Authors' note: The authors of this fanfic hereby give due warning that this fic contains mild references to adult content and violence, and this will hold true for the next few Amber Ranger fics. You have been warned.
Aura hummed to herself as she rocked Shaya back and forth, looking over a guest list that had to stretch to the floor. It had been four months since her return from the Heart and reconciliation with her sister. Tommy and Kim were going to be married in just over two months, and they were making preparations already.
Aura looked over to Kim and chuckled. "Kim, I do believe that you've got more people coming to this wedding than were at mine!"
Kim laughed. "I can't help it if I've got a huge family!" She and all the other former Rangers had returned to Angel Grove to stay now. She had won a gold in the Pan Global games just a month earlier, and Jason, Zack, and Trini were all finally home from the Peace Conference.
"The food bill's going to be enormous!" Aura smiled. "After all, Rocky's going to be there!"
Everyone chuckled at that. It looked like things had finally calmed down around Angel Grove. Zedd had vanished from their sensors not long after they'd detected him; they had no idea where he was. Zordon wasn't taking any chances, though, and the Rangers were all on alert. But as they were growing up and assuming adult lives, Zordon was also looking for younger replacements, teenagers who wouldn't have jobs and responsibilities that could be interrupted by monster attacks. Only Aura would still be on the team, since her powers couldn't be transferred to anyone else. So far, though, his search had been unsuccessful; teenagers of Ranger caliber just weren't that easy to come by.
Kim looked over to Azure and Adam, kissing in a corner of the living room. "I still can't believe you two got married and didn't tell anyone!"
Adam chuckled. "Well, we didn't want any interruptions!"
Zack shook his head; they were all gathered together in the Harte living room, planning the wedding of the century it seemed. "I bet!"
Aura glanced over to Billy. "Thinking over our interruptions, I wish we had eloped at times!" Being made to love Goldar was one of THE worst experiences of my life. I am SO glad Adam and Billy got me out of that!
Billy nodded, and Aura kissed him lightly. "But going through hell was worth it: since I reached heaven with you!"
Tommy and Rocky joined them then; they had been the only ones not there.
"Sorry, we're late," Tommy said as Kim bounced up to give him
a kiss, forgiving him. She was used to his chronic lateness after all these
years, and loved him anyway. With everyone assembled, they got down to
the serious business of planning a wedding.
Zedd sat in his quarters on Serpenterra, gazing ceaselessly at a hologram of Aura. It was three-dimensional, showing every exquisite line of her face and form. He was finally returning for the woman he'd sought after fifty thousand years earlier.
I left Rita for her. She'll be impressed; I'm certain of it. Oh, we might get off on the wrong foot since I DID spend a solid month torturing her, not to mention all the times I came close to killing her. But I think we can work that out. She really has no choice now, and once she realizes that, things will be flowing smoothly. I'm going to have to get rid of Billy, of course. That won't take long.
"Lord Zedd?" Goldar interrupted his thoughts by knocking on the cabin door. Zedd looked over at him, banishing the hologram as he did so. He hadn't told Goldar precisely why he'd left the M-51 Galaxy without Rita; just that they could no longer be together. How could he, when his every thought now revolved around Aura?
"What is it?" he snarled. "This had better be good, Goldar!"
"Sire, we have arrived back at the palace," Goldar reported. Zedd smiled and stood up. He'd created a field around Serpenterra that blotted it from the Command Center's scans; he wanted to surprise Aura with his arrival back in her life. He called his staff to him, and stamped it on the floor.
With nothing but that, he and Goldar were back in the palace. Zedd looked sick at the bright and cheery decorations that were everywhere. "What did he do?" he wondered. This place was so full of light it made him ill!
"This place is disgusting!" Goldar snarled as they explored what had happened to the palace. As they reached the arena, Zedd laughed, seeing the pile of dust that had once been Galan.
"And you said you could do it!" he laughed. And if he had, I would have destroyed him myself. No one but I shall have the pleasure of the Amber Ranger!
"What are your plans, sire?" Goldar asked. All he knew was that Zedd had cornered him in Master Vile's palace one day, and told him they were returning to Earth, and that Rita, Rito, Finster, Squatt, and Baboo weren't coming with them.
Zedd did what might have been a grin. "I have some unfinished business with the Amber Ranger!" Unfinished for fifty thousand years and more! But it will be, at last!
Goldar shrugged. "What do you want me to do, my lord?" What do I care what he does, as long as I get the chance to do some damage to something!
Zedd glanced to Earth, then gestured towards the pile that had been Galan. "First, clean up that mess!" As Goldar swept up Galan, Zedd peered down at Earth. "Now, to get her up here!"
He watched Aura for hours. "Blast it!" he growled suddenly. "If I could only get her alone!"
Goldar glanced to the Earth; where Aura was sitting with her family and friends. "I could ambush her somewhere." Now why does that sound so familiar to say?
Zedd shook his head as an idea sprang into his head. "I have a
better plan!" Look out, Aura, I'm back, and you're going to be
Azure shut the door behind their friends and turned back to Aura. The two sisters hadn't had much time to talk lately; and both wanted to severely. Azure sighed deeply; she'd been spending what free time she had lately with Adam, talking over the things she'd finally revealed some months earlier about her 'relationship' with Eric.
"Aura," she said softly.
"Yes?" her sister replied.
Azure glanced down, still a bit uneasy around her. "I don't know where to start. There is so much we need to talk about."
Aura nodded. "We haven't talked in a long while."
"When have we been alone to talk? I'm usually at the theater, and you're with your family," Azure reminded her. Aura grinned.
"True, but we're here now."
Azure smiled. "Where do we begin?"
The elder girl grinned. "I have no idea!" Azure looked over at her briefly.
"There are so many places. What do you want to talk about?" Azure wondered. So much we need to learn about each other now. What she's seen, what she's done, the same for me. It's almost like getting to know a whole new person! Something clicked in her mind. "Maybe with Galan?"
Aura closed her eyes briefly. "I guess. I would have never done what I did to him, if I didn't have the reasons I did. You know me, Azure, I've never liked hurting people. But I had to save you, and I needed the help of my ancestors to do it."
"I know," Azure nodded. "And I understand. I've had time to think things through. Heck, it's been what? Six months since you did it. And it's not like I haven't tried killing someone!"
Aura smiled a little, remembering that. "I know. I had to stop you then."
"Adam reminded me of that little fact," Azure sighed a little. She'd always wondered what would've happened if Aura hadn't stopped her from killing Eric that day. She went over to her sister and held her hand tightly. "I also wouldn't be here if it wasn't for you!"
"I wouldn't be here without you either!" Aura reminded her. She'd forgotten how many times Azure's love had saved her life and sanity.
"I'd probably be either dead or in some kind of institution," Azure closed her eyes, blocking out the other thought she'd had. Married to Eric. A living nightmare.
Aura shivered as she thought of how things could've turned out. "I'd be dead myself, or serving Zedd or Galan."
Azure pulled her sister into a huge hug, washing away all the disagreement and pain that had filled the two of them the past few months. "I have missed you," she whispered. "Oh, I missed you!"
"And I, you," Aura hugged back with all her strength, until Azure squeaked out her name in protest. "Yeah?"
Azure breathed deeply and chuckled. "I couldn't breath!" as Aura tried to apologize, Azure told her, "It's okay! Now is everything back the way it should be?" she thought for a moment. "Well, almost!"
"What else is wrong?" Aura wondered.
"We've got four months to catch up on! We hardly saw each other and when we did, I was usually running off to rehearsals!" Azure reminded her. Aura giggled.
"True. Now that we've got the time, do you want to hear about Billy's latest attempt at cooking?"
Azure laughed. "Why not?" Aura began the story, which wound up involving the food arguing over being eaten! Azure laughed heartily; she'd missed this! "At least Billy's attempts don't include having to buy a new stove top every other month!"
Aura smiled. "I'm just glad he hasn't blown the house up yet!"
"I wish my life was as interesting as yours," Azure giggled a little. She has so much strength. So much more than me. I wonder if it's from being the Amber Ranger or just her natural nature?
Aura leaned back and grinned. "Hey, when you marry the world's smartest guy, you expect a few surprises!"
"I'm lucky I got a caring man," Azure smiled. "I've needed it recently."
Azure nodded. "Sometimes, but we were also talking about what he did to me, back when I was a teenager. He knows everything about it."
Aura smiled a little. "I'm glad you finally told someone."
"I wish I'd told you a lot earlier. There are thing that weren't even in those letters, about how I felt while it was happening."
Her sister nodded. "I wish you'd told me too. But I can understand why you didn't."
"I don't know either," Azure sighed deeply. "Aura, I thought it was my fault that he did what he did."
Azure nodded her agreement. "I know. But I did at the time," she at last explained to Aura what Eric had been doing before Aura had broken in on them that last time. Aura's eyes flashed with anger.
"If Eric wasn't a child at the moment, I'd make him pay for that!" She allowed no harm to come to one she cared for, no matter what.
"Maybe that's why I didn't tell you," Azure mused. She knew perfectly well how protective Aura was of her, and of anyone else she loved.
Aura sighed. "It's just as well you didn't. If I'd known then, I don't know what I would've done."
"Somehow, Zedd not being able to get him back has made me face what happened, and do it a little easier," Azure smiled. Shaya had brought baby Eric with her, and he was just a completely adorable toddler now.
Aura sighed in remembrance. "And as he grows up this time, he'll be a much better person."
"Thanks to Shaya," Azure smiled and stretched. Things had never been better for any of them.
They didn't notice the two shadows moving just outside the house, listening
to all that went on.
Goldar and Zedd crouched outside the house. Zedd grinned as he listened to Aura's voice; it was just as full of fire and strength as it had been fifty thousand years ago. "What is your plan, sire?" Goldar asked quietly. Zedd had cast a spell so that they wouldn't be noticed by anyone looking for them by sight or scanners of any type.
"We shall drug the Amber Ranger, and make it so that the Rangers won't look for her!" he told Goldar. Zedd thought over what he'd learned from Scorpina; he'd located her easily and dredged her brain without her knowledge to find out what had happened. Galan's main mistake had been letting the Rangers know he took Aura every now and then. Zedd had no intentions of letting them know he had her until he was ready to.
"How is that, sire?" Goldar wanted to know. He hadn't had a thought of any kind as far back as Zedd had known him!
"She shall leave a note," Zedd held out his hand, in which a note appeared, in a perfect facsimile of Aura's handwriting. He smiled a little; this plot simply couldn't fail!
"Excellent plan, sire, but how to drug her?" Goldar wondered. "I don't think she'll take anything you give her!"
Zedd laughed, calling a Tenga to him. "She won't know it's me drugging her!" He waved his staff, placing a minor compulsion on Aura to want pizza for dinner. He chuckled softly as she dialed up the order, then waited patiently for the delivery person to arrive. Before Aura or Azure could see him, he froze the teenage driver and zapped the pizza that was to be delivered with a very powerful spell.
"When they eat it, they will fall into the most profound slumber
imaginable!" he laughed as he released the pizza deliveryman, watching
him serve the potioned food straight to the Amber Ranger's hands. Soon.
. .very soon, Aura, we will be together forever. It has been too long.
Far too long, my only love.
Adam and Billy entered the house shortly after the pizza did. "We're back!" Adam declared as they walked into the kitchen. Aura looked up as they came in.
"So I see!" she grinned, while Azure waved happily towards them. "We've got enough pizza here for everyone, unless Rocky shows up!"
They all grinned; and Azure asked, "So what have you two been up to?"
"Nothing much," Adam shrugged. "Trying to help Tommy find a tux he looks good in."
Billy nodded. "And that isn't an easy task!"
"I'd be more concerned over finding one that he won't get food all over! He wants one in white, doesn't he?"
As Adam nodded, Azure smiled. "We could always make sure there isn't any messy food at the reception!"
"These are guys, Azure," Aura reminded her sister. "Guys don't know how to eat neatly!" That cracked Azure up, but confused Adam to no end! "You should see the messes I have to deal with at home!"
Azure smiled as she leaned against the man she loved so very much. "I think the kids make more mess than most guys do," she said as she solemnly chose a slice of pizza and stared at it. "What, no anchovies?" she giggled suddenly; her dislike of the little fish was near-legendary!
In a totally straight voice, Aura said, "They were out."
In less time than it takes to tell, the pizza had been demolished, and the four of them were yawning heavily around the dinner table. "I am so tired!" Aura couldn't believe just how worn out she was.
"I know what you mean," her sister said. "I can barely keep my eyes open."
Adam tried to look at his wife. "Maybe we should head home, Azure," he suggested, only to see that Azure was fast asleep in his arms. Across the table Billy was snoring, head on his arms, and a moment later, he had joined them in the land of slumber.
Zedd appeared in the middle of the room and casually dropped the fake note on the table. He looked at Aura, whose eyes were almost completely together by now. Her alien biology made her a bit more resistant to his sleeping potion than the humans, but she was already mostly asleep.
"Zedd," she whispered his name, eyes almost widening. He chuckled
as she recognized him, then succumbed to the potion's power. Zedd smiled
and picked her up, running a quick hand through her masses of black hair.
She has only grown in beauty since I was last here. A beauty that is
now mine forever. I do hope you enjoyed your last meal with this family.
You belong to me now, and will forever!
Adam's eyes flickered and he awoke to find Azure laying across his lap. She stirred, slipped, and crashed to the floor, waking up harshly. "Huh?" was all she managed to say.
"I. . .I think we all dozed off!" Adam muttered, looking around. Across the table, Billy was waking up as well. He noticed something the other two hadn't.
"Where's Aura?" she was gone! All of them trembled for a moment; remembering times before when Aura had vanished mysteriously. They might have begun to panic, if Adam hadn't noticed a note on the table and read it quickly.
"She left this," he said, handing it to Billy. The Blue Ranger read it quickly, then sighed, a mixture between relief and worry still.
"What is it?" Azure wondered. I hope nothing's wrong. The very last thing we need is to have her missing, and that be a ransom note!
"She had to help the Spirit of Earth out somehow, she didn't say how. She'll be back as soon as she can be, and didn't want to wake us up," he reported. Azure stretched, trying to get a crick out of her neck from sleeping so uncomfortably.
"I wish she had," she muttered. She hated having stiff muscles like this! Adam nodded
"So do I," he glanced down at his watch, eyes widening. "It's getting late, we'd better be getting home, Azure."
She smiled at him. "Let me go get, Katia." They had put all the children down before the guys had returned. She glanced to Billy. "Are you going to be okay by yourself?"
Billy nodded, still a bit upset Aura hadn't awakened him before leaving. "I can always call Rocky to help out!" he told them. He missed Aura already; missed that sparkle of life and light she brought to his life. Calm down; she'll be back. She's only at the Heart of the Earth.
"Call if you need anything," Azure told him as she headed to the children's' room. Billy nodded almost absently; she gave him a sisterly peck on the cheek. "She'll be home soon, Billy, and she's perfectly safe at the Heart, you know that."
How many times has she gone there and left a note? None. But we were never all asleep before when she left! That's so like her, not to want to bother us. Come home soon, Aura, I miss you already. He barely noticed as Azure and Adam left with Katia, so occupied was he with his thoughts. Why are you always leaving me for something? A prisoner, trying to get yourself back together? Why? Won't we ever be together, to stay? My Aura, my love. Why didn't you take me with you?
Billy stayed lost in his thoughts right up until little Shaya started
screaming for dinner.
Zedd watched as Goldar shackled Aura to the wall, a small smile creasing what might have been considered lips if he had skin still. Still slumped in slumber, she looked so innocent.
"This brings back memories," Goldar said, staring at the Ranger they'd so easily captured. Something was poking in the back of his mind, of seeing her asleep like that before, somewhere.
"It should," Zedd sighed a little. "This is the one we fought against on Kalakan."
Goldar frowned. "Huh? How? That was fifty thousand years ago!"
"Time travel," Zedd said dryly, rolling his eyes at his henchidiot's brainlessness. Why did I hire him, anyway? I can't even remember! It must not have been for his brains, that's for sure!
Further conversation was stilled as Aura began to wake up. Her eyes opened, she raised her head, and looked around, paling as she realized where she was. "Hello, Aura," he said as gently as he could. I don't want to frighten her, I love her. And I have her at last.
"What am I doing here?" she snapped. "Zedd! Where did you come from?" Oh, sweet stars of heaven, he's back! Please, let him have forgotten me from Kalakan! I can't bear to have someone, him most of all, trying to take me from Billy again!
He tried to smile, and failed miserably. "I came back for a reason, and you are that reason," he told her. "I'm certain we both remember our first meeting now, fifty thousand years ago: on Kalakan."
Aura flinched away as he caressed her cheek; she felt like throwing up at the contact. "Let me go!" she snarled, pulling at the chains that bound her to the wall. She glanced at both wrists, wanting to get to her communicator to teleport out of there.
"Looking for this?" Zedd asked, holding up a familiar object. Her eyes blazed with hatred at the sight of her communicator in his hands.
"Give that back!" she demanded. "And let me out of here, what do you want, anyway? Didn't you torture me enough last time?"
"Oh, I am sorry for that." He really didn't sound sorry for it, though. "But if I hadn't, we would have never met back then!"
And I wouldn't have minded that one bit! Aura screamed internally at him. She wanted nothing more than to be home right now, with her husband and family, far from this madman who just couldn't seem to take 'no' for an answer, be it whether she'd serve him or marry him.
"And as for what I want," he continued. "I want you, and I have you."
Aura shivered; she remembered what had happened with Galan, and prayed with all her soul that something similar wasn't going to happen with Zedd. She didn't think her sanity could survive that. "Didn't we go through this fifty thousand years ago?"
Zedd nodded matter-of-factly. "Yes, but I'm not giving up. We are together, and there's nothing that can be done about that now. I am not giving up until you are mine, and I already have you here."
"You're going to have to!" Aura declared. "I love Billy, and only Billy!"
A chill went down her spine as Zedd said, "Then I shall dispose of him." I wanted to anyway. This is simply a bonus; that she knows I shall.
"NO!" Aura screamed, pulling at the chains with all her might. She had to get free, had to get out of here and warn Billy of Zedd's return and desires!
Goldar stepped up. "I'll do it for you, sire!"
"Yes, do," Zedd laughed as he stepped closer to Aura. He seized the back of her head and forced her into a deep kiss. She looked about to pass out from sheer fear and disgust. He liked the way she looked like that. "Wait until he's alone, then do it."
"Of course, sire," Goldar nodded. Aura snarled at them to leave Billy alone; she hated the thought of her beloved being harmed.
"If he is what stands in the way of me having you, then so be it!" Zedd told her. He'd intended to kill Billy from the very moment he'd made his decision to return and take Aura for his own, if just for the audacity the Blue Ranger had possessed in wedding the Amber Ranger.
Aura glared at him. "What makes you think I'd love you just because Billy is hurt or dead? I'd hate you even more!" she declared. In fact, I'd be out for your blood!
"We shall see!" Zedd kissed her again, holding her head so she had to stay still for it. He had so much more planned for them once Billy was disposed of as well. He had no intentions of ever letting Aura love anyone else but him, ever again.
"I will never love you!" she declared. He chuckled; things
were going just as he had planned.
Billy sat, staring out the window, watching the passing of cars back and forth on the road outside. All three kids had finally fallen asleep, but not nearly as fast as they would have if Aura had been there. "Aura, I wish you had woken me up," he sighed.
"Too bad she didn't!" It was a voice he knew, and didn't want to hear! Goldar! "You'll never see her again!" Goldar stood behind him, sword upraised and looking ready to destroy him.
"What are you doing back?" Billy asked, going for his morpher.
"Just on a mission from my master." Goldar began to stomp towards him, an evil smile on his lips. "Time to die, Ranger!" Billy just had time to morph before the mutant's huge sword slashed down to where he had been. Apparently Goldar didn't mind trashing his living room, since he began to tear up everything in sight trying to get to Billy.
"You're going to die, Ranger! My master commands it!" Goldar roared as he sliced through a rocking chair Aura's grandmother had given them as a wedding present. Billy growled and was attacking with all of his strength as a voice came from behind Goldar.
"Well, he's not going to get it!"
"Who dares?" Goldar growled, turning around to see Adam's fist flying at him. Billy grinned as Goldar flew across the room.
"I thought you could use a hand," Adam told his friend. Goldar made his way to his feet and glared at the Black Ranger.
"How dare you?" Adam grinned innocently.
"It was easy!" he told the hideous monster. Goldar ran at them both, sword outraised.
"Then you die too!"
His attack was met by Billy and Adam both, and as stupid as Goldar was, even he could figure out that he wasn't going to win this fight. Shaking a fist at Billy, he declared, "I'll be back, Rangers! Lord Zedd has ordered the Blue Ranger's demise!" He also wasn't stupid enough to hint in any way that Zedd had Aura prisoner in the Lunar Palace as he vanished. Zedd would have his hide if he did.
As they demorphed, Adam looked to Billy. "I wonder why?"
The Blue Ranger shrugged. "Who knows why Zedd does anything? I'm going to call Aura; see if everything's all right with her. If Zedd's back around, she needs to know about it."
Both of the, looked worried when Billy received only static on his communicator as he tried to reach Aura. Adam tried to be hopeful. "Maybe that's what she's helping the Spirit with," he suggested. "Some sort of magnetic storm or something that's freaking up communications?"
Somehow, Billy didn't believe it. "Let's get to the Command Center.
Something's up and I want to know what it is."
When Goldar returned to the moon, he was greeted by the sight of Aura doing the best she could to keep Zedd away as the lord of evil attempted to get too familiar with her. "I swear by everything I hold holy, Zedd, if you lay a hand on me one more time, I'm going to kick you so hard when you wake up that metal outfit of yours is going to be in style!"
Zedd laughed. "I like your spirit, Aura. Too bad it's not going to last too much longer."
Aura closed her eyes and swallowed hard. This isn't happening. I'm having a very serious nightmare. I'm at home, with Billy and my children. Zedd's icy voice relieved her of that notion and nearly gave her heart failure at the same moment.
"Goldar, leave us. My long-awaited queen and I have some unfinished business that must be taken care of."
Aura's head snapped up and her eyes flew open; she did not like the sound of that at all. She wasn't all that thrilled by the way Zedd was looking at her, either. She knew better than to ask Goldar for help, but maybe, just maybe she could call the Spirit of Earth. The Spirit had come to her on the moon before; she had to help her now!
Zedd looked over to her, then casually slammed her head hard into the
wall. Dazed from the hit, Aura didn't notice Goldar leaving the room or
Zedd removing her chains and dragging her into another room, transforming
back into the human form he'd worn fifty thousand years earlier. She did,
however, notice what happened next, and her screams echoed in the lunar
palace for hours.
The Spirit of Earth stiffened for a moment. She had felt Aura trying to reach her. Something had interrupted her though. "She is not on Earth," the spirit whispered. "She is in danger; I can feel her fear and pain."
Aura? Aura, can you hear me? My sweet child, daughter of my soul, can you hear me at all? There was no reply. The Spirit felt worry for one of the few times in her life. She rose to her feet, resolve filling her. My child has been harmed.
"Shaya, Jessica," she spoke their names quietly as she brought them to the Heart of Earth. Both of them looked a little surprised at this, but she gave them no time to speak. "Aura needs us, dear ladies. She is hurt somehow, something is injuring her spirit and soul. We must find her."
"Why us?" Jessica was quick to ask. "Won't the other Rangers be looking for her?"
The Spirit shook her head. "They will be, but we can find her faster."
Shaya nodded. "We are her mothers. I gave birth to her body, you raised her, Jessica, and the Spirit gave her a purpose. We are connected to her on levels that the Rangers' machines cannot begin to comprehend."
Jessica frowned as she absorbed that. "So, what do we do?"
The only reply she received was to suddenly be enveloped by the Spirit of Earth. What the? she thought.
What's going on? that was unmistakably Shaya's mind/voice. Spirit?
We are together. We must find Aura. Look within yourselves, and you will see that which you must. In some way they both knew what she meant by 'look within themselves', and did so. They all knew she wasn't on Earth; that was simplicity itself to discover. The moon. None of them knew which of them had said/thought it. They were so closely together it didn't matter. They could see the moon, and the palace on it, as easily as if they were standing there; their awarenesses had pierced the veil of Earth's atmosphere with barely a conscious effort. The lunar palace.
As one, the three of them were moving within the palace. They swept past Goldar, snatching a snooze in Zedd's throne, then came to a closed and locked door. She is in there. That was the Spirit; her power and presence were evident.
As is Zedd. Jessica didn't know how she knew this; something about being linked with the Spirit and Shaya had enhanced her senses to the point at which she could make no mistake. That is why she is hurting. He's. . .
All three of them stopped for a moment as the realization of what was happening swept over them. They could have only one reaction to that, one and only one. The reaction of every mother to seeing this happen to their child.
Complete and utter rage. Insane fury. Rescue of the child.
Needless to say, when Aura disappeared from her chains, Zedd was somewhat
surprised, to put it mildly.
Azure stood with the Rangers, past and present, at the Command Center, nervous and ready to jump out of her skin at a moment's notice. Adam and Billy had called them all there; telling them only that Goldar was back, and there was no trace of Aura anywhere in the world, not in the Heart of Earth, nowhere in Angel Grove, simply nowhere.
"Did you check the lunar palace?" Tommy had an arm around Kim, as if to protect her from whatever had caused Aura to vanish so mysteriously. A scan of the note left with them had proven to be a magically created forgery, and Billy was scanning everywhere he could to find his wife.
The Blue Ranger nodded his answer to Tommy's question. "And she's not there. No regions that Zedd's protecting, either, so it's not that."
"Where is she?" Zack wondered; he'd already begun to pace about worriedly. "This is really getting too strange!"
Azure was about to ask them to start checking other dimensions, when a trio of figures, shimmered into existence in the center of the room. Her jaw dropped in purest shock. "Mother?" she stammered a little.
Jessica Robinson, Shaya Shaldar, and the Spirit of Earth stood in a row there. The Spirit carried something. . .no, someone, in her arms. Azure recognized it. . .no, her, by the cascades of black hair. Her heart almost stopped when she saw the bruises all over her sister's face and body. Alpha was already running over to scan her injuries and start to fix them.
"Rangers," he said as the results came in. "Zedd. . .he. . .," it was obvious Alpha simply couldn't say the words, but they all knew what he meant. Azure went to her sister, tears shining in her eyes, shaking.
"No, not Aura...This shouldn't have happened to you, too," she whispered. Aura lay unmoving, still unconscious within the Spirit's arms. "Why?"
Silence reigned in the Command Center for what could've been hours as Alpha performed various tests and began the treatment of Aura's injuries. All this time, Aura neither moved nor spoke; dead stillness filled the air.
So when a trembling, fear-filled voice whispered, "M. . .m. . .mother?" everyone turned to see Aura's eyes fluttering open. They were filled with a devastation beyond any they had ever imagined possible.
Shaya's eyes widened briefly. "Aura?" she whispered, hardly daring to believe her eyes or ears. Aura was visibly forcing herself to move and speak, not letting the horrors Zedd had inflicted on her keep her down.
"Mother. . .it's you," Aura reached out a shaking hand to her. "Mother. . . Zedd. . .he. . ."
Shaya took her child's hand carefully and moved her hair away from her face, trying to soothe her. "Shhh. .. we know."
Aura wrapped her arms around her mother and cried with all her heart. "Mother. . .I. . .I feel so. . .," she couldn't finish it, she simply cried with all the strength left to her.
Shaya did her best to comfort her as Azure joined the small gathering. The other Rangers, even Billy, stayed out of the way, somehow sensing this was nothing they could help with. "Aura?" Azure called her name quietly. Aura managed to look at her sister, and Azure felt her heart nearly shatter at the sorrow and grief and fear in her gray eyes.
"Azure. . .I. . .," Aura's voice trailed off again as tears once more overwhelmed her. Azure gripped her free hand.
"It's me," she whispered. "You're okay now."
With a little more strength in her voice, Aura shook her head in reply. "No. No, I'm not." And I don't think I'll ever be okay again. She looked up, only to be caught by the sorrow-filled eyes of the man she loved more than anyone in the universe. "Billy." she couldn't look at him. How could she ever look at him again?
He was beside her in a moment. "Aura, I'm here." I'm always here for you, you know that. And Zedd will pay for this.
"He. . .he said it was just to hurt me," she told them. "I thought it was over! Thought we'd finally reached the end of people wanting to hurt us. . .but. ..now. . ." Aura didn't protest as the Spirit helped her stand and Billy wrapped his arms around her. The Rangers saw then how strong Aura was as instead of flinching away, as many in her situation might have, she leaned against Billy and cried into him.
"We'll fight him together," he assured her. "We'll fight together forever. And you're going to be all right, Aura. Just remember I love you."
"We all do," Jason said softly. "No matter what."
Zedd stared down at the Earth, watching the Amber Ranger force herself out of the near-catatonic state she'd slipped into while he'd still had her. "This can't be!" he growled, glowing red with fury. "This simply can't be!"
"What is it, sire?" Goldar wasn't quite sure just on how Aura had escaped; all he knew was that Zedd had come storming out of the prison area furious over her disappearance. Whatever he'd been doing in there, it was plain to see Zedd wasn't done by the time she disappeared. Goldar had the very strong notion he didn't want to know what was going on in there either.
Zedd glared from his henchmutant to the Earth and back again. "She is recovering."
"I thought you said she wouldn't!" That had been one thing Goldar had gleaned from Zedd's ranting; whatever his master had done, he hadn't expected Aura to recover physically or emotionally from it. Zedd tapped his taloned fingers thoughtfully against the railing.
"I need to make her go back," he mused. "I need to make her believe that it is all her fault." Zedd knew perfectly well what he'd done was wrong, and he really didn't care. The more he'd thought over the past fifty thousand years, and how she'd rejected him then, he'd decided on how to exact his revenge. He would destroy Aura body and soul, and this was his method.
Goldar nodded. "Of course, my lord. How will you do this, though?"
Zedd thought for a few minutes, then laughed. "I'm going to tell her that she wanted to be with me on Kalakan. . .that she was the one who enticed me! If that doesn't crush her spirit, nothing will!"
"Of course, sire!" Goldar agreed heartily; whatever Zedd had in mind, it was evil, twisted, cruel, and viscous. Everything Goldar liked in a master evil plot. "You will be victorious!"
Zedd chuckled low and evilly. He didn't much care anymore for the conquering of Earth. Getting revenge for the slight that had been done to him so many thousands of years prior was far more important now. He would not rest until one of three things happened: Aura became his of her own free will, she died by his own hands, or he himself died.
And Lord Zedd had no intentions of dying.
Two days had gone by, with the Rangers not letting Aura be alone for a single moment. She had made one of the most amazing recoveries they had ever seen, even from a Ranger, quite literally forcing herself to heal.
"She's going to be all right," Billy whispered softly the second afternoon after her return. All the Rangers were gathered at Billy and Aura's house, keeping an eye on her and enjoying the peaceful moment while it lasted. "She's recovered so fast, I didn't think it would be possible after what happened to her."
Azure sighed a little. "Facing something like that is never easy. She has a lot farther to go, and she knows it." She glanced over to see Aura leaning against Billy, half-asleep. She'd showed a tendency lately to fall asleep at odd hours, yet another part of her recovery.
"Everyone out!" Azure declared. "She needs her rest!"
In only a few moments, everyone had been herded out of the living room, and Aura lay asleep on the couch. To an onlooker, the horrors she had underwent two days prior weren't visible in any way, even the bruises had faded by now, thanks to the Spirit of Earth and her Ranger powers.
Aura's slumber was broken abruptly by someone shaking her shoulder roughly. "Hello, my fair Aura," she looked straight into Zedd's hideous skinless face. Her heart almost stopped as she realized they were alone and he'd gagged her!
No! He's going to. . .Spirit, help me!! She wanted to call for the Spirit, only to find she was panicking too badly with Zedd's face inches from her own. Zedd spoke again.
"There is something I think you should know. About what really happen on Kalakan." He enjoyed a good lie, especially when the person he was lying to was going to deny it. Aura shook her head violently, doing her best to back away from him. "You are such a tease," he grinned, seizing her by the shoulders firmly to prevent her escape. She started to reach for her gag, but Zedd was having none of that as he grabbed her hands firmly. "Oh, no, you don't!" He wasn't going to let her start screaming and drawing in the other Rangers. He grinned wickedly at her. "You were coming onto me on Kalakan, my dear Aura. You were so enticing there in your father's training room, do you remember?"
He managed to make out a stifled "No!" through her gag, along with a few insults that actually made him wince. He grinned at her; if she hadn't been gagged, he might have kissed her, just to see the horror grow in her eyes.
"Oh, but yes," he almost purred. He was considering removing the gag, risking her screams, when a sharp voice interrupted him.
"Zedd! I thought I heard your voice!"
He turned to see Shaya standing there, eyes blazing with fury. "Ah, the pesky sorceress! Or should I say former sorceress!"
Shaya stepped towards him. "Get out of here and leave my daughter alone! You've done enough to her, more than enough!"
"I haven't even begun!" he promised her. "It was thanks to your spell I forgot her all these thousands of years. But now that I have remembered, she will pay for her rejection of me!"
Shaya glared. "You haven't changed in fifty thousand years!"
"And I do not plan on changing now!" His staff became a sword in midswing, which stopped a hair's breadth from Shaya's neck. "Some other time!" He vanished a moment later, and Shaya hurried over to Aura, freeing her from the gag.
"Are you all right?" the Kalakan sorceress asked her daughter. Aura nodded, then her eyes widened suddenly and she got to her feet.
"I heard something. From Azure's room!" Shaya blanched as she remembered she'd put Eric in there for a nap earlier.
Side by side, they dashed into the room to see Zedd standing there with the toddling Eric in his arms. Aura tried to get in, only to find the door blocked by a barrier she couldn't pass.
"Time to return to normal, my son!" Zedd hissed. A strange red glow surrounded him, and a moment later, Eric stood there, his full age again.
"Uhhh. ..ahhh. . .F.. Father?" Eric whispered as his vocal cords and memories flooded back to full use.
"Welcome back, my son," Zedd would've been smiling if he were capable of it. He'd finally retrieved his offspring! Eric frowned briefly.
"T. .the last thing I remember was falling into the Fountain of Youth!"
Zedd nodded. "I tried to retrieve you, but couldn't until just now."
"How long has it been?" his son wondered. Zedd growled his reply, remembering the frustration and the anger he'd been put through.
"Almost two years! Shaya has kept you hidden until now!" he laughed to himself; his abuse of Aura had given him the chance to have his son back!
"Where's Aura?" Eric wanted to know. "She's the one who tripped me into the fountain! I want revenge! And I want Azure too!"
Zedd laughed; his son hadn't changed a bit! Shaya's "good influence" obviously hadn't worked! "You will have it, Eric, you will have it!"
"Don't you ever give up, Zedd?" Shaya cried. Eric and his father both turned to look at them, and Zedd laughed visciously.
"No! And now I have my son back! If you thought the last thing I did to you was bad, Aura, you have no idea of what is to come!" Cold laughter filled the room as Zedd and Eric vanished. Aura looked at her mother, panic rising in her eyes. Shaya took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
Aura closed her eyes, unwillingly reliving the nightmare Zedd had put her through most recently. Never again, she thought to herself. You will be stopped, Zedd. This time for good. I swear it. If it costs me my life and sanity, you will be stopped. You must be.