Author's Notes/: Please see notes at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 52:Drawing Conclusions
There was something about space that seemed to make time stop, Adam reflected. It was hard to say what was happening, exactly; just that time was passing, while it seemed no time had passed at all.
Four days in Sanctuary now since their trip into the Power Spring. It didn't seem like it had been so long, but the Delta Megaship's calendar didn't lie. They'd gone into the Spring the same night they'd all arrived from Eltar, but the days since had been quiet. Fuchsia had taken Kimberly and Cassie somewhere to train them in their empathy, which was still to weird for him to think about for long. Pahla, Yasta, and Vengi were still recovering from the battle on Saes in Lemon's infirmary, though they were all mostly healed by now. Litania was supposed to be with them, but she seemed to have a knack for avoiding the Yellow Bavari Ranger that was almost as amusing as it was annoying. Aisha was fine thanks to the Spring, although she'd complained of feeling weaker than usual, and spent a lot of time working out.
Part of him felt like they were lingering here for too long, like they should already be heading out to find some way to stop the Dark Rangers and save Justin. But while the damage to the Delta Megaship had been repaired and Billy claimed there wasn't much left to do for Pterodactyl, there was still Pahla's White Dragon and Phantom's ship, which she refused to let anyone else touch. Aqua had also said something about 'fine-tuning' the Thunderzords, which made him wonder if Chrin would have been offended.
And even if they *had* moved out, exactly where were they supposed to go next? The Bavari said they needed to find the keys, but why did it seem like going after them was just avoiding the Dark Rangers entirely? And if they went after Justin instead ... why did that seem wrong even as part of him insisted it was the right thing to do?
Adam glanced as Zack plopped down on the grass beside him, distracting him from his thoughts. "Hey," he echoed belatedly.
"You okay, man?" Zack asked, eyeing him.
Adam blinked at him, surprised by the question. "More or less," he answered, shrugging. "I'm not sure any of us are really 'okay' right now."
Zack tilted his head in acknowledgement. "Something on your mind?" he pressed.
Adam was silent for a moment. His eyes drifted back up to the Black Lion Thunderzord in front of him. A hatch had been opened in the back of the zord's head, and he could see Aqua's hand stick up for a moment, fumbling, before finally closing on a tool and disappearing back inside. "It's November," he said abruptly.
Zack looked startled. "Seriously?"
He nodded. "Trini was going through something on one of the consoles in the Delta Megaship, and I saw the date over her shoulder. Today's November 17th in Angel Grove. Tuesday," he added, as though it mattered.
"And we got together around October 12th," Zack murmured, reaching up to run a hand over his head. "Jeez, it's been over a month already since all this started? Seems like it's only been a couple weeks."
Adam nodded again. "I've probably lost my job by now," he chuckled, staring at his hands. The words were more bitter than he'd meant them to be. "I don't regret being here," he continued quietly. "I ... I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. It's just ... "
"Didn't think it was gonna take this long?" Zack guessed. Adam nodded, and he sighed, shaking his head. "Man ... I figured we'd be back in three weeks, tops. The Academy probably thinks we dropped out or something." He tried to laugh it off the way Adam had, but the thought hurt. He swallowed hard as something else occured to him. "My family's gotta be wondering why I haven't gotten in touch lately, too."
"Missed Jase and Kat's birthdays, too," he mused, frowning. He shook his head, leaning back on his hands to stare up at the Zord in front of them. "This is all so messed up," he sighed.
Adam closed his eyes, heart clenching.
" ... Do you ever blame me?"
He felt Zack start slightly beside him, but he couldn't bring himself to look. "Or any of us, really," Adam went on softly. "For ... " He sighed, gesturing vaguely around them with a wide sweep of his arm. "This."
"For bringing us to one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen?" Zack sounded amused.
Adam sighed again in frustration, shaking his head. "No, I mean - "
"Adam," Zack cut in gently, setting a hand on his shoulder. "It's not your fault Justin turned, man. It's not anybody's fault."
"Are you sure about that?" The words were barely more than a whisper, and his eyes burned.
"Yes," Zack said firmly. "Trust me. I was there for Tommy after the Evil Green Ranger, remember? I know evil, and I know what it's like to feel like you should have done something more. Tommy's not the only one who blames himself for the people we lost then," he added quietly. "We all feel like we failed. We failed Angel Grove, and we almost failed Tommy. It's a miracle we stopped him at all. But you know what? We didn't give up, even when we wanted to. It's cheesy, but we have to keep hanging in there. We may not know the whole story here, but I don't think Justin chose to be evil anymore than Tommy did. And that means we have to keep working to save him. Because he needs us to save him."
"And that's what friends do," Adam murmured, swallowing. The guilt lingered, but Zack had a point. They couldn't give up on Justin now.
Zack gave his shoulder a squeeze. "Exactly," he said, sounding satisfied. "He may not know it, but we're still Justin's friends. And we're gonna save him."
We have to.
They both looked up to see Lemon striding toward them, a large basket tucked under her right arm. "I hope you this bright day finds you both well," she greeted them with a warm smile.
"Greetings," Zack echoed awkwardly, managing a smile in return. "Yeah, same to you."
She tlited her head, looking puzzled. "Does something trouble you?"
Adam exchanged glances with Zack, giving a slight shrug. "Just ... thinking about ... everything, I guess."
Lemon blinked, then smiled slowly. "That is a great deal to think about," she remarked gently. "Perhaps we should take a moment from these thoughts for a snack?"
"Uh ... "
"Wonderous," she went on, ignoring their lack of response. She set her basket down, turning to reguard Black Lion for a moment. She huffed, putting her hands on her hips and staring intently up at the Zord.
After a few minutes, Aqua's head poked out of the open hatch on top. He blinked down at them for a few minutes as Lemon glared, sighed loud enough to be visible on the ground, and climbed out. He slid down the side of the Zord, executing a neat roll at the bottom to bring himself to his feet. "It has not been that long," he informed Lemon with a frown, ignoring Zack and Adam.
"You have not been seen since breakfast, when you claimed you would visit the Zords," she countered. "We have now passed lunch. It has been long enough. Sit."
For a moment he looked like he was going to protest, but her stare intensified and he sat gracefully with another sigh instead. He nodded briefly to Zack and Adam as he reached for Lemon's basket.
She knelt down, smacking Aqua's hand away in the process, and began to distribute food among the four of them. She brushed off Adam's weak protest as she pushed a roll into his hand. "Food and conversation are both things best when shared," she insisted. "I have brought the food, therefore it is up to the three of you to bring the conversation."
Zack grinned faintly. "You remind me a lot of Trini sometimes, you know that? In a good way," he added as Adam raised an eyebrow at him.
Lemon paused to give him another warm smile. "My thanks. I consider such words to be a great compliment, as I am well aware of how precious each of your teammates are to you."
Zack paused at the thought, considering, before his grin softened into a faint smile. "Yeah. They are," he agreed quietly.
Adam looked away as the guilt surged again, taking a bite of his roll.
They ate in silence for awhile, broken only by Zack complimenting the food, and Lemon's graceful thanks. Adam was too lost in thought and guilt, despite Zack's words, to say much of anything, and Aqua rarely ever spoke to anyone as it was. Instead the teen stared vacantly into the distance with a glazed look in his eyes, munching absently on whatever Lemon put into his hands.
"I have reached my conclusion," he announced abruptly, startling them all.
Lemon immediately gave him another bright smile. "Wonderous. Will you share with us?"
Aqua chewed thoughtfully on the fruit in his hand, still staring into the distance. He swallowed. "The strongest shape is said to be a triangle, yes?"
Adam blinked, giving him an odd look. "Yeah, that's right. Why?"
"The triangle is also considered to be a symbol of balance. Some of the stronger teams of Rangers are made of groups of three, combining to make a greater whole. In this, balance is the representative points of heart, mind, and body as one."
"Also symbolizing the balance of self," Lemon remarked, nodding in agreement.
Aqua paused to swallow another mouthful of fruit. "As it stands, the prophecy calls for the Power of the Many. Thus it asks for the Powers of Mind, Body, and Heart to empower the Chosen."
"So ... that's what the last three lines are for?" Zack asked, frowning. "The Commander, the Warrior, and the Visionary?"
Aqua shook his head. "No. The three to guard the prophecy and ensure its completion are another example of the symbols of Heart, Mind, and Body. There is another clue in the phophecy that suggests a fourth Power is needed. Something very small and suble, almost unworthy of notice."
There was a pause as they all tried to think about what he was saying.
"You mean the four keys?" Adam said slowly.
Aqua tilted his head, staring thoughtfully into the distance again. "Numbers are very important, especially to Rangers. Strong teams are sets of three, five, six, or eight. Even in the prophecy, it claims there will be a team of ten Dark Rangers, the largest team to have ever served the Power - on any side. Therefore I find it curious to know why the prophecy would call specifically for *four* keys. Why four? Why not two, or three? Or even ten, as there are ten Dark Rangers?"
Zack was staring at him, more than slightly startled by the amount of words coming from the younger teen. It was the most they'd heard him say since they'd met him.
"You find the keys to be a representation of something significant?" Lemon pressed gently.
Aqua blinked abruptly, turning to flash her a surprisingly bright smile. "I find the entire line to be significant. 'Four Keys of Salvation and hearts destined to be, to draw back the Power of Light'. I believe there are four Keys of Salvation, and four hearts destined to be. In addition, the phrase 'to draw back the Power of Light'. It does not specifically say these keys will save the Dark Rangers. It says they will draw the Power of Light - the Power itself."
Lemon nodded slowly, frowning in contemplation. "An odd twist, to be sure, but a prominent one."
"Thus we must examine the significance of the number four," Aqua went on, playing absently with the grass with his free hand. Lemon reached forward to poke her finger in his ribs, giving the fruit in his hand a pointed look when he blinked at her. He sighed, taking another bite and swallowing before he continued. "Four is a number of balance, but again, why are the representatives of the Heart, Mind, and Body mentioned? So we assume that Heart, Mind, and Body are important to us as well. And as for the fourth, why was the prophecy left in the Temple of the Ninjetti? Why *there*?"
Lemon stiffened, staring at him. "You imply - "
"Yes." He paused to finish off the last of his fruit, sighing when Lemon handed him another roll. "I conclude that the four keys are representative Power Sources; sources of Heart, Mind, Body, and Spirit. Spirit we have found, as the Power of the Ninjetti comes from the sacred animals inside each of us. Heart as well, as the Morphin energy comes from the heart of all. Therefore we must now send the Chosen to find Mind and Body."
"Is that why you sent us into the Power Spring?" Zack asked curiously.
Lemon and Aqua exchanged glances. "No," she admitted quietly. "We had not confirmed the significance of the Power of the Many beyond that you would need multiple sources at that point. We chose to share our spring with you for several reasons: first, the Morphin energy is one the eleven of you are already familiar with. It was likely that it would bond well with you again. In addition, we knew that the swiftest way to heal your injuries would be to send you to the Grid." She hesitated, her face falling a little. "It was the only way to truly save Aisha we could find."
Aqua scooted closer to her as Zack and Adam stared, horrified by the implication. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders, resting his head against hers as she leaned into him. "If we were not so concerned about conflicting energies, we would have done the same for your other friends long ago," he added quietly. "For Aisha, we had to act swiftly. There was no other choice."
"My sincerest apologies," Lemon whispered, tears welling in her eyes. "I should have been able to do more for her."
"You saved her life."
The two Bavari Rangers looked up at Zack as he stared back at them solemnly. "She wouldn't have made it otherwise. Would she."
It was more of a statement than a question, but Lemon shook her head slowly. "No," she said softly. "She was bleeding inside. The Power was keeping her alive, but there was only so much to be done."
"The Dark Rangers strength comes from their negative energy," Aqua explained. "They absorb all of the negative energy both within themselves and around them. Even the energy they may find through you yourselves. That is the source of their strength. It is what allowed the Dark Pink Ranger to injure Aisha so severely, and why the Power was unable to heal her completely. To put it simply, as of now, they are stronger than you."
Adam's words were barely a whisper. "Then how are we supposed to win?"
Lemon leaned forward, taking his hand in hers. "You will win, because you have the greatest stake in winning," she told him seriously. "The Dark Rangers fight because they enjoy suffering, because they wish to prove their own strength. You fight for the sake of your friends."
"For Justin," he interrupted quietly. "I'm fighting to save Justin."
She smiled, squeezing his hand gently. "And that is why you will win."
They watched as the two Chosen went to share their new information with their friends. The Black Rangers seemed anxious, but determined. Aqua's words had given them hope, and Lemon had reminded them why they needed to hold on to that hope.
"You know who the final Chosen is." Lemon's words were soft, barely breaking the silence around them. "Don't you."
Aqua sighed quietly. "Yes."
She glanced at him, curious, but without blame. "You will not share this knowledge?"
He shook his head. "They are not ready to know, just as the final Chosen is ready to join them. My only certainty is that they will not wish to accept this person."
She frowned. "That ... does not bode well."
"No." He let out another sigh, shivering slightly as she turned to hold him tighter. "It does not."
And now for the Author's Notes no one wants to read ...
This story is officially over. I will not be adding to or editing it again. I decided to go ahead and post the last four chapters I'd written that were completed as a thank you for everyone who's stuck with it so far, but there won't be any more updates. I plan to leave it posted on as long as I don't have any complaints about it, but I *will* take it down if I'm asked. If that happens, I'll have it posted on my website, Fading Lights, which can be found at: www. angelfire. /moon2/tsukinoakume/index. html.
The Fade to Darkness saga is *not* over, however.
Essentially, what happened was that I decided to re-read the whole thing so I could catch up on where I'd left off (again), and started doing some editing. About three chapters later, I realized the editing was turning into yet another rewrite. -_-;;
So! There *is* a new version that I'm currently working on, that will eventually be beta'd (I'm looking for beta volunteers if anyone's willing. Please PM me if you'd like to help.) and posted. It's very different from this FtD, which is why I made the decision to leave this one on the site. I'm not sure if I'll post it in-progress the way I did with the last two versions however, seeing as that tends to leave my readers hanging for months at a time because my muses decide to ignore it again. c.c;;
In the meantime, I'll be working on the new FtD and trying to edit/rewrite/finish a few pieces of the Bright Skies universe. But you can always find pictures and comments about how FtD is coming along on my LiveJournal if you're interested, which is linked from my profile.
Thank you everyone, for all your support and encouragement over this story. I hope the newest edition meets your approval.