But not that long before, things had changed drastically. With the coming of Master Vile, they had faced a foe unlike any other in the universe. He had turned time back seven years, and reduced every being on the planet to the age they had been back then. The Power Rangers had lost their Power Coins to Rita and Zedd, and had been forced to go upon a quest for the mighty Zeo Crystal in order to restore time to what it should be, and gain the power to fight the forces of evil once more.
Billy Cranston, the former Blue Ranger, had went on an entirely different quest. His search had been for the magnificent Starlight Crystal, which had given him the power of the Purple Starlight Ranger. There were still four other Starlight Rangers to be found, the White, Black, Silver, and Gray ones. He felt confidant that they would be found, however. Almost all of his doubts and fears had been swept away when he had claimed his new power, and when he had finally told Kat how much he loved her.
He still couldn't believe she loved him back. For the first couple of days after the world had been restored and he'd declared his love in front of the entire team, he'd literally been walking on air, as well as trying to figure out just why they hadn't said anything before. It had ceased to matter, however. They were together now, and that was what was most important.
The Purple Ranger took a long sip of his smoothie, and turned his gaze to the others in the Youth Center. Except for the slightly nagging problem of who the other Starlight Rangers were, his mind was perfectly at peace. He watched calmly as Rocky, Adam, and Tommy worked out on the mats, developing a strategy for the martial arts tournament to be held in a few weeks. He'd been giving serious thought to taking part in that, but he wasn't quite certain who his partners could be. Three-man teams were the rule for this one, like the Ninja Finals they had met Rocky, Adam, and Aisha in. Well, three-person teams, he reminded himself. They were never restricted by gender.
Thoughts began to turn over in his mind as he remembered that. His eyes flicked over the rest of the team, then he shook his head. Kat was a dancer and a diver, not a fighter. Tanya was too new to martial arts at the moment, and there wouldn't be enough time for her to learn before the tournament. He sighed just for the barest moment. It would have been nice to be in it, though.
"Something wrong, handsome?" Kat plunked herself down next to her boyfriend and smiled warmly at him. "You look like there's something on your mind."
"There was," his thoughts segued smoothly away from the tournament and to the beautiful girl sitting next to him. "What we're going to do tonight."
She smiled, reaching out to take his hand. "We're going to have fun," she said softly. "Because I always have fun when I'm with you."
A faint blush touched his cheeks, and he chuckled softly. "Let's go for a drive," he suggested. "See some of the scenic spots of Angel Grove by night?"
"Sounds good to me," she leaned over, her lips brushing against Billy's softly. Enough pure love to shake the foundations of the universe was transmitted in that butterfly-gentle touch.
It was more than enough to make certain watching parties nauseous.
The overlord nodded quietly, shutting off his supervision. "I agree, Rita. But what? Every time we've gone after any one of those annoying brats, all the rest of them gang up to help out!"
Rita growled an agreement, pacing back and forth in the throne room as she thought, pausing only to kick Rito out of her way. He and Goldar weren't very high on her `good' list at the moment, since they had botched the destruction of the Power Chamber and spectacularly failed to capture the Zeo Crystal. They could've had it all, the Rangers powerless, Zordon gone, and an unobstructed path to universal domination. Instead, they were back to the same old grind, and the Rangers were more powerful than ever! Zedd was frowning as he plotted as well, there had to be something they could do to stop that annoying Bl. . .no, he was the Purple Starlight Ranger now. And he was even dating the Pink Ranger, that traitor. Resentment and fury boiled faster and faster in his brain as he thought over all the slights Billy had caused them. All the devices he had built to save the day, all the Putties and Tengas that he'd destroyed and defeated, he'd reunited the Zeo Crystal and he'd found the Starlight Crystal, which would bring four more Rangers into the mix, once they were found! Billy was responsible for everything, couldn't the boy just take a break, relax, let them win a few, sleep, something!
He paused suddenly. Sleep. Something Rita had said the other day rang in his mind. That little twerp is always up to something. ..doesn't he sleep? He wondered. . .was it possible? Could they do it?
"Zedd?" Rita looked sharply over at him. "Zedd, what are you thinking about? I can tell you've come up with something! What is it?"
Her husband rose from his throne suddenly and walked over to her, taking her hand in his. "My dearest Rita," he laughed, feeling evil as he had not in centuries. "I believe I have just come up with a plan that will not only give us total domination over Earth, but will punish Zordon's pet genius in the most delicious way possible!"
Rita's eyes glowed a harsh red for a moment. "You have? Tell me, tell me, tell me!"
"First, we need a monster," Zedd told her. "And then. . .do you remember that wonderful little gift your cousin Divatox sent us for a wedding present? The one that we couldn't figure out a way to use at the time?"
He liked the way her eyes widened as she realized what he was talking about. "You'd do that to him?" her voice was not one of disbelief, but of pure and simple awe. Zedd's plan had to be a masterpiece. She found herself appreciating their marriage more and more every day. What had once been a simple tool to gain power had turned into something more, and she didn't mind a bit.
"Of course I would!" Zedd's scarlet gaze once more turned to Earth, to where his target was walking in the park with Kat now. "What better revenge could we have on him for all that he has done? And not just on him. ..but on all the Power Rangers!"
Rita had to agree with him.
"When should I pick you up?" Billy asked as they paused to look out over the lake, watching the kids and teenagers playing around the water. "And what do your parents think?"
They hadn't really officially announced to either of their parents yet that they had become a couple. Tonight would actually be their first real date. They had been too busy the last week since time had been restored and they had gained their new powers to date. Rita and Zedd had wasted no time throwing monsters and Tengas at them, in vaster numbers than before, which gave them very little time to rest and think about dating. Besides, both had simply been in too much shock at being a couple, after months of longing, to even consider a date.
"I haven't told them anything yet," Kat blushed a little. "I was going to, but I just haven't found the right time yet. Yours?"
Billy shrugged. "They're out of town again. Business trip."
Kat would have winced if she and everyone else who knew Billy hadn't gotten used to it over time. Billy's parents traveled extensively due to their jobs, but trusted their son to take care of himself and their house in the meantime. Because of this, the Cranston house tended to be where the Rangers congregated when they needed or wanted to. They were almost one hundred percent assured of privacy there. Billy's parents might not have spent as much time with him as they would have liked to, but what time they did get together was always well-spent.
The Pink Ranger had a bit more traditional family, with mother, father, and two sisters. Love flowed among the Hillards, deep and true, and Kat longed for the moment when she would present Billy to them as her boyfriend, and maybe even one day. ..husband.
As that thought sparked in her mind, she almost frowned. Do I want to marry Billy? We've known each other for months, but how do I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with him? She snuck a quick glance at him. He certainly was gorgeous, his brains were not to be discounted, and he was a genuinely warm and friendly person. Whenever and whoever he married would certainly be getting one heck of a guy.
Calm down, Hillard, she told herself sharply. Date a while. A few years. Then decide. But don't worry about it now. You've got other things to deal with. .like your date tonight. "Well, you can pick me up around seven," Kat decided. "Is that a good time for you?"
"Sure," Billy hugged her, enjoying the warm and tender feeling of his arms around her. His eyes floated away from her to look out over the people he could see in the park and by the lake. As he frequently found himself wondering if any of them were one of the other Starlight Rangers, and how he would recognize them if they were.
It would have been nice if the Keeper had told me how I would recognize them, he thought almost bitterly. The guardian of the crystal had told him very little, actually. Then, as the sweet scent of Kat's hair wafted up to his nostrils, he dismissed the thought. He would know them when he found them. He didn't know how, but he would know them. All that mattered now was just the woman he was with, the woman he loved more than life itself. As he glanced down at the beautiful blonde in his arms, he thanked every lucky star he had for the perfect moment that they were enjoying.
His long-distance girlfriend. Kim was in Miami and he was in Angel Grove, and the three thousand miles between them weren't exactly the best for keeping up a relationship. Their letters to each other had been intense and love-filled in the beginning, but as time had passed and each had changed, the letters had changed. They were still friendly, as they were still friends, but the newest Red Ranger was beginning to have nightmares of opening a letter to see Kim's distinctive handwriting saying that she had found someone else and was breaking up with him.
Or maybe you're afraid of finding someone else, the niggling voice of doubt and fear whispered in his mind. Scared history will repeat itself.
His fists clenched as he remembered what had happened before. He wouldn't let it happen again. Why haven't I told anyone about it? he wondered, getting up and heading back to the practice area, forgetting that he, Rocky, and Adam had decided to pause for a break in their training, intent only on channeling some of his emotions into his fighting skills. He did that frequently; it was one of the things that made him the fighter he was.
As he moved through the motions of a kata, his mind slowly cleared, allowing him some measure of peace. He had done his best to avoid thinking about his first girlfriend for almost three years now, ever since he had come to Angel Grove. Katas were the best tool for that, and one he used frequently.
Rocky glanced over to the blur in red that was moving swiftly around the practice mats. He was seriously considering doing the same; whatever it was that Tommy was thinking about, katas seemed to calm him. The newest Blue Ranger could use some of that calm.
Just being the Blue Ranger was enough of a twist to his equilibrium. He'd been the Red for almost a year and a half, and the change was shocking. Especially since he, Billy, Adam, and Tommy had spent the last half of one afternoon exchanging clothing and shopping. No one could really explain just why they were compelled to wear their Ranger color in off-duty clothing, but no one really felt comfortable unless they were tricked out in whatever the proper colors were.
Kat and Tanya didn't have to change their colors at all! he thought with a bit of amusement. In the modified timeline the Zeo Crystal had created, Tanya had wielded the Yellow Ninja Power for a short time before all the Power Coins had been destroyed by Rita and Zedd, and she had claimed her Zeo Crystal. The very weird part of that was, they all remembered and she and Aisha had experienced the quest that Aisha had went on for it, and Tanya agreeing to come back in her place! The odd double memories didn't exactly bother them, but it would have made for some unusual conversation if necessary.
The thought of Aisha made Rocky's eyes water for a moment, until he dashed them away. He'd been doing his best to avoid thinking about her, and saw no reason to start now. Deciding Tommy had the right idea, he jumped up and headed for an empty area, focusing his mind on a kata he had learned some months earlier. Quick glances around showed where most of the rest of the team was. Tommy was still working out, smoother and deeper than ever. Tanya and Adam were talking at a table, and Billy and Kat were still out for their walk. He was alone, effectively.
Alone since Aisha left, the thought snuck into his head anyway, and he half-growled to himself, whirling into the kata and thrusting all thoughts of his old friend away. She was in Africa and would be for who knew how long, he was in Angel Grove, and had no intentions of leaving any time soon. He would think about her later, if at all. For now, there was only the kata, and only the companionship of his memories.
Zedd laughed harshly as he and Rita finalized the plan he had come up with. "Now all we need is a monster," he stated, looking at the dark crystal in one silver-taloned hand. "And I know just what to make one out of!"
Rita chuckled, swirling her heavy skirts around to look at him. Something about his evil was making her feel like a schoolgirl again, and she liked the feeling. "What's it going to be, Zeddykins?"
"This!" a bolt of lighting shot from the tip of his staff and lashed down to a drugstore in Angel Grove. A small bottle was struck, and began to grow to humanoid proportions. Before it could draw the attention of anything or anyone in the building, it vanished in a puff of light, reappearing in front of the evil duo.
The coned sorceress raised one eyebrow, staring at the thing in front of them. Seven feet tall, with a head that sort of resembled the cap of the pill bottle it had been spawned from, glowing red eyes, and muscled like a bodybuilder, only more so, it was a thing of hideousness.
"It's perfect!" she exclaimed. "What's it's name, Zedd, what does it do? Are you sure it'll do what we want it to?"
Zedd marched over to the creature, then around it, inspecting it minutely. "Rita, I want you to meet the Morpheus Monster, the harbinger of eternal sleep, and the defeat of the Power Rangers, once and for all! Anyone that is struck by the rays of it's eyes is plunged into a sleep so deep and final that only two things can ever awaken them."
"Two things?" Rita didn't like the sound of that; permanent slumber was so much more fun! Then again, the second half of their plan wouldn't be carried out if their victim never awoke!
"Another strike by the Monster, or me breaking the spell myself," Zedd informed her. He was capable of breaking the power of all of his creations, since he had made them in the first place. "Unlike most of our monsters, destroying this one will have no effect on anyone who is put to sleep by it!"
His wife laughed, running her hands across the thing's face and shoulders. "Oh, yes! I love this! When should it attack?"
Zedd cast his eyes down to Earth, scanning to see where Billy was now. He wasn't planning on wasting much time with this monster, he wanted the Purple Ranger taken down as fast as possible! Taken down. ..and taken here!
"Now!" he hissed. "Morpheus Monster, attack the Purple and Pink Rangers, and don't you dare come back without the Purple Ranger under your sleeping spell and totally helpless!"
The monster bowed quickly, speaking in a deep rich voice, quite unlike the usual hideous tones of a creature of evil. "As you command, Lord Zedd. I will not fail you."
It teleported away quickly, and Zedd threw his head back, howling with raw evil laughter. "Rita, before this day ends, there will be no more Purple Ranger, and Zordon's pet genius will be ripped away from him, forever!"
Rita's mirth echoed his. "Do you think we should tell Divatox just how useful her gift is going to be to us?"
"No!" Zedd's voice was sharp and she looked quickly at him. "I don't want that pirate wench coming around here! I hired one of your relatives already, and I'm not having anymore!"
She shrugged, it didn't bother her that much really. She knew most of her family would annoy Zedd. Rito was too stupid not to annoy people, Master Vile was just so evil almost no one could watch it, and Divatox was a sultry vixen who could and had seduced minions of good and evil alike all over the galaxy and then some. What Zedd didn't know, and what Rita wasn't going to tell him, was that Divatox was wholly committed in her heart to the Great Flame of Destruction, Maligore. For a moment, Rita wondered if the two would ever be wed. It didn't seem likely really, with Maligore still trapped in the volcano on Murianthus. But you never knew.
Dismissing thoughts of her cousin, she shuffled over to the RepulsaScope and focused it on Earth. Zedd's plan bid fair to actually work, and that was something she wanted to watch.
"Tell me I'm seeing things!" Tommy breathed as he stared at the Morpheus Monster. "That thing is hideous!"
Kat shook her head. "Rita and Zedd have really outdone themselves with this piece of garbage," she declared. She did not like having her walk with Billy interrupted, even for having to defend the world.
"Well, we'll just have to send it straight to the recycler!" Billy declared, taking a fighting stance. "And hope it doesn't get sent back!"
"I am the Morpheus Monster, lord of the realm of sleep and dreams!" the creature declared, charging towards them with a long staff in one hand. "And I have come to destroy you in the name of Rita and Zedd!"
Rocky almost felt like laughing as the Rangers flipped out of the way, and he and Tommy started towards the thing almost at the same moment. Tommy held the Zeo V Power Sword in one hand, and he himself held what he mentally referred to as the Zeo Daggers. "Let's take it, Rocky!" he heard Tommy shouting to him.
"I'm ready!" the two Rangers charged straight for the monster, only to stop in mid-stride as a wash of black feathers cascaded down in front of them, and a troop of Tengas appeared. "Looks like we're going to have to delay that!"
"Don't worry, Rocky!" Billy waved at him from the other side of the Tengas, where he and Kat were heading up on Morpheus. "We'll take care of this!"
The Red and Blue Rangers nodded, and Tommy caught sight of Adam and Tanya taking on Rito and Goldar several feet away. He didn't want to know what their fights could have been like if they were down a Ranger for any reason. And Billy had come close to not being one again.
A particularly hard hit by a Tenga to one side drew his attention back to his business, and he was more than happy to show this thing just what his new powers were capable of. The Tenga gave thought to early retirement as the Red Zeo Ranger did so.
Billy and Kat hadn't exactly been working together as a team since the power-switch, but found it wasn't necessary as they moved up on the monster. A few quick motions, and they knew what they were going to be doing. Kat would draw it's attention, while he would wait to strike when it was distracted. They didn't know how strong it was, but with any luck, they would be able to either take it out or at least hold it at bay until the others could help them finish it off once and for all.
"So there you are, Billy!" he looked up in shock to see the monster in front of him: literally in front of him, glaring at him with those scarlet eyes. As their eyes met, he felt himself freezing in place, unable to move a muscle. His mind quite literally went blank.
Kat stared, not understanding what she was seeing. The monster had ignored her completely, knocking her to one side and turning it's full attention onto Billy. Now he was standing there, rigid, staring through the concealment of his helmet at the thing as if in a trance. Trance. . . "Billy, no!" she shouted, starting to run over to him. Her feet faltered as a bolt of lightning crashed in front of her, throwing up a cloud of smoke. When it cleared, Rita and Zedd themselves stood in front of her.
"Not this time, kitten!" Rita laughed. "We're going to get what we came for!"
Zedd said nothing, only turned to look at Billy and raised his staff, shooting a beam of light out at the Purple Ranger. His uniform washed away, and they could all see the blank, entranced look on his face. The Morpheus Monster laughed, and it's eyes glowed an even brighter red for a moment. Billy quite literally toppled over, his eyes shutting as he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
"NO!" the cry came from five throats as Rita and Zedd marched triumphantly over the prone Ranger. "Let him go!" Tommy shouted, and Kat's eyes were already overflowing with tears.
"Bye-bye, Rangers. Pleasant dreams!" Rita mocked them, then she, Zedd, Rito, Goldar, the Tengas and Billy all vanished, leaving only the Morpheus Monster behind.
Tommy was beside Kat almost at once. Neither of them spoke, but the Red Ranger had a firm hand on the Pink's shoulder. One by one, all of them summoned their Power Weapons. Only one answer could be given to what Rita and Zedd had done. There was only one thing they could do.
It was similar to their old Power Blaster, but forged of their Zeo Weapons and much more powerful. One single blast from the Zeo Blaster was all that was necessary for the Morpheus Monster to be reduced to dust.
THAT WAS THE MORPHEUS MONSTER, Zordon told them. He and Alpha had, as they always did, scanned the creature while the Rangers were fighting it, learning as much as they could about their foe. TO MEET IT'S EYES MEANT A TRANCE, EFFECTIVE EVEN THROUGH YOUR RANGER SUITS, AND IT PUT BILLY INTO A DEEP SLEEP.
"We destroyed it, wouldn't that mean that Billy would wake up?" Rocky wanted to believe that, being unable to fight back against their foes in any form was a nightmare all the Rangers shared.
"We don't think so, Rocky," Alpha looked through some of the documentation they had on the monster. "According to what we found out, only the creature itself, or Lord Zedd since he made it, can awaken someone who is put under the sleeping spell."
A sudden silence fell over the Command Center. They knew the creature couldn't awaken Billy, since they had just destroyed the thing themselves. Not one of them regretted it, however.
"Zedd probably won't wake him up any time soon," Tommy forced himself to say the words. "Unless he has to for whatever reason he took Billy."
"That's what's scaring me," Kat whispered. "Why would he take him? Billy was already asleep, and we can't break it, apparently. Why kidnap him too?"
THAT IS SOMETHING THAT ONLY ZEDD AND RITA KNOW, I'M AFRAID, KATHERINE, Zordon stated solemnly. I WILL BE SEARCHING FOR ANOTHER WAY TO BREAK ZEDD'S SPELL. BUT WE MUST ALSO MAKE PREPARATIONS TO RESCUE BILLY FROM THEIR CLUTCHES.
Slowly, the remaining Rangers began to scatter throughout the room, making plans for their most important mission to date.
Kim Hart was unhappy. Unhappy for many reasons. After almost five months, she was sick to death of gymnastics, as well as stuck with a major case of homesickness. Not to mention that I've went and fallen out of love with Tommy. That was the last part, the part that hurt the most and made her feel almost physically ill. How could she have stopped loving the tall, handsome leader of the Rangers? It didn't make sense. ..but it had happened.
But in the midst of her unhappiness, a spark of joy still floated in her. She was going to be going home. She hadn't told anyone yet, at least no one in Angel Grove. But the next day, she would be boarding a plane back to the one place she'd felt she belonged.
She went back to the balance beam, moving liquidly. The Coach had understood that she had lost the enthusiasm for the Pan Globals she'd once had, and though he had been disappointed in her, he hadn't tried to stop her either. She was using the training facilities one last time. One final memory before she went back to the one thing in her life that had ever mattered: Angel Grove and her friends.
Not being a Ranger. That had meant a lot to her, but she accepted that the Pink Power was Katherine's now, and the letter she'd gotten the other day from Billy had told her that the two of them were together now.
Not to mention Billy now being the PURPLE Ranger. She could hardly believe that. But she had sensed the flickers of time shifting, and she knew Billy wouldn't lie to her. With a deep breath, she backflipped again, and as her feet landed on the beam one more time. ..
Silence in a mind that had never been silent. The sense of fear, of loss. Something invading every particle of his being, something viscious and dark and twisted, that was bent on making him like it. His mind gibbered in panic, trying to awaken, trying to fight back, but to no avail. One single word shattered the silence. . .HELP!!
Her eyes snapped open, she hadn't even realized she had closed them. Something burned within her, something she couldn't explain. Something fierce and glad, something that screamed in silent words that her friend, her leader, needed her help. Words came to her lips she had never uttered, had never dreamed existed.
"Gray Starlight Power!" she called out, knowing she wouldn't be heard. Her leotard was replaced at once by a gray Ranger's uniform, identical, though she didn't know it, to Billy's purple one, and she clasped the buckle on her belt automatically. Forming the image she had felt in her mind, she was at once transmuted into a steel-gray column of light, and swept off into the atmosphere.
In a corner of the room, the Guardian of the Starlight Crystal smiled. "Two down, three to go," she whispered softly. A flicker of unease passed across her face, then she shook her head. He would be fine. He was strong, he could resist what they would do to him. He had to. The thought of what would happen if he didn't chilled her.
Then a ripple of light passed in front of her, and she was gone.
Tommy wanted to shake his head again, to deny Kat's request. ..no, request indicated that she was asking permission. Kat hadn't asked for anything. She'd told them, in no uncertain terms, that she was going up there, and there had been an undertone that said if she didn't go, they were going to be hearing from her, in very rude language. "Why do you want to go so badly?" he asked, knowing the answer already.
"I love him," she said simply. "And I will go through hellfire and brimstone to get him back. Nothing they can put between us will stop me. He'd do the same for me."
Rocky shook his head a little. "It's dangerous, Kat," he reminded her. "They could have another one of those things up there, or hordes of Tengas waiting for when one of us tries to rescue him, or who knows what. We don't even know where he'd being held."
She shrugged almost casually. "One of three places. The dungeons, Finster's lab, or the throne room. I can check all three without being seen. I know the secret passages around the place very well."
"How?" Tanya wondered. She didn't know that much about the history of the Rangers prior to her own joining; Adam had been promising to tell her things, but there hadn't been time yet. She was looking forward to it, however. She was looking forward to spending lots of time with the handsome Green Ranger.
Kat smiled for a moment. "I used to work for them, Tanya. I was under one of Rita's spells. The others can tell you about it, but I've got to get moving."
"One of us could go with you," Adam suggested, coming over to her. "It wouldn't be safe alone."
The Pink Ranger shook her head again. "You can't fit where I can. I'm not really sure if I still fit there, but I've got better odds on my own anyway. It's easier for one person to hide than two or more."
It looked as if everyone was going to start disagreeing with her again, when something else broke into their discussion. YOU ARE CORRECT, KATHERINE. YOU SHOULD BE THE ONE TO GO.
Everyone turned to look up at their mentor. "Zordon?" Tommy was curious, he'd never even suggested one of them going on a mission like this before. "Are you sure? What if they caught her, too?"
I BELIEVE KAT CAN TAKE CARE OF HERSELF, Zordon stated. AND IT IS BEST IF ONLY ONE OF YOU GOES, THE OTHERS WILL BE NECESSARY IF RITA AND ZEDD UNLEASH ANOTHER ATTACK ON EARTH WHILE SHE IS GONE. IF KAT DID GET INTO TROUBLE, SHE COULD TELEPORT OUT TO SAFETY
Tommy sighed. He knew Zordon was right. There really wasn't anything left to discuss. "All right, but be careful. We don't know what they're planning or what kind of defense system they've got up there."
"Nothing I can't deal with," Kat grinned briefly. "I'll be back. ..with Billy."
She didn't wait another moment. A tap of her communicator, and only Rocky, Adam, Tanya, and Tommy remained in the Command Center. The four glanced at each other, and they could all see how nervous and upset that all of them were. Tommy turned his attention to the Viewing Globe, then glanced back at Alpha. "Think you can get a visual on Kat?" he asked finally.
"Ay-yi-yi, I can try, Tommy!" the little robot declared, then started fiddling with the controls. They would all be a lot less likely to panic if they knew what was going on with their friend.
Everything's quiet down here, she realized, slowly relaxing and straightening up. It took her a couple of moments to figure out where she was. Storage level, she decided. It was midway between Finster's lab and the dungeons, and she decided to check the cells first. Since Billy was a captive, that would be the most likely place for him to have been taken, if he were anywhere in the palace at all. She didn't think about where she would look or what she would do if he wasn't there. She would deal with that when the time came.
Moving through this place as Rita's enspelled cat P.C. had been a lot easier than creeping through it even as the unmorphed Pink Zeo Ranger, she quickly realized that. No one evil had paid any attention to her in her feline days, not wanting to risk Rita's wrath, but now if she were seen, Rita's wrath would be brought down on her.
Got to keep focused, she reminded, sliding through the darker shadows of the hallways. Her ears picked up the sound of Tengas flapping, and realized she was going to be going right past their aviary. Just what I needed, she grumbled mentally. She took several deep breaths, concentrating on moving as silently as she could.
She kept something in mind as she moved by: Tengas, while having severely limited bird brains, had very sensitive hearing. Not one footfall could be permitted to have a sound, not one breath could be made that was above a whisper, preferably one that would be easily explained away. The aviary's door was ahead of her by a few feet. ..then she was right by it, thanking everything she could think of that the door was shut. ..then she was beyond it.
On the far side of the aviary door was a broad set of doubledoors, iron-banded and with a small chamber to one side. It was seldom used, since seldom did Rita and Zedd bother with captives of any kind. The chamber was for guards when there were prisoners, and as she quietly peered around the corner, every nerve alert for anything and everything that might sound, she almost sighed to see it was empty.
I'd better check in the dungeon itself, just to be safe, she decided, reaching carefully for the handle of the doors. A second thought made her pause, checking the hinges of the door. Rusted. Lovely. They never take care of anything down here. Better not try to open them, that could bring all kinds of attention down here.
She turned silently, about to head up to Finster's lab. She was considering trying to scare the little monster-maker into telling her where Billy was, and stepped out carefully, turning the corner back into the hallway.
And straight into the arms of Goldar and Rito.
"Hey!" Rito laughed suddenly and harshly, and her stomach curdled at the stench of his breath that near to her. "Look what we've got, Goldie!"
Goldar chuckled, his hand pistoning out to seize her wrist. "Rita and Zedd are going to be pleased with us!" and just maybe we'll get some good points after screwing up stealing the Zeo Crystal.
"Not a chance!" she growled, jerking away from him and kicking him hard in the leg. "Where have you creeps put Billy?"
Rito blinked a little. "I dunno. Where is he, Goldar?"
"Shut up!" Goldar smacked his friend, then snapped his fingers. "You've got more problems to worry about than where the Purple Ranger is, pinkie!"
Tengas fluttered in from everywhere, and Kat took a long breath. This wasn't going to be as easy as she'd thought it would be. But it would be worth it once she had Billy back. "It's morphin' time! Zeo Ranger I, Pink!" she shouted, knowing she wouldn't be able to fight the Tengas as her unmorphed self. She set herself for combat.
Her heart almost stopped when she realized where she had just teleported to. "Rita and Zedd's palace," she whispered the words. What in the world would Billy be doing here?
Before she could do or think anything else, the sound of harsh voices in combat came to her ears. She would have passed it off as simply Tengas training or something of that nature, if higher above them hadn't risen a voice she recognized clearly, despite not having heard it in months.
Kim was already moving before conscious recognition of who it was registered in her brain. A flicker of thought caused a long gray bow to appear in one hand, almost identical to the one she had carried once before, with an energy arrow already nocked in it. She grinned beneath the helmet, feeling a familiar sense of pride and honor rising up within her soul.
"You're going to regret ever coming here, Pink Ranger!" she heard Goldar shouting, and Kat's response was a simple grunt of mixed pain and combat. "Rita and Zedd have the most evil plan in mind for your boyfriend!"
Kim was in the hall by now, and started firing as soon as she could, each arrow shaping itself out of pure thought as she fired the last. Miniature explosions knocked Tengas, Rito, and Goldar away from her friend, who stood on tottering knees trying to catch her breath from several harsh hits.
"Kat!" Kim pushed her way over a tattered Tenga and grabbed her wrist quickly. "Are you okay?"
The Pink Ranger lifted her head, confusion written on her unseen helmet. "K. .Kim?"
"It's me," the Gray Ranger looked back around. "I'll explain what I know later, we've got to get out of here and find Billy."
Kat nodded, standing up as the two of them raced over the Tengas, ignoring Rito and Goldar. "This isn't exactly the best environment for a reunion!"
The Gray and Pink Rangers almost literally left a trail of smoke behind them as they raced through the corridors, neither of them caring whether or not they were detected any more, since they were expecting to hear the alarm raised at any moment. Rito and Goldar were mentally incompetent, but pushing a button wasn't quite beyond them.
"I think we can stop for a moment," Kat said finally, leaning against a corridor. "This way isn't patrolled very often, we should have a few minutes to catch our breath and talk."
Kim nodded, leaning across from her and sliding her helmet off. "Short version of things is this: I was practicing one last time at the compound, and the next thing I knew, I had this weird vision that Billy was in some sort of danger. I morphed into the Gray Starlight Ranger, and here I am."
Kat nodded quietly. "Glad to have you aboard. Rita and Zedd used some sort of thing called the Morpheus Monster to kidnap Billy, and put him into a deep sleep, that only Zedd can break on him. I came here to rescue him."
"Let's get to it, then."
"I don't exactly miss them, but it's a little nerve-racking," Kim murmured as she peered around a corner quietly. "Think we should head for the throne room?"
Kat nodded quietly. "He wasn't in the dungeons or in Finster's lab. The throne room is the only place he could be, and the only place that we haven't looked yet."
The two of them were moving already through the corridors. Kim whispered, "So how has everyone else been?"
"Same as usual," Kat whispered back. "Tommy's going to love seeing you again."
Kim bit her lip, not wanting to reply to that. It wasn't going to be easy seeing her boyfriend again, and she didn't know how her heart would go once she had returned to Angel Grove full time. If being apart from him had been all that caused her to start feeling differently, then returning might help. . .she hoped. All she said out loud was, "It'll be good to be home," she'd already explained to Kat that she would be returning to Angel Grove the next day.
Silence fell as they stood just outside the main doors of the throne room. Both peeked carefully inside, and two hearts sank. They had found Billy.
Zedd was seated on his throne, with Rita on his lap, and both of them were looking at a long stone slab in front of them. Billy lay on it, clad in a robe of ebony black, chains holding him across his chest, waist, and legs, and manacles on his wrists and ankles. Suspended over him in mid-air was a dark crystal, pulsating softly, and sending a column of purplish-black energy down into Billy's forehead. Billy himself was laying perfectly still, with only the slight rise and fall of his chest indicating he was still alive.
"What in the world is that?" Kat whispered, feeling tears fill up in her eyes. What were they doing to him?? Kim waved her briefly to silence, and the two of them listened to what they could hear.
"It's working perfectly, my little sour apple!" Zedd declared, his eyes focused on Billy. "The energy of the Dark Crystal will mix with the Starlight Shard he already has, and recreate his entire body, soul, and powers, but every last one of them geared towards evil!"
Rita laughed wickedly. "The next time those eyes of his open, they will be the eyes of the unrelenting, unbreakable evil Purple Ranger!"
Kim and Kat stared at each other, then both moved swiftly, running into the throne room, ready to stop this travesty before it was too late. "Let him go, Rita!" Kat shouted, her eyes dark and raging. "You won't get away with this!"
Zedd laughed. "Oh, look, it's the Pink Ranger, come for her boyfriend! And who is your friend here?"
Kim's voice was just as harsh as Kat's. "You heard her, chromedome. Let Billy go!"
"I don't think so!" Rita laughed. "Go ahead, try and release him. ..you'll get a nasty little surprise!"
Neither beings of evil moved, and the two female Rangers started to make their way over to Billy. Kim kept her eyes on Rita and Zedd, while Kat pulled out her Zeo pistol and blasted at the chains. Her eyes widened when the lasers bounced off what looked like a forcefield!
"Did you really think we were just going to let you Rangers ruin this?" Zedd laughed. "That forcefield can't be broken through by anything you've got. ..only we can take it down. . .and we won't. . .not until the Dark Crystal has filled our little friend here with all the dark energy he can hold and then some!"
Kim and Kat both felt the bitter tang of defeat. Kat's mental link to Rita had faded over the last few months, but this close to her old mistress, she could tell that the sorceress and her husband were telling the truth. Billy was trapped. . .and there was nothing they could do about it.
PLEASE, RANGERS, SILENCE, Zordon's voice cut through the babble of voices, causing them all to fall silent. KIMBERLY, WELCOME HOME.
"Thanks, Zordon," Kim's voice was weak as she and Kat both demorphed. "Before anyone asks anything else, I'll explain what happened to me later. Right now, we've got some bad news."
"What happened?" Adam asked, his heart in his mouth. They could all see there was no sign of Billy anywhere. "Where is he?"
Kat sighed, tears falling quietly down her cheeks. "He's in the throne room, behind a forcefield. We can't break through it. I tried. The lasers just bounced off it. And there's something else."
She quietly described the crystal and what Zedd and Rita had said. Zordon looked more and more serious as they listened. I WAS NOT AWARE THAT THE DARK CRYSTAL WAS IN THEIR POSSESSION, he said at last. THIS IS DANGEROUS, RANGERS.
"What is it, Zordon? They couldn't be serious, could they?" Tommy tore his eyes from Kim and looked up at their mentor. "What are they doing to him?"
THE DARK CRYSTAL IS PURE EVIL ENERGY, RANGERS, DARK ENERGY. IT WAS CREATED BY MALIGORE, THE GREAT FLAME OF DESTRUCTION, MANY THOUSANDS OF EONS AGO, AND GIVEN AS A BETROTHAL GIFT TO DIVATOX, A PIRATE WHOM WAS ENGAGED TO HIM. BEFORE THEY COULD BE WED, HOWEVER, MALIGORE WAS CONFINED IN THE VOLCANO ON THE ISLAND OF MURIANTHUS. DIVATOX WANDERS THE UNIVERSE PLUNDERING AND PILLAGING. SHE IS ALSO RITA'S COUSIN.
Rocky shuddered. "Well, that explains how they got it. Divatox probably gave it to her."
VERY TRUE, Zordon agreed. EVEN IF YOU HAD BEEN ABLE TO GET TO BILLY, YOU WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN ABLE TO STOP THE INSERTION OF THE DARK ENERGY. ONCE THE BOND IS CREATED BETWEEN THE CRYSTAL AND A HUMAN, NOTHING CAN STOP IT. THE CRYSTAL WILL DRAIN THE EVIL INTO HIM UNTIL IT ITSELF IS EMPTY. WHEN THAT HAPPENS. . .
"When that happens, he'll be evil," Kat whispered, and Kim put a hand on her friend's shoulder, trying to comfort her.
"Is it possible to get the dark energy out of him, once that's happened, Zordon?" Tanya wondered.
THERE IS ONLY ONE POSSIBILITY, Zordon said slowly. THE COMBINED POWER OF THE ZEO CRYSTAL AND THE STARLIGHT CRYSTAL MIGHT BE ENOUGH TO CLEANSE BILLY. BUT FOR THAT WE WILL NEED TO FIND ALL THE OTHER STARLIGHT CRYSTAL HOLDERS.
Kim sighed. "We can start that later. ..I've got to go back to Florida, and catch my plane back here."
"Kim," Tommy spoke her name gently, and she turned to look at him. He caught his breath at just how beautiful she was. He had almost forgotten. . . "When we can. . .I think we need to talk."
She nodded, then glanced at Alpha. In a gray shower of light, she was gone. The five remaining behind glanced slowly at each other. In the space of a few hours, they had gained one member and lost another. The one they had lost would be back, someday, though, they knew. They would see to it.
Zedd nodded, squeezing her tightly to him. "This is the best plan we've ever done!"
Both of them paused for a few moments to look at the young man on the slab beneath them. His face was completely expressionless, not so much as twitching as the Dark Crystal continued to pour the evil energy into him. Invisible to mortal eyes, but clearly showing to Rita and Zedd both, was a faint aura around him. It shone a brilliant blue, the ancient traditional color of a genius and mentally oriented person. Faintly within it was a shadow however, darkening the aura. That was the only visible effect of the energy filling his soul. Once it was all the way in him, his aura would be completely and deeply black, a match for hers and Zedd's both, and he would be their slave forever.
"Do you think they'll come back and try to rescue him again?" Rita wondered, turning her gaze this time to her husband.
He shrugged. "Even if they can get past the forcefield, the energy transfer has begun. The crystal won't stop until he's completely turned."
She asked the question that had been on her mind ever since Zedd had explained the plan to her in full detail. "Is there a way the Rangers could get the energy out of him?"
Zedd didn't answer for a few moments, and she was starting to almost be worried when he finally spoke. "There's a slim possibility, but the evil is going to be so rooted into his soul that I seriously doubt it, my peanut. The dark energy is rewriting his entire life for him, changing everything about him so that evil is his natural state. To change that would go against what they believe in, and are capable of doing!"
Rita smiled wickedly; that was good to hear! "So we'll finally have a permanent evil Ranger?"
"Yes, my dumpling!" Zedd promised her. "And the most intelligent one of them all at that! How does. ..Billy Cranston, eternally evil Purple Starlight Ranger, sound to you?"
His wife threw her head back and cackled with laughter. "It sounds like a great job description...and the perfect servant!"
"Indeed he will be, my dear," Zedd looked back at Billy. For seven days he would remain there, as the crystal's energy reworked him inside and out. When those seven days were up. . .the young man that the world had known before would be gone. . .forever!
Zedd liked that thought.
The ice-cold sensations never stopped. They were slowly invading his entire body. What they were doing to him, he didn't know. He couldn't remember anything. His entire mind had been stripped clean, and he felt confusion and bewilderment at a level no human being had ever known before.
Who am I? the phrase floated through his consciousness, then was gone. Another came by.
I am Billy Cranston, the Purple Starlight Ranger. The evil Purple Starlight Ranger. I serve Rita and Zedd, the empress and emperor of evil. I have always served them. I always will.
With no other cues, he took that for his identity. He was evil. He was ruthless. He was ice-hearted. He was the minion of darkness, and when he was ready, he would destroy the Power Rangers.
In the vaults of his mind, laughter that reeked of evil rang. The power of darkness was growing.