Walking the Dark Path
Part Two
By Ranko

It was dark. It was warm. It was humid.

It was lonely.

Kimberly Anne Hall-Hart had not idea where she was. [Am I dead?] she asked herself curiously. She tried pinching herself. It hurt. A lot.

"Ow!" she exclaimed. "I guess I'm alive. But where?"

"Foolisssh chhhild." came a trilling, hissing voice out of the shadows. It multiplied and surrounded her until it was as if she had invaded a horde of snakes. "Knowss you not thatt you arre in ttttthhhe ssstronghold of Ssshe who Walkssss the Darrrk Pattth?"

Kimberly quailed backwards. "Who are you?" she asked in fear. The voice was obviously inhuman. "Where are you?"

"The name that I choossse to go by, fearrrful one... isss Trrrrrevyan." the voice replied. "Be not afraid of me, chhhild. I sshalll nottt hurrrt thheee. Asss to my whhherrreaboutsss... sseek my pressencce behind you."

Kimberly whirled. There was no sign of movement behind her... until she suddenly saw a long, golden beak extract itself from under a wing covered with dark, black, shining feathers...

She cried out and ran as 'Trevyan' unfolded his full length. He was fully the size of the largest horse she had ever seen, if not larger. All over his body, except for his scaled legs and golden beak, he was covered with dark raven's feathers... or was he? No, he had a lion's body and forepaws, covered with black fur...

"What _are_ you?" she shrieked, scrabbling at the stone wall to get away.

"Be not afffrrraid. I am offf the Family of Lo... but yyyou are nottt of the Ffamilies..."

"The _what_?!" asked Kim, curious despite her terror.

"The Fffamilies." Trevyan explained. She was getting used to the trill of his voice--understandable now that she knew he had a beak, and she couldn't imagine how the words got out in the _first_ place-- and now understood him without doubt. But was Trevyan... a him?

"Pardon me," she asked curiously, "but what _are_ you? What's a Family? And what am I doing _here_?"

"I," explained Trevyan proudly, stretching his fine, strong wings out to their full length and rearing up on his hind legs, "am a gryphhhon. I am of the Fffamilly offf Lo. A Fffamily isss one off the Four Grrreat Fffamiliesss who live in the Fffugue, grrrouped by theirrr talentsss. Asss to what yyou arre doing herrre... sssinccce you arrre a Cuckoo... I would sssurmissse that therre isss sssomething verrry sspecial about you. Becaussse otherwissse you would be verry dead."

"What's the Fugue?" asked Kimberly, becoming more and more bewildered by the moment. She couldn't help but trust this huge creature, who reminded her more and more of Billy each passing minute...

"The Fugue? Well, it isss wherrrre my kind live. The Ssseerkind. It isss known to yourrr people... asss the Garden of Eden."

"So gryphons live in the Garden of Eden?" asked Kimberly, finding this somewhat hard to digest.

"That'sss not what I ssaid. I sssaid that the Ssseeerrkind live therre. Therrre arrre Ssseerrrkind who look much like you. Pah. I prrreferrr to keep my own ssshape."

"But... why are you here? Why am _I_ here?"

Trevyan shrugged, throwing his huge leonine shoulders upwards. "I'm herrre becausssse... I'm male, and I've got the menssstrrrruum, and She wantssss to usssse me forrr her own purrrposssses. And since herrr rrrapturrrresss arrren't nearrrrly asss ssstrong asss mine, 'cause ssshe'sss got no channel forrr herrr powerrs, sshe can't coerrrce me to worrk forr herr against my will."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Billy." Kimberly laughed. "Start at the beginning. What's the menstruum? Who's the 'she' you're talking about? What's a rapture? And why would 'she' want to 'coerce' you?"

The huge gryphon cocked his head at her and regarded her intelligently with huge, golden-irised eyes. "What did you call me, little one?" he asked, his beak gaping slightly in an expression that Kimberly instinctively interpreted, not as an expression of wonder, but as a smile. A gryphonic smile, but a smile nonetheless. "Did you call me 'Billy'?"

"Oops." Kimberly slapped a hand on her mouth. "I'm sorry. I was just thinking how much you reminded me of my friend Billy--"

"Who disappears very frequently, wears blue without fail and has glasses and a constant stream of unintelligible commentary?"

"Speak for yourself, Trevyan!" Kimberly couldn't help but laugh. "If that last sentence wasn't 'a constant stream of unintelligible commentary', I don't know what is!"

Then Kimberly took a sudden double-take.

"Hey, how'd you know? And where'd your accent go?" she asked suspiciously.

Trevyan's bill gaped and very human laughs emerged from his raptorial beak. "Ho ho ho ho!" he laughed deep in his throat, all sounds emerging rich and smooth, rather than the harsh rasp they'd been a minute before. "I do not always have an accent, little pink-clad one. I only hiss my sibilants and roll my 'r's when I am under stress, unsure of myself, or simply being formal with one I do not know. It tends to frighten away those who mean harm to me and mine. In truth, it is likely I speak your language better than you yourself."

"Seeing as how I'm getting an F in English, I'd hope so." Kimberly muttered. "Oh, yeah, by the way, I'm Kimberly Hart."

"Let us start afresh, then." Trevyan suggested. "Name, nickname, parents, homeplace, and possible reasons for abduction."

"Yeah, _that's_ normally on the board of lists for introductions!" Kim laughed. "O.K, I'm Kimberly Anne Hart, but my friends call me Kim. My parents are Marianne and Frank, but my mother remarried and my stepfather's name is Pierre. I live in Angel Grove, California..." She faltered. She'd just come up for a very good reason why she may have been kidnapped. "and I think I may have been kidnapped as a trap for the Power Rangers. Pleased to meet you." she added ironically, sticking out a hand before realizing that between his long, eagle's wings, with an eagle's clawed front talons and lion's hind legs, he had no way she could see of shaking it. But he reared up, sitting back on his haunches, and extended a talon, with which he gravely shook her little hand.

"I am Trevyan Lo, known to my friends as Trev. My parents are Gesten and Hiynada. I live in the Dancer's Guild section of the Fugue, and I was kidnapped for my raptures. Pleased to meet you, Kimberly." He, in turn, instead of holding out a foreclaw, reached out with his beak and tugged on a mouthful of her hair.

"What _is_ a rapture?" she asked curiously.

"You would call it a spell." Trevyan replied calmly. "As you would call the menstruum magic powers."

"Ah." she answered. It amazed her how calmly she was accepting all this. "How long have you been here?"

Trevyan didn't have time to answer before a shining doorway, like Heaven's back door, opened before them... so bright that Kimberly had to cover her eyes and Trevyan dropped nictating membranes over his own. "By Capra's Law... Ssshe hasss come for usss!" he hissed in terror. "I fearrr, Kimberrrly, that it isss time forrr usss to parrt!"

The Heart of Darkness stepped out of the gateway, onto the stone floor in front of them. She laughed deep in Her throat. "Ahh... Trevyan Lo, have you decided to join my cause to exterminate all human life from this misbegotten world?"

"Neverrr." Trevyan growled at her, seemingly dauntless. "All life, all beingsss, have a rrright to live!"

"Except those who have ursurped the place of our beloved Fugue." She reminded him. "Come... join me, brave Black Gryphon, and together we shall rid the earth of the Scourge of Cuckoos!"

"NEVERRR!" Trevyan boomed. "Not asss long asss sssilver menssstruum flowsss my body... I ssshall neverrr join you!"

"Very well." Incantrix Immacolata sighed before turning to Kimberly with a distinct glint in her eye. "And you, sister-blood?"

Kimberly sneered at the woman, though she was so much smaller than Her. Her bravery was so much out of proportion with her tiny size that in anyone else, her bluster would have been funny. "Leave me alone. I've done nothing to you. I'm just an ordinary teenage girl--"

"Yes," the Heart agreed, "An ordinary teenage girl... descendant of the blood of the Aia! Join Me, young sister... together We can rule the Fugue!"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Kimberly protested, backing into Trevyan's protective feathers. He held his wings around her, forming a black shell.

"Your father, sister-mine, was also _My_ father." the Incantrix said with uncharacteristic gentleness. "You are a child of the menstruum's mercury stream. Let Me teach you..."

Kimberly shrank back from her, and in a voice that trembled, replied, "You're not my sister. Get away from me! You're trying to trick me!

The Heart of Darkness' shield dropped down over Her eyes once more, Her shield of cruelty. "I could kill you as easily as you might kill a fly, little one. What need would I have to trick you? One last chance-- join Me, little sister, and I will teach you, and together We shall rule."

"No." came the adamant reply.

"Would you like to see what could happen if the menstruum is set free in an untrained body?" asked Immacolata with deadly calm. "For I will release it in you if you do not join Me."

"Do your worst." Kimberly challenged her.

The Incantrix Immacolata, known as the Heart of Darkness, shook Her beautiful head. "Such a shame, child. The things We could have seen together... ah well, you have made your choice. And now... your body is Mine to control!"

With that, She flung out a hand... and the menstruum sprung free in Kimberly.

Kimberly shrieked as the river of her own power tore out of her. It wasn't like the benign, sweet power of morphing, it was a veritable flood of force. Her body wasn't strong enough to contain it, and so it contained _her_, a rush of sheer energy.

Her opponent didn't laugh at Kimberly's pain, as Trevyan might have originally thought she would. Trev would have gone to his new comrade's assistance if he'd been able to move... but evidently the Incantrix had provided for that by shielding his connection to the Power. The beautiful Incantrix was not enjoying this at all, watching Her opponent --Her half-sister--scream and start to drown in her own power. And when her lifespark had been quenched in the golden stream of the menstruum, and her spirit was all that was left of the girl once-known-- The Heart of Darkness would take Kimberly's body, the body of this well-loved pretty girl... and replace the girl's personality and mind with her own. And watch in sorrow as the girl's spirit wept at the sight of her body murdering all of her friends... one by one by one. It had to be done. A pity that she'd not been able to teach Kim.

[No.] the Heart thought. [I suppose it's only fair to her, that before her own powers kill her, I'll show her what my sister has done to her beloved comrade.]

With a gesture, the Heart of Darkness stopped the flood of menstruum running out of Kimberly, who swayed on her feet with a moan. She stubbornly refused to fall.

"Sister... bring your groom to meet My little friend here." She whispered into the air. Her summons were soon answered as the air rippled with the energy of the Magdalene's arrival.

Kimberly shuddered and hid her face as the Magdalene appeared. The Heart of Darkness couldn't blame her. Even _She_ admitted that Her first sister was a horrible sight. Dressed in a hideous mockery of a wedding dress in tatters, she was a veritable bride. A wraith bride. She stood over ten feet tall, her face _might_ have been as beautiful as the Heart's, once upon a time, but was now a mutilated horror. Her cheeks had been torn away and replaced. Her brow-- sliced. Her eyelids... were sewn shut. She was blind... but didn't need to see.

"And where is your groom, My sister?" asked the Heart of Darkness casually. "Where is that _wonderful_ example of masculinity that you have captured, snatched from the verdant earth that will be ours again?"

Kimberly looked up, peeking over the edge of her hands, revulsion and pity evident in her expressive eyes.

The Magdalene didn't open her hideous mouth, but simply gestured to the bottom of her tattered, filmy wedding robe. And at the bottom of it, at her feet, there was a figure prostrating himself, as if to a goddess-- or to a wife. He looked up at the Magdalene... and there was worship on the eloquent features of his face.

Kimberly _did_ fall to the ground then, retching up bile and pain in complete disgust.

"Oh dear God." Kimberly moaned when she could finally speak again. "No! Anyone but him. Anyone but Tommy..."

The figure turned towards the sound of her voice... and to her horror, there was no recognition in his eyes.

"I think he knows you not, sister." the Heart said sadly. The bonds between family and friend were among the most sacred to the Seerkind... to break them as she was doing now was killing her slowly inside. "He was broken by My sister, and your sister as well. As soon, all your friends will be-- dead by your hand."

"Oh God, no." Kimberly whispered, hiding her face. Finally, she realized why Immacolata was letting the power kill her instead of just slaying her normally. When someone died from the menstruum, it killed their _minds_ more often then their bodies. It left their bodies open for possession by another... "Please... I don't care what you do... to me... go ahead... torture me... teach me... kill me, I don't care... but leave my friends alone..."

"It matters not, child." came the reply. "They will die anyway. It is too late to change your course."

"No!" she cried, not scrambling backwards as many had before Immacolata. She leapt to her feet with gymnastic agility and clenched her hands into fists... challenging the Incantrix with her very posture! "Leave Tommy alone! Leave my friends ALONE!"

"He is my sister's husband, now, the poor man." said the Incantrix mournfully, ignoring Kimberly's sudden outburst of passion. She walked to Tommy and took his chin between her fingers. "The poor, handsome, young man. Her lust knows no bounds. There will be children in time, many of them, I suspect."

And from the depths of Kimberly's soul came hate... hate as she had never known it before. Kimberly was too full of love and friendship to hate a person. But if someone hurt her friends... Only now did she realize why there was no recognition in Tommy's eyes--

He was blind. They had blinded him. He had recognized her voice-- and turned towards it. The rage and hatred coursing through her blood built... bringing with it her power once more. The golden river that raced through her every vein built... and built... and grew until she thought she was afire...

Tommy's mouth worked as he tried to get his statement out. His jaw strove to form the words that might mean Kim's salvation-- for if she didn't hear them, the menstruum would consume her alive, likely killing all of them as it took her out. Finally... the proper sounds emerged. "Kim...." he croaked in her general direction... "Sing! Like... you've... never... sung... before!"

First she started at the sound of his voice, so rough and harsh. But it only served to make her angrier at what had been done to him, he whom she cared for so very much. And so Kimberly sang. She sang rage, and freedom, and love. She sang friendship, and the future. And from her every pore streamed the menstruum... all of it directed at Immacolata and the Magdalene.

"Allons enfants de la patrie
La jour de glorie est arrive!
Contrez-nous de la tyrannie
L'etandant, sanglant, et leve!"

"Oh, say, can you see
By the dawn's early light?"

"Bayang magiliw
Perlas ng sinagalang
Alab ng puso
Sa dibdib ng buhay!"

"Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of angry men.
It is a music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!"

"One day more,
Another day another destiny.
On this neverending road to calvary..."

And finally, when the Incantrix and the Magdalene were weak from her attacks, more powerful than theirs simply because they came from her soul and not just her power, when they were just about ready to collapse, Kimberly sang the most powerful song she knew.

She sang the song that she herself had written... ironically enough, for Tommy when he had first lost his powers.

The most powerful because she'd written her heart into it, her feelings; she could sing it like no other, because it was _her_ song. A part of her. She relished the expressions of horror that came over Immacolata and the Magdalene when she started to sing: _they_ could feel the emotions that came with the song... and they knew that if they didn't get out of there, those unfamiliar emotions would tear them apart. Into tiny little pieces.

[Funny,] she thought ironically and detachedly, [a few minutes ago, _I_ was terrified of _them_... guess I've got all the cards now...]

Down the road, we never know,
What life may have in store,
Winds of change, may rearrange
Our lives more than before.

But you'll never stand alone my friend,
The memories never die,
And in our hearts they'll always live,
And never say goodbye.

The song meshed with the mercurial river of the menstruum, and flew out of her in the shape of vengeance. Though Tommy couldn't see it, Kimberly had directed her power into the form of a falcon, its golden beak and talons striking out at the pair of unholy sisters. It shrieked a cry of anger at what had been done to its Power representative, the Falcon Tommy.

The Magdalene screamed and collapsed in on herself at the sight of the golden avian, disappearing in a shimmer of veils... and leaving Tommy behind. The Incantrix simply stared at her before dissipating... and crying softly "We will meet again, sister..."

Kimberly collapsed on the floor, her throat raw as if she'd been shouting the entire day. Her nerves were afire... and suddenly, she was cradled in a huge pair of wings, being rocked like a baby.

"Shhh." Trevyan cooed at her. "Sleep. The power of the menstruum is dangerous the first time you use it... you need to rest. She will be back, and you must be ready for Her once again."

"I... can't." Kimberly struggled, peeking over the edge of Trevyan's black primaries. "Tommy... he needs help--"

"I took the liberty of casting a rapture on your young friend, little Seerkind." Trevyan comforted her. "He will doze, even as you do... but I must ask you something."

"Go ahead." Kimberly mumbled. Already, spell-induced sleep was overtaking her. Trevyan was glad he could weave raptures just as well with his tail as with his talons and words, otherwise he would never have been able to overcome Kimberly's natural resistance to the menstruum. She had the most untapped potential he had ever seen, more even than his own!

"What is the connection between you two, so that rage at what was done to him would awaken the menstruum in you?" Trevyan murmured.

But Kimberly was already snoozing. Trevyan shook his head firmly, smiling his gryphonic grin once again. Her friend, too, was asleep, curled up on his side as if wrapped around something.

"I believe," he muttered, "that they would both be more comfortable if I placed them together... after all, they are aerie-sibs, are they not?" he asked himself. So he lowered Kimberly gently to Tommy's side, and using his soft primary feathers, wrapped Tommy's arms around Kim. Then he lifted both their heads with his wings, and settled them on his soft leonine body as a pillow. He propped his own falcon's head on his wings and forelegs, and promptly dozed off.

* * *

Adam perched on the edge of his stool at Ernie's, sucking at a chocolate milkshake like a man dying of thirst. He always did that when he was upset, disturbed, or simply plain mad.

[Kim told me once that she was glad that I didn't get mad very often, 'cause then I'd never keep in shape!] he thought, sullenly. [But I've got reason to be upset. Kim's DEAD, dammit! And we could have-should have--figured out some way, somehow-- ]

Adam jumped as Ernie clapped a hammy hand on his shoulder. "Adam? What's wrong?" the huge Caucasian asked, concerned. Then he remembered. "Oh. Oh, right. Look, Adam, I'm really sorry. I know Kim was one of your best friends--"

"She... she was more than that.... Ernie." Adam forced out through a throat clotted with sympathy. "She was much, much more... than that..."

"Yeah... yeah, I know." Ernie sighed. He was the only one who Adam had told about his hopeless crush--love?--for Kimberly. Ernie had understood in a way that neither Billy or Rocky could; the former because Adam strongly doubted he'd had strong feelings for anyone, and the latter simply because he took everything so lightly. And Tommy... well, Adam didn't want to risk incurring the wrath of his beloved leader: it wouldn't be good for the team. And one never knew what his leader's reaction would be if he found out the Black Ranger was sweet on his girlfriend...

Ernie had abandoned his Hawaiian colors for the somber black of mourning, and Adam noticed that there were many others who had done the same. "Kim was somethin' special. It won't be the same, anymore... not havin' her bouncin' around like no tomorrow--" Ernie choked on his choice of words, and with a hurried "'Scuse me," ran to the mens' room.

[If Ernie's grieving like this,] Adam thought morosely, [then Tommy must feel like dying... ah, Hell, _I_ feel like dying...]

Kat dragged herself into the room. She, too, had abandoned her bright pink for the somber colour of black, her nails had gone through some serious chewing, her clothes were wrinkled... and behind her came three sparks of color who Adam couldn't identify through bleary eyes-- A huge bearlike palm clapped him on the shoulder. "Oh, God... Adam, we heard what happened, and we came as fast as we could... no peace conference is as important as our friends... what happened?" boomed a deep voice.

Adam shook his head to clear his eyes of tears. He _knew_ that voice... who could it be? As the square-jawed face, slanted eyes and white-tan features slowly came into focus, Adam gasped. "Jason?"

"None other." agreed Jason Lee Scott, the original Red Ranger. "Trini heard about this through one of the peace conference members... we came as fast as we could... You can't know how sorry we are... how about we take this somewhere more private, where we can talk..."

"You know them?" Kat asked suspiciously. "They said that 'they knew who the Power Rangers were', but they could be just like Bulk and Skull..."

"Are they still up to their old tricks?" asked Trini, one-time Yellow Ranger, amused. Billy whirled at the sound of her voice, but quickly dropped a mask over his face, a face that had suddenly opened up a floodgate of emotion.

"They're still the same." Rocky sighed. "Unfortunately. Yeah, Kat, we know 'em. And," he continued, dropping his voice to the lowest of whispers, "they _do_ know who the Power Rangers are. I'll explain later." He then raised his voice. "How does the park sound to you people?"

"How's Tommy taking this?" asked Zach softly on the ride there. The bouncy, cheerful former Black Ranger knew better than almost anyone how much Kim meant to Tommy. No matter his normally flippant nature, Zach was more than he seemed when one looked past the dreadlocks, perpetual grin, and forever-dancing feet.

Adam sighed. "He quit."

Zach, Trini and Jason whirled. "He _what_?" they asked in one breath.

"We're here." Adam evaded the question and stepped out of his black Toyota Corolla. He then went to the trunk, took out a battered basketball and started taking free-throw shots.

"You're not answering the question." Jason pointed out. "_What_ did Tommy do?"

"He quit. Quit the Power Rangers." Aisha replied, her face bleak. She walked out of the car and plopped onto a convenient bench near the basketball courts. "He walked out on us."

"You've got to understand, Isha, that Tommy breathed, ate and slept Kim. A lot of times, she's all that kept him going-- indomitable Kimberly, stronger in her own way than anyone else." Trini told the Yellow Ranger, sitting down beside her on the bench. "You weren't there when he was first losing his powers; I don't think he would have come back if it wasn't for her."

Aisha's eyes were red; Trini's were sorrowful and brimming with tears that were threatening to spill down her slim cheeks. "She was something special." Aisha added sadly.

Kat threatened to look sulky at this, but decided better in lieu of one who had been her friend no matter what. Kim had always known that maybe, just maybe, one day Kat would steal Tommy from her, and instead of being jealous, Kim had welcomed her. Who, instead of being selfish and continuing a distance relationship bound to be miserable, had instead broken up with Tommy to give Kat a chance. She deserved better than sulkiness... even from Kat, who had known her for the shortest period. "And now you're out a Pink Ranger _and_ a White Ranger?" asked Jason solemnly.

Kat stared at him. "No. Just a White Ranger."

Jason blinked at her for a while before Zach nudged him and whispered in his ear. Realization quickly dawned on his expressive features. "Oh. Oh, I'm sorry--"

"No problem." Kat replied with a shrug. "It ain't anything big."

"I'm sorry, but have we been introduced?" pronounced Trini. "I'm Trini Kwan, that's Zachary Taylor, and that's Jason Lee Scott."

"Name's Katherine Hillard. Did you used to live here?"

There was a chuckle from Billy. "Oh, they used to live here, all right." he informed her, ruefully. "I guess we should tell you: we were the five original Rangers."

"We?" asked Kat pointedly.

"Jason, me, Trini, Zach and... and Kim." he added with obvious difficulty. He heaved a great, gusty sigh. "God, how I've missed you guys."

Zach cast Billy a look that held considerably more meaning than any of the others could decipher. The only thing clear in that glance was the implicit "I'll speak to you later". Then, aloud, "Hey... where's Tommy? I'd think that quittin' or not, he'd be right here with the rest of you guys."

"He disappeared... just zipped away." Rocky shrugged. "I think he wants to be alone."

"Yes..." Trini agreed gently. "That would be like Tommy. He's not good at showing how he feels to other people. And now that Kim's..." she choked on the word, "you know, he's got no-one he can be really and truly honest with anymore. No one he can trust like he trusted her. Not and still feel the same way for him afterwards."

"And what am I, chopped liver?" demanded Kat, her nerves worn to a fringed, frazzled end.

"No," Trini replied, looking straight at Kat with raven eyes that pierced the Australian blonde through and through. "But you weren't there when Tommy was going crazy wondering if Kim felt the same about him. When Kim jumped at the phone at every ring, hoping for a phone call from Tommy."

Adam looked up from his morose glooming. "I guess you guys should know... Kim dumped Tommy right before she... she..."

And still, none of them could force the words past lips that suddenly dried.

"Oh $#!^." Jason swore tiredly. "He must be all torn up inside. Why'd she do that?" "I know." Rocky piped up. "Kim... well, she wasn't the Pink Ranger anymore. Hadn't been for... quite a while. She was going to compete in the Pan Am games in Florida--"

"--and she didn't think that their relationship would last, what with Tommy being the ladies' man that he is, and all the girls that would just _love_ to have their chances with him." Trini finished. "'Specially Kat here. I'll bet that she'd rather have had him going out with you, Kat, and not feel guilty than to sneak around behind her back. What a mess. And now... she's... gone... and I bet he never got to say goodbye..."

They mourned together.

* * *

Tommy stirred and murmured. Then opened his gold-hazel eyes to the unfeeling world.

His first reaction was panic. He couldn't see! The world for him was darkness: he couldn't even see shadows and light. Just... black.

With a bleak sigh of unwilling remembrance, he collapsed back onto the cold stone. _That_, he could recognize. Yet... next to him was an emanation of warmth and softness, as was under his head. And unless The Witch had gifted him with living pillows--very _bloody_ unlikely--...

He wasn't alone.

His gorge lurched with revulsion as he thought that beside him _might_ be The Witch. He nearly scrambled away. The dream had been nice: even though he'd been blind in it, he'd heard Kimberly's voice... felt the electrical raptures of the menstruum coming from both her and Immacolata... and he'd told her to sing to control the power and she'd sang... and The Witch had screamed and disappeared--he felt her presence go-- and so had Immacolata. Then something with feathers and a booming gentle voice--a little like Zordon's, only kinder and higher-- had chanted something over him, and he'd left the dream for sleep.

But now he was back to reality. And since he could _feel_ the menstruum--it felt a little like electrical charges running through the air--there were very few people he knew who could be beside him. Top of the list was The Witch. And Tommy didn't like that one bit.


He knew The Witch's touch. She was cold like an Antarctic demon, and her skin felt like what Tommy would imagine rotten apples would feel like. The one beside him-- and whoever was under his head-- was soft, with smooth skin like a teenage girl's, or a baby's. Tommy moved a little closer to investigate--

And caught a soft whiff of scent when a passing zephyr blew a clump of satiny hair into his face.

Only one person he knew of had velvety hair that smelled like a mixture of apples and strawberries.

And that one person was thoroughly dead.

[If I'm dead, and who I think it is is in my arms-- I don't give a damn. Funny, though... I always thought that you got back all your senses when you died...]

Kim wiggled closer in Tommy's arms. _Then_ realized that she was being held. "Trevyan?" she murmured, without opening her eyes. She quickly perceived her mistake when she realized that whoever was holding her was featherless and furless.

Tommy's throat suddenly displaced itself, and he found that he couldn't breathe, couldn't speak, and couldn't care. That _was_ Kimberly's voice... he knew it better than he knew his own mother's. Only _then_ did it register what she'd said.

His heart dropped to the soles of his feet. Had he been replaced so quickly, so brutally? Had someone else already made his place in Kim's life--afterlife?--... where he used to be? Or is that why Kim had dumped him in the first place? A million thoughts raced through his head... all provoked by a single word. He snapped his eyes shut-- it didn't really make a difference, he couldn't see either way-- as Kim propped herself up on her elbow, opening her eyes as she did. He could feel her gaze on him, and nearly jumped as he felt a tiny, soft hand brush away the unruly hair from his forehead.

"Trev, are you awake?" she asked, but it was obvious that the question was not directed at him... but rather, at... his pillow?

As 'the pillow' moved under his head, it became obvious that what he had suspected to be living, was indeed. But why would Kimberly's 'new boyfriend' shelter an old one?

"I am awake, little Seerkind." Trevyan replied. His voice was sleepy-- but powerful. "What is it you wish of me?"

"Do you think he's all right?" Kimberly asked in a worried tone of voice, stroking Tommy's hair gently.

"You can but hope, Kimberly." Trevyan murmured. "I have no talents with the healing menstruum. I do not know. But what I do know is this: he's feigning a state of respite."

"Translation, please?" Kimberly asked plaintively. "You get to be more like Billy each passing moment!"

Tommy was thinking much the same.

"He's faking sleep."

Tommy suddenly found himself held by a pair of-- talons? No, it must be simply an effect of this fevered dream. He slumped bonelessly, holding desperately to the illusion of sleep.

"Now, little Cuckoo," said Trevyan sternly, "why were you with the Magdalene?"

"Leave him be, Trevyan." Kimberly scolded. Tommy almost smiled, imagining Kim with her hands on her hips, fearlessly reprimanding someone that he was _sure_ was bigger than her; bigger than him, in fact. "He's a friend. Now put him down."

She turned to Tommy, who had collapsed to the ground again as soon as he was released. "Now, Tommy," she began in a sugar-sweet voice. "If you don't stop faking sleep, I'll kiss you."

Tommy's left eye snapped open, more from reflex than from a need to see. "Really?" he asked, interested.

"Gotcha!" she squealed.

Tommy slapped his forehead, feeling very stupid indeed. He felt like he _should_ be uncomfortable around her-- after all, she'd dumped him-- but they'd been friends long before they'd been more than that, and it was almost like they were reverting back to what they _had_ been.

"You got me." he agreed. "I'm just wondering: is this a dream, or are we in Heaven? I'm inclined to believe the latter."

"Why? If we were in Heaven, Tommy," Kim reasoned, "then I wouldn't be there. I'm not dead!"

There was a sudden silence, and Tommy finally spoke. "Yes, you are, Kim. Adam saw you die."

Kim blinked. "Um... Tommy? Look at me. Do I look dead to you? Look at me, dammit!"

"I can't." he answered her in a very small voice. "I'm blind. _She_ blinded me."

"Who did, Tommy? Who did this to you?" Kimberly's exasperation was quickly replaced by sheer rage. Trevyan, though he hardly knew Kimberly, felt exceedingly sorry for the Magdalene.

"The Witch." he replied.

"You mean your wife. The Magdalene. " Kimberly's voice was carefully neutral, but Tommy winced visibly. When Kim's voice was that neutral, she was either very mad or very, very, _very_ mad. Neither boded well, either for him _or_ the Magdalene. In his answer was a mix of pain and fear.

"Not by choice, Kim. Not by choice."

"Ooooh, when I get my hands on her--" Kimberly began, then stopped, looking down at Tommy. He was very obviously miserable. Comforting took first priority, _then_ retaliation. "Oh, poor baby." she crooned. He'd withdrawn into himself; he didn't want Kim to take revenge for him, it was too humiliating. But Kim hugged him gently and unexpectedly. He would have pulled away... but it felt too natural, too _right_, to be in her arms. He couldn't pull back. "It's all right." she cooed at him. "I won't let her touch you."

Tommy didn't doubt it. "Kim..." he struggled with the words, hoping he could get them out. "Look, give us another chance."

Tommy could almost see Kim's brows furrowing. He could certainly imagine it. "I don't understand."

"_Us_, Kim!" he protested. He pulled out of her embrace, comforting as it was, and started pacing. Amazingly, he never hit anything; then again, there wasn't exactly much to hit! "You and me."

"It'll never work, Tommy." Kimberly answered. Her voice was guarded and let loose no hints of emotion. "Look, I hate to say this, but what guy would want to be with a girl who can kill him with a wave of her hand?" Tommy looked straight at her with unseeing eyes. He knew where she was, and though she knew he couldn't see her, she dashed away her tears. She had _wanted_ him to ask her that. To ask her to take him back. A scant few hours ago, she'd been a gymnast headed for the Pan Am games. A few hours ago, she would have capitulated and said "yes." Now... what was she?

"Kimmy, I would." came the reply. "Because I trust you."

Kimberly had been about to say something unspeakably cruel to Tommy, that would undoubtedly drive him away, but the words stuck in a throat that had tightened abruptly. Anger flared up in her, and she threw her hands up in the air and cried, "Why do you have to be so goddamned _sweet_!?" before with an furiously sung word, she disappeared.

Tommy felt her presence leave the room as if he'd seen her disappear, and wondered with an ache in his heart why she was so angry at him.

He only realized he'd spoken the words aloud when there came from behind him a rasping cough. He dropped automatically into his karate stance.

"Peace, warrior." Trevyan spoke. "I mean you no harm. You merely asked a question and it was my opinion that you may want an answer."

"What question?" asked Tommy, puzzled.

"You asked why she was so angry at you." the gryphon replied patiently. "I believe that she cares deeply for you. I know you not, but I know that you must be special indeed for her to think of you as such: Seerkind fall in love but once in a lifetime, and the person must be completely suited to them as a rapture to the menstruum."

Tommy's heart lurched again... then fell. "Why should _you_ care?" he asked, voice soured by bitterness. "You're her new boyfriend, aren't you? You were probably going out with her while she was still with me!" There was a shocked silence at first, which Tommy took to be a silence of guilt. Then, suddenly, a rumbling... which grew louder and louder each passing second until it reverbrated around the chamber like a high crack of thunder next to his ears. With burning cheeks, Tommy realized what it was.

Trevyan was chuckling.

"What's so funny?" he spluttered indignantly. "What's so damned _funny_?"

"Oh! Oh," Trevyan wound down. "You are, Tommy. Your jealousy is overruling your conscious thought. Now whatever made you believe that I was Kimberly's aerie-mate?"

"When she first woke up, she asked for you." Tommy replied sullenly. Trevyan had not really admitted whether he was Kim's new guy-friend or not. But something was wrong here, and he couldn't quite put his finger on it--

"That is most probably because _I_ am the one who cast a sleep-rapture on you. She could not have known it would wear off of its own volatition."

"Say what?"

"It'd wear off by itself."

"But... but... she snuggled closer to me, _then_ said your name." "It is cold here," Trevyan pointed out. "Snuggling closer to a warm source on a cold day is but a natural reaction. Do you have any more reasons?"

Trevyan's patronizing manner irked Tommy no end. "No." he grated out through teeth that were tightly clenched. He wouldn't give this arrogant pain-in-the-ass the _amusement_ of seeing him mad. "But answer me straight. Are you and Kimmy involved?"

"Kimmy." Trevyan mused thoughtfully. "Such a tender name you give her."

Tommy's fists clenched and unclenched as every muscle in his body proclaimed his aggravation. "Answer the question.">{? "Why is it you think that I am involved with Kimberly?" Trevyan asked curiously. He'd always thought that Cuckoo men were the most fun to bait, because of their strong emotions, and experience was not proving him wrong. "I never said that I was."

"You never said you weren't, either." he pointed out.

"Oh, Tommy, if you could see me, you would not even contemplate the thought of my being involved with Kimberly." Trevyan informed him, deciding that the poor young man had had enough.

"Why?" Tommy asked curiously. "No matter how ugly you were, Kim would always be nice to you."

Trevyan pulled himself up on his haunches. "I happen to be a very handsome member of my species, thank you very much!" he informed Tommy indignantly.

"Then what's to stop Kim from liking you better?"

The bleak despair in his voice would have touched even the Hag's essence. Trevyan, one who was considered kind by the standards of all species of the Fugue, was melted by the young man's heartache.

"Ai-ya, I think this has gone on long enough." Trevyan apologized. "I am sorry for baiting you, Tommy, but I could not resist. I am not involved with Kimberly in any way except comradeship. The reason? Hold out your hands."

Tommy did so, albeit warily. And Trevyan grasped the edge of a wing with one talon and put it into Tommy's hand.

Tommy held the soft feathers gently, then suddenly asked "What's this?"

"It's my wing, Tommy." replied Trevyan. "Yes, I have wings."

It was a measure of the strange things Tommy had seen that he didn't jump. "A winged man. Unusual... but not that different."

Trevyan chuckled. "You don't understand, Tommy." came the inevitable answer. "I am not a man at all. Here." he shoved his scaled eagle's foot into Tommy's right hand. "That is my talon. Careful with the claws-- I make certain they are very sharp."

Tommy's hands touched the scaled foot-- and froze. "Are you a big, talking eagle?" he asked incredulously.

"I have a beak, yes, but an eagle I am not. Here, one last touch."

With that, he sidled next to Tommy's body, laying his furry lion's body under Tommy's hands.

"You... you have _fur_, _feathers_, and you _talk_?!" Tommy inquired incredulously. "But by all laws of biology, you can't _exist_!"

"Laws of biology do not extend to magic." came the calm reply. "I am called Trevyan Lo, the Black Gryphon."

"I'm Tommy Oliver." remarked Tommy, sticking his right hand out in the direction of the voice. Trevyan clasped it gingerly, making very sure that his claws didn't harm Tommy's hand. "Oooh, and am I gonna get you back for even making me think that you and Kim were involved..."

"A product of your own imagination, I assure you." Trevyan shot back. Then they both sobered. "But... Tommy, from what I have seen, I would surmise that your relationship has ended... but the feelings go on."

"I guess that's a way of saying it." Tommy looked away, answering sardonically. Then he plopped down on the ground and dropped his sightless face into his hands. "She dumped me. She was leaving, and she decided that I wasn't good enough for her, so she dumped me."

Trevyan was silent for a moment, then spoke up. "I don't know either of you very well," he said awkwardly. "But that's not the conclusion that I came to. She cares about you a great deal, Tommy. Possibly more than anyone else in the world. It was when she realized that you'd been captured unwillingly and blinded did her rage intensify enough to temporarily tame the wild menstruum. And I cannot see Kimberly as the type of girl who would use boys and then throw them away like broken playthings."

"Fine, then." Tommy threw his hands up, exasperated. "She didn't trust me to stay faithful to her when she was away, so she dumped me."

Again, the brief hush. "Again, I cannot see Kimberly doing that."

Tommy's anger flared up again. "What would you know?" he shouted. "You've only known us for a day, mebbe less!"

"Maybe," Trevyan agreed coolly. "But I could have struck Kimberly down at any point in the fight. She trusted me not to. I could have put a sleep-spell on you, that you would never awake from... again, she trusted me not to. She trusts others a great deal. Why should you be any different?"

Trevyan could feel the waves of sorrow and uncertainty coming from Tommy. "Fine, then." Tommy sighed. "I don't know why she dumped me. Is that better?"

"Yes." Trevyan nodded sagely. "Now... she was leaving for another place, far away?"

Again, the brief nod.

"And she... broke up with you, several days before, but still showed evidence of caring for you?"

"I don't know." came the muffled reply. "I didn't see her again."

"Perhaps," mused Trevyan, thoughtfully nibbling on the edge of a wing, "Perhaps she still cares for you--maybe loves you, even-- but does not trust _herself_ not to hurt _you_."

"Well," came the half-smothered answer, "it's a little late for that..."

With a little burst of displacement and a swift word, Kimberly reappeared. "Honey, I'm hoooome!" she sang out.

"Hey, Kim." came Trevyan's bland reply. "Where'd you go?"

Tommy didn't say anything, rather, looked away.

"I had a little... um... consultation with the Magdalene." she said grimly, her playful demeanor falling like a wing-broken bird. "She won't bother you again, Tommy."

"Um. Uh, thanks. I think." Tommy replied uncertainly. "Just... what did you do?"

"Threatened to sic her own children on her. They obey anyone that feeds them." she gave an involuntary shudder at the memory, and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering. Tommy, near her, felt her soft arms touch him as she quavered, and they were full of death-cold goosebumps. The simple motion made Tommy long to take her into his arms, tell her that everything would be fine. But to do that would be lying to someone whom he had trusted, and who had trusted him in turn. Everything would _not_ be fine...