Legal Disclaimer: You guys know the drill by now. First, to get a few things straight. I'd like to thank Jeremy Ray Logsdon for creating Jenga, Hellfire for creating Ma'erok, and WhiteZeo for creating Zesta. It was those three evil villains that inspired me to create my ultimate villainess, Mera. Hellfire, thank you most especially for all your good advice and help with this. I also want to thank my online sister Kathy for helping in Mera's creation, without you pushing me to describe just what my 'perfect villain' would be like, this would never have happened. Thanks again. Thanks also go out to Liz, for Zedd's last name. A superspecial thanks goes out to everyone who has ever written me about anything. You're all fantastic. This fic begins after the PRT episode "Parts and Parcel" and from that point on continuity follows only my rules. And now. . .on with the show, er, fic!!!

Dark Queen
by: Cynthia

It was a beautiful day in Angel Grove: if you happened to be able to breathe water. The usually sunny town was engulfed in a thunderstorm the likes of which was seen there perhaps once a year, if that often. Huge thunderclaps shook the buildings frequently, and rain swept over everything in almost vertical walls of water.

"Whoa!" Carlos Alvarez dodged into the Youth Center, shaking his head as he tried to get the water out of it, and splashing both Ashley Hammond and Cassie Chan liberally with it. "It is pouring out there!"

"Yeah, well, it's not much drier in here anymore!" Cassie growled, trying to squeeze her now damp coal-black tresses dry. "I'd just gotten all the water out of my hair too! Thanks a lot, Carlos!"

The Green Ranger flashed her an apologetic smile, then almost jumped as something came flying through the air towards him. His fellow Rangers got a good laugh when it turned out to just be a towel, thrown by T.J. Edwards. He and the last member of the Rangers, Justin Stewart, were sitting a good distance away and chuckling over the extremely moist condition of their teammates.

"The three of you look like something the cat declined to drag in," the Red Ranger chuckled. "Come on, guys, dry off. We've got to get some studying done, or we're not going to pass that test tomorrow."

Justin shivered a little. "Who would have thought high school meant all this homework?" he grumbled. Being the youngest in his class didn't help matters much either. Some days he really regretted being as smart as he was.

"Well, the sooner we get started, the better," Carlos said, rubbing the towel over his head fiercely. "School and Rangering," he lowered his voice on that, "don't go too well together, but school and summer go even worse together!"

Everyone else laughed a little as he draped the towel around his shoulders and sat down, pulling his math book out of the bag he'd brought in with him. As he clunked it down on the table, the Youth Center was rocked suddenly with a thunderclap that dwarfed all those that had come before it. All five of them glanced up; somehow, this just didn't seem quite natural.

"Are you guys getting that same feeling I am?" T.J. whispered softly, his eyes flicking from one communicator to the next as he did so. Carlos, Ashley, Cassie, and Justin all nodded. "I think Divatox could be up to something."

"Think we should head over to the Power Chamber?" Ashley murmured, leaning forward a bit to make certain no one else heard her. "Maybe Dimitria knows something."

T.J. nodded. "Let's go. We can study later. If this is Divatox, I think we should know about it," unspoken in the back of all their minds was the thought that if their enemy had somehow gained control of the elements, they were in very serious trouble.

And if it wasn't her, and wasn't nature itself in a temper. . .what could it be? Or maybe, Justin thought as they headed to their usual corner to teleport, who could it be?

* * *

Far from where the Rangers lived, far from Angel Grove, from Earth, and from all the fighting and strife that had marred the peace of the glimmering blue orb for the past five years, a small planet circled a double-star system. Circling it in turn were two moons, in eternal opposition to each other.

This planet held no life on it. It was barren and seedless, the unbearable heat of two suns having demolished all attempts at growth. So it had been forever.

There was something on it, though. Something very unusual. Half-buried in the sand of the planet was a crystal, well over six feet tall, wrapped around what appeared to be a human woman. As the twin suns rose over the horizon, it appeared for a moment as if this day would pass as every other had since the crystal and it's prisoner had crashed here so long before. But appearances can be very misleading.

One of the suns began to grow dark, as one of the moons began to eclipse it. At the same moment, the other moon was swallowed up by shadow as it was eclipsed in it's own turn. Complete and utter darkness swept over the small planet: double darkness.

The crystal cracked open. The eyes of the woman opened, revealing themselves to be a deep, fathomless green, with no trace of iris or pupil. Long locks of purest black hair spilled down her shoulders and halfway down her back as she emerged from the crystal as a butterfly would from it's cocoon, stretching her arms up to the darkness overhead. "At last," she purred, her voice deep and rich, even for one unused in so long. "At last. . .I am free. ..Mera. . .is back!"

Almost as soon as she spoke, the double eclipse ended, and once again the planet was bathed in harsh golden light. She ignored this, there were far more important things that she had to do. She held out her hand, a brief flicker of concentration crossing her brow, transforming to a smile when a column of light appeared in her hand, solidifying into a tall staff, capped by a gleaming circle of silver. Floating in the center of it, held by nothing visible to the human eye or the magical senses, was an orb. Mera glanced briefly into it, a faint frown creasing her features as she did so.

Her eyes flicked up to the sunlight skies overhead, and almost as if in response to that, clouds of purest shadow began to gather. She watched approvingly as they formed into the shape of a mighty fortress, then melted into her own pale shadow at her feet. At the gateway to the fortress, she reappeared, glancing around and nodding to herself silently. All was as it should be.

She walked firmly into the Shadow Fortress, her staff and her high-heeled boots clicking on the icy floor. She could've teleported there just as easily, but after two hundred and fifty thousand years of total immobility, Mera wanted to exercise her limbs some!

Once she arrived in the throne room, her eyes rested with cold joy upon the throne, carved of black onyx and draped in what looked like blankets of woven night. Emblazoned on the tapestry behind the throne was the image of the Staff of Aegis, along with Mera's own featureless green eyes. She walked quietly to her throne, touching the draperies with the tips of her fingers. A thousand memories burst through her mind as she did so, of times spent seated upon her throne, giving out judgments to lawbreakers, ordering the invasions and conquests of thousands of worlds, and receiving the reports of her generals when they brought back severed heads and other tribute to her feet.

She smiled almost tenderly as she took her seat, and laid her Staff across her lap. Something about the expression in her eyes would have sent anyone who was there to see her screaming for the nearest hills, but she wouldn't have minded. Indeed, she would have welcomed the reaffirmation that she was every bit as evil as she had been before her imprisonment.

Mera glanced briefly to the orb within the staff, and whispered a mental command to it. Deep within the orb, something flashed brightly, and she nodded again. It was time to go home.

* * *

"What do the scans say, Alpha?" was the first thing that the Rangers heard when they arrived at the Power Chamber. "Is there any hint of her involvement in this unusual weather?"

"Yo, yo, yo," Alpha shook his head. "There's nothing at all to indicate it!"

T.J. cleared his throat a little. "Dimitria?" he asked. "What are you guys doing?"

"This storm has us concerned, T.J.," their mentor told him, looking quietly over to him. "It blew up out of almost nowhere a short time ago, and I do not trust it. It tastes of evil, but there is no indication that Divatox is involved in it whatsoever."

The Rangers glanced at each other somewhat nervously. "If it's not Divatox, then who is it?" Cassie wondered. Dimitria shook her head.

"Simply because we can't detect her presence, doesn't necessarily mean that Divatox is not the cause of it," she told the Pink Ranger. "If Divatox has discovered some way to conceal her presence from our scanners, then we will have to increase our vigilance."

She didn't tell the Rangers of her severe doubts that this was being caused by Divatox. The pirate simply didn't have that sort of power at her disposal, and wasn't much given to subtlety at any rate. Divatox would be far more likely to throw a few lightning bolts at Angel Grove and blow it up than to just bring some rain and thunder. This is far more like someone . . .else's style.

The ancient Inquirian sorceress reached out mentally, touching several different places to determine if any of them could somehow be responsible for this. Rita and Zedd were still ensconced in their palace, simply passing the time making monsters they never used and bickering with each other. Gasket and Archerina were fighting a losing battle against the rebellion forces on Horath, led by Prince Tridor. Master Vile was indulging in some fairly nasty vices in his main palace in the M-51 galaxy. Havoc was seeing to the building of his new Metallasarus, but that was nothing to worry about any time soon, he wouldn't be finished with it for at least a century to come. Momma D was doing something viscious that seemed to involve torturing a few innocent creatures on the planet she lived on. Divatox was screaming at Elgar in the SpaceBase.

In other words, all the varied villains who had ever come near Earth were more or less taking the day off or following their normal, relatively harmless, pursuits. And that, more than anything, worried Dimitria.

"Dimitria?" Justin was looking up at her, with worry in his blue eyes. "Is something wrong?"

"No, Justin," she shook her head, hating the taste of the lie on her tongue. "I was simply scanning to determine if any of the old villains your predecessors had to deal with have been up to anything. They have not."

The four newest Rangers looked at each other in slight shock. "Who else have the Rangers fought?" Carlos asked; it had never really occurred to them that the old enemies might try something.

"Oh, tons of different types!" Alpha told them. "Rita, Zedd, the Machine Empire, Master Vile!! We're just lucky they all didn't decide to attack together! We'd never be able to fight them off if that happened."

Ashley gulped. "Alpha, if that's supposed to make us feel better, it's not working."

"Hey," T.J. broke in before Alpha could apologize or even speak. "I think we've got something else to worry about now, guys. Remember, if Divatox isn't causing this, that means that someone or something else is. We've got to find out what and now, before it's too late. It's causing some serious problems in Angel Grove."

"Then let's get to work," Justin started to go over the readouts with Alpha at once, while Cassie and Ashley went to the communications and started to see just what was going on in Angel Grove. T.J. and Carlos began to scan deeply into space. They were going to find out what this mystery was.

* * *

Deep within the Shadow Fortress, Mera's eyes were deep and distant as she thought upon the past and all that had happened in it. She flexed her fingers on the Staff of Aegis, and forced herself to keep calm. Mindless rage accomplished nothing, she recalled. Only focused anger and disciplined hatred made any true headway in the universe. No matter how long she had been sealed away, that would not change.

A slight beeping from one of the consoles caught her attention, and she raised her head to see a ship hovering outside the Fortress. With a gesture she opened up a communications channel and listened quietly.

"Strange ship!" the voice was harsh and unfamiliar to her. "Why are you encroaching on Master Vile's territory?"

Mera's eyebrows shot to her hairline in surprise. "Did you say Master Vile's territory?" she asked, knowing her voice would be heard on the opposing vessel.

"I did!" the speaker retorted. "Your ship is not registered as permissible beyond these boundaries, and we demand you either identify yourself or turn about and leave this moment. If you do not, we will destroy you."

The Queen chuckled harshly. "Are you attempting to threaten me? I've been out of . ..communication with the rest of the universe quite some time, and I can't recall the last time someone tried to make me afraid," she laid no particular emphasis on the word 'tried'.

"That is not a threat," was the reply. "Identify yourself at once, or face the wrath of Master Vile!"

Mera's eyes narrowed, and a moment later she was standing beside the captain of the ship, who had been speaking to her. Her hand curved around his throat and tightened. "What does Master Vile have to do with the M-51 Galaxy?" she growled, batting away the other denizens of the ship as they attempted to rescue their captain from this sudden intrusion.

"Urk!" the captain's fingers clawed her hand, trying to get her away from him, and she tightened her grip, cutting off his air supply. "M. . Master Vile. ..rules. ..M. ..Galaxy. ..," he managed to squeak out. Mera dropped him, her green eyes stormy suddenly.

"He rules the M-51 Galaxy?" she repeated. "And just how long has this been going on?"

The captain, rubbing his neck, looked up at her in pure fear. "As far back as anyone can remember. It's always been that way.

For the first time that she could remember, Mera looked angry. She slammed one foot harshly into the captain's guts, smiling coldly as it came out the other side, and turned to the others on the bridge. They flinched back from the brilliant green her eyes were glowing. That was all they had time to do before she was among them, her long nails lengthening into claws as she ripped each and every one of them into quivering chunks of flesh. "I rule the M-51 Galaxy," she growled. "And Vile shall pay for taking what is mine from me."

She walked over to the ship's computer and laid a hand and her staff on it, sending a mental command to the Staff of Aegis to transfer all data to her own computers. She needed information on what was going on here, even whatever little these fools might know.

Vile ruling my empire. How DARE he! He never won that contest, not REALLY! Well, he shall pay for his audacity. Her eyes glowed one final time as she teleported back to her Fortress. All I need is real information, and I know JUST where to get it from now. I hope.

* * *

The work within the Power Chamber continued, with the slowly growing tension as no results came in becoming almost thick enough to cut with a knife.

T.J. was scanning deep space, beyond their galaxy, scanning for any signals or anything coming in from the far reaches of the known and reachable universe. Next to him, Carlos was watching as the instruments scanner closer space, the internal Sol solar system, in case their enemies based somewhat closer to home tried anything. The storm had ceased in Angel Grove shortly after their arrival in the Power Chamber, but the sensations of evil were still present everywhere.

"Anything on the radio, Cassie?" Ashley stretched from her own post, looking over the Pink Ranger. Cassie shook her head and looked over from her station.

"Nothing unusual, just the regular damage reports, and the occasional blown power station. Nothing to indicate any evil influence anywhere."

Dimitria's quiet voice cut through the still air. "Rangers, you have already been here for three hours. Perhaps you should return to your homes and rest. Should Alpha and I discover anything, we will inform you at once."

"Dimitria," T.J. shook his head. "I think we should stay. I mean, there are five of us, with all of us looking, whatever it is, we'll find it that much faster."

His mentor just shook her head. "Trust me, T.J.," she said softly. "You are Rangers, but you are also teenagers. You have studies and lives of your own that should not be interrupted more than is necessary. We will let you know as soon as we have anything."

With a gesture to Alpha, the five of them found themselves all teleported out of the Power Chamber, and into the park at Angel Grove. Carlos chuckled as he shook his head. "Man, Dimitria sure knows how to get her point across!"

"Yeah," T.J. frowned briefly, then grinned. "But she is right. We need to get out."

Ashley smiled a little, glancing at Carlos a little shyly. Her heart quickened every time she saw the Green Ranger, and she'd been wondering for the past month and a half if he was going to ask her out. Ever since that dance where she and Cassie had been fighting over which of them was going to ask out that guy. ..she couldn't even remember his name right now. She'd seen how good of a time Carlos' date had been having, and she'd dearly wanted to be the person that was having that good time.

"Hey, Ashley," Carlos was looking at her suddenly, and she felt a blush trying to creep across her cheeks. "While we're 'banished' from the Power Chamber, want to take a walk?"

"S. ..sure," the other Ranger whispered softly, staring as if she had no idea why he was asking or just what was actually going on. Carlos smiled and the two of them started down the pathway they'd found themselves on.

T.J., Cassie, and Justin found themselves watching as their friends walked off together. Justin shook his head, not quite understanding the romantic edges they'd just seen. T.J. and Cassie looked at each other. "I say. . .two days and they're dating officially," the Red Ranger said sagely.

Cassie shook her head; she'd seen the tension between the Green and Yellow Rangers building up for months now. "I say by the time we see them again."

T.J. glanced at her, and smiled. "Five bucks?"

"Sounds good to me!"

And the bet was laid.

* * *

Onyx was a dark and evil-looking planet, even from space. As Mera's Fortress hovered over it, she stood on a balcony and peered downward. A light frown was between her eyebrows as her fingers played with the Staff of Aegis. "What a dirty place," she mused quietly. But it was the only place she'd been able to find in the guardship's computer banks that would possibly be of any use to her in finding out what had occurred in the universe during the last two hundred and fifty thousand years.

In the flicker of an eye, she was down there. The place was a shambles, a mixture of rickety buildings, dirt streets, and what had to be the varied foot soldiers of the piddling little empires they had here. She saw things that looked made of clay, others that were like huge birds, various types of metallic things, and all type of other creations. She snorted to herself. What a motley crew. When I was in my infancy I commanded a more powerful army than twice this number.

She spied what looked to a bar on one street and headed over there, knocking the occasional soldier and what might be civilian out of her way as she did so. As she swept in, every eye turned to her. Mera held her head up high, as befit a queen of her power, and ignored every last one of them, heading over to the bar and the creature tending it.

"Whaddya want?" the bartender grouched.

"Information," she replied, casually leaning the Staff of Aegis against the bar next to her. "And a lot of it."

The bartender snorted. "What kind? And information doesn't come cheap here on Onyx."

Mera reached out and dragged the bartender closer to her, her eyes blazing once more. "Where can I find out everything that's happened in the past two hundred and fifty thousand years, specifically everything that's went on with the M-51 Galaxy?"

"Ummmmm," the bartender had seen quite a few things since he had started this business, but the strength implicit in this woman's grip was somewhat beyond the norm even for the evil types that frequented his establishment. "There's a guy upstairs who knows quite a bit. He makes potions and things, makes a sorta living. Maybe he can help you."

Mera tossed him back behind the bar, then headed for the staircase, picking up the Staff of Aegis as she did so. The thieves, monsters, and murderers she was leaving behind all glanced at each other. Most of them had seen quite a few people try to intimidate the bartender over the years, and none of them had succeeded. A good many had died for it. But there was something about this woman that simply made them all grateful she was heading away from them all.

Thirty minutes later, when the body of the old potion-maker came flying through the wall and bounced on a table where a group of people were playing a card game, everyone was even more grateful. Mera stood at the top of the stairs, the old man's head in her hands, and casually tossed it after the rest of him. "And for the record," she purred just loudly enough for everyone to hear, "The next time I ask for information, I had best see everyone who could possibly know what I require begging to give it to me. Or what I did to him before I killed him will look pleasant in comparison. And if anyone asks who did this. ..tell them Mera."

As she melted away into the shadows, someone went over to where the old man's head had bounced and picked it up. He went pale at what he saw, and slowly turned it around to face the other patrons of the bar. Four Cogs had to go spew up oil in disgust, two Tengas had heart failure on the spot, and the monster known to all of them as Darkonda passed out in sheer fright.

The look on the severed head made it very plain to them all, that whatever Mera had done to this man, he had seen Hell before he died. Every last one of them suddenly remembered the nightmare tales of Mera, Queen of Darkness, that had been told when they were children. One of the women at a table, clad in black and silver armor and with long, curly purple hair took a deep breath. "I think the universe just got a whole lot worse," she said quietly. "And for once, that's not a good thing."

* * *

Mera sent the Shadow Fortress heading through space as she slipped the information disks into her database and watched as it downloaded. She tapped one finger against a cheek, deep in thought.

That old fool tried to say I was just a myth. No one calls me a myth, she growled under her breath as she realized that in this day and age, that's precisely what she was. Well, that will be rectified, she decided. And she knew just the place to start.

She picked up the Staff and stared into the orb. Any place in the universe could be seen in it, if she at least knew it's name or someone who was there. She resisted the urge to stare straight at Vile; occasionally those of powerful magic could sense her mystic gaze on them. She didn't want him knowing she was alive and awake again until it was too late for him to do anything about the revenge she had planned.

"And what sweet revenge it shall be," she whispered. The orb clouded for a moment, then cleared to reveal a dark, gloomy palace on an uninhabitable moon. She smiled coldly, then shook her head. First things first, she reminded herself. She was going to have to get herself a firm base of operations for her reborn empire, and that meant conquering a planet. The particular one she had in mind had resisted invasion and conquest for a good many years, and had a reputation as one that could not be taken by any force of evil.

In other words, it was prime meat for Mera, who had made a specialty out of conquering supposedly 'invincible' planets. Twelve different empires had once ruled the M-51 Galaxy, quarreling among themselves and just generally causing trouble. Mera had swept in, swept every last line of defense they had always thought was so unbreakable, and united the entire place under one banner: her own. She had done it alone too.

She chuckled to herself even as she remembered those glorious days of her youth. I conquered planets all on my own, destroyed entire nations with but a wave of my staff. Ah, memories.

Her eyes flashed suddenly with anger. She had been reduced to a mere memory, a nightmare tale for children now. Her hand clenched about the grip of the Staff of Aegis tightly, coming near to bending it in her rage. "Soon," she whispered. "Soon."

Soon, the legends of Mera, Queen of Darkness, would be spread across the universe once again. But not tales to be told to children to frighten them into good behavior. This time, they would be whispered in the darkest of corners, in the deepest of shadows, and would be the stuff from which the most evil of nightmares would be woven. Her eyes gleamed the bright green of emeralds for one moment, and she laughed.

Soon I will have my revenge, and no force in the universe shall stand against me. She went out to the balcony of the Shadow Fortress, and watched the stars whizzing by. She could have just as easily teleported to where she wanted to go, but she rather enjoyed watching the passage of the stars as she traveled. She sighed for a moment as she realized all the constellations she knew were gone, and had been for some time. For one second, she almost felt like a relic, like a memory from a time that no longer belonged here.

She shook it off quickly, reminding herself who she was and what she was. I am Mera, the Queen of Darkness and ultimate evil of the universe! she repeated to herself. I am no relic, I am a nightmare from the past that will soon destroy this present in order to reshape the future in my own dark and twisted image! She laughed. "Look out, Earth. Because as soon as I've disposed of a few potential nuisances, I shall be on the way!"

* * *

If things had been tension-filled in the Power Chamber, they were even worse now that Carlos and Ashley were alone with each other. The two of them walked through the paths of the park, not saying anything, but staring longingly at the two shadows that preceded them as the sun began to near the western horizon.

Okay, this is wonderful, I'm walking here with the guy of my dreams, and I'm not saying a word, I must look like the greatest ditz in the universe!! Ashley screamed at herself internally. I have to say SOMETHING!! "So, Carlos," she forced herself to sound casual. "How are you doing?"

He smiled a little. "Aside from being a little nervous over whatever it is that was causing that storm, pretty good."

She nodded, looking around at the pools of water still on the ground. "And find out what it was that stopped it. That worries me almost as much as having all that rain in the beginning."

The conversation, such as it was, died down after that as they walked. Somehow, talking 'shop' didn't seem very appropriate as they wandered through the park. Carlos took a deep breath and slowly reached out to take Ashley's hand as they came to the end of the pathway. She looked at him in surprise, then smiled gently, squeezing his hand in hers.

Hand in hand, they wandered through the park, breathing in the light scent of rainwashed flowers and growing grass. They didn't notice the three people walking not too far behind them. Cassie turned to T.J., her hand held out imperiously. "I believe that's five bucks, Red Ranger."

T.J. shook his head harshly, and grinned. "Not yet, Cassie. Just cause they're holding hands doesn't mean a thing. Payment on either side is held off until it's stated one way or the other by them if they're a couple. You wouldn't want your win to be in any doubt, would you?" he arched an eyebrow.

Cassie giggled, and shook her head. "No, I guess you're right. But I don't want to follow them around all day watching."

"So we don't," T.J. pointed out. "Come on, let's go do some sparring. Justin, you want to come?"

The Blue Ranger grinned a little; romance he wasn't interested in, martial arts was something else altogether. "Sure! Let's go!" anything's better than watching Carlos and Ashley drape themselves all over each other!

* * *

The planet Horath had been under the evil reign of Prince Gasket and his wife Archerina for some time now. Tridor, mightiest warrior of them all, had escaped somehow from the prince's dungeons and had been leading the revolt against their mechanical masters for somewhere onto two and a half years now. Things looked to finally be going well as the rebels were going to mass an assault on the main palace of the last two remnants of the Machine Empire.

"Gasket, should we send out the Cogs?" Archerina asked as she peered out through the window. "Those rebels are getting awfully close!"

Her lawfully wedded machine husband just snorted. "Don't be ridiculous, Archerina! There's no way anyone can get through our defenses! Just sit back and let's continue that discussion we were having yesterday!"

She sighed. "Gasket, I really don't think I want children this soon. We've only been married three hundred years, and we've got forever together."

"True, true," the prince glanced downward, and his metallic eyes went as wide as they could in shock. "Archerina, who is that? Did the rebels gain some new ally and we didn't find out about it?"

Archerina joined him by the window, and her own eyes sparked with amazement. "I do not know, Gasket," she replied. "I've never seen anything like that before, ever!"

Swarming towards the battlefield from the skies was an army unlike any other they'd ever seen or heard of. Tall, burly, covered with thick red fur, gleaming yellow eyes, saw-edged wings, tails with barbed spikes on them, and a great deal of fury, the creatures were being led by what looked to be a humanoid woman, dressed in green trousers and shirt, carrying a long staff in one hand, and apparently walking easily on empty air. She raised her head to look at the castle, then gestured with the staff, pointing first to the Cogs and then to the onrushing Horathian army. The group of things behind her nodded in perfect unison, then broke into two sections, sweeping down on the rebels and the defenders with equanimity.

"Whoever she is, I want her dead at once!" Gasket screamed as he saw her creatures shredding his Cogs in seconds, along with destroying the onrushing Horathian army. She must be trying to take out BOTH sides and take over for herself! I will not STAND for this!!! "Klankette! Cubus!" he snapped. His two chief servants, feminine versions of his father's Klank and Orbus and by metallic standards their brother and sister, shuffled into the room. Klankette looked almost precisely like the destroyed Klank, except for having copper wire curly hair and a metallic skirt, and Cubus, just as her brother Orbus had been a floating ball, was a floating cube.

"Yes, Your Majesty?" they chorused as they always did. "How can we serve you?" one of the slightly irritating aspects of their personalities was that they always spoke together, as if they were one person in two bodies.

Gasket pointed outside. "Who is that? And what are those things with her, and how fast can you destroy her?"

They were both quiet for a moment, scanning the new arrival and checking for any evidence of who it was. When they spoke again, pure awe filled their metallic voices. "That is Mera, Queen of Darkness. Two hundred and fifty thousand years ago she was sealed in enchanted crystal by the sorcerer Master Vile during a duel to determine who would be the unchallenged ruler of the M-51 Galaxy. Those creatures she is leading are her Demon Warriors, the foot soldiers of her empire."

Gasket, had he been flesh, would have paled. He had heard of Mera, but not often, and indeed had considered her just a myth, a silly story. But whether or not this was Mera herself, she was certainly leading Demon Warriors, who were easily carving up both his Cogs and his enemies. He turned to Archerina, about to order a full out attack with every weapon they had, when a hand so cold he could almost feel his circuits freezing landed on his shoulder.

"Prince Gasket and Princess Archerina of the Machine Empire, I presume?" he turned to see Mera standing there casually. "Who once attacked Earth while your father was being repaired?"

Archerina stepped forward, eyes glinting. "What concern is it of yours? You have no place on this planet, it's ours!"

Mera laughed. "I don't want your miserable planet. All I want is assurance that the two of you aren't going to attack Earth once I set up my own invasion forces."

Gasket snorted. "Why would we want that little mudball? Once was enough to try it, we're working on our own empire now!"

"Ah, but you see, I don't trust you," she smiled icily, her hand still on his shoulder with that freezing grip. "There is, however, a way that you can earn my trust."

Archerina stepped a little closer, intending to push this humanoid away from her husband, only to find the staff she carried being shoved practically in her face. "And just how do we 'earn your trust'?" the princess snarled, reaching behind her for her bow.

Mera smiled, and the temperature in the room seemed to drop several dozen degrees at that. Casually she thrust one hand into Gasket's back, ripping out circuits and wires with ease until she reached his power core and crushed it. "Like this."

Archerina screamed as her husband keeled over, the machine version of dead as a doornail, and pulled her bow out, transforming it into it's sword-shape as she did so. "You're going to pay for that!"

"I've been frozen for the past two thousand and a half centuries, I'm rather short on cash," Mera said dryly, transforming her staff into a broad-bladed sword and clashed it against Archerina's as she did so. Despite having been out of the action as long as she had been, she found her skills relatively unrusty as she thrust, dodged, parried, and exchanged blows of every sort with the machine princess.

Klankette and Cubus watched with the mechanical version of baited breath as their princess dueled with the invader. They were both starting to edge towards the door when it became obvious Mera was gaining the upper hand, and were about to break into a dead run when they heard the crunch of sharp metal going through metal, and what could only be the last gasp of the Princess Archerina.

"Stop," Mera's voice was light, almost airy as she crunched out the last of Archerina's life-force. "Who are the two of you?"

"We are Klankette and Cubus," they replied. "We serve. ..served. . .Prince Gasket and Princess Archerina, Your Majesty."

Mera's eyebrows both raised. "So you know who I am."

"Yes," they answered. "Our databanks have detailed files on the entire history of the known universe, especially on the United Alliance of Evil and it's members throughout history."

The dark queen smiled. "Then I can use your information. What I gained on Onyx was just barely adequate. I'm certain you have further knowledge I can make use of."

"We will gladly serve you, Queen Mera," the two of them both fell to their knees, such as they were. "In return for your sparing our lives."

Mera chuckled. "You know I could quite easily drain the information from your databanks into my own without having to take you into my service."

"Yes," they nodded. "But even a queen such as yourself could use lackeys and servants."

The evil one raised an eyebrow again, a single one this time. "Quite true. Very well. You shall be permitted to survive, and you will serve me well. I assume you are familiar also with the penalties should you fail to serve me well?" at their nod, she gestured to the Shadow Fortress now visible hovering over the remains of what had been a Cog army and a rebel invasion force. The three of them stood in her throne room a moment later. "Download everything you have in your files into my database as we're traveling."

As her two new servants began to work, Mera's eyes turned to the stars flying by, and she smiled softly. Nothing like a little killing to whet the appetite after all this time. And this is just the beginning.

* * *

Dimitria sighed deep in her heart as she watched Alpha complete another batch of tests and shake his head. None of the villains that had ever attacked Earth in the past were making any comebacks, Divatox was still venting her frustrations on Elgar, and no one new was approaching Earth at the moment. But something had caused that storm, and it was something magical. Something evil. For some reason, the ley line nexus under Angel Grove had resonated to something out there in the universe, and the storm had been a direct result of it. That was all they'd been able to pick up on the scanners. The ley lines all over the planet had flared up, causing storms in various parts of the world. Southern California had been hit in five different places: Angel Grove, Crossworld City, Leawood, Charterville, and North Valley, all locations of various nexi.

Something very unusual is going on here, and I want to know what it is. She closed her eyes in thought, reviewing everything she could think of and tapping into the Power Chamber computers to see if there was anything she was missing. Why do I feel as if I SHOULD know what this is? she wondered.

Dimitria stretched her mental and magical senses out, trying to touch upon where the disturbance had come from. All she received in the way of imagery back was a sense of crystal, of freedom, and of purest, deepest, most hideous evil. As her eyes flew open involuntarily, she found her hands were shaking at the very taste of it.

"Alpha," she said, glad to find her voice was firmer than her hands were, "run a scan on the Sandern system in the Tralerg galaxy," she told him. "I picked up a few things coming from there that might have a bearing on all of this."

"Yo, yo, yo!" her little robotic friend was on the job. "You got it, Dimitria! What do you think this is, anyway?"

She didn't answer for a few moments, then looked directly at him. "I am not certain, Alpha. But it is bad. Very, very bad."

As he got to work, Dimitria closed her eyes again, and did something she seldom did. She prayed.

* * *

General Havoc, brother of Divatox, Queen Pirate of the Universe, was enjoying a quiet cup of tea and plate of muffins with his mother, Momma D, having left his robot warriors to build the new Metallasaurus without him. They didn't usually spend too much time together, but after Havoc had come so close to destroying the Power Rangers, and brought back some measure of pride to the family line, that was changing.

"I really think we should do something about your sister, Havoc," Momma D sipped quietly at her tea and gazed into it thoughtfully. "She has become almost as hopeless and helpless as that foolish Rita."

Havoc chuckled a little. "Quite true, Mother. But what can we do?"

The ancient sorceress tapped her fingers against the tea cup. "I suppose we're going to have to go and take over operations there. She's brought down the family long enough. It was bad enough when your brother and his wife produced Elgar, but now with her failing to conquer Earth," she shook her head. "If we don't do something, then we stand to lose a great deal of power and prestige in the Alliance."

Havoc nodded thoughtfully, and appeared to be on the verge of speaking when a servant burst into the chamber, bowing quickly to both of them. "M'lady, m'lord," he babbled, "there's someone here to see you!"

"Who is it, Jervis?" Momma D asked. "What do they want?"

Jervis' eyes were wide with fright, an event that had never happened as long as Havoc could remember. He'd known the servant since his childhood, and never could he recall anything frightening him. "M'lady, she simply demands entrance, she hasn't said what she wants, she wishes to see you both, she said if I didn't tell you that she'd. ..she'd. ..." he broke off, shivering.

Momma D rose up. "Send her in," she ordered, sending Jervis scuttling out. She had no idea who this might be, but if they wanted trouble, they were more than going to get it. She glanced to her son. "Are your robot warriors ready for trouble?" she hadn't gotten as far as she had in the realm of evil without being suspicious of her own grandmother. And she had wound up killing her own grandmother as well.

"Always, mother," Havoc slipped his sword to where he could easily get to it, and prepared to receive whoever this strange visitor might be.

"M-may I present Her Royal Majesty, Mera, Q-queen of D-darkness," Jervis stuttered as he returned to the room, then was pushed out of the way by a humanoid figure.

Momma D and Havoc looked at each other, and both laughed. "A fairy tale comes to see us?" Momma D couldn't believe her ears. Some poser pretending to real power by taking the name of the most powerful being of evil known in the entire universe! This was what had shaken Jervis? Whoever this was, she was obviously a good actress; either that, or Jervis was very gullible.

"I am no fairy tale," Mera spoke quietly, firmly. "You are Momma D, mother of the pirate Divatox, and General Havoc, who provided her with the Metallasarus and the SpaceBase she currently uses?"

Havoc snorted. "Yes, and what do you intend to do about it?"

"You have both attacked Earth?" she asked, glancing casually from one to the other, her staff held loosely in one hand. Momma D glanced at it, and felt a shimmer of fear down her back. That. . .that has power. ..could that be the REAL Staff of Aegis? Only Mera was ever able to wield that. . .so. ..she. . no, it must be an impostor, there is no Mera!

"Actually, I never did," the ancient witch corrected. "I was attempting to help my daughter destroy the Power Rangers. I never attacked Earth."

Mera shrugged. "All the same to me. You have meddled with that planet, and as I intend to conquer and enslave it, by retroactive decree you are guilty of interfering in my plans. The penalty is death."

Havoc and Momma D both guffawed. "You are going to kill us? I think you forget who we are!" Momma D snapped.

She stepped towards them, her heels clicking on the floor, and her eyes burning a brilliant emerald. "I think you forget yourselves," her voice was low and deadly. "Your servant," she gestured to the corner where Jervis had apparently leaned over and died of a heart attack, "announced me as who and what I am, Mera, Queen of Darkness. I am quite certain you both are familiar with the name. I might have been considered a myth for all this time, but I assure you, I am quite real."

Momma D had heard enough. In an imperious gesture she threw out one hand, blasting a brilliant blue fireball that enveloped this intruder from head to foot. She chuckled to herself. "So much for Mera, the Queen of Darkness!" she mocked. All the blood drained from her face, however, when the fire faded, and Mera stood there, completely unharmed and without so much as a singed piece of clothing. "What!? How!?"

Mera tapped one finger against the Staff of Aegis. "I cannot be harmed by other's magic, you fool!" she laughed. "But rest assured. .you can!" she lifted the Staff and pointed it at Momma D. A fireball half the size of what had been thrown at her burst from the tip of it and flew straight at Momma D, enveloping her to the eyebrows. Mera watched in sadistic pleasure as the sorceress screamed and writhed, trying helplessly to put out the enchanted flames.

"Mother!" Havoc screamed, shocked by what had just happened, but not so startled he couldn't seize his sword and rush directly at Mera. So caught up was she in watching his mother burn, he managed to open up a cut on her cheek before she turned to look at him. "You killed my mother!"

Mera touched where his blade had cut her, raising one eyebrow as black blood leaked from the wound. "I don't remember the last time someone actually shed my blood," she said half-wonderingly.

"And this is just the beginning!" Havoc growled. "You will pay for this!"

She smiled, and he felt fear as the cut sealed itself, healing in seconds. "I think not," was all she said as she lifted her staff and transformed it into it's sword-form.

General Havoc was a fantastic fighter. He had trained for centuries, and had experience in every form of combat he could possibly learn. He had taken on five Power Rangers and pushed them back, with relative ease. There was no one he couldn't beat, he had always believed.

He was quickly finding out that this wasn't true. Whoever this was, Mera or not, she was a fighter with skills and experience so far beyond his it wasn't even funny. As they drove each other across the room, it became apparent that whenever he got in a good hit on her or pushed her back even the tiniest bit, it was because she was letting him. She was toying with him, drawing the fight out. Even as he realized that, and looked up at her, her lips curved into a cold smile, and he barely had time to register the fact she'd just knocked him off his feet. She quietly planted a foot on him and gazed down almost lovingly.

"Who are you?" he whispered, staring up into her emerald eyes. "What are you?"

Mera quietly transferred her sword to her left hand, and held her right up before her, curled into a claw. Before he could move or think, she plunged it down quickly into his chest and jerking it back out. He stared as one of his few still organic parts pulsated in her hand: his heart. She smiled. "I am Mera."

* * *

The sensations of their deaths hit the Morphin' Grid like the proverbial ton of bricks. All over the universe it was felt. Rita and Zedd stopped their ceaseless bickering to look up. Master Vile's fists clenched suddenly. Dark Spectre felt a wave of fear crash into his frozen heart. Divatox burst into tears as she recognized the feeling of the deaths of her mother and brother, and Elgar wasn't much better.

Zordon paused in his meditations on Eltar to lower his head in respect to the passing of two mighty minions of evil. They were his foes, but they had been worthy foes to the Rangers on Earth, and the old wizard wished them both luck in their rebirth, hopefully to the side of good this time. But he also wondered just what it was that had killed them, practically simultaneously and with all the viciousness that he had sensed it had occurred with. Could it be her? he wondered. He took a deep breath. If it is, may all the gods be with us all.

On Earth, Dimitria's eyes flew open with fright as she realized what she had just sensed. "Alpha, what have you discovered so far?" she asked, hoping that the robot couldn't detect the fear in her voice.

"Yo, yo, yo, Dimitria, the only thing I've found is some spellmade crystal that's been half-disintegrated already," he told her. "Whatever or whoever was in it is long-gone!"

She took a deep breath. "Conduct a history search of the database, Alpha, concentrating on anyone or anything of great evil kept in crystal of any type over the last. ..oh, however far back the records go. I've got something I want to check into. I'll be back as fast as I can."

Before Alpha could say yes or no to her, Dimitria vanished in a globe of purest white light. Moving as fast as only she could, she was in the ruined chamber where Momma D and Havoc had perished only moments ago. She stood there, not believing her eyes.

Whoever had done this was gone now, but they had left devastation in their wake. A pile of ashes was the only thing left of Momma D, and Havoc's heart had quite literally been torn out of his chest. At least she assumed that's what the gaping hole in the middle of him meant, there was no sign of the organ anywhere, and that more than anything was what was turning the ancient sorceress of good paler and paler.

Who could have done this? she wondered. Who could POSSIBLY have done this?

"There's only one creature in all the cosmos who possesses this power, Dimitria," she looked up in startlement to see her old friend floating before her.

"Zordon," she smiled, despite the devastation around her and the fear. "Who has done this?"

The ancient wizard sighed. "A being I had hoped would never be released onto the universe again. Have you ever heard of Mera, Queen of Darkness?"

"Yes, everyone has," Dimitria shrugged. "But isn't she just a myth?"

Zordon, now free of his time warp and possessed of a full body, gestured to their surroundings. "No myth did this, my old friend. Mera is quite real, and she is free again."

"You mean that story of how Master Vile trapped her is true?" the Inquirian wasn't quite certain how to take that! Mera, the most powerful sorceress and minion of evil the universe had ever known, real, alive, and for all they knew, headed for Earth? The tales Dimitria had heard of her evil had given her nightmares as a child, and those had been toned down for her at the time. To actually face her, to have Rangers under her guidance facing her, that sent chills down her spine.

Zordon nodded, and she could see the fear in his eyes as well. "I have faith in you, Dimitria," he said firmly. "I would not have asked you to aid the Rangers and guide them otherwise."

"I would feel much better about this if I knew just what she was doing," Dimitria admitted. "If she were going to attack Earth or not. The Rangers are strong and are learning to work together as a team, but they are also so very new. If Mera attacks and overwhelms them. ...the Earth could fall."

Zordon laid a hand on her shoulder, and she could feel herself relaxing at the wisdom and strength implicit in the touch. "Have faith," he said firmly. "And should you need any help, we are all always available."

"Thank you, Zordon," she replied. "I had best get back to Earth now, before anything does happen. The Rangers are going to have to be told of this."

He simply nodded, then vanished, melting away into thin air. Dimitria took a deep breath, and waved a hand, transporting all the remains there to a proper burial. It was the best she could do for them, and more than many would have said they deserved. As soon as they were gone, Dimitria returned to the plasma tube in the Power Chamber, and looked down to see Alpha looking back at her with a worried glint to his robotic visor.

"Dimitria, I found something," his voice sounded unutterably terrified. "Something very bad."

Alpha, you have NO idea how bad this is, she thought. "I found something too, Alpha. Call the Rangers. They're going to have to know this."

* * *

Over the years the Angel Grove Youth Center Gym and Juice Bar had seen many changes. It had begun in 1880 with Ernie's great-grandfather, Ernest, as the Juice Saloon, and had developed over the years into one of the finest establishments in town. Ernie had hosted dozens of martial arts and gymnastics events here, school elections, musical festivals, arts and crafts shows, anything and everything he could do to give a little back to the community that had nourished him so much over the years. When he had left for South America and given the place to Lieutenant Stone, the former police officer had thrown his entire heart into the place, following in his predecessor's footsteps, serving to the best of his ability.

Now he was watching as three of the local young martial artists were plying their skills on the training mats. He sighed a little, remembering all the others he had seen over the years. So many kids, always the tight bonds, always into physical activity and helping out as much as they possibly could. These were no different.

T.J. leaped at Cassie, who ducked out of the way and whirled underneath him, striking out with a sharp kick to his leg that he backflipped out of the way from, only to run straight into a double punch by Justin, who wiggled away from the Red Ranger just in time to get tagged by a leg sweep from Cassie that knocked him down for a moment. He was on his feet and twisting away from them both in the next second, as T.J. did a tornado kick that caught Cassie in the chest, knocking her back a little bit. He almost asked if she were all right, until she ducked under Justin's fist as it came flying towards her and flipped both male Rangers to the ground by their knees.

"You're good!" T.J. chuckled to his friend. "Man, that was a good workout!"

"What do you mean, was?" Justin grinned. "Are we done already?" his blood was pumped full of adrenaline, and the young Blue Ranger felt like he could work out forever right now.

T.J. and Cassie both looked at each other, then just chuckled as they squirmed to their feet. "Well, well, well," Cassie grinned as she noticed the doors to the Youth Center swinging open and Ashley and Carlos walking in. "Look who's here!"

"Hi, guys!" Ashley waved with her left hand, since her right was still firmly wrapped around the Green Ranger's. "What's going on?"

Justin shrugged. "Just a little workout. You guys wanna join in, I'm still pumped!"

"Sure," Carlos nodded; he'd only really started working out since becoming the Green Ranger. It really helped during those battles with Piranatrons, if they didn't have time to morph yet. "Let me go ge-"

His voice was broken off by the six-toned beep of their communicators. "Wonder what they've found out," T.J. whispered.

"Let's go find out," Cassie glanced around as they headed over to their usual teleportation spot. Something told them all once they got to the Power Chamber, nothing would ever be the same again.

* * *

"What's up, Dimitria?" T.J. asked once they were all back in the Power Chamber. "Have you found out what caused the storm?"

Dimitria looked at them all quietly, and spoke. "We have, Rangers, and it is not good. But first, I have some information for you all. It has come to our attention that someone has been killing off all the surviving villains who have ever attacked Earth or been involved in it's affairs in any way."

"Killing them off?" Carlos repeated. "Who? And why?"

The sorceress hoped that her voice would not betray how nervous she was as she prepared to tell the Rangers what was going on. "Prince Gasket and Princess Archerina were destroyed on Horath earlier today," she reported. "They were followed into death by Momma D and Havoc."

All five Rangers looked in purest shock and fear. They had never heard or conceived of the idea that someone could or would destroy the villains they had either heard of on the news or had fought personally. "Who would do that?" Ashley asked.

Dimitria took a long breath. "There is only one being, Rangers, who both is capable of this, and who would do this. That is--" what she was going to say was cut off as the entire Power Chamber shook to the very foundations. A few rocks and some gravel fell from the ceiling, and Ashley found herself grabbing onto Carlos for dear life as all of them were knocked off their feet.

Alpha grabbed onto a console as the earthquake ended and stared at the plasma tube. "What's going on, Dimitria?" he wanted to know. "The Power Chamber's supposed to be sealed off from every kind of seismic activity possible! This shouldn't have even happened!"

The Inquirian closed her eyes briefly, and shivered. At the precise moment of the quake, she had felt an evil presence unlike any she had ever sensed before entering the solar system. "Alpha, scan the system for any new arrivals. Something strange has happened." and I believe who it is.

"That's one way to put it," the little robot grumbled as he began to search as ordered. He wasn't expecting to really find anything new, and was somewhat miffed at Dimitria for not answering his question right away. All thought of that left his robotic mind, however, as the results of the scan started to come back in. "Dimitria," he whispered. "Something very large and very evil has entered Earth's solar system, and is heading our way. The only thing it matches in our databanks is from so long ago, I'm not even sure if this is right or not."

"Alpha?" Justin looked at him. "What is it?"

Dimitria answered for him. "If it is what I suspect, it is the Shadow Fortress, home and base of Mera, the Queen of Darkness."

Everyone looked a trifle confused at that. "Who?" Carlos asked. "I've never heard of her before."

"Very few still alive have," Alpha reported. "She was the ultimate evil in the universe two hundred and fifty thousand years ago."

Their mentor continued, "In a duel with Master Vile, she was imprisoned in crystal that was enchanted only to break under double darkness."

T.J. frowned. "Double darkness? What did that mean?"

Dimitria shrugged. "The spell that Master Vile used was not a planned one. He blurted it out under great pain from the effects of a half-bounced back spell that Mera had cast at him."

"Well, this Mera person, she can't be any worse than Divatox, can she?" Carlos wanted to know. He looked at Dimitria when she didn't answer, and felt himself going pale when the silence continued. "Dimitria?"

"Yo, they didn't call Mera the Queen of Darkness because she was nice, Carlos!" Alpha interjected into the deafening silence. "I think we are in for some major trouble up ahead!"

Dimitria looked down to the Rangers, and for the first time since they had been given their powers, she wondered if these teenagers were tough enough to do this. Divatox was a formidable foe in her own right, but Mera. . .Regardless, they are the Power Rangers, she reminded herself. As I told them once before, Divatox could not take their courage, and neither shall Mera. "I foresee a very tough fight ahead of us, Rangers. But I believe in you. No matter what Mera throws at us, and I believe it will be bad, to say the least, we will stand against her."

The Rangers looked at each other. The safe, secure world they'd had until now was starting to fall apart. They'd fought against Divatox from the moment they'd become Rangers, they didn't really know how to fight anyone else. But Dimitria believed in them, and they in her. And it wasn't as if they really had a choice. They weren't going to give up. If this dark queen wanted Earth, she was going to have to go through their dead bodies to get it, and that was precisely what T.J. said.

Dimitria decided it was wiser not to mention to them that Mera had made a habit of going through Power Rangers like Swiss cheese.

* * *

"Porto!" Divatox's lungs could take a lot of damage, and that was to the good, since she usually abused them several times in one day. "I want to know what happened! Someone has killed my mother and brother and I want to know who had the audacity to do it!"

The chubby scientist shivered as he popped up next to his queen. "My queen, I don't know who did it, and there's no hints anywhere of what happened, the scans I did of your mother's palace indicate a strong presence of good there, but not until after the deaths took place."

Divatox snorted. "Those stupid minions of good wouldn't have done it, it goes against their 'morals'," her voice dripped pure sarcasm. "Someone evil did it."

Rygog considered briefly. "Queen Divatox, there is almost no one who would do this," he said. "Your family is held in the greatest of fear and respect throughout the known universe, it would be against common sense for any member of the United Alliance of Evil to attack them."

"Rygog," Divatox growled, "First, there's more beings of evil out there than are in the Alliance. Second, as long as they get away with it, murder isn't against the rules of the Alliance. Anyone could have done it, and without any witnesses, they're going to get away with it unless we somehow locate whoever it was. Is. Whatever!"

Elgar was peering outside the SpaceBase; he'd spent all of a minute and a half mourning his grandmother and uncle, and then his attention had been distracted by a Lunar Bat flapping by. "Uh, Auntie D," he said.

Divatox ignored him, marching over to the sensors and shifting them to scan her ancestral home. "I want to find out who did this!" she screamed. "And I want to find out now!"

"Auntie D!" Elgar repeated, louder. Divatox once again took no notice of him. Finally, he screamed every bit as loudly as she was capable of, "Auntie D!"

Divatox whirled around, eyes blazing. "Elgar, this had better be good!"

Her jaw dropped as she saw what he was pointing at, sweeping majestically up to the SpaceBase. Every tale she'd ever been told as a child came crashing back to her, and the rage of having her family members killed drained away at the sight of the Shadow Fortress hovering in space. "Porto," she whispered. "Tell me that's not what I think it is."

Her science advisor took a look at it, and went even whiter than he normally was. "I. . .I can't, my queen," he found it necessary to hold onto a railing as he stared, and flipped a couple of scanners just to make sure. "That's the Shadow Fortress. Queen Mera's Shadow Fortress."

"Mera?" Rygog gulped. "But---"

"If you say I'm just a myth, I swear I will take your head off so fast it'll be a week before you notice," a female voice growled, followed by the appearance of a young-looking humanoid on the bridge of the SpaceBase. Her eyes pinned at once on the space pirate queen. "You are Divatox, currently attacking this planet of Earth?" she snapped.

Divatox took a quick series of breaths, trying hard not to hyperventilate. "Yes, I am. What is it to you?"

"I bring a gift to you," Mera smiled. "From your brother," she tossed something small and hardening across to the pirate, who caught it automatically. Her eyes went wide as she recognized what could only be a heart.

"Havoc," she whispered, then glared at Mera, her fear forgotten in the face of rage. "Piranatrons!" she ordered suddenly, snapping up two schools of the creatures at once. "Destroy her!"

Divatox watched in cold delight as her fish warriors swept down onto Mera, intent on tearing her to shreds. Mera, outnumbered twenty to one, didn't seem too impressed, however, as she started swinging in her own turn. The pirate queen had seen her warriors defeated by the Power Rangers many times, but this was the first time since Murianthus she'd been up close and personal during the fight. And she didn't like it any more than she did watching it from afar, as the Piranatrons were all tossed aside by Mera.

"Was that supposed to be a fight?" the evil queen asked, tucking a stray hair back into place. "I'm not even out of breath."

She glanced quietly from Divatox to Elgar to Rygog to Porto, and back again, almost as if measuring each and every one. "You have heard of the myths about me, correct?" she pronounced the word 'myth' as if it were a personal insult, and a low growl escaped her when they all nodded. "Then you know how much I enjoy killing. But what you probably don't know is this," her hands shot out to wrap around Divatox's throat with lightning quick speed. "I enjoy killing with my bare hands. It's so much more. ..personal that way."

Mera dragged the pirate closer to her, and gazed into her eyes with something that might have been tenderness. Divatox winced, feeling the power of Mera's thoughts casually scorching through her own. "Why are you doing this?" she whispered, staring up at her enemy. "Why kill my family?"

"Oh, it's nothing personal," Mera told her. "I'm not killing your family, precisely. I'm getting rid of anyone still active who has ever laid eyes on my new conquest to be, Earth. I will not permit competition."

Those were the last words Divatox, Queen Pirate of the Universe, heard before her neck was snapped in three different places, almost simultaneously. Mera let the body drop to the floor, and glanced at Porto, Rygog, and Elgar. "You have a choice," she said simply. "I am rebuilding my empire and need servants. You work for me, or you die. There are no other options."

Elgar spared a half a glance for his fallen aunt, then looked straight at Mera. "You're the boss!" he said simply. Rygog and Porto looked at each other, then at Mera, who looked to be growing more and more impatient with each passing moment.

"What do you wish of us, Queen Mera?" Porto finally asked. "We are at your service."

"Get anything you want to keep with you off this place, and go to my Fortress. The two robots in the throne room will assign you quarters and once I've taken care of one last bit of business, then we're going to get started on conquering this planet and taking back what is rightfully mine."

As the three of them scattered throughout the SpaceBase, Mera wandered casually over to where Divatox's periscope was now waiting vainly for her to ever return to use it. She peered through it, turning it until she reached what she was looking for. She smiled to see her final goal doing just what she'd been told they would be: arguing ceaselessly. What fools. I certainly hope they've enjoyed their time together, because both that and their lifespan is going to be cut incredibly short in a very little while.

"Your Majesty," she turned to see the three newest servants of her empire standing behind her, with various bundles, packages, and suitcases. "We are ready."

She nodded approvingly; they had barely taken two minutes. She liked that sort of speed with those who served her. "Go to the Fortress," she instructed, endowing them with the ability to pass by the shields she had on it. "I will be there shortly."

As they vanished, she glanced around. There was nothing here worth taking. She had all the information she wanted, and this place was far too cheerful for her tastes. With a flicker, she was back on the balcony of the Shadow Fortress. All of her new servants looked up as she appeared, but none of them dared say anything as she pointed one finger at the SpaceBase. From the tip of it burst a bolt of lightning, arcing across space to shatter the former bastion of evil into dust.

Elgar made a little 'eep' as the home they'd had for the last few months exploded, then shut up as Mera turned back to them. Quietly she swept back over to her throne and sat down, ignoring his shaking. So far, today was turning out very well for her first day of action in over two thousand centuries.

One last thing to do. Then, the conquest of Earth. And then, once my empire is reborn and strong again, look out Master Vile, her eyes glowed briefly. An old enemy is coming back, with a major vengeance.

* * *

The Rangers wandered a bit around the Power Chamber. The announcement that Mera was coming had put everyone out of sorts. They were all nervous, upset, and jumpy at the slightest noise.

So when the alarms set to monitor Divatox's SpaceBase started blaring, it wasn't too unusual that all five of them almost jumped out of their skins. "What's going on?" T.J. snapped. "What's Divatox up to now?" and why couldn't she have waited?

Alpha checked the scanners quickly, and when he spoke, his voice was literally shaking. "R-Rangers, Divatox isn't up to anything," he whispered. "The Morphin' Grid just registered her death, and the scanners picked up the explosion of the SpaceBase. They also detected the Shadow Fortress taking up an orbit over Earth."

T.J., Carlos, Ashley, Cassie, and Justin all stared first at Alpha, then at Dimitria who nodded, confirming everything. "So. .who is left?" Ashley whispered. "I mean, of the evil?"

"Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd, who were the very first to attack Earth, are the only two left. They have been living on the moon with their lackeys for the last year and more, but have refrained from attacking," Dimitria informed them. She had always kept an eye on them, as well. If they tried anything, she had wanted to know about it. "It is reasonable to assume that Mera will attack there and destroy them, since Rita and her brother are the offspring of the one who imprisoned her, as well as having attacked Earth in the past."

Carlos jumped up. "Is there any way we can warn them? We can't just let them be killed, even if they are evil! It wouldn't be right!"

"Carlos is right!" T.J. agreed. "Couldn't we send them a message or something to clear out before she gets there?"

Dimitria smiled behind her veil. This was why these five had been chosen to be Rangers. They cared about everyone. "We will do what we can," she replied. "Alpha, see if you can get in touch with the Lunar Palace."

* * *

Rita and Zedd were arguing again. Well, 'again' might not have been the proper word to use. They never seemed to stop. For thirty seconds they had paused when the sensation of Momma D, Havoc, and Divatox dying had swept through the palace. Then it had started up again, and it didn't look as if they were going to be stopping anytime in the near future. Whatever or whoever had killed their fellow minions of evil, they weren't concerned over it. Their fighting was far more entertaining.

"I don't care what you say, I still think we should attack Earth!" Rita screeched. "We've got the monsters, we've got the Tengas, what more do we need?"

Zedd roared back at her, "How about a decent plan? Think a little, Rita! If we just send in a battalion of monsters, the Rangers will knock them down in nothing flat! We've tried that before, remember? And what did it get us? Kicked out by the Machine Empire!"

"Don't mention those toasters to me again, Zedd!" his wife howled. "I still hate thinking about that six months we spent with my dad!"

"How do you think I feel?" the self-proclaimed master of evil retorted. "He kept calling me 'Ed' the whole time!"

Their never-ending quarrel paused suddenly as Finster rushed in. "Lord Zedd, Queen Rita!" he cried out. "We're receiving a transmission!"

The two of them looked at each other. "From who?" Rita wondered. Who could be calling? If it's my dad, he'd better not reverse the charges this time!

Finster looked in complete shock. "Dimitria!"

Zedd and Rita stared at each other. "What does that goody two shoes want?" Zedd growled. "Accept the call, Finster!"

A moment later, the image of Dimitria, with the shadowy form of the Power Chamber behind her, appeared in the throne room. "Greetings, Rita, Zedd," the Inquirian spoke politely.

"What do you want?" Rita snapped. "Why are you calling us? We're on opposite sides, remember?"

Dimitria nodded. "I have news, however, that is of vital importance to you. Mera, Queen of Darkness, has returned, and has destroyed Gasket, Archerina, Momma D, General Havoc, and Divatox. We have reason to believe she is already heading for your palace. Please take whatever steps you feel necessary to preserve your lives, should you wish to do so."

Rita and Zedd looked at each other, then both burst out laughing. "Good joke, Dimitria!" Rita cackled. "Everyone knows that there's no such thing as Mera, and even if there was, my father defeated her two hundred and fifty thousand years ago!!!"

With a gesture, she had broken the connection between the palace and the Power Chamber and turned back to Zedd, preparing to start screaming at him again. She was interrupted by Goldar and Rito running into the throne room, both looking terrified.

"Lord Zedd, Queen Rita!" Goldar called out. "It's an emergency!"

Rita ignored them, taking a deep breath as she prepared to screech again. Her fighting was more important than anything that goody-good Dimitria or her stupid brother had to say. However, Rito, whose skeletal eyes were bulging out in purest fear, ran over to his sister and grabbed her by the shoulders, forcing her around to look at him. "Sis," he growled, looking non-stupid, if not intelligent, for the first time since his arrival in her court. "Remember those bedtime stories Dad used to tell us, about how he beat Queen Mera?"

"Yeah?" Rita had been going to scream at him for interrupting her rather satisfying fight with her husband, until the word 'Mera' came from him. "What about them?"

"Um, something tells me that those weren't fairy tales and that she's right outside the palace."

Rita could literally feel herself going pale, and her stomach cementing itself together. "Rito, tell me this is some fake attempt at a very bad joke." could. . .Dimitria have been telling the truth?

"Rita," Zedd had went to look outside the minute he'd heard Mera's name. He hadn't wanted to believe Dimitria anymore than she had, but hearing it twice in ten minutes would make anyone curious, if nothing else. "Would she happen to live in a fairly large fortress that blocks out the view for miles and looks like a castle on top of an asteroid?"

"According to my father's stories, yes," Rita nodded, not really wanting to look outside for herself. She had a fairly good idea of what else was going on outside, though. "And . . .are. .there. ..things coming up outside the palace: tall, big shoulders, covered in red fur, claws, spiky tails, wings?"

Zedd nodded slowly, and Rita took a deep breath. "I think we need to go," she said quickly. "Rito, Goldar, Finster, pack everything as fast as you can, we are heading back to M-51, and this time, we are not coming back! Send the Tengas out to slow those things down."

"I already did that, your Highness. What are those things?" Goldar asked as he started towards his rooms for the few items he'd kept over the centuries.

Rita blinked a little as she looked out the window and winced to see the Tengas being carved so easily apart by the creatures. "Demons," she whispered. She remembered her father's bedtime stories well, how in them he had destroyed thousands of the creatures with a simple wave of his hand. ..they don't look so easily defeated now, though.

"Well, well, well, little Rita is all grown up," a female voice spoke. Everyone turned to see Mera leaning casually against the doorway, her Staff held loosely in one hand, and a hate-filled glare in her eyes. She wandered over to the window and smiled coldly. "Even after two thousand and a half centuries in stasis, my Demons enjoy their work sooo much. It's nice to see they haven't lost their edge."

She whirled around suddenly, all pleasure vanished from her, however, as she looked back at the children of her enemy, her eyes smoldering a fierce metallic green. "And neither have I. Your father stole my empire from me," she growled to Rita and Rito, ignoring Zedd and Goldar for right now. "And the two of you are going to pay for that with your lives."

Rita gulped; the tales of Mera that their father had told them had been fairly graphic on how she had dealt with those who annoyed her. She'd always thought Master Vile had embroidered on details some, just to make himself look better in his children's eyes. After all, it was what she would do if she were telling the tale. But staring directly into the face of the living, breathing, Queen of Darkness, that was something else altogether. She knew everything her dad had told her was true at that point, and Rita Repulsa knew what it was to feel fear.

"Get out of my palace!" Zedd's voice cut across the tension in the room, and actually seemed to attract Mera's attention! At least, she looked away from the brother and sister if nothing else. "You heard me!" he growled. "I don't care who or what you are, but you are not going to attack my wife or my brother-in-law or my palace! If anyone's going to do all of that, it's going to be me and no one else!"

Rita found it hard to describe what was going through her mind at that moment. Relief that Mera wasn't looking at her. Confusion at what Zedd was saying. And something. . .like wonder that he was saying it at all.

If the laughter Mera burst into was any indication, she found it rather amusing. "What a joke!" she shook her head wildly. "You actually want to protect her from me! You want to do the impossible! Let me show you just what I'm capable of."

Rito Revolto had time enough to grasp just what she was doing before she pointed the staff at him, a ball of energy exploding from the tip and reducing him to a pile of bonedust. Mera walked over to it and stirred it with her foot casually. "What a mess he made. I do hope the two of you are neater in your demise."

She turned around quietly, and with a casual motion she backhanded Goldar, who had tried to rush her with his sword upraised. "You, I'll take care of later. Stay over there for now."

Of all the people and beings he had fought over the centuries, only Jason Lee and Tommy Oliver of the Rangers had ever given Goldar anything that even really resembled a fight. Until now. The blow that knocked him down almost knocked him through the wall, and did knock him out. Mera turned her gaze back to Rita and Zedd.

"Now, where were we? Oh, yes, that's right, I was going to rip your heads off and slam them through your stomachs until they come out the other side!"

Zedd leaped in front of Rita as Mera started towards her and shook his head, holding his staff out. "I don't care what you do, you can't kill her! I won't let you!"

Mera raised an eyebrow. "You won't let me? Just who do you think you are?"

He lifted his head up proudly, and something in the way he moved made Rita, for the first time, truly proud to be married to him. "I am Zedd Montar, Lord of Evil, and you will not kill my wife and the woman I love!"

Rita had been intending to sneak away while Zedd distracted Mera. Hearing those words coming from him stopped her in her tracks. She turned to face him, her lower lip trembling for the first time in her life. Did I actually hear him say he loved me? I know that potion was gone, but I thought. . .

"Oh, please!" Mera snorted. "I think I'm going to be nauseous."

Zedd wasn't moving, though. "If you want to kill her," he growled. "You have to go through me!"

"If you insist," Mera shrugged, and then was on him. Zedd was no mean fighter, however, as he proved when he clashed his staff against hers, trying to twist it out of her hands. She just laughed and kicked at his leg, almost breaking clean through it with the force of the blow. He released one hand from the staff to punch her in her stomach several times before she could react, then followed it up with a savage blow to her chest with the sharpened Z end of the blade. Black blood spurted out of Mera's wounds, and Zedd laughed.

"So the great Mera can bleed just like anyone else! And I thought you were supposed. . .to. . .be. . .," his voice trailed off as her injuries healed seamlessly and she smiled.

"And now," she took her own staff firmly in her hands. "I believe it's my turn."

Zedd only had time to be surprised for about ten seconds before Mera's fist slammed into his chest, seizing hold of his metallic spine and casually tearing it right out of him, tossing it to one side and wiping her hands clean of the blood and other things that spurted free.

Zedd collapsed, his metal visor falling off to reveal the tormented face of the man beneath. "R. . .Rita. ..," he whispered. "Rita. .."

She was beside him, ignoring Mera as the Queen of Darkness stood at ease behind them both. "Zedd," Rita's voice was not the harsh screech it had been only moments before this . ..this thing had invaded their lives and destroyed them. "Oh, Zedd. ..," tears traced their way down her cheeks.

"Rita," he took her hand gently, looking at the wedding ring he had once placed there. "I. . .I always loved you. . .without. ..the potion...I loved you. ..I love you . .."

She nodded softly. "I ...I thought I was marrying you to gain the kingdom," she whispered. "I never knew until now I was also doing it because I love you. . ."

He gently pulled her down to him, and kissed her tenderly. "Rita," he whispered. "I . ..I'm sorry. . .I should've been. . .better. ..husband. .."

"You were the best," she told him. "I should've been a better wife."

"You . . .were. ..perfect," he whispered. A soft black glow surrounded him for a moment, and then he was gone. All that remained of him for Rita was the ring on her hand, a dead body, and the memories in her heart and on her lips. As the evil witch bent to her knees in tears, she felt a strong hand taking her by the throat. She was turned to face Mera's eyes, those strange pure green eyes that seemed to be laughing at her.

"What a fool," was all Rita heard, before a piercing pain entered her heart. She felt herself being dropped, and half-turned to see Zedd's still body, a hand outstretched as if reaching for her. Her fingers brushed his cold ones gently, and she whispered, "I love you, Zedd."

She never felt Mera's sword slicing firmly through her neck.

As Rita joined her husband in death, Mera turned to where Goldar, and now Finster, attracted by the noise of the combat, were standing, now that the great winged ape had regained consciousness, just in time to see Rita and Zedd die. "Now, for the two of you," she said thoughtfully. "As it appears to me, you have two choices. You can either join them in death: or join me in life. Either way is perfectly fine by me."

The two flunkies looked in horror at the corpses, then at each other. They knew exactly what they had to do.

In unison, they fell to their knees. "All hail Mera, Queen of Darkness! All hail the Queen!"

* * *

"This isn't possible!" Master Vile screamed at the top of his lungs. "This simply isn't possible!" he bellowed over and over. "I refuse to admit that this has happened!"

His four chief servants, Squatt, Babboo, Scorpina, and her sister Jayna, all had the sense to leave as he raged over the reports that he'd been receiving all day. The lord and master of the M-51 Galaxy stared at the latest dispatch, and shook his head, screaming that same phrase over and over again.

It was a simple message, one that he had sensed in the Morphin' Grid earlier that day. This just made it official and legal in the terms of the United Alliance of Evil.

Prince Gasket, Princess Archerina, Mother Divatox, General Havoc, Queen Divatox, Lord Zedd Montar, Queen Rita Repulsa, and Rito Revolto were all killed by the same being, with every indication of her identity being that of Queen Mera, titled Queen of Darkness by unanimous decree of the United Alliance of Evil in the twelfth year of the presidency of Zirnton Kyraln. She has sent a message to the United Alliance of Evil stating her intentions to conquer the planet of Earth and begin the rebuilding of the Shadow Empire. Her intentions after that are unstated.

Vile began to curse, all of his mouths swearing in unison and in different languages. "How could this have happened?" he growled. This should not have happened. He knew perfectly well it was Mera who had returned. Unlike most people, he knew that she wasn't just a myth or something to tell the children to get them to sleep at night.

He also knew something of what she had planned. Her intentions might not have been publicly stated, but he knew exactly what she was going to be doing once she had the Shadow Empire reborn. She was going to invade M-51, and take it back from him by force if he didn't do something to stop her.

I had her stopped once, and M-51 has been mine ever since. How DARE she do this!!! he remembered vividly what had happened all those years ago. Thousands of years ago. When he was young, handsome, and hadn't yet married Elan Revelsa.

Mera had long since conquered M-51, and had been in the process of ruling it with an iron fist. He had admired that about her, true, but he wanted that empire. He wanted it badly, and he had struck at her with every chance he had, trying to take her empire from her. She was unaffected by his strongest spells however, so long as she carried the Staff of Aegis. He never seemed to be able to get to her while she wasn't carrying it, however. He had to resort to simply fighting her with standard Tengas and the monsters and spells he was busily learning.

Finally, his attacks had become so annoying that the Alliance of Evil itself had decided to step in. Normally they would have just let the two of them settle it for themselves, but when the fight started to spread beyond the boundaries of M-51, as Mera's territory was clearly defined, and began to interfere in other people's burgeoning empires, that was when they had to interfere. On a small asteroid, the entire Alliance came together to watch a duel of spells between the two mages. Mera could not use her staff, rendering her vulnerable to others' magic, and Vile could not use his own staff, which simply enhanced his magical capabilities.

The contest would be won when one of them clearly defeated or destroyed the other in some fashion. Spells and incantations of untold power were exchanged back and forth, with neither gaining anything like a true advantage. Then Mera had unleashed a spell of disfigurement, intended to tear Vile down into a twisted mockery of what he had been.

The wizard had just barely sensed what the spell was meant to do in time, and the only thing he could think to do was put up a reflective shielding spell. Such was the strength behind her magic, however, that it had torn through his shield and transformed him into what he was now. It had a good side effect, though, by his standards: for the reflective shield had bounced part of the disfigurement spell back, knocking Mera flat on her back and unconscious.

Vile had managed to notice this through the pain he was screaming out to the universe, and had taken advantage of it.

"Crystal bound,
Crystal kept,
Crystal shadow,
Crystal wept,
Bound forever
In crystal glass,
Til double darkness over ye shall pass!"

He had screamed out the spell through his agony, seizing onto the first thing that really came to mind.

Mera had awakened just in time to hear the spell being cast, but not with enough time to do anything about it as the crystal wrapped around her completely. Before collapsing totally in the pain that was still twisting and changing him, Vile had sent her and her crystal prison hurtling through space.

He had been declared the victor of the combat, since it was obvious Mera wasn't there to claim it. Ever since that day, his rule over M-51 had been clearly and ultimately unchallenged.

Until now, he growled harshly. Somehow she's gotten free. And she's going to want M-51 back. She's not going to get it. This is MY galaxy, and will NOT be anyone else's!!!

Master Vile headed out of his throne room. He had planning to do.

* * *

Scorpina, Squatt, Babboo, and Jayna all congregated in the common room the four of them used for recreation and talking. Scorpina, as senior henchwoman, spoke first. "Did any of you know that Mera was real?"

Squatt and Babboo promptly reacted in the fashion they always had whenever the name of the Queen of Darkness was mentioned: they keeled over in a dead faint. Jayna sighed deeply. "I always wondered why those two were even considered evil," she groaned. "They're just barely disobedient."

Her sister shrugged. "They're decorative if nothing else. But now that they're out of the way, we can talk sensibly. Did you know Mera was real?"

"It never occurred to me to think she was," Jayna replied. "I mean, do you normally go around wondering if the childhood demons Mom and Dad told us about were suddenly going to turn real and start killing off your old employers?"

"True," Scorpina nodded. "But I always knew she was real. I had a reason to."

Jayna frowned now. "What are you talking about? Did you know her or something?"

"No," Scorpina shook her head. "You don't remember our grandmother Serenoa, do you?" at Jayna's shake of the head, the scorpion warrior continued, "I do. Grandmother served under Queen Mera in her last campaign before Master Vile started his attacks on M-51, and did everything she could to be a loyal servant to her. When Mera was sealed in crystal, grandmother was so devastated she simply quit being a warrior and eventually got around to having mother, who had us. She told me, however, that if Mera was ever released, that I and any of the rest of the family who was still around would be bound by the blood-oath she swore to enter her service."

Jayna nodded slowly and stood up. "How long is it going to take you to get your things together? I can hear Master Vile screeching from here, and the faster we get out of here, the better."

Scorpina also rose to her feet, and cast a glance to the still terrified into torpor Squatt and Babboo. "Not nearly as long as you might think. I've been waiting for this all my life. Why do you think I've stuck so close to either Vile or his offspring?"

"Waiting for the return of Mera?" Jayna breathed the words out, then a smile twisted her features. "And here all this time I thought you came back here just to teach me how to fight."

Scorpina batted at her sister teasingly. "I did. But I also wanted to make sure you were ready to join me when Mera returned," she glanced behind them both suddenly as Vile's cursing suddenly ceased, and whispered a few sharp oaths of her own. "Let's get moving. If that means what I think it does, we don't have a lot of time."

As the two of them quickly hurried out of the room and to their own personal quarters, both of them couldn't help but feel a sense of wonder, excitement, and nervousness unlike anything else they'd ever felt. To be betraying Master Vile, to run towards what was in a sense their past, the history of their family. It beat anything they'd ever experienced in their lives.

For one brief moment, they wondered if this was anything like how the Power Rangers felt, going towards their destiny, to serve someone they barely knew.

* * *

"It is too late," Dimitria whispered, turning back to the Rangers. "They would not listen, and now they are gone."

The five Rangers had never believed they would feel sorrow at the passing of their enemies, but with the death of Rita and Zedd, they knew they were going to be facing Mera now. She had removed every obstacle to her path except for them. T.J. squared his shoulders. "What do we do now, Dimitria?"

Their mentor looked at them. She would not reveal the tears that threatened to overwhelm her now. "We will have to wait," she advised. "I would suggest you all begin training in your martial arts as much as you can. You are going to need them all badly."

"You got it," Carlos nodded. He and Ashley were holding hands again, almost unconsciously, as they teleported out of the Power Chamber. Dimitria closed her eyes, and let her tears fall.

Alpha slowly walked closer to her plasma tube. "Dimitria?" his voice was quiet. "We should call for help. If even half the legends are true. .."

"No," Dimitria shook her head, her tears ceasing. "We will handle this alone. We can do it. If it proves too much for us, then we ask for help. But remember, Alpha, Mera has been out of touch for two hundred and fifty thousand years. She does not know the courage of our Rangers or their determination not to let anyone take this planet. I believe she will find us a far more formidable opponent than she expects to."

"I hope you're right, Dimitria," Alpha said, heading back to the scanners as he tried to figure out whatever Mera's first move would be.

Dimitria closed her eyes, reaching for meditative peace. So do I, Alpha. So do I.

* * *

Mera glanced quietly over the small group of people, or whatever they were, in front of her. It wasn't much, she thought to herself, but it was a beginning of a new court. She sighed briefly, remembering the magnificent one she had held in the past. So many brave and strong warriors, loyal only to me. Scientists and wizards of every discipline, all manner of servants everywhere. She spared a thought for her seven chief warriors. . .then made a mental note to check on them and the other creatures that had been sealed in her crystals before she had went into that final battle with Vile. And it's a good thing I did that too. This would be much more difficult without my creatures.

"Your Majesty," it was Klankette and Cubus. With a lifted eyebrow, she gave the robot permission to speak. "We have downloaded all available information from everyone into your computers, and upgraded them to modern standards. Everything is in readiness for whenever you wish to review it."

She nodded in approval. "Very good. Each of you will have specific tasks under my reign, and those begin now. Klankette, Cubus, Finster, Porto. The four of you will be in charge of all scientific developments and research. Anything interesting you come up with will be brought to me at once. There's a lab on level fourteen of the Fortress that should do nicely for you all."

The four of them all bowed, as best they could, and she nodded in return. "Rygog, Elgar, Goldar, you are my fighting arms. Whenever I don't care to go down to Earth personally, you will do damage in my name. Is that understood?"

"Yes, my queen!" the three of them chorused. Mera glanced over them all, trying to determine if any of them had what it would take to be her right hand. A pack of fools. Strong ones, but the smart ones don't have the strength. I need someone with intelligence AND muscle.

"Excuse me, Queen Mera?" she glanced up to see Goldar looking at her. "But there's someone outside the door."

Her eyebrows shot to her hairline. Someone at the door? Who in the name of the Dark Gods would come here WILLINGLY? It had better not be Vile, or I'm going to tear off every body part he has and put them on BACKWARDS! Then again. ..that does sound like a good idea. ..perhaps it should be Vile after all. . . "Show them in."

Two figures entered, one clad in tight-fitting armor that made her look like a scorpion, the other in a long silvery wizard's robe. "Who are you?" Mera asked.

"I am Scorpina, granddaughter of the master warrior Serenoa," the one in armor spoke. "This is my younger sister Jayna, a sorceress of great power, and also skilled in the warrior's art. We are offering yourselves to you as servants in any capacity you desire."

Mera smiled briefly. "The granddaughters of Serenoa? My chief warrior before my . . .long nap?"

Jayna bowed, nodded. "Indeed, great queen. We have awaited your return all our lives, and are glad to serve you if you will have us."

The Dark Queen rose from her throne and looked at them both. "You may enter my service," she declared. "Jayna, you alone of all my lackeys now know the arts of magic. There is a magical library on level nine of the Fortress, you are hereby authorized to use it in any fashion you see fit. Scorpina, you are appointed as my chief of staff and my right hand in all matters that I see fit to give you. Now, it is growing late. Klankette, Cubus, assign my two new servants chambers. We have much to do tomorrow."

In moments, Mera was the only one left in the throne room. She smiled softly to herself, and gestured with one hand to a wall. It faded away, showing the spectacular view of Earth rotating beneath them. A wide, cold smile spread across her features.

"Sleep well, Earthlings," she murmured. "For when the sun rises, Mera's reign begins."