"You're thinking about him again," Kat Hillard's voice wasn't accusing, just curious. She didn't know Jason the way Tommy did, but it was plain to see the two of them were as close or closer than brothers.
Tommy nodded, clasping her hand a little tighter. He'd never thought he would love again after the long-distance breakup between him and Kim, but it had happened. He wasn't stupid; he'd always known Kat had had a crush on him practically since she'd arrived in town, but she'd never done anything about it. He'd treated her with the same respect and courtesy he had every other female in the world, and she had returned the favor, never using Kim's absence to try and move in on his heart. And when Kim had broken up with him, she had done everything in her power to make him feel better.
It had worked, too. Not only had he made a slow recovery, but in the fullness of time, he had fallen just as deeply or more in love with her as he had ever been with Kim. But still in his heart there was that nagging sense of incompleteness, of something unfulfilled. He knew what it was: he hadn't really closed things off with Kim. They had never talked and thus never really had a closure with her. But with her in Florida and him in California, he knew that couldn't be.
"I'm really worried about him," he said quietly, though unnecessarily. She was the only one of them close enough to hear him. Rocky, Adam, and Tanya were about a half a dozen feet ahead of them on the park path they were all taking from school. Their general destination was the Youth Center, but with Rita and Zedd back on the job in the Lunar Palace, you never knew just what might happen. It felt just like the old days again.
But not quite, he amended. The team was different, the powers were different. The fight hadn't changed, and never would. With the tiniest of smiles at the thought he would be a part of the fight for a good while yet, he turned his attention back to Kat. "I know how you feel," she agreed. "He hasn't been himself since he lost the powers."
"He came fairly close to dying," he reminded her. "That's never happened to any of us before. We've come close, but our powers always pulled us out. It's never been because of the power."
There wasn't that much she could say to that, and she knew it. As they walked on in silence, faint snatches of the conversation ahead of them drifted back to them, just loud enough to be heard.
"When did you say that demonstration was?" Adam's gentle voice held a thread of interest he reserved for martial arts and being with his girlfriend.
Rocky's stronger tones responded. "It's in early December, at the Youth Center. A lot of the best martial artists in the state are going to be there."
"Oh, wow," Tanya hadn't been studying the fighting arts as long as her friends had, but she was more than impressed by this. "I wonder who's going to be there?"
"A lot of the big names," Rocky replied. "And supposedly there's someone new showing too. Whoever it is, they're keeping his name really hush-hush."
Adam was surprised; he'd thought he at least knew of all the big-name martial artists, to think there was one he'd missed was startling. Then again, if they're just getting started and got some good breaks, I might not have heard of them yet, he reminded himself. "Are they selling tickets for it yet?" he wanted to know. Rocky grinned widely, patting the pocket of his light jacket.
"Not only are they selling them, I've already got five!" he grinned. "Bought them yesterday. Prime seats too!"
Tommy chuckled a little to himself; Rocky hadn't even asked them if they wanted to go. He didn't have to. He had known, the way all the Rangers always knew, that they would be going together. Martial arts exhibitions were excellent places for scouting out new techniques, as well as possible future Rangers if necessary. None of them had forgotten that Rocky, Adam, and Aisha had entered their lives at the Stone Canyon Ninja Finals.
They were just within sight of the Youth Center when the sound they'd all been expecting and dreading at the same time. Tommy glanced around for a moment, checking to make certain they were all clear, then touched his communicator.
"What is it, Zordon?"
"Rita and Zedd's latest monster, the Poundatron, has been sighted destroying buildings in the downtown area," the voice of their mentor came. "It is being guarded by a half a dozen Tengas as well."
Kat groaned faintly. "Full out attack. I knew it had been too quiet for too long."
"We're on it, Zordon," Tommy replied, looking at the others. In every face there was resignation they had to fight again, but in every eye there gleamed the thrill of combat. This was what they did. He took a deep breath. "It's morphin' time!"
"We've got our work cut out for us, guys," Tommy wished heartily Trey was with them, they could use the extra Ranger. He said he'd be back. We'll survive without him. "And it isn't going to be easy."
"That's an understatement," Adam murmured, glancing around. The Poundatron was busily attacking another building as they stood on top of a different structure, quickly taking stock of the situation. Tengas flocked together, obviously watching for them.
Tommy's eyes flicked around and around from under his helmet, then he nodded briefly to himself. "Tanya, Kat, can you guys take out the Tengas?"
"Not a problem, Tommy," the Pink Ranger nodded firmly. "What are the rest of you going to be doing?"
The Red Ranger glanced back down, plans stirring in his mind. "The rest of us are going to go down there and pound Poundatron into the sand."
"Sounds like a plan to me," Rocky said. "Let's do it!"
That was all the battle cry they needed as the five of them leaped down from the top of the building. Pink and Yellow landed in the center of the Tenga flock and immediately started punching and kicking the birds into oblivion, while Red, Blue, and Green surrounded Poundatron.
"Rita and Zedd haven't changed a bit," Tommy grunted as the three of them started to circle the monster, which pulled back to look at them with it's small, pig-like eyes. "Still making some of the stupidest monsters I've ever seen."
Poundatron didn't technically have hands, attached to the wrists were instead two large hammers. It was those hammers that he slammed at Tommy with, catching the Ranger in the stomach and causing him to go flying across the street to land against another building. "Oh, man," he muttered; thankful his armor had absorbed most of the damage and almost all of the impact, he stumbled back up to his feet. Rocky and Adam were engaging the monster, fighting in the near-perfect unison they'd perfected after who knew how many years of working together. They were needing some help, though.
And that was something Tommy was eminently capable of providing. With a wild cry and a powerful karate kick, he leaped across the street and slammed his foot directly into Poundatron's stomach. "See how you like it," he couldn't help but grumble.
The fight raged on, with Kat and Tanya joining in once they'd sent the last of the Tengas packing. Slowly but surely the Rangers began to get the upper hand. Adam and Rocky dove in to uppercut the creature, knocking it back on it's proverbial haunches. "I think we've got it, guys!" the Blue Ranger shouted. The words had barely left his mouth before twin beams of light shone down onto the creature, expanding it to city-wrecking proportions!
"Then again, I think I spoke too soon," he groaned. "What else could happen?"
Just as those words passed Rocky's lips, there was a sound none of them had ever heard before, and a pale green glow appeared in front of them. It spiraled out into a gaping hole in the air, and from out of it there tumbled a dozen metallic things, all a uniform five feet ten in height, and each one a polished, featureless, almost shadow-like black in color.
"You had to ask, didn't you, Rocky?" Kat muttered. "What are those things?"
"Trouble," a new voice said, and they all looked up to see a new Ranger standing just to one side. It was a female, with her uniform just like Tanya and Kat's, except in a gleaming shade of purple, with a seven-sided symbol on her helmet. She was looking directly at the new fighters who were looking back at her, as far as they could tell since her eyes were hidden behind a helmet and they had no eyes that any of the Rangers could see. She turned to them. "You take care of that monster. I'll handle the Shadow Troopers."
Tommy looked at the stranger for a couple of moments, feeling the most disturbing sense that he knew her. That voice sounded so familiar, but he couldn't be certain. "All right," was all he said. Whatever these 'Shadow Troopers' were, he had the feeling this Purple Ranger could handle them. "We need Zeo Zord Power, now!"
As the Zeo Zords appeared and the Rangers teleported to them, Tommy had to look back down, and almost winced to see the Purple Ranger fighting alone against the Shadow Troopers, as she'd named them. Softly he whispered, "Good luck, whoever you are."
Then he turned his full attention back to the battle at hand.
"Who sent those?" Rita screeched, waving her wand about fit to knock the head off anyone who came too near her. "Who's trying to upstage me again?"
Zedd said nothing, taking a closer look at the things fighting the Purple Ranger. The sight of them tickled a memory in the back of his mind, something he couldn't identify at first. But as he watched them fall one by one to the Purple Ranger's skill, something clicked in his mind. "Shadow Troopers!" he said suddenly. "Those are Shadow Troopers!"
Rita stood up a little straighter at that. Shadow Troopers were among the finest fighters in the cosmos, and they served only one person. The evil witch paled as she thought of who that was. "But they work for..."
"For me," a sultry voice spoke from behind them both. Almost afraid, the two of them turned to see a tall, blonde woman behind them. Like Rita, she was human from head to foot, but she was much better looking, and had far better fashion sense. Her hair and eyes were both silvery white, with her hair hanging halfway to her waist, and her face went beyond beautiful into the realms of artistry. She was dressed simply, in an ankle-length robe of pale green and sandals.
Zedd swallowed for a moment. He'd heard of her, but had never had he expected to be face to face her. "And you are. ..?"
"Callidora," she smiled. "And you would be Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd, with servants of Goldar and Finster, along with your brother Rito Revolto."
Rita nodded, moving closer to Zedd. "What do you want here?" she asked, making certain that the words didn't shake in her throat. "Earth is ours to conquer!"
"Very true," Callidora nodded, turning her gaze to the sapphire-blue planet above them. "And with our two empires joined together, you might actually do it before you die of old age."
Zedd and Rita exchanged glances; when they had joined forces, they had proven to be a very formidable team. Callidora's forces were known to have swept aside Rangers who had held the same title the ones from Earth currently did: undefeated. "An equal partnership?" he asked tentatively.
"Of course," Callidora chuckled darkly. Let them think they were her equals for now. When the time came, they'd find out just how equal they actually were. "Now, to business. You see that Purple Ranger down there?" she gestured to Earth.
"Yes," Rita nodded. "What of her?"
Callidora chuckled so darkly Rito could've sworn his skin crawled. And for a skeleton, that would be a very good trick. "I've got a little tale to tell about her. . .and then the three of us are going on a quest."
Something in the way she said that made Rita and Zedd wonder if they'd just made a pact to defeat the Rangers. ..or to destroy themselves.
Adam nodded quickly. "We'd better get back and check on Purple Ranger. Whoever she is, and whatever those things were, I bet she can use some help."
"Let's go," Tommy agreed. Sending the Zeo Zords back to their Holding Bay, the Rangers teleported right to where they'd last seen the Purple Ranger and the Shadow Troopers. They arrived just in time to see the last of the Shadow Troopers, held in Purple Ranger's gauntleted grip, slammed into the ground with enough force to cause it to dissipate into nothing but foul-smelling black smoke.
Purple Ranger straightened out, glancing around and seeing them almost in the same motion. "I take it the monster is toast?" she asked. Tommy was once again struck by how familiar her voice seemed, and wished his memory were just a little better so he could identify who this was.
"Yeah," he nodded. "Who are you?"
A soft chuckle was his only answer. "I'll answer that soon enough. Let's go to the Power Chamber. I've got a lot to fill you and Zordon in on."
"You know Zordon?" Tanya's voice was incredulous. Finding out Gold Ranger knew about him had been a bad enough shock, and she was starting to wonder if everyone knew their mentor!
"Yes, I know him," Purple Ranger informed her. "And we don't have a lot of time."
She touched her belt buckle for a moment, then transformed into a column of purple energy that streaked across the sky to the Power Chamber. The others looked at each other, then followed.
"Purple Ranger," Zordon was saying when they arrived. "It has been quite some time since we have seen the Purple Zeo shard in action. Would you reveal to us your identity now?"
The other five Rangers had demorphed the moment they got into the Power Chamber, by sheer habit. Looking at the stranger, who topped five feet only by a couple of inches, the five of them wondered who it was. She turned around to look at them, then glanced back at Zordon. "I will," she said quietly, and Tommy could swear she was looking directly at him. "Zeo Ranger Seven, Power Down!"
A purple stream of light washed over her, and when it faded, a young girl dressed in jeans and a purple blouse, with shoulder-length brown hair and sparkling brown eyes, stood there. Tommy, Adam, Rocky, and Kat all stared, not believing who they were seeing, while Tanya just looked a little confused. Silence reigned for almost a full minute in the Power Chamber, broken at last by Zordon.
"Welcome home, Kimberly."
She nodded slowly, walking over to look at him. "We have to do some talking, Tommy. A lot of talking. But not right now. Right now, we have more important things to worry about."
"Ahem," Tanya cleared her throat a little, looking very confused and not quite certain of what was going on here. "Do you guys know her?"
Kim chuckled a little. "You must be Tanya. Kat wrote to me about you. I'm Kim Hart."
"The first Pink Ranger, and now, it appears, the Purple Zeo Ranger," Zordon said. "Kimberly, the Purple Zeo fragment was lost many centuries ago. How did you come across it?"
She sighed a little bit, leaning against a console. Tommy could see changes in her. She was still the perky young woman he had fallen so desperately in love with, but there was a sternness to her that hadn't been there before, and a strength that went beyond strength. Rangers were always alert, it went with the territory of being under constant attack, but she hadn't been one in almost two years. She looked as alert and wary as she had the day she had left.
"That's sort of a strange story," she said, looking at Tommy. "And in a way, it's kind of tied up to why I broke up with you."
He went literally pale at that, and Kat didn't look much better. The Pink Ranger looked at Tommy, and bit her lips a little. "Sounds like a story we have to hear," was all he said, though.
"It is," she said quietly. "Do you think you could get us something to sit on, Alpha? This could take a while, and we should get comfortable."
"Ay-yi-yi, Kimberly, I know just the thing!" the little robot, ecstatic over the young girl's return, punched a few buttons on the console. In six shimmers of light, six color-coded and comfortable chairs appeared. As each of them sat down, Kim looked around quietly and sighed.
"Things sure have changed since I was last here," she said. Kat had written her about a lot of the things that had happened, like the transfer to the Zeo powers and the existence of the Power Chamber instead of the Command Center. But ever since she had sent that letter to Tommy, she hadn't heard from any of the Rangers. Coming back had been a pure act of will, and if it hadn't been for Callidora, she might not have. But the Rangers had to know about her. She took a long breath, gathering and focusing her thoughts. "I guess you could say it got started about January," she said. "That's when I met Glen. Glen Sanford. He was the guy I wrote to you about, Tommy. And he was a lot more than that."
Pain and betrayal was in every syllable of her voice as she began to speak. It was plain to them all that something beyond terrible had happened.
She hated it. The moment that she had set foot here with Coach Schmidt, she had wondered why she had given up everything she'd ever thought was important to come here. The room she was given was private, but small and practically bare, with no personal effects permitted. She was up every morning by five a.m., and practiced very nearly non-stop, without even a break for weekends.
"Good morning, Kimberly," Coach Schmidt's secretary, Karen, waved cheerily to her as she went through another floor routine. Karen was the only one who was even partially nice to her here. Almost all of the other gymnasts were girls and boys who had been recruited from around the age of twelve or thirteen, who ate, drank, and breathed gymnastics. Most of them had never even seen a mall, and none of them could comprehend the concept of fighting for their lives. They were all as self-centered as gyroscopes, caring only for how good they were, and nothing else. They made Kim sick to her stomach.
"Hi, Karen," she nodded a little breathlessly, coming to her feet. "What's up today?"
"We've got a new arrival coming in with the Coach," Karen told her. The Coach did quite a lot of traveling, picking up new talent wherever he went. That was how he had found her, she knew. "He should be coming in any minute now."
Kim nodded, backflipping quickly. She wasn't very impressed; he would be another stuck up kid probably, just like the other four who had arrived over the last few months, and he would care absolutely nothing about anything but gymnastics. He wouldn't be able to understand anyone else's hopes and dreams, and he would look on the rest of the trainees there as simple competition.
I wish I'd never come here, she sighed mentally. But she knew she couldn't go back to Angel Grove, either. Things had changed there so much, and she had changed as well. She was starting to wonder if she loved Tommy as much as she had when she was there. ..What am I thinking, of course I love him!
"You're very good," a quiet voice said from behind her. She whirled around to yell at whoever it was, only to stop in mid-word. Standing behind her was a tall, dark-haired man with faintly olive-toned features. He was wearing a workout leotard in pale green, and his features had a slight American Indian cast to them.
She stared. He wasn't a twin of Tommy, but the resemblance was enough to make her pause. She caught her breath just barely as she looked at him. "Thanks," she got the word out without stuttering. "I'm Kim."
"Glen," he introduced himself with a little bow. "It's nice to meet you, Kim."
"Nice to meet you too," she replied. He was quite probably the most gorgeous man she'd ever seen in her life, surpassing even Tommy. She tried to fight it off; she knew that at least part of the attraction she was feeling was because he bore at least a superficial resemblance to her boyfriend. Besides, she loved Tommy, she didn't even know this guy! So why did she keep thinking about him?
I don't believe it, she was practically humming as she went through one of the endless routines. I thought Tommy and I would be together forever. But I broke up with him for Glen. I love Glen, and I'd do just about anything for him. It's been almost eight months since I sent that letter, and I've just been getting happier every day.
"Kim?" she looked up at the sound of her name to see Karen there with a package. "This just came for you, special delivery. I know mail day isn't until Tuesday, but the delivery person was so insistent I go ahead and give it to you, I thought, what could it hurt?"
Who could it be from? she wondered, taking the small package and the envelope that went with it. "Thanks, Karen," she said. "Hey, have you seen Glen around?"
"No, not since yesterday," the secretary shook her head. "The Coach is really upset, too, he's supposed to be a real hotshot on the rings, but he hasn't practiced since he got here practically."
Kim frowned for a moment; it was true she'd never seen Glen practicing, but he'd always told her he took care of it before coming to see her. They couldn't see each other quite every day, but when they did, it was always magical. They took long walks in the country, she would talk to him. ..something occurred to her briefly. He had never told her anything about him. She didn't know anything about his family, his past before meeting the coach, why he'd decided to train for the Pan-Globals. She had told him everything, and she had told him nothing.
"Well, I'm sure he will later," she heard herself saying, turning her attention to the package and letter. Inside the envelope was a note.
Wear this necklace always. It will bring you luck and perhaps more.
Signed, Your Secret Admirer
She frowned deeply, not quite certain just what was going on here. Was Tommy sending her something, trying to make up with her? No, that wasn't quite his style. Besides, he would have come in person with it, not dropped it off with a secretary. Maybe it was one of the male gymnasts, maybe one was hiding a secret crush. She shrugged, then with quick, practiced moves from over ten Christmases and birthdays, she tore into the package and found a small box inside, with a delicate violet crystal gem attached to a golden chain on it. Her mouth almost literally dropped open when she saw it.
"Oh, my goodness," she whispered, touching it briefly. It had been cut into a seven-sided design she didn't recognize, and almost faintly glowed in the morning light. "It's gorgeous!"
"Thank you, beautiful," Glen's voice said. She glanced up and smiled when she saw him. "Where did that come from?" she wasn't entranced by the gift so much she didn't notice the strange and sudden wariness in his voice.
"I got it in the mail," she told him, handing him the letter as she pulled her hair out of the way and started to fasten the necklace on. It fell just perfectly onto her chest, and the moment it touched her skin, she felt as if a full out electric charge had went through her. "Whoa!"
Glen had dropped the letter almost as soon as he read it, and he looked sharply at her. If Kim hadn't turned to look at him at the same moment, she would likely have missed the feral gleam in his eyes and the sudden way he seemed to be a thousand times more alert. "Glen?" she asked. "Is something wrong?"
"No," he shook his head, not taking his eyes off her. "Not for me, anyway."
"What are you talking about?"
He started to come towards her, and she backed away. "You have broken up with your boyfriend of three years for me," his voice acquired a clinical tone she had never before heard him use. "You have not spoken to your friends or family in three months. All your contact with the outside world has been excised from your life."
She began to tremble, realizing what he said was true. The environment here was literally designed to make you forget that anything other than gymnastics existed. With letters restricted to once a week, and outside contact restricted even further than that, she had lost touch with everyone. Her parents had never been that close to her; she still wasn't even certain if her mom even knew she was in Florida to start with, and her father was busy with his own life, dating some waitress from Stone Canyon the last she had heard. The Rangers were busy being Rangers, and she had already cut off her last tie to them once she had broken up with Tommy. Kat had written her a couple of times recently, and she had written back, but the last letter had been months earlier, before she'd even broken up with Tommy. A cold thread of fear found it's way into her heart.
"What are you doing?" she asked, finding herself still backing away from him. "What's wrong with you, Glen?"
He smiled. A very cold smile, the very worst kind of smile to see from someone. The smile of a predator. "Nothing at all, Kimberly Ann Hart. Or should I say. ..Pink Ranger?"
She went absolutely cold. He knew. One thought gibbered through her mind. What in the world is he!? As far as she knew, only the Rangers, former Rangers, and their enemies knew who the Rangers were. He certainly wasn't one of her old teammates. ..which left one thing.
"Who do you work for?" she grated the words out, wishing as she never had before that she had her old morpher with her. "Rita, Zedd?"
He snorted. "Those bozos? They couldn't afford me on their best day. I've come on the behalf of someone far more powerful than them. Her name is Callidora, and she's going to be coming here, Kim. She's going to crush this planet and add it to her empire, and there's nothing any of you can do about it."
Kim's eyes narrowed. "And what does she want with me?"
"That is none of my concern," he said almost primly. "I've been paid just to get you to her. What she does with you after that isn't my concern."
"You've known me almost nine months," she said suspiciously. "Why wait all this time, if you wanted to take me to her, why not just grab me when I was asleep or something and do that?"
Glen's lips thinned, and for the first time, she could see his teeth. Every last one of them was filed to a point. He looked like a piranha, and she felt like a trout in that moment. "Because I wanted to crush every ounce of spirit out of you," he purred. "I want to see the light of hope die in your eyes as I deliver you to my mistress, and you know that none of your pathetic Power friends will rescue you, because you broke off all contact with them."
She couldn't help but smile. Just like all the other villains, this one had made the rather silly error of thinking that just because someone left the team, they were automatically out of sight and mind of everyone else. That couldn't be farther from the truth. "You're going to be in for a long wait, then," she told him. "I might not have the Power anymore, but I'm still a Ranger in spirit, and my friends will always be beside me in my heart."
"Ah, but will that help you when you are on your knees in front of my mistress?" he moved forward, lightning quick, and seized her by a wrist. "I seriously doubt that."
The moment his hand wrapped around her wrist, the necklace around her throat began to throb suddenly. Kim was no martial artist, but her leg muscles were highly developed from years of gymnastics training. With a powerful oomph, she kicked him in the most tender of areas, knocking him away from her. Her fingers clasped almost automatically around the necklace she was wearing, and as she did so, she could feel a power she'd never known before coursing through her. It was just a trickle, just the merest taste of what being a Ranger was. ..but she knew how to get more. The knowledge burned in the forefront of her brain like a beacon.
"You messed with the wrong girl, I'm afraid, Glen. ..if that's even your real name," she said softly, turning to look at him, one hand still on the necklace. "If your boss is coming to mess with Earth, then she's going to have to get by me and all my friends, and that just can't be done."
Glen laughed quietly. "Oh, I think you're going to be surprised," he taunted her. "I think you're going to be very surprised."
He was charging her even as the last word came out of his mouth. She dropped back, and spoke what had been in her mind since she had touched the crystal. "Zeo Ranger VII, Purple!"
It wasn't like her previous morphs. Those were powerful, yes, but this totally and utterly blew her away. Morphin only took a moment, and when that moment was past, she stood in front of him in a sparkling suit of purple Zeo armor. "I think you're in for a very bad afternoon," she purred the words out, feeling all her old instincts surging back up. It was plain from the look on his face that Glen had gotten far more than he had bargained for out of this.
"I'll be back," he said, after gazing at her for a few seconds. "And you will regret it when I am, Kim Hart. I have your heart now, and when you least expect it, I'll be there to claim my . ..," he literally seemed to caress the word, though not one shred of human or humane emotion touched his voice or his eyes. "My girlfriend."
Kim glared at him with undisguised hatred. Somewhere in between getting the necklace and finding out he was an evil warrior from another planet, she had fallen out of love with him. She wasn't certain anymore if she ever had been. In the back of her mind was the thought she also didn't love Tommy anymore. She would deal with that later. She had to deal with this now. "Never happen, Glen," she spat out his name. "Get out of here and never come back!"
"Not without leaving you something to play with," he chuckled, then snapped his fingers. As he did so a pale green mist appeared, opening into a gap in the air through which five strange creatures appeared. "These are Callidora's Shadow Troopers, little girl," he told her. "They're the finest fighting force in the universe. I really do hope you have fun with them. One way or another, Kim. ..we will meet again."
With that, he literally vanished in a cloud of pale green smoke. Kim didn't waste another moment, she turned at once to the Shadow Troopers who were even now starting to circle around her. Never before had she fought on her own, not without the others being willing, able, and ready to come to her aid if necessary. She wasn't quite so certain if she could take these things, but she most definitely going to find out.
One of them leaped at her, and she could feel her body moving in the automatic reactions provided by the power. Her hands grabbed the one that was trying to attack her, and she threw it quickly into one of the balance beams. A second one found itself pinned against the floor mat, while a third was given a very strong introduction to the wall. Kim backflipped and kicked a fourth as hard as she could, then slammed the fifth one into a set of rings hanging from the ceiling. The first one was up by then, and trying to charge her again. She moved out of the way as fast as she could, then grabbed the Shadow Trooper from behind and punched it four times swiftly in the stomach. It staggered back some, glowed for a brief moment, and then vanished with a stench of foul smoke. She grinned.
"Ready to rumble, guys?" she asked the others. It had been a long time since she'd been in the fight. And it was something she had missed. With the power she now possessed, it only took her a few moments to get rid of them all. As the last of them vanished into sparkles of light, she took a deep breath, smiling under her helmet at the adrenaline rush flowing through her, and powered down, touching the necklace as she did so. She didn't know who had sent it, but they most certainly had done so at just the right time. She took a long breath. A whole lot of things had just come very clear to her.
The Rangers were in serious trouble, if Glen had been telling the truth. She had no reason to think he wasn't, when it came to some threats, the villains she'd always faced in the past tended to be fairly honest about things like this. Admittedly, there was a first time for everything, but she doubted it. Just as the words to morph had been in her mind, so was the knowledge that this Callidora was coming. She didn't know who she was, what she looked like, or anything, but she knew that a foe unlike any other the Rangers had ever seen was coming to Angel Grove.
"And so am I," she murmured to herself, heading for her room. Every nerve ending she had was on edge, and every sense turned high, looking for danger. For the first time in two years, she really felt alive again.
Despite the danger, it was a very good feeling.
As Kim ended her story, the others breathed at last, released from the spellbinding beauty of it. Tommy had never taken his eyes off her for a single moment, though his hand was wrapped around Kat's the whole time. The Pink Ranger was completely confused as to how she should feel. She knew if Tommy wanted to go back to Kim, and if Kim wanted him back, that she would step aside. Her love would allow no less.
"Welcome home, Kimberly," Zordon said. "And you are correct, Callidora has arrived on the moon. Our scanners detected her not long before the Shadow Troopers appeared. She seems to be in Rita and Zedd's palace, and they are most likely making some sort of plans."
"Joining forces?" Tommy wondered. "That's going to be trouble."
Zordon agreed with him. "Very true, Tommy. Callidora is a very powerful sorceress, and you have already seen her Shadow Troopers. They are a fighting force that is matched by no one you have ever fought before, and Callidora's monsters are strong as well."
"Can we beat her?" Tanya's voice was soft, and for some moments, Zordon said nothing. When he at last did, his voice was even softer.
"I do not know, Rangers. Callidora is a very powerful opponent, and if we can, it will not be an easy task. Only time will tell."
Silence fell on the Chamber for several minutes, broken when Kim spoke again. "Well, it's good to be home, but I think I need to get caught up on things. Like where Billy and Jason are, and why Tommy's been looking at me like he has for the past ten minutes."
"Kim," Tommy's voice was almost on the verge of shaking. "We need to talk."
She looked at him for a moment, a frown forming, then nodded. "I think you're right. Let's go."
Before anyone else could say anything, the two of them teleported out of the Power Chamber in twin streaks of red and purple. Kat stood there for a moment, staring at where they had been. Tears stood in her blue eyes until she wiped them away.
"Kat?" she turned at the sound of Rocky's voice. "Kat, what's wrong?"
She strived to keep the pain out of her voice, but everyone could tell it was cutting into her soul to see Tommy and Kim together right now. "Nothing, Rocky. Nothing at all."
"I'm sorry about the letter," Kim said finally. "I really thought that I loved Glen. I did, in a way. But it was based on a lie. If he had been a real guy. ..a human, instead of someone trying to kill me or worse. ..I don't think I would have ever come back here."
Tommy nodded quietly. "When I read that letter, it ripped my heart apart, Kim. I never thought that if we broke up, it would be long-distance. I never thought we'd break up at all, really."
"Neither did I, when I went to Florida," she replied. "But I think it was more than Glen, really. I think we just...grew apart. We both grew up, in different ways. I don't love you like I did, Tommy. I love you as a friend and a brother, but not a boyfriend. Not anymore."
She almost was afraid to look at him, afraid to see the depth of pain in his eyes that she was almost certain would be there. But she looked. And instead, she saw him. ..smiling?
"I don't love you like I did either, Kim," he replied, gazing directly into her brown eyes. "I fell in love with Kat."
Kim nodded. "I sort of thought you would," she said honestly. "You two go very well together."
"I think she thinks we're going to get back together again," Tommy hadn't missed the way Kat had been looking, or the tears in the Pink Zeo Ranger's eyes. "I'm going to have to tell her we aren't."
"Good idea," Kim agreed. "And you'd better hurry. She doesn't quite look like the kind who should think things like that for too long."
Tommy nodded. "But you know, I think if we did want to go back together. . .she wouldn't stand in the way."
"I know she wouldn't. But you're not who I want, not like that."
He looked at her curiously for a moment. "Who do you want?" he wondered. She glanced out over the park for a moment before answering, and he wondered just what she was thinking about. Or who.
"I don't know," she said finally. "You'd better go to Kat, Tommy. I think I want to be by myself for a few minutes. I have some thinking to do."
She stood by herself a moment later, as a red streak of light went across the skies. The others would still be in the Power Chamber, discussing things, she knew. The things she had told them. Callidora. What might come in the future.
Quietly, she walked over to a tall elm tree in the park. Carved into one side of the tree was a heart, with two sets of initials into it. It was an old design, older than her relationship with Tommy. It dated from the year she and the others had been twelve. She hadn't seen it drawn, she'd found it by accident one day. But she'd always known who had done it, and when. Her fingers traced it delicately for a moment, and she smiled.
"W.A.C. and K.A.H.," she whispered softly. William Aaron Cranston and Kimberly Ann Hart. Billy had a crush on me that year. I wonder where he is now. What he's doing. That was just one of the many things she wanted to know, needed to know. She sighed for a moment.
Callidora, Rita, and Zedd are up to something. I don't know what, but they are. And it's not going to be pretty. She refused to let her own worry show, even when she was by herself. Whatever it was would come in the future, and she knew that she would face that with her friends by her side, forever.