Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers; they belong to their respective copyright owners and are used here without permission. No money is being made from this fic.
Authors Note: This is an alternate universe from the television show with an alternate timeline. Some parts 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. The original names and their characters are the property of either Ellen Brand or Jennifer Bigley. This story also borrows its first scene from Vypra's Revenge.
Verge of Freedom
It was a murky night. Thunder rumbled as lightning flashed in the distance. It wasn't raining, but fog rolled across the hallowed ground creating an ocean of thick mist. As another flash of lightning illuminated the sky, it became clear that this was a cemetery, the sign on the gate depicting it as Angel's Rest. Tombstones and gravestones could be seen emerging over the top of the mist, small floating islands in the sea of fog.
Along the wall of the cemetery was an old tree that had been marked for culling in the near future. It was bare, old age having finally caught up with it. Its branches reached upward, making it an ugly sight that somehow seemed all the more fitting in this location. Beneath it, perhaps even aiding in its recent demise was a small headstone. It wasn't fancy and from the state of the grave, nobody had been around to tend the site since the grave had been dug. In another flash of lightning it could be seen that the stone was blank and given its age in comparison with the recent digging, probably stolen from elsewhere in the cemetery.
Another flash of lightning followed almost immediately by a clap of thunder caused the ground to shake. The mist seemed to lift for a moment, revealing the wilted roses that someone had left there in a vain attempt to suggest that somebody had cared. A figure was sitting next to the grave, chanting silently in an ancient language, one that allowed the speaker to negotiate with the darkest aspects of the energy known as magic. As she spoke, she dragged the back of her hand across the ground until the knuckles were caked with dirt and blood. Her hand opened and then closed again as she relished the cool night air against her skin.
"Yes oh Ancient Ones, lend me the knowledge, that I might serve you. Grant me the power to free my lord." She scooped up a handful of dirt and scattered it over the grave. Her hands clenched, fingers tightening as she felt the Power fill her. This was not like the previous times when there had been throngs of eager followers to support her. This time she was alone with the darkness and she found its embrace incredible. Recovered for the moment, she pulled herself off of the ground, panting for breath as she crawled across the grave. Necromancy was such an underrated art, but just as useful as sorcery.
"Oh, there you are my pretty," she whispered, clawing up a strange blue pendant that had been expelled from the grave. "You will be put to much better use in my possession than in the care of some corpse." The woman's face twisted into a look of disgust that should have been impossible given her otherwise fair appearance. Zordon had been a fool not to instruct his students to search the body before burying her.
In truth the pendant was a magical artefact known as the Tear of Truth, concealed to prevent it from falling into the hands of those who would not appreciate its worth. It was a magical compass that would lead a true servant to the resting place of a creature named Tairant.
"I am Hel'ga, loyal servant of Tairant and you... are the key to his release. Who else but one of his servants could understand the possibilities you represent? Together we shall do great things, free my master and join him in a new crusade."
"Yes, pretty one, I grow impatient too," she admitted. "We'll need others to aid us. What's that? Oh, yes my pretty, that would work, but where shall we go? Rita Repulsa... no, this is too much responsibility for a mere witch. Where then, oh yes, perfect! You are so clever, how did anyone fail to notice you before? I will need warriors."
The pendant flashed and less than a beat later, a collection of barely human bodies ascended from the dirt surrounding her. They sat up like the dead rising, though it was unlikely that such hideous creatures ever lived in the first place. Each had long dark ratty hair in a ponytail, with pale faces and empty eyes. Rita's servant, Finster might have considered himself a master when it came to making monsters from clay, but his skills were but a fraction of her ability to make true golems such as these from clay, rock or even plain mud.
They wore samurai robes that covered the whole length of their bodies and were slightly torn, no doubt damaged when they emerged. Another flash of lightning and they moved. They leapt into the air, coming to rest in a kneeling position in front of her, waiting for her command.
"Yes! Welcome my loyal soldiers of Tairant. I, Hel'ga have restored you from the void to serve him once more."
Morning dawned on Angel Grove, bright and clear. As the sun rose higher, the birds began to sing, breaking the early morning stillness. At one house, however, the silence was split by other sounds.
"Rocky! Arriba! Levantese ahora!" Maria DeSantos called up the stairs.
"Si, Mama," came the answering mumble. "Five more minutes."
"NOW, Rocky," she replied, striding up the stairs and into his room. In answer, Rocky pulled the pillows down farther over his head.
Mrs DeSantos had finally reached the limits of her patience. "Rockford Eduardo DeSantos, get yourself out of that bed this instant, or --" Maria paused, trying to think up an appropriate threat. "Or I will sic Emilia and Miguel on you!"
Rocky eeped, shooting straight up out of the bed. He hit the ground running, beating his fourteen-year old sister Lindsey to the bathroom easily, slamming the door in her face. Maria sighed. Life with eight children was never easy, and today was promising to be more complicated than most.
"Why did I have to get up so early, Mom?" Rocky asked over breakfast. "It's Saturday."
"Rocky, did you forget? I have an early meeting with a client. I need you to get the Wolf Pack here --" she gestured to the children running around them, "dressed and off to their various activities. Lindsey has ballet lessons at nine. You'll have to drive her there, but I can pick her up. Rosa's going over to Parks' house to play with Franklin. They're close enough that she can walk. Just make sure there are no holes in her clothes. Juan has baseball practice at nine thirty. You'll have to drive him, too, but the coach will bring him home. Miguel and Emilia have a doctor's appointment at ten, then you can take them to their playgroup. Alex's Cub Scout troop is going on an all-day trip, so just drop him off at the school around nine forty-five. I know you're going to be in the car a lot, but you don't have to pick any of them up, and then you can go do something with Adam and Tommy, or whoever."
Rocky sighed. Ever since his father died eight years ago, not long after Alejandro, affectionately known as Alex, was born, he had been the one riding herd on the combined DeSantos children. Pedro, his older brother, had been the man of the house, taking care of getting things and people put together, but Rocky had been the one to bandage scraped knees, fix dinner, and generally mother all of the kids.
Now that Pedro was away at college, Rocky himself was in charge of everything. It played havoc with any chance of a social life, but Rocky was used to it. Luckily, it hadn't ever interfered with his duties as a Power Ranger.
After his mother left, Rocky's work began in earnest. Lindsey, the oldest at fourteen, was not a problem. She was dressed in her leotard, with her lunch packed, after about ten minutes. Rosa, his thirteen-year-old tomboy sister, was another matter. She had fallen in love with a pair of jeans that had so many holes in them that they whistled in a high wind. Not until he had folded his arms across his chest and refused to let her out the door unless she changed did she agree to wear another pair.
Juan was also fairly easy to handle. At ten, he was quite capable of dressing himself, so all Rocky had to do was make his lunch. That was easier said than done, though. Juan's favourite sandwich was peanut butter and onions! Holding his nose, Rocky made the sandwich.
Miguel and Emilia, the nine-year-old twins, were a problem. They could dress themselves, but if they weren't watched constantly, they were extremely slow. Rocky's general procedure was to do all the other kids first and come back to those two when he had more time.
Alex was the eight-year-old baby of the family. Putting on clothes wasn't his problem. Picking them out was. He had absolutely no sense of fashion, and often wound up in the most atrocious outfits imaginable. Picking out an outfit, Rocky laid it on Alex's bed and moved on.
Herding them all into the car presented its own challenge, but somehow Rocky managed to get them all to their assigned places. There'd been a tense moment when the nurses had tried to separate them in order to give them shots, but Rocky had managed to convince the doctors of the inadvisability of that. Miguel and Emilia hated to be apart, and would raise the roof with their howls. Finally, after an exhausting morning, Rocky returned home, ready to collapse into an armchair and maybe take a nap before lunch. Unfortunately, that was averted by the telltale beep of his communicator.
"I read you, Zordon. What's up?" Rocky sighed wearily.
"Please teleport to the Power Chamber. There is something I wish to discuss with you."
"I'll be right there. Rocky out." Getting up slowly, he stretched. "Well, at least that doesn't sound like a monster attack. Maybe I'll get that nap after all." Pressing a button on his communicator, he teleported out.
"Okay, Zordon, We're all here," Tommy announced when Rocky arrived.
"So, what's the problem?" Rocky asked.
"Observe," Zordon instructed.
The Rangers obeyed, turning toward the view screen Alpha and Zordon had placed on one wall, close to the tubes that held their old Ranger suits. As they watched, they saw a figure stand from a seated position beside a grave as the picture zeroed in on the grave.
"What's she doing?" Adam asked.
"These images were recorded last night," Zordon told them. "The woman you are witnessing is Hel'ga. She was once a powerful enchantress and a powerful ally. Now she is a witch with a preference for Necromancy. She has not been seen for many years since her descent into the darkness, yet with the object she retrieved from that grave, she poses a terrible threat." The picture changed to show a strange temple in what appeared to be a forested area. "This is the Temple of Night, a magical prison on the planet of Mirinoi. It is the only known doorway to the resting place of the demon known as Tairant."
"Tairant?" Trey rasped, his face rapidly losing colour. He remembered the history lessons about Tairant. They were not so much history lessons as a discussion of legends handed down before recorded history. "As in the demon?"
"Indeed," Zordon answered. "Tairant first emerged during the old times before the Morphin Masters. Some say he was one of the earliest threats encountered by the Guardians. Tairant never needed an army, but as a demon he fed upon the fear of his name. To that end he ruthlessly demanded the sacrifice of entire planets to fuel his evil powers."
Tairant had been around before the Machine Empire was a schematic diagram in their inventor's mind.
"As a demon Tairant was extremely powerful and extremely difficult to defeat," Alpha told them. "Although the heroes of that time fought him on many occasions he could not be destroyed and had so many followers that he could easily return."
"In the end they trapped him," Trey recalled. "The legends say that they drove him to a desolate planet away from his followers and using a powerful ritual, sealed him away on a planet he had previously decimated. A cult dedicated to Tairant tried to release him and during the massive battle that that followed the native villains joined forces with the local heroes to ensure that he never escaped. They somehow invoked a great power that forced the solar system to close itself off, creating its own small galaxy."
"Tairant was powerful, but while slaying him increased his power, imprisonment weakened him," Zordon continued. "Physically unable to leave his prison, he projected his spirit to strike at those that dared to act against him. Fortunately his spirit was tied to its physical shell and he was only able reach the planet where the spells had been cast; an unsuspecting world named Mirinoi."
"Legends say that he had not anticipated the planet's mages. As a spirit he was at their mercy. They used a power buried within the planet to bolster their powers and sealed Tairant's spirit within the rock," Trey said, still unsure which parts were true and which were falsehoods. "They covered the world with forest and ensured that the only means to release him would be to cast a spell from inside the temple."
"It didn't work, did it?" Kat guessed.
"No, although their attempt slowed the inevitable, it would be impossible to believe they could contain the evil forever. Tairant's spirit would have recovered given time and over the years I expect he has adapted to being a mere spirit; I know that his hatred will only have increased over that time."
"If only there had been a way to destroy him," Trey mused.
"Sadly that was not a possibility. Tairant proved time and again that he could not be destroyed only vanquished. And with the many followers he had to bolster his power he could create a new body and return almost immediately." Zordon was silent, thoughtful. "Had there been a way to guarantee that he would not return, they would have taken it. More than once his followers have come close to releasing him."
"How?" Trey demanded.
"At the time the spells needed to keep Tairant contained needed to be renewed once a decade," Zordon explained. "And no matter how careful they were, those that cast the spells were vulnerable to his influence. Hel'ga was a gifted spell caster but inexperienced and an easy target. When she fell under his enchantment is not known, but she worked to weaken the spells enough for him to reach out to his followers. He organised his forces and instructed them to release him.
"Tairant's release threatened all factions regardless of whether they were good or evil. The Alliance deemed him as a threat to their superiority and although the Machine Empire refused to work with organics, the Alliance did declare open war on Tairant."
"Good and evil working together against a common foe," Adam murmured.
"Yeah, sounds unlikely that any agreement lasted long," Tommy agreed.
"The peace between the two sides lasted long enough to destroy Tairant's followers, but it was enough. Both sides had a great deal to lose and little to gain through treachery. An expedition force was assembled of the greatest Morphin Masters each side could offer along with as many wizards, mages and warriors that they could muster. Almost every soldier, Power Ranger, Rider, throwaway monster and henchman that could be found was thrown into the mix. It was a force dedicated to one purpose: the complete annihilation of the Cult of Tairant and any that obeyed him. It was only later they discovered Hel'ga's allegiance. Had they known before they could could have saved many lives."
"So what happened?" Rocky asked.
"They lost," Zordon told him matter-of-factly, recalling the terrible assault. "At first everything had seemed to go as planned, but while his forces were limited, Hel'ga used her magic to grant them some of Tairant's power.
"Tairant gathered his disciples together and drew the opposing forces into a trap. He sacrificed the majority of his supporters and destroyed an entire solar system. When he was done only a fraction of those that had fought him - myself included - managed to escape. The Morphin Masters who had been leading the assault were lost in the carnage. Few of the more experienced Morphin Masters on the side of the Light and even fewer Dark Morphin Masters survived; I was promoted to the rank of Morphin Master a year or so later not due to any skill on my part, but because the ranks had been decimated to make such a move urgent."
Once again Zordon lapsed into silence, remembering those who had fallen and the horror the survivors felt when Tairant had emerged from the devastated star system, intact.
"Then how did they stop him?" Trey asked.
"In the end Tairant's victory cost him dearly. His most powerful followers were gone and those that remained were unable to release him. They were soon rounded up and dealt with. Hel'ga was one of the few that escaped because her true loyalties had not been uncovered. While she had failed to release Tairant she had discovered the means to do so; the mages that had cast the spell had used an ancient ritual and a magical artefact called the Crystal of Cherila.
"To thwart any attempt to cast a counter spell, the Crystal of Cherila was shielded from magic using the Tear of Truth as a key. Tairant's soul was trapped inside the depths of the temple and the crystal placed as a barrier to preventing him crossing the boundary. Hel'ga had not known that when she had raised an army to release him, but following their failure she understood that the key to releasing him lay in locating the Tear of Truth. I believe Hel'ga has already used the powers of the Tear of Truth to bring forth followers who will aid her attempts to free Tairant."
"All that loyalty to a legend," Rocky mused.
"Tairant is more than a legend," Zordon warned. "By today's standard he is considered no worse than Scorpina or Rito Revolto, but during his moments of freedom he committed unspeakable acts and forced his enemies to take actions that were-- less than desirable. Do not underestimate the threat he poses just because he is considered a legend."
There was an underlying tremor in Zordon's voice that caused the Rangers to wonder whether he had been one of those victims, or whether he feared something else?
"As I was saying, many have tried to free Tairant, but none have succeeded. But so long as Tairant's spirit is trapped, he can never truly be considered gone.
"I do not know how he swayed Hel'ga to his side, but I believe Hel'ga will attempt to release Tairant in return for his servitude. I am certain she has found a way to conduct the ceremony to extract Tairant's soul from its prison and host him in this realm at her bequest. Should he disobey I suspect she plans to return him to his prison. However, the drawback of such a ceremony is that it can only be achieved when the stars are in the correct alignment. If the ritual does not commence tonight with the full moon, it will be another ten-thousand years before she can repeat it."
"Tonight, cutting it kind of close, aren't we?" Rocky asked dryly.
"If I had known about it sooner, I would have moved earlier. As it is, I only just found out while reviewing the security feeds from last night. The lucky thing is that we had any warning at all. If we hadn't, Tairant's release might have already been achieved."
"That would be a bad thing, wouldn't it?" Rocky smiled wryly.
"Yes, Rocky, it would. Tairant was a powerful being. Should he be released without any form of restraint other than Hel'ga's say so, the universe will be in extreme peril. When last he plagued the universe there were sufficient mages and Morphin Masters of both sides to bring him down. I fear that should he be released again, there are not the forces in place to defeat him. He would waste little time in trying to resume his plans, and I am afraid that if his powers are as great as they were before, or they have grown, there will be no one who can stop him."
Tanya raised an eyebrow. "So what you're saying is that we've got to keep Hel'ga from performing this ceremony so that Mr Big doesn't get loose, right?"
"Exactly," Zordon replied, smiling slightly. "The easiest way to do so would be to remove the Crystal of Cherila from the temple and hold it until after the ceremony. Alternatively, shattering the Tear of Truth that Hel'ga possesses would effectively end any chance of the ritual being used now or in the future."
"So what are we waiting for?" Tommy asked.
"I am afraid Tommy that this mission is too dangerous for you all to undertake. Should Tairant break free, only Rocky would stand a chance against him. Therefore Rocky, I am afraid that you must do this on your own. You know, of course, that I have some mental powers."
"Well, yeah, we always knew that you were telepathic and telekinetic."
"I also have a small gift of prophecy, it only results in premonitions and vague dreams. These premonitions tell me that you are the only Ranger qualified to make this journey. Perhaps, later, the other Rangers may come to your aid, but for now, you must go alone. Your instincts will guide you to the temple."
Rocky swallowed. In all his life, he had never been alone, had never really wanted to be. Oh, sure, there were times when he had wanted privacy, especially with his younger brothers and sisters around, but he had always been able to go out and have someone to talk to. As he had grown older, he had met Adam and Aisha, and the three of them had been inseparable. After becoming a Power Ranger, he had really never been alone, because Zordon and Alpha were always there for him. Truth be told, loneliness was one of the few things he was afraid of.
His own fear was unimportant, however. What mattered was the responsibility, the job at hand. "All right," he sighed. "I'm ready. Should I morph?"
Zordon shook his head. "No, Rocky. Your Zeo energy signal would only intensify that pattern and act like a beacon, guiding her to you. And while it is possible for you to call on your damaged Morphin powers, the risk is too great. Therefore, only morph if you absolutely must, for when you do, she will be able to find you."
Rocky nodded grimly. "Fine. Prepare to teleport."
"Good luck, man," Tommy, whispered, patting him on the back.
"May the Power protect you," Zordon whispered softly, as the teen dissolved into a crackle of blue light:
Rocky landed in a clearing of a forested area. Turning, he tried to get his bearings. "The temple is -- that way," he pointed, surprised at how sure he was. He had never felt this at ease with his powers. Not since the time when he had first been a Ranger. Certainly not since the time he had become a Zeo Ranger.
This was the almost sixth sense that had marked him as one of the protectors of the Earth. His Zeo Ranger powers had overshadowed that bond, but here, on Mirinoi, the sensation was back.
Still, regardless of the reason, he trusted Zordon knew what he was doing. The White Morphin Master had not let him down yet. Shrugging, he set off through the woods; glad he had worn his hiking boots today. "I'd better get moving. By the look of those shadows, it's already noon."
As he crested a rise, he stopped. Suddenly he was certain he was being watched. It was an indistinct pattern, one that did not belong in the natural backdrop. There was no sound or movement to give the lurkers away, suggesting that they were used to moving through the undergrowth. Hunters maybe? But no matter how well they were hidden, he knew they were there. And regardless of the reason for these new feelings, he trusted them to keep him out of trouble. Turning slowly, he sighed. Too late. There behind him stood several young men in clothes of what appeared to be leather, watching him suspiciously and holding spears. Spears that were pointed directly at him.
"Um, hi," he managed. Zordon had informed them that the Powers acted as translators, allowing them to speak with any race they came into contact with. Hoping he was doing the right thing, he launched into the speech Zordon had given them for if they crossed paths with any natives during their travels. "I'm Rocky DeSantos, The Blue Ranger."
That got a response. The leader squinted at him and finally replied, "Under whose authority?"
"Zordon of Eltare," Rocky answered, mentally relaxing. They were on firmer territory now.
"Prove it," demanded the man.
"Um, I can't. I'm not allowed to morph right now. It would be a very bad thing."
The men conferred for a moment, in tones too low for Rocky to hear. Then the leader turned back to him. "We will take you to Jera, our elder. He will know if you speak the truth." The leader motioned with his spear, and Rocky set off in the indicated direction, hoping that the elder would believe him. Skewered on a spear on an alien planet was not how he wanted to end his days.
Soon they came to a village of small, wooden houses. The procession stopped outside a slightly larger house, and one of the spearmen went inside. After a few minutes, he came back out with an older man, who was obviously in charge. His posture was erect, despite his advanced age, and Rocky instantly liked him.
"You say you are a Ranger?" the man asked, raising one eyebrow.
"I am, sir," Rocky replied respectfully.
"Yet you cannot prove it?"
"The only way to prove it would be to morph, and I can't do that. It would attract the attention of parties I don't particularly want the attention of."
Jera chuckled. "Well said, young one. I do sense the Morphin power within you, but it is not the only energy. What other trust do you bear?"
"I'm a Zeo Ranger. My Power Coin was destroyed, and I needed another power fast. Besides, the King Mondo and his Machine Empire were attacking my planet and Morphin Powers don't work too well against him."
Jera shook his head. "While you do bear the energies of a Ranger, I have no way of knowing if you are still active. Even those who have had their powers taken away still bear the stamp of them. If you cannot prove your claim, I can give you no assistance."
Sighing, Rocky hung his head. How on earth was he going to prove that he was a Ranger? He couldn't morph without bringing Hel'ga and whatever assistance she had managed to find down on his head, and that wouldn't be good for the village, either.
Just then, a woman ran up to the elder, on the verge of hysteria. "Jera, Joni has collapsed! I have no idea what's wrong with her! She's just tossing and turning."
Jera looked at his feet sadly. "With no healer in the village, I am afraid we can do nothing for her, Sarinda."
Rocky's head snapped up. "Wait a minute! I'm not exactly a healer, but I might be able to help her!" Turning toward Sarinda, he caught the distraught woman by the shoulders. "What are her symptoms? What is she doing?"
"She's unconscious, she won't wake up. She just mumbles and tosses and turns."
"Fever? Vomiting? Does she have a rash?"
"She has a fever, that's all."
Rocky turned back towards the elder. "Look, among my people, I'm a healer of a sort. Maybe I can help this little girl, but I have to be able to examine her. Will you let me try?"
Jera regarded him for a long moment, and then nodded. "This way." The elder led him to a small house on the outskirts of town. Inside, Rocky found a little girl, approximately the same age as Alex, tossing and turning on a pallet.
"Hey, Joni," he whispered, kneeling by the bed. "You not feeling so good? Well, I'm going to fix you up, okay?" He put his hand on her forehead, and almost immediately drew it back again. "She's burning up! Has she eaten anything today?"
"Not since breakfast," Sarinda replied, wringing her hands.
"Have you kept an eye on her all that time? Sometimes kids eat things they aren't supposed to, especially in a forest."
"Her older brothers were with her all the time. They would have kept her from eating anything."
Rocky nodded. "Yeah, it figures. Her symptoms really aren't consistent with poisoning, anyway. No vomiting, no rash," he lifted one of her eyelids, "and her pupils are constricted. Look, I'm gonna need some ice or cold water, lots of it."
"There is a cold stream nearby," Jera replied.
"Great. Go soak blankets in it, lots of blankets. We have to keep her cool. If her fever gets too high, her brain could be damaged. Plus, I need any herbal remedies you might have to reduce fever." For a minute, no one moved. "Go!" he cried. Instantly, the people were in motion. Turning back to his patient, Rocky began examining her. No obvious wounds, and nothing swollen or hotter than the rest of her body. "No infection," he muttered. "What's wrong with her?"
Suddenly, Joni's eyes opened, and she screamed, loud and long, scratching at the air in front of her as if she were fighting something. Quickly, Rocky grabbed her wrists, pinning them down to the bed.
Joni's scream had brought most of the village running. As they entered, Rocky looked up. "Get those blankets over here, now!" As Joni was packed in the wet blankets, her eyes slipped closed, and she relaxed. Rubbing a hand over his face, Rocky sat back.
"She's not sick. Something is affecting her." Closing his eyes, he began to relax. Rocky's grandmother, on the DeSantos side, had in her day, been one of the best curanderas in her area of Mexico. Of all her grandchildren, only Rocky had the necessary talent to become a curandero, a healer of not only the body, but also the mind and spirit as well. It was her teachings that had helped him adjust to -- what had come before his Ranger days,
She had taught him many things, and he had learned them well. Now he sent himself into the trance that allowed him to examine the child on the spiritual plane. As he had suspected, a black shadow had the little girl backed into a corner, and she was almost catatonic with fear. Ignoring the shadow, Rocky crossed to Joni and extended his hand. "Hey, Joni. You all right?" She just looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes.
"Hey, it's okay. I'm a friend. My name's Rocky. I'm here to help you. What say we get out of here? Your mom is really worried about you."
For a long moment, she just stared at him, and then extended her hand. Taking it, he picked her up in his arms and turned to face the shadow.
"She isss mine!" the shadow hissed. "You have no right to her!"
"Joni's a little girl, not a tote bag. She belongs to herself. And she's going home, right, Joni?"
"Yes!" the little girl declared loudly, holding tighter to Rocky as she did so.
"Neither of you will leave this place!" The shadow flowed towards them, threatening to swallow them in its depths.
"Go jump in a lake," Rocky shot back, raising a hand. A beam of light shot out of his hand, pinning the shadow in place. "Come on, Joni. Give me a hand with this guy, okay?"
Nodding, Joni concentrated, and a beam of light shot from her as well. The combined lights were too much for the shadow, and it broke up, dissolving into a dark smoke.
"See, he wasn't so tough," Rocky grinned at the girl in his arms. "Time to go back to the real world, Joni."
She nodded, fading out in his arms. "Thanks," she smiled, just before she disappeared completely.
Opening his eyes, Rocky found himself back in the house, with Joni lying beside him. Slowly, her eyes began to open. "Mommy?" she whimpered.
"Joni!" Sarinda blew past everyone else, nearly knocking Rocky into a wall. Reaching the side of the bed, she scooped the little girl up in her arms and covered her with kisses.
Jera put a hand on Rocky's shoulder. "You have done well, young Ranger. Come, let us go outside." They left Joni and her mother to their celebration and walked out into the street. "What was wrong with the child?"
"Some sort of psychic vampire. It was attacking her spirit. You get a lot of those around here?" Rocky asked.
"No. There were many in older times, back when the Destroyer rose from the temple, but they vanished when the Morphin Masters sealed him back in again. It must have taken a great source of evil to draw one here again, normally they dwell only in the deepest caverns under the planet. Which brings me to my question. Why are you here, Ranger of Earth?"
Rocky sighed. "It's a long story, and if it's all the same to you, I'd rather tell it sitting, without spears pointed at my back. Do you mind telling your friends here to lay off?" Despite the events in the house, when Rocky had emerged, he had instantly found himself at spear-point again.
With a wave of his hand, Jera backed the spear-wielders away. "Do come inside, young Ranger. We can discuss this better in the comfort of my home."
"You can call me Rocky," Rocky told him, following the man inside his house. "We're not big on titles where I come from."
"Very well then, Rocky. What brings you to Mirinoi?"
"A -- woman I guess is the best term, named Hel'ga is seeking to release Tairant. I'm here to stop her."
"Hel'ga... I have heard of her before."
"She was one of those who sought to imprison him," Rocky explained.
That was rewarded with some nodding. "And now she seeks to free him for her own ends. She is not the first I am afraid. That Hel'ga would seek to release Tairant is foolish, but no less than I could expect from her sort. Do you truly believe that you can defeat her by yourself?"
"There were -- reasons I had to come alone," Rocky answered, wishing he knew what those exact reasons were. "Besides, I hope that I never have to find out. If I can destroy the pendant in her possession or keep the crystal in the temple from her grasp - she needs both to succeed - and keep her from performing the ceremony before the full moon, she loses. She can't perform the same ritual to release Tairant for another ten thousand years."
"You would then return the crystal to its rightful place?" Jera asked shrewdly.
"Absolutely. I have no use for it. I'm not a wizard."
"Then that would be your best option. We know where the crystal is; we have no idea where this Hel'ga can be found. One of my tribe, Maya, will guide you. Maya, come here child!" he called. From another room came a girl just slightly younger than Rocky.
"You will guide this young Ranger to the temple, correct?"
She looked him over appraisingly and then nodded. "Of course."
"Now just hold on a second!" Rocky exploded. "I don't think this is going to be dangerous, but I can't be certain! I might make it there before Hel'ga, or I might not! I can't take a civilian along with me!"
"You will never reach the temple without a guide. Maya is quite capable of taking care of herself; she was raised to be a part of the jungle. She will not be a burden to you. She is a Gingaman, one of our tribe's most notable warriors."
"Fine," sighed Rocky, accepting defeat. "Come on, Maya. Let's go."
After walking a long way, the two stopped to rest and get a better view of the lay of the land. Climbing a tree, the two teens perched in its flat top, looking out over the forest. "There," Maya pointed. "In that clearing lays the temple. We should make it before dusk."
"Good," Rocky replied, pointing in another direction. "Cause I think we have company." To the east, a ball of fire was touching down, luckily in a rocky, barren area. It flickered out, but Rocky had a pretty good idea of what it meant. "By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes," he mumbled, sliding down from the tree.
"What?" Maya asked, following him.
"It's from a play on my planet. It's called Macbeth."
"It's a long story," Rocky replied. "Let's get moving. Hel'ga and friends have just arrived, and I don't think they're going to be the welcoming committee."
"You say the strangest things," Maya remarked, shaking her head as they headed off into the brush.
The two walked in silence for a while, until Rocky, constitutionally unable to stay silent for long, asked, "So, you know this area pretty well?"
"Every child in my tribe is taught to know the ways of the jungle. It's what keeps us alive. Besides, as a Gingaman, it is my duty to know these things in case I am one of the chosen."
"Gingaman?" Rocky asked.
Maya sighed. "Not all worlds are lucky enough to have a resident Morphin Master who can just give out powers on a whim. Oh yes, we know about Zordon and his actions. We understand why, but that doesn't make it any easier on those planets that were refused their own Ranger teams. Mirinoi had a team once, eight Rangers strong. When they retired, those that survived placed their Quasar Sabers in a sacred stone where they would be ready for their successors. Their descendants are called Gingamen, each sworn to protect this world from danger and each having the potential to draw the swords and become a Ranger. So far nobody has been successful in doing so. My mother is the Companion of the Wolf, and I am her heir."
"Companion of the Wolf?" Rocky asked.
Another sigh. It was becoming clear just how little Rocky and the others knew about Rangers on other worlds. If Maya's response was any indication, this was the sort of thing Zordon should have been teaching them before they picked up a morpher.
"On your world you use machines to fight?" she asked. He nodded. "Are they sentient?"
Sentient? His eyes widened at the suggestion. The Dinozords might have had some sentience before their energy had been transferred to create the Thunderzords. The way he heard Tommy refer to Dragonzord sometimes and Titanus's occasional appearance without being called when they were using the Ninja Zords gave credence to that notion. The Thunderzords had always seemed to be just machines, although from his understanding that's probably all they were. Tigerzord had sometimes seemed alive and Saba was definitely sentient. And the Ninjazords? He remembered when he had first seen the Ape Zord. It had connected with him in a way that the Zeo Zords had not. Billy often spoke of a telepathic link between Rangers and their machines. In the Zeo Zords that link was weaker. In the Thunderzords it had been almost nonexistent until they formed the Megazord.
"I'm not sure," he finally admitted.
She didn't comment on his answer, just nodded. "Not all Zords are sentient, some are just machines. Others are animal spirits given form. The metal gives them a body that matches the Ranger's powers. The Rangers who came to Mirinoi were one of the older teams. Their Galactazords had been around a long time and over time had evolved their appearance to fit in." She chuckled. "Of course, it is still hard to miss a giant lion that towers over the jungle. When they needed to, they could revert to their metal bodies.
Three thousand years ago, Mirinoi became the centre of another great battle. There were many forces and the tales speak of many enemies. Some legends talk of the beastly Abominus and his forces, others talk of the pirate Mutiny and his great monster castle. One thing they all agree upon was that pirate or invader, the Power Rangers and their mighty Galactazords fought them off.
Three of the Rangers were lost in battle, their powers destroyed and their Galactazords slain. The surviving Rangers then descended to the planet and surrendered their powers to restore the damage that had been done to the jungle.
They became part of the tribe, passing on their roles as defenders of Mirinoi. Their Galactazords were transformed into Galactabeasts and released to roam the galaxy if they wished; most of the time they choose to remain in the jungle far from the village. Other artefacts were hidden around the planet until they were needed. It is said that the Gingamen carry the knowledge until it is needed.
One of the Rangers, the yellow one, was the companion of the wolf. As his descendant it will be my duty to care for the wolf one day. I was not due to take the position for another ten years, but my father was killed and I am the next in line."
"Your dad's dead? I'm sorry. Did it just happen?"
"My father has been dead two years," Maya replied sadly. "He was killed in battle with pirates from another solar system. We had no Rangers to protect us, and despite the stories, none of the heirs could draw the Quasar Sabers. We had to launch an all-out war against them. Many brave warriors were killed, including my father. That is why we have no healer in the village."
Rocky put a hand on her shoulder. "I know how you feel. My dad died in a car accident, eight years ago. He was coming home from work, and he hit a slick spot. He wasn't speeding, he hadn't been drinking, it just wasn't fair. Anyway, with Dad gone, my older brother and I had to split the task of being the man of the house."
"I am the heir and it's my responsibility. One day I'll have my try to draw the Quasar Saber."
Rocky nodded. "That's a lot of responsibility. So, what do you do for fun?"
"Fun? This is fun," Maya answered, her tone lightening as she gestured to the forest around them. "There's always something going on. And I have my friends. It's not all-hard work. Jera is a good teacher."
"He seems like a good leader," Rocky commented.
"He's the tribe's elder, not its leader. Our leaders were lost in the war. Jera is the nearest thing we have, but it's not the same."
"No, I guess it's not," Rocky agreed.
"Aw, isn't this sweet?" a woman's voice oozed. At the edge of the clearing stood a woman he recognised as Hel'ga, accompanied by an army of extremely thin humanoid creatures with pale faces and empty, staring eyes. Behind them was what looked like a burly humanoid panther.
"Hel'ga," Rocky almost growled.
"Ah, you know me. We know you too, don't we pretty?" she asked her pendant. "Yes, indeed, you are the Blue Ranger from Earth.... Zordon's domain. I watched as you and the others defeated Mondo, you fought well, but he'll be back sooner or later. I won't be vanquished so easily. That's right pretty, if he's here alone then Zordon must have caught onto my plan."
"Is it that obvious?" Rocky asked rhetorically. It was becoming clear that the gem was affecting her somehow.
"It is of no matter," the woman drawled. "Once Tairant is free, all resistance will be futile. I suppose you've come to stop me?"
"I won't allow you to release Tairant," Rocky corrected. "You don't need to die. Surrender and we'll see to it you're treated fairly. I don't want to hurt anyone, but if freeing Tairant is part of your plan, I guess I have to stop you."
"Well said young Ranger," the woman stated. "Tairant is perhaps the only thing you should concern yourself about. In the end, he will be the one to destroy you, at my command."
"Well, that's that settled. It's Morphin Time! Zeo Ranger III - Blue!" In a flash of light, Rocky was transformed into the Blue Ranger. "There, now, that makes us more even, doesn't it? Anyone for a dance?"
Hel'ga's face hardened. "Panthron, Wraiths, attack!"
Her followers swarmed over Blue Ranger, but he beat them back with ease. They were not strong on strategy and relied on their sheer numbers. However, Blue Ranger was used to fighting against superior numbers, and was certainly agile enough to avoid being pinned down. When the last of them hit the ground, he turned towards Panthron, only to see that the cat-man held a writhing Maya tightly by the arms.
"Let her go," Blue Ranger growled, stepping forward.
"No, I don't think so," Hel'ga replied smugly. "I'm calling the shots here, and if you don't want the little wench ripped apart, you'll demorph immediately. Then throw me your morphing tools. Unlike other you've met, I'm not squeamish about killing for the sake of it. In fact, I enjoy a little bloodshed."
With a defeated sigh, Rocky did as he was ordered. As soon as he did so, Panthron shoved Maya at a Wraith that had managed to pick itself up off the ground. Sneering, the cat-man strolled over to where Rocky was standing. With a touch of alarm, Rocky noted that the other stood a few inches taller than he, and definitely topped him on muscle mass. Even so, Rocky was unprepared when Panthron slammed him in the stomach.
Sinking to his knees, Rocky fought to keep from passing out. ~Can't... fight back,~ he thought blearily, through the haze of pain. ~If I do, they'll... hurt Maya.~ All coherent thought temporarily left him when he was pulled to his feet and Panthron began raining blows on his body.
Staggering, Rocky tried to get his hands up between himself and his attacker, but it was hopeless. A backhand caught him across the face, and he tasted the copper of his own blood. Methodically, Panthron pummelled Rocky along the torso, front and back. Finally, Rocky could no longer stand and he fell to the ground. Two swift kicks caught him in the side, and dimly he could hear the sickening snap of ribs breaking.
One of the techniques his grandmother had taught him allowed him to shut down all outside stimuli for a while and retreat into himself. While many people could do this, only those trained in mental disciplines could come back easily. Rocky called on that knowledge now, gratefully trading the pain in his body for the oblivion of his mind. His body went limp and, mercifully, everything went black.
Pain. That was the first thing Rocky's mind picked up on as he slowly came back to life. "Ooggh," he groaned, opening his eyes slowly. "Where am I?"
"We're in the temple," Maya replied, coming to his side. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty good for a guy who's just had the shit beaten out of him," Rocky replied painfully.
"Are you all right?" She still sounded concerned.
"Let me check." Slowly, Rocky ran his hands over his body, testing for breaks. "Well, I've been better, but the ribs seem to have healed all right. I feel like I was trampled by an elephant, but I've had worse. No head injuries. I guess they wanted to avoid brain damage. It's the only thing Ranger powers can't heal. Are you all right?"
"They didn't hurt me. I'm not exactly sure why we're still alive, though."
"I can tell you one thing," Rocky sighed, sitting up slowly. "It ain't out of the kindness of her heart. I doubt she even has one of those."
"I'm scared." The look on Maya's face said it cost her something to admit that. Rocky decided he could do no less.
"Yeah, me too. The Rangers will find us, though. They always do."
"What do you mean, you lost contact with him?" Tommy asked. "I thought you had him under constant watch."
"I did, Tommy. However, when Rocky lost consciousness, I lost the link. That is probably why Hel'ga had her henchman knock Rocky out. With Rocky unconscious, I can no longer track him."
"Well, can't you just pick him up when he wakes up?" the Red Ranger pressed.
"I only wish I could. However, by that time, Hel'ga will have him inside the temple they plan to use for the ceremony, which blocks my scanners and psychic senses. I am afraid that if Rocky does not signal us somehow, perhaps with his communicator, we will be unable to find him."
"Zordon, I still don't understand why we couldn't go with him," Kat sighed.
"I am not quite sure I understand it either, Katherine. I simply know that the rest of you could not accompany Rocky on his trip to the temple."
"Adam, aren't you worried at all?" Tanya asked her boyfriend. Adam shook his head.
"No, I'm not. Rocky is very good at taking care of himself. People think he's stupid, but he's not. He's just -- Rocky. He's got a goofy sense of humour, no tact, and not a dishonest bone in his body. Rocky is completely open and direct. That makes people think he's stupid, and boy are they surprised. This Hel'ga will underestimate him, just like everybody else. That's Rocky's greatest asset."
"I hope you're right, Adam," Tanya sighed.
"Me too," Adam confessed. "There's a lot riding on this."
After examining the walls of their prison thoroughly, Rocky finally realized that there was no way out of the dungeon. "We can't escape, and since they took my Zeonisers, we can't fight our way out. Man! I wish the other Rangers were here!" An idea suddenly popped into Rocky's head. "That's it! Maya, come here." The girl scrambled to her feet and crossed the room to where Rocky stood. "This is my communicator. It allows me to call the other Rangers. I can't use it in here, because the walls are too thick. Even if the call got through, they'd never find us. If you could get outside the temple, though, you could call them. You press this button here, and just start talking. Tell them what happened and then stay on the line long enough for them to trace the signal back."
"How do I get out of here, though?"
Rocky grinned. "When they come to take us out of here, I'll cause a ruckus, and you can slip away. With your knowledge of the jungle, you can easily give those guys the slip, right?"
"All right. Be ready; I think we have company." Sure enough, the door swung open and there stood Panthron in the ugly flesh.
"You. Out," he growled.
"Yes, sir," Rocky cracked. No sooner had he and Maya cleared the door than he threw himself at the nearest Wraith. During the fight, Maya slipped around a corner and disappeared.
Rocky fought bravely, but without his powers, he was quickly subdued by the Wraiths. "That was stupid, human," Panthron growled. "What did you hope to -- hey! Where's the girl!"
Although he knew he was asking for pain, Rocky couldn't help smirking at the cat-man's confusion. "Gee, weren't you watching her? I was kind of busy." Growling, Panthron slammed Rocky in the stomach.
"If Mistress Hel'ga didn't want you intact, human, I would show you pain like you have never experienced before," he rumbled.
"Pain is relative," Rocky wheezed. "I've been hurt worse than you could ever do to me." His mind ranged back to Jennifer. He had loved her so much, and when she died, he had only known one way to blunt the pain. As a result, he had spent two days dead drunk up at the family cabin before his brother had stormed up there and dried him out forcibly. Since then, he hadn't touched a drop, no matter how badly he hurt. Nothing the cat-man did to him could match that pain.
"Oh, don't be so sure, human. Hel'ga is well versed in the application of pain. Soon, you will experience that first hand."
"Talk is cheap," Rocky growled. "Let's get moving."
"I'm just worried about Rocky," Tommy announced as if nobody had noticed; the Red Ranger had been pacing up and down for the last half an hour. Not noticing, he continued. "We haven't had any word from him in too long."
"Power Rangers, come in. Please, come in! Is anybody out there?" A girl's voice echoed through the Power Chamber. The Rangers leaped to their feet quickly.
"This is the Red Ranger," Tommy replied. "Who are you?"
"My name is Maya. I was assigned to guide Rocky to the Temple of Night. We were captured. I got away, thanks to Rocky. He told me to call you. Please, we need your help."
"Where are you?" Kat asked.
"I'm right outside the temple. Please, hurry. I have no idea what's happening, but I don't like it! Something is wrong here, the planet... is dying."
"Calm down, we'll be right there," Tommy assured her. "Zordon, can you get us there?"
"Then... It's Morphin Time!"
"Zeo Ranger I - Pink!"
"Zeo Ranger II - Yellow!"
"Zeo Ranger IV - Green!"
"Zeo Ranger V - Red!"
"Gold Ranger Power!"
"Prepare to teleport," Zordon intoned. "May the Power protect you." The Rangers dissolved into five beams of coloured light and disappeared.
Rattling the chains that bound him to one wall of the temple's main room, Rocky snorted in disgust. "Didn't I see this in a movie once?" he asked no one in particular.
"I know the chains are a trifle melodramatic," Hel'ga told him sweetly, "but they are an essential part of the ceremony, and if we are to succeed in reviving my master, we must follow the ritual as it was written. The chains are an important part of the ceremony. After all, we can't have you getting loose before the ceremony is over, can we? I remember what happened the last time there was a little ceremony and the sacrifice got free."
"You know, I don't understand something. What on earth could you possibly need me for? You've got the crystal; you've got your goons. Why am I still alive?"
Hel'ga laughed coldly. "What, you didn't know? You're an integral part of this ceremony! Or didn't Zordon mention that part? No, I guess it wouldn't have occurred to him. You see my dear little Ranger, before I can free Tairant's spirit I need him to agree to my terms. But in order to do that I need a body for him to possess and perhaps feed upon. I think a Power Ranger, especially a student of one of those Morphin Masters who destroyed my master, prove satisfactory, don't you?"
Rocky raised an eyebrow. "You don't really want me to answer that, do you?"
She looked thoughtful, well as thoughtful as she could look with her face partially concealed by her veil. "Mmm, no." Turning away from him, she crossed to the altar where the crystal sat. While her back was turned, Panthron walked over to Rocky, sneering evilly. Before Rocky could react, Panthron had thumped him in the stomach once again.
"One more for good measure, human," he grinned.
"That's -- three I owe you, Panthron," Rocky wheezed, his eyes blazing. "You're going to be -- very sorry when I collect."
The cat-man didn't answer, just returned to his place along the wall. In the center of the floor, Hel'ga raised her hands above. "The moon has risen! Bring me the Crystal of Cherila and let the ceremony begin!" She began to chant in an ancient language. It wasn't a counter for the original curse, more a general spell to overpower all magic within the grounds of the temple and whatever lay beneath its grounds, negating the barriers. It was spoken in a language, which gave Rocky chills, even though he couldn't understand it. The atmosphere began to thicken, and he began to sense the presence of an evil that made Mondo and Machina look like spoiled children.
The Crystal of Cherila sat on the altar, its powers unlocked by the pendant. The whole temple seemed to glow with an unholy light, and a cloud of darkness began to rise from the floor where Rocky assumed the entrance to the prison could be found. The sound of thunder rumbled outside, lightning crashing just beyond the entrance.
"Yesss, he comes," Hel'ga announced as the stench of sulphur drifted through the floor.
Rocky didn't pray outside of church very often. Most of the time, he preferred to get along on his own, and not bother God with his problems. Now, however, he dropped to his knees, crossed himself and began to pray in earnest. The sound of his voice repeating the ancient words made an eerie counterpoint to Hel'ga's continued chanting.
The Wraiths knelt at the entrance stone to the pulled the large slab covering the entrance. As the Wraith touched the stone, a void opened beneath it, sucking the undead creature into the void beyond. A second Wraith soon followed and then the third, fourth, fifth... tenth... fifteenth... the line of Wraiths was long, but it was dwindling rapidly when the eighty-sixth creature touched the stone and it finally gave way as the Crystal of Cherila finally released the ancient curses, revealing a passage to the chamber where Tairant's previous host was held.
"Yes, he comes," Hel'ga, repeated. "His spirit reaches out to touch his rescuer."
A Wraith entered and moments later returned, holding something in its arms. It stopped and held its arms out as an offering for Hel'ga.
"No!" she cried, as it was about to step through the passageway. "Do not move." The Wraith obeyed and waited until its passenger started to stir.
All the time this had been going on, the background energy within the room had grown more concentrated. It seemed to spark violently as she once again started chanting. The air felt greasy against Rocky's skin and breathing was growing more difficult as the thunder outside reached a crescendo. Then there was an explosion of light from the crystal that had rested in the temple for thousands of years, untouched. It had been glowing blue for a while, but now its depths were clouded. Black smog drifted across the floor.
"Welcome Tairant!" Hel'ga proclaimed. "Take this vessel, poor as it is, and fill it with your most worthy spirit while we discuss terms."
"Ah Hel'ga," Rocky heard someone say, "always thinking and scheming, but never understanding. Did you think that once you freed my mind that I could not recreate my body? Come, taste your reward."
Rocky recognised the voice. It was familiar to him, but he couldn't place it. Then he realised that it was his voice.
He tried to stop the words as the black mist covered him. But he clearly heard himself say: "You will learn that it is not wise to try negotiating with Tairant. "
Rocky could feel the evil seeping into his body. He had time for one thought ~God help me!~ and then everything went black.
After teleporting, the Rangers found themselves in a strange-forested area. In front of them stood a girl, holding Rocky's communicator and a wooden staff at the ready.
"Maya?" Red Ranger asked.
She relaxed slightly and nodded. "Yes, I am Maya. Thank you for coming so quickly Rangers."
"Where's Rocky?" Green Ranger asked.
"In there," Maya replied, gesturing towards the temple. "I am afraid you may be too late, though. I have heard the sounds of the ceremony beginning."
"Then we'll just have to interrupt it," Yellow Ranger told her.
Maya shivered. "There is something evil in there."
Silently, the Rangers moved out, following Maya. When they reached the front doors of the temple, they were not surprised to see a legion of Wraiths guarding the entrance.
"Hmm, a welcoming committee," Gold Ranger mused. "Time for a Gold Rush!"
The Rangers were in a hurry to help their friend, so Trey had pressed ahead without a strategy. As it happened, he didn't need one. The Wraiths attacked the Gold Ranger, not noticing his friends waiting nearby. What followed was hardly a slaughter, but a few undead foot-soldiers were hardly a match for five Zeo Rangers.
"C'mon! We've got to get inside!" Yellow Ranger cried.
Hurrying through the corridors of the temple, the Rangers spilled into the main room and stopped dead. In the middle of the room stood Rocky, strapping his Zeonisers back onto his wrists. Once they were on, they disappeared again. Then, seeming to sense their presence, he looked up -- and they all gasped. Rocky's eyes weren't the familiar warm brown they had been this morning. Now they were red, and glowed with an unholy light. The grin that crossed his face did not belong to rocky either. There was no amusement in this expression, just cruelty.
"So, you've arrived at last. Welcome, Power Rangers," the Rocky-thing greeted them casually. The voice was Rocky's, but the tone held an ice in it that none of them had ever heard. "I am Tairant as you no doubt guessed, Dark Master of the Universe and everything contained therein. That includes you five. Your kind imprisoned me and I hunger for revenge, but since your friend has been so generous as to offer his body for my service, I will show some mercy. Bow down before me, and I will ensure you live."
"In your dreams, pal," Red Ranger shot back coldly.
"What have you done with Rocky?" demanded Green Ranger.
"The young man who this body used to belong to? Oh, he's gone, completely. There was a rather brief struggle for the body, and," Tairant shrugged, pausing for dramatic effect. "He lost."
"No!" Green Ranger cried. There was anger, disbelieve and no small amount of grief in his voice. "You lie!"
Tairant chuckled, a sound eerily like and yet unlike Rocky's. "Frequently, my dear boy, but not at the moment." He studied him intently. "You know, I can read your aura, young one. You are a true friend. I can see that. Yes, you have the potential to be great, truly great and I am in need of a new army since my old one perished. Perhaps, if you bow down, I might allow you to become the first of my new followers. I may even help you unlock your potential. It would be a shame to see it go to waste." He extended a hand, and for a moment, just a moment, Adam found himself drawn to the being that had taken his friend's face. "Yes, you are quite powerful," he mused. "Kneel!"
Deep inside Adam was fighting with all his might. It seemed as if the only thoughts he could act upon were those Tairant allowed. Any other thoughts became clouded and confusing, even painful. That didn't stop him from fighting it. Years of meditation coupled with lessons from different teachers had given him grounding in mental discipline. It was a struggle, but he was able to close out Tairant's voice and regain control.
"Go to Hell!" Adam responded, lashing out with a sharp punch.
Yes, this was his friend, but at the moment, Rocky was not in control and Adam knew that his blue teammate could take a punch to the face. If they really had to stop him, this was only a minute fraction of the force they would need to use.
"Hell?" Tairant replied, wiping the side of his face with the back of his hand. "What do you call thousands of years trapped in a temple if not hell? Oh yes, I've been in Hell my young Ranger, and I'm not going back there. Besides, as much as your spirit impresses me, I've already decided you are unsuitable to serve me. However, you will have the honour of helping me proof a theory. I believe that Rangers can be forced to power down when exposed to too much pain. Now, I shall test that theory. Suffer!"
He gestured and Adam was propelled back into his friends, his uniform flickering as a blue arc of electricity ran the length of his body and then returning as he landed.
"I can see it will take a greater discharge to force the change, but the theory is sound. Perhaps later I will make you my personal guinea pig. For now I have other matters to attend to. All these years with only myself for company. I don't need strong warriors; I need female companionship. How about it ladies?" he asked, leering at Kat and Tanya.
"You must be joking," Yellow Ranger replied hotly.
Pink Ranger just shook her head, not willing to give Tairant any words to use against her.
"It wouldn't take much to change your minds, but this is not the time to discuss such matters." His attention turned to Trey. "What do we have here? You're the Gold Ranger and the current ruler of Triforia. But you're incomplete, flawed! Hel'ga was right not to select you as the host, in its current state your body would never withstand my powers."
"Return Rocky's body and leave this realm while you can," Gold Ranger instructed.
"You're in no position to make threats against me," Tairant warned. "You're not even worth my time. But Tommy is. Think of it, Red Ranger, all the power you've ever wanted. You need never feel helpless again."
"Sorry, but you don't know me very well if you think power will appeal to me," Tommy told him.
"No, it is I who should apologise," Tairant, answered. "I made you feel you had a choice when in fact, you don't get a say," he smiled. He swung his arm upward so his palm was facing the Rangers. A wave of energy shoved the Rangers, forcing them backwards.
"And now Power Rangers," Tairant said, adding with a small sneer, "Zordon's chosen." He stepped toward them, gathering dark energy in his palms. He extended his hands towards them as he took aim. "It's time to die!" His hands started to shine brightly with the same unholy light as his eyes. The Rangers braced themselves for his first strike, knowing there was a good chance they could not survive. Raising his hands above his head, Tairant prepared to release his power. That was when all hell broke loose.
When Tairant entered his body, Rocky had had no time to fight back. His mind had shut down almost immediately due to the shock; this was not a mental attack, something had physically attacked his brain. As a result the consciousness that was Rocky had been shunted to the back of his mind, a prisoner bound within a wall of thought. To him it resembled a black cocoon totally detached from his senses and motor functions.
For the first time in ages, Rocky panicked. He was completely, totally alone, with no contact with the outside world at all. Immediately, the terror of the days immediately following his father's death came rushing back. In the darkness, he could hear the creatures that had haunted his nightmares slithering around. The worst dream hadn't had a monster in it, though. Instead, he had run from place to place, shouting for his mother, his father, anyone -- but no one answered. The streets had been empty, devoid of people and he had been completely alone. Total isolation was the one thing that frightened Rocky DeSantos to the edge of madness.
*You're not alone, Rocky,* a voice whispered.
"Who's there?" he cried in alarm, turning ceaselessly. Nothing was there.
*Your friends are always with you.*
Suddenly his own voice came back to him, like words on the wind, repeating something he had said to Tommy once. "He's still our friend, man. No distance -- no amount of stars can change that."
Unconsciously, Rocky's hand crept to the cross around his neck, a gift from his father a few days before he died. *Your family is always with you. Your faith is always with you. You are never truly alone.*
Taking a deep breath, Rocky calmed himself. The voice was right. He wasn't alone. Now it was time to stop whining like a frightened child and take control of the situation.
Using techniques his grandmother had taught him, he reached out and cautiously reattached himself to his senses. It was slow going, because he had to make sure that Tairant did not notice him doing it. Finally he managed, however, and could see and hear what was going on.
He heard him say, "Time to die." Raising his hands above his head, Tairant prepared to release his power.
"NOOO!" Rocky screamed. "NOT MY FRIENDS!" With all the strength within him, with all his knowledge of the spirit, and with all his love for his friends, Rocky reached out and pulled Tairant down into the cocoon that surrounded him.
Here, Tairant appeared to be a very pale man in his late twenties, with night-dark hair and eyes. The eyes glowed red at regular intervals. "Fool!" he hissed. "You dare to challenge me?"
"Yeah. You want this body; you're going to have to fight for it. Let's rumble."
Tairant attacked, throwing balls of fire at Rocky. Batting them aside with ease, Rocky returned fire with a hail of blue lances. Tairant's eyes narrowed. "So, you have some skill in fighting at this level. Let's see how you handle this."
A creature began to coalesce out of the darkness. With the head of a dragon, the body of a snake, and slime everywhere, it was a creature out of a nightmare, specifically one of Rocky's. As it came closer to him, Rocky stood firm.
"That nightmare came from being afraid to be alone. I've got the answer to that right here." Colours blazed, and suddenly the other Rangers stood behind him. "My friends are always with me, and we're stronger than anything you can throw at us." Six beams of colour shot from the Rangers, striking the monster and utterly obliterating it. "Now for you," Rocky growled, as his form began to glow with blue light.
"It is too late," Tairant told him. "I've found a new body, and now, I'll take my leave. A shame; you would have made a fine slave; perhaps I shall see you serve as one of my heralds... no, you have defied me too often for that, a Hound then, one of my mindless hunters."
Suddenly the cocoon broke up, leaving Rocky in charge of his body again. Rocky, exhausted by the battle that had raged within him, dropped to his knees, panting.
"Rocky?" Pink Ranger asked hesitantly. The Rangers had seen the light around Tairant's hands flicker out and had heard him arguing with himself, although they had been unable to make out the words. Suddenly his form began to glow blue, and he had collapsed. "Rocky?"
"I was when I got up this morning," Rocky replied weakly, trying to get to his feet. Quickly, Yellow and Gold Rangers were at his side, helping him to stand. "Oh, stop the world, Ma, I wanna get off." Blearily he regarded his friends. "Anybody got any Dramamine?"
That question, more than anything else, convinced the Rangers that Rocky was himself again, and they clustered around him, congratulating him on his victory. Rocky only had one thing on his mind, though.
"We're not finished yet," he told the others. "Let's end this."
"Right!" the four Zeo Rangers responded. "Power down!"
While they returned to their civilian clothing, Gold Ranger had his staff trained on the emerging villain. Tairant looked weary, obviously having been forced into a new host before he was ready was taking a toll on him. Still, it seemed he was now strong enough to survive in his mortal form.
"You won't be allowed to cause any more harm," Rocky announced. "It's time to purge your evil from this place. I call on the power of the Zeo Crystal!"
At his call the complete Zeo Crystal appeared in his hands, crackling with energy as it absorbed the evil in the area.
"Oh no you don't!" Gold Ranger cried, noticing the hand moving toward the Crystal of Cherila. With a swift blow from the Golden Power Staff he shattered the pendant, knocking the Crystal of Cherila aside. It rolled across the floor and lay useless at the base of the pedestal.
The five Rangers placed their left hands on the top of the Zeo Crystal while Rocky held the base with his other hand. As they stepped towards him, Tairant grew nervous and tried to back away.
"You have no place in this universe anymore," Rocky told him. "You're a relic of a dark time and we're gonna send you to a place where you will fit in. Ready guys?"
"Ready!" the others replied.
The Zeo Crystal glowed brightly, blasting Tairant with its full power, purging his evil from the temple. Tairant screamed angrily, charging towards the Rangers in a desperate bid. The energy from the crystal blasted him and he was carried off by the energy wave. When he was gone, the Rangers banished the Zeo Crystal back to its place in the Power Chamber.
"Come on," Rocky told the Rangers, "let's go home. I've had enough of this place to last a lifetime." As they turned towards the door, another voice rang out.
"Not so fast, Power Rangers!" They turned to see Hel'ga glaring at them.
Rocky groaned. "I knew we forgot something."
"You may have banished my servant and robbed me of all I deserve, but I will be avenged. Panthron, Wraiths, attack!"
Tommy looked at his friend. "You wanna do the honours?"
"Sure," Rocky replied. "It's Morphin Time!"
"Zeo Ranger I - Pink!"
"Zeo Ranger II - Yellow!"
"Zeo Ranger III - Blue!"
"Zeo Ranger IV - Green!"
"Zeo Ranger V - Red!"
"Let's kick some butt!" Blue Ranger cried. Splitting up, the Power Rangers took on the horde of Wraiths, punching, kicking, and wisecracking in true Ranger style. In the middle of the melee, Blue Ranger found himself face-to-face with Panthron. "I owe you something, buddy," he growled, kicking the cat-man in the stomach. "That's one!" The two traded a few more blows, and then Blue Ranger punched him in the face and kicked him in the stomach again. "That's two!" Delivering a roundhouse kick to his opponent's face, Blue Ranger launched yet another kick into Panthron's stomach. "And that's three! You're out!" Doing a backflip, Blue Ranger kicked the cat-man in the chin. That was the final blow, causing Panthron to stumble and fall through the entrance to the prison beyond.
Meanwhile, across the room, Hel'ga found herself face to face with the Gold Ranger, who was not happy. "You should have let Tairant remain a legend. Instead you messed with my friend. So now you have to pay the price!"
"Nice speech" Hel'ga replied. "But I will be doing the teaching. Allow me to introduce you to my powers!"
A blur of yellow crossed Trey's line of sight as the Yellow Ranger ducked around him and landed a firm punch to his opponent's face. "Let's not and say we did." Looking up, Hel'ga realized that the Power Rangers surrounded her and her forces had all gone.
"All right, you've got me," she sighed insolently. "But tell me Rangers, what are you going to do now? I know you Power Rangers don't kill in cold blood."
"No. But then, we don't need to," Gold Ranger told her.
Black light shot from the Crystal of Cherila, striking Hel'ga in the back. "You took the crystal," Gold Ranger told her coldly. "And you freed Tairant. When you did so you agreed to take his place. That's why he wasn't concerned about your demands. He knew that once you allowed him to step out of the temple there was no way you could harm him. So, there is only one place you belong."
Hel'ga screamed as the black energy drove her into the temple's depths.
"All power has its price," Rocky mentioned as he watched her struggle. "Looks like you've just discovered that."
There was a bright flash as the Crystal of Cherila went dormant once more.
"Rocky?" Blue Ranger felt someone tugging on his hand and he looked back to see who it was. Maya looked at him questioningly. "Did we win?"
Chuckling, Blue Ranger nodded. "Yeah, Maya, I'd have to say we did."
"So Hel'ga and Panthron were swallowed by the darkness they tried to invoke, and Tairant's was destroyed. The Crystal of Cherila is now useless for the next ten thousand years; we left it in the temple just like I promised. And Maya is back with her tribe," Rocky grinned. "I think one day she will get her wish and become a Ranger. And I'd say that's a wrap."
"Indeed, Rangers," Zordon agreed. "You have all done well, especially you, Rocky. I am very proud of you." Rocky blushed.
"Zordon, there's something I don't understand," Kat asked. "Why did Rocky have to go ahead on his own? And how was he able to fight off Tairant? No offence, Rocky, but you're not exactly a wizard."
"Rocky had to make the journey alone simply because he was the only Ranger who, if captured, could throw off Tairant's control. None of the rest of you could have done it. Adam might have held him at bay for a while, but Tommy would have easily succumbed to his power. While he is not a wizard, Rocky had a number of advantages that Tairant did not. One, Tairant was weakened by the fact that he no longer had a viable body to connect him to his powers. He was only a spirit and that in turn robbed him of much of his magical ability. Two, the battleground was Rocky's mind and body, terrain that Rocky knew much more intimately than Tairant did."
"Homecourt advantage," Adam translated.
"Exactly. Three, Tairant was not expecting a fight. He had assumed that Rocky was not very intelligent, and easily manipulated. His servants had failed to warn him because Hel'ga had simply dismissed Rocky as a sacrifice, nothing more. When Rocky fought back, especially as skilfully as he did, Tairant was caught by surprise.
The fourth reason is perhaps the most important. Tairant was pure evil. Rocky, on the other hand, is almost completely innocent." Rocky blushed even redder. "Rocky, you are direct and open, with little ability or desire to lie or mislead. While you are certainly human, with human failings, there is remarkably little evil in your soul. Without that interior darkness, Tairant could not get an effective grip on your soul.
Most importantly, in many ways, you are still a child. I do not mean this in a derogatory sense, quite the opposite. While you have the mature outlook and responsibility of an adult, you have yet to lose a child's wonder at the world around you or a child's capacity for unquestioning belief. When you went up against Tairant, you trusted your instincts without question. Another person might have doubted their ability, but you did not. Most especially, you never doubted that you would win. You still retain a child's belief that good will always triumph over evil in the end."
Rocky thought about that for a minute. "You know, maybe that's why I get along with kids so well. I still understand how they see the world," he mused. Suddenly he started. "Oh my gosh! My mom must be going nuts about my whereabouts!"
"Actually, she's not. You see, Mirinoi is a great distance from Earth and is in the middle of its winter season. It therefore has a shorter day than Earth. Only seven hours have passed since you left Earth," Zordon told him. "Your mother believes you have been on an all-day hike with your friends, and will be returning home soon after spending the evening at the Youth Center. Adam's father arranged it for you. There should be no problem."
Rocky wiped his brow. "Good. The DeSantos family reunion is tomorrow, at my house, and the last thing I need is for my mom to be mad at me. Hey, do you guys want to come? You're all invited."
The Rangers looked at each other for a moment, then shrugged. "Sure, why not?" Tommy answered for all of them.
Adam grinned. "I'm always up for a DeSantos family party."
Rocky chuckled. "I'll see you all there tomorrow at eleven a.m., okay?" They nodded, and he teleported out.
DeSantos family parties can usually be described in two words: organized chaos. Today was no exception. Even though it was nominally a DeSantos family, the Hernadez clan, Rocky's mother's family, were also present in force. With aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts and uncles, second cousins once removed, and relatives for whom there was no real designation, there were upwards of a hundred people, eating, talking, partying and generally having a good time. Over everything, the sounds of Spanish and English mixed, forming a pleasing if unintelligible sound.
Making the rounds of the party, as he usually did, Rocky spied Adam and Tanya. Mama Carmen, Rocky's curandera grandmother, had snagged Adam and was once again trying to get him to become an apprentice curandero. Tanya stood off to one side, waiting patiently. Rocky grinned and shook his head. That had happened every year since he and Adam had met, and every year, Adam listened politely and cleared out as soon as possible. Despite his best friend's undeniable healing talent, he was far too self-effacing to ever admit that he had it.
Moving along, Rocky stopped to talk to Kat and growl at his cousin's-husband's-sister's-son, Rodrigo, who was once again flirting with her. Rodrigo was the worst ladies' man Rocky had ever known, combining Zack's charm with an utter lack of respect for commitment. Luckily David was elsewhere or there could have been problems.
Trey was sitting looking slightly amazed as Tommy and Chelsea chattered away in rapid-fire Spanish to each other and two of his aunts. Rocky stopped, surprised at their command of the language. Looking up, Chelsea caught sight of his expression and correctly interpreted it. "We grew up in Los Angeles. Some of our best friends spoke only Spanish. We learned pretty quickly." Shrugging, Rocky moved on.
He found Trini out in the garage with his cousin Hector, who was busily explaining his latest invention, a device for blocking electronic radio transmissions over a certain area. The two of them were far too absorbed in their discussion to notice him, so he moved on.
His next stop was the soccer game, taking place on the side lawn. David and Skull were right in the thick of it, although the players spent almost as much time arguing over whether it was called "soccer" or "football" as they played. Rocky shook his head. Bilingual families made life very interesting. Kim sat on the sidelines, occasionally yelling at the soccer players to keep the noise down.
"Rocky! Venga aqui!" his mother called from the kitchen.
"Coming!" Rocky headed off to find out what his mother wanted.
Much later, after huge quantities of food had been consumed, Rocky took advantage of the lull in the activities to go find his grandmother. Sitting down next to her, he gave her a large hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"What was that for, zorrito?" she asked, surprised. She had always called him "little fox," ever since he had visited her in New Mexico and come in one night with a desert fox trailing him, neat as you please. It hadn't been domesticated; it wouldn't let anyone near it but Rocky. Even so, it would eat out of his hand and slept outside the window to his room every night. Mama Carmen had declared that the fox liked him because it sensed his kinship with animals. That was when she had decided that he would make a good curandero.
"I just love you, Mama Carmen. And I want to thank you for training me. It's been very important to me."
"When you have a talent, you must use it. Otherwise, it brings you hardship and pain. I try to tell your friend Adam this, but he just sits there nodding and does he listen to a word I say? Ha!"
Rocky smiled. "Adam uses his talents, all of them. It's just he uses them a different way."
"He would make a marvellous curandero," Mama Carmen sighed.
"Yeah, but he'll never admit he can do it. You know that. He heals people in his own way, in his own time."
"Si, you are right, but I will keep trying. It has become a tradition, no?" she chuckled. He laughed with her. "Rocky, you grow so fast. Already you remind me of your father at your age. Not your looks, no. Pedro got all of your father's features, it's true. You inherited so much of his personality. He was just like you, a man and a child all at once."
"I remember," Rocky said softly. There was the time his father had taken them all to the fair, and eaten as many sweets and ridden as many rides as any of the children. He remembered the nature walks they used to take together, and the enthralled tone in his father's voice as he pointed out spider webs covered with dew.
"You miss him, don't you, child?" Mama Carmen asked softly. At Rocky's nod, she continued. "I, too. But as long as we have memories, we are never truly alone. Comprende?"
"Yeah. Thanks, Mama Carmen. I love you."
"Te amo tambien, Rocky. Te amo mucho." Above them, in the gathering dusk, the stars began to come out, one by one, shining like precious memories.
End of Part
Spanish words used in this story and their meanings:
Arriba! Levantese ahora!- Up! Get up now!
Si, Mama.- Yes, mother.
Venga aqui!- Come here!
Te amo tambien - I love you too.
Special thanks again to Ellen Brand for allow me to use parts of her stories in my series. This story borrowed the basic storyline, parts of the dialogue and a few scenes from Crystal Blue Persuasion, a part of the Personality Conflicts series.