Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. Jeffrey Kincaid, Lord Crucible, and all other characters relating to them are the property of John Chubb. This is a COE retelling of the Night Rangers' story. The events in this chapter follow on from the ending of The Emperor's New Rage.
Dead of Night
"When a Power Ranger becomes lost in the darkness there is always hope that they can be brought back as long as there is still a flicker of light within them. When a Night Ranger succumbs to the darkness they are engulfed to the point that not even the brightest light can illuminate their soul. That is the danger of a Night Ranger."
The Acexta Order had fallen, the Night Fighters had been wiped out and the Night Rangers had been slaughtered. A careful deception had proven successful and in the process all obstacles had been removed. A vast army dedicated to the defeat of evil along with all those that supported it, destroyed and disgraced by one of their own. And once the congratulations had ended and the mission was reviewed, and the original objectives were considered fully, there was only one conclusion...
Savrod's words were harsh as he watched the former Night Ranger for a reaction. He saw the momentary anger flash through the young man's eyes followed by acceptance. All things considered the boy had done well, a sign that he had chosen correctly. It would be very easy to explain his failure away as circumstances beyond his control, but Savrod knew the role he had in mind for Mark Kinega demanded absolute dedication to the cause. There was no room for doubt or oversight.
"I was betrayed," Kinega said after some thought. "I should have realised there was a possibility."
"Yes, the betrayer ended up being betrayed," Savrod agreed. "You declared yourself victorious before checking, a common failure. Make sure it doesn't happen too often."
He was being disrespectful and he knew it. But just as a sergeant could treat an officer as just another soldier during training, so Savrod could treat Kinega as an underling until the young man assumed his rightful place.
"You allowed sentimentality to cloud your judgement. You did not believe that something that had been so loyal in the ast could turn on you. You mistook loyalty to the cause for loyalty to you."
"I retrieved these," Kinega said, revealing the morphers he had claimed from his former comrades. His forces had been sure to collect every transformation device they could find after the battle.
Savrod studied them. They were damaged and would never be useable again for their real purpose. However for the ceremony he had planned, they would prove sufficient. Just as long as Kinega's morpher was still operational. As for the generic morphers used by the Night Fighters? They would be handed over to his scientists to create a new army for Kinega to lead.
"Very well, the ceremony will require an alternative sacrifice, but nothing too complicated. In the meantime you should try honing your skills."
"Something's wrong," Ishalla said to herself. She could feel the sudden anxiety and anticipation from the dark spirits trapped within her Night Morpher, the ones that granted her the powers of a Night Ranger. But she could not understand the feeling of gleeful triumph. "Why would Mark want to meet here anyway?"
For the first time she found herself doubting her leader's intentions. And she had been right to do so; if the others had been as quick to identify the danger as she had been to realise that it existed, the Night Rangers might have survived. But they did not survive the encounter. The Night Rangers had been exterminated in a single strike. Most dead, one a traitor and the last... while he lived a part of him had not survived the battle.
It had started with a message, a call for help from Mark Kinega, leader of the Night Rangers. The message had been cryptic and short; even for their leader it had been abrupt. After the night he had stormed out, Mark had realised that he need time to collect his thoughts and feelings. He had agreed to an undercover mission that had left him out of contact and without the protection of his powers. He had been seeking confirmation of a new evil that had arisen. When he had made contact his message had given the impression that he was nervous although he had hinted that was because his cover had been blown.
They had wondered during the journey just how bad things could be. They had followed his signal, not questioning him when he had told them to leave his Night Morpher at their headquarters - for it was clear that whatever problems he had been having exposure to the dark spirits within his morpher had made it worse. Their Zords were equipped for space travel and quickly navigated their way to where he was supposed to meet them.
But Mark had not been there when they had arrived and given his insistence on maintaining silence, they had not tried to contact him. Defiance was nowhere to be seen. And so they waited for hours in the darkness, not realising the trap that had already snapped shut.
"The beacon is here just like he said; maybe he had to run an errand."
The Acexta Order could trace its origins to a time before the Night Rangers, when mortals had first decided to use the powers of darkness against the forces of evil without the protection of the Morphin Grid. To this day the Night Fighters of the Acexta were among the fiercest warriors in the galaxy. It was only because they concentrated on the evil that lurked in the darkness that they didn't involve themselves in other battles.
Master Elija had been a leader of the Order for decades. He had been the one to name Kinega as the next Red Night Ranger. As such his connection to the Spirits of the Night, the evil forces that the Acexta had trapped and forced to work for them in their struggle against evil was stronger than most.
When Defiance had appeared over the planet Elija had sensed a growing anticipation from the trapped spirits. He had yelled out a warning to his fellow Order members as wave after wave of armoured soldier had appeared within their cities. The Night Fighters had used their morphers, which provided them with basic body armour and protection, and threw themselves into battle. For a time they held their own until the enemy's leader chose to reveal himself. Elija felt utter despair as he realised that the man he had entrusted with an awesome responsibility had fallen to the darkness. And in doing so, Kinega had betrayed them.
As the Acexta Order fought a losing battle against Kinega and his forces, and the forces of the darkest evil rampaged through their temples, the other Night Rangers were growing concerned. They had finally decided that they couldn't wait any longer and had tried to radio Mark, only to find that long range communications were blocked.
"Anything Krolos?" Jeff asked. In Mark's absence he had command of the team.
"Nothing," the Kerovian answered. "If Defiance was here it didn't leave under its own power. The beacon Mark set is still broadcasting though."
"Send the deactivation code," Kincaid ordered after a moment's thought. "It would be just like Mark to leave a message there for us."
Ishalla had always been very perceptive. She had been inducted into the Acexta Order as a priestess before finding her calling as a Night Ranger. Her connection to the demon that granted her its power was more refined than the others and she could sense its elation. And as a sudden cry reached her through the silence of space, she realised what it was.
"This is wrong. We shouldn't be here. We need to be..."
Before she could finish her Zord was blown to pieces.
"Ishalla!" Jeff cried.
"She's gone Jeff," Krolos told him. "You can't help her now. We need to get out of here."
"Full alert! Everyone scatter don't let anyone get you," Jeff ordered.
Somehow he knew it was already too late. The deactivation of the beacon had closed triggered the hidden weapons, and Ishalla had paid the price.
The warping of space alerted them to the arrival of several ships. The Night Rangers were horrified as they recognised them as the vessels belonging to the Night Fighter under Mark Kinega's personal command. The ships opened fire as soon as they arrived, taking out the hidden weapons before they could claim another life. For a moment the Rangers felt that perhaps they had misjudged the situation and that these were their saviours. Then the fleet opened fire again.
The Zords were powerful machines built by the best engineers the Order could find. So despite being outnumbered by larger vessels with more firepower, the Night Rangers held their ground and fought back.
"Take them down!" Jeff ordered.
The Night Zords ripped their way through the fleet. Metallic claws ripped into hull plating, missiles pulverised gun emplacements. They could see the Night Fighters as they poured from the broken vessels in smaller ships. The sight horrified the Rangers for it was clear that the Night Fighters were no longer mortals; the demons had claimed their souls.
"Jeff, I'm detecting a massive build up of Delta Rays," Krolos warned. "Core breach!"
The largest of the crippled vessels exploded, sending out a shockwave that tore through the remains of the Night Fighter fleet, and knocked the Zords tumbling in all directions. As Jeff tried to regain control he realised that only three of them had survived the explosion.
"Guys?" somebody called out. Jeff recognised the rasping tone as Krolos. "Guys, my Zord's dead. I need to set down somewhere..."
His Zord was engulfed in a burst of energy, cutting his communication short. Jeff looked to where the blast had come from and his fear returned. Defiant had been there the entire time, cloaked from the Rangers as Mark Kinega had sent his own squadron of corrupted Night Fighters to their deaths. And now with the Zords disabled, he had revealed himself as he aimed to finish his former comrades.
"Anna, move!" Jeff ordered, directing his Zord out of the way.
Unfortunately Anna's Zord had been crippled in the explosion and could not move fast enough. A single shot from Defiant was sufficient to destroy it. Jeff's own Wolf Zord took a shot in the stabilizer, sending him hurtling out of control. He endeavoured to regain a measure of control as it became clear that the Night Fighter vessels had not all been destroyed in the earlier battle; Kincaid had more of them at his command.
With an effort he managed to compensate for his Zord's damaged systems and ordered the computer to plot a new course to ram the Defiant.
"If I'm going down I'm taking you with me!" he growled, convinced that some alien force had taken control of the Defiance and that Mark was either captured or dead.
The Zord's shields shattered as the Defiant fired at it repeatedly. As they collapsed, the Defiance opened fire again. Jeff felt a tingle throughout his body as he was teleported away. Seconds later Defiance opened fire a final time and the Wolf Zord ceased to exist.
Jeff was surprised when he reappeared on the bridge of Defiance. More so when he saw that the ship was empty; his previous scan had told him there were at least twenty Night Fighters on board. He assumed that the teleport command had been activated by Hardrive after the computer had regained control.
"Did you get any of the others out Hardrive?"
"They're dead Jim," Hardrive told him, the sadness evident in his voice.
"Who did this?"
"Fredo," was the answer.
Jeff had been through too much to try to understand the computer's television references.
"Hardrive tell me, what the hell happened? Where's Mark?" he demanded.
"Fredo!" Hardrive answered again. This time the computer activated ship's viewer. On the screen stood Mark Kinega in some sort of armour. For a moment it resembled his Night Ranger attire, but quickly changed to a sinister suit of crimson metal.
The film played, showing Mark as he made his way through the Temple of the Acexta Order, dispatching the Night Fighters assembled there with ease. It showed him snatch his Night Morpher from the Night Ranger's headquarters just before destroying the building. It showed him killing the clerics and the scientists, the priests and the civilians that lived within the temple. The camera picked up the commands he gave to his own squad of Night Fighters to kill anything that opposed them.
Hardrive's logs showed that the machine had been confused, but bound to obey Mark as long as he was leader of the Night Rangers. Kinega had ordered Hardrive to shut down the emergency teleporters and the machine had been forced to comply. When the traitor had fired on the other Rangers, Hardrive had generated a number of system malfunctions that had forced Mark to order the rest of his fleet to transport in. It was not until Mark had declared that the Night Rangers were history that the computer had been freed from his control.
Since Mark no longer considered himself a Night Ranger, Hardrive had been able to treat him and all others on board as invaders and had ejected them. At the same time the computer had activated its Emergency Protocols and had locked onto any Night Rangers it could find and had teleported them to safety. As the lone survivor Jeff was now the ranking officer and Hardrive had placed all of the ship's systems at his command.
Jeff was unable to believe what he saw. Their leader had betrayed them, murdered his own team. They trusted Mark and he had turned on them. Through the main viewer he saw Mark floating outside of Defiance.
"Hardrive what are you doing? I gave you no teleport commands." He tried to regain entry into Defiance, but Hardrive would not allow it. "Hardrive, open the door!" he ordered. "OPEN THE DOOR!"
"Fredo!" Hardrive bellowed, using its command over the communication's system to boost the volume. "You're nothing to me now Fredo. You're not a brother. You're not a friend. I don't wanna know where you go. I don't wanna know what you do. When you come to visit momma, I expect to know a day in advance so I won't be there." That said Hardrive brought Defiance's weapons to bear on Mark.
Mark didn't want a fight, his instructions had been to destroy his former allies as swiftly as possible - for Savrod had been well aware that until Kinega committed the ultimate betrayal of the light, there was still a chance his friends could reach him. By destroying the Night Rangers in such an impersonal and underhanded manner, Kinega had abandoned even the twisted honour of a Night Ranger. With a gesture he reached out, using his powers to retrieve his fallen teammate's morphers. Savrod had insisted that those devices were essential to the ritual to come.
With a growl he teleported to one of the ships at his command and departed, leaving Jeff and Hardrive to wonder what had happened to their friend and leader. But first there was the matter of surviving the assault force that Savrod had deployed to clean up the area.
Evil is a concept, an idea. It is very difficult to kill or control an idea once it it is unleashed. Especially when the idea is as old if not older than the universe itself. Before the beginning evil had existed, witnessing the transition of void to existence and then back to void. It had witnessed the birth of the second universe where it's influence was felt by the first life forms. It was the image upon which the concept of evil was based, it's struggle with its ancient enemies the inspiration for the Light God and Chaos Bringer of early myths.
And then had come the day when the universe was driven to the point of extinction. At that moment, a moment of non-existence that had threatened to spread to all reality, the first evil, the creature that lurked within the darkness upon which the later demons tried to model themselves, had sensed freedom. It was not enough to break free completely, but it allowed him to once again influence the creatures that were drawn to the darkness, drawing them together to a single location. And there the dark creatures mixed and merged, driven by an unknown urge to be one. And while the effects of the Sword of Ragnorok were reversed less than a second later, the unified darkness remained.
Unaware of its surroundings, the combined darkness consumed an entire universe, creating a new Dark Dimension where the most terrible evil could lurk. And that evil gained a will and that will found others that shared its desires and chose them to act as its agents. It searched the place of its conception, seeking the worst of the worst, those who deserved to champion its cause and from the many, selected the few.
Time and space meant nothing as like a black hole it drew them into its midst after they had been displaced from the Dark Dimension by Minion's foolish action. Naarkh, the first of the High Lords of Evil after the legendary Darke, Trannis the Eternal Emperor, Darkstorm, a petty warlord with ideas above his station, and Grobelar, his most loyal of servants; Golan, one of his generals and his three lieutenants Hera, Viralina and Minerva. All were drawn into the darkness, their memories examined as the evil tried to find its own identity. Soon they were joined by other servants of evil.
They were the Dark Spirits, the darkest and most evil being the universe could offer. They were the accumulated evil of the ages from every evil creature that had existed. They were everything that was evil or belonged in one of the many parts of Hell. And their twisted hunger grew larger by the second.
"We are the darkness, we are the night. We are Poneros, we are Oligar, we are Haz'tur, we are Javius, we are Hysteria, we are Nore, we are Gorg, we are Mu and we are Ramon. We are Naarkh, we are Trannis, we are Darkstorm, we are Grobelar, we are Hera, we are Viralina, we are Minerva and we are Dagsyxx.
"We are all that has come before and much that has still to come. We are the spectre in the dark, the war, the death, the famine, the pestilence. We are the Apocalypse and the Armageddon, and the void that waits beyond.
"We are the Spirits of Darkness and you... will be our vessel!"
When Kinega had raided the temple he had reclaimed his morpher and broken the contract with the spirits within. The morpher would never again be used to power a Night Ranger. He had done the same thing with five of the morphers he had retrieved from the battlefield. In doing so he had guaranteed that Jeff Kincaid would never rebuild the Night Rangers.
The three remaining morphers he had taken from his former comrades though he had chosen to keep. They were his by right of conquest and as the victor he could use their powers as he saw fit. They would serve as a sacrifice in the coming ceremony. But it was the fourth Night Morpher that was the most important.
Kinega had been shocked when Savrod had revealed one of the lost Night Morphers. It had been lost during a battle along with its Ranger and most had believed that it had been destroyed. Exactly what had happened to its Ranger and the demon that had been used to power it was unclear, but Savrod had promised that it would be the key to Kinega's rebirth.
"Our ranks include those that grew tired of the Order's ways," Savrod had told him. "Priests and scientist capable of altering this morpher to suit our needs. It will no longer be limited to a single spirit and once activated the transformation will be permanent."
The morpher glowed as the demons flew around it, whispering their promises of power. These spirits were older than those the Night Fighters faced during their trials and just as powerful as the thirteen that had powered the Night Rangers. These spirits would not settle for good Rangers who happened to be slightly dark, they sought to corrupt and create a creature of darkness. The three captured morphers cracked open, releasing the spirits trapped within as a spiral of energy appeared above the Lost Night Morpher.
Kinega stepped forward and claimed the morpher. In a twisted parody of the test to become a Night Ranger, the young man faced the spirits. Then instead of fighting the darkness as he had done the first time, he dropped to his knees and surrendered himself to it. He didn't offer any resistance, allowing it to sweep through his soul and wash away any hint of purity. His body erupted in black flames, burning away all traces of Mark Kinega's good character, leaving behind a new soldier of darkness. His appearance shifted as he embraced the darkness completely. His morpher flared to life and new armour formed, tarnished by the darkness he now served. With the morpher covered by his dark armour he knew that there was no way back.
"And with your power, I, Crucible will be unstoppable!"
Laughter filled the dimension. The new servant of evil had claimed his position. Now it was just a matter of time before the Morphin Masters and those who supported them fell to the power of the greatest fear: a Night Ranger gone bad.