For something over the span of a year, the Lunar Palace of Lord Zedd and Rita Repulsa had remained cold and empty. When they had been driven from it at the onslaught of the Machine Empire, Zedd had sworn that one day he would have his revenge, and now it seemed that had happened. Less than a day earlier, Mondo, Machina, Sprocket, Klank, and Orbus had foolishly accepted the gift that Zedd had given them, and paid the price for their stupidity when it had blown them to smithereens. The monarch of evil wouldn't be surprised if they got themselves rebuilt, but before that could happen, Zedd and his entourage would be safely sealed up in their much stronger castle.
If they get rebuilt, we can just all attack the Rangers or something, Zedd grumpily thought to himself as he teleported the Winnebago they'd spent so many weeks in to the lower reaches of the palace. I wish we'd been able to get enough power for Serpenterra to come back. I HATE that stupid human thing. I'm surprised it lasted long enough for us to get back here. No thanks to Rito and Goldar. He had gotten very disappointed over the past couple of years with Goldar, who had steadily dropped in efficiency almost since day one. And honestly, having him be partners with Rito just hasn't worked out. Some of Rito's brainlessness rubbed off, I do believe.
"Zedd!" he looked at the familiar shriek of his wife Rita. "Now that we're back, let's give those Rangers something to remind them of old times!"
He almost would have yawned, if his suit had permitted it. "Rita, it's late," indeed, it was almost midnight Angel Grove time. It had taken them quite a while to get back to the palace and get settled back in. Cleaning had only taken a few moments, but working on upgrading the castle defenses and checking to see what, if anything, had been stolen while they were gone, as well as Finster putting in the extremely high-tech computer system that he'd developed in conjunction with Master Vile's scientists while they were away, had eaten up the hours. Zedd had actually found himself intrigued by the device, and had helped install it. For the first time in millennia, Zedd had found something quite fascinating and new in the field of evil: the computer. "I'm going to go to bed and we can launch an attack or something tomorrow. It'll have more effect when we sleep on it, anyway."
Rita snorted, then smiled; he supposed that was meant to be a winsome affect. He wasn't won by it. The woman he'd been convinced a few short months ago was the most elegant beauty in the universe had long since devolved into a whining nag. What in the world was I thinking about, marrying her? he wondered, then shrugged mentally. She has her good points, however, and we do make a good team. Maybe I can get her to change that outfit, though.
Zedd rose and walked over to her, a warm and throaty chuckle coming from him. "Besides, there are far more interesting things we can do other than attack the Rangers tonight!"
"Oh?" she giggled like a schoolgirl almost, and he quite literally picked her up in his arms, carrying her to their bedroom. Nag she might be, but she was his nag, and he loved her.
Rita and Zedd might have intended to attack the next morning, but they wore themselves out so much that night, that the six Power Rangers, for Trey of Triforia had remained on Earth after the Machine Empire's destruction, had little to do the next day. As was usual, they found themselves in the Youth Center, enjoying themselves to a great degree.
Tommy Oliver, the Red Zeo Ranger, was practicing his karate in one corner of the building, moving in an elaborate and deadly kata. Almost absently, he picked out the location of the other Rangers in relation to himself and each other. It was a habit he'd picked up from Jason, who had recently lost the Gold Ranger Powers. His friend hadn't been seen that day, but Tommy had faith he'd show up again.
Adam Park, the Green Zeo Ranger, was seated at one of the tables, with schoolbooks spread out in front of him. Though more than bright enough, Adam did tend to have trouble with the tougher sciences on occasion, and without Billy to coach him, the young man had to do some serious thinking and studying to get it right. He seemed to be doing all right; if Tommy knew him, he was probably using most if not all of the study tricks Billy had drilled into the team with the same precision Tommy had drilled katas, kicks, and punches into him. Those do tend to come in handy, Tommy thought as he flowed from one move to another. He'd passed more than one test due to Billy's tutoring.
Over by the ballet bar, there was a rather odd sight. Trey, Lord of Triforia and holder of the Gold Ranger powers, was being taught by Kat Hilliard, the Pink Zeo Ranger and Tommy's own girlfriend in the various steps and positions of ballet. That wasn't the odd part, though. What was odd was the fact the alien prince was dancing with a smoothness and assurance that would have baffled most people.
Watching from the sidelines was Tanya Sloane, the Yellow Zeo Ranger. Her eyes went alternately from Trey and Kat to Adam, her boyfriend, with a severe tendency to stay on Adam most of the time. The love that had blossomed between the two of them was incredible, to say the extreme least.
Tommy smiled a little as he moved into another position and started the next of his usual daily routines. With the Machine Empire gone and Rita and Zedd probably busy for at least another day or so with setting things back up at their palace and celebrating their return in whatever manner they did so, it looked as if all was right with the world of the Rangers. He almost flinched when the thought went through his mind, though.
Things won't ever really be all right around here until and unless EVERYONE is home again, he sighed to himself. Zack and Trini were still in Switzerland, Kim was in Florida, and Billy was on Aquitar. He knew they were probably all happy where they were, especially Billy, but ever since they had left, he had felt more and more adrift in the world. He cared about all of his friends, but it was those five who had always felt the tightest links to. Except for Kat, he amended. He felt a warm glow inside himself at the thought of his girlfriend. They had only been dating for a few weeks, but something deep inside his heart said that this was what he'd thought he'd had with Kim, but hadn't. This was what he'd always wanted: a deep and lasting love. He smiled faintly. Being thrust into the world of the Power Rangers hadn't been his choice in the beginning, but right now, he wouldn't change it for anything at all.
Kim Hart, the former Pink Ranger, slowly twirled the phone cord around one finger. Her usually merry eyes were full of a deep shame and pain both. To anyone watching her who knew her, the signs of trouble were as bright as a beacon. Her hair was combed perfectly, as it always was, but her eyes had dark circles under them, as if she hadn't slept in a long time. Her clothes were neat and matching, but her entire body was tense and wary. She looked more nervous than she had during the Ninja Quest.
"Hello?" came a small voice from the other end, weakened by distance and not the greatest of connections, but it sounded like the voice of sanity and a savior to her.
"Zack?" she half-breathed. "Is that you?"
"Yeah, wh---Kim?!" the former Black Ranger's voice practically jumped ten levels in joy once he recognized her. "How've you been?"
She sighed, leaning against the wall for support physically as she was leaning on her old memories for mental ballast. "Right now, I'm severely wishing I never left Angel Grove."
Zack frowned; he'd gotten letters of course, telling him what had happened, and he'd heard that Kim had broken up with Tommy over some guy she had met while in training for the Pan Globals. This didn't quite sound like the girl he had known, either to do something like that in a letter or to be talking with him right now. "What's going on?"
"I can't tell you over the phone," she said, shifting a little to get out of the way of the bags at her feet. "Look, I'm going to be catching the next flight back to AG in about ten minutes. I know it's a lot to ask, but could you and Trini maybe arrange for some vacation time or something from the Peace Conference and come back too? I really need to talk to . ..well, to all the old team."
She couldn't, and didn't need to, say anymore. Zack knew what she meant, and had a very sneaking suspicion on what she was going to be doing after she got to Angel Grove. He glanced over to Trini, who was listening in quietly on another telephone.
"We were already on our way back," she said firmly. "We've done all we can here, and it's time we came home. Three years is more than long enough to be away."
Kim couldn't help but smiling. "Thanks, guys," she sighed gratefully, then checked her ticket. "I'm going to be landing in Angel Grove Airport tomorrow afternoon about ten a.m., California time."
"We get in about a half hour later, I do believe," Zack checked the tickets Trini had just gotten in from getting before the phone rang. "See you then!"
"See you," Kim nodded quietly. "And. .. I miss you guys."
Trini's voice was just as quiet as her friend's. "We miss you too. See you soon."
Kim didn't really want to hang the phone up, but had to. She had at least one other phone call to make before the plane took off. Relief filled her soul at the certain knowledge now that at least two of her closest and oldest friends would be there when she got home. Now for Jason. She picked up the phone again, plugging quarters into it and wincing at the thought of how much this would probably cost. But to get them where I can talk to them. ..talk to them before it's too late. ..it's worth worlds.
She waited patiently as the phone began to ring at the Scott house, her nervousness rising all over again. As she waited, she glanced around the airport, and sighed. Was it all that long ago that I was so glad to be here? she thought. Now she couldn't wait to leave.
"So who was on the phone?" Emily Roper asked, smiling up at her boyfriend as Jason came back into the living room and curled up next to her on the couch.
"You remember I told you about my old friend Kimberly?" he asked, leaning his head against her shoulder as he hit the pause button and the movie they'd been watching before the shrill summons of the phone had broke into their date. At Emily's nod, he continued, "That's who it was. She's coming back to Angel Grove and wanted to know if I'd pick her up at the airport tomorrow since her parents aren't here."
Emily smiled sweetly as they watched the love story playing out on the TV in front of them. "That's nice of you," she murmured, wrapping a hand around his. "You've told me so much about her, I'm looking forward to meeting her. I think I have to work tomorrow, though."
"That's all right, there'll be time," he reassured her. Though his eyes were on the movie and most of his mind was on the beautiful blonde next to him, a part of his thoughts were on how Kim had sounded over the phone. He'd known her all her life, and there was something in the almost ragged edge of her voice that told him clearer than any words that something was seriously wrong with his old friend. At least I don't have long to wait to find out, he thought. And she said Zack and Trini were coming in too. She didn't say anything about Billy, but when she said 'the old team', I KNOW she meant him too. And she didn't mean Tommy or any of the Zeos.
It was with those thoughts on his mind that he watched the movie with Emily, kept up their conversation, and bid farewell to her afterwards. It was barely noon, but she had to get in to work at the Beach Club before it was too late. The minute she had left, however, Jason hit the communicator he'd kept as a sort of memento and teleported straight to the Power Chamber.
"Ay-yi-yi, what brings you here, Jason?" Alpha was somewhat surprised to see the ex-Ranger there; in the three days since he'd lost the Gold powers, he hadn't come too near any of the other Rangers at all. "Is something wrong?"
"Not really," Jason shook his head, looking up at Zordon. "I got a very strange call from Kim about two hours ago. She's coming back to Angel Grove, and so are Zack and Trini. Kim said something about wanting to talk to the 'old team', and I was wondering if I could get in touch with Billy on Aquitar, see if he could come back for a visit or something."
If Kimberly needs to speak with the first Rangers, then so shall it be, Zordon declared in his booming voice. Alpha, open a channel to Aquitar at once.
The little robot nodded and started working on that at once. It would take a couple of minutes, Jason knew, and as he waited, he glanced around. This is so different from what we started with. He remembered the day he and the others had been brought here with crystal clarity. I was the only one who didn't want to leave the day, he smiled to himself. He would never forget how he had felt when he'd first looked into Zordon's eyes for the first time, and how he had sensed the truth of what the interdimensional being was telling him. Ever since then, none of our lives have been the same. What would have become of us if we hadn't been the ones chosen, I wonder? I guess we'll never know.
"Jason, the channel is open," Alpha broke into his thoughts, and Jason turned to the viewscreen, focusing what he was going to say as the image of Delphine, leader of the Aquitian Rangers, came into view.
"For what purpose do you call us, Jason of Earth?" she asked. Jason took another breath, and began to speak.
Far from Earth and from Aquitar alike, on a planet that only a few short days before had supported a teeming population of life, a lonely wind blew across ruins. In what had been it's greatest city, only one figure now walked through the empty streets.
She was tall, at six feet seven inches, and slender, though every inch of her body showed firm, solid muscle. By the standards of Earth, she was awe-inspiring, with not just her height, but her breathtaking, if unusual, beauty. Her hair was a rich, lustrous green, and her eyes a deep gray. She was dressed rather splendidly, in the traditional outfit of unmarried women on this planet, a gown of purest gold-green. It was her custom to garb herself in whatever the usual outfit was on a planet she was dealing with.
"My lady," she looked to see her only henchwoman coming towards her, and nodded patiently when Scorpina bowed low before her. "I have scanned the entire planet, and there is no one in hiding anymore. Your troops wiped out the last of the pockets of resistance three days ago, apparently."
The woman smiled. "Very good, Scorpina. Another planet falls to my power."
"Indeed, Lady Karayan," the scorpion mutant bowed again, saluting her queen with her blade. In the time since she had left Earth's moon and it's resident villains, she had wandered around, picking up odd jobs here and there in order to keep herself fed and provisioned. When the opportunity had come to take permanent service under Karayan, one of the top-ranking minions of evil in the cosmos, Scorpina had latched onto it with a vengeance. Six months had passed since then, and the evil warrior had seen the death and destruction of over fifty planets. Karayan seldom wasted time in her work.
In her youth, she had simply conquered planets, forging an interstellar empire that spanned galaxies. After a few thousand years of peaceful reign, however, Karayan had begun to fear that she was losing her evil edge. Thanks to a brief fling with Dark Spectre, self-titled "Monarch of All Evil", she had a daughter into whose mature hands she had delivered the empire. From then on, she hadn't set foot once in her old stomping grounds. Instead, she had wandered from planet to planet, ruining, destroying, and slaying as she went.
"Where now, my lady?" Scorpina asked as with a flicker of her mistress's fingers, they were back on the bridge of the ship Karayan had 'borrowed' from this planet's space navy some days earlier.
The mistress of destruction tapped her fingers against the arm of her throne, a faint frown on her face. Only faint emotions ever showed with her, since she had long since determined there was no way emotions could serve her in any capacity. Since then, she had went to a great deal of trouble to eliminate them from her life. "We shall let fate decide," she determined finally. Bring me a list of all the inhabited planets within. ...four days' reach of this vessel at maximum hyperthrust."
"At once," Scorpina nodded and quickly went through the ship's computers. When Karayan had taken it over, she had downloaded everything she knew and then some into it, and with her lifespan spanning only the gods knew how long, that was quite a lot of information. In a few moments, she had the list in front of her. "Here you are, Majesty."
Karayan took it, perusing it quickly. Then, tossing it up into the air, she whispered a quick spell. Each name on the list rose up, transforming from mere printed words to a crystalline ball, each becoming a small replica of the world to which the name belonged. Karayan reached out a hand, summoning a long, delicate Crystal Sword from thin air, and closed her eyes. A wave of her hand sent the miniature worlds spinning all around, as if she were the sun to which they were anchored. With the skill of long practice, she thrust her blade forward once, and smiled when she felt the extra weight of a globe upon her sword. Another flicker of a hand caused all the rest to vanish, and the sorceress opened her eyes to see which had 'won' the honor of being her next target.
"Billy," the soft voice called the former Ranger of Earth from a sound sleep, and he fluttered his eyes open to see Cestria standing. ..no. ..sitting on the bed with him. He tried to sit up, when she put a surprisingly strong hand on his chest and pushed him back down. The lights in his room were still low for sleeping, but he could see well enough to tell that she had not a single stitch on! He went several shades of red, then tried to jerk his eyes away. "Don't do that, Billy," her voice was just as firm as her grip was.
"Cestria," he whispered, not looking at her at all. "What are you doing here. . .like that?"
She laughed, and something about that laugh made his heart freeze. "I am not Cestria. I would never be that wimp. I am Celine: her twin sister. And I have come to claim what is mine by right: you."
Billy shuddered; Cestria had told him of Celine during his first visit to Aquitar. She had betrayed the Aquitian people to the Hydro Contaminators, letting them onto the planet in the first place, and was the Aquitian version of Public Enemy Number One. She was the very last person he wanted to have this close to him. "Get away from me," he muttered.
"Oh, no," Celine leaned over to place an extremely possessive kiss on his lips, and it was then that he noticed he'd obviously been at work long before she'd awakened him. His arms and legs were gently spread out and bound by energy bands to the bed, and the boxers he normally slept in were now on the far side of the room, along with the bedclothes. He'd been so distracted by her appearance and the strangeness of the situation, he hadn't noticed what was going on right away. He did what he could to twist away from her, but it was of no use. "You see, you are my property by right of inheritance, Billy Cranston. What's my sister's becomes mine on her death."
"Cestria isn't dead," he snapped. He knew she wasn't, he'd seen her just before he'd went to bed, they'd been making plans for their wedding in a few weeks. He was hoping that all of his friends could come, if they could spare the time away from defending Earth. At least the retired Rangers could make it, he'd told her, and she'd expressed a great desire to meet his old friends.
Celine laughed, and Billy shuddered even more. "Oh, but she is. I took great pleasure in destroying her as well. She always got the best of everything. . .and now I shall have the one thing she never got to enjoy: you."
A low moan escaped Billy's lips as Celine's mouth caressed first his face, then started down his chest. He was about to resign himself to being violated, when a sudden spat of laser fire sounded, and Celine collapsed bonelessly across him. He was able to just barely peek around him to see Delphine and Aurico standing there. The Red Aquitian Ranger was quietly holstering his laser pistol as the leader of the native team crossed over to him and quietly pulled the body off. "We are sorry this happened, Billy," Delphine spoke quietly. "Cestro discovered Cestria's body only a few minutes ago, and Celine was arrogant enough to leave her personal signature burnt into her sister's body. We knew she'd come here for you and came as swiftly as we could."
Billy only nodded as the other Alien Rangers came in. Tideus and Corcus neutralized the energy bonds, while Cestro, still with tears wet on his cheeks, handed him his clothing. The former Ranger from Earth slowly dressed himself, shuddering in shame and pain. The events of the past few moments seemed surreal, unbelievable. His mind couldn't quite focus on the fact his soulmate was dead, he had come to within a hair of being raped by her twin sister. . .
"Delphine," he barely registered a young Aquitian female gingerly poking her head into the room. "There is a call for Billy from Earth. The former Ranger, Jason."
The White Ranger nodded, glancing at the others to keep going with what they were doing, disposing of Celine and Cestria's bodies and tending to Billy's gaping emotional wounds. She moved quickly to the transmission area of the room and touched a button.
Billy didn't even hear his old friend's voice as Delphine and Jason spoke with each other. Nothing seemed real, until he heard Cestro's voice speaking clearly in his mind. Billy. I know this is painful for you, but you must concentrate for a moment. Your friend Jason wishes you to return to Earth for a visit. Someone called Kim needs to speak with all her friends. Do you wish to go?
Out of the wash of pain and emotions came a sudden image, called forth by the mention of his old friend. The image was of him and Kim, in his thought-reading machine, which had temporarily switched their bodies. He saw them holding hands, and he looked up at Cestro, shoving down the mental pain and physical shame to a part of his mind he had always used to deal with things like this. "Yes, Cestro," he said, then walked over next to Jason, making certain he was neat and tidy looking almost out of habit. He no longer needed his glasses, while they had been de-aging him, Aquitian scientists had been able to give him perfect twenty-twenty vision. Since he had no idea if they had anything like eye doctors or optometrists on his adopted planet, he had thought it a wise decision to make.
"Hey, Billy!" Jason was a little distorted by the communicator, but the cheer in his voice went a long way towards helping Billy keep up his facade. "Are you going to come back for a visit?"
Billy took a long breath. "No. I'm coming back to stay. Aquitar has. . .lost it's savor, I guess you could say," he glanced at the Rangers behind him, who only nodded. It had always been unspoken knowledge that if anything ever happened to Cestria, he would go back to Earth. Now that something had happened. ..he knew it was time to go home.
"Are you all right?" Jason had sensed since the moment he had returned to Angel Grove that something had been wrong with Billy. The former Blue Ranger hadn't ever spoken to anyone about it, though, and Jason had never been able to latch onto him long enough to talk to him about it. Then Billy had went to Aquitar and never come back, and his friend had thought he had lost the chance forever.
"I'll. ..talk to you about it when I get back," Billy heard himself speak with awe and wonder. He'd never really been one to talk much about his feelings, but if he ever were going to, it would be to Jason. "When we have some time."
"Billy," he looked to see Cestro standing next to him. "Everything is prepared for your return to Earth. Please come and visit."
He nodded slowly; Cestria had told him once that when people died on Aquitar, there was no funeral in the sense that he understood the word. Their remains were disposed of in whatever fashion was appropriate, and those who were close to them went through a period that would be referred to as mourning on Earth. As a matter of interest, he'd perused the ritual in depth, and was prepared to perform it. "I will need the tools for the Shirak Malom, as well," he said quietly.
"They have already been prepared and packed," Tideus told him. "We anticipated you would perform it. May whatever you worship watch over you, Billy, and bring you love again."
The others echoed similar sentiments, then Zordon's voice came over the communications system. "If you are ready, Billy, we are prepared to teleport you back."
"Good-bye everyone," he said, his head held high and not a single tear shining in his eye, though they wanted to badly. "I know this is sudden, but. ..."
"In every farewell there is a greeting," Delphine told him. "And in every greeting, a farewell. We shall meet again, Billy, and know that Cestria will live in your heart, and in ours, forever."
Billy smiled very faintly, and glanced to the bed where he had once thought he and Cestria would be man and wife. I love you, Cestria, he thought, then turned back to the communicator. Kim needed him, and he needed his friends as well. "Bring me home, Zordon," he said, just loudly enough to be heard. The Aquitian Rangers watched as Billy fuzzed into a teleport stream of white, and then was gone from Aquitar.
The Rangers had went through the most peaceful day they'd had in a long while. The only hint of trouble was a batch of Tengas, Rito, and Goldar that had decided to come down and annoy them just before it got too dark. The Zeo Rangers had handled them easily, even Trey who had never fought a Tenga before.
A romantic/action double feature was playing at the Angel Grove Cineplex, and combined with the pleasant evening, it was the perfect atmosphere for a double date, something they seldom did. It was to be a full out formal evening, dinner, a movie, dancing, and ending with a long walk in the park to make their way home.
Tonight, however, Kat and Tommy, with Tanya and Adam, were going to do something unusual, and the double date was that. The boys were playing complete gentlemen, from having ordered a stretch limousine to take them to the restaurant to paying for absolutely everything. It was putting one massive dent in both their wallets, but both the Red and Green Zeo Rangers felt it was worth it for the ladies they loved.
"It's so beautiful out here tonight," Kat mused as they gazed through the skylight in the limousine at the sparkling stars overhead. "And the company is fantastic."
She didn't have to look to know Tommy was blushing a little, and Adam probably resembled a fire engine at the moment. Tanya chuckled and peered up through the skylight herself. "It's hard to imagine that there's all kinds of space aliens up there who want to eat us alive."
Tommy nodded, leaning back against the seat cushions and sinking into thought. Something occurred to him as he felt the string around his neck from which his half of the arrowhead hung. "Hey, guys! I almost forgot to tell you. ..my sister Netis is moving back to town."
All three of them looked at him, and he almost hit his head at the puzzled looks in their eyes. "Don't tell me I never told you guys about her?"
"I think you mentioned something once," Adam said, frowning in thought. "Isn't she the one whose been living in Oregon for the past four years?"
Tommy nodded. "She's been living with our aunt up there to recover from an. ..accident she had," he winced slightly, remembering how she'd looked after it. .. "Our parents thought it would be best if she healed away from the family for a while. Now she's coming back, though! She's going to be here in about a month."
Kat smiled as the limousine pulled up in front of the movie theater and the chauffeur jumped out to hold the door open for them. "Well, let us know when she gets here and we'll throw a nice big 'welcome home' party!"
After that, there was no time for thinking of anything else but how good of a time they were having.
"Oh, I think I'm going to be sick!" Rita groaned as she watched the four Rangers having a good time on Earth. She was severely tempted to send down some Tengas just to watch them ruin their clothes trying to fight them. Oh, why bother? she grumped. She'd been reminded rather sharply today just how much better the Rangers had gotten while they were away.
Zedd glanced up from his throne, where he was trying to count how many times Rito had been stupid that day, just for the variety of it. Having lost track at roughly fifteen, and that was just what the walking skeleton had done before breakfast, he was ready to do something a little different. "What's going on, my putrid pea?"
"Oh, just those stupid Rangers having a good time," she snorted. "I'm getting really tired of watching them too!"
"Well, then," Zedd leaped to his feet and almost skipped over to her. "Let's do something to shake them up!"
Rita looked at him curiously. "Why bother? They'll just beat whatever it is to a bloody pulp!"
"Did someone say bloody pulp?" a cool, unfamiliar voice spoke smoothly. Rita, Zedd, Goldar, Rito, and Finster all looked up to see two balls of light appearing out of nowhere. One shaped itself into someone they recognized but had never thought to see again: Scorpina. Standing next to her, and quite obviously the superior in their partnership or whatever it was, was a tall, emerald-haired woman with a crystal sword unsheathed in one hand. "That's just my kind of language."
Zedd looked at the newcomers, dismissing Scorpina with a flip of his head, and focusing on the stranger. "Who are you and what are you doing in our palace?"
"I am Karayan," she said, glancing around with a critical eye. "And you really should kill your decorator. He had awful taste."
"I decorated this place myself," Rita glared at the strange woman. "Now answer my husband's question. What are you doing here?"
The woman stepped a little closer, her eyes cool and calculating. "I have come to destroy the Earth," she stated firmly. "And if you're very bad, I might let you help me."
Rita and Zedd exchanged startled glances, then the Emperor of Evil glared at Karayan. "Why should we even let you live after invading our home?"
He froze a moment later when the tip of the crystal sword touched his face. "Because from this moment on, you and your wife, and all those little toys you call henchmorons work for me."
A small globe of green light burst forth from the sword's end, enveloping Zedd. He screamed, a long, horrible, harsh sound, his limbs flailing helplessly about. Rita could only watch for a moment before she had to do something.
"Stop it!" she growled. "Stop hurting him!"
Karayan didn't smile. Her expression, one of frozen triumph, didn't even seem capable of changing. She spoke, however. "Is it understood who is in command from now on?"
Zedd managed to do something that looked like a nod, and Rita was almost on the verge of tears as she too swore her new allegiance. Karayan waved her sword briefly, and the green light around Zedd was gone. He collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. Karayan gestured briefly at Zedd's throne, and it quickly blurred into a magnificent seat of ivory and gold, draped over with a cloth of diamond and ebony. As she took it, she waved her sword once more. All throughout the palace her magic rippled, transforming it from a dark and twisted mockery of a home into an incredibly beautiful palace of light, air, and glory.
"I love redecorating," she murmured, turning her gaze to Finster. "I see you have a computer. Quite advanced as well. I believe of M-51 design?" at his nod, she tossed him a emerald crystal. "Insert this. It'll download all my knowledge into the device. Then get me a complete printout of everything about this planet that I'll need to know, including any and all defenders it has, and what power source they use. And I want it as soon as mutantly possible."
Finster bowed quickly; he'd seen how easily she'd humbled Rita and Zedd and had no intentions of doing anything that would bring her wrath down on him. As he rushed away, Karayan turned her eyes to Earth. "You are mine," she murmured, fingering the blade of her sword. "You are all mine."
It was a golden morning at the Power Chamber, full of eager activity as Alpha puttered about doing the morning scans. When Billy had arrived in the Power Chamber the day before, he and Jason had teleported back out at once, this time going to Jason's parents' place, after extracting a promise from Alpha and Zordon not to tell any of the active Rangers about their friends' return. They wanted to surprise them. Billy's parents had left Angel Grove soon after he'd moved to Aquitar, so the former Ranger really didn't have a place to live. That was going to change soon, as Jason talked his parents into letting his longtime friend move in with them.
Alpha, have you performed the scans of the lunar palace this morning? Zordon asked. He had sensed a mysterious disturbance in the movements of the Morphin Grid the night before, and that in itself was disturbing. He had always been able to sense fluctuations and movements in it, and if they were of good or evil. He'd known when Zedd and Rita, who used the dark side of it to perform their evil deeds, had returned to the Earth. What he'd sensed the night before had been raw evil, the stuff of which Rita and Zedd only dreamed of being in their wildest fantasies. If it is her. .. the Rangers could be in very real danger.
"Working on it, Zordon!" Alpha quickly hit the buttons to begin the scan. As the results came in, he frowned. "This is very unusual, Zordon!"
Feed the data into my dimension, Zordon instructed. As Alpha did so, he would have fainted if he were capable of it. Alpha, summon the Rangers. All of them. This is my worst fear.
Alpha looked up at his master, not quite understanding, but sending out the signal to the Rangers. "Ay-yi-yi, what is it, Zordon?"
The interdimensional being didn't say anything as six flashes of light appeared in the Power Chamber. "What's going on, Zordon?" Tommy asked, stepping to the front of the group. "Are Rita and Zedd up to something already?"
I'm afraid not, Rangers, Zordon spoke more solemnly than they had ever heard him. Observe the viewscreen.
Everyone turned to see the image of an emerald-haired woman performing an elaborate kata with a crystal blade. "Who is that, Zordon?" Tanya wondered.
This is Lady Karayan, the darkest and most evil warrior and sorceress in a thousand galaxies. For untold eons it has been her life goal to crush every world with life on it she can find, and now she has apparently chosen Earth as her next conquest. She has taken over the Lunar Palace and cowed Rita and Zedd into serving her. We must be careful, Rangers. She is a very dangerous opponent.
While the Rangers learned of the new threat to their planet, two former Rangers were dealing with something every bit as important to them: navigating through downtown traffic on the way to the airport.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Jason asked quietly, glancing over at his friend as they waited at a stoplight. Billy still hadn't spoken of whatever it was that was troubling him so much, but Jason had the patience to wait for him to be ready.
Billy shrugged a little. "All right, I guess," he said. "When did Kim say she was landing?"
"About ten," Jason told him. "We've got about thirty minutes or so to wait, and then another thirty after that, for Zack and Trini to come in."
Silence reigned in the truck for almost ten minutes as they weaved their way to the airport, then managed to locate a nice place to wait until the plane from Florida landed. The airport was so noisy with the sound of people coming and going this way and that, they couldn't have carried on a decent conversation anyway. Billy was glad of that; right now, the only thing that he was letting concern him was Kim's problem, whatever it was.
"I'm seeing things," a voice came from behind him. "I've got to be."
Both of them turned around to see a tall, long-haired African beauty behind them, clad in blue jeans and a light blue T-shirt, with her hair beaded and braided just as it had been the last time Billy had seen her. His mouth worked a little, and one word managed to croak out.
Jason looked a bit confused for a moment, then remembered how shortly before he and the others had left for Switzerland, three teenagers had learned of the secret of the Rangers. Rocky and Adam he knew well, and had sparred often with them before and after his trip there. The third one he hadn't seen much, except on the sidelines, though he knew she was every bit as tough a fighter as they were. She'd become the Yellow Ranger when Trini had left. . .and this was her!
"Billy!" she grinned, and the two of them almost literally rushed into a hug. "Oh, man, I've missed you guys!"
What might have been a smile flickered across Billy's face, and he turned to Jason. "Aisha, this is Jason. He was the first," he dropped his voice to make certainly only they heard, "Red Ranger."
"So I remember," she seemed a little nervous, until Jason hugged her just as strongly as she had Billy, and gave her a welcoming smile.
"If you were a Ranger," he murmured in her ear, "We're family."
Aisha smiled as she sat down with the only bag she appeared to have near them. "So what are you guys doing here? I know you can't be waiting for me, I didn't tell anyone I was coming."
"Actually, we're waiting for Kim, Trini, and Zack," Jason told her. "They're all coming in today! Kim wanted a sort of reunion or something, she wants to talk to all of the other firsts or something."
The second Yellow Ranger almost frowned. "I guess she didn't know how to reach me," she murmured.
"You're darn right I didn't," came sharply from behind them. All three leaped back up, and this time when they turned around, what met their eyes wasn't just Kim, though the first Pink Ranger was standing there with a half-smile on her lips and shadows in her eyes. Kim, Zack, and Trini all stood in a neat row. "If I had been able to get in touch with you, I would have." she bit her lip just a little. "About the only people I don't want to talk to right now is the active," her eyes fell to the communicator Jason was wearing, and nodded briefly. "Well, you know."
"Yeah," Billy whispered, feeling pretty much the same way. He hadn't known Aisha as long as he had known the other four, but she shared that same bond of Power/Non-power that they did, and she had always been a true friend. He glanced over to Trini and Zack. "I thought you guys wouldn't be here for another half-hour?"
"Our plane got in early, and we bumped into Kim on the way down!" Trini explained as the six of them lost themselves in a sudden flurry of hugs and welcome. At long last, they were all home.
"We've got trouble in the park!" Adam looked up from the scanners they had activated once Zordon had finished telling them about the newest threat to their world. "Looks like. ..some sort of snake things!"
As he brought the image up on the screen, none of them, not even Trey, could stop a sudden shudder at the hideous, pale gray things that were slithering all over Angel Grove Park. Their bodies were those of serpents, but each and everyone had the head of a woman. From what the Rangers could see, the faces were all identical, set into a chillingly neutral expression, with absolutely no hair and a savage hunger filling steel-gray eyes.
"I think I'm going to be sick," Tanya whispered, and Adam squeezed her shoulder. Trey stepped forward.
"Those are Lamia Warriors, the personal fighters of Karayan," he said. "I had heard of them, and her, but had never thought she was real or would come anywhere near your planet," he turned to face them all. "I will send word back to Triforia. I am not returning there until we have defeated her. Even if this means my death. I will remain here on Earth. . .if you will permit my aid."
Tommy didn't have to think this one over. "We'd be glad to have you," he said at once. "We can discuss arrangements on how to get you blend into society later. Right now, we've got some snakes to take care of."
Be careful, Rangers, Zordon advised them. The Lamia are very strong, and have the ability to transform into either full human or full serpent shape. Be on your guard. Everyone nodded, and Tommy glanced at his friends. For a moment, he wondered where Jason was, then decided he'd find out once they got back from this battle. With Karayan around, it might be a good idea to keep the ex-Rangers under surveillance, in case she tried something. But for now, it was time to go to work.
"It's morphin' time!"
In a blast of color and a sensation of energy flowing through them, the six Rangers arrived in the park, where people were shrieking and running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Luckily no one had been caught up in the Lamia coils just yet, but one particular adventurous monster was trying to slither up a tree where a couple of kids had taken refuge. The minute they landed, the Rangers split up quickly. They actually outnumbered the Lamia, there were only five of them. According to Zordon's scanners, though, five could do quite a bit of damage.
Trey, Kat, and Rocky headed for a trio of Lamia that were chasing a few stragglers around, while Tanya and Adam double-teamed against a snake-creature that had headed for them the moment they appeared. Tommy was already going after the one that was trying for the kids, slamming into it with a powerful kick and a thunderous "Sie-kiyuh!"
The Lamia seemed to sort of whirl around, turning it's head to look at him with not a single trace of expression on it's face. Tommy didn't stop his assault though, he had to get the creature away from those kids! Punches and kicks flowed seamlessly from his gloved fists to the monster, and he was obviously making some sort of impression on it, it hadn't looked back at the children once since he'd kicked it the first time.
He got a rather nasty surprise, however, when the thing whipped around faster than he'd ever seen anything move and tossed a couple of coils around him, drawing him closer to it's face. Thanks to the magic of his suit, it required quite a bit of pressure to so much as dent them, much less the body underneath it. But this thing appeared to be intent on dealing out that pressure!
"Sorry, snakey, the only person I want this close to me is Kat," he grunted, summoning the Zeo V Power Sword and smashing the flat of it into the creature's face. It moved back a bit, shaking it's head, then started to squeeze again. Despite having a mouth, it didn't seem able to talk, and that was fine by him, the last thing he wanted to do other than get crushed in it's coils was carry on a conversation with the thing doing it.
In another part of the park, Tanya and Adam were fighting off the Lamia that had attacked them head on. They didn't have Tommy's problem of being caught, and since there were two of them, the creature had more troubles latching onto one. If it even came close, the other was there to smack it out of the way or kick their friend free in some fashion.
"These things are tough!" Tanya groaned, barely managing to wiggle out of the way in time. "I think it's time for the big guns, Adam!"
The Green Ranger nodded, backing off a little. "Zeo IV Power Punch!" he cried out, channeling the Zeo energy in his body into a series of lightning fast punches that hit practically every area of the Lamia's body in under a minute.
"Zeo II Power Kick!" Tanya echoed the special command, backing off for a moment, then delivering what she'd often termed `the snap kick from hell' to the Lamia. The two of them landed back on their feet a few feet away, side by side and looking to see what effect their special moves had had on the Lamia.
For a moment, it didn't seem anything. Then, the creature's eyes literally rolled back up to it's head and it collapsed into dust. Tanya and Adam both grinned, then looked back at the rest of the park. Tommy was the only one who seemed to need any help, the others were handling their Lamia just fine.
Or so it looked to the two of them; Trey, Kat, and Rocky might have had other ideas. One Lamia was steadily snaking after Rocky, who was doing what he could to keep it from wrapping around him. Trey and Kat were tangling against one Lamia each, and their opponents seemed to be doing one heck of a job keeping them from helping each other out.
"This isn't going very well!" Kat shouted to Trey as the two of them backed towards each other.
"So I see," Trey nodded, glancing behind him. Something occurred to him as he saw two things: Tanya and Adam taking care of their opponent with their special Zeo moves, and the Lamia Kat was trying to avoid moving just a smidgen too fast. . . "Kat, when I give the word, jump hard left. Then . ..what Adam and Tanya did, we do."
A quick glance over her own shoulder showed the Pink Ranger what he meant, and she nodded. "Ready," she murmured. A heartbeat later, Trey shouted, and both of them moved, her to the left, him to the right. It was an old trick, and the Lamia only seemed to partially fall for it, slamming together, but quickly looking up for their prey almost at the same moment.
That wasn't quite the right thing to do, however, as their questing eyes were met by Trey's Gold Rush and Kat's Pink Fire Cloud. Just as their companion had a few short feet away, these two faded away into nothingess. Kat leaned against a tree for a moment, trying to catch her breath. "Where's Rocky?" she panted.
"There!" Trey didn't seem to be much winded, as he gestured to where Zeo Ranger III was still avoiding the Lamia. He shouted, "Rocky! Spinning Power Punch!"
They weren't sure at first if their friend had heard Trey or not, but when he stopped, did a perfect backflip over the Lamia, and shouted out, "Zeo III Spinning Power Punch!"
A moment later, he almost sauntered over to them. "Four down," he said, his eyes flicking behind them. "Come on, let's go help Tommy!"
The Red Ranger was still caught up in the coils of the Lamia, trying with all his might to get some breathing room if nothing else. Tanya and Adam did what they could to get him out, but it didn't look as if they were having a great deal of luck. "Guys," he choked out, the coils were starting to have some serious effects on his ribs. It looked like he might possibly have been trying to say something else, but couldn't spare the extra breath.
"We know how to get rid of these things," Kat said firmly. "I don't like doing it with Tommy in there, but I don't think we have any options."
Trey agreed. "We'll have to try our best not to hit him. He's morphed as well, so that should protect him."
"Then let's do it," Adam nodded as the five of them backed up. One by one they got ready, charging up their special attacks.
"Pink Fire Cloud!"
"Zeo II Power Kick!"
"Zeo III Spinning Power Punch!"
"Zeo IV Power Punch!"
"It's time for a Gold Rush!"
The five attacks landed in almost every area of the Lamia's body, and every last one missed Tommy. As the Lamia collapsed into dust, Tommy fell to the ground, his heart pounding and hardly able to stand up.
"Red Ranger!" Kat rushed over to him, quickly gathering him into her arms. "Are you all right?" Stupid question, Hilliard, he almost got the breath squeezed out of him!
For a moment there was no answer, then a soft voice said, "Are the kids all right?"
The Rangers looked at each other, then up in the tree where the children had taken refuge. "They're fine," Trey smiled wearily under his helmet. "They're fine."
"Zeo Rangers?" Karayan's eyes sparked with a hunger that matched those of her Lamia. "Six shards of the Zeo Crystal. ..ohhhh, the things that I could do with that!" she gloated.
Zedd did what he could to roll his eyes. Karayan had told them all they could do as they liked, as long as it didn't interfere in her plans and they informed her first. "In case you didn't notice, all six of them are being used."
Karayan shrugged. "So? That's no problem for me to take care of. I can strip them of their powers like that," she snapped her fingers, causing a small spark of dark lighting to spark from them. "Zeo powers are some of the easiest to separate from their users."
"And what will you do with them once you have them?" Rita wondered. "And you know the Rangers won't give up trying to get them back!"
"They won't be able to," Karayan almost seemed to purr. "And as for my plans. ..oh, you'll just see what I do with them."
"How are you going to get them, my queen?" Scorpina asked. "The Rangers certainly aren't going to hand them over to you willingly."
The dark one nodded patiently. "Quite true. And I wouldn't take them even if they did. I will much prefer ripping the Crystals from them and watching as they writhe in agony from their loss."
She paced to the balcony and looked out over it. "I think I'm going to go face them down myself. They should see who they are up against face to face. Where is a good place to draw them to? Preferably with a large amount of people so I can threaten them."
"I would suggest the Youth Center," Goldar spoke up. "They go there a lot, and there's always a lot of kids around."
Karayan nodded. "Perfect," was all she said as she vanished.
"That was one major problem," Tommy groaned as he eased off the medical table in the Power Chamber. A few quick passes with one of Alpha's special devices, and the ribs that had come extremely close to cracking were on their way to healing. "Those Lamia were tough!"
We are lucky that they do not have poison in any form, Zordon told them. And that there were only five of them. Karayan has been known to flood planets with her Lamia upon arrival. We can only assume she has reasons for not doing so now.
"I'm not going to complain about it," Adam said, leaning against a console in an effort to keep his tired body upright. "Not one bit."
Tommy nodded, leaning against Kat, who was leaning against another console. "Zordon, do you think you could track down Jason and the other ex-Rangers? Just because Rita and the Machine Empire ignored them doesn't mean Karayan will."
Their mentor nodded wisely. An excellent idea, Tommy. Alpha, set the scanners to alert us if anything of evil comes near any of the former Rangers.
"Ay-yi-yi, I'm on it, Zordon!" the robot was already making the adjustments. He wasn't going to say anything about all the old Rangers coming back to Angel Grove, not without their permission, as they'd promised. He'd detected Aisha's bio-signature as soon as she'd landed at the airport, and both he and Zordon could tell something very unusual was in the works.
Almost as soon as Alpha set up the detection devices, the alarms rang stridently. In the Rangers' weakened condition, the sound penetrated straight to their most sensitive regions and almost seemed to echo there. "What's going on, Zordon?" Trey wondered, wincing visibly.
It appears that Karayan is on Earth personally, in the Angel Grove Youth Center, Zordon checked the scanners. You must morph and stop her before she can do anything too damaging.
"Wonderful," Rocky groaned. "Just what we didn't need. A villain with a taste for Ernie's cooking."
"Well, we'll give her a bill for it she won't soon forget," Tommy faintly grinned as he picked his helmet up. "Back to action!"
It was a scene of utter madness at the Youth Center. Out of nowhere a strange, green-haired woman had appeared. You saw all types in Angel Grove, of course, and Ernie had entertained the notion she was just a punk rocker or something on her way through town. That notion was rather quickly disposed of when she withdrew a crystal sword from nowhere and started blasting parts of the room. She seemed to aim deliberately for where the most people where, and already some teens lay in broken and bleeding heaps. The portly clerk couldn't be certain if they were dead or not, but as he hovered behind the counter, he was praying with all his soul that they weren't.
"Where are the Power Rangers?" Karayan smashed a table with an almost negligent push of a hand. "I don't come down and cause random destruction just for the pleasure of it, you know!"
People were shrieking past her; she tended to ignore most of them however. One she didn't ignore: a blonde carrying a tray. The evil queen casually reached out and snagged Emily by one arm, dragging her closer to her. "What is your name, human?" she asked conversationally.
"E-emily," the waitress whispered, her blue eyes full of fear. Karayan licked her lips thoughtfully, quite literally drinking in the sweet taste of the fear and panic pouring through the young woman. It was the purest tonic, the only sustenance that she needed.
"Let her go!" came from the doorway and Karayan turned, still holding Emily, to see the Rangers standing there in full outraged splendor.
She raised one eyebrow. "Don't you know it's rude to interrupt a meal? This child's fear is so potent. . .so tasty. I was enjoying myself."
"I said, let her go, Karayan," Tommy growled. The minute they had went back to full morphed mode, all the weariness the six of them had felt had vanished, and all that was left now was a pure rage and anger that this was going on.
"Oh, very well," Karayan casually threw Emily against a wall, and she dropped bonelessly to the ground, unconscious, but still alive. The six Rangers slowly began to circle their new foe, but didn't make any other moves. "Let me properly introduce myself. I am Karayan. I don't need any pretentious titles, so that's all you can call me. Well, "mistress" has a nice ring to it as well. But that'll come in time."
Adam snorted. "You've got to be kidding!"
"I'm not," she replied calmly. "You wouldn't believe how many so called `defenders of good' have humbled themselves at my feet. Or in. . .other areas," the suddenly hot glance she directed towards the always-shy Green Ranger made him extremely uncomfortable. Tanya's teeth grated at the subtle come-on the evil one had made. "But that can come later. After I've crushed you all."
"Not going to happen," Tommy stated. "We want you off our planet----"
That was as far as he got. She moved almost too quickly for even them to see, reverse punching Rocky in the guts, snap kicking Kat's head almost off her shoulders, and quite nearly slicing through Trey's mantle with her sword. Breaking through the ring around her, she snorted as she leaned against a wall. "Is this the best the defenders of Earth can do? If it is, your planet's got a very short lifespan ahead of it."
Once again she was among them, leaping, spinning, twirling, moving in elaborate patterns that ended with them getting knocked and kicked around all over the Youth Center. Tommy slowly got up to his feet, his eyes blazing under his helmet. "If you're going to destroy us, do it and stop playing games! Or are you all talk?"
He almost regretted opening his mouth when Karayan smiled. "I am so much more than talk, Thomas," she told him coolly. "So much more. You have faced me. You have faced my Lamia. Now you shall face what I am capable of."
She almost casually lifted her sword over her head. "Awaken from your slumber, Sekhma!" she snapped. The crystal blade glowed blood-red for a moment, then a creature shaped itself in front of them: a large, cat-like thing with scarlet eyes, fangs, claws, and covered from head to foot in rippling muscle. It turned to Karayan.
"I await your command, my queen," it literally purred in a silken voice. "What would you have me do?"
Karayan gestured to the Rangers. "Destroy them," she said simply. "And make it hurt."
Jason snapped the TV off and sighed. The fight the Rangers had went through with the Lamia in the park had already hit the news, and there was a newsteam outside the Youth Center already, doing what they could to report on the carnage inside.
"Think we should go to the Command Center?" Trini suggested. "They might need some help."
Billy shook his head. "It's the Power Chamber now," he corrected half-absently. "And if they need us, they'll call. If I know Tommy, he's probably already asked Zordon to keep an eye on us."
The six of them were seated in various positions around Jason's living room. Of all of them, he was the only one who still lived in Angel Grove. Zack and Trini's parents had both wound up moving after their children had went to Switzerland; technically the former Black and Yellow Rangers had been supposed to go to them. When they had heard Kim needed them, though, they had both phoned their parents at their new homes and told them almost bluntly they weren't going anywhere else but back to the town in California. Kim's mother was still in France, of course, and her father was traveling, she knew not where, while Aisha's parents had decided to stay in Africa. She would be moving in with her grandmother.
"So, what's been going on?" Jason looked directly at Kim. She had been the one who had drawn them back together. He'd sensed something was wrong ever since she had called him, and seeing her face to face made it even worse. Something was definitely bothering her.
The young gymnast didn't say anything for a few moments. She was sitting on the floor, her arms curled around her knees, which were tucked up under her chin. Her eyes were shut and the dark circles under them had only increased. The others just watched, hoping she would say something.
A few slow moments passed, then Billy suddenly moved from his couch position and wrapped his arms around Kim. He had seen one single tear sliding down her face. Almost as if his arms had keyed something, tears burst free from her in a wash of pure saline. Her entire body shook with them in what could be only agony. One by one, Jason, Zack, Trini, and Aisha all joined the two on the floor, each holding and being held in an endless link of love.
"I. .it started when I got to Florida," she whispered slowly. "There was a girl there. Jessie. Jessie Deitz. She was good. Very good. The star on the team, until I got there. I guess. ..she got jealous when I came and started getting higher scores than she did on everything. Not just the gymnastics, but on the school stuff we did. Everything."
She shuddered again, the tears starting to slow at last. "I didn't know what was going on until about February. She and her boyfriend, Stan, had this horrible fight and broke up. Jessie was striking out at everyone around then. In any way she could that hurt. She knew the two most important things to me have always been gymnastics and Tommy, and she had. ..I guess the easiest way to say it is underworld connections," Kim's eyes were shut as she kept talking, and the others stepped back to give her some room. She knew they were still there, though, especially since Billy kept his hand wrapped around hers.
"The first thing she did was steal some homework of mine, and she forged my handwriting on the break up letter to Tommy," Kim's tears increased a little. "I would never have done that to him. I wasn't going to do it in a letter, I was going to tell him face to face. .."
Billy's voice was extremely gentle. "Tell him?"
She looked up at him. "That I don't love him anymore. Not like I did. I don't know how it happened, it just did. I wanted to spend some more time with him, to be certain I wasn't making the wrong choice. But she didn't give me the option. And that was just the beginning. She also got me kicked out of the Pan-Globals."
Everyone paled; they all knew how Kim's dream had been to participate in those since the day she had taken her first gymnastics lesson. "How?" Jason asked quietly, half-thinking about taking the first flight to Florida to teach that little brat some serious manners.
Something that might have been a wry smile curved Kim's lips. "She planted steroids in my room, and slipped me some in a drink. The next day was a mandatory drug test. I didn't think I had anything to be afraid of," bitterness filled her voice suddenly. "I was wrong."
The others listened as she told of how she had been summarily ejected from the training camp, and banned from competition everywhere. Out of respect for `what she had once been', Coach Schmidt had kept it out of the papers. That was why none of them had heard anything about it.
"I had to talk to someone," she began to end the tale. "It was either that or go insane. I had to talk to people who would care. I knew all of you would, and that you would understand. The others. . .they're busy keeping the Earth safe. They don't have the time right now. But I do want to talk to them. ..later. Especially Tommy."
"He's dating Kat now," Jason murmured.
Kim raised one eyebrow for a moment, then nodded. "I thought so. I would've called to straighten things out, but I wasn't allowed anywhere near a phone. I guess they thought I would try and get more drugs or something," she snorted. "I think Jessie had connections in the police department too."
Trini wrapped her arms around her best friend and hugged her warmly. "Don't worry about that. You're home now. We all are. She might've messed up your gymnastics. . .but there's nothing she can do to stop us being friends."
Kim smiled faintly as she returned Trini's hug. "Yeah. She can have the glory. I've got the friends."
In the Youth Center, things were getting even worse. Sekhma was obeying it's orders to the letter, pouncing and punching the Rangers unmercifully. Still somewhat worn from their earlier battle with the Lamia, the Rangers were doing their best to at least keep upright.
Karayan watched from the sidelines; she was the only non-Ranger in there at the moment. Ernie had taken Emily out and everyone else was gone, fleeing the cold-hearted queen. "Sekhma," she said wearily. "You're toying with them too much. Take this outside and get serious."
The Rangers barely had time to blink before they were outside, along with Sekhma. There was one difference between them, though: Sekhma was fifty feet tall.
"She enlarged him," Adam whispered. "I think we need the Zords!"
"We need Zeo Zord Power, now!" Tommy called out. They weren't going to mess with just the Zeo Zords this time, they needed the SuperZeo Zords, and a lot of luck!
Trey raised his staff high. "I call up on the Power of Pyramidus!" he declared sharply, his huge Zord moving towards him at once.
"We're going to have to hit it hard and hit it fast," Tommy said, settling into Super Zeo Zord V and wondering if it were possible to take this thing out. Already it had delivered many major hits to them, and being as large as it was would only give it more power. He didn't want to think about what would happen if it took out their Zords. ..
Kat nodded. "And pray," she whispered. Pray a lot.
Those who were on the ground watching this fight were doing so with bated breath and hearts in their mouths. They'd been able to get a few fleeting glimpses of the battle, more than enough to show them how badly the Rangers had been being beaten. One reporter whispered, "Do you think they can win?"
"No, I don't," a sudden voice came from just above them. Everyone looked up to see a beautiful, green-haired woman floating at her ease there. "For those of you who don't know me. . .I am Karayan, and I have come to destroy your world. And in a very few moments, there won't be anything those pathetic Rangers can do about it."
In the crowd, several people gasped, then started running, clearing out of there as fast as they could. Only one stayed, and he clenched his teeth, his eyes going straight to where the just-formed Super Zeo MegaZord was joining up with Pyramidus to deliver what could be the death blow to the monster. You'd better win this one, Tommy, David Trueheart though to his brother. This monster can't be allowed to win.
His heart plummeted suddenly as `that monster' was suddenly in front of him. Karayan gazed right into his eyes, the faintest hint of curiosity in her own. "There is nothing they can do," she said quietly, just loud enough for his ears. He had the strange feeling as he looked into his eyes that she was reading his every thought and memory as if he were a book. That was confirmed a moment later when she said, just as quietly, "Your brother and all his friends will fall to me, David Trueheart. This world will be added to the list of all I have destroyed. It is only a matter of time."
When a loud explosion signaled the end of the Zord fight, the Rangers teleported down to face Karayan again. David could see how they were all weaving with exhaustion. Tommy stepped up. "Karayan, leave him home. We're the ones you want.
She smiled, turning away from David. "I had no intentions of doing anything to him, Tommy. You're quite right, you and your friends are what I want. Or rather, you have what I want."
"What are you talking about?" Rocky growled harshly.
Karayan held her hand out towards them commandingly, her fingers widespread. "Come to me!" she grated. The Rangers stared, not understanding what she meant. Comprehension dawned suddenly when each of them felt a sudden, powerful internal wrenching. Out of them all flew very familiar crystals: one capped by a star, one by a pair of horizontal bars, one by a triangle, one by an oval, one by a rectangle, and one by the three-barred symbol of Triforia. They floated just above her outstretched hand, then with a twist of her fingers, Karayan recombined the Zeo Crystal, then looked back at the Rangers.
Six unmorphed teenagers stood in front of her, for only a moment, before the pure exhaustion overwhelmed them. She smiled. "Your world's going to end, Rangers," she promised. "Thanks for the present."
David ran over to his friends as the evil sorceress vanished into thin air, still holding the Zeo Crystal in her grip. "Guys!" he tried to help Tommy up to his feet. "Did she do what I think she did?"
"I think she did," his brother groaned. "Did she hurt you?"
"No," David shook his head. "I'm fine. But Earth is in big trouble if she's got the Zeo Crystal."
Rocky nodded. "We'd better get back to the Power Chamber. Something really strange is going on, how was she able to take it from us?"
"I don't know," Trey's voice was a trifle weaker. "But we had best find out fast."
Karayan's spell shattered the bonds between you and your powers, Zordon explained once they had all teleported back to the Power Chamber. David was the only one who hadn't went with them, he'd headed back to the reservation to talk with his father. Without that bond, it was easy for her to claim the Zeo Crystal shards, even yours, Trey.
"Is there anything we can do to get them back?" Tanya wondered. Being powerless wasn't a new situation to her, she'd lived her entire life without them, but it was the first time Earth had been in fatal danger and she wouldn't be able to do anything about it.
Zordon was in thought for a few moments. Perhaps. He said at last. Alpha, scan the databanks for any and all Ranger powers that are linked to the soul. That is the only type of power that cannot be stolen from it's bearer.
As Alpha began the scans, the Rangers drew closer together. "We don't have any powers, and Karayan has the Zeo Crystal. The only way I could think of for things to get any worse would be if she made her own evil team," Kat said.
"That could be why she stole our powers," Tommy suggested. "We'd better keep an eye out for any missing kids. Zordon and Alpha are already watching out on our other friends."
Adam nodded. "I hope they can find something for us to use before it's too late, for all we know, Karayan could be sending down monsters and more of those Lamia down to Angel Grove right now."
"I believe the sensors would register them if she did," Trey mildly corrected. "But we had best recover our powers or gain new ones as swiftly as we can."
Tanya glanced at their Triforian friend. "Are you all right, Trey? You sound a little weak."
"I am fine," he demurred. "The removal of the Golden Crystal weakened me only a trifle."
"Weakened you?" all of them looked at the young prince sharply. A faint smile touched his face.
"As I said, I will be fine," he sat up a little straighter even as he spoke. "The Golden Crystal was a part of my family for many generations, as far back as we can remember. We always knew there was the chance it would fail, but I had hoped it would not be during my jurisdiction."
Tommy put a hand on his shoulder. "It isn't your fault. And Zordon is going to find us something so we can protect this planet, and you'll be able to go back to yours when we've driven Karayan back to whatever hellhole she came out of."
"Thank you," Trey said quietly. "I will stand by you until that day, as I said."
Silence slowly grew in the Power Chamber, as Zordon and Alpha kept searching, and the Rangers did what they could to help. Each and every one of them couldn't help the gnawing fear that they had only seen the very tip of the iceberg of evil that Karayan was capable of showing.
Karayan lounged on her throne, the spinning Zeo Crystal just a few inches above her hand, and laughed, long and loud for the first time since her arrival. "That was so easy!" she mocked. "I've laid waste to entire planets with more effort than that! They weren't even bonded properly to the powers!"
"What are you talking about?" Zedd grumbled; it had been bad enough when she'd boasted about stealing the Rangers' powers, now that she'd actually done it, it was even worse! He was beginning to regret the day that he'd ever decided to be evil.
She smiled. "Only one person in the cosmos can properly bond the Zeo powers to a wielder. And it isn't Zordon. When the Zeo power is bound correctly, not even I can remove it from someone."
Rita frowned, an ugly expression on her already average face. "Would you please just explain yourself?"
"Very well," Karayan flicked a hand, causing the Crystal to vanish. "All Power Ranger powers have makers, and then they have guardians. The Maker crafts the power source, be it a coin or a crystal or whatever, then gives it into the care of a specially chosen person. This person is the Guardian. They generally are the ones who see to it that the Power is given to those considered worthy," the sarcasm was heavy in her voice. "Ninjor was the Maker of the Power Coins, and Zordon was the Guardian of them. The Morphin Masters created the Zeo Crystal, but it's Guardian was forced away before they could take proper guardianship of it. Thus, five shards were sent to the Caves of Deception beneath this palace and protected by that enchanted forcefield, and one shard was sent to Triforia, where it became a part of the Golden Power Staff. Only the Guardian of a Power can properly bond the Power to a person, and once bonded, it cannot be broken."
"Then how was I able to drain Tommy's Green Ranger powers from him?" Rita snapped.
"And how could I drain the other Rangers with the other candles?" Zedd wanted to know at once.
Karayan sighed a trifle melodramatically. "First, Rita, you could drain his powers because you gave them to him, not Zordon. You were not the Guardian of the Power Coins and could not properly bond them, thus he was vulnerable. Second, Zedd, you couldn't have. Those candles were weakening the link that exists between the Power and the Rangers. You could have severed the link, then taken the power, but the candles weren't draining the power, whatever else you might have thought. You were able to destroy their Ninja Coins only because they were displaced in time, that disrupted the bond enough for them to be shattered."
She turned her eyes to Earth again. "And because the Zeo Crystal wasn't properly bonded to the Rangers, I have it, and they are no doubt already engaged in the fruitless search for either way to get it from me or to get a new Power."
"Who says they can't?" Rito babbled.
Karayan ignored his stupidity, then reached her hand out, intending to toy with the Zeo Crystal some more. Her face registered shock for a moment as nothing appeared. "What?" she frowned darkly, touching the hilt of her crystal blade. "This isn't possible!"
"What is it?" Scorpina asked, worried herself.
"The Zeo Crystal is gone."
Things had quieted in the room after Kim had confessed what had happened during her time in Florida. Jason had revealed his weakness and his body's incompatibility with the Gold Zeo Powers. Trini and Zack had told how homesick they had been the whole time in Switzerland, and Aisha had confessed how hard it was to live with two sets of memories. Billy was the only one who hadn't said anything. No one was expecting him to, even though he'd obviously had something to say, just as they all did.
"I wonder if the others are all right," Zack said, glancing at the television. They had all be so involved in the catharsis of talking that they hadn't really thought of anything else.
Jason shrugged. "If we're needed, they'll call us," he reminded them. "We've got a lot to talk about still here."
Billy had been staring into space, his mind churning with emotions and feelings he hadn't been able to surpress. He jumped suddenly when Kim reached out and laid a hand on his. "You can talk to us, Billy," she said gently. The pain in her eyes hadn't vanished totally, but it had eased some since her revelation.
The former Blue Ranger only shuddered for a moment, his lips working. He turned his head, looking from each of them to the other. Then, his eyes fell on something behind them, to a picture on the wall. Jason's parents were some of the most avid supporters of the Power Rangers in Angel Grove, and not long after their debut, the Red Ranger had presented his parents with an autographed photo of the team. That was now what Billy saw, and seeing himself in his old suit stirred up the feelings of courage and honor that it always had before.
"I came within thirty seconds of being raped," he said quietly, and as he spoke the words, he could feel Kim's hand tightening around his, in friendship and protection. "If it weren't for the Aquitian Rangers, it would've happened."
In his usual quiet way he told them about Cestria's twin and what she had done, and how he intended to mourn for his soulmate in the traditional Aquitian way. Each of them nodded, and did what they could to console him. Just being there and listening, without judging or trying to say meaningless words, was exactly what he needed.
"You know," Zack said calmly. "It's almost like some of what's happened in our lives happened to draw us back together again. If it hadn't happened, we'd all still be separated. Kim, you'd be in Florida, Aisha, you'd be in Africa, me and Trini would be in Switzerland, Billy would be on Aquitar. Maybe we'd be happy. ...but we're never going to know now, are we?"
Kim shook her head. "It's weird. .but you're right. If Jessie hadn't done what she did, I'd be performing in the Pan-Globals, and missing all of you."
"I'd be on Aquitar with Cestria, wondering if I'd done the right thing by leaving."
"I'd be in Africa, with two sets of memories and a boatload of pain in my heart for leaving behind the best friends I'd ever had."
Jason smiled, holding his hand out in a way they all knew. One by one, Zack, Trini, Kim, Billy, and Aisha placed their hands on his. Never before had these six particular people done this, but it didn't matter. In one great voice, they cried out, "Power Rangers!"
And as the echo of it died away, a great white light shone on all of them. They didn't even have time to cry out before they were gone.
Rangers, everyone looked up at Zordon's voice. According to the databanks, there is one power that can be used to defend the universe. It's Guardian and the only place you can gain the Power is on the distant planet of Phaedos. It is similar to your old Ninja powers, but much stronger. It is guarded by the warrior Dulcea and is called Ninjetti.