Rain immerged from the fissure first, discovering it was in mid-air! Still fused with Flash, he couldn’t disperse into vapors to avoid free-falling, and there wasn’t time to warn the others as they followed through the fissure behind him. As he plunged toward the grass below, he noticed his surroundings. This was the park beside Lake Pierre. Why had Spiral come back here after their last clash?
Gust caught Rain’s boiling form in a swirl just before he crashed face-first into the soaked grass. The fey Element’s winds had seeped through the portal just in case they met an ambush. Thunderquake fell through next, splashing feet first beside Rain’s hovering form. Fauna soared down in her Perigrine falcon form, sitting on his right shoulder. Gust rotated Rain to set the hybrid sprite upright, knowing the form wasn’t as fluid as he was used to. The mud instantly dried under his hot feet.
Bedlam’s frightened cry drew their attention. The usually cunning Avatar was laughing hysterically from euphoria. Hysteria and Bedlam cowered away from him as he gripped the soft bank of the lake, letting the wet earth pass through his fingers. Still gripping his baton with his last two digits, Spiral smiled at the grainy soil, trembling with bliss.
“So wonderful of you to accept my offer to continue,” the loopy daemon cackled without looking away from the edge of the lake. Flicking his wand at the heavens, the fissure in the air sealed like a zipper. The Elements turned upward in awe at the feat, feeling a chill of dread wash over them. Had that phenomenon always been that easy for him? “It seems my instincts led us back to where we started. Splendid! Now that I grasp more of my limit’s potential, I look forward to completing my purpose!”
“Listen to me, Spiral,” Bedlam pleaded paces ahead of the Elements. Fists gripped the scepter pressed against her chest trying to reason with him, “I know what we were created to accomplish, but the Principles misunderstood our design. Before it’s too late, we can adapt-”
“There is no other purpose than the principle design!?” Spiral snarled, whipping his face about to bear clenched teeth at her. Hysteria stepped between them as Bedlam balked anxiously at the feral expression on the other’s face. “This faulty planet will not corrupt my existence!? Nature’s Pillar must have taken root when you failed to crush the crystal! Not me! I will find my Pillar! It was here! I can feel it!?”
“Spiral,” Hysteria spoke wearily when Spiral returned to staring at the ground before him, “you don’t sound like yourself.”
“Do you not feel the energy here?!” The fascinated daemon threw his head back in ecstasy with his arms outstretched in welcome. “It’s invigorating! I’ve never felt such stimulation! It must be the Pillar! Where is it?!”
“Well, I feel called out,” Flash’s voice groaned as the Elements observed the scene, recalling his rush after a game of tag. “Sorry if I ever looked like that. This is cringy.”
“Apology accepted,” Thunderquake replied without missing a beat, making Fauna cover her beak for a snicker.
“We need to move,” the bubbling sprite reigned them in. “Stick to the plan. Let’s wrap this up.”
Bedlam turned about at Rain’s roaring boil of a voice. Further panic bloomed in her chest. Spiral was falling apart, and they needed to reel him in before the Elements would ever consider hearing her out. Hysteria was already injured trying to protect her. The earth Avatar knew they couldn’t afford to lose him, but there wasn’t time to explain anything to anyone.
“Hysteria,” she drew the other Avatar’s attention behind him, “I don’t have time to explain, but the Elements can’t harm you! You need to escape now before they have a reason to!”
“I’m not leaving you or Spiral,” the towering Avatar looked between their two obstacles, “so whatever you have to say, we’ll talk after we get through to him. The best will come if we stick together.”
Gust hesitated after materializing at the phrase he’d just heard. How could this Avatar know that human mantra? After hearing Leif and the others use it so often, the fey Element knew it carried the conviction of human will, so why would an Avatar use it?
“What’s the matter?” Fauna lingered back when her brother froze.
“The big one...” Gust mused aloud, “He just said something strange...”
“Gust,” the falcon cawed urgently, “we don’t have time to linger! The woman is ours to tackle! Let Thunder deal with him!”
“I just-” Realizing his sister wasn’t listening, the fey Element dropped the line of questioning. Something didn’t sit right with him though, but what could it be? If only his leaf were there to ask...
Thunderquake reached Hysteria first, throwing his large fist for the Avatar’s face. The taller Avatar managed to catch the fist, but again, his strength wasn’t enough to force the Element back. Bedlam watched Rain’s boiling form rush toward Spiral, rounding Hysteria to try defending the delirious daemon.
“Spiral, look out!” Sweeping her twisted specter skyward, her vines sprang forth to shield him.
Suddenly, the cruel daemon sliced through her vines, stunning Rain into pausing. Spiral’s contempt pierced Bedlam’s gaze. The earth Avatar took a step back, trembling fearfully.
“I have no need for another defect.”
Bedlam lowered the scepter as her chest tightened. For some reason, the words wounded her deeper than before. She never had understood why she longed for Spiral’s approval, but unlike his previous insults, this left a hollowness in her core. If it hadn’t been for Hysteria’s grunts of struggle, Bedlam might have succumbed completely to this newfound heartache.
The cry of the falcon triggered vines to rise to her defense, but the quickly woven boundary was no match for the swirl of wind. Something tugged at her scepter, so her grip tightened with both hands. Her concentration was torn keeping the animal shifter away along with her invisible struggle.
“Bedlam...!” Hysteria growled hoarsely as he looked over his shoulder. She would be overwhelmed in no time, but he couldn’t break away from his stalemate with the titan Element. Spiral was on his feet though, swiping his baton at the bubbling figure. “We have... to stick... together...!”
“It seems your fellow Avatars don’t grasp the concept well enough,” Thunderquake rumbled as his fingers laced with Hysteria’s in their fierce stalemate. “This ends today.”
Grinding his snow-white teeth, the quiet Avatar looked into the flickering irises. The orange and blue ring around the dilated pupils wavered like a flame on a wick as adrenaline fueled the Element’s strength enough to make Hysteria’s knees buckle. Before he fell to a kneel though, the Avatar headbutted the other’s forehead, stunning the behemoth Element enough to regain his footing in the still muddy grass but no more.
Rain found his advantage had been halved by the change in location. Not only had Spiral become more precise with his slices in the air, but the slightest flick of his wrist produced visible slices, flying toward him. How had he gotten this much stronger with less control than before? It was all Rain could do to harness Flash’s reflexes to dodge, trying to close the gap to land a hit.
“Rain,” Flash’s voice called anxiously, “are you sure I’m not holding you back? Maybe you’d fair better by going at him the way you usually handle me?”
“You might have a point, but I’m nowhere as quick as this on my own. We’ll think of something as long as we keep inching closer to him. I don’t think he’ll be nearly as hard to crack once we close the distance.”
“I sure hope we have the time for that,” the lightning Element sighed heavily. “The trees behind us are taking a real beating.”
“Then we have to focus on cutting off his distance. I’m sure one hit is all we need to bring him down.”
“It seems without that bothersome effect,” Spiral taunted his opponent with a wild-eyed grin, “you weren’t much of a threat after all. I’m almost disappointed in myself for not pushing back sooner!” He paused to laugh before growing suddenly serious, glaring blankly as he flicked his baton at the sprite. “I asked you once already. Where are the two remained Pillars?”
“As though we would tell you!” Rain roared as he dipped under the last slice. Pulling back his right arm for an uppercut, Spiral reached forward into Rain’s head. The sprite froze in shock as the Avatar groped at the Element inside him. “Flash... get out of there...!”
“I... can’t!” Flash wailed in fright at being touched in his true form. Slowly, the Avatar pulled the raw lightning out of the boiling water, ignoring the darkening burns on his flesh. “Rain... what’s he doing?!”
“Stop...!” Rain cried desperately, reaching to hold the Avatar’s wrist. “Get out of my body...!”
“It would seem you and I vibrate on a similar wavelength,” Spiral mused at the futile struggle. “That pest inside you was masking it from me, but I sense it inside you...” The wicked daemon lowered his voice to a whisper. “You know where my Pillar is... don’t you.”
“Rain!” Gust cried once he noticed the terrifying scene by the lake. “Hang on! I’m coming!”
“No! Stay back!” The guardian bellowed, “This one’s different from yours!”
“Indeed,” Spiral groan with annoyance, “and I’ve had just enough of this obscenity tainting you.”
Jabbing his baton into Rain’s chest, a flash of light exploded from within the water sprite. Everyone paused, waiting for the light to dim away. There was no sound, even the boiling bubbles had silenced. By the time everyone was able to look, Element and Avatar alike fixated on a harrowing sight. Flash - in Spiral’s grasp - was held in the air by his face with steaming puddles scattered about the grass.
"Lightning!" Thunderquake cried with rage as he broke away from the stunned Hysteria to rush for his twin.
In response to the outcry, Spiral tossed Flash’s limp form toward the onlookers with a bored expression. As the defenseless Element flew backward, the daemon lifted his baton for a final slash to rid himself of the nuisance once and for all. Thunderquake’s orbs swelled as he realized he couldn’t possibly make it in time to save his brother a second time.
“Though our wills may clash, and the sky lights flash, may we all ne’er forget unity,” Leif’s voice drifted over the trees as a cool gale swept over the park. Spiral stared up at the painted sunset sky with cold fury. As if a hand had grasped the fragile Element mid-fall, they watched Flash lifted into the air as the song’s climax heralded the cavalry’s arrival. “For with each hand clasped, when all hope seems dashed, we are never alone! Here we’re free!”
Leif appeared above the tree canopy with his friends, engulfed in a swirl of wind. Each of the youths held hands as they came into view, and Flare was at the center. The same energy from the house had returned, but it was in the air now, sapping the crazed daemon's strength instantly. Bedlam shuttered as her own began to drain as well, but Hysteria shook his head drunkenly as he felt a surge in energy, walking up to Bedlam. It didn’t take long for Leif’s winds to absorb Flash into their protective barrier before setting down on the opposite side of the lake.
“Leif!” Gust called joyously as he hurried to join his beloved. The thought of being one together in the skies elevated his spirits to new highs, but the bliss was short-lived once he saw the young man’s eyes. The sea blue orbs had taken on a feral change, as if he was becoming something else, and the winds licking off of his body appeared ready to dissolve the teenager at any moment. “My leaf... what has happened to you?”
“It’s all right, Gust,” Leif’s voice sounded different to Gust as well, a fey cheeriness. “Just as I anchor your heart, you do the same for my own. The Wunderlust can’t pull me away again.”
Before they could continue, Flare’s frantic cries tore their attention back to the rest of their friends. The younger brother cradled the elder, wailing into his unmoving chest. Gust’s tremulous orbs found the shredded cuffs clinging to Flash’s wrists. With his left arm draped over his torso, the damaged original was completely shattered with no remains of its crystal, and the remains of the other’s cracks revealed soon to follow. Was Flash even alive...?