The Night Raider

Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. Jeffrey Kincaid, Lord Crucible, and all other characters relating to them are the property of John Chubb. This is a COE retelling of the Night Rangers’ story, which began in The Forgotten Night. The events in this chapter follow on from the ending of The Emperor’s New Rage.

The Night Raider

Inquirius

They didn’t like him. He couldn’t blame them since he didn’t like himself very much either. They were light and pure, and kind to all the animals, while he was … not. On a part of the planet where nearly everybody wore a distinctively coloured garment of some sort – for even those who wore black had found a way to distinguish the glossy shine of their clothes from the dull matte of ordinary apparel. His drab grey cloak, which lacked any indication that he had attempted to make them draw attention from those around him, had the effect of causing him to stand out. His clothes were dark and dreary in a place filled with colour a cheer. Naturally it made those nearby uncomfortable.

That he wore a weapon and had made no effort to conceal it drew more attention. For this was Inquirius, a planet dedicated to learning and education, where information, questions and answers were the foundation on which the society prospered. And he had arrived at the Illumina, a vast complex that had been handed over to the Morphin Masters and those associated with them as a place of tranquil enlightenment. It was also one of the best places to gather information in the Universe.

Morphin Masters and their students communed in intellectual and spiritual discussions. Few carried weapons within the halls and those who did had the decency to hide them from view. Weapons suggested a tendency toward violence and those prone to violence were not welcome.

Naturally Jeff Kincaid stood out like a sore thumb. For a start Jeff was not a Morphin Master, his kind were never promoted to that sort of level, few managed to achieve an official rank above that of Power Ranger; there were many that argued that they were not even worth of the title Ranger although Jeff knew from experience that those that challenged them on the issue ended up in hospital. And while the Illumina was open to all those who sought enlightenment, Rangers were normally too busy protecting the worlds they had been assigned to defend, to visit. But it was his tainted aura that drew the attention of those around him. There was an undefined darkness about him that unsettled the more pious visitors.

It wasn’t Jeff’s fault. By nature he was a good person, a man of honour and extremely brave – for he had faced the things that lurked in the darkness and emerged stronger from the experience. However life had taken its toll on the young man, leaving a dark stain on his soul that shaded the inner light from those around him. Experience had turned him cold and cynical, less likely to believe that if he followed the rules he would be protected when he could make his own rules and protect himself.

The problem was that for all their rhetoric about not judging others and giving everybody a fair chance to show the true nature, the majority of the great and the good were prone to judge by first impressions. Those who knew of the organisation he belonged to readily believed the rumours and whispered half-truths instead of taking the time to find out the truth. He was a pariah because those that he sought to protect preferred to think of him as a part of the problem, not the solution. They just couldn’t understand that while the Universe wanted heroes that were upstanding characters, they needed people like Jeff even more.

He walked quickly and purposefully through the building, ignoring those around him. He was aware that he was breaking protocol by not stopping to acknowledge the various Morphin Masters or pay his respect to some of the more senior figures that had crossed his path. He simply didn’t care for the pomp and ceremony; to him it just got in the way of him doing his job.

It was a level of arrogance that caused others to comment. That he had been allowed entry to the Illumina when he lacked the most basic of manners and was clearly armed was surprising to those who watched his progress. The few who knew what he was just shook their heads and carried on with what they were doing. To those ignorant of his status, his behaviour was suspicious. As he made his way unhindered through to areas where others were stopped and turned away, suspicion turned to anger and jealousy. With each step he took the unease those around him felt intensified. Some wanted to stop him but none dared. The Illumina allowed his progress and they were not brave enough to challenge its judgement.

Finally he reached his destination, the Grand Library, a place filled with the collected reports and knowledge from countless worlds. The room was filled with ornate tables and benches with thick green leather cushions. The bookcases rose from floor to ceiling, providing a source of knowledge beyond what was stored in the vast computer archive. Around the room were passageways leading off to where the experts on various subjects were willing to educate those in need and vendors were ready to supply information that was more difficult to acquire for the right price. He studied the doorways and having located the one he was after, set off to reach his goal, only to find his way blocked.

“This is a private library,” the person in front of him stated. Others nearby were nodding although Jeff noted the Illumina’s own staff did not want to get involved.

Jeff shrugged and stepped around the man, intent on carrying on his way without violence. Unfortunately it seemed that such a casual dismissal of the other’s challenge was treated as an insult.

“State your business!” the man, which Jeff noticed wore the insignia of a Red Morphin Master demanded.

“My business is my own and since I am here, you can assume I have a right to be here. Now stand aside and stop wasting my time.”

Jeff could sense the tension in the air. Had he been anywhere else he suspected he would have been under attack. Of course violence was strictly forbidden in the Illumina, so harsh words and poor attempts to appear intimidating were the best they could manage. "I have an appointment with the Xenotome.”

There was a gasp from the room. The Xenotome was a huge book containing all the knowledge within the Illumina and a few things besides. It was so valuable that few were granted the privilege of reading it; in the wrong hands the book could prove a dangerous weapon.

“Why?”

Jeff spared him an amused look. “Because I asked nicely and the Keeper agreed.”

That response did not put those around him at ease. Given his dark appearance many were prepared to assume the worst.

“The Xenotome is only for the eyes of those worthy of looking within its pages,” another Red Master cried angrily. “Not for the likes of you!”

Jeff shook his head at how judgemental they sounded. He had learnt the hard way that there was a difference between dark and evil that could not be determined by superficial things like appearance. It seemed that these Morphin Masters had not yet reached that level of understanding. The calls for him to leave intensified. Some looked to be on the brink of breaking the rules and attacking. Had he been a normal Ranger, Kincaid would have backed down to avoid the need for violence. But he was a Night Ranger and knew that rules were there for guidance, not blind obedience.

Instead he lowered his hood, allowing those present to get a good look at him. His face was hard, his eyes cold as they moved over the crowd. A scar ran the length of his face, a wound he had yet to heal. It gave him a very sinister appearance.

“I didn’t ask your permission, Morphin Master,” he replied tersely. He had little respect for Morphin Council and even less for those that judged him without knowing his story. “The Xenotome is available to any Ranger who requests to see it, so long as the Keeper agrees to that request.”

That was true. Originally the Xenotome had been available to all, but given the likelihood that some would abuse its knowledge, only those associated with the Morphin Masters were granted permission and even then they needed to be at least a Ranger.

“Only with the consent of their Morphin Master,” a studious Yellow pointed out.

He spared her a brief nod before answering: “I don’t have a Morphin Master.”

Whispers filled the room. They believed him a rogue, perhaps a disgraced Ranger that had been stripped of his power, who had somehow managed to bypass their security. Jeff did little to put them at ease, although he showed no outward signs of aggression. The Red Master it seemed had had enough. Unable to think beyond his limited understanding of black and white, he decided Jeff Kincaid was a threat and attacked.

“Next?” Jeff asked when moments later the body of the young Morphin Master landed on the floor. Out of respect for the rules, Jeff had left the other warrior alive, although the broken bones would remind him of his failure, if the broken sword he had attempted to draw didn’t serve as a permanent reminder.

The assembled Morphin Masters took offence at one of their own being brutalised by a traitor despite the fact he was only defending himself. Weapons were drawn and combat stances assumed as they prepared to make him pay for his crimes.

“ENOUGH!”

The chamber suddenly fell silent, the power of an older White Morphin Master calming the anger that seemed to ripple through the chamber.

“This is a place of peace and learning. Fighting is not permitted here under any circumstances.”

He gestured and the fallen Red Master was healed although his sword remained shattered.

“I expected better of you,” he continued. “If you want to fight go back to your Ranger teams where you will be welcomed on the front line, do so, because you are not suited to the life of a Morphin Master.”

“He is an intruder!” someone accused, pointing at Kincaid.

“He has done nothing wrong,” was the response. “He was attacked, abused and denied his rights, rights that are afforded every disciple of the Power. It is not the place of those in this room to grant or deny his request. You should be grateful that he didn’t decide to take your actions personally. We cannot afford the loss of so many Morphin Masters.”

“You’re welcome,” Jeff muttered.

“And you!” the old master growled, turning his attention to the younger man. “Don’t think for a moment that you can appear innocent in all this. You are well aware of how others react to you and why, yet you did nothing to calm the situation. If anything, you tried to provoke them.”

Jeff laughed. It seemed no matter how innocent he was they would always try to blame him in the end.

“I didn’t provoke him,” he answered. “He attacked me and I allowed him to crawl away.”

“What part of ‘do not escalate a battle unless forced to do so’ do you not understand?” the White Master demanded, allowing his aura to flare.

“The part that applied to me, White Master,” Jeff replied, loosening the restraints on his own powers, relishing the sudden nervousness of those around him. “You know as well as anyone that the rules are only there for guidance and are open to interpretation. I don’t have the benefit of your great brotherhood of Morphin Masters, I’m alone. So you’ll excuse me if I take every threat seriously and react accordingly.”

His arguments surprised those around him. Few dared to show such insubordination. They also detected the sorrow in his voice when he spoke of being alone.

“So the rumours were true?” the White Master asked quietly, not reacting to Jeff’s power. The power of the Night was to be respected, but not necessarily feared. “I had heard reports of what had happened, but nobody could be certain. The Council did not see the need for observers on Daos. It made confirming the facts of the matter… difficult.” There was a pause before the White Master continued: “I am sorry for your loss and share your grief for the events that transpired. But never allow yourself to believe that you are alone; you are as much a part of this brotherhood as any Ranger and we will stand at your side – I will stand at your side – if you need us.”

“And then condemn me after for doing what must be done,” Jeff accused.

The older man sighed. “I do not agree with your methods. I doubt many others would even accept that you are performing the duty handed to you by fate, except perhaps Zordon, but that is the way it has always been and you know that and you continue regardless. That tells me more about you than your powers ever could.”

“You know what I intend to do?” Jeff asked, worried that the Morphin Master might attempt to stop him; a true Power Ranger did not seek revenge.

“Your duty,” was the reply. “You might think of it as revenge, but ask yourself this: would you still seek to destroy him if he had betrayed somebody else?” He looked off to one side. “The Keeper of the Xenotome awaits you, Night Ranger. Do not let me prevent you from learning what you need and then leaving.”

Jeff nodded his thanks before heading towards the door he had identified earlier. Beyond the door was a room that reminded Jeff of one of the churches he had been forced to attend on Earth, complete with pews, alter and a font.

“Do not let the appearance disturb you Jeff Kincaid,” a female voice warned. “Just like your powers, this room shifts according to the subconscious of the visitor and over the millennia it has developed a sense of humour.”

While she spoke, Jeff tried to identify her location. His past had made him paranoid and recent events had made it worse. Something about the setting made him uneasy and given that he was used to making others uncomfortable, he didn’t like the feeling at all.

“This room is built on a foundation of knowledge and wisdom, not ignorance and fear.”

Jeff spun around and finally caught a glimpse of the Keeper of the Xenotome.

“The uncontrolled benefits you reap from your powers will not aid you here,” she warned, not the least bit affected by his aura, “but they will not hinder you either.”

She walked over to a bookshelf that Jeff had failed to notice before and removed the smallest book. When she placed it on the altar it expanded into a massive book.

“You sought the Xenotome, Jeff Kincaid, and the Xenotome granted your request.” She paused, allowing him to scrutinise her appearance.

She was much younger than he had first believed and from her shape and what little he could see of her face, quite beautiful. She wore a long white gown with a veil that covered her lower face as well as her hair. On her left shoulder she wore the insignia of a White Morphin Master and the broach on her right side indicated that she was a native Inquirian.

“Huh?” He suddenly processed what she had said.

“Does it not stand to reason that a book as powerful as the Xentome would gain some level of sentience?” she asked, falling back into her native habit of asking questions. “Does it not make sense that the Book of the Unknown should use that sentience to determine whether or not those that ask should be allowed to read its pages? Would it surprise you to learn that the Xenotome has recorded the names of those that would seek its knowledge and when they would be permitted to do so?”

“No,” he admitted.

“Do you think that this is any more surprising than some of the things you have seen? Is it not possible that before you leave you will learn something even more surprising, perhaps even disturbing?”

“You’re right,” he told her after thinking about it. Was a thinking book that much of a surprise in a Universe filled with demons and Power Rangers?

“The book revealed many things to me before you arrived,” she told him. “The Xentome told of the loss of your team and allies, although it did not predict the events that would lead to their demise. While the Book of the Unknown contains many predictions, none referred directly to the Night Rangers.”

Jeff nodded. He was relieved that was the case although he noticed she had not ruled out the existence of any predictions involving the Night Rangers.

“Ask your questions and if the answers are known they shall be shared,” she told him.

“Why did he do it?”

“The Book of the Unknown does not hold the reason for your comrade’s treachery. It only states that he was not acting under the influence of an outside force and committed the act of his own free will.” She read the next line and then continued. “The evidence does not rule out the possibility that somebody had convinced him to turn, only that he made the decision.”

“Were there any other survivors?”

“Kinega made certain that all those on Daos were destroyed; the other Night Rangers did not escape him. I’m sorry.”

“Where is he now?” Kincaid demanded.

“I cannot tell you,” she answered. “Mark Kinega no longer exists.”

“Somebody got there first?” he asked.

“No,” she told him. “Those that persuaded Mark Kinega to betray you sought a new leader, a being capable of acting as a vessel for some of the oldest, powerful and most evil creatures in existence. They chose Kinega because as a Night Ranger he had already developed a bond with the darkness within himself. When he accepted the offer and provided the necessary sacrifice, Mark Kinega was replaced by a new creature: Crucible.”

“So there is no way to redeem him?” Jeff asked, hoping the answer was no. As far as he was concern Mark had made his choice and nothing he did would ever redeem him.

“Mark Kinega is gone, perhaps forever,” she answered. “As long as Crucible exists there is no chance to redeem Mark Kinega. And only death will release Crucible’s grasp.”

“What should I do?”

“The Xenotome cannot tell you that. It does however tell of a way to slow Crucible’s rise to power. If you choose to do so you will face great danger and find that it will be a costly decision, but the sacrifices will be worth it. The Night Fighters will arise again one day to aid a new generation and they shall led by the one who escaped Kinega’s treachery.”

“Me?” Jeff scoffed. “I’m a Blue Ranger and a reluctant one at that. What do I know about being a leader?”

“You will learn all that you need to learn, but first there is the time heal,” she answered.

“What do I do? Where do I go? I want to go and stop him, but if he’s as powerful as you said…”

“Calm yourself Jeff Kincaid,” Dimitria instructed. “The book tells of Crucible’s rising, but it is not an immediate concern. The actions you take now will delay him and set in motion the events that will lead to his downfall. Listen carefully Night Ranger, hear what must be done and know that I am sorry that the task falls to you.”

====

The end had come for the people of Zyaibreeah. The battle had been surprisingly short but then there were very few who thought of it as a battle; most would come to regard it as a mass slaughter. The people had fought hard and their Rangers had tried their hardest to protect their world from overwhelming odds. However they had been outmanned, outgunned and unable to call for help from neighbouring worlds. The odds had definitely been against them.

They had fought hard and despite the fact they were guaranteed to lose, they had fought on bravely. In the end though the valiant efforts were for nought, their enemy was just too well-trained, too vicious and too numerous for the Rangers to prevail. As the hours had passed the continued bombardments and simultaneous attacks around the planet had left the Rangers stretched to their limits.

And once the enemy commander had shown himself, the Rangers had been unable to rally any sort of counter offence. While his troops had overwhelmed them, he was in every way their superior. He had spared them no quarter and expected no mercy in return. He had played with them for a short time, honing his skills it seemed while his forces mercilessly hunted the rest of the population. But once it was clear that there were only a few stragglers to find, he had decided it was time to end the game.

As they stood against him, some with more difficulty than others, a chill ran through them. His powers felt strange to them. They felt the familiar flow of magic and yet there was something sickeningly different at the same time. And the smile he wore was cold and slightly feral. Everything about him suggested that he could and would destroy them with very little effort on his part.

“Congratulations Rangers,” a man said, appearing at the side of the warrior. “You’ve fought well, a shining example to Ranger teams across the Universe. Nobody could deny that you are brave, loyal and dedicated. Your skills in the ways of the Power are unquestionable. Had you been facing a different opponent you might have been allowed to live. Unfortunately for you, Crucible’s task requires him to destroy all life on this pathetic little world.”

He paused, allowing the Rangers to accept their fate.

“Crucible would like to extend his thanks for your services; you have proven excellent teaching tools. Your efforts have allowed Crucible to come to terms with his new powers and hone his skills. Sadly for you, you no longer present a challenge for him and as such, you are no longer useful. You are here so Crucible can master the last skill he needs: destroying the enemy.”

“Why are you doing this?” the Red Zyaibreeahn Ranger asked, “You said he’s learnt all he can, what would he gain by killing us?”

“While killing you would have very little benefit, it will allow Crucible to demonstrate that he has moved beyond the old ways of thinking. In the past he might have spared a defeated opponent; as Crucible he cannot afford such moments of noble weakness. You see, Crucible used to be a Power Ranger, like yourselves. Well not quite like you; he was a Night Ranger, the scourge of evildoers everywhere. He was shown how unappreciated his skills were to those he served and granted a new existence as Crucible.

"Unfortunately he failed his first attempt to prove himself, but I’m sure he will catch up with the last Night Ranger sooner or later. In the meantime destroying your team will be the final step needed to solidify his new identity.”

As he spoke, Crucible extended his right hand toward the White Ranger. He closed his fist and the Ranger collapsed, screaming as the twisted powers of the Night Ranger was unleashed. Fuelled by the power of some of the oldest and most potent villains to ever exist, Crucible’s powers were beyond those of a Night Ranger. His ability to destroy with a gesture was a sign of his power.

“As you can see Red Ranger,” the man continued as he watched the White Ranger tear at his own body to stop the torment, “death is not the worst thing that can happen to you today.”

The White Ranger glowed brightly as the soul destroying magic fed on his powers. Then with a final scream he burst into white flames and disappeared.

“Out of gratitude for your services, I promise Crucible will grant the rest of you a swift death.”

“Hey!” one of the Rangers dared to call, moving forward to attack. He never had a chance to rethink his actions as a sword was driven into his heart.

The man looked from the fallen Ranger to the creature known as Crucible and nodded approvingly.

“Make no mistake Rangers; you will die here today, one way or another. Accept your destinies and I promise this will be over painlessly. Fight and even though you will die screaming, it will still be quick.”

The Blue Ranger attacked, throwing his spear at the so far unbeatable warrior, hoping to catch him off-guard. Crucible caught it easily, examining it briefly before crushing the enchanted wood and tossing it aside.

“Against a lesser warrior your tactic might have been successful… perhaps you’re so tired that you’ve forgotten that you face an opponent who has already defeated you countless times.”

~No,~ he thought as he noticed the expression on the Ranger’s face despite his helmet, ~more likely you still haven’t come to terms with the danger you face.~

Having changed his mind, Crucible levitated the remains of the weapon and propelled the pieces back at their source. The Ranger was lifted from his feet by the multiple projectiles as they ripped into his chest and threw him backward.

“No!” the Pink Ranger screamed as he collapsed. “How could you?!”

Their foe didn’t react although his handler appeared amused by her outrage. “Crucible is evil beyond your ability to comprehend. I warned you that resisting would not delay the inevitable, just make it a more painful experience. Your friend chose to attack and Crucible responded as he would to any opposition: he crushed it. However since you seem to have some fight left in you, I withdraw my offer. It will not be painless now, but you have my word, this won’t take long.”

Taking that as permission, Crucible was running towards the Rangers before they could react. He summoned a sword and slashed at his opponents as he passed them. Four strokes of the blade, and two Rangers collapsed in pools of their own blood. Their special suits were of no use against the blade that had been forged from the darkest magic.

He abandoned the sword against the next two, decapitating the first with a chop of his hand before breaking the second’s neck with her bare hands. That left only the Green Ranger, whom he had saved for last. The two warriors stood face to face, eyes meeting as the Ranger discarded her shattered helmet. There had always been a special form of relationship between them; perhaps it was the darkness that lurked within the Green Ranger powers that caused Crucible to give the hero a more personal fight to the death. It was evident that the Green Ranger knew she would die; only her pride forced her to ready herself for final combat.

“Well this has been fun,” Crucible’s companion commented. The Green Ranger had lasted longer than he had expected although it was clear Crucible had been playing with her as they exchanged increasingly violent blows. “But now it is time to end it. Farewell, Green Ranger.”

Now was the time for Crucible to prove himself. The last time he had been asked to destroy a team of Rangers he had allowed one to escape. This was his opportunity to prove that he had learnt from the experience and accepted that his days as a Night Ranger were over. He didn’t disappoint and with the death of the Green Ranger, Mark Kinega’s transformation into Crucible was made permanent.

====

Daos

Dimitria had provided him with the clues he needed, but it was Jeff that had put the pieces together and realised what needed to be done. It was amusing to him that had he been on Earth he would have been having another miserable Halloween waiting for little kids to call and then arguing with his mother when he handed them candy. Not that whatever he was about to do would be considered pleasurable, but given a choice, he didn’t want to be back in his old life.

It had been a while since he had last set foot in the headquarters of the Acexta Order on Daos. Kinega had taken him there to complete the final trial needed to become a Night Ranger. It was on Daos that he had stared into the Mirror of Night and seen the darkness inside soul. It had been there that his own darkness had manifested as the dark spirit that had been trapped with the Blue Night Morpher. He had battled the darkness and conquered it. The dark spirit had surrendered to his will and he had emerged as the Blue Night Ranger.

On the same trip Kinega had shown him the Pit of Night, the place where those that wished to join the ranks of the Night Fighters faced the dark spirits that had been trapped by the Acexta Order since their formation. Within the Pit of Night a potential Night Fighter would either defeat the darkness or would be consumed by it.

Then Daos had been a place filled with people, life and purpose. Now the Acexta Order was gone, part of the dowry that Mark had paid to consummate his new position and the planet was ruined.

But Jeff had not returned to the planet for sightseeing. He had returned to prevent Crucible using the Acexta Order’s power against the Universe. He had come to make sure that the Pit of Night and the creatures trapped within could not be used to provide Mark, Crucible, whatever he was calling himself, with any further help, just as the Keeper had suggested.

The Mirror of Night had been taken during the raid, but it had been impossible for them to take the pit. And while it was possible to use the Mirror of Night as a conduit to the spirits within the Pit of Night, doing so would be beyond Kinega’s abilities. Jeff intended to make certain that the dark spirits remained trapped within the Pit of Night forever.

====

“No!”

Since his transformation, Crucible had been mostly silent, accepting the advice of those around him and doing as he was told. While it was accepted that one day he would be their leader, for now he was being trained in how to use the gifts he had been granted by the creature that had taken him as their vessel. He had endured pain and punishment without complaint, so his sudden cry of anguish shocked those around him.

“What is it?” Savrod asked, concerned.

“The Pit of Night,” Crucible answered. “Kincaid… Kincaid’s planning to so something to seal its power. He plans to break the link.”

The ceremony that had transformed Kinega into Crucible had given him access to the creatures trapped within the Pit of Night, the Spirits of the Night as Savrod had called them. As the conqueror of the Acexta Order he had become master of the Pit of Night and all that dwelled within in. Now it seemed that Kincaid was trying to take his power.

Savrod managed to school his features to hide his concern. He wasn’t worried about Kincaid’s plan harming Crucible. While the power of the spirits trapped within the Pit of Night was impressive, it was only a fraction of the power Crucible would gain given time. The loss of the Pit of Night would do little more than set him back.

Still if Kincaid was on Daos, it seemed a good time to eliminate the nuisance. And there was always the chance that Kincaid was aware that Kincaid was bonded to the Pit of Night and intended to use the bond against Crucible rather than breaking it. That would be an unwelcome turn of events.

“We’ll depart immediately,” he assured his leader. “Kincaid’s pitiful attempt to defeat you will only lead to his destruction.”

Crucible nodded in response and once again Savrod had to hide his disappointment. Crucible was powerful and a formidable warrior, but he had yet to show any ability to command others. And since that was what Savrod had been seeking when he had approached the Night Ranger, it made him wonder whether he had made the wrong choice.

No, he had made the correct choice; it was just a case of ensuring that Crucible was given the opportunity to grow into his new role. Perhaps Kincaid would provide the desired result.

====

“Spirits of the Night, hear me!” Kincaid’s voice echoed through the darkness of the Pit of Night.

He knew that his actions were reckless. Night Rangers were not supposed to enter the Pit of Night once they had completed their trial. Yet Kincaid had broken that rule and stood on the other side of the barrier between the Pit of Night and Daos. He was unmorphed, yet confident enough to draw the attention of the creatures that occupied the dark place. Most chose to ignore him, but those that sensed the opportunity his presence gave them turned to face him.

“I offer you a wager,” Kincaid continued, “a simple challenge. If you succeed then you will be released. If you fail then every creature within this place will be bound to the Night Rangers, forever and you will never be able to move beyond the barrier accept at their command.”

“And what challenge do you propose, Night Ranger?” one of the creatures asked.

Kincaid smirked. “I offer you the same challenge that every Night Fighter gives when they enter this place, nothing more and nothing less. Except I extend this challenge to all that reside within the Pit of Night. For fifteen minutes the barrier between this place and Daos will be open. Should any one of you step beyond the barrier in that time, every creature within the Pit of Night will be released. All you have to do is pass me and nothing will stand in your way.”

He drew a metal cylinder that resembled a small torch. He flicked the activation switch and a blade of light emerged from the end. He pushed the button above the switch, locking the switch in place.

“Just one little Night Ranger and maybe a few weapons,” he promised. “I won’t even morph.”

And that was the challenge. It was a deal the spirits trapped within the Pit of Night couldn’t ignore. They wanted their freedom and despite the danger Kincaid posed, they knew it was their only chance. But the Pit of Night was much larger than many believed, more of a dimension than a physical space, and while there was a huge collection of dark creatures close to the barrier, the stronger spirits were much further away, skulking in the darkest depths. And despite his confidence Kincaid knew that only those that took the challenge would be bound by the agreement. He hoped it would be enough.

He could sense the moment that the creatures chose to attack. He smirked as he tightened his grip on his Night Saber, hoping that he had not been overconfident. As the swarm of hideous beasts pounced he allowed himself to let the Power guide him, whispering a solemn promise:

“None may pass.”

The battle that followed would only last for fifteen minutes, but in that time Jeff Kincaid showed why the Night Rangers were the elite of the Acexta Order. The Night Fighters could face one spirit at a time, he faced all comers. At first the grunts charged forward one at a time and were easily cut down by his glowing blade; their claws slid off his long black coat. Then the numbers started to increase as wave after wave crashed against the one-man barricade. Two, then four, then twelve… the numbers were relentless, constantly increasing as Kincaid moved with incredible speed and skill, a smile gracing his face as he abandoned himself to the Power. He kicked, dodged, hacked and punched the aggressors back. He was unmovable and the light from his Night Saber seemed to grow brighter with each of the attackers he destroyed.

But he was also hurt. His body ached from the many cuts and scratches he received as the onslaught continued. Although his clothing had been designed to offer some protection, but it was only able to resist damage, not stop it altogether. He was being pressed back by the weight of numbers, but somehow he found the strength to remain on his feet. Never before had he moved so fast, his body a blur in the darkness, the flash of his blade the only clue to where he had been. The grunts were too numerous now to count and they were growing more powerful with each wave.

“Spirits of the Night Fighters, lend me your power!” he called, summoning strength from those creatures that had been conquered by those that had entered the Pit of Night before him. Their power belonged to the Acexta Order and since Kincaid was the last of his kind, that meant they were his to command. Of course that number increased with every attacker he managed to cut down.

A burst of light shot from his hands, incinerating all that stood in its path. With a single attack he had brought himself precious seconds. Yet even now he knew it would not be long before he was overwhelmed again. The stampede of dark creatures appeared endless. He was about to be overcome when a blue barrier surrounded him.

“Fifteen minutes,” he told them as the creatures pounded angrily on the barrier. “You’ve had your chance and you failed. Now your powers belong to the Acexta.”

As he was speaking he moved toward the barrier that would take him back to his previous position outside the Pit of Night. He was hurt, badly. The wounds he had received were bleeding and some were likely infected. As the adrenalin faded he could feel that something was wrong with his left leg. It hung at a strange angle below the knee and from the difficulty he had breathing, he knew there was a chance his ribs had been broken too. He turned to leave, only to find his way blocked. Jeff groaned; it looked like he wouldn’t get away after all.

“Hello Jeff, fancy meeting you here.”

====

Dimitria ran her hands over the Xenotome. Currently she was studying the Book of Daos, a history of the Night Fighters, Night Rangers and all things associated with them. It listed their enemies, their powers and theories about how the Night Ranger powers were capable of evolving as the roster changed. The book was self-updating with new facts added by the clerics on Daos. It was saddening to know that thanks to Crucible, very little would be added in the future.

She read and reread the prophecy before her. It told of the fall of the Night Rangers and their eventual rebirth. It spoke of the return of the Night Fighters, the coming of the One and the transformation the Night Rangers would undergo. It was a prophecy that appeared in several texts and seemed to relate to a number of groups.

“The Kincaid,” she whispered, studying the drawing upon the page. A man was shown dressed in a long black coat and armed with a sword, stood atop a pile of defeated foes. And underneath she saw the words that had become a part of the prophecy surrounding the ‘Coming of The One’.

“None may pass,” she read.

The next page showed a clash between two armies. She was confused how that could happen. Jeff Kincaid was one man on his own. Where would he get an army?

====

“Did you think I would let you get away with this?” Crucible asked, before backhanding the injured Night Ranger. “You should have crawled under a rock and stayed there, Kincaid. I might have let you survive a little longer.”

Jeff was aware that he was in a bad situation. Not only was Crucible standing in front of him at full strength while he could barely stand, the villain had brought a squadron of featureless soldiers with him. Given the angry mob of creatures behind him and he couldn’t see a way out. Or could he?

“It’s over Jeff,” Crucible told him. “Last time you were lucky to escape. This time you don’t have a Zord to protect you.”

Jeff ignored Crucible, trying to decide if the ridiculous plan that had suddenly formed in his mind had a chance of succeeding. He knew it was a risk, since both groups would want nothing more than to rip him apart. The question was whether the deal he had struck with the spirits held within the Pit of Night was as binding as he hoped. In the end he decided he had nothing to lose, a decision that made him laugh.

“Something you find funny Jeff?” Crucible asked, as his grip tightened.

“I was just wondering how you plan to leave here,” Jeff admitted.

“The same way you intended,” Crucible replied.

“Ah but that’s the problem,” Jeff continued, ignoring the burning pain in his chest. He didn’t know if it was Crucible’s doing or his previous injuries and was not in a position to care. “When you became Crucible you gave up being a Night Ranger and everything that entailed. As far as the Pit of Night is concerned you never succeeded in the trial; your little soldiers there certainly didn’t win the right to leave. And now you can’t leave the Pit of Night until you do so.”

“Well once I’ve disposed of you I’ll make short work of whatever creature I have to face,” Crucible replied, not concerned about his companions.

“Good plan,” Jeff agreed. “Only problem: I don’t think they are willing to wait.”

As he finished talking there was a low growl and for the first time Crucible noticed that they were surrounded. His followers shifted nervously, a few drawing their weapons. Then with a snarl, the spirits pounced, tearing into the soldiers. Crucible snarled in response as one of them dared to attack him. He threw Jeff to the side, allowing the Night Ranger to make a hasty retreat to the far side of the Mirror where he almost collapsed.

“Hardrive?” he queried, hoping the Defiant had not been destroyed.

“You rang?” the computer asked in a particularly drawn out and slightly creepy tone.

“Get me out of here,” he ordered.

He could feel the poisons his body had absorbed during his battle seeping through his body. It would take a while to heal his wounds, assuming he was still conscious enough to make it to a healing bed. In hindsight he realised he should have hired an assistant, even if it was only to carry his broken body away after he won.

“By your command,” Harddrive responded.

Seconds later Jeff Kincaid disappeared leaving Crucible and his forces at the mercy of the Pit of Night.

====

It was a slightly battered Crucible that finally emerged from the Mirror of Night. The fight had lasted longer than he had expected. Those accompanying him were gone; Crucible had willingly let them fight the creatures, knowing they would be destroyed. It had offered him the time to draw upon his new powers in order to pass through the barrier and escape. As he had done so he knew that Kincaid had won the day. The Pit of Night and the majority of the creatures that lurked there that would have been swayed to Crucible’s side were now bound to Kincaid’s powers. Those that could be called upon were older, more powerful and would demand a heavy price for their services. Still he had a feeling that one way or another they could be useful in the future.

“Set up a guard station around this world Savrod,” he ordered once he was back on board his ship. “Daos will be of use to us in the future.”

Savrod nodded and gave the necessary orders. He didn’t see the importance of the planet, but he did understand that for Crucible to rise to the level Savrod expected, the new villain needed an empire. Daos was as good a place to start as any.

“And then… find me Kincaid.”

Savrod sighed. It would seem that Crucible was not going to rest until the Night Ranger was dealt with. Not completely a bad thing, loose ends were never a good thing, but if Crucible became too obsessive about hunting down Kincaid, he would likely overlook the other things he needed to do, such as conquering the Universe. For the time being there was very little that Savrod could do. He had recruited Crucible to be a leader and even though his priorities were different, Crucible was indeed acting like a leader. Given time, he hoped that Crucible would at least listen to his suggestions. Tracking down Kincaid would not take very long; he was just worried about what his leader’s next obsession would be.

“As you wish,” he said with a slight incline of his head. Behind him the crew were already carrying out their leader’s instructions. “It will not take long; the information you provided suggests there are only a few places he would go.”

Crucible nodded and turned to once again look at the planet below. He knew Kincaid better than those around him. In some ways there was a connection between them that had started when he had recruited Kincaid to serve as a Night Ranger. Somehow he knew where his former comrade would go.

“Set course for Earth,” he ordered. “We’ll find Kincaid there.”

In the end he realised that his intuition was not due to any sort of link with Kincaid. It was because he knew Jeff was injured. And without the Night Ranger to issue instructions, the ship would follow the programming built into its computer system, programming that Mark Kinega had written.

====

Once Jeff had returned to the Defiant, the ship had departed from Daos at maximum speed. With the pilot unconscious, Harddrive had followed his programming and made a few short jumps to throw off any pursuing craft. Then the computer had directed the vessel to as many obscure planets as possible, making certain that the ship was seen by those who made a profit from selling such information. Then it had jumped again to a completely random destination where it had stopped to assess its options.

Harddrive had been programmed to handle a number of scenarios including the possibility that all the Night Rangers were incapacitated. Its processor quickly assessed the most likely source of aid, given that most Morphin Masters would likely refuse assistance to a Night Ranger, despite their oaths to aid all of those opposed to the Dark side of the Morphin Grid. The Council was more likely to throw Jeff in prison for war crimes than heal him. In the end it seemed that there was only one place where help could be guaranteed: Earth.

Unaware that Crucible had already drawn the same conclusion, the ship sped off, carrying Jeff Kincaid back to his home once more.

====

Dimitria skimmed through the last few sections of the Book of Daos and then closed the Xenotome. The book did not tell her what would happen between Kincaid and Crucible, only that their conflict would continue and would be one of the most personal battles in history. It was uncertain how their skirmish would influence the battle between Good and Evil, although she suspected that Crucible would be occupied chasing Kincaid for a while and would not become a major player for some time. When he did though she knew that the Universe would be in trouble.

There was nothing she could do though. She was the Keeper of the Xenotome, charged with allowing others to access its knowledge while protecting it from those who would seek to abuse that knowledge. She could only share the information when it was requested, not when she thought it needed to be. It was an obligation she took seriously, but sometimes, when she was forced to watch events take their course, it was a heavy burden to carry.

End of Part

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**

Thrill of the Night

Disclaimer: The Power Rangers are the property of Saban Entertainment and I lay no claim to them. Jeffrey Kincaid, Lord Crucible, and all other characters relating to them are the property of John Chubb. This is a COE retelling of the Night Rangers’ story.

Thrill of the Night

Leroy’s Dojo and Shootfighting Arena, Port Clinton

The two teens circled each other. It had been a gruelling fight, but neither man was willing to back down. While both sported bumps and more than one bruise, they were too stubborn to say the two words: “I quit!”

Jeff Kincaid and Pat Kinkle had been fighting for twenty minutes when when Jeff’s friend Bruce Greene walked in. He didn’t say anything as he observed the fight. Jeff was on the defensive and he didn’t want to distract him; he knew the young man well enough to know that he would be getting a second wind before too long.

Bruce’s prediction was right on the money when Jeff managed a leg sweep that knocked Pat down. Jeff was back on his feet in an instant, his foot on pressed against Pat’s throat. To his credit Pat managed to hold on for a few seconds before conceding defeat.

“I quit.”

Jeff nodded and removed his foot, shaking Pat’s hand as he got up. The two embraced briefly before Jeff spotted Bruce and walked over to him.

“Hey what’s up?” Jeff asked his friend.

“Not much,” Bruce replied. He seemed to study Jeff for a moment, deciding whether or not it was any of his business. “You seemed to really cut into Pat back there.”

“I have a lot on my mind,” Jeff answered. “Pat just agreed to spar with me and I took him up on the offer; I had a lot of aggression to work out.”

Bruce didn’t say anything. He didn’t need to. He knew Jeff well enough by now to know that the boy would talk to him, assuming he was ready to talk. And if he wasn’t ready to talk then Bruce knew better than to try and force him.

“My mother got in touch with her lawyer,” Jeff told him. “She’s trying to ramrod a judge into getting visitation rights to see me.”

“And the problem is?” Bruce prompted.

“I can’t stand her, even small doses of her,” Jeff told him, his face taking on a darker aspect. “I can barely handle being around her for the hearings; do you have any idea what it would be like if I had to live with her?” He paused for a moment before he continued. “And I would end up living with her Bruce. This is just a stepping stone for her, a way to get my life under her control again. She knows my grandmother won’t be around forever and although the court sees Leroy as a suitable guardian – and he is like a father to me – she’d do everything in her power to change that. She’d use everything to make him appear unfit for the task; she’d probably arrange things so he could never go near children again just to be sure.”

“My dad’s a good man!” defended Bruce.

“We both know that,” Jeff agreed. “But my mother would turn every screw to convince a judge that he was a monster. She’d use every bit of dirt she could dig up… she’d even use the shoot-fighting thing as an excuse. You know how scared my grandmother is when I do it.”

“Do you think you should stop?”

“Hey I love doing it. Why should I stop?”

“Well if you find yourself living with mom again…” said Bruce.

“Good point, I’ll think about it.” Jeff took a pause before he spoke again. “So what’s up?”

“We got a new member. I need someone to show him the ropes.”

It was obvious that that was not what Bruce had wanted to begin with. The contract stashed in his jeans was evidence of that. But clearly he wanted something to keep Jeff’s mind off of his current problems. Usually Jeff would have been annoyed, but today he appreciated the effort.

“No problem. Who is it?” Jeff asked, looking around. “Where is he?”

“Over there. His name is Mark Kinega.”

Jeff saw an olive skinned man with brown hair on the far side of the training area, looking at a few of the old flyers. At a guess, Jeff was willing to bet he was seventeen.

“Okay, I’ll do it. You owe me one for this.”

That was how minutes later Jeff stood in the ring awaiting the newcomer Mark Kinega, hoping that he was not wasting his time and that the newcomer had some sort of fighting ability. Otherwise he was in for a long day. Luckily he didn’t have to wait long as Mark made his way to the ring.

Jeff and Mark sized each other up without saying a word. When they had had enough, they faced off, bowed and fell into fighting stances.

Mark lunged forward with three punches followed by a front kick which Jeff backed away from. Jeff then ducked down and tried a leg sweep which Mark jumped to avoid. From there they worked their way through a series of amateur moves with neither making contact.

~This guy has got fast reflexes,~ Jeff though as threw a punch. Jeff considered himself fast; this guy was… sudden.

Mark grabbed his arm and spun him over, causing Jeff to hit the ground hard. Jeff’s response as to try to force Mark forward to relive the pressure on his arm. When that didn’t work he opted for a guaranteed method of forcing a release, and hit his opponent with a low blow.

Mark retaliated with a low blow of his own, which while expected, proved to Jeff that his opponent had the desire to win. Of course Jeff was too stubborn to allow himself to be taken down so easily. The fight went on from there with neither fighter besting the other until they both collapsed in the middle of the ring.

“You’re pretty good Kincaid,” Kinega said after a while.

Jeff looked at his opponent. Usually he didn’t like to be called by his last name. It reminded him of the bullies that had made his life hell. In this case though he had the feeling that the name was a sign of respect. He also had a feeling the other man had been holding back. “You’re not too shabby there either Kinega,” he said finally, wondering where he could learn to fight like that.

Then they both got up to tend to their bruises and they hit the showers.

====

Mark left the gym and made his way to a side alley. Once there, hidden from the native population, he pulled back the arm of his shirt to reveal a metal brace.

“Engage orbital bounce!” he commanded.

At Mark’s command the device glowed briefly. Then he was transformed into an aura of red light and was teleported up to where a red and black ship waited in orbit.

Mark rematerialized on the bridge of a spaceship, his spaceship. It was one of the fastest ships in the galaxy, but its ability to flee was one of its least important features.

“Hello Hardrive, status report.”

“You have one new message,” the computer responded, causing Mark to shake his head. The computer was state-of-the-art, but had been patched together so often that it had picked up a few quirks. One of which was its need to convey information by quoting television. “Big giant head on line one!”

Mark guessed who the ‘the big giant head’ was as he activated his main viewer and found Zordon looking at him.

“Hello Mark, how goes the mission?”

Simple and to the point. Zordon knew better than to waste time with niceties. The difference between Zordon and others Mark had encountered though was that Zordon kept contact brief out of respect for Mark’s work. The others did so because they either feared or despised everything that Mark and his companions represented.

“I hate to say it Master Zordon, but you were right. I may have found my first candidate on Earth.”

“Excellent news Mark,” the ancient being replied. “I will relay your success to the other masters.”

“He has the skills we need. I’ll need more time to make sure he has the attitude,” Mark told him. He could sense the reply and added: “He has potential, I’m not denying that. If I were looking for Power Rangers he’d be a likely candidate in an emergency. But you know that’s not what we’re trying to find here and if he isn’t strong enough he’ll be killed… or worse."

“I can see that leadership is starting to agree with you Mark," Zordon said. "And I am pleased you have taken your responsibilities seriously. What is the candidates name?"

“Jeff Kincaid,” said Mark.

Zordon paused for a moment as if in deep thought although Mark knew that the White Master was trying to sense Jeff within the Morphin Grid. “I believe your instincts are correct and he will make a fine addition to your team. While he would not be my first choice for a Ranger, he would make an excellent Night Ranger. However, you are the leader and it is your right to proceed as you see fit. If you decide to recruit him I must insist that you do not train him on Earth; he will benefit from the guidance of the elders.”

Zordon broke contact and Mark started to review Kincaid’s file. His computer had pulled records from sources across the planet to allow him to build a profile on his potential recruit. It would take time – for he was determined that he would make certain that he chose the correct candidate-, but his team didn’t have to deal with the constant threat of alien invasions so there was no urgency.

====

A few weeks later

Jeff left the gym and started to make his way home. His thoughts were back to being a jumble again as he thought about his mother’s renewed fight for visitation rights. It seemed that the lawyers she had hired had found a way to shift the hearing to another court and that the judge was likely to grant her requests. Jeff didn’t want to be put through the emotional cyclone of dealing with her again.

Suddenly he felt a tingle throughout his body as he then felt himself being pulled across the sky. He materialized and after looking around wondered if he had hit his head a bit too hard during a sparring session. Either that or he was on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

“Where the hell am I?” he wondered.

“Toto you’re not in Kansas anymore,” said a voice.

Jeff spun around to see who was speaking, but there was nobody there. “Who said that?”

“That was my computer Hardrive,” said the voice of Mark Kinega as he entered the bridge.

Jeff had gotten to know Mark quite well in recent weeks. The other man had been a regular at Bruce’s place and the two had trained together. Kincaid still had the feeling that Mark was holding mark during their practices.

“Why’d he call me Toto?” he asked.

There were so many questions that had needed asking, but for Jeff, that seemed the most important.

“It’s his way,” Mark said fondly. “We crash landed on a planet a few years ago and some of his circuit boards were damaged. We replaced them, but since then he’s been picking up transmissions from all over the galaxy; even television signals. Over time his language banks have been filled with television jingles.”

“Can’t you fix it?” asked Jeff.

“Yes we can!” Hardrive called out.

“But I don’t really want to,” Mark said, ignoring the latest outburst. Hardrive’s communication hub was one of the most advanced systems on the ship. The computer intercepted and rerouted signals from across known space giving Kinega and his comrades access to a spectacular amount of raw data, which proved invaluable in their line of work. Unfortunately Hardrive lacked the ability to filter the signals he received until he processed them and due to memory leakage some of those signals worked their way into his vocabulary; why they had designed Hardrive’s language centre to share runtime with his signal processing was unclear, but Kinega had to admit that it worked. He also wasn’t sure why the computer had been spending time watching children’s television. “It gives him a personality. These computers can be pretty stuffy it they don’t have something to occupy themselves.”

“All right, enough about the computer,” Jeff said, remembering where he was. “Where am I and what am I doing here? What are you doing here?”

“Okay, well where do I start?” Mark pondered “First in case you haven’t guess, I’m not from this planet. My home is a long way away and I have no intention of going back there. I’m human with a few minor differences. As for why I’m here, well the answer have to be: you. I take it you have heard about the Power Rangers?”

“The super heroes who trash monsters in California, yeah I’ve heard of them,” Jeff said. “What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Well… I’m sort of a Power Ranger.”

Jeff could not believe his ears as the next second he broke out laughing. “Oh that’s a good one. First this ship and then you’re telling me that you are a Power Ranger. No offence, but I think I know you well enough to know you are not Power Ranger material. Now what’s really going on?”

Mark decided to prove his point and brought out a small device. “Red Night Ranger, activate!” When he was finished he was wearing a black and red costume with a red helmet. The face on the helmet was scowling.

Jeff was shocked at this turn of events and more than a little confused. “Hold on, Power Rangers don’t have costumes like — that.”

“Of course they do,” Mark countered, then thought about it. “Well, I do anyway."

He deactivated his powers. It was too early in the day to waste them on demonstrations.

"Most Rangers don’t look like that of course, but then I’m not exactly a normal Ranger. I’m part of a very different team that’s not limited to this planet.”

“Not limited to Earth?” Jeff was growing more and more confused.

“I’m a Night Ranger, Jeff,” Mark told him. "Despite what others might say."

“And what is a Night Ranger?”

Mark sighed. He really hated having to tell this story. Doing so meant he had to confess something about himself. Still if he wanted Jeff to join him he needed to explain.

"When the universe was in its infancy there was only good and evil. The fight was one of survival between two opposing forces. Everything was in balance. Although primitive it was a simple war. Then there came the shadows, those who either didn’t want to fight or chose to fight only to suit their own aims. The clear line between good and evil became distorted by shades of grey. And when the great beings left and the lesser creatures were entrusted to continue the fight, the discovery of magic meant that the line between good and evil barely existed.

“In the new war, many chose to serve the side of good, fighting to preserve the rights beliefs and freedoms of the individual as well as focusing on the goal of peace. Those who sought to serve evil were those who were self serving, disrespectful and thought that peace was achieved through oppression, benefiting the select few at the expense of the many. And of course there were always those who looked out purely for themselves, changing sides at a moment’s notice if it served their purposes.

“But the great beings would not be forgotten. Many fought in their name and some went even further. One race sought to become like the greater beings and explored the deepest depths of what it meant to be evil. Even by evil standards they committed unforgivable acts and were thought to be destroyed by the forces they unleashed. Their name has been lost to ages but the beings they unleashed have not.

“The Horde, Horrors, Youkai and Orgs, there are an unlimited number of names for these creatures, creatures of pure evil that prey on the corrupt as well as the innocent. These are creatures that transcend beyond the world as we know it.

“At this time the warriors of good needed a way to counter this new threat and to deal harshly with the ones who sought to create them. Most evil could be fought by the armies filled with noble warriors under the command of skilled leaders. Simple and open warfare of the type that suited a large number of Power Rangers. The new threat was much smaller and less likely to follow a pattern of invading worlds. They were more like predators and their actions either beneath the notice of Rangers or demanding a different approach. Some hid in plain sight maintaining images that hid their dark activities.

“And because of their nature but those they encountered were normally weaker creatures, whereas the more primal forces were not so easy to defeat with the power of light and love – for they were so dark that the light dimmed in their presence. These creatures that dwelled in the darkness knew of no limit to the evil that they could or would do; they were at home in the darkness of the night as well as using the cover of darkness for their evil deeds. Because they hid their natures so well, normal Rangers could not attack them without breaking the rules that governed their powers.

“A new force was needed, one that could fight them on an even playing field without worrying about the restrictions placed on most Rangers. An order of monks decided that confronting the darkness was more important than remaining with their fellow Morphin Masters. They vowed to eradicate the evil that hid in plain sight as well as the dark spirits that were either above or beneath the notice of the Morphin Masters. They formed the Acexta Order and retreated to their homeworld where nearly every member of their population joined their quest. Over the course of many years their number grew and they were even able to trap some of the creatures within the core of the planet Nocturnea where they could use them to test their warriors.

“Many entered the Pit of Night, only to be destroyed by the evil within. For it was easy to enter but before they could leave they had to face one of the many demons contained within. The first man to emerge from the pit became the first Night Fighter. He would not be the last.”

“So you’re telling me that you’re a Power Ranger who fights evil spirits in a pit?” Kincaid asked sceptically. He was starting to think Kinega was insane.

“No I am not mad,” Mark told him, an amused look on his face. “I thought the same thing when I was recruited. Of course I knew about Power Rangers, but this Night Ranger thing — well it is a little bizarre. Besides, I didn’t say he was a Ranger.”

Jeff snorted but didn’t say anything. A part of him wanted to hear the story.

“The Night Fighters were not the champions of the people, but they were their most dedicated protectors. The methods and powers they used could not be condoned by the authorities. Some tried to arrest them, but most just treated them with hostility.

“The problem was that most of the monks that chose the path of the Night Fighters were human and their bodies were also human and vulnerable to the side effects of drawing on the darker energies they needed to fight evil. The dark spirits they called upon corrupt those that try to wield their might without agreement. After a decade at most many Night Fighters showed show signs of the darkness consuming them. And while there was no great risk of them turning to evil, there was a high risk of their bodies being burnt from the inside out. A way was needed to channel the darkness without being destroyed by it.”

“And that solution would be the Night Rangers,” Jeff guessed.

Mark nodded. “Not immediately. Officially only those that draw energy from the Morphin Grid are allowed to call themselves Rangers. There are a few others that have earned the right to use the title; Earth is an exception because their Rangers are recognised as such by their mentor. And then there are the Night Rangers; the Night Fighters didn’t request the right to call themselves Rangers, they took the name and challenged anybody who disagreed to make them stop. That was before my time, but I heard there were plenty of broken bones while the matter was debated.

"The first Night Rangers were an accident. A young scientist had been experimenting with some old morphers that no longer functioned and had found a way to power them without the Morphin Grid. He configured them to create suits of generic armour that could be used by the Night Fighters in battle. The suits offered protection and solved some of their problems, but were little more than armour. And eventually the Night Fighters agreed that having a whole planet of generic soldiers was not the same as having a team of Rangers, so they would not call themselves Night Rangers. Of course that decision changed when they did successfully build their own team."

"So the Night Fighters created some powers, the Power Rangers disagreed, there was a big fight and after they won the argument the Night Fighters backed down?" Jeff clarified.

"Indeed. Now the mass-produced armour of the Night Fighters allowed them some protection and with a few alterations held a constant power supply. Those that used them were not as powerful as Power Rangers, but they had numbers and that was what they needed to fight the darkness. However they still needed a way to fight the darkness on an even footing. The creatures they fought were resistant to light; they had no such protection against the darkness. Some had taken to capturing demons and forcing them to give them power while others argued there was no need to wield the dark powers at all and that the risks of doing so were there for a reason.

"Then they found a way. A young man joined the Order having flunked out of the Morphin Academy. He had been trained to be a Ranger, but his heart was pure and his intentions were good, but the world had corrupted him to the point where the Morphin Masters refused to allow him to become a Ranger. They judged him based on all he endured without realising that while shrouded within the darkness his soul remained pure. He was I guess a Broken Angel.

"It was a complete accident that he stared into the Mirror of Night, a dangerous magical artefact said to contain a demon. The spell upon the mirror was supposed to show the darkness within his soul and amplify it while showing all his desires. If he had accepted what was offered, the demon within the mirror would strike and take over his body. But this man was a good man and while the mirror absorbed the darkness around him and amplified it, it could only twist what was on the outside.

"He had been given one of the generic morphers when he had joined the Order, and when he had sensed the darkness within the mirror, he had morphed,” Mark explained, showing Jeff his morpher. “The demon inside the mirror corrupted and disfigured his powers, making him appear evil. It poured its darkness into the morpher, not realising that once it did so a connection was formed that would never be broken. A battle took place as the man fought the demon for control. He triumphed, but just as he was about to slay the demon, it surrendered to him. It would serve him and his successors, providing the power he needed in return for its life. He agreed and the deal was done. His powers were now a part of the darkness powered by a powerful demon, but that darkness was countered by the light within his heart; he remained a good man.

"Twelve more demons were bound by those that were worthy of doing so. Thirteen warriors emerged powered by the darkness to lead the Night Fighters. They took the name Night Rangers and this time nobody dared to complain.

"This morpher is connected to that first demon and has been passed down from Ranger to Ranger. Each time a successor is chosen he or she faces the a demon within Mirror of Night. If they successfully tame the demon that powers their morpher they become the next Night Ranger; those that fail are never heard from again."

"And if they don’t take the test?" Jeff asked.

"Then the Night Ranger powers will fall dormant and they will only be able to access the generic armour of a Night Fighter," Kinega answered. "Although if that happened they would be ‘encouraged to surrender the morpher so that a more suitable candidate can use it and they will be given a new morpher."

There had only been thirteen Night Morphers. The Order had tried to create more, but even when a candidate had successfully defeated a demon, they had never been able to force its subservience.

"The result is a warrior that can fight the darkest evil on its own terms and match the evil warriors on an equal footing. Night Rangers journey into the night to protect people from the evil that the dark spirits represent. The evil of greed, lust, pride, gluttony…”

“The seven deadly sins,” Jeff interrupted.

“Yes exactly,” said Mark. “Except the evils they fight rarely fall into a pattern that the villains most Power Rangers face choose. Rarely do they send down a monster to destroy the world. They assume a physical form and spread their corruption. For them the spoils of war can consist of a single soul. And believe me, they have the power to do whatever they want by themselves. Whether it be money, power, people, there is really no limit to the evil that they can accomplish. Over the centuries there have been some mortals that have allied themselves with the spirits of darkness, learning to draw the darkness into themselves and wield it as a weapon. Transformed by the darkness they can take on monstrous and powerful forms. The last lot almost wiped out their entire galaxy.

"The Night Rangers are darker than the average Power Rangers. They are just as dedicated to the defeat of evil, but their methods are those that would normally be associated with the villains they fight. Of the three rules applied to the Power Rangers only one has ever been applied to the Night Rangers as well: Never use the power for personal gain; as long as they fight for the greater good, everything else is fair game.”

Jeff took it in for a second. “So what you’re saying is that there are these evil monsters that are actually spirits, some of whom have joined forces with ordinary people. And that you are a member of a team of Power Rangers that have been corrupted by an evil artefact and now fight them on their terms?”

“That’s about it,” Mark said, offering a wry grin. “Hard to believe isn’t it?”

Jeff was silent, thinking. There was no doubt that Mark was telling the truth, or at least the truth as he knew it. That did leave a few questions though. “Okay, say I believe you, what does this have to do with me?”

“Many years ago the Night Rangers engaged a powerful enemy. Many Night Fighters were killed in the battle and even the Night Rangers did not escape unharmed. Several died during that fight, some died from their wounds after the battle was over; some were never found. It takes time to rebuild a team after so many losses and for a time the Night Rangers were willing to continue as a smaller group.

"That changed a few years ago. The Red Night Ranger and two of his comrades were killed in action and a prophecy was uncovered warning about a new threat that would require the Night Rangers to be at full strength. I was chosen to become the new leader of the Night Rangers and my first task was to seek out those that could help rebuild our ranks.

"There are only four of us left at this time, which leaves me with six replacements to find; three of the morphers were never recovered. I want you to be the first of those new Night Rangers.”

Jeff took in the news and thought about it for a second. Then he broke out in laughter.

“What’s so funny?” asked Mark.

Jeff tried to calm himself for a second then spoke. “I just can’t believe it. You want me to be a Power Ranger?”

“Night Ranger,” Mark corrected him, “and yes you would have made a good Power Ranger. But Night Rangers are very different to Power Rangers. There are less rewards and the dangers are unimaginable. We’re feared and reviled by those that are supposed to be on our side; there are groups dedicated to our destruction because they believe we are evil. The authorities don’t recognise us and do everything they can to hide our existence; we are expected to keep our existence secret even from our fellow Rangers although we’ve never bothered too much about that. Those that know of us would likely deny having anything to do with us in case they are deemed guilty by association.”

“I’m sorry, but I have enough problems right now without playing super hero. I’m just not cut out to be a Power Ranger, day or night. Now if you don’t mind I’ve got to get back to the hellhole that is my life.”

Mark sighed. He had been told it would not be easy. The analysis of Kincaid had confirmed he would need a lot of convincing. A list had already been made of alternative choices, but Kinega wanted Kincaid. There was something that refused to let him give up. “If that’s your decision then fine. But just in case let me give you this.” Mark reached across one of the consoles and gave Jeff a small card. “If you change your mind just fold the top left corner. You’ll be teleported up here to Defiance and the Morpher will be waiting.”

“Defiance?” asked Jeff.

“That’s the name of this ship”

“I thought the ship was named Hardrive.”

“No the computer is named Hardrive; the ship is named Defiance.”

“Whatever, I gotta go, now if you can beam me back down to where I was I’d be happy.”

Mark moved to the controls and beamed Jeff back down.

“He’ll be back,” Mark said as he stared at the empty spot where Jeff Kincaid once stood. At least he hoped that he would. Mark still had a few weeks before he had to move on to the next possibility. So the question was how to nudge Kincaid in the right direction during that time? "Let me see Kincaid’s file again Hardrive. Looks like you were wrong about just asking."

====

The next day Jeff was leaving school when he was stopped by Jessica Farrell. She was a lab partner of Jeff’s in theatre class and Jeff had quite the crush on her. Jessica had long stringy blonde hair and dressed in a grunge style. She kind of liked Jeff, but they were pretty much at the ‘just friends’ stage in her mind.

“Hey Jeff, are you going to be ready for the theatre presentation tomorrow that we have to do for class?” she asked.

“Yeah, I’ve been going over the monologue for a while now,” Jeff told her, “I’ll be ready.”

“Great, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jeff was ready to ask her out on a date but the words didn’t come to his mouth. Jessica walked away as Bruce came up to his best friend.

“What happened?”

“I got scared,” Jeff admitted.

“Of what, her saying no? If she does, she’s the one passing up a good thing.”

“Bruce,” Jeff started. He sighed, forcing himself to relax. “I’ve been burned a lot of times in the past. I really don’t want to get shot down again.”

Jeff was about to walk off, just as he had done so many times before, but this time, Bruce had other plans.

====

When the phone rang at Jessica’s house a few weeks later, she ignored it knowing her parents were home. She was a little surprised when she was told that the phone call was for her.

“Hello?”

“Yeah Jessica, this is Bruce Greene I’m a friend of Jeff Kincaid’s.”

“What can I do for you Bruce?” she asked.

“Well my friend Jeff has missed something for the project and I can’t get in contact with him on it. I was wondering if you can pick it up for him?”

Jessica thought about it for a minute.

“Where is it?”

“It’s at Leroy’s Shootfighting Rink on First Street.”

She knew the place, having passed it a few times. She had never stepped foot inside though.

“All right I’ll be right there,” she said before hanging up.

~One down one to go,~ thought Bruce as he searched through his book for Jeff’s number. ~I’m so good at this I ought to have my own television show.~

====

Jeff ran down to the gym and caught Bruce at the front door.

“All right Bruce what’s the big emergency?”

Bruce had to stall for time, if Jeff was impatient it would be a disaster.

“Yeah well ah…”

He didn’t have to wait long since Jessica was coming. She took a look at Jeff, then at Bruce. “Why didn’t you call and tell me you found him?”

Jeff was confused. “He was supposed to call you?”

“He told me you had left something that we needed for the theatre project tomorrow,” Jessica explained.

Jeff got defensive. “No I didn’t!”

“Then why did your friend call me?”

Both Jessica and Jeff turned to glare at Bruce.

“All right Bruce, what’s going on?”, asked Jeff.

“Look Jeff, you like this girl but…”

“You like me?” interrupted Jessica.

Jeff’s face turned red, but before he could find the courage to answer there was a flash of light and a group of black tuxedo garbed warriors. Their faces were hidden behind half-white, half-black helmets painted with a pair of bright red lips.

“What are these guys?” asked Bruce.

“I don’t know,” Jeff answered as the newcomers moved in to attack. “Bruce get Jessica out of here. I’ll hold them off.”

Jeff fell into a fighting stance and fought the attackers as Bruce escorted Jessica away. Unfortunately just as Bruce thought they were safe enough away another group appeared. Bruce was not a slouch when it came to physical combat and demonstrated how he had gotten to be so respected in the gym as he launched himself into battle.

“Run Jessica. RUN!” he yelled.

Jessica turned to run when two of the faceless goons grabbed her and teleported her away. The remaining attackers teleported soon after, having had enough of Jeff and Bruce.

Jeff looked around. “Where’s Jessica?”

“She was just here,” Bruce answered, looking around. “I told her to run when those red robots appeared. Perhaps she got away.”

“Let’s split up. I’ll look north.”

“I’ll look south,” Bruce replied as they split up.

When Jeff was far enough away, he activated the device Mark had given him teleported himself back up to Defiance.

====

Mark was sat in the pilot’s chair as Jeff teleported on board, reviewing some of the scout reports for other candidates. Over the last few weeks he had tried to appeal to Jeff’s sense of duty, his need to belong and even his desire to get away from his mother, but nothing had worked. “Have you changed your mind?” he asked without looking up.

“That depends. What can you tell me about black clad freaks with red lips that kidnap teenage girls?” Jeff demanded.

Mark thought about it for a moment before clicking a button. He flicked through the images of known underlings seeking a match. “Black clad freaks… did they look like they were wearing tuxedos?”

“Yeah, do you know them?”

Mark turned back to the controls and ordered Hardrive to scan for any ships in the vicinity.

“Klingon battle cruiser off the port bow,” Hardrive reported.

“You just described a platoon of Hedonian Soldiers,” Mark said.

“Hedonian Soldiers?”

“They are the grunts of the Hedon Empire,” Mark explained. “Part of an old society that studied the ways of the dark powers. Except instead of taking that darkness and turning it into something that evil would learn to fear, like the Night Fighters, they were corrupted and used the darkness for their own pleasure. Their society decayed until they were unable to produce anything for themselves. Of course only the elite could afford to buy the luxuries they needed, the rest had to become soldiers in return for the things they needed to survive. They’re the sort of thing the Night Fighters were created to fight although given their nature we rarely encounter them.”

That wasn’t quite true. Most of the Hedonians could be battled by normal teams of Rangers. It was impossible for such teams to completely defeat the threat, they could only vanquish it for short periods due to the limitations of the rules. Only the Night Rangers had the disposition to permanently end such darkness.

“What are they doing kidnapping a girl from Port Clinton?” Jeff asked.

Mark didn’t answer immediately, contemplating the answer. Why would they pick on a single girl? Unless of course she had been one of a number of girls taken for the same purpose. The Hedonian hierarchy did use souls and blood as part of their rituals although they were not as extensive as other practitioners like the Moabians. In the end he decided it was best not to mention the possibility that the Hedons were simply looking for innocents to corrupt and swell their ranks.

“It’s not like them to target Earth,” he said. “This world isn’t as magically inclined as some others. However some of the hierarchy have some very, very sick tastes. It wouldn’t be beyond them to send soldiers to collect innocents to feed that hunger. You really do not want to know more than that.”

Jeff was starting to get anxious. “So what are you going to do about it?”

Track them down and rescue the girls was the obvious answer, but Kinega knew that this was the opportunity he had been looking for. Finally he had found something Jeff Kincaid cared about enough to consider his offer.

“Well I really can’t spare the time right now, I need to finish putting together my team,” Mark told him. “Once that’s done I can look into it. Might take a while though… unless you want to reconsider of course.”

Jeff thought about it for a moment. He knew Mark would not help him unless he agreed. Night Rangers it seemed didn’t have to save every damsel. Given the choice he knew what his decision would be. “All right, I’m in.”

“Great, now tall we have to do is find their ship and mount a rescue mission.”

“Just the two of us?”

Mark grinned. “Consider it an initiation.” He didn’t mention that Hedonian’s were usually handled without the use of powers. He didn’t want Kincaid to change his mind. “When this is over, if we succeed, we’ll see about getting you properly trained, but in the meantime this morpher has enough charge in it to keep you from serious harm.”

He handed Jeff a blue morpher that had similar decoration to the one he had used earlier. Until Jeff passed the test to claim the powers of a Night Ranger, the morpher would offer some protection.

“When do we get after the ship?” asked Jeff.

“Hardrive, if the linker is still transmitting. Give me a hell yeah!” He looked a bit sheepish when he saw Jeff staring at him. “Sometimes it helps if you know a few lines. Hardrive prefers it.”

“Hell Yeah!” Hardrive replied after performing a quick scan.

“Then set course and let’s go get ’em.”

And before long, Defiance streaked across the cosmos. The signal was apparently easy to track. Defiance made it’s way to it’s destination, a resort planet called Amia.

“The pleasure planet for those whose tastes cannot be met by the usual hives of villainy. Not many use this planet though, it doesn’t cater for those of their persuasion,” Mark explained.

“What’s Jessica doing down there?” Jeff asked.

“Some of the hierarchy enjoy taking something pure and corrupting it,” Mark admitted. “In this case I suspect they wanted them to amuse the troops. Comfort women to amuse the generals and boost the morale of the lower ranks.”

He didn’t mention that they were likely looking for breeding stock rather than prostitutes. An army had have soldiers after all. They needed to concentrate on getting the girl back and for that they needed a way to get in. Mark thought for a moment then came up with an idea.

“We’ll do a frontal decoy. You attack from the front and I’ll take Defiance down there and knock out the internal defences.”

“Uhh, no disrespect here. But what do I attack them with?” Jeff asked.

“Good question. Once you’re fully powered we can see about sorting you out with a Zord. In the meantime if you go down to the landing bay, you’ll find a battle pod waiting. The interface is telepathic so knowledge of how to use it should come naturally.”

Jeff went down to Defiance’s loading bay as instructed. He didn’t stop to question how the knowledge of the ship’s layout had burnt its way into his mind. Nor did he question how he knew instantly where his battle pod was parked.

The craft left Defiance’s landing bay and flew out towards the pleasure base. Jeff kept the defences busy while Mark flew Defiance in and teleported to where the central control computer was located. He activated the intruder control field, rendering all hostiles unconscious in a matter of seconds.

And with that it was over. They never found out who was responsible for the kidnappings, although their efforts did cost the dark forces a considerable number of soldiers. most had fought back the moment they recovered from the stun effect, only to meet the untamed fury of two Night Rangers. The prisoners, and there were a lot of them, were freed and Mark would later ask the Morphin Council to transport them to their respective homelands.

====

After Jeff returned from space, he and Jessica completed their project together and got a good grade as a result. Jessica for her part showed no signs that she remembered her experience, a result of the relaxants Mark had used.

Deciding that this time he would find the courage, Jeff asked her: “are you doing anything tomorrow afternoon?”

“No,” she answered.

“Well I was wondering if you wanted to go out for lunch tomorrow?”

Jessica thought about it for a second and then agreed. “Sure, why not?”

Jeff’s heart was jumping for joy, but despite his happiness he knew that in the near future Mark Kinega would come seeking his services. And when that happened there would be no turning back. He would become a Night Ranger.

End

**THIS IS THE END OF THE FILE**