"It's kind of strange to be here with you," Kim Hart, the Black Zeo Ranger, said softly. "After all this time. . .and everything that's happened."
Zedd nodded quietly, more to himself than to his companion. "I can't say I'm sorry enough times. For everything I did back then and more recently."
"It's forgiven," she told him what she had many other times in the past day since they had returned to the Power Chamber, both free at last. "Everything's forgiven."
He raised one eyebrow, looking at her. "Kim, I killed you once! And I almost killed you a dozen times while I was Lord Zedd! I destroyed Tommy's Green Ranger powers, I kidnapped Billy and made him evil, and we still haven't gotten him back yet! I don't even want you to know most of the things that I've done!"
Kim took a deep breath, and reached out to take his hand softly. If anyone had known just who both of these people were, and had been, and currently were, they would have found the oddity here to be somewhat impressive. Kim, in a past life Kimonia, a fair princess who had been engaged to the prince of a neighboring and vast kingdom, Prince Zedd. On the eve of their wedding, they had been invaded by a dark overlord, who had taken control of Zedd's mind and caused him to enter the realm of evil for so many long eons. Kimonia had been reborn as Kim Hart, and had become a Power Ranger, who had fought against Zedd with all her might.
Now she was actually contemplating restarting the relationship so abruptly cut off by the forces of evil so long before. She had broken up with Tommy due to the pressuring of her gymnastics coach, but something in her heart had told her that she didn't want to get back together with him anyway. She had seen how much he and Kat were attracted to each other, and she herself wasn't all that positive she didn't have some feelings for Zedd. It was almost scary.
Forget that, it IS scary. The thought of being in love with Zedd would've driven me insane six months ago. But now. . .she smiled faintly as the two of them walked hand in hand. Now I think it's something possible. Maybe. After we get Billy back, then I'll know more, I think.
She spared a moment of thought for the White Ranger, still captive under Rita's evil spells. She didn't quite know what magic had been used to make them serve her, but Zedd did. He would have released Billy already, but when he had tried earlier, he had learned that Rita had changed the spell binding her friend. Until he got a better idea of just what had been done to the White Ranger, Zedd was reluctant to attempt to break it again. If he came down to challenge the team to a battle, then that would give them the opportunity to test to see what spell was controlling him.
"Kim," Zedd said quietly. "I was wondering. . .I remember you as Kimonia now. ..but I know you're not. I know you probably don't remember me as I used to be. . .but I was wondering. . .do we have a chance with each other?"
She took a long look at him. Past memories from another life and memories from this one were churning in her mind. "I don't know yet," she said quietly. "But we might."
Kat nodded, squeezing his hand gently. "One thing you can say about Angel Grove, it is never boring! I don't think we've really had one true moment of peace since I got here!"
"We didn't have that much before then," Tommy reminded her, his thoughts drifting back to when he had been new on the team. He'd been so eager to prove himself, to show to one and all that he was no longer Rita's Ranger, that he was not only free, but good. He knew he'd taken more risks than he should have in those days, especially later when he'd become the White Ranger. He almost winced, remembering the new White Ranger. "And things don't look like they're going to be getting any more peaceful in the future."
Kat nodded, trying not to think too hardly of that right now. Though Kim had been rescued by Zedd from Rita, Billy was still captive and under the evil sorceress' spell. "Tommy," she said quietly, trying to draw the conversation away from 'work' and to something she'd been wondering ever since they had started dating four months earlier. "I know you and Kim aren't going to get back together. ..," her voice was somewhat unsteady, and she really wasn't certain if this were the right way to say it, but she had to say something. If she didn't do it now, when she had the courage for it, she would never say it. And in the life of a Power Ranger, you never knew if you could say some things.
"That's right," Tommy's eyes drifted over to the beautiful blonde next to him. "We talked about it just after she came back. We still love each other, it's just not the same as we did. Not like---" he stopped, then continued. "Not like people who want to spend forever together do."
Kat could feel a shiver in her heart when he looked at her like that. Something told her that he had almost said 'not like I love you', but for some reason he had stopped. She growled deep in her mind, she wanted him to say it to her! She wanted to know she wasn't wasting her time dating him. She knew where her heart was given, and had known for over a year now. "Tommy," she decided to try a slightly different tack. The Red Ranger had always had problems admitting to his feelings with his words. But she had learned long ago that you didn't always need words to say things.
Slowly, she stopped, and touched him briefly on the shoulder to get his attention from wherever it had been sliding off to. He looked at her, confusion written across his face, that transmuted into pure shock and love as she leaned closer to him, wrapping her arms around his neck, and kissing him on the lips. "I love you, Tommy Oliver," she said, risking everything and not caring one bit. "I will always love you."
"I. ..I love you, too, Kat," he whispered, all reason and restraint swept away by the passion and the strength of the kiss she had startled him with. "I've wanted to say it, but. . ."
She knew what he meant, and what he couldn't say, and nodded quietly. Tommy had been hurt in the past in many relationships, including Kim, and he had been reluctant to love again. Thankfully, that was something that they didn't have to worry about ever again. He'd risked his heart, and instead of pain, had found nothing but love in return.
Hand in hand, closer than they had ever been before, they continued through the park.
I will let no harm come to her, he promised himself, staring at her intently. She will survive, to bring destruction upon the world and wreak vengeance on all who have stood in her way.
"How long until she awakens, Finster?" Billy growled, his eyes turning to the small scientist. Finster wasn't exactly the best physician in the universe, but he was adequate. He hoped. If they had to go for outside help, he wasn't quite certain what the reaction would be. There were many beings of evil who would pay good money to make certain that Rita's empire collapsed.
The small mutant turned to the evil Ranger. "I'm not quite certain, White Ranger," he said formally. "But it should be soon."
"Finster," both of them turned at the sound of the weak voice, and Billy smiled faintly to see Rita's eyes open. "What has happened, White Ranger?" her cold gaze was on him.
Billy was still morphed, but had been holding his helmet in one hand. He could not fully demorph without her permission, and she had not given it. He bowed briefly, as Rita sat up, grasping for her staff and muttering a short spell of strength. "Lord Zedd has abandoned you, my queen, and released the Black Ranger from your service. They have joined in alliance with the Power Rangers."
The dark queen's eyes darkened even more, and she nodded briefly. "Very well," she said, her voice not the shriek it had been, but stronger and more confidant. Finster felt a thread of fear; this was Rita as she had been in her youth, before she had been imprisoned in the dumpster by Zordon. She hadn't been the screeching fool she had been once she had emerged then. She had been a powerful sorceress, evil incarnate almost, who had feared only Zedd, and had taken no insolence from anyone. "Rito, Goldar!" she raised her voice and called firmly. "Come here at once!"
There was the sound of pounding feet, and then her brother and original chief warrior stood in the doorway of Finster's laboratory, where she had been resting. In brief, terse words she explained to them what had went on, leaving no details out at all. Surprise registered on all of them when they saw the change in her, but no one dared to say anything. She finished with looking at Billy. "The three of you will spend the next few days training together. I want you to work as a team. That is the Rangers' greatest strength, and that is what we will use to defeat them."
"As you command, my queen," Goldar was very pleased to see that Rita had returned to her old self. He had abandoned her for Zedd because she had lost all of her old evil, in his opinion, being defeated repeatedly by mere children. To see her like this, all of his old loyalty returned, in spades. She had done something no one else had ever had: made a true evil Ranger out of one of the original Rangers, and the smartest of them all. She had truly come into her own at last.
Kim smiled at him, and he could feel his blood practically light on fire at the sight of that. The two of them were growing closer with every passing day, and it was almost touching to see. Their past together was providing a strong foundation for what could be their future. All that remained to be dealt with was their present.
"It's got it's good points," Tommy agreed, leaning back and tying his long hair with a red band. It had been somewhat odd to have Zedd just hanging out with them, but at the same time, it was good to know that there was one less enemy against them. They were all intent on cutting down that total by one more as soon as they could. Let's just hope that Billy doesn't try to do anything to us mechanically. NONE of us could stop something he made, I think. He knows what the weaknesses and strengths of just about all of us are. He could do so much damage.
"Tommy," Zedd's voice was a little nervous as he spoke, and the Red Ranger looked over at him curiously. "Have you told the other Rangers about me yet? The retired ones, I mean? I hurt them all in a lot of ways, I hurt all of you. . .I don't know if they'll be as forgiving as you guys are."
"Don't worry about it," Adam answered instead of their leader. "I talked with all the others. They all send the same message: welcome to our side."
Zedd's eyes went wide, as did Tommy's. "I didn't know you kept in touch with the others!" the Rangers' leader was more than surprised; he hadn't had any idea of this!
"Why wouldn't I?" Adam asked quietly. "I've been writing to Zack pretty much since he left. He gave me the greatest gift I've ever had short of being in love with Tanya, and I thought it right that we keep in touch. He and I have become pretty good friends. I haven't been able to keep up with Aisha that much, but I did manage to let her know what was going on."
The former Lord of Evil seemed surprised; he had known quite a lot, but he'd never known how kind and caring it seemed that Adam was. There were depths to the Green Ranger that no one could possibly imagine, he felt. "I'm glad," was all he could really think of to say. "I am going to make up for everything I did and tried to do."
"We know," Tommy nodded. "I felt the same way after the Sword of Darkness was destroyed. Kim feels the same way now, and I know Billy will once he's brought back."
"Anyone have any ideas on how do that just yet?" Tanya wondered from where she sat next to Adam. She had blushed when he had mentioned loving her; it was the first time he had said anything about their relationship in public. Usually if anyone mentioned a date or them being in love, it was her. Adam was habitually too reserved.
Zedd nodded briefly. "I might have an idea," he told her. "But it means I'm going to have to see Billy in fighting action again. If I know Rita, she's strengthened, or even changed, the spell on him so that he's her total servant. The original had Kim and Billy serving both of us, and she'd want to change that. Once I see him fighting, I can run a magical scan on him and detect just what she's done."
Kat sipped her own smoothie, thinking. "So you've still got all your magical powers?" she wondered. They spoke a little freer than they usually did in the Youth Center, it was extremely crowded and noisy today, which meant not that many people were going to overhear them, since they would be involved in their own conversations.
"Some of them," Zedd amended. "And Zordon has been teaching me some different spells, spells of good origin. I still have my abilities and knowledge, but most of that is oriented towards evil. I want to change that."
"Good for you," Tommy agreed with their new ally's plan, then finished off his drink and stood up. "But for now, I think we need to do some sparring. We have to keep in shape, you know!"
The Rangers did more than just spar in the Youth Center. With Zedd's inside knowledge of what Rita was capable of, they set up a major obstacle course in the Power Chamber, using that to hone their mental and physical skills to a razor's edge. He was also researching spells and spellbreaking with Zordon, opening up files in the Power Chamber computers that they had almost forgotten were in there. There were still some records in the databanks from that time far back when Rita's palace had been temporarily on Earth, and they had been able to tap into her files. Using that information, they were able to make some educated guesses as to what she would be doing.
"She's got Billy, Goldar, Rito, and Scorpina, plus Finster," Alpha reviewed the information they had learned. "We can't scan inside the palace, but I think that she's probably having them train a lot, preparing for a very big battle."
Zedd was inclined to believe it. "That would be like her," he said, looking through some papers they had printed out a few speculative spellbreaking ways on. "She would want them to be in peak condition. She never used to attack unless her warriors were more than ready to tear their opponents to shreds. I'm really not certain what changed her in the dumpster, but it's gone now. I can sense it."
"From what you told us, and certain scans we have done of Rita in the past when she came to Earth, it appears she suffered from a temporary form of insanity," Alpha reported. "Megalomania and paranoia in some parts. But now that seems to be gone, and she is nothing but pure, raw evil."
Zordon frowned darkly. HER TIME IN THE DUMPSTER WOULD HAVE INCLINED HER TOWARDS THE INSANITY. SHE WAS UNABLE TO DO ANYTHING CONSTRUCTIVE IN THERE, AND WITH HER PARTICULAR MINDSET, INSANITY IS THE ONLY LOGICAL OPTION. WITH THE BREAKING OF THE SPELLS ON YOU AND KIMBERLY, HOWEVER, ZEDD, AND THE UNKNOWN AMOUNT OF TIME SHE SPENT UNCONSCIOUS AFTERWARDS, IT WOULD APPEAR THAT SHE HAS REPAIRED HER MIND SOMEHOW.
"Which means she's going to be dangerous. Far more dangerous than ever before," Zedd sighed. "This has never been an easy fight. And it's getting more and more difficult by the moment."
IT IS A FIGHT WE MUST WIN, HOWEVER. EARTH, AND A THOUSAND OTHER PLANETS AND GALAXIES, DEPEND UPON IT.
Zedd nodded, looking back over the list. Somewhere on there could be the key to defeating not only the spell on Billy, but Rita once and for all. And he would find it.
"She has never looked better," Goldar admitted as he and Billy clashed in the training chamber. It was still unusual for him to simply be training with the White Ranger, especially one he had considered a weakling and fool since his earliest days. He had to admit it, even to himself, that Billy had changed, however. He was stronger, physically and mentally, and his conversion to darkness looked to be complete. With Rita's newfound courage and skill, it could very well be. Never had there been a Ranger who had lived for more than a few months, a year at the most, with the power of evil controlling them. It was entirely possible that Billy would be the exception.
The White Ranger nodded calmly, rolling around and snap kicking Goldar quickly, then backflipping into a spin kick to Scorpina's midsection. As was usual, the four of them were sparring in a free-for-all that would teach them not only how to fight against, but with each other. It was a most unusual sensation.
"Attention!" everyone looked up when Rita's voice crackled into the training room. All of them came to attention as they saw her standing there in person as well. "Your training has gone well," she stated, striding into the room. "And I am very pleased with you all. No more will we send monsters of any type to Earth," she glanced over her shoulder to where they could see Finster cowering, bruises on his face and probably on the rest of him. Scorpina caught her breath at that; never had she imagined that Rita would start abusing her servants! Finster had been unquestioningly loyal to her since before Scorpina herself had joined the dark witch's side, and to see the obvious signs of strikes on him startled the scorpion warrior. Realizing Rita had kept on talking, she turned her attention back to the queen. She'd do something about that later, if she could.
"We are at your service, Queen Rita," Billy was saying, bowing low. As always since Scorpina had returned, he was morphed, but he had removed his helmet in the presence of Rita. For the first time, Scorpina saw a remarkable resemblance between their eyes. Billy's had been a warm green before. Now, like Rita's, they were flat and black, the eyes of an animal.
Rita nodded firmly. "I want you to take the Tengas and go down to Earth. Show how well you've learned your lessons," she ordered. "If necessary, I'll expand you into Zord-fighting size. That should be more than enough to take down the Rangers if we are lucky, and if we aren't, we should be able to at least take one out," her eyes turned to Billy. "I want you to concentrate on the Black Ranger. Injure her. As severely as you can. Since she'll be morphed, I don't think you can kill her, but at least hurt her. Make her regret leaving my service. Make her regret it most painfully."
Billy nodded, bowing low and sliding his helmet back onto his head. "As you command, my empress," he said quietly. "It shall be as you say."
Rita smiled frostily, then looked at the others. "You three keep the rest of the Rangers away from them. I want no interference. Is that understood?"
"Yes, Your Majesty!" all of them echoed. She nodded, obviously pleased, as they all vanished in varying sparkles of color and special effects. Slowly she turned back to Finster, who winced away from just the look in her eyes. She had grown tired of his incompetent monsters, and was enjoying taking out some aggressions on him. Slowly, she marched on him, and he dared not move. This was going to be very, very fun.
"Well, we had about a week for break, now we're back on the job!" Pink Ranger shouted over the din of battle and the squawking of the Tengas. "Anyone see Billy?"
Tommy shook his head, scanning the battlefield even as he punched a Tenga in the beak and threw it over one shoulder. "No sign of him!" he declared. "And that makes me more nervous than anything!"
Scorpina, Rito, and Goldar were directing the Tengas, and joining in the fight themselves. The six Rangers out there couldn't see the White Ranger anywhere. Just lots and lots of Tengas, with plenty of the other three mutants thrown in for good measure.
But Billy could see them, and his eyes were all focused on his former partner. Watching from a place of shielding, his face twisted beneath his helmet into a mask of purest hate. These foolish Rangers. They should know they'll only find me when I want to be found. And I don't want to be. ..but I do want to FIND someone.
Slowly he started to slide closer to the battleground, closer to where the Black Ranger was busily fighting sword to sword with Goldar. The other three evil warriors knew where he was, and Goldar flicked one eye calmly in recognition of Billy's presence as he drew closer. He pushed Kim back farther and farther with every sword stroke, getting her closer to Billy.
"Hello there, Black Ranger," the cool voice of her best friend echoed from behind Kim. She jumped quickly to one side, her eyes flicking from Goldar to Billy, who had appeared almost out of nowhere. "Nice to see you again. Traitor."
Kim gulped. Something about his voice told her that he was far deeper under the power of evil than any of them had ever been before. So far that he won't ever come back? she found herself wondering. Immediately she rejected that. No. He's going to be free. Now that he's out fighting, Zedd can scan him and find out what Rita's done to him, and how to break it. "I was freed, Billy," she replied, noticing Goldar had left to try for a back attack on Tommy. She almost called out, till she saw the Red Ranger whirling in time to protect himself. Her attention was drawn immediately back to Billy.
"You will pay for your treachery," she wasn't quite certain if he had heard her or not as they began to circle each other. "Rita has commanded that you be destroyed, Black Ranger."
"I'm Kimberly, Billy!" the young gymnast shifted the grip on her sword. Before becoming the Black Zeo Ranger she'd never fought with this weapon before, but she was starting to learn how to use it. Tommy had been giving her some good instruction, and she was glad of it. It felt good to be able to face Goldar and Scorpina weapon to weapon, something she'd never done before. Her own experience with the darkness of evil had changed the way she thought and acted in a lot of ways, especially since she had regained her memories of her first life. When you could remember the person that you loved more than anything or anyone killing you and your brother, it changed quite a few things.
She could sense the smile on his face, though she couldn't see it. "You are the enemy," was all he said, before leaping towards her, fists upraised and pounding on her morphed body.
Strikes, punches, blocks, and defenses flew back and forth between the two of them for an unknown amount of time. She did what she could to protect herself, but something had expanded on Billy's strength far beyond the norm for even a morphed Ranger. This was not going to be an easy fight.
"Have you been able to detect Billy yet?" he asked Alpha, who was checking and rechecking the computers constantly.
"Yes, I have!" the little robot declared happily. It was the first time since the fight started that the White Ranger had shown up on the equipment. "He's in the trees behind Kimberly!"
The former evil sorcerer touched a couple of buttons on the console, and the image of the morphed evil Ranger came up on the screen. He closed his eyes for a moment, stretching his magical senses out to the fullest. His mind caressed the edges of the spell, tasting and feeling it with all his experience and skill. The easiest part was figuring out that it was Rita who had cast it, and he quickly passed by that, diving deeper to search for any weaknesses that might be in it.
And found none. The spell was a perfect, seamless whole, integrated so deeply into Billy's soul and psyche that he might very well have been born with it instead of having it laid on him when he was almost full grown. His eyes narrowed as his mind went even deeper, looking for the 'signature' of the spell that would give him it's name and thus any ways that it might be broken.
Wait. What's that? he paused in his search, 'staring' with his magical senses for what could be a clue. He drank in the knowledge, making it a part of him, and then pulled back. "I know what it is," he said out loud, blinking as he tried to clear the miasma of being in the midst of a spell-searching. "And I think I might possibly know how to break it, too."
He launched himself over to the computers, and started punching in all the information he'd gathered. "It isn't going to be the easiest trek in the world, but it can be done. Maybe."
WHAT HAVE YOU DISCOVERED, ZEDD? Zordon was a bit amazed at just how quickly and thoroughly Zedd had integrated himself not just into the Power Chamber, but into his life and the life of the Rangers. Though it hadn't been that long, barely a week, Zordon couldn't really imagine that they had fought against this being once. He knew it intellectually, but at the same time, it was as hard to believe as it was that they were fighting against Billy. We regained Zedd and Kimberly, and we will get Billy back as well. It was a mantra that had become quite common to all of them.
"It's called the Spell of the Dark Shadow," Zedd explained. "It was made several centuries ago by an ancient wizard, who enjoyed methods of mind control as a hobby. He had a twin sister, a sorceress of light, who made it her hobby to research ways to undo what he did. She created several objects of magic that could cleanse the mind, body, and soul of all evil. The Spell of Dark Shadow was his greatest masterpiece, however, and his sister was only able to make one thing that could combat it. The Star Crystal."
HOW IS THE BATTLE PROGRESSING, ALPHA? Zordon broke into Zedd's explanation, with a look of apology on his vast face. As Alpha reported that the forces of evil had vanished, and Kim was in serious pain from the beating that Billy had dished out to her. BRING THEM HOME, ALPHA. WE HAVE MUCH TO DO.
The Rangers had been rushing around trying to get together the things that would be needed to patch Kim up, and everyone stopped in their tracks at Zedd's almost off-handed statement. "You can break it?" Adam said finally, his voice showing restrained hope.
"I was able to identify the spell he's under," Zedd indicated that they should start helping to tend the wounds Billy had inflicted even through her uniform. "It's called the Spell of Dark Shadow, and the only item that can break it is called the Star Crystal."
Kim winced harshly as Alpha started to run one of the devices he kept around over her more serious injuries once the Rangers were done with the first aid on the bruises and scrapes. "Where is it? How do we get it?"
"Just a moment," Zedd smiled faintly, watching as her injuries healed under the application of Alpha's device. That was one thing that he truly enjoyed seeing; no matter how badly they were wounded, a Ranger could and did heal almost instantly from it, with only a little bit of help needed every now and then from a device. Their powers increased their healing factor by thousands, just as they did their fighting and combat skills, and considering what they went through in just an average fight, that was a very good thing.
Once she was back on her feet, and leaning against him more for comfort than true support, he looked at the whole team. Everyone was eager to find out just what he knew. Adam and Kim in particular looked excited, and he reminded himself that Adam and Billy had bonded particularly well, and that Kim had known Billy since the other boy was three years old. He took a long breath, then explained what he had told Zordon and Alpha about the Spell of Dark Shadow and the Star Crystal.
"The last time anyone heard of it, the Star Crystal was still in the sorceress' laboratory, which was located in the center of the Labyrinth of Pokha, a pocket dimension that was reputed to be one of the most dangerous for those of the forces of evil," Zedd continued. "The sorceress, Shalina, wanted to make certain that anyone who tried to get to it, or anything else she kept there, was truly worthy of it. There are three trials that must be survived by anyone who makes the attempt, but their precise nature is completely unknown, since no one has ever tried to get there."
Tommy nodded, his eyes darkening with worry. "Billy was very powerful today," he mused. "And if Rita keeps getting stronger, that's going to get even worse. We can't let him stay with her. We'll have to go there and get the Crystal."
ONLY TWO OF YOU SHOULD GO, Zordon's voice was firm and unyielding in this. IF MORE THAN THAT LEAVE, THEN THAT WILL TOO SEVERELY DIMINISH OUR RESOURCES TO FIGHT RITA AND HER ARMIES.
Zedd was about to say something, when Adam and Kim both stood up. "I'll go," the Green and Black Rangers said in complete chorus. Tommy couldn't help but twitch his lips a little. Billy had been close to them all, in various ways, it had been an open bet as to who would volunteer first.
"Are you certain?" Kim looked behind her to see Zedd looking with great concern at her. "This will not be easy, Kim."
"I don't care," the Black Ranger's voice was firm and quiet. "Billy is one of my oldest friends. I've known him for as far back as I can remember, and I know better than most of you what he's going through. I will not let him stay like that."
Adam offered no explanations for why he was going, as Zedd quietly nodded, moving back to stand with the others as Kim and Adam stood in front of Zordon. GOOD LUCK, was all that their mentor said as Alpha programmed the co ordinates of the pocket dimension into the computer. A moment later, in a double shimmer of black and green, the two of them were gone.
"You realize we don't know how long this is going to take us?" Kim said softly, turning to look at her current partner. "Or if we'll even succeed?"
"I know," Adam nodded quietly, looking at the labyrinth and the castle in it. "But we have to try. We can't let Billy stay like that, you know that."
The Black Ranger nodded as they started towards the labyrinth. "I wonder what the trials are like," she mused aloud. "I don't think they'll be easy, but since this was the home of a good sorceress, they probably won't be fatal or dangerous."
"We can hope so," Adam didn't regret his decision to come. The moment he'd first seen Billy in his new white Zeo uniform, he'd known he'd do whatever it took to free him evil. If that meant he'd dive headfirst into an erupting volcano, he'd do it. Adam had never had a friend who understood him quite like Billy did before, and he wasn't going to let him go easily.
Silence marked the rest of their trip there, and both of them paused in shock when they saw the three guards standing quietly outside of the main gates of the Labyrinth. "What now?" Kim muttered. Adam looked at them. They didn't look evil in any sense of the word, and he decided something quickly.
"We'll go and ask if we can go in," he said, noticing that they had already been spied by the guards. Kim gaped at him for a moment, then followed quickly as he headed for the gates.
One of the guards stepped in front of the other two as they drew closer. "For what reason do you come here?" she asked calmly, not going for her weapons.
"We're looking for the Star Crystal," Adam replied just as calmly as the guard had spoken. "We need it to release a close friend from the control of the Spell of Dark Shadow."
The three guards exchanged glances, then one of the others stepped back, opening the gate. "If you speak the truth, then the Lady Shalina will know. If you lie, she will know that as well. The trials will test your worthiness, but she will choose if she will give you the Star Crystal or not. May you be lucky."
"I know," she spoke with a viscious edge to her voice that made him wince even more than the flogging did. "I just like to see you squirm," she told him. There was nothing quite like doing raw, senseless violence to someone who didn't deserve it.
She would have taken it out on her fighters, who had left the battle without orders after the Black Ranger had collapsed. She didn't really mind that they had done so; her initial orders had only been that they incapacitate Kimberly, but at least this gave her some satisfaction.
Finster could barely talk or move by the time Rita had finished the beating and left him in a broken and bloody heap on the floor of his laboratory. He tried to drag himself over to his table where his healing ointments were, only to fail. I...I'm going to die here, he realized bluntly. She hurt me too much. ..I can't move anymore...I'm going to die, and no one will care...
A darkness seemed to be gathering at the edges of his vision, and he shuddered a little, wincing at the pain that very act caused by his pain started. I wish it were otherwise, he thought, curling up on the floor and welcoming the darkness. I wish that I weren't alone. . .
"Finster?" a soft voice spoke, not very tender by human standards, but enough by his standards to almost send him into freshets of tears. "She did this to you."
He couldn't see who it was that was with him, but by the tenderness of hands as they tended to him, and the fact that it was a female voice that wasn't Rita's, his bruised mind was able to figure out it was most likely Scorpina. She wasn't normally gentle or tender in the slightest, but he wasn't in any condition to complain.
What might have been hours passed until she stopped, and touched his forehead gently. "You can't stay here," Scorpina observed. "She'll kill you if you do."
"Where?" he managed to get the weak word out. He wanted to ask quite a few more, but he didn't have the strength for it. He didn't know if he would have the strength for much else.
Scorpina paced for a few seconds, thinking fast. She didn't know just why Rita had started to abuse Finster like this, but she knew it was wrong. It would have been far more sensible to just fire him and let him go his own way than to beat him to death. He hadn't even done anything to be beaten for! Scorpina understood and accepted evil in her heart and soul, but there were some things that not even she would do.
I have to get him out of here. He doesn't deserve to die for NOTHING. She knew where she had to send him even as she looked at him. She pulled out her sword, the tool of most of what magic she had, and concentrated on him, and on sending him where he needed to go.
Finster vaguely registered the fact he was going somewhere as a wave of pure darkness swept over his mind and eyes. When he could see again, he saw he was in the desert, with a mountain nearby that he felt was familiar, he just couldn't name it. . .I thought she was going to help me, he winced at the heat of the sun, and in the heat of betrayal. I should have known better. ..
Another wave of light came over him a few moments later, but he didn't notice it, having slipped into a coma. A small bird flitted over the space where he had been, and the desert around the base of the mountain where the Power Chamber was located was empty once again.
"This isn't at all what I was expecting," Adam murmured, looking around. Kim nodded, her wrists ready to twitch to summon her Zeonizers at a moment's notice. She smiled briefly to notice Adam was as tense as she was, if not more so.
"Why did you really come, Adam?" she asked as they walked along. "And don't you dare tell me it's just because Billy's your friend. You've known Rocky a lot longer than you've known Billy, even though the Ranger bond does make for strong relationships."
She almost thought she'd asked something she shouldn't have when he didn't say anything for several minutes. Finally, he answered. "Mainly because he is my friend. But also because I wanted to prove to him that I still care about him, that despite the fact we have grown apart some since we became Zeo Rangers, I still think he's just about the best thing since sliced bread." he smiled a little at her. "And why you? And I don't want to hear anything about how you are his friend."
Kim blushed; she hadn't really expected the question to be turned back on her. "I wanted to get away from there for a while," she admitted. "He really hurt me in that last fight, and I want to make certain he doesn't do that to anyone else, especially me. The only way to do that is to get him released from Rita's spell."
"You wanted some time to think about your relationship with Zedd, too," she almost jumped out of her skin at the unexpected depth of perception Adam showed. She had been away from her friends so long she had almost forgotten how penetrating Adam's senses could be at times. She managed a nod. "You love him," the Green Ranger said simply. "And you're not quite certain if it's because of what you two had in the past or because of events based on the now."
The Black Ranger could feel her cheeks flushing, and clenched her fists a little, trying to focus her thoughts. "Yeah," she whispered. "Princess Kimonia and Prince Zedd loved each other more than anything, to the point that she was willing to die because she knew she would come back for him. But I'm a different person now, and I can't seem to stop myself from falling in love with him."
"Is that so wrong?" a voice asked that seemed to echo all around them. Both of them stopped in their tracks, looking around for whatever it was that had spoken, and finding nothing and no one. "Is it so wrong that you attempt to repair what was broken in your last life?"
Kim frowned. Is this the first test? she found herself wondering. Regardless, she answered. "I don't think it's wrong to try that. But it would be wrong to try a relationship if there's no real feelings there."
"Are there not real feelings? Simply because they are interrupted by the passing of some several centuries, death, and reincarnation? His feelings for you are as true as they were the day you died. He knows this, and he also knows you are not Kimonia. He loves you for you. Do you not believe this?"
The Black Ranger frowned even deeper, and Adam could see she was troubled. "I don't know," she said at last. "When I'm with him, I want to be with him forever. But I don't know how or why I feel that way. I just know that I want to be with him. I can't have it any other way, and it. ..it scares me."
Whoever or whatever it was that was speaking had an approving tone to their voice, which sounded somewhat feminine. "Should you leave the Labyrinth in condition to do so, will you admit your fears to your beloved, and with him and your friends, work towards understanding, comprehension, and acceptance of what the future holds, no matter what it is?"
Kim thought before answering that question. She knew what the voice was asking. Would she be willing to truly work for the relationship with Zedd, and not just let it slip away without a fight? Was she willing to try one more time to love someone who had killed her, even though it hadn't been his fault? The answer formed in her mind with perfect equanimity.
Tommy, Zedd, and Rocky were watching from a distance. Zedd's spells of healing weren't anywhere nearly good enough at this point to do anything for him, and the girls were doing more than well enough as hands to bandage his wounds and apply various agents to his injuries. Alpha wasn't quite certain if any of his devices would help in the healing, so they were going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. He was hooked up to several devices that would let them know if anything, for good or for ill, happened.
"This is Rita's doing," Zedd broke the uneasy silence the three of them had been in, and could tell the Red and Blue Rangers were looking at him in query. "It's consistent with how she used to be before her imprisonment. If someone wasn't necessary to her, then she would torture them for months. ..sometimes longer. . .before they died. Once. ..," his voice almost broke, remembering something he'd seen. At the time, he had thought it was the sweetest thing he'd ever seen. Now, he felt as if he were going to sick. Slowly, he continued what he was saying. "Once she kept someone in agony for over two decades before they finally died. The look on their face when they finally gave up the ghost. . .it was so blissful. ..as if no matter what death held for them, it was better than living like that."
Both of them blanched at that, and he almost wished he hadn't said anything. "Why would she do that?" Rocky couldn't comprehend a mind that would do that sort of thing for mere pleasure. There had to be some other reason for it.
"I honestly don't know," Zedd shrugged a little. "I've never really understood her since I've known her. I'm not so certain she isn't still crazy. Just in different ways now."
Silence reigned for a few more moments as they watched. Everyone's thoughts were either on Finster's health condition, what Rita could possibly be doing to Billy, or Kim and Adam. They all knew that at any moment any of those could change, and none of them knew if it would be for the good or the ill. All of them were hoping that any of them would be for the better. Finster could hardly get much worse without actually dying, if Billy came out to fight them again, then that might be an extra edge they could have once the others came back, and once they were back, then they would rip Rita's last remaining evil Ranger away from her, and the full team of the Power Rangers Zeo would be together. And there was nothing that she would ever be able to pull that would stop them.
"Did you really like Florida?" Adam asked as they walked through turn after turn, hunting for anything that could lead them to the center. This place seemed to be a maze in the truest sense of the word, with corners that turned back on themselves, that twisted and moved as if someone were changing them even as the two Rangers walked through it.
She shrugged. "Not really. No, that's not even close to the truth. I hated it. It was everything that gymnastics was in my worst nightmares, and then some. The only reason we were permitted to even sleep was because we would've screwed up our routines if we didn't. Coach. ..he changed so much once we got there. I think he'd put on the nicey routine just because he was trying to recruit me. Once I was there, he turned into a total slavedriver, someone I would never have wanted to be trained by. All he wanted was gymnastics, morning noon and night."
Adam was concerned as he looked at her. He'd wondered ever since she'd left why she had. He'd known her gymnastics were important to her, and had been since before he'd met her. But it just didn't seem like her to not only leave everything she'd ever known, but then later to send that letter she had to Tommy. He felt like he should have known something was wrong. Though he didn't love her in the same sense that he did Tanya, she was one of his best friends.
"Why didn't you come back sooner then?" he settled for asking that instead of any of the thousand other questions that were trying to fight their way out of his mouth. "And why didn't you tell any of us?" that would have to do, until he got a chance to say something more. Preferably when they were out of this place.
Kim shrugged. "I never had the chance to. I kept thinking about how I had given up everything to go there, and I was almost convinced if I did go back, everyone would be mad at me. My parents, the rest of the team, especially Tommy. ..especially after that letter," she winced at that memory. She knew she was going to get asked why she had sent it, and she couldn't help wishing that the second trial would pop up, to get both of their minds off things. . .
"What in the world?!" Adam stopped in his tracks, and Kim pulled to a halt as well, to see two doors in front of a wall that both of them would have taken a bet was not there when they had started down this corridor. True, the way things curved and shaped around in here was deceptive, but still. . .
The doors were of average height, carved of what looked like solid oak into strange designs, and with doorknobs of purest silver. Neither had a keyhole to them, and didn't look locked. In front of each, however, was a statue of shining gold, one male, one female. "What is this?" Kim wondered, drawing in a sharp breath. "Did we take a wrong turn?"
"You must choose one of these doors," the voice that had spoken to them before echoed again. "One question and only one question may you ask of one of the guardians. Be warned: one speaks only the truth. One speaks only lies. One door leads you to the continuation of your quest. The other leads to your destruction. Choose carefully."
Both of them looked at each other, and Kim felt the most sinking feeling she ever had in her life. She had never been good with logic puzzles. That had always been Billy's sort of thing, and somehow, she felt it was entirely appropriate that she have to face one of them while she was trying to find some way to restore him to the proper side of the fight.
Adam was looking at the guardians, a frown on his face, but more one of concentration than anything else. She could almost literally see the wheels turning over and over in his mind.
The Green Ranger knew he'd seen something like this before, but he couldn't place just where at the moment. It would give him the key to it if he could remember. ..two people, one of whom only lied, one of whom only spoke the truth, and you could only ask one something, and you only had one question. . .
Then he knew. He walked up to the woman-statue and looked at her. "Would he," he indicated the male one. "tell me that this door leads to the castle and the rest of our quest?"
Kim watched nervously as the statue animated. "Yes," was all she said, and Kim frowned. What was Adam doing?
Her friend turned back to her, pointing to the male-statue. "We go that way."
"Are you sure?" she wasn't certain of all of what he was doing! Adam smiled at her.
"Yeah, I'm sure. It goes like this: if he would say that her door leads to the castle, then the one he's guarding is the one that does."
"How do you know?"
"Because once she said yes, I knew. The other door would lead to the castle, and hers would lead to destruction. If the man was telling the truth, then the woman would be lying, in which case I'd know that his door would lead to the castle. If the man was lying, then the woman would be telling the truth, and I'd still know."
She blinked for a few moments. The concept was hovering just out of her grasp, but something she couldn't explain told her that it was right. "All right," she said at last as they walked over to the statue of the man that guarded the door. "Let's go."
As they came up, both statues vanished, and the door swung open. Adam smiled briefly as they stepped through the doorway, and then they both shrieked in surprise as the floor vanished beneath them, and they fell.
None of them showed the slightest indication that they were the one who had done it. She hadn't expected any of them to. If they had, she would have vaporized them on the spot. She thought it was Scorpina, but without any evidence, she was disinclined at the moment to do anything to her about it just yet. As the four of them vanished silently, Rita felt a smile spreading across her face. It went beyond being good to be Queen. It was everything she'd ever wanted.
And to think. . .I thought I needed Zedd for this, her eyes flared with the most unholy of joy as she gestured to create a viewscreen to watch the battle on. Who needs that stupid RepulsaScope. I like watching it like this.
She frowned momentarily as she saw that two of the Rangers were missing, the Black and Green ones. She didn't think Billy had damaged Kim that badly before, and Adam hadn't been hurt at all. She didn't like the looks of this. They must not be allowed to free her Ranger. . .
After all, she had so many more interesting plans for him than merely a war-toy.
"Now, now, is that any way to speak to your hostess?" the same voice they'd heard twice before spoke. Both of the Rangers looked up from the heap they'd fallen into, and saw what appeared to be one of the most beautiful women they had ever observed sitting in a chair set before a worktable.
Adam flushed a deep cherry red, getting up and helping Kim to her feet. "I'm sorry," he looked down, embarrassed that his pique over falling had caused him to break his customary restraint in language. "But I was upset."
"Quite understandable, Adam Park," the woman said, smoothing the front of her pure white gown. "I welcome you and your companion Kimberly Hart both to my palace. It has been long and long since Zeo Rangers have set foot in my realm."
The two of them were set back by her obvious knowledge of who they were. Kim shoved it to the back of her mind; she knew they had to hurry down to business! "Ma'am, we're looking for the Star Crystal, we need it to free a friend of ours from the control of evil."
"Ah," the woman raised one eyebrow. "I see. But I would be most remiss in my duties if I did not provide you with the proper hospitality," she raised one hand delicately, and two chairs appeared on their side of the table, with a smaller table between the two that held steaming cups of hot chocolate in cups of what looked to be pure crystal. "Please, sit and drink. You have almost reached the end of your quest."
Both of them looked somewhat suspicious of that, but couldn't find any polite way to get out of it at the moment. "You said almost?" Adam asked as he settled into one of the chairs and picked up a cup. "Why almost?"
"You have passed the trial of love," the lady looked at Kim. "And I wish you luck in your future with your beloved," her eyes turned to Adam. "And you passed the trial of wisdom. You chose well, and I do so apologize for bringing you here in this somewhat unseemly fashion. It has been said that I have a sense of humor, and I could not help but do as I did."
Kim chuckled a little. "Well, you were right, Adam. That door did lead to the palace."
"So I see," Adam smiled quietly. The chocolate was absolutely delicious, quite probably the best beverage that had ever slid down his throat. "You make an excellent cup of chocolate, ma'am."
"I am Shalina, Lady of Pokha and Mistress of the Labyrinth," the lady introduced herself. "You seek the Star Crystal for a friend, you say. What evil is so potent it holds them?"
"The Spell of Dark Shadow," Kim repeated the words Zedd had told them, and the smile dropped off Shalina's face. The sorceress rose to her feet and held out one hand flat in front of her. There were no flashes of light or anything like that. One moment only empty air was above her hand, then the next, a pure white crystal sparkled there.
"My brother's finest creation still corrupts beings in your world?" Shalina said, and they could hear pain and sorrow in her voice. At their double nod, she caught the crystal in one hand and tossed it to Kim. Out of reflex, the Black Ranger reached up and caught it. The moment her skin touched it, there was a flash of light, and Kim felt suddenly settled, far more comfortable with herself and with her powers. Shalina raised one eyebrow. "You, too, were touched by evil, though not the Dark Shadow?"
Kim nodded quietly. "It's a long story."
"And one that we don't have time to discuss now," Shalina mused. "Though I would be most pleased if one day, you and your friends returned here to visit. If you come without seeking one of my artifacts, there is no need to pass through the Labyrinth. Just show this to the gate-guards," she tossed another crystal to Adam. "They'll know what it means."
The Green Ranger looked curious about something for a moment. "How do you know we're telling the truth?" he wondered. "Not that I'm complaining, but for all you know, we could be sent by your brother or some other evil creature."
Shalina shrugged. "None of my brother's creatures can survive my Labyrinth. It was originally made to destroy them, as well as protect my work. And no one can utter an untruth while in my palace. But you have no time, truly, to spend in conversation with me. Please, go and save your friend. I will send you home."
Before either of them could object, she had flicked a small ball of light towards them. It grew in size until it had covered both of them, and then Shalina was alone in the chamber. She sighed darkly, leaning forward to place her head on her hand. A single silvery tear ran down one cheek, until she wiped it away.
At least we're going to go down trying, he thought harshly, using his sword to support him. And maybe it'll do some good. Bring Billy back to his senses, something like that.
Billy laughed low and wickedly, and the sound of it chilled the soul of all who heard, good and evil alike. The citizens of Angel Grove had cleared out some time earlier, and he had ordered absolutely no mercy for the Rangers. He wasn't going back to the moon until they were all gone, slain preferably by his skill, or those of his companions. What Rita had said before they had come down didn't really affect him; he knew that he hadn't had anything to do with Finster's disappearance. He was Rita's prized warrior, and would do nothing that would get her angry at him.
"This is a good day for evil," Goldar grunted as he walked up beside the White Ranger. He had never thought he would say those words to Billy, but he had come in the past few days to regard the former foe with great admiration. "Let us destroy them."
Billy nodded slowly, pulling his blaster from it's holster. It wouldn't be quite as effective as carving them up personally would have been, but it was still rather enjoyable. Calmly he placed Tommy in his sights. The first person to go down would be the so-called `leader of the Rangers'.
"Whoa, what a ride!" his attention was jerked to the side by a flash of white light, and two figures that dropped out of it. His eyes narrowed with dark joy to see the Black and Green Zeo Rangers standing unmorphed in the middle of the street suddenly. "And what destruction!"
"Thank you," Billy chuckled. "I take a great deal of pride in my work."
Kim's eyes narrowed as she brought out something that looked like a quartz crystal and reeked of raw goodness to everyone there. The forces of evil automatically recoiled from it, feeling the harshness of it's pure light around her. "This has to end, Billy. You are not evil, and we won't let you stay that way."
Scorpina and Goldar were moving towards her quickly, but the Star Crystal worked even quicker. As Kim lifted the crystal, a pulse of purest white light washed out from it, touching everyone on the battlefield. The Rangers felt themselves strengthened, their exhaustion washed away. The Tengas went screaming back to the moon, with Goldar, Scorpina, and Rito close behind them, not caring about what Rita would probably say once they were back in the palace. Billy was trying to move, but as soon as the glow had begun, Adam had darted across and was literally holding the White Ranger in place.
The sound of the howl that leaped out of Billy's mouth sent chills down the spines of them all. Slowly, the crystal's light faded, and Adam could feel Billy relaxing. With a flicker, he had demorphed, and almost collapsed into his friend's arms.
"Billy?" Tommy came over to their old friend. "Billy, are you all right?"
The White Ranger looked up, his eyes coming open to show they had returned to the same green they always had been before. "To. ..Tommy?"
"It's me," the Red Ranger smiled. "How do you feel?"
"Like I was just hit by a very large UltraZord," Billy groaned. "I remember what I did. . .," his eyes filled up with tears, and all of them gathered around him quickly.
"It wasn't your fault," Kim said firmly, touching his hand. "It wasn't anyone's fault but Rita's. She was the one who did it to you. No one else."
Billy looked from one to the other of them, and saw nothing but complete forgiveness and acceptance on every face. The small hard knot of self-hate that had existed within him since the moment the Power Coins had been destroyed loosened and vanished. A smile spread across his face. "Let's get back to the Power Chamber," the White Ranger said.
Kim nodded, smiling. "We've got a lot to catch you up on," she said, helping him stand on his feet. "Let's go."
Moments later they were standing in the Power Chamber. The first thing they noticed was that Finster was sitting up and talking with Zedd. Both of them turned warm, friendly glances to Billy the moment the Rangers were fully materialized. Something in the way they were looking at him said more than anything to Billy that at long last, he was home.