Legal Disclaimer: Saban owns them. I'm having a severe writer's block on my main series, that I hope should be broken soon. Until then, these things are all that keep me from losing hope as an author.

Note: The letter in this is almost word for word what an actual letter on PR said. There's a reason for that, too. That will become clear in later parts of the series.

Missing Karone
by: Joy Bailey

The stars were giving him no answers tonight. They never did. They simply hovered overhead, cold and uncaring in the brisk winter chill. He snuggled into his jacket a little more, glad that the shipboard uniforms resisted weather as much as they did.

We've been retired for years and I still wear this. Zhane smiled softly to himself. He had always been a law unto himself, and even planet-wide heroism, fame, and recognition hadn't changed that. When it was cold, he wore his shipboard uniform. Whenever they went out in public, he wore regular clothes like the others, though still in his signature silver color.

That hadn't changed either. All of them had worn the colors of their power, regardless of the fact that their morphers had been on the MegaShip for so long. Andros had taken the opportunity of the Psycho Rangers to retrieve them, however. I never left mine, though. With a flip of his wrist he called up his digimorpher and smiled. The girls had never been able to get over how much it looked like one of their Earth cellphones. He liked it better than their morphers, though. His digimorpher was small, compact, and could be hidden in a pocket. Their morphers had to be on their wrists, and were always in the way.

I wonder what Karone is wearing now. He almost flinched at the thought. Why couldn't he keep her out of his mind? Then he almost smacked himself. He knew why his best friend's sister kept sneaking into his thoughts. He loved her.

Of course, he'd been stupid enough not to say anything to her about how he felt. In the rush of things after the war, he'd thought it would be obvious to both of them that they were in love. But he'd forgotten that she had just been through reprogramming, death, and rebirth, and some of her memories of the time before then were somewhat blank. She knew who they all were, she knew who she was, and roughly some of what had been going on. But some of the details were gone. And it appeared that one of those details was those two days when he and she had come so close to a romance it hurt him. Right now, she considered him a good friend, and that was it.

The Silver Ranger fought back tears with all his soul. In the years since the war, those blank spots had never faded in, and he had lived every moment hoping that she would somehow suddenly remember those moments and fall in love with him as he was in love with her.

Instead, she had decided to leave Earth and go traveling on her own. To 'find herself' she said. He knew she wanted to make up for the things that she had done as Astronema, and he approved of that. She would never truly be happy until she had found the balance within herself that she craved, and without facing up to the things she had done to harm people, she would never have that balance. So she had taken off in one of the small vessels that Aquitar had provided for them, and was currently traveling the spaceways.

"Zhane?" he turned around at the sound of a familiar voice and smiled to see Andros there. His best friend and the others had recently returned from a trip to Terra Venture, and they had told him about the tragic passing of the Pink Galaxy Ranger, Kendrix Morgan. Cassie had curled herself into a ball in her room, staring out at nothing in particular for days. Only Billy Cranston, her fiancÚ and the Phantom Ranger could come near her, and he stayed by her side, holding her constantly as she wept and raged for having brought the attack of Psycho Pink on.

"What is it?" he asked the Red Ranger.

Andros held a folded piece of paper in one hand. "I just got this in the intergalactic mail. It's from Karone." Zhane went pale the moment his friend said that. "And it's for you."

The Silver Ranger slowly reached his hand out to take the scrap. Andros didn't miss the trembling as he opened it. He knew that Zhane had feelings for his sister, and that Karone had no memory of how the Silver Ranger had rescued her. He had wanted to tell her, but Zhane had asked him not to. He didn't think his friend was doing the right thing, but there wasn't much he could do; it was their relationship to deal with, no one else's.

Zhane took a long breath as he read the note, then clutched it in his fists, unable to think, unable to do anything but simply...be. He was no longer trembling. His entire body was steady and firm. His eyes, however, were full of tears unshed. Andros took a step towards him, wanting to say something. Words, never his strong suit, failed him however. Zhane stepped away, turning his back on his best friend.

"I'll see you later," was all he said before he practically ran into the woods behind their house. Andros stood there for a few moments, wondering what was going on, before he finally turned around and went back inside. He hoped Zhane was going to be all right.

* * *
It couldn't be. It just couldn't be...he couldn't have lost her. There was no way it could've happened. He had to have read it wrong. This was worse than if she had never remembered what they had! A thousand times worse. No, a million...he couldn't even conceive of the number of times this was worse than anything else.

The words were branded into his brain as clearly as if he were still looking at the letter. "Dear Zhane, I am now on Terra Venture. I was chosen to be the new Pink Galaxy Ranger. Everything is going great here now. I also remembered about our past, the day you saved me in the woods and showed me marshmallows and how to laugh. I know you love me, Zhane.

"That's what makes this the hardest letter I've ever had to write. You've always been my best friend, and in some ways you're like a brother. But something has happened here that I can't explain. It's both been wonderful and painful at the same time. I've met someone else. Zhane, I hope you know I would never do anything to hurt you, but I feel like I've found the person that I belong with. He's wonderful, kind and caring. You'd really like him. Everything would be perfect if it weren't for hurting you. but I have to follow my heart. I will always care about you, Zhane, but Leo Corbett is the one for me. Please forgive me, Karone."

Zhane found himself on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a deep ravine with a stream flowing through the bottom of it. He stared down at it, his eyes dry and aching with tears that he wanted to sob out. The knot in his heart and soul appeared to be preventing it, however.

She remembered...but ...she doesn't love me anymore...she loves..Leo...Zhane vaguely recalled the name from what the others had told him, and in a moment recalled that Leo Corbett was the leader of the Galaxy Rangers. He shivered for a moment. Somehow, I can't find myself surprised. She's been a princess. An evil one, but one all the same. She grew up like that. She must be drawn to power. I'm just a Ranger, not the leader. Not going off on some wild adventure.

Slowly the tears began to leak from his eyes, and Zhane quickly wiped them away. He wouldn't let anyone, even the trees and rocks around him, see how hurt he was by the cold-hearted letter. Why didn't I expect it? He thought, trembling. She remembered the events...but not the feeling. If there ever was a feeling.

His mind drifted back to that day so long before now. The day when he had laughed at her on the battlefield, and in retaliation she had tried to shoot him with her Wrath Staff. Unused to that sort of combat, she'd landed a blast on her monster, and it had started to fire back at her. He had felt responsible for it, and had quickly rescued her before she was too badly hurt. Zhane had told the Rangers that he would be back later, and quickly went to a deep part of the woods, trying to revive her.

He hadn't known why he did it. It just made him feel good to take care of her, to put her in a safe place and make some soup for her. He had some marshmallows as well, something that he'd always enjoyed, and the look on her face when she'd swallowed it had transfigured her: and transformed him. No longer would he be content with the simple girls of Earth or KO-35 or anywhere else. His heart was given in that moment to his worst enemy, to someone he should've been trying to defeat, not to tend to.

I thought she felt it too. The gentle look on her face just before she had teleported away had been enough to seal them together, as had the soft way she had thanked him for saving her. He knew...or had known...she had some feelings for him, she had invited him to the clearing again for a picnic, but that had been interrupted, and she'd been angry. Rightly so. It had all been a misunderstanding, he felt, now. Something Ecliptor had said in a battle not long after that had been enough to convince him it wasn't her fault the monster had attacked. He had never been able to tell her that, though.

Other memories swept through his mind. Of all the nights with the rebels he had went to sleep with the picture of Astronema clutched unseen under his pillow, of spilling his guts to Kinwon about his experience and having a welcoming ear to listen to. Of hearing that Karone and Astronema were one and the same person, and going to the Dark Fortress to try and rescue her. Seeing the cyber-ized Astronema for the first time, her eyes flat and uncaring. Andros had wanted to stay, to fight for her, but Zhane had known they had to get away just then. Staying and fighting would only hurt them. Leaving gave them the chance to fight another day for her.

Then he remembered seeing her come out of the ship in Andros' arms, dead. His heart had sunk to his knees. He had come within seconds of crying himself when he saw his best friend's tears, and as they fell onto Karone's body, he had sworn to himself he would never love again.

But even as the tears fell, another miracle, greater than that of Zordon's Light, had occurred. Astronema had vanished. Karone was back, alive, and warm and caring. But...some part of her seemed gone. The fire that had been in her soul, the sparkle that made her Astronema and had drawn him to her, was gone. As time had passed, he had noticed it returning. But the memory of their time together had not, and without that, he would never try to press a relationship on her. As the years had passed, they had settled into a comfortable friendship, and she had not appeared to even notice that something was missing from her memory that made him look at her with eyes of love.

Of course, I never looked when she could see me. Slowly he turned from the cliff and began to walk back down. He could see their house from the heights and sighed. It somehow looked even lonelier than it had before the letter had come to him. He trembled, thinking.

There were many couples there. Andros and Ashley. Billy and Cassie. T.J. and Carlos were both dating girls from town. He paused, staring at the house. He could see the window of his room from where he was, sparkling in the afternoon sunshine. I wonder what would happen if I didn't go back? The thought was so unexpected he glanced around to see if anyone was there.

His heart almost stopped when he saw someone. A strange figure, clad all in black, cloaked and hooded, in the shadows. He could see nothing about them, just a vague humanoid form with glittering scarlet eyes. His attention was drawn to those eyes, and as their gazes locked, he felt his entire mind being laid bare to the being there.

I know who you are, Silver Ranger. The voice pulsed in his mind, and he trembled at it's power. This creature, whoever and whatever it was, made Dark Spectre look like a spoiled child on the playground. I know the darkness that seethes within your soul.

"W..what..?" he wanted to step back, to get away from this thing, but all of his muscles were locked into place. "W..who?"

Who am I? What is a name? Nothing more than a collection of syllables to be called by others. It means nothing. What I am, that is a better question.

Zhane almost felt like smiling, if he wasn't so completely consumed by fear at being trapped by this thing's simple gaze. "W..what are you then?"

A friend. Someone who knows the pain you are in right now. I have suffered from being forgotten and abandoned as well, for untold eons. No one has uttered any name that describes me with accuracy in so long...to be forgotten is pain, to be hurt in ways that a blade cannot duplicate. Is this not true? Zhane managed a nod. The thing kept on speaking, the Silver Ranger feeling its thoughts squirming around inside of his own. You have known pain in your life, both physical and mental. The woman you love is gone, she loves another now, and knows and cares not how much she has hurt you.

Zhane shivered as the thing coldly examined the moment he had been reading the letter, turning over every emotion as if it were a rock under which something new and interesting could be found. "Wh..what are you doing?"

I'm going to help you, Zhane. I am going to take you to Terra Venture, where you can destroy this Leo Corbett and take back your woman once and for all.

Zhane blinked briefly, shaking his head. "Wh..what?"

Just as I said. But...there will be a price for your desire. You do desire her back, do you not?

"Ye..yes, I do. But..."

But me no buts, my dear Zhane. There will be a price. A twofold price. Zhane stared into the brilliant red eyes and simply nodded. First, give me your digimorpher. The Ranger slowly reached into his pocket and pulled out the small device, handing it over. It vanished into the depths of the creature's cloak, and he sensed a smile on its face. Now, give me your oath.

Zhane blinked, not quite certain what was meant, but when he saw a claw-like hand emerging from the robes, the knowledge burst clear and firm into his mind. Slowly he dropped to one knee before the creature and took that hand. "I swear my loyalty to you, who will gain me not only the woman Karone, but my vengeance on the one who stole her from me, Leo Corbett, the Red Galaxy Ranger. In furtherance of those ends, I will obey you in all things, for so long as you require my services."

Excellent. In return, I swear that you shall be my Black Shadow Ranger, wielder of the powers of night and darkness, warrior of hate and evil. As the words floated into his mind, Zhane felt a twitch, as if he should somehow be afraid of those words. But the touch of his master's hand on his own muffled his emotions: some of them. Anger, rage, hate, and jealousy took root in his heart, and his normally cheerful visage hardened suddenly into one of cold evil.

The creature before him held out something to him: a coin of complete blackness. Zhane took it in his free hand, still kneeling before the entity, and felt a sudden wrench inside as he did so. Something in him, bright and silvery, was gone, replaced by a darkness that seemed the very essence of all that was black and shadowy.

Morph, my Ranger. Display the power of darkness that is yours now. The thing commanded. Zhane stood up, pulling the coin closer to him and looking at it. It had no images on either side, was merely a blank coin, black as shadows and night combined. Morph.

As before, words sprang into his mind. "Shadows, fall!" he shouted out. "Black Shadow Ranger Power!" Shadows swirled around him, and when they fell away, a fully morphed Ranger stood there. This was what was meant when someone was called a Black Ranger. Every inch of his armored uniform, from the helmet on his head to the boots on his feet, were black. Not a single touch of white existed anywhere.

You shall remain morphed until I give the command otherwise. Do you understand?

"I do, my master," Zhane murmured softly. Behind his helmet, his eyes now shone a dark and unrelieved black, mirror image of the uniform he now wore. "I hear and obey."

Then come with me. It is time for you to meet your companions. You are the last of the team I have been assembling for five years now. Each was like you: forgotten, unregarded, abandoned, alone. I came into their lives, changed them, remembered them. Each has a cause to fight for on Terra Venture, something that was stolen from them by each of those who now bear the armor of a Galaxy Ranger. You are no longer alone, Zhane, my Black Ranger.

Zhane smiled a little and the being nodded. The cloak flared up over them both, and a flux of power went through the both of them. The clearing where Zhane had met the creature held no sign of either of them ever having been there, with only two exceptions: faint footprints of Zhane's boots, and a twisted bit of metal with numbered buttons on it.

* * *
That was all that Andros and Ashley found the next day when they went looking for him. The Red Ranger was seriously worried about his friend, and when Zhane hadn't returned home that night, the group had spread out looking for him. Even Cassie had gotten out of her funk to go look for her teammate. She wasn't talking much still, but it was an improvement. She and Billy were taking the northern side of the area, while T.J. and Carlos handled the east and west respectively. Andros and Ashley were dealing with the southern side, and it was the Yellow Ranger who found the scraps of metal.

"Andros," she said softly, staring down at it. "Tell me that's not what I think it is."

Her boyfriend came up to look at it, and he went paler than anything she'd ever seen when he saw it. "That...his...Digimorpher. What's left of it."

"Where is he, Andros?" Ashley knew that the Red and Silver Rangers had some sort of link, something that seemed only to appear when one or the other was in danger of their lives. She vividly remembered how Andros had reacted when he thought Zhane had died in his cryo-chamber.

The Red Ranger stared down at the Digimorpher and took a deep breath. "I don't know. He's...alive. I don't know where he is, though. Or what's happened to him."

Ashley bit her lip, looking all around. "We have to find him, Andros. I know he can take care of himself...but still...."

"I know." Her boyfriend took her hand gently. "We'd better go tell the others what we've found. And see if we can get in touch with Karone somehow. Just to be safe."

The two of them headed back to the house, carrying the remains of Zhane's Digimorpher with them. They didn't notice the shadowy figure watching from the darkness nor see the cold and twisted smile on it's face.

You will never see your beloved Zhane again. Zhane the Silver Ranger no longer exists. There is only Zhane, the Black Shadow Ranger now. The sixth and final piece of my triumph against all that is good.

With a soft and evil laugh, no louder than a breath of wind, the presence vanished from Earth. It had a mission to perform, and it was ready to begin at last.

THE END

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