Nature Calls, Autumn

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A Lingering Fog

“All right...” Skye blinked with surprise at the wounded voice from the hall. The hauntingly familiar pitch tightened his chest as he turned toward the door. “I’ll wait for you, Rain.”

Without a word, the hermit dropped his conversation with Kristen to check on his daughter. The lonely gaze staring down the hall was too similar to her mother. He had seen Lané’s isolation on Buyan from the Rift, waiting for the next time they could hear one another’s voice. Flora was never meant to express this level of pain, but he hadn’t intended for the Avatars to come either...

“Flora?” His anxious whisper barely reached her ear. “Has something happened, my gift?”

“Father...” The plant girl turned toward him, but her arms remained wrapped about her trunk. “I thought I might be of help, but it seems my celebrating was premature. There is still a fight to be won, so I’ll try to stay out of the way.”

“How could you be in the way?” Skye asked sadly, reaching to brush her loose waves with his left hand.

“I’m not like the others,” she admitted with a weary smile. “I only plant seeds and look after them. The others have always had to look after me, but sometimes... I wish I could do something myself.”

“There is no shame in creating life, Flora,” her father countered with a warm smile. She looked up with hope-filled emeralds. “Destruction and Creation are essential to evolution across the cosmos. I watched your mother prevail against previous Avatars by creating something new, helping the world evolve. Do not think your seeds are without purpose, my gift, for they birthed new growth for our survival. I believe you were the catalyst to break this cycle of struggle, bringing the world closer together.”

“Really? You really think so, Father?” Flora sighed as a new glow radiated from her visage. Reaching out to embrace him, she nestled in his strong chest, drawing strength of her own. “Thank you. I’ll watch over my friends and help where I can, but...”

“But what?” Skye tilted his head to see around their hug, relieved to see her spirits lighten.

“Could you offer Rain the support I cannot?” Craning her neck to lock her father’s crystal gaze, Flora’s mature tone spoke with purpose, “I know how much he carries alone, but the more I see you together, I sense you are the only one that can reach his heart. He’s tried to be a part of us, but he cannot hide his heartache from me. Please speak with him. I’m worried his feelings will overwhelm him soon.”

“Of course, Flora,” Skye answered, kneeling to close the distance in their gaze. Pulling her forehead to touch his, they closed their eyes to connect for a moment. “I feel your sorrow, but there is also hope and strength in your heart. I will carry your feelings to him.”

The two walked into the grand hall together before separating. Flora returned to the sunken den, where Jaime, Jake, Flare, Thunderquake, and Fauna sat among the cushioned seating. Skye smiled after her a moment, pleased to see the plant girl’s strength of heart and patience. He knew her mother would be proud of her resilience. Tearing his gaze away, the hermit continued into the mudroom, looking for his own guardian.

“Rain?” Skye frowned to find no trace of the water man there. Had he left the house? Reaching with his right hand, he opened the door to exit, sensing Rain’s presence in the air by the garden. “There you are. Why did you leave?”

“I need my space from time to time,” the other replied in his disembodied, rippling voice. “You probably never noticed over the ages, watching Lané and Flora so closely.”

“Do you not wish to be among them?” The hermit asked with a perplexed expression.

“No... It’s not that,” Rain groaned at the crystalline man’s limited social maturity. Condensing down to his transparent form, his hands slid down his simplified face. “Sometimes their energy exhausts me. I need to separate to sort myself out.”

“Does that not make the distance grow more between you and them?” Skye countered the statement, genuinely concerned. “What tires you when you are with them?”

“I know you’ve been watching forever,” Rain retorted, turning his fluid form to face Skye, “so you’re aware of how hopeless they all are. Even Lané has grown tired after all these revolutions.”

“I don’t understand,” the other confessed a bit anxiously. “How are they without hope?”

“They’re reckless, wild, and completely oblivious of their influence on the planet! The Seasons only recently got a grip on their in-fighting just in time to reel in their spawn! If they aren’t poking at each other’s weak points, their unity is minimally functional on a perfect day! At least, the Seasons grasped their sense of connection and commitment to protecting Lané! All the Elements took off after Flora to cause trouble here, for crying out loud!?"

Skye stared at the aggressive gestures Rain’s form flung about as he lamented his grievances. The way he described them made the hermit wonder if he loathed the Nature guardians. If he couldn’t stand them, why did he return to guide the Elements? The innocence left his face as he considered his response.

“Why do you remain then? Are you a guardian or a prisoner of Nature?”

“I’m doing what you created me to do!?” Rain cried as stratus clouds rolled overhead. Skye glanced up darkly as the gray bodies started drizzling on them. “I have no other reason to exist than to protect them!? This is all I am! You made me this way, so why don’t you tell me why I can’t do more!”

Lifting his left hand toward the heavens, Skye collected a small pool in his palm as little streams escaped down his bare arm. Rain watched him, angrily, as the water ran down his blank visage, like the tears he expected. Instead, the crystalline orbs looked empty, expressing a void within the hermit.

“I recognize that I gave you life with little direction other than to ease Lané’s heartache,” Skye’s deep voice echoed sadness as he reflected. “If I had remained on course from the beginning, none of the pain rippling through the ages would have happened. After our initial collision, my next memory was hearing her voice cry out to the cosmos, followed by the rush of water beneath my foreign form. I could do nothing to reach her, but I felt metal grow on my finger, sensing her familiar energy. Plunging it into the water, I wished for her last tear to protect her from further pain, focusing on my mirrored image to manifest my plea. I didn’t realize you would cling to that intent so tightly.”

“Why are you telling me this now?” Rain growled as the droplets flowed over his surface.

“Because that desire was why I created you, not your sole purpose,” he answered with conviction. “I already told you of your weakened state. Now, the core of your exhaustion to clear to me.”

“And that would be?”

“You are not me, Rain. My isolation is because I am not meant to be a part of this beautiful planet. I am kept apart by design, but I have grown to accept my place in the Rift, watching and learning from the cosmos as I await my allotted time with her. While it pains me to live trapped with only the rivers’ flow to break the silence, that is my fate.

Yours is not. You have a grander purpose beyond my initial design. I protect Lané from the outside, while you were meant to walk beside her as a companion to ease her loneliness. Within this sphere, she breathed new purpose into you that you have yet to accept after all this time. Whether you have the courage to look within and take it for your own is within your power. The question is if you are willing to be vulnerable enough to find it...”

As the drizzle lifted, the clouds dissipated to reveal the late afternoon sky. Rain’s transparency took on color finally, staring back at Skye blankly. There was a stillness as the hermit lowered his arm, waiting for a reply. Out of nowhere, Rain flinched with a burst of laughter. Skye frowned, perplexed at the reaction

“You said ‘time’...!” Rain smirked as he barely held in a snort.

“Should I not have?” Skye asked, slightly irritated, only making Rain’s fit worsen.

“Father Time says ’after all this time’ and misses the joke!” The water man hugged his stomach as tears of laughter rolled down his cheeks. Skye watched with confusion, wishing the guardian would clarify the context.

Inside, Jake watched the clouds roll in for a moment. The brief shower before leaving just as quickly told him it had to be someone's waterworks again. Blinking his steel-gray orbs irritably, the teen shook his head. Thunderquake noticed his exasperation first.

“Is something wrong, Jake?”

“Has Rain always been this bipolar?”

Flora and Jaime glanced over at his irked tone. Fauna huffed a light laugh, as her chest was still healing. Flare groaned as he flopped deeper into the couch. The titan Element leaned forward with an amused smile.

“You remind me of my father when you speak that way,” a chuckle rumbled in his throat as he answered. “Winter and Lady Lané were the only ones that he ever confided in. To the rest of us, Rain listlessly searches for answers that are beyond his reach. Winter said they might be in the Rift, locked away. Does that explain his moodiness for you?”

“I get that much,” Jake replied, guiltily staring at his palms between his knees. “My brother and I were trapped in our house with our parents until I ran away from home. I was a hot-head, reacting to everything that happened around me. Ever since my folks started talking openly though, I felt my energy channeling into my passions without spiraling.

“What I don’t get is how Rain can spiral all the time without going crazy.” The youth looked up at the couple with concern. “If we’re in the middle of a serious fight, shouldn’t he be more together? He’s been snapping at Flora’s dad every chance he can get, and I can’t be the only person that noticed how much he’s been avoiding her today. He’s - like - crazy old, right? It’s like he’s unraveling or something.”

Flora stared back at Jake with tremulous eyes. Frozen stiff, the plant girl tried to speak, but her lips hung open, silently. Fauna leaned over to take her hand to reassure her, but she didn’t react.

“I’m sure he’s grieving the loss of our parents and worried for your mother,” the feral Element spoke gingerly. “He’s always cared too much. Before you were born, he was actually less kind to us.”

“Oh yeah,” Flare shivered at the memories, “I don’t remember him smiling, and he used to douse me whenever I sparked a fire.”

“Before Fauna was born,” Thunderquake furrowed his brow, thinking back to his earlier years, “I remember his bellowing voice when Lightning and I were learning to control our domains. He usually was only upset with Lightning, but I couldn’t help feeling partially at fault. We were much closer back then and used to get caught up in a lot of trouble.”

“I can’t even imagine you like that, Thunder,” the younger huffed a laugh at his brother’s recounting.

“Rain’s always been doing too much,” Flash spoke up from the kitchen, where he was sipping an herbal brew at the table. “All he ever does is babysit and try to contain us. He’s older than our parents, so that makes him the literal, grumpy old man.”

“He did always tell me not to cause trouble for Lady Lané...” Fauna’s dreaded tone reflected her own strained experience with the water sprite.

“You and my brother were the only ones that ever stood up to him,” Thunderquake said with a boyish smile, looking beside him at his mate. “I thought you were as brave as my mother, watching you grow into your domain. Primal and grounded, you truly are the raw beauty in Nature.”

“This conversation derailed real quick,” Jake grunted as he ran a hand through his dark locks. Jaime thought she noticed some color in his cheeks though.

“I get what you mean, Thunder,” Flare mused, staring ahead of himself. “Chelsea’s a lot like mom, too. I like her cool passion that still has spikes of heat when she gets mad. She makes me feel... warm.”

“I mean,” Flash glanced at his baby brother with surprise, “I knew you liked dancing with her, but I didn’t think you got the mushy bug like Thunder, kiddo. Am I the only one that doesn’t have anyone to stare at like I’m drunk?”

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right match yet?” Jaime finally spoke up, turning to look at the lightning Element. “Not everyone finds love at the same time. I’m sure, once you take time to make peace with yourself, there could be someone ready for you, too.”

“Whoever it is,” Fauna smirked to glance at him as well, “I get the feeling they’ll make the world slow down if not stop for you.”

“You think so?” Flash blinked curiously.

As the group carried on their light conversation, Jaime turned back to Flora. She still looked lost. They knew how much she worried about Rain, so hearing the new perspectives on his behavior must have stunned her further. Fauna had released her to turn away, so the youth reached to hold her friend’s hand. Flora reacted this time, but they just sat quietly, gripping each other’s hand for support.

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