Disclaimer: I'm distraught and melodramatically overwhelmed
that I don't own the Power Rangers, but all the other weird stuff is mine,
so hey, guess there is an upside to all this...
This is the thirteenth in the series and the penultimate episode (oh yes, it has a planned ending!). By this time you will be hideously lost if you haven't read the rest of the series, so I would recommend that you look 'em up! Otherwise, read and enjoy!
"You know, this is starting to have a strange, eerily familiar feel to it," Kim announced, twisting her hair around her fingers as she pondered events thoughtfully.
"Hmm?" Tommy commented, sipping at his drink, tired from another long shift working with the Zords.
"Billy ... and Trini and Skye, actually." Kim said and paused, noticing at least one member of her audience was not paying attention.
"Adam ... Adam!" Kim resorted to throwing a scrunched-up piece of paper at the Frog Ninjetti who was 'resting his eyes', sprawled out on the couch.
"Wha ...?" Adam opened a bleary eye. "What?" he asked grumpily.
"Have you managed to speak to Billy about what happened yet?" Kim asked hopefully.
"Well ... no ... I mean he got back and he then had to configure the computer system at the Power Chamber and initialise the power flow up on the Moon at the Palace. Then he was programming all the Zords with new weapons specs ..." Adam reeled off, beginning to frown as he realised what the Pink Crane Ninjetti was getting at.
"See?" Kim interrupted Adam's recitation. "Ring any bells for anyone else?" She looked at them exasperatedly. "Honestly, do you lot always walk around with your eyes shut ... well, maybe Adam does, but really ...!"
"Hey!" Adam sat up, trying to defend himself. "I'm not that bad!"
Kim sighed at their blindness to events. "Well, I recognise it ... it's what Billy always does to ignore something that has happened to him. Come on, you BOTH know that as well as I do!"
Tommy looked uncomfortable. "I thought it was because he really was very busy, I mean Ninjetti are gathering at Phaedos as we speak, and the Ninjetti trying for the Master Powers are nearly ready to get going ... except for those of us trying to get a bit of rest," he said with feeling and Adam gave a quiet chuckle at that remark.
"Yes ... and once we've done that, no-one will have the time to force them to talk about this," Kim answered in her familiar 'I'm on a mission' tone. "And you know what, however busy he is, if he doesn't deal with this before the pressure gets too great, he'll crack and possibly take us with him."
"Kim!" Tommy exclaimed, amazed at her clinical assessment.
She tossed back her hair. "What? It's true. Besides ..." and she looked at them with her expression softening, "he's hurting, and he needs help. I can feel that here ..." she put her hand to her chest. "And I am not about to let that carry on any longer than necessary."
Billy was working intently on the console, cursing under his breath, wishing that Alpha was there to help him. Such was his concentration that he was totally oblivious to the stalking ambush that was going on. The first thing he knew was the sensation of hands gripping his arms and legs and lifting him bodily away from his work. He struggled, instinctively twisting and about to kick out to get free when he realised who it was who actually had him.
"Easy there, bro ... you could take a guy's eyes out like that." Jason's voice came from somewhere above his head.
"Or other more ... er ... sensitive spots," Tommy added from one of his legs. There was a low, familiar chuckle that indicated that Zack was there, too, manning his other ankle.
Billy stopped struggling. "What are you guys doing? I've got work to do," he protested, trying to look at least one of them in the eye.
"Oh ... end of working hours, Billy," Tommy informed him gravely. "C'mon, Zack, Jase ..."
The Lion Ninjetti grinned and the group of them began to carry Billy away.
"Hey, at least let me down ... Jase! Aw, come on," Billy tried reasoning with his friends.
"What, and let you scamper back to that console? I don't think so - a few words are WELL overdue with you, bro." Jason replied unmovably. "Let's teleport, the others might be there already."
As it turned out, they were the first ones there, at Billy's familiar garage lab and adjoining room. Jason, Zack and Tommy dumped Billy on the sofa.
"Sit! Stay!" Jason ordered in his best commanding tone as Trini was ushered in, under guard by Tanya, Aisha, Kat and Kim and then in a similarly undignified fashion to Billy, Rocky and Adam brought Skye into the room.
The three Ninjetti righted themselves as a massive delivery of pizza and sodas and assorted junk food items miraculously appeared. Billy, Trini and Skye looked at each other, wondering what had come over their friends.
"Er, guys ... look, this is a nice idea," Billy began, his mouth filling with saliva at the delicious smells wafting from the flat cardboard boxes. "But really we don't have time ... the War has started, remember? The Master Quest is a matter of days away, the space armada of the Darkness Visible has already started to encroach on the territory of the Council of the Wise ... We can't sit here and eat ... is that a Special?" he asked as Kim passed the tantalising pizza his way.
"Just the way you like it ... extra cheese and all," Kim responded, waving a piece under his nose before taking a huge bite from a slice. "Coach Schmidt would probably have a heart attack if he knew I was eating this."
Billy bit into a delicious slice. "Mmm ... but I shouldn't be eating pizza when a galactic war threatens."
Rocky grinned. "It'll still be there tomorrow ... but the pizza won't; I can guarantee that."
The group snorted a little.
"I bet," Aisha said drily, ignoring Rocky's mock-wounded expression.
Trini looked around. "Seriously, what is this all about?" she asked, scanning around the group for some sort of a clue.
They all glanced briefly at Kim whose idea it had been even if it had been Jason and Tommy who pushed it through into action.
"It's about you three. Billy, you are hiding from something ... we know you well enough to know now," Kim said seriously. "We know you had some pretty bad times out there ... and since you got back you haven't talked to anyone about it."
"Yeah," Adam picked up the thread. "You three know about it, but it's going to be ALL of us in this war... and what affects you, affects us. We want to help you and know what happened."
Billy unconsciously shrank back a bit against the sofa. The pizza he was eating was suddenly incredibly interesting and absorbing and he found himself trying to memorise its colour and texture as if studying for a test.
Trini and Skye looked at each other and with the familiarity of such a long time of working together nodded in perfect synchronisation.
"I think that would be a good idea," Trini said softly, glancing at them all with a warning to be gentle in her dark almond eyes.
Skye settled himself on a bean bag half sprawled out across the floor and Trini in a nearby chair, leaving room on the sofa for some of the others next to Billy ... just in case.
"So then ..." Tommy said as they all relaxed, "tell us everything that happened whilst you were away."
The three Ninjetti looked at each other and grinned. "Everything?" asked Skye "We'd be here forever!"
"Well, edited highlights ... as long as you don't leave out the juicy bits!" Kim demanded, leaning forward, her eyes bright at the prospect of gossip. Of course, as always when someone is asked to talk about anything, a deathly hush settled across the room and Kim rolled her eyes heavenwards for patience.
"Talk!" she threatened them with a piece of pizza, and Trini laughed and began with some of the more innocuous stories from their trip into space.
The story poured out throughout the night, ranging from the incredible, the hilarious, to the dangerous and tragic, all the successes and the failures gradually moving closer and closer to the more painful stories. When one of the Ninjetti faltered, one of their friends gently pressed the issue until they told them everything, if not one being questioned, then one of the others. Trini had cried when she spoke of the misunderstanding that had nearly broken them all apart ... and virtually all the women shed tears when she recited what Billy had said on Veras, much to the Blue Wolf Ninjetti's flaming embarrassment.
And then they drew near the end, to the events that had not been talked about ... not even in passing, blocked from their minds as if they had never happened. Strangely, it was Rocky who kept them talking when the words threatened to be crushed out of the room under the weight of the intense emotions.
"So ... you investigated Chlorak, yes?" Rocky prodded the emotional scars tentatively. "What happened there?"
From the sudden jump in tension all around them, they knew this was the focus of what was troubling the three Ninjetti. Of course they had heard snippets of what happened from the Astro Rangers, but ...
"Dark Spectre." Billy choked on the name a little despite himself and then repeated it more firmly. "Dark Spectre was double-crossing them and we launched in to help. I distracted Dark Spectre and Trini and Skye helped them against the monsters Ecliptor and Darkonda. Then ..." he stopped suddenly, freezing up despite his best intentions. It was as if suddenly his tongue had frozen or shut down, rendering him completely mute. He pulled in on himself, looking very vulnerable, suddenly seeming to shrink away from everyone into the dim light.
"Yes?" Tommy asked, leaning forward. He glanced at Jason who somehow casually managed to sit beside Billy without making it too obvious what he was doing. Aisha had manoeuvred herself into a similar position close to Trini, and Adam perched on the arm of the couch next to Billy, near to Trini and Skye as the others closed in an intimate circle around them.
"I don't remember much for a while after that," Billy said, looking away from everyone. They couldn't know, shouldn't know, it was too much risk ...
"Trini?" Tanya prompted, focussing upon her when she saw Billy struggling with himself.
The Tiger Ninjetti looked up, reliving that horrific moment in her mind. By common reluctance, after that time on Triforia they had not spoken of what had happened, not even to each other. It had been too raw for any of them, too close, but now she realised that it was time for them all to talk about what had happened, whether they felt ready or not.
She sighed. "Billy was hit point blank by a full blast from Dark Spectre. I thought him dead ... as I turned to see him, the monsters combined forces to destroy us all." She cast a pleading look over to the Star Crystal Ninjetti.
"I threw a shield over them ... to reflect the worst of the blast, but they were all knocked unconscious by the concussion," Skye said, picking up the thread briefly before falling silent
"They? What happened to you?" Kim pressed, looking sharply at Skye who glanced away.
It was like a tag team conversation and Billy replied to this question, as if they were all to a certain extent interchangeable.
"He didn't have the strength to shield himself too - and don't give me that 'I forgot' look; we both know that's just a fake," Billy related, glancing across at the white-haired artist. "From all accounts, he was blown up by the explosion. He was badly injured."
Skye shrugged as if it was of no consequence.
"So that's why you collapsed!" Tommy turned to Kimberly in relief. He'd had horrible thoughts that the tumour might have come back; medical tests had proven that wrong, but left it unexplained. "It must have been that!"
Kim nodded, another mystery explained, but did not want to interrupt this crucial retelling.
"So... what happened to you, Billy?" Rocky pushed a little further.
Billy remained silent for a moment. "I was taken prisoner," he said in a clipped tone that practically screamed that he didn't want to discuss it.
There was an uncomfortable pause as the other Rangers waited for him to elaborate and he retreated into silence.
"Okay, little bro, what happened?" Jason asked softly, using his private nickname for his friend.
"Nothing." Billy said stubbornly. "It's over, I'm fine ... forget about it."
Adam reached over and put a hand gently on his shoulder. "No ... we can't do that we tried that way once before, didn't we?" he reminded softly. "And nearly lost you."
"And we don't want to get a reputation for carelessness, do we?" Zack quipped lightly, but there was seriousness in his dark eyes as he leaned forward. "C'mon, man, we're your friends!"
There was a lengthy stubborn silence from the Wolf Ninjetti. Everyone's attention was focussed on him, willing him to break open his uncommunicative shell.
"It is because you are his friends that he doesn't want you to know," a familiar voice murmured from outside the circle of attention.
"Skye!" Billy issued a warning with that single word.
"He believes you won't respect him if you know." The artist addressed the air, ignoring that warning and then fell silent.
The others looked at Billy again. "Why on earth would we think that?" Tommy stated, speaking for the group.
"Because ..." Billy's shoulders sagged in defeat. "Because Dark Spectre broke me, tortured me and broke me ..."
There, it was said, like vile damning curse hanging in the air. "If I had known what he wanted, I would have told him told him everything."
Ah. It began to make sense. "But you didn't, Billy," Adam replied quietly. "You didn't betray us or anyone."
Billy became agitated. "Don't you see? I could have I would have done it! I could have betrayed you all. Not because of a spell, or because someone else's life was at risk, but because when it came down to it ... I was not strong enough!" He challenged them to refute that statement.
There was no immediate answer from the Rangers. They had never seen Billy like this, emotional and lashing out and frankly, that in itself was upsetting enough to make things difficult to deal with for them.
Billy rested his head in his hands, a picture of despair. "I'm a liability ... who am I to be involved in saving the galaxy when I can't even trust myself to keep my mouth shut?" His muffled tone betrayed the aching hurt that lingered still inside of him. "I can't even DIE successfully to stop it from happening!"
There were a few audible gasps from the room and Trini stared outwards unmovingly, her face a mask of calm and forced serenity. Jason clenched his jaw, stifling an outburst to demand to know exactly what that meant, but someone else beat him to it.
"I think you better tell us exactly what happened," Kim demanded in an uncompromising but compassionate tone.
"I can't!" Billy protested, shaking his head. "I really can't," he started trembling a little, just barely perceptible. He didn't want to go there in his memories, not ever again - and they were making him go back into hell!
"Billy," Trini began, her low voice asking him to reconsider.
"No I can't! I can't take the risk!" Billy interrupted, cutting her off.
"Risk what?" Rocky asked, confused.
"Losing you all," Skye said softly from the corner.
"Skye, no, don't,"Billy pleaded in a defeated tone of voice, too weary to fight anymore when it seemed that his companions were also against him.
"Not this time, Billy," Skye replied. "You have to trust them so you can relearn that trust in yourself."
"Skye!" It was nearly a wail of protest. Billy looked ready to bolt and Jason solved that problem by putting his arms around him, holding him despite his half-hearted struggles.
Eventually the Wolf Ninjetti calmed down and turned his head away from the other Rangers, breathing in the familiar scent of Jason's house and home that clung to the Lion Ninjetti's clothes as Skye began to describe every detail of Billy's ordeal in a soft voice, as seen through the Star Crystal. He did not spare any details, he included what Billy had felt, the emotional agony he had suffered when Dark Spectre had shown him the 'deaths' of Trini and Skye, a description that had the Tiger Ninjetti staring unblinkingly into space with a trickle of a tear trekking a smooth path down her face. Skye's quiet voice stripped away all of the protection Billy had tried to build around the experience, leaving him open and vulnerable to his friends in a way he had never thought possible, but even as he heard their stifled reactions to his wanting to die, to his teetering on the lip of life and death held there by a Spider's thread, he still could not bear to look at any of them.
Jason's expression became horrified and then angry as he absorbed what had happened to his longtime friend and what he had been through. It was difficult for them as well, they had to undergo a shift of attitude. They were used to protecting Billy and there was guilt associated with the fact that they hadn't been able to do that, but there was also the dawning realisation that Billy had gone through more than they could imagine, experiences they couldn't easily conceive of ever happening. His arms became less of a restraint than a protective circle and he found himself absently stroking Billy's back soothingly like he had when Billy had lost his mother and stayed with his "big bro" and Jason had found him crying silently in the lonely night.
Billy instinctively responded to the memories this situation produced. Those times he had felt so alone, and then ... he miraculously discovered there was someone there for him after all. A friend to whom he could trust all his darkest secrets and fears. And the miracle was there, wasn't just one of them any more, the protective circle of trust was wider than Jason, it was all of them. It became then a matter of whether he had the courage to trust them and that was easier ... it was himself he didn't trust .
Skye's inexorable quiet murmur finally ceased and silence reigned. There were a few muffled sobs from around the room and Billy found himself standing at a threshold of uncertainty. He knew that when he finally unburied his head from Jason's shoulder that he would either see disappointment, or ... well, he couldn't even imagine the other. It took all his courage to turn his head and it was Adam's eyes he locked onto and held, looking for that answer he dreaded, and finding that he had been asking the wrong questions all along.
Far from drawing away, Adam was reaching forward, far from showing disgust at his weakness he seemed to be respecting his strength. He glanced around. Nowhere did he see any hint of rejection, only sorrow and gentle sympathy, or anger.
A great knot of tension dissolved within him and Billy let out a sigh of utter relief. A fundamental fear had not been realised. The Pack had not rejected him for weakness, had not driven him out or turned on him, instead it was sharing its strength ... he could feel that flowing into him and glanced briefly over at Skye, who was sitting a little outside the circle with the Star Crystal glimmering on his chest.
No-one knew exactly what to say, they just seemed to close together somehow as if physical proximity could reflect the emotional support they wished to give. As it turned out, that was more than enough to progress the healing of the emotional wounds, though maybe not to eradicate all the aftereffects of such an ordeal. One miracle at a time.
"You realise there is no way we can do this alone," Adam said to Billy eventually as they tried again to spread the workload so they were not all dead with fatigue before the battle actually began. "We have to get help here. There are refugees pouring in towards here and Phaedos from all over the galaxy."
Billy sat back, fiddling with his pen. "They are converting the Palace, yes?"
"It's taking a lot of work, but yes ... but the centre of operations is still here," Adam pointed out, gesturing to the complex around them that was growing every day to house everyone they needed. "And we go on our Quest soon. We need people here."
Billy looked around at the busy area. "Hmm ... we need people we can trust. Really trust." He seemed to be seeking inspiration and his gaze lighted on his father. A solution sprang to mind. "Our families," he announced suddenly.
"You're kidding!" Adam exclaimed and then paused, seeing his expression. "You are not kidding."
Billy shook his head. "We don't have anyone else we could trust as implicitly, and we need organisation here now."
"You've obviously met Rocky's mother, haven't you?" Adam commented in a quiet wry voice. "That woman could organise a country!"
"That's good, because she might well end up doing just that," Billy said, and the strangest thing was that there was no hint of a joke in his voice.
Adam shot him a look and nearly said something, but refrained. "Well, it will be a relief ... the excuses have worn a little thin over the years. I'm not creative enough to be terribly believable."
"Fortunately I didn't have that problem," Billy mused. "And my father wasn't overly surprised after the initial shock. Things, er ... kind of made sense to him then."
"It may well to some of our parents, too." Adam sighed, looking a little forlorn. "My father will be very shocked. He regarded the Power Rangers as dangerously unorthodox and promoting violence, though he was in favour of protecting everyone. But he can be counted on once he realises the stakes." It would be nice to think he was proud of me ... just once. Some things are not meant to be.
Billy smoothed his ruffled blond hair absently as he thought the idea through. "I cannot afford for the governments to get involved before we have set up everything. Too many variables, too much in-fighting. And frankly, if the Darkness Visible is defeated at Phaedos, then there is no reason for them to ever know. Only that one day they might make it to the moon and find a multi-environmental habitat up there."
Adam smiled. "Sort of like climbing to the top of Everest and finding a theme park or something."
Billy quirked a smile. "Yeah," he chuckled. "I'd like to be around to see it."
Adam gave him a sharp look. "Why on Earth wouldn't you be?" he asked, leaning forward in his concern. "Is there something, something else you are not telling us?" He was forceful in his questions, driven by a fear that haunted him that he might lose his friend again
The Wolf Ninjetti looked startled. "Adam ... look, no, it's not like that. Nothing specific, only that ..."
Adam touched his hand. "Only that ... what? Billy?" His dark eyes fixed upon his friend's face, worried at the weariness of spirit that seemed to radiate from his still youthful features.
"Adam ... the last Ninjetti War caused the collapse of a Galactic Empire. The Ninjetti were decimated, Phaedos nigh on destroyed." The Blue Wolf Ninjetti looked frankly at Adam. "A lot of us are going to die ... win or lose. I don't think anyone comprehends the scope of this, save perhaps the Council of the Wise, and Skye, Trini and myself. The Federations of the Council of the Wise and the United Alliance of Evil has made war only possible on a planetary scale ... conquerors want to have something left of what they conquer ..." He trailed off, a sudden thought entering his mind.
Wait ... wait ... that's not what the Zha'kha-rhee'aa did as recorded in the Marai Sphere. No... it laid waste to planets. What type of conqueror destroys what he fights for?... Unless he is not fighting for that... Something is definitely missing here.
"Billy? Hey..." Adam shook him to get his attention back. "I said, that's no reason to expect the worst. We will have the Master Powers, they did not ... yes?"
Billy blinked. "Yes ... yes of course, the Master Powers will make the difference," he murmured, trying to sound convincing even to himself.
"And our parents," Adam finished optimistically.
"And our parents, of course."
In fact, as always, Billy soon got distracted into other things, but he sat down in a private room pouring over snippets of Prophecy, transcripts of the Histories and notes he had made from their journey and his torture at the hands of the Nid-hi and Dark Spectre.
"What is this goddamned Shahin Tara Zed?" he cursed to himself, chewing on the end of the pen anxiously. "The Ninjetti's secret Ultimate Weapon? Boy, that would be a laugh, wouldn't it, Dark Spectre knowing more about it than the people meant to be using it." He screwed up another ball of paper and threw it violently against the wall. Maybe, maybe when they went after the Master Ninjetti Powers that was a part of it. Maybe it would be all revealed then. He sighed, not able to take that as true comfort. 'Maybes' did not win wars.
"What is wrong with this picture?" he queried, his sharp mind starting to piece things together. "What was the Silver Nid-hi after when it questioned my Wolf Spirit?"
What do all who strive to conquer seek? his Wolf Spirit contributed, joining in the process.
"Power ... of some form or another." Billy rested his head briefly on the desk as he cast his mind desperately through any information. He thought right back to when they had first received the warning that the Darkness Visible was coming. What was it Zordon had said? It had tried to get the powers guarded by the Ancient Ninjetti. That suggested some type of ... object, or Power. Which fitted in with what Dark Spectre had said during his inquisition. He flinched inwardly and then steeled himself again. He couldn't break down any more. The other night had helped, but he still had a long way to go. He knew the others were there for him, but he couldn't let them see that weakness again.
So what was it? Couldn't have been the Master Powers. According to Dulcea, the legends said they had been created after the Ninjetti War by the same great master that had set up the Wardstones. How had they defeated the Darkness Visible the first time? The Histories were conspicuously silent on that front. Hmmmm ... Why couldn't he see it?!
To see the whole of the pattern, do you look at just one thread? his Wolf Spirit commented. Stand back from it and look objectively.
Billy groaned. "Only I don't have time. We are transporting to Phaedos in a couple of hours. I better see if everyone is ready." He got up stiffly and made his way to the Power Chamber and halted in the doorway, totally amazed.
The place was packed with people, friends and family of the various Rangers, all talking at once, in some cases loudly, and in others just standing wide-eyed with shock and awe. Billy froze, hoping to slip out; after all it was a little difficult to face people you had lied to on a daily basis, whatever the cause.
"There he is ... Billy ...!" Rocky called him over. "Mama, I TOLD you Billy was here."
"I still don't believe it." The short stocky Mexican-American woman shook her head. "All this time? And Adam, too? But his father never approved of the Power Rangers ... all that violence." She blanched, looking at her son again as that realisation impinged on her consciousness. "Rocky, you could have been killed!" she exclaimed, her voice a balance of anger and anxiety.
"Believe me, I've been through the same with Billy," Hank Cranston reassured the woman before she could get too deeply traumatised. "It took me a long time to actually accept that they were the ones responsible for saving us on a daily basis." His voice projected across the din and the other parents fell silent.
"Much as any parent hates to admit it, our kids grew up a LOT faster than we thought, much faster than any youngsters really should. They had the responsibility for life and death of us all - every day. Imagine that. Knowing that if you failed, your parents and brothers and sisters could die, not just once, but every day for years. I have heard some of the tales of what happened during those years and you will probably react the same as I did, with horror, with anger and then with utter pride that MY child could have achieved all this and never spoken a word. " Hank looked around at the silent room. "And now, they need us. I think you should listen to what they have to say."
Billy expected Dulcea to step forward, but she stayed where she was. He then expected one of the others to step forward, Tommy, Jason ... but they didn't. To his alarm he discovered that he was the focal point of the room's attention. Well then.
"Welcome to the Power Chamber," he said in an initially soft voice, and to his surprise they were all listening. "I don't know how much you have been told, but I will do a brief summary. As you know we all were ... and still are Power Rangers. As such we took on a responsibility to protect others and over the past two years or so we have become aware that there was more than Angel Grove and Earth that needed protecting. However strange this may seem, however distant and removed at this point in time, there is a galactic conflict brewing the likes of which is beyond our comprehension and the Ninjetti are the only ones who can fight it." Billy paused, looking around at his audience. "And we are Ninjetti. We find ourselves outnumbered and despite our desperate preparations, in need of a lot of help, particularly as we need people to be fighting, so we come to those we trust most. Our families."
There was a simple dignity in that statement and Billy was grateful he knew that his father had accepted his role wholeheartedly. "In an hour, a group of us will be questing for the fabled Ninjetti Master Powers that will hopefully give us a fighting chance against this ancient enemy that threatens all planets. I really hope that you will see your way to assisting us ... because now we really need all the help we can get."
Nice speech ... I thought you were the one for whom communication was a torture from hell? His Wolf Spirit spoke within him.
Well, guess I learnt a few things whilst were were away, Billy said. He still didn't like it, but he could do it now.
The murmuring rose around him and he studied them. They would help, he could feel it. If nothing else, it would be to make up for the years when they didn't know they were being helped by their own children. Parents tended to be funny that way and he grinned a little to himself at the thought.
He met his father's look and Hank smiled and nodded, beaming with pride. The Wolf Ninjetti waited for the information to be discussed for a few minutes and then asked one simple question during a natural lull. "Will you help us?"
Silence reigned for a moment before a few silent nods gave way to Lilian DeSantos stepping forward. "Of course we will, you need some experienced organisation. If the fate of the galaxy rests on the shoulders of people who once forgot to take any food on a three-day camping trip ..." and some of the Original Rangers blushed, "I think you need some looking after."
There were a few muffled giggles. "Either that or go really hungry through the whole thing," Kim said drily.
"You are our children," Diane Scott said firmly. "Adults or not, saving the universe or not, you are still our children ... and we will not turn away from you when you need our help." She smiled. "It is a little different from being casually asked to make a costume for the school pageant the night before."
Jason chuckled. "It was a very good costume, though."
"Naturally," his mother replied in a superior tone and laughed, breaking some of the tension.
Billy relaxed. Good, they had reliable support in the Power Chamber. Now to the Quest.
"Guys, we'll be teleporting out in half an hour," he advised. "My Dad will help orientate everyone to what they can help with, but in the meantime we have to get ready."
He smiled again and then backed out of the room, feeling a little sick at having had to face all of them like that.
"You did well." Skye walked up behind him quietly as the others talked excitedly to their parents. It was with a pang of conscience that Billy remembered that Skye did not have that option.
"I'm being graded?" Billy asked lightly.
"It's a pass or fail thing," Skye answered back with only a hint of humour in his voice. He looked oddly serious and withdrawn.
"You alright?" Billy asked concernedly. "You look a little ... down."
Skye flashed him a brief smile. "Just a little preoccupied, that's all."
"Skye ..." Billy said, worried. "Is there something you are not telling me?"
The Star Ninjetti hesitated, seemingly on the edge of telling him something."Yes, there is ... and I'm sorry, but I can't tell you what ... not yet." He smiled. "Don't worry. See you in a little while." Without waiting for a reply, he walked down the corridor to his room to get changed.
Billy stared after him, the hairs prickling on the back of his neck. If there was one feeling he had, it was that he would not like the answer whenever he found out what it was.
It took him very little time to change. Invoking his Spirit Warrior armour, even the semi-complete version was a matter of words. Resplendent in blue and grey, he strode purposefully down to the Power Chamber again. They HAD to do this, there was no other hope for them. If they got the Master Powers, then they had a faint chance; if they didn't, they could not stand against the Nid-hi, let alone their Master, the Darkness Visible.
The room was filled with an array of colours as the Spirit Warrior Ninjetti assembled and as he looked around, he saw a dawning realisation in the eyes of their parents of what was happening. Suddenly in front of them were not their sons and daughters, but a group of expert warriors, whose expertise showed in their casual movement within the fierce armour they had donned. Trini, in her dazzling Gold and White joined him, looking around for a moment before nudging him. "Time to go, Billy."
"Wait, where's Skye?" Billy reached out mentally and turned, sensing him. He was there, dressed in a soft form of the Ninjetti robes, in grey and white. He smiled back and the Star Crystal glittered like frost on his chest, and the Marai Sphere blazed like fire in his hand.
"He's here," Trini said. "Let's go."
They assembled the group and Billy nodded to his father. "Wish us luck," he said spontaneously, feeling that they would need it.
There was a chorus of well wishes as the interplanetary teleport began.
When they materialised on Phaedos, the barren landscape was packed with a large selection of alien races and strange Ninjetti Rangers. It was immediately apparent that the vast majority of those present were from Earth and that in itself pulled at a few threads in Billy's mind. But as he stood there, he was immediately mobbed by old friends from their quest.
"Billy," he was hailed by a familiar voice.
"Delphine, Cestro!" Billy grinned, pleased to see the Aquitians "I see you made it."
"It is an honour to be included," the new Aquitian Ninjetti Spirit Warrior replied.
"I see Cestro was correct," Billy observed, seeing her Animal Spirit Emblem on her armour in the stylised form of a graceful bird.
"Yes indeed. The Vasherel found me worthy," the White Ninjetti said, her hand signal exhibiting 'remembered joy'. "And Cestro was chosen by the Celepha, the wisest of the creatures of Aquitar."
"Like a whale," Billy mused, checking his memory for an earthlike comparison. "Congratulations, both of you; I just wish you and the others had more chance to explore your Powers before we have to do this." He sounded a little worried. What was he doing? Leading them all here? They had come because he had summoned them after all. What if something happened to them?
He had no time to think before he was approached by a group of other strange races. J'shaar of the Drakin, some of the Ayaho Rangers amongst others.
Kat stood beside Rocky and Justin, watching in amazement. "This brings it home a bit," she said in an aside. "I mean, Billy, Trini and Skye actually MET all these people." She brushed her blonde hair back in a nervous reaction. "I know I knew it before but I didn't actually know it."
"I know what you mean, Kat." Rocky said nervously. "I am seeing bugs over there taller than Tommy, aren't I?" he asked plaintively. Not sure if he wanted the answer to be yes.
"If it's a dream you've got the rest of us in here, too." Aisha prodded him. "And frankly I'd rather not be in one of your dreams, I'll leave that to Kat."
Tommy and Jason chortled behind the Yellow Bear Ninjetti and then tried to look innocent as Rocky gave them a pained look.
Justin bounced back to them excitedly. "Anyone see those guys? They are the Shri, and live close to the centre of the galaxy ... can you imagine that? Wow. They've got this sort of prosthetic pincer which can ..."
"Justin!" Tanya shushed the youngster.
"What? If you think that's incredible, the Ronani and the Chi'iten are something else ..."
"Dulcea is waiting to speak," Tommy pointed out to the youngest Ninjetti there.
"Oops." The Blue Dolphin Ninjetti fell quiet.
Silence swept over the ruins of the Temple as the assembled group of species from the far-flung reaches of the galaxy waited to hear the words of the First Warrior of the Ninjetti.
"And so the time has come." Dulcea spoke out into that expectant hush. "You have come once more, selected for your potential to quest for the Master Powers that are spoken of as legend even amongst the Ninjetti to whom they belong. As such we know little of them and some of us may not be suitable, but it is our hope that there will be enough that prove worthy to have those Powers bestowed on them and use them in the protection of all. This may come as a surprise to you, but I know little more than you about this. We stand here as equals now, on a Quest together."
That created a bit of a stir amongst the assembled Ninjettis. Dulcea smiled, conscious of Jason's constant gaze upon her. "From this point, everything is new and all we can do is follow the Quest and hope that the secret of the Temple that is passed to the First Warrior is not a myth."
"What secret, Dulcea?" Adam asked in the pause that followed as everyone watched the Owl Ninjetti stride over to Skye who looked up expectantly.
Dulcea smiled. "All in good time, my young Frog."
She held out her hands and Skye presented her again with the Marai Sphere into one hand and she very gently removed the Star Crystal from around his neck with her other. The artist looked somehow bare without the strange item and reached to that now empty place on his chest before giving a sigh. Trini watched him anxiously, as he looked surprisingly vulnerable and sorrowful when Dulcea walked away with the glittering crystal. That wasn't right; he shouldn't be parted from the Star Crystal, it was his only protection and it was powerful protection. But, Dulcea had taken it and gone to the raised secret area of the Temple, gesturing for them to follow, which they did, falling unconsciously into the stylised movement of ritual as if the Temple was speaking to their very bones. Dulcea was singing, a haunting refrain in a low sweet alto voice, repeating over and over ... and one by one, they joined her. It was a simple repetition of melodic syllables, but profoundly moving nonetheless as she carefully slotted the Orb reverentially on top of a dais and then took the Star Crystal and positioned it very carefully in line.
There was a flare of light that momentarily blinded them all and reminded Billy of the Triple Eclipse at Triforia. However, instead of the Pyramid that split apart to reveal answers, the Temple itself blazed with colour and a shimmering map, sculpted from light, sprang into existence around them.
Rocky reached out and touched the shapes of light around him in a kind of awe. "Wow."
"This was what you protected, Rocky of Earth," Dulcea said, smiling with delight, equally as excited as they were. "If this had fallen into the hands of the Nid-hi, then the Ninjetti and all the galaxy would be lost. For they would have known where the Master Powers were hidden and even if they could not take them as their own ... they could destroy them. "
She was smiling again and looked around at them all. "Until the Star Crystal came to Phaedos, this secret could never be tested, and now it proves to be true, as I believe will the Master Powers. Memorise the Map ... for we have a perilous journey to make, and on it we will be tested for our suitability to hold those powers."
The assembled Ninjetti Spirit Warriors did so and with eager discussion, they grouped together and set off into the dreamlike unknown on their Quest, leaving the map of Light blazing in a beacon of hope behind them.
It all seemed somehow unreal to Billy. That they were suddenly here, and everything was happening all at once. After literally years, it was coming down to moments in time and the feeling was disconcerting, to say the least. The large group was making good time through the dense foliage and with the image of their destination emblazoned in his mind he was sure that they could do this. He mentally looked around; Skye was straggling somewhat and looking a little vulnerable without the Star Crystal. Why hadn't they picked it up and...
A strange lassitude washed over him suddenly and he shook his head. What was he thinking about?
"I don't like this," Adam said uneasily, watching the undergrowth suspiciously. "This has been too easy, too much like a stroll in Angel Grove Park."
"And we all know what happened anytime anyone strolled in Angel Grove Park," Zack commented flippantly. "Screams, mayhem, ugly little monsters ... and that was just the kids!"
Kim and Aisha giggled slightly at his irreverent remark.
"This is creeping me out," Kim admitted after a while, glancing around nervously. "I remember the first quest. Somehow I don't imagine this to be easier than that ... and I thought THAT was tough."
"You get a fireswamp, too?" Tanya asked curiously.
"No ... bone dinosaurs, weird statues, that sort of thing," Aisha recalled.
"Do you remember when Rocky nearly lost his ... er ..."
"Please," Rocky interrupted. "I still wake up at nights thinking about that. Just as well being a Ninjetti means I can do the splits."
"Hmm. Thank God!" Kat said with more fervour than she intended, which started the others laughing.
And out of nowhere, the ground began to shake.
"Earthquake!" someone yelled. Cestro placed a hand on the ground, feeling the vibrations. "No, that is a ... sensation of something ... alive. And of considerable size," he announced.
Billy turned immediately to Skye. "Skye, can you sense - oh." Of course not; he didn't have the Star Crystal! Dammit, talk about stupid! Why hadn't they picked that up?
"Run!" Tommy yelled. "Get to cover!" He pointed to a small hill. "Up there! We need to see what we are up against."
That prompted a hasty retreat as the large group sprinted for higher ground. Tommy reached the top first, along with J'shaar of the Drakin and both Rangers turned and gasped. The shaking was caused by a stampede of dinosaurs fleeing from ... something. The creature that was pursuing them was hideously like a massive feline, lithe despite its mass and shape and moving at speed, only its muscles rippled under scales instead of fur and its tail was barbed. And it was equally the size of one of the dinosaurs whose bones littered the Neola forest.
A connection that Billy made suddenly. There had to be a dinosaur predator, something had to have killed those things in the first place. He looked down, seeing Skye struggling up the slope and mentally tallied the presence of all the Ninjetti.
Jason was counting them in, too. "Everyone here? Defensive ring now!" he ordered. "Dulcea, what are those things?" he asked urgently, automatically sizing up the danger.
"Aglaeca! They are meant to be extinct!" Dulcea replied, astonished, gripping her Singing Staff in readiness. "If it has our trail, then we have a big problem ... and they rarely hunt alone!"
Sure enough, flanking the stampeding herd another aglaeca shot out to head off the stampede, only it struck too soon and the herd bolted for a small canyon and scattered, leaving the aglaeca hungry and preyless. There was a harsh roar of disappointment and yet another, larger, if that was possible, aglaeca stalked out of concealment, its tail whipping from side to side with agitation.
"Oh man," Jason murmured, looking at the third monstrous form. They were not happy monster predators, angry and irritated and unfortunately hungry.
"I agree, this is a problem," Delphine said appraisingly. "It is the nature of a predator to seek easy prey after a hunt goes awry. Compared to those others we would fall into that category."
"No kidding," Rocky agreed, looking a little anxious. The aglaeca were the size of mammoths, or something!
"As long as we stick together, we won't be as easy as they think," Tanya added determinedly.
"Let's not lose sight of our goal," Tommy reminded firmly, looking in the direction of where the map of light had shown the Master Powers to be located.
"We have no time for discussion, we have to move!" Kat interrupted urgently. "Look!"
The aglaeca were heading their way. Unbelievably fast.
"Might I suggest we try and find some natural obstacles to place between them and us?" Cestro pointed out. "From memory I recall there, at the northern edge of the fire swamps, a chasm and a river..."
"If we swing north then," Tommy agreed, more hopeful now he had a direction. He turned to shout and then realised that would attract attention.
"Here, I'll do it." Rocky gripped his Spirit Crystal and with effort pushed the thought into the Spirit Crystals of the others. Heading North, to fire swamps...move out!
"Thanks," Jason nodded, appreciating the effort.
"Save your breath," Rocky replied, turning swiftly. "And let's go, I'd rather not be eaten by something that sounds like a cat coughing up a furball." And the Red Ape Ninjetti grinned as they altered directions and ran again.
The Ninjetti Spirit Warriors ran, but the aglaeca were fast and Tanya noted with concern that people were lagging a little. "We're drifting," she advised Jason and Tommy. "We're losing Skye at the back, and the Shri aren't built for this sort of chase."
They grimaced. Rocky was concentrating. "The Ronani Ninjetti just told me they have lost sight of one of the aglaeca. Could be trying to flank us."
"This is not a good thing," Cestro pointed out, rather stating the obvious.
"There is a scent from ahead too," J'shaar mentioned quietly.
"We'll just have to be wary as we go," Tommy replied, concerned. "Rocky, could you ...?"
"Already done," the Red Ape Ninjetti answered, having informed everyone.
And yet, when the attack came they were still unprepared for its ferocity. The largest aglaeca pounced in a pincer movement, scattering the group of Ninjetti as if a rainbow had shredded beneath its fearsome claws.
Zack agilely rolled away, bounced upwards and in a fluid movement leapt over the tree-trunk tail with its poisonous barbs to push one of the Shri out of danger. The aglaeca roared, its tail whipsnapped back at impossible speed, pinned Zack beneath its poison barbs and he cried out in pain.
Aisha took one look at what had happened and her response was instinctive and immediate. She attacked. With an unstoppable momentum, she leapt at the creature, hacking with such fierce determination that it seemed she would not stop until she had made it all of the way through and freed Zack.
Tanya, automatically keeping tabs on everyone, yelled to Tommy in alarm. "Zack's down!"
Billy was poised, ready to jump in and paused, his mind whirring, thinking of keeping them safe and of their ultimate goal - the Master Powers. "Based on their previous behaviour, they are surrounding us and will close in ... we need to separate them," he explained swiftly. "We need to divide their attack - fireswamp, bridge, and river," he said to the leaders of the group, gesturing in the different directions.
"Three groups. Jase, go!" Tommy ordered and Jason nodded, already moving. The Falcon Ninjetti whirled, seeking another he knew as a leader. "Delphine!"
"The strategy is sound." The Vasherell Ninjetti turned to implement the plan with alacrity.
Jason sprinted, yelling to various Ninjetti around him to fall in and deliberately cut across the path of the second reptilian predator, causing it to snap at the tempting morsel as he and a third of the group split and ran for the fireswamps.
Simultaneously, Delphine let out a shockingly loud battlecry and led her impromptu team across the path of the third aglaeca, heading towards the water with the implacable thunder of the distracted dinosaur-killer pounding along behind them.
The threat of their attack gone, Tommy and the remaining Ninjetti launched a rescue attempt to get Zack out from under the barbs of the remaining monstrous creature left behind in the clearing.
Jason ran, trying to formulate a plan while he did so. Aimless running was not going to help much. The creature was too close, they needed a breathing space. Dulcea was moving silently through the mixed terrain off to one side. J'shaar was bounding with incredible speed up ahead, and Kat and Rocky were helping the Shri, who were designed for desert conditions, not this sort of pursuit through rough terrain
Make use of the resources available, his Lion Spirit advised. Jason bit back an urge to retort 'No, really? Tell me something I don't know,' but concentrated instead.
"J'shaar, Adam, we need something to slow it down ... Dulcea? We might need a diversion at some point in the not-too-distant future," he suggested.
The Drakin Ninjetti and Adam darted off ahead and Dulcea slipped off into the undergrowth, becoming invisible almost immediately.
Adam and J'shaar moved swiftly, hunting desperately for a way out of this and found a deep gulley further up ahead. J'shaar leapt over it and scouted across the other side while Adam paused.
"Pitfall ... yes!" He began dragging scrub and foliage over the trench to give the illusion of solid ground and called back to Rocky through his Spirit Crystal.Rocky - I am disguising a natural trench ... up here! He imaged where he was to the Red Ape Ninjetti. Tell Jason.
Got it. Rocky responded as simultaneously another thought impinged on his consciousness.
Rocky of Earth! J'shaar's mental presence appeared in the Red Ape's mind. I have discovered the edge of the swamp. There is a massive buildup of the firegas under the surface - I can smell it. We cannot go across. We will have to fight here.
Got it, thanks. Rocky grimaced and ran to reveal this to Jason immediately. "Good news - Adam is disguising a trench as a pitfall. Bad news - there's so much fire gas buildup ahead that we can't cross the swamp."
"Damn." Jason looked thoughtful. His mind turned over how to use that to their advantage. "We need the time to set up to fight up there ... we need bait to lead it directly to the trap."
Kat immediately volunteered. "I'll do it. You get the Shri and prepare to fight.."
"Kat, I can't let ..." Rocky protested immediately.
"I'm faster than all of you," Kat pointed out, taking a stance. "Anyway, there's no time to argue. Go!"
Rocky looked anguished, but Jason ordered them to flee, picking up Adam as they circumvented the trap and began to find defensive positions on the swamp's edge. He had a glimmer of an idea about a way to fight this creature, but he had to wait ... he could already hear the thundering sprint of the predator and its frustrated scream.
Kat waited until the snarling visage swung out of the undergrowth; then she sprinted, her heart thumping, her instincts screaming with the most primal need to evade the predator behind her. Damn, but it was fast, and obstacles she leapt over it just ploughed through. All to the good ...
A snap of great teeth behind her, the stink of carrion breath hot against her back and she pushed herself faster ... faster, running as the cheetah runs, with its whole being, not just its legs. She burst out of the tree cover, seeing the glimmering colours of the others. Rocky, from up ahead, saw and projected into her mind, Kat felt the moment of instinctive warning and sprang into the air. The impetus of her escape stayed with her, she executed a dazzling diving twist mid-air as the aglaeca snapped its jaws forward to catch its prey and she evaded the jaws by contorting her body away. The aglaeca braked and slid on the slick swamp mud, half falling into the ooze-filled gulley, floundering unsteadily.
Kat bounced and gasped, winded from the impact; then Rocky was there, picking her up and running as the aglaeca flailed hopelessly and then eventually dragged itself out of the gulley trap, infuriated.
It stalked forward, ready to rend anything limb from limb and saw only ...
... a solitary prey dressed in Red, standing on what seemed to be an island, defenceless and seemingly open to its hunger.
Growling, it stalked forward suspiciously and the Lion Ninjetti roared back a challenge. It stopped snapping, wary of the unstable ground, but the morsel was so tempting! It stepped closer, closer and swiped at the prey-thing. It made another sound and more prey-things attacked from behind, causing it to whirl and whip its tail, trying to pounce forward.
"Now!" Jason yelled urgently.
"We lost the Shri!" Rocky bellowed back, ducking under the tail.
"Do it now, or we will all be lost!" Jason ordered. Minimise the losses ...
Adam, Rocky, J'shaar, Kat and Dulcea threw some crude sticks into the ground in a circle around the beast as hard as possible. There was a hiss and a stench of phosphine gas as they crudely needled the gas pocket J'shaar had sensed.
"Move!" Jason shouted as one of the jets flared ... and then another, and a ring of fire billowed upwards.
Light blue touchpaper and...retire. Jason was within the circle of flame, harassing the creature with a branch until the others were clear ... and the heat of the fire burned his skin, making it taut and shining with sweat. The aglaeca panicked, sweeping around, looking for a way out. The flames were too high and the prey-thing poked at it with something sharp. It bellowed and snapped downward at him, plunging its fangs down to crush the tormenting prey-thing. Jason threw himself sideways through the flames as the monstrous teeth pierced the top of the firegas bubble and it exploded upon contact with the air.
At first he thought it was the roar of the flame and the force of the reaction that was carrying him through the air, but eventually his dazed mind registered the fact that he had been snatched out of the fire by a familiar presence. A soft cool hand caressed his burnt cheek gently as he sat down, the screams of their adversary finally dying away in the furnace heat.
"Dulcea," Jason said, unaccountably relieved. He had not known where she was in the battle and was afraid he had lost her too as well as the Shri. Out of nowhere she had come and saved him ... but the others they had to go help them.
Just as soon as he could move.
Delphine and Cestro were not built to run across land either, but upon Tanya's suggestion, their group took it in turns to run across the path of the beast and distract it when one of them tired.
"Can these things swim?!" Kim asked, running flat out and starting to feel a little winded.
"They look like they're not adapted that way," Justin replied, some of his usual exuberance dampened by their mortal peril. "Too much muscle mass." He ducked, seeing a protruding branch ahead.
The aglaeca roared as Trini, who was acting as decoy, vanished from its view and then seemingly appeared almost instantly somewhere else, attracting its attention anew.
"Wish I knew how she did that," Kim gasped out, wincing as they headed into dense shrub that would slow them, but not the bulk of the aglaeca. Two of the Chi'iten skittered forward and in perfect unison began slicing through the obstructing mass with their forearm blades of sharp chitin.
"Good thinking," Delphine praised, glancing back at their pursuer. "Where is the river, I cannot see it?" She peered intently as Tanya shook her head.
"Can't see a thing ... or any sign of the others!" she called.
"I need to see!" Delphine demanded and Cestro divined her intention; without missing a step he turned as the Vasherell Ninjetti ran up, leapt up on his cupped hands and was flung into the air in a boosted somersault.
As she tumbled skywards, using the vantage point of the clear air, Delphine glimpsed the flash of water to their left and felt the brush of a breeze as the reptilian predator tried to knock her from midair with the whistling whipsnap sweep of its barbed tail.
"Left! Go ... go!" Delphine ordered as the aglaeca regained its balance and roared in frustration, seeing the prey-things scatter again.
They burst out of the undergrowth and onto a steep bank above a wild and swift river. Delphine paused. Too little time to try and cross it, the aglaeca was here!
The monstrous creature was upon the group and snapping with its great teeth at the prey- things. Justin yelped as a sharp taloned claw half the size as he was knocked him over in a tumbling heap.
"JUSTIN!" Kim somersaulted, grabbing a large flat stone and using it as a shield as that claw came down again to pierce and rend. It was an impossible sight, the petite Ranger slowly being pushed down by the immense power of the enormous dinosaur predator, but still she struggled and held.
Tanya yelled out, trying to attract attention. "Everyone ... together, attack it together, distract it!"
The group of them complied and the aglaeca, irritated by the distraction, roared and turned to swipe at the annoying prey-things.
Kim gasped and staggered to one side, when she was buffeted by the massive bulk against Tanya. Trini yanked Delphine clear, appearing from nowhere as the aglaeca tried to pounce. The earth shook, then the bank crumbled and slipped. There was a scream and some buzzing of alarm as Justin and some of the Chi'iten tumbled into the raging torrent.
"No!!" Trini cried out in horror. "Justin! "
The aglaeca drowned her cries with its own deafening scream of disappointment. Cestro however, had seen in their loss of their companions a potential for the removal of their enemy. He grabbed a large branch and with a careful gaze thumped the ground and placed his hand on the soil as the vibration flowed and the aglaeca wheeled to the new stimulus. He side-stepped slightly and roared a challenge to the creature, much to the astonishment of the others.
"Cestro! No!" Delphine called out, a far cry from the unemotional Aquitian they knew.
The aglaeca pounced and the softened edge of the bank cracked and slipped as it yowled, unsettled.
"Now!" Tanya yelled out again. "Everyone - push!"
Ridiculous though it seemed that such a small group could topple the monster, with it unbalanced and all of them straining, eventually the entirety of the ground dropped away, the aglaeca filling the air with its panicked roars and scream as it tumbled, its great claws gouging the soft earth but finding no purchase as it dropped into the water. Justin's assessment proved correct; it was not built to swim. It practically sank to the riverbed, thrashing uncontrollably in its drowning agony.
Shaking and weak with fatigue, the remaining Ninjetti looked at each other, too shocked to mourn their losses and in a trembling silence began to head back to find out how their companions and the ones they loved had fared.
Billy jumped again and then scrambled underneath the aglaeca as Tommy's familiar battle cries rang out in the clearing. Their adversary was too large and too powerful to beat by main force, but they had to get Zack clear. The barb had snapped off in his leg and Skye had yanked it out, then applied a tourniquet but had been somewhat hampered in his efforts by the ferocious attack.
"Billy ... what the hell are you doing?" Tommy shouted.
"Buying us time," Billy yelled back, barely avoiding the flashing claws. When you can't fight fair, you fight dirty!
He took his sharp splintered stick, the best he had been able to grab, rolled towards the ample evidence that this aglaeca was male and, wincing inwardly, jabbed the crude spear into that very sensitive area.
The aglaeca screamed and reared up rolling automatically, trying to rid himself of the agonising splinter. And swiping at Billy as he scrambled away. The Wolf Ninjetti felt the rip of cloth and a brief stinging pain as he escaped not quite unscathed.
"Let's get out of here!!" he ordered and Tommy grabbed Zack, who was conscious if dazed, and ran. They had lost the Ronani in the battle and they were down to just five of them. The Ninjetti sprinted in the direction of the bridge, on the other side of which was the structure that housed the Master Powers according to the map of Light. The thump on the ground bore testament to the fact that the aglaeca was in pursuit and more enraged than ever.
Run ... run... the bridge, bridge of stone! Damn! He had been hoping to cut it! Cut the bridge and ensure their safety - not with stone ... damn!
"Go, go! " Tommy yelled, sending Aisha and a semi-conscious Zack across. Billy was next to arrive. Tommy realised why he was lagging when he turned to called for Skye, and his back was soaked with blood.
"Shit ... Billy, get over there, we need to get the Master Powers to beat this thing!" Tommy ordered, totally sure that they needed the team genius to get access to the Master Powers.
"Skye isn't here," Billy replied with a gasp. His back was numb and he fought a growing cold lethargy seeping into his body.
"None of us will be if we don't get those Powers!" Tommy snapped. He glanced over, catching sight of other figures approaching from left and right.
"Jason! Delphine move! It's still coming ... MOVE!" he bellowed to the limping, exhausted groups, who obediently broke into shambling runs. The White Ninjetti noted their depleted numbers with concern, but relaxed imperceptibly as he saw Kim stumble across.
"Across the bridge! Everyone!" Tommy shouted again as the aglaeca thundered out of the jungle, only just preceded by Skye.
"Skye!" Trini gasped as Billy checked her and ran to the entrance to the Master Powers Monolith. A complex three-dimensional puzzle lock faced him and he began moving his hands rapidly; the lock slipped intricately like a mandala of stone and metal as he strove to make it fit into place.
The aglaeca was still coming ... and if it made it across the bridge, it would destroy them.
"Bil-leeeeee ..." Tommy called as the beast approached.
"Couple of minutes," Billy answered, feeling dizzy. He couldn't move any faster without making mistakes, and he couldn't afford that when dealing with a tri-logic spatial problem.
"We don't have that long; the Master Powers won't be any good without Ninjetti to hold them!" Tommy pointed out.
"Tell me something I don't know!" Billy replied tersely, his mind accelerating and trying to force his fingers to follow at the same speed.
Not going to be quick enough, Tommy thought. They were neatly trapped and cornered. The chasm he had thought would protect them now trapped them. He would have to do something ... but what, he didn't know.
He turned around. "Any bright ideas?" he asked the others a little desperately.
There was no response ... the aglaeca began a run towards them, death in its approach.
Billy frantically tried to open the lock, but he could only move so fast ... there was a yell of protest and a scream, and he glanced over his shoulder to see.
Skye walked out towards the charging beast and it snapped its ferocious jaws around his body in a shockingly swift movement. There was a strangled scream from the artist as he was lifted in the jaws of the predator.
"Skye!" Trini wailed and there was a shriek of pain from Kim as the resonance echo from Skye hit her.
"Why? There was no point!" Tommy groaned and then ... they saw Skye's arm move slowly and thrust at the tongue.
The final aglaeca flinched only a little and readjusted the prey in its mouth. Skye's body went totally limp as the teeth pierced him and his grey robes crimsoned with blood.
"No..." Billy felt the coldness of shock hit him with physical force, robbing him of breath.
The creature advanced and staggered slightly. Billy noted absently that the massive pupils were oddly dilated.
"He poisoned it! He used its own barb ... it's woozy!"
Tommy looked around, hope springing forth once more. "Right," he stated and watching carefully, he turned, ran, sprinted and soared through the air, angling to strike the aglaeca in its glazed eye. The devastating blow caused it to flinch back and stagger; in its mildly dazed state it slipped and with a despairing shriek toppled over the edge of the bridge into the swirling mists of the chasm - taking its prey with it.
And with tears rolling down his cheeks Billy completed the lock puzzle and the Master monolith cracked open and a bright, bright light consumed them all.
Skye stirred and shot up with a gasp. Tumbling into darkness, the feeling of teeth in his flesh, pushing deeper, the warmth of blood gushing over him with the pain and then ...
He was awake, still in the Temple of the Ninjetti, and all around him lay the still-tranced forms of the assembled Ninjetti, touched by the strange glimmer emanating from the Star Crystal. Some of them ... Justin, the Ronani, some of the Chi'iten and the Shri were touched by a different colour. He groaned and turned sharply, sensing a presence.
"So ... you waken into reality once more." A man's voice, unfamiliar to him, spoke from near the Star Crystal, still glittering potently where Dulcea had placed it.
"Who ... who are you?" Skye pushed himself up.
"The Guardian." The blue-armoured figure said. "In the Ninjetti tongue, the Nin-jor." He smiled. "I've held the Duty long enough for that to be my only name now."
"Ninjor..." Skye looked down at himself and then at the tranced unmoving figures still held by the influence of the Star Crystal. "We are still at the Temple? It wasn't real?"
"Why would Dulcea guard Temple ruins? She did not know, but the Master Powers have always been here." Ninjor laughed. "And the Quest is VERY real ... in the most important respect."
"But I died ... and we lost people," Skye pointed out. "I failed the test ... big time, I would have thought."
Ninjor waggled a guantleted finger at the Star Ninjetti. "No, no ... the Quest is so those eligible can show their inner Choice."
Skye frowned, not sure what was going on. "I ... don't understand."
"You all have Animal Spirits ... and Animal Spirits can lay claim to the Great Power, but their aspect is determined by the instinct of their Chosen," Ninjor explained. "The Master Powers have to draw from a primal instinct of the self, a natural reaction in times of danger. Understand?"
"Yes; I think I do ... what about them?" Skye pointed to the differently shrouded Ninjetti.
"There were not suitable. To hold a Master Power, you need the strength of True Love to give the strength to resist corruption and temptation, and the motivation to channel yourself selflessly." Ninjor smiled again. "Heroes fight not so much for ideals, but because they love - that was the great secret of the Ninjetti, why they could not be beaten. Because they were taught to fight for their loves, their friends, their family ... for that face that comes to you and sets fire to your heart. That makes a true Spirit Warrior. The Dolphin Ninjetti is too young for that to have touched his life ... and the others have not found it, either. I will send them back."
"But you have," Ninjor said in a soft voice.
The breeze flicked around the Temple and Skye met the eyes of the strange Guardian.
"I spoke of the Choice ... and in their Quest they have revealed theirs and they will be awarded appropriately, though there is one more test to go ... and so did you."
Skye looked at Ninjor, afraid to say anything, but feeling deep inside what it meant.
"I must ask you because of what this means if you are willing to do this? If you will stand by that instinct of yourself, that giving of yourself, making of yourself a weapon?" Ninjor asked eagerly.
Skye looked at the faces of his tranced friends. "Yes ... you say it was a choice - but, if you love ... it is not."
Ninjor nodded. "But it has to be done of your own free will ..."
"I was given back my life for this purpose ..." Skye said finally and sighed wistfully before nodding. "Yes ... I choose this."
"Yes!" Ninjor said triumphantly, taking up the Star Crystal. "Come now, we must do this ... they will rest until I wake them ... later ... much later."
Skye nodded and followed Ninjor, deep into the depths of the Temple.
Rocky groaned, pushing himself up. "Kat?" his words were instinctive and immediate. "Kat, are you alright?' he called. He sat up, looking around where he was, feeling stone beneath his hands. There were the faint sound of other bodies stirring around him and a sense of a glowing light. He glanced around to see a glowing figure approach them, watching them tolerantly. Startled, he drew back. "Er, hi," he said eventually.
"Welcome, Red Ape Ninjetti," the glowing apparition said. "You and your companions have succeeded in your Quest. I wait to bestow the Master Powers of the Ninjetti upon you all ... just as soon as everyone wakes up." He gestured with his hand and light began to emanate from the walls as the others stirred.
Trini pulled Billy up, looking at his bloodstained back in concern. "Will? You with me here?" she whispered in his ear.
Billy nodded, dismissing the injury. Truth be told, his back felt numb. "I wasn't quick enough ..." were his first words. "I couldn't save him ..."
Trini embraced him carefully. "Not your fault ..." but they had little time to grieve their losses.
"Spirit Warriors of the Ninjetti - I, Nin-jor the Guardian, welcome you. You have triumphed where none have before. Stand and receive that for which you have endured such hardship."
The group that stood before the Guardian was scarcely triumphant. Hurt in body and spirit by their ordeal, they looked at Ninjor as if trying to convince themselves it was worth it.
He smiled at them. "Worry not, for all will be well," Ninjor reassured them in a warm voice, and something made Billy alert to a subtle difference.
Something was different here. This felt more real than the Quest somehow. Like his back. He had the oddest sensation there, like in a dream where your mind knows that you are hurt and in terrible pain, but you are not actually feeling it. He frowned and started to mentally review what had happened on their Quest from an objective viewpoint, his doubts growing.
"How can you say everything is going to be all right when we lost so many of us?" Kim challenged fiercely. "The Powers aren't worth lives!"
"Yes, they are." Ninjor replied unperturbed. "Perhaps you do not realise what you will hold when you hold the Master Powers."
There were some disbelieving mutters from around him.
Ninjor held up his hand for silence. "But it is good that you feel this way. For it is those that believe there are more important things than Power that can be trusted with the Master Powers. There is a saying of the Ninjetti: 'The sword of Power has no hilt, yet few would go defenceless'."
"Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," Adam murmured, quoting an Earth equivalent.
Ninjor looked surprised and pleased as if he had somehow underestimated those standing before him. "Indeed! Exactly, Black Frog. I bow to the wisdom of the Spirit of the Frog." And much to Adam's embarrassment the blue-armoured figure bowed to him with respect. Tanya smiled a little as Adam flushed crimson at being the focus of attention.
Ninjor gestured and a column of light descended into the centre of the room, a stream of strange, fiery, glittering glyphs and images swirling within its heart, dancing in intricate helices of motion.
"The Master Powers. Devised by the first Ninjetti Master, Bar'ak, who survived the First War of the Darkness Visible; and though the Ninjetti faded, he set in place the provisions against its return," Ninjor said reverentially. "Since that time, galactic civilisations have risen and collapsed, new worlds were born and worlds died - and still the Powers have waited for those worthy to come." He looked around at them all solemnly.
"But Justin is DEAD! And the Shri, the Ronani and the others! And Skye." Kim nearly choked on the last.
"No they aren't," Billy said into the silence, suddenly sure.
Was that you? he asked his Wolf Spirit, wondering where that intuitive insight had come from.
Actually, no ... you managed that conclusion on your own. The Wolf Spirit sounded proud.
Again Ninjor sounded surprised. "You have sharp eyes in your mind, young Wolf," he stated, not quite admitting this as the truth.
"It is true though, isn't it?" Billy pressed.
Ninjor nodded slowly and there was an audible sigh of relief around the chamber. "They were found not to be suitable to control a Master Power. As such they were removed from the Quest. The Quest was designed to test your instinctive reactions in times of extreme peril, for therein the Powers find their root. Now ... it is time to receive the Master Powers. Know this, all of you: with the Master Powers you will have abilities that you can use any time, but concentrated in the glyph shape that will blend with the Spirit Warrior armour is the ability to concentrate the Master Power into a single powerful weapon to your desire - connected with the ability that you will be gifted. More will become clear as their nature is revealed." He paused, gestured and a glyph streamed out from the column of light and swept over the group before hovering over Rocky.
"Rocky, Chosen of the Red Ape - in the midst of danger, you instinctively strove to maintain communication and information between your fellow Ninjetti. As such the Glyph Ansur is your power, the ability of Communication." As Ninjor finished, the glyph shape dove at Rocky and a silent thunderclap of Power enveloped the Red Spirit Warrior, revealing him once more with a glittering ruby glyph on his chest.
Wow...that was something else... Rocky was thinking, and everyone around him looked as they heard the words in their own minds. He smiled and became quiet as Ninjor gestured again; this time his long-time friend Adam was singled out.
"Adam, Chosen of the Black Frog - when danger threatened, your instinct was to see safety through an illusion, one of the powerful aspects of the Frog Spirit." Behind them an image of Adam disguising the gully shimmered in the column of light. "As such the Glyph Shas is your power, the Master Power of Illusion." Once again the Ninjetti was wrapped in a cloak of light and Power as a gleaming jet-black symbol appeared on his armour.
Ninjor nodded and moved swiftly on to the fair-haired Australian.
"Katherine, Chosen of the Pink Cheetah - you sought to assist your fellow Ninjetti using the gift of the Cheetah, Spirit of Speed." The image of Katherine running for her life pursued by the aglaeca brought gasps from them all. "As such the Glyph Maraz is yours, the Power of Hopespeed." A shower of scintillating light burst over her, and a gleaming rose quartz symbol appeared on her armour.
"J'shaar, Chosen of the Red Ferass - when danger threatened, you saved your companions from more danger by finding that which was not visible, as the Ferass senses the desert sands for peril. Your power is that of the Glyph Kayve, the Power of the Seeker." It was the turn of the large Drakin to be illuminated with fiery light and his glyph glittered with a deep garnet fire. He touched it reverentially with a claw as Ninjor moved proceedings onwards.
"Dulcea, Chosen of the Green Owl - in danger you sought the silence of the Owl and its stealth to give you advantage and save others. The Glyph Mrath, Power of Silence, is yours."
The First Warrior of the Ninjetti looked exultant as the immense Power filled her, leaving her with a burning emerald glyph on her green and white armour. She bowed to Ninjor respectfully. Ninjor acknowledged her gesture and turned to face the proud figure of Jason. An image of him surrounded by the fire and fighting the aglaeca appeared in the column of light.
"Jason, Chosen of the Red Lion - you sought an answer to your peril from fire, a lion's fire of courage and the element. The Glyph Kano is yours, and you have the Master Power of Fire."
Jason braced himself as he was swirled in a tornado of fire but left untouched, on his chest the bright flash of a fire opal burning the Glyph's shape for all to see. He nodded to Ninjor as the Guardian of the Master Powers moved to bestow the next of the Glyphs. At his gesture a glyph soared from the column of light to hover over the White Ninjetti of Aquitar.
"Delphine, Chosen of the White Vasherel - when the way to safety was unclear, you sought the clarity of the Air. The Glyph Oless is your power, the Master Power of the Air." As the pale gleam of translucent mist swept around her, Delphine was revealed with the gleam of a pale white moonstone symbol on her graceful form. She gave a rare smile as she felt the depths of the Power within her and bowed, as had the others. Ninjor smiled and the next Glyph he summoned hovered over Trini, illuminating her serene features with golden light.
"Trini, Chosen of the Golden Tiger, to preserve the safety of your companions you used the ability of the Tiger Spirit to shift, seemingly without physically making a movement. The Glyph Radhaz is yours, the Power of Warp." That golden Glyph seemed to light her from within and when the light cleared, her symbol was a golden amber. Ninjor turned then to the other Aquitian.
"Cestro, Chosen of the Blue Celepha, with the wisdom of the Celepha and its instinct for its environment you used the earth itself as your weapon to save your companions. Your Glyph is Erda, the Master Power of Earth."
After the now familiar burst of power revealing a glittering dark sapphire symbol, Zack muttered aside to Aisha, "Now that's ironic. An Aquitian with the power of Earth."
Aisha grinned as the next power was bestowed - this time it was Kim who was treated to the glowing attention of a Master Glyph.
"Kimberly, Chosen of the Pink Crane - you sought to protect and shield as the Crane shields its wards from even the wrath of the Tiger." The astounding image of her using the rock as a shield appear above them and Tommy look awed as he took in her defiant, blazing eyes. "Yours is the Glyph Ehaz, the Master Power of Protection." The light poured into her, forming a shield momentarily, and then a sparkling kunzite pink crystal glyph appeared on her chest and she smiled triumphantly, thanking Ninjor as he moved on to her next friend.
"Tanya, Chosen of the Yellow Oryx. You battled the danger by bringing those with you together to fight, making a strength together that is lacked by the individual." The scene of her encouraging them all to push the aglaeca over the crumbling cliff replayed behind her. "Yours is the Glyph Mannu, the Master Power of Unity." The light was as dazzling as Tanya's exultant smile and she was left with the shimmering yellow of a sunstone as a glyph.
Ninjor turned to the two Chi'iten and addressed them as an individual. "Vy-Ru, Chosen of the Green Vathen, you instinctively used the vathen's ability to pierce through all obstacles. Therefore your Power is of the Glyph Neesha, the Master Power of Progress." The two Chi'iten warbled in harmony as they both absorbed the light and shared a cool green jade symbol between them. Ninjor nodded at their formal bow and moved on to Aisha with a wry smile.
"Aisha, Chosen of the Yellow Bear - you showed in your totally fearless attack of a foe much larger than yourself the instinct of the indestructibility of the berserk. Your Glyph is Thornaz, the Master Power of the Berserk Destroyer." The absorption of the Master Power this time was far from subtle and the floor of the chamber rocked as Aisha emerged with a sparkling citrine symbol.
"Wow," Zack commented after the thunderburst of light sealed Aisha with that Power. "I swear I'll do the washing up now! And anything else you want ... honest!" He mock-cowered away from her, until she slapped his arm lightly.
There were a few irreverent smiles as Ninjor continued, facing the joker of the group.
"Zachary, Chosen of the Black Mongoose, you risked poison to save another as does the Mongoose, and did not succumb." The terrifying images of his courage and bravery and mortal peril flashed up in the column of light once more. "In this your Glyph of Sigewa is identified, the Master Power of Immunity."
"Cool," Zack replied after he had been imbued with the Power, a gleaming onyx Glyph. "Very cool."
Of the group, only Billy and Tommy were left and Ninjor paused, looking into the column of light. Silence fell as everyone followed his gaze and a murmur of astonishment rippled through the crowd.
A single Glyph spun and sparkled there.
Two Ninjetti. One Glyph.
"Oh no ... no, you can't DO this!" Trini protested, shaking her head in denial. "Neither of them deserve to have the Powers taken from them! Not again!"
Billy looked at Tommy and then at the Glyph with a cold growing dread, a hard painful feeling of hurt and rejection building in his heart. He looked into Tommy's dark eyes and saw the mirror of his own feelings in his friend's face, that internal suffering once more.
"Only one of you will control the most powerful weapon of the Ninjetti," Ninjor said implacably, not looking at the two before him.
After all I have done...after everything I have given and suffered - and now this? They take this from me? Billy grieved, and his Wolf Spirit grieved with him. What right did he have to take the Master Powers? They needed the strongest leader to wield the most powerful weapon, and that had to be Tommy, not him ... or did it?
"Tommy ..." he began, the words choking in a tightening throat.
"No, Billy ... it has to be yours. After all you have done, you deserve it." The Falcon Ninjetti showed the pain of loss in his own voice, and the pair of them locked gazes. Billy could not let Tommy be hurt again, he could not. But he WANTED the Powers, like before, but the craving was a thousand times stronger, threatening to consume him from within ... and he could see it doing the same to Tommy. Both of them were fighting that pull, that instinct. Billy could not bear those dark eyes of pain; he glanced around, looking at the Glyph, trying to will himself to have the strength to do the right thing. What he saw spoke to his instinct, destroying his hope of taking the Power. The last Glyph was in the fiery shape of an Arrowhead. And he knew ... he knew then it wasn't for him. He would have nothing and he would have to force Tommy to take the final Power ...
"You ask too much!" Trini called out, tears pouring down her face. She had read Billy's decision in the shift in his posture. "You can't make him give up another Power, it will destroy him!"
Ninjor remained silent and implacable.
"Take it," Billy said softly to his friend. The hardest thing he'd ever said.
Tommy shook his head. "Billy, I couldn't do that to you ..." but the longing in his eyes betrayed that sentiment.
"It's yours, Tommy," Billy refuted, his voice strained. "It's calling to you, isn't it? Deep inside." Like it is to me.
Tommy groaned. He couldn't deny it. It was speaking to his very bones with its presence, as vital and necessary as air to him , but he tried to resist its siren song. "Oh Billy ..."
"If you won't take it," Billy continued, trying not to hear Tommy's protests, as any moment of weakness would ruin his resolve. It wouldn't take much. The tiniest wavering moment, and he would be lost, "I will have to gift it to you. It's yours. You will use it better than I ever would. It's your Power, not mine." He held that gaze that one last time and Tommy sighed, giving in to the call in his blood.
"Oh Billy, I'm so sorry ..." and in a blaze of fire, the Glyph swept out to Tommy, glowing white.
"Thomas, Chosen of the White Falcon, you used the devastating single strike of the Falcon to destroy an enemy far more powerful than yourself. " Ninjor paused, glancing at the silently anguished form of Billy cast in shadows by the light glowing around Tommy. "Your Glyph is Tyraz, the Master Power of the Lightning Strike." The Falcon Ninjetti was wreathed in lightning as the Glyph was merged with his armour.
Billy turned away, unable to muster the strength to congratulate Tommy yet, hating himself for his distinctly un-noble thoughts.
I can't smile and say 'well done' when I know I deserve this ... but Tommy ... he is better for them, he is a leader and obviously there is no place for me. I have served my purpose.
He stood alone and apart, a tragic figure trying to hold himself together, having given away something he had always dreamed of.
The rejoicing that should have come at the end of their successful Quest was dampened by that solitary figure standing apart from the newly-anointed Master Ninjetti, and there were none who did not feel the tug of guilty emotion that one who so richly deserved the Powers had been forced to choose to give them to another. Trini reached for Billy's hand ... and only the painfully tight grip betrayed the crippling intensity of his emotions.
"How could they be so cruel," Trini whispered, looking at Ninjor angrily. "Why?! First Skye doesn't even make it and then you who has done so much ...!"
Billy couldn't even speak.
Tommy looked at them, helpless with guilt at his success - at the expense of his friend.
"Congratulations," Ninjor addressed them.
"Yeah? Well, save it," Tommy replied bitterly, his voice tight with remorse.
Ninjor looked at the Falcon Ninjetti. "I was not congratulating you," he said with a smile. "I am sorry, Thomas of Earth, but you will not wield the most powerful weapon of the Ninjetti. That honour will go to William of Earth, Chosen of the Blue Wolf."
He gestured again and this time there were no glowing lights, no fire or glory. Nothing save a movement in the dark shadows and the sudden glitter of light on crystal.
"William, Chosen of the Blue Wolf - you showed the self-sacrifice, intelligence and courage of the Wolf. To you is entrusted the Ninjetti's most powerful weapon - refered to in the Prophecies as the Shahin Tara Zed."
He beckoned with his hand and a figure stepped out of the darkness, a very familiar figure with long white hair and steel blue eyes ... and one major difference. The Star Crystal that had hung around his neck was now firmly embedded in the centre of his forehead, and there were shadows of pain in his eyes, though he greeted them with a smile.
It all made sense. Why Skye had never thought he would be a Ranger, or a proper Ninjetti ... because he was always going to be ... a Weapon. Billy's eyes widened. A Weapon he was going to be controlling.
"Your task, Chosen of the Wolf, begins here. Know this the reason you were tested so harshly was because of the potential that lies within the Shahin Tara Zed. This one has no form through which the Power can be channelled. That is your first task. Choose his Animal Spirit and define the shape and form of his Power."
Billy hesitated, staring at his altered friend who was looking at him with total trust.
What if I choose wrong? What if ... What if I doom us all...I don't want this!
Images of Skye sacrificing himself on the stone bridge leapt to mind, and if that was his instinct, then he would damn well choose an Animal Spirit that could come back! And then ... from a distant memory ... a cave on Aquitar ... a flash of recall, the Glyphs and the shapes! The cave where above pulsed a Bird of Starwhite fire.....surety descended.
"Phoenix ... he is the Phoenix!"
Ninjor laughed. Laughed with relief and happiness. "Oh, young Wolf ... I should have known the Powers knew what they were doing." He stepped away from Skye and from Billy, and a burning white light began deep in the heart of the Star Crystal, as if it had become translucent in a window to the artist's very soul. Unbearably bright, it seemed to swallow everything as a pair of starfire wings, fashioned of ghostflames, embraced the pair of them and Billy touched the edges of a Power that literally knew no limit.
As Billy reeled from the shock, a Glyph of a stylised Phoenix appeared as a brilliant blue diamond on his chest and a connection of trust unlike anything before was forged in unbreakable bonds between him and his friend.
He was gasping when the air cleared, reeling with shock; he looked at Skye and saw a measure of contentment there amongst the transformation of himself.
The Star-Phoenix Ninjetti stood clad in true Ninjetti robes like all the others, the light shining brightly from his forehead.
Ninjor stepped forward. "You must try not to use even the slightest power of the Phoenix unless absolutely necessary," he admonished. "It can be sensed by the Nid-hi and is most keenly looked for by the Darkness Visible. You, William of Earth, are the Will of the Phoenix. This is a great and terrible thing, and the reason why you were tested so harshly. You have immeasurable Power in your hands, and only one who was willing to give up that Power, though it called to him, could be entrusted to use it correctly."
Billy nodded and looked at Skye again, worried at the way he was not being described as a person.
"It is well done. The ancient Ninjetti would be proud," Ninjor concluded, bowing to them all. "The Animal spirits have chosen well - and now it is time to protect all we hold dear."
NOW they felt they could celebrate; an excited cheer went up and all the new holders of the first and only Master Powers embraced and congratulated each other. As they stepped outside, it was dark and the wilderness of Phaedos was lit by the alien light of her moons in unfettered natural beauty.
Rocky remembered how not so long ago he had lain in this circle as Skye had healed his back and how he had leapt around for the sheer joy of being able to move freely and without pain. He frowned and looked at Skye. He wasn't limping! He KNEW there was something different about him, aside from the obvious crystal in the head thing. He grinned ruefully to himself and suddenly knew that there was something that had to happen, right here and now.
Skye... do it, Rocky said, using his Power effortlessly. The Phoenix Ninjetti turned to look at him with a quizzical look.
Just for once do something for yourself ... you have a Spirit Animal now. Use it! He smiled gently. You had a lot taken away, and something's given back. Do it.
A blaze of comprehension flooded across Skye's face, and he smiled. Rocky ... you are a genius! and he ran, yes ran to the edge of the Temple and stood on the wall, looking into the night.
"Skye?" Billy called out. "Something wrong?"
Rocky smiled and walked over, joining him. "For once, something is right ... watch."
There was a flicker of ghostly light and Skye appeared to be enveloped in a translucent misty flame which rose into the darkness.
A flash of light, starbright, and a large, achingly beautiful bird of flame shot up into the night, its cry so full of hope it dried the mouth with an upsurge of emotion. Like a shooting star, it arced over the plateau, dancing in the freedom of the skies in direct contrast to how the partially-crippled Ninjetti had been able to move for years on the ground.
The entire group stood, their eyes fixed on the soaring firebird streaming glory from its wings, and as one felt a determination and unity of purpose settle over them. Kim's dark eyes reflected the speck of fire as she followed its dance that echoed so much her own routine from the Pan-Globals. Her body sang with the utter joy that Skye was experiencing, threaded through with a strange bittersweet sensation as the flight ended.
The light faded and ash-grey in the shadows he reappeared, back on the edge of the Temple, the moonlight silvering his white hair. The glimmer of the Star Crystal in his forehead was not nearly as bright as the wonder in his eyes as he ran back to Billy and Trini and hugged them both in a silent embrace. For once he had been able to experience that which he had always watched others do; it had far exceeded his expectations, and inspired awe and wonder in the others. Billy and Trini did not waste words on trying to describe what they had sensed or what he must have felt, they could feel it emanating from him, touching everyone with that unfathomable hope that maybe, despite the odds against them, they could actually do something against the Darkness Visible.
Section One Section Two