Reality shattered, leaving shards of time and space in an endless void. The Ultimate Power Rangers journeyed through this void to learn the secrets of the end of existence. Using Ranger Keys, they unlocked Time Shards to slowly unravel the broken pieces of history.
The Shards revealed this story.
Black Lion lunged to his feet and swung an energized punch towards Long’s face. Long side-stepped, shifted into his monster form, and slammed his palm against Black Lion’s chest, knocking him back.
“Little cub,” Long said mockingly. “I have no use for you.”
Green Chameleon leapt into the chamber. “Stay away from him!”
She armed her sai and landed with a double-chop. Long dodged and back-fisted her helmet, sending her staggering.
Nearby, Red Tiger climbed to his feet and regrouped with his teammates.
They looked towards the fight between Long, Black Lion, and Green Chameleon. Behind the villain, the three Tablets ebbed with power and spiritual pressure. Symbols and runes glowed and projected writing in languages lost since time began
“There!” Red Tiger shouted. “Those are the Tablets!”
The Red Ranger’s shout got Long’s attention.
The villain dashed faster than the Rangers could counter, his blows ebbing with golden Genki that sparked with each impact. He smashed his palm against Red Tiger’s chest, kicked Blue Jaguar upside the head, and side-kicked Yellow Cheetah.
The Rangers ignited their KaGeki and struck back, charging through streaks of power. Long ignited his own power, as did Black Lion and Green Chameleon. They all attacked, flaring with bursts of KaGeki, Rinki, and Genki, blows striking like thunder, lighting the chambers with bright bursts of gold, orange and purple.
Long bashed his opponents through walls and columns, lights flaring like lightning from the clash of Ki.
Simon let them fight, as their battle caused the temple to shake and start to crumble.
The former ranger moved towards the tablets and found himself transfixed by the runes they projected, more like code than language. The writings burned into his mind, and through his mind’s eye, he saw the faint outline of his former mentor, Tommy Oliver.
The vision of Tommy narrowed his eyes, seeing his former pupil. “Simon…”
“You see it too, don’t you?” Simon asked. “These writings. Or maybe…or maybe you don’t need to. What does this mean…”
“Simon.” His voice sounded distant, like a faint echo. “Whatever you’re trying to do-”
“This is the Final Prophecy, isn’t it?” Simon asked. “In these tablets. The Ultimate Secret…”
He reached out and grabbed the Demon Tablet.
And his mind ignited with the power of a supernova.
Tommy moaned and sat up on the landscape of WTF IS THIS, GOLDEN THOUGHT MAGMA? WHATEVER IT’S CALLED.
He shook his head, his mind abuzz with BAT-SHIT CRAZY MADNESS.
“Okay…” he took deep breaths, closing his eyes, focusing on his power. “Okay…that can go ahead and stop anytime.”
He climbed to his feet. Still near the Forge, the skies swirled with fiery color and sound. Within the colors, he noticed the darkness, the shadow of the Dark One’s corruption. The darkness pooled and bled through the land of the mindscape.
“Okay…” he whispered. “Okay…I got the Megazord out of the way. Why is the Forge still…wrong.”
He started walking towards the Forge itself, a massive, twirling pit of fire and ice and flame and smoke. IT’S A FORGE, WE GET THE PICTURE, PLEASE STOP TALKING.
Suddenly, a shriek filled the air; the cry of a girl, tormented and insane.
“Dragon Ranger, no! Do not do it! Do not go in there!”
Tommy stopped in his tracks and looked over his shoulder. What he saw froze his bones, and chilled his skin. The voice came from a small, willowy girl with a white robe and long black hair. She stared ahead with solid black eyes.
He remembered her only as the Hell Child, a mysterious being that appeared years ago when the universe almost ended during the Second Countdown to Destruction.
“You…” Tommy whispered. He shook his head with disbelief. “You can’t be serious…”
“Do not go, Dragon Ranger. You must not enter the forge. You play with forces you do not comprehend.”
“And I suppose you do?”
“I do…” she whispered, floating towards the ranger. “Are you ready to learn my secret? I know now. I know who I am. What I am.”
“I thought you were some kind of half-demon, half-angel.”
“But so much more,” she whispered. “I am all that remains of the universe before yours. And the one before that. And the one before that. All the way to the First Firmament. I am the remaining knowledge, history and culture of the dead universes that preceded this one. I live outside the Wheel of Time, and within it. Above and below.”
Agitated, Tommy rolled his hands into fists. I’ve been dealing with way too many cryptic surprises lately… “Skip to the point. Why are you here? Why now?”
“I always appear. At the End. That is when I take form, when the universe is about to pass on and embrace the fate of destruction. This was to pass years ago. But you stopped it. Now, the time has come again. Only this time…the very fiber of creation will unravel. That is why you cannot enter the forge.”
“I have to,” Tommy said. “I need to slam the Dark One back in his prison, and lock it tight. I can’t let him destroy our world. I won’t.”
The Hell Child tilted her head and looked aside. “The Ultimate Secret…To do what you must do, you will reveal it, and all will descend into madness.”
That made Tommy pause. He’d heard enough about the Ultimate Secret during the past few years to know to tread lightly when it was brought up, especially by strange beings with metaphysical baggage.
“What do you mean…?” he asked.
“I will show you, so that you cannot see.”
Before he could ask, she reached out and touched his head. And then…
… … … … … …
Tommy’s mind snapped back into his body. His heart pounded in his chest. His head throbbed. His hairs stood on end. Words and colors danced through his mind’s eye. His ears throbbed with anti-music. He heaved and vomited, his whole body shaking, his vision blurred and focused. Numbness spread through his body. Yet he could feel every pore of his skin. Every nerve ending. The energy of his mind firing back and forth, touching his soul, his existence, his past, his future.
He wretched again.
Then again, spasming.
His body went limp, and he fell to his side.
“What the hell just happened?” he asked between breaths.
“Your mind expanded to encompass the truth of all things. The truth hidden within my maddened soul. The nature of reality. Time and space. The universe, and the universe that came before. Every plane of existence. Every dimension and reality. Do you see?”
“No…not in the slightest.”
“I suppose not.” She tilted her head, her black eyes vacant, yet piercing. “It would be like a single cell of your body suddenly gaining the consciousness of a god. How could it describe such an experience, something so far beyond its being? Incomprehensible. Maddening.”
She looked towards the forge. “To reveal the Ultimate Secret is to reveal that madness upon all of creation.”
“Listen…” Tommy said, his voice hoarse, as he climbed to his feet. “You want me to admit I’m in over my head? Fine. I admit it. I’m in over my head. But all I can do…all I can do is what I know how. I can use that forge to bring back all the powers lost during the Second Countdown to Destruction. I can use those powers to reseal the Dark One. If you know so much, if you have all this knowledge and history…then help me. Help me do it right.”
Suddenly, a burst of fire splashed against the Hell Child and hurled her backward.
Tommy snapped into a defensive stance and turned to face the attacker: The Phoenix. Still wearing the form of Kimberly, she floated downward and landed beside the ranger.
“Don’t listen to her, Tommy…” the Phoenix said.
The Hell Child hovered in midair and spread her arms, dissipating the Phoenix Flame. “You strike me? You may be the Power of Creation. But I am the Totality of Eons.”
“You’re a relic of the past’s past,” the Phoenix said.
“Stop!” Tommy shouted. “I didn’t come here to watch cosmic forces slug it out. One of you tell me what the hell is going on.”
“The Forge tainted more than your Megazord,” the Hell Child said. “Your Megazord was but a pet, for the master of the Forge.”
“The Blacksmith. One of the first cosmic beings given life by the Creator, to craft the first cosmos before space and time. Didn’t you ever wonder what happened to them, to the celestial beings that forged the very fabric of creation?”
“I…” Tommy sighed. “I need a drink.”
“The Blacksmith worked the Forge, tended to it, as it created worlds and galaxies, as his brothers and sisters seeded creation. Now that the Forge has become corrupt…so too, has the Blacksmith. He took your Megazord as his pet. And now that you have defeated that pet…the Blacksmith has returned…”
A shadow fell over the entirety of the Astral Plane. In the skies above, all of the skies, the Blacksmith appeared. He looked massive, with mountains growing from his shoulders, and hilltops across his knuckles. Muscles flexed beneath skin of golden fire, tainted with wisps of shadow. The cosmic being’s eyes burned with crimson light as bright as red suns. In his two hands, he carried a staff tipped with a hammer the size of the moon.
The Hell Child looked up at the massive being of pure cosmic force. “The Dark One’s taint runs deep. It grips him. He will turn the forge into a thing of nightmares, revealing the Final Prophecy. The Ultimate Secret.”
Tommy had traveled the galaxy and parallel dimensions, fought gods and demons. But this…he had no idea how to fight or stop this.
He looked to the Phoenix. “You have to help me.”
The Phoenix, the fire of creation itself, trembled. “You are looking at a being who used my power as a tool. He wielded me as simply as you would strike a match.”
The cosmic being tightened his fist, and the shock wave shook the Astral Plane in its infinite entirety. Tommy felt his body vibrate and nearly shatter to pieces. But the Phoenix wrapped him safely in the wings of her flame.
“Go back,” she whispered. “Back to the mortal plane. You can’t possibly survive here.”
“I’m not finished…”
Below, the Hell Child laughed and spread her arms wide. The Astral Plane shook and thrashed, strangled by darkness, and she reveled in it. “Death and rebirth. Death and rebirth! DEATH AND REBIRTH!”
Her eyes opened wide, black voids that pulsed with the power of dead universes. Her body started to scab and peel, revealing the dead stars and planets within her soul. Galaxies. Dimensions. The First Firmament and those that followed.
“I warned you, Dragon Ranger, I warned you! And now, even I cannot stop it! The souls of eons cry out for release!
Tommy wrinkled his brow, barely able to see what his mind could not comprehend, the living history of dead universes that preceded his own. Infinite death. Infinite madness. Infinite pain. Released.
Then it dawned on him. He understood what he was watching.
The Hell Child’s death would break the Final Seal.
She screamed and shattered into pieces, into undead scraps of cosmic fabric.
The forge bellowed with energy, dark power with the intensity of a black hole.
“No…” Tommy whispered. “No!”
He broke free of the Phoenix and dove towards the forge. Immediately, he felt the primal power of the Astral Plane tear at his body. He used his Soul, fueled by his Spirit, to fortify his existence. And he plunged into the forge, into the molten magma of cosmic force.
The Phoenix, as if by the reflex of a heart that was never truly hers, dove after him. A bird of the fire of life, she dove into the forge and enveloped Tommy with her wings, using her cosmic might to reinforce the power of his spirit, which burned from the use of the One Power.
The former ranger channeled as he never had before, glowing red from The Power that poured through the veins of his soul. He pushed that red energy aside and drew deeper, as deep as he could, from the heart of the One Power, the source of the stream of energy that turned the Wheel of Time itself. He channeled that pure energy and ignited within the forge.
Aglow, he traced across his left palm, calling on the stain of the Dark Man, the stain of Death. That power peeled from his being like scraps of emptiness, then filled by Phoenix flame. The power of death. The power of life. Combined.
Tommy called for his talisman, artifacts he collected while unraveling the secrets of restoring the powers lost during the Second Countdown to Destruction. They circled around him and ignited.
Tommy felt his mind expand, from his body, through the forge, through…
… … … … …
Tommy found himself in darkness. Complete and total black. He lifted his hand in front of his face but saw nothing. He didn’t even notice flutters of residual light dancing across his vision. Just pure black.
“What the hell…?”
A voice whispered from the darkness. “Dragon Ranger…”
Tommy narrowed his eyes. He didn’t recognize the voice. “The last thing I need right now is another cryptic stranger. Who are you?”
“You know me, Tommy. And you know where you are. Deep down…”
The ranger shook his head. “I really don’t…”
“You are at the core of creation. The core of existence. The Void. That which came before time and space, before the Creator, and before the energies that gave him birth. Before the beginning, before the end and after, there was, and is, Void.”
“What does that make you?” Tommy asked.
“A creature of the Void. A…Nightmare.”
Chills crept down Tommy’s spine. “Nightmare?”
Years ago, Tommy and the Power Rangers battled a demon that forced them to face their greatest nightmares. They defeated the demon, Nightmare, and never heard from it again. Until now, apparently.
“That’s not even remotely possible,” Tommy said.
“Isn’t it? Did you ever wonder what, exactly, I am?”
Tommy shook his head. “Didn’t give it much thought…”
“I am the first denizen of the Dark Astral Plane.”
Tommy arced an eyebrow. “The what?”
“The Astral Plane is the realm of the mind, the subconsciousness and dreams. It is, in a sense, generated by the minds of mortals, immortals and all beings who possess consciousness and thought. On the underside of this realm, is the Dark Astral Plane…a realm of nightmares and hidden fears, insecurity and despair.
“Through the power of the Astral Plane, and its Forge, dreams become worlds. Entire universes. Within the Dark Astral Plane, the same is true of nightmares. Your greatest fears and horrors become worlds of their own. You’ve seen glimpses of these worlds, on the way to the Forge. Twisted versions of yourself, born from your nightmares.
“By the natural order, the alternate realities of the Dark Astral Plane are brief, born only to die. They are worlds that should never have existed, and will never know the light. But these worlds have grown in intensity. And as they have done so, the power of Nightmare has seeped into the Astral Plane.”
Tommy shook his head. “I thought all the corruption was from the Dark One, bubbles of evil rising from his prison…”
“The Dark One is not the source of corruption. He is the first victim of corruption. The first to give into fear and despair. The first to give into the pull and force of Nightmare. Do you remember his true name? Solitace. It is no mere coincidence that his name became synonymous with loneliness. The bubbles of evil rising from his prison, corrupting reality, corrupting the Astral Plane, are bubbles of Nightmare. Fear and despair. Loneliness. The driving force of the Dark Astral Plane.”
“How is that possible?” Tommy asked. “If the Dark One wasn’t the source, just the victim…where did the corruption come from?”
“Mankind carries the Void within themselves. Life created the Void..and from the Void came Life.”
Tommy sighed. “You’re giving me a serious headache.”
“Do not think in such linear terms. There is no linear time in the Void. It simply is. The nature of all reality is Void. We are born from Void, born into Void, and pass into Void. Do you know why infant mortals cry when they enter the world? Their first sensation is separation. Loneliness. And this terrifies them. Their entire existence then revolves around filling that emptiness. From this drive, dreams are born, as are nightmares.”
“So that’s the Ultimate Secret? Dreams create worlds, but so do nightmares? I’ve got to say, that’s kind of a let down after all the build up.” He sighed and shook his head, thinking through what the Nightmare told him. Trying to, at least. “So this Dark Astral Plane…it comes from Nightmares. And the Nightmare is what corrupted the Dark One, before time and space.”
“An oversimplified explanation, but not untrue,” Nightmare whispered.
“And you’re some..demon from the Dark Astral Plane.”
“The embodiment of Nightmare. And it is the power of Nightmare that fuels the Dark One and his corrupting evil. If he is released, he will drag all of existence into the depths of darkness, the depths of Nightmare, the Dark Astral Plane. Your existence, and ultimately, others…”
“Look around you. What do you see? You see nothing.Void.”
A single point of light flared; dim, but intense against the backdrop of pure darkness.
“This light is the cosmos crafted by your Creator. The Wheel of Time, and the alternate realities and dimensions cast by its shadow. Every facet and plane of existence that you know and have yet to discover. The Astral Plane. Your entire multiverse and all its iterations, past, present and future. Everything your mind can comprehend, within this light.”
Another light ignited. “Here, another creation, a completely separate existence and reality, with its own multiverse, its own planes of existence, its own origin, creator and gods, its own rules for governing time and space.”
Another light ignited. And another. And another. Until the lights numbered as many as the stars in the sky.
“The totality of existence you know is nothing but a spec among a field of creations. Binding them all…”
“Is Void…” Tommy whispered.
“The Void is not evil, or good. It is simply the root of existence, the source of entire realities, of dreams and nightmares. It binds all, every existence, every multiverse. As long as there is Void, there will be Nightmare. And there will always be Void.”
“So there will always be Nightmare,” Tommy said. “You can’t be destroyed.”
“No. You can lock the Dark One back in his prison. You can restore the seals that bind him. But the Nightmare will continue to thrive. And the Dark Astral Plane will continue to grow…until it swallows everything into its madness. This is the Final Prophecy.”
“Well…one problem at a time,” Tommy whispered. “If I can stop the Dark One from dragging everything into the Dark Astral Plane, that’s still a win.”
“Temporary, at best. The state of creation is dire. Brother fights against brother, the brave fight against the brave. Men act as beasts, driven by primal rage. If the Dark One does not drag creation into the Nightmare, something else will.”
“Why are you telling me this? If the Nightmare is what’s corrupting everything, and you are the Nightmare…you’re not exactly on my side.”
“I am on no side. I am a force of nature. To understand my existence is madness.”
Tommy shook his head and looked around, from point of light to point of light. He’d wasted enough time here. So the Nightmare was essentially the source of all evil, and it corrupted the Dark One. Fine. That didn’t change anything. He still needed to stop the Dark One.
The ranger sat down, crossed his legs, and closed his eyes. He placed his right fist against his left palm. “To understand you is madness? Fine. I’m about to go mad.”
“Here’s the thing, I need the Forge. And you’re in my way. That’s all I need to understand.”
He reached out with his mind, and immediately felt the chill of loneliness.
Loss of everything and everyone, separated from his friends and family, useless against the powers around him, evil and misuse, why did he let himself be bullied when he could strike out and end them all, he needed more power, his loss, they took her from him, Shannon, Kimberly, make them all pay, no one should hurt like that, no one should go through that pain again, the death and destruction around him, he killed Hunter and Blake’s parents, he could bring order to it all, he could end it all and start again, he just needed to stop it, stop it all, Billy lost his mom, Kimberly never had a family, not really, Trini’s dad, Rocky’s dad, Justin’s dad, Simon’s dad, Tommy’s dad, Cy, Drew was just a kid, the Turbos were just kids, he was just a kid, why did he let Zordon die, Sensei die, why didn’t he take care of his sister, Jason’s sister, what if he lost control, what if he fought and made it worse, what if he became something worse than the Dark One, Simon, he failed Simon, tried to guide him but lost him, he died and came back, but came back as something different, did he have to fight him, did he have to kill him…
Tommy’s eyes snapped open, and he gasped for air.
Nightmare brushed his mind and spoke. “Not so easy…”
The ranger closed his eyes and reached out with his mind, again. This time, he reinforced his heart and soul. And he reached into the deepest depths of his nightmares. He touched the fear and self-loathing he felt after becoming Bandora’s Evil Green Ranger, the doubt he felt when becoming the Red Dragon Ranger, the guilt over losing Kou, Shannon, Kim…
His mind drifted to the last time he spoke with Kim. He’d learned Kimberly had a child, his child, after moving to Florida, but never told him. She blamed him. She didn’t want him in their son’s life, because of Tommy’s life as a Ranger.
He didn’t take the news well, at the time. He didn’t try to hide his anger. They had yelled at each other. Shouted. And then, then she had died, during the Second Countdown to Destruction.
His guilt threatened to swallow him.
“Kim…” Tommy whispered. “I’m sorry. Sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me…sorry you didn’t feel like you could come to me…sorry for the way I acted. I didn’t even give you a chance…to try to understand what you were going through…”
“What kind of father am I?” he whispered to himself. He thought about the life he gave to his son, and to Ashley, and grief weighed him down. “You both deserve more…better.”
And what kind of world did they have for their future? Not much of one, if any. Even if Tommy defeated the Dark One, even if he restored the world to a sense of normal…Nightmare plagued everything, and always would.
“I’m sorry…” he whispered again.
Then, for just a moment, his mind flashed back. He remembered a time, years ago, when he served the Power Rangers as the Green Ranger. When he lost his powers. He felt alone and hopeless, crippled with self-doubt.
But Kimberly reached out to him. And, as she strummed her guitar, she sang…
Down the road, we never know What life may have in store. Winds of change will rearrange Our lives more than before…
The song filled Tommy with a sense of comfort. Light. He felt her friendship. Her love, and the love of his friends. Jason, like an older brother. Rocky and Justin, like younger ones. And Simon…like a son.
“I won’t give up on you…” he whispered. “Ashley…Tyler…Teddy…Chelsea…Nick…”
But you’ll never stand alone, my friend. Memories will never die. In our hearts they’ll always live And never…say goodbye. And never…say goodbye.
He felt the power of the Phoenix Force reach towards him, flame alight with love and passion. And he called on that power, using it to ignite the Void, to burn back the Nightmare. His fears, his insecurities, they screamed, screamed against the light that burnt them into the background, that dissipated their shadow.
From the fire of rebirth, Tommy felt love and power, a connectedness to every aspect of his being, to every living memory, to every friend and family member, and every unseen face under his protection as a champion of the Earth.
He thought of them, he felt them, and he whispered, “May The Power protect you all…”
A flicker grew to a flame that burnt the corruption from the heart of the Forge. And through the Forge, The Power lived on.
Simon saw it all. Through the Tablets, he watched Tommy leap into the Forge and land in the Void. He listened to the tale of Nightmare. And he saw Tommy ignite the Forge with power, cleansing its corruption.
Symbols flashed from the Forge, the symbols of the powers lost during the Second Countdown to Destruction, seemingly reformed.
In the back of his mind, he sensed the long-missed presence of his first zord…
“Gao Lion…” he whispered.
Without thinking, he turned from the Tablets and ran, leaving the temple, and sprinting into the ruined streets of Demon City. He looked up into the sky, expecting to see Anamarium returned, along with the Wildzords.
Instead, he felt the gaze of Gao Lion…and Gao Lion’s disappointment. With a low rumble of disapproval, the gaze turned away, and disappeared, leaving Simon to stand alone.
—To be continued…Chapter 07