Nature Calls, Autumn

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An Unsatisfied Win

“Are you sure you’re comfortable?”

“Yes, Mamma,” Leif replied, exasperated from his mother’s unusually clingy behavior. “I promise not to leave this bed if you give me room to breathe.”

“Can’t blame us for still being in shock, Lei,” Frey huffed wearily. Pausing, he recovered his voice before it cracked. “Today’s been insane, but we almost lost you before we could even call Pappa.”

“Maybe you should give him a heads up that we’re running a war counsel out of the house?” The youngest Dahl muttered sheepishly, realizing his father would be coming home soon. “Gust won’t leave me, and Mr. Skye said the house is safe. I’ll drink whatever tonic you want to pour down my throat to make you feel better. Just promise not to smother me.”

“Oh goodness...” Freja gasped loudly, “I never called your far.”

Kristen shook her head in the next room, hearing her excited friend’s relief. An hour ago, she had been a different woman. She had never heard Freja cry. Seeing one of those Avatars herself, they were grateful Jake was unharmed, and Leif had been returned home as safely as he had.

The rescue had come with a price though. Only moments ago, Hawahkan had been panic-stricken, gawking widely at the ceiling. She remembered the first time she’d witnessed his sleep paralysis. It frightened her, but his shame afterward stung worse. Parapsychology became just another one of the stacked skills of her trade.

“He appears to be resting now,” Skye’s voice spoke softly from the door to Frey’s bedroom. Hawahkan was tucked in bed with Kristen sitting beside him, rubbing his hand. “Will that happen again? The rigidness of his body?”

“Kan’s ESP puts a strain on his nervous system,” she replied absent-mindedly without looking away from the gentle face. “Since his visions come from his dreams, it disturbs his REM sleep and induces paralysis. Normally, it only lasts a minute or less, but when he forces the dreams like that, the recovery depends on how deep he went.”

“Oh...” The hermit had no idea what those words meant, but he had observed the phenomenon from his unique perspective, trying to draw a connection. He lifted his left palm to stare at his finger.

“I did sense a familiar presence when he touched my ring. Those streams stemming from the Will O’Oak became significantly stronger, reaching into him as he reached out to the Rift. Through him, I was reconnected with it and able to grasp this newfound strength. It hasn’t waned yet, which does frighten me somewhat, and yet, he might have helped me grasp the power to rival an Avatar.

“I wanted to thank him for his gift,” Skye drew closer to the bed with a sad expression. “This energy I sense from him could only come from one intimately bonded to the tree. It seems the cost was greater than I realized to accomplish such a feat though. I understand your reluctance to use it, Kristen. I wish I could do more.”

“When you say ‘intimately bonded’,” Kristen’s curiosity got the better of her, looking up at him finally, “are you referring to the Vanishing phenomena?”

“I have observed Leif’s streams strengthen since he nearly succumbed to it, but he also received a gift,” Skye mused aloud. “He told you and Rain he clearly saw the Will O’Oak and wisps, so perhaps the Vanishing is the tree calling out for some reason.”

“The Wunderlust does call people into the trees, doesn’t it?”

Outside the slightly open door, Rain leaned against the wall. While he was listening to the conversation, his crystal blue orbs were laser-focused on Skye. Ever since Hawahkan’s proposed plan, he had sensed something, drawing him to the hermit. It unnerved and piqued his interest. Could it have to do with the Pillar the Avatars were after?

“Aren’t you glad?” Flora’s voice piped up. Rain scrunched his face up as he held his breath. The sudden muggy air proved she’d spooked him again. Frowning, she covered her lips quickly, waiting for him to dry up the humidity to continue. “Sorry... I just wanted to congratulate you on the rescue’s success. Leif seems resilient as ever, so there’s hope we can overcome this struggle now. I had hoped a win might ease your worries as well...”

Rain’s silence killed her voice. He wouldn’t look at her as she spoke, staring at the floor instead. Blinking back tears, the plant girl reached for his hand, but the water man didn’t grip back.

“Why do you feel so far away?”

“I need to focus on the Avatars right now, Flora,” Rain replied flatly, but his sad eyes betrayed how much it wounded him to push her away. He moved from the wall around her toward the great room. Flora just watched him go this time. “I promise - when all of this resolves - I’ll explain everything. Once the threat is over, I’ll be able to relax enough to show you a face that won’t make you shed tears.”

“All right...” Flora whispered with a lump in her throat. Holding the tears in, she added, “I’ll wait for you, Rain.”

Back in Leif’s room, the youth sat upright in his bed. Leaning into the extra pillows provided by his mother and brother, he glanced to his right between him and the wall, where Gust curled against him. After his rescue, the fey Element hadn’t left his side. The taint in his olive eyes hadn’t returned, but Leif could sense his fear it might. Running his left fingers through the shaved side of Gust’s scalp, Leif tried to think of a way to calm his faerie... when a melody came to him.

"Where the cold heart, waits and sleeps,” the youth sang softly with an enchanted sparkle in his sea blue irises, ”there’s a wishing that it keeps. Hoping one day warmth will breathe, carry life, and set it free."

As the round carried on, the last of Gust’s tension left his visage. Smoothing to his usual expression, a smile spread on his lips, like he was enjoying a blissful dream. Leif had no doubt he would recover once he awoke.

“I thought I heard singing in here,” Chelsea cooed from the doorway, peeking inside. Leif stopped singing to glance up at his guest. “Fauna was singing that song earlier to relax him. It was kinda creepy then, but I just imagined their mom’s smile listening to you sing it.”

“Really? Why?”

“Mr. Skye mentioned they gave us a part of them back on the island,” the maternal youth replied, walking to stand next to the bed. “She gave you that cuff right? You’ve been wearing it since we got back. Do you ever take it off?”

“I feel naked without it,” he answered with a smile, reaching to graze the edge of his left ear. “I only take it off to shower even though I think it absorbs the mist to stay that lush green.”

“I feel the same about the hair stick Autumn gave me,” Chelsea mused, pulling it from the hair cage she wore daily. Brushing the wood filigree with her fingers, she marveled at how the design of twigs growing from a branch. “It had beautiful leaves at first, but I guess they broke off at some point.”

“Mrs. Autumn really is an incredible designer,” Leif sighed lightly, admiring the Season’s work.

“Yeah...” Her chest felt tight, realizing the cool Season was gone. Those Avatars had taken her new mentor from her, and she wanted to do something about it, scrunching her copper blonde brow.

“She told me something that I think explains what’s been going on with us today,” Chelsea spoke in a low voice. “We’re all products of chaos, trying to create order, but we are more than the product of our own destruction. We carry inside us the ability to unlock our own evolution, given by those before us. I think she meant that we carry the key inside our DNA to grow stronger through adversity, and they gave us something that day to overcome this. Maybe they live on inside us somehow.”

Rather than the relief she expected, Leif shed new tears on a blank face. Chelsea’s chest squeezed, thinking she might have triggered the sorrow somehow. Pulling the closest chair, she sat down to grip his left hand.

“Lei, I’m sorry! I didn’t-”

“No,” he whispered softly, “it’s not anything you said. I just remembered what Jake and I were fighting about before Hysteria showed up.”

“Hysteria?”

“Yeah, Bedlam is the woman,” Leif replied solemnly. “Spiral is the first guy we met at the lake, and Hysteria was the last one that came here. He was the one that interrupted Jake and me, making us clam up.”

“Jake won’t talk about what happened,” Chelsea said with a gentle voice. “I didn’t realize you were fighting.”

“I think he wasn’t sure whether to be scared of the Avatars or me,” Leif’s voice turned hollow, stunning Chelsea. “He said I finally got my wish to be a folk tale hero, but the real stories were dangerous. I should be scared, but I’m not. The truth is that it’s not just the Avatars. Ever since I nearly dissolved, I’ve been longing to become wind, and it gets worse the closer I get to Gust. I want to be with him, but this body isn’t able to fuse with him the way I want to...! I realized today that I don’t want to be human anymore, Chels, and it scared me cause I’d be breaking my promise to get what I want...!”

“What promise?” She asked, perplexed.

“My family has always upheld our Viking roots, sticking together even if the seas took us to new places! Ever since I came out, we’ve been closer than ever! I had no idea my great uncle was bi! On top of that, they accept Gust and the Elements just like you and the others, but... you’re all still human! I feel torn between two worlds, and I know I have to choose eventually, maybe even sacrifice one of them! That would mean our promise would fall apart, and I would betray everyone that’s finally accepted me!”

Chelsea flicked the back of his hand suddenly, making him pull back to nurse it. Frowning at her, Leif searched her strict expression for an explanation. Sighing heavily, the young woman ran her left hand through her mid-back length hair, looking down at her hair stick.

“If you’d said that a few months ago,” she replied shyly, “I would have given you an earful, but I understand what you mean.”

“Huh...?”

“I get how it feels to fall for a faerie.” Leif silenced at the confession, surprised and intrigued to hear more. She hunched her shoulders anxiously as she wrapped her arms around her waist, knowing she had to come clean to someone about this. “Flare’s... so sweet and genuine and open to learn about me. I started dancing again, and Mom’s been teaching him tap. My cysts have gotten better since Buyan, but I still get spikes. He seems to sense them though, and he’ll curl up with me, putting his warm hands on my stomach to ease the pain... I’m just waiting for the rug to come out from under me, you know? I don’t deserve someone this considerate. I feel like I’m using him.”

“Hey,” Leif reached out to pull her into a hug, which she quickly returned, “just because things are going well doesn’t mean they have to turn on you again. Take some advice from your big brother: Faeries can’t lie. Unlike Fauna and Gust's wordplay, Flare and his brothers are painfully honest to a fault. Flash is brutal. Thunder is too kind to hide the truth, even if it hurts him in the end. Flare is critical of himself, and if anything, he probably thinks you’re too good for him.

“They’re all drawn to your personality, probably because you’re so much like their mom. You’re realistic but enjoy games, which they love. You were practically molded into the perfect fit for their family, and I know better than anyone about your wanderlust to see more of the foreign world away from here. It just took Buyan to get you to finally start reaching for it.”

“Mhm...”

Gust’s purr was so well-timed it sounded as if he were agreeing with the statement. Leif and Chelsea looked back at the Element a moment to confirm he was asleep. They laughed lightly as the relief of understanding washed over them.

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