"Lying in the Mud"
by rapunzl

Part 2 of 3

Oft have I heard that grief softens the mind,
And makes it fearful and degenerate;
Think therefore on revenge and cease to weep.
~ William Shakespeare, Henry VI, Act IV, Scene iv

Revenge is a confession of pain.
~ Latin proverb


Saturday, May 23, 2003; 5:47 PM
Boston Common
Boston, Massachusetts

"And not only was Boston built on a swamp, apparently the Common used to be a cow pasture." David flipped through the tour book to another random page, trying to dig out more interesting and completely random facts about the city.

Haley's mocking "moo" in response barely permeated the haze that had enveloped Tommy over the past hour. They had left his parents to catch a show at Symphony Hall and "leave the young ones to play." Frankly, Tommy would have preferred to be left alone in his sparsely decorated dorm room than trapped on this cheery block of greenery with his brother and closest companion. They had been completely unsuccessful in their attempts to drag him into their conversation, but that didn't keep them from trying.

His eyes dragged along the ground, barely paying attention to their jubilant chatter. Despite Tommy's long tenure at MIT on paper, after landing the Mercer internship, he had spent only a few weeks in the city each year.

He eyed Haley, companionably holding David's arm as she steered him through the busy pedestrian traffic on the numerous paths. He had no problem admitting that he would have never made it through a single semester without her. Geniuses christened Haley as a genius, and yet she was so down to earth, one would never imagine that she had obtained two doctoral degrees in the time Tommy had studied his accelerated one. She had the world open to her, companies and governments alike clamoring for her attention, but it just seemed like nothing was able to hold her interest for long.

As oblivious as he generally was to the world, Tommy hadn't failed to notice the almost continual concerned glances shot his way, either. It wasn't just that he felt more than responsible for Anton and Smitty's deaths, along with the other three innocents who died in the blast. That alone was enough to drive him insane.

And it wasn't that he felt like a complete moron, playing with something of the power like that. That guilt would never leave him, no matter how long he lived. He had even tried to turn over his Zeo morpher to Jason in those first few days, certain that no one would want him anywhere near the power anymore.

It was the sheer weight of the responsibility quite literally on his shoulders, the weight of three dead rocks in his backpack.

They seemed to stare at him constantly, no matter how deeply in his pack they were hidden. Their voices seemed to incessantly shout their accusations in his head: They died for us. We stand for something good and pure, yet you let innocents die for us. These mighty stones had provided the source of energy, the conduit to the force that had brought their dreams to life. They had toyed with them, created an entire island full of miracles, and he had never once considered that something so momentous would not go unnoticed. That power always drew those hungry for it. He had been woefully unprepared for the backlash that had struck, and now the gems were as lifeless as he was. He suspected the gems had died along with Anton and their dreams, for, even months later, none of the gems would respond to him. But his heart knew the truth. He simply wasn't worthy any longer. Perhaps he never was. To do something so monumentally stupid was a sign of someone who should have never been granted the power in the first place.

"I come for the gems."

The deep, slurred voice echoed through this corner of the park, even dwarfing the maniacal honking of Boston drivers nearby. Time itself seemed to slow as his senses immediately kicked into overdrive. A woman shrieked to his right, her finger pointing at the source of her terror even as she stumbled backwards in horror. The screams around him multiplied. Haley turned, her red hair flipping aside as she stared in complete shock at the apparition behind him. Her fingers curled more tightly around David's arm, whose face had suddenly turned stony. And even through all this, through the horrible electrical tingle running through his spine, the feeling that, at any moment, something was going to claw his back out, he was utterly unable to turn around, unable to even breathe. He was faced with the sudden, horrible knowledge that every fear, every nightmare he had endured over the past few months had suddenly come true.

The ground shook slightly as a disturbingly heavy boot thudded into the asphalt path. The ground beneath Tommy's feet cracked in response, as if the Earth itself could not withstand the power of this beast.

"Give them to me."

Years of training and experience finally prevailed over the fear overriding his cognitive thoughts. Tommy turned and automatically lunged, and the heavy claw that had been prepared to rip out his spine cleaved the air instead. He tucked and rolled, landing on one knee and facing the monstrosity that had disturbed the peaceful New England day.

It was a deformed, scaled thing. One arm was nearly twice as long as the other and had one too many joints than looked possible. Its legs were massive trunk-like things, black and scaly, and ended in three toed claws that would have resembled a hawk if the avian talons had been twisted far out of proportion. Its chest bristled with bone-like hooks which seemed to tear at the beast as much as it would an attacker. But worst was its face. It was humanoid, but terribly wrong, as if its creator had left it out in the sun too long. What was left seemed melted yet covered in some black metallic material that gleamed with pure, congealed malice.

It was a creature of made of nightmares.

His nightmares.

Tommy had faced down hundreds of monsters in his day, but this was something else. He froze in a crouch, dread thickening his thoughts. This creature was after him, and he knew without a doubt that Mesogog, the ancient creature on the island, had sent it. It was going to murder him, just like Anton and Smitty had been. For the first time since Rita's putties had surrounded him and brought him to her unnatural, twisted dark dimension, Tommy Oliver was frozen in stark, terrified fear.

He watched, petrified in icy terror as it slowly moved its liquid limbs to survey the situation. It carefully considered Tommy, crouched in immobile panic as he was forced to finally face the ungainly beast. Then it examined David, who, to his credit, had stepped in front of Haley and raised his arms in a tentative defensive stance. And it chose the most likely hero.

The beast whipped its impossibly long arm at David, but the movement was awkward enough that he managed to step just out its range. "What in the hell are you?" he breathed, struggling to keep himself between the brute and Haley.

"My master demands the gems," it responded in its slow, slurred voice. It was clear that its mouth was nearly too deformed even for speech, but this was the little it could manage. It swung again, and this time, David misjudged the distance, unable to foresee the directions in which its misshapen arm could twist. The fiend's forearm collided with his chest and he was knocked several feet back, stumbling to the ground and gasping for breath.

Tommy had feared this day for months, thought of little else but how Mesogog would come after him and demand the accursed gems back. How he would suffer, how his blood would fall beside the torn, white lab coat left on the floor of Anton's lab, how he would beg for death...

But now, a fiery ball of heat had erupted in his chest. His once-dead heart flared to life and its intensity thawed his frozen limbs. Nobody – nobody – was ever going to hurt someone he loved. Never again.

He moved forward in a blur, launching himself into a spinning side kick and hurtling into the beast's side. He felt something crack underneath his feet and he used the creature's chest as a springboard, flipping back to land between himself and Haley.

"Can someone please tell me what in the hell is going on here?" The redhead's voice was higher than normal but far more insistent than he had ever heard it.

"Run," he growled, his eyes never moving away from the monster's dangerous arms.

"The hell I will." She moved forward, nearly out of his reach and turned to face him. "What is that and what is –"

Tommy grabbed her arm before she could finish and spun her out of reach of the creature's next swipe. The tips of its talons raked his shirt, shredding the left strap of the pack forever attached to his back. He let her arm go, leaving her to stumble backwards out of harm's way, then finally turned his gaze upon her.

"Run," he bellowed, "NOW!" He had never revealed this part of himself to anyone outside of the rangers before. And never had he simply commanded someone like this. But his eyes... lifeless eyes that had seemed so much older than his years, eyes that now spoke of some power unknown to her, some power that was fiery and irresistible and so very alive... Those eyes demanded obedience. They expected nothing less. Barely aware of what she was doing, she grabbed David's arm, hauling him to his feet as he gasped for air, and pulled him blindly away from the encounter.

Tommy squared his shoulders and turned back to the beast. It seemed to pause, turning its head this way and that, as if trying to decide which of the two men was the one it had been sent to slaughter. Just as it took a hesitant step towards the retreating forms of David and Haley, Tommy waved his arm in the air.

"Looking for this?" he called, and for a shining moment, sunlight glinted into the dark center of the red dino gem. It fit so securely into his palm, that for an instant, it almost felt right. Almost like it belonged.

The beast charged like a bull enraged by the redness of the fiery light within the gem. It roared, a sound that vibrated darkness and hellish fury into the depths of his soul. It was all he could do but throw himself out of the way of its deadly charge. He skidded over sticks and rocks, but despite the stinging pain, he clamored quickly to his feet, desperate to find the creature before it found him. There was a loud crack and a nearby bench crumpled under the force of the beast's bulk. He quickly skipped to the side, trying to get a clear line of sight while ideas spun in his head of how to finish this thing off.

He had three gems of the Power with him and yet, had no way to defend himself. He was completely helpless and if he were at all sane, he would run and let the police, a SWAT team, the national guard, hell, the entire army take this thing down.

But he had left sane behind a long time ago. Sane existed before a witch with an obsession for cones had abducted him and infiltrated his mind. Sane was before a floating, talking head told him he could help to save the world. Sane had happened before he had paraded before the entire city in vibrantly hued spandex. Sane did not coexist with steering forty-story tall mechanized robots through a city before he was legally even allowed to drive. And any remnants of sane had finally departed when the Machine Empire had twisted his brain into something unrecognizable.

Tommy Oliver and sane had not known each other for years.

But death was something altogether different. He and Death were old and fast friends. He had flirted with her, and she had allowed him to skate upon the edges of her rules. He had cheated Death and diced with her, and she had never opened her door no matter how many times he knocked. And oh, had they danced. For years had they danced, every time closer to that final, beautiful kiss. And if he were at all honest with himself, this dance with Death had brought him closer to life than he had felt in months. He felt like he could finally do something other than blame himself. Oh, the blame would once again crush him under its powerful weight – if he survived. But right now, he had a purpose. He had something to blame other than himself. Something that he could make hurt as much as he did. Something that would pay for Mesogog's crimes.

He secured the red gem back into his pack as the monster reoriented itself, untangling its ungainly limbs from the broken foliage. His teeth bared in an almost feral grin, and a snarl that was almost inhuman twisted his lips. He clenched his fists and squared his shoulders, a rush of wild energy rushing through him. "Let's dance."

And did they dance. They danced of death and desperation, of murder and mindless rage. One was fueled with pure evil, the other with pure vengeance. And the juxtaposition of the shambling, ungainly movements of the beast against the once-ranger's fluid, powerful strokes was a sight to behold. For that short time, it was almost beautiful.

But even the might of a warrior fueled of retribution could not stand up to the creature's armored hide for an eternity. It staggered but never fell, and even when Tommy knocked it with a blow that shook him to his very bones, the brute seemed not to notice. Finally, when he feared that he was nearing the point of exhaustion, an awkward swipe by its shorter appendage seemed to impossibly twist in the air. It drove itself into his lower back, sweeping him through the air and sending him rolling into a pile of overturned dust and grass. He landed in a heap, the ground spinning sickeningly beneath his hands as he struggled to revive the roaring animal inside that had fueled him.

But he found that when it came down to it, he had come up short. He had fought for the Earth, for the Power, for years, trained for more than half his existence, given up his life and love, and yet – without the Power – he couldn't even stand up to this half-created attempt at a monster. He gripped the tattered bag in his shaking fingers and resolved that, this time, he would succumb to Death's frozen, delicate kiss before this beast could pry it -

"What is it with you guys? Is there some sort of villain code that says all attacks have to happen in the middle of a park?"

It was the voice. The voice that had supported him through months of uncertainty and fear, the voice that had talked him to sleep more times than he could count, the voice that had laughed and cried when he could do neither. That beautiful voice caressed his mind and heart, and as if unconsciously acting upon hearing that voice, his jumbled, tangled emotions began to resolve themselves into a semblance of calm. And that bone-chilling, mind-numbing fear slowly slithered out of his mind.

For fear ran in the face of Kimberly Hart.

She stood, carelessly resting a hand on her hip as if chiding the creature like an unruly child. A half-smile lit her gentle features and the sunlight filtering between the summer leaves seemed to make her caramel locks glow with an almost unearthly light. But behind her light banter and casual demeanor was the intrinsic power of a protector, and the furious blaze behind those smiling eyes made this avenging angel a sight to behold.

Yet the creature seemed to consider her for only a moment before beginning to lumber towards the fallen form of the once white ranger; in its estimation, despite the ferocity radiating off her, such a petite being could never be a bar to the completion of its mission. But then another, deeper voice filled Tommy's addled brain and for the second time in that long day, he felt a surge of hope.

"There's got to be a handbook or something, Kim." Tommy lifted himself on rubbery arms to witness the sight of a dark haired man standing, arms casually crossed as if to tell the being that there was no way it would pass him by. He stood as a wall against normality, the real world humbly fading into indistinct shadows behind the intense reality that was Jason Scott. His aura emanated power, confidence, and above all, strength.

Jason nodded sharply in Tommy's direction, not taking his eyes off the creature for an instant. "You okay, bro?"

Before he could respond, the monstrosity roared in frustration and, ignoring both newcomers, began moving towards the fallen ranger. It had only taken a few lumbering steps before a loud crack resounded through the air and the creature froze. Kimberly held up a thick branch, broken in the middle. "Damn," she cursed, tossing the stick aside. "That didn't work at all."

Ever so slowly, the gelatinous head turned to the side, examining the woman as if she were nothing more than a gnat. Tommy's heart froze as he helplessly watched a wiry, motile appendage flick out towards the petite gymnast. As agile as she ever was as a ranger, Kimberly leaned backwards, nearly folding herself in half as she flipped backwards to avoid the fatal blow. As she righted herself, her eyes flicked to the side and then, as if channeling her teenage self, she tossed her hair, and of all things, stuck out her tongue. "Missed!"

Enraged, it turned its hulking mass towards and bellowed an incomprehensible string of gibberish. It swung again, and as she skipped nimbly to the side, the appendage crushed the thick asphalt below. Tommy groaned in horror, struggling to get to his feet, and glanced upwards in time to see Jason taking full advantage of the creature's distraction. He had broken off a partially corroded, black metal pole from the crushed bench only a few feet away. With one mighty heave, the twisted metal implanted itself directly into the creature's spine.

The dark beast shrieked in pain and rage, its long arm-like appendages swinging wildly in an attempt to pull the offending piece of metal out of its back. Vile, almost violet ooze seeped out of the wound, hissing and bubbling furiously as it enveloped the concrete beneath its claws. The piercing sound of its agonized roars sent chills into their very bones, and something deep inside the most ancient parts of their brains screamed at them to run from this deadly predator.

Tommy struggled to watery knees, not certain if, after all this, he was simply imagining the appearance of his two closest companions. They maneuvered around the monster, flanking each other to make sure that its attention was constantly divided. Yet even with a long metal pole sticking out of its back, the beast was still able to remain a dangerous enough foe that both his rescuers were hard-pressed to avoid serious injury.

Zordon's original rangers matched each other's movements and circled around the infuriated beast, and Tommy shook his head ruefully as he listened to their continued, natural jibes at the potential content of an Evil Overlord Handbook. Drawing in a deep breath, he moved to stand and was only barely able to catch himself as his knees buckled underneath him. There was an agonizing ache growing in his lower back and an odd, sharp tingle kept running down his legs. He reached backwards with his right hand while steadying himself with his left, and gently rubbed the spot where the beast's petrified stump had landed. Once again, he was grateful for that remnant of the Power that protected all its rangers, even years after their service had ended. He had little doubt his back would have snapped at the force of the blow otherwise. He felt helpless and guilt-ridden, watching as his oldest companions once again fought his battles for him and he couldn't help but stare, disgusted, at the crumpled bag at his feet.

Finally, the near-siblings exchanged a glance and Tommy instinctively knew that this was their moment. He stood quickly, grabbing the bag and wincing at the sharp scream of agony in his back and legs. "Hey ugly!" he yelled and dumped the ragged bag's contents on the ground. The gems tumbled, glistening, on the trodden ground and the beast stared at them rapturously. Kimberly sprang forward, vaulting across the uneven clumps of grass, flipping nimbly into the air, and knocking the struggling beast off its balance with a solid kick. It tipped over, falling with an earth shuddering crash onto its back and thrusting the spear like point deeply enough to finally crack the solid, molten armor on its chest. It collapsed into a lifeless heap and the now lifeless mound of twisted flesh began to gurgle, quickly dissolving into a gelatinous goo. Kimberly skipped backwards, disgusted.

"Ugh," she muttered. "I actually think I miss putties. At least they were self-cleaning."

Jason laid a hand on his shoulder and offered him a hand up. "Ummm... Surprise?"