Disclaimer: Yet again, all of the Power Rangers and other stuff that is recognisable belongs to Sabanbut there is a fair amount in this one that you won't have seen before so I guess that belongs to me. The timing will become obvious when you read the fic, but it might be an idea to read a couple of the preceding fics in the series to see how we got here. Hope you like it! Enjoy!
It seemed like no one had called him for days. Jason padded around the house restlessly. It was over. Finally, it was over with Emily. The spark had never blossomed into anything more than a warm glow and though he cared for her, both of them eventually realised it was not going to go any further than the level they had reached. He hadn't seen the others for ages. He wasn't even sure if they knew about what had been happening with him, that he had broken up with Emily. After letting go of the Gold Ranger Powers that had nearly destroyed him he drifted apart from them all and surrounded himself in a cocoon of isolation. It came down to the fact that they had that something in their lives he did not any more, that's all there was to it. Somehow, somehow it seemed worse this time because he had no one to talk to about the Powerloss. The first time it had hurt them all to give up the Power, but being able to talk to Trini and Zack who understood, helped them conquer the nightmares, the craving for the Power and in time he had adjusted largely due to their support. This time, there was no-one to draw him out of the instinctive need to draw away from contact, and his uncharacteristic behaviour had eventually proved too much of a strain between him and Emily. In the final row she had speculated loudly that he must have been on some sort of drugs and was suffering moodswings due to it; she couldn't have been more wrong, and yet in someways more right.
The phone rang making him jump. He padded over to answer it, face already in a scowl of annoyance.
"Scott residence." he answered curtly. He wasn't in the mood for conversation.
"Jason?" a distant sounding female voice asked.
"Kim?" he replied hesitantly placing the voice after a moment.
"Yes, that'll be me...I glad you remember who I am." Kim said with teasing sarcasm.
"Oh...a subtle hint huh?" Jason said almost laughing for the first time in ages. "You're a fine one to talk. When was the last time you came home huh?"
When had been the last time he had seen Kim? It seemed like forever. She had left to return to the Panglobals training not long after Billy and Skye had gone and rarely had time to make it back to Angel Grove, though she seized every opportunity that came to see Tommy. Winning a Panglobal gold medal was still her dream despite all that had happened to her four or five months before.
Kim sighed audibly down the phone. "The Panglobals are only a matter of months away. I don't have time....I had to make up for all the time I missed when I came home...when I was sick." She avoided even now using the word dying; she didn't like to be reminded of what she had been through. As she frequently said after the fact, she liked to focus on what she had, now, not what she had nearly lost then.
"Missing Tommy yeah?" Jason asked trying to fathom the reason for her strange depressed tone.
There was a pause "Yes and no...he's pretty busy too." she admitted "and to be honest I need some time to think."
Jason was shocked. Not a problem between those two after all they had been through? "About you and Tommy?" he asked dreading an answer.
"No, no....nothing is wrong there, aside from the fact I feel like we are barely touching each others lives at the moment...no...it's the Panglobals." Kim's voice was subdued.
Jason could hear her sigh again. "What's the problem?" he asked concerned.
She hesitated before replying "...I'm not good enough Jason..." She said heavily. She cut through his automatic reassurances "No...no seriously, I'm not. I don't have the something extra for my routine that makes a good gymnast something special. I need to find that inside of me, and I just can't do it!" Her voice sounded really strained.
"Whoa there..look how about a bit of time just away from it all?" Jason suggested pushing forward a plan he had been too depressed to do alone, but for Kim's sake he would try it. "Give you time to relax and get your thoughts together and back into perspective."
He shook his head to himself silently. He couldn't even imagine the sort of pressure they had been putting Kim under to get her into this state. She had faced Space Villains, monsters and all without the stress getting to her in the way it was doing now.
"What did you have in mind?" she sounded intrigued despite herself.
"I was planing to do some scuba diving to take my mind off of things this weekend; you wanna join me?" It should have been Emily and him, a special treat he had planned until they had split up a few days ago; it would be a shame to waste it.
Kim hesitated briefly. "Well...Tommy I guess is busy with that charity tournament, as are the others. He had to call off our date because of it, and it was one of the only weekends I could get back here before the Panglobals begin." She sounded a little put out at that. Jason had heard about the competition but didn't intend to go, as there would be too many questions about Emily and the break up and...ah, man it would be terrible.
"No reason why you shouldn't go." Jason prodded, sure she just needed to get away from the training for a while, and for selfish reasons he would like the company of one of his oldest friends who was no longer a Ranger.
"Okay then, sure." she agreed suddenly, feeling relieved almost immediately.
Jason grinned. "Trust me Kim, it's the most relaxing thing in the worldyou'll love it!"
"Well, I guess as I don't have a fish phobia I'll be fine" She replied sounding brighter. There was a pause as their thoughts moved in the same direction.
"I wonder how Billy is getting on?"
Billy crouched behind one of the dune ridges blinking at the dust flickering in his eyes as he scanned the level desert salt pans below him. A large golden tiger padded up behind him silently and gave him a playful swat on the behind. He lost his balance and fell face first into the sand dune. There was a shimmer of yellow gold light and Trini was kneeling with an impish grin on her face right behind him. She helped him up.
Skye senses life formspotential Ninjetti in those salt pans. She mindspoke I see nothing but rock.
Billy smiled at her. He hasn't been wrong so far. Where is he?
The three of them made an effective team, especially as it had soon become evident that the Star Crystal Ninjetti could pick out suitable candidates from the sense he received from their minds. Trini was particularly good at keeping them focused and together, which was a godsend because Billy was all too aware that he tended to get distracted sometimes. And with Trini around in close proximity that might as well be all the time. Where was Skye anyway?
I'm over here by these rock spires...well debris actually, the Star Ninjetti's mindvoice came through sharp and bright.
Billy looked up in concern. That was all the way down across the shimmering salt flat, a fair distance away.
Skye, you should wait for us to be there with you!
Though they had been through this sort of thing numerous times, they were still conscious of Skye comparative physical weakness. He did not have the speed healing of the Ninjetti, though he could consciously activate healing with the help of the Star Crystal. They couldn't help being a little overprotective of him.
Both of the Ninjetti of one accord flashed into their animal forms and sped over the windblown sands, able to pinpoint Skye easily as the one familiar smell on this burning desert world. Reaching his side they shifted back to human form. Their white-haired friend stood frowning as tried to pinpoint the feelings he was receiving through the Star Crystal.
"Now what?" Billy asked of the artist "Trini says you sense potential Ninjetti?"
"True enough...only I'm not entirely sure where they are, just that they are near." Skye shrugged. He could sense the others disapproval that he had gone forward alone and tried not to let it bother him.
"What if there was something hostile here?" Trini asked sharply. She hated it when he scared her like that.
"Then I would have sensed it." Skye replied as confidently as possible.
"But..." Billy began with a concerned frown, and Skye let a flash of irritation break through.
"Hey look, who was the one who walked into the Web fungus in the forests of Marav and had to be cut out by the Marav Rangers?" Skye pointed out, half joking, half-serious.
Billy looked flustered.
"Or got stung by the butterfly-scorpions on Thek?"
Trini opened her mouth to retort and paused. "Let's not get into this again...okay point taken, you have been pretty good at avoiding danger, but we've all had our moments. For the sake of our nerves Skye, please tell us what you are doing!"
Skye grinned "Yes mother," he teased.
"And you can cut that out too!" Trini ordered mildly piqued. "We don't have time to mess around!"
They had been to a vast array of worlds even in the months that they had been travelling and had had to learn fast. Some trips had been really successful, others, a complete loss but the mission was progressing and time was vanishing far too swiftly. They could not afford to pass up any sign of Ninjetti, however faint. On this planet though, that appeared to consist of sand and black rocks that clumped together in regular intervals, those signs were very faint indeed. If they didn't trust Skye's instincts they would have just dropped the Zebeedee's and continued on their way.
Billy pulled out a portable scanner and began assessing the area. They were standing in the lee of a dark cliff, edging a glittering white sand basin or salt pan. A little way away from the shadow of the cliff was a circle of black rocks wavering in the heat. Billy raised his eyebrows at the readouts sparkling in front of him. He brushed back his Ninjetti hood revealing his blonde hair.
Skye chuckled softly.
"What?" Trini asked.
"Sorry....it just occurred to me that Billy looks like a high tech Lawrence of Arabia." Skye grinned. Trini twitched a smile in amusement.
"What's the verdict, effendi?" she called out and received a short laugh in reply.
"Well if these readings are correct, we are standing on something like a zord bay." Billy said smiling to himself; he guessed they did look like extra's from a desert movie with their Ninjetti hoods wrapped around their faces and heads like turbans. Calling on his enhanced wolf senses he could "smell" a slight variation in the air with artificial vividness. He reached out and found the crack of a concealed entrance. It did not take long to find the control device and trigger it.
"Entrance mechanism," he murmured aloud.
Trini nodded calmly. Her tiger-senses told her a similar story to that which Billy had picked up, but also that this place had been the site of a massive firefight. Some sort of last stand maybe, the rocks look like they had been scorched by intense heat..
She turned to ask Skye what his impressions were only to see him eyes wide with shock as if he couldn't breathe.
"Skye?" She called out worried. The rigour lifted from his face abruptly.
"You okay?" She called. That was very odd, she had never seen him do that before.
"Fineyeahfine" he said dazed.
The rumbling of large machinery interrupted them. Billy grinned with success.
"We're in!" he announced triumphantly
"In where?" asked Trini with a questioning gaze, peering into the blackness descending away from them, made even more impenetrable by the brightness and intensity of the sun around them. The shade in itself was very appealing.
"I have no idea" Billy admitted "But time to find out."
They entered the dark interior, with Trini and Billy having no problem owing to their Ninjetti animal spirit enhanced senses and Skye just sensed his way using the Star crystal. Eventually they entered a large chamber that was strangely familiar in design and layout.
"It looks a bit like... the Original Command Centre." Trini said, her voice resounding in the large dark room. There was a strange stone column in the centre of the chamber that appeared to be etched with a sun like design which reminded her of Zordon's Tube in shape and size, but not in substance. Her gaze halted on a strange feature; there appeared to be large oval indentation in the centre of the design. There was obviously something missing that was meant to slot neatly into that gap. Trini traced the design with her sensitive fingers. Interesting. Her fingers ran across something polished as opposed to rough and she discovered a small smooth oval in a crevice on the pillar. She pried it loose with a little difficulty and dropped it into her hand to look at it. It appeared to be a bright glowing stone with a ruby red sun like heart
"Billy?" she called fascinated by the way the light moved and burned inside the little sunstar stone.
"Interesting." Billy commenting, his eyes aglow at the new discovery. He scanned it swiftly. "It has very high energy readings- it actually is not a stone, it appears to be a life-form of some type."
Billy investigated the column further and found hidden away five other of the "Sunstar" organisms, each a slightly different shade of red through to yellow.
"None of them fit the "lock" ..." Trini pointed out. The comparisons between the shape were undeniable.
"What do you make of it?" she handed the deep ruby red one to Skye still concerned about his uncharacteristic lapses a few moments before. As it glowed in his hand the Star Crystal around the Star Ninjetti's neck radiated in response. Skye seemed to snap out of his absent-mindedness and frowned as he gazed into the stone.
"He's onto something" Trini said recognising the look and relieved he seemed to be more himself. The ruby seemed to be drawing strength from the crystal.
"Power readings are increasing," Billy reported raising an eyebrow. Whatever these things were they were powerful. He and Trini collected the others and dropped them one by one into Skye's hands to see what would happen. The effulgence increased greatly.
"Skye?" questioned Trini tentatively a little worried at the pile of what looked like glowing hot coals in his hands.
"Mind telling us what is going on?"
"They are...waking up...listen!" Skye opened his mental blocks and reached out with the Star Crystal and Trini and Billy both heard a sound that best equated to the song of dawn rising over the desert, stirring the haunting breeze and the dance of the ever-shifting sands. There was an undeniable sense of yearning that tugged at the heartstrings, a sense of loneliness.
"They want something" Trini breathed, her words echoing in the still chamber.
"Yes." Skye answered shortly and turned suddenly and began to work purposefully to the surface. The two Ninjetti exchanged glances and followed swiftly.
They all squinted as they burst out into the harsh sunlight once again. Skye walked towards the circle of standing stones. He stopped. Trini stood behind him
We are watched, her tigerspirit growled. But by what? There was nothing but stones....but if her tiger spirit said they were watched then they were, and if there was nothing here but stone then it must be the stones doing the watching! Excited she shared her insight with Billy who immediately began inspecting one of the nearer stones in more detail. Sure enough, near its crown, there was a smooth oval patch on its otherwise congealed lava like exterior.
He reached out for one of the Sunstars in his friend's hands and his wolfspirit indicated the bright gold one. Billy gently took the little creature and experimentally pushed it into the oval niche. There was a penetrating hum, and they all suddenly flinched as golden light burned illuminating the inside of the rock. The crust flaked away and a large reptilian biped stretched out and roared, it's scales patterned and gleaming in rich colours, its eyes glowing clear liquid gold. The sunstar oval glittered alive and vital in its forehead as it stretched, towering over the humans by nearly a foot, and displaying a frightening array of bright needle white teeth. It wore little in the way of apparel save some sort of open tunic top marked with the same stylised sun design they had seen on the pillar in the Chamber below. The creature dropped back into a defensive stance as the Ninjetti stood frozen in surprise at what their actions had brought forth. It turned aggressively to face them.
"You are friends?" it asked its tail lashing in agitation. It looked very much prepared for the answer to be "no".
"We are of the Ninjetti..." Trini replied soothingly and then inspiration lead her to add "...and were once Power Rangers of Earth"
Hearing that introduction, the reptilian creature seemed to calm a little and dropped its guard somewhat.
"I am Sisthaa of the Drakin, Sunstar Ranger." announced the strange being formally.
It turned and caught sight of the remaining Sunstars in Skye's hands and with a sibilant hiss of recognition, scooped them up in it's six fingered hands and with astonishing speed and agility bounded to each rock and placed the appropriate one on each stone.
"Close your eyes!" Billy shouted in warning, suddenly realising what would happen when they all became active at once. Even so, the light from the resulting flash was impressive. Their eyes smarted and when they looked up they were surrounded by a dazed group of large reptilian creatures, the smallest of whom was taller than Billy. They were all marked with surprisingly vivid scale patterns in colours ranging from deep reads to pale cream yellow and half of them appeared to have golden eyes, the others, intense green. They all were marked one way or another with the stylised sun symbol and looked to be a fearsome set of warriors. If they turned out to be hostile then the three Ninjetti would have a problem.
Lets' just hope that they like Ninjetti, Trini mindspoke to the others nervously.
Yeah, agreed Skye and then added with a grin, and not just as a main course!
Billy was astonished. They had assumed that the plight of the Sunstar Rangers had been due to an enemy attack, which it was in a way, but not how they thought.
"So you are saying that C'haal, your mentor petrified the ENTIRE population of Drakan into stone?" asked Billy in surprise.
He had also been surprised to hear there was a large population on Drakan. It just hadn't shown up as the entire place appeared to be in the equivalent of induced fossilisation. It appeared that the black rock formations they had detected were in fact inhabitants and buildings encased in protective stone. The fact that a majority of the planet surface appeared to be scorching hot desert also had not boded well for life being wide spread and they had assumed the potential for allies on this world to be slight. Not for the first time Billy berated himself for basing his thinking on the limits of life that occurred on Earth.
"Yessss...it was necessary." Rislarr replied slightly defensively. They obviously cared a great deal for their mentor, and were quite sensitive to any implied criticism.
Sisthaa looked up. "He took the Great Sunstar and invoked its Power to save us all from the attacks of the Barox, who pulse bombed the planet." She explained.
She looked down seemingly upset. "J'shaar was to be the only one left. He was to take the Great Sunstar and return after the bombings to wake us. But as we underwent the process we were attackedit was too late to stop, and J'shaar would have been left facing the Barox alone." The tiny fine scales beneath her eyes turned blackish purple with grief and she turned away.
No prizes for guessing that they were a couple, Billy mindspoke. Trini nearly nodded.
Hthiss, the smallest Drakin of the group said quietly "J'shaar is ...was our leader."
Nodding in mute sympathy, the Ninjetti spirit warriors expressed their understanding of their loss through Skye's projection of thoughts.
"Without the Great Sunstar, we cannot invoke our Powers as Rangers," explained Othiss "And it is required to free our planet, though I know not how we may combat this problem without our Powers or our leader and mentor."
"But we can still fight!" Faal hissed fiercely "Though it means the end of us all, we will fight this evil." There was a rumble of agreement from her team-mates.
"It is possible..." Billy began, mulling through some thoughts, "That if the Barox have the Great Sunstar they may have captured J'shaar as well. He may be alive." It was a faint chance but mercenaries might believe they would get more for a live Power Ranger than a dead one. If they were still on the planet then there was a possibility they were holding him captiveif he had survives the initial conflict.
Sisthaa looked up her golden eyes clear once again and alive with a faint hope.
"We will help you to recover the Great Sunstar, if you desire our help." continued Billy, pushing his advantage. "What we ask is that you consider an alliance between your people and that of the Ninjetti."
The six Sunstar Rangers exchanged glances. Sisthaa said eventually "C'haal would usually make that sort of decision....but I think we would agree. We would make whatever alliance with the Ninjetti that they would desire."
The three Ninjetti exulted. The Drakin would be strong allies and would make good Spirit Warriors - if they could just free them all from their protective cocoons of stone.
"Then let us make plans." Trini stated with calm authority and as the sunset blazed over the dunes in a spectacular array of colours, the Ninjetti and Drakin Rangers prepared for battle.
Half way through the battle planning session, Skye suddenly and inexplicably began to feel claustrophobic, as if he couldn't or shouldn't breathe. His vision blurred. There was a sense of pressure around him, a sense of the pressure of water surrounding him - which was crazy! he was sitting in the middle of a desert with parched lips!
I'm losing it, he muttered to himself. The panic became overwhelming, a desperation to breathe, a compelling need not tolungs burning, ears aching, staining upwards towards air...got to swim faster, faster...got to get away....
"Skye?" Trini prodded him. He explosively inhaled, gasping.
"Oh...my...god..." he heaved breathlessly.
"What on earth is wrong?" Trini asked concerned. The white-haired artist shook his head in confusion.
"I'm losing it....I'm really losing it..." he said "It felt like...like I was drowning." There, it sounded doubly ridiculous now he had said it.
"What is drowning?" asked Othiss curiously. Explaining the concept of asphyxiation by water to a species whose home planet regarded the phenomenon of rain as a freak occurrence caused a few linguistic problems, but eventually they reached an understanding. Skye desperately tried to shrug the incident off, making light of it.
"I'm probably not used to the heat," he said. The last thing he want was their potential allies to think they had a lunatic in their midst.
Hthiss laughed, a rasping sound like a cough. "This is our 'winter' season. It is to us...somewhat cold."
At that the Ninjetti laughed. "I would love you guys to see snow," Billy said "Maybe if you become Ninjetti Spirit Warriors and all this is over, you might visit Earth and we'll show you oceans and snow...as well as our own deserts. You might like them."
Skye sighed relieved that the issue had been brushed aside and concentrated on preparing for their dawn assault against the mountain base of the Barox.
This was something that Skye never got used to, being the dead weight of the team. They had been doing this for a good few months now and it hadn't got any better. Every single time battle loomed he felt like he was hindering them, and lord knows it had loomed often enough to make this feeling the rule as opposed to the exception. He knew that Billy and Trini were protective of him and though he appreciated the sentiment he was independent enough to get irritated by it every now and then. He ended up apologising after nearly every battle because he felt guilty they had to put themselves at risk to cover his back. It had happened often enough, and there had been times with each of them that they had experienced damage they shouldn't have if they hadn't protected him. They couldn't lie and say that they didn't have to make allowances but what they usually pointed out was how useful his other abilities were. Great. But now it had to be said it seemed like those oh so wonderful abilities were messing up. His only strength a liability. He didn't dare tell them exactly how unsettled he felt. Sensations were plaguing him from out of nowhere, strange bizarre feelings....cold water, sound of waves...sand, wet sand. Crashing on a shore...spears. There was no explanation for it, no sane explanation anyway.
They had used WolfZord to do a local teleport to the foot of the mountains where the Barox bounty hunters had their base and presumably the Great Sunstar. Skye rolled his eyes as the Drakin leapt from rock to rock in incredible bounds. Trini and Billy out of courtesy to him remained in their human shape. A nice gesture. He sighed. Oh for the Ninjetti agility that was meant to go with the powers. But then he was a Star Crystal Ninjetti, an honorary title at best. Up the rocks he scrambled to the best of his ability. Battle was approaching and it wouldn't do to be late. His bad leg cramped painfully, but he gritted his teeth refusing to be a major liability. He finally arrived to find the other staring intently at the scene before them. They crouched behind the rock looking down at the back entrance to the mountain headquarters seemingly unattended.
Skye sensed forward. Hmm, there were minds down there tucked away in the shadows.. Two guards, he mindspoke to the others.
Billy and Trini nodded and silently indicated to the Drakin that they would flank the guards and that they must be ready to move. As they had planned, Billy and Trini grinned at each other and shimmered into their animal forms, speeding silently out of sight through the rocks and efficiently took out the mercenary guards. The Sunstar Rangers silently jumped from their concealment and with reptile swiftness charged up through the tunnel corridor devastating the guards as Skye, lagging a little behind thought scanned forward and warned them all of their relative positions.
"So far so good," Sisthaa hissed in a whisper as they paused briefly. She was eager to continue, and looked surprised they had made it this far without much in the way of a problem.
Billy and Trini nodded. Practice, practice and more practice had made this sort of thing almost second nature. They had to prove themselves for a pastime whilst trying to convince an ally or Ninjetti Candidates. With Skye warning them and the capabilities of their Spirit Armour they had become almost expert. They signalled to move out ,once again confident they were in control of the situation.
Skye, at the back of the group preparing for the next mindsweep suddenly felt an incredible surge of panic rise up from inside of him that completely destroyed his thought-focus.
Heat, heat... Images...Tommy, Kat, the rangers.. a cave. A strange woman, with a mask and a streak of purple hair, a fight...fear....
Suddenly overwhelmed, he missed the ambush of guards waiting for them. Didn't warn them that there was a trap because there was a strange emotion drenched vision clouding his mind.
As Trini, Ethaas, Othiss and Faal lead the charge, a pit yawned opened beneath their running feet, letting them slide abruptly away into darkness. Billy with Wolf reflexes, though unable to stop running, leapt the chasm as did the remaining Sunstar rangers Sisthaa, Rislarr and Hthiss . They cleared the pit and cannoned straight into a group of bounty hunters in what appeared to be the centre of operations.
Billy cursed. This was not turning out well, he should have known better than to get confident. Why hadn't Skye warned them about the trap? That was what he did! And Trini, what had happened to Trini?. The only thing he was sure of was that he would know if something had happened to her. Small comfort at this point in time. Enemies were pouring in all around him seemingly unending.
"Blue Wolf Ninjetti Spirit Armour now" He commanded urgently and prepared for the unequal battle before him.
Trini, as they slipped down the chute towards lord knows what trap, used all her training and skill to focus her mind to a point of calm and shifted into her tiger form. With an excruciating sound of claws screaming down sheet metal, she slowed their tumbling bodies enough for them to guide their descent towards one of the other levels and ledges rather than the fire below them. In an intricate series of moves, she and the other Drakin Sunstar Rangers managed to hook themselves all out of the chute and into the cramped rock tunnel. It was a tight squeeze for a large tiger and three sizeable Drakin Rangers but with a fair amount of pushing and pulling they eventually saw a point of light that was the tunnels' end. Finally, all breathing heavily they emerged into a dark chamber with caged off sections. Trini-Tiger shook herself and became Trini once again. It had taken her a while to master the shape change but she had never been so glad of mastering a skill in her life as she was now.
"That was too close..." she said, thankful for their escape but eager to move on. "We have got to get back up and help the others.!" Billy, dammit...on his own against all those warriors!. Why hadn't Skye warned them?
"This is true" replied Ethass. "It is fortunate that you have claws in that other form." His emerald eyes appeared awed at her ability to shape change.
Trini was about to reply when a flicker of movement caught her eye. She whirled instinctively into a defensive stance.
"Ethass?" a rasping voice said quietly.
The Drakin looked astonished and all of them rushed forward. Trini took this to mean that they probably recognised the captive. Let me see... she thought to herself impatiently, Two guesses....
"J'shaar? Is that you?" Faal cried out.
We do not have time for this! her tigerspirit warned urgently. Something is wrong above, it feels wrong.
Trini felt a rush of fear at her animal spirits words. If is said something was wrong, it met something very wrong. Her tigerspirit usually shrugged off their battles as mere play.
A ragged figure, staggered to its feet in one of the cages. "Faal? Othiss?...I thought...I thought I was dreaming your voices."
Trini saw a pathetically thin and ill looking Drakin limp towards them longingly, yet still not believing what he saw. The three Sunstar Rangers looked at their leader in horror and of one accord the Sunstars in their foreheads blazed and the lock snapped on the cage and the door swung open. Trini could then see that the Drakins' hands were manacled behind him and that some sort of metal band was around his forehead.
Now, my cub, we must move NOW! her Tigerspirit demanded and she gritted her teeth and barged in on their emotional reunion feeling like an unfeeling monster to get them moving swiftly to save the others.
"I'm sorry, but there is time enough for reunions when we have found the others...we must move now!" she ordered, and without waiting to see if they were following her lead began to run quickly ever upwards through labyrinthine tunnels towards where she sensed the presence of Billy. As soon as the Drakin had freed their leader's hands they followed, caught up in her urgency.
Skye staggered towards the sounds of battle, over the spot where the pit had been, seeing an entirely different scene before his eyes that over shadowed the reality around him. It was getting more intense by the moment. Still, he staggered into the cavern where Billy and the three Drakin Sunstar Rangers were fighting for their lives against a horde of bounty hunters and space mercenaries. Almost immediately on entering the fray he was hit, and collapsed, more disabled by the vision of absolute horror playing out in his mind than the blast.
Billy leapt up at an ugly black and red warrior being , that appeared to have teeth or claws all over it's body, who seemed to be the leader of the group. The creature swung out a sword from nowhere and despite his mid-air acrobatics he received a powerful hit for his trouble. It flung him across the room and he bounced off the rock wall with a painful yelp escaping his lips. Thinking his foe defeated the dark mercenary laughed and left himself unprepared for the blur of wolf-speed and the dangerous flash of spirit claws that raked his side painfully. As he fell, the wolf warrior was mobbed by a group of his best bounty hunters. The Sunstar Rangers were faring no better again the massive force attacking them and were fighting a losing battle without the ability to call on their full powers. It was only a matter of time before the Barox gained the upper hand.
Their assault team had been momentarily overwhelmed, and the last strike had caused the wolf Ninjetti to spontaneously unmorph. Vulnerable and bleeding Billy rolled over to face the leader of the bounty hunters who stalked towards him in anticipation.
"You fought well," he said glorying in his triumph, "but no-one strikes Darkonda and does not pay." The bounty hunter frowned. There was no fear in this one's face. He turned and glanced at the other human and made towards him and was gratify to see panic in the wolf warriors blue eyes. The white haired human was conscious although appeared paralysed by fear, his eyes wide and staring whilst his body shook with terror.
"Look at this one..." Darkonda called out to the other mercenaries. "Pale and frozen with fear...and they thought they could raid us!"
The other members of the Barox laughed appreciatively as their leader dragged the beaten Ninjetti up by his clothes and dangled him mid-air. He watched the Wolf Warrior for a reaction and was pleased to see concern in the weakling human's expression. He shook Skye like a rag doll and laughed as Billy tried to struggle to his feet, only to be kicked down again by one of the mercenaries.
"Noooooooo...noooo...oh god no!" cried out Skye in a voice of genuine panic. Darkonda laughed again; this one was far too easy to break. He wondered briefly why the Earth humans had such a reputation throughout the Galaxy. They must have got lucky when they destroyed the Ooze.
Billy couldn't believe it. Skye, whilst the first to admit he was scared, was not one to scream in terror at a threat. Quite the opposite, he usually became very quiet as if hoping that the threat would ignore him. There was something very strange going on. Darkonda raised his weapon to destroy the Star Crystal Ninjetti when Skye suddenly cried out again.
"No! the lava! The LAVA!"
As Darkonda looked at his victim in confusion, the Star Crystal Ninjetti let out a despairing horrible scream and went rigid in his grasp. Darkonda dropped him to the floor ready to blast him and be done with it. He had a bad feeling about this, maybe it was a distraction so the Wolf warrior could jump him and destroy him. Best to finish the dangerous one first then deal with this strange weakling human. Making a decision he turned to finish the wolf warrior and found himself inexplicably unable to press the trigger. The expression on the Wolf warriors' face went from surprised triumph to horror.
"NO." a commanding voice said behind him. A voice that sent shivers down even Darkonda's spine. He turned to see that pathetic excuse for a human standing, eyes like fresh blood radiating such evil that it chilled even him. There was a strange flickering presence around him as if he was sharing the same space with a monstrous form of lava.
"You will not kill this one." Skye's possessed voice rumbled. "He is a prize, he is a true Ninjetti as is his mate."
Darkonda shrank back "Dark Spectre?" he questioned. There was only one who matched that strange impression of evil and magma form though he was reputed to be huge. That elicited a hollow laugh.
"Is that what my brother calls himself now? You serve that weakling fool? Time was when he was known only as brother to Maligore, with no worlds to call him conqueror." Skye said with harsh derision in his voice.
"I serve no one....my skill is for hire," Darkonda said proudly. He had no Master, he had only clients, those which paid highly for his services and who he selected carefully for the power they could bring him. The possessed human snorted in derision at his bravado.
"All creatures serve ME!" bellowed the presence of Maligore. "ON YOUR KNEES!"
He swept his arm across the room and without their volition the entire crowded chamber were compelled to drop to their knees.
"You serve me now!" said Maligore irrevocably and it was not even a demand, just a statement of an unpleasant fact. "Why are you here?" he asked another trembling mercenary.
"We were hired by Master Vile to subdue the population so they could mine the rare Lassin metal. I...I do not know why..." choked out the Barox bounty hunter. He had fought hideous beasts and survived conflict time and time again and none of them filled him with the same amount of fear as this being.
Maligores' presence scoffed. "They all play the game to be first in line when the One returns....A gift of real Ninjetti warriors to the One to wreck his vengeance upon would mean more than weapons or wealth. Even in my dark sleep I hear It approach. My brother no doubt would torture them or kill them if he had them, hating them as does the One. A waste. He always was blind to the obvious opportunity sometimes."
Skye stalked over towards where Billy was lying wonder what the hell was going on. The Wolf Ninjetti looked up at his friend and saw nothing of him there in those malice filled blood-eyes.
"UP! Now." Ordered the Maligore presence. The Star Crystal flared exerting a twisted compulsion to obey.
Inside of him Billy's wolf-spirit growled and snarled at the Star Crystal Ninjetti, hackles raised.
Wolf-enemy, pack-destroyer, cub-killer.... it snapped, but Billy was helpless to stop himself from rising to his feet. He stared into the scarlet eyes willing Skye to come back calling out to him with his mind ignoring the growls and threats of his wolf-spirit.
Fight it Skye, I know you can....fight it, for me, for Trini, for all the Sunstar Rangers... he mindspoke urgently.
"Stop that!" Skye's voice said sharply. He tightened his hand on empty space and Billy began to choke, feeling a phantom hand close about his windpipe. "I rule this one's body, as I rule the ones given to me through the fire. Three for the price of two...what beautiful irony."
Billy scrabbled at his throat, trying to free himself from the invisible grip that was asphyxiating him, his thoughts fragmenting under the pressure to survive, to breathe.
"Skye! Skye please..." he choked out. His vision began to swim and fade as he was starved of oxygen.
The Maligore presence laughed. "He thinks you might be the key...did you know that? Pathetic. He has no idea of what approaches, that you or any of you might stand against it. Still, if he is correct then I will certainly be above Dark Spectre, or any of those others fighting for position. There is no way you can win." He laughed, a deep alien laugh that filled the wolf Ninjetti with fear for more than his own precarious hold on life.
He released the stranglehold and Billy gasped for breath convulsively, dropping to his knees heaving and coughing.... All around him, Drakin Rangers and mercenaries alike were poised on the edge of moving, struggling against that which held them locked in position. Skye/Maligore gestured and a painful energy wrapped around him like a snake binding him tight in glowing black and red coils of fire and shadow. Struggling, Billy pleaded with Skye once again in his mind, sending his thoughts as loudly and insistently as possible, but the more he moved the tighter the energy squeezed. For a moment he thought he saw a flicker of recognition, the lava form impression faded somewhat and the bonds loosened. Heartened, he tried again and caught the tail end of a strange vision.
Jason and Tommy fighting....Jason with blood red eyes...her own opponent, Kat pleading with her, her filled with hatred for her. I am Maligore's child....repeating over and over in her mind. A fight a long and bloody fight and she was losing....It could not be that she was losing...! The hold was beginning to break....
Skye shook his head obviously conscious of the vision. "No! Fight my Children! Fight! We cannot be defeated...it is Written!" Seeming somewhat desperate he turned and gestured to Darkonda indicating the Sunstar Rangers.
"Destroy these lizards, I have no use for them."
Darkonda unwilling to risk his own hide by defying him turned to issue the order when suddenly another Ninjetti, golden and bright, somersaulted into the chamber and it erupted into chaos.
Trini had never been so furious in her entire life. As she finally approached the chamber and could hear voices, it was Skye who she could hear. Skye turned evil. No wonder he led them into a trap! What was he doing to Billy? Choking him? Killing him? She needed to free Billy, she needed him to be safe with all of her being. She was afraid that she would lose control of her anger and fail him somehow but she could not deny the rage building within. She fought to supress that instinct but that only seemed to make it worse.
Patience, young one, channel that energy into a focussed force, said the tigerspirit in her mind, I will show you now the power of unleashed energy released through deadly harmony. When you are one with your emotions and yet you are not ruled by them then you have touched the heart of the Tiger; and a tiger dances through the world touching all that it wills with it's Power, and nothing can stop it. Dance the dance of the Tiger, young warrior...let the feeling flow...
And there, suddenly in her mind was that instinct rising to the surface, not a suppression of her feelings, but a harmonisation and active outlet. She leapt into the conflict without waiting for the others and began the deadly Tiger Dance in a blur of golden transcendent light.
Billy could not believe it, Trini moved with a deadly grace that she flowed and burned around the room in lithe incredible movement, devastating their ranks with a touch. He had seen her fight before and she had always moved with a sense of control, of restraint. There was no restraint present here, he was stunned at the way she flowed past through the Barox like an unbridled force. It was if she was not fighting at all but people happen to get defeated as she danced past them, untouched. Leaps and somersault flowed into molten gold Power, a tiger tail of burning light in her wake until she finally came face to face with the Maligore possessed form of Skye.
Trini was transported to another realm of awareness by the Tiger Dance where the world around her seemed less substantial than the glowing gold light that filled and connected everything that she flowed through. It was an intoxicating feeling, at once calm and yet her emotions and instincts running riot. She drew near to Skye and saw on this other level nothing but an overshadowing darkness and the roaring lava shape of Maligore.
Her Tiger spirit reacted with animal rage. A destroyer of spirit! It accused and swept up in the harmonies of the Tiger Dance, she launched a massive burst of Ninjetti energy at the monster, only realising too late that it would also strike the form of her friend. In that horrified realisation, the Tiger Dance fell apart and she was no longer an invulnerable dancing golden light but a warrior who feared she had inadvertently destroyed a friend.
The force of the Ninjetti blast threw Skye backwards as it spent its power on the evil clinging to him. It was enough to make the Maligore presence shriek in horror and lose its grip so that Skye could finally throw it from his mind just before he hit the ground unconscious. The moment he passed out Billy's bonds snapped and he launched into the fray, healed enough to fight back to back with Trini and the Sunstar Rangers. This was too much for the Barox bounty hunters and Darkonda yelled out, "Retreat! We have what we came for...we have fulfilled the contract, now lets get out of here!"
Truth be told he was very disturbed by what had occurred. He had paid little heed to the rumours that had been rippling around the galaxy of the impending return of an immense evil force, but now he was not so sure. If Maligore were out of the picture, maybe he should get himself hired to Dark Spectre. Master Vile was powerful, but he did not have that presence, that compelling evil that had emanated from the possessed human. He had survived this long by knowing who to work for and what side to be on as well as where the money was, and his instincts told him that Dark Spectre was probably the one to be beholden to. And then maybe when the time was right, he would take advantage of that evil being's weaknesses.
He grabbed the Great Sunstar as he ran, only to be cannoned into by the Wolf Ninjetti. Instinctively he threw the large gem at the warrior.
"Take it! I will not waste a life on the likes of you!" He fled by warping space around him and vanishing from sight as Billy staggered back under the weight of the precious object.
Billy got up cradling the Great Sunstar in his arms. It was warm and heavy and felt alive and bursting with Power and none the worse for its rough treatment. He belatedly remembered Skye and Trini's confrontation and limped back to the chamber as fast as he was able. Trini looked up, mortified, as she pulled Skye into a sitting position.
"I couldn't even really see it was him," she said in a guilty rush "All I could see was a great darkness, because I was looking through tiger eyes."
Billy winced as he bent over. His Ninjetti healing had not quite kicked in fully. "I can't see any marks, or injuries." In fact their friend looked as if he was peacefully sleeping.
He will recover in due course, said his wolfspirit softly. A Ninjetti spirit blast should only permanently harm that which is of Evil spirit. That is why we are the ones to fight the great Evil for we can wound it where weapons cannot.
Billy let out a sigh of relief and mentally filed away that interesting bit of information. "He'll be fine," he reassured and in a conscious effort to lighten the tone added. "He's just sleeping on the job."
The pair smiled a little at the shared joke. They both teased Skye about his tendency to fall asleep after utilising his abilities, and after leaving Phaedos he had slept for nearly three whole days before he recovered from the mindbonding that had enabled them to produce the Zord Maintenance Droids so vital to their mission.
The artist shifted and stirred opening his eyes as if emerging from a deep dream and sat bolt upright as the memories of what had occurred overwhelmed him. Those horrible visions and what he had done whilst he screamed behind the presence of Maligore, who would have delighted to have indulged himself by killing his friends slowly and painfully, but who had reluctantly decided they were more valuable alive. That final searing golden fire burst from Trini that had burned through his mind like a cleansing river of molten metal, excruciating but welcome as it cauterised the evil presence from within. What could he say to his friends who he had nearly killed, to those he had caused pain?
"I am so sorry...." Skye said feeling every word weighted with inadequacy. He had nearly killed them both, and all the Drakin Sunstar Rangers. The stupidest thing was that he didn't have a clue how it had happened or whether it might happen again. He could barely look at them he was so ashamed.
"It's okay, you weren't yourself..." Billy said understandingly. "Though I am still trying to figure out what happened myself."
"I guess I should have told you that I was getting strange sensations all the way here." Skye apologised with a guilty look up at his friends.
Trini met his downcast gaze "Yes you should." She replied bluntly, and then seeing his hurt look continued. "It is not weak of you to admit you have a problem. You are not a hindrance to us! I had to put up with enough of that from Billy when we first became Power Rangers!" She glanced slyly over at the Blue Ninjetti and grinned at his discomfiture.
"Let's not go over that again," Billy said going bright red with embarrassment and Skye smiled a little in response to the teasing.
"Listen, the Drakin are waiting for us," Trini finally said. "We best get this Great Sunstar back to their Solar Chamber or whatever they've been calling it."
"Mmm. J'shaar doesn't look so good." Billy muttered. Indeed the leader of the Sunstar Rangers was trying, with the help of his team to take of the metal band restraint around his forehead. Eventually they succeed but to the watching Ninjetti's dismay they all seemed really distressed.
And then Billy saw why; the Sunstar organism seemed grey and lifeless in his forehead.
"I understand now why he couldn't free himself..." Trini whispered. It had concerned her as they had been fighting if he had the power the others displayed then why hadn't he picked the lock or escaped himself. It appeared that his captors had been well versed in his abilities before they imprisoned him.
"It looks like they need the sun to survive" Billy deduced. "Maybe we should get him outside."
The Sunstar Rangers agreed, and they hurried to leave the place of their victory.
Out in the powerful heat of the Drakin daytime, still there seemed no life from the lacklustre sunstar. Sisthaa looked distressed and rested her hand comfortingly on the starved form of their friend and erstwhile leader.
Trini shook here head "I can't stand this, it reminds me so much of when Tommy lost his powers."
Billy nearly flinched. He doubted that Powerloss would ever be an easy subject for him to deal with.
"Believe me I sympathise. Giving them up is one thing, having them die in you must be quite another" he said trying to subdue his memories.
Like when the coins had been destroyed and they had just...drained away, as if blood was flowing from his veins taking his life with it. They had never really spoken about what that had felt like amongst themselves as Rangers and he wondered if the willing transference of Power that Trini had made had effected her in the same way. He shook his head at the way his thoughts were wandering and signalled to the others to prepared for teleportation.
They teleported back to the Solar Chamber and with due reverence the Drakin took the Great Sunstar and placed it on the column, in the centre of the Sun design. The three humans held their breath expectantly.
Apparently this was to be expected, as the Drakin turned and filed back out of the chamber. The Ninjetti exchanged amused glances and then shrugged as they returned to the surface.
"It must gain enough energy to activate, and when the Sun is directly over the Chamber, it will do so," explained Hthiss as they sat waiting. "Besides, it is best that we are not standing next to it when releases its' full Power. That would not be wise."
The tiny scales around the smallest Drakins' forest green eyes glittered gold in a fashion that seemed to be their equivalent of a smile, and Trini found herself smiling in response to his quiet irony.
Skye couldn't help but note that they had drawn away from them...from him as if unsure of his actions. He sighed. All their efforts to win them as allies might fail because of him, because they could not be sure that they could trust him. And what he had done to Billy! He could have killed him! Well he came pretty close even when he hadn't been really trying!
I heard that, Billy mindspoke. Will you stop that? It wasn't your fault!
Oh yeah? Skye replied bitterly, I heard your wolfspirit hurling curses at me, I don't think they make mistakes.
They were true up to a pointI forgot myself in the heat of battle, the wolfspirit replied sheepishly, they were not directed at you, but at that evil one.
I admit I did the same, Trini's tigerspirit spoke up, I struck at that enemy of spirit not thinking there might be harm to you.
Well you are a cat after all, the wolfspirit teased, we plan, you react.
React? And what is wrong with that? You over think things, you don't cultivate the harmony for rightness... replied the tigerspirit with warning growl.
We do...in a different way...look...sometimes following the instincts leads to self-destructive behaviour... the wolf began earnestly.
The humans groaned. Once embroiled in a discussion, that was it. They would get nothing useful from their animal spirits until they had wrangled the issue to pieces.
"I'm sorry I asked" Skye muttered. He turned to the Ninjetti " The fact remains that it won't sound good to their Mentor, one of the Council of the Wise by all accounts, if they came close to destruction because I was overwhelmed by an Evil forcewhat are the chances of them agreeing to an Alliance then?"
Billy looked at a loss for comforting words. The truth was that he couldn't say how they might react, and truth be told he would feel much better about the whole situation if he could work out why his friend had suddenly been overwhelmed by this Maligore presence. Was it likely to happen again? Did that mean he would have to watch him every moment? What if he tried to kill him again or worse...Trini?
Skye got up suddenly and just walked away and Billy mentally cursed. He must have let some of those thoughts leak out towards his friend without realising it. He kept forgetting how much more sensitive the artists mindtouch had become after hisconstant practice with the Star Crystal since they left Earth.
"Skye?" Trini called after him with a slight frown. "Where are you going?"
"Just leave him" Billy said with a sigh "That's my fault. He must have picked up some of my doubts about him."
"Oh Billy you didn't..."
He nodded miserably " You know me...I can't help pursuing the options to their logical conclusion."
Skye sat down heavily on the other side of the dune. There were some big disadvantages to being able to pick up thoughts from another person. Billy's wayward thoughts had struck a nerve; what if he did try to kill his friends?. He sighed. Here they were having theoretically won a great victory and no one seemed happy. Billy and Trini were worried about him, he was worried about them and what he might do and the Drakin were worried about J'shaar. It was then he realised that he could hear someone else's thoughts
I'm crippled...a crippled Ranger, what use would I be to them? Worse than uselessa liability! We are meant to protect and that is impossible for me now. I've lost the Power, it's gone...
Who was that? For some strange reason an image of Rocky flashed into his mind for a split second before he realised the thoughts alien flavour. It was the strength of emotion behind them that was bringing them into his mind.
Maybe if I crept down towards the Solar Chamber, I would be gone in a moment when the Sunstar brings life back to Drakan. Then I would not be a burden, I would not harm them... then they would never know what happened to me at the mountain...
J'shaar! Focussing a little more, Skye realised the Drakin was close by and he found him further round the curve of the dune. He sat down next to him ignoring the hiss of surprise.
"Misery loves company," he said by way of a self-invitation. He decided to be blunt. "I don't think Sisthaa would appreciate you throwing yourself in front of the great Sunstar as it flared. I imagine she might be a little upset."
"How do you know about Sisthaa?" J'shaar said sounding flustered.
"You mean no-one else does?" Skye laughed shortly. "I think you'll find they might have an idea nowyou ought to have seen her when she thought you were dead."
"Relationships between Power Rangers are not encouraged. It makes for imbalance and weakness in the team." J'shaar said by way of explanation.
Skye felt his mouth drop open in astonishment. "That's a Drakin rule is it, a Sunstar Ranger rule?"
"No, a Power Ranger rule," J'shaar said in surprise of his ignorance.
Skye shook his head. The Power Rangers of Earth were obviously bending the rules more than a little, especially after the curing of Kimberley. "Still, why would you want to leave her? She would love you with or without the Power."
"Don't you understand?" J'shaar flared up angrily. "I was seeking a swift end, rather than put them through the horror of watching me die slowly from Powerloss."
"What are you talking about? You don't die from Powerloss." Skye said incredulously.
"Most species do eventually, usually within weeks." Explained J'shaar as if to a child. "Often they go insane first , and if they do not die that is how they remain for the rest of their lives, and that is what I wish to spare the others. I might hurt them before I die. Why do you think they say Once a Ranger, always a Ranger?"
Skye was stunned. "Dear God. But Billy and Trini both gave up the Power....If you want to speak to someone about Powerloss then Billy is your man."
"Are they immune?" asked J'shaar hopefully.
"No...not exactly" Skye said remembering the events on Phaedos. Thinking about it, maybe they did go a little crazy after giving up the Powers, but not to the extent of destroying themselves. "They just seem to...adapt eventually."
"Then that is good for them. It changes nothing for me," J'shaar said fatalistically. The tiny scales under his dark jade eyes glittered black with despair.
"I will not accept that this is the only option," Skye said firmly and reach out to touch the Drakin. J'shaar flinched away from his touch and it hurt him to feel the distrust and suspicion radiate from the reptilian creature.
"It's okay, I'm not going to hurt you. If there is one thing I can do it is healing. I may not be a Power Ranger or even a true Ninjetti Warrior but I can do healing." Skye reassured. "Please....let me try to help...to make up for what I nearly did to you all."
J'shaar nodded reluctantly and Skye gently placed one hand on the Star Crystal and the other on his patient. He began to fix the battered and abused body, old wounds and new, wounds that he could feel immense emotional pain behind and that he knew the Sunstar Ranger would never want the others to know about.
If you were human I'd call you Tommy, he thought softly to himself. He moved to the area most in need of healing. As he ran his hands over the dead Sunstar there was a feeling of falling over a great chasm but for a moment, a brief moment he felt something else.
"Hold on just a moment," he murmured aloud "What have we here?" and a smile spread slowly across his face. A tiny, faint flutter, like the heartbeat of a baby mouse, brushed against his mind. Skye decided just to go with his instincts and poured the energy of the Star Crystal towards that flickering point.
"What...what are you doing?" J'shaar gasped feeling a burning ache in his forehead "Hurts! Ahhh stop! It hurts!"
Skye heard nothing but the increasing sound of a heartbeat growing stronger and stronger, until he no longer had to push energy, instead it began to feed, drawing from him and the Star Crystal.
Sisthaa had just come to Billy and asked whether he had seen J'shaar when they heard a strangled cry. The entire group turned and ran as one towards the sound and as they broached the top of the dune they saw the very incriminating sight of Skye with his hands firmly clamped over J'shaar's forehead whilst the Drakin writhed and cried out in pain. Othiss roared in anger and the Sunstar in his head flared to strike down the Star Ninjetti. Billy hesitated only a moment before knocking the Sunstar Ranger to the sand.
"Don't shoot!" cried out Trini desperately holding up a hand to forestall the Sunstar Rangers from further action, praying that Maligore had not touched Skye again and that she was making a mistake in protecting him.
"He is hurting J'shaar!" Sisthaa shouted her eye scales pale yellow with fear.
"He wouldn't do that!" Trini said immediately defensive. But the evidence of their eyes seemed to disprove her words.
With that J'shaar gave a final convulsive heave that knocked the Star Ninjetti to the ground and he sat there with his hand clamped firmly to his head and shudders running through his body.
"Did he harm you J'shaar?" Faal asked with deep concern. There was a long pause
"No" said the Drakan said eventually, looking up revealing his eyescales glittering gold with good humour. "No, quite the opposite."
He took his hand away from his forehead, and there, gleaming a deep garnet purple tinged red, shone his Sunstar. The other Drakin stood astonished and Sisthaa looked so shocked and relieved that J'shaar got up to steady her before she fell down.
He looked down at the recumbent form of Skye and asked finally, "Is he all right?"
Billy grinned with relief checking his friend. "Just sleeping on the jobAgain!"
He exchanged a private relieved glance with Trini. For a brief moment he had wondered if his friend had been possessed again and had dreaded that this time he would have had to take some severe action. But he had felt nothing from his wolfspirit and decided for once to trust those instincts rather than the evidence of his eyes.
A lesson well learned,, the wolfspirit said sagely and then pricked up it's ears. You might want to steady yourself, it is time to greet the rebirth of the Great Sunstar.
And so it was that Skye managed to miss the climatic moment of their mission on Drakan for as they stood marvelling at J'shaar's recovery, the Sun reached it's zenith and the Great Sunstar flared life all over the desert Planet. The very air seemed to glow and pulsate with varicoloured light. It was not like a wave or a beam but something that appeared to burst forth from the planets' heart. The ground shook and seemed to emanate energy that filled them with life and an unbounded optimism. In the distance, the black rock formations that covered the surface of the planet began to fall away and revealed the reptilian inhabitants of this world and their revitalised cities and the Sunstar Rangers roared in triumph as their home returned to them once more.
C'haal, the Drakin mentor, was even more imposing for the fact that he could step out of his transdimensional tube and towered above even the other Drakin. It seemed that their species carried on slowly growing over the years, and that C'haal was very old. He was an imposing sight, and he had an immediate stern presence, harder than Zordon but just as compelling.
Billy, Trini and the reawakened Skye waited whilst the Sunstar Rangers respectfully made their report. Then the massive Drakin gestured for the Ninjetti to step forward.
"You do Honour to the name of Ninjetti" C'haal said his voice rich and booming. "I am told you bring a message."
Billy bowed and stepped forward and intoned formally, "The Sun Goes Down, Beware the Darkness Visible" he said clearly as he had many times over the past few months. There was the sound of whispers of fear echoing in the sunlit Solar Chamber as the Sunstar Rangers reacted to their news.
"What you have spoken is a horror beyond horror to our way of life." C'haal intoned. "We are descendants of the first Sun, it is the life-force of our people, and a Vision of the Sun plunging into darkness is the worst imaginable omen. From whence does this Vision come?"
Trini stepped forward and explained with consummate calm. "From the foresight of the nearly extinct Ninjetti, who placed the Wardstones that set warning of the Zha'Khee-ree'aa. The Ninjetti seek to stand against the coming against the Ancient Evil and request Alliance with your people and candidates to join our ranks." All those seminars at the Peace talks had prepared her admirably for situations like this.
C'haal nodded "There are those who are suitable. There is need for haste, I felt the warning before the coming of the Baroxbut I am troubled by this talk of an Evil presence in one of you." His ancient malachite green eyes dark and piercing fixed on Skye who was trying to look inconspicuous.
Billy tried to control his disappointment but opted to tell the truth. "We too are troubled that it might occur again." He said aloud wincing internally at the lack of trust that he thought he was displaying in his friend.
C'haal beckoned to Skye with a long talon "Come, I would look into your mind to determine why the Evil entered you."
Skye nervously approached and knelt as the ancient lizard placed his six-fingered hand on his white hair with a gentle touch. The mindtouch however, was anything but delicate and Skye followed his thoughts, wincing painfully as if he was having a tooth drilled as the Drakin probed unmercifully at the events of the past day.
Eventually C'haal spoke. "This young one was not directly possessed by Evil for the Star Crystal prevents that from occurring. Maligore took control of another with whom you are linked through energy and he was sensitive to the echo of his presence from within."
The Ninjetti looked at each other trying to decipher this puzzle. Nothing leapt to mind.
"I see an impression of a birdspirit of the Great Power." C'haal volunteered helpfully.
"Your healing bond with Kim!" Trini said suddenly, "Would it work even over this great distance?."
"Of course!" Skye said very much relieved at finding an answer of any sort. "I had nearly forgotten about it!"
"If the emotions were strong enough then there is no reason why he wouldn't pick it up" Billy said thoughtfully. Thinking about it, it made complete sense.
Skye shuddered "Believe me they were strong enough!" Kimberly must have been fighting for her life, and for her spirit against that evil presence. That was emotion enough to connect them both across the vastness of space.
"But if that was just an echo...and Maligore had that sort of power over us...then what happened to Kim and the others?" Billy asked horrified remembering the fragments of conflict he had picked out of Skye's mind. It looked really intense and he hadn't been there to help them.
C'haal's eyescales gleamed a bronze shade of tolerant amusement. "You are still alivetherefore they defeated the menace."
"But will it happen again?" Skye asked "Am I going to have to watch out for being possessed at any time?" He wasn't sure he could stand that. Now he truly understood how Tommy felt about being made evil for so long. You felt vulnerable even after the effect was banished, helpless against the fact of it happening again.
"It appears that the Earth Power Rangers defeated the Maligore presence, a feat worthy of great praise." C'haal acknowledged. "Therefore it is unlikely that this will happen again, though you remain connected to this other one."
The Ninjetti found the thought of a tenuous connection to home, however unreliable, somewhat comforting and Skye smiled broadly as he realised he was in the clear. The three Ninjetti arranged themselves once again before the Drakin mentor.
"Your answer C'haal?" Billy pressed his eyes glittering expectantly.
"You have proved your worth, as Dulcea foretold," rumbled the ancient Drakin, "And you have fulfilled in your retrieval of the Great Sunstar a criteria that binds our people in a sacred oath, stronger than any political Alliance. I will send candidates to Phaedos and our forces will come when the call goes forth. We will also speak to our sister and brother planets of Quath and Ransoon who owe us a pledge of loyalty, and draw them into our cause." He paused before adding on a more informal note, "And we offer our thanks for restoring one of our own to health. You have our personal debt of gratitude."
The Ninjetti flushed deeply at those words and then straightened up. They turned and looked at one another. Billy, Trini and Skye grinned with delight. Three planets worth of Ninjetti Candidates from one mission! This would help immeasurably. All three bowed in deep respect for the mentor of the Sunstar Rangers and then overcome with excitement, turned and hugged each other in triumph.
"Like winning the lottery!" Trini whispered in Billy's ear as they embraced. They felt more optimistic than they had before about what they were doing,
Though you are going to have to work on some of these battle plans of yours Billy, Skye needled, back to his old self. I could be wrong but I think Trini noticed a couple of holes in this last one...
Trini groaned and chuckled at the same time and tried to swat the artist on the arm. That's terrible!
Billy laughed aloud. What can I say? Tommy and Jason were the combat tacticians, I just tagged along. It's not like we have Zordon or Dulcea telling us what to do....so I guess for a little while you are just going to have to watch your step when it comes to holes in my battle strategy.
He smiled wickedly at Skye. And you better hope that Kim is paying all her bills at home otherwise you might be...repossessed!
Skye rolled his eyes and they all burst out laughing, taking the horror out of the situation for them all with a little bit of flippant humour. What no comment from the esteemed animal spirits on our victory? he mindspoke.
Billy snorted I expect they are only halfway through the spiritual cat and dog fight.. Remind me again why we have animal spirits?
Trini smiled sweetly Because they were on offer with the Spirit Armour? Buy one get one free?
There was immediately some indignant mental spluttering from their animal spirits and all three of them fell about laughing, and by the time they had finished they felt filled once again with enthusiasm for the immense task before them.
C'haal and the Sunstar Rangers looked on amused by the exuberance of the young humans until they finally calmed down.
"And what is your next destination Ninjetti?" asked the J'shaar curiously.
Skye and Trini looked to Billy who was plotting their strange course through the reaches of space. The Wolf Ninjetti smiled and his blue eyes sparkled as he revealed in a resounding voice that was a blatant impression of Tommy,
"Back to Aquitar!"