Disclaimer: Power Rangers does not belong to me. It is the property of Disney... I guess... Sigh... Az doesn't exactly belong to me, but I don't think his boss will mind me borrowing him for a little while... This fanfic is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for language and semi-mature themes.

Shadows of the Cave

Well... this place was cheerful. Gravel crunched under his feet as Az surveyed the world he'd stepped into. Grey sky, grey earth, grey trees, grey grass... yeah, he was sensing a definite monochrome theme going here. Then again, in a place called the Shadow World, he hadn't expected a riot of color.

Pausing for a moment, he lit a cigarette, hands cupped to protect the tiny flame against the cold air. He took a long drag on the stick, letting out a long stream of smoke even as he tucked his lighter back into his black leather jacket. The smoke spiraled up for a few minutes, then headed off in a stream, making for an area surrounded by dead trees. Nodding, Az followed it, unconcerned as shadowy shapes flitted around him.

Coming into a clearing, he found his quarry sitting quietly on a fallen log, staring at apparently nothing. The auburn-haired man took another puff from his cigarette, studying the still-colorful form before him. Unlike most of the shadows in this place, the demon before him remained a vibrant bronze, not yet muted to the neutral tones the rest of the world shared. Az nodded; that was a good sign. Now for the fun part.

"I know you're there," the demon commented, voice holding no emotion. "You might as well come out."

Az did as asked, grinning as he flicked ashes from the end of his butt. "Just didn't want to get within arm's length without announcing my presence, mate," he replied, cutting around the log so that the other could see him. "Never a good idea to sneak up on a demon, y'know?"

Diabolico snorted. "I seriously doubt I could do you an injury, stranger. Especially not here... We can do nothing here."

"Aw, that's not entirely true, you know. Mind if I pull up a stretch of log?"

"Suit yourself," the demon shrugged, but he moved over slightly. "So... if I may ask, who are you and what brings you looking for me?"

Folding long, jean-clad legs under him, Az sank down to sit beside the other. "Name's Az. You could say I'm a sort of... troubleshooter for a very high-up organization. As for why I'm looking for you... I've got an offer to make you."

"Not interested," Diabolico replied tonelessly.

That got a snort. "Oh, please. You haven't even heard me out yet. I'm not gonna ask you to do anything evil or even dishonorable. Hell, I know what got you down here in the first place."

"I am here because I deserve to be. I failed my Queen... I betrayed her. I have nothing left. I belong among the shadows."

Az's noise was nothing short of rude. "And do you actually BELIEVE the fertilizer you're shoveling? Take a look around, my friend, you do NOT belong here!"

He waved one arm, indicating the horizon. "This isn't an afterlife... this isn't even Hell! Eternal punishment would be livelier than this! News flash-- this is a psychic dumping ground, and the only reason you're here is because you fell through the damn cracks!"

Diabolico frowned. "What... are you talking about?"

"Bansheera had to force her way back from another dimension, bucko. What do you think that did to the dimensional fabric? When you bit it, you followed the path of least resistance... here."

"But... the monsters... the demons..."

"Are just that. Monsters. Never really people to begin with. You know how it goes. Make 'em a body, give 'em just enough spark to make 'em work... no real loss when they go toes up, right? That's what fills this place, mate. Shadows. Nothing more than that."

"Rita and Zedd?"

"Shadows. All the crud shed by the good wave had to go somewhere. You just wound up here. And you DON'T belong here."

Diabolico laughed, some actual humor in the sound. "So... you've come to take me to Hell, then?"

"Bollocks, you don't listen worth a damn, do you? Do you know what the big difference between you and everything here is? The reason you're still in Technicolor and nothing else is? When you were alive, somebody loved you. Without reason, without reservation, somebody loved you more than life. And you loved too. THAT is why you don't belong here. Because you were REAL when you were alive. And that alone is why you get another chance."

"Ryan." Diabolico's gaze was distant.

"Not to mention that old friend of yours... Loki? Didn't you wonder why you didn't see him here?"

A snort. "I thought it was Hell."


Shifting on the log, Diabolico sighed. "What would you have me doing?"

"Trouble-shooting. Like me. Matter of fact, you'd be working for me... I won't say it's a pretty job, but somebody has to do it... keep the balance. And it's a sight better than what you've got here, isn't it?"

This time, the laugh was truer. "So it is... I accept."

"Great." Az got to his feet, crushing out his cigarette as he did so. "Come on... let's go. I got this guy of Michael's to introduce you to... You two have a lot in common. Should give ol' Mike an ulcer or two..."

Black shadows swirled around them, and they were gone.