Disclaimer: As always nothing even remotely related to the Power Rangers is mine, but anything else I made up so I guess I take responsibility for those things. This is the...er...eleventh in the series and by now you are probably going to be really lost unless you've read some of the others! We are now reaching the point where normal PR continuity is so far out the window it could be anywhere, so sit back and enjoy!
"He hath awakened from the dream of life -
'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
Adam, Black Frog Ninjetti Spirit Warrior sat at his computer desk, resting his head on the keyboard - entirely by accident, of course.
"Adam!" Tanya shook his shoulder. There was no response. With a wicked smile, Tanya leant down and whispered in a throaty voice, "Oooooh, Kermit? You going to wake up for me...?"
"Mmmm." Adam stirred. A dark brown eye opened suddenly. "Did you just call me Kermit?" he mumbled, shaking the sleep from his eyes and head. It felt like it was stuffed with candyfloss, tangling his thoughts in sticky fluff.
Tanya put her hands on her hips. "Oh yes."
"But I hate that!" Adam protested, waking up a little more.
"Well, you shouldn't work so hard that you fall asleep on your keyboard. Give it a rest, Adam." Tanya said sternly, looking the Frog Ninjetti over with an appraising eye. He looked tired, and that was a generous assessment of his condition.
"I can't ... I haven't solved the problem yet!" Tanya gave a snort and he continued defensively. "You don't understand, there is NO way we can provide a base on Earth for the Ninjetti Zords." Adam shook his head. "Five or six ... maybe ... hundreds of thousands? It can't be done ... But we need SOMEWHERE!" hHe said loudly, the force of his statement betraying his frustration.
Tanya sat down with a sigh. It was going to be one of those conversations.
As the enormity of what they had committed themselves to gradually sank in, they had begun to work themselves into the ground trying to find ways to make it work. They had all quit their own personal ambitions and careers, and in a strange move ended up "officially employed" by Hank Cranston, Financial Director of WolfTech . It came as a mild shock to all but Jason, who had been working for Billy's father for some time anyway, that the WolfTech computer technology that dominated the computers of the world originated from a very familiar source. Based on the success of a single nanochip design taken from the device Billy had used to switch his and Kimberly's consciousness, Hank Cranston had produced and marketed the nanochip whose revolutionary design had caused a new phase in computer technology. WolfTech nanochips were in EVERYTHING. The rights to them had been purchased by a worldwide computer conglomerate that had then gone onto wipe the floor with the competition and a royalty was paid to the subsidiaries of WolfTech for every nanochip produced. An ultra-nanochip upgrade was purchased by the military, and as a result, Mr Cranston had access to a great deal of monetary resources and contacts that could get hold of some of the more bizarre materials they required. This proved invaluable after Tommy downloaded the specifications of the New Power Chamber into the mainframe of FalconZord. The SuperZebeedees were efficient and resourceful, but they could not construct things from thin air; and there were some things that could not be scavenged which had to be purchased discretely.
The new complex was going to be huge, but try as he might, Adam could not see a way that it would take the massive amounts of Ninjetti Zords that would convene for meetings, or for repairs away from the front line. He had promised the others to come up with an answer before tomorrow morning and here he was at ... 3.00am! ... and nothing.
Tanya massaged his shoulders gently, wincing herself as she felt the knots coiled in his muscles. "Just relax a moment," she advised. "You can hardly think straight with all the stress. A breath of fresh air might clear your head." She opened the window and Adam joined her, looking out at the silent stars.
"I wonder how Billy is now?" he murmured softly. They had all been worried about Billy and Trini after the wandering Ninjettis' attempts to stop the abduction of Takope of Ayaho had ended in some injuries, despite the Wolf Ninjetti's assurances that they were both fine. The delight at seeing him had very swiftly indeed become shock at what had happened, and Adam knew he wasn't the only one wondering what other experiences had marked their friends so deeply.
"I'm sure he's fine. All three of them will be heading back home soon," Tanya responded, divining his mood.
"I've missed him," Adam said simply, looking out at the moon bright and cold above them. "There's been a gap in my life waiting for him to come back home. Waiting all this time." He gave a sigh. "There are some friends you just can't say goodbye to."
"I think that goes for most of us, Adam." Tanya said softly, brushing some of his now long-again hair away from his face. This was a familiar situation. Jason and Billy might be like brothers, but Adam and Billy were the type of friends that even if they didn't speak for a long time, when they did again all time apart would vanish. Tanya knew that Adam thought of his genius friend more often than he ever said to anyone.
"The stupid thing is, I am sure that Billy would see the answer to this straight away," Adam said with a sigh.
Tanya shook her head."You don't know that. Fighting Rita and Zedd and the Machine Empire was nothing like taking on a massive fleet. It's an unknown situation; Billy probably would have the same difficulties we do. This is a major undertaking we are involved with here."
Adam gave a low chuckle. "Rita and Zedd's attacks seem so ... well, you know," he said with a laugh, looking out of the window up at the silvery orb above them. "It seemed that they had nothing better to do but watch us from the moon and ..." he halted suddenly.
"What?" Tanya said into the sudden silence as Adam seemed to be locked in thought, his thoughts turned inwards. "Adam? Have you an idea?" she asked with a cautious excitement.
"... All this time I've been looking for somewhere on Earth ... what about Rita's Palace? On the moon ... and the Machine Empire's base? Both deserted now, surely it wouldn't take much to adapt it?" Adam said, excited by the thought. The tiredness seemed to lift from him. "That has to be it! It makes more sense ... then too, there is no problem of the alien Ninjetti having to adapt to Earth's atmosphere!"
Tanya nodded thoughtfully, catching the mood of discovery. "And it means that we can still have a Power Chamber down here and make the moon essentially into a barracks and storage area ..." She gave a dazzling smile. "That, my dear Kermit ... is an inspiration!" She bent down and kissed him.
Adam smiled a half smile, his dark eyes amused. "Just wait until I find something to tease you about your Spirit Animal. Hmmm, you know I do believe that I read that the Oryx whistles through its nose ... care to give me a demonstration?" he teased.
"Why you...!" Tanya replied, half-laughing, threatening him in mock anger.
"Er ... maybe this would be a good time to tell the others about our idea," Adam said, shielding himself melodramatically.
"Lucky for you ... I agree," Tanya replied, smiling. "They are going to love us getting them up at this time in the morning!"
Adam's idea had been an inspiration, but Jason wished they could have waited a little longer before rousting everyone to the meeting. Of course it had been deemed sensible that they check the place out before they made any permanent moving arrangements and expended time and effort in modifying the place. Still, as soon as Dulcea had volunteered, what could he do? His hand was raised straight away to join her, to the total astonishment of his mind that was telling him he had far too much to do to be going on a trip she could handle herself. His heart told his mind to take a running jump, and here he was ... in the middle of the night. Flying to the moon with Dulcea on the silent wings of Owlzord. One might even say it was romantic - if he could stop yawning long enough to appreciate it.
Dulcea tapped her finger distractedly as they made the trip to the Moon. She had barely seen Jason since their return to his home planet. Now she had heard the wisdom of the animal spirits, her decision was made, and taking action upon that decision should be done immediately! Not waiting and waiting ... she was good at waiting, but that didn't mean she had to like it.
Besides ... .she had been alone a long time alone, and who knew what lay ahead? How many of them would survive the coming Darkness, if any? She rubbed her arms absently as the thought raised prickles on her flesh.
And more to the point, how often was she going to get Jason alone between now and then? Not often enough, that was for sure, she thought with a mental scowl.
Her owl spirit trilled comfortingly. "Lions are not used to chasing." it said slyly. "They are used to showing their worth and prowess and having their mate come after them."
"But that doesn't work often!" Dulcea replied.""Not with humans ... lions, maybe."
"That does not stop the instinct. You can see through the darkness," advised the Owl. "This explains why he has been so alone until now, until you. "
"So I have to ... seduce him?" Dulcea asked, mortified.
The Owlspirit chuckled, clacking its beak. "Just point him in the right direction. Lions are very direct when they realise what has to be done."
Dulcea smiled to herself. "Oh, I do hope so ..."
They landed at the deserted palace on the moon, its forcefield shield fortunately still intact, leaving the inside habitable. The two Ninjetti stalked around the eerie shell of Rita and Zedd's empire cautiously and inevitably made their way to the desolate 'throne room'. Shadows hung in the musty air like drifting smoke whilst strange and twisted debris lurked in hidden corners. The throne room was a contrast of hideous, dark gothic architecture and amazing beauty as the glowing orb of Earth hung in the dark, star-bejewelled sky, above the silvered stark desert landscape of the cratered moon. Jason was drawn inevitably to that same balcony where Rita and Zedd had stood, coveting the dominion of the planet before them and had plotted day after day to destroy them all. Seeing the Earth spinning silently there, he could understand at least its desirability. He stood staring out into space, protected from the vacuum by the invisible forcefield. An indefinable longing rose up in him as he gazed upon the Earth rising over the lunar landscape.
My home. It filled him with a great sense of purpose to see it there, a fragile sphere of beauty against the vastness of space, needing to be preserved, protected.
Dulcea silently came up behind him. "It's beautiful," she said, her voice echoing in the empty chamber, whispering in the shadows. Jason turned, looking straight into her emerald eyes which were touched by the soft blue of earthlight. Again, the sight of her was suddenly as breathtakingly amazing and, he realised, as important to him as seeing his home from space.. He found himself smiling, his dark eyes having having mirroreded the light of the stars, untarnished by the atmosphere of the Earth, in their depths.
Thoughts raced through his head. "Say something ..." his lion spirit prompted, rumbling with good humour. "You love her. It is time."
"As beautiful as you," Jason said simply and was rewarded with a glowing smile.
"Well, it's not exactly the most romantic, or poetical declaration of affection," Dulcea mused, brushing back her long auburn hair. "But I have been alone for millennia, Jason, without knowing I was waiting for you.." Her eyes had an almost predatory glitter and need showed in her every movement. "There have been nights with my only companion the lights of the stars and the touch of the moonwinds over the Temple. I had given up hope, thinking that love was denied me, only to turn and see it spring afresh into my life just as the wave of Darkness towers over us. Do you know how precious that is? A light kindled in the darkness?"
"Dulcea ... I ..." Jason gulped, incredibly moved by those words. "I wish I knew what to say. I was never good with words. I act rather than speak." Indeed he had begun to find the frustration of all talk and no action at the Peace Conference unbearable after a while and found the intricacies of diplomacy something which, though he knew it was important, did not mesh with his personality.
Dulcea quirked a smile. "I could stand some communicating without words," she replied in a voice barely above a whisper, leaning in close, her eyes locked upon his as they drew together. Jason found himself moving towards her, leaning forward as if pulled by a strange attractive force. Words were hollow and empty compared to the feelings he was experiencing, and he could not express what he felt in any other fashion than leaning forward for their first true kiss. A tingling brush of their lips spoke more than verses of the sweetest poetry of the tenderness of his feelings towards her; the light touch of his powerful hands cradling her head, and stroking her cheek and running down her neck, drawing shivers of need, announced the way he would protect and keep her safe, in a way that no spoken word ever could. A fire of certainty awoke in the warrior woman's heart, and she leaned into the kiss fiercely, the deep embers of passion so long unstirred flaring into bright vivid life. Jason found tenderness transmuting to passionate desire and responded with an equal intensity from a longing and a need that surprised him with its force.
"Together ..." Dulcea murmured, breaking for air briefly., "And our spirits have waited long enough to be joined.." She leant back, staring at the gleaming orb of the Earth, not seeing it as Jason nuzzled her neck delicately before claiming her mouth in another passionate kiss.
He sat bound with darkness. He could move, he could breathe, there was no hunger, thirst or tiredness tiredness, but there was also no way out. He was trapped within his own shadow. His latest quest, his mission to locate the abducted mentors had been followed with his customary diligence. He had trawled the whispers of the galaxy, listened unseen in the darkness, with the utmost stealth had stalked a thread of rumour and half-truth ... and had found them.
They were all there, the Council of the Wise. Trapped, locked in the dark, about to be moved to another location. He had no time, he had to try and free them there and then without backup. Not unusual for him. Ghosts work alone, after all.
He had phased in and tried to release them and enlist their help to move Zordon, still trapped in a transdimensional warp. It had been going well; in hindsight too well. He had freed them, they were getting out unseen. He had taken care that none had detected him going in, so they should make it out if they were careful. And he was careful. Ghostlike, he lead them through the tunnels and the secret ways of that cleverly-concealed base.
And then ... they walked into an ambush. He had fought the Nid-hi, but his Powers could not touch them.
Could not touch them.
They had danced like dragons around him, mesmerising in their deadly grace, and he had fought with the shadow-power, the ruby flaring with the Power, with battle fire but they had taken him. He had looked around at the recaptured Mentors and had known as he had tried to phase into nothingness, to disappear into the night to return and try again ...
One of them betrayed us all!
He didn't want to think it, but only one of the Council of the Wise knew how to counter that most secret part of his abilities, the phase shift, they being the creators, the saviours of his life for all these millennia. The Nid-hi had known this; too well, too easily, and as he tried to phase out of synchronicity, they had bound his energy in around itself. He was trapped within a web of his own shadow, phased out of the normal universe, unable to contact anyone, to tell anyone where he was, what had happened to reveal that potential traitor at the heart of the Forces of Light.
He had been betrayed.
There was no other explanation. He shook his head . He had given them his LIFE; it was not possible that this could happen. They had given him a purpose more honourable than any other, they had given him a way to wreak vengeance for his long-lost love's death at the hands of Evil ages ago. Before now, he would have said there was none that he would not die to protect, as was his mission.
And he had been so predictable. He had done exactly what they expected. He had followed the trail ... alone. He had found them ... alone ... and then he had been trapped and silenced ... alone.
Why hadn't the Nid-hi destroyed him?
Why had the one of the Wise betrayed them all?
A traitor ...
The Phantom Ranger pulled at the edges of his shadow-webbed prison, roaring into the silence of phased atoms in frustration. He had to warn them, this was the culmination of the strivings of Light and Dark, and here he was trapped in shadow. He could move, he could see beyond the inverted energies that formed his bubble prison, but he was literally like the phantom he had taken as a Ranger name. But even ghosts were sometimes heard ... weren't they? He would find his way to one who would hear him, who had recognised his presence even when he had been phased before. He began to make his way to stow away on a vessel away from here, out towards somewhere where he might encounter her, the one he sought.
I need you, Cassie;, this time I really need your help.
"You think they are alright up there?" Kat asked as they monitored for the OwlZord from the nearly completed new Power Chamber.
Rocky shrugged, leaning back with his feet up on a console, drinking some soda of indeterminate flavour. "Sure they are," he said flippantly. "We would have heard something otherwise."
Kat still looked worried. "You don't know what that place is like ... it ended up with levels even Rita and Zedd didn't know about ... and ... things. Creatures that escaped from experiments, half defeated monsters ... they could have run into them," she said fretfully.
"How do you ... oh." Rocky stopped himself from going any further. "Kat, Rita and Zedd have been gone from there for years, there's no food or water or anything up there. Any sensible monster would have hightailed it out as soon as they could. Though, considering what Rita's monsters were usually like ... maybe it is worth checking." He poked at a few buttons. "Rocky to Jason ... Jason, come in."
There was silence.
"Come in, Jason ... Jason, it's Rocky!" he continued, getting more urgent in his summonses. Still no response. Rocky frowned. "Okay ... we go after them ... Kat, are you ..."
."... Jason here. ..What?" they were interrupted by Jason's abnormally abrupt response over the communicator.
"Just checking if you are okay, bro," Rocky replied, relieved. "Not run across any nasties, have you? When you didn't answer, we thought you might be in trouble."
"No ... no..." Jason's voice came hurriedly. "Just was, er ... enjoying the view." There was a low chuckle that was barely audible over the communicator, and Jason seemed to suddenly have a fit of coughing.
"The view ... right ...." Rocky said, suspicions leaping to his teenager mind. ."Nice, is it?"
"Oh, beautiful ... like nothing on Earth,." Jason answeresaid, his voice tightening a bit at the end as if he wereas being distracted.
"Hmmm ... Well, the place is okay, isn't it? What you have seen of it?" Rocky added lightly, slightly looking meaningfully across at Kat who was trying to suppress her giggles.
"Oh yeah ... yeah, it'll be great," Jason reported absentmindedly. "We'll be back in a little while - we just have a few more levels to ... explore."
Rocky nearly choked. "A few more levels ... Okay, Jase, we'll see you back here when you are done," he said, signing off, and once he had closed the connection he turned and looked at a faintly blushing Kat. "You think they were?"
Kat grinned broadly. "Absolutely! I HAVE to tell Kim about this ... they are going to flip! Jason and Dulcea making out in Rita's palace!"
"The mind boggles!" Rocky agreed. "Wow ... I never thought of Jason being like that ..."
Kat smiled sweetly. "People can surprise you," she said, kissing him unexpectedly. She broke off. "I have GOT to tell Tanya now!" she repeated, hurrying off.
Jason looked up into Dulcea's eyes. "You think they knew?" he asked, switching off the communicator.
"Maybe." Dulcea said contentedly, brushing his hair back with his fingers. "But it lay in their thoughts as long as it did in ours. Why does it matter when the seed is seen to germinate?"
Jason grinned. "I feel like a biology experiment when you talk like that."
Dulcea's eyes sparkled. "A fascinating biology experiment at that ... but we have some levels to explore first." She pushed herself up.
Jason looked disappointed. "You mean ... really?"
"Yes, really..." She quirked a smile. "Mind you, OwlZord has an autopilot function for the trip home."
The Red Lion Spirit Warrior's eyes lit up. "Well then, Duty first ... but no-one said it didn't have to be quick!" he said, bounding off to scout the Palace with enthusiasm and speed, slowly followed by a chuckling Dulcea.
"Most definitely direct when he is pointed in the right direction," she murmuredsaid to herself. "And so many directions left to point him!"
"After this system Triforia, and then ... home!" Trini said with a smile of pure delight.
Billy smiled, his expression brightened out of weariness. "It's been so long; I've missed everyone so much," he said quietly. "Skye? What is the name of this planet? " he asked absently.
"Chlorak, according to the Ma'rai sphere." Skye answered, yawning. "A part of the Old Ninjetti Alliance. Now, deserted and uncolonised. The ancient Ninjetti Zords are located on the Southern land mass, but there is no sign of any potential Ninjetti," he replied, picking distractedly at his white hair.
"Skye, stop that ... you know it drives me mad!" Trini said, throwing a pencil he had been sketching with at him.
"Worse than Billy's tendency to borrow your hairbrush?" Skye neatly deflected the flying object.
"Oh come on, you didn't have to pull me into this!" Billy protested. "At least I don't sketch over our star maps."
"No, but you do leave at least an inch of drink in EVERY cup!" Trini shot back and then laughed as Billy began to splutter.
"Hey, it's not my fault if I ..."
"... get distracted before it goes cold," Skye and Trini chorused.
Billy frowned seriously and then abruptly stuck his tongue out at the pair of them with the air of a college professor trying out a new technique. The effect was so comical that Skye nearly fell off his chair laughing, and Trini had to clutch her sides to stop them from hurting with laughter.
"Hmm ..." Billy said as if about to lecture a seminar. "Thus we see demonstrated the effects of three people being in a confined space for too long where even a basic childish response generates an abnormal level of hilarity."
Skye heaved a cushion at him rather wildly as he picked himself off the floor. "That's cruel, Billy ... no one would suspect you of having an evil sense of humour!"
Billy ducked the flying object easily. "What do you mean ? I'm perfectly serious," he protested. "I can't help it if you find me amusing when I am stating facts!"
He turned with a wicked twinkle in his eye, and began to exaggeratedly talk into his communicator. "Captain's Log, stardate ... sometime in the middle of September possibly ... could be May actually, thinking about it. Experiencing a great deal of flying debris on the bridge of Wolfzord ... My companions are incapacitated by some mysterious effect that leaves them incapable of taking anything I say seriously and are therefore in grave peril of the flying debris themselves."
He stooped and flung the assorted items the other Ninjetti had been pelting him with right back at them. Trini and Skye ducked, laughing initially, but then Billy scored a direct hit on Skye's head because he suddenly just froze in place, staring at nothing.
"Oops, sorry, Skye." Billy approached to make sure he was all right and all frivolity faded. He recognised that sort of expression on his friend's face. "What's wrong?" he asked urgently.
"I thought I felt ... humans down there," Skye said. They were about to swing past the planet, the Super Zebeedees having been dropped from orbit.
"Ninjetti? Potential Ninjetti..?" Trini asked, tying back her silky black hair.
"I thought it felt like humans ... humans with Power." Skye shrugged, as they became all serious again.
"I'll take us into the atmosphere, see what is going on," Billy replied, and Wolfzord turned and leapt down into the atmosphere towards the rolling Plains of Chlorak.
The Star Crystal burned with light as the white-haired Ninjetti focussed as they drew closer to the surface. He opened his eyes suddenly, the grey-blue silvered with the reflection of the light. "Uh-oh."
"Uh-oh is not good," Trini replied. "Define uh-oh."
"Uh-oh as in, there are humans down there and there's are an awful lot of ... negative energy there, too," Skye replied. I recognise that energy pattern, he thought. "Darkonda ... and ..." It wasn't QUITE Maligore, but very close indeed. "Some other very powerful beings," he temporised.. "I could be wrong, but I think they are in trouble."
"If that Darkonda being is there, I'm sure of it!" Billy exclaimed, on battle alert between one instant and the next. He remembered their encounter on Drakan with an internal shudder. "We'll take TigerZord in ..." he said, taking Skye's warning of 'very powerful beings' seriously.
They transferred to the larger, more heavily armoured Zord and Trini guided her Zord in with surprising stealth whilst Billy and Skye mentally and visually scanned for further information.
"There... visual lock!" Billy announced. On the wide open plains of swaying blue-tinged grass, two groups were meeting. A group of six Rangers in unfamiliar armour, standing opposite a group of metallic-looking creatures, the black and red- beclawed figure of Darkonda, and a strange black crystalline creature, gleaming with green shimmers on its facets. There was a hooded white-robed figure standing back in the background and dominating it all ... there was a Lava Monster ... a familiar form to Billy. "But that ... that looks like Maligore!" he said, astonished.
"Not that Enemy, but of his Pack," advised his Wolfspirit, on battle alert.
"I know ..." Trini said, her Tigerspirit growling inside her mind in warning. "But what are they doing?"
The Red Ranger stood forward and said something, and then demorphed. The group led by the monstrous Magma Lord brought forward a young woman, beautiful if not for the cold light in her eyes. At a signal, a device was disconnected around her head and she seemed to stumble a moment and then fall into the demorphed Red Ranger's arms. That they knew each other ... cared for each other, was obvious ... and equally obvious was the fact that they were going to be double-crossed any moment. Billy groaned. Bargains with villains NEVER worked, never! The history of the Power Rangers had been littered with failed attempts and it always ended in a double-cross.
"Let's get down there," Billy suggested after a moment's silence. "Blue Wolf Ninjetti Spirit Warrior now!" he called, morphing into his Spirit Warrior armour, the eyes glowing a fierce blue. Trini followed suit, leaving Skye between them in his normal state. They exchanged a grim nod of acknowledgement and the team of Ninjetti teleported into action.
They landed a short distance from the brewing conflict, recognising the escalating tension even from their position.
Billy mindspoke to the others, indicating the Red Ranger and the young woman he held. "I'll get those two - you go after the others," he mindspoke directly to Trini.
The Gold Tiger Ninjetti was gone like a streak of bright gold fire. "Skye, help her out! Make sure she's alright!" Billy followed up, knowing he didn't have to ask, but doing so anyway.
"Like it's not likely to be the other way around," Skye retorted before turning to set off after Trini. "Watch yourself, Billy, if he is like Maligore ..." he mindspoke, worry colouring his thought words.
"I only need to distract him ... go!" Billy reassured. "Just long enough to free those two Rangers."
Skye didn't look happy, but moved anyway. The grey-clad Star Ninjetti nodded, his white hair billowing out behind him as he produced a fair turn of speed even with his semi-crippled leg.
"You wanted Karone back. Now I have your powers in my grasp. You may have her for the short time that you live," Dark Spectre rumbled, raising his hand to signal the inevitable attack.
"No, you gave your word! Let her go!" Andros yelled in an angry demand.
"And why would I?" Dark Spectre asked, his gravelly voice rough with patronising amusement.
"You gave your word!" Zhane shouted, looking trapped, and Dark Spectre tightened his energy grip around Astronema. She eventually cried out, her ribs squeezed so hard they were moments away from snapping. Andros launched himself at the Magma Lord and took a blast from Darkonda that spun him backwards into Zhane.
"Andros! No!" The Silver Ranger grabbed hold of his fellow Kerovian, trying to protect his friend from further attacks.
Dark Spectre loomed over them as Zhane was also blasted, trying to cover the weakened form of his friend. "Both of you have plagued me long enough. You, Red Ranger, Silver Ranger, will die and Karone will become Astronema once more!"
"No..." Andros protested weakly, trying to push himself up from the semi-conscious form of Zhane shielding him but also pinning him in place.
Dark Spectre raised his hand and was about to finish them, when a blue-grey Wolf Warrior leapt over them from invisibility. The new attacker somersaulted, striking Dark Spectre with his feet, knocking the solid mass of the evil creature backwards. With a slash of spirit claws, burning electric blue, the pulsing red energy tying Karone shredded into tiny wisps of flaring light. Dark Spectre roared and the white-hooded figure that had been standing with a bored stance alerted to attention.
Silver-furred hands brushed back the cowl and focussed. "Dark Spectre! This one ... bring me this one!" She indicated the Blue Wolf Ninjetti with a purple gleam in her dark liquid eyes. "Forget these others!"
Dark Spectre grimaced. "I will not be denied my revenge!" he roared, wanting to turn on the other Rangers. "Ecliptor! Darkonda! Finish them!" He sent power to them both to swell them to enormous size. The ground rumbled as its power was sent into the evil creatures, expanding them to vastness.
The Silver Nid-hi sighed exasperatedly as the Wolf Warrior leapt to attack once more. "He is Ninjetti!" she said forcefully.
Dark Spectre's eyes glowed brightly. "Ninjetti?!" To have a despised Ninjetti in his grasp? They could keep Astronema ... if they survived Ecliptor and Darkonda's attack.
"Go ... get out of here!" Billy helped Zhane and Andros to their feet.
"Not without our morphers!" Andros shouted back, wondering who this warrior was. Not Phantom as he had at first thought, for all that he had appeared out of nowhere.
"Morphers, right ..." Billy said, checking on Trini who was taking on the full force of Quantrons and trying to tackle the enormous forms of Darkonda and Ecliptor alone. Who had the morphers?
That magma creature that looked identical to Maligore.
"Wolfshadow," he whispered and faded from view, blurring swiftly over, cloaked in invisibility to literally snatch the morphers from under Dark Spectre's nose. He blurred back into view, leaping backwards and throwing the handful of AstroMorphers to the tall white-blond-haired Rranger.
"Help her!" he yelled, indicating the hard-pressed Gold Tiger Ninjetti.
The pair of them limped across, dragging the unconscious form of the one they had called Karone with them, and Billy turned to cover their backs.
"Enough ... finish this!" Ilana said impatiently. "Dark Spectre ... this is an inefficient waste of time." Her tone was warning.
The Magma Lord harrumphed . "Very well ... Ecliptor, Darkonda, finish them before they morph ... now!" he ordered in a booming voice.
Billy glanced around, horrified. "No! Trini!... SKYE!! Stop them!" he called out in desperation, knowing that not even a Ninjetti of Trini's power could withstand a dual monster blast. Exactly what he expected Skye to do was debatable, because Dark Spectre took advantage of that moment of distraction.
The Gold Ninjetti turned in time to see, in slow motion, a sight that would stay with her forever. Billy half-turned and poised to leap towards her and then engulfed in a glowing fireball that exploded against him with terrific force as he was distracted by them.
She screamed without words, oblivious to the combined wave of destructive energy pouring towards her and the unmorphed AstroRangers from the monsters above them all. Skye grabbed the Star Crystal and instinctively flung a shield of psychic energy over them. He drew on the pattern of the Chi'iten defence, and the destructive energy exploded against it. The concussive force of the blast rebounded a ways, apart from where Skye was, as he had flung the shield over the others far away from him but not over himself. He was caught in the explosion and rather crudely ... blown up. The artist was lifted on a wave of destructive energy, tumbling through the air, his splash of white hair vivid against the billowing black smoke as the blue grass combusted around them all. The others were knocked unconscious, and Ecliptor and Darkonda were devastated as the backlash of their own attack hit them at point blank range.
Damaged by the unexpected return of their own destructive energy, the pair of them teleported away to join the others in a hasty retreat. Ecliptor paused as they were about to leave orbit, and with calculating foresight loosed a barrage of plasma torpedos at the orbiting DECA and the TigerZord.
"There ... that will keep you safe, my princess," he murmured. "You will be too late to come after us and there will be no need. You are saved. As some of us cannot be." With a heavy sigh, he turned to take his place once more in Dark Spectre's entourage. Unknown to him, Phantom - that silent prisoner in his own darkness - watched, more frustrated than ever before as they travelled inexorably away from the AstroRangers. At least they had not got her ... It was not like he could have done anything to save her if she had been taken, and that might just have destroyed his sanity. Bad enough that they had taken one, even if it was not one of the ones he knew personally, but he was Ninjetti and that called to his past. If nothing else, he could bear witness to the Wolf Ninjetti's fate.
Trini groaned, coming around. Around her the seven humans they had disastrously tried to rescue were stirring, too. She shook her head trying to clear it, her hair in disarray, glancing around as suddenly the memories crashed in on her.
Billy turning as a massive explosion enveloped him, obliterating him in fire.
Oh god, no ... no! She looked around for him, seeking his presence with her eyes, her mind, as she got up dizzily, blood trickling from a scalp wound. "Billy! BILLY!" she called out desperately.
Nothing. No sense of him. Inwardly she began to panic. Ignoring the other strangers stirring around her, she began to limp around, searching frantically, using her Ninjetti senses and still finding nothing. Skye, Skye would find Billy. He had that deep bonding with Billy since Phaedos. He would find him.
She then looked for Skye belatedly, feeling guilty she had not before and caught a glimpse of a splash of white against the tall swaying grass of the plains that remained unburned by the fierce conflict. Skye's distinctive white hair stood out in the evening light as his form lay face down a little ways away from the rest of them, still and unmoving.
"Skye?" Trini called, running towards him.
"Skye!?" she mindspoke to him, sensing nothing. No! not him too! She turned him over and looked at the blood trickling from the corner of his mouth. She blanked a moment, wondering what to do. Billy was gone, Skye badly hurt. A shadow crossed her as she knelt there, her Tiger Spirit pacing deep inside her mind, preparing to explode.
"Hi ..." a female voice said next to her. "My name is Cassie ..." Trini turned her head slowly, the glimmer of the Tigerspirit's fire burning in her dark eyes.
Cassie nearly stepped backwards from the warrior woman, the hairs prickling on the back of her neck.. "Is he ... is he alright?" she asked as Ashley unsteadily joined her.
Trini suppressed an urge to growl. Stop that, it was not them that made this happen, she said sternly to herself, clinging to control.
"He is badly hurt," she replied in a tight voice. "Have you seen my other companion?" she then asked.
The AstroRangers, now gathered around in a semi-circle around them, looked at each other with desperate expressions.
Andros knelt next to her. "He was hit point- blank by a blast from Dark Spectre .... I'm sorry," he said simply.
Trini stared at him blankly. "No ... no, there is no body ..." Trini said, shaking her head, denying the possibility of death. They had all been brushed with the dark-feathered wings of death before, all of them, but never spared a thought that those wings would bear one of them away.
"I am sorry," another girl said, approaching. "But he would have been vaporised; I've seen it before."
"How would you know!?" challenged Trini angrily, not prepared to accept that information.
"I used to work for him," Karone replied in a subdued voice.
Trini went rigid with utter denial and retreated from the whole concept. Easier to believe this woman a liar than believe Billy dead. "I must help Skye," she said, distracting herself, readying her mind. She may not be as good at this as Skye had been, but he had taught them how to do basic Ninjetti healing.
"Is there anything we can do?" Ashley asked softly, looking at this stranger sympathetically. They had saved them and yet in the process one of her companions had been killed and the other ... badly injured.
Trini shook her head. "I'm not even sure if there is anything I can do." Nevertheless she centred herself and balanced her energies before calling on the strength of her animal spirit to pour energy into her friend. The Power seemed to pour through and out of her into him, bringing him back from the brink.
She paused, gasping, and ceased, wiping her brow. "I don't know how Skye does that so often! He makes it look so easy ..." she said aloud. "Maybe it's the Star Crystal. Zordon always said that was a good amplifier, and powerful."
"Zordon?" Carlos interrupted suddenly, exchanging glances with the others. "What do you know of Zordon?"
"Zordon was our mentor," Trini said absently, dressing Skye's more visible injuries with practised ease. Another skill this sojourn in space had imparted to them all.
"You're from EARTH?" TJ said, astonished.
"Of course," Trini answered, surprised. "You are too?" Skye had said they felt like humans, but she hadn't realised he actually meant humans.
"Yes!" Ashley exclaimed. "All except Andros, Zhane and Ast ... Karone here. We come from a place called Angel Grove, it's only a small town."
"But it's the home of the Power Rangers, yes, I know. I am Trini Kwan ... also from Angel Grove, and the Original Yellow Ranger, now Gold Tiger Ninjetti Spirit Warrior," she introduced herself briefly. How incongruous it seemed to be exchanging trivia when she had lost the most important person in her life!
"One of the Originals ... wow," TJ said in a mild kind of awe.
"So is ... was Billy," Trini added in an aching voice. "He was the Blue Ranger, the first one, then a Blue Wolf Ninjetti. He was the longest-serving Ranger one way or another. Even when he wasn't holding the Power, he remained as part of the team, invaluable. He even went to Aquitar a few times, and a few other places."
"That one?" Andros looked startled. "William of Earth? That was ... that was him? The one who solved the Hydrocontaminator War?"
Trini nodded silently, and Andros looked somewhat shaken. He swallowed a few times and then said, "What is it that you want to do?" he asked in a more respectful tone.
"As soon as I can move Skye, we are going after them," Trini replied, her face set with determination.
"Trini, look, I know you are hurting, but we can't do that ... not without reason!" TJ said. "You know the rules."
"Without reason?!" She turned on the group, her black hair in disarray, blood staining her head and face. "They have taken my life from me ... that's who he was! They have woken the Tiger and the Great Power and I shall show them how a Tiger dances when it is ready to die!"
To the group she seemed to be babbling incoherently, and they shifted uncomfortably.
"Look, Dark Spectre is too powerful..." Ashley began in an attempt to reason with her.
"And nowhere near as powerful as the foe we have been preparing to face," Trini said calmly. "You think Dark Spectre took the Council of the Wise, took Zordon?" she shook her head. "No ... that's not the case. He is ruled by another now, a greater evil, the Zha'Kha-rhee'aa. The Darkness Visible. I will face him..."
"Trini ..." Cassie prepared to argue, but was swiftly cut off by a forceful interruption.
"NO!" Trini exploded." The Rules were created by the Council of the Wise, but the Rules of the Ninjetti Great Power are written in the Spirit itself and one of its most compelling dictates is, Evil will not go unanswered!
"Why else are we all here?" Trini regained a form of calm, but her eyes still burned with Tigerfire. "As soon as we can move Skye and my Zord is fixed - then I will stalk Dark Spectre; to the ends of the stars, if necessary." Completely unconsciously, her lip curled in a slight snarl.
The group of AstroRangers backed away from the distraught Ranger slowly and went to make a camp where they were until DECA had at least managed to restore life support on board so they could work up there. Then maybe that could help them both, at least by getting Skye into the medi-bay.
"Whoa ... intense!" Carlos whispered as they sat down around a hastily-built fire.
"You can hardly blame her," Cassie replied. "I mean, losing not just one of your team, but the one you love..." Her thoughts drifted to a certain mysterious Ranger. Ashley on the other hand glanced very briefly across at Andros before looking down.
"If it truly was the Peacemaker that was destroyed, then it is a great loss," Andros said sombrely. "There are planets Allied to the Light that will mourn his death." He looked troubled and threw some more of the thick twig-like grass on the fire, sending up pungent clouds of smoke to the alien sky like a prayer of incense. He paused for a moment and then said, "We owe them to help her. Agreed?"
The shifting firelight flickered on six other serious expressions as, one by one, the AstroRangers nodded their willingness to go after their greatest Enemy even if it meant contravening the Rules.
They may not have destroyed the Astro Rangers, they may have let Astronema go over to the enemy but Dark Spectre's lava-filled eyes burned with eagerness and triumph. "A true Ninjetti ... at last! A chance to get back at the accursed breed!" He didn't quite rub his rocklike hands together, but if he had not been with the Nid-hi Chosen, he might well have succumbed to gloating.
"It is the Way of Order that chaos defeats itself and advantage can be taken of its random energies," Ilana replied in her sweet voice. It still astonished the Magma Lord that someone who had such natural grace and sweetness on the outside could be so utterly ruthless, calculating and cold, so much so it chilled even him - and with molten lava in his veins that was quite a feat.
She examined the limp body of the unconscious Wolf Ninjetti curiously. "He appears somewhat fragile, does he not?" she mused as if expecting something much more sinister.
"You wish him to be questioned?" Dark Spectre asked eagerly.
Ilana inclined her head gracefully. "He must be questioned about what he knows of the One, and if he is aware of the missing piece of information the Zha'kha-ree'aa requires."
"May I have that honour? Of interrogating him?" the Magma Lord asked tentatively.
The silver Nid-hi considered. "You may prepare him. I dislike the buildup to such things. Take him to the point of death. Then he will be ready for my questions."
Dark Spectre looked at her with a respectful glow in his fiery eyes. These Nid-hi were worthy Allies. They followed things through with an implacable fire and logic that swept aside opposition.
"As you wish, Ilana," he replied. "Take him to the main interrogation chamber. I will have him prepared for you by ... tomorrow," he promised. After all, he wanted his revenge, too, and a day would be more than enough time. An hour was usually long enough, he smiled to himself. Ilana nodded and departed silently, leaving Dark Spectre to his amusements.
Billy woke in a darkened room, unable to see what was holding him immobile, just knowing that he was trapped. For all he knew, he could be tied in a sealed box, no air ... closing in, closing in ...
"I must be free..." panicked the Wolf Spirit in his mind. "I must be, let me loose, get out of this place!"
Billy struggled against whatever the restraints were in the pitch darkness, but he was too weak from his injuries to muster the energy required to break free. Darkness and silence ... so complete that Billy began to wonder if he had been blinded and deafened somehow. In the darkness he seemed to feel something, lurking, watching him as he lay trapped and vulnerable. In some ways he would have welcomed something just to bring respite from the uncertainty that plagued him. The Wolf Spirit was snapping like a wild animal caught in a trap. Senses alert to anything, the sudden unveiling of a presence in the darkness next to him filled his mind with a roar and a shock as keen as if a ghost had materialised next to him. He could still see nothing, just feel the presence of someone, something over him, his body tense and quivering in anticipation of what might happen ... or not ... or SOMETHING! Anything!
The Wolf Spirit whimpered, uncertain as Billy was, Ninjetti senses scanning for a shape to the darkness.
A sensation of something cold and sharp touched his chest, and Billy flinched as much in surprise as from anything else. It appeared to run lightly like a thread of ice across his skin and then vanished. A liquid warmth seemed to grow from the cold line, rising to a burning sensation. Instinctively he tried to thrash around wildly, seeking escape from the unknown in the darkness that had brought him pain. But nothing was there.
His breathing slowed again; then came a clamping sensation around his leg ... something needle-like entering in. As he focussed on the pain there, he gasped in shock as something dropped onto his face just below his eye that burned like acid, and then flinched as what felt like electric shocks convulsed suddenly down his side.
As if that had been a trigger, the onslaught continued, something new from every corner of the darkness, from every direction, touching every part of his body with pain and loathsome sensation. The gut-wrenching tickling step of something alive skittering across his face ... the coolness of sharp metal, periods of nothing, then a sudden attack of pain. There was nothing in this place except sensation and the darkness and new and inventive ways of inflicting torment. There were no questions, nothing except a growing conviction of helplessness and vulnerability in the timeless blackness.
They seek to beat you by removing any sense of control, Billy said to himself. If you have no belief in your own control, then you will have no will left to break. There was nothing to do but endure the onslaught and focus on not giving in. He had lived much of his life like that, reacting instinctively to the pain that circumstances had inflicted upon him, and had survived by making it HIS choice, his responsibility to deal with what was happening, not trying to control those things that he could not. The pain still existed, but that was all it was ... a physical sensation.
Eventually, a flickering fire appeared ahead of him, dazzling after his immersion in the thick darkness. Pulsing amber lines picked out a form in a fiery glowing relief.
The Wolfspirit growled. Enemy of Spirit!
Dark Spectre loomed massive over him, a flame dancing in his hand casting flickering shadows over the captured Ninjetti. For the first time he spoke. "Most enjoyable," he rumbled. "I am glad that you are not so weak as those who break in the darkness, merely for fear of the unknown. But you will break, Ninjetti ... you will. " The after-echoes in the room told of its size and comparative emptiness.
"My ally the Nid-hi ... wishes to question you." Dark Spectre leant in, the flame uncomfortably close to Billy's eyes, making the pupil of his right eye contract to a pinpoint speck. "She has questions ... how much do you know? Your resources, and other questions that she has not imparted even to me. You would do well to speak to me first, Ninjetti ... maybe then you would not have to hover on the brink of death."
"No," Billy replied in a cool, calm voice, as if refuting an illogical argument. "I will not answer your questions, I will not give you anything."
Dark Spectre laughed. "Foolish, foolish Ninjetti ... ah, your naiveté is refreshing. There is a REASON why I am the overlord of the Alliance of Evil ..."
"Under the Nid-hi ..." Billy pointed out astutely and noted the irritated flare of fire. Touchy subject then, good, something to work on.
"I have command of earth and fire, young Wolf Ninjetti. I can reach inside of you in a way you cannot comprehend, touch you with an energy you would not believe. There are none I cannot break ... none!" Dark Spectre spoke, his tone making those words a promise of what was to come.
The Wolfspirit snarled and snapped angrily. "Pack-enemy!"
"You will not break me!" Billy replied, trying to slow his breathing. "I have the strength of my friends to help me."
Dark Spectre's laugh reverberated like an earthquake in the room. "Your friends ... oh my ... your friends. I expect you are even now believing they might be coming after you, nurturing a tiny kernel of hope in your heart to keep you going through this? Oh, it is a truly wonderful thing I can do ... watch, Ninjetti ... watch what happened to your friends after you were defeated!"
A sphere of fire appeared before him, suspended in front of Billy's eyes. In it he saw images that he never wanted to see. A massive dual explosion over all of the rangers they had tried to save. A flash of white hair as Skye's body was lifted in the burst of destruction - a massive blast of energy and bodies sprawled everywhere ... the demorphed figure of Trini, blood all over her face, still as death ... oh god, Trini!
"See ... all dead. It's a tragedy!" The Magma Lord laughed. "You are all alone, Ninjetti. You cannot stand against a Master of the Great Power like the Silver Nid-hi!"
Master of the Great Power? There was more of the Great Power that could be used ...why hadn't Dulcea said ... or didn't she know? I don't care ...Trini's dead and Skye... I don't care .
Billy found suddenly that the fate of the galaxy was nothing compared to that fact. The only thing he could aim for now was death, to take away whatever secrets they hoped to glean from him. His mind resolved, he set about methodically trying to sabotage Dark Spectre's careful plans.
The Magma Lord took the cold look in the Ninjetti's eyes as a sign that his will was being crushed. "Well then ... What do you know of the Shahin Tara Zed?" he asked, leaning forward.
"Nothing," Billy said, truthfully as it happened.
"I do not believe you ... Prophecy speaks of it as the Ninjettis' main weapon against the Darkness Visible!" Dark Spectre roared. "You must know of it!"
Ironic really, Billy thought, he is actually telling me more information than he is getting out of me. He shook his head.
"You will speak of what you know!" Dark Spectre demanded. "Or suffer my Power!"
Billy remained silent and when the Magma Lord leant forward, he spat at him, the defiant gesture sizzling on the Overlord's lava-filled body.
Dark Spectre smiled, almost pleased at the excuse. "Well then ... you have stood the darkness outside, let us see how well you do with fire and shadow inside!"
He raised his chunky hands and with surprising delicacy appeared to be weaving, or plaiting, dark red and black energies together. They formed a mass of writhing tentacles of energy that began to slither, probing for entry into his victim's body, searing and burning as it wriggled obscenely in through the Ninjetti's mouth, tendrils crawling up his nose, in through his ears or just diving through flesh to nestle inside. Screams that were of course, unfortunately from Dark Spectre's point of view, somewhat muted.
A day after Dark Spectre had begun his interrogation of the Wolf Ninjetti, his enjoyment was mixed with irritation and frustration. No matter what he had tried, what he had done, all the techniques picked up over the passage of time that had other beings broken in hours if they were resilient, this one was not supplying him with the information he required. As a Ninjetti he had to know about the Shahin Tara Zed, he might even know about the Secret that the Silver Nid-hi was holding so close on behalf of the One. In the games of Power, this information could be vital! And yet, this pathetic human Ninjetti was clinging to that knowledge as if the fate of the universe itself depended on it. He gave a small rumble of wry laughter. Which, to be fair, it probably did!
"Your time will be up any moment, Ninjetti," Dark Spectre informed the quivering wreck in front of him. "I commend you on your resilience, though not on your intelligence. Ilana will be far worse than I, and she comes soon. You haven't broken, and I have broken many in my time."
Billy opened his eyes slowly. If he had been asking questions I could answer, then I would have talked ... I would have babbled everything to make it stop. Too much pain, too much ... the damage inside ... but I cannot risk that I might ... no. He made his decision.
"Maligore would have broken me ... not the likes of you .." he said in a voice barely above a whisper, not even sure the alien being would catch the words.
The Magma Lord froze. "What?"
"Maligore ... had me ... he nearly broke me in 5 minutes ... much more powerful than you," Billy croaked out. A crude ploy, but by the looks of Dark Spectre's reaction, eminently successful.
"My worthless brother? Trapped by pathetic furballs and locked on a backwater planet and you say he was stronger?! I'll show you real Power, Ninjetti! I'll give you a taste of the REAL Power I possess!" In a sudden rage, he blasted at the weakened body before him and Billy jumped spasmodically and then smiled as he felt his life drain away. He had won ... he had won ... he closed his eyes and began the long spiral into death and darkness.
It was perhaps unfortunate for him that Ilana chose this moment to come in to begin her interrogation. The silver-furred Nid-hi took one look at the scene and whirled on Dark Spectre, coldly furious.
"You fool! Embracer of Chaos! I told you to bring him to the point of death, not to send him beyond the brink!" Ilana's purple-tinted eyes flashed with fire. Her silver mane swirled as she wheeled on the lava-veined monster. "Get out! You let this Enemy of Order BEAT you!"
Dark Spectre bridled. "This is not true! The only good Ninjetti is a dead Ninjetti! You have said yourself that they are corrupted beyond any use to the One!"
"And yet they hold information," Ilana snapped, practically incandescent with rage. "Begone whilst I try to undo this damage to serve my purpose!" She drew the Great Power to her arms and soft silver-furred hands, laying them on Billy's tortured body.
Dark Spectre stepped back. "This is a waste! He is Ninjetti, he should die! What do you need a Ninjetti for? I could not break him with pain..And I have broken all with pain before. He will not answer your questions ..."
The healing light spread, and then there was a faint rasping breath from the Ninjetti. Ilana gave a trill of satisfaction. "Do not presume you know my thoughts," she said, breaking off the healing connection as the laboured inhalations continued. "You should not assume that I wish to question this one ... when my aim is beyond your comprehension."
"Then who?" Dark Spectre rumbled, annoyed by the Silver Nid-hi's arrogant assumptions.
The Nid-hi held up a hand for silence and let a pulse of energy leave her hand. Like an invisible flash of lightning, it briefly illuminated the startled spirit form of Billy's Wolfspirit, glimmering with a glowing blue nimbus.
"This is the one with the answers. Not this dying host ... what do you call them? Humans ... Now leave. The Wolf and I have much to discuss," Ilana ordered imperiously. Dark Spectre was bemused, but obeyed. If she could make a Spirit speak where the body would not, then her Powers were far in advance of any other.
Ilana turned and looked at the Wolfspirit, called to his one by the Death Summons. Her amethyst-tinged eyes glowed. "At last ... I have an access to your spirit world."
"You cannot touch me," the Blue Wolfspirit responded, its eyes flaring azure. "Not even now that I have entered this level to walk my young one to peace from this world to the next."
"Oh, you underestimate me, Wolf. I CAN touch you ... this is one of the only times that you can be touched, if you know the way." Ilana began the summoning of her own Animal Spirit.
"You cannot leave whilst your young one lies dying ... and he will remain dying. I have seen to that. And in the meantime, my Animal Spirit and I wish to question you." The air seemed to shimmer around her and superimposed over the Silver Nid-hi was a massive eight-legged arachnid.
"You stand before me, Blue Wolf ... I am the Spider that binds the world and fates of the universe in threads of Order," it said in an echo of the Nid-hi's voice.
The Wolf trembled. The Silver Spider was a powerful Spirit, and was joined with the Power of a Master.
It growled. "Release my young one to death or life, Spider," the Wolf demanded, eyes flickering azure fire once more. "You should not be doing this. This is not the way of the Animal Spirits."
"You speak from naiveté ... as in the universe, so it is on the Spirit Planes. The Order of Nature rules," the spider intoned.
The Wolf whimpered. "You carry the scent of your young one's essence ... Who speaks? Spider or the Nid-hi?"
"We are one." The Spider stepped forward with ghostly shimmering shape. The Wolf growled as the arachnid towered over him.
"Tell me of what the One seeks..." The spider advanced implacably.
"Never!" snapped the Wolf.
"You will tell me. I have the Power ... I will force you to speak."
"That is Forbidden!" The Wolfspirit backed away, and found itself unable to go any further. It tried to duck past the legs and found itself bound in Spirit webs.
"You will tell! Where is it? It is beyond the reach of the thoughts of the One. It was here when he left this area of the material plane."
"If you were truly the Spider Spirit, you would know that yourself; you would feel its presence trembling the threads of reality," the Wolf responded with a growl of defiance.
The silver mandibles of the Spider Spirit glittered like knives as it bent over the Wolf, seemingly filling the entire room. "If your young one was a Master of the Great Power, then he too would not have to rely on the whim of your power; he would draw it from you and use it to control and order reality as things should be, not listen to chaotic ramblings and cryptic words. But the Ninjetti thrive on chaos and you never relinquish control, do you? That is not part of the teachings...If you would serve the purity of Order, Blue Wolf, ANSWER me! Where is it!?"
The wolf snarled in defiance, pinned as it was. "I will not tell!"
"Oh, I think you will," the Spider hissed. "...eventually."
There was a fire crackling over to his right as he opened his eyes. Disoriented, he tried to move and was immediately informed by his body this was a bad idea. Very bad indeed. He mewled in a gasp as he inadvertently moved on the springy cushion of grass. But that pain was nothing ... nothing compared to the hacking raw grief emanating from Trini's emotions, unrelenting in their onslaught to his sensitive mind. He stiffened in a rictus of shared pain and loss, moaning aloud, drawing Trini close to his side.
"Skye ... just lie still ..." she said, kneeling next to him again. There was a terrible emptiness there, inside of her that filled him with dread as he sensed no glimmer of hope.
"Where's ... where's Billy?" Skye asked in a weak, contorted voice. Trini didn't say anything, but the Star Crystal flashed on his chest and .. .
Billy engulfed, obliterated by an explosion that enveloped and ripped him away from them as the powerful Magma Lord unleashed his power. The certain knowledge of his death ... the palpable despair and emptiness that crushed her golden Tiger Spirit, a black Dragon twined around the Tiger's brilliant fire, choking away its spirit.
"No ... no!" he protested, trying to deny the images burning in his mind. "Billy .... no .... please ..."
Trini held on to her facade of calm. "He is gone. Hold still ... I'm going to try and give you some more healing until you can heal yourself. " Her voice was brittle and clear. She laid her hands once more on him and pushed the energy deep into the levels of his body.
And it was then she felt something quite surprising, a soul deep love for her under that intense friendship energy that Skye shared with them when they linked. Even now, he had hidden that from them both, even now he still had his secrets. Her dark eyes widened and she brushed back wisps of white hair from his face tenderly as she healed him some more. She stopped eventually and said in a choked voice, "Oh Skye ... I never knew ... I never knew that ..."
"... I love you? Yes," Skye said with a bright sorrow in his eyes as he met her gaze.
The Tiger Ninjetti looked like she was grasping for support, for some sort of link to the real world.
"And I love you too," she said suddenly.
Skye looked at her with those intense blue eyes and shook his head slowly. "No ... no you don't, or at least no more than as a very close friend. Your heart belongs to Billy. I know that."
"But Billy is ... gone," Trini replied, unable to stop the tears starting to trickle from her eyes despite her determination to remain unaffected - at least outwardly.
"Even so ..." Skye said with such compassion, understanding and loss in his voice that it was enough to break her composure. "He will never be gone inside ... some things are forever. I know that."
"I'm sorry, so sorry ... I'd do anything to get him back." She bent over him, sobbing, clinging to him despite his physical weakness. "There has to be some way!. I would give anything to have him back safe!" Trini's voice wavered, clinging to an impossible hope. She gripped Skye fiercely. "You saved the others ... you saved Kim, you saved Jason ... promise me you'll find a way ... PROMISE ME!"
Skye closed his eyes in pain a moment. "I promise ..." he whispered, forming the words of an impossible dream with his lips. A promise was a sacred thing; her demand tugged within him irresistibly. He could deny her nothing.
He could deny Billy nothing ... He didn't know why he loved her ... why he loved him, too. Maybe it was because of how deeply they had mindbonded, maybe it was because he had needed them so much to replace the life that had been taken from him, but he did love her. Though it was not something he had ever said aloud, he loved him, too. The thought of having lost Billy filled him not only with the pain of personal loss, but with the overwhelming fear of the disintegration of that tenuous pattern that he sensed reaching out to the future. This couldn't happen, it just couldn't.
Trini was clinging to him as if he was all that she had left of Billy, a tiny fragment of that togetherness they shared and was rocking slightly as he lay there, unresisting. Strange though it seemed, she began a soft lyric haunting lullaby, to comfort herself more than her patient. In that moment she reached out emotionally to Skye, and for one brief moment he knew what it was like to be Billy in her eyes. It was a moment that he would treasure forever, but it tore away any chance he had of ever having something like that. They belonged to each other, and he belonged to them both. That was the way it had been, and nothing would change even if Billy was truly gone. For a moment, though, he let himself believe that emotion was for him, that song was for him as she held him. His expression became one of curious exaltation and deep loss as he was shown the reality of his dreams, and then in the same instant had the reality of its unreachable quality brought to his mind. He closed his eyes on his welling sorrow and vowed that promise to Trini and now to himself as the whispering lullaby carried him away into the darkness.
Skye woke with the vow branded fresh in his mind. He stood mechanically as all the others slept around him, awaiting the return of their Zords. He had healed enough to walk slowly, but his mind was not paying attention to his physical state. The light was the pearly grey and silver just before dawn that seemed to sap all colour from the world, leaving it shaded in ghost-shadows of reality where dreams could exist. He made his way from the camp and then stood reaching out to the alien sky for some sort of way to fulfill that spontaneous promise he had made. Sensing deep inside, he began to explore the rapidly diminishing possibilities.
Trini awoke. Light was starting to creep towards her and she pushed herself up and prepared to face another day without Billy. She was not sure she could. And she wanted to apologise to Skye - she had no right to ask the impossible of him. He took that sort of thing in deadly earnest ... wait a moment, where was he? There was an absence where he should be ... she looked around her, startled awake. Wherever he was, he shouldn't be moving, she could not lose him, too. One of the other Rangers with her awoke and, seeing her panicked look, came over.
"What's wrong?" Carlos asked in a soft voice.
"Skye! I can't see him. He can't have gone far ..." Trini said, trying to think logically.
Carlos looked surprised that he'd been able to go ANYWHERE. "We'll look for him" he promised, rousing the others. A tired and bleary-eyed group started searching for the Star Ninjetti; the sun was rising when they finally crested over a small rise and saw the silhouette of a human figure standing, arms raised towards the bright new day.
"Skye!" Trini shouted. He seemed not to hear.
Strangely, the dark silhouette caused by the rising sun in front of the figure seemed to fade into a blue white light. A figure of light burning against light, the elongated dawn shadow of his physical presence vanishing in the effulgence. In a sudden strange moment, the blue-white starheart light consuming Skye seemed to bleed into the blinding fires of the sun rising in full strength over the Plains of Chlorak, and in that moment .... he was gone.
Trini stared into the sun, the naked emotional pain on her face obvious as its warm new rays touched her skin and body with a reassuring caress. Not him too ... not leaving her alone! No!
She stared into the alien sunrise, a tableau of emotional pain as the AstroRangers ran down to the spot, finding nothing but a small scrap of paper with one word on it.
"What does it mean? What just happened?" Cassie asked, sounding shocked.
"I honestly don't know ... it looked pretty final," Andros said under his breath. "Maybe she will know."
The group turned and took the bit of paper to Trini, who was still standing on the brow of the rise, staring into the dawn sky.
"I'm sorry, this was all that was left down there," Andros said, handing her the scrap.
Trini looked at the piece of paper, at first barely registering the word. "Promise," she whispered aloud.
Then, as suddenly as the day breaking, a sweeping realisation reached her. A look of hope and wonder lit up her grief-drawn features and she looked again at the point where Sky had vanished, this time with a searching gaze.
"What? What does it mean?" Ashley asked, seeing the dramatic transition in the Ninjetti's expression.
Trini looked at them all, her dark eyes miraculously given purpose and focus once more. "He promised to find a way to bring Billy back ... He has gone after him, and for him to have gone after him by teleporting like that ... must mean ... HAS TO MEAN that he could sense Billy was still alive!"
"But ... what was that ... how did he teleport?" Zhane asked, looking puzzled as he stood close to Karone.
"The Star Crystal and his own abilitiy." Trini shook her head, feeling guilty. "He shouldn't have done it ... he was hurt too badly, and a psi-teleport takes so much energy ... but he never backs out on a promise."
"So he's not going to be very... er ... strong when he reaches there?" TJ asked, frowning. If he even reached there at all, he added to himself.
"No ... but Skye does not fight so much with his body as with his mind. His injured leg puts him at a disadvantage physically. Mentally however ... his abilities more than compensate," Trini said, automatically shifting her friend back into 'present tense' in her thoughts
"So how are WE going to know where they are?" The Red Astro Ranger asked, frowning also.
"The Star Crystal. It has a unique energy signal, only detectable if you know the exact frequency to look for. And I do," Trini answered, burning with fire to get moving after Skye and find her way to Billy. She paced, echoing her Tigerspirit in her head that was tailtwitching and eager for action.
"When will DECA be repaired?" she asked with a hint of impatience.
"At least another 12 hours." TJ said, expecting an explosion of anger. Instead, Trini just nodded. "I will try and hurry along the repairs of TigerZord, then I am going after my friends."
"We will go, too." Cassie promised impulsively. "Dark Spectre was with him, and that's who we're after."
The others nodded in agreement.
Unspoken was the communal thought that they owed the Wolf Ninjetti; and if indeed he did still live, then it was up to all of them to get him back.
Skye had sensed intently, feeling the faintest reaching out of pain from Billy calling to them both, an anguish great enough to span the vast distances between them. He had been right, he would have known if he was gone, someone who meant that much to him. He had written the word and then drawn the energy of the rising sun within him, channelled through the Star Crystal until his body felt like it would burst apart form the pressure... and then he had let it do so in a controlled fashion. He had thrown himself towards that tendril of calling, and the light had burned into a cold, cold night between the stars as he leapt. Following the thread ... following the light through that darkness he flew, atoms slipping through atoms, energy matrix sliding through space until he rematerialised in a real darkness, in the corner of a room where he had one sight and sound of a familiar scream before he collapsed unseen, undetected in the shadows.
The Spider Spirit hissed through its mandibles. The Spirit of the Wolf was near breaking. Just as had been written by the One, those of the Spirit Realm had little patience for material beings' frailty because they had not experienced it as a truth on their level. They understood it in an abstract way, and were rarely prone to direct injury. That would change in the Reign of Order.
"Where is it?" the arachnid persisted, its eyes glittering moonlight, touching blood.
The Wolfspirit whimpered, entangled much as Billy was. "No ... no, I will not tell ...! You will not have it!"
"The Darkness Visible shall have what was stolen," the Silver Spider replied coldly.
"It was never ANYONE'S ... it does not even belong to this level of existence!" the Wolf protested.
"And you think the One is tied to this level of existence? When he retrieves his right, he will ascend beyond the levels of body, mind and spirit ..." The Spider gleamed with the reflected zeal of its Nid-hi host.
The Wolf snarled weakly, bleeding a deep pulsing blue energy from his many wounds. "I do not know of what you seek. It was hidden beyond the sight of the Spirits, beyond the reach of the Darkness Visible. It is gone from the reach of all of us."
The Spider clashed its piercing mandibles a moment. "There is no door that is locked without a key being created for its locking, which can also be used for its opening. A trail to hide treasure can be used to find it once more. Any thread of reality that is touched leaves its mark in the universe, and the eye can perceive its passing. Especially with an object of such power." It seemed to contemplate with implacable logic. "Then it is such that this one is of no further use to the servants of Order. I will feed on your energy and then your Chosen will die alone in the night. Such is the fate of the servants of Chaos." It bent over the captured Wolfspirit to feed.
In the meantime, unnoticed, Skye had awoken, still weakened from his psi-teleport and instinctively knowing that some time had passed since he had stood before the sun, searching for life. His Star Crystal glowed red, warning him of the presence of an Enemy and shielding him from its presence. Even so he was shocked to see the Silver Nid-hi lying in a spirit trance not far from ... Billy.
"Oh God, Billy, what have they done to you ..." His friend seemed permanently trapped on the edge of death ... as if each painful breath could halt midway, interrupting Life forever. The wounds spoke their pain to the empathic Ninjetti, and Skye gave as much of a burst of healing energy into the system of his friend as he could, just to bring him back from that precipice of death, much as Trini had done to him. But Billy did not awaken. He should, but there was something missing. Focussing his awareness to another level, to that of when he spoke to and perceived the Animal Spirits, Skye was horrified at what he saw through those eyes. Billy's Wolfspirit, and his own Spirit for that matter, trapped by a monstrous Silver Spider.
Rage and anger suddenly filled him and gave him a strength he lacked on a physical level. Filled with a warrior fire like he had sensed in Tommy and Jason, he flung a blast of energy at the Spider Spirit, in a crude but effective distraction. In a tangle of flickering legs it tumbled over, and Skye swiftly freed the Wolf. A jolt of energy to the Blue Wolf saw it able to stand and snarl menacingly at its foe as they backed up next to Billy's spirit
Skye's spirit presence glowed brightly. The Spider Spirit turned to face him, coldly furious. "You will not save him."
"I have saved his body," Skye retorted.
"But without the Wolfspirit he will still die. And the Wolf is MINE. There is nowhere you can take the Human or Wolfspirit where I cannot touch them." The Nid-hi-controlled Spiderspirit seemed to gloat at that thought.
"There is one place." Skye thought swiftly. It meant making himself totally open and vulnerable to Billy, but if he couldn't trust him, who was there in the universe that he could trust?. He made the decision and with a strange inner knowledge knew it to be utterly correct.
" I have access to the Animal Spirit realms now," scoffed the Spider Spirit. "There is none alive that I cannot walk into."
Skye's presence smiled serenely. "Aside from me; I have no Animal Spirit, and as such my life is a debatable issue. I have been unconnected with the threads that you bind the universe with for some time. If I take them into myself you cannot touch them!"
The Spider seemed shaken. "What you speak is not true! It cannot be!"
You speak in pride of your perceived completeness and superiority. No-one can know everything, not even the Spirits, and I will make this a truth even if it was not before!" Skye shot back. His presence reached out to enfold Billy's presence in a welcoming embrace, and as if sucked into a vortex, the Ninjetti's essence swirled through a point of energy in the Star Ninjetti's chest. He looked at the Wolfspirit who without hesitation leapt straight at his energy form and burst inwards in a shower of azure and sky blue energy.
"No!" The Spider protested. "I will find them! I will break into your mind. If your mind is open, then I will find a way in."
Skye gave a wolfish grin. "Try it. But humans shut some of their memories off even from themselves. And you try getting into one of them that I will not unlock myself!"
"No!" The Spider loomed over the human form.
Skye turned and rushed to merge again with his own physical form, hoping he would have enough time and strength to save Billy's physical body whilst the Spider tried to get into those memories of his past he barely looked at himself, where he had hidden the essence of Billy and the Wolfspirit.
Billy and the Wolfspirit found themselves seemingly inside a normal house. The front room of a place. He turned and he could see Skye ... a different, younger Skye, his hair more grey than white, with a white streak that was starting to spread inexorably across his hair. He was talking urgently to an older woman.
"Mrs. Lojko, I KNOW what's been happening to Nadia, and Jo for that matter .... and to you. Nadia told me everything," he said in a low voice.
Billy looked at the Wolfspirit. "I don't understand; what is this?"
"I believe he has hidden us in the most protected area of his mind and spirit to protect us from the Nid-hi/Spider Spirit," the Wolf replied.
"His past...what he would never talk about," Billy realised. "But what is protecting HIM from the Spider?"
"If what he says is true," the Wolfspirit said in an unusually sombre voice, "and he has no Animal Spirit, then the Spider cannot touch him. He only has to fear the physical dangers at this time."
"Bad enough," Billy muttered, looking around at the strange scene. "So until then ..."
"We must remain here," the Wolf said, its eyes flicking over the scene nervously.
"I don't know what you mean," Nadia's mother said in a forceful voice, but at the sideways nervous glance of her dark eyes Skye knew he was right.
"Look, Nadia told me everything ... told me about what Michael does to you ... does to her and will start doing to Jo now she's getting older."
"You don't know ANYTHING!" Mrs. Lojko hissed in warning. "You're just a silly kid poking your nose into things that you don't understand."
"I am not a kid. And neither is Nadia; she's an adult, and one thing I will say is that she will start to make adult decisions if YOU don't take action," Skye warned. He and Nadia had talked and talked this through thoroughly and had come up with a plan.
Nadia's mother had gone white. "She mustn't leave ... if she leaves he'll kill her!"
Skye stared at the woman, that phrase catalogued by the silence of the room. "And if I thought for a moment you were speaking metaphorically, I wouldn't be worried ... but you're not, are you?"
Tears brimming in her eyes, the shorter woman shook her head. "There's nothing that can be done about it ...you don't know what he is like," she said in a bare whisper.
"I think I have a fair idea ... any man who would sit and watch TV whilst his wife was haemorrhaging lying on the kitchen floor, going into premature labour and make her crawl to the phone to call an ambulance for herself ... I think that gives a fair indication of the type of person they are." Skye replied, the anger in his voice evident.
"She told you THAT?" Nadia's mother looked appalled, not because it was made up, but because it was becoming apparent that there was nothing this strange teenager did not know. "It doesn't matter, we can't leave; we have nowhere to go ..."
"You have my place ..." Skye said. "I'm all alone there since the accident." His blue eyes were suddenly filled with an overwhelming loss as if something pushed to the back of his mind rose up like a monstrous form in front of him. "It would be fine," he said, swallowing a lump that had appeared in his throat.
"You've lost your parents, Skye ... Can't you understand I don't want to lose Nadia or Jo?" Mrs. Lojko turned suddenly as if angry with him for dangling a hope in front of them that would be crushed.
"Yes ... I can, which is exactly why I am offering to use my place as a hideaway until you can get somewhere safe," Skye answered. He needed to do something, he needed to be able to make up for the helplessness that he felt at not being there when his parents were killed; as if in some way by righting Nadia, Jo's and their mother's lives if he could he'd allay some of his survivor's guilt. It made no rational sense, but it made a strange emotional sense to him. He needed to be able to 'save' someone ... to make up for those he had been unable to touch.
Billy gasped slightly, recognising a similar urge in himself; why he had been unable to leave the team even when he was Powerless. He NEEDED to be able to save people, to protect them and help them, especially those he cared about as friends and relatives, to make up for the time he had been helpless and unable to save his mother.
The Wolf looked at him and licked his hand. "You and he are not that dissimilar, my young one. The Wolf would have been proud to have him as well, but he is not of ours."
Skye turned, unconsciously fiddling with his long hair in a nervous habit. "Besides," he said, saving the worst news until he had no further way of persuading her. "Nadia told me when she came for her art lesson that her teacher Mrs. Spencer saw the bruises on her arms today, and this time made her take her shirt off. "
Mrs. Lojko looked even more horrified than she had at anything else that had been said all evening. "No ... no, she won't say anything, will she?"
"Mrs. Lojko, she has to ... it's the law; if she suspects anything, she has to say something to the police and the School Principal." Skye informed her, his tone intense as he leaned forward.
The woman sank down onto the plush couch. "Oh god, oh god, oh god ..." She rocked back and forth. "He'll be back tomorrow ... oh god ..."
"Will you come to my place? It's big enough and then the authorities can deal with it ... it'll be for the best," Skye coaxed hopefully.
"I don't see as how I have any other choice. " She ran her fingers through her dark curly hair. "You shouldn't get involved; you're only just 17 yourself, you're no match for him ..."
"By the time he knows the police will be involved, and everything will be alright," Skye said confidently. " And my parents would have helped if they had been here." he said softly to himself, feeling unbearably lonely. "It will be nice to have someone in the house with me again." Try more like a lifesaver, a godsend ... someone to keep the ghost memories away from me when I stare at the patterns on the ceiling, my eyes dry because I have exhausted all the tears I can shed. He forced himself to smile.
Mrs. Lojko nodded and then started to rush around, calling out to Nadia and Jo to come help pack ... and pack quickly.
It was nearly three in the morning before they left for Skye's place, Skye leading them in his car. His parents had owned property a little ways out of town, backing onto the hills. His mother had been a successful horsebreeder and his father a moderately proficient artist - good enough to make a living at it he always ... he always used to say. They always used to laugh because everyone assumed his father was the hard-bitten horse breeder and his mother the artist for some reason. Another small family joke lost forever to all but his memory. It was tiny little in-jokes, shared lives, shared pain and laughter where the deepest pain lay. The tiny splinters of loss like that time when his mother shouted when she found paint on the sofa and he and his father would stand to attention looking innocent until she threatened to call the police, and his father would say in a grave English accent that he was going to fetch a constable immediately - and he had disappeared into the hall and then returned with a painting and said, "Don't be angry; I couldn't find a Constable, all I could find was a Monet," and his mother had replied, "Monet can't buy me love ...!" and they had all laughed themselves silly.
Ever since then any misdemeanour was threatened with fetching a Constable, a Monet ... or heaven help you if the Picasso was brought in! He half-smiled to himself.
He had had to lease the stables to a livery company as he couldn't run them on his own and continue being an artist - and his mother and father had both been proud of his paintings, so he intended to pursue that as opposed to trying to live his mother's dream of a being a select horse breeder. He entered the house, experiencing that deathly stillness that spoke of its unnatural emptiness, which was momentarily dispelled by the worried chatter of the Lojko family.
He stood in the hall looking around wondering what he had done as Nadia walked up to him.
"Thank you, Skye," she said in that soft voice of hers.
"It's nothing," he protested, embarrassed out of his thoughts.
"No ... it's everything," Nadia replied and kissed him gently on the lips, to his complete astonishment. Knowing what he did about her, and what her father did, that intimate gesture would have taken a phenomenal amount of inner courage. She hadn't waited for a response but had disappeared into the darkness to the rooms upstairs.
It was strange to have people in the house again. The following day had seen several attempts to report the situation to the police, and numerous promises that they would be there as soon as possible, but it always came down to one thing: were they in any immediate danger? And the only answer now was ... no. If they had still been in the family home, then there might have been a bit more urgency in the police's response. As it was, Skye found it nerve- wracking to be hanging around with no definite time for everything to be set into motion when Michael would return and discover the impromptu desertion. The day seemed to pass, each moment filled with creeping seconds. Nadia's mother began to get very concerned; especially when she received a call from her husband on her mobile. She said very little, but her face became very pale and the sound of the voice issuing from the phone was full of cold anger, even if Skye could not make out the words. She was physically shaking with shock as she slammed the phone down on the side, nearly breaking it.
"You alright ?" Skye asked, knowing the words to be inadequate. "That was him?" Skye queried with a tinge of fear in his own voice. "I guess he knows you have left him."
"Yes," Mrs. Lojko said flatly. "He knows."
"Look, once the police come there is nothing he can do," he reassured, seeing a hopeless look in her eyes.
"Yes ... I'm sure you are right," she said blandly.
Despite all his assurances Skye felt a creepy sensation as he eventually gave up trying to force the issue. He left her alone for a while. A few hours later he thought he heard the mobile phone again, but maybe it was him being jumpy. He shook his head and went outside to the stables. The police would be arriving soon ... then it would be over. Maybe he should offer them to come and stay on a semi-permanent basis. He refilled the hay baskets and heard a car pull up on the gravel outside. The police were earlier than he expected. He gave a grin, a pleasant surprise, and brushing himself off, he walked outside and halted. There was a jeep pickup there with six men.
"Can I help you?" Skye asked, puzzled.
"Skye Brannon?" A large man swung out of the front seat of the pickup, smiling amiably and cheerfully.
"Yes ...? " he answered, trying to sound adult and in control. "Can I help you?"
"Oh ... I think you've done more than enough helping, BOY!" The pleasant smile flickered and Skye stepped back involuntarily as he met the stranger's eyes. "Belinda! Get out here!" bellowed the man. Nadia's mother came out, shepherding Nadia and Jo as if expecting this call. Skye's heart sank. She had been expecting it ... she had betrayed their location. Why? Why?
"You are coming home with me." Michael Lojko stated, defining the way the world was going to be. She moved over, closer to her husband with that same sick, hopeless look in her eyes.
"See how easy it is, fellas?" he gloated to his assorted friends. There was a chorus of chuckles.
Skye found his voice for the first time. "The police know about what you're like ..."
"Oh yeah ... and who is going to tell them?" Michael said, arching an eyebrow. "Belinda won't be ... nor my girls ... and neither will you!"
Skye felt his mouth go dry with fear. "Why?"
"'Cos we are going to teach you a lesson in keeping quiet." The group of men closed around him.
Skye felt a sudden urge to bolt. His mind went blank with fear ... in the movies on TV there would be a devastatingly witty, brave retort, but he was too shocked by this turn of events to think of anything.
"Michael ..." Belinda Lojko said. "Please ... we are coming home."
Michael looked around with distorted anger. "If it weren't for this young punk, you wouldn't even have tried to leave. He has to be taught when to keep his mouth shut and when to butt out!" He signalled to his friends who began to methodically beat up the teenager, laughing at his unskilled attempts to fight back.
"Daddy, please!" Nadia pleaded tearfully. "Stop it!"
"Get into the car with your mother and Jo," her father ordered. Skye couldn't believe it. Mrs. Lojko and Jo had obediently walked to the familiar car rather than watch what was happening, as if they could deny it had happened merely by not seeing it.
"No!" Nadia said as tears poured down her face. "Don't hurt him!"
The man's anger flared. "Why, Nadia? You been fooling around with him? You think he cares for you or something? You care for him?" His dark eyes were totally irrational He stormed over to the trunk of the jeep and pulled out a hunting shotgun, loading it fluidly.
"It's not like that, Daddy." Nadia said hurriedly between sobs.
"Oh, I am glad ... because if I found you went with him willingly ..." Michael struck at the beaten but still conscious form of Skye. "I might have to punish you too ..."
"Nadia ..." Skye croaked out, half plea, half desperation.
"Tell me, kiddo ... you went with him, didn't you? I know you must have," he said almost kindly.
Nadia shook her head.
"DON'T LIE TO ME!" he roared suddenly, blazing with anger. He struck her sharply across the face. "Tell me he forced you ... tell me you had no choice and that because you were scared of him, you made up the lies ... tell me! TELL ME!" The threat growling in his voice was unmistakable. He squeezed her arm tightly enough to bruise.
Skye met Nadia's eyes and saw her resolve crumble. "Yes, Daddy; he did it all ... he made me do it ..." she said in a small voice full of fear.
Michael grinned with a righteous, predatory smile. "You young bastard! Preying on innocent young girls ... I know your type ... you don't mess with MY daughter ... she's mine and mine alone!" He pressed the shotgun barrel to Skye's left leg. "You won't be running after my daughter ever again!" To the surprise of the men around him who thought he was merely trying to frighten the teenager, he actually pulled the trigger. The deafening blast was oddly muffled by Skye's leg and he screamed, a scream of pain and betrayal as the consciousness in his eyes faded along with his idealistic hopes that someone would save him, stand up for him, be there for him as he had tried to be for them.
His eyes rolled back in his head and the images became dark ... he heard a voice say "Jesus, Michael ... what we gonna do? That looks bad ... he might die."
"We'll ditch him in the woods. Not like he's got anyone to come after him, is there?" before utter darkness.
There were fragments of images, nights, water ... a storm with lightning ... heat and chaos burning within him ... A jolt that seemed to sweep him loose from his body, a struggle to swim, to fly upwards towards a haven of instinctive warmth and light, but being pulled further and further away. Fighting against the flow of energy dragging him away from his destination, in a sudden convulsive burst of energies the touch of an immense Presence, and then ...
As if bursting inwards to a calm eye of vision at the heart of that physical trauma, bright vivid images of a strange alien sky sprang upwards, of soaring through stars to reach a distant sky. The images seemed more steeped in reality than events in the 'real world'. Circling high, high above the bright ruins of the Temple he could see six figures being attacked on the shore of an alien sea. With a gasp Billy recognised himself walking amongst that group. That familiar drama unfolded as if watched in a dream, in every detail, but from an observer's angle. The entire quest was there, right up until the climactic opening of the Monolith and the sensation of the Wolfspirit merging with that Billy carried him and the Wolfspirit away and upwards once more ...
Skye tried not to make any sound as he dragged Billy's wounded body out into the corridor. The Silver Nid-hi lay locked in an Animal Spirit trance, fighting to find access to his mind and to Billy and the Wolfspirit. Move ... move ... once away, I could hide them, he thought dizzily when he had enough strength back. He dragged Billy up into what he had called "Jeffries tubes" in his own mind. He allowed himself a wry smile. There was no alien vessel or base that did not have the equivalent of these maintenance shafts for people such as himself to exploit ... oh, and of course to actually use for maintenance. Though very rarely, it seemed. If he'd had the strength, he would have giggled to himself. Fortunately they appeared too small for quantrons or for the usual humanoids employed by the likes of Dark Spectre, which was good news for them at least. Pushing himself, he dragged the pale form of his friend deeper and deeper into the maze of tubes until he could go no further. He stopped, rolling Billy so he was facing upright and lay there a moment, pale with injury himself.
I would give anything to have him back safe, Trini's voice came back to him. Promise me you'll find a way ... PROMISE ME!
"I promise, Trini ..." he whispered and held out his trembling hands. "Not just for you ... but for me. I'm not going to lose him, not for anything." He closed his eyes and dropped into Billy's physically damaged body.
He was dying ... my friend is dying. No, if he is gone, we are all doomed.
The fear that thought generated unleashed the required energy. Skye began to draw the Ninjetti healing from himself and projected it into Billy ... more and more ... more than he could really stand to give. He stopped mainly because he started to pass out, not because he had finished healing. He was SO cold. So cold ... He lay there, shaking and shivering uncontrollably on the cold metal, hoping he had done enough.
"Home to yourself," the Wolfspirit had said, running before him on the upsurge of light generated by the vision of the Great Power. "We are safe now, the Spider's web is broken."
Billy coughed and opened his eyes to a metal twilight and an ability to move again, though each movement hurt. There was silence around them, wrapping them like a concealing blanket.
He turned and reached out to touch his friend's hand, finding it icy cold with a kind of shock and shaking violently. The artist was unnaturally pale and drawn, lying next to him nearly unconscious.
"Oh man ... Skye ... you've used way too much energy," Billy whispered hoarsely, twisting painfully. Trini and he had seen this happen a few times ... they had nearly lost the Star Ninjetti the first time he had overextended himself, and that had shaken both of them badly. Now at least he knew that he had to keep him awake and as warm as possible, and besides taking care of him meant he didn't have to think about what had happened to himself. More importantly, if Skye was alive, then maybe Trini was too!
Billy wrapped his arms around the semi-conscious artist. "C'mon, Skye, stay awake ... Tell me what happened ... Is Trini alright? Is she here?" He felt the presence of bandages under the Star Ninjetti's grey top and frowned. "You were injured ... you healed me while you were injured ... how did you get here, what happened?" He felt terrible for badgering him, but he had to stay awake!
"Hurt ... blown up in explosion ... Trini fine. Psi-teleported after you ... alone ... sorry," Skye mumbled.
"Psi-teleported?" Billy breathed, appalled. A blind psi-teleport across interstellar distances! "You hurt badly?" he asked.
"Not like you were," Skye said, a little clearer, still shaking though. "How ... how is the Wolfspirit?"
"We were fine once you put us in your memories," Billy said in a low voice. They hadn't just seen what had happened, they had felt his emotions, and heard his thoughts, too. That despair and aloneness, that vulnerability to opening himself up to others, to help them ever again after being betrayed to such a fate! For the first time Billy truly appreciated how difficult it had been for his friend to help him on Phaedos when it must have been like reliving all those fears over again.
Skye closed his eyes. "I'm sorry you had to see that," he mumbled, looking ashamed.
"Sorry?!" Billy exclaimed in a low, hoarse voice. "Skye, why didn't you ever tell us? Tell me? Haven't we been through enough together? You've let us assume it was some sort of accident ... and all the time ..." He swallowed, shifting painfully. "What happened. afterwards? The Wolfspirit and I returned when the Monolith finished sending forth the Great Power."
Skye opened his eyes, weary with pain and the memory of betrayal. "I was eventually found ... in the woods. The police were coming out to interview Nadia's mother ... and found some evidence of the shooting they had missed clearing up. Even so ... it took them a while to find where they had dumped me. By that time I was very nearly dead from loss of blood, exposure, infection and the other injuries. In fact there was, I believe, considerable consternation that I was alive at all."
"And ...?" Billy prompted, feeling the shaking fade as he held Skye, finding comfort for himself in the fact that his friend was alive and with him.
"And ... I spent quite a while in a coma ... I nearly lost the leg, I spent a long time in physio. I sold up and left my home after the trial as they couldn't pin attempted murder on him, just grievous bodily harm. He made a pretty convincing case about me being infatuated with his daughter and stealing her away and her mother coming after her. They were too scared to back me up ... so I sold up and came to Angel Grove to study art. There was nothing left to keep me there anymore," Skye related matter-of-factly, his unemotional tone betraying how much that loss had meant.
Billy sat there. It was strange how you could feel that you knew someone so completely and yet find they had mysteries and secrets that could still surprise you. "I don't know what to say, Skye," he said eventually.
"You don't have to say anything," Skye replied softly; "My old life ended back then and I was given back a new one. With you, Trini and all the others ... more than I ever hoped for."
Billy blinked a few times. Even in the state he was still in he knew that Skye was still hiding something, but before he could press him for any more answers, there was the distinctive sound of alarms going off, and the marshalling of forces.
"Damn it!" he whispered in a low soft voice. "We've got to find a way out of here." He instinctively reached for his Spirit Crystal ... to find it missing. "My Spirit Crystal! I need that to morph!"
"We'll get it back." Skye said, more alert now. "I'm sure that the Nid-hi had it. If we track down her quarters, then we'll find it."
"And the quarters for an honoured guest are going to be near the bridge ... in the most protected area of the ship," Billy said, closing his eyes briefly. An adrenalin rush the size of a tsunami would be useful right now. Neither of them had energy to waste. They would have to think carefully before moving and acting, as they could do this maybe once.
Ilana broke trance finally and bugled a strangely melodic outburst of frustration as she got up, exhausted. The Silver Nid-hi looked around, her amethyst-tinted eyes half closed with fatigue, noting the empty chamber in which she was lying.
"Chaos take them all!" she hissed, stumbling out into the corridor. The alarms were already sounding, though. How could Dark Spectre know? Unless the alarms were for something else entirely. The base rocked under the impact of some description and she nearly fell as her tiredness overwhelmed her. She had to get to her chambers to recharge before anyone saw her like this. Dark Spectre could deal with the current crisis, she was sure. Whatever it was.
Phantom looked up from shadowing the Silver Nid-hi, having witnessed much of the unfolding events. He noticed the shuddering of the base and alerted to action.
Finally... that would be them. Only one group would dare attack a Base of Dark Spectre's. He had to find away to get to them. The Quantrons would be launched against them. Time to catch a lift on the back of a StingWinger. Silent and insubstantial, Phantom slipped through the corridors and made purposefully for the Launch Hangar.
TigerZord swept in for another strafing run on the massive spacefaring base. "TigerZord coming in ... MegaWinger, stand clear!" she communicated curtly. Zhane barely had a moment to spin the powerful Zord out of the way before Tiger Zord ripped past.
"Whoa!" TJ commented from the bridge of DECA.
"Remind me never to annoy a Ninjetti," Carlos said, manning the main lasers with covering fire. Swarms of enemy craft poured out the base like glittering slivers of a shattered mirror as they wheeled and turned. The Astromegazord began to rock under a heavy barrage of laser fire.
"Alpha! Any luck? Any lock on the pair of them?" Cassie called out.
"Sorry, I cannot get readings from within the base," Alpha said in a subdued voice.
"But the whole plan relied on us being able to teleport them out!" Andros thumped his fist on the main console. They took another hit, sparks shorting from the command consoles everywhere.
"Zhane ... we can't get a lock on anyone, not with the shields up!" he spoke into the communicator.
"Well ... that's just GREAT," the Silver Ranger said through gritted teeth. "A little late to discover that, isn't it?" The Megawinger ploughed through the thick of the space battle, the blinding lights of conflict blooming all around him. A fighter swung in close to attack him, and he flanked it close. Unbeknowst to everyone, an invisible figure launched from the doomed fighter and managed to alight on the body of the Megawinger as its ride exploded in Zhane's face.
The Silver Ranger flinched. "A plan would be pretty good right about now! Trini?"
"Stand clear ... I am going to take them dancing ..." Trini said, snarling to herself to the confusion of her companions. More disciplined now, she channelled that rage, the anger, the determination to take back what was hers and give her own personal reply to the Evil that had taken Billy from her.
"Dancing? What?" Andros said.
Feel the energy become one with you, not rule you, let it flow in and around you, draw from that fire and from that become the Tiger Dance ... invincible and deadly in its grace and beauty...
But this time she let that energy flow outwards to encompass TigerZord, and it too became sheathed in that golden unstoppable fire and there were none of the tiny craft that could withstand the Gold TigerZord as it began its deadly Star Dance.
The base rocked again, and Billy and Skye slid into the tube pitched forward. "I do believe that might be the cavalry," Skye remarked with a gasp, pushing himself up with shaking arms.
"Ya think?" Billy said in an attempt at levity, feeling about ready to curl up and die.
"I recognise Trini's 'Don't mess with me' style of attack instantaneously," Skye answered, peering through the grille. "I think we made it." There, apparently exhausted, the silver-maned Nid-hi was sleeping on a bed - and over on the side lay the small carved precious Spirit Crystal.
"We have to go in there?" Billy gulped, suddenly terrified as he reacted to one of his captors and cursed himself for that weakness.
Skye studied him. "I will ..." he offered.
"No ... no, I'll do it, it is my Crystal after all," Billy said, popping the grille silently.
Skye leant over and put the Star Crystal around Billy's neck.. "It shields your presence from them ... go ... just don't do anything stupid."
Billy gave a pained smile and dropped out as silently as he could into the room, his knees buckling even with the slight impact. It was the matter of a few stumbled steps to the surface on which the Spirit Crystal lay. He picked it up with immense relief and slipped it on ... and then paused.
Her eyes were open.
Oh shit.* Billy froze. His heart thumped painfully as in one fluid movement the Silver Nid-hi stood to face him.
"You..." She seemed as surprised as he did. The two enemies stood regarding each other, searching for some inherent sign of evil in each other ... and the worst thing of all was that neither of them found it. In a strange rapport, Billy found himself extending a hand towards her beseechingly as if to offer her a choice that could turn them away from the disaster approaching. The draconic features flinched back, scared by an act of peace as it had never been fazed by any aggressive move. As entities did the galaxy over, when faced with something she didn't understand, she reacted with fear and aggression and drew energy to destroy the strange enemy before her .... only to have her attack cut short by the Skye falling in ... literally. The Star Ninjetti dropped through the grille and felled Ilana in one inelegant plummet from above.
Billy helped him up as the Nid-hi lay stunned.
"Unorthodox move," he commented, his heart still beating fast, chest burning with pain.
"I doubt Dulcea would approve," Skye agreed.
"Just tell her it's an ancient Ninjetti technique..." Billy replied, moving to the door.
"Like that famous Ninjetti strategy of ... 'running away' we are about to use?" Skye quipped as they checked the corridor.
"Got it in one ... Run!" Billy exclaimed in a low voice, a smile flickering around his pain-drawn face for a moment as they beat a hasty and slightly erratic retreat.
Billy was thinking as rapidly as his exhausted mind would allow, slipping off the Star Crystal and handing it back to Skye as they attempted to run. If the Rangers could teleport them, they would have already ... They had to get out beyond those shields! Pursuit was not that far behind.
"Make for the Hangar Bay..." he mindspoke as the two of them connected through the Crystals. "We'll steal a ship and make a run for it ... far enough outside to be teleported at least!"
"As you say ... oops ... something coming!" Skye advised, and they ducked out of the way swiftly until the troops passed by. Skye was definitely getting punchy. "Remind me if I ever become an Evil Overlord to get troops that can look left and right as well as forwards," he quipped mentally, getting a snort of amusement in response
."Spoke too soon ..." he said aloud as they were spotted by a search party. "Go! Go!"
The two injured humans ran with strength born from desperation, skidding on the slick metal floors as they headed in the general direction of the base's hangar bay. They burst out into the cavernous ... and echoingly empty hangar and looked around in dismay.
"Not one craft left? Damn!" Billy's weak protest reverberated in the vast space. "We have to get outside the shield!" There was no question of Skye doing a teleport ... it would kill him, or just not work. He looked around desperately as the sounds of pursuit grew in volume behind them. He would NOT be caught again. He would rather die ... than go through that again ... better to hurl himself into space than submit to that again ... wait a moment!
"Skye ... this is a really stupid and dangerous idea ..." he paused, not believing he was actually going to suggest this.
"No different from any other of your ideas, then," Skye said wryly, backing away from the direction their would-be captors were approaching.
"We gotta get out beyond the shield ... and we can do that if we ... eject ourselves into space ... now," Billy explained, his mouth going dry as he ran over to one of the jettison tubes used for waste.
"You're serious?" Skye gulped, looking at his friend's face. Damn, he WAS serious.
"You can call Trini when we're outside, yes? We should remain conscious for at least thirty seconds ... and after that ..." Billy slid himself into the tube and Skye obediently slid in behind him, the pair of them entwining arms and legs so they would remain together in space.
"After that we undergo explosive decompression, I know ... I've watched too many science fiction flicks. But they included 2001 ..." Skye inhaled deeply, as did Billy, pumping their weakened systems full with as much oxygen as they could. Their pursuers arrived and they looked at each other, gripped hold of each other's hands and ...
The red purge light flicked on as the Nid-hi entered the Hangar and the two humans were expelled at high speed, unprotected, out into the absolute cold of the vacuum of space.
Skye started yelling mentally as soon as they whooshed out and hit that absolute cold as if it was something solid; the vacuum of space reached inside their lungs and ripped out their precious air. They clung to each other, spinning in the void, a space battle raging around them in streaks of fire and silent explosions. Pain ... pain in his eyes ... as they started to swell and the capillaries popped like tiny balloons ... ice crystals frosting their skin and clothes, hair brittle with cold aching into the bones ...
Trini help us ... we're in space, HELP us, we're in space we need teleporting get us out of here we need ... to breathe ... the cold ... the cold ...
Lights crawling across the eyes, the bursting of blood vessels in his nose, the blood powdering to immediate frozen crystals which then scattered in the vastness like garnets thrown across black velvet ...
TRINI! TRINI!! Help us! Now...the cold! We're gonna die... no air... no air, need to breathe...
Fingers too cold to feel Billy's pulse against them, eyes too swollen to see his face or the stars....just the lights bursting behind his eyes...the thunder of his faltering heartbeat...
Trini turned in another strafing run and her vengeance cooled immediately as she caught fragments of desperate, weak mindspeech. "Damn! Alpha, scan and lock now! Now ... they're out in space! Teleport them direct to your sickbay!" She nearly screamed with frustration. If they lost them now ... they couldn't! Not now!
"I've got a lock!" Ashley yelled, punching the button in an excess of enthusiasm. "DECA?"
There was a nerve-wracking pause.
"Targets arrived in Sickbay. Status .... alive," the soothing voice reported.
"That's it, we're pulling out of here ... we've got what we came for!" Andros said. "Trini, Zhane ... we have them ... we're pulling out now! DECA, as soon as the Mega Winger and TigerZord have docked, get us out of here at maximum hyperrush, to ... Triforia."
Trini sprinted up from the docking bay of DECA without a moment's pause to get to Billy as the spaceship lurched into hyperrush, more than a little worse for wear for tackling the base. She burst into the medi-bay searching for him. He was there, lying on one of the beds, and Skye seemingly unconscious still behind him. It was a matter of a heartbeat for her to reach him and grab him in an embrace that she never wanted to end.
"Oh Billy ... Oh ... I thought you were dead ... oh god." She held him, letting go of the anguish that she had kept hidden since she had believed him lost. It took her a while to realise that his silence was due to the uncontrollable sobs that overtook him as his ordeal finally took its toll. Trini recovered from her surprise and stroked his sandy blonde hair away from his face as it seemed that with the burst capillaries in his eyes, Billy was crying tears of blood.
Zhane and Ashley looked a little uncomfortable and backed out of the medi-bay to give them some privacy.
"Unbelievable," Zhane said, shaking his head with unusual seriousness. "I haven't heard of any who have been in Dark Spectre's grasp who have escaped."
"Except Karone," Ashley pointed out
"Three in one day ... boy, that Lava Lout is going to be really annoyed with us," Zhane replied with an irrepressible grin.
"You think he is going to be alright? I mean, the scans showed some of what had been done ..." Ashley looked faintly sick. "DECA doesn't have the facilities to heal him all the way ... let alone whatever effect it had on his mind."
"He looks like he's coped with a lot in his time ... and she's there. Everything can be dealt with if you have someone there to help you." Zhane sounded lost in thought, his mind obviously elsewhere.
Ashley gave him a speculative look. "Hmmm, yeah, I know."
"Besides, Andros is heading for Triforia. They are one of the oldest space-faring civilisations. They will be able to heal him better than we can," Zhane added. "In the meantime, I'm gonna see how Karone is doing."
Ashley shook her head. The boys thought they were so subtle sometimes. Honestly!
It was then that she turned around and saw Cassie approaching with a puzzled frown on her face. "What's up, Cass?" she asked, rather than go back into the medi-bay and interrupt the emotional reunion.
"I could have sworn ... I thought I felt something strange." Cassie kept turning as if expecting to see something from the corner of her eye.
"What was it like?" Ashley asked seriously.
"I don't know ... something familiar." Cassie frowned.
Yes! Yes, Cassie, I'm here! Phantom yelled from his phased state, begging her to see him or hear him.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, Cass, we'll scan the place from top to bottom when we reach Triforia." Ashley yawned. "It's been a long day and I've gotta go back and see how Trini and the others are getting on."
"Need help?" Cassie offered immediately.
"Wouldn't mind the company ... it's not good," Ashley sighed. It was times like these that they realised what they were really up against.
"With you, Ash." Cassie said, following her into the medi-bay.
And I'm with you, Phantom murmured, tracking their footsteps invisibly.
Triforia was a dry planet, a strange, bright clear dryness that was not necessarily the result of heat. Compared to Earth, its land masses were more like three quarters of the planet's surface as opposed to the other way around.
Andros popped his head into the medi-bay and looked at the three recovering Ninjetti. "We're in orbit around Triforia. I understand you have to visit? " the Kerovian asked.
Trini nodded. "It was going to be our next stop after Chlorak ... where we ran into you." She still hovered close to Billy, unwilling to leave him for even a moment.
The Red AstroRanger nodded. "Well, I thought that they were the closest planet with advanced medical technology. Are you sure you are up to teleporting down?"
Billy swung his legs round and prepared to stand. "I'm fine," he said resolutely. Behind him, Skye shook his head despairingly.
"Billy ... maybe we should ..." Trini began cautiously.
"I'm fine!" Billy said with more force than necessary, obviously trying to convince himself more than the others.
"Well, we can send you on down - we still have quite a few repairs to make, and then we'll join you. I promised Cassie and Ashley to do a full ship's scan." Andros grinned a little ruefully.
Trini looked at her companions and then sighed. "Looks like we will be going on ahead. Can you teleport us down?"
The three Ninjetti teleported to a designated landing point on Triforia on the outside of the main bulk of a major city and looked around wearily.
"Are you sure that you are up to this?" Trini asked again and hovered protectively around Billy who was still not recovered from his ordeal and walking as if he was half a century older than his true age. He didn't reply to the question.
"I knew we should have stayed and made use of DECA's medical facilities a little more before we came down!" she fretted as they looked across the magnificent view of the city of Thenebes.
Billy had refused to let Skye heal him any more until the Star Ninjetti had a chance to recoup some of his energy. His friend had turned out to be frighteningly weak from his psi teleport and Healing of Billy as well as the harrowing escape from Dark Spectre.
"I'm fine ..." Billy answered, already feeling exhausted. He squinted into the bright clear light, tinged with a subtle red quality from Triforia's large Red Giant of a sun, glimpsing a ghost image of one of the triple moons still in the morning sky.
The white-haired artist beside him gave a strained chuckle. "Yeah right, sure you are," he said, the link through the Star Crystal belying that assertion.
It was then that a hurried delegation approached; heading up to them on a glistening silver-white saurian steed was a familiar figure.
"That's him?" Trini asked and Billy nodded. "Trey ... yes, he's a prince of Triforia," he replied tiredly.
"Well, I wouldn't have guessed," Skye said wryly. The young man was surrounded by a bodyguard of uniformed soldiers riding black saurian creatures, at least 9 of them, and the white saurian was bedecked with a jewelled harness that flashed fire in the red sun's rays. Trey swung off of the creature's back and came running over, just like a normal teenager.
The Wolf Ninjetti grinned. He felt so much older than the young prince now, but he knew that was not the case. "Hello, Trey," he replied, unable to disguise the weariness in his voice.
"Careful, I think you are astonishing your Guard with impropriety," he teased a little.
The handsome Triforian came to a halt in front of them, looking at the three appraisingly.
"Billy ... what happened to you? We were expecting you seven days ago," he asked, showing concern in his eyes. The black Triad streak over his eye creased as he frowned.
Billy found himself crippled by a fear of speaking what had happened aloud as if it would summon the memories back to life once more. "I ... er ... we met with an unavoidable delay," he said, looking away suddenly from the alien prince's astute gaze.
Why do I feel so guilty for being hurt? Because I found that I would have broken if they had asked me something I could have told them? Because Dark Spectre and the Nid-hi showed me that even Spirit can be wounded? That nothing is untouchable, not even the innermost parts of myself? Billy forced himself to meet Trey's gaze once more and smile as if nothing was untoward.
Trey hesitated, obviously wanting to probe further but unsure of how that would be taken. He retreated briefly into formality. "Greetings from the Royal Triads of Triforia. As a Triad Lord and Prince I greet you and offer the hospitality of our world," he said in a loud formal voice.
"Now ... there, formalities done with. Billy, what happened to you and your companions?" he said, leaning in closer, accustomed to getting answers when he wanted them.
"We ran across Dark Spectre," the Wolf Ninjetti said softly.
Trey blanched a little, realising immediately what that might have entailed from Billy's drawn expression. "Let's get you to the Healers immediately!" he said in concern.
"I would appreciate that," Trini said, looking across at Billy. "Maybe you can persuade him to take help where we cannot."
"Are you well enough to ride on the thrakka?" Trey asked them all. "Otherwise we will teleport you in."
"We'll be fine riding in," Billy said stubbornly, and Trini sighed next to him. He was being so inflexible about showing weakness, almost to the point of stupidity, and as yet she couldn't see why.
Trey personally assisted them onto the saurian thrakka, looking concerned. "Don't worry, they will take all of us," he said as they looked at their strange steed dubiously. "They are immensely strong."
The Ninjetti settled down, Trey shouted "Sha!" and the white thrakka leapt forward smoothly, seemingly unaffected by the extra passengers.
They approached Thenebes through a wide causeway, down a road lined with magnificent alien buildings that appeared somewhat reminiscent of ziggurat structures, or truncated pyramids, but they were covered in a mass of patterned glorious colours that nearly dazzled the eye. Everywhere, symbols and pictures predominated with a strange compelling effect. It said much that Billy's usually curious mind was turned inwards and seemed not to notice the splendour of Trey's home city. But then he had visited Triforia before. They dismounted the thrakka outside the massive ziggurat of the palace, and Trey immediately summoned Healers and physicians to attend them, the commanding tone in his voice very evident. Billy was ushered immediately into some sort of Healing Chamber and the others followed, watching carefully and anxiously.
Trey followed them, concerned as the Healers began working on him, muttering under their breaths at the extent of Billy's condition. They got him to sit on something that resembled the old 'table' in the Power Chamber and lie back as they worked. Trini watched anxiously as Billy seemed to slip into sleep.
"Thank you, Trey," she said finally, pleased Billy was resting some more. "He's been so stubborn about this ... really. He will be all right, won't he?"
"I can assure you Triforia has some of the best medical facilities in this sector of the Galaxy," Trey informed her with a confident tone in a very royal formal fashion.
Trini frowned slightly. "Trey, I didn't ask what the facilities were like, or the competence of the staff, I asked whether he was going to be all right. They hurt him so much ..." she swallowed, barely controlling her emotions.
Trey relaxed a little. "I'm sorry ... I forget what it is like on Earth, how relaxed everyone was, and how informal. Triforia is ... somewhat more structured. We are seldom as direct. It is regarded as ... uncouth."
Trini's eyes flashed slightly. "Like Earth and its inhabitants, you mean?"
Trey very nearly blushed. "My apologies ... I did not mean to imply that this was a bad thing. If it were, if I had undergone my Tripartuition here as opposed to there ..." his voice had dropped to a whisper. "Then I would have been renounced from the lineage of the Triad Crown. I was astonished when Billy, who found me first ... when I first literally divided against myself, that he did not turn on me in revulsion. I made him promise to hide me from the general population for that time and he found a way to use his energy to reunite me long enough to morph and help his friends. But the shame was so great ... I didn't know what to do. It took a while before he convinced me that the others would not reject me for what was happening. I owe him for that ... and for rescuing me on Aquitar."
Trini nodded, slightly appeased "He didn't tell anyone he did that," she said, surprised.
"I asked him not to ..." Trey admitted. "But it was close at times ... I think the others thought he was the Gold Ranger for a while because he had to rest after I'd taken the energy to morph from him. That's why the Triads sent for him after I underwent an accidental Tripartuition on Aquitar... that was allowable but still kept quiet. They thought that the energy transfer could work again. But it needed more. I was so sure he could take the Powers from me as I had taken them from him ... I never meant to hurt him by having the Gold Power reject him ..."
The alien prince looked ashamed and Trini put a hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, Trey. Billy knew it wasn't deliberate, that much I do know. But what I want to know now is whether he is going to be cured. I need to know this ... please." Trini was trying to maintain her dignity. Trey nodded, understanding her motivation and went to discuss this with some of the physicians.
He was there a while before returning, looking a little pale. "He will be fine ... how they don't know, but he will be. He shouldn't be alive, there are the marks of wounds within his body as well as on the surface ... mortal injuries," he gulped as if realising the seriousness of the situation suddenly.
"Skye saved him," Trini said calmly, while inwardly her entire being was recoiling from that statement. Billy had played it down, said it had been horrible, but not exactly what had happened. Damn them for stubborn male egos!
She continued speaking almost automatically. "He has studied the Healing powers of the Ninjetti, but Billy would not let him supply any more energy to him after he nearly gave too much." Trini looked round suddenly. She had hardly heard two words from Skye since the rescue. She didn't even know what had happened beyond the bare minimum Billy had imparted before he had rested. But then she had been so worried about Billy, she had been more than a little distracted. After what Skye had done, and thinking about it ... she didn't even think she had said 'thank you'. She flushed guiltily.
Trey reassessed the white-haired artist who had been lurking silently. "I ... I see. Well, by tomorrow all the residual damage should be cured."
Trini exhaled with relief. "Do you think they could look at Skye too?" she asked suddenly.
Come on, Trini, you know what he is like, remaining silent when he has been hurt because he is worried about showing a weakness, in case we think he's not capable or too vulnerable. With sudden realisation she looked across at Billy. Oh lord, TWO of them playing the same sort of game. Well, she would see about this.
A wound is best cleaned when it is fresh as her grandfather would say, and it was sound advice. Billy brooded on things, took them inside of him until they nearly destroyed him. Not this time. Not if she could help it. She followed Trey over as they escorted a clearly reluctant Skye to a similar facility to that treating Billy, and though she was no physician she could see that the readings in the monitors and devices were all in sections that flashed urgent pulses of colour. Her face went grim as she looked at both of them, far enough from the immediate relief at getting them back to start to get very angry.
Unfortunately she was allowed to brood on this fact for some time while they were being treated. Trey was a courteous host, but he could see that Trini was distracted by the plight of her companions, and he took the precaution of being informed as soon as they awoke.
Trini finished sipping her jola tea that Trey had made for her as the twilight drew in, colouring the skyline of the city with fantastic sunset colours. The pyramid shapes began to be picked out by a myriad of twinkling starlike lights as the Triforians stepped out into the cool of the evening to enjoy life. A servant approached Trey and passed him a message.
"Ah ... Trini, it seems that Billy and Skye have both awakened from their treatment; if you wish to see them ..." he said, looking up at her.
"I wish to see them alone, if that is at all possible," Trini answered, her Tigerspirit tailtwitching inside of her.
"That can be arranged," Trey said, mentally apologising to Billy for what he was about to unleash upon him as he escorted the Gold Tiger Ninjetti to the Healing area.
Billy lay staring into the darkness, afraid once again. Was there nothing that he wasn't going to be afraid of ever again? Darkness? Fire? Space? Pain? Death ... Life? Nothing had been left to him, nothing that hadn't been touched by Dark Spectre's pain-filled hand and the Silver Nid-hi's knife of the spirit. He shuddered, scared to admit how fragile and weak he felt now, how many doubts had grown in his mind. What did he think he was doing out here anyway? Did he really think he could make a difference? The veil between life and death could be torn aside at any moment ... and only the merest chance and sheer stupidity had saved them this time. What if ... what if he had told some vital information that had been harmful to everyone? He would have done so, of that he was sure. They needed someone strong, someone who would not ever break to make the decisions, not someone like him.
"Billy, I can feel that," Skye murmured from across the room.
Billy mentally cursed. Damn it! "I ... sorry ... I think I'd better be getting up now. We have so much to do." He tried to swing his legs over the edge of the bed, trying to run away from his own thoughts.
"Will! Lie back down right now!" Trini's voice snapped through the room. He jumped slightly. "You too, Skye; don't think I can't see what you are doing as well!" The Gold Tiger Ninjetti strode into the room, agitation fairly pouring off of her. Billy and Skye exchanged sheepish looks as she stood between the pair of them.
"We're fine ... really," Billy began, only to be silenced by a glare.
"Oh yes, sure you are ..." Trini clenched her fists, wanting to knock some sense into the pair of them. "So the fact that I am reliably informed that you should both be dead several times over constitutes 'fine', does it? " Skye opened his mouth to protest. "No ... just shut up, the pair of you. I want no more 'I'm fine, I'm a man, nothing hurts me or affects me.' Who are you trying to fool, anyway? Because it certainly isn't working on me, so I can't imagine it's working terribly well on yourselves, is it!?!"
"Trini ... I ..." Billy began, trying to tell her why he couldn't appear weak. "Please understand ..."
"What I understand, Billy, is that two people I love are scaring me witless by pretending they are not hurting. And in doing so, they are endangering themselves ... and more to the point, the whole mission!" Trini shot back immediately. "I see the person I love more than life, torturing himself because someone tortured him and tore down all his defences and made him vulnerable ... I see someone I care about deeply taking risks without thinking of the consequences to themselves. I see you both lying here, having been hurt and so wounded that you think there is something wrong with you for being made a victim!"
There was a stunned silence for a moment, then Trini walked silently over to Billy and sat down next to him. "What are you afraid of, Billy? That I won't love you? Of what ...?"
Billy finally spoke in a very small, subdued voice. "Of myself. I wasn't strong enough ... I wasn't able to stop them. I would have told them everything if I had known ..." He was so unlike the confident Billy that had matured during their time in space that Trini was shaken.
"Billy, love, you are alive! You beat them," Trini said reassuringly. "Tell me what happened to you, Billy ... all of it ..." She took his hands in hers and looked at him until he was forced to meet her eyes. Once that connection was there it all came out. All of it, the terror, the pain, the feeling of utter vulnerability, the fear of living and betraying everyone and finally the guilt at being a victim and what might have happened and the paralysing doubt that had crept into him as he lay physically broken.
Trini held him like a child as his emotional pain, keen as a knife's edge, cut him anew, but this time left the wounds in his spirit clean and able to heal. She hurt for him so much, that he had had to endure that, and felt herself trying to accept the guilt for his pain though there had been nothing she could do.
"It wasn't your fault, Billy, we are only human and we are allowed to make mistakes. In fact, my grandfather used to say there is a great freedom in realising you are not meant to be perfect - if you can accept the fact that you are not perfect. You didn't betray anyone, you saved us."
"But ... but I would have done ..." Billy said, still deeply ashamed. "I would have said anything to just stop the pain."
"And those words would have been worthless to them. They would not have believed them as truth. They look for their own truth ..." Trini regarded him with tears still bright in her own eyes. "Billy, much as I love you ... you are not perfect, and I don't want you to be. I want you to be human, so that I can love you ... do you understand? You are the strongest person I know, strong in your spirit. You have endured what would have destroyed others and thought nothing of it ... only worried that you are not strong enough, not good enough. I have news for you ... you are strong enough and good enough ... at least you are for me." She kissed him again, and the look of relief in his eyes was reassuring. She smiled slightly. "You do believe me, yes?"
He nodded silently, unbelievably relieved that she had not turned away from him, lost her respect for him for showing weakness. She pushed him to lie down, kissing him on the lips, and exhausted by all the emotional outpouring he finally allowed himself to sleep as she stood watching over him.
"Who guards the guardian?" she said softly with a sigh. "Those who love him ..." she answered her rhetorical question, caressing his more relaxed face and sleeping features. Then she turned facing the place where Skye lay, staring unmoving into the darkness.
And I thought dealing with Billy was hard, she thought to herself.
"Don't think you are going to get off lightly, either," Trini said, trying to inject a hint of humour into her voice.
"I somehow didn't think I would," Skye retorted, flashing her a quick look with his grey-blue eyes.
"Why did you do that, Skye?" Trini asked in a low voice. "Try something that you must have known would probably have led to your death?"
"I promised." He said it simply, still not meeting her eyes.
"I didn't know what I was asking ... what I was saying, they were just words ..." Trini protested.
"Words are all I have," Skye said simply, and unexpectedly Trini felt tears welling in her eyes.
"Oh Skye, if it weren't for Billy ..." Trini began and then stopped, realising that she couldn't imagine a life without him now.
"Exactly," Skye replied, feeling that emotion as he had all the others between them. "There are some people who can find happiness and even love again ... and there are some who cannot." He looked at her. "You want to know why I did it? Because you and Billy are all I have."
There was no answer to that and Trini swallowed. "But the risks ... the stupid risks ... I mean if Billy says, hey Skye, jump out into space, you just do it?"
Skye smiled. "Yes."
"Why? For god's sake, why?" Trini asked explosively.
"Because I trust him, I trust you." Skye shrugged as if that was obvious.
"But Skye ... you can't just do that ..." Trini began.
"Trini ... knowing now that we got Billy back, even though I nearly died in the process, would you really not ask me to do the same again if me staying safe meant I hadn't gone after him?" the white-haired artist asked, interrupting her.
Trini groaned. "Damn you! Skye, that's not fair ..." She felt guilty at the instinctive no her emotions responded with.
"Still the same answer though, isn't it?" Skye replied quietly. "You would ask me to risk it all again, wouldn't you, knowing that it would save him ... whatever the cost?"
And to that Trini couldn't truthfully do anything but nod.
Skye sighed. "There's no need to feel guilty about any of it. I would have chosen the same ... even after ... everything; I would still do it ... though I'd try and make use of a spacesuit this time," he finished wryly.
Trini gave a hesitant smile. "I still can't believe you did that. I can't believe it happened, really ... if I think about how close we all came ..."
"Don't ... we are here now, and alive," Skye said succinctly. "Sometimes that is the greatest gift we can have."
Trini bent over and kissed him gently on the cheek by way of thanks, knowing that she hadn't the words to say it adequately. The glimmer of the Star Crystal on Skye's chest and the look in his eyes told her, as she stepped back, that he knew more than she did about what she was feeling and she watched him silently as his eyes closed into sleep.
In the silent Healing Chamber Trini stood, equally poised between the two people she knew who loved her, and then, very slowly and definitely, turned and walked to be with Billy ... though she looked over her shoulder at Skye regretfully. There was only one true choice for her and, once made all those years ago when they were Rangers together it could not be undone for anything.
"Do I have to get dressed up?" Zhane grumbled, annoyed as Andros threw his formal Ranger attire at him.
"Yes," Andros said as the others joined them, all smart and in full formal gear.
"Zhane? Aren't you READY?" Ashley asked, exasperated. "And you complain about us women getting ready." She theatrically rolled her eyes.
"I don't see why I have to get so dressed up," the Silver Ranger tugged on the black and silver trim dress uniform.
"If we do, buddy, then you certainly have to," TJ chipped in, grinning. "Besides, some sort of special occasion, right Alpha?"
"The Triple Eclipse is an immensely sacred event on Triforia. It has not occurred more than twice in recorded history," Alpha said. "Every important being in the sector will be there."
"Tell me again why we are invited?" Zhane said with a grin, smoothing his white-blond hair into some semblance of order. Andros shoved him out into the corridor as they made their way to the transport tubes. Cassie jumped into her transport tube and then paused as she was about to let go, looking around with a slight frown. The others had gone ahead and she was alone. But it didn't feel like she was. She parted her lips to speak and then shook her head, decisively pushing herself through the tube.
Phantom cursed unheard and followed behind her. So close to being heard! So close!
The AstroRangers turned at the voice that hailed them just as they grouped together once more when Cassie arrived. It was Trey, dressed in his Gold Ranger attire and followed by the three Ninjetii dressed in their soft formal robes of blue, gold and a soft pale grey for Billy, Trini and Skye respectively.
"He looks better," TJ commented, observing Billy and said in an aside, "Good call, Andros."
The Red Ranger quirked a rare smile as Trey carried on talking with barely concealed excitement.
"You are here just in time! The Eclipse will begin soon, and there is rumour that the Ceremony will be performed!" Trey announced, assuming they should all have intimate knowledge of this fact. Out of the Rangers and Ninjetti assembled there, only Andros, Zhane and Karone showed any reaction.
"The Ceremony? Really? I thought that was just a legend!" Karone said, astonished.
Trey shrugged. "There was word from the Temple. From the Seer. Come, you all have pride of place." He smiled.
The group followed him obediently through the thronged streets of Thenebes where the population was flocking towards the Temple or just to find a vantage point to watch the solar phenomenon. The red giant of a sun hung in the sky, burning balefully, and the three ghostlike moons proceeded inexorably towards the sun itself to drown its light.
The group of Rangers were ushered to the edge of the Temple Dais, the massive expanse of black stone that made the huge building that rose behind it so resemble that incredible Zord Pyramidas. Etched into the Dais floor were a multitude of glyphs and Billy frowned slightly. They reminded him of something ... but he couldn't quite place it. The three Ninjetti took their position on the Dais very close to each other, not having to say a word since the night before had restored the peace between them.
A palpable excitement began to grip the crowd as a sliver of the largest moon began to slice away at the disc of the red sun. Strangely though, it still seemed bright and full of sunshine, but the sight was oddly compelling.
As the first edge of the first moon kissed the edge of the sun, a pure resonating sound cut through the air, a sound that seemed to thrum through the ground up through feet and legs, through the body to the head. A group of black-and-gold-clad figures exited the Temple, each holding a crystal bowl from which they were smoothly drawing the unbelievable sound with strangely shaped wooden implements. Out of the Temple, a figure in a white-gold robe made a solitary stately entrance to the centre of the Dais. All around them there was a murmur of awe from the multitude of Triforians, and the visitors were equally impressed, even if they did not know the full impact behind what was going on.
There was silence as she spoke, and the first shadow of eclipse danced towards them.
"Holder of the Eye. Step forward," she called out. "Deliver to me the Eye. The Seer has need of it."
An attendant brought the shimmering white-gold-robed figure an object wrapped in a black cloth. The woman pushed back her cowled hood and unwrapped the cloth, swiftly revealing the glitter of a large black crystal torus.
She held it as she spoke again.
"Holder of the Gold Power. Step forward." Her strong voice rang out and Trey obediently walked forward. "Deliver to me your Power staff. The Seer has need of it."
Without hesitation Trey, a Triad Prince and Lord of Triforia, obeyed this strange woman.
Trini, Billy and Skye glanced at each other, surprised at his acquiescence. Obviously, on Triforia this woman ranked above the Royal Triads. As Trey left, the woman deftly manipulated the crested head of the staff until it locked intricately around the black torus, so that when she raised it it looked like an empty eye waiting to see.
The people hushed again as the chill of the eclipse stole insidiously across the world and flocks of chiera skimmed the ground, thinking twilight had come early. The silence was broken once more by the voice of the Seer.
"As Foreseen ... the Three that are Body, Mind and Spirit of a One, have come to Triforia."
She turned a piercing gaze upon the Ninjetti, to their consternation. "And with them they carry the centre of the Eye of Knowledge. Holder of the Centre, I summon you to bring it to me. The Seer has need of it."
Billy looked at Trini, confused "Centre of the Eye of Knowledge? Do we have that?" he mindspoke puzzledly.
"I don't know... Skye, do you ...oh." Trini stopped as the Star Ninjetti was already halfway over to the imperious woman. "Obviously he does," she said softly.
Skye bowed his head to the Seer and presented her with a familiar-looking orb.
"The Marai Sphere! Of course," Billy exclaimed. "The repository of all the knowledge of the Ancient Ninjetti."
In a half trance the white-haired artist returned to them as if only barely aware of what he was doing.
The Seer slotted the orb into the centre of the black eye-frame; it snicked into place perfectly and then flooded its clear crystal with a matching blackness. Taking the completed Eye, the Seer raised the staff and then, with the Gold Power crackling around it, thrust it into the Dais at her feet. Like a key slotting into a lock, a burst of energy travelled down the staff, rippling through the black stone, and a rumbling sound was heard as the top of the mighty Pyramid behind them split apart, partially revealing a massive lens-like structure in the direct line of the eclipse.
Looking at some of the faces around him, Billy realised this was something beyond the spectacular - the normally formal Triforians were aquiver with something akin to ... awe.
The light was beginning to fade rapidly now; the actual shadow could be seen racing across the ground, giving a curious rippling appearance that fooled the senses into believing the steady ground was shaking. As the three moons began to come together and the light dimmed quickly, this was mirrored by a growing brightness in the blackness of the Eye. As the starwhite light crept across the pulsing energy of the Eye Staff, bolts of energy flowed to the Pyramid, causing the Great Eye of the Pyramid to open, awakening in the eclipselight.
Night fell suddenly in the middle of the day, as the three moons lined up perfectly for the totality of the Solar Eclipse. Stars abruptly became visible, glittering in a midnight blue sky, the aurora around the sun a gossamer rainbow veil of shimmering light and a silence descended as if the entire world was holding its breath. Not even a heartbeat could be heard ... nothing.
The light of the Eye Staff became dazzling and it was suddenly as if the great Pyramid Eye had blinked and opened its lens, looking down on them like an Eye of the Gods. Trapped within its shimmering essence, images of galaxies and dancing time swirled, woken by the touch of the Triple Eclipse. Its gaze pierced downwards to the Dais, and the inscribed glyphs glowed under its sight. Unafraid, the Seer turned and walked into the heart of that strange light, raising her arms in the silence of the newborn night.
"Eye of Triforia, I summon the Divine Sight!" she called, her voice trembling slightly.
Billy, Trini and the entire population of Triforia watched in amazement at the miracle that followed. The Seer seemed to shimmer ... and split into three ... That caused a gasp from the Triforians.
And then those three split into three again ... and those three again ... the final set of twenty- seven appearing pale and translucent, but brimful of a strange nimbus of energy. They separated rapidly into groups of nine and as they did so, there was a flare of intense energy from the Great Eye. When everyone looked back again from the brief dazzle, three glowing enormous female forms of energy towered before them all. Of one accord, the Triforians fell to their knees in awe, seeing before them the embodiment of their Godesses made manifest.
Trey beside them once again managed to remain standing with the Rangers and Ninjetti Spirit Warriors.
"Destiny, Prophecy and Vision - the Aspects of the Seer of All!" he half gasped out, even his composure shaken.
"We have come." The apparitions stated in a perfect chorus. "Our time is short, our message of importance."
The presence on the left moved forward, its energy tinged with gold and fire.
"I, Prophecy, part the flow of the river of time with my rocks of certainty. These rocks cannot be changed and direct the course of the river of events. Harken all "
And her voice resounded through the still atmosphere as she repeated the litany that the Ninjetti had said over and over since the beginning of their mission.
"The Sun Goes Down, beware the Darkness Visible!" The words rang out, chilling in their formality as Prophecy continued.
"Prophecy speaks, and those of wisdom will listen. In that Darkness no Light exists, but it is swallowed by Darkness. Yea, even that of the Shahin Tara Zed. The threat is more than that which threatens the Light alone - All is threatened in the Fall of Darkness. The Zha'kha-rhee'aa and the Shahin Tara Zed will meet in conflict as prophesied through the Ages as the Powers look on. But in this beware the Shadows in the Darkness. They will strike from within the Light, they will strike from within the Night, in ways unlooked for, for their Mind is not as it seems. I gift you this Prophecy. Use it wisely."
Prophecy withdrew, allowing its sister presence to come forward. The bright white presence burned brightly as it issued its instructions in a voice of thunder.
"I, Destiny, show the path of the Light from which you should not stray, though you may choose to do so. People of Triforia, take your path with the Light and resist this Darkness, though it mean your destruction, for the paradox remains that there is more potential of Chaos in the burgeoning Reign of Order than of anything else. Spirit Warrior of the Tiger..."
And Trini jumped at being addressed so specifically.
"Seek your destiny within a divided heart. Spirit Warrior of the Wolf, seek your destiny within the lonely choice and decision upon which all else rests. Be wise and true to yourself in that moment, for your destiny twines with energies beyond our comprehension. Star -Bearer, seek your destiny with the Star and perceive not loss but that your Destiny is a Gift. Know now that when the Forces of Light meet the Advent of Darkness, there are none untouched by Destiny's Choices. The Pattern exists and has been preserved and those Destinies must be faced and accepted. Seek now those Powers that should come to you all before the Skein of Fate tightens around you."
Again the figure faded back, leaving the strange night-filled figure of the final manifestation to speak in the dying moments of the Eclipse.
"I, Vision, show the Possibilities of how we can steer the future through the certainties of Prophecy and the Paths of Destiny." The fearsome dark figure billowed, reflecting the stars in the sky above in its substance.
"Know that in the unknown is the Knowledge needed by the Light. Those that have stared at the Light all their lives are often blinded by its presence and unable to see the true shape of the future in the Darkness. Know that in the ambiguity of Prophecy and Destiny lies salvation, for Words cannot be unsaid. Know that the Words of Prophecy have Power, but their final Power is in how they are read, not in the Word itself. May the keen sight of the Animal Spirits pierce this mystery, or all life is doomed. Take heed of my words, for in them lies the only hope - and you are all our hope for survival." She seemed to stare directly at the Ninjetti and the Rangers as the three figures became silent, their message completed.
The gem-like vibrant beads glittering around the eclipsed sun became brighter, as if the black discs of the moon were weeping tears of light.
The three figures seemed to fade under the reappearance of the sun, dispersing like dawn mist and then re-coalescing into the groups of nine figures, that flowed together to the group of three ... and then finally back into the single white-robed figure, looking frail and worn. With shaking hands the Seer of Triforia pulled the Eye Staff from the Glyph Dais and the Great Eye closed in the Pyramid, returning to dream once more. Her duty completed, she wavered and then began to fall, only to have Trey leap to assist her. It was then, the manifestation over, the sun coming out from the unearthly splendour of the total eclipse, that the emotional impact of the phenomenon made itself felt. There was a spontaneous roar of exultation from the assembled masses that spread throughout the city, deafening the observing Ninjetti, still trying to absorb what the Presences had said to them and reconcile these messages.
The AstroRangers were caught up in the euphoria, and Cassie was feeling a surge of excitement and turned to hug the person whose presence she felt on her left behind her ... only to find no-one there. That shocked her utterly. She had been so convinced that there was someone there. It was then that she saw a faint triple shadow in that spot as the moons split the red sunlight peculiarly, moving from in front of Triforia's sun. Her gasp alerted Ashley and the other Rangers to look and see what the problem was, initially not understanding until her friend pointed at the shadow.
"Wha ... what is it?" she asked, shaken by so many mysterious things in a short space of time.
Cassie took a deep breath and went out on a limb. "Phantom? Is that you?"
If a shadow could appear to be stunned, then the triple shadow was triply stunned. There was a frantic nodding from the shadow.
"Show yourself?" Cassie requested.
The shadow put out its hands in a gesture of helplessness and Cassie sighed with realisation.
"Don't worry, Phantom, we'll find a way to help you," she reassured him. "Just stay close to me at all times, the eclipse shadow is fading." She ignored a knowing smirk from Zhane. "Maybe Billy could help you, if Alpha and DECA can't." She looked over at the Ninjetti, discussing the Words of the Aspects of the Seer of All avidly with Trey.
"I'm going to need a transcript of what they said," Billy was saying excitedly. Some of it had sounded not too good, but he had hope that there was hope now. His own researches into Prophecy had been more than a little depressing.
"It will have been written down word for word," Trey replied, looking boyish in his enthusiasm as warmth and light returned to his world. "I will get you a copy after the celebration!" He paused a moment. "You are up to that, aren't you?"
Billy and Trini nodded. "But we will have to leave for Earth as soon as it is over. There is too much to do now," Billy said.
"And besides ... I miss my home," Trini added quietly, with agreeing nods from her companions.
"I understand ... and I'm sure the AstroRangers will help you get back there as soon as possible. In the meantime ... it is not every day that the Divine Aspects manifest to the people," Trey said almost informally. "Come now, you were mentioned directly, so you will be honoured accordingly." He beckoned all of them and Trini put her arm around Billy, knowing his dislike for formal occasions, and said in a low laughing voice. "There, there ... it's all going to be over soon," and gave him a kiss on the cheek as they were ushered away.
"Finally we are going home," Billy sighed with relief as they settled on the bridge of the AstroMegaShip, being chauffeur-driven home as it were. "Is Phantom here?" he asked Cassie.
She nodded, more sure of her instincts now.
"Phantom ... we will get you rephased when we get back to Earth. I have a remodulator I used on Zordon's transwarp dimension stored at my house. Linked to enough energy, I should be able to modify it to phase you back into this dimension as I did for Zordon." Billy explained, earnestly addressing the thin air but feeling a little foolish as he did so.
Andros walked in and checked the course, then turned to the Ninjetti. "Do you want me to transmit ahead and let them know we are on our way?"
The three Ninjetti exchanged a glance and Skye smiled. "Let's make it a surprise, shall we?" he said in his soft voice. Trini chuckled slightly and Billy quirked a smile through the shadow of his experiences that lurked in his eyes.
"Emergency meetings, always emergency meetings ..." Tommy muttered to Kimberly as they strode purposefully along the road to the home of WolfTech - Billy's house.
"Always when I'm having a shower, too." The Crane Ninjetti said, tying back her still-damp hair. "Wonder what it is this time?"
"I don't know ... I'm not sure who called it this time. We have so many of the damn things ..." Tommy said impatiently. He had been planning to spend a little more quality time with Kim since she'd had that strange episode last week. She had suddenly turned pale, nearly fainted and been on the verge of collapse for a while and then recovered. He still had no idea why and he hadn't been that worried for a long time.
They bumped into Rocky and Kat approaching from across the street. "Geez, Tommy, did you HAVE to call us out now? We've very nearly finished the Power Chamber. Justin was using words no one his age should know ... well, use in polite company, at least."
"That would explain why he was using them," Kat said sweetly, having picked up some of her partner's joking style in the time they had been together.
"Hey!" Rocky protested.
"Well, it wasn't Tommy this time," Kim said matter of factly. "Can we go in? My hair isn't completely dry."
Rocky and Tommy chortled under their breath.
"What?" Kimberley said, her hands on her hips.
"That was such a ...'Kim' thing to say," Rocky replied, and the Crane Spirit Warrior narrowed her eyes.
"Do me a favour, Kat..." she said and Kat duly poked Rocky in the ribs as they walked in.
The Cranstons' house was packed. Everyone was there, squeezed into the lounge, a loud hubbub at the impromptu meeting.
"Finally..." Jason called out, curled up with Dulcea on one of the armchairs. "Turn up late to your own meeting ... we should have known!" The Falcon Ninjetti was good-naturedly pelted with cushions from around the room.
"It wasn't me! Hey! Quit that!" Tommy batted the soft missiles away.
"No, it was me." Hank Cranston stood at the doorway as the rowdy bunch calmed down a bit.
Well, that was a surprise. Billy's father had dealt mainly with the more mundane aspects of the project, running WolfTech and dealing as almost a third-party supplier for their requirements, but he had never called a major meeting.
"What's wrong?" Aisha asked sitting up, dislodging Zack in the process.
"Nothing to worry about ... really," Hank reassured with a smile. "Just got a few visitors here." He beckoned the Astro Rangers in and the Turbo team leapt up to greet their friends.
"Carlos!" Adam said, pleasedly clasping his hand. "What have you guys been up to?"
"Busy ... looking for Zordon," Ashley said, going up to Tanya and giving her a hug. "And dealing with all these attacks by the UAE ... so many refugees on the move out there at the moment." She sighed a little.
"Great to see you again, TJ," Tommy added. The Blue AstroRanger introduced Andros, Zhane and Karone as they made the rounds.
"Actually ..." Cassie said, looking around at them all, "We picked up a few passengers on the way home."
She smirked a little and Kimberly felt a peculiar sensation inside her, like a glowing anticipation. She gasped suddenly and stood up. "Oh my god ... it's them!"
"Who?" Tommy was in the middle of asking when Billy, Trini and Skye entered the room.
There was a moment of unbelieving silence and then everyone tried to leap from their seats to greet their friends whom they had not seen for such a long time. The three found themselves stuck in the middle of a crush of bodies until Trini let out a piercing whistle that shocked everyone into silence. "Give us some room! Billy needs to take it easy!"
Billy gave her an irritated look, but took the proffered seat appreciatively.
"Billy! Why on earth didn't you warn us?" Tanya berated him.
"What, and let you have time to organise some sort of party?" The Wolf Ninjetti looked around with a mild smile. His Wolfspirit was revelling in the feeling of having his Pack around him, feeling more comfortable and secure than he had for a long time.
Adam was studying his long-missed friend carefully, worried about what he saw in him. He had been hurt; the mark of hard experience was in his eyes. He had an edge he had not posessed before, and also vulnerability.
"Billy?" he asked softly, all that time apart vanishing as he touched his friend's shoulder.
Billy looked up into Adam's dark and worried eyes and repeated his faint smile. "Later..." he said quietly. Jason came up behind him as he said that. "And you are not getting out of it either," he added, his arm still around Dulcea.
Billy's communicator bleeped suddenly and he looked around. Around him an entire roomful of Rangers looked automatically to their wrists and Skye chuckled behind him.
"Relax," Billy said. "It's mine. Looks like you get to actually see one last visitor after all. Clear a space, he's teleporting in." There was a hurried jumping out of the way and a figure, familiar at least to the ex-TurboRangers and the AstroRangers, materialised, immediately recognisable by the enormous red gem glittering in the black armoured chestplate.
"Phantom!" Cassie said starting forward. "You did it!" she said to Billy in awe.
"You get used to that," Jason said, standing behind his friend with a smile. He was still happily entwined with Dulcea. The pair of them had decided that, after all the knowing looks and smirks from the others, they might as well be relatively open about their relationship.
"The Wolf has great intelligence," Dulcea said next to him. "Although his sense sometimes leaves a lot to be desired." And she laughed at Billy's pained expression as his Wolfspirit protested loudly.
The black armoured figure's head whipped around suddenly at the sound of her voice and her laughter in particular, astonishment in every angle of his stance.
"Phantom?" Cassie queried, seeing his hands shaking. "What's wrong?" Then she gasped for Phantom did something totally unexpected. He started to take off his helmet.
A mane of long black hair was revealed, a strong face and a pair of glittering dark green eyes that turned to look at Dulcea's astonished face, meeting her similarly curious gaze.
"No ..." Dulcea breathed, speechless for the first time in centuries.
Everyone stood and watched, looking from one to the other. Dulcea obviously knew who Phantom was, but that didn't help them much. The man passed a gauntleted hand over the ruby in his chest and the armour melted away, leaving him dressed in Ninjetti-style black Robes and the embossed gold sigil of a Lion poised above the large facetted gem still embedded in his chest.
"Kerrin?" Dulcea said, her whisper tinged with astonishment. "But you're ... you were killed!"
"So were you ... weren't you?" Kerrin, the Phantom Ranger, said in a similar tone. "I saw you die ... in the ..."
"...Battle for Eltar!" Dulcea finished. "They told me ... they told me after I had healed that you were dead. They bound me to the Duty on Phaedos to give me purpose to live again."
"They told me the same ... they bound me to the Gem to give me life and gave me my missions ... my revenge on the forces of Evil for taking you from me, forbidding me to go near Phaedos ever again!" Kerrin looked about ready to fall.
Jason was looking increasingly concerned, an odd unsettling sensation creeping over him as he looked between the two. His Lionspirit growled within him, not sensing evil, but more ... a rival.
Cassie looked at the man she had dreamed about ever since his first appearance, or to be more accurate, his first disappearance, her heart sinking. He was everything that she had dreamed of, but she could tell in that look he gave Dulcea that there was something between them.
"You know Dulcea?" she blurted out.
"Yes ... we were ... to be married," Kerrin said. The assembled Rangers looked on in shock, and Jason blinked, stunned speechless.
"But then - in the battle for Eltar, thousands of years ago, I saw him killed," Dulcea said bluntly. "A Shar'yani Warlord ran you through the chest ... I have lived with that memory ever since ..."
"And he caught you in the stomach as you ran towards him to challenge him ... my last sight of you was of you collapsing to the ground with a mortal wound," Kerrin finished, swallowing.
"We held them long enough for the reinforcements to arrive, apparently. I knew nothing more until I awoke on Phaedos," Dulcea remembered. "They told me you were dead, the Council of the Wise told me you were DEAD!" She stepped forward and the pair embraced each other, holding on and choking back tears.
Jason watched, his heart pounding with fear; his dark expressive eyes looked up and met those of Cassie, mirroring his expression.
I'm going to lose her, he thought, staring at the lover's reunion. Correction, I lost her however many thousand years ago it was when they fell in love!
Skye touched the Star Crystal, gaining insight into the emotional state of the room and the despair from Jason and Cassie. That would have to be sorted out. Just ... when he was stronger. He gave an inward sigh. He was going to need his strength, now more than ever. Kim glanced at him from across the room and walked over. "You all right?" she asked softly.
"A bit tired. The last mission was tough," Skye said in possibly the biggest understatement of the decade.
"I swear, Skye, you are worse than any of these macho Rangers at hiding when you've got a problem," Kim exclaimed in an exasperated tone. "I'll sort this out." The pink Crane Ninjetti stepped forward. "Everyone ... EVERYONE! Listen up! Plenty of time for this later. I think we should let them get some rest."
The others murmured agreement.
"Just a couple of things before I am forced to bed by Trini ..." Billy said in a strong, quiet voice, smiling as Rocky inevitably picked up on the innuendo in his statement and roared with laughter, setting the others off.
Billy smiled. "Yes ... I might even get some sleep ... anyway. We have completed our recruiting drive for Ninjetti Spirit Warriors, and set in motion repairs and upgrades on the Zords. That much is over, there is no more time left to comb the galaxy. But as our last and rather ... painful encounter taught us, the Nid-hi have within their number Masters of the Great Power. What they can do ... well, let's just say it is imperative that we find the criteria and means to access that level of Power if we are to stand a chance. I was to ask Dulcea if she knew of this ..." Billy looked quizzically at the First Warrior of Phaedos.
Dulcea looked surprised. "Such Powers exist, but the legends and lore of what is required are cryptic. Some is plain enough to decipher, but very few EVER quested for it, and within my tenure as Guardian none have attained it, not even myself."
"What are the requirements?" Tommy asked eagerly.
"A few lines that are inscribed within the Temple walls," Dulcea said succinctly and then recited.
"Prove yourself as a Warrior of Spirit and your Path will lead you higher.
Walk further into the light of the Great Power but beware.
One alone in the Power will not have the strength to hold it.
Only those that have known deep loss can stand the gain.
For those that would Master the Great Power must first have Mastered themselves
Only to them will the Signs be shown and the Choice given."
She smiled. "Cryptic enough, huh?" she said, looking at their rapt faces.
"But ... what does it mean?" Kat asked, frowning.
Dulcea shook her head. "I am not sure of all of it ... but I do know that you HAD to have lost or given up the Powers to be considered eligible."
"Well ... that wasn't so hard ..." Rocky said with a wry grin. "That's all of us here for a start."
"Joke not, young ape," Dulcea said seriously. "Humans are in the minority for being able to give up the Powers with so little distress. It is a rare and unusual ranger who has managed to do so and stay sane, or live." Billy, Trini and Skye nodded, backing up her statement. The Rangers of Earth looked surprised.
"It's true," Kerrin, the Phantom Ranger, said. "I'm not so badly off with the gem sustaining my life ... if I lost the Powers I would die. Phaedosians do not adapt well to losing the Great Power."
"Aside from us ..." Billy gestured around the room, "there are perhaps a handful of other Ninjetti Spirit Warriors who could be presented as Candidates for a Master Ninjetti Quest on that criterion alone."
"We need that edge," Jason spoke up. "Anything is better than nothing."
Billy nodded. He cleared his throat. "Also ... it became evident that the Nid-hi and the Darkness Visible have not gleaned some vital piece of information from the Council of the Wise. There is a definite implication that the Zha'Kha-rhee'aa is searching for something specific that the Council of the Wise know about ... but maybe because we have Dulcea they do not have all the information they need."
"How do you know that?" Adam interrupted suddenly.
Billy looked down. "I was ... asked for that information," he said. He swallowed slightly. "I don't want to discuss it right now." He gently pushed the enquiry away. Billy's teammates exchanged worried looks as the Wolf Ninjetti continued. "This means the task of getting the Council of the Wise back has escalated in importance back to the top of the list. We have to know what the Darkness Visible is actually after if it is not just galactic conquest. We have to choose what battles to fight if we are to stand a chance of survival."
"Don't you think we haven't been trying to find them all?" Andros said a little shortly, a little sensitive at the implication that they had not found the abducted Mentors. "We don't know where they are!"
Phantom looked around, his alien green eyes glittering brightly. "But I do ..." he said in the silence that descended. "That was where they caught me and twisted me out of phase so I couldn't touch, speak, whatever ... they will think me nullified. Or at least the trail will be fresh. But I can lead you to where I tried to rescue the Wise."
And was thwarted by betrayal - do I say that? Best that they do not know yet; I have no proof, just instinct. Kerrin stopped short of saying it all. After all, if there was one traitor, could there not be more? He looked suspiciously at the young Ninjetti hovering near Dulcea. Why would he be so close? He narrowed his cool gaze at the Red Lion, resolving to observe him closely.
The AstroRangers babbled excitedly, wanting to rush off after Zordon immediately.
"Listen ... settle down!" Billy said with a quiet authority in his voice that penetrated through the excitement. Trini and Skye were used to how he had changed, but the others were not and there were a few stunned expressions at him taking control of the situation. "We do not have the power to rescue them as we are, Spirit Warrior Ninjetti or not. After Phantom ... Kerrin's incursion, the Council of the Wise will be guarded by the Nid-hi. I suspect that there is more than one Master of the Great Power among their number, even if the Silver Nid-hi is the most dangerous." Billy's mind drifted back involuntarily to that moment when they had met eye to eye and fear had stolen away a chance of understanding.
Trini covered his lapse in concentration smoothly. "As such ... we need to quest for the next levels of the Ninjetti Power as soon as we can - THEN we go after Zordon."
The AstroRangers looked a little uncertain, but eventually agreed. Andros sighed. "I guess that is wise, but this had better be done swiftly because the Alliance of Evil is starting to strike again at key worlds. There are many refugees in space, looking for a sanctuary of some kind ... I guess they will be heading for Phaedos. The rumours have it that only the wielders of the Great Power can protect them from the coming Evil ... and that is the home of the Ninjetti, after all."
Dulcea looked thoughtful. "I believe it may be time to activate the fleet of Allies that you have made during your quest and summon the Ninjetti to Phaedos. Those who are able will quest for the Master Powers. There is no more room for preparation, for night has fallen and the Darkness comes stalking."
She looked around at the assembled group of Ninjetti and Rangers and declared in a strong, uncompromising voice,
"The War begins NOW!"