Holding True
by Melissa Morris

Time had passed since the earth was in danger from the outside. No Rangers had faced the minions of evil in battle for many years and the battles of space were distant memories to some and nothing to others. Those who had once defended in secrecy now lived lives much more mundane . . . in comparison. All that was left of those days of valor and danger were memories . . . .

* * *
"So, a man and a woman
forked out a baby
and the prince of dysfunction
boy on a string
from the suburban palace
he walked out to freedom it led to a concept in the world of a king."
--World of a King by David Mead.

A lone figure darted across the bar with three others in pursuit as he headed for the exit. He skidded to a halt as a big man in a battered duster and mirrored shades entered the bar, effectively barring his exit. The big man smiled menacingly, "Are we going somewhere?"

The lone figure didn't even dignify that question with an answer as he quickly scanned the room. He barely paused as he leapt to a nearby table and then another avoiding his pursuers. He saw his target as he jumped to one last table, but as he landed he felt the table begin to shift beneath him. A brief flash of panic flickered on the edge of his calm and he didn't even think as he hopped to the top edge of the upending table. Adam felt adrenaline rush through him as his feet touched the edge of the upended table and he leapt upward. Adam flipped as he easily vaulted onto the second story railing. He lightly hopped down and breathed a silent sigh of relief as he headed down the walkway.

He stopped as he reached the end of the corridor. 'Something is wrong. It's too quiet.' He walked back to the railing and saw everybody staring up at him. "What? Wasn't it a good take? I know the table wasn't supposed to spill, but . . . " He trailed off as it finally dawned on him what was wrong. ' I'm on the third story landing, not the second. What in the heck? '

''''''

As he cleaned up after the shoot, he kept going over his miraculous leap. 'That was weird, well I guess that's what adrenaline can do for you. At least that's what everyone else is saying . . . a good take though. But it didn't feel like adrenaline . . . it felt familiar. Only a couple more days left to the shoot anyway.' He pushed these thoughts from his mind as he headed home for the day. The rest of the shoot went well and in a few days he was home.

When he awakened the day after his return, he went through his morning ritual of dynamic stretching and kata. This was something he no longer did in front of others, always alone in the morning sun. This was where he let go and didn't worry about what others thought, this was just the moment and the kata. He was calm as he flowed from one move to the next. Graceful and powerful, each move was seeming perfection with no wasted energy. As he worked, he felt in tune with the world around him. Then he began to move his focus inward and as he did so his kata became more intense. He breathed calmly as if the activity was nothing more than a simple walk. As he felt himself flow with the movements he felt a familiar feeling rush through him and he heard a voice from within, "Young Prince, it is good that you have returned."

Adam was startled and gracelessly dropped from his kata, 'Wha?, ' and as he looked down at himself. 'I'm . . . I'm . . . ' He floundered mentally as he took in his appearance, for once more he wore ninjetti black. ' No, it's not. ' This outfit was different, it lacked the white diamonds and golden frog he was so accustomed to. Yet it was not bare, in dark silvery, grey thread the frog sat proudly on his chest and stylized frogs form patterns around his forearms. At his waist was a dark metallic belt that seemed to follow a frog through its leap. As he looked closer, he noticed that not even the black was solid, more of an off-black, and it too was worked with a pattern of foliage and frogs of different types. 'Wow. This is wiggy . . . Am I really a ninjetti again? ' He sat and calmed himself, falling back into his meditation and reaching for that familiar place inside.

"What Young Prince, do you doubt your eyes and soul?" came a laughing voice.

This time Adam was prepared and held to his calm, "A little," he replied sheepishly. "I thought that I had lost you? I mean the coins were destroyed . . . "

"Did you have the coins when you met me? Hmm . . . no, my link was forged to your soul, you confused your powers with what was within."

"But I lost the powers and you were gone, I mean it's been years . . . "

"Years yes, but gone never, it was a shock to you to lose the coins and in pain you locked yourself away from me, but I knew you would return."

"But . . . uh . . . How did my outfit come back, why is it different?"

The Frog laughed once more, "So many questions, Young Prince. You have made yourself ninjetti once more, you are not an apprentice in a uniform, you are the ninjetti you have made yourself. New gifts shall be yours, but you must learn them."

A thought came to Adam, "Will the others come back too?"

Silence greeted him, "If they can find the path."

"What?" Adam paused, "Do you think they will?"

The Frog sounded sad, "As it stands now, no, they will not."

"Can I help?" interjected Adam hopefully.

He sighed, "I do not know." He paused once more, "But now dwell on happier things, you are ninjetti," the Frog laughs once more, "enjoy it for a while. Your path is your own, let it take you, or you it, where it will." He chuckled, "And may the power protect you."

''''''

" Ive watched the stars fall silent from your eyes
Oh, the sights that I have seen
I cant believe that I believed I wished
That you could see
Theres a new planet in the solar system
There is nothing up my sleeve"
-Great Beyond by REM.

Adam sat in the empty bleachers and watched the cars race around the track.

'Not where I expected to end up was it? ' He thought bemusedly to himself as he waited. He had intended to take a vacation after the movie so he could wait to see how it did at the box office, but this wasn't it. Now, he smiled sadly as he remembered those final days as a Ranger, when Tommy decided that he would like to race professionally. 'Well, he's not Jeff Gordon, but he's not doing that bad.' Adam rose from his seat and headed down toward the track as the race ended. He waited for the din to settle and began to yell for Tommy. 'Hopefully he'll remember I was supposed to meet him.'

He waited patiently as one of the racers made his way toward the stands and began to pull off his helmet. "Hey Adam, it's good to see you man," grinned Tommy as he removed his gloves and ran his fingers through his short hair. "I haven't heard from you in so long, how's it going?"

'He doesn't look different with that short hair. Same old Tommy.' "Pretty good, just wrapped a movie, just a little one, but I starred. It was very cool."

"Great, wanna get some lunch and talk? Just gotta let me get cleaned up real quick, but when I saw you in the stands I had to come by first. Where do you want to eat, oh, you're not from around here, uh, there's this place not far from the track called Oz's . . . " "The place with the big green sign? Yeah, I saw it, how could I miss it? Sure I'll meet you there." Adam watched Tommy go, 'What am I looking for? Do I just go, 'Hey, look at me I'm a ninjetti!' and go from there?'

'''''''

Adam watched Tommy as they ate, they'd been catching up on current events, but Adam decided that now was the time to get to business. He dropped his voice conspiratorially, "You remember when we became ninjetti?"

Tommy grinned and leaned closer, "Yeah, on Phaedos with Dulcea," he laughed, "Yeah Kermit, I do." Adam smiled hugely. 'That's more true than you know.' "Can you feel it? Do you ever want it back?"

Tommy's grin vanished, "It's gone, Adam. We're not Rangers and we won't be. We're not needed anymore."

"Does it matter if we're needed? We were Rangers, which was great, but do you think we just really left it all behind? I mean look at you, you're almost 30, but you look almost as young as you did when we were Rangers. From the pictures I've seen of Kim she's doing that well too." 'Shit, why did I have to say Kim?' Adam mentally berated himself as he saw Tommy's expression become grim.

"Adam, you need to stop living in the past. It's over. Deal. I have and I think everyone else has too."

'He's too bitter and he won't let himself have . . . it. I just can't feel it. Is this what Frog meant?' He sighed, "Tommy, it's just a possibility, an errant thought if you will," Adam trailed off as he noticed the stubborn look on Tommy's face. 'Where are Rita and Zedd when you need them?' "Well," he paused, "if you don't want to talk about it . . . How about we just forget about this conversation and just be old friends for the few days I'm in town?"

'''''''

The next few days passed uneventfully with the two old friends catching up, but Adam's attempts to help Tommy rediscover his ninjetti side were in vain. 'I think he'd put so much of himself into being a Ranger for so long that when he gave it up, even willingly, he had to shut it out . . . and that part of himself. He doesn't even do martial arts anymore. The stubbornness that made him such a determined leader is now working against him.' He sighed to himself as he waited for the taxi to reach his next destination: Red Dragon Martial Arts. ' At least he could tell me where Rocky and Jason were, hopefully they'll be more open.' He sighed once more 'I just 'feel' that the 'time problems' make it impossible to bring Aisha back, so that's another no go.' He frowned slightly, 'And Tommy didn't even know Billy was back from Aquitar . . . that was odd. I mean I've only been able to talk to him a couple of times and get a few letters because of my schedule, but . . . And Tommy couldn't stop from berating me for my 'fixation with the past.' ' He pulled himself from his thoughts and smiled as the taxi pulled up to a converted warehouse 'At least someone kept true to the old dreams. '

He smiled as he grabbed his bags and walked into the dojo, taking in the sight of students young and old going through kata and exercise. He scanned the room and stepped off to the side to watch class for awhile. As he's looking at the trophy case, he hears a familiar voice from behind, "Looking to learn about martial arts?"

He didn't turn as he replied, "Oh, I don't know. I mean what could you teach me . . . " Adam spun around with a grin, "Monkey-boy?"

"Adam," Rocky shouted enthusiastically as he reached forward and grabbed Adam in a bear hug. "I haven't seen you in forever, how are you? What have you been doing? Are you still in Martial Arts? Where have you been?" the questions just poured from Rocky as he guided Adam toward his office. Then he turned with a mischievous grin on his face and put a finger to his lips, "Shhhhh."

He leaned into the office, "Hey Jase, we got a new student, he doesn't look like much . . . " Rocky paused as Adam elbowed him in the ribs, "but I think he has some possibility."

Adam watched expectantly as Jason walked out of the office with a confused look on his face, "Uh, Rocky that doesn't . . . Adam! Man, good to see you." He extended a hand which Adam accepted, "So you've finally got around to coming to see us."

Adam grinned sheepishly, "Actually I had to ask Tommy where you were, the last letter I got was for the opening of your old schools. I've just finished work on a project and I'm taking a long awaited vacation. I decided to see how everyone was doing. You said that if I came you'd let me crash with you and if the offer's still open I'll accept."

Rocky beamed at Adam, "Yeah it is. Let me show you around the school and when we shut down you can stay at my place."

''''''

'Should I?' Adam wondered for the umpteenth time as he watched Rocky and Jason spar. His stay had been fun and he quickly found what had been missing from Tommy. There was a sense of the power that hung over Rocky. When Adam closed his eyes, he could feel the mist and mountains about him, all aglow in red. He also understood why Rocky would never rediscover the ninjetti powers on his own: it just wasn't in his nature. Rocky had always been very emotional and exuberant with little focus on the internal, so while he'd kept his connection, he'd just never made it back.

'Should he?' was another question that plagued Adam. 'Tommy needed it to heal, but he shut himself off and built walls against it. Rocky is perfectly happy here, he enjoys what he is doing so much. He likes the martial arts and he loves working with the kids. I mean just look at the way they light up when he comes around. Jason may be the respectable teacher, and the kids like him too, but he doesn't have that way that Rocky has.'

He paused to watch Jason for a moment 'He made a good partner for Rocky, it was amusing that both had decided to stay in Angel Grove and open Dojo's. For a short time they were inadvertent competition for each other and then they decided that maybe they should just join forces. Under the banner of their common Ranger past they started a new school. Well it worked.' He's interrupted from his musings as Rocky yelled, "Hey Adam, wanna spar?"

Adam looked at him and shrugged, "Well it's been awhile since I've worked out with anyone else except on a set." He got up and headed for the mats, "Don't hurt me too much," he quipped to Rocky.

Rocky just stuck his tongue out to the amusement of many of the students watching. Jason sighed and rolled his eyes heavenward, "You know you are supposed to be a role-model," he sighs once more and shakes his head, deciding 'why bother?'

'''''

Jason was actually eager to watch this match. He'd been watching Adam since they'd convinced him to do a kata for the class while he did his 'morning workout,' Jason had the distinct impression that there was also an 'evening workout' as well. He'd probably see that later, but he also felt that he wasn't seeing it all. 'It feels like there should be more, but man, that was impressive.' Adam had just done a simple kata, one that Jason had seen him do in their ranger days, but . . . 'It was amazing. It was powerful, fast, graceful, and easy. I think Adam may still be selling himself short after all these years.' He turned his full attention back to the impromptu sparring match.

Well, what he thought would have been a sparring match 'Damn! That was quick.' He'd watched as Rocky launched an attack to test Adam, which Adam easily blocked. Then he stepped up his attacks and each time it was met with a block. Adam easily stayed on the defensive 'Rocky was pushing hard and Adam wasn't even breaking a sweat. Rocky's no lightweight, I've sparred with him too much. I wonder if Adam thought Rocky was still playing nice.' Regardless of what Adam was thinking, he suddenly lashed out with a fast round kick 'It was so fast, it looked like something you'd throw to tap someone. Man, if Rocky hadn't been knocked on his ass, I would have thought it was a tap.' He shook his head as he watched Adam help Rocky up, stammering apologies all the while. 'Adam, you've definitely been practicing.'

He walked over to them, "Well, Rocky I think you went a little too easy on him." He winked at Adam, "Or maybe you're just getting old."

The look Rocky fixed on him could melt glass.

"Well Adam, while the old man here recuperates, do you want to spar me? Though I won't go as easy on you as Rocky did," Jason smiled cheerily at Adam 'Well this should be an experience.'

"Are you sure you're okay?" Adam looked at Rocky worriedly.

"Yeah, just a lucky shot," 'I now know what they mean when they say, 'kicked by a mule,' ouch'

"Just knocked the wind out of me, I'll be fine," 'After a few weeks in intensive care.' Rocky winced inwardly as he sat to watch Jason's turn 'Probably going to get his ass handed to him' That thought brought a smile back to Rocky's face. He patted Jason on the back, "Have fun."

'''''

From his position as spectator Rocky got a great view of the next match, and so did everyone else in the building: after Rocky had gotten creamed everybody was watching Adam and Jason. It didn't even start the same: Jason kept his fighting stance as he slowly circled Adam. Adam stood there totally relaxed, only turning when Jason's movements would take him behind.

They both watched each other intently, Jason looking for some inkling of what Adam was going to do, and Adam for something else. 'He does glow! Not as bright as Rocky, but it is there. Potential? Or residual?' A bemused grin appeared on his face as the glow seemed to flare slightly 'And here it comes . . .' Jason's attack was sudden, no outward sign had tipped Adam off, but he knew. Air met Jason's attack as Adam dropped to the floor then sprang up lightning fast and leapt straight up for a sudden tap through Jason's guard to his head.

Jason felt a flash of relief shoots through him as Adam lightly tapped him on the head 'At least he has more control this time.' Jason distantly heard Rocky's groan, but didn't give it much thought as he tried to figure out what to do next. "Good one Adam," he said as they continued to circle. 'He's so fast and strength is just going to get me slammed.'

'Well if I'm going to fight ex-rangers, this could be handy' Adam grinned to himself. 'Maybe I should just take the offensive?'

Jason watched as a grin appeared on Adam's face, then he frowned as Adam suddenly shrugged to himself 'wha . . . ' The thought didn't get much further as Adam's sudden assault forces him on the defensive. He blocked and dodged as fast and furious, but he kept feeling those light taps zip through his defenses. 'Oh boy. I'm getting trashed. I don't even see some of those attacks. I need something.'

This went on for a little while. Adam was having fun, but it had to come to an end. ' Jason's looking like he's been running a marathon, and I didn't mean to go off like that. Well . . . ' He debated for a moment, then carefully opened a hole in his defenses, slight, but a hole none the less.

'How long has this been going on?' Jason wondered as he felt himself begin to tire. Usually his workouts were longer, but this blitzkrieg was draining. 'Wha . . . ' Jason just reacted as he perceived an opening and attacked. He watched in shock as Adam is knocked flat on his back and nimbly rolled up.

"Good one Jase, I thought I had you," he grinned as he went to towel himself off.

The class broke into applause as Jason grabbed his towel 'I didn't touch him, I came close but there was no contact.' He shook his head in disbelief 'Well, he . . . , I guess it's his job to make it look convincing, if I wasn't the one doing the hitting I wouldn't know either.' He looked at Adam, "Yeah that was the most intense workout I've had in a long time. Hey, come to the office, I'll snag you a juice." He turned to Rocky, "Hey, Old Man, why don't you take care of the class for a while? I want to talk to Adam while I recuperate."

Rocky grinned and started to get the class to settle back down into its usual pattern. '''''' Once they were in the office, Jason closed the door and headed to the fridge in the corner. As he rummaged around, he began talking, "That was some match," he shook his head, "What kind of juice? Are you still a grape fan?"

"Yeah it was a great match and yeah, grape is good."

Jason tossed it to him and raised an eyebrow as Adam didn't even look at it as he snagged it out of the air. "But I have a question, why did you let me win? I mean, it looked like I nailed you good, but I didn't even touch you. You gave me that opening, didn't you?" He looked at Adam intently.

Adam blushed and stammered, "Well I couldn't beat you in front of your school, I didn't know that I could do that. I just did. It's different now," he shook his head and began pacing 'Should I?' He stopped and looked at Jason, "Okay, I'm going to tell you some stuff, but it doesn't leave this room okay?"

Jason nodded in assent and Adam continued, "I had been intending to come see you guys when I was done with the shoot, that's true, but something else came up." He paused and stared at Jason intently. 'Yes, this is right.' "I was working on the wrap up of my last project when a slight accident happened. I was supposed to leap from top of this table and grab the second floor railing in this bar. No problem, I could actually grab the bottom of the railing from the table, it just looked impressive," he shook his head, "But something went wrong and the table tipped, a screw came loose, and I didn't think, I jumped to the edge of the table and leaped up, it was graceful and impressive, I've seen the footage, and I landed lightly on top of the railing. The only weird thing? It was the third floor railing. I'd leapt up a story, impressive huh?"

Jason waited patiently sensing that this was more rhetorical than anything. Adam started once more, "When it happened I felt something, something that was familiar and I couldn't place it. Well once the shoot was over, I went home and took some time to wind down and all. But the next morning when I did my morning workout, well I found that feeling again." He closed the blinds to the office then he stopped and gave Jason a soul-searching stare, "It was the ninjetti power."

Jason stared in shock 'The power?' It was not what he had been expecting. His mouth worked for a moment and he managed to blurt out, "Are you sure?"

Adam looked at him bemusedly, "Not at the time, but . . . " he trailed off and glowing black tendrils seemed to start at his feet and weave together in the blink of an eye, leaving Adam's new ninjetti outfit in its place. "I think that it's a definite possibility." He grinned lopsidedly at Jason, "and as long as I'm into blacks and greys, I have infinite wardrobe possibilities." He winked as the tendrils flash out again and leaves him standing in a black suit. "Guess black really does go with everything."

A shocked laugh burst from Jason and Adam joined in 'That went over well.' Adam raised his hand and the light seems to seep back into him, leaving him back in the casual clothes he wore earlier. "But I'm not really here to show of my excellent fashion sense."

Jason nodded at Adam, "You're checking to see if you can teach Rocky?"

Adam nodded, "That's why I came, but I just don't know. I mean I talked to Tommy, but he's lost," he shook his head sadly, "and I can't be sure if it's the right thing to do for Rocky. I mean I think it's great, but I have a feeling . . .," he shook his head, "He's very happy here, do I want to risk that? Can I? What right do I have?"

"I don't know, why don't you ask him? Why tell me?"

Adam ran his hands through his hair frustratedly, "I feel that if I start it now, it has to finish, whether I'm here or not." He paced deep in thought, "Jase, I'm not going to tell him. Not yet." He sighed, "I'm not having any luck with this am I?"

Jason shrugged 'He's made his decision.' "Well I don't think Tommy counts, he barely talks to me anymore. You're right he's slowly shutting us all out, and as for Rocky, well you're the ninjetti, not me. That's all your call."

"Thanks, I've needed someone to talk to. It's been hard not to just yell it from the rooftops, y'know?"

"I remember that feeling," Jason shook his head fondly, "Those were good days."

"Yeah."

"Now about that fight . . . ," Jason restarted the original conversation.

Adam looked embarrassed, "I hadn't sparred anyone in so long, I stood there against Rocky and I didn't feel . . . different . . . y'know in the zone?" He waited for Jason to nod, "Well then he attacked and WHAM, he was down. And it dawned on me that I didn't feel different, because I was in the zone already, been in it . . . ," he trailed off searching for the right words.

'Ninjetti . . . this boy is kicking ass and taking names!' "Isn't that the goal of martial arts?" replied Jason with the reasoned tone of an instructor. "You're getting there, now you just have to keep working." 'He's already started the next race actually.' ''''' "The night is my companion
and solitude my guide,
Would I spend forever here
and not be satisfied." -Possession by Sarah Mclachlan.

Someplace far away . . .

A lone cloaked figure moved through ancient buildings, as silently as the wind that whispered through empty halls. Checking rooms and halls that have been empty for so long. Going through a task that once gave purpose, but now seemed hopeless and barren. 'Such is my life' The figure sighed to herself 'So much lost, when am I to join them?'

She moved through empty rooms that spoke of ages past, yet no dust marred them and all sat ready for the next guests . . . guests that never came. Braziers lined the halls and sat in the rooms, though no one had attended them for so long they lit as she went by. She passed a dining hall, bedrooms, and many others without pause, but stopped at one room. 'Should I?' She sighed as she pushed open the great doors and enters. She searched the room, her eyes running over books, scrolls, and even tablets, until they came to rest on the main table and the lone scroll on top of it.

'Must I torture myself more?' she thought as she opened the scroll once more. 'Such hopes lost in a shower of golden dust.' She looked to the scroll, it is long, yet she knew it by heart. She only hoped that something has changed, that something was missed. She started to read the lines that had been her guide for so long and now left her rudderless in the seas of time. "Those who were great shall fall,
one shall hold true,
Time shall wipe clean their transgress,
one shall hold true,
When all is forgot,
one shall hold true,"

Her eyes stare at the last line without reading, 'I have held true, I thought he was the one, but now....' She closed the scroll and the last line, the one that now was a cruel joke echoed through her mind:

"One shall seek what was once sought,
the Dark Prince shall hold true." ''''' Jason watched in fascination as Adam goes through his evening workout. 'He does this twice a day?!' After much badgering Adam had decided on his last night there to allow Jason to watch him work out. He had seemed nervous, right until he started: then he was calm and collected.

Jason shook his head in bemusement 'No wonder he never broke a sweat.' He watched Adam move through the intense movements 'He's better than me and he doesn't even know it.' He blinked as Adam performed a couple of leaping maneuvers that defy logic and gravity 'Man, frogs can sure hop!' He'd actually had Adam show him a couple things 'He'd had to pass it off as 'well my style doesn't have anything like this' instead of 'where the hell did you learn that!'' He was impressed, there was no doubt about it, Adam had been spending all that time alone learning from those around him. 'In the end his shyness had become an asset. He was able to try his own ideas and make his own decisions without interference. When I asked him what style, he just shrugged and said 'Dunno, my own I guess, little of this and that.' I'd even seen a couple of my old moves in there.' They'd had fun and Jason had been able to give Adam an exact location for Kimberly, but he too had no idea Billy was back. He'd had to tell Adam that he hadn't seen him either, but maybe Kim had. 'If not he could always check with Trini.' ''''' "And all this talk of time
Talk is fine
But I dont want to stay around
Why cant we pantomime, just close our eyes
And sleep sweet dreams
Being here with wings on our feet" -Great Beyond by REM.

'Two down, two to go' thought Adam as walked up the path to the gymnastics academy where

Kimberly taught. After her success in Pan-Globals, she'd actually made the Olympic team for 2000 and brought back silver. In the 2004, she qualified again ' Though there was a big fuss about her age' And brought back gold. Now she was teaching for a living and doing quite well for herself 'I'm amazed that she doesn't have her own school by now.'

Adam walked into the main building and after a quiet chat with the receptionist waited for Kimberly to appear. He doesn't wait long as a slight figure bounced up and gave him a hug, "Adam, you look great!" She went on to show him around the school and let him watch while she taught a couple classes.

After a couple days of him watching classes or talking about old times, Kim led him to her private apartments. She opened the door to her small building, "Home, sweet, home. Want something to drink? How's tea?"

He nodded and watched as she bounded out the room 'Guess she's happy to see me.' She smiled at him as she handed him a glass of tea, "It's good to see you, stranger. But you still haven't told me what brought you to my neck of the woods?"

"Oh, not much. Finished my job and decided to take a long awaited vacation, thought I'd see how everyone was doing. Just finished talking to Jason and Rocky, can you believe they're in business together?"

"It's nice, though I'm amazed at how well those two get along."

"Yeah, it was fun." Now after only a little concentration he saw the pink glow that surrounded Kimberly and the impression of ponds and clouds 'Stronger maybe . . . ' "Well, tell me about how you're doing, I've seen all the articles but . . . "

"You want to know if there are any other juicy happenings," she beamed, "Well you've heard about the Pan-Globals and the Olympics. I kicked majorly, I was a bit . . . ," she sighed, "After that not much. I teach." She lapsed into silence and a sad look crossed her face. During these last couple days he'd noticed these occasional lapses when she was

training or talking. The only time she seemed totally like her old self was when she was going through routines or hanging with him. 'Something has her down and I want to know' "You don't sound happy," he ventured hesitantly as she looked up at him, "Well you don't," he finished lamely.

She paused and looked at Adam searchingly as he began to study the carpet, "You always noticed everything, didn't you?" She sighed again, "I don't compete anymore, I can't. Not because I don't want to, but do you remember all the furor of the '04 Olympics because of my age?" Kim didn't wait for an answer as she began to pace, "Gymnastics is something I love, but it's a sport for young girls, not young women. I teach, but it isn't the same . . . I want to do it and not just by myself or for myself. And I can't, not without a media circus or more allegations of steroids, hormones, drugs, and whatnot. It's just not worth it."

Adam watched for a moment as a tear began to slip down her cheek, then he hesitantly stood up and gave her a supporting hug. 'I never thought of that. Our blessing it seems is double sided.' He paused as a feeling of rightness passed through him, "Hey, I've got something . . . neat to show you. It'll definitely make your day."

She wiped her eyes and looked at him expectantly, "Neat?"

He grinned hugely, "Well it is." 'I don't know why I'm doing this.' He shrugged and morphed into his ninjetti outfit.

"Ohmygod," slipped out before Kimberly could stop herself.

"You know people keep reacting to me like that . . . Is it my cologne? ," Adam quipped mischievously.

'''''

"Just try to calm yourself and focus on . . . ," Adam trailed off and sighed. 'We've been trying this for a week and she's not making any progress.' He watched as Kimberly once more tried to reach a meditative state. 'Maybe this isn't the best way?' "I'm sorry Kim, but I think I'm doing this wrong." 'Meditation and kata worked for me, but is it the only way? I don't think I'm wrong about Kim and she needs this. She's out of place in her chosen place, odd thought. How? Duh!' Adam groaned out loud and Kim looked at him startled, "No, it's not you, it's me, I thought about this wrong," he explained sheepishly, "This should not be me 'teaching' you but me helping you. If I know you . . . ," he shook his head. "Well, I've kept you away from your gymnastics long enough, I need to think about this for a few minutes, okay?"

Kim frowned at him for a moment and then got this 'little kid out of class' grin on her face as she headed to the mats. As she began a routine, Adam pondered over his new revelation'Um, Frog can you hear me?'

He heard a chuckle, "You're right, work with it, my Young Prince," and the chuckle became a full throated croaking laugh.

Adam mentally stuck his tongue out at his spirit animal and the laughing became harder as it started to fade away.

'The crane is graceful and agile, I forgot in my haste to help Kim. I used meditation and Kata, because it was natural to me. I cannot force it on her and expect it to work, she has her own way of being in tune with . . . ah, there it is!' He blinked as the light pink glow that surrounded Kim began to flare as she dropped ever more into her workout. 'This is her. Now how to use this?'

He thought about it for a few minutes as Kim continued her workout. As her workout started to hit its peak, he began to speak softly and soothingly as she gracefully flew across the mats. "Remember you are the crane, a bird in flight, holder of the pink powers, feel them burn inside you," he watched Kim intently as he spoke. 'I sound like Yoda, 'Use the force Kim.'' "Think of those you care for, for that has always been your strength." As he said this, Kim's 'aura' of pink glow more brightly. 'YES! Paydirt!' Adam did a little internal victory dance as Kim's routine became a little more impressive. "Be brave, fly true." 'Man, I sound weird.' He paused as a wave of certainty washed over him and he felt his voice rise, "Fly free! You are the Crane, graceful and agile!" As he said this, he felt his power flow through him and a black spark seemed to start a pink blaze.

''''''

"Now once upon a time I was nobody's fool
(once upon a fool)
two jobs and showing up for school
I guess it comes apart so little by little
you don't know your there till your stuck in the middle
I try not to care I would lose my mind
running 'round the same thing time after time"
-Cold Beer and Remote Control by the Indigo Girls.

Adam walked through Stone Canyon with a spring in his step. After his success with Kim he told her that he really needed to find Billy and she knew where he was. It seemed that she had been talking to him on the phone for the last couple years, but she was a bit worried: every time she tried to visit him something came up. She was getting the impression that Billy didn't want to see her and with her schedule she couldn't just up and leave to go visit him. 'Well, I can.' Adam was a bit surprised to learn that Billy was living in Stone Canyon, yet he never took the short walk or ride to see Rocky and Jason. 'Something is up, but what?'

He shrugged as he walked toward the house that Kim told him about, it was easy to find-only a couple of blocks away from his old house. 'Well here goes' thought Adam as he knocked upon the door. He waited and didn't get an answer.'I hope he's home.' He knocked again and out of the corner of his eye he saw the blinds move slightly, he reached out and . . . 'Blue!' He knocked on the door again, "Billy, I know you're in there. Let me in. Or I'll camp out on your doorstep for the next week."

Adam felt the blue flame flicker and got the impression of running in a dark forest, but the door still didn't open. "Come on Billy. Why are you hiding?" He sighed and put his hand on the doorknob. As he did, he felt the locks click, "Finally you're seeing reason," he opened the door and leaned in to see a very shell shocked and very young Billy.

Billy blinked at him, "I didn't open the door! Go . . . " he sighed and his shoulders slumped, "Oh, come in and close the door."

As Adam stepped in, Billy relocked the door and the deadbolt. Then he stepped over to the security system and stares at it for a moment. He frowns and looks at Adam searchingly, "Well, you've found me, I take it Kim sent you?"

Adam nods dumbly. 'He looks like . . . like those old pictures of when he first became a ranger!'"You're young!" he blurted out in shock.

Billy looked at him cooly, "Yes, I have noticed that," he softened his expression with a slight smile, "and I suppose you want to know what happened? Well follow me downstairs and we'll talk."

Adam looked around as Billy led him toward the basement. 'The living room was mundane enough and so were the kitchen and dining room, but past that and its like walking into Billy's old garage . . . squared!' He examined Billy's muted blue glow as Billy typed a code 'he has a keypad for his basement!?' and opened the door. He went down the stairs and took a seat on the beat up couch that Billy gestured to.

"Would you prefer refreshment before our discussion?"

Adam shook his head and Billy grabbed a juice out of a small refrigerator and took a seat on the couch as well. Billy looked at him and sighed once more, "Well, this is quite simple actually. You remember when I went to Aquitar to deal with the accelerated aging?" He waited for Adams affirmation, then continued, "As you know it required drinking from the Aquitian's sacred waters, a veritable fountain of youth. Its effects on Aquitian's are quite well known on Aquitar, unfortunately those on humans were not. It took careful effort to cure me, but in the end the effects were a little too powerful for the human physiology. I had the distinct 'pleasure' of going from one-hundred and ten to ten. And I was stuck there. There was no way to age me back to my then current age, so . . . "

"That idiotic story of you falling in love with Cestra and staying on Aquitar," finished Adam.

Billy grinned at Adam, "It was preposterous, wasn't it?" He laughed, "But it was a good excuse, though if you knew why didn't you tell the others?"

"You must have had a reason, I trusted the Aquitian Rangers' judgment and yours."

Billy smiled gratefully, "But back to my narrative, I stayed on Aquitar until I felt I was able to pass for myself on earth. I mean a ten-year-old claiming he was 16 seemed a little too farfetched. Even now when I venture out, I receive strange looks when go about my business."

"And since you didn't want to deal with any of us, because of?"

"Well, I had enough problems and I didn't want to be . . . ," Billy trailed off.

"Pitied? A problem? Billy, we are your friends, we'd . . . ah, that's it, have been there for you," Adam shook his head, "You wanted to suffer alone?" Adam couldn't help the chuckle that escaped, "I thought you were Patient and Wise?"

Billy glared at him, "Well . . . okay you might be right. But, hey, cut me some slack, I've just finished going through puberty again." His face crinkled in silent laughter as he attempted to contain his mirth.

Adam wasn't so successful as he fell off the couch laughing. He managed to get himself under control after a few minutes and as he wiped his eyes, he noticed that Billy's muted blue glow has flared so much brighter than before. "Well, besides that what have you been doing?"

Billy glanced around the room, "Working on this and that, I've patented a few safe inventions and formulas, now I'm quite well off financially."

"I sense a 'but' here."

"Well, yes. I've got inventions that I can't do anything with. Look at me, I'm 16 going on 28, I can't do

anything in the scientific community. I'm building off a technology that is alien and advanced. I've studied scientific principles that will never be accepted on earth. And what can I do with it," he stood up and began to pace agitatedly, "nothing. I'm working for knowledge's sake, but what of it?" he finished rhetorically.

'Could it be this easy? It's been so long, but he really does seem like the same old Billy.' "Then don't." Billy stared at Adam in shock and Adam pushed on, "You want something to work for? Help me." Adam paused as Billy stared at him in confusion, "Help me rebuild the ninjetti," he finished quietly.

"What?" whispered Billy, shock stealing the strength from his exclamation.

'Where did that come from?' Adam paused and regrouped his calm, "I'm the Black Frog Ninjetti once more and Kim is the Pink Crane. I've come to you in hopes that you will join us." 'This sounds odd?'

"Me!? A ninjetti? How?"

Adam smiled, "Well first, we need a way to get to Phaedos," 'First I've heard of this!'Adam inwardly glowered as he heard a faint chuckling, "and you'll have to help with that. I mean, do you . . . "

Billy interrupted excitedly, "Wait, all I have to do is contact Cestro. I'm sure he could send us some assistance, oh, but I have to build a new communicator, I used the old parts, let me see."

Adam kept his mirth on the inside as Billy moved across his lab in a whirlwind of activity. 'For others not for himself, a pack and a good laugh was all he really needed' he thought as the blue fire leaps around Billy. "Oh, and Billy?" Billy looked up from the device that was rapidly coming together on his table, "You're the Wolf, silent and cunning," and a black spark created a bonfire of blue. ''''' "On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand."
-Red Right Hand by Nick Cave.

A silent figure moved through the deserted buildings with ease. 'Someone really is here and again they elude me! No matter. I have other business. ' He passed through corridors and rooms that the other had walked earlier. He looked around as he entered the library 'Yes, there is danger here!' He frowned as he felt a slight sadness wash through him, but it was soon replaced by purpose as he picked up a brazier and set the shelves aflame. He walked out and vanished without a second thought as the library began to burn.

'Something is wrong! ' She'd felt a disturbance on the other side of the complex, but found nothing. Now she knew that she was somehow mistaken as she ran through the buildings. She reacted instantly as she saw the smoke coming from the library, she leapt and flew up through the window. ' The scrolls! 'she thought to herself as the shelves went up in flames. ' They are lost! ' Grief washed through her as she summoned the waters and winds to her aid and doused the blaze. ' Who would do this? Who could? 'she thought as she noted the fallen brazier 'No wind did this. ' As she looked through the wreckage, she sees that all the shelves are ruined, as are their contents, but the scroll she had studied earlier sat serenely on the table. She gently picked it up, but parts of it fell away . . . only the pieces directly against the table were saved. She sighed as she carefully laid out the pieces and then she frowned as the first pieces come together:


"Those who were great shall fall,
one shall hold true,
Time shall wipe clean their transgress,
one shall hold true,
When all is forgot,
one shall hold true,
One shall seek what was once sought,
the Dark Prince shall hold true."

'Again? What does this mean? These are different parts, but they reform the first verse?' She carefully began to put the pieces in order and a new prophecy took form from the ashes of the old.

''''

"...And I left Kim alone for a while so I could come and see you," Adam paused and laughed, "Anything else you need Qui Gon Billy?" Adam laughed even harder as a wad of paper sailed across the room and hit him in the chest.

Billy shruged as he continued working in his ninjetti attire. It was an outfit remarkably similar to Episode 1 Jedi attire sans robes, except with a deep cobalt blue as the main tone and a dark navy as the undertone, and his belt buckle was a running wolf of gold. "Well, you said you saw Rocky, why not him?"

"One, I didn't think it was fair to Rocky. You and Kim both needed it, but he was quite happy, even has a girlfriend," Adam sighed, "All of us seem to be decidedly lacking in that department."

"Not like I have a choice," 'And I doubt you have really even attempted to date since Tanya . . . ' grumbled Billy as he fiddled with his current project.

Adam grined as he continued, "And secondly, it just didn't feel right. With Kim it was like, 'I have to try.' With you it was, 'Yes, you will be ninjetti.' But I didn't get that with Rocky."

Billy frowned as he looked up at Adam, "Nowhere during your recitation did you talk about why you decided to revive the ninjetti, not as us reattaining our powers, but the rebuilding. What caused you to reach that decision?" 'There is a pattern here, I wonder what it means?'

"I didn't really," Adam blushed slightly, "the Frog kinda butted in I think. He keeps doing that."

Billy raised an eyebrow, "You seem to have developed a great rapport with the Frog, yet you said that Kim hasn't?" 'Perhaps preparation?'

"I don't know why she hasn't, I mean this is personal, that's why I left her, so she could get used to the powers and have some fun with them."

'I detect a note of 'while she has the chance' with that statement, but he doesn't notice.' "Ah, then once I get this finished perhaps I could 'play' as well," said Billy with an exuberant grin upon his face. "Well," he said as he played with the device, "I'm finished with this. Who should I call?"

"Uh . . . ," stammered Adam.

Billy laughed, "Just joking, I'm going to call Cestro, but I'll need a when and a where. It will take a while for him to make arrangements and travel from Aquitar."

Adam frowned in thought, "A week then, at my place," he replied after much debate.

"And where is that?" After a few minutes of discussion, which finally ended with Billy saying in exasperation, "just teleport there," and Adam doing a mental 'duh' as he teleported away and returned a few minutes later.

'''''

In a dark place far away . . .

"My lord, I have returned."

A giant armored figure on an obsidian throne looked down and spoke in a deep rumble, "And what was so urgent, Vadyvov?"

Vadyvov stood tall in his light armor, it's mottled black pattern blending easily in the shadows of the room. "I felt . . . an unease. I had informed you of Zordon's pack of play ninjetti, correct my lord?" he asked in a respectful tone.

"Ah, yes. I do remember, you feared that some of the ninjetti had escaped. It has been a very long time."

Vadyvov stood straighter at the light rebuke, "I believe I have been proven correct and I have taken steps, but I would prefer to take more direct action."

"What!" the giant roared, "How could one escape us? And why only now are they revealed?"

Vadyvov calmly received the outburst, "I do not know how one escaped, but one has. I do not know their identity, but it was not one of the Council. So only a student, perhaps." He paused until the giant calmed down and nodded for him to continue. "Regardless, they eluded me. But I masked myself from them as well. Yet as I searched the temple grounds I felt myself drawn to the Great Library, and I burned it."

"You fear the knowledge, or . . . ," purred the deep voice, "do you fear something else?"

"At this juncture, I am unsure. If it is acceptable, I will return to Phaedos with some of your guard to find this last ninjetti and destroy them. I feel an urgency in this matter."

The giant nodded, "Take a squad, good hunting to you."

Vadyvov bowed and quickly exited the room.'Whoever you are, your time is at an end.'

'''''

"Nice place," commented Billy as he looked around Adam's house.

"Well, you remember my uncle James? He gave it to me, said that I was the only member of the family that would appreciate and not sell it. I love it here, its secluded and the area is great," replied Adam as he hastily straightened up some. "Well, Kim'll be here tomorrow and we can . . . get ready."

'For what?' Billy pondered the situation and Adam as he puttered about the lodge. 'Almost every time you talk about us getting together, you seem to infer that something is impending. And you don't know it.' "Well, I'll just leave my stuff packed. I'd recommend that you figure out what you want to take. I'm going to go out and explore the area."

"And play with your powers."

"Well, that to," grined Billy as he headed out the door and into the woods.

Adam watched Billy leave as he began to go through his belongings and pack for the upcoming trip.

'''''

Dulcea stared at the prophecy before her. 'I am worried. Why was this prophecy so hidden from me? To what purpose is it revealed now?' She looked thoughtful as she paced around the table. 'I cannot worry about that now, it will do no good. Is this another look at the past or a new future?'

She left the room and headed toward the cliffs. As she stared at the monolith in the distance, she reminisces about the time when she first thought the prophecy was to pass.

'''''

'The Past'

'Zordon has sent them! Perhaps they are the ones.' She thought to herself as they made their way to the temple. After they asked for her assistance she called forth the ninjetti power and studied the forms it took within them. The bear, a fierce heart. The ape, strong and more intelligent than he gave himself credit for. The crane, shining with compassion and exuding grace. The wolf, wise, but not aware of his abilities. The frog, shy and hidden, yet with possibilities. And the mighty falcon, a leader born and white as well. Such darkness loomed over him, but the white falcon was such an auspicious combination.

She looked on in pride as they looked in awe at their spirit animals'the first ninjetti in so long. The prophecy is coming to pass.' She studied them once more and then she gave them the attributes that they held most strongly, even those that they did not themselves see. She'd smiled at the charming frog and his plight, "The kind you kiss to turn into a handsome prince," she'd said as she gave him a kiss. His blush and bashful manner had been reward enough for her actions. And at last she stood before the falcon' he is the one!' She had felt such joy and pride as she named him the winged lord of the skies. And much more when she saw them leave the monolith, the first to claim the great power.

'''''

Dulcea smiled as she thought back on that day and the hopes that had sprung from it, only to be dashed when the beast Goldar destroyed the coins they held so dear and their connection to the power was shattered. 'Why have they never returned?' As she stared out toward the monolith an errant thought began to nag her. 'I was wrong!' she thought in amazement 'I held the key and did not know it! In darkness, yes . . . but what does this mean now?' Dulcea looked to the sky and felt unease 'is it too late?'

'''''

Kim and Billy were enjoying themselves as the worked out in the woods surrounding Adam's house. Billy had spent the first day loping around the woods getting his bearings and experimenting with and without his powers. Now that Kim was here, they had talked about old times and were now into current events.

She shook her head at him again 'he's so young, just like when we got the powers.' "Well O' Wise One, what can we do? I know you've been 'testing theories' again. I should probably hit you for that, but I admit I'm curious too."

Billy glowered at her for a moment and began to speak, "Well, as for power I estimate that unmorphed we rank somewhere close what we used to be as morphed ninjetti. Morphed, as far as I can tell, we are as strong or stronger in some areas and weaker in others. Yet from watching Adam, I believe that there are differences in our abilities. What does the air smell like to you?"

"That's a weird question, but . . . ," she paused and took a deep breath, "woodsy, pine trees and grass. Why?"

"My sense of smell seems much more advanced. I can smell those smells, but I can also smell the rabbit that went by a few minutes ago, the water from the lake to the north, and the path that we just took. And I now have better night vision as well. I believe that we will each receive powers unique to us, though I am unsure how to test you or Adam for them."

"Cool and we don't have to morph for these?"

"No, some are now a 'natural' part of us, like my sense of smell. And they are definitely different for each of us. Have you been able to change your attire the way Adam does?"

"No, I've tried, because it sounds really nice to have an instant wardrobe, but all I get is my outfit."

"And I as well, I think that it is a function of Adam's powers. He is also remarkably silent, even with my now enhanced senses he can still take me by surprise." 'His scent is muted as well and the few times he's morphed, I haven't been able to find him.' "I've also been able to," he grins at Kim, "change into a wolf. A very unusual experience to say the least."

"So I could change into a crane? If I wanted to?" Kim frowned as she tried to grasp this and then shruged. She closed her eyes and leapt up, and in mid-leap she transformed into the crane and after a wobbly start managed to gain some altitude. 'Little one, ride the currents, don't strain yourself.'she heard a soft voice whisper as she looked down in wonder at the forest below her.

"Well, that wasn't hard," 'for you' mumbled Billy as he watched Kim flying above him.

Billy and Kim were now taking a break from their respective workouts and watching as Adam paced. Billy knew that tomorrow Cestro would be here and take them to Phaedos 'Cestro was amazed that it actually existed and that I knew where it was. When I told him I was a ninjetti now and before he looked like, well, he looked like he was slightly awed by me. But yesterday Adam began to get nervous and antsy, like our time was growing short. And today he cannot sit still, he didn't even workout last night or this morning. Why do I feel our trip to Phaedos will be eventful?' He sighed and Kim looked at him oddly and nodded toward the door, "Adam, we're going to go outside and workout some more," he said as he rose with Kim right behind him.

Adam barely noticed their leaving as he continued to pace, he'd had this feeling of unease that had blossomed into fear as the time progressed. Now he paced to burn off this nervous energy that filled him and danced the edges of his usual calm. 'Something is happening, something bad. We have to get there to stop it.'

"What do you think?" asked Billy as he turned to Kim.

"I don't know, but it makes me nervous, he just seems to radiate tension," replied Kim as she looked back toward the house.

"Me as well. I've theorized that something is guiding Adam. He's even admitted that most of this is based on intuition and sudden whims. Yet, we've both fell into place and he makes no move to really get Rocky or Aisha. I find it odd."

"So what exactly does that mean?"

Billy smiled, "I'm not sure yet," he changed tracks, "Have you been able to speak with the Crane?"

Kim smiled, "A little, but not the conversations that Adam seems to be having. I mean I've watched him kinda zone and . . . felt something happening, but it does seem more intense. For me Crane basically said, 'good to see me and you must go' and then not much but the occasional encouragement." 'Felt something?' "Wolf has been remarkably taciturn as well. Yet I do not think it is only our newness to the powers. Adam has only regained his for a couple weeks longer than you or me, yet his connection was stronger." He frowned.'We are being led.'

"Well he was always the quiet one. Aisha used to say that black was really his color, he took everything in and let nothing out. You always seemed to get along so well with him, but he was always so quiet around me. Even now, but I feel that he's just preoccupied by . . . whatever."

"Yeah, I think he had a crush on you," grined Billy. "And you weren't there for the Zeo debacle . . . ," Kim looked at him with amusement, "when he started dating Tanya it was almost like he was a new person. Much more confident, if he had wanted it, he probably could have been Red."

"Tanya . . . ," she sighed sadly, "and now he's even more confident, you might be on to something. But right now he's so tense, really calm and totally wired, it's as if he knows something we don't."

"I concur, but hey, what else are we going to do?"

'''''

"Spread out, destroy as much of the temple as you can. If you are challenged fall back regroup. Do not engage this person . . . that is for me alone," commanded Vadyvov as he strode over the rocky beach. 'The elites are distasteful, but they follow orders well' he thought as he watched their blackened armor absorb the light from the hot sun. He knew that even in this weather, a touch would feel as cold as ice, the dark energy kept them as cold as death. Yet long after their bodies had become skeletons covered in taut skin, they still served faithfully. 'Now for the straggler.'

The elites headed toward the temple grounds 'hopefully they will draw whoever is there out' thinks

Vadyvov as he stepped into a cliff side shadow and vanished.

'''''

'Intruders on the beach! More fools come for the Great Power! Now is not the time for such nonsense. ' Dulcea thought as she pulled her robe on and headed toward the beach. She frowned as she saw the first form coming toward her 'they are not going for the power.' As she felt the dark power that flowed from them she prepared for battle. "Halt, whoever you are and leave this place!" she commanded.

The form moved closer and she began to make out the details of its appearance. 'Wraithguard here? They are not here for the power, I must stop them!' She confidently strode forward with her staff at ready as the creature began to fall back. 'Afraid? They know no fear. A trap.' She turned and headed back toward the main temple area. 'What am I to do?'

'''''

'Master Warrior Dulcea!? She escaped? How? This is more than just a lone ninjetti apprentice and must be dealt with differently. Yet how is she still . . . ah, she must have bound herself to the temple.' Vadyvov growled as he saw Dulcea turn and flee from the lone Elite. 'She knows somehow. No matter, she will be revealed or she will be destroyed with her temple!' He moved silently through the shadows as he came upon one of the elites, "Wait for the others," he whispered. Then he quickly scouted out the others as they prepared to lay siege to the temple. He produced a small pane of blackish metal, "Lord, I would require more reinforcements. I wish to wipe the ninjetti temple from existence, not just memory."

A rumble escaped it, "So be it, but if this is not resolved soon . . . I will come and deal with it myself."

Vadyvov felt a slight tremor of fear 'I will be one of the things he will deal with.' Only on the matter of the ninjetti was his Lord so obsessed. 'But it will not become his concern.'

'''''

"Cestro, it is good to see you well," smiled Billy as his Aquitian friend.

"It is good to see you well also," said Cestro formally as he bowed to Billy. He turned to look at the others, "Adam, it is good to see you well," he bowed once more. "But you are unknown to me," he said to Kimberly.

"I am Kimberly, um, the Pink Crane ninjetti."

Cestro looked at Billy for a moment and turned back to Kim, "It is pleasing to meet you. I am Cestro of the Aquitian rangers. We helped assist Billy and Adam after the destruction of their powers during Master Vile's assault on time. I am well met."

As soon as Cestro said those words Billy began to talk excitedly, "You were able to get a Gui'ron for us to go in?"

Adam and Kim both looked on in amusement as Cestro began to describe in depth his efforts to acquire the ship they were taking. Adam decided that enough is enough, "Um, excuse me. I hate to be rude, but we need to go now."

Kim and Billy both frowedn at him as he picked up his light bags and entered the vessel. Billy gently guided Cestro around the ship, "I'm sorry perhaps we could continue our discussion at a later time. I believe that we have pressing business, though I do not know its nature."

The Aquitian Ranger nodded to Billy, "Perhaps it is some Ninjetti matter?"

Billy heard the emphasis on 'Ninjetti,' "I believe so. But I still cannot believe you were able to get a Gui'ron class for us. The trip to Phaedos will only take a day in it."

"Yes, most of my delay was caused by the fact that I did not disclose our destination or our purpose, only that you required such a vessel."

Billy's brow crinkled, "Why?"

Cestro paused for a moment, "Phaedos is a myth to most space-faring cultures. The Ninjetti are also a myth. That you became Ninjetti makes you a part of that myth. The Ninjetti are legend, as is the Great Power on Phaedos. Though I did not know there was a connection between the two. It would cause great disturbance if it was known to all at this juncture." Cestro paused and smiled very slightly at Billy, "I must admit that this excursion has me feeling like a youngling on the first day of training."

Billy smiled in return, "Well, let's get ready before Adam turns back into a frog."

Cestro stared at him strangely as they finished their preparations.

'''''

'This place is unreal 'thought Kim as she wandered around the ship. 'It would be better, but Billy's off being Billy and Adam is just . . . grrr' She frowned'just being around him is driving me nuts.' Yet she found herself drawn back to watching the black frog as he stared out of a viewport. 'He's so calm, like a lake, but it's like there's something on the banks trying to get in. I couldn't stand it.' Then she started as Adam stood bolt upright and a feeling of pain and grim resolve tinged with his own fear washed off Adam as he bolted out of the room. 'What was that?!'

Adam rushed down the corridor toward the cockpit 'it's happening!' He didn't know what, but he knew that time had just run out for them. "Billy! Cestro!" They both looked up at his entrance, "How long to Phaedos," he asked with forced calm.

"A few more hours," replied Billy. 'Something's wrong' "Why?"

Adam ignored the question, "Can we get there any faster?"

Billy and Cestro both looked at each other for a moment. Billy turned back to Adam, "Well, if we break anything I'll take responsibility. Watch up here." Both he and Cestro left the cockpit.

Adam took a seat and stared into space.'Will it be enough?'

'''''

'Must I continue to hide?' Dulcea thought as she quietly moved through the remains of the temple grounds. 'Fortunately there are some areas that those creatures cannot damage' but the thought was of small consolation as more of the ninjetti grounds were reduced to rubble. She had been carefully striking out at them, but whoever had planned this attack had prepared for her defense of the temple 'the groups are set up with too many. I cannot take one easily and in this open area I would be easily overpowered.' But she still longed to strike out, she was a master warrior, but her duty to the temple was greater than even her wants.

"Greetings Master Warrior Dulcea," politely intoned a voice behind her.

She turned at ready and her eyes widened in recognition, "Vadyvov!?"

Vadyvov smiled cordially, "Yes, it is I. And I have returned with . . . friends."

She stared at him angrily, "You betray your duty to the ninjetti, black one? Why?"

"Dulcea, I've done it before, I see no reason to stop now."

They began to circle each other warily, "You were the one who destroyed the Council Hall?"

He bowed slightly in acknowledgement never taking his eyes from Dulcea, "Yes, though I am amazed at your survival Master Warrior."

'I wasn't there, I was preparing to be raised to the Council. My ritual watch in the Master Hall's had me safe away.' "I have always been amazing," she countered.

"It is no matter, I will rectify that error."

She looked at him sadly and took note of the sad condition of his spirit animal.'So sad, he looks so defeated. His charge's misdeeds weigh heavily upon him, but they are one. For better or worse, only Vadyvov's death will free him. I will have to see to it.' "You may come, Vadyvov, but know that I will destroy you," she said grimly as she waited for his first attack.

She didn''t have to wait long as Vadyvov produced a wickedly jagged blade from the air, "You first, I insist," and he launched an attack to Dulcea's head.

Dulcea easily evaded it and his next attacks, but her counters were met by his blocks as well. She could already see that he is not up to the task and after a few minutes it is evident that she would defeat him. He drew back from her and saluted.'Another trap!!'She moved instantly and felt the blast as it burned into her shoulder. 'I cannot win this.'

Vadyvov felt a snarl escape him as his assassin missed 'No matter, she will fight and she will die. Greens were always suicidally stubborn and duty obsessed.'

Dulcea held her staff before her as she ignored the pain in her shoulder, prepared to fight this final fight to its conclusion. 'No my child. Today you must fly, this is not your fight.' Understanding came at Owl's gentle words and she doesn't hesitate as her only means of escape presented itself. She kept Vadyvov between her and the sniper 'he is too confident.' She suddenly attacked and backed off as she began to draw him after her as she headed toward her objective.

"You cannot defeat me and you cannot escape. Stand and let me kill you with dignity," politely stated Vadyvov as he began to press her back and his troops began to move in.

She smiled at him and he felt a shiver run down his spine, "I am not the one to defeat you."

"You can't escape, you're bound to the temple. Even if you evade me, when I raze it I will destroy you as certainly as my blade," he snarled as his composure began to fray. "You are running out of places to cower, Dulcea."

She nodded calmly in response and continued to retreat.

"NO! You cannot," howled Vadyvov as Dulcea turned and leapt from the cliff's edge. 'It does not matter, you will not survive long outside the grounds.' He slamed his sword into its sheath as he watched a bloodstained owl fly away unsteadily. 'If you manage to land in one piece that is.'

'''''

"Im pushing an elephant up the stairs
Im tossing up punchlines that were never there
Over my shoulder a piano falls
Crashing to the ground." -Great Beyond by REM.

Adam sat in the pilots chair gripping the arms tightly. He closed his eyes and tried to focus on the calm, as he forced these intruding emotions away. 'Frog, tell me what is happening?'he said in a mental tone that expected an answer. 'Now.'

' The ninjetti temple is under attack and Dulcea has been gravely injured, ' relayed Frog quietly.

"What?! How?! Who?"

' You will know soon. They will be there when you arrive. You must prepare, ' Frog began to fade away.

"Wait! Why only me? Why am I the one going through all of this?"

' Why ask why?, ' wryly chided the Frog as he took his leave. ''''' Dulcea cried out in pain as she attempted to fly toward her destination. Once she had leapt from the edge and felt the air beneath her wings, she knew she was in trouble. Her damaged shoulder made it impossible for her to fly with the control necessary to skirt the cliff wall and stay within the temple's boundaries. She glided out and instantly felt the ages as they began to creep into her bones. Every moment was agony, even keeping in owl form was becoming a chore 'will I make it?'as she spiraled down. She saw a small cave near the bottom of the cliff and suddenly dropped toward it. Her landing was graceless, the pain in her shoulder nearly overwhelmed her as she suddenly transformed back before properly landing. She crawled into the cave and passed out as she felt the temple's power flow back through her. ''''' "There are two other ships in orbit," relayed Cestro as they entered the Phaedos system.

"Can you keep us hidden?" asked Adam.

Cestro nodded and began to work the controls. Adam watched him for a moment and turned to Billy, "I don't like this, but you're right. This is our only way to get there."

Billy nodded as he looked over the scans, "I do not like it either, but there are twenty hostiles destroying the temple. If we land on the beach . . .

"They'll be right on us, I know. I just don't like the idea of going through the jungle again. With six rangers we were hard pressed, what about only three?"

Kim gave Adam a sudden hug, "Hey we're here, think how impossible that is," she smiled at Adam as he began to blush slightly. She turned and winked at Billy, "All we need to do is stick together." ''''' Vadyvov frowned as he noticed a shimmer in the distant sky. He produced a pair of binoculars and focused on the shimmer. 'A ship! Someone to help Dulcea?' He contacted the orbiting vessels. ''''' "Never thought we'd be doing this again," sighed Kim as they moved carefully through the jungle.

"Our quest for the great power in reverse," commented Billy as he carefully scaned the surrounding area, his senses alert.

Adam frowned at both of them as he strode forward toward his destination. 'We have to hurry.' He sighed. Even in his impatience he knew that rushing off half cocked in the jungles of Phaedos was suicidal. He started slightly as he heard the ship take off, they had decided that it was too dangerous to leave the ship on the planet 'hopefully we'll be able to call Cestro soon.' "We need to go this way," said Adam as he began to move through the dense foliage.

Billy and Kim exchanged glances that seemed to say 'it's worked so far' and followed him. ''''' 'No record . . . hmm . . . ' Vadyvov thought to himself, after he checked with the orbiting vessels. He watched as the ship reappeared above the jungle canopy and flew off. He turned and ordered his troops to head down to the base of the cliff and sent some into the jungle. 'I will have some casualties, but I must destroy Dulcea before they can assist. ' He growled as he stalked through the smouldering ruins of the temple. '''''* "Man, it's hot," groaned Kim as she followed Adam. 'He's dead certain he knows where we are going to.' She thought as she wiped her brow once again. 'And look, he hasn't even broken a sweat.'She glowered inwardly as she took a sip from her canteen.

"I concur. Adam perhaps we can pause for a moment, I feel that a case of heat exhaustion will not help our quest," calmly stated Billy.

Adam turned and looked at Billy and Kim, "Okay," as he took in their sweat-soaked appearances, "I'll guard you." With that he began to scan the jungle around them, off in his own little world.

Billy and Kim both slumped down and took a few more drinks from their canteens, "Adam, are you thirsty?" asked Kim. She and Billy both watched as he shrugged and took a few sips from his canteen, then he returned to his pacing. "Well, he seems to be taking this well, he must be in great shape," mumbled Kim quietly.

Billy pondered it for a moment, "He is, but I don't think that is the cause. I have a theory, but I have yet to gather enough evidence . . . ," he trailed off as Kim glared at him. "I believe it's a function of the frog totem," he sighed. 'Transformation and adaptability.' "As neither you nor I have any exceptional tolerance to this climate." He grew quiet as Adam approached them, "I suspect we have to go now?" said Billy as he rose to his feet. Adam nodded as he helped Kim up. "Well then lead on," he grinned as Adam began to lead them through the jungle once more.

They walked for a while longer and marveled at the beauty of the setting as they passed over small streams and the occasional crevice. Adam kept moving forward with a determined stride as he moved through the jungle. Kim followed behind wondering idly if she'd ever be able to get the sweat stains out of her clothes as she watched Adam thoughtfully.

Billy walked confidently behind them as he scanned the surrounding area. 'Water, pond? Close.'he thought to himself as he took in the sensations the jungle offers. Suddenly without thought he summoned his weapon to his hands and spun around. His staff caught a large and hungry looking lizard in the snout. It howled in pain and backed away snarling, yet even as it fell back, another took its place. 'What? A pack?! Oh, boy!' He felt a slight growl escape him as he connected more solidly with the next one and damaged its leg, a move that effectively took it out of the fight. He began backing up as he heard a few more of the creatures as they moved through the underbrush. He didn't look but he heard Adam and Kim go on the defensive. Billy grinned at the approaching monster and held his staff at ready.

They retreated slightly, as they moved toward the clearing ahead as the creatures suddenly darted in and out of the jungle attempting to take one of them down. Billy kept his staff moving in an easy pattern as he fended off the initial creature that was still fixated on him. He nearly laughed as a bolt of pink hit it squarely between the eyes and it staggered back comically. He regrouped with the others, "Well, I don't know about you, but I liked the dinosaur bones better."

Kim glared at him as she shot her bow at another and then grinned back, "All we have to do is scare them off, a few have already run away." She gave Billy a mischievous wink, "Episode one much?"

"Sure, Darth Billy over there can whack on a few more of them," quipped Adam as he kicked more away.

Billy groaned, "Well, it looked so neat," he said defensively as he swung his 'light staff' around causing more to fall back.

After a few more minutes, the creatures fell back. "Well, that was interesting," said Billy as he lowered his staff.

Kim stared into the jungle, "They're not done yet."

"Why do I have a bad feeling about this? ," asked Adam.

As if summoned by his words the jungle erupted and ten more of the creatures leapt out at them. Adam and Kim leapt easily out of the way as a couple went after them and Billy met his head on. He slammed his staff into one and then another as he spun about his staff blazing with blue fire as he fought back.

Adam landed on the back of another, "Hey, look at me, I'm Tommy."

Kim glared down at him from her treetop perch, "Adam Park! I...," she was suddenly cut off as a snake burst from the leaves beside her and entangled her in its coils. They fell from the tree into the lake below as she struggled to get free.

Billy saw Kim's fall from the corner of his eye and growled at the beasts, his attacks became a blur. "Adam, go get her!" 'I hope I'm right.'

Adam looked at him for a second and leapt from the lizard's back and gracefully into the water, a slight glow of black vanished underneath the water's surface.

Billy turned his attention back to the nine beasts that still stood before him and grinned, "Who's first?"

Both of the creatures he had been fighting turned and vanished back into the jungle. He moved with the beasts and whirled about in a pattern of defense and attack that was natural to him. His staff flared bright as he smacked another away and stood at ready as the beasts fell back. They circled for a moment and three more ran off, but the others began to close in and he waited calmly. "I don't want to hurt you, but keep this up . . . " He suddenly dropped to a crouch and brought his staff up slicing into the one that had just tried to jump him from behind. He watched sadly as it crumpled to the jungle floor, "I had hoped that wouldn't be needed."

He looked calmly at the last three as they broke and disappeared into the jungle. He turned and stared at the lake, staff at ready, as the snake that attacked Kim slithered out of the lake. It hissed at him and headed back up its tree. 'Now why do I have a bad feeling about this?'

'Where is she?'thought Adam as he easily swam through the dark waters. 'Isn't that . . . ? ' blinked Adam as he watched a large snake go by. 'This is bad, definitely very bad.' He swam faster toward the direction it had came from and finally saw Kim . . . and the large 'squid-thing?' that had a hold of her. He watched as she uses her bow to send glowing shaft after glowing shaft into the thing in hopes of getting free. 'Oh, hell.'

He swam to Kim and used a black knife to stab into the creature's tentacle. After a few moments he felt elation as the tentacle released its hold on Kim and she swam up toward the surface. 'Oh, hell!' He groaned inwardly as another tentacle latched onto him and then another. He stabbed at one and it loosened, but the other one held him tight and when he turned his attention to it the other tightened. He lashed out as another grabbed onto him. 'Some rescue!'

Kim swam up to the surface and broke through gasping for air as she began to swim toward Billy. 'That was close.' He waded out and helped her to shore and she looked behind her, "Adam should be behind me," she gasped.

Billy looked as the water's surface calmed. 'What have you gotten yourself into now?' "Well, we'll have to wait and hope."

Kim stared at him in shock, "You mean we just wait up here until Adam drowns or gets eaten?"

Billy calmly returned her glare, pain evident in his expression, "Unfortunately, we are not suited to underwater. I can only hope that I am right." With that he returned to staring into the water's depths.

'No! No! No!'screamed Adam mentally as he fought frantically to keep from being pulled toward the monster. He blanched slightly as he saw the gaping maw looming ahead and redoubled his efforts. One tentacle and then another sliced free, and he slashed at the others while he tried to keep two more from grabbing on. 'I am not about to get eaten!?'Adam asked himself incredulously as he was pulled into the beast's maw. 'This is not supposed to happen! '

Kim felt a flash of terror from a familiar source and she turned to Billy panic evident in her expression, "We have to do something!"

Billy nodded and didn't even look at her as he dived into the water while his staff lighted the way.

The tentacles that held Adam loosen suddenly as he was propelled into the monster's mouth. 'Oh, hell.' he thought as the mouth clamped shut and he felt the monster's tongue wrap around him. 'Well,' he thought grimly, 'at least I can give it a killer case of indigestion.' Then the tongue loosened suddenly and Adam felt himself being sucked back into the beast. 'Oh, hell.'

Billy swam toward the area Kim came from and stared at the monster below him. 'Why do we

always get ourselves into these messes?' As he swam toward the creature he sawit jerk and a black shape flew past him. 'Adam!?' He watched perplexedly as it disappeared from the water only to crash back down a few seconds later. 'Yup.' Billy sighed internally as he swam toward Adam and pointed toward the surface. As they broke the water, Billy took a few lung fulls of air and stared at Adam, "What exactly was that about?"

Adam looked confused, "I don't know."

"Frogs. It's what's not for dinner," quipped Billy as he started to chuckle.

Adam reddened and ducked under the water as they swam back to shore. When he surfaced near the shore, he saw a very annoyed Kimberly 'maybe I should ask that monster to reconsider.' He wilted a little under her glare, "It was just a joke," he mumbled as she stared at him.

"Look at me I'm Tommy, Adam Park, you, you," Kimberly trailed off and whacked him in the head with her bow.

"Ow, Hey! What is this pick on the frog day?" griped Adam as he guarded his head from another attack.

Kim and Billy exchanged glances and Billy burst out laughing.

"Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Wolf Boy," said Adam sarcastically as he started back down the path.

Billy just kept laughing as he and Kim fell into step behind Adam.

'Man, what died?'thought Billy as he caught a whiff of something in the air.

If it felt such things any more, it would be ecstatic as it looked out from the underbrush at the approaching creatures. It looked to its comrades and gestured to the surrounding area. Then the trooper readied its sword and strode out toward the three, "Prepare to die," it hissed and closed to combat range.

Billy wrinkled his nose at the foul smell that confronted him. 'Why don't the bad guys believe in bathing? Personal Hygiene is such an important part of projecting the proper image.' He sighed and readied his staff, "I think that we have other ideas. Please stand aside and we will not harm you."

Its skin stretched tight over its face in what might have been interpreted as a smile, "Die." It launched an attack the one in blue. "It is commanded."

Billy easily parried and countered, but it was met with the warrior's black blade. He vaguely noticed Kim to the side with her bow at ready watching the trees around them. All other considerations were put aside as he entered the battle in earnest.

Kim spun toward the trees shivering slightly from the chill that seemed to radiate from the warrior that fought Billy and from various places around them. "Adam, there are more of these things!"

She fired a bolt into one of the cold patches and was rewarded by a growl. 'Got one!' As the warrior burst from the jungle in front of her, Adam was instantly on it. He dodged its initial clumsy thrust and countered with a vicious strike to its throat. It gagged and staggered, but it was not felled by the lethal attack. Adam used the distraction to continue pounding on it.

'These things aren't alive.' Kimberly gasped as she saw another come out of the foliage behind Adam with its sword at ready. She sighted and shot true, her bolt took it through the visor slit dropping it instantly. She watched as a black mist rose from it and dissipated, leaving only a puddle of black ooze, the armor, and some bones. 'Gross!'

She watched as Adam pounded on his relentlessly until it too released a cloud of black mist and collapsed to the ground. She felt a fierce warmth as it seemed to boil around the patches of cold in the jungle. Then they vanished. She frowned as she looked to the one Billy was fighting. 'Where are the others?' Adam nodded to her and went after Billy to even the odds, but even before he reached him, Billy suddenly spun countering one attack going around its guard to cut it in half. He looked at Adam and grinned, "Much harder than tengas, but not as bad with the cliches. And at least they don't burble."

Adam smiled in return and got ready to reply, but he was cut off by Kim's voice from the side. "Guys you have to see this."

Billy walked easily toward her and Adam followed, as they headed off the side of the trail, they saw Kim leaning over the remains of three more of the warriors. Billy and Adam both looked at each other, "Way to go, Kim," they said in unison.

She looked up at them and shook her head, "I didn't do this." She reached out and pulled a broken spear from one of the remains and held it up. She carefully fit it together with the other half of the haft that she had found. "Whoever did though, well I hope these Ewoks are on our side," she said as she held up the three-foot spear. ''''' A communicator crackled to life, "My Lord, we have lost a squad of Elites. What are your orders?"

'Idiots!' "Send down more and have them go toward," 'Now I'm being an idiot.' "Belay that," Vadyvov paused and began to speak very slowly, "I understand that you cannot use the ship's weapons against the temple itself, and that the same field that protects the temple protects most of the planet to a lesser degree. Yet our opponents have landed a vessel, correct?" He waited for a reply. 'Stupid creatures, you have to walk them to the point.' Vadyvov sighed, "Well, wouldn't that mean that there is a way to send down something to destroy that area of the jungle where we lost our forces?"

Vadyvov sighed and began to pace. 'Patience' he smiled as he finally received the ship's reply,

"Understood."

'Now whoever you are, you shall be dealt with.' He smiled ferally as he ordered more troops down from the ship and those on the surface back toward the cliffs. ''''' "Well, he's loads of fun," grumped Kim as she watched Adam forge ahead.

"I concur," grinned Billy as he too watched Adam. "He is very determined to get to our destination."

"Yeah, we need to get to the temple and help Dulcea."

Billy slowed his pace slightly and dropped his voice to a whisper, "Actually we are not heading directly for the temple." He paused as Kim looked at him quizzically, "We are not off the course that Adam has set, but if we continue in this direction we will bypass the temple."

Kim frowned slightly, "So where are we going?"

"Where we are needed," he said after a moment of debate. He winced slightly as he heard a high-pitched screech and began to scan the area for the source.

Kim felt uneasy as Billy suddenly started to ignore her. 'I'll get Adam.' She looked to Adam and noticed that he kept looking upwards and crouching slightly. 'Like he's ready to spring. Oh, no. They're both picking up the same vibe.' Kim didn't pause as she began to move forward at a sprint, "Guys run!"

They both started slightly and watched her take off, they both shared a glance and took off after her. "Kim, what?!" cried Billy, anything else he had to say was cut off by the lightning strike that tooks down a nearby tree. He watched as she gracefully rolled under the falling tree and kept going. He was torn from his reverie as lighting crashed down near him and knocked him from his feet. He rolled up and began to head toward Adam, but as he neared he saw Adam suddenly stop and leap sideways an instant before another bolt crashed down. He blinked to clear his eyes and watched as Adam paused again. He scanned the skies and looked for the source of this attack, 'the temple should be protecting us from attack, they must have sent something down 'he winced slightly as he heard the bolts crash down around them. He kept moving and spied Adam pausing and suddenly leaping in a different direction as more bolts crashed down near where he was. 'Intuition? It's gotten us this far . . . ' Billy raced toward Adam and watched as Adam leapt once more. Billy veered in the direction of Adam's leap and felt the slight tingle of the charge that crashed down beside where Adam had been standing. 'Hypothesis still being tested.'Inwardly observes Billy as he followed Adam's 'leap frog' progress.

Kim wasn't worried about scientific theory as she nimbly moved over and through the uneven terrain. She hated taking off like that, but she had this feeling that now was the time to move. She found herself easily evading the falling debris and started to notice that the lightning wasn't striking down near her any more' must be getting out of it. I hope the others are . . . ' She paused as she felt the comforting calm of Adam's presence somewhere behind her and the slightly frantic, yet methodical presence of Billy. As she reached out to them a thought crossed her mind. 'The temple should be protecting us from attack, they must have sent something down.' She frowned slightly but the idea makes sense 'well, I'll just go take a look.' She didn't think about it as she leapt up and changed into the crane. ''''' 'Hunter . . . here . . . ' Dulcea moaned as she felt the ground quake beneath her. 'Temple . . . back to temple . . . ' She managed to get to her knees and began to crawl deeper into the cave she had sought refuge in. 'Almost . . . there . . . ' She moved painfully toward her destination but dropped in exhaustion and tried feebly to move forward once more. 'Will I . . . fail . . . again?' She managed to drag herself a few more inches forward, but even her will could not push her any farther and she collapsed. As she tried to move again she heard voices near her. 'What are they saying?'

"Hrurt . . . hrer . . . threy crum . . . lrone werrior . . . hrunter . . . rah, hrer hrere."

'Lone Warrior? The Hunter? They know?!'The voice trailed off and she managed to raise her head, she blearily focused on the small forms in front of her. She tried once more to make her way to the doorway, but her only reward for her efforts was unconsciousness.

As she began to fade out she heard one of the figures speak as it moved closer to her, "Truth, wrisdom, rand rove conqueror rof rawl, the wrark prince, the lrone werrior, rand the courogeous hrunter wrill hold true."

'They know . . . 'was her last thought as she succumbed to the darkness. ''''' Billy sighed in exasperation as he kept following Adam 'enough of this already.' After a few close misses he had finally caught onto Adam's pattern and was now only a few steps behind him. When Adam leaped, he easily jogged after him, he'd quickly found that Adam's leaps were a lot farther than his and after a few close calls he'd just taken to running after him. He winced slightly as the sound of falling trees and small explosions kept buffeting him. 'Getting more intense, and way too loud.'

She spread her wings and began to gain altitude. 'Gymnastics has nothing on this' she thought as she felt the winds as they moved over her feathers. She followed the air currents away from where the attack began and when she was over the canopy she started to circle back.'Well, guess I was right.' She looked thoughtfully at the black globes that were sending bolt after bolt down into the jungle 'maybe I should do something about that?' She looked around and found a suitable location and landed in one of the taller trees. She changed back and carefully repositioned herself until she had a good place and readied her bow. She carefully sighted on one and fires 'one down, a gazillion to go.' ''''' "Sir, our weapons are being destroyed. We are unable to continue the bombardment."

"What!" roared Vadyvov 'this cannot be, everything they escape. No choices now.' "No matter, send down all troops. They are to sweep the cliff base and kill anyone they see."

"Acknowledged."

Vadyvov stared down into the jungle and looked toward the smoking and scorched patch of jungle. 'Too close. They will be here soon. I cannot fail my lord.' He stared out over the jungle for a few minutes more and suddenly smiled 'They had better watch their backs. Unfortunate things can happen to the unwary.' He turned and stalked off into the nearest shadow. He vanished in the fading light of day. ''''' 'What?'thinks Billy as he watched as Adam suddenly straightened up and began to walk normally again. 'I guess we're through.' "Adam, do you know which way Kim went?"

Adam paused and blinked a few times and looked at Billy worriedly, "I saw her run off after she warned us, but I was . . . distracted. The attack stopped," he frowned and began to look around. "They trashed this place."

"Um, yes. Where now?"

Adam turned around in a circle looking over the surrounding area, he then nodded to himself and pointed, "That way. We have to get there before nightfall."

"What about Kim?" 'Does he suddenly want us to abandon her? And where exactly is 'there?''

Adam paused for a moment and a perplexed expression crossed his face, "Um, she should be . . . dropping in soon." 'And what exactly does that mean? This is not THAT funny. Oh, whatever.' Adam sighed in disgust at Frog.

"Dropping in?"

Adam shrugged, "We should keep moving." He gave Billy a 'why me' look as he started walking forward once more.

'Do I want to know?' Billy shook his head to himself as he followed Adam. 'Nope. Don't want to.' Billy watched with amusement as Adam shook his head vehemently at something and began blushing.

'Nope.' He chuckled quietly so as not to disturb Adam 'But I should sell tickets.' His smile died a sudden death as he smelt a familiar carrion reek in the air. "Adam, there are more of those things," he paused and listened carefully, "and they're coming this way."

Adam pointed to the vegetation around them, "Let's try to sneak around them. We don't have time for a fight. If we get separated . . . I will be by the base of the cliff . . . a cave, I think."

'You think?' Billy sighed and nodded to Adam as they each stepped to the sides of the trail and began to carefully move through the vegetation. He watched Adam disappear in the foliage and listened carefully, but after a few moments even that faded 'he's good.' Minutes later, Billy moved carefully, but he was making far too much noise for his liking 'I sound like a herd of elephants.' He paused and waited for a couple more of the troops go by 'but they sound like a zord convention.' He grinned wryly at his joke and paused as he heard a distant howl. 'Hopefully it won't like them either. Hmm . . . good idea and much better than this.' Billy stood tall for a moment and closed his eyes, an instant later a silvery wolf stood in his place. 'Much better' he thought as he began to easily make his way through the jungle toward the cliffs.

'Finally, how many of these things did they make? A million, two?'inwardly grumbled Kim as she sighted for the umpteenth time on another globe. She aimed, fired, and watched with satisfaction as it exploded. She smiled and began to look around 'no more! Finally. Now to find Billy and Adam.' She started to climb down but paused when she felt a large cold patch beneath her. She froze and watched as five of black warriors went by. 'Maybe I'll just stay up here.' She concentrated for a moment and changed back into the crane. 'Air Kim!' She giggled mentally as she took off and began looking for her friends. '''''* In the jungles below another group of black warriors moved methodically. The black pits that were their eyes stared out over the jungle searching for prey. They walked forward in a line occasionally chopping down offending vegetation or small animals not fast enough to get out of the way. The animals scattered and are deemed not worth the effort to deal with. Some animals ran, some crawled, some slithered, some scampered, and some hopped determinedly away. ''''' 'Where is he?'Billy whined slightly as he sniffed around the cliffs 'those things are disgusting. '

He took cover as another group moved near and watched them pass by. 'How many of these things are there? And who's . . . what's this?' He paused and started to sniff around 'Familiar . . . ' As he followed his nose, he came upon a wet spot on the stone ground. 'Blood' he growled slightly 'Dulcea?' ''''* Vadyvov watched as a large wolf sniffed around the cliffs and dodged his patrols. 'There are no wolves on Phaedos. Ah, Dulcea's rescuer.' He carefully readied his weapon to attack and paused as the wolf seemed to find something. Vadyvov smiled to himself' 'I'll let him lead me to Dulcea and then I'll kill them both.' ''''* Billy carefully followed the faint trail into a cave, he carefully skirted the rubble and started to look around as he cautiously searched for Dulcea. 'No!' He changed back to human form and moved through a doorway to Dulcea's still form. He breathed a sigh of relief as he listened to her heartbeat 'Steady.' He carefully examined the wound on her back 'energy blast. I wish I had some disinfectant and a regenerator, well I just make some bandages and use some of the water from my canteen. Darn, I liked this uniform.' He reached for his canteen and frowned as his hand grazed a small pouch 'where did that come from?' He reached in it and removed a small pile of clean bandages and a portable regenerator 'I did not have those a minute ago. I suppose this is the proverbial gift horse.' He paused in his thoughts as he opened his canteen, 'something odd' he sniffed it carefully. ' Peroxide? How?' He shook his head as he heard a distant howl 'help Dulcea first wonder about how later.' He carefully began to clean Dulcea's injury and prepared to run the regenerator over it.

'"How is she?"'

Billy spun and looked around, "Adam?"

'"Down here."'

Billy looked around confusedly at the floor and stared at the tiny frog that began to hop up and down. Then in mid hop it seemed to explode upward into Adam's familiar form. "Miss me?" he asked lopsidedly as he looked over Dulcea, "Again, I ask 'How is she?'"

Billy blinked slightly 'where did all that mass go?' "She's taken a bad hit, but I've cleaned it and I was working on healing it when you 'hopped' in. I think she'll be okay, but I thought that if she was away from the temple she would age like Zordon did?" he asked absently as he began to heal her wounds again.

"Haven't you noticed?" asked Adam surprisedly, "We're in the temple," he pointed to the doorway right behind them. He looked around and noticed a scroll besides Dulcea, "What's this?" He paused and opened it, but it made no sense to him. "I feel it's important, but I can't read it." He suddenly turned to Billy, "You read it."

"If you can't, I probably can't either, unless it happens to be in Aquitian." He sighed as Adam held it out to him, "Oh, okay, here you start bandaging Dulcea. I'll look at it."

As Adam got to work, Billy opened the scroll and looked at it.'Well, it makes no sense . . . there is a pattern . . . ' He stared at it intently and began to get a 'feel' for it. He blinked in surprise as he suddenly understood it. He turned to Adam, "You knew?"

Adam shrugged, "It's important, read it."

Billy turned back to the scroll and it began to get easier to read, "It looks sort of like a prophecy."

"Prophecy?"

"Yes, I was able to peruse a few in my time as the blue ranger. It has that . . . pattern."

Adam frowns, "About us," he nodded inwardly, "it's almost come to pass hasn't it . . . well, almost." He shook his head confusedly and looked at Billy for confirmation.

Billy nodded and began to read out loud, "Those who were great shall fall, one shall hold true. Time shall wipe clean their transgress, one shall hold true. When all is forgot, one shall hold true. One shall seek what was once sought, the Dark Prince shall hold true." Billy smiled and looked over at Adam, "Why do I think I know where I can find a 'Dark Prince,' Kermit?"

Adam grumbled, "Keep reading."

"The Lone Warrior from water's grasp, the Dark Prince shall hold true. Wizard's apprentice, holder of secrets, the Dark Prince shall hold true. Guardian and teacher to be taught, the Dark Prince shall hold true. A new bond shall be wrought, the Dark Prince and the Lone Warrior shall hold true."

Adam looked thoughtfully at Billy, "Well, you're obviously the Lone Warrior, but what 'new bond to be wrought?'" "I've found it's better to wait till you've actually lived through it, before you try to figure out what it means. I mean look at all the prophecies Tommy was supposed to fulfill. But if that verse was about me, then this one must be about Kim. The Courageous Hunter awakens from dream, the Dark Prince and the Lone Warrior shall hold true. Keeper of hearts, healer of souls, the Dark Prince and the Lone Warrior shall hold true. From above is brought, the Dark Prince and the Lone Warrior shall hold true. For without Love all is for naught, and the Dark Prince, the Lone Warrior, and the Courageous Hunter shall hold true."

They both looked at each other for a moment and shrugged, "And this last verse is about you. The Dark Prince from fairy tales to guide, the Dark Prince, the Lone Warrior, and the Courageous Hunter shall hold true. Warrior. Mystic. From deep inside, the Dark Prince, the Lone Warrior, and the Courageous Hunter shall hold true. Should the truest weapon be wrought, the Dark Prince, the Lone Warrior, and the Courageous Hunter must hold true. For darkness must again be fought, and the Dark Prince, the Lone Warrior, and the Courageous Hunter will hold true." He looked up at Adam, "They were a little blatant about whom this one was about, weren't they?"

Adam stuck his tongue out at Billy, "Well, we have a prophecy. But what does half of it mean?"

"I don't know, but we do have one more line. Truth, Wisdom, and Love Conqueror of All, the Dark Prince, the Lone Warrior, and the Courageous Hunter will hold true."

"Which is which? I guess Kim would be Love, you could easily be wisdom, and that would leave me as truth."

"Sounds reasonable," Billy's head shot up, "Company," he growled as he readied his weapon. "I'll deal with whoever it is. You get her out of here." He looked at Adam and Adam transformed into a small frog and hopped into a nearby shadow. Billy stood tall and held his weapon ready, "Who goes there?"

Billy waited a few moments before a figure dressed in what looks like black chain mail with a black surcoat moved into view. He looked at Billy intently and bowed, "I am Vadyvov." He studied Dulcea's still form, "I have no quarrel with you. Leave her and I will let you leave here alive."

'At least he's polite. And clean, clean is nice.' "Unfortunately, you have harmed Dulcea and that gives me quarrel with you. I am Billy."

Vadyvov bowed, "Then I would challenge you for her."

"She is no prize to be won."

"True, but you seem a civilized foe and I give you a due course. I will fight you regardless," shrugged Vadyvov.

Billy ignited his staff, "Then I accept." 'And I won't let you anywhere near Dulcea.'

Vadyvov smiled and drew his blade, "Prepare to die."

With that he suddenly crossed the room in one leap and slashed upwards at Billy. Billy quickly brought his staff down and blocked, he countered pushing Vadyvov away from Dulcea. He struck low only to have Vadyvov leap over his staff and attack from above. Billy quickly interposed his staff and knocked Vadyvov back once more. Vadyvov smiled ferally at him, "Well met. But it won't save her."

Vadyvov grinned wickedly and pulled a small dagger, but Billy quickly sensed his intent and knocked it from the air a bare instant after it left his hand. Billy growled at Vadyvov and started a furious counterattack that left Vadyvov frantically blocking blows as Billy forced him back through the doorway and into the rubble strewn cave.

As soon as they are out of sight Adam transformed back and carefully picked up Dulcea. He listened carefully to the sounds of battle 'Good luck, Billy.' Then he turned and headed deeper into the caverns.

'Where are they?' Kim glided easily through the air as she searched for Billy and Adam. She suddenly turned and began to skirt the tree line near the temple cliff.'Billy. And he's mad.' She followed her intuition and flew toward him, as she neared she began to notice more cold patches popping up beneath her 'more o those things!'and another darker presence tinged with a mix of panic and a feeling of victory. As she homed in on Billy, she saw a figure dressed in black suddenly back out of a cave followed closely by Billy. She looked around and felt the cold patches getting closer 'Ambush!'

Vadyvov found himself easily falling back under Billy's assault. 'He's making this too easy. Soon I'll finish what I started with Dulcea.' He blocked a few more lightning fast blows from Billy's glowing staff and grinned wickedly as he saw his opponent suddenly falter and back off.

Billy growled in irritation as he smelt the distinctive odor of the black warriors. 'Good one, let's walk right into the ambush. Stupid.' Billy held his weapon at ready 'I have to deal with this guy . . . shit!' Billy watched in horror as his opponent backed into a shadow and vanished not only from sight but from hearing as well. He didn't have much time to worry about it as the first few warriors broke through the clearing and headed toward the cave. 'They're after Dulcea, well they'll have to get by me first.' He stood resolutely near the cave entrance, "You will not pass."

He gave them a moment to reconsider, but as they started to draw their weapons he wasted no more effort and attacked. Billy cut two down before they managed to draw their weapons, but the third moved out of the way. He grimaced as another made its way from the brush. 'I suppose I'm going to find out how many of these things there are after all.'

'Where is he?' Kim frowned inwardly as she tried to find the dark figure that had ran from Billy. She felt the presence flicker and move, but she couldn't pinpoint it. She broke from her search as she watched Billy tear into the first of the black warriors. 'Wow.' She stared as Billy dropped the first two instantly and the next a moment later. He spun gracefully and staggered the next 'three down, no four down and how many to go?' She suddenly took to the air and flew down toward where Billy was fighting the next batch of warriors. 'That . . . oh . . . ' She gave a strident cry as she suddenly changed back and dropped gracefully behind Billy . . . on top of the black figure that appeared beneath her. 'Vadyvov?' They both went down and she could see the shock radiating off him, "I don't know who you are, but no one goes after my friends."

She glared at him as he backed frantically away, he moved suddenly and she dropped before she even noticed the black dagger that flew from his hand. Shock again radiated from him, "You are lucky, but that cannot help Dulcea forever." He roared, "Elites, your target is in this cave. Find her and kill her." He snarled at Kim as he disappeared into another shadow.

This time she was ready and she took off after his flickering presence as he teleported to the tree line. "You don't get away that easily this time," she said determinedly as she changed back into a crane and went after him.

Billy breathed a silent sigh of relief as he noticed Kim take care of Vadyvov. 'He almost got me! I didn't even know he was there. If it wasn't for Kim . . . 'he stopped worrying about it as more of the warriors swarmed him. He rolled away from Vadyvov and Kim and dropped a few more warriors. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kim change and take off once more. He turned his full attention back to his troubles and another growl escaped him as some of the warriors used Vadyvov's distraction to charge past him into the cave. He started to go after them, but the press of troops forced him to retake his original position 'Adam I hope you'll be okay.'

'How big is this place?'wondered Adam as he made his way through the rubble strewn corridors. He was worried about Billy, but Frog had been insistent--he had to get Dulcea deeper into the temple. 'Away from the battle, sure, but also so she will heal faster. But man, I am getting tired and she is heavy.' He chuckled slightly to himself as he carried her carefully along. He whined inwardly.'Are we there yet?'

He grinned slightly as he heard the Frog begin laughing in response, "About five feet closer than the last time you asked."

Adam laughed aloud at Frog's response but he stopped when he felt Dulcea move. "Dulcea?" She responded with some indecipherable mumbling and faded back into unconsciousness. He sighed and continued forward until the corridor opened up into a well-lit cavern. He carefully put Dulcea down and went to look around, but after a few minutes it became apparent that he had a problem. 'Great, just freaking great. I can't teleport in this room. How am I supposed to get past this now?' He growled inwardly as he stood at the base of a broken bridge 'a river of lavaand the bridge is out. Just what in the heck am I supposed to do now?'

"They are coming."

Adam nearly fell off the bridge as Frog gave him warning. 'Any ideas?' He frowned as no response was forthcoming. He sighed to himself.'No hiding places, any way across?' He walked from one end of the river and to the other. 'This sucks. If only I could teleport.' He stood back at the base of the bridge and looked down into the river. He gazed thoughtfully at the broken bridge.'This sucks. I could probably jump onto that support, but with Dulcea? Even if we make it there, if I can't get enough height on the final jump we'll fall. Not now!' He turned and ran to corridor entrance and listened to the clanking of armor and the running footfalls. 'They're almost here, it doesn't look like I have much of a choice.' He scooped up Dulcea and headed to the edge of the bridge to line up 'this sucks.'

'At least these things don't stink as bad when I destroy them' thought Billy as he took down another warrior. He moved to the next while he easily stepped around the remains of the black warriors. Night had finally fallen over Phaedos, but Billy was having no problem continuing his fight. He moved with confidence and power as he cut down more of them. He stood for a moment in the empty clearing and listened as more began to move toward him. He strained to hear them 'I'm in trouble. I'm in big trouble.' He backed closer to the cave entrance 'I have to hold off going in the cave as long as possible, their swords and lack of regard for personal safety will give them too much of an advantage when we enter . . . and I have no desire to turn my back to them.'

'At least he's tired too, and I don't think he knows I'm here.' Kimberly watched as Vadyvov slumped down against one of the temple's few standing columns. She had been furious when she had seen the temple 'that .. . oh . . . that . . . scum, he's almost destroyed the temple.' She found herself staring at the charred rubble and she was thankful that cranes can't cry 'I'd be a sobbing mess right now, so much beauty destroyed.' Carefully she landed on the top of one of buildings that still stand. She watched him for a few minutes more and nearly groaned aloud when she finally changed back 'that is definitely a workout, I hurt all over.' She smiled slightly to herself 'but it was definitely fun.'

Vadyvov suddenly rose and leaned over the cliff's edge to stare at the blue flare below. Kim heard him mumble and strained to hear him, "The wolf child must die, but the crane . . . ," he shook his head in anger. "No matter, I will deal with him first, but not as they expect. I'll have to get one sent down from the ship." He turned and stalked toward the beach.

Kim watched him go with a slight smile on her face.'Thank you master villain for telling me your plans for world domination.' She sighed.'I wonder what he's going to get though, it could be bad, no scratch that it probably is.' She changed back into the crane and started after Vadyvov, but suddenly she wheeled about and dropped over the cliff as she got this feeling of Billy in danger and a distant roar.

Billy spun about as he searched the jungle edge for the foes that should have been entering the clearing. 'Where are they? They should be here by now.' He focused on the sounds and tried to pinpoint them, but they seemed to be right up on him. In a panic, he slashed his staff through the space that one seemed to be occupying, but met no resistance. Then the stench of those things nearly caused him to drop his weapon as he started to gag. 'What . . . too much . . . ' The rustling and clanging noise of the warriors seemed to crowd him as he tried to stand upright and focus on his foes. Then a loud screech tore into his head, he screamed in pain and dropped his weapon. He covered his ears as he began to cower in confusion near the cave entrance.

As Kim flew down and her keen eyes easily oriented on the blue glow of Billy's staff. 'Is he still fighting those things?' Then she began to get worried as the staff began to flare about in an erratic pattern. 'He's flailing. Something's wrong.' She began her dive as she felt panic and pain wash over her. She wavered and let loose a pained cry, but her concern for Billy kept her on course. Her panic only increased as the comforting flare of Billy's staff went out. She carefully dropped to the ground near where Billy was. She blinked trying to find Billy by the pale moonlight. 'Where is he?' She thought worriedly as she felt another small bubble of panic float through her, then she heard him whimpering as she neared the cave entrance. 'Billy?' She almost tripped over him as she started to go into the cave, "Billy, are you all right?"

He whimpered and curled up tighter into a ball with his hands clamped over his ears. 'What's wrong with him?' She doesn't know what to do so she bent down and began to gently stroke his hair. She tried to talk to him, but that only made him whimper more. 'Billy, what's wrong?'

"Loud. Hurts."

'You heard me?'

Billy uncurled slightly and nodded. She continued to soothe him.'Okay, we need to get you up.'

He managed to uncurl and stand in a low crouch, but his hands stayed over his ears and his eyes were tightly closed. She pulled him deeper into the cave and just kept stroking his hair as she tried to calm him down. In a couple minutes he started to calm. "What happened?" she whispered almost inaudibly.

Billy tentatively lowered his hands from his ears, ready to cover them the instant the pain started again. Then he blinked and looked around as it didn't recur. "I....I don't know," he stammered. "I was doing okay, holding them off, when all of a sudden, my ears started ringing. It seemed like the warriors were right up on me, but I couldn't see them. It started out low like a rustling then it started to build into a roar. Then there was this . . . well, it sounded like a high-pitched whistle or something. Then everything went haywire. I could feel my hair standing on end, could smell . . . ugh . . . " He waved a hand in front of his face and grimaced. "Bad guys not only look bad, they smell too."

Kim smiled and giggled with relief.'Billy feels good enough to crack a joke, he's fine. But what happened?' "Where's Adam?" "He took Dulcea and headed deeper into the cave. I was trying to keep the warriors from follow..." He looked deeper into the cave, "They're coming back."

Kim was about to ask who, but when Billy's staff appeared in his hands, she got the distinct impression that it wasn't Adam and Dulcea. She didn't have to wait long before a few of the dark warriors came tromping down the corridor. She readied her bow and took down one and then another before Billy moved forward and cut down the last one. "That was quick." Then she frowned and turned to Billy, "We need to get out of here, Vadyvov has something planned and I don't think that we want to be in here when it happens."

Billy nodded and they both headed out of the cave over the remains of the warriors that Billy had defeated earlier. "You've been busy, haven't you?" Kim said in an awe tinged voice "When'd you get so good?"

Billy shrugged, "When I returned from Aquitar I didn't have much to do and while I still had the knowledge of being a ranger, I was a teenager in body without the benefits of my years as a ranger. So I undertook study in the martial arts to give me something to do and to get myself back into shape."

"Well it's paid off," grinned Kim, but she stopped and looked up, "I'm going to check on Vadyvov, I don't like having left him alone this long. He was up to something when I . . . left. You're sure you're okay?"

Billy grinned at her, "Yes Mother," and took off before she could hit him, "I'll finish off the stragglers."

She waved at him as he ran off into the woods and then took crane form once more.

'I'm going to die. I'm going to die.'rambled through Adam's mind like a dark mantra as he kept slowly sliding down toward the lava. Sweat stung his eyes as he tried to search out a path to climb up. He dug his fingers into an edge of the small chasm, but he couldn't seem to get a good grip and he slid another inch. 'I carried Dulcea and now I have to somehow climb up this wall without foot holds. Oh, frabjulous day!' He puffed out an irritated breath 'Hey Frog! Any help here? I'm about to become frog flambee!'

He heard a chuckle, "You do seem to get into the worst messes."

'Oh, yeah, laugh . . . 'Adam's fingers slipped and he managed to catch himself with a groan, ". . . it up."

Frog began to croak in what had to be hysterical laughter 'Oh, just use your knife.'

"And what good is that going to do?" growled Adam irritably as he tried to figure out how to get his hand free to summon it. 'It will make a better hand hold. Hey it's not like I'm known for my rock climbing ability now is it? I mean you could be the goat right now, buddy!'

"Sorry," Adam dug his already sore fingers deeper into the crack and managed to get a temporary foot hold. "Wish me luck." And with that he pulled his right hand away and summoned his dagger as he brought it back to wall. He sighed with relief as it slid easily into the crack. "Thanks."

'Hey I wasn't sure it would work either.'

"Now you tell me," groaned Adam as he searched for a new crack to put the knife in. He climbed slowly up the wall 'how much farther?' He groaned in pain as he pulled himself up again and reset himself. He found the next crack and went to place the knife in it but fell a little short. He watched in shock as his knife slowly slid into the rock wall itself. He blinked tiredly and began to pull himself up once more. "You could have told me that sooner."

He sighed and continued to drag himself up the wall, but every inch was becoming a challenge as tired muscles cried out in protest. After what seemed like hours he managed to climb to the top. As he reached up to find a hold on the ground a strong hand reached down and pulled him up. He landed face first on the ground in an undignified heap. He rolled over and stared up at his rescuer, "Oh, now you're up."

Dulcea looked down at him with a bemused expression on her face, "And I am glad to see you as well, Adam."

She extended her hand to help him up, "Uh, no, why don't I just lie here for a few years," groaned Adam.

Dulcea couldn't help herself and laughed, "Then tell me what has happened and who is with you."

He made a movement that she took for a shrug and listened intently as he filled her in on what he knew, finishing with finding her in the cave. "How did you get in that predicament?"

Adam blushed, "Well, as you can see the bridge is out. The warriors were following us, so I decided that, well since I was out of any good ideas . . . , well I decided to jump across. I made it to the supports no problem, but I didn't get quite enough height on the last one and . . . " he sat up suddenly, "I didn't hurt you did I?"

Dulcea shook her head in bemusement and he continued, "I knew that I wasn't going to make it all the way up, so I kinda tossed you toward the top and prayed. And then I hit the wall."

He managed to stand shakily on his feet, "I started trying to climb back up the wall, but I was having trouble with footholds and the fact that the wall kept crumbling. Then I started to use my knife to make a better hand hold . . . " he paused as Frog interjected 'I told you to.' "Well, yeah, but this is my story and I was just summarizing, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings or anything."

Dulcea listened as Adam apologized to someone. 'Frog?' She smiled at Adam, "Thank you for the story, but now we must return to the temple above."

Adam nodded and looked around as he began to shuffle forward, "What is this place?"

Dulcea leaned on him as she began to guide him, "This is the rest of the temple. Not all of it was built above ground." She answered his next question before he could ask, "Some things were deemed for the eyes of the Master's only and kept down here. No student or ninjetti knew of it until they were raised. This is a very special place and by bringing me so close to it, you have helped me recover from being away from the temple for so long. Though it will be a little while before I am fully recovered from my injuries."

She led him through the corridors and occasionally told him what one was or what it contained. He listened intently, but kept finding himself blushing at Dulcea's proximity. 'I'm missing something . . . '

"Adam, are you well?"

'Why can't the earth swallow you up when you need it?'

Billy growled as he struggled with the warrior on top of him. 'Now they have to use new tactics! Walking along minding my own business, well okay, hunting them, and one of the vile creatures has to jump out of a tree, and land on top of me. This is great . . . ' Billy's thoughts ran in irritated circles as he struggled not only to keep the warrior from choking him, but to keep him on top. 'Not the most advantageous position, but I would prefer not to be back stabbed by his associates.'

He grimaced as the stench of corruption that followed these creatures washed over him again. 'Fantastic. My calamity truly is compounded. Now there really are more.' Then he frowned as a new damp smell began to reach him. 'What now?' He heard rustling and clanking-cracking sounds followed by crashing thuds. The warrior above him jerked and dug in harder, but with twist Billy suddenly rolled them both and drove his elbow into the warrior's throat. He staggered up to his feet and looked around in shock at the remains of more of the warriors. 'Another fortuitous rescue?' He quickly summoned his staff and finished off the one he was fighting. He spun around trying to pinpoint the damp smell, but it started to fade as quickly as it appeared.

"Gro to the tremple," spoke a nearly baffling croaking voice.

Billy watched as something dropped from the trees and the damp smell finally vanished. 'What was that about? Our ewoks?' He shrugged and picked up the item 'A scroll? Well, I think I'll save it, but I'll take the advice and head back to the temple.' He placed the scroll in his pouch and grinned.'Well, alacrity would be preferable in this case . . . ' Billy changed into wolf form and loped off toward the temple.

'How long is it going to take? I mean we're almost to the 'beat up the bad guy and go home' part of this little trip.' Kim heaved an irritated sigh from her place on top of one of the outlying temple buildings. She had flown back up and searched for Vadyvov, but she wasn't able to find him. She decided to go back to her original perch and wait for him to return. That had been almost half an hour ago. 'Man, I want to sleep, after we kick his ass back to wherever, I'm going to sleep for a month.'

She sat there in a half doze for a while longer, but roused herself to alertness when she heard a voice. She lied down flat and carefully inched toward the sounds and began to distinguish two separate voices 'Adam and Dulcea? Oh, yes. Now she can kick his ass and I can go home.' She opened her mouth to call out when she saw Vadyvov appear behind them wit a dagger raised. 'ADAM!'

"Huh? Kim?," Adam let go of Dulcea and suddenly dropped into a sweep kick, but Vadyvov leaped over him and vanished back into the shadows.

Kim started to give a relieved sigh, but a sudden thought washed it away. 'He's been here. He's already set it up!' She shifted into crane form and flew off after Vadyvov. 'ADAM! Vadyvov has put a bomb in the temple! Find it, I'll try and stop Vadyvov.'

Adam spun around in confusion until he saw the crane take off from the temple top. 'Bomb? Just great.' "Dulcea, Vadyvov has planted a bomb. Do you have any idea where he could have put it?"

She shook her head, "Fortunately I suppose, he has destroyed a large section of the Temple Above. So his options are limited, let us begin our search." Adam nodded and Dulcea wearily leaned on him once more as she guided him to the nearest building. She looked at him curiously for a moment, "Adam, are you well?"

'Where now?' Kim glided gracefully through the sky as she tried to keep Vadyvov in sight. 'He knows

I'm out here.' She managed to hold back an irritated cry as he vanished into the foliage once more. 'I know where he is, but I can't see him! Wait a minute . . . he's going back to the cave. He's looking for Billy.' She glided down to large branch 'I can't keep this up any more.' She perched on the branch and changed back to her normal shape. 'How am I . . . ?'

'Take the 'high road' fledgling. You will not fall.'

Kim felt a new strength flow through her tired body, 'Okay, can do.' She gracefully leaped from this branch to another and walked down it. 'Great, I can follow him, but he can hear me.' She leaped to another branch as a blaster bolt passed through the space she had just occupied. 'You wanna play tag?'

She summoned her bow and sent a shot toward Vadyvov. 'You can hear me, but I KNOW where you are too.'

A large grey wolf loped easily through the jungle, but it slowed to a walk as a new sound reached its ears. 'Blaster fire? Not now, I'm almost to the Temple, but this could be important.' He sniffed the air and caught the fading scent of the bolt's passage and another familiar scent. 'Vadyvov!' Billy frowned as much as a wolf is able and began to head toward the fight.

'So you wish to play? But first . . . You are not the only one who climbs trees, little girl!' Vadyvov growled silently to himself as he suddenly leapt up the side of one of the great trees. He easily perched himself on a branch, "You think to hide from me? I have been the leopard for millennia and you are but a young bird not long from the nest."

He didn't have to wait long before a streak of pink flew toward him and he jumped to another branch as he fired a return shot. "I can play this game as long as you like, but the temple will not be there when we finish. That I will guarantee you." Vadyvov grinned as two more streaks of light flew toward him, he changed into a panther and they sailed harmlessly over his head. He changed back an instant later.'You cannot stop me, little girl. And I will not rest until Dulcea is dead and the ninjetti are but ash upon the winds.'

Billy had carefully moved toward the sounds of fighting. He could smell Vadyvov and Kim, but soon he could hear Vadyvov talking from above. 'Shit!' Billy's mind quickly jumped to the logical conclusion as he changed direction. He'd rather have helped Kim fight Vadyvov, but he knew this is a bigger threat. He began to glow blue as he suddenly took off at dead run toward the temple. 'He's going to blow up the temple!'

'You know what? You are a loser, just like every other idiot that I've had to deal with as a ranger.'

Kim let loose another shaft of energy toward Vadyvov and leapt easily to another tree.

She saw him pop out of the foliage and smile at her for an instant as he fired a blast of black energy. She ran down the branch and hopped to another as she easily avoided the blast. She turned and sent another shot to illuminate the darkness.

This game of hide-and-seek went on for what seemed like hours to both involved. But Vadyvov tired of it and prepared to play his trump, "You have done well against the ninjetti, but how will you fare against the leopard?"

'Why don't you just give it up and go home?' She looked around suddenly.'Where did he go?'

'Give up? I think not.'seemed to originate from above her.

Kim screamed in pain and surprise as a large weight dropped on her. She registered the pain of claws as dug into her back as she fell from her perch. Her bow clattered down through the branches until it vanished in a flash of pink. Suddenly the weight pushed off of her and she frantically grabbed for a nearby branch to stop her descent.

"Is this supposed to be here?" asked Adam quietly as he looked at the nondescript box. "It gives me a bad feeling."

Dulcea leaned heavily against the wall as she made her way across the room. She leaned on Adam as she got a closer look. "No, it is not," she said grimly as she studied it. She watched small lights blink on and off in a rhythmic pattern. "It is on some sort of timer, I believe, but I have no idea how to disarm it." She stares at Adam intently, "Nor even how to open it, it is reasonable to assume that Vadyvov has some fail-safe or some such installed. It is beyond my expertise."

'Oh, not now!' Adam groaned inwardly as the Frog began to chuckle in the background. "Um, I have no idea either, if only Billy was here."

"Adam, are you sure you are well?"

Adam groaned inwardly 'Just great, I'm . . . ' Adam's thoughts grew silent as he heard Frog croaking hysterically once more. "I'm so glad you find me so amusing. If you don't have any thing constructive to say . . . "

Frog laughed some more. 'Speak of the wolf and he comes.'

'?' "Billy!" Adam eagerly dragged Dulcea toward the door, "Billy, we're in here! Hurry!"

Kim scrambled up to the top of the branch even though she was in pain from Vadyvov's attack, because she knew with total certainty that he would kill her if she didn't. A sense of smug satisfaction flitted on the edge of her pain. She didn't even think as she summoned her bow and fired a shot above her as once again a weight dropped upon her.

Surprise radiated through her, even overwhelming her pain for a moment. Vadyvov's momentum flipped her as they both fell from the tree. Then she felt Vadyvov's claws as they began to dig into her shoulders as she frantically tried to separate them. Kim gave a moan of relief as she felt the claws turn into fingers, but a wave of despair washed over her. Without the claws digging in she was able to break free from Vadyvov and she wrap herself around the next branch she hits. It slowed her fall, but it broke under her weight and she continued to fall. In desperation she changed into crane form and nearly passes out from the pain. She spread her wings to catch the air, but the effort cost her greatly. 'Gotta glide or I'm toast.' She slowed her descent, but changed back to human form a few seconds later and fell the rest of the way to the ground. She hit the ground hard and felt something give in her ankle as she rolled. 'I'm alive. This is good.'

She started to sit up as she heard a low growl near her. 'Uh oh.' She turned to it and saw a giant black leopard stalk toward her. "Nice kitty," she placated without much hope as it came closer. It moved beside her and placed one paw on her chest and pushed her back down. 'I'm screwed.' She resolutely looked toward it and stared into its eyes.

'Thank you' sadly rumbled a deep voice in her mind.

Then the leopard exploded upwards in a black flame toward the sky. Kim watched it disappear into the night sky. 'Well, wasn't that special' and with that particularly irreverent thought she passed out.

Billy studied the scanners readings thoughtfully 'We're screwed. The casing is rigged, it activated once the box was locked. Well at lease Kim's not here.' He turned and smiled at Dulcea and Adam, "Well, this shouldn't be a challenge," he said confidently. 'Liar.' "But there is another urgent matter: Kim was battling Vadyvov. If he escaped, he would be coming back to the temple to finish us off or Kim might need our assistance." 'Of course he'd come here after setting a bomb. As Kim would say, "Yeah, right!"'

He watched as Adam and Dulcea both stand, "Adam, I'll need you for a little while. I need an extra pair of hands for this." 'And hopefully I've guessed right . . . ' Dulcea nodded at them as she walked unsteadily out the door. 'At least she won't be at ground zero if this doesn't work.' He stared at his scanner intently for a few moments and pulled an indeterminate tool from his pouch.

"Well Adam, I'm going to need you to carefully open the box as I pick the lock. You'll need to do it very gently. Can you do it?"

"Well, if not, at least we won't know it," said Adam with a hint of gallows humor.

'And you have no idea how bad this idea is.' Billy carefully lined up the tool with the lock and began to carefully press a button on it. It lit up with a pale blue light as he began to point it at the lock. He held the scanner and studied it intently.'Well, it's all or nothing.' "Adam, carefully begin to lift the lid."

Billy held his breath and watched the scanner intently as Adam did so. He heard a clicking and hum that died as the lid slowly opened. He read the scanner 'I was right! One disarmed booby trap. Whew!' He turned to Adam and smiled, "Well done, now you should go find Kim, she and Vadyvov were not far from the temple."

Adam grinned and headed out at a tired jog. Billy watched him leave, then he smiled and put his penlight back into his pouch. 'A highly useful tool.' He thought mischievously as he returned to studying the device. 'Four more minutes.' He looked carefully at the wires and began to trace them.'Why in the hell does it need all of these wires?' He frowned and continued to trace as he stared at the mass of wires before him.

Adam had talked to Dulcea for a few moments and headed off into the jungle once more. 'How many times in one day am I going to have to do this?' He sighed inwardly as he tried to find Kim. "Frog, do you know where Kim is? Cause I cannot see in the dark, I could walk right past her and not know it."

'Turn a little to the right, . . . a little more, yes, that way.'

Adam continued forward for a few more steps and tripped over something. He landed face first on the ground and raised his head "Kim?!"

He climbed up to his knees and crawled over to her, "You could have warned me you know?"

'And what fun would that be?'

Adam groaned at Frog's reply as he carefully unwraped the blanket around her and looked Kim over. 'She's been hurt pretty bad, but someone has given her medical attention.' "Frog, do you know what's going on here?"

'Some old friends have been looking out for you and her. On a side note you should see the other guy.'

"Huh?"

'What you tripped over.'

Adam turned around and crawled back over to the black shape. 'Vadyvov.' He looked at him for a moment, "He's dead," Adam said quizzically.

'My, aren't we the king of brilliant observations.'

"Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up."

'Okay, don't mind if I do . . . ' Frog began to chuckle at the absurdity of the situation and not long after Adam joined in. 'Oh, by the way, you should say 'Thanks.''

"To who?"

'The guy up in that tree, who played 'EMT' for Kim.'

Adam stood up and turned to the tree, "Um . . . thanks for helping," he continued in a low grumble, "there had better be someone there, Frog. Or I'll be annoyed at you for making me feel like an idiot."

"Accepted," replied a voice from the tree, "It is good to see you here. Your wolf-friend has our gift. Till next."

"Wait a minute, who are you?"

'He's gone home and good little ninjetti should do it as well.'

"Wait, this means I have to carry Kim back," groaned Adam. "If I have to carry Billy anywhere we're going to have words . . . ," Adam continued grumbling irritably as he picked up Kim and began to carry her toward the temple.

'Great, just great. All of these wires seem to be trapped! This makes no sense. I'm almost out of time here!' Billy started slightly as he heard a distant howl. 'Just what I needed, to be scared out of my wits, while I am working on ye olde weapon of doom.'

Billy felt a soothing presence. 'You know the answer, follow your instincts, cub.'

'My instincts?' Billy waited a moment for a response but recieved none. 'Oh, well. I know the answer?' Billy carefully reviewed the last few minutes in his mind. 'Brilliant, Cranston.' He thought sarcastically as he carefully moved wires aside. 'Oh, look here, the actual mechanism of the bomb, not a booby trap. Though, it did almost catch this 'booby.'' Billy snorted and studied the circuit board before him. 'Trap, timer, trap, lock, trap, trap, power, trap . . . hmm . . . timer connected to . . . ' Billy's hands moved steadily as he deciphered the workings of the bomb, he carefully tapped the board in a couple of places with a small device. 'Well, I'm still alive. That's a good sign. Now what happens when the timer runs . . . ' Billy paused as he stared at the one blinking light.'Cut that one a wee bit short.' Billy stared at the blinking light a bit longer and carefully stood up and headed outside.

He quickly went to Dulcea to see how she was doing. She sat alone on a fallen column as she watched the sky. As Billy neared, she smiled at his approach, "Vadyvov is no longer a threat."

"How do you know?"

"His spirit animal came to me to tell me of his passing," she sighed sadly. 'Hopefully it will be a long while before I must receive such news again. I am tired of it.'

"He was a ninjetti?"

"Yes, he . . . ," Dulcea went quiet at the sound of a communicator.

Billy shrugged and raised his wrist, "Yes?"

Cestro's voice issued forth, "The hostile vessels are destroyed. Do you wish to return?"

Billy looked questioningly to Dulcea, she nodded and smiled in response. Billy grinned back, "Actually, why don't you come down here. Everything is fine here now. You can go down to the beach and walk up to these coordinates. Then you can tell me what happened to you."

"That will be most acceptable . . . and most appreciated," said Cestro gravely.

Billy waited until Cestro signed off, "You know, this is almost like a dream come true for him. Have you ever seen an excited Aquitian? Oh, this'll be fun." Billy grinned at Dulcea as he took a seat near her, "All we have to do now is wait for Adam and Kim."

Cestro carefully guided the ship under the cover of a cliff. 'One should not be incautious, even when victory seems complete.' Once he was satisfied with his landing and location he took some supplies and stepped out onto the rocky Phaedosian ground. ''Phaedos, where only the worthy may walk. And evil fears to tread, under the light of the Ninjetti.' Truly this trip is a most excellent adventure. It is odd to ponder that the knowing and friendship of one person from such a minor planet would have so much effect on my life.' Cestro made the Aquitian hand gesture that is the equivalent to a smile 'and now I walk into the heart of myth itself.'

Cestro carefully made his way toward the coordinates specified by Billy. As he neared the jungle's edge, he heard a grumbling voice and the sound of someone moving through the vegetation, though his hearing was not good enough to make out what was being said. 'Billy did say that all was well.' Cestro stepped behind a rock as he heard the grumbling voice come closer and he began to make it out, " . . . oh, yeah this is funny for you . . . I'm the one doing all the carrying and walking . . . Well okay, no pits this time. That is a plus, but . . . once was more than enough for one day . . . this is not that funny!"

Cestro leaned out and watched as Adam emerged from the dense foliage carrying Kimberly. 'He is very odd. ' He watched Adam stalk forward and grumble some more, he hesitated a moment and called out to Adam, "Adam, do you require any assistance?"

Adam turned unsteadily and almost dropped Kim, he stared at Cestro wild eyed for a moment, "Sure, yeah, would you be willing to carry Kim. My arms are about to fall off."

Cestro studied him intently as he wondered about this new structural weakness of humans. "I will assist you." He moved forward and relieved a weary Adam of his burden, "How has she been harmed?" Cestro paused a moment as he caught a pleasant aroma.

Adam staggered along unsteadily beside him, "I think she might have a broken ankle, though I'm no expert, and her back and shoulders have been torn up pretty bad." He paused for a moment, "She has been given some first aid. And I there's some kind of salve on her cuts. It looks bad, but it smells good though."

"I concur, it reminds me of something," he pausesd for a moment deep in thought. "Ah, it is abayanth. A very potent medicinal plant, though it is remarkably rare in this day and age." 'I only know of it through my botanical studies. Perhaps it is indigenous to Phaedos and that is why it can no longer be found in great quantity. Perhaps something to discuss with Billy.'

Adam looked at the path ahead of them, "Well," he turned with a smile though he spoke gravely, "I am honored to welcome you to my . . . home," Adam frowned at this for a moment then bowed to Cestro formally. He looked at Cestro and smiled once more, "I have the honor of welcoming you to the ninjetti temple. It's just over that rise."

'A proper invitation and welcome? Billy has been teaching him of our customs. But that he would make such an effort for me is a great honor.' Cestro found himself slowing as he looked up toward the temple. 'I am acting like a youngling. I am nervous and it slows my step.' Cestro exhaled some air from his gills in the whistling Aquitian equivalent to a sigh and began to walk toward the temple once more. He returned his attention to Adam and replies gravely, "I thank you for your courtesy and your invitation. I am well met." With that he gave Adam as formal a bow as possible with Kimberly in his arms and began to walk forward once more.

Adam smiled and walked forward, but Cestro is sure he heard him mumble, "What do you mean 'my home?'"

'He is definitely very odd.' Thought Cestro right before he recieved his first look at the Temple of the Ninjetti. For a moment the beauty of it overwhelmed him, before he noticed the blaster marks on some buildings and the rubble of others. He looked around in sadness and awe at a myth made real before him. Then he notices a female humanoid move toward them, she smiled at him and Adam and then she began to speak in a voice that had a different cadence that the familiar tones of Billy and Adam. "I am Dulcea, Master Warrior of Phaedos and I give you welcome to the temple," she paused for a moment and gave him a wry smile, "such as it is."

"I am Cestro of Aquitar, Aquitian Ranger of the Blue. I am honored at your welcome."

She gave him a tired smile, "Adam, perhaps you should join Billy in rest?"

Adam mumbled a reply and walked toward the fire to slump down in a heap and fall asleep instantly. She watched him walk away with a slight frown and it turned to a bemused smile as he collapsed by the fire. "Could you please take Kimberly to the fire, so that I tend to her wounds."

Cestro nodded and carried Kimberly there and laid her down beside the fire. "She has received some medical attention, though as I have not examined her injuries I do not the thoroughness of her treatment."

He watched as Dulcea carefully examined Kimberly and after a few moments she rewrapped Kimberly in her blanket and turned to him once more. She gave him a tired smile, "She is doing well, I'll have to change those bandages tomorrow, but for tonight it is good enough." She looked tiredly to Cestro for moment, "Now I suppose I should tell you what has happened."

She paused for a moment, but Cestro interrupted respectfully, "That can wait until the next cycle, you require rest."

Dulcea nodded gratefully, "You are correct, Cestro of Aquitar. Tomorrow then, for tonight I will sleep out here with them." Dulcea nodded once and readied herself for sleep, "Do not leave the temple grounds, but for now we are safe." She closed her eyes and fell into a peaceful sleep.

'This is an excellent site, though the damage has been extensive. A very serene place.' Cestro finished his search of the buildings and area of the temple and prepared to take a regenerative cycle near the others. 'Ah, Dulcea speaks. Perhaps the others are aware.' He walked toward the camp, but paused before he stepped fully out into the open. 'The others are still sleeping. With whom is she conversing?'

He listened carefully and began to make out her conversation, "You have made up your minds then?" "I am not averse to it, but I am surprised none the less. Have you told them? Him? Hmm . . . Oh, yes I will train them, there is no doubt of that, but it feels odd to have students after this long." Cestro strained for a minute as this odd conversation paused, "He will?" said Dulcea with evident surprise, "What was lost, you wish to rebuild with one sweeping stroke. I am glad that I have the opportunity to be a part of it," she paused and finished sheepishly, "but I still find it such a sudden change after 50,000 years." She laughed, "Yes, I do suppose I am a little set in my ways." Another longer pause, "Well, good night to you as well."

Cestro watched her return to her repose with the distinct impression that he had heard something important. 'But of what import is it to our current situation? Perhaps it shall be clearer with the new day.' With that he walked up to the camp and joined the others in rest.

Morning rose on Phaedos and Dulcea rose with it as she had since she became a Master Warrior of Phaedos. She stretched and looked toward her sleeping charges. 'So much to be done.' She smiled as she noted that the pain in her shoulder was almost gone and she felt almost like she did on any other morning. She shrugged and began to walk around the temple assessing the damage. 'How shall this be repaired? I would not worry for Adam, Kimberly, and Billy could stay in the Temple Below, but Cestro . . . a new, but pleasant complication I suppose. And I sincerely doubt they want to spend all of their nights sleeping on the ground.' She smiled to herself as she finished her rounds and went to her quarters to get cleaned up for the day. 'I should hurry so that I am there when they awake.'

Cestro was the first to awaken, as he'd been able to rest a little the day before and hadn't been engaged in intense activity or injured. He looked around for a moment and found Dulcea waiting for him. "Good morning to you Cestro."

He bowed slightly, "And to you as well."

She turned her gaze to the sleeping forms of the others, "Come away from here with me, I believe they need the rest after yesterday's excitement." She gestured to a fallen column, "I will tell you of how I first met them."

Cestro sat down and listened intently as she told the story of the Ranger's first visit to Phaedos. When she reached the part where the ranger's received their spirit animals and a voice interrupted, "The look on Adam's face was priceless, 'I'm a frog!,' he sounded so depressed," grinned Billy as he slumped down beside them. "Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn't help myself. Dulcea was giving a very factual account, but she left that out. It was almost as memorable as gaining my ninjetti animal."

Dulcea smiled at him, "Up already?"

Billy shrugged, "I don't usually sleep that much anyway. Also, unlike my companions I am uninjured. It seems that fighting off Vadyvov's troops was less strenuous than their adventures. But I seem to have distracted you from your narrative."

"Perhaps you should continue it, as you were there and were able to actually quest for the Great Power."

Billy opened his mouth to speak and caught Cestro's expression. 'This is so strange, Cestro keeps looking at me like I'm some sort of great hero, even though he is no less a hero than I.' Billy shrugged to himself and continued the narrative from the quest for the great power. As he's talked, Dulcea begged his pardon for a moment and returned with some bowls filled with a nice smelling soup and they ate as Billy talked. The sun climbs high into the sky as he told the story of the ranger's battle with Ooze up until he left for Aquitar. He told Dulcea of his time on Aquitar and of his return to earth. "Well, except for meeting up with Adam and this little adventure, that is all there is to tell right now. I think we should wait until the others are awake before I talk of our journey here."

Dulcea nodded, "Well then, I shall check up on Kimberly. Her bandages should be changed and more healing salve should be applied."

Billy wrinkled his nose, "Do you have something less aromatic? That stuff reeks." He grinned sheepishly, "It's part of the reason that I woke up when I did, ick."

Dulcea shook her head in silent laughter as she checked on Kimberly.

"I do not understand, Billy. I found the mixture most pleasant," said Cestro seriously but with a hint of humor.

"I'm glad you find this funny," grumbled Billy.

Cestro frowned, "That does bring up another matter, last night as I came here I came upon Adam and he was saying something similar to no one that I could perceive . . . "

Billy leaned back and pondered Cestro's question, "Adam, as you know is a ninjetti. This affects each of us in different ways. I myself have the benefit of increased senses and my spirit animal has spoken with me once or twice. Adam's gifts seem to include an almost constant rapport with his animal. It must be disconcerting for him to have such a 'guest' in his thoughts. It is very odd."

"That it is. I admit that I was wondering if the stress of your adventure had gotten to him."

"Oh, thanks," grumbled a sleepy voice.

Both of them turned to see Adam stumble over and slump down beside them. He looked at them wearily, "Dulcea thought it was time for me to wake up."

Billy grinned at him, "Well, you have slept over half the day away."

"Yeah and I bet you didn't have to lug Kim or Dulcea halfway across Phaedos."

Cestro looked at Adam strangely and Billy laughed, "I'm sorry, I couldn't help myself. Well, when Dulcea gets back, you can tell us how we ended up on Phaedos. You weren't that great a conversationalist when we started this trip." Billy picked up a still warm bowl of soup and handed it to Adam, "You'll feel better after you eat."

"Yes, Mother."

Billy stuck his tongue out at Adam as Adam sat down to eat. Cestro watched them both in quiet confusion they are both very strange.' Adam finished a couple bowls of soup and Dulcea sat beside him and told them all that Kim would be fine. They all breathed a shared sigh of relief, then Adam blushed slightly and began to tell the story of the rest of his time with the rangers.

Dulcea looked at him expectantly as he winded down his story with the retirement of the rangers. He found himself blushing once more as he told them of his rediscovery of the ninjetti powers and even though Billy had heard this story before he listened intently. He spoke guardedly of Frog and of his attempt to bring the rangers back to the ninjetti path. "But I am thinking Rocky and Jason will be joining us . . . ," he shrugged and continued his story up until the point where they were separated by the lightening. "Well, I don't know about what happened to Kim, but Billy, you should continue until we meet up at the cave."

Billy nodded and as he related to them his escapades as a wolf, Kim carefully limped over and rejoined them. He smiled at her as he related how he ended up stumbling onto Dulcea. He talked of rejoining with Adam and his battle with Vadyvov. Kim began to join in at this part by giving a brief tale of her trip there and how she stopped Vadyvov from injuring Billy. Billy looked at her for a moment, "How exactly did you know he was there?"

"I don't know, I just 'felt' something 'bad' behind you. I just knew what I had to do," she shrugged and told them of her chase after Vadyvov.

Billy then basically summed up his adventure as, "I fought an awful lot of those things."

Kim frowned at him and added her version of his misadventure, she finished with, "You still haven't explained what happened."

Billy pondered the question uncomfortably for a moment, "I believe my enhanced senses overwhelmed me, as this level of sensory information is new to me." He silently added 'or it may be a normal side effect.'

Adam gestured for them to continue, "My part isn't really connected to yours anyway."

The storytelling went on for a while longer and Billy embarrassedly told them of his near miss with the last of the dark warriors. "If whoever has been helping us hadn't jumped in . . . " he frowned and then reached into his pouch and then pulled out the scroll, "And they threw this to me and told me to hurry to the temple."

Dulcea perked up once again like she had at every other mention of these creatures. "It is good that they did, but now I will tell my story, because I sense that it is intertwined with the rest of Adam's and Kim's more than it is yours."

She told them of her battle with Vadyvov and her escape, and then of her mysterious helpers, "They have helped me as much as they have helped you, but I do not know them." 'I know of them, but that is another story.'

Adam grinned, "Well, they're in my part too. But first I think I'll get us back to Kim." He then went on to tell them of his escape with Dulcea and his bad luck with the river of lava.

Dulcea looked at him curiously for a minute, "Yes, you had seriously taxed yourself. Even now you are occasionally flushed, perhaps I was wrong to wake you when I did."

Adam gave Billy a glance that made Billy decide not to comment as he laughed internally. Kim just smiled at Adam and Cestro looked on in confusion at the silent exchange. Adam mumbled, "No, it's okay. Don't . . . um . . . worry about it. I'm fine."

Dulcea wasn't sure what to make of that answer as he flushed again, but decided to take him at his word as he continued the story. She looked at Cestro for a moment, but decided not to stop Adam as he told of his walk though the Temple Below. He spoke of Kim's warning and his close shave with Vadyvov and her subsequent flight.

Kim looked at them all for a moment and spoke to them quietly of her hunt and final battle with Vadyvov. "I was able to follow him for all of it, except that final part. I don't understand it either way," she shrugged and grew silent.

Billy decided this was a good place for him to restart his tale. He paused when he made it to defusing the bomb and looked at Adam for a minute. "Neither one of you could read the timer could you?"

Dulcea and Adam shook their heads.

"When I finally made it to the device, we were almost out of time. I quickly figured out that by the time I defused the casing that the bomb itself would be ready to detonate. So I took a gamble," Billy paused as everyone stared at him in shock, "I had theorized about a certain ability that one of us had exhibited, and, well, I carefully tested my hypothesis."

Everyone stared at him blankly for a moment, then Adam spoke up, "But I was the only one with you? So my abilities?"

Billy nodded, "Do you remember when you entered my home?" Adam nodded and Billy continued, "I never unlocked my door nor did I turn off my security system, yet when you wanted to come in the security system shut off and the locks unlocked so that you could enter. I...decided that it was our best chance and if not, well then I could try to disarm it." Billy shrugged as everyone stared at him once more, "Hey it worked, I disarmed the bomb and then I feel asleep."

"Now I believe it is my turn to tell my part in this adventure," started Cestro. "I will be brief in your manner. After I left Kimberly, Billy, and Adam on the planet's surface, I carefully evaded the hostile vessel and took shelter near the moon of this world. As I waited the vessel sent a transmission and received a reply, not long after a second smaller vessel appeared. As I waited, they sent down 'life forms' of some sort, and a while later they had docked the second vessel inside the first. Then I noted another transmission of forces to the surface and this left the ships almost totally unstaffed, a very tactically unadvisable move, perhaps one of desperation?" Cestro paused to ponder it for a moment and then continued, "There was a teleport of a true life sign to and from the vessel, not long after that the vessel attempted to leave orbit. As I had an excellent vessel and it was my duty to do so at this juncture, I hailed the vessel and asked that they stand down."

At this part of Cestro's story Billy broke out laughing, "And because there probably weren't enough people to run it . . . "

Cestro nodded to Billy and 'smiles, '"That was a large determining factor. They attempted to attack me, but they were very unimaginative. In fact I had the distinct feeling that they were not prepared to actually work their vessel with such low numbers. After a short battle I had disabled the engines and again I asked them to stand down. They responded by activating their self destruct. Once the vessel was destroyed, I contacted Billy and landed on Phaedos. Now I believe it is Adam's turn to continue."

Adam looked up startled, "Well there isn't much to tell, I went to find Kim. I tripped over Vadyvov, who was very deceased, and landed right in front of Kim. She was wrapped in a blanket and someone had obviously done first aid on her. I was looking her over when Frog told me to say thanks, so I did and I got a response. He said you're welcome and that it was good to see me." Adam paused and frowned, "He also said my wolf-friend had their gift. The scroll?" He shrugged and continued, "Well now I got to carry Kim back to the temple. Cestro, do you want to continue or do you want me too?"

"You may continue."

"Well I met up with Cestro, he offered to carry her and I welcomed him to the temple. Then I feel asleep like a good little ninjetti."

Dulcea stood up, "This story has been well told, it has been quite an adventure." She smiled, "Tomorrow I will help you with your abilities and answer a few questions." She looked to them and started to say something else, but turned and left.

Billy shrugged, "Well, what now? Cestro, I know you have lots of questions."

Cestro 'smiled' once more, "You know me well. I have many questions, but not all are directed at you," he looked at Kim and Adam, "May I have permission to ask you?"

Adam shrugged and Kim nodded. Cestro paused a minute and gathered his thoughts, "Billy as you have the most knowledge of ranger abilities, how do these differ?"

Billy pondered it for a moment, "Well first off, these are very person specific powers. Unlike ranger powers which were only differentiated by color, zord, and weaponry, these have vastly different abilities. I will have to ask Dulcea how color enters into it. In general, we are now in better general shape, with a slightly higher strength, though nothing above human norms. After this, the abilities vary widely based on our animal spirits, I have more endurance than either Kim or Adam, yet Kim is far more agile than either one of us. Adam can leap farther than I and probably farther than Kim."

Billy paused a moment and Cestro nodded for him to continue, "We have also picked up some more puzzling differences: Adam can change his outfit at will, we cannot. I can summon or create whatever tools I need, though I have found that I have to know how to make them initially, they cannot. At this time, Kim has not shown any unique ability in this area, but I believe we will find many things. I have found a few of my abilities, yet Adam has evinced many more. Well, I will start with my abilities, my spirit animal is the wolf and some of these relate to that. I have increased senses to an unbelievable level, though I have read something . . . I can transform into my spirit animal, a very odd experience. I also seem to be able to read new languages without study. I should check the ship's database and experiment . . . " He grinned sheepishly, "And that's all I know of my abilities. I know more of Adam's it seems." Adam looked at Billy oddly as he continued, "Adam's animal is the frog. The first ability you've noticed is his rapport with the frog spirit. While Kim and I have each had contact with our animals, we lack his constant discourse with our spirit animals."

Adam giggled slightly and blushed, "Uh, go on."

"Adam has also shown greater tolerance to being underwater, I theorize that you might just be amphibious. You and Cestro should have fun testing that. You can be remarkably stealthy, even with my enhanced senses I cannot always find you. You of course have the 'lock-bypassing' ability. You are also better suited to Phaedos' jungle climate than either Kim or I. It might be a function of your rapport with the frog, but I believe you are mildly precognitive. Oh, yes and you can change into a frog."

"I have found few of Kim's abilities, but those that I have . . . Kim seems to have developed empathic and possibly telepathic abilities. She can of course change into the crane, but that is all I have been able to deduce so far. Cestro, perhaps you can work with her and help her figure out the extent and use of her new abilities?"

Cestro nodded at Billy and 'smiled' at Kim, "If you would like my assistance I would be glad to give it."

Kim smiled back, "Thanks, this is kinda freaky for me."

"For you! What about me!" groaned Adam.

Everyone except Cestro laughed out loud at that, though he did make the Aquitian gesture for it. Once it died down Cestro spoke once more, "Could you tell me more about these spirit animals?"

To everyone's surprise Adam began to talk before Billy, "They're like idealized representations of animals. Most animals exist in most places, but under different names, like wolf is also known as kaygar or alanthan on different planets. But they still are the same spirit, kinda like a color represents a series of personality traits in our morphing philosophy, the animals break it down even further. I mean you and Billy are both blue, the color of knowledge, but you're alike and not alike. Billy's the wolf, swift and cunning, and you're the whale, I don't know what you'd call it, the keeper of the waters." Adam continued oblivious to the shocked glances that the others gave him. "Another comparison would be Tommy and Dulcea, they're both greens, the color of duty, the balance between will and knowledge, but he's the falcon, a master of the skies, and she's the owl, a much more mystically inclined spirit. Did that help?"

Cestro nodded, "Perhaps you could tell me more of how the colors interact?"

Adam stared out over the temple and started once more, "Well, when I was going through the under-temple with Dulcea, she told me a bit about it. Ninjetti colors are quite similar to morphing, probably because morphing was based off of them . . . Okay, imagine a triangle. The three points are blue knowledge, red strength, and yellow willpower. The lines are a mix of the two colors they connect, green is duty, will and intellect focused on purpose. Orange is honor, strength and will, and purple is strategy or leadership, strength and intellect. Of course people can shift up and down the lines and be closer to one aspect of their parent colors, but they're still a little harder to find people who fit. I mean to get Tommy and Jason in the same group . . . and I wonder about Trini . . . "

He stared into space as he trailed off, then he suddenly started again, "Then that leaves the whites and black. Depending on how you look at mixing of colors, all of them together can make either black or white. But black can only make black if you mix another color with it, while if you mix another color with white you get a new color, like pink, which is courage or compassion. Basically, a white or black is strongly balanced toward all aspects of the spectrum, but in black or in a new color they tilt the strongest toward that main tone. Most teams have blacks and pinks because they're very flexible as to who can receive them. True white is very rare, and Tommy doesn't really count, as he's a green using white morphing energy that was made specifically for him. There are true blacks as well, and like a true white they would be equally drawn to all aspects of color range. Then it's a slight difference in ethics . . . But then again, it's kinda hard to tell a true black from a mixed black . . . " Adam trailed off once more and blinked, "Did that answer your questions?"

"Yes, thank you. Your discussion was most informative."

Adam smiled and then turned to Billy, "Can I have the scroll?" Billy handed it to him then Adam opened it and looked at it for a moment, "Thanks, I'm going to go for a walk." He frowned slightly to himself as he stood and left. Billy could hear him mumble to himself as he walked off, "Why does everyone call me that?"

Billy started to rise, but felt a hand on his shoulder holding him in place. He looked up to see Dulcea standing there watching Adam leave. "I do not know either, but he must go on his own." She watched Adam until he disappeared into a building, then she sat beside them, "He was correct in all that he said," she turned and looked at Cestro, "even about you. Tonight we will deal with that." She smiled at them all, "Are you hungry?" Dulcea nearly laughed at the emphatic responses she received, "I will return in a moment."

They talked quietly until she returned with more bowls of soup. "Now let us talk of other things," she looked at them all for a moment, "Though I can see that you all have questions, you have already sown the seeds of your answers. So I will talk of the ninjetti and perhaps of Adam," she smiled once more as they all waited expectantly for her to begin.

"You know, this is getting kinda ridiculous. I don't even know these people and they're calling me that," mumbled Adam irritably as he left the group. "What is up with that?"

Frog chuckled, 'I am sorry, it is a long story.' Adam felt Frog smile at him, 'I will tell you of it, but you cannot tell the others all of what I say unless it is absolutely necessary."

"Okay," replied Adam without reservation.

Frog sighed for a moment, 'This story starts before there were ninjetti. We spirits still took care of those who came to us, but we were not organized. We watched, learned from, and guided our charges wherever they were. It was a good time and it still goes on in many places, even on your planet there are those who call to us. But as time moved on, more of our children moved from us in the name of progress and we grew sad. Yet more always came. We were not daunted until the evil powers began to appear. We were torn over this development, for yes, there had been evil people before, but this was something new to us.' Frog paused and Adam got a vague sense of great time and great sadness tinged with grief. 'We did not act together. This was our great error, we acted through our charges, but the wolf acted only with the wolf and the eagle with the eagle. We did not act together and these evil powers laid waste and thrived. This was a sad time, this was the time of the Great Loss.' Frog fell silent and Adam felt the grief more acutely now. He blinked to clear the tears from his eyes as he wandered deeper into the temple-below.

Adam hesitantly spoke, "You don't have to tell me, if . . . "

'No, I have said I would tell and we had decided that the story should be known.' Frog grew silent and when he spoke his mind-voice is filled with millenniums of grief and loss, 'The Great Loss . . . as I said we did not act together. So each dealt with it in their own way, myself and ones who thought like me tried to pull us together. Yes, I do have a part in this, but we could not hold the center. Some of our rasher brethren began battle and our more contemplative waited for all the facts. Our strongest and wisest strove to help their failing brethren. There were many battles, in the end we all fought in our own ways, but it was no longer a battle for victory . . . it was a battle to save those who had fallen.' Frog paused and then continued in a rush, 'No, the evil powers did not directly harm the spirits, but the powers destroyed many of their children . . . some in battle, some just to destroy. It was a great blow and many did not recover. Their children faded and they . . . they decided to leave as well.'

As Frog paused, Adam got the sense that Frog was looking at him intently, 'Very few know what I am about to say, after the battle we knew our folly and we debated what to do. Those who would leave listened to our plans, but their hearts were not with us. I did not know why, but Unicorn and Dragon came to me alone. They told me of their and the others leave-taking. I was shocked and horrified, I pleaded, I reasoned, and I ranted, but they were firm. They had a task for me, 'Why me,' I asked. 'There are others . . . ,' but they were firm and they chided me not to forget my own wisdom. So I accepted and they told me what they had decided in our council and theirs. They would leave, but they decided to leave a remnant of themselves behind, so that we would not be totally without them. In times of need they would be there. I was given the charge of its guarding. I chose a place where my children held sway of course, it was remote and I came to their seers and asked them if they would take a duty from me. I could not tell them its nature, only that they must protect it. They accepted and fulfilled this duty. And after a time they told me that they had been given a message from 'those who left.' I was amazed and asked them of it, but they said they were told not to tell me. I was even more amazed at that and visited the site for the first time since I had chosen it . . . after . . . Well, my charges began to complete their duty in a unique manner. They were not a strongly urban culture to begin with, but they carefully removed most of their cities from sight and sensing. Leaving only buildings that they felt could not be done without and one small city. They cared for the city, but they did not live in it. I was very puzzled, though in time it made sense to me.'

Adam cocked his head to the side as he answered thoughtfully, "We're in the city, aren't we?" Adam felt a positive response and he continued, "Whoever's been helping us are your children?" he asked rhetorically. "But that would mean that . . . the Great Power is . . . but where do the ninjetti fit?"

Adam felt Frog's smile, 'As I said we had a great council and after a little time, for us, we decided that if we had worked together all of our strengths unified and our weaknesses compensated for, that we would not have fared as badly. The loss of our brethren had shaken us and we vowed that it would not happen again. In the end we decided that we would guide a group of special champions, who would summon us as their spirit called. So we looked and . . . we felt it for the first time, the call.' Adam grinned slightly as he felt Frog's sentimental smile, 'And so those of us who heard the summons found our charges and guided them. Oh, we were an odd bunch, though at the time I did not know I was a part of it. Grasshopper was first and we watched in fascination as he taught his charge the gifts of spirit. Then came Tiger, whose child came with the skills of battle. Canary brought joy and healing with her songs. Finally, Dolphin came whistling with knowledge. We watched with joy as they learned from each other and from their spirits . . . 'Frog continued as Adam listened raptly.

"...The first ninjetti were Grasshopper, Tiger, Canary, and Dolphin. Tiger was red, Dolphin blue, Grasshopper yellow, and Canary the pink. None of our histories tell of how they became ninjetti, only that they were the first. They began to form the arts of the ninjetti and fought the minions of evil," related Dulcea as she sat with the others. "They decided to leave their homes and find a new one for they could not bear to put innocents in danger because of them. So they traveled and searched and in the end were guided here to Phaedos. It was here that we made our home and not long after the Frog ninjetti appeared." She drew silent as she heard a startled gasp from Kim, "Yes, the Frog ninjetti appeared on Phaedos and he was quickly accepted by the fledgling ninjetti. He was the, um, light green ninjetti, I don't know exactly what shade, very little has survived from that time. But they learned and battled evil, even though their numbers were small and eventually more came to be ninjetti and guardians of the Great Power."

Billy looked slightly uncomfortable as he interrupted, "Where did it come from?"

"I do not know, I only know that it was learned of and we guarded it. Still more ninjetti came, and some were lost. Though we did know that when the Frog ninjetti left and did not return to the temple, the Frog would not return for a very long time."

'Once they got together it was only a matter of time before they figured out that they attracted the bad guys like flies, so they split. And they came here to this city and it was theirs, so now I knew why it had been left. Not long after that I heard the call, from one who was already my child. He spoke to me once or twice about 'those who left' but I didn't get the full picture until the ninjetti took over guardianship of the Great Power. He was ecstatic and he told the folks back home, but not long after . . . ' Frog grew quiet, 'he fell in battle. And after that there's just a bunch of boring stories about the ninjetti, which I bet Dulcea will be happy to tell you.' "Uh huh, and you still haven't answered my question?"

'Which one was that again? At my age . . . '

"What do you mean 'would not return for a very long time?,'" asked Billy.

Dulcea sighed, "The Frog would not return to Phaedos until," she paused. 'And I didn't think of this sooner . . . I have been alone too long.' "Not until you came."

Kim looked at Dulcea with disbelief on her face, "You mean that Adam is like the second Frog ninjetti?" Dulcea nodded and Kim shook her head, "This is just freaky." She perked up after a moment, "Y'know I have always wondered what Frog was." The others looked at her in confusion, "Y'know wolf-cunning and swift, ape-intelligent and mighty. What the heck is the Frog? Or the Falcon, winged lord of the skies."

Dulcea smiled warmly, "All animals have many traits, some are easier to see in their charges than others." She looked to the ground embarrasedly, "And after 50,000 years I was a little overwhelmed." She laughed at their looks, "Usually there is some preparation before you raise new ninjetti, I had to make do with what little time I had. Tommy was satisfied with his title, but . . . each person needs to be reminded of something, and I was occupied at the time." She stopped and stood up, "I must prepare for tonight, the time is almost here."

They watched her leave and all shared the same thought 'she never told us.'

'Okay, they call you that as a sign of respect. They are my kids and you're a big deal to them.'

"What about everyone else?"

'Blame it on Dulcea, you just looked so down. Musta been one of those old stories that got stuck in her head, y'know frog prince and princess. Tho' I've always been fond of the ones with good-hearted princesses and nice princes that live happily ever after . . . '

Adam groaned, "Well, do YOU have to keep calling me that?"

'What should I call you, my young prince?' giggled Frog.

"I have a name, it's Adam. You do know that, right?"

Frog laughed hard as he replied, 'Okay, young . . . Adam.' Adam groaned as Frog beamed at him, 'Well, here we are. Just in time too.'

Adam blinked and took note of his surroundings, he knew he'd been walking around for a little bit, but he was vague on the time. 'The sun's starting to set, it was mid-afternoon when I left the group. What's going on?'

'Oh, Dulcea's going to make Cestro a ninjetti. Just join the others and wing it.'

"Wing it, just wing it," groaned Adam and he joined the others as they waited for Dulcea.

Billy glanced at him curiously, but decided not to comment on it, "Glad to see you have made it back. I almost thought you would miss the festivities. Though you did miss Dulcea's storytelling."

"Oh, what did she talk about?"

As dusk fell over the ninjetti temple Dulcea stood before the fire as she had just a few years before. 'But this time my ninjetti is not one of the chosen ones. It seems so odd.' She took a final look at her preparations. She turned to the others and noted Adam presence. 'I had wondered if he would return in time.' She smiled at them all, "Cestro of Aquitar, do you wish to join the ranks of the ninjetti?"

Cestro stepped forward and bowed in aquitian fashion, "Yes, I would be honored."

Dulcea smiled, "Each person has deep within them an animal spirit. Close your eyes and look deep inside." Dulcea threw a handful of powder into the flames as she spoke and the fire flared up.

'Wow. I didn't get to see this last time. What is that stuff?' Billy stood hypnotized by the shower of sparkling colors and Kim put her hand on his shoulder pulling him out of his fugue as it disappeared from his sight. He watched as Cestro's clothing changed from his traditional aquitian to a blue ninjetti outfit. Dulcea smiled at Cestro and pronounced, "you are the whale, the mighty keeper of the waters. You are now ninjetti."

'Way to go, Cestro.' Kim watched in fascination as Dulcea started to speak, but when she threw the sparkling powder into the air, she found herself occupied by Billy. 'He's spaced again.' She put her hand on his shoulder and he snapped out of it. She turned back to see Cestro standing in his blue ninjetti outfit. She watched as Dulcea smiled at Cestro and pronounced, "you are the whale, the mighty keeper of the waters. You are now ninjetti."

Adam watched quietly as the powder illuminated a bright owl that spread its wings as Dulcea spoke. He watched as the owl flew through the fire leading a swirl of shining powder that glowed blue as it rushed toward Cestro and left him in the familiar ninjetti attire, but in a deeper blue than Billy's and with a golden whale in the medallion instead of the wolf. He had the impression of something immense, but he couldn't make it out. He watched in fascination as the owl circled over them all for a moment and landed back at Dulcea's feet where it began to slowly fade from sight. Adam turned his attention back to Dulcea and heard her say, "You are now ninjetti." 'Well that was quick.' He joined with the others as they congratulated Cestro and for the first time in many millennia the temple rand with celebration well through the night.

After Cestro's ceremony things quickly settled into a peaceful pattern. Cestro learned of all things ninjetti that he could get answers for, though Billy started to get the distinct impression that Dulcea was avoiding Cestro at times. Today, Billy sat on a fallen pillar watching Cestro and Kimberly. Billy laughed inwardly at his friend's antics. When Cestro wasn't bombarding Dulcea with questions, 'the aquitian energizer bunny' as Kim dubbed him, was helping Kim with her with her newly acquired telepathic powers. Billy experimented with his new senses some, but found himself drawn to the under-temple's library. 'Of course if someone believed in organizing the library...' But he'd also watched over Kim to make sure she didn't re injure her ankle, it seemed to be one of the few things that kept him from getting lost in the library. Billy hadn't spent all of his time in sedentary pursuits, he had sparred with Adam and even Dulcea a couple of times. 'Oh, man I still hurt! Adam's still a little annoyed about that amphibious experiment.' Billy sighed. 'But outside of that I barely see him, he's either wandering around on his own or hanging with Dulcea.'

'Whoa!' Adam dropped and rolled away from another attack and tried to get himself back on a more even footing as Dulcea kept coming. 'Yeah, I'd be good after a few thousand years too.' Adam groaned as he didn't quite evade a kick that sent him sprawling. 'I'll just lay here, it won't hurt as much.'

"Adam, are you well?"

Adam moaned as he slowly sat up, "Yeah, but I think I'm done for today. Maybe tomorrow?"

Dulcea smiled at Adam as she helped him up, "That would be acceptable."

As he felt that heat rush to his face, he just knew what she's going to say next and as he walked away he heard Dulcea behind him, "Adam, are you sure you are well?"

He groaned to himself in frustration as he headed toward his room as Frog laughed in his ear.

'Center . . . If I have to 'center' one more . . . ' Kim suddenly smiled at Cestro, "Y'know I'm kinda tired, how about we do this later?" 'Like next year!'

Cestro nodded and leaft 'he's already learned that a frustrated Kimberly can be very dangerous to his continued well-being.

Kimberly watched him go and looked over to her 'shadow.' 'Billy's gone all overprotective, sheesh what a mother-hen!' She laughed out loud and vented some of her frustrations and laughed harder when Billy sat bolt upright and looked at her. 'Oh, well.'

She had to admit that she didn't mind all that much 'there's just this 'vibe' I keep getting from Billy . . .' She shrugged as she watched him head back into the buildings 'probably needs more books.'

"Kimberly may I speak with you? It is hard to find you alone."

Kim turned and found Dulcea standing next to her, "Sure, what about?"

"It is a question I have regarding Adam."

'Oh, I can't wait to hear this . . . ' "What is it?"

"Since I have met up with him in the temple-below, he has exhibited an odd physical symptom . . . I thought it might be due to his overexertion, yet, both you and Billy did not find it alarming."

'Oh, my gosh!' With a herculean effort Kim managed not to laugh in Dulcea's face. 'I could be wrong . . . ' "You mean, when he blushed." She paused at Dulcea's look, "When his face got all red earlier. I don't know about you, but for us that's a normal response."

Dulcea looked at her thoughtfully, "To what? Neither you nor Billy have exhibited this behavior."

'Oh, um, how to explain this one and not ruin Adam's day . . . ' "Um, well, it's a response to being embarrassed usually."

Dulcea looked stricken, "Have I insulted him in some way?"

"No, NO, it's just that, well Adam's shy and for some reason he's a bit, uh, overwhelmed by your presence." 'Ooooh, good save.'

Dulcea pondered this, "Then perhaps I should not spend so much time with him. It has been nice to have someone to spar with or talk to, but . . . "

'Aargh!' "No, it's fine, in fact he needs it." 'Oops, smooth move there, Kim.'

"Needs it?"

Kim sighed, "Okay, everything I've said on this stays between us, and everything I'm going to say, okay?"

Dulcea nodded gravely and Kim continued, "Okay, I've gotten part of this story from Billy and part from Rocky and Jason. When Adam became a Zeo ranger he was a lot like he was when he came to Phaedos. But there was this new yellow ranger, her name was Tanya. He liked her a lot and started teaching her martial arts. He became a lot more confident and became Tommy's second in command. Well, they eventually started dating and except for the usual monster plots and such, it went quite well. When they both retired as rangers, they kept dating while they tried to figure out their chosen careers. Adam slowly began getting more training and doing some small stunt jobs for movies and Tanya worked on her music. Well, after a few years they got married and everything was great. While they both had jobs that took them away from each other, it worked great for them. Tanya was having some small success as a singer and she went on tour, Adam was going to go with her, but he'd landed a dream job and she wouldn't let him turn it down." Kim paused and sighed sadly, "I never met her, but Kat told me so much about her, in fact Kat called me when . .. " She gathered herself for a moment, "Tanya's tour bus was in an accident and she died. Adam was devastated when he got the call, he managed to call Kat and she ended up taking care of . . . everything. That's when I saw him last was at her funeral, I didn't know Tanya, but I knew that I'd be needed."

Dulcea put a comforting hand on Kim's shoulder as she waited for her to continue, "Well, it was scary to see Adam, he was devastated and I don't think he's ever recovered from it."

Kim gave Dulcea a sad smile, "Now, I bet you're wondering how this affects you. Well, Billy and I are pretty sure that . . . oh, gosh, um, that Adam's not really been taking much . . . um, notice . . . of, well, anyone in a sorta, maybe, romantic way."

Dulcea stared at her blankly and Kim couldn't hold back a giggle, "You did not hear this from me, but I think Adam blushes so much around you, because maybe he has a crush on you."

While the word was unfamiliar Dulcea managed to grasp the meaning and pondered the import of Kimberly's words. Dulcea rose gracefully to her fee, "Thank you Kimberly, but now Billy is returning. I will think on what you have said." With that Dulcea walked away and vanished into another building.

Kim watched her leave and laughed silently. 'Oh man, Adam's in trouble now.' Then her jaw dropped as she caught a faint whiff of Dulcea's internal response. She sat there laughing until Billy returned from the library.

Dulcea was thoughtful as she finished her final walkthrough of the temple for the night. Kimberly's conversation had left her in a new position and she hadn't really figured it out. As she walked to her favorite place for her nightly practice, she sat and watched Adam as he went through his practice. On the second night after the defeat of Vadyvov she had found him here and she had sat to watch. After he was done, they talked for a while and then she showed him her practice and they talked some more. It had already become a part of her nightly ritual and she did enjoy it.

Tonight she watched him and again wondered, his practice was different from hers. Hers was a routine of endless days and his was a joyous new experience. Yes, his 'kata' were 'happy,' if that term could apply. But then again, perhaps she was reading too much into it. She shook her head as she watched him a while longer, 'No, it is definitely exuberant.' They were becoming good friends in such short a time, it was true. She debated it for a bit longer and decided that after fifty thousand years it was nice to be considered 'romantic' material, even if it was only a mild infatuation. 'Might as well enjoy it.'

She gave him a large smile when he finished his practice, and smiled even more when he 'blushed' at her attention. 'Oh, yes I might as well enjoy it.' She toned down her smile and held back a slight laugh, "Well done. Now last night I promised you the story of how I met Zordon. It was about thirty or so thousand years ago . . . "

Billy watched from a distance as Dulcea examined Kim's ankle once more, he listened carefully, " . . . yes, it will be fine. As long as you are careful and do not overstress it, it will heal completely in a few days."

"Completely?" asked Kim hesitantly.

Dulcea put a gentle hand on Kim's shoulder, "Yes, completely."

Kim grinned in relief, "Well, now my shadow can quit hovering." She smiled and looked to where Billy was unobtrusively eavesdropping, "Go play in the library."

Dulcea smiled and looked toward Billy and laughed slightly as he glared at Kim. 'I have laughed more in these few days than I have in millennia. It is a good change.'

Billy stood and smiled as he headed toward the entrance to the underground temple. He walked over to his table in the great library. 'Books, books, and more books. Oh, yes.' Billy's grin turned a little predatory as he glided over to Cestro, "Cestro, Dulcea has told Kim that her ankle will be fine. They are by the clearing."

Cestro nodded in reply and left the library. Billy watched him leave and felt slightly bad for 'siccing' him on Kim, but that 'shadow' comment deserved a little revenge. He smiled to himself as he went back to reading, but paused after a moment and picked another book off the table. 'I should take this Adam. He's probably a little stir-crazy.' Billy sighed as he made his way to Adam's chambers. 'Nice of Dulcea to give us rooms, much more comfortable than the ground outside. Though I think Adam received the best one, though I'd rather not have to go through what he has to get it' he thought errantly as he came to Adam's door. He knocked and winced at the groan and entered, "Hey, I thought you could use a new book to read."

Adam looked at him blearily, "Thanks," he said hoarsely. His throat ached but one thought forced him to keep his weary voice steady. 'I will not croak. I will not croak.'

Billy sighed slightly as he sat by Adam's bed 'Not even the great ninjetti can escape the flu.' "I'd ask how are you, but you'd probably injure yourself . . . while you beat the stuffing out of me," Billy grinned lopsidedly as Adam glared at him.

"Not much danger of that."

"Are you hungry?"

"No, just a bit thirsty, but I can reach the water on my own," he finished hurriedly as Billy started to get up.

He sat back down and grinned sheepishly at Adam, "Sorry, my 'protect the pack' instincts are rather overwhelming aren't they?"

Adam laughed weakly, "You're telling me this? You should tell Kim, before she strangles you."

"Hey, Dulcea said she's fine. In fact I just saw Cestro going out to talk to her."

This time Adam did croak as he laughed, "I'll tell her you said that." 'Ack! My throat is shot . . . no comments from the peanut gallery.'

With an expression of confused innocence Billy looked at Adam, "What? What was that, Kermit?"

"Laugh it up," he sighed slightly as he reached for his glass of water. After a few sips he looked back at Billy, "You told him . . . she was out there. You know how . . . much she hates those . . . lessons." Adam blinked a few times as his eyes started to droop.

'The man needs sleep.' "Well, let's see what is this book about anyway? Cestro left it for you...hmm

. . . " Billy read softly until Adam dozed off once more. He left the book on Adam's dresser and quietly let himself out. 'Sleep well.'

"I must say this session has gone extremely well," commented Cestro as he sat with Kim.

"Well this time you weren't going on about center, center, center, read, center," Kim trailed off, "Sorry, Cestro. I know you mean well, but it just doesn't work for me."

"Understood. I apologize if you found any of our previous sessions unpleasant, but I am sure it was necessary to gauge your abilities. If it is pleasing to you I will tell you my observations at this point . . . in the brief that you prefer."

Kim grinned in relief as she remembered his last 'explanation.' 'Encyclopedia Britannica on tape, the letter T. ' "Yes, I'd like that."

Cestro made an odd hand gesture at her response and a weak imitation of a smile appeared on his face, "You are strongly empathic, even I cannot shield myself from you. In fact I have used today's session to work more on your control of this ability, but you seem to have a natural inclination to its use. You have evinced the strongest connection to Billy, he is the easiest for you to read. As for myself and the others, you have quickly proven able to gauge our emotional states, yet not be overwhelmed as is common in the untrained. If I might make an emotional observation . . . " He waited a moment as Kim rolled her eyes in a gesture he had come to take as an affirmative. "I am very impressed by how you are handling Adam's illness."

Kim looked at him quizzically and he explained, "I apologize if this causes you distress, but I have been treating your training somewhat like that of an Aquitian child. It was an error on my part, because you are not Aquitian, but it did give me the basis of where to start. Unfortunately, it has taken me some time take measure of you. Now, this should be much easier for both of us. I will return to my original subject, your handling of Adam. He is your friend and it is common for empathic abilities to be stronger around those you care for. Yet, you have naturally shielded yourself from his discomfort and still kept your ability to monitor others' emotional states. An excellent example of control and it bodes well that you will not require much training in that area." He paused for a moment, "Your telepathic abilities on the other hand are a puzzle to me. They are strong, but they are remarkably selective. I have tried multiple ways to remove any barriers to their use, but I cannot find them."

"Could you clarify that?" Kim winced inwardly 'now the floodgates burst. Oh, well.'

Cestro clarified, "You can easily send your thoughts even to non-telepaths without physical contact, which is impossible for a weak telepath. Of course, as all we have are ninjetti to test this, it could be a function of the ninjetti abilities, yet only you can choose such speech when not in animal form. From the power you have shown, I am as certain as I can be, without testing of course, that you should be able to telesend to anyone but the telepathically challenged."

"Um, hold up, telepathically challenged?"

"Some races and beings are totally unable to be read or contacted telepathically. On Aquitar, we are a race of telepaths, so to us this term is clear. Perhaps, telepathically void or null, would be better . . . as almost all beings have some spark of telepathic ability. Even in the weakest it allows a trained telepath to telesend and read their thoughts or emotions. Without this spark, there can be no telepathy, by them obviously, but a side effect is that telepathic powers do not work on them either. Is that explanation acceptable?"

'Whew. Thought I was going to regret that.' "Yeah," Kim beamed at him. 'Is he done? No, not more.'

"Your ability to receive thoughts on the other hand," he paused as Kim gave him a thumbs up, "is erratic. You have proven able to receive thoughts from people who are not projecting them, yet you cannot duplicate such a feat except in certain circumstances. I have been able to carefully guide you into reading my thoughts, but without my help I do not believe you have the ability. Yet you have proven able to do it to others, yet I cannot teach you. Your empathic abilities have responded excellently to training, but the telepathic ones are determined to work as they will. Perhaps I am taking the simple route, but mayhaps they are linked to your ninjetti powers in a way I cannot yet deduce and this is hindering you. Then again, it may the way your abilities are supposed to work."

"Kinda like Adam and his just knowing stuff?"

Cestro nodded, "That would be a good analogy." He looked past Kimberly, "It seems that Dulcea requires out presence." He stood and waited for Kim, "I would be merry to consider this session complete."

Kim laughed slightly as they walked towards Dulcea, "It's 'I would be happy' or maybe even 'glad,' but not merry." She patted his arm slightly, "Don't worry, as Billy would put it, even other humans cannot easily grasp American slang."

"That is most gratifying to hear."

She smiled at Cestro and then turned her attention to Dulcea, "What do you need?"

"We should head indoors, it looks like rain."

'It looks like rain.' Kimberly let loose a disgusted sigh as she paged through yet another book and tried not to notice as Billy looked her way. 'Sheesh, Mr. 'Protect the Pack Instincts' is getting on my nerves.' She sighed again as she picked up another book. 'No, it's just that I'm finally able to wander around without a crutch or a brace and there's no place to wander to. Almost two days straight . . . only Cestro's enjoying this, well Billy's locked in a library . . . how can he stand the horror.' She chuckled slightly and tried again not to look back at Billy. 'But if I'm stir-crazy already, I wonder how Adam's taking it?' She picked up Cestro's latest 'translation' for Adam and read the title. 'History of Erath Kor. Man, I don't even think Cestro knows what he's translating on some of these. But he's having 'fun' doing it.' She shrugged to herself as she left the library. 'At least someone is.' 'Soup.' Adam carefully contemplated the bowl before him. It was too hot when Dulcea brought it to him an hour ago, so he'd let it set. If anyone asked he'd probably admit that it was partially that, but mostly that he just didn't feel like eating it. 'Oh, well.' He stared into the depths of the bowl a bit longer and managed to dredge up some hunger as he carefully took a few sips of soup. He carefully set it down as his stomach began to ask 'what the hell do you think you're doing' and curled back up in bed. 'I can tell her I ate some.' He groaned to himself 'Save the universe, get the flu. Oh, life is fair.'

'Isn't that a little selfish?' gently chided Frog with a touch of humor in his voice.

"Yup. I'm very selfish right now," croaked Adam accusingly, "Been quiet."

'I know, I had some things to check on.'

"Whatever," said Adam grumpily as he rolled over and came face to face with Frog. 'Wow. I'm out of it.' "Um, are you right in front of me?" 'Wow. Surprised Frog.' Adam giggled slightly as Frog gave a startled hop.

'Yes. You should be careful, almost squashed me there.'

"Uh huh."

Frog's voice seemed to grin at him 'Well I've some good news and some bad news. What do you want to hear first?'

"Good, I'm not in the mood for bad. In fact, let's not hear the bad until tomorrow okay?"

'Okay the good news is that you'll be over this in a couple days.' Frog shuffled a bit.

"Bad?"

'I thought you didn't want to hear it? Whoa! Don't look at me like that! Okay the bad news is . . . that you'll be over this in a couple days.'

Adam groaned, "Great, now you have to be a comedian."

'Hey . . . ' Frog paused for a moment and deadpanned 'I'm a frog.'

"Thas my line."

'Hey, I only use the very best. Now go to sleep.'

A twinkle appeared in Adam's eyes as he whined, "But I don't wanna."

'Smart . . . '

Adam quickly interrupted, "I'll be a good boy, sleep now and all that. G'night Frog."

'Good night Adam.'

"G'night John-boy."

'John-boy? Why am I saddled with the smart-ass ninjetti? Huh?...'

Adam started to doze as Frog rambled soothingly on and the black glow that surrounded Frog seemed to follow him down into sleep.

"Whu?" asked Adam blearily as a light knocking wakened him.

The door cracked open and Kimberly leaned in, "Just checking on you. If you want, I can leave . . . "

"Nah, come on in," he gave her a tired grin as she took a seat near him.

She carefully put the book on Adam's dresser, "Cestro translated this one for you."

"Tell him thanks," Adam blinked slightly as he tried to clear his blurry vision. 'Not that I can read a thing right now. I'm doing good to tell that the big pink blur is you.' He smiled at his weak joke and rubbed his eyes.

"How are you?" asked Kim with concern in her voice. "Or was that a stupid question?"

Adam lightly chuckled in spite of himself, "It was a stupid question. I feel miserable."

"Thirsty, hungry, need another blanket?"

"None of the above, I'm not cold and my stomach is revolting."

Kim sent a grin his way and deadpanned, "I thought that was your sense of humor?"

"You're as bad as Frog," he finally focused on Kim and the pink glow that surrounded her.

Kim took a moment to consider that, "I'm not sure if that's a compliment or an insult."

Adam giggled, "Neither am I."

'Hey! I resemble that remark.' grumbled Frog good-naturedly.

Adam laughed a little harder, "Sorry, couldn't help myself." Kim watched him for a moment as he seemed to stare at a point near the foot of his bed. She waited and he turned back to her, "I'm going to go out on a limb here and say it's a compliment."

She gave him a concerned smile, "You don't sound too sure of that."

He smiled even wider, "I'm not."

'Hey!'

Adam laughed at that and Kim joined in, but she had the feeling that he was laughing at more than what he said. She looked at him carefully 'I think he's a little feverish and he's very tired. Dulcea's sure he'll be okay, though I think it's an effort for her not to be here.' She sighed and took his water glass from the dresser and walked across the room to refill it. "You should try and drink some more water."

"Yes Mother."

She put the glass on the dresser, "Sure, let me tuck you in," she said mischievously as she leaned over and straightened his blanket.

"You're cruel."

She smiled at him, "Maybe a little. Drink some water and some of that gunk Dulcea brought you. Then go to bed." She prepared to leave, "I'll come by and see you around dinner time, okay?"

"Yes Mother."

"Smart-ass." She left to the sound of Adam laughing.

"Cestro, please don't drip on the books," said Billy with a twinkle in his eye.

Cestro started and stepped away from the table, then he paused and turned to Billy, "Is this more of your humor?"

"Yes, sorry. I suppose I'm slightly jealous that you're not stuck in here like the rest of us."

"Actually, the storm has reached a level that even I do not wish to be out in it. However, I can understand your point of view."

Billy directed a small smile toward his friend, "Have you found any thing interesting?"

Cestro looked through the books before him, "I have found some interesting botanical guides and some scientific journals, unfortunately a great deal of these books are in languages that are lost to the galactic community. Dulcea has been giving me excellent lessons, but it will take a great deal of time before I am fluent enough to trust my translations."

"I understand that, I remember when I went to Aquitar for the first time. At least then I had some very small exposure to the language, here . . . "

"You do not have that problem anymore."

Billy shrugged, "No, I find it odd that suddenly I can read a new language not long after I pick up a book, but it is no longer a problem. Though I do wonder if it applies to spoken languages as well."

"Perhaps we could test that?"

Adam groaned as the rumble of thunder overhead roused him from sleep. He laid back and stared at the ceiling for a moment. 'Well, I seem to feel 'better.' Feel odd though.' He carefully took a few sips of water and nearly dropped the glass when a voice spoke up from beside him.

"Young one," rumbled a deep voice that seemed to fill the room.

He shakily placed the glass on the table and looked around, not seeing, but feeling something, "Who's there?"

"I am a friend of Frog. I need your help."

Adam debated it for a minute, he didn't find the immense presence threatening, kind of comforting if he had to put a feeling to it. Then there was just this feeling that if he was being asked for help, well it must have been very important. 'I must be dreaming.' He managed to stand shakily, "Where?"

"Where you were asked."

'Asked?' Adam wondered about it for a moment and as he reached for his glass once more, it came to him. "You sent the scroll?"

"Yes."

'Oookaaay. What have I gotten tangled up in now? And can't it wait till after I better. No don't answer that . . . ummm . . . hello? Frog?' Adam looked around in panic for his small companion.

"Be calm, Frog is elsewhere. I have arranged it so that I may have your assistance only."

'No Frog, then . . . ' He knew that technically he should be panicking or calling for help, but he was just . . . SURE that this was important. 'Yup, I'm dreaming.' Adam carefully made his way out of his room and whispered quietly, "Y'know they're going to hear me."

'It is taken care of, you will understand soon.'

Adam didn't comment as he passed Kim's room and a thought dawned on him, "What time is it?"

The voice seemed the hold a laugh within its deep tones, 'Very late.' 'Well that explains that.' He paused in front of Cestro's door and put his hand upon the wood. As

he did, he received a sense of water and pressure, as well as the large unseen something that he had glimpsed at Cestro's ceremony. He carefully inspected his hand as he wondered vaguely that it should be wet, but wasn't. 'Weirdness.' He shrugged and staggered quietly down the hallway as he neared the open door to Billy's room. 'If he hears me . . . ' Adam paused and looked for something subconsciously and only after he noticed its lack did he identify it. 'No blue right here. He must be in the library. So, now he'll be awake and I have to go past the library, just peachy.' He moved forward with a little more confidence and studiously ignored his body's protests to this impromptu workout, but he slowed again as he neared the library and this time he did find the comforting blue presence he had searched for earlier.

He moved forward hesitantly wondering when Billy would notice him and nearly tripped over the large wolf that sat in front of the library. 'Uh, oh, I am so caught.' But instead of Billy emerging from the library and asking him what he's doing, the wolf seemed to look him over for a moment and then it walked back into the library. 'I don't think it can get any weirder.' He took a steadying breath and walked on past the library. 'Only one more room to go and I've run the gauntlet' he thought absently and almost giggled as he headed toward the exit to the temple above. 'You know I was wrong, definitely weirder.' He looked carefully at the always open door to Dulcea's chamber. 'I have to go past that!?' He closed his eyes and opened them again. 'Still there. Oh, well.' Now Adam stood before the source of his consternation, the large tree that seemed to be growing in the wall of Dulcea's chamber. He carefully sidled up to the door so he could get a glimpse of the wall inside. 'It's like the wall isn't there.' Adam shook his head. 'No, I think we would have noticed and commented on a large tree in the middle of the hallway, but right now it seems more 'real' the walls around me.' He moved forward and hesitantly reached out to touch a branch and felt the smooth bark beneath his fingers. He was not really surprised in a way. 'Not after what I've seen tonight. This has got to be one wiggy dream.' As he studied the tree he followed its branches as they weaved across Dulcea's doorway and finally noticed the white owl sleeping peacefully in the tree. 'Owl. Owl needs tree to sleep in. Ooookaay. So here's a tree for Dulcea's spirit animal to sleep in. What was in that medicine she gave me?' He studied the sleeping bird for an indefinite period of time with a reverent awe. 'Wow. It's beautiful. I really do have a great imagination.' He lost himself in the minute details and frowned as he noticed something else about the owl 'it's chained!?' He stared at the delicate greenish-silver chain that vanished into nothingness a few inches away from the cuff that was locked around the owl's left foot. It was so tiny that he would have never noticed it without such close scrutiny. Wrongness welled through Adam's mind and he reached out to remove the offensive thing, but he was stopped by the return of the voice, 'Now is not the time. Come.'

He turned around searching and when he turned back the tree was no longer blocking the hall fully. He swallowed an angry retort as he moved through and ducked under a few branches still in his path. He stalked angrily through the last few corridors until he walked out into the pouring rain. "Now what!" he yelled a little harshly, he was still annoyed at whatever happened in the hall. He heard no response as he staggered over the muddy ground and through the rain that wanted to tear him from his feet. "Where do you want me to go?" He shouted into the stormy night as he searched for something. He saw something out of the corner of his eye and shuffled blindly toward it. He slipped and slid down a slight incline to a muddy stop. He focused his attention on getting to his feet and when he finally looked around he sat back down hard in the mud as weak legs finally refused to support him. He stared disbelieving at what his tired eyes revealed. 'It's the dawn?!' He shook his head to once again to try and clear his vision, but it only caused his world to begin to spin. His gaze locked on it once more before dizziness overwhelmed him and he fell back to the wet earth. As thought seeped away, he heard the deep voice rumble in a voice that seemed to be made of the thunder itself, "We will speak again, Young Prince."

Adam wakened vaguely aware that the others were near him. He strained to hear snippets of their conversation as they jostled him around.

"...get out here?" Adam took a moment to identify that voice as Kim. He's startled as her voice broke into his erratic thoughts 'Adam?'

He giggled slightly and mumbled inaudibly, "Whass happenin."

Billy's voice quietly repeated his words, but Adam didn't really care. Then Kim spoke to him again in that tone he couldn't seem to ignore. 'Adam, you're outside. We're going to get you inside and cleaned up. Can you open your eyes for a moment?'

He could hear the concern in her voice, but he didn't really care, all he wanted to do is sleep. Adam mumbled irritably, "Don' wanna look anymore, saw wha' I's'poss'd to. Lemme sleep."

Again he heard Billy echo his words to the others and this time he managed to ignore Kim and faded back into dreamless sleep.

Billy looked up at Kim's irritated sigh, "He's asleep. I doubt anything outside of a zord walking through his bedroom is going to wake him up now."

Billy found himself listening to Adam's quiet breathing and steady heartbeat, "I'll have to agree. What did you say to him that last time?" He carefully picks Adam up under Dulcea and Kim's watchful eyes.

"I told him that he was outside and that we're going to get him inside. Then I asked him to open his eyes. Then he stubbornly decided to go back to sleep."

"He was a little indecipherable, but I think he said, 'Don't want to look anymore, saw what I was supposed to. Let me sleep.' But let us worry now about getting him cleaned up and checking for any injuries he might have sustained in his late night jaunt."

Lunch was subdued as they sipped at their soup and bread. 'Technically, I should hate this stuff by now, but every day it's different. Yet, I would love to have a steak.' pondered Billy as he went over today's events while he ate hungrily. Breakfast had been forgotten when Dulcea woke and went to check on Adam before her morning rounds. She had quickly roused them all to search for their wayward friend. Fortunately the rain had stopped sometime in the night, while it was wet and muddy, there was no storm to hamper their efforts.

'Lot of help I was.' irritably thought Billy as he took another bite of bread. 'I started to try and 'smell' him out and from what Cestro told me I just stood there staring into space for the first five minutes. Kim broke me out of my 'space out,' but what if Adam had needed help as soon as possible? At least he's fine, just sleeping.' Billy's thoughts ran their circles, until he finally noticed that he'd finished eating. He left the room that had become the communal dining area and walked aimlessly away.

He looked around vaguely for Kim, for while she might joke about him being her shadow, she ended up around him almost as much as he ended up around her. He sighed to himself and finally took note of his location. 'I'm back where we found Adam.' A slight shudder coursed through him as he recalled finding Adam lying on the ground an unmoving mud-covered form. It had taken but a moment for his hearing to find the steady heartbeat and the peaceful breathing, but that moment had been a small glimpse of hell. 'Thought we'd lost him, not to some intergalactic menace, but to a bout of sleepwalking.' Billy shook his head and sat on the rapidly drying ground. 'Too humid.' He looked around the area, searching for whatever Adam had thought so important. Maybe a fever-dream, maybe not. After so much time as a ranger, he'd learned that the simplest answer wasn't always the real answer.

'Go with your instincts, my cub, hunt' whispered the wolf in the back of his mind.

He studied the muddy ground, while the area around had been churned up by Kim, Dulcea, and himself the impression of where Adam had lain was marred only by him picking Adam up. 'What could he see from here?' He carefully placed his feet in Adam's footsteps and looked around the area, but the only thing of interest he saw was the monolith far in the distance. 'I sincerely doubt he could see that at night in the middle of a torrential downpour.'

"Billy?! Wake up!"

Billy spun around pulling his arm from Kim's grasp and nearly knocked her down, he looked around confusedly, "How did you get here?"

Kim looked at him concernedly, "I just walked up here after taking my turn at watching Adam." She shook her head, "It took me a couple of minutes to get your attention. Did you get any sleep last night?"

"Um, yes," Billy answered distractedly as details began to filter through his mind. 'The ground is drier and the air is less humid. My stomach is growling and there is the truly telling factor that the noonday sun is now almost the evening sun. Did I just lose half a day staring at the monolith?' "How is Adam?" he said in an attempt to deflect Kim's concern and he winced slightly at the look that she gave him. 'I'm in trouble.'

"He's still sleeping. Dulcea's watching him like a hawk."

Billy quirked a slight grin, "Shouldn't that be owl?"

Kim stuck her tongue out at him and smiled, "Whatever. I think she would have spent the whole day there, but I managed to convince her that I could take over so she could do some ninjetti stuff."

"Ninjetti STUFF?" chuckled Billy, "What a highly technical term. How did she take that?"

"Well, it got her out of the room. She's feeling a bit guilty, thinking she should have kept a closer eye on Adam. She's also a little confused how he got past her."

"I know that feeling, I was up in the library until almost dawn. I can hear the bugs crawling over the ground or a leaf falling from a tree fifty yards away, yet I couldn't hear a dazed Adam stagger past right outside my door." He shook his head irritably, "It just feels like these new senses do whatever they damn well please." He began to pace as Kim just watched him carefully, "I mean I try to use them and they don't work right. I tried to use them to find Adam this morning, but all I did was . . . lock myself up, and just now, well . . . " He trailed off and ran his hands through his hair. "I just don't know right now. I came here to try and figure out what Adam had seen, but the only thing that stuck out to me is the monolith itself. I had noticed something and then you were scaring the hell out of me."

"So you've slept about two hours that could be why you're spacing out. Grab a bite to eat and go to bed," ordered Kim. Billy opened his mouth to refuse, but shut it with a snap as the wolf again whispered to him. 'There are some battles that are meant to be fought and some not.' Wolf paused and continued with a chuckle. 'And then there are somewhere you had better have the whole pack to back you up.'

He noticed her getting ready to dig in until he relents. So he smiled disarminly at Kim, "You know you're right," and started walking back to his room.

Kim just stood there blinking at the sudden turn about and just shook her head in confusion as Billy entered the building and went directly to him room. 'I'm beginning to think that being a ninjetti is just another word for being strange.'

After a few hours of sleep Billy had to admit he was feeling better, but he'd pulled all-nighters before and he just didn't feel it was the cause of his problems. As he cleaned up, he caught the distinct scent of Dulcea making yet another batch of soup. As he changed, he heard the clinking of the bowls and utensils as Kim laid them out. 'If I don't try to use them, they're great. Perhaps, Cestro and Kim could assist me in testing them.' They'd all started helping Dulcea or at least staying around her at the various chores she did daily. It had become an unspoken agreement that Dulcea didn't have to do EVERYTHING, even though it seemed like she did. Her schedule was so predictable that you could probably set a watch by it. They were all making efforts at breaking it up, but Adam's illness seems to have finally broken Dulcea's reticence. They were each taking a patrol or helping her with minute chores and she was spending a great deal of her time checking on Adam. With Adam's mysterious sleepwalking, she'd actually let them take over almost everything. Billy smiles to himself 'no ones gotten her to budge on meals though.'

Billy shrugged to himself and began to walk to the common room, but decided to drop in on Adam. He quietly entered the room and noiticed Cestro reading a book out loud to a sleeping Adam. Cestro looked at Billy and nodded to acknowledge his presence, but didn't pause his recitation.

Billy watched Adam sleep for a few moments and noted that he wasn't sleeping as deeply as he had earlier. 'I suppose he should be waking up soon.' "Any change, Cestro?" quietly asked Billy.

Cestro shook his head in a human gesture that he had picked up from the others and finished the paragraph he was on, "He has begun to rouse, but has not fully awoken."

"Well, it's time for dinner and I think a bowl of soup . . . ," Billy trailed off as Adam's heartbeat picked up slightly and his breathing quickened on the word 'soup.' He turned to Adam and watched him twitch slightly and his eyes barely cracked open.

"Soup?" Adam whispered hoarsely. He managed to sleepily raise up and grasp the water glass that Cestro held out for him. After a few sips he settled back down but not before searching the bed for something. Whatever it was he seemed to find it and gave a small sigh of relief. Then he turned his attention to Billy and Cestro and his eyes widened at something behind them. He rubbed his eyes and mumbled, "I think I need more sleep." His stomach growled loudly, "Soup first."

Billy and Cestro were both watching his reactions closely and Cestro spoke up, "I will collect our meals and return shortly."

Cestro left and Adam giggled slightly at something, but just looked at Billy sheepishly when Billy gave a questioning glance. Billy decided to let it drop, "Well, let me be the first to welcome you back to the land of the living. You have been sleeping for the past 14 hours at the least. How are you feeling?"

'Delusional, maybe?' Adam took a moment to consider that and shrugged, "Exhausted, but good." He paused for a moment as he had the vague feeling that something important happened, "Did something happen? . . . I don't know what, but I have this feeling . . . ," he trailed off hesitantly, he wanted to talk about it, but not with Billy.

"What do you remember about last night?"

Adam took his time as he carefully pondered that question, "Kim came by and talked to me. I fell asleep and the storm woke me up." He paused for a moment, "I heard something. I went to check it out. I thought I was dreaming." 'Now, I'm pretty sure I wasn't. Man, I want to talk with Frog.'

Any questions Billy might have asked were cut off by the entrance of Dulcea. She gave Adam a slight smile and carefully set her tray on the dresser in Adam's room, "Cestro told me that you were hungry, so I have brought food for you. He apologizes for not returning to join you, but he seems to have forgotten something that Kimberly asked him to help her with." She looked to Billy, "She also wanted you to assist her at this time."

'What could Kim want at this time?' He shrugged, "Well, have a nice meal, I will see you both again a little later," and then he left the room. As he headed toward the commons to find Kim he heard Dulcea quietly speak, "Would it be an imposition if I dined with you?"

'Imposition!?!' Adam found himself blushing once more at Dulcea's intense scrutiny and he shook his head vigorously in negation, "Nope, no imposition, not at all." He looked around the room for a moment and gestured to the chair beside his bed. He started to rearrange the pillows so he could sit up and felt his face get hot as Dulcea began to help. And if embarrassing himself was not enough he could hear Frog chuckling from the foot of his bed. 'Laugh it up, Kermit!' he inwardly grumbled at Frog. For a response Frog's chuckles turned to full blown croaking laughter.

Dulcea kept smiling and carefully placed a small folding tray on the bed so that Adam could eat. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it once the smell of the food hit him. After a few hesitant bites he was eating the soup with great enthusiasm while Dulcea ate hers at a more normal pace. She began to talk as Adam ate his soup, "I take it you are feeling better?" He nodded, but didn't stop eating and she smiled fondly, "That is good, we missed your presence and we were concerned after your little 'walk.'"

'My 'little walk . . . ' Adam stopped eating, put his spoon back on the tray and looked at her seriously,

"Dulcea, this may seem out of the blue, but do you see everyone's animals?"

"What do you mean? I see them when I need to," she replied carefully.

"I mean, well, I see them right now and I don't think I need to. Do you see Frog sitting at the foot of my bed, or Owl sitting on the dresser behind you?" As he said this, he watched the Owl's golden gaze fall upon him. 'Y'know that's kinda creepy.' As he finished three voices spoke out at once and he waved them all down, "Okay, I'll answer, but give me a minute." 'So that's what Owl sounds like.' He shook his head, "Okay, you seem to all think this is strange, so why? Dulcea?"

"It is not odd, it is something that is different for each ninjetti. Some never 'see' their spirit animals without assistance, I only see Owl when I want to and the others when she wishes it. It is only odd in its suddenness and because it sounds like Frog did not know himself, how long has this been going on?"

"Y'know that was Frog's question, well, since last night I guess. I woke up and . . . I had to go outside . . . well, I couldn't find Frog and I walked past Wolf and I saw Owl sitting on a tree sorta outside Dulcea's room." He paused to take a breath 'I just don't think it's right to talk about the 'voice' right now.'

Frog sounded stricken. 'I am sorry, they needed me in a big way and I decided to go myself. You were out of it, I didn't think anything would happen.'

"No problem," grinned Adam. "And, um, Owl if it's not a problem, could you, well, quit staring at me? It's making me nervous," he finished sheepishly.

'My apologies small one,' Owl shifted her gaze to Frog, 'Your child is truly precocious.'

'Uh, huh, what exactly do you mean by that? Are you going to keep sitting there and looking smug or tell me what that means?'

'Hmm, I think I will 'keep sitting here and look smug.''

Adam began snickering as Frog started griping about the disrespect he received, "Are all of you guys like this?"

Owl turned her attention back to him, 'Only around Frog, he has this unsavory habit of pulling us down to his level.'

'UNSAVORY!' shouted Frog, 'Why you . . . you . . . '

Adam began to giggle as the two animals bickered back and forth. This time he heard Dulcea laughing softly as well. He gave her a questioning look and she leaned close to him and whispered, "Owl is letting me hear both sides of this conversation. I haven't seen her act so 'relaxed' in a great while."

Adam whispered back, "Well, I haven't seen Frog be serious in a great while, so we're even. But if you think this is funny, just think about what I woke up to." Dulcea gave him a questioning glance, "This is a nice room, but it isn't that big. Now imagine Cestro, Billy, Wolf, and Whale crammed into my room. How the heck does Whale fit anywhere? I thought I was delirious."

Billy, Kim, and Cestro sat in the common room finishing dinner and talked quietly. Cestro continued the conversation, "I do not understand the situation myself. I do not believe you shall be able to obtain all of the parts of this puzzle without Adam's assistance."

"Unfortunately, I think you're right. I just hate that there is something going on behind the scenes and I can't figure out what it is. It's like we're here, but what are we doing?" said Billy irritably.

"Learning what we have to," said Kim quietly. Cestro and Billy both waited expectantly for more, "I'm learning to control this whatever I have. Cestro's reading everything about the ninjetti that isn't nailed down and some that is. Billy, you're getting used to your super-senses and reading anything that Cestro doesn't. We're all learning about the ninjetti and we're all working out with Dulcea. We may not be coming anywhere near winning, but she's not creaming us as bad as she did when we first started."

"What about Adam?"

"What about Adam, we're just seeing it more, whatever he's doing is just more different than what we're going through. We've all gotten new things dumped on us, his just seem the most wiggy to you or Cestro. Come on, Billy, you're reading anything and everything and learning fifty-gazillion new languages at once, that seems pretty darn weird to me. It's just that what's going on with Adam doesn't seem to fit into your nice safe version of how the universe works. Sheesh, we're ninjetti for heaven's sake! How can you rationalize that!? And anyway about Adam, I mean he is an adult, give him some time to deal with it before you go all concerned." She paused and grinned at them, "Didn't you say we should test your senses, Billy?" She looked at Billy with a predatory gleam in her eye, "I think now would be the perfect time."

Billy gave her a look that would be more appropriate on a startled deer than a Wolf ninjetti, "Uh, maybe later . . . "

Cestro sat quietly in a meditative pose as he rehydrated by the small pond that was on the temple grounds after his latest session with Dulcea. She had been teaching them of the Ninjetti Arts and it was tiring. In fact the air seemed humid enough here that he only required hydration after extensive exertion. 'It seems much more natural for the others to adapt this new system of combat as an extension, but for me it is a challenge. I am by no means a master of the Aq'ribar and I seem lacking in their flexibility in thought and form. I do find it enjoyable, I must admit. Dulcea teaches combat, ninjetti history, and philosophy at the same time, perhaps she is so far above our level that she does not have to give us her total attention.'

As he pondered today's lessons, Kim and Billy walked by embroiled in another debate about his senses. 'A subject that Kimberly seems to worry about more than Billy. He is of the opinion that he will learn control naturally, and she believes that he needs to learn some more now. I must agree with her, after our tests, he should be in agreement as well. I do not understand his reticence in this matter. He believes that since he is only having the occasional difficulty here that it is no matter for concern, while Kimberly worries about how he will do on Earth. On an aside, what he can perceive with his senses is amazing. I hope that he will see them as a tool that's use must be perfected, than as an annoyance that must be ignored.'

'Then of course, there is Kim, she understood that her success here did not mean that she will be prepared for less controlled circumstance. So, while she finds our sessions distasteful, she continues to meet with me. I suspect that her determination and will, shall allow her overcome any obstacles in her path. She is confusing to me, more so than the others. She has infinite patience for tasks like helping me to understand the subtle undercurrents of human interaction, but none for tasks that until recently I believed were the only important ones. Perhaps, we Aquitians are too reserved, my new friends are far more vibrant than any I have met in galactic society. Could it perhaps be that is why they were successful where others had failed?' He turned his head and looked out over the water as a large splash sounded out behind him. He watched the churning water for a moment until Adam swam up and waved, then dived back below the surface. 'Adam is an interesting companion, I had not had the pleasure of truly meeting him until now. I have only begun to spend time with him as we both enjoy this lake. It is gratifying to have someone who shares my enjoyment and he still possesses a great deal of wonder for his new environ. It is invigorating and I suppose soothing in a way, while Billy can be almost Aquitian in his manner, he has no love for the waters. Now that Adam has almost fully recovered from his illness, he has been able to join me once more.' Cestro rose and began to walk into the water 'I promised to teach him more Aquitian sign language this cycle.' Adam sighed as he walked quietly through the jungle during the moonless night 'they're going to be so pissed at me, but I have to do this.' He knew that technically he should be worried about being out in the jungles of Phaedos late at night at the behest of a mysterious scroll, but he knew he was safe. 'I've got the planet's best bodyguard service right now. And it's not like it's that dark for me here . . . ' He squinted slightly in the light of his destination as he idly fingered the scroll, 'Well, I'll be there as requested and find out what's so important.' He sighed again, "Are you going to tell me?"

'No.' croaked the small Frog perched on his shoulder.

"Aw, c'mon, pwease!" whined Adam in a childish voice.

Frog snickered but managed to recover, 'Nope. Not gonna do it.'

"Pretty please, with chocolate sauce and a cherry on top," continued Adam in the same tone.

'Maybe . . . NO, you do know that no means no, right?'

"I do, but with you it just means that I have make you laugh and then you cave."

'Oh, thanks, now I'm predictable.'

"I wish," grumbled Adam, "Are you going to tell me?'

'Weeelllll . . . Oh, look we're here.' Frog croaked victoriously, 'Gotcha!'

"Why do I even try?" asked Adam rhetorically as he looked up at the monolith. 'It's even more impressive now than when I was here last time. Though, I suppose this time my perspective is a little different.'

'Say hello to the in-laws.' dryly commented Frog as three small figures moved into Adam's view.

"Hello," greeted Adam as he had his first view of Frog's children. 'Why am I not surprised?' he asked himself rhetorically as he saw them for the first time. 'Though now I see why they've stayed hidden for so long, if any of the ninjetti really saw them . . . well I think they might've figured something was up. Man, I feel tall.' Adam took a minute to take in their full appearance. 'They're frogs, really big frogs, but they are most definitely frogs. They are frogs with belts . . . I'm sure I've never taken drugs, right? Nope, no drugs. Yup, I am definitely a ranger of the galaxy, so suave, so debonair . . . '

Adam's thoughts wandered in dazed circles as the tallest of the three, who came almost to his waist, studied him intently for a moment and spoke in a croaking low voice, "Hrello, young Prince. Wre are crome to meet yroo. I am."

Adam blinked in shock at the 'name' that followed, it sounded vaguely like 'Cerh'woocaann'cro'cro'nnnrroo,' but he could hear some changes that he just couldn't follow. "Um, I'm Adam." 'Okay, hey Frog, how in the hell am I supposed to remember this?' asked a slightly worried Adam. 'I don't want to piss them off because I can't remember their names. Much less pronounce them.'

Frog giggled in his ear, 'Oh, you can pronounce them and you can remember them, you just have to think about it a little differently.'

'What do you mean?' asked Adam curiously.

'Well, you have to think a bit like me.' replied Frog cryptically.

Adam looked to the 'welcoming committee' once more and took in their bemused expression. 'Wait a minute, how can frogs look bemused?'

'You're slow, but I hear that it wins the race.'

'Think like you, think like I'm a total git? No, don't answer that. Okay, think like I'm a frog, right?'

'To quote the genie in Aladdin, "The boy can be taught!"'

'Thanks for that glowing endorsement.' thought Adam sarcastically and his comeback vanished from his thoughts as he heard what he is pretty sure was a snicker from one of the three. Adam groaned inwardly, "Please don't tell me you heard all of that."

"Wre wron't," chuckled Cerh, Frog, and the other two joined in this time.

"Oh great," said Adam unenthusedly, "Be a ninjetti, go to distant planets and get laughed at by everyone."

They all grew silent and Frog quietly spoke for all them, 'I am sorry, Adam. I'm not the most serious of beings . . . '

Adam cut him off and smiled fondly, "I know, but it gets to be a little much at times, y'know? As an aside, are you telling me the truth about there only being one other Frog ninjetti, or did the others just die of embarrassment?" Frog sputtered and the others just looked on interestedly at the whole exchange. Adam grinned wider, "Gotcha back!"

'And I remember when you used to be the shy, quiet, NICE, and POLITE one. Oh, where has that darling boy gone?'

"With you to Phaedos?"

'Smart ass.' mentally smiled Frog in return. 'Okay, we should get back to business.'

The three frog-like beings croaked in laughter, "Prease contrinrue, wre are enjoying this new perspective on our great mentor."

"Ouch," winced Adam in sympathy.

'Oh, get back to talking!' Frog began to grumble irritably about ungrateful ninjetti and disrespectful children.

Adam decided to take the conversation back into hand, "Well, okay, where were we?"

Cehr managed to subdue his chuckles, "Introductions, I think." He pointed to his companions and Adam found himself mentally shortening the names to Ro and Crow.

"It's nice to meet you all. I must admit I'm very curious about what you want to talk to talk to me about."

"We have arranged this for three reasons, the first was that we wished to meet you. It has already been an event that I will enjoy telling. The second is that we will rebuild our city while you are gone."

'What!?' asked Frog. 'What do you mean gone?' Frog paused and hopped from his perch on Adam's shoulder, 'I'll be back. I think I need to have a talk with someone.' With that he took a few hops toward the monolith and vanished.

Crow spoke up, "And that was the third thing we need to talk to you about, I have been asked to take you to meet someone. If you are willing, it will hopefully make some things clearer to you."

Adam looked to the monolith for a moment as he considered, he sighed to himself and nodded, "Let's go."

Crow began to hop away from the others in a direction that would take them alongside the monolith, "Follow me, please."

Adam shrugged and followed Crow into the night, he smiled as a thought from earlier tonight reappeared 'they're going to be so pissed at me. Now I think that includes everyone, even Frog, they are never going to let me out of their sight. Oh, well.' They walked for a few minutes around the base of the monolith when Crow stopped and turned back to Adam, "This is where I was to bring you, but you must follow the path alone."

'This is way wiggy. Okay, path?' Adam looked around and in the bright glow of the monolith easily spotted a trail that went toward the monolith itself. As he followed the path, it joined up with the outside of the monolith itself and began to ascend. Adam paused a couple of times and risked quick glances to the ground which was rapidly getting farther away. Higher and higher he ascended, "Soon, I'm going to run out of monolith . . . an elevator or an escalator would be nice around now."

"An' tha' they woul', Young Prince. Don' fall off now, i' woul' be a shame af'er all this fuss and bo'her. Righ' now, Unicorn is running in'erference for me, so tha' I may speak with you," spoke a powerful feminine voice from above him.

Adam managed not to fall off and carefully made his way into a large room that filled the top of the monolith. His eyes were instantly drawn to what he hoped is the source of the voice, a large gryphon that was regarding him intently. It slowly began to walk toward him, ruffling its massive wings slightly as it studied him. 'Black eagle and lion. Yup, that's a gryphon. A very big gryphon. I hope she's on my side or I am so dead.' He giggled inwardly as he weakly waved to her and managed a sickly smile, "Hi?" Her golden orbs seemed to glow as she stalked up to him until he was almost staring up into her massive beak. He glanced to the floor as he shuffled uncomfortably and got an excellent view of her deadly talons. 'Well, if she's going to eat me, I'm screwed. But I doubt it . . . mostly.'

She cocked her head to the side and emitted a stuttering screech which caused Adam to start slightly, but after a moment it dawned on him that she was chuckling. 'You know maybe I was right earlier about being laughed at.'

"You are an in'eres'ing person, i's no' of'en tha' I'm en'er'aining gues's. No' in a long while, mos' deci'e'ly," she said in a friendly tone.

After a moment to decipher her message, Adam smiled, "Thank you, it's very interesting to be here."

"Well, woul' you like a chair? There is one over there," one giant talon pointed to something that looked more like a sofa than a chair, with a large mattress of some sort across from it.

"Thank you," replied Adam as he sat on the couch. 'Bring me the comfy chair!'

The gryphoness settled herself on the large cushion, "Now i' is proper for namings, my full naming in your words is like Nigh'-tha'-wings-quiet-until-the-dawn, bu' you may call me Nigh' Dawn as I enjoy the irony."

Adam couldn't contain a grin at that and something that he had heard a long time ago flittered through his mind. 'Well, my name lacks irony, so perhaps that'll fit.' "Well, madam, I'm Adam." He paused as she 'chuckled' once more, "It is not as pleasant as your name, but I hope the presentation makes up for it."

"Oh, i' does. Well as you are my gues', the firs' ques'ions are yours."

"Well, how about why was I called here?"

"To talk to me so tha' I could give you a message. An' so tha' I coul' answer your ques'ions."

"What's the message?"

"Pleasan'ries of a kind firs', my eager youngling."

"Okay, then may I ask some questions that might be a little personal?"

She considered it for a moment, "Ask an' I'll answer wha' I will."

"Thank you, I was wondering about, well, gryphons in general. I mean when we used the ThunderZords, we were told that gryphons were mythological. So, um, how are you here?"

Adam quickly decided that her laughter and nails over a chalkboard must be close relations as he tried not to wince as she began to respond. "I am sorry, I foun' the way you spoke tha' amusing. How am I here? I was born to two respec'able gryphons far away from here a very long time ago. Do you know the his'ory of this place?" After Adam nodded she continued, "I was summoned by gryphon to guard this place. After the war with the grea' Evil, my people were almost' gone, an' many of my kin decen'e' in'o a madness of grief. I think it broke Her hear' an' she calle' us all to her. She tol' us of her plans and gave us the choice to go with her. Many di' an' she took the mad ones as well, bu' some of us staye' for we coul' no' give up wha' we ha' fough' for. There are few of us lef' an' I have no' seen ano'her of my kin in ages. I live here an' look af'er Phaedos, as you know i', an' make sure tha' Frog's children do no' become caugh' in the middle of the ba'tle. If they go willingly, tha' is their choice, bu' no one wishe' them harme' because we were here."

"When Frog told me this story, well it sounded more permanent, but when you talk it seems more temporary. Why is that, and if it is temporary, well why don't they do anything?"

"I was warne' tha' you were quick, bu' the answer is simple. This place is a door to wherever They wen'. They lef', they di' no' die or en', jus' wen' somewhere else. They don' do much, because everyone who is aware of those things will know. Everyone all over knew some thing had happen' when you and yours won the Power, though only those who knew wha' you were doing, ha' the clues to figure ou' wha' ha' happen'. An' when i' was taken from you, I knew an' I suspect tha' Dulcea knew as well. I do no' know how, when, or surely if They will return, bu' tha' is how i' is seeming to me. Now, i' is my turn to ask of you." She waited a moment until Adam nodded, "How di' you come to be here as a Ninjetti? I' has been awhile."

Adam smiled once more as he started to tell Nightdawn the story. She asked the occasional question during his recitation which basically turned it into not only the story of his life, but also what he knew about the others as well. She especially enjoyed his stories about Jason, who she deemed 'most gryphon-like.' Time passed as they discussed Frog's children, the Cro'ack'croa, and they compared their respective spirit guides. Which in Adam's opinion she won hands down. The conversation finally ended when Nightdawn excused herself and went to the door. She stared into the night and turned to him, "I' has been a joy to speak with you over all things, but our time is almost over. I have almost' spoke with you for too long. You will have to hurry to return before Frog is done." Adam prepared to speak, but she continued, "I know I have been remiss in my task, bu' you were such an excellen' gues', I mus' firs' ask you one thing before all. Will you no' tell the others of me unless you have my permission, my secrecy is necessary for my task. Though Frog alrea'y knows, so he is no' inclu-d."

"Seems okay to me, while it would be neat to tell everyone that I've spent the night talking with a gryphon, I suppose 'the spirits' will have to do. They already think I've cracked. So, speaking of the spirits, what message did you have for me?"

"I have two. One is tha' you and yours mus' leave Phaedos before the new moon is in the sky."

"Why?," asked Adam worriedly. 'Why do I feel setup all of a sudden? No time for questions and now she drops the bomb.'

"I was no' tol' why, only tha' you mus'."

'Great, just freaking peachy' thought Adam irritably as he rose.

"The las' I do no' unders'an', bu' I was to tell you tha' 'the time is now' and 'trust your instincts.' I wish I coul' have done more, I will take you down to rejoin Crow'crrroo'aa'brrii if it is acceptable."

'Oh, what the hell.' Adam shrugged, "It has been a pleasure to talk to you," he said formally. Then he gave her a questioning look, "How will you take me down?" 'Free gryphon ride?'

"Fly you of course," she said in tone that inferred that Adam was a little daft if he didn't get it.

'Okay, so my intelligence has just been called into question and I may be getting led around by the spirits, but hey, I'm going to get to fly down on a Gryphon!' "Okay, I'm game." 'I hope I don't puke, that would be really embarrassing and hard to explain to Frog.'

The flight down had been exhilarating, Adam had to admit as he began the walk from the under-temple up to the main area. 'I wish I could tell someone. I flew on a gryphon!' He smiled to himself as he relived the ride once more. She had flown him down and they politely took their leave of each other. 'Gryphons are very polite.' He had arrived with some time for him to talk with Cerh, Ro, and Crow some before Frog came back. 'I wish I had some more time here, but I suppose that time is something we're almost out of.' The others had stopped in an old meeting room and told him to go on, Frog would call them when the time was right. He was surprised when Frog had asked the others to come with him to the temple. 'Y'know I don't think I'm ever going to live this down.' He couldn't suppress a chuckle as Frog gave him the raspberry for that comment. 'But at least I can't say it's been boring.' "Well, do you want to tell me what you found out?"

Adam's mirth vanished as Frog gave a sad sigh, 'I found out that the one who had destroyed the Ninjetti before was coming here and that you would have to leave before he reaches here. I had hoped that other events would keep him away much longer, but I fear it was not enough. His obsession with the Ninjetti is greater than we had believed.'

"That would explain what I learned, I was told that we had to leave Phaedos now. What is going to happen to Dulcea? She can't leave the temple and I don't feel that we should leave her alone here," replied Adam quietly.

'What you learned? Ah, more goes on when my gaze is elsewhere . . . if you do need me all you have to do is call me. I will come,'said Frog seriously, 'As for Dulcea, I do not know what is planned, but they don't tell me anything either!'he finishes frustratedly. 'I mean, I like them and they've got the whole 'big brother, big sister' thing going on, but damn, they still treat me just like they always have.' Then he paused and chuckled, 'Though that can be rather nice.'

"Except when they give mysterious orders and don't tell you what's going on. Hmm . . . that sounds vaguely familiar," joked Adam. 'Use the force, Adam. Use the force,' quipped Frog in a bad British accent.

Adam snickered for a minute, "Yes, Yoda? Cause you sure aren't Obi-Wan!" He stopped laughing as something vaguely sticky hit him in the side of the neck, "You didn't!" He watched in shock as Frog leapt from his shoulder and hopped quickly away. 'He did. I've just been tongued by a Frog. That is . . . ' He shook his head and dashed off after Frog both of them laughing as they ran through the temple corridors. "Slow down and let me catch you, you slimy little spirit animal!"

'I am not slimy,' retorted Frog as he nimbly dodged Adam's playful attempt to grab him. 'Nah Nah Nah, you can't catch me!'

"Wanna bet!"

'He's gone again!? What the hell is up with this?' grumbled Billy irritably as he and the others searched the temple complex for Adam. 'This is the second time in little over a week. Even Kim and Dulcea are a little annoyed this time, I wouldn't want to be in his shoes when he gets back,' thought Billy as he stalked through the temple, but he was shaken from his thoughts as laughter suddenly reached his ears. 'I'm the only person in the building, so that must be Adam, but I've already been through there.' Billy shrugged and waited where he was as the laughter moved closer 'it's Adam,' and he began to make out the sound of someone running and sliding across the temple's smooth floors punctuated by the occasional noise of them hitting a wall. 'He doesn't sound like he's in trouble, but what is going on?' Billy began to walk slowly toward the quickly advancing sound and finally caught the faint scent of Adam. Then next thing he caught is Adam himself, as Adam careened around a corner and right into him.

Adam jumped up quickly blushing, "Sorry, Billy." He looked around for a minute, "You are not getting away that easy." Adam laughed again, "Yeah, well, you are too!" He took off again and yelled back to Billy, "Sorry, defective spirit animal, won't let me return him . . . " Adam cut off and laughed harder as he vanished down another corridor.

He heard Wolf's howling laughter as he jogged after Adam. 'Do I really want to know?'

'Probably not.' replied Wolf sagely.

Adam was enjoying himself as he charged down the corridors, the slippery floors were only adding to the fun as he chased after his recalcitrant spirit guide. He watched as Frog manages to get out the door and began to skid as Dulcea and Kim started to walk in. "Whoa! Coming through!" he shouted as he tried not to crash into either one of them or their guides who were gliding through the doorway. They both easily evaded him and he ducked the low flying birds, "Can't talk now, sorry, bye," he said as he charged past them.

Dulcea and Kim both stared after him as Billy came jogging up from behind, he looked at them both, "Don't ask," he said as he followed Adam outside as well.

They all began to follow him and were joined by Cestro after a few minutes, all they can do at this point was watch in confusion as Adam ran around the temple tossing out insults to his spirit animal and occasionally leaping up trees or on top of various structures. Then as suddenly as he'd ran past all of them he stopped and yelled irritably to the air, "No fair teleporting, that's cheating." He turned and began to walk back toward them, "Nope, you cheated. I'm done," he continued in a wounded tone. He walked toward them with an irritated pout on his face as he shook his head at something, then as when he was almost to them he suddenly back flipped and grabbed something from the ground behind him.

"Gotcha!" he grinned as he danced around holding something in his hands. "I know it wasn't fair, but I learned from the best 'the power-pout is still undefeated." He giggled some more, "Well that was fun," he looked up at the others, "Hey guys, we've hired some redecorators for the temple, but they want us out of here while they do renovations. So we've got to leave tomorrow, I'd recommend packing everything up today. Well, I've been up all night, so I'm going to get some sleep." He yawned hugely as he quickly turned tail and ran back to his room where he quickly barricaded the door with his dresser.

'Oh, that was so smooth.' quipped Frog with good-humored sarcasm.

"You think? I can't wait for them to figure out what I just told them." He grinned as he cleaned up and got ready for bed, "Though I think today I should probably sleep under the pillow, instead of on top of it."

'Probably a good idea' commented Frog sagely as they both heard someone knocking at the door.

Adam awakened feeling pretty good all in all, he'd woken up a couple of times to tell whoever was banging on his door to let him sleep and once to tell the spirit animal convention in his room to keep it down. He winced a little thinking about it, 'I was a little grumpy . . . I can't believe I told the whole lot of them to 'keep it down or get the hell out of my room and let me sleep.' Well, today should be festive.'

As he stretched and readied himself for the day he noticed Frog watching him, "What? Did I put my shirt on backwards?"

Frog looked at him seriously as he began to speak, 'I can't believe you told us to be quiet or, what was that? Oh, yes. 'get the hell out.'' Frog sighed disappointedly, 'Do you have any idea what Crane said about that? ' "Uh, no," said Adam worriedly. 'Yup, definitely festive. I'm so screwed.'

'She said, and I quote, 'Well Frog, it is obvious that you haven't taught him manners yet.''

Adam winced, "I'm . . . "

Frog cut him off and Adam began to study the floor intently, 'I'm not done yet, then Wolf told Crane,

'And it's still obvious no ones taught you tact.' Frog began laughing at Adam's flabbergasted expression, 'Sorry, I had to get you back for the 'power-pout' earlier. Are we even?'

Adam breathed a deep sigh of relief, "Yeah, but I'd thought I had really annoyed everyone, if I was awake I probably wouldn't have done that . . . "

'We know, in fact Owl pointed that out after it was obvious that you were once again dead to the worlds. Then Whale pointed out that they were all your guests. Well, that calmed Crane down, she can be a little high-strung and a little, um, prissy, but her heart is always in the right place when it comes down to it. That and she hates to be called rude, man, Wolf was in fine form last night.' Frog chuckled once more, 'We bantered and tried to figure out what to do about Dulcea, we think that maybe Wolf knows something, but getting a secret out of Wolf is like trying to find a frog living in the tundra, it just doesn't happen.' Frog chuckled some more, 'I really had you going didn't I?'

Adam launched a playful swat toward his spirit guide and laughed as Frog hopped onto his hand and hopped up to his shoulder. "Yeah, you had me going. Now, I'm going to eat and play 'zen-ninjetti' once more. Hopefully, that'll hold them off long enough for me to eat."

'Good priorities.' complimented Frog as Adam picked up his small bag and carried it with him.

Adam was in a pretty good mood, blowing off steam with Frog had made him feel much better after his little adventure at the monolith. He whistled 'Gone Again' and tried not to laugh or lose the tune as Frog happily croaked along. Adam barely managed to keep from losing his place as he walked into the commons room. 'Wow! They look a little peeved.' He brought his tune to a close as he set his bag on a table and started to get some food. 'Y'know if looks could kill, I might be in serious trouble.' He shrugged and gave them his brightest smile as he began to eat hungrily. 'Man, walking around Phaedos, sure gives you an appetite, well, that and trying to catch irritating spirit animals.'

After eating three bowls of soup in the total silence of the commons, he looked around, "Hey guys, anything neat happen while I was out?"

Kim beat them all to the punch, "You could have left a note," she started angrily.

Adam looked a little sheepish, "I'm sorry, I was just in a hurry. I didn't know I had to be anywhere last night until Frog woke me up and told me that . . . I had to go someplace. I was kinda hurried, I was half asleep, and my main priority was finding my shoes. I'm really sorry, it won't happen again . . . well, I hope not . . . ," Adam trailed off embarrassedly and Kim and Dulcea both gave him forgiving smiles, which made him not only blush, but not really care what Billy and Cestro were doing at the moment.

Billy sighed, "Can you tell us why we have to leave tonight?"

Adam shifted in his seat uncomfortably, "Because I was told that we had too. Are you done packing?" He thought it for a minute and then he suddenly looked at Dulcea, "You're supposed to come with us, but none of the Spirits were sure how that was to happen, well except for maybe Wolf." He looked over to where the large Wolf was resting comfortably by Billy's feet and shook his head, "Are you sure you don't want to give me a hint?"

Wolf serenely looked up at him expression that just said, "Who me?"

Adam sighed, "Well, Wolf's not telling me anything. I'm just going to sit back and see what happens, it's how these things have worked so far. And before anyone asks, yes the redecorators are our mysterious friends, no, I won't tell you who they are, because they haven't said it's all right." He frowned and changed tracks, "Did you pack, Dulcea? I mean, if you're not done and could use some help, well, I could, y'know, help and stuff."

They all looked to Kim as she unsuccessfully tried to stifle a giggle, "Sorry, nothing, nothing at all, something just struck me as funny, that's all."

Adam pondered that for an instant, "Um, okay. So do you need any help, Dulcea?"

"Im breaking through
Im bending spoons
Im keeping flowers in full bloom
Im looking for answers from the great beyond."
-REM The Great Beyond.

As the sun began to dip slowly down, Adam became a bit more worried about the Dulcea situation. 'We're running out of time here and whatever has to be done, has to be done soon.' A nervous energy had filled him as the day drew to a close and now he only paused to watch Billy and Cestro chat beside the ship, everything was packed and they were waiting for him 'why am I stuck with this?' to tell them when to leave. He resumed his walk through the temple, but he'd quit really noticing his surroundings a couple of hours ago. Now the only thing that fills his thoughts is Dulcea. 'How?' "Frog, do you have any idea?"

'I didn't five minutes ago and I don't now, if something comes up I'll tell you.' said Frog with a trace of irritation, though Adam couldn't tell exactly what it was directed toward.

"Sorry," he apologized just to be safe, "I just 'feel' that there's something I'm missing . . . " He sighed and trailed off 'Something about what gryphon told me, 'the time is now' and 'trust your instincts.' Well, my instincts are definitely saying something up, but what?' His thoughts buzzed around in erratic circles as he tried to play with all the pieces the puzzle. Certain thoughts seemed to pull together to form a whole he just couldn't see.

"Adam?" asked a concerned voice.

With a start Adam pulled himself from his thoughts and began to take note of his surroundings. "Uh, yes?" he dazedly answered. 'It's sunset . . . I've been walking around in a daze for at least a couple hours. Just peachy.' He looked at Dulcea as she studied him, then he looked beyond her to Owl sitting perched on the top of a broken column.

Dulcea is concerned, she had been since Adam walked over to where she had been looking out over Phaedos. He had just quietly appeared behind her, in fact she'd almost hit him when she realized someone was behind her. Fortunately for Adam she'd pulled her instinctive attack and then she apologized . . . but he didn't answer. She had tried to get his attention, but to no avail. At one point he stared at her blankly and then to where she knew Owl was perched, but that was the closest to a response she had. She had also attempted to move him away so that she could get some assistance from the others, but he had stayed as firmly planted as the temple foundations. So she had sat and waited, for either him to awaken or one of the others to check on them, but she didn't call out. She had taken to quietly calling his name every couple of minutes and hoping that the others would come soon, but she wouldn't call 'it felt wrong to do so. Now after almost half of an hour he had come out of his daze, but he had just gone back to looking between her and Owl. "Adam, are you all right?"

"Yes," he looked back and forth between Dulcea and Owl, then he took a few steps closer to Owl and Dulcea followed him. He studied them both once more and moved closer to Owl, now he could almost reach up and touch her as she studied him with her almost glowing gaze.

"What are you doing?"

He opened his mouth to say something then snapped it shut as something caught his eye. 'The chain is her bond to the ninjetti temple, she made it. Can she break it?' He shook his head, 'Close, maybe she can help?' He smiled inwardly as he felt the rightness of that thought, 'Yeah, that sounds better.' He finally turned his attention back to Dulcea and stared at her intently as the same feeling that he'd felt when he was helping Kim rejoin the Crane and Billy with the Wolf flood through him. "You guard the temple right?" She nodded and he continued, "Why?"

She took a moment to think about that odd question, "Because it is my duty, I have told you this before."

"Is it?" he asked intently in quiet voice and began to study the chain that bound both Dulcea and Owl. As he had pulled them closer together, it had become more clear to his eyes, like it had the night he had first seen it.

"I don't understand," she replied hesitantly as she studied Adam. When he had spoken this time, his ninjetti glow had flared up to her vision and she felt Owl shuffle too.

"Is your duty only to these ruins?" he said in that same odd, quiet tone of voice.

"My duty is to the ninjetti, I have . . . ," she trailed off as it dawned on her, "I have lost sight of that, haven't I?"

He just smiled at her and on the same instinct that brought him here suddenly reached out to physically grasp the green-silver chain as it seemed to thin before his eyes. He held it in his hands and concentrated on it, it looked weaker and was more silvery than it was before. This was what he'd wanted to the night he first saw it, but now he knows that it wasn't the right time. 'Please don't let me mess this up.'

Dulcea and Owl both watched in mutual consternation as Adam seemed to grasp at something in the air. He blazed with the black power as he moved to wrap something around his hands and then he started to pull his hands apart. They both felt something as he strained with whatever he was holding and then the black blaze rushed to his hands.

Adam grimaced as he tried to snap the chain, he could feel it burning into his hands as he focused on it, but he could see it weakening. Then he felt his power rush into the chain and the greenish tint vanished as it began to blacken. Then suddenly the black glow shot away from his hands like a spark on a fuse. Suddenly it snapped in his hands and he almost fell as the power suddenly dropped from an inferno to a spark. 'I did it . . . I did it . . . I don't know what exactly I've done, but whatever it is I've done it.' he thought disbelievingly. He straightened shakily and looked to Owl and quickly saw that the chain was gone, he breathed a sigh of relief, but a new sensation quickly broke into his consciousness. 'Man, my hands hurt.' He took a moment to focus his attention on his hands, 'Y'know I'm not going to open them just yet . . . ' He smiled happily at Dulcea as she steadied him, "We can go now, lets get back to the ship." He frowned for a moment and wobbled a little, "I think I hurt my hands, should have them look at that." He blinked and refocused on Dulcea, "Did I say we could leave? We can, you're fine, well you were fine to begin with . . . "

His rambling stopped suddenly as he passes out, fortunately Dulcea easily held him up until she could redistribute his weight and began to carry him toward the others. She had to admit that she was a little dazed herself. 'I can leave Phaedos? I thought I would never leave here again, but now I must. Owl? Do you think he's right?'

Owl's placid comment floated down from above, 'He hasn't been wrong yet.'

Dulcea nodded and waved to Billy and Cestro and they quickly made their way to her. They questioned her and began to look over Adam as they carried him into the ship.

Owl turned her attention to the small form of Frog as he hopped to a stop, 'Well, what do you think?'

He paused and croaked his reply to Owl, 'I think that there's a lot going on here that I don't even know. But he did it . . . I don't know how, but he did it. Tapped himself out to do it though, that boy . . .'

Owl laughed, 'Oh, stop that! We both know that you adore him, he's a good one. But they all are, aren't they?'

'You and your questions, but yeah they all are. Who's next?'

Owl pondered that, 'That, I think, is a question that will only be answered with time.'

They both faded from Phaedos as Cestro's ship took off for their next destination. ''''' "He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand"
-Nick Cave, Red Right Hand.

In a dark place far away . . .

A lone figure sat enthroned in an empty throne room. He stayed motionless, as he brooded over the past few weeks. It had started simply enough, his second had come to him about an old matter--something that even he considered over and done. He had sent his second to deal with it once and for all. Now weeks later, his second had not returned, nor had he sent any message regarding his tardiness. 'How very unlike him. He must be deceased, so he was correct. A master?'

His hands gripped the throne with such force that the arms began to buckle. 'A lone ninjetti. It is impossible!' At that moment, one of the arms of his throne finally gave way and crumpled. The giant made a disgusted sound and rose from his throne to pace the room. 'I should have found a way to obliterate the damn planet!' He heaved a great sigh and slumped slightly. 'But that is truly impossible, that is why I needed Vadyvov in the first place. Something powerful guards that planet, and while I can not destroy the planet. I will raze that cursed Temple.'

He looked up as a figure in blackened armor walked slowly into the room and knelt before him. "What do you have?"

The figure didn't not look up as it began to speak in a rasping voice, "My Liege, the rebellious ones are consolidating their hold on your territory. It is in doubt that you shall be able to recapture them if they continue with their unification. Your Generals are . . . confused by this withdrawal to a strategically unimportant site."

"My Generals do not concern me at this moment. They will obey me or they may attempt to depose me, it does not matter. The rebellion does not matter, it was a distraction that I should have ignored. It kept me from being in position to keep watch on Vadyvov, an error that I find regretful."

"So, that one is late, perhaps he deserted? He has always disliked this place . . ."

The giant laughed, "Deserted? Vadyvov? He may have despised this place, but he gave his word to serve me. He would die before he allowed that to be broken. He was a strange one, but his usefulness to me is not yet at an end. I have something special left for him. You may leave. Inform MY generals, that I do not care about a few miserable systems. I have my reasons and that is all they need to know."

The messenger left and the giant walked back to his throne. 'One master is all that it could take to undo me. One master could destroy my revenge and I will not let that happen.' ''''' "I dream of rain
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand."
-Sting, Desert Rose.

Adam sighed slightly as he once again tried to rub the stiffness out of his hands. They had been throbbing steadily since he had awakened on the ship, but he wasn't going to complain. 'Small price, for such a big thing.' Kim knew he hurt and he'd had to promise to tell her what happened when they made it back to Earth, to leave him alone for the rest of the trip. Whatever he had done, had taken a great deal out of him at the time, but except for his hands, he was almost back up to his usual standards. He opened up his hands once more and stared at his palms, now across each of them was a thin line of scar tissue. Those scars looked old, but he knew they hadn't been there before. He had been rather evasive about everything, he didn't want to talk about it, but they kept badgering him for answers. 'Answers that I don't have.' Well, everyone except Dulcea and Owl, they seemed content enough to be off Phaedos that they didn't really care about the how or the why. 'Sometimes, just being is enough.'

He stares out a viewport and watches as the stars streak by as the ship heads back to Earth. In another hour or so they would be back to Earth and then he would have to give some answers. "Well, what do we tell them this time?"

'I have no idea.' replies Frog carefully.

"I thought you knew what was going on?"

'I don't know everything, though I admit it could be handy. Well, you see, this is something that most people don't think about, but we spirits don't give you guys all of your gifts. Some are just, talents or inclinations, that get amplified for some reason, maybe just because you use them more. You've got this wonderful intuition, always have, but now that you're doing the ninjetti thing again, well, you're using it a lot more. Okay, I can see that this isn't making sense. Look at it this way, I mean, Billy's a genius, but he's always used that and believed in it, right?' Adam nods thoughtfully and Frog continues. 'Well, that's let him push it to the extreme. Everyone has something special, if they find it and believe in it, they can do almost anything. Unfortunately, most don't. Now, do you get it?'

"Basically, you don't know either, but wasn't that whole thing with Dulcea a little more than . . . well, actually it was, wasn't it?"

'I have no idea, you didn't tell me your reasons and I don't pry without permission.'

"Oh. When I first saw Owl, I noticed this chain and I wanted to get rid of it then and there, but it didn't seem like the right time. When it was almost time for us to go, I spent most of that day trying to figure out something. Then, when I saw Dulcea and Owl again, it started to make sense. I didn't know it would work, and I'm still not sure what I did, but we're here so I must have done something right."

'Don't worry, you did good. I'm darn proud of you. But, if you want to tell them something, tell them the truth, not the part about you're not sure what you've done, but pretty much everything else.'

"Um, I haven't told anyone, but Dulcea that I could see the other animals."

'Yeah, but you talked to Wolf right in front of them, boy, you are getting as forgetful as Tommy.'

"Hey, them's fightin' words," laughed Adam as he went back to staring out the viewport.

"Well, this is it. Welcome, one and all to my humble abode."

Kim chuckled at that, "Humble is not a word I'd use to describe this place."

Adam shrugged and grinned back, "Okay, my really big abode. Better?"

Kim and Billy both laughed at that, "Much better." Kim then quickly explained to Cestro and Dulcea that Adam's 'house' was actually a small lodge. It was much larger than what most people on Earth lived in and it had about ten rooms for guests, because Adam had converted some of them to be used for other things.

After a few minutes, Kim had settled back into the room she had used last time and Billy had left to pick up some more stuff. Adam had then decided to give both Cestro and Dulcea a tour of the place and an explanation of the more primitive Earth technology that was scattered around. So after the kitchen, the bathrooms, their rooms, and the main room, Cestro excused himself to gather his supplies from the ship. After Cestro left Adam and Dulcea sat and talked for a while, mostly about how 'odd' it felt for her to be away from Phaedos. "I suppose part of me still believes that this is but a strange dream," she said quietly.

"It's not a dream, it just is."

"Then I must thank you."

"No, don't. It was just the right thing to do, I don't deserve thanks for that."

"I can accept that. Then, what did you do?"

Adam stood and began to pace, "I . . . oh, I don't really know. I did what had to be done, but I can't tell you how. I really don't want to talk about it right now, how about something else?"

Dulcea watched him carefully for a few moments, it was the closest he had ever come to being short with her. Whatever had happened, it had left an impression on Adam and he hadn't yet decided how to deal with it. "Well, then perhaps you could give me a fuller tour of this place, where is your room or Kim's?"

Adam grinned and offered his hand, "This way m'lady."

Dulcea laughed as she accepted, "After you, m'lord."

They both left the living room laughing as Adam began to lead her through the house.

'I can't believe it. Those two are at it again . . . ' Kim shook her head as she watched Adam show Dulcea around, she'd almost finished getting settled after having made a quick trip back to the Gymnastics Academy. It had been hard, but she had wanted to give her resignation, she couldn't shake the feeling that she wouldn't be back there. The owner, Mr. Lauder, was saddened and had decided it was an 'indefinite leave of absence' and not a resignation, he just wouldn't accept it, even though her contract with him had run out. "Just in case," he had said in his deep accented voice, "Whatever you're doing doesn't pan out, I want you to know you can come back here. You are great with them, Kimberly, and I consider you almost family. But you are happier now, and for that I am glad."

He'd given her a hug and helped her arrange the storage of some of her things and packing of the stuff she wanted to take with her. It had been a lot harder than she thought it would, but it was better to do it now than when 'something else' came up. 'I've been around Adam too long. Now, I'm getting wiggy vibes.' She had come back with a couple small boxes of things that could be easily explained away when she moved and was surprised to hear laughter outside.

She had carefully opened her door and watched as Adam led Dulcea from room to room, both of them were laughing hard as they played 'lord and lady' with glee. As Kim listened, she caught the occasional word or two through the laughter, "Is m'lady pleased with this room of workout."

"It is most pleasing, my lord, verily it is."

Kim managed to stifle her giggle as Adam began to mouth, 'Verily? Verily?' and then broke out in more laughter. She wished she knew exactly how this had started, but just seeing both of them totally relaxed was good. 'They get along great together, I think they relax more in each other's presence than they do in ours.' Dulcea had been 'concerned' on the trip to Earth, and Kim knew it was partially because of leaving Phaedos, but a slightly larger part was worry for Adam. He'd been unconscious through most of the trip back and when he'd awoken he was a little tired, but fine. Well, that was what he said, she'd noticed him covering it, but this empathy thing she was stuck with came in handy. He was in pain and he'd managed to deflect the others, but she wasn't letting him get off that easy. So in the end he'd promised to tell her what was going on after they'd gotten back to Earth, if she wouldn't tell the others about his hands and the pain. She'd agreed, because she knew if she didn't he wouldn't tell anyone and she also knew that he wanted to talk to her. He may not know it consciously, but deep down he did. She broke from her thoughts as the sound of Adam's laughter faded suddenly.

Kim watched as Adam paused in front of one room and went to the next. Dulcea looked perplexed, but thankfully in Kim's opinion, she didn't comment as he led her to the last room on the first floor. Kim knew which room it was and she'd carefully peeked in it when Adam had went outside before they left for Phaedos. It was Tanya's music room, a small sound-proofed room with various instruments that Tanya would practice in. She and Kat had helped 'clean-up' after Tanya's death and when they had came to this room Adam had thrown them both out of it and told them that it was off-limits. It was now very dusty, just opening the door had left a trail in the dust and she suspected that no one had been in there for a long time. She sighed and went back into her room. 'I might as well finish up now . . . I don't think going out there right now would be a good idea.'

"I had forgotten how nice it was to teleport," commented Billy as he sat a few bags of groceries on the counter. "While I was checking up at home, I decided to get some food. Have you looked in your refrigerator since we've returned? No, don't answer that. Also, I knew that you wouldn't have any idea of what to get Cestro, so . . ."

"So you bought half the store," quipped Adam playfully as he started to quickly put things away.

"I just wished to make sure that we had some variety."

"Okay, now we have some variety. What does everyone want to eat?"

After a few minutes, everyone had decided on something and it was placed in the oven. As they sat around and chatted, Adam watched silently and deftly kept the conversation focused away from him. As the conversation went on, both Kim and Dulcea tried to deflect it away from Adam as well. Unfortunately, Billy wasn't letting it go that easy and Adam was only withdrawing more. Finally, Kim sighed and quietly pulled Adam away and pointed outside. He sighed and nodded, "I'll be back in a few. Billy could you keep an eye on dinner? Burnt pizza sucks."

As soon as Billy answered Adam walked out the door with Kim. They walked away from the house and after a few minutes Kim turned to Adam and spoke, "I think Billy can't hear us from here. So tell me."

Adam paced about the clearing, "It could have waited."

"As it was going, you'd have waited until I was old and grey. You need to talk, so talk."

"You sound really sure of that."

"Think of it as my ninjetti weirdness."

Adam chuckled, "Ninjetti weirdness? I thought I'd cornered the market on that one." He sighed once more, "Well, okay, it's just really weird how everyone keeps looking at me like I have all the answers, like I know what the hell is going on. Well, I don't!" Adam's voice had begun to rise as he continued, "I mean, I don't even know what I did to get Dulcea loose. I just did it. Half the time, I'm doing things and I don't even know why. Heck, not even Frog knows! I feel like I'm being set up, no, I am being set up for something! What! Everyone, even Dulcea, thinks I know! Well, all I know is that I'm just going to keep going with the flow and if it happens to be the right thing, then hooray!"

"Stress much?"

Adam chuckled darkly, "Yes, I'm stressed. I know more of what's going on than anyone else, but I'm keeping secrets from everybody. And I still only know a fraction of what's going on. Oh, and by the way, sorry Frog, but I'm keeping something from you too. It happened while you were gone, but . . . Just on another damn whim! How's that for messed up?!"

'Oh, just typical of a Black, isn't it, Frog?' Interjected Crane with a little bit of venom.

Adam looked guiltily to the ground and tried to stammer out a defense of actions he still wasn't sure about. But Frog spoke up with irritation rampant in his croaking voice. 'Blow it out your ear, bird-brain. You're just pissed because Wolf took you down a few pegs last time we talked.' As Crane flew off in a huff, Frog sighed and began to speak to Adam. 'I trust your instincts, Adam, and now is not always the time.' Frog chuckled in his croaking voice. 'I'll just have to be patient, do you KNOW how hard it is for me to be patient?'

Adam gave a small sigh of relief and a weak chuckle, "I'm just glad you're cool with it, it all seems a bit much to me."

"I could tell, in fact Dulcea could tell, and I think Cestro could too," commented Kim dryly. She placed her hand on his shoulder, "But, I'm sorry to say it, but you're in charge. I know you're used to being the back-up guy, but for some reason life has decided otherwise." She paused thoughtfully, "Maybe this is why Tommy didn't come back, if he did would you have been so ready to take over when it counted?"

"I would have told him and he'd have decided what to do . . . "

"On a whim? We both know Tommy doesn't operate that way and neither does Billy, Jason, or even Rocky, for that matter."

"Why not you?"

She laughed out loud at that, "I'm good with people and sometimes everyone needs to be reminded that rushing off to fight the monster-of-the-day isn't everything. In a pinch, hey, I'm right behind you, but I'm not a fighter. Anyway, I think I've figured out what I'm supposed to do and it isn't taking over."

"What?"

"I think I'm supposed to keep everyone together. It's hard to explain, but look, Billy needs me for his senses, Cestro needs me to keep him from being isolated from the rest of us. Dulcea . . . well, I'm just watching. And I guess that you need someone to talk to, who just doesn't really give a darn about the how's and why's. I want some, but I can live without most of them. You're driving Billy nuts, though." She giggled, "He's having trouble with this whole 'mystical ninjetti thing' and I know he's getting a bit obnoxious, but he wants to know. It's just the way he is."

"Don't you want to know?"

"I want to know all sorts of things, but the only thing that I think is really important is 'how did you hurt your hands' and 'why won't you tell anyone?"

He debated for a moment and then held out his hands, "Do you see those scars?"

"Yeah, they look really old, what happened?"

He closed his hands, "They weren't there two days ago." He sighed once more, "When I did whatever with Dulcea, I hurt them. I didn't want to deal with Billy or Cestro's questions, and I really didn't want to make Dulcea feel guilty about it. If she had, I don't think she would have left Phaedos. I couldn't chance it."

Kim gently clasped his hands in her own, "Good enough."

Adam beamed at her, "Thanks, I needed this, just to vent, I guess."

She gave him a hug, "Hey, that's what I'm here for, weren't you listening. Well, what now, Adam?"

"What now in the five minutes from now sense or in the great ninjetti Zen sense?"

"Oh, great ninjetti Zen," giggled Kim.

He sized her up for a moment, "Why would I know?"

"Why?! You decided to bring us here, even Dulcea, and I get the feeling that there is something we have to do. So, what gives?"

She looked on intently as Adam took a moment to think about it, "I don't know. Dinner?"

"That's it?"

"Yup, for now, maybe later, maybe not. Who knows?" He shrugged and began to walk back to the lodge, "You think about it, I'm going to check on dinner."

Kim watched silently for a moment and then followed. 'Ninjetti is definitely another word for strange.'

It had taken a bit of searching, but he'd finally found the paper about enhanced senses. It was remarkably obscure, and as he printed it up he found the story about it. 'Fraudulent data!? Just great!' Billy disgustedly crumpled up the sheets and tossed them in the trash, without so much as a backward glance. 'I had hoped for something.' He stalked off to the bathroom to get ready for bed and didn't hear the slightly frustrated snort of a bemused spirit animal.

'That boy . . .' Sighed Wolf to himself as he watched his charge. 'Well, that went swimmingly.' Wolf padded through the walls as he towards the room he needed. He studied the sleeping chosen sprawled across the bed and then the small frog that dozed contentedly on the boy's chest. 'I believe this is what is referred to as a 'Kodak moment.'' Dryly commented Wolf as Frog roused himself.

'What do you want, furball?'

'Ah, now I know where he gets it. Neither one of you wake up on the right side of the bed, do you?'

'Sorry.' Frog looked sheepish for a moment. 'I was just relaxing, I've been kind of busy.'

Wolf chuckled. 'Oh, yes, I've heard about that. Crane is a little peeved.'

'When is Crane not a little peeved?'

'When she's not around you. You just offend her on some basic level, I suppose. You're lacking in discipline, dignity, character, and the blah, blah, blah that all Spirits should possess. And your attitude towards her doesn't help. She was so happy when Falcon was around, someone who was on the same wavelength, I suppose. But, enough of that, I'm actually here for a purpose.'

'When are you not?'

'Amusing as always, but I need your charge's assistance. As you know, Billy is a very 'in control' individual, and it is hampering him at times, but I think that . . .'

'Wolf, you're already starting to ramble. Spit it out.'

Wolf sighed once more. 'Billy has found information about his senses, in fact it was another of my pack who discovered it, but the events surrounding it look very bad. Billy has discarded the information out of hand, and even if I tell him, I suspect that his reputation will create a certain amount of friction, that I would prefer to be avoided. I would be grateful if you could ask your charge to read this information and arrange a meeting between the two. He is a much less threatening presence than Billy.'

'Wait a mo'.' Frog began to hop up and down on Adam's chest. 'WAKE UP, NINJA BOY!'

Frog barely managed to dodge a swat as Adam awoke. "What!?"

'I need you to talk to Wolf, he thinks it's important.'

Adam rubbed his eyes and blearily focused on Wolf. "So, what is so important that you guys wake me up in the middle of the night?"

Frog just looked at Wolf expectantly. 'You want him to do something, you ask him.'

'Um, well, Billy has found information on his senses.'

"That's nice, yet I sense a 'but' coming up."

'You are perceptive. The information has been labeled 'falsified.' Unfortunately, Billy found that out and discarded the data out of hand.'

"It's not false?"

'No, due to the circumstances the author was forced to discredit himself to protect his pack.'

"Well, why don't you just tell Billy this? Why do you need me?"

'Billy really needs to arrange a meeting with this fellow, but I feel that his academic background and generally inquisitive nature would put my other child on the defensive. You on the other hand, are a rather non-threatening presence. Billy will also listen to you. As to why I don't just tell him, he'll still doubt the data on an instinctive level. He needs proof and some actual assistance.'

"I understand that one. Anything else?"

'Billy's copy is in his trash receptacle, you should acquire it.'

"Okey-dokey. Done?"

'Yes, I am. Thank you, Young Prince.'

Adam groaned and pulled the covers back over his head. As Wolf left he heard Adam mumble, "And just when I got you trained, he starts up."

"Shower nice," mumbled Adam absently as he showered. Not long into his shower a thought occurred to him. "Frog, was Wolf here last night?"

'Yep.'

"Oh, I thought I dreamed it. I had wanted to ask Wolf a couple of things, oh well. Guess I'll have to clean out all of the room's 'trash receptacles.' Man, that sounds so much like Billy."

'They are most decidedly two of a kind.'

Adam snorted, "Most decidedly? Well, I'll snag it while they're dealing with breakfast. Then, I'm going to read it. Maybe, after that I'll get around to running Wolf's little errand."

'Do we have to wait until breakfast?'

"Patience still isn't your strong suit, is it?"

'Never has, never will. Nice shower.'

Adam laughed quietly to, himself as he stood underneath the hot running water. "I'll second that."

Adam had went and emptied everyone's trash cans, but only Billy's had really been used. He'd put the papers in his room and wasn't able to get back to them, but after everyone left on various errands, he knew he would find time. Kim had decided that Dulcea needed to go shopping and while Dulcea had protested initially--she had more than enough other clothes and Adam had agreed with her. In fact, he'd jokingly grumbled about having to help pack it, but Kim wasn't hearing anything of it. She'd wanted to go shopping and sure as heck wasn't going to let logic spoil her fun, especially when Dulcea had admitted that she hadn't actually had to shop for anything since she became a ninjetti. "See, it's not just something for fun, it's my duty as a fellow ninjetti."

After much rolling of eyes by Adam and Billy, Kim had left with Dulcea and, surprisingly, Billy in tow. Adam and Cestro had sat about for a while after they had left and Adam had collected the paper, but he still wasn't able to sit and read it. Cestro had a great many questions and Adam decided to ignore Frog's impatient gripings and answer them. Then Cestro had asked him about the others and Adam had grown thoughtful once more. "Others? I don't know, do you mean Tommy, Rocky, and Aisha or do you mean who's next?"

Cestro carefully contemplated that, "I know of Tommy and Rocky. You have said that Aisha will not be able to return. Do you have any more individuals in mind?"

"Because not only are you darn curious, but you don't know exactly what's going on, right? I mean, we've done this before, maybe not like this, but we have more experience here than you do. You'd like to have another newbie perspective, right?"

"I suppose so."

"Well, Rocky'll be back soon, but he doesn't count for this. Jason'll join. Anyone else?" Adam looked around the room thoughtfully, "Maybe some of the other ex-rangers? Maybe people we've met?" Adam was still distant as he gazed off into space, then a surprised look crossed his face. "Cestro, you want something to do for a little while? I know you want to check in on Aquitar, would you like to go see someone?"

"I do need to return home for a few cycles, but I am unsure if I should leave you here without transportation."

"Don't worry about it, nothing'll happen for . . . awhile yet." Adam shrugged and went on, "You can't tell them about where Phaedos is, okay? But you can tell about being a ninjetti, but only the ones you know won't blab." He looked worried for a moment, "It can't get out, not now."

A whistling Aquitian sigh escaped Cestro, "I will only tell those whom I served with, would that be acceptable?" 'It is so disconcerting to be receiving instructions from one who has such a unique method of gathering information. Such 'intuition' is unsettling at times.'

"Cool." After a quick bit of preparation and some specific instructions from Adam, Cestro once again disappeared into his ship. This time instead of just going to retrieve something he left Earth once more.

Adam had watched him go with mixed feelings. "I know it has to be done, but doesn't it strike you a bit like I was trying to get rid of him."

'No try, do.' Snickered Frog smugly. 'But, hey, now he won't be bugging us while we read that blasted paper!'

A few minutes later, Adam sat in his favorite chair with Frog perched happily on his shoulder as they read the mysterious paper. 'This is heavy. I've gotta ask Wolf a couple questions.' "Well what do you think?

'I think we need to ask Wolf a couple questions.'

"You want to go get him? I doubt Billy will really need his guidance while he's shopping, he might wish for it, but he won't really need it."

They both chuckled at that and Frog hopped a few steps away and vanished.

'Have you come to gloat?' Wolf asked Frog irritably as he slunk behind his charge.

'Do you want me to?'

'Smug git.'

'My, aren't we touchy today. I thought that was my problem.'

'Sorry, but we've been at this for almost five hours. Those girls are fanatically determined to find 'all of the good deals' and make my charge carry them. It was amusing the first hour, it was tolerable for the second and third, depressing the forth, and now it's just damned embarrassing.'

'Hmm, I can see that, you have my condolences. But think of it this way, at least Dulcea and Owl are both having a good time. I think they're both adjusting quite well to all this newness, everyone needs to cut loose every now and then.'

'True, but I feel so undignified, watching him run about at their beck and call.'

'Hey, at least Adam had the sense to bow out on this one.'

'Braggart.'

'Oh, I love it when you get all medieval.'

Wolf gave a howling laugh and quieted when Billy jumped. 'Oops. You just can't be serious can you?'

'Is this supposed to be serious? Minor question, does he really mind, I mean, not just grumbling about it,'

Wolf pondered Billy for a moment, 'Frustrated, annoyed, but still happy.'

'Then quit having a hissy, sheesh, you're almost as stuck up as Crane some days.'

'Ouch. Well, at least my charge isn't trapped in close quarters with a probably bored Cestro.'

'Mine isn't either, he sent him off.'

'Got fed up, did he?'

'A little, but he actually had something that Cestro needed to do, so now was as good a time as any.'

'Mighty convenient.'

'Yup. That kid is always doing something to surprise the heck out me. That's why I'm here, matter of fact, he wants to ask you some questions.'

'But that will mean that I must abandon my charge to his fate!'

'Oh, quit being melodramatic. You're such a ham.'

They both walked away from the group and Wolf turned to Frog. 'I am not, Ape is the ham, I'm more like a side order.'

'There are times when I don't understand you at all.'

'Isn't that the point?' Said Wolf dryly before he disappeared.

Frog chuckled and vanished. 'Some days.' He was still chuckling when they both appeared in the lodge. 'HEY, ADAM!' They both waited and a moment later a loud thud was heard from above. 'Oh, he'll be here in a second.'

'Hope he didn't injure himself. You could have went up to him.'

'Nah, this was more fun.'

'You and your fun.'

"What!? Are you trying to give me a heart-attack?!"

'Hi, Adam, and how are you today?'

Adam stuck his tongue out at Frog, "I'm fine, only thing wounded is my behind."

Frog snickered and Wolf rolled his eyes. 'You two deserve each other.'

"We said something like that about you and Billy just this morning."

'Could we please finish with making jokes at my expense and get to business?'

"Sorry," chorused two voices sheepishly.

'Sorry, you two just have to be stopped before you really get on a roll, then we'd never get anywhere.'

"Okay, that's cool. Now, I have some questions about this whole 'Sentinel' and 'Guide' thing."

'Ask and I shall endeavor to answer.'

"Okay, was Billy a Sentinel before he got his powers back?"

'Good question. Yes, but he repressed it after the death of his mother. Then when he became a ranger the power 'protected' him from them. It would have been detrimental if they had resurfaced while he was in battle or some such. Then the 'aging' and 'cure,' both helped them stay restrained. But, they had been slowly resurfacing. If you were able to truly examine Billy's domicile here on Earth, you would note that it is sound-proofed and he has air-filters. While they are for experiments, they have also sheltered him from the few activations of his senses.'

"Oooh-kay. Simply put then, he'd had them, he blocked them. They were coming back, but things he'd done for his lab coincidentally protected him."

'That sums it up, yes.'

'And we're both sure that Kim is his Guide.'

'You are correct.'

"So, I need to track down this Sandburg and try and convince him to meet us here, so there won't be any 'Sentinel Territorial' vibes. And if I'm reading between the lines, this Ellison really is a Sentinel and Sandburg is the Guide, and Sandburg debunked himself to protect Ellison's rep. Right?"

'You are astute.'

"Thanks, so that leaves one last question, where the heck do I find him?"

'Follow me.'

"Let me leave a note, don't want to cause another panic," after a quick search Adam grabbed his jacket and left a note. "Hope that helps. After you."

Wolf turned and vanished after a few steps, Adam shrugged and disappeared an instant later. They reappeared in what looked like an alley. Adam had quickly put his jacket on, "Sheesh, where the hell are we, the north pole?"

'Just Washington state, young prince.'

"You could have warned me, I could have dressed a little warmer."

'What, in a parka? Damn. Wolf, you know how much I hate having to sit out and freeze.' Frog grumbled as he snuggled into one of Adam's pockets. 'Don't squish me, kay?'

Adam nodded and Wolf looked on in vague disgust. 'You two are pathetic.'

Frog glanced up at Adam and Adam looked back at Frog. "Yup."

'Oh, just follow me.' Wolf quickly left the alley and walked for a few blocks.

Adam looked around the area, it was nice almost park-like and after a few minutes of watching the people around him, he'd decided that it was most likely a college of some sort. 'I guess this guy ironed everything out if we're looking for him here.' They entered a building and Wolf finally stopped in front of a door. It was labeled 'Artifact Storage Room,' but a faded yellow post-it note proclaimed 'Blair Sandburg' with a 'Dr.' scribbled near the top. Adam knocked once and almost knocked on air for his second as the door was whisked open by a long-haired fellow, who couldn't have been that much older than Adam. "Uh, hi. I'm looking for a Blair Sandburg. Is he around?"

The man reached up and brushed his long brown hair out of his face and smiled, "Actually, you're talking to him." He extended his hand and Adam shook it, "Well, who are you and what do you need? You're not one of my students, so . . ."

'Wolf, you've been holding out on us haven't you?'

'Me, never. Did you think that all my children were so serious?'

Adam ignored them both and replied, "Yeah, I mean I'm Adam Park. I'm not a student, well a college student, but well . . . " Adam blanked for a minute and ended up shoving his copy of the paper in Dr. Sandburg's direction. He took the moment to study the man before him, he was dressed in casual clothes appropriate for a college student. His heavy beat up brown coat sported thick patches on both sleeves and his muddy boots looked well used. He looked about as old as Adam and his long curly hair would probably have given Tommy an envy attack. His eyes were a bright blue that reflected the smile on his face and he seemed to be on the verge of movement, even as he stood still.

'Oooo, so smooth.'

'I'm amazed that either of you ever get anything done.' Said Wolf with a hint of bemused wonder in his voice.

Dr. Sandburg took the paper from Adam and looked at it for a minute. As he did, his smile faded slightly, "This wasn't validated. It was never supposed to be published and it never will. I don't think it would be a good subject for a high-school research paper anyway. But, if it brought you here, well, I guess I can talk to you, maybe help you find a new subject if you're still interested in anthropology." He gestured to chair and quickly cleaned it out, then he closed the door as Adam seated himself. Then he noticed Adam's smile, "Did I just do something funny?"

"No, actually, I'm not in high school. I graduated over a decade ago, I just aged well. I know this is kinda odd, but, oh, I think I can trust you not to let this get out of this room. See, I've got a friend who IS a sentinel, he's new to it and doesn't really know that he is a sentinel, but he has a guide, well he doesn't know that he has a guide or that he needs one, but he started to read your paper and then found out about the whole 'falsification' thing, so he didn't read it, but I've got another friend who says that you lied about it to protect your sentinel and all that, so I figured it was worth a shot to come and see you and stuff."

"Wow, I can't believe you said all of that in one breath. Good breath control, do you meditate?"

Adam grinned happily, "Yeah, usually after doing kata in the morning. Keeps me sane."

'Are you sure?' Asked Wolf wryly.

"I can understand that. Okay, your friend. Do I know him?"

'Oh, what the hell.' "Um, it gets kinda strange when at that point. Really strange. You know how in your paper you talked about the sentinel having a spirit animal and all that. Well not only sentinels have spirit animals, I mean I know many cultures have practices, but I'm talking in a now and here sense, so let's not get side-tracked. Um, it's like you're spirit animal is the wolf."

Dr. Sandburg leaned back in his chair and studied Adam intently, "And what does that have to do with anything?"

"Well, he, man, I sound nuts, he sent me here." Adam decided that the floor was very interesting and set to studying it as he waited for a response.

Dr. Sandburg blinked as a large wolf appeared beside his guest for an instant. "You don't hold anything back do you?" His voice took a friendly tone, "Well, you do sound a bit nuts, but I've been accused of it too." Adam looks back up at him, "Mr. Adam Park, who hasn't been in high-school for over a decade, you have definitely peaked my curiosity. I don't know how much help I can be, but I have read everything that still exists about sentinels. Hopefully, it'll be enough help. Now, why don't you wait a minute while I pack up here and we'll hit my office, I'll grab some stuff, are you hungry?" He quickly walked out the door and Adam followed.

"Uh, sure, and I'm hungry. I don't mean to pry, Mr. Sandburg, but I thought this was your office."

"Actually, it's Doctor, but you can just call me Blair. As for the office, I had it when I was a teaching assistant. After the paper disaster, the school bent over backward to keep me from suing the pants off of them."

"If I'm not prying, what exactly happened?"

"Oh, due to a bizarre chain of events the paper was published without my say so. It wasn't validated and I was just holding it until I could prove everything and hopefully convince my real subject to come forward. In fact, I'd already changed my dis topic and had an almost finished dis on 'closed societies in police departments,' which is what snagged me my PhD by the way." He paused as he entered a much bigger office with his name actually on the door and quickly dumped a laptop and a few books into his backpack. "Well, Rainier pushed it and suddenly it was big news, and it was trashing this guy's life. So I came clean and said that I hadn't proved everything." He looked around the office for a moment, "I lost it all and I was pretty down, when one of my friends pointed out that I hadn't given permission to have it published. Two lawsuits later, Rainier settled out of court, they'd reinstate me, wipe that whole mess off my record, issue a formal retraction, and let me use my real dis to apply for my doctorate." Once he had grabbed everything, he quickly headed out the door and Adam followed quickly so as not to be left behind by this human whirlwind. "I'm now a full professor and still observing. Life is good. Where do you want to eat?"

"I'm not from around here."

Wolf snorted. 'Well, since you two are playing nice I'm going to go back and give my full attention to Billy. Have fun.'

Blair led him to a blue Volvo in pristine condition, "Well, how about we take my car? Any food preferences?"

Adam was finally getting into the swing of conversing with Blair. "Your car's fine and as long as it's not to greasy, I'm in."

He ended up eating lunch and spending the rest of the day with Blair. Blair had asked him a few questions about the Wolf and had then went off into a lecture about spirit animals. After awhile the topic changed to shamanism. Adam asked questions, gave his own opinions, and generally enjoyed himself, but sentinels were absent from the conversation. When Blair finally had to leave, he gave Adam a couple of books on shamanism and a computer disk to look over. "Return the books when you can, my card is in the first one. Well, Adam, how long are you in town?"

"Oh, long enough," he answered vaguely.

"It had been really great talking to you, but I've got to go. If you want to talk some more, stop by the campus on Friday. I'm there in the morning, but I have the rest of the day open."

"Cool, I will."

"Do you need a ride to your car?"

"NO, uh, no, it's not that far," Adam looked a little sheepish. 'And I'm keeping secrets from everyone else, are they that unobservant?'

Blair gave him a strange look, "Well, okay. See you Friday."

Adam and Frog watched him leave. 'Well, that was an experience.' Chuckled Frog.

"Yeah, he is a bit intense, in a bizarre laid-back sort of way. Did that make sense?"

'Only after meeting him. You know we didn't find anything out.'

"I don't know," he looked at the unlabeled disk, "maybe we have."

Adam walked down an alley and teleported back home. When he arrived, the others were waiting for him. "Hi, guys. Have a nice time?" He winced as Kim threw him an angry glance. 'Man, she's fuming. I left a note.' "I left a note and all," said Adam defensively.

"It's not you its, HIM!" She gave Billy a pointed look and he wilted slightly.

'Ouch.' Commented Frog.

Billy sulked, "It's nothing major, she's just over-reacting."

"Well, what happened?"

"We were shopping and the brain-child over there neglected to mention that the mall was giving him a major headache."

"Everyone gets headaches, it's nothing to make a fuss over," retorted Billy.

'They usually don't faint, because someone on the other side of the mall breaks a plate either.' Sighed Wolf. 'But, I think the fact that he 'zoned' and failed to mention to Kim that it had happened before, that's what really set her off. The fainting was just the icing on the proverbial cake. On the upside, they did manage to do a great deal of shopping.'

Adam nodded at Wolf, "Billy, you're going to hate this, but you have to listen to Kim about this. You've totally blown your objectivity on this."

"Well, it's not like she's being objective either."

Adam quickly interrupted, "Whoa there. Don't say something that's going to have Kim kicking your ass all over my house. And Kim, you do need to calm down." Kim and Billy both stared at him. "Okay, you're in this whole thing together, so get used to it. I've got some stuff to read and someone to talk to later this week." He sighed, "Where is Dulcea?"

'She got rather fed up with both of them and is now out exploring. Can't say that I blame her.' Reported Wolf sadly.

'They are acting rather childish.' Agreed Crane.

"I think she went outside," answered Kim.

Adam rolled his eyes and went towards the door, "Well, I'll go tell her it's safe to come in, then we can figure out what's for dinner." He quickly walked out the door and into the evening.

"oh when things get messy then we tidy up the room
we'll be no stranger to that dustpan and the broom

let's make peace tonight
(let's make peace tonight)
the moon is bare and shining bright
(moon is shining bright)
let's make peace tonight
(let's make peace tonight)
the moon is bare and shining bright
(moon is shining bright)
let's make peace tonight in a good time
(let's make peace tonight) "
-Indigo Girls, Peace Tonight.

The impromptu peace-treaty lasted until after dinner, Dulcea sighed and quickly retired for the night. Adam tried to ignore them and read, but eventually he got fed up. 'That's it! Now is as good as time as any. I can't take this!' Adam rose and teleported back to a familiar place. He walked to his destination and began to look through the milling people until he spotted his target. He walked purposely over him and began to speak, "Hey, Jase, I need your help with something."

Jason turned to Adam in surprise, "What!?"

"Can we speak in your office? I think Rocky'll have to run class tonight, but he can come over later."

Jason led Adam into his office and after the door was closed, Adam quickly closed the blinds. "What do you need?" he said gravely.

"Okay, this'll sound lame, I know, but I just can't take it anymore, I mean even Dulcea can't take it."

"And?" said Jason bemusedly.

"Okay, this is the quickie version, I'll fill you in later. Billy's super-special ninjetti power is enhanced senses and he's trying to deal with it on his own. Now, I've got some other information, that I can't share with them yet, but Kim is supposed to help him with them. Well, Billy didn't tell her he was having side-effects and I think he tried to blow it off. Kim got a little peeved at that point and after a little while neither one was really being all that rational. I managed to get a few hours peace, but when they tried to gang up on me for answers they fell back to arguing with each other."

"Let me guess, you want me to go back with you and get them to both settle down, since I've been friends with them my entire life and all that," said Jason after a moment of thought.

Adam nodded vigorously, "And all that."

"Let me go tell Rocky . . . " but before Jason could leave the office, Adam stopped him and quickly scribbled a phone number on one of their business cards.

"Give this to him, when he's done tonight, tell him to call and I'll come pick him up. I'll wait here until you get done. Got something else to do," Adam tried to hide a smile as he spoke.

"Okay," Jason shrugged and walked out the office. A couple of minutes later he came back in, "Rocky will take over class tonight and when he gets done he will call you."

Adam was almost bouncing as he took that in, "Coolness," Adam grinned, "You're a pretty straight forward kinda guy, right? And you don't really care about all the fancy trappings and rigamarole, right?"

Jason looked at him curiously, "Right, I suppose, but why are you asking?"

"Oh, just curious." Jason gave him a disbelieving look and Adam shrugged, "Okay, wanna be a ninjetti?"

"Adam, I was never a ninjetti, you can't just make me one. You have to have Dulcea for that," replied Jason carefully, as if explaining something basic to a small child.

Adam grinned wider, "Wanna bet?"

'This is interesting to say the least.' Thought Jason as he sat alone in living room of Adam's place. Adam had come to get him earlier, just so that he could get Kim and Billy under control. It was strange, finding out that Billy could hear a pin drop at any place in the house or identify someone by how they smell. It was also strange that he looked almost half of Jason's age. He was flying blind, but he'd dealt with a stubborn Billy and an overprotective Kim before. Just popping in with Adam had stopped the argument between Kim and Billy and they had talked about everything that had happened to them since he'd seen them last. He'd known them both well enough that he was able to carefully wring all the facts from them. It was strange, Kim could tell what someone was feeling, just by being near them, but ironically she couldn't tell when Billy was hiding something from her. Of course there was the fact that Adam knew more about the whole situation than either Billy or Kim did, but he couldn't tell them for some reason. 'Whole thing is sorta messed up.' But they'd talked until eventually Kim had bowed out for the night and Billy had went to sleep not much after. 'I should probably get some sleep myself, supposed to meet Dulcea tomorrow and tell the others the good news.' He shook his head as he thought back to it, Adam had just grinned at him and said, "Wanna bet?"

Jason had just watched in a sort of dazed amazement as Adam started having a conversation with the air, actually now that he though about it, two conversations. He couldn't remember all that Adam said, it was just too strange. But he did remember Adam's exact words before Jason suddenly found himself in a purple ninjetti outfit, "Um, Hi, Mr. Big Cat, could we . . . oh, Ms. Mountain Lion, sorry. Well, how about it?"

Then a flash of deep purple had blinded him for a second and he was a ninjetti. That was it. Adam had looked at him critically for a moment, "Y'know I'd had trouble picturing you in purple, but it looks good. Congrats, I'll introduce you to Dulcea and then you can tell everybody and all that. Okay, where were we? Oh, yeah, lets get you back to my place."

One flash of black later and he was standing in Adam's house with Adam. "Well Jase, you go talk to them. I've got some reading I'd like to have done before Friday, good night."

Jason couldn't help it as the strangeness of the whole situation had hit him and he was still laughing when he went in to talk to Kim and Billy. 'That was fun.'

Jason woke up slowly as two voices began to intrude on his rest. He didn't remember falling asleep, but a quick mental inventory revealed that he was shoeless and someone had put a pillow under his head and a blanket over him sometime during the night. After that he took a moment to try and identify who was speaking. 'Adam and someone else. Sounds sort of British, must be Dulcea. What did Kim say about her? Master Warrior, i.e. she kicks everyone's butt. Reserved. Has some taboo against wearing pants, count on Kim to pick that up. Someone as old as Zordon.' As he sat up they both grew quiet and he found them smiling expectantly at him. "Hi?"

He took in her appearance as he waited for a response, a little taller than Adam with long auburn hair. She was wearing a deep green skirt of some sort and a billowy green shirt that was a few shades lighter than her skirt. 'Oh, I wonder what color she is?' He thought sarcastically to himself.

Adam spoke up first, "Sleep well? Didn't want to move you, did we wake you up?"

"Don't worry about it, I didn't notice," said Jason as he stretched out a little.

"Oh, by the way, this is Dulcea."

Dulcea reached over and gave Adam a light slap on the shoulder, "It is nice to finally meet you, Jason. I have heard much about you."

"Good, I hope." 'This is her? She seems pretty laid back to me, but Kim and Billy both said she was kinda reserved.'

She smiled, "Very good. Adam wanted me to speak with you when you awoke, but he neglected to tell me what about."

"Oh, nothing much," Adam nonchalantly scooted out of Dulcea's reach, "I just kinda taught Jason a new trick last night and I thought you might like to see it."

'New trick? What a unique way Adam has of describing things. Actually, I think he's gotten a little 'unique.'' Jason smiled at them both, "Well, this is still new to me, but here goes." It felt odd not to have a morpher, but he stood and 'morphed' into his new ninjetti outfit. He looked down at himself again, he still hadn't gotten over how weird it was to be in purple, it was weirder than being a ranger again. 'At least it's a nice dark purple, could have been one of those bright happy colors. Ugh. And it feels so different, maybe my memory's off, but it wasn't this 'substantial' when I was the Red Ranger or even the Gold . . . ' "What do you think?"

Jason managed to stifle a laugh as Dulcea picked up a pillow and, without looking, beaned Adam in the head. She studied him intently and he began to feel a bit uncomfortable as she seemed to look into him and be judging something. She frowned slightly, but then she gave him a soft smile, "I suppose that it would proper for me to welcome you to the ninjetti, since I know that 'someone' has no sense of propriety."

Jason relaxed and smiled, then he chuckled as 'someone' stuck his tongue out at the ninjetti master and she smacked him with another pillow. "Thanks."

Adam and Dulcea seemed to share a silent exchange as they smiled good-naturedly at each other. Then Adam shrugged and Dulcea gave her attention back to Jason, "Would you like to join us for our morning workout? Adam has spoken highly of your skills."

'Spoken highly of my skills!? He creamed me last time!' He gave a small sigh and smiled, "Well, let's see if I live up to your expectations."

They worked out together until the break for breakfast, when Adam went off to read some more, but promised Jason that he'd have some help for the Kim and Billy 'thing' soon. Jason had shrugged it off, but he secretly hoped that Adam would bring in results sooner, rather than later. Jason noticed that when Adam left, Dulcea became a little more reserved, but he kept to his matter-of-fact approach to her and she slowly relaxed a little. After lunch he'd teleported home for awhile and did a few things. 'I've got to get some new clothes.' Then he'd met back up with Dulcea and they went back to his dojo. Once there he called Rocky to ask him why he didn't call Adam last night.

"Doh! I'm sorry, sheesh, do you think Adam's still there?"

"Yeah, I," he stopped as Dulcea tapped him on the shoulder, "Wait a minute, Rocky."

He gave Dulcea a questioning look and she smiled, "Why should Adam have all the fun?"

Jason laughed. 'Give Adam a taste of his own medicine, eh?' "Actually, when you get the time, head on down here and we'll take you up there."

"We'll? And was that a GIRL I heard with you, Mr. Scott?" said Rocky with an exaggerated censorious tone. "Tssk, tssk. Whatever shall we do with you?"

"Oh, stuff it, or I'll start calling you 'monkey-boy' like Adam does."

"Bye," said Rocky quickly as he hung up, before Jason could go any further.

Jason turned back to Dulcea, "He'll be here as soon as he can. Want to see the place? I'll show you around before Rocky gets here."

He'd then shown Dulcea around, but Rocky still hadn't made it there by the time that Jason was done with the tour. They had discussed the martial arts for a while and Jason was enjoying himself immensely as Dulcea shared ideas with him. Eventually, they decided to try and put some of their theory into practice. So they had sparred a great deal as she taught him some of the ninjetti arts. After getting creamed for the umpteenth time, Jason finally conceded for the day, "You're worse than Adam!"

"Actually, I'm better," she said with a smile.

"Yeah, like getting thrashed by the next Master Warrior of Phaedos much better than letting you wipe the walls with me. Man, those were some good moves!" He trailed off as Dulcea frowned.

She studied him thoughtfully for a moment. "Adam will not be a master warrior."

'Oookaaay. What have I just stepped in now?' Jason hands Dulcea a towel, "What do you mean, he's good, heck, he's actually starting to vaguely hold his own with you."

"Adam is a talented warrior and soon he will be able to defeat me, but that is not the point."

Jason looked at her in confusion, "Maybe it's because I'm new to this, but I'm confused." She smiles sadly, "No, it is confusing. It takes more than skill to be a master warrior. Adam has chosen his path now and it is not the way of the ninjetti warrior."

'Now?' "I'm sorry, but I thought that's what ninjetti were?"

"Ninjetti are warriors, because there are always those who need champions against the dark, but not all ninjetti dedicate themselves to the fighting arts. One can be a master of anything, not just the martial. Only rarely is one able to become a master of multiple things. To put it this way, ninjetti go through phases and some proceed farther than others. You are an Apprentice, the first stage. Then is Ninjetti, which Rocky will soon be."

Jason noted that she didn't include Billy, Kim, or Adam as ninjetti. 'And what are they? And what does this have to do with anything right now?' "Yes, but how is it decided who's a master and who isn't?"

"That is up to the spirits."

"Not to sound rude or anything, but what does this have to do with Adam not being a master warrior? And where exactly do Billy, Kim, and Adam stand?"

"You are blunt," she smiled, "and that is not the same as rudeness, though some may confuse the two. As I have been accused of it in the past, I do not. As to yourself and the others, I do not know exactly where they stand now, but I know where they will be and that is why I know Adam will not be a master warrior."

'Me?' Thought Jason to himself. 'I'm also a part of this weirdness. Oh, joy.' Anything else she might have said was cut off by the sound of the back door being banged against the wall. Jason winced, "That's Rocky, he's going to tear that door off the hinges one of these days . . . "

Dulcea smiled, "Well, how do you want to do this?"

'Oops, Jason's going to chew me out for that again.' Rocky quickly inspected the door and the wall behind it before he closed it. 'He hates when I do that. I wonder what he did with Adam. I wonder who he's with. I wonder what he wants. I wonder when lunch'll be.' Rocky shrugged to himself as he walked into the main area of the dojo. He waved to Jason and paused slightly as he looked at the woman with him. 'She looks kinda familiar. Dulcea!?' "Dulcea!?" Rocky paused and tried to regather his wits. "Sorry, IkindathoughtthatyoulookedlikesomeoneelsethatIknewbefore, but it's not . . . , sorry," stammered Rocky.

Dulcea laughed, "And I'm happy to see you again as well, Rocky."

'Again?' "Uh, you're not . . . are you?"

She laughed once more, "Yes I am."

Rocky bounced over and gave her an enthusiastic hug and set her back down. "But, I thought you couldn't get off Phaedos? Why are you here? Does Jason 'know'? Is this what Adam wanted to see me about? Where is he by the way?"

Jason reached over and clamped his hand over Rocky's mouth, "Give him a moment," Jason chuckled, "I think he had a Jolt on the way over."

Rocky pried Jason's hand off, "Just one and no one's answered my question!"

"Oh, it is good to hear you again, young Ape," said Dulcea with a smile. "I had forgotten your enthusiasm. As for your questions, I have only recently left Phaedos. Yes, Jason 'knows.' Yes, this is part of what Adam wanted to see you about and I think Adam's still locked in his room reading."

Rocky digested that for a moment, "Cool." He bounced slightly, "Now what?"

"Now, we reintroduce you to an old friend." '''''''

'''* "Thunder
Don't scare me at all
Lightning
Well just a little
Pressure
It ain't worth a dime
And your wounds
They'll all heal in time
Cause it's a long... way to fall ."
-Blues Traveller, Stand.

Adam sat quietly reading the last book on shamanism, it had been helpful in a way, it had given him an idea of what questions to ask Frog. Frog had to run off for some, but he did come back with answers. He'd found out all sorts of things. 'Welcome to Spirit Animals 101. Simply put, every person has a spirit animal, but they don't have to know that. There is only one Wolf, Frog, or whatever, but everyone has a 'shadow,' at least, of their animal around them at all times. The 'shadow' represents the eye that the spirit is keeping on it's children. Basically, how much I can see of a spirit animal is a good representation of how powerful a connection they have. With us I see the full 3D-surround sound experience, with others it's just a vague impression. But, if I see someone with any sort of connection, then I can probably get a hold of the spirit. Neat. Now what am I going to do with this information, besides bug Blair about it?' Adam paused in his thoughts and put the book down as he heard a strange noise. As it was slowly rising in volume, Adam stood up and took one step towards the kitchen and at the next he was no longer in his house, but in a jungle looking up a familiar cliff side. 'What?'

Frog was on his shoulder once more, 'We knew this was to happen, this is why we had to leave Phaedos.' There was no humor in Frog's voice as he continued. 'The temple of the ninjetti will soon be no more.'

Adam winced as the noise began to rise to a painful level that made his palms itch. He looked up the cliff and watched the smoke that signified that something was wrong.

'Shit!' Frog hopped from Adam's shoulder and disappeared before he could question him.

'I wonder what's . . . ' Adam clapped his hands to his ears as the noise rose to a scream. It stopped an instant later and another roar brought him to his knees as it seemed to echo through the ground itself. His eyes closed for a moment. When he opened them, he was surprised to say the least. 'HOLY . . . ' He was looking at the ground, but not from the exact perspective he expected. 'I'm going to be sick.'

'Oh, none of that. You're fine.' The deep voice he had heard the night of the storm rumbled around him.

'Fine! Define 'fine!'' Adam blinked a few times and stared at the ground below . . . far, far below.

'Fine as in you're fine.' A rumbling chuckle surrounded him. 'Now, please calm down, I'm not going to drop you or anything. What would that accomplish?'

'Frog pate?'

Roaring laughter filled the air. 'You are amusing, Young Prince. I would enjoy a chat, but we have business to attend.'

'Business?' Adam gulped as he seemed to drop lower suddenly. 'You know, I think . . . ' He went silent as the clouds parted and he saw the ground below once more. A cold certainty filled him. 'That was the temple.' He spoke with a quiet finality as he looked at the smoking pits of jagged rock that now formed the top of the cliff.

'Yes. It is gone forever, a legend that shall now be forever hidden.'

'Why?'

'Which why? Why did this happen? Why are we here? Why was the universe created?'

He carefully debated that. 'Why did this happen in the first place? And why me?'

'A good question and a very good question, but we have no time for those answers.'

Adam rolled his eyes at the blatant obfuscation. 'Okay, why were the ninjetti destroyed?'

The voice sighed. 'An old battle that should have been ended, an oversight, that should have been seen.'

'Could you vague that up for me?'

'You are mildly annoying, do you know that?'

'I've been hanging around Frog too much.' Laughter once again filled the night and they swooped towards the ground. Adam panicked slightly. 'I could take that back!'

'Oh, be quiet. I want to show you something.' They seemed to glide down to a rocky out-cropping formed by the explosion. 'Look.'

Adam found his gaze drawn to one direction in particular and he saw a giant armored warrior of some sort striding through the debris. Behind him marched four more men of lesser stature, but their bearing said that they were important and dangerous. The final piece of the puzzle was the presence of four more of the creatures he had fought on Phaedos. 'He's got to be, like, eight feet tall. This is the guy behind Vadyvov?'

'Yes, he was also a part of the destruction of the ninjetti. An instrument of a quiet cunning that we did not see until a smoking ruin was left of the Masters. We thought it banished, but it had already carefully slipped through the cracks. Weakened, but not defeated.' The voice replied somberly to Adam's question.

The giant figure gestured as a bundle was brought up to him by more of things. 'What's that?' Adam received no response, so he waited to see what it was. 'GROSS!' Adam felt truly ill as he watched the giant open the bundle and pulled Vadyvov's remains out. The jungle had not been kind to him to put it mildly. He sat silently as the giant removed his helmet to reveal a face with a feline cast. An errant thought flitted through Adam's mind. 'Vincent's gone evil!' He shook his head and watched as the giant lifted Vadyvov's corpse as if to look into his eyes. Adam felt his skin crawl as an errant wind seemed to bring the smell of decayed flesh to him and something else. He had the distinct impression that he didn't want to know what was going to happen next, but he was rooted to the spot by the presence that had brought him here. Then the giant spoke, "Vadyvov, my loyal warrior, I have one more task for you. Answer me and I shall release you from your oath, do not . . . "

The threat seemed to hang heavily in the air and Adam was hoping that Vadyvov was very busy someplace else. No such luck. Vadyvov's voice seemed to whisper even though Adam could hear it from where he was. "One last task my lord. I know your question, it is the only one worth asking. Who were they?"

"Correct as always, my loyal one."

Vadyvov's corpse seemed to nod in the giant's hands. "So be it. Dulcea, Master Warrior of Phaedos, survived our attack. Only she." As he spoke Dulcea seemed to shimmer in the air, blood running down her shoulder as her staff seemed to warn the giant away. "The rest are new to us. The first was the Wolf. A warrior fierce, but wearer of the blue." Billy suddenly appeared his light staff flaring as he tore through a couple of the black things. "The Crane. I underestimated her, a fatal error. Pink." Beside them, Kim leapt gracefully from one branch to the next her bow at ready as she suddenly turned and fired at the giant. "The last I did not see, but he is of the Black." The giant nodded and opened his mouth to speak, but Vadyvov spoke once more, "I did spy one last thing, a puzzle for you perhaps."

Beside them appeared three small frog-like individuals. Adam felt himself grow cold as he saw the Cro'ack'croan warriors. Vadyvov's final little bit of revenge could cost them dearly. He shuddered as the giant laughed coldly. "Ah, so that is the way of it? It will not go unpunished," the giant studied Vadyvov and nodded, "you have done well. Your oath is absolved." Vadyvov's corpse went limp and the giant carefully laid it in the bundle and rewrapped it. He gestured to his men, "Burn it and scatter the ashes."

Adam watched as the giant turned away and one of the men raised a weapon and incinerated Vadyvov's remains. As they turned and left the smoldering waste, Adam spoke out to the voice once more. 'What the hell just happened?'

'Something that never should have.' Rumbled the voice quietly. 'Now I must return you to Frog.'

Suddenly Adam was lifted once more. 'Um, how about we walk this time? I think Frogs are meant to hop high, not fly.' The voice chuckled slightly but did not respond. 'Who are you?'

The ground seemed to rush up to meet him, but he touched down gently. 'I hope that you will never need to know.' The presence began to fade. 'You are correct, Frogs are meant to hop high, but they must also remember to look where they leap. We will speak again.' The voice spoke as no more than a fading whisper on wind. 'It is not ours to rebuild or remake, but yours to create.'

"That sounds suspiciously like a prophecy and I think I hate prophecies," grumbled Adam. '''''''

'''* "I want the hummingbirds, the dancing bears
Sweetest dreams of you
Look into the stars
Look into the moon."
-REM, The Great Beyond.

"What does?" asked Dulcea quietly.

Adam blinked as suddenly as he had left he was back in his room, but now so were all the others, including Rocky. 'Nice to see him in red again.' "Um, nothing really," stammered Adam as he began to feel very uncomfortable under everyone's combined scrutiny. They waited patiently and Adam cracked. "Okay, Frog had to show me something, something important." 'And so did someone else, but that's neither here nor there.' Then something else dawned on him. "Why are you in my room?"

Dulcea spoke up once more, "There was a disturbance."

"You felt it?"

"How could we not?," said Kim irritably, "One minute I'm talking to Billy, the next Crane screams and Billy's a veggie."

Billy sighed, "I was not a 'veggie,' I was distracted by Wolf howling, that is all."

Kim's look said she didn't believe that and Rocky jumped in, "Yeah, I was playing around with Jason and Dulcea when, whammo! Ape starts roaring and I nearly have a heart-attack." Rocky paused for a moment, "Did you guys hear it too? You reacted?"

Jason and Dulcea shook their heads and Jason spoke for them both, "I might be out of line, but I heard the Lioness and I'll bet that Dulcea heard Owl, right?" Dulcea nods and Jason looked back to Adam, "What happened?"

Adam stared at the floor for a minute and gathered his thoughts, "The Ninjetti temple, it was, it was . . . destroyed."

Dulcea looked shocked and it unsettled everyone else in the room. "It cannot be," she said disbelieving.

Adam put a steadying hand on her shoulder. 'Her life for the past FIFTY-THOUSAND YEARS is gone.' "I'm sorry, but . . . it is not ours to rebuild or remake, but yours to create. That sounds prophetic doesn't it." Adam trailed off and noticed something that was missing from the room. "Where are they?"

"Who?" asked Kim carefully.

Adam looked embarrassed, "Did I say that out loud, just ignore me."

Adam quickly bolted out the door leaving the others behind. Jason shook his head sadly and watched Adam's retreating form, "We can't afford to do that anymore."

Adam walked back in about an hour later and ignored everyone as he went into his room and locked the door. He sat down on his bed and tried to figure out what to do next. 'Well, Adam, you've just spied on pretty much every spirit animal in the world. What are you going to do now?' He sighed, he had left earlier and just went after Frog with no real idea of where or what he was doing. Adam knew he went somewhere, but the 'where' was in doubt. The first look at the group of spirit animals had given him a headache. It was just impossible, all these animals were there, some were in forests, jungles, or water, but it all seemed to happen at once. 'Overlapping, but everything was on top.' Adam groaned and closed his eyes. 'Much better.' He sat straining to listen for an indeterminate amount of time and eventually he was able to hear some the conversation out of the cacophony of sound. First he picked out the familiar voice of Frog, " . . . it is, how the hell could that be?"

Another voice he didn't recognize spoke up in a growl, "Maybe someone helped it?"

Many voices rose in dissent, but they were drowned out by a hysterical laughter that made Adam shudder. "And who would be crazy enough to do that?"

More yelling and more laughter, but it was finally silenced. A female voice spoke softly, "Now is not the time to point fingers, it is the time to review the facts, then we may decide a course of action."

An arrogant voice demanded, "Well, what do we know? Frog?" The last word was said with a sneer that made Adam want to deck whomever was talking.

"A petty dictator named Kalieth has orchestrated the destruction of the ninjetti temple. It also seems that he employed Vadyvov in the original destruction of the ninjetti. He is 'protected' by something, not even Leopard could say what, only that it was evil. Whale, do you know anymore?"

A musical singsong voice seemed to sing, "I know only the facts, I am the keeper of records, not of secrets." An expectant silence followed Whale's comment. He sang once more, "I have already given them all the information that they need. It is . . . "

"May I see your hall pass?"

Adam jumped and spun as a voice spoke from right beside him. He turned to look right into the eyes of a large coyote. "Hall pass?"

The coyote sat beside him and looked past him to the spirit animal council. "Do you think They'd be really happy to see you here? Think of what it would do to their image?" The coyote chuckled, "Well, I am Coyote and you, young prince, have strayed far from the beaten path." Adam sat back unsure of where this was going. "Don't you wonder why they haven't noticed you?" Adam nodded, the thought had crossed his mind. "I brought you here." He sighed and looked at Adam seriously, "Sometimes a new perspective is needed. What do you think of this one?"

Adam blinked as he was suddenly in a desert sitting on an outcropping, he could even feel the residual heat of 'day' from the rock beneath him. 'Good thing, it damn cold here.' He thought absently as he stared into the starry sky.

Coyote laughed and cocked his head to listen once more to the council. "I'll bet it was surprising to hear them yelling at each other."

"Yeah, I mean the Spirits that hang around with us seem to get along fine."

"No real personality conflicts in that group. In this one . . . the annoying fellow is Lion, by the way."

"Lion?"

"Yup, and there's a neat story about why Lion is such a prat." He paused as the hysterical laughter bubbled up from the council. "And it is the same story as why Hyena no longer laughs in joy, but in madness." Adam gave Coyote his full attention. "Frog told us that he would tell you part of what happened before. Simply put there was a war and we fought the great Evil that had come among us. Some of our children fell underneath the endless night of Evil and we tried frantically to save them. But we learned a harsh lesson, that this Evil could not only harm our children, but our very beings. Did you know that Bat once could see well?" Adam shook his head, "Oh, yes, nothing exceptional, but far more than now. He was sadly marked by the darkness, only a few were of we Middle Children. Now, you wonder why I tell you this?" Adam nodded once more. "We are not infallible and it is good to remember that. We are more than you, but as we are a part of you, you are part of us. We are idealized conceptualizations of our little children, not copies, and who we are depends on them. Look at me, I am thin and I bear the scars of the old battle, yet others suffered worse injuries but bear no mark." Coyote seemed to regard himself for a moment, "One last story. Now, that I have pointed it out, you wonder why I am this way? My children fell under the darkness and some ran, but others waited. One day Raven, whose wings were white then, came to me with a plan, whilst our Eldest Brothers would strike at the frontlines, we would use stealth and guile to free the worlds behind. My children volunteered to help even though we knew the cost would be high. So we launched our plan and pushed back the darkness." Coyote paused, "And I lost most of my children, now those I have wander as I do. You never know where we'll end up, what we'll turn up, or what we'll see. I fought the Evil, not just metaphorically by having my children help, but in spirit as well. That is part of why I am still scarred, I am thin because I will not cheapen my childrens' sacrifice by just starting over." Coyote raised his head to the sky and studied the stars, "We also learned a lesson, a reason why such sacrifice was necessary. We learned that in the dark, we were . . . mortal, that our existence could be diminished and destroyed irrevocably. Some were permanently crippled, what do you call him? Oh, yes Dodo, he lost many of his children and his injuries weakened him, now he can longer keep his children thriving and on every new world they slowly die away. Eventually, there will be no more children of Dodo born anywhere and he will fade away." Coyote slumped down beside Adam, "Now, I see that I have depressed you, so I will tell you the tale I promised. It is a lesson and there is sadness in it, but that is what makes it true. But I digress, as the Battle was finally ending Hyena's children began to fall to the Evil and he called for help. Lion had never been on good terms with Hyena, but they were Brothers in the same family. Lion was torn over whether his 'pride' included Hyena. In the end he decided that only his children were his 'pride' and an unimaginable thing happened, Lion's power was split. Not by a territorial or species difference, but into Lion and Lioness. Lioness held that all of her Brothers and Sisters were of the 'pride' in this battle. She then rallied those of her children who would follow and tried to help Hyena, but Lion's indecision had cost dearly. Many of Hyena's children were dead or driven mad by . . . the Evil and Hyena now shared that trait, now she is mostly sane, but at times . . . Now, you see Lion is always reminded of his folly, as are we, by the presence of Lioness who is far more respected on the council than he. He blusters to cover his shame, but it only highlights his shortcomings more."

Coyote fell silent and seemed to contemplate the desert night. Adam finally got up the nerve to speak to the rambling spirit. "I have a question, it's one I've always wondered about." Coyote gave Adam his full attention. "What was the Evil?"

Coyote regarded him intently, "I spoke of Raven as my ally for our great trick, well, Raven was marked, wings once white as snow were black as the night he had hidden in as he saw the terrible truth of the matter, but he had the honor of heralding in the light to those who had given up hope. The Evil was terrible, but in truth . . . the truth . . . " Coyote shook his head, "That answer is not mine to give you." Then Coyote suddenly laughed, "Well, I hope I have confused you with my tales, may their unwinding grant you the answers you seek. Now you must return whence you came."

Before he could replay Adam found himself back outside of the lodge. Coyote's conversation had drowned out the council and left him with more questions. But one was nagging him the most at the moment was: what did Whale mean?

'We have all the information we need? Who's Kalieth? Why is he so pissed at the ninjetti?' Adam slumped back on the bed. 'What information do we have? Dulcea might know, but she didn't know who destroyed the ninjetti in the first place so that's a bust.' Adam sighed and began to pick up the book Blair had given him on shamanism. Then it dawned on him. 'Whale said he gave us the answers!' Adam quickly dug underneath his bed and pulled out his duffle bag. A minute later he looked at the book Cestro had given him to read when he was sick. 'Could it be this simple?' Adam flipped through the pages and paused at the first picture. 'Yup, it could.' He stared at a portrait of a King Ral, who very much resembled Kalieth. He started reading the History of Erath Kor.

"The founding history of the Korian Empire is shrouded in myth. The only known fact is that through exceptional foresight and luck the Korian people built a system spanning empire twenty thousand years ago. Acts of seeming random conquest and peaceful alliance forged the greatest government of our time. But before we deal with the hard fact of the last three thousand years, it is helpful to understand the legends the Korians' believe they spring from."

'Yeah, yeah, whatever.' He skimmed through the authors long-winded reasons for including a brief 'mythical' history. He paused a few pages later at an illustration of the Korian Royal Crest. He back-tracked a little until he found the start of the section.

"Erath was the protector and mother to the Kor as they rose from primitive tribes into petty baronies. At this time, Erath herself came down to a warrior named Ral. She guided him and under her tutelage he learned the gift of foresight. With this gift and her wisdom he unified Kor under his leadership. In fact, an image of Erath is still the symbol of the Korian Empire to this day."

'AKA, the Sphinx.'

"The Korians flourished, but for some reason Erath was called away from her children never to return. They mourned her and the gift of foresight began slowly fade as the generations past, only to be attributed a revered religious order.*"

' '*' What the hell does '*' mean?' He sighed and flipped around through the book until he found a section, in the middle of the book, labeled 'Notes.' 'Okay, that was a waste.'

"*Note: Korian custom still dictates that the naming of a new child must be done after a 'foretelling' is done by an Erathian seer. Such foretellings will have a great impact on not only the life of the child, but of the family as well as they seek to avoid or lessen a dark fate."

'Well, the leaving of Sphinx probably coincided with the War. So, how did they go from there to here?' He skimmed until it talked about Sphinx again, but it just led into another legend. 'The Arsenal?'

"After Erath had left her people to fend for themselves the next major legend of the Korian Empire begins. As the empire expanded under the tactical genius of Ral's great-grandson, Kalien, they fought an 'evil' empire.* In the end this empire unleashed a great weapon of darkness that not only threw back the Korian forces, but decimated the planet before it was finally brought back under control. Kalien, with a few of his men, stole the weapon and locked it away, never to be used again.' These events are the center of the Kalien Cycle, by the great bard Al'ain."

'And who would of thought, you would have to put the whole thing in here . . . ' He sighed and skimmed through the story. Finally at nearly the end of the story, he finds a one sentence description of the weapon, supposedly spoken by Kalien. "Breaker of worlds, bringer of night,
Tool of making, now a blight,
Anvil is broken under your might,
And forever shall you be hid from sight."

'Yeah, I bet he really said that. So, it's a hammer of some sort.' It wasn't what he needed, but it sounded interesting, and since Arsenal implied more than one he read on. Finally, after much searching he found a brief summary of the legend. 'Why couldn't have put this in front? Long-winded git.'

"As time passed, five of these evil weapons were discovered and locked away by the Emperors of Kor. In time the exact attributes had faded, but their names were immortalized. The weapon Kalien captured was the war hammer named Ruin for it's destructive attributes. The next, captured by Kalien's son, Rakath, was the axe named Rage. The next two are mentioned, but no mention is given to whom obtained them. They were a sword named Bane and a staff named Channel. Yet, it is the last that is the most infamous in Korian history. It is also the only weapon with no record of its appearance and the only one that did not stay long in the vaults of the kings. Its true name was unknown, but the epitaph 'Traitor' was given it for it's part in the usurpation of the throne by Azao Kinslayer. This has the distinction of being the only 'successful' revolt in Korian history. Unfortunately for Kinslayer, the evil weapon betrayed him and vanished, without its power he was deposed and executed within a week."

'Oh, a happy story.' He dug up the last two notes. 'Okay, what useless tidbit have you enticed me with this time?'

"*Note: Sources are still unsure if this represents a decadent empire or the true evil tyrant type of today."

'I.e. psycho of the week or Rita. 'True evil tyrant type of today?!' Where did this guy come up with this stuff? Next note.'

"'Note: In fact, it is part of the oath of Korian Emperor's to swear to guard and never use these weapons. As they have not been seen in almost twenty thousand years it is impossible to authenticate their existence."

'Yeah, and I'm a ninjetti which is a big myth that wasn't seen in the last fifty thousand years, so . . . that . . . ' He shrugged and skimmed through the rest of the book looking for any more references to Sphinx, but didn't find anything else that caught his eye. Adam stood up and went to find Dulcea, he didn't have to look far as she was still sitting out in the living room with everyone else. As he walked up everyone began to stare at him. 'What!?' He took a calming breath and decided to act like everything was normal and he wasn't turning a bright red. "Hey, Dulcea, do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?"

"What would you like to know?"

"Have you heard of a place called 'Erath Kor?'"

She thought about it and nodded, "Yes, it was an important topic when I first became a ninjetti apprentice." She smiled at some old memories of those days, but quickly drew herself back to issue at hand. "Erath Kor was the seat of the Korian Empire. It is not known why, but after the birth of Prince Kalieth . . . " She paused as Adam started slightly, but he gestured her to go on. "After the birth, the Emperor cut all ties with the ninjetti and banished us on the pain of death from the empire. It is not known what caused this drastic turn around, the Emperor had been a good friend to the ninjetti for many years previous. This banishment would have dire consequences." She sighed, "Around the time I joined the ranks of the ninjetti, the Korian situation deteriorated. A new enemy called the Vrrdk attacked the Korian empire for no strategic reason we could discern. The Korians were powerful, but they were not meant to battle this evil. The Vrrdk were evil, the kind of evil that we ninjetti had battled for ages, the kind that only we could fight effectively. Yet the Emperor ignored our offers of assistance, even as his empire was slowly chipped away, he refused our help. We did not stand idly by, ninjetti worked in secret to help the Korians and many of our number died, not just in battle with the Vrrdk, but by the Korians as well. The Vrrdk war effort finally was stalled at Erath Kor itself and the Vrrdk were defeated with the secret help of the ninjetti. The Vrrdk's final move was one that no one expected, they closed all communications and crashed their fleet into Erath Kor killing most of the planet and rendering it unfit for life. It was the death knell of the Korian Empire and many of it worlds were decimated or so badly damaged that they would not be able to support life for much longer. We tried to help, but many of the Korians believed that we should have done something." She sighed sadly, "They needed something to blame, but there was no enemy left, no government to blame . . . " She trailed off, "It is not a happy story."

Adam shrugged and answered thoughtfully, "I suppose it is a lesson and there is sadness in it, but that is what makes it true." The everyone stared at him once more and he shrugged, "Sorry, someone told me that today." He looked around the room. 'They're still not back, how long is that council going to take? It's not like they were getting much done.' Adam suddenly smiled as an idea formed, "Hey, Billy, do you have a way to get in contact with Cestro?"

"Not here, but I could go get it."

"Neat, why don't you do that." Adam giggled. 'I can't wait till they get back and see this.' Billy was still watching him curiously. "What are you waiting for?" Billy teleported away and Adam began to bounce happily in place. "What?"

Rocky spoke first, "Did you get into my Jolt?"

"Nah, you know that stuff puts me to sleep." Billy popped back in with his gizmo du-jour and Adam rubbed his hands together in something close to glee. "Well, let's call up Cestro, we have a ninjetti council to commence!"

Blank stares met Adam's announcement and Dulcea spoke up, "A council? Now? This is highly unusual."

Dulcea blinked as she thought about how inane that statement was and Adam just smiled happily back. "Weelll, that was productive, what say we get this show on the road. Billy, if you'd do the honors . . . "

Billy rolled his eyes and punched a few buttons on the communicator. "Billy to Cestro. Can you hear us clearly?"

"Affirmative, I am already on my way back to Earth. Something disturbing happened two point three of your hours ago."

Adam spoke up, "Yeah, that's part of what this is about. Did you run that errand I asked?"

"Affirmative," Cestro paused, "He is intrigued as I have told him nothing of our purpose."

Adam ignored everyone's stares once more. 'Man, this is getting to be old hat.' "Well, this is it our first official council of the ninjetti." Adam giggled as he heard a slight gasp from the communicator, "Yup, that's us, the ninjetti. Sounds all spiffy doesn't it?" Adam took a deep breath and calmed down, "I'm sorry, it's just that tonight has been so weird and honestly, most of what I have to talk about isn't that great. You know I've been sorta keeping stuff from you and I wasn't happy with it, but now . . . " He shrugged, "Why not? Let's start with the 'disturbance' or should we start at the beginning?" Adam didn't wait for an answer as he continued, "Let's do the disturbance first. Cestro, that was the destruction of the ninjetti temple you felt. I can tell you that every spirit animal felt it and not just ours. Right now, as we do this they are in a council, but I hope ours goes a little better." Adam began to pace. "Now the next question is probably who, and the answer is a warlord of some sort named Kalieth, whom I think is probably the same one from Dulcea's little history lesson. For those of you who missed that, Kalieth was the heir to the Korian Empire, but it was destroyed by an alien race. Kalieth's father, the Emperor, had banned the ninjetti from the Empire not long after Kalieth was born. So, after the Korians fell, I think Kalieth decided to take matters into his own hands and destroy the ninjetti for some weird revenge thing. He met up with a ninjetti of less than sterling character named Vadyvov and Vadyvov planted a bomb in the ninjetti council hall, killing all of the ninjetti masters except one." He points at Dulcea, "This is Dulcea, Master Warrior of Phaedos, and for a long time, last Master of the Ninjetti."

When Adam paused for the introduction to whomever was with Cestro, Billy spoke up. "How do you know all of this?"

"Well, Frog kinda dragged me off to Phaedos to watch the festivities. Then the annoying little spirit says 'Shit!' and leaves me stranded wondering what the heck is going on. But I managed to get a look at the guy, man, he's big! Think Vincent on Beauty and the Beast and you've got a good idea of what he looks like." He thumbs through the history book to the picture of Ral. "A lot like this for those of you who don't do earth television trivia. He knows who we are, vaguely, but he doesn't know we've increased our numbers. And to give everyone a warm happy feeling, he's working some dark mojo that has the spirit council throwing fits. That's a bad sign I think, well, I came back in a funk and noticed that all of our spirit animals were gone. So, I tried to find Frog and suddenly I was in the middle of nowhere watching, okay, looking made my head hurt, listening to the spirit animals and trying to make sense of the mess. That's how I know what the bad guy's name is and Whale said he'd already given us all the information we'd need, so . . . " He waved the book slightly, "Then . . . " 'Coyote asked to see my hall pass? Not gonna do it.' "Then Coyote came over and talked to me, told me some stories about . . . well, I should have started at the beginning, well, hindsight's twenty-twenty."

"The beginning?" asked Kimberly.

"The beginning of the ninjetti and not which ninjetti came from where or who they worked for, I mean why there are ninjetti in the first place." Adam had been speaking fast before to prevent interruption, but now he had their full attention. "Well, in the beginning," Adam paused as Rocky chuckled, "In the beginning, there were lots of spirits. In fact, I think it started with the, I don't know, mythical spirits, like Dragon, Wyvern, Unicorn, and all of those. Now, eventually, our familiar spirits popped up and everyone was happy. Sometime before the founding of the ninjetti, a great Evil, and I mean with a capital 'E,' showed up and a great war ensued. It was bad, the spirits couldn't decide on a unified course of action and they suffered losses. Some lost their children, some were changed, some were actually injured, and some were destroyed. But in the end our side won. How or what that means, I don't know, but too much had happened. As the mythical spirits had pretty much been in the frontlines, they'd suffered the heaviest casualties and they decided to leave the regular spirits in charge. It's a very touchy subject for Frog and I think that views probably shared, these guys were like older brothers and sisters to our spirits. Well, it was figured out in the end that if they'd worked together as a group and not each just doing his own thing, they might have done better and this loss would have been averted. They held a council and decided that there would be champions for them and they'd work together each balancing out the other. What we like to call ninjetti." Adam drew to a close, it was a brief summary, but that left him lots of room to easily avoid anything that the others might notice. "I guess, it's time to open up the floor."

Everyone looked to one another for a few moments and Billy finally spoke up, "It might be helpful if we knew why the Korians broke from the ninjetti."

Adam shrugged, "I don't know, Kalieth was born . . . Cestro, remind me thank Whale!" Adam flipped through the book once more, "Here it is, 'Korian custom still dictates that the naming of a new child must be done after a 'foretelling' is done by an Erathian seer. Such foretellings will have a great impact on not only the life of the child, but of the family as well as they seek to avoid or lessen a dark fate.' Yeouch, I guess they dropped the ball on that one. So maybe when this ritual was done, Kalieth's future was tied to the ninjetti in a bad way and Daddy tried to keep the two from clashing. I'm betting that instead of avoiding he walked right into it."

Billy nodded, "That sounds reasonable. Who is with Cestro?"

Adam grinned, "I thought we needed to diversify the ranks . . . yeah, that's the ticket. Actually, I was talking to Cestro and it just popped into my head." He leaned down by the communications device, "Well, was it worth the mystery, Trey?"

"It most decidedly was."

"Well, Cestro can fill you in now on the details and when you get to Earth . . . well, if you want to be a ninjetti, the offer's open."

"I know enough of the ninjetti and you, Adam. I will be glad for the knowledge, but I shall accept your offer now."

Adam smiled hugely, "Great! Then we'll party!" Adam snickered as everyone looked at him in confusion. 'Hit em' hard, and leave them reeling.' He blinked as some missing individuals reappeared in the room. He looked down at Frog, "Hey, did you have fun at your little council? We were just discussing the whole Kalieth thing, coulda used your input." He turned back to the ninjetti, "Well, this has been fun." He tossed the history book to Billy, "I've got to be somewhere tomorrow, g'night. Oh, and Rocky, it's good to have you back." Adam started whistling as he walked back into his room. 'Works on spirit animals too.'

The ninjetti and their respective spirit animals just stared silently as he closed the door behind him. The ninjetti began to speak amongst themselves about Adam's impromptu 'council.' The spirit animals listened carefully and carefully nudged their charges to explain what they'd missed. Wolf turned to Frog. 'What exactly has your boy been up to?'

Frog shrugged. 'Can't leave him alone for minute. Can I?'

'Is he always like that?' Asked Ape curiously.

'Unfortunately.' Groused Crane.

'I always thought he was a bit too uptight, nice to see he's mellowed.' Decided Ape.

Crane groaned. 'You would.'

Owl chuckled softly. 'It is good that he accepts his place, but the question we should ask is why? Why now, when he has fought it so hard?'

'Not all knowing is open to us.' Sang Whale. 'But the asking is.'

'Right.' Frog hopped after his charge and vanished through the door.

Mountain Lioness watched him go. 'Perhaps, I am being paranoid, but we are being summoned together for a Purpose. I would not speak of it in council, not this night, for the panic it would cause, but I fear the War shall come again and Frog, and his Prince, are in the center of it.'

Wolf nodded. 'I agree.' He paused thoughtfully. 'I suspect Frog is, but I know that the Young Prince is getting help.'

'I know.' Said Crane quietly.

Wolf gave her a surprised glance. 'Do you?'

Crane gave him a cross look. 'Yes, I know that Frog's little Prince may well be a king. But did you think of what that might mean?'

Silence reigned and finally Owl spoke quietly. 'I will not ask you specifics, but I hope that you are wrong, Crane. It cannot happen again.'

Ape growled. 'IT WILL NOT,' he said forcefully and the others echoed him.

'Then we must be vigilant and hope that we will be enough.' Said Lioness firmly.

Adam sat on his bed and waited. 'Five, four, three, two, one . . . ' He smiled as Frog hopped through his door. 'What the Hell was that about?'

"I think a little bit was revenge for the 'Shit!' and disappearing trick you pulled on Phaedos." Adam shook his head, "You nearly gave me a freaking heart attack!"

Frog winced. 'Sorry, it was a real shock to finally see the schmoe behind this. And the stealing of Vadyvov's body . . . leaving it out to rot wasn't the best idea in hindsight.' He sighed. 'I had to tell the others, especially with the disturbance the temple's destruction would cause.'

Adam sighed, he wasn't really mad, just annoyed and he let it fade. "Okay, but could you give me more warning?"

'Sure, I'll try and leave a note.' Chuckled Frog.

"Thanks," replied Adam sarcastically.

Frog grew serious once more. 'How did you find out about Kalieth?'

"I saw him when I was on Phaedos . . . and Vadyvov."

'Vadyvov's corpse you mean?'

"Yes and no, Vadyvov answered Kalieth's questions and then Kalieth destroyed his remains. Kalieth knows who was on Phaedos, but we have an ace in the hole. We have Jason, Cestro, Rocky, and Trey. We have the Lioness, Whale, Ape, and soon, Hawk. And Kalieth does not know who I am, Vadyvov only saw me from behind. I came back here and you were gone, I tried to follow you."

'Sorry, I was at . . . wait a minute, how did you know I was at council?'

Adam grinned, "Coyote gave me a hall pass. That's where I heard the name, Kalieth, and when Whale said that he'd given us the answers, it stuck in my head. When I got back here I figured out what he meant and from that and a little history lesson with Dulcea, we pieced together a rough history of Kalieth. Did you get it from them?" He looked towards the door and Frog nodded. "Kalieth wants us dead and gone. I think the destruction of the temple was more to tie up a couple loose ends and get our attention than any greater purpose. He's going to try and draw us out." He paused and something made sense, "But, I think that we need to be careful," Adam was suddenly queasy, "Frog you have to be careful. How did you know about Kalieth as a 'petty warlord?'"

'When Phaedos became home to the Great Power, some of my children went to the more nomadic old ways and stayed. A greater portion left to build elsewhere and eventually their world fell under Kalieth's rulership. He isn't all that bad, just seems to be happy saying this planet is his. When I split you the first time, they and a few other worlds decided to rebel and I was pulled there.'

"Pulled there?" 'Why does that give me a bad feeling?'

Frog nodded. 'If enough of my children need me in one place I must go.'

Adam thought about that for a minute or two, but he couldn't figure out why it bothered him. 'Just jealous, I guess.' "Kalieth knows about them."

'WHAT!'

"Vadyvov told Kalieth."

Frog contemplated that for a moment. 'I need to go check some things out, okay?'

"Be careful."

'Always.' Frog vanished from Adam's sight. '

* * *
"He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect
He doesn't play for the money he wins
He doesn't play for respect
He deals the cards to find the answer
The sacred geometry of chance
The hidden law of a probable outcome
The numbers lead a dance

I know that the spades are swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart"
-Sting, Shape of My Heart

Adam didn't sleep much that night and a few hours later he gave up the attempt. He knew part of it was the temple, the councils, Vadyvov, Kalieth, and the voice, but there was something else now, he just couldn't put his finger on. It was like he was doing a jigsaw puzzle, but all the pieces started face down and they only flipped over when they wanted to. Whatever picture was unfolding wasn't pretty, he was sure of that. He'd finished his morning exercise and had breakfast, now he was just sitting on the porch waiting for someone to wake up. Yesterday, it had seemed like they would have all the time they needed, but now it felt like time was short. Something was building, he knew it as certainly as he knew the sun would rise. He sighed and stared into the sky as he waited for the sun to rise.

He was still sitting there when Dulcea came outside looking for him. She sat down beside him, "You have awakened early this morning."

Adam shrugged, "Couldn't sleep." 'I'm waiting for something. Don't know what, but I have to wait.'

Dulcea studied Adam carefully, he was tired and she could see it in his eyes. She gave in to her whim and put a careful arm around him. She smiled slightly as he perked up a little and looked at her. "Last night was very momentous," she said in a mildly questioning tone.

He shrugged slightly and tried unsuccessfully not to blush. "Yeah, it was a lot." Dulcea waited patiently as he struggled for words. "I just reached the limit of what I could deal with, too much has happened for it to be chance. I guess, I just decided not to fight it anymore."

Dulcea smiled as Adam sighed slightly. "Sometimes that is all we can do."

"I wish it wasn't. I hate this, I hate everyone looking at me like I have all the answers. I'm just struggling to keep up with what's going on around me, it doesn't . . . okay, that sounds stupid. What's going on around me is what's making me special, isn't it?"

She took a moment to follow Adam's convoluted logic, "Yes, it is. I am not . . . ." She looked at Adam and knew that it was true. 'I told Jason that he had chosen his path, but I did not know how fast he would walk it.'

Owl whispered to Dulcea. 'Nor did I.'

Dulcea continued with barely a pause, " . . . a master of the ways of Spirit, so I can not tell you why, but you have been chosen. We all have, if you think about it. It was seeming chance that I was spared among all the Masters. Chance that Zordon found this place. Chance that you came to Phaedos and quested for the Great Power. Chance that you returned. Would you have chosen Cestro if he hadn't chanced to take you to Phaedos? Jason, if you had not searched for Rocky first?"

Adam nodded thoughtfully, "Chance." He thought about it carefully, "No, seeming chance. You are right, we are chosen and we are guided, but I have no idea of where we're supposed to go."

"You have gotten us this far." She looked uncertain for a moment, "Before you came back to Phaedos, I had . . . I had lost faith in my purpose, in the last words of the Masters. Fifty thousand years had finally bested me, where no other evil could succeed."

Adam gave her a shy hug. 'She looks so defeated.' He smiled as she looked at him sadly, "Hey, everyone has a bad day. I mean, sheesh, fifty thousand years stuck out in the middle of nowhere is enough to make anyone depressed." Dulcea opens her mouth to say something, but Adam continues, "No, don't say anything. It was just a bad day, so yes it took a little spiritual interference to drag you out of it, but they felt you were worth the effort. Heck, Owl, do you think that Dulcea was really out of line or that she deserted her duty or what have you?"

Owl laughed softly, but spoke in a serious tone. 'No, no one, not even I, am perfect. I was disheartened as well, so it is nothing to be ashamed of or feel guilty about.'

Adam gave her his best 'puppy dog' look and smiled, "See? Even she agrees," he giggled slightly. 'I can't believe I'm going to say this.' "So, turn that frown upside down and forget about it."

Dulcea stared at him for a moment silently mouthing what he just said, then she burst out laughing. "You are incorrigible!"

"I'm a Frog," he paused as she laughed harder, "which I think means the same thing!" They all sat on the porch laughing for a while, even Owl joined in.

'Thank you, Young Prince.' Whispered Owl to him.

He rolled his eyes at Owl and whispered back, "Welcome, but could you please stop calling me that?"

'Then, thank you, Adam.'

They had spent the rest of the morning talking, not even stopping to practice. Just sitting on the porch and watching the woods around them, but eventually Adam knew he had to leave. "I've got to go and meet someone today about the Billy thing." He reached into his back pocket and pulled out the disk Blair had given him, "Give this to Billy and tell him and Kim both to look at it. It should help." Dulcea accepted it from him and he continued, "Trey and Cestro should be back today. If I'm not back you can make Trey a ninjetti without me, then you have to start training them all." He hadn't wanted to break the light mood from earlier, but it couldn't be helped, "I think we're running on borrowed time, I've got to get this mess with Billy and Kim straightened out now."

Owl shuffled, but kept silent. Dulcea frowned, "Do you know what's going to happen?"

"No, all I know is that Frog is up to his eyes in it and so am I." He quickly stood and walked to the door, "Hey, maybe tonight, we could, um, have dinner," Adam bit his lip and began to turn a fierce crimson as he stood there nervously, "y'know, together?" He studied the planking of the porch carefully.

"But we have dinner together every night?" She knew it was wrong, but she couldn't help teasing him. She watched as he flamed an even brighter red and tried to stammer out something, she wasn't sure what, he had already gotten rather incoherent. 'How can I turn that down?' Asked Dulcea rhetorically, she walked over to Adam and tilted his face up and she smiled at him, "I accept." She smiled even wider as a goofy grin lit Adam's face and he turned and promptly walked into the door. She winced as he stood back up and smiled sheepishly at her, then he opened the door and walked through. She shook her head in amazement. 'He has not yet ceased to amaze me.'

Owl chuckled to herself. 'Nor I.* She said quietly to no one in particular. '''''''

''* "You're one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand."

-Nick Cave, Red Right Hand.

On a distant planet . . .

Kalieth was alone as he searched through the ruins. He had sent all of his fleet, except a small ship for him, to blockade those who had dared rebel. But he had an important mission to perform. 'They are powerful. you cannot defeat them without assistance.' So he had come to this barren ruin, the only living thing on this shattered landscape. A few lights on his protective suit blinked in cadence to his heartbeat as he upended piles of debris and the occasional brittle skeleton was crushed beneath his feet. 'Where is it? it is near.' He paused in his search unsure. 'Is it necessary?' He pondered the consequences. 'yes, it is, nothing that matters shall be harmed. they shall not scape you this day. Yes, I will finish it this time and I will make my revenge something they will never forget.' He grinned ferally as he pushed another pile to the side to expose a design cut into the floor. He ran his gloved figures over the carvings in the design and they glowed brightly for a moment, then faded. He reached down and pressed on a half moon carving that slid into the floor creating a handle for him to pull up. He opened the secret door and entered. 'Now, it begins' ''

* * *
Rocky was happy, no doubt about it, it was good to be back. 'I'm a ninjetti again, this is so cool.' He absently poked through Adam's cabinets trying to figure out what was what and where. He glanced back to the living room and looked curiously at Kim again and shook his head. For some reason she had came downstairs, still in her pajamas, and dragged a chair right in front of the door and sat down in it. He'd asked her about it, but she just smiled and told him that if he needed to go outside to use the back door. So he'd snuck around the house to try and figure out why Kim was acting so strange, all he'd seen was Dulcea and Adam talking on the front porch. 'Musta been some important ninjetti stuff.' He'd went back in and now he was trying to decide on the most important issue of the day--breakfast.

He made the pancakes first and set out the table with spaces for everyone. 'Now for the patented DeSantos wake up call.' He quickly turned on the coffee pot and started the bacon frying. 'Sheesh, record time.' Billy walked in bleary eyed and sat down at the table, he mumbled something and Rocky just nodded happily and put the first pieces of bacon on Billy's plate. Next came Jason and once she was sure no one was going to try and sneak past her, Kimberly. "Where are Dulcea and Adam?" asked Rocky.

Kim smiled slightly, "Busy."

'Oookaay.' Rocky shrugged and set to serving the others. Once that was done he quickly shoved some pancakes and bacon into some tupperware and set them on the stove. Kim laughed, "Man, you have gotten so . . . "

Billy interrupted, "DOMESTIC!"

Rocky just rolled his eyes as the others laughed, "Yeah, this coming from the man who can catch instant mashed potatoes on fire."

Billy blushed, "It was just an accident, could have happened to anyone."

"Uh huh, do you believe that Kim?"

Kim just laughed harder and Jason joined in, "Instant Mashed Potatoes!? How did you manage to do that?"

Billy just glared at them all and finished his breakfast. "Thank you for breakfast, Rocky."

He left the table and a few minutes later they could hear the sound of running water. Jason grinned, "I think that maybe we should hit the showers before Billy decides to use up all the hot water."

Rocky was cleaning up when Kim suddenly moved her chair from in front of the door. He glanced over curiously as he heard the scraping and a minute later Adam came through the door with the goofiest expression on his face that Rocky had ever seen. 'Well, maybe not since Tanya, but that would mean . . . ' He stood watching as a smiling Dulcea walked in the door and was quickly pounced on by Kim, who was obviously wanting details. ' . . . that Adam and Dulcea!?' He shook his head as the ninjetti master managed to deflect Kim. 'Wow, she's good.' Dulcea laughed and he heard her tell Kim that they'd talk later. Kim laughed as well and they both vanished upstairs into their rooms.

'That was neat, I think I've definitely got to bug Kim for the details. Things have gotten decidedly strange.' He listened to the shower a bit longer. 'Of course, there's not going to be enough hot water in this house to wet a washrag in about ten minutes, so . . . ' Rocky smiled and teleported out. 'Home, James.'

Adam was still feeling pretty good when he'd gotten ready to go see Blair. He'd teleported a little away from the college and walked on down to the office. 'I'm going to have dinner with Dulcea. I'm going to have dinner with Dulcea . . . ' As he walked towards Blair's office he'd noticed a big man sitting in the chairs outside the door. 'That guy's a fighter.' He absently thought as he took a nearby chair. He was mildly surprised when a black jaguar appeared beside the guy and walked over to him. 'Hello, ah, young one.' The jaguar actually rubbed up against Adam's legs, Adam sighed and nonchalantly leaned forward and rested his wrists on his knees so that his hands could dangle over the jaguar. A few light pets later the jaguar purred. 'So, you've come to get help for your sentinel?' Adam nodded. 'Good, look to your left.' He did and the large man was staring at him, though the man looked away as soon as he made eye contact with Adam. The man was over six feet tall with a broad build and a good bit of muscle and very straight posture. His hair had receded a little and had began to pepper with grey. It was cut into a very short haircut and his eyes were a brilliant blue. 'That's my sentinel.'

Adam forgot good manners and common sense as he stared at the man, "This is your sentinel!?" He looked around in complete embarrassment as it dawned on him that he said that out loud. He put his head in his hands, "I'm never going to live this down." He paused and whispered into his hands, "Oh, man, you heard that. I'm sorry, did anyone else hear? I'm not like a wacko or anything, I mean, I'm just trying to get help for Billy. Do you want to see a picture of Billy and Kim? Well, it's not just of Billy and Kim, but . . . " Adam sighed and dug into his wallet for an old picture of the group and pulled out the one of the ninja-era team. He handed it over to the man who stared at it blankly for a minute and grudgingly took it. "The guy in the blue is Billy and the girl in pink is Kim. Billy's started developing 'sentinel' senses and after reading . . . something, I figured out that Kim was his guide. Dr. Sandburg seems to be the only expert on this whole thing, so that's why I'm here. They need help and they needed it yesterday."

Before Adam could say anything more the office door opened and a student filed past them and Blair leaned out, "Hey, Adam, it's good to see you again. I didn't know if you'd make it back. Well, come on in."

Adam paused as his good manners won out, "It's good to see you too, but I can wait a little longer, this guy was here before I came, he's been waiting long enough."

Adam smiled to himself as the other two stared at each other for a moment and Blair motioned the big man in, "Come on in, Jim." Blair turned his attention back to Adam, "Well, you're next, got it?"

Adam nodded and the door closed. He waited patiently and he wished he could hear what was going on in Blair's office, but he'd supposed he'd find out soon enough.

"What the hell is going on?" growled Jim Ellison as he leaned forward over Blair's desk.

"Going on?" asked Blair with an innocent expression, "I thought I'd asked you to come take a look at this kid who told me that he needed my help, because his friend is a sentinel."

Ellison shook his head, "No. What I want to know is why my black jaguar was rubbing up against him like some overgrown housecat!? Why the kid leaned down and started scratching behind it's freaking ears and acting like he was having a conversation with it? And why he knew I was a sentinel!?"

"He did? Man, that is neat! I knew there had to be something up with him, I mean his views on totemic animals were a little out there, but really together. Then of course when he came in my wolf gave him the seal of approval."

Ellison cut him off quietly, "You mean that your spirit animal popped up for this guy and you neglected to tell me?"

Blair shuffled nervously under Ellison's gaze, "Well, I know how you hate all of that 'spiritual mumbo-jumbo' . . . "

"So you decided that I didn't need to know, so that I . . . " Jim stopped dead as the black jaguar growled at him and walked out through the office door.

Blair blinked as the wolf appeared beside him and seemed to roll his eyes before he walked out through the door. "Uh, Jim?"

Adam made himself comfortable as he waited for Blair to get done with 'Jim.' 'Well, at least I'm sure that he's the same guy in the paper.' He raised an eyebrow as the Jaguar and Wolf walked out of Blair's office. The Jaguar curled up contentedly at his feet and the Wolf snorted as he sat beside Adam. "Hi?"

Wolf looked at him for moment, 'Where's Frog?'

Adam looked around to make sure no one was really close and whispered, "I don't know, I haven't seen him since last night. Could you go check on him? I'm vaguely worried."

'Worried.' Wolf seemed to sit up straighter as Jaguar suddenly went from relaxed to totally at ready and spoke. 'While this is the first time we meet, you should not be worried for your mentor, unless . . . ' Jaguar let his words hang in the air as question for Adam.

"I've just got this bad feeling that time's running out." Adam paused knowing that Jim could hear him, "You know what this is about Wolf, so you can fill in Jaguar for me. Can you check?"

Wolf and Jaguar both nodded then Jaguar paused, 'Well, it seems that they've decided to at least take you out for lunch. I'll stay with you for my charge is much more suspicious, for good reason, of course, but I want to help so I'll keep playing 'big kitty.''

Wolf rolled his eyes. 'You make it sound like such a chore, we both know you just like being scratched behind the ears.'

Jaguar laughed. 'At least I'm smart enough to kick back every now and then, get someone to do it, and still look dignified at the same time.' Jaguar chuckled. 'You just sit there and look dignified all the time, because if you let anyone scratch behind your ear you'd start looking like a big puppy.'

Wolf gave him an annoyed growl. 'Puppy?'

Jaguar gave Adam a knowing look. 'Dog was a good idea, but he's still a little sensitive about the whole thing.'

Wolf snorted. 'At least I was useful, you just mooched a free ride.'

'And what's wrong with that?'

Adam snickered as the two bantered back and forth, but stopped as the door opened and Blair and Jim walked out. He watched as they both paused and looked directly to their respective spirit animals and then up at him. Jaguar then put his head on Adam's knee and Adam began to absently scratch behind his ear as the great cat began to purr. He managed not to grin as the big man's eyes widened slightly.

Blair finally looked away from his wolf and noticed that Jim was staring right at the kid. "Um, okay, Adam Park, this is my friend Jim Ellison. He came to invite me to lunch and I told him that I'd made plans to have lunch with you, so he decided to ask if you wouldn't mind having him along," Blair grinned slightly, "he said he'd pay."

By the look that Mr. Ellison shot Blair, Adam was pretty sure that Mr. Ellison had said no such thing. "Uh, sounds fine with me," Adam replied hesitantly.

He suddenly got a bad feeling when the big man grinned and the Jaguar began to chuckle. Ellison grinned, "Yeah, I'm buying and I'm picking the place."

Blair groaned and the Jaguar spoke. 'Wonder Burger.'

Adam decided that Blair had the right idea and groaned as well. 'I'm going to regret this, but if it helped Billy and Kim I'd eat a steak rare.' After another moment of thought. 'I think that might actually be safer.'

Adam stared at the burger before him and tried not to sigh. 'Mr. Ellison will hear it and I really don't want to make him feel too guilty.' Adam smiled inwardly. 'Blair's doing double duty.' He took another careful bite of his burger as the two bantered back and forth about the dietary value of a Wonderburger. 'Billy'd probably like it. I've never figured out he can eat like a little kid and still keep in such great shape, maybe it's a sentinel thing.' Adam did giggle after that and both Blair and Mr. Ellison turned to look at him. He smiled at them both, "Actually, I think I might be some sentinel thing, Billy's the same way." They both waited for some more explanation, "I mean, why they both seem attracted to more junk food than is healthy for human consumption and why they both are far healthier than they should be after living on such garbage. No offense, Mr. Ellison."

They were both silent as they digested the ramifications of that statement and Ellison grinned first, "So, you think that Wonderburgers could be perfectly normal choice for me?"

Blair answered first almost running over his words as he tried to avert a disaster, "That's just a theory, no proof, in fact Billy should be a control and keep eating his normal diet and I can compare the effects of a healthy diet on sentinel senses. So there's no reason . . . " He trailed off as Jim smiled and walked back up to the counter. Blair turned to Adam, "Do you know how long it took me to get him down to just a regular Wonderburger every two weeks?" He gave a long-suffering sigh, "Seven years. Seven long years of listening to him grouse about how 'it doesn't taste right' if it isn't swimming with grease." Blair looked back towards the counter where Jim was grinning hugely back, "Oh, don't think I'm letting you get back on that high-cholesterol-death-train of preservatives, grease, and stuff I don't even want to mention."

Jim walked back to the table and set his Super Wonderburger down and happily tore into it ignoring his guide's entreaties. Adam just snickered. 'He does sound a bit like Wolf, I wish Frog was here to see it.' He sobered and sighed. 'I just wish either one of them would get back.' He started slightly as Jaguar purred and rubbed up against him. 'Thanks.'

'Welcome.' Adam began to absently pet the insistent spirit guide and Jim nearly choked on his burger as the jaguar reappeared.

"Sheesh, Jim! I know it's been awhile, but I'm not going to throw it away, take your time. When I say that the stuff's going to kill you, I don't mean because you're going to choke on it," complained Blair.

Jim put his half-eaten burger down, it was good, but after a few years of not really indulging, his appetite had quickly faded. Not that he was going to let Blair know that. "Well, Adam, you've wanted to talk to Blair for a reason, so what about we finish up here and go someplace more private?"

Adam nodded and as he gladly threw his burger away, Blair turned to Jim, "What brought that on?"

"Oh, nothing in particular," replied Jim as he watched the Jaguar follow Adam away from the table.

Dulcea had happily taught Jason more of the ninjetti arts as they awaited the return of Cestro. They had talked and sparred not only with each other, but with Billy, Kim, and Rocky as well. In fact they had inadvertently discovered one of Rocky's special powers when he had sparred Jason and he accidentally knocked Jason halfway across the clearing. Fortunately, Jason was only bruised, but Dulcea quickly decreed that Rocky would only spar with her until she was convinced that he had more control. So as Rocky had sat and moped, Billy had tried to test Rocky's powers so that he would have some idea of what he could do.

So, in the end he had run about the area seeing exactly what he could actually lift. It was a lot. Billy had teleported away and returned with the 'most mobile large weight I could find on short notice,' his VW Bug, that had been affectionately nicknamed the Radbug in his youth. It had been repainted an indigo blue and some of the more eye turning extras had been replaced with much less conspicuous devices. Rocky didn't really know what the fuss was about when Kim had squealed happily and Jason had begun chuckling at the sight of Billy's car, but he had patiently waited to find out.

Kim had smiled and poked around it for a few minutes, "All leather interior, you know Trini would have a fit."

Billy shrugged, "It smells nice and feels good."

Jason had walked around it, "You've removed the stuff on the back, does it still have all the 'accessories' it used to?"

Billy grinned, "Oh, yeah and more. Remember, I did most of the original stuff with plain old earth tech and a little bit of ranger tech. This has all the extras, I've replaced almost everything . . . I just like the Bug though, so I kept that basic chasis concept." He began to walk around it as he happily expounded it's new features. He rapped on the door panel, "The basic framework is made out of the same stuff some of the flying Zords were, it's a lot lighter and stronger than anything we make on earth at this time. I could drive him through a Mack truck and maybe scratch the paint. It can also be easily pressurized and contained, so if I want to keep another atmosphere for like, Cestro, I can. The paint is chip resistant and radar resistant, it will also deflect a wide range of active scans. Plus, I love the color." He popped open the trunk and pointed to a thermos sized device, "Power source is a very tweaked version of what I installed in the Zeo bikes, but with some nice tricks I picked up on Aquitar. I really enjoyed the technical challenges of trying to pack everything into the VW chasis, very limited space, so I had to get the most for the least, yet make it 'easy' to replace with earth tech if anything happens and make it very durable, so I don't have to deal with that very often." He went around to the front and opened the storage area. He pulled out a very large blue cooler that took up almost every bit of space in the 'trunk' and pointed to a small device that took up the last quarter of available space, "This is the portable shield generator, it won't give much protection in a space battle, before you ask, but it will protect from high pressures, gravity, and makes sure that internal pressure is kept." He walked back to the trunk, "Those little tanks right there are a very efficient matter conversion system that turns CO2 back into Oxygen, so I don't have to waste space with regular tanks, the Aquitians' have been using a version of this tech for the last 800 years, so I'm going to say it's reliable." He opened the passenger door and popped the dash, "It has an onboard computer that is actually more advanced than Alpha 5, even a few star maps. I call him 'Alpha 5.5' and if anyone calls him the 'Lovebug,' I will kick their butt," even though he was out of uniform he summoned his power weapon and ignited it. The others got the point and wisely decided not to comment. He smiled even wider, "And yes, he can still fly. While it still has rear-wheel drive like a normal VW Bug and is road worthy in a regular sense, it also has a sweet anti-grav system." He gestured for Rocky who was standing with a glazed look on his face, "Wait a second, Rocky, let me set the brake." Billy reached into the car and hit a button. "Okay, Rocky, I want you to CAREFULLY lift up the back of the car." Rocky stared at him for a moment and Billy grinned, "That rock in the clearing was heavier than this car, you could probably lift it over your head, but it's a little unwieldy for that."

"If you're sure," said Rocky uncertainly.

"When am I not?"

Rocky shrugged and barely managed not to flip the car over, Billy just smiled smugly, "See I told you, you just needed to have it put into perspective. Now, while I have a view of the underbody, I'll finish my little tour." He tapped the tires, "These are way beyond steel-belted, no road hazard will even scratch them. They're made of an organic fiber compound quite similar to what our ranger uniforms were created from, its very light and strong. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to apply it to a tire. The tires can also be armored so that they're not just sitting out there when I'm not using them. As you can see, since I don't have to deal with many of the normal car requirements, I've redone the underbody. It's fully enclosed partially for protection and pressurization, but more so I don't have to worry about some VW enthusiast wondering 'what the hell' I've done to my car. The twin exhaust pipes actually enclose some of the navigational thrusters. You can put it down, Rocky." Rocky carefully set the rear end down with one hand and a slightly awed expression. "Oh, the windows are not only tinted, but they act as solar panels too. Storage battery is in the trunk, it's more for emergencies, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Best of all, I've put in a very special device," he went back to the front and pointed to the large cooler he'd removed, "basically, pull out the two six-packs of pop and the bag of Oreo's and it's a spatial distortion storage receptacle." After noting their blank looks, he added, "Think like Mary Poppin's bag or the TARDIS on Dr. Who, in fact that's what gave me the idea. Oh, it's bigger on the inside than it is on the outside, so I can cram all sorts of stuff into it. So what do you think?"

Jason thought about it for a minute, "It's much cooler than the old Radbug."

"Why didn't we take this when we went shopping?"

Adam had turned down a beer from Jim and accepted some tea from Blair, he wasn't a major tea drinker, but he knew that he was a real cheap drunk. 'It's now 'Jim.'' Mr. Ellison had practically ordered him to call him 'Jim' and Adam wasn't about to risk pissing him off. He had comfortably settled on the couch to wait for one of the others to begin. Jim had cut straight to the point, "You have a friend who's a sentinel?"

Adam nodded, "Yeah, I've been told that Billy's senses were starting to turn on recently, but he lives alone and has been unconsciously living his life so as not to aggravate them. Just recently when I reunited him with an old friend, they came fully back on-line. Kim has always been very protective of her friends, but suddenly she went into over-drive. When Billy neglected to tell her about 'zone-outs' or the fact that a trip to the mall gave him a headache to the point of fainting, well it wasn't pretty. They've both been arguing non-stop for the last three days. I had to call in one of their old friends and make him play peacemaker. It worked and everything is a lot more tolerable, but Billy and Kim need to get a handle on this, now."

Blair spoke up, "Where exactly do you come in? You're some sort of shaman, but you don't seem to have the same views as a traditional shaman."

Adam thought about it, "I don't know, if I didn't have a little more proof, like the fact that both of you and my friends have all occasionally reacted to them, I'd think I was nuts. I was suffering from a really bad case of the stomach flu, could barely keep water down and the occasional sip of soup. One night, I just woke up and could see 'spirit animals' and they seemed to want to talk to me about all sorts of things."

"Did you notice anything last night around 8:40?"

That surprised Adam, "You felt it? No, duh, if you're asking, you must have. That was the destruction of a place very sacred to many spirits, a very old place. It's kinda why I'm in a bit of a hurry to get you to help. More bad mojo on rise and Wolf wants Billy up to snuff."

Jim looked at Adam skeptically, even though his animal seemed to like the kid, it was still a bit hard to swallow. 'I hate this mystic BS.'

Blair leaned forward an interested look on his face, "His animal is the Wolf? Wow. What about Kim, or you?"

"Kim's the Crane and I'm . . . the Frog." Adam shrugged, "You work with what you've got, I've suppose."

"And you're spirit animal is sending you on a quest?"

Adam thought about it, "Yeah, that's one way to think of it, but it isn't only my spirit animal. Wolf asked me to come here, he didn't want to deal with two sentinels in the same territory, I guess."

Blair nodded and voiced another question, "You say you called in an old friend, does he know about Billy's senses?" Adam nodded, "Does he have a spirit animal as well?"

Adam grinned, "I might as well tell you a bit about our little group. A little less than a month ago, I 'reconnected' with my spirit animal. Then I felt the urge to go look up some old friends. Billy and Kim joined up with me and we went to help an old friend named Dulcea. She is the last, um, this does sound a bit corny, master of a mystical-philosophical-martial tradition. Mystical in that it has spirit animals, philosophical because it espouses some basic tenets, like helping others, and martial, because there are some martial arts involved. We'd originally met her on an excursion in high school, it was a great experience for all involved. An old colleague of hers was trying to, well, harm her and destroy the school. We helped her drive him off, but she decided that maybe it was time to leave the school and go with her students. Another old friend, Cestro, had flown us there and Dulcea inducted him into the order. Then when we went back to my place, I picked up, Jason, Billy and Kim's old friend, and Dulcea picked up Rocky, one of my best friends and one of the initial bunch of us. For scorecard reference, Billy's the Wolf, Kim's the Crane, Jason's the Mountain Lion, Cestro's the Whale, Rocky's the Ape, Dulcea's the Owl, and I'm of course, the Frog."

"I've never heard of a group like this, where . . . "

Adam just shook his head and cut him off, "It's very, very obscure. Dulcea found us, we didn't find her. And it's way out in BFE." Adam stopped as Crane landed on the edge of the couch. 'WHAT?'

'You don't have to yell, Kim wishes to know what time you want to meet Dulcea for dinner?'

Adam glanced at his watch. 'Around seven.'

'Formal or informal?'

'What do you think?'

'This is Dulcea . . . '

'Formal.'

Crane nodded. 'Good, I'm glad to see you're not totally clueless. Make sure you get there on time, a few minutes early to be safe. If it's going to be formal, why, you'd better make reservations.'

'Reservations?' Adam panicked slightly, but came to a quick decision, "Hey, guys, do either of you know a really nice place to take a lady for a very nice dinner?"

"How nice?" asked Blair.

"Tux nice."

Blair got up and left the room he came back a minute later with a small address book. "Well, what type of food?"

Adam gave Crane a panicked look, "Uh, something simple, I'm not totally sure what she likes . . . "

Crane rolled her eyes but didn't comment as Blair recommended a couple places and Adam placed a couple frantic calls to get a reservation. Jim and Blair just watched in amusement as Adam panicked, but Blair finally decided that enough was enough, "Hot date?"

'Hot? Dante look out!' Adam nodded happily as he began to blush, "Yeah, I got the nerve to ask her out this morning." He paused as a new thought occurred to him, "Hey, you've got to show me where this place is!"

In the end, Adam had gotten a quick tour of Cascade and he'd stopped for a roadmap. 'I've got to find someplace out of the way to teleport a truck to. Wouldn't do to walk her up to this place. Gotta get the truck cleaned and make sure my tux is . . . no, the tux won't be a problem.' Thought Adam wryly as he remembered what he could do. He shook his head in amazement at the day's events. After he had finally taken leave of Jim and Blair, he'd given them his address and phone number. And while his house was between Angel Grove and Washington, he'd decided to shell out for some plane tickets for the two, he wanted to get them there ASAP. 'They'd agreed!' So now all he had to worry about was a date with Dulcea and the fact that neither Wolf nor Frog had returned. 'Just a couple little worries.' He sighed at his sarcastic thought as he went to the airport to pick up his truck and get it cleaned.

Blair kept staring at Jim as he packed up a bag for the weekend. Finally, Jim got fed up with the attention, "What?"

"Why?"

Jim rolled his eyes, "Why? Why did I agree?" Blair nodded and Jim continued, "It's hard not to like the kid. He's not lying, he didn't tell us everything about that freaky group he belongs to, but he does have a friend who is a sentinel and needs help." Jim shrugged, "And a free trip out to the woods of northern California is hard to turn down."

"And?"

"And the jaguar really likes him." Jim sighed as Blair started to chatter on about spirit animals and his in particular. Blair had suddenly went from staring silently to full tilt inquiry about the jaguar. 'I should have kept my mouth shut.'

Kim tried not to giggle as she watched Adam shuffle nervously as he waited for Dulcea to come down. She'd spent the day preparing Dulcea for the intricacies of a formal date on earth. Dulcea's response when Kim had finished was, "That's all?" Kim had nodded and Dulcea laughed aloud at that. Kim vaguely wondered what traditions were like where she came from, if 'that's all' was her main comment about earth customs.

Cestro had returned with that Trey guy a little after lunch. Jason and Rocky had both been happy to see him and had asked him a whole bunch of questions about what he'd been doing. Then he asked them and it went on and on, until Dulcea had broken it up to do that ninjetti mojo of hers and make Trey a ninjetti, an orange Hawk. 'Orange!? Jason in purple is odd, but orange just seems tons stranger.' Of course, both she and Dulcea were in for a surprise as Jason asked a question and Trey suddenly split into three people. 'It was wiggy. Especially when each bit of Trey wore a different color.' He was orange as Trey of Wisdom, Red as Trey of Courage, and Yellow as Trey of Heart. 'Why wasn't he blue for Wisdom?' Both she and Dulcea had sat shaking their heads for a few minutes, but it was Rocky that pointed out an odd fact, with the addition of Trey they now had all the colors in their group, though Trey was doing 'triple duty.'

They'd laughed about that for a bit and then Dulcea had gotten down to the business of training them and training them hard. 'Phaedos was hard, but I'd almost take Cestro's telepathy lessons over this.' It had broken up about an hour and a half before Adam was supposed to come back and pick Dulcea up. She had vanished into her room and even Kim found herself barred from entrance. They had sat about while Rocky voted himself cook and started to work on dinner. They caught up on old times some more and Rocky waxed enthusiastic that he'd be allowed to spar someone besides Dulcea tomorrow.

Then poor Adam had come back, he was dressed in a very dressy black outfit. 'He could probably have a very profitable career in fashion.' Kim giggled at that thought and Adam looked up at her. She smiled innocently until Adam went back to shuffling nervously. 'He's just so cute.'

Then after making him wait the 'obligatory five minutes,' Dulcea finally came down the stairs and all eyes in the room were on her. 'Nice outfit.' There was something familiar about the style, but Kim couldn't put her finger on it. A quick glance around the room quickly told her that every guy in the room, except Cestro 'liked' the outfit. 'I don't think he counts for this.' She looked back at Adam. 'I think he's going to faint. I still can't believe he asked her out. I can believe he walked into the door, but I can't believe he asked her out.'

Kim felt the urge to either giggle hysterically 'I think that's coming from Adam' or laugh out loud--but that's just her. She managed to keep herself restrained, but she could feel the smile that threatened to split her face. Dulcea finally broke the silence, "Well, Adam are you ready?"

Adam nodded vigorously and opened his mouth to speak, but seemingly thought better of it and gently took Dulcea's hand and gave it a light kiss. Then he guided her the rest of the way down the stairs and they teleported out.

'Where did I put Kat's number? She's not going to believe this!' Kim giggled slightly to herself as she headed up to her room.

'It's not a date. It's not dinner. I just happen to be eating at the same place, the same table, with Dulcea. Doesn't mean a thing.' Adam kept up his strange internal mantra as he sat across from Dulcea. He'd already figured out that thinking about it as a date or in anyway that could be construed as a date was a quick way to a panic attack--he'd barely managed to avoid one as the salads were served. 'I haven't even thought about . . . having a harmless dinner with someone that in no way is datelike in years. And suddenly. Oops.' "Me? Oh, I'm not that interesting." Dulcea smiled at him and he decided that boring here with his life story wasn't that bad a thing. He pulled out his wallet and flipped through it, "Well, these are my parents, Trevor and Eileen Park. He's a policeman, which to me has always been sorta like being a ranger without all the perks and a spiffy suit to protect you. He always used to work a lot when I was younger, so I spent most of my time with my mom. I guess when it comes down to it I take a lot after her, she's now a professor at AGU teaching literature. I always felt sorta honored that I was her first real student, in fact when I went to college that's what I was studying. When I started working on stunts for movies, I went back for whatever classes I could cram in between shoots. It took me seven years and a lot of classes by mail and a few semesters that were very unhealthy for me, but I finally got my degree." He sighed and flipped through the pictures once again, when he found the one he was looking for he held it out and spoke quietly, "This is my mother, Tanya, and I at my graduation."

He stared at picture a while longer and Dulcea spoke up once more, "Tanya? You do not talk about her . . . "

'Because it's easier not to think about her than to deal with it.' He shrugged and stared at the picture intently, "She replaced Aisha when we went through the whole Zeo thing. I ended up teaching her martial arts and stuff, because she didn't want to be a liability to the team. We became friends and eventually started dating." He smiled to himself, "My mom said that I was the kind of person who liked to do things right the first time. We kinda surprised everyone by staying together, but they weren't surprised when we got married. She was just so wonderful, she was like, like sunshine, something that was bright and warmed you inside and out. I loved to watch her, whether she was singing or just studying for a test, it was just so right." He absently wiped his eyes as he continued, "It was kinda hard making everything work while we both started working on our respective careers, both of our chosen professions required a lot of traveling. I was always banging around the world from one stunt shoot to another, I think I spent more time in New Zealand than I did in the states. She was busy touring and doing all the promotion stuff, but every time we could be together we were." He smiled at his memories, a smile that banished all the sadness that had started to hang over him as he talked and another that she had only gotten hints of as she had become reacquainted with him. "It was great, wonderful, wondrous, and any other positive adjectives I could come up with."

Unfortunately, dinner choose this moment to be served and he closed up again. They ate in silence for a little bit and finally Dulcea decided to try and get a conversation started again. "I remember my first love, his name was Adric, he was a fisherman. Oh, don't look so amazed, I didn't live my entire life in the temple. A good deal of it, but I did grow up somewhere else. My world was a little cooler than Phaedos and fishing was a common profession, yes, we were more technologically advanced, but there was a preference for the old ways. My father was a well respected scholar and he would teach in our village. My mother raised me as well, but I took more after my father." She laughed at Adam's expression, "It does seem odd that until I was called to the ninjetti, you could hardly find me without my head in a book." She paused and thought back to those days, so much different than what she had endured in the temple, and much different than what she was experiencing now. "Now, I suppose that I should tell you of Adric." She gave Adam a mischievous smile, "If I wasn't reading a book, I was getting into trouble with Adric. Well, we grew up and friendship turned into love, but unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. I heard the call of the ninjetti and it could not be denied, I left Delucia and traveled to Phaedos."

She fell silent and for one of few times Adam could see the time in her eyes. He reached across the table and gently gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "You never went back did you?"

"My training and the rigors of being a ninjetti kept me away, or maybe it was just cowardice on my part, just better to avoid the problem than to face it head on."

"Cowardice is not something that you could ever be accused of Denial, well I understand that one too." He stared off into space, "Some days, when it gets really bad, I just convince myself that she's in the studio practicing. That makes it all go away, but I never open that door anymore."

"We all have our weaknesses."

"These are nice accommodation," said Trey formally.

"Yeah, Adam's place is the best," enthused Rocky.

Jason spoke up, "But, it doesn't strike you as the headquarters of the ninjetti?"

Trey took a moment to try and put this thought into words, "It does and it doesn't. After today I believe that this place is as good as any, but it is the people that make it the Ninjetti Headquarters."

"Huh?" asked Rocky in his eloquent fashion.

"I mean that Dulcea is what makes this place . . . "

Jason finished the thought, "a ninjetti place, just by being here. She brings it with her."

Trey nodded, "But I admit I never in my wildest imaginings expected to find it." He was unsure how to continue, "How do you and the others fit in?"

"What do you mean?"

"I met Adam and Billy a couple of times while I was on Earth and, of course, I know you, but how does this group fit into the ninjetti situation?"

"I don't know for sure," Jason smiled, "But if Adam wanted you here, I have a feeling that you're as important as we are."

"What!?" Billy gave an irritated growl as he read the note laying on his bed. 'First he gives me that disk, now he's bringing in some help? And it's coming in tomorrow morning?' "What the hell has Adam been up too?" He spun as he heard the knock on his door. 'Damn, that's loud.' "What!?"

"Open the door, grumpy," came Kim's muffled voice through the door.

Billy sighed and opened the door, "Sure, come on in," he mumbled sarcastically as Kim barged in. She waved a note at him and he groaned, "He left you one too?"

"Yes, for some reason he suspected that you wouldn't let me see this disk? What disk?"

Billy backed away from her slightly, "Uh, I just wanted a chance to go over it before I talked to you about it."

She glared at him, "It's bedtime, time's up. You have a computer, give me the disk and let me use it."

Billy meekly handed it to her and she sat down in the rooms only chair and began to read. 'I'm going to kill him. After all I did today, I'm going to kill him.'

He moved quickly through the jungle hunting for something, the sounds of battle ringing in his ears. He broke through the underbrush and pulled up short as he entered a clearing. He quickly noticed the smell of ozone and blood in the air and walked towards the two forms lying sprawled in the clearing. 'No heartbeats.' He rolled over the first one, a teenager dresses in blue and blinked. 'The boy in the picture. The sentinel. Billy. That would mean . . . ' He turned and looked at the girl in pink lying near him. 'Kim. His guide.'

"Enquiri, you must trust them."

He spun and rose, "Incacha."

The old shaman nodded, "It is not your nature to trust, but you must trust them. If you do not . . . " He let his words hang as he gestured towards the two bodies. "You cannot protect them, but without you and your guide, they will fall." He turned and walked away vanishing into a fog that began to roll over the jungle.

'Coolness.' Blair grinned to himself as he walked through the forest following the grey wolf. 'This is so cool. Almost exactly like Jim described. Why does he have the visions, when I'm the shaman, anyway?' Blair's thoughts rambled over various theories, most of them surrounding the fact that he must not be a great shaman if Jim got all the visions. "Oops, sorry, man," said Blair instinctively as he walked into the wolf.

In a surprisingly human gesture, the wolf rolled its eyes.

"Young Shaman, it is good that you have come."

'Whoa.' "Incacha? Wow, I mean, well, I don't know what I mean, but it's good to see you."

The old shaman laughed, "It is good to see you."

"Hey! You're speaking English!"

"This place is much different. Now, be quiet." The old shaman shook his head and mumbled, "No, wonder Enquiri always complains about you. Talk, talk, talk."

The wolf nodded sagely, but Blair hadn't heard the comment. "Well." Blair cut off and winced as Incacha stared at him. 'Quiet. Okay, I can be quiet. But I wonder . . . ?'

"Now, you must listen, young shaman. You must teach them and teach them well. You have little time, less than had been hoped. If you do not . . . " the old shaman paused sadly, "they will not survive."

"Is their anything that Jim and I could do to help?" Blair's natural concern overpowered all other questions as he took in Incacha's warning.

"No, you must teach, that is all. Enquiri must trust, but that will be the hardest trail for him. You must help him."

"What's so special about them?"

Silent communication seemed to pass between the shaman and the wolf. "They are chosen, trust them and hope that they do not fail."

"Fail? What?" But the dream fades and Blair finds himself back in his seat on the plane. "Well, I knew it was a dream," he said to himself in amusement. He quickly checked on Jim and noticed that he was looking at him strangely. "Jim, you won't believe what just happened," he began enthusiastically.

Adam had talked with Wolf on the way to pick up Jim and Blair. Now as he drove them back to his place, he tried not to sigh, but he didn't succeed and both Jim and Blair gave him concerned looks. Blair finally decided to speak up, "Did your date go okay?"

Adam smiled, "It went pretty good, yeah."

He didn't elaborate, but the goofy grin on his face was a pretty good indicator that the date wasn't the source of his troubles. Blair tried again, "Well, you seem a little distracted since I saw you last. Why don't you tell us some more about your friends?"

'I guess I should prepare them for the weirdness.' "Well, Billy, he's the one I came to you about, he's our resident genius. If he can't figure it out or make it, then it can't be done." Adam grinned and began to hum that song from Dumbo about elephants flying. "Actually, think that, but insert VW in the place of elephant."

"You've got to be joking, VW's do not fly." Blair shook his head. 'What have I gotten us into?'

"I wouldn't believe it either, but Jason, Trey, Kim, Cestro, and Dulcea told me and I know they wouldn't make up stories like that. Rocky maybe, but Jason? Nah. As a side note, Billy's reimbursing me for your airfare, he's loaded from royalties from his patents. Y'know that computer you've got, Blair? Well, without Billy's stuff it wouldn't work."

Silence hung in the truck for a moment as Blair tried to figure out how to deal with that. "So, he's an inventor?"

"He's Billy. Just be willing to see some strange stuff and not get to spazzed, okay?"

Jim thought about it carefully. 'Enquiri, you must trust them.' "Okay."

Blair looked at him for a minute like he'd gone nuts, but shrugged, "Same here."

Adam smiled, "Now, Kim she's into gymnastics, in fact, she's won Olympic Gold and Silver. She's a great friend and will never let you down in a pinch . . . "

Everyone except Cestro and Trey were waiting the common room for Adam to return with his guests. There was a vague resentment hanging in the air as they wondered about who Adam was bringing and exactly why. Kim had said that they were here to help Billy with his super-senses, but she hadn't elaborated about why such help was necessary. The only real distraction was Rocky commandeering the kitchen once more to make breakfast, he'd already sent Trey out to Cestro with some 'earth food that should be good.' They were going to eat together and Trey would join them later, Adam had already talked to Cestro about it last night and the Aquitian seemed okay with it. Everyone else though . . .

"It just seems freaky having someone around who doesn't know. I mean making Cestro hide out in the ship just seems kinda wrong," said Rocky as he voiced the feelings of everyone in the room.

Dulcea smiled slightly. 'They have become so close in so little time.' "But as Billy had said, Cestro's appearance would leave too many questions and it might endanger him. It is better this way and we will make sure he is not left out of the proceedings."

Billy spoke up for the first time that morning, "They're here."

"That's your house!?" Blair shook his head, "What are you, an eccentric millionaire?"

Adam laughed and shook his head, "Nah, I just live very frugally." Jim and Blair stared at him in disbelief. "Really, I was 'given' this place when I graduated and my uncle also set up a trust so that I got a small amount each month to pay for upkeep." He shrugged, "Except for a burst pipe three years ago, I do most of the repairs and stuff myself. Kinda relaxing. I don't need much else, so . . . "

"Do anything else?"

"I'm a stuntman. In fact, I just finished shooting a pretty low-budget movie, but I starred. I was originally taking a break just to see how it does, could lead to more jobs and more pay."

"Good movie?"

Adam chuckled, "Good isn't the exact word I'd use, but it should at least be fun."

"That sounds so inspiring."

They both fell silent as Jim started chuckling at them both and at something else. He pointed towards the house and the people coming out, "I think they know we're here."

"Well, hopefully this'll go well. Any last minute questions while you have me here?"

They thought about it for a moment and Blair grinned, "I think the only important question is which one are you dating?" 'And how did you both manage to have dinner in Cascade?'

"He may play the jack of diamonds
He may lay the queen of spades
He may conceal a king in his hand
While the memory of it fades."

-Sting, Shape of My Heart.

Adam sat alone in the living room, he'd turned the television on a couple of hours ago, but he wasn't really watching it. 'He's still not back.' Adam had declined to participate in sparring with Dulcea and the others. His heart was no longer in it. Billy and Kim were off with Blair and Jim camping. Blair had suggested that maybe some isolation from the rest of them and distractions of the house would help Billy and Kim. So he was alone. It held a different meaning today and he was sure he didn't like it. No Wolf or Crane, Owl or Lion, Hawk or Whale, Ape or, most especially Frog. Wolf had told him that Frog was okay, but he wouldn't tell Adam where to find him. It annoyed him and it worried him, he just wanted to, well, he just didn't know what he wanted to do. After he'd picked up Jim and Blair and made the introductions and ironed over a little bit of free floating resentment from Billy, he just hadn't felt like doing anything. So, he sat there . . . alone.

Rocky was enjoying himself, there was no doubt about it. He'd sparred with Dulcea a few times and spent a lot more time watching the others spar. He had been getting bored when a voice spoke up beside him and he almost fell off his chair as he saw the giant gorilla. He'd stammered out a response and then the APE had told him, "I'm not Wolf and especially not Crane, I believe that I should teach you about your gifts, young one."

Rocky vaguely remembered that he said something, but he couldn't remember what anymore. But he'd followed the Ape away from the main group and into the woods. Ape had looked at him seriously, "Let's see what you can do." Ape looked around for a moment and pointed, "Climb that tree there."

So Rocky had and Ape had groaned, "Man, I have my work cut out for me, don't I?"

Then Ape had showed him how to actually be a gorilla and it was neat. After walking around, climbing trees, and stuff Rocky felt that he'd gotten the hang of it. Then Ape winked at him and told him to change back and keep going, Rocky thought Ape had lost it, but now he was climbing through the trees like his namesake. It was easy. Ape just looked smug, "Had'ta teach you how move, but now you're looking mighty sharp."

Rocky grinned back at his mentor. 'This is great!' His bare feet seemed quite comfortable on the rough branches and he found that it was fun to follow his guide as he carefully taught Rocky the basics of being the Ape ninjetti. Ape stopped in one tree and waited for Rocky to catch up, "Well done. Crane is sure on her feet because of balance, you are sure because you are the Ape. Strength is also your gift, be strong, but remember that all are not as strong as you. But you are fierce because you are the Ape, do not let it blind you." The giant spirit smiled showing Rocky a wonderful view of his sharp teeth, "But don't feel bad it you fail." Ape shrugged, "I do it all the time." Ape suddenly became serious once more, "Remember to use your brain not your brawn and most importantly, now listen carefully," Rocky sat rapt as he waited for Ape to continue, "have fun." Ape reached out and ruffled Rocky's hair, "Tag, you're it."

Rocky sputtered for a moment and then took off after his mentor, laughing as he leapt through the trees with ease.

Dulcea marveled more and more as she worked with Jason, he was improving exponentially with each match. His grasp of tactics was astonishing, she knew that Tommy was his successor, but she wondered how long the battles of Earth would have continued if he had stayed in charge. She now understood Adam's last comment before he'd vanished back into the house. He'd said, "Teach him, he's in charge anyway."

Now she understood, Adam may be leading in the broadest sense of the word, but Jason was the General of the Ninjetti. Whether he would be a Master Warrior was unclear to her, but only Billy was near his equal in combat . . . and that was saying much for both of them. She had thought carefully about the skills of her students and had ranked them. Jason and Billy were the best of this new class and Adam was the brightest. Trey was the most disciplined. Rocky, well, she couldn't truly get a measure of the red Ape, he would play until he was truly needed. Kim fought hard and fierce for those under her protection, but like the Ape, she would never be able to judge her until battle was joined. Yet, she had defeated Vadyvov . . . Cestro, well, he was most definitively suited for the position of scholar, his skills were those of an apprentice, but his dedication and intellect would eventually raise him to new heights.

Rocky had left the group a few minutes ago and she was working hard to keep the other three students on their toes as they squared off against her. Jason had talked to them earlier when she had suggested this three on one match, and she was still wondering what surprise he had in store for her. She carefully repelled each of their attacks. 'They are a good team.' She wasn't surprised when Trey suddenly split into his separate selves, she knew that it wasn't an effective combat tactic--it weakened Trey's skills. So, she was ready for Cestro and Jason's 'surprise' attack and managed to tangle up Cestro for a second with the three Treys. Trey instantly reformed and he came back at her as Cestro regrouped himself. Jason hadn't even paused, he'd kept her distracted so that she couldn't capitalize on Cestro's forced mis-step. But the advantage was obviously back in Dulcea's hands and Jason broke off and nodded as he conceded this round to her.

"I've crossed the last line
from where I can't return
where every step I took in faith
betrayed me
and led me from my home."

-Sarah Mclachlan, Sweet Surrender.

Darkness. He moved quietly and not a little fearfully through it. 'Quiet.' On the edges of his vision it seemed to move with a life of it's own. It was waiting and it was big--and there was something hiding in it. He was trying not to run, because if he did it would find him. He shuddered slightly and locked his panic away. 'Not now. Can't lose it here.' It almost overwhelmed him as he came up to a wall. He hadn't seen it, he'd only found it because his foot had hit it before the rest of him. He rested a hand on the cool surface and began to walk alongside it. 'This is what I needed, this will take me . . . somewhere?' But his journey wouldn't stay uninterrupted for long. 'It's found me!' He sped up as he felt the thing get closer and an endless moment later he took off on a full speed attempt at escape. He imagined he could feel the thing's breath on his neck, he ran harder even though he felt like he'd been running forever. 'Just a little farther.' Then, so suddenly his eyes watered at the sudden change, a door appeared carved into the wall and a golden light tried valiantly to light the darkness. He tried to run faster, but he'd already pushed himself too hard. He cried out in pain as a cold claw tore into him, leaving a burning cold in it's wake. He felt himself falling and reached towards the golden light, but he fell short. The last thing he saw as the cold claimed him was a small frog lying unmoving in front of him.

"NOOOOO!" Adam shot out of bed screaming as he tried to escape whatever had been following him. 'Dream, just a dream.' He took a minute to try and calm the incipient panic attack that threatened to claim him. He vaguely noticed the door open and Dulcea come in and talk to him. 'Too cold in here.' He shivered and slowly became aware that he now had a blanket over his shoulders and someone talking. "Dulcea?"

"Yes, Adam. I'm here," she said soothingly. She had heard him scream and was instantly on alert. She'd even broken his door down, she supposed in some part of her mind that wasn't occupied with calming Adam that it might have been a little extreme. 'I don't think he was going to open it on his own.' He had been totally unaware of her when she had entered and he was shaking hard. 'He was terrified.' When she'd touched him it had became apparent that his shaking wasn't only from fear, he was freezing cold as well. 'What in the Spirit happened?'

He was still confused, it wasn't dark here, but he was still cold. "F-fr-og. H-h-have t-t-to f-f-in-d him," Adam chattered out. He tried to stand up, but he was still shaking too hard to actually get to his feet.

Dulcea for once in her life, didn't know what to do. She looked over at Owl and saw that her guardian had already flown the room. So she continued to hold Adam as Jason brought in more blankets for his friend. She saw the question in his eyes, but didn't have any answers.

Adam took that moment to speak up again, "Are K-k-k-kim an-an-d B-b-billy b-b-back-k?" He knew that there was something he was forgetting, but he couldn't put his finger on it.

"They're still out with the teachers you brought."

'Oh, now he remembered, if Billy had been here he'd have heard and already be there. Cool.' "Wer-Weren't they sup-p-possed to be b-back?" 'I thought they were supposed to come back tonight.' "We-We can't g-go without them, can we?" He began to feel tired again as he shook his head, "N-No, we have to wait."

Dulcea noted that Adam's shivers were subsiding and he was beginning to warm up. "Where do we have to go?"

Adam's eye's began to droop as the adrenaline began to wear off, "Wolf knows, he'll lead us."

Dulcea tried to carefully get more answers from him, but he began to lapse back into incoherency as sleep claimed him once more. She, on the other hand, remained awake as the night slowly passed.

Jason nearly laughed as he watched Adam blearily gather up his clothes and vanish into the bathroom. 'I don't think he even knows I'm here. Rocky was right, he's not really a morning person, but he gets up early for working out. I don't know how he does it.'

One long shower later Adam walked out of the shower and did a double take, "Jason!?"

"Good morning."

Adam remembered his nightmare and he vaguely remembered that he'd woken up, but he wasn't sure about that part. "Why are you in my room?"

Jason looked serious, "Because I'm relieving Dulcea, she would have stayed around until you woke up." Jason chuckled and pointed to the boxers lying near the hamper by the bathroom door. "Good thing too."

Adam blushed, "Why are you relieving Dulcea?"

"You had a nightmare and woke up screaming, it sort of got everyone's attention. In fact," Jason pointed to the door that was leaning a little crookedly in it's frame, "Dulcea nearly tore the door off the hinges getting in here, Rocky and I put it back up. Have to replace the frame sometime." Jason shrugged, "She's having breakfast right now. Now, that you're awake do you want to talk about it?"

'Not really.' Adam changed topics, "When Billy and Kim get here we're leaving."

"You said that last night."

"I did? What else did I say?"

"You had to find Frog. Then you asked about Billy and Kim and said we couldn't leave without them. And that Wolf would know where to go."

Adam mulled it over for a moment, "Something big is out there Jason and my guide's right in the middle of it. I warned him. I was told to warn him." Adam paled slightly as the dream fell into place and a picture finally began to form. Adam stood up and began to pace, "Let's eat, there's nothing we can do until they get back."

He turned and stalked out of the room leaving Jason still sitting. 'Why do I get a very bad feeling about this?' Jason got up and another thought occurred to him. 'Who told you?'

It was around two when the others returned in the new and improved Radbug. Their reception was less than stellar. Adam had glared at them for a minute and walked off, but to Sentinel hearing he was talking to someone. "Wolf, where the hell have you been? Frog's in trouble and no one else knows where he is and we need Billy and Kim if this is going to work out."

Jim and Billy both exchanged worried glances, Jim because he thought that maybe the kid was losing it and that he wanted nothing to with the 'mystical crap' if he wasn't. Billy because if Adam was having a hissy over them being late, something bad must be happening, especially if he was reaming out the Wolf. 'That's an odd thought.'

Everyone else was taking in the bedraggled groups appearance: they were covered in mud, their clothes were torn, and they sported a collection of small cuts and bruises. Rocky summed it up perfectly, "What the hell happened to you?"

Kim chuckled slightly and looked at Blair. Blair grinned and put an arm around Jim. Jim laughed and Billy grinned, well, wolfishly. "Oh, nothing much, just ran into some trouble. You know how it is." Billy chuckled, "Well, I think we need showers and breakfast, so unless you have anything important . . . "

Jason spoke up and handed an envelope to Blair, "Adam, told me to give you this when you got back." Jason shrugged, "I think we're going to have to leave here soon." He turned back to Billy, "I'll fill you in, but you'd better shower quick." Jason blinked as he heard the door slam shut and laughed. "Well, if you want hot water, you'd better hurry." Kim and Blair had both vanished through the door before he'd even finished talking to Billy.

Billy was torn, but Jim finally broke his indecision. Jim rolled his eyes, "Important lesson, never let your guide beat you to the shower . . . they tend to use up all the hot water. Now show me the nearest shower, so I can get at least some hot water."

Billy grinned and led Jim into the lodge while Jason just shook his head. 'I think this is going to be the last funny thing for awhile.'

Blair had actually showered in less time than he expected, he'd just had to deal with the loft running out of hot water for so long, that he just didn't take long showers anymore. So, one change of clothes later he was sitting on the bed in the room Adam had let him have and reading. Laying beside him were two sets of keys and a couple maps.

Blair,

I hope that whatever adventure you have been on has turned out well, but time has run out for teaching. We must leave and I have no wish to cut your vacation short, so included are a set of keys to the lodge and the keys to my truck. I think I can find you to get them back. I'd like to tell you what's going on, but it's a bit much. Did you know that spirit animals can get in trouble? Are there any stories or myths about that?

Have fun,

Adam Park

P.S. Oh, the lake here has some nice fishing--I noticed the poles in your stuff. Two per day limit and all of that.

Blair folded the letter and carefully put it back in the envelope. 'Spirit animals getting in trouble? I can't wait to hear this . . . now there was that story about Raven . . .'

"Is he alright?" asked Kim concernedly.

Jason shrugged, "I think that depends on your definition of 'all right.'"

"Do you know what happened?" interjected Billy.

"No, first there was the nightmare last night. He was a total mess, I've never seen anyone that scared before." Jason shook his head, "He wanted to leave then, but you weren't back, so he went back to sleep. Then he was up and he was fine until a little after breakfast. He just fell over and Dulcea caught him. He shook it off and said it was nothing, then he went out to talk to Cestro. He came back not long before you came back and started waiting. He's been in a funk and I think Dulcea knows something, but she's telling." He leaned closer to the two and continued in a concerned tone, "Whatever it is, I think it's scared her too. As for Adam, I'm amazed he hasn't . . . "

"Told you it's time to go?" said Adam quietly from the doorway. "Well, it is. I know where now."

"Into this night I wander,
it's morning that I dread,
Another day of knowing of
the path I fear to tread."

-Sarah Mclachlan, Possession.

The trip away from earth was eerily similar to the one there. There were a few more people, but the ship was the same. Billy and Kim were a little more mellow this time around and Trey was helping out in the cockpit with Cestro. Adam had pointed out some coordinates, but even he didn't know where they really were. The ship was still filled with that vague sense of worry for the Frog Ninjetti, and Kim was going to find out why.

'Deja vu.' She had walked back into a familiar room to find Adam star-gazing once more. "Nice view?" He shrugged slightly, everyone had noticed that he was tired, but he just said it was from missing sleep last night. Kim sighed slightly, neither she nor Billy bought that one. Nor did Dulcea or Jason, even Rocky didn't. Kim had a feeling that Dulcea knew, it was something about the Frog, not just Adam. It didn't make sense to Kim, but she wasn't one to worry if everything made sense--that was Billy's job. All she knew was that Adam was depressed, maybe despairing would be a better word. There was this hopelessness that hung over him and she didn't know what to do. "Adam, what is going on?"

'I don't want to talk about it, but she's not going to give in. I know her too well. Oh, well . . . ' Adam began to speak so quietly that Kim had to strain to hear him, "Is your shadow around?"

"No, he's sleeping and he has a white noise generator on."

'So he can't hear us.' "Well, this is between me and you, right?"

She knew that if she didn't agree to this, he wouldn't talk. "Right."

"I suppose you heard about my little nightmare last night?"

It was annoying, he was still being vague and beating around the bush, he wasn't going to make this easy, was he? "Jason said there was nothing little about it, he said you were terrified and honestly it scared him too."

Adam finally turned to face her and he gave her a searching stare. He smiled slightly, "He cares so much for us, I'd always wondered how it would have been to be a ranger under him. He's in charge now, you know?"

She was a little taken aback by his pale face and dark circles around his eyes. But his comments were too much, Kim rolled her eyes. 'Habla English? Sheesh!' "No, I didn't."

Adam nodded to himself, "Yeah, he's going to lead the others . . . "

"I'm not included?"

"No, Kalieth knows about us: you, Billy, Dulcea, and me. He doesn't know about the others, anyway you and Billy are almost a team on your own. Dulcea works great with you and my powers work best alone. Jason will have to lead them in the upcoming fight, I know he'll do well."

Kim managed to keep surprise out of her voice, "So, we're finally going to get to meet this Kalieth guy?"

"Unfortunately."

She waited for him to continue, "Why now?"

"Because he's . . . done something, I . . . we can't wait any longer. The stakes are far higher than I had ever imagined . . . ," he shook his head irritably. He stared at Kim intently and she began to feel a little nervous under his gaze. Whatever he was looking for he seemed to find because he continued, "Do you remember when I told you the story of the ninjetti?"

She nodded, but she had a bad feeling where it was going, "Yeah, how they fought this great e-vil . . . ," she trailed off as it made sense.

He smiled sadly, "Yeah, that's it." He turned and went back to looking out into space once more.

She waited a few minutes, but Adam said nothing else and she knew a little too much to not be worried. She put a comforting hand on his shoulder and joined him in his star-gazing. ''''''* "And its into the shame
And its into a guilt
And its into the fucking fray
And the walls ran red around me
A warm arterial spray."

-Nick Cave, Papa Won't Leave You, Henry.

On a planet not that far away . . .

Kalieth smiled as surveyed the ruins of two shattered worlds. He'd ordered his fleets to blockade the rebellious worlds--the three who dared to defy him and cost him his revenge. So, he'd pulled all of his forces here, this was the battle that would make or break him. He'd used the amassed power of his fleets to obliterate the first planet. No warning, no terms of surrender, he'd just wiped them from the universe. 'If that doesn't bring them, nothing will. {perhaps . . . }'

So, he'd waited and they did try to talk to him and he hadn't responded. He'd waited until the second world had begun to beg him for surrender to destroy them. The third, well, that one was still stubbornly unafraid. Their leaders had simply told him to 'blow it out his gills,' or some such, they weren't totally sure about the translation. He'd had to admire their convictions, so he'd planned something special for them. He smiled as his general's filed into the war room, he smiled wider as he noted the fear in their eyes. He'd surprised them, they never thought him capable of the merciless destruction he'd committed. 'I've just never had the reason. now, shall I have my revenge. no more ninjetti. no more foolish spirit's to interfere. mine once more. I'll be the king of their ruin if I have to destroy every damn planet I control. no, they'll come here. once you . . . Once I use the weapons at my disposal.' The snarl on Kalieth's face made every general wonder if he'd finally decided to be done with them. He stood tall and spoke in a booming voice, "Now, my generals, you have served me 'faithfully' for years uncounted, now you will be at my side as I claim my final victory." He walked to one of the walls and ran his fingers along a couple of designs and the wall opened. "Here are our weapons, take them and join me. I will have no more enemies after this day." Kalieth laughed--countless years of waiting were finally coming to an end. He would have his revenge.

'frog, you have thwarted me the last time. I've trapped you, little one, and I will hunt you down.'

* * *
"We cannot continue further, the fleet has thoroughly blocked all avenues of reaching the planet," reported Cestro dutifully as they tried to get to the coordinates Adam had designated.

Adam seemed to think about it for a minute then he pointed to the screen, "Go through there."

Cestro didn't comply immediately, "Adam, they will easily detect us . . . "

"Go through there," repeated Adam in a quiet tone that no one could refuse. Adam bowed his head as the ship began to move towards the gap he'd found. It wasn't much, but the ship just had to fit through it. Crane had been surprisingly helpful earlier when she had came up with this plan. Adam knew he was running out of time. 'I hope I do this right.' Crane had explained it earlier and it still sounded like a long shot. "Space is but blackness, a great shadow in which you can hide. So hide yourself."

'Hide myself, sounds really simple. Of course, hiding in the ship wouldn't do a damn thing, so he'd have to do a David Copperfield with the ship, nah, make that a Doug Henning.' He gathered up his tattered reserves of energy and carefully began to carefully change his way of thinking like Crane had coached him. He knew he was weakening, his connection to Frog was diminished by whatever Kalieth had done, so he was drawing more on his own energy than that of his mentor.

An endless time later, Cestro spoke up once more, "We are landing on the surface, I have found a place to hide the ship from obvious detection . . . " Cestro didn't really know how to continue, there was no rational way twelve enemy vessels could have ignored them. 'Yet, it happened. How much power do we truly have at our disposal?'

Adam barely noted Cestro's comment, he just waited for the slight jarring of landing. As soon as he felt it he stopped hiding and took a moment to gather himself. Once he felt confident that he wasn't going to fall over 'I have got to stop doing that, it's getting pretty freaking old' or do something embarrassing, he looked back up to the group. "Now, we stop Kalieth."

Jason and the others were waiting on the ship, Adam had told them to come out only when they could wait no longer. That was it, no signal, no mystic warning, just when they could wait no longer. 'What a crock!' thought Jason irritably, he was a man of action and he could understand why they had to wait--it made perfect sense. He just couldn't understand Adam's instructions or why he'd been so adamant about them. Everyone knew something more than Kalieth blowing up a couple of planets, but how could there be more than that?

They'd found out when they had landed, the area around them was decimated. That was bad, but there was more to it than that, it was a feeling in the air that made their skin crawl. Jason shook his head, Kim had left the room and came back a few minutes later looking a little pale. He had no idea how Adam had reacted. He'd watched him morph into his ninjetti outfit, this time complete with a sleeveless overcloak and hood which Adam had quickly pulled up over his head. He'd given Jason those annoying orders and left the ship and disappeared into the shadows. 'I'd swear Kim was watching him even after he disappeared.' There was something else troubling about Adam, but Jason couldn't put his finger on it.

Then Kim had winced and told them that they had to go. She pointed into the distance and Billy took point with her right on his heels. Dulcea moved silently behind them as swift as the Owl that guided her. 'Damn, I'm getting poetic.' Jason shook his head at his own antics. He kept glancing over Cestro's shoulder as the Aquitian scanned the area looking for any thing. "How long is Adam going to make us wait?"

He was surprised when Trey spoke up, "As long as is necessary. He has faith in your abilities as our leader."

"I know, it's just that this place gives me the creeps. I've been trapped in Rita's Dark Dimension with a possessed Green Ranger and I was pretty sure I was going to die, but it didn't freak me out half as much as this place." Jason suddenly changed tracks, "Did you notice anything odd about Adam before he left?"

Surprisingly the answer came from Rocky, who had been totally silent since Adam morphed. "His outfit was blank," he said quietly.

Silence descended over the group as they took that in and what it could mean.

Billy shook his head to try and clear the scent from his head. It was partially familiar but it was overlaid with blood, fear, and burning. They'd found the first bodies a few minutes ago, something had . . . he didn't know. 'I'd rather have not had this mystery solved . . . ' Some were nothing more than husks, some were already rotting, some hacked into an unrecognizable mess, and the last were smashed. He knew it had happened recently, the blood was no more than a few hours old. But the smell, the smell . . .

Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder and voice speaking from a distance. " . . . imagine the dial, come on, turn it down. We kinda need you right now. Just turn the smell down, 'kay?"

It was finally the slight note of panic in Kim's voice that pulled him back from where ever he had been. He quickly reassessed their situation. 'Good move, Brain-boy.' He ignited his staff and shredded a few of Kalieth's warriors. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Dulcea wiping the walls with them and a flash of pink took out another and then another. 'Why do I have the feeling this is just the warm up?'

He swung low and cut the legs out from under one and sliced up under the guard of another. He continued his turn and thrust right though the guard of another warrior. The numbers around them were thinning with a surprising rapidity. He followed a familiar sound and saw Kimberly smash her bow into one and leap up high, sending a finishing shot into it's chest and another into it's companion's.

Then both sides pulled back and studied the other. 'They still stink. Bathe anyone?' He shook his head absently as they slowly kept backing away. 'I think we've intimidated them. That should definitely be in our favor.' His ruminations were cut short by a distant screaming, a few moments later more screams came from another direction. He gratefully accepted Kim's hand on his shoulder and her calming voice as she kept him from losing it again. He pointed with his staff, "I hear screams from there and there."

That seemed to be a cue for the warriors as they attacked again with renewed fervor. Billy got the distinct impression that they wanted to put as much distance between them and whatever was causing the disturbance.

"You'd maybe think there's something wrong
I'm not a man of too many faces
The mask I wear is one
Those who speak know nothing
And find out to their cost
Like those who curse their luck in too many places
And those who fear are lost."

-Sting, Shape of My Heart.

Adam moved quietly through the rubble of another building taking the shortest route to his destination. The others would have been surprised to know how far into the city Adam had gotten and especially curious about his mode of dress. Adam wore the same clothes he'd put on this morning, not the ninjetti outfit he'd left the ship in. He'd unmorphed not long after he'd left the ship, one because he didn't need it when he was hiding--and thankfully, that wasn't much of a drain on his resources-- and two because he had a feeling he'd need it later. A last reason, was that he felt that it would make him stick out like a sore thumb to his real enemy. His friends were in danger, but they were only going to deal with the physical manifestations of this. He was stuck with the whole deal and he'd already seen a couple things that scared the hell out of him. He now had a good idea what the horrible truth that Coyote hinted at was. The air seemed to scream at the horrors loosed by Kalieth and he carefully darted from one ruined building to the next, he was a little too close to something that he didn't want to be anywhere near. He froze, subconsciously holding his breath as he'd heard a multitudinous hissing coming closer. The air was tainted by a black hate that he feared would tear his hiding place from its foundations. 'I'm not here. I'm not here.' His internal mantra shattered when he finally saw what was approaching. 'That can't be!'

For the first time in millennia, Dulcea was truly a fighting ninjetti. She had been a glorified guard for long enough and whatever monster had unleashed these horrors would be vanquished. Owl agreed as she flew before the ninjetti master warning her of any hidden foes, but suddenly she flew past the ninjetti master and Dulcea heard a warning. 'Ware his blade, its bite is deadly.'

Something dark passed by her, but her mind was focused on Owl's warning. All blades were deadly and she knew it wasn't a reference to this creature. In fact, only iron control kept her from gagging at the sight before her, rotting corpses laying everywhere around her. Small frog-like corpses at that, but she wasn't surprised, it accounted for Adam's odd behavior and the disappearance of the Frog spirit. She shook her head as she carefully made her way to a small clearing amidst the corpses and finally caught a glimpse of her prey.

It was a tall thin alien in black armor, like the warriors she had fought earlier, but this one was obviously alive. Dark power seemed to hang in air like a haze tinged with smell of decay and death as he strode after those who tried valiantly to hold him back so others could escape. She gracefully picked her way through the dead as she headed towards the figure. It was obvious that she had been following his trail, since the rotting dead didn't go on past this creature. She drew herself up and stared cooly at the beast--the only title fitting for a being that would do this--and called out her challenge.

'Trail? A five year old could follow this monster's path!' Billy was horrified to say the least, this wasn't like Rita or her ilk, no magic spell to be lifted to return these people to life. They were just dead and it was obvious that they hadn't died well. 'Died well. Until today I would never had made such a distinction, dead is still dead.' He shuddered slightly as he stepped around the small bodies and repressed an urge to throw up or maybe just run screaming through the streets. Being a ranger hadn't prepared him for this kind of carnage.

He sent a glance at Kim to see how she was holding up. She was pale and a little teary, but she looked far more together than he felt. He almost felt a smidgen of pity for whatever had done this, because Kim was obviously pissed, but it was more wishful thinking than anything else. 'Whatever did this is going down.'

Adam took a much needed breath after the monster had disappeared into the distance. 'It's heading towards the ship.' He stood up shakily and left this hiding place as he moved to another, only able to ignore the carnage around him because he had to find Frog. He knew he was getting closer to him, but Adam feared his time was running out. 'I've got to hurry.'

"There is a disturbance," reported Cestro calmly as he pointed to one of his monitors.

The others let Jason come up to look first and what he saw horrified and then enraged him. These little frog-people were hopping for their life from some psycho with an axe. He just kept cutting one down and then another, the guy was drenched in blood and howling something. 'That's it!' He stood up and studied each of the others intently, "I think this is where I say we can't wait any longer. It's morphing time!" To Jason's eyes the flash of purple had blocked out everything for the blink of an eye and now he felt positively super charged. "Hey, Rock, that outfit come with a weapon?"

Rocky didn't know for sure, but he heard Ape grumble, 'Sword, you have a sword. Chop this thing to chutney!' Ape roared and Rocky winced as he felt the great Ape's anger. "Uh, yeah, got a sword."

Jason gave a slightly vicious grin, "Okay, here's the plan . . . "

Billy swayed slightly as the roar of the collapsing building nearly deafened him, but Kim quicky pulled him back from the incipient zone. 'I'm getting good at this guide thing. Thank god.' She was pissed, there was no doubt about it--she knew whatever had done this had enjoyed it. Though 'it' wasn't exactly right, there were two of them, but they overlapped somehow, she just wasn't sure what it meant. 'Too freaky.'

Billy on the other hand was getting his first look at their opponent. 'He doesn't look like much . . . ' It was a very small man in black armor, but he didn't move like the warriors he'd fought on Phaedos. 'At least this guy bathes.' Billy could also make out the frog-people running from him, he cringed as he swore he could hear the cracking of bone when the warrior brought his hammer down on one. Billy didn't even notice himself speeding up or the growl that was torn from his lips as charged to stop the monster.

Kim figured that she had more than probable cause, so she fired a warning shot into the monster's back. It wasn't sporting, nice, or good, but he didn't deserve a real warning. It staggered as the shaft of energy glanced off its armor. Then it turned to face them. 'It doesn't even look like much, it's just a person.' She felt a small twinge of revulsion as she looked at this man who had done such horrible things. Then she knew, he and whatever was with him were pretty happy about what they were doing, not a smidgen of guilt between them. This time she aimed low and knocked its leg out from under it, it was just staggered, but it gave Billy the chance to close without challenge.

Jason was a little frightened, not of the battle, but the change that had come over Rocky. The red Ape ninjetti was now meeting the berserk warrior blow for blow and ignoring the other ninjetti. The fight had started out just as planned and Jason was sure they could take this guy down. Cestro was gathering as many of the frog-people as he could and pulling them away from the fight. Jason and Trey had flanked Rocky as they came up on the warrior as he was hacking into another fallen victim.

He had looked up at their approach and then let loose with a wordless roar as he charged heedlessly towards them. Rocky had stepped forward and blocked the first blow, but even he had bent slightly under the power of the attack. He'd kept the warrior occupied as Jason and Trey attempted to flank him and distract him. Somehow, the berserker grabbed Rocky's sword by the blade and held Rocky fast as he managed a backhanded swipe at Trey. The Hawk ninjetti had gracefully evaded it, but the battle had turned back against the ninjetti.

Rocky had released his sword when he saw the axe coming towards him and stepped in grab the axe from the warrior. The instant he'd grabbed the haft, the anger he had felt as he'd seen what this monster had done boiled up inside him. Reason took a strategic retreat and suddenly Rocky had bowled the warrior over as he tried to wrest the axe from him. The warrior threw Rocky off of him and stood, but he buried the axe deep into the ground beside him as he charged Rocky. The fighting that ensued was brutal as neither combatant fought with any real skill, just rage and strength. They were both oblivious to the world around them as they pounded on each other.

Jason and Trey were both looking for some kind of opening, but their first try to help Rocky had ended with a quick blow that had knocked the wind out Jason. Jason dragged himself up to his feet and stared at the battle before him. 'How the hell do you deal with this?'

A deadly dance was being staged in another part of town as Dulcea parried a flurry of blows. She knew what her opponent's goal was: one nick and she would be defeated, so he attacked her staff and not her. He was good, but she could take him under normal circumstances. Yet these were decidedly not normal, the deadly blade he carried evened the odds. He sent a blast of putrescent air towards her and she called on other skills as a wind blew it back in his direction. He chuckled as it blew over him, "You're good, Dulcea, but you are no match for me." Suddenly he stiffened as the wind swirled around him and it seemed to be drawn inside him. When he spoke this time his voice had changed into something that wasn't only sound, but feeling as well. "You are too late, Owl-kin, even if you defeat this vessel, I am still free," hissed the voice in a tone that made even Dulcea shiver slightly.

Dulcea calmly stood her ground as she waited to see what this new development would mean. "Then at the least you shall taste defeat this day."

He chuckled malignantly, "But I have already tasted victory, are you missing something, oh Master Warrior? A little birdie perhaps?"

Adam was surprisingly close to Frog, he could see his mentor and friend hopping weakly away from the giant Kalieth. He wasn't surprised to find Kalieth here in a way, it had to end here. He still had one trump left to play and hopefully it would buy Frog's escape. 'WHOEVER YOU ARE, HELP FROG!'

He was greeted a moment later by the voice, but it was only distant thunder on the horizon, not the storm he was used to hearing. 'I cannot reveal myself now, nor do I have any connection with him to help.'

He noticed Kalieth pause and cock his head as if listening for something. 'Great.' Adam was vaguely frustrated, he knew this guy hadn't walked him here only to let him down in the final inning. 'Anything would be helpful right now!'

'There is something, but it would leave you defenseless.'

Adam winced as Kalieth looked in his direction. Adam gave a dark mental chuckle, 'I'm already defenseless. Do it.'

With that command Adam's world changed for an instant he was looking over the battlefield as the rushed towards the center of the ruined city. From his high vantage point he saw the dark gateway that was forming and the light that was being dragged into it. He caught a glimpse of something crawling through the hole in reality. But his vision was torn from it as he swooped low and saw the Ape locked in battle with Hydra and for every head the great ape tore from the beast two more sprung up. Things looked very bad for the Ape spirit at this juncture. The Mountain Lion and the Hawk circled the monster attempting to help the Ape. Further he flew, Dulcea battled Wyvern and from behind the beast Owl swooped silently in. Faster, he glimpsed the Wolf and Crane as they beat down the Manticore. Then he saw himself hiding in a ruined building and he seemed to rush towards himself. He glimpsed something out of the corner of his eye . . .

Suddenly, he was back, he was sitting in the rubble and he heard the voice whisper through his mind. 'Find him and then I can try to use your connection to take him to the monolith to heal.' Adam didn't respond as he backed deeper into the ruins as Kalieth came towards him.

Dulcea fell back carefully as the decaying warrior attacked her. She had seen the familiar white shape flying towards them and she wasn't surprised. She had known that the monster hadn't defeated her guide--only forced a strategic retreat. She kept the warrior distracted as suddenly her guide swooped low and dug her talons into the monster. 'Strike now!'

Dulcea didn't hesitate as Owl's voice came to her and sent a deadly blow through the distracted monsters guard. It gave a gurgling choke as it dropped its weapon and reached for its crushed windpipe. A moment later it spilled to the ground and laid still. Its sword bubbled and hissed as it melted into slag. Owl flew unsteadily towards her. 'His vessel is destroyed, you are needed elsewhere. Follow me.'

She followed the Owl back towards the ship and quickly reached the stalemate between Rocky and the next warrior. Dulcea stared at the Ape ninjetti, "Something is wrong."

'Hydra's poison runs through his veins, Ape was not careful and his charge suffers. Our challenge will be to restrain him so that the others may defeat the beast.'

"Restrain the strongest of the ninjetti without hurting him? Ape's rage is fierce under normal conditions, but now it flows freely. Battle is not the full solution . . . " Dulcea slowed and called out to Jason.

He jogged up to her and gave her a slight smile but it faded as he quickly turned his attention back to the slug-fest going on between Rocky and the muscular warrior. They had been beating one another back and now the axe was between them as they strove for superiority. "Rocky's as dangerous as the guy we're fighting. We try and break in on the guy and one of them hits us."

Dulcea nodded, "I will deal with Rocky, you must defeat the warrior."

She turned her attention back to Rocky as Jason ran back towards his charges. She heard him quickly giving orders to Trey and Cestro and heard Cestro say something and Jason agree. Then they broke apart once more and took positions around the monster. She moved quietly behind the two battling warriors and waited patiently for an opening. When it came she swept Rocky's legs out from under him and summoned the winds and waters to her aid. The ground under him became slightly muddy and the winds dragged him in the direction of her staff push and away from the warrior.

The others took this as their cue to renew their attacks and the berserk warrior was kept occupied as she dealt with Rocky. He came up to his feet in a flash and tried to charge back towards the warrior, but she quickly mired his feet in mud and used wind gusts to keep him off balance. 'He growled at me? Owl, I believe your work is cut out for you.'

She heard her guide's exasperated reply, 'Yes, Ape is definitely out of control. I am trying to calm him, but the 'big monkey' is not responding.' Dulcea winced as she heard Ape roar at that comment, and Owl continued wryly, 'At least he isn't totally unreachable.'

Kim and Billy were faring much better against their opponent, the Wolf ninjetti was slowly backing him through the rubble strewn streets as the occasional flash of pink would throw the beast off guard. It was losing ground, but not yet the battle. Billy had scored a multitude of blows on it and some of its armor had been lost, but it was still fighting. As the next blast of pink energy struck it, it fell to the ground in a controlled fall and flung its hand out towards Billy.

'Dirt! I fell for simplest trick in the book!' Billy rubbed his eyes as he coughed and sputtered while he tried to clear the dust from his sensitive system. He wasn't helpless though and he heard the air whistling as something came towards him at high speed. He ducked and rolled on instinct and heard a building behind take the blow. 'He must have thrown the hammer.' Billy winced as he heard a scream of agony from the creature and then he heard it stagger into another building. He was finally blinking his eyes clear as Kim ran over to him, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah, just sudden, I'm fine."

Kim studied him carefully and made her decision, "He ran into that building."

"Well then, let's get him." Billy stood back up and took the lead as Kim followed him into the deserted building.

"Take a little walk to the edge of town
Go across the tracks
Where the viaduct looms,
like a bird of doom
As it shifts and cracks
Where secrets lie in the border fires,
in the humming wires
Hey man, you know
you're never coming back
Past the square, past the bridge,
past the mills, past the stacks
On a gathering storm comes
a tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
a red right hand."

-Nick Cave, Red Right Hand.

'I feel like I'm in a bad horror movie!' Groused Adam inwardly as he kept moving away from Kalieth. He had taken to throwing just about anything he could grab into Kalieth's path, while it had brought him a few extra steps, it really wasn't doing much else. 'DAMN!!' Adam yelped as he swiped something very hot off a shelf. 'I think I need a new plan . . . ' Adam took off at run as he decided to take the nearest available exit from the building--a window. He flared a weak black as he broke through the window and the minor protection of his power kept him from getting more than cuts and bruises.

He landed and followed his mental compass back to the Frog and came upon his mentor feebly trying to move away from a black snake. 'Is that a crown on its head?' He charged forward and put himself between Frog and the snake. It hissed at him and vanished. He turned his attention back to his guide. "Hey, man, you look like crap."

Frog didn't even chuckle, he looked at Adam sorrowfully. 'I'm sorry, I dragged you out here. You know . . . '

Adam gently picked up the battered Frog. When Coyote had told him that spirit animals could be damaged, he'd wondered what that meant, now he knew. Frog was 'bleeding,' a deep gash was leaking something, some sort of light, and Adam knew exactly where his power had been going. It had never dawned on him how small and frail his mentor was, he shook his head and took a calming breath as he tried to soothe his friend.

Adam felt tears spring up in his eyes and didn't even try to stop them as he silently whispered to his friend. He heard the hiss and pulled himself and Frog away from the black snake at it darted forward to strike. He scooted away and then his vision was obstructed by a black cloud that the snake spit at him. Around the edges it seemed to flare gold then it cleared. He looked around, Frog and the black snake were gone--and so were his powers. 'Where's Frog, did he make it?' He felt for some connection to his friend, but it was gone. There was nothing but a gaping hole where Frog used to be. 'I failed.' Grief rolled through him. He felt positively sick and restrained an urge to throw up. 'Some ninjetti I am. I let my spirit animal get killed by some freaking psycho and his freaky spirit animal.' He felt diminished, like some vital part of him was gone. It was worse than when the Power Coins had been destroyed--he now knew that Frog hadn't left then, because he was gone now and it felt a lot emptier. He was broken from his self-recriminations by a stray thought and he frowned. 'Where have I seen that light before?'

Realization finally came to him and he knew exactly what came next. He threw himself forward and tried to roll away as he felt pain then numbing cold radiate from his back. It was so sudden that all he could do was gasp at the warmth that suddenly burned down his back. 'Fortunately' the numbness took over before his back could fully appreciate the pain of the slash. He managed to turn towards his attacker and saw Kalieth holding a small dark dagger and smiling at him. Coiled around the dagger and Kalieth's arm was the black snake that had killed Frog, black venom dripped from its fangs. 'Bad sign.' It seemed to smile at him. 'missing something, little master?'

Adam ignored the barb as he tried to assess the damage. Even though the cold had already numbed the pain, he knew he was bleeding. It hurt to move his right arm at all, but he knew that he was done running. He drew himself up to his feet and faced Kalieth. 'I've fought bullies before, this is only A LOT different.' He chuckled at his dark joke and fell into a familiar fighting stance. "Here I am."

Kalieth frowned at this boy before him, he was not acting like prey. 'Noble gesture. {what are you doing? cut him, kill him.}' He shook his head slightly as he slid the dagger back into its hidden sheath and studied him, "You stand against me?" Adam nodded. 'He laughs at me? {yes, kill him, his was the Frog! he thwarted you! use the dagger! rip his spirit from his pitiful frame!} No. Such courage, though misguided, deserves reward.' Kalieth gave a warning growl and began to advance on Adam. "Now the Ninjetti send children to fight me?"

The fight was now indoors as Billy and Kim began to slowly best the hammer wielding warrior. His helmet had shattered under Kim's last blast and blood ran down it's face from where pieces of the helmet had embedded themselves. For the first time since the battle had been joined the warrior did more than laugh, he spoke. "So little masters, you think you can banish me back? If you destroy this feeble vessel I shall just wait and return when you are weak."

He laughed and threw his hammer and Billy watched horrified as it flew about disintegrating the supports of the building. "Kim, get out!" he yelled just before the roof collapsed upon him.

The fight was not going well for Adam, but at least it was still going. The burning cold was slowly spreading and dulling his reflexes. He could feel the warmth of his blood as it ran down the side of his face from a set of gashes from Kalieth's claws. His right arm was almost useless. The giant warrior was toying with him and he knew it, but he still kept trying. He chuckled as his errant thoughts dredged up Andre the Giant saying 'I'd hate for you to have to die embarrassed' to Cary Elwes in Princess Bride. Strange what his mind was throwing up at a time like this . . .

Even though the sun was slowly setting, light would be no problem as whatever Adam had knocked over had started a pretty good fire. Adam was staying near the burning building, mainly because his body demanded the warmth so badly. As an added benefit it also seemed to slow the spread of the numbing cold. 'Wheee.' Thought Adam sarcastically as he chuckled to himself once more, everything seemed to be a lot funnier now. He supposed that it was because he knew he was going to lose and his mind had long ago run through all the important stuff, which pretty much amounted to Dulcea and Frog--he still wasn't exactly sure about the order. Then this song had stuck in his head and he'd started mouthing the words as he fought. It was better than giving up and it made him feel better. "Raise your hands, raise your hands high, don't take a seat don't stand aside, don't assume anything, just go, go, go!"

Kalieth was vaguely confused as he toyed with the boy, he'd proven his superiority and the little warrior still did not give in. He'd seen hardened warriors succumb to his deadliest of blades in less time, but still he fought on. This child kept laughing at him and now he had started chanting some battle song as he stood his ground. '{he is powerless, kill him!} No, not as long as he fights. He is a warrior and deserves a good death, even though he serves the ninjetti. {he is the ninjetti! he's the one to lead them! kill him!}' Kalieth chuckled at that. 'Lead them? He has no power, he is no ninjetti, only a sadly misguided pawn in their machinations.' Kalieth leapt a sudden low sweep and barely managed to dodge the leaping kick that immediately followed.

Adam was still singing under his breath as he forced Kalieth on a minuscule retreat. 'Better than I expected.' "Feed the fire and fan the flame, I know you kids can stand the rain. I know you kids are still upsetters, rock is cool, but the struggle is better, just go, go, go!"

Kalieth attacked with renewed vigor as his surprise worn off. He'd thought the boy done for and had only avoided the attack because the boy's injuries had slowed him slightly. 'What battle if he were whole? {what does it matter? he's dead anyway. kill him!} Why, he's going to die in a little while anyway?' Now he was slowly backing the little warrior towards a corner, where he would finish him off.

"Raise you hands, raise your hands high, don't take a seat, don't stand aside, don't assume anything, just go, go, go." Adam may have been a little loopy, but he wasn't stupid, it was quickly obvious that Kalieth was trying to trap him in the joining of the two nearest buildings. 'Not gonna do it, nope, no siree . . . ' "Did they tell you it was carved in stone that you'd end up alone. Use your years to psych you out, too old to care, too young to count. Just go, go, go."

"Where are you little bird?" sneered the dark warrior as he stumbled away from the building. 'The Wolf is crushed. Not here yet? Well, perhaps I should flush her out.' He smirked as he raised his hammer high and was terribly surprised when a pink flash seared into his hand. He watched in shocked confusion as the hammer fell from a nerveless grasp. Then the pain started and he vaguely wished that his hand was still numb.

"Going somewhere?"

He cradled his ruined hand against him as he followed the sound of her voice and found her perched on a street light with her deadly bow aimed at him. He quickly rolled forward into cover and grabbed his hammer in his good hand. He felt the next bolt burn across his back as he came to stop. "So you've come to finish what the Wolf couldn't? Well, 'can't,' I suppose," he growled mockingly through the pain.

Kim smiled as she carefully moved around to get another shot on him. She knew Billy was fine, there was a brief period of worry when she couldn't find him after the collapse, but he was okay. She didn't sense much pain from him, just a lot of 'ticked.' 'When he gets out, this guy is toast.'

He had other plans though, he knelt down low and raised his hammer once more. This time he brought it down hard onto the ground. The effect was instantaneous as the earth shook and the ground cracked. The buildings around him shook, but he was in the calm center of this storm.

A crevice snaked out and tore down Kim's last perch as suddenly she was on the defensive. Now she had a pretty good idea of what had destroyed all of these buildings. She listened for Billy as she seemingly flew to another building and then another as she put some distance between her and her opponent. Once she had a safer spot, she focused on Billy. 'A little worried as the rubble shakes, but he seems to still be okay.' She shook her head as she faintly heard someone singing while she looked in on Billy. She paused and tried to listen for it, but she didn't hear it, yet when she searched for Billy again, it came back. But now the warrior had closed distance between them as she was distracted with Billy. She put it out of her mind as she sent a few bolts of pink out to force him back into cover.

Trey launched a precise attack towards the warrior he was fighting and it moved quickly to counter. But Trey's attack fell short by a few inches and the warrior grinned as its fist slammed into the warrior in the reddish-orange uniform. It was quite surprised when there was no resistance as the Orange outfit was now empty. It wasn't able to react fast enough to avoid Jason's flying kick from its blind-side. It tried to keep it's balance, but something had ensnared its feet and fell backwards with a thud. It roared as first one, then another of the annoying gnats leapt upon it and held it down as they pummeled it.

'How much is it going to take to put this guy out for the count?' Wondered Jason as he kept punching him over and over while he knelt on top of him. The plan had worked perfectly, except for the fact that this guy wouldn't go down. Cestro had pulled one of the ninjetti tricks to sneak up on monster--he'd disappeared into the earth and prepped his little surprise. Then Trey had distracted it and he'd launched his attack. The loop that Cestro had placed around its feet tightened and tripped the warrior as it stumbled under Jason's attack. Then Cestro and Trey had each leapt upon an arm to keep the monster from fighting back as Jason started pounding it.

Owl was trying to get Ape's attention as he tore into Hydra, but she hadn't had much luck. 'Pull yourself together, this does no good, it only makes Him stronger.' Ape roared again and tied another couple of Hydra's heads together as he fought the beast. The only real reaction she'd seen was when he roared in pain when the cursed beast bit him--over and over. Mountain Lion, Hawk, and Whale were distracting it now and the battle was finally turning in their favor. Unfortunately, as long as Ape kept feeding it with his rage, there could be no victory. 'Think of what you are doing to your charge! Even now he struggles to harm Dulcea . . . '

She stopped talking as Whale began singing sadly. 'While you flounder Ape, one of our pod falls. You helped not.'

Those words were like a bucket of icy sea water dumped on the raging spirit animal. 'What!?' he sputtered with horror in his voice.

"Did they tell you, you would come undone, if you tried to touch the sun? Undermine the underground? You're too old to care, too young to count, so go, go, go," the song ended in a whisper, Adam didn't have the energy to continue it anymore.

'It's almost over.' The cold had spread, now his right arm was totally useless and his chest was tight. He'd thwarted Kalieth's attempt to corner him by suddenly leaping past Kalieth and landing in a roll. He came up to his feet and sent a kick to Kalieth's knee that was greeted by a howl of pain from the giant as he fell to the ground. He was already moving to follow up when the cold burning through his chest seemed to grip his lungs in a vice as he tried to draw breath. He didn't even notice when the ground came up to meet him. He could swear he heard a bird singing somewhere and it seemed to be coming closer. He let the melody soothe his pains away as he lost himself in it.

Kalieth had came up to sitting a position, but the attack he expected didn't come. Then he heard the thud behind him and it became clear--the boy had finally succumbed to his blade's bite. He stood and limped over to the fallen boy, he'd been fortunate his armor had protected him somewhat from the kick or it would have broken his knee. He listened to the gasping breaths as the boy still fought for life. 'It ends.' He knelt and placed a giant hand on the fragile chest. He waited patiently as the boy's heartbeat faded and he no longer drew breath before standing once more. 'You were a far worthier foe than I expected, little warrior. {he escaped me!? you let him escape me!}' Kalieth shrugged to himself as he walked painfully towards the center of the city.

For Rocky everything changed in an instant, the unnatural rage that had fueled him vanished. He was still mad, but now he was back in control of himself and he felt an icy dread as he stared out over the battle field. His body was telling him that he'd been a total idiot and it wasn't very happy with him. He stopped struggling against Dulcea and spoke quietly, "Let me go. I know how to end this."

Dulcea nodded as finally the Ape ninjetti was rational once more. She gladly let him pass--it had been a challenge to keep him held--and she was a little tired from the effort. 'Now to defeat this monster.' She turned and headed back to where the others had restrained warrior as Jason beat upon it.

Rocky summoned his sword as he walked towards the battle field. 'It ends now.' He growled inwardly, he knew what the problem was and the guy on the ground was only a part of it. They'd wasted too much time here. His sword began to glow, first a deep red, then an orange that grew brighter as it turned to yellow and finally a fierce white as he walked past Jason and the others. He came up to the axe imbedded in the ground and with a great swing his blade descended on the axe throwing up a flurry of sparks as it met his blade. The sparks cleared leaving Rocky holding his sword, once more just metal, and the axe lying in two smoldering pieces.

Behind him the battle stopped as suddenly the warrior passed out. The others got to their feet and stared at the Ape ninjetti. He looked back at them and shrugged, "Well, where do we have to be now?"

The spirit animals stared as the remains of Hydra faded away into nothingness. With one telling blow the Ape Ninjetti had ended this battle and destroyed the Hydra spirit. Owl finally broke the silence. 'You know, Ape, I always forget about the intelligent thing.'

Ape scratched his head with one meaty hand. 'So do I.'

They watched as their children moved quickly towards the center of the city. They now knew exactly why their elder brothers and sisters had left. They had not wanted them to know that some of those that they had mourned for were the cause of their loss. It seemed so petty now. They turned as one to stare at Whale as he began to sing a dirge and they added their voices to his. Now it would end.

"You're one microscopic cog
in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by
his red right hand."

-Nick Cave, Red Right Hand.

The last of Kalieth's generals watched the sunset. He had been here for hours, while the others had caused chaos, he had the duty to see the door open. He'd been told this when he'd picked up the staff in Kalieth's war room. This was the point of greatest devastation in the city, though there were no ruined buildings or screams of agony to prove it. It wouldn't even be readily apparent that this place was destroyed, but it was. If a wind blew through here it would pick up dust that could no longer support plant life. Around him stood bushes and trees that were dried to kindling. Small animals that didn't escape the radius of the staff's growing power had died in their holes or on the run as it drained the life from their bodies. Kalieth's elites laid scattered about the desolation, their energy had fueled the staff. So did that of the people who came to stop it--they never got close him.

'victory had seemed assured on both planes.' He didn't know what that meant, but it was told him by the staff and she knew what was right. Now, he was sure that Kalieth's time was finally at an end. He plunged the staff into the ground and watched as it seemed to wither. It would still do its work until destroyed, but he had no desire to be here when that happened. So he left it as he teleported up to the flagship.

Kalieth had planned for four, but now there were eight. Hydra was dead. Wyvern had run. Manticore was still fighting, but he was losing. She smiled as she watched more of her brethren crawl through the gateway. After a few moments she followed her chosen vessel. 'unlike the others, I know when to cut my losses.'

Billy sputtered as more dust came down on him, his head still hurt from where he'd bumped it trying to get out from under his refuge. He hadn't broken anything thankfully, but when this was done he wanted a long hot shower and a gallon of Tiger Balm. He'd managed to duck under a stone table of some sort when the roof came down for a visit. 'Thank god, these people like building with stone. I haven't even seen many wooden objects since I've been here. I wonder if it's a cultural habit or it could be that I've only seen a small portion of the city.' He idly sneaked a glance at the hole he was creating, he'd decided to see if his light-staff could do the 'they're still coming trick' from Episode 1. So now all he had to do was dodge the drops of molten building materials that were released as he slowly melted his was through the debris. It was slow, but it had the added benefit of welding the rubble above him together. It wasn't his first plan, that had been 'teleport out of here,' but that didn't work, probably because he'd hit his head a little too hard.

He sighed as he continued working. He was alone right now and it was just really annoying, for a guy who had avoided all of his close friends for a decade, he'd suddenly grown very used to having them around. He'd felt Kim's presence a couple of times, but she seemed more interested in checking to make sure that he was alright than having a conversation. It was what he needed though, when the building collapsed it had been like his world had ended. He had just shut down until Kim had contacted him, then he was ready to get the heck out of here. 'I wonder how much farther?' "Wish I may
Wish I might
Have this I wish tonight
Are you satisfied?"

-Metallica, King Nothing.

Kalieth was waiting patiently in the middle of town, he'd known that General Bedek had fled, but he wasn't worried about that now. Bedek had followed his orders and succeeded in his task, while the others had failed. He made careful adjustments to his armor to help shore up his damaged leg. It would not slow him down for this fight. He had miscalculated, but no matter, they were all here now. All he had to do was destroy them and it would be over. 'No more worlds destroyed because of their arrogance.'

Kim nearly flew as she jumped to another building, the warrior had gotten closer and was taking great delight in destroying whatever building or structure she stood on. She hadn't even been able to shoot at him for the last few minutes, he was moving too fast. All she needed was one good shot . . .

'Something's missing . . . ' There was something wrong, but she couldn't figure out what it was. 'The music stopped a couple of minutes ago, something to do with that?' She checked on Billy--he was still fine. 'Maybe the others?' She was interrupted as the building collapsed underneath her, but she was already in flight as she landed easily on a small building. She froze in horror as she figured out what was missing. 'Adam.'

She jumped from the building as it rocked and landed in the street as the warrior came towards her. She raised her bow as he closed the distance between them. He swung back his massive hammer and she fired point blank.

On another plane, Crane suddenly flew in and Manitcore's vision was filled with feathers. He growled and shot his deadly tail forward, but his blow missed as he roared in agony. He backed away as he tried to find out where Crane had disappeared to.

Crane quickly fluttered back and looked upon the beast's ruined face with grim satisfaction--her blow had struck true and Manticore was going to have to get used to a new perspective in life.

He started to advance, but when he heard the warning growl of the Wolf he turned and ran away, vanishing quickly into the falling night.

The warrior screamed as the blast caught him full in the face. He suddenly couldn't see out of one eye and swung out blindly as he tried to connect with the little girl who had hurt him. Then to his dismay he felt the power rush from his body and flow into the hammer. A moment later he felt the hammer explode into dust. He staggered back and in that next moment he felt hot fire burn into his back and then there was blackness.

"All I hear is that lonesome sound
The hounds of winter
They harry me down."

-Sting, Hounds of Winter.

Kim shook slightly as it dawned on her how close it had been. But it was over, she had to get to Adam. "Adam," was all she said as she took off towards the direction she'd heard the singing from.

Billy jogged along behind her, he'd been burning through the rubble when he suddenly felt this wave of horror, fear, and grief come from Kimberly. He'd decided that he was out of time and hoped that he didn't drop the building on himself as he cut the rest of the way through in a couple of slashes. He'd raced towards her familiar heartbeat and saw her jump to the ground as the warrior charged towards her. He'd closed the distance and thrust his staff towards the monster's back as the hammer began to descend. It would be too late. Then there was a nearly blinding flash of pink and a scream, then the monster staggered back into his attack. For some reason he could not fathom the armor, that had protected it from every attack he had made, did not even slow his light-staff. He felt vaguely sick that he had killed a living being, but it was it or Kim. It collapsed to the street with a smouldering hole through its stomach and out its back. That was it, it was over. Now she was running after Adam.

The burning building was an excellent beacon. 'I guess they use wood after all.' He thought absently to himself, then Billy's eyes caught sight of Adam laying in the mud. Suddenly his thoughts were no longer light. It was an eerie reproduction of finding him after the storm, but this time he didn't suddenly find a heartbeat. Nor had there been such a heavy smell of blood under the smoke--human blood. Hoping that his ears were deceiving him he looked closer. He saw the blood slowly seeping, not gushing or pulsing, from various cuts and slashes. He slowed to a stiff walk as his body went on auto-pilot. 'We're too late.'

Kim felt Billy suddenly go numb behind her, his shock told her what her eyes would tell her in an instant. 'Adam's dead!? This isn't the way it's supposed to happen! It can't happen!' The building beside them blazed, shedding its light so that she couldn't deny it. She knelt in mud beside him, but it was quickly apparent that there was no pulse. She didn't know what to do, they weren't prepared for this. 'Adam was . . . He knew.' She felt something 'off' from Billy and put her hand on his leg, "Billy, come back to me."

The Crane and Wolf were silent as they looked at Adam. Frog was not to be seen and any spirit animal would have notified another of its charge's demise, especially in circumstances like this. So, if Adam was dead, then Frog was most probably destroyed. Wolf threw back his head and howled, mourning not only the Frog, but the boy that had quickly become his friend. 'You shall be avenged my friends.'

'Of that there is no denial.' Answered Crane with surprising venom in her musical tone.

Kim spoke to Billy for a couple minutes with tears running down her face as she grieved for Adam. He'd only dropped back into her life a month ago, but he had changed it forever. Now he was gone. She vaguely noticed Billy sit down beside her and examine Adam's body.

He carefully rolled Adam over, it had became quickly apparent that the visible wounds couldn't account for the volume of blood soaking the ground. They were defense cuts, but they weren't what killed him. He was also too cold, the blood was still wet which meant the body shouldn't have cooled, but it had. He took a sniff of the air and winced as the smoke burned through his nostrils. He shook his head as he focused back on the body. The smell of blood almost overwhelmed him, but he had been prepared for it and he gasped slightly at the slash that ran from Adam's right shoulder down to his lower back. 'He fought with this?' Billy looked around and quickly picked out the signs of a fight. The story was forming: somehow whoever did this had backstabbed Adam. They fought, blood loss finally dropped Adam, but not before he knocked the guy down. Billy unconsciously snarled as he took in the murderer's scent--it hung over the body like a shroud. He turned following it away with his eyes, then his ears relayed him a puzzling message. He could still feel Kim grounding him as he reached out for the sound. 'Wind, Fire, Kim, creaking?' Billy's eyes widened as he suddenly grabbed Kim and pulled her away from the body as he started to dash from the area. "What!?" asked Kim shakily as he put her down.

"Wait." A few seconds after he said that the building that had been burning collapsed, covering the area where they had been standing with burning debris. Billy forced himself to turn away and focus on the scent in the air, "The guy who did this went that way."

She looked into his tear stained face and saw him lock it away like he had done when his mother died. When they were finished, then he'd grieve. 'We'll both grieve.' Kim nodded, her face resolved, but tears still followed their tracks through the dust on her face. He started off at a jog which turned into a swift lope as he tracked his prey. Behind him, Kim barely seemed to touch the ground as she ran after him.

"It was midnight, midnight at noon
Everyone talked in rhyme
Everyone saw the big clock ticking
Nobody knew, nobody knew the time."

-Sting, Jeremiah Blues.

'AT LAST!!' Kalieth smiled as the last ray of sunlight slipped below the horizon. His keen eyes had already picked his foes out of the distance. 'Supposedly there are eight ninjetti to battle me. I see only five, one is obviously the Master Warrior, but what of Wolf, Crane, and the Black one?' He yelled out his challenge, "Ho Ninjetti, have you come to die at my hands?"

The Green one, Master Warrior Dulcea, spoke out, "We have come to defeat you! No more shall you destroy the innocent."

He growled, "No more shall your Ninjetti plots force me to." He waited in confusion when as one the advancing Ninjetti stopped and seem to share discourse.

Together they had followed Dulcea's guidance as she led them to where they needed to be. She had been quiet since Owl had stopped speaking to her after telling her to go to the center of the city. Something was wrong, she knew that, and the other ninjetti felt it. She had picked out the form of their foe before the others, her vision was excellent at night. They listened as Kalieth roared out his challenge to them and they were all surprised by Kalieth's choice of words. "Ninjetti plots? Force him to?" queried Jason.

Dulcea was amazed and it was apparent on her face, "I have no concept of what he speaks."

"Who cares? He's just a psycho who needs his ass kicked," stated Rocky as he voiced the thought that was unconsciously echoed by everyone.

Trey's uniform seemed to go reddish-orange as he spoke, "I must agree with Rocky."

"Should we wait for the return of our companions or challenge him now?" asked Cestro as he had figured out the most probable course of action for the group.

Dulcea looked to Jason and he seemed to think about it for a moment, "No, we need to get some idea of what we're up against, hopefully they'll be here soon. We'll flank you and Rocky as you have weapons and we don't."

He was stopped by Rocky, who grabbed Jason's hand and pushed his sword into it, "You lead, you use it." Jason felt a little overwhelmed by Rocky's gesture, and Rocky could tell as he went on hurriedly, "Hey, my strength should make up for not having it."

Jason nodded, "Then Dulcea and I will lead, you'll be right behind me. Trey, you flank me and Cestro, you stand beside Dulcea. Let's do it."

They strode forward to meet Kalieth.

If the ninjetti could see the spirit plane, the would have wondered why their outfits didn't come with zords. Odds are they wouldn't have been as confident about the fight either. The crowned snake had grown as soon as the sun had fully set, now it towered megazord-high over Kalieth and the battle.

The spirit animals recognized him though and they whispered among themselves as they readied themselves for a hopeless battle. They couldn't desert their charges, not against this. They'd already lost too much. Ape spoke up first. 'Y'know, I would kill for a mega-zord right now.'

Mountain Lion chuckled. 'Size is not an issue, you know that.'

'So, I'd still rather have a zord. Especially one with kung-fu grip action. And a sword, yeah, a really big sword.'

''Kung-fu grip action?'' Asked Hawk hesitantly, he'd never really worked with Ape before and right now he had no idea what going on.

'Like a GI Joe.' Supplied Ape helpfully. 'Wait, I got it! A cannon, a freaking huge cannon!'

Owl chuckled, she was one of the most laid back of the avians, it came with the wisdom she supposed. 'Just ignore him, we all do.' It was obvious that Hawk was still lost. 'Ape is just trying to lighten our spirits. Take it in the 'spirit' it was intended.' Ape howled in laughter at that and Owl continued wryly. 'Nor do you have the 'benefit' of having your charge live on earth. Ape's vernacular abounds with cultural references.'

Hawk nodded. 'Oh. Well, good show then.'

Ape laughed even harder, if they survived this he was going to have to teach Hawk about the finer points of humor. Then they heard Wolf's howl on the wind and fell silent as they we once again reminded of the price of this battle. Ape growled up at their enemy. 'Let's kick this guy's ass up between his ears!'

'And how far would that be precisely?' Asked Hawk helpfully as he reined the rambunctious spirit in.

Ape laughed, maybe he'd been wrong about having to teach Hawk about humor. He raised his massive arms above his head and roared as he quickly expanded to zord height. 'Come get some, buddy!'

"Just want one thing
Just to play the King
But the castle's crumbled and you're left with just a name
Where's your crown, King Nothing?
Where's your crown?"

-Metallica, King Nothing.

Kalieth wasn't surprised as the ninjetti came towards him. He'd expected them to fight dishonorably, though he would have been surprised to know that they felt him a threat on par with Zedd and Ooze. Which made it totally justifiable force if they were correct . . . which unbeknownst to him, they were.

He slid his sword from its sheath and then reached for the dagger. 'It's gone!?' He groped around for a moment and pulled a different blade out. He gave his enemy a quick salute and assessed their battle plan. He had one too, that's why he'd chosen this place, there was no way they could easily pin him, but many ways he could split up a group. He moved back over a couple of very low benches as he chose his position carefully. 'Ah, the purple one, already moves them to compensate. How is this so? Even the Master Warrior follows the orders of this apprentice. Apprentice or not, he does have some grasp of strategy.' He smiled thinly as the group broke around the barriers he'd placed between them.

His long sturdy knife caught the staff and he parried the sword with his own. The battle had begun.

In the part of the city that Billy and Kim had just left the inhabitants began to flee their homes. They knew that death walked the streets, but to stay would mean that they would certainly die as fire began to spread through the city. Firefighters had already come, they knew that they might die, but this fire could destroy this section of the city and cause more loss of life if they did nothing.

Billy heard the sounds of battle grow closer as he followed the scent. He didn't pause or slow, but he informed Kim. He wanted to reach out and try and figure out what was going on, but that was the quickest way to a zone. So he kept his curiosity in check--he'd know soon enough. He finally saw them and a slight growl escaped his throat as he wondered if this was the guy who . . . beat Adam. He carefully pushed his thoughts away from that dangerous ground and studied the battle before him.

Dulcea and Jason were working in tandem as their weapons danced through the air attempting to score a blow on what was obviously Kalieth. Trey and Cestro darted around the benches and plants that dotted the area, trying to distract their foe. Kalieth executed a spinning move and caught Trey with a hilt punch from his blade. He shoved the Hawk ninjetti into Dulcea and sent a kick into Cestro, knocking the Whale ninjetti from his feet. He leapt forward and locked blades with Jason as he tried to bring his knife into play. Jason's blade began to glow a deep red as Kalieth's flared black. He was ripped from Jason when Rocky smashed the evil warlord in the head. Kalieth staggered, but quickly staggered away to get his bearings.

'The scent grows stronger, I think that I've found the bastard.' Thought Billy cooly to himself as he readied his staff once more. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a flare of pink as Kim readied the first shaft for this battle.

As in the real world, things were not going in the spirit animals favor as they battled the snake. Hawk and Owl harried the monster, trying to launch an attack at its vulnerable eyes as it darted to and fro. They were quite surprised when Crane darted in and scored a gash over the snake's right eye. She gracefully executed a rolling spin that kept her clear of the deadly fangs as he tried to bite her. 'Has Frog came to you?'

Hawk nodded to Owl and she pulled away from the battle for a moment. 'What do you mean?'

The more landbound animals received help when Wolf suddenly grabbed the snake by the tail and shook it like a rag doll. The snake tried to double back on itself, but Wolf was busy doing his Steve Irwin impersonation and snapping the beast back away from him. Mountain Lion leapt in and raked her claws down the vulnerable underbelly as the snake tried to turn back on Wolf. She choked and staggered away as the beast spit a gout of its envenomed breath on her. The snake wasn't able to capitalize on his successful attack as Ape smashed down on the top of the evil reptile's head, driving it down into the 'ground' and away from the dazed Mountain Lion.

Whale sent a drenching shower of water onto Mountain Lion, cleaning the foul poison off the wounded spirit animal. He winced in sympathy as he noted the burned fur and the charred patches where the skin had blistered. She was already recovering and he would stand watch over his podmate until she was ready to return to battle. She sputtered irritably. 'Things just couldn't get any worse could they?'

The frantic amphibians fell back as they battled the blaze, its heat was drying delicate skin as they tried to contain it. Members of the squads sent low-pressure showers of water over their companions to combat the heat. The inferno suddenly flared high as the first gusts of a great wind hit it. The firefighters retreated knowing that the fire was out of their hands now as it threw tendrils of fire high into the sky. They huddled close to the dampened ground as the wind grew in intensity and watched in awe as the fire was turned back onto itself. Then it began to die down as if the air was being deprived from it. Muttered words of astonishment escaped them as they saw it over the fire, a great black and gold bird whose wings flapped fiercely as it beat the fire into submission. Then it gave a loud cry and flew away towards the center of the city.

Kalieth had backed off when the first blast of pink nearly took his head off, only a 'lucky' blow by the Master Warrior had saved him. Now, the Blue Wolf and the Pink Crane had joined the fight. They had erred and lost the element of surprise. It was an error they could ill afford to make in his opinion.

They were good of that he had no doubt, but alone only the Master Warrior stood a chance of defeating him and he made sure to keep his exchanges with her to a minimum. The Red one's strength and agility made him a threat, but his lack of discipline kept him from using those abilities to their utmost potential. The Blue one was not a warrior, of that Kaleith had no doubt, but he had the most annoying habit of interfering at exactly the wrong moment--many a finishing blow had been deflected by his trickery. The Orange one was a skilled warrior and his attacks had a rigid precision that Kalieth found predictable, but his allies had kept from Kalieth from capitalizing. The Purple Apprentice was an excellent leader and a strong warrior, but he not yet a match for Kalieth. 'Of course, with his force he does not have to be able to best me in single combat. All he must do is capitalize on any errors he forces me to make.'

The Wolf and Crane were an enigma, they had obviously been in a hard fight--their clothes were bloodstained and their faces grim. A team of two, perhaps? He absently parried the Crane's next bolt as he studied her companion. 'If looks could kill . . . this one hates me, the others fight me because of their 'duty' to the ninjetti witch.'

Kalieth whipped around and swept the legs from under the Orange ninjetti who had tried to sneak up on him. He stomped hard upon the fallen foe as he leapt and slashed at the Red one, who gave a small sound of pain when Kalieth's blade nicked him. He spun back and caught the high-low combination from the Master and the Apprentice. He whirled gracefully away and right into the waiting attacks of the Wolf and Crane. His sword and dagger where occupied by the Wolf's relentless attack so he quickly dropped and rolled towards the Crane's legs causing her shot to go wild as she dodged him. He came back up and found himself pressed back once more by the Wolf.

Numbers were in the spirit animals favor, but their opponent was far stronger than he should be. This battle was going on far longer than it should have and they had no answers. Owl had suddenly pulled out after they had finished talking. Now Crane flew high and vented her frustrations. 'His children are extinct! How can he have so much strength?'

'It is plausible that he possesses reserves that we know not of . . . ' Suggested Hawk helpfully.

'How exactly does one miss a small snake whose breath is deadly and its venom even more so?'

'Perhaps those who knew did not live long enough to pass on the information.'

Crane swooped down of her foe with renewed vigor after that reminder.

The serpent threw back its head and gave a hissing laugh, he had been listening to conversation between the annoying avians. He was happy, very happy. Owl had fled the battle after Crane's revelation, so it was true that she was the wisest--she knew that he was unstoppable. Perhaps the news of Frog's demise would shake the ground dwellers as well, at least it might get the damn dog off of him. He spoke in a mocking sibilant tone. 'ssso you are misssing one of your numberss, yess?'

The Lioness spoke for them. 'What have you done with Frog?'

He hissed in pain as the Wolf dug in deeper and began to shake him even harder. Perhaps this was not the best of ideas . . . 'he iss no more and hisses charge iss felled by mine puppet.' He smiled as all except the Wolf froze in shock, they mumbled denials, but no one truly voiced challenge to his words. It was good, but he really wished that the dog would let go, it hurt fiercely and it was proving more than just a distraction. He smiled at the assembled animals. 'yesss. why do you thinkss that Wolf fightsss sso fierssse? he knowsss.'

He stopped speaking as the Wolf growled and bit deeper, he had the vague impression that it had finally hit bone. He was sure that he had miscalculated when the suddenly the 'demoralized' spirit animals charged forward with renewed purpose and he found himself truly fighting hard for his victory.

Kalieth would have been surprised to find out that his flagship no longer orbited the planet. Little did he know that it and half his fleet had fled when General Bedek received word of a Council fleet coming his way. Kalieth wouldn't be surprised that Bedek betrayed him, just that he had the nerve to steal what belonged to Kalieth. If he had known, he wouldn't have been as confident about his odds--for Bedek would have only done this if he believed that Kalieth was no longer a threat. Bedek had bundled off all of the elites to the least useful vessels and told them to guard their master--they would be destroyed with Kalieth. His new fleet would be long gone before the Council arrived and no one would be the wiser. He would return to the part of Kalieth's empire that he had marshaled and hold there until he was sure the Council would not take action against him.

The other ninjetti watched in amazement as Kim and Billy forced Kalieth into a full retreat. It was eerie, both Kim and Billy ignored Kalieth's taunts and fought him with a single minded determination that was more representative of Tommy than either of the more easy going ninjetti. Jason was carefully giving orders to the others when Dulcea's head shot up and she stared into the air. He paused as she suddenly gasped and stepped back when he caught the expression on her face as she suddenly charged into the fray. Jason shrugged, "New plan."

A moment later he and the ninjetti still under his command rejoined the battle, supporting the main players of this new situation. This battle was surprisingly short. Dulcea had, in Jason's opinion, swooped down like an avenging angel as her staff seemed to blur in the air. Even Billy and Kim backed off as Dulcea beat into Kalieth.

He parried and blocked and dodged, but still the Master Warrior came on. 'She is more fierce now than the Wolf. What has changed?' He was thankful that the others had pulled back to make this a 'fair' fight, not that he would trust the ninjetti, but it was fortunate that they allowed him to focus his skills on the Master. No words were spoke as the two expert warrior each sought to find a weakness to bring the other down.

'Here.' He was finally here. He had waited so long to be free, it was a hard fight, but he would soon be able to lick his wounds in the world of light. He watched as Celax strode proudly through the dark gateway and into the night. He watched enviously as it breathed in the new air. He heard the joy in it's voice as howled into the night.

He was very surprised by what happened next, not as surprised as Celax. The silence was broken by the beating of giant wings and the cry of the great bird as it swooped down. Its golden talons shredded flesh as it caught the Celax. The Celax was dead before it left the ground.

He looked back at the line of behind him. 'Um, why don't you go next?'

Total silence greeted him, then one voice spoke. 'Nah, you go, we'll wait here.'

All further conversation was rendered moot as strong talons shattered the withered staff into kindling and the doorway snapped shut once more. The giant bird flew up into the night and towards the battle.

They were more evenly matched than Kalieth had first realized. 'Master Warrior is not an idle affectation in her case.' Dulcea bore a few nicks from Kalieth's blade, but he had also 'blocked' a few powerful blows with vulnerable spots as well. The group had hindered her as much as it had him, now they were going to decided the fate of the ninjetti once and for all.

""I must be doing something right
just keep it moving I'm dancing in the light
I must be something right right right
out of the darkness and I'm dancing in the light."

--Dancing in the Light by Entrain, from the album Can You Get It.

At least that's what Kalieth thought, on the plane of spirit it was a different matter. The evil serpent had lost some of its massive size and now was not much bigger than the Ape. Its venom kept backing one then another of them off, every attack he succeeded with struck hard and took it's toll on the good spirit animals. Only the birds had been agile enough to avoid a dose of the noxious fumes, well them and Whale--no one had any idea how he managed it. Just one of those things, they supposed. A thunderous screech brought the battle to a stop as everyone looked to the sound. A voice that roared like the storm spoke out. 'BASILISK! Leave this place and trouble me no more.'

In shock Wolf's hold had loosened and Basilisk finally shook him free. The wounds began to heal as soon as the bite was removed. 'ssstill alive? I thought your children desstroyed in the great battle.'

The giant bird circled high as it spoke down. It laughed with a thunderous rumble. 'Oh, I made preparations for such eventualities, little snake.'

'I AM NOT SSSNAKE! I AM THE KING OF SSSSERPENTS, KING OF THE NIGHT!'

The great bird laughed again. 'Sure you are.'

'Mosssk me not!'

'What?'

Basilisk gave a great hiss and struck up towards the giant avian, but it seemed to gently roll to the side as it dodged the strike. With a flash of gold, talons gripped the Basilisk tight and it flew high into the sky with its prize.

The remaining spirit animals just stared after the departing duo. Hawk landed on a low bench near the others. 'Out of all the ways I expected this confrontation to end, that was most decidedly not one of them.'

The others nodded silently in agreement.

"But the castle's crumbled and you're left with just a name
Where's your crown, King Nothing?
Where's your crown?
Oh, You're just nothing
Where's your crown King Nothing?
Oh, you're just nothing
Absolutely nothing."

-Metallica, King Nothing.

The battle ended suddenly, Kalieth collapsed to one knee as a staff blow finally finished the work that Adam had started. He fought hard, but even he knew it was over. He growled at the Master Warrior and dropped his weapons. "Kill me now, ninjetti."

He watched calmly as the staff descended. A burst of pain was quickly followed by blackness as he slumped to the ground. Dulcea stared calmly down at him, "Not in this lifetime." She restrained the unworthy urge to kick him while he was unconscious and turned back to the others. "We should restrain him so that he may stand trial for him crimes," with that said she turned and walked off in the direction Kim and Billy had come.

Jason made a move to follow her but he stopped when he heard a quiet sobbing coming from behind him. Cestro and Rocky made short work of restraining the fallen dictator and came back to the group. No one commented as Billy held Kim close while she cried. Billy finally looked up from Kim and the others were shocked to see tears running down Billy's face. He spoke quietly to the group, "Adam is . . ."

The bird choked on Basilisk's foul breath and it wobbled in flight as Basilisk bit him. But he could fight off the cold for long enough--he unlike the others knew the secret of Basilisk's strength and he could thwart it. Basilisk thrashed in earnest as a line of light appeared on the horizon. 'you cannot dessstroy meesss thisss way!'

'I know, but I can send you from here. That is enough for now.'

'I have killed one of your number, I will kill them all, one at a time if I musst. I have the time.'

'Are you so sure?'

Basilisk hissed at the bird's vague answer and he began to shrink as the light came closer. 'I will be back, Phoenix! You and your cursssed morning will not hold me back forever!'

When the light of dawn hit them full on the Basilisk vanished and the Phoenix burst into flame. The moment ended and he returned to his normal state a moment later. All of the injuries that he had sustained battling Basilisk had healed. He shook his head slightly and replied to Basilisk's last words. 'You always say that.' He gave a triumphant cry and vanished into the rising sun.

"No. NO!" Rocky couldn't believe what they were telling him. 'Adam can't be dead! Not Adam, he just came back.' He couldn't believe that Billy and Kim would both be wrong, but it was worse to think that his best friend was dead. Some part of him screamed that if he denied it enough it wouldn't be true--it was childish, but he just didn't care right now.

Jason and Trey were both silent, there was nothing they could say.

Cestro had moved away from the group, he was the only one who didn't really know Adam. He was saddened at the loss of a new companion, but he had not lost a life-mate like the others. He felt it better that he let them to their emotional displays as he meditated on how Adam had enriched his life. 'You shall swim in the Coral Caves this day, of that I am certain.'

Kim sobbed harder as she was not just dealing with her own pain, but that of her companions. She pushed them away and latched on to Cestro's calm and happy thoughts. It gave her the strength to get herself under some semblance of control. "We-we need to get him locked up before he wakes up."

Rocky growled and roughly grabbed Kalieth's limp form, "I'll take him to where the axe-guy is."

The others watched him stalk off dragging Kalieth behind him. Kim spoke up hesitantly, "That went better than I expected."

No one commented. Kim sighed, "I should go check on Dulcea."

Jason spoke up for the others, "We should go the ship and check if Cestro and Trey's friends have arrived."

The unspoken comment was that he'd also check on Rocky. He nodded to the others and started towards the ship with Cestro and Trey in tow. Billy followed silently after Kim as she left the square. She followed her instincts and quickly found Dulcea's presence. As they got closer, Kim could feel the intense concentration from the ninjetti master. 'I wonder what she's doing?'

The spirit animals followed their charges, but now heads that were once held high, bowed in grief. The Frog spirit was lost and his Prince had followed him into the great beyond. It would have happened anyway, without the Frog, his chosen would have slowly sickened and died as his life force was drained away with his powers. So in a way, it was better this way . . . but it didn't feel like it.

They finally found her helping some of the frog-people with rescue efforts. Medics tended the many wounded and anyone who was able helped them, the searchers, or the firefighters. She had found them on the way to where . . . he was and she could not turn away. It kept her occupied with the busy activity. Dulcea listened carefully as the Fire Leader, Wrrock'kree'wrih, thanked her for her help. "The fires will by morn be gone. We must watch still, but that was the last of the major fires. A few small still burn, but contain them we shall and they will burn out. Now is not the time leap far, but hop to safe fronds."

Dulcea nodded, "Do you require anymore assistance?"

"Nay, you have done more than enough. In the morn shall we talk again. You have a hard battle fought and many wounds taken, I will take you and yours to a resting and healing place." The squat amphibian looked past her, "More of yours come, let us hop to your group and invitation you will accept."

Dulcea wanted to refuse, but it would be selfish--the others required assistance. She looked back and saw Kim and Billy and nodded. Taking the Fire Leader would postpone her conversation with the Crane and Wolf, she had no desire to talk now. 'Perhaps in the morn.' "Billy, have the others returned to the ship?"

"Either there or wherever the 'axe-guy' is being held. We still do not have any information about the fleet orbiting the planet."

He looked at Kim helplessly as Dulcea turned and began to slowly walk towards where the spaceship was hidden. The small Fire Leader hopped alongside her and shooed off any who wanted to 'buzz about' the returning ninjetti. He was the only one who spoke as they walked through the devastation and on their way their another of his kind joined them. The new arrival was explained as "Wraa'wrick'croo, a good medic to see to your wounds."

Once they returned to the ship, it was quickly discovered that it was a good thing. Only Kim of all the ninjetti was basically uninjured--she admitted that she had hurt herself worse in sparring than she had through this. Cestro's sturdier Aquitian frame had fared the battles much better and except for a few remarkably dark bruises he declared himself, "Functioning well within acceptable levels."

Billy was bruised and sore, after checking the ships database the medic declared that he had a mild concussion and would be fine. Billy had already come to that conclusion an hour ago, but he was grateful for the second opinion. Trey had some torn muscles and a motley collection of bruises and nicks. Cestro vanished back into the ship and when he returned Billy excused himself, "You are not putting that gunk on me," he told Cestro firmly. His face scrunched up at the odor--and that was with the container still sealed. "I'll be outside."

Everyone except the two Frog-people found the Wolf ninjetti's expression hilarious and a few chuckles escaped even Rocky and Dulcea. Wraa'wrick smiled at the smell of the salve, "This is very good, but we will hop to your night shelter and allow you to rinse before I apply."

He carefully checked Rocky's vital signs when he noted the bloodied bandage that was around his arm. "At night shelter I will clean and put a proper bandage on it and then you may rinse."

Jason like all the others had an assortment of cuts and bruises, as well as a selection of cracked and bruised ribs. He had stayed pretty much motionless since the adrenaline rush of Kalieth's battle had worn out. Too say he was surprised when his ribs began to protest was a bit of an understatement. Wraa'wrick gave an irritated croak, "You should have spoke, not hidden in the reeds, first you should have been." He studied Jason awhile longer, "I have no way to move you. You are too big for a floater."

Cestro spoke up, "We have a anti-gravity stretcher on the vessel. I shall fetch it."

Wraa'wrick carefully scanned over Jason's ribs and pulled a device from his bag. "This will be safe for you. It will hold the bones in the place they are now, so that when we place you on the floater you will not be injured more. I most want to have you in healing place before I immobilize them, good?"

Jason gave a slight nod and focused on breathing shallowly as the pain lessened. When Cestro came back with the stretcher, he and Dulcea carefully loaded Jason on and they left the ship. They were greeted by tired laughter as a verbal fight for the shower continued. Billy was sitting smugly in a now clean and whole ninjetti uniform. His face wrinkled once more as he caught the first whiff of healing salve, "I think I'll sleep on the ship."

He vanished out the door before anyone could comment, but he could hear their laughter behind him. It was a good reward for his over-acting. 'Tonight we don't need to think about it. Tomorrow will come soon enough.'

He heard a low whine. 'Not always is a moon needed to mourn.'

Billy nodded to his companion and walked past the ship into the mountains surrounding the city. In the light of the next day many of the Frog-people would comment at the strange wind that echoed through the hills. They wondered what could cause the sky to sing of sorrow and loss.

"A thousand years, a thousand more,
A thousand times a million doors to eternity
I may have lived a thousand lives, a thousand times
An endless turning stairway climbs
To a tower of souls
If it takes another thousand years, a thousand wars,
The towers rise to numberless floors in space
I could shed another million tears, a million breaths,
A million names but only one truth to face."

--A Thousand Years, by Sting from the album Brand New Day.

He was slowly waking up, he had heard a morning bird and felt the warmth of the sun. The bird's gentle song had faded and he could vaguely hear voices talking, he'd heard them talking before, but he had managed earlier to fade back into dreamless sleep. He liked it better there, he didn't have to think about what he had lost. One of his best friends was gone, they'd just gotten back together, and he'd never see him again. It sucked. Now, they began to pull him towards wakefulness. The first voice was rougher than the second, almost 'burbly,' he liked that voice and strained to listen to its words. " . . . we have much in common, but much not."

"True." Rumbled the second voice--he liked that voice too.

"Well, I have no problem with change, we all change."

"You speak truly, but how should this be handled?"

"You mean am I going to let him go?" There was a pause and the same voice continued. "No, I'm not."

The rumbling voice seemed to grow discordant. "I understand."

Then he heard the first voice give a croaking laugh. "No you don't, but you will. I'll pitch it to him and we'll see what he thinks of it."

"You can be so frustrating at times."

"But I'm so good at it."

Morning came with a sore back, throat, and great many aches and pains. He absently removed a canteen from his belt and took a long drink. Then he began to carefully assess his surroundings, he'd ended up following the Wolf into a warm cave and falling asleep after their joint 'howling' session. He still felt Adam's loss acutely, but at least now he was functional. He had mourned over their shared past, their rejoining, and this final parting. Ten years had not made much of difference he'd found, Adam was still his little brother in his heart and the isolation had done nothing to fill the hole. When Adam had came back into his life he had fit right back into Billy's soul. Now he was gone far too soon.

He sniffed the air as he felt the warmth of dawn burning the air and heating the stone around him. He'd have to head back to city, but for now he was content to just watch silently as nature slowly began to awaken around him.

The others slept much later into the day, their systems didn't adjust as quickly to interstellar travel and they were deservedly tired yesterday's horrors. On this day, dawn was not a new start, but the end of something old. The daylight shined brightly reminding them of their loss. Last night it wasn't real, just a bad dream that followed them into sleep, but now there was no denying that the Frog ninjetti was not going to join them.

All except Jason and Rocky had left to help any way they could. Jason and Rocky would both sleep much later into the day. During the night the planet had been contacted by a fleet sent by the one-time planet members of the Council of Light. They had found a ghost fleet orbiting the world, investigative teams reported 'bodies' of armor and decayed bone bound in an unidentified substance. Then they had pledged their help in helping the Cro'ack'wraan recover from tragedy and they were already setting the wheels into motion to try Kalieth and his general for their crimes, in the meantime they now resided in the brig of a Trifonian vessel.

The death-toll of Kalieth's rampage on this planet was but a few thousand and they knew how fortunate they were. Two planets in neighboring systems were no more and there were survivors here who needed comfort far more than they. A somber air had settled over the planet when they heard the news of the Frog Ninjetti's sacrifice. Another cost was only now being discovered--one area of the city had been rendered barren of life. No one survived who had been in that part of city and no one knew why.

'So this is it, we beat the bad guys, now we're heroes, and soon we'll head home.' Thought Kim dismally as she walked through the city, she sound herself back at the spot where she watched the building cover Adam's remains. She saw one small Frog-person dozing on a bench near her, he started as he finally noticed her. "Ah, Ninjetti, honored am I to be in your presence."

'He means it.' Kim blushed under the waves of adoration she felt from him. "Nice to meet you too, I'm Kim."

"I am Krrooon'aan."

"What are you doing out here?" she asked absently as she sat on the low bench beside him.

"I am watching here to make sure the fire does not flare again. I think it is gone, but it was very resilient."

Kim tried to figure out what he was saying and suddenly she saw. Her perspective was much lower and everything looked odd, but she could make out the ruins well enough. The charred debris was soaked with water and Fire Walkers carefully searched for remains of the blaze or people. In the middle of it all a fire burned bright, they tried to put it out again and again, but it would not subside. Then with the first rays of dawn that one small area blazed high, nearly singeing one slow Fire Walker. It burned bright and fierce, then smoke obscured the fire and when it cleared the fire was gone. She could feel his puzzlement and suddenly she was back looking at him. "Where was it?"

He perked up, "Right over there, just a few short hops from that beam."

Somehow she knew what 'just a few short hops' meant, and if her memory served her, it was almost exactly where Adam had been. A flare of hope washed through her and she listened, but couldn't hear anything. 'Fooling yourself. But it was strange . . . '

He came mostly awake and yawned hugely as his eyes blinked in the bright light of morning. His arm and shoulder ached in an absent matter, but they seemed to be in much better condition than they were last night. 'Last night . . . ' There was something about that, something important, and he had a feeling that he might as well as enjoy that blissful ignorance until it faded. He found a pair of shorts lying near him and quickly put them on, he didn't care what color they were at this point. 'Better than naked. Where are my clothes? I usually don't misplace those . . . ' His stomach growled and shook him from his thoughts. 'Breakfast first. I wonder where everyone is.'

"Ah, you're awake," rumbled the deep voice from his dreams.

He studied them for a minute, they were very different. If he had been working with a full instruction manual this morning he would have noticed a few more things, but as it was one was huge and the other was tiny in comparison. The big one was dark, flecked with light streaks, and the little one was light in comparison. The smaller one looked thin and ill, with a large scar down his back standing out in stark contrast to his green skin. The smaller spoke in his croaking voice. "Good morning. Hungry?" He nodded enthusiastically and both of his companions laughed. "Well then, follow me and I'll explain what's going on."

"Sounds good to me."

Dulcea had avoided the others all day, she preferred her solitude this day. Her workout had been a disaster, she could not lose herself in it today. She had known the young Frog Ninjetti for a but a blink of an eye, what were a few pitiful days when you had already lived over fifty millennia? He had died battling that which slew the Frog spirit. 'A spirit lost as well.' Part of her missed the Frog, not only because he was no more, but because he would have been a strong tie to her friend. It had been so long since she had mourned another, not since the destruction of the Council hall had she lost another friend to anything but time. Yet, for such a minuscule amount of time he and the others had become a large part of her life. Perhaps it was transference, until them the Temple had been the sole focus of her life. Now there was no Temple and they had filled up the hole in her life--especially Adam. They had just gotten along so well, he had seemed to understand her need for routine and just worked himself into it. He understood her duty and with that knowledge gave her freedom.

Right now part of her wished she didn't have it. When Owl had come with the news that both the Frog and his Prince had fallen to Kalieth it hadn't fully sank in. It firmed her conviction to defeat Kalieth, but once he was vanquished she floundered. Her newest and best companion was no more and she didn't know how to deal with it. So she had wandered in the ruins and helped those that she could to take her mind off of it. Fortunately the mist of water in the air had hidden her weakness from the others. Now Owl was off to wherever spirt animals went to mourn another and there were no fires to hide behind.

Cestro was enjoying a tour of the city's remarkably large lake. It was something that he hadn't expected, but it should have been obvious that perhaps the Cro'ack'wraan might still be amphibious. In fact many of lanes went straight into the water and exited on the other side. They had an excellent hospital and beautiful park. He felt a wistfulness as he wished that Adam was here to enjoy it, but since he was not then Cestro would enjoy it for his friend.

He had eaten a nice meal of fruit, he wasn't brave enough to try the rest of the 'Frog Food.' Conversation had been light and it had helped. He still hurt, but he wasn't going to let it drag him down like it did last night. Oh, he'd cried a lot in private and he was really thankful that Billy had slept somewhere else. That had helped too, now he told stories of his days as a ranger and a ninjetti even though they hurt. It was like Aisha said, you had to remember the good times and that he'd always be with you. He didn't like the fact that he was going to have to tell Aisha. He grabbed the next question like a lifeline and embarked on another story about when he and Adam were rangers--they really liked stories about Adam. 'Go figure.'

He was the last of ranger in the 'hospital,' they'd all been gone when he'd woke up. The first thing he remembered was his ribs when they forcibly reminded him of their damaged state when he tried to get up. The pain in his ribs didn't compare to the pain in his heart though. For the first time he had lost a ranger. Well, not quite, but it was the same. Maybe Adam had been on his own and maybe he'd made his choice, but it didn't make it better. He had failed, in fact focusing on his shortcomings made the grief easier to bear. He knew that as soon as Kim came back, she'd tell him how stupid he was being, but for now he'd just lie here and brood.

The Cro'ack'wraan had heard that there were Ninjetti among them and many of those working in clean up and rescue efforts had seen them among the many aliens that had come to help. They seemed to pop up when needed and help with whatever needed to be done. It was very good in their opinion. They were an easy-going people with a philosophy that hinged on the concept of change, even if it wasn't always understood. A childhood in the waters and lifetime on the lands as well had shaped them. They viewed death as but another change on that took them to where they knew not, but it was just a change. Loss was mourned as a loss of time with them, not a final parting, for they would feel this change as well. They felt sorry that the Ninjetti did not seem to understand this as they mourned for the past as well as the future. That was not good in their opinion.

The Ninjetti still weren't a common sight though and the one that now walked among them seemed odd. He did not cry or mourn, he smiled and laughed as he joked with the groups he worked with. He was stronger than they and they had watched in awe as he had easily scaled the side of a building and carried those trapped within down. He helped for a while and finally excused himself, he said that he should get back to the others now, he'd been away long enough.

They had regrouped back at the 'hospital' and they talking. Rocky had eagerly talked about his day and everyone had laughed, well except for Jason he just kinda grimaced as his ribs protested. "Yeah, did you notice they don't really use silverware? They don't even chew, just pop it in and swallow it whole. I asked Wrawick about it and said that they could eat anything they could get into their mouth."

Jason snickered and joked, "Guess you felt you'd come home."

Rocky stuck his tongue out at Jason and once again laughter filled the room. Then Billy had told them that he had just enjoyed the outdoors. Jason had perked up at that, "I didn't know there were any wolves out here?"

Billy blushed, he should have known that it would carry. Then Dulcea commented, "You are correct Kimberly, Billy does 'blush' more than . . . " She trailed off and an uncomfortable silence filled the room.

They had tried to avoid talking about it, but now it was back. The reminder that someone was missing. Jason spoke up and blamed himself for not stopping Adam, he should have noticed that something was wrong.

"You're being an idiot, it's not your fault, it was never your fault! If it was anyone's fault it was his for not telling us!" Kim nearly shouted at Jason's pigheadedness.

A quiet voice interrupted Kim's tirade, "Would you have let me go if I had?"

Dead silence greeted that comment, everyone on both planes turned and stared at the source of the voice, Adam was leaning casually against the doorframe and watching them silently. He waited for a response and spoke again, "Would you have let me go if you knew that I was going to die?"

The question was dead serious and everyone knew it, but no words were spoken as no one could really figure out how to deal with this turn of events. Adam was dead, both Billy and Kim had verified it and they couldn't have been wrong. If this was some freaky ninjetti spirit thing no one wanted to break the spell. Billy had the best excuse for not speaking, he'd zoned as soon as he looked at Adam. He'd grabbed the heartbeat and then the scent and just fell into them as he tried to convince himself that yes, Adam was alive.

Kim knew without a doubt that it was Adam and she finally managed to speak, "No, we wouldn't."

He nodded, "Then it was good that I didn't tell you."

"I am confused, Billy and Kimberly both reported that you had died and you even speak like you had. How is this possible?" asked the ever rational Cestro.

Adam grinned lopsidedly at them, "With the great power anything is possible." He laughed, "Seriously it was a big surprise for me too, but here I am . . . "

It was as if a switch was thrown, suddenly Rocky came forward and caught Adam up in a fierce hug. Adam feebly tried to break free, but in the end he'd gasped for Rocky to let him go. Rocky had promptly dropped him like a hot potato apologizing the whole time. Adam just laughed as he got back to his feet, this was all a little too surreal. The Ape reached out and ruffled his hair. 'At least we've got you back.'

A moment later he was caught up again by Billy, who thankfully didn't have Rocky's 'enthusiasm.' He heard the Wolf speak. 'I am glad that you have returned to the pack.' 'You don't know what's going on anymore than they do.'

Wolf chuckled. 'Do I need too?'

Then Kim finally muscled her way through the two guys and gave him a much more brief embrace. When they were finally done Adam stood there as he blushed. Billy and Kim paled silently as four lines of white stood out on flushed his face--the marks made by Kalieth's claws. Kim touched Billy as he studied Adam's face, but there was no obvious physical reason for paleness. 'Hell, there isn't even a scar.' Adam started slightly as Crane fluttered gracefully down beside him. 'What of Frog?'

'He's taking a vacation. He'll be back when he's better.'

He smiled as he heard the spirit animals begin to cheer and celebrate. The moment was broken when Kim suddenly turned on him, "What the Hell were you thinking!? We thought you were dead! There were enough people around you could have gotten a message to us or something!"

Adam looked uncomfortable for a minute, "I was dead." Kim's remonstrations died in her throat as he continued, "I'm just not now and it wasn't possible to send a message from where I was." He began to pace for a minute and looked around the room. Billy, Jason, and Kim still had slightly dazed looks on their faces, he supposed that it must seem a little much. Rocky was 'definitely not crying' as he swiped at his eyes. Trey looked relieved and confused. Cestro just looked, well, like Cestro and Dulcea . . . she was watching him intently and he couldn't read her expression. "I understand what you're feeling," he said sadly and everyone could hear the truth of that statement in his voice. "And I really don't want to talk about it, okay?"

"Now I see your face before me
I would launch a thousand ships
to bring your heart back to my island
as the sand beneath me slips
as I burn up in your presence
and I know now how it feels
to be weakened like Achilles
with you always at my heels

this bitter pill I swallow
is the silence that I keep
it poisons me I can't swim free
the river is too deep
though I'm baptized by your touch
I am no worse than most
in love with your ghost."

--Ghost by the Indigo Girls.

"I know it's been awhile since I've come to talk, but I guess I just wasn't ready. Now some things have happened and it sorta made me look at what I've been doing in my life." Adam shuffled nervously, "I don't know where to begin, well, I do but I don't really want to begin there, so I'll just sum it up. I'm a ninjetti again, I know I told you all about those days and all, but this is different. Better and more real. That's what the problem is I guess, I . . . I died last week. It wasn't like real sudden or anything and I had a couple minutes to think about stuff cause I knew it was going to happen."

He paused and continued while he nervously played with the bundle in his hands, "How did I know, well that's where it gets weird. I know this'll sound sort of hard to believe, but I had a vision. It wasn't like 'go here, do this,' and 'this'll happen,' but it was pretty clear to me that I was going to die and so was, well, the Frog spirit. Yeah, I know that sounds freaky, but that's my life now--I see spirits and I have visions."

He shrugged and began to pace, "Hey, Billy, Kim, Rocky, Jason, Trey, Cestro, and Dulcea believe me. Yeah, I told you about her, the same one that gave us the ninjetti powers. I managed to get her away from the temple--just more of that weird stuff. They're all ninjetti now, we're the whole of the ninjetti, but I've got a feeling that there's going to be more. Cause, okay, I need to backtrack, it's a big part of the whole y'know dying thing."

He stopped pacing as suddenly as he started and continues carefully. "I haven't talked to the others about it, it's just too hard. I mean, heck, I don't even know what to think about it and it happened to me. I was going to save Frog, but because he was dying my powers were fading. When I met up with the bad guy, Kalieth, I was pretty much a normal guy. Well, I ran like hell from Kalieth and I found Frog, but he was being chased by a snake. I'd find out later that it was the Basilisk spirit, which wasn't supposed to be around anymore. Well, I'd been getting some very secret help from another spirit and I kinda called for him to help. He said that he could, but it would leave me powerless--big diff. So I agreed. But the black snake came back and I thought that Frog was dead. I couldn't feel him anymore, it was like losing . . . well, you know what it's like . . . . I fought Kalieth and I died."

He stared up into the morning sky ignoring the tears running down his face. "That was supposed to be it, right? But I woke up . . . someplace else and Frog was there with the other spirit. I wasn't all there when I woke up, but after lunch I felt a lot more . . . normal."

He broke off and laughed for a moment. "And I found out that the spirit who helped me was . . .," he leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, "Phoenix." He shrugged. "Can I pick 'em or what? Somehow He used my connection to Frog to save Frog, but he kinda didn't leave me totally in the lurch. He told me he was pretty surprised when I first tugged on his powers and he went back to check on me. He took me back to . . . that place right at dawn. I slept awhile and then voila! I was awake and alive. I haven't told the others, but right now I'm not the Frog ninjetti, I'm his ninjetti. Even when Frog gets better he will hang around, they've got this funky mystic time-share thing going. Yeah, and to make it stranger I was informed that I'm now the, get this, Master of the Ninjetti. A long way from Zeo Ranger 4, huh?"

"...for the sake of momentum, I'm condemning the future to death so it can match the past." --Momentum by Aimee Mann.

Adam fell silent. His eyes roamed absently over the area. Finally he opened his mouth to speak a couple times before he could actually get the words out. "What does this mean? Why am I telling you this? Because I figured out that by, well, avoiding the fact that you left, I was binding myself to you even stronger. I thought by not dealing with it, by avoiding everyone who could remind me, I was moving on, but I wasn't I was trapping myself in the past. I think I want to move on now."

He wiped his eyes absently as he continued. "I'd been hiding it from myself and I didn't notice until it was too late. Now, I've got this chance and I know that I want to give it a try. I mean, I sorta had a date with Dulcea, when I asked her I was thought I was just trying to take her mind off of the destruction of the temple, but now I wonder. We're just friends right now, but maybe we can be more . . . I just want to find out."

His feet looked mightily interesting at the moment, but he forged on. "It's not that I don't love you anymore, I do so very much, but I think that you'd probably want me to live my life, not just live." He knelt down in the wet grass and pressed his head against the cool stone. He stayed there for a few minutes and finally he rose.

"I think I need to go talk to the others, I'm not going to tell them all of this, but I've been avoiding them. I just needed to get this off my chest and I couldn't do that to them. They'd thought I was dead and were mourning me. I just walked right back into their lives and there seems to be some problems. Billy has almost become MY shadow, it's like he needs a constant physical reminder that I'm back. Jason's still a bit uncomfortable around me, I guess he still sorta blames himself for . . . what happened. But he's getting over it, thankfully someone is. That's not really fair, Kim's fine with it. For some reason she just accepts it." He shrugs, "I wish everyone else would, well, Cestro's cool with it, but I don't think that counts. He's pretty cool with everything. I've caught Trey staring at me every now and then, though I think it's more the 'he came back from the dead' than any real issues. I can deal with that. Rocky, well, he's been I don't know drive by hugging, I guess he's just kinda overwhelmed." He grinned, "And he's 'absolutely, definitively, not crying at all, it's just allergies.' We both know that Rocky has no allergies."

He laughed for a minute then wiped his eyes, "Dulcea's just giving me lots of space, maybe tonight I'll go talk to her." He trailed off and looked around, "I think I should leave now, they get kinda jumpy when I disappear." He gently laid his bundle of flowers on the ground by the tombstone. "I love you, Tanya, and I miss you."

He turned without a word and walked steadily away. In the distance a nightingale began to sing happily, which if Adam had known he probably would have commented on. Nightingales weren't indigenous to this area.

"What makes me think I could start clean slated
the hardest to learn was the least complicated
so what makes me think I could start clean slated
the hardest to learn was the least complicated

I'm just a mirror of a mirror myself
all the things that I do
and the next time I fall I'm gonna have to recall
it's isn't love it's only something new."

--Least Complicated by the Indigo Girls.

'How do I do this?' Adam sighed quietly as he watched Dulcea workout, but he didn't join her. He'd found over the last week that his shoulder hurt at night, Phoenix had said that it was 'the price of surviving the Basilisk's bite.' All it meant to him was that he could tell when it was dusk just by the cold in his shoulder and he had a nasty scar across his back. 'Shirtless is now perpetually out.' Everything else had healed completely with his . . . return. Oh, the cold faded to an easily ignorable level, but sparring was out of the question. Now he was just trying to figure out how to start this conversation. He'd done a lot of thinking after he'd went to talk to Tanya and he was pretty clear on how he was feeling. 'I've been trying to have this damn conversation since dinner. I'm the Master of Ninjetti, heck I'm the Phoenix Ninjetti. I should get off my ass and start talking.' "Hi, Dulcea, nice night."

She stopped moving and turned her attention to Adam, he'd been following her around since dinner and she knew that he would start talking when he was ready. 'Though it has taken him long enough. My bashful Prince.' "Yes, it is."

'Nice night? Sheesh, how lame could I get?' "Um, how are you?"

Dulcea's eyes seemed to sparkle as she looked at him. "I am well."

'Not making this easy on me are you?' Adam nearly groaned aloud when he heard Owl begin laughing. 'Cut that out!' "Well, uh, thanks for giving me some space while I dealt with all of this."

She was having to make a definite effort to keep her composure. 'He is so . . . ' "You are welcome."

'Quit laughing and help me here!' Owl just laughed harder and Adam managed to keep his cool, but that was so annoying. "I had been thinking about everything and figuring out stuff." He sighed once more and changed tracks. 'Easy stuff first.' "Well, I was told that I . . . amtheMasteroftheNinjetti!"

Dulcea looked to Owl, 'Did he just say what I think he said?'

Owl nodded. 'Yes, he did.'

So he knew now, but it was remarkably fast in her opinion. But her opinion wasn't that important, it was what the spirits thought that counted. Then again he had been through an ordeal that would rival many of the old tales. Also, there were no rangers before--perhaps that time was their apprenticeship, though a far harsher one than that of a ninjetti. She smiled, "Congratulations."

"You don't seem really surprised about this."

She sat down on the ground and looked up at him, "I was told that you would be the new Master of the Ninjetti the night you returned to Phaedos."

He dropped down beside her, "Oh. Did they tell you anything else?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Actually, I just want to know if I'm right."

That was not the answer she expected, "What do you think?"

"Well, Billy's going to be a Master Warrior someday, but I think he's technically already a Master of, I don't know, Technology, Science, Invention, something like that." Since Dulcea didn't speak up he went on, "I don't know about Kim, Crane's real secretive, but if Billy is accepted as a Master then Kim will be too. I don't think Crane could stand it otherwise." Even Owl joined in on their laughter. "I'm not sure about Rocky, it's just out of reach." He shrugged, "Though, Jason's going to be pretty surprised the next time he morphs. Well, how did I do?"

"Maker, that is the phrase for what Billy is a Master of. I too only know that Kim and Rocky will be Masters, but not of what. Owl doesn't think that Ape knows either, she believes that he is a little too laid back to worry about such things."

"I have to agree with her on that one."

"As for Jason, he is our General and Mountain Lion believes that he is ready to be a full ninjetti. He more than proved his worth. Hawk is a bit of a perfectionist, but I do not think Trey shall have a long wait. Whale has never been a spirit to rush into anything, but he has already given Cestro the first of his gifts."

"Yeah, I've noticed that he hasn't needed to rehydrate that often since he became a ninjetti."

"What of you, Adam?"

He looked uncomfortable for minute. "Me? I'm . . . okay, Frog's not able to do the ninjetti thing for me while he heals." Adam's voice choked a little on the last part--Frog still looked horrible the last time he'd seen him. "I kinda, accidentally picked up a spare."

Now this was unheard of. "A spare? That is not possible."

"Oh, it gets better. I'm amazed Owl hasn't told you yet."

'He said the choice to tell or not to tell was up to you.'

"Well, for the time being I'm the . . . uh, Phoenix ninjetti."

Dulcea just shook her head and Adam began to worry that maybe it was a little much information for one day. Then he heard her begin to laugh out loud. "I said that with the great power anything was possible, but this was still totally unexpected. I have had nothing but surprises since you returned and I think I enjoy it."

'Ooookaaay.' "And I kinda wanted to, oh, well, when I," he paused for a minute as he tried to gather his scattered thoughts, "when I was fighting Kalieth and I knew that . . . I was going to lose, it put a lot of things into perspective. Two things really stood out. Frog, but I'd thought I'd failed him and he was destroyed." His voice broke and he trailed off for a moment--that had been the absolute worst feeling he had ever felt. He gave a weak smile when Dulcea put her hand upon his shoulder and continued in a whisper that Dulcea had to strain to hear, "The second was you."

For the second time that night she had to ask Owl if she had heard correctly. She was not one to make assumptions so she decided to make sure--plus watching Adam fumble and blush was quite enjoyable. 'I'm amazed that he had ever dated, much less married.' "How so?"

As she predicted Adam began to blush and stammer, she smiled at him as he tried to put into words what he was feeling. He was babbling incoherently about her and dating and 'how he really likes her.' He was utterly Adam in her eyes, a great warrior with a Frog's gentle heart. She took mercy on him and gave into whim. She put a silencing finger on his lips and he broke off confused. She smiled soothingly at him, then she leaned forward and brushed a light kiss across his cheek. She pulled back and smiled into his wide eyes and the goofy grin she remembered appeared on his face. "I would be honored to date you, Adam Park, the Dark Prince of the Ninjetti."

"Do you feel a vague urge to throttle him?" asked Billy mock seriously as he watched Adam almost bounce around the room.

"Define 'vague,'" replied Jason. He knew he was teasing Billy a little bit, but he hadn't been woken up at the crack of dawn by Adam every day since they'd returned. This morning though was the first morning that Adam had managed to wake everyone up. This morning Adam had actually sang in the shower and managed to wake everyone up. While he'd managed to get back to sleep, Billy hadn't been so lucky. 'His fault for staying up so late anyway.'

Billy stuck his tongue out at Jason, he wasn't really mad, just annoyed. 'I like Sting and all that, but I don't need to be serenaded by 'I Was Brought to my Senses' and 'All for Love' at six in the morning. I wonder what he's so happy about anyway. I mean not that it isn't great to see him not brooding for the first time since we came back, but the early morning thing is getting old. At least Dulcea is quiet when she wakes up. It could be worse . . . he could be singing badly.' Billy chuckled, "You're right, it's my own fault, but I wanted to test a theory."

"What?"

"Do you know that Adam wakes up perky now at the literal crack of dawn every morning since we've came back?"

"So?"

"This is the guy who wasn't coherent until at least nine. Suddenly he's Mr. Morning Person and it is so disgusting."

They both watched as Adam suddenly blew through the door and up the stairs, a couple minutes later he came back with a guitar case and ran back out the door. Jason shrugged, "He's going to bed a lot earlier, it makes sense that he get's up earlier. Why does it matter? I know, because you are acting like a mother hen. I mean, sheesh, I know he's your friend, but Adam must have the patience of a saint to put up with you right now." He almost grinned as he watched Billy's mouth move silently for a moment, but that would break the mood. "You've become his shadow, you are obviously doing all that sentinel stuff to make sure he's okay. If he's thirsty suddenly you pop up with a glass of water, hungry? You offer to grab him something from the kitchen."

Billy grinned sheepishly, "I'm going a bit overboard aren't I?"

"Yeah, Adam's FINE, Billy. He may not have been before, but now he's fine. He isn't going to suddenly disappear in a puff of smoke."

"Are you sure of that?"

Jason laughed, "Mostly."

Trey, Cestro, and Rocky were having a 'heated' discussion about Mexican food. Cestro had never tried spicy food and was now on his third glass of water after trying the 'mild' sauce. Aquitian food was much more bland than that of earth, but he found earth food enjoyable--but a bit too 'warm' for his tastes. Food on Aquitar was most often served cold or room temperature. Humans seemed to prefer most of theirs hot.

Trey, on the other hand, had heavily sampled the mild and hot sauces and declared them almost bland. It seemed that Trifonian's preferred their foods heavily seasoned. "This Tabasco is quite flavorful and a nice contrast to sweeter main serving, but it could be better with a spicier sauce."

Cestro wondered if they had a less sensitive sense of taste than Aquitians. He had enjoyed the 'ice cream,' it was exceptionally sweet and served frozen, but it was a little cloying after ingesting a quarter of the serving. He had stopped and watched the by play between Rocky and Trey. He could understand Trey's comments, but the red sauce was far too spicy for his palette.

"I've tried some the spicier stuff, but it just goes to burn and doesn't have that kinda tomatoish-red peppery-ness," replied Rocky as he spooned another Tabasco covered bite of vanilla ice cream into his mouth. "At dinner tonight, I'll show you some of the good stuff," he grinned and pulled a bottle from the back of Adam's cabinets. "I snuck this in. Adam would have a fit, but this stuff is the best." He tossed the small bottle of his favorite sauce, Nuclear Meltdown, to Trey.

Trey studied it and put a small dab on his finger and tasted--it was exceptionally hot. He quickly grabbed Cestro's discarded water glass and finished it off. His eyes were tearing up, but he was smiling, "This is most excellent, I cannot wait till dinner."

"Then how about lunch?"

'I think I should eat on the ship tonight.' Thought Cestro as he contemplated the ramifications of this conversation.

Kim was happy as she sat on the porch, it was a nice day and everything was going back to normal. Rocky was his goofy self, no more bouts of 'allergies.' Jason had finally processed the whole thing and was cool with himself again. 'And Jason has finally talked Billy down. Thank god for small favors. I know how annoying it is to be hounded by Mr. Protect-the-Pack-Instincts.' Trey and Cestro had just taken it at face value and put it out of mind as no longer important. 'I guess everyone has a different perspective.'

She smiled as she caught a hint of music on the air. Adam was disgustingly happy and Kim suspected that she was the only person that knew why. When he had come in last night he was almost 'shouting,' "I'm dating Dulcea!" 'No one else noticed it though, so it must be my funky powers.' But she could have sworn she heard Crane laughing in the background.

" . . . how lon-n-n-ng," sang Adam as he finished singing 'Galileo.' Today had started out pretty normal--except for the fact that he was now officially dating Dulcea. They had worked out together and had breakfast. Then they'd started talking, but the conversation was a bit awkward as they started to talk more about themselves. It had come out that he could play the guitar and Dulcea had wanted to hear him play, so now he was subjecting her to his repertoire of music, which mostly included old Indigo Girls tunes.

It had become a pretty interesting conversation all in all, he'd play a song or two then they'd start talking about it. He got to hear about her wilder pranks when she was younger and a few that happened during her apprentice days. Seems that young ninjetti needed to let off steam every now and then, just like everyone else. Then there were the few people who had come to the temple not to test for the great power, Zordon he knew about, but there were a few others that he'd never heard of.

The good thing was that since she had lived in such relative isolation for so long, there wasn't a whole lot of different events for her to talk about. So he'd told her about his life as much as he could remember from his childhood before the rangers and about his time after the rangers, including a little bit about Tanya. He idly began to pick out the light tune of 'Gone Again' as he talked.

There was a certain relaxed atmosphere that seemed to pervade tonight's gathering in the lodge. Maybe it was relief that it was over. Or maybe it could have been the very happy, very alive Frog ninjetti that bounced through the house. Or the on going debate about spicy food that had started with Rocky and Trey, but had now engulfed the entire room.

"I was just saying that if you ever spice something like that again, I'm going to kill you," said Billy calmly as Rocky squirmed under his gaze.

"You can just get in line," retorted Kim as Rocky made sure the table was between him and the Crane Ninjetti.

"I didn't know," protested Rocky vehemently. 'I mean they haven't told us anything, how was I to know that his sense of taste was super sensitive? Kim's the psychic.' "If I had I wouldn't have done it on your food. And I told you it was hot."

"He did warn you, Billy," supplied Cestro helpfully.

Jason chuckled, "I'm amazed you couldn't smell it." He grinned as Billy mumbled, "What was that?"

"I didn't check," repeated Billy, this time a bit louder.

"Then I believe it is your own fault, Billy," declared Trey as he grinned at Rocky.

Laughter erupted from around the table as Kim whacked Billy on the back of the head. When it finally calmed down Adam spoke up, "Well, I've got a few things to say about this and that." Dead silence descended over the table. Adam chuckled, "Well, first off, the world is not going to end anytime soon." He waited for the others to relax a bit and finally gave up, "Relax people, this is the good part. Now, where was I, okay, Jason you've got to morph right now."

Jason gave him a confused look, but complied and when the flash of purple cleared he wasn't in the purple ninjetti outfit he expected. He looked down and studied his new outfit: it was a deep purple, really dark yet a vivid hue, and it reminded him in a way of his ranger outfit, but over that he now had a full suit of golden armor. He ran his gloved hand over the only carving on his outfit--a mountain side with a mountain lion hunting. Besides that his outfit was pretty plain compared to Adam's or Rocky's. He moved experimentally and was pleased to note that it didn't interfere with his movements, he could feel the weight of it, but it wasn't unbearable. He was finally broken from his ruminations by a rumbling purr that seemed to fill the air around him. 'You have done well, my cub.'

Jason knew he had a goofy grin on his face as the others congratulated him. If he had been more alert he might have noticed the looks that passed between Dulcea and Adam as Rocky slapped him on the back.

As the well wishing and congratulations died down Adam began to speak once more, "Jason, well, now you're a full ninjetti and you are in charge." Jason began to protest, "Not of everything, but I can't think of anyone I'd like to have in charge when I go into a fight. Cool?" Jason nodded solemnly and Adam grinned and went on, "I'd like to say that this was nice and it was fun to be a ninjetti again, but I think we're going to be stuck here for awhile." No one, except for Dulcea had any idea what he was talking about. 'Oh, well.' "We're not going to stop being ninjetti, the threat isn't over, but we're ready and I think we should do alright."

"What exactly was the threat?" asked Billy as he leaned back in his chair.

'How much should I say?' asked Adam to the animals around them.

'However much you feel necessary.' Replied Phoenix effectively stopping any comments from the others. He sighed. 'You are allowed to have opinions, even one's that contradict mine own.'

A croaking snicker broke the silence among the spirit animals. 'Oh, I'll speak up, but right now I agree with you.' Croaked Frog from his position on the back of the couch.

Adam giggled, "You tell him." He winced. 'I just said that out loud, got to remember to think it out, not say. Think don't say. Think don't say.' "Uh, sorry, I was listening to the convention. Kalieth wasn't the main threat, he was just the chosen agent of it. Remember when I told you about the forming of the ninjetti and the great evil the spirits fought? Well, for those of you who missed the big battle, the big baddy we have to worry about is Basilisk."

Billy as usual spoke up first, "Basilisk, as in the mythological creature?"

'And I thought they were all gone? Right.' Adam shrugged as he mentally filled in the rest of Billy's question, "Yeah, it seems he was just laying low. What was going on behind the battle was Basilisk's plan to free the mythological spirits who sided with him. They didn't all get free, but now they're out there, so in the end something's going to happen. Our spirits were fighting Basilisk when I sorta called for some help." He looked at the floor, "I got it and they pushed back Basilisk." He began to speak much faster because he didn't really want to play twenty questions with Billy right now. "So, right now he's out there with his little group and they're going to build up for battle. When? I have no idea, but we have a few advantages." He grinned at everybody including the spirit animals, "I don't think he's really figured out that the rules have changed."

The following silence was broken by Crane laughing. 'You figured it out.'

Adam gave an exasperated sigh. 'You could have told me.'

'Secrets mean nothing if not earned.'

Adam shrugged, "Well for those of you who don't understand what's going on, don't feel bad, I don't know half the time either. Simply put, when the spirits agreed to create the ninjetti they changed something fundamental in the way spirits interact with the 'real' world. Since the mythological spirits haven't dealt with it they don't know it . . . "

'Could you get to the point? Remember patience isn't my thing.' Croaked Frog.

"Okay, for good or bad, the 'evil' spirits are bound to the same rules as you guys. They HAVE to have champions to work, Basilisk probably chose Kalieth because he was convenient, but he inadvertently made Kalieth a sort of ninjetti. I mean how else could he have held out against you?"

Both Dulcea and Owl asked the same question, "How did you come to this assumption?"

"Um, I haven't told you guys everything, I needed to put it into perspective, y'know? When I . . . lost, my connection with Frog was . . . gone," he trailed off for a moment, it was easier to deal with dying than with that terrible time before. He gathered himself as Frog gave a sympathetic croak and continued, "I wasn't a ninjetti anymore. I was just me." He ignored their questions and continued on, he didn't really want to dwell on this a lot, but it needed to be done. "But it seems that the spirit I called to help, well, he accidentally left something behind when he helped Frog." Adam gave an embarrassed grin and shrugged, "It seemed that, well, that I kinda fit the qualifications for what he was looking for in a ninjetti. If I had known a lot sooner, I bet the battle with Kalieth would have went a lot different, but . . . " He trailed off once more, he hadn't noticed because he had been still reeling from the loss of Frog.

'Actions speak louder than words and all that.' He morphed into his ninjetti outfit and it was different. The silvery designs were still gone, because Frog was still too weak to resume as Adam's spirit animal, but a new design had appeared. Starting at his lower back a flame of gold and copper thread stretched up to his shoulder and looped around his right arm. It ended in a flying eagle design on the back of his gauntlet. "Right now, I'm the Phoenix Ninjetti."

"Phoenix, but I thought the mythological creatures were destroyed?" Asked Billy as he tried to work his way through Adam's convoluted story. 'He called for help, so he had to know that something was there, how did he first meet Phoenix? Why was Phoenix still around? How does this relate to 'the rules?' Hmmm . . . the rules.'

"No, I think I said that they left, I think that they knew that something like this would happen. Cause, I've seen some things that didn't seem to fit if they all left totally. Please, don't ask."

"What about the Frog?" asked Rocky, he wasn't totally following this, but he thought that Frog was pretty big thing to leave out.

"He's recovering and when he's better," Adam gave a huge grin, "I will be everyone's favorite Frog ninjetti again."

Rocky and Jason both snickered at that comment and Adam stuck his tongue out causing the group to break into laughter, well everyone but Cestro. "What will happen to the Phoenix spirit?" questioned Cestro, this was an enlightening, if confusing conversation.

"He and Frog have worked out some kind of funky deal, I don't really know the particulars."

"Spirit's have to have a ninjetti to directly affect this plane?" said Billy, it was a statement that held a question to Adam.

"Yup, got it in one, it's not totally right, but it works. Phoenix was using me earlier to put all the pieces in place, but when I suddenly became . . . free, he was stuck with me."

There seemed to a certain finality to that statement which made it seem impossible to question or ask for clarification. Most of the group went back to absently picking at the remains of their meals until Rocky finally broke the silence with a huge belch. "Oops, sorry."

Ironically it was the perfect pressure release for the group as they laughed at the very red ninjetti. Kim giggled, "Sheesh, Rocky, don't you know you're supposed to chew your food not inhale?"

Rocky grinned. "Hey! In some parts of the world, belching is a compliment to the chef. It would be an insult not to at the dining table. I was just complimenting the chef and the meal."

Cestro, perplexed, stated, "But you made dinner."

Rocky leaned back in his chair, placing his hands behind his head and smiled smugly. "Exactly!"

'Now that you've saved the universe from annihilation by the forces of evil, what do you want to do now?' Thought Rocky to himself as he finished cleaning up after class. It was an idle thought and he suspected that 'go to Disneyland' wasn't the best answer, but he liked it. 'Now how to do it? Man, imagine Cestro at Disneyland. Maybe I can convince Billy to do it, he says he's got more money than any single person needs for one lifetime. I mean he's paying Kim's way for everything now. And Adam's. Only reason we're still at the Dojo is because we want to be.' Rocky grinned to himself. 'The Red Dragon Dojo now has four instructors of martial arts, five if Trey decides to play, and a gymnastics instructor. I'd say we've been darn lucky.'

The 'guest instructors' had gone over well, Adam was still great with kids, especially the small ones, the shy ones, or the just plain awkward ones. 'Dulcea wasn't bad either.' It had been a sorta breath holding experience as she began to work with a couple students, no one knew how she'd relate to the kids. 'She was pretty mellow about the whole thing and I think some of our older students 'really' want her to come back.' Rocky chuckled to himself as he finished sweeping the floors. As he put the broom away he grabbed a stack of fliers for the dojo, some had already been given out tonight. He smiled back at the smiling picture of Kim wearing her medals from the Olympics, he'd already gotten a couple of sign ups just from parents picking up a son or daughter and finding out that a world class gymnast was going to start teaching there. 'The new insurance paperwork and rates were a pain, but Billy's humongous 'donation' will keep everything cool until classes take care of it.'

He sat down in his office and leaned back in his chair. 'Everything's cool. Adam and Dulcea are DATING, that's still freaky. Of course, she's pretty much in charge, not like Adam's ever going to make the first anything. Man, everything's freaky too. Adam. He's still the same old guy and we're still the same old us, but I never knew how other people thought about the ninjetti. And those frog-guys looked at Adam like he really was a prince. I mean when they figured out who he was it was like 'Adam Appreciation Day.' If we'd stayed long enough he probably woulda been 'King o' the Frog-People' or something.' Rocky giggled. 'King of the Frog-people, I've gotta use that.' He absently picked up an old picture that he kept framed on his desk--it was the group when they were ninjetti. There also used to be one of when they were Turbo, but with Adam running around it wasn't a good idea to leave pictures of Tanya lying around. 'They were such a good couple, not even a bit of the angst that seemed to be SOP for Tommy and Kim or Kat. I wonder why no one's tried to get Tommy?' He decided to let sleeping dogs lie and go back to the more interesting topic--Adam. 'I can't believe he's dating Dulcea! They make a good couple, somehow, but DULCEA?!' He idly looked at the other rangers in the picture. 'I still don't know exactly what's going on with Kim and Billy, they're like best friends squared. I mean they were close before, but now it's like they're two parts of the same thing. Not that anyone would believe that I noticed it, but 'intelligent and mighty' and all of that. Jason's happy, he's much better at being in charge than I was. Even Cestro's starting to get the 'big brother vibe' around Jase, but he doesn't know what it is. 'He is a most competent and observant leader. He seems most aware of team dynamics and attitudes.' Yeah, he's looking out for you too, Cestro.'

'What about the 'mystical ninjetti crap?'' Rumbled a familiar voice.

Rocky nearly fell out of his chair as he looked around the room for the speaker. 'Ape!?' "Are you talking to me?"

'Duh.' Then Ape laughed. 'I thought I'd talk with you and see how you're doing.'

Rocky thought about that for a moment. "Okay, I guess. Why are you talking to me?"

'Because I want to.' Ape chuckled. 'Why should Frog have all the fun? Seriously, I'm not one to keep my mouth shut and it gets boring just watching and playing the strong silent type--that's Wolf's thing.'

'Okay, sure.' "Do I get to see you and all of that?"

'Why should Adam have all the fun, eh?' Rocky nearly fell out of his chair when a massive gorilla appears perched on the chair across from him. Ape smiled at him showing very large teeth with pronounced canines. 'Better?'

He sized up the spirit animal and began to laugh at the picture he presented, "This is probably a stupid question, but why doesn't the chair break?"

'Because it's a very well built chair? Nah, I'm not fully here, could be, but I don't want to squish your chair. Do you have any idea how cramped this place is to someone with my healthy build?'

"Healthy, I thought you were a little overweight?" quipped Rocky.

'What can I say, I'm a growing spirit.' Pouted the great Ape as he tossed back a variation of Rocky's favorite line.

They both laughed for a little while and traded jokes, all in all it was a good ending to a good day.

In the place that was nowhere and everywhere, a hidden watcher listened as a group of animals stood engrossed in deep discussion. He knew they'd end up here and he really hated to be left out, so . . .

'Our adversary is now know to us.' Sang Whale sagely as looked to the group around him. 'This knowing is terrible, but it brings understanding.'

'It would have been nice if it was a tad sooner, don't you think?' Asked Hawk pointedly as his clear gaze settled on Wolf and Crane.

Wolf growled slightly and Crane seemed to stand taller as she spoke. 'I know some secrets, not all.'

'And it was not the time to tell you, young one.' Rumbled Phoenix as stared down his sibling. 'I had not wished my involvement known.' He finished icily.

An irritated croak broke the staring contest between Hawk and Phoenix. 'Now that we've established that, let's quit bitching and get something done.' Croaked Frog as he began to wish that he'd followed Ape's example--he'd known this was going to suck.

'Yes, we must plan our defense.' Purred the Mountain Lioness as she began to preen herself.

'But first we must know of our foe.' Added Owl.

'And our forces.' The Lioness nodded and waited for the others to comment.

'The pack is complete--for now.' Said Wolf quietly. 'I have been watching and helping though they do not know it, if an old ranger is required, then they will be found.'

Phoenix flexed his talons digging into the spirit stuff below. 'Good, we must be prepared for whatever is thrown at us.'

Owl gave the great bird a searching look. 'Do you not know?' Phoenix shook his head and she asked another question. 'Then how do They know?'

He shuffled his wings slightly in his equivalent to a shrug and the others paused as they considered the ramifications. 'But you have been helping Adam?' Asked Wolf carefully as he tried to fit the pieces together.

'Part of it was me, but part of it is him. That is the way of these things.' He shifted the focus of the conversation. 'For is your charge not the Maker of things? Part of him is the Guardian as he was before and now he is your Warrior as well.'

Wolf nodded and decided not to comment on Phoenix' blatant attempt to deflect him. 'Yet such things are unheard of.'

'I think we should stop worrying and go with it.' Croaked Frog as he watched the undercurrents between the two. He'd always hated these type of verbal games, say this, but it also means that and blah, blah, blah. 'I don't think anyone is ready for the whole shebang to end, so we're getting extra help. Let's live with it and deal with the problems at hand.' He gave Phoenix a searching stare. 'You're sure you never did the seeing thing?' Frog sighed. 'Oh, well. Anyone know who got out?'

Whale sang softly. 'Even the old stories remember them in evil, should this not have been a clue? Too blind were we to see the truth, but now they walk once more. Some of them did not this plane leave.' Whale hummed absently for a few minutes as he sang the names of those that he knew had escaped. 'But remember I am the keeper of records, not of secrets and some are undoubtedly hidden from my hearing.'

'But as Adam had said before, they are bound by our rules.' Reminded Frog as hopped towards the edge of the gathering. 'And our team has been playing by them a lot longer.'

Crane studied them for a moment. 'But haven't you noticed they've already been broken?' The others turned and stared at the unbelievable sight of Crane volunteering information. 'It was to be one spirit for one champion.' She cocked her head to the side as she looked first to Frog then to Phoenix. 'Yet, now there is one with two spirits. I do not think we know the rules anymore than they do.' She gave them a slightly condescending look. 'Did you not think it odd that a Black was chosen to lead them?'

Wolf chuckled as he remembered earlier conversations with Crane, she would drop one hint and if you missed it, well you must not have needed to know. 'And I thought you were just fed up with Frog.'

Crane nudged the small Frog with the side of her beak. 'Oh, I was, but information must be given or it shall be lost.'

Frog rolled his eyes. 'Then why don't you just tell us?'

'Then it wouldn't be a secret.'

Hawk spoke up hesitantly. 'Um, perhaps if it is not forward of me, what do you mean?'

Crane nodded to Wolf and he rolled his eyes, he was vaguely annoyed that she was going to make him play 'good student.' Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to make that tact comment earlier, she always had such a long memory. He sighed and began to speak. 'Blacks are not known for their leadership abilities, usually they are the outsiders of the group.'

Whale's song once more filled the air. 'Changer of ways, breaker of rules, unchainable spark.'

The others paused once more, but Whale did not continue. 'Where is that from?' Asked Crane curiously.

'I know not, only that it associated with the Black.' Replied Whale unhappily, he hated to give incomplete information, but sometime it needed to be done.

'Nice party.' The others looked around as Coyote 'smiled' at them. 'Did you think I'd miss this?' He shrugged as he nosed around the group.

Hawk screeched in irritation and flew up to higher perch as the rangy spirit animal nearly knocked him from his low seat. 'Why are you here?' Coyote rolled his eyes and laughed. 'Because I want to be.'

Wolf groaned slightly at his cousin, ask a stupid question and you'll get a smart-assed answer thought Wolf exasperatedly. The only way to get anything constructive out of Coyote was to try and be as straight-forward as possible and hope he wasn't here to yank your chain. I'm beginning to sound like Frog, thought Wolf absently. "What is your business here?'

'I came to tell you is that Basilisk's Minion has escaped.' Coyote's straight answer was a bit of a surprise and a bad sign--it meant that he was worried. He sighed. 'I like the kid and thought I'd tell you.'

The spirit animals winced as Frog began to curse quite fluently and creatively at this new bit of information. They waited for a few moments for Frog to finish venting, but finally Owl gave up and spoke over Frog's tirade. 'Where is he?'

Coyote looked embarrassed. 'No one knows, I think he's gone to meet up with one of the escaped spirits, but I don't know which one.' He shrugged. 'Well, I must take my leave, it has been nice talking to you.'

With that comment Coyote vanished from the gathering and the conversation began anew among the spirit animals as they tried to decide what to do now. "Everything you know is wrong,
black is white, up is down,
and short is long.
And everything you thought was just so important doesn't matter.
Everything you know is wrong."

--Everything You Know is Wrong by Weird Al Yankovic.

Coyote sat back and stared at moon above as he thought over what had been said. Telling them straight out had decidedly thrown them for a loop and it had given him ample time to take his leave of them, before Wolf could back him into a corner. He sighed as he watched the stars twinkle in the deep blue sky. He didn't know the others that well, but as usual they all knew him, so it was better not to hang around. He thought that there was more going on, but that wasn't the same as knowing. 'The great ones' battle is open once more and our elders are returning, I wonder what will happen now? I suppose only time will tell.'

rule

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