Nature Calls, Autumn

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The Shifting Tides

Hysteria’s mind buzzed with intrusive thoughts...

Who are you...? You don’t belong here... Why do you exist...? I wish I could hit it with my car... How are you doing this...? Daemons...

It was impossible to tell if they were his or someone else’s words. The women’s combined aura compelled him to listen, as if they were related to the thoughts echoing inside him. He didn’t fully understand how to answer them or himself, but the towering Avatar longed to for some reason.

As the Elements flooded from the front door, he finally sensed Bedlam’s panic beside him. He turned to access what was wrong, reaching to pick her up. Finally able to breathe easier, Bedlam pulled herself closer for comfort. The Avatars glanced at one another a moment - realizing they had both experienced something powerful - before turning toward the approaching Elements. The quiet Avatar backed away toward Spiral.

“Don’t draw them over here!” Spiral cried with fury. “Can either of you do anything on your own?!”

“W-What should I do?” Flare asked nervously. Thunderquake and Fauna had already taken off after the shaken Avatars, but the younger Element hung back, unsure how to engage.

“You’re physically strong, Flare. You can protect them, Rain’s voice rippled as softly in his transparent form, resting a wet hand on the tremulous shoulder. “Freja, Kristen, Pauline, whatever you’re doing, keep it up. We’ll face them while your combined will weakens them.”

“Freja’s death glare is hereditary,” Kristen smirked at Spiral’s panicked face, imagining Leon’s face in the same manner, “ I heard her dad’s eyes alone can stop a reindeer in its tracks from Adrian.”

“Aye,” Freja smirked at the mentioned memory, “but you and Paulie always capture a room with that attractive aura.”

“I turned some heads back in the day,” Pauline confessed with a charming smile.

“Good to know,” Rain acknowledged as he turned his fluid head toward the house. “Flash, you want in on this?”

“You bet, old-timer!”

Flash chimed up from the doorway before zapping straight into Rain without even a flinch from the water man. Though trapped within, the stemming branches of lightning flowed through Rain like nerves. His surface took on a milky shell as the water sprite bubbled around the streaks before running to join the others.

“You aren’t alone, Flare,” Gust’s voice spoke gently on a breeze. Flare glanced around him with relief. “I can stretch further out while you directly engage if they get past me. We’ll keep them safe as a team.”

“I think I can handle that,” the younger Element huffed lightly, trying to sound braver than he was.

Hysteria backed away from Spiral with Bedlam still in his arms. The Avatar appeared torn. The energy radiating off the humans called to him, but Bedlam seemed hurt by it. Based on how tightly she clung to him, he didn’t want her feet on the ground right now. The presence was growing, and he saw Spiral had started to feel its effects as well.

“Bedlam,” the quiet Avatar asked softly, “think you could use your vines if I hold you?”

“I have to be on the ground,” she whimpered anxiously. Clinging tighter, the earth Avatar cried, “Please don’t drop me! I don’t want to be that helpless again!”

“That’s all right,” he answered without hesitation. Bedlam looked up at him, surprised, but he was busy looking around for another option. “I can sense the energy, so I’ll try to find a place it won’t touch you.”

“Why are you helping me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Hysteria asked without looking down at her, perplexed by her confusion. “We all came from the same meteor, so we’re supposed to be in this together, right?”

Bedlam’s dumbfounded gaze stared up at him, recalling Winter’s words back on Buyan earlier that day. He and Summer had been born from a single source, but Nature had given them a sense of self after making contact. Set free, they fought for their right to exist. Was that what he meant when he said she didn’t grasp her own existence yet? Could Hysteria fathom the answer somehow? How? She’d never said anything to Spiral or him after returning from the island. Unless...

“Maybe you’re right...” She said breathlessly. “We need to get to Spiral.”

“But what if he tries to cut us?”

“I think I understand your role now,” Bedlam spoke in a warm tone. “We didn’t understand the nature of our design. You might have evolved further than-”

Hysteria suddenly flew forward. His dark orbs swelled from pain, but his weak voice could barely muster a moan. Tossing Bedlam away from him, the larger Avatar crashed onto the loose stone driveway, skidding on his side into the main road. The earth Avatar yelped where she rolled in the thick grass, but she knew the toss had been to protect her. Bracing on her hands where she landed - still griping her rod - she screamed desperately.

Hysteria! Get up! You have to get up!”

Whipping her head around, she saw Thunderquake’s titan form stomping toward the street, shaking the ground with each step. Before she could get to her feet, teeth sank into where her skirts and coat gathered behind her back, tugging backward and pinning her down. She tried swatting the wolf behind her, but the beast carefully avoided her reach with her crouch.

“Let me go!” Bedlam grunted behind her. “Spiral! Help!”

“Deal with it yourself!” The other snarled as he barely managed to avoid Rain’s steaming, white form.

Spiral sensed danger the closer his opponent came to him, but his movements were too slow to properly counterattack the alarming speed. The punches and kicks just kept flying, and without any pattern, Spiral couldn’t predict where the fluid form would go strike next in the steamy haze. Jumping onto Kristen’s car, it was all Spiral could do to move again as a roaring fist rammed into the roof, sending a spray of boiling water across the surface of the car with a shrill hiss. The splash scalded the rocks and grass around the cars, producing a new wall of steam. Spiral trembled at the sight, but all he could do was continue his defensive retreat.

Hysteria blinked as the stun started to clear. The further away from the women he was the more his sluggishness became. Had he always been this weighed down? The rumbling ground warned him of Thunderquake’s barreling approach. All the quiet Avatar noticed was Bedlam’s distress, and Spiral wasn’t helping her.

“Bed...lam...” Hysteria grunted as he pushed himself away in just enough time to avoid Thunderquake’s fist, crashing into the ground.

The impact rocked the whole street all the way back to the house and the surrounding radius. Screeching wheels caught both titans’ attention as Adrian’s crew cab truck tried to regain control after the massive tremor rippled through the road. The behemoth Element ran in fright to grab the truck as the fishtail started to roll. With his grounded strength, Thunderquake managed to grab the truck mid-flip, but he dropped to his knees as the inertia passed through him into the ground. His low growl turned into a thunderous scream as he absorbed the full impact, hoping to prevent further injury to the driver.

Fauna whimpered with fright at the sound. Releasing Bedlam from her pinned position, the wolf ran quickly to her mate. Shifting shortly before reaching him, a large gorilla’s hands eased his burden, so they could set the truck upright once more.

Hysteria didn’t waste time watching the feat that left Bedlam stupified. Back on his feet, he ignored the black fluid seeping down the right side of his face where he’d scraped along the ground. With his hood fallen back, his pallid forehead revealed no stone as Bedlam and Spiral possessed, and the earth Avatar appeared fixated on the detail as he helped her to stand.

“What’s wrong?” The weary Avatar asked as he tried to even his breathing. “Why are you staring at me?”

“It was there... all along...” She stammered as the full picture began to form in front of her swollen, black orbs. “How did we not see...? We were completely wrong...”

“Bedlam, we have to get you away from the energy field,” Hysteria quieted her. “It’ll get Spiral if we don’t stop him.”

“What do you mean...?”

“Look!”

Hysteria pointed at the clash behind them. Bedlam looked over her shoulder, watching the boiling water sprite guide Spiral toward the range of the energy field. He must have realized they could overwhelm his logical approach, distracting him into falling victim to the energy’s influence. As much as she wanted to help, the earth Avatar couldn’t deny what she now understood. There was no time to try explaining herself. Spiral hadn’t listened to either of them once, so why would he now? That didn’t stop Hysteria from trying though...

“Spiral!” Hysteria yelled as loud as he could with his weak voice, running toward the fight. “Look out!”

“Hysteria,” Bedlam tried to catch up with him, but her skirts weren’t designed for chasing, “wait!”

Spiral glanced toward their strained cries to notice the towering Avatar pointing at the lawn in front of the house. It was just the hint he needed to collect himself. Rather than try to attack directly, he focused on the connection between his third-eye stone and baton, producing a silver gleam from both. Slicing behind him, he cut a new fissure in the air, falling through it before making contact with the grass a few feet below the tear in space. The last thing Rain saw before losing sight of the Avatar was a wicked smirk, as if inviting him to follow.

Rain halted quickly before falling in after the Avatar, flipping over it toward Gust’s field of wind. As the Elements paused to reaccess the situation, Hysteria didn’t stop, waving for Bedlam to follow him. He did wait for her to reach the slice, helping her through first before following. The tear didn’t close though, much to everyone’s concern. What were they planning?!

“Whadya think, Rain?” Flash’s crackling voice asked through the filter of boiling water. The conductive state seemed to slow his usual rapid thoughts enough to think, but even he knew they didn’t have time to hesitate. “We have the advantage here, not wherever that goes.”

“I know,” Rain answered came like a rolling boil, “but we can’t afford to drag this out much longer. Without Lané to restore us, those things could weather us down. What do you think, Gust?” Rain’s bubbling form turned to face the field of wind. “I don’t want to risk human lives any more than you, but the Avatars are after them as much as us.”

“Perhaps we should ask Skye,” Gust suggested. Dropping the swirl, he materialized beside the boiling man. He couldn’t hold back the disapproving glance at Rain’s physical state. “Are you sure you should keep him in there this long?”

“It will keep his emblem safe,” Rain replied flatly. “It’s not as if I’m harmed by extreme heat anyway.”

They glanced down the driveway as Adrian finally parked. Thunderquake and Fauna walked up to the driver-side door, ensuring he was all right, but the door flew open as the husband rushed to check on his wife, raving in Norweigan. The Elements didn’t have any difficulty understanding him though, hanging their heads at the destruction they had caused around the home.

“We deserved that,” Fauna winced after Adrian pointed at the steaming driveway around Kristen’s car.

“I don’t think he’s mad at anyone though,” Thunderquake pointed out with a little shrug as his muscles still ached. “That did sound like, ’What were you thinking trying to fight fey?′ to me.”

“You might be right, love.”

“So I just checked on Flora’s dad...” Flare spoke up from the threshold of the doorway. “He doesn’t look too good, guys.”

The older Elements gathered at the window to look inside. Skye was unconscious in the chair. Flora was calling his name as Jaime looked outside with a blank stare. Jake couldn’t seem to get her to respond as Leif and Chelsea rushed in to try helping him.

“This can’t continue,” Rain said in a remorseful tone. “No more tears. I can’t watch her shed another tear.”

“We’re with you, Rain,” Flash spoke up. “Flare stay with Chels and the gang. Leave the Avatars to us.”

“Are we sure about this?” Gust stepped between the fissure and his friends. “We only had the upper hand because of human aide. Without Skye to tell us the strength of the streams, we’re right back to where we were before.”

“Divide and conquer,” Fauna said darkly, “as Father would say.”

“If Flash and I stay on top of Spiral,” Rain addressed them all, “Fauna and Gust should be able to overwhelm Bedlam. That just leaves Thunderquake with the last one. Can you handle that?”

“He’s weaker away than them, but I won’t let my guard down,” the titan Element answered.

“Let’s hope we can resolve this, so the tree can release Lané,” the boiling sprite said as he walked past a saddened Gust. “Aren’t you the one always telling us to have faith?”

“Believe in Creation,” the fey Element replied wearily. “Mother said that from the gravest destruction grows the most beauty, but how much will it cost us to end this, Rain?”

“As much as it takes to keep the ones that can’t fight from harm,” Rain’s voice crackled as if he might have choked up a bit.

“For my leaf and his clan... I would give everything.”

The Elements felt the weight of his words in their chests. This was really it. No more hiding from the monsters chasing them. Flare watched his brother and friends walk into the fissure together, gawking in horror at how useless he was to need protecting.

“It can’t end like this...” The fire Element sniffled, rubbing his palms against his hot teary eyes. “We can’t let it end like this, can we?!”

“We have to go.”

Everyone looked toward Jaime when she finally spoke. She had gone complete dissociation on them, but now, she sounded as grounded as when she faced Jocelyn in front of the whole school. Chelsea and Leif held their breath as Jake’s jaw dropped.

“The four of us and the Elements have to fight together,” she looked her friends in the eyes as she spoke firmly. “This was just a taste of the Will O’Oak channeling through people. It’s been calling for us to help, and we answered that night on Buyan. You’re not crazy, Leif. We should have been on your level all along. The best will come if we stick together,” the youth looked back at Flora with her usual blank expression, “all of us.”

“All of us,” Flora replied, reaching to take Jaime’s hand. “Flare, we need to catch up with the others. If we want a miracle, we’ll make one happen.”

“So we’re back to screaming and hoping they run away...” Jake sighed heavily as he started for the door. Everyone blinked with surprise at his sudden willingness. “That’s all I got right now till someone tells me different.”

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