members of the Council of the Wise by more direct means."
Billy zoomed in on the area around the planet, hoping for some inspiration of sorts. The hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle as he thought he caught sight of some movement.
"Did you see that?" he said, sitting forward in his seat. Trini frowned.
"No." This was where they missed Skye, who would have been able to tell them now about whether there was someone out there, and if they were vaguely friendly or hostile, something which they had taken for granted. Billy steered WolfZord towards the planet just in time to see some very familiar looking monsters pour down from a strategic position in space "Aren't those..."
"Rita and Zedd's type of monster?" Trini finished, her dark eyes wide with astonishment. "That certainly appears to be the case."
Billy looked across at her with a questioning gaze, and she nodded . Billy activated Wolfzord's defences and prepared to take them in.
Ayaho's peaceful world, whose people lived in respectful co-operation with their bountiful planet was seeing scenes of chaos and destruction on a scale which it never had before. There wasn't just one monster but a whole batch of them, trampling and blasting and destroying seemingly indiscriminately. Billy shook his head, puzzled, as they swooped in past an ugly-looking monster that reminded him of King Sphinx, one of their first. - Where was the focus of attack? This seemed...just wanton destruction. The Ayah Rangers flashed into view and called on their powers.
"Powers of the North!" cried out the White Ranger.
"Powers of the East!" echoed the Yellow Ranger.
"Powers of the West!" shouted the Black Ranger.
"Powers of the South!"added the Red Ranger.
"Powers of the Centre!" finished the Green Ranger.
Billy looked at them begin to demonstrate their fighting prowess, and was impressed . Their powers did not seem to have the raw power of some others he had seen, but they had a distinct complexity, with multiple abilities that when used in conjunction with one another were more effective. Still with a practised eye, Billy could tell that something was amiss...the Rangers were being led away from a certain area.
" Blue Wolf Ninjetti to Ayah Rangers!" he hailed them urgently. "You are being led away from that plateau directly behind you....what is there?"
"Blue Wolf Ninjetti? Ninjetti from Phaedos?" queried one of the Rangers swiftly between blows.
"Yes," replied Trini. "We are here to help...what lies in that direction?"
"Our Power Spiral Chamber..." gasped out one of the other embattled Rangers.
Trini felt a chill. "You don't think...?" she half-asked.
"We are going to check it out for you..." Billy communicated. "Join us if you can..."
With that, Wolf Zord turned and sped toward the general direction they had noticed. They might have missed the place if it had not been for a very large number of putties milling around outside it, and then they could suddenly see that what looked like a strange landscape was in fact a massive spiral punctuated by immense standing stones of various colours.
"Power Spiral, I would guess..." Trini said absently, co- ordinating their descent.
There appeared to be an entrance near the north of it, and Billy and Trini swept in. Immediately as they teleported out of WolfZord they were inundated by putties, in far greater quantities than they had ever seen on Earth. Trini summoned her Spirit Warrior Armour and began to lay into them, beginning to work towards drawing the energy to Tiger Dance them into oblivion.
"Go Billy, get in there and see what is happening!" she ordered. "I'll deal with these clay heads." Billy was about to protest, but he knew that Trini would win in the end from experience, so instead he blurred with WolfSpeed into the heart of the underground network beneath the Power Spiral.
He entered the central chamber cautiously, hearing the crackle of damaged equipment, sparking and sizzling.
"I have you now, Enemy of Order," a melodious voice said "You fought well, but your Powers cannot touch the Nid-hi, as the One foretold."
Inside Billy's Wolf-Spirit growled. Enemy...powerful enemy. Be very careful, young one. Billy had never known the Wolf to advise caution before, and decided to enter carefully. He saw a strangely elegant, grey-furred draconian creature bending over the prone form of what he had to assume was Takope, the Ayah Rangers mentor. Though he made no sound, the Nid-hi hissed and swung towards him.
"Begone! I am freeing you from your servitude to this ...creature. Rejoice that you will no longer spread the evils of Chaos by his command," it said.
"I am Blue Wolf Ninjetti Spirit Warrior, and I cannot allow you to take him," Billy challenged.
"Ninjetti!? Then you are truly damned and without hope of redemption. For this you will die and I will gain glory for ridding the universe of one of the servants of Chaos." The Nid-hi attacked him with frightening zeal, and Billy found himself fighting for his life.
Blows almost faster than could be perceived were exchanged, both of them hurting the other but not gaining any ground. Billy had never fought someone with such skill - maybe if Tommy or Jason were here, they might fare better, he thought to himself, reeling from another blow. He retaliated with a flash of Spirit Claws that produced a howl of pain from the creature. The Nid-hi spun, drawing up crackling energy from within and Billy launched himself sideways as the blast clipped his side, leaving it bleeding and agonising even through his Spirit Armour. He struggled to get up, and blurred with WolfSpeed at the Nid-hi, catching it by surprise and raking it with the Spirit Claws across its shoulder and neck.
He stopped, gasping, his side burning, and turned again. They clashed once more, both of them hampered by their injuries and then the tide of battle turned in Billy's favour as Trini arrived, battered from her battle against the overwhelming quantities of putties but still ready for more.
The grey Nid-hi drew back briefly, spoke in a fluid alien tongue and the earth began to shake. The monsters that had been attacking the Ayah Rangers abandoned their fights and began to converge on the Power Spiral Chamber, the ground trembling beneath their giant tread. Explosions echoed and boomed around them and the structure of the chamber began to collapse. Trini and Billy were pelted by large chunks of stone and wall that rained down upon them.
"Come on, Billy!" Trini ordered. "We have to get out of here!"
Billy looked at the Nid-hi. "But...Takope!" he said, starting back towards the alien Mentor.
Trini uttered a cry of pain as a large piece of debris hit her, but still dragged Billy away. "Now, Will! We will be no use to him dead!"
The two Ninjetti, the alien Power Chamber disintegrating around them, supported each other and half staggered, half ran up the passage to the outside where they saw the Ayah Rangers locked in a death struggle with a large hideous creature.
"WolfZord remote..." Billy spoke into his communicator, sinking to his knees in the middle of the battlefield, feeling his WolfSpirit raging at their defeat. "Wolfzord, engage target, bearing zero zero three four seven three."
They had to roll away from enemy fire as it pelted the ground around them. More putties appeared around them. It was like one of the nightmares he had experienced when he first became a Ranger, where the monsters and putties just kept coming and coming...and he fought and fought but there was no end to them. Staggering to his feet, he reached inside and drew on the support and strength of his Animal Spirit and he saw Trini do the same. Trying to ignore his injuries and Trini's, he began to whirl and turn, decimating their attackers in concert with Trini's elegant dance of destruction. Above, the WolfZord assisted in the battle with the giant-sized monster, given targeting points by Billy when he could spare a moment. Finally, the Ayah Rangers managed to get enough of a breathing space for them to position themselves to weave a complex web of energy around the monster that contracted inwards and crushed it to pieces and into fiery oblivion. The putties vanished as the debris poured from the sky above them, causing them to throw themselves flat on the ground.
Billy and Trini lay there a while catching their breaths, and the Wolf Ninjetti's mind whirled. They had been outclassed. Out-manoeuvred. No-one expected the Home Planets of the members of the Council of the Wise to ever fall into Enemy hands...he sat up suddenly, consternation on his face.
"Not the planets...oh god...not the planets this time!" he said aloud. "The Council of the Wise itself..."
Trini looked at him, blood trickling down her forehead as she powered down. She gestured to him to power down so she could look at him properly. He did so, but then tried to struggle to his feet. Trini pushed him down and he batted at her arms a bit feebly,
"We have to get a message to Dulcea immediately!" he explained, oblivious to his physical state. "The Council of the Wise, they are going after all of them! We have to warn her.."
Trini bit her lip, and then nodded reluctantly. But it was going to take them a little bit of time to get a communication through to Phaedos, with the state the Power Spiral Chamber was in, and the state they were both in. But Billy had that obstinate look in his eye, and she knew that he would not rest until it was done, which meant she would not either.
Vahn waited impatiently. Across the galaxy, warriors of his own kind were wreaking havoc on the Enemies of Order and here he was staring into space, when his objective was unsuspecting on the plant below. But Ilana was not someone to cross. Her dedication to the One was holy in its zeal and fire, and she had been one of the Chosen since her coat had moulted and shone out silver and "star-touched", as his people described it. To be linked with Jerol and Sehaine would be advantageous too, and the mere fact that he of all the advance Nid-hi had been directed to bring down their most Ancient of Enemies meant that he would have his name attributed to a Star in the roll of honour and his glory would shine on until the ends of time. Finally.
"Jerol, Sehaine." He acknowledged the spirit-touch that occurred moments before the ship appeared.
"Vahn. We are honoured to join your mission," Sehaine said quietly.
Vahn practically glowed. His mission. "My thanks for your assistance. With three of the most pre-eminent warriors of the Nidhi present, this mission should be simple and clear- cut."
"Agreed," rumbled Jerol.
"No communications until the surface," ordered Vahn, and began the descent.
Jerol snorted. "What was all that about?" he asked Sehaine. "...'honoured to join your mission'? I mean.. he's barely moulted his first horns!"
Sehaine laughed. "He is a young Warrior, out combating the forces of Evil, nay the very face of Evil itself, the Ninjetti, and a touch of ego support will not harm." She shook her mane of lustrous chestnut hair. "I do not want him falling apart at the first view of an enemy." She fixed her mate with a gleaming dark eye. "Jealous?"
Jerol looked at her teasing expression. "Of that one? No. He is good at what he does, even I know that, otherwise he would not have been admitted to the Warriors or chosen for this mission....but I need no-one else with me when we fight side by side." His jet black eyes gleamed.
Sehaine ran her hands through her mate's glorious black mane. "We will win a glorious victory for the side of Order this day, never fear. Come then, let us show the others how things should be done!" before swinging their black needlecraft down after their eager companion.
Skye sat and watched as Rocky finally pushed himself up, flexing his back with great astonishment and wonder.
"You really did it," he murmured as he stood. He stood for a moment then let out a wild whoop of exultation, and flowed into an amazing string of moves, high kicks, somersaults and twists that would never have been possible before. He bounced off of the edges of the Sacred Circle like a rubber ball, nearly making Skye and Dulcea dizzy with his antics. He finally stopped, not even winded.
"You cannot know what it is like to be able to do that after so long!" he said explosively.
There was a moment of silence and Skye said quietly, "No...I can't," and Dulcea lay a gentle hand on the tired Star Ninjetti's shoulder.
"Aw...Skye, I'm sorry; I've done it again, haven't I?" Rocky said. Obviously, if Skye could heal his leg he would have done so long before, but equally obviously there was some reason why he hadn't. He wondered what it was. Instead he settled for giving his friend another rib-cracking hug. "Thank you...thank you so much."
Dulcea interrupted. "There is already work for you to do, Red Ape Ninjetti. The others have returned to Earth to fend off an attack from hostile forces. They will not be able to create a Megazord unless you are with them. Come!"
She led them down to the main part of the Temple and was preparing the energies to teleport Rocky back to Earth when Skye stopped suddenly, holding up a hand to forestall any further action. "Something is wrong ... something is very wrong!" he said nervously. The Star Crystal gleamed, flushing garnet suddenly.
Dulcea stood beside Rocky and reached out with her own Ninjetti senses. "I sense no-one there," she said. "Maybe an effect of the healing...an echo perhaps?"
Rocky scanned the surrounding area. "I can't see anything," he admitted.
Skye shook his head and pursed his lips, frowning, as he reached out across the surrounding area through the Star Crystals power. There was the merest moment when Dulcea saw his expression alter from concentration to horror before Skye suddenly he flung himself at Rocky and knocked him to the ground, an explosive blast knocking him backwards. In the moments before he became unconscious he mentally yelled a warning of enemies after Dulcea, before collapsing on the Temple floor.
The Nid-hi had arrived.
Three strange humanoid dragon creatures were approaching the Temple, one lagging behind as it recovered from hurling the blast that had felled Skye.
"Dulcea of Phaedos, Enemy of Order...I have come for you, we have come for you all," hissed the black-crested, ebony-maned Nid-hi broaching the outer regions of the Temple.
Dulcea turned and ran into the Neola Jungle, knowing she was their main target. The Nid-hi! Powers of Light! They were real!
"Rocky - keep them out of the Temple! Keep them out!" she shouted as she ran. She had to lead them away, they could not take the Temple!. One of the Nid-hi remained at the Temple site and the other one followed after the black-satin coated draconian Nid-hi pursuing Dulcea.
Rocky paused. What could he do? Again the paradoxical benefit of being injured showed -- he was actually thinking about it! The Temple must have defences. The Ninjetti were not stupid, and there must be something that Dulcea specifically did not want anyone to find. Help me, he cried out to his Ape Spirit as the Nid-hi approached leisurely.
The Ninjetti have the Power of the Spirits, summon that Power and they will be defeated, advised his Apespirit.
Summon the Spirits? How? He glanced around and saw Dulcea's bag of Spirit Dust. Good enough. He ran swiftly around the Temple perimeter, not having a clue if what he was about to do would make any difference whatsoever. He completed the circuit as the Nid-hi crested the edge of the plateau. What now? It didn't seem overly impressed. Set fire to it...that was it, Dulcea set fire to it to release the Spirits. Rocky looked around wildly, ran to the ceremonial fire and grabbed a firebrand. He touched it to the Spirit Dust and it flared into life like a rippling snake of fire. But it wasn't high enough. The Nid-hi looked at his attempt with what could only be described as a scornful look and Rocky knew that he was missing something, something vital.
The fire within! said the Apespirit. The Ninjetti have no fear of fire, their strength draws from the fire within. It is a Power of the Red...use it!
Rocky hesitated, but knew what he had to do. He stepped actually into the Spiritflames, which much to his surprise did nothing but fill him with a boundless energy crackling up his spine like a dragon force unleashed. He raised his arms and the flames leapt higher around him. The Nid-hi keened in dismay and began to lope faster towards him. Rocky used the famous energy that he possessed and drew the curtain of flames above him, controlling it, arcing it, meshing and connecting it in a sphere that encapsulated the Temple in an impenetrable dome of Spirit Fire. Muscles trembling and jaw clenched with the effort of holding the fire together, Rocky was only dimly aware of the pacing Nid-hi in front of him.
"You will not hold it Enemy of Order!" it said. "You cannot!"
"I will hold it as long as it needs to be held," Rocky replied through gritted teeth.
"You are a young Ninjetti..." The creature's tone made the title an epithet. "You have not trained your mind to tolerate the pain, to focus....you will fail!"
Rocky thought back briefly to the past -- nearly a year of learning to cope with pain and distance his mind from distractions. "I have the will, I will do it..." he said more to himself.
The creature reached out, testing the fire barrier and immediately it swirled and curled around him, dancing shapes of animals in the flames. With a melodic cry it jumped back, clutching a burnt furred hand. Unnervingly it sat down and watched the Red Ape Ninjetti Spirit Warrior channelling the flames, waiting for the first sign of weakness or collapse.
The Questing Ninjetti had been doing well so far, had fought off immense scarab-type beetles and navigated through a fireswamp filled with self-combusting gases. They had surmounted the swamp, and breathing heavily, the candidates for the Great Power looked across at the Great Monolith within their view. Around them the wild and savage Neola jungle rustled and burst forth with a myriad curiosities, beautiful insects, plants and flowers, the green smell of growing things redolent in the warm humid air. Out of the luxuriant growth the imposing form of the Great Monolith loomed as if growing from the planet, like some great stone world tree that had sunk it's roots down to the very core of the planet before extending its mass to support the sky.
"Nearly there, guys!" Jason said encouragingly. Boy, the others had not been kidding when they said these tests were hard!
"Just give me...a moment...to....catch my breath..." Tanya said, sitting on a log and bending over to ease the stitch in her side. They had been required to do extensive acrobatics and running to get through the dual perils of fire and water from the swamp and virtually all of them were alternately scorched or drenched. She was particularly wet having gone face first into a large muddy pool. She picked some weed from her black hair.
"And brush off all these Adams, " Kat said slyly, flicking a tiny jewellike frog that was glistening on her friend's shoulder. "He just can't leave you alone for a moment, can he?"
Zack roared with laughter. "The rumours are true, then!"
Justin chuckled alongside him as he dropped the strange foliage he had been examining curiously as it started to stain his hands a lurid purple.
Tanya grinned. "Zack...if you don't shut up, I'll set my boyfriend on you." She uncurled her hand and let another frog leap out, startled, into the Black Ninjetti's face.
"Arrgh! Don't beat me up! Mercy! Mercy!" Zack rolled back in mock terror.
"Was he like this all the time when he was on the team?" Kat asked rhetorically.
"Worse," Jason answered drily."You don't even want to know about the time he wanted to used the Mastodon Zord to make it a white Christmas in Angel Grove."
Zack was about to prepare a defence for himself when they all simultaneously heard a desperate voice shouting in their heads as their Spirit Crystals glowed in unison.
Enemies! After Dulcea...in the Forest! Help us! Temple under attack, protect Her!... It faded out with a dreadful suddenness.
Jason stood up straight. "Did you all get that?" he said urgently.
"Wasn't that Skye?" Tanya said at the same time. Questions arose in her mind - what was Skye doing here? How - when- why? Her curiosity would have to wait to be satisfied.
Jason rapidly re-evaluated their options. "This is not part of the test." He said, his heart pounding. "This is real."
The others' good humour faded swiftly. "What do we do, Jase?" Zack asked soberly.
Jason paced. The Temple under attack, Dulcea on the run...she was a Master Warrior - they didn't have their Powers yet. There was no time for hesitation. He had heard the others talk about the guidance of their Animal Spirits and he experimentally asked for help.
Can you guide me to Dulcea? he mindspoke. To his surprise there was a response.
Yes, but there is very little time,his Lionspirit replied. But that one I could find across the Galaxy.
He made his decision.
"Zack, Tanya, Justin and Kat - Get the Great Power, and get yourself back to the Temple and protect it. For them to attack it it must be of vital importance. I am going after Dulcea now!" he ordered, falling right back into his leader mode once again.
"Jase! You haven't got your Powers!" Zack protested. "How will you find her?"
"I will find her." he said, starting to turn to run "There is no time, she is in danger now!"
"Good luck, Jase!" Justin called as the Red Lion Ninjetti ran into the forest.
"Let's go!" Tanya said forcefully. "Jason is relying on us!" With immense purpose the rest of the Questing Ninjetti jogged towards the Monolith.
Skye stirred and opened his eyes and wondered for a brief moment if that blast had actually killed him as all around was lit up with a glorious flickering light, even the sky above him. Aching and stiff, he pushed himself up, seeing a figure miraculously standing in the heart of the furnace-like flames. "Rocky!" he muttered and limped over. He fortunately had not actually been struck by the blast, just the concussion wave. He had to find out what had happened whilst he had been unconscious.
"Rocky...Rocky, can you hear me? " he called over the strange roar of fire.
"Yes," the Red Ape Ninjetti replied through gritted teeth. Gotta hold it, gotta hold it...he chanted to himself.
"Where's Dulcea?" Skye asked urgently. "What happened?" He realised that the strange shape beyond the wall of flame was unaware of his presence, protected as he was by whatever it was that Rocky was doing.
"She ran into the forest...two of them...followed." Rocky said, straining to maintain control.
Skye straightened up, determined. "I have to go! Can you give me a gap at the back of the Temple to get out?" he asked urgently.
Rocky would have laughed. "Letting it down is not the problem," he said in a gasp. A very small hole began to emerge in the dome of fire. "Go! Go now!"
Skye began to move and as he left, turned and said, "Rocky, I called the others...just hold on for the others to get here - I'll find Dulcea." And with that he vanished beyond the safety of the Temple environs and slithered down the steep slope to the Neola forest.
"Just hold on until the others get here..." Rocky muttered, finding a new mantra to chant as his protective dome burned brighter. "Hold on...the others..get here...hold on...hold on.."
Just make it soon!
The last of the strange animal-headed statues defeated and the four Questing Ninjetti stood poised, exhausted and bruised limping from their exertions. How on earth were they going to protect anything in this state? Tanya walked forward and place a trembling hand on the stone exterior of the Great Monolith and with a thunderous boom, it split open letting molten gold light of the Great Power free. The Animal Spirits of the Cheetah, the Oryx, the Dolphin and the Mongoose leapt out as creatures of light and plunged deep into the successful candidates bodies, enacting a miraculous change. The Spirit Warrior Armour flowed up and over them, all their hurts and exhaustion were cleansed in that moment of painful ecstatic joining with the Great Power. As abruptly as the transition was made the Monolith withdrew it's touch and the glade fell silent once more.
Zack looked up. "I refuse to say it on account of being cliched but...wow."
There were similar murmurs of agreement from all around him whilst they all tried to absorb what had happened to them.
"Time enough for admiring our new threads later." Zack said briskly "We have to get back to the Temple pretty quick."
Tanya looked back at the way they came "Can we teleport?" she asked thinking of how long it had taken them to get there. Too long to be of any use to Jason or the Temple if it took the same time to get back.
Justin looked up "I don't think so...we all have old communicators, none of them are configured yet to the Great Power." He fiddled with his a little bit. "I could reconfigure it...but it would take me quite a while."
Kat shook her head brushing her fair hair out of her eyes. "We don't have that long." Rocky was back there. She needed to get back there and be sure he was all right. "Maybe...maybe if we turned to our animal spirit forms as Billy did back when he got his Powers." She suggested hopefully. She was the Cheetah, she could get back there fast.
Justin and Zack looked at each other a little resigned. " Not sure if that would work for us." Zack pointed out glumly. "Mongooses aren't built for speed."
"But Cheetahs are!" Kat said triumphantly "You could hold onto my back as I ran."
"And I could carry Justin on my back" Tanya spoke up her eyes gleaming having already worked out the obvious problem of Justin not being able to change forms. "Then we run like crazy and get to the Temple!"
The girls looked at each other determined. "Lets do it!".
"Think we've been over-ruled." Zack said aside with a half smile.
Justin grinned "Well if you can think of anything better?" The pair of them shrugged and prepared for the Ninjetti animal change..
It was not an easy thing to do and without the Great Power still fresh and bright inside of them they would not have been able to accomplish it. But their need to help their friends gave them the added incentive to push through the barrier and shimmer into their animal forms. Zack glided in his mongoose shape and scampered up Kat's long golden tail and latched his claws into her sleek fur. Tanya as the powerful Oryx with her scimitar horns wait patiently as Justin jumped with enthusiasm on her back and then Cheetah and Oryx exploded forward in a breath taking sprint back to the Temple.
The Cheetah extended into full speed beginning to outpace the Oryx and Zack found himself clinging on for dear life as the landscape blurred around him. The treacherous forest passed by in a blur and it seemed very little time before he could see the plateau loom once more before them. His acute mongoose sense could see a strange shimmering light over the temple as if it were on fire. Don't let us be too late, he prayed inwardly, Rocky was in there!
Kat reached into herself for the last sprint up the steep slope. Rocky, I'm coming, hold on, be alright, be alright! Please, please let him be okay! Please!
They crested the plateau edge seeing the strange alien creature thwarted by the intense energy of the Spirit Fire. It seemed that within the dancing flames a half-formed fluid animal shapes swirled and burned in a never-ending cycle. Kat bounded in towards the dragonlike warrior and Zack flung himself off of her back and transformed into his human warrior form catching the creature by surprise. Kat did likewise, still winded from her run and looked around desperately for Rocky and nearly cried out when she saw a figure in the fire, standing with arms raised as if trying to hold up some mighty weight. "Rocky!" she exclaimed wanting to run to his aid, but blocked by the creature. At that moment Tanya and Justin both arrived and the Nid-hi sneered.
"Then join me in battle enemies of Order. I have no fear of defeat at the hands of such lowly creatures of Chaos!" taunted Vahn, supremely confident in his abilities and Rocky watched helpless as the four new Ninjetti launched into conflict against the deadly foe with him unable to move for fear of breaking the Temples protection.
Dulcea sprinted through the forest, pursued by the two Nid- hi. They were good, very good. She tried trick after trick and still she could not evade them. She tried flying as an Owl and they became strange flying lizard creatures which she could not predict, so she reverted to running. Then at least she could sense the footfalls behind her. She was getting close to the Great Monolith; she had run far. They were trying to flank her...she could hear the whispers of the forest on either side. She would have to stand and fight. She lifted her Singing Staff and prepared herself. Real battle, not mere testing. The Nid-hi circled her, prowling, seeking weakness, probing and pushing. A flurry of attacks here, a feint there. And then the battle was truly joined.
The clearing became a whirl of flickering blows, strikes, bursts of power as move after move was countered. Expert though she was, Dulcea found herself nearly evenly matched against the two. This was not good. She realised something else; they were not trying to kill her. She had left several gambit openings that should have been seized to strike a mortal blow, and they had been ignored. They were trying to wear her down, capture her. Her green eyes flashed defiance as her enemies took it in turns to harry her and exhaust her. It was cleverly done.
Despite all her training, and maybe because of the heavy work load, Dulcea could feel herself starting to lose ground to the emissaries of the Darkness Visible. The smaller chestnut-maned Nid-hi, sensing her weakness, closed in with a trill of triumph. She struck the Master Warrior of the Phaedos in the side with a crippling blow and opened herself up in her excitement to a deadly riposte. Dulcea brought her Singing Staff up in a powerful strike and caught the draconian being in the heart. The Nid-hi tumbled slowly to the forest floor; a flourish of her flowing chestnut mane, dark thick scarlet blood pouring from her mouth. Dulcea, for the first time in millennia, had taken a life of an enemy in the name of the Great Power.
"Sehaine!!!" screamed the massive ebony Nid-hi. "You have killed her! The One was right about you all, you feed on carnage and chaos!" He roared in pain of loss. "I care not that you are wanted alive, for this you will die!"
Dulcea was still winded and unable to move as the Nid-hi summoned his Spirit Power to blast her away in a bolt of revenge-fuelled Ninjetti Power. Suddenly out of the undergrowth, a red-clad figure burst and dove at the creature, knocking him to the ground. The Nid-hi roared and kicked the figure away, who landed with a heavy thump and then struggled to his feet again. Dulcea watched in astonishment as Jason challenged the Nid-hi once more, placing himself firmly between her and the insane alien creature. They met with a devastating clash, and Dulcea realised with a strange sick feeling in her stomach that Jason had not yet reached the Great Power. He was fighting as an ordinary human being....
Only there was nothing ordinary about the way he was fighting, the fire and passion that were there, the courage and strength of the Lion Spirit was with him even without the Great Power directly touching him. Even in her pain she could tell this was personal to him, coming back from crippling blow after blow with a determination fuelled by ...something. She staggered to her feet determined to help, but her reappearance only seemed to redouble the Nid-hi's anger. Its dark velvet black features were distorted by grief and rage .
"I will not be the only one Mateless!" he snarled and drew an arc of energy and hurled it in her direction.
With an inarticulate cry Jason turned and leapt towards her, intercepting the strike, the deadly energy catching him high in the centre of the back.
Dulcea was looking straight at him, the corona of energy impacting against his body crackling around him like a deadly halo. But what held her was his face -- his expression imprinting itself on her mind, an odd mixture of pain and absolute relief in his dark brown eyes as he crumpled to the ground, unmoving.
Something unlocked inside of her in that moment, a pure animalistic force. Before the Nid-hi could strike again, the power of the Spirit Warrior stirred inside of her and in a pure reflex she drew the purity of the Great Power through her heart and launched it from herself at the creature. He didn't stand a chance against that incandescence and was felled in a moment, his own pain of loss ended by her blow.
Dulcea ran to Jason's body, unsure of what she was feeling. She turned him over, seeing the bruises and cuts from his fight with the Nid-hi beginning their first flush of swelling. Inside her Owlspirit was keening and she touched the young Ninjetti's face hesitantly.
"Jason...oh Jason, no.." Why did he do it? Why? He had stepped in front of a blow of the Great Power for her...and now he would....
She couldn't bear to even think it. She had seen comrades die in battle, watched the death of Candidates unworthy of the Great Power as they perished on their quest with regret and sorrow, but had accepted it as part of the Universal law, the design of the Great Power. Yet now, in a moment, for a young Red Lion Ninjetti that way of thinking was dust on the moonwinds.
His dark eyes opened, strangely calm. "Dulcea.." he whispered, looking up at her in wonder. She was alive. Thank God, she was alive. Even now, even with his life draining away he was touched by that undeniable feeling as he looked into her emerald green eyes. That feeling that had been missing from being with Emily, which he realised - too late! was that special something he had been searching for all his life. "You're safe...I thought I'd..lost you." His strong voice was a shadow of itself.
She doesn't know what you are talking about, Jason thought hazily to himself. He was starting to feel cold and distant. Can you lose someone if you had never really found them in the first place?
"No Jason, I am here," the woman warrior said, her heart aching. Duty mattered as nothing in this moment. "Please don't leave me," she added in a whisper. There were none here to see her weakness, to hide her feelings from in the name of Duty.
Jason refocused on her face and saw with a narrowing, dimming vision that a single tear was running down her cheek. "Don't cry...I'm not worth your tears," he gasped. Pain twisted inside of him and he stiffened, feeling the last remnants of his strength drift away.
He had nothing to lose now, say the words or take them into death. "Dulcea...I think...I think I love you.." His eyes began to close and his breath to fade.
"Nooooooooooo!!!!!!" screamed the distraught woman, her heart had leapt up at those words and been pierced by the pain of an impending loss. She bent over the unconscious form, her shoulders shaking with sobs, all the emotion that had been repressed or ignored for Duty spilling out in the wake of that revelation.
Skye heard the scream and swearing to himself semi-ran, semi-limped as fast as possible in its direction. If only he had an Animal Spirit form, he would have been there ages ago! He reached out with the Star Crystal, focussing on Dulcea's mind, feeling its distraught emotions like a maelstrom not too far away. He burst into the clearing, seeing the two dead Nid- hi and Dulcea cradling the still form of Jason as if trying to hold him to life.
"Jason... no! Dammit, NO!" Skye cried out and joined them. He knelt down, placing a hand to his friend's forehead, ignoring Dulcea for the moment. The Star Crystal flared. Jason was still there, but slipping further out of reach. Time to stop that. He tried to prise the body away from Dulcea, who refused to let go.
There was no time for patience. "Dammit, Dulcea do you want him to die?" he said harshly.
That stopped her. "He's not dead?...I can't sense him, or his Animal Spirit!" she said with a flicker of hope.
"Well, I can," Skye said tersely, pulling Jasons tattered shirt open so he would be able to get a hand over his heart. "I have studied all the healing techniques of the Ancient Ninjetti from the Ma'rai Sphere and I have the Star Crystal...but if I don't act now, I will lose him before we can try anything!"
Dulcea dubiously released her grip on the young man and Skye wrapped his arms around him, positioning both hands over the heart area and in a refined version of what he had done with Kimberley all that time ago, tied the two of their life forces together, feeding Jason's fading energies with his own. Immediately the strain appeared on his own face, and he knew he wouldn't be able to hold the link for long. He tried to work out what to do without losing his grip. This was a serious wound, Jason did not even have the Great Power and he would die unless....That was it!
"Dulcea ... we need to get him to the Monolith, " he gasped out. The pain was starting to echo in him.
She looked up, suddenly comprehending his meaning. "You mean if he receives the Great Power...."
"Yes, the Spirit, Mind and Body are refreshed and renewed after the Challenges, are they not? It should be enough. Maybe not to completely heal him but to bring him back," Skye said in a weak tone. "We must hurry - I don't know how long I can hold onto him like this." It will just have to be long enough, he thought to himself grimly.
Dulcea got up with a purpose, and essentially carrying and supporting both of them, half dragged them through the forest in her eagerness to reach the Monolith in time
By the time they stood before it, Skye was also semiconscious and perspiring with the effort of trying to hold Jason in this world. He was now beginning to wonder if it had been Rocky who he had been summoned to Phaedos to heal to preserve the pattern. He just hoped he had enough strength to wake the Monolith. Dulcea stood before the Monolith of the Great Power, her arms raised like a Priestess invoking the benevolence of the Universe.
"This one has proved himself worthy beyond all other to receive the Great Power!" she intoned in a resounding voice, firm with conviction. "He had the courage and strength to leave it behind to save another when it was within his grasp, at great cost to himself. That is the true strength of the Ninjetti. Open now and receive him into the Heart of the Great Power!"
The Monolith appeared to resonate with a deep inaudible chime and cracked open with a blazing pure light. Skye dragged himself and Jason over into its heart, and for a moment Dulcea saw the flicker of starwhite fire and wings around the artist before the glowing shape of the Lionspirit stepped forth and leapt ghostlike into the Lion Ninjetti's bared chest. The glow of the Great Power seemed to fill the young man, spreading throughout his body until, startling Dulcea, he heaved a deep shocked breath and sat up as the Ninjetti armour began to cover him.
The light faded and the Monolith snapped abruptly shut.
Jason looked down at himself in astonishment. "What....but a minute ago...I was ...." Surely he had been fading into the darkness, feeling his life ebb away....he was still badly bruised and ...
"You were dying," Dulcea supplied succinctly. "Luckily Skye was here." She indicated the white-haired artist who had flopped backwards beside the Monolith, gasping for breath. "Thank the Powers," she added under her breath.
"Skye?" Jason turned to help the artist up. "But aren't you out in space with Billy and Trini?"
"I was summoned back here, I thought just to heal Rocky, but I think this had more to do with it," replied the Star Ninjetti, trying to get his breath back. The feeling still had not completely dissipated. There could not be something else that he had to do...could there? He wiped his brow, exhausted. He still had a feeling that this was not yet over. What else could there be left for him to do?
Jason's head was spinning. Only moments ago he seemed to remember that...he had said something to Dulcea.
He began to blush scarlet to match his new spirit warrior armour. "Oh no...did I..oh no!" He found he couldn't look Dulcea in the face. She likewise seemed to be avoiding his eyes as if deeply embarrassed by her behaviour.
Skye looked at the pair of them avoiding each other's gaze. Obviously, during the trauma and near-death experience they had been forced to face their feelings about each other. About time!
"So, now that you have finally admitted it...what is the problem?" he asked as if it puzzled him.
Jason had sat down, mortified. "I...Well...I mean Dulcea wouldn't...." he trailed off, looking miserable.
Dulcea got up and twirled her staff absently. "It was a stressful situation...I mean, Jason was dead...nearly dead..." She paused as her throat tightened with emotion despite her attempts to remain cool and clinical. "He probably didn't know what he was saying!" Her words challenged Jason to make a liar out of her.
Skye levelled a weary, questioning look at the new Red Lion Ninjetti who was struggling with his own emotions. "Jason?" There was no response.
"Did you mean what you said?" the Star Ninjetti pushed.
Jason leant his head in his hands, ran his hand through his dark hair and spoke in a very quiet voice. "Yes," he admitted. He looked up at Dulcea with an intense gaze meeting her glittering green eyes that made his heart pound, his pulse race and the indescribable feeling burn inside him. "Yes," he repeated in a stronger voice. "I meant it."
Dulcea's eyes lit up and a smile began to flicker on her lips, before she made it fade. "No...no, you don't know what you are saying. I have a Duty to the Ninjetti, I was told that it was my Destiny to hold the Great Power and defend it the best way that I could. There is no room for ... love with the weight of the Duty on me," Dulcea explained sorrowfully. "You are young, and I have been alive during the rise and fall of empires..." Talk about an older woman, it was not even funny! she thought to herself bitterly. "I'm sorry, Jason...I just can't let myself get involved...not now...I can't allow anything to get in the way of our Purpose."
It seemed ridiculous that saying this should hurt so much, she barely knew him, he barely knew her.
It wouldn't be fair.
It couldn't be allowed.
Skye looked at the pair pushing themselves apart and the hairs on the back of his neck began to prickle. Jason looked at once devastated and resigned at Dulcea's words. He understood and he wouldn't interfere with her wishes. It seemed that this subject would be closed completely, and at that point Skye felt a feeling of panic rise within him that he didn't understand but could not deny.
"No!" he nearly shouted, surprising even himself . The words seemed to rush to him to try and stop this parting of the ways.
"Dulcea, you will deny your Purpose if you do not give yourself and Jason a chance. Has it occurred to you that part of your Destiny might be to love him, and he you? What is it with the Council of the Wise and love...why do they think that Decisions and Duty are inherently separated from Love? That is why we take on the Duties in the first place -- because we care. Every Ranger across the Galaxy is not chosen because they seek the Power, but because they care and love their world and their people to take the responsibility for keeping them safe. Every hero's strength comes from how deeply they care, and those that love have the deepest strength of all!"
Skye stopped, breathing hard, almost trembling with the force of his words. He calmed himself and spoke more slowly but no less intensely,
"Jason...you care for Dulcea...and that gave you the strength to fight an Enemy of great Power, in a way you should never have been able to - and when you could prevail no more, that love was deep enough to sacrifice yourself for her. And Dulcea...your love for Jason drew forth the strength of Power to destroy the Nid-hi. Do you both understand?"
The Star-bearer speaks wisely her Owlspirit mindspoke through her confusion.
But you always said the Duty was Sacred Dulcea protested.
But did I ever say what the Duty would be? And what is more Sacred than to Love and be Loved? The Owlspirit responded gently.
She looked at Jason, her hopes rising and a glimmer of incredulous happiness rising in her eyes. "I can Love? I am allowed to Love again?"
Jason's expression changed from desolation to happiness as a warm, slow smile spread across his face. He stood up unsteadily, facing her.
"I'll give you written permission if you like," Skye said drily in a quiet voice, watching the pair move back together.
Jason spoke in a intense voice. "Please, Dulcea, please give me a chance. I promise that if you feel I interfere with the tasks ahead I will leave you alone, but I only had one regret when I thought I was about to die, and that was that I had never had the chance to try to make you happy. Will you give me that chance?"
There was a brief moment of silence and then the First Warrior of Phaedos nodded her head slowly, and in that moment Skye felt the nightmare tensions that had been plaguing him and driven him to Phaedos melt away and vanish like snow in the bright warm sun. Now maybe he could rest.
"Now...I guess we better get back to the Temple and the others," Skye said tiredly as the tension that had been driving him seeped away. All three of them turned and with a great deal of care for the injuries incurred during their battles, began their return to the Temple of the Ninjetti.
The Ninjetti Spirit Warriors had returned to Earth and launched into battle immediately. Angel Grove....why? And it appeared to be monsters from Divatox, of all people. Why after such an absence would she return now and wreak such...pointless havoc!?
Tommy swooped down with FalconZord together with Kim in CraneZord, strafing the giant monsters rampaging through the city. With deadly accuracy they caught a monster in their crossfire and it exploded. Aisha's BearZord was going one on one with a big ugly fishheaded monster, ripping it to shreds as it bounced off of a city block. Adam was using the impressively powerful fireball weaponry of his FrogZord to drive two separate monsters towards the sea.
"What is going on here?" Adam called over the communicator, taking some rough hits as he paused.
"This isn't right!" Aisha concurred. "When was the last time we fought over the far side of Angel Grove? Probably when the Ooze was here. Usually it's as close to the Power Chamber as possible."
There was a deathly hush as they remembered what had happened the last time that they had fought against the Ooze.
Tommy wheeled around in FalconZord. "I'm heading back to the Power Chamber now! Hold them off, I'll be back as soon as I know everything is all right!" The White FalconZord soared away, whipping the smoke from their battle into curling whirlwinds as Tommy fought back an uneasy feeling that he was already too late.
He brought the FalconZord down in a stoop just as there was a massive explosion where the Power Chamber should be that made his insides freeze with horror. "No!! "
Tommy teleported out FalconZord in a blaze of white, green and red flecked light down to the surface, as debris still fell through the air. His worst nightmares were revisited, immediately memories of the exploding Power Chamber flashed before his mind's eye; Billy throwing himself in front of that console and then lying still, so still on the desert surface and the Powers ripped from them...They barely made it out alive, and they had thought Zordon and Alpha destroyed.
Tommy ran through the fire and smoke, searching desperately. "Dimitria!!" he called. He felt his Falconsight focus and clarify and there...there, a moving shape.
The shape turned and an alien face became visible, crested with a crown of light sandy yellow horns, piebald with striking white tear markings from its eyes and a blaze down the elegantly sculpted draconic features. It had the Inquirian Mentor slung over its shoulder as if she was no more weight than her familiar gauzy veil that was ripped and fluttering in the winds that stirred the smoke into tortured shapes around them.
"You! Stop, leave her!" Tommy ordered, preparing for battle and striking a defensive stance.
The Nid-hi snarled. "Begone, cursed Ninjetti....know now that your reign of chaos is OVER, your circle of Power broken." It spoke into a communicator in a fluid tone and a massive shoal of Piranhatrons teleported in, throwing themselves into attacking the White Falcon Spirit Warrior immediately. There was nothing Tommy could do, he was overwhelmed by sheer numbers of attackers and the strange creature made good its escape...with Dimitria.
"Now, Kim!" Aisha shouted as BearZord kicked one of the monsters into the CraneZord's crosshairs.
"Woohoo! Souped up firepower, or what!" Kim whooped as the CraneZord launched crackling plasma balls of destructive energy that ripped the offending monster to shreds.
They heard a chuckle from Adam. "Who said that it was men that were impressed by flashy features, huh?" He executed a deft manoeuvre. "You want to see flashy? Then watch what this oh so humble FrogZord can do!"
Much to the girls' surprise, the Zord leapt straight at the monster and clung to its front. The rampaging creature roared in surprise, but that emotion was short lived as the Black FrogZord began to glow with a blinding white light and a silent explosion of energy enveloped and twined around the creature's torso, growing brighter and stronger until it dazzled their sight. And in a small mushroom cloud explosion the monster burst apart, atomised by the intense power. The Black FrogZord, a tiny intense black heart in the light, somersaulted out backwards and landed with perfect poise on the street behind it. There was a moment of silence and then the two other Ninjetti began applauding and cheering.
"Now that was something else!" Aisha said. "I always said it was the quiet ones you had to watch ... they really know how to make things go with a bang!"
"Thank you, ladies..." Adam said modestly. He was quietly pleased at the power of his Zord.
The remaining couple of monsters looked considerably less confident. They hesitated and it was then that they all heard the transmission.
"Now we have them!" echoed Divatox's familiar voice in a particularly exultant, gloating tone.
The Ninjetti looked around, confused. What was she talking about? Modesty aside, the Spirit Warriors were beating the living daylights out of these monsters. The expression on the remaining creatures' faces could only be one of relief, and in crackles of teleportation they abruptly vanished.
"What the..." Kim said. "That's not right....not right at all...What do you think she's up to?"
"We best get over to back up Tommy.." Aisha said hastily.
Kim wheeled CraneZord in a graceful arc. "Waaay ahead of you!" she said, leaving them in her wake.
Tommy looked at the ruins of the Power Chamber with a sick feeling. Their battle...all it had been was a distraction so the creature could abduct Dimitria, and they had missed it. The others limped up to join him, momentarily struck dumb by the wreckage in front of them.
"Dimitria?" asked Adam eventually.
Tommy shook his head. "I was too late; I saw a strange dragon-like creature teleporting out, and was attacked by these...Piranahatrons...but absolutely no sign of Divatox." The White Falcon Ninjetti shook his head. "I don't understand -- I really don't get it. They've taken Dimitria. Why?"
Aisha looked up suddenly. "Guys...I have a bad feeling about this. Don't you remember that communication that we picked up during the battle?"
"Now we have them?" Kim quoted. "I thought it was odd, we were winning, not them ... oh my god." They had captured Dimitria, and so who were the "them"? "The other mentors? And isn't Dulcea a mentor?"
"Do you think...?" Adam said hesitantly, having reached a similar conclusion.
"We have to get back to Phaedos now!" Tommy said urgently, drawing the team back into action. "We'll use the Power of the Zords to teleport, they will have enough time to recharge before we get back." Dulcea, Rocky and all the others were in danger!
The Spirit Warrior team teleported in and sprinted up to the Plateau, finding Zack, Justin, Tanya and Kat wiping the floor with their alien foe. He had obviously been testing them hard though, as he was unvanquished. The Nid-hi, deciding discretion was the better part of valour at the arrival of the approaching reinforcements, swiftly teleported away.
Tommy looked at the shimmering dome of fire surrounding the Temple in amazement. "What is causing that?" he asked.
Kat was breathing heavily. "It's Rocky - I don't know how he has been holding it, but he has," she said proudly. With that the Red Ape Ninjetti with a thankful sigh let the protective fire collapse to smouldering embers, and then rather unsteadily followed suit, falling to the ground..
"Rocky?" Kat rushed to his side and pulled him clear of any fire or embers.
"But ... I thought you weren't going to take the Powers?" Adam asked with a puzzled frown.
"But nothing, Frog Prince," Rocky said, his voice coming back to him. He got up and stretched to his full height, showing his regained ease of movement. "The Great Ape is back!"
"Really?! Outstanding!" Aisha said and ran over to congratulate him. Adam smiled a long, slow smile of relief.
Tommy was frowning. "Where's Jason? And Dulcea?" He hoped they weren't too late, he really did. They had lost Dimitria, and now...
Zack's face immediately sobered. "I don't know," he replied. "We had a warning from Skye, you know through these Crystals." He fingered his Spirit Crystal self-consciously. "Jason sent us on to get the Great Power and went after Dulcea on his own."
"He didn't have the Power? But...." Kim said, feeling her heart sink.
"Well the dragon thing was here, wasn't it?" Aisha pointed out. "So they should be fine. There was only one back home."
"One was enough," Tommy said, feeling the keen sting of failure.
Rocky's expression became progressively more worried. "Er...guys? There were three of them in total, one stayed here, and two went after Dulcea."
At this point they all began to get very worried.
Behind them a soft chiming sound rang through the Temple and a holographic message appeared above the Summoning Fire.
"Sisthaa of the Drakin to Dulcea of Phaedos! The Sunstar Rangers to Dulcea of Phaedos! Assistance please....massive attack....C'haal has been captured. Respond! " The image of a distraught reptilian-featured alien filled their view.
They all looked at Tommy, unsure of what to do. Tommy felt that familiar feeling that would grip him when he led the team, half dread, half exhilaration as the responsibility gripped him.
See with a clear eye, see with a clear mind, his Falcon Spirit advised.
He stepped up to respond. "This is Tommy Oliver, White Falcon Ninjetti...We will advise Dulcea when she returns - what do you need?"
"We need someone to go after our mentor C'haal!" the Drakin said with urgency in her voice. "He was abducted - half of the Sunstar Rangers are injured...Rislarr gave his life trying to stop some mysterious creature taking C'haal!" she looked away, momentarily choked with grief. "He could do nothing to stop it....many of our cities have been devastated by a monstrous giant primate with wings..." she trailed off .
Tommy nodded sympathetically, knowing that there were no words that would adequately comfort her. Losing a team member like that. They had been fortunate that it had not happened to them. Yet.
"We will do what we can, stand by to be contacted soon," Tommy said to buy them some time.
The image vanished to be almost immediately filled by "Talestra of Aquitar to Dulcea, Talestra of Aquitar to Dulcea of Phaedos...Alesto has been abducted, the Power Island compromised. Awaiting instruction ... respond." The White Alien Ranger's image shimmered in the flames.
Tommy repeated what he had just said to the others, hearing a similar story of death and destruction. This repeated with people and races he had never heard of, all reporting the loss of a mentor to a strange alien race and destruction wreaked upon their teams and planets. Tommy retained his composure until the very last message, called in by a very familiar voice that made them all stop in their tracks. One they had heard over a communicator signal more times than they could count.
"Come in Dulcea...Come in! Blue Wolf Ninjetti calling Dulcea of Phaedos on behalf of Ayaho..." it said wearily. A familiar pair of figures shimmered into view, seemingly supporting one another, blood streaked and bruised.
"Billy? Billy, is that you?" Tommy asked incredulously.
The sandy haired young man seemed to straighten up. "Tommy? You're on Phaedos?" he replied in shock.
"We all are," Tommy replied. "What the hell happened to you two?" he said, taking in Trini's similarly dishevelled state.
"We tried to stop the abduction of Takope, one of the Council of the Wise by a strange dragon-like alien." Trini said as Billy's blue eyes seemed to glaze over a little bit.
"We failed." She finished miserably. "We wounded the creature, but it called in the backup of what appeared to be Rita and Zedd's monsters and with only one Zord and the help of the Ayah Rangers we managed to ... just ...beat them off, but we lost Takope."
The Ninjetti looked at each other and Tommy said, "I hate to tell you this, but you're not the only ones...I had calls in from every home planet of every member of the Council of the Wise...they are all gone...but we don't know about Dulcea yet." He looked around anxiously.
"Billy, I'm not sure what we should do...they are all devastated, their planets took major hits and they are looking for Dulcea to help and...she's not here. They sent three of these creatures after her..."
Billy snapped back to full awareness in alarm. "Three?!"
"We heard a mental shout for help from Skye that Dulcea was under attack..." Kat contributed. "And Jason ran off to help, as the others were back on Earth trying to stop an attack there...but he didn't have the Great Power..."
"Oh my god...Jason!" Billy whispered, having experienced the Power of a Nid-hi warrior first hand. He and Trini exchanged glances. Billy unwrapped his arm from around her shoulders trying to stand up straight on his own without drawing attention to his weakness. He clutched at his side trying to conceal the bleeding wound, if nothing else, from his friends not wanting them to worry. It would heal. Eventually.
"Guys, first things first...we have to try and find out what happened to Dulcea." He took a deep breath to steady himself. "No other Powers seem to work on these creatures aside from the Ninjetti Great Power, so try and get all the Ranger teams to Phaedos to quest for it." He paused, feeling dizzy and light-headed but was determined not to worry his friends by showing it. "We have to cover this last sector of space and then we will be heading back, we still have a significant period of time before the main armada reaches the galaxy. " he coughed painfully despite all his efforts. His side burned with a sheet of pain, his Ninjetti healing was not so effective against a dark strike by the Great Power.
"Billy?" Kim said in concern. "Tommy...they're both hurt pretty bad," she whispered to one side.
The Falcon Ninjetti gave a imperceptible nod. "I know....I recognise the signs now....Billy, Trini...we'll let you know what has happened as soon as possible. We'll find Dulcea and get back to you. Now get yourself seen to.." he said in a tone of voice they all found familiar. "And I mean NOW, Billy." The Wolf Ninjetti nodded, startled and the communication shut down.
"Oh man..."Tommy said, sitting down, shaken from seeing his friends in such a state and now deeply concerned about Jason. The Council of the Wise had been taken. All of them. Their home planets decimated and their Ranger teams weakened as a result. It was a Galaxy-wide disaster of the sort that could only happen when the villains ceased competing against each other for power and co-operated with some specific goal in mind. By the looks of it they had been willing to sacrifice a lot to obtain the twelve other individuals that made up the Council of the Wise. Kim sat beside him, resting her hand unobtrusively on his arm.
"Tommy....what if...what if something has happened to Dulcea and Jason..." she asked quietly giving voice to his fears.
"Then we find a way to go after them." The White Ninjetti answered with a certainty that he did not feel. He avoided the possibility that Jason had been killed rather than taken, there was nothing else that he could do at this point in time.
Dulcea groaned as she nigh on dragged the two humans up the slope towards the Temple. Skye was barely focussing due to the energy drain from all the healing he had done, and Jason was still bruised and cut badly, enough to making the prolonged trek back an ordeal for him.
"Why....oh ...why...did my ancestors have to build on a HIGH plateau..." she said, dragging them up the incline. Would the Temple even be there? Rocky had been left alone to defend it against a skilled, experienced opponent, realistically speaking what were the chances that he had managed to succeed? Her anxiety about failing in her Duty as the First Warrior of Phaedos was self-evident in her expression to both her companions who exchanged glances and made a wordless agreement.
"Sorry, Dulcea," gasped Skye. "Why don't you go on ahead and make sure the others are okay?"
Dulcea hesitated, looking at the pair, obviously torn between staying with them or checking on the safety of the Temple.
"Go," said Jason in a low voice. "It's what you would do normally. It's not that far ... we'll make it."
Dulcea nodded and sprinted up the side of the mountain, the urgency of her goal showing in her determined speed.
As soon as she was out of sight, Jason and Skye both wavered and sat down exhausted, unable even to speak for a few minutes.
"You...you are going to have your work cut out, keeping up with her..." Skye said eventually.
Jason nodded and then gave a tired grin. "Always did like a challenge!" He moved painfully, seemingly every inch of him bruised and battered. "You okay?"
Skye looked at him appraisingly. "About the same sort of "okay" as you....you okay?"
There was a pause and the two of them began to laugh. "You are a TERRIBLE liar, Jason," Skye said. Jason nodded weakly his shoulders shaking as he tried to hold his sides to prevent them hurting from laughter spasms. They calmed down a little after a while.
Jason paused before speaking again "You think I'm being stupid about Dulcea?..I mean, I know what the others will say..she's too old for me...she's an alien..." He sounded concerned but not in the least regretuful.
Skye laughed a little. "If you had seen the mess that Trini and Billy got themselves into without having to resort to exotic excuses you wouldn't worry, but they are together now. Really together."
Jason nodded. "That's good...but Dulcea is different."
"How so? You love her, don't you?" Skye said as if that was argument enough.
"Yeah...though. ...well, I can't help wondering that it's a bit sudden," Jason said in a rush. "I've never had a relationship like that."
"Jason, you started to fall in love with her over a year ago. When you first saw her on Phaedos...when you saw that painting of her, you practically tripped over your tongue!" Skye said, half laughing. "You try and tell me that she didn't stay in your mind, that you didn't think about her..."
Jason remained silent. "I tried not to," he said eventually. "But especially after I broke up with Emily, I just couldn't get her out of my head."
"Well then...not so sudden after all, is it?" Skye pointed out. "Think of all the energy you have invested into this relationship ALREADY." He smiled gently. "Love finds a way around all obstacles, Jason. If this attack had not occurred, then you and Dulcea might never have been pushed to declare your feelings."
Jason snorted. "So you're saying that me nearly being beaten to death and killed was a GOOD thing?" Skye hesitated and then nodded vigorously, grinning at the bizarre twist of fate. They both laughed again, wheezing gently as it hurt too much to do otherwise.
"I'm saying that there are reasons for most things, something of value in every experience however horrible," the Star Ninjetti replied more seriously. "Out of that near-death, love has sprung to light. Would you have said anything otherwise?"
The Red Lion Ninjetti shook his head. "I guess not." He brightened a little and smiled to himself. "It was worth it...definitely worth it."
Skye eased his tired aching muscles. "Just try not to make a habit of it. That sort of healing can't be done on a regular basis...not on top of helping Rocky." He really did feel very rough now, as if he had a severe bout of 'flu.
"You helped Rocky ... what, his back?" Jason asked hopefully. Skye just nodded.
"Ah man, that's great.!" Jason looked across at the Star Ninjetti "You sure you're going to make it up the hill ... you don't look so good."
"Gee thanks ... you're no pretty picture yourself at the moment," Skye said, pushing himself up unsteadily.
Jason got up, looking at the artist suddenly very aware of what had nearly happened and what he owed him. "Skye...I....well..."
"That's okay, Jason...I know." Skye said, understanding. He put his hand gently on Jason's shoulder and met his dark eyes for a moment and then abruptly started up the slope in a limping stagger. Inexplicably unable to talk with a throat tightened by an upsurge of emotion, Jason caught up with him swiftly enough and the two of them began to scale the heights to the plateau.
"Right...If Tanya, Adam, Rocky and Kat and Justin stay here, the rest of us will go looking for Dulcea and Jason." Tommy said, organising the teams. He whirled suddenly at the rustle of underbrush behind him.
"No need, young Falcon," Dulcea said, stepping out alone.
The entire group of humans felt their hearts stop and stomachs freeze in dread. She was alone, that could only mean that Jason...and Skye ... were probably dead. Tommy clenched his fists, hiding the growing hurt inside.
"What is it?" The First Warrior of Phaedos asked, seeing their stricken looks. "Oh...oh! Jason and Skye are following on behind. Jason informed me I had to return to make sure that you were all fine and the Temple intact. I have to say that I am surprised that it is. How was this possible?"
The tension drained out of the group at the news. "It was Rocky," Kat said proudly, looking over at the Red Ape Spirit Warrior. "He encapsulated the Temple in a shell of that Spirit fire and held it until we could return from our quest to help him."
Dulcea arched one elegant eyebrow. "The kungsea...a Power of the Red that requires great discipline and energy. I am impressed. It was well done, Rocky of Earth."
Rocky blushed in his embarrassment as Kat practically glowed next to him.
"Now what else has occurred in my absence?" Dulcea asked and the group of them filled her in on the reports from each of the Home Planet. Her frown became more and more pronounced as their recitation continued. She in turn describe the battle against the Nid-hi pair and the group of Rangers paled when they realised how close they had actually come to losing one of their own. It brought home to them the seriousness of this situation
"Man, if Skye hadn't been here..." Tommy began, half to himself and then stopped as two familiar figures broached the edge of the Temple. Jason he would recognise anywhere, and Skye was...well, there weren't too many like him around with that white hair. To his surprise it was Dulcea who beat them all to assist Jason to a place to sit and rest. The girls exchanged triumph looks as Tommy slowed down, bemused. It was Kim however, who once again close to Skye felt that strange resonant link between them and knew how exhausted the Star Ninjetti was and how hard he was trying to hide that fact from the others.
"Sit down," she ordered in a low voice. "You may be fooling the others and even Dulcea, but you are NOT fooling me."
"Good to see you again, too, Kim." Skye said weakly, obeying her command as the Crane Ninjetti hovered over him protectively.
As the Earth Ninjettis hovered around their friends, Dulcea keyed in the communications code of Ayaho and within moment one of the Ayah Rangers answered.
"Katape, I greet you, Ranger of the North. " Dulcea said formally to the White Ayah Ranger. "I must speak to the Ninjetti Spirit Warriors.".
Katape hesitated. "They bear many honourable wounds, First Warrior of Phaedos....I...I am not sure if they are... "
"Yes we are," Billy's voice interrupted out of sight. He moved into focus with Trini, both of them looking pale, but his eyes were clear and focussed. He looked immensely relieved to see Dulcea and then Jason and Skye in the background. "They didn't get you... thank god they didn't get you..." he said quietly.
"If not for the courage and sacrifice of Jason, I would have fallen victim to them," Dulcea explained, looking warmly across at the Red Lion Ninjetti. "..and but for the intervention of Skye we would have also lost him."
Billy glanced across at Skye. "He looks as bad as we feel," he said quietly. "Watch him Dulcea, he is very good at concealing his weakness." There had been more than one argument about that, particularly in the early days of their mission. Now both Billy and Trini could tell straight away when the Star Ninjetti had pushed himself to the limits.
"I will keep him here until I am sure he has energy to leave," Dulcea replied. "In the meantime, we have emergency measures to discuss." She summoned all the Rangers to attention.
"We have lost a battle...but not the war. The enemy has shown its hand and struck a blow to us at our very heart by taking the Council of the Wise. It did however fail to take me, which must to a certain extent create a flaw in their plans. It has become apparent that only the use of Great Power is at all effective against the Nid-hi...." Billy nodded, confirming this analysis bleakly. "I will alert the teams of Rangers to come to Phaedos immediately and quest for the Great Power. The United Alliance of Evil will have spent dearly on this all out attack and will require time to recoup their losses before trying to follow up on their advantage. In that time, Billy, Trini and Skye will complete the recruitment and reactivation of the Zords in the final sector of the Galaxy. When you reach Triforia, head back to Earth immediately. We will need a base of operation away from the frontline. I suggest Earth as the forces of the Darkness Visible will more than likely try to attack Phaedos as it did in the previous conflict and it is sufficiently out of the direct line of fire to make it secure. "
Tommy interrupted. "The Power Chamber was destroyed...when the Nid-hi took Dimitria. By the sounds of it that was the pattern across the galaxy." He sighed to himself. There should have been something they could have done, some way of foreseeing this disaster.
Billy and Trini were having a quiet muttered conversation as their images danced in the flames. Eventually the Blue Wolf Ninjetti spoke. "I did draw up plans for a new, expanded Power Chamber back when...well, you know," he said awkwardly. "But they were on the Power Chamber mainframe...which is destroyed."
Skye shook his head. "Jason, remember those CDs? With all of Billy's inventions and plans on them?" The Red Lion Ninjetti nodded, thinking back to the night when they had first received the Ninjetti warning. "Well, I gave them to Billy's father. It is in a password-encrypted file. I'll give you a list of the passwords..."
Billy looked surprised. "You never mentioned anything about that to me!"
The Star Ninjetti smiled. "I can still surprise you, then... that's good to know."
"Well, in that case," Billy said, looking more animated. " If you load the plans into one of your Zords systems, the Superzebeedees will begin constructing it, and will produce enough of their own kind to make it and run it...!" They all brightened at this news. A Ranger of any kind without a Power Chamber of sorts felt as if they had lost their home away from home.
"Good. When we have regained our equilibrium again, we will see about making a strike of our own to retrieve what is ours!" Dulcea said forcefully to the determined nods of agreement around the Temple. This galaxy wide series of abductions would not go unanswered!
"Now you, Blue Wolf and Golden Tiger, take time to heal. You will not benefit anyone if you push yourself too early to do too much. Talk now with your friends and we will communicate again soon." Trini nodded and the Rangers from Earth crowded around, eager to talk to their friends once again.
It was inevitable in some ways that the human Rangers dealt with the devastating blow that had been made to all Power Rangers across the Galaxy by turning their focus towards each other rather than the overwhelming task facing them. When the shock wore off they would have to deal with the enormity of events, but for now there was a particularly distracting piece of personal news that was producing as much astonishment to some of the Rangers as possibly the first time they had seen Zordon. Adam and Rocky were standing with their mouths open in expressions of amazement, as were Zack and Tommy. Justin was laughing quietly as they stood huddled in a group with the couple at the focus of their attention sitting a ways off from them, talking quietly.
Tommy shook his head. "Dulcea and JASON?" he said in a disbelieving hoarse whisper.
Kim slapped his arm with the back of her hand. "You guys are so blind sometimes! I told you something was going on."
Tommy shook his head slowly. "But....Jason and DULCEA?" repeating himself once again.
Adam looked at Tanya, who nodded. "Oh yeah...sorry, they might as well have had neon lights on their heads."
"Strobe neon," Aisha added helpfully.
Kat suppressed a chuckle at the boys' expression. "It must be a genetic thing...something only women can see."
"Ahem...Are you implying something?" Skye said, looking up from where he was sitting with a smile.
There were a few amused coughs from the various Rangers. "Ah well, Skye...you are an exception to a lot of rules," Kim replied in a low voice.
Tommy shook his head. "Jason and Dulcea? I mean...she's, well to say she's an older woman is like saying Goldar was a bit ugly."
Kat spoke up. "You're just mad because she floored you so easily when you first came to Phaedos," she needled, smiling sweetly.
Tommy protested amid the others' fits of stifled giggles.
Rocky shrugged, looking over at the couple, the object of their discussion, silhouetted against the alien sunset. Time to do what Skye had told him was his speciality, lighten the gloom and bring them together in laughter. One moment of laughter before the Darkness arrived and nights' swift dragons once again cut loose among the stars.
"Well, I for one think that they are made for each other," he said guilelessly as he watched the Owl Ninjetti take the Lion Ninjetti's hand in a tentative intimacy. He began with a wicked half smile. "After all, they already have a song and a movie ready made for them..."
Tommy groaned with an uncanny premonition of what the Red Ninjetti was about to say. "I'm going to regret this, but....what movie and song?"
Rocky put on his most innocent expression and said triumphantly, "The Owl and the Pussy Cat!"
Authors Note: Many, many thanks to Dagmar for beta reading for me. Because of her you have been saved from punctuation mistakes the likes of which would horrify any sane reader!