The Angel Grove Youth Center was packed with people, as it usually was, and six of them in particular were enjoying the day together. For some reason, it felt more fitting than they could imagine for the six Power Rangers to know each other, to all be on the same team, to be part of each other. They'd all seen the news reports of previous Rangers, and knew perfectly well that there had been six Rangers during a good portion of their fight against evil.
"Six must be the magic number or something," T.J. observed as he sipped at his smoothie. "To be honest, Morgan, ever since you joined us, I've felt more . ..well. . .I don't know what the word is, but it feels right."
Morgan St. Clair, the White Ranger and newest official member of the team, smiled from her seat next to her boyfriend Carlos. "I know what you mean. It's just what's meant to be, I guess," she shrugged. She winced a moment later, and shook her head, smiling.
"Comet?" Justin whispered softly, and she nodded. Morgan's telepathic link to White Comet, her Zord, was something they'd quickly grown used to. "What did he say this time?"
"He said 'I told you so'," she chuckled. "He's never going to let me live it down that I didn't trust you guys right away, you know."
Ashley grinned. "Doesn't matter. We all trust each other now, and that's what's important."
"True, true," Cassie agreed, stretched out a little. The motion reminded her of something, and she glanced over to Justin. "Isn't Gia supposed to be joining us? I thought you invited her. .."
The Blue Ranger nodded, glancing at his watch. "She should be here any minute now. Her dad's supposed to be bringing her."
There was a moment of silence at the reason, the real reason, that Gia Cranston wouldn't be coming to the Youth Center under her own power. Less than a week earlier, General Havoc had thrown Gia off the top of a building, giving her permanent back damage that had destroyed any chance she was going to walk again short of a God-given miracle. Phantom Ranger had at least healed the pain she would've been in with any human doctors, and she seemed to be taking it fairly well, as well as could be expected, anyway.
Morgan's hand clenched into a fist as she remembered everything else that had happened that day. Gia's crippling was the most vivid in her mind, but there was still the agonizing hours without White Comet as the soothing presence in her mind, the terror that had swept through her when he had hit Carlos, and then the agonizing fear of rejection when she'd revealed herself to the other Rangers. Morgan!! White Comet's voice echoed sharply in her mind. Get over it! It's over and done with, you have to keep going. Gia will be fine, you and the other Rangers freed me, and you're one of them now. Don't be afraid. Fear is over with. Trust me.
She smiled softly, and stood up, glancing at T.J. "Hey, Teej," she used the nickname she'd heard fall so easily from the others' lips. Though she'd been hanging out with them for a month or more, she'd been holding herself apart so much she'd never felt comfortable using it, until now. "Want to do some sparring?"
The Red Ranger's eyes widened a little, and he grinned, standing up. "Carlos says you're good," he told her. "Let's see how good you are."
As the White and Red Rangers headed for the practice mats, the other Rangers chuckled. "This should be very, very interesting," Carlos said. He was the only one who'd ever actually seen what Morgan, unmorphed, was capable of, and he knew how good T.J. really was. He was eager to see just how this turned out.
"Look at that," Divatox grumbled, staring at the Rangers through her periscope. "I think I'm going to be rather noisily sick!"
Havoc peered down for a moment, and felt the same way as he saw the Rangers, all six of them, sitting happily around the table in their little hangout, enjoying each other's company. The White and Green Rangers looked so annoyingly happy with each other he felt like upchucking just watching them.
"We have got to do something to break that up!" he growled. "Got any ideas?" if she says something about destroying the White Ranger, I think I'm going to go as noisily insane as I possibly can, and take out this whole SpaceBase while I'm at it! She's DANGEROUSLY close to getting obsessed on Morgan St. Clair, and if that happens, then we've already lost the battle, the war, EVERYTHING!
Oblivious to what was going on in her brother's mind, Divatox tapped her fingers on a table thoughtfully, already deeply submerged in thought on how to get back at all the Rangers for all the insults and slights and won battles they'd had against her. She didn't care so much about the White Ranger now, though should the chance to hurt her come up, she wouldn't turn it down. She wanted. . .Something to make them all pay. Something to make them HURT. Something that'll cause a great deal of trouble. Something to separate them, so they can't use that stupid teamwork to get out of it. Hmmmm. ..wait a moment . ..that could be it.
"Porto!" she snapped, coming to her feet. "I want a monster that can separate the Rangers, preferably turn them all against each other if you can pull that off too!! What have you got for me?"
The chubby scientist popped up next to her, holding out a thick, leather covered spellbook in his hands. "I stole this from Rita and Zedd's laboratory on the moon," he snickered. "It's got some very interesting monsters in there, things that we can use to destroy the Rangers!"
"Yeah, I've heard that before," Divatox groaned, snatching the book from him and starting to page swiftly through it. Her eyes began to widen slowly as she saw the spells, incantations, monsters, and other creatures in here, and she smiled. "Well, well, well. This should be fairly interesting."
She turned the book around to show Havoc a burly, spine-covered creature with the name 'Cactus Creature' underneath it. "That thing's spines can tear open holes to other dimensions," she told him. "It's completely random on which dimension they go to, which means there's just about no way Dimitria can find them! And no way for them to get back!"
A glint from what could've been Havoc's eyes told her he liked the plan. "They're going to be so busy fighting the thing in the first place, they won't even notice when they're sent away!" he laughed. "We'll rid ourselves of all the Rangers in one fell swoop!"
Divatox threw her head back and laughed wildly, then tossed the book over to Porto. "I want that thing made right now, Porto!" she ordered. "And I want it down in Angel Grove before you can blink good! The Power Rangers are going down!" this is even BETTER than trying to destroy their teamwork, with them in some other dimension, they can work together all they like, but they won't be able to get back! I've won! I'm the greatest! I'm the best!!
She stood up and walked over the balcony, staring down to Earth with glittering eyes. "It's good to be the queen," she murmured softly, her eyes deep, dark, and hungry. "And inside of an hour. ..it'll all be mine."
"I'm not so sure this was a good idea now that I think about it," Carlos said, staring at the two dueling figures on the practice mats. In matching whirls of red and white, T.J. and Morgan were sparring and making an incredible show of it. The entire Youth Center's attention was now focused on them, to the exclusion of everything else.
"You're not playing fair," T.J. murmured just loudly enough for Morgan to hear him, and to hear the edge that would tell her he was joking. "Remember, the Red Ranger's supposed to be the best fighter."
She grinned lightly. "I wouldn't put a bet on that. Remember, the first White Ranger led the team for the longest time," she reminded him. "I'm not that good, but I can most definitely hold my own."
T.J. was reminded rather forcibly of that as she flipped him up, then dodged from the return kick that probably would have taken her off her feet if she hadn't moved just in time. Strikes, blows, kicks, dodges, that was how the game went, and they were both enjoying it when they heard something that brought an end to the fun.
Morgan groaned as T.J. caught her right hand firmly from where it might've taken out his left eye, and they both stepped back from each other. "That's what I think it is, isn't it?" she whispered, and he nodded. Both acting as casually as they could, they congratulated each other on a good match, and headed over to where the others were starting to get to their feet.
Comet, what's up? Morgan asked, hoping that he'd know something. Being one of the team was nice, but it had drawbacks: like getting called first into action. She was willing to stick with that, though.
I haven't any idea, was the rather annoying answer. You guys had better get to the Power Chamber, though. Despite Morgan being on the team now, White Comet still remained in the cave by the sea. It gave him more personal space than the Zord Holding Bay did, and with him being sentient, it just didn't seem right to put him in there with the other Zords. Even Lightning Cruiser and Storm Blaster didn't have quite the same level of intelligence that he did, but they did 'hang out' together infrequently.
We're on the way, Morgan said silently, her lips twitching as she remembered how two nights previously, she'd caught the three sentient Zords slipping in from a 'night on the town'. Just what they'd done, she didn't know. That was one thing she had never asked White Comet. And she wasn't going to.
Dimitria's voice pulled her from her thoughts and brought her attention back to the Power Chamber as they were briefed. "Rangers, Divatox has quite literally stolen an idea from the ancient enemies of the Rangers, Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa. She has stolen a spellbook from them, and created a monster from it, the Cactus Creature."
T.J. winced. "Not exactly the most creative name she could've come up with."
"Hey, you go with what works," Morgan wisecracked. "Besides, if she borrowed it from someone else, you can't expect a masterpiece."
"True," Carlos grinned. "Ready to kick butt, Rangers?"
Morgan felt, as she always did, the warm flush of love that came from knowing when he was saying 'Rangers', he meant her too. She nodded, and smiled as each fell into proper position. I love this part, she laughed to Comet.
I'm ready if you need me! Her Zord told her. Let's do it to it!
T.J.'s voice sparked the adrenaline rush to them all as he called out in the strongest of tones, "Shift into Turbo!"
The Cactus Creature was apparently content to spend what few moments it had until the Rangers arrived to kick it's butts just tearing up the city streets with volleys of thorns. It had been in existence and on Earth for under five minutes before red, blue, green, yellow, pink, and white light all burst into existence in front of it.
"Ah, the Power Rangers!" it growled harshly as they reshaped into themselves. "I've been waiting for you!"
Red Ranger laughed. "Well, the wait is over, and it's time to clean your clock, Cactus Creature!"
"How do you say all those 'c's at once?" White Ranger grinned, then growled as she saw several Piranatrons burst into existence not too far from them. "Never mind, I see something a lot more dangerous than a tongue twister!"
T.J. glanced where she was pointing and nodded quickly. "Carlos, Justin, the three of us'll take on this thing," he said. "Morgan, Ashley, Cassie, you guys take out the Piranatrons. Got it?"
Five fists raised in response. "Got it!" the two teams split up, heading for their respective destinations. Morgan knew perfectly well why they'd been split, not by gender, but by skill. Both teams had skilled fighters, which meant neither the monster nor the Piranatrons would get the chance to get out of there and head into the main city where the people were.
Carlos, Justin, and T.J. spread out and surrounded the creature, not calling their Turbo weapons just yet. They wanted to see what it had up it's sleeve first.
"What's the matter, Rangers?" Cactus Creature laughed, sending out a wave of thorns the three of them just barely managed to duck. "Are you afraid of li'l ole me?"
"Oh, please!" Justin snorted. "You've gotta be kidding!"
The Blue Ranger jumped quickly as another smash of thorns ripped towards them sharply. "Okay, so maybe you're not. But we aren't afraid of you!"
As the three male Rangers dealt with the monster, the females were having a grand time fighting the Piranatrons. "Hey, I think this one is related to that sushi I had the other night for dinner!" Cassie grinned, jump kicking one of the creatures in the guts.
"Oh, yuck!" Morgan slammed one of them in a certain area not mentioned in genteel company hard enough to almost knock it straight through it's head. "I think I might've just cut down on the Piranatron population in the future!"
Carlos glanced over at that; he always kept an ear peeled for anything that was going on if the team was split up, if he could. "Remind me not to upset you!" he giggled as the last of the Piranatrons vanished and the female Rangers headed over to join their male counterparts.
"Well, well, so you've dealt with my Piranatron companions, have you?" the Cactus Creature laughed, and didn't seem to be too upset over this. "I think it's time you saw what I'm really capable of! Time to say good-bye, Rangers!"
Another wave of needles shot forth from the thing, but unlike all the others it had sent, these weren't from it's arms, but from a spiny tail it had. And the way it ripped through the air. ..Justin's mind had half a second to analyze that, and the way they were glowing before they exploded right in front of the Rangers. He leaped at the first two available bodies he saw, trying to knock them out of the way. . .then everything went white. ..
When the snow finally cleared from his head, Justin sat back up and glanced around. He was still morphed. ..that was good. ..the monster seemed to be gone. ..that was better. ..he could see T.J. and Carlos a few feet away, also still morphed. ..that was fantastic. ..he turned his head the other way, to where the girls had been standing close together as they had just joined them. . .
The word he said immediately after would've had his mouth washed out with soap if his mother had still been alive.
"I wasn't quite sure what I was hearing when it first started towards us," Justin's language was somewhat cleaner once he, Carlos, and T.J. were back in the Power Chamber and he started telling them what he knew and what he could remember of recent events. "Then I remembered I'd heard something sorta similar back when we were heading into the Nemesis Triangle. I think you could probably call it 'the tearing of dimensions' or something like that. I figured the thing was trying to rip open space and time somehow, so I knocked down the closest ones to me: you guys," he gestured to the other male Rangers. "I was too far away to touch the girls just then."
Carlos hadn't stopped pacing from the moment they'd teleported in and he'd realized fully half the team was gone, who knew where. "Dimitria, where are they?" he asked, half-growling the question out. I swear, if Divatox has hurt them, I'm going to KILL HER!
"It is impossible to tell," the Inquirian said quietly, sadly. "With a dimensional rip monster, anything is quite literally possible. The White, Pink, and Yellow Rangers could be anywhere in reality itself, and that is a great deal of space."
Everyone looked depressed at that. Carlos' head jerked around for a moment. "White Comet? Could he track down Morgan? They've got that wacko psychic bond right? They can communicate telepathically. Maybe he can find her! They're sure to be together, right?"
"Perhaps," Dimitria wasn't going to jump to conclusions. "We can ask White Comet however."
T.J.'s brow was furrowed. "Which one of us asks him?" it was a fairly good question, none of them knew the fully sentient Zord quite like Morgan herself did. They weren't even sure how she contacted her partner. They just knew that talking to one of them was just like talking to both, most of the time.
"I'll do it," Carlos practically jumped up. "Where is he. .it. ..whatever?"
There is no need for that, Carlos. The Green Ranger's heart almost stopped at the warm voice within his mind. It literally pulsed with power and life and light. He could easily see why Morgan had been able to keep her secret so long, with someone like this to talk to. I fear I cannot contact Morgan, however. Our bond is strong, but it does not extend between universes. Wherever she, Ashley, and Cassie are, they are on their own. But do not fear, Carlos. Those are three of the strongest warriors I know. They will survive, and return to us.
Carlos shook his head, telling the others that White Comet couldn't get in touch with Morgan. He shivered a little, holding onto the counter with almost all his strength. In one swoop, his two best friends and his girlfriend had been taken from him, and he was not taking it well. Carlos, White Comet spoke again, and he could almost feel strong arms around him. Trust. Trust.
Dimitria watched as the Green Ranger struggled with his own grief, and then set to scanning multiple dimensions, starting with the dark ones used by Rita and Zedd. Since this thing was originally one of Rita's creations, perhaps that would be where the female Rangers had been sent, she reasoned. She wasn't going to let the Rangers know this, however. False hope would be worse in the end, then no hope at all. And right now, no hope was all they had.
"Wahooooo!" Divatox's howl of purest raw pleasure exploded through the air, or whatever it was, that surrounded the SpaceBase. "Yes! Got them! We got them! Oh, yes, yes, yes! It is so good to be the Queen! I deserve every moment of this!" she was parading around the main chamber of the SpaceBase, her facemask half-off in her delight, and her eyes dancing with cold and evil glee. "Yes!!!!"
Havoc sighed deeply. She hadn't paid any attention to anything since the Cactus Creature's universe-splitting spines had torn through the air and exploded all around the Rangers. He, on the other hand, had. "Divatox," he said quietly, knowing it wasn't going to be of any use until she had stopped partying, but hoping that just somehow she'd actually listen to him.
And she didn't stop for almost twenty minutes. By then, Havoc had already pinpointed the precise dimension that the female Rangers had been sent to. He had an advantage the Power Chamber didn't; he knew precisely what to look for in the scans for dimensional signatures. "Are you ready to listen to me yet, Divatox?" he asked as she flopped down into her throne.
She casually glanced over to him, a smug smile on her face. "What is it, dear brother? I've won! The Rangers are gone, and all I have to do now is sweep down there and pick up the pieces of my new world."
Havoc shrugged. "Sure. As long as the Rangers don't stop you."
"Rangers!?" Divatox laughed. "Haven't you been watching, dear brother? They're gone! My monster swept them off the face of the world and they're now . ..somewhere else!"
The general stood up, shaking his head. "Actually, they're in the Sildanus dimensionette, and only three of them are there: the Pink, White, and Yellow Rangers. Red, Green, and Blue are still in this universe, and most likely doing everything they can to get their little female friends back."
Divatox's eyes blazed with a bright yellow fury. "They're what!?! Why didn't you tell me this!?
"I would have twenty minutes ago, but you were busy," he retorted. "Calm down, dear sister. The Sildanus dimensionette is ruled over by Julian, Lord of the Maze. He's not going to let them out of there, and there's no way the Rangers will ever be able to rescue them."
"Are you sure?" Divatox growled. "Because if you're not, then I'm going to cause some very serious damage to you in quite a few places!"
"I am sure," Havoc's reply was firm. "Julian has his problems, but he never lets anyone go free from his Maze. In five thousand years, no one's ever solved the thing. Those girls are gone, forever!"
Divatox laughed softly, and glanced to where the monster was huddling in a corner, fiddling around with some of it's spines. "What are you doing here?" she growled. "Why aren't you down on Earth doing.. .something!?"
The Cactus Creature stared at her for a moment, shivering. "Um, I thought they were done for?" it stuttered. Divatox growled something nasty, and the monster wound up showing remarkable sense for one of the creations of evil: it got up and ran.
"Good riddance," she grumbled. "Now. . .I think you said something about how three Rangers were gone forever, Havoc?"
As Divatox settled into roughly half the gloat she had been before, the general she was unfortunately related to groaned deep in his mind. I almost wish NONE of them had been sent to the Maze-realm, at least she only rants and raves for a few minutes! This gloating is likely to go on for DAYS!!!!!!!
It was on days like this, Havoc really wished he had listened to his mother. Brain surgery couldn't possibly be any worse than world domination. And it had to pay better.
"Well now," Julian, Lord of the Maze, sat up a little straighter in his throne and smiled. "I do believe someone has entered my kingdom. I wonder who they are."
The tall, blonde man gestured briefly, and in front of him there formed a glimmering wall of ice. Reflected in it was not himself, as would have been the case with a normal wall polished to a mirror shine such as this one, but the image of the intruders into his realm. "Ohhhhhhh," he laughed softly. "Three beautiful young women. Three more to add to the collection of those who have failed my maze."
He was about to teleport out when he recognized something about them, something only those with the magical senses would detect. "Well!" his eyes widened. "I wonder what three Power Rangers are doing in my realm? This has the taste of my old friend Havoc involved in it."
The Lord of the Maze gestured, and the icewall reflected now the SpaceBase and those who dwelt within it. "And just why have you sent three Power Rangers to my realm?" he asked quietly. "And this had better be a very good explanation, Havoc."
Havoc jerked up from his thoughts and did something that would have been a smile, if he had possessed both the physical and emotional capabilities. "And hello to you as well, Julian."
"Skip the pleasantries," Divatox's harsh voice came from behind as she marched over to the image of the Mazelord that had so suddenly appeared in her home. "Who are you and what are you doing in my SpaceBase?"
Julian's lips thinned into something vaguely reminiscent of a smile. "I am Julian, Lord of the Maze, and Master of the subrealm into which you somehow sent those whom you must count your enemies. And you are, dear lady?"
Divatox almost giggled a little at the strange half-mocking courtesy of the lord. "Divatox, Queen Pirate of the universe!" she declared. "Well, my universe, anyway!"
The sorcerer smiled again. "It is my extreme pleasure to meet you, then, Your Majesty," he purred. "And now, I would like to have my questions answered. Why did you send them to my realm? You know the rules of it, so you couldn't have been trying to send them there deliberately. Not if you were trying to get rid of them, as you must have been."
"It was an accident," Havoc shrugged. "A monster ripped a dimensional gate open, and we had no idea of where they were going to end us. We were trying to send all six of them to wherever they wound up going."
"Three is more than enough," Julian said dryly. "Especially since these three are so. ..lovely."
Divatox's eyes widened. "Lovely? Power Rangers? How long has it been since you've seen a female, Julian?"
"Longer than you can imagine," he replied. "But they will make excellent lawn ornaments. Quite beautiful ones, actually."
The pirate queen raised an eyebrow. "Explain that."
Julian shrugged. "It's simple. Those who fail my maze, and the three trials that are in it, and who cannot face me at the end, are turned into stone for all time. It's been that way since I first became master of this realm. And it always will be."
"So how many have succeeded at solving it?" Divatox wondered. Julian's smile chilled even her.
"None. From the moment I became it's master, no one has ever solved it. But these are Power Rangers, and I have heard they occasionally have special abilities that make them somewhat. ..difficult," he shrugged. "Ah, well, it shall be of no matter. I will leave you now, Havoc. I have guests to attend to."
He quickly banished the icewall. He wasn't going to hint to anyone, especially not to Havoc, that he was somewhat. .intrigued. .by these girls. He chuckled under his breath. "Time to make my grand entrance."
"Would someone please tell the bongo drums in my head to stop?" Ashley winced as she opened her eyes, then closed them right back again at the brightness all around her. "Ouch. . .what's going on? T.J.? Carlos?"
"No sign of them," Morgan groaned, opening her own eyes and just barely managing to keep them open. "Cassie? You there? Justin?"
There was the sound of someone rolling to their feet, then the Pink Ranger's pain-filled voice replied, "I'm here. I don't think anyone else is, though. Just us."
That was all it took for the White and Yellow Rangers to clear the pain from their eyes and look around them. They were all demorphed back into their normal states, and with skinned faces and tangled hair were standing around what appeared to be a tall, weed-filled hill. Morgan shivered suddenly, her fists clenching.
"Morgan?" Ashley laid a hand on her friend's shoulder. "Morgan, are you all right?" stupid question, we're trapped God only knows where, and I'm asking if she's all right?!
The White Ranger took a deep breath. "I. . .I'm cut off from White Comet," she whispered. "I can't sense him or speak with him. Wherever we are, this place doesn't permit our communication."
"Of course not," a male voice spoke, and all three Rangers fell into a battle stance out of reflex. A tall, blonde man was standing just a few feet away, and he had not been there a few minutes earlier. He wore tight-fitting black leather pants, a pure white shirt with light ruffles, and a gleaming pendent around his neck that seemed to draw the eye as it turned and flashed. All of them kept their eyes away from it on pure instinct. "There's no communication in my world that I do not permit."
The three girls exchanged wary glances, not relaxing one moment. "Who are you?" Cassie asked finally. "And where are we?"
He bowed a little from the waist. "Allow me to introduce myself," he almost seemed to purr at them. "I am---"
"Jareth?" Morgan asked, shivering a little.
Julian's eyes narrowed. "You've seen that stupid human movie a few too many times, haven't you? No, I am not that fool represented. I am Julian, Lord of the Maze, and you are in my home and realm. I certainly hope you don't expect this to be like that foolish place!"
Morgan shook her head, her eyes flaring with shame at the light insult he'd leveled at her. "Wonderful to meet you. I'm Morgan, this is Cassie, and Ashley." her voice held a high-pitched, nervous edge. She did not like being alone right now. "Now how do we get out of here and go home?"
Julian laughed. "You don't. No one has ever solved the Maze, and solving that is the only way to get back to your world!"
The three Rangers looked at each other. "Do we get the chance to solve it, at least?" Cassie asked.
"Of course!" the strange man declared generously. "Anyone can try. But you'll fail. There are three challenges you must pass at three different points to get through, and once you do, you must also face me. Should you pass all three, and me as well, then you will be permitted to go home."
Ashley, Cassie, and Morgan all stood up straight, their eyes gleaming with determination. "We can do it," Morgan insisted. "Where is this Maze?"
Julian smiled icily, and gestured behind them, to where a maze that looked to be the very definition of 'impenetrable' spread out in the center of a gleaming valley. Twists, turns, corridors doubled back on themselves, and who knew what else lay in there. Morgan simply couldn't help but be reminded of Labyrinth, no matter how hard she tried not to be.
"There. You have until sunset," he gestured again to where the sun was just starting to rise behind them. "And if you fail, then not only will you remain here forever: but you will suffer the usual punishment of those who fail."
"And what might that be?" Ashley growled. Julian chuckled, and motioned one more time. The shadows fell away to reveal what could only be a human: transformed into pure stone.
Julian chuckled. "That is your fate, should you fail. Or should I say: when you fail. Try all you like, but you'll never find your way through it!"
As the Rangers looked down at the maze, and to the statue, their erstwhile host laughed again, and faded away. Cassie, Ashley, and Morgan looked at each other, and took almost identical deep breaths. "Let's do it," Morgan said. This would be SO much easier if White Comet were with me. . .we've got to get home, so I can be back with him. ..and Carlos.
Gia Cranston slowly rolled into the Youth Center and glanced around. Where is everyone? she wondered. The Rangers were supposed to meet her here, she glanced at her watch, almost ten minutes ago. She'd been late, her dad had gotten a late start this morning and put everything he was doing ten minutes behind. . .
"Hi, Gia!" Lieutenant Stone waved to her from behind the counter. "Hey, look, the guys ran out, I think they had to go do something. They didn't say what, though."
Probably a Ranger emergency, she remembered hearing her communicator beep a short while ago, and hadn't been able to say or do anything about it since her dad was with her. Justin had made her one just in case the Rangers needed her for anything around the Power Chamber or anything like that. I'll check in with them later if I don't hear anything soon. She nodded to the older man and wheeled her way over to a table, deep in thought already. Wonder if they've made any progress on finding out what half alien Justin is. One of the benefits of being in the 'inner circle' was that now she knew how Justin had done those eyebeams: he was half-alien, and as far as they could tell, his mother was the one who had been the alien, since his father was pure blooded Earthling human.
Gia. The voice in her mind shocked her, her fists clenching automatically on the bars of her wheelchair. Gia, Morgan, Cassie, and Ashley are in trouble. The Rangers could use another pair of hands and eyes in the Power Chamber to find them.
She sat up a little straighter and started casually out of the Youth Center, making sure to attract as little attention as possible. Oh? What's happened, Comet?
Some creature of Divatox's warped the three of them to an alternate universe somewhere. I'm slightly familiar with the universal signature, but I didn't want to tell the Rangers. As Dimitria told me when I informed her of it, it is better for them to have no hope for now that false hope that would destroy them when it proved false.
How are we going to find them then? She asked, slipping into an alleyway and waiting for the familiar form of White Comet to arrive. She glanced up, shivering as she did these days to the sight of the buildings so high above her. She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying so very hard not to think about the piercing pain in her back, the sickening distance she had fallen, and hearing Havoc's laughter over her. . .
The sentient Zord arrived, sliding right next to her and blinking it's headlights in a friendly fashion. We aren't. You are. He chuckled mentally to her. With a little help. A door swung open and a small ramp extended downwards.
"Whoa, Comet, I didn't know you were designed for the physically challenged!" she grinned a little as she rolled her way up the ramp and into Comet's driver's seat. "And I get to drive today?"
Not by a long shot, my friend, Comet chuckled in her mind. The only person who actually CAN drive me is Morgan. I'm too complicated for a human who isn't bonded to me to work.
Gia glanced around the dashboard, and shivered at what she saw there. A weapons display that any Army officer would kill to see, a tracking system that looked like it could trail the wind itself, a couple of other things she thought looked like upgraded and advanced versions of standard automobile systems. . .she shivered a little at the sight of some of the things she couldn't recognize, then chuckled. Morgan had most definitely left her touch in this Zord.
Hanging from the rearview mirror was a picture of the White Ranger and Carlos.
Julian watched eagerly as the girls began to work their way into his maze. He had a thousand different doors to it, and they surprised him by quickly finding one.
Quite resourceful. I do like that in females. I might not turn them to stone when they fail. As often as he'd said it, to Havoc and to the girls themselves, he didn't have to turn someone into stone who failed. He usually did it because he wanted to, and the look of anguish on their face as they realized they were never going to see anyone they cared about ever again was just so sweet!
The movie Labyrinth had been based, in part, on Julian and his realm. There were no goblins, however. Julian was the only being to exist in his realm, except for the trees and grass and animals. He was the only creature of humanoid derivation, and he liked it just that way. He valued his privacy, which was one of the reasons he'd come to this realm.
His eyes rested briefly on the one in white, Morgan, who had obviously seen that movie just a few too many times. His eyes blazed to remember how they'd mutilated 'his' character from a cold, icy lord of evil into a seductive tempter of a young girl. Even if I wanted a female, I'd at LEAST have the decent taste to choose someone OLDER!
He glanced back through the window in his throne room, and smiled to himself. They had by sunset in his world to work their way through the maze, passing the three trials, and facing him in the end. If they failed, no, when they fail! he reminded himself, then he would have three human females with which to practicing his tormenting. That Morgan, SHE is going to be stone. That's all there is to that. Stone, and I will SHATTER it!! But the other two. . .decisions, decisions. I've turned everyone else to stone. I am honestly getting bored with it.
"Perhaps I could. . .turn them into bats?" he murmured, peering at the icewall that showed them to him. "Or possibly into pigs. . .I wouldn't mind having ham for dinner one night, and pork chops the next. ..that would be interesting."
He tapped his fingers against the throne arm and shrugged. "Well, once they've failed, then I'll have to decide what to do with them. I could always just turn them all into stone, and have done with it. All I have to do is wait until sunset. And then they're all mine."
Havoc slipped away from Divatox's incessant gloating and down to his private quarters on the SpaceBase. His sister thought he'd come back to just give her the White Comet Turbo Powers, but in reality, he'd had a much nastier plan in mind. Something that had occurred to him the moment that he'd seen the map and comprehended what it was and what it could lead him to.
It would've been so much better if the White Ranger had remained under our control, he thought, locking the door behind him and leaning against it for a moment. And should the occasion arise to once more drag her kicking and screaming back to the ways of evil, I believe I just might take it. But I'm not going to go out of my way for it. And now, a little conversation.
He touched the controls of his personal communications device, and sent out a coded signal, intended to reach just one person, if person he could be called. Havoc waited patiently, oh so patiently. ..
"It has certainly taken you long enough to contact me, General," the voice was dark, low, and crackling with evil. Havoc shivered at the timbre of it. "What do you have to report?"
"Three of the Rangers have been sent to the realm of the Maze, ruled over by Lord Julian," Havoc lowered his head a little in respect. "It is extremely doubtful that they shall return, my lord. Julian will turn them into stone once they have failed his Maze."
The other nodded slowly. "And which three have been sent?"
"The female Rangers," he reported. "The White, Pink, and Yellow ones. Morgan St. Clair, Cassie Chan, and Ashley Hammond."
The person to whom he reported seemed to growl slightly at the mention of the White Ranger. "What chances on turning the White Ranger evil once again?" this subject seemed to interest Havoc's conversation companion much more than it did Havoc himself. Indeed, it had been this person who had given Havoc the very idea for an evil Ranger.
"I doubt it can be done without powerful magic or brainwashing of some type, my lord," Havoc said after a few moments of thought. "She has committed herself too much to the cause of good."
The shadowed figure nodded slowly. "It appears to be the usual thing of a White Ranger to be of the purest good. Very well. That plan shall be abandoned. I have one that is just as . ..intriguing, however." he chuckled darkly.
"Might I be permitted to know just what that is, my lord?" Havoc asked, his curiosity raised a trifle. The master shook his head.
"No, you may not. I do not wish this to be known at all, I will leave nothing to chance. Inform me if the female Rangers do happen to return from Julian's realm in some fashion, I will have further instruction for you at that time. I have no doubts they will, even this new generation of Rangers appears to be as resourceful and annoying as the ones before them. Have you let on to anyone, even your sister, of my approach?"
Havoc shook his head. "No, my lord," he said. Of course I haven't, I happen to like BREATHING!! "I have not disobeyed you."
"Good," the other nodded again. "I should be arriving within six Earth months. I would be there sooner, but this thing eats up so much energy I've got to stop every now and then in order to refuel."
"As you say, my lord," Havoc bowed again, and breathed a sigh of relief as the communications went dead. I REALLY should never have gotten in touch with him. I should've just destroyed that map and let the White Powers REMAIN lost. Then again, when we conquer this planet and sweep the Rangers out of the way, all of this will be MORE than worth it! Watch out, Rangers. . .an old foe is on the way, one you have no idea on how to fight!
"I don't like puzzles," Cassie shivered, staring at the labyrinth laid out before them. "I really don't like them."
Morgan nodded, her hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically as she stared at the twisting pathways ahead of them. "Let's get moving. We might not have a time limit, but I think the sooner we're back in our world, the better."
Ashley glanced ahead of them, and bit her lip. "Yeah," was all she said as they started forward. "Um," she whispered as they drew closer. "Does anyone have any idea on how we're going to do this thing? I know mazes on Earth have ways you can get out of them, but what if this thing doesn't have one?"
"Then we'll blow our way back somehow," Morgan growled, her eyes intent. "There's no way I'm staying here."
The other two Ranger girls looked at her, then at each other. "Miss Carlos already?" Cassie tried lightly as they headed into the maze proper.
Morgan smiled a little. "I miss him. . .and I can't speak to White Comet, remember? You know how tightly we're linked. It's like a physical wound not to be able to speak to him."
Ashley wrapped an arm around her friend's shoulders and squeezed. "Hey, we're here for you! We might not know you quite as well as Comet does, but we're here!" Cassie agreed wholeheartedly, and Morgan smiled.
"Thanks," she whispered, fighting back the tears that threatened. "It's good to know I've got friends."
The mushy moment passing, they started wandering through the maze of corridors, hallways, passages, and doors that seemed to lead back on themselves more often than they didn't. To pass the time, and for lack of anything better to do, they began to talk about the two subjects near and dear to all young girls' hearts: shopping and boys. Slowly, the conversation began to stick more and more to those of the male persuasion.
"So what's it like to kiss Carlos?" Ashley wondered as she jumped over a fallen tree branch. This section of the maze looked as if at one point it might have had much more vegetation in it, but now, it was just a dried up dead area.
Morgan smiled. "I wouldn't know," she chuckled. "We haven't kissed yet. Nothing major. The occasional kiss on the cheek. That's it, really."
The Yellow Ranger poked her friend gently in the shoulder. "You be sure to tell us what it's like when he does!"
"You got it!" Morgan laughed, then glanced over to Cassie, who had fallen silent during their walk. Her thoughts appeared to be completely elsewhere, though she was watching where she was going as much as they were. She slipped a little closer to the Pink Ranger and whispered softly, "Who's on your mind, Cassie?"
"T.J.," the other girl replied, half in a daze it seemed. As soon as the name passed her lips, though, her eyes snapped all the way open and she stared, a blush on her cheeks every bit as red as the boy she'd named's uniform. Ashley and Morgan looked at each other, and both smiled.
"Something tells me the two of you should do some talking when we get back," Morgan said firmly. "If you've got it so bad you're spacing out just by not being in the same universe with him!"
She paused for a moment blinking. Then, "Did that sound as strange to you guys as it did to me? Am I really getting so used to being a Ranger that I just made a casual joke about traveling to another universe, when the odds are fairly good that we're not going to see our respective boyfriends or wanna be boyfriends ever again?"
Cassie and Ashley looked calmly at her, then chorused. "Yes."
"Anyone have any ideas on how to find them?" T.J. glanced around. "I mean, I know it's the next best thing to impossible, but when has that ever stopped us?"
Dimitria paused in her still-secret scans of the universes and smiled gently to them. Justin looked over. "The odds are very slim. . .but I think we might be able to do it. We can try, anyway."
Carlos nodded harshly. "We have to try!" he had been pacing more and more ever since White Comet had told him that he couldn't touch Morgan's mind. The thought of losing three people he cared about so much was simply driving the Green Ranger nuts.
And I have brought some help, the mental voice in all their heads made them look up just in time to see White Comet teleporting into the Power Chamber. His driver's side door opened and a small ramp came down, producing. . . "Gia?" Justin's eyes widened a trifle.
"Yes, it's me," she smiled. "You guys forgot you were supposed to meet me or something?"
T.J. shook his head. "Something sort of came up. White Comet tell you what's going on?"
"Yeah," Gia rolled over to the computers and looked over. "Let's see what we can do."
Justin flipped a few switches idly, then suddenly sat straight up, looking at White Comet. "I might have an idea!"
"What!?!" the question came from every voice, even Dimitria's. "What is it you are thinking, Justin?" the white-robed mentor asked quietly.
The Blue Ranger walked over to White Comet. "Comet," he said quietly. "You said Morgan was the only person who knew you were sentient and that you guys were telepathically linked, right?"
Yes, Justin. Why do you ask?
"But when Divatox and Havoc took you over a few days ago, they were able to block your bond. How'd they do it?"
I have thought of that myself, Comet's mental voice was audible to them all, as was the trace of pain still evident. I believe they somehow figured out about my intelligence and bond to Morgan. The only way I know of is if they scanned Morgan while we were speaking. Her brain waves would indicate her telepathic communication to me.
The young Ranger turned to Dimitria. "Is it possible to trace telepathic links somehow?"
Dimitria nodded; that hadn't occurred to her! "Yes, it is. With one half of a bonded pair, I can trace the other half's location. But even so, with all of infinity to search from, it will still take time to find her. And we do not know what they will be going through there. There are dimensions of purest pleasure, untold pain, realms that are alternate versions of our own reality, places where history took even more divergent paths. It is truly infinity, and they could be in any of them."
The Rangers and Gia all looked determined. "We're going to find them, Dimitria," T.J. said softly. "White Comet, will you let Dimitria trace Morgan, through you?"
The sentient Zord rolled a little bit closer, not too much, there wasn't room in the Power Chamber for a lot of movement. His headlights shifted up to look at Dimitria in her plasma tube. Yes. We will find them, Dimitria. We must. For the safety of all this world.
Dimitria nodded quietly. "Then let us begin," she said quietly, and emerged from the plasma tube to lay a hand on White Comet's hood. "Infinity covers a great deal of territory and we do not have forever."
As the two of them fell into a deep trance, Carlos paced and watched as Gia and Justin began to talk over the possibilities of creating something to temporarily rip open dimensions to get their friends back, with T.J. offering the occasional observation.
Hurry up, he thought to them all, even knowing they wouldn't hear. Please, hurry up.
Since Cassie's half-embarrassed admission, the three of them had walked on in more or less silence and complete alertness, not wanting anything to jump them, and Cassie didn't want to let any more of her secrets loose. The other two hadn't pressed her for details on just how, when, or why her affections had begun to fasten on her fellow Ranger. They respected her privacy, having intruded enough on it as it was.
"Wonder how long we've been here," Morgan barely glanced at her watch; all of theirs had ceased working the moment they had arrived in that world it seemed. "And if the others are looking for us."
Cassie smiled briefly. "Trust me, they're looking for us. They won't let Divatox win for more than a few hours."
"I'm more concerned over what these 'trials of the maze' are supposed to be," Ashley said quietly. "Solving them is our best chance for getting home, and we've got no idea on what they are or how to solve them."
The other two nodded. "Be nice if we did," Morgan's heart pounded a little faster at the thought of a 'trial'. She would not forget how she and Carlos had been tested while looking for the plant that would cure T.J. two weeks earlier. I had White Comet with me then, though. . .and. ..she took a deep breath, trying hard not to think about the pain in her heart at the separation from her beloved partner.
Ashley glanced around suddenly, frowning. "Um, does anyone else hear that?" she asked.
"Hear what?" Morgan jumped over a pile of rock. "Ashley, we don't have time to stop and investigate every sound. We've got to get moving!"
The Yellow Ranger stopped, though. "I could swear I hear a kitten," she murmured, looking around, then pointed up to a small ledge about ten feet over them. "There it is!"
Morgan and Cassie glanced up to the ledge, to see a small kitten, whiter than snow, looking back at them and meowing. "Ashley, let's go!" Cassie insisted. "We've got to get out of here! That kitten's probably been here for a while! It lives here or something!"
"Heck, for all we know it's Julian's pet or something, spying on us!" Morgan insisted. Ashley kept her eyes on the thing, however.
"I just can't leave it there," she whispered. "It doesn't have a way to get down. If it is Julian's, he's not taking very good care of it. I'm going to go get it down."
The two other Rangers looked at each other, eyebrows raised and eyes full of confusion. "If you want to," Cassie shrugged. "But we're losing time."
"It doesn't matter," Ashley shook her head. "It wouldn't be right just to leave her up there. Let's see if we can morph here."
She took a deep breath. "Shift into Turbo!" a moment later, the Yellow Ranger stood where she had been, and leaped up with a powerful jump towards the ledge. There wasn't enough space for her and the kitten both, so she seized onto the ledge and started reaching around for the kitten.
"I hope you know what you're doing," Cassie watched with shoulders tensed as her fellow Ranger reached up around the edge of the ledge and picked the kitten off it. As she turned around to smile at them, a small trickle of rocks alerted the two still on the ground that something was up. "Ashley! The wall's crumbling!"
The Yellow Ranger growled something nasty under her breath, then backflipped away from the falling wall, the kitten still held in her arms. The minute her feet touched the ground, however, the sliding rocks stopped. "Ummmm. ...?" Morgan was looking around, her eyes a trifle wild. "What was that?"
"That, dear ladies, was the first of the three trials," the voice came from Ashley's arms! The kitten she'd rescued meowed once again, then leaped off, transforming into Julian as it did so! The three of them stared at the Lord of the Maze in shock. "And you are the first people in twelve thousand years to have actually passed it. Congratulations."
He didn't look too pleased, however, as he almost glared at them. "One down," he said. "Two to go. But you'll never pass those, either. See you. . .later." he vanished, leaving the three Rangers to stare at each other.
"I guess. . .we just keep going?" Cassie shrugged. That was all they could do.
Havoc made certain he'd regained his composure by the time he returned to the main chamber of the SpaceBase. Divatox was staring through her periscope at something, and he didn't have to figure out what it was. She told him, rather noisily, as he entered.
"Those blasted Rangers are trying to find a way to rescue their friends! How dare they!"
The general groaned inwardly. This isn't going to be fun. Oh, well. "How do you know, dear sister?" he asked. "You can't see inside the Power Chamber."
"I know because that blasted cripple got in White Comet and flew off!" she hissed. "And because I can't find them anywhere else! The only place they'd be would be where I can't see them in the Power Chamber! And it would make sense that they would be looking for a way to get the girls out!"
Havoc shrugged. "So? What difference does it make?"
Divatox's eyes blazed. "Because if they find a way to bring them back, we're going to have six Rangers to deal with again, not three! Correct me if I'm wrong, and I'm never wrong, but I would rather have three nuisances than twice that number!"
Elgar was still busy trying to figure out how half of six was three, as his uncle moved him out of the way and came over to his sister. "So we distract them," he said simply. "And quite probably get rid of them as well."
"How so!?" Divatox growled eagerly. "What do you have in mind?"
Havoc shrugged. "It's rather simple. We just send our monster back down. Either they'll destroy it and waste valuable time searching for their friends, who they probably won't find anyway, or it can rip open another hole between universes and send them through it. That way, we're done with them all forever!"
"Oh, yes, yes, yes!" Divatox laughed, clapping her hands together eagerly. "Just what I always wanted, a world without Rangers!" she turned to Porto. "Send the Cactus Creature back down to Earth at once!" she ordered. "I want to have a world scoured clean of Power Rangers inside of an hour!"
The scientist bowed quickly. "Yes, my queen!" he was gone a moment later, hunting for the Cactus Creature. Divatox turned back to Havoc, and smiled, sending shivers down her brother's spine.
"Havoc," her voice was far too sweet. It made him nervous. "If the female Rangers do happen to escape. . .I'm going to be very, very annoyed with you. Nothing has gone right since you came back here with that map to the White Powers. And I fully intend to take it out on you."
Her brother only grumbled under his breath as he turned to look at the Earth through the Space Balcony. And you sort of seem to notice that nothing was going right BEFORE I came back of course! When my lord arrives, Divatox, you are going to have a very NASTY surprise. ..and I think I like that!
His eyes blazed for one moment at the thought of what was going to happen when his master arrived, then he laughed softly. "What do we have to worry about?" he wondered to Divatox. "Julian will never release those girls from his maze. No one has ever solved it, or passed it's trials. And no one ever will."
"They'd better not," his sister growled. "They had better not!"
Julian was furious, to say the least, as he reappeared in his throne room. His eyes burned with an unholy fury as he slammed the icewall back into existence, and screamed, "Havoc!!!!!!"
The image of the evil general appeared, looking somewhat annoyed. "This had better be good, Julian! Have you turned the girls into statues yet?"
"Not yet," the mazelord grumped. "You know I have to wait until sunset before I can do that! And they've passed one of the tests!! I don't know how, but they showed compassion!"
Havoc shrugged. "And this surprises you? The Power Rangers are just full of the stuff. Annoyingly so."
"What are you talking about?" Julian's voice was suddenly low and soft, as if he was no longer angry. Havoc, who had known him for five thousand years, knew that meant he was furious enough to chew iron and spit out nails. "Humans have never been compassionate. That's one of the reasons I came here!"
Havoc looked calmly at him. "Humans have changed a great deal in the last few centuries, my old friend. Compassion, kindness, love, joy, strength, courage, all of those are part of their make up now. Especially Power Rangers. Those seem to be the 'best of the best', the cream of the crop type of thing. It's very annoying. They can be destroyed, though. Just change them to stone and forget your rules, Julian. As a favor to me."
The mazelord growled even deeper. "Havoc, however much humans have changed, I cannot. I must abide by the rules that were laid down by the High Ones when I made this place my home."
Havoc looked startled. "What are you talking about?"
"Didn't you know?" Julian's voice held a tang of a hiss, just enough to show Havoc he was displeased. "When I came to this place, the High Ones who govern pocket realms like this visited me. They were the ones who decreed I could live here alone, so long as anyone who did manage to find their way here had a fair chance to escape. That's why I set up the maze and the trials, not to mention facing me in the end. Anyone who solves the maze and passes the trials, still can't face me."
"Just what does that involve, anyway?" Havoc asked curiously. "Facing you, that is."
Julian smiled. "Only I know what that involves," he said quietly. "And I shall tell no one. That's my deepest secret, and the last defense I have to maintain my privacy. You're not much help to me, Havoc, and I have other things to do. Farewell."
He banished the icewall, cutting the connection to the SpaceBase, and stared deeply into space. It was already noon. The girls had been wandering around for somewhat like unto six hours already. He snapped the wall back up, but this time he was looking at the Rangers wandering his Maze. He knew everything they'd said; he was perfectly aware of every last word spoken in his realm. Something that one of them had admitted earlier recurred to him, and he laughed softly.
This is going to be so much easier than even I thought! Humans might have changed, but they haven't changed enough, and that is what is going to bring these three down!!! He laughed, an evil maniacal sound that would've impressed even Divatox. Oh, yes, he was going to win.
There had been silence between the three of them ever since they had resumed the search for the way out of the maze. The strangeness of the last test wasn't lost on them, and they kept their eyes open for anything that might be the second. "Something tells me we're each going to have to pass one," Cassie mused out loud at last.
"It makes sense," Morgan agreed. "Three tests, three of us. Traditional fairy tale set up."
"And the Lord of the Maze to face in the end," Ashley reminded them. "And no clues on how to do that. Tests and trials I think we can handle. There's always a way out of them. But facing him down. ..anyone have any suggestions?"
Cassie shrugged. "I haven't the foggiest idea. I think that's one of those things we're supposed to figure out along the way."
Cassie. . .Cassie. . .The Pink Ranger paused suddenly, her heart pounding at the voice in her mind. It wasn't like White Comet's voice, the few times he had spoken to all the Rangers. It was deeper. ..stronger. ..she knew the voice at once. "T.J.?" she whispered, feeling a jump in her heart at the handsome warrior in red she fully believed she was in love with, or at least wanted to get the chance to fall in love with. "Is that you?"
The three of them stared to see the shimmering form of their leader shimmering into existence ahead of them. "T.J.?" Ashley stared. "Is that really you?"
"You know it, girls," T.J. held his hand out to Cassie. "I can get you out of here, Cassie. Just you. Come with me."
She started to step towards him, then stopped suddenly. "Wait a second. What about Ashley and Morgan? You are going to take them with us."
T.J. shrugged. "We were only able to make a portal that's open long enough to get one out. We can be together if you come through it, Cassie. Just you and me. . .forever. .."
Cassie didn't even have to think about this. "No," she growled. "I won't abandon my friends. They're more important to me than my freedom. If I have to be trapped here, then I'll be here with them. You can't be the real T.J. if you'd free me and not them. The real T.J. knows what it is to care, to be loyal, and that's what I love the most about him. He cares about others more than himself, more than anything. Whoever you are. . .you're not him."
The image of the Red Ranger morphed, as they'd almost expected it to, into that of Julian, and he looked angry enough to hurt something. "How dare you pass the second trial!" he growled. "No one has ever passed one, much less two of them!"
He calmed himself so swiftly it was actually scary. "You may pass these two," he said quietly. "But never will you pass the third, nor will you ever succeed in facing me."
Julian melted away swiftly, leaving the female Rangers in shock once again. "Um. . .," Cassie whispered. "I think we succeeded?"
Morgan took a deep breath. "I guess we did. And if it is one person per trial, we know who's next," she glanced at her companions, then smiled at Cassie. "Glad you didn't leave us."
The Pink Ranger grinned, and held her hands out to the others. "We girls gotta stick together!" she declared. "Come on, two down, one to go, and then we show Julian you just do not mess with the Power Rangers!"
"I think we might have found them," Dimitria said quietly. "And if they are where it seems they are, then there is nothing we can do to help them at the moment. They will have to return to us on their own."
"What are you talking about, Dimitria?" T.J. looked confusedly at his mentor.
White Comet's engine ran for a moment, a sign of his nervousness right now. This explains why I cannot speak with Morgan. The master of the universe she and the others are in will not permit communication with anyone or anything outside his universe.
"What?" Carlos bit the word off. "What do you mean?"
Dimitria was the one who replied. "The female Rangers are in the realm of Julian, Lord of the Maze. Five thousand years ago, he was a drinking companion to General Havoc, a misantrophic disaffected humanoid from Earth itself. He eventually withdrew from this entire universe, choosing a pocket dimension that would grant him the power to do virtually anything he desired. The Lords of the Cosmos declared that he could remain there in privacy, but only if those who somehow found their way there could pass through the maze he lives within, and the three challenges there also. In the end, they must face him down personally, and if they fail, then he will transform them into stone. In five thousand years, there has been no one who has ever been able to solve it."
Carlos, T.J., Justin, and Gia all went absolutely white at that. "You mean. ..they're gone forever?" Gia whispered.
NO!! They all winced at the force of White Comet's mental voice. Absolutely not! Ashley, Morgan, and Cassie are three of the most intelligent, resourceful, and kind people in the entire universe. They will survive the Maze. I have faith in them.
Dimitria nodded. "As do I, Rangers. White Comet is correct," she lifted her head for a moment. "And you have something else to concern yourselves over. Divatox and Havoc have sent the Cactus Creature back to Earth to cause the usual damage and destruction."
T.J. groaned, getting up out of the seat he'd been in. "Then I think we all know what we have to do, with or without the girls."
"You got it," Carlos growled. "I'm going to tear that thing a new---," he paused just before the bad language, glancing around and blushing just a trifle.
"We know how you feel," Justin said quietly, looking over at Gia. "Gia, keep an eye out for the others, would you? If they get back before we're done kicking this thing all over the planet, let them know they're more than welcome to join in."
The young girl smiled a little. "My pleasure," she winced a bit away from the light as the three of them morphed and teleported off to do battle. She sighed, looking back at the scans that had shown them where the others were. "Do you really think they'll come back, Comet?"
Yes, I do, Comet's mental voice was firm. They are Power Rangers.
Dimitria smiled, remembering other times that she had given the Rangers encouragement of some type. "They are indeed, White Comet," she said quietly. "They will prevail. All of them."
Comet blinked his headlights a little, and retreated into his thoughts, keeping one part of his sentient computer brain tuned to that which would alert him when Morgan returned to their universe, and another tuned to the fight the Rangers were having in the downtown area of Angel Grove. I certainly hope they do, Dimitria, he thought quietly. And what you do not know, and what I do not intend to tell you, is that if Morgan and I are apart much longer, then BOTH our mental stabilitities will begin to break down. They have already begun to weaken. He did the automotive version of a deep breath. I must maintain my concentration. Morgan, my dearest Morgan, come back to us soon. Come back to me.
Morgan, Ashley, and Cassie were heading through the maze as fast as they could, jumping over obstacles, running at Turbo speed on straight level stretches, vaulting over anything that even looked like an obstacle, and as far as they could tell, they were making something that vaguely resembled progress.
"We all know who's trial is next," Cassie said, still the tiniest bit shaken from having seen T.J. so soon after admitting that she liked him, even without meaning to, to her friends. "Think you're up to it, Morgan?"
The White Ranger leaped over a tree branch, and landed a bit off balance on the other side. Steadying herself on a wall, she said only, "We'll find out. It's not like we have a real choice, look."
The other two glanced up to see the sun already well towards four in the afternoon, and heading for the sunset horizon fast. Cassie and Ashley both shivered. "Not what I wanted to see," the Yellow Ranger murmured. "Let's get moving."
"And just where would you be moving to?" an icy, and all too familiar, voice spoke. Cassie and Ashley both looked startled at what they saw, and Morgan looked flat out terrified. "What's the matter, White Ranger? See an old friend?"
Morgan gulped, staring into the eyes of what was quite literally her worst nightmare. Standing in front of her was Carlos: the nightmare Carlos she had dreamed of some two weeks earlier. The one that. ..killed me. . .in my dream. .he killed me. ..
Naked in Carlos' hand was his Turbo sword, covered with what could only be her own blood. ..she took a deep breath. That was a dream. Just a dream. It wasn't real, and neither is this. This is just a test. Something I can handle. I've been through worse. FAR worse.
Nightmare-Carlos stepped closer to them, the light glinting off his sword. He looked exactly like the real Carlos, except for the bloodied weapon in his hand, the icy look in his eyes, and the fear he inspired in Morgan. "Time for another date, Morgan," he growled. "Only this time, it's a date with death."
It. . .he. . .whatever, was coming closer to her. Morgan found herself practically rooted in place, just as she had been when she had dreamed it. She could already feel the pain that would rip through her in a moment, only this time, she wouldn't be waking up screaming, she wouldn't be waking up at all.
White Comet! she practically screamed in her mind. Where are you!? I can't do this alone! I can't!!
There was a light, evil laugh from the doppleganger in front of her. "You're all by your lonesome, little White Ranger," he hissed. "Just like you were before. I can never love someone who is evil. I can, however, destroy them."
"No!" Ashley and Cassie both reacted at once to this, jumping in front of her. "You're not alone, Morgan! And you're not evil! You never have been, not really!"
Cassie nodded her sharp agreement to what Ashley was saying. "You were forced to do evil things, but you are not evil in your heart and soul! And you are not alone!!!"
Morgan's head, which had begun to drop in fear as she backed away from the evil Carlos, jerked up with pride. "I am not evil," she said firmly, her eyes blazing. "I realized that a long time ago. And I am not alone. I have my friends, I have my family, I have White Comet. I can stand alone forever, but in my heart, they are always with me, and will be forever. And if you wanna fight, faker, then I've got something you're going to want to meet."
She deliberately struck what was an overexaggeretedly heroic pose and called out, "Cometblade!" Her sword appeared in her hand in a flash of pure white light. "And now, I believe the correct phrase is 'let's get ready to rumble!!!!'"
Her desire for a fight faded, however, as did the copy of her boyfriend. Instead of Julian appearing to take his place, however, nothing else seemed to happen. The three of them looked at each other. "I guess that was the third test," Cassie said hesitatingly. "Let's go."
"This thing isn't going down without a fight!" Carlos growled as they slammed into it again. "We need the others! We can't form any of the MegaZords without them!"
"Tell me about it!" T.J. swung Lightning Fire-Tamer out of the way and sprayed another water blast at the Cactus Creature, knocking it a few dozen feet away. "I never realized just how much of a team we all are, until we're down by three!"
Justin nodded as he practically smashed Siren Blaster into the creature's side, then managed to spin away just in time. "This is not easy. It wasn't quite this bad when you were sick that time, T.J. At least Morgan and Carlos got back here in time then!"
T.J. winced a little at the memory of when he'd been infected with the Altarian Cordon, and how the White and Green Rangers had literally raced against time to cure him. "Well, everyone's going to get back in time this time too!" he declared. "And we are not going to let them down!"
"Ha-ha!" the Cactus Creature laughed, throwing spines at them again and again. "You Rangers can't do anything to stop me!"
Carlos melodramatically yawned. "Don't you bad guys ever stop saying things like that?"
Cactus Creature responded with a volley of thorns that almost ripped through Thunder Loader's windshield, and the Green Ranger winced. Almost wish I hadn't said that! Man, I wish the others were here!
A sharp voice was suddenly heard over every communicator, Dimitria's voice, in a tone of eagerness they had never before imagined it to hold. "Rangers! White Comet has just revealed to me something that should help you in your fight! Be prepared!"
The three of them barely had time to register what they'd just been told, when strange codes stared to transmit themselves into their Zords. Then, all three of them heard a voice in their minds. Rangers, please listen. I was designed eons before your TurboZords were ever built, or the RescueZords even thought of. But I have been examining your Zords' designs, and I found three configurations that I can be a part of. Whoever designed them might not have known I existed, but I can and have had myself modified to take advantage of a few things that they're capable of, and just haven't done yet. Hit the third button on the twelfth row now, and prepare to form the Comet Rescue MegaZord!
"The Comet RescueMegaZord?" the three Rangers' barely had time to register what White Comet had told them before everything was twisting and moving around. When they could see again, Siren Blaster and Thunder Loader were on the bottom as legs, Lightning Fire Tamer had moved around until it was a chest and legs, and on top was White Comet, reshaped into the head. "Whoa!" Justin breathed. "This is awesome!" they glanced around, noticing almost with a pain the fourth seat.
"Um, I guess that's for Morgan?" T.J. whispered, feeling Comet's assent. "Well, then since she can't be here, we're going to have to figure this thing out on our own. ..let's go guys!"
As they turned towards the monster, all of the Rangers could feel a sure and certain determination filling them. They would defeat this thing, and have it done by the time their sister Rangers returned home.
And they would return home.
"Okay, would anyone have any ideas on just how we're supposed to face Julian?" Cassie growled, looking around at the broad green plain on the far side of the maze. "Or should I be saying where?"
Morgan shook her head. "Sorry. In a movie I saw, it was a lot easier, the main character just had to get to the castle beyond the Goblin City, and that was it, she faced the bad guy down there. But here. ..I don't know. About all they've got in common is that there's a maze. Only there it was called the Labyrinth."
"And if I could, I'd destroy that movie and every little thing that has to do with it!!" Julian puffed into existence in front of them. "That thing warped everything to do with my realm. ..there are no Goblins here, nothing like that! Those who fail are simply transformed into stone, and that's it!"
"That isn't making us feel any better," Ashley retorted. "We made it through your maze and we solved and passed the trials. What more do you want?"
Julian's eyes blasted with golden fire. "I am the Lord of the Maze, no one has ever solved it before! How could you pass it when you don't even know what it is!?"
The three of them looked at each other in confusion. "What are you talking about?" Morgan asked softly. "It was just a maze. ..wasn't it?"
"No," Cassie hadn't been thinking about T.J. exclusively all this time. She had been wondering about the maze, and what it might mean, all this time. She stepped a little ahead of the others. "Morgan, Ashley, don't you get it? The maze wasn't about keeping us away from our world. ..or from the people we love. ..the trials weren't about seeing how good we could be . ..it was about something else entirely."
Julian stared. Never before had anyone come through his maze, and doubly never had anyone looked as if they were this close to truly solving it! No, it wasn't possible! This human couldn't possibly know the true secret, could she? "They weren't?" his mocking tone was sharp. "What were they about then?"
Cassie stepped closer. "They were about you," she said softly. "About keeping people away from you. You want to be alone. That's what the maze was. Your desire to be alone. The trials. ..each was something you don't think humans have: compassion, loyalty, courage. And to face you down is to name those things to you. We are human, we do have those things, Julian. Maybe the people you knew when you lived on Earth didn't, but we do. Humans have changed from what you knew, and you don't have to keep doing this. You can come back to our world. ..you can be free."
For a moment, it looked as if it were possible her words had gotten through to Julian. For one moment, his eyes were soft, wide, liquid, and warm. They were human eyes, not the eyes of a man torn and hurt by those of his own kind. Then, they hardened. "No," he growled. "No, I will never go back to all of that. ..I will never be hurt again as I was! Never!"
He stepped back from Cassie's advancing form, and puffed quite literally into smoke. Where he had been, now there gleaming a crystalline door. His voice came, harsh and sad and angry all at the same time. "Go through it and go home. Leave my realm, and never return!"
The three of them looked at each other. "I guess this is what we've been working towards," Morgan said. What Cassie had spoken of had shaken her almost as much as it had Julian himself. Together, the three of them went into the door, Cassie leading, then Morgan, and Ashley bringing up the rear. For a moment, she paused, looking behind her.
"Julian," she said softly. "I wish you well." Then she leaped through.
"Morgan!" Carlos' cry ripped through the Power Chamber, just as the sense of purest joy was filling each of them that could only be coming from White Comet.
The White Ranger looked up from where she was purring and speaking to her Zord as if they'd been parted for months instead of only a few hours. "Carlos!" she grinned, leaping over to hug her boyfriend. "Oh, I'm so glad we're back!"
"What happened to you guys?" T.J. was standing very near Cassie, and Ashley was being hugged by Justin and Gia. "Dimitria traced you to some place called Mazeland or something like that."
Ashley grinned. "Close enough. We'll tell you the whole story later. Right now, I just want to sleep."
"Same here," Cassie yawned. "We just spent an extra twelve hours or so there. How long was it here?"
Gia glanced at her watch. "About an hour and a half. We've still got time to do that shopping we were talking about earlier, you know."
The guys looked at each other. "Shopping?" Carlos said carefully. "Did you say. . .shopping?"
As Morgan nodded, the three males in the Power Chamber just looked at each other, then teleported out. They'd rather deal with five monsters of Divatox's, than one minute of shopping with their female friends!
Everyone left behind giggled a little, and Morgan leaned against White Comet. "Well, I'm glad we're back. And I think we'd better delay that shopping for a while. At least until we can nap. But once we've rested. ...," her eyes went wicked for a moment, and then in unison the four of them, Cassie, Ashley, Morgan, and Gia, shouted out the female battle cry.
"We shop til they drop!"