Nature Calls, Autumn

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The Force of Will

Pauline’s gray sedan parked behind Kristen’s car in the driveway. Turning off her wipers, she opened the door to see if the drizzle had actually let up. She heard the gut-busting laughter coming from behind the house, blinking in surprise.

“So much for needing a pick-me-up...” The mother muttered under her breath. Shaking her head, she exited the car to check on the situation, closing her driver-side door gently.

Walking around the side of the house, she found Rain hugging his stomach. She’d witnessed how rigid the water sprite could be since the youths returned from Buyan. It reminded her of how strained she’d felt growing up. Seeing the tears and wide grin on his face warmed her heart, grateful that Rain had things to laugh about.

The tall stranger made her question what was going on though. From behind, he appeared to be well over six feet tall, perhaps closer to seven. His wet hair clung to his bare arms down to his feet. The caramel complexion was similar to Rain’s, making Pauline wonder if they were connected somehow. As the stranger reached his left hand toward Rain, the mother gawked at the jointed ring on his middle finger, extending into the metal claw.

“Is everything all right, Rain?” Pauline asked from where she stood beside the house, bracing herself. Rain and Skye glanced back at her in surprise, but the sight of their faces made her gasp in awe. “Oh! I didn’t mean to disturb you both! Is this a family member of yours, Rain?”

“Eh...” The water man grinned awkwardly, trying to think of how to describe their relationship to Chelsea’s mother. “Not really. He’s more like the person that made me.”

“Oh, I see,” Pauline said with a curious smile. “They say that man was created in God’s image, so I think I understand. I’m Pauline Kay, Chelsea’s mom. Are you from Buyan as well?”

“No,” Skye answered the woman with an innocent expression, “I was summoned by my daughter from my plane to help. Her mother called me Skye.”

“I always wondered why you had such an obvious name,” Rain huffed with a smirk. ”Lané gave it to you, huh, but where did you come up with her name?”

“Oh! Well,” Skye flushed at the memory of the first time he actually met his beloved, looking down at his clawed hand, “I knew by then that she was the core of the planet from observing the cosmos. Since she was the center of my world, I made a name from the word.”

“Ah, I see,” Pauline cried with a flushed smile. “You took away the p and t to make the name Lané! How poetic! You're a romantic, aren't you?”

Rain glanced at Skye’s bashful pleasure to hear the compliment. The water sprite realized it must be exhilarating and frightening all at once to have so many people to speak to now. Lané had told him that Skye struggled to speak with her early on, so she had helped him over the revolutions. Their first meeting had been silent for the first rotation, as Skye had never used his own voice or heard another before.

Did he even grasp how to fully express his emotions after everything that had happened today? It was finally sunk in that he was Skye’s guardian, and without Lané to help him, the hermit needed guidance in order to understand how to guide them. He had been harsh with him all day, but Skye was still learning about himself let alone the foreign situation they were in. Rain wondered if this was how Flora felt when she gave him her understanding smile.

"The cosmos is filled with inspiration," Skye admitted still struggling to meet Pauline's gaze.

"Well, now that we're better acquainted," the woman hummed lyrically, "would we both mind helping me? Chelsea messaged me earlier that everyone was feeling low after Flash took off earlier today. She asked me to make some of my mother-in-law's seven-layer bars. Tristan helped, so there are a few trays in the car. Think you could lend me those strong arms? Hm-hm!"

Rain nodded, walking up beside Skye. He put a hesitant hand on the hermit's right shoulder. Drawing a curious gaze, the water man sighed heavily with an apologetic smile. Skye smiled with relief to see Rain improve from his earlier, emotive state. Perhaps they could speak more on how to approach each other's isolation later.

The trio returned to Pauline's car to retrieve the snacks. As the mother opened the passenger door, Skye and Rain sensed danger. Instinctively, they moved forward to pull Pauline away from the car. As the frail woman cried in surprise, they watched a fissure tear the place she had been standing.

"Skye!" Rain cried with urgency, "Get Chelsea's mother inside the house! Hurry!"

"Right!" Skye picked up the stunned woman just before Spiral's fingers peeked through the tear in space. Without the resistance he was used to in the streams of the Rift, the hermit quickly reached the front door before the Avatar managed to get the fissure opened.

"Father?" Flora asked as Skye slammed the front door closed behind them. "What's going on?"

"They are here," he replied darkly, looking toward the window.

The Elements gathered to look out the bay window to see the front passenger door fly off Pauline's car. Rain had dispersed into the air, so Spiral was left looking around for his target with frustration. From behind, the fissure looked like a distorted space they couldn't see through. When Bedlam emerged on the other side, she appeared to be getting out of the car. After her, Hysteria stepped through, leaving a pit of anxiety in the onlookers' stomachs.

"How do I explain that to the insurance company...?" Pauline asked dizzily. Skye's speed wasn't on Flash or Gust's level, but the frail woman didn't hold up to sudden movement well.

Freja walked around Skye to see what her friend was talking about. Narrowing her sea blue orbs at the cosmic daemons, her inner Valkyrie sized up the enemy. Knowing these creatures had harmed her child and threatened her clan, the woman felt compelled to have a word.

"We'll cover the repair, Paulie," she said in a dark voice, approaching the front door.

"Freja..." Kristen paused at the entrance to the hall, staring at her friend, "What're you doing...?"

"Going to greet my guests."

Skye suddenly felt lightheaded. His crystalline orbs drifted about the room. There was a rush of energy from the streams coming through. Searching for the source, he was surprised to see Freja Dahl drawing the most through her feet as she opened the door to go outside. Just behind her, Kristen synchronized with her as she crossed the threshold.

"What's going on?" Pauline asked as her wits returned to her. "Who are those people?"

"Avatars of the Principle Cosmos," Skye replied in a dazed voice, "sent to crush our world."

"But why...?" She whispered, perplexed that such a thing could exist.

"We don't fully understand why," he answered sadly, "but their creators built the universe to function to a design. We don't work the way they think we should, so they send Avatars to try to force us."

"Oh really..." Pauline retorted, spurred by the familiar circumstances of her youth. Pulling away from the hermit, he tore his eyes away from the women outside to see the same energy flow into the frail woman. She walked outside to join the others, glaring with defiance at the approaching Avatars.

"This is the house I found before," Hysteria spoke up wearily, admiring the home. "Marc Stevens was close after all."

"I tracked this location myself," Spiral sneered as he narrowed his eyes at the three women standing in the front lawn. "What do these creatures want?"

"Hysteria," Bedlam moaned from behind Spiral, "make them go away."

Sighing heavily, Hysteria walked around the gray car toward the lawn. His voice had to be heard for the mortals to respond, so he had learned to walk close, since he didn't carry much strength to raise his voice. Only a few paces into the grass from the gravel drive, the towering Avatar paused, eying at the women with fascination. What was this presence?

"Which one of you touched my boy?" Freja demand firmly, glaring with the same gaze Leif had given them before.

"Get on with it, drone!" Spiral snapped at Hysteria, waiting on the other side of the car.

"Don't you feel that?" Hysteria asked in an awe-inspired voice. His black eyes shimmered as he looked back at the angry women. "It feels familiar to me."

"Who are you?" Kristen asked genuinely. "Why do you look like my brother?"

"Brother...?" Hysteria blinked, processing her statement.

"Oh, never mind!" Bedlam cried, exasperated by Hysteria's pause. Storming across the gravel toward them, she grunted. "Move aside, defect!"

Suddenly, Bedlam froze, unable to move forward or back. Her dark orbs trembled in the presence of the mortals. The energy washing over her from the storage unit and the lake was stronger than ever. How?! These were supposed to be fragile creatures, right? They had originally thought the Elements had a unique power from their mixed energies, but it seemed the true presence was rooted in the form they had taken after all.

"Spiral..." The earth Avatar shuttered anxiously, "What is this foreign energy...? I don't sense Crystal or Avatar from them..."

"Useless as ever, I see," the cruel Avatar growled. Walking onto the driveway, he stopped to observe his ensnared associates. He sensed the ambiguous energy given off their lost hostage, confirming the suspected source. "It would seem these creatures do have some power."

"Oh, you should never underestimate a mother, defending her children," Pauline projected her voice calmly across the front yard. The direct tone carried strength from years of addressing crowds. "The fiery of a scorned woman pales in comparison to the righteous anger of a loving mother. How dare you threaten my miracle."

Spiral felt the presence strengthen as the three women resonated in synchronized passion. How were they able to render them so weak with just an aura? It was incomprehensible to the cunning Avatar. He couldn't fathom how this played into the Pillars' structure, but he did know that his was somewhere close. Where had it gone?

Inside the house, Skye watched the streams flowing through the women. Their combined drive had generated a field of energy that reached outward. Much to his surprise, the energy's touch gradually drained Bedlam, but the Avatar beside her somehow resonated with it. Spiral was at the very edge of the aura, but once its reach grew, he took a step back.

"How...?" The hermit mused aloud, "How are they channeling the tree's energy that way...? It's paralyzing them..."

"Then, we have a chance to strike back?" Flash asked eagerly, looking back at Skye. Thunderquake and Fauna glanced at one another as the same idea struck them. Flare looked between them nervously, but Flora smiled with understanding.

"I knew we were connected," the plant girl said with resolve.

"Let's do this," Rain materialized at the open door. "Skye, stay here and monitor the streams. Reach out if they start to weaken. Thunder, Fauna, Flare, come on! Someone go find out if Gust is calm enough to help!"

Flash hurried back for Leif and Jake's room to check on Gust. Thunderquake rounded the couch as Fauna shifted to wolf form to leap over it. Flare felt Flora's reassuring touch to his shoulder to go after them. Jaime and Jake gave him a thumbs up before he finally nodded to join the others.

Jaime approached Skye. Reaching for his clawed hand, she drew his attention down to her dark eyes. She smiled softly before pulling him toward the recessed lounging space. His mind was buzzing from the energy, so he had no strength to resist. Flora and Jaime eased him into the single seat.

"Focus on what you can do, Father," his daughter chimed softly. "We all have our strengths, right?"

"Hey, why is the big guy moving now?" Jake asked with concern.

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