Rita stood in the dark dongeon with a skull floating in front of her. Two red fire balls burned in its eye sockets as she looked back at it. An evil grin spread across her face while she prepared to cast her spell.
Rita: "You think you can turn Shard against me, don't you Destructsa? Well we'll see about that."
She chanted a long incantation in a foreign language. With each word, the eyes of the skull in front of her flashed; easily seen in the dark room. Once finished, she closed her hand into a fist and the skull disappeared. Turning, she saw Destructsa enter. He walked slowly and spoke not a word. When she held up her hand, he stopped cold.
Destructsa, to Rita: "You command and I obey, my empress."
Her spell had temporarily placed him under her control. This gave her twenty-four hours to make him pay for what he had done before. Since he gave Shard the tape from their security camera, Rita had wanted revenge. And with this spell, she knew just how to get it.
Rita: "When I'm done, my dear Destructsa, you'll wish you were never born!"
Her sinister cackle could be heard echoing through the empty cave as
he awaited his orders.
It was about 2:00 the following day when Niki came into her mom's room. She peeked around the frame of the door first, seeing her on the bed looking up at the ceiling. She had bags under her eyes and her hair was a mess. The situation with her mother had taken its toll on her. She was already aware that Niki had snuck into the car, but didn't have the energy to make an issue of it.
Niki came in slowly, not making much noise. She stayed back, not sure if she should be there. When Cerina noticed her, she held out her hand, signaling for her to come closer. Once there, she embraced the child in a hug; holding her for a long time. Somehow, having Niki there made her feel better. Even though she couldn't trust her mother and Tracy was falling for what she was certain were lies, she knew she still had her daughter. Eventually, she let her go and moved over so she could have a seat next to her.
Niki: "You're still worried about this thing with Grandma, huh?"
Cerina nodded, saying nothing.
Niki: "Did you sleep last night? You look pretty bad."
Cerina, letting out a sigh: "No. I haven't slept since I saw her on the camera the other day. Every time I try, my mind starts running through the possibilities and I can't even close my eyes. I just know there's more to this. She sounded sincere yesterday, but something didn't feel right."
Niki: "But Aunt Tracy trusts her now?"
Cerina: "I don't know. Maybe she does, maybe she just doesn't want to pursue it. Either way, I'm on my own."
Niki: "No you're not. You've still got me. I thought Grandma was nice, but if you say she's up to something, I believe you."
Cerina: "Thank you, baby. That means a lot to me. I wish I knew how I could prove this. Or even what it is she trying to do. I've been thinking about this nonstop and I still don't have any answers. Just speculation."
The picture she had seen in Katie's house flashed in Niki's mind as her mom was talking. She could see it clear as day, like she were looking at it for the first time. It showed a little girl with long brown hair. She was standing in front of a blue background; like a school photo or something. She didn't know why, but Niki found that strange for some reason. Why would Katie have a picture of a kid in her house if it wasn't her? She was pretty sure it wasn't an old picture of Tracy. It looked new; not faded with cheep quality like the others.
Cerina: "I need something to go on. Katie wanted us to come to that house and I don't think it was to pour her heart out about her mistakes. God, there is something I'm missing. There has to be!"
Niki, finally speaking up about her discovery: "Does Grandma know any other kids besides me? Like a niece or something?"
Her question took Cerina by surprise. She didn't know where her daughter had come up with that.
Cerina: "No. Tracy doesn't have any kids. Why do you ask?""
Niki: "Its this picture I saw yesterday when we were talking. It was over in the corner. A little girl in a frame. I didn't know who she was and thought you might."
Her mom was silent, trying to place the photo. Going back over her time in the house, she couldn't remember seeing it. The idea of a child's picture in the house seemed odd to her as well. She knew it couldn't have been Tracy, or Niki would have recognized her from the old pictures that hung on her bedroom wall.
Niki: "Its probably nothing."
Cerina: "You were right to tell me. It doesn't make sense to me either, honestly. I didn't see it, but I can't imagine who that could be. Hell, for all I know, that could have been what she wanted Tracy and me to see."
Niki: "Ya think?"
Cerina: "I don't know what to think right now. Anything's possible."
Both girls thought it over, trying to piece the puzzle together. With no other clues, Cerina focused on her daughter's tip. It was all she had. The two of them thought for a long time, coming up with nothing. There was no clear reason why Katie would have wanted them to notice that.
Cerina: "Did you ask her about it?"
Niki: "No. I wanted to talk to you first. I didn't know what was going on, so I didn't say anything more than I had to. I wanted to talk to you before I messed something up."
Cerina: "Okay. I'm gonna get in the shower for a while. I think I probably
need one. You should go find Sorran and have some fun. I'll let you know
if I come up with anything."
Ecliptor was facing the viewing screen when he heard footsteps behind him. He turned to see Katie in the door way looking back at him. As usual, she wore all black. She had a face of stone and was not about to give up on her mission to kill Cyann. When he was watching her enter, he began to wonder how this woman could be any relation to Cerina. They seemed nothing alike, even though he didn't know Cerina very well.
Katie: "This has to stop."
She came the rest of the way into the room and approached a control panel. Pushing a button, she brought up an image of Cyann with dead bodies at her feet. She walked through a crowded city street, firing blue energy blasts at the frightened citizens. Ecliptor nodded in agreement.
Ecliptor: "I realize I cannot let her run wild this way for ever. I don't want those people to die anymore than you do. It just isn't as simple for me. I love Cyann. I can't stand by and watch you destroy her."
Katie: "You loved who she used to be. That woman out there... she's already dead. She doesn't feel anything for you. The only reason you're not lying dead on that street is because you keep helping her. She is using you! Your pleading with her to remember your life together will never work. It isn't that she has forgot at all. Its that she doesn't care. You are nothing to her, Black Ranger, and you need to make yourself understand that. Let her go!"
Ecliptor: "Put yourself in my position. If this were Cerina, could you kill her?"
Katie: "You're not killing her! That's already done! All you'd be doing is saving those people. None of them have done anything to deserve this. Their only crime was being born on Stregna in the first place. Focus on that instead of some unrequited love. Whatever the hell it is you had with her is gone. You'll never get it back."
Ecliptor: "So you would take your daughter's life if the situation were reversed? You could block out all your memories of her and strike her down like some mindless demon?"
Katie: "Yes, if that was reality. If Cerina were just like Cyann and I knew I couldn't save her, then I would do everything I could to save the world she was taking out."
Ecliptor: "That's the difference between you and me. I can't shut my heart off the way you can. When I see her, I still see the woman I gave up everything to be with. If I were to attack her, I would feel as though I were attacking the real Cyann. The fact that she can't feel does not become a factor if you actually have feelings yourself."
Katie sighed, seeing he was going to handle this the way her daughter had said.
Katie: "Fine. You're too big a pussy to take her out, then let me! I could have had her that day on the mountain had you not stopped me. Those people would still be breathing if you hadn't got in my way!"
Ecliptor: "I already lost her once to Olympius. I stood by while he made her the way she is. I am not going to do the same thing for you. I can't bare to lose her again."
Katie: "So you'd rather lose your own life? That's what's gonna happen eventually. She will destroy this planet and you along with it. I don't care what you think your heart wants, no woman is worth that!"
Ecliptor: "Cyann is."
Katie watched as her rampage continued. The queen fired a blast at a car, nodding carelessly as it went up in flames. The entire street was trashed; blood ran down the pavement and into the drains like rain after a storm. She could tell it was getting to him, but he didn't have it in him to allow her to be stopped. He would rather watch this than cut his losses and bury her for good.
Katie: "You can help me, or you can stand there and do nothing. Sure, you might stand in my way once; twice, but you won't always be there to save her. And the one time you're not... BAM! Its over. I will rip that bitch to shreds, regardless of what you think."
Ecliptor: "It is not your place. I will handle her in my way. You stay out of it."
Katie: "You've had chance after chance to do something and you won't! You just stood here and said you couldn't do it!"
Ecliptor: "I can't kill her, but I can find another way! Death is not the only answer here, Katie! It can't be!"
Katie: "So what are you going to do? Sit the dead woman down for a nice cup of tea and tell her what she did was wrong? Or maybe she'll just run into your arms one day and magically everything will be okay. Her path of destruction will have finally come to an end and you two will live happily ever after." She paused, sighing in disgust. "Wake up! This is not a damn fairy tale! There is nothing you can do or say that will make her stop! Nothing!"
Ecliptor slammed his fist down on the panel beside him, enraged by Katie's attitude. It was impossible to get through to someone like her. The truth as he saw it was, she was no more capable of human emotion than Cyann was. His feelings were lost on her and there was no way he could ever make her see his point of view.
Ecliptor: "Why did Cerina waste our time this way? She knows as well as I do what kind of person you really are!"
Katie: "My daughter and I have come to an understanding, not that its any of your business. And this meeting.... she did it because she cares about you. Delusional as it may be, she thought we could work something out. Obviously that is not going to happen."
Ecliptor: "Because you won't let it happen! Its either your way or the highway! Nobody else's ideas are good enough!"
Katie: "I have yet to hear an idea come out of your green, pansy ass mouth! The only thing you keep saying is you'll handle it and no that's not good enough! You either think of a viable solution to this problem or I will. And you know what that will be."
Ecliptor: "I have been doing my best to fix this, but I can't focus when I'm worrying about what your next move is going to be."
Katie: "That's a load of bull. You'll never have what it takes to get the job done. But I do and damn it, I'm going to do it. You can come after me as many times as you want, but I promise, the minute you turn your back, she's finished."
Infuriated, Katie stormed out, leaving Ecliptor alone in the control
room. He knew he couldn't stop her. Regaining her place with the rebels
was too important to her, even though she didn't say it. Those people's
lives were only a secondary victory. Her number one priority was to remain
a part of their team, for whatever reason. If he were going to save Cyann,
he had to do it soon. Before Katie got to her first.
Cerina stood in the shower letting the water wash over her. Its warm touch was refreshing and provided an escape from the problems that plagued her mind. Steam rose up over the top of the shower curtain as she listened to Ecliptor and Katie's fighting. She couldn't make it out and in truth, didn't care to. The sound was drowned out by the running water, allowing her only to know that her plan didn't work. They were still at odds.
Time passed and Cerina stood drifted into a restful state. It was like she was only half awake. She soon returned to reality when she heard the door open. Niki and Sorran came in with bike helmets in their hands.
Niki, shouting so she could hear: "Mom, me and Sorran are going out for a while!"
Cerina, from behind the curtain: "Be careful! And stay away from your grandmother!"
Niki: "Don't worry. I've got my morpher. We'll be fine."
The children ran back out of the room, slamming the door behind them. The sound startled her mother. Sighing, Cerina threw down the wash rag and leaned up against the damp wall of the shower.
Cerina: "We have got to put a lock on that door."
Rita stood at the base of the palace with Destructsa at her side. He stood perfectly still while they waited. The excitement radiated from her face. At first, she wouldn't have taken it this far, but he was hell bent on making her look bad in front of Shard. His attempts had finally pushed her to her limit.
Laughing, she snapped her fingers and Finster appeared before her. He looked around, stunned. The sight of his empress took him completely by surprise. The two had be separated for years. Much like when Zedd took over, the old monster's days passed like years. He passed the time by imagining this day when he would once again be needed. That was his only joy in life, to make Rita happy. And he could see by the expression on her face that this was his chance.
Finster: "Rita, you're all right! But I thought...."
Rita: "Forget about that. I'm alive and that's what matters. Zedd is going to get what's coming to him soon enough. I can promise you that."
Finster: "But how? Your army was lost years ago. Once Dark Specter was destroyed, the monsters went out on their own. I'm afraid I can't control them anymore. I'm.... I'm all you have left."
Rita: "You always did stand by me, Finster. For that, you will be rewarded. But right now I need your help. I've allied myself with someone who has the power to make Zedd pay, but I have one nagging problem." She motioned to Destructsa. "This one won't rest until I'm out of the picture."
Rita: "He believes I'm hiding something. The only way I can continue to use Shard for her army is to take Destructsa out. That's where you come in. I need bombs. Hundreds of them!"
Finster started to shake, unsure if he could handle her request.
Finster: "That will take time. I have to wire them, test some of them.... as much as I want to help you, I can't do this on such short notice."
Rita: "I don't care if they work or not! All that matters is what Shard thinks. As long as she is under the impression that her life is in danger, my plan will work. I need you to create nothing more than the shells of these bombs, like the one we placed at the base of the Command Center."
Finster: "I would be happy to. But.... I must confess I don't understand what this is going to accomplish."
Rita: "Who cares? Just haul your termite ridden carcass back to that workshop and get to crack'n! I don't have all century!"
With that, he disappeared, leaving Rita to dream of what the next few
hours held in store. Once this was complete, Destructsa would never again
be able to threaten her and her place with Shard would be guaranteed. If
Finster could come through for her the way he had in the past, her troubles
would all be over.
Niki and Sorran rode their bikes up Katie's driveway and jumped off. The children were in a hurry and didn't even bother to sit them upright. Sorran's heart was beating rapidly as he followed his friend around to the back of the house. In his entire life he had never done anything like this. He forced a straight face, not wanting Niki to see that he was scared, but the truth was, the entire thing terrified him. So many questions kept going through his mind. What if Cerina gets mad? What if Katie comes home? Even with the answers, however, he still didn't think he'd be any more comfortable with it.
Niki went up to the back door, turning the knob. Frustrated, she backed away for a minute.
Niki: "Darn! Locked!"
Sorran: "What did you expect?"
Niki: "Hush, wise guy. I need to figure this out. We need a way in. Otherwise we came all this way for nothing."
Sorran, quietly: "Maybe we should go back, ya know? I mean, your mom did say to stay away from your grandmother. Don't you think we should listen?"
Niki: "I tried doing as I was told once. It bites. Never bothered again. Besides, she said stay away from Grandma. And do you see her anywhere? We're not breaking the rules when you think about it like that. This is what you'd call somewhere in the gray area. Nobody's gonna be sure weather its good or bad, so they can't do anything about it."
She smiled, pleased with herself for remembering that.
Niki: "Mom told me that once. I'll bet she'll be sorry for that later."
She spent a few moments looking around the yard. At first her mind was a blank, but soon something came to her. She ran excitedly across the grass when she saw the rocks surrounding a flower bed. Right away, Sorran knew what she was going to do. He wanted to scream, cry; do anything he could to stop her, but she was like Cerina. Hard headed and absolutely impossible!
Sorran: "You're not really gonna...."
He didn't even have time to finish before she drew back her arm and threw the rock at the glass window next to the patio. The crash echoed through the air and the boy was almost certain the neighbors could have heard that. Niki ran over to the window, jumping up and down. She had just realized how short she was. There was no way for her to reach it on her own.
Niki: "Hey, get your butt over here and help me."
Niki: "Duh! Give me a boost! I can't reach it!"
Sighing, he got down on his knees and almost immediately, Niki began to climb him. Groaning, he did his best to stand with her on his shoulders. He had to pull himself up with the wooden part of the patio to his left. Finally, she got her hands on the window sill.
After what felt like hours to Sorran, Niki finally managed to get in the window. Climbing down off the sink inside, she ran to the door and unlocked it, allowing him to come in. The place was somewhat dark, but the sun gave off enough light for them to see.
Sorran: "Okay, can we leave yet?"
Ignoring him, Niki grabbed his arm and pulled him into the living room. Once she let go, the child grabbed the picture from the table in the corner and looked at it again. It was as if the girl were calling out to her. She assumed it was her imagination, but something about the way she looked seemed errie. A gut feeling told her this was in fact what she needed to find. After shaking away the strange thoughts that ran through her head when she looked at it, she ran down the hall.
Sorran: "What are you looking for now?"
Niki: "A scanner. We can't just take the picture and go. She'd notice."
Sorran, giving her a funny look: "And you don't think she'll notice the window you busted?"
Niki: "God, you have lead a sheltered life. This is Stregna. Some punk kid could have done that and ran. Happens all the time. There's no reason for her to think the punk kid was me."
Sorran: "You seem awful sure about this."
Niki: "The truth is, I don't really care. If she catches us, that's fine. I am going to help my mom, Sorran. Did you see her today? She looks terrible. She doesn't eat, doesn't sleep. And that shower we interrupted was the first one she's had since this thing started. That's not like her. I know you probably don't get it because of Shard and everything, but.... I love her. I'm not just gonna stand by and watch her like this. She needs me."
He nodded, for the first time understanding her actions. Sure, he had
never had the kind of love and acceptance she had, but if the situation
were reversed, he would have done the same. Her dedication to her mother
impressed him and it wasn't his place to try and stop her. They had come
this far, why chicken out now?
Katie walked into the bar where Zedd and Miranda had talked before. As always, the room was dark. Old men sat around with beers in their hands. They looked as though they'd let their entire lives pass them by. There was no energy about them; no sign that they were happy in any way. The entire place had a depressing feel to it.
She went up to the bar, pounding on it to get the attention of the woman behind it.
Katie: "Hey, you're that woman that turned into a big bug creature on Earth, right?"
Trakeena stood before her, not smiling. It didn't matter to her that the woman was able to remember her.
Trakeena: "Do you want a drink? If not, I suggest you get out of my face."
Katie: "Did you see a man in his mid twenties come in her?"
Trakeena: "Yeah. He's the first decent looking thing we've had here in weeks. Over in the corner there."
Without even a nod, Katie turned away from her and started toward the table. It was in the darkest corner of the bar; far from any other customers. When she saw the man she had been looking for, her heart skipped a beat. Every time she was around him, she felt young and free. The way she had always wanted to feel with Brock. This man had brought excitement back into her life and that was what she always longed for. A chance to turn back the clock and live her life over again as though she were immortal; without a care in the world.
Her companion wore a black leather jacket over a ripped white t-shirt. His hair was light brown and spiked; his eyes a shade of green that drove her wild. Looking at him, she noticed scars on his face. The remains of years in battle that he refused to tell her about. He was a total mystery; silent and to the point. It seemed everything about him intrigued her.
She sat down across from him, giving the man a seductive smile. He started to reach for his beer, but she grabbed it first, tilting her head back and chugging it. He smiled while she finished and smashed the bottle in her hands. The shards of glass fell onto the table.
Katie: "Carnage, I'm surprised you showed. After all, this is a public place. You are usually much more particular about that sort of thing."
Carnage: "How goes your plan?"
Katie: "Right now, my granddaughter is sealing the deal. Once she gives that picture to her mother, it will be out of our hands. Cerina will learn the truth soon enough and when that happens.... I'm all yours. Its only a matter of time."
Carnage: "And Cyann? I want her gone."
Katie: "She is being protected by my daughter's friend. I did cover by saying I was still with the rebels, but it didn't change his mind. No matter what the purpose, Ecliptor won't allow me to kill her. It seems he still loves her."
Carnage: "That is not expectable. She is a threat to me and therefore must be dealt with. Remember, your alliance with me is contingent on you killing the former queen. You don't and we're through."
Katie: "I understand that. I will find a way to make this work, baby. You need not worry."
Carnage: "This is not my problem, Katie. Why should I worry? I want her gone, but you are the one who has to take care of it. Its all a very simple process, actually. Either you carry out my orders or I'll find someone who can. So you see, it is your life that hangs in the balance here. Not mine."
She didn't know how, but there had to be some way to get rid of Cyann. Having known Carnage for a while, she didn't know if she could ever give him up. The way he made her feel inside; it was all so new to her. She felt things she had never felt before and wasn't about to let them go. The only way the young man would be with her was if she did as he instructed. They had made a deal: she kills Cyann, he gives her the life that she always wanted.
Katie: "I want this too bad. I won't let some washed up, shape-shifting
slut stand in my way."
In the palace, Rita pointed over the side of the balcony to the bombs below. Shard was at her side looking at each one for a few seconds at a time. Once the truth had finally sunk in, she backed away, folding her arms across her chest.
Shard: "You know who did this?"
Rita stayed silent for a moment, trying to look concerned. She glanced at the wall, avoiding the woman's stare.
Rita: "You might want to sit down. I.... I'm not really sure how to tell you this, Shard."
Shard: "Well, you could start by opening your mouth. Then maybe move your lips and talk! Don't spare me because you think I'll be hurt. I assure you, I won't. Now if you wish to keep your life, you will tell me the truth. Who tried to kill me today?"
Rita, after a few seconds longer in thought: "Destructsa."
Shard stood there looking back at her without a word. The answer had hit her like a truck. Destructsa was the only warrior in her army she had ever trusted. He was the one she shared her plans with and when things got tough, he was her lifeline. For decades, the two of them had brought entire civilizations to their knees and now.... now she was forced to believe he was a traitor. The man she had spent most of her life with; the closest thing to a friend she ever had, and he stabbed her in the back.
Coming back to her senses, she pointed toward the door.
Shard: "Signal the Vykron! I want the bastard captured and brought here!"
Rita: "You're certain, my queen?"
Shard: "Don't question me. He knew the rules when he joined me. One mistake, one betrayal, and he's done. If I cannot trust Destructsa with my life the way I once could, my use for him is gone. Bring him to me..... dead or alive."
In her mind, Rita was laughing uncontrollably. Shard had played right
into her hands. The queen hadn't bothered to check things out. She automatically
assumed the worst and took the former empress of evil at her word. That
was what Rita counted on. And now, with her rival soon to be out of the
way, it left her free to continue her own mission. The entire reason she
had bothered to join with Shard in the first place.
Cerina looked out the window of her bedroom at the setting sun later that day. She had been pacing across the room for hours, having no idea where Niki had gone. She knew it was probably just a stunt, but with the lives they lived, she couldn't help but be a little scared. What if Shard had got to her? There was always the chance of her taking revenge for Sorran's betrayal. Or Cyann? Killing a child would make no difference to her. There were so many possibilities going through the mother's mind that she was starting to give herself a headache.
When she turned away from the window to lie down, she saw Niki and Sorran come running through the door. She stared at them for a minute, not sure where to start. The two kids looked like they had done nothing wrong, both with huge smiles on their faces.
Cerina: "Where the hell have you been? You scared me half to death! Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Niki: "I don't think you're gonna care about that when you see what we brought you."
Cerina: "Niki, I am really not in the mood for games. For all I knew, you could have been hurt or killed out there. You two told me this morning that you were going out. You didn't say all day! You could have at least called or something! Let me know you're all right!"
Niki: "Mom, you don't....."
Cerina: "I don't have to yell because you think you're an adult? Well I've got news for you. The both of you are children. You're in the first grade! What right do you have to run off like that and make me worry all day? I know you think you're grown up because you have that morpher on your wrist, but that doesn't entitle you to do this to me! I am your mother. And you, Sorran.... I may not be your parent, but I am responsible for you. You're new here, so maybe you didn't know the rules, but Niki, you do!"
Niki: "Just stop!"
She had finally heard enough. Her mom wasn't wrong to yell, but she didn't see what she did as being bad. She was only trying to help her and that's what she thought mattered.
Niki: "I didn't do this to make you worry, so don't stand there and act like this is what I wanted! I did this to help you! You've been going around here trying to figure this thing out and look at yourself! Its driving you nuts! I couldn't just stand by and watch you go over and over the same thing in your mind. I got you your answer. But if that was wrong, fine. I'll rip it up and you'll never know the truth!"
The child took the printed copy of the picture out from behind her back and held out her hand. Cerina looked from the paper to her daughter, surprised by her actions. The whole time she had been gone, she never thought it might have been something for her. It wasn't that far fetched, but with her mind on overload, it never occurred to her. Slowly, she took the picture, calming down a little. It was face down.
Cerina: "How did you get this?"
Sorran: "We broke into that Katie woman's house and scanned it. That way she wouldn't know we were there. Just that somebody broke her window." He paused. "And stole a bowl of candy bars from the kitchen."
Niki, dryly: "Sorran, don't help."
Finally, she got over the fact that her daughter had scared the hell out of her. That was going to be a fact of life the older she got. Picking a fight over it wasn't going to do either of them any good. Flipping it over, Cerina looked at the girl in the picture and Niki could tell she had done something right. The expression on her mom's face was one she had never seen before.
Niki: "What? Did it help?"
Cerina let the paper fall to the floor, backing up to sit down on her bed. Niki went up to her, leaning on the woman's knees, waiting for an answer. Eventually, she removed Niki's hands; completely shocked by what she had just seen.
Cerina: "This isn't possible. Why.... why would my mom have a picture of her?"
She was more talking to herself than the children. It wasn't that she really expected them to answer her. Sorran and Niki exchanged glances.
Sorran: "You know her?"
Cerina: "I saw her once, yeah. When I was looking for my morpher in that desert, she.... she was the one who had it. I didn't really get a chance to talk to her. The Vykron came and knocked her out. When I got past them.... I took the morpher and left her there."
Niki, remembering the story: "That's Kayla?"
Cerina: "Yes. This is the same girl that tried to stop me back there. The question is, how does she know my mother? This is all too weird. This.... this is some kind of trick. It has to be." She thought for a moment. "You say she didn't see you outside before you talked to her the other day?"
Niki: "No. She couldn't have set me up. I didn't give her time. Right after you and Aunt Tracy left, I ran up to the door."
Cerina: "God, who is she? There's something about her. I don't know.... like, some weird feeling I get. I can't explain it."
Niki: "You get that too? Its like a scary, tingly feeling all over, right?"
She nodded, surprised that Niki knew what she meant. The more she sat there thinking it over, the less sense everything made. Her mom came back into her life completely out of the blue, then this picture shows up, and its the same girl she left on the sand when she got her morpher.
Niki: "I got that same feeling when I was in the house the first time. It was like she was staring right at me or something. I know its just a picture, but...."
Cerina: "I understand. Honey, you're not crazy. There is something really weird going on here and I have to find out what it is. There's a reason she wanted us to see this picture. There's a reason it makes us feel that way. And there is a reason she came back here in the first place. Back there with Tracy.... I didn't buy her story then and I sure as hell don't now. Rebels my ass. She's playing me for a fool."
Niki: "What are you gonna do?"
It took Cerina a long time to answer. She had been asking herself that same question for days. The new key to the mystery they were stuck in didn't help her make sense of anything. Only caused her to be more confused.
Cerina: "I don't know. I'm going to have to think this through. If I want real answers, I can't go straight to your grandmother. She's a liar and I knew that from the start. If I want to get this whole thing out in the open, I have to find a way to do it without her."
She sighed, looking up at the ceiling for a moment.
Cerina, changing the subject: "I appreciate what you two did for me today, but I wish you wouldn't run off like that. Its dangerous and you had me worried sick. If you want to go on some adventure.... well.... watch a movie. You're driving me nuts! I can't get to the bottom of any of this if I have to worry about you guys twenty-four hours a day. You wanted to help and that's sweet, but from now on... let me handle it."
Niki: "You can't do this on your own. She's my relative too and I got the same feeling from that picture you did. There's no way I'm staying out of it."
Cerina: "As soon as I find anything I will let you know. All I'm asking is that you don't go off playing Alias again anytime soon. Can you just be kids a little while longer? You're growing up and I get that, but you don't have to do it so fast. Its my fault you're like this, Niki. I've always treated you as an adult and now.... I want my little girl back. If you go off and do all this stuff on your own, I'm gonna lose you and I'm not ready for that."
Niki: "No you're not. I'm still your little girl.... I just don't listen. I love you, Mommy. I don't wanna watch you stress out over whatever this is. The picture.... it was a surprise. And going to talk to Grandma by myself, I only did that cause I didn't know what was going on. I'm not anywhere near grown up and I see that." She paused. "I hate it, but I see it."
Cerina: "I guess next time, can you just ask me to go? You're growing up so fast. Maybe it wouldn't bother me so much if I knew where you were and.... knew you still needed me."
Niki: "Oh, you know I still need you. Like right now. I'm hungry. What's
Two Vykron soldiers came into the throne room of the palace. They held Destructsa by the arms. The warrior had been badly beaten; his legs broke. Shard came up to them with no expression what so ever on her face. She still couldn't believe what he had done. The soldiers held him up a little more so he would be eye to eye with the queen.
Shard: "How could you, Destructsa? After all these years, why would you do something like this? I thought I meant something to you."
Destructsa: "I swear, my empress, I did not try to kill you. I would never do anything to harm you. You.... you have to believe me."
His voice was low. He was so weak, he could hardly talk.
Shard: "I saw the bombs. And Rita saw you put them there. I know you did this. I just.... I don't understand. Before, you would have given your life to protect me. What changed? Sure, I'm self-absorbed, but that never bothered you before. I always thought you and I made a good team. Tell me what happened."
Destructsa: "Shard, you are my whole world. I would never hurt you. Rita set me up. Since I exposed her, she wants me gone. I told you, you can't trust her. I'm the only one you can trust."
Shard: "That's what I thought too..... once. She showed me what you did. I saw everything right there projected on that wall. I had to sit there and watch my only friend betray me, just like my son did. Do you know what that feels like? I may have hated Sorran, but you.... you were different. You were always there for me no matter what I acted like. You never judged me; never tried to change me. Destructsa, I thought you were the one person in my life I could count on."
The pain on her face was obvious. For the first time in years, the cocky, stuck up woman Shard usually was had disappeared. The warrior could tell how deeply this hurt her and the frightened look in her eyes made him want to break down and cry. With him gone, she knew perfectly well there was no one left for her to confide in. She was alone and the thought of that terrified her.
Destructsa: "Its a trick. I never planted those bombs. You know me better than that!"
Shard: "I know what I saw! For whatever reason, you wanted me out of your life. Well, you got your wish. This is the last time you will ever see me. When I give the order, my men will leave you out in the cold to die. This hurts me, really it does, but you've left me no choice. I will not allow a traitor to continue breathing."
Destructsa: "Shard, damn it, I love you! Why would I ever try to kill you? The whole time I've been by your side, I have always felt so strongly for you. I knew you didn't love me back, but I never expected you to! All I wanted was to be near you. To come when you needed me. To catch you if you fall. You are everything I've ever wanted! Please, I am telling you the truth! Rita is the one who betrayed you! Not me!"
Seeing that letting him go wasn't going to be easy, she forced herself to block him out. Shard knew if she allowed herself to get sucked in, the woman inside her would take over and there would be no way she could cast him out. Having heard enough, the queen backed up; her heart figuratively turning to stone before him. The only man she had ever trusted so completely lied to her and there was no coming back from that. He pledged his loyalty years before; promised to be by her side forever and he broke that promise. She couldn't let herself feel anymore. No matter what, she never wanted to feel this type of pain again.
Shard, to the Vykron: "Get him out of here. Make sure I never see this lying bastard again."
Destructsa struggled as the Vykron started to drag him away.
Destructsa: "No! Please, don't do this! She'll destroy you! Shard, listen to me! You can't trust Rita!"
Shard: "Silence! You chose this, now you have to deal with the consequences."
Rita stood in an open field a few miles from the palace She could still see it plainly, but was out of Shard's view, even if she were on the balcony. Finster stood at her side, delighted to see her smile. The former queen had left when she saw Destructsa being dragged down the hall by the Vykron. It was clear everything had worked, but she still didn't want to be around. Avoiding any questions would be the best thing for her at this point.
Rita: "Oh Finster, I'm a genius! That snooty little witch fell for it!"
Finster: "I am very happy for you, my queen. It is so nice to see you smile again. It has been too long. Ever since you discovered the truth about Zedd.... you haven't been the same. Then you disappear for years. This is such a pleasant change."
Rita: "Ah, Zedd. He's next on my list."
Rita admired her reflection in the orb of her scepter for a moment, dreaming of her revenge on her husband. The image of he and Scorpina together was still fresh in her mind. Seeing them there in that mansion on Onyx was a sight she would never forget. Her next move was to give Zedd a day he'd never forget.
Finster: "What do you plan to do? Can I be of any assistance?"
Rita: "I'm not sure yet. But with Destructsa gone, that leaves me free to concentrate. I'll return to my true mission later. Right now, I want Zedd to suffer."
Finster: "But..... what should I tell.... you know who if they ask? If they were to find out I know what you're up to, then what's to stop them from pumping me for information on your progress?"
Rita: "Tell them to bite my ass. I'll do it when I'm good and ready."
The loyal monster took a pad of paper and a pen from the pocket of the blue apron he wore.
Finster, making a note: "Bite your ass. Got it."
Rita laughed, not realizing he'd take her seriously. But it didn't matter.
She was fixated on the day ahead and whatever her mysterious partner thought
would have to wait. That person was not her problem at the moment.
Miranda sat outside the Fortress that night looking up at the moon. She'd spent the whole day thinking about what she had done to Sorran in the hallway before. If she were wrong about him, could she forgive herself? Reliving the event over and over again in her mind, she couldn't get past how he begged her to believe him. She could still hear his desperate cries like they were happening for the first time. The sound made her shiver.
The night air was cold, but she didn't notice. Part of her wished there was a way to take back what she had done. In her mind, her reasons were good, but didn't justify her actions.... if he were telling the truth. She didn't like kids, but didn't feel anyone should go through that kind of pain for no reason.
Miranda: "God, how could I do that? He could have been innocent, but.... I just couldn't accept it. That kid got hurt not because of something he did, but because of who his mother is. Had that been any other child, I would have believed them. What was I thinking in there? I'm not better than Shard or her army."
Miranda turned, startled, when she heard someone coming toward her. Cerina sat down on a rock beside her and sighed. She couldn't bare to be inside those walls any longer. It almost felt like they were closing in. She had come outside for a chance to escape her thoughts and relax.
Miranda, surprised: "Why what?"
Cerina: "I heard you say you weren't any better than Shard. Why did you say that?"
It took her a minute to answer. She hadn't planned on anybody hearing her.
Miranda: "Its this feud she and I have. I've let it consume my whole life to the point where I'm no different than she is. Both of us are stuck in this war, continuing to fight, no matter who it hurts. We do these horrible things and try to justify them by saying it was done to get at the other. Its all such a waste."
Cerina: "I tried to tell you that a while back. Why, all of a sudden, are you willing to listen?"
Miranda, after a long silence: "I did something. Something I'm not proud of. And do you know why? Because I thought it would get me closer to killing Shard. What kind of reason is that to inflict pain on somebody else?"
Cerina: "I don't understand. What was it you did?"
Miranda: "I don't want to say it out loud. If I do, then I have to face reality. I did this and I can't take it back. This person was most likely telling me the truth, but I didn't hear it. I was too wrapped up in this damn war to listen."
Cerina: "It sounds like you've already faced reality. Why not tell me what you're talking about? Would it really make a difference? I need something else to think about besides my psychotic mother."
Miranda: "The other day...." She sighed, forcing herself to continue, "I ran into Sorran in the hall. I guess because he's Shard's kid, I thought he knew something we didn't. He was holding out on us, or still with her. I don't know. This is how I get some times. I do this stuff because I'm so obsessed with brining her down and when I finally snap out of it.... it all looks so bad."
Cerina: "Sorran doesn't know anything. She hated his guts, Miranda."
She could tell Cerina was getting defensive. The White Ranger cared for the boy because he saved her daughter's life. Enough to take him in off the street even.
Miranda: "I see that now. But when I'm like that, I turn into this completely different person. I don't care what I do or who I hurt as long as it helps me get closer to my goal. I've talked to Ecliptor about it. He just keeps telling me how good a person I am and that really doesn't help. What I did in there.... it proves how wrong he is."
Cerina, sounding more serious: "For the last time, what did you do to Sorran?"
Miranda: "I cornered him and..... demanded to know what he knew about his mother. He told me time and time again that he didn't know anything; swore he was telling the truth, but that didn't matter to me. I busted his mouth open and left him there."
She didn't have time to say anything more before Cerina stood up, grabbing her by the shirt. She pulled Miranda up eye to eye with her, staring at her for a moment. After which she let go, drawing back her fist, and punched her in the mouth. The woman fell hard onto the rocks, running her hand over her chin. She looked at the blood that covered her fingers, then up at Cerina.
Cerina: "How do you like it?"
Fed up, Cerina turned and walked away, leaving her there just like she
had Sorran. Miranda was furious, but she knew deep inside that she deserved
it. She had no right to take her anger out on him, no matter who his mom
was. She was kind of glad her team-mate had done that. Cerina avenged the
boy, seeing as how he was unable to do it himself. She stuck up for him
when no one else would and despite her current position, Miranda respected