Chapter 1: May 9, 1996 [Earth Calendar]
California, United States of America, Earth
May 9, 1996 [Earth Calendar]
The sun was setting over the Command Center. Although the structure had no windows, if there was no urgent business, Zordon sometimes set the viewing globe so he could watch the light dim, die for the night in a brilliant burst of colors that painted over a graying sky.
Today, the sunset was bright, vivid purples sprawling over the edge of the horizon.
Although Alpha often kept up a running chatter, he was quiet now as he worked on a new attack program for the Zords. He was always quiet during the sundown.
But the quiet wasn't to last.
A shimmer began in the middle of the floor, a slow burgeoning of white hot light that slowly tinged green at the edges. It spun, faster and faster, a whirling tornado that slowly took shape and lost opacity, becoming translucent even as it formed, birthed, revealing fingers and elbows and knees.
"Dulcea," Zordon said as the projection took final form.
The Guardian of Phaedos was silent, leaning on her staff, her blonde hair lifted by the plateau winds.
Zordon said nothing more.
It was not a restful silence, not an amicable quiet between two people who have known each other for nigh eternity (although they certainly had). It was filled with anticipation, spiky and simmering.
It was broken by Dulcea.
"I cannot remember my life before you," she said quietly. "I have known you for eons. I have loved you for eons." She let the words rest in the space between them, in the myriad light years and dimensions. "I have cheered you on, I have feared for you, I have been proud to call you friend, fellow Master, ally."
For a moment, it seemed as if Zordon would respond, but the moment passed.
"I have never been horrified by you before," she pronounced.
"That is unfair," Zordon replied gravely.
"Is it? I didn't insist that your Rangers come back after they defeated their foe, come back and learn what being Ninjetti really is. I trusted you to mentor them."
"I am mentoring them," he returned.
"You are a Morphin Master," she said, needlessly, "And I am Ninjetti. As most Masters are. You know why that is."
"Then how could you let Kimberly give away her coin? Give it away and give her whole life away for a dream that she would lose?" Dulcea countered, her voice rising, but never wavering. "You have dictated her life. Chosen for her."
"I didn't know," Zordon replied.
"You didn't know with full certainty perhaps. But you knew. And this is no way to rebuild the Master community," Dulcea threw back. "Bring her here. Bring her here and maybe I can save her before she accidentally incinerates herself. And takes your new Pink Ranger with her."
There was another silence, Dulcea leaned forward as if readying for a strike.
"Alpha, please teleport Kimberly here if she is alone."
"Yes, Zordon," the robot replied and a moment later a petite, leotard clad gymnast stood in the middle of the room.
"Zordon!" Kimberly cried out. "Is everything alright?"
"The team is fine," Zordon replied. "Dulcea wanted to speak to you."
Kimberly turned to the Ninjetti Master, her dark eyes full of confusion. "Hi," she said. "I... I'm not a Ranger anymore, you know."
Dulcea inclined her head. "You are Ninjetti. You will always be Ninjetti." She pursed her lips, her fingers playing along her staff. "There is no way to make this pleasant. Forgive me, I will make this quick at least." She didn't give Kimberly a moment to respond but simply forged on. "Ninjetti powers, unlike most powers, come from within. You cannot give them away by giving away your coin. You cannot give them away at all. But giving up your coin means the governor, the controls between your internal power and the Great Power are gone. This is how Ninjetti Masters are made."
Kimberly's eyes widened and she stepped closer to the other woman. "So I'm..."
"Well on your way to self-obliteration with your powers on the loose," Dulcea finished the sentence for her. "You nearly immolated yourself earlier, pulled so much power from Phaedos that I could feel it." There was something ancient and sad in Dulcea's eyes, a woman who looked no older than thirty but wore the weight of centuries. "You must come to Phaedos and train."
Kimberly sank to the cold floor, her bare legs sprawling on the ground. "Can't I... can't I take the coin back?"
"Not now," Dulcea replied with no hesitation. "Early on, maybe you could have, but you are beyond its constraints now. You must become a Master or you will surely perish."
"Wait. But if I can't give away my coin, how is Kat using my powers?" Kimberly asked, dragging a shaking hand through caramel locks.
"Through you," Dulcea said, throwing a dark look at Zordon. "She is tethered to you by the coin and is siphoning your power, disbalancing your connection with the Great Power. It is liable to exacerbate the surges because you are unconsciously trying to compensate for it. If you were fully trained, it wouldn’t be a concern but you’re not. One bad surge and both of you will be destroyed."
Kimberly followed Dulcea's glare, her face blanching in horror. "Did you... did you know?" she asked Zordon, her voice shattering on every other syllable.
"I did not," he said seriously.
"Because you chose not to know," Dulcea bit out. "He's a Morphin Master, not Ninjetti, so he isn't intimately familiar with the Ninjetti process but there isn't a Master in the universe who still uses coins or any other conduit. You have to grow beyond those things to reach Master level. But we have certainly never done it by simply sundering the Ranger from the coin."
Kimberly trembled, brought her knees close, curling up on the floor.
"You should have been given a choice," Dulcea said, "trained properly. Instead, you were sent off without so much as a warning. And now you have no choice. There is no ordinary life in your future." The blonde knelt next to Kimberly and held out her hand. "I can't promise you anything but that I will train you, help you reach the potential of your powers. I can promise to tell you the truth. No matter how painful."
Kimberly hesitated and then reached a shaking hand, although she could not touch Dulcea's non-corporeal form. "Will I ever be able to come home?"
"Yes," Dulcea said firmly. "But it may never be the same." A lot went unsaid, though Dulcea had every intention of saying it all eventually. But for now, she had to save this girl.
Kimberly closed her eyes and pressed her lips together, then pulled herself to her feet. "What about Kat?" she demanded, staring at Zordon as if she were looking at a stranger.
Zordon avoided Kimberly's gaze, focusing on Dulcea.
“I can disconnect her from Kimberly's coin,” Dulcea said coolly. “You will have to find her a different power source. Or send her to Phaedos for her own Ninjetti power.”
"I will send you her coin," Zordon replied.
"I'd like to go pack my things now," Kimberly said. "No sense in dragging this out. Alpha, please send me back."
"Right away, Kimberly," Alpha replied, pulling up the teleportation system. If a robot could have expressions, he might have been said to look bewildered.
"Kimberly," Zordon called. He hesitated when she didn't reply verbally, just fixed a shuttered, brown eyed look on him. "Be well."
A streak of pink departed the Command Center.
"Send her as soon as she's ready," Dulcea said finally. "Send the coin as quickly as possible. Tell the rest of the team. And never send me another team on a quest for Great Power unless you're prepared for me to keep it."
"Dulcea," Zordon began but she cut the air with a quick jab of her hand.
"Goodbye, my love," she said firmly and was gone.
Outside, the California skies were black.
Chapter 2: April 13, 1996
The immediate danger may be over but now Kim has questions. And Dulcea has answers. Neither will be the same after.
So here's more. Major thanks to Gamine who has patiently helped me plug in all the holes and betaed my madness.
Ninjetti Temple, Ancient City of Daresia, Phaedos
April 13, 1996 [Earth Calendar]
The temple of the Ninjetti stretched into the sky. The old, weathered stone protected and succored warriors for nearly as long as Phaedos itself had existed.
It was built to hold thousands - shelter and feed, both physically and spiritually. And even centuries of neglect hadn’t degraded its construction beyond fading outside aesthetics.
Its best kept secret however wasn’t the massive library nor the training arena, but the springs hidden deep within its belly.
There was no one to recall but Dulcea, and she was nowhere near old enough herself to remember, so unless someone wanted to dig in the library, the origins of the springs were long lost to history. But even with only Dulcea in residence, their existence saw frequent use. Now, with another soul residing in the temple, they would undoubtedly become all the more popular.
The cavernous room was dimly lit, no windows to let in the sun and only peculiar, oblong crystals providing illumination. The air was temperate, flowing in and out of the vents that snaked throughout the temple.
Kim was sprawled on the carved stone bench in one of the smaller heated pools, her hair floating in the water. Dulcea sat easily on the edge, her legs dangling down.
“So I’ll live?” Kim asked with a yawn. Her face was reddened and slightly swollen with exertion.
“Oh yes,” Dulcea replied definitively. “Live you shall.” Her words were oddly heavy for such good news.
Slowly, Kim sat up, her joints creaking as she moved. “Now that I’m out of immediate danger, tell me the rest of it.”
Dulcea regarded the much, much younger woman. Absently, she hefted a lock of her blonde curls then twisted it, braiding it loosely. “Are you sure you’re ready?”
“You said you’d tell me the truth,” Kim pressed. She leaned forward, moisture streaming down the back of her neck, folded her arms around bended knees and smiled painfully. “I know you didn’t want to overwhelm me back on Earth. But I need to know everything. I never want to go blindly forward ever again.” Her features pinched, drew together, and, if her eyes stung, she didn’t let on.
Dulcea sighed. “Very well. You’re entitled to it.” She dipped her hands in the warm water, breathed in the rising heat, then slid down and sat on the bench next to Kim. “You’re an apprentice Master now. Your training will go on for a very long time. Decades.”
Kim tipped her chin. “I’m going to be like you then,” she said, carefully forming every word.
Dulcea nodded, rested a hand on Kim’s shoulder. “I’m afraid so. Masters live a very long time.”
“I really can’t go home again, can I?” Kim pressed her lips together. It wasn’t a question. The phantom ribbon around her throat, weighed down with a gleaming, metal round was a sensation she had felt on and off since she had first climbed the balance bar - bright pink leotard, pigtails pulled back with scrunchies, all of three years old - it was gone, now. She knew she had left it behind just as she once left Angel Grove behind, hoping she’d go back - but something deep and dark in her belly had been crying a warning. That warning was blaring now.
“To Earth, yes, but home,” Dulcea said, underlining the distinction, “no. Never again.”
In her tenure as the Pink Ranger, Kim had faced her mortality numerous times, always with grit and faith in herself and her team. Now she was facing the very opposite - the loss of her mortality. And while she had mostly worked it out as Dulcea worked her to the bone to stabilize her powers and her connection to the Great Power, hearing it said out loud was a shock, a punch to the stomach. She sniffed and Dulcea’s hand squeezed lightly in unspoken support. “Why?” She wasn’t entirely certain what home was, images swimming across the surface of the pool, her father who had relocated to New York after the divorce was final, her mother who moved to France with her step-father, her brother who fled to Chicago for university as soon as he could, Jason, Zack and Trini who were gone to Geneva and Angel Grove, always Angel Grove. She reached out, disturbing the water, wavering lines blurring away the pictures she knew were only in her mind.
The Ninjetti Master did not bother pretending not to understand. “I’d imagine that it’s really not all that different than what happened to Rita.” She tipped back her head, sliding a little against the wall of the pool. “She was fierce back during the war, a formidable, terrifying opponent. Millennia in that casket have robbed her of much of her sanity and her skill. I fear Zordon’s imprisonment hasn’t left him unscathed either - locked away from everything he knows, unable to touch his loved ones and forced to attempt to rebuild the Great Guild with such limited resources.” She smiled wryly. “Maybe the miracle is that I’m not mad myself.”
While Kim had looked at Dulcea curiously when the woman spoke about those Zordon loved, she didn’t ask. Instead, she chewed on her lip, leaned against Dulcea’s side. In all her term as a Ranger, Zordon had only ever taught them about the worlds outside of Earth when it was relevant to their missions. This was opportunity knocking and, considering the circumstances, she really didn’t have a choice but to learn. She wanted to learn. “The Great Guild?”
“The war,” Dulcea began, “it much reduced our ranks. There were once thousands of Masters across the universe, tens of thousands of Ranger teams. And as much as the other side was decimated, we lost Zordon to the interdimensional warp, untold Masters to the sword and Phaedos itself in the great standoff. This is a ghost planet now and it has taken a very long time for it to grow as alive as it is today.”
“So if he could make more Masters,” Kim said, “we wouldn’t be so vulnerable.”
“Precisely,” Dulcea agreed.
“But there are other Masters still. Why don’t they help?”
Dulcea looked down, winced, then inhaled slowly. “There are so few of us left and we are stretched far too thin. The others do not have the resources or time to spare from guarding their zones to recruit and train new Masters. And I…” The pause was long, edged. “I have allowed myself to sink deep into my grief.” She felt a chill in her bones despite the warmth of the water that submerged her to her hips. “But my failings don’t excuse Zordon’s. I don’t know how much is intentional and how much is sheer recklessness, but that doesn’t matter. You were his Ranger and you deserved much better.”
Kim uncurled and offered Dulcea a tremulous smile. “I’m your apprentice. I got much better.”
Dulcea blinked, swallowed painfully as if her throat was filled with caltrops, and then an answering smile softened the tense curve of her mouth.
And then the only thing that stirred the silence was the swirl of the water as it moved between the pools.