[See Chapter 1 for disclaimer.]
Zordon watched Thomas pace the Power Chamber like a caged animal. The
others were gone, looking for their children. He had opted to stay behind
and monitor the situation.
The mentor wasn't sure why the young man had stayed. It wasn't because he wanted to, not if his pacing was any indication of his mood. "THOMAS," Zordon hesitated, not sure how to ask this question. "ALPHA AND I ARE ABLE TO MONITOR THE OTHERS IF YOU WISH TO JOIN THEM."
A wry smile twisted Thomas' mouth. He could tell Zordon was wondering about him. He felt the interdimensional being's gaze on him as he paced. He stopped and looked at Zordon. "No, I don't think it's right for me to get in the middle of this. Not yet, at least."
Thomas sighed. How could he explain what he didn't quite understand? He just knew it wasn't right. "I think they need to do it themselves."
Pushing a hand through his hair he grimaced. Actually he wasn't even sure if they should get involved at all. Something was telling him there were forces at work beyond them. The same brooding feeling he'd had before going after the old team was back. Wait. What had he just said? Work it out for themselves. "That's it!"
Thomas looked up at Zordon, all indecision gone. "This isn't going to be easy, Zordon. We need to let the kids do this without our help."
Zordon stared. That, coming from the one person who never wanted to sit on the sidelines? "NOT HELP?" That was all he could think of to say.
"I've got to stop them before they interfere!" Thomas teleported out in a flash of green.
What now? Gavin reluctantly stood and walked to the door. He opened it, saw who stood there and shut it. Or tried to.
"Wait!" Nisha pushed the door open and closed it behind her. She leaned against the door. "I have a proposal to make."
"But this is so sudden," Gavin smirked. "Go away." He turned to walk away and felt his arm grabbed in a steel grip.
"Very funny, Gavin." Nisha pulled him to the computer resting on a desk. "Can you hack into any system from here?"
Gavin pushed his black hair out of his face and looked at his former teammate with wary blue eyes. "Maybe. Why?"
Nisha pushed him into one chair and sat in the other. She smiled shyly, slowly raising her light brown eyes to meet his gaze from under her lashes. She knew Gavin's weakness and exploited it shamelessly. "I need your help, Gavin." She kept her voice soft. Biting one lip she added, "I know you don't like the way things are either. Jared and Raph boss us around and hog all the glory."
She reached out and took one of his hands in hers. "If I was in charge, you would be the most important person to me."
Gavin swallowed hard. How had he ever missed seeing how pretty Nisha was? He looked at their hands, her skin dark against the paleness of his. "W-what do you want me to do?" He winced as his voice cracked and waited for her caustic remark.
"Just do what you do best." Nisha reached out to raise his chin until he was looking into her eyes.
His eyes widened and he felt his resolve weaken. Trying to stand up to Nisha's gaze was like staring down a lioness.
Nisha smiled slowly, showing white teeth. Standing she stood behind him, put both hands on his shoulders and turned him to face the computer. "Hack into the grid for me."
If I was Raph where would I be? Jared Scott prowled the paths of the park searching the faces there for one particular person. He ignored the greetings called out by friends, ignored the girls playing volleyball who invited him to join.
Silly. Waste of time. All of them are a bunch of airhead fluff-brains who have no idea of what I am. All they see is the outside.
Jared knew he was handsome. He had his mother's almond eyes and dark hair, his father's fair skin and build. Girls had been trailing after him since grade school.
A cruel smile curved his mouth. Girls didn't have what he wanted at the moment. He was after one thing.
With him leading them, the Power Rangers would be a force to reckon with. No more letting the killers and invaders get away to strike another day. No mercy to those opposing him.
Only one thing stood in the way. Raph. He had to find Raph and get rid of him.
Jared stopped dead and shuddered. He swallowed hard, suddenly feeling sick. No...he couldn't kill his best friend. He shook as if gripped by the chill of a fever, eyes closed. Sweat covered his forehead.
Then it passed. The cold, dead look filled his eyes once again. It was too late to turn back now.
Jared again began to hunt the former leader of the Rangers. His memory had supplied an image. Now he knew where to look.
Olivia Park bolted from the house, hearing her uncle calling out to her. She laughed as she ran. Like he could catch her! Gripping her backpack she headed for the edge of the woods that bordered the neighborhood. "We'll show 'em, Vel! They won't take us for granted."
The stuffed bunny in her backpack was silent, it's head flopping madly as she ran.
When she reached the trees, Olivia ducked behind one of the larger pines. She pulled her morpher from it's dimensional pocket and grinned manically.
Then froze. This could get her kicked off the team permanently. Zordon might strip her of her powers if she used them wrong.
Wrong?! Ha! She was righting a wrong done to her! Let the old wizard try to stop her.
Still.... Olivia pulled her backpack around to look at Vel. "I don't need to be morphed, do I? I can do this with one hand tied behind my back!" Kissing the stuffed rabbit, Olivia returned her morpher to it's pocket. Raising her wrist she hit the teleport command on her communicator and pictured the Power Chamber.
In a burst of pink light, laced with black, she flashed out of the woods.
She grinned at the surprise in Zordon's voice. "Hiya, Big Guy!" Olivia saw Alpha approaching and waited. Just a little bit closer.
"OLIVIA, YOU ARE NOT YOURSELF." Zordon couldn't believe the dishevelled imp in front of him was the normally immaculate Pink Ranger. Her long black hair, always curly, was full of sticks and stuck up around her. Her brown eyes had a crazed look in them, accentuated by the dark circles underneath. Her cafe au lait skin was pale. "PLEASE LET US HELP YOU."
"Of course you can help me," Olivia said with a grin. She yanked one of Alpha's power cables and stuck it in one of the power conduit's on a console before the little robot could move.
Alpha, jolted by more power than he was designed to handle, shook so hard he looked like he would fly apart any second. "Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi! Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi! Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi!"
Olivia laughed merrily. "Don't worry, Zordon, I didn't forget you." She pulled a CD out of her backpack and carefully inserted it in the console, then concentrated on the controls for a moment. "You see it's not you or Alpha I'm after. You're just in the way. I'm gonna show those know-it-alls not to take me for granted or underestimate me ever again!"
Finished, she looked up and smiled sweetly. "Sorry to lock up your controls, but I need you two to stay out of the way." Olivia stepped back from the console. "Somehow I don't think they'll ever see themselves or me the same way again."
"OLIVIA, WAIT! PLEASE!" Zordon's protest went unheard as the girl 'ported out in a flash of pink and black.
"Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi! Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi!"
Zordon mentally sighed as he looked at Alpha 5. Hopefully the console would short out soon and free him. He could only hope it would short out the little robot's repetitive loop before then.
Raph knew it was there! It had to be. Where he'd left it so long ago. No one had excavated in the quarry for years. That was why he'd left it here, where it would be safe.
After all, the quarry was a creepy place. None of them liked it. The deep gouges cut deep into the earth, revealing layers upon layers of rock. There were piles of it everywhere.
It was the endlessly deep crater in the center of the quarry he really hated though. Murky, full of rainwater and only God knew what else, it reflected the sullen gray sky.
Raph, and every other kid in Angel Grove, grew up hearing horror stories about the abandoned rock quarry. With the cities' track record for weird things, most kids believed the tales and avoided the place like poison.
He had come here when his mom had first left them, taking his little sister with her. After dad had finally sobered up and cried himself to sleep, Raph had come here and stared into the water-filled crater and wondered.
Wondered if it was his fault she'd left. Wondered why she had taken Bailey, but not him. Wondered why she didn't love him anymore.
He had come here that night heartbroken, ready to throw himself into the deep, cold water below. Something had held him back though, delayed him. In those long moments of indecision, Jared had found him and kept him from jumping.
That was when he'd buried it here. He'd marked it, though at the time he didn't know why. After what she'd done, he didn't want to see her again. But part of him still loved his mother.
Raph jerked his mind back to the present and found himself staring at his marker. His feet had known the way. Slowly he knelt and began to push the dirt and rocks aside. It took a little digging, but finally he found the edge of the metal box and dug it out.
It was a little rusty, but still intact. Raph gingerly pulled it from the hole and set it on the ground. He sat back and just stared at the box for a long moment.
Maybe I shouldn't use it. Geez, dad doesn't even know about this! He probably thought mom took it with her when she left. It was her's from the championship tournament after all.
Raph took a deep breath. Dad. All the hurt he went through, leaving the team finally when he couldn't deal with the constant demands of being a Ranger and trying to pull his life back together. Where had those Rangers been through all that?
His resolve hardened to steel and Raph decided it was time to exact a little revenge on teammates who didn't care.
They'd care when he was done. He smiled grimly and broke the rusty lock. Lifting the lid he carefully reached in and pulled the sword from the case. He removed the protective cloth that bundled it. Careful not to cut himself on the blade which was wickedly sharp, he unsheathed it.
Raph stood and swung the blade. It was perfectly balanced and felt like part of his arm. Time to exact a little revenge.
Done. Finally. It had taken forever to figure out how to get past the safeguards dad put in place, but Corry grinned as the program scrolled up. She added a few of her own touches to it then nodded.
This would fix those jocks. Just let them try to access their Zords. They'd need fresh underwear when this was done with them!
A tendril of something whispered against her mind like a cold breeze and Corry's head shot up. What the heck was that?
Forgetting the program, she stood and turned to look around her. She didn't see anything, but the sense of coldness didn't leave. It lingered on her skin, chilling her. Shivering, she wondered how low the climate control was set.
Sitting again, Corry downloaded the virus onto a CD and backed out of the computer. She didn't think anyone at Wolfetech would be snooping around in these files, but better to be careful. She stood. It was only about twenty minutes before the employees would start showing up. Time to go.
A noise from the hallway made her freeze, her heart jumping. Who would be here already? Her face paled as she heard two voices. No way!
The door opened to reveal two very familiar people.
Blue eyes wide, Corry backed away. "Stay back," she warned them. These could not be her parents! They were still trapped by the wraiths! Oh God, could it be another form of attack? Maybe these were the wraiths in new forms!
Forms the team could never fight.
Corry's lip rose in a snarl as she remembered why she was here to begin with. Her eyes became a deep, cold blue, the ring of black around the iris growing a little larger.
"Corry, it's us." Kimberly and Billy took a step closer. Kim would've gone closer but Billy held her back.
"Look behind her," he said softly.
Just behind Corry, hovering like an obscene shadow, was a gray form. Ghostly wisps of hands were touching the girls golden hair.
"Don't pull that on me," Corry growled. "My parents aren't here! They're trapped." She grabbed the CD and pocketed it. "You won't take me without a fight!"
"Corriane Noel Cranston!" Kimberly used the tone of voice that had always stopped her daughter in her tracks.
The girl winced. That tone of voice -- and her middle name? Ugh! She gulped. This was too weird. Time to get some protection. Reaching into her dimensional pocket she pulled her morpher. "White Ranger Power!"
Kim took a step back in surprise as white light flared up then died to reveal the White Ranger. She hadn't expected Corry to be this desperate. Uncertain of what to do, she looked at her husband.
For his part, Billy wasn't surprised. Back a person or animal into a corner and you'd better expect a fight. "Corry," he said softly. "It's okay. You're not in trouble. We don't want to fight you. Let us help you." He held out a hand.
In answer, the White Ranger pulled a sword seemingly out of thin air. "Talk to this if you want to talk!" She tossed Saba at them.
Billy pushed Kim behind him and reached for the power core deep within. Tapping it, he called, "Triceratops!" Blue light flared then died. Now in his Morphin Warrior form, Billy pulled his laser pistol as Saba shot towards them.
"Oh my!" The sword blinked tiny red eyes at the pair as it hovered in front of them. "This has to be a mistake."
"SABA!" Corry wailed. How could it fail her? "Attack them you hunk of junk!"
"Really!" Saba huffed, highly insulted.
"Look at the facts, Corry." Billy urged. "Saba won't attack us, both your mother and I can morph, and we haven't attacked you."
To back his point Kim called, "Pterodactyl!" and morphed into the Pink Morphin Warrior.
"Fine! Keep the sword!" Corry touched her belt and 'ported out in a flash of white laced with black.
"Where did she go?" Kim looked at Saba. "Can you track her?"
"Certainly, Pink Morphin Warrior," Saba said almost smugly. "She is in the Zord hangar bay."
"Come on, let's go!" Billy teleported out, followed closely by Kim and Saba.
They reappeared in the hangar bay, not far from the WolfZord. "Over there!" Kimberly pointed.
Billy again held her back. "Don't corner her, hon. She's already running from us. We don't want to make her desperate." He didn't want that shadow thing hanging around her make their daughter do anything she would regret -- like trying to kill one of her parents. "Saba, can you --"
He froze as Kimberly gasped. They both heard it. As one, the two turned to look at WolfZord with wide eyes.
The Zord, still and lifeless when they'd 'ported in, now was growling, it's red eyes flashing.
"Um...Will?" Kim sincerely hoped he still had a bond with the Zord.
Suddenly WolfZord turned and began to head towards the back of the hangar, stalking with it's head down, for all the world like a real wolf. Even it's metal "paws" were silent.
Billy shook his head, amazed. "Let's follow. I think he's after Corry."
Sure enough, a split second later they heard an ear-shattering shriek and saw the White Ranger running. WolfZord was almost leisurely pursuing her. It was chasing her into a corner.
"Will!" Kimberly began to get concerned. "It won't hurt her, will it?"
"No!" Billy knew that like he knew his name. His one-time Zord was on their side, though how and why could wait for later.
The White Ranger reached the corner and whirled to face the Zord stalking slowly towards her. Ohmigosh! Her mind froze as she looked into the red eyes. "Power down," she whispered as if mesmerized. Then it was just Corry facing WolfZord.
Billy and Kim skidded to a halt just to one side of WolfZord. Saba sailed past, heading straight for the girl. "Oh no..." Kim covered her mouth, afraid of what was going to happen.
Saba whipped around Corry and slashed back behind her. An unearthly shriek filled the hangar bay and all the humans winced in pain. The gray shadow shot away from Corry and Saba, desperately seeking a path away -- only to be snapped in half by WolfZord. There was a sucking sound, like water going down a drain, and a pop.
No one moved. Another thirty seconds passed in absolute silence before Corry looked down at the ground then at Saba still hovering next to her. "You cut my hair!" She pulled a swathe of her long hair forward and gaped at the clipped ends. "Wasn't that a little too close?"
Billy and Kimberly ran up to engulf her in their arms and for a while there was a tearful reunion. Finally they all turned to look at WolfZord. Corry bit her lip and took a tentative step forward. There had been a moment while it was chasing her when she thought the Zord was going to snap her up for misusing the power. When it didn't move, she walked to it and slowly reached up to touch the metal muzzle. "Thank you," she whispered.
The red eyes flashed for a second in response.
"Thank you, old friend," Billy said.
Kimberly echoed it. "Thank you."
"Hmpf!" Saba huffed. "That walking pile of metal gets all the thanks and what do I get?"
Tears filled Corry's eyes. "I'm sorry, Saba. Thank you -- even though you did cut my hair." Sometimes she found the haughty sword a little intimidating. She knew she didn't measure up to it's standards -- not yet and maybe never. So she downplayed Saba's abilities and joked around with it.
The sword sighed. Teenagers. "You're welcome, White Ranger." Deciding to leave before it suffered more indignities, Saba faded out.
"So if you're okay," Corry said hopefully. "Are the others also?"
Billy and Kimberly each put an arm around her. "Let's get upstairs and we'll fill you in." Billy added, "I want to see how the others are doing."
"Not inter- " Jason Scott shut his mouth with a snap and glared at Thomas. "Do you know what you're asking?"
Trini, standing next to her husband, bit her lip but stayed silent. If Thomas was like Tommy Oliver, he wouldn't be asking them to do this for no reason.
"These are our children, Thomas!" Jason's face began to turn red and a vein popped out.
"Jason," Thomas sighed. "I know it's asking...well, more than I have a right to ask." He looked into the older man's eyes and didn't flinch from the anger there. "I was right about you. Now I'm asking you to believe this is right for your kids."
Trini heard the conviction in his voice, saw the sureness in his face. She touched Jason's arm. "There is something more to this than the visible, Jason."
He stared at his wife in astonishment. Trini had always been a peaceful person by her very nature, but he'd seen her get very protective when it came to him or Jared. Now with their son's very life on the edge she was smiling calmly at him, telling him to believe the clone of his best friend. Jason was dumbfounded. He blinked. "Trini?"
Her lovely smile grew and she reached up to brush back his dark hair. "Jared is a strong person, like his father. I think Thomas is right. We need to let him discover his strength."
Damn. She was right...as usual. Jason sighed and nodded. "All right."
It was a reluctant admission, but it was all Thomas needed. He smiled his thanks to Trini and teleported out.
It was easier to convince Adam and Tanya. Adam had already been thinking along the same lines. Seeing how sure Thomas was convinced him they were right. Tanya had -- reluctantly -- agreed. She still had private doubts and resolved to keep an eye on Olivia. If things got ugly for her daughter there would be no stopping her from interceding.
Zack and Aisha were next. Of all of the couples, this one worried Thomas the most. Aisha was a fighter. He wasn't sure he could convince her.
Zack though.... Thomas nodded to himself. Get Zack on his side and let him convince her.
The word was like a judgement from God. Thomas felt sweat break out on his forehead. Aisha glared at him, eyes narrowed, hands in fists.
"I cannot believe you would have the nerve to ask that!"
Thomas took a deep breath. Stay cool. "Aisha, everyone else has agreed that it's right -- except Rocky. I haven't found him yet."
"Good. Maybe he'll find Raph before you do." She lifted her head a notch higher. "I will not stand aside and watch my daughter get twisted by these wraiths!"
Zack had been watching, his opinion somewhere in the middle. He wasn't sure Thomas understood what he was asking them to do.
"If you interfere you will probably end up right where you were before," Thomas said coldly. "A lot of good you'll do Nisha as a wraith yourself."
"You dirty --"
Zack grabbed Aisha as she moved to swing at Thomas. He wasn't worried about the man. Thomas had gone after nine wraiths single-handed. Still, he didn't want blood spilled between friends, and Aisha would regret it. When she cooled off. "Aisha, calm down!" Zack held her as she struggled. "Hitting him is not an answer!"
"Damnit, let me go!"
Struggling to hold her, Zack was surprised when she suddenly froze. He whirled, expecting to see wraiths attacking. Instead he saw a huge Kodiak bear. It stood next to Thomas, staring sadly at Aisha.
*Cub,* it sighed. *Have we not spoken about your temper before?*
"Y-yes," Aisha said meekly.
Zack realized it wasn't really speaking. He was hearing the voice in his head! His gaze went to Thomas, expecting to see the young man at least startled by the giant bear suddenly by his side. Thomas did look surprised, but he had a funny kind of smile on his face also. Almost as if he had expected this.
*Your fierce love is to your credit, cub.* The bear took two steps closer and stared into Aisha's eyes. *However, the time has come to release your hold and let your child find her own way.* The bear growled slightly as Aisha opened her mouth to dispute. She shut it with a snap, eyes wide. *Let her go, cub. She will be better for it and so will you.*
Tears filled the dark eyes and ran down Aisha's face. She nodded even as she felt her heart was breaking.
The bear nuzzled her face with it's wet nose. *Cub, she will always be your child. Now, let her be your friend.*
The huge bear turned it's head to look at Zack and he swore it smiled slightly before turning.
Thomas bowed his head in thanks to the bear, who nodded once then vanished.
All three of them looked at each other. No words needed to be said. With a nod, Thomas teleported out.
Rocky followed stealthily, using those old ninjetti skills to keep the teen ahead of him in sight without being spotted. He hid behind a tree and paused for a second as Jared stopped.
Where the heck is the kid going? They were heading out of town, away from the park. If he was going to the ocean he was sure taking the long way around.
Peering around the tree, Rocky saw Jared moving once more. He took a step and stopped as his sleeve snagged on a branch. Without looking Rocky reached around to pull himself free. He nearly had a heart attack when he touched a hand. With a muffled curse, he swung around, stanced.
Laughing chocolate brown eyes met his angry gaze. "Hi."
"Damnit, Thomas," Rocky hissed. "You just scared ten years off my life!"
"That's getting even for the times you did just that to Tommy." Thomas, still smiling, leaned against the tree.
"Yeah..." Rocky ran his hand through his wavy brown hair. He had pulled a lot of practical jokes on his friends through the years. He remembered Jared and saw the kid just disappearing over a hill. "Come on, he's gettin' away."
"Hold up." Thomas sobered. "I think we need to let the kids do this on their own." He briefly explained what he meant, not surprised when Rocky frowned.
"Listen, that makes sense, but I know Raph." Rocky's hazel eyes showed his pain. "He's been through a lot for a kid his age. There's a lot of hurt and anger in him that those wraiths are gonna lap up like a kitten to milk." He gestured ahead. "And Jared has his dad's temper. Put those two together and you have perfect candidates for wraiths."
Thomas knew he'd underestimated Rocky's insight into the situation. This wasn't an overprotective parent, this was a man who was worried about two kids he loved getting hurt.
Making a quick re-evaluation, Thomas nodded. "Okay, let's follow them, but-" He held up a hand. "No interfering unless it looks like they can't handle it. Agreed?"
"Agreed." Rocky shook Thomas' hand and grinned. "Just like old times, buddy." It might have been odd to anyone else to hear a thirty-eight year old say that to an eighteen year old, but Rocky had never completely lost his teenage love of adventure. In his mind, there was only a minor matter of some years.
"He's heading for the quarry." Thomas nodded at Rocky's surprised expression. "Raph's there already." Seeing Rocky didn't have his communicator, Thomas took his arm and hit the teleport button. They disappeared in a flash of green and red.
"We did it, Vel!" Olivia scampered across a clearing and stopped in a grove of pines to laugh. "Oh, just wait until Jared, Raph and Thomas morph!" Her voice dissolved into giggles.
It was darker in the thick pines. Dark and kind of spooky. Olivia heard an odd noise and a tug on her pack. She whirled, but saw nothing. Just tree. The girl gulped. Maybe it was the wraiths. She reached behind her to pull Vel out of her pack and felt only the fabric of the pack.
"VEL!" Olivia pulled the backpack off and rummaged through it. No bunny. She looked around frantically. He must have fallen out, but where?!
*Looking for this, fledgling?*
Olivia slowly looked up and saw the biggest, whitest owl she'd ever seen in her life. It was perched on a branch only a foot from where she knelt. In it's talons she saw her stuffed bunny.
Now torn between her beloved stuffed bunny and those wickedly sharp talons and beak, Olivia gathered her courage. "Let Vel go!"
*Your stuffed rabbit has nothing to fear. You, however...* The owl's yellow eyes glowed a little brighter and it puffed up it's neck feathers.
Olivia felt her courage dissolve under the scrutiny of the bird. Tears filled her eyes. "What do you want?"
The owl leaned forward and blinked once. *You.*
"M-me?" It came out a squeak.
*You.* It's voice was almost a cooing, whirring sound. *Hold very still, fledgling. Do not move.*
Olivia froze, seeing the owl's attention now on something behind her. She was deathly afraid, but there was something very compelling about the owl.
In a flash, the owl lifted off the branch and launched itself at her. Olivia closed her eyes. She actually felt downy feathers brush her cheek as the owl swooped over her.
There was an unearthly shriek that echoed through the woods, answered by the owl's cry.
Olivia opened her eyes in surprise as she heard a noise like water going down a drain then a pop. The owl landed back on it's perch with a satisfied look on it's face.
*Now. How do you feel, fledgling? Better?*
She did, much to her surprise. "Yes." She looked up, her dark eyes wide. "What did you do?"
*Rid you of that parasite!* The sharp beak snapped and the owl ruffled it's feathers. *I am your guardian animal. In time you would have come to me, but circumstances dictated differently.*
Olivia remembered her father telling her about Phaedos and Dulcea. "But I'm not smart enough to have you as my animal! Owls are wise and -- I'm not." She felt tears burn her eyes as she realized what she'd done to Alpha, Zordon and her teammates.
*Fledgling.* The owl's cooing voice was gentle. *You are very young yet. Learn from your mistakes. Try not to repeat them. You and I shall deal well together, you will see.*
Olivia looked up and had to believe. It sounded so certain. She smiled slightly. "I will. Thank you." Shyly she held out a tentative hand and gently brushed the white feathers on the owl's chest. She was rewarded as the owl dipped it's head to gently touch her hand with it's beak.
*Your family waits for you at the Power Chamber.* A twinkle lit the yellow eyes and the owl leaned down to gingerly pick up Vel in it's beak. *Stuffed rabbits are not to my liking, but they are yours. Go now, fledgling.*
Accepting Vel, Olivia stood. With a last smile, she hit her teleport button and left in a flash of pure pink.
Gavin was tiring of the game Nisha was playing. He sighed. "I already changed this about three zillion times. When are you gonna settle on a design?"
Oops. That was the wrong thing to say.
Nisha stood and glared down at him. "Creative designs take time and effort! You can't rush an artist!" In a switch of mood she sniffed haughtily. "I'm thirsty. Is there anything to drink?"
"Uh, yeah. There's soda in the fridge." As she walked off Gavin muttered, "Please, help yourself." Geez, what a prima donna! What was her problem anyway?
The front door opened and Eugene Skullovich walked in. He smiled at his son. "Hi, Gav!" He began to loosen his tie. "Man, what a long, weird day. Your mom home yet?"
Gavin just shook his head. Fear had begun to form in the pit of his stomach as soon as his father walked in. His dad had always been a magnet for strange things and with all that was happening lately.... "Dad, uh, you sure you don't want to go over to Uncle Bulks? I mean --"
"Who are you-" Nisha strolled back in and froze. She set her soda can down with a thump and shook her head. "This will not do."
Skull really was not a stupid man. He had acted that way much of his teenage years, but upon graduating from high school he had realized people would like him as well -- if not better -- when he was himself.
Seeing Nisha Taylor glaring at him was enough of a shock. It was the eerie gray cloud clinging to her like a sick aura that scared him. "Gavin, get out of here!"
"Oh, no." Nisha pushed Gavin down into his chair. "He's staying right here." Black ribbons streaming out from the gray cloud began to encircle her arms and ankles and ooze their way slowly up her body.
Skull was really worried now. He reached for his son and flew backwards as a ribbon struck him.
"DAD!" Gavin jumped to his feet and ran to his father who lay still on the floor. He felt a pulse much to his relief. That was it. She can boss me around, but hit my father? I don't think so! Gavin whirled and stopped. The black was already up to Nisha's waist.
A black ribbon whirled away and leisurely wound it's way towards Gavin.
A flash of light filled the room, so bright it made both Gavin and Nisha wince and close their eyes. It cleared --
"YIKES!" Gavin scrambled backwards, falling over his father as he saw the biggest, whitest polar bear he'd ever seen towering over Nisha. He didn't stop to see what would happen. Grabbing his father's arms, Gavin dug deep for strength and dragged his father out of the house.
On the porch he sat and panted.
*Think you got away, huh?*
Gavin really did not want to know, did not want to look, but the urge was too strong. He looked down and stared. "What are you?"
The brown animal sat and regarded the boy, shaking it's head. *Another computer brain, huh? Didn't you ever go to zoos, kit? I'm a mongoose!* Bright eyes looked Gavin up and down. *I'm your guardian animal.*
Gavin blinked. A mongoose. Figures. Others get a wolf or falcon -- a cool animal. I get something that looks like an otter.
The animal growled, suddenly looked extremely fierce. *Listen, kit! Don't take me for granted.* Faster than a blink, the mongoose leaped at Gavin, knocking him back and snarled into his face. *You need me.*
Before Gavin could even think of moving a hand to knock the animal from him, it leaped again, diving behind him.
There was the sound of snarling and growling, then an eerie shriek that vibrated the bones in Gavin's ears. There was a sucking sound then a pop -- then silence.
Gavin peered around his shoulder and saw only the mongoose watching him with bright eyes. It dawned on Gavin. He must have had one of those gray cloud things hanging on him too! He swallowed hard. That was too close.
The mongoose walked around to sit in front of him again.
*You're very welcome, kit.* The mongoose seemed pleased. It smiled showing sharp, white teeth. *You and I are alike. That's why I'm your guardian. We're quick, smart, not afraid to face down a larger opponent...* It made a kind of chuckling sound. *But we still know how to have fun.*
Gavin smiled. Yeah. He liked this the more he thought about it. "Uh, what about Nisha? Is it safe --"
The mongoose cocked it's head as if listening. *Stay with your father, kit. For some of your friends, today will not be easy. Stay here until she comes out.* It sighed. *She'll need her friends and family around her after this.* The bright eyes locked gazes with Gavin. *Do not belittle yourself, kit. I would not be here if you were not worthy.*
Nuzzling his hand once, the mongoose stepped back and disappeared.
Leaving Gavin to watch over his father, and wait.
Nisha paled as she looked up...and up and saw only white. Tilting her head back she saw the polar bear's head above her and took a step back.
The bear's roar shook every bone in her body and terrified her. Nisha froze. She felt so cold. So tired. Maybe I can just close my eyes....
Her eyes snapped open, blazing with a gray light as the black ribbon tried to continue up her body.
*Fight it, cub!*
Fight what? Nisha wondered groggily. And where was that growling coming from?
She heard a shriek as a huge white paw swiped past her head. Oh God! The bear is attacking me! Fangs and teeth snapped inches above her ear. Something black whipped out and snapped against the bear's muzzle as it came down on all four feet.
The polar bear growled, it's head swinging back and forth. *Cub, fight the darkness as you have never fought before!*
Darkness? Nisha looked down at herself finally and let loose with a shriek of her own. What the heck was this stuff?! She tried to pry it off her arms and cried out in pain. It was like ripping her own skin off!
Feeling warm air puff on her face she looked up. The polar bear with it's glowing eyes of pure arctic blue stared into her eyes. *I am your guardian animal, cub. We must fight this together or you will be lost.*
*Think of your family, your friends. Recall the fun, the love, all the good things and times. Think on these and push the darkness away!*
Nisha almost laughed. "That's not fighting!"
*DO IT!* The voice roared into her mind.
Snapping her eyes shut, Nisha began to dredge her memory for good times. It wasn't hard. Her mother's voice singing to her, her father dancing with her, laughing with her friends and playing.... Nisha clung to the memories of love and light and pushed the darkness from her with all her will.
The bear watched intently then nodded. Rearing up on it's hind legs, it swatted mercilessly at the black shadow hovering over the girl. It's long nails dug chunks out of the shadow trying to engulf Nisha.
Nisha whimpered as the shadow transferred the pain it was feeling to her, but held on to what the bear had told her. She shut herself off to everything but her thoughts.
Now snapping and clawing, the polar bear began to rip the ribbons off it's young charge. The shadow screeched in pain as it's hold on the girl loosened. It vainly tried to wrap around her but couldn't get a purchase any longer.
In a last desperate attempt, it leaped up, seeking escape.
The polar bear reared higher and swatted the shadow down then fell on it, snapping it in half.
Nisha's scream mingled with the shadow's shriek and she fell to the ground as the shadow popped out of existence.
Nisha lifted her hand to touch the bear's muzzle that gently nudged her face. "I think I'll live."
Relief emanated from the bear. *Your friend Gavin is outside. Go with him to the Power Chamber, cub. Your family and friends await you there.* It hesitated. *Remember strength is not always in the physical. Recall this battle if you ever forget.*
"Wait! Will I see you again?"
The bear growl-chuckled. *With you as my charge, no doubt we will be seeing each other again.* It touched it's cold nose to her cheek. *Be well, cub*
Nisha smiled as it faded out. Wow. Gathering her strength she got to her feet, still feeling wobbly. Time to go face the piper for today's mayhem.
Jared crouched at the edge of the quarry. Sure enough. There was Raph. What the heck is he doing? Jared decided to creep down and surprise him. Time to settle the question of leadership once and for all.
Raph sheathed the sword and looked up. He heard some loose rock rattle and frowned. Had someone found him already? His hand tightened on the sword hilt. Only one person knew to look for him here. Raph narrowed his eyes. Fine. Bring it on.
He didn't notice his arms begin to turn black, or the cool air that filled the area. Raph was only looking for one thing. A fight.
Jared swore silently as a fall of rocks went rattling down the path. Damn! Now Raph knew he was coming.
Well, only one thing to do. He charged down the path, throwing caution to the wind. "RAPH!"
He barrelled across the rocky ground and skidded to a halt as he saw Raph standing ready, a sword in his hands. "Real brave, Raph. Fight an unarmed man with a sword." Jared didn't hesitate. He knew how to even up the odds.
Even as he stanced and reached to pull his morpher, he saw Raph mirroring his motions. Fine. Make it even.
"Blue Ranger Power!"
"Black Ranger Power!"
For a timeless moment the two adversaries faced each other -- then burst out laughing.
"You look like a girl!"
"Oh yeah? You look like a clown!"
Then, it dawned on them. They both looked ridiculous. Raph had morphed into a girl's version of the uniform, complete with a skirt and breast molds. His normally black armor was tie-dyed rainbow colors.
Jared's helmet had a bright clown nose, orange clown hair, and the armor was lemon yellow, chartreuse and blue. His feet were covered with oversized clown shoes.
Then the second surprise hit them. From within their helmets a tiny compartment opened and sprayed into their faces.
"AGHHHHHHHH!" Both quickly powered down. Unfortunately for them, Olivia's little surprise wasn't tied in only to their armor. Both looked at each other from a face coated with pink spray paint.
It was the proverbial last straw.
Up on the rim of the quarry, two people watched.
"What in the world?" Rocky gaped as both boys below morphed. "Madre de Dios!"
Thomas shook his head. That had to be Gavin's handiwork. "Remind me not to morph until we get the kids tricks all worked out."
Rocky nodded. "No kiddin'."
The hair on the back of Thomas' neck stood on end suddenly as both boys screamed and demorphed. "This is it."
Rocky looked at him. "Huh?" He followed Thomas' pointing. Sure enough, both boys suddenly became engulfed in black.
"Let's be thankful they aren't morphed. Come on!" Thomas headed for the nearest path down, Rocky on his heels.
At the end of the path they met an unexpected sight. A huge panther blocked the way. Thomas put an arm out to stop Rocky.
*Not yet,* the panther said firmly. It's gaze went to Rocky. *You look for the Ape?*
"Uh, yeah." Rocky had been wondering why only Thomas's guardian was there.
*You turned away from him many years ago. Rejected his help.* The panther's voice was colder than Thomas had ever heard. *He has respected your wish to be without him, despite the pain it causes him.*
Rocky winced. It was true. After he'd left the team all he'd wanted was to be separated from all that reminded him of the Rangers. He had never considered the consequences of that action. He had pushed away all his friends...and his guardian. "I'm sorry. I never thought...."
The panther made a snorting sound. *Truth.*
Thomas winced. His guardian was being rough on Rocky.
As if realizing the discomfort he was causing Thomas the panther relented. *Peace, child.* It sighed. *The decision is yours to make, Rocky. The Ape has been waiting for you to return all these years.*
It turned it's gaze on Thomas again. *Do not interfere with the young ones beyond, cub. You may watch. This is for them to succeed or fail alone.*
Thomas nodded and the panther turned to stalk off, slowly disappearing as it went.
"Man, that is one touchy guardian you got there." Rocky scowled after the animal. "I don't remember ever being chewed out by mine."
Shrugging, Thomas gestured. "Come on. I want to see what's going on."
They rounded the corner and stopped. Raph and Jared were fighting. Both were black belts, so neither was getting an edge. They traded blow after blow. Retreat, advance, over and over. It was almost a dance -- except as it went, the black surrounding them became thicker.
Rocky made a strangled noise and started forward, to be stopped by Thomas. "We were told to wait."
"For what? They're gonna kill each other!"
Two flashes of light stopped the argument. Behind each boy a column of light slowly died down to reveal an animal.
Thomas nodded. "For those."
The wolverine jumped in between the two combatants and shoved them apart. It snarled, showing vicious teeth, and snapped at Jared, pushing him farther away from Raph.
Jared wasn't completely gone over. Seeing the giant, snarling animal that looked intent on disemboweling him startled him back to his senses. He scrambled back, tripped over a rock and almost fell.
*Stop running!* A voice growled in irritation.
He did. Froze in place and stared at the wolverine. The black ears, which had been pinned back, now came forward as eyes full of intelligence regarded him.
*Got your attention, huh?* The mental voice was gruff, an odd mixture of growling sarcasm. The wolverine came closer until it's muzzle was almost touching him. *You want to fight?*
Jared watched the animal warily. He'd heard what these animals could do, but the anger consuming him pushed him to act. He stanced and bared his teeth, hazel eyes glowing eerily gray.
*Too bad for you, cub,* the wolverine snarled, showing far too many very sharp teeth. It shook it's head. *You've left me no other way to do this.*
Jared knew this was it, as the stocky bundle of fur and muscle jumped at him. The wolverine hit him hard, knocking him down. It snarled, teeth at his throat. His hands came up to grasp the muscled neck and fur, trying to hold it back.
*Don't fight me!*
Eye to eye, wolverine and Jared stared at each other. The gray light began to ebb slowly from the boy's eyes. The animal's eyes were strangely gentle for such a fierce creature.
*Fight the darkness seeking to consume you, cub!*
Jared's gaze focused on his arms. He realized he could barely feel them as they strained to keep the wolverine back. They were completely black and icy cold. "Consume...me?" Then it hit him -- the wraiths were trying to use him. "NO!"
That was what the wolverine had been waiting for. It lunged at Jared, easily overpowering the boy, and snapped at the shadow clinging to him.
It felt like someone was pouring boiling hot water over him, or ripping apart the first two layers of his skin. Through the haze of pain Jared got the picture from the animal of being separated from the wraith form.
Jared threw his entire will against the shadow form gripping him so tightly. He gritted his teeth, shut out the pain, and concentrated harder than he ever had. "GET...OFF...ME!" A shriek ripped through him as the gray shadow dug in, trying to hang on.
The wolverine's claws began to rip deep furrows into the gray form. It bit deep into the shadow, unmercifully separating the shadow from it's charge. Jaws locked, the wolverine backed away from Jared, dragging the shadow with it.
Dimly Jared heard a sucking sound then a pop. He gasped in relief as the pain finally ceased, leaving him laying on the ground feeling weak. He opened his eyes to see the wolverine sitting next to him. There was an oddly gentle expression on it's fierce face. *Well fought, cub. I had doubts, but now I see you and I shall do well one with another.* It nudged him not so gently. *Master your temper, cub. Master it...or it will master you.* The wolverine waited, staring at the boy until Jared nodded. Seeming satisfied, it stood. *Your friends come. Learn to rely on them, cub. There is great strength in the bonds of friendship.* Humor laced the dry mental tone. *Between them and me, we'll get you through.* With a last, gentle nudge, the wolverine was gone.
Raph growled deep in his throat, not caring what had separated him from his fight. He channelled all the anger, hurt and pain into getting past this obstacle -- and found himself flat on the ground unable to move.
*Do not fight me, cub! Look at me.*
Raph clenched his eyes shut, and held on to his anger.
*LOOK AT ME!* The voice would not be ignored.
He opened his eyes and realized he couldn't move because the whole weight of a jaguar as big as a pony was resting on him, pinning him to the ground. Huge paws held his shoulders down. Golden eyes stared at him and Raph found himself drawn in.
*I am not the enemy, cub. The enemy is inside, welcomed in where you allowed it.* The mental voice was warm, laced with a growling undertone.
"No," Raph protested.
*Your anger and pain feed it. As long as you cling to these emotions, the darkness will cling to you! Release it, cub!*
"NO!" Raph struggled to free himself. "I deserve to feel this way! I'm the one who is to blame! Leave...me...alone!"
* I will NOT.* The mental tone was indomitable, unmoving. *You are mine and I will NOT allow this!*
Raph felt whiskers tickle his face, felt the animal's warm breath as it lowered it's face to almost touch his. *I am the one trying to free you, stubborn cub!* The jaguar growled, truly irritated. *Look at me.*
Raph knew better than to try to resist this time. He opened his eyes expecting an angry glare. The sad, gentle light in the golden eyes caught him and held him.
*You were innocent. Do you hear me? You...were and are...innocent. What happened was not your fault -- it was your parent's decision. You were caught in the middle and had no choice.*
The jaguar's mental voice hardened. *What happens now is your doing. This is YOUR choice. Decide wisely, cub. Light and freedom...or darkness and pain.* The big cat snarled. *Choose.* The jaguar stepped off of Raph and stood back watching warily. It's tail slashed back and forth.
Raph was still a moment. The jaguar's words echoed in his mind. Innocent. I didn't drive mom away? It...it wasn't my fault?
Something clicked, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle Raph had been searching for since the day his mother left. This was it. No more running.
He dug deep inside for inner strength, pushing the anger and hurt away. Pushed away the doubts and the nagging worries, and grabbed on for all he was worth to the rope of light the jaguar had tossed him. Gathering himself, Raph mentally shoved away the dark form clinging to him.
The jaguar had been waiting, sensing it's young charge's struggle. Faster than a blink, it sprang at the shadow as it was pushed away from Raph. Huge velvet paws crashed against the wraith form, bringing the shadow down to pin it with wicked claws no longer sheathed.
The big cat bared it's fangs, growling. *Tell your masters we are ready, Shadow!* With a snarl, the jaguar snapped it in two. The wraith wailed over the sucking sound, then disappeared with a pop. The jaguar heaved a huge mental sigh. Turning, it paced over to Raph and pushed it's head into Raph's chest.
Raph threw his arms around the jaguar. All the pain he'd held inside for years was freed, and like a dam break, it flowed out of him as he sobbed against the big cat.
*You are free, cub.* The jaguar purred, a low rumbling noise that soothed. *Do not return to that mental bondage. You are surrounded by people who love you; your father, your grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles, -- * The cat rubbed the side of it's head against Raph's. *and you have your friends. Now you also have me.* It sat back as Raph pulled away slightly. *You are strong, cub. But real strength is not like in movies. You are human and humans gain strength from being together, not solitary.*
"I'll remember." Raph promised quietly.
*Do so.* Humor laced the jaguar's tone. *Or you may find me here to remind you once again.* Gently swatting the boy with a velvet paw, the jaguar stood. * Your friends come, cub. Do not forget the promise you gave me. If you need me, you have but to call.* Springing away, the jaguar disappeared.
"Raph?" Rocky walked up feeling very uncertain. In his hands he held the sword that had been Raph's mothers. He'd never realized how his son had felt about the divorce, or how he'd missed his mother. His heart had been bleeding as he'd watched the guardian animal dealing with what he should have seen. "Raph, I'm sorry. I should've.... I never even thought...."
Raph stood and looked at his father for a long moment. He still remembered the pain, but he had promised to move past that. Swallowing hard, he walked into his father's arms. Rocky dropped the sword and held his son tight.
"Come on, Jared." Thomas smiled at the young man. "Let's give them some time. I also happen to know there are at least two very anxious adults waiting for you at the Power Chamber."
Jared grinned and nodded. He was more than ready to go home!
Zordon watched as the adults unobtrusively pulled back to allow their children to reunite. It was odd, seeing the old Ranger team standing watching the new. Zordon had seen it before, in the generations of teams he had lead, but this one....
These two teams were the closest he had come to family. It meant the world to him to see them all restored and happy. Zordon's gaze swept over the two teams and came to rest on the young man standing apart.
Thomas leaned against the cases housing the previous team's uniforms and smiled. The team reminded him of a bunch of puppies tumbling around the Power Chamber so deliriously happy they couldn't contain themselves. They were all talking at once, arguing, laughing....
Raph and Jared still had pink faces.
"...and YOU!" Jared pointed a finger at Nisha who actually cringed slightly. He stared laughing. "Making me a clown?"
"Hey, I was a girl!" Raph shook his head and looked at Gavin. "You will fix it, right?"
Gavin grinned. "Sure." He slanted a look at Corry. "Just don't morph until tomorrow --"
"Or go to your Zords." Corry cleared her throat and gave a sheepish smile. "Uh, I need to fix the virus I downloaded into them."
"Geez!" Jared sighed. "What was this, mutiny against the guys?"
Olivia giggled, nudging Nisha. "What was the term you used?"
"Huh? Oh," Nisha blushed slightly. "The Testosterone Rangers. Sorry."
Raph sobered. "No, I think we got the idea. We'll have to be more fair in the future."
"I think we all gained new respect for one another," Jared agreed.
Corry nodded then looked around, smiling at the parents grouped together watching proudly. She spotted Thomas and waved him over.
One by one the team was adding their hands to the hand Raph held out. Thomas walked over, obviously reluctant to intrude. He felt an elbow nudge him and looked down. Corry looked at him expectantly.
Raph and Jared both nodded as the others smiled.
Thomas added his hand.
"Shah, right!" Nisha shook her head. "We saw it all from
the Power Chamber, Jay."
Corry and Olivia started to giggle as Jared's face turned red. "You made a nice clown, Jared."
He stuck out his tongue. "Yeah, well I heard things about you guys too. Like -- "
"So, it's nice day for a picnic, isn't it?" Gavin stood, very reluctant to discuss all of that again.
Olivia stood, an impish smile on her face. "What's the matter, Gav? Don't want to talk about Rikki Tikki Tavi?"
The group broke up into laughter.
"Ha ha," Gavin said good naturedly. "Do you really want to go there, 'Livy? We could talk about a certain stuffed bunny named Vel...."
"Let's go play frisbee!" Olivia grabbed his hand and dragged him off.
"Well, I'm glad Raph took some time off. He and his dad haven't done anything together for a long time." Corry sighed happily. Her parents were back, her friends were reunited and all the people who had been wraiths were now just average Angel Grove citizens again. Everyone seemed to chalk it up to just another weird occurrence in the city. The team was still alert though. After what the jaguar had said to Raph, they had to believe this wasn't the last they'd seen of the enemy.
She sighed. Everyone else had seen their guardians face to face. It made her wonder why the wolf hadn't done so with her. Maybe because her parents were there? She would have like to see the wolf. To know for certain....
"Let's go show them how real frisbee is played!" Nisha and Jared ran off. The gentle game Olivia and Gavin had been playing suddenly became a competitive sport.
Corry saw all the parents talking, laughing about something Mr. Skullovich said and smiled as her mother waved. Nah, she didn't want to join them, but she waved back. She stood and looked around. Where was.... Corry shook her head. Nice day, great friends and he was by himself. Hah! Not for long!
Sneaking up behind him she pounced out from around the tree. "Hey!"
Thomas jumped. "Geez!" He rolled his eyes as Corry gleefully laughed at him.
"Don't you know you're not allowed to just sit here on a beautiful day?" Grabbing one of his hands she pulled on it. "Come on! Play frisbee with us or sit with the boring adults, but don't just mope."
Thomas had to laugh. He couldn't help it. Guess he wasn't going to be allowed to feel sorry for himself. His musings on why Trey hadn't showed up were lost. "Okay, okay." He stood and looked over at the adults.
Kim had been watching. Figures. He never could hide anything from her. She winked and nodded for him to join the kids.
Corry was already running for the field, forgetting her worries for the present. "Nisha! Over here!"
As Thomas ran off Kimberly caught Billy watching her. "What?"
Kimberly smiled her sun-bright smile and leaned over to kiss him. "Oh yeah."