From the moment I saw her she captured my heart, with her incredible beauty, her warmth, her passion for life and for her friends. I would have chopped off an arm with a smile if she had asked it of me, even before I knew her name. All I wanted was her love, and for her to love me. I swore to myself that I would always protect her, would always love her. I didn't know what had brought us together, but I had no intentions of letting us be apart now.
But nothing seems to work out quite as planned in mortal affairs. It was brought home to me rather crushingly that the forces of evil will do anything within their power to destroy the slightest bit of happiness that any of us has ever had. I learned that lesson long ago on my own world, when it was destroyed by Dark Spectre's forces. I swore then I would somehow have my vengeance.
I trained in the skills of the warrior and learned how to draw powerful and potent magics from my own personal power stone, the Power Ruby. I became able to reverse many magical spells, though I could never cast one on my own. I thought that I would have my vengeance in undoing things of evil that Spectre and his dark crew had done to various worlds, and in my Eltarian ship, I headed off to the stars to try my best.
My best was what I did for quite some time. I learned more and more from each world I arrived on, and never left without performing some sort of task to help the people there. I usually would temporarily link with the Rangers of that world, if it had a team, but I never stayed with them long. Just enough time to learn and to teach and to help. When they were able to go on without me, I left. Sometimes without even saying good-bye; it was perhaps petty of me, but it did add to the air of mystery that sprang up around me.
With each day that passed, the pain of losing my world began to fade, as I saw how worlds died around so many and they kept going on with their lives, doing what they could to rebuild and to recreate their past. They did not let their rage drown them. I wished with all my soul I could be like them, but it was not to be.
Not until I saw her, and everything I had ever thought made any sense in my life turned upside down, inside out, and every which way but loose. All that mattered from then on was somehow making her happy. But I didn't have the courage to approach her, to ask what her name was, to even begin to try to make her content. I wanted to, I wanted to so badly, but the thought of breaking through the shell I had wrapped myself in terrified me too badly. I wanted no more vengeance, but I could not deny that something had to be done about the death of my world, and as it's last survivor, I had to be the one to do something about it.
Often I watched her from the shadows, yearning for the bravery of battle to fill me as it so often did when in combat with Piranatrons or whatever the soldier of the day was, so I would be able to step forward, drop my cloak, and ask her boldly once and for all, what did I have to do in order to please her. Frequently I stepped out towards her, but something always stopped me. Sometimes it was her friends, others it was just ordinary people of her world.
Finally I could take it no longer, and I seized the best opportunity that was given to me in order to leave. She and her fellow Rangers had just saved my life, freeing my Power Ruby and their Turbo MegaZord from Divatox's control. I wanted to say thank you, to remove my helmet and permit them to see my true face at last. Instead, I simply sat up and began to move away from them.
Her precise words I could never repeat. I was too busy simply drinking in the sound of her voice. But I do know what I said to her. "I go where I am needed, and stay as long as I am needed." With all my soul I yearned for her to say that she needed me, that I was wanted to stay.
But she didn't. She only nodded, and for me it was as if the world had come to an end. But I concealed my disappointment. So be it. It was time I left anyway. Perhaps she had not felt the connection, the passion between us that I had. If so, it would be best if I did leave, and so I did.
Not quite as fast as they thought I had, though. I returned to my ship and made preparations to leave. I delayed departure until that night, however. I made one final trip to her house; I had followed her once to learn it's location. Countless were the times I had stared at it, a burning hunger inside of me raging. Now I would pay one last visit, one last look at the person who had come to mean so much to me, and who didn't even know it.
In Terran vernacular, I was completely and utterly floored by what I saw. Cassie was curled up on a porch swing, her face buried in her hands, and with the arms of the Yellow Ranger around her as she cried. I stopped dead in my tracks and simply stared. What was wrong with her!? I came close to racing up to her, when I heard.
"Why did he have to leave, Ashley?" her voice was thick with tears, and it tore at my heart. "Why did he leave without hardly saying anything to me? I never even had a chance. . ."
"I don't know," her friend whispered. "We could always try and contact him if you want. He can't have gone very far since this afternoon."
Cassie took a few deep, hitching breaths and shook her head. "If his freedom is what he wants, then his freedom is what he'll get. It's too dangerous for him here anyway, with Divatox knowing she has to remove his Ruby to kill him. If she could take it away again. . ." There was genuine fear in her voice, and I felt my soul melting at it. She did care about me, she did! I took another step forward, intending on revealing myself and telling them the truth.
Then it happened. The one thing I had prayed for with all my soul against happening, that I had never wanted to have happen. I heard the voice of my mentor.
Phantom Ranger. Return to Eltar at once. There is grave need of you.
There was nothing more to the message, nor did there need to be. I knew that I could not delay by so much as a second. I reached out with one hand to Cassie, wishing I could be spared the time to tell her how I felt once and for all. Perhaps another day.
When I left her world, I had thought I would never see her again, that my duties would draw me away until I forgot her, and I would one day look back with either regret or contentment on my decision never to speak to her. For a time, my duties did take up all my thoughts, but in the end, it made no difference. Dark Spectre did it again. He invaded Eltar while I was there, and once again a world that I loved came crashing down around me.
I almost lost my life in the defense of Eltar, and this time there would have been no friendly Rangers around to aid me. I came close to be captured, but with my cloak I managed to escape. I would not have fled if Zordon had not commanded it of me, however. He bade me leave so that I could hide the Delta MegaShip, a weapon he had crafted for the use of the Astro Rangers, and give it to them in time of need. Had Eltar not been in the distress it was, he would have sent the ship directly to Andros, the Red Astro Ranger, and given him instruction in how to use it. Instead, a go-between would have to be used. That one was me.
So I left Eltar before the completion of the invasion, and became the guardian of the Delta MegaShip. It was a magnificent vessel, with powerful weapons and many special abilities. I intended to bring it directly to the Astro Rangers, but was sidetracked when I learned that Zordon had been captured. At once I knew that I had to try and find him. I owed him too much. He had been the one who had taught me a great deal about what magic forces I could master, and who had taught me self-control and discipline as well. I had learned so much, and I would not permit evil to destroy him.
It was that search which led me not just to the Astro Rangers, but back to her again. Back to Cassie. Back to the woman I love. Back to the person I once swore to protect with my very life. How little that oath had turned out to mean in the end, I berated myself when I felt her presence on Hercuron. It was just fate that she was one of the new Astro Rangers. Destiny that we would meet again on that jungle world, just scant moments from saving Zordon. Though if it had come to a split second choice between saving him, and seeing her. ..I must admit I would be sorely tried to decide that.
Ah, seeing her again. It was like water in the desert, air in space, light in shadow. My entire world went from flat black and white to extradimensional color in the space of a heartbeat, and I was completely convinced that I had lost my mind for leaving her in the first place. But all that came out of my mouth were simply instructions for how Andros could find the Delta MegaShip and for them not to worry about me.
I wanted so much to tell her I love her. I wanted to with all my soul, but in the end, I was too afraid. Afraid that if I said it just then, when I had no strength left at all, that I would die if--or when--she told me that she didn't love me. Yes, she might have been worried when first I left Earth, but that was months ago. She had long since had time to reconsider and find someone else, someone more willing to devote time to her. Someone who wouldn't be pulled away at every opportunity.
So I fled again . Not at anyone's request this time, but simply leaving once I recovered enough strength to record three final messages. The first was to the Astro team as a whole, telling them that I was searching for Zordon again. The second was to Cassie, asking her not to worry about me, that I would see her again soon.
The third was also to Cassie. And in it I spoke the words that I did not have the courage to speak to her face. "I love you, Cassie. I wish I could say it to you in person, but it scares me that you might not love me back. I don't know if you'll see this or not, but if you do, please know that I love you, and I will guard and protect you from as much as I can while I am out here. You are always in my heart, Cassie Chan, Pink Ranger. I can only dare to hope that I will be in yours."
Before I could lose my nerve and erase the final message, I set the tube where I knew they would find it, and returned to my ship. I felt somewhat better, knowing that the words had been spoken, though I knew not if she would hear them or not. A stray Quantron or Piranatron could find the message and destroy it before the Rangers returned, or they could just not see it at all. . .there were a dozen ways things could go wrong, but I refused to think about them. All I wanted to think about was what I had to do next: find Zordon. Once that was done, then I could go on with the rest of my life. Such as it was without her.
They call me the Phantom Ranger. Perhaps I am a ghost, a shell of a person inside. Are we not all shells, those who have found the love of their lives, yet cannot be with them? When this war is over. . .my shell might well be filled, and the Phantom Ranger could be no more. What name will I carry then, what will I do? I don't know, no more than I know what I was before birth or will be after death.
I only know that if it is without her, then that life will be more torturous than anything I can imagine now. But as I sail out to the stars, my message left behind, I can feel in my heart that everything is going to be all right one day. For years, I have been an unseen guardian to many worlds, spreading a legend of a warrior against evil who could never be seen or stopped. I have done my best to guard the woman I love. I will always guard...but one day, I might not be such a ghost. One day, the ghost will have a family, and the guardian will no longer be a phantom.
And I will have a home again at last. One that nothing can take from me.