Kat set down the hairbrush and tried to shake some life into her exhausted arm. She supposed she could always braid her Rapunzel-like tresses, but she shied away from anything that remotely smacked of Rita Repulsa, and plaited hair definitely reminded her of the witch's conical coiffure. She sighed, a toss of her head sending the long flaxen strands cascading to the floor.
Housing Zedd's dark energy had not left her unscathed. The final massive lightning bolt had left her comatose, for which she was ultimately grateful. It spared her having to live through the long, difficult process of Rita siphoning off her departed spouse's arcane powers. However, upon awakening from her long sleep, discovering she had floor length hair that couldn't be cut was the least of her shocks. Her normally fair skin had been bleached of all color, leaving her resembling a porcelain doll. The whiteness of her skin made the jewel-tone of her eyes all the more luminous. While those were the only obvious physical differences, Kat did not want to contemplate what other changes had occurred in her body.
As distressing as the physiological differences were, even more disturbing were the intellectual ones --especially the fact that she could now read and understand any volume in Rita's library. Initially, this new-found knowledge frightened Kat; she didn't want to have anything more to do with magic. Storing Zedd's powers had left her feeling filthy inside and out, and she bathed compulsively for almost a week in order to scour away the oily sensation of the darkness crawling all over her skin.
However, she soon came to regard the ability as a blessing. Being able to peruse the tomes on enchantment had been enlightening. She had learned a great deal. She recalled Rita's assertion that magic could do anything. While that was frighteningly true, enchantment had its limits. The greater the feat, the greater the toll on the spellcaster. No wonder Zedd and Rita never went all out when confronting the Rangers. To have done so would have drained them dry. But now with Zedd's powers augmenting Rita's....
There was also the fact that any transformation magic wrought could be undone by magic. While Kat knew more than she ever had about the arts arcane, there was so much more that she didn't know. However, she had all the time in the world to find out, so it seemed.
Over a century had passed since she had awakened (Rita had never told her exactly how long she had been unconscious, and she had been reluctant to use the viewing globe to find out). Once again, the passage of years seemed to leave no mark on her --at least not physically. However, she had no wish to examine the toll on her weary soul.
Kat abandoned her reflections even as she abandoned her seat. It did her no good to dwell too much on the past, at least for now. She purposefully left her quarters, but for a change, Xereth's library was not her destination but rather Rita's private study. Kat had not been the only one affected by Zedd's powers. Absorbing the excessive energies had changed her so-called mistress as well. Physically, Rita was the same as ever, but the edge she had gained prior to her confrontation with Zedd had been honed to a razor sharpness, and she seemed to be more driven, as if some dark purpose consumed her.
Rita spent hours pouring over the Dammerung Grimoire and the other volumes stored in the castle. She even had Kat dredge up every tome she could find in long forgotten storerooms, Finster's old workshop ... every possible niche had been searched.
And yet, for seeming shrewder, darker, and more malevolent, Rita also seemed more unstable. There had been times when Kat would hear her shouting at someone, only no one was there. Even so, Kat had not been unduly concerned ... until recently.
For almost a century, Rita had been concerned with nothing but her books. Then, suddenly, she was interested in the Earth again. She'd spend hours pouring over maps, graphs and charts --both terrestrial and astronomical. The least little mention of Earth in a text --no matter how small-- commanded the witch's utmost attention. She had even resurrected putty patrollers, sending them on scavenging missions. The surprising thing was that they'd return with more books --volumes on mythology, folklore and witchcraft. Kat could make no sense out of the sorceress' eclectic readings.
If only she could spend more time with the Dammerung Grimoire.... She felt certain that whatever Rita was up to, the plan had been born out of something she had read therein.
However, Rita had become obsessed with the text, and Kat's visits to Xereth's library had been seriously curtailed. In fact, the sorceress was huddled over the leather bound volume even now, which was why Kat was headed for her private study.
Never before had Rita forbidden her access to any of the castle's chambers, until this obsession with Earth had consumed the witch. The obvious reason was that there was something she didn't want Kat to find ... and perhaps confound. Kat had never been certain if Rita was aware of her ability to understand the magical texts; if she was, the witch must not have considered it anything to be bothered with. For the most part, her jailer had left her strictly alone, but at one time, Rita had said she could probably cast the simplest of spells....
Although knowing that the sorceress was busy elsewhere, Kat entered the forbidden chamber cautiously. The room was not unfamiliar to her, having visited it once upon a time. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary for the dungeon-like confines: cobweb draped shelves, dusty books, candles, potions, crystal ball, cauldron, stone table, eerie gargoyle-like decorations.... Then she realized that the black kettle had been repositioned at the end of the heavy slab, and the table itself had been raised at the opposite end, creating a slight tilt. There was a low fire under the iron pot.
Curious, Kat crept forward.
Simmering in the vat was a reddish brew. The stone slab was also smeared with red. Kat stepped back nervously; she had a sickening feeling she knew what the substance was. A sudden clattering made her jump, and she stumbled over something that clutched at her feet: a ceremonial dagger and a white cloth stained crimson.
What else have the putties been bringing her? Kat mused with a trepidacious gulp. What was Rita getting into? Sacrifices? If so, this went way beyond what she knew of the witch; this was darker than anything she was used to with the Rangers' old nemesis. Turning away from the gruesome spectacle, Kat noticed an open book on the reading stand. She was almost afraid of what she might find, but she had to know....
"There you are, Kitty-Kat."
Kat spun around guiltily at Rita's greeting. She hadn't heard the sorceress enter.
"Be careful, Katherine; remember what curiosity did to the cat."
Kat still couldn't find her voice. Rita tossed a golden goblet at her, and she was so stunned she nearly didn't catch it.
"Since you're here, you might as well make yourself useful," Rita ordered. "Fill this with the brew warming in the pot and bring it to the throne room. My guest will undoubtedly be thirsty after his long journey." Then, with a swish of her skirts, she was gone, leaving behind a very perplexed and revolted Katherine.
For a moment, the young woman stood there, immobile. Then she steeled herself and approached the simmering kettle. Her desire to know what was going on outweighed her misgivings, and she reached for the long handled ladle.
* * *
Kat made her way to the throne room slowly, careful not to spill the red liquid on herself. As she drew nigh, she could smell the cloying scent of Rita's favorite incense. She did her best not to inhale; the trance facilitator had a potent hallucinogenic effect on humans. _Fantasia_ and parading pink plaid elephants had nothing on the dreams she'd had after the first time she had caught a whiff of the stuff! She could hear Rita's raspy voice raised in a chant, and the arcane words were easily translated:
Aoa, lord of the Host
Aoa, souls' rest
Aoa, light in the darkness
"Come, beautiful one! I, Rita Repulsa, daughter of Master Vile, Mistress of Evil summon you!"
As Rita concluded her incantation, Kat braced herself for the thunderous arrival of whatever foul apparition the witch had conjured. However, there was no noisome herald, no quaking of the ground, no brimstone stench. For a moment, all was still. Then, white light poured forth from every doorway, window, and crack leading into the main chamber. A wind, as gentle as a summer breeze, swept through the hall, ruffling Kat's trailing hair and skirts. She hurried forward, ducking behind a column for a better view.
"As you have called me, so I have come."
The voice was warm and rich, deep, resonant, wrapping itself about Kat like a silken sheet. She peered around the pillar only to pull quickly back. The light in the chamber was still blinding. Briefly, she had glimpsed a bipedal form standing at the top of the dais with Rita at the foot of the stairs as if she were the supplicant.
"You may call me Malus, my mistress," the velvet voice announced.
"Just remember who's in charge here, bub," Rita sneered. Abruptly, the brilliance disappeared. Kat was still blinking back spots as she took another look. She couldn't see Malus, but Rita had taken her place on the throne.
"You are, of course," Malus responded pleasantly enough. "However, crossing the barrier has left me a little parched. Might I trouble you for a drink?"
"I made sure I had some of your favorite vintage on hand," Rita supplied with equal, if not more sarcastic, courtesy. "Now where is that worthless Kitty-Kat?"
"Perhaps she who skulks behind pillars can tell us."
Kat felt herself shrinking back even as she was drawn forward as if by unseen hands. Malus, now without his blinding nimbus, came towards her. The breath caught in her throat as he approached. She couldn't help but stare; the man' was completely naked and had a body that would have put both Tommy and Jason to shame.
The vision smiled at her as he took the cup from her trembling hands, and Kat's knees felt weak. >From his wavy, golden hair, luminous blue eyes and angelic smile to his cut, bronzed physique, he was utterly gorgeous. There was a magnetic quality to this incredibly handsome being, and Kat was drawn to him, melting under the heat of his warm gaze. However, something within her cried out a warning, and she shook off the spell of Malus' charisma. Rita had summoned him, and he stood there idly sipping the blood she had brought him. Though he resembled one, this was no angel.
"She resists me," Malus noted, seemingly pleasantly surprised, "but she is merely human."
"That's because she's still tainted with Zeddy's power," Rita answered dismissively.
What!? Kat whirled, gaping in complete astonishment at the sorceress. There was something of Zedd still inside her after all this time? The thought made her skin crawl.
"So hands off until I finish draining her dry," Rita warned.
"A pity," Malus murmured, handing Kat the now-empty goblet. She threw it away from her as hard as she could. The fire in the bright blue eyes turned cold as the blond Adonis ran a covetous hand down her arm. When she shrugged it off and looked away, he touched a finger to her chin, and she was powerless to resist as he turned her head back to face him. "While the taste of a pure soul is a rare delicacy, I have become a connoisseur of the bitter-sweet flavor of souls lightly tainted. Yours, my dear, promises to be truly delectable, and I long for the day when I may have a taste."
Kat abruptly pulled away from Malus and fled the chamber, mocking laughter following her every step.
* * *
Though terrified, repulsed and attracted to the demon-in-human-form, Kat could not stay away. >From the mutterings that she had overheard between Malus and Rita, she knew that the two planned something truly horrible for Earth, but she needed more details. However, she had to be cautious. Malus could track her with greater ease than Rita could.
What I wouldn't give to be a cat again, she mused to herself as she tried to make herself more comfortable in the cramped ventilation shaft which opened into Rita's bedroom. The two rarely conferred anywhere else; in fact, the sorceress was already on her way to her chamber to receive Malus' report. Kat just hoped the two weren't consorting more closely than that --at least, not while she was present.
Kat fingered her collar absently, nearly laughing at her silent wish; she never thought she'd ever want to be a feline again! Much to her surprise, the collar felt warm, and before she knew it, the metamorphosizing fires swept through her body. In a matter of seconds, Kat was once again a snow-furred cat.
How'd I do that?
Ultimately, the how and why didn't matter. She was now small enough that she could hide in Rita's room undetected, and she knew the best place to conceal herself: under the bed. From there, she'd be able to hear everything. Blessed with the feline ability to wriggle through the narrowest crack, Kat squeezed through the grille and nimbly leaped to the floor, dashing under the bed just as the sorceress entered the room.
"Malus! Come out, come out wherever you are!" Rita called out. The hair on Kat's back stood on end, and she shrank back from the mist that coiled across the floor in wispy billows and the heavenly light that marked Malus' appearance.
"A rather informal summons, don't you think, my mistress?" the denizen of the netherworld remarked. The sarcasm was not lost on Kat, even if it was on Rita.
"Don't get cute, Malus; as long as I hold your true name, you'll do my bidding," Rita countered sharply.
"As long as you continue to uphold your end of the bargain," Malus reminded her. "My Host and I do not work for nothing. We expect to be paid in blood for our services."
"I know the deal; Xereth spelled it out in his book," Rita snorted, "and don't sweat it. You'll have all the blood you want when I have what I want: Earth. Once I have it, the humans are yours for the slaughtering."
Oh God! Kat gasped silently. Rita was going to loose a horde of demons on the Earth? But why? She had never understood why so many evil beings wanted to conquer the planet. It certainly wasn't for its technology; other civilizations were far more advanced. Was there some sort of natural resource that these creatures coveted?
"Once this pathetic planet is mine, I will have access to a power the likes of which this universe has never seen!" Rita cackled triumphantly.
"What good is controlling the gate without the key to open it?" Malus pursued. "Without the Blood of the Light to unlock the dimensional portal, the Earth is naught but a pretty blue bauble spinning in space."
"You worry about getting me that pretty blue bauble;' I'll worry about the key," the sorceress hissed.
"As you command," the demon replied sardonically. "Is there anything else you wish at the moment, or shall I return to my Host and make ready our plans?"
"Hmm... there is something else you can do for me, you gorgeous hunk of evil," Rita purred.
"Ah yes, of course. It has been a rather long time since your husband's demise," Malus answered and reached for her.
Kat began inching towards the edge of the bed. If Rita and her pet demon were going to get it on, she did not want to stay for the show. From under the hem of the bedspread, Kat saw Rita's gown drop to the floor and heard her gasp of pleasure. Kat shuddered and tried not to think about it. While the two were distracted, she needed to make good her escape. Darting from shadow to shadow, she stealthily made her way towards the bedroom door.
"Well, well, what have we here?"
Before Kat knew what was happening, she felt Malus' icy hand catch her by the collar. She hissed and clawed at him, struggling to break free.
"My, what a spirited little kitty," Malus crooned as he ignored her squirming to scratch her ears.
"You!" Rita seethed, and Kat actually shrank back into the shelter of the crook of Malus' arms. "How did you turn yourself back into a cat?
Rita reached for the collar, and in a matter of moments, Kat regained her human form. Finding herself still cradled in Malus' arms, she quickly extricated herself, finding his touch nauseating. The fiend smiled at her indulgently.
"Couldn't get you to spy for me when I wanted you to, and now you spy on me!"
Kat had never seen anything like the dark gleam that flared in Rita's eyes, and she shivered involuntarily. There was more than mere anger behind that conflagration.
"If you didn't have some of Zedd's powers still in you, I'd have gotten rid of you long ago," Rita growled. She jabbed a wickedly clawed finger at her. "But if you do anything to foul me up this time, powers or not, I'll feed you to Malus!"
"And what a delicious morsel you will be," the demon leered, licking his lips seductively.
"Now, get out!" Rita commanded. "I'm not into orgies."
Kat slowly backed out of the chamber. Once in the hall, she ran until she was safely locked behind her own door.
* * *
There has to be some way to stop those two.
Although Rita was aware of her knowledge, Kat could not let the matter go. Malus had already begun his attacks on Earth. She didn't know what she could do all by herself, but she just couldn't sit by and let them succeed. At least Rita didn't have all the pieces in place. She still hadn't found the Blood of the Light --whatever, or whoever, that was.
Kat returned to studying the Dammerung Grimoire in search of something that could help. If Rita had gotten the idea for her scheme from the volume, then there had to be a way to counter it also within the pages. Fortunately for her (and much to Rita's annoyance), the innocuous looking text could not be removed from the small library. Rita had tried several times to bring it to the safety of her private study. Failing that, she had attempted to bespell the book so that Kat could not access it; however, regardless of the enchantment cast, Kat could still open it.
She had chosen her research time carefully. Malus was on Earth (the thought of which made her blood run cold when she considered what he must be up to), and Rita was busy scrying for her sacrifice. Neither was in a position to care what she was about.
It would have been nice if she had a little better idea of what she was looking for --or if the blasted book had an index! She had already skimmed through a good half of the volume without finding anything referencing Malus or the Blood of the Light. Rubbing her eyes to clear them and brushing her hair out of the way, Kat resumed reading.
... gateways to other dimensions come in various forms. The most common ones are those that are simple tears' in the fabric of the universe: a breach in dimensional wall. Others take the form of a celestial phenomenon, such as a worm hole. But the powers to be gained by controlling these portals is minimal, as it is in no way contained but allowed to bleed out. However, there are gateways that are sealed by the presence of a stellar body....
Kat's eyes lit up. That sounded like what Rita and Malus had discussed the other day! Her flagging spirits rejuvenated, she returned to the passage with renewed interest.
"No! It can't be!"
Kat looked up from the page at Rita's enraged cry. A smile quirked her lips. Sounds like something isn't going right. Good. However, she paid it no mind and turned back to the enlightening text.
"It's not possible!"
What followed the second outburst was more difficult to ignore: a series of small explosions. They weren't the quakes that had rocked the ancient citadel when Zedd had appeared the final time, but there were enough to send books tumbling off the shelves. It reminded Kat of the last time Rita had thrown a temper tantrum. With an exasperated sigh, she closed the grimoire. She'd better go see what had the witch in an uproar before she brought the ceiling down --again. Kat had a vested interest in keeping the castle intact.
By the time she reached the throne room, the chamber was a shambles. Rita, however, was still in the thick of things, ranting and raving, her magic arcing about haphazardly.
"Damn Zordon! Why'd that interdimensional dingledork have to go sticking his nose in my business after all this time?"
Kat felt like cheering. If Zordon was back, maybe she could contact him, and he'd find a way to stop Rita and get herself home!
"I've got news for you, baldy; you whelp Zarrah is no more a match for me than you were!"
Considering that Rita had never managed to defeat the Rangers, Kat took her oath as a favorable endorsement of this Zarrah. She knew that Zordon had had a family that he had gone home to, but he'd never mentioned his wife or his children....
"... and her Power Rangers will fare no better than yours!"
Just then, in the viewing globe, flashed the image of a White Ranger, garbed in armor similar to the uniform Kat recalled oh-so-well, dispatching one of Malus' Host. Her heart soared as she sagged against a nearby column, weak with relief. She wouldn't be fighting this battle alone after all.
* * *
For weeks, Katherine observed the new Rangers battle Malus every chance she could (whenever Rita wasn't screaming at the viewing globe, that is). Like Rita, she was scouting this new team, trying to learn all she could. As far as she could tell, the six's powers were similar to the old Ninja Powers; she had glimpsed the heroes in both armor and in Ninjetti uniforms. This puzzled Kat. She had always felt that the Zeo Powers were superior to the Ninja Powers. She knew the Zeo Crystal hadn't been destroyed when they had been given their Turbo Powers. She had every confidence that it should have survived the destruction of the old Power Chamber. However, Tommy, as well as Rocky and Adam, had always claimed to be more comfortable with the Ninja Powers. Her long-ago leader had said that the Zeo and Turbo powers, even his original White Ranger Powers, had felt like something separate from himself, but the Ninja powers had come from within as much as from without, and that made them stronger somehow. Kat had never felt that way; if they had been so strong, how come they had lost them when their power coins had been destroyed? Although, she had never been comfortable with the Ninja Powers, not like she had been with the Zeo. Perhaps that was because the Crane had been Kim's spirit animal and not her own ... she had never been in tune with
the Ninja Powers as the others had.
Kat had also noted that the new Command Center was not based in the desert outside Angel Grove but in Antarctica, and that the team itself had a more global composition, with a Ranger representing each of the other continents:
White - North America
Red - South America
Blue - Europe
Yellow - Africa
Black - Asia
Pink - Australia
At least there's something still the same --the colors, Kat mused, more than a little disconcerted by all the differences; even the zords were different, thanks to the new variety of spirit animals. Also, this new generation was also older than her own team had been. The three men and three women were all college age or older, and each one of them was a skilled warrior in his or her own right without the powers.
Beyond that which she could glean from observing the viewing globe, Kat knew nothing else about the Rangers --and neither did Rita, much to the sorceress' frustration. Somehow, Zarrah had managed to shield the Rangers' identities from prying eyes, and with the team coming from all corners of the globe, it was much more difficult to sift through the population in search of the personality traits and the unusual behavior patterns which marked one who had to dash off to save the world on the sly. However, Rita was determined to find out who they were, and she seemed particularly interested in the White Ranger.
Kat absently rubbed at her temples; her head still ached from Rita's interrogation the previous day. She'd been bent on learning everything she could about how Tommy had gotten his White Ranger powers. Not that Kat knew much about it; Tommy and the others had spoken of it, but that was only in the abstract: Zordon needed another Ranger to combat Lord Zedd, and he had created the White Ranger powers from the light of goodness. In searching for his new Ranger, he found Tommy to be worthy and had infused him with the powers.
The roar of an explosion drew Kat's attention back to the current battle in the viewing globe. The Megazord had just dispatched the Host's latest abomination. Kat touched the orb, dispelling the image. Malus would return shortly, and Rita would come to whine about their losses and point the finger of blame. There was no sense in hanging around for that. She had barely cleared the hall when a seething Rita arrived, and Kat felt the deceptively gentle wind that heralded the demon's presence. Even as she continued on her way, she could hear their conversation.
"Well, what have you to say for yourself this time?" the sorceress demanded with a sneer. "Those Power Pukes kicked your butt once again."
"True, but at a considerable cost," Malus intoned. "I bring you a gift, mistress."
Intrigued, Kat scurried back to the archway. She arrived in time to see Malus toss the limp figure of the White Ranger at Rita's feet.
"How...?" she gasped in spite of herself. Fortunately, neither conspirator had heard her soft exclamation. Rita's laughter had drowned her out.
"Oh, now this is a pretty present," the witch cackled with fiendish glee. She nudged the inert body with her foot, turning it over. Her toe tapped at the morpher set into his belt buckle. "Why haven't you removed his Morpher and Power Coin? Where's his communicator?"
"As to the latter, they no longer use the wrist device. As for the former, I have been unable to dispossess him of it."
"And why not? All you have to do is ... ow!"
As Rita reached for the device, an electric-like charge jolted her. The shower of sparks reminded Kat of when the Wicked Witch of the West got zapped by the ruby slippers in the "Wizard of Oz."
"When'd they install a bug zapper in these things?" Rita fumed.
"Apparently none but the owner can remove it," Malus answered.
"Where there's a will, there's a way," Rita snorted. "We'll get this away from him later. For now, take him to the Dark Dimension. I don't want his little friends rescuing him too soon. I want to have a talk with our guest when he wakes up, so make him comfy."
Kat shivered at the mention of the Dark Dimension. She had never seen it herself while under Rita's original spell, but the stories Tommy and Jason had told of that place were enough to give anyone nightmares. However, she was going to have to brave that hellhole if she was going to be of any help to the White Ranger.
* * *
It was late. Rita was snoring away, and Malus was wherever he went when the sorceress did not require his services.' Kat stealthily emerged from the dimensional portal --which had been surprisingly easy to summon. Tommy's description of the prison/arena had been vivid and excruciatingly detailed. He had captured it all, from the frigid darkness to the mists curling about the floor. However, she wasn't here to sightsee. She had to find the White Ranger.
Kat wandered through the smoky haze seemingly for forever, but she knew how deceptive time could be in Rita's realm. It could have been minutes or hours ... but she finally located the captive Ranger. Rita had him strung out between two crystalline stalagmites, which pulsed with coruscating energy. Directly behind the pillars was a window-like backdrop with a starburst design etched into it. It appeared to be part of some ceremonial dais ... or altar. Swallowing the lump of dread that had lodged in her throat, Kat crept closer.
It was hard to shake the feeling of deja vu as she studied the familiar armor. It brought back memories of friends and days long gone. She sighed wistfully then shoved those thoughts aside. Her gaze fell on the comatose Ranger's belt buckle/morpher. The Power Coin was gone. Rita and Malus must have found some way to pry it free, but how could the White Ranger still be morphed without the coin? Kat recalled that Kim had been able to access her Ninja Ranger Powers without her coin and had been able to fully morph for brief periods by drawing on the other's energies, but presumably, the White Ranger had no such connections. Perhaps there was something slightly different with the
Ninja Power of this current generation.
Setting her speculations aside, Kat resumed her investigation. Since he was still morphed, she couldn't tell if he was injured or not, but being powered up would help sustain him if he was. Kat then turned her attention to the shackles that held him. It appeared as if a section of the stalagmite had grown over his wrist. Gingerly, she reached out to touch the manacle and could feel the energy surging through it.
"Ow!" she exclaimed softly, drawing her hand back and blowing on the reddened flesh. It was a good thing the White Ranger had gauntlets and gloves between him and the crystal casing. As she stood there contemplating the situation, she felt as if someone were watching her. Kat spun around, expecting to find Rita or Malus behind her, but no one else was there. Chalking it up to nerves, she returned to the problem at hand and suddenly found herself staring into the opaque visor of the White Ranger.
"Oh!" Kat jumped back a step, startled to find the captive awake.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
Defiant even though a prisoner, Kat mused, finding the stance much like one Tommy would have taken. "I'm a prisoner, too."
She could almost taste his skepticism. He had no reason to trust her, and she could think of no way to prove the truth of her words. As she racked her brain for an idea, she absently fingered the collar encircling her throat. While she hadn't done it intentionally, the gesture conveyed that which she wanted to get across to her fellow captive.
The White Ranger nodded.
"Can you get me free?" he asked even as he struggled against his bonds.
Kat shook her head. "Not until I find a way to nullify the power flow. If the crystal is broken, the charge could electrocute both of us, but there's bound to be a counterspell somewhere or a way to dam up the energy long enough to break...."
"Are you a sorceress like Rita?" he queried, suddenly suspicious. Kat smiled sardonically.
"When you've been here as long as I have and the only reading material available are textbooks on magic, you're bound to pick up a thing or two." Then she became serious again. "Even if I can find a way to get you out of the Dark Dimension, we still have to get you off the moon, and getting past Rita and Malus will be tricky," she cautioned, but she was determined that the White Ranger would be free somehow.
* * *
Kat tossed and turned in her bed, too excited to sleep. If Rita didn't settle down soon, she was going to pop! She'd been waiting all day to see the White Ranger again, but she had to wait until Rita was asleep.
Quit fooling around with Malus already! she fumed uncharitably. The sorceress wasn't the only one craving companionship. It had been far too long since she had had anyone else but Rita to talk to --especially someone human.
At last the castle was silent, and the odd calm that marked the demon's departure had passed. Kat threw off her covers and quickly summoned the portal to the dimensional prison. When she arrived in the gloomy chamber, she found the White Ranger sagging weakly in his bonds.
"Oh no!" she gasped and hurried to his side. If he hung like that any longer, he'd pull his arms out of their sockets. "Come on," she instructed as she ducked under his outstretched arms then stood up. "Rest your weight on me."
"W-who...?" he stammered.
"Katherine. Remember? We met last night."
"Rita's other prisoner."
"That's right." It took a little doing, but Kat managed to bear the brunt of the captive Ranger's weight. Lord, but that armor was heavy!
"Thank you," he murmured appreciatively. "Ohh, my head...."
"What did Rita do to you?"
"Asked me a bunch of questions that I didn't want to answer, and when I refused, she went digging for the information anyway."
"It always hurts more when you resist," Kat commiserated. She was curious to know what the witch had been after, but if the White Ranger had fought so hard not to let Rita know, it wasn't likely that he'd share the answers with her.
"Zarrah taught us some techniques for resisting telepathic assaults," he continued, "but nothing worked. Whatever she was using, it wasn't telepathy."
"I always sort of knew magic existed, but I don't think I ever truly believed it was real until Malus appeared."
"I didn't either until the first time I met Rita Repulsa."
"How long have you been her prisoner?"
"A very, very long time," Kat sighed with a rueful smile. "I'm not exactly sure how long it's been because I don't even know what year it is."
Her companion's surprise was obvious as he supplied her with the information. "2269."
Kat blinked in astonishment and did some mental calculations. "Oh my God ... it's been 270 years!"
It was her turn to sag against the man she was supposed to be helping.
"Are you all right?" he asked concernedly.
"I-I knew it had been a long time, but...." Seventy years as a cat, and nearly a hundred since she had awoken ... that meant she'd been in her coma for 100 years! She had surmised that a lot of time had passed without touching her, but to actually know.... She wiped at her eyes as she tried to regain her composure.
"It must be tough knowing that everyone and everything you ever knew are gone."
"I thought I'd gotten over all that...."
"According to Bri, the only way to overcome your pain is to share it, and if you've been here alone with Rita all this time...." the White Ranger suggested delicately.
Kat smiled. She hadn't thought she wanted to talk about her ordeal, but somehow she found herself needing to.
"By the way," she asked before launching into her tale, "is there something I can call you?" she didn't want to ask him is name outright; he probably couldn't tell her anyway if he had taken the same vow she had in becoming a Ranger.
"You can call me Tyler," he replied.
Then, Kat poured out her story; she had barely gotten through the first sentence when Tyler burst out, "You knew the original Rangers?"
She found it odd that he didn't seem to know a thing about who the first Rangers had been. When she had given him her full name, it had meant nothing to him. Hadn't Zarrah told her team the history of the earlier Power Rangers? Even if all the data had been lost when the Power Chamber had been destroyed, there still would have been her father's recollections. However, it was apparent that Zarrah had never said a word. Why? In light of that omission (trusting the daughter had a reason for her silence as the father always had a reason for everything he did), she opted not to tell Tyler that she had been the Pink Zeo Ranger --merely that Rita had tried to use her against the team and that
her later abduction was the witch's revenge for her slipping through her clutches.
"That's some story," Tyler remarked at the conclusion of the tale.
Kat smiled sadly and nodded. It had felt so good to get that out of her system.
"I admire your courage. I don't know if I could have survived all that you have."
"I think you could," she assured him, "otherwise Zarrah would never have selected you to be the White Ranger."
"I suppose so.... I just never really considered myself hero material before. It's funny... when I was growing up, we learned all about the Power Rangers in school --it was a whole unit in our history class-- and my grandmother had all sorts of really old scrapbooks and things. There was stuff in her books that the history texts never mentioned; I always thought that maybe they'd been somebody's diaries. My brother and I would play Power Rangers, and some how, I always wound up being the White Ranger. Now, I am the White Ranger."
"How did you get your powers?" Kat asked, "Or is that something you're not allowed to talk about?"
"Considering that Rita already pried that out of me, I don't see the harm," he murmured sardonically.
"It all started with a dream. In it, there was this falcon, and he wanted me to follow him, so I did. He led me into the desert and on a merry chase through the rocks until I reached this plateau. Once I was there, the falcon vanished, and I woke up to find myself out in the sandy middle of nowhere."
Kat found it ironic that Tyler's dream so closely resembled Tommy's vision quest when the falcon led him to his brother.
"That wasn't even the weirdest part," Tyler went on. "I've spent a lot of time in the desert; I was familiar with the rocks I'd just climbed, but I'd never seen anything up there before. And yet, here were these ruins...."
Even when one knew the Command Center/Power Chamber was there, one had a difficult time seeing it, Kat recalled. One moment it would be there, and the next, one would swear it was a trick of the heat.
"... I'd never seen anything like them," the young man continued excitedly. "It was pretty easy to tell by all the sand and vegetation that whatever the place had been, it had been falling apart for a good hundred years or more. There was scoring on the walls that suggested the place had been blown up. I started looking around ... I'd never seen anything like it in my own day and age, let alone hundreds of years ago. Even though the place was totaled, it was obvious the technology was far more sophisticated than we have now.
"As I was walking around inside, I found myself in a large chamber, and then I saw them. There was this display case with mannequins dressed in Power Ranger uniforms, and I knew I had to be in the Rangers' headquarters. I was just blown away ... I couldn't believe it! I found myself drawn to the White Ranger's costume; I stood there and just stared at it for I don't know how long. Then, I saw this flash of gold. Looking down, I saw something amid the rubble and broken glass --a coin. I picked it up, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in front of this woman with white hair as long as yours who was seated on a shining throne of sorts.
"Her name was Zarrah, and she explained what was about to happen. If I hadn't been familiar with the history of the Rangers, I doubt I'd have believed her or accepted her offer."
"Did Zarrah tell you anything about the original Rangers --stuff that wasn't covered in the history books, like their names or anything?" Kat voiced her nagging question.
"No. Roberto had asked, though, and Zarrah said that when the time was right, our predecessors would make themselves known to us."
How could they? Kat wondered. They've been dead for hundreds of years!
"Do you have any idea what Rita wants with me?" Tyler asked suddenly, interrupting Kat's musings.
She shook her head and blew a strand of hair out of her face. "No. I tried all day to find out, but she was being unusually closed-mouthed." Which was pretty remarkable for Rita!
"She was really interested in how I got my powers," Tyler continued.
And she asked me about Tommy.... What could be the connection between the two other than sharing the powers of the Falcon?
"I wish I could get a hold of the others," Tyler sighed. "They probably don't even know where I am; I bet Bri is driving everyone nuts. She hates not knowing."
"It's too bad Rita took your communicator," Kat remarked, thinking that she could have taken it to her quarters and tried to contact the Rangers. Of course, making them believe her would have been difficult, but....
"Communicator?" the White Ranger queried, obviously puzzled.
"You know, the wrist radio you use to contact the others and tap into the teleportation controls," she explained.
"Ah, the device created by the original Blue Ranger. Erin found the schematics on them in Zarrah's computers." He shook his head. "We can't use them ... too much risk of the signal being intercepted these days. As long as we have our Power Coins, we're just a mind-shout...."
Tyler quickly fell silent, realizing he'd said too much. Apparently, this was something Rita hadn't dragged out of him. At first, Tyler's words hadn't meant much to her, but slowly she began putting the pieces together: mind-shout ... techniques for resisting telepathic assaults....
"Telepathy?" she gasped softly, her hand flying to cover her mouth lest someone else should hear. Mind to mind communication ... incredible! Although, the idea was a little unsettling; she wasn't sure if she would have wanted her friends to be able to read her thoughts, and would she have wanted to read theirs?
* * *
Normally, Kat despised it when Rita wanted her to play servant, but this time, she was willing to make an exception. Her policy of avoidance made it difficult to find a reasonable explanation for why she wanted to be in the throne room while Rita was watching Malus' latest battle; serving her 'mistress' would be the perfect excuse to poke around and keep her ears open. She had to locate Tyler's Power Coin; at the moment, it seemed the best hope of getting him out of the Dark Dimension. Unlike the last time she had had to search for a stolen coin, there would be no inept Rito guarding an all-too conveniently placed chest. Not that she expected to find the coin in the throne room; Rita wouldn't be that careless. At best, she hoped the witch would say something that would give her a clue, and at the same time, she could check on Tyler's teammates and let him know how they were faring.
She said nothing as she placed the goblet on the arm of the throne; Rita was thoroughly engrossed in the battle, and Kat didn't want to draw her attention if possible.
"Come on, you two-bit demon! Squash 'em! Rip 'em to shreds! They're just humans!" Rita ranted, banging her staff on the ground in her fit of temper as the Rangers took on Malus' Host. Kat carefully bit back her own cheer as her successor disrupted the wraith attacking her.
Before she could lose herself in watching the contest, Kat became aware of a low humming sound; she might have dismissed it, had it not sounded familiar somehow. It was like a pulse of energy that resonated deep within her; her eyes went wide as she remembered where she had experienced the sensation before --when she held her Power Coin! The vibrations were so strong that the source had to be close by. Looking around, Kat couldn't believe her eyes. There it was!
Almost completely forgetting that the witch was in the room with her, Kat drifted like a sleepwalker closer to the niche on the far side of the chamber. It was just sitting on a cushion --no spells around it or anything. What was Rita thinking? Kat closed her eyes, feeling a little lightheaded; it was as if the Morphin' Power was calling to her. She reached out for the disk, almost compelled by its siren song....
"Go ahead, naughty Kitty-Kat; touch it," Rita hissed right in Kat's ear, and she gave a startled jump. She had thought Rita was totally engrossed in the action in the viewing globe. To her credit, she didn't cringe before the sorceress' dark glare.
"Trying to help the White Ranger, huh? I thought you might," Rita sneered. "I know you've been sneaking off to see him in the middle of the night."
Kat didn't bother to deny it, but she wondered how....
"You can't use Zeddy's powers without me knowing about it, girl," the witch commented, sensing Kat's questions. "Helping him is a waste of time --as is mooning over him; he's already got a girlfriend."
"I am not mooning over the White Ranger!" Kat insisted with an indignant snort.
"Sure you are, you Pathetic Twit, you just don't know it. It's Tommy all over again. Why else sneak into his room in the middle of the night?"
"After two centuries of having to listen to you all the time, can you blame me for wanting to have someone else to talk to?" Kat challenged.
"Oh, is my little Kitty-Kat baring her claws?" Rita hissed at her then cackled mockingly at Kat's cold stare. "Fine. Whatever you say. You're not in love with this White Ranger. But you still want to help him, eh? Go on; take his coin. I want to see if you can."
Kat hesitated. What was Rita up to? Why would she want her to touch Tyler's coin? She almost refused, but the call of the coin was too irresistible. Defiantly, she snatched up the coin and....
"Aaaaahhhhh!" Kat shrieked, dropping the metal disk and clutching at her burned hand. Her gaze darted wildly from the laughing witch to the now-innocuous coin which moments ago had blazed brilliantly in her grasp.
"You can't do it!" Rita chanted over and over in sing-song fashion, doing what Kat could only classify as a little victory dance.
She looked at her reddened palm, perplexed beyond measure. Why had it done that?
"These aren't your ordinary, run-of-the-mill power coins," Rita said, catching her breath. "Oh no, these are vastly different. These were forged from fragments of some very powerful power talismans, including the Zeo Crystal. You have to be free of all evil taint to wield them --and you're not anymore."
"I thought you told Zedd that I wasn't really evil, that is was all your spell," Kat replied.
"True, and even housing Zedd's power for me wouldn't have corrupted you --had that been all you did, but in deliberately using his powers...."
"But I've never used them for evil!" Kat protested.
"Doesn't matter what your intentions were. You knowingly and of your own free will used his dark magic for your own purposes!"
"Nooo!" Kat gasped, staring at her marked hand even as she shrank back from her maniacally laughing captor and fled the chamber.
* * *
Kat fell back on her bed, exhausted but exultant. She hadn't been back to visit Tyler since her confrontation with Rita the other day. She just could not accept that Zedd's powers had corrupted her so quickly, but the fact that the White Power Coin had burned her was indisputable. However, she refused to believe that motive had no impact on her use of his powers. At any rate, even if using them did taint her further, she really had no choice. She needed them to help Tyler escape, so she had healed her burns and set about figuring out her next move.
Rita claimed to be able to tell when she used Zedd's powers, implying a connection between the two of them. If that was so, then she should be able to tell when Rita was using hers. After testing out her theory, she discovered that she could --for the most part. However, there were some instances when she could not, especially when Rita was in her private study. A closer examination revealed a series of shielding spells surrounding the room, so it was back to Xereth's library to see what she could learn about casting wards.
Her present exultation was due to the fact that she had successfully constructed a shield around her own room. Now, she'd be able to summon the portal to the Dark Dimension without Rita's knowledge and possibly be able to do other things to help Tyler as well. Realistically, Kat knew that Rita could probably bring the barrier down, being the stronger sorceress, but it'd take time and patience, and Kat trusted Rita to have neither when push came to shove. Anxious to put her spellcasting to the test, Kat decided to pay the White Ranger a visit; it had been harder than she had anticipated to stay away for so long.
However, when she emerged from the dimensional doorway, she discovered that Tyler was not alone. Thankfully, her arrival hadn't been noticed, and Kat scurried for cover.
"...time to see if my theory is correct," Rita proclaimed sinisterly, and she reached for the White Ranger's helmet buckles. Try as he might, Tyler couldn't pull away. Rita held his head firmly and forced him to face her. "Let's see what's behind your visor."
For a moment, the only sound in the dungeon was the popping of the clasps then a hiss of air. Kat held her breath as the headgear was removed, and she crammed her fist in her mouth to stifle her gasp of astonishment. Save for the fact that the hair was close-cropped and was more of a caramel shade than mahogany, it could have been Tommy stretched between the stalagmites, chocolate brown eyes flashing angrily and mouth set hard with fierce defiance.
Rita's maniacal cackling erupted, filling the eerily silent chamber.
"What's so funny?" Tyler demanded, and Kat's heart ached with how much like his ancestor he sounded without the helmet filtering his voice.
"You really don't know, do you?" the witch gloated. "Oh, this is rich!"
The White Ranger just glared at her as she all but doubled over with her merriment. Finally regaining control of herself, wiping her eyes and gasping for breath, she continued.
"Well, White Ranger, let's see if I can't enlighten you. You honestly believe that your powers come from a stupid metal disk some interdimensional bimbo gave you, don't you? For your pathetic teammates, that may be true, but not for you. Oh, no ... the White Ranger Powers are your heritage; they're in your blood.
"Ever climb your family tree, Tyler Oliver? I have, and I found it very interesting. Did you know you're related to a Tommy Oliver who lived in Angel Grove almost 300 years ago? Did you know that he was the very first White Ranger?"
Kat watched Tyler's eyes widen at that announcement. Apparently, Tommy and Kim must have taken their secret with them to the grave.
"I'm surprised Zarrah didn't tell you," Rita purred oily, "you should ask her sometime to tell you how her daddy made the white powers for Tommy to replace the Green Ranger powers he stole from me. Made from the light of goodness.... White, the color of purity ... and his precious Kimmie was the original Pink Power Pest. The falcon and the crane ... your ancestors, Tyler. Though never active once they both retired, they passed it down to you. The Power is in your blood --which is why I want it."
Rita's laughter rang out again, and Kat recoiled with horror as she realized what the witch intended to do. Even after the sorceress had departed, her triumphant cackle echoed throughout the chamber. Once she felt it was safe, she crept forward. For a long while, she simply stood there staring at Tyler, who had sagged forward in his bonds. The memories that face conjured up overwhelmed her.
This isn't Tommy, she reminded herself sternly. Not Tommy, merely his many times removed grandson. Still, it was difficult not to superimpose her friend's visage on the young man before her. Seeing Tommy's descendant abruptly brought the weight of her years of captivity crashing down on her shoulders. It was an almost palpable sensation.
"So how long have you been lurking in the shadows," Tyler asked gruffly. His sharp words wrenched Kat out of her reverie.
"You don't need to snap at me," she chastised him.
"I'm sorry; it's just that that witch has me so confused I don't know which way is up anymore."
"Rita is very good at that," Kat said knowingly. "You mean the things she was telling you about your ancestors?"
"For once, she was telling the truth."
"That's right ... you knew the original Rangers."
"More than that, I was one of the Power Rangers --the Pink Zeo Ranger," Kat confessed. "I was on the team with Tommy after Kimberly retired to go to the Pan Globals."
"Then why didn't you tell me?" Tyler challenged accusingly.
"I didn't know you were related to Tommy. Just because you had the falcon as your spirit animal and held the White Powers didn't necessarily mean you were related to him."
"Pretty big coincidence, don'tcha think, when there were no other White Rangers ever?"
Kat had no answer for that tidbit of news.
"What I don't get is why didn't they ever tell anyone in the family; how can you keep something like that a secret from everyone you love?"
"Didn't you promise Zarrah you'd never reveal your identity to anyone?" Kat questioned.
"We all made that same promise to Zarrah's father."
"But if my ancestor was the White Ranger, why didn't he tell me once I accepted the Power Coin?"
"What do you mean? How could Tommy ... he's been dead for centuries."
"According to Zarrah, when a Power Ranger --or former Ranger-- dies, a part of him or her remains in the Morphin' Grid. That's how we have the knowledge to use our powers as soon as we accept our coins: we have our predecessors' knowledge to draw on. I've occasionally touched the last White Ranger, but he's never given me any indication that we were related."
"Considering how busy Malus has kept you, there probably hasn't been a good time for an extended conversation," Kat quipped.
"There you are, Kitty-Kat; I thought I'd find you here!"
Kat whirled, amazed to find Rita standing behind her. She had never even heard her ... or felt the doorway open....
"Come, my apprentice, I have a little job for you."
Kat fairly seethed. She knew what Rita was trying to do --degrade her in Tyler's eyes.
"Apprentice?" she gasped with a harsh laugh, not looking at her companion. "Slave is more like it, thanks to this stupid collar."
For the second time that day, Rita laughed so hard she had tears running down her cheeks, to Kat and Tyler's complete befuddlement.
"Slave collar? Oh, what a riot! All these years you mean to tell me that you thought that was a slave collar! Try flea collar. The only thing that ribbon about your neck does is make you turn into a cat."
"I hate to tell you, Kitty-Kat, but all these years that you've done my bidding, I never forced you to do a thing. All I did was ask, and you served me of your own free will!"
Kat sank to her knees, despair rising in her like a black tidal wave. She never wanted to serve Rita ... never! She couldn't have....
"Don't listen to her, Katherine," Tyler interjected.
"You shut up; no one likes a noisy sacrifice," Rita hissed. Then she sneered down at her long-time captive. "Don't take it too, hard, Kat; you won't have to live with the knowledge much longer."
"What do you mean?" Tyler demanded when Kat didn't respond.
"By using Zedd's powers, she has bonded with the magic. When I finally drain the last of his evil out of her, I'll drain her life force as well. That should remove the taint from you!"
Noooo! Kat screamed inwardly, unaware of Rita's second departure. She knelt on the mist-enshrouded floor, shaking with rage.
"Katherine?" Tyler prompted, his tone laced with concern.
She didn't respond at first, but when she did look up, her gaze was as cold and hard as ice, and she was gripped by a calm like she had never known before. Wrapping her fingers around her collar, she tore the slender band away and flung it to the farthest corner of the cell.
"I don't care what it takes, but we're getting out of here."
* * *
Kat sighed with frustration as she summoned the portal to Tyler's cell. More than ever, she wished she hadn't let Tommy and the others take the lead so much; she wished she were a better tactician, and she wished she had better news for the White Ranger. There was no way she could open a gateway for his teammates without Rita knowing. Opening a doorway to Earth was a difficult processes and would require a great deal of energy; she didn't have the time to master the spell, and it'd be too dangerous to transport the Rangers through an unstable portal. Plus, she didn't have the energy. She'd have to draw it off of Rita, and there was no way the sorceress wouldn't notice that.
As Kat entered the mist-enshrouded prison, she pulled up short. Where was Tyler? The stalagmite frame was empty. Had he broken free? Yet, the crystalline casing wasn't smashed; it appeared melted. As she investigated, Kat heard something go crunch beneath her slipper. Closer inspection revealed shards of gold-black metal. The floor was littered with the fragments ... Tyler's chestplate --it had been shattered! Amid the bits and pieces were scraps of heavy white leather.
Kat was frantic. Where had Rita taken Tyler and why had she destroyed his armor? Staring numbly at the debris, her eye glimpsed a small, wet stain trickling down the dais. Kneeling for a closer look, she could see that it was red....
Oh, God, no!
Blood ... Rita had taken Tyler to sacrifice him to open the dimensional portal the Earth stood guardian over! That realization snapped Kat out of her momentary paralysis. Tyler needed her now! She didn't care if Rita could detect her usage of the dark magic; she had to find the White Ranger before it was too late.
Her spell delivered her to the throne room, and she arrived to find the sorceress standing over an ebony slab of marble ringed with candles of every sort. Strapped spread-eagle to the reflective stone was Tyler. Though he was stripped to the waist, the witch had restored his helmet. Poised above his breast like the Sword of Damocles was Rita's ceremonial dagger. The Mistress of Evil's eyes were closed, and her raspy voice chanted out the summoning of the dark forces. It was the most powerful magic Kat had ever experienced. She could feel the energy rising, penetrating Rita, then bursting outward. Somehow, she could see the darkness eating away at the barrier which contained the power raw and untapped. Their release would obliterate the revolving orb in their path. These forces were neither good nor evil; they simply were, and Rita longed to mold them to her twisted will.
Kat felt as if she were smothering, there was so much magic loosed in the chamber. It clung to her the way humid air would in the height of summer. Yet for all the strength of the power gathered, Rita barely had control of it. Kat knew enough to sense that the witch had bitten off more than she could chew; she was barely hanging on by her fingertips. If Malus had been present, that would have been another matter; with the demon's abilities reinforcing her own, this would have been a simple matter. So why hadn't Rita waited for him?
Then, the pieces fell into place for Kat. Rita didn't need Tyler's blood to unlock the gateway. She needed the Blood of the Light to pay Malus for his assistance!
"He can't have him!" Kat shrieked with fear and rage. She lashed out at Rita, instinctively reaching for the power she never wanted but could command nonetheless. She didn't even bother shaping the spell; she simply hurled the energy at her nemesis, the bolt throwing the sorceress away from the altar. The knife clattered to the floor, and Kat darted forward to kick it as far from Rita's grasp as she could.
"Stupid girl, do you know what you've done!?" Rita screamed. It was the only way she could be heard over the thunderous wailing that suddenly filled the chamber.
The gale-force winds that tore through the throne room sprayed Kat's hair about her in a nebulous cloud as she stared down her would-be mistress.
"I won't let you have him," she replied simply. Kat knew what Rita was driving at; she had disrupted Rita's spell. The witch had lost control, and they were all in danger of the wild magic tearing the palace apart.
"I'm not beaten yet, Kitty-Kat!" Rita vowed, hurling her own blast of arcane energy at the former Ranger. Kat dodged; the murderous jolt only clipped her, sending her sprawling. Already Rita was on her feet, struggling to reach the altar. She pulled a wicked looking pin out of her bodice; it'd work just as well as the knife. "Malus! Get your demonic derriere up here now!"
"No, damn you!" Kat cried out. Instead of magic, this time the young woman launched herself at her opponent, tackling Rita and taking her down. While Rita had been caught unawares, she had surprised Kat by swiping out with her wickedly nailed hands. Her fingernails slashed at Kat's arms. Pain shot up Kat's arm like black fire, but she did not let go. Hissing for all the world like an enraged cat, Rita lashed out again, this time connecting with Kat's cheek. Though it had been centuries, all her friends had ever taught her about defending herself came back, and Kat stuck out herself.
Desperation drove Rita on, and the two were soon wrestling, rolling about the floor, one seeking to kill, the other merely seeking to survive the onslaught.
Above them, the timbre of the howling changed. Malus' Host had arrived. The blood-hungry wraiths streaked about the audience-hall-gone-mad, sensing death. All around them, the castle shook at its foundation. Walls and columns began to crumble.
Kat blocked another of Rita's jabs, but this time the witch managed to drive a knee into her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. Kat had not time to react as her opponent pressed her advantage. Rita had her pinned to the quaking floor, her hands inexorably tightening about Kat's throat.
"I should have done this long ago ... no spells ... no monsters ... I should've just choked the life out of every one of you Rangers myself," the witch gasped triumphantly.
"I'm ... not ... dead ... yet...." Kat wheezed as she tried to keep those icy fingers from strangling her.
"You might as well be for all the good it'll do you," Rita sneered. "So what if the White Ranger lives? You saved his life. Big deal. It won't make him love you. He'll never love you, just as his ancestor never loved you!"
"Sh-shut ... up...." The former Ranger's vision tunneled so that all she saw was the distorted smirk on Rita's face.
"Tommy never loved you," Rita jeered, driving the emotional knife in deeper with her every word. "Face it; you were always second best ... never quite good enough. You weren't good enough for Tommy. You weren't good enough to go to the Pan Globals, and you aren't good enough to stop me."
"SHUT UP!" Kat rasped and somewhere deep within, she found the strength to wrench her body and throw Rita off.
Rita continued to gloat even as she scrambled away from Kat's fury-filled visage. "If you'd been Kimmie, I'd probably be dead now. I bet she could've killed me. You're just too soft and weak and pathetic...."
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Kat raged, the taunts finally snapping her reserve, and she unleashed a furious backhanded blow that sent Rita sprawling. Why wouldn't the bitch just shut up and leave her alone!
To Kat's surprise, her blow knocked the witch into the steps of the dais, and she laid there, dazed. With effort, Kat picked herself up and staggered over to her antagonist. Still griped in a fury that had her seeing black, Kat grabbed a hand full of Rita's dress and pulled the prone sorceress up.
"For 270 years I have listened to your crap, and I. Have. Had. Enough!" she spat as she punctuated her words by shaking the woman in her grasp.
Somehow, something got through the fog in her brain, and Kat realized that Rita hadn't said anything. She hadn't moved.
"Dear Lord, what have I done?" Kat gasped, shivering as if she'd been doused with icy water. Recoiling in horror, she loosed her foe. Rita's body crumpled to the floor limply, her head lolling to one side. She was dead, her neck broken.
Kat was beside herself.
She hadn't meant to kill Rita ... she had only meant to stop her --hadn't she? She stared numbly at her hands, imagining she could see the blood on them ... and the dark taint of Zedd's powers coursing through her. That was the only explanation ... Zedd's powers! She wouldn't --couldn't-- have killed otherwise --could she?
Rita Repulsa was dead.
Katherine Hillard was free at last, wasn't she?
The crash of masonry from a toppled column, snapped the stunned woman out of her reverie. She may have been free of Rita, but she was not out of danger. Rita's magic was still careening out of control, tearing the citadel apart. Then there was the Host ... their frosty ephemeral bodies twined around Kat and then Rita's corpse. If anything their banshee cries grew in volume until Kat thought she'd go deaf --or mad!
Then, the lord of the Host appeared, the only figure of calm amidst the insanity. The beautiful fiend strode over to where Rita's lifeless form draped over the steps of the dais, and he regarded the corpse without expression.
"So, you are dead, my mistress --without fulfilling your end of the bargain."
He stretched his hand over the sprawled body. A red-black cloud rose up from the stiffening limbs. It pooled above Rita in an ever-expanding whirlpool until the deceased had been bled white. Then, Malus summoned the crimson mist. It flowed over his sculpted form like a lover's caress, and his face filled with rapturous delight. The haze began to penetrate every pore, and the demon fairly glowed. Once filled with Rita's lifeblood, Malus nudged the emaciated frame with the tip of his foot. The ancient sorceress' body crumbled to dust which scattered in the arcane winds.
"Come, my brethren!" Malus called forth, and his fellow fiends swirled about him, drinking their share of the spoils from their leader.
Kat turned away, sickened. Nightmares of the witch's demise and the demons' feed would haunt her for years to come. Then, suddenly, she stiffened. She felt Malus' cold blue eyes on her. She shivered as she inexorably turned to face him. When he spoke, she could hear his deep, seductive voice perfectly above the din.
"You share her powers. Are you my mistress now?" he queried.
"God, no!" Kat spat, recoiling. She didn't want to have anything to do with that abomination.
The fiend's face lit up with a beatific smile. To Kat's astonishment and disgust, Malus grabbed her and kissed her passionately. She struggled to liberate herself from his embrace.
"Then I am free!" Malus declared as he released the now-breathless woman who seriously wanted to vomit.
"Free to return to from whatever hell Rita summoned you," she rasped, wiping at her mouth.
Malus laughed malevolently.
"I think not, Katherine," he replied with dangerous civility. "If you wished to send me back, you could have done so had you claimed my services. But in refusing me, you have released me to do as I please."
Kat's eyes widened in horror. What had she done? She hadn't even considered that, and now Malus was loose to.... "W-what are you doing to do?"
"I was thinking of finishing what Rita had me begin. Of course, I have no need for the power that Earth safeguards, but humans do have delicious souls, and all that hot blood...."
"Nooooo!" Kat cried even as she threw herself at the demon in a futile attempt at stopping him. Malus simply laughed as he dissolved into a shower of brilliant light. And where went their master, so followed the Host.
Kat stood in the center of the chaos, still in shock. Around her, Rita's castle continued to
disintegrate. What was she going to do now? Hadn't she done enough?
That low moan snapped her out of her paralysis. Tyler! Everything she had done had been to save his life. She hurried over to the marble altar and began working at his bonds. As long as he made it out alive, the nightmares and the guilt would all be worth it. Her tugging only seemed to make the knots pull tighter; she cast about in desperation and spied the blade she had knocked away from Rita.
"We have to get out of here," Kat shouted above the howl of magic gone wild. She prayed Tyler hadn't see what had transpired with Malus and Rita. By the sounds of it, though, he was just regaining consciousness. She removed his helmet and peered anxiously into his pallid face. With her help, the White Ranger managed to sit up, but when he tried to stand, his legs gave out.
"Need ... Power Coin," he gasped as Kat tried to support his weight.
Kat threw a frantic glance over at the niche where she had last seen the coveted disk. To her great joy, it was still there. Their only hope of getting out lay with the Rangers opening a portal, but to do that, Tyler needed to reestablish his telepathic link with the team. "I see it. Here, get under cover," she instructed, tucking him under the sacrificial table for safety.
Dodging the rain of mortar and stone, Kat dashed to the wall housing the coin. Unlike before, the talisman was encased in a web-like sphere of energy. She examined the spell and swore softly. Undoing the enchantment would be like untangling a skein of yarn, and there was no time. Wielding the ceremonial dagger once again, Kat sliced into the delicate-seeming strands.
She bit back a scream of agony as the white-hot backlash ripped through her. The pain was so intense that it forced her to her knees. Still, she retained the presence of mind to carry out her purpose, and she grabbed the Power Coin.
Kat really hadn't believed Rita when she claimed the White Power Coin was an anathema to her now that she had willingly used the power of darkness; she had thought her earlier burn some sort of trick. However, the pain of the disrupted spell was nothing compared to the searing purity of the white light that exploded through her the moment her fist closed about the medallion.
Images flooded her brain as Kat touched the Morphin' Grid for the first time in nearly three centuries. She almost wept for joy as she instinctively reached out towards the familiar radiance of the Power. But there was more. As Tyler had said, the Rangers of the past were now a part of the Power, and she could sense the presence of her former teammates: Adam, Tanya, Rocky, Aisha and Billy ... Justin ... and Tommy. She could see them, not as spectral figures but as tendrils of energy.
With her mind reeling, Kat stretched out a 'hand' to Tommy, searching for an anchor in this chaotic sea. She touched him, felt his essence, but it was not Tommy alone. Kim was there, too. The two power signatures were so closely intertwined as to almost be one. She also felt all her other old friends, treading through and around one another, flowing together, swirling in a befuddling commingling. For a moment, she thought she felt something more from them all --a welcome. Then, everything went cold and dark. It seemed as if someone had shoved her away from Tommy ... her friends ... the light....
No! she sobbed, fighting desperately to penetrate the shield that had come between her and the Morphin' Grid. No! You can't do this to me! It's not fair! I didn't ask for this to happen to me ... I didn't want this to happen. Please ... don't leave me like this ... please ... Tanya ... Tommy --anybody!-- help me....
When Kat opened her eyes, she blinked back tears of disappointment and resentment. How could her teammates turn their backs on her like that? How could they push her away --even Tommy? She had thought that she was one of them. She had thought they were her friends.
Her broken-hearted reflections were cut short as a massive tremor rocked the castle. Time was running out. She'd have an opportunity later to figure out the whys and wherefores. Disoriented from the sensory overload, Kat staggered back over to Tyler and all but collapsed upon reaching him.
"Your hand!" he gasped as she returned his coin to him. Her palm was an angry red, and the imprint of the falcon had been burned into her flesh.
"The price of the power to help you," she murmured, unaware that she had been branded.
"I'm sorry," Tyler said sincerely, and Kat offered him a tired smile in appreciation of his solicitude.
"Contact your friends," was all she said.
Tyler quickly fitted the coin into his morpher and held it aloft.
"White Ranger Power!"
Kat had the sickening feeling that she had somehow corrupted the coin and it would no longer work.
"There must be too much interference with all this energy running amok," Tyler snorted impatiently. Seeing Kat's wan, crestfallen expression, he added reassuringly, "Don't worry. I know I can get through to Bri."
Tyler seemed to slip into a trance, and Kat tried to remain patient. It was taking too long! Then, her gaze settled on the viewing globe. Though the sphere was cracked, it continued to pick up images from Earth, and she saw the reason for the delay. The Rangers were battling Malus.
"Bri says she'll relay the coordinates to Alpha, and he'll activate the portalcom. But we need to get in the clear," he instructed breathlessly. The strain of reaching across such a distance in his already weakened condition had seriously taxed his ebbing strength.
"What about the balcony?" Kat suggested, helping him to his feet, and the two began their sprint to safety.
Tyler suddenly doubled over, uttering a sharp cry of what sounded like pain-mixed-with-fear.
"Tyler!" Kat gasped, catching him before he could fall.
"My f-fault," he gulped. "I left my link open with Bri ... that was her.... They're taking a real beating from Malus."
"His real name is Aoa, lord of the Host, souls rest, light in the darkness," Kat said quickly. Perhaps Tyler could use the information to stop the fiend. "According to Xereth's notes, Malus must obey whoever holds his true name."
"I'll tell Zarrah. Bri says Alpha can't punch the signal through; something's blocking it."
"Let me see what I can do," Kat recommended, and the ease with which she commanded Zedd's residual magic frightened her. Though it was difficult to concentrate, she managed to examine the spell and release the counteragent. It was not unlike the spells about Rita's private study. "There. Tell Alpha to try again."
Even as she spoke, there was a deafening crack. The two glanced up to see an enormous section of the ceiling crashing towards them.
Kat and Tyler scurried for safety; however, Kat's foot snagged a chunk of rock. She tripped, but as she fell, she shoved the weakened White Ranger clear. Moments later, she was buried in the deluge of rubble.
Remarkably, she hadn't been crushed. She had managed to throw up a shield, which held back the worst of the boulder-sized tiles. However, many of the smaller pieces had trickled through --one clipped her head, almost causing the barrier to lose integrity. Kat fought to remain conscious; her survival depended on it. She began digging her way out, but with every movement, her vision blurred, and shards of pain tore through her skull. She pushed weakly at the rubble pinning her legs. She wished the howling would stop; she couldn't think, and it hurt her ears! All she wanted to do was cover her ears and curl up in a tiny ball to get away from it.
"Stop it!" she sobbed, unable to take much more, but somehow she forced herself to keep scratching and clawing at the stones piled about her. Then, her ears detected a faint humming that for some reason, the angry arcane gale could not drown out. The bass droning seemed to be growing louder. Puzzled, Kat blearily looked up, wiping away the moisture that stung her eyes. She regarded her fingertips distractedly. They were red-smeared.
It was so hard to think ... she had been doing something ... that humming ... it was everywhere.... "Stop confusing me!"
Suddenly, she recalled that she hadn't been alone, but who ... one of her friends ... that had to be it! But where...? She scouted about, panicking when she couldn't find her companion. She prayed he wasn't buried, too. Then, she caught a ripple of color out of the corner of her eye. It seemed to be over by where the deep droning was the loudest. It was so hard to see....
She caught a glimpse of two figures stumbling towards the shimmering lights; the one in pink dragging the one half-dressed in white, his head bowed so all she could see was the top of his darkish hair.
"T-Tommy?" she stammered. That didn't seem right, but it had to be him. She remembered touching him ... feeling the warmth and strength of his presence. It looked so much like him.... She struggled to push herself up, and saw the two step into the tunnel of light. "N-no ... wait...!" she called out weakly, but the roar of the magical storm drowned her out. (or were the words only in her head?) The Pink Ranger was taking Tommy away ... abandoning her.... "No! Don't leave me! Kim ... please .. don't take Tommy away I can't move these rocks by myself.... I need your help!"
The hole collapsed, and the specter of her friends was gone.
"Please...." she pleaded tearfully, but there was no one to hear her entreaty. Kat sank to the floor, sobbing. They couldn't leave her ... not again ... not like when they shut her out of the Morphin' Grid! She no longer cared that Rita's castle was coming down around her ears. Kim had taken Tommy and left her to die.
She wanted to die. She was just so tired ... but as she closed her eyes to surrender to the inevitable, she heard Rita's laughter echoing in her ears.
Toldja ... all Kimmie's fault....
"No! You--you're dead!" Kat screamed in denial. Then she heard another voice calling out to her. It sounded familiar, like one of her friends, but it was so faint....
"Tommy?" she moaned hopefully.
The voice came again, a little stronger this time.
"... magic ... out of control ... d*estroy ... moon ... earth ... doomed...."
The power! She had to stop the magic; she couldn't let Earth be destroyed ... Power Rangers defended the Earth no matter what! Automatically, the old words came to her lips.
"Dak-tor ... Tsu't ... Kavisha ... Ney ...!"