Author's Notes: Hi, everyone! *cackles gleefully as she looks at past reviews* Seems like everyone is begging for more punishment. Well, I am nothing if not amicable.

Further notes: I have a request to make. Blessed as I am with writing (at least, I think I am, anyway), I have never been an artist. My stick figures are pathetic as stick figures. And then I noticed that is branching into story/chapter art. Heap on the frustration for the non-artistic writer. So… I wondered if there were any budding artists out there that wanted to put together some story art for me.

Mainly, what I'm looking for is specific art I can post for A Darker Shade of Green, Spells and Illusions, and Darker Shades. While I like generic artistic renderings of the show itself, I'd appreciate art that contains elements that are specific to my stories: ones that reference specific scenes, or that show relationships that are peculiar to my stories.

A few caveats, though: The art can be shopped, drawn, or artistically rendered in any way you like, but not stolen, either from the show or from other fans. That's not cool. I'd also like to keep it to the rating of the story, which is rated Teen, so no pornographic material.

If you're interested, give me a PM and we can talk over details. Of course, if I attach your work to my story, I will give plenty of plugs to your artwork and any other creative thing you do no the interwebs. My tens of followers are at your disposal.

Final note: The title of the chapter is a play on words, not a misspelling.

Right, then, reviewer thanks: lunarweather (Oh, you're probably going to continue to hate me… Don't worry, though. You really think I'm going to go too cheesy in my plans for Tommy and Kimberly?), guest (Hmm… Evil Trini? Evil Zack? Nah… I can't even wrap my brain around those.), Richardc269, brankel1, Vodams, KLR (I don't hesitate to say that Evil Kimberly really does make me happy. I guess I'm little better than a soap opera, though. How do you develop a character? Give them a clone or turn them evil.), PinkRangerV (I studied at Mississippi State University and then Auburn University. Neither of which made me quite this twisted…), alias093001 (I hope you'll be pleased with what I do with Kimberly. She's been the cheerleader girlfriend for far too long, I think.), CalcBoy91 (I laughed out loud at your summation. It's funny how you sort of lose track of how screwed up you're making the PR universe. Dimitria can go suck it, though, with her pretentious "find your own answers" bull that she pulled right in the middle of the Earth being under threat. Bitter? Nah…), Ahkalia, falcon242 (You know I don't rush into anything. It is bizarre to me that people seem impatient for Tommy to turn into the White Ranger already. I was never as much a fan of the white. I think that had a lot to do with the stupid talking sword, though…), radalexistjcassie (It's not too much of a spoiler, but I have officially said that as long as Tommy's in the show, I'm interested in rewriting the storylines. You don't think I'd kill him off early, do you?), Ghostwriter, Dan (All of the things you mentioned equals very yes.), and geekychic1999 (I've updated! Maybe not with what you're expecting!).

Darker Shades

Book 6: Shadows in the Cave

Chapter 26: Rights of Mourning

Lord Zedd stood at his balcony and waited. For a few brief seconds, he ignored his myriad plans, his monitoring of worlds and dimensions, even his strict attention to the glamor he had placed on these Earth spirits… and he waited.

The throne room was deserted. The gods were elsewhere, and Goldar had left the room without explanation. In the echoing silence, there was a flash of light, and he heard the unsteady shuffle of sneakers on a stone floor.

"Whew! Dizzy. That was really not like the teleportation I'm used to."

Lord Zedd turned to regard the human girl, who was at the moment shaking her head vigorously. Her face was still red and blotchy, evidence of her rather emotional transformation. That was good. The emotion was a necessary catalyst.

She stopped shaking her head and turned to look at him. The first time she had ever seen him, she'd flinched. She'd barely been able to keep her eyes on him. Now, though, her face lit up, and she smiled.

"No longer afraid, child?" Lord Zedd said.

She cocked her head. "Why would I be afraid, Lord Zedd?" She paused. "Should I call you Lord Zedd? I can't sense much from your mind, but I do know you keep the gods in line because they think you're…"

"You may speak normally around them," Lord Zedd reassured her. He couldn't help but be a little surprised at how much she had picked up from the few minutes she'd been under his spell. Among other things, he'd established a low-level telepathic bond between them, and he'd made it reciprocative. Yet she was adapting to the connection more smoothly than he'd expected.

"Right, the glamor," Kimberly said, rolling her eyes at her lapse. "Good. I'd really rather call you by your name… Lord Zedd." She smiled when she said the name again. "So… how's this going to work?"

"How would you like it to work?" Zedd began approaching her, and still she did not flinch.

Kimberly crossed her arms. "I mean, I'm supposed to serve you, right? A bit of bowing and scraping, my life and service is at your command… like that?"

Her tone was a combination of flippancy and uncertainty, so Zedd looked beyond what she said. Just there, in a brain that was desperately trying to reconstruct itself after it had been shattered, was what she meant.

He took her hand, now inches from her. She was startled, but not from fear of him. And she didn't pull away.

"Don't you think there are things that can go unsaid?" Lord Zedd softened his voice and kept eye contact. It wasn't for any silly reason like reinforcing the spell, or any of the other ineffective methods Rita had used. It was an invitation, an establishing of a relationship that went beyond spells and control.

The silence was charged as thoughts and decisions warred behind Kimberly's eyes. The template was there—her loyalty to Lord Zedd. But there was so much to establish, so much freedom within that simple fact.

"I think…" her words came out as a whisper. "I… think we have a lot to get done. And quickly, if we're to stay ahead of the Rangers."

Lord Zedd allowed the change in tone. She was still confused, still sorting her feelings. That was what he wanted. The less certain she was about her relationship with him, the less she would think to question the basis of that relationship in the first place. "You obviously have some plans."

She took a step away from him, drawn to the breath-taking view from the balcony. While her eyes widened in wonder, her voice resolved itself to business. "I'll need a few things. Thankfully I didn't give away my power coin like I'd planned, and I don't need my wrist communicator, but there are still things I need to do while the Rangers are grieving and not paying attention." She looked back at him and smiled. "We can't let them regroup. As soon as they can recover even a little bit, they'll be planning to steal me back." Her smile widened. "And we can't let that happen."

"No, indeed." Lord Zedd beckoned to her. "What do you need?"

Kimberly shrugged. "A little mayhem at the ready, though I think I can break in pretty easily before they change the security protocols. They'll be too devastated to remember right off. Just in case, though, I need their attention elsewhere."

"Do as you need to do." Lord Zedd flicked the Z-staff as he spoke.

Kimberly jumped as a thin strip of electricity surrounded her wrist. The electricity cleared to reveal a wrist communicator, much like those of Billy's design, but looking as if it had been created from Zedd's silver armor.

Kimberly traced the more delicate design lightly with her fingers. She looked up and said, "I do like presents." With one last smile, she disappeared.

"I don't believe it."

Billy had replaced his shaking voice from before with flat, emotionless tones. He had listened patiently through Jason's short recital with crossed arms and a stony face.

Alpha was in the next room, escorting Kevin to the bathroom. He hadn't reacted to Kimberly's brother suddenly showing up in the middle of the Command Center: he'd merely taken charge of the boy while the Rangers talked. He had also not reacted to the news of Tommy's death and Kimberly's spell. It was as if his programming was ill-equipped to respond.

Jason figured it was like that for both android and human.

"Billy…" Trini started in a shaky voice, but backed off at Billy's glare.

"I mean, did any of you check for a body?" Billy said. "Any sort of proof? You're all just going to take Kimberly's word for it? You know, while she's evil?"

Trini opened her mouth, but then closed it. There were tears silently running down her face. Had been ever since they found Kimberly in the cell, taunting them about killing Tommy.

Zack was crumpled on the steps, shaking with silent sobs. Silent now, anyway. He hadn't been able to maintain sound past the few minutes it had taken for Jason to tell the story.

Neither Trini nor Zack could help him. Jason gave a hard swallow and steeled his face, wondering briefly how he had kept from getting sick this long. "Kimberly said he was… was a pile of ash. No body to find. And… she didn't act like she'd been lying. She'd obviously been grieving when she was put under the spell."

Billy's voice took on a bitter, sarcastic edge. "Yeah, because we all know that people under evil spells always tell the truth. That's always been our experience, has it not?"

"What do you want me to say, Billy?" Jason said. "I mean, if Tommy is still alive, where is he? Why would she play this game, when she could just paralyze us with a threat against Tommy's life?"

"Tommy can't be dead," said Billy. "At least, I'm not about to accept that like you all are. Not until I see definitive proof. After all, it's under Zedd's two-week deadline. Perhaps Zedd has captured Tommy. That's much more believable than his death."

"I'm sorry, Billy, but you're not making sense," Jason said, weariness creeping into his voice. Lord, how long until he could be alone and stop having to be strong. "We have no reason to doubt what Kimberly said."

"We have every reason to…" Billy started furiously.

"Excuse me."

Jason, Billy, and Trini turned to see Kevin standing just outside of the circle of consoles, brushing off Alpha's attempts to pull him away.

Jason was suddenly very aware that they were all demorphed. That standing there was the first civilian to ever learn their true identities. That they'd shot one of Zordon's rules all to hell. Under any other circumstances, this would be a very big deal. Now, though…

"She wasn't evil when she told me what happened," Kevin said, his voice sounding shaky and hollow. "I… I mean… like, this is some kind of spell or something? She gave me this and told me that Tommy died in battle."

He held out the wrist communicator. Billy took it with shaking hands.

"The power coin," Billy said, his eyes suddenly wide.

Trini shook her head, finally finding her voice. "Kim didn't have time to give Kevin her coin."

Billy waved her off irritably. "I mean Tommy's power coin. It would last beyond him." With a burst of energy, Billy went to the console that monitored the Morphing Grid, the one they usually used to search for Zordon. "The green power coin is linked directly to the Morphing Grid. Even if it's in another dimension, I can track it."

The alarm klaxons sounded, and Kevin let out a yell of surprise. Trini joined Billy at the consoles before Alpha could climb the steps.

"Shit!" Billy's fingers were flying over the console, his face twisting with anger. "It's the Firebird Thunderzord!"

"Kimberly's broken into the Zord hangar," Trini said in a calmer voice.

Jason felt like bashing his own head in. Kimberly hadn't needed to break in: they'd spent these precious minutes arguing over events when they should have been changing the security codes. "Lock her in! If we can keep her here, we can…"

"Her Zord's already cleared the hangar," Billy said.

"If we can intercept her…" Trini began.

"Ay-yi-yi! Rangers, that's not what the alarms were warning you about. There's an attack on Angel Grove Park!"

Jason turned to the Viewing Globe, still furious at himself. In the park, well-dressed people were scattering wildly, abandoning blankets covered with food as giant dogs ran through the crowd. The Viewing Globe shifted to focus on two figures armed with bows at the edge of the park, both dressed in togas with silvery eyes.

"I'm guessing that's Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and those are her hunting dogs," Zack said in a rough voice. Jason jumped; he hadn't noticed Zack get up. "And that'd be Apollo right beside her, her twin brother, though why he's hunting too…" He ground his teeth. "They're hunting that church picnic."

"That takes priority," Jason said, his head pounding with all the emotion he kept having to suppress. "You up for this, man?" he asked Zack in a low voice.

Zack didn't look at him, but nodded.

"We can't go after Kimberly, so we've got to write off her Zord for now. Alpha, you update security to lock her out."

He barely registered when Billy and Trini abandoned the computers to take their positions behind him to morph. All he could think of was their two missing members.

Artemis was silent as she shot her arrows, intentionally missing, just as her dogs did no harm. Lord Zeus had been very specific, that their enemies would become unmanageable if any people were truly hurt this soon. True devastation would come later.

Artemis did not care. She gloried in the hunt, and she did not see the point in always killing her prey. The humans were poor sport, anyway.

Heroes, on the other hand, were perfect sport.

The one in red immediately drew his sword and deflected one of her arrows. Wordlessly, he motioned for the ones in black and blue to draw the dogs off the running people. The one in yellow joined him in facing Artemis and her brother.

"I'm glad you're here, heroes," Artemis called out, noting the efficient way her dogs were distracted from their prey. "I was promised a good hunt. Were we not, brother?"

Apollo regarded her with sneering weariness. "You find what joy you can in your hunts, sister. I will shoot no arrows until it is necessary."

Artemis snorted contemptuously. "I suppose you would rather be chasing after your girls… or your boys. So, yes, I will have my fun while you pluck your lyres."

While they were talking, the last of the humans escaped over the hill. The dogs would have pursued easily, but the heroes were routing their attempts to hunt expertly. The one in blue ran nearly as fast as the dogs, charging into their hunting patters with ease and only using his weapons for reinforcement, much as a wolf would use teeth. The one in black used his axe to fire energy at the dogs. While it did not harm his precious creatures, they were cowed enough by the heat and light to run back to their mistress. The heroes rejoined the other two, neither of whom had made any moves to attack.

"The civilians are gone," an irritated voice called her attention. She turned to regard the hero in red. He still held his sword at the ready, but if there was anyone who looked less likely to attack, it was he. Though he was completely covered and masked, weariness and defeat marked his every movement. The other three were much the same.

"The civilians are gone," the red hero repeated. "So your game is lost. If you're planning on attacking us, or growing, or inflicting whatever pointless violence Zedd wants you to do… do it. We'll fight because we have to, though it won't make a damn bit of difference. A year of fighting, and nothing gained except for scars, and everything to lose…" He paused, as if too weary to continue. "What does it matter if we lose the rest today?"

Artemis raged. This was her hunt, her perfect prey? She'd been promised heroes, not broken children. In a fury, she raised her bow and prepared to unleash her arrows…

And then she stopped. Her brother had his bow trained on her. Blinking in disbelief, she lowered her bow.

"That's enough," Apollo said with an even voice, just masking the cold fury beneath. "It is decreed that all have the right to grieve, to bury their dead. We will allow them that right."

Artemis merely pursed her lips in fury, but she couldn't say anything against her brother. He rarely raised his hand in violence, but when he did… She gave a nod, and Apollo lowered his bow.

"Be warned, heroes," Apollo said. "Today we attacked as part of a game. I, however, play no games. When I attack, it will be war. My arrows are poisoned."

"Was that proof enough for you?" Jason said as soon as they teleported back. "Even the gods say he's dead."

"These gods," Billy's eye twitched, "or whatever they are, believe that Lord Zedd is Zeus, ruler of Mount Olympus. Do we really think they're trustworthy?"

"I think you're in denial."

And I think," Billy's temper flared, "that I've going to have to have a hell of a lot more proof if I'm going to go to my mother and tell her that Tommy's dead!" Billy sneered. "And what was that, anyway? None of it matters? A year gone and we've gained nothing? Were you planning on winning the fight by pity, because I think it worked?"

"Oh, you're the last person to talk to me about pity!" Jason felt his brain fog over, as if the rage that he'd needed for the fight had delayed until now. "You've been moping around all day in your own self-pity, just like you did when Tommy attacked you." He laughed unpleasantly. "All it takes is someone to hit you, and you fold like a coward."

"Guy, we need to stop this!" Trini said. She made motions to come between Jason and Billy.

Zack held her back. "Nah, let them. I mean," his voice dripped in heavy sarcasm, "it's not like we can do anything against the people we're actually supposed to fight. Let's go ahead and tear each other apart."

"Coward?" Billy said through gritted teeth, ignoring the other two. "I'm not the one who just whined at his enemies until they decided he wasn't worth fighting. That was you. I was doing something useful, if you don't remember."

"Like you got us to Tommy and Kimberly in time?!"


The Power Rangers stopped, their hearts pounding as they realized they weren't alone. Kevin, Kimberly's little brother, stood directly under Zordon's empty tube. Alpha had obviously been trying to restrain him, but to no avail.

"Y… you…" Kevin was pointing a shaking finger at them. His face was red, and tears were streaking down his face, but he didn't acknowledge them. "You're supposed to be the Power Rangers! The defenders of the Earth. Real, live, honest-to-God superheroes!" He wiped his face impatiently. "You save people, and protect us from monsters, and you always always win.

"And now I find out that you're my sister's stupid friends. And you let her get kidnapped by a space alien and get turned evil. And you let Tommy die…" his voice broke at that, and Trini reached out to him, but he shoved her hand away. "And Tommy was one of you, a Power Ranger. Power Rangers aren't supposed to die…"

Kevin stopped talking, breathing hard. His breath was the only noise in the Command Center. The Rangers were stunned out of their bickering, out of their anger.

"Just…" Kevin's voice had shrunk to a whimper. "Just get my sister back. Don't let her die."

As Kevin broke down, Jason found his last reserve of strength. "Kevin… I'm sorry. I'm sorry you had to see this, but you have to know that we're not going to let that happen." He fixed Kevin's eyes in what he hoped was a reassuring look. "We're going to get her back." He smiled a bit. "After all, we've done this before."

Kevin looked like he wanted to believe, but he was still obviously disillusioned.

Jason sighed. "Trini, take Kevin home. His parents are worried about him. Kevin, I have to ask you to swear that you're not going to tell your parents what happened. Nothing about our secret identities. Just say that you escaped your kidnappers, and you're not sure where Kimberly is, but she must still be searching for you." He knew he couldn't promise anything, but he had to give the boy something. "And not a word about Tommy, either. We're going to get Kimberly back as soon as we can. If something happens, take Kim's communicator and contact us. Can you do all that?"

"Yeah," Kevin said bitterly, though he took the wrist communicator from Billy reverently. "I'll go down myself. It'll be too suspicious if Trini goes with me."

Jason crossed his arms, his anger slowly transforming to shame at the way Kevin was looking at him. "Fine. Alpha, could you teleport him down?"

"Yes, Jason," answered Alpha in a subdued voice, and Kevin disappeared in a crackle of white energy.

And everyone's eyes were on him again, the mixtures of anger, shame, and despair he felt mirrored back to him. Jason cleared his throat.

"Trini, you were working on a cure for Kimberly. Progress?"

Trini closed her eyes and slumped, as if the question were crushing her physically. "Anything we can do, we have to capture her first. No antidote that we can just dose her with. She's got to want it, just like Tommy." Trini shook her head. "And I'm not sure if she's going to want to come back. Not after what happened."

Jason tensed for Billy to continue the argument, but he remained silent.

"Alpha, did we get any readings from Kimberly while she was in the Command Center?"

"Affirmative, Jason," Alpha said. "It's not as close as a medical scan…"

"But it'll have to do," Jason said. "Trini, assess those readings. I'm not sure if Kim is even going to let us capture her. She knows how we dealt with Tommy: she's going to want to prevent us from doing the same thing."

Trini nodded wearily. "Alpha, please send those readings to my lab," she said as she walked away.

Just a few more minutes. He had to get away from them…

"Billy, we need a new Zord combination. Without the Firebird and the Dragonzord, we're stuck in our separate forms. See what Titanus can give us? Get creative if you have to."

Billy moved to a console, barely acknowledging the orders. Alpha had already stationed himself at the Morphing Grid monitor, continuing the search for Zordon without even asking.

"Zack," Jason said, shaking by now, but trying desperately to hide it, "I need you to check the Zord hangar. We can't rule out Kim sabotaging our Zords while she had the chance."

"Right." Zack looked hollowed out, barely alive, but he didn't question the orders, didn't ask to just go home. He just disappeared down the familiar path to the Zord hangar.

Jason watched him go. Attention was finally off him. He could…

He looked up at Zordon's tube. Empty. Always empty when they needed him most.

Damn you, he thought. And I bet you knew this could happen. But we're just soldiers… right?

He turned from the tube and walked to their bedroom, their blessedly soundproofed room. He ran the last few steps, closed and locked the door… and finally allowed himself to cry.

Kimberly climbed onto the wing of her Zord and jumped to the ground, flipping twice in the air and sticking the landing perfectly.

Amazing what you could do when you were a superhero.

Kimberly pulled off her helmet, flipped her hair, and grinned. The hangar she'd parked in was cavernous, as if designed to hold an army of Zords. And it was hers alone. She supposed Goldar's Zord Cyclopsis had been held there before, but now the whole place was hers.

Something shiny caught her attention, and she frowned. A wall… a wall that didn't make sense. She squinted, and then put her helmet back on for the night vision. She focused in on the "wall," took a step back, and gasped.

It wasn't a wall. It was a tiny piece of the biggest Zord she'd ever seen.

The hangar was massive, but the Zord easily reached all the way to the top, probably as tall as the Moon Palace itself. She jumped back on the wing of her Zord to get a better look. What she'd taken for a wall was just a foot: the Zord itself was a dragon, vaguely Chinese, but with arms and legs, unlike Jason's Zord. And it was massive. It seemed to go on forever.

She felt a touch of warm amusement that had nothing to do with her own feelings at the moment. Zedd, she thought, and realized that what she was looking at was Lord Zedd's own Zord. And he had most definitely felt her awe as she'd stared at it.

She grinned at his smugness and decided to speak to him. What can I say? she thought at him, or at least she hoped she had. You really know how to impress a girl.

She could hear his laughter in her head. If you like that, you should see my Empire.

Shaking her head in amusement, Kimberly hopped back off her Zord. She knew at one time, the mental link with this Emperor of Evil would have disturbed her, frightened her. Now, she felt an odd sense of comfort at his presence in her head. Much like his Zord, he was huge, overwhelming even, towering over her own Zord… but it was right. It was the most right she'd felt ever since… well, ever since she'd become a Power Ranger. Maybe ever since ever.

He didn't have to command. He was just there. A fact. The only way her life made any sense.

Kimberly gave the two Zords one last look and made for the door. She knew she could just teleport to the throne room, but she had time, and she wanted to see the Moon Palace… her new home.

As soon as she stepped out of the door, she was completely lost. The door to the hangar let to a 3-way intersection, and all three ways looked completely disused. She huffed in irritation, not wanting to pester Lord Zedd with such a silly problem.

Lord Zedd… Kimberly closed her eyes, focusing on their connection in a way she hoped would not bother him. Of course, he probably knew what she was doing, but he let her get on with it.

Without really thinking, she turned right, and then left, and then right again, and then up a flight of stone stairs. She heard voices this time, and she knew she'd reached the habitable portion of the Moon Palace.

She knew, as the new resident of the Moon Palace, she would have to confront everyone else eventually, so she started to stride forward confidently. She stopped when she realized the voices she was hearing sounded hushed, furtive. Knowing that any secrets kept from Zedd could not be good, and would certainly not be displayed for her, she ducked around a corner before the voices overtook her.

Two figures who could only be Squatt and Babboo slowly walked down the corridor. They were wearing rags on their heads and looked filthy… ill-cared-for. They stopped at an open doorway. "Finster," the blue one whispered, "we have everything."

A wizened, bat-like old alien emerged from the bright room. He'd been in the middle of removing a blue band from his head. He wordlessly accepted a black strip of cloth from Squatt or Babboo, and he quickly tied it around his head in place of the blue.

Kimberly felt her stomach heave. She had to force herself to breathe. This wasn't right… this was… She wanted to run, but she couldn't look away.

Squatt and Babboo were likewise tying black strips of cloth to themselves as Finster gathered a bundle that clinked dully as he lifted it. He handed the bundle to one of the others and picked up a longer package.

"Let's go…" Finster said, his voice low and dull. "And let's be quick about it. We can't afford to be caught… but we have to do this…"

The three set off down the corridor silently. Kimberly followed behind as close as she could without giving herself away. She didn't have to follow long. The three went only a few doors down, creeping very carefully past one door. There was a crash behind the door, making all four of them jump, but no one emerged. The three aliens visibly relaxed and moved down two more doors. Finster opened the door with an old-fashioned key, and they let themselves in.

When they disappeared, Kimberly inched forward, hoping that the door wasn't closed. Of course, it would be, as careful as the three were… but then it wasn't. The three were obviously too distracted to notice.

Kimberly demorphed silently, knowing her bright pink costume might catch attention while her light pink shirt and blue jeans might blend in better. She still felt the urge to run away. There was something in what was happening to make her very afraid, not of physical harm, but of something else. She had to know, though. She had to see what was happening.

The room was dark, illuminated only by a few candles that the black, winged alien was lighting. The blue alien was fiddling around with what looked like a guitar, but not quite. In the middle, Finster unwrapped the long package and set it on a table against the wall. It was a sword… a very familiar sword.

The blue alien began to play softly, almost too softly to hear. It was so strange, and so familiar. The black alien kept lighting candles, until finally there was enough light to make out a pattern on the wall.

Kimberly almost gasped, covering her mouth to keep from blowing her cover. The pattern on the wall was the same as on the green power coin. Her heart pounded as she finally made out what the blue alien was playing. She didn't know the name of the song, but she'd heard it enough while riding around with Tommy. It was a song by Nirvana.

"We're gathered here," Finster said quietly, his voice barely reaching above the quiet music, "to… to mourn the death of a good man. To mourn the death of Tommy Oliver."

The blue alien hit a jarring note, making everyone flinch, but he continued.

"He died," and Finster almost seemed to smile, "in battle, fighting the one who destroyed his Empress." Finster's hands were shaking, but his voice remained steady. "I commend him to the afterlife… to a better place than any of us could hope to see." He paused, and then when he started speaking again, his voice had grown shaky. "I'm sorry, Empress Rita. We could not protect him for you."

Get out… get out now… Kimberly had to get out… she couldn't think of any of that… she couldn't…

Kimberly backed away as silently as she could, prepared to run back down the corridor as soon as she wouldn't be heard. As she was backing up, almost far enough away, a door burst open. A glass bottle shattered on the wall next to her head, and she shrieked her surprise.

Goldar stood in the doorway, looking murderous and not a little drunk. He pointed a shaking finger at her, and she felt herself glued to the spot.

"You…" he growled, anger seething from that single syllable. "You… killed… you… dare…"

Kimberly knew she needed to defend herself, that running away like that would just make her weak, and that she had to hold her own against her former enemies. But Goldar looked beyond reason, beyond caring about consequences, and Kimberly was, for the moment, unmorphed. He would kill her if she let him. She ran from him and didn't slow down until she got to the throne room.

"My dear," was Lord Zedd's calm greeting. He spread his arms, welcoming her. "I see you've regained your belongings, though I'm sure in time we can find a far better vehicle to replace that. Now, I believe…" He stopped, his arms lowering. "My dear Kimberly, what's wrong? What has upset you?"

Without really planning it, Kimberly shielded her mind, keeping Lord Zedd away from the images she'd just witnessed. She felt guilt at this little act of disloyalty, but… those images were not for him. Were not even really for her. They were precious.

"A little residual emotion," Kimberly lied blandly, using the words from Lord Zedd's own mind. "Brought on by adrenaline. Please be patient with me, Lord Zedd, it will pass."

If Lord Zedd suspected she was holding anything back, he didn't let on. He merely nodded gravely. "Soon, my dear, you shall be rid of all of that. I expect to make it easy for you to forget."

Kimberly smiled, her mind calming of its own volition. What did it matter, in the long run, these little rituals and tantrums from Rita's old minions? She had Lord Zedd. Everything would be fine.

"So…" she said brightly, "let's figure out what to do when the Rangers come out of hiding tonight."

Jason cleared his throat as he entered the lab. Trini was sitting at a spacious desk in the corner, documents spread around her in an order that probably made sense… but she didn't hear him, and she wasn't paying attention to the documents. She was staring at the wall, her fingers listlessly playing with a pen.

"Trini," Jason said.

At that, Trini jumped, dropping the pen on the floor. She started gathering papers. "Jason! I… I was just about to try a new formula…"

Jason shook his head. "I just sent Zack home. You need to…" He sighed. "We both need to go home. I was just about to tell Billy, but…"

"Billy said he was going to work in his lab at home," Trini said. She swiveled around in her chair and leaned back, rubbing her head. "I doubt it, though. Alpha and I didn't leave him much to work with, especially since Alpha won't reestablish his lab's link to the Morphing Grid, or even the Command Center computer."

Jason had never looked into the particulars of the new restrictions Zordon had placed on Billy, the restrictions that Alpha had to enforce in his absence. Of course, that had only happened last night.

"If it hadn't been so urgent, I wouldn't have had any of us working today," Jason said. "Besides, Billy needed to get out of here. To… cope."

"How, though?" Trini seemed past crying. Her expression was more distant than it had ever been, as if her usual calm had turned almost violently against her, separating her from her emotion. "How do we cope now? I mean, we've talked about death before, but I never really believed it. Even all the times you've almost…" Jason knew she was thinking about the scars on his chest and back. "Even when we get Kimberly back, what do we say about Tommy?"

Jason crossed his arms, revisiting the unpleasant thoughts he'd had all afternoon. "We… we may not be able to say anything. I don't know what Zordon is going to want us to do, but saying that Tommy died in the line of duty as a Power Ranger would definitely be revealing our secret identities."

Trini looked up at him, her distant calm cracking for a moment into shock. "What, and never tell anyone? Never tell Ms. Sylvia, or his mother? Just… let it be a mystery?"

"Everyone knows that Tommy tends to run off without warning," Jason said. "It's not that far a stretch. People might search for him for a while, but eventually…"

"Oh, God…" Trini said, now staring off in the distance. "That's what would happen to us. My parents would never know what happened to me. They would just think I had run away, or had been taken, or killed, and they would never know for sure."

As much as Jason had ruminated over the dangers, and as much as his own life had been in jeopardy, he had never quite thought of it like that. It was shocking to hear Trini say it so plainly. He reached out to her to grab her shoulder, to give reassurance, but she dodged away.

"No," she said. "I had a lot of time to think about this. All yesterday, when I was tied to Billy's bed, I kept thinking… what if I couldn't get out? What if I died there, and what if he disposed of my body, and there would be no way anyone could find out. We spend most of our days in a fortress in a Nevada desert, miles and miles away from home, and our parents don't know where we are. They don't know what we're doing, and we're absolutely forbidden to tell them. And if anything happens… we disappear.

"Now, time with our family has become obligatory. We have to put in face time with our family to keep them from worrying, but we never talk to them. I used to share everything with my mother. I used to tell her every minute of every day. Now… I have to pretend like everything's okay, and everything's not, but I can't tell her anything, and she knows that I'm holding back from her, and it hurts. All the time." She wiped a tear away, though her face remained distant. "I used to think this was an exciting game, being superheroes and keeping a secret. But it's not. It's a sick joke. That's why I want to…" She stopped, her eyes widening at what she was about to say.

"That why you want to leave," Jason said softly. "Am I right?"

The calm was starting to bleed from Trini's face. "How could you know that? I never said…" Perception dawned on her. "You, too?"

Jason gave a weary nod. "And Zack… I don't think he'll be pissed at me telling you. And Zedd knows. Both of our clues are exactly about that."

Trini actually smiled at that. "You have no idea how… I thought it was just me!" She jumped up to hug Jason, who put his arms around her mechanically, waiting for her to get past the initial relief.

"But, wait," Trini said, pulling away. "I guess it's impossible now. Tommy's…" she swallowed, "and even if we can regain Kimberly, that just leaves her and Billy. We can't leave like that."

They both knew what Trini meant to say. We can't leave the Earth in their hands. The past two days had proven that enough.

"We'll see what happens," Jason said evenly. "I haven't even talked to Zordon, and…" He was about to say that they'd been in worse positions before, but he knew they really hadn't. "Things could still turn out all right. And Zordon has other candidates to replace us. If we can just get through this…"

"As long as we're in Angel Grove, we're part of this," Trini said miserably. "For whatever reason, the forces of the universe decided that one small town in California should become a battleground. We can't just go back to our regular lives. I don't even remember what our regular lives were like, really."

"I'm not sure what to say… other than, we can't give up hope."

At this, Trini broke out of her reverie. "Okay… hope, then. I guess even if I can't remember what our regular lives were like, at least we can have a taste of them." She swallowed. "Home. School. Work on saving Kimberly."

Jason plastered on a smile, getting ready to fool the world.

With their friend's death fresh in their minds, with another's friend's corruption hanging over their heads, all feeling loss in every sense of the word, the Power Rangers went home to eat supper with their families.

Trini's family was full of discussion over Kevin's appearance and Kimberly's disappearance. They'd assumed Trini had accompanied Kimberly, so they were surprised when she came home at her usual time with no idea where her best friend was, and even more surprise at her lack of concern.

"She's probably with that boyfriend of hers," Trini's mother said when all her inquiries to Trini failed. "It's still suspicious that the kidnappers mentioned him as well as Kimberly. You don't think he's led her into something criminal…"

"No, I don't," Trini said quietly, picking at her food.

The Taylors were not as close to Kimberly's family, though they were well aware of what had happened that day. They, however, had Zack's younger siblings to contend with, so most of the dinner conversation centered around a lecture on caution.

"And that goes for you, too, Zack," Dr. Taylor rounded off, putting a hand on her son's arm. "Angel Gove is dangerous enough without you running off at all hours. I want you all home by 5:00 every day until things become more stable."

"Mom…" Zack's little brother Marcus rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. "I'm fourteen, and Zack's sixteen, and it's not like Kevin had much of a choice. He was kidnapped out of bed. It could happen to anyone."

Zack ignored the ensuing argument, as he had the lecture before. He couldn't even bring himself to wonder how he was going to get out of the new curfew. He concentrated on eating as quickly as he could so that he could retreat to his room.

Kimberly's family had rejoiced at Kevin's return. His parents and the police asked him question after question. He almost used the excuse for not having many answers that he'd been drugged, but he realized what sort of things that implied just in time. After all, he'd watched 60 Minutes before.

Instead, he claimed that all he could remember was a dark room, and that it had definitely been aliens. He wasn't sure if they believed him, though their recent experiences at the wedding backed him up. He claimed he didn't know why the aliens needed him, or why they let him go. When they naturally asked about the Power Rangers, he furthered the lying on sudden inspiration.

"It was the Green Ranger, just like before," said Kevin, surprising himself by how believable it sounded. "He saved me."

If his parents doubted his words, they didn't let on. They wondered at the Rangers just letting Kevin go home alone, but the news reported the attack in the park, so that explained that.

The police didn't bother doubting his words. They were used to giving the Power Rangers jurisdiction over anything alien.

Kimberly's continued disappearance, however, remained unexplained. Kevin shrugged and looked concerned, trying to hide the real fear from his parents. He had promised, after all. Ultimately, he exaggerated his very real fatigue to cut the questioning short. The police said they would call if there were any developments in the search for Kimberly, got the phone numbers of all of her friends, and departed as Kevin went to bed.

Billy, whose mother was still at a conference, sat in his dark house, the house still littered with the remnants of the party he'd been unable to attend. The mess was less disturbing than the shambles of his lab, which had been horrifically stripped of equipment and power. He supposed that was to be expected, but now he had to go to the Command Center, the one place he wanted to avoid, to get anything done.

Principally, he wanted to search for Tommy. He couldn't believe that everyone was just accepting Tommy's death like that with no proof. Billy was no stranger to death. He'd lost his father when he was a child, he'd recently lost the one who was to be his surrogate father… but in each case there had been a body. He'd been witness to his father's death. With Tommy… the circumstances were too unreal. If they'd just thought to get a sample of that ash so he could do some DNA testing. It's what he would have done.

The phone rang promptly at 6:00, and Billy answered it.

"Well, the speaker I wanted to see has cancelled," Sylvia said by way of greeting. "Honestly, this whole conference has been a joke. How are you, dear? You and Tommy not getting into too much trouble?"

"Hi, Mom… and, no, we're not." The words almost stuck in his throat, but he kept going for her sake. "What's that in the background?"

"I'm at the airport," Sylvia said. "I was able to change my flight home to an earlier one. I'm not going to miss more work for this waste of time. Honey, are you okay?" she ended in a softer voice. "You don't sound right."

Billy closed his eyes, willing himself to sound more normal. "Yes, mom, I'm fine. Do you know when your flight is coming in? I can pick you up at the airport."

"I should be in very late tonight, and I've already arranged a taxi," she said, sounding momentarily convinced by Billy's tone. "I don't want you or Tommy to wait up for me. He's out with Kimberly, I expect?"

"Yes," was all Billy could say.

"Oh, they just called my flight. See you tonight! Love you!"

Billy hung up the phone, started cleaning up the house, and wondered what he would tell his mother when she got home.

Jason, in the meantime, was listening to his sister talk about her classes to their parents. His parents were thankfully silent about all that had happened that day. They'd stopped questioning Jason's frequent unexplained disappearances. He supposed he should be worried, like they'd given up on him.

Mostly, though, for the moment at least, he was grateful. He didn't have to try to explain his actions. He didn't have to speculate over kidnappings and disappearances, of which he had too much information that he couldn't under any circumstances share. He could just eat, listen to his sister, think about how the hell he was going to get through school the next day… and not think about his friend, the fact of whose death had not really become a reality, as much as he argued with Billy.

Kristen was giving a very animated description of her sociology professor, who she was sure was a misogynist, when the doorbell rang.

"I'll get it," his mother volunteered.

"No, let me get it," his father grumbled, throwing his napkin down. "I want to tell whoever it is what I think about people visiting during suppertime," he pronounced, as if there were a universal, sacred suppertime that all should respect.

As Kristen continued her story, Jason listened dully to the background noise of his father, interested in exactly how he would deal with the late-night visitor.

"Hi, Mr. Scott! Can Jason come out and play?"

Jason was out of his seat in an instant. "DAD, GET DOWN!"

Before he could get to the hallway, he heard the whine of some sort of electronics. At the door, he saw his father turn around in confusion, not able to see Kimberly press buttons on the hidden security panel by the door, or the Putties waiting on the other side of the road. "Jason, what the hell are you talking about? It's only Kimberly."

Jason didn't answer. He grabbed his father's arm and drug him away from the door, ignoring Kimberly's laughter. Pulling him into the dining room, Jason shoved the heavy mahogany dining table over, the food sliding to the floor. Before any of his family could react, he pulled them behind the table.

It was just in time. The explosion rocked the house and took out most of the front hallway, by the sound of it. Jason had clapped his hands to his ears, but it wasn't enough. They were ringing painfully in the aftermath, and he was blinded by the smoke.

"What the f…" Kristen mouthed, her wide eyes turned to Jason. He ignored her, along with the stares of his parents, and concentrated on regaining his senses.

When he could hear, he could hear slow footsteps, unsteady in trying to pick through gravel.

"Oh, come on, Jason, stop hiding!" Kimberly called out cheerily. "There's no way out, anyway, so you're going to have to face me. There's a forcefield around the whole block, so no cheating your way out, either."

"What is she talking about?" his mother whispered. "Jason, what's going on?"

His father was just looking wildly at him, as if seeing him for the first time.

"Stay low," Jason said, "and run when I tell you."

"Jason, what do you think you're doing?" his father demanded.

Jason closed his eyes. "What I always do, dad." At that, he stood up.

The devastation had not been exaggerated in his mind. The front of their house looked like a gray, smoking shell. Kimberly had armed the destruct sequence, only to be used in extreme emergencies when enemies were trying to gain access to the door. It was to be used as deterrent and distraction.

Now, though, Kimberly had used it to destroy far more than the front of the house. She stood among the wreckage, still clothed in light pink shirt and blue jeans, grinning as she had done so many times before…

"There you are," she said. "Knew you couldn't stay away from a fight for too long."

"If it's a fight you want, Kimberly, I can give that to you," Jason said tightly. "Just leave my family out of it. Please."

"Oh, I think we've gone past that," Kimberly said. "We've gone way past that. It's time for… wait." Her grin broadened. "You usually say that, don't you?"

Jason began to sweat, knowing what she wanted, and very aware that his whole family was staring up at him, and there was no way to get them out of there.

"Isn't it morphing time?"

At her words, Jason felt the power swirl around him, even as he watched her change. He breathed clean air as the helmet filtered the smoke out, and he heard his parents exclaim words that he could make out.

"And isn't it better this way?" Kimberly said in a much softer voice.

Jason smiled grimly behind his mask, putting thoughts of his family's reactions from his head. Somehow… yes. This was better. "So it's open war you want," Jason said, knowing his filtered voice wasn't fooling anyone anymore. He pulled out his sword and pointed it at Kimberly. "So be it."

Kimberly pulled her bow. The war had begun.