*It's been so long ... I can't believe it's been two years....*
It was her first extended break from the academy, and she was anxious to see her family and friends again. Unfortunately, she hadn't told anyone that she was coming, wanting to surprise everybody. She had just assumed her parents would be there, but it turned out they were in Sydney visiting relatives. She had tried Tanya next, but she was in Africa visiting Aisha and Ashala. However, there was still one person in Angel Grove Kat was longing to see, and she knew *he* was in town.
*Tommy,* she sighed to herself.
Even though it had been two years, Kat still felt a flutter in her heart at the mere thought of those gorgeous, chocolate colored eyes and that warm smile.... For some reason, Tommy Oliver captivated her as no other man had.
They had parted as friends and had even kept in touch for a while, but both had become caught up in their hectic schedules, and their correspondence had become sporadic. Kat had tried seeking out other relationships, but none had lasted very long or had been very satisfying.
*And your relationship with Tommy was?* she chided herself sarcastically. All right, so maybe things hadn't been perfect between them. She had caught Tommy on the rebound --that was a bad time to get involved with *anyone.* He had loved Kim so much, and the hurt she had caused had wounded him deeply.... Tommy's inability to let his first girlfriend go had always amazed and frustrated Kat. Still, the strength of his commitment to Kim --that a person could love someone *that* much-- had been one of the qualities that had drawn her to Tommy in the first place.
When she had been under Rita's spell, the witch used to go on and on about how nauseating true love was --implying that that's what Kim and Tommy shared. Kat could believe it; she had never seen two people so in love, and she knew that was the sort of relationship she longed to have with a man. It was the reason she had been willing to be patient with Tommy after her friends' break-up; although, it had been sad to see that relationship fall apart in the first place. Someday, Tommy would be able to let himself love again as completely as he had with Kim, and Kat knew that it would be worth the wait.
She sincerely hoped that Tommy had been able to let go of Kim after all this time.
*You haven't exactly let _him_ go,* that snide inner voice reminded her, *you're hanging onto Tommy just like you did Mickey.* Kat hadn't thought of Mickey Black in years, but she had had a crush on him for ages. It had taken her a long time to accept that he wasn't interested in her. Her heart could be so stubborn sometimes. However, Kat pushed her memories of her first serious love interest aside as she turned down Tommy's street. She fully realized that Tommy might have gotten on with his life and not waited for her. She had no reason to expect that of him; after all, hadn't she called him and told him about Michael when she began dating him? He could very well be seeing someone else. Still, it was difficult not to hope....
*What's wrong with that?*
As she pulled into the Oliver driveway, she noticed that there was only one car in front of the house, and it wasn't Tommy's red 4 x 4. She was a little disappointed; before she had left, she had made sure to check Tommy's uncle's website to make sure the team wasn't on the road somewhere. As long as they were in Angel Grove, Tommy was sure to be home.
*He could be at the track,* Kat mused as she emerged from her vehicle and headed up the walk to the front door.
Tommy's mom answered her knock.
"Yes, who ... Katherine?"
"Hello, Jan." Tommy's mother hated to be called Mrs. Oliver,' and it had taken Kat forever to get used to calling her by her first name. The hazel-eyed nurse with her sand colored hair hadn't changed a bit since she had seen her last. The two women hugged warmly.
"Come in," Jan invited, ushering Kat into the living room. The place brought back so many memories from the trophies and ribbons on the shelves to the profusion of photographs on the mantelpiece. They passed from the front room into the kitchen; the gesture filled Kat with a sense of warmth, security, and renewed hope. The living room was for company; the kitchen was for family.
It was like old times as Kat found the glasses and Jan poured the iced tea as they talked about what had been going on in her life: going to school in England, touring with the ballet company and now her visit home after so long. Finally, Kat got around to asking, "What's Tommy up to these days?"
"Karate, what else," Jan said with a shrug, and Kat had the impression that the other woman assumed that she knew what she was talking about. "Ever since he opened the dojo, it seems like he's always there. I was so happy when he stopped racing and settled down. If you're trying to catch Tommy, you stand a better chance of finding him at the school instead of at the house."
Tommy was no longer racing and had a place of his own? When had that happened? He never mentioned it in any of his letters; although, it had been a while....
"I'd like to go look him up now, if you don't mind," Kat said eagerly. "Where's the dojo at?"
"The mini mall in Jackson Street Plaza," Jan answered. Kat didn't notice the small frown that puckered her companion's mouth.
"Thanks, Jan; I'll see you later."
Fortunately, Kat remembered where the small shopping center was located. She was so excited for Tommy, recalling how much he always wanted to own his own dojo. *His own school, a house ... he must have done fairly well with his racing.*
The butterflies in her stomach were doing *grande jetes* as she pulled into a parking space in front of Angel Grove Martial Arts. Nervously, she tidied her windblown hair (it was too nice a day to have the windows up). Before entering, she paused by the plate glass window and peered in. Her heart skipped a beat as she spied her former teammate and boyfriend. He was as handsome as ever. Tommy was dressed in white gi trousers and tank top with a white bandana holding back his ponytail. She smiled as she caught him flipping a flyaway strand of hair out of his face before demonstrating a kick.
Catching her own reflection in the glass, Kat straightened her tank dress (in the vibrant pink Tommy said looked best on her) and tucked yet another strand of hair back in place. *Perfect.* Then, summoning her courage, she strolled into the studio.
She stood off to one side, observing Tommy's class. She noticed a second instructor and was surprised to see Tommy's brother, David. She had figured that if he had gone into business with anyone, it would have been with Jason. Kat waited patiently, then came the moment she had played and replayed in her mind ever since she had bought her plane ticket. Tommy looked up, and their eyes met across the room. A smile of surprise and delight lit his features. He told the class to take a break then rushed over to greet her, wrapping her in an effusive hug. (Okay, so she had envisioned a little more than the peck on the cheek he gave her, but still...!)
"Ohmigod, Kat!" Tommy sputtered, his joy in seeing her unfeigned and unrestrained. "I can't believe it! How've you been? When'd you get home? Man, it seems like forever...."
"Take it easy," Kat laughed, letting his enthusiasm surround her and overwhelm her. "It's so good to see you again, Tommy; I've missed you." She hadn't wanted to say so much so soon, but she couldn't help herself.
"Same here," Tommy concurred. Just then, David wandered over, and Tommy asked, "You remember my brother, don't you?"
"How could I forget?" she replied, favoring Tommy's sibling with a friendly smile.
"Hello, Katherine," David said, taking her hands and giving her an affectionate kiss of greeting. David then turned back to his brother. "I take it this means you're going to want to cut out of here early."
Tommy shrugged sheepishly. "Hey, it's not every day you have a beautiful ballerina show up on your doorstep."
"Not a problem. Go on; I'll finish up with this class," David offered.
"You'll still be coming by for dinner tonight, won't you?" Tommy asked.
"As soon as I'm done here. I'll join you guys later; I'm sure you have plenty of catching up to do."
* * *
They left Kat's car in the parking lot; she was more than happy to go for a ride in Tommy's truck (he had traded in the 4 x 4 a while ago). She made the mistake of asking Tommy about the school, and she wasn't able to get a word in edgewise as he went on about his pride and joy. She didn't mind. It made her feel good to see him so happy. If there were any shadows lurking in Tommy Oliver's life these days, she couldn't see them.
Tommy lived just a couple of blocks from the school; they probably could have walked. The house he parked in front of took Kat by surprise. It wasn't very large: single story with white siding and dark green shutters. The yard was well kept with lots of beautiful flowers. In spite of the basketball hoop affixed to the garage, the place looked much too feminine for a bachelor. All it lacked was a white picket fence.
"Come on," Tommy said, all but dragging her out of the vehicle. He was acting as if he had a great surprise he wanted to show her. Kat let herself be towed along as they entered the side door into the kitchen. The wonderful aroma of Italian cooking filled Kat's nostrils. She sighed hungrily; it had been a while since she had eaten last. As Tommy led her into the living room, she belatedly realized that if there was food cooking, someone else had to be home.
*Maybe he has a roommate.*
"Tommy, is that you?" a very definitely female voice called out. Kat suddenly felt cold inside.
"Sure is, Beautiful."
"I have a surprise for you," Tommy replied. He turned to Kat and said, "Wait here." Then, he hurried down the hall.
Kat's heart felt like lead as she looked about the small living room. She hadn't noticed the pictures right away, but all of them were of a happy couple. There was one in particular of a bride and groom....
*Oh, Lord, he's married!* she realized, feeling both sick and like an utter fool. With a growing feeling of dread, she drew closer to the shelf that displayed the photos. She wondered if she knew who the woman was. Well, she had hoped he had put the past behind him and moved ahead....
*I guess he did.* Then, Kat stepped on something that squeaked. Startled, she jumped back. However, instead of the pet toy she expected to find, she found a pink, rubber teddy bear.
"Tommy, what's going on; when can I open my eyes?"
"In a minute."
Kat spun around; she recognized that voice....
"Okay, now you can see...."
Before Kat could blink, Kimberly Hart Oliver dashed forward and flung her arms around her long-absent friend. Kat, however, was almost too numb to return the embrace. Her eyes were locked on Tommy standing back in the doorway. Balanced on his hip was a little girl maybe six months old.
"You look so good...!" Kim continued to gush, pulling away to hold Kat at arm's length, looking her up and down. "When'd you get back in town? How long are you here? How's London...?"
"Take it easy, Kim," Tommy chided gently, and Kat saw the warmth of his love glowing in his eyes ... the way they once used to whenever he looked at Kim. She felt a lump in her throat. "Kat just got in; she's probably pretty wiped from the flight...."
"I'm sorry, Kat," Kim bubbled. "Let's sit down. Can I get you something to drink?"
"S-sure," she stammered in reply, too overwhelmed to do anything but accept.
"I think someone else is wanting something to drink, too, Mommy," Tommy said as the child in his arms started fussing. Kim quickly took the girl from him.
"Kat, this is our daughter Rose --Amanda Rose Oliver." Kim beamed at her daughter. "Sweetie, this is Mommy and Daddy's good friend, Kat."
All Kat could do was stare. The child had Kim's features but Tommy's big dark eyes and a head full of mahogany hair. She was the sweetest little thing as she sucked on a tiny fist. Then, she smiled and held her arms out to Kat.
*As friendly as her mother,* Kat reflected as she automatically reached for the tot. The girl immediately went for the star necklace Kat had worn since high school.
"Did you remember to stop by the store and pick up more formula?" Kim asked Tommy as the group drifted towards the kitchen.
"I forgot," Tommy answered.
"Do you want to explain to your daughter why she won't have any dinner?" Kim queried exasperatedly. "I'm down to her last bottle."
"I'd rather change a toxic diaper," Tommy quipped. He grinned at Kat. "Hell hath no fury like a hungry baby. I'll be right back." As he headed out the door, he called back, " David's still coming to dinner."
"I'm cooking Italian; of course he's going to be here," his wife replied as if the idea of David not being there was absurd.
Kat's mind was still trying to assimilate these latest revelations of Tommy's life as Kim retrieved a bottle from the refrigerator and began warming it up. The original Pink Ranger was prattling on, seemingly heedless of Kat's state of shock. Her arms still full with Rose, Kat at last sank into a chair.
"... I so wanted to nurse Rose, but somebody just didn't like my milk, so we had no choice," Kim sighed. "Tommy thought that maybe my Ranger Powers had something to do with that."
Kat managed to extract her jewelry from the tiny fingers only to have them tug at her hair.
"... Rose is named after Tommy's birth mother and great-great-great grandmother who's wedding ring he gave me."
As Kim set two glasses of cola on the table and reached for her daughter, Kat noticed the ring in question: a beautiful solitaire set in the center of a rose in bloom.
"... of course, my mother thinks we named her Amanda' after her grandmother --my great-grandmother-- but we haven't bothered correcting the notion, have we, Sweetie?" Kim rubbed noses with her daughter then settled into a chair to begin feeding her.
Kat finally found her voice. "H-how long have you and Tommy been married?"
Kim frowned. "Didn't you get the invitation?"
"We sent you a wedding invitation; we got married last February. Rose was definitely a honeymoon baby; she was born in November."
Kat tried to think back. She had changed flats last year around Christmas, and much of her mail had been lost. She had had a devil of a time getting that straightened out.
"I never did," she confessed.
"Oh, Kat, I'm so sorry ... you must really feel lost right now."
*That* was an understatement.
"When did you get back in Angel Grove? I thought you were going to Paris to live with your mother after the Pan Globals were over." She recalled reading in the paper that Kim had won a medal.
"That's what my mother thought, too," Kim sighed, "but I couldn't go to Paris without coming home and talking to Tommy about what happened between us."
"What did happen?" Kat asked, desperate to know. "How could you have broken up with Tommy --hurt him-- like that?"
She hadn't meant to be accusatory, but she couldn't help herself. Kim winced as if the memory was still painful. Then she gave off another long sigh.
"It wasn't that I didn't love Tommy," she began, shifting her daughter around so that she rested over her shoulder as she patted her back. "I never stopped loving him. It was just that.... I had to see what it would be like to have a normal boyfriend, someone without the world to save, someone I didn't have to share with anyone else. I'd never had a serious boyfriend before Tommy, and whenever we spent time together, it always seemed like we'd be attacked or have to run off and save this or that part of Angel Grove.... It wasn't so bad when we both had powers, but when Tommy first lost his and I still had mine ... it was pretty tough. So when I gave up mine to go to the Games....
"All I wanted was a chance to see what a normal life would be like. I just didn't think Tommy would understand, that's why I made all that stuff up. It was the biggest mistake of my life. As for normal...." Kim laughed, but it was tinged with a harsh edge. "It was boring. The guys just didn't have a clue. They seemed so shallow ... it was like they couldn't appreciate the little things, the quiet times. Their priorities seemed all wrong. And I couldn't talk to them like I could Tommy --that was the worst. I couldn't open up to them ... I always had to keep a part of myself hidden. When I finally came to my senses, I realized just how much I truly loved Tommy."
Kat said nothing, but Kim had just described the exact same things she had felt about dating other men.
"When I returned to Angel Grove, it was after you had left for England and the two of you had split up. Tommy was more hurt than he let on about how things had turned out for you guys; he blamed himself. And he was still pretty pissed off at me. We didn't get back together right away; in fact, when I told him what happened, we'd had the biggest fight we'd ever had --all without one of Rita's spells! I enrolled at AGU for a semester to see if he and I could work things out. Instead, he said he'd finally come to his senses and that it was about time he let me go and made a fresh start. He began dating a girl named Karen. It was awful to see them together, but I did my best to be happy for Tommy.
"At the end of the semester, I had decided to move to Paris; there was nothing for me in Angel Grove. I had gotten exactly what I'd deserved. However, the night before I was supposed to fly out, I was in the park. I met up with Tommy by the pond. He'd just broken up with Karen. It turns out he had made the same discoveries I had about dating other people and most especially that we both still loved each other and were miserable being apart. The next day at the airport, I never made it onto the plane. Tommy came to see me off and proposed."
*It's nice to know that he cared enough to regret the way things turned out between us,* Kat tried consoling herself, and she couldn't help but wonder if maybe she would have stayed, had been around when Kim explained herself, Tommy would have come to his senses and *they* would have been able to work things out. However, there was nothing to be done about that now. *You can't change the past.*
"I'm happy for you guys, truly," Kat murmured, not knowing what else to say.
* * *
"I should probably get going," Kat announced as Kim excused herself to put Rose to bed. "It's been a long day, and I'm pretty tired." All in all, it had been a pleasant evening, once she had gotten past the shocks. Tommy had returned with David, and it turned out that Kim was a very good cook. Being with her friends was something she had missed desperately, but it had been difficult watching the two together. She remembered how much she had envied their closeness when she first knew them. Now, they were closer than they had ever been. The soft looks, the touches, a kiss snuck in here and there.... It wasn't that she begrudged them their affection and happiness; it was more that she wasn't quite prepared to deal with it.
"Don't go," Tommy insisted. "Your folks are out of town, right? Where will you stay? That empty house? A motel?"
"Stay with us," Kim offered as she returned to the living room. "We can put Rose in the bassinet in our room, and you can have the day bed in hers."
"I wouldn't want to put you guys out," Kat demurred, not certain if she *could* stay.
"You wouldn't be putting us out," both insisted.
"You're always welcome at my place," David spoke up. "While I don't have a guest room, I do have a sleeper sofa."
"Thanks, you all; I really appreciate it, but...."
"I hate the thought of you staying some place all by yourself," Tommy said.
"This is really sweet, you guys, but I already have a deposit down on my room. Maybe tomorrow night, okay?"
"Will you at least come by for breakfast?" Kim asked.
"If you're cooking, can I come, too?" David piped up.
"Hey, you know you're welcome anytime," Tommy assured him --and Kat.
"Which isn't bad except at diaper changing time," David murmured in a stage whisper, making Kat grin.
"I'll be by in the morning; I promise," Kat answered.
After making her good byes and declining the offer of a ride back to the dojo, Kat stepped onto the front porch and drew in a calming breath. Her hand shook as she grasped the railing.
"Kat, are you okay?" David queried. She hadn't realized he had followed her.
"The mush get a little too thick for you?" he pursued knowingly. His words gave her a moment's pause; had she been *that* obvious? David chuckled and shook his head. "You'd think that after a year of marriage *and* a kid, the lovey-dovey stuff would have worn off, but noooo, they're as bad as ever."
"They've always been pretty mushy," Kat agreed with a smile.
"You will be by for breakfast, won't you?" David continued. "Hey, it's worth the price of admission to see the former leader of the Power Rangers with baby food in his hair."
This time, Kat laughed softly.
"We'll see how late I sleep in."
"Are you sure you don't want a ride back to your car?"
"I'm sure. It's only a couple of blocks, and it's such a nice evening.... A walk will do me good, but thank you."
"All right, I'll see you tomorrow then."
Kat gave him a friendly peck on the cheek then headed down the drive without a backwards glance. She had never felt so lonely in her entire life.
She tried to hold back her tears of disappointment as she idly kicked at the pebbles in her path while she meandered down the sidewalk. She had tried so hard not to get her hopes up, so what happened...?
*It's not fair!* She raged inwardly. It wasn't fair that Tommy had given Kim a second chance and hadn't even given her a first! *I loved you as much as Kim did, and I'd never have tossed you aside just to find out what a normal' relationship was ... I'd never have broken your heart....*
If Tommy was so happily married, why had he greeted her as he had ... with such emotion...? He seemed so genuinely pleased to see her ... and he'd never been so unreservedly affectionate to her in all the time they had dated....
*That's because he was too afraid of being hurt again,* Kat chided herself, a part of her insisting on being reasonable about all this. Still, the last time she remembered Tommy being so open with his friendship and love was back when he was still dating Kim, secure in their relationship. It was like he was so in love with Kim that he couldn't contain it all and had to share it. Perhaps that was all he had been doing at the dojo.
*Still, I wish he hadn't built up my hopes like that ... how could he be so cruel? Doesn't he know ... couldn't he tell how much I still care...?*
Even so, she knew deep down that her disappointment was her own fault for not letting go of something that had never been hers to begin with.
*I'm being ridiculous!* Tommy was happier now than he had been in years. When she had first reached out to him, her only intent had been to ease his pain ... to make him happy. She wanted to be happy for him now --him and Kim-- she really did. She just wished it didn't have to hurt so much.
Kat paused at the corner and looked back at the cozy little house. David was still on the porch, watching. Did he really know how troubled she was? Kat dredged up a cheerful smile and waved. She supposed she could turn around and go back --accept their invitation to stay. The deposit wasn't all that much.... However, she just wasn't in the mood at the moment. Maybe tomorrow, after she had time to make peace with her shattered expectations. For now, she wanted to indulge her sorrows.
She resumed walking, turning the corner, when she heard a sound that made her blood run cold.
"Here, kitty, kitty...."
"Rita!" Kat gasped, instinctively dropping into a defensive stance. She wanted to kick herself as she only just realized how unnaturally still the evening was. If she hadn't been so bloody wrapped up in her pouting.... What was that witch doing here? Now? None of them had been Rangers for years, and hadn't Mondo sent her and Zedd running to the far side of the moon?
"Poor Kitty-Kat ... all broken hearted because Tommy married his precious Kimmie?" the would-be empress of evil sneered.
Kat's eyes narrowed, and the hackles on the back of her neck bristled.
"What do you want?" she challenged.
"Misery loves company," Rita quipped. She looked Kat up and down; the scrutiny gave the former Ranger the shivers. "Retirement has been good to you, I'll give you that. You weren't half this good lookin' when you ran around in those pink tights."
Kat blinked in astonishment.
"But even though you're drop dead gorgeous, you're still in Kimmie's shadow, aren't you?" the sorceress casually mocked. "Still looking to that pink pipsqueak and finding yourself wanting? You're a beautiful, graceful ballerina --maybe a little on the tall side and a bit big boned for the job. Yet even after having a kid, Kim is still small and cute. You never were half the Ranger Kimmie was ... but you already knew that. You never felt like you filled those little white booties quite good enough, did you?"
Why was Rita digging all this up now? Kat had put those insecurities behind her a long time ago! She didn't need to compare herself to Kim or anyone else!
"Of course, Kimmie always seemed to have what you wanted, didn't she?" Rita purred slyly. "She was a Ranger and had the skills to kick putty butt. Zordon picked *her*; *you* got the powers because she gave them up, and for all Tommy, Rocky, and Adam's training, you were only a mediocre fighter without your powers, always calling for Tommy to save your wimpy pink behind. She made it to the Pan Globals and won a medal; you conked your head on a diving board, and bye-bye dreams!"
*Stop this!* Kat seethed silently.
"Then there's Tommy.... She tossed him aside like yesterday's trash, and you couldn't get him to love you. She ripped his heart to shreds, and he still married the little tramp! Now they have a brat and are disgustingly happy."
Kat tried desperately to tune the witch out. Rita was up to something ... there had to be a reason she was bringing all this up. She knew she shouldn't just be standing here listening to the sorceress' spiel, but she couldn't seem to help herself. Rita had just put into words the host of feelings churning around inside her. Kim had been one of her dear friends; she hadn't wanted to be jealous of her. Yet, even after she had received the Zeo Powers --powers Kimberly never possessed-- she often felt like she never measured up to the original Pink Ranger. And the Pan Globals ... she had trained for years to dive in the Games, whereas Kim got a lucky break. As for Tommy ... if Kim truly loved him, she would never have let him go.
"It really is too bad that Tommy's married," Rita went on, strolling idly about. Was it Kat's imagination or did she honestly sound regretful? "A gorgeous hunk of flesh like him is wasted on one woman --and a mousy lookin' one at that."
"*You* find Tommy attractive?" Kat gaped, almost laughing in disbelief.
"I'm evil, not dead," Rita snorted. "Tommy's a man any woman with a pulse could appreciate. I had more plans for my evil Green Ranger than just destroying the Power Brats. Tommy would have been a lot more fun in my bed than Zedd's been."
Kat shivered with revulsion at the thought.
"Look how long I've been married to Radiator Face and still don't have a rugrat to pass my wicked ways on to."
*Oh, Lord!* Kat exclaimed silently, finally grasping the sorceress' plan. *She's going to go after their baby! Tommy and Kim won't be expecting an attack, not after all this time.... I've got to do something to stop her, but what?*
She hadn't kept up with her martial arts since leaving Angel Grove, and Rita had been right about one thing: her unmorphed fighting skills had never been what Tommy and the others' had been, though they had improved over her career. However, Rita made no move other than to sit down on the low wall surrounding the neighboring yard. She twisted her staff back and forth absently.
"Do you know at one time my stupid husband wanted to make Kimmie his queen? Can you believe that? What do men see in that skinny little weenie anyway? Now, if Zedd had decided to make a fool out of himself over you, I could have understood it --at least you're a knock-out."
Though puzzled, Kat was willing to let Rita continue spouting, but there was no way she was relaxing her guard, no matter how much her clenched teeth and straining muscles ached.
"Kimmie! Kimmie! Kimmie!" the witch whined, sounding for all the world like Jan Brady ranting about her sister Marcia. Then, she continued more pleasantly, "I don't blame you for resenting her. She's caused you as much trouble as she has me! It's her fault I lost the Green Ranger. Oh, Jason may have destroyed the Sword of Darkness, but Kimberly was the one who kept Tommy from sinking into a dark, guilt-induced depression. If it hadn't been for her, I could have gotten my hooks into him again, and then I wouldn't have needed to make you my slave. If it hadn't been for that little pink bitch...."
*... I wouldn't have been put through that nightmare ... no!* Kat shrieked inwardly in fierce denial. She couldn't listen to Rita; the woman was evil, saying things to suit her nefarious whims. *She's twisting everything out of proportion!*
"Kimberly has stood in the way of everything you ever wanted," Rita claimed, standing again. She drifted behind Kat, placing a commiserating hand on her shoulder. Kat shrugged off the cold appendage, flinching away from the contact. "I remember when you were my Kitty-Kat slave. I remember the look in your eyes when you first saw Tommy. I saw how much you wanted him, but Kim had him. So you waited. Then Kim went away. She broke up with Tommy; you thought you had your chance at last, but she still had him. Tell me, would you have gone to England to study if you'd had the relationship you'd always dreamed of having with Tommy? If he had said, I love you; please stay' would you have?"
Had she loved Tommy enough to abandon her other life-long dream? Besides, Tommy would never have made her choose between the chance of a lifetime and himself --just as he didn't make Kim choose. He'd have waited....
"If you'd have never gone to England, that could have been you in the park the day when Tommy stopped being so blind and stubborn and come to his senses. Then you'd be happily married to him and have had his baby and lived happily ever after. If it weren't for Kimmie...."
"That's enough!" Kat shouted, ducking her head and covering her ears with her hands. Then, she felt a buring at the back of her eyes and a numbing sensation seeping into her brain; she remembered Rita's touch in her mind from so long ago, and at last she understood --but far too late-- why the witch seemed to be making so much sense.
"All I'm doing is pointing out that we have a mutual thorn in our sides," Rita replied smoothly, " and how much more enjoyable our lives would be without her."
Kat began to realize what Rita was driving at. "You want me to help you do something to Kim, don't you?" she gasped, drawing away from the witch. "I may be a little envious of Kim, but she's still my friend. I'm happy for her and Tommy, and I'd never do *anything* to hurt my friends --least of all serve you again." She glared at Rita with fierce defiance.
"Too bad," Rita sneered dismissively.
Before Kat realized what was happening, she felt something cold and metallic close about her throat. Then came the fire ... a fire she'd never forget as long as she lived, a conflagration that sill seared her nightmares. It burned through her veins, and she could feel her very being melting ... changing.... She fell to her knees as her body began to shrink. The hairs on the nape of her neck --all over her body-- stood on end and enveloped her in a furry embrace. Kat raised her head to cry out, but the only sound that came forth was a plaintive mew.' Rita bent down to collect the white cat before she could bolt and run. "What a pretty kitty you are," the sorceress cackled as she walked off into the night.
The somber scene played out in the viewing globe, observed by a pair of jewel-toned feline eyes. The snow-white cat reclined regally on the dark throne, watching the proceedings taking place on the planet that hovered beyond the balcony of the lunar citadel. Outwardly, there was no sign that the sleek bundle of fur was at all moved by the funeral. She climbed to her feet, yawned, stretched indifferently then nimbly leaped down the stairs of the dais, padding softly towards the pedestal housing the orb. However, on the inside, Katherine Hillard mourned the passing of a friend.
Time ceased to have any meaning for the young woman the day Rita closed the collar about her throat. Though she retained her human faculties, the passage of years had no affect on her; she had become as ageless as her mistress.' The only way she had kept from getting lost in the timeless haze was by watching the globe that had replaced the sorceress' old telescope. (*"The picture is much better, and I don't have to squint to see!"* had been the rationale.)
Surreptitiously, Kat had followed the parade of years, vicariously living through her friends --in particular, Tommy and Kimberly. She had watched their lives unfold, sharing in their joys: the birth of the twins, Jason and David, Rose's marriage, the birth of their first great-grandchild ... and their sorrows: the loss of parents, friends, and the untimely, crushing death of their infant daughter Katie. She had observed them in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad. She watched them grow old together, growing happier in each other's company until death parted them.
Kat touched the curve of the glowing sphere as the focus tightened on one of the mourners. Time had been kind to him. His face had weathered the decades well; though wrinkled and silver-haired, Tommy's frame was still strong, and his still-warm eyes, normally sparkling with laughter, were bright with tears of grief.
*"Good-bye, Beautiful,"* he murmured, placing a pink rosebud on the casket. Then he joined the circle of his children and surviving friends who held him for a long time. Kimberly's death had been unexpected; she had passed away in her sleep. Though saddened, the family called it a blessing, sparing everyone the possibility of a lengthy and emotionally taxing physical and mental decline.
Kat's heart ached for Tommy; he loved Kim so, and she knew that while his children and grandchildren would help, they would not be able to alleviate the loneliness in his heart. Still, as her paw brushed at the tears which trickled down Tommy's still-handsome face, she wished with all her might that she could ease his pain somehow.
"Ding dong, the bitch is dead. Which ol' bitch? The cute pink bitch. Ding dong, the cute pink bitch is dead...."
Cringing at the horrendous warbling, Kat backed away from the globe, her hackles standing on end as Rita swept into the chamber. With the agility and speed only a feline possessed, Kat attempted to flee before the witch caught sight of her. She loathed it when Rita picked her up and petted her.
Part of her wished the sorceress had used the same spell she had the first time she had snared her ... the one that made her evil. Not that she wanted to be evil again, but if she had been turned to the darkness, she wouldn't have minded her captivity so much. Or Rita could have made her all cat, so she wouldn't have to know what was going on ... but no. This witch's familiar doubled as a spy once again. Though a white cat with azure eyes was unusual, the denizens of evil were so supremely self-confident that they paid a harmless kitty no mind, even if she was Rita's latest oddity. Kat always had the impression that Rita's adversaries would have been more wary if she had been a black cat instead.
She hadn't wanted to do the shrill sorceress' dirty work (at least Rita hadn't tried turning her against later generations of Power Rangers!). In fact, Kat had stubbornly refused. Tail held high, she would saunter out of a conference room she was supposed to be casing, or she'd fall asleep when she was supposed to be eavesdropping in someone's private chamber. However, she had learned --to her *extreme* discomfort-- that there was still data to be gleaned from even the briefest of impressions. Rita never bothered turning her human to collect her information, but extracted what she wanted directly from Kat's mind. It became a matter of survival to cooperate; however, over the decades, she had found ways to confound the would-be empress of evil's plans.
At least she didn't have to contend with Lord Zedd as well; Kat was grateful for his conspicuous absences. He rarely put in an appearance, and no doubt he had found some other dimension to beleaguer --and with him Goldar and the rest of his lackeys, leaving her and Rita alone. Sometimes, Rita didn't care one way or the other if Zedd was around, but lately, her grumblings had given Kat the impression that the witch was not at all happy with her husband.
"Here kitty-kitty...." Rita summoned, and somehow she managed to lay hold of Kat before she could find a concealing niche. Kat suffered herself to be stroked by those icy --a cold she could feel through her fur-- hands.
"Poor little Kimmie finally bit the big one," Rita sneered, glaring at the viewing globe. "Good!"
The venom in the sorceress' tone caught Kat's attention. She had never heard Rita sound so ... completely and utterly hateful. She raised her head inquiringly.
"Too bad she didn't waste away," Rita hissed. To Kat, this sounded like more than her blanket dislike for the Rangers; it seemed personal somehow, but what had Kim done to the witch lately? "She'd have made a lovely living skeleton, don't you think?"
The screeching cackle had Kat's fur standing on end.
"Poor Tommy," Rita all but spat. "Now he can be as wretched and miserable in his loneliness as I am in my marital bliss!" Then, her tone became sly. "What do you think, Kitty-Kat? I bet you'd *love* to console your precious Tommy, wouldn't you? You can't stand the thought of him being all lonely and sad because Kim's left him again; can you?"
Kat did her best to tune out the witch's rantings. Never again would she let the sorceress get into her head.
"Maybe I should send him a kitty as a sympathy gift. Yes ... and he could name you Kim, and you could keep him company ... curl up on his lap and sleep ... that'd get you into his bed...!"
Rita laughed uproariously, and Kat shuddered. She wouldn't ... she couldn't...!
"Or better yet, I could make you human again and send you back to earth," Rita continued thoughtfully. "You've become such a willful kitty of late. Oh yes, I know who tipped off ol' Crater Face about my little scheme to swipe the wraith crystals."
The malevolent tone made Kat shrink back nervously. Suddenly, she felt Rita slip a finger under her collar, and Kat overrode her feline instinct to struggle; she had no desire to be choked again.
"Ah, get off me, you flea-bitten feline; you're getting hairs on my gown," Rita growled, abruptly throwing Kat away from her. That pretty much amounted to standard procedure for the witch: gloat and taunt a while, then toss the cat. Kat landed on all fours and started sprinting for a hiding place when pain ripped through her body like wildfire, so intense it dropped her where she stood. In her mind, Katherine screamed; in reality she meowed her agony. Then came the fire, and she felt her body uncoiling ... expanding.... Her inarticulate mewlings became all-too-human cries of agony. The transformation had never been this difficult before, but then, she'd never been a cat for so long either.
For the first time in seventy years, Kat was human. She slowly sat up, straightening her arms and legs. As she stretched out her cramped muscles, she wondered if she'd remember how to walk ... talk.... She caught her reflection in a polished obsidian slab. She looked exactly as she had seven decades ago, down to the fuchsia tank dress. Tentatively, Kat moved her arms, shaking some life into them. She rubbed her bare upper arms to get her circulation going. She'd never noticed it before, but it was freezing in the throne room!
Kat unsteadily climbed to her feet. Her knees buckled, and she fell. Rita cackled mockingly. Ignoring her captor as best she could, Kat made a second attempt. This time, she remained erect. Gingerly, she essayed a step. Then another. Haltingly, she made her way towards the glimmering sphere, which was still focused on Angels Rest Cemetery. The mourners were at last leaving.
*I really am sorry,* Tommy, Kat tried to say, but the sound would not come. Her hand came up to touch the crystal. The image went dark.
"You want to be there for him, don't you?" Rita sneered. "You want to hold him and tell him everything will be all right ... that his friends are there for him ... just like you did the last time his precious Kimmie left him."
*Lord, what did I do to deserve this?* Kat implored the heavens, eyes closed and fingers slowly clenching into fists. *Haven't I suffered enough?*
"... only this time, his precious pink love isn't coming back," the witch snidely continued. "Say, I bet even *you* would stand a chance with Tommy now."
"Just ... shut ... up," Kat forced out, her voice raspy from disuse.
"Oh, so you remember how to talk, do you?"
Kat turned to glare at the sorceress.
"You want out of here, don't you?" Rita needled. "You'd like nothing better than for me to send you home. Well, why not? I'm in a generous mood today, and you have served me well --for the most part."
Kat's eyes went wide with astonishment at Rita's words. She couldn't possibly be serious, could she?
"However, there's one small, teeny tiny problem. Where would you go? Your parents ... most of your friends ... are dead. Hell, even *you* were declared dead decades ago. And the surviving power pukes you call friends are old geezers. But, on the plus side, Tommy's available."
*Would you just stop going on about Tommy!* Kat seethed inwardly. Yes, she loved Tommy --probably always would in some way-- but she had laid that particular ghost to rest long ago.
"Can't imagine that he'd want you ... although, they say older men like younger women. Naw, I can't see it. You're not Kimmie; I doubt he ever really cared for you. If he had, why didn't he try harder to find you when you turned up missing? I bet when he heard you had disappeared, he said good riddance to bad rubbish."
"That's ... not ... true!"
Tommy had tried to find her ... all her friends had! They had missed her ... mourned her at the memorial service. Tommy and Kim had even named Katie after her.
"They cared," Kat asserted, her voice stronger now. "They did their best; how could they know *you* had abducted me? After all, they thought Mondo had sent you running with your tail between your legs."
"But they should have thought about that possibility. Tommy was the leader of the Power Rangers; he should have considered the notion that an old foe could have been behind your disappearance. He still had access to the Rangers' technology. He didn't use *every* resource at his command. Face it; he had Kim and the baby and abandoned you to your fate, and you still stupidly pine for him."
"I do not," Kat insisted. She wasn't *that* pathetic.
"You mean to tell me that if I told you I could send you back to earth and fix it so you could have a chance to live happily ever after with Tommy, you wouldn't leap at it?"
Kat felt her pulse quicken at the thought, but she maintained her skepticism.
"You don't believe me? With magic, anything is possible. Erasing the seventy years between you and Tommy is easy enough. The Fountain of Youth spell is so simple even *you* could cast it ... as long as the subject was willing."
"So what's the catch?" Kat demanded coolly.
"Does it matter? How can you put a price on freedom and the opportunity to spend the rest of your life with the man you've always loved?"
For the briefest of moments ... less than a heartbeat ... temptation reared its ugly head. However, Kat immediately squashed the impulse. What Rita was offering was too good to be true, and with the witch there was always a hefty price to pay.
"No deal, Rita."
"Ahh, but you thought about it," Rita tsked in a singsong voice.
It shamed --and angered-- Kat that the sorceress had picked up on her moment of weakness. However, who wouldn't be tempted, if only for a second? After all, she was only human.
"No one would blame you for being tempted," Rita purred oily, as if reading Kat's thoughts. "It's not easy to say no to your heart's desire."
"Even if you managed to manipulate me like you did when you captured me, whatever you're up to won't work," Kat declared defiantly. "You said the spell would only work if the subject was willing. Tommy would never have anything to do with something that came from you."
"Even if I could give him Kim back?"
That gave Kat a moment's pause, but she was able to answer with conviction, "He'd die first."
"Not that he's that far from the grave these days anyway," Rita remarked with an indifferent shrug. "Of course, he wouldn't have to know; there are ways to cloud the mind --as you well know."
"I'd know," Kat retorted. She would rather never have Tommy's love than to coerce him with one of Rita's spells. It wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be real.
"Oh well, you had your chance, Kitty-Kat," Rita concluded curtly. She turned to exit the chamber; however, when she reached the doorway, she turned back and looked expectantly at Kat. "You coming or what?"
"Are you just going to stand there staring at a blank ball, or are you going to come and find out where your room is?"
"You don't think I'm going to put you down in the dungeon, do you? It's too far to walk, and I don't have Squatt or Baboo to fetch and carry for me. Besides, I can keep a better eye on you up here. It still have plans for you, Kitty-Kat."
Seeing as how she had no other choice, Kat followed.
* * *
Kat checked the corridor; the coast was clear. Not that she expected to see anyone; she and Rita were the only souls in the castle, and for the past several months, the witch had rarely left her private quarters. Still, it never hurt to be cautious in enemy territory.
Since the day she had been made human again, Kat had felt more like a guest than a prisoner. She had clothing (all black and not exactly her style), food (nothing recognizable but at least edible) and could come and go as she pleased. Over the long months, she had explored virtually every nook and cranny of her home.' Though she had searched, she had never found a way to escape. For starters, she had learned almost at the cost of her life not to venture beyond the citadel's walls. The castle's magic did not extend past them, and after all, this was the moon. And even if she *had* found a way out, Rita would be able to track her down no matter where she went. Kat's fingers lightly skimmed the seamless band still encircling her throat. There had to be some reason the sorceress hadn't removed her pet' collar.
Gathering her trailing skirts, Kat slipped into the dusty hallway and made her way unerringly to a staircase hidden at the end of the maze. The musty passage led to a tiny library that had seen little use over the centuries, unless she missed her guess. Something about the collection contained therein had fascinated her, beginning with the way she had discovered it. It was almost as if she had been drawn to the study, but the geas didn't feel like Rita's. Kat knew the taste of her jailer's particular brand of magic all too well. Then, there were the tomes themselves ... not that she could read any of them. Still, there was something about them that called to her.
She lit the massive candle in its ornate, wrought iron stand. Melted wax dripped down the white cylinder looking for all the world like layer upon layer of icicles. Then, she turned to the shelves. She was meticulous about placing everything back the way she had found it lest Rita come upon the room and discover what she'd been about.
Her selection was a volume bound in white leather embossed with gold. It was a curious book insofar as it was the only one in the collection that hadn't been sealed in some fashion. The characters on the cover and the gilt-edged pages were complete gibberish to her, yet she felt compelled to thumb through the beautiful tome. As she examined the mysterious text, she couldn't shake the feeling that somewhere within the pages was the key to unlock the secret of the glyphs ... a way to translate the words.
Kat became so engrossed in puzzling over the book that she had lost track of time (easy enough to do about the castle anyway). The only reason she noticed the passage of hours was the twinge of hunger making itself known.
*The morning's gone already?* she mused, yawning and stretching. She was loath to leave the surprisingly comfortable room; however, the stillness was suddenly shattered by a rumbling quake.
"What the...?" Kat gasped, falling out of her chair. The tremor was followed by a loud explosion.
Was the palace under attack? Kat hurried from the secluded study. As she raced into the castle proper, the ruckus ceased, but the tension in the air was thick and heavy. *Something* was going on, and the best place to find out what was the throne room.
"You're what?" she heard Rita shout as she drew nigh the central chamber of the citadel. Thinking it best to be discreet, Kat paused in the doorway. To her surprise, she found the long-absent Lord Zedd reclining on his throne. Rita faced him, absolutely livid.
"I'm getting married," Zedd replied to her charge.
Kat blinked in astonishment.
"Think again, Zeddy," Rita hissed. "Last time I checked, you were still married to me, and unlike humans, there's no such thing as divorce for us."
That was an interesting tidbit of information. Kat pressed closer, not wanting to miss a thing.
"We're bound, body and soul --I made sure of that when Finster married us," the sorceress ranted on. "I was determined that even if I couldn't rule the universe through you, I'd at least get your powers when some goon offed you."
Zedd waved her words aside nonchalantly. "True, but since you haven't provided me with an heir, I'm within my rights to take a second wife."
"*I* haven't provided* you*...? I think you've got that backwards, Zedd-boy. You're the one shooting blanks. I know all about your mistresses over the years; you haven't been able to get any of them knocked up."
"Oh, no? Then who's child is my twisted little J'bel carrying?" Zedd taunted.
"You mean that pathetic piece of trash is pregnant?"
"Yes, and don't get any ideas; J'bel knows enough magic to protect herself and the baby."
"And I was hoping she'd end up like all the rest of your little tramps: dead."
Kat shivered at the deaths-head smile Rita flashed her husband.
"You didn't...?" Zedd hissed, a red aura rising about him in his fury.
"Every last one. My little kitty and I found Ysmi's heart rather tasty."
It was with herculean effort that Kat kept herself from retching. All those unidentifiable dinners....
"No matter," Zedd responded with much effort. "They all failed me, and the price of failure is death."
"I thought it was being shackled to you for all eternity."
"Stuff it, Zeddy."
Kat found herself inching ever closer even as she knew she should flee to the far side of the palace. Lord Zedd was making a serious mistake; he was treating Rita as if she were the same ineffectual buffoon she'd once been. She wasn't. Rita hadn't been anybody's fool for a long time now.
"I'm not sharing your powers with anyone. They're mine by right!" Rita's voice, instead of climbing shrilly, had become low and dangerous. "The only way anyone else gets them is over my dead body."
"With pleasure! Once I'm rid of you, I'll infuse my lovely J'bel with your powers and make her the queen she was meant to be!"
With that, Zedd struck first, leveling his staff at Rita and releasing a bolt of energy. The sorceress brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. The lethal flare struck the keystone of the archway Kat cowered in, sending a shower of crumbling stone crashing to the ground.
"You've been practicing," Zedd remarked with affected nonchalance. The blast should have fried his irksome wife.
"It's not like I had anything better to do, since I didn't have to spend all my time bowing and scraping at your feet," Rita sneered.
The witch unleashed her own volley, and the deflected magic once again sent Kat scurrying for cover. As the contest raged in earnest, instead of being driven further from the chamber, Kat inexplicably found herself driven closer to the battleground. In fact, a wayward burst sent her flying from her most recent shelter, and she went sprawling to the floor between the combatants.
"I see you've let the cat out of the bag," Zedd mocked darkly as Kat tried to scramble out of the way. "Getting careless, my putrid peanut. The only good Ranger is a dead Ranger; I thought you'd learned by now."
"Ah, she's harmless ... too stupid to get in trouble," Rita said dismissively. "After all, she still thinks I'm to blame for her predicament when it's all Kimmie's fault that she was out wandering the streets feeling sorry for herself."
Kat glared at Rita but didn't rise to the bait. There was no sense in getting into a pointless bout of contradiction.
"Besides, letting her roam around has had its uses. After all she found Xereth's library, and she even opened the Dammerung Grimoire."
The very name made Kat feel inexplicably cold. Dammerung ... it sounded familiar somehow. Then she recalled her flatmate Julie; she loved opera, and one weekend she'd watched the entire *Ring of the Niebelung.* The fourth part of Wagner's cycle had been titled *Gotterdammerung* ... Twilight of the Gods.
*Lord, please tell me this doesn't mean the same thing!* Kat tried to quell her rising panic. The only book that she had easy access to was that white volume, but it hadn't been sealed or anything. Surely it couldn't be....
"The Book of Twilight is yours? Impossible! Xereth's spell insured that only one of pure heart could turn those gilded pages, but she's tainted with your evil."
"I wish!" Rita snorted. "My spell making her evil doesn't count. The taint was never in Kat, just like it never was in Tommy --which was why he could hold the White Ranger Powers and steal the Zeo Crystal from us-- the darkness was imposed on them. But who cares? The grimoire is open, and its spells are mine.
"First you, oh wicked husband, then the tramp and Zedd Junior," the witch vowed malevolently.
"No!" Zedd roared and launched himself at Rita, engaging her physically.
As the two grappled, their magics continued to rage throughout the chamber. Rita's crackled about her like lightning while Zedd's rose up in a swirling cyclone that howled like a banshee through the throne room. Kat stayed low and covered her ears against the shriek of arcane energies unleashed. The lunar citadel quaked, rocked by the tremendous force of the dark powers battering its walls. Kat was afraid the palace would come crashing down on their heads before either evil mage gave way.
She felt as if she should do something, but what? It was taking all her concentration to keep from being squashed or fried. Besides, who would she help? Both were her sworn enemies.
Above the wail of magic-gone-wild, Kat could make out Rita's voice, as shrill and grating as ever. She didn't know how the witch could concentrate on her chanting with the world gone mad around them and Zedd trying to choke the life out of her. However, the sorceress's incantation finally ended, and she grinned up at Zedd triumphantly. She ceased struggling, and Zedd's fingers tightened about her throat.
*"Dak-tor!"* Rita gasped out.
Zedd suddenly reared back, releasing her.
"What have you done to me, woman?" he thundered. Suddenly, his red musculature was engulfed in black flame. The fire rose high above him, swirling about in a tight column that pierced the arcane maelstrom raging above them.
"Calling forth your powers," Rita sneered. "*Tsu't!* I'm draining you, Zeddy, and when there's nothing left, I'll claim what is mine!"
"Do that," Zedd dared her. "Do that and be burned alive from the inside out. You can't absorb all that raw energy at once; you're already filled with magics of your own. The only way for you to take mine is slowly ... and you don't have the time. Once unleashed, if uncontained, my powers will destroy you, this palace, the moon ... everything!" Zedd cackled with malevolent triumph.
"You know, Zedd, for the first --and last-- time in your life, you're right." So saying, Rita snatched up his staff. "Say good-bye, Zeddy."
Horrified, Kat watch as Rita skewered her husband just as the last of the black flames flickered and died. Zedd made no sound as he slumped lifeless to the floor. A massive bolt of obsidian lightning crashed down. In its wake, all that remained of the evil lord was a charred outline. Kat stared at the blackened floor numbly.
"Here, kitty-kitty," Rita called.
Kat gaped at her, incredulous. Did Rita honestly think she'd come?
"Come on, Kitty-Kat; repeat after me.... *Dak-tor*...."
"Are you out of your mind?" Kat gasped.
"There's too much power for me to absorb at once," Rita explained, actually sounding desperate. "If we don't find an empty vessel to contain it, you can kiss the pair of us good-bye."
"I doubt anyone would miss us," Kat snorted, then she realized what Rita was saying. The witch wanted to use *her* to hold Zedd's rampant magics.
"Maybe not, but they'd sure miss this moon and a good chunk of your precious Earth," Rita continued, and Kat's gaze shifted to the panorama of the peaceful blue orb hovering beyond the balcony. "That's right. If we don't do something about all this power floating around here, the moon goes kablooey and then what happens to your planet ... your friends...?"
Kat knew Rita was serious. The lightning was growing wilder by the minute, and the tremors threatening to upend her originated deep within the moon. But she couldn't absorb Zedd's magic ... all that evil.... Every fiber of her being recoiled at the thought of becoming evil again.
But could she let the Earth die?
Rita spoke again. "*Dak-tor*!"
"Dahk-tor," Kat repeated mechanically. She tried not to look, but the darkness above her began swirling in a new direction. Wispy tendrils snaked down from the whirlpool towards her.
The smoky fingers touched her, caressed her like hands both hot and cold. The mist surrounded her, penetrated her. She wanted to run screaming from the chamber ... from the sensations. The energy crawled about her, slithering serpentine-like, but Kat forced herself to endure. Unknowingly, she raised her arms in supplication to the storm roiling above her.
Lightning danced about her, the bursts striking the floor close to her, exploding and dispersing their energy into her waiting form. The winds grew fiercer, whipping her hair about wildly as the energy vortex spun faster and tighter with Kat as the eye in the calm of the storm. She could feel the darkness flooding her senses.
The last syllable came out as a shout, a primal cry torn from her heart and soul. The madness continued building in intensity, the universe spinning chaotically, tearing mercilessly at Kat's slender frame, which stood strong against the onslaught. Then, from the roiling heavens streaked an enormous ebon bolt, accompanied by a deafening roar of thunder. It struck.
And Kat screamed.
Housing Zedd's dark energy had not left her unscathed. The final massive lightning bolt had left her comatose, for which she was ultimately grateful. It spared her having to live through the long, difficult process of Rita siphoning off her departed spouse's arcane powers. However, upon awakening from her long sleep, discovering she had floor length hair that couldn't be cut was the least of her shocks. Her normally fair skin had been bleached of all color, leaving her resembling a porcelain doll. The whiteness of her skin made the jewel-tone of her eyes all the more luminous. While those were the only obvious physical differences, Kat did not want to contemplate what other changes had occurred in her body.
As distressing as the physiological differences were, even more disturbing were the intellectual ones --especially the fact that she could now read and understand any volume in Rita's library. Initially, this new-found knowledge frightened Kat; she didn't want to have anything more to do with magic. Storing Zedd's powers had left her feeling filthy inside and out, and she bathed compulsively for almost a week in order to scour away the oily sensation of the darkness crawling all over her skin.
However, she soon came to regard the ability as a blessing. Being able to peruse the tomes on enchantment had been enlightening. She had learned a great deal. She recalled Rita's assertion that magic could do anything. While that was frighteningly true, enchantment had its limits. The greater the feat, the greater the toll on the spellcaster. No wonder Zedd and Rita never went all out when confronting the Rangers. To have done so would have drained them dry. But now with Zedd's powers augmenting Rita's....
There was also the fact that any transformation magic wrought could be undone by magic. While Kat knew more than she ever had about the arts arcane, there was so much more that she didn't know. However, she had all the time in the world to find out, so it seemed.
Over a century had passed since she had awakened (Rita had never told her exactly how long she had been unconscious, and she had been reluctant to use the viewing globe to find out). Once again, the passage of years seemed to leave no mark on her --at least not physically. However, she had no wish to examine the toll on her weary soul.
Kat abandoned her reflections even as she abandoned her seat. It did her no good to dwell too much on the past, at least for now. She purposefully left her quarters, but for a change, Xereth's library was not her destination but rather Rita's private study. Kat had not been the only one affected by Zedd's powers. Absorbing the excessive energies had changed her so-called mistress as well. Physically, Rita was the same as ever, but the edge she had gained prior to her confrontation with Zedd had been honed to a razor sharpness, and she seemed to be more driven, as if some dark purpose consumed her.
Rita spent hours pouring over the Dammerung Grimoire and the other volumes stored in the castle. She even had Kat dredge up every tome she could find in long forgotten storerooms, Finster's old workshop ... every possible niche had been searched.
And yet, for seeming shrewder, darker, and more malevolent, Rita also seemed more unstable. There had been times when Kat would hear her shouting at someone, only no one was there. Even so, Kat had not been unduly concerned ... until recently.
For almost a century, Rita had been concerned with nothing but her books. Then, suddenly, she was interested in the Earth again. She'd spend hours pouring over maps, graphs and charts --both terrestrial and astronomical. The least little mention of Earth in a text --no matter how small-- commanded the witch's utmost attention. She had even resurrected putty patrollers, sending them on scavenging missions. The surprising thing was that they'd return with more books --volumes on mythology, folklore and witchcraft. Kat could make no sense out of the sorceress' eclectic readings.
If only she could spend more time with the Dammerung Grimoire.... She felt certain that whatever Rita was up to, the plan had been born out of something she had read therein. However, Rita had become obsessed with the text, and Kat's visits to Xereth's library had been seriously curtailed. In fact, the sorceress was huddled over the leather bound volume even now, which was why Kat was headed for her private study.
Never before had Rita forbidden her access to any of the castle's chambers, until this obsession with Earth had consumed the witch. The obvious reason was that there was something she didn't want Kat to find ... and perhaps confound. Kat had never been certain if Rita was aware of her ability to understand the magical texts; if she was, the witch must not have considered it anything to be bothered with. For the most part, her jailer had left her strictly alone, but at one time, Rita had said she could probably cast the simplest of spells....
Although knowing that the sorceress was busy elsewhere, Kat entered the forbidden chamber cautiously. The room was not unfamiliar to her, having visited it once upon a time. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary for the dungeon-like confines: cobweb draped shelves, dusty books, candles, potions, crystal ball, cauldron, stone table, eerie gargoyle-like decorations.... Then she realized that the black kettle had been repositioned at the end of the heavy slab, and the table itself had been raised at the opposite end, creating a slight tilt. There was a low fire under the iron pot. Curious, Kat crept forward.
Simmering in the vat was a reddish brew. The stone slab was also smeared with red. Kat stepped back nervously; she had a sickening feeling she knew what the substance was. A sudden clattering made her jump, and she stumbled over something that clutched at her feet: a ceremonial dagger and a white cloth stained crimson.
*What else have the putties been bringing her?* Kat mused with a trepidacious gulp. What was Rita getting into? Sacrifices? If so, this went way beyond what she knew of the witch; this was darker than anything she was used to with the Rangers' old nemesis. Turning away from the gruesome spectacle, Kat noticed an open book on the reading stand. She was almost afraid of what she might find, but she had to know....
"There you are, Kitty-Kat."
Kat spun around guiltily at Rita's greeting. She hadn't heard the sorceress enter.
"Be careful, Katherine; remember what curiosity did to the cat."
Kat still couldn't find her voice. Rita tossed a golden goblet at her, and she was so stunned she nearly didn't catch it.
"Since you're here, you might as well make yourself useful," Rita ordered. "Fill this with the brew warming in the pot and bring it to the throne room. My guest will undoubtedly be thirsty after his long journey." Then, with a swish of her skirts, she was gone, leaving behind a very perplexed and revolted Katherine.
For a moment, the young woman stood there, immobile. Then she steeled herself and approached the simmering kettle. Her desire to know what was going on outweighed her misgivings, and she reached for the long handled ladle.
* * *
Kat made her way to the throne room slowly, careful not to spill the red liquid on herself. As she drew nigh, she could smell the cloying scent of Rita's favorite incense. She did her best not to inhale; the trance facilitator had a potent hallucinogenic effect on humans. _Fantasia_ and parading pink plaid elephants had nothing on the dreams she'd had after the first time she had caught a whiff of the stuff! She could hear Rita's raspy voice raised in a chant, and the arcane words were easily translated:*Aoa, lord of the Host
"Come, beautiful one! I, Rita Repulsa, daughter of Master Vile, Mistress of Evil summon you!"
As Rita concluded her incantation, Kat braced herself for the thunderous arrival of whatever foul apparition the witch had conjured. However, there was no noisome herald, no quaking of the ground, no brimstone stench. For a moment, all was still. Then, white light poured forth from every doorway, window, and crack leading into the main chamber. A wind, as gentle as a summer breeze, swept through the hall, ruffling Kat's trailing hair and skirts. She hurried forward, ducking behind a column for a better view.
"As you have called me, so I have come."
The voice was warm and rich, deep, resonant, wrapping itself about Kat like a silken sheet. She peered around the pillar only to pull quickly back. The light in the chamber was still blinding. Briefly, she had glimpsed a bipedal form standing at the top of the dais with Rita at the foot of the stairs as if she were the supplicant.
"You may call me Malus, my mistress," the velvet voice announced.
"Just remember who's in charge here, bub," Rita sneered. Abruptly, the brilliance disappeared. Kat was still blinking back spots as she took another look. She couldn't see Malus, but Rita had taken her place on the throne.
"You are, of course," Malus responded pleasantly enough. "However, crossing the barrier has left me a little parched. Might I trouble you for a drink?"
"I made sure I had some of your favorite vintage on hand," Rita supplied with equal, if not more sarcastic, courtesy. "Now where is that worthless Kitty-Kat?"
"Perhaps she who skulks behind pillars can tell us."
Kat felt herself shrinking back even as she was drawn forward as if by unseen hands. Malus, now without his blinding nimbus, came towards her. The breath caught in her throat as he approached. She couldn't help but stare; the man' was completely naked and had a body that would have put both Tommy and Jason to shame.
The vision smiled at her as he took the cup from her trembling hands, and Kat's knees felt weak.
From his wavy, golden hair, luminous blue eyes and angelic smile to his cut, bronzed physique, he was utterly gorgeous. There was a magnetic quality to this incredibly handsome being, and Kat was drawn to him, melting under the heat of his warm gaze. However, something within her cried out a warning, and she shook off the spell of Malus' charisma. Rita had summoned him, and he stood there idly sipping the blood she had brought him. Though he resembled one, this was no angel .
"She resists me," Malus noted, seemingly pleasantly surprised, "but she is merely human."
"That's because she's still tainted with Zeddy's power," Rita answered dismissively.
*What!?* Kat whirled, gaping in complete astonishment at the sorceress. There was something of Zedd still inside her after all this time? The thought made her skin crawl.
"So hands off until I finish draining her dry," Rita warned.
"A pity," Malus murmured, handing Kat the now-empty goblet. She threw it away from her as hard as she could. The fire in the bright blue eyes turned cold as the blond Adonis ran a covetous hand down her arm. When she shrugged it off and looked away, he touched a finger to her chin, and she was powerless to resist as he turned her head back to face him. "While the taste of a pure soul is a rare delicacy, I have become a connoisseur of the bitter-sweet flavor of souls lightly tainted. Yours, my dear, promises to be truly delectable, and I long for the day when I may have a taste."
Kat abruptly pulled away from Malus and fled the chamber, mocking laughter following her every step.
* * *
Though terrified, repulsed and attracted to the demon-in-human-form, Kat could not stay away.
From the mutterings that she had overheard between Malus and Rita, she knew that the two planned something truly horrible for Earth, but she needed more details. However, she had to be cautious. Malus could track her with greater ease than Rita could.
*What I wouldn't give to be a cat again,* she mused to herself as she tried to make herself more comfortable in the cramped ventilation shaft which opened into Rita's bedroom. The two rarely conferred anywhere else; in fact, the sorceress was already on her way to her chamber to receive Malus' report. Kat just hoped the two weren't consorting more closely than that --at least, not while she was present.
Kat fingered her collar absently, nearly laughing at her silent wish; she never thought she'd ever want to be a feline again! Much to her surprise, the collar felt warm, and before she knew it, the metamorphosizing fires swept through her body. In a matter of seconds, Kat was once again a snow-furred cat.
*How'd I do that?*
Ultimately, the how and why didn't matter. She was now small enough that she could hide in Rita's room undetected, and she knew the best place to conceal herself: under the bed. From there, she'd be able to hear everything. Blessed with the feline ability to wriggle through the narrowest crack, Kat squeezed through the grille and nimbly leaped to the floor, dashing under the bed just as the sorceress entered the room.
"Malus! Come out, come out wherever you are!" Rita called out. The hair on Kat's back stood on end, and she shrank back from the mist that coiled across the floor in wispy billows and the heavenly light that marked Malus' appearance.
"A rather informal summons, don't you think, my mistress?" the denizen of the netherworld remarked. The sarcasm was not lost on Kat, even if it was on Rita.
"Don't get cute, Malus; as long as I hold your true name, you'll do my bidding," Rita countered sharply.
"As long as you continue to uphold your end of the bargain," Malus reminded her. "My Host and I do not work for nothing. We expect to be paid in blood for our services."
"I know the deal; Xereth spelled it out in his book," Rita snorted, "and don't sweat it. You'll have all the blood you want when I have what I want: Earth. Once I have it, the humans are yours for the slaughtering."
*Oh God!* Kat gasped silently. Rita was going to loose a horde of demons on the Earth? But why? She had never understood why so many evil beings wanted to conquer the planet. It certainly wasn't for its technology; other civilizations were far more advanced. Was there some sort of natural resource that these creatures coveted?
"Once this pathetic planet is mine, I will have access to a power the likes of which this universe has never seen!" Rita cackled triumphantly.
"What good is controlling the gate without the key to open it?" Malus pursued. "Without the Blood of the Light to unlock the dimensional portal, the Earth is naught but a pretty blue bauble spinning in space."
"You worry about getting me that pretty blue bauble;' I'll worry about the key," the sorceress hissed.
"As you command," the demon replied sardonically. "Is there anything else you wish at the moment, or shall I return to my Host and make ready our plans?"
"Hmm... there *is* something else you can do for me, you gorgeous hunk of evil," Rita purred.
"Ah yes, of course. It has been a rather long time since your husband's demise," Malus answered and reached for her.
Kat began inching towards the edge of the bed. If Rita and her pet demon were going to get it on, she did *not* want to stay for the show. From under the hem of the bedspread, Kat saw Rita's gown drop to the floor and heard her gasp of pleasure. Kat shuddered and tried not to think about it. While the two were distracted, she needed to make good her escape. Darting from shadow to shadow, she stealthily made her way towards the bedroom door.
"Well, well, what have we here?"
Before Kat knew what was happening, she felt Malus' icy hand catch her by the collar. She hissed and clawed at him, struggling to break free.
"My, what a spirited little kitty," Malus crooned as he ignored her squirming to scratch her ears.
"You!" Rita seethed, and Kat actually shrank back into the shelter of the crook of Malus' arms. "How did you turn yourself back into a cat?
Rita reached for the collar, and in a matter of moments, Kat regained her human form. Finding herself still cradled in Malus' arms, she quickly extricated herself, finding his touch nauseating. The fiend smiled at her indulgently.
"Couldn't get you to spy for me when I wanted you to, and now you spy *on* me!"
Kat had never seen anything like the dark gleam that flared in Rita's eyes, and she shivered involuntarily. There was more than mere anger behind that conflagration.
"If you didn't have some of Zedd's powers still in you, I'd have gotten rid of you long ago," Rita growled. She jabbed a wickedly clawed finger at her. "But if you do anything to foul me up this time, powers or not, I'll feed you to Malus!"
"And what a delicious morsel you will be," the demon leered, licking his lips seductively.
"Now, get out!" Rita commanded. "I'm not into orgies."
Kat slowly backed out of the chamber. Once in the hall, she ran until she was safely locked behind her own door.
* * *
*There has to be some way to stop those two.*
Although Rita was aware of her knowledge, Kat could not let the matter go. Malus had already begun his attacks on Earth. She didn't know what she could do all by herself, but she just couldn't sit by and let them succeed. At least Rita didn't have all the pieces in place. She still hadn't found the Blood of the Light --whatever, or whoever, that was.
Kat returned to studying the Dammerung Grimoire in search of something that could help. If Rita had gotten the idea for her scheme from the volume, then there had to be a way to counter it also within the pages. Fortunately for her (and much to Rita's annoyance), the innocuous looking text could not be removed from the small library. Rita had tried several times to bring it to the safety of her private study. Failing that, she had attempted to bespell the book so that Kat could not access it; however, regardless of the enchantment cast, Kat could still open it.
She had chosen her research time carefully. Malus was on Earth (the thought of which made her blood run cold when she considered what he must be up to), and Rita was busy scrying for her sacrifice. Neither was in a position to care what she was about.
It would have been nice if she had a little better idea of what she was looking for --or if the blasted book had an index! She had already skimmed through a good half of the volume without finding anything referencing Malus or the Blood of the Light. Rubbing her eyes to clear them and brushing her hair out of the way, Kat resumed reading.
*... gateways to other dimensions come in various forms. The most common ones are those that are simple tears' in the fabric of the universe: a breach in dimensional wall. Others take the form of a celestial phenomenon, such as a worm hole. But the powers to be gained by controlling these portals is minimal, as it is in no way contained but allowed to bleed out. However, there are gateways that are sealed by the presence of a stellar body....*
Kat's eyes lit up. That sounded like what Rita and Malus had discussed the other day! Her flagging spirits rejuvenated, she returned to the passage with renewed interest.
"No! It can't be!"
Kat looked up from the page at Rita's enraged cry. A smile quirked her lips. *Sounds like something isn't going right. Good.* However, she paid it no mind and turned back to the enlightening text.
"It's not possible!"
What followed the second outburst was more difficult to ignore: a series of small explosions. They weren't the quakes that had rocked the ancient citadel when Zedd had appeared the final time, but there were enough to send books tumbling off the shelves. It reminded Kat of the last time Rita had thrown a temper tantrum. With an exasperated sigh, she closed the grimoire. She'd better go see what had the witch in an uproar before she brought the ceiling down --again. Kat had a vested interest in keeping the castle intact.
By the time she reached the throne room, the chamber was a shambles. Rita, however, was still in the thick of things, ranting and raving, her magic arcing about haphazardly.
"Damn Zordon! Why'd that interdimensional dingledork have to go sticking his nose in my business after all this time?"
Kat felt like cheering. If Zordon was back, maybe she could contact him, and he'd find a way to stop Rita and get herself home!
"I've got news for you, baldy; you whelp Zarrah is no more a match for me than you were!"
Considering that Rita had never managed to defeat the Rangers, Kat took her oath as a favorable endorsement of this Zarrah. She knew that Zordon had had a family that he had gone home to, but he'd never mentioned his wife or his children....
"... and her Power Rangers will fare no better than yours!"
Just then, in the viewing globe, flashed the image of a White Ranger, garbed in armor similar to the uniform Kat recalled oh-so-well, dispatching one of Malus' Host. Her heart soared as she sagged against a nearby column, weak with relief. She wouldn't be fighting this battle alone after all.
* * *
For weeks, Katherine observed the new Rangers battle Malus every chance she could (whenever Rita wasn't screaming at the viewing globe, that is). Like Rita, she was scouting this new team, trying to learn all she could. As far as she could tell, the six's powers were similar to the old Ninja Powers; she had glimpsed the heroes in both armor and in Ninjetti uniforms. This puzzled Kat. She had always felt that the Zeo Powers were superior to the Ninja Powers. She knew the Zeo Crystal hadn't been destroyed when they had been given their Turbo Powers. She had every confidence that it should have survived the destruction of the old Power Chamber. However, Tommy, as well as Rocky and Adam, had always claimed to be more comfortable with the Ninja Powers. Her long-ago leader had said that the Zeo and Turbo powers, even his original White Ranger Powers, had felt like something separate from himself, but the Ninja powers had come from within as much as from without, and that made them stronger somehow. Kat had never felt that way; if they had been so strong, how come they had lost them when their power coins had been destroyed? Although, she had never been comfortable with the Ninja Powers, not like she had been with the Zeo. Perhaps that was because the Crane had been Kim's spirit animal and not her own ... she had never been in tune with the Ninja Powers as the others had.
Kat had also noted that the new Command Center was not based in the desert outside Angel Grove but in Antarctica, and that the team itself had a more global composition, with a Ranger representing each of the other continents:
White - North America
Red - South America
Blue - Europe
Yellow - Africa
Black - Asia
Pink - Australia
*At least there's something still the same --the colors,* Kat mused, more than a little disconcerted by all the differences; even the zords were different, thanks to the new variety of spirit animals. Also, this new generation was also older than her own team had been. The three men and three women were all college age or older, and each one of them was a skilled warrior in his or her own right without the powers.
Beyond that which she could glean from observing the viewing globe, Kat knew nothing else about the Rangers --and neither did Rita, much to the sorceress' frustration. Somehow, Zarrah had managed to shield the Rangers' identities from prying eyes, and with the team coming from all corners of the globe, it was much more difficult to sift through the population in search of the personality traits and the unusual behavior patterns which marked one who had to dash off to save the world on the sly. However, Rita was determined to find out who they were, and she seemed particularly interested in the White Ranger.
Kat absently rubbed at her temples; her head still ached from Rita's interrogation the previous day. She'd been bent on learning everything she could about how Tommy had gotten his White Ranger powers. Not that Kat knew much about it; Tommy and the others had spoken of it, but that was only in the abstract: Zordon needed another Ranger to combat Lord Zedd, and he had created the White Ranger powers from the light of goodness. In searching for his new Ranger, he found Tommy to be worthy and had infused him with the powers.
The roar of an explosion drew Kat's attention back to the current battle in the viewing globe. The Megazord had just dispatched the Host's latest abomination. Kat touched the orb, dispelling the image. Malus would return shortly, and Rita would come to whine about their losses and point the finger of blame. There was no sense in hanging around for that. She had barely cleared the hall when a seething Rita arrived, and Kat felt the deceptively gentle wind that heralded the demon's presence. Even as she continued on her way, she could hear their conversation.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself this time?" the sorceress demanded with a sneer. "Those Power Pukes kicked your butt once again."
"True, but at a considerable cost," Malus intoned. "I bring you a gift, mistress."
Intrigued, Kat scurried back to the archway. She arrived in time to see Malus toss the limp figure of the White Ranger at Rita's feet.
"How...?" she gasped in spite of herself. Fortunately, neither conspirator had heard her soft exclamation. Rita's laughter had drowned her out.
"Oh, now *this* is a pretty present," the witch cackled with fiendish glee. She nudged the inert body with her foot, turning it over. Her toe tapped at the morpher set into his belt buckle. "Why haven't you removed his Morpher and Power Coin? Where's his communicator?"
"As to the latter, they no longer use the wrist device. As for the former, I have been unable to dispossess him of it."
"And why not? All you have to do is ... ow!"
As Rita reached for the device, an electric-like charge jolted her. The shower of sparks reminded Kat of when the Wicked Witch of the West got zapped by the ruby slippers in the "Wizard of Oz. "
"When'd they install a bug zapper in these things?" Rita fumed.
"Apparently none but the owner can remove it," Malus answered.
"Where there's a will, there's a way," Rita snorted. "We'll get this away from him later. For now, take him to the Dark Dimension. I don't want his little friends rescuing him too soon. I want to have a talk with our guest when he wakes up, so make him comfy."
Kat shivered at the mention of the Dark Dimension. She had never seen it herself while under Rita's original spell, but the stories Tommy and Jason had told of that place were enough to give anyone nightmares. However, she was going to have to brave that hellhole if she was going to be of any help to the White Ranger.
* * *
It was late. Rita was snoring away, and Malus was wherever he went when the sorceress did not require his services.' Kat stealthily emerged from the dimensional portal --which had been surprisingly easy to summon. Tommy's description of the prison/arena had been vivid and excruciatingly detailed. He had captured it all, from the frigid darkness to the mists curling about the floor. However, she wasn't here to sightsee. She had to find the White Ranger.
Kat wandered through the smoky haze seemingly for forever, but she knew how deceptive time could be in Rita's realm. It could have been minutes or hours ... but she finally located the captive Ranger. Rita had him strung out between two crystalline stalagmites, which pulsed with coruscating energy. Directly behind the pillars was a window-like backdrop with a starburst design etched into it. It appeared to be part of some ceremonial dais ... or altar. Swallowing the lump of dread that had lodged in her throat, Kat crept closer.
It was hard to shake the feeling of *deja vu* as she studied the familiar armor. It brought back memories of friends and days long gone. She sighed wistfully then shoved those thoughts aside. Her gaze fell on the comatose Ranger's belt buckle/morpher. The Power Coin was gone. Rita and Malus must have found some way to pry it free, but how could the White Ranger still be morphed without the coin? Kat recalled that Kim had been able to access her Ninja Ranger Powers without her coin and had been able to fully morph for brief periods by drawing on the other's energies, but presumably, the White Ranger had no such connections. Perhaps there was something slightly different with the Ninja Power of this current generation.
Setting her speculations aside, Kat resumed her investigation. Since he was still morphed, she couldn't tell if he was injured or not, but being powered up would help sustain him if he was. Kat then turned her attention to the shackles that held him. It appeared as if a section of the stalagmite had grown over his wrist. Gingerly, she reached out to touch the manacle and could feel the energy surging through it.
"Ow!" she exclaimed softly, drawing her hand back and blowing on the reddened flesh. It was a good thing the White Ranger had gauntlets and gloves between him and the crystal casing. As she stood there contemplating the situation, she felt as if someone were watching her. Kat spun around, expecting to find Rita or Malus behind her, but no one else was there. Chalking it up to nerves, she returned to the problem at hand and suddenly found herself staring into the opaque visor of the White Ranger.
"Oh!" Kat jumped back a step, startled to find the captive awake.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
*Defiant even though a prisoner,* Kat mused, finding the stance much like one Tommy would have taken. "I'm a prisoner, too."
She could almost taste his skepticism. He had no reason to trust her, and she could think of no way to prove the truth of her words. As she racked her brain for an idea, she absently fingered the collar encircling her throat. While she hadn't done it intentionally, the gesture conveyed that which she wanted to get across to her fellow captive.
The White Ranger nodded.
"Can you get me free?" he asked even as he struggled against his bonds.
Kat shook her head. "Not until I find a way to nullify the power flow. If the crystal is broken, the charge could electrocute both of us, but there's bound to be a counterspell somewhere or a way to dam up the energy long enough to break...."
"Are you a sorceress like Rita?" he queried, suddenly suspicious. Kat smiled sardonically.
"When you've been here as long as I have and the only reading material available are textbooks on magic, you're bound to pick up a thing or two." Then she became serious again. "Even if I can find a way to get you out of the Dark Dimension, we still have to get you off the moon, and getting past Rita and Malus will be tricky," she cautioned, but she was determined that the White Ranger would be free somehow.
* * *
Kat tossed and turned in her bed, too excited to sleep. If Rita didn't settle down soon, she was going to pop! She'd been waiting all day to see the White Ranger again, but she had to wait until Rita was asleep.
*Quit fooling around with Malus already!* she fumed uncharitably. The sorceress wasn't the only one craving companionship. It had been far too long since she had had anyone else but Rita to talk to --especially someone human.
At last the castle was silent, and the odd calm that marked the demon's departure had passed. Kat threw off her covers and quickly summoned the portal to the dimensional prison. When she arrived in the gloomy chamber, she found the White Ranger sagging weakly in his bonds.
"Oh no!" she gasped and hurried to his side. If he hung like that any longer, he'd pull his arms out of their sockets. "Come on," she instructed as she ducked under his outstretched arms then stood up. "Rest your weight on me."
"W-who...?" he stammered.
"Katherine. Remember? We met last night."
"Rita's other prisoner."
"That's right." It took a little doing, but Kat managed to bear the brunt of the captive Ranger's weight. Lord, but that armor was heavy!
"Thank you," he murmured appreciatively. "Ohh, my head...."
"What did Rita do to you?"
"Asked me a bunch of questions that I didn't want to answer, and when I refused, she went digging for the information anyway."
"It always hurts more when you resist," Kat commiserated. She was curious to know what the witch had been after, but if the White Ranger had fought so hard not to let Rita know, it wasn't likely that he'd share the answers with her.
"Zarrah taught us some techniques for resisting telepathic assaults," he continued, "but nothing worked. Whatever she was using, it wasn't telepathy."
"I always sort of knew magic existed, but I don't think I ever truly believed it was real until Malus appeared."
"I didn't either until the first time I met Rita Repulsa."
"How long have you been her prisoner?"
"A very, very long time," Kat sighed with a rueful smile. "I'm not exactly sure how long it's been because I don't even know what year it is."
Her companion's surprise was obvious as he supplied her with the information. "2269."
Kat blinked in astonishment and did some mental calculations. "Oh my God ... it's been 270 years!"
It was her turn to sag against the man she was supposed to be helping.
"Are you all right?" he asked concernedly.
"I-I knew it had been a long time, but...." Seventy years as a cat, and nearly a hundred since she had awoken ... that meant she'd been in her coma for 100 years! She had surmised that a lot of time had passed without touching her, but to actually know.... She wiped at her eyes as she tried to regain her composure.
"It must be tough knowing that everyone and everything you ever knew are gone."
"I thought I'd gotten over all that...."
"According to Bri, the only way to overcome your pain is to share it, and if you've been here alone with Rita all this time...." the White Ranger suggested delicately.
Kat smiled. She hadn't thought she wanted to talk about her ordeal, but somehow she found herself needing to.
"By the way," she asked before launching into her tale, "is there something I can call you?" She didn't want to ask him is name outright; he probably couldn't tell her anyway if he had taken the same vow she had in becoming a Ranger.
"You can call me Tyler," he replied.
Then, Kat poured out her story; she had barely gotten through the first sentence when Tyler burst out, "You knew the original Rangers?"
She found it odd that he didn't seem to know a thing about who the first Rangers had been. When she had given him her full name, it had meant nothing to him. Hadn't Zarrah told her team the history of the earlier Power Rangers? Even if all the data had been lost when the Power Chamber had been destroyed, there still would have been her father's recollections. However, it was apparent that Zarrah had never said a word. Why? In light of that omission (trusting the daughter had a reason for her silence as the father always had a reason for everything he did), she opted not to tell Tyler that she had been the Pink Zeo Ranger --merely that Rita had tried to use her against the team and that her later abduction was the witch's revenge for her slipping through her clutches.
"That's some story," Tyler remarked at the conclusion of the tale.
Kat smiled sadly and nodded. It had felt so good to get that out of her system.
"I admire your courage. I don't know if I could have survived all that you have."
"I think you could," she assured him, "otherwise Zarrah would never have selected you to be the White Ranger."
"I suppose so.... I just never really considered myself hero material before. It's funny... when I was growing up, we learned all about the Power Rangers in school --it was a whole unit in our history class-- and my grandmother had all sorts of really old scrapbooks and things. There was stuff in her books that the history texts never mentioned; I always thought that maybe they'd been somebody's diaries. My brother and I would play Power Rangers, and some how, I always wound up being the White Ranger. Now, I *am* the White Ranger."
"How did you get your powers?" Kat asked, "Or is that something you're not allowed to talk about?"
"Considering that Rita already pried that out of me, I don't see the harm," he murmured sardonically. "It all started with a dream. In it, there was this falcon, and he wanted me to follow him, so I did. He led me into the desert and on a merry chase through the rocks until I reached this plateau. Once I was there, the falcon vanished, and I woke up to find myself out in the sandy middle of nowhere."
Kat found it ironic that Tyler's dream so closely resembled Tommy's vision quest when the falcon led him to his brother.
"That wasn't even the weirdest part," Tyler went on. "I've spent a lot of time in the desert; I was familiar with the rocks I'd just climbed, but I'd never seen anything up there before. And yet, here were these ruins...."
Even when one knew the Command Center/Power Chamber was there, one had a difficult time seeing it, Kat recalled. One moment it would be there, and the next, one would swear it was a trick of the heat.
"... I'd never seen anything like them," the young man continued excitedly. "It was pretty easy to tell by all the sand and vegetation that whatever the place had been, it had been falling apart for a good hundred years or more. There was scoring on the walls that suggested the place had been blown up. I started looking around ... I'd never seen anything like it in my own day and age, let alone hundreds of years ago. Even though the place was totaled, it was obvious the technology was far more sophisticated than we have now.
"As I was walking around inside, I found myself in a large chamber, and then I saw them. There was this display case with mannequins dressed in Power Ranger uniforms, and I knew I had to be in the Rangers' headquarters. I was just blown away ... I couldn't believe it! I found myself drawn to the White Ranger's costume; I stood there and just stared at it for I don't know how long. Then, I saw this flash of gold. Looking down, I saw something amid the rubble and broken glass --a coin. I picked it up, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in front of this woman with white hair as long as yours who was seated on a shining throne of sorts.
"Her name was Zarrah, and she explained what was about to happen. If I hadn't been familiar with the history of the Rangers, I doubt I'd have believed her or accepted her offer."
"Did Zarrah tell you anything about the original Rangers --stuff that wasn't covered in the history books, like their names or anything?" Kat voiced her nagging question.
"No. Roberto had asked, though, and Zarrah said that when the time was right, our predecessors would make themselves known to us."
*How could they?* Kat wondered. *They've been dead for hundreds of years!*
"Do you have any idea what Rita wants with me?" Tyler asked suddenly, interrupting Kat's musings.
She shook her head and blew a strand of hair out of her face. "No. I tried all day to find out, but she was being unusually closed-mouthed." Which was pretty remarkable for Rita!
"She was *really* interested in how I got my powers," Tyler continued.
*And she asked me about Tommy....* What could be the connection between the two other than sharing the powers of the Falcon?
"I wish I could get a hold of the others," Tyler sighed. "They probably don't even know where I am; I bet Bri is driving everyone nuts. She hates not knowing."
"It's too bad Rita took your communicator," Kat remarked, thinking that she could have taken it to her quarters and tried to contact the Rangers. Of course, making them believe her would have been difficult, but....
"Communicator?" the White Ranger queried, obviously puzzled.
"You know, the wrist radio you use to contact the others and tap into the teleportation controls," she explained.
"Ah, the device created by the original Blue Ranger. Erin found the schematics on them in Zarrah's computers." He shook his head. "We can't use them ... too much risk of the signal being intercepted these days. As long as we have our Power Coins, we're just a mind-shout...."
Tyler quickly fell silent, realizing he'd said too much. Apparently, this was something Rita hadn't dragged out of him. At first, Tyler's words hadn't meant much to her, but slowly she began putting the pieces together: mind-shout ... techniques for resisting telepathic assaults....
"Telepathy?" she gasped softly, her hand flying to cover her mouth lest someone else should hear. Mind to mind communication ... incredible! Although, the idea was a little unsettling; she wasn't sure if she would have wanted her friends to be able to read her thoughts, and would she have wanted to read theirs?
* * *
Normally, Kat despised it when Rita wanted her to play servant, but this time, she was willing to make an exception. Her policy of avoidance made it difficult to find a reasonable explanation for why she wanted to be in the throne room while Rita was watching Malus' latest battle; serving her 'mistress' would be the perfect excuse to poke around and keep her ears open. She had to locate Tyler's Power Coin; at the moment, it seemed the best hope of getting him out of the Dark Dimension. Unlike the last time she had had to search for a stolen coin, there would be no inept Rito guarding an all-too conveniently placed chest. Not that she expected to find the coin in the throne room; Rita wouldn't be *that* careless. At best, she hoped the witch would say something that would give her a clue, and at the same time, she could check on Tyler's teammates and let him know how they were faring.
She said nothing as she placed the goblet on the arm of the throne; Rita was thoroughly engrossed in the battle, and Kat didn't want to draw her attention if possible.
"Come on, you two-bit demon! Squash 'em! Rip 'em to shreds! They're just humans!" Rita ranted, banging her staff on the ground in her fit of temper as the Rangers took on Malus' Host. Kat carefully bit back her own cheer as her successor disrupted the wraith attacking her.
Before she could lose herself in watching the contest, Kat became aware of a low humming sound; she might have dismissed it, had it not sounded familiar somehow. It was like a pulse of energy that resonated deep within her; her eyes went wide as she remembered where she had experienced the sensation before --when she held her Power Coin! The vibrations were so strong that the source had to be close by. Looking around, Kat couldn't believe her eyes. There it was!
Almost completely forgetting that the witch was in the room with her, Kat drifted like a sleepwalker closer to the niche on the far side of the chamber. It was just sitting on a cushion --no spells around it or anything. What was Rita thinking? Kat closed her eyes, feeling a little lightheaded; it was as if the Morphin' Power was calling to her. She reached out for the disk, almost compelled by its siren song....
"Go ahead, naughty Kitty-Kat; touch it," Rita hissed right in Kat's ear, and she gave a startled jump. She had thought Rita was totally engrossed in the action in the viewing globe. To her credit, she didn't cringe before the sorceress' dark glare.
"Trying to help the White Ranger, huh? I thought you might," Rita sneered. "I know you've been sneaking off to see him in the middle of the night."
Kat didn't bother to deny it, but she wondered how....
"You can't use Zeddy's powers without me knowing about it, girl," the witch commented, sensing Kat's questions. "Helping him is a waste of time --as is mooning over him; he's already got a girlfriend."
"I am not mooning over the White Ranger!" Kat insisted with an indignant snort.
"Sure you are, you Pathetic Twit, you just don't know it. It's Tommy all over again. Why else sneak into his room in the middle of the night?"
"After two centuries of having to listen to you all the time, can you blame me for wanting to have someone else to talk to?" Kat challenged.
"Oh, is my little Kitty-Kat baring her claws?" Rita hissed at her then cackled mockingly at Kat's cold stare. "Fine. Whatever you say. You're not in love with this White Ranger. But you still want to help him, eh? Go on; take his coin. I want to see if you can."
Kat hesitated. What was Rita up to? Why would she *want* her to touch Tyler's coin? She almost refused, but the call of the coin was too irresistible. Defiantly, she snatched up the coin and....
"Aaaaahhhhh!" Kat shrieked, dropping the metal disk and clutching at her burned hand. Her gaze darted wildly from the laughing witch to the now-innocuous coin which moments ago had blazed brilliantly in her grasp.
"You can't do it!" Rita chanted over and over in sing-song fashion, doing what Kat could only classify as a little victory dance.
She looked at her reddened palm, perplexed beyond measure. Why had it done that?
"These aren't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill power coins," Rita said, catching her breath. "Oh no, these are vastly different. These were forged from fragments of some *very* powerful power talismans, including the Zeo Crystal. You have to be free of *all* evil taint to wield them --and you're not anymore."
"I thought you told Zedd that I wasn't really evil, that is was all your spell," Kat replied.
"True, and even housing Zedd's power for me wouldn't have corrupted you --had that been all you did, but in deliberately using his powers...."
"But I've never used them for evil!" Kat protested.
"Doesn't matter what your intentions were. You knowingly and of your own free will used his dark magic for your own purposes!"
"Nooo!" Kat gasped, staring at her marked hand even as she shrank back from her maniacally laughing captor and fled the chamber.
* * *
Kat fell back on her bed, exhausted but exultant. She hadn't been back to visit Tyler since her confrontation with Rita the other day. She just could not accept that Zedd's powers had corrupted her so quickly, but the fact that the White Power Coin had burned her was indisputable. However, she refused to believe that motive had no impact on her use of his powers. At any rate, even if using them did taint her further, she really had no choice. She needed them to help Tyler escape, so she had healed her burns and set about figuring out her next move.
Rita claimed to be able to tell when she used Zedd's powers, implying a connection between the two of them. If that was so, then she should be able to tell when Rita was using hers. After testing out her theory, she discovered that she could --for the most part. However, there were some instances when she could not, especially when Rita was in her private study. A closer examination revealed a series of shielding spells surrounding the room, so it was back to Xereth's library to see what she could learn about casting wards.
Her present exultation was due to the fact that she had successfully constructed a shield around her own room. Now, she'd be able to summon the portal to the Dark Dimension without Rita's knowledge and possibly be able to do other things to help Tyler as well. Realistically, Kat knew that Rita could probably bring the barrier down, being the stronger sorceress, but it'd take time and patience, and Kat trusted Rita to have neither when push came to shove. Anxious to put her spellcasting to the test, Kat decided to pay the White Ranger a visit; it had been harder than she had anticipated to stay away for so long.
However, when she emerged from the dimensional doorway, she discovered that Tyler was not alone. Thankfully, her arrival hadn't been noticed, and Kat scurried for cover.
"...time to see if my theory is correct," Rita proclaimed sinisterly, and she reached for the White Ranger's helmet buckles. Try as he might, Tyler couldn't pull away. Rita held his head firmly and forced him to face her. "Let's see what's behind your visor."
For a moment, the only sound in the dungeon was the popping of the clasps then a hiss of air. Kat held her breath as the headgear was removed, and she crammed her fist in her mouth to stifle her gasp of astonishment. Save for the fact that the hair was close-cropped and was more of a caramel shade than mahogany, it could have been Tommy stretched between the stalagmites, chocolate brown eyes flashing angrily and mouth set hard with fierce defiance.
Rita's maniacal cackling erupted, filling the eerily silent chamber.
"What's so funny?" Tyler demanded, and Kat's heart ached with how much like his ancestor he sounded without the helmet filtering his voice.
"You really don't know, do you?" the witch gloated. "Oh, this is rich!"
The White Ranger just glared at her as she all but doubled over with her merriment. Finally regaining control of herself, wiping her eyes and gasping for breath, she continued.
"Well, White Ranger, let's see if I can't enlighten you. You honestly believe that your powers come from a stupid metal disk some interdimensional bimbo gave you, don't you? For your pathetic teammates, that may be true, but not for you. Oh, no ... the White Ranger Powers are your heritage; they're in your blood.
"Ever climb your family tree, Tyler Oliver? I have, and I found it very interesting. Did you know you're related to a Tommy Oliver who lived in Angel Grove almost 300 years ago? Did you know that he was the very first White Ranger?"
Kat watched Tyler's eyes widen at that announcement. Apparently, Tommy and Kim must have taken their secret with them to the grave.
"I'm surprised Zarrah didn't tell you," Rita purred oily, "you should ask her sometime to tell you how her daddy made the white powers for Tommy to replace the Green Ranger powers he stole from me. Made from the light of goodness.... White, the color of purity ... and his precious Kimmie was the original Pink Power Pest. The falcon and the crane ... your ancestors, Tyler. Though never active once they both retired, they passed it down to you. The Power is in your blood --which is why I want it."
Rita's laughter rang out again, and Kat recoiled with horror as she realized what the witch intended to do. Even after the sorceress had departed, her triumphant cackle echoed throughout the chamber. Once she felt it was safe, she crept forward. For a long while, she simply stood there staring at Tyler, who had sagged forward in his bonds. The memories that face conjured up overwhelmed her.
*This isn't Tommy,* she reminded herself sternly. Not Tommy, merely his many times removed grandson. Still, it was difficult not to superimpose her friend's visage on the young man before her. Seeing Tommy's descendant abruptly brought the weight of her years of captivity crashing down on her shoulders. It was an almost palpable sensation.
"So how long have you been lurking in the shadows," Tyler asked gruffly. His sharp words wrenched Kat out of her reverie.
"You don't need to snap at me," she chastised him.
"I'm sorry; it's just that that witch has me so confused I don't know which way is up anymore."
"Rita is very good at that," Kat said knowingly. "You mean the things she was telling you about your ancestors?"
"For once, she was telling the truth."
"That's right ... you knew the original Rangers."
"More than that, I *was* one of the Power Rangers --the Pink Zeo Ranger," Kat confessed. "I was on the team with Tommy after Kimberly retired to go to the Pan Globals."
"Then why didn't *you* tell me?" Tyler challenged accusingly.
"I didn't know you were related to Tommy. Just because you had the falcon as your spirit animal and held the White Powers didn't necessarily mean you were related to him."
"Pretty big coincidence, don'tcha think, when there were no other White Rangers ever?"
Kat had no answer for that tidbit of news.
"What I don't get is why didn't they ever tell anyone in the family; how can you keep something like that a secret from everyone you love?"
"Didn't you promise Zarrah you'd never reveal your identity to anyone?" Kat questioned.
"We all made that same promise to Zarrah's father."
"But if my ancestor was the White Ranger, why didn't *he* tell me once I accepted the Power Coin?"
"What do you mean? How could Tommy ... he's been dead for centuries."
"According to Zarrah, when a Power Ranger --or former Ranger-- dies, a part of him or her remains in the Morphin' Grid. That's how we have the knowledge to use our powers as soon as we accept our coins: we have our predecessors' knowledge to draw on. I've occasionally touched the last White Ranger, but he's never given me any indication that we were related."
"Considering how busy Malus has kept you, there probably hasn't been a good time for an extended conversation," Kat quipped.
"There you are, Kitty-Kat; I thought I'd find you here!"
Kat whirled, amazed to find Rita standing behind her. She had never even heard her ... or felt the doorway open....
"Come, my apprentice, I have a little job for you."
Kat fairly seethed. She knew what Rita was trying to do --degrade her in Tyler's eyes.
"Apprentice?" she gasped with a harsh laugh, not looking at her companion. "Slave is more like it, thanks to this stupid collar."
For the second time that day, Rita laughed so hard she had tears running down her cheeks, to Kat and Tyler's complete befuddlement.
"Slave collar? Oh, what a riot! All these years you mean to tell me that you thought that was a slave collar! Try flea collar. The only thing that ribbon about your neck does is make you turn into a cat."
"I hate to tell you, Kitty-Kat, but all these years that you've done my bidding, I never forced you to do a thing. All I did was ask, and you served me of your own free will!"
Kat sank to her knees, despair rising in her like a black tidal wave. She never wanted to serve Rita ... never! She couldn't have....
"Don't listen to her, Katherine," Tyler interjected.
"You shut up; no one likes a noisy sacrifice," Rita hissed. Then she sneered down at her long-time captive. "Don't take it too, hard, Kat; you won't have to live with the knowledge much longer."
"What do you mean?" Tyler demanded when Kat didn't respond.
"By using Zedd's powers, she has bonded with the magic. When I finally drain the last of his evil out of her, I'll drain her life force as well. That should remove the taint from you!"
*Noooo!* Kat screamed inwardly, unaware of Rita's second departure. She knelt on the mist-enshrouded floor, shaking with rage.
"Katherine?" Tyler prompted, his tone laced with concern.
She didn't respond at first, but when she did look up, her gaze was as cold and hard as ice, and she was gripped by a calm like she had never known before. Wrapping her fingers around her collar, she tore the slender band away and flung it to the farthest corner of the cell.
"I don't care what it takes, but we're getting out of here."
* * *
Kat sighed with frustration as she summoned the portal to Tyler's cell. More than ever, she wished she hadn't let Tommy and the others take the lead so much; she wished she were a better tactician, and she wished she had better news for the White Ranger. There was no way she could open a gateway for his teammates without Rita knowing. Opening a doorway to Earth was a difficult processes and would require a great deal of energy; she didn't have the time to master the spell, and it'd be too dangerous to transport the Rangers through an unstable portal. Plus, she didn't have the energy. She'd have to draw it off of Rita, and there was no way the sorceress wouldn't notice that.
As Kat entered the mist-enshrouded prison, she pulled up short. Where was Tyler? The stalagmite frame was empty. Had he broken free? Yet, the crystalline casing wasn't smashed; it appeared melted. As she investigated, Kat heard something go *crunch* beneath her slipper. Closer inspection revealed shards of gold-black metal. The floor was littered with the fragments ... Tyler's chestplate --it had been shattered! Amid the bits and pieces were scraps of heavy white leather.
Kat was frantic. Where had Rita taken Tyler and why had she destroyed his armor? Staring numbly at the debris, her eye glimpsed a small, wet stain trickling down the dais. Kneeling for a closer look, she could see that it was red....
*Oh, God, no!*
Blood ... Rita had taken Tyler to sacrifice him to open the dimensional portal the Earth stood guardian over! That realization snapped Kat out of her momentary paralysis. Tyler needed her *now!* She didn't care if Rita could detect her usage of the dark magic; she had to find the White Ranger before it was too late.
Her spell delivered her to the throne room, and she arrived to find the sorceress standing over an ebony slab of marble ringed with candles of every sort. Strapped spread-eagle to the reflective stone was Tyler. Though he was stripped to the waist, the witch had restored his helmet. Poised above his breast like the Sword of Damocles was Rita's ceremonial dagger. The Mistress of Evil's eyes were closed, and her raspy voice chanted out the summoning of the dark forces. It was the most powerful magic Kat had ever experienced. She could feel the energy rising, penetrating Rita, then bursting outward. Somehow, she could see the darkness eating away at the barrier which contained the power raw and untapped. Their release would obliterate the revolving orb in their path. These forces were neither good nor evil; they simply were, and Rita longed to mold them to her twisted will.
Kat felt as if she were smothering, there was so much magic loosed in the chamber. It clung to her the way humid air would in the height of summer. Yet for all the strength of the power gathered, Rita barely had control of it. Kat knew enough to sense that the witch had bitten off more than she could chew; she was barely hanging on by her fingertips. If Malus had been present, that would have been another matter; with the demon's abilities reinforcing her own, this would have been a simple matter. So why hadn't Rita waited for him?
Then, the pieces fell into place for Kat. Rita didn't need Tyler's blood to unlock the gateway. She needed the Blood of the Light to pay Malus for his assistance!
"He can't have him!" Kat shrieked with fear and rage. She lashed out at Rita, instinctively reaching for the power she never wanted but could command nonetheless. She didn't even bother shaping the spell; she simply hurled the energy at her nemesis, the bolt throwing the sorceress away from the altar. The knife clattered to the floor, and Kat darted forward to kick it as far from Rita's grasp as she could.
"Stupid girl, do you know what you've done!?" Rita screamed. It was the only way she could be heard over the thunderous wailing that suddenly filled the chamber.
The gale-force winds that tore through the throne room sprayed Kat's hair about her in a nebulous cloud as she stared down her would-be mistress.
"I won't let you have him," she replied simply. Kat knew what Rita was driving at; she had disrupted Rita's spell. The witch had lost control, and they were all in danger of the wild magic tearing the palace apart.
"I'm not beaten yet, Kitty-Kat!" Rita vowed, hurling her own blast of arcane energy at the former Ranger. Kat dodged; the murderous jolt only clipped her, sending her sprawling. Already Rita was on her feet, struggling to reach the altar. She pulled a wicked looking pin out of her bodice; it'd work just as well as the knife. "Malus! Get your demonic derriere up here now!"
"No, damn you!" Kat cried out. Instead of magic, this time the young woman launched herself at her opponent, tackling Rita and taking her down. While Rita had been caught unawares, she had surprised Kat by swiping out with her wickedly nailed hands. Her fingernails slashed at Kat's arms. Pain shot up Kat's arm like black fire, but she did not let go. Hissing for all the world like an enraged cat, Rita lashed out again, this time connecting with Kat's cheek. Though it had been centuries, all her friends had ever taught her about defending herself came back, and Kat stuck out herself. Desperation drove Rita on, and the two were soon wrestling, rolling about the floor, one seeking to kill, the other merely seeking to survive the onslaught.
Above them, the timbre of the howling changed. Malus' Host had arrived. The blood-hungry wraiths streaked about the audience-hall-gone-mad, sensing death. All around them, the castle shook at its foundation. Walls and columns began to crumble.
Kat blocked another of Rita's jabs, but this time the witch managed to drive a knee into her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. Kat had not time to react as her opponent pressed her advantage. Rita had her pinned to the quaking floor, her hands inexorably tightening about Kat's throat.
"I should have done this long ago ... no spells ... no monsters ... I should've just choked the life out of every one of you Rangers myself," the witch gasped triumphantly.
"I'm ... not ... dead ... yet...." Kat wheezed as she tried to keep those icy fingers from strangling her.
"You might as well be for all the good it'll do you," Rita sneered. "So what if the White Ranger lives? You saved his life. Big deal. It won't make him love you. He'll never love you, just as his ancestor never loved you!"
"Sh-shut ... up...." The former Ranger's vision tunneled so that all she saw was the distorted smirk on Rita's face.
"Tommy never loved you," Rita jeered, driving the emotional knife in deeper with her every word. "Face it; you were always second best ... never quite good enough. You weren't good enough for Tommy. You weren't good enough to go to the Pan Globals, and you aren't good enough to stop me."
"SHUT UP!" Kat rasped and somewhere deep within, she found the strength to wrench her body and throw Rita off.
Rita continued to gloat even as she scrambled away from Kat's fury-filled visage. "If you'd been Kimmie, I'd probably be dead now. I bet she could've killed me. You're just too soft and weak and pathetic...."
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Kat raged, the taunts finally snapping her reserve, and she unleashed a furious backhanded blow that sent Rita sprawling. Why wouldn't the bitch just shut up and leave her alone!
To Kat's surprise, her blow knocked the witch into the steps of the dais, and she laid there, dazed. With effort, Kat picked herself up and staggered over to her antagonist. Still griped in a fury that had her seeing black, Kat grabbed a hand full of Rita's dress and pulled the prone sorceress up.
"For 270 years I have listened to your crap, and I. Have. Had. Enough!" she spat as she punctuated her words by shaking the woman in her grasp.
Somehow, something got through the fog in her brain, and Kat realized that Rita hadn't said anything. She hadn't moved.
"Dear Lord, what have I done?" Kat gasped, shivering as if she'd been doused with icy water. Recoiling in horror, she loosed her foe. Rita's body crumpled to the floor limply, her head lolling to one side. She was dead, her neck broken.
Kat was beside herself.
She hadn't meant to kill Rita ... she had only meant to stop her --hadn't she? She stared numbly at her hands, imagining she could see the blood on them ... and the dark taint of Zedd's powers coursing through her. That was the only explanation ... Zedd's powers! She wouldn't --couldn't-- have killed otherwise --could she?
Rita Repulsa was dead.
Katherine Hillard was free at last, wasn't she?
The crash of masonry from a toppled column, snapped the stunned woman out of her reverie. She may have been free of Rita, but she was not out of danger. Rita's magic was still careening out of control, tearing the citadel apart. Then there was the Host ... their frosty ephemeral bodies twined around Kat and then Rita's corpse. If anything their banshee cries grew in volume until Kat thought she'd go deaf --or mad!
Then, the lord of the Host appeared, the only figure of calm amidst the insanity. The beautiful fiend strode over to where Rita's lifeless form draped over the steps of the dais, and he regarded the corpse without expression.
"So, you are dead, my mistress --without fulfilling your end of the bargain."
He stretched his hand over the sprawled body. A red-black cloud rose up from the stiffening limbs. It pooled above Rita in an ever-expanding whirlpool until the deceased had been bled white. Then, Malus summoned the crimson mist. It flowed over his sculpted form like a lover's caress, and his face filled with rapturous delight. The haze began to penetrate every pore, and the demon fairly glowed. Once filled with Rita's lifeblood, Malus nudged the emaciated frame with the tip of his foot. The ancient sorceress' body crumbled to dust which scattered in the arcane winds.
"Come, my brethren!" Malus called forth, and his fellow fiends swirled about him, drinking their share of the spoils from their leader.
Kat turned away, sickened. Nightmares of the witch's demise and the demons' feed would haunt her for years to come. Then, suddenly, she stiffened. She felt Malus' cold blue eyes on her. She shivered as she inexorably turned to face him. When he spoke, she could hear his deep, seductive voice perfectly above the din.
"You share her powers. Are you my mistress now?" he queried.
"God, no!" Kat spat, recoiling. She didn't want to have anything to do with that abomination.
The fiend's face lit up with a beatific smile. To Kat's astonishment and disgust, Malus grabbed her and kissed her passionately. She struggled to liberate herself from his embrace.
"Then I am free!" Malus declared as he released the now-breathless woman who seriously wanted to vomit.
"Free to return to from whatever hell Rita summoned you," she rasped, wiping at her mouth.
Malus laughed malevolently.
"I think not, Katherine," he replied with dangerous civility. "If you wished to send me back, you could have done so had you claimed my services. But in refusing me, you have released me to do as I please."
Kat's eyes widened in horror. What had she done? She hadn't even considered that, and now Malus was loose to.... "W-what are you doing to do?"
"I was thinking of finishing what Rita had me begin. Of course, I have no need for the power that Earth safeguards, but humans do have delicious souls, and all that hot blood...."
"Nooooo!" Kat cried even as she threw herself at the demon in a futile attempt at stopping him. Malus simply laughed as he dissolved into a shower of brilliant light. And where went their master, so followed the Host.
Kat stood in the center of the chaos, still in shock. Around her, Rita's castle continued to disintegrate. What was she going to do now? Hadn't she done enough?
That low moan snapped her out of her paralysis. Tyler! Everything she had done had been to save his life. She hurried over to the marble altar and began working at his bonds. As long as he made it out alive, the nightmares and the guilt would all be worth it. Her tugging only seemed to make the knots pull tighter; she cast about in desperation and spied the blade she had knocked away from Rita.
"We have to get out of here," Kat shouted above the howl of magic gone wild. She prayed Tyler hadn't see what had transpired with Malus and Rita. By the sounds of it, though, he was just regaining consciousness. She removed his helmet and peered anxiously into his pallid face. With her help, the White Ranger managed to sit up, but when he tried to stand, his legs gave out.
"Need ... Power Coin," he gasped as Kat tried to support his weight.
Kat threw a frantic glance over at the niche where she had last seen the coveted disk. To her great joy, it was still there. Their only hope of getting out lay with the Rangers opening a portal, but to do that, Tyler needed to reestablish his telepathic link with the team. "I see it. Here, get under cover," she instructed, tucking him under the sacrificial table for safety.
Dodging the rain of mortar and stone, Kat dashed to the wall housing the coin. Unlike before, the talisman was encased in a web-like sphere of energy. She examined the spell and swore softly. Undoing the enchantment would be like untangling a skein of yarn, and there was no time. Wielding the ceremonial dagger once again, Kat sliced into the delicate-seeming strands.
She bit back a scream of agony as the white-hot backlash ripped through her. The pain was so intense that it forced her to her knees. Still, she retained the presence of mind to carry out her purpose, and she grabbed the Power Coin.
Kat really hadn't believed Rita when she claimed the White Power Coin was an anathema to her now that she had willingly used the power of darkness; she had thought her earlier burn some sort of trick. However, the pain of the disrupted spell was nothing compared to the searing purity of the white light that exploded through her the moment her fist closed about the medallion.
Images flooded her brain as Kat touched the Morphin' Grid for the first time in nearly three centuries. She almost wept for joy as she instinctively reached out towards the familiar radiance of the Power. But there was more. As Tyler had said, the Rangers of the past were now a part of the Power, and she could sense the presence of her former teammates: Adam, Tanya, Rocky, Aisha and Billy ... Justin ... and Tommy. She could see them, not as spectral figures but as tendrils of energy.
With her mind reeling, Kat stretched out a 'hand' to Tommy, searching for an anchor in this chaotic sea. She touched him, felt his essence, but it was not Tommy alone. Kim was there, too. The two power signatures were so closely intertwined as to almost be one. She also felt all her other old friends, treading through and around one another, flowing together, swirling in a befuddling commingling. For a moment, she thought she felt something more from them all --a welcome. Then, everything went cold and dark. It seemed as if someone had shoved her away from Tommy ... her friends ... the light....
*No!* she sobbed, fighting desperately to penetrate the shield that had come between her and the Morphin' Grid. *No! You can't do this to me! It's not fair! I didn't ask for this to happen to me ... I didn't want this to happen. Please ... don't leave me like this ... please ... Tanya ... Tommy --anybody!-- help me....*
When Kat opened her eyes, she blinked back tears of disappointment and resentment. How could her teammates turn their backs on her like that? How could they push her away --even Tommy? She had thought that she was one of them. She had thought they were her friends.
Her broken-hearted reflections were cut short as a massive tremor rocked the castle. Time was running out. She'd have an opportunity later to figure out the whys and wherefores. Disoriented from the sensory overload, Kat staggered back over to Tyler and all but collapsed upon reaching him.
"Your hand!" he gasped as she returned his coin to him. Her palm was an angry red, and the imprint of the falcon had been burned into her flesh.
"The price of the power to help you," she murmured, unaware that she had been branded.
"I'm sorry," Tyler said sincerely, and Kat offered him a tired smile in appreciation of his solicitude.
"Contact your friends," was all she said.
Tyler quickly fitted the coin into his morpher and held it aloft.
"White Ranger Power!"
Kat had the sickening feeling that she had somehow corrupted the coin and it would no longer work.
"There must be too much interference with all this energy running amok," Tyler snorted impatiently. Seeing Kat's wan, crestfallen expression, he added reassuringly, "Don't worry. I *know* I can get through to Bri."
Tyler seemed to slip into a trance, and Kat tried to remain patient. It was taking too long! Then, her gaze settled on the viewing globe. Though the sphere was cracked, it continued to pick up images from Earth, and she saw the reason for the delay. The Rangers were battling Malus.
"Bri says she'll relay the coordinates to Alpha, and he'll activate the portalcom. But we need to get in the clear," he instructed breathlessly. The strain of reaching across such a distance in his already weakened condition had seriously taxed his ebbing strength.
"What about the balcony?" Kat suggested, helping him to his feet, and the two began their sprint to safety.
Tyler suddenly doubled over, uttering a sharp cry of what sounded like pain-mixed-with-fear.
"Tyler!" Kat gasped, catching him before he could fall.
"My f-fault," he gulped. "I left my link open with Bri ... that was her.... They're taking a real beating from Malus."
"His real name is Aoa, lord of the Host, souls rest, light in the darkness," Kat said quickly. Perhaps Tyler could use the information to stop the fiend. "According to Xereth's notes, Malus must obey whoever holds his true name."
"I'll tell Zarrah. Bri says Alpha can't punch the signal through; something's blocking it."
"Let me see what I can do," Kat recommended, and the ease with which she commanded Zedd's residual magic frightened her. Though it was difficult to concentrate, she managed to examine the spell and release the counteragent. It was not unlike the spells about Rita's private study. "There. Tell Alpha to try again."
Even as she spoke, there was a deafening crack. The two glanced up to see an enormous section of the ceiling crashing towards them.
Kat and Tyler scurried for safety; however, Kat's foot snagged a chunk of rock. She tripped, but as she fell, she shoved the weakened White Ranger clear. Moments later, she was buried in the deluge of rubble.
Remarkably, she hadn't been crushed. She had managed to throw up a shield, which held back the worst of the boulder-sized tiles. However, many of the smaller pieces had trickled through --one clipped her head, almost causing the barrier to lose integrity. Kat fought to remain conscious; her survival depended on it. She began digging her way out, but with every movement, her vision blurred, and shards of pain tore through her skull. She pushed weakly at the rubble pinning her legs. She wished the howling would stop; she couldn't think, and it hurt her ears! All she wanted to do was cover her ears and curl up in a tiny ball to get away from it.
"Stop it!" she sobbed, unable to take much more, but somehow she forced herself to keep scratching and clawing at the stones piled about her. Then, her ears detected a faint humming that for some reason, the angry arcane gale could not drown out. The bass droning seemed to be growing louder. Puzzled, Kat blearily looked up, wiping away the moisture that stung her eyes. She regarded her fingertips distractedly. They were red-smeared.
It was so hard to think ... she had been doing something ... that humming ... it was everywhere.... "Stop confusing me!"
Suddenly, she recalled that she hadn't been alone, but who ... one of her friends ... that had to be it! But where...? She scouted about, panicking when she couldn't find her companion. She prayed he wasn't buried, too. Then, she caught a ripple of color out of the corner of her eye. It seemed to be over by where the deep droning was the loudest. It was so hard to see....
She caught a glimpse of two figures stumbling towards the shimmering lights; the one in pink dragging the one half-dressed in white, his head bowed so all she could see was the top of his darkish hair.
"T-Tommy?" she stammered. That didn't seem right, but it had to be him. She remembered touching him ... feeling the warmth and strength of his presence. It looked so much like him.... She struggled to push herself up, and saw the two step into the tunnel of light. "N-no ... wait...!" she called out weakly, but the roar of the magical storm drowned her out. (or were the words only in her head?) The Pink Ranger was taking Tommy away ... abandoning her.... "No! Don't leave me! Kim ... please .. don't take Tommy away I can't move these rocks by myself.... I need your help!"
The hole collapsed, and the specter of her friends was gone.
"Please...." she pleaded tearfully, but there was no one to hear her entreaty. Kat sank to the floor, sobbing. They couldn't leave her ... not again ... not like when they shut her out of the Morphin' Grid! She no longer cared that Rita's castle was coming down around her ears. Kim had taken Tommy and left her to die.
She wanted to die. She was just so tired ... but as she closed her eyes to surrender to the inevitable, she heard Rita's laughter echoing in her ears.
*Toldja ... all Kimmie's fault....*
"No! You--you're dead!" Kat screamed in denial. Then she heard another voice calling out to her. It sounded familiar, like one of her friends, but it was so faint....
"Tommy?" she moaned hopefully.
The voice came again, a little stronger this time.
*"... magic ... out of control ... d*estroy ... moon ... earth ... doomed...."*
The power! She had to stop the magic; she couldn't let Earth be destroyed ... Power Rangers defended the Earth no matter what! Automatically, the old words came to her lips.
*"Dak-tor ... Tsu't ... Kavisha ... Ney ...!"
The Dark Lady sat in judgement on her throne, glaring imperiously at the three beings kneeling at the foot of the dais, their arms restrained with arcane shackles. These were but the latest of her would-be conquerors. Her jewel-like eyes narrowed as she focused on the creature standing flanked by his humanoid shipmates. Though a prisoner, the bulbous eyes simmered with defiance, and the leathery flesh about his snout pulled back in a fang-baring sneer. The Ullah was doubly restrained, as his two sets of limbs were completely interchangeable, though the lower were longer and stronger. He could walk with his arms as well as his legs, and he could hold a gun with his feet as well as he could with his hands. This was Captain Quigax, Conqueror of Worlds, Terror of the Spaceways, pirate scum.
"Go home, insignificant worm," the sorceress hissed at last. She rose, clutching her ornate staff with its barbed headpiece. Her obsidian robes swirled about her like a thing alive. "I am feeling merciful today. Take your lives and what’s left of your ship, but the rest of your plunder is mine to recompense me for the inconvenience your pitiful assault caused me."
With a nonchalant wave of her hand, the flaxen-haired enchantress dismissed the energy manacles. Then, she turned to leave to be about the business of repairing the damage to her lunar citadel, her captives all but forgotten.
The two mates bowed and made ready to take their lives and be gone, but their captain was beside himself. The insult that he should be treated so cavalierly by a mere human --and a woman no less!-- was not to be born. With a berserker howl, Quigax launched himself up the dais at the retreating figure.
The Dark Lady whirled, lowering her staff. The maneuver surprised the marauder, and he could not alter his trajectory in time. He impaled himself on the spear-tipped rod.
Dispassionately, the enchantress watched the body slide off the shaft of her staff and tumble down the stairs. Her frigid gaze turned towards her remaining prisoners, who were terrified that they would share their captain’s fate.
"Begone! And take the carcass with you," she intoned ominously. "Be sure to let your new master know that the Earth and the dark powers are mine to do with as I please."
This time, her malevolent stare remained on the pirates until they were gone from her sight.
Even after her ‘guests’ had departed, the sorceress stared after them. Then, she descended from her throne, dispelling the bloody mess almost absently as she passed. She crossed the room to stand on the balcony and looked upon the blue bauble floating in the void beyond.
The Earth is mine to do with as I please.
Yet she did nothing with it, save defend it from those who would conquer it. And she had no idea why.
There were many things she did not know why she did them or why certain things were important to her. Like turning on Quigax... the move had been instinctive, but where or when she acquired battle-honed reflexes, she could not say.
She tried to think back sometimes but only encountered pain and confusion. The earliest memory she possessed was of a man in white, reaching out to her as he was carried away by a woman in pink. She could not see their faces. She did not know their names, but the images haunted her dreams and left her with a feeling of terrible emptiness.
The next vague recollections were of energy searing her and voices confusing her, of a great weight pressing down on her. Then, stillness, darkness and cold. Her clearest memory was of waking up and finding herself pinioned between great stone slabs. Everything around her was shaking, and the sounds of explosions filled the air. Pulling herself out of the rubble, she headed for the great gaping window of the balcony; the sight that greeted her still-bleary eyes was that of a fleet of ships raining destruction upon the barren world around her and upon the blue jewel of a world before her.
"My palace!" cried a shrill voice inside her head.
"The Earth!" echoed a softer but equally insistent voice.
"Do something!" they both chorused, and she did, lashing out blindly with the considerable power roiling within her. In those moments as the invading armada was decimated, the sorceress the galaxy would come to know as the Dark Lady was born.
With the passage of time, she had ascertained that she had been buried during an attack on her fortress and had fallen into a deep sleep. What she had yet to determine was how, during her long rest, she had absorbed the great quantities of arcane energy she commanded. The recent battle had disturbed her tomb, and she had awakened, suffused with power and her mind awash in chaos.
Word of her abilities --and neophyte status as an enchantress-- quickly spread, and soon came those who thought to easily claim her magics for themselves. There was little time to make sense of the confusion raging in her head. The voices told her there’d be time for understanding later --provided she survived that long.
Survive, she did. Now, centuries later, the Dark Lady was a woman to be feared and a force to be reckoned with. Those foolish enough to challenge her were destroyed and their wealth or powers were added to her own resources.
But for what purpose? She didn’t know....
"Why did you have to kill him?" came the inevitable, plaintive query from the voice she had dubbed ‘The Wimp.’
"I didn’t think you had it in you," was ‘The Witch’s’ shrill counterattack.
The two voices were her constant --and only-- companions. How they had become a part of her, she did not know. They knew things about her but weren’t always able to impart them. It was as if they were incomplete, too. The one thing the sorceress did know, the two despised each other, and constantly traded barbs.
"Enough!" the woman shrieked aloud, clapping her hands over her ears as if to shut them out. "Would that I could be rid of you," she seethed. The pair did nothing but add to the chaos in her brain. Sometimes, she could hardly think for all their racket.
"What’s the Dark Lady made of? Kitty-Kat’s body, and ol’ Rita’s magic. Without the two of us, you wouldn’t exist."
"Without me the two of you would be dead." The mage had figured out that much!
"She does have a point."
"Without us, you’d have no friends," the Witch countered.
The words struck a chord deep within the Dark Lady; it was a feeling she had learned to recognize as an indicator that something had once been of great importance. She had to confess, though, that for all their squabbling, the Witch and the Wimp were the only companions she had in her desolate citadel.
"You used to have lots of friends," the grating voice reminded her. The sorceress was suddenly all attention. Whenever the pair whispered of the past, she tried to hold on to what they said, but often, the impressions were as ephemeral as smoke, slipping elusively through her fingers.
The Wimp had once theorized that the reason she couldn’t hold on to the memories was because she really didn’t want to remember. But she did! More and more of late, the blank slate of her mind disturbed her, and the vague dreams of pink and white people were maddening. She had to know what it all meant!
"As nauseating as it is to admit, you never wanted power. All you ever wanted was to be with your friends and to live happily ever after with your precious Tommy."
"Tommy?" the mistress of the lunar fortress queried, frowning. The name seemed familiar somehow, and conjured up something... a memory just beyond her reach.
"Tommy. You know: tall, dark, handsome. Long, thick hair and sexy eyes... wore a lot of green, white, and red. Quite a hunk of a man."
The sorceress felt her pulse quicken as an unexpected image surged forth from the depths of her fragmented recollections, and a tide of warmth rushed through her as she experienced the emotions which accompanied it. She had never felt anything like it before --or had she?
"What are you up to?" the softer of the two voices demanded.
"Shut up! Don’t you want her to remember?" the Witch hissed.
"Yes, shut up!" the Dark Lady echoed eagerly. She wanted to remember. She wanted to fix that face firmly inside her mind. "Tommy...."
"Yeah... too bad pretty lil’ Kimmie had to steal him away."
"Short, cute, gorgeous figure, wore a lot of pink, and so perky it was enough to make you puke. And always had everything you wanted."
The vision of the woman in pink dragging away the man in white returned.
"It’s all Kimmie’s fault that you’re so lonely and miserable and completely psycho now."
"Don’t listen to her!" the Wimp railed with unusual vehemence. "Kimberly was one of your best friends, and she didn’t steal Tommy from you. You and Tommy tried; it just wasn’t meant to be. You let him go a long time ago."
"Oh really? If you were so over Tommy, why were you falling all over yourself to cozy up to his descendant Tyler?"
"I wasn’t cozying up to him; I was trying to keep you from killing him...."
"Both of you, be quiet!" the Dark Lady shouted, and momentarily, her disembodied companions fell silent. "So what if I once cared for this Tommy person? He’s been dead for centuries."
Laughter, harsh and mocking, suddenly erupted in her head.
"Pathetic twit! Don’t you know you can still have him if you want him? You have the power to go back in time. You can change the past. You never wanted to be the Dark Lady. You never wanted to be a mistress of evil, even the wimp here can’t argue with that! All you need to do is fix it so that you end up with Tommy, and poof! No more Dark Lady, and you have your happily ever after."
There was something compelling about what the Witch had to say; however, her counterpart interrupted.
"Don’t listen to her," the normally more soft-spoken presence implored impassionedly. "She has never cared about your happiness; she only cares about herself. If changing the past was as simple as she says, then why didn’t she do it to defeat the Power Rangers?"
"She has a point, Witch," the sorceress murmured.
"Zeddy and I changed the past lots of times."
"And it never did you any good, did it?"
"I know your capabilities better than you do, Screw-Loose; you could do it, if you really wanted to, but if you don’t want to take my word for it, you can always go look up those hooded yahoos in the time temple.
"That’s it! Seek out the Overlords of the Timestream," the sharp-spoken voice purred seductively. "That is, if you think Tommy’s worth it. But then again, you did endure almost three hundred years of captivity for him."
"Go away! Both of you!" the Dark Lady snapped, massaging her temples. She had had enough. Her head always hurt something fierce whenever she had an extended conversation with the voices.
The thought of altering the past was very tempting --and not just to be rid of the nagging voices in her head! She was wary of just blindly following the suggestions; however even if she did seek out the timelords, it would be for reasons of her own: they would be able to help her reclaim her past.
* * *
"No more!" the Dark Lady cried out, sitting up in her sumptuous bed, her trembling body drenched in sweat. It was another nightmare. She hated them. She despised the emptiness, loneliness, and helplessness they stirred within her. But most of all, she hated the smiling face of the woman who called her friend and yet robbed her of everything she had ever held dear.
The sorceress abandoned her bed; there would be no more sleeping this night. Instead, she cloaked herself in glamour she had adopted (a blue-haired seductress in skin-tight black) and headed down the hallways of the palatial stronghold of her host, Nortimra, renegade timelord.
The android servants who were about paid her no heed. They had become used to the sultry guest who strode through their master’s home as if she ruled there. The Dark Lady took herself to the balcony that overlooked the waterfall that emptied into the lake. She liked to come here to think. The furiously churning liquid mirrored the state of her thoughts.
Fueled by her fading dreams, her mind drifted back to what had brought her to the opposite side of the galaxy from her lunar home. Ironically enough, it had been a series of dreams... imprecise snippets that hinted but never divulged, which teased but never satisfied. There was more of memory than fantasy about the images --visions of the man she now knew to be Tommy and of a woman who wore her face but wasn’t quite her. The tantalizing glimpses fairly drove her mad with wanting to know more.
And throughout it all, the Witch and the Wimp had been strangely silent.
Her first step had been to consult the grimoires in Xereth’s library. There had been an uncanny sense of homecoming when she had crossed the study’s threshold, but she had not set foot in that room since awakening. Be that as it may, she had found plenty of spells for traveling through time as well as for altering events, but every tome recommended the intervention of a timelord for best results.
Finding one of the overlords was not an easy task. The general populace of the galaxy discounted their existence, and those who did believe otherwise, feared the timelords more than they feared her. In the end, she had managed to extract enough clues from hapless informants to locate their temple in the heart of the galaxy.
However, her less-than-subtle approach had alerted the time masters to her interest, and they did not take kindly to it. When she demanded an audience, she was refused, and neither flattery nor bribery could get her anywhere.
Where persuasion failed, she tried coercion, but the lords of the timestream simply shrugged off her arcane assaults. She however, refused to be denied. She had no idea from whence the inspiration came, but she assumed the form of an innocuous cat and slipped inside the impenetrable walls by riding on the trailing tail of an acolyte’s robe.
Unfortunately, her charade was swiftly discovered, and she was forced to retreat, but not before learning a valuable piece of information.
The sorceress smiled tightly as she recalled meeting the expatriate timelord. Still garbed in the crimson robes and concealing black trappings of his former vocation, Nortimra was lost in his cups in the most wretched bar in the outer rim when she found him. For his excesses and inappropriate use of his office, the timelord had been stripped of his abilities to manipulate the timestream --but not his knowledge.
The Dark Lady had grabbed his attention by dropping a sack of fire rubies on the table before him and ordering another round. However, when his eyes met hers, she found herself revising her estimate of the man and her plan to indulge his vices. Steel gray eyes met jewel blue, and she knew at once he was no mere sot to be toyed with. This was a dangerous and cunning individual --a worthy opponent.
"What do you want?" he demanded.
"Knowledge. What do you want in exchange?"
Thus began a chessmatch to see who could gain the most while surrendering the least. A challenging game, to be sure, but it was beginning to lose its charm. She grew impatient, especially once she could apply her craftily won knowledge. The first thing she had done was found her past. She knew the events of her life now, but only from a distance. There was no connection... until the dreams had begun again. Now, she knew the taste of yearning, of frustrated desires, of loss, of misery....
"Oh, Lord, he’s married!"
"You’re not Kimmie; I doubt he ever really cared for you...."
"After all, she still thinks I’m to blame for her predicament when it’s all Kimmie’s fault...."
For a moment, she thought she felt something more from her friends --a welcome. Then, everything went cold and dark. It seemed as if someone had shoved her away from Tommy... her friends... the light....
The Pink Ranger was taking Tommy away... abandoning here.... "No! Don’t leave me! Kim... please... don’t take Tommy away...."
"Toldja... all Kimmie’s fault...."
"If it weren’t for Kimmie...."
I wouldn’t have been put through this nightmare.
The Dark Lady’s fingers tightened on the balustrade until her knuckles were white. Her luminous eyes narrowed. She didn’t have all the pieces in place, but she knew enough... enough to know that the Witch was right.
And living with the exiled timelord had taught her something else. She didn’t want to return to the isolation of the moon and the company of the two maddening voices in her head. She wanted the life she should have had but for that doe-eyed bitch in pink.
And I will have it!
Her dark musings were suddenly interrupted as a resounding explosion shook the remote fortress.
"What the...?" she gasped as a second blast nearly knocked her off her high-heeled boots. Looking skyward, she observed a ship raining down a lethal barrage of laser fire. Then, a hatch opened in the belly of the vessel, releasing figures garbed in spiked, silver armor.
The sorceress was not amused. Whoever was responsible for the assault would rue the day they crossed her path. She was by no means finished with the timelord; no one was going to take him --or cause him to flee-- before she was done with him.
The Dark Lady returned to the fortress proper in search of her sparring partner. She moved with deceptive calm as windows burst inwards in her wake. She seemed unconcerned that the ceiling was falling down around her. Descending the ornate staircase, she continued her search for Nortimra. A ruined column crashed towards her, and she brushed it aside with a wave of her hand. However, as the dust settled, she spied the flicker of a retreating crimson robe.
"Not so fast, milord," she hissed as she followed. Her host led her on a merry chase through a maze of hidden staircases and concealed corridors to the very bowels of the citadel. By the time she caught up with him, the enchantress found herself in a grotto, at the rim of a liquid silver pond.
"A time pool," she murmured.
Nortimra spun at the sound of her soft exclamation.
"It appears you were holding out on me, milord," she claimed wryly. He had taught her to scry the past and probe the probabilities in the timestream by using a small dish of the shimmery substance, which provided her with only a partial picture and very distorted images.
The shrewd gray eyes flashed at her.
"What is going on, milord?" she demanded, giving him her most frigid, most imperiously withering glare... not that it ever had any noticeable effect on him.
"Perhaps I should be asking the same of you, milady," the hooded being retorted in his gravely voice. He had always addressed her as ‘milady;’ thus she had taken to calling him ‘milord.’
"There’s still too much I don’t know for me to be bringing your castle down around your ears."
He nodded, conceding the point.
"Who --or what-- are those things?" By his act of fleeing, Nortimra had revealed the depths of his fear of the invaders. The timelord had always had great faith in his defenses; to abandon them now meant this was a foe he knew he could not stand against.
She regarded him blankly; the name held no meaning for her, and her companion laughed.
"You must have come from a more desolate corner of the galaxy than this one not to have heard of the Mercytes. They are robot assassins, the deadliest killers known to sentient beings. They are virtually unstoppable. They are unaffected by most weaponry, but if one is so lucky to actually take one down.... Like a hydra, destroy one and two more take its place. And, if you possess the mastermold, you have an unlimited supply of tireless warriors loyal only to their programming --which can only be changed through the mastermold, not the individual soldiers. The question is, milady, who is their intended target: you or me? My advice is that we both make sure we are not found."
"And what of our bargain?"
"You won’t get to use what you’ve already learned if the Mercytes get hold of you."
As if on cue, they could hear the sounds of destruction looming closer. Stalactites had shaken loose from the cavern ceiling, splashing into the mirror-bright pool.
"How do I know if the changes I have made in the past will have the effect I want? How do I make them permanent?"
"For a woman with your power, your thinking is very narrow in scope," Nortimra snorted derisively.
"That is my affair."
"And why should I tell you anything further?"
"Because I am the one with the power to get us out of here."
She knew she had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
"The further in the past the change is made, the longer it takes for its effects to be felt in the present."
The Dark Lady barely kept from reaching out and throttling the timelord. That was naught but common sense. This was no time to be playing games. The assassins were drawing closer.
"As for the alterations being permanent.... The only thing of permanence is the timestream itself. Its course is already set; our present is someone else’s past. You can divert the flow of time, creating tributaries, but those offshoots will always rejoin the main body at some point. The bigger the divergence, the longer it takes to right itself. However....
Nortimra never got to finish his sentence. The Mercytes at last broke through the walls of the grotto, but when the armor-plated slayers stormed the cave, a tiny mouse with crimson fur and gray eyes dashed between their feet and disappeared into the winding passages. A white furred cat with sapphire blue eyes was in hot pursuit.
* * *
It was no longer a question of ‘if’ or ‘how’; now it came down to ‘when.’
The Dark Lady paced her private study, contemplating her plan --which was to change the past and reclaim her lost life. To do that, she needed to insure that she never fell under Rita Repulsa’s transformation spell, and to do that, her former self had to wind up with Tommy Oliver. True, she would no longer be the Dark Lady, but she cared little for her powers now. She did, however, care a great deal about a young man with warm brown eyes and long flowing hair.
"Live happily ever after with your precious Tommy, and none of this will ever have happened," the Witch purred. "No being turned into my kitty-prisoner, no sucking up Zedd’s powers... no getting bonked on the head when the castle nearly collapsed...."
"No having you in my head," the sorceress groused at the interruption.
"Nortimra was right; you do think too small. You have the power to level planets and destroy galaxies, and all you want is to shut up two disembodied voices."
"Be quiet! By the way, I haven’t heard from the Wimp in a while. What’s with her?"
"Oh," the Witch began knowingly, "cat’s got her tongue."
The Dark Lady just snorted.
"So, how you going to do it?"
"All the naturally occurring time holes were either sealed by the last generation of Power Brats or are being closely monitored by the timelord," the mage began. "I managed to save enough of Nortimra’s scrying pool to be able to create my own portal."
"That’s not what I meant. How are you going to get Tommy away from Kimmie?"
"By being in the right place at the right time."
Her thought was to be in Angel Grove the night that Tommy finally wised up and let Kimmie go. Instead of him winding up dating that nobody Karen, she would be there for him. However, there was a bit of a glitch. As she scouted out the timescape, she discovered that important things had happened to her in London while Tommy was telling Kim off. She didn’t want to spoil the good things that had happened to her.
What if she and Tommy hadn’t broken up when she left for England? However, their relationship had cooled off considerably by that point anyway. Ever since he saw that pink pipsqueak during that business with Divatox.... If he just hadn’t seen her again... hadn’t been reminded... because things had been going all right up to that point.
"That’s it!" she exclaimed. If Kimberly never returned to Angel Grove, she and Tommy would never get back together! All she had to do was come up with a plan to keep Kimmie away!
Laughter filled the sorceress’ head, but it wasn’t the shrill, mocking tones of the Witch.
"Oh, so you’re still around, Wimp," the Dark Lady sneered.
"Stop calling me that. After all, I’m the woman you want to be again."
"You don’t need to be so insulting," the enchantress muttered. "What’s so funny?"
"You’ll never get Kimberly to stay away from Angel Grove. Her home is there. Her friends are there. The man she loves is there."
"Perhaps. However, she’d do just about anything to save Tommy’s life, wouldn’t she?"
"What do you mean?"
"Simple. We let her know that if she returns to Tommy, if she even sets foot in Angel Grove again, he’s a dead man."
"You’d never harm Tommy!"
"True, I need him, but Kimmie doesn’t know that. She won’t know what hit her."
"She’ll go to Jason or one of the others...."
"Then I threaten her by saying that if she goes to anyone --family, friends, the authorities-- Tommy dies," the woman huffed in mounting frustration. She didn’t need some pathetic twit picking apart her plan!
The voice’s admonition was lost in a reverberating explosion.
"Don’t these fools ever learn!" the Dark Lady grumbled. Wrapping her cloak about her, she transported herself to the throne room, and found herself facing a cadre of Mercytes pouring through a hole in the outer wall.
"Get out of my palace!" she shrieked, leveling her staff at the nearest technological terror.
"Target has been located; proceed as directed...."
The Dark Lady blasted the lethal robot with her magics. The force of the energy impacting against it pushed it back, but it was otherwise unscathed.
"Shut up, Witch," the sorceress snarled as she attempted another arcane volley. The blast sent the machines flying in all directions but did them no damage.
"Well, Witch? These are your powers," she demanded as she dodged a bolt from one of the arm-mounted guns.
"Don’t look at me; I’ve never even seen this variety of killer droid before."
"You’re useless," the Dark Lady sneered as she fended off a would-be captor with sharp jabs from her staff. The butt of the shaft struck a box-like construct in the center of the chestplate, sending up a shower of sparks. Her assailant was momentarily dazed.
"Back off!" she hissed at another advancing foe. This time, her rod slammed into its neck. The barbed tip pierced the casing, and the unit staggered back, collapsing.
"Now we’re getting somewhere!"
"Go for the jugular."
"Don’t distract me!"
The Dark Lady dashed across the debris-littered floor in search of more maneuvering room. Finding cover was extremely difficult; the spine-armored assassins were all over the place. She dove and rolled behind her throne, avoiding a deadly shot. A moment later, her seat was reduced to rubble.
"I will not be defeated in my own home!" she fumed, trying to assess her options. Mercytes stood guard at every exit from the hall. She could use a teleportation spell, but she had the suspicion that regardless of where she hid in the castle, they’d find her.
"Duck, twit!" the Witch screamed in her head, and in spite of her ringing ears, the beleaguered mage hit the deck and made a fortuitous discovery. The beam that was meant for her struck the automaton creeping up behind her. The robot exploded like an ill-made putty. She quickly snatched up the fallen droid’s weapon. Whirling, she fired on the nearest Merycte. It fell under her assault.
With long-forgotten marksmanship, the Dark Lady cut a fiery swath across the chamber, leaving smoking, ruined body in her wake. As they fell, the metallic bodies dematerialized. At long last, the killers began to retreat through the holes they had made in an attempt to regroup. Once the bulk of the assault team was clear, the sorceress cast her spell, erecting a force field around the castle.
Let them try to get through that.... "Ow!"
One of the robots she had taken out wasn’t down for the count. Its shot clipped her arm. Furious, she blasted it again. This time, it stayed down, but before it could vanish like the others, she encased it in a containment spell.
"You’re not going anywhere, you bucket of bolts; I want to know where you came from."
* * *
"A Mercyte! You want me to work on a Mercyte!" the spider-like creature gasped with undisguised glee. The Sk’aa were known for their affinity with computers, and V’tor was reputed to be one of the best.
"That’s right, you long-legged hacker," the Dark Lady confirmed, "and if you can tell me who sent it after me, I might even let you live long enough to brag about it."
However, the multi-limbed tech was unfazed by her threats. The being was positively orgasmic over the possibilities. With a snarl, the sorceress left the Sk’aa to its work.
* * *
The expletive was followed by an ornate basin flying across the study, spilling its silvery contents everywhere.
"What does it take to tear her out of your heart!"
The Dark Lady was at her wits’ end. In between assassination attempts and lack-of-progress reports, she was trying to set her plan in motion at last. However, she had not wanted to jump in blindly; the power expenditure was too great to take chances, so she was forecasting the probabilities.
Nortimra had shown her how to conjure alternate realities to examine how the timestream would be changed at a given point. Other dimensions... how could they exist if the timestream was the be-all and end-all of reality? Unfortunately, Nortimra hadn’t gotten to that particular lesson.
Stupid twit, she groused at the renegade timelord. The forecasts had not been favorable. Even though she prevented Kimberly from returning home, Tommy never stopped loving her --and vice versa-- no matter whom he wound up with.
"I guess the timestream isn’t the only constant in the universe," the Wimp remarked snidely.
"Shut up." She was not in the mood to be trifled with, especially by a voice in her head. Lately, it seemed to be the Wimp’s turn to annoy her, with the Witch being unusually silent.
"Give it up. You can’t make Tommy stop loving Kim; a part of him will always love her no matter what."
The vexed sorceress was about to fire off a scathing retort, when she was interrupted by a high pitched chittering.
"M’lady, I’ve done it! I’ve cracked the Mercyte’s programming!" V’tor claimed excitedly.
"It’s about time," the Dark Lady huffed impatiently. "So, who sent them?"
"The program doesn’t specify," the arachnid technician answered.
"Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t crush you, bug," the mage snarled blackly. The creature before her seemed blithely unaware of her mounting rage and frustration.
"However, I did discover who had programmed the assassins," the Sk’aa continued. "I anticipated that you would want that lead traced.... I haven’t had so much fun in years! I outwitted some of the most sophisticated computer systems I have ever encountered...."
"Cut to the chase. Who. Sent. The. Mercytes!"
"Quigax-Nahr of Atredies V."
"Of course, the widow," the Dark Lady sighed. It made perfect sense. According to Ullah custom, a wife was bound to avenge the murder of her husband, and should she fail, the eldest offspring was to carry on, and so through his children and siblings, until the family honor was restored. The only reason the species hadn’t wiped itself out was because it was not required to avenge the death of the widow.
"It appears I’ll be paying Quigax-Nahr a little visit --once my plans are set."
"They won’t do you any good," the Wimp insisted. "You can’t keep Kimberly away from Angel Grove indefinitely, and even if you could, a part of Tommy will always wonder and hope...."
"Then I will have to make certain that Kimmie never returns --and that Tommy knows there is no way she ever will."
"And how will you do that?"
A strange quiet settled over the Dark Lady’s mind. Then, she felt a mixture of horror and triumph bubbling with in her.
"Yes," she purred with satisfaction, knowing she had the answer at last. "With Kimmie dead, Tommy will be mine, and I’ll be rid of this curse at last!"
And she knew just how she was going to get rid of the meddlesome Pink Power Pest.
* * *
"Rest well, husband; you are avenged," Quigax-Nahr toasted her late spouse’s funeral monument, invoking the ritual ending to her mourning period. There was no way the Mercytes would fail. Now she could be about the business of finding a new consort and wresting control of Quigax’s empire away from her eldest son.
However, her plans disintegrated in a shower of mortar and flying glass.
The Dark Lady strode through the destruction she had wrought. The rest of the household had already fallen to her powers. All that remained was the matriarch.
"You!" the not-so-grieving widow raged, recognizing the enchantress from the reports of her husband’s former crew.
"I can either kill you and wipe the Quigax name down to the last hatchling off the face of the universe, or you can cancel your toys’ "programming,"" the sorceress announced without preamble.
"Honor demands your death," Quigax-Nahr replied.
"Which means more to you: honor or profit?"
"What do you mean ‘profit’?"
The Dark Lady grinned; she had read the woman right. "You have inconvenienced me more that even your husband, Quigax-Nahr; I do not just go hunting down everyone who wants me dead. That should be sufficient to appease your honor. As for profit... I have a mind to acquire my own cadre of Mercytes --in addition to the ones formerly under your programming...."
"And we all know how that turned out," the Dark Lady muttered blackly, her tale completed. She glowered at her captive. "One stupid, powerless ex-Power Brat and the most feared killers in the universe can’t off you. If I hadn’t stopped them, those idiots would have killed Tommy and ruined everything."
Kimberly had wondered who had stopped the Mercytes moments before the Turbo Rangers had sealed the time portal. She could scarcely believe everything that Katherine had endured. With all that had befallen her, how could she have kept her sanity, and with all the lies Rita had fed her, it was no wonder her friend hated her. Kim knew she had to think fast. Fortunately for her, Kat wasn’t wanting her dead simply out of revenge; she wanted her dead in order to keep from becoming the Dark Lady. That gave her a glimmer of hope. The question was, could she convince her one-time friend that there was another way to prevent it from happening?
"It’s taken me a long time to recoup from that fiasco," the woman who used to be Katherine Hillard continued.
So that explains the reprieve.
"And now I’m going to do what I should have done from the start --kill you myself." The sorceress laughed mockingly. "Poor Kimberly. Tommy will miss you, but I’m sure he’ll get over it."
"You’re not a killer, Kat," Kimberly claimed with conviction, praying that she could stay calm and focused. She hoped she could remember everything Trini had taught her, and she prayed that the old Kat was still inside the sorceress somewhere.
"Oh? ‘Kat’ may not be a killer, but the Dark Lady…. Weren’t you paying attention, Kimmie? The floor of this throne room is stained with the blood of my enemies," the sorceress asserted.
"But even the Dark Lady never killed anyone in cold blood. It was always self-defense. They attacked you first; you’ve never gone out and waged war on anyone out of sheer spite and greed. When you hunted folks down, it was never with the intent to murder; you always had something in mind first.
"And even if you were a killer, you care for Tommy too much to deliberately hurt him. He’d be devastated if I died now that we’re back together and going to be married. Could you do that to him? Could you rip his heart out? Could you live with yourself?"
"I wouldn’t have to. If Kat marries Tommy in the past, I will cease to exist."
"Not right away, you won’t. Remember what Nortimra said? And I remember what Zordon told me after my trip back to the 1880s. You’d create something called a paradox. Your present won’t change until the events in the past that led to it are changed. That means, until Tommy gets together with your younger self, you’ll have to watch him grieve for me. Pain and grief you caused."
"It’ll be worth it," the enchantress asserted, but there was the slightest of catches in her voice.
"Will it? Killing me won’t banish me from Tommy’s heart, you know. Your scrying proved that. He’ll always have a place for me even if he marries someone else; you’ll always have to share him with me, and the memory of a dead rival can be more powerful than the presence of a living one. Would you ever feel really secure in Tommy’s love? Would you never worry about competing with a ghost? Would you ever wonder if the only reason Tommy was with you was because I was dead? All Rita would have to do is make you doubt your relationship with Tommy, and she’d have you just like she did before."
"But what if he never fell in love with you?" the Dark Lady challenged, her eyes gleaming with sudden inspiration, and Kim had to wonder if Rita was whispering in her ear. "I can go back and fix things so that he never even met you. Then he’d be free!"
"But would he be the Tommy you fell in love with?" Kimberly countered. "We’re shaped by all the people in our lives. Sure, Tommy could have met the others and became a Ranger without me being around, but he’s told me that I was one of the reasons he never got down on himself when he lost his powers, why he never gave up and kept on hoping he’d get them back some day. It wasn’t easy fighting the depression, anger, hurt and envy, and if he hadn’t fought, then there’s a good chance Rita could have gotten her hooks into him and made him evil again.
"What if he never became the White Ranger? Would you have even met him? If you had, would you have still fallen for him. Would he still be the man you love? He’d still be cute, but he’d be a different person inside --where it really matters.
"You once said you’d really love to have a relationship like he and I had. You told me that what impressed you most was that a guy could care so much and show it openly. How could you have seen that if Tommy and I never had our relationship?
"And if not me, then he might have fallen for whoever the Pink Ranger was at the time...."
Be silent!" the Dark Lady hissed sharply, not liking the turn of the conversation, but Kim pressed home her advantage.
"Do you really love Tommy? You’re not doing this for his happiness... in fact, you’re trying to destroy his happiness. You’re doing this for your own selfish reasons!"
The sorceress let out a shriek. Energy flew wildly from her fingertips, smashing into walls, columns and Kimberly’s containment field. The trapped woman tried not to flinch as energy flared around her. Then, a wayward burst hit the platform. The field shorted out, and Kim was thrown from the base, landing hard amid the debris.
"I have to do this!" the mage screamed, on her knees, weakened by the power expenditure. However, to Kimberly’s ears, her voice sounded different. It wasn’t as cold and haughty as before. If she wasn’t mistaken, a little bit of Kat’s inflection was in her tones. She had been purposely addressing the sorceress by her name in an effort to reach the former Ranger within. Had she gotten through to her somehow?
"I don’t want to be the Dark Lady," she continued to rage. "I want to be Katherine Hillard again! I want to be happy; I don’t want Rita’s powers to make me evil!"
"Kat, you’re not evil, even if you have Rita’s dark magic inside you," Kim asserted, overjoyed to see that her friend had managed to regain a tiny bit of control over her alter ego.
"If I’m not evil, then why did the Morphin’ Grid reject me when I touched it? Why did you guys turn me away?" the enchantress demanded, referring to the time she’d touched the Grid while retrieving Tyler’s Power Coin.
"Think, Kat. If you’d joined the Morphin’ Grid at that time, what would have happened to Tyler? Who would have saved him? Who would have given him the key to defeating Malus? What would have happened to the earth and the moon if you hadn’t absorbed Rita’s powers? The Grid rejected you because it wasn’t your time yet. You had a mission to fulfill, Pink Ranger!"
"That means I’m doomed to be the Dark Lady always!" the woman who was once Katherine sobbed.
"Not necessarily," Kimberly said quietly, coming over to embrace her devastated friend. "The timelord told you that the bigger the change in the timestream, the longer it takes to correct. Did it ever occur to you that maybe your life as the Dark Lady was the screw up? That maybe you weren’t meant to be the Dark Lady and Rita messed up time again?"
The sorceress glared up at her; however, to Kim’s surprise, when she spoke, the voice did not belong to the Dark Lady.
"Don’t listen to her! She’s desperate to save her life; she’ll say anything! She’s the reason Tommy doesn’t love you. Kill her, and you’ll have everything you ever wanted."
The Dark Lady put her hands over her ears as if to shut the voice out. "Shut up and leave me alone, Witch!"
"Rita?" the gymnast queried softly.
Her companion nodded. "If I kill you, I’ll have everything I ever wanted."
"No, you won’t. Kill me, and you really will become evil. You’ll have killed an innocent in cold blood."
"You’re no innocent, Kimmie," Rita sneered through Kat. "You did this to her!"
"So you say, but we both know who’s really at fault," Kim answered her old nemesis. To Kat, she said, "Even if you believe that I am responsible for what’s happened to you, my baby has done nothing."
"Yes, Kat, I’m pregnant," she sighed, praying she’d done the right thing by mentioning it.
"Y-you can’t be! You’re not even married... Rose isn’t supposed to be born...."
"That’s your past, not mine. You changed all that by sending the Mercytes. You may not give a damn about me, but can you kill Tommy’s baby? After all, you cared for Tyler because he was a part of Tommy.
"Kat, if you love Tommy, don’t listen to Rita. When has she ever told the truth to anyone? She’s been going on about how this is all my fault, but she’s the one who kidnapped you and put you under her spells. She’s the one who took your life away. Why? Because she’s hated Tommy ever since she lost her evil Green Ranger. This isn’t about you and me, Kat. It’s about Rita trying to get revenge on Tommy and using you to do it, just like she did when you first came to Angel Grove. Don’t let her use you any more."
"But how? I can’t...."
"Yes, you can," Kim insisted, grabbing the shaken sorceress by the shoulders and looking her squarely in the eyes. "Listen to me. You don’t need me or Tommy or anyone else to defeat Rita. You have the strength inside you. You’re the only Ranger who has ever thrown off Rita’s control without a counter spell or something. Remember how you shook her off when I fell off the balance beam? Your goodness broke her hold on you. If you want to change what happened to you, it has to be something inside you that makes the difference --not Tommy’s love or the lack thereof-- otherwise Rita will be able to undermine anything you do.
"Send me home, Kat. Killing me won’t make Tommy love you any more than he already does --and he does love you. You see, even though Tommy and I are going to be getting married, I still have to share him with you. With Jason. With all our friends. He has room in his heart for all of us, and you know what? I don’t mind at all. If he didn’t care so much about everybody, he wouldn’t be Tommy."
The Dark Lady paused, considering her words. The anxious mother-to-be regarded her captor; she could almost hear their old foe railing at her host.
"If I send you back to when I took you, you won’t remember any of this," the sorceress cautioned.
"That’s all right. If I knew about this, I’d be tempted to do something to influence the outcome."
"But what if it doesn’t work?"
"You have nothing to lose by trying it this way instead of Rita’s. If it doesn’t work, you have the power to try again. What could it hurt?"
She stared deep into the jewel-blue eyes. She could see the conflict raging inside her friend. Kimberly didn’t want to push her luck, but she couldn’t let Rita get a solid hold on Katherine again.
"Trust yourself, Kat. Believe in yourself. I do."
She didn’t look away as Katherine studied her. Kim held her breath, waiting as the sorceress tried to determine the veracity of her words.
"Very well," the Dark Lady said at last.
Kim could not hold back her sigh of relief.
"Stand over by the balcony," the enchantress instructed.
Kimberly took her place and smiled encouragingly. "Don’t worry, Kat; you can beat Rita. I know you can."
The Dark Lady said nothing, and with a wave of Kat’s slender hand, the young woman saw her world begin to swirl about itself like a whirlpool, slowly dissolving, sweeping her away.
* * *
Kim found a nearby bench and slowly sank into the seat, her knees feeling suddenly weak. The doctor put it at just about twelve weeks... Tommy’s surprise visit at the end of February.
Now what? she wondered. What were they going to do? She was supposed to work and start school at AGU in the Fall. Tommy wouldn’t be home for good until late November/early December. They weren’t supposed to be married until just before Christmas!
Kim buried her face in her hands, feeling lightheaded. She was going to have a baby! The thought didn’t scare her as it once would have. She and Tommy were only nineteen --pretty young to be parents-- but there were times when Kim’s spirit felt as old as Zordon! There was so much to consider... to do.... How was she going to tell their folks? Well, Tommy’s parents wouldn’t be a problem; Jan had figured out she was pregnant before she had any inkling. She had even made the doctor’s appointment for the pregnancy test. Besides, his folks had been so great already; they’d do whatever they could to help out, but her mother... ooh, that was one phone call Kim wasn’t looking forward to. On the one hand, her mom would be thrilled to be a grandmother; on the other, she’d be worried about how it looked for her daughter to have a child out of wedlock. Sometimes her mom could be so old fashioned....
Kim felt another wave of dizziness hit her. She shook her head, trying to clear it; that only made her nauseous.
Oh, tell me this isn’t morning sickness!
Kim finally pinpointed her greatest anxiety as what to tell Tommy. He’d be thrilled, without a doubt --he’d talked often enough about having his own family. But what would knowing he was going to be a father do to his racing career? He’d want to come and be with her --watch the baby grow. He’d probably want to get married right away, but they really needed the money from his driving --now more than ever. If he gave that up, he’d never be able to start his own school. She didn’t want Tommy to sacrifice his dream.
We should have been more careful.
Unable to sit still any longer, Kimberly hopped up and meandered over to the water’s edge. She stooped down to pick up a couple of stones and idly tossed them into the water, watching the ripples surge then slowly melt away. There was no sense worrying about what could have been.
Tommy, I wish you were here right now. I’m so happy and scared and....
Kim’s head shot up to find her fiancé coming down the path towards her. How had he known where she was? She hadn’t called Jan or anything upon leaving the clinic. She hurriedly dashed away the moisture that had gathered in the corners of her eyes.
"How’d you know I’d be here?" she wondered. This was almost too good to be true, and yet, here she stood, awash in his tender gaze and warm smile.
"Mom said that you had a doctor’s appointment and that you’d had a lot on your mind lately. I just figured you’d eventually show up here; you and I have done some pretty heavy-duty thinking on this spot," he elaborated. Then he became serious. "Is something wrong, Kim?"
"Not really... oh, I’m just so happy you’re here!" With a joyful squeak, she threw herself into his arms, hugging him as tightly as she could.
"I didn’t mean to be away so long," he apologized, tilting her head up to give her a heartfelt kiss. When their lips parted, Kim caught Tommy’s hands in hers and beamed up at him, flashes of liquid silver glimmering in her eyes.
"Tommy, I’ve got something to tell you...."
* * *
Ice blue eyes watched as first shock, then happiness passed over Tommy’s handsome features. With a whoop of joy, he picked up his fiancée and whirled her about. The parents-to-be laughed, chattering excitedly between exuberant kisses. The watchful eyes narrowed.
You’d better be right about me, Kimberly, for all our sakes.
* * *
After making her good-byes and declining the offer of a ride back to the dojo, Kat stepped onto the front porch and drew in a calming breath. Her hand shook as she grasped the railing.
This wasn’t quite the homecoming she had expected.
She had wondered if Tommy might have found someone else --maybe even settled down if he wasn’t still driving for his uncle, but she had hoped that he hadn’t… that there would be a chance for them to try again. That he and Kimberly had gotten back together (and that had been some tale!) and had a sweet little daughter was a turn of events she hadn’t been prepared for. It surprised her that it hurt so much; she hadn’t realized just how much the possibility of getting back together with Tommy had meant to her.
"Kat, are you okay?" David queried. Tommy’s brother had joined them for dinner once he had finished with the classes at the dojo. She hadn’t realized he had followed her outside.
"The mush get a little too thick for you?" he pursued knowingly. His words gave her a moment’s pause; had she been that obvious? David chuckled and shook his head. "You’d think that after six months of marriage and a kid, the lovey-dovey stuff would have worn off, but noooo, they’re as bad as ever."
"They’ve always been pretty mushy," Kat agreed with a smile.
"You will be by for breakfast, won’t you?" David continued. "Hey, it’s worth the price of admission to see the former leader of the Power Rangers with baby food in his hair."
This time, Kat laughed softly.
"We’ll see how late I sleep in."
"Are you sure you don’t want a ride back to your car?"
"I’m sure. It’s only a couple of blocks, and it’s such a nice evening.... A walk will do me good, but thank you."
"All right, I’ll see you then."
Kat gave him a friendly peck on the cheek then headed down the drive without a backward glance. She had never felt so lonely in her entire life.
She tried to hold back her tears of disappointment as she idly kicked at the pebbles in her path while she meandered down the sidewalk. She had tried so hard not to get her hopes up, so what happened...?
It’s not fair! she raged inwardly. It wasn’t fair that Tommy had given Kim a second chance and hadn’t even given her a first. I loved you as much as Kim did... I’d never have broken your heart....
But Kim had broken his heart to save his life. Could she have done what Kimberly had: sacrifice everything she ever loved to keep this one man alive? As a Power Ranger, she’d risked her life often enough for her teammates, but this had gone beyond the call of duty.
Could she begrudge her friends their happiness? They certainly paid a high enough price for it. When she had first reached out to Tommy in the wake of Kimberly’s letter, her only intent had been to ease his pain... to make him happy again. Tommy was happier now than he had been in a very long time. She wanted to be happy for her friends --she really did. She just wished it didn’t have to hurt so much.
From the first time she’d laid eyes on Tommy while under Rita’s spell, she’d been attracted to him. As she watched him and the Pink Ranger together, she’d been envious of what they shared because she wanted that for herself. Once Rita’s spell had worn off, she’d thought her feelings would change… that they’d been brought about by the magic, but they hadn’t been. They were truly hers. All she had ever wanted was a chance to be happy like that; was that so much to ask for?
Let it go. If their relationship could survive all it has, then maybe Tommy and Kim were meant to be together. They’ve earned their happiness; don’t spoil it for them by being jealous.
Kat paused at the corner; she hadn’t realized she’d come so far. She looked back at the cozy little house. David was still on the porch, watching. Did he really know how troubled she was? Kat dredged up a cheerful smile and waved. She supposed she could turn around and go back --accept their invitation to stay.
Why don’t you? You came home because you were tired of being alone. Your friends opened their home and their hearts to you. They want to share their joy with you --just like they’ve always done. You don’t have to be alone.
Katherine suddenly tossed her head back and laughed at herself. She was being ridiculous! These were her friends. She didn’t need to be envious of them. They had proven time and again that she’d always have a place in their hearts, that she’d never be truly alone. She had wanted to be some place where she was loved and appreciated... she had wanted to be with someone who loved her. That place was just down the block. And that person...
They say there’s someone for everyone. Tommy and Kimberly had found each other long before I came along. There’s someone out there for me, too; I just haven’t found him yet....
Before she realized what she was doing, Kat was striding quickly back towards the Oliver house. David came forward to meet her.
"Change your mind?" he asked, his tone hopeful.
"I’m not certain if I’m up to the day bed in the baby’s room, but if that sleeper sofa is still available, I think I’ll take you up on it," she said. "I’d rather spend time with my friends that sit in a motel room all by myself."
"I’m glad," David replied. "As for the sofa... it’s pretty lumpy, so I’ll take it and you can have my room."
"I wouldn’t want to put you out...."
...or maybe I have met him and just haven’t realized it.
"It worked! I --she-- did it!" The Dark Lady gasped, momentarily fumbling over the pronouns as she watched her younger self walk back towards the Oliver house with David.
"If it worked, then why are you still here?" Rita demanded smugly.
"It’s the turn of the 22nd century; that happened back at the turn of the 21st. It’s going to take some time for the effect to catch up to us."
"And maybe nothing really changed in the past after all. Maybe it’s your destiny to be the Dark Lady!"
However, instead of invoking despair, the witch’s words brought a sense of calm to the fair-haired sorceress.
"Maybe you’re right," the Dark Lady said at last, smiling as if she knew some secret the other woman did not. "Although, considering how much you’ve wanted me to change the past and not become the Dark Lady, I’m beginning to believe otherwise. However, even if I didn’t change the past, I know I changed the present."
"Katherine throwing off your hold in the past showed me that I don’t have to be your slave… that I’m stronger than you are. I don’t have to be the Dark Lady any longer."
The words were uttered with conviction, and the enchantress felt the tumult within that her statement had created, but for a change, she was not at the eye of the chaos.
"Stupid twit! As long as you hold my powers, you’ll be the Dark Lady!"
But she knew better. She could feel it… with each passing moment, Katherine’s hold grew stronger over the fragmented personalities. However, Rita did have a point. As long as she existed in her mind, there was always a chance that she would regain control.
"Then perhaps it’s time I let them go," she answered, and she winced as laughter erupted in her head.
"Without my magic, you’ll die."
"I should have died a long time ago," the sorceress/Kat asserted. "I’m not afraid of dying, Rita. I know my friends are waiting for me."
"You can’t let go of my powers!" the would-be empress of evil gasped, desperation settling in. She could feel her hold over her host slipping like sand through her fingers. "If you let them go, they’ll destroy everything! Do you want to blow up your precious Earth?"
"As long as the magic is dormant, nothing will happen. I’ve had lots of time to read up on this. All I need to do is will them back to the cosmos from whence they came."
"You wouldn’t... you can’t... you’re too much of a wimp to...."
The former Dark Lady crossed the ancient chamber to stand on the balcony. Finding a large slab of fallen debris to sit on, she faced her home planet. Closing her eyes and looking inward, she examined the arcane energies permeating her being. Most of the powers at her command were simply stored within, waiting to be called up, but some of it was tied directly to her life energy.
"What are you doing?" Rita shrieked.
The one-time sorceress smiled.
The words were uttered, and Kat could feel the magic flowing form her like water draining from a bathtub. She could see it washing out to rejoin the fabric of the universe where it belonged.
"What have you done?" Rita raged, but her voice and presence were much fainter than before.
"I’ve released the powers. It will take them a long time to fully leave me, but I’ll be long gone by the time the process is finished."
"What do you mean?"
"I want nothing from you. Not even my life."
In her mind’s eye, Kat tore through thread after dark thread that ensnared and supported her life energy.
"I’ve wiped out all your spells...."
Already she felt the press of the centuries weighing down on her. She watched as her body seemed to shrivel up, her skin shrunken, wrinkled and darkened with immense age. She saw her fingers constrict into gnarled knots. She felt the weight of her hair... until it became brittle, the strands snapping.
Yet, for all the changes, there was no pain. The blue orb before her blurred as her vision dimmed. She closed her eyes, a sense of serenity sweeping her along. She wasn’t afraid of the darkness. She wasn’t afraid of the cold that seemed to have settled deep within her bones. She wasn’t afraid of anything. There was something familiar about the state in which she was suspended... like she’d experienced this before. She was waiting for something....
Then came the light.
She reached out to it and found herself a part of it --a multi-hued web of energy strands. Red. Yellow. Blue. Black. Pink. Green. White. The Morphin’ Grid. She herself shimmered pink, and though she knew she had no body, she yet seemed to have physical form --that of the young woman she had been the day Rita had abducted her. Overjoyed, she cast about, searching.... She felt their presences before she saw them.
"Welcome home, Kat!"
"It’s good to see you again."
"I’ve missed you all so much," Kat gushed as she felt herself surrounded by all those that she loved. Greetings poured in from all sides: Billy, Aisha, Jason, Justin, and Rangers she had never known.
"I’m sorry we had to send you away when you were here before," Tommy apologized, and Kat felt how much that refusal had cost him.
"I know; I had a job to do," she assured him with a smile.
"Thank you for what you did for Tyler... for all of us," Kimberly added, giving her old friend a warm hug.
"You’d have done the same for me," Kat said, knowing it to be the truth. She looked around at all her friends... her family. "Is Tyler here?"
"Junior’s around here somewhere," someone snorted, and everyone burst into peals of merriment.
Surrounded by laughter, friendship and love, Katherine Hillard knew she was home at last.