..........Billy sighed heavily. "Thanks
Cestria.... I couldn't have done that by myself." He hung his head
in the humid, thick air, glad for once that on Aquitar everything was wet.
His tears would go unnoticed.
.........."You can stay...." Cestria said softly. "The people of Aquitar would not turn you away... and I would miss you." Cestria had affection for the young human... the lie had been the romance they had both implied. As an Aquitarian, she had no interest in mating with a partner that could not act as a true Aquitarian male. Anything other than friendship was impossible. Even with the changes the sacred water had caused, life on Aquitar would always be physically unpleasant for Billy. She did not think he would accept the offer.
.........."That's not really an option." Billy wiped his face quickly and took a seat in the large laboratory they were in. He grimaced as the water went through his clothes but quickly covered it. Normally, the room would be filled with water. It had been drained just for him and if he was uncomfortable, so were all of the Aquitarians. He turned to Cestro and Aurico. "Let's go over it again.... I was a little... shocked, when you were discussing the side effects."
.........."I understand." Cestro said sadly. He picked up the log they had kept of Billy's treatment. "The water has acted in ways we did not foresee... I am sorry, Billy."
.........."I'm not." snapped Billy tensely. "You were trying to save my life and you did. I agreed to the treatment knowing full well that there could be side affects. Don't be sorry... you saved my life." He leaned back on the wet seat, and waited for Cestro to continue.
.........."While the water has returned you to youth, there have been some unprecedented genetic changes...." Cestro began slowly. More familiar with humans than most of the Aquitarian medical personnel, he knew that the pale white shade his friend was turning was a sign of illness. "The most notable is the extreme slowing of the normal human aging process. We are not certain but you will likely have a greatly extended life span."
.........."So I'm going to stay eighteen for a while." Billy said. "Maybe...."
.........."For many of your years, yes... maybe."
.........."Because I'll probably die from the side effects." Billy added.
..........Cestro nodded and casually flipped a switch on the console to turn the heat on. It was too warm already for the Aquitarians but Cestro could see Billy shivering. "I suspect that some of the difference in reaction to the water may be due to the anti-proton matter you absorbed." Cestro knew that the Aquitarian doctors were deeply puzzled by Billy's condition and wanted to study it, but that would probably not happen. Cestro had tried talking Billy into staying, and into letting the Earth Rangers know that not everything was well, but Billy had insisted that his way was best, and Cestro could not deny a fellow Ranger's request. Even if he felt it was wrong.
.........."The sensory disruption seems to be a direct result of anti-proton interaction." Cestro continued. "From what you have described, it does not sound life threatening... merely incapacitating." It was something Cestro worried about, especially considering Billy's plans. "However, it could be life threatening... Billy I don't think its wise to--"
.........."I know... but that's the plan...." Billy sighed again. He'd had six occurrences of what Cestro called sensory disruption. Incapacitating didn't begin to describe it. He was useless to the team.... It had only been a day and he knew already that he was never going to be able to return to his life before. On Earth, he'd be hospitalized, probably forever. Worse, he'd be a walking target. Useless on the team and not even able to defend himself. It was for the best....
..........And, Billy thought sadly, it wasn't like the team would miss him. His friends had accepted the lie as easily as if he had said he was going to college, and once out of sight... he'd be out of mind. No one would worry, thanks to the Aquitarians, except his father, and he would take care of that.
..........Jason slowed from his jog to a walk as he passed Billy's old house. There was a for sale sign up in the yard. Funny, Jason thought slowly, Mr. Reeves hadn't mentioned a move. Neither had Billy before he left. As Jason watched, Ward Reeves stepped out of the house to grab a paper. When he spotted Jason, he frowned grimly.
.........."Mr. Reeves?" Jason trotted over. "What's up? I didn't know you were moving...." He didn't understand. Billy's dad had always been friendly but now he seemed ready to start shouting.
.........."There's nothing here for me." Ward's anger seemed to die away, leaving nothing but sadness behind. "Its a big house for just me... with Billy gone for good, I just didn't see the point."
.........."Billy's not gone for good...." Jason saw anger flit across Ward's face. He stood in the yard, feeling suddenly naked under the harsh gaze of Billy's father.
.........."He told me everything, Jason." Ward's voice was cold. "He gave everything to... the team and now what?" Ward's voice shook and the sun glinted off his glasses. "You were his oldest friend, Jason... and you and the rest... just toss him aside like a piece of trash."
.........."What?! Mr. Reeves, Billy is okay, he's just on Aquitar...." Jason was confused. Billy's dad seemed almost to be in mourning. Sure, Aquitar wasn't exactly close but Billy knew the way home.
.........."He's not on Aquitar, Jason...." Tears fell from Ward's eyes. "And he's never coming back. I hope it was worth his life... because that's what it cost you." With that, Ward walked towards his house, his shoulders bent over.
.........."Mr. Reeves!" Jason chased after him. "What do you mean? Billy told us he was all right."
..........That stopped Ward in his tracks. He spun around and grabbed Jason by his shirt. "He was lying, you idiot! He came here just to tell me that he was dying! He was so sick... I begged him to stay and then I begged him to let me come with him. He said he just couldn't stay and that Phaedos was the only safe place for him. The only place where he wouldn't be a burden. So spare me your lies!"
..........With a mighty heave, the much smaller man shoved Jason to the grass and stomped into his home. Jason brushed himself off and started to wonder.
.........."Well, come on Jason...." Trini's voice was soft and steady. "Admit it, it makes sense. I had a bad feeling about this when Tommy called. It just didn't sound like Billy." The phone crackled with long distance static.
.........."What do you mean?" Jason's head was reeling already. He had spent the day and most of the night worrying about Billy, and he'd been feeling poorly anyhow. Returning the gold powers to Trey had left him feeling drained, and recently his dreams had been filled with visions of animals. He'd worried it was some sort of breakdown. Dreaming every night that you were surrounded by animals was just too weird. He had called Trini partly to get her opinion and partly to reassure himself that he wasn't losing it.
.........."Oh, Jason, think. You aren't stupid. Billy would never leave his father like that for anyone unless there was something seriously wrong. And he's going to live on Aquitar? How?"
.........."Jason...." Trini's words rolled with irritation. "Billy once told me that Aquitar wasn't even fun to visit. The last time he went there to help out with the Hydrocontaminators, he said it was a nightmare. He was always wet and cold. There was never any hot food and he spent most of his time in isolation because the Aquitarians breathe in water and he couldn't stay in scuba very long without getting sick. And he stayed because he's in love with an Aquitarian girl? That's just ridiculous...."
.........."Okay, okay..." Jason saw what she was driving at. "But why wouldn't he just come back? Dammit Trini, why would he stay away if he was so sick that his dad thought he was dying? We're his friends...."
.........."I don't know, Jason. Billy's always been the type to lick his wounds in private. I'm really worried. We've got to find him." Trini's words, tinny with static, cut through Jason like a knife.
.........."Okay... Trini, don't leave the conference. Let me try to locate him first. I'll keep you and Zack posted on this." Jason hung up the phone and felt the weight of responsibility , so familiar, fall upon his shoulders once again.
..........His friendship with Billy went beyond the Rangers. Billy was the little brother he'd always wanted. If Billy was sick or worse, Jason was not going to let him go through that alone.
.........."Of course, Jason. I also would like to know how Billy is." Zordon quickly had Alpha make the adjustments.
..........Jason sighed with relief. He had not told any of the Zeo Rangers about his fears. They had enough to worry about. He had worried that Zordon would veto his plan but in fact Zordon was all for the expedition to Phaedos. "Jason, be very careful. Phaedos is a dangerous place, and you are not a Ranger now."
.........."I know. Let's do it." With that, Jason felt what had to be the longest transport he had ever endured. He almost blacked out and when he opened his eyes, he found himself standing on a rocky beach. It was a stunning place. Harsh, almost stark, with rock walls reaching almost one hundred feet into the sky. He could feel the wind whip in off the salty ocean and shivered a little as he was splashed by some spray. Now, he thought to himself, to find Billy.
..........He walked along, wishing in the back of his mind that he had brought Tommy along. Or Zack. Zack had always had a way of taking the edge off his worry. If Zack was there, he would've run to the highest point and comically called Billy like one does a dog. Then he would smile and make a pose, until Jason at least smiled.
..........Jason let out a sigh. After Zack got done posing, Billy would rustle out of the bushes or rocks, with a bright smile and glowing with excitement over whatever he had found. Trini would chuckle lightly and look at whatever Billy had found. He would playfully knock Zack off his perch and they would wrestle each other until Kimberly burst into laughter and made them call a truce. Then a picnic basket would be opened and they would all flop on to the grass. It wasn't like that anymore. Kimberly never called anyone, and Billy had seldom even smiled.
..........A sudden war whoop broke through his reverie. He looked up just in time to see a cloaked figure leaping down on him. The cloak was dropped and standing before him was an Amazon in a green bikini. She pointed her staff at his chest. "I am Dulcea, Master Warrior of Phaedos. Are you a seeker of the great power?" Her words were snarled.
..........He took a ready stance, but made no threatening moves. He'd heard about Dulcea's warm ways of welcome. "I don't want any power... I'm just looking for Billy."
..........The staff stayed pointed at his chest. Dulcea's face remained hard. "You are not one of the Terran Ninjetti."
.........."No... I was just a Power Ranger with Billy... before he came here with the others and became a Ninjetti warrior." Jason kept ready. No telling if Dulcea would start whacking him with her stick. It was a big stick. "I was worried... He told us he was staying on Aquitar and he's really here."
..........Dulcea lowered her stick, but her expression remained grim. She looked him over with a gaze that made him feel naked, as if she was gazing directly into his soul. She seemed to hesitate, to question what she was about to do. With a majestic sweep of her arm, she pointed to a far off hilltop. Jason could just make out some ruined buildings. "He is there."
..........With that, she walked away. Jason tried to guess the distance to the ruins and turned to ask the warrior woman, but she was gone. He shrugged. Dulcea was not his problem.
..........The ruins were quite a hike. He reached the top, feeling winded. The removal of the Gold Ranger Powers had taken more out of him than he thought. He wiped the sweat off his brow and took a moment to catch his breath.
..........The ruins were rather impressive. Jason could tell that the temple must've been quite a site. Now all that was left were massive pillars and lattice work to show the size of the place. Steps were built into the ground, leading off to various vantage points. In the center of what must of been the main hall was a small fire pit. Next to that was an unfurled, dark blue sleeping bag on top of an air mattress. Littered around it were a few bags and boxes. Jason opened the nearest. Inside were a few blue and black sweaters. The other bags and boxes held books, clothes and sundry items. It appeared as though Billy had just dumped his things in while packing. Jason pondered that. Billy was normally quite fanatical about his possessions. The jumble of belongings looked as though they had just been dropped and ignored.
..........He stood up. The ruins weren't that large. Billy was there, somewhere. "Billy?" No answer, just the light rustle of the wind blowing through the walls and pillars. "Billy? Come on man, I know you're here!" Jason could feel it... Billy was there, somewhere. "If I have to search the whole place I will! I just want to talk."
.........."So talk...." Jason's head spun at the sound. It came from a far off the ledge. He walked over, his mind whirling.
.........."Billy, what are you doing here?" He stepped out onto the ledge. There was Billy, sitting up against the partially demolished wall, his legs splayed out in front of him. On his lap was a pad of paper. Much like his possessions, Billy looked somewhat unkept. He was wearing shorts and a old hooded Raider's sweatshirt... a present Jason had given him. He was facing the waning sunlight, and from what Jason could see, had been sketching the large monolith off in the distance. Jason felt a wave of relief pass through him. Despite a variety of scratches and bruises, Billy seemed okay. True, a lot more scratched up and bruised than Jason would've expected, and a little thin, but the worst problem he could see was that Billy had the flaking remnants of a bad sunburn.
.........."I was sketching." Billy continued staring off at the monolith. Something about his stillness worried Jason. "What are you doing here?" There was an edge of weariness in his voice.
.........."Billy, dammit, I was worried. " Jason's temper suddenly rose. "Your dad said you were sick... maybe even dying. Forget how ticked off I am that you lied to us about Aquitar, how could you tell your father something like that? Billy... he's practically mourning you."
..........Billy sighed heavily. "Do you honestly think I don't know that? And do you really think coming here and telling me that really helps anything?" A tremor seemed to run through his body.
.........."What are you doing here? Billy, if you're sick, you need to be in a hospital." Jason was getting frustrated. "What's wrong anyway? You don't look sick."
.........."Looks can be deceiving." Billy sighed again. "Just go away, okay? I don't want you here...."
..........Jason's temper finally got the best of him. He reached down and lifted Billy up by his sweatshirt. With one sweeping motion, he smacked Billy into the temple wall. "I'm your friend, dammit!"
.........."Then go away." Billy's voice was tinged with anger. "I'm dying and I want to be alone. If you were my friend, you'd show a little respect."
..........Jason let go of him and stomped off the wide ledge in a huff. He was too angry to even think straight. It was only the boneless thud of a body hitting stone that made him turn. Billy had fallen face forward into the dust. To Jason's surprise, Billy didn't get up or even start to brush himself off. The deathly stillness was shocking, Billy's only movement some spastic twitching. "Billy?"
.........."That was just so helpful." Billy muttered. "A few feet closer to the edge and everyone's problem would've been solved. Way to go."
..........Jason felt the cold night air whip around the ruins. He pulled the blanket that Billy had thrust at him earlier in the evening closer around him. The temple was cold. I'm going to have to have Zordon send some warm clothes, he thought as he leaned up against a pillar, and maybe my own sleeping bag. He doubted Billy would let him have anymore blankets. Billy had made it pretty clear that he was only tolerating Jason's presence.
..........Jason had, despite Billy's protesting, pulled him away from the ledge. The paralysis disappeared moments later and Billy had run off. Jason had started to follow, but Dulcea intercepted him. She laid a few hard truths on Jason... things he still didn't want to accept.
..........Billy was, for all intents and purposes, slowly dying. The interaction of the Aquitarian water and the anti-proton matter had cured the aging problem... to the rather horrifying point that he might linger on for far longer than Jason cared to consider. Or, maybe not. From what what he had seen and Dulcea had described, Billy was having periodic shutdowns and fluctuations in his nervous and sensory systems. Temporary paralysis, blindness and other forms of sensory deprivation was offset by bizarre overactivity.... Jason knew that Billy had barely been able to sit down while eating because he simply couldn't. Dulcea had warned Jason that the overactivity ran from simple activity to visual and aural hallucinations. And, she had warned darkly, it was only a matter of time until Billy was felled by a shutdown of one of the vital life systems. That could occur that night... or many years in the future and in the meantime, Billy would be essentially unable to function.
..........Jason was at a loss. Part of him understood why Billy had chosen to go to Phaedos. Billy didn't want people to pity him or to spend his life surrounded by doctors. But then, Jason thought angrily, he hadn't even given us a chance. A chance to try and save him...or even a chance to say goodbye. It hurt to think that Billy was dying in total isolation and they had been blithely having fun. He just didn't know what to do.
..........Dulcea had been little help. She seemed rather put off by Jason being there. She also, in Jason's opinion, seemed hardly bothered by Billy at all. Her only point of annoyance was that Jason was not to chase after Billy... if Billy went beyond the temple's outskirts, she would not be able to reach him if there was a problem. Beyond that, she had barely spoken to Jason.
..........Billy had barely spoken either. Aside from a few snarled yes and no answers, Billy had been silent. Not that Jason pressed him. Most of his basic questions had been answered by Dulcea and he somehow didn't think Billy would go into detail. In fact, Billy had, after about two hours of almost manic pacing around, crashed onto his air mattress and fell asleep, exhausted.
..........Jason took a deep breath of cold night air. The only way Billy would return to Earth was unwillingly and he wasn't prepared to haul his friend, kicking and screaming, back with him. He also doubted Dulcea would allow it. He tried to find and answer but there seemed to be none.
..........He heard Billy stir and stood. Billy was lying on his back next to the small fire, clutching his chest in his sleep. As Jason watched, he grimaced and cried out in pain. Jason started to move towards him, worried as Billy's breathing suddenly became ragged and forced. It looked to him as though the muscles in Billy's chest were seizing up. If I turn him on his side, he thought hurriedly, he'll breathe easier.
..........A hand fell on his shoulder and stopped him from moving. He spun around. It was Dulcea. "Jason," she said softly, "What are you doing?"
.........."He's choking! " Jason brushed her arm away. She simply shook her head. "He might die!"
.........."Yes, he might...." Dulcea's gaze was harsh. "What happens here is fate. I can not interfere with a fellow ninjetti's choice."
.........."You mean you're going to watch him die and do nothing." Jason couldn't believe what he was hearing.
..........Dulcea's face hardened. She pulled Jason over with a mighty yank until his face was mere inches from her's. "Do not mistake acceptance for uncaring. I have watched more Ninjetti warriors perish in battle than you can imagine. I do not wish Billy dead but you must understand... this is something we cannot decide."
.........."But...." Jason turned back to look at Billy. Billy was still gasping and grimacing in pain. Suddenly he heard a high pitched whine.... A large grey-furred wolf padded into the temple. "Oh jeez...." Jason started to shoo it away, but it snarled at him. He backed away nervously and looked for something to throw at it. The wolf paid him no attention and started nosing Billy and whining loudly. Jason tried to distract it again, but it barred its teeth and snapped as it stood over Billy's body. Billy, Jason noted in horror, was still choking in his sleep. "Dulcea...."
..........Dulcea held him back. Her voice was soft but stern. "Do not interfere. The wolf is not here to harm.... It is a guide. When a Ninjetti is ready to move on... their spirit guide will come."
..........It suddenly dawned on Jason what she meant. "No!" He dove for the wolf but Dulcea pulled him back, and the wolf barred its teeth and snarled again.
.........."Jason!" Dulcea smacked him, so hard he was driven to his knees. "You have no right to interfere!"
..........The wolf whined again, and pawed Billy, as if to awaken him. Billy whimpered but remained unconscious, gasping weakly as he struggled to breathe. The wolf whined again, as if worried. It sniffed Billy and then gently took Billy's shirt in its mouth. Using its legs for leverage, it pulled Billy over onto his side. Much as Jason had expected, Billy's breathing became easier. The wolf licked Billy's face and seemed, to Jason, to be nuzzling Billy the way a rambunctious puppy dog would. Billy curled up in his sleep and laid his arm across the wolf's furry bulk like a child with a giant teddy bear. After a few moments of that, it looked up, barked once at Dulcea and leaped playfully on Jason. It glanced up at Dulcea, barked again and bounded off.
..........Dulcea watched it go. A slight smile played across her face. "The wolf always surprises me."
.........."I don't understand...." Jason's relief was only surpassed by his confusion. "I thought that the wolf was...."
.........."It is not your friend's time to join the pack." Dulcea helped him up. "The power is still there but untapped... if Billy was meant to die tonight, the power would have been released from him. Billy may have lost hope for himself but his spirit hasn't."
.........."So... now what? Dulcea, I know you aren't human so I don't expect you to really understand, but Billy can't live like this. Its really not very healthy for starters." All things considered, Jason was surprised Billy wasn't sick from sleeping out in the open...........
.........."No, it is not. The wolf spirit can only sustain him for so long.... He needs the presence of other Ninjetti to heal him." Dulcea's words were soft yet expectant.
.........."Other Ninjetti...." Jason took a seat by the fire and considered. "Well... Tommy, Adam and Rocky should be at the Power Chamber... Aisha was somewhere in Africa the last time I heard... Kimberly is in Florida..."
.........."Zeo Rangers are blind to the great power. The crystal masks the power. It is partly Billy's exposure to the crystal that makes him unable to feel the great power within himself." Dulcea sighed. "Zordon made a quick decision in a crisis to use that crystal. Some time and the great power would have returned to the Ninjetti of its own volition. Zordon's haste has deadened Rocky, Adam and Tommy to their spirit animals. No holder of a Zeo crystal can help Billy."
.........."That leaves Kimberly and Aisha." Jason mused. "And Aisha is really unreachable so that really just leaves Kimberly."
.........."One Ninjetti will not be enough." Dulcea stepped around and faced him. "You were a Ranger once... there were other Terran Rangers were there not?"
.........."Yes...." Jason said softly, "But we were never Ninjetti... only Kimberly and Billy were left when the quest for the great power happened."
..........Dulcea suddenly chuckled. "Oh Jason... the great power is not a one time only affair. Bring these other Rangers... and Kimberly. If Tommy and the others were Zordon's second pick... then I believe you and these other Rangers are worthy to quest."
..........Billy groaned as he sat up. It was still cold, the sun hadn't warmed the temple ruins and he was chilled to the bone. Plus, for some reason, he was aching badly. That didn't surprise him, new aches and pains were fast becoming a wake up standard. Instead of getting right up though, he crawled to the edge of the mattress and sat there with his sleeping bag around his shoulders for warmth. The sun wasn't quite up, just some hintings of pink and green, the green being a Phaedos addition. He just didn't feel like moving.
..........Getting up meant another long day of relative boredom, interspaced with physical collapse. The worst was seizures... he hated the loss of control, not to mention the pain. Another favorite was sudden blindness. He had nearly wandered into the ocean the first time and only Dulcea's swift intervention had saved him...........
..........And now with Jason there, the embarrassment factor increased tenfold. Dulcea didn't pointedly ask what was wrong. Last night, he'd been mortified when Jason asked him what his problem was. His problem had been an uncontrollable urge to move. Jason's weird looks had hurt worse than the several hundred pushups he had been compelled to perform. At least Dulcea didn't stare.
.........."Jason?" he called softly. Jason was probably off building a log cabin or some other manly thing. No way would Jason leave without him. "Jason?"
.........."Morning!" Jason bounded up some steps. Billy got the impression that he might have been waiting. He was in different clothes, jeans and a bright red t-shirt and he had a rucksack on his back. In his arms was a giant paper sack. "I have breakfast for you.
..........He dropped the sack onto Billy's lap and set down his ruck. "Go on," he urged. Billy looked inside. There was almost 20 McDonalds Sausage and Biscuit sandwiches and a mound of hash browns in the little paper pockets that were ecologically unsound but Billy loved just the same. From behind his back, Jason pulled out a rack of Styrofoam coffee cups, all five steaming.
.........."My favorite breakfast." Billy blushed, honestly shocked that Jason even remembered. He opened a cup and sniffed the heavy scent of fresh coffee with delight. "Where'd you get this?"
.........."McDonald's is everywhere...." Jason chuckled. "No, Zordon let me use the teleporter."
.........."Heh... quick interplanetary jaunts for fast food are a necessity, not an abuse of power." Billy chuckled and looked through the sack again. "Jason... you know... even Rocky doesn't eat like this... I don't think I could more than two or three of these. I hope you didn't waste your money."
.........."Naw...." Jason said cheerfully. "If we don't eat it all, I guess everyone else will finish it off. Jason smiled hugely, enjoying Billy's look of utter shock as Kimberly, Zack, and Trini popped up from their hiding places. "I thought we'd have a picnic breakfast."
.........."Guys... this is dangerous." Billy leaned up against a pillar and hugged his knees to his chest. "I don't want anyone to get hurt for something that might not work. "
.........."Billy, man...." Zack waltzed up the steps, his gait still the half walk, half dance he'd always affected. "You worry too much. And if you think we're just gonna sit back and let you die when not only can we save you but we can also help out everyone by getting this great power... well, we gotta." Zack could not remember ever seeing Billy so despondent. He'd doubted Jason for some reason... but Billy was so low that Zack wanted to kick himself for not keeping in touch. Billy seemed so lost.. and so shocked that they were worried. Zack was started to get the impression that after he, Trini, and Jason had left, Billy had turned into the team's anchor, the one everyone leaned on. Zack figured that no one ever thought the team rock needed support occasionally.
.........."So how do Billy and I figure into this?" Kimberly directed her question to Dulcea. "We already have Ninjetti powers. Well... sort of anyhow." She didn't quite understand how Billy and she could have the great power but not be able to access it. She had thought that the crane powers were gone. Part of her was secretly bursting with joy over the fact that the pink crane was still her spirit guide. But overlaying that was her worry for Billy. Jason had called her on her communicator at 2 am the night before. It's urgent, he had said darkly. By the time she dressed and teleported in, all the other current and prior Rangers were there, except Aisha and Billy. Jason laid out the situation as if he was in charge, instead of Tommy. Considering the situation though, she figured Jason was in charge. In a way, she was relieved. Dealing with post-breakup Tommy had not been easy. And there was something so comfortable able about the five of them getting together and doing something.
..........Dulcea stood before the fire. "Kimberly, you will join Jason, Zack and Trini on their quest, in order to help the crane spirit reassert itself. Billy, you will stay here... your spirit animal is aware of your presence." Dulcea motioned both Billy and Kimberly forward. She placed a hand on both of them and in seconds, they both were wearing the uniform of the Ninjetti they used to be. Dulcea smiled and moved so that she was facing Trini, Zack and Jason. "First though, you three must discover your spirit
animals." She picked up a handful of sand and blew it towards the three young people. All three drew back as the sand seemed to turn into sparkling animated bits.
.........."Do not be afraid." Dulcea intoned. "Just close your eyes and look inside yourself... and your spirit animal will come to you." The sparkling glitter flew around them for a moment and then they found themselves in familiar colors.
..........Trini was in yellow. She blushed a little, feeling as self conscious as when she first became a Ranger. On her chest was the picture of a cat, much like her sabre toothed tiger. "Wow, a lion...."
.........."Trini," Dulcea intoned, "Not just a lion but the fearsome mountain lion. Fierce and protective of what it cares for, it will guide you well." Dulcea smiled ad moved over to Jason.
..........Jason was clad once again in red. It was a color so familiar it almost made him ache. The gold power had always felt borrowed. Now though, he wanted to flex his muscles and maybe run a few miles. The energy seemed to just pour out of him. Dulcea patted him a little, enjoying the sheer pleasure he was in. "Jason," she said softly, "Your spirit animal is the red tailed hawk. Proud, noble... the warrior in flight personified." Jason grinned broadly.
..........Dulcea moved on to Zack who was looking at his feet in embarrassment. "Zack, what's wrong?"
.........."Aw man... my spirit animal is a squirrel...." Sure enough, emblazoned on Zack's black uniform was a rather ferocious looking squirrel. Zack felt silly.
.........."Oh?" Dulcea couldn't keep the delight out of her voice. "And isn't the squirrel a friendly creature? Intelligent and and swift? Ever vigilant against the coming winter? A squirrel knows that prevention is half the battle... and they have cute tails." Dulcea waited for three seconds and sure enough, Zack's smile returned, bright and flashing.
.........."Well, a squirrel can move." Zack hopped about on one foot for a few seconds, until he fell into the dust. At that they all laughed, an easy laughter. Dulcea let it die off on its own accord.
.........."When you are ready... the great power awaits." She walked away, leaving the five to plan their way.
..........With a sigh, Billy went through the motions that left him standing in civilian clothes. "I'm not going... so I might as well be comfortable." He slowly took a seat.
.........."Oh Billy...." Trini took a seat beside him. "Don't worry... we'll take care of everything."
.........."Sure... and I'll wait here in safety." Billy stood up and walked away. "That's the story of my life." He spun around suddenly. "I'm against this... if any of you get hurt... or worse doing this, I'll never be able to live with that." He turned again and stomped away.
.........."Well, I feel inspired." Zack quipped. "I can almost see Billy telling the troops to try not to die taking the hill."
..........Jason cuffed Zack upside the head. "I told you... it's like he won't let himself be hopeful."
.........."This has to work." Trini said softly, the emotion in her voice barely concealed. "I hate seeing him like this. It's like he's just waiting to die." She turned to face the other Rangers. "This didn't just happen...."
.........."I know." Jason said. "And we'll deal with that. But first we have to find the great power."
.........."Man, these Ninjetti outfits are hot!" Zack fanned himself. The jungle terrain was not easy on clothes that were long and flowing. It was also tiring. Sure, it was nice that nothing had tried to eat them or attack them but Zack was starting to hope something would happen.
.........."Oh Zack...." Kimberly sniffed. She couldn't believe how different the quest was from the first. On the first quest she'd felt like a supernumery. Needed only so they would have six Rangers. Tommy had done most of the planning, fighting and serious thinking. With almost five months between her breakup with Tommy and the current problem, she found herself wondering what she'd ever seen in him. Oh sure, he was a nice guy. Kimberly would never take that away from him. Tommy was a kind, gentle person and she was glad to call him a friend. He was also, as her psychology books told her, an alpha male of the highest order. If he wasn't in charge, he would dog the heels of whoever was.
..........In the back of her mind, she'd known that Tommy would end up leader somehow. It had turned the team from a band of friends into a ranked, structured unit. The irony was that the only one who'd ever come close to dethroning Tommy's rule was Billy. Billy, next to Adam was probably the least dominant male in the group, and yet had taken the leadership during the incident with the orb of doom. And that, more than his lack of Zeo Powers had bumped Billy down from his second in command spot to power chamber lackey.
..........Kimberly shook her head as she walked, thinking. Billy had never sought the team leadership, he'd quickly and easily returned it to Tommy. Tommy, instead of helping Billy, had made the loss of power more traumatizing by treating Billy as some sort of super-Alpha. In a letter she had received only weeks before Billy supposedly went to Aquitar, Billy had written about how Tommy's unspoken disapproval had pretty much ended all of Billy's socialization with the other Rangers. Rocky and Kat had always followed Tommy's lead and if Tommy didn't include Billy in their activities, neither Rocky or Kat would even wonder why. Adam tried, Billy had written, but he was dating Tanya. Billy certainly wouldn't ask to be included. Kimberly figured that was due to pride and Billy's underlying insecurity. The rest of the current Rangers either didn't know Billy well enough or weren't paying enough attention.
.........."Kimberly? Pay attention!" Trini called from far ahead. "We're coming up on some jungle. Do you recognize it?" Trini was standing a top a large rock, pointing down into a long lush valley of green. Kimberly trotted up and took a long look.
.........."We need to be careful...." she said finally. "I think that this is where we found the dinosaur bones."
.........."Dinosaur bones?" Zack chuckled. "That's nothing."
..........Billy looked at his sketch of the temple. It was quite good, actually, though he'd never considered drawing to be one of his talents. He picked up the colored pencils he had sharpened earlier, and considered. Should I try color? Or leave it in black and white? The decision seemed to rule him and he couldn't decide. A shadow fell across the paper.
.........."Hey, Billy, that's really good." Adam was surprised at the advanced piece of work Billy had turned out. A dark and brooding picture of the temple, with gentle rays of sun slowly peaking out from the half ruined windows. Billy jumped and quickly covered the picture.
.........."What're you doing here?" Billy pulled his jacket around his body protectively. Bad enough that all the old Rangers had seen him in his state of disrepair. Now Adam, probably the only person who had ever held respect for him, was there to see him.
.........."I uh...." Adam took a seat beside him. "Well, Tommy was worried... we all were... and when Jason told us that they were all going on the quest.... We got worried. So I said I'd stay and keep you company."
..........Billy let that roll around in his head. "So... you were all worried...."
.........."Well, yeah. You being here alone and so sick." Adam suddenly sensed that he was walking on eggshells. "You know, just to make sure you were okay...."
.........."Like a babysitter...." Billy stood suddenly. "I don't need a babysitter." With that he strode off, his anger evident in his stiff legged walk. Adam sighed. He had a feeling that Billy would take their concern like that. He got up to follow.
..........Trini stepped around the mess of dinosaur bones warily. It looked as though all of the bones had been pulverized in battle. She kept sharp just the same. Kimberly had been pretty empathic about the dangers.
..........It had, so far, been a quest devoid of challenges. That only made Trini more wary. Billy had once told her that the quest for the great power had been one of the most gratifying, and most terrifying experiences of his life. Still, the dinosaur boneyard seemed pretty tame. She turned away from the bones and started scanning the surrounding forest.
.........."I just don't get it." Kimberly muttered. She stood over a pile of bones and kicked the closest skull. "This place was like... dinosaur skeleton city."
..........Zack picked up a big rib and flung it into the woods. "Well... must be they all heard we were coming." He and Jason high fived each other and trotted forward towards the distant monolith. The girls rolled their eyes and followed.
..........In the woods, a long sinuous creature curled around the rib bone Zack had thrown. Its eyes glowed red.
..........He strode past the temple limits with just a tingle of doubt. Dulcea had carefully explained what could happen to him if he left the temple's protected area. Even someone who is well, Dulcea had warned, can fall prey to the dangers. Billy didn't care though.
..........All I wanted was to just be alone, he thought angrily. I didn't want their pity... I didn't want anyone to go risking their life. He kicked a rock out of his way as he stomped down the forest path. He doubted that the great power could help him anyhow. It was silly to even hope. If he had been a ninjetti the entire time, his reasoning went, then he shouldn't have absorbed all those anti-protons to begin with. The great power should have protected him... but it didn't.
.......... He walked past the swamp, careful to avoid stepping into the murky pits. The swamps were filled with deep holes that Dulcea had said could suck the unwitting mis-stepper into death. While he expected his death at any time, there were more pleasant ways to go than drowning by swamp mud.
..........He moved into a well lit forest meadow and paused. He had walked well over a mile away from the temple. Far enough, he mused. Adam would be hard-pressed to locate him. He could have a little time alone. As he looked around, a sudden wave of dizziness washed over him.
.........."Oh damn...." He spoke softly, not wanting to attract any forest life with his voice. He'd had a vertigo spell about a week ago. It hadn't been fun. He quickly sat down. Already the scenery was whirling and his stomach rolled. At least, he thought darkly as he clutched his stomach, I don't have Adam asking me if I'm okay while I throw up.
..........Adam was getting worried. Billy had been gone for almost an hour and he was not in the temple vicinity. Adam walked down the steps towards the forest. Billy had been heading in that general direction... Adam didn't want to chase after him but Phaodos was a dangerous place and Billy was sick.
..........He noticed the footprints going through the swampy muck filled path and smiled. Billy wasn't exactly trying to hide. He probably just wanted to get away, Adam mused. Maybe he forgot where the temple grounds end. Adam didn't really believe that but he didn't want to get mad at Billy either.
..........He lost the trail rather quickly and started to wander around the swamp, calling Billy's name and scoping out the area. It was a dismal, dank place. Adam didn't normally have a problem with swamps. They were an important part of any ecosystem and he'd often taken nature hikes through the Angel Grove Wetland Park. There was something about the swamp on Phaodos though. The air hung with the scent of rotting vegetation and something else. He couldn't quite place it but it made him uneasy. The swamp was darkly lit, with the foliage stopping most of the harsh sunlight before it reached the ground.
.........."Billy?" He stopped in the middle of a muddy puddle. The rustle of the wind seemed to take the volume from his shout. "Billy!" Still no answer. Maybe he didn't go this way, Adam thought suddenly. It IS pretty nasty here.... He started to turn around.
..........And slipped down a muddy slope. He tried to break his fall but the thick viscous mud had slickened the incline. With a splash, he fell into a dark, murky pond. The water was black and filled with particles of vegetation and other things that he couldn't identify. One side of the large pond was surrounded by the steep cliff he'd fallen off. The only way to get out was the gentle shore to the south. He started to swim towards it but stopped. Sitting on the shore, basking in the small patch of sun that had broken through the leaves was something that looked suspiciously like a crocodile.
..........Only, Adam noted, crocodiles didn't have 10 inch teeth.
..........Jason wiped his brow. The jungle was steaming and though he hated to admit it, he was still pretty well done in from the loss of the gold powers. The euphoria he'd felt from learning his spirit guide had sustained him for a long while but he was fast loosing his edge. "Hey guys... how about a break?"
..........Trini started to say no, but hesitated. Billy needed them to get the quest over as quickly as possible and she didn't want to stop. It was pretty hot, but she could take it. Looking at Jason though, she reconsidered. Jason's face was beet red from the heat and there were dark circles under his eyes. Not sick, Trini saw, but simply exhausted. "How about five minutes?"
..........Jason wearily sat down on a fallen log. Kimberly sat on the grass and started a series of stretches, while Zack climbed atop a small boulder to check out the view. Trini merely stood. She knew that the rest stop was needed but it didn't stop her from feeling edgy, as though time was slipping away from them.
.........."I'm sorry guys." Jason stood up after a few short minutes of rest. "I'm just... Oh damn... Kimberly!" Jason suddenly jumped and pointed.
.........."What!" Kimberly spun around on the ground. All she saw was a small garter-like snake curling away from her feet. She picked it up. "It's just a little snake."
..........Jason stepped away. He wasn't afraid, not exactly. It was a little snake after all. Snakes were just so... creepy. Even as a kid, he'd never been able to touch one, let alone play with one the way Kimberly was. "Sorry... thought it was bigger."
.........."Sure Jason." There was a touch of laughter in her voice. She set the snake down in the grass. It slinked away into the rolling jungle vegetation. The grass was almost alive. Kimberly looked closer. "Hey there's a whole lot of little snakes here."
..........Trini stepped over. Kimberly was right. The ground was almost writhing with snakes. "This must be a nest for them."
..........Jason edged over to look. "Some of them are awfully big to be in a nest." He pointed to one snake that was almost five feet long. "That doesn't look like a baby to me."
.........."It's not!" Zack pointed wildly from a top his perch. "Guys, behind you!"
..........The three ninjetti spun around. Rearing up was a scaly, black monster. It hissed it's forked tongue at them and a hood suddenly flared out on its neck. It wound its coils around until it had its entire forty feet wound up to spring. Its eyes glowed red.
.........."I think we found out why the baby snakes are so big." Trini backed up as she spoke. So did Kimberly. Jason was frozen, the blood draining from his face. Then, as the snake creature barred its fangs, Jason dove to the side. "Guys, split up!"
..........The snake swung around to face him. He crawled his feet and picked up a stick. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Zack leap down from the rock and join the girls in encircling the snake. Suddenly, a plan came to him. He held the heavy stick out in front of his body with both hands. "Hey snake! Come here!" He waggled the stick.
..........In a blurring motion, the snake struck. Jason neatly jammed the stick into its mouth and using the stick as an anchor, flipped onto its back. It reared up at the sudden pressure and Jason jammed his knees into its side. It reared more and he clutched the stick, pulling the snake's head so it faced the other Rangers. "Guys, grab on!"
..........The snake dove again, and only Jason's brute strength kept it from knocking Kimberly down. She managed to grab onto his back and the snake writhed wildly to shake them off.
.........."Let's tire it out! Zack, Trini, get on!" Kimberly shrieked as they flew by. Zack and Trini needed no more encouragement. In seconds, all four Rangers were on top of the snake.
.........."Whoohee! Ride 'em cowboy!" shouted Zack. He was on the tail end of the chain, holding onto Trini's feet.
.........."Now what?" called Trini. They were speeding through the jungle like a giant snake train. The snake was bucking wildly, trying to get them off.
.........."Hold on until it gets tired!" Jason yelled back.
..........Billy sat back against a tree. He was waiting for the last waves of vertigo to pass. The vomiting had stopped, more due to there being nothing left in his stomach than any real abatement. As soon as he thought he could stand, he was going to drag himself back to the temple. He figured Adam had probably gotten the hint and possibly had even worked himself into a frenzy of worry.
..........He smiled at that. Good, he thought darkly, its about time someone else got to worry. Part of him felt a little bad for Adam. I'll have to apologize, he thought. Adam was just trying to be nice. Its not his fault.
..........A low pitched whining reached his ears. He carefully turned, not wanting the dizzy sensation to overwhelm him. A huge gray wolf was walking toward him. For just a second he was afraid, but something told him that it wasn't an ordinary wolf. His suspicions were confirmed when it padded forward and he could see it had bright blue eyes. The spirit of the wolf power then. Jason had said something about seeing it. It hung its head and whined again.
.........."So what do you want?" His voice seemed to echo in the quiet wood. The wolf whined again and pointedly looked over its shoulder. "Oh, what? You have a thorn in your paw maybe? Well, join the club
my friend. Be glad that's all you have wrong with you.A thorn is nothing."
..........The wolf whined, as if it was saddened by his words but not put off by them. It pawed him, and gently gripped his shirt in its teeth. He pushed it away.
.........."What now? Haven't you done enough? I'm dying, can't you just leave me alone?" Billy's voice took on a harsh tone. The wolf looked soulfully at him. "Don't look at me like that. I deserve a break...." Despite his harsh words, the wolf didn't leave. Instead, it rubbed its head up against Billy's shoulder and wormed around until Billy was forced to scratch its ears. A smile slowly came to Billy's face as he rubbed the wolf's head. "Okay, okay... I'm not mad at you...."
..........The wolf licked his face and jumped away. Again, it pointedly looked over its shoulder and whined. Billy considered. "You want something...." The wolf barked and wagged its tail. It bounded off into the woods.
..........Billy sighed, and dragged himself upright. He clutched the tree he'd been sitting by and willed the dizziness to stop. The wolf trotted back and barked at him. He waved his hands at it weakly and clutched the tree for support. "Take it easy... what's the rush?"
..........The wolf tugged at his clothes again and growled lightly. Billy felt his head start to ache. He looked down at the wolf and scratched its head. "Look, my name isn't Timmy and you aren't Lassie, so why don't you do something mystical to let me know what you want?"
..........The wolf cocked its head as if to say "oh yeah" and ran off. In seconds, it was back, holding something in its mouth. It set the object down at Billy's feet. It was a frog.
.........."A frog." murmured Billy. "This isn't exactly written instructions." He picked up the frog and considered all he knew about them. Amphibious... live in water.... Adam's spirit animal... "Adam's in trouble!"
..........The wolf jumped up on him and licked his face, nearly knocking Billy over. It wagged its tail and trotted a few steps forward, waiting expectantly.
..........Billy checked his balance and took a tottering step forward. "I don't see what I can do if he's gotten into a mess, but I'll check it out."
..........Adam kept his eye on the crocodile-like creature. The croc hadn't moved out of the patch of sun it was basking in. He hadn't moved either, in hopes that the reptile would just go away. It hadn't worked, and now he had to move. He'd been treading water for over a half hour. Not only was he cold, he was tired. He carefully swam to the cliff wall and clung to it. The water was still cold but at least he could rest. If only that damn crocodile would just go, he thought darkly as he shivered. The water is so grungy....
..........Adam had never been in water that felt like syrup. It was like it was trying to suck him under.
..........The huge reptile snorted suddenly. Its yellow catlike eyes seemed to bore a hole into Adam, and it stepped down the muddy bank towards the water. Adam tensed. Then, the croc's head swiveled towards the dark swamp trees. It ambled off into the thick brush. Seconds later, much to Adam's surprise, Billy burst out of the rushes.
.........."Adam, come on, get out of there!" Billy's feet squished in the mud and he drew back. "We don't have a lot of time. I got the alligator... or whatever... diverted for a few minutes but I don't know how long it will work."
.........."What did you do?" Adam started to dog paddle across the pond.
.........."I used some vines and a hollow log to set up a drumming device." Billy put his hands in his pockets and looked down at his feet. "It makes a deep thumping noise and vibration in the ground. Reptiles are attracted to low, vibrating noise so.... Look, I don't know how long it'll work so come on."
.........."I'm coming!" Adam swam a few more feet. Suddenly, his foot caught on something on the bottom. He yanked a few times, then dove under. No luck. He popped back to the surface. "Billy, I'm stuck. My laces are jammed tight around something on the bottom." He tried pulling it again.
..........On the shore, Billy felt his fear grow. The thumping device he had devised was makeshift at best and wasn't going to distract the beast for long. He stepped into the water. "I've got my swiss army knife. I'll cut your laces if I have too."
.........."Be careful." Adam warned. "I don't think there's anything in this water except dirt...."
.........."Understood." Billy dove under. Adam felt some tugging at his foot and then suddenly, he was free. He kicked away, and waited for Billy to surface.
.........."Billy?" He couldn't see into the water, but Billy had been down too long. He ducked under and found Billy by touch. With a heave, he brought Billy to the surface. For a long moment, Billy was still and then he suddenly coughed. Black water fell from his mouth. Adam started to slowly maneuver him to the water's edge. "You ok?"
..........Billy coughed again. "Think so," he muttered. "I got caught on a rock, I think. Swallowed some water...." They stepped onto dry land and Billy pulled Adam to the small path he had made. He seemed to look around for something, but when he didn't find it, he simply smiled slightly. "We should head back to the temple."
.........."Yeah." They walked in silence for several moments until Adam was sure that they were safely away from the huge reptile. "Are you sure you're ok?" Adam was more than a little ashamed. He was supposed to protect Billy, not the other way around.
.........."A little congested maybe." Billy coughed again and suddenly blushed. "Adam," he said hesitantly, "I've made a decision. Even if the great power can't help me... I'm going to go back to Earth."
..........Adam was shocked, but in a happy way. He had, in the back of his mind, worried about that. If Jason and the others couldn't save Billy, the idea of just leaving him to die on Phaodos sickened Adam. "What... what made you decide that?"
..........Billy looked down at his feet. He felt self conscious. Often he had enough problems understanding his own motivations without the added difficulty of explaining them to others. "Just... just because I might never really be well... or because I might die... That doesn't mean I... have to hide. And... I miss my father." He blushed deeply, and coughed again.
..........Adam clapped him on the back. "Billy, you don't know how glad I am to hear that." They walked back to the temple in companionable silence. Dulcea greeted them as they walked into the main area of the temple with a large frown on her face.
.........."What have you two been doing?" She took in their muddy clothes with a grim look. "Were you in the swamps?"
.........."Yes...." Billy coughed. "Adam fell in...."
.........."Billy saved me." Adam felt Dulcea's gaze bore into him. He hung his head. Dulcea was right to be angry. The entire reason he was there was to keep an eye on Billy and he'd done a terrible job of that.
.........."Did you swallow any of the water?" Dulcea's question was almost nervous.
.........."A little," Billy said softly. "I'm fine though...." He walked away and sat down heavily on his out flung sleeping bag. As soon as he turned his back, Dulcea's face hardened. She pointedly gestured to Adam and walked to a far ledge. He followed, fully expecting to be chastised. Instead, the warrior woman pulled him close and whispered, "Did he swallow a lot of the water? Did you?"
.........."I didn't... Billy might've had about a mouthful." Adam felt his fear return. "Dulcea... what's wrong with the water?"
.........."It's tainted." Dulcea saw her fear was being passed on to Adam and visibly calmed down. "Adam, the water is like poison... only the Phaodosian Demon can survive in it for very long." She looked over at Billy, and Adam saw that Billy was lying down on his side, the sleeping bag pulled over him. "A strong adult will become very sick but seldom dies. Billy though... I fear he has neither the physical strength or the will to fight it...."
..........Adam shook his head. "He's different now... Dulcea, he told me he would go back to Earth even if he was still sick. That's good isn't it?"
.........."Yes...." Dulcea said sadly. She had worried even before that Billy would succumb to his despair. She had forbidden suicide on temple grounds, hoping at first that Billy had been exaggerating his condition. Later as she realized that he was more than just depressed, she accepted the condition that he had imposed, that he wanted no lifesaving measures. Only the action of Billy's spirit animal had changed her mind on that subject. "Let's hope that will be enough. "
.........."Okay, on my mark, we jump off!" Jason shouted. The snake had slowed quite a bit, but Jason figured it would still take some skill to get away. There was always the chance that the snake still wanted to fight. "One! Two! Three! Now!" He flung himself off and rolled into the brush. The others quickly did the same. To his great relief, the snake crawled off into the thick underbrush. "That was close."
.........."Oh man, that was cool!" Zack's eyes danced with excitement. "Where are we anyhow?"
..........Kimberly picked herself up out of the dirt and brushed herself off. "We're close to the monolith, but this isn't the way we came the first time." She pointed to the bulk of the monolith, visible through the trees. "Looks like a half hour walk."
..........Trini pulled herself up. "Well, let's get moving." She was already worried about how long it was taking. If anything happened to Billy, she would never forgive herself. His letters over the last few months had gotten increasingly sad. She had tried calling, even though it was more expensive than she could really afford. When that hadn't worked, she started saving for plane fare. She had planned to fly Billy out to Geneva... get him away from the stress that he was in. Sightsee, maybe take in some sky slopes. Sometimes she thought that Billy just couldn't let himself relax. He needed the time away.
..........Of course, she didn't approve of his methods to get away. He'd always had a tendency to retreat from people and she didn't think the current situation was much different. The real difference was long it took for her to find out what was going on. She didn't blame the current Rangers. She doubted Billy ever showed just how sensitive he was or how easily he was hurt. Taking people to task over it though, that wouldn't solve a thing. Billy's insecurity was partly to blame for his isolation anyhow. "Don't you wish sometimes, that Billy wasn't so afraid to be himself?" She said that quietly to Zack, her frustration finally getting the better of her.
..........Zack stopped dead in his tracks. His face took on a sudden serious caste, a look so unusual that Trini also stopped moving. "Trini, what did that ever get him?" Zack's voice was soft but full of emotion. "You know, he had absolutely no friends in school except us. Everyone laughed at him. All he ever wanted was for people to be nice to him. You know, I can admit it... I'm pretty angry with Billy. Sometimes I think he forgets who cares about him, and that hurts... because I do care. Then, I just tell myself 'That's Billy'. Because, if he did change, he'd only be doing it so I'd still like him, the same way he's already changed himself so he can get along with other people. That's not what I want." He took in Trini's stricken face and softened his words. "I know you didn't mean it like that. It's just been bugging me...."
..........Trini nodded. "It's like you said. I'm mad at Billy... but Zack, I'm so worried too. This has just got to work.."
..........Adam watched the sun set with a heavy heart, barely noticing the glorious display of color parading across the sky. His thoughts were as dark as the heavy black sweater he pulled tight across his chest. It was a little small, he'd taken it from one of Billy's bags. The night was already chilly, and he doubted Billy would mind the liberation of some warm clothes.
..........Billy, he saw as he turned back around, was still curled up in a ball on top of the air mattress. Billy was sick, there was no doubt about that. Adam was a little feverish himself. He wiped the beads of sweat off his brow and walked back over to the fire. Billy was covered with blankets, either asleep or unconscious. His eyes were closed and despite the pile of covers, he was trembling.
..........Adam took a seat on top of a dufflebag near the fire. He rooted through another bag until he came up with an old grey, hooded sweatshirt. He zipped it up gratefully, glad for something warm that wasn't tight around the shoulders.
.........."Billy?" Adam nudged him a little. "You want something to eat?" Dulcea had left some hot soup before she had again disappeared. "It's getting cold...." Billy didn't even twitch. Adam sighed and picked up one of the steaming mugs. The soup was good... it reminded him of eggdrop soup. He considered trying a little harder to wake Billy up but thought better of it. Billy had been almost crying from pain earlier. Neither could tell if it was being caused by the Billy's condition or by the water poisoning. Adam figured it was combination. He wasn't feeling well either, but Dulcea had taken in his symptoms in a glance and declared that he would be fine. It was Billy he worried about and the truth was that there was nothing he could do except wait for the others to return. He sighed heavily. Waiting was hell.
..........A soft, low pitched whine drifted through the ruins. Adam looked up. A large grey wolf stood on the farside of the temple. In the stark moonlight, it's fur took on a bluish cast. He tensed but didn't try to drive it away.
.........."It has returned." Adam jumped at Dulcea's voice. She stepped out of the shadows. The wolf looked up at her as if acknowledging her presence and then started to walk forward, its head down and still whining. Dulcea's features softened. She stepped back from the fire. "Adam...."
.........."No." Jason had told him that a spirit animal would appear at the time of death, and Dulcea had confirmed it. If the wolf was there.... He stepped between it and Billy. The fire reflected on the wolf's eyes and it growled its displeasure. "No." Adam said again. "You have to wait... you have to wait for the others to come back from the quest." Tears welled up in his eyes. "It's not fair...."
..........The wolf whined and flattened its ears. It seemed to waver in its course for a moment but then growled at Adam again. Adam stood his ground. "They won't be long... You can wait that long, can't you?"
..........Adam's voice took on a pleading edge. "Billy rescued me, that's why he's more sick. If you take him... you're just punishing him for helping me...." A boisterous ribbit followed his words. He looked down at his feet. Almost fifty frogs were littered around his shoes. The largest, a huge bullfrog almost the size of Adam's head, ribbited again, and hopped towards the wolf. The wolf whined and growled more as the frog seemed to stare it down. Finally, it sat back on its haunches and let loose with a pained howl. Adam could hear Billy starting to stir. He didn't turn until the wolf stopped howling and walked out of the temple. Adam let out the breath he was holding and returned to Billy's side.
..........Billy looked at him glassy eyes. "Who... who were you talking to?" He curled up around the blankets, obviously still in pain.
.........."Don't worry... I was just talking that all. Why don't you go back to sleep?" Adam waited until Billy's eyes drooped shut. He looked up then, only to see that the frogs had also disappeared. Only Dulcea remained, and her visage was still grim.
.........."It's only a reprieve Adam." Dulcea's voice hung in the cold night air like a warning from the gods. He shivered. She merely frowned more. "The others must hurry... your animal guide only asked for a little more time."
.........."I don't understand...." Adam kept his voice low. "I thought I wasn't a ninjetti anymore. But my spirit animal...." Adam felt a warm glow grow inside him. His spirit animal hadn't abandoned him... it had even helped him.
.........."Everyone has a spirit animal. Yours is with you always." Dulcea sat down beside him. "They can not and will not leave you. A ninjetti once is always a ninjetti, Adam. As a holder of the zeo crystal, you are following a path that does not require the great power... but once you move beyond this, the great power will be waiting." She hesitated. "For now, you must accept that unless the others gain the great power, the wolf spirit will return, and Billy will die. Tonight, it repaid a favor. It will only wait so long before returning."
.........."They'll be here in time." Adam's words were more hopeful than he really felt.
.........."Kimberly? Are we there yet?" Zack was trying to keep his tone light, but he was tired. He glanced at his watch. It was three in the morning Earth time, and Phaodos seemed to be on the same schedule. He yawned. They'd been walking around in circles for hours. For some reason, the monolith that had been so apparent before was now no longer visible. It was as if it was hiding from them.
.........."I just don't get it." Kimberly's frustration was near its breaking point. "We saw it. It's so close...."
.........."It's okay Kimberly." Trini put her arm around her friend. "We can do this. We just have to stick together."
..........Jason rubbed his head thoughtfully. "That's it." He pulled them all together. "We're doing this for Billy, right? Because he's our friend and friends stick together." He held out his hand. "If we're gonna do this... we do it together. The way we used to."
.........."But we don't have Billy with us." Trini felt her anxiety grow.
..........Jason shook his head. "If Billy was supposed to come with us, he'd be here already. I don't mean physically together... I mean united. Working towards a goal." He hesitated, struggling to express what wasn't always possible to articulate. "We have to come together on this. We have to be united. This isn't about the Rangers... this is about us." He took Kimberly's hand and then Trini's in the other. Zack joined them and in seconds they had formed a circle. It was as if they suddenly knew what to do. Each closed their eyes and concentrated, not on the monolith, but on their friendship. Zack thought of the many times the five of them had simply spent time together, hanging out at the juice bar or in the park. Kimberly thought of how all of her friends would come to her gymnastics meets and cheer her on. Trini thought of how she could walk into a classroom and find one of her friends smiling at her entrance. Jason's thoughts went back to his earlier memory of picnics in the park. A part of him longed for those easier times, when the biggest worry any of them had wasn't a monster from Rita, but whether it would rain and ruin the day. He sighed. Those were good times, he thought sadly. Maybe someday it'll be like that again... I was never happier, he thought suddenly, than back when we were all together.
..........Suddenly, as if compelled, the trees and undergrowth seemed to part. The Rangers broke their circle. The pathway cleared even more, and they could see the monolith shining brightly in the moonlight.
.........."All right!" Zack high fived Jason. He started forward but Jason reached out and stopped him.
.........."Wait a minute." Jason turned to Kimberly. "What can we expect?"
..........She shook her head. "I really don't know. There were rock gargoyles before...but nothing about this quest is the same. I know though, that we aren't going to just be able to walk up and get the great power."
.........."Okay...." Jason looked each of his friends in the eye. "Be careful. Watch your backs." He drew himself up and squared his shoulders. "Let's do it."
..........The monolith was eerily lit by the bright moonlight. There were arches, much as Kimberly had described but only empty places where the stone gargoyles had once stood. The place had an air of abandoned expectation. Jason sucked in his breath tensely. Despite the apparent abscense of danger, he knew it wasn't going to be easy. He stepped forward, the other Rangers at his side until they reached the steps. Then, he walked up, his senses on fire as he put a hand to the door, behind which, he suddenly knew, was the great power. He could feel the power tingling on the other side. There was no doorknob... in fact the doorway seemed to be a massive slab of stone. "Kimberly, how did it open before?"
..........She wiped her brow nervously. "It just did... after we beat the gargoyles."
..........Jason stepped backwards, not turning his back on the door. "Okay. Everyone stay alert. Either the door will open or we'll be attacked. It's just a matter of time." They all nodded.
..........Trini scanned the nearby brush, her eyes watching for the most minor of movements. She noticed on the ground near the water pool a puddle of blackish goo. "Kimberly? Does that look...familiar?
.........."Oh gross." Kimberly sniffed. She kneeled down at the goo and examined it. It bubbled a little but did nothing. She brushed her hands off and stood up, facing the others, a rather perplexed expression on her face. "I don't know what it is but...." She took in the sudden looks of utter shock. "What?"
.........."Kimberly, don't turn around, don't move." Jason's voice was soft and taut with fear. His eyes were staring not at her but behind her. Zack and Trini were in battle positions.
.........."What?" she said again. Jason motioned for her to slowly turn around. She did, only to see a huge wall of black slime pooling up behind her. With a sudden whoosh of movement, it fell upon her. She dove just in time and only her feet were hit. That was enough. She curled up in pain as the black goo slammed her. "Ow!"
.......... Zack pulled her out of its path. "You okay?" He gave her an arm up. She winced, but kept her feet.
.........."I think so." She winced again. "That hurt... But look, it's not staying on me. Its reforming." Sure enough, the goo at her foot was sliding along the ground to rejoin the large mass. Jason tried to intercept it and was rewarded with a burning blow from the main mass.
.........."Oh man..." Jason tried to shake off the chest blow. He felt the remnants of the creature on his outfit. It was thick and oily. Keeping one eye on the heaving creature, he pulled the others around him. "Guys... I think it's oil based..."
..........Trini nodded excitedly. "There's that pool of water... We could lure it over there."
.........."Here's what we'll do." Jason quickly outlined his plan. The teens encircled the creature but not too closely. They all held their ready stances. Zack, closest to the ledge, suddenly backed up, putting himself perilously close to the edge. He seemed to cringe a little.
.........."Guys, I can't do it." His voice quavered. "I'm scared."
.........."Come on, Zack!" Trini called from her position opposite his. "You can do it!" The creature rose and made a dive for Zack. Jason and Kimberly took that as their cue. From their sideline positions, they grabbed the vines they had concealed and made graceful arching leaps. Zack waited until the creature was almost upon him and then suddenly, with a bright smile, flipped off the cliff. The creature followed him but Zack was caught by Jason as the red ninjetti swung by. The creature made a screech like noise as it saw its prey stolen from it. Then it realized its own peril as it started to fall. Then as it tried to reach the ledge, Kimberly flew down like an avenging angel and dislodged its weak grip. The three teens swung back onto land, with Trini pulling them in. They all ran to the ledge and looked down. The black beast was thrashing weakly as it slowly dissolved in the water. Then, it was gone.
.........."All right!" Zack high-fived Jason. "We did it!"
.........."Man, for a second, I thought you were really scared!" Jason laughed.
..........Zack laughed. "You wish!"
.........."Guys, look!" Trini pointed at the monolith door. It was swinging open in a slow stately manner. The four teens stood before the bright light shining within, hoping that this was the moment, that they had completed the quest. The light seemed almost blinding and then it lowered, revealing four sharp points of light dancing in the air. The lights encircled each teen, seeming to pick and chose.
..........As the swirling light enveloped her, Kimberly laughed out loud, remembering the first time her animal spirit had chosen her. She felt a sensation of warmth as something that had been long absent returned to her soul. Trini smiled as the light entered her. She had a vision of a wild cat running through a mountain glade. It felt right to her, the same sort of rightness she had felt when she became a Ranger. Zack's shined as brightly as the light encircling him. He playfully dodged it and then let it envelope him, dancing about excitedly as the squirrel spirit joined with him. Jason stood silent, waiting as his animal spirit seemed to hesitate. Then in a swift rush, it flew into him. His exhaustion slipped away and he felt so good, it was as though he'd been reborn. In his mind he could see his animal spirit, the red tailed hawk, soaring through the clouds. For a long moment they just stood there, enjoying the moment of triumph. Then the monolith began to shine so brightly, they were forced to cover their eyes. When the light was cut off, they opened their eyes and saw that the monolith was again closed.
.........."Wow...." Zack said softly. "We did it."
.........."Yeah." Trini looked around. "Let's get back to the temple. Billy needs us."
..........Billy groaned as he pulled himself upright. It was again just before dawn, and the night air was heavy and damp. He felt hellishly sick. His clothes felt sticky with sweat and he made no move to get up. Just sitting upright seemed like a major effort. Adam was asleep, curled up tightly with several sweaters and sweatshirts littered around him. As he watched, Adam seemed to shiver. Smiling slightly, Billy gently placed one of his damp blankets across his friend.
..........He took in the temple's view of the monolith and wondered how his friends were doing. It would be nice, he thought sadly, if just once things could work out. He shifted a little, and let the blanket he had wrapped around his shoulders fall off. Suddenly he heard a bark. He turned his head sharply, wincing at the sudden pain. The wolf was back, standing at the far side of the temple. Billy rubbed his eyes to clear away the fuzziness. For some reason, the wolf seemed to be surrounded by a bluish aura. Must be my contacts, he thought fuzzily.
.........."Hey you...." his voice was scratchy and rough. The wolf seemed to nod. It barked again. Billy shakily rose. "What? Do you want something?" He took a few tottering steps and collapsed. The wolf whined sadly and walked to Billy's side. It licked Billy's unconsciouss face and nuzzled him. The bluish aura began to envelope Billy.
.........."We've got to hurry." Jason started taking the steps up to the temple two at a time. The sun was just starting to rise and they had been almost running though the forest to get back in time. The new ninjetti raced into the temple. "We're back!"
.........."Billy? Adam?" Kimberly could see Adam asleep by a pillar but no sign of Billy. She rushed past Adam who was slowly coming to by all the shouting. "Billy? Oh no!"
..........Billy was lying face down on the floor of the temple. His animal spirit, the wolf, was standing over him. They were both glowing a soft, muted blue. They ran over and Jason tried, again, to shoo the wolf away. It snarled and raised its hackles at him.
.........."What do we do?" Trini clenched her hands. It seemed as though they were just too late.
.........."With the great power, anything is possible." Kimberly pulled Trini and Zack over and held there hands. Jason joined them, understanding almost instinctively what Kimberly was going to do. They encircled Billy and the wolf. The wolf snarled again and snapped at Jason.
.........."Easy fellah...." Jason said softly. "We just want to help heal him...." They all concentrated and a glow seemed to start forming at their chests. The wolf's ear's perked up suddenly, as if finally it understood that someone could help its cub and it stepped away, waiting. The glow grew and reached out from each of the ninjetti and seemed to join over Billy's body. It grew brighter but it seemed to waver. The wolf whined in concern.
.........."It's not working!" Zack cried.
.........."It is, " said Trini, tears springing to her eyes,"But it's not enough."
..........The wolf leaped out of the circle and ran to Adam, who had been watching from the side, feeling rather out of place. The wolf grabbed his sleeve and gave a mighty yank, all the while growling.
.........."Hey!" Adam was shocked. He slowly let the wolf pull him to the circle. "I'm not a ninjetti anymore...."
.........."Yes you are, " Jason said softly, "and we need you. Billy needs you." He and Trini broke their hold and took Adam's hands in theirs. Again, a glow rose from each of them, even Adam, though it was weak and wavering at first. The wolf took a seat at Adam's feet. The energy slowly grew in intensity until it suddenly grew to bright to even look at. Like a flashbulb, it seemed to burst and then it was gone, leaving behind nothing but dazzly spots in their eyes.
..........And Billy, still lying on the ground. Jason broke the circle first and rushed to his side, followed by the rest. "Billy? Are you ok?" He turned Billy over and pulled him up in his arms. Billy stirred suddenly and winced. Then, with an almost casual blink, he popped his contacts out.
.........."My eyes are really dry," he muttered. "But other than that, I think... I think I'm okay." Billy tried to smile and then burst into tears. "You guys... I can't believe you guys did this."
..........Trini dropped to her knees and encircled Billy in her arms. "We're your friends."
.........."Yeah man." Jason said softly. "We're here for you, just like how you're always here for us." He pulled Billy to his feet. "Why don't we take you home?" Billy nodded, still crying. Adam grabbed a hold of him and teleported them both. The others followed.
..........Jason was about to join them when out of the shadows, Dulcea appeared. "Jason," she said softly. "Today, you and your friends have done a noble thing. Never forget that a Ninjetti and a Ranger are different things, with different purpose, but both walk the path of honor. You are a true child of the Ninjetti, as are your friends." She smiled. "I am very proud of all of you. Until our next meeting, be well." She faded into the shadows of the temple. Jason moved to follow her but she was gone. The temple seemed almost deserted and deathly quiet. Then, on the wind, Jason heard the faint, joy filled howl of a wolf. With a smile, he teleported out.
..........As Jason took a seat at the Juice Bar, he marveled at how alike and yet different everything was. After three weeks as a Ninjetti, he felt almost like a new person. Everything seemed new and exciting. At times he had to fight the urge to get up and run. Sometimes, he just did go run... and it felt wonderful.
..........Everyone seemed different, even the Zeo Rangers. Adam's experience had somehow softened the militant stance of the team. All of the Zeo Rangers had made it a point to stop by and see Billy every day. Rocky and Tommy both had expressed interest in returning to Phaedos after Mondo was defeated. Zack and Trini had needed to return to Switzerland, and Jason was considering joining them. He was still a delegate after all. The team was up to speed... they didn't need the help of Ninjetti. Kimberly had felt the same way. I'm on call, she had said, but somehow I don't think people will be calling. She gave them all an open invitation to visit the training camp in Florida. Trini and Zack had already taken her up on it. Adam was planning to, and Jason was thinking of tagging along. He didn't think that his friends were going to lose touch this time. That made him smile even more.
..........Tommy dropped into the seat beside him. "Hey man, is Billy going to be by?" Having Billy back made Tommy feel good, like it was possible for him to make up for being such a jerk. He hadn't realized, it was true, that he had cut Billy off from everyone. He had apologized and Billy had accepted. Still, Tommy wanted to at least try to make things right.
.........."He asked me to meet him here and said if I saw you to keep you here." Jason got the feeling Billy had something of some importance to say. Billy had spent the last few weeks regaining some equilibrium. He had given no hints as to what he planned to do.
..........Billy trotted in, a bounce in his steps. Both Jason and Tommy marveled at the change in Billy. For the first time in months, maybe even years, Billy wore a smile that wasn't forced. He was relaxed, not tense. If either boy had to put a word to it, it was that Billy looked happy. Content. It made them all feel good to see that.
..........Billy pulled up a chair and sat down nonchalantly. He grinned at both of them. "I'm glad I caught both of you. I wanted to talk to you. I plan on telling everyone but I wanted you two to be the first to hear."
.........."Hear what, man?" Tommy asked. "You finally decide what to do with yourself?"
.........."Yes, actually." Billy crossed his arms over his light blue t-shirt. "My father is taking some time off from work and we are going to travel around the world. See all the sites together."
.........."Wow," said Jason. "How long do you plan to be gone?"
.........."Maybe a year. Maybe more. It depends on where we go and what we end up doing. We're going to Rome first and probably Greece after that. Then... who knows?" Billy grinned again. " It should be fun though."
.........."A year though?" Tommy asked. "That's an awful long time."
.........."Well, my dad isn't getting any younger. And I have plenty of time." Billy scoffed slightly. Zordon had run some tests and while nothing was certain, Zordon had estimated that Billy had a lifespan of some three hundred years. Billy had felt overwhelmed at first but now he was reassessing what was important. "Since my mom died, we've drifted apart and I want to change that. I already talked to Zordon... If you guys have a serious problem, I'm there, but otherwise I'm pretty much retiring from the team. I think its time for me to move on."
.........."Are you sure that's what you want?" Jason asked softly.
.........."Billy, you know you don't have to leave." Tommy added. "I mean, we appreciate what you do. And now that you're a Ranger again...."
.........."No, I'm not." Billy said softly. "I'm a Ninjetti warrior... but that's not the same as a Ranger." Billy took a deep breath. "Once my father and I finish our trip... I think I might return to Phaedos for a while, and find out what that really means." He rose then. "I'm not leaving for a few weeks so I'll let every know what's up."
..........Jason watched his friend walk away and realized that he too wanted to know what a Ninjetti really was. He held the great power but had almost no idea what it could do. He wondered if Billy would mind a companion on his trip to Phaedos.