Nature Calls, Autumn

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Heart

"I'm back." A roll-up door to an outdoor storage unit rattled as the quiet Avatar opened it. The tall figure paused, taking in the scene within before approaching. His dark eyes swelled when Bedlam's scream reached his ears.

"Sing already!"

At the center of the unit, the cement floor had broken open with a pillar of twisting vines, extending across the ceiling. The walls were lined with active monitoring equipment and extension cords. If not for the aggravated growling, the soft beep of the weather instruments would have bounced around the enclosure. Ensnared within the vines, Leif pursed his lips together, sniffling through his nose sharply with his eyes squeezed shut. The leafy prison pulled his limbs taught while dark tendrils coiled about his form, tightening with each flinch. It was all the teen could do not to shed tears from the pain, but his jaw seemed locked shut in defiance of the earth Avatar.

"Have those readings come back yet?" Spiral sighed heavily from further inside the storage unit.

"Not since that moment," Marc Stevens voice droned in response. "They appeared briefly and faded again."

"This creature is useless..." The arrogant Avatar moaned, pinching the bridge of his nose with his left hand. His baton - still clutched with his last two fingers - pointed downward as he took a deep breath.

"The humans respond to my voice," the taller Avatar took a step inside the unit, ducking his head under the threshold. "Maybe if I-"

"You took your time returning, drone," Spiral snapped at the towering Avatar. "Close that before we have to cage another pest and keep them quiet."

"I had to walk..."

"You have no other orders than to watch these creatures, Hysteria!" The sudden venomous tone silenced the other Avatar. Spiral's visage twisted with disgust at the other's deflated expression. "Now, get over here and make this cretin useful before I dispose of it." Pointing at the meteorologist, he watched Hysteria drag his feet to the back of the storage unit.

There were five other humans sitting on the floor in the back: a man, two women, and two little boys. The adults appeared catatonic, but the children shuttered at Spiral's raised voice. Hysteria observed their weary expressions, walking closer to them curiously.

"Why do you tremble?" The tall, broad figure asked them softly.

"Hungry..." The boys whispered back. Looking up at Hysteria, their empty eyes shed fresh tears over dried, dirty streaks.

The Avatar blinked, processing their answer. He glanced at Marc's workstation, noticing a protein bar box next to his upright tablet. Turning to pull one out, the Avatar tilted his head curiously.

"Do you consume this?" Hysteria asked Marc.

"Yes," the human replied in a muted voice. He seemed to be focusing on the tablet screen, but the frozen, rigid position was unnatural.

"Will it resolve 'hungry'?" The Avatar asked innocently, trying to understand.

"Yes."

The black orbs shimmered at the solution. Taking two, the Avatar returned to extend the food to the children. They didn't respond to his offer at first. It took Hysteria a moment to realize the obstacle.

"You can consume these, so you won't be hungry." The elementary-aged children finally reached to take them from his large hand.

"However are these creatures the peak of evolution on this anomaly?" Spiral sneered at the scene.

"Why won't you sing?!" Bedlam screeched, sweeping her free hand upward. New vines tore through the floor, whipping at Leif's face.

"Out of my way," Spiral groaned just before shoving the earth Avatar aside.

"Spiral...?" Bedlam gawked at him, confused by his aggressiveness toward her.

Swiping his baton quickly, the new vines were cut short for him to see the youth better. Reaching with his right hand, the cruel Avatar gripped the pale neck. Leif opened one eye to see what these things were going to try next. Seeing the void, black orbs staring back at him made the youth forget to breathe. It was like looking into a black hole, drawing him into chaos.

"I could cut that voice from within this vessel and use it to summon that Wind Element if necessary. This struggle is pointless," Spiral spoke darkly with a hint of annoyance. "Call the Element, or we will."

A single tear slipped from the corner of Leif's eye. That was no empty threat. He had seen what these Avatars were capable of, and there very well could be even more to come. Still, Gust was vulnerable in his physical form, and they must have noticed the fey Element preferred that form around him. He had promised to protect Gust's heart for Spring, conjuring a strength that refused to surrender. Opening his other eye, at last, a glare to make his Viking ancestors proud burned into Spiral's orbs. The Avatar released him instantly, startled by the presence radiating off the human.

"This energy... wasn't the Element...?"

A serene soundwave reverberated through the storage unit, surprising the cosmic daemons. Behind Leif, a distortion rippled outward, rhythmically washing the vibration over them. Before they could react properly, a violent gale billowed from the center, forcing them backward. The rift swelled open, allowing Gust's naked foot to step through. His face was blank, but the swirling black continued in the murderous gaze.

Fauna leaped from behind her brother in wolf form, using the winds to carry her to the pillar of vines. Tearing her claws through the flora, the feral Element worked as quickly as possible, so her brother could focus on keeping himself together. She knew the surprise was their only advantage, but it wouldn't last long.

Fortunately, she wasn't alone as Thunderquake held nothing back, storming past Gust. His heavy steps shook the earth enough to knock the equipment off the walls. While Spiral managed to brace against the workstation, Bedlam collapsed violently to the cement floor with a pained yelp. Rushing for the back of the unit, the titan Element scooped the dazed humans up. Alas, he couldn't reach the meteorologist, shielded by Hysteria from the sparking equipment falling around them, and he couldn't pause for long.

"That's the best I can do," Fauna howled over the winds. She pushed away from the pillar to fall toward her mate. The behemoth Element let the gales hold her against him as he ducked back through the rift. "Hurry, Gust!"

"My leaf..." Gust's disembodied voice wailed on the winds, for he was too close to his own element to dare losing focus on his physical form. A sphere of wind expanded away from Leif, unraveling the remaining vines to carry the youth toward his open arms. "Why did you not call for me...?"

"That's what they wanted me to do," Leif whispered as he drifted in a touchless embrace. "I knew they would try to turn you in this form, so I couldn't call you..." Tears drifted away from his sea blue eyes as relief washed over him, reaching for Gust's vacant face. "I was just afraid they might take your song from me, and I wouldn't be able to sing for you again...!"

"Leif..." Gust's lips parted as the warm touch relaxed his tension. The black in his eyes faded away, and a sad smile preceded tears of his own. Pulling the youth's forehead to his, he wept softly, "My heart is more than the song that resides within you. I know not what force this is, but whatever power there is between us grounds me from chaos."

As they made their way back through the rift, Spiral felt an even stronger presence calling him on the other side. His black orbs swelled with longing. New strength flooded his body, allowing him to walk through the wind with ease. A shudder of anticipation preceded a dark laugh of twisted joy.

"At last..." The Avatar cackled, "I found it..."

His rapture was short-lived as a grip about his right pantleg restricted his advance toward the rift. Glaring down at the source, Bedlam looked up at him anxiously. Her tears flew from his silver lashes as she trembled.

"Spiral..." She cried in a small voice, "Help me..."

"Get off me," he kicked viciously to loose himself, "you useless defect!"

As Bedlam gasped in shock at the word, her grip slacked, releasing the other Avatar. Spiral ignored her crushed gaze, returning to his goal of reaching the rift. The delay cost him the paces he needed, watching the ripples draw in beyond his fingers' touch. Disappointment quickly shifted to rage as he turned to slice through the vined column. Bedlam watched helplessly as Spiral turned his baton her way. Before he could drop his hand though, Hysteria was beside him, holding his wrist in place. The two locked glares for a beat.

"Don't take it out on her," Hysteria said flatly.

"Why shouldn't I?!" Spiral snarled defiantly up at him. "She ruined my opportunity to fulfill my purpose yet again!" With his free right hand, he swung an open palm at Hysteria's cheek, throwing the taller off enough to release him. Stumbling aside, the quiet Avatar paused, processing the action. "A defective drone with no purpose has no place to speak to his betters! You do as you are told! Is that clear, ingrate?!"

Hysteria said nothing in return as he stood upright again, but he didn't look Spiral in the eye. The silence only spurred the other more. Turning on his heels, he swept his baton to slice the rolling door open. Once the loose panels fell away, Spiral stormed outside, down the black, painted gravel lane. Hysteria looked at the place he'd left a moment before turning toward the shaken Avatar.

"Are you all right, Bedlam?" He spoke softly, extending a hand toward the earth Avatar.

"I don't need a... defective Avatar to save me!"

A tremulous gaze stared down at her twisted face. The tears streaming down Bedlam's pallid face told him she was terrified, but the hurtful words made him feel small. Tears of his own formed in his eyes, but they didn't fall from how still he was. She gathered her skirts to hurry after Spiral, leaving Hysteria frozen with Marc Stevens sitting on the floor behind his workstation.

"What... did I do wrong...?" He asked sadly as a single tear slipped down his gray cheek.

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