The past week had been pure agony for Billy as he'd searched endlessly for Aura. Rita and Zedd had sent no monsters; hadn't even called them up to taunt them about having Aura captive in their dungeon. Things were so quiet Billy was going insane with worry as he searched endlessly for his wife.
The younger Robinson girl was quietly feeding Alex, who gurgling happily and looked none the worse for wear for his brief stay in the clutches of evil. Azure glanced first at Adam, who held and fed Alaina, then over at Billy. "No luck?"
Billy shook his head. In the past week, if he'd slept five hours Azure would have been very surprised. She was just as worried as he was, but she'd made an effort to sleep. He, on the other hand, was at the Command Center computers constantly.
"Why don't you go home and get some rest? I can help Alpha look for her, and Adam and I will watch the twins."
Panic flared in his eyes. "No, I've got to find her," Billy asserted. Adam looked sternly at his friend.
"You're not going to be able to give her much help once we find her in your condition. Get some sleep, before I have to have Alpha give you a sedative."
Billy stared, eyes wide. "You wouldn't!"
"Try me," Adam said flatly. He was fully intent on doing so if he had to. Billy sighed, his shoulders slumping.
"All right. But if you find anything let me know at once!"
"You'll be the first we let know," Azure assured him. Alpha teleported Billy out of the Command Center at once, straight into his bedroom at home.
Billy sighed as he looked around the room. There were little pieces of Aura everywhere. Her brush on the nightstand, interwoven with a thousand strands of her dark hair. The chunk of amber by her side of the bed. The painting on the wall. . .he went over and touched it lightly, remembering when she'd shown it to him. The first of her paintings she'd ever shown to him, years earlier, when she was eight years old, when she'd just begun to develop her artistic talent. His mind flashed back to then. . . * * *
"Aura, this is beautiful! I've never seen anything like this before!" Billy stared at the painting she'd just uncovered. It glowed with life and color and passion. This wasn't the work of an amateur, that was for certain. If he hadn't known better, he would have sworn it had be done by a professional artist with years. . . no, centuries of experience behind them!
It was a landscape, with a hint of a city in the background. A silvery stream wound through several small clumps of trees, with berry bushes dappled with golden shafts of sunlight dotted about. A few animals wandered about, none of them recognizable as any specific species, but all of them fit into the scene somehow. Through the trees there gleamed the spires of a crystal city.
It seemed almost too good to be true; a realm of endless fantasy conjured up from the depths of a child's mind. But something deep inside both Aura and Billy whispered that this place was real. . .this place was. . . * * *
"Kalakan," he whispered the word under his breath. "She painted the Heart of Kalakan. She knew, even then, who and what she was somehow."
"Of course she did, Billy," he turned to see the Spirit of Earth standing there. She looked so tender, so motherly, it was all Billy could do not to throw himself into her arms and weep out all the rage and anger and frustration he felt at not being able to help his wife. "She knew deep inside, from the moment of her birth, what she was to be. That's why she accepted it so easily. Do you truly believe that someone who went through what she did in the beginning of their Ranger career would have continued if she didn't have it in her blood?"
Billy knew the Spirit was right. He sat on the bed and sighed. "Spirit, Zedd has Aura, and I can't find her on any of the computers. Can you help?"
His last spark of hope was extinguished when the Spirit shook her head. "I can only sense that Aura is still alive, and that she misses you and the twins with all her heart."
"I thought you could find her anywhere," he almost said it challengingly.
"Anywhere on Earth, I can find my Ranger," she smiled a little, and patted him on the shoulder. "But she is not on Earth. Be of good heart, Billy. She will return to you, in good time."
"In good time? I want her back now!" he cried out. The Spirit looked somewhat harshly at him, then gestured towards the bed.
"Get some rest," she ordered. "You will be of no use to Aura when she is rescued if you do not sleep."
He reluctantly stretched out and closed his eyes. He felt the Spirit's hand brushing his forehead gently, and was going to ask what was going on, when he fell into the most profound and restful slumber possible.
The Spirit of Earth smiled a little as she returned to her home in the Heart. Your time of trial has come, Aura Robinson. The fire of torments you pass through will, if you survive, make you the strongest Amber Ranger ever known. Please survive, my sister, my daughter, partner of my heart. Survive. * * *
Azure slipped Alexander into the playpen that had been set up in the Command Center for the twins. She sighed a little. "It's about time Billy got some sleep," she observed. "He was about to collapse.
Adam nodded. "We've got to find Aura, for his sake if nothing else, and for yours," he hadn't missed the dark circles under her own eyes, evidence of her own sleepless nights.
"I'll be fine," Azure reassured him as she started another search on the computer. "I've always got you. I just hope we find her in time. . .for her sake." * * *
Zedd swung open the door to the cell and entered, chuckling already. He so enjoyed his daily torment of Aura; she hadn't lost her spirit yet, and that made her torture all the more fun.
"Greetings, Amber Ranger," he said sarcastically as he came over to where she hung against the wall. She glanced over at him, fire in her gray eyes still.
"Go to hell," she growled. He rather liked bantering with her; her wit was refreshing, unlike the silly 'jokes' perpetrated by Rito and Goldar. Rita wasn't much fun, not really. Aura's dry humor amused him.
"I was already there; not a bad place to visit; maybe I'll take you with me next time. ..or send you there ahead!" he smiled a little at the threat. Aura spat at him. His eyes widened in both surprise and anger. "What? You aren't enjoying my hospitality? None of this would have happened if you hadn't done that to my son!"
Aura shook her head. "None of this would have happened if you hadn't kidnapped me before my children were even born!" Zedd waved all that away; what was important was her torment.
"How would you like to see what your dear husband is doing?"
"I want to be with him, not just see him!" she growled. She made no pretense at liking this place or what she'd done; she wanted to be home, and didn't intend to hide it.
"You will never be with him again!" Zedd promised her. Her torture would end with her death; once it had lasted long enough. He could only hope she didn't die of old age before he killed her. He waved his staff, showing Aura her husband fast asleep in their bed at home. She looked him over eagerly, noticing the telltale signs of worry all over him.
"He hasn't been eating," she muttered to herself. Zedd laughed wickedly; he'd been planning what would happen in a short time for a while. It was going to cause her so much pain. . .
"He thinks you're dead," he told her, and indeed Billy's cheeks were streaked with tears. Aura growled deep in her throat, calling Zedd every foul name in two languages. She finished up with, "Let me out of here, Zedd, or I'll. . .I'll. . .."
Zedd laughed. "Or you'll what?! Let us see how you stand up against Goldar!" Zedd snapped his fingers, and Goldar appeared, smiling nastily at her. He'd been in a foul mood since Azure had beaten him during Alexander's rescue, and was more than willing to take it out on her captive sister.
Oh, another fight with him. This is actually getting boring. "I've beaten him before," Aura reminded Zedd. "Frequently!"
Goldar laughed, and something in that laughter made Aura's blood run cold. What he said turned her blood from cold: to ice water. "But you are chained up," he said softly, dangerously. "And will remain that way!"
She went white. That's not a fight. That's a massacre: mine! "You wouldn't!?"
"I would!" Zedd watched approvingly as Goldar drove one massive knee into Aura's stomach. With the same movement he backhanded her harshly, drawing blood from a suddenly split lip, then with a swing of his sword, sheared her long black hair off so short her scalp actually bled. He casually pulped both of her knees, enjoying the screams of agony he tore out of her with that. Shortly afterwards, as he broke several of her ribs, Aura simply went unconscious.
Just before she would have died of her injuries, Zedd raised his staff again, and healed everything Goldar had done to her. Her eyes snapped open in fright; she remembered clearly what he'd done the last time he'd healed her after a beating by Goldar, almost two years earlier now. She hadn't had her amber necklace then, either, though for a different reason. . .surely he wouldn't. . .
He laughed; recognizing the fear in her eyes was easy. "No, Aura, you won't serve me this time. Though that would be the ultimate humiliation, I have other things in mind for you, things even more painful. That is why I healed you; there is very little fun that can be had with a dead body!"
She slumped against the wall, already feeling the edges of despair nibbling at her. All of that was lost, however, when Goldar started the beating again. All she knew then was simple and utter pain. She managed to mutter, "Zedd. . .Billy will get . .. you for this," she bit the words off through clenched teeth."
The evil overlord shook his head; this time not healing her wounds, though she hovered at the brink of death. "I think not. Time for your friends to see what has happened to you!" * * *
Azure flipped a couple of switches, then took a deep breath suddenly. "I'm getting something," she reported. Those were words that hadn't been uttered in a week.
"What is it?" Adam asked, coming over to her. She checked the readouts, then said, "On the Viewing Globe," she turned to it. As she saw who was on it, she spoke his name through clenched teeth. "Zedd."
Adam stepped closer to the Globe. "Zedd! What do you want now? Release Aura at once!"
The skinless overlord laughed. "I just wanted you to know that she is still alive! For now!" he stepped aside, and Azure felt her stomach churning when she saw her sister. There simply weren't words enough to describe how badly Aura had been beaten. It was a miracle she hadn't died already.
"No," Azure whispered, her heart twisting. This can't be happening. Aura, what haven't they done to you? Even after this, won't they let you go? What more could Zedd possibly have in mind?
Aura managed to raise her head, barely. She whispered, "Azure. . .tell. . .Billy. . . I love him. . ." that was all she managed to get out before falling into unconsciousness.
"You slime!" Adam was fully prepared to morph and lead a full on assault against Zedd if that was what it took to get his friend back.
"Aura, we'll get you back!" Azure screamed, hoping Aura could still hear her. The Viewing Globe went dark as Azure ran to a console attempting to get a lock on where the transmission was coming from. "Damn it all to hell!" she swore as Zedd's block against scanning his palace came up again.
"We found her once, we can do it again," Adam tried to reassure his sobbing girlfriend. Azure shook her head.
"We didn't find her, Zedd contacted us. He wanted us to know what he'd done to her," she looked up into Adam's dark eyes. "Adam, she's only been there a week, and they've done that to her. If we don't find her and rescue her. . .she could die," Azure then remembered Billy; he had to know this, no matter how much it tore at him. She quickly contacted him, and was rewarded with the Blue Ranger teleporting into the Command Center: still in his shorts.
"Did you find her?" he asked eagerly. Managing to stifle a laugh, Azure told him, "Zedd contacted us, he wanted to show off. Alpha, play that back!"
Alpha replayed the tape of the recent communication, and it broke everyone's heart to hear how Billy whispered his wife's name so gently, so tenderly. Azure put a hand on her brother-in-law's shoulder. "We'll find her. That I swear. And Zedd will pay for this."
"I'm going to tear him apart!" Billy swore. Adam sighed a little; if they didn't get Aura back soon, Billy could very well go over the edge. The Black Ranger still remembered how distraught Billy had been when everyone believed Aura dead on Kalakan. He didn't want to know what would happen if Aura truly died.
"Let's concentrate on getting Aura back first," he suggested. Billy nodded as he started on the consoles again, fully refreshed from his twelve-hour nap. Adam cleared his throat gently. "Um, Billy?"
"What is it?"
"I think you might want to get dressed first," Adam gestured towards what Billy was. . .and was not. . . wearing. Azure was just barely able to control her giggling; this was a tension-breaker they had all needed.
"I'm sure we can manage while you put on some clothes," Azure reassured him. It took Billy less than two minutes to teleport back home, dress, and return to the Command Center. With both renewed energy and fear, they started seeking their friend again. * * *
Long, endlessly long days passed for Aura as she hung in the lunar dungeon. Goldar, with occasionally Rito to help him, showed up every day to break every bone she had on an irregular basis. Zedd always healed her before she died, but even so, the pain remained. When she was able to think, and times when her mind was clear enough to do that were growing rarer, she wondered if it were possible to die from pain alone. She had the sneaking suspicion that even if it were, Zedd wouldn't let her die. Not yet. He told her frequently that the beatings were only the very tip of what he had planned for her.
At times, Aura wondered if she were able to alter history by not tripping Eric into the Fountain of Youth, would she do so? It gave her something to think about, and she came to the conclusion that she wouldn't. The pain she suffered now was a small price to pay for the freedom she'd given Azure with that one act.
She almost wished they would come to torment her on anything like a regular basis; it would enable her to at least know how much time had passed here. One of the first things they'd done was destroy her communicator, and she knew if she hadn't given her amber necklace to Alaina, they would have tried to get rid of that too. A small smile formed as she remembered how her first necklace had zapped Zedd when he'd once tried to touch it. The Amber Necklace could be touched only by those who were aligned with good; any evil who tried to touch it were racked with pain.
She thought of the Spirit of Earth, and wished that she could communicate with her. She'd been too scared to try it when she'd first arrived here, and too angry over the abduction of her children. Once both of them were rescued, her torture had begun, shredding her concentration to bits. It was impossible to speak to the Spirit when every muscle and bone she had ached in unimaginable ways.
Maybe I can still do it. If I can get beyond the pain, get to where it doesn't hurt me anymore. . .maybe I can speak with her, tell her where I am, then she can get the Rangers to get me out of here. Aura closed her eyes and took a deep breath, ignoring the agony in her chest as she did so; Goldar had almost punctured her heart with a broken rib the day before. Zedd had given him a severe tongue-lashing for it too; it seemed whatever he had in mind simply wouldn't work if she were dead. She chuckled lightly. Much good I'd do him if I were dead. Apparently his plans aren't done yet. Oh, well. Nothing lasts forever, not even this. Either the Rangers will rescue me, or Goldar will screw up and kill me before Zedd can fix it. Regardless, I will be out of here one day.
She started to concentrate, to form the words within her mind that would take her to that silent place within herself where she could speak with the Spirit of Earth, her partner, her soul, her other half. Spirit? Spirit of Earth, can you hear me?
It seemed an endless time before she felt a flicker of life, a spark of a response. Aura? Love and strength and courage flowed into her from their link suddenly, and she knew the Spirit was with her, as she had always been.
Cold talons gripped her chin suddenly, scraping against her jawbones, piercing deep into her. She opened her eyes to see Zedd there, glaring hideously at her. "Time for the real fun to begin, Amber Ranger. Let's see what you're afraid of, deep inside!"
A crimson beam of light shot from his eyes into hers, and her body, mind, heart, and soul were racked with the most horrific agony she had ever known. Images swarmed up into her mind that she'd tried to ignore, filling her with the acid taste of fear.
"Billy's dead, Aura," the faceless person spoke the words that tore her heart apart. Then they were replaced by the Spirit of Earth, towering over her, livid with rage.
"You are no longer worthy to be my Ranger!" something broke within her, a place once filled with love and eternal support was now a desolate wasteland. She was no longer the Amber Ranger. . .but she stood before him, before the last Amber Ranger. . .Neras Alantrius. . .
"You are a failure! You are not my daughter!" he thundered, and Aura backed away, unable to face him. His scorn was palpable, it was so thick. Then he was gone, and in his place stood Tommy, Rocky, Kat, all the other Rangers.
"We don't want you on the team, Aura," Adam hissed. "You're not from Earth, you can't defend it. We don't care what kind of scam you pulled on the Spirit to get your powers back; you don't deserve them. A real Ranger wouldn't have surrendered to Zedd."
His hissing voice continued, then was replaced by true hissing, as the Rangers transformed into hideous, slithering serpents, snakes that wound all about her, glaring at her with their stone-cold eyes, she could hear their scales rubbing against each other, one coursed up to her and was about to swallow her whole. . .
She threw her head back, breaking the connection, tears pouring from her eyes. There had been more images, things she hadn't been able to see clearly, but she knew what they had all been: everything she'd ever been afraid of in her life, if only for a moment. Zedd's chilling laughter sounded.
"Ah, this will be easier than I thought!" he took a long moment to stare at her, assaulted yet again by something that might almost have been a memory, of Aura crying over something. . . What is this? Why do I keep seeing her in moments like this? I almost feel. ..something for her. Oh, this is foolishness, she is my enemy and my prisoner, the only thing I feel for her is contempt!
As the pain faded, Aura whispered, "What. . .are you doing, Zedd?"
"Destroying you!" he told her. "I know everything about you now, Aura, and you won't be able to stand up to what I'm going to do. In the end, you will be so broken you will die thanking me for killing you!"
"No," she whispered, managing to shake her head. ". . .won't let you. . ."
"You have no choice!" he reminded her. He could do anything he wanted to her; the other Rangers couldn't rescue her; they couldn't even find her!
"I won't let you," there was a sudden strength in her voice. "The others will find me and get me out of here. And you will be defeated!" she lashed out with a sudden kick, that held none of her old strength. She was fed seldom in here, and most of it she didn't want to eat in the first place. Zedd jumped away from her and chuckled at the feebleness of it. "Amber Ranger never gives up!" she promised him. She didn't know where this newfound courage came from, but she wasn't going to deny herself the chance to taunt Zedd, even a little bit.
"You will soon," he said silkily. He stamped his staff on the ground, creating an image in the air as he had done so many times before. She looked up to see a monster attack raging through downtown Angel Grove; her muscles twitched, wanting to be there, to help her friends. "This is taking place right now; your dear husband is so upset he can't fight!"
Aura's heart shattered as she saw the monster reach straight into the WolfZord and pluck Billy out of it. The others tried to reach him, but to no avail, as the monster squeezed the life out of her husband and dropped his corpse several hundred feet to the ground. Aura screamed Billy's name in agony, her heart broken and bleeding with pain. She didn't even notice Zedd leaving, chuckling with foul glee.
Billy. Oh, Billy, no. You can't be dead. This means. . .Zedd won. . .no. . .it can't be. .. this is all my fault. . .all my fault. . . * * *
Another week had droned by, another week without Aura. The twins hadn't left the Command Center except for brief moments to see their grandparents; the Rangers didn't want to risk Zedd perhaps attempting to abduct them again. Billy and Azure had barely left it for that long; both of them were trying everything they could think of to rescue Aura. Billy had invented five different new ways to scan into the Lunar Palace, but though they knew precisely where she was, and enough of what was happening to her to know they'd better hurry, they still couldn't teleport her out.
"Still no way to get her out," Billy sighed as he sat down. "Why won't they let us have her back?" there was such depression in his voice it was almost fatal just to listen to him. Adam nodded, his arm wrapped around the sleeping Azure.
"This is nerve-wracking," which had to have won the prize for "Understatement of the Century".
"This is beyond nerve-wracking!" Billy snapped. "I want my wife back!!"
"I know what you mean," Azure grumbled as she woke up. Adam looked down at her, smiling a little.
"I see the sedative wore off," he'd had Alpha inject her with something to make her sleep several hours earlier; or else she would have completely collapsed. They watched as Billy played with his children, and could see his eyes flit endlessly to the amber necklace now around Alaina's neck.
Azure hugged him suddenly. "She'll be just fine, and will be back before you know it."
"I hope so, Azure, oh, I hope so!" he prayed fervently. I don't want to be without her any longer; Zedd will pay for everything he's done to her, for everything he did to my Aura!
"Hello, Rangers!" the hideous voice of Zedd came from the Viewing Globe. One and all, the Rangers turned to shout the same phrase, "Release Aura!"
Billy roared at the top of his lungs, "Where's my wife?"
Zedd chuckled. "I am sending her home, shortly," the Rangers stared at each other. Zedd had never done this before, just released one of them!
"What are you up to, Zedd?" Adam didn't trust this one little bit. None of them did, but if he were going to send Aura back. . .
"Nothing," Zedd told them. "Just being. . .nice," he shuddered at the use of that word. "Here she comes!"
Billy dodged to the computers at once. "Something or someone is being teleported into the Command Center."
Something appeared on the floor between them all. Azure ran over to it, and recognized the long dark hair, the face beneath the bruises, the tattered remains of clothing. . .that wasn't moving with breath. . because she wasn't breathing. "No. . .she's. . . "
"I'm going to kill you, Zedd!" Billy screamed as he dropped to his knees beside Aura's body. "No, my Aura, my love, this can't be happening!" Both he and Azure erupted into tears. There was no denying this one; Aura was dead.
"You'll pay for this, Zedd," Adam promised, his voice thick with unshed tears. Azure teleported out a moment later, unable to remain there a moment longer. The Rangers gathered about the still form of their friend; Alpha confirmed that every scan said this was Aura, and she was indeed dead. * * *
Azure stormed through the park, unable to see anything through her tears. If I ever see Zedd again, in person, not on the Viewing Globe, I'm going to kill him. I wonder if I can talk Zordon and Alpha into teleporting me to the moon, so I can destroy him personally!
"Azure," the voice was soft, gentle, and loving. She whirled, jumping in fright at the same time, to see the Spirit of Earth standing there, a tender expression on her face.
"Spirit!" Azure couldn't even smile for the Spirit of Earth; it reminded her too much of Aura. "You scared me."
The spirit apologized as Azure wiped the tears from her face. "Why do you weep so?" the ethereal lady asked. Azure was barely able to control her emotions as she choked out,
"Aura. . .is. . .dead. . ."
The reply was completely unlike what Azure had expected. "Nonsense."
"I saw her body. She is dead!" Azure didn't want comfort, didn't want to be soothed. She wanted to scream and rage and cry at the loss of her sister.
"You saw a body. Not hers. She is my other half, the physical manifestation of the Earth, as I am it's spiritual. She is alive."
Azure looked at the Spirit, could feel the conviction flowing off her in waves. "She. . .she is?"
"Yes," the Spirit nodded. "She is not on Earth, though. I can feel her presence, and know she is alive. But I can only pinpoint her location while she is on Earth. But she is alive."
"Mind telling that to Billy?" Azure suggested. Billy needed to hear this even more than she did.
"Yes, he must know," the Spirit nodded and held out her hand to Azure. As the young woman put her hand into that of the Spirit, she sighed a little. It's almost like being with Aura. They are so much alike; they really are a part of each other.
They were in the Command Center a moment later. Billy looked up at them through his tears, he was still bent over the body. The Spirit came over and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Take heart, beloved of my Ranger. All is not lost."
"How can you say that!" Billy spat out the words. "She's dead!"
The Spirit shook her head, not even deigning to look at the corpse. "That is not Aura."
"Not Aura?" Billy stared. "How can it not be?"
"Who sent this thing to you saying it was Aura?" the Spirit asked; though it was evident she already knew.
"Zedd," Billy whispered, his eyes hardening as he perceived the evil plot Zedd had obviously had in mind. The Spirit nodded her agreement.
"Zedd is a master of trickery and deceit, but he cannot fool me when it comes to Aura. She lives still, but I do not know where. I can only sense that her life continues, and that she is in great pain."
Azure nodded. "Then we're going to have to try harder to find her."
Adam's eyes widened suddenly as a thought struck him. "What if. .." he paused for a moment, trying to sort out what he was thinking of.
"What is it, Adam?" Tommy asked, looking at his friend. Adam took a deep breath and tried again.
"What if Zedd thought. . .that we thought Aura was dead? He'd lower his defenses around her, and make it easier for us to get her out of there."
The Rangers exchanged glances all around, then Billy nodded slowly. "I think it might work. But we don't want to announce this to the world; she had one 'death' already; if another one occurs, then people might start getting a bit suspicious."
"What do we tell people, then?" Aisha wondered. Rocky shrugged and suggested, "Maybe that she isn't feeling well; and went to visit relatives for a while to get better?"
Kat agreed, "That sounds like a good idea. It'll explain why she's not here, and why she didn't take the twins or Billy; she wouldn't want them to 'catch' what she has."
Azure picked Alaina out of the playpen and held her up suddenly. "Spirit, Aura put her Amber necklace on Alaina. Do you know why?"
The Spirit smiled a little, then crossed over to pick up Alexander. She turned with him in her arms to face Alaina, and watched as the baby boy reached out to touch the necklace around his sister's neck.
The amber stone glowed suddenly, bringing back memories to them all of when Aura learned just who she was. An amber mist formed above them, then cleared to show Aura standing there. They recognized the scene behind her as being the park, and from the expression on her face, Billy realized she had to have done this just before giving herself to Zedd. Her image spoke softly.
"If you guys are seeing this, then the twins are safe, and I was able to give my necklace to Alaina, and this message was activated by Alexander touching it. The Spirit of Earth taught me how to do this, so I figured I'd give you all one last message from me. I really don't know if I'll ever see you again, so this is just in case I don't," she took a deep breath and looked around. "I don't know how much time I have before Zedd gets here, so I'm going to have to make this short. Billy, I love you. I can't say that enough, or with enough passion in it. You are the love of my life, my strength when I'm weak, my courage when I'm afraid, my laughter when I'm sad. No matter what, you'll always be in my heart, as I hope I will always be in yours.
"Azure, we grew up as sisters, and will be sisters until time's end. I wish you and Adam luck in your life together; and don't look as surprised as I know you must be. I've known you all my life, and I know you two are meant for each other. I just hope I can be there, somehow, when you're married. I want you two to have all the happiness that Billy and I have had, and more besides.
"Adam, if you don't ask Azure to marry you sometime soon, you're going to get a harsh surprise when. . .or if. . .I get out of here. Believe me, when the Guardian of the Earth tells you to propose, you do it!" Aura's image chuckled lightly, and they all looked at Adam to see him blushing severely, while Azure clutched at his hand, even redder than he was. Aura spoke again.
"My friends and fellow Rangers, I cannot tell you what an honor it has been to stand by your side and fight with you. Though your lives have changed dramatically since Azure and I moved back to Angel Grove, I like to think it's also been for the better: at least some parts of it," she smiled ruefully. "Some of it I could have definitely done without, though," she sighed a little, glancing at her watch. "My time's almost up. Good-bye, all of you, and Billy, never forget how much I love you."
The image faded away, and as one, the Rangers turned to Billy. He collapsed, tears racking his body. "Oh, Aura. . .my Aura. . .come back to me. . .," he whispered. "Come back to me. . ..I love you so much." * * *
Another three days dragged by, and they were no closer to find Aura than they had been when it all began. Azure and Adam finally had to almost literally drag Billy out of the Command Center for some air and time away from the search. If they hadn't, they both knew he would have stayed on until he collapsed.
"It's good to have some fresh air," Azure said softly as they sat in the park. It was a beautiful day; the only thing marring it being that there were only three of them there: not the usual foursome they were in. Aura's absence was almost like a physical blow to them all.
Adam nodded. "I can't believe we actually got Billy out of the Command Center," he said in a low tone. Billy was a few feet away, and as Adam said that he glanced over to them.
"Okay, I need to go look for Aura now," Azure and Adam both stared in outrage at him.
"What?" Billy looked at Azure. "I have to find her! Who knows what they're doing to her! You saw what she looked like when Zedd showed her to us!"
Adam shook his head and spoke softly. "Billy, he lied about Aura being dead. How do you know he didn't lie about that as well?"
Azure put a hand on Billy's shoulder. "She's going to be fine. Aura is one tough Ranger. She's probably going to be more upset that you aren't taking care of yourself while she's there!"
Adam chuckled. " Do you want her mad at you when she gets back?"
Billy shook his head, smiling a little. "No, she has a tendency to hit in sensitive areas!"
"There!" Azure pointed to the ground. "Now, sit down and relax!"
Billy sat, but he didn't look in the slightest bit relaxed. "I know she's tough, but she's never been with them this long before."
Azure glanced at him. "I know," she whispered. She didn't want to show the distress that had been eating at her since she had learned of Aura being in Zedd's power. "But she's going to be all right."
Adam put a hand on Azure, then one on Billy. "Remember, Aura has the strength of the Earth itself. She can deal with a lot."
A snore from Billy was the only reply to this as he fell into a deep sleep. Adam chuckled, then glanced up as Azure touched his hand lightly. "Adam. . .that day when Zedd's spell hit us. You asked me something, I think. . .or maybe it was a dream. . ."
Her voice trailed off as she looked at him hopefully. Adam smiled a little; he'd been wanting the chance to continue that conversation for over two weeks now. "Yes, Azure. I asked you to marry me. It wasn't a dream."
She smiled and hugged him. "This isn't quite the way I imagined the proposal," she told him. "And I certainly wanted Aura here to be one of the first to know."
"Remember her message? She knew before we did, I think," Adam chuckled. "Well, Azure? Will you marry me?"
"Do you even have to ask?" she smiled as she kissed him deeply. "I love you, Adam Park, and have since the moment I saw you. Yes, I'll marry you." * * *
Aura had recovered from the torture, and the fact Goldar hadn't been in to renew it had helped her immensely. The lights were kept dim in here, except when they were coming to torment her again, and she was slowly becoming to fear the increase in light that meant they were coming. She had no idea how long she'd been here; but she'd noticed changes already. She'd lost weight and muscle tone, to start with. Hanging by your wrists and being beaten on a fairly regular basis wasn't quite the best exercise regimen in the world, and her diet was the absolute pits. Not wanting to let her go even for a minute, Rito was often the one who forced food down her throat, and she'd regurgitated it most of the time, not wanting anything they gave her in her stomach.
Better safe than sorry, she thought to herself after one particularly vile 'meal'. Who knows what they've put in that stuff. I swear, I think some of it was moving!
In the middle of her thoughts, the door slammed open and the lights flared into full brilliance. She winced away as much from the sudden illumination as from Zedd's swaggering entrance.
"I have a present for you, Amber Ranger!" he proclaimed as he came over to her. She glared at him as best she could with her eyes still adjusting to the light.
"The only present I want from you is to let me go!" she snapped. She wanted a bath, she wanted full clothing, real food, and to sleep for about twenty-four straight hours in her own bed with her beloved Billy right next to her. Zedd laughed as he raised his staff, transforming it into a boa constrictor.
As Aura realized what it was he held, she went chalk-white. Of all things natural, there was nothing she feared more than a snake. "You like?" he asked tauntingly as he stepped closer to her, holding the creature out to her.
"Ta. . .take it away!" she screamed, trying to get away from the thing. She could hear her heart pounding so loudly she was surprised it didn't burst out of her chest, her eyes were round with fear, and the only thing she wanted was to get away from that slithering thing!
"What!" Zedd laughed. "You dare to refuse a gift from Lord Zedd?"
"Take it away!" Aura wailed, twisting her chains in an effort to escape the hideous creature. Her entire body shook with fear as Zedd dropped the snake and let it slither towards her. He gestured, and the image of Billy's funeral appeared before her.
"This is something you may want to see," he told her. She watched in terror as the Rangers buried her husband, and she could actually identify people, the image was that clear and vivid. Her parents, his parents, the twins were being held by Azure and Adam, Shaya was there, with her family, and every last person was crying.
"Billy," she whispered. "No. .. you can't be dead."
Zedd laughed. "Oh, but he is. And eventually. . .after an extremely long time here in my dungeons, you will join him," he headed for the door, leaving the snake slithering around her ankles. "I will leave you to consider everything you have seen! Enjoy your new friend, Amber Ranger!"
The sound of the door slamming echoed in her ears, but she didn't notice. All she saw was the snake curling around her, tongue flickering in and out, staring at her with flat, dead eyes. Aura Robinson Cranston, the Amber Ranger, could take it no longer.
She fainted. * * *
Zedd entered the throne room, chuckling. Rita, who had been observing the mourning of the Rangers, turned to him. "What are you so happy about?" He gets all the fun of torturing the Amber Ranger. She's been here almost three weeks, and I haven't even been able to kick her around any!
"Everything is going according to my plans!" he told her. He'd explained roughly what he had in mind to her even before Aura had been brought to the palace. He'd spent three months planning the Amber Ranger's destruction, and it looked as if all was going well.
"Really?" she smiled wickedly. As long as she dies, it doesn't matter who does it! My wonderfully wicked husband will see to that!
"Soon," Zedd promised, "the Amber Ranger will only be a shell of her former self!" he noticed the slightly left-out look in Rita's eyes and hurried to include her in his plans. "Now we work together! We will bring her down to destruction, and then when she's nothing but a memory, we will destroy the other Rangers!"
"Good!" Rita declared. "I was beginning to get bored without someone to torture!" And you've kept her to yourself since you brought her here! "How did she like the snake?"
"By now, she's passed out!" Zedd told her, laughing at the remembrance of the fear in Aura's eyes at the sight of the slithering serpent.
"And I thought she was supposed to be a fearless warrior!" Rita's hands were itching to get a crack at this supposedly great Ranger. The Earth's chosen Ranger. Just a helpless little toy in our hands!
"Not any longer!" Zedd glanced down at the park to where Adam, Azure, and Billy were relaxing. "Soon, Rangers. . .soon you will crumble! Just like your little Amber friend!" * * *
Two harsh days crept by, with the only new developments being that Aura suddenly vanished off all their scanning equipment again. Billy literally moved into the Command Center, refusing to leave it for a second as he searched everywhere he could find for her.
Azure and Adam finally forced him to go home and spend some time away, threatening to sedate him until Aura was rescued if he didn't behave. They both took up guard positions in his room, to make sure he didn't try and teleport out when their backs were turned, and for once, they stopped making out at every opportunity. They were too busy making sure Billy didn't kill himself trying to find Aura.
In the Command Center, the other Rangers took up the search, doing everything within their power to punch through Zedd's defenses and find the Amber Ranger. Rocky was taking his turn on them, since they were working in shifts to make sure none of them fell prey to the same exhaustion that had claimed Billy, when his eyes suddenly went wide at the readout he was given.
"What is it, Rock?" Tommy asked, noticing the surprise in the Red Ranger's eyes.
"I, uh, I think I found her!" he shouted. The Command Center echoed with curious questions, and finally Rocky yelled, "I found Aura!" he hit the communications screen, sending the message to Azure, Adam, and Billy. Almost before the good news finished transmitting, Billy was in the Command Center, looking happier than he had in three weeks.
"You found her?" he asked, tingling with excitement at the thought of being reunited with his wife and love.
"Yeah!" Rocky nodded. Adam patted the now hyper young man on the back.
"Way to go, Rocky!" they watched as Billy started to run a scan of his own, checking the defenses to see how to get Aura out of here. The smile on his face flickered, then faded suddenly. Azure looked at him, her own cheer fading in the reflection of his.
"Billy?" she asked gently, hoping that she didn't get the bad news she already suspected was coming. Billy pushed himself away from the consoles and sighed deeply.
"We can't get her out," he said dully. Azure felt a chill going down he spine.
He explained. "There's a barrier up, and from the readings I'm getting, it's in layers. It could take weeks to punch through it all: if at all."
"Damn," Azure and Adam said in unison. Tommy put a comforting hand on Billy's shoulder.
"We'll get through it, even if we have to dig under the place to get to her!" the White Ranger tried to reassure him.
"Why can't they ever just give up. Give me back my wife?" he would have cried if he were alone; there was no greater torture for Billy than to be deprived of the one he loved so much. Azure placed a hand on his other shoulder and stared at him with warm, luminous eyes. He could sense the same concern for Aura that he had, and knew one thing: they weren't going to stop until they had her free.
No matter how long it took. * * *
Zedd and Rita entered the dungeon together this time, arm in arm. Aura was in a half-doze, more of a faint than anything else, the snake still slithered around the cell, hissing at her every now and then. She was pale from being away from the sun for so long, thin, and weak. As they stood before her, her eyes flickered open and she looked at them. There was no longer any life or defiance there, she was simply too frightened and hurt to do anything anymore.
"Did you enjoy your little nap?" Zedd asked, staring at her and enjoying the sight of her being helpless. Aura turned her head away from them, one of the few things she still had the strength to do.
"She doesn't speak?" Rita cackled. "What, does the cat have your tongue?" they were both disgusted a moment later when Aura managed to spit at them. "Ew, that's gross!" Rita raised her staff and shot a couple of rattlesnakes out of the end of it. They were rewarded by hearing a full-strength shriek of terror from Aura.
"No! Take them away, please!"
"Why?" Rita quickly realized why it had taken Zedd so long to invite her in to help with the torture; there was a perverted, exotic pleasure to causing such fright by such a simple means.
"I. . .," I won't tell them why I hate these things, I'm going to have some secrets from them if it's the last thing I do! "Please, just take them away!" she wasn't ashamed of the tears that poured down her cheeks, there was sheer raw terror flowing through her.
"Tell me why and I might!" Rita told her. Aura didn't believe a word of that; she had come to know her enemies well, too well, during her time here. But she would say something.
"I. . .I'm afraid of them, please. . .," she whispered, her pulse racing. Please, let her believe that and take them away!
"Not good enough! They stay!" Rita laughed as the snakes curled around just under Aura's feet, which hung a few inches off the ground. Zedd spoke up then.
"How would you like to see your precious Rangers again? What they are doing now?"
"Why do you keep torturing me like this?" she asked softly, the tears coming even faster now. "Why don't you just kill me?"
Zedd laughed as the image formed before them. "It's more fun like this!" Aura couldn't help herself, she stared at the portal that was her only way to see the world and the people she longed for so much. What she was shown nearly broke her heart. "Awww. .. how sweet," Zedd laughed. "The Black Ranger and your sister are getting married!"
Aura watched as Adam and Azure exchanged vows. Rocky was there as best man, and Kat was maid of honor. Aura remembered how Azure had promised her that Billy would be best man and she would be matron of honor, and tears flowed down her cheeks as she realized Billy was dead.
"I. . .I wish them. . .," her resolve crumbled. "I want to be there!"
"Pity," Zedd said coldly. She begged once again to be released, which simply gave Zedd the opportunity to tell her, "Sorry, you stay here!" he was having too much fun tormenting her!
"Then kill me!" she cried out. "Please, stop doing this to me!" Stop showing me things I'm missing! Stop showing me the life I don't have anymore!
"I don't think the Ranger likes us anymore!" Rita laughed as Aura's head slumped over and she dissolved into pure tears of heartbreak and loss. Zedd motioned Rita to follow him out of the cell; it was time for the next stage in his master plan to crush every bit of strength from the Amber Ranger.
"Aura!" Aura's head snapped up at the calling of her name, to see a face she knew as well as she knew her own. Her heart beat a little faster with joy.
"F. .father?" she looked into the face of Neras Alanatrius, the last Amber Ranger. He strode over to her, a ghostly form, but still powerful and looking very upset.
"You disappoint me," he said quietly, staring at her with accusing eyes. Her heart sank; this was one of her worst nightmares come true!
"Father, no," she whispered, shaking her head.
"You gave up too quickly," he told her. "Now you're just a weakling prisoner! If you had waited another minute, your friends would have been awake!"
"He had my children still," she pointed out, her heart breaking at the thought of her father being so disappointed with her. From the moment she'd learned who and what she was, and who her father had been, she'd longed for his approval, to know that he was proud of the child he had sired and then been forced to send away.
"You are a fool!" Neras snapped at her. "This isn't the first time you willingly gave yourself into the powers of evil!"
The image of herself and Azure coming to save Billy and Adam flashed through her mind. "Father, I never did! I was captured or tricked every time!" Or using myself as a distraction. . .
"Were you?" he glared, and she recoiled from the hate in his eyes.
"Yes, I was!" she declared. She shrank back when he retorted, "Then you are an even greater weakling than I thought you were!"
"Father!" Aura screamed. "Why are you saying this to me? Why didn't you ever come to me before? When I needed you?"
"I had not deemed it necessary!" he snarled. Aura did her best to fight back, to defend herself and her actions with the only weapon she had against his scorn: the questions that had plagued her for two years.
"Father, I spent years not knowing that I was the Amber Ranger! I could have used your help!"
Neras shook his head. "You are not worthy of the powers! I wanted a boy, someone who was strong to carry on the tradition, not a weakling daughter!"
"Father, I did my best!" she screamed, not knowing anymore if the pain in her heart was because of his dislike of her, or the tortures she'd undergone here.
"Your best isn't good enough!" he told her, laughing at her tears. "See how weak you are!"
"F. . father, I protected Earth," she whispered through her sobs. "I did my best. . ."
"Earth is not your home!" he lashed out at her. "It's your fault Kalakan is gone!"
There was no defense against that, because Aura knew in her heart that was the one thing she could be blamed for. If she had never fled to Kalakan, believing Zedd's lies, then he couldn't have destroyed it.
"I can no longer stand the sight of you!" Neras declared. "You are no longer my child, you destroyer of my home!"
He faded away, and as Aura sank down as far as her chains would let her, crying, Zedd and Rita watched from the throne room. Rita laughed. "That illusion was perfect, Zedd!"
"Of course it was!" the lord of evil congratulated himself. "I knew Neras, and I know exactly what he would have said and done if he really were ashamed of her!"
"We've won, Zedd, we've really won against her! That was the greatest blow of all struck against her!"
Zedd nodded. "But I'm still not done with her! Or with the Rangers!" he spared another glance for the weeping Amber Ranger. "If she thinks she hurts now, she has a lot to learn. She hasn't even begun to feel pain!" * * *
Days passed, long, lonely days for Billy. Aura had been gone nearly a month, and every day was another day in which she might die before they could find her. He quietly looked over some of the data, glancing up when Adam asked, "Any luck?"
He shook his head, then looked back over the figures again. His eyes widened suddenly as his mind made a connection it never had before. "Wait!" he said abruptly. I think I've got it!"
Everyone looked up as Billy ran to the computer and started punching numbers into it. "You do?" Adam asked, not really feeling that much hope anymore. Billy nodded.
"I don't believe this; it's so simple!" he started to give his 'simple' explanation, which not one of them could understand. Adam nodded blankly.
"If you say so," he muttered. "Think we should get the others here?"
Billy nodded. "I'll have her home in minutes! You call them, it's going to take me a few minutes to get the equations ready anyway," he glanced over at Adam briefly, smiling. "And have someone bring the twins, too."
A few moments later, the Rangers, Azure, and the twins were all there. Azure smiled ecstatically. "You found a way to get her back?"
Billy nodded. "She should be here in about two minutes," he promised. There was a conviction in his voice they hadn't heard in the past four weeks. As Azure hugged Adam happily, Billy told them, "Everything is in motion, all we can do now is wait!"
"I can't believe she's been there a whole month!" Azure sighed. "And now we're going to bring her home at last!" * * *
Zedd laughed as the huge snakes he'd made started to crawl and circle around Aura's legs. She asked, trembling, her voice stuttering, "H. .how long have I been here?" she'd lost all sense of time, and wanted at least to know that much.
"A whole month!" Rita told her as the biggest snake began to circle both of Aura's legs. The Amber Ranger looked down at the thing crawling up her body, and fainted. Rita and Zedd laughed evilly, then the dark sorceress asked, "How long til we do away with her, Zedd?"
"Not much longer," Zedd had almost exhausted his evil imagination in the last month. "I want the Rangers to see her die!"
"Excellent!" Rita laughed, then frowned quickly. "But don't they already think she's dead?"
Zedd remembered the trick he'd played on the Rangers; and how easily they'd fallen for it. "You are right. Oh, well, let's just get rid of her now then! Awaken, Amber Ranger!"
Aura didn't move, until Zedd growled, "Wake up! Or I kill your sister slowly!" that was what it took to get her to open her eyes; even in the depths of despair and pain, Aura wouldn't let anyone hurt Azure.
"What now?" she whispered. "What more are you going to do?"
"That is better," Zedd approved of her obedient wakefulness. "Time to die!"
Aura whispered the two words that she had never thought to utter towards her enemies. "Thank you. . .." At last it's over. I'll miss you, Billy, Alaina, Alex. . .more than I can say. Oh, Azure, be strong. . Adam, be with her. . .
Zedd raised his staff and prepared to lash out with the most powerful beam of evil magic at his disposal, when Aura suddenly shimmered and vanished, along with the snake around her. "No!" he roared in outrage.
"What is this? How?" Rita screeched. "This isn't supposed to be happen!"
"The Rangers! They tricked us!" Zedd declared. Rita wailed loudly.
"They were supposed to be heartbroken, grief-stricken over her loss!"
Zedd snarled, "They must have discovered my trick! Blast them!" he stamped his staff against the ground, the entire palace glowing red with his rage. "Those Rangers will pay!" * * *
The Rangers stared as a person they hadn't seen in a month appeared in the middle of the Command Center, a large snake wrapped around the lower half of her body. As Azure saw the thing around her sister, she muttered, "Damn," knowing full well Aura's fear of snakes, and why she hated them so much. Alpha hit a couple of buttons, teleporting the creature away.
"What is it?" Rocky asked, noticing Aura hadn't stopped shaking once. He'd never seen Aura that scared of anything; except during that one brief time after she'd returned from Kalakan. Azure was already beside Aura, holding her. She glanced back at the Red Ranger.
"Aura is terrified of snakes," she told him. She turned back to Aura, stroking what was left of her once splendid mane of black hair. "It's okay, I'm here, it's all over, you're safe," she whispered over and over again, hoping to get through to her still shaking sister. Billy came up to her, rubbing her shoulders gently, hoping to get her attention without scaring her.
"Aura? Honey? It's me, Billy," rage filled him as he saw what they'd done to her. Her hair had been cut short, she had bruises and cuts all over her body, and her clothes were nothing more than rags.
Aura looked up, her eyes barely able to focus on the familiar beloved face above her. "Bi. . .Billy?" her voice was nothing more than a whisper.
"Yes, it's me," he told her gently. It broke his heart to see disbelief in her eyes. What she said next hurt him even more.
"You. ..you're dead. . ." he shook his head, swearing he'd get Zedd one day for doing this to Aura.
"I assure you, I'm quite alive. That was one of Zedd's illusions," he told her. What did they do to her to make her think that? What else have they done to her?
"Billy. ..," she whispered, throwing herself into his arms and crying with all her heart. "Oh, Billy, you're alive!"
"I have missed you," he told her, wrapping his warm arms around her tightly. "You don't know how much I've missed you."
"Th. . they said I was there. .. a month," she whispered. Billy nodded.
"You were. We've been trying to get you out ever since this whole thing started. There are some other people here who want to see you," Aura looked up as Billy said that, to see her children and her sister sitting hear her.
"Azure, Alex, Alaina," she whispered, tears flowing even faster as she remembered the scorn her father's ghost had treated her with.
"Yeah, they're all here," Billy held her, still feeling her trembling body in his arms.
"We all are," Tommy said gently. "Welcome home, Aura."
"I'm home," she whispered. "I'm really home."
Azure nodded. "But first, before we get really into the hugging and welcome backs, let Alpha treat those wounds," Aura managed to nod her agreement, and as Alpha tended to her, a soft breeze blew through the Command Center. Everyone looked up as a gentle voice spoke, "Aura."
Aura's eyes filled with tears as she saw the Spirit of Earth. "Oh, Spirit. . .I saw. . ." her voice failed her.
"What?" the Spirit asked gently, encouraging her. Aura whispered, "My father."
The incarnation of all life on Earth stepped closer to her chosen warrior. "Aura, I can help you understand the things they did to you, help you heal from them, inside and out. If you trust me."
She held her hand out to Aura, who took it gladly, eagerly. "Always."
"We will return soon," with no more than that promise from the Spirit, they both vanished. Azure and Billy stared, unable to believe she'd been taken away again so fast.
"Not again!" * * *
"We had her! We'd had her for a month! They were supposed to think she was dead!" Rita screeched as she stormed up and down the throne room.
"Nevertheless, she is useless to the Rangers now!" Zedd reminded Rita. Aura had no confidence, no self-esteem, no strength left after what they'd done to her.
"And we had a month of fun out of it!" Rita smiled nastily. Or should I say, you had a month of fun! I was barely able to do anything to her in the measly week I had!
"She will never recover!" Zedd laughed; he'd gotten that much of his revenge at least. The Amber Ranger would never stand against him again.
"I still can't believe how easy it was to break her!"
"Too easy!" Zedd laughed. "But most certainly enjoyable!" Rita was looking towards Earth.
"Zeddy," she said, voice trembling with confusion and worry.
"What is it?"
"She. . .she's not with the Rangers!"
Zedd leaped to the balcony and scanned Angel Grove, and what he could scan of the Command Center, which wasn't much. "What?"
Rita ran her Repulsascope over the whole world. "She's not on Earth at all!"
"This isn't possible!" Zedd raged. There's nowhere that she could go that we can't find her!
"They would have never let her leave, not in the condition she was in!"
"Blast it!" Zedd suddenly knew what had happened. "It must be that damn spirit!"
Rita looked concerned. "Could the Spirit heal her? Completely? Even after all we did to her?"
"That is one thing that we will have to wait and see," Zedd said. He really didn't want all that work he'd put into quenching Aura's warrior spirit to go for nothing.
"I hope not. We went to a lot of trouble to destroy her!"
Zedd shrugged, feeling a touch philosophical. "If not, we try another route. I will have my revenge!"
"Yes," Rita agreed. "I don't think the Spirit can do anything for her! The worst thing we did was make her think her father's ghost hates her, and she'll never know the truth! Her father's been dead for fifty thousand years!"
Zedd laughed. "Yes, she won't know the truth until after she meets his ghost: when she dies!" * * *
Azure sighed, looking at where Aura had been only moments before. "I hope she's going to be all right."
Billy nodded, still somewhat in shock. "She didn't look good, not good at all," he couldn't get her frightened, almost lifeless eyes out of his mind. The sight of them tore at his heart completely.
"She'll be fine," Adam reassured him. "The Spirit will make sure of that," he was holding Azure's hand gently, and she smiled as she looked at it.
"I hope so," Billy sighed. Azure touched his shoulder gently.
"She will be."
"I wonder how long she'll be gone this time?" Billy thought almost to himself. At least I know now she's coming back. I have that assurance. The Spirit won't let anything happen to her.
Rocky sat in front of Billy, trying to cheer up his friend. "She shouldn't be gone for too long. She's got those characteristic Ranger quick healing abilities. And if you need help with the twins, just call me. I like baby-sitting them."
Billy smiled. "Thanks, Rocky. But it's not just her physical injuries I'm worried about. You saw how afraid she was of that snake. If they knew of her fear of them, what else could they have known, and used to torture her with? It's her mind I'm worried over!"
"Billy, if I can get over what happened to me, I think she can recover from what they did to her."
Billy sighed and nodded his agreement to Azure's statement. "I hope so. I want my Aura back."
"You'll have her back soon," Azure promised him. "The Spirit of Earth will see to that."
Billy smiled a little, and Azure chuckled a touch. "It's good to see you smile again."
"I'll smile even more when she's home to stay," Billy promised. He looked around at his friends, his sister-in-law, and his children. The burden that had been on his heart for the past month was gone at last. He looked down at his left hand, at the wedding ring he hadn't even considered removing, even when things were at their darkest.
Come home soon, Aura. I love you.