Author's Notes: Fixed for grammar.
Spells and Illusions
Chapter 1: The Portal
"Ugh…" Scorpina scowled at the rancid fumes permeating the throne room. "I hate this mystic stuff. Why are we here, again?"
Goldar, as usual, looked unfazed. "We are to provide backup. Sometimes these magics call forth some pretty bad things." He smirked. "And not in a good way. Things that can hurt Empress Rita. So, our job is to fight anything that comes through that portal."
The portal filled one corner of the throne room, and all the furniture and shelves had been shoved to the side. It had slowly formed from the size of a marble to its full size, so that two could walk in easily. At this moment, it was a bright green, and mists swirled feverishly.
Rita sat on the floor before it, her eyes closed in deep concentration. A book was open in front of her, but she had ceased to read from it long ago. Incense burned all around her, providing the stench that turned Scorpina's stomach. Yet Rita remained impassive. She seemed to be calling power from deep within.
That actually bothered Scorpina more than the smell. This looked like dangerous magic, and she didn't like it one bit.
"I swear," she growled, "the whole place is going to smell like that damn incense. I won't be able to taste food for a week."
"Empress Rita knows what she's doing," Goldar said wearily. He'd been listening to Scorpina's complaints all afternoon.
For weeks, in fact. It had been nearly three weeks since the debacle over the Green Ranger. The first few days had been spent on resting, but after that Scorpina had been nearly unbearable. Inaction was not her strong suit.
Goldar had to admit that he was getting restless as well. He didn't dare suggest an attack plan to Empress Rita—not since the last time he'd taken matters into his own hands. He was glad, therefore, that Rita seemed to be gearing up for another attack. He'd almost been afraid that she'd somehow lost her nerve with the whole Tommy thing.
"That should do it," Rita said, making everyone jump.
The portal closed with a blink, and Rita pushed herself to her feet before anyone could help her. She didn't seem drained this time, like she usually looked after a huge magical effort. She looked somehow reenergized, almost glowing. She looked better than she had in weeks.
"Squatt! Babboo!" she barked. "Rather than cowering in the corner—the big, bad portal is gone, you know—do something useful and go tell Finster I need a monster. Right away!"
"Yes, sir!" Babboo saluted. "I mean… Ma'am! I mean…"
Squatt grabbed him by the collar and started pulling him out of the room. "No more war movies for you!" he said, each syllable punctuated by a hit.
The others had great practice in ignoring them. "So what's the big, shiny portal for, Rita?" Scorpina attempted a casual tone. "That wasn't a portal to the Dark Galaxy, was it? Cuz if your dad found out…"
"Don't be ridiculous," Rita said airily. She was already peering into her telescope. "That, my dear warriors, was a portal that will be especially useful in my larger plan surrounding the Power Rangers. And I wasn't entirely truthful… it isn't completely gone. Now that I've called it into existence, I can summon it at a moment's notice. Now… we just need to tweak circumstances just right…" Her voice died away as she continued to concentrate on whatever she was looking at on Earth.
"Empress…" Goldar shifted uncertainly, obviously itching to know the plan.
Scorpina rolled her eyes. "Come on, Rita. Don't keep us in the dark. If you want praise for your brilliant plan, you're gonna have to share it with us."
Rita looked up from the telescope, laughter in her eyes. "So… you want me to go over my plan, insult the Rangers a bit… laugh maniacally at the end?"
"It is traditional, Empress Rita," Goldar said.
Scorpina punched Goldar on the shoulder, and then drew her hand back, forgetting how the armor hurt. "There's the old Goldar. Nice to see your sense of humor hasn't gone away entirely."
Rita propelled herself to the throne, but didn't sit down. "You're right, Goldar, it is traditional. And thankfully the rest of my audience is here. Come on, you two fools! Finster, I'll give you the specs for the new monster in a minute."
The air rang with anticipation as the inhabitants of the moon palace gathered in the throne room. It was as if they were collectively waking from a long sickness.
"I admit," Empress Rita began, "we have recently suffered some major setbacks. We've lost the Green Power Coin, a secret weapon that was to be my ultimate trump against Zordon and his wretched Power Twerps. We've also lost Tommy, who we can all agree is one of the most formidable warriors any of us has ever seen."
"We'll give the traitor that," Goldar mumbled.
"And, as Goldar has pointed out," Rita smiled at him, "he has gone to the side of our enemies, thus giving them all his fighting expertise and inventiveness… as well as the Green Power Coin. If they know how to use him, they can all become very dangerous to us indeed."
"This supposed to be a pep talk?" Scorpina laughed bitterly. "Cuz I'm so happy I could just slit my wrists."
"If this is a pep rally, can we be the cheerleaders?" Babboo chimed in. "Squatt, why couldn't we have brought our pompoms?"
"If all of you don't shut up!"
Complete silence followed Rita's outburst.
"We're sorry," Squatt said.
Scorpina, less affected by Rita's ire, smirked. "We'll be good. We promise."
Rita rolled her eyes. "So… if I can continue… as you know, we've suffered some pretty major setbacks. However, all of that is about the change." She paused, pleased that she had everyone's complete attention again. "I know now that I've been going about fighting the Power Rangers all wrong. They're too resourceful… too powerful… to just defeat with one spell, or one monster attack. Their strength lies in banding together, in facing adversity. No… nothing short-term can stand a chance of defeating them. We must have a more long-term plan.
"There is one good thing that came from Tommy's time with us: we learned more about humans than we could have ever hoped from simply watching those Power Brats run around school, volunteering for saving the disenfranchised puppies, or whatever the hell they're always up to. Humans… as we have come to determine… are ruled by their emotions. Especially teenagers. While they can find great power in emotions, they can also find great weakness.
"It was through emotion that the Rangers were able to break the ties between Tommy and me. I was able to gather that much. And throughout our recent fights, the Rangers were at their weakest when overcome with emotion. The Red Ranger, for instance, now fears you especially, Goldar."
"He should," Goldar said smugly.
"Wasn't this Tommy's plan?" Scorpina said, unable to restrain herself. "Cuz it sounds like your long-term goal centers on demoralization."
Rita's face lit up. "That's exactly right, Scorpina. And don't look at me that way. Tommy's plan would have worked if we had been patient. We weren't, Tommy included, and we paid the price for our hastiness. We demoralize them over the long term. They may win each battle, but each battle will cost them dearly… until we finally crush them."
"Messing with their heads?" Scorpina said. "Sounds exciting. I might stick around longer than I thought."
"That… makes a lot of sense," Goldar said slowly. "It's not my kind of fighting, though."
"Don't worry," Rita said. "There will be plenty of work for everyone. In fact, Goldar, I think you'll enjoy your part of this first phase immensely."
"Mystical portals?" Goldar said.
"Ah, yes," Rita said. "I nearly forgot. Your job will be to help herd those hapless Rangers into the portal. I'm sure it won't be all that difficult."
"How are we going to demoralize them if they're stuck in who knows where?" Scorpina said. "Really, Rita, where does that thing lead to?"
Rita grinned, pausing for suspense. "The one place guaranteed to play on those teens' insecurities. They're confident right now; they imagine they've just won a huge victory. This place… will certainly shake their confidence."
"It's not that you lack the knowledge. It's just that you haven't got any confidence."
Billy pulled himself off the mat, grudgingly accepting Tommy's hand up. "Or it could be that you're entirely too fast for me. I can't follow you."
Billy winced as he shifted his shoulder. They'd been training for an hour, and Billy had taken more than one tumble onto the mat.
"I think we've reached our limit for today," Tommy conceded, though he knew he could go for at least another hour of hard training. He had to remind himself to pace carefully with Billy, who could hurt himself if he pushed himself too hard.
The training room echoed. It was a bit large for Tommy's taste; they had converted one of the Command Center's many unused rooms into a training room big enough for all six of them. As part of the Rangers' continuing plan to keep surveillance from Rita at a minimum, they had worked on the Command Center more and more to support all their needs. They had the training room, Billy and Trini had a full, working lab, and they all had emergency lodgings.
Tommy and Billy had decided it was best to hold Billy's training sessions in the Command Center. Tommy sensed that Billy just didn't want to be embarrassed by his slow progress, but Tommy had a hidden agenda: he wanted to keep Billy's progress secret from the moon palace. Best to keep as many surprises as they could.
Billy slouched over to a bench on the wall and buried his face in a towel. "Tommy, there's no way I can even hope to be as good a fighter as you. I just… don't have what it takes, or something to that effect."
"Bullshit," Tommy said. "You know the moves. We've been over them, like, a hundred times. It's just… you hesitate. Each time you almost had me, you stop, or you don't press the advantage. You let me get in." He frowned. "And you know I'm already uncomfortable with this, anyway."
Billy looked up and gave a tired smile. "I'm sorry. I appreciate that you're trying to teach me, I really do. I shouldn't complain so much."
Tommy shrugged, clearly uncomfortable with the gratitude. "It's not that I don't want to help you. I do. I just don't know why you don't want, say, Jason… or Zack."
Billy rolled his eyes. "The one time I asked? They put me in their class."
"With the 12-year-olds?"
"Ouch. Well…" Tommy hedged, not wanting to criticize anyone. "They just weren't thinking, I guess."
Billy smiled. "This works out better, anyway. I help you with math, you help me not look like a complete spaz while fighting Putties."
"Ugh…" Tommy felt like burying his head in a towel. "Don't remind me of math. Why do we need it in the real world anyway…" He smirked; he could see Billy gearing up for his "math is important" lecture. "Forget I said anything."
"You know," Billy commented, "what you said about me earlier. About it all being a lack of confidence? I could say the same for you and math."
"Oh, I'm plenty confident," Tommy said. "Plenty confident that I'm never going to get through this class. I mean, once you understand one thing, they start you on something else. Why do they do that?"
"It's an evil conspiracy," Billy said. "All targeted at you. In fact, I think Euclid wrote specifically about you in his Elements."
"You see," Tommy said. "It's no fair using sarcasm when I can't even understand half the stuff you're saying."
They parted, Billy to work on the anti-surveillance equipment with Alpha. Tommy wasn't due back at home—in fact, his father had sorted of hinted that he might want to delay coming home for a bit longer that evening. His father had been doing that a lot lately… Tommy put it down to him needing more time to work on the novel. There was a deadline coming up, after all.
Tommy tapped his communicator and landed in the deserted spot near the Youth Center's loading dock. He made double sure no one had seen him and jogged around to enter the Youth Center by the front entrance.
No special events at the Youth Center that day, though there were posters advertising the upcoming food drive, basketball tryouts, and a teamed martial arts competition. That was another reason he and Billy didn't train in the Youth Center: about every other day there seemed to be some event hosted in the gym area.
At this time, Jason and Zack looked to be halfway through their class. They nodded at him as he entered but kept their attention strictly on the class.
Kimberly and Trini were in the bar area, poring over a heavily-marked posterboard. Kimberly glanced up at Tommy's approach. "Hey, Tommy. What's up?"
"No much," he said, pressing down the giddy glee he experienced every time he managed a casual, not-awkward conversation with Kimberly. He glanced over at Trini, who looked amused. In order to avoid Trini's too-intuitive gaze, he glanced down at the posterboard. "Is this a float?"
"Good guess," Trini said. "It's supposed to be a float… and it will be eventually."
Kimberly threw down a marker in mock pouting. "The design's all screwed up. How the heck are we supposed to make this thing with nothing but flowers?"
Trini sighed, clearly as put out. "We're entering it into a contest for the Girls' Chapter float in the Harvest Parade. It's sort of a big deal in Angel Grove," she explained to Tommy. "Well, the seniors in the Girls' Chapter decided to make it flower themed… which, in late Fall, can get pretty expensive."
"I'll bet," Tommy said. "Why didn't they choose a fruit theme? There's plenty around… it's cheap right now… and it seems to fit with more of the harvest theme."
"Oh, no, that would make sense," Kimberly said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
"That's what she suggested," Trini said in a low voice. "Kim's the sophomore representative on the planning committee. They pretty much ignored her."
Tommy suddenly felt a swoop of unsubstantiated anger toward the unnamed seniors in the Girls' Chapter planning committee. "Well, just shows us how stupid they are."
Trini smirked. Tommy avoided her gaze, knowing that his casual tone had vanished and he was leaning toward Kimberly. He forced himself back in his chair.
Kimberly looked up, failing to notice the mini-drama playing around her. "Thanks, Tommy. Besides… when Trini and I are seniors, we can make the club less crazy. At this point, that's really the only reason we're sticking with it."
Tommy watched as Trini and Kimberly continued to argue over flower choice and design. He wished he could help, but he was completely out of his element. Kimberly knew a lot about plants, and Trini, with her art background, knew a lot about design and arrangement. Tommy knew nothing about either of these things, so he contented himself with sipping on a banana smoothie, dividing his attention between watching them and watching Jason's and Zack's class.
Yes, things were less awkward. The Rangers seemed to have grown used to him. At first, Tommy had tried to avoid them as much as possible, but it seemed Jason and Billy wouldn't allow him to do that. And it was working for the best. Trini now seemed more amused than annoyed at the evidence of Tommy's continued attraction to Kimberly, and Zack threw him fewer scowls.
During the weekly meetings at the Command Center, he didn't say much. The meetings had mostly centered on the latest remodeling jobs they'd done to the Command Center. Tommy only gave his opinion when asked, and then carried lots of heavy things. He still felt his status on the team was tenuous and provisional; he didn't want to annoy anyone.
The class ended. Tommy looked up as Jason and Zack approached. Tommy had promised to spar with Jason after class. They'd finally sparred a few times now, and they were both getting more comfortable. Jason had also mentioned the teamed martial arts expo a few times… and Tommy was trying to decide if he was ready for that. His main worry was that Zack would be pissed if Tommy usurped his position.
"Hey, Tommy," Jason said. "Look, I know I said we'd spar, but I gotta get home. My dad's been on the warpath lately, and he wants me home for," Jason sighed, "family time, whatever that means."
"Say no more," Tommy said easily. "You go keep the peace."
Jason smiled. "Thanks." He turned, but Tommy couldn't help but notice that he gave Zack a significant look as he left.
Zack cleared his throat. "Uh… yeah. Tommy? We can… spar, if you want."
Tommy's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Uh… sure."
Again, Tommy couldn't help but notice Jason pause at the doorway long enough to see them both go to the gym area. Suddenly, the "family time" excuse seemed a little less plausible. Tommy was a little annoyed: Jason was trying to make Tommy more included with everyone, but you just couldn't force people into friendships. And he was perhaps hurting the chances of him and Zack becoming friends by forcing the issue.
"Jason's work, no doubt," Trini muttered.
Trini nodded in the direction of Tommy and Zack, who were uncomfortably sparring together.
Kimberly's eyebrows raised. "Never thought I'd see that."
"Like I said. Jason's work. He pulled a bait and switch."
"I wondered why Tommy was sitting around here just listening to us," said Kimberly. "Why he wasn't working on the weights or something. He didn't want to spend himself before the spar."
Trini rolled her eyes. "Yeah, that's exactly why he couldn't pull his eyes off you."
Kimberly blushed and looked away. "Okay, I get it. You noticed."
"Noticed that he follows you around like a wounded puppy?" Trini grinned. "Yeah, most everyone notices, whether he realizes that or not."
Kimberly gave her a look. "Cute. Listen, I can't help how he acts around me. I can't exactly shut him down."
"Oh, come on. You shut Skull down all the time."
"And yet he still follows," Kimberly retorted.
"Looks to me like you want to keep your options open with Tommy," Trini retorted right back.
Kimberly put down her marker in exasperation. They weren't going to get any more work done that day, anyway. "Well… yeah. Maybe. But… not now. And I noticed you've changed your tune about Tommy."
Trini shrugged. "He sort of grows on you. I'll admit, I was a little unfair to him. I mean… monitoring his condition while he was recovering from breaking the spell, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him."
"So now it's okay to tease me about his liking me, right?"
"Oh, I would tease you if anyone was acting like that around you," Trini said sweetly.
Kimberly rolled her eyes. "Uh huh. Just you wait, Trini. You'll be smitten by Cupid's arrows one of these days, and then it'll be my turn for merciless teasing."
"Please," Trini said, a little glumly. "The only decent guys at this school are my best friends. I've chased away all the upperclass creeps… finally. Though I think I've got some convinced that I'm a lesbian or something."
"Of course," Kimberly laughed. "And I know exactly who it was… Mark Peters. He thinks any girl who rejects him has to be a lesbian."
"Funny that something about Angel Grove High would turn every girl into a homosexual," Trini said drily.
They laughed, and Kimberly was proud of her success at changing the subject. Trini had been bringing Tommy up more and more, and Kimberly was just not comfortable with that just yet.
Their laughter cut short when Trini's wrist communicator went off.
The effect was instantaneous. The beep was very soft, but Trini, Kimberly, and Zack had long accustomed their ears to pick up that sound. Tommy saw the looks on their faces and understood immediately. Still keeping the casual air, they made their way to a deserted room in the Youth Center.
Trini pressed her communicator. "We read you, Zordon."
"Rangers, please teleport to the Command Center immediately." Zordon's voice sounded grave.
The four Rangers looked at each other, their expressions grim. They all knew their break was finally over.
Jason and Billy were already at the Command Center, staring intently at the viewing globe. A reptilian monster seemed to be rampaging through downtown. Luckily, he wasn't giant-sized… yet.
"So…" Zack said, "lizard beast?"
"Or something like that," Jason said. "No theme, so we don't have an indication on his powers. He's just been walking around and scaring folks so far. Alpha, we got a read-out on the scan?"
"I'm trying, Jason," Alpha said, "but there's some sort of interference surrounding that monster. We can only get a visual."
Kimberly checked her watch. "It's nearly 5:00. We need to take care of this before the businesses let out."
"Agreed, Kimberly," said Zordon. "The interference is not affecting teleportation. You must be ready for anything, Rangers."
"No chances, then," Jason said. "We're morphing out of here."
Tommy felt a small thrill when he morphed with the others for the first time. The Command Center dissolved, and they were in the middle of Downtown. Already some of the businesses had let out, and the monster siren had not sounded yet. And, of course, instead of the running back into the buildings, everyone seemed to favor running down the street.
"Of course…" Tommy muttered under his breath. "Wouldn't want to be smart in an emergency situation."
And then, of course, the Putties showed up.
"You guys take care of the Putties before they hurt someone!" Jason called. "Yellow, we're going after the monster."
"Sounds fun!" Trini called.
The other four spread out, trying to herd people back into buildings while fighting the Putties. It was easier said than done. Tommy had to tap into a new awareness of his surroundings. No longer could he lose himself in the fight. He had to be aware of all the innocent bystanders, try to prevent any collateral damage.
Billy, Kimberly, and Zack were, of course, handling it like pros. They were used to it. Tommy suddenly realized there was more to being a Power Ranger than just fighting monsters all the time.
A group of preteens came out of a record store and were immediately beset by Putties. They tried to go back in, but the owner seemed to have locked the door, fearing a Putty invasion. Tommy bit back a curse at the man's cowardice and ran to shut the Putties down. They weren't paying attention to him, so he was able to make quick work of them before they were even able to lay a finger on the kids.
"You kids okay?" Tommy asked, elated at his neat job in protecting them.
They stood frozen to the spot, their faces still set in fear. Tommy recognized one as the kid who got hurt in the fight at the Youth Center weeks before. They were probably still in shock…
"The Green Ranger!" the boy shouted. "He's one of them!" On that note, the three boys ran as fast as they could.
"Hey!" Tommy called out to them. "I just saved you! I'm not…"
But they were long gone, thankfully clear away from any Putties or monster. Tommy cursed, anger and shame flooding him.
A scream came across the road, and Tommy realized he was wasting time. He'd worry about what people thought of him later. Right then, he had to protect the people who still thought him a monster.
A few minutes later, and they were at the center of town. Tommy looked around wildly for more Putties—they tended to blend in with the gray of the buildings—but they were all gone.
"Come on!" Zack yelled, motioning them to the fight raging across the fountain in the center of town. "It's monster-fightin' time!"
Tommy joined the others as they raced across the square, but Jason and Trini seemed to be doing pretty well against the monster. It didn't seem to have displayed any special powers, seeming more interested in fighting with the two long, bladed weapons in both its hands. It roared, but didn't seem the conversational-type monster.
A few minutes of fighting, and Tommy was starting to worry. He knew he'd mostly fought on the other side, so he had very little experience with the usual ease of Ranger battles, but this all seemed too… easy. It lacked the subtlety of Rita's usual attacks. It seemed more like the attack she'd staged for his benefit, the one with the pig monster…
"Good, you're all here!" a voice boomed from near the fountain. "And no civilians. They would have been annoying."
Tommy felt his stomach drop. Goldar was here. And he could see Scorpina out of the corner of his eye. "Guys!" he yelled. "It's a trap!"
"Good, Tommy, but too late!" Goldar laughed.
The Rangers had stopped fighting at the point, looking around wildly. They were surrounded, the Putties forming a perimeter around them. The monster backed up, there was a crackle, and a green-tinted shield surrounded the Rangers. Now that they were contained, Scorpina skipped over to Goldar, looking absolutely cheerful.
"What is this?" Jason bellowed as the shield began to shrink.
"It must be a force field!" Billy called. He pulled out his blade blaster, set it in gun mode, and fired at the field, aiming straight for Goldar just in case it broke through.
"Bad move, Blue Ranger," Scorpina cackled.
The energy bolt hit the field and ricocheted. The Rangers ducked and dodged as the bolt sped wildly through the enclosed area. Zack finally caught it with his Power Axe, and the blade sizzled.
"That field returns any attack you throw at it," Goldar gloated. "I wouldn't attack it, if I were you."
"So this is it?" Jason called out in angry desperation. "This is your big plan? You're just gonna crush us to death? Sounds like a coward move to me."
"Oh, come on," Scorpina said. "You wouldn't think that low of us. Besides, killing you now would be no fun at all."
Tommy's foot slipped through the ground, and he launched himself forward to keep from falling. A green, shimmering abyss was opening up in the middle of the shrinking barrier… and it was slowly growing. "Guys, look!"
The others saw the abyss and backed away, but they couldn't move too far. The walls were closing in too quickly. They tried to stay on the pavement as long as possible, now too panicked to even call out challenges to Goldar.
"Enjoy the Island of Illusion, Rangers!" Goldar laughed as the first, Billy, lost his balance and fell into the abyss.
A short scream, and Kimberly fell. Tommy launched himself forward to grab her hand. Their fingers connected, but the ground under Tommy was gone.