It had taken Billy longer than usual to find a decent location to hide before responding to the Command Center's hail. All the classrooms were occupied, and the absurdly quiet halls meant his voice would carry, possibly reaching intrusive ears.
His frustration grew as he finally dodged into the men's room, already considering an upgrade to the communicators. Could he install a text-only feature for such emergencies? Or perhaps a discrete earpiece that connected to the main unit via retractable wire? At least that way, the Rangers wouldn't be in danger of someone overhearing their conversations.
He checked each stall to confirm privacy before finally choosing the one furthest from the door.
"This is Billy. What's going on?"
^Goldar and a platoon of Putties have arrived outside the school!^ Alpha warned. ^We checked on all of you in the Viewing Globe; you're the only Ranger finished with the exam.^
Billy glanced at his watch. "There's only twelve minutes left in the test period. I should be able to hold off Goldar until the others arrive. But why would he attack the school? He's never done that before."
^WE ARE CONSIDERING ALL OPTIONS. BUT AT THE MOMENT, THIS ATTACK MUST BE COUNTERED BEFORE INNOCENT STUDENTS ARE INJURED.^
"I'm on my-"
Billy bit his tongue as the door squealed open. He immediately released the transmit button, holding his breath as footsteps approached.
"Billy? You in here?"
His eyes widened as he pushed the stall open. "Jocelyn? What are you doing here?"
The visitor from an alternate reality rolled her eyes. "Following you, obviously. Why else would I be in the men's room?" She then looked pointedly at his watch. "What did Zordon have to say? Did he find anything out about the inter-dimensional portal?"
"I'm afraid not. There's a disturbance outside the school, and I need to check it out."
She frowned. "What kind of disturbance?"
"Nothing to worry about," Billy insisted. "Can you stand outside the door and make sure no one enters? This will take a second."
Jocelyn sighed as she left the bathroom, closing the door behind her. She heard a single word and the crackle of energy, and then saw a vivid blue light flash through the gap below the door.
After a beat, she peeked into the bathroom to confirm that the Blue Ranger was gone.
Her hands fell to her hips. I can't get to the Command Center without a Ranger escort, and I can't go back to class. I might as well find out what this 'disturbance' is.
Determined, she hurried towards the main entrance of the school. At first, she wondered exactly how she would pinpoint the Blue Ranger, but it turned out that the 'disturbance' was right at the school's doorstep.
She stood at the heavy door, watching in amazement as the single Ranger confronted what appeared to be a seven-foot tall blue monkey in gold armor. And it had wings.
It all looked surreal. The calm, grassy grounds were crawling with about a dozen white-gray creatures, stalking around and creating a disgusting gurgling sound. This morning, Angel Grove High looked like your average suburban public high school. But this was bizarre.
Phaedra hasn't attacked outright yet. Jocelyn recalled. So far she's been fairly discreet. I wonder what it will be like when the attacks begin above ground?
She was startled out of her thoughts as three of the gray creatures lunged at her.
"Whoa!" she gasped, stepping out of the way. She considered running back into the building, but that would only invite the creatures to follow her, jeopardizing hundreds of students.
So far, the creatures seemed content to buzz around the school grounds, which were now bereft of bystanders.
Well, except for her.
I didn't come here to gawk, I came to help! But I should've Synced before I ran out here!
Huffing at her oversight, she ducked another punch, watching as the gray fist cracked the heavy wood door.
"You guys are stronger than you look," she acknowledged, "but I have a few tricks you haven't seen."
Her stone glowed to life, and sent a tight beam of energy through the stomach of the creature. It stumbled back, falling clumsily down the stairs and knocking over the other creatures as well. Though it rose to its feet moments later, and Jocelyn watched in surprise as the smoking hole shrank before her eyes.
"Ookay, you regenerate," she realized, glaring death at the assaulting aliens. "Terrific."
"Aim for the 'Z'!" a voice shouted urgently. Jocelyn turned, and saw the Blue Ranger waving at her. "Hit the Putties on the 'Z' and they'll crumble!"
Jocelyn grinned as the creatures resumed their approach. "So your Achilles' heel is the enormous plate on your chest? Whoever created you really needs to go back to the drawing board."
Her fist tightened again, urging a translucent glove of energy to manifest around her hand. She then drove her fist into the vulnerable plate, and watched with satisfaction as the Putty disintegrated.
She paused to throw the Blue Ranger at thumb's up, only to watch in paralyzed fear as the gold creature lifted an enormous sword.
"Look out!" she cried. Only, it was too late.
She stared in blank surprise as sparks flew from the Blue Ranger's back. The force of the blow knocked him to his hands and knees, only for the creature to stomp his foot at the site of the wound.
Jocelyn's breaths quickened. On the one hand, she was relieved beyond measure that Billy's back hadn't been flayed open by that monstrous sword. Apparently the spandex-like costume the Rangers wore was more durable than it looked.
But on the other, Billy was down for the count, and the vicious alien was enjoying grinding the hero into the earth.
Eyes narrow, Jocelyn created a wave of energy that knocked the surrounding Putties for a loop, clearing the way for her to run towards the monster. She didn't have a plan, and she was still very much vulnerable to attack, but she couldn't stand by and watch Billy suffer.
"Stop it, space freak!" she shrieked. She was startled when the beast looked up at her, smirking.
"So kind of you to come out and see me, Kimberly," he sneered. The depth of his growl and the intensity in his s ruby eyes made goose bumps rise on Jocelyn's skin. "Now I don't have to level the school searching for you."
He gave the struggling Blue Ranger a sharp kick to his side, earning a pained groan, before approaching the wide-eyed girl.
He moved staggeringly fast for a creature his size. Jocelyn barely had time to turn and run before a vice-like grip snatched her upper arm with bruising force. She opened her mouth to scream, only for her throat to constrict as the monster lifted his sword once again.
"This time, you won't escape me, Girl."
Jocelyn struggled against his grip, trying to focus her frenzied thoughts enough to Spectrum Sync, when a blast of energy knocked the sword clean from the monster's hand.
The alien roared furiously, shaking his now smoking hand as he turned around.
"Let her go, Goldar," the Red Ranger demanded, his hands tightly gripping a laser pistol. "Now!"
Jocelyn felt a wave of relief as she saw the Purple and White Rangers stand beside Red, the former armed with a sphere of energy hovering between her palms and the latter clenching his saber. The Yellow and Black Rangers were behind them, helping the dazed Blue Ranger to his feet.
Reinforcements had arrived.
Goldar snarled. "Not this time, Ranger!" In one fluid motion his singed hand grabbed Jocelyn, and his mighty wings spread, catapulting the alien and his prize into the clear blue skies above Angel Grove.
Jocelyn felt her stomach leap as her kidnapper swerved in the air, effectively dodging a burning sphere of purple energy as well as streaks of red and white laser. He then spiraled, arching higher into the air as his grip tightened.
The combination of the wind slapping her face, the tight grip around her stomach, and the dizzying twists and turns made Jocelyn light-headed and sluggish… but not helpless.
"This joyride is over," she snarled, closing her eyes and willing her mind to focus. "Spectrum Sync!"
Goldar stared in complete shock as a vibrant orange aura encompassed his prisoner, forcing him to release his grip. He backed away, watching dumbly as the energy cocoon vanished.
He blinked at the slight figure in orange floating before him, her light brown hair billowing in the wind, and her arms hanging akimbo at her sides. "You are not Kimberly," he murmured.
Bright orange energy coalesced around her fists. "You got that right," she sneered.
The assault was swift and intense. Before Goldar could even growl a response, a barrage of orange bolts completely overwhelmed him. There were too many to effectively dodge, and without his sword he couldn't deflect them.
In mere seconds, the bruised, battered Titan warrior lost all strength, and plummeted towards the ground below.
The Rangers watched, stunned, as Goldar crashed into the street just a block away from the high school, his armored body creating spidery cracks in the pavement.
"Holy cow!" Black gasped, watching the enemy go limp. "Bet he didn't see that one coming!"
The Orange Enforcer descended to the ground, her arms folded and head held high with grim satisfaction. "Not too shabby, if I do say so myself."
"Are you okay?" Trini wondered.
"Fit as a fiddle," she answered, running her fingers through her windblown hair.
"You shouldn't have followed me," Billy stated. "You don't know what our opponents are capable of. You could've been seriously hurt."
"And you would have been," she retorted, "Look, all the Rangers were busy, so I stepped in. And relax; this isn't the first firefight I've been in."
"But you were lucky," Tommy said grimly, "If Jase didn't knock Goldar's sword from his hands, he would've teleported you to the moon. And we don't know what Zedd has in mind this time."
Jocelyn tensed. "Look, I appreciate your help, and even your concern, but I am not helpless. I may not know much about what these space-freaks can do, but I know what I can do!"
Trini held up her hands, stepping between the bickering pair once again. "We should definitely take this inside," she stated, "We're attracting some attention."
Jocelyn looked up, and for the first time noticed the dozens of people circling them. Commuters, storeowners, and even some students had followed the signs of battle, and were watching the unprecedented Ranger argument from a respectable distance.
Jocelyn's gaze swept the crowd, recognizing Bulk, Skull, Ms. Applebee, Rocky, Adam, Aisha, and other faces she'd seen in class, as well as in Kimberly's photographs.
Just wonderful. How long have they been watching? Her eyes widened beneath her navy visor. They didn't see me Sync, did they? Kimberly will have one hell of a time explaining that.
The crowd hovered, most of them too star-struck to do anything more than stare at their heroes. The Rangers rarely lingered after a battle.
The first one to raise his voice was Adam, and his eyes lingered on the unidentified heroine. "Are you the Orange Ranger?"
Surprised at the question, Jocelyn glanced down at her costume, and then to the Rangers. "Do I look like one?"
Zack stepped forward, feeding off the attention like a performer in the spotlight. "No, she's not. This is the Orange Enforcer, our ally from… very far away."
Light from cameras flashed from all directions, causing Jocelyn to take a startled step back, bumping into Jason.
"Not much of a people-person?" he asked with a grin.
"We don't get much publicity."
"We need to get back," Billy pointed out, "We've got work to do."
"What do we do about Goldar?" Alexis wondered.
Tommy turned toward the crushed pavement, and frowned beneath his helmet. "Zedd got to him first. Goldar's gone."
"Then let's go," Trini suggested. She waved to the crowds, edging closer to Jocelyn. "Everyone, please step back. And thanks for your support."
She touched Jocelyn's arm, nodded once, and then the entire team vanished in columns of vivid energy.
Once the Rangers left the scene, the crowd slowly began to separate, everyone returning to more mundane activities. But Rocky lingered, his gaze turning from the purple "watch" on his wrist to the sky where the Rangers departed, and back again.
Alexis freaked out when she saw my new watch-thing. Then she ran out of the classroom as soon as she finished her test, and minutes later everyone's screaming about the Power Rangers fighting a monster at the school's front door! Coincidences? Yeah, right!
He then turned toward the Youth Center, a triumphant smirk on his face as his thoughts turned from one mysterious redhead to Ernie's lunch special for Mondays.
"Chilidogs!" he spoke aloud, his smirk widening into a full smile. "This is turning out to be a terrific day!"
* * *
Deep within the magical fortress of Lumina City, the wise founder of the organized resistance against the Denebian Empire stood with one of his most capable mentees. Luminus walked beside the far-reaching shelf of the main library, combing Spectra's story for all critical details.
"…and only a few moments later, a different girl manifested," Spectra finished. "At the time we thought it was Jocelyn, but DNA analysis confirmed that she is not. Also, she claims to be a human being from a different planet Earth."
She studied Luminus' expression for any clues to his thoughts. "High Father, is such a thing possible?"
"I must confess, I've never heard of such a phenomenon…"
Spectra's face fell.
"..but that doesn't mean it isn't possible." Luminus glanced to the ceiling, folding his hands behind his back. "A portal that bridges two worlds, trading two individuals with similar characteristics. I cannot imagine what Celea hoped to accomplish with such a spell."
Spectra shook her head in dismay. "Neither could we. My only assumption is that Celea is trying to trick us; throw us off guard while Phaedra finalizes some new scheme to conquer Earth."
"I suppose that is possible," Luminus conceded, "but there are much more effective portals to manifest. She could have banished your team into another galaxy, or another dimension, altogether. Why send only one through, and why replace her with another potential enemy?"
"The girl Kimberly has no powers here," Spectra explained. "Her powers are tied to her own dimension."
"It is still an unlikely scheme. And it does not sound like something Celea would think of. The princess has all her mother's impatience, but exemplifies her father's endless ambition and complete disregard for life. Add to it her own unique recklessness and you have an explosive combination. Subtlety and complex mind games are not her method."
"Perhaps she wants to dishearten my Force," Spectra suggested. "Dissolve their confidence and camaraderie."
Luminus looked to Spectra. "If Celea's aim was to dishearten your team, she would have killed one."
Spectra paled in shock.
Luminus nodded, confirming Spectra's surprise. "Her evil has blossomed since your last battle with the princess. She is more than the spoiled child you remember. Her ruthlessness and battle skill eclipse what she was before. During her brief rule of the conquered planet Fesp, her experiments with magic killed hundreds of Fespin slaves. Whether it was accidental or intentional I cannot guess."
Spectra shook herself, trying to absorb the unexpected information the High Father had given her. Her mind strayed to the danger the Force might face, should Celea return to Earth before she could complete her research.
"Luminus, I must get back," Spectra murmured.
"And we must solve this puzzle," Luminus reminded her.
Spectra took an anxious breath. "But how?"
"Perhaps, we can repair the damage without directly undoing what Celea has done," Luminus suggested. "It should not be difficult to open a conventional portal; a doorway into the Realm from which this 'Power Ranger' came. Once there, you can search for your missing member telepathically."
The youthful warrior's eyes widened. "Can you do that?"
A wry smirk touched the old man's face. "The aura of the origin world always lingers with a traveler, and my sensitivity to alternate worlds is uniquely sharp. Provided this Ranger recently emerged from the Multiverse, I should be able to retrace her steps. But I will need to be in the girl's presence."
Spectra shook her head. "I cannot let you come to Earth. If you should die-"
"If I die, Child, our forces will fight on. I am a Warrior of Light, just as you are. I just happen to be a little older."
He unhooked his outer tunic from beside the door, and slid it on. "Besides, this will be an excellent opportunity for you to learn about alternate dimensions."
Spectra gaped, scandalized. "Me? But I've always been taught to avoid creating portals, at the risk of the entire universe!"
He nodded solemnly. "Unfortunately, our enemy does not share our concerns."
* * *
The North Pole
The princess materialized in the frozen tundra of the barren north. This time, she wore the protective regal battle suit, just in case she should run into any more interfering humans. The enchanted metal plating provided only minimal protection from the bitter cold that threw her forest green curls in a chaotic whirl.
The resilient girl shrugged off the cold temperature and forceful gales, following the faint glow of energy back to the portal she had created a few hours ago.
Her eyebrow quirked. "So the portal remains? I thought it had closed when the Spectrum Force played with it. Interesting."
She didn't take the time to consider how this unexpected development might complicate her plan. Instead, she unrolled a parchment, drawing a dagger from her belt. With a careful eye, she examined her own carving, and etched the subtle changes that made all the difference in the incantation.
Then, she rose to her knees. "Now, to give my spell new life."
She slid her blade over her palm, drawing enough blood to lend new energy to the spell.
The brand flashed with the infusion of life energy, encouraging Celea to continue.
"Malah'nit junsu narehn ki ma. Olon parecht ni lai nar. K'hami sur ha QUAOSH, hei himi he lai. Hianep Jai hunrai khel nar, j'se karin lai!"
Upon completion of her spell she braced herself for the explosion of power that had knocked the wind out of her earlier. This time, the explosion did not come.
The winds began to howl as the brand glowed a steady red, darkening from a vivid fiery shade into a deep, bloody crimson. That crimson saturated the existing portal, erasing the view screen and replacing it with a new, abstract image.
It was fire. Anguish. Darkness. Rage. Lust. Death. All unbridled, all eager to consume.
She watched, folding her arms as lightning crackled from the edges, flashing just enough light in the darkened cavern to make the princess squint.
Then a narrow, spidery leg about four feet long stretched from the portal.
Celea held her breath as the six-legged beast emerged. It wasn't much larger than five feet tall, but the oily skin, rows of shark-like teeth, and empty eyes gave testament to its origin. The invisible aura around it screamed of power begging to be released. Of muscles that had not been stretched in the name of destruction for eons.
The princess cleared her throat. "I am Celea, crowned princess of the Denebian Em-"
The leg snapped like a whip, plowing into the princess' puffed chest, forcing the air out of her lungs. She stumbled back, shaking off her daze as ruby eyes glared at the monstrosity.
"So, I must prove my worth to you," she sneered, twin scythes gleaming in her hands. "As you wish!"
She crossed her blades at arm's length, creating a flash of energy that blocked the Chaotic's attack. Just as its leg bounced back after impact, she slashed one scythe, neatly amputating the limb.
The limb disintegrated, but the Chaotic merely stumbled back and waited.
A heartbeat later, the limb grew back, good as new.
Celea's released a startled grunt as the Chaotic lunged at her again, both of its forelegs slashing in rapid succession while it moved ever forward.
The princess deflected each blow, her teeth gnashing as she was forced inexorably towards the cave's entrance.
Celea allowed herself to be herded backward until she felt the frigid chill of the arctic winds. She smirked, confidently backpedaling into the snow, evading each of the creature's blows as she awaited its reaction.
Sure enough, after it stepped into the frozen tundra, a shudder made the creature pause.
That was all the time Celea needed. She tightened her grip on her scythes, focusing her power, and slashed at the thick neck of the creature.
She didn't stop there. Once her opponent was decapitated, she meticulously dismembered it, ignoring the thick black ochre that spurted from the abomination.
Finally, once the creature was no longer recognizable, she paused.
"Try and regenerate that," she sneered, wiping the acrid black blood from her cheeks. Her smile stretched as a flash of energy swallowed the creature, leaving only bloodstains and melted snow behind. Once her opponent vanished completely, she approached the cave, her scythes at the ready and a gleam of anticipation in her eyes.
When she rounded the corner into the cavern, another vicious blow caught her by surprise. The spidery leg smashed into her chin, knocking off her helmet and throwing her into the unyielding cave wall.
Celea shook her head to clear her daze, and stared at her new opponent. Or rather, opponents.
Two spider-like Chaotics crawled along the cavern floor, and one stared down at her from the low ceiling.
She reached for her fallen scythe, only for the nearest monster to thrust its leg into her shoulder, right between the plates of her armor. The princess screamed as the creature held her fast, its leg piercing through her arm and into the rock wall behind her.
Celea bit down, suppressing her pained howls as her free hand drew a small dagger from her belt. She flung the sharp blade into the creature's most prominent eye, earning a high-pitched shriek that rang in her ears. Then she tightened her grip around the prickly leg that impaled her shoulder, and concentrated.
A fierce red glow suffused her hand, and the energy released let her crush the limb, forcing the creature to draw it back. She breathed with momentary relief as the burning pain subsided, letting her battered arm fall to her side.
But she never got the chance to escape.
The creature slapped her cheek with crushing force, ripping open the skin and knocking her head against the cavern wall.
* * *
The alarms screamed with such sudden urgency Keith leapt from his seat, dropping his textbook and study notes to the floor. Ignoring the mess he just made, he stared at the information flashing on the large screen of the planetary security system.
"Satellites have picked up a burst of energy at the North Pole," he read aloud. "Could that mean Jocie found her way back?"
Keith's eyes trailed over the details of the energy reading. "I can't make heads or tails of all this info," he realized, shaking his head. "I guess there's only one way to find out what's going down up there."
He pressed a sequence of buttons, sending an alert to his teammates. Then, he stepped away from the console, lifting his Spectrum Stone to the sky.
A flood of vivid red energy bathed him, forming a snug bodysuit while charging his form with the power of light.
A moment later, the Red Enforcer looked back at the monitor with a grimace. "If Jocelyn materialized at the Pole, she could freeze to death," he reasoned. "I'd better scout ahead and let the others catch up to me."
Keith ran to the hatch and pressed the code, letting the hangar open to reveal the clear skies in which the ship hovered. Then, he launched himself into the air, transforming matter into light and streaking to his destination in a heartbeat.
When he arrived at the frozen north, he stared in shock at the scene before him. Earlier, the area was a pristine white, but now a handful of black forms dotted the snowfields.
He hovered closer, trying to get a better view. When he got close enough to discern their grotesque shape, inhale their acrid smell, and feel the vile aura of madness and chaos that surrounded them, Keith felt his stomach flip.
*Guys, get the lead out!* he called, *I need-*
Conscious thought dissolved into panic as one of the creatures suddenly catapulted into the air, directly at him.
The Red Enforcer released a wordless shout, flinging himself skyward while mustering an attack between his hands. He then released his power in a battering ram of energy that met the monstrosity head-on.
Keith didn't let up his attack. He continued pouring his energy into the blast, watching the flailing limbs of the creature smoke and shrink. Then, a flash of energy signaled its departure from this world.
Keith sighed his relief. "One down, four to-" He gasped as the group of creatures formed a circle below. "Hey! Where'd the extra one come from?"
They jumped one at a time, claw-tipped feet slashing mercilessly as they performed leaps that would impress Superman himself. Keith erected a shield around his body, keeping the claws at a safe distance, while zigzagging in the air to avoid as many direct hits as possible. But each time a leg pounded against his shield, he felt a lance of pain in his mind, weakening his concentration.
Whatever these things are made of, it's screwing with my powers!
Keith began to slow down, panting heavily to force his mind into focus, as the creatures renewed their aerial assault. By the eighth head-on attack, the faint red bubble of energy shattered completely, allowing a deadly talon to rip into his side.
It was a shallow cut, but it felt like a red-hot poker had torn flesh and muscle. Keith hissed wordlessly, flipping around and pummeling the creature that assaulted him with all the power he could generate. The creature folded into itself, and disappeared.
The fiery pain didn't relent. Keith cradled his wound, pushing himself further into the air, praying he was capable of flying out of the monsters' reach.
Fortunately, he didn't need to retreat for long. Flashes of purple, yellow, blue, and green energy rained from the skies above, hammering the creatures with enough power to keep them earthbound.
"Keith!" Tamara gasped, hovering at his side, "You're hurt!"
"It's not deep," he assured her, "But it still burns."
"It's not bleeding," Matthew noted, folding his arms. "It's cauterized."
"Meaning?" Keith pressed.
"Meaning whatever cut you is really hot."
"Spectrum Force, fan out!" Rachel called from above, "We need to make some room between us. There's one for each of us, assuming you're up to fighting, Keith."
Red stared at his friend. "There's still five?? I know I cremated that last one!"
Craig looked down at the ground, recounting the monsters. "Either they're more resilient than you think, or they replicate. Because there are definitely five down there."
"Then let's take them out fast, in case they do replicate," Rachel decided. "New plan: we hit one at a time with all we've got, and see if that does the trick." She pointed at the nearest creature. "Fire on my mark!"
The Force hovered away from each other, making room as each one summoned the totality of their destructive power.
Five beams of radiant energy streaked to the creature all at once, combining to create a rainbow of power. The creature was caught in the explosion of power, and when the light faded, there was nothing left.
Rachel smirked. "Now for-"
Her words were lost in a startled cry as a creature pounced on her from behind, wrapping its legs around her body in a vice.
Craig's eyes widened as he watched his friend plummet, her purple aura slowly fading. "Everyone, Dia-Staffs up!"
Each one pressed their hands together, and slowly parted them, manifesting a narrow pole of seeming granite that steadily glowed with the color signature of its user.
Blue dove to the ground, his Dia-Staff reshaping at his will into a fierce battle-ax. The gleaming blade sliced cleanly into the back of the creature, forcing it to loosen its grip.
Purple hit the ground hard, splashing melted snow and ice in all directions and knocking the nightmarish creature loose. She clutched her head, trying to shake her mind back into focus, as the Force settled in a tight circle around her, each one wielding the Dia-Staff in their preferred shape.
"Rachel?" Keith queried, inching back toward her. "You okay?"
"My head… just won't stop spinning," she sighed, rubbing her temples.
"Yeah," he murmured, "Those monsters broke my concentration before. I think they have the power to disrupt our powers, somehow. Something about where they come from… that aura of evil around them."
"Then we can't let them touch us," she determined, rising onto unsteady legs. "Keep our shields at full power to stop any direct contact."
Her hands began to glow vividly as she channeled her power. "We have to finish this before these things show off some other weird abilities."
Keith nodded, watching as her dual-cannon energy barrage vaporized one creature.
"That brings us to two," he noted, turning to survey the battle scene. Craig and Tamara had teamed up against one monster, while Matt mercilessly pounded the other with his own Dia-Staff.
He then turned toward the cave, and watched with wide eyes as two more creatures emerged from the consuming darkness.
"Hey! They're coming from the cave!" he shouted.
Rachel followed his gaze. "It must be Celea's portal." Her energy field intensified as she leapt into the air. "Go check it out, Keith. We'll keep the existing monsters at bay. Let us know what you find."
Keith nodded, watching as Rachel fired two wide energy strikes, effectively plowing both new creatures away from the mouth of the cave. Keith flew toward the dark aperture, slowing his approach as he reached the melted, muddied ground just outside the cave.
Frowning, he inspected the deep footprints and gouged earth. "I didn't make these marks," he realized. "Someone was here before me."
"Keith!" a voice called from behind. Red turned around and watched as Green flew towards him, leaving a mangled monster behind him that quickly faded into nothingness.
"Did you find anything?" Matt demanded.
Keith pointed to the muddied tracks. "Maybe. We have to investigate this cave, but brace yourself: something is definitely in here. And someone was here before us, fighting these monsters."
Matt's breath caught. "Do you think it was Jocelyn?"
Keith grimaced; the thought had crossed his mind. "I… hope not."
Without another word Matt marched ahead, concentrating his power into his fist to cast a harmless beam of light into the relative darkness. Keith followed closely behind him, inspecting the jagged walls of the cavern for any further clues. Then, Matt's energy beam fell directly upon a faintly glowing portal, which immediately swallowed the light almost hungrily.
"Whoa," Keith breathed, staring into the consuming fiery blackness. He could feel the intensity of the other dimension, as if he held his face before a heated oven. Only, it wasn't just heat. It reeked of death and destruction. "This can't be the same portal that brought Kimberly here. But what happened?"
Matthew glared toward the far wall, and angled the light beam in that direction. "Maybe we should ask her."
Keith blinked in shock. Lying against the wall, eyes closed and blood trickling down her ashen face, lay the Denebian princess herself.
"Jesus," he murmured, kneeling beside her. He gently pressed his fingers beneath her jaw. "She's… dead!"
Matt scoffed. "We should be so lucky," he growled. "What makes you think she's got the same pulse points as a human, anyway? We don't know squat about Denebian physiology."
Keith shrugged in acknowledgment of Matt's point, and moving aside as the pre-med student took a careful assessment.
"She's breathing," Matt noted, "It's shallow, but it's there. But she's in bad shape. There's a hole the size of a baseball through her shoulder. And all this blood from her head, probably severe head trauma."
"We gotta get her out of here," Keith decided, "Can you tell if it's safe to move her?"
Matt stared as his friend. "You're not serious."
Keith met Matt's gaze evenly. "You're not suggesting we just leave her here to die, are you?"
"Absolutely." Green folded his arms. "This is all her fault. She summoned these demons from God-knows where, and she got exactly what was coming to her!"
"But she might know how to fix all this!" Keith argued. "Maybe if we help her, she'll help us close this portal, and maybe even get Jocie back."
"Yeah right. Keith, she's a monster! She won't help us!"
Keith turned back to the fallen princess. "We can't assume that. She might be the only chance we'll ever have to get Jocelyn back. I know it's a long shot, but right now, it's all we've got."
Matt stared at the portal for a long moment, and then back to the Denebian princess. "Okay," he sighed, "Let's get her out of here."
Keith looked down at the helpless girl, a frown forming. "Uh… where we should put her? We can't bring her to the ship. If she woke up…"
His words died on his tongue as an eerie light suddenly filled the cave. Both heroes stared at the portal, watching electricity crackle at its edges. Then, something stretched into the cave.
A leathery wing.
"Keith," Matt instructed, "take Celea and find a safe place to keep her. I'll cover your exit."
Keith nodded wordlessly, slipping one arm behind her neck and the other under her knees. He lifted the girl as quickly as he dared and carried her out of the cave.
Matt's fists flared with energy as the new creature fully emerged from the portal. Unlike the spider-inspired creature, this was more reminiscent of an emaciated wolf, only two pairs of wings sprouted from its oily back. And it had teeth that would send Jaws swimming for its life.
It shrieked as, without warning, a battering ram of power slammed it into the nearest wall.
"Great," Matt sighed, "we're getting a buffet of murderous monsters tonight!"
The Green Enforcer turned, mustering his power for another assault, when a flash from the portal drew his attention.
The eerie blackness disappeared. Instead, he found himself staring at a face.
The face of a white goat, wearing a monocle over one eye, and holding a small black machine in both hands.
"What the hell?" he grumbled, perplexed. "Does this portal connect three universes now?"
* * *
The Other North Pole
"Interesting," Finster noted, staring into the energy field with new interest. When he arrived at the North Pole at Lord Zedd's direction, he'd only found a formless focus of mysterious energy that didn't quite match anything he'd ever encountered. He'd studied it carefully, analyzing the frequency and proving without a doubt that whatever the energy was, it was not from Zordon or the Power Rangers. This field had a wholly different source, and it gnawed at the scientist's curiosity.
Then, just a moment ago, the invisible energy coalesced into a flat screen, almost like a portal. Finster had gawked in surprise at a man with a green mask, standing in stark contrast with the relative darkness of the background. He'd hurriedly recorded this finding in his notes, capturing a picture for further research.
Then, when he glanced back at the portal, its properties suddenly changed. The scenery within the portal rapidly changed, transforming into a swirling mass of blood, fire, and pure death.
Finster startled, and stumbled backwards. "Chaos!"
Regaining his courage, the genius crept closer to the portal, watching the readings on his handheld scanner with wide, fearful eyes. "This is not like when Lord Zedd summoned the Erebus. It is not just a creature being called forth. This is a hole, opening the way to whatever chooses to pass into our dimension."
He then turned around, noting the Putty Patrolers that stood guard at the opening. "Three of you, come here!"
The Putties bowed to their leader, the three closest ones ambling into the darkness.
Finster reached into his bag of equipment, and drew out three handheld light sources. "Each of you, take one and scatter into a triangle. I want the entire cavern lit as bright as day."
The Putties followed the instructions to the letter, and the floodlights illuminated every nook and cranny in the cave.
Finster fell to his knees, running his scanner along the frozen ground. "There must be something; some kind of spell or enchanted object that opened this portal. Some way to close it, before-"
A razor-sharp pincher suddenly stretched out of the opening, snapping the air less than a foot away from Finster's head. The scientist shuddered, crawling away as crab-like creature stepped into a material realm, taking shape before his very eyes.
"A Chaotic." Finster's heart skipped a beat as the beast emerged fully, stretching its bloodthirsty claws toward him.
"Putties, attack!" he screeched.
Had the Putties been capable of basic thought or survival instinct, they would have ignored the command and raced to the exit. It was all but impossible for the drones to survive a clash with a Chaotic. However, they served their purpose. The Chaotic eagerly cleaved through the clay warriors as they crowded it, allowing Finster the precious few moments he needed to high-tail it out of the cave.
Panting with near panic, the scientist activated his own teleportation spell, whisking him to the haven of the Moon Palace. As he materialized in his laboratory, he heaved a great sigh of relief, suddenly absurdly grateful that Rita had moved the palace to the moon ten thousand years ago.
Shaking off his terror, Finster hurried toward the throne room. Surely, Lord Zedd should be informed that a portal to Chaos had opened, apparently without cause.
* * *
Jocelyn sighed, running her fingers through her loose hair as she paced before the Viewing Globe. "That gold guy didn't really say what he wanted with me."
"It seems like he was targeting you specifically," Trini commented. She then smirked at her own mistake. "Rather, he was targeting Kim specifically."
Jocelyn nodded. "You're right. He did call me 'Kimberly.' But what would he want with a random high school student?"
Billy rubbed his chin. "On occasion Lord Zedd does target us individually. A few weeks ago he had Goldar kidnap Kim to make her his queen. Is it possible he decided to try again?"
Tommy stewed quietly against a console. "He'd better not," he snarled.
Jocelyn's eyes widened as she stared at Tommy, and then Billy. "You don't mean Lord Zedd actually knows you guys are the Power Rangers, do you?"
"Yes," Trini responded. "Rita Repulsa, Zedd's predecessor, knew who we were the day Zordon gave us the Power Coins. I think these evil sorcerers can detect the Power in us."
The Orange Enforcer frowned. "So what's the point of keeping secret identities if your enemies already know? I mean, doesn't it make your life that much harder?"
"IT IS THE CODE OF THE POWER RANGERS TO MAINTAIN THE SECRET," Zordon explained. "EACH ONE OF THEM HAS SACRIFICED MUCH TO SERVE AS EARTH'S DEFENDERS. SHOULD THEY REVEAL THEIR TRUE IDENTITIES TO THE PUBLIC, THEY WILL NO LONGER HAVE THE REFUGE OF A NORMAL LIFE. LIFE IN THE PUBLIC EYE IS A GREAT STRAIN, AND WOULD DISTRACT THEM FROM THEIR DUTIES."
Jocelyn chewed her lower lip, considering. "That makes sense… but it would make more sense if the invaders couldn't just pick you off one by one in your sleep."
Zack grimaced as if the thought had never occurred to him. "Lucky for us Zedd doesn't think like that."
The image of the Denebian princess, grinning gleefully as she speared Keith with her magic-disrupting dart, made Jocelyn shiver. "Yeah, lucky you."
Even though she'd only seen Celea for a few brief moments, the bloodlust in those crimson eyes spoke volumes. She would definitely think like that…
The sudden scream of the alarms nearly made Jocelyn jump out of her skin.
"Incredible," Billy murmured, staring at a computer screen, "It looks like the portal in the North Pole has… changed?"
"Something has emerged from it!" Alpha declared.
That caught everyone's attention.
"Can you bring up a visual?" Jason wondered.
"Can you tell if it's human?" Tommy questioned.
"What about that blizzard?" Trini pointed out.
"RANGERS," Zordon spoke, "OUR SENSORS HAVE BEEN ABLE TO IDENTIFY A FAMILIAR ENERGY SIGNATURE RADIATING FROM THE POLE."
The wise sage paused. Even though his face was blurred, Jason could see the stricken look in his luminous blue eyes.
"What is it, Zordon?" the former leader questioned.
The collective gasp of horror and surprise startled the Orange Enforcer. Her heart raced as she stared at each Ranger in turn. "What does that mean?"
Tommy was the first to recover. His open-mouthed shock slowly transformed into something entirely different: focused determination.
"It means we've got one hell of a fight on our hands," he realized. He approached the center of the computer consoles, grabbing his helmet along the way. "Zordon, is there any way to tell what we're up against?"
"UNFORTUNATELY NO. THE ATMOSPHERIC STORM HAS CALMED, BUT THE COMBINATION OF THE WEATHER AND THE OVERWHELMING ENERGY STREAMING FROM THAT LOCATION MAKES IT IMPOSSIBLE TO GET A CLEAR VISUAL SIGNAL, OR TO GET SAFE COORDINATES FOR TELEPORTATION."
"Then we go in blind," Tommy recognized, his face disappearing behind the stylized gold tiger's face of his helmet. "Shall we take the Zords?"
Billy frowned thoughtfully. "Without Kim we can't construct either Megazord. We'll have to take the individual ones, and it'll take us some time to cover North America."
"Then I'll provide the transportation," Jocelyn volunteered. "We need to get to the Pole pronto, and see exactly what happened to the portal that brought me here!"
"How do you plan to transport us?" Billy asked, intrigued. "Do you have the ability to teleport?"
She held up her ring. "Close enough. You get us out of this building, and point me North. I'll handle it from there."
The Rangers glanced at each other dubiously. It was Tommy who made the decision.
"Alpha, teleport us as close to the North Pole as you can. If possible, keep us clear from any cities or towns."
"You got it, Tommy."
The rest of the team collected their helmets as the robot began an area search for a safe destination. As the group huddled together, Alexis turned to Jocelyn.
"So, how fast can you fly?"
"Light speed." She could feel the disbelieving stares even through the visors, and hastily elaborated. "To do so I need to convert into a beam of light, which I guess is a lot like what you do with your teleporter. But I can't convert others into light, meaning I'll have to carry you." She then grinned. "We'll have to see how fast I can fly with passengers."
"THIS IS A SOUND PLAN, RANGERS," Zordon decided. "YOU WILL BE ABLE TO MAINTAIN A CERTAIN DEGREE OF STEALTH AS YOU APPROACH THE SITE OF THE CHAOTIC ENERGY."
Zordon continued. "BILLY, BRING THE SCANNER TOMMY USED DURING HIS FIRST JOURNEY TO THE NORTH POLE. IT WILL HELP GUIDE YOU IN THE CORRECT DIRECTION, AS WELL AS GIVE YOU A BASELINE OF HOW THE PORTAL USED TO REGISTER. THIS INFORMATION MAY HELP YOU DETERMINE WHAT HAS HAPPENED."
Billy nodded, separating from the others to recover the back-mounted unit.
"I think I found a good location," Alpha announced proudly, "It's about twelve miles from the source of the energy readings. Scanners are showing it's deserted, for now."
"Perfect," Billy stated, rejoining his teammates. "We're all set to go."
"MAY THE POWER PROTECT YOU, RANGERS," Zordon spoke, watching his charges vanish in columns of energy. Even though he gave the same blessing every time the Rangers went into battle, this time the Rangers needed it more than usual.
Dread chilled the ancient mage as he imagined what horrors his young team might face. At least when the Rangers battled Erebus, he was able to offer guidance. This time, the Rangers would face an unknown threat, though the stamp of Chaos was more than enough evidence of great danger.
But that did not mean he couldn't be of some use.
"ALPHA, LOCATE A SAFE, SPACIOUS AREA AS FAR NORTH AS POSSIBLE. THEN, TELEPORT THE THUNDER ZORDS THERE. SHOULD THE RANGERS NEED TO SUMMON THEM, THEY WILL RESPOND MORE QUICKLY."
The Edenoid robot jumped eagerly. "That's a great idea, Zordon!"
Zordon nodded, but was unable to mirror his assistant's enthusiasm.
* * *
Near the North Pole
Seven beams of light coalesced on the icy tundra, the biting wind and darkened sky offering a cold welcome.
"Brrr!" Jocelyn gasped, a protective aura of energy immediately blinking to life around her. She sighed in relief as the arctic gales blew around her shield, leaving her reasonably warm.
The Power Rangers seemed undisturbed by the stark drop in temperature. She grinned wryly. Those suits are definitely sturdier than they look.
The Blue Ranger took a reading from his scanner, and pointed. "That's the direction we're heading."
Black looked out at the ominous gray clouds hanging over their destination. He sighed. "Of course it is."
White stepped forward, his hand already on the hilt of his trusted weapon. "Get ready, guys," he warned, his voice soft yet commanding. "We have no idea what's waiting for us up there."
All humor dropped from even Zack's countenance. The six Rangers each brandished their Power Weapons, holding them with steady, though tense, fingers.
Tommy then turned to Jocelyn. "Let's go."
She nodded, slowly levitating off the ground into the morbid sky, and held out her palm toward the Rangers. They watched as a beam of orange energy slid under their feet, stretching upward and meeting at a point above their heads, creating a translucent sphere of power.
"Hold on tight!" she called.
The Rangers did their best to balance themselves, and were barely able to maintain their footing as Orange took off, dragging them along at a speed that left the world below a dizzying, orange-hued blur.
It took only seconds. Almost as soon as they'd left, they'd arrived at the spot Jocelyn had chosen for their landing.
The sphere touched the tundra softly, and then winked out of existence, setting the Rangers on solid ground. It took a moment for the team to gather their bearings, and Jocelyn used that time to take a peek over the snow mound behind which she'd hidden their arrival.
What she saw made her blood freeze.
"Jocelyn?" Trini called, raising her voice to carry above the whistling of the arctic gusts. The snow billowing in the air, coupled with the dense clouds overhead, made the North Pole a particularly treacherous battle ground.
When the Orange Enforcer didn't answer, the Rangers hurried to her side to share her vantage point. And as a result, they shared her horrified, thunderstruck reaction.
On the plain before them, over a dozen grotesque creatures scuttled about the snow. Pinchers large enough to snap a man in half stretched from each of four forward appendages, and four other limbs let them speedily cover ground.
"Chaotics," Billy murmured, "And this time, there's more than one."
"We're outnumbered," Zack groaned fatalistically.
Tommy rose from his crouch, sheathing Saba. "We need a plan, guys." He stared numbly at the frightening battle ground before him, his heart sinking when he saw yet another horse-sized crab emerge from the cave. "A really good one."