Things were peaceful and quiet inside the Heart of Earth, as they always were here. Things were not so serene with Aura Cranston, the Amber Ranger, however. She sat in a heap of pain, with a broken soul, at the feet of the Spirit of Earth. The Spirit knelt down beside her gently, knowing that what she was about to do was the only way Aura could ever be healed.
"Aura? Are you ready?" she asked carefully. Aura was so shattered by what had happened to her in Zedd's dungeon that only one person could possibly help her recover. She still shook, though she knew she was safe. "Remember, keep an open mind. He will accept you openly."
Aura looked up at her, and deep in the back of her eyes, the Spirit saw the spark that made her the Amber Ranger, that courage that would never allow her to give up, no matter what. Zedd had nearly extinguished that flame, but it still flickered within her. "Spirit, what can I tell him?"
"I will tell him," the Spirit reassured her. He will understand."
"How long will I be there?"
"As long as it takes for you to understand what happened to you. I healed your body, but you need to heal the rest of yourself on your own."
Aura glanced briefly down at herself, clad in strange and unfamiliar garments. Unfamiliar to her, but something within her told her that this was what she was meant to wear. These clothes felt more natural to her than anything she'd worn in her entire life.
"I can't change history, can I?" she wondered. "Can I change it so that I grow up on Kalakan?"
The Spirit touched her gently on the shoulder. "Would that be wise? Look at the lives that would have changed. You and Billy, Alexander and Alaina, Adam and Azure. . ."
"And the saving of a world," Aura whispered. To have never suffered through this. . .
"We would have never met. I could not see us not knowing each other, being a part of each other," there was such love and caring in her voice that Aura couldn't take it. She knew she wouldn't alter what was meant to be. She could never hurt the Spirit that much. . .
"Spirit, why did you accept me?" she asked softly, wanting to know why this great being loved her so much.
"You have a good heart, you are a kind person," the Spirit stroked her hair. "You protect those you love and those you don't even know."
Aura sighed. She was so tired of hurting, inside and out. "I want to be home. With my family."
"Which one?" the Spirit asked. She had to know. "Billy and your children. . .or your father?"
Aura sighed. "The only way I can go back to Billy and the twins, is to heal from what happened to me in Zedd's palace. And to do that, I have to see my father." I'm so scared. . .I know inside that they only showed me lies, but still. . .it hurts. .. oh, it hurts to think he might really hate me!
"It is time then," the Spirit held out her hand, and Aura took it, showing the trust that was the very foundation of her existence.
"Let's go." * * *
Neras Alantrius was worried. The thirty-fifth Amber Ranger, the sworn defender of Kalakan, frowned in concern over his vegetable patch. "These things just aren't going to grow here!" he muttered to himself. "I should've listened the Spirit and let it be fallow for the year."
Something flickered out of the corner of his eye and he turned to look at it, prepared to morph if he had to. A tall, lovely woman stood there, with another woman behind her. Something told him they weren't anything to be feared.
"Hello," he smiled at them. "Are you lost?"
"Greetings, Neras," the first woman smiled at him, nodding her head in the traditional Kalakan greeting. He raised an eyebrow; seldom was he addressed by his name by strange women.
"Do I know you?" he asked. "You look familiar," you look like the Spirit of Kalakan. . .a little like her. The same feel.
"I am the Spirit of Earth. This is my physical partner, Aura," she introduced the second woman, who seemed to be hiding behind her friend. Neras raised an eyebrow.
"Hello," he nodded to them both, glancing at Aura. "Is something the matter?"
"She has been hurt recently, and badly," the Spirit of Earth told him. "Injuries of the spirit, heart, and soul."
"Ah, I see," Neras nodded. I wonder why she brought her to me, then. I'm no healer; I'm just a warrior. "Would you like to come in? Sit a while?"
"Yes," the Spirit nodded. "Come on, Aura. He won't hurt you."
He led the way to his house and served them drinks. Aura shook a good deal of the time, and Neras found himself looking at her. There was just something about her. . .the hair, the eyes. . .the shape of her face. . . ."You seem familiar to me," he said, then regretted it as she flinched away from the sound of his voice, then looked at the Spirit.
"She, according to your time, has not yet been born," the ethereal one told him. He was curious; this was quite unusual.
"Not been born? Then how is she here?"
"I am the Spirit of Earth, as I said. I brought her back in time and across space to meet you."
He frowned. "Why me?" the answer he got was totally unexpected.
"You are her father, or you will be," the Spirit told him. He'd been reared from childhood to know that the Spirit of a planet could never lie; he turned to Aura with a beaming face.
"She. . .she is my daughter?" I'm going to be a father one day! He was disappointed to see her shrink away from him. The Spirit continued her tale.
"Yes. In the time we came from, she lives on a planet called Earth, and has inherited your full Amber Ranger powers. She has a husband and twin offspring. They were captured by the evil warlord she fights against, and used to force her to surrender. While she was his prisoner, he tortured her physically and mentally for over a month. One of those tortures was to make her believe you hated her and believed she was a weak warrior."
Neras' eyes went wide. "I could never hate my own child! Actually, I've prayed all my life for a daughter!"
"R. .really?" Aura had spoken; he knew at once this was his child. He could hear echoes of his own voice in hers. He nodded.
"Yes, with the one special woman in my life."
Aura smiled a little. "Shaya."
"Yes. You've heard of her then?"
Aura nodded. "Yes, I have," I know her. I know my mother. And now, I know my father. He doesn't hate me. He loves me. . .
The Spirit rose and turned to Aura. "I will leave you now. Neras, she was never trained properly as the Amber Ranger. Could you do that while she is here? I will return when the time is right."
Neras smiled. "It will be my pleasure," he glanced at Aura; she was terribly thin and wasted. "But first, we must get some food into your stomach and you must need rest after your journey."
Aura nodded. "Good-bye, Spirit," she smiled a little, and Neras recognized the smile.
"I will always be a part of you, Aura," the Spirit touched her cheek gently. Neras spoke as the Spirit faded away.
"I know who she reminds me of now. The Spirit of Kalakan," he sighed a little as he saw Aura shrinking away from him again. "I see we have a lot of work cut out for us. Come, I will make you dinner?"
"Wh-what should I call you?" she whispered. He took a long look at her, without seeming to make it obvious. His instincts told him if she knew he was looking at her, she'd probably bolt like a deer. Whatever this enemy of hers had done, he'd plainly come close to completely destroying her.
Her hair had been raggedly chopped short, what he could see of her body was covered in bruises and minor cuts, most of which looked to have been healed already. He suspected the work of the Spirit in that; the Spirit of Kalakan had done similar things for him when he'd needed healing. She was dressed in the usual type of clothing worn by Kalakans, and her neck bore the marks of having once worn the Amber Necklace. He didn't ask what had happened to it, though; he knew the only way it wouldn't be with her would be if she'd willingly removed it, or if the Spirit of Earth had severed their connection.
And if the Spirit brought her to me for healing, I don't think that's what happened. She must have given it to someone for safekeeping before being taken by her enemy. A wise precaution, one I would have done. No evil can touch the Necklaces, but the mark of the bond should never be in profane hands.
"Neras, when we are in public," he told her. "These people around here know that I am not a father, but other than that, you may call me as you wish, either Neras or Father. It is up to you."
She smiled a very little. "Father," he liked the way that sounded. "I never knew you. I mean, when I was growing up."
Why would she not know me? "You didn't?" he asked.
"I don't think I should say why," she said thoughtfully. "but I didn't grow up on Kalakan." I grew up so far away in space and time, and from the moment I learned of your existence, all I wanted to do was meet you.
"Ah," Neras nodded. "Tell me, as I'm sure this is safe to talk about. The people you grew up with, friends, loved ones. What are they like?"
She was relaxing around him; that was one step. He was careful to maintain a certain distance from her; he'd seen the fright in her eyes when he'd went a little too close to her. "Wonderful. I'm nineteen years old; I'm married, with two children," she glanced at her left hand; he saw the wedding ring there. "Billy," she whispered the name.
She nodded. "I've loved him most of my life, since I first saw him."
The same way I did with Shaya; a lifetime together meant to be. "Is there anyone else in your life that you care about deeply?" I have to see if she still can care.
"Azure. My children. The others."
Neras raised an eyebrow; as far back as he knew, the only Rangers had been the Amber Rangers. Well, she was from the future; obviously things had changed between now and then. "There are other Rangers?"
"They don't have their powers born into them, like. . .we do," she glanced at him, starting the eye contact this time. He could see progress already; she was truly an Amber Ranger. "They are given theirs."
"That is bizarre," Neras considered. "But a great many things are weird recently."
Curiosity poked itself up in Aura. "Like what?"
"Just a strange person who visited recently. I believe his name is Zedd," he was totally unprepared for the reaction that name got. Her eyes went wide, all the blood drained out of her, and she looked ready to run at the slightest sound.
"No," she whispered. No. Please, no. Not here, not NOW.
"Did I say something to upset you?" I never thought someone could be so scared. Especially not an Amber Ranger.
"Zedd," she whispered the name, shaking badly. She whispered 'no' over and over again.
"Is he the one?" She's absolutely terrified. "I'm sure it couldn't be the same one. What did he look like?" Aura quickly, though shakingly, described the Zedd she knew. Neras' own nervousness stopped. "Then it could not be the same man. This man was tall, had blonde hair, crystal blue eyes, and is tanned: with skin."
Aura began to calm down a trifle herself. "Must not be. Maybe the person I knew in my time. . .took his name?" Please, let that be it! Let this Zedd just be his ancestor, or something! His namesake, I don't CARE as long as it isn't him! I can't face him! Never again!
"Maybe," Neras tried a reassuring smile. "Are you hungry?"
Aura thought it over. She hadn't had a decent meal in a month. Yes," starving comes a lot closer. As they ate, she took a look at him. Her own gray eyes looked back at her every now and then, and their skin tones were precisely identical. She already knew she had her mother's ink-black hair, and her smile. She had to know a few things, though. "Now that you know you're going to have. . .me. . .what do you think?"
Neras smiled at her. "I think I shall be proud of my daughter!"
"But," Aura bit her lip a moment. Should I tell him? Before she could stop herself, the entire tale of her life came pouring out of her, from growing up on Earth, to her rescue from Zedd's dungeons. The only thing she left out was just when all that had happened. He didn't need to know she came from fifty thousand years in the future, or why she'd been sent from Kalakan, or that Shaya had been the one to rescue her from the destruction of the world. Hours later, when her recitation was over, she was leaning against him, shaking from the horrors she'd had to relive in the telling. His arms were around her, strong and loving as a father's arms should be. It was something she'd never really felt like she could give her adopted father, but to him, to Neras, gone to dust before she'd ever learned of him, she gave freely: her trust.
Slowly, he spoke. "This person may have had and used powers to control you, but you have a greater power, and you used it to break free." And if I ever meet the monster who did all this to her, to my daughter, he will pay in pain.
"What do you mean?"
"The power of love and friendship are a greater power than the darkest forces of evil. You used that power and broke his grip on you," he looked deep into her eyes. "For that, I am proud."
He's proud of me. My father is proud of me. She'd always known that Frank Robinson cared for her, and in his own way was proud of her, but still and all, this was the father who had sired her, from whom she'd inherited her powers. To know he was proud of her made her feel worlds and eons better. "Still. . .I should have never surrendered that last time. But I was so afraid for my children, and those I love."
"You would have felt guilty if you hadn't, and they were still there, with him," Neras told her quietly. Aura nodded.
"I would have been devastated," she said softly. I would have hated myself forever.
"It was a no-win situation. You did what you thought was best for your family and friends," Neras reminded her. Aura sighed briefly, then smiled a little.
"If I hadn't surrendered. . .been tortured, then the Spirit would have never brought me here to meet you," she told him. Neras recognized the smile; he had seen it often.
"That is one good thing that came out of his," he told her. "I had the chance to meet you."
As he started to wash up, a knock came at the door. Aura instinctively started away from it. Neras opened it, and managed to conceal his distaste. "Zedd," a tall, handsome man entered the house. Aura had flinched when she'd heard the name, but the person who came in didn't look anything like the monster she knew from her own time.
"Hello," he nodded his greetings to them both absently. Zedd almost did a doubletake when he saw Aura. No one deserves to look that good and not be an angel of some type!
"Hello," Aura nodded briefly, doing her best to be polite. Zedd glanced at her father.
"Who is your guest?" he asked. She is so beautiful! I must find out more about her!
"Her name is Aura, and she is under the protection of my house, Zedd," Neras said with a certain note of steel. By the laws of Kalakan, anyone under the protection of someone's house was not to be harmed. The penalties for doing so were great.
"I'm staying with Neras for a while, I'm not sure how long," Aura forced herself to speak. She didn't want to let this person, even if it wasn't the Zedd she knew, to know how terrified she was of just being in the same room with him.
"Then I should be seeing you around," he smiled at her, and Aura felt her stomach turning.
If this is the Zedd I know, I think I'm going to be sick, because I think he likes me! "I guess so," was all she said out loud. Please, let it be my imagination.
"I hope so," he smiled at her again. Oh, I certainly hope so. I want to see a lot more of you: for a very long time. Forever sounds about right.
"So, I take it you live around here?" Aura forced herself to make conversation, no matter what. I'm not going to hint that being near him makes me sick!
"Actually, I'm visiting from another planet," he told her. And I bless the day I came here, since it led to me meeting you!
"So am I," Aura's eyes flicked to Neras, begging soundlessly for him to make Zedd leave somehow. "But I was born here on Kalakan." Or will be, call it what you will!
"You moved away? May I ask why?"
"It's personal," she told him. Since I'm not entirely sure of the reasons myself. I wonder if I'll find out while I'm here.
"Ah, very well," Zedd could barely keep his eyes off her, and it was making Aura so nervous she was about ready to get up and run away at a moment's notice.
"I'm glad to be here, but I miss my family," If he finds out about Billy, he'll leave me alone, I hope!!
"They didn't come with you?"
She shook her head. "No, my husband had to take care of our twins," I've got my own family, and I don't want you anywhere near them!
"Twins? You are a lucky soul," Zedd smiled again, hoping to impress her with his good looks. So, she is married and has a family. No matter. I'll still make her mine.
"I was very surprised, but very glad," she told him. I hope he leaves soon. I'm about to be very ill just being near him.
He stood up suddenly, as he glanced at a timepiece on the wall. "I enjoyed our little chat, Aura, but I must take my leave of you. Till later," he kissed her hand suddenly, then turned to Neras. "I will speak with you again later; the matter for which I originally came is not pressing. Good-bye."
A moment later, he was gone. Aura stood up and went to the sink, washing her hand off with all her might. "I see he has the same effect on you, too," Neras told her.
Aura sighed. "I don't know if he's the same one in my time or not, but I get the same sick feeling around them both."
"Perhaps they are related," Neras shrugged as he finished up the washing. "Come, I'll show you to where you'll be sleeping. There is so much I wish to tell you!"
"And so much I want to know," Aura sighed happily. I really am home. At last. * * *
Zedd entered his quarters at his Embassy, a far-off look in his eyes. I cannot believe how lucky I am! I found her. . the woman of my dreams. . .after all this time!
His new servant, Goldar, looked up as he entered. Goldar was a great winged ape, a mighty warrior of his own people, sworn to the cause of evil just as Zedd was. "Sire? How did your investigation of Neras go?"
"Fine," Zedd sighed. Her hair. . .her eyes. . .so beautiful. . .
"Is everything all right, sire? You seem. . .distracted."
"She was beautiful," Zedd smiled, remembering the glowing beauty of the girl. He hadn't noticed the bruises, the half-healed cuts, any of it. She was perfect.
Zedd shook his head suddenly, blinking his eyes. "Huh?"
"Of whom were you speaking, sire? Is this something I should know about?"
"There was this girl at Neras' house. A visitor to his home. She was so beautiful!" Zedd smiled to himself, remembering the glittering beauty of the girl he'd met.
"Really?" Goldar sighed; women had been the downfall of more evil empires than he could count. Zedd almost glared at him.
"Yes, Goldar, she is!"
Goldar sighed briefly. "Are you still going to kill Neras and conquer Kalakan?" I have to know this; if he's lost his edge already, just because of a woman, I don't want to work for him!
"Yes!" Zedd declared, smiling so evilly that Goldar was relieved. "And this girl will be my Queen!" I found her at last, the only woman I shall marry! She will be mine!
"I take it the attraction was mutual, then?"
Zedd sighed. "I am not sure," Oh, she had to love me! How could she not? "Oh, Goldar, I am going to get her even if it's not!" I will have my Queen!
"Of course, sire!" Goldar nodded fiercely and fingered the edge of his sword. I wonder if it's too late to get another job.
Zedd smiled. "Now let us plan the conquest of Kalakan!"
"Yes!" That's why I hired on with this guy!
Dark and evil plots were conceived all that night, with Zedd's mind only occasionally wandering to the strange and beautiful Aura. * * *
Aura moved through the graceful movements of the kata Neras had taught her. In the past three days, Neras had taught her much about being the Amber Ranger, more than she had even considered existed. Shaya had known little of it; most of what she knew had been from what Neras had dropped in conversation to her, and over the course of fifty thousand years, she had forgotten a good deal of that.
She knew now that when she returned to her own time, she would not be the same Aura, or the same Amber Ranger, who had left it. Her father was training her body, her mind, her heart, and soul, just as she would one day train Alexander. And now I know just what to teach him. This, despite it's origin, is truly the best thing that has ever happened to me.
She stumbled a little in the kata, and Neras shook his head. "Your mind is not on it."
Aura sighed; the thought she'd been trying so hard to keep hidden surged forward again. "I think he is the Zedd from my time." She couldn't put her finger on it, but something told her he was.
"Do not let him plague your mind," Neras advised. "The vile creature of whom you know must not be allowed to win! If you cannot concentrate, you will not heal, and he will have conquered you!"
"I'll try to focus," she sighed. "But I can't get the way he was looking at me out of my head!" Like Billy does. . .almost.
Neras sighed, then something occurred to him. "There maybe someone that you would like to meet. She might be able to help you concentrate."
"Who's that?" Aura no longer flinched or jumped when someone came near her; a few days of being in her father's unconditional love had cured her of that.
"Shaya Shaldar," Neras spoke the name with reverence and love mixed. Aura smiled; she knew that name as well as she knew her own.
"Mother," I was hoping I'd get to meet her. . . as a young person. The woman I know in my time is so different than what she must be now.
"Come on," Neras reached for a pair of cloaks, throwing her one. "It's a bit of a hike to her place," he practically glowed with love, and seemed to be smiling from head to toe.
"Let's go then," Aura wrapped the cloak about herself and smiled. In the three short days she'd been there, she'd found herself adapting to the times and place miraculously. She didn't miss television or a car or any of the Earth-modern conveniences. Kalakan's society and technology had already evolved past that, at any rate. Neras walked to Shaya's because he wanted to, and because Amber Rangers seldom used transportation unless they had to. They preferred to be closer to the planet they served, by walking. * * *
Shaya carefully cut back a bush, and examined it thoughtfully. "They're going to bloom perfectly this year," she muttered to herself. "with a little help, of course," she smiled, whispering the spell under her breath to help her flowers grow. She heard footsteps behind her, and turned.
"Neras!" she ran over and hugged her beloved with all her strength. "It has been too long!"
She noticed another young woman with him, but felt no fear. She knew Neras' heart belonged to her alone. "Hello, Shaya," the woman said softly. Her voice sounded much as Neras' did. . .perhaps she was a relative of his?
"Neras? Who is this young lady?"
"This is Aura," Neras introduced his companion. He intended to inform her of everything; he held no secrets from his love.
"Hello," Aura smiled at her, and Shaya felt a tremble of excitement as her magical senses flared up. That smile. . .no, it can't be! Can it? Aura continued to speak. "I'm visiting with Neras for a while."
"I brought her here to meet you. She had an encounter with Zedd the other day," then he told her just who Aura was: or rather, was going to be.
Then it is so!! "She is to be your daughter?" Shaya looked at Aura, and smiled through her shock. "She does have your eyes."
"It's nice to meet you," Aura never forgot her manners, despite being displaced through fifty thousand years worth of time.
"As it is to meet you. Come inside," Shaya escorted them within her home, concealing her joy. I am to have a child with Neras! She is so beautiful! She will be my daughter! "Welcome to my home."
"It's beautiful," Aura smiled as she looked around at the warm wooden furnishing and brightly polished floor. It looks just like her cabin on the spaceship does! I guess she decorated it herself.
"Thank you," Shaya enjoyed knowing people appreciated the work she'd put into this place. "So, you had an encounter with Zedd? Tell me, did you want to throw up afterwards?"
Aura nodded. "He kissed my hand. I had to wash it off, I couldn't stand the feel of his lips!"
Shaya agreed completely. "Be thankful it wasn't your cheek!"
"I think I would have thrown up all over him!"
Neras chuckled a trifle. "Shaya almost did."
"He kissed you?" Aura felt her stomach churning at the thought of Zedd being near her mother. Apparently, if this was the Zedd she knew, he had abandoned charm for ruthlessness.
"On my cheek," Shaya nodded. "Once he left, I threw up. There is just something about him that is truly and utterly evil and disgusting."
"You don't know the half of it," Aura sighed. "Let me tell you who I think he is: or is going to become." * * *
Zedd sat surrounded by the wealth he had accumulated so far, thinking. I must have her; there is no other option. She must become my bride. But how? Ah, yes! That will do!
"I have it!" Zedd leaped to his feet, startling Goldar, who had almost dozed off.
"What? Oh, sire. . .what is it?" Goldar yawned; he'd been on the verge of such a wonderful dream. What does he want now?
"I know how to get her!" Zedd laughed. "And Neras at the same time!"
"Her? Oh, the girl," she'd been almost all Zedd had talked about since he'd first seen her, that and destroying Kalakan.
Zedd glared at him. "Yes, the girl," he said sarcastically. "If we get Neras married off, he can't protect her! He'll be too upset that it's not Shaya he's marrying!"
"Excellent plan, sire!" Goldar bowed low. I hope I'm not in for a few centuries of this sort of thing!
Zedd turned to his scanners and started to search around. "Now, who to marry him off to," One of the peculiarities of Kalakan society was that many marriages were still arranged by the parents. In Neras' case, however, things were a trifle different. Usually an Amber Ranger was permitted the choice of their mate, but Neras owed a favor he couldn't repay to a very highly placed politician. Zedd laughed suddenly as his computer informed him of this at his request. "Her! Now, to set it up. Goldar, wait here. I have a marriage to arrange!"
"Yes, sire," Goldar nodded and settled back down into his sleep. Maybe I can get that dream going this time.
In only a few minutes, Zedd was with the politician he wanted; Lord Delvan. "Sir?" he spoke quietly to get his attention.
"Yes?" he looked up at him. Zedd smiled briefly; before he'd met Aura, he'd considered an alliance with this man's daughter; as a way to get a foothold into Kalakan politics. Now he had a much better use for her.
"I have been thinking about that matter we discussed the other day, about how your daughter is reaching marriageable age," Zedd reminded him. Though I didn't quite think that conversation would lead to this.
Delvan nodded. "Yes, Selania is ready to be married, but there is no one suitable to her station."
"What about Neras?" Zedd forced himself not to sound too eager. "He, too, is reaching the proper age."
"The Amber Ranger?" the lord raised an eyebrow and considered. "It would be an excellent match, but I don't like the idea of marrying her to someone she barely knows."
Zedd quietly wove a spell that would influence Delvan to agree with him; he wanted no foul-ups of this plan! "But think of it! Your daughter, and the defender of Kalakan."
Delvan nodded. "Yes. I'll get the proceedings begun at once!"
Zedd smiled; the spell had worked! "If you don't mind, I would like to tell Neras; we have become good friends." Ah, this fool would believe anything I tell him now!
"Oh, I didn't know that! Very well, I must inform Selania as well," Delvan nodded and left at once. Zedd chuckled; everything was going according to plan. * * *
Aura and Neras were doing their katas in unison, moving perfectly together. Aura had truly enjoyed the visit they'd made to Shaya, and hoped to see her mother again soon. Her good mood was spoiled when Zedd came up the path to the house.
"Hello, Aura," Zedd smiled at her, then turned to Neras. "We need to talk."
Neras raised an eyebrow. "About what?"
"You are reaching marriageable age, aren't you?" Zedd was barely able to control his urges to stare mindlessly at Aura.
"Yes, I'm planning to ask Shaya soon," he glanced briefly at Aura, smiling to himself. My daughter.
"I was sent to tell you something. This isn't going to be easy," Zedd sighed a trifle melodramatically. I hope I can pull this off without laughing too much! Or falling upon Aura with all my love!
"What is it?" Neras frowned. Zedd is never good news, but this promises to be even worse!
"You've been promised to Selania," Zedd managed not to smile at the thought of the pain he must have caused at that simple sentence. Neras's eyes filled with sorrow.
"No," he whispered. How can we have Aura if I do not marry Shaya?
"I asked to be the one to tell you. I hoped you would take it better from me than from some stuffy public official."
Neras looked at Aura, eyes wide. "I don't know what to say! What do I tell Shaya?"
"The truth," Aura said quietly. This is what is meant to be.
"I'm sure she'll understand," Zedd tried to reassure him. Yes, run to her, and leave Aura alone!
Neras was upset; this had truly struck him to his core. "But I'm not sure I do!"
"Sometimes these things are for the best," Zedd managed not to crow in triumph as he saw Neras' expression.
"I have to tell her now," Neras was flustered. "I can't wait; she might hear it from someone else!"
Zedd smiled. Perfect. "If you want, I will keep Aura company."
Neras glanced at Aura, who nodded slightly. "Very well," he said. He left after seizing a cloak, throwing a few concerned glances at Aura as he did so. "I'll be all right," she reassured him as he went out of sight. Aura bit her lip a bit nervously; she hated being alone with Zedd, but couldn't interfere with what was to be.
"So, tell me about yourself," Zedd tried to engage her in conversation. I must learn about her; must know everything I can about my future queen!
"I'm visiting with Neras a while," she told him. Like I said the last time I saw you, idiot! "I'm married; we have two kids." I firmly believe I was tortured by you in the future, so I came back to spend time with my father!
"Two children? That is a lot for someone of your youthfulness," But all your future children shall be with me.
"Twins," she told him. "We didn't exactly plan on it, but we love them."
"What are they? Boys or girls?"
"One of each," she stepped away from him, back to the training ring. "I really should keep up with my training; it's part of the reason I came here."
"Do you mind if I watch?"
Indeed I do. "All right," she didn't dare let him know the truth. She didn't want to hint yet she knew more of him than he had told her. Zedd watched as she moved through the graceful katas Neras had taught her. She smiled a bit to herself; her mischievous streak had begun to return as she healed. "I really miss my husband. Before I came here, we'd already been separated for a month.
"Really? Problems?" If so, this could be work out wonderfully!
"Not exactly. I had to be somewhere, for my work," OK, that's a bit of a stretch, but it's the truth. . .sort of. My work is saving the world, and anything that keeps Zedd from attacking it is worth it.
"What do you do for a living?"
She smiled a little; no way was she going to tell him the truth! "I protect things, places," Like an entire planet.
"Sounds like a rough job for one so young," Zedd smiled; he intended to take her away from all of that, forever, and give her a planet to rule! And one day, if all goes well, we will rule the entire universe together!
"I have help," she smiled. All the other Power Rangers; who've got a much better track record than I do against you!
"Are they here with you?" he stepped a bit closer to her; he was almost ready.
"No, they had to stay at home. I wish they could've come, but they're needed there," she glanced at him, intending to flash a mischievous grin, but was stopped by the raw desire in his eyes.
"A pity," Zedd snapped his fingers and Goldar appeared. Aura's eyes flew wide open with shock. She knew Goldar; and she knew this had to be the Zedd she knew. She backed away, trembling with fright.
"What do you want, Zedd?" she wasn't able to keep the quiver out of her voice as she spoke. Oh, no! No! Not again!
"You," he said as Goldar vanished and appeared again behind her. Before she could react, he had sprayed a strange mist into her face, and she collapsed, sound asleep, at Zedd's feet. He smiled; the sleeping potion was a success. "Bring her, Goldar," he ordered. I have my queen. And there is nothing Neras or anyone can do to stop me! Now or ever! * * *
Neras knocked with a heavy heart on Shaya's door; he couldn't believe what was going on. A political marriage. I can't believe Lord Delvan would call in that favor I owe him like this, when he knows how I feel about Shaya! But I can never go back on my word; it goes against all that makes me the Amber Ranger! Somehow, I must be with Shaya! How else can Aura exist?
"Neras!" Shaya opened the door and her entire face lit up with joy as she saw who her visitor was. "Come in, please!"
"Shaya," Neras sighed deeply as he entered. She frowned; she knew his every mood, and he was more depressed than she'd ever seen him before.
"What's wrong, Neras?"
"I just got news that I must marry Selania Delvar in a 'political marriage'," he spoke the words with nothing but hate and disgust in his voice.
"No," she whispered. This cannot be. But. . . I have seen the future in my visions. We are not to marry.
"I'm afraid so. How am I supposed to get out of it???" he took her hands and pulled her into a warm kiss. "It's you I want to marry!"
"You're not supposed to get out of it, Neras. It's fate," she told him. I have seen so much. But I cannot tell. This is the burden of my power.
"Who cares about fate!" Neras cried. "Right now, all I care about is love, and my love is for you, for always!"
"And mine for you," she took a deep breath. "Neras, your marriage is fated, but so is our love, and the product of it must happen!" Aura must be born! She must exist; more than you can imagine depends upon it!
They found themselves locked in a passionate kiss. Neras pulled back a little and looked her deep into her eyes. "I love you, Shaya. I always will!"
"As I will always love you," she told him. They kissed again; letting neither the concerns of the past or the marriage of the future concern them: all their thoughts were on the warm and loving present. * * *
Zedd and Goldar appeared in the Embassy quarters, the still sleeping Aura in Goldar's arms. He placed her on a couch and watched as Zedd sat next to her, staring at her. "I don't see what's so special about her; she's not that pretty," Goldar observed. Not to me anyway. I always preferred the more simian types.
Zedd looked up at him, hurt in his eyes. "She's beautiful!" he corrected him. Goldar shrugged helplessly; he'd learned not to disagree with his master.
"If you say so," was all he said as Aura's eyes began to open. Zedd smiled happily. She'll be so honored I've chosen her! She'll agree at once!
"Ah, she awakens," he watched as she looked around, then leaped to her feet.
"Where am I?" she snapped. This is the Zedd from my time; his younger self, however it is! What does he want with me? I can't let him see how scared I am!
"My quarters at the Embassy," he told her. He was somewhat surprised she wasn't overjoyed to be there; but that was only because he hadn't told her the good news yet.
"I don't want to be here!" Aura managed not to let her trembling show. All I want is to be back at Father's; to be where I'm safe again!
"Why? I mean you no harm," Zedd tried to be charming and reassuring to her. He had a back-up plan in case she didn't believe his sweet words in place already.
"I don't care!" Aura snarled. "I want to go back to Neras' place!"
Zedd smiled winningly. "Why? There is no on there; he is spending some last moments with Shaya. At least enjoy a meal with me."
Zedd did not just invite me to dinner. I didn't hear that. "If you'd wanted dinner, you didn't have to kidnap me!"
He dropped his head, managing to look distressed. "I do apologize for that."
Aura's eyes widened briefly; she'd never expected to hear those words coming from him. "The only apology I want is to be set free!"
Zedd told her, "You are free to leave, but dinner has already been set up if you are hungry. What would it hurt to eat with me? Just one meal."
Aura sighed; she was hungry, probably that was a side effect of the spray they'd used on her. "All right. But then I'm going right back to Neras!"
That's what she thinks! Zedd smiled as he led her politely to the grand dining hall. "I will have you escorted back. You can never be too careful."
Aura smiled. "I'm safer than you might think." Very few things can stand up to a full-fledged Amber Ranger!
He shook his head. "I would feel better knowing that you made it back safely, though. Please."
"Oh, if you insist," she sighed a little. Maybe this ISN'T the Zedd I know after all. He's a lot nicer than he is in the future if this is him. That could be a trick, though. I've got to be careful.
The food was tasty, but strange to Aura. The more she ate, though, the more she found herself looking at Zedd with more than just casual interest. She realized he was much better looking than she'd originally thought, and she could tell easily now that he liked her in return. She smiled briefly; she was flattered such a handsome man found her attractive!
"Thank you for the meal, Zedd," she said politely once it was done. Her heart thudded with joy as he smiled at her.
"It was a pleasure," he told her. "I will have Goldar take you home, unless you want. . .," he paused for a moment, waiting.
Aura smiled at him archly. "I think I'd like to stay," she said softly. I think I love him. . ."Just why did you take me from Neras' home anyway?"
"I didn't think you'd come any other way," he told her as he sat on the couch and beckoned for her to join him.
"You should have asked. You might have been surprised," she told him as she sat next to him. Oh, you would have indeed been surprised. Why didn't I see how handsome and caring he was before?
"Would I have been?" he asked, smiling. Aura returned the expression.
"Perhaps," she was a trifle startled when he slipped his hand into hers, but didn't object. Indeed, she thrilled to his touch and wanted more of it.
"Well, it wasn't so bad how you kidnapped me," she admitted. "I've had worse experiences," Can't remember any of them at the moment. Oh, what does it matter? I'm with him now.
"You are beautiful, Aura," he told her, causing her cheeks to flame red. "I am truly honored that you decided to stay here." And you're not going to leave me, ever. That love potion I mixed in with the food works wonders!
She told him, "Neras needs time with Shaya. It's important they be together while they can be."
He nodded. "Yes, it's a shame that their love must fall to the wayside."
"The love will be forever. Their marriage was never meant to be."
"True," Zedd nodded. "Love conquers all barriers, even marriage," he stroked her hand gently and Aura leaned closer to him, heart pounding with joy.
"Yes," she told him. I thought I was married. Doesn't matter. Zedd is the only one for me. Zedd smiled as he moved closer to her, running his hands through her coal-black hair and kissing her deeply on the lips. Aura kissed him in return, enjoying his touch. She closed her eyes happily, sighing as Zedd's hands wandered all over her.
I love. . .him. . .she thought to herself. I love him so much. . ."Oh, Billy," she sighed happily, almost absently. Zedd stopped his exploration, and stared at her.
"I. . .I. .. said," Aura's mind cleared suddenly. "I said Billy!" she pushed away from him. "What am I doing??!"
"Aura?" Zedd was hurt by her rejection. "I thought we loved each other!"
Love? Me? The Amber Ranger, love Zedd? I must have been under a spell! "I love Billy! I hate you!" she spat the words out with complete disgust. Zedd stared at her with wounded eyes.
"Pity! Goldar!" he called his servant. "You aren't leaving here!"
"What is it, sire?" Goldar asked, entering the chamber. Zedd had dismissed him during the meal, not wanting an audience to his attempt at romancing Aura. His master pointed at Aura, who was searching everywhere with her eyes for a way to escape.
"Make sure she doesn't leave here!" he ordered as he left the room. That love potion obviously wasn't strong enough. But if I wipe her mind clean of all her memories of whoever that husband of hers is, then she will have no choice but to love me, for she'll know no one else! I will have her!
Aura looked at Goldar, her gray eyes storming. How many times and in how many times do I have to deal with this idiot? As he headed over to her, intending to grab her, Aura moved with skill born of need and desperation, and kicked him squarely where it would hurt the most. As he sank to his knees, she couldn't resist taunting him a little. "I know your weak points, Goldar! Better than you can imagine!" Amazing what roughly two years of fighting this jerk can do for you! "How is that?" Goldar snarled as he tried to get to his feet. She'll pay for that!
"You'll never find out, because I'm out of here!" Aura had seen a door, and headed for it, dodging his outstretched arms easily. She found herself in a hallway. He did say it was an embassy. I'd better get back to Neras' as fast as I can!
She didn't dare ask anyone in here for directions; they probably all worked for Zedd. But the people outside should be safe. She would ask one of them for how to get back to her father's home: to where she wouldn't have to worry about Zedd. * * *
Neras walked up the path to his house, in a much better mood than he'd been when he left earlier that day. He'd been worried over leaving Aura with Zedd, but things seemed to have went well; there was no sign of any trouble anywhere. The house was dark and still. If she went somewhere, I hope she let me know where. I worry about her; she knows that. Oh, good, she locked up, he thought as he unlocked the door and entered. With a wave of his hand, the lights came on, revealing Aura huddled in a corner of the main room, shaking like a leaf, her head tucked down and covered by her arms.
"Aura?" he asked gently. At the sound of her name, her head jerked up in startlement. Her eyes were wide and she was pale and shaking. She wasn't this bad when she got here! "What happened?" he asked as carefully as he could.
Aura stammered out her explanation, and Neras' hands clenched in rage. "I knew I shouldn't have left you with him!" he was about ready to go destroy Zedd in that moment!
"It was necessary," Aura choked out the phrase. She was literally forcing herself to be calm now; she didn't dare release the tears that threatened to explode from her. The minute she'd arrived back at Neras, the full realization of how close she'd come to betraying her love for Billy had come crashing in on her.
"He hurt you," Neras said softly, dangerously. No one hurts my daughter!
"Father, what did you do with Mother while you were with her?" I have to get him to see what he did was necessary. What happened had to happen, with them, anyway! The smile Neras gave her confirmed her suspicions. "See? I wouldn't be born if you hadn't left!"
Neras smiled at her, and came a bit closer. "Does this make what you went through better?"
No. Nothing could. Not even knowing I would never have been conceived! "A little," she lied. He didn't need to know how much what Zedd had tried had hurt her. She wasn't going to let Zedd. . .of any time. .. defeat her, no matter what. She would be strong. She would be the Amber Ranger. * * *
Zedd emerged back into the main room of his private quarters, the amnesia potion all ready. He glanced around, looking in vain for Aura. "Where is she?" he asked Goldar, who looked a trifle embarrassed at the question. "Goldar?"
"She got away," he mumbled. Zedd glared at him evilly; how dare this monkey let his future queen escape?
"She what?" Zedd roared. This had passed beyond intolerability! How dare this happen!
"She got away!"
"How?" Zedd wanted explanations, and he wanted them now!
"She kicked me," Goldar explained. He didn't say how hard she'd kicked, the extreme power behind it, or how much it had hurt!
"Are you so weak to be taken down with one kick?" Zedd scoffed. He was already rethinking his hiring of this imbecile.
"It was where she kicked me! And she kicks hard, too! She said something about knowing all my weak points," Goldar tried to make himself look good, or at least better. Zedd snorted in disgust.
"You must be easy for her to read," he had obviously underestimated this Aura. She was more than just some visitor to Neras; he must be teaching her to fight. He smiled a bit. A warrior Queen. Just what I wanted.
"She must be back with Neras by now," Goldar suggested. Please, tell me you don't want anything to do with her anymore!!
Zedd shrugged. "Let her enjoy her time with him while she can. Soon he will be gone, and so will she!"
"I take it you don't want to marry her anymore?" Goldar would have prayed if he'd known of any deities who might listen to scum like him.
"No," a small smile flickered across Zedd's face. What Goldar doesn't know won't hurt him. Though it takes me a thousand years or more, I will have Aura as my bride!
"Good," Goldar nodded briskly. Zedd pulled out a roll of battle plans and spread them on the table, outlining what he planned to do over the next few months.
He would have Kalakan under his fist soon, and with it, his chosen queen. * * *
Three months went by, with no sign of Zedd anywhere. Aura's physical and mental wounds had healed into invisibility, and she'd continued her training with Neras. As the day came when Neras and Selania would be married, Aura made her preparations, and moved in with her mother. Neras would still be training her, once he'd returned from his honeymoon, but now Shaya would take up her education as best she could.
"It's going to be all right, Father," Aura smiled at Neras as he fidgeted before the wedding. Aura chuckled a bit, wondering if Billy had been as nervous as her father was before their own wedding.
"Are you sure?"
Aura smiled again, but this time it was touched with sadness. She knew something that he didn't; that the entire world around them had just over six months left to exist. The battles to come would ravage the planet, and only Shaya's constant care and magic would heal it as much as it would be over the next fifty thousand years. Neras noticed her melancholy, though.
"Something wrong?" he asked. Since she'd escaped from Zedd, the two of them had become very close, as the father and daughter bond they shared increased. Aura shook her head.
"No," she replied softly. He can't know. This is the hardest part of my time here. I can't let anyone know what's going to happen.
Neras smiled; he didn't believe her, but didn't want to spoil what was mainly a happy occasion. He loved Shaya, and would forever, but Selania was a sweet girl as well. He did not love her as he did Shaya, and the whole of Kalakan knew it. He leaned over and gently whispered into Aura's ear, "Shaya is three months pregnant. . with you!"
"I know,"" Aura whispered in return, smiling. She'd known perfectly well her parents hadn't been married when she was born; she'd known that since she'd seen their message in her original pendent.
"It must be weird for you, to know that you are looking at your parents while they are having you," he sighed, wondering if his parents had went through anything similar.
Aura nodded. "It is strange, but kind of fun at the same time."
"I can imagine," Neras peeked through the curtains to where the final preparations were being made for the ceremony. Though he would have loved to have her be part of it, Aura would only be a spectator, and a distant one, at this wedding. The Spirit of Kalakan was to perform the ceremony, as was the custom with all Amber Rangers, and as usual, it was being held on the summer solstice. Aura sighed to herself, remembering her wedding, and her beloved husband.
"I've loved being here," she said at last. "Most of it, anyway."
Neras knew at once what she meant. "He has left you alone for three months; no one's seen anything of him, not even at the Embassy. I don't think he'll interfere anymore."
Oh, father. If only I could tell you. "Not in this time," she whispered. In my time, he's still active and annoying!
The music swelled to just the right moment, and Neras took a deep breath. He glanced briefly at Shaya, who stood just out of sight of everyone else, and gave her a loving smile, which she returned. "It's time," he said. Aura gave him a daughter's kiss on the cheek.
"Don't worry, father," she whispered. "Everything will be fine."
Aura watched as Neras and Selania were married, then went along with everyone else to the reception held at Neras' home. She stayed just out of sight of everyone, not wanting comments on her resemblance to her father.
Hands slid along her back, caressing every bit as gently as Billy's ever had. But the nausea the touch caused her told her who this was, even as Zedd whispered, "Hello, Aura. Nice to see you again."
She jumped away and whirled around. "Zedd! What are you doing here?"
"Just came to wish the happy couple the very best," he smiled at her. She has grown even more beautiful. But I shall wait. I have a feeling I will have her one day, utterly under my power.
"Don't you ever touch me again!" she hissed. Oh, I feel unclean!
He smiled nastily at her. "We'll see about that," was all he said. Without another word, he vanished into thin air. Aura leaned against the wall, shaking with anger, wanting only to be as far away from Zedd in time and space as she possibly could be.
"Aura?" she glanced up to see Shaya standing there with a worried expression on her face. "Are you all right?"
"Zedd," Aura managed to keep herself from stuttering as she said his name. Shaya glanced around, looking for him; the sorceress knew as well as Aura did how evil he was. "He left," her future daughter told her. "Oh, Mother, he touched me! On the back! I want to scrub about five layers of skin off!"
Shaya smiled at her. "When we get home, you can."
Aura nodded, there was nothing more she wanted at the moment than to get rid of the feel of his hands on her. She glanced at her mother, who was just beginning to show her pregnancy. "How is it coming along?"
"Weird," Shaya touched her stomach thoughtfully. "I think I want to throw up!"
Aura helped her out of the way, then held her carefully through the heaves that followed. Both of them were so concerned over making certain Shaya's pregnancy proceeded normally, they didn't notice Zedd's invisible presence nearby, even though his hate was almost palpable. * * *
"That child must not be born!" Zedd stormed around his quarters on his battle machine. "How dare Neras have a child!"
"What are your orders, sire?" Goldar asked. Ever since Aura had fled his embassy, Zedd had seemed to be his old evil self again, concentrating exclusively on the destruction and conquest of Kalakan.
"While the Putties and the monster attack the capital, you go and kill that child and its mother!" Zedd commanded. He would permit no offspring of the Amber Ranger to survive; that line must be exterminated!
"What of Aura?" Goldar wanted to know. "She lives with Shaya now, and could be a problem."
Zedd smiled. "Let me deal with her," he told his servant. This is going to be most entertaining. I can gain my queen and destroy the Amber Ranger line all in the same day. I love being evil. * * *
"Prepare to be destroyed, Kalakans!" one of the most disgusting monsters ever seen was advancing on the capital of Kalakan. Three days after the wedding of the Amber Ranger, the city was totally unprepared for anything like this. The chief Minister of the High Council screamed at the top of his lungs, "Where's Neras? He's supposed to protect us from things like that!"
Lasers came from the sky as the Amber EagleZord swept down from above to blast the monster. "I am here!" Neras' voice came from within the mighty machine. Aura bit her lip, watching from Shaya's small country home. She remembered the few times she'd flown that same Zord into combat, and her own beloved HawkZord.
"You can't," Aura turned to see her mother looking at her sternly. "Neras can handle this."
She sighed. "I hope so. It feels so strange for there to be a monster attack, and not to be fighting."
"You deserve a break," Shaya tried to tell her. She knew perfectly well Aura wasn't going to believe that, though. There was simply too much of her father in her.
"I've had three months of a break," Aura said dryly. I want to see if I can fight again. I have to know.
"And it would raise too many questions if there are two Amber Rangers out there!"
"You're right," Aura relented. She knew there were certain restrictions on her simply by being in another time. This was just one of them. She turned away from the window, about to say something else, when twin flashes of light heralded the arrival of Zedd and Goldar.
"Hello," Zedd favored them with one of his more hideous looks. "Time to die!"
Aura snapped to attention at once. "Zedd, get out of here! You're not needed or wanted here!" she paled as she saw his all too familiar "Z" staff materialize in his hands. It is him. I don't need anymore proof. It's him.
"It is now between you and me, Aura," he laughed wickedly. Once I've defeated her, I'll spare her life on the condition she wed me! She's a smart young woman, she'll see the benefits of it at once!
"If you want it like that," she saw Goldar attempting to sneak up on Shaya, and quite deliberately got in between them. Zedd called her attention back to him, though.
"Then fight me, on my battlefield!" he challenged her. Aura shook her head; this was one fight she had to back down from. Her life truly existed on it.
"I protect Shaya," she said softly. Her mother smiled at her, and Zedd laughed.
"So be it!" he declared. He sprang at her, his staff transformed into a sword. Aura, still unarmed and unmorphed, parried his every thrust and blow, using skills her father had taught her over the past three months. Shaya and Goldar fought, with Shaya's skill in magic easily countering Goldar's sheer mass.
"You're going to pay for what you tried to do to me, Zedd," Aura swore as he and she traded blow after blow. She was totally unprepared for what he retorted with.
"Funny, you seemed to enjoy it!"
Aura stepped back a little, taking a nasty cut on her arm as she failed to block his blow adequately enough. She growled deep in her throat; this moron had just torn her best shirt! And his henchidiot was threatening her mother: and herself. The time for pretense was over! "Maybe you'd like to know just who you're fighting, Zedd!"
"I am fighting a weakling!" Aura nodded to herself; that was the last straw! She spin kicked him, knocking him all the way across the room. She needed the space to do what she was going to do next.
"I am Aura Cranston, the Amber Ranger!" she declared, calling forth her Ax. Zedd stared at her; this wasn't remotely possible!
"This is impossible!"
"Don't you believe your own eyes?" Aura pressed the attack forward, seizing the moment and driving him away. "Why do you call it impossible?"
"You're not a firstborn! You're not of the line of Alanatrius!"
"How?" Zedd wanted to know; but Aura had no intentions of telling him!
"That's for me to know and you not to find out!" at least not for about fifty thousand years or so!
"We shall see!" Zedd promised as they dueled. Finally she delivered a near-fatal stroke that shattered his sword in two. He glared evilly at her. What a warrior! What a queen she shall make once I have conquered that proud spirit of hers! The day will come!
"We will meet again," he told her, then vanished, taking Goldar with him. Neras appeared just outside the house a few moments later and ran up to them.
"Are you two all right?" he asked. "I saw Zedd and Goldar on the EagleZord's monitors and came as fast as I could."
Aura demorphed and nodded as she looked to Shaya in concern. The sorceress smiled. "Just a little tired, but I and the baby are all right."
"How did things go in the fight at the capital?" Aura asked, feeling a certain professional curiosity. Her father shrugged.
"They destroyed some buildings, but no one was hurt."
Aura smiled; she felt a certain concern for the people of Kalakan, even though she knew they were all doomed. Then something occurred to her. "Zedd knows what I am now, at least that I'm an Amber Ranger."
Neras shrugged. "You defended Shaya. ..and yourself. He won't figure out the truth, not about where. . . and when. . . you're from, anyway, not if we're careful."
The three of them looked quietly at each other, finding a new bond in what had just happened. Though Neras had married another, Shaya carried his child, and that child, returned from the future, had defended her own existence.
The typical family they were not.