Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers, they belong to the respective copyright owners. Large sections of this story were originally written by Ellen Brand and featured in her series Personality Conflicts. They are used with permission and I thank Ellen for allowing me to do this. Lillian, Jamie, Christina and Katarina are COE versions of Lillian O'Neil, Jamie Zedden, Christina Collins and Katarina Petronov from Personality Conflicts. The original names and their characters are the property of either Ellen Brand or Jennifer Bigley.
Ties that Bind Part 4 - Release from the Darkness
Two weeks later
"The Devil," Lillian mused, studying the spread in front of her. "The dark side of human nature, passing away." Her finger moved to the next card. "The Tower. The breaking of a current situation, the old making way for the new." Turning over the next card in the spread, she stopped.
Tommy raised an eyebrow. "Death? What does that mean?"
She smiled at him. "Not necessarily dying, it's simply a reinforcement of the Tower. A great change is coming." What she didn't mention was the difference in meanings. Death was in the position of what will come, and signified simply a change, an upheaval. The Tower, in the position of what might be, signified breaking out of the old ways, and usually meant a change for the better.
Moving on, the next card that she turned over turned out to be two cards. Lillian frowned. She had never dealt out two cards to one position before in all her time practicing with the cards. When she realized what they were, she gasped. "The Lovers and the Two of Cups. Two instances of a relationship renewed or begun. Something very strange is going on here."
Tommy frowned. The two of them were in the Youth Center, where Lillian had promised to show him her Tarot cards and how she read them. The sample reading she had done, on the situation in general, had begun to spook her, however. Deliberately, to lighten the mood, he shrugged. "What do cups have to do with love?"
"Cups correspond to Hearts in the ordinary deck. In addition, cups represent water, and water represents the emotions. The Two of Cups represents the formation of a bond, usually love."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Does this stuff really work?"
She shrugged. "I've been wrong before, but not as often as I've been right. Now, maybe my clients and I have read into the reading, but it always seems to work."
"I'm sure things will turn out all right," he reassured her. "Come on, we have to meet the others in the park soon. If we don't hurry up, Rocky and Jason will have polished off all of the food!"
Laughing, the two teens packed up the cards and left the juice bar hand in hand, the strange predictions temporarily forgotten.
In the park, Tommy sat on a blanket and watched his friends laughing and running around like grade-schoolers. Jason, in particular was the most energetic. With a sigh, he thought about the way things had changed since he had become a Power Ranger. He had a new team now, consisting of his original team, Aisha, David and Samoht that operated on an as-needed basis. It was a team that had thrived, especially Jason, whose position was most comfortable, having been placed there by friends and teachers for most of his life.
The Zeo Ranger team was as strong as ever and the Gold Ranger had pretty much been accepted as the sixth unofficial member of the team. For some reason though it was hard to think of Trey as the sixth Zeo Ranger, there was still that slight gap to overcome where ideology and personalities were concerned.
The changes had for the most part been good, but there were always drawbacks. The incredible closeness they had all felt during their time as Rangers had been lost. No longer was everyone else's best friend as old and newer Rangers tried to interact. Now there were tight and loose bonds, even though everyone was still friendly. Adam and Rocky had drawn even closer together, and Trey seemed to spend most of his time with them. The Triforian prince and Rocky had formed an unusually close friendship, for reasons none of the others could fathom. Sighing again, Tommy turned to regard his girlfriend, Lillian. She simply sat, watching the others play and laugh, smiling occasionally, but making no move to join in the celebration, blissfully unaware of the turmoil in her boyfriend's outwardly normal life. Tommy shook his head. Once again, he was almost forcibly reminded of his days as the Green Ranger. It had been so hard for him to join in the fun, partly from guilt, partly from shyness, and partly from an inner reserve that made it hard for him to relate to other people.
Smiling, he rose to his feet. Crossing to where she sat, he reached down and pulled her up. "Come on," he told her. "We're going to play Frisbee."
Ignoring her laughing protests, he dragged her over to where Jason, Zack, and Tanya were throwing the little plastic disk around. "Mind if we play?" he asked.
Jason shrugged. "Suit yourself, bro," The five teens tossed the Frisbee around for a while, and Lillian gradually lost her reserve, laughing and teasing with the others.
Finally, Jason begged off, pleading exhaustion. Sitting under a tree with a sigh, he closed his eyes and relaxed. When he felt somebody sit next to him, a quick glance revealed it was Jamie.
"How you feeling?" she asked.
Jason and his girlfriend Emily had broken up a couple of days ago, the stress of his maintaining a secret causing unnecessary strain on their relationship. While he and Jamie were not dating, their friendship had grown steadily stronger.
"I'm okay. Except-- does if feel like it's going to storm to you?" he asked curiously.
"No," she shook her head, confused. "The sky is clear, the birds are singing, and the pressure is constant. I can't feel any of the oppressive wind that comes with a thunderstorm. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know. Zordon once told me that the residue of the Gold Power might leave me sensitive to energy currents, and I can't shake the feeling something big is on the horizon."
"You aren't the only one to feel that way. Look," she pointed. Out on the green grass, Rocky, Adam, Kat, and Trey were playing football. Adam seemed distracted, enough so that he bobbled a pass which promptly hit him in the face. Trini, sitting talking to Kimberly, kept losing the thread of the conversation.
"Every Ranger with any psychic ability whatsoever is totally out of their skull this morning. Even some of us who aren't Rangers," she added, pointing to Christina Collins. After her run-in with Lord Zedd's army, Zordon had maintained a watch over Christina and Katarina, and had concluded the girl had some obvious if untrained psychic ability. He had asked the Rangers to consider approaching her and training her as a potential ally. "Even I feel it, and I'm barely telepathic. I guess carrying a mystically powered blade allows me to feel something."
Jason bit back as laugh. Since she had come into the Rangers' lives, Jamie had proven herself a valued comrade. And while her lack of powers made her vulnerable, her skills as a warrior more than compensated. She was almost an unofficial member of the team.
As with all the others, something was buzzing at the back of his mind, and he couldn't seem to hold his concentration. "I hope we find out what's going on soon," he remarked, "or we're all going to be nervous wrecks."
"Hmm," Jamie mused. "I wonder if that's the idea." Her gaze was instantly drawn up to the blue sky.
Up on the moon, the atmosphere was almost as charged as that of Angel Grove Park. Lord Zedd had been his general fiendish self, striding around his throne room, plotting the demise of the Power Rangers as if he was still lord and master of the moon, and that the events of the past two years had not occurred. Everything seemed almost normal.
Except it wasn't. Lord Zedd had snapped. At least that was the general consensus among his underlings. In fact his recent act of parental care had weakened the demon's hold on its host's body. In a desperate attempt to reassert control, the Emperor of the Dark Galaxy had become obsessed with the Power Rangers, to the point where he was willing to put himself in danger to destroy them.
Rita had left the night before, not saying where she was going, but promising that she would destroy at least one Ranger by the time she returned. That had done little more than pushed Zedd further as he refused to be outdone by his wife.
In the Youth Center, Kimberly and Lillian were sitting by and giggling as Zack went through his trademark magic act. Finally, he got to the card tricks, and offered the deck to Kimberly for the "pick a card, any card," segment. She picked the two of hearts, and he went on with the trick. However, when he did the next one, she again picked the two of hearts. Lillian frowned at the deck.
"Zack, can I see those cards?" she asked. He turned the cards towards her so that she could see that they were all different. "Kim, could you pick a card again?' Shrugging, Kimberly reached out and drew a card from the deck. Once again, it was the two of hearts. Kimberly looked up at her two friends in shock.
"What are the odds against that?" Kimberly asked, her eyes wide.
Zack shrugged. "I dunno, but they're high. Lillian, you're the card expert. What does the two of hearts mean?"
"The start of a love affair, the formation of a bond. It corresponds to the two of cups in the Tarot deck, and symbolizes two lovers plighting their troth, or making a promise of betrothal."
Zack raised an eyebrow at Kimberly, who blushed beet red. "I have to go. I have homework to do," she excused herself, leaping up and running out the door.
"Zack, something very strange is going on here. I keep turning up the two of cups in my Tarot readings, and now this. Something really odd is about to happen."
Zack shrugged. "Don't look at me, I'm just the entertainment."
"That's ridiculous," Kimberly muttered to herself, striding through the park. "I just came off a relationship, and I know better than to start one on the rebound. Of course, Tommy did, and look how his turned out. Still, I seriously doubt that there's a great romance in my future."
A shout interrupted her thoughts. "Hey, Kimberly!" Skull called, running to catch up with her. "Don't you know you shouldn't be in the park alone?" he asked, grinning.
"Are you offering your services as a bodyguard?" she giggled. Skull could always make her feel better, no matter what. He looked good today, she noticed. His loose blue jeans and red shirt hid his skinniness, and he wore a small gold stud in his ear, as opposed to the long, dangling earring he usually wore. To complete the picture, he was not chewing gum, an extremely unusual sight. As always, however, his dark hair was adorably mussed. ~Good grief, he's cute!~ Kimberly thought to herself, astonished.
"I do have some experience body guarding, you know," he told her seriously. "And it really isn't safe for you to walk through the park alone. I'd be happy to escort you, milady." He executed a charming bow, causing Kimberly to dissolve in giggles again.
"Okay, Skull," she laughed. "You've got a deal." They walked on, talking and laughing together, and Kimberly marvelled at how comfortable she felt when she was with Skull. ~The only person I ever felt this way with was Tommy,~ she thought wistfully. She almost laughed at the image of her dating Skull, and then stopped. That actually wasn't such a horrifying image. Skull was considerate, sweet, and obviously liked her a great deal. He had come a long way from the little punk who had such an atrocious crush on her in the old days.
Kimberly was jerked rudely out of her thoughts when Goldar appeared before them with an army of Tengas. "Hello, humans!" the monkey laughed evilly. "Empress Rita requests the pleasure of your presence!"
"Run, Skull!" Kimberly yelled, dropping into a fighting stance.
"Where to?" the detective asked practically. "We're kind of surrounded!"
"Shit," Kimberly cursed. "Looks like we're going to have to fight." The two teens launched themselves at the Tengas, and Kimberly was surprised to note, out of the corner of her eye, that Skull was actually holding his own. They were gravely outnumbered, however, and the Tengas had soon grabbed them, holding them fast. In a hail of feathers, the entire group disappeared.
"Kimberly's what?" Tommy cried, slamming his hands down on the console nearest him.
"She and Skull were kidnapped while they were walking through the park. We can no longer find them on our scanners," Alpha repeated, staying well out of the Red Ranger's reach. He had seen what the young man could do in a rage, and had no desire to be hit with flying debris.
"Why?" Trini asked. "What could Rita possibly want with them?"
"Take a wild guess," Jason replied grimly. "As for Skull, he was probably just in the wrong place at the wrong time. He and Bulk seem to have a gift for that."
"So what do we do?" Jamie asked practically.
"I guess now, all we can do is wait," Adam sighed.
Kimberly and Skull were dropped rather unceremoniously into a cave-like cell, with rough rock walls and a dirt floor. "Goldar, you big winged monkey! What are you planning to do with us?" Kimberly screamed.
"You'll find out, Miss Kimmie," Goldar laughed. Then he and the Tengas disappeared, leaving Kimberly to bang on the force field that kept them in the cell. Sighing, she turned back to Skull, who was examining their surroundings with wry amusement.
"These guys have a thing for caves, don't they?" he grinned at her. "That time that Goldar kidnapped the teen leaders, from that Peace Conference thing, Bulk and I tailed them, and sure enough, they went into a cave."
Kimberly smiled, remembering. Goldar had kidnapped the six teen leaders to make his evil Power Rangers, holding them hostage so that the Rangers would turn over their Power Coins. Thanks to Billy and some chocolate coins, however, they had managed to trick Goldar and rescue the teen leaders.
"Well, I guess we're going to be here a while," she sighed, sitting on the floor and leaning against a wall.
"Hmm," Skull replied, banging on the force field. "You might be right. I don't see any way of getting out of here. Unless of course, you've got something up your sleeve--" he turned back to her, "Pink Ranger."
Kimberly leaped to her feet. "What? What are you talking about? I'm not the Pink Ranger."
"Not anymore, no. I'd say you probably gave the position to Kat, am I right?" Her jaw dropped, all the answer Skull needed. "Hey, I am a good detective."
"How-- how did you know?" Kimberly managed.
"Well, you obviously knew tall, dark, and gruesome out there, and as far as I know, the only people on a first-name basis with those goons are the Power Rangers. Then it hit me. You wear a lot of pink, a weird watch, and when you left, the girl who suddenly started hanging out with all your friends sounded a lot like the new Pink Ranger. Australian accents are not that common in Angel Grove. Then a lot of other things made sense, like how the five of you got out of detention that one time, when those evil Rangers were tearing up the city. You teleported out, didn't you?"
She nodded, still startled by this display of intelligence on Skull's part. He smiled crookedly at her. "I'm not dumb, Kimberly. I just made everyone think I am. It got me more attention that way. The teachers were always oohing and ahhing over you guys. I was never going to be smart enough to get attention that way, so I fell in with the wrong crowd and got attention that way. Not real smart, but I was a little kid. After that, I just sort of got into the habit of being a punk and acting dumb. I'm trying to clean up my act, but it hasn't been easy."
"Skull, I'm sorry. I've been pretty mean to you over the years, haven't I?"
"Naw! Kim, you've always been great. I've been a complete dork. It was just-- I didn't know any other way to get you to notice me. I mean, you were always hanging out with Jason, and Zack, and you had every guy in the school trailing after you. I figured the only way I'd get you to notice me, was to be a jerk. Pretty stupid, huh?"
She smiled at him. "Well, I've been kind of stupid, myself. I never noticed what a great guy you are. I just thought you were another one of those guys with a stupid crush on me."
"I was," he grinned. "I don't have a crush on you anymore, though, Kimberly."
"No?" she asked, feeling a little disappointed.
"No," he replied seriously. "I'm in love with you. I think it happened somewhere in ninth grade, which must have been when you became a Power Ranger. You went from being a pretty, sweet, nice girl to being a courageous, beautiful woman. Everyone could see that you'd changed. It was pretty obvious that your biggest worries weren't school and clothes anymore. It was like watching a jeweller cut a diamond. The real value appears. I realized I was in love with you when it didn't bother me that you were with Tommy. I just wanted you to be happy."
Kimberly was speechless. "Skull, I-- don't know what to say," she stammered. He held up a hand to quiet her.
"Don't say anything. I don't expect anything. I just-- don't think I'm going to get out of this, and I wanted you to know."
"Skull," she stepped forward, trying to organize her thoughts. "I--" Just then, however, Goldar appeared, interrupting her.
"Bad timing," Skull sighed. "All right, what do you want?"
"You two are to come with me," Goldar sneered. "My empress has a little surprise prepared for you."
"I don't like surprises," Skull muttered as the Tengas closed in on them.
"Me either," Kim replied. Reaching out, she took his hand. He was startled for a moment, then squeezed it tightly as they were teleported out of the cell.
On the moon, Zedd watched the events on Earth, glowing fiendishly. "Hmm," he mused. "So Rita has kidnapped Kimberly, has she? Tommy must be going out of his mind! Let's take advantage of this, shall we? Hmm, something he'd never be able to raise a hand to, but something that could easily defeat him. I have it!" Pointing his staff at the Earth, he sent a bolt of lightning hurtling down towards earth. It struck a photo of Kim that Tommy still kept on his dresser. In a flash, an almost exact duplicate of Kimberly stood in Tommy's room. Almost, because she was dressed in an outfit Kim would never wear. It was black, completely onyx black, and tight to the skin, hinting at what lay beneath without actually revealing anything. On her feet were black boots with thick, high heels, giving her an extra two inches. At her back hung a katana, and a black hood, rather like that of a ninja, was around her neck.
"Lord Zedd, I am ready for your orders," she said, in a voice without emotion.
"Dark Lady, you are to go to the center of town and cause a commotion. When the Power Rangers show up to stop you, destroy them! If you manage to capture the Red Ranger, you may do with him as you wish."
She bowed, her eyes flashing a dark red. "Thank you, my lord." In a flash of black, she disappeared.
Kim and Skull found themselves in a large chamber, with strange and rather unnerving designs on the floor. At the other end of the room from them stood a large stone altar, with a number of rather nasty-looking tools resting on it, and a large green crystal ball that flashed at irregular intervals. In the center of the design was a post with chains on it. Rita stood to one side, chuckling evilly.
"Welcome, Kimberly. I'm sure you're just dying to know what's going on here, so I'll tell you. This is the same spell I used on your little boyfriend when I made him the Green Ranger, although I've taken a few more precautions. This time, no one will be able to break my spell!"
"Fine, Rita, you've got me. Just let Skull go. He's not part of this."
"Oh, but he is, Kimmie. You see, those are the precautions I was talking about. To cement the spell, I need the blood of a good man, freshly shed. Heart's blood," Rita leered.
Skull swallowed hard. "Ouch," he muttered. "No one's ever accused me of being a bleeding heart before."
Kimberly smiled slightly. Skull's wisecracks were simply his way of dealing with his fear, much like Rocky and Zack. All three made jokes to cover up their fear. "I won't let anything happen to you, Skull," she whispered.
"If you're thinking about morphing, Kimmie, don't bother," Rita smirked. "The crystal on the altar creates a field which keeps you from morphing near it. And don't even think about a last minute rescue. We're in the center of the Labyrinth of Chorida, in a dimension near Earth. No one can teleport in or out."
"Looks like we've got a problem," Skull sighed. "Look, the lady with the bad hair over there obviously believes that you still have some powers. Is she right?"
Kim nodded. "Yes, but I still can't morph with that crystal around."
"Not a problem. Just be ready to fight when I give the word, and be ready to morph when that crystal breaks."
"What?" Kimberly hissed.
Skull flashed her his cutest grin. "Trust me."
Kimberly sighed, but did as he asked.
Skull returned his gaze to Goldar as Rita began preparations for the spell. He didn't have much time to pull this off, because once those Tengas put the chains on Kimberly, any hope for his plan would be lost. Even so, he took the time to tune out all external distractions, focussing directly on Goldar.
The space monkey was larger and stronger that Skull, by a great amount, but Skull had one big advantage. Goldar thought he knew Skull. The time that Goldar and Rito had spent in his garage had given them a false impression. Like everybody else in Angel Grove, Goldar had underestimated Eugene Skullovitch.
Since becoming a detective, Skull had finally found something he loved doing, something that he wanted to do for the rest of his life. As a result, he had thrown himself into it wholeheartedly, learning everything he could about the profession. One thing he had learned was, while it wasn't as exciting as TV and books pretended, you still ran a rather high risk of getting punched in the face. That was why he had begun taking self-defense classes. Now, he had a pretty good idea of what he was capable of, and a very good idea of Goldar's abilities. If he hit him hard enough and fast enough, he might be able to take the goon by surprise long enough to get rid of that crystal so Kim could morph. Tensing himself, he whispered to Kim, "Now!" and threw himself at Goldar.
Even as he did so, Kim ripped into the Tengas, knocking them every which way as they attempted to close in on her. Flipping and kicking, she managed to keep the Tengas extremely confused, wishing mightily for her ninja powers as she did so.
Skull, meanwhile, had been lucky enough to take Goldar completely by surprise. A quick spin and a kick to the shins, and Skull had Goldar's sword in his own hands. "Mind if I borrow this, Goldie?" he asked, with a manic grin. Not waiting for an answer, he kicked Goldar in the stomach and headed for the altar.
Rita, realizing his goal, screamed, "He's heading for the crystal! Stop him!" Rito, who up until this moment had been watching from the sidelines, took this moment to become involved. Skull suddenly found a large walking skeleton standing between him and the altar. Rito raised his sword and attacked with a downward cut that Skull just managed to parry. Out of the corner of her eye, Kimberly saw the fight and realized with a shock that Skull obviously knew what he was doing. He handled Goldar's sword like a master.
Finally, with a sweeping side cut, Skull knocked Rito's sword out of his hands, sending the skeleton scrambling away. Leaping up onto the altar, Skull grinned down at his quarry. "FORE!" he yelled, sweeping the sword in a golf club-type arc. The crystal flew across the room and shattered against the wall in a flash of brilliant white light.
Even before the light had faded, Kimberly was springing into action. "Pink Ranger Power!" she called. Another light flashed, this one pink and the Pink Ranger stood ready, bow primed for action.
"Nice," Skull told her approvingly. "Let's get out of here."
"There's a door that way," she pointed. "If we can get out of the labyrinth, I can get us home."
"Then let's go." They ran for the door, a disarmed Goldar and a horde of Tengas on their heels.
Tommy was pacing around the Power Chamber, looking for all the world like the panther his Morphin Warrior uniform bore, when the alarm went off. "Damn it! What now?" he cried, stunning his friends with the savage tone in his voice.
"Rangers, observe the viewing globe. Lord Zedd has released the Dark Lady, his newest monster, on Angel Grove. She is in the shopping district creating quite a ruckus."
On the viewing globe, they could see a definitely female figure, dressed in a skin-tight version of a traditional ninja outfit. She wielded a katana like an expert, sending the citizens of Angel Grove running for their lives. "We have to stop her," Adam cried.
"But-- what about Kim?" Tommy asked helplessly.
"We'll still be here, man," Jason told him. "If anyone can find her, Alpha can."
"I guess so," he sighed. "Right. It's Morphin Time!"
In a flash, the ten Zeo Rangers were in the shopping district, facing off with the Dark Lady. "Well, Power Rangers, how nice of you to come. I'll have to find something to keep you busy, won't I? Putties, attack!" A horde of Zedd's Putties materialized out of nowhere.
"Split up!" Red Ranger yelled. "Rocky, Trey, go left! Kat, Tanya, Adam, go right! You all take the Putties, I will handle the kunoichi here."
"You're welcome to try, Red Ranger," she laughed. Her voice brought him up short. Something was familiar there, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Shaking his head, he threw himself into the battle.
The Rangers fighting the Putties were doing marvellously, but no matter how many Putties they downed, more kept coming. "Man!" Blue Ranger puffed. "Zedd must be throwing his entire Putty army into this! I don't know how long we can keep this up!"
"As long as we have to," Gold Ranger replied, knocking two Putties into each other. Their Z-spots collided and the two disintegrated.
Meanwhile, Red was getting beaten badly by the Dark Lady. A side kick knocked him into a tree. With a foot-sweep, Dark Lady then knocked Red Ranger off of his feet. To his utter astonishment, she came and sat on his chest, trapping his arms against his sides. Reaching for his helmet, she chuckled throatily. "Let's get a better look at you, shall we, Red Ranger?" Popping the catches, she removed his helmet. Then she reached up and pulled off her own mask, shaking her hair so that it fell loose around her face. "Hello, Tommy."
"Kim?" The look on Tommy's face was totally shocked. "No, you can't be Kim. She's been kidnapped by Rita. Who are you?"
"I can be anything you want me to be," she whispered. "Lord Zedd will allow me to spare your life. Think of it, Tommy. Together, you and I can rule the galaxy. You will be next in line for Zedd's throne. And I will always be at your side. You can't deny you want it, Tommy. The darkness in your soul finds my offer very attractive. Certainly, you can't say that you don't want me"
"Yes, I can. You're pretty enough, I guess, but it's so cold. You don't have any of the life or warmth that made Kimberly so attractive to me. As for your offer, yeah, it's tempting, but not very. I don't want power, or control, and I certainly don't want to be a ruler. I've got my dark side, but it doesn't tend toward that. I'm happy with what I have, and you can't offer me anything more. Certainly not a pale copy of Kimberly. I don't even have those feelings for her anymore. Why on earth would I have them for you?"
Dark Lady's face became chillingly cold. "I would reconsider, if I were you, Red Ranger," she threatened, pulling a knife from her boot and resting it against his throat. "If you die, who will rescue your precious Kimberly from Rita?"
"My friends," he replied, looking her straight in the eye. "You can kill me, if you want, but it won't change anything. There will still be Power Rangers, and they will still fight Zedd without me."
"But you'll be dead," she reminded him, pressing the knife closer to his throat.
"So what? I came to terms with my own death a long time ago. It doesn't frighten me anymore. Go ahead and kill me. You don't frighten me any more, either."
"Very well." Dark Lady tilted his head back, baring his throat for the killing strike. Before she could send the blade home, though, she was knocked off Tommy by a blast of pink energy.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you not to mess with a Ranger unless you want to deal with all of them?" Pink Zeo asked.
"Let's take her together," Tommy remarked, putting his helmet back on.
"Right." The Rangers advanced on their target. Although she put up a good fight, Dark Lady was no match for the two incensed Rangers. Very quickly, she was destroyed.
"Tommy, are you okay?" Pink Zeo asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I'm just worried about Kim." He stared at the sky. "I hope she's all right, wherever she is."
At that moment, Kimberly and Skull were hiding behind one of the rock walls of the Labyrinth, taking a much needed breather. They had ditched their pursuers for the time being, but Kimberly still had an arrow on her bow, and Skull held Goldar's sword at the ready.
"Skull, when on earth did you learn to use that thing?" Kimberly asked incredulously, nodding to the sword.
"This? Oh, my uncle is a world-class Olympic fencer. He's been giving me lessons since I was big enough to hold a foil. I thought fencing was really cool, so I started taking lessons in other types of swordplay. I'm at my best with a foil, but I can make shift with most other types of blades."
She shook her head. "Skull, you are just full of surprises." He chuckled in response. They were silent for a while, then Kimberly looked up at him again. "Skull, about what you said in the cell earlier."
He gestured dismissively. "Oh, forget about it, Kim."
"No. I don't want to forget about it, Skull. There's something I need to say to you. You are a wonderful, sweet person, and I've been stupid not to see it before this. I'm still healing from my break up with Tommy, and I've been really grateful to have your company, I really have. Skull, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm not in love with you." He looked the other way then, resignation in his eyes. Taking his chin in her hands, she turned his head so that he couldn't look away from her. "I'm not in love with you, Skull, but I think I'm getting there."
He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Yeah?"
"Mm-hmm. I already like you as more than a friend. I would like to see more of you, that's for sure."
"Well, would a date help? You, me, candlelight dinner for two at Chez Paul, a bottle of sparkling cider, it could be magic," he grinned at her.
"Yeah," she replied, smiling back.
"Yes!" Skull cried, pumping one fist. "If we get out of this alive, next Thursday?"
"Sure." Kimberly was suddenly conscious of how close their faces were, and how cute he was, and how unlikely it was that they were going to get out of this. Slowly, their heads moved together, their lips almost touching.
"There they are!" Goldar shouted, breaking the mood.
"Very bad timing," Skull grumbled, springing to his feet. Kimberly was up almost as quickly, firing arrows at the advancing Tengas, who then scrambled for any available cover.
"I want my sword back, Human," Goldar growled.
"Yeah? Then catch!" Skull cried, hurling the sword at Goldar. The blade flew end over end, tumbling like the world's biggest throwing knife. Goldar was forced to duck as the blade narrowly missed his head and ended up clunking several Tengas, who weren't so lucky.
"I can't believe that worked," Skull gaped in shock. "That's not supposed to be doable."
"You can complain about it later," Kimberly yelled, pulling on his arm. "Come on, the entrance is right out there!"
Snapping out of his daze, Skull followed her out into the sunshine, Rita's army hard on their heels. No sooner had they left the shadows of the Labyrinth, however, then Kimberly grabbed Skull's arm and teleported them both to the Power Chamber, leaving a very frustrated Goldar to curse them both soundly.
"Tommy!" Trini's voice cried from Red Ranger's communicator. "Kimberly's okay! She and Skull escaped from Rita and they're both here. He knows all about the Rangers, so we have a bit of a problem on our hands."
A crackle of energy behind him made Red Ranger turn slowly. "Um, Trini? It appears that we've got a bit of a problem here, too. Zedd's just showed up, and I don't think he's happy. We'll talk later. Tommy out."
"This is the last time you Power Pests ruin one of my monsters," Zedd bellowed. "This time, I will destroy you myself!"
"This is not good," Red Ranger remarked as the team regrouped behind him.
"Really, Sherlock?" Yellow Zeo asked innocently. "What was your first clue?"
"Power Rangers, try to destroy the staff!" called Red Ranger, remembering the last time he had fought Zedd. "That's his power source. Let's go!"
The Rangers charged, and the battle was on. Zedd quickly proved that he was a formidable fighter, throwing the Rangers back as quickly as they came at him. Realizing that they were outmatched, the Rangers called on their Power Weapons. Still, however, Zedd was too strong for them. One by one, he sent them flying back to land in little heaps on the ground.
The battle escalated as the Morphin Rangers teleported into battle, weapons at the ready. Kimberly tried her arrows, but Zedd deflected them with his staff. Moving in close, Jamie tried to hook the staff from his hands with a sword. He swept her off her feet, aiming the staff at her as she lay stunned on the ground. A lethal charge of white energy built up at its tip. Looking up at him, Jamie extended her hand. "Dad," she whispered, "don't."
Zedd's hand began to tremble, and at the last second, he pulled the staff away, sending the charge harmlessly up into the atmosphere.
Red Ranger saw his chance and moved in. The two fought for long minutes, until Red Ranger brought his sword down in a strong slice. Zedd, as Red Ranger had expected, blocked by raising his staff over his head. However, nothing could stop the Zeo V Power Sword, which had been forged from the heart of a falling meteor. It sheared through Zedd's staff like a knife through putty. There was a brilliant flash of light, and the staff was suddenly a snake lying on the ground.
The Rangers had not been ready for this, but luckily the Morphin Rangers had a solution. As the Zeo Rangers rapidly formed the Zeo Blaster, their half-powered comrades were already pooling their abilities. "We call on the power of all those combined!"
"Zeo Blaster, Fire!" the five main Rangers called, training their beam on the snake.
"Gold Ranger Power!" A beam of light left the Golden Power staff, focussing on the snake.
"Lightning Strike!" Jamie called. Bolts of lightning left the tip of her sword and struck the snake. The influx of power was too much for the snake to withstand, and it vanished in a bright flash.
Zedd had been forced to his knees by the loss of his power, and now, as the Rangers watched, he flickered, the demon part of him trying to maintain control over its human host.
"No, you will not win this easily," he told them, standing defiantly. "I am Lord Zedd, I cannot be defeated!"
He summoned his own sword and charged the Red Ranger, his desire to defeat the collected heroes overcoming his survival instinct. Red Zeo pulled his sword away from the Zeo Blaster in time to meet Zedd's blow, just as Jason's sword landed on the villain's metal exoskeleton. Jamie loosed another volley of lightning and this time without his staff, there was no where for Zedd to go.
"Power Down!" Tommy ordered. The Rangers responded quickly. "Zordon, we need the Zeo Crystal, now!"
The crystal appeared at his command and Tommy held it out towards Zedd. The villain looked up, not realising what the teen had in mind until he saw Tanya, Kat, Rocky and Adam place their hands on the crystal.
"The Zeo Crystal will purge all evil," Adam said, remembering what Zordon had told Tommy when he had gone to retrieve it from the Caves of Deception.
Tommy nodded and offered Jamie a quick smile. "How about we try and free your dad?"
"No, you cannot do this!" Zedd protested as they moved toward him. Possession of the Zeo Crystal would have meant unlimited power, but Zedd knew that evil could not touch it directly. Why else would Master Vile have used it to power the weapons of the captured Ninja Zords instead of using it himself?
"Forgive him his trespasses and deliver him from evil." Rocky could be heard whispering, changing the words of the prayer to suit.
"Amen," Tommy responded as the crystal made contact with Zedd's body.
It happened very quickly, the dark power of the demon was bombarded with the untainted energy of the Zeo Crystal. The power was surging, flushing the evil from the man, freeing Jamie's father and almost driving the demon that was Lord Zedd from his soul.
He had been forced to his knees by the cleansing, and now, as the Rangers watched, he flickered between the demon image they knew and the more natural form they had seen previously. A cloud of black mist rose up as the dark being was physically driven from its host. But the demon known as Zedd had been around for too long to simply succumb to the purification. He struggled against the inevitable, twisting his putrid essence and splitting himself from his poor victim's life force.
"This isn't over Rangers!" the wraith promised before being swept away by the wind.
Jamie stared at the place where a moment before Lord Zedd had been, stood her father. Tears ran freely down her face as she realised they had succeeded. Zedd by this time had fallen to his knees again, his body weakened by the loss of the evil magic that had been maintaining it.
"Oh, my God," Zedd choked. "What have I done?"
At a signal from their leader, the Rangers demorphed. Tommy walked over to the kneeling man and put his hand on his shoulder. "What you did, you had no control over. It's in the past. You can't change it; you have to live with it. What's important is what you do now," he said, remembering when he and Jason had played out this little scene, years ago.
"Red Ranger, for what I have done, can you forgive me?" Zedd asked, looking up at Tommy. The pain in his eyes was evident. Tommy smiled at the older man.
"Yes, I can. The others may have more trouble, but I understand. I have no grudge against you."
Accepting Tommy's offered hand, Zedd rose slowly to his feet. "Jamie," he started, crossing to his daughter. "I-- know that I haven't been a very good father to you. I missed so much of your childhood, and I am sorrier than you will ever know. I realize that we cannot go back to what has been, but could we-- maybe-- start again? Could we try to be a family again, a family of some sort?"
Jamie stared at her father for a long moment, then threw her arms around him, bursting into tears as she did so. "I'd like that. Just so long as you friends alone."
Zedd chuckled. "I won't be any more protective than any other father, all right?"
"Deal," she sniffed, wiping her tears away.
"Would your mother-- still be interested-- in seeing me?" he asked hesitantly.
"She still wears your wedding ring," Jamie smiled. "Other than that, you'll have to ask her yourself."
Still keeping one arm around his daughter, Zedd turned to the rest of the Rangers. "Thank you for helping me."
"Don't mention it," Kat smiled. "It's our job to help people."
"I say we all go back to the Power Chamber," Adam suggested. "We can talk about this better there."
"Right," Tommy nodded. In a rainbow of coloured light, Zedd and the Rangers teleported out.
"Rangers, I am very proud of all of you. You came through this fight with flying colours, especially you, Tommy. Zedd, it is good to have you on the side of the Light once again."
Zedd smiled sadly. "It's good to be back. Listen, all of you. I'm not really Zedd anymore. I've really changed too much to go back to that. I'm just plain old Lawrence Zedden now."
"Mr. Zedden, you know of course, that with the demon exorcised, you will now age at an accelerated rate to make up for the time you kept the aging at bay."
Larry nodded. "I know, Zordon. Of course, accelerated for you and me is completely normal for Earth humans. I won't live too much longer than Leslie, and that's the way I like it. Now, my powers are gone, but I'm still a Zarakin, and I still have this." He pulled out his sword, brother blade to the one Jamie possessed. "If you ever need me, I'm more than willing to help you."
In a corner, Skull was still reeling from the events and revelations of the past few minutes, but he was absorbing it rather well. "So, what about me?" he asked casually. "Can someone drop me by my house, or am I walking home."
Kimberly grinned. "Skull, you know you can't tell anyone about us being the Power Rangers, right?"
"Of course. I'm a goof, but I'm not stupid. I always thought Bulk's ideas about unmasking the Power Rangers were silly anyway."
"Skull, you showed exemplary courage under fire today," Zordon rumbled. "You were extremely brave and kept your wits about you. We may need your help again. If we ask, will you give it?"
"Of course! In a heartbeat!"
"In that case," Billy grinned, bringing a pair of boxes out from behind a console. "This one's rainbow, this one's purple and white," he informed them, pulling out two communicators. The rainbow one went to Skull, and the purple and white one went to Larry.
"Billy, how did you know?" Trini exclaimed.
"I didn't," Billy shrugged. "It's just that we've given out so many of these things that I decided that I might as well get a jump-start on the next ones."
That brought a laugh from the assembled population. "Typical Billy," Zack chuckled.
"Who's up for a party at the Youth Center?" Jason asked.
"Yeah!" all the Rangers replied.
"You kids go on," Larry smiled. "I've got some catching up to do." He teleported out, and no one had any doubts as to where he was heading. Larry Zedden didn't have an easy task ahead of him. The Rangers exchanged amused looks and headed for the Youth Center.
"Pick a card, any card," Zack grinned.
Skull groaned. "Do I have to?"
"You wanted to be part of the group," Kim giggled. "You have to put up with this like the rest of us."
Skull sighed, but did as Zack asked.
"Okay, now don't tell me what it is. Is your card-- the two of hearts?"
"As a matter of fact, it is. Kimberly, what's the matter?" Kim had an odd look on her face.
"Zack, let me see that deck," she asked. When Zack was less than forthcoming, she grabbed his wrist and pulled it towards her. He lost his grip on the cards and sprayed them all over the bar. More than half landed face up, allowing Kimberly to see that they were all the two of hearts.
"Zack, you jerk," Kimberly laughed, smacking him playfully.
"Gotcha," Zack managed to gasp, although he was laughing hard enough that tears were welling up in his eyes.
"Did I miss something here?" Skull asked.
"I kept picking the two of hearts this morning, before all this craziness started. Lillian said it symbolized the beginning of a love affair."
"Well, then," Skull smiled, picking up one of the cards and handing it to her. "I guess you could say that our romance was in the cards." He grinned at his own pun, and then hurriedly ducked Kimberly's swat. As the three teens cleaned up the cards spread around the bar, Kimberly marvelled at how things had fallen into place for all of them. ~Maybe there's something to those cards after all,~ she mused. ~Just maybe.~ Destiny was fine, but Kim wasn't going to trust it too far. ~This time, I know what I'm doing,~ she thought to herself, looking at Skull. ~Cards or no cards, We're going to come out on top.~