Author's notes -- Final chapter here, friends. I hope everybody enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it :).
Goldar was still standing by Rita's telescope in the observatory when Rita returned to the lunar palace, and hearing her walk into the room, Goldar spun around to face her, only to step back in surprise. Her shoulders hunched over, Rita's head was lowered in despair and she was walking slowly and tiredly, one weary footstep after the other. He could see neither the key nor the Book of Hades, and her wand was broken, the red orb shattered.
She appeared, in essence, totally defeated.
Without even a glance to Goldar, Rita crossed the room towards her throne, and Goldar stepped towards her.
"My empress, did you manage to open the Gateway?" he asked, but immediately regretted speaking - the answer was plainly obvious.
Rita shook her head sadly, still without looking up. "The Rangers interrupted the ceremony, destroyed my wand and forced me to flee," she mumbled. "And now they've got both the book and the key. We can forget about opening the Gateway, Goldar. Ever."
His brows lowered, and Goldar pressed on. "But, my queen, you promised..."
"Forget about it," Rita interrupted, turning to face him, and only then could Goldar see the true depth of tired defeat in Rita's eyes.
The briefest hint of anger crossed Goldar's face. "What?" he asked.
"I said it's over," she repeated, and briefly, she glanced back past the balcony to where the Earth sat slowly spinning uninterrupted in its orbit. "It's just not worth the effort." And with that, Rita turned and walked away, disappearing into her private chamber and leaving a completely shell-shocked Goldar standing alone in the empty throneroom.
The twelve of us teleported back into the Command Centre victoriously, appearing in the centre of the room before Zordon's plasma tube and immediately demorphing.
"Rangers," Zordon began with a beaming smile, and we could hear the joy in his voice, a direct contrast to the fear Jason and I had heard earlier that day. "After you'd left, Alpha and I found that we were able to monitor the planet's surface quite successfully, and have been watching Azhron for the better part of the day."
"A side effect of us destroying the tower?" asked Trini.
Zordon nodded. "Exactly," he began. "And let me congratulate you all on a job well done. You unmasked General Wolfbane, stopped his plans for conquest and came to the rescue of Prince Trystenn and the refugees by defeating the Shadow Knights. And more importantly, above everything else, you cleared Callan of any wrongdoing, and for that you all have my gratitude."
"Will Trystenn be okay?" asked Tommy.
"Like too many others, Trystenn had to learn the ways of warfare far too early," Zordon replied. "He is a strong man, and will undoubtedly make a good king. I dare say that the city of Azhron will have returned to its former glory within several years, and now that we're able to, I have every intention of maintaining contact with Trystenn whenever we can."
Everyone glanced around to each other and Zordon continued, looking down to Jason and I. "Congratulations to you both as well, for not only preventing Rita from opening the Gateway, but defeating her and obtaining both the key and the Book of Hades," he said. "Even as we speak, droids from the Command Centre are sealing up the entrance and taking care of the lava beast. We will place several force-fields in the cave powered directly from the Command Centre's generators to ensure the Gateway is never reopened, and the book of Hades will be placed in a containment field and locked in a vault deep under the mountain." Zordon paused, smiling. "We won two battles on two fronts this afternoon, Rangers, and I am proud of you all."
Jason stepped forward. "Zordon," he began slowly, "I just want to say I'm sorry, for the things I said yesterday..."
Zordon nodded. "There's no need to apologise," he replied. "I might be thousands of years old, but this last adventure has taught me that I am still very fallible. Jason you were right to question me, and I encourage you to do so in the future. I withheld information from Callan, after all, and had I not, things today may have been very different," and Zordon glanced down to the Grey Ranger standing at the front of the room. "But my personal thanks to you, Ian. Without you, Callan may still be held as a villain, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me that you cleared his name."
Ian nodded. "It's just a shame, that's all," he said, "that so many people thought he'd turned bad, us included. He was a hero."
"People often forget that there is a human face under our masks," Zordon said. "It is that humanity that defines us. But no matter how hard we try, part of being human is that we will inevitably make mistakes. But unlike Rita, it is our acknowledgment of those mistakes that separates us from the likes of her, Varian or Wolfbane. I'm sorry to say but there will always be shades of grey in what we do, Rangers - but we should never stop trying to find ways to better ourselves, to do the best we can, and to make a positive difference in the world. It is our duty, our place, and anything else would be an injustice."
There was a minute of silence as we all took this in, and Alpha turned to Tommy. "As for your powers, Tommy, we'll continue looking for alternative sources of power," the robot said. "We won't stop until..."
"You know what Alpha, that's cool," said Tommy. "After today we've all earned a break."
"Indeed," said Zordon, "but we still have one more task to fulfill this day," and suddenly, the key to the Gateway appeared with a flash on the control panel beside Jason. "Rangers, if you could take the key outside." The Red Ranger picked up the key and turned around, and we followed Jason out into the hallway. Although he remained inside his plasma tube, Zordon's voice continued to echo out to us through speakers in the walls. "The key to the Gateway is protected by mystical enchantments, shielded on a molecular level from any kind of applied force, which means essentially that it cannot be destroyed. However, we can send it somewhere where nobody be able to reach it."
With that, the enormous double doors at the end of the hallway opened, and we all walked towards them, stepping out of the Command Centre into the bright sunshine, breathing in the fresh mountain air.
"Rangers, if you will," said Zordon. Understanding what Zordon had in mind, we all stood in a close circle around the key, shoulder to shoulder, and reaching forward, everyone placed their hands under Jason's. Within seconds, the metallic key began to glow brightly.
"Let's send this puppy on its way," smiled Zac, and with that, the key shot up into the sky, teleporting through the clouds into the upper atmosphere at an impossible speed. It disappeared from sight almost instantly, the teleportation streak vanishing into the glare of the burning sun.
"Well done," said Alpha, standing beside us, as we all watched the key disappear. "Travelling at that speed, the key should reach the sun in about five minutes."
Still watching the sky, Jason nodded and glanced over to me. "And the Gateway will stay shut forever," he said. "And at least we won't have to go three rounds with the lava beast again."
I smiled, as beside me, Brendan turned to Ian. "Hey," he began, and Ian turned to him. "What was that you mentioned yesterday, about a big surprise in the next couple of days?"
At this, everybody turned to look at Ian, and Teresa nodded. "Yeah," she said. "I think after everything that happened we're pretty much all surprised-out. So what's the deal?"
Ian blushed, glancing around quickly to find all of us looking at him. "I'm sorry, I guess there's no point now," he said. "Back in Goondiwindi, my dad is a police officer, Sergeant Ben Thompson," he explained. "And he's getting transferred. To Caloundra, actually. Right now my parents are in Caloundra checking out our new house. We move from Goondiwindi in two days and I start at Currimundi State Primary School in the middle of the week."
There was total, absolute silence as everybody took this in.
"Ian... that's... what?" stuttered Scott.
"You're serious?" asked Tommy finally.
With that, Ian couldn't help but smile that disarming grin and glance around the group. "Um..." he began, then shrugged innocently. "Surprise!"
True to his word, Ian's family arrived in Caloundra two days later, and he introduced us all to his parents and older brother. Ian joined Brendan and I in class 6D on Wednesday, only a week and a half until the winter holidays, and for the rest of the week, everybody helped Ian's family move in to a two-storey house only a few blocks behind mine. And that Friday after school, we decided to officially welcome Ian to the city with a picnic down at Currimundi beach.
"...but the Power Rangers arrived on the scene before the monsters could do any real damage," crackled the newsreader's voice through the radio, "and while the Junior Team fought the troop of soldiers, the Senior Team confronted the monsters, destroying one before teleporting away. We repeat, that was the last known sighting of the Power Rangers. And that's the four o'clock news update. Now, it's over to Sunshine FM's roving reporter, Zach Leonard. Where are you today Zach?"
"Thanks Joe! It's the Z-man here, coming at you live from the boardwalk in Caloundra. We've got..."
Teresa switched off the radio sitting at the end of the wooden picnic bench and turned back, looking down onto the beach and smiling as she watched everyone except for Trini and Kim (who'd quickly ducked away to pick up lunch from the shop across the road) play a tumbling game of beach football, laughing and shouting as they raced around on the hot sand.
"Hey," came a voice, and Teresa looked back to see Kimberly and Trini returning, each carrying bundles of fish and chips, crumbed sausages, meat pies and sausage rolls. "Lunch is served," grinned Kim, as they placed the food onto the bench. "I'll just run down and get the others, don't start without us," and the Pink Ranger dashed down onto the sand.
Trini smiled and turned to Teresa. "You were looking very thoughtful there."
Teresa nodded. "I was just thinking," she said, watching Kim run across the beach. "It's like we were all meant for each other, you know? We came together to fight monsters and save the world, but that's not why we stay together. That's not why we work."
"I hadn't thought about it like that," Trini replied. "I think you're right though."
By now, Kimberly had rounded up everyone on the beach, and we all charged back up the grassy dunes towards the bench, reaching Teresa and Trini and somehow managing to cram ourselves around the small table. Zac, of course, immediately began pilling food on his plate.
"Awesome," he said, pouring himself some cola and beginning to eat.
Watching him, Teresa couldn't help but smile. "You know Zac, I think I'm beginning to see a pattern here with you," she said, and everyone laughed.
Sitting at the end of the table across from Jason and I, Ian smiled and glanced around the group. "Thanks for this guys," he said. "You know, this really is an awesome place to live."
I nodded. "Heck of a first adventure though," I said. "Definitely one for the books. Are you sure you're okay, I mean, after everything that happened?"
Ian smiled and nodded. "Totally," he said. "I just keep thinking about Callan. You know, we spent all weekend thinking that he'd compromised, that he was our badguy. And we were wrong - it cost him everything but he was still a hero, still a Ranger. Zordon was right. Heroes shouldn't compromise, they shouldn't have to. We're better than that. And I'm just glad to be here, and be a part of everything."
Jason nodded and leaned forward, a tiny suspicion at the back of his mind. "So when are you going to tell us how you made sure Caloundra ended up being the place your dad had to transfer to?" he asked.
Ian glanced back to me and grinned. "I think that's a story for another time and place," he replied.
Down the table, Kimberly turned to Tommy beside her. "And what about you, Mr 'I flattened an army unmorphed'?" she said. "I can't believe we all missed it."
Tommy shrugged. "I just imagined that you were with the refugees in the temple and everything else just came naturally." Kim smiled, and he continued. "Besides, I only needed someone to remind me of something important."
"What?" Kimberly asked.
Tommy smiled. "That heroes are heroes, and power coins just aren't that big a deal," he said, and across the table, Billy blushed. "And hey, I wasn't the guy who soloed Staghorn without even breaking a sweat."
At that, the Blue Ranger blushed even redder, and sitting next to him, Trini smiled and wrapped an arm around Billy's shoulder. Billy Cranston could be just so adorable sometimes.
Watching them, Jason turned to me and tapped my shoulder. "You remember what you said last week about pizzas and old movies? Can we add beach picnics to the list too?" he asked, finishing off the last of his lunch.
I nodded. "Totally. You up for another game of beach football?"
"Are you kidding?" asked, and with a grin, he leaped to his feet and grabbed the football. "I'll take you all on myself!" And with the ball tucked under his arm, Jason charged back down onto the white sand.
Watching him go, everyone immediately jumped to their feet. "Get him!" I cried, and with that, we all leaped over the table and raced down onto the beach after him, everyone laughing and happy in the warm afternoon sun.
And six hundred years earlier, Callan the Grey Ranger collapsed against the stone tiles, unmoving. His breath was gone, his life draining away, his heartbeat growing fainter. In those few seconds he understood - he'd underestimated his opponents and been blinded by his own need for revenge. But even as he watched Varian fall to Wolfbane's blade, none of it seemed to matter anymore. The heroes would win eventually, he knew. It's just what they did.
His heart gave its last beat, and fell still. It hurt less now, surprisingly, and to Callan's confusion the world around him was growing brighter, not darker. Then he heard them, voices he hadn't heard in many years from behind the light, the voices of his wife and son, greeting him once again.
And Callan the Grey Ranger died with a smile on his face.