Disclaimer: Power Rangers of all colors and varieties are not
mine. Saban owns 'em, I just borrowed them. Ellen Brand gets all the credit
for coming up with the Morphin Warriors with thanks to Jen Bigley
too thank you for letting me play with your ideas! Also thanks
for the inspiration from the story "Ashes to Ashes" (might want to read
Ellen's fic first so this one makes sense). I admit Sailor Moon influenced
parts of this and it shows. Hey! I like the show. Please talk to me and
let me know what you think. It needs work, I knowplease help me
out! E-mail me. Thanks to all who have written!
Note: This story is set in a future parallel universe apart from the one the current Turbo series is following. The Rangers we all know and love are adults with children of their own. Their children have been given the legacy as our story begins....
Chapter 1: Initiation
"I don't know. What if it doesn't work?"
Corriane Cranston crossed her arms, her expression hardening. "Then we lose nothing. We've already lost..." Voice cracking, she turned away, struggling to regain her composure.
She's right," Raphael De Santos said quietly. "They would want us to succeed. I know for sure..my dad would want us to."
"Don't talk about them like...like they're gone forever!" Olivia Park pleaded. Tears filled her dark eyes.
Corry hugged the younger girl, unable to honestly console her. They just didn't know where their parents were or whether they'd ever return. Looking for comfort herself, she looked hopefully at Zordon. He'd returned from Eltar when Trey of Triforia had contacted him with the news that the old team of Rangers was missing.
Zordon mentally sighed as he looked at the teens. They looked even younger than their parents had, years before. Not for the first time, he wondered if giving them this responsibility had been a good idea. Unfortunately, there was no one else.
"RANGERS, YOUR PARENT'S RETURN IS UNCERTAIN AT THIS POINT. WHATEVER REMOVED THEM FROM EARTH IS VERY POWERFUL." More powerful than even he had dreamed of.
"We've done all right so far," Nisha Taylor said defiantly. She crossed her arms. "Why try a risky stunt when we're fine as we are?"
"Fine?" Corry's eyebrows rose in astonishment. Olivia moved back, out of the way of the two. "We got our butts whipped, Nisha! Frankly, we're lucky none of us was seriously injured!"
"If Trey hadn't intervened we would've been beat," Jared Scott agreed grimly. "The Gold Ranger won that battle for us."
"So? We're new at this!" Nisha protested. "Trey's got a couple hundred years under his belt!"
"RANGERS," Zordon interrupted the argument brewing. "THE TRUTH IS YOU ARE A YOUNG AND INEXPERIENCED TEAM FACING AN ENEMY MORE POWERFUL THAN ANY OF THE PREVIOUS RANGER TEAMS HAVE EVER FACED BEFORE. I FEAR IT IS NO COICIDENCE THAT YOUR PARENTS DISAPPEARED RIGHT BEFORE THIS ATTACK."
"Well, we can't count on them helping us, wherever they are." Corry hated to be so blunt, but it had to be said. "We need his experience. Trey can't hang around forever, baby-sitting us."
"Baby-sitting!?" Nisha exclaimed, face flushing. "Is it our fault our parents were so good we've had peace all our lives? So, we never learned to fight for real." She set her jaw stubbornly. "We'll learn."
"And in the meantime?" Corry shook her head. "People are dying, Nisha! They can't wait during our learning curve!"
"The point is," Raph stepped in between the girls. "we lack experience and it's showing. Trey has other commitments. We need someone who can be a permanent part of the team."
"You have an idea of how to do this?" Jared looked at Corry and a younger boy standing quietly watching.
Biting her lip, Corry nodded and gestured to Gavin. "We hacked into my dad's old files on the Rangers and we found something we think will work."
Gavin Skullovich was as smart as his dad was clueless. "Mr. Cranston used the team's communicators to open a time portal that allowed the Pink Ranger to come back into their time when Lord Zedd sent her into the past. I think it's our best option to recreate the circumstances that will allow us to warp back into Angel Grove's past." He shrugged. "We don't have the Wizard's wand that Tommy originally used, so this is it."
"Will you be able to control it enough to stop at the right time?" Olivia asked in concern. "How will you know to stop?"
"Dad's files were pretty detailed. We think we can hit within a matter of months of the original time." Corry shrugged. "If nothing else, we could search for the energy of the green coin."
"We won't have to," Gavin said confidently. "Your dad keeps meticulous notes."
"How will we get back?" Jared asked.
Gavin and Corry exchanged looks. "Sort of the same way. The vortex will open approximately thirty minutes after the initial opening. Hitting the teleport function on our communicators should open it if it's necessary to prematurely open the vortex."
"Should?" Nisha shook her head vehemently, braids swinging. "It's too risky! All of this just to gain one more ranger?"
"It does have a risk factor," Corry agreed. "But I think we can't afford not to. It's not just us at stake here, guys." She looked at her lifelong friends, knowing it sounded corny, but true. "It's our parents, our families, friends...our planet. If we lose, they all lose too."
Raph sighed, breaking the tense silence. "So...we agreed then?"
"Um..." Gavin spoke up hesitantly. "There's one more thing. We only have enough power in our combined communicators for two to pass through. That means one person through on this side and two coming back."
"Can't you punch up the power?" Raph said, shrugging. "We don't need to risk more than one person." Corry took a breath. "I volunteer."
"What?" Jared crossed his arms, his expression thunderous. "Why you? I'm the oldest. I think I should go."
Not a whit intimidated by his superior size or strength, Corry looked coolly up at him. "You're also one of the best fighters. You need to stay. Gavin is our brains, Raph is our leader, Nisha doesn't want to and Olivia is too young. That leaves me." She shrugged. "Simple logic."
"It's not that simple, Corry," Raph said quietly. "Look, it was my dumb idea to try this and I feel like I should be the one to risk it." She reached behind her and pulled her morpher. "Here, I'll leave this in case -"
"NO!" Raph and Jared said in unison. Raph gathered his words before his more hot-tempered friend. "Keep it. You might need it." He looked at her, frowning. "But be careful. In fact, maybe you should go through morphed."
Corry nodded. "Okay."
Jared put out his hand. "One thing before you go, kiddo." Nisha added her hand on top of his. "I think you're crazy, but if this works,..." She smirked. "I'll still think it!"
"Thanks, Nisha," Corry said dryly. She added her hand. Raph, Olivia and Gavin all joined the huddle. "POWER RANGERS!"
Corry blinked fiercely, not meeting anyone's eyes as she stepped over to where Gavin and she had set up the communicators.
"RETURN QUICKLY, CORRIANE. MAY THE POWER PROTECT YOU." She smiled at her friends, something she'd heard her mother saying coming to mind. "Catch ya on the flip side, guys." Morpher in her hands she said, "White Ranger Power!"
Great. Probably another "helpful" mother. There seemed to be no shortage of mothers pushing their marriageable daughters at him.
"Hang on! Be right there!"
With a muttered curse, he rolled out of bed, pulled on a pair of breeches and grabbed a shirt. Stumbling towards the door he could only get one arm to find a sleeve and gave up, just pulling the shirt together before opening the door.
The sun hit right in his eyes and he squinted, eyes already blurry from having just woken up. Thomas blinked, putting a hand up to shield his eyes. "I must be dreaming. Too weird."
Thomas started, a little surprised, but more awake as the white armored person shoved an arm in the door to keep him from closing it. "You're sure a pushy dream." He frowned, getting his first really good look at who stood there. "And you shrunk too."
"I do not have time for this!"
Thomas found himself propelled gently but firmly back into the cabin. The door shut, leaving him facing the stranger who was not..quite..familiar.
"Look, I need to talk fast here - "
"You're a girl," Thomas said, dumbfounded. "Where's Tom?"
"Geez, I thought they said you were bright." Irritated by his denseness, Corry pulled her helmet off and glared at him. "Obviously I'm not Tommy Oliver. Now would you please listen?"
If anything, he looked more astounded. "Who are you? You..you kind of look like Kim..."
"I should, she's my mother." Corry pushed him back into a chair. "Sit. We need to talk."
"Your mother?" Alarmed, Thomas held up his hands. "Look, I never even -"
"I know. Now forgive me for being rude, but SHUT UP AND JUST LISTEN!" Corry set her helmet on the table. "The people you knew as the Rangers are adults in my time and are the parents of the current team. Tommy couldn't come because..."
Corry's voice softened. This wasn't going to be easy for him. "He was killed in a battle with Goldar over twenty-one years ago."
Thomas paled under his tan. "Killed?"
Corry nodded. "The team eventually got rid of Goldar and the rest and retired. It's been peaceful for years, but now there's a new threat...and our parents disappeared about a week ago and we have no idea where they are or how they are...and now Zordon recruited us for the new team but we're not very good at this stuff and we really got our butts kicked...and the new threat is totally overwhelming and even Zordon is worried...and -"
"Wait!" Thomas held up his hands, vividly reminded of Kimberly when she got excited. No doubt this was truly her daughter. "Where do I come into all of this?"
She looked at him in disbelief. "We need you to come back to our time. We need you on our team."
Thomas stared at her. This was no dream, but it was wild enough to be one! Tom dead? Kim and the others adults with children his age? He'd only been here three months! Maybe this was a trick or trap by Rita or Zedd. His eyes fell on the helmet on the table and he picked it up. Where Tommy had a tiger, this White Ranger had a wolf on her helmet and the golden cirlce on her chest. He looked at her, standing there anxiously waiting for his reply. An amazed look quirked his mouth upwards as he searched her face and found what he was looking for. "Your dad must be Billy. I take it the color assignments changed?"
Surprised, Corry nodded. "We're all more strongly powered than the old White Ranger was." She took the helmet as Thomas handed it to her. Standing, he walked away. Corry's hopes fell and she fought not to cry.
"Let's see." Thomas was at a chest of drawers, and opened one to pull out a pouch. "How much time until you have to leave?"
"Five minutes," Corry said dully.
"Not much time. Let me get dressed, then we'll go." He smiled slightly as she turned to look at him, her face lit up with surprise and joy.
"Really. Here, hold this for me, will you?" Thomas tossed her the pouch and walked into the bedroom to get dressed.
Corry caught the pouch and curiously opened it. A power coin fell out into the palm of her glove. "Awesome," she whispered. The green power coin! She carefully returned it to the pouch and pulled it shut.
Thomas came back out and looked around. "Guess I don't need any of this stuff. The neighbors are really gonna wonder about me now."
"We have to get going." Corry headed for the door, Thomas right behind. She looked around outside and saw no one. They snuck back through the township, making sure no one saw them, then on out into the woods. "Not much time left. Take hold of my arm."
"Your uniform is a lot more armored than ours were."
"The bad guys are a lot meaner," Corry replied soberly. "Haaang on!" There was a wrenching feeling as the vortex opened and sucked them in.
Corry reached over and punched up a hologram. "See for yourself." Thomas watched the scene play for a moment and frowned. "I don't see anything."
"Precisely." Corry switched over to infra-red and thermal and suddenly the scene glowed with the powerful shapes of beings Thomas hadn't seen before.
"My God," he whispered. "What are they?"
"We call them wraiths." Gavin shrugged. "We don't know. They never announced their arrival, never said why they were attacking Earth or what their goal was. They just...were."
"They always attack at night," Raph added. "From what we've been able to see of them, which isn't much, they look like big, muscular shadows."
"Big," Olivia gestured far above her head. "big, muscled shadows. You can't see them coming at night."
"Unless you're in a well-lit area," Gavin inserted. "And that only lasts until they take out the light source, which is usually a matter of seconds." Jared finished.
"How many hit you last time?" Thomas counted at least nine on the hologram.
Nisha snorted. "Who knows? Can't see them, but there was a least one for each of us."
"One other thing." Corry ended the holo and pulled up a video of the last attack. "They're very careful about not trashing the buildings. People they don't seem to give a rip about, but buildings...." Her expression was grim as she watched the vid play. "Unlike every other enemy the Rangers had ever had they don't grow to mega size. They just get enormously strong." She fast-forwarded the vid. "They're so strong we had to retreat to our individual Zords to fight them."
"We found if we combined Zords we were too slow to combat them." Gavin sighed as the vid showed the MegaZord crashing into several buildings. "We did more damage that night than the enemy."
"To buildings, yes." Raph was quiet for a moment. "Angel Grove lost over thirty citizens that night."
"Lost...as in..killed?" Thomas couldn't quite grasp the level the battle had escalated to in just twenty-one years.
"They didn't have armor to protect them, or morphin energy," Corry said sadly. "The attack sirens didn't go off because we weren't prepared for an attack, so no one was in the shelters when they hit. The shelters were pretty run down too."
"Those were the first two things we fixed," Gavin added. "Our, uh, public image was kinda trashed that night." Jared stood to pace the chamber. "People are blaming the Rangers for not warning them, not showing up in time and destroying public buildings."
"Not a good night." Nisha tossed her long braids over her shoulder. "And this Gold Ranger," Thomas gestured to the vid. "Has he seen these guys before?"
"His name is Trey, and no." Corry rubbed her forehead wearily. "Neither have the Aquitians, the Edenois, the Eltarians or anyone else we could get a reply from."
"Did you ask - "
"Look!" Corry jumped to her feet, irritated. "We've asked everyone we know, a few we just happened to make contact with and anyone else Alpha and Zordon even remotely know! No...one...knows!"
"Easy, Corry." Raph pulled her away from the control panel and put an arm around her. "We're all tired, scared and very uncertain. This is not the time to turn on one another."
"Yeah." Corry pulled away to stalk over to the glass cases containing the Old Ranger suits. "I know." She turned. "I'm sorry. This is frustrating and we're not getting anywhere and we're no closer to finding our parents." Corry closed her eyes and leaned back against the cases. "I just don't know how to deal with any more."
Thomas looked down, deeply concerned. If the teams' moral was already this low...? "One thing at a time."
"Huh?" Raph looked at him curiously. "What'd you say?"
"One thing at a time," Thomas repeated. "First priority, I'd say, is protecting Angel Grove. If we can't do that, we won't have any support and no ones gonna want us here." He stood and looked at Gavin. "Have you rigged the team's helmets to see infra-red and thermal?"
The teens eyes widened. "No. No...I never.... I'll get right on it. Alpha?"
As the two walked over to discuss how to do just that, Jared watched Thomas pace to Zordon's column and back. His eyes met Raph's and he could see his friend was beating himself up for not thinking of that already. Jared walked over to Raph. "We
haven't been thinking too clearly, have we?"
"Guess not." Raph didn't look happy. "Let's see what we can do to help Gavin."
Corry had disappeared into the nether regions of the chamber where her father's workroom was. Nisha and Olivia looked around and then at each other. "We're gonna get out for a little bit. Maybe see the folks who had to be hospitalized."
"Okay." Raph tried to smile encouragingly. "Listen for your communicators. It's only four hours until sunset."
"Yeah, all right." Nisha rolled her eyes. "Like I needed to be reminded."
Olivia nodded somberly. The two girls disappeared in a flash of red and pink light.
Thomas decided to go check out the changes in the Zords.
The urge to see him was too strong.
It smelled like sea water as the door opened then shut behind him. Thomas stepped out onto the catwalk leading out to the massive Zord. Slowing walking forward, he studied the changes made in DragonZord since he'd last seen him. Where it had been slow and clunky, it was now much sleeker. The whole body had undergone massive changes and it looked more like the Zords he'd seen in the other bays. Only the face remained unchanged. Same massive jaws, and blood red eyes. Thomas reached up to touch the silver jaw. "Hello, old friend. Looks like we both have some major changes in front of us."
"You won't need this anymore."
Thomas whirled to find Corry watching him. She held the Dragon Dagger in her hand. "What?"
Rolling her eyes, Corry walked to him. "Do you always do that?"
"Ask a question when someone says something, even when you heard it the first time. It makes people think you're a little slow." She shook her head. "Mom always said you had a horrible memory, but she never mentioned you were slow."
Thomas wasn't offended, just slightly amused. It wasn't the first time someone had labeled him - it used to be jock or karate kid. People often assumed you were dense when you were athletic. Apparently some things hadn't changed. He shrugged.
"She's right about the memory. Guess I don't remember the second."
Now it was Corry's turn to smile slightly. "Touch┘." She handed him the dagger. "You won't need this now."
"Did Billy update him or did you and Gavin?" Corry shrugged. "Dad designed the specs. Gavin and I did the majority of the work - under his supervision." She swallowed hard as a lump formed in her throat. "We never could've done it without him."
"Sounds like nothings changed," Thomas said wryly. "We never could've made it without him either." He turned from DragonZord to find Corry looking at him oddly. "What now?"
"I always got the feeling that you and dad were friends, but not really good ones. Am I wrong?"
Thomas shrugged. "We were good friends and went through a lot together. But, just like this team, there was friction. Billy was never appreciated enough with Jason and I getting so much of the attention. I think that hurt his feelings." He sighed. "There was nothing he couldn't do once he set his mind to it."
Corry laughed. "That's what he said about you!"
"He did? I thought you said..." He frowned at her. "I wanted to know what you really thought of my dad." She arched an eyebrow. "I already know what you think of my mom."
Thomas shook his head. "I should know better than to argue with Kim and Billy's daughter." He looked at her. She had Kim's cheeriness, but it seemed also some of Billy's moodiness. "Well, just remember, Tommy knew both of them better and longer
than I did, and I'm not Tommy."
"He didn't live that much longer after you were gone, so for all intents and purposes..." she shrugged. "you and he are the same."
Thomas sighed. Wasn't worth arguing about he decided. "So what did you mean about not needing the dagger?"
"When the team got the Zeo powers and dad didn't he went to Aquitar at one point. When he came back he had a new technology borrowed from them. The Red BattleZord was the result of that. Instead of controlling the Zord with controls in the cockpit, Tommy's brainwaves controlled the Zord. It was a little rough at first because in order to control the Zord you had to control your mind." Corry shot him a grin. "But, Tommy pulled it off and that set the precedent for the new Zord designs afterwards."
"You mean DragonZord can be controlled telepathically?"
"Mmm, sort of." Corry patted the Zord. "It's a little more than that, but basically the power coin is the conduit that allows the transfer of information instead of controls or the dagger. If you're in the cockpit instead of on the ground, it doesn't matter. The important thing is to remember you think about what you want the Zord to do and it does it."
"So, it will mimic my moves also?"
"Exactly." Corry was impressed by his catching that. "It doesn't matter if you just think the move out or act it out. Either way, the Zord follows." She bit her lip uncertainly. "There's one more thing."
"What's that?" Thomas was surprised she seemed hesitant to say it. "Don't tell me. It turns into a pumpkin on the twelfth stroke of midnight."
Corry laughed. "No, I don't think so." She reached out to DragonZord. "Dad and I are the only ones who ever talked about this. Remember, this is the oldest of the Zords currently used. Rita had it for... what? A thousand years before the Green Ranger called it out of the ocean?"
"True, we redesigned it's body, but we used the same metal. This is still the same old DragonZord you knew before, no matter what he looks like now." Corry looked into the deep red eyes. "I know this sounds crazy, but Dad and I both think
DragonZord is, to some degree...aware." She looked up reluctantly to see how Thomas would react to that.
He frowned mildly. "Aware. As in sentient?"
Thomas looked like he was worlds away. "Huh, and I always thought it was just me."
He smiled. "See? Easy habit to fall into, isn't it?" Thomas held up a hand to forestall her wrath. "I always got the feeling that he was aware of me and..." He looked a little embarrassed. "Maybe cared for me somehow. Watched out for me. Sometimes I swear he'd move or do something almost as soon as I'd think of it -or even before I'd realize I was in danger."
Corry stared at him thoughtfully. "I wonder what dad would think of that. He wouldn't be surprised, I think. We got some real strong impressions working on Dragon that he wanted to be back in action. Almost like a...longing."
"I dreamed about him when I first went back to the Colonies. Now I wonder...."
"Dad thought you might be a telepath of some degree. You must be if you could sense DragonZord." Corry patted the Zord. "WolfZord is somewhat aware also." She shrugged. "It's weird, because he's one of the newer Zords."
"Maybe the Zords respond to the people most like them." Corry looked at him in surprise. "Maybe." She turned and walked away. "Let's hope so. We're gonna need every advantage we can get over the wraiths."
Thomas nodded. "No kidding." He trailed a hand along DragonZords jaw. "Rest well, old friend. If you are aware, then get ready. We've got to kick some butt...just like the old days." Was it his imagination or did the red eye flare for just an eyeblink? With a smile, Thomas followed Corry out of the bay.
Zordon to some much needed quiet time.
"Oh no, it's them again!"
"Run for your lives!"
Thomas sighed. "Definitely gotta work on our image." He watched the usually chaotic business area clear out in a matter of minutes. There wasn't even any traffic!
"That's, uh, some effect we have on people, huh?" Yellow Ranger/Gavin said. "Maybe we don't need sirens. We could just show up."
"Very funny." Black Ranger/Raph gave him a not-so-gentle thunk on the helmet.
"Hey, careful! I just got these things working to infra-red and thermal!"
Red Ranger/Nisha shook her head. "Great. One hit and they're out, is that what you're saying?"
"Well...no, but -"
"Guys," Thomas interrupted, reminding himself to be patient. This was not the old group with years of teamwork and experience. "Let's take a look around, see if there's anything out of place. There's gotta be something that will give us a clue what we're up against."
"Shadows on steroids is what," Blue Ranger/Jared grumbled. It would've been funny, except their nerves were all stretched to the limit. Pink Ranger/Olivia pushed down the hysterical laughter that threatened to bubble out, and concentrated on scanning the area with her helmet's new capabilities. Out of the corner of her visor she saw White Ranger/Corry kneeling down to examine a section of wall that bore the distinct impression of a human outline. Olivia walked over as her friend noticeably stiffened. "Cor..." Belatedly she remembered their identities were secret. "um..White Ranger, did you find something?"
White slowly nodded. Putting a hand against the building to steady herself she stood. "Thomas," she croaked, sounding sick.
Olivia realized the newest member of their group hadn't heard the call. "Green Ranger? Something's wrong." She gripped Corry's arm as the Ranger swayed.
"What's going on?" Thomas heard the quiet fear in Olivia's voice and saw Corry sway.
"Here." Corry shoved a sample collector at him. "I gotta go." She teleported out in a flash of white as Thomas and Olivia stood gaping behind their helmets.
"I think she feels sick."
"What was she doing?"
Thomas knelt to look where Corry had been. "Oh my God." Touching the dried red substance spattered all over the wall he looked at the container and stood. "Let's get back. We need to see what this is."
In a rainbow blur the Power Rangers teleported out of the business district, leaving people curious about what the visit had been for, but grateful no more buildings weregoing to crash on them.
"Well, at least she didn't use her helmet." Nisha grimaced and picked the white helmet up. "Corry-girl, what's wrong?"
"Let's find out. Gavin?" Thomas handed him the container. "Will you analyze this please? We need to know what this is."
Gavin took the container gingerly, as if it held nitroglycerin, and walked over to a row of equipment. Raph and Jared followed, curious.
"You going to be okay?" Olivia asked. A worried frown puckered her brow.
"What did you eat for lunch?" Nisha tried to lighten the group's mood. "Because I don't want whatever it was!"
Sliding down to sit on the floor, Corry waved the bucket Alpha held away with a grimace. "Thanks, Alpha, but I really don't think there's anything left."
"Ay yi yi!" Alpha pushed a button on one of the control panels and the bucket flashed out, teleported away to who knew where - or cared.
"Dear God in Heaven."
Gavin's quiet exclamation got everyone's eyes on him. He looked at Corry, his face white. "You recognized it?"
"What? Gavin..." Thomas strode over. "Don't hold out on us."
"Yeah, come on, buddy." Raph steadied the younger man. "What is that?"
"It's a piece of circuitry from a very complex device." Gavin's voice trembled.
"You mean...the wraiths are mechanical?" Jared frowned. "It's a piece of Lupine." Corry leaned her head back against the wall, feeling the nausea rise again. "My dad's best kept secret. Lupine is...well, it's microcircuitry dad actually implanted in his head that ties him directly into Wolfecorp's main computer."
Nisha's eyes widened. "Your dad is a cyborg?"
"No!" Corry's head snapped up, her eyes flashing angrily. "He's not any different than you or I...except he's got a chip in his head." She looked helplessly at Gavin. "Or did."
"Corry..." Raph struggled to stay calm and not give in to emotions or fear. "I'm sure there's a good explanation."
"There's more." Gavin took a deep breath. "One, this blood isn't that old. I'd guess, without running tests on it, it's from no more than two nights ago. Two, those scorch marks on the buildings..."
"They remind me of the Hiroshima Museum," Olivia said. "The shadows left when the atom bomb went off."
"Precisely." Gavin swallowed hard. "I think I know what might be happening, but if I'm right..." He looked at Corry.
She nodded miserably. "Those thirty people we thought were dead might not be...and neither are our parents."
"Wait." Thomas shook his head. "You think the wraiths...are...your parents and those people? That's quite a jump to make."
"Those people did kinda vaporize in a puff." Raph grimaced at the memory. He blanched as it suddenly hit home. "We've been fighting our parents?"
Corry demorphed and slowly stood. She walked over to Gavin. "Let's make sure."
"And pray to God we're wrong."
"This is a nightmare." Olivia's voice trembled. She was beginning to have serious doubts about her being on the team. Growing up, she'd begged her parents for stories of the Power Rangers. Their mighty deeds had sounded so exciting, and even though she couldn't tell anyone else, it had been a secret thrill to know her mom and dad had been Rangers. Her dreams were crumbling around her as the reality of being a Ranger settled in.
Raph gently gripped her shoulder. "We have to keep hoping, 'Livia. Don't give up hope."
"Aw, cut the leader pep talks, Raph!" Nisha stalked over to glare at him. "This isn't like when we got lost camping and had to find our way back. We are in serious trouble here!"
"I know that, Nisha." Raph's fraying temper snapped. "So should we just sit down and cry? Give up?"
"That's enough!" Thomas pulled Raph away from his teammate before she could deck him. "Arguing and fighting with each other is not going to solve our problems." He let Raph go. The teen shot Nisha one last surly look before stalking over to lean
against the wall.
Nisha put her hands on her hips and turned her anger on Thomas. "And who appointed you Lord and Leader?"
He didn't flinch as he met her smoldering gaze and calmly answered, "No one. If you want a fight, Nisha.." One dark eyebrow rose. "..I suggest you save it for the wraiths. Venting on your teammates only hurts us all."
"He's right." Jared walked over to stand next to Nisha. "We gotta hold it together." He held out a hand. "Remember what my dad and Mr. Park taught us about martial arts?"
"Yeah." Nisha let out her breath in a reluctant sigh. "Yeah, all right. She took Jared's hand and let him lead her over to sit against the wall.
Gavin looked up from the computer. "Guys?" Everyone jumped up and hurried over to gather at the console. Their anxious faces were too much for Corry. Tears filled her eyes and she shook her head, not trusting her voice.
Awkwardly, Gavin patted her shoulder. "Um...we ran tests on the scorch marks, the blood and Lupine. Sorry, guys, the bad news is...they're all positive. It's human and the DNA matches Mr. Cranston's."
"What about everyone else?" Olivia gulped. Closing her eyes, Corry forced her emotions back. Later. Later she could cry or scream or...whatever. Right now it was time to be as factual as possible. "It's probably safe to theorize that the first nine wraiths that attacked us are our nine missing parents, but until we can collect samples on them also..." She took a deep breath and opened her eyes. "...that remains uncertain. We probably should approach this as if they are our parents, however."
Geez, she sounded just like Billy when he had bad news to tell the old team! Thomas watched as the news sunk in, leaving the team stunned. If this was what the enemy had hoped to accomplish, it/he/she was certainly doing a great job.
"Fight...our parents?" Olivia shook her head. "I can't! I can't fight Mr. Cranston either - he's like my second father!"
"Olivia," Corry's voice was flat. "he is my father, but he's also a danger to Angel Grove." Her expression faltered for a moment, revealing the turmoil they all felt. "We can't just sit back and let them take over."
"RANGERS," Zordon's voice startled them all, making them jump. They turned to face their mentor, faces full of hope that he would have an answer. He hesitated. "ALPHA HAS FINISHED ANALYZING THE OTHER SCORCH MARKS AND
HAS CONFIRMED THAT THE WRAITHS ARE INDEED YOUR PARENTS, ALONG WITH OTHER CITIZENS OF ANGEL GROVE. I CANNOT ASK YOU TO FIGHT YOUR PARENTS. THIS IS A DECISION EACH OF YOU
WILL HAVE TO MAKE ON YOUR OWN."
Raph took a step forward. "But, if we don't stop them...who will?" Thomas shook his head. "The latest news report said the Governor has called in the National Guard. They'll go the traditional military route in protecting the city."
"That might kill them!" Nisha cried. "We can't let them do that!"
"Isn't there...anyone else?" Olivia looked up at Zordon, tears streaming down her face.
Corry put an arm around her friend. "We already went that route, 'Livy. It's us or the militia."
Jared stepped forward and turned to face the team. "I for one, would rather we handle it ourselves. I don't trust the military not to kill them." His expression was grim. "I say we take care of it."
Gavin bowed his head.
"We're assuming we have only one option, guys," Thomas said quietly. He gained every eye, including Alpha's sensors. "Yeah, we have to keep the wraiths from hurting people, but we need to start looking for a way to get them back to normal."
Gavin and Corry looked at each other, doubt and hope equally mixed in their faces. There was mutual agreement in their eyes."Where do we start?"
"You got a better idea?" Corry whispered angrily. "I'm open to any suggestions."
"No." Gavin turned his back, hurt by the sharp tone of voice she used.
"Don't sulk, Gav. I'm sorry." Corry sighed, scanning the area again. "I'm just...."
"Yeah, I know." He touched her arm. "Me too." They were just having the worst day of their lives. Not a good thing when you're only fifteen or sixteen. "But how much worse can this day get?" He muttered quietly.
Two shapes flared up in Corry's enhanced vision. "It just got worse by a factor of about nine! HEADS UP!" Adrenaline made her feel like she was running a marathon as she gripped the collection gun she and Gavin both carried.
"Oh man." Gavin put his back to Corry as he spotted three more shapes.
Corry's hands were shaking as she dropped into a fighting stance. Which one is dad? Stop it, Corry! Forcing the thoughts to the back of her mind, Corry bit hard on the inside of her cheek, welcoming the pain as a distraction. Attitude. It's all attitude.
Gavin didn't have time to think as one of the shadows leaped at him, moving so fast he couldn't even duck. "Aghh!" He tumbled sideways as the wraith smacked him brutally.
Corry saw him out of the corner of her eye as she rolled, barely avoiding the swipe of a wraith. She came up on her feet and found herself surrounded by five wraiths and four more moving towards her. "This is not good. Gavin!" Gathering her strength, Corry leaped up and split kicked. It was like kicking cement - it hurt! Even morphed. "Big trouble!" Even as she came down, one moved forward and kicked her. It felt like a freight train smashed into her - and rammed her into a wall as she rebounded
off another wraith and fell to the ground, stunned.
"Try picking on someone your own size!"
Thomas, Jared and Raph jumped in and backed the wraiths off their fallen teammates.
"Corry! Try to get - " Raph ducked. "Close enough to get a sample...OOF!" He took a hit in the stomach and dropped to his knees. As the wraith grabbed for him, he caught it's arms and struggled to hold it. "Corry!"
Fighting off the dizziness, Corry half-ran, half-stumbled past where Jared was fighting off a wraith and jabbed the collection gun into the back of the wraith Raph held. "Got it!"
Jared winced as the wraith freed itself from Raph and backhanded Corry. She went tumbling end over end. Growling, Jared swept the feet out from under the wraith he was fighting and grabbed the others arm to flip it. "You okay?"
"Jay, behind you!" Thomas knocked two wraiths together and shoved another one back to trip over them. "Gavin, you with us?" He ran over to where Corry was laying. "You okay?"
"Did you get the number of that train?" Corry asked woozily. "Stay down." Thomas roundhouse kicked once, twice and pushed two wraiths back.
"We're gettin' pulverized!" Nisha barely avoided a kick that probably would've sent her into tomorrow.
"I've got my sample!" Gavin ducked and two wraiths collided. "Let's go!" Olivia was doing her best, but she felt like she was playing tag with WWF wrestlers.
"Teleport out!" Thomas hesitated, making sure everyone else was gone before hitting his own teleport control. The plaza disappeared in a flash of light and was replaced moments later with the Power Chamber. "Everyone okay?" He pulled off his
helmet and walked over to where Corry, Gavin and Nisha were sprawled on the floor. Raph, Jared and Olivia had their helmets off and were kneeling next to them. Raph was rubbing his abdomen and grimacing.
"Just give me massive amounts of aspirin and I'll be fine." Nisha groaned and sat up, removing her helmet. "That really hurts."
"I feel like one huge bruise." Gavin groaned. "Don't demorph yet," Thomas advised. "Rangers heal fast because of the power we absorb morphing, but keeping the suit on seems to help speed it up."
Corry rolled onto her stomach and pushed herself slowly up until she was sitting on her knees and removed her helmet. She held the collection gun up. "I hope this is worth it."
Thomas held out a hand. "Need some help up?"
"Thanks." Corry grimaced as he pulled her to her feet. "Gavin, we can turn into puddles of pain later. Let's get these into analysis."
"I'm moving, really I am." Gavin accepted Jared's hand up. "Ouch! Oh geez, why didn't anyone warn me being a Ranger was so painful."
"Because we wanted you to join." Corry smiled wearily. "You just want me for my brains though. Ouch. Not my body." He grinned at her.
Corry rolled her eyes in reply and left it at that. Some things never changed.
Chapter 2: Transitions
At least eight hours to grow the cultures.... Thomas decided to take that time and go check out the changes in Angel Grove. Too wound up to sleep, he teleported to the park.
Walking along the quiet paths brought back a lot of memories. Not my memories. Thomas stuck his hands in his jacket pockets and walked with the ghosts of the past.
He felt like a stranger in his own life.
In the Colonies, he hadn't felt this way. He hadn't been known (except as a bit of an oddity something Angel Grove residents were going to get used to) and there had been no record of his or Tommy's past.
Angel Grove present. Well, twenty-one years may have passed, but this was Tommy's turf. This was where he'd lived and been known in the community as a young man with a bright future.
It was where he'd died.
Thomas closed his eyes at the pain that brought. It wasn't fair! It should've been him. What had Tommy done to consign him to death so young?
Looking up Thomas realized he was at Angel's Rest Cemetery. He shivered slightly as a breeze blew, stirring the long grass on the hillside. It was cool in the early morning hours. The sun was just beginning to show in the east.
Thomas looked at the rows and rows of markers. So many people. Wonder how many because of monsters? His eyes went to a statue of a weeping angel and he sighed. Almost with a will of their own, his feet carried him down the rows. He scanned the headstones. There!
Thomas James Oliver.
A shiver ran through him, raising goose bumps on his arms that had nothing to do with the temperature. Swallowing hard, Thomas took several steps over and stood before the marker. Kneeling, he reached out to trace the letters engraved in the gray granite. "Nor steel nor poison, malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing can touch him further." Shakespeare, huh? His fingers went up to the name.
Oh God. It was true.
1979 - 1997
It felt like yesterday he and the White Ranger fought off the magically enlarged rats terrorizing the Colonists. He told Tommy it was better if he stayed, and materializing a hat, tipped it to the White Ranger. That was the last time he'd seen him.
Tommy was dead. Twenty-one years ago.
Here he was, the clone, alive and well, kneeling in dew-wet grass to stare at his progenitor's headstone. Did I do the right thing, coming forward like this? I don't belong....
You didn't belong in Colonial times either. Thomas wryly acknowledged the point his conscience brought up. Where do I belong? Anywhere?
The silent cemetery offered no answers. No comfort. Thomas wished the old team was there to talk to. They had always helped each other with problems.
Standing, Thomas sighed. Whatever answers he sought wouldn't be found here. Tommy was long gone. Time to let the dead rest in peace.
Still, he felt he owed a great debt to Tommy. "I swear, Tommy, my life won't be in vain. I'll get them back, all of them."
After that? Well, one thing at a time.
Hmmm. Wonder where Corry went? Probably home. Gavin frowned. Thanks a lot for leaving me asleep against a console! Grumbling about uncaring friends, he headed for the restroom.
Once freshened up, Gavin felt more human. He made some coffee and went over to the lab table to check the cultures. A couple more hours and they would have some answers.
Five a.m. Gavin sipped his coffee and looked around. How was it he always got stuck hanging around waiting for tests while the others took off? Sure, he wasn't super ninja like Jared or Raph, or even tough like Nisha. He was a heck of a lot tougher than Olivia and she got to go everywhere! So did Corry, for that matter, and she was only a little better than him in a fight!
She was younger, still a klutz in a lot of ways, and not half as smart! Oh, but her mom was one of the "original" rangers. Gavin made a face. So what?
Him? He was a little computer nerd, a brain geek. Yeah, he worked out, but it didn't show a lot. There just wasn't much there to work with yet. His voice even cracked still sometimes when he laughed!
It wasn't fair. Jared and Raph had biceps the size of his thigh! And Thomas.... Gavin growled. Mister thinks he knows it all. Came in here like he owned the place, like some saving grace and tried to tell them what to do.
Gavin stood to pace. Maybe he should just show them all how useless, how lost they would be without him.
They never appreciate me. They snub me, laugh at me...like I'm a germ! Like I'm not good enough for them! For her.
There was a blinding flash of yellow as he teleported out.
Nisha laid back and stared up at the ceiling. It was white. Plain white. Her bedroom at home had glow-in-the-dark stars her father had helped her put up when she was eight. She loved to turn on her flashlight for a moment then off and watch the stars glimmer.
This was Uncle Curtis' guest room. Very adult. Very boring. Sure, he was a talented musician, the scores of best-selling CDs on the wall proved that, but his visual imagination really lacked.
Nisha liked being different. Walking that line between original and shocking was her thing. It wasn't easy when you were part of a team.
The early morning light glinted off her communicator. Nisha frowned. They made her conform. She couldn't even play with her uniform and liven it up.
Not that she hadn't tried, but Zordon had explained they were supposed to look like a team. That meant conforming.
It had been a point for her when the power had chosen her to be the Red Ranger. Her! Not one of the guys, but Nisha Taylor.
Then Zordon had gone and explained the re-assignment of the balance. Yes, red was her personality, her color, but it didn't automatically mean leader now.
That had really sucked. She was the Red Ranger - tradition had always held that color was the leader of the Rangers, or at the least second-in-command to the White Ranger.
So why had Zordon thrown countless decades of tradition away?
Because for the first time, females had received the red and the white powers! The old wind-bag just couldn't stand that!
Of course, Raph and Jared had been thrilled. Their initial dismay had turned to relief.
Then to top it off, Corry had to go and grab the dead guy from the past and bring him in. So much for balance!
Why don't we just change the name of the team to Testosterone Rangers!?
Nisha snorted in annoyance. They thought she couldn't lead, thought she'd buckle under pressure.
Shah, right! If they thought they could push her around and take her for granted they were way wrong!
Nisha sat up, jaw set in a determined line. I'll show them. They think I'm all fun and games, never serious?
They are gonna get their sorry butts whipped!
Her parents were out there. Somewhere.
Clutching her stuffed rabbit tighter, Olivia shut out the nagging doubts about their return. Of course they'd come back! They would be just fine.
They were Power Rangers! The good guys. Good guys always win. Right?
No one reassured her. No one spoke words of comfort or hugged her. Uncle Franklin was asleep upstairs. Besides, he didn't know The Secret. He wouldn't understand.
They all thought she was so young and shy just because she preferred to sit back and observe before she jumped in. It was hard to be heard over the racket all the others made!
Even when she did speak up, they brushed her off. Too young, too inexperienced. Too naive.
I am not! I am not stupid either! Everyone looks to Gavin to be the brains, or Corry. What about me? If they'd shut up for two seconds they just might hear me!
Olivia held her rabbit fiercely. "They will not overlook me because of my age anymore! I'm just as bright, just as quick and agile as any of them!" She smiled, a knowing, mocking parody of a smile. "We'll just see if I can accomplish what all of them together can't! We will see who laughs then!"
Boiled eggs, salami, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, salsa, some tortillas.....
Whatever wasn't bolted down came out. Raph set it on the table and smiled. He hadn't done this since his last growing spurt.
His smile faded. Dad had heard him and had come in to join the feast. It never failed to amaze him how much his dad could put away.
Popping a Jolt Cola, Raph sat and held the can up in silent salute. "To you, Dad."
He wolfed down the salsa and tortillas. The peppers followed.
Dad had never said much about being a Ranger. It gave Raph the feeling things hadn't always been so great for him.
How could it be with arrogant jerks like Jason, Tommy and Billy on the team? They thought they ran the show, and had never taken him seriously. Never taken time to see there was more to him than eating, having a good time and joking around.
Where had they been where had anyone been when mom left and took Bailey with her? He had almost gone nuts, tearing the place up before drinking himself into a stupor.
Raph bit into a pepper, savoring the hot tingling sensation. He had been the one who had dragged dad to bed and nursed him back.
Even mom had split and left him holding the pieces of his life. I'm the only one who has been here constantly. His gaze fell on his communicator. I'll be the only Ranger that ever gave a damn about you and I'll be the one who saves you!
Raphs hands tightened into fists. Screw it! Who needs the others? They didn't give a rip about him, so he could do just fine on his own. He always had.
Pushing her sweaty hair back, she sat up. What a nightmare. She stared at the screen, not really seeing it. What if it came true?
In her dream, the Rangers had become wraiths themselves made even more powerful by the fact they had the Ranger powers.
Rubbing her face, she tried to wake completely. Four hours of sleep just didn't cut it. Wonder how dad always managed?
The thought drew her mouth into a frown. Who, besides mom, had ever taken into consideration the countless hours dad had spent slaving over a new program or device?
For the team.
Always, for the team.
No one. They had taken his devices like they had a God-given right to use them. Like it was dad's job, his duty, to create them.
Like it was no big deal. No big deal.
Corry's eyes narrowed. She growled and stood. Maybe it was time to stop being pushed aside for every new member who had no experience but a big attitude and muscles!
Time to show them just how capable a member of the team she was. "Okay, you hotshot jocks." Corry sat and began to read the computer results. "No more excuses or apologies. Time to pay up!"
He'd always had a short fuse. Waiting made it worse. "Damn!" His fist impacted the bag with a thud. Good thing mom couldn't hear him. He'd get a lecture on control and self-discipline.
Jared kicked the bag and punched it again. This absolutely stank. THUD!
He hated being helpless. THUD, THUD!
Having to wait while those two kids tried to figure it out or pretend they did.
"Damn!" WHACK! THUD!
Then to top it off, Raph won't even blow his nose without Zordon okaying it. And now...now this arrogant jerk with a real attitude problem shows up and tries to run the show. WHAM!
Jared stopped and put a hand out to still the bag.
Wait, it's so simple.
Why waste time waiting when I can take care of it?
With a laugh he turned, heading for the shower. Time to show the team what a real leader was like.
Belatedly, as usual, his memory kicked in and he remembered the communicators didn't beep now. They did something to irritate the nerve.
"This is Thomas." Oops! He forgot to look around first, but no one seemed to notice.
"Thomas, thank goodness!" Alpha's voice quivered with worry. "At least you answered!"
"Alpha," Thomas walked over to a shaded spot away from everyone. "What's wrong?"
"None of the others are responding to their communicators! Gavin was here, but he left suddenly -"
"Okay, Alpha. I'll be right there." Picking up the jogging trail which was deserted, Thomas ran until he was certain no one could see him, then teleported.
"That's okay, Alpha. He was around a lot longer than me." Thomas shrugged it off. "Where is everyone? I thought they'd be here, anxiously waiting."
Zordon appeared in the huge transparent tube suddenly. "THE OTHERS ARE IGNORING THEIR SUMMONS."
"But they -" Thomas stopped as six holograms popped up, one of each Ranger. A perplexed expression crossed Thomas' face as he watched the holos. "What's wrong with them?"
The trio watched the holograms in silence for a while. No one wanted to believe what they were seeing.
Gavin was sitting at home, feet up on the coffee table, watching cartoons. He laughed out loud as one of the toons fell under an anvil.
Nisha and Jared were nose to nose, trading insults and yelling about who was the best qualified to lead the team. Nisha shoved Jared and stanced. Jared just laughed, made a comment about what a wimpy girl Nisha was and walked off. Nisha followed, yelling obscenities.
Olivia was at the computer at her uncle's typing furiously. Nothing unusual about that. It was the crafty smile and insane glint in her eyes that was out of place. Music from an old eighties CD blasted in the background. Thomas recognized it as Sting.
Corry was at her father's office in the Wolfetech Main Building. She stared intently at the info scrolling across the screen then suddenly paused it and looked up. For a moment it seemed like she stared right at them. Then she went back to whatever she was looking at.
Raph was in the old rock quarry. He walked around looking at the ground. Finding something that caught his eye, he knelt and dug through some gravel. Then he stood and walked around some more.
Thomas shook his head. "Did you check for spells and all that already?" He looked at Zordon, already anticipating the answer.
"THEY ARE NOT UNDER ANY TYPE OF SPELL WE CAN DETECT, THOMAS." His voice was sad.
"I don't think they were exposed to anything weird. Nothing that I wasn't." Thomas turned away from the holograms. It made him uneasy to spy on his friends like that. "Did anything like this happen to their parents before they disappeared?"
"UNFORTUNATELY, WE WERE ON ELTAR AT THE TIME." Zordon felt the weight of all the years pressing in on him. "TREY SUMMONED US HERE AFTER THEIR DISAPPEARANCE." He guessed what the young man's next question would be and headed it off. "ALPHA HAS ALREADY SENT A PRIORITY MESSAGE TO TREY. THERE HAS BEEN
NO RESPONSE SO FAR."
Thomas nodded and patted Alpha's arm as he walked off. He heard Alpha and Zordon discussing the results of the samples Gavin had been working on, but only listened with part of his attention. That level of science was beyond him and wasn't his strength any way.
He couldn't help but think they were missing something obvious. Wandering over to the cases that showcased the uniforms of previous Ranger teams, Thomas brooded.
There was something, call it instinct or intuition, that kept trying to draw his attention to it. A detail they had passed up? Knowing his hit and miss memory it wouldn't surprise him.
Let's see. He began to mentally list facts. The old team's power coins were gone (except his). They still had their ninjetti powers. Dulcea had said those were a part of them.
Wait. Dulcea. The ninjetti ruins. What was it she said?
Thomas turned, a smile dawning on his face. "Nothing is impossible for those who are ninjetti."
As one, Zordon and Alpha looked and stared at the young man. "THOMAS - "
"Zordon, it brought you back from death!" Thomas walked over, getting more excited. "Dulcea told us that. We believed it. Look what it did once!"
"THE CURRENT RANGERS ARE NOT NINJETTI, THOMAS." Zordon's voice was quiet. He would never forget what the previous team had done for him. It was breaking his heart that he couldn't help their children or them at their time of need. "THEY HAVE A VERSION OF NINJA POWERS CREATED FROM THE NEW GRID, BUT THEY NEVER MADE THE JOURNEY TO PHAEDOS."
"I wasn't talking about the current team." Thomas paused, looking from Zordon to Alpha. "If I can get Billy and the others back to normal, I know we can help the Rangers." He knew beyond any doubt his friends would do whatever it took to get their children back.
This was the right course. His heart and his instincts were both one hundred percent on it.
"As soon as it's dark, I'm going after them." Thomas met Zordon's gaze. "I owe this to them. I owe it to Tommy."
The ancient mentor nodded slightly. He recognized the tone of voice, the steel determination and sureness that lit the young man's face. It was what had driven Tommy. No matter what the cost to himself; if it was right, it had to be done.
"BE CAREFUL, THOMAS. MAY THE POWER PROTECT YOU." With a nod, Thomas teleported out.
Thomas sat and threw rock after rock into the pounding surf below. This has to work.
Looking up, he saw the sun was just beginning to sink towards the ocean. Standing, he brushed the dirt off his jeans and stretched. Almost time.
Thomas pulled his morpher from it's dimensional pocket and looked at it. No, this wasn't part of what was going to happen. It was too new. He sent it back.
I need something older, something that is part of the old team. I have to reach them.
Closing his eyes, Thomas reached inward, letting his instinct lead. In his mind's eye he could see the ninjetti ruins, the fire burning in the center, he and his friends standing before Dulcea. We all possess an animal spirit. They are part of you. Nothing can remove it. For those who are ninjetti, nothing is impossible.
There was something else, though. It danced on the peripheral of his mind, just out of reach.
Thomas shut out all outside distractions and reached for the flirting wisp, encouraging it to come closer.
For a moment, it danced away, maddeningly tantalizing him. Thomas relaxed, ignoring all the clamoring thoughts that demanded urgent action.
The wisp soared over him on the plane of his mind and for an instant he thought it might be the falcon. It dove towards him.
Thomas threw up a mental hand as a blinding flash of green light illuminated his mind.
A growling voice spoke to him. Open your eyes, cub. Thomas opened his eyes and froze. Before him was the largest black panther he'd ever seen. It's amber eyes bored into him.
No words then? It's mental voice was an odd mixture of gruff growling and purrs.
You're not the falcon!
A predatory smile showed very large, sharp teeth and fangs. YOU are not Tommy.
The panther growled, sounding irritated. Don't be dense, cub! Gently it butted it's head against his chest. Thomas, I am YOUR animal spirit.
Staring into the endless depths of the panther's eyes Thomas felt acceptance and beyond that, an indescribably sense of belonging. For the first time..ever...Thomas didn't feel like a clone. Here was a being that saw him as an individual.
You are, cub. The panther sat and regarded it's charge with a rather toothy smile. You came searching for something.
Thomas nodded. _No insult, but you aren't exactly what I was hoping to find._
The panther's thick tail thumped once, twice as the guardian animal stared at him.
Beginning to feel like a mouse, Thomas squirmed under the intense gaze. _I'm being dense. Again._
One ear flicked back as the panther shook it's head. You never were good at seeing the obvious.
_The obvious?_ Thomas looked around at the green light surrounding them. Green was had been his first color assignment as a Ranger as well as current. Before all else. Before ninjetti.
There! A core of energy inside him. Thomas reached out to touch it and let it flow through him.
Now, call it by name.
The green light flared, then dissipated. Thomas looked down and saw what resembled his ninjetti outfit. It was all green: loose green pants, a green tunic, green split-toed ninja boots and a green headband.
The panther raised it's huge paw and set it firmly against the large green coin set in the middle of Thomas' chest. Thomas noted the wickedly sharp claws barely sheathed in the velvety black paw, but looked with complete trust into the eyes of his guardian animal.
Do not doubt yourself, cub. You are a Morphin Warrior and ninjetti. Nothing, save death, can take these powers from you.
As the panther removed it's paw, it left it's symbol - a snarling panther - emblazoned on the gold coin. In Thomas' hand a green handled katana appeared.
Use these wisely, Thomas. The panther gave a growl-purr as it's charge nodded.
Thomas hesitantly reached out his empty hand but stopped short of actually touching the ebony fur.
The panther stepped forward and butted Thomas with it's head again, allowing him to touch the thick fur on it's neck.
I am with you always. Go now, cub. Your friends need you.
When he opened his eyes, he was still standing on McKenna's Leap, dressed in his jeans and shirt. The sun was just touching the ocean, seeming ready to sink beneath the waves.
Thomas nodded. "It's time."
Thomas was counting on it.
Downtown Angel Grove was deserted and eerily quiet due to the mandatory curfew. Thomas had the streets to himself.
He already formulated a plan of action, based on Jason's thinking. Jason had led the team in the past. He'd lead it now.
Thomas smiled wickedly. Too bad for ol' Jase he knew how his friend would think.
Streetlights flickered to life, flooding the area with light. "Time to rumble." Thomas prowled down the middle of the street and stopped at the edge of the intersection.
He began to call. Not using his voice, but with his heart and mind. With memories of times spent with his best friends; times they had stood back to back and fought; times they had laughed; times they had cried.
The beauty and power of memories is their timelessness. In our memories our loved ones look just as they did the day our mind etched the image forever on our conscious.
Thomas knew that his reputation for not remembering was well-deserved. He also knew there were things he wouldn't could not ever forget:
... Jason offering his hand and friendship to the former evil Green Ranger. The rest of the team surrounding him in welcome...
... Green powers fading and him falling into deep depression. He tried to isolate himself, but Kim and the others wouldn't let him...
... His and Kim's first kiss...
They came as he'd known they would. Flickering from one pool of darkness to the next, sneaking up to surround him.
Thomas let them. If he failed here then it didn't matter what happened to him.
But he wasn't planning on failing.
Through half-closed eyes, he watched them take out most of the lights, leaving only a few to weakly flicker.
One wraith advanced slowly, surely.
Jason. He'd know him anywhere.
Thomas let the glamour fall away from his face, exposing it to the wraiths. He sensed their shock, though outwardly they only stopped and were still.
"Hey, guys. It's me." He grinned. "Bet you thought you'd never see me again, huh?"
To his right, Thomas sensed one of the wraiths wavering. Keeping an eye on Jason, he turned to concentrate on the weakness. "You remember, don't you?" Thomas bombarded the wraith with more images of memories.
Stancing, Thomas warily faced the wraith that was Jason. It was hard to tell what he was thinking since the shadow surface was so fluid. He could sense major irritation though.
"Jase, come on, Bro. Think of all we went through." _Memories of Karate Tournaments, working out, teaching classes...._
_Hope she'll forgive me for this later. If it gets her back it'll be worth it._ Thomas smiled. "In the flesh, beautiful."
The wraiths shifting from began to shrink and shimmer. Memories flooded it's mind:
... The first time she saw him...
...All the times he'd protected her...
...Her power coin gone and him reassuring her he'd be there for her, regardless...
Thomas devoted his whole attention to the Jason wraith as it leaped forward with impossibly fast speed. Using his ninjetti quickness he dodged sideways and gave the wraith a shove as it passed. The wraith stumbled and blundered into two others preparing to join the battle.
Hearing a gasp, Thomas turned and stared. "Kimberly...."
Of course she's changed, you idiot! His mind chided him. She's thirty-eight! But still, it was her. Still beautiful, but without the schoolgirl naivety. This was a sophisticated Kimberly. Well... maybe.
"What the hell is going on?"
Thomas grinned. "Welcome back!" He barely ducked a swing from a wraith. "Care to join me?
Kimberly's eyes widened as five wraiths converged on Thomas. Somehow, using those old ninjetti tricks, he eluded them and the fight raged on. Closing her eyes, she reached for the core of power in her and called it to her. "Pterodactyl!"
Soft pink light flashed and Kim was moving even as the light died, revealing her costumed in a pink leotard, ankle boots and a chest shield. Targeting in on a certain wraith not moving, Kimberly moved towards it, determination in every line of her being. Doe brown eyes flashed angrily. "William Cranston, I will not allow you to stay trapped!"
It was the tone of voice that brooked no disobedience. Her children would have recognized it immediately. Apparently the wraith did also. It raised its hands and shuddered, fighting against its very nature of hack and slash.
"Will," Kim softened her voice to plead. "Please, don't leave me alone." Using the weapon used on her, she brought to mind all they had shared:
...the joy of discovering their love....
...his astounded expression upon seeing their first newborn's tiny face...
It was over even as she reached out to him. The wraith form simply dissipated from Billy's body and he fell to his knees.
"Will! You're hurt!" Kimberly cradled him. She looked up as a towering dark form slid closer. "BACK OFF!"
Thomas heard Kim's snarled warning and spared a glance her direction. It was the wrong moment to take his eyes off Jason. A black hand crashed into his jaw and he tumbled back, seeing stars.
Rolling up on one knee, he blinked quickly to clear his vision before employing a ninjetti trick to sink into the ground and away from Jason. Appearing far enough to allow him a second's pause, Thomas noticed one wraith little more than arm's length away just watching him.
Something about the quiet stillness he sensed in it jarred his memory. "Adam!" That was all the time he had before leaping up and back to avoid being kicked into tomorrow by Jason. As the Jason wraith grabbed him, Thomas sent a blast of memories at Adam.
It got a reaction not quite what he had expected though. The Adam wraith turned and charged Jason, locking massively powerful arms around the other wraiths arms.
Thomas didn't waste the opening. "Jase, please. Bro, you gotta remember!"
The Jason wraith howled in anger and fought to free itself. Thomas found more company approaching and left the two to deal with each other.
...Tommy handing him the green power coin and leaving...
...The agony of leaving the team and going to Switzerland, only alleviated by knowing Tommy would take care of them...
...Winning the Karate Tournament and hugging his friends...
"NOOO!" Jason broke free of Adam's hold and fell to his knees. "NO ONE CONTROLS ME!" The wraith form lifted reluctantly from his body to dissipate into the night.
The Adam wraith moved away and approached one other wraith standing as if uncertain whether to join the fight or not. The two dark forms looked at each other and both remembered:
..."Adam, what's wrong?"
"I'm a frog."
"Yes, like the frog you kiss to get a handsome Prince."...
... Tanya entering the church in a white gown...
... Olivia's tiny hand clutching his tightly...
Trini remembered as if it was just yesterday:
... Tommy kissing her cheek and asking her to tell the others how he loved them all...
... The emptiness she felt when she gave the yellow powers to Aisha...
... The pain of her friends and herself at Tommy's funeral and the joy of discovering Jason's love...
The wraith hesitated at Kim's warning. It's ebony form wavered into an uncertain gray. Kim again used the weapon she'd used on Billy. "Aisha, remember!"
...The rush of morphing...
...Her grandmother giving her the heart locket...
...Kim quitting the Angel Girl's club because they were discriminating against her and friendship was more valuable than status...
"Kimberly?" The churlish gray form faded and dissolved, leaving Aisha blinking.
"Where's Zack?" She whirled and quickly spotted three large ebony forms trying to beat the life from Tommy who somehow kept slipping away. "ZACK!"
"Kimberly!" Thomas narrowly avoided a kick. "Remember what Dulcea said!" He leaped up as Jason barrelled into one of the wraiths, tackling it to the ground. "What we did for Zordon!"
Kim chewed her lip uncertainly. It was so long ago.... "Anything is possible!" Billy smiled weakly, his head wound still seeping blood. "Help me stand, hon. I think I know what he's planning."
Adam came over and took one of Billy's arms as Kim leveraged him to his feet. "Aisha!"
Torn between wanting to go to her husband who was still a wraith, Aisha hesitated. She grimaced as Tommy roundhouse kicked the Zack wraith back.
Whirling, Aisha ran over and stood next to Kim. "This had better work," she growled.
"We don't have Rocky or Tommy!"
"Anything is possible!" Billy closed his eyes in concentration. Kim clenched her eyes shut.
Adam relaxed and closed his eyes.
Aisha scowled fiercely but closed her eyes, joining her hands with Kim and Adam to close the circle.
"Jase! Concentrate on Rocky. Let the others handle Zack and Tanya!" Tommy broke free of the Tanya wraith and shoved her back.
Jason gritted his teeth and kicked out, sending the Zack wraith staggering back.
"Rocky, come on man!" Thomas ducked a swing and heard the arm whistle over his head. "Remember oof!" He blocked part of the kick, but the momentum still tumbled him backwards.
Jason concentrated on taking Rocky down. He didn't know him all that well, even after all the years. Rocky just wasn't a very forthcoming person.
"Remember the fun we had!" Thomas was getting seriously tired, but dug deeper. "Your mom's tortillas and salsa." He racked his memory. "Rocko, don't forget! You saved us, man! We were all footballs, even your uncle."
Thomas saw the fist coming but there was no time to dodge. It froze inches from his jaw.
...Skydiving and winning the competition...
...Hours sparring together...
...The laughter of friends...
The wraith lifted from Rocky and evaporated, leaving his to fall to his knees.
"Welcome back, Rocko." Thomas gripped his shoulder and grinned. He looked up and saw the last two wraiths, Zack and Tanya, struggling to free themselves from an invisible grip. "Remember when we saved Zordon?" Thomas gestured to the other ninjetti all fiercely concentrating.
"I'm in." Rocky closed his eyes.
Thomas closed his eyes and sent his plea to his last two friends. _Remember!_
Tanya stiffened as the will of the six ninjetti gripped her wraith form.
...Billy giving up his place on the team for her...
...Adam encouraging her in her singing...
...Holding their newborn baby...
Zack fought hard against the combined will of his friends, but memories kept intruding.
...He and Kim singing a song for Tommy, all their friends surrounding them...
...The wrenching loss of giving up his powers to go the Peace Conference in Switzerland...
...Finding Aisha on a vacation to Africa...
The darkness of the wraith forms lifted in two clouds and dissipated, leaving Tanya and Zack staring dazed at their friends.
Thomas let out a long sigh. They were back! Opening his eyes he found Jason staring at him, his face pale. Thomas smiled, understanding. It was weirder than any monster Rita, Zedd or anyone had ever sent at him seeing his friends all grown up.
"Tommy?" Jason's voice was barely audible. He swallowed hard. If this was a ghost, it was the most realistic one he'd ever seen!
Everyone else, now reunited with their partners and friends, came over to stare wonderingly at him.
_Oh boy._ Thomas' smile grew wistful. He didn't want to hurt any of these people. They were way too important to him. "It's a long story, guys." He noted how pale Billy was. "Why don't we get Bill back to the Power Chamber and I'll explain there?"
Zordon and Alpha had no doubt been monitoring the battle, because before Thomas could even move to teleport he felt the tingle of the teleport signal as it swept the group up.
Jason smiled quietly. Thomas might not be exactly Tommy, but he shared Tommy's ability to weave a story that kept a group spellbound.
"Corry and Gavin finally figured out my access codes, huh?" Billy shook his head, smiling ruefully.
"It was only a matter of time." Kim smiled lovingly at him and smoothed his hair back. "Zordon," Her voice betrayed her concern. "Where are the kids now?"
"UNFORTUNATELY, THEY HAVE BEEN INFLUENCED BY AN UNKNOWN EVIL, POSSIBLY THE SAME ONE THAT TRANSFORMED ALL OF YOU."
"Brace yourselves," Alpha warned. He tapped several controls and the recorded six holograms appeared again.
"Madre de Dios!" Rocky swore. "What the -"
"Oh, dear God." Tanya grabbed Adam. They could both see something was not right with their daughter.
Jason's expression tightened as he watched his son trading insults with Nisha. "We've got to stop them."
"Is this what happened with you?" Thomas looked from one shocked face to another. He turned to Billy.
Kim couldn't look any longer and pressed her face into Billy's shoulder. "I...I don't remember really." Billy put a comforting arm around his wife's shoulders.
"Adam?" Thomas looked hopefully at the quiet, pale man. Dark eyes full of pain, Adam steadied Tanya. "I think so." He looked up to meet his old friend's gaze. "And I think I know where to start looking for an answer."
Chapter 3: Catharsis
Zordon watched Thomas pace the Power Chamber like a caged animal. The others were gone, looking for their children. He had opted to stay behind and monitor the situation.
The mentor wasn't sure why the young man had stayed. It wasn't because he wanted to, not if his pacing was any indication of his mood. "THOMAS," Zordon hesitated, not sure how to ask this question. "ALPHA AND I ARE ABLE TO MONITOR THE OTHERS IF YOU WISH TO JOIN THEM."
A wry smile twisted Thomas' mouth. He could tell Zordon was wondering about him. He felt the interdimensional being's gaze on him as he paced. He stopped and looked at Zordon. "No, I don't think it's right for me to get in the middle of this. Not yet, at least."
Thomas sighed. How could he explain what he didn't quite understand? He just knew it wasn't right. "I think they need to do it themselves."
Pushing a hand through his hair he grimaced. Actually he wasn't even sure if they should get involved at all. Something was telling him there were forces at work beyond them. The same brooding feeling he'd had before going after the old team was back.
Wait. What had he just said? Work it out for themselves. "That's it!"
Thomas looked up at Zordon, all indecision gone. "This isn't going to be easy, Zordon. We need to let the kids do this without our help."
Zordon stared. That, coming from the one person who never wanted to sit on the sidelines? "NOT HELP?" That was all he could think of to say.
"I've got to stop them before they interfere!" Thomas teleported out in a flash of green.
"Wait!" Nisha pushed the door open and closed it behind her. She leaned against the door. "I have a proposal to make."
"But this is so sudden," Gavin smirked. "Go away." He turned to walk away and felt his arm grabbed in a steel grip.
"Very funny, Gavin." Nisha pulled him to the computer resting on a desk. "Can you hack into any system from here?"
Gavin pushed his black hair out of his face and looked at his former teammate with wary blue eyes. "Maybe. Why?"
Nisha pushed him into one chair and sat in the other. She smiled shyly, slowly raising her light brown eyes to meet his gaze from under her lashes. She knew Gavin's weakness and exploited it shamelessly. "I need your help, Gavin." She kept her voice soft. Biting one lip she added, "I know you don't like the way things are either. Jared and Raph boss us around and hog all the glory."
She reached out and took one of his hands in hers. "If I was in charge, you would be the most important person to me."
Gavin swallowed hard. How had he ever missed seeing how pretty Nisha was? He looked at their hands, her skin dark against the paleness of his. "W-what do you want me to do?" He winced as his voice cracked and waited for her caustic remark.
"Just do what you do best." Nisha reached out to raise his chin until he was looking into her eyes.
His eyes widened and he felt his resolve weaken. Trying to stand up to Nisha's gaze was like staring down a lioness.
Nisha smiled slowly, showing white teeth. Standing she stood behind him, put both hands on his shoulders and turned him to face the computer. "Hack into the grid for me."
Silly. Waste of time. All of them are a bunch of airhead fluff-brains who have no idea of what I am. All they see is the outside.
Jared knew he was handsome. He had his mother's almond eyes and dark hair, his father's fair skin and build. Girls had been trailing after him since grade school.
A cruel smile curved his mouth. Girls didn't have what he wanted at the moment. He was after one thing.
With him leading them, the Power Rangers would be a force to reckon with. No more letting the killers and invaders get away to strike another day. No mercy to those opposing him.
Only one thing stood in the way. Raph. He had to find Raph and get rid of him.
Jared stopped dead and shuddered. He swallowed hard, suddenly feeling sick. No...he couldn't kill his best friend. He shook as if gripped by the chill of a fever, eyes closed. Sweat covered his forehead.
Then it passed. The cold, dead look filled his eyes once again. It was too late to turn back now.
Jared again began to hunt the former leader of the Rangers. His memory had supplied an image. Now he knew where to look.
The stuffed bunny in her backpack was silent, it's head flopping madly as she ran.
When she reached the trees, Olivia ducked behind one of the larger pines. She pulled her morpher from it's dimensional pocket and grinned manically.
Then froze. This could get her kicked off the team permanently. Zordon might strip her of her powers if she used them wrong.
Wrong?! Ha! She was righting a wrong done to her! Let the old wizard try to stop her.
Still.... Olivia pulled her backpack around to look at Vel. "I don't need to be morphed, do I? I can do this with one hand tied behind my back!" Kissing the stuffed rabbit, Olivia returned her morpher to it's pocket. Raising her wrist she hit the teleport command on her communicator and pictured the Power Chamber.
In a burst of pink light, laced with black, she flashed out of the woods.
She grinned at the surprise in Zordon's voice. "Hiya, Big Guy!" Olivia saw Alpha approaching and waited. Just a little bit closer.
"OLIVIA, YOU ARE NOT YOURSELF." Zordon couldn't believe the dishevelled imp in front of him was the normally immaculate Pink Ranger. Her long black hair, always curly, was full of sticks and stuck up around her. Her brown eyes had a crazed look in them, accentuated by the dark circles underneath. Her cafe au lait skin was pale. "PLEASE LET US HELP YOU."
"Of course you can help me," Olivia said with a grin. She yanked one of Alpha's power cables and stuck it in one of the power conduit's on a console before the little robot could move.
Alpha, jolted by more power than he was designed to handle, shook so hard he looked like he would fly apart any second. "Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi! Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi! Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi!"
Olivia laughed merrily. "Don't worry, Zordon, I didn't forget you." She pulled a CD out of her backpack and carefully inserted it in the console, then concentrated on the controls for a moment. "You see it's not you or Alpha I'm after. You're just in the way. I'm gonna show those know-it-alls not to take me for granted or underestimate me ever again!"
Finished, she looked up and smiled sweetly. "Sorry to lock up your controls, but I need you two to stay out of the way." Olivia stepped back from the console. "Somehow I don't think they'll ever see themselves or me the same way again."
"OLIVIA, WAIT! PLEASE!" Zordon's protest went unheard as the girl 'ported out in a flash of pink and black.
"Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi! Ay yi yi yi yi yi yi!" Zordon mentally sighed as he looked at Alpha 5. Hopefully the console would short out soon and free him. He could only hope it would short out the little robot's repetitive loop before then.
After all, the quarry was a creepy place. None of them liked it. The deep gouges cut deep into the earth, revealing layers upon layers of rock. There were piles of it everywhere.
It was the endlessly deep crater in the center of the quarry he really hated though. Murky, full of rainwater and only God knew what else, it reflected the sullen gray sky.
Raph, and every other kid in Angel Grove, grew up hearing horror stories about the abandoned rock quarry. With the cities' track record for weird things, most kids believed the tales and avoided the place like poison.
He had come here when his mom had first left them, taking his little sister with her. After dad had finally sobered up and cried himself to sleep, Raph had come here and stared into the water-filled crater and wondered.
Wondered if it was his fault she'd left. Wondered why she had taken Bailey, but not him. Wondered why she didn't love him anymore.
He had come here that night heartbroken, ready to throw himself into the deep, cold water below. Something had held him back though, delayed him. In those long moments of indecision, Jared had found him and kept him from jumping.
That was when he'd buried it here. He'd marked it, though at the time he didn't know why. After what she'd done, he didn't want to see her again. But part of him still loved his mother.
Raph jerked his mind back to the present and found himself staring at his marker. His feet had known the way. Slowly he knelt and began to push the dirt and rocks aside. It took a little digging, but finally he found the edge of the metal box and dug it out.
It was a little rusty, but still intact. Raph gingerly pulled it from the hole and set it on the ground. He sat back and just stared at the box for a long moment.
Maybe I shouldn't use it. Geez, dad doesn't even know about this! He probably thought mom took it with her when she left. It was her's from the championship tournament after all.
Raph took a deep breath. Dad. All the hurt he went through, leaving the team finally when he couldn't deal with the constant demands of being a Ranger and trying to pull his life back together. Where had those Rangers been through all that?
His resolve hardened to steel and Raph decided it was time to exact a little revenge on teammates who didn't care.
They'd care when he was done. He smiled grimly and broke the rusty lock. Lifting the lid he carefully reached in and pulled the sword from the case. He removed the protective cloth that bundled it. Careful not to cut himself on the blade which was wickedly sharp, he unsheathed it.
Raph stood and swung the blade. It was perfectly balanced and felt like part of his arm. Time to exact a little revenge.
This would fix those jocks. Just let them try to access their Zords. They'd need fresh underwear when this was done with them!
A tendril of something whispered against her mind like a cold breeze and Corry's head shot up. What the heck was that?
Forgetting the program, she stood and turned to look around her. She didn't see anything, but the sense of coldness didn't leave. It lingered on her skin, chilling her. Shivering, she wondered how low the climate control was set.
Sitting again, Corry downloaded the virus onto a CD and backed out of the computer. She didn't think anyone at Wolfetech would be snooping around in these files, but better to be careful. She stood. It was only about twenty minutes before the employees would start showing up. Time to go.
A noise from the hallway made her freeze, her heart jumping. Who would be here already? Her face paled as she heard two voices. No way!
The door opened to reveal two very familiar people. "Corry!"
Blue eyes wide, Corry backed away. "Stay back," she warned them. These could not be her parents! They were still trapped by the wraiths! Oh God, could it be another form of attack? Maybe these were the wraiths in new forms!
Forms the team could never fight.
Corry's lip rose in a snarl as she remembered why she was here to begin with. Her eyes became a deep, cold blue, the ring of black around the iris growing a little larger.
"Corry, it's us." Kimberly and Billy took a step closer. Kim would've gone closer but Billy held her back.
"Look behind her," he said softly.
Just behind Corry, hovering like an obscene shadow, was a gray form. Ghostly wisps of hands were touching the girls golden hair.
"Don't pull that on me," Corry growled. "My parents aren't here! They're trapped." She grabbed the CD and pocketed it. "You won't take me without a fight!"
"Corriane Noel Cranston!" Kimberly used the tone of voice that had always stopped her daughter in her tracks.
The girl winced. That tone of voice and her middle name? Ugh! She gulped. This was too weird. Time to get some protection. Reaching into her dimensional pocket she pulled her morpher. "White Ranger Power!"
Kim took a step back in surprise as white light flared up then died to reveal the White Ranger. She hadn't expected Corry to be this desperate. Uncertain of what to do, she looked at her husband.
For his part, Billy wasn't surprised. Back a person or animal into a corner and you'd better expect a fight. "Corry," he said softly. "It's okay. You're not in trouble. We don't want to fight you. Let us help you." He held out a hand.
In answer, the White Ranger pulled a sword seemingly out of thin air. "Talk to this if you want to talk!" She tossed Saba at them.
Billy pushed Kim behind him and reached for the power core deep within. Tapping it, he called, "Triceratops!" Blue light flared then died. Now in his Morphin Warrior form, Billy pulled his laser pistol as Saba shot towards them.
"Oh my!" The sword blinked tiny red eyes at the pair as it hovered in front of them. "This has to be a mistake."
"SABA!" Corry wailed. How could it fail her? "Attack them you hunk of junk!"
"Really!" Saba huffed, highly insulted.
"Look at the facts, Corry." Billy urged. "Saba won't attack us, both your mother and I can morph, and we haven't attacked you."
To back his point Kim called, "Pterodactyl!" and morphed into the Pink Morphin Warrior.
"Fine! Keep the sword!" Corry touched her belt and 'ported out in a flash of white laced with black.
"Where did she go?" Kim looked at Saba. "Can you track her?"
"Certainly, Pink Morphin Warrior," Saba said almost smugly. "She is in the Zord hangar bay."
"Come on, let's go!" Billy teleported out, followed closely by Kim and Saba.
They reappeared in the hangar bay, not far from the WolfZord. "Over there!" Kimberly pointed.
Billy again held her back. "Don't corner her, hon. She's already running from us. We don't want to make her desperate." He didn't want that shadow thing hanging around her make their daughter do anything she would regret like trying to kill one of her parents. "Saba, can you "
He froze as Kimberly gasped. They both heard it. As one, the two turned to look at WolfZord with wide eyes.
The Zord, still and lifeless when they'd 'ported in, now was growling, it's red eyes flashing.
"Um...Will?" Kim sincerely hoped he still had a bond with the Zord. Suddenly WolfZord turned and began to head towards the back of the hangar, stalking with it's head down, for all the world like a real wolf. Even it's metal "paws" were silent.
Billy shook his head, amazed. "Let's follow. I think he's after Corry."
Sure enough, a split second later they heard an ear-shattering shriek and saw the White Ranger running. WolfZord was almost leisurely pursuing her. It was chasing her into a corner.
"Will!" Kimberly began to get concerned. "It won't hurt her, will it?"
"No!" Billy knew that like he knew his name. His one-time Zord was on their side, though how and why could wait for later.
The White Ranger reached the corner and whirled to face the Zord stalking slowly towards her. Ohmigosh! Her mind froze as she looked into the red eyes. "Power down," she whispered as if mesmerized. Then it was just Corry facing WolfZord.
Billy and Kim skidded to a halt just to one side of WolfZord. Saba sailed past, heading straight for the girl. "Oh no..." Kim covered her mouth, afraid of what was going to happen.
Saba whipped around Corry and slashed back behind her. An unearthly shriek filled the hangar bay and all the humans winced in pain. The gray shadow shot away from Corry and Saba, desperately seeking a path away only to be snapped in half by WolfZord. There was a sucking sound, like water going down a drain, and a pop.
No one moved. Another thirty seconds passed in absolute silence before Corry looked down at the ground then at Saba still hovering next to her. "You cut my hair!" She pulled a swathe of her long hair forward and gaped at the clipped ends. "Wasn't that a little too close?"
Billy and Kimberly ran up to engulf her in their arms and for a while there was a tearful reunion. Finally they all turned to look at WolfZord. Corry bit her lip and took a tentative step forward. There had been a moment while it was chasing her when she thought the Zord was going to snap her up for misusing the power. When it didn't move, she walked to it and slowly reached up to touch the metal muzzle. "Thank you," she whispered.
The red eyes flashed for a second in response. "Thank you, old friend," Billy said.
Kimberly echoed it. "Thank you."
"Hmpf!" Saba huffed. "That walking pile of metal gets all the thanks and what do I get?"
Tears filled Corry's eyes. "I'm sorry, Saba. Thank you even though you did cut my hair." Sometimes she found the haughty sword a little intimidating. She knew she didn't measure up to it's standards not yet and maybe never. So she downplayed Saba's abilities and joked around with it.
The sword sighed. Teenagers. "You're welcome, White Ranger." Deciding to leave before it suffered more indignities, Saba faded out.
"So if you're okay," Corry said hopefully. "Are the others also?" Billy and Kimberly each put an arm around her. "Let's get upstairs and we'll fill you in." Billy added, "I want to see how the others are doing."
Trini, standing next to her husband, bit her lip but stayed silent. If Thomas was like Tommy Oliver, he wouldn't be asking them to do this for no reason.
"These are our children, Thomas!" Jason's face began to turn red and a vein popped out.
"Jason," Thomas sighed. "I know it's asking...well, more than I have a right to ask." He looked into the older man's eyes and didn't flinch from the anger there. "I was right about you. Now I'm asking you to believe this is right for your kids."
Trini heard the conviction in his voice, saw the sureness in his face. She touched Jason's arm. "There is something more to this than the visible, Jason."
He stared at his wife in astonishment. Trini had always been a peaceful person by her very nature, but he'd seen her get very protective when it came to him or Jared. Now with their son's very life on the edge she was smiling calmly at him, telling him to believe the clone of his best friend. Jason was dumbfounded. He blinked. "Trini?"
Her lovely smile grew and she reached up to brush back his dark hair. "Jared is a strong person, like his father. I think Thomas is right. We need to let him discover his strength."
Damn. She was right...as usual. Jason sighed and nodded. "All right."
It was a reluctant admission, but it was all Thomas needed. He smiled his thanks to Trini and teleported out.
Zack though.... Thomas nodded to himself. Get Zack on his side and let him convince her.
The word was like a judgement from God. Thomas felt sweat break out on his forehead. Aisha glared at him, eyes narrowed, hands in fists.
"I cannot believe you would have the nerve to ask that!" Thomas took a deep breath. Stay cool. "Aisha, everyone else has agreed that it's right except Rocky. I haven't found him yet."
"Good. Maybe he'll find Raph before you do." She lifted her head a notch higher. "I will not stand aside and watch my daughter get twisted by these wraiths!"
Zack had been watching, his opinion somewhere in the middle. He wasn't sure Thomas understood what he was asking them to do.
"If you interfere you will probably end up right where you were before," Thomas said coldly. "A lot of good you'll do Nisha as a wraith yourself."
"You dirty "
Zack grabbed Aisha as she moved to swing at Thomas. He wasn't worried about the man. Thomas had gone after nine wraiths single-handed. Still, he didn't want blood spilled between friends, and Aisha would regret it. When she cooled off. "Aisha, calm down!" Zack held her as she struggled. "Hitting him is not an answer!"
"Dammit, let me go!"
Struggling to hold her, Zack was surprised when she suddenly froze. He whirled, expecting to see wraiths attacking. Instead he saw a huge Kodiak bear. It stood next to Thomas, staring sadly at Aisha.
Cub, it sighed. Have we not spoken about your temper before?
"Y-yes," Aisha said meekly.
Zack realized it wasn't really speaking. He was hearing the voice in his head! His gaze went to Thomas, expecting to see the young man at least startled by the giant bear suddenly by his side. Thomas did look surprised, but he had a funny kind of smile on his face also. Almost as if he had expected this.
Your fierce love is to your credit, cub. The bear took two steps closer and stared into Aisha's eyes. However, the time has come to release your hold and let your child find her own way. The bear growled slightly as Aisha opened her mouth to dispute. She shut it with a snap, eyes wide. Let her go, cub. She will be better for it and so will you.
Tears filled the dark eyes and ran down Aisha's face. She nodded even as she felt her heart was breaking.
The bear nuzzled her face with it's wet nose. Cub, she will always be your child. Now, let her be your friend.
The huge bear turned its head to look at Zack and he swore it smiled slightly before turning.
Thomas bowed his head in thanks to the bear, who nodded once then vanished.
All three of them looked at each other. No words needed to be said. With a nod, Thomas teleported out.
Where the heck is the kid going? They were heading out of town, away from the park. If he was going to the ocean he was sure taking the long way around.
Peering around the tree, Rocky saw Jared moving once more. He took a step and stopped as his sleeve snagged on a branch. Without looking Rocky reached around to pull himself free. He nearly had a heart attack when he touched a hand. With a muffled curse, he swung around, stanced.
Laughing chocolate brown eyes met his angry gaze. "Hi."
"Dammit, Thomas," Rocky hissed. "You just scared ten years off my life!"
"That's getting even for the times you did just that to Tommy." Thomas, still smiling, leaned against the tree.
"Yeah..." Rocky ran his hand through his wavy brown hair. He had pulled a lot of practical jokes on his friends through the years. He remembered Jared and saw the kid just disappearing over a hill. "Come on, he's gettin' away."
"Hold up." Thomas sobered. "I think we need to let the kids do this on their own." He briefly explained what he meant, not surprised when Rocky frowned.
"Listen, that makes sense, but I know Raph." Rocky's hazel eyes showed his pain. "He's been through a lot for a kid his age. There's a lot of hurt and anger in him that those wraiths are gonna lap up like a kitten to milk." He gestured ahead. "And Jared hashis dad's temper. Put those two together and you have perfect candidates for wraiths."
Thomas knew he'd underestimated Rocky's insight into the situation. This wasn't an overprotective parent, this was a man who was worried about two kids he loved getting hurt.
Making a quick re-evaluation, Thomas nodded. "Okay, let's follow them, but-" He held up a hand. "No interfering unless it looks like they can't handle it. Agreed?"
"Agreed." Rocky shook Thomas' hand and grinned. "Just like old times, buddy." It might have been odd to anyone else to hear a thirty-eight year old say that to an eighteen year old, but Rocky had never completely lost his teenage love of adventure. In his mind, there was only a minor matter of some years.
"He's heading for the quarry." Thomas nodded at Rocky's surprised expression. "Raph's there already." Seeing Rocky didn't have his communicator, Thomas took his arm and hit the teleport button. They disappeared in a flash of green and red.
It was darker in the thick pines. Dark and kind of spooky. Olivia heard an odd noise and a tug on her pack. She whirled, but saw nothing. Just trees. The girl gulped. Maybe it was the wraiths. She reached behind her to pull Vel out of her pack and felt only the fabric of the pack.
"VEL!" Olivia pulled the backpack off and rummaged through it. No bunny. She looked around frantically. He must have fallen out, but where?!
Looking for this, fledgling?
Olivia slowly looked up and saw the biggest, whitest owl she'd ever seen in her life. It was perched on a branch only a foot from where she knelt. In it's talons she saw her stuffed bunny.
Now torn between her beloved stuffed bunny and those wickedly sharp talons and beak, Olivia gathered her courage. "Let Vel go!"
Your stuffed rabbit has nothing to fear. You, however... The owl's yellow eyes glowed a little brighter and it puffed up it's neck feathers.
Olivia felt her courage dissolve under the scrutiny of the bird. Tears filled her eyes. "What do you want?"
The owl leaned forward and blinked once. You.
"M-me?" It came out a squeak.
You. It's voice was almost a cooing, whirring sound. Hold very still, fledgling. Do not move.
Olivia froze, seeing the owl's attention now on something behind her. She was deathly afraid, but there was something very compelling about the owl.
In a flash, the owl lifted off the branch and launched itself at her. Olivia closed her eyes. She actually felt downy feathers brush her cheek as the owl swooped over her.
There was an unearthly shriek that echoed through the woods, answered by the owl's cry.
Olivia opened her eyes in surprise as she heard a noise like water going down a drain then a pop. The owl landed back on it's perch with a satisfied look on it's face.
Now. How do you feel, fledgling? Better? She did, much to her surprise.
"Yes." She looked up, her dark eyes wide. "What did you do?"
Rid you of that parasite! The sharp beak snapped and the owl ruffled it's feathers. I am your guardian animal. In time you would have come to me, but circumstances dictated differently.
Olivia remembered her father telling her about Phaedos and Dulcea. "But I'm not smart enough to have you as my animal! Owls are wise and I'm not." She felt tears burn her eyes as she realized what she'd done to Alpha, Zordon and her teammates.
Fledgling. The owl's cooing voice was gentle. You are very young yet. Learn from your mistakes. Try not to repeat them. You and I shall deal well together, you will see.
Olivia looked up and had to believe. It sounded so certain. She smiled slightly. "I will. Thank you." Shyly she held out a tentative hand and gently brushed the white feathers on the owl's chest. She was rewarded as the owl dipped it's head to gently touch her hand with it's beak.
Your family waits for you at the Power Chamber. A twinkle lit the yellow eyes and the owl leaned down to gingerly pick up Vel in it's beak. Stuffed rabbits are not to my liking, but they are yours. Go now, fledgling.
Accepting Vel, Olivia stood. With a last smile, she hit her teleport button and left in a flash of pure pink.
Oops. That was the wrong thing to say.
Nisha stood and glared down at him. "Creative designs take time and effort! You can't rush an artist!" In a switch of mood she sniffed haughtily. "I'm thirsty. Is there anything to drink?"
"Uh, yeah. There's soda in the fridge." As she walked off Gavin muttered, "Please, help yourself." Geez, what a prima donna! What was her problem anyway?
The front door opened and Eugene Skullovich walked in. He smiled at his son. "Hi, Gav!" He began to loosen his tie. "Man, what a long, weird day. Your mom home yet?"
Gavin just shook his head. Fear had begun to form in the pit of his stomach as soon as his father walked in. His dad had always been a magnet for strange things and with all that was happening lately.... "Dad, uh, you sure you don't want to go over to Uncle Bulks? I mean "
"Who are you-" Nisha strolled back in and froze. She set her soda can down with a thump and shook her head. "This will not do."
Skull really was not a stupid man. He had acted that way much of his teenage years, but upon graduating from high school he had realized people would like him as well if not better when he was himself.
Seeing Nisha Taylor glaring at him was enough of a shock. It was the eerie gray cloud clinging to her like a sick aura that scared him. "Gavin, get out of here!"
"Oh, no." Nisha pushed Gavin down into his chair. "He's staying right here." Black ribbons streaming out from the gray cloud began to encircle her arms and ankles and ooze their way slowly up her body.
Skull was really worried now. He reached for his son and flew backwards as a ribbon struck him.
"DAD!" Gavin jumped to his feet and ran to his father who lay still on the floor. He felt a pulse much to his relief. That was it. She can boss me around, but hit my father? I don't think so! Gavin whirled and stopped. The black was already up to Nisha's waist.
A black ribbon whirled away and leisurely wound it's way towards Gavin.
A flash of light filled the room, so bright it made both Gavin and Nisha wince and close their eyes. It cleared
"YIKES!" Gavin scrambled backwards, falling over his father as he saw the biggest, whitest polar bear he'd ever seen towering over Nisha. He didn't stop to see what would happen. Grabbing his father's arms, Gavin dug deep for strength and dragged his father out of the house.
On the porch he sat and panted.
Think you got away, huh?
Gavin really did not want to know, did not want to look, but the urge was too strong. He looked down and stared. "What are you?"
The brown animal sat and regarded the boy, shaking it's head. Another computer brain, huh? Didn't you ever go to zoos, kit? I'm a mongoose! Bright eyes looked Gavin up and down. I'm your guardian animal.
Gavin blinked. _A mongoose. Figures. Others get a wolf or falcon a cool animal. I get something that looks like an otter._
The animal growled, suddenly looked extremely fierce. Listen, kit! Don't take me for granted. Faster than a blink, the mongoose leaped at Gavin, knocking him back and snarled into his face. You need me.
Before Gavin could even think of moving a hand to knock the animal from him, it leaped again, diving behind him.
There was the sound of snarling and growling, then an eerie shriek that vibrated the bones in Gavin's ears. There was a sucking sound then a pop then silence.
Gavin peered around his shoulder and saw only the mongoose watching him with bright eyes. It dawned on Gavin. He must have had one of those gray cloud things hanging on him too! He swallowed hard. That was too close.
The mongoose walked around to sit in front of him again. "Thank you."
You're very welcome, kit. The mongoose seemed pleased. It smiled showing sharp, white teeth. You and I are alike. That's why I'm your guardian. We're quick, smart, not afraid to face down a larger opponent.... It made a kind of chuckling sound. But we still know how to have fun.
Gavin smiled. Yeah. He liked this the more he thought about it. "Uh, what about Nisha? Is it safe "
The mongoose cocked it's head as if listening. Stay with your father, kit. For some of your friends, today will not be easy. Stay here until she comes out. It sighed. She'll need her friends and family around her after this. The bright eyes locked gazes with Gavin. Do not belittle yourself, kit. I would not be here if you were not worthy.
Nuzzling his hand once, the mongoose stepped back and disappeared. Leaving Gavin to watch over his father, and wait.
The bear's roar shook every bone in her body and terrified her. Nisha froze. She felt so cold. So tired. _Maybe I can just close my eyes...._
Her eyes snapped open, blazing with a gray light as the black ribbon tried to continue up her body.
Fight it, cub!
_Fight what?_ Nisha wondered groggily. _And where was that growling coming from?_ She heard a shriek as a huge white paw swiped past her head. _Oh God! The bear is attacking me!_ Fangs and teeth snapped inches above her ear. Something black whipped out and snapped against the bear's muzzle as it came down on all four feet.
The polar bear growled, it's head swinging back and forth. Cub, fight the darkness as you have never fought before!
_Darkness?_ Nisha looked down at herself finally and let loose with a shriek of her own. What the heck was this stuff?! She tried to pry it off her arms and cried out in pain. It was like ripping her own skin off!
Feeling warm air puff on her face she looked up. The polar bear with it's glowing eyes of pure arctic blue stared into her eyes. I am your guardian animal, cub. We must fight this together or you will be lost.
Think of your family, your friends. Recall the fun, the love, all the good things and times. Think on these and push the darkness away!
Nisha almost laughed. "That's not fighting!"
DO IT! The voice roared into her mind. Snapping her eyes shut, Nisha began to dredge her memory for good times. It wasn't hard. Her mother's voice singing to her, her father dancing with her, laughing with her friends and playing.... Nisha clung to the memories of love and light and pushed the darkness from her with all her will.
The bear watched intently then nodded. Rearing up on it's hind legs, it swatted mercilessly at the black shadow hovering over the girl. It's long nails dug chunks out of the shadow trying to engulf Nisha.
Nisha whimpered as the shadow transferred the pain it was feeling to her, but held on to what the bear had told her. She shut herself off to everything but her thoughts.
Now snapping and clawing, the polar bear began to rip the ribbons off its young charge. The shadow screeched in pain as its hold on the girl loosened. It vainly tried to wrap around her but couldn't get a purchase any longer.
In a last desperate attempt, it leaped up, seeking escape. The polar bear rearedhigher and swatted the shadow down then fell on it, snapping it in half.
Nisha's scream mingled with the shadow's shriek and she fell to the ground as the shadow popped out of existence.
Nisha lifted her hand to touch the bear's muzzle that gently nudged her face. "I think I'll live."
Relief emanated from the bear. Your friend Gavin is outside. Go with him to the Power Chamber, cub. Your family and friends await you there. It hesitated. Remember strength is not always in the physical. Recall this battle if you ever forget.
"Wait! Will I see you again?"
The bear growl-chuckled. With you as my charge, no doubt we will be seeing each other again. It touched it's cold nose to her cheek. Be well, cub.
Nisha smiled as it faded out. _Wow._ Gathering her strength she got to her feet, still feeling wobbly. _Time to go face the piper for today's mayhem._
He didn't notice his arms begin to turn black, or the cool air that filled the area. Raph was only looking for one thing. A fight.
He barrelled across the rocky ground and skidded to a halt as he saw Raph standing ready, a sword in his hands. "Real brave, Raph. Fight an unarmed man with a sword." Jared didn't hesitate. He knew how to even up the odds.
Even as he stanced and reached to pull his morpher, he saw Raph mirroring his motions. Fine. Make it even.
"Blue Ranger Power!"
"Black Ranger Power!"
For a timeless moment the two adversaries faced each other then burst out laughing.
"You look like a girl!"
"Oh yeah? You look like a clown!"
Then, it dawned on them. They both looked ridiculous. Raph had morphed into a girl's version of the uniform, complete with a skirt and breast molds. His normally black armor was tie-dyed rainbow colors.
Jared's helmet had a bright clown nose, orange clown hair, and the armor was lemon yellow, chartreuse and blue. His feet were covered with oversized clown shoes.
Then the second surprise hit them. From within their helmets a tiny compartment opened and sprayed into their faces.
"AGHHHHHHHH!" Both quickly powered down. Unfortunately for them, Olivia's little surprise wasn't tied in only to their armor. Both looked at each other from a face coated with pink spray paint.
It was the proverbial last straw.
Thomas shook his head. That had to be Gavin's handiwork. "Remind me not to morph until we get the kids tricks all worked out."
Rocky nodded. "No kiddin'."
The hair on the back of Thomas' neck stood on end suddenly as both boys screamed and demorphed. "This is it."
Rocky looked at him. "Huh?" He followed Thomas' pointing. Sure enough, both boys suddenly became engulfed in black.
"Let's be thankful they aren't morphed. Come on!" Thomas headed for the nearest path down, Rocky on his heels.
At the end of the path they met an unexpected sight. A huge panther blocked the way. Thomas put an arm out to stop Rocky.
Not yet, the panther said firmly. It's gaze went to Rocky. You look for the Ape?
"Uh, yeah." Rocky had been wondering why only Thomas's guardian was there.
You turned away from him many years ago. Rejected his help. The panther's voice was colder than Thomas had ever heard. He has respected your wish to be without him, despite the pain it causes him.
Rocky winced. It was true. After he'd left the team all he'd wanted was to be separated from all that reminded him of the Rangers. He had never considered the consequences of that action. He had pushed away all his friends...and his guardian. "I'm sorry. I never thought...."
The panther made a snorting sound. Truth. Thomas winced. His guardian was being rough on Rocky. As if realizing the discomfort he was causing Thomas the panther relented. Peace, child. It sighed. The decision is yours to make, Rocky. The Ape has been waiting for you to return all these years.
It turned it's gaze on Thomas again. Do not interfere with the young ones beyond, cub. You may watch. This is for them to succeed or fail alone.
Thomas nodded and the panther turned to stalk off, slowly disappearing as it went.
"Man, that is one touchy guardian you got there." Rocky scowled after the animal. "I don't remember ever being chewed out by mine."
Shrugging, Thomas gestured. "Come on. I want to see what's going on."
They rounded the corner and stopped. Raph and Jared were fighting. Both were black belts, so neither was getting an edge. They traded blow after blow. Retreat, advance, over and over. It was almost a dance except as it went, the black surrounding them became thicker.
Rocky made a strangled noise and started forward, to be stopped by Thomas. "We were told to wait."
"For what? They're gonna kill each other!" Two flashes of light stopped the argument. Behind each boy a column of light slowly died down to reveal an animal.
Thomas nodded. "For those."
Jared wasn't completely gone over. Seeing the giant, snarling animal that looked intent on disemboweling him startled him back to his senses. He scrambled back, tripped over a rock and almost fell.
Stop running! A voice growled in irritation. He did. Froze in place and stared at the wolverine. The black ears, which had been pinned back, now came forward as eyes full of intelligence regarded him.
Got your attention, huh? The mental voice was gruff, an odd mixture of growling sarcasm. The wolverine came closer until it's muzzle was almost touching him. You want to fight?
Jared watched the animal warily. He'd heard what these animals could do, but the anger consuming him pushed him to act. He stanced and bared his teeth, hazel eyes glowing eerily gray.
Too bad for you, cub, the wolverine snarled, showing far too many very sharp teeth. It shook it's head. You've left me no other way to do this.
Jared knew this was it, as the stocky bundle of fur and muscle jumped at him. The wolverine hit him hard, knocking him down. It snarled, teeth at his throat. His hands came up to grasp the muscled neck and fur, trying to hold it back.
Don't fight me!
Eye to eye, wolverine and Jared stared at each other. The gray light began to ebb slowly from the boy's eyes. The animal's eyes were strangely gentle for such a fierce creature.
Fight the darkness seeking to consume you, cub! Jared's gaze focused on his arms. He realized he could barely feel them as they strained to keep the wolverine back. They were completely black and icy cold. "Consume...me?" Then it hit him the wraiths were trying to use him. "NO!"
That was what the wolverine had been waiting for. It lunged at Jared, easily overpowering the boy, and snapped at the shadow clinging to him.
It felt like someone was pouring boiling hot water over him, or ripping apart the first two layers of his skin. Through the haze of pain Jared got the picture from the animal of being separated from the wraith form.
Jared threw his entire will against the shadow form gripping him so tightly. He gritted his teeth, shut out the pain, and concentrated harder than he ever had. "GET...OFF...ME!" A shriek ripped through him as the gray shadow dug in, trying to hang on.
The wolverine's claws began to rip deep furrows into the gray form. It bit deep into the shadow, unmercifully separating the shadow from it's charge. Jaws locked, the wolverine backed away from Jared, dragging the shadow with it.
Dimly Jared heard a sucking sound then a pop. He gasped in relief as the pain finally ceased, leaving him laying on the ground feeling weak.
He opened his eyes to see the wolverine sitting next to him. There was an oddly gentle expression on it's fierce face. Well fought, cub. I had doubts, but now I see you and I shall do well one with another. It nudged him not so gently. Master your temper, cub. Master it...or it will master you. The wolverine waited, staring at the boy until Jared nodded.
Seeming satisfied, it stood. Your friends come. Learn to rely on them, cub. There is great strength in the bonds of friendship. Humor laced the dry mental tone. Between them and me, we'll get you through. With a last, gentle nudge, the wolverine was gone.
Do not fight me, cub! Look at me.
Raph clenched his eyes shut, and held on to his anger. LOOK AT ME! The voice would not be ignored. He opened his eyes and realized he couldn't move because the whole weight of a jaguar as big as a pony was resting on him, pinning him to the ground. Huge paws held his shoulders down. Golden eyes stared at him and Raph found himself drawn in.
I am not the enemy, cub. The enemy is inside, welcomed in where you allowed it. The mental voice was warm, laced with a growling undertone.
Your anger and pain feed it. As long as you cling to these emotions, the darkness will cling to you! Release it, cub!
"NO!" Raph struggled to free himself. "I deserve to feel this way! I'm the one who is to blame! Leave...me...alone!"
I will NOT. The mental tone was indomitable, unmoving. You are mine and I will NOT allow this!
Raph felt whiskers tickle his face, felt the animal's warm breath as it lowered it's face to almost touch his. I am the one trying to free you, stubborn cub! The jaguar growled, truly irritated. Look at me.
Raph knew better than to try to resist this time. He opened his eyes expecting an angry glare. The sad, gentle light in the golden eyes caught him and held him.
You were innocent. Do you hear me? You...were and are...innocent. What happened was not your fault it was your parent's decision. You were caught in the middle and had no choice.
The jaguar's mental voice hardened. What happens now is your doing. This is YOUR choice. Decide wisely, cub. Light and freedom...or darkness and pain. The big cat snarled. Choose. The jaguar stepped off of Raph and stood back watching warily. Its tail slashed back and forth.
Raph was still a moment. The jaguar's words echoed in his mind. Innocent. I didn't drive mom away? It...it wasn't my fault?
Something clicked, like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle Raph had been searching for since the day his mother left. This was it.
No more running.
He dug deep inside for inner strength, pushing the anger and hurt away. Pushed away the doubts and the nagging worries, and grabbed on for all he was worth to the rope of light the jaguar had tossed him. Gathering himself, Raph mentally shoved away the dark form clinging to him.
The jaguar had been waiting, sensing it's young charge's struggle. Faster than a blink, it sprang at the shadow as it was pushed away from Raph. Huge velvet paws crashed against the wraith form, bringing the shadow down to pin it with wicked claws no longer sheathed.
The big cat bared it's fangs, growling. Tell your masters we are ready, Shadow! With a snarl, the jaguar snapped it in two. The wraith wailed over the sucking sound, then disappeared with a pop. The jaguar heaved a huge mental sigh. Turning, it paced over to Raph and pushed it's head into Raph's chest.
Raph threw his arms around the jaguar. All the pain he'd held inside for years was freed, and like a dam break, it flowed out of him as he sobbed against the big cat.
You are free, cub. The jaguar purred, a low rumbling noise that soothed. Do not return to that mental bondage. You are surrounded by people who love you; your father, your grandmother, cousins, aunts and uncles, The cat rubbed the side of its head against Raph's. and you have your friends. Now you also have me. It sat back as Raph pulled away slightly. You are strong, cub. But real strength is not like in movies. You are human and humans gain strength from being together, not solitary.
"I'll remember." Raph promised quietly.
Do so. Humor laced the jaguar's tone. Or you may find me here to remind you once again. Gently swatting the boy with a velvet paw, the jaguar stood. Your friends come, cub. Do not forget the promise you gave me. If you need me, you have but to call. Springing away, the jaguar disappeared.
Raph stood and looked at his father for a long moment. He still remembered the pain, but he had promised to move past that. Swallowing hard, he walked into his father's arms. Rocky dropped the sword and held his son tight.
Jared grinned and nodded. He was more than ready to go home!
Raph and Jared still had pink faces.
"...and YOU!" Jared pointed a finger at Nisha who actually cringed slightly. He stared laughing. "Making me a clown?"
"Hey, I was a girl!" Raph shook his head and looked at Gavin. "You will fix it, right?"
Gavin grinned. "Sure." He slanted a look at Corry. "Just don't morph until tomorrow "
"Or go to your Zords." Corry cleared her throat and gave a sheepish smile. "Uh, Ineed to fix the virus I downloaded into them."
"Geez!" Jared sighed. "What was this, mutiny against the guys?" Olivia giggled, nudging Nisha. "What was the term you used?"
"Huh? Oh," Nisha blushed slightly. "The Testosterone Rangers. Sorry."
Raph sobered. "No, I think we got the idea. We'll have to be more fair in the future."
"I think we all gained new respect for one another," Jared agreed. Corry nodded then looked around, smiling at the parents grouped together watching proudly. She spotted Thomas and waved him over.
One by one the team was adding their hands to the hand Raph held out. Thomas walked over, obviously reluctant to intrude. He felt an elbow nudge him and looked down. Corry looked at him expectantly.
Raph and Jared both nodded as the others smiled. "Come on!"
Thomas added his hand.
Corry and Olivia started to giggle as Jared's face turned red. "You made a nice clown, Jared."
He stuck out his tongue. "Yeah, well I heard things about you guys too. Like "
"So, it's nice day for a picnic, isn't it?" Gavin stood, very reluctant to discuss all of that again.
Olivia stood, an impish smile on her face. "What's the matter, Gav? Don't want to talk about Rikki Tikki Tavi?"
The group broke up into laughter.
"Ha ha," Gavin said good naturedly. "Do you really want to go there, 'Livy? We could talk about a certain stuffed bunny named Vel...."
"Let's go play frisbee!" Olivia grabbed his hand and dragged him off.
"Well, I'm glad Raph took some time off. He and his dad haven't done anything together for a long time." Corry sighed happily. Her parents were back, her friends were reunited and all the people who had been wraiths were now just average Angel Grove citizens again. Everyone seemed to chalk it up to just another weird occurrence in the city. The team was still alert though. After what the jaguar had said to Raph, they had to believe this wasn't the last they'd seen of the enemy.
She sighed. Everyone else had seen their guardians face to face. It made her wonder why the wolf hadn't done so with her. Maybe because her parents were there? She would have like to see the wolf. To know for certain....
"Let's go show them how real frisbee is played!" Nisha and Jared ran off. The gentle game Olivia and Gavin had been playing suddenly became a competitive sport.
Corry saw all the parents talking, laughing about something Mr. Skullovich said and smiled as her mother waved. Nah, she didn't want to join them, but she waved back. She stood and looked around. Where was.... Corry shook her head. Nice day, great friends and he was by himself. Hah! Not for long!
Sneaking up behind him she pounced out from around the tree. "Hey!" Thomas jumped. "Geez!" He rolled his eyes as Corry gleefully laughed at him.
"Don't you know you're not allowed to just sit here on a beautiful day?" Grabbing one of his hands she pulled on it. "Come on! Play frisbee with us or sit with the boring adults, but don't just mope."
Thomas had to laugh. He couldn't help it. Guess he wasn't going to be allowed to feel sorry for himself. His musings on why Trey hadn't showed up were lost. "Okay, okay." He stood and looked over at the adults.
Kim had been watching. Figures. He never could hide anything from her. She winked and nodded for him to join the kids.
Corry was already running for the field, forgetting her worries for the present. "Nisha! Over here!"
As Thomas ran off Kimberly caught Billy watching her. "What?"
Kimberly smiled her sun-bright smile and leaned over to kiss him. "Oh yeah."