Three peaceful months had passed. Well, relatively peaceful anyway. Rita and Zedd made their usual attempts, and the Rangers thwarted them all. Whenever the Rangers needed to battle, Aura and Billy sent the twins to the Command Center, where Alpha was becoming quite a competent baby-sitter.
Zedd glared down at the Rangers one afternoon; he was still furious over the loss of his son. He couldn't even watch him grow up; Shaya was able to block his vision on New Kalakan. Even that would have been a small consolation to him. Amazing as it sounded, Zedd actually cared personally for Eric, and now that Eric was gone, Zedd wanted revenge on the person responsible for it: Aura Cranston.
"That Amber pest will pay for all that she has done!" he growled as he stared down at where Aura, Billy, and the twins were having dinner.
"Oh, yes!" Rita snarled. She didn't care about Aura having tripped Eric into the Fountain of Youth; she just wanted to get rid of a Ranger, especially one with two children. "What shall we do to her, Zeddy?"
Zedd smiled coldly. "Her children."
"What about the brats?"
"We take them, and then she will have to surrender to us!" Zedd had spent the last three months planning on what he was going to do to the Amber Ranger in payback. Kidnapping Alexander and Alaina was only the beginning.
Rita chuckled, then something occurred to her. "What of the other Rangers? They've always been able to rescue her before!" She didn't bother to list the times Aura had been their prisoner, only to be freed by the Rangers. Zedd had thought of that, though.
"They will be too busy sleeping!"
Rita stared at her husband. "Sleeping?" she had to have heard that wrong. Sleeping?
"We place them under a deep sleeping spell, and to be safe, the Amber Ranger's sister goes under one too!"
Rita laughed. "She won't have anyone to turn to for help, and she's never beaten us alone!" as Zedd chuckled evilly, Rita finished her dark thought. "And she never will!" * * *
Billy and Aura had, in the past three months, become experts in waking up immediately to feed the two beings that had become the very center of their lives. As the twins started crying yet again in the middle of the night, Billy woke up to find Aura sliding out of bed already. He joined her; they were both needed to feed their offspring.
He went over to the playpen and picked up his son. The next Amber Ranger wailed at the top of his lungs, and his father looked over at Aura. "I think he wants to eat."
Aura picked up Alaina, and chuckled. "They're both hungry, I think," she started to head for the kitchen, Billy behind her. The young couple had discovered new and more interesting things about love and family life since the birth of the twins, and except for the occasional Zedd and Rita attack, things were just fine for them both.
"Who would have thought we'd be the first two Rangers married and parents, and still have our powers!" Billy chuckled. Aura smiled at him; the last few months had been a pure dream come true.
"Certainly not me!" she told him, then grinned. "Like I can get rid of mine, anyway!"
As Aura fixed the twins something to eat, Billy slid their son into the playpen in the kitchen next to Alaina. He looked at Alexander, whose amber pendent gleamed as bright as Aura's. If I didn't know better, I'd swear he was full human. Alaina too. Then again, I've known Aura most of her life, and I didn't know she wasn't human.
He glanced over at his wife as she puttered around the kitchen. Her long black hair was caught in a braid over one shoulder, her every move was graceful and eloquent in it's simplicity. It was hard to believe she was just over nineteen years old, and was already married and a mother. A flash of light came from behind him, and Aura muttered, "Don't play with the lights, Billy, the twins'll start crying."
"I didn't," Billy said, turning around. His eyes widened and he jumped back suddenly. "What do you want?"
"Hmmm?" Aura turned around to see what Billy was looking at, and her first reaction was to reach for the morpher she customarily wore on her belt. "Zedd!"
"Hello, Rangers!" the evil overlord snarled. He stomped his staff hard against the floor, and Billy collapsed, sound asleep. Aura snatched her morpher up.
"Leave my family alone, Zedd!" Aura ordered, ready to morph. Zedd was having none of that, however.
"I'm afraid I can't! You took my child, now I'm going to take yours!" he pointed his staff at her, and Aura found herself unable to move. She stared in shocked horror as Goldar and Rito appeared in the kitchen. Each of them grabbed one of the twins, then vanished. Zedd came over to her, and stared her straight in the eyes.
"You're never going to see those brats of yours again," he growled. "You will know every bit of pain and suffering I can put you through before this is ended, Amber Ranger, and you will come to regret the day you were ever born!"
He vanished, leaving Aura still frozen and helpless. A single tear coursed it's way down her cheek, as she stared at the playpen and at her sleeping husband. Alaina, Alexander, Billy. I'll find a way to help you. Somehow. Zedd won't win this; there's no way. * * *
Azure curled up against Adam on his couch; he'd moved out of his parents' house shortly after he'd graduated, and she spent as much time there as she could, especially over the past three months. Adam put an arm around, smiling. "Azure, I love you," he whispered into her ear. They had both been in perfect peace since the moment Eric had been tripped into the Fountain of Youth.
"I love you, too," Azure smiled as she kissed him. She ran a hand through his hair, and down his neck; their last few days had been full of touching and romance, both of them knew they were going to be spending the rest of their lives together.
I love her so much. I hope we're both ready for this, but I just can't live without her, completely, anymore. Adam drew back a little, and looked deep into Azure's sparkling eyes. "Azure, I was wondering something."
"What?" Azure yawned a little. This is strange. I slept so late this morning, I shouldn't be tired right now! But I'm suddenly. . .exhausted. . .
"Would you," Adam's question was interrupted by a yawn that nearly split his face in half, "marry me?"
He asked me to marry him! Oh, this .. is. ..hhh. . the. ..happiest... .
Adam just had time to notice Azure had fallen asleep before he himself was wrapped in the black mists of slumber. * * *
Aura passed the most uncomfortable night of her life, frozen still and watching an empty playpen and listening to Billy's snores. As the sun rose, her muscles relaxed and she fell to the floor. Recovering as fast as she could, she ran over to Billy. "Billy!" she tried to wake him up. "Billy, please, wake up! Zedd has the twins!"
He didn't respond, not even when she kissed him with a passion that should have awakened the dead, much less someone asleep. She growled, then hit her communicator. "Guys! Guys, hurry up, I can't wake up Billy and Zedd has the twins!"
Five minutes passed, while Aura paced, worried, and wondered. With no answer forthcoming from the others, she grabbed for her communicator again. "Blast it. . . Zordon, Alpha!" If they don't answer, I think I'm going to go insane!
YES, AURA? Zordon replied almost immediately. Aura sighed in relief; she'd have some help in this.
"Zordon, Zedd's taken my children, Billy won't wake up, and the other Rangers aren't answering their communicators!" she was very close to wailing in frustration.
REPORT TO THE COMMAND CENTER; SENSORS HAVE BEEN DOWN AND ALPHA HAS JUST GOTTEN THEM BACK UP. Aura nodded briefly, then teleported straight into the Command Center. As she materialized, Zordon told her, ALPHA HAS LOCATED SOME OF THE OTHER RANGERS.
"Where are they?" Aura paced rapidly. "Why aren't they answering me?"
OBSERVE THE VIEWING GLOBE. As she did so, images of the other Ranges appeared: and every last one of them, including Azure, was sound asleep. Aura was going white and red alternately with anger, her fists clenching and unclenching.
"Zordon, can we wake them up?" she glanced both at Zordon and Alpha as she asked that. Alpha shook his head sadly.
"Ay-yi-yi, it appears that they are under some kind of spell!"
"Zedd's work," Aura growled, "and he has my children!" How dare he take them! How dare he do this! Isn't it enough that he's trying to take over the world, he's got to ruin my life, too?!
ALPHA, HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO LOCATE ALEXANDER AND ALAINA? Zordon asked. Alpha shook his head once again.
"I am sorry, but I have not been able to, Zordon!" he'd been trying ever since he'd heard Aura's panicked call to the Command Center. Aura sighed, he could see the pain in her eyes.
"My children, my friends, my husband," she whispered, sinking against a console. He shuffled over and laid a hand on her shoulder, trying to be as comforting as he could be.
"They'll be all right, Aura," he promised her. It was the most he could do at the moment to help her. She smiled a little, as she looked at him.
"I hope so. Please find them, Alpha," she asked gently. He nodded.
"I will," Aura started to pace as Alpha went back to work searching for both the twins and for a way to awaken the other Rangers, who had been teleported to the Command Center for their own safety. Hours passed, and finally Aura couldn't take it any longer.
"I need some air, Alpha. I'm going for a walk in the park; Let me know the minute you know anything," she sighed as she got to her feet. I have to do something, if it's only walk. And I'm tired of pacing back and forth here. I need to be outdoors. If only to have somewhere I can scream in peace in.
Alpha nodded as she teleported out. He looked up at Zordon. "Ay-yi-yi, what if we can't find them, Zordon?"
WE MUST, ALPHA. WE MUST. * * *
Aura walked through the park, not really looking where she was going. All she wanted to do was simply forget about what was going on, who she was, who she loved, everything. She walked to empty herself, to become a shell that wouldn't care. Only then could she keep herself calm.
It wasn't working.
"Hello, Amber Ranger," Zedd appeared before her, his usual evil twisted sneer on his face. This is going to be so much fun. I can't wait to see how she reacts when she sees what I demand of her.
"What do you want know," Aura snapped. "Where are my children?"
Zedd laughed. "You want them back?" She's so afraid and so angry. I really like that. I never quite realized how attractive she can be when she's this upset. . .what am I thinking? She's going to do just what I want if she even wants a hope of seeing the brats again. . .not that she will. . .for long, anyway!
"You know I do!" the Amber Ranger was about to reach for her morpher, when Zedd grabbed her arms and forced her to stare into his hideous face as he delivered his ultimatum.
"Then surrender to me, Amber Ranger, and they will be set free and your friends awakened from their sleep!"
"No," Aura whispered, trying to get away from Zedd; his talons were biting into her flesh, and she just frankly hated the sight of him that close to her!
"You have three hours to decide," he promised her. I'm being generous, I should make her surrender now. But I like to see her squirm, trying to find a way to free them. . .then realize she can't.
"Zordon and Alpha will find a way to wake up the Rangers, and get my children back!" Aura snapped, still trying to get out of his grip. Zedd laughed and pushed her hard onto the ground.
"Not with what I did. I'll be back here in three hours. And you had better be here, or you'll lose everything!"
As he vanished, Aura's communicator beeped it's six-tone sound. She hit it gratefully, hoping for good news. "What is it, Alpha?"
"Ay-yi-yi, Aura, Zedd and Rita have sent down a squadron of Tengas into the center of town, you've got to get there and protect the people!"
She sighed; she'd never really fought alone before, even though her kind were by nature and history solitary warriors. "I'm on the way, Alpha. Any luck on getting the others awake or finding the kids?"
"Nothing yet, but I'll keep looking!" Alpha promised. Aura nodded then took a deep breath. Time to do my job. Alone.
"It's morphin' time! Amber Ranger Power!" she called out. Moments later, she'd arrived at the center of town, with Tengas running this way and that after the citizens of Angel Grove. "Hey, bird-brains!" she called out. "Why don't you try and take me on instead of these poor people?"
That was all it took for every Tenga to head straight for her. Aura spun, whirled, kicked, punched, and lashed out in every combination and move she knew, doing the work of seven Rangers at once. She took hits and blows to every part of her body, and was thankful her Ranger powers healed most of them almost at once, or she'd be in serious trouble.
It took almost an hour to get the Tengas out of there, and the minute they were gone, she was surrounded by a curious mob of people. "Amber Ranger, where are the others?" one young man asked.
"Has something happened to them?"
"Why are you the only one here?"
Aura took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down. "The other Rangers are on a mission that couldn't be interrupted, that is vital to the safety of Angel Grove and the world. I wasn't needed for this, so I came to take care of those minor nuisances."
"Are you all right? You looked like you took some pretty bad hits," she recognized that voice; it was her mom, Jessica. She smiled a little under her helmet; at least she wasn't utterly alone.
"I'm all right, ma'am," Aura told her. "But I've got to go now."
Jessica nodded as Aura stepped away from the crowd and teleported back to the Command Center. She hadn't liked the weariness she'd heard in Aura's voice, and she hadn't been able to get in touch with any of the other Rangers, or Azure, all day. She was going to have to find out what was going on. Somehow. * * *
Aura leaned wearily against a console, wiping the sweat from her brow as she tried to catch her breath. "That was not easy!" she groaned. "I don't care how many of my ancestors were solo Rangers; I'm not cut out to be alone! We've got to wake the others up somehow!"
She sighed a little, then told them what had happened in the park just prior to the Tenga attack. She hadn't had time since then to think over Zedd's demand; now she did. Zordon spoke quietly.
AURA, WE WILL FIND A WAY TO REVIVE THEM, AND FIND YOUR CHILDREN.
He's trying to make me feel better, to give me some hope. But I don't want hope, I want my family and my friends back. The sooner the better, now is best, and for all this to have never happened is the best of all. She looked up at Zordon, voicing her fears. "What if the only way. . .is for me to surrender?"
Alpha shook his head violently. "You can't! We will find them before the deadline!"
Aura stroked Billy's sleeping face gently. "I don't want to, Alpha. I fear what would happen if I do more than anything in the universe. . .," Torture, death, being forced to serve them. And that's just what I can think of. They've had a lot more practice than I have at thinking up things to do to prisoners, and I don't even want to imagine what they've probably got up their foul sleeves. "But if that's the only way, I'll do it."
Alpha shook his head. "We'll find a way, Aura! Somehow!"
"I hope so, Alpha. I hope so," Aura sighed. Right now, things just don't look good. I hope I don't have to surrender, I want them awake and my children back without that. But I'll do it in a heartbeat to save the ones I love. * * *
I can't believe this is happening. Aura waited where she had met Zedd earlier; the three hours were up. Alpha and Zordon had tried to talk her out of this, but her mind was made up. They'd made no headway in waking up the Rangers, or finding the twins. This was her only option, the only way she could see to saving that which she loved.
"What is your decision?" Zedd was suddenly there. She stepped back involuntarily, suddenly faced with the reality of what she was doing. The others weren't going to be able to get her out of this, she sensed. This was the end of the Amber Ranger, and she wasn't going out in a blaze of glory, she was giving up.
If this is what it takes to get them awake and back, I don't care. My life is a small price to pay for all of theirs. They are worth it, a thousand times over. She couldn't bring herself to look at Zedd in that moment, could hardly speak the words. "I surrender, Zedd. Just bring my children back and wake up my friends and Azure and Billy."
"So be it!" Zedd laughed. I knew she would! Oh, this is only the beginning of the tortures I'm going to wreak on her! I have such plans for her now, and all of them are painful in the extreme! He held his hand out to her, to bring her into the sphere of his magic. "Come, then!"
Wincing at the thought of having to touch him, she put her hand in his. Her last thoughts on Earth were simply, For you, Billy, and for all my friends. * * *
"Ay-yi-yi, Zordon, I can't get in touch with Aura; something is blocking the signal!" Alpha stared up at Zordon; the ancient mentor looked worried.
ZEDD MUST BE BLOCKING OUR SIGNALS, HE DOESN'T WANT AURA TO KNOW WE HAVE DISCOVERED A WAY TO AWAKEN THE RANGERS.
"What are we going to do, Zordon?"
REMAIN CALM, ALPHA, AND ROUSE THE RANGERS. THEY MUST BE ON THE ALERT FOR WHATEVER ZEDD TRIES NEXT. As Alpha started to work, Zordon refused to reveal the panic that was filling him at the thought of the Amber Ranger in Zedd's power. Since the moment they had first learned that Aura was the Amber Ranger, last of the Alantrius line, Zordon had, though he'd known it was foolish, considered her a touch immortal. As if nothing Zedd or Rita could do would ever get rid of her forever. Even when Kalakan had exploded and everyone had believed she was dead, Zordon had kept a silent vigil, scanning in every direction for months. But now, with Aura as Zedd's prisoner, would that immortality, that ability to rebound from anything and everything, be shattered?
A few moments later, Billy was awake and sitting up. He glanced around, a bit confused, after all, only moments before he had been in his own kitchen, with his family. "Why am I at the Command Center?"
"You've been asleep almost a full day, Billy," Alpha told him. "It was Zedd's doing," the little robot quickly explained everything that had went on the past few hours. Billy's eyes widened in panic as he heard of Zedd's ultimatum. "Billy, Aura went to Zedd. We tried to contact her, to tell her we were able to wake you all up, but we couldn't get through to her!"
"Zedd was probably blocking the signal," Billy muttered as he slowly got to his feet. "Where is she now?"
Alpha quickly ran a scan for her, and gave the bad news to Billy. "She's on the moon, Billy. They've stopped the communications block, but we can't get there right now, there's something scrambling our scans. All I can say is that she's there."
"What about the twins?"
Alpha shook his head. "I can't get a location on them yet, but I'll keep trying," he was already back at work. Billy nodded, then started to wake up the other Rangers and Azure. Once they were all awake, he explained what had went on. Azure went pale as she heard of what Aura had done, but managed to conceal it expertly.
"And they still have Alex and Alaina?" she asked. This is an absolute nightmare. I know how many nightmares Aura's had over the past couple of years, and how many of them had do with Zedd. She's afraid of him like she is of nothing I know of. But she's never let it get in her way, never let it stop her. She did everything she could to face it. She is so much stronger than I am it's not funny.
Alpha nodded. "I'm quite certain Aura's not pleased over that, either!" the little robot told them. They all knew Aura's temper, and knew she'd be doing everything within her power to make their enemies' lives a living nightmare now.
"If she knows that they still have them," Billy reminded them. "I wouldn't put it past them to lie in any and every way they can to her. We have to get her out of there."
"We've been trying to get in touch with her, but still nothing!" Alpha started work at the consoles again. Adam and Billy both started to help him, while the others remained out of the way and worrying.
Find them all, Billy. Find them and bring them home. Azure sighed a little. Bring my sister back to me. * * *
"Welcome to your new home!" Zedd proclaimed as he and Aura arrived in the palace. Two Tengas took Aura's arms firmly, preventing her from even touching her morpher or communicator. Aura glared at Zedd; she was in no mood for pleasantries.
"Shut up and wake up my friends and release my children!" she snapped. I might have put myself into the hands of my enemies, but there's no way I'm going to let Zedd keep them!
Zedd glanced towards the earth, and snarled to himself. Good thing I blocked communications when I went to collect her; that fool Zordon found a way to break my sleeping spell! Well, I have her here now, and she's never going to leave! "Your friends are awake," It's going to torment her all the more to realize she could have prevented this if she'd only been a minute later! "And as for your children, all in good time!"
Aura whirled on him, breaking from the Tengas' grip. "What do you mean 'all in good time'? You promised if I surrendered, you'd return them to Earth! I did, so let them go! They're defenseless children, they can't do anything to you!"
Zedd chuckled. "But did I say how long after you surrendered that I would return them?" If she hasn't figured out I break my word at every opportunity, she never will, and she deserves what I'm going to do to her!
"Zedd, let them go, now!" at her impassioned plea, Zedd turned, glowing red with anger at her insolence.
"You are in no position to demand anything!" he reminded her she was a prisoner, his prisoner, and not a guest, a friend, an ally, or anything that would demand the slightest bit of respect, attention, or courtesy. Aura, on the other hand, didn't care about any of that; as far as she was concerned, he could glow until he set the whole palace on fire; she wanted her children free!
"Let them go!"
Zedd laughed. "Like I said, I will. But for now, they are my guests!"
"When will you let them go?" Aura tried a difference approach this time. "What more do you want before they're free?"
He beckoned a Tenga closer to him. "Bring the youngest Cranston here," he ordered. As the Tenga ran off, he turned to Aura. "I thought you'd like to see one of them before you are imprisoned here. . .forever!"
Aura raised her head up high. "Imprisoned or on Earth, you still haven't beaten the Amber Ranger, Zedd. My son has the same powers I do, and if the Rangers don't defeat you, Alexander will!"
"We shall see!" Zedd smiled nastily as the Tenga returned with Alaina in its arms. As he took the baby from the bird-warrior, he enjoyed the pained look in Aura's eyes. She doesn't like me touching her child. Good. Things are already working out beautifully.
"Alaina," Aura whispered her daughter's name, her hands itching to get the child away from Zedd. If he harms her, I'll kill him. My daughter, my child, my children. Where's Alexander? They better not hurt either of them.
"Take your last look at her!" Zedd prepared to send Alaina away; he'd' been planning this since the moment he saw the twins being born. Aura's eyes filled with tears, as for the first time, she made a request, not a demand of her foe.
"Can I hold her?" her voice was very soft, pleading. The voice of a mother, of a tender, caring person who wanted nothing more than to hold something that was a part of her in her arms.
Oh, I might as well. It's not like either of them is going to be around much longer anyway! "As your last request, you may," he handed the child over to Aura, who gazed with a lifetime's worth of love at Alaina.
"Alaina," she touched the little face tenderly, gazing into the gray eyes that looked back at her. What was to become of this child, half of Earth, half of Kalakan, child of two Power Rangers? She knew what Alexander's destiny was, to follow in her own footsteps as the Amber Ranger, but what did fate have in store for this child? I will give her what protection I can. Aura unfastened her necklace, then slid it around Alaina's neck, where it immediately shrank to fit. Aura raised her eyebrows at that; she'd known her own first necklace had grown with her as she'd grown, but this was the first time she'd seen this. She touched the amber gently with one finger, breathing a few special words under her breath. "Spirit of Earth, keep my daughter safe until her father can do it," she whispered, kissing Alaina on her forehead. "You will always be safe, Alaina Cranston, and never forget that I love you."
"Enough!" Zedd snatched Alaina out of Aura's arms. "It is time for you to part company!" with a wave of his staff, Alaina vanished. "I have returned her to Earth; she is safe now."
"And what about my son?" Aura wasn't stopping with just one child returned, she wanted them both where they belonged.
"He will be returned soon," Zedd would have laughed at the anger that filled Aura's eyes, if he weren't already laughing at the deception he'd just pulled on her. "But first, Tengas! Take her to her cell!"
As the Tengas closed in around her, Aura smiled at Zedd, a cold, dangerous expression. "With or without me, the Rangers will defeat you, Zedd."
"If you wish to think that!" Zedd gestured for the Tengas to take her away. He'd prepared a special cell for her; shielded from every form of detecting equipment the Rangers had, and guarded by every Tenga he could spare, Rito, and Goldar. He had no intentions of letting her go this time. She was there to stay: forever. * * *
"Man! I had a lock on Alaina for a moment!" Adam looked up from where he'd been working. "Zedd had her on the moon, then moved her!"
Kat glanced over at him. "Any ideas where yet?" Adam shook his head as Alaina came to stand beside him. All the Rangers were getting more and more on edge; Aura had been there almost a full day already; the twins slightly over that.
Azure glanced at Billy; the Blue Ranger was so nervous and worried he was actually shaking. "We'll find them, Billy. All of them."
A sudden cry from Alpha brought everyone's attention to the small droid. "I found Alaina and Aura!"
"You did?" Billy came over to check the readouts. "Aura's on the moon, in a cell, guarded about fifty Tengas, Goldar, and Rito! Alaina's on an asteroid, with about ten Tenga guards," he sighed a little. "Looks like they don't intend on letting Aura go easily," he glanced at Tommy. "We go after Alaina first?" it was more of a statement than a question, and they all knew it.
Tommy nodded. "Aura's more than capable of taking care of herself; she'd be the first to tell us to go after Alaina."
A sudden beep from the computers brought their attention back to it suddenly. Billy checked the printouts again, and paled. "Aura's not registering on the scanners anymore. They've done something to block us. ..or. ..." he couldn't say what was on his mind. Or she's dead.
Azure put a hand on Billy's shoulder. "We'll find her again, Billy. But you guys have to go get Alaina."
He nodded. "Come on. Let's go get my daughter."
Alaina's rescue took all of five minutes; the Tengas were no match for Billy alone, much less Billy, Adam, and Tommy, all of whom had went. Billy quietly picked up Alaina out of the steel pen they'd put her in and smiled wanly at her. "Hey there, honey. Time to go home."
Adam came over, smiling. That faded quickly as he saw something Billy hadn't. "Billy, she's wearing Aura's necklace."
Billy stared; the Amber Necklace was unremoveable except by the proper wearer of it; Aura had to have done it. Adam voiced it. "Aura must have given it to her. There's no other way."
"Let's get her home," Billy sighed. As they teleported back to Earth, he found himself worrying and wondering over one simple thing: would he ever see his wife again?