Duty & Honor – Part 12

Within the Fire of Fear

By Jeannine Trevizo

 

 

 

 

They all materialized on a plateau overlooking a wide expanse of grasslands, rolling hills of green as far as the eye could see. In the distance, dark, jutting mountains met with the azure sky. It was simply breathtaking. Surrounding them, tall pillars of rough wood and stone struck up from the dirt. Trees of unidentifiable origin ringed them, and they had the feeling that the area was ancient. A shrill cry of an animal echoed through the air, and they all were enchanted by their surroundings.

 

“Wow, this is…” Ethan breathed as they circled the area they were in, taking in the sight.

 

“Okay, so we’re here. Where are these guys so we can get this over with and get back home?” complained Conner fianlly, attempting to focus them all on the reason they were there, just as Trent pointed out a native bird in a tree to Kira with a smile.

 

As if on cue, the air before them glimmered as if the ground was becoming super heated and shapes began to form within. Slowly the images took shape, revealing three men of indeterminate age standing before them, dressed in robes and hovering above the ground.

 

Tommy and Kim stopped in their tracks, the others falling into line with their older team members. They sized up the beings before them. Like Zordon, they had human features, but seemed composed of energy. Yet they seemed more solid than Zordon, and Tommy wondered if it had something to do with being here, rather than halfway across the dimensions, time and space.

 

“The ranger from Earth have arrived brothers,” spoke one of the men in a melodic, almost other worldly tone.

 

“You’re the priests of Olin?” Tommy asked simply as he felt Kim’s hand catch and hold his.

 

“We are. We have been expecting you.”

 

“That’s great,” expressed Ethan, glancing around to his fellow team mates. Maybe this wouldn’t be so hard…

 

“You are ready to face your task?” asked one of the priests, his robes moving even though there was no wind in the stagnant, humid air.

 

“We are. Zordon informed us that there was a trial…” started Tommy, planning to explain their need.

 

“Which, well, he’s sent us on before, but…” interrupted Kim before she hurriedly closed her mouth and looked to Tommy in apology.

 

At Kim’s words, there was a silence followed by looks between the priests. Their energy swirled around them, as if in their silent discussion, emotions were clashing. They slowly brought their attention back to the rangers, but with obvious concern on their faces.

 

“You are Zordon’s rangers?” asked one finally.

 

“Not all of us. Myself and Kimberly were, before…” Tommy tried to explain, not knowing how that affected anything.

 

“This is unexpected. He did not know.”

 

“We didn’t know he was alive, so I guess we’re even,” replied Kim tersely. “Does it really matter?”

 

“In a way. You have more at stake here… more pain and fear to deal with. The younger members of your team may survive this easier.”

 

“We’ve faced this before,” said Tommy, his mind drifting back to ages past when he’d nearly watched Kim fade out of existence, and she him.

 

“Yes, I’m sure you have,” spoke one of the priests, and Kim and Tommy somehow felt comforted by that simple statement.

 

“So, what do we have to do exactly to get the power?” asked Conner quickly, moving up to Dr. O’s side and taking on some of the responsibility inherent to his red uniform.

 

It had become obvious to the younger members of the team that Dr. O and Kim’s previous ranger existence was working against them instead of for them since the arrival of Xondar. Even now, with Zordon’s return, the heavy burdens of Kim and Dr. O from their years of service were coming back to haunt them, and bringing the others along for the ride.

 

Conner had more than once wondered if he was destined to follow in the black ranger’s footsteps; lured back to the ranger lifestyle long after they all finally retired, and his past sins coming back to haunt others in the future too. 

 

Yet Dr. O and Kim were rangers. They were what being rangers was about. And the danger they all were in wasn’t so much their fault as it was their lot for taking on the responsibility for protecting others, wearing the uniform. And that was why they all were going to get through this, and send Xondar back where he came from.

 

“The trial is required,” stated one of the priests in a stubborn, dull voice.

 

“Can you be any more specific?” Kira asked hopefully.

 

“No,” came the authoritative answer, making Kira blink and take an involuntary step back in surprise.

 

“Okay, that’s harsh…” Trent complained, moving to Kira’s side in a show of support to the yellow ranger.

 

“You misinterpret our answer. There is nothing to tell… for the power to accept you, you must accept your fears,” answered another of the priests in a kinder voice.

 

“What does that mean?” asked Ethan, confused by the whole thing now.

 

“You will find out.”

 

The rangers looked from one another, looking for some kind of sign as to what to do next, what else to ask…  

 

“Where do we go?” asked Tommy finally, ready to begin so they could get it over and done with.

 

“Down the South path. You will know when you have reached your destination.”

 

“And how do we get home?” chimed in Conner suddenly.

 

“When you succeed, you will return here. And then the power will allow you to return,” one of the priests replied.

 

“And if we fail?” Kira questioned nervously.

 

“We can’t think like that guys,” said Kim suddenly, looking to each of them in turn, before catching Tommy’s eyes with hers. “We don’t have an option to fail.”

 

Understanding what Kim meant, the team slowly turned South and headed to a gap in the trees, gravel like stones beneath their feet crunched as they headed along the path, and towards the trial.

 

-x-

 

They had been walking along the barren path, surrounded by nothing but dirt and sand for what seemed hours. There was no shade and it was all they could do to just keep walking. The heat and humidity of this place was starting to get to all of them. Kimberly slowed down a bit, leaving over and taking a few deep breaths. Even with ranger stamina and powers, it was exhausting. Then she felt Tommy’s reassuring hand on her shoulder and she turned slowly to see his smiling face directed at her.

 

“Why is it that we always have to do new power quests?” she asked humorously as she eased back into a standing position.

 

“Just our luck, I guess.”

 

Behind them, they turned to see the rest of the team slowly pacing along. Conner was nearly right behind them, with Kira a few steps back, then Trent, and Ethan father back. The blue ranger had long since stripped off his long sleeved shirt and tied it over his head. Kira was wearing the least, but still seemed sapped by the heat, as all of the rangers did. And the uneven footing didn’t help matters any.

 

“I still don’t get it. Why do we need to do a test? Shouldn’t Zordon just appearing to Xondar be enough to convince him to leave?” Trent suggested as he followed behind the black ranger.

 

“And you’d believe it if Mercer appeared in spirit and told you he was alive?” Ethan threw back tiredly.

 

Trent had to shrug his shoulders at that. His father was still a sore point with him and the others, no matter what he did or said. Still, he knew that in some ways they were right to

 

“Okay, so fine… we have to do the quest thing. But you know, I could have done without this long trek. Couldn’t they have just thrown the whammy on us up on the bluff or whatever?” Conner argued as he stopped by Dr. O and Kim.

 

“Yeah, then there would have been less walking and more emotional torture or whatever they’re planning on us facing,” remarked Kira, watching Conner intently.

 

So intently that she didn’t see the stone in the path that normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but as tired as she was, she felt herself start to fall. Conner watched her and started to race to her aid, but before he could move Trent reached out to catch her. His hands clasped around her waist and levered her up. But he didn’t let her go once she was standing under her own power.

 

As his hands lingered around her waist, Kira stared up at him, stunned. Around them, Kim, Tommy and Ethan all watched what only a few of them had been seeing for months begin to play out in a final confrontation that neither Kira, Conner or Trent would be able to simply ignore.

 

This was evident by Conner’s quick strides over to where Trent and Kira stood, as he took hold of one of Trent’s hands and wrenched it away and off Kira’s waist.

 

“Hey! Hands off buddy!” he nearly yelled, his face covered with a fine sheen of sweat from both anger and the exertion in the increasing heat.

 

“What? Can’t hold onto your girl?” Trent spat back, his normal inclination to back off and pretend nothing was happening long gone with the humidity and time.

 

“What the hell is your problem?” Kira asked Trent, her voice distressed at her friend’s actions and words.

 

“Guys! Enough! This is not the time…” hollered Tommy over the fracas, but to no avail.

 

“Yeah it is Dr. O… I know what he’s been doing since day one. He and Kira didn’t click, and when she and I hooked up, he realized what he missed. And now he’s all about getting her away from me,” Conner nearly yelled, as Trent yanked his arm from his grasp.

 

“Which you have to know isn’t going to happen,” said Kira in a bewildered tone as she watched the two men facing off with one another. “Why are you causing us so much trouble? I thought you cared about my happiness?”

 

“And what if I think he can’t make you happy Kira?” asked Trent caustically, glowering at Conner with a heated stare that seemed degrees hotter than the humidity they’d been sweltering under for the last hour or two.

 

Everyone stood with mouths agape as soon as the words left Trent’s lips, shocked at the sudden turn… Except for Conner, who wasn’t surprised in the least. Breaking from his stance beside Kira, he rushed forward and shoved Trent backwards, staggering the white ranger slightly.

 

“And what do you know of being happy? You got your father killed!” roared Conner, his body falling into fighting stance.

 

“And you’re an egotistical jerk who wouldn’t have looked twice at her if you hadn’t gotten stuck together in the first place,” shot back Trent, racing forward, his fist ahead of him.

 

Conner jumped aside, but quickly turned and landed a punch to Trent’s side. The white ranger staggered slightly, and then threw an upper cut, catching Conner’s cheek. Just as Conner was about to retaliate, Kira jumped between them, sparking the others to break up the fight.

 

“Stop it!” screamed Kira as she shoved Trent back, leaving Conner behind her, hoping that she’d have some help, and fast.

 

“That’s enough, both of you!” snapped Kim, hurrying to Kira’s side to help block the two from each other.

 

Tommy moved swiftly to catch Conner by the arms while Ethan held Trent by the waist, but it wasn’t easy for any of them to catch their breath now, the air had gotten so thick and scorching. The frustration and exhaustion of their quest trek had finally taken their full toll on all of them, and their tempers were beginning to get the best of them all. Somewhere in their overheated brains they all knew that this confrontation would probably have played out without violence had they not been under such strain.

 

And at the same time, Kim and Kira knew that the pressure had been building between Conner and Trent since nearly the first day they’d met. It coming to blows wasn’t a huge shock. But the reason for it still bothered Kira… Kim had told her, but she hadn’t seen it. Trent had been trying to get between her and Conner all this time.

 

“Since this isn’t going to be able to wait until we get back, I’m going to make this crystal clear for you Trent,” said Kira angrily, pointing a finger at him. “I’m with Conner. I love Conner and you can go to hell if you don’t like it!”

 

“But…”

 

“Shut up! I made my choice. And I’m sorry for you that you changed your mind, but it’s my decision, and there’s nothing you can do to change it.”

 

“He isn’t worthy of you!” complained Trent.

 

“Neither are you.”

 

As the angry, hurt and painful words and actions continued to pile on top of each other, everyone was caught up solely in the emotional melodrama before them. While Kira, Conner and Trent were the main participants, the others still felt the emotional impact of being involved with the confrontation over the love triangle that had been brewing for months.

 

And as the anger, guilt and pain hit a sudden high, no one noticed the air change and the landscape alter around them.

 

In an instant, each person unexpectedly found themselves alone, surrounded by cooling mist and fog so deep they couldn’t see anything past two feet around them.

 

Fueled by the heat of Trent and Conner’s confrontation over Kira, they’d been transported to their destination, and now they had to find their own way through the trial before them.

 

And they had not long to wait…

 

-x-

 

Trent spun around in the haze, wondering where everyone was. Then he saw a bright light through the mists. Turning, he nearly stumbled as he saw Anton… his father as he had looked before his death, surrounded by fire and reaching for his son.

 

Then the image changed, and he watched his now dead parents fall under a fall of boulders in a cave-in…

 

But it didn’t stop there. No, now he was being shown things that had never happened… at least not yet.

 

He watched as Kira and the others, even Dr. O and Kim fell before Symax and Xondar’s army. He stood in Reefside, the buildings abandoned and burned out.

 

Everyone was gone.

 

He was utterly and truly alone.

 

And then he fell to the ground with a strangled yell.

 

-x-

 

Kira stood before the screaming audience, guitar in hand and lights surrounding her. She glanced down at the sparkly outfit and grimaced.

 

What the hell, she thought inwardly.

 

She looked to the front row of the concert, looking for Conner, Kim, someone she recognized. Then she let her eyes drift to either side of the stage in a vain effort to locate someone she knew.

 

As she did so, she heard the back up singers start the song, and recognized it for a canned, generic pop song for the masses.

 

And when she put it all together, she realized what had happened… She’d lost control of her career, her life.

 

She’d lost everything that mattered to her… she’d sold out.

 

-x-

 

Conner found himself alone on the path they had all be on just moments before. He walked along, through the mist path, calling out for Kira, Dr. O, Kim… anyone.

 

No one answered.

 

The darkness began to recede and he headed for the light before him. Suddenly he emerged in front of Reefside high. It looked exactly like it had before they’d left on this damn adventure, and he hurried through the halls of the first building, calling for Kira…

 

Then he noticed people staring at him. People who knew him, were his friend. But they stared at him as if he was a stranger.

 

None of them knew who he was.

 

Finally he threw himself into Dr. O’s science class, and found everyone there. They instantly quieted, and he gasped as he saw them visibly shrink from him. Like they didn’t know him. Without thinking, he looked to his wrist and was stunned to see his morpher, his gauntlet was missing.

 

And then he realized why no one recognized him.

 

He wasn’t a power ranger. He wasn’t Kira’s boyfriend. He wasn’t even a soccer star.

 

He was no one.

 

-x-

 

Ethan found himself no longer in the fog and dark, but in the dim light of the command center. He was seated at the chair that Hayley usually sat at, and he glanced up at the view screen above the console.

 

There were a series of complex equations entered into the center screen. And somehow he knew that he had to solve them. And he heard screams through the communication system, cries from the others to hurry with the calculations…that they needed the solution so they could survive.

 

So he focused intently on the numbers and letters, the variables… knowing that he had to hurry, use all his brain power to solve this to help the others.

 

But he couldn’t.

 

It was beyond him. For all his smarts, his knowledge, his brilliance, he couldn’t figure out the problem. What made him special, made him valuable to the team was just gone, and he slammed his fists into the control panel in frustration as the truth of the situation washed over him.

 

He was useless.

 

-x-

 

Kim felt the darkness envelop her, and she cringed under it. She knew in her gut that the test had started, and she was on her own. As she spun around, trying to see through the mist shrouding her vision, she stepped carefully forward, concentrating on the gravel beneath her feet as she pushed herself to move forward… she had to find Tommy.

 

As she carefully picked her way along the path, it grew slowly brighter. Suddenly the path was gone, and before her ran a brilliant blue river, cutting across her path. There was no way across, as she couldn’t even see the other side, and the ends went on for miles.

 

Impulsively, she found herself curious about the river blocking her path and looked down.

 

And she was startled to find her past reflected back at her.

 

She saw herself writing the letter to Tommy from Florida, breaking his heart as she pursued another man who would hurt her in the end. Her meeting with him after Trini’s death, but not telling him the truth of her feelings. Her reluctance to simply quit her coaching job and move to Reefside when he first needed her there. Her arguing with him over the baby and her still being in uniform, leaving her and Tommy aching when she miscarried.

 

It was all her mistakes, she realized with a painful start… the ones that haunted her.

 

And before she could speak to deny them, the images changed again… and she began to see the ones yet to occur. The pain they would cause, and the lives they would cost.

 

The weight of it all landed heavily on her shoulders, and she sunk to the riverbed and fought her tears as she clenched her hands in the sand.

 

-x-

 

“Kim!”

 

Tommy struggled to see through the dense fog surrounding him, realizing that not only was Kim gone, but all the rangers had disappeared. The mist covered everything, obscuring the path as well as his vision. Who knew if anyone could even hear him, let alone locate him in the fog.

 

The only explanation was that the quest had begun in earnest.

 

He stepped carefully forward, trying to remember the direction they had all been headed before the emotional confrontation between Conner and Trent. As he walked, he felt the mists gather closer. The darkness that concealed his way soon was more than just around him, it was wrapping him in its embrace, enveloping him. For a moment he panicked, fearing that his fear of the dark side of himself, of his past embrace of evil that had held him in its grip was what he had to face.

 

Yet as the darkness finally dissipated, he saw something that was much worse.

 

He found himself in the fortress on Mesogog’s island. The alarms were going off, and he looked down to see himself in his armor. And then, he realized where he was, what was happening… this was the raid to get Kim.

 

Running, he headed towards the portal, where everyone had escaped. Instead, he found a sight that curled his toes and made his usually battle-tested cast iron stomach turn.

 

His team was dead.

 

He stared at them, their uniforms covered in grime and blood, their bodies strewn across the floor in odd angles, helmets cracked and armor destroyed.. Fire and smoke curled around them.

 

Conner, Kira, Ethan, Trent… and then

 

He rushed down the hall, knowing that there were others… he had to find the others. Jason, TJ, their teams, his friends…

 

And he found them in a pile of carnage… bodies entangled, both rangers and tyranodrones. He felt his throat fill with bile and his eyes water… his friends… this couldn’t be… this never happened, his mind screamed.

 

They had all survived. They had saved her.

 

As soon as he thought it, he tore down the corridors, his body solidly banging against the steel walls as he screamed her name at the top of his lungs. She had to be alive, she had to…

 

Before he knew it he had reached the doors to Mesogog’s inner sanctum. He barely touched them before they opened, revealing the lab and Mesogog’s private sanctum. 

 

“No!” he nearly screamed, his voice coming out strangled as he fell to the floor, his knees slamming hard into the plating.

 

Kim was mounted on a metal stand before him, hands bound out to her sides, her wedding dress coated red with blood, trickles of it dripping onto the floor still. Her head was lank, drooping to the side and he knew, everything in him knew she was gone.

 

She was dead.

 

He had failed her.

 

Failed them all.

 

And he screamed in anguish at his failure.

 

-x-

 

Above the South trail, from the plateau the priests watched and waited. And as the test continued, it was punctuated by the sound of moans and screams as the fear, pain and guilt consumed the rangers.

 

-x-

 

“Hopefully we’re not too late to hear whatever Tom wanted to share with us. I think he’ll be understanding when he realizes just why I was late,” Hayley said as she opened the stone back door to the command center.

 

Beside her, the person she was speaking to shrugged and followed her inside. As they entered, they both got a shock in the form of the glowing presence; a long thought dead mentor of the original ranger team. And for Zordon, it was another surprise arrival.

 

“Zordon?”

 

“BILLY?”

 

“Okay… why do I have a feeling that things have just gotten a lot more complicated?” asked Hayley with an anxious tone as she moved to sit down… there were only so many surprises she could take, and Billy’s arrival and this were one too many.

 

“LET ME EXPLAIN,” stated Zordon, watching the brilliant, former blue ranger sit beside the red headed woman, taking her hand in his.

 

“Okay Zordon, give it to us,” said Billy, taking a deep breath and bracing for the worst.

 

Billy had no idea that the worst he was thinking of wasn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

 

-End-

 

tbc… Yes, I know, more cliffhangers. I’m calling them transitional chapters. But next chapter will see how the rangers survive and cope with their quest, Billy’s arrival and the final steps to stop Xondar. And no, this is the only chapter this weekend! See you in 1-2 weeks!

 

GO TO CHAPTER 13

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