Crossroads of Evil – Part 3

Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. This is a fan work and no profit is being made from it.

Crossroads of Evil – Part 3

Miley Stewart observed the reaction to Laocorn and was confused. “Daddy, why are they booing him? Did he do something wrong?”

Robbie Ray had heard the stories of Laocorn Gaudemas, as much as the general public was allowed to know at any rate. He knew the man had some questionable dealings, and that his sister died as a result. And because of her death he became devoted to making the world a better place for all. “Yeah darlin,” he drawled. “He did do something wrong. But he’s trying to make up for it.”

“What did he do?” Jackson asked.

“Something that cost him his sister’s life.”

Jackson looked at Miley and wondered what would have happened if he lost his sister. Sure they fought at times, but he couldn’t imagine a world where Miley wasn’t there. Despite everything Jackson would have his sister’s back, just as he knew Miley would have his.

Miley looked down at the ring and found she admired Laocorn Gaudeamas. This was a person who had fallen from a great height and yet had found the strength to pick himself up and make the world a better place in memory of his sister. Someone who did good for the world, and persevered. The sort of person Miley hoped to become.

====

From her spot within the first class balcony section Kali looked down at Bruce and Cassandra walking to the ring. Their music was playing in the background and even though she did not know where it had come from and who sang it, she felt it was very appropriate for what was to come.

~Let the bodies hit the floor indeed.~ she thought and then laughed as she thought of the scene that would unfold soon.

====

At ringside Karone and Leo watched as Bruce and Cassandra made their way to the ring. They stopped short as they looked at the doorway waiting for their third man to arrive.

Then a gong was heard and a drum beat. The lights went out and two words were heard.

†**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

A Reason to be Thankful

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers. They belong to Saban Brands. Jeff Kincaid and the Night Ranger characters are the creation of John Chubb. No profit is being made from this fan work.
Author’s note: Okay folks this is basically a retelling of the end of Thanksgiving Night. That story ended with the Turbo Rangers being whisked away for some sort of research project. This chapter tells events as they should and really happened.

A Reason to be Thankful

“What are these things?” Rosa cried as the shapes closed in on them. Slowly, the creatures stepped into the light, revealing themselves to be large reptiles. Franklin couldn’t suppress a shudder.

“Oh man, reptiles?” he muttered before his eyes widened, “no, dinosaurs!”

“Come on!” Tasha cried. “We can take these guys!”

Franklin shrugged although his face betrayed just how uneasy that idea made him. “Looks like we’re going to have to…Here they come!”

As the creatures charged, the three quickly dodged, and the fight began. “Chew on this!” Rosa snarled, kicking one in the snout. It absorbed the blow without flinching, then sending her flying into a tree with a vicious backhand.

“Tasha!” yelled Franklin, running to her side. “Are you all right?”

“Never better,” she replied weakly, allowing him to help her to her feet, realising they had left Tasha to deal with their opponents on her own.

“They’re too strong,” she informed them. “We have to morph.”

“Shift into Turbo!” the three Rangers called together.

“Wind Chaser Turbo Power!”

“Dune Star Turbo Power!”

“Desert Thunder Turbo Power!”

There was a great deal more flickering than the Rangers normally experienced during their transformation. And once it was completed they felt weaker than they had before calling on their powers. But then the feeling was gone.

“All right,” Frank grinned, slightly worried about what was happening. “Let’s take these beasts!”

After that, the fight was less one-sided, although Pink Turbo received a nasty shock when one of the reptiles spewed a stream of green venom at her. “Ewww!” she cried, dropping into a split. The venom flew over her head, striking a tree, and instantly eating all the bark off of it.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you, it’s not polite to spit?” Green Turbo asked, wrapping a length of chain from a nearby gate around the mouth of the offending creature.

“Fangs for the workout, Kaa!” chuckled Yellow Turbo, hitting yet another snake-man in the stomach. Realizing that they were outclassed, the creatures quickly retreated into the darkness.

This left the three Turbo Rangers alone and very confused.

“Um guys, where are we?” Franklin asked as for a moment their surrounding revealed a room filled with small chambers, each containing what appeared to be a sleeping person.

As their eyes roamed over the capsules they felt a sharp pain in their heads as memories they were unaware of started to surface; memories of news reports about caped vigilantes and masked super heroes saving the world. Names they had not thought about for a long time echoed through their heads.

“What is going on here?”

As the darkness suddenly closed in around them, the capsules vanished one by one until they were confronted by just three, each containing the sleeping body of a Turbo Ranger. At that moment they realised that that was a very good question and one they could not answer.

====

“This experiment is ended, put them back where they belong.”

“But why? There is so much still to learn.”

“We will need to find other ways to unlock those secrets. The attempt to remove them from the memories of their friends is failing. Even when reapplied it will not hold. And if they remember, we will be exposed and this mission will be placed in jeopardy. The success of the mission must come above all other considerations.”

He didn’t need to mention the massive influx of test subjects they had recently ‘rescued’ from machines they had created. Those test subjects would just about make up for a chance to dabble with the Turbo powers.

Calculations were made, buttons were pressed in the correct sequence as history was reshaped to accommodate their needs. Normally such acts were forbidden, but since they were setting right the problems they had caused, their actions were overlooked. Time was rolled back to a key battle and then events were allowed to play out naturally.

====

Thanksgiving Day, Recent Past

A tickling sensation warned him when the first Power Rangers arrived. He was disappointed, but not surprised to find that Jeff Kincaid was not with them. These were the Turbo Rangers if he recalled correctly, Earth’s youngest team of Power Rangers.

“Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to play with fire?” Rosa asked.

Crucible scowled. He’d hoped for a better opening than that.

“I don’t see any fire,” he replied before extending his arm and making a flicking gesture at the Rosa.

Rosa cried out as her uniform was engulfed by flames. Around her the other Rangers tried to help their friend, but nothing they did seemed to extinguish the magical fire.

“Looks to me like you’re the one playing with fire, Rosa,” Crucible mocked.

“Stop it, now!” Fred snarled, drawing his side arm and deciding that maybe the way to help was to attack the fire at its source.

While Franklin and Tasha tried to douse the flames with water, Justin and Fred attacked. Blue Turbo fired his Hand Blasters while Red summoned the Lightning Sword. For his part Crucible just stood and allowed the blasts to strike him while the sword slid harmlessly off his armour.

“My turn,” he told them. He gave them a mental push that sent both Rangers sprawling back across the ground. As they struggled to stand, he raised his arms and they were levitated into the air. “I wonder how far a Turbo Ranger can fall without being killed or seriously injured by the impact?” he mused. “Let’s find out!”

He was distracted by a sharp pain in his side. He turned to find that Franklin and Tasha had realised they could not help Rosa until Crucible had been forced to release his fire spell. Tasha had jammed her Star Chargers into his side and had sent a jolt of Turbo energy into his armour; he had barely felt it. With a grunt he backhanded her, knocking the Ranger aside. He was so busy concentrating on her though that he almost failed to notice Franklin firing his Thunder Cannon. Almost. He batted the energy away with his hand, directing to where Blue and Red Turbo were still hovering.

“Enough!” he snarled, pushing the five Turbo Rangers into the ground with a mental shove that managed to break Franklin’s collarbone in spite of his armour. “If this is all that Zordon will send against me, if he does not value this world enough to fight me, then I will burn this city, the legendary home of the Power Rangers, to the ground.”

He wanted Kincaid. Kincaid knew that, Zordon knew that. He suspected even the Turbo Rangers were aware of it. But still they had sent him children. He was offended, angered that they had sought to fight him when it was clear that they were outmatched.

The fire was gone now, Rosa felt the pain but she had not been harmed. Blue and Red Turbo were shaken but intact and despite the broken bones they had suffered – for Tasha was certain that the blow Crucible had landed had cracked her jaw – Franklin and Tasha were back on their feet.

“Turbo Power Weapons!” Fred cried.

The five Rangers lifted their weapons and lined up. Red was on the right hand side, the green, yellow and pink with blue on the left hand side.

“Ready!” the others cried.

“Turbo Scramble Charge Attack!” Fred ordered, “Begin!”

And with that the five Turbo Rangers sped forward, using all the power they could draw from the mystical energy source known as the Speed Force through their Turbo Keys. This was an attack that used their speed to its fullest, an attack the other Rangers of Earth could not duplicate, although Gold Zeo Ranger’s Gold Rush came close. Building up speed as they approached, they veered off sharply, covering as much ground as possible, each footfall helping to build a store of energy within their suits.

Again and again they flashed passed the bemused villain, occasionally reaching out to land a not so gentle tap with their fists before moving on. As they continued they grew faster and the distance they seemed to cover before returning to land another blow grew larger, yet the time it took them between strikes never varied. Their Turbo Power Weapons started to glow as they fed the stored power into them. And then at just the right moment, Red Turbo Rangers gave the command and the Turbo Rangers landed their first real blow.

====

Watching from the sidelines, a considerable distance from the battle, Savrod winced. He knew that the Turbo Rangers’ strike had to hurt and he was impressed that Crucible was even standing after such a blow. Five fully energised Power Weapons wielded by five Turbo Rangers at near maximum velocity had struck Crucible simultaneously. The Wind Bow, Hand Blasters and Thunder Cannon had been passing shots as the three Rangers had kept up the momentum and sped away. Tasha had somehow reconfigured her Star Chargers into knuckle dusters and had landed a superb double-handed blow. Red Turbo’s Lightning Sword attack delivered if Savrod recalled in a style used by the team Megazord had been especially impressive. But more impressive was that having delivered their blows they had discarded the Power Weapons, pulled their Turbo Blasters and prepared to strike again.

He had been expecting them to stop after the blow they had delivered. He believed that any other team of Rangers would have decided that such an all out attack would have been sufficient. Instead the Turbo Rangers had moved away ready to strike again, not willing to take Crucible’s defeat for granted. Savrod was actually impressed.

Not that the Turbo Rangers stood a chance. Their attack had been powerful by most standards, but Crucible was a whole different level. Still as he observed the slight dents in Crucible’s armour, which rapidly corrected themselves, he had to admit he was impressed.

====

“Strike two!” Red Turbo ordered.

With that the five Rangers charged in, Turbo Blasters firing. Even from a distances their shots connected with enough force to throw Crucible off balance. And because they were attacking from different directions, he had to adapt to the forces applied in different areas. As one targeted his knees, another would strike at his chest. There was no way to predict where the Turbo Rangers would aim and while their shots would not harm him, Crucible was growing annoyed that they were making him look bad.

“Final pass, then switch to Turbo Swords!” Red Turbo ordered.

The others acknowledged and the five ran off into the distance and then vanished from sight. For a moment Crucible wondered if he had won. Then he dismissed the idea only to reconsider when they did not reappear. Then his eyes widened as he understood their plan. He turned around just in time to cover his eyes. The Turbo Rangers had been running so fast that in the time he had spend wondering where they were, they had managed to run across the world to attack him from behind.

This time he had been staggered by the force of their attack. With each pass they drew more energy from their Turbo Keys, allowing them to run faster. And with their Turbo Blasters discarded, the next three passes allowed them to land a series of sword slaps to his armour.

By the fifth time they raced passed him with their swords, Crucible had had enough. He tried to fight the blurs as they went passed, successfully knocking Blue Turbo hard enough to break his concentration. His punch put the Blue Turbo Ranger into a spin and he crashed into the remains of a building. His next strike caused Red Turbo to stumble. It didn’t put him down like Blue Turbo, but it slowed him so that he could not keep up with the other three. And when the came passed for their next attack, Crucible was ready for them.

“Goodbye Turbo Rangers!” he snarled before hurling a ball of blue energy at them.

The Rangers couldn’t dodge, the energy beam was too broad to avoid. And at their speed they could not duck or find cover. Their own speed drove them into the full and deadly force of Crucible’s attack. They appeared to shimmer and then turned into the tiny sparks of teleportation as they were whisked away to safety, leaving Crucible to turn his annoyance on Red Turbo.

“What did you do to them?” Red Turbo demanded.

There was a skid mark extending for over half a mile where he had been forced to brake. His boots were smoking from the friction and physically he was exhausted. Still he was in better shape the Justin, who had not moved since he hit the wall.

“What did I do?” Cruucible asked. He seemed to be offended. “I did nothing more than create an energy sphere. They were the ones that ran into it.”

“Where are they?” Red Turbo demanded, once again holding the Lightning Sword.

Crucible Shrugged. “Who knows? I hear Tibet is nice this time of year. The middle of the Dead Sea perhaps; maybe they got thrown into space. The thing is, Red Ranger, that I don’t know where that energy pulse carried them, but if they survived they will have a real job trying to build up that much speed again in time to save you.”

“Don’t worry Fred, we have them,” Alpha reported. “Zordon teleported them out just in time.”

“Then I guess it’s down to just us,” Fred said.

“Us? You mean yourself and your little blue friend over there? I doubt he is in any condition to fight.”

“Or perhaps he meant us,” a new voice said.

And at that moment a question that had been burning in the back of Crucible’s mind was answered: where were the other Rangers? He had known that Kincaid would not make an appearance. The Night Ranger was too cowardly to fight his former friend. But Earth was known to have multiple teams and yet only the Turbo Rangers had emerged to confront him. But as he turned toward the voice and saw the gather Power Rangers waiting for him he instead wondered what had taken them so long and why was Kincaid not with them?

====

“And they’re off!” Hard Drive reported.

“Then so are we,” Jeff replied as he pressed the sequence of buttons that activated Defiant’s flight systems.

It had been difficult finding a way to launch the Zord without the risk of allowing Crucible to find the Power Chamber. Many villains knew where the Power Chamber was located, some had been there, but very few could actually find it. Which was why while the Turbo Rangers had done such a good job of distracting Crucible at a high cost — for a moment Jeff had been certain that Crucibles energy attack had killed three of them — the other Rangers had shifted Defiant to a new launch position and had then taken the liberty of destroying some of the ships in Crucible’s fleet.

“Launch!” he ordered as Defiant’s thrusters came to life.

“Set controls for outer space, now flying higher than ever before…” Hard Drive started.

Kincaid shook his head, he had no idea where the computer had picked up that song.

“All right, find Crucible and get ready,” Kincaid ordered. They needed Crucible to know they were leaving so that he would follow.

====

“Crucible,” Savrod repeated for the umpteenth time.

It seemed the Rangers of Earth had managed to outmanoeuvre their forces. While the Turbo Rangers had been fighting against Crucible, the rest of the Rangers had had other targets. The units Crucible had dispatched to cause as much death and destruction as possible, had been routed. The Power Rangers had appeared in force, fought a swift and decisive battle and then moved on, leaving the Guardsmen to the mercy of some very angry locals. The drop ships had been damaged and isolated to prevent escape and despite succeeding, even the attempt to snatch Bruce Greene had proven costly in terms of manpower.

He read another report and realised that this was not some lucky strike. Jeff Kincaid had been spotted directing the action at two of the battle zones. The Night Ranger had joined forces with the planet’s defenders in a direct breach of the Council’s rules. And it seemed the local Morphin Masters — for he was certain he had spotted the legendary Ninjor out there — appeared to approve.

====

“I’m here Savrod.”

Crucible sounded annoyed, but given that a large number of Rangers had just teleported to his location, that was not surprising.

“We’ve been deceived,” Savrod told him. “While you were fighting Turbo Rangers, Kincaid has been attacking our forces all over the planet. We’re suffered an almost complete loss.”

“Kincaid’s not here,” Crucible answered after some thought. “The others just arrived, but no Kincaid.” There was a long pause. “Savrod, prepare for pursuit, he’s planning to run.”

“Are you sure?” Savrod asked.

“This whole battle has been a ploy to launch the Defiant,” Crucible told him. “Check the energy web.”

Aside from ferrying troops to cities around the globe to punish the planet for siding with Crucible’s enemies, the drop ships had been acting as transmission nodes capable of broadcasting a net of destructive energy. The intention had been to activate the net the moment Defiant had appeared, damaging the ship and allowing Crucible to find Kincaid before the Night Ranger could escape.

“There’s a hole in the network,” Savrod confirmed. “I’ll order our forces to target the hole.”

“Don’t bother,” Crucible answered. “Just order them to track him.”

It was already too late, but he was not going to give Kincaid another moment of triumph. He was certain that when they investigated later they would find that the net had been shut down to draw their attention while Jeff had another route open to him at a moment’s notice.

“In the meantime I’m going to kill as many of these Earth Rangers as possible.”

====

“Let’s go!” Red Zeo ordered and the army of Rangers attacked.

One thing Crucible had never lacked was confidence. When Savrod had helped to strip away the remnants of Mark Kinega’s personality, he had instilled him him the believe that there was no opponent he could not overcome. However confronted by the horde of charging Rangers, Crucible found that for the first time that he was questioning his chance of succeeding.

The Rangers attacked in a predictable manner. First they used their side arms before switching to personal weapons. Next they tried combining their weapons before shifting to their special attacks. The assault was creative and extremely powerful, but as he battered aside the Shadow Ribbons and fought off a jolt from Jamie’s Sword of Lightning, Crucible knew that this was just another distraction.

“Brachio Staff!”

He ducked the assault from the Din Thunder Rangers while blocking a swinging blow from Gold Zeo’s Golden Power Staff.

With a grunt he threw his arms up, pushing the Rangers far away and readied a blast. He stopped when he noticed that although they were back on their feet, they had not made an attempt to charge him again.

“Crucible, we’ve found him,” Savrod reported. “He’s six miles north of your location and heading towards you.”

“So he finally decided to face me,” Crucible concluded.

He couldn’t hear a reply as he was deafened by the roar of the Defiant’s engines as the huge craft came to rest above him.

“We’re detecting Defiant’s engine signature above your position. Kincaid could be on board.”

“Thank you Savrod, I am aware of that,” Crucible groused as he noticed that Defiant’s weapons and those of the surrounding Rangers were locked on his location. “Any time you feel like ordering your crew to retrieve me — before they open fire — would do,” he added. He wasn’t worried, but didn’t envision the pain caused by the combined power of so many Rangers and a giant ship as an enjoyable experience.

“Fire!” he heard the Red Rangers cry.

He felt the familiar sensation of teleportation, ten full seconds after the first blast connected with his armour.

====

The clean up had taken longer than normal. There had been a great deal of damage to repair both in Angel Grove and the many cities where Crucible’s forces had tried to land. The Guardsmen had not been easy to defeat and the Rangers had been forced to use some of the tactics they normal reserved for powerful monsters in order to defeat them. Lives had been lost, buildings and property had been damaged. And because Crucible and his forces were not the result of a spell, the damage they caused did not simply reverse after the battle. It had taken a great deal of work and a large number of failures to repair what damage they could and to offer comfort where possible.

But not everybody survives a monster attack. Rocky had once said that to Lita Kiino, a psychiatrist that helped the Rangers in times of stress. However the Rangers had never realised how true those words could be. The Turbo Rangers were recovering. Justin had sustained the worst injuries although the others had not been that much better off. All would be back in action before long. Of the other Rangers there had been a few injuries from the battles with Crucible’s forces and Zack had taken a nasty head blow from Savrod, but they were alive.

As Adam sat down to a late Thanksgiving dinner with his parents he was thankful that despite how bad things had seemed, the Power Rangers had emerged relatively unscathed. He glanced at Franklin on opposite him and was thankful that he had not been one of the many casualties. At the DeSantos table, Rocky paused briefly before giving thanks for his family and friends. His older brother had checked in and his younger siblings had been safely within the Monster Shelter. Rosa had recovered from her ordeal but had complained of strange dreams. He gave thanks for that they were all safe.. At the Kellman residence, Fred and his dad sat down for a modest meal, while at Little Angel’s Haven, Justin and Tasha enjoyed a meal with the other children.

Zack had once described a trial by fire, the moment a Ranger came to terms with his own mortality. Today had been the day when that message had been brought home to the planet’s youngest Ranger team. Their job was difficult and the risks were real. Success was never a certainty and a mistake could cost them their lives. All were thankful that they had learnt that lesson without losing a comrade.

====

“So you’re going to leave their memories intact?” Jeff asked incredulously.

The Night Rangers were the embarrassing secret of both the Morphin Masters and the Galactic Council. For a whole planet to be aware of their existence would be unacceptable to most. But worse still still one of the witnesses to Jeff Kincaid’s actions had been the Lord of Triforia; there was an equal chance that Dex of Edenoi had also seen the battle that had taken place. Two powerful races were suddenly aware of a secret that the Council did not want exposed.

Zordon had already received his instructions, direct orders from the Council to swear his Rangers to secrecy and take steps to ensure that the people of Earth forgot about the Night Ranger. That was easier said than done. There was no way to wipe the memory of everybody on the planet without resorting to some very strange magic. One of the councillors had suggested adding something to the water supply, but Zordon had ignored the suggestion when he had learnt that it could cause fatalities.

“It is not my place to erase them,” Zordon told him. “Too many people saw what happened. There were news reports from Angel Grove and around the world. If I attempted to cover up there would be clues left that would rapidly expose the truth. The Council has forgotten, again, that the Earth is not a part of their jurisdiction and that they have no right to demand the people forget something that happened to them.”

“So what are you going to do?”

Jeff was not convinced Zordon would just allow things to remain as they were. There were too many unknowns in such free knowledge and Zordon was too responsible to allow such chaos.

“I instructed Alpha to make all the information that should be available about the Night Rangers available,” Zordon answered.

“But that would mean people would have access to everything without ever searching. Oh!”

“Yes Jeffrey,” Zordon agreed. “People will have full and unrestricted access to all the facts. And you know what happens when people have all the information with nothing hidden from them.”

“They forget,” Jeff concluded. “They grow bored because they don’t have to search. The grow suspicious of all the information so easily available. They start to question whether what they saw was real and then look for conspiracies to poke holes in the facts they’ve been given.”

“Exactly,” Zordon agreed. “Before long the humans will deem the Night Rangers as a myth and start looking elsewhere.”

“And the Rangers?”

“They agreed to protect your secret,” Zordon told him. “They promised before the Council demanded that I obtain their oath. The Council were displeased that instead of the formal promise they required the Rangers only gave an oath that was to the point. Where will you go from here?”

“Crucible will need time to track me down again,” Kincaid said. “He’s already left the system because he thinks I’m ahead of him. It should take a while before he catches up and discovers it’s one of his own ships. I’ll drift off in the other direction, wait a few months and then stick my head out in some backwater galaxy. By the time he hears where I am I’ll be the other side of space. I’ll keep doing it until I can find a way to defeat him. But otherwise I’ll stay low and make sure I don’t draw anybody else into this mess.”

“Jeff…”

“Don’t Zordon! Don’t you dare try and comfort me. You know what happened today and so do I. People died today because I led Crucible here. Good people, bad people… people. I won’t risk the lives of anybody else by getting involved with Crucible. He wants me, let him find me, but when he does there won’t be anybody else around to get hurt.”

With that the Night Ranger cut the communication and Defiant took off into space, leaving Zordon to hope that in his grief, Jeff Kincaid would not become a bigger monster than Crucible.

====

The Rangers had hurt him, but he had hurt them too. He had taken something precious and he would take more. Already he was aware that Bruce Greene was being dumped on an alien world, fully aware that Jeff Kincaid was to blame. If by some chance he survived, Crucible imagined the man would become bitter and twisted, willing to train Crucible’s Guardsmen in return for a chance at revenge against Kincaid. And that in turn would hurt Kincaid.

As for those other Rangers… One day Crucible would return and would conquer the Earth. And when he did he would take revenge on every Ranger that had dared to fire upon him. And he would take special pride in putting an end to the Turbo Rangers.

“Crucible, there is a messenger here to see you,” Savrod told him, strolling into the chamber as if he owned it. There was a good chance he did own it, Crucible had never thought to ask who paid for all the ships at his disposal.

“I’m not expecting a message,” he said after some thought.

“I’m aware of that,” Savrod told him. “I am responsible for sending most of your messages after all. This messenger demanded an audience and I would suggest you grant him one.”

“Show him in then,” Crucible sighed. The problem with being a leader was having to deal with other leaders.

“The Messenger of Fire,” Savrod announced. His voice sounded odd. Was that awe? “Ambassador for the Grand Monarch of Evil, Dark Specter.”

It was an impressive being, even Crucible had to admit that. Seven feet of billowing flame was bound to impress some. His mind briefly caught onto the memory of a story about a burning bush, but he ignored it.

“Crucible,” the messenger greeted. His voice sounded like twigs crackling on a wood stove. There was an uncertainty, as if he had wanted to add something before his name. And Crucible realised in that moment that to the Messenger this was a very odd situation because unlike others, Crucible had not given himself a title. “I come with a message and an invitation. The message is as follows: you and your followers have been accepted into the ranks of the United Alliance of Evil. Congratulations on your achievement. Acceptance is mandatory. You are instructed to accept the enclosed invitation to attend the first meeting of the United Alliance of Evil and to swear allegiance to Dark Specter, the Grand Monarch of Evil.”

“And if I say no?”

The fire seemed to grow brighter. “When others refused they were taught that my master could have them destroyed in flame.”

“I’m not like the others,” Crucible answered. “And I have no desire to follow or swear loyalty.”

“The Grand Monarch does not share,” the Messenger warned. “You are powerful, but you are untrained and not ready to challenge the Grand Monarch.”

“I would try,” Crucible warned. “I will not bow to another and I will not share.”

“You would fail, and be destroyed. But what then?” The Messenger seemed to drift off. “You are unimportant and would not be missed. But you represent is something the Grand Monarch was not meant to be. That makes you important. But the Grand Monarch cannot have an equal.”

“Perhaps a compromise then,” Savrod suggested. “You said Crucible is unimportant to your master, so why create a problem by trying to force him to do something he is unwilling to do? Crucible is still learning to become the leader his people need and until then he is only the leader in name; I am the commander of his forces, himself included. I will agree to accept this membership and give the oath. Be warn though that Crucible will not be bound by any such agreement. IS your master willing to divert his attention to fight on multiple fronts?”

“Dark Specter might have use for his services,” the Messenger of Fire claimed.

“Crucible is nobody’s lackey!” Savrod answered with a hint of anger. “Should the Grand Monarch request his aid and Crucible should feel it serves his purposes, he might oblige. But his priority is to his training and the destruction of the Night Ranger Jeff Kincaid.”

“Destroying the last Night Ranger would be of great service,” the messenger mused, reinterpreting the words to suit its needs.

The flames grew brighter and then vanished, replaced by a green skinned alien with a tall head. “Find your missing Ranger and destroy him. I shall summon you if I have need of your other skills.” the Grand Monarch ordered before vanishing. “But for the first meeting, YOU WILL ATTEND!”

Savrod nodded wordlessly as the intensity of the being he had been willing to fight sank in. He had felt Dark Specter’s power over the connection and had been staggered by its potential. Having sensed the power of all those Rangers on Earth, he knew which was the greater threat. Crucible was not ready for such a battle, yet. He would not stand against Dark Specter until Jeff Kincaid was destroyed and the power of the Mirror of Night was his once more. Perhaps one day Dark Specter would become a part of the mirror’s power too. The Messenger of Fire vanished leaving Savrod and Kincaid to plan.

“Before we deal with this, there was one more thing,” Savrod told him. He looked pleased with himself. “I remember Mark Kinega mentioned something about a young lady… Leslie? I thought you might want to show her your appreciation for the way she treated Mark, especially since it helped Crucible to emerge.”

Crucible grinned. “A fine idea Savrod, but we’re behind schedule. Have her brought to my quarters later. In the meantime, let the hunt begin.”

End **THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

King of the Fighters Part 2

Disclaimer: The Power Rangers have changed hands several times since this series began. They are currently owned by Saban Brands. Charmed is the property of the WB. Mr. Merlin was a TV show that appeared in the early 1980’s. CHIPS was a show created by Rick Rostner that aired from the late 70’s to the early 80’s. The WWF letters are in reference to the World Wrestling Federation owned by Titan Sports; it should be noted that WWF is a trademark of the World Wildlife Fund. Hannah Montana and related characters are property of Disney. Reference to the ‘Silent Master’ is in reference to the character of Snake-Eyes from G.I.Joe (Action Force) which is property of Hasbro. Sei Tin is from the Devil’s Due Comics version of G.I.Joe. The name Okasa was from the T.V. Series ‘The Master’ as is the name McAllister-Keller, which aired on NBC during the 1980’s for one year. Nash Bridges and related characters are created by Carleton Cuse and property of CBS and Carleton Cuse Productions. Fatal Fury/King of Fighters are owned by SNK/Capcom. ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling) was a rival wrestling promotion created by Paul Heyman, the name now belongs to Titan Sports.
Minion is the property of Shadow Ranger, however it is a derived work from a character that appeared in the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The song ‘Some Girls’ is sung by Rachel Stevens. The song ‘Rollin’ is sung by Limp Bizkit. ‘You don’t Know me at all’ is sung by Lillian Garcia. And ‘Never gonna stop’ is sung by Rob Zombie.
Author Notes: The reference to the San Francisco Earthquake comes from the records that clearly state there was no earthquake. Although this is now regarded as a city wide insurance fraud (mot claimants stated their buildings were damaged by fire from a neighbouring building. In some cases neighbouring shops set fire to each other at the same time).
Additional Notes: The Minion shown in this story is the story from Conquest of Evil and not the Minion from COE: Reckoning. There are a number of differences between the two series when it comes to Minion and his Psycho Rangers. However where the Psycho Rangers are concerned it is best explained that in Conquest of Evil, Minion created the Psycho Rangers himself uses many different means and programmed them so that the required him to exist (something that has caused them to do very little ever since). In COE: Reckoning, the Psycho Rangers were originally flesh avatars created by Zordon to cover for the Rangers while they were occupied. Minion corrupted them and turned them into his Psycho Rangers. Since Minion is not only a visitor to this reality, but is also outside of his normal timeline, he is experiencing a little psychic feedback which allows him to interpret both set of events. Confused? So is Minion.

Prelude to Minion’s Legacy Part 3 – Crossroads of Evil
COE: King of Fighters ’96
By The Q Team

After some time, Blue Mary’s van arrived in the city. There she dropped off Alison, Cassie and Kat. Terry, Andy and Joe decided to ride the rest of the way with Mary, King and Mai.

“We’ll meet you at Grandpa’s.” Alison said. “We’ll crash there and then head to the tournament.”

“Okay Alison. But be careful,” Terry said.

Alison just smiled. “Terry, this is my home town. What could go wrong?”

“The same things that could go wrong in Southtown,” Terry answered. “And that’s MY hometown.”

Alison picked up on the warning and the genuine concern. She nodded and hugged her cousin goodbye before giving a similar hug to the others.

“See you guys there,” she promised before the van drove off.

“Why’d you ask to get off here?” Cassie asked.

“Pier 39 isn’t far from here, and I want to take in a little hometown fun before heading into the tournament,” Alison explained.

“I never took you for a shopper Alison,” Kat commented wryly. “Pier 39 has been known to have quite a few shops.”

“That’s not why I go there,” Alison replied. “There’s other things there too. Games, attractions. It’s fun for me.” Pausing she added: “And if I need to go shopping, which I’m not saying that I do a lot, I go there.”

“Sure,” Cassie teased as the three girls headed down to Pier 39 to have a day of fun before training, and the tournament. Once they arrived they noticed a new shop.

“The Fun Factory?” Alison queried. “That’s odd. I know this shop is new here, but who would open up around here so soon after the Cylons attacked?”

“Alison the planet has been recovering quickly,” Kat said. “Many cities have been offering Business Support Packages to help encourage new start ups.”

Before Alison had time to reply, two elderly people came out of the shop, greeting the three young girls. “Ahhh welcome,” the gentlemen said. “Welcome to the ‘Fun Factory’.”

“Thanks Mr….uhhh.”

“Popplewick.” the man said, answering Alison’s question. “Just Mr Popplewick. This is my wife Mrs Popplewick.”

Mrs Popplewick just gave a smile and a polite nod in greeting to the three girls.

“Pleased to meet you.” Kat said.

Alison however was still having problems with the sudden appearance of the new business. Something about it didn’t seem right. She knew the way her town worked and while the scheme Kat mentioned would have been welcomed, red tape meant it would have taken much longer to start such a project. “So when did this place open, I didn’t think a business opened this quickly?”

“Normally no,” Mr Popplewick agreed. “But this project has been on the backburner for a long time and it was felt that now would be a good time to open for business.”

“And what sort of business is that?” Cassie asked. “I mean I know the sign says ‘Fun Factory’ but what ‘fun’ are we talking?”

“Why fun from all corners of the globe,” Mr Popplewick answered. “Our employer, Mr Chambers makes it his interest to teach those that come into the Fun Factory all sorts of games from all around the world. It’s really sad that despite the world coming together in many ways there are still barriers that remain closed.”

He shook his head sadly, his mouth pouting in an almost comical way.

“Mr Chambers seeks to open those barriers,” Mrs Popplewick explained. “And what better way than through fun and amusement?”

Kat, Alison and Cassie looked at each other not sure what to make of the strange couple or why they were asking so many questions. It seemed rude to just walk up to someone and demand answers, as if they were intruding on their privacy. Yet something made them feel that it was important.

“Where is Mr Chambers?” Alison asked.

The look Mr Popplewick exchanged with his wife was so quick that they almost missed it. It was the look of somebody who had to think up an answer quickly and made the Rangers teens even more suspicious.

“He has a prior engagement he’s preparing for,” Mr Popplewick explained. “I’m afraid he’ll be indisposed for the rest of the day.”

That seemed odd that the business owner was away at a time when his input would probably bee needed constantly. It was then that something occurred to Cassie.

“Are you open for business?”

Mrs Popplewick shook her head. “No, we are still a few weeks away. We just thought we’d come and test the new lighting and maybe draw a bit of interest.”

And suddenly one of the things that had been nagging them about the situation made sense. That was why there were no customers around or sounds of laughter. The Fun Factory was not open.

“Say, since you’re here, why don’t you have a look around?” Mr Popplewick offered. “Not everything is working yet, but it would be nice to get some customer feedback.”

Alison, Cassie and Kat looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. What harm could there be in just looking? As they entered the Fun Factory store, Mr and Mrs Popplewick shared a look although the girls missed the delight gleaming in their eyes.

Once the girls stepped inside the Fun Factory they saw the Mr Popplewick had been telling the truth. The room was filled with games from different countries, and some were very old.

“Is that an old Mr Do game?” Alison asked looking at a vintage arcade game off to the side.

“One of Mr Chambers’s collection,” Mr Popplewick said. “We have others besides these, but will probably be rotating them between here and storage for some time.”

Looking down the isle Alison saw that there were a number of classics on offer. Crazy Climber Crazy Climber, TRON, and its predecessor: Space Paranoids, stood out. She noticed there were a few fighting games like Mortal Kombat, Double Dragon, Street Fighter.

Kat however was distracted by a Pachinko machine off in the corner. “A Pachinko game? Where did you get this?”

“Mr Chambers is well travelled.” Mrs Popplewick said. “He obtained this from one of his Far East excursions.”

Kat studied the machine, noting a few places where it had been bumped. “Reminds me of a story a friend told me. He played Pachinko so much it got to the point where having fun was the only thing that mattered to him. Got his friends into trouble too, until they got out of it.”

“Yes these things can be very addictive,” Mrs Popplewick agreed. “Hm, perhaps something else would interest you. Ah, maybe this.”

The Popplewicks led the way to a corner, motioning the girls to follow.

“What’s this way?” Alison asked.

“A new game Mr Chambers has acquired and is testing,” Mr Popplewick explained. “It is called ‘Future Roulette’.”

“Future roulette?” Cassie asked.

Mr Popplewick elaborated. “An electronic roulette wheel where one spin can tell you your future.”

“Kind of like an electronic Magic 8 ball?” Alison asked.

“A little more accurate than that,” Mr Popplewick answered. “The roulette wheel predicts to near pinpoint accuracy. Or at least it has so far.”

“Would you like to see how your futures turn out?” Mrs Popplewick asked kindly as she motioned to a machine off to the side. It had a carnival like decoration around it, draped with curtains. But the centre of the device had a compartment that looked as if it had been shaped to fit the human hand.

Alison, Cassie and Kat looked at each other and shrugged.

“What could it hurt?” Alison asked.

“Brave words young one.” Mr Popplewick said. “It’s real simple. Stick your hand inside and the electronic wheel will reveal your future to you.”

Alison, Cassie and Kat shared another look and Alison then asked the question they were all thinking: “All right, who’s first?”

“I’ll go first.” Kat said as she put her hand on the slot.

There was a whirling noise as the section retracted into the machine, taking her hand with it.

Mrs Popplewick looked at the screen as the electronic wheel spun before her until it settled on what looked to be Kat’s future.

“You will embrace your true self.” Kat said quoting the message before her wondering what it meant.

“Think of it as a sort of fortune cookie,” Mrs Popplewick offered. “The meaning is open to interpretation until it happens. Next please?”

Next was Alison as she put in her hand. Mrs Popplewick again looked at the screen as the electronic wheel spun. When it settled the screen said, “You have seen battle. You will see more, but you will not see them alone.” Alison just shrugged as she removed her hand.

“Doesn’t sound like anything new.”

Finally it was Cassie who put her hand in the device. Mrs Popplewick looked at the screen as the wheel spun. As the wheel continued to spin Cassie then felt a sharp cut into her hand. “Owwww!” she said as she pulled her hand out. As she looked at it there seemed to be a deep gash across the top of it.

“Cassie you okay?” Alison asked.

“I think so.” Cassie said. Holding her hand.

Mrs Popplewick looked surprised that Cassie’s hand was cut. “Oh I’m so sorry my dear. Here, let me get you a first aid kit.” Cassie nodded as Mrs Popplewick left to get the first aid kit then returned as quickly as she had disappeared. “Honestly had no idea how that could have happened.” Mrs Popplewick said as she poured some antiseptic on a cloth to put on Cassie’s hand. “We’ll have to send the machine for repair. Can’t have it cutting up customers.”

Cassie nodded in thanks as she then looked at the screen to see her fortune. What she saw confused and scared her.

The message said: “One’s gift can be another’s curse.”

Cassie felt a feeling of doom overtake her as she put the thought out of her mind and looked at her hand again. Her eyes looked on in amazement as the deep cut that was on her hand before was gone. Kat and Alison looked surprised too.

“Oh, well I guess it wasn’t such a large wound after all,” Mrs Popplewick said. “Blood has a nasty habit of looking worse than it really is sometimes. I guess we won’t be needing this kit. Probably just as well. My apologies young miss. Mr Chambers will happily compensate you for any troubles.”

“Don’t mention it. I’m not interested in suing Mr Chambers,” Cassie said as she then looked at her watch. “Look, I think we’d better be going. We have a tournament to get to.”

“Well don’t let us stop you.” Mr Popplewick said. “Take care.” Soon all three girls headed for the door saying good bye, all the while Mr Popplewick saying “Perhaps you can recommend this place to your friends?”

“We’ll keep that in mind.” Kat said as the girls left the Fun Factory. The Popplewicks smiled as the three girls walked away.

When they were gone, Mr Popplewick activated the intercom. “Do you have what you need Mr Chambers?”

The voice of JJ Chambers spoke through the intercom “Yes Mr Popplewick. I have obtained all I need from Miss Chan. Now we must leave. We too have a tournament to attend.”

====

Minion’s first act had been to find a new set of clothes. There was nothing wrong with his appearance as far as he was concerned, but this was not his reality and there was no guarantee that people would recognise the danger he posed. All it would take was one overly brave police officer to confront him and his presence would draw further attention that he could do without.

~I didn’t come here to fight,~ he reminded himself. ~This time.~

As he entered a Goodwill store he looked for a new set of clothes to blend in with the environment as best as possible. Not that he fooled himself for a minute that changing clothes would be enough to blend in. But with the right attitude and a little magic there was a chance it would help others to ignore him. In the end he settled for a black suit with turtleneck, a black overcoat and a western ten gallon hat. All which gave him what he hoped was a ‘man in black’ look similar to what he had seen in an old Halloween movie. The huge hat and coat lapels, along with the turtleneck, obscured his face. He also selected a cheap pair of sunglasses to cover his eyes.

Before he left the store, he spared a thought for the shopkeeper he had battered into submission. He glanced down and used his magical senses to assess the damage he had caused.

“I get to take these clothes and you get to live,” he said as he repaired a few of the broken bones. “A fair trade if you ask me. Don’t get up. I’ll show myself out. I hope you appreciate the… even exchange.”

And with that small demonstration of mercy, Minion walked calmly onto the streets of San Francisco.

He had always known there was something about San Francisco that was magical. Not in the Angel Grove sense of the word, but something deeper. It was an energy that very few cities seemed to possess. It wasn’t the strength that defined it, it was the intensity. San Francisco, Tokyo, London, Geneva and Vienna shared that same feeling. New York did too, but it was smothered by the overwhelming strength of the Ley Lines. And then there were places like Cardiff where the feeling seemed to fluctuate wildly.

Minion also knew San Francisco had other qualities about it that could have been considered unusual. He knew the city had suffered a devastating earthquake at the start of the Twentieth Century and another crippling tremor less than a century earlier. Yet the city had somehow emerged seemingly unscathed and the damage could only be seen by looking in areas humans would not normally look. Vienna was a crossroads city between rival powers, a city where cultures co-mingled and where powers considered good and evil could interact briefly before rejoining their own worlds. Tokyo had its own power that made it a wonder of the world and a victim of monster attacks, which Minion suspected were more a side effect of mass exposure to magical energy and mass hysteria. London was a city of power and tradition that went back centuries. And Geneva, was known for being a world unto itself not answering to either force. There were other cities that could be described as special, but Minion foresaw days where many of those cities would fall by the wayside and the fate of the others was not clear, while the seven he had noted would live on forever.

Still despite all that, Minion wondered why had been chosen as host for the tournament. Was there going to be a major concentration of power in this location involving not just the Power Rangers?

~The answers will be at this tournament,~ Minion thought as he walked through the streets and made his way to the location of the King of Fighters tournament. Unfortunately despite his desire to remain unseen, he managed to draw the attention of a local street gang.

“Hey man it’s the Shadow!” one of the members shouted. “Yo Shad, let me hold ten dollars.”

Minion kept walking, not giving the gang members the time of day. If he had been hoping that his lack of reaction would dissuade them he was bound to be disappointed. The brush off succeeded only in angering the youths and unwilling to let somebody get away with brushing them off, the gang moved so they were blocking Minion’s path. For his part Minion remained cool although he showed no sign of backing down, in fact his body language made it clear that he considered himself superior. He was not surprised therefore when the leader pulled out a switchblade knife.

“Yo Shadowman, I told you I wanted to hold ten dollars. You gonna give me ten dollars, or am I gonna take something more?”

The gang leader looked tough, especially when backed up by his friends. Minion however had seen worse. To Minion they were nothing more than a joke, parasites that used fear, juvenile attitudes and weapons to elevate their standing in a minor area of a city. They had no drive to go anywhere else. No ambition besides ruling over an insignificant corner. It was so pitiful that he couldn’t help laughing.

“How pathetic,” Minion mused. “You rule an insignificant corner, in an insignificant city, on an insignificant planet and consider yourselves important enough to get in my way. Do you even rule this patch or are you just claiming to own it?”

“Yo, Shadow we do rule here!” the gang leader said. “The Rollers Rule!”

Minion’s smirk was hidden by the turtleneck and overcoat he wore, but he was amused, which for the moment meant he would probably let the fools live. He stepped forward and he could sense the fear around him. It was there niggling at the back of the gang members’ minds. Whether they were capable of realising it or not, on some level they had accepted that Minion was trouble.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” Minion asked remembering the old radio tag line. “You don’t want to know.”

That had done the trick and as Minion stepped forwards, the gang tried to back away. Up close they could see the maniacal gleam in his eye, but when they were found an hour later, they were unable to say what had happened in the missing time. Paralysed by fear and in danger of dying from shock and exposure, the gang was rush to hospital for emergency treatment.

No one saw the man in black walk away from the sight. Although the words he spoke as he departed seemed to linger. “Never let it be said that Minion does not have a sense of humour.” For years to come people would swear that they could hear an eerie laugh on that corner. The gang never returned.

====

The venue for the King of Fighters Tournament had been been carefully selected months before the event had been advertised. The sponsors for the year had brought forth enough money for the tournament to be held at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. And while some fighters had made reservations for lodgings, others had arrived at the arena early and sat in the locker rooms to prepare for the battles to come. The organisers had gone all out to cater to their fighters’ needs. A gym had been put together for fighters to train if they did not wish to make use of the many private gymnasiums that had opened in the months leading up to the tournament.

Inside the Cow Palace Gymnasium, the team of ninjas Mirabilis had assembled for training. They had practiced, meditated, and kept their focus on their one objective: elimination of their adversaries. Focus was everything and dedication to their goal guaranteed success.

For Kane Okasa it would always be personal. The blood feud he had with the McAllister Kellers would never end until one or the other family was dead. His two partners were a means to that end.

Sei Tin merely sought to expand his influence in the ninja community. He had risen to power in the Red Ninjas, but he sought more. It grated that despite his accomplishments, he would always be eclipsed by the reputations of clans such as the Arashikage and the Koga. Nor could he rise above the academic excellence of the Hayate and Ikazuchi paths. Sei Tin heard that representatives of all four groups would be present and he longed to show what a power he was. He hoped in doing so he would receive an invitation to change his clan and become the well regarded ninja he was supposed to be.

Eiji Kisaragi also desired to make a name for himself. He had been desperate to compete in the tournament, but no one would train with him. When Mirabilis recruited him to take part as a member of her unique, team he saw it as an opportunity to have his name placed with greats like the Bogards, Joe Higashi, and even Geese Howard. For him the winning was important, being recognised as a competitor would do.

The three ceased their activities when Mirabilis entered the room.

“I trust you are ready?” she asked.

Kane nodded. “Hai.”

He made no effort to hide his eagerness for the battle to come. He would destroy the McAllister-Kellers in this tournament once and for all. If his two teammates had agendas they could fulfil them for all Kane cared. As long as the McAllister Kellers, and whoever they got to fight along side them, fell. Sei Tin bowed indicating that he too was ready to fight and expand his influence. He had promised he would help when necessary, but had promised himself that he would only risk himself if it would enhance his standing. Eiji just nodded. He had made it to the tournament and would do what was asked of him in return.

“See that your adversaries, whoever they are, do not win. Do whatever it takes. And remember: I’ll be watching.” With that Mirabilis left, leaving Kane and his team to ponder how they would beat their adversaries.

====

There was a lot of money to be made at the King of Fighters Tournament and the organisers had over the years learnt the best ways to ensure that as much of that money as possible went to their pockets. While there were people willing to pay a high price for first class tickets, there were some that were willing to pay far more for their own areas. Private boxes that offered every luxury possible, security and complete privacy were expensive to provide, but far more expensive for those that wanted them.

The organisers and their clients referred to them as Shadowboxes and for the right fee the organisers could provide whatever their clients needed whether it was food, drink or other less legal items. Even extra companionship could be rented for the right price. Reputations, morals and criminal records were overlooked in exchange for hard cash. In short if they could pay they could stay.

A regular attendant to the Shadowboxes was Geese Howard. Unlike some of those that booked months in advance, he had booked his space for the next decade. It showed just how rich he was and made him one of the tournament’s most influential guests. He hadn’t purchased additional companionship for the evening, preferring the two whores he had picked up on his way to the event. But before he could allow the questionable ladies to satisfy his appetites, there was business to attend to. Ivy Howard and Daniel Kane were waiting for his blessing.

“My blessings come when you win.” Geese said. “So do not fail me.”

Ivy and Daniel both nodded leaving Geese to his recreations. He smiled as he surrendered to his companions’ skills. Tonight was going to be quite a show.

====

Also in the Shadowboxes was another special guest to the tournament, Kali Yagami. Unlike Geese however she had to pay for her seat at the last minute. Fortunately though she had been able to arrange a last minute cancellation.

Kali took her seat and felt her belly. “Watch my child. Watch as you will see spectacles unimagined.” She smiled as she said that last line as she knew those words to be true. Her only regret was that she would not be able to take part in the tournament herself, and face her hated rival Cassie Chan.

“Oh well. Cassandra will meet her end soon enough.” Kali said as she laughed slightly to herself. A laugh that got only louder as she imagined the spectacle to come. Kali longed to see Cassie fight. She longed even more to see Cassie die.

====

After much walking Minion arrived at the Cow Palace. He checked his invitation and found the directions called for him to enter through the special seating entrance. Making his way through the crowds Minion arrived and was surprised when he was simply waved through, unlike the masses that still had to wait their turn. Identifying a young brunette woman, dressed in a skimpy outfit reminiscent of a Las Vegas magic act, as one of the event’s escort, he walked over and offered his ticket.

“Ah yes,” the escort said looking at Minion’s invitation. “Your box is prepared Sir, please follow me.”

If Minion had noticed the way he eyes seemed to blank when she had read his name, he didn’t comment. Instead he followed the scantily clad hostess to his seat in the private area and was shown into a room with tinted windows and drapes. He didn’t query the decoration. He figured some people just valued their privacy.

“Bullet proof,” he noticed as his magical senses scanned the room.

“Some of our guests prefer a sense of anonymity.” the hostess said. “As well as a measure of protection. The glass is tinted and bullet proof to keep attackers at bay. Some clients have made some enemies if you understand me.”

Minion understood well enough. While they were not exactly the same, he could sense the magical signatures of some of those he identified as his enemies. He also figured there were other individuals here that would make potential enemies, and something inside his being told him he didn’t want to make any new enemies for the time being. ~At least not until I return home and finish what I started.~

“If you have any requests, refreshments, company, please don’t hesitate to call.”

Minion noted the hostess was flirting with him but dismissed it as unimportant. Chances were that that was how they earned their tips. He dismissed her with a wave and took a seat on the couch to watch the tournament unfold before him. He would see for himself how much this tournament would affect his plans.

====

JJ Chambers had arranged it so that his Shadowbox overlooked Minion’s location. He had paid extra to have cameras placed at certain points. Not that they would catch any incriminating activity, but he would be able to observe Minion’s reactions and adapt his plans accordingly.

~Expect to see a great deal tonight my friend,~ Chambers thought. ~I’m sure you’ll find something to love and a great deal to dislike. I hope you will agree that most of it will be useful.~

He settled his gaze on the arena floor, not bothering to look up when the Popplewicks entered the Shadowbox.

“Our other guest has arrived.” he told them.

Mr Popplewick nodded his understanding. “Aren’t you going to invite him here?”

“Not right away.” Mr Chambers answered. “I want him to wet his appetite first. Let him see what is to be expected. You should do the same my friends,” JJ Chambers advised, sparing the Popplewicks a glance. “If you are going to continue to take interest in this world, you should be aware of the powers, threats and wonders you might encounter.”

Mr and Mrs Popplewick looked at each other and then turned their gazes to the tournament floor. They wondered what surprises and opportunities would present themselves.

====

Outside the Cow Palace, spectators lined up to gain entry. The queue extended almost a mile. Some of the spectators were fans looking for a fight unlike any other. Others however had seen a the tournaments before, or knew of them, and knew it would be a good idea to visit to see if any threats would arise that could not be dealt with.

In the line close to the doors Kanoi Watanabe and his wife Mirai waited with their son Cam.

“Are you sure of this?” Mirai asked, holding her son close as if trying to protect him from the tournament they were about to watch. “To expose Cam to this barbarism?”

“It is barbarism with power.” Kanoi said, understanding his wife’s concern. “When the Hayate Way decided to open the Wind Ninja Academy it was agreed that our students should be ready for whatever threats are to come. And to meet those threats we must be open to new techniques.” Pausing he then added. “Besides, while Cameron may never hold a weapon in combat, he still has a role that he will play. By teaching him about the world we are giving him the tools he will need to fulfil his role.”

It had been agreed very early in their son’s life that he would not be trained as a warrior. Kanoi had agreed and had instead suggested that their son should become a teacher and developer of new techniques that would enhance the Hayate Way.

“Would it not be best to ask how they are done?” Mirai asked.

Kanoi shook his head. “Most would not be willing to share their secrets. Some may even take not sharing to dangerous levels. As such we are limited by what we can see, and understand with our minds. These fighters may have secrets, but we can observe and interpret those secrets with our minds and intellects.”

Mrs Watanabe nodded hoping her husband was right.

Silently, Kanoi hoped he was right as well.

Off in the distance Kanoi saw Sensei Omano of the Thunder Ninja Academy. With his was his daughter Lee Ann and one other student. An Oriental boy. Kanoi assumed Omano was there for the same reason he was. Omano turned and gave a slight nod acknowledging Kanoi’s presence. Kanoi gave a similar nod. Relations between the Hayate and Ikazuchi Clans were uneasy at best, however both had agreed to open new academies that would provide friendly competition instead of violent feuds. And despite the frosty relationship, the two clans would always have the backs of one another if things went bad.

There were other individuals in attendance who sought to learn about the King of Fighters and the powers its fighters seemed to have. Andrew Hartford of the Hartford Foundation, along with his butler Spenser, were looking to take an interest in the tournament. Hartford had hoped to view some of the fighters in action so he could see the powers they used. He had a project in the works that involved Power Ranger abilities, and he wanted first hand observation of abilities that he could incorporate.

Also in attendance was the Silent Master of the Arashikage Ninja Clan with his own apprentice Kamakura. The Silent Master was dressed in black and wore a hood over his face. His vocal cords were damaged in a helicopter accident that destroyed his face as well leaving him unable to talk. Medicine at the time had repaired his face, but had been unable to help his speech. Despite his silence he showed phenomenal skill that allowed him to elevate to the rank of Master. It was that skill that made him the leader of the Arashikage Clan during the absence of its true leader.

The Silent Master had visited several past tournaments and had formed friendships with some of the competitors. He had brought his student along to demonstrate that there were techniques that their clan did not teach. He hoped it would force his student to look for ways to overcome them and better himself in the process.

All three parties stood in line patiently, waiting for the doors to open. It didn’t take long as as soon as they did so the crowd surged forward while those who had purchased their tickets the day before, calmly made their way into the arena. The excitement was contagious and soon the tournament was ready to begin.

====

The Zeo Rangers made their way to their seats to watch the ring below. The auditorium continued to fill up and Tanya wondered where the Astro Rangers would be sitting. They didn’t have long to wait as Andros and his team came to sit behind them in the stands.

“Hey Cassidy,” Ashley greeted.

“Looking forward to Alison, Cassie and Kat’s fight?” Cassidy asked.

“About as much as you I take it,” Ashley said.

Cassidy snuck a peak in Zhane’s direction and the Silver Space Ranger winked at her. Cassidy rolled her eyes and sat back down in her chair. “The game of cat and mouse continues,” she muttered.

“Yeah but there is one question.” Emily said. “Who’s the cat and who’s the mouse?”

“That’s two.” Sabrina said.

Emily raised her hand as if saying sorry.

“I guess we’ll just wait and see.” Cassidy said as she turned back towards the ring. They were ready to begin the opening festivities.

“Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the King of Fighters Tournament!” a small man with blond hair announced. The crowd cheered. “Please enjoy the show. And now, your announcer for the evening, Michael Buffer!”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the King of Fighters Tournament,” Buffer announced to a loud cheer. “As always the preliminaries have all been taken care of. We have sixteen teams here ready to do battle but only one of them will be this year’s King of Fighters! So without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… for the thousands in attendance… for the millions watching at home…” Buffer paused for a few seconds to build up the tension. “LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!”

The applause after Buffer spoke was deafening and even the Rangers found themselves caught up in the energy of the event. After a good few moments of the crowd adulation the applause died down, and Buffer started to speak again.

“And now introducing the broadcast team. First your colour commentator – Paul Heyman!” A string of boos could be heard as a fat man with a King of Fighters hat and cheap suit walked down to the ring to sit at the announcer’s table as a techno march was being played throughout the arena. Buffer then proceeded to introduce the play by play man. The Oklahoma Fight Song was heard throughout the arena. “And now, your play by play analyst, Good ol JR, Jim Ross!”

Applause was heard throughout the arena as JR made his way to the ring where the announce table was set up. Both of them ready to call the action for the people watching at home on Pay-per-View. The first King of Fighters tournament ever to be on Pay-per-view.

“Welcome everyone to the King of Fighters Tournament and its great to be here.” JR said.

“It’s great to be here… it’s great to be here?” Heyman shot. “JR do you have any idea where you are right now? Do you even KNOW what King of Fighters is all about?”

JR shot his look at Heyman. “Well personally other than the fact that its just martial art fighting, I don’t see this being any different from what I do in the World Wrestling Federation.”

“Oh the great and powerful World Wrestling Federation.” Heyman said sarcastically. “Where the BIG BOYS play.” He then looked hard at JR. “Well let me tell you something JR. The competitors in the WWF wouldn’t even last a MINUTE in fight with anyone of these fighters you are going to see here today. Even the stars of ECW would get beaten by the fighters here today.”

JR looked surprised. “I never once in my life would think you would say that in public.”

“And there is a very good reason for this. It’s because I was here last year when I, like you are right now JR and like a lot of people watching at home, had no idea what King of Fighters was all about. Like all of you, I thought it was very much like wrestling, more like my own organisation in any event, but I digress. The point I am trying to make here, and I mean this, everything that you are about see live is real. There is no play acting, there is no cheap tricks, and there are no special effects. Everything that will happen here at King of Fighters is totally real.” Paul Heyman said. “It’s not fake, fixed or scripted in any way. In fact if somebody tried to give them a script, they’d probably shove it somewhere really uncomfortable.”

And that made JR somewhat nervous. He had known Paul for years. He had been his mentor in the world of commentary. And while as characters they didn’t agree, behind the scenes they were good friends. And he could tell from the way he was talking that Heyman believed every word he said.

====

Minion watched as the announcers took their positions. His eyes scanned the audience, searching for familiar faces. He had zeroed in on a few in the stands already and picked out the Morphin and Zeo Rangers. He knew Katherine Hillard would be appearing at the tournament as she was listed as a competitor on the tournament program.

~Katherine competing in a tournament?~ Minion thought for a moment. ~Interesting. I would have thought Jason, Tommy or Rocky would have been more ideal choices.~

He looked at the other names on her team. Alison Bogard and Cassie Chan. He didn’t know those two, but figured they must be important. He was curious about Kat’s opponents. Team USA… he felt he should know them.

Already Minion had many questions he wanted answers to. Looking back at the stands where the Morphin and Zeo Rangers sat he saw there were other faces there he didn’t know, yet were dressed in the same mono-colour outfits that identified them as Rangers.

~New recruits?~ he wondered. ~Or new teams?~

Minion tabled the line of thought as he focused on the tournament. Or rather the opening ceremonies. Minion however was impatient. He wanted the tournament to start now, as did most of the audience present. Minion had to smile at himself for a moment. Never did he think he would have something in common with humanity, let alone something as pointless and trivial as fan anticipation. He longed to see what the King of Fighters had to offer him. For him, and his conquests.

====

Before the actual battles began there were always the opening ceremonies to take place. These ceremonies often involved a performer to come out and sing the National Anthem of the country that was hosting the tournament. This year was no different as Michael Buffer took to the mike to introduce the performer that was to sing.

“And now, performing America the Beautiful. Platinum album recording artist Robbie Ray!”

Coming up to the stage was a tall man with a mullet haircut. A guitar in his hand. A stool sat in the centre which Robbie Ray used to sit on. He kept the guitar on his lap getting ready to play, after he scanned the audience to find the people he most wanted to play for.

He saw them. His wife Susan, seven year old son Jackson and five year old daughter Miley. Robbie Ray smiled a small smile and started playing the guitar chord.

 

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountains majesty
Above the fruited plains
America, America
God shed his grace on thee.
And crown thy good. With brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Robbie Ray left the stage as a second set of music filled the arena. A tune that signified the beginning of the King of Fighters tournament, and the march of the tournament participants. As Robbie Ray was leaving he saw several of the fighters walk past him. Some of them with a great sense of menace. He thought now was a good time to get out of dodge. Gathering his family he made ready to leave quickly.

Little Miley asked where they were going. “Aren’t we going to see the fights?” she asked.

“Maybe another time Miles.” Robbie Ray said.

He escorted his wife and family to the main exit where Geese was waiting. “Going somewhere Mr Stewart?”

“Uh yeah Mr Howard.” Robbie Ray said trying to be as much of a gentleman as he could. “As glad as I was to sing America the Beautiful here, I don’t think I want to expose my kids to what might happen. I think it’s best I leave.”

Robbie Ray moved his family to leave but Geese blocked the door flanked by two security guards that could have been best described as walking walls of meat.

“I must insist you stay.”

“And I must insist I leave.” Robbie Ray said determined to get his kids out of harm’s way. Geese snapped his fingers and more intimidating guards stood behind Susan, Miley and Jackson. They didn’t even try to look menacing, everything abut them suggested they were tough and had no problems hurting children. Miley and Jackson knew this as they hugged their mother for support.

“Terms of your contract say that you stay for the duration.” Geese said. “You and those you invite, such as your family.”

Robbie Ray was furious hearing Geese’s words. “I didn’t authorize that!”

“No your agent did.” Geese said with a sneer. “He must have overlooked that little detail. Regardless, you and your family remain until the tournament’s end. Besides, my daughter would love a victory celebration after she wins her tournament battles.”

“And if I refuse?” Robbie Ray asked.

“Then you will be in breach of contract.” Geese said as he looked at Jackson and Miley. Both children immediately held their parents tighter for protection as Geese seemed to sneer at them in intimidation. “And in so much debt your children will be paying it off.”

Robbie Ray just shrugged off Geese’s threat. “If it’s about money I have more than enough.”

“Oh it’s not money I will seek Mr Stewart. It’s your life, and the lives of your children.”

“What are you saying?” he asked,y not liking what he was hearing.

Geese smiled coldly as he laid it on the line.

“Simple. One night, or the rest of your family’s lives.” Geese kept his eyes on Miley and Jackson. His mind focused on plans for their future. His plans for the Stewart children’s future. Not theirs.

“I guess we stay then.” Robbie Ray said with a growl vowing that the conversation was not over, whether it was with Geese or with Robbie’s own agent.

Geese nodded. A wise choice, but if you are thinking of severing ties with your agent you should contact the rest of your family to see how they are. Your Aunt Dolly, your mother Ruthie, your brother Bobby Ray and his family Your darling daughter Miley and son Jackson. You never know when a tragedy will strike.” Robbie Ray’s blood ran cold. But Geese didn’t let up on the threats. “Go ahead, sever ties with your agent. If you think it’s worth it.”

Robbie Ray stared hard at Geese not hiding his anger. “This isn’t over.”

Geese just smiled, not not the least bit intimidated by the entertainer’s threat. “I assure you it’s only beginning Mr Stewart. Now please allow these gentlemen to escort you to your seats.”

Reluctantly the Stewarts followed and were guided to their seats in the Shadowboxes. Both Susan and Robbie Ray held onto their children for dear life. Especially as they watched the fighters in the ring circling it. Waiting.

Miley watched the fighters circle the Shadowboxes. One she saw terrified her. “Daddy there’s a scary man over there.”

Her brother Jackson added, “Just one?”

====

“You know I still don’t know why seem to be so smug about this.” JR stated.

“Well the look on your face when the opening match starts will be more than enough to make my day.” Heyman replied.

Just then Buffer came back out again. “Ladies and gentlemen. It is now time to begin the Lottery.”

“The Lottery ladies and gentlemen is real simple. Inside that sphere, sixteen identifiers, each one marked specifically with one of our sixteen teams competing in the tournament.” JR stated for the audience watching at their homes. “Michael Buffer will pull them out of the cylinder one at a time. For every two he pulls out, those two teams will fight against each other in the quarter preliminaries.”

“And I eagerly await to see how the luck of the draw will affect the tournament this year.” Heyman added.

Circling the ring were the teams taking part. Some were seasoned vets. Some were newcomers. Each team took the opportunity to measure up the opposing teams to their own. Buffer then reached in and pulled out the first two identifiers.

“Our first two teams who will also fight in the opening match of the tournament, the Lonely Wolves vs Team France.” Buffer said.

Terry looked across the ring to see who his competitors were. Team France locked eyes with the Lonely Wolves. The Lonely Wolves showed no intimidation. Team France tried not to show intimidation. But the looks the teammates gave one another showed they were VERY concerned about facing the Lonely Wolves.

“Our second match shall be Team Japan vs Team Yagami.”

Kyo and Iori locked eyes. Another round in their blood feud. Each one wishing it to be the last for reasons of their own. Cassie also hoped it would be the last as she looked down from the stands. In her Shadowbox, Kali was having similar thought.

~After rivers run with Ranger and Kusanagi blood.~

“Our third match shall be Team Nightfighter against Team Destiny.”

Laocorn looked over at Kincaid, hoping to size up him and his teammates, but found that they were carrying their emotions close to the chest, Kincaid especially. Laocorn could not read him.

And Kincaid liked it that way.

“Our fourth match shall be Team Lady Wolves vs Team USA.”

The main rivalry of this team was not between its captains, but between two of its members. Kat and Ivy looked across from each other while Ivy and Cassie kept tabs on the Kane boys.

“Our fifth match shall be Team Night Ranger and Team Okasa.”

All three members of Team Night Ranger, David, Sarah and Ken locked eyes with Kane. Sei Tin and Eiji figured that he was the threat the other team knew, which meant everything depended on them being unknowns.

“Our sixth match shall be Team Gorgeous against Team Korea.”

Team Gorgeous did not look at Team Korea, but instead waved to the crowd soaking in all the applause. Team Korea vowed that Team Gorgeous would pay for treating them as if they were unworthy of their intention. And they vowed to do it with a victory, and several more to follow.

“Our seventh match shall be Team Mexico to face Team China.”

Team China and Team Mexico just stared at each other. There was no great rivalry here. But that didn’t mean that there wouldn’t be one after the first round match was over.

“Our eighth and last quarter preliminary match shall be Team Ikari vs Team Thailand.”

Like before there didn’t seem to be much blood between the teams. But the night was still young. And both teams clearly were hungry for the win.

====

Minion studied Kat as she stood on the tournament floor. It didn’t seem so long ago that she was being tortured in his own prison dimension. Already he was reconsidering his plans for her… and for Kimberly. Still he was curious as to why Kat was taking part. He never knew her to be the karate tournament type of person. She was more for dance. Minion wondered just what circumstances would call for her to participate in a tournament such as this?

~And what would this participation entail?~ he mentally asked himself. He was still waiting for the answer to that question, eager for an answer.

He then studied her companions. A girl with brown hair with a lock of it green adorned with a green ball cap. By her side was a young Asian girl with a pink shirt dressed in some sort of fighting uniform. He did not know these girls, but wondered if there was not some sort of Ranger connection. Immediately Minion decided he would uncover the identities of these two girls and figure out what threats they could be to him. As Rangers or something else. He then viewed their names on the program he had with him. Alison Bogard and Cassie Chan. He would remember these names, and their faces. If they existed in his reality he would take steps to make sure they couldn’t pose a threat.

As Minion sat back his eyes were drawn to the audience and locked onto a girl who looked to be a dead ringer for Alison.

~Curious,~ Minion thought. ~A twin perhaps?~

He also noticed that by the girl’s side were her friends. And they were sat close to the Zeo and Morphin Rangers. He could sense that some of those seated near her were not quite human. He rapidly concluded that there was at least one team of Rangers there that he had not met and judging by the auras he could sense, Cassie Chan was likely a part of their little group.

He committed their faces to memory, determined he would find out their names and perhaps send either his Psycho Rangers or his lieutenants to pay them a visit. Minion wanted every one of his forces to know what threats there would be to him. So far even though the show had not started, Minion was forced to admit the experience had been educational. It was clear now that given time Earth would find additional Rangers and his task would grow more difficult. He resolved to put an end to his games with the captured Rangers as soon as he returned.

He then looked at the other competitors and their names provided for him on the complimentary program. He wanted to see what other names would leap out at him. Two caught his attention: Team Nightfighter and Team Night Ranger. The word Ranger was obvious but for some reason his mind linked the fact they included the word night.

As far as Minion knew there was no mention of the Night Rangers anywhere in the Council files, nor did anyone in the Alliance of Evil mention them. If such a team existed, why hadn’t he heard about them before?

====

“Well there you have it ladies and gentlemen the eight quarter prelim matches.” JR said.

“And what better way to kick off King of Fighters than to have such a team as the Lonely Wolves start it up for us? The only question I have to wonder is, will they be facing Team Japan or Team Yagami in the Quarter Finals?” Heyman said.

“Excuse me Paul but they still have to make it through this opening bout first.”

Paul was incredulous. “Are you out of your mind JR? All of the fighters in this team are beyond incredible, especially Terry Bogard. A three time King of Fighters Champion mind you. This man is called the Lone Wolf for a reason and very shortly you’ll see why he has earned that name.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen, at this time I can reveal that the winning team of this year’s tournament will receive one hundred million dollars and the title of ‘The King of Fighters’.”

The crowd cheered loudly. It wasn’t the idea of their favourite stars winning a lot of money, it was the knowledge that with such a huge prize on the line the competitors were bound to fight harder than ever.”

“Did you hear that JR?” Heyman asked. “Still think this is anything like pro-wrestling?”

“There’s a lot of money to be made,” JR agreed. “Let me run down the rules for the fans at home… Firstly each competitor has been given a badge featuring the emblem of the tournament. No matter what happens they must wear that emblem throughout their match. If they don’t they will be disqualified.”

“Excuse me JR,” Heyman interrupted. “That isn’t just a pretty badge. There are sensors inside that detect the heartbeat rate and blood flow of the participant while fighting.”

“And of course for our home viewers, our computer experts will be converting those readings and using the data to calculate each competitor’s battle ability, which will show on the big screen or your television sets as the Life Bar.”

“If you see the Power Bar creep up you can bet your about to see something special,” Heyman promised. “those badges also measure adrenaline if you get my drift.”

“Rule Two: If the winning team has an injured member, they can select a substitute, but only from a team that has already been defeated.”

“Rule Three: Each competitor has signed a waiver confirming that the Management takes no responsibility for any injuries or deaths that the participants may receive during this tournament,” Heyman chipped in. “And believe me folks it’s a good thing they have that clause.”

“Now I should remind people that this arena has been specially reinforced to withstand all attacks and that the pillars around the area are used to absorb and stray energy… are you kidding me?”

“You’re starting to sound like Monsoon,” Heyman quipped.

In the arena, Buffer had finished his speech and the show was ready to begin. “Ladies and gentlemen! LET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!”

The applause filled the room as JR and Heyman made ready to introduce the first match. JR spoke first. “Well we have our first opening match according to the lottery. It is the team of the Lonely Wolves vs three newcomers in Team France.”

Heyman seemed to laugh at the mention of Team France. “Oh JR I can’t help thinking Team France is going to start wishing they were somewhere else very soon. I mean, Team France? What do these kids think they are going to get?”

“Glory for their country?” JR asked. “Recognition?”

“Oh they will be recognized all right JR” Heyman said. “But let me tell you. Team France is no different than a lot of other young bucks that came this way. They think winning a King of Fighters tournament, let alone taking part in one is a big thing. What they don’t realize is that it’s not winning the tournament that’s important; it’s surviving it!”

JR felt a chill as he believed Heyman knew what he was talking about. Regardless he went back to commentary starting with Team France.

“Well looking at Team France’s roster. It consists of three members. Matthew Oulette, Colin Bauvair and their captain Francis Robain. All mixed martial arts specialist with Robain even doing a tour in the UFC.”

“Oh JR by the time Francis gets through with this fight he will wish he was back in the UFC. And he will think the UFC is a cakewalk.” Heyman said as an orchestra sound echoed throughout the arena. Three young Frenchmen stood in the doorway dressed in their national colours holding a French flag. The arena booed immediately.

“What is this the World Wrestling Federation?” Heyman asked. “Who let this circus act in here?”

JR didn’t answer as the three fighters entered the ring raking in the boos as if they were in something that came from the bowels of sports-entertainment. They then demonstrated a few martial arts moves as if showing if they had some prowess, before they waited for their opponents to come.

After a few seconds of silence the song “Fly away my hero,” filled the arena followed by a loud roar of the crowd. As the crowd went wild with applause the Lonely Wolves made their way to the ring. JR was amazed as to how much of a reaction the Lonely Wolves got. “It’s like Hulk Hogan entered this arena.” JR commented.

“Terry Bogard is light years away from Hogan.” Heyman said. “And Terry has more hair than Hogan.”

JJR nodded in agreement to that. All three Lonely Wolves were in the ring as Joe Higashi was demonstrating to the crowd, giving the audience a bit of a show. He then looked at the three Frenchmen who looked unimpressed.

~They will be very impressed after this.~ Joe thought as he went to stand with his team. “So who wants to go first?” Joe asked.

Terry looked over to his brother. “How about you start it off this time Andy.”

Andy nodded. “Good idea. Especially considering who we’ll most likely be fighting after this match.”

Joe then grimaced as he realized it really didn’t matter who won the fight between Team Japan and Team Yagami. It was going to be a fight to the finish against either of them and they needed to have Terry ready to go head to head against either Kyo or Iori.

~Put it out of your mind Bogard,~ Andy thought as he took the ring centre. ~Focus on the here and now.~

The three members of Team France talked and they decided that Francis would lead first. Francis thought he would lead by example as he destroyed Andy Bogard. Francis took the position across from Andy as the referee made ready to start the match.

“FIGHT!”!”

Francis crossed up to Andy and launched a series of front and side kicks followed by a reverse punch. Andy blocked most of the blows, but his life bar did take a drop. Andy did not retaliate yet as he stepped back, allowing Francis to get more space.

“What’s going on?” Joe asked. “Why is Andy taking this guy’s shots?”

Terry just smiled. He had an idea what to expect from his brother. “Wait for it.”

Francis meanwhile was still giving his strikes with Andy still blocking. His bar still took some slight nudges, but nothing major. Finally Francis broke away milking the crowd as if saying “Look at me. Look at my superiority.” That was when Andy made his move.

Andy came at Francis with a series of punches that knocked Francis off his game. So hard were the punches that the life bar registered Francis as taking severe drops in energy. Andy then followed up with a side kick and a roundhouse kick before giving his final strike.

“ZAN EN KEN!” Andy struck down Francis right in his jaw and he didn’t even get up. Andy looked down in contempt at his opponent. ~Arrogant fool. Never let your guard down.~

“A NEW King of Fighters record for the fastest KO! Just over two seconds!” Heyman shouted from the announcer’s desk.

Francis was escorted from the ring as Matthew came in. Since Team France lost their leader Matthew decided he would bring glory to France. The glory was short lived as Matthew gave his own punch kick combos that were blocked by Andy. Andy then rushed Matthew delivering his own combos weakening Matthew significantly, before delivering another finishing move.

“SHO RYU DAN!” Andy took Matthew down with his flying punch. Matthew also never got up.

“What the hell?” JR shouted.

Heyman just said “And there’s still one left.”

It was Colin’s cue to enter the fight. He started by attacking with his own ki based attack.

“DRUID BEAM!” Colin shouted as it knocked Andy back. Andy took a severe blow knocking him back and allowing Colin to get in his own combos. Colin struck hard and fast knocking Andy down, but not out. Colin decided he would give Andy the Druid beam as his own KO. Then he would defeat Terry Bogard and Joe Higashi.

“DRUID BEAM!” Colin shouted as a beam came from his hand. Andy however gathered enough of his awareness to retaliate from Colin’s strike.

“HI SHO KEN!” Andy then used his own ki move to counter Colin’s Druid Beam which was negated and Colin was stunned. He tried to see just in time for Andy to handspring himself into a jumping kick to knock him back and then landed a Zan Ei Ken to finish the job.

Then, as quick as it started the match was over. Colin was KOed, and Andy stood as the victor. Terry and Joe never had to enter the ring.

“Winners… The Lonely Wolves!” Buffer said still in shock.

Heyman, feeling smug and full of himself, looked on at JR. “So NOW what do you have to say JR?”

JR was tongue-tied to say the least. “And that was only one guy. I shudder to think what the other two will do.”

“Oh you’ll find out soon enough JR. Everyone will,” Heyman said. He was smiling. And JR knew Heyman was telling the truth about that.

====

On the viewing monitor Kincaid, Cassandra and Bruce were watching the first round match. Bruce and Cassandra seemed awestruck by what they saw. Kincaid however kept his poker face on.

“What the bloody hell was that?” Bruce asked.

“It was a power of some sort.” Cassandra said. “I seemed to sense a powerful aura around the competitors as I was in the locker room.”

“How powerful?” Kincaid asked.

“Well for some it wasn’t that powerful, but with others it was plenty powerful. I’m not sure how we can win this thing with auras like that.” Cassandra stated.

“We’ll just have to be creative that’s all.” Kincaid said. Bruce and Cassandra both shot Kincaid a look of ‘What?’ and Kincaid quickly explained. “It’s obvious we can’t morph here. But Cassandra, you do have some civilian powers that can be used, namely your telepathy and telekinesis. You may have to be creative with them.”

Cassandra asked how ‘creative’ she had to be and Kincaid quickly explained.

“Are you sure? I’ve never used my powers in that fashion.”

“It’ll work.” Kincaid then turned to Bruce and said his peace. “You remember those special moves you were experimenting with?” Bruce went wide eyed as he understood what Kincaid was implying.

“I’ve only been experimenting with them Jeff. I haven’t had a chance to try them in actual battle, or as it would seem to be here, ‘competition.”

Kincaid understood but said, “This will be the test.”

“What about you Jeff?” Cassandra asked. “You do realize that you may have to deal with some of these ki users.”

Kincaid let out a smirk and said, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve yet.” With that all three Nightfighters left the viewing room and made ready to go to their first match.

====

There was a strange mix of surprise and awe throughout the audience. Those that had seen a tournament before were a little taken back at the speed of the battle, while those who had not witnessed such an event were shocked at the demonstration of power. While some thought it was all an illusion, other recognised the skill involved in such a fight and were suitably impressed. The Rangers were no exception; Tommy and Jason were taken aback by how what they had thought to be a simply fight tournament was turning into a real eye opener. Though clearly different there were some similarities between the techniques they had seen and the methods used by the Morphin Rangers.

“Bro, I don’t know what to make of that,” Jason said wrapping the aftermath of the battle in his mind.d.

Tommy had to think about what he had seen. But his thoughts were turned in a different direction. Was it possible that some of the Rangers could do what Terry and the Lonely Wolves had done. He remembered something similar when they had fought the Dragon Master. Could they isolate those techniques and draw on them in civilian life? Something told him it was possible.

“Don’t ask me why Jase, but I think there’s a lot more to that ‘Children of the Dragon’ prophesy than we already know. I think we need to know everything there is to know about it.”

Jason nodded in agreement. “You think the prophesy will have something to do with this tournament?”

“And us being part of it.” Tommy answered. “We need to talk to Zordon about this as soon as we can.”

Jason nodded remembering what he heard about the prophesy. How a few Rangers united by blood and friendship would band together in a show of power that would never be forgotten in a battle unlike all others. Now he felt that perhaps the tournament was where that battle would take place.

====

While Tommy and Jason were considering what the tournament might mean to them, the Astro Rangers were thinking about the glimpse they had been given into the world one of their teammates was now a part of. And for Ashley it was a reason to be even more concerned since not only was her friend involved, but her sister too.

“Man.” Ashley said. “I didn’t think people could do stuff like that.”

“There’s a lot of stuff humans can do,” Andros said. “But even I have not seen anything like that. Especially in regards to Earth humans.”

“Is that why villains are so hot to conquer Earth?” Carlos asked. “Because of stuff like that?”

“No, not completely,” Sabrina replied. “It’s not so much what they can do, but how much potential they have if they were to develop those powers further. And it’s not just the UAE. This sort of thing has drawn the attention of other parties.”

“Like those Q and Iblis?” TJ guessed.

“And others,” Sabrina told him. “Despite how insignificant they claim this world to be, this planet has been making a lot of noise in recent years. It might even have drawn the attention of some that we haven’t met yet.”

That gave the Astros something to think about as they waited to see what would happen next.t.

====

Master Mao had watched the event with interest. The powers had been raw and unrefined, but it had shown what had had long suspected, that humans could tap the Power directly. He could see from the look on his friend’s face that Master Phant had understood the importance of the last battle. His other companion, RJ, was too young to understand what he had seen, but like all present he understood that it had been spectacular.

“Whoa Master.” RJ said after a while of replaying the battle in his mind. “What skill was that?”?”

“They drew power from the life force of the planet and channelled it through their bodies,” Master Mao explained.

“Or at least one did,” Master Phant corrected. “The other was using his own life force to accomplish the same thing.”

“A powerful yet dangerous alternative.” Master Mao agreed. “If their spirit is not strong enough to endure, exhaustion would kill them.”

“Will I be able to do that?” RJ asked.

“One day, perhaps,” Master Phant said. “But our way is more refined. We do not snatch the power around us or drain ourselves, we ask nature to provide us with a spirit guide, a link that we can draw on. In time you will discover you animal guide and learn how to use it safely.”

====

Cam Watanabe did not think of the battle he had seen as a matter of spirits and flashing lights. He could see the energy flows as they travelled through the body and how they connected with the world around them. He was amazed by the patterns and the intensity. But it was an amazement not shared by his parents. They looked at the battle with a deep sense of concern. They had hoped that they would learn the techniques, but now they queried whether there was a set technique to what they had seen or whether the participants were making it up as they went along.

“Such power.” Mirai said. “So wonderful and terrible at the same time.”

Kanoi said nothing as he silently agreed with his wife. He did notice however Mirai holding onto Cameron for dear life.

Cameron for his part welcomed the embrace but wondered what the problem was. The Lonely Wolves won the first match. What could the problem be? Cameron would find out the problem soon enough.

====

“Is this really a good idea sir?” Spenser asked. He had watched the first fight and had been impressed, but couldn’t understand why his employer found it so fascinating. “I mean: how does this help us?”

Mr Hartford looked up from his laptop. “That was just an example of what people are capable of Spenser. Imagine if we could find somebody with those skills to accompany us on the quest for the Corona Aurora.”

“I can see the logic in that Sir, but I can’t help but ask: are you sure that the Corona Aurora needs to be found? It seems to be doing just fine where is is/”

Mr Hartford shook his head. It was something he had asked himself repeatedly. “I hope not, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared, does it? Besides, I’ve been paying for one of these boxes for the last three years. It seems right that we actually use it.”

Spenser nodded and sat back. Despite his reservations, it was an enjoyable show so far.

====

“They don’t show stuff like this in Sunday School. Yee haw!” Jackson shouted.

In their own seats the Stewarts were stunned by what they saw. And it seemed that while Robbie Ray and Susan could see why this sort of thing wasn’t shown in Sunday School, Miley and Jackson considered it to be one of the coolest things ever. Robbie Ray and Susan were wide-eyed with horror. Never had they seen a sight like they had before. The show of power. The brutality. There would have been some that would have called the King of Fighters, and what it’s fighters could do unnatural.

~Unnatural or not I don’t want to get on anyone’s bad side if I can help it.~ Robbie Ray thought as he sat back down holding Miley. She seemed to be enjoying the show herself, which scared Robbie Ray. As he saw her cheer for what was happening he felt like he saw part of the little girl she was die inside her. As if the light of her soul was being replaced by a dark bloodlust, or was starting to.

Robbie Ray looked at his wife Susan and saw the same look of fear in her eyes. Fear for her children, especially Miley. They always believed it was her destiny to bring hope to the world. What hope could she bring if she embraced the darkness of the world to the point that it consumed her?

~Is this what Geese wanted?~ Robbie Ray wondered. ~To turn my kids into monsters that enjoy brutality?~

He would have left right then and there, but he caught sight of the two bruiser guards at the exit. And the sight of those guards caused him to remain in his seat. For now. Robbie Ray Stewart then decided he couldn’t wait for the tournament to end. So he could get out fast, get home, and fire his agent for setting up the King of Fighters gig.

====

In her Shadowbox, Kali observed the reactions of the others. Terry Bogard had won his first round battle, but then what else was new?

Kali considered what she had seen and what if any new information she had learnt.

“And just think, the tournament is only beginning,” she chuckled. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

====

It was a thoughtful Minion that stared out at the arena and tried to maintain his composure. He had seen many things during his campaign. He understood the power of the Rangers, the JLA and the other assorted heroes… but he recognised that this was something he had yet to fully comprehend. It was new, it was different and it was a humbling realisation that he not seen everything. It was also slightly unsettling to realise he didn’t know how to interpret this turn of events.

However he recognised that that it represented both a threat and maybe an opportunity. If he could learn to master the energy he had seen the gains would be sizeable, but until then there was a chance those power could be used against him. So it came down to a choice of either learning how to use the powers or finding a way to neutralise them.

His mind turned to Terry Bogard and his teammates. ~Your little demonstration has been insightful Mr Bogard. I guess in order to start a show one has to get the audience’s attention. And you DEFINITELY have Minion’s attention.~

There was much more to watch and to learn. Minion had no doubt that before he departed there would be more to learn.

====

Back at the announcers desk, JR was trying to find the words to explain what was just seen and what would come next. Heyman however had no shortage of words.

“Now JR if you thought the first match was off the chain, you ain’t seen nothing yet,” Heyman said. “Especially with the next match to come.”

“I’m not sure I could handle another surprise.” JR said.

Heyman managed to prevent himself from laughing “You’ll have to JR because the next two teams have members that have been in a feud for a very long time. Team Yagami, and their leader Iori Yagami, have had it in for Team Japan’s Kyo Kusanagi for years. This tournament has been the latest stop on their tour. But Iori will look to make sure it’s Kusanagi’s last stop if he gets his way.”

====

In the corridor leading to the arena, Team Japan made their way to the ring. Off to one side team captain Kyo Kusanagi, along with his teammates Benimaru Nikaido and Goro Daimon, noticed the approach of Cassie and her teammates.

“Kyo!” Cassie said as she rushed to embrace her cousin. Kyo hugged Cassie back, wishing her luck.

Benimaru looked at Alison and nodded. “Good luck out there. This will be your first time you know.”

“First time competing. Not the first time I’ve seen a King of Fighters fight.” Alison said.

“Still be careful.” Goro said. “All of you.”

His gaze lingered on Katherine in her King of Fighters fighting gear. She looked like a fighter, but there still seemed to be a part of her that was out of place in the King of Fighters environment. He hoped it was first time jitters from Kat.

“I know.” Kat said, sensing what Goro was thinking. “I may not know this type of fighting too well, but neither does Ivy. She may have been taught by Geese, and have Billy and Daniel to back her up. But I’ve had my own teachers, and I have some good back up of my own.” She looked at Alison and Cassie.

Kyo nodded. He could sense that Kat at least believed what she was saying.

“Watch your backs, and each other’s,” he said.

All three Lady Wolves nodded indicating they would. Kyo then went to Cassie and took her hands into his own looking to say one last thing.

“Cassie whatever happens to me out there focus on only one thing: your match against Ivy. Promise me that.”

“I promise.” Cassie said hoping she could keep her word. She loved Kyo and didn’t want to see anything bad happen to him. Kyo nodded and the rest of Team Japan went to the ring ready to begin their fight. Alison put her hand on Cassie’s shoulder understanding her conflict. She had seen how battles between Kusanagi and Yagami could be, and knew Cassie had too.

“All we can do is hope,” Alison said.

“Hope will not save your cousin.”. Alison, Cassie and Kat turned and saw Iori Yagami, with his two lady teammates Mature and Vice by his side. Neither woman’s demeanour suggested they were there to make friends. Cassie had heard the stories of Mature and Vice from Kyo, so she knew they were the very definition of cruel and ruthless. That they were women just made them more eager to prove how vicious they could be. Close up, Cassie agreed with Kyo’s description.

Iori walked over to Kat and offered his hand. “I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure. My name is Iori Yagami.”

“I’ve heard of you.” Kat said placing her hand in Iori’s as Iori then kissed it like a gentleman.

“That’s probably the last civilized thing you will see Iori do,” Cassie warned.

“I am besieged by Kusanagi.” Iori said in contempt as he noticed Cassie.

“Newsflash Iori, you’re no prize either.” Alison said.

Iori glared at Alison who didn’t back down. In the end he smirked. “Bogard has taught you well. You show no intimidation.” He then looked at Cassie. “It is a shame you are of Kusanagi blood. It means when I kill Kyo I must kill you next.”

Like Alison, Cassie showed no intimidation. But her next words shocked Iori. “You’re welcome to try, if your cousin Kali doesn’t try to kill me first.”

That got Iori’s attention. He spun back around and looked at Cassie curiously. “What are you talking about? Who is this Kali and why do you call her my cousin?”

“She is a Yagami that has your power, and your insanity,” Cassie explained.

Mature and Vice shot each other a look for a second, but Iori was in disbelief. “No. Impossible. There are no female Yagami.”

“There are too Iori.” Alison said as the Lady Wolves turned and walked away leaving Iori and his teammates with much to think about.

~A female Yagami? Alive?~

“Where?”

“She’s around somewhere.” Alison said. “I won’t say who it is though. None of us will.”

“Why not?” Iori asked with a touch of anger in his voice. His hands enveloped in purple fire.

“You really want me to answer that?” Alison asked. “Would you tell Cassie if the situation was reversed?”

Iori snorted and then brushed off the Lady Wolves as he, Mature and Vice walked to the ring. They had to prepare for the battle.

Alison did give one last call out to Mature. “Nice knockers.”

Mature didn’t respond.

====

The music played as Team Japan entered the ring. Heyman introduced Kyo, Benimaru and Goro as they came to the ring. Applause filled the air as Team Japan stood in the entranceway.

All three members took in the applause as if they were gifts from their fans. Kyo smiled, taking in the love and affection. As did Benimaru and Goro as they came to the ring and turned back to the entrance. They wanted to get as much applause as they could until their opponents came out, which they knew would be soon.

Suddenly the arena then became deathly silent as Iori’s music filled the arena. Team Yagami was making its approach. Iori Yagami took the lead flanked by Mature and Vice. The expressions of Mature and Vice were all business. While Iori’s was contorted into a mask of rage and anger directed towards his adversary, Kyo Kusanagi.

His attention was diverted for a brief moment as he sensed a presence. He looked up at the audience sensing someone. Someone familiar. Someone of Yagami power. He thought he sensed someone in the shadowboxes, but couldn’t tell who. Iori continued to look around until his eyes locked with someone else in the stands.

It was Trini Kwan.

Trini and Iori locked eyes as if seeing into one another’s souls. Neither one truly understanding the bond between them. But Iori knew enough. Trini was of Yagami blood, even though she did not truly embrace her power yet. Iori then walked to the ring breaking the gaze. He laughed the rest of the way.

Back in the stands Kimberly looked at Trini concerned for her friend. “Trini, you okay?”

Trini turned to look at Kim and just looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “I don’t know Kim. I don’t know what I felt.”

Trini had a hard time putting her feelings towards the gaze into focus. It was like she was staring into the eyes of rage and madness. And the fire, Trini felt the fire burning not only in Iori, but herself as well.

And the horrifying thing about it was that Trini liked it. It was a part of her. A part calling to her.

~No. You promised your mom. That path leads only to darkness.~ Trini thought. She then turned her gaze back to the fight. Wondering what would happen next.

But for a brief moment she looked down at her own hand. For a second it glowed with purple fire. Tempting her, until she turned back to the match.

Iori and his team made it to the other side of the ring facing Kyo and Team Japan. Iori then stepped forward looking to start things out. JR mentioned that perhaps Iori had some chivalry in him as he didn’t want the women Mature and Vice to get too horribly beaten by three men.

“Chivalry JR?” Heyman all but laughed at that. “There’s nothing chivalrous about Iori. He just went first because he wants Kyo Kusanagi. And if he has to go through the rest of Team Japan to do it, he will.”

Iori stood in the fight circle. Benimaru and Goro were talking with Kyo indicating that they would start first in order to protect Kyo. Kyo shook his head no. “You don’t need to sacrifice yourself for me.”

“Won’t be much of a sacrifice if we soften him up for you.” Benimaru said as he went to the fight circle. He faced Iori looking to start things out.

“FIGH-!!!”

“NO!!!” Iori called out as he looked at Benimaru. “I will not fight you.” Benimaru looked confused until Iori pointed at the person he wanted to fight. Kyo. “Leave the ring.” Iori said. “Get Kyo in here. Or I will not be merciful to you.”

Benimaru was about to tell Iori what to do with his orders until Kyo grabbed his shoulder.

“It’s all right Ben. I’ll do it.”

Benimaru then went back to the side as Kyo took his place facing Iori. The referee then signalled for the match to restart.

“FIGHT!”

“SHIKI ONIYAKI!” Iori shouted as he leapt into the air in a spinning motion leaving a wide trail of flame following his hand. All of it directed at Kyo who ducked out of the way of the lethal flaming strike and followed it up with a simple uppercut. Iori was left flying back across the ring and landed hard on the ground at the feet of Mature and Vice.

To say that Iori felt humiliated was an understatement. Such humiliation filled his rage even more than his hatred for Kyo did alone. Iori went back to his feet only for Kyo to land in a few rapid strikes. Crosses, uppercuts, even punches no one could even think of naming. Kyo then followed it up with another ki move.

“SHIKI DOKU KAMI!” Kyo shouted as he launched straightforward flaming fists. Kyo’s fists hit Iori hard. Iori was disoriented.

Up above in the Shadowbox Kali glared at Iori. “Finish him Iori! Don’t let a Kusanagi get the better of you.”

Iori seemed to hear the words as he launched his own strike “AOI HANA” at Kyo. Soon Kyo was knocked back with two uppercuts and an axe handle blow.

Kyo and Iori then went at it neck and neck. They fought with flame powers and regular fighting skill. Each one not getting the better of the other. Each one keeping it dead even. Kyo then looked at the clock and found time was running out. Kyo decided to end the fight quickly.

“ONI-YAKI!” Kyo then struck at Iori with only a few seconds left.

Unfortunately it had been a ploy set up by Iori. He jumped back and attacked, “YAMI-BARAI!”

Kyo couldn’t defend until he landed and when he did the projectile struck him.

Iori could smell blood. “This is the end Kusanagi…” he promised as he charged up all of his power and prepared himself. “SHIKI YAOTOME!!!” He was using his Desperation Move, the Maiden Smasher. He started to savagely attack Kyo with his hands there like claws as he just kept cutting into Kyo’s body and causing injury to him until finally the attack had an explosive ending and Kyo was sent to the ground hard.

Iori just smiled down at the fallen Kusanagi. In fact, he was about ready to start his infamous laugh until Buffer announced, “Winners… Team Japan!”

Iori’s head snapped forward as he rushed Michael Buffer and grabbed him by the throat. “WHAT? WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?”

“I… I don’t make the rulings… the referee did…” Buffer pointed to the one that told him the decision. Iori threw Buffer down and approached the referee.

“Time expired before your last move hit and you attacked him even after it was over. None of the damage your move caused counts. And since his bar was greater than yours, Kyo Kusanagi and his team are the winners. Now deal with it boy.”

It was then that Paul Heyman took off his hat and said a prayer for the referee. JR asked what he was doing. “Just watch for another ten seconds you’ll see why I just said a prayer.” Heyman responded.

Iori’s own anger was just over flowing at this. “How dare you… how dare you, you pathetic excuse for a man… ONI-YAKI!” Iori attacked the ref with his move and on impact he shattered four of his ribs. When the ref landed on the ground he was not moving. Iori then went over to Kyo’s body and started to kick it. “Get up! Get up and face me damn you!”

Kyo wasn’t moving.

“Our war isn’t some stupid contest Kusanagi! It has no pathetic rules like this one! How you obtained your victory so cheaply! I beat you Kyo Kusanagi! And when we fight again outside of this tournament I’ll finish the job by killing you!” Iori shouted. Vice and Mature finally came over and started to pull him away but then Iori knocked them aside and grunted before walking off.

Some people were stupid enough to try to jump him. Such as gun happy security men or crazy as hell fans. They should be thankful he only beat them with one move instead of killing them.

“YAMI BARAI!”

The area around Iori was left with bodies of security men and fans that woke up to reality. Painful reality. Iori then turned away and walked through the entrance. Watching him walk was Trini.

“You all right Trini?” Kimberly asked again.

Trini looked on at what happened in horror and disbelief. She wasn’t even sure she would ever be all right again. She saw what Iori had done. And what Iori had done was something Trini herself could do. If she allowed herself to.

~I understand Mom. I really do. I will never embrace the Yagami power in me.~

She hoped that she would be able to keep that promise.

Up in her Shadowbox however Kali looked at what Iori had done, and smiled. Yet she had also been disappointed in Iori.

“Oh Iori. Your fire could burn so much brighter. Just as bright as mine.” She then looked at her own hand as it was engulfed in purple flame. She then cast a look down in the stands to where Trini was sitting.

“Just as bright as yours will cousin.” Kali promised as she sat back in her chair and laughed. She stopped briefly as she felt another presence as she looked around the Shadowboxes. Her gaze falling on one in particular.

For a brief moment she felt a wave of fear. The next moment she resumed her hysterical laughing.

====

Minion saw Iori Yagami’s show. Intense was one word he would have used. Insane was another. But he noticed that Iori took notice of a voice shouting out to him. A voice Minion himself knew. ~But that cannot be. Trini is in the stands with her Ranger friends. Not in the Shadowboxes.~ Minion had his suspicions about who the voice belonged to, but he didn’t see how it could be possible. What would one of his Psycho Ranger replicas be doing here? ~Curious.~ he thought. He seemed to be thinking that a lot.

Looking around the Shadowboxes, Minion took a look at the clientele that were watching from the special balcony section. Many boxes were sealed with tainted glass, but there were a few faces he could detect. None of them seemed familiar to him though, until he saw one box in particular.

Or rather the occupant of it. He recognised the magic surrounding her even though it had clearly faded over time; it was his own.

“Triini?”

Minion noticed the former Ranger duplicate sitting with an entourage beside her. She looked so different from the being Minion had corrupted. When he sabotaged Zordon’s flesh avatar replicas of the Power Rangers and created Triini she was created to be a dead ringer for the Yellow Morphin Ranger, but her personality had been a makeshift distortion of the original Trini Kwan. There had been no finesse, he had just ripped away the parts of her personality that resembled Trini and emphasised the negative aspects.

~No, that isn’t how it happened,~ he reminded himself. His eyes widened. It was clear he was remembering events from not only his reality, but those that had occurred here too. The Triini he had created had been a complex creation, so complex he couldn’t say which of the many methods he used had finally dominated her genetic makeup. In this reality though Triini had been a creation of Zordon corrupted by Minion based on the spell that had created him.

Trini Kwan was a smart individual who assisted Billy with experiments, translated his tech-speak for him and even loved him, albeit from afar. In his reality he had taken that love and had twisted it into lust.

Taking a look at Triini, Minion noted that she was different from either set of memories. Her hair was cut short and purple. Her eyes looked blood red and had an insane tint about them. It was clear that she had become more than he had originally intended. And as he assimilated the foreign memories into his own he realised that one of the reasons was his own failure. In his reality he had built the Psycho Rangers with himself as their primary focus, destroying the Power Rangers as a secondary purpose and survival as a close third. It seemed that his other reality counterpart had focussed on the need to destroy the Rangers as their sole priority. That meant that when they were left without his guidance, they had continued with their task and adapted to complete it.

This clearly was no longer just a flesh replica. Triini was now a whole new person. And as Minion looked on he saw the logo on her jacket, the same logo that Iori Yagami had worn, another piece of the puzzle slotted into place.

~What is the meaning of this?~ Minion asked. ~What has happened to Triini?~

As if sensing Minion’s presence and questions the replica Triini, or as she was known now, Kali, turned in Minion’s direction and smiled as she waved a glass of champagne in salute. He could see the slight mocking in the gesture. It was clear she did not consider him her master. She then brought forth her hand and ignited the purple flames that were part of her power and a part of her being.

Despite the aggravation of seeing the changes Triini had been through, Minion was intrigued by the flames that came from her hand. They were the same flames that came from Iori . It was clear that she was sending him a warning that she believed she could harm him. And as he searched his memory and found that this version of Triini did not have the spells placed on her to punish disobedience, Minion had to believe that her threat had some merit.

Still, Minion wondered if she had not inherited the madness from the fighter below, Iori Yagami. Minion then decided she must have if she broke away from the program Minion laid out. Or not. As he thought about it he realised that his creations had been programmed to act in a certain way and to serve him. But if he had somehow died? That would explain the changes. Triini hadn’t changed. She had evolved.

And with that settled for the time being, Minion started to see the possibilities.

He thought of the idea of Trini having such a dark power within her. The possibility was intriguing and unexpected. Minion always felt that if the Rangers fell from the inside it would have been Tommy that caused it. Never did anyone consider Trini as capable of such evil. He thought of his Triini and tried to compare her with the insane monster sitting not far away from him.

In the end it came down to one question: ~How did Trini come to possess such dark power?~ he asked himself.

Minion did not need to ask why if she knew about the power, Trini had never used it? He felt the answer there was obvious. But Triini would likely see it as a means to an end and happily use it to her advantage. Minion’s eyes travelled to Iori Yagami as he considered Trini and Kali. He didn’t have ALL the answers to this strange puzzle of power, but his mind was already turning as to ways of how the power could be put to use.

====

If Miley and Jackson thought the first match was exhilarating they were horrified after seeing the second. Especially as they saw how brutally Iori attacked Kyo. Miley then hugged her father and pleaded “Daddy take me home. I don’t want to see anymore.”

Robbie Ray held his daughter tight. He didn’t want to see anymore either, but he and his family had to stay until the end. “Patience darlin’. It’ll be over soon.” he said as if promising her.

He only hoped he could keep that promise.

====

Back in the ring Benimaru and Daimon were by Kyo’s side. They tried to see if he was awake and coherent. Slowly but surely he was coming to consciousness.

“Did I win?” Kyo asked with a smile.

“You don’t look like a winner, but yeah you won.” Goro said. Benimaru however was concerned about Kyo’s health. “You sure you’re okay?”

“Just let me rest for a bit.” Kyo said. “I’ll be healed enough for the next match.”

“Good luck.” Benimaru said. “That will be against Terry’s team.”

Kyo smiled. “Good, at least we get worthy opponents.”

Benimaru and Goro laughed at Kyo’s remark and knew he hadn’t lost his sense of humour. They knew he would be okay by the quarter-finals.

As Kyo was helped up by Benimaru and Daimon, he could only wonder what was to happen next. Not just in the tournament, but in his own life.

====

“Oh man.” Cassidy said as she looked down from the rafters.

“You’re not kidding.” Zhane said.

“Shouldn’t you be with the rest of your team or something?” Skull asked, noting Zhane’s arrival.

Zhane tried to look innocent and said, “I’m just looking for the right place to get snacks. I’m told they are good on this side.”

“That’s not the only thing on this side right?” Bulk asked sarcastically as he looked at Cassidy, and then at Zhane, who appeared to be trying to do an impression of a puppy dog. Cassidy noticed and rolled her eyes.

“Zhane now would not be a good time to flirt with me.” Cassidy said. Zhane backed away as Cassidy gave a small smile out the corner of her mouth. ~Didn’t mean I didn’t like it.~

In the seats at ringside Karone spied Cassidy and Zhane. Zhane was being his usual charming self as Karone put it and Cassidy seemed to be indifferent, but she knew Cassidy was enjoying it. ~A woman knows these things.~ Karone thought.

Especially in regards to Cassidy Bridges. Karone had unfinished business with her… or at least Artemis did.

“You okay?” Leo asked shaking Karone out of her mental state.

“Yeah Leo. Just thought I saw someone.” Karone turned her attention back to the tournament as she thought about her next plan for Cassidy. ~Turning her into a spider might not be a bad idea. Or better yet, a spider monster.~

Karone decided she would table that line of thinking for now. She was with Leo and wanted to enjoy that. The fights however were satisfying her curiosity as well.

Especially since one of the fights would feature two of her Astro Ranger adversaries.

====

Outside the dressing room of Team Japan, Alison and Kat stood waiting for their third team mate to exit. Few seconds later Cassie had come out of the dressing room.

How’s Kyo?” Alison asked.

“He’ll be okay.” Cassie said. “Iori worked him over good, but he’ll be up to facing Terry.”

Alison nodded hoping Kyo would be okay. Terry may have been her cousin, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t concerned about Kyo as well.

“We’d better get ready for our match.” Kat said.

Cassie and Alison agreed as they walked down a nearby hallway that led to a loading area.

As Cassie, Alison and Kat were making their way to the ladies locker room they came across Kincaid’s red motorcycle parked nearby. It closely resembled a Harley Davidson, but there was something about it that caught the attention. Cassie and Alison seemed taken in by the bike and Kat followed them.

“Wow look at this ride,” Alison said, looking over every part of the bike. “I wonder whose it is?”

Kat however seemed to recognise. For some reason it seemed familiar to her, as if she had seen it before but couldn’t place where.

“You’re right Alison, this bike is cool. I wonder who the owner is,” Cassie remarked.

A voice then came from behind. “That would be me.” Cassie and Alison both looked up while Kat turned around, her mouth dropping open when she saw who it was.

“You!” she said. “I saw your name on the roster, but I didn’t think it would actually be you.”

“I was invited,” Kincaid told her with a shrug. “The person who sent me the invitation said something was about to happen and that I needed to see what it was. These are my two teammates, Cassandra Jensen and Bruce Greene.”

Cassandra and Bruce introduced themselves and Alison and Cassie returned the greeting. Kincaid stared at Alison and Alison wondered why he was looking at her like that. “I hope you’re not thinking of doing something you’re not supposed to be doing.”

“No,” Kincaid said. “It’s just that you remind me of someone I know. Can you tell me a little about yourself? I want to compare you to the you I know.”

Alison had a puzzled look on her face as she tried to make sense of his words. But she couldn’t see any harm in answering and soon told him her life story. When she was finished Kincaid nodded.

“I guess she did turn out better here than where we came from,” Cassandra stated.

“No,” Kincaid corrected, “just different. In either case she made the best of what she had with what she was given.”

Alison looked like she was going to ask what he meant by that, but Bruce warned her not to. “Better you don’t know. Let’s just say the story Kincaid would share is not as pleasant.”

Then he and Cassandra made their way to the ramp that headed for the ring as Kincaid got on his Harley and started it.

“It was good to see you Kat,” Kincaid said. “Break a leg.”

Then he rode off towards the ramp ready to make his entrance leaving Cassie, Alison and Kat staring wide eyed.

“That is one scary guy,” Cassie said.

“You said it.” Kat added. “And believe it or not that was him when he is trying not to be scary. You should see him fight.” Kat then began to explain how she had met Kincaid and the events that had led to Jessie Belle’s death at the hands of Robert Harper, a man that had killed her for no other reason than hurting him.

“That Harper sounds like a sicko.” Alison said. “I hope the Harper isn’t related to him.”

“Your Harper is probably more well balanced than the one I saw.” Kat said. “Now let’s find the locker room. This is one fight I want to see,” Cassie and Alison all agreed and proceeded to find the girls’ locker room post-haste.

====

Minion sat waiting for the next match to start. As he sat he read the program looking through the names of the teams, and the names of the participants on those teams. Two of those team names captured his attention, especially as he saw the name of someone he knew who was on Team Destiny: Katherine Hillard.

His mind was still turning as to why Kat would be in one of these tournaments, let alone on a team. Could this be another show of power? This strange power seen from the Lonely Wolves and Iori Yagami? Could Kat have a similar power? As Minion continued to think about Kat and her teammates his mind turned to the team she would be facing.

“Team Lady Wolves vs. Team Destiny,” Minion said looking at the program again. He may have had questions about the teammates Kat had been allied with, but he did not know anything about the opponents. This Team USA. He saw the names on it: Ivy Howard, Daniel Kane, and Billy Kane.

He didn’t know anything about the three names on this Team USA, but he saw they may provide Kat and her suspected Ranger allies a challenge that would allow him to gauge their skill. ~And answer the question about what Kat is doing in a tournament like this,~ Minion added.

When the time came Minion would watch Kat fight very carefully. But there were other things to look at first. Other fighters who were mysteries. Mysteries Minion needed to have solved. Team Nightfighter and Team Destiny were next. It was again time to learn more.

====

At ringside JR and Heyman were giving their promo for the next match to come. Team Destiny vs. Team Nightfighter.

“You know Paul.” JR said. “I’ve been trying to find information on Team Nightfighter, but I can’t find any information on them. All we’ve got are names, but no records. No fight history. No nothing.”

“I know JR” Heyman said sharing JR’s confusion. “Team Nightfighter is a mystery. No one knows who these fighters are. All we do know is that they have been personally invited by the tournament sponsor for this year. We do have names though, and I was able to see the team leader Jeff Kincaid undergo his training regimen. Let me tell you, I know several ECW competitors who would run scared from this guy. And that’s saying something. He looks at you and you get chilled. Not to mention what he had done during his training session.”

“And what about the other two?” JR asked. “Cassandra Jensen and Bruce Greene?”

“Greene and Jensen are both unknowns, as is Kincaid. Which will serve to their advantage. For even though Team Destiny, led by Laocorn Gaudeamas, has amassed a record in itself, even they don’t know what Team Nightfighter is capable of. They could be going against a dangerous force, or a couple of pushovers.”

“Well we’ll know in a minute as we are greeted by Team Destiny as they make their way to the ring.”

At the conclusion of JR’s sentence the theme music for Team Destiny filled the room and Laocorn, Panni and Lyla made their way to the ring. A symphonic melody that reminded Laocorn of his sister Sulia. A song done in her memory.

Laocorn, Panni and Lyla walked to the ring with an air of confidence and integrity. They stood as symbols of strength and discipline. Even if the crowd had given them a mixed reaction. For while half the crowd cheered Team Destiny the other half booed them unmercifully.

“Some of them know.” Laocorn said.

“Not the specifics Lord.” Panni said. “But they do know that you had made some bad choices in life. Some are not that forgiving.”

“Just focus on the battle at hand Laocorn.” Lyla said. “Maybe that will win some of them over. Besides we know nothing about these guys.”

“Yes.” Laocorn said. “This Team Nightfighter is a mystery. We shall see an answer soon enough.” Laocorn however noticed a few signs in support of Team Nightfighter, even if none of the fans knew who they were either. Laocorn however believed that they were not supporting Team Nightfighter, but supporting Team Destiny’s decimation. The fans just didn’t care who decimated them.

After the music ended as well as the fanfare the three members of Team Destiny turned to see their opponents come to the ring. The music of two of the members filled the air.

“Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the floor. Let the bodies hit the… FLOOR!”

Bruce and Cassandra came to the ring to the music of Drowning Pool. Nothing they did gave away their secrets and they like it that way. So it appeared did Heyman as he mentioned how the team was playing up the mystery.

“Psychological warfare JR,” he guessed.

“I’m not sure it’s working yet,” JR replied. “Although it does raise the question about where the third member of their team has gotten to? Where is Jeff Kincaid?”

To be continued

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Princely Scheming

Disclaimer: I do not own the Power Rangers, they belong to Saban Brands. This is a fan work and not for profit.
Author’s Note: This chapter takes place after Mother Knows Best.

Princely Scheming

He stood over his fallen foe, regretting the necessity of slaughtering him. It wasn’t the act of killing, for in battle it was only logical that the enemy needed to be destroyed. No, as Prince Gasket, arguably the Heir of the Royal House of Gadgetry, stood over the defeated form of the being that had called himself Goyle, his only regret was that he would not be able to torture the identity of his foe’s employer out of his broken corpse.

“The absolute foolishness of believing that any organic could hope to emerge victorious again a powerful machine like you,” Archerina raged.

It had been a close call, even she had to admit that. Goyle had been a big monster, at least the size of one of the Machine Empire’s enlarged creations. He had also been extremely angry and dedicated to his task, tearing through whatever Gasket had thrown at him; their Cog reserves were absolutely exhausted following the battle to the point where there were hardly sufficient Cogs to run the factory to produce new units. The only good thing was that Goyle had not cared whom he encountered while chasing Gasket across the planet and had taken his toll on the resistance movement as well.

“Quite my dear, but the question remains, who would be foolish enough to attack me? And why?”

Oh there were plenty on names that ran through Gasket’s electronic mind. The rebels hiring a warrior to fight on their behalf only for the plan to backfire, his father deciding to destroy him for his continued disobedience. He briefly entertained the notion that perhaps Archerina’s father or one of the other leaders of the rival factions within the Machine Empire had struck at him as some form of uprising against the Royal House of Gadgetry, but dismissed the notion. Most of those that opposed him or his father politically would have known not to send an organic creature against them. There were far better machines capable of assassination attempts… some would have had a chance of succeeding.

He moved on to consider other enemies of the Machine Empire, the so called heroes that opposed the will of the Machine Empire. There were many of them and it was true that he posed a threat to them. But even he had to admit that compared to other enemies, he was not the biggest threat.

~Besides there are very few races capable of enlarging others using light magic,~ he thought.

The Triforians could manage it but tests had proven that the effect only lasted so long at the Triforian was within range. Since the breach of their planet had been by Goyle and Goyle alone, that method on enlargement seemed unlikely. And since that was the most effective method of growing a being without turning to the darker powers, he was willing to rule out the Galactic Council and their members… for now.

So that left other villains. Those that were jealous of his strategic brilliance or feared his prowess in battle. Goyle had been a strong opponent, of that there was little doubt. It had taken all of Gasket’s cunning and mechanically enhanced strength to defeat the alien warrior. Fortunately Gasket was not only programmed in the noble art of sword fighting, he was also an experienced combatant. Over the centuries he had constantly pitted himself against the finest machines his underlings could create and from time to time sullied himself by facing organic warriors in single battle. It was that practical skill that would have allowed him to wield Damocles Sword in battle where his father had failed.

But who would have the nerve to attack him, or for that matter the gall? The new Grand Monarch had issued a summons just a few days earlier and Gasket was aware of what the Messenger of Fire had done to make it clear his master mean business. Was it possible the Grand Monarch had sent another agent to make sure that they got the message? Certainly killing the Heir of the Royal House of Gadgetry would have sent the message that he was serious, but Gasket liked to think that he was too valuable to be used in such a way. Sprocket perhaps, but not Gasket.

A rival then? Yes, that made much more sense. One of the other villains wanted him out of the way so that they could grab the planet Earth before the day of the meeting. There was no question that he who claimed control of that vital planet at the time would become one of the most important figures in the hierarchy of the newly formed United Alliance of Evil. And Gasket liked to believe that he had as much chance of seizing the planet as his competitors. More in fact given his superior machine mind and willingness to embrace methods his father shied away from.

Except now he wasn’t a contender. Whether the intention had been to destroy him or injure him, the fact was Goyle had succeeded. Gasket’s Cog forces were all but wiped out, his factories had been severely damaged and his stock of machine monsters were limited. By rampaging across the planet, Goyle had set back Gaskets ability to play a major part in UAE by decades. Even within the Machine Empire his faction was now the weakest and he would need to be weary of competitors seeking to claim possession of Horath.

~Master Vile perhaps,~ he wondered.

The ruler of the M-51 Galaxy was certainly powerful enough to take on the might of the Machine Empire and risk its wrath. While it was true that his magic would prove extremely limited against the Cold Iron bodies of Kin Mondo’s forces, there were ways he could direct that power to overcome that disadvantage. Of course such an attempt would need to be swift and guaranteed to succeed, for there was no way that even a powerful magic user like Master Vile could defend himself if Mondo chose to attack.

~And Father would have been honour bound to avenge my death,~ Gasket realised. Not because there were any positive thought processes by Mondo regarding Gasket, but rather because Vile would have had the nerve to attack the Machine Empire. ~No, if Vile were to try this he would direct his attack at Father first.~ Vile would only have had one opportunity after all.

He dismissed Lord Zedd on the grounds that the villain had been destroyed. While his father had ordered a part of the Machine Planet’s runtime to determine the exact nature of Zedd’s existence, which given the amount of magic involved would likely lead to a complete failure, Gasket was a firm believer that they had seen the last of Lord Zedd. Whether that was a good thing given the former villain’s abilities he could not determine — for Gasket did acknowledge that when it came to actively conquering worlds, Zedd was a figure to be emulated.

~Rita then?~ Giant monsters were a part of her arsenal, but Goyle was not one of her monsters constructed from clay. There was no sign of Rita’s magic wand and if she had attacked he reasoned that she would have sent the Putty Patrol along to secure the planet after Goyle succeeded.

Then there was Count Dregon. While not the best known villain attacking the planet Earth, and considered by most to be more the sort of threat left to the Rider Corp than a serious problem, Dregon was known to capture and experiment upon specimens from the worlds he conquered. The majority of his forces employed in the attempted conquest of Earth were creatures he had collected on Edenoi. So creating a monster possessing Goyle’s strength was not unfeasible. ~Unlikely though given his preoccupation with the Masked Rider and his problems on Edenoi.~

And finally there was Divatox. ~Would she attack me, would she even dare?~ The answer of course was yes, so long as she believed that she could get away with it. A previously unknown alien suddenly turning up and wrecking havoc on Horath would allow her to deny sending it, especially if it was a mercenary hired from outside the Dianthe Clan. ~And nobody would believe that she had done that when all her recent claims to be hiring mercenaries have turned out to be crewmen from her own fleet.~ She would never have the nerve to attack Mondo or the Machine Empire, but he was willing to be that if she saw an opportunity to get rid of a competitor and get away with it, she would.

~There was an explosion following his arrival,~ Gasket recalled.

Goyle had plummeted through the atmosphere and mad a massive impact, but the explosions had come after he had landed. Was it possible that Divatox had launched two of her torpedoes to make him more powerful? Of course it was. It made sense that Divatox would take an opportunity on a whim without considering the consequences. While her mother was an ambitious woman and her brothers were both competent strategists, Divatox maintained her position through fear and viciousness. Whereas General Havok would have considered the fall out of such a move and the danger of making a move against the Machine Empire, Divatox would just see the opportunity.

Oh Divatox wasn’t foolish by any means. It was clear that she had made sure that while his suspicions were likely correct, they were just suspicions. There was no immediate evidence that she was behind the attack. The torpedoes were known to completely combust following their use. He was not going to mistake a lack of forward planning for foolishness or stupidity.

But there would need to be retribution. Divatox would have to be shown that attacking Prince Gasket was not something she could get away with. But payback would have to wait. Seriously short on resources and determined to secure his position in the UAE, he had more pressing concerns.

“Our assessors have completed the inventory,” Archerina announced, ending his quiet contemplation.

“And the results my darling?” Gasket asked.

“Is as you suspected,” she said. “Most of our factories have been destroyed, our Cogs are barely sufficient to provide security. We will not be able to rebuild your creations.”

“Have no fear my lovely wife,” Gasket assured her. “All is not lost and we have at our disposal the means to rebuild our forces.”

“How?”

How indeed? It was a risky venture and would lose him control of Horath again, but if his new plan succeeded they would have an invasion force capable of conquering the Earth.

“Tell our forces that we are leaving this world and to prepare the Space Base for flight.”

And there it was, the ultimate plan. When Gasket had conquered Horath, he had made his Space Base, which was considerably smaller than his father’s, a part of the planet. And while the factories had been devastated by the recent attack, the Space Base would still function.

“But what will we do?” Archerina pressed.

“We are going to take this Space Base and take command of the replacement troops Grandfather is building on the Machine Homeworld,” Gasket announced.

Following the arrival of the Messenger of Fire, the production plants on the Machine Homeworld had been brought to maximum capacity to fulfil Mondo’s need for an ever growing army. And while they would not be able to seize any of his father’s creations, due to the inbuilt loyalty programs, there was no reason not to secure a new legion of Cogs and begin work on their own creations.

“And when we have enough Cogs to form a work unit, we are going to set them to work converting this Space Base into the biggest Machine Monster those Rangers have ever seen. And then we will wipe out the Rangers, Rita, Divatox and my father in with a single blow.”

“Standing against your father is a dangerous idea,” Archerina commented. She would never stand in her husband’s way of course. More likely she would be there to make sure his mother didn’t interfere.

“Fear not my love,” Gasket told her, clasping her hand in a gesture of machine modulated emotion. “The true genius of this plan is that even if the Rangers destroy my creation, I will at least secure my position as Heir of the Royal House of Gadgetry.”

Their touching interaction was disturbed by a low moan as as their gaze shifted, they were surprised to find that Goyle was starting to recover.

“Unbelievable!” Gasket proclaimed. “I was certain I had ended his existence.”

“It seems my love that whoever sent this thing realised that it would be facing Prince Gasket and tried to make it stronger.”

“Quite true my lovely princess,” Gasket agreed, considering the rapidly recovering yet still incoherent creature. “Tell me Archerina, do you still possess those arrows you modified to work on organics?”

“Of course I do,” Archerina said. “But you do recall that the effects are not the same?”

Indeed when Archerina had tried to use her arrows on organic beings in the past, they had turned insanely jealous, destroying everything around them in order to prevent the loss of their beloved Archerina. When one such experiment had destroyed some of Gasket’s heirlooms, it was agreed not to continue the experiments.

“Yes,” Gasket answered. “But consider what would happen if you used an arrow and let him loose in a place where he could only damage the enemy.”

“Such as the Machine Home World?” Archerina asked.

There was no doubt that Goyle would be destroyed before he could wreck too much havoc, but if aimed in the right direction, not only would his assault give Gasket a reason to visit the planet to protect his interests, but it could lead to the destruction of one of the areas he had been looking to destroy himself. And with Goyle as the responsible party, the blame would be laid at Divatox’s feet.

~Which would send Father after Divatox and allow me time to launch my attack on the Earth,~ he mused.

And once he had the opportunity to launch hs attack on the planet, Gasket promised that his assault would be relentless. He had come to realise that the only way to overcome the humans was to dominate them completely. Not one monster at a time, but every weapon in his arsenal launched together to sweep aside the human defences and establish Machine superiority. It wasn’t a knew idea and he understood that his father had likely calculated the need for such an attack when he had arrived at the planet.

~But Father’s preoccupation with Sprocket has blinded him from his duty,~ he thought bitterly.

After their disagreement over his choice of bride, Mondo had removed Gasket from his position as Heir to the Machine King. He had gone further and destroyed his other potential heirs in case they too rebelled. To avoid upsetting Machina, Mondo had erased his former children’s’ names from every database within the Machine Empire and had then created Sprocket as their replacement. But the cover up had not been completely successful and Machina’s memory banks could not be completely erased. And so Mondo had reprogrammed his wife and youngest son, forcing her to dote on her young child until he grew up while restricting Sprocket’s programming so that he would mature as his body grew.

~But Sprocket’s body cannot develop,~ Gasket thought. ~Father designed him to remain the same forever so the Mother would never know what he did.~

Not that Gasket cared that Mondo had destroyed his brother and sisters. If they were still alive he would have killed them the moment he assumed the throne. But the deception was holding Mondo back, forcing him to indulge his wife’s need to teach Sprocket how to be a good conqueror like his father. And that meant that instead of creating the sort of machines that could conquer worlds, Mondo had been building a collection of toy soldiers.

~That will change now,~ Gasket calculated. ~Father will have to abandon his current approach if he wishes to beat Rita and Dregon. Mother will e upset, but she is programmed to support Father above all else. And Sprocket will be incapable of understanding why Father is not indulging him any more.~

But Sprocket would not have time to be upset for long. For Gasket’s plans required Sprocket to grow up… in more ways than one. And then with Sprocket removed, Grommet lost and his other mechanical sibling destroyed, it would just be a matter of waiting for his father’s runtime to expire. And then he would be the rule of the Machine Empire and all would bow down to King Gasket.

~According to my calculations the future will be very interesting,” he thought. ~Speaking of which…~

“Archerina my love, I have been computing the possibilities and I have decided that it is time for us to start construction of our child.”

Archerina made a strange noise, a mix of an acknowledge and and electronic squeal of delight as she jabbed an arrow into Goyle’s prone form and practically dragged her husband toward their private chambers, leaving a few unfortunate Cogs to put the couple’s devious plans into motion. If it were possible for Cogs to show fear, it would have been clearly evident as one nervously reached out and nudged Goyle, just as he finally awoke. And as the noise of banging and grind from Gasket and Archerina were drowned out by the wild growls of a not-so-coherent Goyle, other Cogs were already in the process of carrying out their ruler’s commands.

And as hours later the batter Space Base raced through space, Gasket and Archerina cuddled while enjoying a goblet of warm oil. Sometimes it was good to be a prince, but for Gasket, better things awaited.

~I just can’t wait to be King!~

End of Part

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