Dimitria, the mentor of four of the Rangers in their Turbo days, had come to Earth with the news that Eltar and many of the other worlds almost destroyed were now rebuilding and were looking to establish diplomatic ties with Earth. The Rangers had all been glad to hear that, but they were even gladder to hear another offer she made. With the destruction abounding in Angel Grove, the wire services hadn't had time yet to spread the news of their true identities all over the world, so she could do something for them. And she did. She cast a spell.
And from that moment, no one on Earth who had learned the identities of the Rangers during the final battle could remember it. All they remembered, no matter how hard they tried or what method they used, was that just as Ecliptor and Astronema were firing into the crowd of those claiming to be Power Rangers, the real Rangers had arrived in full uniform, and saved the day. They also couldn't recall Andros setting the Dark Fortress down in Angel Grove; their memories all said that the captured warship had simply broadcast a message that all was well, the Red Astro Ranger had defeated Astronema and saved the universe. No mention was made of Karone, or of the fact that the former evil queen still lived as a good person. Everything that could have led to the Rangers' identity being revealed was clipped out or rewritten in human minds. It was Dimitria's greatest gift to the Rangers: the gift of peace.
Things had been flowing smoothly in the rebuilding; the Rangers helped out, both in their human identities and by using the MegaShip to ferry materials from various places in the universe. Angel Grove was considered an intergalactic landmark these days, for it's role in the great war, and cultures all over the universe were starting to look on Earth as more than just a backwater planet.
The lives of the Rangers had changed somewhat to. Without any major galactic villains to fight, they did their part not just by aiding in construction, but by being living symbols of the victory of good over evil. In their human time, however, they were more than grateful just to relax and start to really have lives. Andros and Ashley were a couple of course; the two of them had barely left each other's side since they had returned to Earth. Zhane and Karone were exploring what it was like to be on the same side and in love. T.J. had fallen head over heels for a woman roughly five times his age and more: Sabrina King, once known as Scorpina. She, too, had been changed to human by the wave of Zordon's power, and now she lived in Angel Grove. The two of them had met while in the park, and things had quite simply blossomed from there. He knew she used to be evil, and she knew he was a Ranger, and neither one cared. Their relationship was every bit as sweet and honest and true as the one between Carlos and Diona, who had once been their nemesis Divatox. The MegaShip had went traveling to pick up the various formerly evil members when they had expressed their desire to return to Earth to make up for all the evil they'd recently done there, and on the way back from Aquitar, an unexpected and deep romance had blossomed between them.
In fact, the only one of the Rangers who wasn't in some form of romantic relationship was Cassie. And it was driving her slowly into a very deep, dark depression. She should have had a relationship; should have had one stronger than any of theirs. But no one had seen the Phantom Ranger in a year.
The party is in two days, she mused. Adelle, Lt. Stone, and the original owner of the Youth Center, Ernie, had all gotten together and were going to be throwing a massive celebration to mark the one year anniversary of the end of the war. It would be held at the Youth Center, and everyone was going to be there, even all the retired Rangers. Though their identities were as secret to the general public as all the active Rangers' were, the ex-Rangers wanted to help celebrate as well. Everyone's going to be going with their significant other...except me.
She shuddered a little at the thought. She had never felt right about even trying to date someone else until she saw Phantom again. It just wouldn't be. . .right. She loved him, she would always love him, even if she never saw him again. She knew she would, though. She couldn't explain it any more than she could explain why she loved him in the first place; she'd met him only a handful of times in her life, but she knew in the very depths of her soul that the day would come when she would see him again, and would see him without the uniform on.
Slowly she placed the brush down and glanced at her reflection. In a year, she hadn't changed much. Her hair was a little longer, but she tended to keep it trimmed back some. Her eyes were wiser from the year of waiting, and touched with a longing she couldn't explain. She was wearing her shipboard uniform; she and the others still spent whenever they could on the MegaShip. They had revealed who they were to their parents, and they all tended to spend more time on the ship than perhaps was strictly necessary. It had become their home, and they didn't want to lose touch with it, or each other.
She glanced over to the stack of sheet music she'd been looking through, and briefly touched one finger to the top song. My Heart Will Go On. She bit her lip at that. She had chosen that as her first song on the night of celebration for many reasons; chief among them being that she thought it symbolized perfectly what she felt for the Phantom Ranger.
With a growl she put the brush down. Can't I ever get my mind off him? Cassie knew the answer to that even as she thought it. She couldn't. Every day for the past year she had thought about him. Every day since the moment she had first seen him she had thought about him. It was pathetic, but he had captured her heart, and there was nothing she could do about it.
Slowly, she picked up something else: a picture of him. She had managed to get it from DECA's files of their time on Hercuron, and it was one of her greatest treasures. She stared at it fairly frequently, but it just served to remind her frequently that she didn't have him. Sometimes it made her almost as sad as watching everyone else with their beloveds did. How did I get so lucky? The bitter words etched themselves into her mind as she headed for the Simudeck, intent on practicing her routine again.
It was still early in the morning, but she could hear everyone else moving around already. Andros was by nature an early riser, and he'd converted Ashley into one too. They were going to be going to Earth soon to hash out the last details of the celebration with the other organizers of it. Cassie focused her mind entirely on the music as she shut the door of the Simudeck; it was going to be one magnificent show.
"So is everything settled?" Andros asked. They had been working on this event for three months now, and everyone they knew was looking forward to it.
Ernie checked over his list one last time. Coming back after all this time had been a big decision, but one he hadn't regretted making. He'd missed working with the kids, being around all his old friends. He and Jerome were going to be working together at the Youth Center now, and it would be working hand in hand with Adelle's Surf Spot to provide safe places for the kids of Angel Grove to hang out at.
Not that safety was a major issue any more, but Ernie still liked to think of it like that. Besides, there was more evil to the universe than just that of the monsters. "I think we've got everything done that we needed to get done. Cassie's still doing the entertainment, right?"
"Right," Ashley agreed. She'd seen some of the songs that her friend had planned to perform, and she had a fairly decent bet going with Karone that tears would be in the eyes of everyone during some of the sadder love songs. Cassie had good reason to sing those with feeling. "She'll be performing solo for a lot of them."
Andros nodded briefly, he was looking forward to his teammate's performance. Slowly he wrapped an arm around Ashley and smiled as she leaned into him. The older folks were organizing the final food details; apparently someone called 'Rocky' was going to be showing up, and they wanted to be certain they had enough for everyone.
"All right, it's all done," Adelle said a few moments later. "Everything's going to be ready by party time."
Jerome smiled, leaning back and stretching muscles tired from being hunched over. "This is going to be one heck of a party."
"I'm just glad we're all still here to be having one," Ashley murmured softly into Andros' ear, and he nodded. Neither would ever forget the horrible series of days when they had lost Zord after Zord, when Angel Grove had been reduced to a mere shadow of it's former self, and when they had come so close to losing the anonymity that had been the right and duty of a Ranger. They would have to remember to thank Dimitria again for that.
"Well, if that's all we're needed for," both the Red and Yellow Rangers rose up. They had received a minor surprise shortly after Dimitria had cast her spell; all three of these had retained knowledge of who the Rangers were. Dimitria had told them that only those who didn't know the Rangers' identities before the Countdown had been affected; anyone who knew it prior would continue to know. Adelle, Ernie, and Jerome had all known, though they hadn't said anything about it. "We'll be going. We have to check in with the others and make sure everyone's free."
"See you later," Ernie waved as the two romantically linked Rangers headed out of the Surf Spot and off to someplace secluded. He smiled briefly when he heard the very familiar sound of teleportation. He knew he would never forget the day that he had peeked briefly into hall, and seen Jason, Zack, Trini, Kim, Billy, and Tommy teleporting away in the same colors that the Power Rangers possessed. He assumed that the others had figured it out the same way, and as they started planning out the layout, the portly man found himself glad to be home.
"Your hair is like silver light," she ran her fingers delicately through the tresses he'd trimmed just a little shorter than they once had been.
All around them was sunlight, the sound of birds singing, and a crystal brook babbling by. Beneath them was a picnic blanket and a tasty meal spread out. The two of them were snuggled all around each other, completely oblivious to everything but themselves.
"Is that enough complimenting?" Karone giggled a little as she leaned her head against his chest, lifting her eyes just enough to see him.
"I think so," the Silver Ranger told her, grinning. "I do love you, Karone."
She smiled, closing her eyes briefly. "I love you too. Hard to believe it's been a year already." She didn't have to have her eyes open to see the ring on her left hand; a promise of what they would one day do. Neither felt really drawn to marry any time soon, but from the moment they had looked at each other in the woods that first day, when she was still Astronema, they had known in their hearts that one day they would be together, regardless of what it took. One of the reasons that had led to Karone defecting had been the memory of the good times she had spent with Zhane, as few as they were.
Karone almost didn't notice as her boyfriend slid away from her, letting her mind drift. She remembered very little from the moment she had been captured by Ecliptor in the Dark Fortress until she had opened her eyes to see Andros looking at her. A familiar scent came to her nostrils suddenly. She sniffed briefly, then her eyes flew open to see Zhane roasting a marshmallow over a small campfire. "Zhane," she chuckled. "You're incorrigible."
"No, I'm Zhane," he smiled at her, holding out a small stick with one of the white gooey delights on it. "We never really did finish up that date you know? The one where you blasted me, my long-stem roses, and told me you never wanted to see me again?"
Karone rolled her eyes; he'd used that same line on her at least once a week ever since they had come to Earth. It never really seemed to wear thin to her, however. She started nibbling on the roasted marshmallow with a delighted giggle. One thing that had not changed was her love for these things. As she swallowed, she glanced up to her boyfriend. "Do you think Cassie's going to be coming to the celebration?"
"She will be," Zhane nodded. "She's going to be singing there."
The former Queen of Evil sighed briefly, turning her gaze out to the endless beauty before them. "She misses Phantom," she said softly. "I heard her crying about it the other night. Why hasn't he come back, Zhane?" A common complaint among the old evil had been that the Phantom Ranger was never there when you wanted him to be, usually when you had a trap set up that would capture or destroy him, and when you didn't want him, you couldn't get rid of the annoyance. She was thinking the same thing now, but for entirely different reasons. He was wanted now, but not to be harmed: to give Cassie a definite yes or no answer on how he felt about her.
"I don't know," Zhane said softly. He had never seen the two of them together, but when he had once seen Cassie staring out into the stars one night, he'd asked Andros about why she had looked so forlorn. His best friend had told him, and ever since then Zhane had burned with the same hope they all had that one day, the mysterious Ranger would appear again: and this time stay.
I certainly didn't think that I'd ever fall in love with a villainess. Even an ex-villainess. The former leader of the Rangers grinned to himself. He, Carlos, and Zhane had taken to calling themselves 'the lovers of evil' in a jesting mood these days, since all three of their girlfriends had been evil at one point. It was interesting to hear the six of them together, trading stories from different viewpoints. It had been almost heart-stopping when he'd introduced Sabrina to Adam Park, the former Black Ranger, especially when he'd said she used to be Scorpina. I thought he was going to faint. But then he congratulated us...and she congratulated him..
He would never have understood that if Sabrina hadn't told him that on one of her assignments, she'd captured both Adam and his childhood friend and fellow Ranger at the time Aisha. It was one of the many things she felt she had to make up for. Doing the hair of Angel Grove was one of the ways she was doing it. She had also pitched in full tilt at rebuilding Angel Grove. No one had seemed to notice that she, Diona, Rita, Zedd, and Karone worked the hardest at the rebuilding, save for the Rangers themselves. Of course, people in Angel Grove seldom seemed to notice anything at all at any rate, for which he'd found himself grateful many times over.
The sound of music floated out of the Simudeck and all around the MegaShip as he walked down the hall, and something about the emotions caught up in it made T.J.'s heart break just by hearing it. Only one person he knew could capture those particular tones these days, and he sighed. "Is Cassie in the Simudeck, DECA?" he asked unnecessarily.
"She has requested that she not be disturbed," the computer's voice responded quietly. The Blue Ranger nodded to himself, then took up a position just outside the doors. Whenever she was ready to come out, he'd be there to talk to her.
It took almost twenty minutes from the time he got there to the time the doors finally slid open, and T.J. hadn't moved a hair from his stance. "Have a good rehearsal?" was all he said as she stared at him, obviously surprised by his presence.
"Um, yeah," she nodded, adjusting the folder of sheet music quickly. He felt a flash of desire to see what she might be hiding, then fought it down. If it were what he'd heard, then she probably had a right to keep it from him for now. And even if she didn't have the right, he respected her desire to keep it to herself. "I'm all ready for the party."
As she headed down the corridor, he went with her. "That's good. Everyone's going to be there." Even as the words passed his lips, he knew he'd said the wrong thing. The flash of pain that flew through her eyes reminded him that not everyone was going to be there, certainly not who she wanted most to be there, and he hurried to cover the slip. "All the old Rangers are coming back, and the Aquitian Rangers, Trey of Triforia, a lot of other people too. Of course, the Aquitian Rangers can't stay for very long, but they'll at least say hello. They used to know the old Rangers, I hear, some of them."
Cassie just nodded, wishing he hadn't said anything really. Slowly, she sighed and listened to him talk. She could only hope, as she hoped every day, that they all would be there. That he would be there. That she would see him again. That she would see him at all.
Andros didn't know who most of them were, but he could sense who they all were. Besides, Ashley was busily filling him on all of them. "That's Jason Lee Scott and his wife Emily," she murmured, gesturing to a tall, broad-shouldered man who was talking with a blonde on his arm. "He was the first Red Ranger on Earth."
Other people were pointed out; the entire original team, their replacements, friends and relatives. With the Aquitian Rangers came a young Aquitian female that was pointed out to him as Cestria; she and the first Blue Ranger Billy appeared to have had a relationship had one point. I can't see that, personally, Andros thought. The entire cosmos knew that Aquitians had four different genders, all of which were necessary for procreation. Only the male and female ever left the planet, the other two, amale and bmale, weren't capable of surviving away from Aquitar.
Billy was current with the first Pink Ranger, Kimberly, not just dancing slowly with her in the center of the room, but with her completely. The two of them had been dating for six months, from what they could hear, and appeared very happy together. The longest-running Ranger, Tommy Oliver, was dancing near them with his own fiancéee, Kat Hillard. From the way they were tossing comments back and forth, they hadn't seen each other in who knew how long.
Andros turned away from Ashley's comments, his eyes scanning quickly for the one figure in pink he knew was going to be there, and was going to be sad. He found Cassie on the edge of the stage, preparing for her upcoming musical number. She didn't look as sad as she usually did, for which he was grateful. He was beginning to give serious consideration to taking the Astro MegaShip out and not coming back unless he had the Phantom Ranger on board, ready to say whatever it was he needed to say.
The music from the jukebox slowly ceased, and silence fell in the room as the lights dimmed and a spotlight appeared on the stage. Cassie stepped into it, her pink sheath glittering and her long dark hair falling all around her shoulders and down her back. Everyone there caught their breath at how beautiful and how sad she looked. The rest of the team knew even before the background melody started to play what she was going to be singing. She had played it many times the last few months, and shipboard rumor had it that she considered it to be 'their' song. With a deep intake of breath, she began.
Now's the time. No one's looking. Cassie had kept a check on everyone to see who was doing what. The various retired Rangers were all around a large group of tables, catching up on old times apparently. Her teammates and their girlfriends were around another table, talking. No one was looking at her, and there was a soft romantic song coming from the jukebox. She took a quick breath, and started out the door.
"Excuse me?" the voice was soft and gentle, and she turned almost at once, her eyes widening. It sounded a little familiar...but it couldn't be. He wasn't there. The person who had spoken was male, but he wasn't clad in armor and silent. He was smiling softly at her, and he was drop dead gorgeous. She had never imagined such a being could exist in all creation.
"Yes?" she asked just as softly, her heart skipping a beat as she spoke. Oh, if only this were Phantom...
The stranger bowed just the tiniest bit. "I know this is very presumptuous of me, but I heard you singing, and if you aren't busy, I'd like to dance with you."
It was on her lips to say no, but as she opened her mouth, their eyes met. Only once before had she ever felt like this: when she had first met the Phantom Ranger. Her heart jumped. Her pulse raced. Her soul shivered. "I...Yes." she said finally, taking the hand he was starting to hold out to her. As their skin touched, she felt a tingle running all through her. Is ...what...her mind whirled from one thought to another, then slowly settled on one thing as they moved out onto the dance floor. He's one heck of a dancer.
"What's your name?" she breathed softly. "I'm Cassie Chan."
"Lyran Jan," he said just as softly. "I'm from the planet Rilona, down for the celebration."
Since many aliens had started to blend into Earth society, she wasn't as surprised by that as she might have been earlier. She smiled at him, a genuine smile such as she had not done in months. "Very nice to meet you."
Karone blinked a little. "I thought she was in love with---," she didn't have to finish the sentence; they all knew what she meant. "Who is that?"
"I don't know, but he had better treat her right," Carlos' voice was thick with conviction, and everyone else agreed. Phantom had angered them all enough by his absence, if this stranger, whoever he was, did anything to hurt Cassie, they weren't going to hold it back any longer.
As the song ended, Cassie and her partner headed over to them. The Rangers could obviously see she liked him; her eyes sparkled and there was a light flush to her cheeks that none of them had seen in a long time. "Hi, everyone!" her voice literally rippled with joy. "This is Lyran Ran, from Rilona. Lyran, these are my friends." As she ran off the list of names, his eyes flicked from one to another of them, marking them in his memory.
"Hello," Andros shook his hand firmly. "It's nice to meet you. I've been to Rilona; it's a very nice place."
Lyran nodded quietly. "KO-35 is also a beautiful world. I am glad that your home was able to be rebuilt."
"How did Rilona fare after the war?" Karone asked; she could barely remember just which planet had been attacked by who, despite being the director of them all. The name tickled at the back of her mind, but she couldn't place it to just which batch of beings.
Lyran shrugged briefly. "My people are doing well," he told them. "Our leaders are offering aid to those who need it, including those on Earth." He turned briefly to Cassie. "I have truly enjoyed our dance," he told her, "and I would like to know if we might possibly . . .go to dinner tomorrow?"
So unexpected was the question, the Rangers half-expected Cassie to turn the offer down. Instead, the Pink Ranger flushed just a trifle, and nodded. "I'd like that a lot," she murmured. "Where should I meet you?"
"Where is a good place to dine in town?" he countered with a smile. "I fear I'm unacquainted with local cuisine."
As the two of them made their farewells and went off to discuss their dinner date, the six left behind drew closer together. Karone's forehead was slightly creased, and her brother asked if something was wrong. "No," she shook her head. "Rilona just sounds kind of familiar, like it was important for some reason during the war."
"Would you be able to get to your old records?" T.J. asked. He and Cassie had shared quite a bit, since just before they had become Rangers, and he wanted to be sure she was doing the right thing.
"I don't think so," Karone shook her head. The Dark Fortress had been delivered to Aquitar and was currently being investigated and probed. Rumor had it that it would be turned into a shrine to honor the passing of Zordon, but no final decisions had been made yet. "It was probably just one of the main points of attack; there were several."
Ashley glanced to where Cassie and Lyran could just barely be seen passing out of the room. She hoped that was all it was; a minor coincidence. Probably it was; after all, most of the planets that had suffered a great deal during the war had drawn together in the aftermath to bring themselves back from the ruins. Nothing could possibly be wrong about a visitor falling for Cassie. ..or Cassie falling for that same visitor, could it?
She still thought of Phantom, of course, and it wasn't with wistful regret or any of the things that one might consider a former love with. At times, when no one could see her, she looked into the distance as if wondering if he would show up to protest or even to notice that she was falling in love with someone else.
And she knew that she was falling in love with Lyran. It was a different feeling from when she had fallen for the Phantom Ranger; it was stronger, more intense, born out of a thousand things that they had in common. She had always believed in love at first sight, which was one reason she had known with all her soul that she loved Phantom. But now another had joined him in her heart, and she could not love one more than the other.
Joy filled her every moment, even those she didn't spend with Lyran. He told her things about his past, about how he had grown up on his planet, and how he had been forced to wander the cosmos for many years after the initial invasion of his world, similar to Andros. He never mentioned if their world had Rangers, however, and she tended to assume that it didn't. She told him about how she had been heading for Stone Canyon to start a singing career, and how she'd been interrupted by stopping to help her new friend T.J. save someone who had turned out to be the previous Pink Ranger.
She even told him about her unutterable love for the Phantom Ranger, and how much she wanted him to come back. She was honest both in how much she enjoyed Lyran's company, and in how much she missed the mysterious Ranger who had helped them all out so many times. Lyran understood, and told her of a girl he had once known who he could never spend as much time with as he had wanted to. The two had grown apart with time, but he still held hope that the day would come when they would be together again.
"It's almost scary that we have so much in common," Cassie said dreamily to Ashley as the two girls sat together in Cassie's bedroom on the MegaShip. "I really feel good when I'm with him."
The Yellow Ranger looked at her friend. She had seen Cassie in the throes of crushes before, and naturally she'd been with her when she had first seen the Phantom. Never did she look like this, so glowing and happy and glad to be alive. "I'm glad that you're so happy." Ashley's voice was quiet and firm, and Cassie looked over at her, suddenly serious herself.
"You think I'm forgetting about Phantom, don't you?" she asked. Ashley didn't say anything, and her friend sighed. "I'm not. But when I'm with Lyran, I feel almost as if I were with Phantom, only better. It's really weird."
Ashley reached out to squeeze her hand comfortingly. "Cassie, I know I can't really decide for you who love, but maybe you should figure that out."
The Pink Ranger bit her lip, turning to glance at the pictures on her nightstand. "I wish I knew, Ashley. Maybe if Phantom came back it could make it easier to choose, if I knew how he felt about me. But. . .I really don't know."
Her friend nodded. "We could always go looking for him," she suggested. "We could take the MegaShip out and go hunting down your man!"
Cassie flushed deeper than Andros' uniform color, and shook her head. "If he doesn't want to come, I can't make him." She sighed deeply. "But I wish he would come back. I've told Lyran about him, and he doesn't seem jealous. But. . .I don't know."
Ashley was about to say something when DECA spoke up. "Cassie, it is three o'clock. You have a date with Lyran in twenty minutes."
"Eeek!!" Cassie was on her feet in a moment. "I've got to run, Ashley!"
"No problem." Ashley got up too. "I'll see you later, I'm going to go meet up with the guys at the Youth Center."
Cassie nodded as she dodged into the shower. She had other things to do right now: like get ready for her date.
"Like what?" Lyran lifted one eyebrow in the way that he had. They had become very comfortable with each other in a very short period of time, and she had come to recognize what they felt as the prelude to a very long romance together. She was starting to think she liked that thought.
She blushed deeply red. She'd never thought about things in this way until now, and quickly murmured, "Like we're two halves of the same whole."
Lyran looked at her for a moment, then reached out to take her hand. "My people say that everyone is born with only one half of a soul. If they are supremely lucky, then they find the person who has the other half of theirs, and they are bound together forever. Do you believe this?"
"I. ..I think I do," she breathed softly, covering his hand with her own. "I really think I do."
She smiled, leaning into him as he put his arms around her. I love Phantom. ..but I love Lyran too. She had only been seeing Lyran for two weeks, but she knew in a way she had never had a chance to know with Phantom that this was It. He was The One, the one for her completely.
She was beginning almost to be afraid that Phantom would come back now, and yet a part of her still longed and yearned for him to. Phantom was closer to her, but Lyran looked so. . .so perfect. How could she be faithful to both?
Tears began to fill up her eyes, and she quickly wiped them away before Lyran could notice. Everything seemed so right. . .and yet so wrong at the same time. She was in love with two different people, and it was wonderful and painful. Her heart ached at the very thought of them meeting, and hating each other. Or worse, becoming the best of friends, but still wanting her to choose between them. It was hard enough just thinking of them separately right now, to have them both there with her would be infinitely worse.
"Cassie?" Lyran looked down at her, and she smiled briefly, looking up at him. "You look tired."
She bit her lip a little. "I. ..didn't sleep that well last night," she murmured. "I had some bad dreams."
"Would you like to speak to me of them?" he asked. "I am always hear to listen, you know that."
She shook her head, a chill thrilling her spine at the thought of him always being there. Before she could make another motion, however, the memory of the dream overwhelmed her, freezing her in place.
Slowly, she laid down and closed her eyes, hoping to find some form of solace in the depths of slumber. But no rest came to her as she tossed back and forth, caught up in an endless daze and doze that was a wild mixture of strange, demonic, hungry faces, the Phantom's mask, and Lyran's face, all merging with a cacophony of dark laughter that reminded her all too uncomfortably of Astronema and Divatox at their most evil.
Something is coming. . .the phrase whispered through her mind. Something horrible...evil...something beyond evil...
Her eyes flickered behind her eyelids as she tossed, reaching both for sleep and for waking. Sleep without dreams, or waking to escape the nightmares, she didn't care which, as long as they stopped. "Please. .." she whispered, not knowing what she asked for or what she asked it of. "Stop. ..don't do it...Phantom. ..Lyran. ..don't..." Something she couldn't explain appeared to be on the verge of happening, something that would destroy everything that was good in the universe and leave only destruction and darkness in it's wake.
Suddenly, she sat up, her eyes wide and clear and full of terror. She was alone on the MegaShip. The others were all down at a movie with their respective significant others; they had felt too charged up to sleep, unlike her. Only Alpha and DECA were there now, and they wouldn't be able to help her. It was just a simple nightmare, after all.
She took several deep breaths, doing her best to calm herself down. Just a nightmare. Just a dream. I'm just so confused over Lyran and Phantom, that's all. Slowly she pulled herself over to the round window and stared to the stars. She could just barely see the moon from where the MegaShip was locked into stationary orbit, and just the very tiniest bit of light was reflecting off something there. Must be the lunar palace I've heard about. She tried to think about common place things like that to keep her mind off the horrors she'd seen and felt. Wonder what's going to happen to it. Rita and Zedd certainly don't want to have it back. They were perfectly happy to be living in Angel Grove. Who would have imagined them as parents, I wonder? She shrugged mentally; Rita was indeed pregnant and would be delivering sometime in the next couple months. She had shocked two of the ex-Rangers by promising if it were a boy to name it Thomas and if it were a girl to name it Katherine. Cassie didn't quite know the significance, but she wasn't the student of Ranger history that Ashley was. Maybe she'd asked her friend when they got back. . .
With thoughts like that to occupy her, she soon forced the miasma of the dream from her, and laid back down to once again be forced into dark dreams.
That something was stored in the very depths of the palace, in storage rooms so old that no one had been in them in eons. Rita and Zedd hadn't even known they were there, and Master Vile, who had originally had the palace built, had forgotten about it himself. But most of all, he had forgotten about what he had in there.
It was a small orb, easily small enough to be held in one human's hand, and a deep, solid black. It had been still, sealed in a block of ice, for many years. Once a century the spell that kept it in there was shored up, keeping the being within it comatose and out of trouble. But with the passing of Zordon, the spell had been ruptured just enough so the entity could awaken. It had been trying to emerge from the orb ever since, but with no luck.
If an observer had been there, they would have seen the black orb pulsating a dark, unhealthy sooty color. Waves of raw evil poured off it, causing the walls to shudder and start to crumble. Then, a crack opened up in the ice around the orb. Fire licked around it for a moment, and then the ice was gone, melted away and leaving only the orb behind. From it, a violet-scaled claw emerged, shaking off the shards of the imprisoning orb as one would shake off a tight garment, and the creature expanded quickly, reshaping a full body. It stood nine feet tall, with broad wings, scales over every inch, cloven hooves, a spiked tail, and malevolently glowing red eyes. A delicate purple gown emphasized rather than hid feminine features, and a low, guttaral laugh echoed from lips long unused to moving.
"Once again Lady Rilan is free," she murmured softly, examining herself slowly. "But much has changed."
She could easily taste how the power of evil had been weakened in this universe, to the point it almost didn't exist any longer. The aura of good pulsated strongly from the planet beneath her, and she took a long look at it. Earth, she recalled from the last moments before her imprisonment. Memory began to rush back to her. She had been in a battle with a powerful warrior of good, who had performed a last-strike attack against her, the only chance she had of winning. Rilan, the most powerful Demon Queen in existence, had been struck down and bound in chains of purest good. But her warriors had avenged her; they had struck down the warrior from behind and implanted a powerful seed of evil within her. The newly created Queen of Evil had went on to spawn Dark Spectre, who had destroyed her utterly when he had taken over as the Grand Monarch of evil.
Rilan smiled softly, then her entire body glowed faintly for a moment. Where she had once stood, there was now a perfectly normal looking female. She could have blended in anywhere on Earth, and that was just her plan. Within the space of three days, she would have brought hell on Earth, and conquered everything within a dozen galaxies.
It was just her way of waking up.
"But I still can't stop it!" The Blue Ranger insisted, pacing faster and faster. "I've got this gut feeling that something is wrong about this whole situation, but I can't put my finger on it."
Karone had been trying ever since they first met Lyran to figure out why his home planet sounded so familiar, but with as much success as T.J. had had with figuring out his own mental dilemma. She sighed deeply. "I agree." She said quietly. "Something very unusual is going on."
Andros frowned. If just one of them had felt something, or if T.J. had not been happily attached to Sabrina, he might have put it down to a simple bad feeling or even possible jealousy. But with both of them feeling or sensing or whatever it was, he wasn't going to risk anything. He considered various options. The first and most obvious was to forbid Cassie to see Lyran again. That was immediately discarded, for the simple reasons that he really had no cause to, and he didn't have the authority to. He doubted Cassie would take a couple of 'bad feelings' as a reason to stop seeing her boyfriend. He knew he wouldn't take that as a reason to stop being with Ashley.
Ashley. . .he glanced over at his girlfriend. "Think you could talk to Cassie about things, and see if there's anything Lyran has said that might hint as to why both T.J. and Karone are having these feelings? Anything at all?"
The Yellow Ranger nodded quickly. She was glad to see her best friend so happy these days; it was a welcome change from the minor form of depression she'd been in for the past year. Ashley had held out just as much hope that the Phantom Ranger would return as Cassie had; she had always had the feeling from the first time she had seen them together that they were meant for one another. To see her friend falling for someone else had grated on her; she'd thought Cassie to be more faithful than that. She didn't hate Lyran, but she was honestly disappointed in Cassie's reaction.
Then again, she has waited a year and more, she reminded herself. The talk she'd had with Cassie earlier had only strengthened the feelings that she herself had about the whole situation. "I'll talk to her tonight. She and Lyran were going to be going for a walk today."
T.J. shook his head sharply. "I want to know some things about him. I'm going to run a scan on him from the MegaShip."
Andros only nodded as T.J. headed outside, and he could just see the faint sparkle of blue light as the Blue Ranger vanished away from Earth. "So, Ashley, want to go out for dinner tonight?" he asked with a smile. His girlfriend looked back at him, and her eyes sparkled with a light that he loved so much.
"Let's make it a double," her eyes flicked over to where Zhane and Karone were staring at each other once again, and smiled. "It's been a while, you know."
Andros smiled a little. He knew he'd never win this particular battle. Besides, it would be good to see how his sister and best friend were doing in their relationship.
The Pink Ranger said nothing, only kept walking with her eyes down and her entire body obviously distracted. He called her name again, touching her shoulder when she didn't respond. "Oh, Lyran!" she jumped suddenly, staring at him with her eyes wide in shock. "I'm sorry, I've had. ..something on my mind."
Her boyfriend tilted his head to the side. "And what might that be, if I might ask?" there was concern and sincerity in his voice. He wanted to know what was bothering her, if at all possible. "Your dream?"
"I. . .," her voice trailed off for a moment, then she visibly gathered up her courage. "It's kind of silly. It was a really bad nightmare, though, and it's still shaking me up."
He lifted an eyebrow. "What sort of nightmare? I have found that talking of such things frequently lessens the horror of them."
She bit her lip, then quickly began to outline what she'd seen in her dreams. He listened intently, seeming almost to take mental notes at every detail. When she was done, he advised, "It could have been a warning of some type. We both know that there are still forces of evil left in the universe, and Earth would be a great prize still. Perhaps we should tell your friends of what you have dreamed. Or the Lady Dimitria."
Cassie closed her eyes for a moment, thinking. Slowly, she became aware that Lyran's arms were around her, in a gentle and caring embrace. She lifted her head to meet his eyes, and was not surprised to see them full of light and love. They were so like a pair she had seen in her dreams, other dreams she'd had before meeting him. She leaned her head against his broad chest, listening to his heart beat and trying to figure out just what to do. Should we tell the Rangers? It was just a dream, but it could also be a warning. But if it's just a dream, I'll have gotten them all worked up over nothing if I tell them. If it's a warning...
She jumped up. "Come on, we'd better go tell the others. If it was a dream, then it won't do any harm to be ready, and if it was a warning, then we had better be prepared."
Lyran smiled as he stood up, and took her hand gently. "All right. Where will they be at this time of day?"
"Probably at the Youth Center," she glanced down at her watch. "Or maybe the Surf Spot, we tend to travel between the two these days."
"They are both fine establishments," Lyran agreed as they started out of the park. "We don't have anything like those where I am from."
Cassie paused for a moment, looking at him. Something had just occurred to her. "You never have told me just why you came to Earth. It certainly couldn't have just been for the celebration, that was two weeks ago, and you're still here."
"That is true," he nodded. "I came here for reasons other than that." He looked at her, and she could almost see the gears turning in his head, thinking of something. "I came to be with you, Cassie."
Her eyes widened with shock. "Wha...?"
He slowly stroked one hand gently across her cheek. "I cannot. . .no I will not say everything just now. But I have loved you for a very long time, and I had to come to see you in person. Soon I will tell you everything, and until then, I ask only that you trust me. I swear, nothing I have told you is a lie. I simply have not said everything. But I will. When the time is right."
She looked at him. Something about the phrasing, about the way his voice almost seemed to echo in her mind and heart felt as if Phantom were speaking them. But that's not possible, she thought. Then she touched his hand gently with her own. "I trust you, Lyran. I'll always trust you."
Hand in hand, they headed for the Youth Center.
But one thing slightly bothered her. The Power Rangers. They still existed even after the ending of evil, and they were so happy. It made her sick to her stomach. She calmed herself quickly; Power Rangers were a relatively new invention to her, when she had been trapped in the orb, they hadn't existed. It had been simple to gain all the information she could on them, however. One of her abilities was to drain all the knowledge from someone simply by touching them, and she had feasted heavily off a rather intelligent one that had been the first Blue Ranger. He had never known anything had happened, as she had done it while he slept, and he would never know. But he had been an incredible fountain of knowledge.
They won't be that hard to get rid of. They're annoying, but not all-powerful. Just like any other fighter. Take their power away, and they're just a batch of teenagers. Teenagers that can easily be defeated.
She considered various plans to remove their powers. With this group, it would be far easier than any other to do that. Other teams had used subspace pockets to conceal their transformation devices, but this one simply wore theirs on their wrists. It would be the simplest of things to steal and destroy them. Or even. . .to use them. Her eyes glinted darkly red for a moment at the thought of her own team of evil Rangers, destroying the entire world at her command. Wait. . .her thoughts paused, remembering something else that she had learned. Evil Rangers had been tried before, and failed.
Then her lips twisted in a sudden smile. Yes. I know what I need. The only team that has ever come close to defeating this group of warriors. They are still around. But I must find out where they are, Billy did not know their location, only that they vanished and were never seen again. I must trap an Astro Ranger and discover the whereabouts of the Psycho Rangers.
It seemed almost to be the will of fate that she saw two young people walking by just then, one a handsome young man and the other a beautiful young woman with long black hair and a pink blouse and blue jeans on. Rilan smiled coldly. Perfect. The Pink Ranger. She will know what has happened.
Rilan didn't know who the female Ranger's companion was, but she also didn't care. All she wanted was the girl. It was too public of a place here and now to take her, she could see civilians wandering around. Rilan was a mistress of subtle takeovers, and that meant she wanted as little notice taken of her as possible, until she was ready for the entire world to take notice. That was one of the many mistakes the evil monarchs of the past had made; they had been as flashy as they could be, coming in with hordes of weaponry and monsters, and had subsequently lost. They had had no subtly, no sense, and they had all paid for it. She would be different. She wouldn't lose.
"Ay-yi-yi, what is it, T.J.? What's wrong?" Alpha Six looked at him as he swept into the room. "T.J.?" he asked when the Blue Ranger didn't answer.
"DECA, I want all the information that you've got on anyone known as Lyran Jan from Rilona, and anything that might have happened to Rilona during the last attack by the United Alliance of Evil."
"Scanning database now," the computer voice declared. T.J. sat down in his chair, leaning back for a moment and waiting for the scan to be complete. It would probably take a while; with untold numbers of people in the universe, finding one particular one could take hours.
Alpha touched his hand briefly. "T.J.?" a wealth of questions was in that word, and the young man looked up.
"Oh, sorry, Alpha. I'm trying to find out just why Cassie's new boyfriend and his home planet have Karone and me so worked up."
The little robot nodded; he hadn't met Lyran, but from what the others had said, he was a very nice young man. If T.J. and Karone were feeling something, however, it was better to check it out and be wrong than to leave it alone and have her hurt somehow. He was of the same opinion as everyone else; that the Phantom had hurt her enough.
DECA's voice startled both of them after several silent moments. "Information retrieved. Rilona was the focus of the attack led by the Machine Empire and General Havoc during the final thrust of Dark Spectre's armies, and was defended by the Phantom Ranger and the Blue Senturion. Lyran Jan is a citizen of Rilona since his birth there nineteen Earth-years ago. He has no criminal record in any part of the known universe, and was cited many times in his youth for honor and courage above and beyond the norm.
Rilona was attacked some years prior to the destruction of K0-35 and it's people scattered across the universe in a similar manner. Lyran Jan's whereabouts and actions during this time are unknown. He returned to his homeworld after Zordon's sacrifice, and left it again some weeks ago to come to Earth. Currently he is involved romantically with Cassandra Lynna Chan, the former Pink Turbo Ranger and current Pink Astro Ranger."
T.J sighed deeply. Whatever it was that was bothering both him and Karone, it appeared to be baseless. Lyran was just as he had told them: an average citizen of another planet who had come to Earth for the celebration and stayed because he had fallen in love. He closed his eyes for a moment, thinking back on all the times he had seen Cassie looking at the Phantom and all the times she looked at Lyran. The same look had been in her eyes, one of tender love and curiosity. . .and the way they had always looked back at her. . .well, you couldn't exactly see the Phantom through his helmet, but it was the image he'd always imagined there.
It was defended by the Phantom Ranger and Blue Senturion. The sentence DECA had just said echoed through his mind suddenly, and he sat up. "DECA, when is the first recorded appearance of the Phantom Ranger anywhere in the universe?"
A moment passed until she replied, "Approximately one month after the invasion of planet Rilona."
"And where was Lyran Jan during this time?"
Another pause. "His whereabouts are unknown. He vanished in the combat, and was not seen again until after the end of the war."
T.J. tapped his fingers briefly, then asked, "Compare vital statistics on Lyran Jan to any known ones on Phantom Ranger." He was playing a hunch here and he knew, but it had to run through. DECA spoke a moment later.
"Approximate height and weight of Phantom Ranger are within the parameters for Lyran Jan."
Okay, I can't jump to conclusions here. So he's about as tall and weighs as much as the Phantom could way. It's only an approximate on Phantom, since we don't really know much about him. "Scan for access to a subspace pocket," he decided. Though they themselves carried their morphers on their wrists now, they still could access subspace for small items, and it was the traditional place for Rangers to keep their morphing items. If Lyran was who T.J. thought he was, then he would have one.
Lyran smiled, stroking her hand gently with the tips of his fingers. "I certainly hope your dream was just a dream," he told her. "I don't want any more war to break out and separate us."
Something about the tone of his voice caused her to turn and look at him. "What do you mean? We've never been separated by a war before. .."
The young man blushed tremendously, and opened his mouth to say something, when a low, crystalline laugh echoed all around them. Cassie went as pale as chalk, remembering that sound from her dream. "What. ..who is that?"
"That is me," the voice came from behind them, and both turned to see a young woman there, clad in jeans and a blouse much like Cassie's, only in a deep shade of green instead of pink. "You may fall to your knees now and proclaim me Queen of the Universe and your eternal mistress."
Both of them looked at each other, then laughed simultaneously. "What makes you think we'd do that?" Cassie asked, the sudden absurdity wiping away the fear that the dream had filled her with. "Who are you really?"
"Lady Rilan, Queen of Demons," she introduced herself with a tiny mocking bow to them both. "And the two of you are going to be my first victims."
"Victims?" Lyran's voice was suddenly harsh, and he was glaring at her with an intensity Cassie had never seen him display before. "Lady Rilan, I think you are badly mistaken."
The demon queen smiled. "I do not think I am, young one. I have been waiting a very long time to take this universe and nothing is going to stop me. Especially not your silly group of Rangers."
Cassie was reaching for her morpher when Rilan held out one hand and a wave of dark energy swept over the both of them. The beautiful demon chuckled as they fell at her feet, and she picked them up easily. A moment's flexing of her power erased the footprints that they had left behind, and another took them all to her personal palace in the netherworld. It had been quite a while since she had been there, but it was still being kept up by her tamed demons.
"This was too easy," she chuckled to herself as she tossed the two prisoners into a cell and ordered them chained up to the wall. She would drain Cassie of all her knowledge shortly, and then would do the same for her boyfriend. That only leaves the problem of what to do with them once I've done that. Well, he'll be no problem, I could use a good stud around the castle. As for her, I think seven Psycho Rangers, once I make a Silver Psycho, could do quite a lot of damage against five Astro Rangers.
With a chuckle, she headed for a quickly arranged meeting with her majordomo. There were things that she needed to find out. Such as if her satin sheets were still in stock.
"Dimitria?" the Inquirian sorceress was standing in front of the others, who he vaguely noticed were the only people in the establishment, along with Sabrina and Diona. "Is something wrong?" Dimitria did live on Earth still, but where she lived and what she did was a mystery to them all. She occasionally would show up to talk with them, but very seldom.
"I am afraid so, Rangers," she turned to include T.J. in the conversation, and he could see the fear in her eyes. "A great and powerful enemy has been freed, and has two prisoners already."
Andros looked concerned. "What exactly is going on?" He had only met Dimitria after the war's end, but he had come to have a lot of trust in her after the past year, and after she had restored the anonymity to the Rangers.
"In the very dawning of the war between good and evil, the leader of the side of darkness was a powerful demonic Queen by the name of Rilan. She fought hard against the leader of the side of light, Linaria. Rilan was defeated and locked into an orb which was stolen by the forces of evil. It drifted from owner to owner over the eons, which each of them making certain to keep the orb enspelled to keep her trapped within. They didn't want her to escape and start to rule over them again, they had discovered the joys of ruling their own empires. Thus was the beginning of the United Alliance of Evil, for they were united in their lust for power and their desire to keep Rilan entrapped. But when the war ended this past year, the spell must have faded, and Rilan was able to escape."
Everyone paled during the recitation, but Dimitria wasn't finished yet. Calmly, she spoke again. "Rilan will be attempting to take over the universe once again, and for some reason she had kidnapped Cassie and Lyran. I do not know what she has planned for them, but she will have taken them to her palace in the netherworld."
"What do we do?" Carlos' voice hovered just a little with fear, and Diona squeezed his hand gently. She had heard the tales of Rilan all her life, but had never possessed the orb. The last known owners were Rita and Zedd, and they would probably know little of it now.
"We must do something to get them back," Karone's voice was firm. "What could she possibly want with them?" suddenly, she stiffened, and Zhane looked sharply at her. Three words slowly fell from her lips.
"The Psycho Rangers."
Andros went pale. "Are you sure?" all the Rangers knew where the datacards were that had been the only remnant of the Psycho Rangers. Karone had claimed them when she had left the Dark Fortress the last time, and they were sealed up in a special place in the Astro MegaShip. Only a Power Ranger could get to them, not even Karone or Alpha could do it.
"That's the only explanation," his sister said softly. "It's the only thing that makes sense. But why would she take Lyran too?"
Ashley shrugged. "Convenience? He was with Cassie and she didn't want to wait for them to separate?"
"Or he's a Ranger too." T.J.'s voice was flat, and got everyone's attention. Carlos frowned at his friend.
"What do you mean?"
The Blue Ranger almost seemed to smile. "Lyran Jan is the Phantom Ranger."