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, which began in The Forgotten Night. The events in this chapter follow on from the ending of The Emperor's New Rage.
The Night Raider
They didn't like him. He couldn't blame them since he didn't like himself very much either. They were light and pure, and kind to all the animals, while he was ... not. On a part of the planet where nearly everybody wore a distinctively coloured garment of some sort - for even those who wore black had found a way to distinguish the glossy shine of their clothes from the dull matte of ordinary apparel. His drab grey cloak, which lacked any indication that he had attempted to make them draw attention from those around him, had the effect of causing him to stand out. His clothes were dark and dreary in a place filled with colour a cheer. Naturally it made those nearby uncomfortable.
That he wore a weapon and had made no effort to conceal it drew more attention. For this was Inquirius, a planet dedicated to learning and education, where information, questions and answers were the foundation on which the society prospered. And he had arrived at the Illumina, a vast complex that had been handed over to the Masters of the Morphin Colleges and those associated with them as a place of tranquil enlightenment. It was also one of the best places to gather information in the Universe.
The Masters and their students communed in intellectual and spiritual discussions. Few carried weapons within the halls and those who did had the decency to hide them from view. Weapons suggested a tendency toward violence and those prone to violence were not welcome.
Naturally Jeff Kincaid stood out like a sore thumb. For a start Jeff was not a Master; his kind were never promoted to that sort of level, few managed to achieve an official rank above that of Power Ranger; there were many that argued that they were not even worth of the title Ranger although Jeff knew from experience that those that challenged them on the issue ended up in hospital. And while the Illumina was open to all those who sought enlightenment, Rangers were normally too busy protecting the worlds they had been assigned to defend, to visit. But it was his tainted aura that drew the attention of those around him. There was an undefined darkness about him that unsettled the more pious visitors.
It wasn't Jeff's fault. By nature he was a good person, a man of honour and extremely brave - for he had faced the things that lurked in the darkness and emerged stronger from the experience. However life had taken its toll on the young man, leaving a dark stain on his soul that shaded the inner light from those around him. Experience had turned him cold and cynical, less likely to believe that if he followed the rules he would be protected when he could make his own rules and protect himself.
The problem was that for all their rhetoric about not judging others and giving everybody a fair chance to show the true nature, the majority of the great and the good were prone to judge by first impressions. Those who knew of the organisation he belonged to readily believed the rumours and whispered half-truths instead of taking the time to find out the truth. He was a pariah because those that he sought to protect preferred to think of him as a part of the problem, not the solution. They just couldn't understand that while the Universe wanted heroes that were upstanding characters, they needed people like Jeff even more.
He walked quickly and purposefully through the building, ignoring those around him. He was aware that he was breaking protocol by not stopping to acknowledge the various Morphin Masters or pay his respect to some of the more senior figures that had crossed his path. He simply didn't care for the pomp and ceremony; to him it just got in the way of him doing his job.
It was a level of arrogance that caused others to comment. That he had been allowed entry to the Illumina when he lacked the most basic of manners and was clearly armed was surprising to those who watched his progress. The few who knew what he was just shook their heads and carried on with what they were doing. To those ignorant of his status, his behaviour was suspicious. As he made his way unhindered through to areas where others were stopped and turned away, suspicion turned to anger and jealousy. With each step he took the unease those around him felt intensified. Some wanted to stop him but none dared. The Illumina allowed his progress and they were not brave enough to challenge its judgement.
Finally he reached his destination, the Grand Library, a place filled with the collected reports and knowledge from countless worlds. The room was filled with ornate tables and benches with thick green leather cushions. The bookcases rose from floor to ceiling, providing a source of knowledge beyond what was stored in the vast computer archive. Around the room were passageways leading off to where the experts on various subjects were willing to educate those in need and vendors were ready to supply information that was more difficult to acquire for the right price. He studied the doorways and having located the one he was after, set off to reach his goal, only to find his way blocked.
"This is a private library," the person in front of him stated. Others nearby were nodding although Jeff noted the Illumina's own staff did not want to get involved.
Jeff shrugged and stepped around the man, intent on carrying on his way without violence. Unfortunately it seemed that such a casual dismissal of the other's challenge was treated as an insult.
"State your business!" the man, which Jeff noticed wore the insignia of a Red Master demanded.
"My business is my own and since I am here, you can assume I have a right to be here. Now stand aside and stop wasting my time."
Jeff could sense the tension in the air. Had he been anywhere else he suspected he would have been under attack. Of course violence was strictly forbidden in the Illumina, so harsh words and poor attempts to appear intimidating were the best they could manage. "I have an appointment with the Xenotome."
There was a gasp from the room. The Xenotome was a huge book containing all the knowledge within the Illumina and a few things besides. It was so valuable that few were granted the privilege of reading it; in the wrong hands the book could prove a dangerous weapon.
Jeff spared him an amused look. "Because I asked nicely and the Keeper agreed."
That response did not put those around him at ease. Given his dark appearance many were prepared to assume the worst.
"The Xenotome is only for the eyes of those worthy of looking within its pages," another Red Master cried angrily. "Not for the likes of you!"
Jeff shook his head at how judgemental they sounded. He had learnt the hard way that there was a difference between dark and evil that could not be determined by superficial things like appearance. It seemed that these Masters had not yet reached that level of understanding. The calls for him to leave intensified. Some looked to be on the brink of breaking the rules and attacking. Had he been a normal Ranger, Kincaid would have backed down to avoid the need for violence. But he was a Night Ranger and the usual rules did not apply.
Instead he lowered his hood, allowing those present to get a good look at him. His face was hard, his eyes cold as they moved over the crowd. A scar ran the length of his face, a wound he had yet to heal. It gave him a very sinister appearance.
"I didn't ask your permission," he replied tersely. He had little respect for Morphin Council and even less for those that judged him without knowing his story. "The Xenotome is available to anyone who requests to see it, so long as the Keeper agrees to that request."
That was true. Originally the Xenotome had been available to all, but given the likelihood that some would abuse its knowledge, only those associated with the Masters were granted permission and even then they needed to be at least a Ranger.
"Only with the consent of their master," a studious Yellow pointed out.
He spared her a brief nod before answering: "I don't have a master."
Whispers filled the room. They believed him a rogue, perhaps a disgraced Ranger that had been stripped of his power, who had somehow managed to bypass their security. Jeff did little to put them at ease, although he showed no outward signs of aggression. The Red Master it seemed had had enough. Unable to think beyond his limited understanding of black and white, he decided Jeff Kincaid was a threat and attacked.
"Next?" Jeff asked when moments later the body of the young Master landed on the floor. Out of respect for the rules, Jeff had left the other warrior alive, although the broken bones would remind him of his failure, if the broken sword he had attempted to draw didn't serve as a permanent reminder.
The assembled Masters took offence at one of their own being brutalised by a traitor despite the fact he was only defending himself. Weapons were drawn and combat stances assumed as they prepared to make him pay for his crimes.
The chamber suddenly fell silent, the power of an older White Master calming the anger that seemed to ripple through the chamber.
"This is a place of peace and learning. Fighting is not permitted here under any circumstances."
He gestured and the fallen Red Master was healed although his sword remained shattered.
"I expected better of you," he continued. "If you want to fight go back to your Ranger teams, where you will be welcomed on the front line, do so, because you are not suited to the life of a Master."
"He is an intruder!" someone accused, pointing at Kincaid.
"He is not an intruder and is here by invitation. He has done nothing to deserve your aggression," was the response. "He was attacked, abused and denied his rights, rights that are afforded every disciple of the Power. It is not the place of those in this room to grant or deny his request. You should be grateful that he didn't decide to take your actions personally. We cannot afford the loss of so many capable Masters."
"You're welcome," Jeff muttered.
"And you!" the old master growled, turning his attention to the younger man. "Don't think for a moment that you can appear innocent in all this. You are well aware of how others react to you and why, yet you did nothing to calm the situation. If anything, you tried to provoke them."
Jeff laughed. It seemed no matter how innocent he was they would always try to blame him in the end.
"I didn't provoke him," he answered. "He attacked me and I allowed him to crawl away."
"What part of 'do not escalate a battle unless forced to do so' do you not understand?" the White Master demanded, allowing his aura to flare.
"The part that applied to me, White Master," Jeff replied, loosening the restraints on his own powers, relishing the sudden nervousness of those around him. "You know as well as anyone that there is one one rule that matters to the likes of me. I don't have the benefit of your great brotherhood of Masters; I'm alone. So you'll excuse me if I take every threat seriously and react accordingly."
His arguments surprised those around him. Few dared to show such insubordination. They also detected the sorrow in his voice when he spoke of being alone.
"So the rumours were true?" the White Master asked quietly, not reacting to Jeff's power. The power of the Night was to be respected, but not necessarily feared. "I had heard reports of what had happened, but nobody could be certain. The Council did not see the need for observers. It made confirming the facts of the matter... difficult." There was a pause before the White Master continued: "I am sorry for your loss and share your grief for the events that transpired. But never allow yourself to believe that you are alone; you are as much a part of this brotherhood as any Ranger despite what other might believe, and we will stand at your side - I will stand at your side - if you need us."
"And then condemn me after for doing what must be done," Jeff accused.
The older man sighed. "I do not agree with your methods. I doubt many others would even accept that you are performing the duty handed to you by fate, except perhaps Zordon, but that is the way it has always been and you know that... and you continue regardless. That tells me more about you than your powers ever could."
"You know what I intend to do?" Jeff asked, worried that the Master might attempt to stop him; a true Power Ranger did not seek revenge.
"Your duty," was the reply. "You might think of it as revenge, but ask yourself this: would you still seek to destroy him if he had betrayed somebody else?" He looked off to one side. "The Keeper of the Xenotome awaits you, Night Ranger. Do not let me prevent you from learning what you need and then leaving."
Jeff nodded his thanks before heading towards the door he had identified earlier. Beyond the door was a room that reminded Jeff of one of the churches he had been forced to attend on Earth, complete with pews, alter and a font.
"Do not let the appearance disturb you Jeff Kincaid," a female voice warned. "Just like your powers, this room shifts according to the subconscious of the visitor and over the millennia it has developed a sense of humour."
While she spoke, Jeff tried to identify her location. His past had made him paranoid and recent events had made it worse. Something about the setting made him uneasy and given that he was used to making others uncomfortable, he didn't like the feeling at all.
"This room is built on a foundation of knowledge and wisdom, not ignorance and fear."
Jeff spun around and finally caught a glimpse of the Keeper of the Xenotome.
"The uncontrolled benefits you reap from your powers will not aid you here," she warned, not the least bit affected by his aura, "but they will not hinder you either."
She walked over to a bookshelf that Jeff had failed to notice before and removed the smallest book. When she placed it on the altar it expanded into a massive book.
"You sought the Xenotome, Jeff Kincaid, and the Xenotome granted your request." She paused, allowing him to scrutinise her appearance.
She was much younger than he had first believed and from her shape and what little he could see of her face, quite beautiful. She wore a long white gown with a veil that covered her lower face as well as her hair. On her left shoulder she wore the insignia of a White Morphin Master and the broach on her right side indicated that she was a native Inquirian.
"Huh?" He suddenly processed what she had said.
"Does it not stand to reason that a book as powerful as the Xentome would gain some level of sentience?" she asked, falling back into her native habit of asking questions. "Does it not make sense that the Book of the Unknown should use that sentience to determine whether or not those that ask should be allowed to read its pages? Would it surprise you to learn that the Xenotome has recorded the names of those that would seek its knowledge and when they would be permitted to do so?"
"No," he admitted.
"Do you think that this is any more surprising than some of the things you have seen? Is it not possible that before you leave you will learn something even more surprising, perhaps even disturbing?"
"You're right," he told her after thinking about it. Was a thinking book that much of a surprise in a Universe filled with demons and Power Rangers?
"The book revealed many things to me before you arrived," she told him. "The Xentome told of the loss of your team and allies, although it did not predict the events that would lead to their demise. While the Book of the Unknown contains many predictions, none referred directly to the Night Rangers."
Jeff nodded. He was relieved that was the case although he noticed she had not ruled out the existence of any predictions involving the Night Rangers.
"Ask your questions and if the answers are known they shall be shared," she told him.
"Why did he do it?"
"The Book of the Unknown does not hold the reason for your comrade's treachery. It only states that he was not acting under the influence of an outside force and committed the act of his own free will." She read the next line and then continued. "The evidence does not rule out the possibility that somebody had convinced him to turn, only that he made the decision."
"Were there any other survivors?"
"Kinega made certain that all those at the temple were destroyed; the other Night Rangers did not escape him. I'm sorry. The only ones that survived his purge were those that chose to accompany him."
"Where is he now?" Kincaid demanded.
"I cannot tell you," she answered. "Mark Kinega no longer exists."
"Somebody got there first?" he asked.
"No," she told him. "Those that persuaded Mark Kinega to betray you sought a new leader, a being capable of acting as a vessel for some of the oldest, powerful and most evil creatures in existence. They chose Kinega because as a Night Ranger he had already developed a bond with the darkness within himself. When he accepted the offer and provided the necessary sacrifice, Mark Kinega was replaced by a new creature: Crucible."
"So there is no way to redeem him?" Jeff asked, hoping the answer was no. As far as he was concern Mark had made his choice and nothing he did would ever redeem him.
"Mark Kinega is gone, perhaps forever," she answered. "As long as Crucible exists there is no chance to redeem Mark Kinega. And only death will release Crucible's grasp."
"What should I do?"
"The Xenotome cannot tell you that. It does however tell of a way to slow Crucible's rise to power. If you choose to do so you will face great danger and find that it will be a costly decision, but the sacrifices will be worth it. The Night Fighters will arise again one day to aid a new generation of Night Rangers and they shall led by the one who escaped Kinega's treachery."
"Me?" Jeff scoffed. "I'm the Blue Ranger and a reluctant one at that. What do I know about being a leader?"
"You will learn all that you need to learn, but first there is the time heal," she answered.
"What do I do? Where do I go? I want to go and stop him, but if he's as powerful as you said..."
"Calm yourself Jeff Kincaid," Dimitria instructed. "The book tells of Crucible's rising, but it is not an immediate concern. The actions you take now will delay him and set in motion the events that will lead to his downfall. Listen carefully Night Ranger, hear what must be done and know that I am sorry that the task falls to you."
The end had come for the people of Zyaibreeah. The battle had been surprisingly short but then there were very few who thought of it as a battle; most would come to regard it as a mass slaughter. The people had fought hard and their Rangers had tried their hardest to protect their world from overwhelming odds. However they had been outmanned, outgunned and unable to call for help from neighbouring worlds. The odds had definitely been against them.
They had fought hard and despite the fact they were guaranteed to lose, they had fought on bravely. In the end though the valiant efforts were for nought, their enemy was just too well-trained, too vicious and too numerous for the Rangers to prevail. As the hours had passed the continued bombardments and simultaneous attacks around the planet had left the Rangers stretched to their limits.
And once the enemy commander had shown himself, the Rangers had been unable to rally any sort of counter offence. While his troops had overwhelmed them, he was in every way their superior. He had spared them no quarter and expected no mercy in return. He had played with them for a short time, honing his skills it seemed while his forces mercilessly hunted the rest of the population. But once it was clear that there were only a few stragglers to find, he had decided it was time to end the game.
As they stood against him, some with more difficulty than others, a chill ran through them. His powers felt strange to them. They felt the familiar flow of magic and yet there was something sickeningly different at the same time. And the smile he wore was cold and slightly feral. Everything about him suggested that he could and would destroy them with very little effort on his part.
"Congratulations Rangers," a man said, appearing at the side of the warrior. "You've fought well, a shining example to Ranger teams across the Universe. Nobody could deny that you are brave, loyal and dedicated. Your skills in the ways of the Power are unquestionable. Had you been facing a different opponent you might have been allowed to live. Unfortunately for you, Crucible's task requires him to destroy all life on this pathetic little world."
He paused, allowing the Rangers to accept their fate.
"Crucible would like to extend his thanks for your services; you have proven excellent teaching tools. Your efforts have allowed Crucible to come to terms with his new powers and hone his skills. Sadly for you, you no longer present a challenge for him and as such, you are no longer useful. You are here so Crucible can master the last skill he needs: destroying the enemy."
"Why are you doing this?" the Red Zyaibreeahn Ranger asked, "You said he's learnt all he can, what would he gain by killing us?"
"While killing you would have very little benefit, it will allow Crucible to demonstrate that he has moved beyond the old ways of thinking. In the past he might have spared a defeated opponent; as Crucible he cannot afford such moments of noble weakness. You see, Crucible used to be a Power Ranger, like yourselves. Well not quite like you; he was a Night Ranger, the scourge of evildoers everywhere. He was shown how unappreciated his skills were to those he served and granted a new existence as Crucible.
"Unfortunately he failed his first attempt to prove himself, but I'm sure he will catch up with the last Night Ranger sooner or later. In the meantime destroying your team will be the final step needed to solidify his new identity."
As he spoke, Crucible extended his right hand toward the White Ranger. He closed his fist and the Ranger collapsed, screaming as the twisted powers of the Night Ranger was unleashed. Fuelled by the power of some of the oldest and most potent villains to ever exist, Crucible's powers were beyond those of a Night Ranger. His ability to destroy with a gesture was a sign of his power.
"As you can see Red Ranger," the man continued as he watched the White Ranger tear at his own body to stop the torment, "death is not the worst thing that can happen to you today."
The White Ranger glowed brightly as the soul destroying magic fed on his powers. Then with a final scream he burst into white flames and disappeared.
"Out of gratitude for your services, I promise Crucible will grant the rest of you a swift death."
"Hey!" one of the Rangers dared to call, moving forward to attack. He never had a chance to rethink his actions as a sword was driven into his heart.
The man looked from the fallen Ranger to the creature known as Crucible and nodded approvingly.
"Make no mistake Rangers; you will die here today, one way or another. Accept your destinies and I promise this will be over painlessly. Fight and even though you will die screaming, it will still be quick."
The Blue Ranger attacked, throwing his spear at the so far unbeatable warrior, hoping to catch him off-guard. Crucible caught it easily, examining it briefly before crushing the enchanted wood and tossing it aside.
"Against a lesser warrior your tactic might have been successful... perhaps you're so tired that you've forgotten that you face an opponent who has already defeated you countless times."
~No,~ he thought as he noticed the expression on the Ranger's face despite his helmet, ~more likely you still haven't come to terms with the danger you face.~
Having changed his mind, Crucible levitated the remains of the weapon and propelled the pieces back at their source. The Ranger was lifted from his feet by the multiple projectiles as they ripped into his chest and threw him backward.
"No!" the Pink Ranger screamed as he collapsed. "How could you?!"
Their foe didn't react although his handler appeared amused by her outrage. "Crucible is evil beyond your ability to comprehend. I warned you that resisting would not delay the inevitable, just make it a more painful experience. Your friend chose to attack and Crucible responded as he would to any opposition: he crushed it. However since you seem to have some fight left in you, I withdraw my offer. It will not be painless now, but you have my word, this won't take long."
Taking that as permission, Crucible was running towards the Rangers before they could react. He summoned a sword and slashed at his opponents as he passed them. Four strokes of the blade, and two Rangers collapsed in pools of their own blood. Their special suits were of no use against the blade that had been forged from the darkest magic.
He abandoned the sword against the next two, decapitating the first with a chop of his hand before breaking the second's neck with her bare hands. That left only the Green Ranger, whom he had saved for last. The two warriors stood face to face, eyes meeting as the Ranger discarded her shattered helmet. There had always been a special form of relationship between them; perhaps it was the darkness that lurked within the Green Ranger powers that caused Crucible to give the hero a more personal fight to the death. It was evident that the Green Ranger knew she would die; only her pride forced her to ready herself for final combat.
"Well this has been fun," Crucible's companion commented. The Green Ranger had lasted longer than he had expected although it was clear Crucible had been playing with her as they exchanged increasingly violent blows. "But now it is time to end it. Farewell, Green Ranger."
Now was the time for Crucible to prove himself. The last time he had been asked to destroy a team of Rangers he had allowed one to escape. This was his opportunity to prove that he had learnt from the experience and accepted that his days as a Night Ranger were over. He didn't disappoint and with the death of the Green Ranger, Mark Kinega's transformation into Crucible was made permanent.
Dimitria had provided him with the clues he needed, but it was Jeff that had put the pieces together and realised what needed to be done. It was amusing to him that had he been on Earth he would have been having another miserable Halloween waiting for little kids to call and then arguing with his mother when he handed them candy. Not that whatever he was about to do would be considered pleasurable, but given a choice, he didn't want to be back in his old life.
It had been a while since he had last set foot in the headquarters of the Acexta Order. Kinega had taken him there to complete the final trial needed to become a Night Ranger. It was there that he had journeyed into the Pit of Night to prove himself worthy of the Night Fighters. Later it have been the place where he had used the Blue Night Morpher for the first time and conquered it. The dark spirit had surrendered to his will and he had emerged as the Blue Night Ranger. On the same trip Kinega had shown him the Mirror of Night, the artefact that had unlocked the power of the first Night Ranger.
Then the planet had been a place filled with people, life and purpose. Now the Acexta Order was gone, part of the dowry that Mark had paid to consummate his new position and the planet was ruined.
But Jeff had not returned to the planet for sightseeing. He had returned to prevent Crucible using the Acexta Order's power against the Universe. He had come to make sure that the Pit of Night and the creatures trapped within could not be used to provide Mark, Crucible, whatever he was calling himself, with any further help, just as the Keeper had suggested.
The Mirror of Night had been taken during the raid, but it had been impossible for them to take the pit. And while it was possible to use the Mirror of Night as a conduit to the spirits within the Pit of Night, doing so would be beyond Kinega's abilities. Jeff intended to make certain that the dark spirits remained trapped within the Pit of Night forever.
Since his transformation, Crucible had been mostly silent, accepting the advice of those around him and doing as he was told. While it was accepted that one day he would be their leader, for now he was being trained in how to use the gifts he had been granted by the creature that had taken him as their vessel. He had endured pain and punishment without complaint, so his sudden cry of anguish shocked those around him.
"What is it?" Savrod asked, concerned.
"The Pit of Night," Crucible answered. "Kincaid... Kincaid's planning to so something to seal its power. He plans to break the link."
The ceremony that had transformed Kinega into Crucible had given him access to the creatures trapped within the Pit of Night, the Spirits of the Night as Savrod had called them. As the conqueror of the Acexta Order he had become master of the Pit of Night and all that dwelled within in. Now it seemed that Kincaid was trying to take his power.
Savrod managed to school his features to hide his concern. He wasn't worried about Kincaid's plan harming Crucible. While the power of the spirits trapped within the Pit of Night was impressive, it was only a fraction of the power Crucible would gain given time. The loss of the Pit of Night would do little more than set him back.
Still if Kincaid was there, it seemed a good time to eliminate the nuisance. And there was always the chance that Kincaid was aware that Crucible was bonded to the Pit of Night and intended to use the bond against Crucible rather than breaking it. That would be an unwelcome turn of events.
"We'll depart immediately," he assured his leader. "Kincaid's pitiful attempt to defeat you will only lead to his destruction."
Crucible nodded in response and once again Savrod had to hide his disappointment. Crucible was powerful and a formidable warrior, but he had yet to show any ability to command others. And since that was what Savrod had been seeking when he had approached the Night Ranger, it made him wonder whether he had made the wrong choice.
No, he had made the correct choice; it was just a case of ensuring that Crucible was given the opportunity to grow into his new role. Perhaps Kincaid would provide the desired result.
"Spirits of the Night, hear me!" Kincaid's voice echoed through the darkness of the Pit of Night.
He knew that his actions were reckless. Night Rangers were not supposed to enter the Pit of Night once they had completed their trial. Yet Kincaid had broken that rule and stood on the other side of the barrier between the Pit of Night and freedom. He was unmorphed, yet confident enough to draw the attention of the creatures that occupied the dark place. Most chose to ignore him, but those that sensed the opportunity his presence gave them turned to face him.
"I offer you a wager," Kincaid continued. "A simple challenge. If you succeed then you will be released. If you fail then every creature within this place will be bound to the Night Rangers, forever and you will never be able to move beyond the barrier accept at their command."
"And what challenge do you propose, Night Ranger?" one of the creatures asked.
Kincaid smirked. "I offer you the same challenge that every Night Fighter gives when they enter this place, nothing more and nothing less. Except I extend this challenge to all that reside within the Pit of Night. For fifteen minutes the barrier between this place and beyond will be open. Should any one of you step beyond the barrier in that time, every creature within the Pit of Night will be released. All you have to do is pass me and nothing will stand in your way."
He drew a metal cylinder that resembled a small torch. He flicked the activation switch and a blade of light emerged from the end. He pushed the button above the switch, locking the switch in place.
"Just one little Night Ranger and maybe a few weapons," he promised. "I won't even morph."
And that was the challenge. It was a deal the spirits trapped within the Pit of Night couldn't ignore. They wanted their freedom and despite the danger Kincaid posed, they knew it was their only chance. But the Pit of Night was much larger than many believed, more of a dimension than a physical space, and while there was a huge collection of dark creatures close to the barrier, the stronger spirits were much further away, skulking in the darkest depths. And despite his confidence Kincaid knew that only those that took the challenge would be bound by the agreement. He hoped it would be enough.
He could sense the moment that the creatures chose to attack. He smirked as he tightened his grip on his Night Saber, hoping that he had not been overconfident. As the swarm of hideous beasts pounced he allowed himself to let the Power guide him, whispering a solemn promise:
"None may pass."
The battle that followed would only last for fifteen minutes, but in that time Jeff Kincaid showed why the Night Rangers were the elite of the Acexta Order. The Night Fighters could face one spirit at a time, he faced all comers. At first the grunts charged forward one at a time and were easily cut down by his glowing blade; their claws slid off his long black coat. Then the numbers started to increase as wave after wave crashed against the one-man barricade. Two, then four, then twelve... the numbers were relentless, constantly increasing as Kincaid moved with incredible speed and skill, a smile gracing his face as he abandoned himself to the Power. He kicked, dodged, hacked and punched the aggressors back. He was unmovable and the light from his Night Saber seemed to grow brighter with each of the attackers he destroyed.
But he was also hurt. His body ached from the many cuts and scratches he received as the onslaught continued. Although his clothing had been designed to offer some protection, but it was only able to resist damage, not stop it altogether. He was being pressed back by the weight of numbers, but somehow he found the strength to remain on his feet. Never before had he moved so fast, his body a blur in the darkness, the flash of his blade the only clue to where he had been. The grunts were too numerous now to count and they were growing more powerful with each wave.
"Spirits of the Night Fighters, lend me your power!" he called, summoning strength from those creatures that had been conquered by those that had entered the Pit of Night before him. Their power belonged to the Acexta Order and since Kincaid was the last of his kind, that meant they were his to command. Of course that number increased with every attacker he managed to cut down.
A burst of light shot from his hands, incinerating all that stood in its path. With a single attack he had brought himself precious seconds. Yet even now he knew it would not be long before he was overwhelmed again. The stampede of dark creatures appeared endless. He was about to be overcome when a blue barrier surrounded him.
"Fifteen minutes," he told them as the creatures pounded angrily on the barrier. "You've had your chance and you failed. Now your powers belong to the Acexta."
As he was speaking he moved toward the barrier that would take him back to his previous position outside the Pit of Night. He was hurt, badly. The wounds he had received were bleeding and some were likely infected. As the adrenalin faded he could feel that something was wrong with his left leg. It hung at a strange angle below the knee and from the difficulty he had breathing, he knew there was a chance his ribs had been broken too. He turned to leave, only to find his way blocked. Jeff groaned; it looked like he wouldn't get away after all.
"Hello Jeff, fancy meeting you here."
Dimitria ran her hands over the Xenotome. Currently she was studying the history of the Night Fighters, Night Rangers and all things associated with them. It listed their enemies, their powers and theories about how the Night Ranger powers were capable of evolving as the roster changed. The book was self-updating with new facts added by the clerics. It was saddening to know that thanks to Crucible, very little would be added in the future.
She read and reread the prophecy before her. It told of the fall of the Night Rangers and their eventual rebirth. It spoke of the return of the Night Fighters, the coming of the One and the transformation the Night Rangers would undergo. It was a prophecy that appeared in several texts and seemed to relate to a number of groups.
"The Kincaid," she whispered, studying the drawing upon the page. A man was shown dressed in a long black coat and armed with a sword, stood atop a pile of defeated foes. And underneath she saw the words that had become a part of the prophecy surrounding the 'Coming of The One'.
"None may pass," she read.
The next page showed a clash between two armies. She was confused how that could happen. Jeff Kincaid was one man on his own. Where would he get an army?
"Did you think I would let you get away with this?" Crucible asked, before backhanding the injured Night Ranger. "You should have crawled under a rock and stayed there, Kincaid. I might have let you survive a little longer."
Jeff was aware that he was in a bad situation. Not only was Crucible standing in front of him at full strength while he could barely stand, the villain had brought a squadron of featureless soldiers with him. Given the angry mob of creatures behind him and he couldn't see a way out. Or could he?
"It's over Jeff," Crucible told him. "Last time you were lucky to escape. This time you don't have a Zord to protect you."
Jeff ignored Crucible, trying to decide if the ridiculous plan that had suddenly formed in his mind had a chance of succeeding. He knew it was a risk, since both groups would want nothing more than to rip him apart. The question was whether the deal he had struck with the spirits held within the Pit of Night was as binding as he hoped. In the end he decided he had nothing to lose, a decision that made him laugh.
"Something you find funny Jeff?" Crucible asked, as his grip tightened.
"I was just wondering how you plan to leave here," Jeff admitted.
"The same way you intended to," Crucible replied.
"Ah but that's the problem," Jeff continued, ignoring the burning pain in his chest. He didn't know if it was Crucible's doing or his previous injuries and was not in a position to care. "When you became Crucible you gave up being a Night Ranger, a Night Fighter and everything that entailed. As far as the Pit of Night is concerned, you never succeeded in the trial; your little soldiers there certainly didn't win the right to leave. And now you can't leave the Pit of Night until you do so."
"Well once I've disposed of you I'll make short work of whatever creature I have to face," Crucible replied, not concerned about his companions.
"Good plan," Jeff agreed. "Only problem: I don't think they are willing to wait."
As he finished talking there was a low growl and for the first time Crucible noticed that they were surrounded. His followers shifted nervously, a few drawing their weapons. Then with a snarl, the spirits pounced, tearing into the soldiers. Crucible snarled in response as one of them dared to attack him. He threw Jeff to the side, allowing the Night Ranger to make a hasty retreat to the far side of the barrier where he almost collapsed.
"Hardrive?" he queried, hoping the Defiant had not been destroyed.
"You rang?" the computer asked in a particularly drawn out and slightly creepy tone.
"Get me out of here," he ordered.
He could feel the poisons his body had absorbed during his battle seeping through his body. It would take a while to heal his wounds, assuming he was still conscious enough to make it to a healing bed. In hindsight he realised he should have hired an assistant, even if it was only to carry his broken body away after he won.
"By your command," Hardrive responded.
Seconds later Jeff Kincaid disappeared leaving Crucible and his forces at the mercy of the Pit of Night.
It was a slightly battered Crucible that finally emerged from the Pit of Night. The fight had lasted longer than he had expected. Those accompanying him were gone; Crucible had willingly let them fight the creatures, knowing they would be destroyed. It had offered him the time to draw upon his new powers in order to pass through the barrier and escape. As he had done so he knew that Kincaid had won the day. The Pit of Night and the majority of the creatures that lurked there that would have been swayed to Crucible's side were now bound to Kincaid's powers. Those that could be called upon were older, more powerful and would demand a heavy price for their services. Still he had a feeling that one way or another they could be useful in the future.
"Set up a guard station around this world Savrod," he ordered once he was back on board his ship. "It will be of use to us in the future."
Savrod nodded and gave the necessary orders. He didn't see the importance of the planet, but he did understand that for Crucible to rise to the level Savrod expected, the new villain needed an empire. This was as good a place to start as any.
"And then... find me Kincaid."
Savrod sighed. It would seem that Crucible was not going to rest until the Night Ranger was dealt with. Not completely a bad thing, loose ends were never a good thing, but if Crucible became too obsessive about hunting down Kincaid, he would likely overlook the other things he needed to do, such as conquering the Universe. For the time being there was very little that Savrod could do. He had recruited Crucible to be a leader and even though his priorities were different, Crucible was indeed acting like a leader. Given time, he hoped that Crucible would at least listen to his suggestions. Tracking down Kincaid would not take very long; he was just worried about what his leader's next obsession would be.
"As you wish," he said with a slight incline of his head. Behind him the crew were already carrying out their leader's instructions. "It will not take long; the information you provided suggests there are only a few places he would go."
Crucible nodded and turned to once again look at the planet below. He knew Kincaid better than those around him. In some ways there was a connection between them that had started when he had recruited Kincaid to serve as a Night Ranger. Somehow he knew where his former comrade would go.
"Set course for Earth," he ordered. "We'll find Kincaid there."
In the end he realised that his intuition was not due to any sort of link with Kincaid. It was because he knew Jeff was injured. And without the Night Ranger to issue instructions, the ship would follow the programming built into its computer system, programming that Mark Kinega had written.
Once Jeff had returned to the Defiant, the ship had departed at maximum speed. With the pilot unconscious, Hardrive had followed his programming and made a few short jumps to throw off any pursuing craft. Then the computer had directed the vessel to as many obscure planets as possible, making certain that the ship was seen by those who made a profit from selling such information. Then it had jumped again to a completely random destination where it had stopped to assess its options.
Hardrive had been programmed to handle a number of scenarios including the possibility that all the Night Rangers were incapacitated. Its processor quickly assessed the most likely source of aid, given that most Morphin Masters would likely refuse assistance to a Night Ranger, despite their oaths to aid all of those opposed to the Dark side of the Morphin Grid. The Council was more likely to throw Jeff in prison for war crimes than heal him. In the end it seemed that there was only one place where help could be guaranteed: Earth.
Unaware that Crucible had already drawn the same conclusion, the ship sped off, carrying Jeff Kincaid back to his home once more.
Dimitria skimmed through the last few sections and then closed the Xenotome. The book did not tell her what would happen between Kincaid and Crucible, only that their conflict would continue and would be one of the most personal battles in history. It was uncertain how their skirmish would influence the battle between Good and Evil, although she suspected that Crucible would be occupied chasing Kincaid for a while and would not become a major player for some time. When he did though she knew that the Universe would be in trouble.
There was nothing she could do though. She was the Keeper of the Xenotome, charged with allowing others to access its knowledge while protecting it from those who would seek to abuse that knowledge. She could only share the information when it was requested, not when she thought it needed to be. It was an obligation she took seriously, but sometimes, when she was forced to watch events take their course, it was a heavy burden to carry.
End of Part