Things were going just splendidly for Zedd and Eric, who had finally been restored to his full adult form. As Zedd told his son all of the events of the past two years, and of the past two days, Eric found himself laughing with evil. "You actually did that to Aura?"
Zedd nodded, grinning coldly. "How did she enjoy it?" his son wanted to know.
"She went catatonic. . .for a while," Zedd growled a bit as he remembered how Aura had forced herself back to full wakefulness and activity. She had spirit: too much spirit! Well, he'd soon fix that. Once she was thoroughly punished for rejecting him in the past, he would have her forever. He continued updating his son. "Azure married the Black Ranger; they also have a child," he knew Eric would want to know that.
"How dare she marry anyone but me?" Eric couldn't believe this had happened! His father smiled.
"Time for revenge?"
"Yes!" Eric nodded fiercely. "Do you have something in mind?"
Zedd laughed, he had missed this so much! His son was back with him
at last! "Indeed I do! Those sisters will pay for everything they
have done to us!"
Azure and Aura were in the Cranstons' house, with Aura watching as Azure cooked dinner. She and Adam were going to be staying over for dinner; Adam had went out to pick up some things for the meal; Billy was going to be coming home later. "It's good to see you smiling again," Azure smiled as she stirred the pasta.
"It's good to smile again!" Aura absolutely refused to let what Zedd had done to her keep her down. Azure smiled and came over to sit next to her.
"I guess you now know what I went through, and I know what you went through," Azure touched her sister's hand gently. Aura sighed softly.
"I wish we both didn't know this now," she said. What Zedd had done had come close to destroying her sanity; she refused to let it happen. She would not let him win this battle, of all battles.
"I know," Azure agreed as she returned to the food, humming a tune from the show she was currently involved in. Aura and Shaya had told her that Zedd had recovered Eric, but she wasn't going to let this stop her anymore than Aura was going to let Zedd stop her.
"Hello, Azure!" Eric was suddenly next to her. "Long time no see!"
Aura was on her feet a second later. "Eric!" was all she managed to say as Eric waved Zedd's staff and froze her where she stood.
"No!" Azure screamed; she wasn't going to let Eric hurt her sister. Her nemesis laughed.
"Oh, I'm not going to bother with her. It's not her I want!"
Azure backed away from him, shaking so badly she knocked the pot of water and pasta onto her arm, screaming in pain as she was burned. "Awww," Eric stepped closer to her. "Did you hurt yourself? Once we're married, I'll fix that!"
"You're a bit late, I'm already married!" Azure snapped. Eric pulled her close to him, forcing a kiss.
"Oh, I can change that!"
"I will not leave Adam, or my child!" Azure declared. She had searched a long time for a man as good as Adam was, and she loved him with all her heart. She was barely able to stop herself from screaming as Eric dragged her into another room.
"You don't get it," Eric forced another kiss, he enjoyed this! "I'm not asking you!" he growled as she bit his tongue in the middle of their kiss. He slapped her hard. "Don't do that again!"
He glared at her suddenly, filled with one emotion he'd never thought
he could have towards her: hatred. It suddenly no longer mattered to him
if he took her or not: he wanted her dead now. She was just too much trouble.
He snapped his fingers and a sharp-bladed knife appeared in his hand. "You
will be rid of me, Azure. Or more precisely: I'm going to be rid of you!"
Aura was doing her best to break the spell that froze her, to no avail. She could hear Azure fighting with Eric, and wished with all her heart she could be there to help her sister. She wished it even more when Zedd appeared in front of her. "Oh, this is perfect!" he gloated. "I can tell you my side of the story of what really happen on Kalakan!"
He began to spin a little story for her, where she had excited and aroused him with her katas and beauty. She glared at him, hate filling those gray eyes. He could tell she was paying no attention to him whatsoever. "There is little you can do her," he told her. "She will either join Eric in marriage, or suffer the consequences," she glared at him again, wanting nothing more than to destroy him and his son at that moment. "Maybe I should let you speak," he observed, bending the spell enough so that she could.
"W. . .why are you doing this to us?" Aura asked, wondering how long it would take the Rangers to get to them if she were able to warn them.
"I told you, revenge! You jilted me fifty thousand years ago. Once you've been properly punished for that. . .," he ran his fingers through her hair, grinning nastily. "Then we have fun."
Aura's head would've snapped up the next moment if it could have as she heard a blood-curdling scream from the bedroom. "Azure!" she wailed, every instinct in her urging her to run towards her sister.
Eric entered the room, an unfamiliar knife in his hand: an unfamiliar, bloody knife. "NO!" Aura screamed. "No, you didn't!" _Azure! My sister! NO! Please, no!_
"She refused," Eric shrugged. "I got tired of playing her."
Tears flowed freely as Aura glared at her enemies. "No. .no. . Azure. .. no. I'll get you for this, both of you!"
As they disappeared, Aura found herself unfrozen, and wasted no time getting into the bedroom. Azure lay on the floor, unconscious and losing blood fast. Aura growled under her breath, then hit her communicator. "Guys! Eric stabbed Azure; meet me at the hospital as fast as you can!"
_If she dies. . .by all that's holy in the universe, Zedd and Eric will
pay for it with THEIR lives! NO MATTER WHAT IT COSTS ME!_
Adam and Zack came running in less than ten minutes after Aura's frantic call to them. The current and former Black Rangers had become good friends over the past few months, and when they'd run into each other at the store, had struck up a conversation interrupted by Aura's cry. "How is she?" Adam asked the minute he saw Aura.
The Amber Ranger shook her head; Adam had never seen her this upset. "I don't know. They haven't said anything yet!"
"Eric happened," Aura told them. "If she dies. . .I. . .I. . .,"
Zack wondered, "Who is this Eric guy anyway?"
"Her ex-boyfriend," Aura told her friend, glancing around to see if anyone was close enough to hear her. They were disappointed, almost, to see Lieutenant Stone, Bulk, and Skull coming towards them.
"Excuse me, Mr. Park?" he said as he got closer. He glanced over at Aura. "Are you the person who called in the stabbing?"
She nodded. "Yes, I'm Aura Cranston."
"I believe you already know these two," he said, glancing to Bulk and Skull. ""What happened exactly, Mrs. Cranston?"
"It was Eric Matthews, Azure's ex-boyfriend," she began the story she'd thought of while waiting, one carefully edited not to include Zedd in it at all. "We haven't heard from him in about two years. He showed up at the house and started to harass Azure. I tried to get him to leave, and was about to go call the cops when someone, I couldn't see who it was, grabbed me and tied me up. I never saw their face. Eric dragged Azure out of the room, I heard her screaming, and a few seconds later, he came back out with a bloody knife. He and his accomplice left; I didn't see which way they went, and I managed to get free. I ran into the other room, saw Azure, and called the hospital at once."
The officer nodded. "You lived in New York at one time, was this where Azure knew this Eric Matthews from?"
Aura nodded. "I can give you a fully detailed description of Eric. His accomplice, I never saw him. Eric had followed us to Angel Grove a couple of years ago, then vanished one day. We hoped we'd seen the last of him then."
"Thanks," the lieutenant nodded. Skull glanced over to Adam; he and Bulk had grown up a lot over the past few years.
"We'll find him, this is a promise!"
Adam smiled a bit weakly. "I hope you do," _But I doubt you will. You're not going to be able to find him._
Zack heard what Aura growled under her breath, though no one else did. "Eric better hope they find him before I do!" Zack put a hand on Aura's shoulder, then glanced to Skull.
"Thanks, we appreciate it."
"Mr. Adam Park?" the doctor had joined them. Adam looked up hopefully.
"We have her stabilized," the doctor reported. "There was a lot of damage there, but she's going to live. And. . .there's a chance your wife might not be able to have children again. You can go in and see her, but she's in a coma at the moment; she's lost a lot of blood."
Aura was shaking with anger, just barely able to keep herself under control. "If I get my hands on him!" as Adam headed for Azure's hospital room, Aura sank into a chair, dissolving into tears.
Zack held her as best he could. "She'll be just fine. And we'll find this jerk, and take care of him once and for all."
Aura sighed deeply; what had happened to her was nothing compared to
this attempted murder of Azure. _Zedd and Eric will pay. I'll see to it
myself. With a little help from my ancestors._
"So, she is in a coma?" Zedd laughed as he watched the little tableau in the hospital. "And those blasted police officers think they can arrest the son of Lord Zedd!"
"I've left their petty little laws behind forever!" Eric declared. He glanced down at Earth again. "I wonder if we can put Aura in the same state as her sister?"
Zedd suggested, "Let us see if her sister survives. Cause if she doesn't, Aura will destroy herself!"
"Those two never could get along without each other!" Eric smiled nastily. "Father, shall we make certain Azure doesn't survive her coma?" at his father's nod, Eric did an evil grin worthy of his lineage. "I want the honor of killing her myself!"
Zedd nodded again. "When she is alone, go and pull the plug!"
_And we'll be rid of Azure and Aura's will to resist me will be gone forever!_
Azure lay quietly hooked up to machines as Adam sat beside her, his hand wrapped around hers. "Oh, Azure, please, wake up!" he barely noticed the nurse coming in to check the IV in Azure's hand. "Azure, we're going to get him, somehow!"
"Adam?" the voice came from behind him; he turned to see Zack there, looking worried.
"Zack, we have to do something!"
Zack came to stand beside him. "There isn't much we can do. Adam, this is something that's going to take time to heal. Not only emotionally, but physically as well. Especially if she can't carry anymore children," he smiled briefly, remembering how Azure had told him once how many children she wanted. "She always wanted a big family."
"We'll adopt, or something," Adam sighed, not taking his eyes off Azure for a moment. He couldn't; if he did, she might slip away from him.
Zack sat down in a spare chair. "But think how she is going to feel? I was talking to Kat about how excited she was when she got out of the hospital the last time. To actually know she had a child in her, and now this. . .,"
Adam sighed. "I know."
"Why do I also get the feeling that this isn't the first time something like this has happened? This Eric has been around before, hasn't he?"
Adam nodded briefly, and Zack glanced towards Azure quickly. Almost as if he didn't care who answered, he asked, "Why didn't you ever tell us?"
"She doesn't like to talk about it," Adam told him. "It was a long time before she even told Aura about it," he quickly filled his predecessor in on the full details of Eric's existence. Zack paled a little learning his old enemy Zedd had a son.
"Man," he muttered. "Wish they had told us this before!"
Adam had already turned his gaze back to Azure. "I don't know what I'll do if she dies!"
"She won't," Zack reassured him. _You'd better not, girl, or I'm going to have some serious explaining to do to Adam!_
"I hope not!" Adam sighed. "Oh, I hope not!"
"Come on," Zack tried to get him up. "Visiting hours are almost over. You need some sleep, and I'm gonna make sure you get it."
Adam couldn't help but smile. "You're just like Aura was, the last time Azure was in the hospital."
As he pulled out his keys, Zack smiled. "We're good friends. Come on."
They headed out to the car, Zack intent on making certain Adam got some
serious rest. He needed it. Badly.
Eric appeared next to Azure and grinned coldly at the comatose young woman. "I do such good work," he looked at the comatose young woman as he prepared to terminate her. "You should've said yes. I might have let you live then."
He started to pull the plug, when the door swung open. Eric jerked the cord out just as Zack stepped into the room, looking for the wallet he'd dropped. The former Black Ranger growled, and slammed Eric into the far wall.
"Get off me!" Eric pushed Zack away just as Azure's heart monitor began to whine a tone that frightened Zack. He balled up his fist and nearly knocked Eric through the wall this time! No one hurt one of his friends!
Eric growled, groped his way to his feet, and would've killed this upstart human, if his father hadn't teleported him back in that same moment. As the doctors ran in, working to stabilize Azure, Zack ran out, back to the car where Adam had fallen into a half-doze.
"You'd better hurry," Zack said, waking him up. "Azure was almost killed."
Adam beat Zack back to the room.
They were met by a doctor coming out. He looked seriously at Adam for a moment. "Mr. Park, we were lucky. I don't know if we can save her next time."
Zack took a deep breath, thanking his lucky stars he had plugged the cord Eric had ripped out back in before calling for the doctor. He didn't want them to be thinking he was the one who had done it. Adam sat next to his wife, holding her hand once more. Sleep was forgotten, all he wanted to do was be with her now.
"Azure, please," he whispered. "Don't leave me."
As the doctors left, Zack sat next to Adam again. "I think it as Eric," he whispered, describing what had happened. At Adam's request, he described who he'd seen.
"That was Eric," Adam confirmed. _Why can't he ever leave us alone? Ever?_
"Next time I see him, I got a personal score to settle," Zack promised. "He tried to pull the plug on her."
Adam stared ceaselessly at Azure. _Oh, Azure. Come back to me. I love
you. I won't let him hurt you anymore. Ever. Just come back to me._
Over the next two months, Adam and Aura kept a constant watch over Azure. The doctors were keeping too close of an eye on her for Aura to become the Guardian and heal her sister, though she wanted to. It was simply too dangerous; the Rangers' secret could be discovered if someone walked in at the wrong moment, and people were going in and out of Azure's room the whole time.
"Azure, please wake up," Adam had been urging Azure to wake up for the past two months. "Wake up."
Zack had been with him the whole time, even now. "Adam, come on, let's go get you something to eat," Adam had left the room roughly once a day; he looked awful.
"I don't want to leave her," Adam shook his head. "If she wakes up while I'm gone. . ."
"You can't starve," Zack told him. "Let me go get Trini to stay with her, and you come get some food."
Adam was about to get up, when a soft groan froze him where he stood. Zack glanced over; there was no change he could see in Azure. "Come on!"
Azure raised an arm a little, and Adam grasped her hand. " Azure! You wake up, please! Azure, I love you! Please, wake up! Look, Zack, she's waking up!"
"I see," Zack said softly. Azure's hand fell back to the bed as she groaned again.
"Azure," Adam begged. "Please, say something!"
Azure's lips quivered, and a single low word issued. "No. .. "
"Azure," Adam whispered. "It's me, Adam!" she was trembling, trembling hard enough to shake the bed. Again she whispered 'no'. "He's not here, Azure, he's not here! It's me and Zack!" Azure's eyes went wide as Adam whispered, "Azure?" in a hope-filled voice. Azure's eyed returned to normal, as once more she whispered 'no'. "Azure, please! He's not here!" he looked over to Zack. "Go find Aura, maybe she can help!" as Zack ran out, Adam kept encouraging her. "Azure, please, stay awake! He's not here, you're safe, you're safe with me!" he repeated that over and over until Zack came in with Aura, followed by all the other Rangers, past and present.
"Azure!" Aura ran to her sister, heart pounding with hope and fear mixed. Azure only looked at the ceiling. "Azure, please it's me, Aura! Please, don't shut us out!" _I can't bear that, none of us can!_ Azure cringed away from her. "Shhhh. . .you're going to be okay."
"Aura," Azure whispered, recognizing her at last. Aura just managed not to clench her fists in rage, all she wanted to do right now was hurt those who had put her sister into this state.
"It's me, Azure," Aura reassured her. "I'm here." _And Zedd and Eric won't be for long if I have anything to say about it!_
Azure fixed her eyes on Adam, who took her hand gently. "Oh, Azure, he's not here! He won't be here, ever! We won't let him come near you!"
"You're safe," Aura nodded. Azure shook her head, she knew better, she believed.
"I'm not," she whispered. Aura knelt beside the bed, looking into her sister's shadowed eyes.
"Yes you are. I won't let anyone hurt you ever again. No matter what," the Amber Ranger promised. In that moment, Aura's half-formed decision to deal with their enemies became a resolve as hard as diamond.
"I'll never be safe again," Azure whispered, crying with all the grief within her. She knew where Eric had struck her, and knew the odds were slim now she would ever have another child. "I can't even sleep! My dreams. . ."
A soft breeze blew through the room suddenly, and everyone looked up to see the Spirit of Earth standing there. Aura's eyes widened, she had never seen the Spirit look so tenderly concerned, not even to her!
"I can block your dreams, Azure," the Spirit said. "Until you are ready to face them."
The younger girl looked up, hope filling her eyes. "You would do that for me?"
"I am the Spirit and Mother of the Earth. You are as much my child as Aura is," the Spirit smiled gently. "Yes."
"Thank you," Azure nodded her acceptance of the offer. Aura could feel a strange resolve coming from the Spirit; she would never let her sister die, Aura realized. The Spirit touched Azure's forehead lightly, and a soft glow surrounded them both.
"It is done," the Spirit said. "You will not dream until you wish to now," Azure slipped at once into a deep sleep as the Spirit turned to everyone else. "She will sleep and heal. She will, in time, be fine."
"Thank you," Adam said softly. The Spirit smiled and glanced at the ex-Rangers, who were wide-eyed in shock.
"It is a pleasure to meet you, young warriors. You have served my world well. I thank you."
Jason nodded, shocked to some degree. "You're welcome," seemed to be all he could say. The Spirit nodded.
"I am the Spirit of the Earth, the spiritual part of Aura's powers, as she is the physical defender of the world."
"She told us of you," Jason replied as he began to recover from the shock of seeing this near-divine being. The Spirit chuckled lightly, then caressed Aura's cheek in greeting and farewell mixed. _When you need me, dear child, you have but to call. But be warned: blind rage can destroy as easily as a blade._
"I must go," the Spirit said aloud. "I cannot remain long away from my home in the Heart. But all of you should rest." Zack glanced to Adam, as did the Spirit.
"We all will," the former Ranger promised. Adam was still watching Azure, now as she slept a deep, healing sleep.
"You had better," was the last thing the Spirit said before fading away. Jason came over to Adam, urging him to his feet yet again.
"Come on, Adam, time to get some rest! You heard what the Spirit said, she's going to be all right!"
Adam glanced up. "All right," he finally gave in to the inevitable as he looked back down to Azure. "I'll be back soon."
"Not until you've slept," Trini said firmly. Adam resigned
himself to eating and sleeping, and as they left the hospital with him
firmly in tow, none of them noticed Aura slipping away into the shadows.
Zedd laughed as he watched Azure recover from her coma at last. He and Eric had spend the last two months getting to know each other again, and plotting out more ways to torment the Rangers. "Poor little Azure!" he gloated. "Scared of even her husband!"
"I did an excellent job on her!" Eric complimented himself. His father was every bit as self-congratulatory.
"Pity for her and her sister that it's not even anywhere near over for them!"
"Do you have anything in particular in mind?" Eric wondered. "Azure's going to live! So Aura won't kill herself!"
Zedd nodded. "We shall wait. I take it you no longer desire Azure for your bride?" that was one thing that had never been discussed over the past two months.
"I had too much fun trying to kill her," Eric shook his head. "I want to finish the job!" _I never realized murder could be so fun!!!_
"Then you shall!" Zedd promised. "Slowly!" as Eric and Zedd laughed, gray eyes blazed with rage at them.
"No way!" Aura snarled as she entered the room, barely able to keep herself under control. She'd managed to talk Alpha and Zordon into teleporting her here, she could only hope her ancestors would help her. She felt on the edge of insanity, only one thought really made it through: that those who had harmed her sister must be punished.
Eric stalked towards her, growling, "You're not wanted here!" Aura growled something unintelligible as she ran towards them, intent on only one thing. "Oh, all this over what I did to her! You'd think murder was a crime!" as Aura came closer, he smiled a little; she was completely unguarded, and he had the chance to get a little revenge. He slammed a powerful kick in the same area Aura had kicked him in several times, then followed it up with a hard punch to her stomach. "Now you know how I felt!" he told her as she groaned on the floor.
Aura fought to get back up to her feet, and started to concentrate, calling on the power of the Amber Rangers who had come before her. Her concentration shattered when Zedd suddenly grabbed and kissed her deeply. Aura punched him as hard as she could in the guts, then almost regretted it when Eric used the staff to shackle her to the floor. "Amber Ranger Power!" she wanted to morph, to get out of here!
She almost lost her sanity when she realized she hadn't morphed: and why. They were in the room Galan had enchanted with his anti-morphing magic: the one room she could not morph in, that no Ranger could morph in!
Zedd looked at her, a wicked smile on his face as he ran a hand across her cheek, down her neck, and kept going. Aura screamed, doing her best to fight back, but to no avail. He looked over to his son. "I've been planning something for her for some time now. A trip down memory lane! With stops at all the very bad neighborhood!"
He took his staff from Eric and pointed it at Aura, who had time for one last scream before the magic enveloped her. Zedd laughed as her eyes faded into blankness. "What did you do to her, Father?" Eric wondered, looking down at the Amber Ranger.
"She is reliving everything that has ever terrified or hurt her in her life. From the moment I first controlled her to our last little encounter. You wouldn't believe all the hideous times in her life. But she will believe them: for she will relive them all, forever! An endless loop of memories, a loop that can never be broken!" Zedd looked down at her again, then smiled. "Time to send her back. The Rangers won't be able to help her, and she is useless to them now! And with her out of the way, her sister will never recover!"
"We'll finally be rid of them!" Eric proclaimed. His father chuckled.
"Eventually. I want to torture them more, first!" Zedd declared. He explained what else he had in mind to Eric, who laughed hideously.
"I am so proud to be the son of such evil!" he declared. Life hadn't been this fun since he'd discovered who he really was! As Zedd prepared to send Aura back, he chuckled. "I can't wait to see how the Rangers react to this!" _Something they can't fight, something they can't fix! The Amber Ranger, defeated at last, trapped in eternal memories!_
"Neither can I!" Zedd transported Aura back to her own home,
seeing that Billy and Rocky were just about to arrive there. He had kept
one thing from his son, one thing only, one small thing. He could break
the loop Aura was in, and would, once she had learned her lesson. He smiled
to himself. Things were going just as he had planned for them to.
Rocky and Billy headed up the walk and into the house. "I hope Adam can get some sleep," Rocky mused as they came inside. Billy nodded.
"So do I. Jason will see to it that he does, though," the Blue Ranger sighed; he hadn't seen Aura since they'd left the hospital, and hoped she was all right. She'd been withdrawn from him the past few weeks, deep in her own thoughts.
"Even if he has to knock him out," Rocky chuckled a little, then noticed there was a light on in the master bedroom. "I think Aura's home."
Billy glanced over. "I wonder what she's been up to. She's hardly talked to me much lately," he headed over to the door and knocked lightly. "Aura?"
There was no response. Rocky felt a thin thread of fear going down his spine. "Why do I not like this?"
Billy knocked again harder, only to once again receive no answer. "Now I know I don't like this!" Rocky muttered. With a roundhouse kick, Billy knocked the door off it's hinges, and gasped at the sight that greeted him.
Aura, bruised and beaten, lay on the floor. "Aura!" Billy screamed. He ran over to her as Rocky ran to call an ambulance. "Aura!" he tried to get her to wake up, but she simply lay there, unmoving, barely breathing.
"There's an ambulance on the way," Rocky reported. He saw something Billy didn't: Aura's eyes were utterly blank. Not filled with the horror and denial that had been there after Zedd had captured her the last time, but totally blank. _As if there's no one in her mind at all._ "Why are they doing this to them?" he whispered, half to himself.
"I don't know," Billy shook his head as he rocked Aura against him, tears flowing. "They don't deserve this, either of them!"
That was how the paramedics found them a few minutes later, with Aura
in Billy's arms, Billy crying, and Rocky standing a watchful guard over
The emergency room at Angel Grove Memorial hadn't seen quite this much activity from the same family in months. Hours after Azure Robinson Park had awakened from her coma, Aura Robinson Cranston was brought in, apparently in one.
Lieutenant Stone, who had hospital duty that week along with Bulk and Skull, stared at the comatose young woman. "Oh, man!" he groaned. "I don't believe this!"
Skull glanced over at him; Bulk was on duty in front of Azure's door. "You don't think that it's the same guy who did this to Azure?" from where they were, they couldn't see how injured she was, but things didn't look good.
"I don't know," Lt. Stone shook his head. "But we've got to find that guy."
Skull nodded. "The sooner, the better," he said as he went over to Rocky. "What happened?"
Rocky sighed a little; this wasn't going to be easy to explain. "We don't know for sure. Billy and I came back to his place, and found Aura like that. There's some bruises and cuts on her, but other than that, nothing we could see. That's why we brought her here, in case there are more injuries we can't see."
"You don't think that the guy who did that to Azure, did it to her sister?"
Rocky managed to control his facial features, just barely. "I don't know, but if we find out that he did. . .," _Eric or Zedd had something to do with this, I know. But I can't tell him that._
Skull put a surprisingly comforting hand on Rocky's shoulder. "Let us arrest him," Rocky nodded briefly, not letting himself show what he was thinking. "How is Billy handling all this?"
"Not good," Rocky sighed a little. He didn't want to tell Skull about what else had happened to Aura at Zedd's hands and was glad all her physical injuries from that and the month she'd spent in his prison cell had healed to nonexistence.
Skull nodded. "I don't blame him. I was in total shock when I found out about Azure, but with this happening to Aura. Whoever's responsible for this is inhuman!"
That's one way to put it! Rocky sighed. "Whatever punishment that they get couldn't be enough."
Lt. Stone nodded. "I know that. What makes a person do this?"
This was one thing Rocky could say in complete honesty. "Wanting to hurt someone else."
The lieutenant's watch beeped suddenly, and he looked at Skull. "Time to go relieve Bulk. I'm going to stay here, and get someone on Aura's door."
Rocky sighed a little. "I've got to go tell the others. Let us know if there's any change, in either of them, please."
"I will," Lt. Stone headed off towards the emergency room,
hoping he'd be able to give some good news once he'd seen Aura and the
Rocky paced back and forth in the Command Center, nervously awaited the arrival of the other Rangers, past and present. This was going to be a major blow to them all. _I wish I knew how it happened._
One by one, the others teleported in. Rocky didn't even chuckle at the sight of Adam in sweat pants, and nothing else. Rubbing sleep out of his eyes, the Black Ranger asked, "What's up?"
"Bad news," Rocky reported. "Very bad."
Adam's eyes went wide and he shook with nervousness. "Nothing's happened to Azure, has it?" _Oh, please, God, don't let anything have happened to her!_
Rocky shook his head. "No. . .Aura. . .we. . .," he couldn't keep going, tears choked him up at the memory of his friend so still, so very still.
"Aura?" Zack asked. "What happened?"
Rocky took a deep breath; he had to tell them. "Aura. . .we think Zedd got to her again. Somehow. She's catatonic, or close to it, I don't know how to describe it. She's not moving, and the way she looks. . .it's like there's no one home in her mind, at all."
The young people looked at each other, shock and disbelief filling every face. Tears rolled down Adam's cheeks. "Why?" he whispered. "Why are they doing this to us?"
"I don't know," Rocky sighed. "I wish I did."
Aisha wanted to know something. "How'd he get to he again? She was. . .," she paused for a moment, trying to remember the last time she'd seen the sworn Ranger of the Earth. "Well, where was she?"
RANGERS, I BELIEVE I KNOW HOW THEY GOT TO AURA. Zordon spoke up. Aura had asked him not to tell them where she was going or why, but she hadn't expected this to happen, he knew. She hadn't been thinking rationally, and he really had no power to stop her. SHE HAD GONE TO THE LUNAR PALACE, WANTING TO SUMMON HER ANCESTORS UPON THEM. I KNEW I COULD NOT PREVENT HER FROM DOING SO.
"She. . .she was going to kill them," Rocky had never imagined Aura was capable of murderous rage, but this proved she was. He really wasn't sure how to take that, from the looks of the others, none of them were.
"I don't blame her!" Zack growled. The things that had happened lately had infuriated them all beyond anything they had ever believed possible.
"Neither do I!" Adam snapped. Everyone there agreed; even Zordon. Zedd and Eric had gone far beyond what they ever had before. It was no longer an attack on the Earth; it had become a personal war. And there was only one way for something like that to end.
Kim observed, "Something must have happened while she was there. I know Aura, she doesn't give in easily, especially not now."
"She was probably too upset to be thinking straight," Jason suggested. It was the only answer any of them could come up with; normally Aura planned an attack with the cold precision that came from coming from the longest line of Power Rangers in the universe.
Adam looked at them all, fear in his eyes. "How are we going to tell Azure what happened?"
Tommy paled. "Man, I don't know!"
"This is going to push her over the edge," Adam sighed. The sisters were just as close now as they had been as children. This was going to devastate Azure, to say the very least.
Kat nodded. "This isn't easy. You know, Zedd hasn't sent any monsters since he came back. He's been concentrating on Aura and Azure. So has Eric."
"It's like he wants to torture us, mostly them!"
Rocky nodded at Aisha's statement. "I don't think he's going to stop until he's destroyed them utterly, or until something stops him!"
"Then we stop them," Adam stated flatly. "Somehow." Despite their rage, it went against everything they believed in to make the first offensive move. If they managed to take out Zedd and Eric in a battle that their enemies started, so be it.
Tommy nodded. "Come on, let's go see Aura. Maybe we can figure out some way to help her come out of whatever Zedd's done to her this time."
Adam glanced down at his state of near-undress. "I'll meet you
there. I don't think they'll let me in with just my sweat pants on."
"Any news?" Adam asked a few minutes later as he ran, fully dressed, back into the hospital. Rocky shook his head sadly.
Adam groaned in regret, then glanced over to see Lieutenant Stone and a doctor heading over to them. "This doesn't look good," he muttered. It was the doctor who had taken care of Azure, and was now looking after her sister. He spoke as soon as he was over to them.
"Mr. Cranston?" he glanced at Billy, who stood up in response to his name. "Physically, your wife is unharmed. Mentally, that's what's scaring me. She's not there at all. She isn't responding to anything, and her brainwaves seem to indicate she's in some form of. .. well, trance for lack of a better word."
"Can I see her?" Billy whispered, his heart pounding. "Maybe I can help bring her back." _What have you done to her, Zedd? What have you done now?_
The doctor nodded. "She's in the room across from her sister," he told the young husband. As Billy went to go see her, Adam glanced to the others, shaking a little.
"I don't want to be the one to tell Azure this," he sighed. How was she going to react to knowing this had happened to her sister? The doctor's voice broke into his thoughts.
"Mr. Park," he said gently. "There's more bad news."
_More? What else could've happened to Azure?_ "More?" he asked, stammering almost in his fear. "Azure's. .. not. . ."
The doctor took a deep breath. "The final results are in. She can't have children; the knife severed parts of her womb that we can't repair. I wish there was some good news, but. . .,"
Adam looked up, tears in his eyes. "She's alive. That's all that
matters to me right now," he told the doctor as he stood up and headed
for his wife's room. It was a very sober batch of Rangers who watched him
Zedd watched the little tableau in the hospital with his customary evil gaze. "Perfect!" he congratulated his son. Even if Azure lived, she would never have another child! That in itself was a victory!
"I wonder how long it'll take them both to just die!" Eric mused, tapping his finger in deep thought. His lips curved into a cold grin as an idea occurred to him. "Father. Billy and Adam have only seen the results of what we've done. Let's go down and visit the girls personally with them there to see it."
Zedd nodded; he grew more and more proud of his son with every passing moment. "You are thinking like your father. We shall freeze the Rangers, and those two buffoons guarding them. That way, they can't do anything about it!"
"I hope you enjoy your visit to Aura as much as I will mine to Azure!" Eric smiled nastily, he had found a far greater pleasure in terrifying Azure than he ever had in trying to marry her.
"Oh, but I will," a cunning light lit in Zedd's eyes. "Oh,
but I will."
Billy sat next to Aura as he did ceaselessly now, one hand held in his own, urging her back to life, to no avail. "Aura, please wake up," he whispered. "Whatever that bastard did to you, it's over now. Please, come back to me."
A cold, wicked voice killed all his hope for that day, though. "Hello, Blue Ranger!" Zedd appeared in the room, easily freezing Bulk and Skull, as well as Billy himself, though the Ranger could still speak.
"Zedd, get out of here!" Billy growled. "Haven't you done enough to her?" he watched helplessly as Zedd ran his silver talons through Aura's mass of black hair.
"She is really beautiful," the evil overlord observed. It was a beauty that had held his heart for over fifty thousand years. All he had done to her was in preparation for one thing: breaking her down so completely she would run into his arms when he was ready for her to do so.
"Leave her alone!" Billy insisted. "Get your hands off her!"
Zedd's hands slid lower down Aura's motionless form. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I'll. . .I'll kill you, Zedd!" Billy swore. "Whatever you did to make her like that, trapped inside herself, that's unforgivable!"
Zedd laughed as his hands slipped even lower, and Billy's eyes filled with tears at what his enemy was doing to his beloved wife. "I'd like to see you try right now."
"Maybe not now," Billy admitted. "But when I can, you are dead!"
Billy was getting extremely tired of Zedd's laughter. "That is what you think!" the evil overlord told him. "It's a pity. She could've done so much better than you, and almost did. When she was on Kalakan, she threw herself on me!"
"No!" Billy retorted, remembering what Aura had told him of what had happened.
"Oh, but yet," Zedd nodded, a wicked expression in his eyes. "And all I did was invite her to dinner!"
"Aura told me about that," Billy snapped. "You put a love potion in that food!" _And she broke it's power by remembering me!_
Zedd shrugged, he rather enjoyed the look of pain in Billy's eyes. It was about to get worse. "That is her side of the story. She was the one who started it!"
"Aura, no," Billy stared at the still woman in the hospital bed. Zedd continued his caresses, which were all the sweeter for the audience and for knowing how Aura would react if she were able to. "Stop touching her! Leave her alone, she's catatonic already, what more can you do to her?"
_Ah, you have much to learn about what I can do, Ranger! More than you ever imagined was possible can be done to hurt her, and I WILL do it all. She will only be a shell of her former self when I am through._ With a mere flexing of the spell that bound her into her endless loop, that loop was broken. "Hello, Aura," he said almost gently as sense and reason returned to her vacant eyes.
"Z. . .Zedd," Billy heard the first word falling from her lips in a while. Zedd glanced at him, a sardonic grin on his face.
"I could get her out of her catatonic state, but you couldn't," he mocked the Blue Ranger. Aura focused on Zedd, hatred in those eyes.
"Zedd," she whispered, forcing the words from lips and vocal cords unused in days. "Leave me alone."
"Never," he hissed, his hands wreaking further damage to her body. He held them a few inches away from her stomach, as an evil green glow emanated from them. "A pity you will never have any more children!" _I just blocked off her reproduction system to everything but MY children. She will only have mine. But she doesn't need to know that just YET._
"Zedd, leave!" Billy roared in outrage at hearing that. _No. The Spirit can heal it, I hope! I won't let him do that to her, I just won't!_
"No," Aura whispered, staring up at him. "What have you done to me?"
"I shall leave for now," Zedd told them. "But I will be back," he flicked a wrist, and Aura sank back into the eternal round of horrific memories. As he melted away, Billy cried to see the blankness returning to Aura's eyes.
He dropped to his knees by her, able to move again, and cried. "Oh,
Aura," he whispered through his tears. "My sweet Aura. Come back
to me. Please."
Azure was just rousing to wakefulness. Adam hadn't moved from her side, not even for something to eat. "I am going to kill them, both of them," he murmured. It was a sacred oath. Every muscle in his body froze suddenly as Eric appeared next to Azure's bed! He tried to get up, only to find he was as immovable as a stone!
"Hello there, Black Ranger!" Eric grinned as he put a hand on Azure. Oh, this was going to be double torture!
Adam did his best to move, all to no avail. "What do you want? Leave her alone, you've almost killed her, aren't you happy yet?"
"Oh, not yet," Eric purred. "Not nearly yet."
Azure's eyes flickered as Eric's hands wandered all over her body. He laughed wickedly. "What's the matter, Adam? Afraid she'll come to her senses if I'm around too much, and leave you for me?"
"She won't!" Adam swore stoutly. He knew Azure, knew her with all his heart. She would never do that. As her eyes came open, she froze in fear at the sight of Eric over her.
"Hello there, dear Azure," Eric smiled nastily at her. She just stared at him, too afraid to speak or move, and not knowing why Adam didn't get rid of this filth!
Adam roared, "Get your hands off my wife!"
Eric continued to torment her in all the hideous ways he could imagine. "You know, it's your sister's own fault she's like that," _nothing like a little mental torture._ "She tried to kill me and my father. We showed her that we don't die that easily, of course!"
Azure's eyes turned to Adam, who only stood there! "Adam, help me, please!" she begged. Why wouldn't he move? Why did he just sit there?
"He doesn't want to help you," Eric grinned. He lifted his head as Aura's screams were heard in their room. "Sounds like Dad's having fun too." Azure closed her eyes as tears ran down her cheeks, not wanting to see this monster ever again!
"Fight him, Azure, you've got to!" Adam pleaded with her, wanting nothing more than to stand up and pummel this piece of offal into the ground! Eric stepped away from her, smiling.
"I know you enjoyed that as much as I did!" he was deliberately vague on who he spoke to, wanting their own imaginations to provide even more torment for them. "Time for me to go, but I'll see you again, Azure!"
"Not if I see you first!" Adam swore as Eric laughed and vanished. Adam was released from the stillness as he did, and stumbled over to Azure. "Azure? Honey?"
There was no response. "Azure, he's gone now."
Azure glared at him, every muscle tight and tense. "I hate you," she whispered. Adam's eyes widened as he realized she didn't know why he hadn't helped her.
"Azure, I couldn't move, I was frozen!"
She turned her head away from him. "Get out!" she ordered,
tears falling in an endless waterfall. "Get out!" she barely
noticed as Adam quietly left the room, shutting the door behind him. All
she wanted to do was die.
Billy kept a hold of Aura's hand, trying to urge her into even a semblance of life. "Aura? Please."
"Billy," Adam was standing in the doorway, shaking somewhat. Billy looked over at him, tears in both pairs of eyes.
"It was Zedd. He was here," Billy said. Adam came into the room and sighed.
"Eric was in there with me and Azure," he reported. He felt sick at the memory of what had happened. Billy had heard Azure's screaming.
"Is that why she screamed get out?"
Adam nodded. "I was frozen, I couldn't move. She must have thought I didn't want to help her. Billy, he said it was Aura's fault she was like that, that she tried to kill them."
"We knew that already," Billy sighed. "We just need to find a way to get her out of this, and to help Azure," he glanced down at Aura. "I'm going to kill them. I just wish she would come back to me, some sign that she's still there, some part of her."
As he told Adam what Zedd had said and done, the Black Ranger sighed. "Oh, man, we've got to help her. But I don't know what to do. And now Azure's so mad at me," tears slid down his cheeks. "Life has gone from heaven to hell!"
Zack came in a moment later. "What happened?" he'd heard noises, but hadn't thought they were coming from here! As Adam told him, he groaned. "Let me talk to her. She'll listen." _I hope._
"Please," Adam nodded, barely noticed as Zack crossed into the other room. He hurt to hear his long-time friend crying. Zack said softly, "It wasn't his fault, Azure."
She looked away from him. "He didn't. ...Eric did things, and he didn't move!" her tears kept streaking her cheeks.
"He couldn't move, Azure," Zack told her. "He was frozen, literally."
"Why is this happening to me?" she moaned as he sat beside her. "To us?"
"I don't know."
"There is more to this than people are telling me. I can feel it," Azure didn't like secrets being kept from her. Zack didn't look at her for a moment, he couldn't.
"Of course not," was all he would say. He didn't want her to lose all hope.
"It's nothing," he told her. "Nothing at all. You'll be fine. Just about everything's gonna heal up perfectly."
_Just about everything. I was hit in the stomach. . .the. . oh, NO!!!!_ "I. .. .no," she couldn't believe it; she didn't need Zack to confirm it. "My dreams, my life, all worthless!" she cried into the pillow.
"No, no it isn't!" Zack exclaimed. "Not in the slightest!"
"It is!" Azure was starting to hyperventilate. "It is!" Zack tried to calm her down, but was having no luck as a pale wind seemed to blow through the room.
"Azure," the Spirit of Earth stood next to her suddenly. "Azure, my child, you are not worthless. You still have much ahead of you that is good to do. Don't let what Eric has done destroy you."
"He already has," Azure whispered. The Spirit shook her head gently.
"No, he hasn't. You are stronger than you think you are, much stronger!"
"Am I?" she asked "I have a nervous collapse almost every week!"
The Spirit wasn't being shaken by this, though. "You have the power within you to fight them. You are more than you believe yourself to be."
The Spirit smiled at her tenderly. "You, like all my children, bear a piece of me within you. Dare you say that one who holds a piece of the Spirit of Earth is weak?"
Zack and the Spirit were both rewarded to see Azure smiling, for the first time in a long time. "No."
"You must rest and heal, my child. And never stop fighting."
"I won't," Azure promised. "For you and for myself," she turned to Zack and smiled.
"It's nice to see you smiling again," he observed. Azure chuckled a little weakly.
"It's nice to smile! Where's Adam?"
"In Aura's room."
Azure sighed a little. "I should talk to him." _I should have realized it was due to Eric he didn't help me. He wanted to, so much, I could see it in his eyes._
"He's hurting," Zack said softly. "You need to talk to him, I think."
"I shouldn't have yelled," she observed. "I should have known better."
"Want me to ask him to come back in here?" Azure nodded her
reply to Zack's question. As he left, she sighed deeply. _I won't stop
fighting, I won't let them hurt me. I don't know what strength I can have
that I don't know about, but whatever it is, I won't let them keep this
up. I won't._
"Adam?" Zack said as he re-entered Aura's room. "She wants to see you. Azure does."
Adam only needed to hear that before he darted away at once to see her. As he did so, the Spirit coalesced beside Aura's bedside. For the first time, the people there saw that she was about to cry.
"Spirit?" Billy asked, not sure how to react to this. He had never seen the Spirit of Earth so close to tears. "He'll pay for this."
The Spirit touched Aura's forehead gently, and trembled, sickened. "No. Not this."
"What?" Zack and Billy asked in unison.
"He has trapped her in an endless loop of memories. All that goes through her mind is an eternal reliving of all the nightmarish things that have happened in her life, over and over again. That is why there is 'no one home' in her mind. Effectively, there isn't."
"How can we help her?" Billy wanted to know that more than anything!
"For now, I am not certain," a single crystal tear made it's way down the Spirit of Earth's perfect face. "But I will be searching for a way to break her out of the loop. At the moment, the only way I know of for certain is that Zedd can do it. Since he was the one who put her into it."
Billy's eyes flashed with anger as he heard that name. "What is he up to? Why is he doing this?"
"Revenge," the Spirit said simply. "For Aura broke his spell over her fifty thousand years ago by remembering her love for you. He seeks to destroy her completely, that he might take her as his slave, with no way for her to return to her true self. If this loop is not broken, then indeed that will happen."
Billy sighed. "But why Azure?" he wanted to know. "She wasn't there."
"That is Eric's doing. He has given up on the idea of wedding her, and now desires only revenge for what he perceives as his rejection by her. I must go now," the Spirit looked at them all. "But now this, my friends, that justice will be done."
The Spirit faded away just as Billy said, "Thank you: for everything."
Zack's eye flicked from Aura to Billy, then across the hall to Aura's
room. "I can't believe this is happening," he groaned suddenly.
"Oh, man! I forgot to tell Adam that Azure knows. ..well. .about what
the doctor said, her not having anymore kids!"
Adam quietly entered the room, noticing Azure was reading a card. "A. . .Azure?" he asked gently. She glanced up, fear filling her eyes for a moment.
"So, um," he wandered in a bit. "Who's that from?" _If that's from Eric, I think I'm going to kill him with my bare hands!_
"Skull," Azure smiled as she named the young man. Adam relaxed visibly.
"Oh, that was sweet of him," her husband smiled tenderly once he knew it was nothing their enemies had done to make her be afraid. At least not recently.
"He sent those too," Azure gestured towards the yellow roses on the nightstand. Adam smiled, thinking of how far he had come from the punk he'd known when he had first moved to Angel Grove. "He worries, too," she looked at Adam for a moment, then looked away. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
"For what?" Adam asked as he sat beside her.
"I should've known that you couldn't help me. He. . .he just. . ..," she balled up, remembering how it had hurt.
He tried to comfort her. "Azure, it's all right. I know you were just upset."
She leaned away from him, crying. "Why can't he leave me alone?" As she did so, the back of the hospital gown opened up, revealing hideous bruises all along her back.
"I swear, he will leave you alone," Adam growled as he saw the marks. "No matter what it takes."
Azure sighed deeply. "Adam? Where is Katia?" _I want to see my baby._
"Rocky's taking care of her and the other kids while you and Aura are in here," he said. Azure raised an eyebrow.
"Is she in the hospital? Can I see her? I want to see her, please! I haven't seen her in. . .how long?"
It had been almost two months. "Please!" Azure begged. "I want to see my Katia and my sister!"
Adam got to his feet. "I'll call Rocky, but Azure, about Aura. . ." _I knew we should have told her something was up._
"What about Aura?" Azure wanted to know all the details!
"She. . ." Adam sighed. "You'd have to go see her, she can't see you. And there won't be much conversation."
Azure nodded absently. "When the doctors let me off this respirator and these other machines, I'll. . .," s he paused. "She's catatonic?" _What has happened to her?_
"It's worse," Adam explained what he had heard the Spirit telling the others in Aura's room. Azure stared out the window, heart pounding with fear. "The Spirit's looking for a way to help her. If anyone can do it, the Spirit of Earth can!"
A few minutes and a phone call later, Rocky entered the room, carrying Katia. He handed her gently to Adam, then looked over to Azure. With the utmost care, Adam slipped his daughter into her mother's arms. Azure looked down at Katia, a single tear sliding down her cheek.
_We will survive._