Disclaimer: Power Rangers belongs to Saban, and Toei owns all of the Sentai shows I make reference to. I don't own any of them or their characters, I'm just borrowings them for this story and I am not making any money off of them (believe me, I'm a starving college student). Once again sorry for the wait but I promise to finish this saga someday. And once again thank you Jill for all your help and support, this story is a lot better because of you. (^-^) Well, I did help, but she made the story!--Jill
Until next time, enjoy the third part of "Origins of the Power" This story features the Go Sei Sentai Dairanger team, and if you don't know anything about them you can read about them at http://www.jillun.com/sentai/dai. Enough talk, ENJOY!
Our story began in "Little Lost Ranger"when the Vyram, enemies of the Jetman, found their way into the world of the Power Rangers. But they were not alone. Blue Swallow had fallen there with them. She was given aid by the Power Rangers, and gave them aid in turn fighting this strange, new batch of enemies. Billy was able to help bring the other Jetman members across, but until the Vyram were sabotaged and sent back to their own world, no one knew anything particularly stranger than usual was going on. The Jetman went home and we thought it was over, until Billy was stolen.
In When Dinosaurs Roamed the Earth, Billy found himself in a world where a strange team wore the first Power Ranger uniforms. Assigned a mission by Clotho, who sets the length of our lives, to learn about the Sentai worlds and save his world's future, he met the Zyuranger, and was allowed to meet himself from a past life. He exchanged information with them, and then was sent on to the next-born Sentai world. This is the story of his adventure there, in a world where one must find...
The Ki to Your Inner Power
By: Kamen Ranger
The creatures attacking him were dressed in black, with white masks winging their faces in V-shapes. They seemed to have no eyes, and red lips were painted on the masks. Weirdly, they had white collars like on a tuxedo and wore red bow-ties. "This is going to be a long day," thought Billy, as he tried both to evade them and protect the young woman he had only just met. Their movement was fluid, not at all like the uncontrolled attacks of the putties. Not even like Bandora's vicious golems, from a world away from here.
Rin Tenpuusei did not need his protection. She tried to keep the Kottopotero off of the strange young man who had just fallen out of the sky. The strangest things always seemed to happen just to her. She knew he was not an enemy, nothing in her visions or instincts clamored it. But who was he, and what would he do? She could not worry about that now, she had to make sure he was safe from the Gohma. There were too many Kottopotero for her to keep them all away from him, and he was struggling against those who got through. While she could see he knew how to fight, she could also see it did not come naturally to him. His blows were never quite final enough, as though he was reluctant to hurt his enemy. There was a certain lack of passion in his struggle. The kind of passion you had to have to fight the Gohma. The kind of passion Doushi Kaku had taught them to feel, by showing them what would happen if they did not defeat the Gohma. He must by nature be a very gentle person, she thought. Seeing he was in trouble she quickly pushed two of the Kottopotero away and drew her hands back to collect her ki energy high enough to send a shimmering whirlwind blast at the ones attacking the stranger. There came the familiar feeling of power condensing, thrilling into her hands and singing away with purpose.
To Billy's surprise, the three or four beings that were beginning to wear him down were knocked a good twenty feet away from him in an electric, pink whirlwind that came from his companion's hands. He looked up at the girl, who stood between them protectively and turned a concerned gaze on him.
"Are you all right?" she asked, shifting her stance in order to keep an eye on the strange putties that were assembling to attack again.
Whatever it was she had done, had come from her, without visible sign of a tool. What was it, psychokinesis? "Whoa!" gasped Billy.
Seeing the Westerner was all right, Rin turned her full attention on the Kottopotero and realized there were far too many of them to face at this level. And the rest of the team were too far away, all at their various jobs. The disadvantages of being a college student.... No choice, I can't let anything happen to this man. She did not understand why he was so important, but she still would not leave a stranger exposed to the Gohma. "Kiryoku Tenshin, Aura Changer!" she shouted as she touched her wrist, summoning into solidity the Gyazar Bar on her right wrist, to insert it in the slot of the Aura Spradar that appeared at command on her left wrist. As always, at the spark of her will the coding her Great-Uncle had put into those bracelets unraveled to armor her for battle.
Billy looked up in shock at the sight before him. Of course she was a Ranger. However, he had never seen the design of her costume. It was mostly pink, of course, with gold trim along the edges of the white cuffs on her wrists and boots. She wore a white tunic with a badge whose design looked on the right half like a stylized D. The left half, it hit him suddenly, had starred bars of five colors. Green, blue, red, yellow and pink! But wait... did that mean there was no Black Ranger? Her helmet reminded him faintly of the Jetman helmets. There was something birdlike in the shape of the golden trim. "Houou Ranger, Tenpuusei Rin!" she cried out as she started to take out the putty-things one by one.
Even as Rin and Billy were fighting off the Kottopotero three figures stood among the trees, watching them in much the way one might watch a drama unfold; Critically, with a hint of boredom. All three wore black leather.
The tallest of the trio had wild eyes that watched the battle hungrily. Metal studs and leather lacing held his clothing tight to his thin, muscular form. He seemed to be wearing a brown, leather breechcloth to protect his modesty below. His white gloves ended in golden claws, his leather cap vaguely resembled an old pilot's cap, except without the goggles. He was very powerful, and so very dangerous, but he was not terribly bright. His name was Zaidosu.
One of the others was a woman, who seemed bemused by the battle. Her black leather had zippers rather than studs and gaped at her chest to reveal the purple body-suit worn underneath. She too was slim and muscular. Her cap too faintly resembled a pilot's, except for the blood red gem that hung centered above her eyes. There was a hint of purple eyeshadow around her black eyes. She was a woman of extraordinary intelligence and one thing she knew very well was how to turn someone's vanity against them. Her name was Gara.
The third man, seeming short next to the other man, looked as though he had a million things other than this battle he would rather be watching, but he was here because he had to be. There was something almost Napoleonic about his body language. His black leather was accented by buckles, eyes, and a ring held firmly over his left eye only enhanced the bored curl of his lip. His tunic, revealed through the leather, was shining blue. His white gloves ended in blue claws. He was handsome in a forbidding way, and he was very, very frustrated. Right then he was simply bored. His name was Shaddam.
The pale-haired man fighting half-competently against the Kottopotero was new. Shaddam asked absently, "Who is the human?"
Gara shrugged slightly. "We don't know. The Kottopotero said he fell from the sky."
Shaddam blinked, surprised in spite of himself. "Out of thin air?" He studied the battle and noted the Houou Ranger fiercely protecting the man. Normally the girl would have sent a civilian running from the scene. It could mean that she was afraid to lose track of him if she did so, but why? "He is important somehow. Or at least Houou Ranger thinks he is." Shaddam took a good look at the young man. A Westerner, with that annoying, pale pink skin they had. Light-colored hair like dried rice stalks. Those weird eyes that always annoyed Shaddam were too far away to really see. Something, though. There was something. From the sky.... "Was there anything else? I need to know even the smallest detail."
Zaidosu took a moment to think, and grunted as he remembered. "The Kottopotero said that a white hole opened in the sky and he came through in a bright white light. That's all we know for sure."
Shaddam turned to Zaidosu sharply. "What did you say? He came through a white hole surrounded by a white light?"
Confused, Zaidosu looked at Gara, then at Shaddam. "If what the Kottopotero said is true, yes."
Shaddam put a hand to his face and seemed lost in thought for a few moments. Gara looked at him with interest. "Do you know something? Does he matter?"
Still deep in thought, he turned away from them. His blood sped up from its normal, bored crawl. Could it be? After all this time has he come at last? This could be trouble for me, but I might be able to turn it to my advantage. If the stories are true, but I must know for sure. Decided, Shaddam faced his two companions. "Leave them be, we must return. There are legends to research."
Gara blinked at him in surprise. "You're letting them go? Why, we can easily take out one Dairanger, and her friend if necessary."
Shaddam glanced at the struggle and gave a slight huff of contempt. The Kottopotero alone were a nuisance to a Dairanger, little else. "If that boy is who I think he is, then we must make preparations... for him to join us."
Zaidosu, too, looked at the battle. The boy in question was not much of a fighter and he seemed to have very little to offer the Gohma. He was not even as good as the Dairanger were when they had first begun battling. Shaddam clearly knew something he was not telling them, which was unusual. And he wanted to turn this stranger into a Gohma.... "What makes him so important, and why don't we just grab him now?" Zaidosu asked hopefully. Now, with only one little Houou Ranger to protect him.
Shaddam answered simply, "If we take him now, he'll never reach his full potential. I'll explain everything when we get back. Now, let's go and let them think they were able to get away from us. I don't want them to suspect anything." Without another word he teleported away. Both Gara and Zaidosu hated leaving a battle that could go so easily in their favor, but when Shaddam was on a roll it was best to keep up and enjoy the fireworks. They followed him.
* * *
Rin and Billy were exhausted by the time they made it safely to her apartment. Tired as they were, Rin was still troubled by the fact that the Kottopotero had broken off the attack without quite the usual amount of fighting. It was almost as though they were being tested. It rang all wrong.
After a brief altercation at the door, when the Westerner had stepped onto her carpet without removing his shoes, Rin managed to explain why she was so upset. The man's shoes were now neatly in the entrance hall where they should be, and he was wearing a pair of guest slippers from the selection she kept for when the boys came over. She had brought him a cup of juice and now could ask some of the thousand questions she had. To begin with, most importantly, "Who are you?"
It was also a chance to really look at his face, to get an estimate of his character from his serious, gentle eyes. He was handsome in that exotic way a true foreigner was, rather than just a little off-looking like Japanese were. His voice was gentle when he answered her question, with a troubled look that seemed like he always wore it. "My name is Billy Cranston."
She forced herself to address the important issues. "Why did you fall out of the sky? It looked like a white hole had opened up and you just fell out."
There was something odd about the way he heard her words. It was as though his translator was not quite certain of their meaning, and yet it did not alarm him. He knew she was a Ranger like he had been. In the wide beauty of her face, the warm blackness of her hair, was a protector of humanity and of Earth. After all, finding the Rangers of the Sentai worlds was his mission and except for the fact that they were attacked, he felt lucky to have found one so quickly. He cleared his throat and met her eyes. "It's a long story, but the truth is that I come from another dimension."
Her frown made him think his translator was probably giving her the same trouble with his words that he was having with some of hers. Perhaps the Japanese spoken in this Sentai world was different than that spoken on his own? He tried to clarify, "You see, in my home dimension I was a warrior called the Blue Ranger, and I protected my planet with my fellow Power Rangers for about three years."
Rin called on all her knowledge of Japanese and the way English words sounded in Japanese. She was sure she understood him correctly. To be certain she asked, "You are a Power Ranger like I am a Dairanger?"
At that he looked confused. "Dairanger?"
His Japanese was so good, she was sure he must think she was a bit simple. She tried anyway. "The Gosei Sentai Dairanger. We fight against the Gohma who want to take over the world. Have you come here to fight them?"
He flushed slightly. "No, my mission it not to fight but to learn all about your world and the Rangers that protect it. Besides, I am no longer a Ranger."
She was sure she understood him. He looked so sad. How could he no longer be a Ranger? How could one stop being what one was? "What happened?" she asked, touching his hand sympathetically.
"It was taken and destroyed, so I no longer fight with my fellow Rangers, but I do help them out as a mentor."
She groped for a moment. What could 'it' be? Perhaps some tool that allowed him to change? Like her Aura Changer, probably. She nodded. "I see, but you still haven't told me how you got here."
Billy sighed and smiled weakly. "I think I'd better start from the beginning."
* * *
After Billy had told Rin all she wanted to know, she sat back, amazed. "You actually met your own past life, and you are on a quest to save your world?"
"Putting it simply, yes."
Talking to him for a while, she found he was easier to understand now that she was getting accustomed to how he phrased things. "Just what is it you have to save your world from?"
Billy stared off blankly into the air for a moment before answering, "I really don't know. Clotho expelled me before I could find out. All she said was that in order to save my world from total destruction I must learn about the worlds of Sentai of our past, present and future. As to what I am to save it from, I'm afraid I'm pretty much on my own."
"It must be hard on you." She looked at him with warm sympathy.
Billy felt a blush rising in his cheeks and lowered his gaze. "I've done all right so far, but most of the time I have no idea if I'm really succeeding in my quest." The young woman smiled slightly as if she understood exactly how he felt, and looked away. Billy realized suddenly that he had no idea who she was. His cheeks hot, he asked, "What's your name?"
She looked up, surprised and a little embarrassed that he had just told her nearly his whole life story and she had forgotten to tell him who she was. "I'm Rin Tenpuusei, and I am the Houou Ranger."
"Houou Ranger?" And here I thought not having the translator translate proper names was a clever idea, he thought, half-amused.
She smiled warmly at him. "Don't you know what a Houou is?" He shook his head and she grinned outright. "It's a legendary bird that burns to death and raises again from it's own ashes."
"Oh, you mean a Phoenix!" Of course!
She tilted her head curiously. "Is that how they say it in your language?"
"Yes, that's the English word for it."
"It's a good thing that you can speak Japanese so well, I don't know a word of English and learning Japanese was hard enough." When he looked startled, she found herself blushing.
That explained a great deal to Billy. "You mean Japanese isn't your native language?" She certainly looked Japanese.
Again, almost as though hearing his thoughts, she shook her head. "No, I'm Chinese, and I've only been in Japan for about half a year. I came over to Japan to go to school, and because I was needed by my Uncle Kaku to become a Dairanger."
Anxious to get on with his mission, he asked her urgently, "Speaking of which, will you tell me a little bit about the Dairangers and your world?"
"Of course, you see...." She paused as if she just remembered something important. "Ai ya! I can't believe I forgot to call Kaku to tell him about what happened! I'll be right back." She stepped across the room to call the others and tell them about Billy.
He could hear her voice, low and excited, as she spoke, but suddenly he was too tired to listen to the words. Her couch was comfortable and he sat back, sinking into it. One heck of a long day. Well, he was not sure if it had been a full day or not, it might have even been longer. But after about a full day in his world, when Ako and the Jet man had shown up, and almost another full day in the world of the Zyu Rangers and at least half a day here just talking to Rin alone he was desperately tired. "I can't remember when I had so much as a nap." He was tilting, felt himself sliding down the rest of the way onto the couch. He hoped Rin would not mind. "Just ten minutes, then I'll have to get back to my quest..." he muttered as he drifted off.
Rin turned to tell him, "Billy, Uncle Kaku said to -- " She almost laughed at the sight of the tall young man, clearly fast asleep. She went to the closet for a spare blanket and covered him with it tenderly. "He said to wait here for the time being," she said softly, before she went to finish a report for school.
She had told her uncle everything she could, and when she mentioned the part about Billy coming through a white hole in the sky she thought she felt, in her own aura, a pulse of shock from him. He was always so calm, she knew something extraordinary was going on. He asked her to keep Billy at her apartment until he was able to do some research on an old legend involving another Ranger. She shook her head. We still don't even know who the Kiba Ranger is, and now here is another of us. Oh well, at least I know who Billy is, unlike Kiba. She put these thoughts out of her head for now and tried to concentrate on her homework. The peace and quiet never lasted long.
* * *
School was well out. A boy, perhaps ten years old, tore through the streets on his skateboard. His name was Kou Koushinsei. He wore his cap with the rim tilted up, the words on the brim were "Histor Sigma KB." He had his favorite Bombers long-shorts on, his favorite blue jacket with the yellow trim. He was anxious to get home to the companionship of his new sister. Well, she was not really his sister, but she was beautiful, and kind. Someday, since she was not his sister, he would marry her! Only he wished it were not so far from his school to their mansion. He hoped she would go to the park with him. They could have snacks together and he would tell her all about his day, she would smile and praise him. He even would not mind so much (he tried to tell himself) if the men were there. They were usually pretty nice to him. He scraped to a stop in front of the apartment building and hurried in, slamming through the door with his board in his arms, slipping out of his shoes and up onto the carpet. "Rin-oneechan, I'm home!!!" he shouted happily. His happy mood quickly turned to surprise when he saw a foreign man on the couch, fast asleep. He opened his mouth to question loudly, ready to leap on the stranger.
Rin wheeled around at her desk and put a finger to her lips. "Keep it down, he's asleep." She glanced at Billy, who had not moved a bit except for the steady motion of his breathing. Reassured, she relaxed.
Kou stared from her to the unwelcome stranger, then back. Though he did keep his voice low, he was too stunned to be polite. "Who is that man, and why is he sleeping on our sofa?"
She raised her brows at him sternly. "My sofa. This is Billy, and he's lost. We met earlier today and spent the whole day together."
Kou looked at her in shock. You spent the whole day together? Doing what?
Rin did not notice Kou's frozen surprise. She explained, "After a very busy day, we were both really tired and he fell asleep on the couch." Kou wanted to run away and cry. Rin had found a lover and would no longer have any time for him, and he did not trust the man on the couch. He would not leave her alone with that man, no. He would drive the interloper from their home. Or at least make sure the man did not get in Rin's bed. He swallowed and nodded when she said, "Please keep it down, Kou, he's got big plans for tomorrow."
Big plans, huh? We'll see.He did keep quiet as she requested and found some relief when she helped him with his homework later, then allowed him to help her make dinner. He was on his best behavior, not wanting her to get angry with him and turn to the sleeping man. He took the ladder to his room calmly and pretended to go to sleep. When Rin went into her bedroom, Kou quietly returned to the living room. He carefully shifted a chair so that it was between Rin's door and the couch and settled in it. He had a job to do. He would guard Rin's virtue to his last breath. No foreign man with money, looks or whatever, would steal Kou's woman.
* * *
At first he walked in darkness, then there was a dim light in the mist swirling at his feet. He stumbled on something and the area around him brightened. It took a moment before he recognized where he was. The Lapseless Room, only now it was a shambles. The pillars were fallen and lay broken on the floor. The door at the top of the cracked steps hung in pieces. The violet curtains were in shreds. He gasped and looked wildly about. What could have happened here? Where were Brai and Clotho? He could only hope they were all right. Clotho was a goddess and probably safe, but Brai's life was fading away and Billy was not certain how much time he had left. Taking a deep breath, he called, "Clotho! Brai! Is anybody here? Please answer me to let me know you're..." but he saw the podium that had once held Brai's candle of life knocked over, and the candle holder lay beside it. He dashed to it, cold dread in his heart. A tiny black stump in the midst of a pool of wax. That meant.... He fell to his knees in shock. "Brai..." he whispered to the air. "How could this have happened? You were a hero. You should have had another chance!" He struggled against the startling pressure in his chest, which seemed to be driving tears to his eyes.
Then came a strange, distant sound. He raised his head in surprise. A flute, somewhere, playing an eerie, beautiful melody. He searched for the sound as it slowly increased in strength. And then, before his eyes, Brai appeared on the stairs. He was playing the Dragon Dagger, looking content, his eyes closed. But he was not... he did not seem completely there. His clothing was blurred, the green faded to a pale white. Billy could not wait for a break in the music. He said with relief, "Brai, you're not dead."
Brai stopped playing and opened his eyes to look at Billy. A smile flicked at the edge of his lips, but his eyes danced with suppressed mirth. "In a manner of speaking, no."
Confused, Billy shook his head and waved around. "What happened here? What happened to you?"
Brai shrugged slightly. "Bandora found the cave."
He seemed so indifferent about it, and yet Billy could feel his own heart quaking. "What did you do?"
"I fought, but it was too late. I fell to Earth with only four hours to live."
Billy felt his stomach twist. There were images crowding behind his eyes. Dragon Caesar fighting Dragon Caesar? A giant, white, green-eyed cyclops that changed shapes. Brai falling from the sky to land scorched and bruised. His voice saying weakly, "Bandora's destroyed the room. I can't go back. I'll be dead in just four hours." Billy shook his head to clear it. "But didn't they try to save you? What did you do?"
Brai looked thoughtful, resting the Dragon Dagger on his knee. "I'd had these dreams, again and again. I dreamed I was walking on a bridge in the misty night. I bent to stare at my reflection in the water, and then I heard someone coming. A man running, pulling a rickshaw, a lantern held in front of him but I could not see his face. I stood, and he stopped beside me and turned around. In a deep, echoing voice he invited me to ride. I asked who he was, he said he was the driver, and helped me in, covering my legs with a red blanket. I held the strut of the rickshaw and wondered as he took me towards the end of the bridge. It was sweet, and comforting, the breeze in my face. I asked him where we were going, and he said to the "Land of the Dead" which filled me with fear. 'Stop, please! I'm not dead yet!' I told him, and he raced on, laughing. But then... in one dream I saw a boy, waiting at the next stop."
The images seemed to be knocking at the back of Billy's eyes, demanding attention. Brai racing away from the others. Billy closed his eyes to clear them and said in the darkness, "Who was the boy?"
Brai chuckled. "Kota. His name was Kota. And he would be the person to die immediately after me. And I forgot my own fear in my sympathy for him. So when I found myself trapped, I went looking for him."
Billy opened his eyes again, surprised. "But -- " you should have been concerned about yourself. He shook off that thought. There was a child to be concerned about. Of course Brai had searched for him. "Did you find him?"
"Oh, yes." A warm smile lit Brai's face. "His favorite of their world's protectors was my Dragon Caesar, if you can imagine. I stayed with him, hoping to protect him when the threat to his life came. And of course Bandora sent her monster to attack again, and I had to leave to help the others fight, for there were only Geki, Mei and Boi to face the enemy."
Startled, Billy gasped, "But where were Goushi and... and Dan?"
Brai looked surprised. "Don't you remember? No, I suppose you don't. They went on a quest to find the Water of Life. One sip would restore a dying person to his full life."
"Good lord! So they did save you!"
Brai grinned at him and shook his head. "No. The Water of Life could not help me because I was already dead."
The crushing disappointment made it hard to breathe and Billy fought past the tightness in his chest. "It was a wasted effort, then."
"No, they used it to save Kota's life. And that was really all that mattered."
The images fought their way to Billy's attention again, with a swirl of furious emotion. Billy rubbed at the spot between his brows as his gut tightened and a wail seemed to run through his mind. "I should have saved you!"
"Dan, it was not your fault." A firm hand gripped his shoulder and he dropped his hand to find Brai standing, meeting his eyes with a steady, dark gaze. "There was nothing you could have done differently, nothing."
Billy's knees shook and he swallowed. "I'm not Dan."
"No, you are not. But he is you." Brai released Billy's shoulder but held his eyes. "Everything that Dan was is in you. That is why you remember his future. Most people only remember one lifetime, but you have to deal with two, now, and that is troublesome. Between Dan's memories and yours, it's rather much for you. You'll be all right."
"But you had so little time...."
"I had thirty-one years, Billy. I wasted most of them, then was given a second chance to set things right. I didn't deserve that chance and wasted most of it, too. But in the end I helped to save the world, fighting at my brother's side." Brai smiled slightly. His eyes dancing with laughter, he added, "My life as Brai is over but, like you, I now live another life, in another world."
"What do you mean?"
"I have been reborn this world. I'm sure you'll find me, sooner or later."
Billy groped with this and memories of his own world assisted him. Tommy had gone from Green to... "The White Ranger from my world! After Tommy lost his powers as the Green Ranger he became the White Ranger. Is that who you are, here?"
Brai's eyes danced and he grinned approvingly. "That's right, but I can't just tell you who I am. You'll have to find me yourself."
"You've been hanging around Clotho too much."
At that Brai laughed outright. He shook his head. "Of course, I'm not going to remember anything about you, or my life as Brai."
"Nothing ever comes easy on this quest," Billy sighed.
"Or in life. Farewell, Wandering Ranger."
"Brai, wait!" Billy called. But Brai was already gone, vanished with the room into the swirling, cold mist. The weight on Billy's chest seemed to become heavier as he struggled through the darkness.
* * *
Billy slowly opened his eyes, waiting for the images around him to adjust. The weight on his chest was large, heavy, and warm. When his vision cleared, he found there was a boy, about ten years old, seated quite comfortably on his chest and staring down at him belligerently. Before he could say anything, the boy asked, "Who's Brai?"
"Say what?" Billy asked, wondering just how this boy would know that name.
"You kept calling him in your sleep."
"I did?" This was new, he never had heard that he talked in his sleep before. This adventure was just full of surprises. Such as talking to Brai in his sleep. The details of his vision were already fading and fuzzy. But somewhere in this world he would find the person who Brai became, before he became Tommy. Did that mean there was someone here who Dan had been? Would Billy wind up carrying in his near-consciousness yet another lifetime of memories?
The boy on his chest was suffering no such thoughtful preoccupation. With evidence of a one-track mind he said insistently, "Ya, who is he?"
"Just a friend." Billy drew a breath in against the boy's weight. "Who might you be and how long have you been watching me sleep?" He groped for some polite way to add, and would you get off my chest?
"I'm Kou, I live with Rin, and since last night," the boy answered. And he glared down at Billy as if to say he had no intention of moving and the bigger man would either have to throw him off or just suffer. Billy suspected that Kou might be exaggerating a little bit about watching him through the whole night.
"Would you mind getting off of me so I can get up?" he said in the nicest tones he could muster as Kou just stared back at him.
Kou's eyes narrowed and his face darkened even more, but he only asked, "Why, what are you going to do to Rin?"
Billy thought this was a very odd question coming from a little boy. "I'm not going to do anything to her, I just met her yesterday."
"Really, she said you had a pretty exciting day yesterday," Kou said accusingly.
Who is this kid and what is he talking about? Billy thought to himself with bemused exasperation.
At that moment, Rin stepped out of the kitchen. "Breakfast is ready!" she called out. She took one look at them and said sternly, "Kou! Get off of him right now!" Kou's lips thinned and his gaze became even more indignant but he obeyed, placing himself firmly between the two. Rin touched his shoulder and looked over him down at her guest. "Sorry, he's just a little over-protective of me."
Billy got up and stretched carefully a bit before following her into the kitchen, Kou on his heels. His mouth tasted bad and he hoped Rin would have a guest toothbrush. There were other bodily functions to be attended to, but that was not urgent. "Is he your little brother or something?" he asked as he sat down at the table.
"Yes!" came a stern reply from Kou.
Rin just sighed. "He's not really my little brother, but I am taking care of him like I was his older sister." All of a sudden her communicator went off. "Excuse me for a moment," she said, moving out into the living room. She had no time to worry about her little self-declared protector. Kou was not bad, but he could be very annoying. He did have his moments, though. When she opened the channel, it was with relief and delight that she heard her uncle's voice. She spoke formally, suspecting the boys might be around. "Doushi Kaku, what are we going to do about Billy? I can't keep him here forever."
His calm, soothing voice answered her. "I'm sending the others to help you escort him to our base, please meet them a few blocks from your apartment."
He was concerned, she realized. She had known him all her life and could easily tell his moods. She asked gently, "But why not just have them meet me here?"
"There are a few things I don't want Billy or that boy you live with to know about just yet."
Interesting, she thought to herself. "Very well." And with that she broke communication, still puzzled by her uncle's behavior. She stole a glance through the door at the young stranger and wondered to herself, Why is this man so important and why does he keep giving me this strange feeling every time I look at him?
Rin gathered up her coat and ran for the door. As she slipped her shoes on she called back over her shoulder, "Kou, don't forget to get ready for school! I have to do something right away, I'll be right back, bye!" Before either one could respond she was out the door and racing down the stairs.
"Rin-oneechan, where are you going?" Kou shouted. It was already too late, she was gone. He was torn between pursuing her and keeping an eye on this man. The instinct to guard the apartment won out, and he glared. "It's your fault she left!"
Billy blinked in surprise. "She said she was coming right back."
"Not after what you did to her!"
That was enough. What was this Kou-boy on about? Billy set the thick piece of toast Rin had given him down and glared at the child. "Look, kid -- "
"Kou!" the boy shouted back.
Billy gritted his teeth. "Fine. Kou, I don't know what you think I did to Rin, but I can assure you all we did is talk, and I fell asleep on her couch." He took a sip of his orange juice.
"You slept with her didn't you," the boy said miserably.
Billy spat out his drink in surprise and looked at the boy in shock. "Where the hell did you get an idea like that?"
"So it's true then." The boy glared miserably at him.
Billy sighed in frustration and gave Kou an annoyed look. "Have I offended you in another life that I'm not aware of?"
* * *
The world was cast in a rusty light, trees and bushes dull red and brown. All seemed lifeless except for the great spheres that hung rotating in the air. They were not perfect spheres, for each seemed to have been pulled apart, just a little, to expose the layer under the equator. Or were they more like eyes, barely slit open? They hung as though, if they moved, they might orbit the inverted pyramid at their center. That pyramid, too, had a layer off at what might be considered its equator. And spanning the fold of two faces was a gigantic, carved eye.
Somewhere, in a large, dark room, believing themselves safe from spying, were three extremely powerful people. The shorter of two men had his arms folded against his chest. He seemed to be waiting expectantly for his two companions to speak.
It was tall, hard Zaidosu who finally said it. "The Wandering Ranger?! Why would he show up now, of all times? The legend said he would come at the time of the Great War, but that was six thousand years ago, and he never appeared."
Shaddam huffed slightly and forced a small smile across his frozen features. "I know the legend well." Of course he did. Anything that had the potential to increase his power he studied diligently, even legends. "The circumstances surrounding his arrival match it perfectly. It must be him."
"How do you know this?" Gara asked him.
Shaddam's usual grim quiet returned. He said thoughtfully, "According to the legend, he would come during the Great War in search of the Dairanger team. I believe the legend was referring to the Dairangers of today, and the war we fight now is the Great War. It also said that he would drop from a hole in the sky, in a white light. He will be taken under the guardianship of women warriors, and before he leaves this world, will gain the Kiryoku from the Dai."
Zaidosu was trying to follow what Shaddam was saying, and was reasonably certain he understood. He asked cautiously, "Could it truly be him, the Wandering Ranger?"
Gara smiled, loving this new idea. "If we could bring him to our side before he leaves this world, but after he has gained his powers, the Gohma would be unstoppable."
"Exactly. The spy I sent is keeping a close eye on this human and Rin. When the time comes, he'll belong to us."
* * *
Rin ran as fast as she could. She could not explain the sense of urgency she felt. She did not like leaving Billy alone. He was such a gentle soul. "Guys, I'm here!" she called, feeling them near her. They gathered together under the trees lining the boulevard. She looked at their very worried faces and asked anxiously, "What does Doushi Kaku know about Billy?"
Ryo shoved his hands deep into his pockets, frowning. "Doushi believes that man may be a legendary warrior whose coming was foretold over six thousand years ago."
Rin shook her head in quiet frustration. "Another legend? Great."
Shouji snickered and Kazu shoved him reprovingly. Ryo shrugged in embarrassment and added, "He didn't go into detail, but if this Billy is the warrior of the legend, we're to train him to access his own Kiryoku. He needs it, desperately."
Rin frowned. She could not imagine why anyone would need the Kiryoku except to fight. Billy had said clearly that he was not here to do battle. Before she could comment, Daigo tossed his bangs from his eyes and said fretfully, "I don't understand why Doushi is so willing to have this man brought to base, when all we know about him is the words of a legend. How do we know this isn't some sort of Gohma trick?"
Ryo shook his head. "Doushi would know. I think he's more afraid of what might happen if the Gohma get hold of him first. We have no idea what kind of powers this man already possesses, and if he was turned against us..." he left the thought at that, the others did not need him to finish. "We'd better bring him back to base before the Gohma figure out just who he is." Rin nodded in agreement and the five hurried back to her apartment to get Billy. And of course they had no clue that there was a human-disguised Kottopotero trailing them in the shadows and behind bushes. For the Gohma already were sure who this new arrival was, and what he might mean to them.
* * *
For the first time in his life that he could remember, Billy was impatient. Rin had been gone only a short time and it should be easy to wait. But then he had been left here with the prickly boy, Kou, who seemed determined to make him as uncomfortable as humanly possible. Billy had brushed his teeth and relieved his bladder; fortunately the boy was willing to let him do these things without keeping an eagle-eye on him. They were now on opposite sides of the room, Kou having taken up a guardsman's post in front of what could only be the door to Rin's bedroom. The kid would surely be late for school. It was almost amusing, but Billy had other worries.
He had been in this world for at least seventeen hours. He still knew next to nothing about it. For all he knew he could have already missed his ride to the next world, but something deep down told him that he had not. He did feel that Rin was his link to the Rangers here, but he was not sure how. Thinking back to his home he could not for the life of him figure out who Rin would be reborn as. Only three new rangers had joined the team, and none of them were pink. She could be Kat, but he was not certain. Relying on instinct against all logic was not Billy's nature. Since Mei was Kimberly, then Rin should be Kat... but something in him remained uncertain. I guess I'll find out when she let's me take her hand. Although I certainly can't do it around Kou. He glanced over at the young boy, who was still glaring at him. That's quite enough of this! he thought, in a sudden impulse of frustration.
He got up and walked over to Kou, glaring back at him. "I have just about had it with you. Look, I've a rough couple of days and I'm not going to be staying here long, but that doesn't mean you can go off accusing me of being a pervert when nothing happened." Kou just snorted and his baleful glare somehow became stronger. Billy threw up his hands in disgust. "I give up! Didn't you mother teach you any manners?"
He regretted it almost the moment he said it, for Kou's face drained of color, making his black eyes stand out intensely. There was an instant of raw pain in the boy's expression before he rallied and snapped, "My mom's... she... she's not around anymore!" The boy's eyes blinked several times, but it was not quick enough to hide the tears that gathered in them. He spat, "I... I don't need her! I don't need anyone but Rin."
The anger that had built up in Billy crashed before the child's raw misery. He backed up and sat down on the couch, watching Kou with compassion. "Do you want to talk about it?" Kou seemed fairly shocked and turned his head to avoid Billy's gaze. The former Blue Ranger tried again, gently. "I know how you feel."
Kou's head came around and he said furiously, "How would you know what it's like to lose your mother and never see her again!"
The stab of pain in himself was as real as anything he had ever known. He ignored the outrage Kou's attitude provoked and replied quietly, "I know because I lost my mother when I was about your age." He rarely spoke of this, and why would he speak of it to this obnoxious brat, now? Because they shared this in common, the loss of their mothers. Kou's sensitive over-protectiveness reminded Billy of how he had felt, those many years ago.
After a few minutes Kou looked up at this stranger who had opened up to him even though he had treated him so badly. Most people he had told about his mother could never understand how it felt and just pretended that they did. Billy was different, he knew exactly what he was going through and he really did want someone like him to talk to. "Do you still miss her?"
Billy turned to him and spoke honestly. "I miss her interminably, especially on days that remind me of her; like Mother's Day, Christmas and her birthday."
"Does the pain ever go away?" Kou asked wistfully.
Billy answered with honesty and compassion. "I won't lie to you, there's always a part of it in me, but whenever I feel most unhappy about it, I think of all the good times we had together. It does get easier to deal with over time, though. And I have some wonderful friends who helped me through it."
Kou thought for a moment. He could not really remember much about his mother, and one memory that came up strongly all the time was a very unpleasant one. When he was only four, his mother had somehow held him still, and the moment of awful pain, the horrible smell of burning flesh as she pressed red-hot metal against his skin, was eternally with him.
Unconsciously, he moved his left hand to cover the tiger-brand high on his right arm, hidden beneath his sleeve. As always, in defense from that memory, came her holding him afterwards and weeping. And on the heels of that, the memory of the day Akomaru had waylaid him and revealed her, bound and gagged, as his captive. Akomaru was dead and Kou still had no clue how to find his mother. He fervently hoped she was not being starved or tortured or anything terrible. He cleared his throat and met Billy's gentle gaze. No, he thought. This man is no pervert. Eyes as honest and innocent as these would never do anything to harm Rin. And Billy had lost his mother, too, though not had her used to taunt him. "You said you had some great friends that helped you?"
Billy nodded. "That's right."
"Like Brai, the guy you kept yelling to in your sleep."
Billy's face fell. "Actually no, I met him on the last part of my journey but... when I left he was dying. I just recently found out that they couldn't save him. He died."
Kou looked sympathetically at Billy. That was almost as bad as knowing the person you've lost was still alive and beyond your reach. "I'm sorry."
Billy's slight shrug was surprising for the boy. "It's alright. I know he's been reborn and that he's somewhere around here. He may be dead but his soul lives on."
Kou gave him a puzzled look. "How do you know this Brai was reborn here?"
"It's a long story." Billy was blushing slightly. The details of his dream were so faded he could be tempted to convince himself it was no more than that. Somehow he knew better. He offered the boy a warm smile. "Let's start over."
"What do you mean?" Kou was no longer belligerent at all, but looking at Billy with curiosity and interest.
"We both kind of got off on the wrong foot, so let's start over." Billy held out his hand in gentlemanly fashion and grinned at Kou's expression of surprise. "Hi, I'm Billy. Nice to meet you."
Kou gave him a warm grin and reached out his own hand. "Nice to meet you, too. I'm Kou." And he took the other hand firmly. In the back of his head was a tickle and then a sudden overwhelming flash of white light. For a moment he was in darkness, looking straight into the face of an older Japanese man. Wisdom, strength, tremendous will in an oval face and intelligent eyes that danced with laughter. Then the face shivered and melted to become a foreign one, exotically good-looking and much younger, maybe as old as Shouji. He had long, straight brown hair, his eyes were an unusually light brown, his expression was both friendly and bewildered. The room came back and Kou found he was seeing Billy's face, the expression on this one was of astonishment bordering on disbelief. But I know you, he found himself thinking. I've known you for a long, long time.
Billy let Kou's hand go, still staring at the boy in shock. Kou seemed slightly stunned but Billy was sure he himself was far more. "You... you're... Brai... and the White Ranger." And a child, not even ten years old.
Kou's confusion gave way to sudden fear. He opened his mouth to protest and accuse, but suddenly there was a wriggling inside his light jacket. The weight he was so used to shifted, until the small, gold and white head of his beloved dagger managed to poke itself out. "Ah, you've come at last," it said happily.
Billy blinked at the tiny head sticking out of Kou's jacket. "Saba... no, that's not right." Something that had come to him with the touch of this young Ranger's hand. "You're Byakoshinken?"
For all that the dagger was a hard piece of metal and could really only open its mouth, it conveyed considerable animation as it spoke eagerly. "That is correct. How I've been waiting for the day I could meet -- "
Suddenly, a very frustrated and confused Kou grabbed the dagger's head, pulling it entirely from his jacket (where Billy would have sworn it was far too long to fit and still somehow not be obvious) and turned it to face him. "What just happened? How does he know who I really am? Why do you seem to know him and why did he say that I'm Brai?!?"
Billy was hard-pressed to hold back a laugh as he reached out and touched the determined boy's shoulder. "It's all right, I'll explain everything."
Some time later, after Billy told the truth, Kou was simply in awe. "Wow, you're the Wandering Ranger, and I was your friend Brai in my last life and I'm gonna be the team leader in your world in my next life? Now that's cool!" Billy was amused by Kou's enthusiasm, it reminded him a little of Tommy.
Bakyo coughed to get their attention. "I hate to break this up, but I sense the other Rangers coming. Billy, you must go with them and continue your quest, but please say nothing about what you really know of us."
Billy nodded. "Don't worry, I've become rather adept at keeping secrets." On the heels of his statement the door opened to reveal Rin with a crowd of young men piling into the doorway behind her. Billy glanced at Kou and Byako, but the dagger had hidden away.
Rin quickly introduced the men, her hand flicking towards each as she said his name, and Billy knew he would be hard-pressed to figure out which of them was which. "Guys, this is Billy. Billy this is Ryo, Shouji, Kazu, and Daigo. Sorry, but we think it would be best if you came with us right away." Billy nodded and said a quick good-bye to Kou as the men pulled him anxiously towards the door. Rather high-strung, these guys, he thought. Rin leaned back in and looked at the boy. "Sorry, Kou, but I have to leave again. You'd better get to school before you're late."
He smiled innocently at her. "Okay." Oh dear, she thought. For that innocent look always meant trouble. But Kou knew about the Gohma, and knew the kind of danger he could be exposed to. She could only hope this would be one of those times he demonstrated his occasional sense. She had to go. A moment after they had all left, Kou's grin turned truly wicked. He directed his voice into his jacket. "Well, it's only a half-day today anyway, I think I'll just skip school." He slipped into his shoes and headed out, automatically locking the door behind him and beelining for the hidden base under the Tokyo JR Train Station. Only Doushi Kaku was well aware that Kou knew exactly who Rin and her friends were.
Inside Kou's jacket, Byako sighed. "This is really going to be a long day."
* * *
Billy allowed himself to be drawn along with the group without question, but he could not shake the feeling that he was being watched. The five kept close around him, shifting their positions and he suspected that, if he had been Japanese, this would have confused any observers. But his mop of fair hair would stand out and draw the eye no matter how well they tried to camouflage him. They were surrounded by tall buildings, trees sometimes sprang out of small containers, and flowers he was sure were plastic caught his eye as they passed. Bizarrely, perhaps to throw off pursuit, they led him through a building that he had to take off his shoes for. They all carried theirs, but he had a feeling that normally the shoes would have been left outside. There was no time to marvel at the things within, this was clearly some sort of museum. But they passed a particular protected scroll on the wall, some sort of Buddhist image and as his glance swept over it, the image moved. For a split instant he thought he saw a face there. When he looked again, it was just a man surrounded by peacocks. I must be seeing things, he thought to himself. But then again, I never know what to expect on this trip. His toe bumped something hard and he glanced down to find he had kicked something made of... perhaps of tarnished gold. It looked like a sculpture of a peacock's feather. Following an impulse he did not understand, he bent down and scooped it up. Before he could get a good look at it, anxious hands plucked at his sleeves. The gaggle of men around him were urging him silently on, their faces turned away as they scanned every shadow in the room. Only Rin was looking at what he held in his hands, and her expression was rather odd.
Impressions were hard to focus on. One man was dressed all in blue and looked like something out of a fashion magazine. He had to be the Blue Ranger, whose soul might be a part of Billy's along with Dan's. Another wore a maroon jacket over a black shirt and white pants. Billy could not even begin to guess. Another, whose haircut reminded Billy of an Elvis-impersonator, wore a white gym-jacket and was a blur of constant movement. The last man wore a striped white shirt, blue jeans and a green undershirt. If the colors on the Phoenix -- Houhou Ranger's badge were any indication, he was this world's Green Ranger. It fit suddenly. The lion zord was green, which had seemed a bit odd since it morphed from the Mammoth. So one of the other guys had to be red -- he was willing to bet on the guy with the maroon jacket -- and the other was yellow. Or he might be missing it entirely. Come to that he had not seen a single thing in Rin's quarters or of the few outfits he had seen her in... not a single thing that was pink. He sighed as he ran, beginning to get a stitch in his side.
They led him towards a building that was long rather than tall, ignoring the business-and casual-suited people around them. At first glance he thought it was a church, then figured it must be some kind of government building. It was red brick, with two, two-storied wings and a central three-storied main building that had a clock shadowed under the roof. Then one of the men, the one with the sharpest expression and the green undershirt, said, "It's the Tokyo JR Train Station. Come on." As they led him into a tunnel with stairs going down he wondered, Then where are all the trains? They led him into a side corridor and approached what appeared to be a solid wall. But when they closed on it, there proved to be a door, and Billy was trying to decide if the impression that it had been there all along and he simply had not noticed could be accurate. They opened the door and brought Billy into the room beyond.
And at last, Billy could stop and take in what was around him. There was a subtle scent of incense in the air, but none burning at that moment. At the center of the room was an octagonal, raised dais. Upon that was a large, tan crate. And on that sat a man in the lotus position. He was dressed all in brown except for his black slippers. His clothing looked vaguely Chinese, though Billy was surprised at how plain it was. There was a thick, brown headband completely covering his forehead and much of his black hair. He had a heavy, black mustache and short beard, which looked as though it could do with a trim. And he regarded Billy from his position atop the crate without expression. For a moment Billy was not certain the man he looked at was even alive, he was so still.
Rin broke the moment, saying anxiously, "Doushi Kaku, this is the man that I told you about. This is Billy Cranston."
"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Billy said politely. There was no change in the man's expression but his eyes seemed, now that the young Ranger thought of it, to take everything in, swallow up his nervousness and consider it.
At last, the man spoke in a quiet, calm voice. "So you are the one foretold, the Wandering Ranger."
Billy blinked. He had not spoken the name given to him by Barza. It would seem he was a legend here as well. "They keep telling me that. I'm certainly wandering," he attempted to joke, but the humor fell flat in that steady gaze.
"But are you really he?"
He wasn't sure how to respond to the question. He had been told he was, but what sort of proof was that? A theorem without evidence was still only a theorem. "I can't say for certain. The white wizard, Barza, called me that. I do not know what's going on here, or even what my mission is, but I do know I am here to learn about the Rangers of this world."
Doushi Kaku's steady, emotionless gaze was unnerving. He asked calmly, "Why should we tell you any of our secrets? How do we know you weren't sent by the Gohma?" Rin stared at her uncle in surprise. His reaction when she had first told him of Billy had shown no suspicion. Why was he behaving this way, now? Maybe, she thought, he is testing him, but for what?
Billy sighed to himself. His story certainly was fantastic. He would have been hard-put to believe it if some stranger had shown up in his world making such a claim, and if he had no machinery to verify the truth. But he suspected that something would happen if he took Doushi Kaku's hand, just as it had with the few other people he had touched the bare skin of in this adventure. Still, somehow that felt inappropriate. He preferred to try with words, first. "Let me start from the beginning." Once again, he began to tell the history of the Power Rangers. But the Dairangers were not the only ones listening to him.
* * *
Reality is not as absolute as people believe. It is layered and everywhere you walk, you can see but one level and totally miss the ones simultaneous with it. Billy and the Dairangers had passed an old painting of the Peacock Buddha, and someone had stepped out and come along with them. But they were on one layer and she was on another, so they did not know she was close.
It was not clear, looking from one layer to the next. She concentrated on the stranger and watched him, a half-seen image from her point of reference. The others surrounding him could only be seen as faint flickers, unless she abandoned her focus and tried to look at one of them. He had sensed her, reacted to her, and he had taken one of her fallen feathers. She half-hated those feathers, evidence of her illness. She needed to find the Peacock's Tears. A sip from the magical chalice would restore her, save her life. The feathers always vanished within minutes after falling from her, but this man had picked up that one before it could. Was this enough evidence to mark him as the man of legend? If he was, she had a duty to him that took precedence over her search for the Peacock's Tears.
She listened as he explained about his world, and wondered if it could possibly be as simple a place as he painted it. Perhaps it was not, perhaps he saw it through rose-tinted lenses. She could sense a cleanness about him. Innocence. And in him a capacity for vast power. He was the Wanderer, she was sure from his aura. "But the war on his world is nothing compared to ours. He will be easy prey for the Gohma." She shivered convulsively. "I can't let him fall into their hands. If that happens, then all is lost." She clenched her fist at the thought of the Gohma corrupting this man. "A warrior with the heart of an innocent child, but for how long? How long will his innocence last, facing the kind of war and hatred that is the law of this world?"
Against her will, she remembered how her own innocence was lost, six thousand years before. When the Daosu Civilization still existed. When there was still a Dai Tribe and not merely a few time-displaced relics like herself. When she had been a warrior, struggling to fight honorably only to find that the girl who had been her best friend when they were children had become one of the Gohma. And so Kujaku had made it her personal mission to fight the other woman whenever she could, and at last gotten the upper hand. Gara, injured, fled from her and Kujaku pursued until her enemy could no longer run and had collapsed. And seeing her lying there, eyes weary and haunted, Kujaku had softened. Somewhere in there, somewhere in this morass of darkness, had to be the girl who had once saved Kujaku's life and been injured doing it. And so Kujaku knelt to dress her enemy's wounds.
Gara had looked at her through dazed, pain-filled eyes. "Why are you trying to help me? We are enemies, you and I."
Kujaku had felt such sympathy at that moment. "I just can't let you die here, let me help." Gara had been so pitiful, working with an obviously dry throat and praising Kujaku, telling her how beautiful she was. She should have known better than to let the praise affect her, but she had. And she went to the stream to get some water for Gara. The soft praise had done its work, Kujaku glanced at her reflection and, for just an instant, admired her own beauty. All the years of hard meditation to enter the service of the Peacock Buddha had left her skin unblemished. And then the Gohma hiding in the water pulled her into its reflective lens and locked her away. It had been a trap the whole time. For while she could still see, Gara was standing there, whole and perfect, laughing. Rage came to her, a rage that would keep her alive for six thousand years as she waited to escape from the mirror. "You'll pay for this, I'll see that I live long enough to send you back to Hell where you belong! Do you hear me, Gara!?! You will pay for this with your life!!"
And then, when she no longer had any hope, the Gohma holding her had returned to the Earthly plane. And somehow her soul had touched Daigo's. A heart open to her. A power and discipline enough like hers to form a conduit between them. And she had helped him, half-tricked him into breaking the mirror and freeing her. The six-thousand year imprisonment had left its mark on her. She had been mad for a time, unable to think of anything except destroying Gara. Willing to kill, to use anyone to get to her enemy. To use Daigo.... Her attention shifted to him, so she could see him standing so near and yet so far from her. Patience, courage, calmness, affection. All bundled into a slim, mortal body with a knife-blade face. He looked so fierce and foreboding until he smiled. Now he was listening, eyebrows climbing his forehead. Even his overbite was sweet. Would there ever be a time for the two of them? You are too easily distracted, she told herself, and brought her attention back to the Wanderer.
She used to be like him. Would he become like her as time went on, or would he keep his kind heart, which he would need to protect everything he held so dear? She prayed he would, but war had a nasty habit of corrupting even the purest hearts. She studied the man who was fated to protect not just their world, but many like theirs. "He is not even aware of his true destiny, but I am. I know how important he is, which is why I must be sure he can stand alone in battle. And if not..." she bowed her head for a moment, "then I must end his innocent life so that he does not become what he fights against. If it comes to that then all truly is lost."
* * *
How many times will I tell this story? How many worlds are there? Billy wondered as he wound up his brief history. He glanced around at his audience. The men all looked thoughtful, not exactly disbelieving. Doushi Kaku had not moved during the telling, his eyes had been fixed on Billy's face the entire time. Unhappily, Billy said, "I don't know how to convince you that what I've said is true."
"You can convince me by taking their hands. Then we will see."
Billy understood. He had spoken in his telling of what had happened in the Zyuranger world. He looked at the others, and saw the men exchanging nervous glances. Rin was gazing with barely concealed amusement beyond him at her uncle. Then they were all stepping towards him, eyes bright with curiosity, and he reached out his hand.
Doushi watched with interest as his students touched Billy Cranston's hand. He saw their faces shift in puzzled surprise, faint hints of other personalities not native to their present lives showing through. Relief ached through him. It really is him, he thought. Which meant he might at last have some of his own questions answered.
As they released his hand, looking vaguely dazed, Billy sorted through the shifting images in his head. Now he knew their names absolutely, and he looked first at the man in the maroon jacket, who was gazing at his hand in puzzlement. But when this soul crossed to Billy's world he would be... "Rocky?"
Ryo looked up as if Billy had just called him by name. The images of a young, strong foreign man came rushing into his head. The face in the mirror so alien and yet familiar. He saw Billy as one of his close friends, and even as savior. Billy had saved him and his two friends from becoming slaves of evil, by taking on a magic serpent at great risk to himself. As swiftly as the memory came, it vanished, leaving only shadows behind. "It is true!" Ryo said with utter astonishment.
Billy's gaze swung to the man in the blue suit, who stared back at him looking vaguely stunned. But the blue suit, he knew now, was no relation. This was the Yellow Ranger of the Dairanger team. And his zord was not a griffin, but a kirin. The Chinese unicorn. "You are Aisha?"
Kazu shivered slightly and nodded. "It would seem I come back as a woman." Remembering how humiliated Boi had been about the same thought, Billy tried to be casual about it. "It happens all the time. Don't worry, I think you'll enjoy your next life." Kazu silently nodded. He was not upset at all. He was digesting what he had learned. Aisha seemed like a very remarkable person and he liked feeling that she was very caring, as well. She also had a loving, supportive family. He was glad of that, he had always wished his family was different, and not so difficult to live with that he had run away to Tokyo when he was only fifteen. Now he had a new family; the others were like brothers and a sister to him. But he would be glad to live Aisha's life.
The one named Daigo was off to the side, an expression of deep concentration on his sharp face. Billy hesitated, then moved close to him. He reached out and touched his shoulder, resisting the urge to call him by another name. "Daigo?"
For a moment a flash of confusion crossed that face, then Daigo met his eyes and Billy felt he was amused. "I'm not Adam, you know... at least not yet." Billy dropped his hand, slightly embarrassed. Daigo was right. This was a totally different life and he was not even a part of it. Daigo gave him a sympathetic look. "Let me just worry about this life and this war here, for now. I can worry about my next life when I get there."
Billy nodded his understanding, unable to speak for a moment through the lump in his throat. After all, he had to deal with Dan's memories as well as his own. Even so, it occurred to him now, he did not know how it ended. He did not see what had happened to Dan. For Dan's soul had to get to Billy somehow, did it not? And that meant he had to die.... Billy drew his thoughts to the images in him from Daigo. He almost chuckled. Beneath that crusty exterior was a heart even softer than Adam's. Every plant and animal on Earth was precious to Daigo. Every child was a source of amazement to him. And there was someone else; a beautiful woman wearing red, blue and gold, this was someone whom Daigo loved. Her face was familiar to Billy, but he could not place it. He nodded respectfully to the Shishi Ranger and turned towards Shouji, but Daigo's voice reached his ears like a secret no one would hear. "I am looking forward to it, my next life." There was laughter in that tone, and Billy smiled slightly.
"What was that about?" Shouji asked as Billy came up to him.
"Oh, nothing to worry about," Billy responded, puzzled over the images he had received. Well, what do you know. He isn't a part of me. He felt strangely sad at that. Yet what would he have done with another set of memories to contend with? Dan's were not causing him that much trouble, really. There was something brightly familiar about the face he had seen. Dark brown eyes and brown, soft hair. Skin darker, perhaps Mexican-American? Spanish? Oval-shaped face yet with a strong jaw and a full, lower lip and Trini had liked him... oh, yes! His puzzlement cleared and Billy smiled even as he felt more than a little amazed. "So, you'll become our friend, Richie."
Shouji nodded. When he had digested what he gained from Billy, he went through several stages of emotion. Disappointment that he would not be a Ranger, jealousy that someone else would have his Star Pegasus, annoyance that they would insist upon calling it a unicorn. And yet there was also relief. He would have a life without interruptions. Without the people he loved constantly being in danger. And then there was that lovely girl Trini who, thank all the spirits, was not Kazu.... He mustered up a smile, as the relief did not outweigh the disappointment. "I guess I wasn't needed to fight in your world."
Billy could sense the sadness in his words and tried to comfort the young warrior. "I don't think it's that you weren't needed. My world works a bit different than the Sentai ones. Only three members from the original team left, but if we all would have gone, you definitely would have been chosen a member."
Shouji felt a little sheepish hearing that. After all, it was not like he was going to remember any of this to look back on. "I suppose so." The more he thought about it the more it made sense. Richie would eventually leave Angel Grove, and the... the Power Rangers who left Angel Grove also left their powers behind. Weird concept. It looked liked his future was set... but what about Rin? He did not recall seeing her reincarnated form in Billy's world. Could it be that she would not be with them in the next life? The thought worried him.
It was worrying Billy as well. He had not seen anyone who Rin would be. And yet he felt somehow, he could not put his finger on it... somehow he would see her again. But.... "Billy." Rin was standing behind him. She drew him to the side and gazed up at him steadily. As though comforting him she said, "I shall not be reborn into your world in my next life."
Why am I always being struck speechless in this world? He took a moment, but managed to answer, "I know. But I can sense your soul...."
"I think I might know."
She had a little smile on her face as he gaped at her. How could she know, when he did not? "You've seen your next life?"
"I saw you, at least for a brief moment in my next life. The images we see are from your mind and just what you have seen... or will see. The fact that I could see you and you couldn't see me might mean that we are destined to meet again, most likely somewhere on your quest in another Sentai world." Billy was stunned at her knowledge, but what she said made a lot of sense. He knew that it was true, he would meet her again but of course she would not know him. Rin suddenly pushed something metallic and cool into Billy's palm.
"What is this?"
"Something very important to me." Billy opened his hand to find he was holding a bird-shaped hair clip. No, not a bird, a phoenix. Rin explained warmly, "This was given to me by the first friend I had outside of the Dairanger and outside of China. I want you to have it."
Billy looked at her and saw she was serious. "I can't take this if it means so much to you."
"It's because it means so much to me that you have to take it when you leave this world. When you find me again, and I know you will, I won't remember anything from this life or you. Show this to my future self and make me remember, even just a little."
"I don't know, what if -- "
"Please Billy, I feel this is important somehow!" Her gaze was determined and everything in him said he should heed her. Billy sighed, wishing he had solid facts to work from rather than intuition. Rin looked at him for an answer. In response he carefully placed the hair clip in his pocket. She smiled gratefully at him. "Tell no one," she whispered.
Doushi Kaku's stern, gentle voice grabbed all of their attentions. He had stood up silently and regarded them from his dais. "Only the Wandering Ranger could have seen the future lives of the Dairangers. We are ready to tell you about this world, and about our war." They gathered anxiously around his podium and he cleared his throat. "The story of the Dairanger began eight thousand years ago, with the Daosu Empire in Southern China. The Empire consisted of three tribes. The Dai, who had the Kiryoku power, were the civilian leaders and policy-makers of the empire. The Gohma, who had the Youryoku power, were the military officials and army. And the Shura, who had no power, were their servants and slaves. The Empire had prospered for thousands of years, until six thousand years ago, when the Gohma leaders determined to take command of the empire for themselves. They entered the service of the Devil, paying for greater power with blood sacrifices and torture. At first the Dai yielded to them, then began to fight.
"The Gohma power destroyed Nature. It seeped everywhere and corrupted everything it touched until, in order to purify the world, Nature gave birth to five Kidenjuu and sent them to the aid of the Dai Tribe. Five men became their companions, but unfortunately..." here Doushi Kaku stopped for a long moment, as though choosing his words with great care. At last he spoke again. "The war had lasted five hundred years. And war takes its toll. Lured by the promise of power and eternal life, the leader of the group turned, he led his companions to their deaths as his sacrifice to join the Gohma. In the end the Gohma were destroyed, but the war left only a few of the Dai and many Shura, who scattered the world over. But I knew the Gohma would return, and when I recognized the signs, I gathered this team of descendants of the Dai. They each have particularly strong Kiryoku. Ryo was the last. I was reluctant to recruit him despite his power, but in the end the choice was taken from me. The Dragon Kidenjuu, Ryuseiou, chose him as its companion. Ryo was confused and understandably angry, he took convincing."
Ryo snorted and raised an eyebrow. "Convincing? You used your Kiryoku to send a broadsword flying at my head!"
"And you evaded it instinctively," Kaku replied calmly. Ryo muttered sheepishly as his companions chuckled. "But Rin was not yet with us. She is a Chinese citizen, and her journey was delayed until she had her passport and permits. Thus she did not arrive until after the first attack had begun. Fortunately, she already had command of her Kiryoku, and when the Gohma attacked her, was able to hold them off long enough for the men to find her. They were together when Baron Belt fought them, and then when he used the Gohma bomb to grow, I sent Ryuseiou to help them."
For Billy, Doushi Kaku's story left him with more questions than answers. What was Kiryoku? What was Youryoku? How could the leader of a team of heroes slaughter his own teammates? And though the Kidenjuu had to be the Zords, how could nature give birth to them? And if the Gohma were destroyed, how was it they were back? Why had Kaku been reluctant to recruit Ryo? As his thoughts reached the end of what he had heard, one thing suddenly stood out. Five Kidenjuu six thousand years ago, but only one had been mentioned as being in the present. Ryuseiou was, of course, the Red Dragon Thunder Zord. What had happed to the others? There were six in his world, when you counted Tommy's. "What about the other Zo -- er, I mean, Kidenjuu?"
Rin spoke up gently, "I think I should tell him what happened." Doushi nodded in agreement. She turned her full attention on Billy. It was like being bathed in warm comfort. She reminded of the lady he had left behind. But they were not the same. He had someone waiting for him back home whom he cared about deeply. Rin began speaking and he devoted his attention to her story. "It was my first day of classes, and Megumi Amano came to me as I was leaving. She's really nice, takes care of all the foreign students, and she was determined to make certain I was settling in all right, that I was feeling welcomed. She brought me a gift, a golden hair-clip of a -- a phoenix," she used the English word and smiled shyly, "she wanted to be friends, and asked to meet my friends."
Billy realized at once one of the reasons she wanted to tell him this part of the story. He touched the hair-clip in his pocket. This is very important to her. If -- when I find her again, I'll remind her why. He listened as she continued her explanation. "I didn't know anyone yet, besides the boys. And I was also nervous about getting involved with anyone because I am a Dairanger. She didn't want to force me into anything, she isn't a busybody or anything like that. She gave me space to think about it, and I wanted to say yes. But Ryo had come to meet me, then we heard Megumi scream. There was this pair of giant, purple lips floating in front of her, and they became Kuchibeni Utahime, who caught Megumi, swiped lipstick on her, and teleported her away. We had to fight the Kottopotero and the others joined us. I was frustrated that the Kottopotero had kept me from changing into my armor and... anyway, I managed to slash Kuchibeni's face with my Dairenrod. She was furious! She blew herself up and so Ryo summoned Ryuseiyou, and formed Bujin to fight her."
"I hate to interrupt. What does 'Bujin' mean?" Billy asked helplessly.
Ryo whispered, "That's when it's in humanoid mode."
Billy tried to nod knowingly and Rin giggled, breaking her serious telling. A moment later, she began again. "But Ryuseiyou was having a lot of trouble, even with all five of us aboard and Kaku's support... Kuchibeni saw our weakness, and teleported in her Soprano Chorus. Megumi and four other girls she had ensorceled with her lipstick. They started singing and their voices, enhanced by Kuchibeni's power, staggered us. Shaddam, Gara and Zaidosu, a hellish trio of Gohma leaders, added their power to the attack, but Ryo managed to get Ryuseiou to catch Kuchibeni by the throat and toss her aside. We drove her off, but suffered a terrible energy backlash. Ryuseiou finally had enough and ejected us from the cockpit and fled to nurse his wounds."
Billy thought it sounded kind of logical, if their zords were creatures born of nature rather than machines made by... well, by someone. Wait, how was Kaku supporting Ryuseiou? His heart went out to Rin, for she looked angry and ashamed as she continued speaking.
"We returned here and found Doushi Kaku unconscious. When he recovered enough, he told us he used his own power to help us summon and control Ryuseiou, but it just wasn't enough. And he told us we must find Kuchibeni's five victims. They wouldn't let me join the search. They were worried I was too angry and would take unnecessary chances. I went into the forest with my anger, and I started using my Kiryoku, trying to burn it out. I blasted rocks and trees. But Daigo came and stopped me. He pointed out that I should not use my Kiryoku on nature, to kill things. He could not stay, but he had reminded me of my responsibility. I was going to run after him. I took a step, and then I was somewhere else."
Billy opened his mouth to ask, and then shut it. Rin's gaze was focused somewhere inside herself, her brow furrowed in concentration. "I'd stepped into space. Five glowing spheres of colored light came flying at me, into me, and then I was in a desert under a blinding sun. There were pillars in the sand, pitted with time. And ahead of me stood a huge, weather-beaten statue of a man. And I heard a strange cry and searched for it. Far above me flew a great, shining blue bird, against the gray-green sky. Its shadow passed over me and I ducked, only to find I was back in the woods, ducking against a tree. It was so strange.... I was feeling sad, sure I did not deserve to be a Dairanger. Doushi Kaku assured me I was, then I told him about my vision and he was surprised. He said that I must have seen the Lai Lai Crystals. That we needed those to bond with the Kidenjuu."
"Lai Lai Crystals?" Billy had no clue what they could be. He and the other Power Rangers had crystals, had them a few times in his world. Maybe this was one of those sets?
"The Spheres from Heaven. We knew there had been four other Kidenjuu, Doushi Kaku had shown us, but even he did not know if the others were still alive. And then Ryo called for help. They were fighting Kuchibeni and losing because of the Soprano Chorus. I went to fight, but suddenly my vision came again, the Lai Lai were flying at me, and into me. I could not fight, I could not see anything. They took me away and I found myself in the desert of my first vision. Only this time I was really there." She remembered all too well the heat coming at her from all sides, and herself no longer in her battle armor. Slogging through the sand with only some instinct telling her which direction to go, past broken pillars.
She told Billy how, every time she was about to give up, the Lai Lai came to her again, showing her more. Showing her the five Kidenjuu travelling. Urging her on. Begging her to find them. How Doushi had somehow sent the boys searching for her. How the Gohma had arrived, knowing she was after the Lai Lai, and intending to stop her from getting to them. How she lost her Aura-Changer battling Kottopotero and Kuchibeni, but managed to get past the Soprano Chorus and into the magically protected caves, to find the five stone blocks with images representing the Kidenjuu. How strange, growling groans echoed through the caves and she pursued their source until she found Ryuseiou, and he indicated the Lai Lai embedded in the wall far across from her.
"Kuchibeni had blown herself up again and was beating the hills, causing a cave-in. I couldn't get to the Lai Lai, so Ryuseiou and I came out to fight her. But he was still injured from the previous battle and she defeated him quickly. Luckily, the boys had arrived and they brought my Aura-changer. We all changed and Ryo boarded Ryuseiou, to fight in b -- humanoid mode. We others tried to get to the Lai Lai, but Kuchibeni brought back in the Soprano Chorus. It was painful, and we were losing, when the wind blew around and drowned out their song for me. The wind is a part of me, fundamental to my power, and I used it to push aside the stones blocking the caverns, and the Lai Lai came flying out to each of us. We were finally able to call forth the rest of the Kidenjuu. Seijishi, Seitenma, Seikirin and my Seihouou! Together we destroyed Kuchibeni Utahime, which freed the Soprano Chorus from her spell."
Billy listened to everything she said, paid strict attention to the images called up from the flickers of memory he had gained from them. They had been forced to fight every moment for the power and the Zords that had just naturally been his, as a Power Ranger. His... companion had been a unicorn, not a pegasus, a tenma. He had never had reason to put any significance on the wing-like designs on his Zord. The Zord they had called a griffin was actually a Kirin, which was the eastern version of a unicorn. That was rather amusing, actually. So little had come through to his world, and what had made it through had come massively distorted, sometimes even unnecessarily so. But when he thought about it, he was relieved he and his fellow Power Rangers had not faced bloodthirsty Gohma. I don't think we could have survived half the things these guys must have gone through.
Rin suddenly blushed and held out her hand, cupping something. "This is my Lai Lai Crystal." She opened her hand and showed him what she held. It looked like a very large marble, colored a deep, translucent pink and within it, as he stared, formed a glowing outline of a bird. The others held out theirs to show him, too. The blue crystal with the pegasus. The green with an image of a lion. The red with a Chinese dragon. The yellow, with the image of the kirin. No, these had never come to their world. They were beautiful, and he said so as they hid theirs away again. Like Byakoshinken they went into storage without any external sign of their presence.
He wondered if he would be this amazed by every Sentai world. He cleared his throat. "This is simply incredible. Though I find it perplexing that my world inherited so much from the Zyuranger's, and so little from yours."
Doushi Kaku inclined his head toward Billy in a small nod of acknowledgement. "As your parent-world, the Zyuranger would dominate. And as your war never truly ended, the effects lingered. It may simply have taken time for them to dilute enough for others to come through. Or," he added thoughtfully, "it may have rejected the forces of this world as too evil."
Billy considered that and thought it made sense. It was probably a good thing that his world had received very little from this one. But something Clotho had told him was running around in his head. "Your world is beginning to become more and more like the Sentai worlds that give it life, and it will continue to do so from now on, there's no turning back now. The Rangers of your world must learn to adapt, or Earth and the galaxy will fall and be destroyed utterly... forever." He knew in his heart this was true, the changes had already begun, but how long would it be before the battles became as intense as the ones here?
Sensitive to his disturbed expression, the Dairanger team gathered closer to him. It was Ryo who asked, "Is something wrong?"
Billy found he liked Ryo's face. It was essentially oval shaped, with hair that seemed determined to fall in his eyes despite a generous application of mousse, and a ready smile. He smiled back and told him, "No, I guess it's just culture shock. I've had a lot on my mind since I left home."
Ryo's dark eyes danced and he asked teasingly, "Left, or were dragged?" Billy chuckled at the attempted humor. But Ryo was not finished. He added sympathetically, " I know how it feels to have your life suddenly change. It's a lot to go through and you're not even half done."
"Thanks for reminding me," Billy told him wryly. But there were still several unanswered questions, and he began with one that was dear to him. "Ryo, I understand that the Dairangers of the past each controlled a Kidenjuu, but their leader betrayed them. Wasn't he in control of Ryuseiou, and what happened to him? How did Doushi Kaku get hold of Ryuseiou?"
Roy looked away, his expression one of troubled sorrow. Billy already regretted asking. Expressions like that always meant terrible answers. Ryo spoke at last in a low voice. "His name was Chouryou Tetsumenpi. And because he joined the Gohma, he was still alive to fight, after six thousand years. And he was my father." Billy decided the best thing to do was to remain silent. He was not certain he should have asked, everything with the Dairanger seemed so personal. As though there were only two degrees of separation here, to the normal six of his world. Ryo met his eyes as if searching for something, perhaps condemnation, but Billy had none of that so Ryo continued. "Yes, he was my father. But I didn't know that. The first we ever knew of him was when he attacked Shouji and Rin. I wasn't around, but Kazu and Daigo made it there to help them. His powers... he had the Gohma and the Dai powers both. Any attack they threw at him returned to them two-fold. He took the others and left Shouji with a message that Doushi Kaku was to come meet him in challenge, or they would be sacrificed.
"We brought Doushi the message. He told us who Chouryou Tetsumenpi had been. I wanted to kill him for the traitor he was. But Kaku tricked me, locked me in a storage room and left Shouji guarding me, while he went to face Tetsumenpi. But I tricked Shouji into opening the door and escaped. When I finally got to where they were, Kaku and Tetsumenpi were dueling and I saw my friends chained to posts over the battle. So I went to try and rescue them. But the Kottopotero were there and my presence distracted Kaku and he lost. Tetsumenpi went after me and I was not good enough. He was going to kill me, and Kaku had no choice but to shout that I was Tetsumenpi's son."
Ryo shivered unconsciously, reliving that horrible moment. The air still rang with the echo of Kaku's frantic shout, and he had prayed it was just a lie. Just a lie to save his life with that terrible blade bare centimeters from his face. But the man in the black armor, only eyes visible, was studying his face intently. Strange eyes, so horribly familiar as they seemed to frown. And Ryo had known it to be true when Tetsumenpi simply turned and walked away.
"He left me there. But I refused to believe he could be my father. My father died when I was five years old. Doushi tried to tell me the truth. Tetsumenpi had been on... on leave or reconnaissance and fallen in love with a woman and married her. Then, when he had to go back, he faked his death. My sister, Youko, really never knew him, but it used to bother me that I could not remember his face.... I had to think, so I went to the ocean. To the very beach we used to go to when I was a child. And my father came to me. He... he had kept a photograph of us with him. I wanted him to leave me alone but I wanted to understand... why he had married my mother. I told him that my father was dead, to the world and to me. He just walked off.
"But his master came after us. Daisoujou Riju. Gods, he was insane. All the Gohma I've ever met are weird. In his devil-form he was a mass of sawblades and our Kiryoku just bounced off of him. He had my father stand aside, to show us who was the master. And he was going to kill us, one by one, starting with me. He was smashing me repeatedly against the ground, and Father turned away and I couldn't help... I couldn't stop myself from crying out to him. I was in agony, I thought I was going to die, and I begged him to help. And finally he did. He knew what it would cost him and he saved me, anyway. The son he barely knew. The son who had rejected him upon learning the truth. Riju was his master and destroyed him. He was dying, telling me he was sorry and he regretted his past. He wanted us to forgive him. Just as he was about to leave this world, the souls of his team came to us, to forgive him and take him home... they passed on special instructions for us, through the Lai Lai... and my father died in my arms that day...."
Billy still wondered how Doushi Kaku had ended up with Ryuseiou, but now he could not bring himself to ask. The answer would probably only open up more wounds for this team. The strength these people had to have, to bear these very personal attacks. With Rita you always had the feeling that anybody would do. Just like any teenager could become a Ranger, unless they were really terrible. He and the other rangers had many friends, without constantly worrying that they would be attacked, even though all the villains knew the Power Rangers' secret identities. It was something he always found himself thinking about. Billy frowned. How odd it seemed to him, that their enemies knew who they were, when their friends and family did not. That was rather backwards, now that he thought about it. But why?
* * *
Kujaku stiffened where she watched. Power was building up in the Wanderer, as though he was unconsciously attempting to do something. There was a lack of direction to it and she knew he was not even aware of what was occurring. "He is the one, his pure heart is gathering energy, but it is not surfacing. He needs to be taught how to use his Kiryoku; and the sooner the better." A chill breeze sprang up and whispered in her ear. She looked up at the pale blue sky. Worlds upon worlds. "It is coming." While unsure of just what the source of the danger was, or even if it would touch her world directly, she knew that this boy was the only one who could confront it. If he could.
* * *
Ryo was hard-pressed to relax. His teammates all knew this tale, they were there when it happened. But he was unhappy with telling it to Billy. The Wanderer would surely despise his father. And yet, when he began, the words seemed to pour from his throat. I cannot make you understand him. I never did. How he could turn and murder his teammates. I can only stand to remember him when I knew him, when he died saving me. Billy looked at the quiet grimness of Ryo's expression and tried to search for a lighter subject. One came to him and he barely contained a smile.
"You know, there's a White Ranger in our world. He wasn't from the Zyuranger world. Did he come from here? Do you know anyone like that?" A team ignorant of the identity of their newest member. Surely they must suspect something? He would see....
They jumped on the subject with excited fervor, even Daigo who said, "We have a white member. He's the Kibaranger. And we don't know who he is!"
"Oh? Why not?" Billy asked, just for the fun of it.
Shouji waved his hands, his energy endless. His smile tugged mischief and drew an answering smile from Billy. "He was another legend, like you. Only the Kiba Ranger could pull the mystic sword, Byakoshinken, from the stone."
"Like King Arthur?" Billy asked, intrigued.
"Who?" Shouji looked confused, then shrugged it off. "I suppose. He got to his sword, and he's helped us quite a few times now. But he vanishes after every battle!"
Like Brai did, Billy thought. Kazu, who would be Aisha (and Billy felt he could see that in the rather too-pretty face) shook his head and said, chuckling, "The only new person in our lives is Kou. Hey, he could be the Kibaranger!"
Shouji shoved him with a snort. "Yeah, right. Kibaranger's an adult. Kou's just a little kid."
Rin put her two cents in, "He is rather short."
"Not that short!"
They were very amusing, and clearly enjoyed speculating about Kibaranger. Billy interjected, "I wouldn't worry too much about him. He'll let you know when the time is right."
Daigo eyed him with mock suspicion. "I suppose you know who he is?"
"I know who he will be in my world, I can't tell you anything else."
Rin nodded, accepting this. "But I hope we find out, soon. I would really like to know him. He has a weird sense of humor."
Without a doubt, thought Billy, barely keeping himself from laughing aloud. Near him, Ryo was digging his hands deep into his pockets in a long stretch. As the young man pulled his hands out, something shiny slipped out and fell towards the floor. Billy moved automatically to pick it up. It was a coin and it was warm from Ryo's body heat, but it was no ordinary one. It had a skull on one side, and some sort of symbol on the other. Turning it in his fingers, Billy asked, "What's this?"
Ryo uttered a small yelp and snatched for the coin. For some reason, Billy found he was closing his hand tightly around it. Ryo glared at him half-heartedly and said, "It's a coin."
"But whose coin?" Even as he asked he wondered why he was doing so. The coin had fallen from Ryo's pocket. But then blackness shrouded his vision and the coin burned cold in his hand. A rush of feeling entered him, a roar of fear, rage and pain that sent Billy rocking back on his heels. Not again, never again! I will be my own man this time! pulsed through his head, but it was not his thought. Who are you? he tried to ask. But the wave subsided and the coin once again was only warm from body heat. Billy found he was clutching it in a death-grip and his head was pounding. The Dairanger were gathered anxiously around him, and he could see Doushi Kaku beyond them, eyes intent upon him.
Ryo took Billy's shoulders in his hands and could feel a shudder still running through the foreigner's body. The coin temporarily forgotten, he asked, "Hey, are you all right? What just happened?"
Billy finally found his voice but his words alarmed the Dairanger. "There's someone... in a lot of pain. I felt it through this coin... so much pain." he paused for a moment. "He is suffering, fighting for his very identity." Ryo looked down at the floor as Billy lifted that penetrating, blue-eyed gaze to him. "Ryo, I know this might be asking a great deal, but whose coin is this? What happened to the owner?"
Whose coin? There was so much tangled in that particular story. It had happened so recently, and the coin was the only physical token Ryo had to mark the passing through his life of a most remarkable person. Could I get out of this by claiming I've talked too much? But Billy said he was suffering. If he knows that much, can he help me find him again? He swallowed and said quietly, "All right, I'll tell you what I know. But it really isn't much." He took a deep breath and began.
"I met him when I was out delivering orders to customers. I took a back road to avoid traffic and saw this man in a motorcycle policeman's uniform. At first I thought he was being attacked by the men in the car he'd stopped. Then I realized it was the other way around and he was no policeman." Ryo was silent for a moment, remembering the incredibly fluid movement of the man. The brief flare of black hair around his head as he moved. "I'd never seen anyone move that fast. And his style was incredible. Then I realized he was about to kill those men and I had to stop him. Not exactly an auspicious first meeting." Ryo stopped speaking and chuckled wryly, remembering how they connected in midair, and the other man was startled by his sudden presence and stopped to meet him. "He was surprised to be interrupted, but the funny thing was he wasn't the least bit angry. He was delighted, in fact, and asked my name!" It brought back the day, speaking so, the man in front of him gazing at him with frank curiosity and friendliness, as if forgetting completely the other men he had just been fighting. A handsome, square face, a surprisingly friendly, welcoming smile. Ryo did not like to think how startlingly compelling the stranger was, drawing him like a moth to a flame, and so he had taken refuge in outrage and tried to take him to task for using his talents to murder. Amused, the man had tossed a coin whose edge tore a thin scratch on Ryo's cheek. Furious, Ryo had leaped to attack, but the man turned aside his every strike, opened a wound in his arm and sent him tumbling. Then the man started to show Ryo a move, either to teach him or to punish him, but his intended victims made their getaway, trying to run both assassin and would-be-protector down, and Ryo had lost him.
"I came back to base, and Rin took care of my arm -- " he paused to exchange smiles with her -- "and I told Doushi what had happened. I wanted him to tell me Jin -- the man, you know -- was a Gohma, to tell me I needed to fight him." But instead, Doushi's answer was far from what he expected. Up to now you've fought by natural ability. You haven't trained, don't have the disciplines. This man does, he's a master of Yamikarate, of Kempo. He fought as a warrior fights. Leave him alone, you don't stand a chance against him. Ryo had never been more outraged in his life. He was the Ryuranger, and an ordinary man could not defeat him!
"I suppose I might have let it go," Ryo started again, then scowled as his team-mates made a variety of disbelieving noises. "But there was a new Gohma to contend with. Tsubodoujin. And we were just not fast enough to stop him." Billy's mind cast about and threw up an image of a walking vase with six painted eyes and a seventh real eye where the neck of a man would be. It wore maroon pantaloons, and there was a second, small vase sitting atop the lip of the big one. He was sure his own team had never fought this one. Ryo kept speaking. "We lost painfully in our first battle. Doushi Kaku told us the only way to defeat him was to increase our speed, and to develop our fighting skills, to learn Kempo. So we started working to do that.
"I went to a famous dojo to ask the master to train me. And I found Jin there. He had just killed the master. I attacked him, but he met me in midair and we ended facing each other, and he said... he said 'Oh, it's you! I'm honored to meet you again.' He looked so delighted." Ryo fell silent again. His memories were full of such confusion. No matter what he did, the assassin countered it, always just a little faster than Ryo. He had remembered Kaku's words. You don't stand a chance against him. Desperate, he managed to send the other man flying, only to see him land atop a flower and defy the law of gravity just long enough for Ryo to notice that his weight did not crush the tender petals. Stunned, he had thought, Impossible! This man cannot be a mere human! And the assassin had laughed at him. And so Ryo had done what he most absolutely should not have. Telling himself the man must be a Gohma, that Doushi Kaku just had to be wrong for once, Ryo used his Kiryoku and struck. His blast hit the unsuspecting man full force and sent him tumbling.
He remembered the naked fury in Jin's eyes when he stood back up. Suddenly the assassin was there, before Ryo even saw him move, and his fists were pounding, pounding everywhere, slipping through his defenses as though they did not exist, punishing cruelly. Every blow calculated to cause pain, but not to do permanent damage. Slowly Ryo had lost his awareness of anything but the agony from the beating. Until he fell in the warm grass, the taste of blood on his tongue, and he could see through swollen eyelids the man stalking away from him without a backward glance. He reached for him and fell into blackness.
"When I returned to base, I learned that Tsubodoujin had attacked the others while they were training, and captured Rin. Doushi Kaku said we just had to practice harder. And so we did. I was... I handicapped myself and had the others fight me. It didn't seem to help and Tsubodoujin came again. He took Shouji, and there was still nothing we could do to stop him. So I decided to train by myself." Ryo stopped speaking again, and rubbed his shoulders as if in memory of pain. Billy watched his face and tried to find some image that would tell him what it was Ryo had done, but everything was murky and shadowed with knife-edges.
"Every time I was going to give up, I thought of Rin and Shouji, and forced myself to keep going, no matter how much it hurt. I had to save them. And I was getting stronger. There was only one way I could think of to find out if it was enough, if I could do it. I went looking for him again. Somehow I found him." On a beach, under the sun, his body trembling and cold, every muscle in agony, he faced the assassin whose expression was one of resignation.
Jin sighed and set down a bag of groceries. "I'll kill you this time", he said gravely. "I'm not giving up!" Ryo snarled back. Jin studied him for a long moment, then said, "Well, it can't be helped. Prepare yourself for death." He dropped his coat into his car and came to Ryo, who raced through the surf with Jin pacing him. And they leaped at each other. Jin's gloved hand struck him, but the blow was dispelled by the springs he wore. They landed and whirled to face each other, and he tore off his shirt to reveal the harness restraining his every move. Jin stared at him, looking appalled. "You'll die if you wear that thing!"
But Ryo flexed his muscles and the springs tore from their moorings, the sharp edges gouged his skin. He was already in so much pain, these scratches changed nothing. "Fight!" he shouted. With the springs gone, Ryo's speed overmatched the assassin's. He was able to force him back. Vaguely he was aware of a clear, shrill voice sounding in the background. "Jin!" someone called.. And the assassin was distracted. He turned his gaze towards the voice. "Aki," he said. But Ryo did not notice at that time, only in later memory would he sift through the fight and find the moment. He struck, his fist connected satisfyingly with Jin's bared cheek, and the impact spun the man and sent him flying into the pouring surf.
"I knew that at last I was fast enough to stop Tsubodoujin, and I ran to fight him. I could feel Kazu and Daigo fighting him already, but I didn't get there until it was too late. I saw them swallowed up. But when he turned his attack on me, he could not stop me. I was too fast. I injured him and he regurgitated my friends. And when he blew himself up, we destroyed him. And I went back to the beach to find Jin, but he was gone. All that I found was his coin, half buried in the sand." And Ryo stared pointedly at the coin, his chin set stubbornly.
Billy, too, stared at the coin in his hands. Death on one side, a symbol on the other. What could it mean to the man who owned it, so much that it felt almost as if he was touching the man when he held the coin. It was such a powerful communication. The coin was suddenly snatched from his hand. Ryo had it back, clutched tightly in his palm and his expression was clearly resentful. Billy's hand still tingled and he rubbed his fingertips together self-consciously. "Ryo, may I... have that coin, for a while?" I need to understand what it's telling me.
Ryo's shoulders jerked, and he studied Billy intently. For a long moment it seemed he would refuse, then he held the coin out with clear reluctance. "You won't leave with it, will you?" he asked uncertainly. "It's all I have of him."
I'm not sure which of you I understand less, but I know I have more chance of understanding him if I have the coin to focus on, Billy thought. "I won't. Ryo... I've never been psychokinetic before. Something happened to this Jin, something cruel. Perhaps I will be able to find him as I travel the worlds."
"But why does it matter to you? You don't know him," Ryo said, frowning.
"I -- " Billy found it was his turn to hesitate, to choose his words with great care. "Something I wish to investigate. Clotho said that these wars are fought from world to world, again and again. Only my world is different because the war never ends. Maybe it isn't only the war that repeats from world to world. Maybe people getting reincarnated from one world to another live the same lives over and over. I can't touch him, like I did you, and find out what he might be in my world -- " or IF he will be in my world -- "so I desire to learn as much as I may from the coin." He took it carefully from Ryo's fingers.
Ryo said urgently, "I had a vision of him as a Gohma. I'm afraid they took him, and it's my fault for exposing him to them. If you find out anything will you tell me? And... and why he became an assassin. I want to know."
Again Billy was half-frozen, trying to grip another new concept. Why? He supposed there had to be a reason, just like there was a reason Bandora was evil. But in his world, no one had ever asked why Rita was evil. They just took it for granted that she had always been that way. "If I can," he told Ryo resolutely. They nodded to each other, but Ryo still looked longingly towards the coin until Billy slipped it into his pocket. Something else struck him suddenly, and he asked, "What day is it?"
Rin answered him softly, "It's Saturday."
"No, I mean what's the date?"
"Oh, it's September 4, 1993."
* * *
The Kottopotero returned to his masters with a report. Nothing had happened during the race from Rin's apartment to the Dairanger base under the Tokyo JR Train Station. The foreigner exhibited no powers, but there had hardly been any time. Zaidosu snickered at the description of the Dairanger crowding around the man like mother hens. Shaddam simply folded his arms and huffed, bored. "They'll have to train him, and that cannot be adequately accomplished in their base. He has to be outside, surrounded by nature, to access Kiryoku. That is what we must be alert for. And when he begins to access the power is when we must take him. Before he masters it, when he is uncertain." He sent several Kottopotero off, to watch all the exits from the station. They would have to be alert to move quickly and locate whatever training grounds the Dairanger chose for him.
Gara regarded Shaddam with calm interest. "I hope this boy is all you say he is. You seem more interested in him than in the Kiba Ranger."
He responded with a quiet huff. "We have a very small window of opportunity if we want to bring the Wanderer into the Gohma. Under my control, of course. But if the legend is accurate, we will have no need of the Kiba Ranger."
Zaidosu raised an eyebrow and growled sullenly, "Just what kind of power is this Wandering Ranger suppose to have?"
"All of the Dai Kiryoku, combined."
Both of them stared at him in amazement. All of the Dai Kiryoku. Gara drew a long, steadying breath. "I didn't think one person could accept all of that power. But now I see why you want him so badly. With him under our control, no one could stop us. Not even the Emperor."
* * *
Someone just walked over my grave. For the first time in his life, Billy had an idea what that old idiom meant. He thought the goosebumps on his skin might just evolve legs and walk. Could it be only that he was in a time before they had received their Thunderzords? Or was it something else?
And then a warm hand descended on his shoulder. It was Doushi Kaku, regarding him steadily. "Now, my young friend, it is time to receive what you truly came for."
Confused, Billy stared into Doushi's dark eyes. Not emotionless, he realized, but deeply calm and thoroughly self-controlled. "I'm afraid I don't know what you mean. I came here to learn about the Rangers."
Doushi regarded him for a long, quiet moment. At last he asked, "How much do you know about your quest, Billy?"
His thoughts leaped back to that day in the cave, that rather brief conversation with Clotho. So little had been said. He shook his head. "Not much, I'm afraid. Just that I am to travel to the Sentai worlds of our past, present and future and learn as much as I can about the Rangers of each world."
"That's all you know?"
"The Goddess who organized this little trip refused to give me any other details."
Doushi's mouth quirked in the tiniest of smiles, which somehow transformed his whole face into a mask of silent laughter. "It seems she left a considerable amount for you to discover. The legends about you in this world say that you are to inherit all of the Dai Kiryoku."
Billy found himself exchanging bewildered looks with the Dairanger. His voice squeaked slightly with his nervousness as he asked, "Me? Forgive me, but I do not even know what Kiryoku is, much less what to do with it."
"Then you will need someone to teach you." The woman's firm voice came from behind them and they all spun, except for Doushi Kaku who had known she was there all the time. She stood, pale and tragically lovely, her clothing a riot of bright color in this dark room.
"Kujaku!" Daigo gasped, taking an involuntary step towards her.
She was glad that she had filled her eyes with him while watching them. Even now she starved for him but it was not an overriding force, and she managed to keep her attention focused on the boy, Billy. "Wandering Ranger, you must come with me. I will teach you all you need to know. But we must hurry before the Gohma find you."
Billy blinked at the news. "They're after me, too? What for? I have nothing that they could want."
She did not blink. The conversation she had listened to clearly revealed his ignorance and it need not be discussed. "It is your soul that they desire. Now come. We cannot afford to waste any more time. You must be ready."
She brought Billy and the Dairanger to a meadow in a wood outside Tokyo proper. The others worried that, if the Gohma were indeed after Billy, such an open area would not be the best place to train. Kujaku simply shrugged and pointed out that he had to be surrounded by nature rather than office buildings and cement to feel the Kiryoku. The city would simply be too distracting.
Daigo is in love with her, Billy reminded himself. He would have liked to study her light battle-armor. The peacock-feather theme dominated, mostly blue. Her bodysuit was a strong red. There were white shields on her upper arms and chest, with golden peacock emblems. She wore a wide, heavy black belt around her waist, some peculiar white kerchief around her shoulders and he could see the tassled hilt of at least one blade she carried at her back. All together it combined to make her look quite formidable, despite the fragile beauty of her face and the delicate fingers he could see protruding from her white gloves. Nervous and respectful, he said cautiously, "May I ask how you knew where to find me?"
There was a hint of a humorless smile on her face. "You saw me when you passed my resting place." The Dairanger exchanged confused looks. They had no idea where Kujaku stayed when she was not fighting. Daigo had said she was searching for the Peacock's Tears, but they supposed she had to rest sometimes. "You also took my feather. Only the Wandering Ranger would be able to see or touch that feather." Billy remembered, then, where he had seen her face. He had thought he was only imagining things when he looked again. He slid his hand into his pocket, touched the hard object from the museum and brought it out. The Dairanger saw nothing for a moment, but then the dusky golden feather became visible in Billy's hand. They all gasped when it suddenly disintegrated.
A wave of unease swept through Billy, but Kujaku seemed indifferent and simply said, "It has served its purpose. We no longer need it." She flicked her hand towards a nearby boulder. "Sit down, Billy." He obeyed her, too nervous to speak. "Close your eyes and concentrate. You must block out all distractions from you mind."
He wanted to obey her, but when he closed his eyes his mind filled with images. The Zyuranger and Dairanger seemed to be crowded around him holding out blurry objects they were intent upon showing to him. He thought he could see other people in the distance, feel them watching him with suspicion and nervousness. And he could still see that golden feather, feel it disintegrate in his hand. How could such a solid object go through molecular decomposition so quickly? It had to mean something. Kujaku's voice in his ear made him jerk with surprise, but he kept his eyes closed. It seemed to drive away the crowded ghosts. His flesh crawled at the thought. Not ghosts, oh scientist. Imaginings, not ghosts. He concentrated on Kujaku's words.
"You must clear you mind in order to unlock your inner power. Concentrate on one thought. The feather that led me to you, conjure up an image of that in your mind. Think of nothing else but that feather."
Billy was shaken. He already had been thinking of the feather, did she know? And there was so much to distract him. Even now he was becoming painfully aware of the scents in the air. Flowers, soil, crushed grass. The sap-scent of the trees nearby. And now the distant bird-song that seemed so sharp in his ears, and the surface of the boulder he sat upon was very uneven. The feather. Concentrate on the feather. It gleamed in his mind's eye. Odd, so odd had it felt as it fell apart on the molecular level. The sounds and smells all around seemed to be filling him uncomfortably, all of it focused on that feather as though something far greater than he was looking at it through him, just as puzzled as he was. It was filling him, pushing at his edges, seeking freedom from the boundaries of his flesh.
"That's it Billy concentrate! You have a hold of it, don't let it go!"
I do? He realized then that the sense of pressure within him was some sort of power. It must be Kiryoku filling him. Somehow he was aware of it in a way he could not have been before. Now he had to use it. Rin had used it to blast those creatures away from him. Kaku had used it to fling a blade at Ryo. What was the mechanism that permitted them to do so? What object did they wear that channeled this power through circuits or crystals? He felt like he was going to burst. Somehow he had to use this, to release it. How? He tried to move it, but it was like hitting a wall and he was knocked out of his trance. His body responded as if it had been hit physically. He was flung from the rock and landed flat on his back. The Dairanger went to help him but Kujaku stopped them.
"He must do this on his own!"
Billy pulled himself to his feet and settled down on the boulder to try again. It was easier this time to reach the point where he felt himself filled with power. But when he tried to use it... it rejected him and he was sent flying again. After five or six tries he felt his pride was more bruised than his body. Why was this so difficult? If he could feel the power, why could he not use it? This power was nothing like the morphing power he once held. Then it all seemed to come naturally to him. Using this power seemed vitally important, yet how could he do it? He longed for the time when things in his life made sense, in one way or another. There had been a time when everything could be fit into terms he understood. Rin, Doushi Kaku, the others had to channel this power through something. It had to go through the Lai Lai Crystals, at least! When he was sent flying again, he gathered up his determination and met Kujaku's eyes steadily. "I think we have to try a different approach." Please give me a tool to direct this power. I need a tool.
The woman frowned. "It is not the approach that is the problem. You just can't seem to let go of the world around you and let the power come to you. Your mind has too many distractions."
This made no real sense to Billy. Certainly it applied to meditation and study, but how could it apply to using power? He shook his head in frustration. "There has to be another way."
Kujaku regarded him without letting anything of what he was sure she thought show in her face. "If your mind is not open when you are not threatened, then perhaps in combat you will respond to, rather than resist, the Kiryoku."
The Dairanger glanced uneasily at each other. Before the men had a chance to say anything, Rin moved in to stand close to student and teacher. But she stood closer to Kujaku and regarded Billy with the same, waiting calm.
"You want me to fight you?" This is not good, he thought, and knew the thought showed on his face.
"Perhaps your Kiryoku is simply waiting for you to call it when you are in need."
She certainly had a peculiar way of phrasing things. He had to admit it was just crazy enough to work. In battle back in his world he had been able to fight with great and unexpected power, just when he thought he had nothing left. "All right, I'm willing to give it a try."
The Dairanger could do nothing but watch and feel helpless. Rin glanced around and spotted a long, relatively smooth branch. She lifted it and found it strong, then cleared off the remaining twigs and tossed it to their guest. "Billy, catch!"
He caught it easily and held it firmly in his hands as he steadied himself to fight. Kujaku wasted no time and attacked. He had not expected her to start so suddenly or with such force. The branch was a tool and something his instincts led him to handle well. While Kujaku did not attempt any blows that would injure him badly if they made it through, she did not go easy on him, either. She was impressed with his Bo skills but they were not enough to stop her and he wound up being hit, batted, and thrown about the meadow, the occasional Dairanger ducking out of their way. Attack after attack, and Billy's Kiryoku showed no sign of surfacing, which was trying Kujaku's patience.
"You fight back, but you are also holding back. We both know you can fight better than this. Were you not a warrior on your home world?" she accused him.
"What I can't understand is why you are taking this fight so seriously," he panted.
"Do you mock me? This is a battle plain and simple. And this battle is to prepare you for what's to come. How can I not take it seriously?"
Seeing that she did not appear to be launching another attack at him, he leaned slightly on his stick. "That's not what I meant."
She looked understandably puzzled. "Then what do you mean?"
"You are fighting with great fury, but I'm not your enemy. You seem so angry but not at me. Is that why you fight?"
Kujaku hid her amusement and wry dismay. If he thought she was not holding back, perhaps later she would give him the shock of his sheltered life. Still, she answered him seriously. "The Gohma are monsters who take pleasure in destroying lives... including mine. So if you ask me if I fight to end their power, then the answer is yes. Isn't that what you fight for?"
"No. That's not why I fight at all." His answer surprised both Kujaku and the intently listening Dairanger. "I fight to protect those I love. My family and my friends, and all the innocents who would suffer if our enemies should succeed. That has always been the reason I fight."
His words echoed in Kujaku's mind. He was a little like Daigo in that respect. She could remember a time when she had felt the same, but she had become wiser with age and experience. It angered her that Billy reasoned like a child, when he had considerable responsibilities as the Wandering Ranger. Thus she spoke with more force than she might have, snapping "You don't know what suffering is! You can't know the suffering I had to go though for six thousand years trapped in a mirror!"
Billy's mind briefly reeled. She was a survivor of the first war? Somehow kept untouched by time, like Zordon trapped in an interdimensional warp and unable to come out or he would die. Who would she be in his world? In his mind's eye that feather disintegrated again. Is she dying? Is that why she is in such a rush? He swallowed and said softly, "But I do know."
She looked at him with increasingly obvious anger. "How could you know? You weren't there."
A little lie, impressions she would understand rather than what he had learned while fighting her. "But you were, and so was that feather. When I touched it I felt what you felt. Every emotion you felt came to me. I know you felt betrayed, and how the loneliness took its toll on you. I know you weren't always like this, I know you changed. So when I tell you I know how you feel, I mean it."
A small smile crossed her face, and Billy felt certain she knew he was mis-leading her. But she only said, "So it seems you can use some of your Kiryoku, and you weren't even aware of it." Billy blinked in surprise. Was that what he was doing when he touched their hands? He had not known it was Kiryoku that he was using, but maybe that was the point. Kujaku clarified it for him. "The power to look into souls and see their lives past, present and future. To read and experience their true feelings. Such power can be both a burden and a joy for one such as you."
Don't I know it. Suddenly Kujaku was moving faster than he had seen her do before. She sent a blue peacock-feather dagger flying at him and he was too startled to move. It just missed his head and stuck in the trunk of a tree behind him. He was still grappling to get his vocal chords unfrozen and ask what that had been about, when a blur of movement in the corner of his eye caused him to spin fully around. There was a strange woman standing close to the tree, her body hiding the dagger. She was dressed all in black leather, save for the purplish, almost plastic-like material covering her chest like armor. A blood red gem hung from her hood, right over her eyes. She was darkly, menacingly beautiful, and she smirked victoriously.
"Gara!" Kujaku snarled.
"Thank you for leading us to the boy, Kujaku," she replied mockingly. Her voice could have been like a dark wine. It was full of secrets and laughter. Suddenly Kottopotero were appearing from behind every tree.
"I'll never let you have him." And with that, Kujaku charged.
"Transform!" shouted Ryo, and the five braced themselves. Billy spun around to see. Bracelets had appeared on their wrists, and they brought them together dramatically with a shout of, "Kiryoku tenshin, Aura Changer!"
"Ryu Ranger, Tenkasei Ryo!" The red armor, white vest, the symbol on the chest identical on all of them. The delicate golden design on the helmet, stylized to resemble a dragon.
"Shishi Ranger, Tengensei Daigo!" The rich green, a lion design on the helmet.
"Tenma Ranger, Tenjuusei Shouji!" The brilliant blue, wings on the side of the helmet.
"Kirin Ranger, Tenjisei Kazu!" A shining yellow. The gold design bizarre, with no clear relation to a unicorn. But then a Kirin was not a Unicorn, really.
"Houou Ranger, Tenpuusei, Rin!" And again the sheer grace of Rin's armor.
"Gosei Sentai Dairanger!" they chorused with determination. Only then did Billy realize, along with naming their armor, they named themselves by their true names. For all that the rest of the world seemed to have no idea who they were, they and the Gohma were quite happy to tell each other who was who. Well, except for the Kibaranger.
Kujaku was fighting Gara as though no one else existed. The others tore in to fight off the Kottopotero. Rin shouted, "Billy, get out of here! Don't let them take you!"
He hated that he had to leave them to deal with the enemy, but he had neither power nor armor and was more of a liability than a help. He spun and raced towards the trees. There was no way he could lose the enemy in the open, but at least he could dive and duck with the best of them. A movement behind the tree ahead halted him in his tracks, but then a familiar face popped out of the bushes and grinned at him. "Kou? What are you doing here?"
Kou waved him urgently to come closer. "Getting you out of trouble, now come on! This way!" They leaped off into the woods together. The boy was quick on his feet, and when they ran into a small crowd of Kottopotero struggling through the bushes, changed direction in a heartbeat with a snarled, "Damn it!" For he could not transfer into his armor where the Kottopotero would see him. They were bright enough to realize who he was if he did. He dove and kicked at them, forcing them back. Billy was no slouch, either. His strikes were telling and, perhaps after the example Rin had set for him, delivered with the necessary force to seriously injure their opponents. He was giving quite a good accounting of himself, but Kou ended up trapped by two Kottopotero, who pinned him and clearly had every intention of tearing him limb from limb. Billy shoved his way through the ones grabbing at him, and leaped for those two. His flight was arrested in midair when his arm was taken in a grip of steel. He had only an instant to turn and see the face of the short man who had him. Much shorter than him. Face as hard as the hand, lip curled in a contemptuous sneer. The black leather somehow more frightening than any motorcycle gang's and then Billy's perceptions tumbled, and he was taken, teleported away from the battle.
* * *
He was afraid. He could admit that, now he was alone. After he was taken, he had found himself in a room that seemed so ordinary, like a corporate magnus' empty office with rich furnishings. The man who had taken him released his arm and two other people stepped out of thin air. One was the woman, Gara. The other was a towering man whose eyes seemed to hold a gleeful madness. Seeing the three of them together, he knew who they were. The powerful Gohma triumvirate Rin had spoken of. The hellish trio, as she said. Shaddam, Gara and Zaidosu. And they circled him slowly, while he stood and refused to turn his head to follow their movement. They were studying him. He wondered at the clawed gloves on their hands. Were there normal, human hands beneath, or demon talons?
And suddenly the short man -- and Billy knew somehow that he was Shaddam -- came around in front of him. A blue-taloned, gloved hand shot out and gripped his chin, like cold fire on his bare skin. Billy held his breathing as steady as he could and remembered, they had seen this man in a book in his own world, like a two-dimensional cut-out. He almost laughed. Mondo the Magician, from "Grumble the Magic Elf." He's far more terrifying in person, Billy thought. It was as though Shaddam, unable to enter their world whole, had not allowed any part of himself that mattered to reach them. Odd perception, Billy thought, and wondered if it was true. Then Shaddam gave a contemptuous snort and released him. "Wandering Ranger? To be taken as easily as thought?"
They knew about him. That sent a fresh surge of fear through his heart, but he held his ground. "I don't know what you're talking about."
They laughed. Shaddam's laughter was high and crazy-sounding. Zaidosu's was a low rumble in contrast to his mad eyes. Gara's was more easy. It was she who said musingly, "We've been watching them try to train you." At that a fresh spate of laughter burst from the two men. Billy felt his cheeks go hot. "You can't do it. You don't have what it takes."
"I can," he tried to say defiantly. But his voice quivered and he saw them hear it, smirking.
Then Zaidosu reached out and, like Shaddam, caught Billy's chin in a burning, cold grip and forced him to look up into his eyes. "We could give you what it takes. And then you would have the strength to fight even us."
A surge of new fear tore through him. Doushi Kaku's description, of how the Gohma worshiped devils and practiced human sacrifice, how they were driven by hate, was clear in his mind. He could see that will in Zaidosu's wild eyes.
Revolted, he said earnestly, "You can't make me become one of you!"
Zaidosu snorted and pushed away from him. Billy knew he would have bruises where the man had gripped him. Gara stepped forward, laughing low in her throat. "You can. You could have so much power and you would never have to die." She took his chin now, bringing his gaze to hers. He closed his eyes to avoid it, finding her touch even worse than Shaddam's and Zaidosu's. Like shards of glass in the cold fire, he imagined he would be bleeding when she released him.
And with his eyes shut, something traveled into him. For an instant his mind was filled with images, badly distorted. Blood, and screaming. Pain and hatred for bitter betrayal. For an instant he saw Gara's face, years younger, as she might have seen it in a reflection, bruised and torn. And her clothes... were the uniform of a Ranger, though like none he had yet seen.
Pain, then. His skin torn. Iron cold fire gripping his arms from behind, holding him up. It was Zaidosu behind him, and he knew suddenly that Gara had slapped him. His skin had not been torn, just felt a sharp impact. Shaddam beside her had his head tilted, a frown of puzzlement on his face. "Fragile thing," he commented.
Billy looked into Gara's eyes, but they were indifferent. She had neither seen nor felt what he had. Perhaps the gloves prevented it. Perhaps whatever it was that made her a Gohma did it. He did not know. But somehow, somewhere, at some point... she had been a Ranger. He knew suddenly, with a conviction he could not explain to himself, that what he had seen was one of her past lives.
They began circling him again. At last they stopped, spread out around him. He could feel himself at the center of their net. "I think," began Shaddam, "that you need to be by yourself for a while."
And Gara laughed a soft, smug menace. "To think on our offer."
And Zaidosu's deep snarl finished the words. "To think of the only chance you have."
And they brought him here, left him in this place, this prison. It was a dank, mildewy cell. It was not completely dark, but the air seemed gray, everything dulled here. There were chains hanging from the ceiling and wall. They had not bothered to chain him, sure the barred door was quite enough to hold a powerless human like him. And there was something else. It was as though there was something in the very air he breathed. Something decidedly wrong and it wanted in... inside him. It caused a crawling sensation in his flesh, caused his throat to clog as his body instinctively rejected it. Was it his imagination, something they were doing, or just something about this place? He was not certain what to think. That was almost the most frightening part. It was as if he had lost some internal balance. He folded his arms and finally just leaned against the damp stone wall. I will not, you cannot make me, he thought again, to whatever was trying to get into him.
If only he had powers again. He should have been the Gold Ranger, but it was impossible and so Jason had been called back. Strong, muscular, all-round American boy Jason, who had once been their leader. Damn him for being able to take the power that should have gone to me.
"No!" His protesting shout was swallowed by the dampness in the air as he sprang away from the wall, feeling sick. "This is not me," he whispered. And yet he realized that it was him. That whatever wanted in him was reaching for the anger, the resentments inside him and opening them up. Was this what it was to know the chance in oneself to become evil? This power that did not rely on imposing an outside will upon his, but upon bringing to the fore the worst parts of himself? Billy shuddered. Kat had only been under a spell, and had broken it. Tommy had been under a spell, and Jason had broken that. Tommy had been made the Green Ranger, without a chance at choosing. And then he had been brought back as the White Ranger. Damn him, too!
"NO!" he shouted again. He did not want to give the Gohma what they wanted, but how could he prevent it? Here he was powerless, with no help from the so-called Guardian. I haven't even seen her since I transferred off the Zyu Ranger world... she doesn't care what happens to me as long as I do the dirty work for her. She and Clotho, they stole me from my home and left me on my own to.... It was then that he remembered why he had accepted this mission, to protect the future of his world. What frightened him was that he was starting to forget the reasons he was doing all of this. He hated himself for it, but it looked like there was no way to prevent it.
This time it was a shaken whisper. "No." Here in this place, he realized, without distraction... it was his own darkness stirring and waking, fed by an external power. Never in his life had he been forced to fight himself. If he had to, would he fail? "Help me," he whispered, then felt ashamed. There was no one to help him. He would have to face this himself. "Ow!" he gasped at a sudden flare of heat on his thigh. Moving quickly, he reached into his pocket and drew out the hard object that was burning him. He stopped when he realized that it was only uncomfortably hot, not really burning, and he stared at it in surprise.
The golden coin Ryo had given him with such reluctance, with the death-skull on one face. It gave off no light, just sat very hot in his palm. He stared at it in puzzlement, the pressure in him muffled and subsiding now he had a mystery to concentrate on. And then there was a sound. The air cut and then a sharp, cruel impact. Billy flinched, but whoever was struck made no noise. He looked around anxiously. It was close to him, so close as if it was in this room. He hesitated, then closed his eyes and concentrated as Kujaku had taught him. Concentrated on stilling himself and reaching. Whatever it was, surely if he could hear it, he could feel it. He could at least do that much, even if he could not summon the power of the world around him into his hands. Zaidosu's voice in the air all around him, as if he were standing in the Gohma's place. "You will obey. You belong to me." A wordless snarl the only response. Then Zaidosu's laughter, and the sounds of metal scraping, the gates opening and closing.
Billy had achieved that state beyond which he could not seem to reach. There was a slight difference this time. The Kiryoku seemed uneasy inside him, but it filled him and he felt for a moment it was like an animal, peering suspiciously at everything around it. He almost laughed. That was fanciful silliness. Power was a tool to be used, not a being with feelings. Still he had reached that state, when everything in him was ready and waiting. The state that always collapsed the instant he tried to do something in it. So he did not try. He only opened his eyes slowly. What he saw almost disturbed his equilibrium, but he held it by a narrow thread.
Where nothing was before, there was a Japanese man in the chains against the wall. What struck Billy first was the heavy, black clothing he wore. Then the silver, clawed metal that either encased or replaced the man's left arm. A red belt around his waist. His chest protected by hard casing that looked like the muscles when the flesh hiding them was removed, the color of living blood. The man's eyes were closed, his hair was slick with the sweat that beaded every surface of his skin, and he was trembling steadily.
You were right, Ryo. The Gohma did take him. Billy swallowed and asked softly, "Are you Jin?"
The man's eyes snapped open and turned a piercing stare towards Billy, but then that gaze flicked the cell with a hint of puzzlement and hostile fury. He can't see me, Billy realized. Jin shuddered once and then was still, eyes alert and watching the room around him. Then he said bitterly, "Where are you? Who are you?"
With the coin uncomfortably hot in his hand, Billy answered as best he could. "I'm a prisoner here, like you. My name is Billy."
"Yes." Billy moved closer hesitantly, then finally reached his hand out to touch Jin's shoulder. It passed through it and he could somehow see both his hand and Jin, equally solid.
Jin was listening to him move but had not felt a thing. "This is a trick," he growled.
Billy kept his hands at his sides and answered softly, "Not a trick. We're... sharing a vision. We are here at different times. But I have one of your coins. It must be making some sort of conduit between us."
The man uttered a snort of contempt. "And what time is it for you?" he said sarcastically.
"Um, I'm not wearing a watch. But the date is September 4, 1993."
A strange flicker of emotion crossed Jin's face, then curiosity stole in place of the bitter fury in his eyes. He turned his gaze towards the source of Billy's voice. "How is it you have one of my coins?"
For a moment, Billy hesitated. The man surely would not like this. "Ryo gave it to me. You're... very important to him."
At the sound of Ryo's name, Jin jerked in his chains. The curiosity vanished, replaced by a smoldering fury. He growled, "I'll escape this cell, and I will defeat him!"
"Why?" Billy asked, before he could stop himself. Then he decided it was a perfectly legitimate question to ask. "Why not defeat Zaidosu, instead?"
And Jin laughed softly, hopelessly, for a long minute. Finally he stopped and drew a tired breath. "Zaidosu made me a Gohma. No matter how much power I have, he can destroy me." Then he shouted furiously to the ceiling, "But he can not control me!" Then he snorted to himself and shrugged. His gaze once again turned to where he could hear Billy's voice coming from, curiosity gained the upper hand. "Are you here because you will not obey your master?"
"I don't have a master," Billy sputtered indignantly.
"That's what I tell Zaidosu. But he doesn't agree." Jin seemed to find that amusing, and chuckled.
Billy swallowed his own laughter. Something about this man was infectious. If he could only drink in this wild determination, the passion and will to be amused by this horrendous situation. "They're trying to get me to become a Gohma."
Jin's head shot up. "Don't do it!"
"I have -- " Billy started to shout, then forcibly lowered his voice. "I have no intention of doing it. But there's something in the air, here. It's making me think of all the things I've ever resented, all the little angers that never worried me before. I'm afraid of myself." He cut off the flow of words, realizing with sudden horror that Jin would probably only feel contempt for this. He risked a look at the other man's face. There was no contempt there. In fact Jin's gaze was turned inward.
Finally, he spoke. "That is when they take you. At the moment you most despise yourself."
Billy found he was shivering. He breathed in deeply and asked, "How could you despise yourself that much?"
"Why the hell should I tell you?" Jin asked bitterly.
"Because I'm asking," Billy said as gently as he could.
Jin looked down at the damp floor. He seemed to be studying it intently. Suddenly he said, "I wish I could see you. I could look in your eyes and know what kind of person you are."
"I'm sorry." Billy did not know what else to say. Pleading was unfamiliar to him. So far, asking someone about their history had led to answers, however painful those were.
"He was a surprise," Jin said suddenly. Billy bit back a reply and waited. Jin shifted, as though trying to find a comfortable position among the chains holding him. "Ryo. So earnest, so determined to believe that drivel Kempo masters blather about not using your skills to kill. Maybe some don't use them to kill, but they will use them to destroy. Better that the most arrogant masters face me and die if they cannot stop me. The arrogant ones who thought their mastery meant they could commit criminal acts and suffer no consequence. Better that those who wish to learn study on their own." Jin's tone, unbelievably, became increasingly bitter as he spoke.
But Billy thought he understood. "Your teacher was cruel to you. That doesn't mean all of them are like that."
"Cruel?" The laughter that erupted was painful to hear. "Oh yes, he was cruel. But it didn't matter! I would have borne anything, anything to master Kempo and Yamikarate as he had! But I didn't know what anything was."
Billy caught his breath and asked cautiously, "What did he do to you?" Jin seemed to be going through some inner struggle. Billy thought part of it might be a strong impulse to shout "Go away and leave me alone." He held his breath and hoped. Herein surely lay the answer to Ryo's question about why someone as extraordinary as this became an assassin. At last Jin related the tale in a voice hoarse with useless rage.
On the cliffs looking over the waves that broke against the stones far below, he was training with his ruthless teacher. He had learned so much, and worked hard to demonstrate his knowledge. Then his master struck him a blow that sent him too close to the cliff-edge, and he fell with a cry. His master's hot, strong hand closed around his wrist but he was well over the edge, and the waves far below seemed to leap for him. The rocks seemed to shout with hunger for his blood. He clung desperately to his teacher's wrist and then, in terrified horror, clung all the more, as his teacher released him! "Help me!" His teacher replied, "You're too heavy, let go or you'll drag us both down! Let go!" But he could not. The fall was too far and surely his strong teacher could save him. No one could be that cruel. But then his teacher pulled out a long, serrated blade, and he knew what would happen even as the movement began, light flashing on the blade that slashed toward his arm, and he did not feel the pain until afterwards, as he fell towards the hungry rocks and waves, into a darkness that would never release him.
The room felt even colder than before. Billy rubbed his shoulders uneasily, staring at Jin's metal arm and searching for words. "Is he who you sacrificed to become a Gohma, then?" he finally asked.
Jin's gaze remained fixed on the floor. "No. He was already dead." For a long moment he closed his eyes, then opened them again, his gaze lifeless and dry. "He had a daughter."
No, thought Billy. He tried to stop himself from thinking what this meant. He could not. Ryo had mentioned hearing a woman call Jin's name, which was how he had learned it. When the Dairanger had come to the beach they had found nothing except Jin's coin. He could picture Jin handing over some helpless Japanese woman to Zaidosu, and watching as she was slaughtered. "Dear God."
"I killed her," Jin said abruptly. "Aki was my weakness. I could not ignore her voice in the midst of my battle with Ryo. Zaidosu told me to throw away my heart. That if I became a Gohma I could beat him. So when she came to me, I killed her."
"You... you're insane!" Billy choked out. Oh, God. If Ryo knew this... Jin paid for his power with a helpless girl's life. He was so glad Jin could not see him, but he wished he could say the same, now.
"Yes. I sacrificed Aki, who loved me, for the power to defeat Ryo. And I still can't. It was for nothing. And now Zaidosu keeps me here and starves me, sure I will submit to his control. And Aki is gone from this world."
Billy swallowed several times, forcing himself to look at Jin again. The man's gaze was steadily focused on the floor, empty and hollow. Hopeless. No, he isn't insane. It was temporary insanity and he has to live with what he did during it. A magic spell to make someone evil, break the magic spell and that person becomes good. But madness is not so easily cured. And if these lives repeated from world to world, how many times had Jin sold his soul only to find the cost far too high? He closed his eyes and asked, "Jin, what is the date, for you?"
There was no answer for a long moment, then Jin shrugged. "It must be November, now. The last time I knew the date, it was October 23."
Billy swallowed convulsively. He had only been here a few hours at the most, with this place reminding him of the things that were terrible about himself. Jin must be feeling far worse. And I cannot even touch him to see his future. If the Gohma held him here for much longer, how could he bear it? "I need to escape. I don't know how to fight this." I do not know if I am strong enough. Will I cave and sell someone, like Rin or Kou, to become a Gohma? Now that he knew about Jin, he saw how easy it was to say he would never do such a thing....
Jin suddenly said, "You have my coin, bring it close to me."
"What?" Billy started. He was already doing it, even as his knowledge caught up with his movements. "Why? We aren't even in... close to...."
"It's a conduit, yes? I cannot get myself out, but it sounds like you are not chained." Billy opened his mouth and shut it. It was strange, the coin seemed to be getting hotter. He gritted his teeth against the burning sensation and suddenly Jin's human hand closed over his. "I can feel it."
So could Billy. Their hands were touching. They were solid to each other, around the contact point of the coin. Jin's touch was not like that of the three Gohma. It was both hot and cold, as if there was too much of himself in there for the Gohma poison to completely override it. Yet no information flowed. And when Billy raised his eyes, they were looking at each other. Jin stared at him for one long moment, eyes wide with curiosity, then narrowed with amusement. "You are stronger than you believe." And suddenly he flung out his metal arm, and a blast of red light surged from it. And Billy was blinded for a moment by the flaring fire. The room shook.
When his vision cleared the room was empty. The coin was warm in his palm and the bars that had held him in were a twisted mess. His ears were still ringing. Billy scrambled to his feet and raced out the cell, Jin's coin clasped tight in his hand, following some strange, internal guide that would take him from this place. I will find your soul, Jin, and stop you from paying such a price for power again. Stop Aki from dying for you, he thought. And Gara's soul, too. If the Gohma don't catch me before I can get out of reach. He prayed they did not know he was free.
* * *
Tommy sat alone at the edge of the cliffs overlooking Angel Grove. Three days had passed since Ako and the rest of the Jet Man team came and went from their world. Three days since they knew that there were Rangers from other dimensions, and since one of their own had vanished from the one place they all believed to be safe.
In the hours following Billy's disappearance the whole team was in a frenzy trying to find out just where the vortex had taken him. Unlike with Ako, they could find no trace to follow that would lead them to Billy. It was ironic that it had been him this time, since he was the one most likely to be able to find a missing member lost in another time or dimension. Now it was he who was gone and Tommy realized just how much they all needed him, not just as a helper around the command center but as a dear friend. As hard as it was to admit it, they had taken him for granted. After all, Billy would know what to do, he can find them. Billy have you found the monster's weakness yet? Billy will always be there... for us....
Tommy let his head droop between his knees. It was like Billy was no longer a friend, but a tool they would use and then put aside when they were done. He felt sick remembering how, soon after they had gotten the Zeo power, Billy was left out of many of their social activities, left to clean up after them after all the battles. It was only in his absence that Tommy truly appreciated what a true friend Billy was to all of them, and how much he had meant to them. "Billy," Tommy whispered into the wind, willing his words to his lost friend, "forgive us, forgive me. You deserved better than this.... Please, come home to us."
"Tommy?" someone said behind him.
He snapped his head around in surprise, but it was not Billy. It was someone else whom he cared about deeply, and he managed a smile for her. "Hi, Kat. Any word?" he asked hopefully, as she settled down beside him.
She turned her head away, not wanting see the look on his face when she told him the news. Her action answered him more clearly than the words she spoke. "Nothing, we tried retracing his biorhythms to find just where he went, but... nothing." She turned to meet his eyes, as he gazed at her with a painfully helpless expression. She had to tell him, and she wished she did not. "It gets worse. It would appear that his trail was deliberately cut off by someone, or something."
Tommy's face drained of color and he stared widely at her. "How, by who... I mean... who would do something like this?!? To leave him stranded in another world, alone, with no powers to protect him and no way to get home!!!"
Kat put her hands on his shoulder to calm him down, squeezing the tense muscles firmly. "Tommy, please!" She hated seeing him this way, blaming himself for something he had no control over. She stared into his eyes, willing him to be strong. It was not having control that was driving him crazy. He calmed down and relaxed under her hands. Relieved, she continued. "We can't be sure, but it would appear that whoever was 'helping' us earlier might have been the same one who opened the vortex to steal him away, and they're keeping us from getting to him." The expression on his sweet face turned even more miserable. She wanted to kiss that sadness away. She said gently, "Tommy, you couldn't have done anything to stop it from happening. Whatever took him wanted him from the start. I don't think any of us could have stopped it."
While her words rang true in his head, in his heart he could not let go of Billy's startled cry for help, and the image of him being dragged through the giant hole in the air. Other, happier images of Billy danced through his head, more painful then any wound suffered in battle with any enemy. How Billy had welcomed Tommy to the Power Rangers after the evil spell had been broken, and given him his first communicator. One he was always forgetting during his first year as a Ranger. All of the times Billy had saved his life without a second thought and expected nothing in return. And when he was made leader and Jason left, Billy was the one who always stood by his side keeping him from going crazy even when he thought he was not cut out for the job. Billy had taken care of all of them when Master Vile had turned back time, risking life and limb to protect not only them but to help the Alien Rangers as well. The pain in Billy's eyes was evident when he gave up his shard of the Zeo crystal, yet he had said nothing. When Jason returned to claim the golden power because he had not been able to... Billy had apologized.
Tommy put his hands to his face. "What have I done?" he whispered sadly.
Kat instantly sought to reassure him. "There was nothing you could do."
"That's not what I meant." He took a deep breath, not wanting to face her. "He's been treated so badly since we got the Zeo power. It's almost like... he's no longer a Ranger so he's no longer one of us."
Kat wanted to tell him he was wrong, but in truth she was feeling much the same. She was sure the others felt it, too. She shuffled over to press her hip against his and put her arm around him. She said softly, "Ever since he disappeared, I also began to see just how much he meant to all of us. You're right... we have been ignoring him."
They leaned against each other. It seemed as if even the stars above them wanted to weep. Tommy brushed his lips through Kat's soft hair, remembering something he had not told anyone. Something he wanted to share with her. "This may sound strange but... but I had a dream about losing someone... the way I lost Billy."
Kat raised her gaze to his, reading his distress and loneliness, sharing his need to connect with her. "How do you mean?"
"Well, in my dream I was on a space station, and it was being attacked. The thing was it wasn't really me... I was myself, seeing through someone else's eyes. You know how it is sometimes in dreams?" She nodded agreeably and waited. "He was hurt and being dragged to safety by two women because the ship was going to blow up. Suddenly there was a huge explosion. The hull was breached just a few feet from where we were. The woman closest to it was pulled out the hole with the rushing air and I leaped after her. I caught her hands and tried to pull her back in, but I was too weak. She slipped through my fingers, crying my name, and fell into space. And then the failsafes kicked in and a sheet of metal sealed the breach. But she was gone and I would've torn through that metal to get to her."
Kat stared at him wide eyed as she realized that was just how they had lost Billy. "Oh, Tommy! Why didn't you tell me earlier?"
He looked at her with a sheepish grin. "Would you believe I forgot?" Kat gave him a half-hearted glare, but she had to concede that with all the action they had been through, there was no reason for him to think about the dream. He looked bemused, though, and added, "There was something else... something I didn't realize until just now. The other woman trying to rescue me looked exactly like Choukan. The clothes and everything, from what I saw on the viewscreen."
Intriguing. "You had this dream before Ako appeared?"
"The night before, but I'm not sure what to make of it."
And to think, her life had been normal before she came to Angel Grove. "What do you think it means? Do you think it was a foretelling that the Jetmen would come?"
His mood considerably lightened by her twinkling blue eyes, he smiled at her. "I don't think it could be. The other woman was Japanese, too. But for some reason I kept thinking she was Kimberly." He would not say how much that had bothered him when he was dreaming. It was easy to discount the alarm of the dream, when he thought of Kimberly and how very not-Japanese she was.
Kat laughed. She missed Kim too, sometimes. But thank goodness they had only lost her to gymnastics and not to space. And thank goodness Kim had left Tommy for another (however inexplicable that seemed; the new man must be something else), so that he and Kat could come together. "Don't worry too much about Billy. He's stronger than he appears, and if anyone could find his way home from another dimension, he can. He will come home to us."
Tommy lowered his head sheepishly. Just for now he would ignore all the doubts and worries. "You're right. He'll find a way home. Billy always comes through." He paused for a moment before meeting her eyes again. "Kat?"
"Thank you." He wrapped his arms around her and she relaxed into his embrace, holding him in return. The two of them comforting and loving each other was all they could do to help them to deal with their loss and give each other new hope. Sometimes hope was the only thing they had.
* * *
Outside the Gohma prison, Billy found his surroundings were strangely grayed out, and the sky was a dusky red. Above him there were slowly rotating spheres hanging in the air around an inverted pyramid. When he recognized what he was seeing, he felt a moment of terror. If this really was the deserted planet where they had gone to find the Sword of Light, how would he get back to the Dairangers? What would happen if Serpentera attacked? For there was no doubt in his mind that this was the universe that gigantic creation of Zedd's had come from. It fit here very well. And yet... he felt suddenly that he was still on Earth, just not quite on the same vibrational level that he should be. The coin in his pocket was getting warmer again, and it seemed to be tugging him.
"There he is! Get him!" came a shout from far behind him. It was Shaddam's voice, and Billy tore his eyes from the objects in the sky and ran, following the pull of the coin. If only I could use the Kiryoku, he thought as he ran. What would it take to draw on that power and somehow use it to protect himself? I can't do it... but I have to. There's so much at stake, even if I don't fully understand it. There must be some way.
Between one step and the next, the world brightened. He was no longer under the red sky, but under a bright blue one. Before he could marvel at that, the unholy trinity appeared in front of him and he screeched to a halt. Shaddam stood at the center and had an expression of amusement on a face that seemed unfamiliar with such concepts. "Well now, it would seem we underestimated you... Wandering Ranger."
Gara looked somehow both amused and annoyed. "Tricks like that may have worked in your world, but here that's all they are, tricks." An evil smile spread across her face. "Welcome to the real world, Billy."
They thought he had somehow gotten himself out, using the Kiryoku. They did not know about Jin. Well, of course not. Jin would not be in there until over a month from now. Billy stepped back looking for a direction to run but the Kottopotero were gathering around them, a solid wall of black and white.
Zaidosu rubbed his hands together and licked his lips with devilish delight. "Looks like we'll have to chain you up this time. As well as finding more... interesting ways of bringing you into submission."
Billy gulped, seeing his situation go from bad to worse... and possibly worse yet. The coin felt like it was burning in his pocket. I'll fight them to my last breath, he thought, remembering Jin's wild defiance. They may hold me, but if he can handle weeks in their prison with what terrible things he has to remember about himself, then so can I! But he sure as anything did not want to.
* * *
Wherever Billy was, the Dairangers could not find him. If he had only accessed his Kiryoku, they might have been able to home in on him. Waiting was not an option, and yet they did not know what to do. Kujaku watched them as they discussed and discarded plans in low voices, and felt almost as alone as she had been when trapped in the mirror. She had failed the trust and lost the Wanderer. What will I do now? If he becomes a Gohma, he will be unable to leave this world and then all will be lost. She closed her eyes and listened to the world, searching for some disturbance that might remind her of Billy.
"Kujaku?" Daigo's voice. She opened her eyes to find him in front of her. They were very close in height, and whatever he was going to say died unspoken on his lips, for they gazed into each other's eyes, mesmerized. Time lost its heavy weight and there was no one else but them. Wishes and need spiraled between them. She reached out, for the first time able to indulge in touching her fingertips to his fine lips. He shivered and blinked, then spoke the words he had lost when their eyes met. "What do you know about Billy? Why is it so important he learn Kiryoku?"
She let her hand fall to her side. The timeless moment had ended, and he looked as stricken as she felt. She shook her head ever so slightly. "Daigo, that is not something I can discuss. And unless by some miracle we can get him back before it's too late, it won't matter."
This time it was his hand that came up, to trace her jaw-line with the barest of touches. The timeless moment threatened to come again. "In the short time I've known him I've seen a very gentle soul, more concerned about saving his world than with himself. He won't give in to them. That is something I truly believe." Kujaku opened her mouth to argue half-heartedly with him, but his fingertips stole over her lips with a special magic of their own. For a moment they both stopped breathing. At last he added softly, "We can't lose hope."
Suddenly Ryo's voice crowed behind them, "The Kidenjuu!" They both jumped and whirled around. Ryo bounded over to them. "They can surely find him. It's not too late, we can still get to him."
Shouji tore to his side, eyes gleaming and mouth a feral grin. "If we give up now, we've already lost. And I don't like to lose."
Kazu joined them, intent with purpose and smiling with confidence. "We promised to help him and I intend to keep my promise."
"I believe he can resist the Gohma. But he should not have to stand against them alone," Rin said determinedly. She looked at each of the men. "He may not have his full team to stand with him, but Ryo, Kazu and Daigo will become Power Rangers. So in a very real way he's one of us. We should be with him."
The team gathered together, reaffirming their alliance with touches and determined nods of agreement. Kujaku stared at them, not certain if they were crazy, delusional or just in denial. Yet... she was inclined to agree with what they were saying. She wanted so much for it to be true. When they looked at her, their eyes asking her to be a part of them, she nodded her support.
* * *
Kou stalked through the brush. He was scratched and bruised and not paying a great deal of attention to where he was going. He was just heading in the direction he had seen Shaddam turn when the Gohma took Billy. It was the only idea he had and he was quite busy fretting about it. His litany of self-disgust had gone on for quite some time, and Byakoshinken could not get a word in edgewise, try though he did. Kou snapped furiously, "If only I didn't have to hide the fact that I'm Kibaranger!" He kicked a stone as hard as he could.
Byako tried to cut in. "Kou, are you listening to me?"
"I was so mean to him and he still talked to me and listened like I was another grownup!"
"Kou, would you pay attention?!"
"I could have done something to save him, but now... now he'll be a Gohma and he'll be our enemy!"
Frustrated beyond caring, Byako shouted, "Kou, LISTEN TO ME!"
The shout broke through the boy's self-absorption. He looked down at the tiger-head poking out from his jacket and growled indignantly, "What do you want? Can't you see that -- "
"I found Billy!"
"WHAT!" He yanked the dagger from his coat, clutching the hilt so hard his fingers hurt and stared, cross-eyed, into the little face. "Why didn't you say anything? How do you know? Where is he?"
Byako did not waste time on a sigh of exasperation. "I can feel him struggling. He's somehow managed to escape, but the Gohma are still after him."
"Where is he?" Kou repeated.
"Just over that hill. If you look closely you can -- hey!" Kou was stuffing Byako back into his jacket and racing for the hill without a second thought. "Kids today," moaned the sword.
* * *
"Kidenshourai!" the Dairanger, once again in their battle armor, shouted to the skies. As always the response was immediate. The huge, beautiful Kidenjuu came hurtling to them. As always, the rangers shot their fire-ropes from the Daibuster blasters and each rode their Kidenjuu's head. It was apparent as soon as they boarded that the Kidenjuu knew exactly where they should go.
Below them, Kujaku plotted their trajectory and permitted herself a small smile. Perhaps Daigo was right and Billy was still clean. There were angry Gohma over there. She could feel the distortion caused by their Youryoku power. And so there she teleported.
The Gohma were moving to recapture Billy, who crouched in a fighting stance as he considered his battle strategy. Shaddam moved towards him menacingly, reaching out a hand Billy knew would burn him with a cold fire. But then the Gohma whirled, his hand moving to deflect an attack and the air reverberated with an explosion. Strolling out of the woods behind them came Kujaku, her face serene as she regarded the gathered group.
"Kujaku!" hissed Gara. She drew her long blade. Shaddam moved aside with a snort and a sneer aimed at the interloper. He wheeled back to Billy. Kujaku was an excellent distraction, though, and Shaddam was only in time to see the human take one Kottopotero down with a vicious kick between its legs, then throw it into the crowd of them and race through the gap this action created. Shaddam raised an eyebrow. This was actually becoming entertaining. He calmly strode after the fleeing man.
Gara was busy with Kujaku, whose serenity had vanished as soon as they confronted each other. The Gohma woman's thoughts were a firm, burning rage. You abandoned me. I was mutilated protecting you, and then you vanished before my very eyes! And I was so alone. So alone, surrounded and ignored by the other children, by the men of the Dai Tribe as she grew up. Until Shaddam made his offer. The power she had as a Gohma enabled her to hide the scar on her face, but the scar still remained. And so did Kujaku. But not for long, Gara thought as they fought. For the pollution humans had put in the biosphere were killing her. And that brought a mocking smirk to Gara's face.
Zaidosu joined Shaddam as the Kottopotero moved to cut off Billy's escape. They were moderately impressed, the human's fighting had decidedly improved since they first saw him. They knew he could call the Kiryoku to him, but was unable to use it. The temptations of the Youryoku, which was easy to use, would help bring him to their side. All they needed to do was to capture him again. Given enough time, he would foolishly put himself in their power, believing he could use it to fight them. Zaidosu and Shaddam closed on Billy. They reached for his arms when a roar sounded right above them, and they were forced to dive for cover as the area they were standing in was bathed in flames.
Ryuseiou's great head swung close to the ground, letting Ryo leap down and launch himself into battle against the Gohma. "Hey, Billy! Nice to see you again!" he shouted gleefully as he passed. "RUN!" The other rangers had also dismounted, and were a whirl amidst the Kottopotero. Their Kidenjuu, too large to be any use in this battle, stayed nearby.
"Where to?" Billy muttered. But he whirled and raced up the hillside.
Shaddam shouted to Zaidosu, "Don't let the boy get away! I'll handle the Dairanger." He spun on the battling group and opened his mouth, to release through it the white-blue shock-wave. The ball of whirling Youryoku hit the group and sent them tumbling, but they scrambled quickly to their feet.
"This isn't good," cried Ryo as he downed one Kottopotero only to have two more latch onto his arms. Shaddam was using the shock-wave attack again, and they could see Zaidosu racing up the hill in pursuit of Billy.
The shock-wave hit and knocked them badly. Daigo gasped from the ground, "We'll never get to him at this rate."
"Maybe the Kibaranger can help," Rin shouted, back to back with Shouji and fending off more Kottopotero.
"Well, he'd better get his ass in gear!" Shouji shouted in response.
* * *
Billy made it over the rise and plunged towards the trees ahead. He could feel Zaidosu a bit behind him, knew the Gohma would be accompanied by a crowd of Kottopotero. Odd, that knowing. It must be Kiryoku. How was he going to use it? He could not run forever!
"Billy-niichan!" called a young voice. Billy-what? he wondered. Vaguely he remembered Clotho had called him something like that. It was Kou, racing out of the trees. "Don't worry, I'll help you!"
Billy stared at the boy. "But I thought you couldn't..." he trailed off, uncertain. Kou seemed to realize, suddenly, that he was not in his battle armor. Like any child, in the excitement he had forgotten. He looked patently embarrassed. "Damn!"
Byako poked his head out of Kou's jacket and scolded, "That's what I was trying to tell you! How are you going to fight now?"
"I'll think of something." At that moment, Zaidosu topped the rise. Kou threw himself in front of Billy and glowered at the towering Gohma defiantly. "You there, you'll have to go through me if you want to take him!" Seeing Zaidosu look faintly taken aback, then smile and chortle murderously, made him realize that this was a very poor choice of words.
"Oh, I'm going to enjoy this very much!"
Out of the frying pan, into the fire. Do they say that in Japan? Billy grabbed Kou's shoulder and tried to pull the boy into the trees. "Kou, don't do this. You don't stand a chance."
Kou leaned against the pull, bracing himself on strong little legs. He looked up into Billy's eyes with all the sincerity he had. "I can't let them get you again, or you'll never get back home to your friends."
"Stop worrying so much you sound like -- " but his words were cut off as Zaidosu grabbed him by the neck and hauled the kicking boy into the air.
"Kou!" shouted Billy as he watched the totally unequal fight continue. While Kou's kicks occasionally connected, they seemed to have no effect at all on the towering giant. The Gohma was more amused than anything else, and began using the boy as a punching bag. Billy shouted, "Zaidosu, stop it! Stop it, he's just a kid!"
Zaidosu paused and sneered at him while Kou hung gasping. "He's a very annoying kid and I've been waiting a long time for this!" He slammed his fist deep into Kou's stomach and dropped the child to ground. Kou lay there doubled over, retching, eyes tightly closed. Zaidosu raised his foot, clearly to bring it down on the boy's head.
No! "Enough, let him go and... I'll come with you!"
Kou struggled to turn his head and choked out, "Billy-niichan, don't do it."
Zaidosu changed the angle of his kick and slammed the boy in the ribs instead. "Shut up!" He turned to Billy with battle-crazed madness in his shining eyes. "Very well, I'll let him go. After he's dead you won't have to worry about him anymore."
"No! Don't kill him!" Billy shouted.
"It'll only hurt for an instant!" Zaidosu replied with maniacal cheer. He lifted Kou into the air by the collar of his jacket, and a blade appeared in his free hand. "Say farewell to your little friend," he said calmly.
Billy leaped at him, but Zaidosu only struck him hard with the flat of the blade. He fell, stunned, to be pounced on by the Kottopotero. Zaidosu would kill Kou, and make him watch. At that moment Billy felt the whole world spin. He was aware suddenly of Kou's blind courage and pain. He could feel the panic and telling exhaustion of the Dairangers and Kujaku just over the hill. He could even feel Shaddam's hungry frustration, Zaidosu's blood-lust and Gara's painful loneliness. All of this was for him; they were all suffering because he was supposed to be some kind of legendary hero, when he really had no power at all. All of this, all for him. Their faces whirled in his mind and their cries rang through his head.
"Stop it," he said softly. "Stop it." He knew how to summon power, the long hours with Kujaku had taught him that. And he did now. This time it seemed to pour into him in a rush, reaching the limits of his containment and still coming in. There was a roaring in his ears as it sought an outlet. He had to use it, and not as he tried before, but how? How? He thought back to when he had met Rin, when she had attacked the Kottopotero with a visible, electric-charged whirlwind she seemed to throw from her bare hands. From her bare hands! And he knew, suddenly, exactly what he had done wrong. He knew what to do now, as power swelled within him, raging savagely.
"Zaidosu, NO!" he shouted. The Gohma gave him a brief sneer and swept the blade down to bisect Kou. And power roared through Billy's body as he brought his hands together and forward, directing it towards Zaidosu. It was an aching, silver-blue light that filled his senses as he sent it out. For a moment he could feel Zaidosu's surprise as the solid light struck, feel Kou's dazed relief. An instant later he could see again. Zaidosu was hurtling through the air away from them and finally impacted against a nearby cliff, stayed imbedded there in its face, stunned.
Kou was on the ground, blinking at Billy. A moment later the Dairangers, Kujaku and Gohma raced to the top of the hill. Shaddam and Gara both stared first at Zaidosu in the far cliff, then at Billy with a peculiar kind of interested surprise. He stood, eyes closed, surrounded by a nimbus of blue light. Six Kottopotero lay like ragdolls on the ground around him. And the world seemed to be holding its breath.
* * *
The Kiryoku was spreading through him, contentedly fitting itself into his soul. Billy welcomed it and studied what he felt with bemused amazement. It was a living power, happy to take up permanent residence as something he could consciously use now that he allowed it. Before he had treated it as something temporary that would be lost to him as soon as his adventure was over. But it's part of me forever, he thought with amazed pleasure.
"You are right, Wanderer," someone said behind him. He turned. The woods, the cliff and other living beings were gone. There were five men standing behind him. Their feet were hidden by roiling mist, out of which some scraggly trees raised branches like drowning swimmers. He could see through them. They wore black helmets and chest-plates over white clothes. One reminded him of Daigo, another had a very pointed nose, one's face had the stubborn set of a wrestler and one looked somewhat amused. The fifth one took a step closer to Billy, and he could see that man was older and more careworn than the other four.
"Mister Tetsumenpi?" Billy asked aloud, then would have bit his tongue. Ghosts now, of course.
But his slip did not seem to trouble Ryo's father. The ghost simply inclined his head and said, "You have made us proud, Wandering Ranger."
"But it took so long for me to understand about the Kiryoku, and about myself! I almost cost Kou his life!" Billy shivered as he remembered the gleeful intent on Zaidosu's face.
"But you didn't. You opened yourself up to the Kiryoku when you saw the Kibaranger's life was in danger. It was for him that you awakened. Your heart is pure, which is why your power may become so strong. But desire for power can be a trap and become an overriding goal. You could destroy everything in your way to achieve it. I fell into that trap. One of the reasons you had such trouble allowing yourself to use the Kiryoku is that, in your heart, you know it will stay with you even if you become evil."
Billy swallowed, the euphoria he was feeling fading slightly. "But when you had a second chance, you chose to do the right thing."
"Yes. There is no changing the past, but as long as you are alive you can change the future."
They stepped close to him and reached out their right hands, palms forward. In the center of each palm was a glow of a different color. Each touched Billy's forehead and he felt something enter him, he felt the Kiryoku grab at it quizzically. "You have our blessing," five voices said. "Now go help your friends... Wandering Ranger." He blinked and they were gone. The misty landscape suddenly cracked apart, and he found he was standing at the edge of the woods again with worried Dairanger and curious Gohma all around him. At some point he must have reached into his pocket, for he realized he was holding Dan's blue bandana. Relying on the clamoring excitement of his Kiryoku to guide him in this, his first true battle, he put the bandana on and tied it so that it covered his eyes. Though blinded, he thought he saw a triceratops moving in the darkness. It was incorporated by the Kiryoku, and an astonishing strength took hold of him.
To those watching it all happened in the span of a few seconds. Billy was no longer glowing, but they could feel the sheer ache of his power. When he put the bandana on, his body glowed again. The bandana expanded and changed. He was standing in front of them with different clothing. The black helmet, chest-plate and boots over white were familiar to all. The fighting uniform of Dai warriors, six thousand years ago.
Kujaku inhaled a surprised breath. How did he do that? For all the work I did with him, he never once used his Kiryoku! Her eye fell on the boy, Kou, who was grinning like a proud brother though holding his stomach. To protect that boy... he awakened when he saw the boy was in danger! Now I see... it is the need to protect the ones he loves that makes him try what he would not. He didn't need me at all. It made her feel terribly ashamed, for she had sought to make him use his power for his own sake, and that he would never do. Like her when she sought the service of the Peacock Buddha to help her best friend, he only needed power to help someone else. The Dairanger surged past her, intent to join him, but she held out her hand to stop them. "Not yet. This is his fight."
Zaidosu was just beginning to get out of the cliff with an amused Gara helping him. He shook his head and then growled as the world spun. When it settled he snarled, "What hit me? What happened?" His gaze traveled to the hill across from them, to the man shimmering faintly, dressed in the battle armor of the ancient Dai. "What in the name of..?"
Gara shrugged slightly. "I think you woke him up." Zaidosu spat an impressive curse.
Shaddam seemed pleased as he studied Billy. "So you've finally come into your power... Wandering Ranger." Billy said nothing, but waited for his opponent to make the first move. His Kiryoku leaped alertly to warn him of something hurtling at him. Shock-wave blasts not from the nearest Gohma, but from the two across the valley. Billy dove and rolled back to his feet as they hit where he had been. Shaddam chuckled. "You'll make an excellent Gohma. We'll make you even better and stronger than you are now."
Billy glared at Shaddam. "I know what I can do, now. Nothing you do would ever make me slave my power to yours! If you want me, you'll have kill me first."
"How interesting that you think that would protect you." With a wave of his hand, Shaddam sent a swarm of Kottopotero at Billy and waded in after them.
Even the Kottopotero were very brave. Fanatically obedient to their masters, Gohma-born rather than made. They were the grunts, not required to have any great genius. They fought for the greater glory of the Gohma, which was virtually all they understood. Good and evil were concepts beyond their interest. Shaddam wanted this human being, they would do everything in their power to help him take him. Even when his fires wiped out their comrades, they pressed on.
Then their lord was there. Powerful, lethal and equal to the threat of the stranger's fire. He had captured the human's hands in his own and the Kottopotero dove for Billy's legs, hoping to pull him off balance. He countered by using Shaddam's strength to keep himself up and trying to yank the Gohma off balance. Shaddam's response was an irritable snarl and then he opened his mouth to hit Billy point blank with a shock-wave blast.
The bolt roared into Billy and he thought he was on fire. His legs gave out and he sank to his knees, only the burning ice of Shaddam's grip penetrating his awareness. Some part of him was still gibbering its amazement at being attacked in this way. The Kiryoku was wailing within him and he realized suddenly that, though his agony was real, he was not actually injured. With that realization he moved, yanking back to pull Shaddam off balance, and give himself a chance to kick the legs from under him. This actually worked, for his recovery time was unexpected. Shaddam lost his grip on Billy's hands and had to scramble to keep from falling. The Kottopotero tried to leap in to pin Billy, but he punched, kicked and forced his way out from their midst. Shaddam grabbed for him again, but this time there was a Dairanger between them. Rin in her armor fought with her Dairenrod and gave them both some breathing room.
The Kottopotero swarmed and were able to keep the other Dairangers busy. Gara and Zaidosu made it through the battle to Shaddam's side. Zaidosu went up against Rin, who knew better than to get too close to the powerful warrior. She kept him fighting and the area immediately around Billy clear, which allowed Gara to get through, Shaddam graciously granting her the attack.
Gara made no sound to mark her movement. She fought straight and viciously, her long sword a deadly hazard that Billy barely evaded twice. Rin suddenly raced in close to him and shoved her Dairenrod into his hands. Before he could protest she was off again, fighting the Kottopotero and leading the battle-blind Zaidosu a wild chase. The rod was just what he needed. This was a weapon he knew how to wield. He blocked Gara's next swing and locked with her, pushing her back. He took a quick risk to bring them shoulder to shoulder, trying to use his increased Kiryoku to read her again but there was no time for more than a sense of terrible wrongness.
Suddenly something burning with distortion wrapped around him and pinned his arms. Gara laughed as he was dragged away from her. It was Zaidosu who had caught him in an energy line and reeled him in with a victorious sneer. The Dairenrod fell to the ground. Once he was close, the tall Gohma backhanded him twice and he thought his neck might crack. The energy line faded and Billy fell. He was not senseless, though, and brought his hands together to use his power. Zaidosu sneered down at him and he knew the same attack would not work this time. For an instant he imagined he heard Ryo's father's voice whisper a quick instruction in his ear. Obeying, he thought of the Dragon Thunderzord and his memory guided his power as he called, "Lightning Burn!" Flames burst from his palms to engulf the startled Zaidosu, who did not understand English and had no idea what Billy had said.
Shaddam and Gara, who had moved to the sidelines to watch the battle, were both surprised. "How did he know how to do that?" Gara asked.
Shaddam shrugged slightly and decided to see for himself what would happen. He sucked in his breath, centered his strength and sent a tremendous shock-wave bolt rolling at Billy. Sensing the crackling ball hurtling towards him, Billy almost panicked. Again there was a whisper in his ear and his eyes narrowed as he followed the prompting. "Reverse Time!" he shouted, cupping his hands to direct the Kiryoku. It grabbed the event and rewound it to the instant before Shaddam released the bolt. The Gohma snarled in frustration, then leaped to grab the still-staggering Zaidosu. Together the terrible trio moved to attack.
"Gravity Flip!" Billy was going purely on instinct, now. The Kiryoku required that he give it direction. That was what the ghosts of the dead Dairanger had put in him: the knowledge of how to give it direction. He almost laughed as the three Gohma suddenly found themselves floating up into the air. But in mere moments gravity reasserted itself, and the three fell like cats, landing on their feet.
Shaddam was coldly furious. "I don't know how you're doing it, boy. But we're going to end this right now."
The feeling of euphoria had returned. This can't be taken from me, I cannot lose this!Billy grinned. "Couldn't agree more." The three were racing towards him again, and he knew they were ready for any of the attacks he had already used. This is it, Billy. He could bet they were vulnerable to embarrassment. He had a wicked idea. "Secret Fog!" Shaddam and Gara reached him and caught his arms before he could complete the move. The fog he had summoned dissipated as they beat him until he fell.
Shaddam gave the limp form one last kick. "And here I thought you were going to do something special," he sneered.
"I thought it was rather special." They whirled to find him standing behind them, looking highly amused. A groan below and they looked down. There lay Zaidosu, too stunned to summon up his usual rage.
But Billy was not finished. He had saved the best for last. He brought his hands together firmly and called, "Beeline Whirlwind!" A powerful, Kiryoku-charged tornado swept into existence at his command and engulfed the three Gohma. When it died down, they lay in a confused heap of arms and legs, but all managed to twist around to glower at Billy. If looks could kill....
Shaddam cursed under his breath. He had underestimated the Wandering Ranger. There was no way they could bring him under their control before he left this world. And if he became trapped here, there would be yet another powerful opponent and they probably would never live down their part in his creation. As much as Shaddam hated the idea, he knew when it was best to cut his losses and run. With a final, furious glare, he dug his fingers into Gara and Zaidosu's shoulders and took them with him.
For a moment Billy could not believe it. The battle was over? Yes, he supposed it was, for there were not even any Kottopotero around. The Dairangers had already shifted out of their battle armor and they clustered around him, grinning. He opened his mouth to say, "Thanks guys, I couldn't have done it without you." Whether or not he managed it he did not know, for everything in him slumped in exhaustion. The world went black as weariness took over his being.
* * *
Billy awoke in a strange room. There were peculiar black orbs hanging above his head and for a moment he thought he must have been re-taken by the Gohma. As his vision cleared, he realized the orbs were actually hanging from the ceiling, and the walls of this room were made of dull, reddish brown bricks. He was in the Dairanger base.
"Welcome back to the land of the living, Billy." Doushi Kaku was sitting in lotus position next to him, regarding him with a steady, warm gaze. He reached out a hand and Billy took it, to be assisted in moving to a seated position.
"How long was I out?" His clothes were back to normal. It occurred to him that they were also in serious need of a wash.
"Now it is morning. You've been unconscious since yesterday."
"I was out that long?"
Billy's dismay seemed to amuse the man, whose face underwent a so subtle change that somehow conveyed laughter, without obvious expression like a smile. "You overtaxed yourself, my young friend."
Billy rubbed his forehead sheepishly. "I suspect I exceeded my resources."
"Most people would not have been able to do as much their first time using such power. You will get the experience you need to develop greater control. You did well."
I seriously need a shower and he's laughing at me, Billy thought wearily. He wished he could be amused, but his memories were heavy on his heart. "It's just... when I saw Kou about to be killed for me and the others suffering so I would be safe... what else could I do?"
Doushi Kaku set his hand comfortingly on Billy's shoulder. "You are the Wandering Ranger. You care for the needs of others before your own. Remember that and take it with you everywhere you go. You may need that pure heart of yours in the future."
Billy shook his head. His pure heart. He was a scientist and he was meeting people to whom facts and figures were simply window-dressing on the sill of will. He had done things that were not reliant upon machines and numbers. Nothing came easy in these worlds. Back home it was wham, bam, here you are, now you're a Ranger. Not so simple as that. And his world would become more like theirs. Which should he be more, frightened or relieved? That struck him as amusing, and he smiled.
There was a nudge within him, someone tapping on his soul. He knew suddenly that he was just about out of time. He lifted his gaze to the tall man's. "Thank you, Doushi Kaku, for everything. I think it's about time I get going before I miss my ride."
"Billy, there is something I wish you to do for me, before you leave." Kaku had folded his arms behind his back, with the quiet calm of a person who would neither beg nor demand.
Whatever it is, it's important to him. Billy did not question, he simply said, "Sure, name it."
"Touch my hand." He held out his right hand, palm up, and stood there patiently. Billy confidently did. Nothing happened at first, then Doushi Kaku seemed to sigh, and closed his eyes. Billy did also and scenes began a slow unroll within his mind, as though coming out with great reluctance.
Thus a Gohma plotted the greatest treachery possible. He stepped from the dusky, red-lit world to stand under a white and blue sky. He lifted his hands and took off his great, heavy helmet. Three dark eyes, one huge and centered in the brow, blinked in a too-familiar face, mustached mouth barely visible over a heavy red collar. A wave of a hand and the armor disappeared, to be replaced with simple peasant's clothing. The man took out a white cloth and tied it around his forehead, hiding the third eye. I am no longer the Chief of Staff. Now I will learn how the Dai live.
Billy was puzzled. "You were a Gohma in another life, in this world."
He thought he felt Doushi Kaku flinch, then heard the reply. "I want to see... if it was always this way. How many times.... Will you show me an earlier world, Billy?"
"I've never tried to control it."
"I'll help you. I want to see where this trap began."
Confused, Billy nevertheless did not resist the pulse of direction. The power that suddenly swept up around him was two-toned and both sides were familiar. The cold burning of the Gohma power, and the beautiful strength of the Kiryoku. How can Doushi have both? he wondered. But there was a sense as they reached of passing lives. Searching for one particular event, a key to everything else. And then they felt what must be it. The sheer, aching sense of outrage and fierce fury as they came upon it, and dipped in.
I am a puppet on strings, pull them and watch me dance. Pull, don't let me burn in the fire. Pull, for a puppet cannot move by itself. Oh Honorable Father, Honorable Mother, is this what you wished for me? And he was pulled, his arms all but popping from their sockets and still he was in the fire. He opened his eyes but could only see from one. His arms were agony. Manacles on his wrists held him up, chained to the wall. The chamber was lit a ghastly blue-green. Nearest him was chained a woman, hair obscuring her face. He closed his eye when her tattered uniform proclaimed her his beloved Eri. Courage, courage. He opened his eye again. Zairen and Hiroshi were chained across the way. She looked all right, but he looked bad, barely recognizable. Shoushi was not with them. He was either dead or had escaped. Or perhaps they were interrogating him. Too bad, they can torture him as much as they like, he will never break. Nor will I. Not that there's anything to tell them. There's nothing left. Just us. And maybe not us anymore. NO! He rejected that. Never give up hope. Never. They would get out of this, somehow.
The tromp of boot-steps, heavy bodies approaching in military precision. Go limp. They entered the cell. A familiar voice said coldly, "Wake them." Painful electric shocks and he could not stifle a cry. The others also cried out. And it was Zairen's voice he heard next, a low moan of denial. "Oh please no." He echoed it in his own mind and opened his good eye.
It has to be a trick. That was all he could think. A trick to break us. Among the twisted, mockery of men that humans who served the Dark Lord became, stood the image of Shoushi, who said softly, "Zairen." He paid no attention to any of the others, only her. And he spoke of how she was the last of her species, for the Dark Lord and his minions had slaughtered her people. How he had fallen in love with her from the moment her first saw her. How there was no other choice. At least in the Lord's service he could make certain the human race survived. Would she join him? Her sobs echoed in the room.
A wet, gasping sound from Hiroshi, who snarled out, "Traitor!"
Shoushi spun, his fist lashing out to strike with an ugly crack. Hiroshi's head lolled limply and Shoushi growled, "Do I always have to beat sense into you?!"
That was almost amusing. Hiroshi and Shoushi's fights were legendary. Only then did he realize what Hiroshi must have seen. Not a mark on the man. This really was Shoushi, and he had suffered no injury in being captured. Therefore he was never captured. Had never even fought. Had sold them. Suddenly Shoushi turned. No, don't speak to me. But he did. "Takeru, Eri, does it make any sense to keep on fighting? There's nothing left to fight for! Join me. Join us." He lifted his head to bite out a furious retort and froze in horror. Shoushi was releasing Zairen, who buried her face against his chest. For just a moment, real human emotion flicked across Shoushi's face. Regret, pain and love. Then his face emptied of expression and he looked again at me.
They pulled out and went rushing the opposite way. Reaching the current reference point, Billy felt Doushi Kaku try to withdraw from him. "No. Stay with me." Reluctantly, the powerful man obeyed. They reached ahead to a place Billy knew. There was someone there, a young man whose face Billy had never seen before. He was looking at himself in the mirror, and his expression was suddenly puzzled. He touched the stubble on his cheeks and brushed his fingers over his upper lip. Uncertain, he began shaving.
And they slipped, falling together to descend into their present lives. Their hands parted to drop, and keep dropping as Billy sank to the floor. Doushi Kaku caught his arms to keep him from falling over. "I'm sorry, Billy. You haven't even recovered from yesterday."
"Don't be sorry. It's not your fault." He lifted his head to stare into the night-dark, tired eyes. "So you were once a Ranger."
A restless sigh but the gaze remained steady. "I do not think the word 'Ranger' was part of our name. It is a comfort to know that I will not be one, in your world." Billy opened his mouth in confusion, but Doushi Kaku's amusement silenced him. "I will be happy as an ordinary human."
"Yes, well. I mean, maybe you've been an ordinary human before. Surely there were lives between this one and when you were a Gohma."
"I am a Gohma." Doushi Kaku sat back and pulled off his bandana. In the center of his forehead was a huge, closed eye that opened now and blinked sleepily.
Lured by the promise of power and eternal life, he had said earlier. Not merely the same face. The same body.... Billy swallowed his surprise. He knew this man. "But you quit."
"I have lived more than six thousand years. I grow tired of this unending war, as well as my unending life. There are many things I wish to forget. That is why I wanted you to show me my past and future lives. To see if there was any hope for me living a normal life."
"But Doushi Kaku..." the man raised a brow invitingly at him. "If you reincarnated into this world six thousand years ago... well, I mean... what about Ryo's father? Could he have been Shoushi?"
Kaku considered that for a long moment. "It would have a certain symmetry. But then, why was I not one of the Dairangers?"
Yes, that rather did throw the theory into doubt. Billy nodded agreement, but he was still thinking. Maybe it did not have to work so directly. Then it struck him. Zairen's was the face he saw when Gara had touched him. She had become Gara in this life! Did that mean that Hiroshi might have become Zaidosu? And perhaps Shoushi was Shaddam. So who could Eri be? He frowned, but Doushi Kaku cut into his thoughts.
"Do not worry about it. If you need to know, I'm certain you will discover the truth. I saw all I needed to see." He stood up and offered Billy his hand. Once they were both standing, Kaku tied his bandana back in place, hiding the third eye. "Please, do not tell them."
Billy felt his throat tighten again. Yes, the Dairangers did not need to know their mentor was a renegade Gohma. "If there's one thing I know, it's how to keep a secret." They started towards the door from the room, but Billy stopped suddenly. He asked softly, "Doushi Kaku, what happened to them? Do you remember?"
The tall man looked steadily at him. Then he said quietly, "We joined Shoushi and became servants of the Dark Lord. Except Eri. She was always the strongest."
* * *
"OUCH!" Kou yelped, as Rin carefully used cotton to press alcohol into one of his numerous abrasions.
"Don't be such a baby, I'm almost done." And almost annoyed enough to wring his little neck.
He started squirming away from her. "You mean you're not done yet?" He winced as she took a firm hold of his arm.
Shaking her head and carefully continuing her first aid, she said "Honestly, you get into a fight with a Gohma and you're whining about a little alcohol."
"But it STINGS!!" he loudly protested.
She ignored that. At least in his outrage he did not try to kick. "I know you like Billy, but that was pretty stupid, taking on Zaidosu all by yourself."
He puffed out his chest. "I could take them all on if I had to." He winced as she got to work on the large scrape on his chest.
"You almost got killed, you little moron!" Rin growled angrily. Oh gods, the bruises forming were testament to his foolish courage.
He twisted his head so he could stare intently into her eyes. "So it's true, you really do love me! I knew it; we were meant to be -- mumph!" Rin had cut him off by throwing a hot towel over his face.
"You're impossible!" She was about to expand on that when she caught the eyes of the grinning males on her team. Her eyes narrowed and flashed dangerously, then she smiled sweetly. "Could one of you help Kou finish doctoring himself up? I'm going to check on Billy."
The four male faces lost their smirks to be replaced by identical expressions of dismay. It was only outmatched by Kou's shouted protest, "I'm not going to have any guys rub alcohol on me!" Their eyes narrowing, they lunged for him and soon had the kicking boy immobilized. "Let me go! Rin, come back, I'll be good!"
"That'll be the day," she whispered as she went out the door.
Shouji was trying in vain to apply the alcohol to the boy as the others held him. "Hold still you little...."
Ryo rolled his eyes as the boy managed to twist free of their combined grasps and dash across the room to Doushi Kaku's dais. He snorted. "Even if Billy wasn't the legendary Wandering Ranger, the fact that he got Kou to like him is a miracle worth honoring." The other men crowed their agreement, laughing.
"Did I hear my name?" They all turned to see Billy walking in with Rin and Doushi Kaku.
Kou left the dais at high speed, tearing through the men to skid to a halt in front of his newest friend. "Billy, You're okay! You were out for a very long time!"
Billy clapped a hand on the boy's bare shoulder, then drew it back quickly as he felt Kou flinch, and the slight ache of pain through the Kiryoku. The boy was a mass of cuts and bruises and Billy shook his head. "You're pretty banged up yourself, Kou."
The boy puffed out his chest proudly. "It's not that bad. It hardly hurts at all." The men started coughing and snorting.
Billy pretended he did not hear and bent down to look seriously into Kou's eyes. "Thank you for your help." He stood and looked at the six adults. "Thank you all for everything you did for me."
Ryo ducked his head sheepishly, then looked up with a wicked grin. "Seeing you take out the Gohma the way you did made it all worthwhile."
The others burst into laughter and Daigo added, "I think you went a little overboard, though."
Billy found he was blushing. "I suppose I did at that. I'm still not sure what came over me, but I'm not complaining."
Shouji laughed heartily and punched the air. "That was some show you put on."
"Good thing they decided to leave when they did. I don't think I could have kept it up another minute."
Kazu nodded, "For your first time out you did great. You used attacks that were each of ours, which we never showed you." They all watched him with bright curiosity, obviously hoping for an understandable explanation.
"It was the... souls of the first Dairanger. They came to me when I accessed the Kiryoku, and they gave me some kind of subconscious instructions, then I understood how to use it. Ryo, your father was there."
They all exchanged amazed glances, but Ryo met Billy's eyes. "I'm glad they're together. It means his soul went to Heaven."
Billy's throat felt tight again, but he ignored it. "I'm glad that's what it means." He shook his head and smiled weakly. "You know, the reason I couldn't use the Kiryoku for so long was... well, it was foolish really. Remember how Kujaku said my mind was not open?" They all nodded eagerly. Rin smiled slightly and took his hand. "It was the truth. All the power I've ever received in the past has been temporary, something I lose when the tool that channels it is lost. Something I can just pass on to the next teenager who comes along. I believed the Kiryoku was the same, but it isn't. It's part of me, and I am the conduit through which it travels. It's a living force, and it isn't disposable, or transferable. I have all the Kiryoku of the Dai, but so do you."
Rin laughed and squeezed Billy's hand. "At last you understand."
Billy smiled shyly back at her. A nudge again, time growing short. Ryo suddenly said, "Um, Billy?" He was holding out his hand, palm up.
It took Billy only an instant. He pulled the coin out of his pocket and held it for a moment. It was warm, but only from his body heat. Ryo was all but snapping his fingers. Billy said softly, "I've a secret to tell you."
"Excuse us a moment," Ryo managed to both snatch Jin's coin and propel Billy with him to the side of the room. He whispered, "What is it?" his eyes intent on Billy's.
Urgency in his mind, stern warning time to go. There was so much to tell and no time to do it. "He was cruelly hurt when he was young, he fights to take revenge. He's paid his humanity for the power to meet you on even footing but he's not evil, just... just in pain equal to madness."
Ryo looked quite understandably bewildered and opened his mouth to question, but a hand settled firmly on Billy's shoulder. It was Doushi Kaku, who said sternly, "Come, your mission here is complete. It is time for you to depart."
Shouji announced behind them, "Yessiree, Billy, it's time for you to leave this world and at such a young age!" Kazu nudged him in the ribs and he subsided into snickers.
Even so, they all stared at him with sad, lonely eyes. I'm going to miss you. So much of you I'll never know. And so much of them left to know. It was hard to leave them, but there was no choice. He could not stay here, for his own world was still at risk. If I could only come back someday.... "Why don't you all see me off...."
* * *
The Guardian had watched everything that happened, ready to step in if it became necessary. She smiled, pleased with his progress. "Oh, Billy. You do not want to return here, much as you think you do. This is a wonderful world to visit, but only truly home for those born here." All that remained was for her to meet him at the gate. "Clotho was right, you are something special. But will you make it all the way to the end of the road? And what will happen once you know the true meaning of your quest? I suppose we will all know in time...."
* * *
Rin led them to the place where she had first met Billy. "This is the spot."
Billy looked around, praying he had not taken too long. The Guardian must be around here somewhere. There was a shiver of awareness in his new-gained power. A brilliant, rainbow colored bird flew past him and alighted. It was a peacock. "Kujaku?" he whispered and turned to look for her.
She stepped out of the air and regarded him gravely. "I just wanted to make sure your departure went uninterrupted." Daigo took a step towards her, then controlled himself and was content with shooting her a loving smile. For the first time, she allowed an answering smile to curve her lips ever so slightly. Still, she glanced guiltily at Billy.
Seeing this, he asked, "Kujaku, what's wrong?"
She would not meet his eyes, the slight smile vanishing. "You didn't need me at all."
"What do you mean?" he asked uncertainly.
"Nothing I did to teach you to unlock your power helped. You learned to use the Kiryoku by yourself."
Another woman's voice cut in, smooth as honey and sweet. "That's not true, my friend." Kujaku's head snapped around at the sound of the voice. Floating over the group was a woman dressed in a white cloak, her face hidden within a deep hood. The great blue diamond at her waist kept the robe together and drew the eye from the small blue stain on her robe.
"The Lady in White!" Kujaku exclaimed.
Billy turned back to her with surprise. "You know her?"
"She came to me shortly before I became trapped within Kagami Keshoushi. She told me about the Wandering Ranger and how to recognize him. She also said it was my task to help him unlock his hidden powers, but it looks like I was a total failure."
"I told you that was not true." To Billy's surprise, the Guardian floated to the ground and came close to Kujaku. Her voice was warm with affection, while to him it had always been rather standoffish. "It is true he had the key to unlock his power himself, but he had no experience in channeling it. The power would have taken him over, and who knows what would have happened."
The two women stared at each other for a long breath. Kujaku's face slowly softened from a mask to one of visible relief. "Thank you for trusting me."
"Thank you for not going easy on him."
Billy sputtered, "Hey!"
The Guardian turned towards him abruptly, but her voice still held warmth and was almost teasing. "You had me worried there for a while. I almost had to come and get you."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence," he said sourly. Annoying. He had just learned to grasp tremendous power and the Guardian still spoke of him as though he was a helpless youth.
Almost as though she heard his thought, she smiled at him. Her mouth and the curve of her nose were about all he could see of her face in the hood. With one flowing movement of her hand she sent a spark of light behind Billy, and the vortex opened. The Dairanger watched with curiosity but stayed back so as not to get dragged in.
"Remember your promise," said a woman's voice in his head. He glanced back and met Rin's eyes. He nodded and cast her a small, secret smile. He looked back at the Guardian, who was again floating in midair.
"Tell me..." he said softly, so that only she would hear him. "I know Rin is not reborn as Kat, but then who is? Will she ever reach my world?"
Her smile was wider this time. "If you want to know that you must find them yourself, my Ranger." She sounded much like Clotho when she said that. Billy sighed to himself. Nothing would come easy. Then the Guardian said firmly, "Now go before I decide to leave you here," and she pointed to the vortex.
He was almost tempted to test her to see if she would, but decided against it in case she was serious. "Farewell my friends," he called, looking back on the faces of eight people he had grown to know and love in such a short time. The only comfort he could think of was that he would see five of them in his own world. But where would he find Kujaku, Doushi Kaku and Rin? He would look. "See you in the next life," he called. And with that he jumped into the portal and headed off to the next world and his next mission. As he began the crossover, a strange thought occurred to him. Is it just me, or does the Guardian look a little different than last time I saw her? But this thought was quickly forgotten in light of the approaching exit into the next world.
* * *
The Guardian turned to the assembled Dairanger and their two compatriots. The blue splotch on her robe was slightly larger than it had been, but no one noticed. She dipped her head in a courteous bow. "Until the next life, my friends. Have a nice day." With that she vanished. The vortex was long gone.
Kujaku returned to her search for the Peacock's Tears. Doushi Kaku returned to the base under the Tokyo JR Train Station. The Dairangers returned to their assorted private activities, which meant Rin and Kou started back to their apartment.
"You know, I'm going to have to treat the rest of your wounds when we get home." When Kou opened his mouth to argue, Rin turned sternly to face him. "And any complaining or flipping up my skirt and I'll leave it to the boys. Understood?!" she said, with a little more force than she intended.
Kou, not liking that idea one bit, submitted. "I'll be good." When she turned away he thought of reaching up to tug on her hair, but to his surprise the long, silken black strands were loose. "What happened to your hair clip?"
Rin did not hear Kou's question. She had stopped to take one last look at the place where Billy had both come and gone from her life. Take care of yourself Billy. I'll see you again soon... even if I don't remember.
* * *
Two young Japanese men were hurrying in the thick woods, trying not to lose track of each other as they tramped and pushed their way through the underbrush. One was gangly, with large hands, a square face and small eyes under mussed black hair. The clothes he wore were somewhat ragged; a boy without family who had to take care of his own cleaning, and tended to wear through his clothes rather quickly. His eyes were wide with alarm. "This is bad," he said anxiously, for perhaps the tenth time.
"We have to find the others, and quickly," the other man panted. There was something strange about his accent. He was not gangly like the other but seemed unfinished, as though he was still growing. He had a fine perfection to his features, a sensitive mouth. He wore outdoor clothes: a red, plaid shirt under a sleeveless, tan jacket with a multitude of pockets. His eyes were as wide and frightened as his friend's.
Spears came flying from between the trees and the two dove and twisted, narrowly avoiding being hit. Women were laughing, their voices echoing eerily. The two men quickly snatched from the air what appeared to be large charms hung on red tassels. A move to hold the charms between their hands in an attitude of prayer, they shouted, "Super Transform Dora-changer!" The gangly man was now in sky-blue armor, a gun on his left hip and a sword strapped on his back. The other one was in black. They drew their blades as five armored women appeared silently from the bushes. Appearing just after them was a troop of faceless beings in blue body-suits, with three ghost-faces on their clothes, one actually on their heads. The two young men put up a struggle, but the five women soon beat their way through and disrupted the men's power, leaving them helpless and without armor.
Still too far away to help, three other people were racing towards the unequal struggle. A woman in white armor led two men, one in red and one in yellow. They ran with all the strength they had, for their two companions were in mortal danger.
Just as all five of the armored women were about to bring their blades down upon the two men, a flash of light from above startled them. A body fell from the sky and landed heavily among them. As they dove to avoid it, their two victims seized the chance to make good an escape.
Billy shook his head and rolled, intending to get to his feet, then froze as he found a long, sharp katana pointed right at his throat. There were five women surrounding him, each dressed in different colored armor. An all-female Ranger team?! Well, anything was possible. And he must have landed right in the middle of their fight with the enemy. The colors were very strange. Orange, deep blue, rose, a peculiar shimmering olive green, and something kind of... er... magenta? Their helmets made him think of cats, though each had a flower designed onto it. A lily, an iris, cherry blossoms, a... um, water lily? and an orchid. The rose-colored one with cherry blossoms was the one holding the blade to his throat. "Dare da?!" she demanded angrily. The other four also brought their blades down to threaten him.
The blue iris one spoke, "Nani mono da?!"
It was then he realized to his horror that he could not understand a word they were saying. Not daring to move, he searched only with his eyes. There was the translator, stuck among the leaves and branches of a nearby bush. Cherry-blossom nicked his throat with her blade when he did not answer them. He felt his flesh sting, and then the tickling sensation of blood trickling from the small wound. Oh man, he thought, This is not good.
To be continued in:
"Nimpo, Ninjas of the Hidden Light"
Next time find out:
The origin of the Alien Rangers,
What Rito was like before he lost him mind,
And NIMPO, the power of the Ninja...