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. Thanks go out to Ellen Brand for allowing me to use parts from Shadow Dancers and a little from Personality Conflicts for this story.
Authors Note: This is an alternate universe from the television show with an alternate timeline. In relation to the show, this would take place between the end of Zeo and the start of Turbo.
Warriors in the Shadows
On Earth, the teenagers known as the Power Rangers were enjoying a rare moment of Saturday relaxation with their friends. The Rangers, Tommy's adopted sister Chelsea Oliver, the former Gold Ranger Jason Scott, Rocky's girlfriend, Jennifer Collins, and Tommy's brother, David Trueheart, were all in their bathing suits, lying on the sands by the lake, not far from Ernie's Beach Club.
"Mmm," Tommy sighed. "This is the life. No monsters, no alarms, nothing but peace and quiet, right, Jase?" His question was answered by a soft snore. Lifting his head, Tommy realized that his best friend had dozed off in the warm sun. Gesturing to the others not to wake him, Tommy moved down the beach to join his friends, a few paces away from the slumbering Jason.
"Is it me," Chelsea asked worriedly, "or does Jason sleep a lot nowadays?"
Rocky DeSantos, the Blue Ranger, shrugged. "Well, you know, losing the Gold Powers took a lot out of him. He's going to need time to recover."
Chelsea sighed. "I know. It's just so hard for me to see him like this. I remember Jason as this incredibly energetic guy, who could stay up all night without a problem and who could outlast everyone at a party. Now he's so tired and washed out that it's scary."
The current Gold Ranger, Trey of Triforia, put an arm around his girlfriend. "Don't worry about it, Chelse. Jason's tough. He'll be just fine."
"I'm asleep, not dead," Jason groused, never opening his eyes. "Do you think you could keep it down?"
"I think you've slept long enough," Tanya Sloan grinned. The Yellow Ranger shot a mischievous glance at Adam Park, her boyfriend. The Green Ranger nodded his approval and moved into position. Tanya took Jason's ankles while Adam took his shoulders. Lifting him, they threw the bigger boy into the chilly lake.
"Whoof!" Jason spluttered, surging to his feet. "I'm going to get you for that!" Grinning, he swept a huge splash towards the shore, drenching everyone. Katherine Hillard, the Pink Ranger, shrieked and promptly charged into the water to give Jason a ducking. The resulting water war was so fierce that Tanya had to charge into the water to save her friend. Rocky promptly dived in to back up Jason. Tommy was watching from the sand and laughing when his communicator toned.
"Cut it out, you guys. Zordon's calling." Luckily, everyone on the beach knew that the six teens were the Power Rangers. "We read you, Zordon," Tommy sighed as the others gathered around him.
"Rangers, you must teleport to the Power Chamber, Zordon rumbled. "I have just received an incoming transmission from Aquitar, and it appears to be a matter of some importance."
The Rangers regarded each other worriedly. "Chelse, you should head home. Dave, Jen, you'd better come to the Power Chamber with us. We don't want Mondo or Zedd getting any ideas while we're gone, right?" The other three teens nodded, and the whole group teleported out.
When they reached the Power Chamber, the Rangers were somewhat startled to see a very worried Delphine on the viewing globe. "Delphine, what's the matter?" Tommy cried.
The Aquitian sighed. "Rangers of Earth, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Aquitar has been invaded by an evil organization known as The Shadow Empire. Unfortunately, they were able to slip through our sensors completely undetected. We did not even know of their presence until they kidnapped Billy."
"They what!" Jason cried, his jaw plummeting. "When? Is he all right?"
Delphine shook her head. "He was fixing a sensor array on one of the islands in the Nebian Sea when he was attacked by a wave of darkness. It fell on him and apparently carried him off."
"Delphine," Adam asked, "how do you know this? Was somebody with him?"
"No, Adam. You see, when Aquitians are in love, they share a telepathic bond. Billy and Cestria also have this bond, for despite the fact that he is human, he is also a gifted telepath. He simply repressed his ability because it would have been considered freakish by other humans. Cestria experienced everything that Billy felt through that bond, but now the bond seems to have been cut off. Cestria fears the worst; she has gone to her room and will neither eat or sleep."
"Well, we're not going to write him off so easily," Rocky replied grimly. "Do you know where he is?"
"Yes. On Sharia, the largest of our three continents, an inexplicable anomaly has arisen, a castle made entirely of obsidian. We could not sense it until just recently."
"Why were you unable to rescue him?" Trey asked, his eyes narrowed. As Lord of Triforia, he had had first-hand experience with the skill and courage of Aquitian warriors.
"The Shadows have somehow surrounded the castle with a desert, not a very big one, but too dry for any Aquitian to pass."
"But not for a human," Tommy finished, smiling.
"Indeed, but they have also planned for that. An energy-blocking field surrounds the castle. The barrier requires a link to the Morphin Grid, but had been designed to block Ranger powers, Morphin and Zeo."
"But we don't have a link to the Morphin power," Kat protested. "Our Power Coins were destroyed."
Delphine smiled. "Katherine, you may be unable to morph, but you still possess the Morphin energy. Once given, it never leaves your spirit. Unfortunately, your Zeo powers will not pass the barriers around the castle. We are at loose ends, Rangers of Earth. I hope that you can help us." With those words, Delphine signed off.
"Hmm," Tommy mused. "We need someone who has held the Morphin power, but not a Zeo Ranger." In unison, everyone turned to look at Jason.
"No, Rangers," Zordon boomed. "I am afraid that Jason is still simply too weak from his brush with the Gold Ranger powers. He would not survive this encounter."
"Then there's only one answer," Tommy declared. "I'm going."
"No way!" Rocky yelled. "You've got Zeo powers, remember?"
"So I'll give them to someone else."
"Tommy, let me go," Adam broke in. "We can't risk losing you."
Tommy shook his head. "Adam, I'm the leader. This is my responsibility. I chose to take it almost eighteen months ago, when I accepted Zordon's appointing me as White Ranger and leader of the team. Billy may no longer be on Earth, he may no longer wield a power, but he is still my teammate, and I owe it to him to go." He turned to his brother, stripping off his Zeonisers, "David..."
David's mouth fell open. "ME?" he shouted, jumping up. "I wouldn't even know what to do!"
"It's not hard, Dave." Tommy assured him. "You're already a martial artist, and the powers teach you everything you need to know about handling them. Just follow Adam's orders and you'll do fine."
David raised an eyebrow. "Adam's your second-in-command?"
"No reason. I just always thought it was Rocky."
Rocky snorted. "No thanks. I have enough hassle looking after my sibs." He walked up, forcing David to meet his eyes. "For what it's worth, I think Tommy's right. You can do this."
David nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. "All right, I'm in. Listen, bro, don't get yourself killed out there, okay? I couldn't handle the responsibility."
Tommy smiled at his brother. "Don't worry, Dave. I'll be fine." He then turned to his sister, who was biting her lip in an effort to keep from crying. "Make my excuses to everyone. I'll be back soon, promise." Then he turned back to Zordon. "All right, Zordon, I'm ready."
"Then prepare to teleport, and good luck, Tommy." As the teleportation system took over, Tommy's form faded into a crackle of white light. Tanya's eyes narrowed. Was it her imagination, or was that white light faintly tinged with green?
Tommy's first sight as he reformed on Aquitar was five very worried Aquitian Rangers. Cestro in particular seemed upset, probably because he was closest to Billy and was very worried about Cestria, his niece. As he looked around, Tommy was mildly surprised to find himself in the Zord Holding Bay. He felt a slight twinge of loss as his eyes took in the sight of the old Shogunzords he remembered from from their Ninja days - straying for a moment on White Shogunzord - the Aquitians' signature Battle Borgs and their equivalent of the Thunderzords, The Sea Zords, the most recent addition to their arsenal and - Tommy remembered - one of Billy's designs.
As his vision cleared completely, he saw a familiar humanoid man in an odd white and black tracksuit. He stood in a corner, watching him in obvious bemusement.
"Tommy!" Delphine cried. "I am glad that you are here. But who then is serving as the Red Zeo Ranger?"
"My twin brother David. We met not too long ago. Adam's leader while I'm away anyway." He turned to the figure. "Dex? What are you doing here?"
"I was taking a respite from hunting down Dregon's forces," Dex told him, grinning slightly. "It is good to see you again, Tommy."
"You two have met?" Aurico asked.
"Back when Zordon's Rangers used the power of Thunder to upgrade their Zords, Tommy and most of his team came to Edenoi after receiving a distress signal." Dex said. "There were some... misunderstandings at first, but we parted as allies."
"You still haven't told me why you're here, Dex." Tommy put in. "I thought only Morphin Energy could get through the barrier."
Dex nodded. "Yes, though I took the liberty of trying for myself. I could not get through the barrier, even with Super Blue. Only pure Morphin Energy will do, my Ecto-accelerator alters it too much, I guess. So instead of trying to save the day, I have been filling the Aquitian Rangers in on what I know about the Shadow Empire, but with that desert in place there's little they can do."
"But I can get through the barrier." Tommy declared "So, let's sit and you brief me about these suckers, okay?" Dex nodded, a slight smile on his face. He waved his friend over to a chair at a nearby table and the two sat down.
"All right. The Shadow Empire is what you would call a criminal organization. They're responsible for many crimes around the galaxy, robberies, assassinations, you name it. Nobody knows exactly what they are. Some people speculate that they're an evolutionary dead end, some theorize that they were created by a wizard's spell gone wrong -- or worse yet, gone too right. All anyone can agree on is that they are basically living shadows.
"They have a particularly nasty way of killing people. They reach inside you and absorb your spirit. Not your soul, but the energy that powers your life-force, which makes you live. I believe on your planet, it is called it Ki. Once the spirit is gone, the body is just a lifeless husk. Very nasty; I've heard it hurts like hell.
"They're solid, thank goodness, so they can't ooze through walls. However, they're amorphous, taking any form they want, as long as it's the same size. Not even the Shadows can violate conservation of mass. And, somehow, when they take someone's spirit energy, they can reach inside them. The solidity doesn't seem to matter."
Tommy bit his lip. "Anything else?"
"Yes. They are difficult to kill. Energy bolts do not even faze them. I would suggest a non energy bladed weapon if you're going in there. If worst comes to worst, you can chop the things apart. That should stop them. Do you know how to use a knife?"
He grinned. "Actually, yes. My sister taught me. Her martial arts class covered knives."
Delphine joined them. "Tommy, everything is in readiness for your trip to the castle. It's time to get going."
Tommy stood up. "Thanks for the information, Dex. Now let's see if I listened well enough to keep my skin intact."
"Good luck, my friend." Dex told him. "May the Power protect you."
In the newly formed Sharian desert, a mile or so away from the Castle of Shadows, Tommy Oliver appeared. Unfortunately, this was as close as the Aqutians' teleportation system could drop him without setting off the Shadows' sensors. Sighing, he checked his supplies and began to walk.
Not long afterwards, he came into sight of the castle and stopped, appalled. It was tall and jet-black, with twisted spires everywhere, a complete monument to evil. Staring at the desolation around him, Tommy suddenly remembered a line from the poem "Ozymandias," which he had read in English not long before. "And round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch away." Shivering, he grinned slightly. "Looks like Rocky is rubbing off on me," he muttered. Continuing his walk, he soon found his way to the castle wall, but could find no door. After hunting around for a while, he found a black portal into the stone. Gingerly, he reached out and put his hand into it. The blackness was cold, but yielding. Gathering his courage, he stepped through and found himself inside the castle.
Tommy was surprised to find that the hallway he had entered was well lit with what appeared to be burning torches. "Makes sense," he muttered. "You can't have a shadow without some light to cast it." Stealthily, he crept down the black corridor, noting with some apprehension the dark, warped versions of himself reflected in the polished obsidian walls.
Despite his furtiveness, luck was not with Tommy. Rounding a corner, he came face to face with a sentry. It would be hard to say who was more surprised, Tommy or the Shadow. Tommy recovered first, however, pulling his knife from the sheath on his belt. His adversary was completely jet black, about the size of an orangutan, with a vaguely humanoid body structure. There all similarity to a human being ended, however. The creature's fingers and toes were tipped with extremely sharp talons and its head resembled that of a dragon, with empty pits for eyes, pits that seemed even blacker than the rest of it, if possible. Completing the picture was a long, whip-like, wickedly barbed tail. All in all, the Shadow had taken a form designed almost perfectly for fighting.
Recovering its aplomb, the Shadow launched itself at Tommy, loosing an inhuman screech. Faster than the eye could follow, Tommy struck with the knife, scoring a nasty slash along the thing's ribs. Although the cut was deep and did not disappear, nothing - neither blood nor ichor - leaked out of the wound.
~Damn!~ Tommy thought. ~These things don't bleed! Unfortunately, I do!~
Even as he thought this, the Shadow struck out with its claw-tipped hand, catching Tommy along the thigh. Even as the pain of the strike burned through him, Tommy was conscious of an intense cold beginning to radiate from the wound site.
~The cold of deep space,~ he thought incoherently, ~of shadows that have never known the sun.~
Shaking his head to clear it, he pulled himself back to the battle, but too late. Leaping from the ground, the Shadow struck Tommy in the chest. Its weight bore him crashing down to the flagstone floor. Unable to rise with the Shadow sitting on his chest, Tommy could only watch as the creature reached towards his heart, preparing to drink his spirit. Chittering obscenely to itself, the creature reached out and slipped its hand effortlessly into Tommy's chest. Tommy felt a piercing cold begin to spread through his body. The Shadow laughed triumphantly, began to absorb Tommy's spirit...
And howled. Not a howl of triumph, or ecstasy, but one of pure pain. Lying on the floor, looking up at the creature, Tommy tried to figure out what was happening. Suddenly, there was a bright flash, and the Shadow popped out of existence. Tommy was reminded of the way light bulbs expire. A brilliant burst of light, and then nothing.
Groggily, Tommy shook his head and picked himself up off of the floor. ~What in the world happened?~ he asked himself. Grinning, he answered his own question. ~I think I gave it indigestion.~ Sighing, he moved off along the corridor again. He had a friend to find, and if his recent dinner guest had managed to get off an alarm, he didn't have much time to do it.
Billy slowly swam to consciousness, only to discover that he couldn't move. As he came fully awake, he realized why. He had been completely encased in some kind of crystal. ~Interesting,~ he mused to himself, ~I don't seem to need to breathe. I wonder if this crystal is supplying my bodily needs? A crystalline life-support system.~ He kept his mind occupied with this for quite some time. It was certainly better than dwelling on what the situation was doing to his rampant claustrophobia. It was strange, but ever since he was a child, he had been uncomfortable in tight spaces. The only cramped area that had never made him at least slightly uneasy had been the cockpit of his Zord. ~Of course, in the Zords, you had a definite distraction,~ he thought wryly. ~Monsters were good for keeping your mind off of your fears.~ When the Rangers had brought Jason to the Power Chamber after he had been turned to gold by the Midas Hound, however, he had been so sickened at the thought of being frozen that he had almost been unable to help. His trips to and from Aquitar in those spaceships had been pure torture. ~Billy,~ he asked himself with a mental shake of the head, ~what is a guy who can't stand tight spaces doing on a water world when he can't breathe water?~ Sometimes he wondered about that decision. Love alone wasn't enough to explain it.
Outside the crystal, the Shadows were still running around, chittering at him occasionally. Now and then, one of the larger ones went past. One of those, around the size and general shape of a human, approached him now, and laid a hand on the wall of his prison. "Hello, Billy," it hissed. The Shadow's voice was cold and menacing, the type of sound you might hear if radio static could talk.
~How am I hearing him?~ Billy wondered. ~Does the crystal send vibrations to my ears? Or is it some sort of telepathic communication?~
The Shadow made a low, breathy sound that Billy realized, with some horror, was a laugh. "Something like that. I can hear you very well, at any rate. Oh, but don't expect your Aquitian girlfriend to be able to trace you here. The crystal prevents telepathic contact with anyone not touching it."
*What do you want?* Billy sent defiantly.
"Oh, Billy, you cannot begin to understand your usefulness to us. You are our hostage; with you in our possession, the Aquitian Rangers will not dare attack us. Your brain will also be a very great prize. Once we have absorbed your intellect, we will possess not only your incredible intelligence, but your telepathic skill as well! The Shadows will be able to enter any mind, any place, think through anything! We will reign supreme and sweep all lesser creatures from our path!"
*Oh, yeah, I've heard that one before,* came the sarcastic reply, accompanied by images of Zedd, Rita, and Mondo. The Shadow chuckled.
"You have a sense of humour. Most engaging. It will be most enjoyable when your essence has been absorbed into our beings."
Suddenly, the Shadow's head snapped up. "Oh, now this is interesting. A Morphin energy signature has just entered the castle. It looks as though your Aquitian friends are trying a rescue after all. I'm sure that their spirits will feed our hunger immensely." Suddenly, a howl cut through the castle, the sound of a creature in excruciating pain. "What was that!" the Shadow cried, its black eyes flashing. "That was no Aquitian! That spirit -- hmm. Perhaps we can turn such a one to our advantage. Step up the treatment!" it called. "I want this one totally separated as quickly as possible!"
With those instructions ringing in his ears, Billy's consciousness swam back down into darkness. One thought followed him into oblivion: who had come to rescue him?
Some time later, Tommy made his way into the chamber where Billy was being kept. Upon seeing the crystal prison his friend was being kept in, he let out a strangled shout and ran across the room. "Oh, Billy," he sighed, heedless of the Shadows filling the room behind him. "Man, you've got to be spazzing out in there." Tommy had only seen his friend's reaction to confined spaces once or twice, but that was all it took. Billy's claustrophobia was not something to be taken lightly.
"Gee, Tommy, someone might almost think you were worried about me," Billy's voice drawled from behind him. Tommy turned, the hint of malice in the voice tipping him off that it would not be his friend he was facing. Behind him stood what appeared to be Billy, but his normally warm green eyes were ice blue and seemed to glow with an inner light. Plus, Billy's warm and open features were twisted into a mask of malice and disdain.
"Who are you?" Tommy asked suspiciously, staring at the figure before him.
"I'm Billy, just as much as that lump of meat in that crystal over there. I would have thought you'd know all about this sort of thing, Tommy, considering your never-ending troubles of the same sort."
Now Tommy understood what he was looking at. Somehow, the Shadows had distilled all the anger and pain in Billy to create the creature he was facing. Standing before him was Billy's dark side made flesh, and he was big trouble.
"Billy, I know you can hear me. I know you're in there somewhere, so listen to me. I'm here to help you, but I can't do it alone. You're going to have to help me. Billy, do you hear me?"
Shadow Billy's eyes flashed and in three quick strides, he crossed to face Tommy. "Oh, I hear you. The question is, why would I ever do what you say? You've always treated me like a second-class citizen. Well, I'm the one with the power now, and I'm finally going to use it." So saying, he back-fisted Tommy across the face, knocking the other boy to the ground. Raising his hand to his cheek, Tommy was not overly surprised to find a spot of freezing cold. Slowly, he lifted himself to his feet.
"Billy, listen to me. We are friends. I said a lot of things I shouldn't have, things I didn't mean, and things I know now aren't true. I was wrong to say those things, and I admit it. They're not true, Billy. That's why I want you to fight this. Not for me, but for you. Is this really what you want out of life? To be a Shadow?"
Shadow Billy's lip trembled. Sounding far more like Billy usually did, he sighed. "Shadows don't feel fear, Tommy. I'm so tired of being afraid, waiting for some villain to drop his monster of the day on me or my friends. I just want it to end."
"Billy, it's all right to be afraid. It's normal. The trick is not to let your fear control you. You never have. Shadows don't feel fear, true, but they don't feel pleasure, or love, or friendship, either. Are you going to run away from all your feelings just because you don't want to be afraid?"
"SHUT UP!" Shadow Billy cried, lunging at Tommy. Neatly catching the other by his wrists, Tommy swung his assailant around and pinned him against a wall. Ignoring the burning cold in his hands, moving himself so that he could look into Shadow Billy's eyes, he began to speak again.
"I know you're afraid of the dark side of yourself. The evil we're capable of is a scary thing. You're thinking, why not let the Shadows have it? But you can't do that, Billy. You can't separate the good and evil aspects of your personality. I tried to deny the dark side of myself once, and it almost ended up tearing me apart. The same thing will happen to you. 'A house divided against itself cannot stand.' Remember when we learned that in Freshman History?"
"Lincoln," Shadow Billy mumbled. "Abraham Lincoln said that."
"That's right. If you try to divide your spirit into good and evil, you'll collapse. You have to look at your darkness and accept it. Say 'That's what I can become, but I won't. I don't have to be the worst I can.' Look at yourself, Billy. You're not perfect, you're human. But is that really so bad?"
Shadow Billy stared into Tommy's eyes for a long moment, and then began to dissolve. Soon there was nothing left of him. That was when three things happened at once.
Tommy's hands, cold-burned by the contact with Shadow Billy, began to hurt in earnest.
The Shadows, who up until now had ringed the room, began to close in, chittering menacingly.
And the crystal which held Billy prisoner gave a shattering crack, and Billy tumbled free.
Tommy moved back to stand by the unconscious Billy, wondering how on Earth he was going to get them out of this one. He might be immune to the Shadows' spirit-drinking touches, but he very much doubted that the same could be said of Billy. Besides, the things still had very sharp talons and weren't afraid to use them. Desperate, he racked his brains looking for a solution.
Suddenly, things that other people had said to him came back in a rush.
Ninjor - Your animal spirits are a part of you.
Zordon - Ninjor has linked your Power Coins with your human energies.
Delphine - You still possess the Morphin energy. Once given, it never leaves your spirit.
"That's it!" he cried aloud. "The powers are still a part of us! Maybe I can call on mine!" Which left him with the question of which power to call? Only one color, White or Green, had bonded to his spirit and would respond to his call. The way the Shadows were advancing, he'd only get one shot at it. Time to find out which it was.
Closing his eyes, Tommy tuned out all external distractions, reaching inside himself for the energy he knew was there. When he found the core, he allowed it to flow through him. Now all that remained was to call it by name.
With a deafening reptillan roar, a flash of green light filled the room. When it cleared, Tommy stood garbed all in green. Loose green pants, a green tunic top, green split-toed ninja boots, and a green headband. In his hand was a green-handled katana. Set into the middle of the chest of his uniform was a large golden coin, emblazoned with the symbol of the Panther. Smiling wickedly, Tommy, now the Green Morphin Warrior, turned towards the Shadows and hefted his katana. "Let's rock." The Shadows charged him, and the fight was on.
Billy slowly awoke to the sounds of chittering and "sie-kyuh!" "That must be Tommy," he mumbled, pushing himself off of the floor. "He's the only person I know who says 'sie-kyuh,' instead of 'ki-yah.'" As his vision cleared, Billy looked up to see Tommy clad in a strange green uniform. It somewhat resembled the uniforms that the team had worn as Ninja Rangers, but Tommy's face was completely visible. ~It looks like a Ninjetti uniform,~ Billy thought to himself, having read legends about the warrior race that once protected the Great Power. Even as he rose to his feet, Billy saw Tommy looking back at him.
"Nice of you to wake up," Tommy grinned, slicing through yet another shadow that had leapt at him. The two halves of the creature fell to the ground and disappeared. "I was wondering, do you think you could give me a hand with these guys? I don't think I can hold them off all by myself."
"What am I supposed to do," Billy asked sarcastically. "Beat them over the head with a pocket calculator? I don't have any powers, remember?"
"Yes, you do! Remember how Zordon told us both, the various times we lost our powers, that we would always be Rangers?" Tommy asked, never pausing in his battle.
"He didn't mean just in an honorary sense. Billy, the Power is still part of us, and we can still morph! All you have to do is reach down inside yourself and call on your power."
Billy thought about this for a long moment, while Tommy hacked and slashed, keeping the Shadows at bay. Then he reached down inside himself, looking for the core of Blue energy inside him. Suddenly, a long, liquid howl burst from Billy's throat. It sounded so frightening and wolf-like that the Shadows backed away in fear. A burst of brilliant sapphire light filled the room, and when it faded, Billy was the Blue Morphin Warrior.
His outfit was different from Tommy's. Billy wore a solid blue bodysuit somewhat like the uniform he had worn as Blue Ranger. His knee-high boots were a darker blue, as was the vest of an almost Kevlar-like material that covered his torso from shoulder to waist. Set into the center of the vest was a golden coin on which was emblazoned the symbol of the wolf. On a belt, he wore a laser pistol, and covering his eyes was a light blue visor.
"Nice outfit," Tommy grinned.
"Shut up and fight," Billy shot back, stifling his own smile. Pulling his pistol out of his belt, he aimed at the press of Shadows homing in on them.
"Um, Billy, I don't think a laser pistol's going to be much good against these guys. They eat laser bolts for breakfast."
"Just watch," Billy smirked. He pulled the trigger and a blue beam of light shot out. Where it touched the Shadows, it produced a zone of absolute zero. Even the Shadows could not survive total molecular stasis. The unlucky ones struck by the beam instantly disintegrated.
"Wow," Tommy managed, suitably impressed.
"What now?" asked Billy. "We fight our way out of here?"
Tommy shook his head. "We blow this place sky high. Find me the power center of this castle. Your visor can do that, can't it?"
Billy nodded, and began scanning. "Out that door!" he pointed.
"Then let's go!"
Billy thought later that even if he lived to be a thousand, he would never forget the two of them making their way down the hall. He shot at everything that moved, unless it was green. Shadow after Shadow was destroyed, but there seemed to be no end to them. Tommy seemed to be everywhere at once, slicing, thrusting, and wearing a berserker's grin. As for the Shadows, they seemed to have no strategy at all, simply attempting to bear the two boys down under the weight of their numbers. Billy realized that the intelligent ones, like the one who had spoken to him earlier, must be keeping well back from the fray, sending what amounted to drones after the two Rangers. Finally, the boys reached a barred door which Billy's visor told them was the computer room. Two quick shots with Billy's pistol, and the door was history. They ran inside, and oddly enough, the Shadows did not follow.
Once in, Tommy and Billy both stopped dead. They couldn't help it. Towering above them was the biggest Shadow they had yet seen, a huge amorphous blot of darkness which twisted and writhed constantly. Billy looked away, nauseated, but Tommy could not tear his eyes from it. It sickened him, but it fascinated him, too.
Yesssss, the thing hissed, in the most awful voice Billy had ever heard. It somehow conjured up images of nails on a chalkboard, screams of pain, and Lord Zedd's mocking laughter. I see you are a mighty warrior, young Shadow. With a horrified start, Billy realized that the thing was addressing Tommy.
"I'm not a Shadow," Tommy replied, but his voice lacked conviction.
Of course you are, my child. Look into your heart. The light in there is equal to the darkness, no more, no less. It has always been thus with those of the Green Morphin Power, and some of those swell our ranks. Come to us. Join with us. I know that you are tired of struggle, tired of fighting. Come to us, and be at peace.
"No..." Tommy shook his head, but more in confusion than in denial. "I have to fight. I -- owe it to my friends."
What friends? Those Rangers back on Earth? The girl who deserted you? The inexperienced child with no conception of who you have been? The silent Adam, who watches you with such disdain? Rocky, who could never be smart enough to comprehend what you have experienced? Perhaps you mean Jason, who was quite content as leader of the Rangers -- before you came along. Or perhaps - and here the thing's voice began to drip malice - you are referring to the genius behind you, who mistakenly blames you for all the failures in his life. None of these are your friends. They laugh at you, they have no conception of your abilities. They would all be happier without you, and tell yourself the truth, Tommy. Wouldn't you be happier without them?
"No..." By now, Tommy's voice was almost nonexistent, and his eyes were dead and despairing. Billy could see how close he was to crossing over.
"Tommy!" he shouted. "Don't listen to it! It's lying to you. You know Adam respects you, and Rocky's not that stupid. Naive, yes, but not stupid. Tanya already thinks you're one step away from perfection; she didn't need to know you very long for that. And Katherine? You were dating her on the rebound anyway, neither of you deserve that, but she still loves you. Jason, well, Jason might miss being in charge, but he doesn't resent you for that. When Gasket had you, Jason was the one pushing to find you. He could have stepped into your shoes as leader then, but he didn't.
"As for me," and here Billy's voice grew quieter, "I don't blame you for the failures in my life. I don't blame anybody. Time spent in that crystal gave me time to think. I've had bad luck, with women and life in general. You risked your life and spirit to save me. How could I hate you after that? We've been best friends before, and I would hate to see that go. C'mon, Tommy. Fight it."
"I -- I --" Tommy looked confused. Sensing that it was losing its prey, the Shadow switched tactics.
What do these friends of yours know of your weariness, of the fear and pain you feel? You are Shadow, always walking the thin line between dark and light. To fall in either direction will cost you yourself. Come to us, and the fighting will stop. No dark, no light, only twilight and eternal shadow. Pulling from the part of Billy's mind that it had absorbed, the Shadow began to quote. "What pleasure can we have to war with evil? Let us alone. Time hurries onward fast. All things are taken from us and become part and parcel of the dreadful past." Come to us, Tommy, and all your pain will cease.
"'Why should we only toil, who are the roof and crown of things.'" Billy whispered, quoting from the same poem. "Tommy, I know you're tired of walking a tightrope, but falling to the Shadows is not a solution. Remember what you said to me? Shadows don't feel pain, but they don't feel anything else, either. Can you live without love?"
You don't have to, the Shadow crooned. Come to us, and we can give you what you really want. A girl stepped out, 5'2", with auburn hair and brown eyes. Tommy gasped. The form the Shadow had chosen was that of Kimberly Hart.
"Tommy?" she asked, mimicking Kim's voice perfectly. "I want you to come with me. I miss you."
"Kimberly," Tommy croaked.
"Yes, Tommy. I'm sorry I hurt you so badly. Can't we kiss and make up?" She smiled, a perfect copy of Kimberly's smile. Billy felt sick. She was Kimberly down to the last detail -- except her eyes. They were cold and flat, the eyes of an animal. Would Tommy see? He hoped so, but he couldn't interfere. And distraction now might snap Tommy's tenuous resistance to the Shadow's lure.
Tommy smiled shyly. "I'd like that, Kim," he replied, his voice full of meaning. Smiling again, she crossed towards him, ready to take him in her arms and kiss him into oblivion -- literally.
Except when she came within arms' length, Tommy's katana whipped out, cutting her deeply across the chest. Looking into the gaping wound, the two boys could see nothing. No blood, no bone. This Kimberly was definitely not human. Her eyes burning, the Kimberly-thing lost all colour and definition, becoming yet another Shadow.
"You're not Kimberly. Kim would never willingly serve a monster. It's one of the things I love about her," Tommy declared coldly. "You almost had me there, but showing me Kimberly reminded me how much I love my friends and family. I'm not such a coward as to give up when I get tired. Nice try." He turned back to Billy. "Thanks, man."
Billy smiled at his friend. "Hey, no problem. What are friends for?"
Tommy grinned. "Great. Find me that power core and we can blow this pop stand."
Billy swallowed. "Um, Tommy? My readings show that giant shadow is the power core."
Smiling nastily, Tommy cracked his knuckles. "Well, then, Billy, take some of these charges and plant them. I don't think that thing can attack us; if it could have, it wouldn't have wasted any time trying to convert us."
"What about the little ones?" Billy asked nervously, a little frightened by the vengeful expression on Tommy's face.
What followed was straight out of a nightmare. Billy thought that he was going to be pulled down by a horde of the little Shadows, but somehow he managed to plant all the charges. He signalled to Tommy, who had just finished planting his last one.
"Okay, let's go!" The two boys rushed out of the castle, little Shadows at their heels. Behind them, they could hear the explosions start, ripping through the castle like a kid on Christmas morning. They vaulted out of the portal, only seconds ahead of a huge fireball which fried all of their pursuers. Tommy and Billy lay on the sand for a moment, stunned. Then Billy picked himself up and looked at his friend.
"Well, that was fun, Tommy. But what are we going to do next weekend?" The two boys burst into giggles. They were still laughing when the dry weather pattern that the Shadows had instituted to create their desert broke up. The sudden downpour of rain only made them laugh harder, ecstatic with the knowledge that the fight was finally over. When the Aquitian Rangers teleported in to see what had happened, they found the two Rangers soaked to the skin, laughing uncontrollably in the gentle rain.
Upon their return to the Alien Ranger's headquarters, Cestria ran to Billy and threw herself into his sodden arms. "Billy! You're alive!"
Billy, still in his Morphin Warrior costume, wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly. "Yeah. Thanks to Tommy."
"And I see," Delphine broke in with a smile, "that the two of you have discovered your Morphin Warrior powers. These powers have bonded with you, making you stronger. While you are not so powerful as true Rangers, you should have the ability to defend yourself against most threats."
"Delphine, I don't understand something," Tommy frowned. "Why didn't Zordon tell us about this when we lost our Power Coins?"
"Because, Tommy, the Morphin Warrior powers do not provide you with the strength or durability that you need to fight Zedd's monsters. You see, no Ranger can tap the Morphin Grid without a transformation artefact. The power needed to make a Ranger is simply too strong to be fed into a living being without some sort of filter. Now you are drawing unfiltered Morphin power, and therefore can draw only about half of what your coins would provide. Most users of this power would be lucky to draw a tenth of that."
Tommy nodded. "I see. We couldn't have faced Mondo with our old powers, much less partial strength ones. The Zeo crystal was necessary to be strong enough to fight the Machine Empire. One thing that still puzzles me, though is why that Shadow couldn't absorb my spirit. It reached inside my chest and then went poof!"
"I can answer that," replied Dex, coming to the front of the gathering. "From your outfit, Tommy, it would appear that you are a Green Warrior, right?"
"According to what the Power's telling me." Tommy agreed.
"Well, every power of light must have a shadow. The Green Power is the shadow of the Morphin spectrum. The Green Rangers have all walked the line between dark and light. The Shadows couldn't absorb a shadowed spirit, and it was like you or me biting into an iron file hidden in a loaf of bread."
"I think it was more than the Green Power doing that," Billy interjected, startling them all. "When you integrated your personalities after Mondo tried to turn you into his mind slave, it resulted in a total integration of darkness and light, making you pure shadow."
Chewing on his lower lip, Tommy considered that. "I get it. Thanks, Billy."
Billy smiled. "No problem, man. It's what I'm here for."
Tommy shook his head. "You're here for more than that, Billy. You'll always be a Ranger, and I'll always be proud to have you on my team."
After a few more explanations and a round of goodbyes, Tommy was teleported back to Earth. The desert, he was assured, would soon return to its former rain forest state under Aquitian ecological management.
Some time later, Tommy watched the stars appear, tracing the old, familiar patterns with the ease of long acquaintance. He didn't even look away as another boy slid down the desert slope next to him. "Hey, man," Rocky DeSantos called quietly. "What are you looking for?"
Tommy chuckled. "Nothing, really. Just looking. Rocky, do you ever think about those stars? How they're a part of us? People used to navigate by them, and use them to tell time, did that for hundreds of centuries. They hardly seem to change, so you're seeing what your ancestors saw a hundred or a thousand years ago. Through our stars, we're connected. But Billy's on Aquitar, looking at stars no human has ever seen. I was just thinking how lonely that must be."
"Hmm," Rocky mused, coming to sit by Tommy. "You miss him, don't you?"
"Yeah. I didn't think I would at first. When he left, I figured it'd heal over, like losing Jason, Trini, Zack, and -- and Kim. It didn't. It still hurts. I guess -- he was my last link to the past, like Lita said. With him gone, I'm sort of adrift. Jason's great, but he's not part of the team, and he seems so distant now. I miss Billy, a lot."
"Did you work things out between you? I mean you two have had your differences."
"Oh, yeah we did. That probably saved our lives. If I hadn't forgiven him, he would have stayed a Shadow, and if he hadn't forgiven me, I would have been one. I never realized how much of a rock Billy was, always. He was calm, he was rational, even when the rest of us were freaking out. I didn't know how much I needed it until he was gone."
Rocky put a comforting hand on his friend's shoulder. "He's still alive man, and he's still our friend. No distance - no amount of stars between us - can change that."
Tommy smiled. "You're right, Rocky. Thanks."
"No problem, amigo. De nada." The two boys fell silent then, staring up at the desert sky for many hours, thinking of friendships lost and found. Above them, the stars shone on.
End of Part