The Key Within
“Flash...! Flash...! Talk to me, you stupid jerk...!” Flare sobbed, holding his face to his brother’s trunk, ”Please! I’m begging you! Don’t fade away, too!”
The young Element’s voice carried across the lake. Spiral smirked drunkenly at the heartache, turning his head toward a shellshocked Bedlam. Hysteria frowned at the gloating Avatar from beside her.
“You see, Bedlam,” the intoxicated daemon sneered, “that’s how you dispose of anomalies.”
“I’ll make you regret stepping foot on this world, you cosmic plague.” Thick mist engulfed a surprised Spiral, condensing further. Mudgy humidity saturated the air as Rain’s voice rippled through the vapors, making Spiral shuttered with anticipation as he disappeared from sight. Lifting off the ground, the cloud removed the Avatar from the park completely. “This one is mine.”
Bedlam reached to embrace Hysteria. There was no room to talk now, and it finally struck her that Spiral and she deserved the wrath of these Elements. Hadn’t she destroyed Nature’s guardians in their own home? Guilt gutted her core as silent tears fell from her dark eyes to her pallid cheeks.
There was still hope for Hysteria though. He had always been different in how he approached their mission. If only they had followed his example, maybe the inevitable consequences to come could have been avoided. Gripping the denim jacket when the taller Avatar embraced her, Bedlam furrowed her brow as she summoned the courage to be cruel just once more...
“I told you already...” The earth daemon growled through clenched teeth as she gripped the scepter in her right hand. “Get... out of here!”
Vines sprang from beneath the gentle Avatar’s feet. Hysteria’s dark eyes swelled with anxiety as he was engulfed in a vine cacoon. Pulling at the foliage throng, he tried reaching for Bedlam’s hand as the vines ensnared him.
“Bedlam! Why?!” He begged, watching her stare back at him with a vacant, tear-streaked visage. “You can’t do this alone! Bedlam, please-!”
Back to her humanoid form, Fauna watched the Avatars turning on each other. Her lips parted as she tried to wrap her head around what was happening. Besides the restored strength in Hysteria’s voice, Bedlam’s tears confused her. Had Gust been onto something about things being odd between those two?
“With him out of the way...” Bedlam spoke in a hollow voice, looking back at the feral Element. “... I’m sure you want to know what happened to your parents... right? Don’t you want to know what I did to them? How I watched them fight their true nature without those bothersome breezes?”
“You... blight...!” Fauna choked on her own voice as rage filled her chest. Shifting to her wolf form, she lunged for the Avatar.
“Fauna!” Thunderquake cried as he caught the snarling lupine midair. Holding her with his titan strength, he spoke with force calm as his own anger threatened to overtake him. “Wait a moment. Why would she isolate herself against all of us now? Don’t you see that she’s trying to bait you?”
“You look so much like your father...” Bedlam’s voice trembled as fear coursed through her. “He broke first, you know... after I skewered that woman... What did he call her...? Fall...?”
Thunderquake’s eyes swelled at the name. He knew its history, so knowing his father uttered it after all this time made his blood boil. Regardless of his parents’ fate, the behemoth Element grounded himself, continuing to hold Fauna close. The fury in his gaze wasn’t so easily hidden though.
“You seem to want us to crush you,” his low rubble carried to the earth daemon’s ears. “However, what are you hiding in that vined prison? What reason do you have to protect him so greatly that you would so quickly change your play?”
Sensing the energy weakening her faster, Thunderquake’s words drained Bedlam's morale further. If she truly believed they would listen, she would have told them everything. Spiral had thrown them into a newfound rage that she knew had been brewing since their last encounter in this very park. She deserved it, too. Hysteria though...
“What are waiting for?!” She shrieked, pushing as many new vines out of the ground as she could in her last effort to draw out the destruction she knew they were capable of. “I was created to destroy this world, and I won’t stop until that crystal is in shambles!?”
“Go,” Leif assured the fey Element on the other side of the lake. They couldn’t see inside the swarm of black tendrils what was going on, worrying the fey Element. “I can protect them here.”
“No,” Gust furrowed his brow, turning back to his beloved, “I don’t want you to lose yourself in wind like the others!” Cupping his fingers around the human’s cheek, he pleaded, “I can already see you slipping away from me again...! There has to be another way...”
“There is,” Jaime spoke up from beside them suddenly.
“What do you mean...?” The Element asked the typically quiet human.
“Your mother’s gift was a piece of herself that Lei carries inside him,” she explained in a mellow voice. “He should be able to call her wind without the threat of the Vanishing effect.”
“I don’t know how though,” Leif confessed with a perplexed expression toward his friend. “How do you know all of this, Jay?”
“The tree told me,” the youth replied with a small smile, “and of course you know. It’s the one thing you and Spring both are passionate about.”
“Passionate?” Leif paused to consider everything he had enjoyed with the Season. She had come to visit him several times since Spring Break, and they had become as close as he was with his own mother. Had she shared a personal passion with him?
“Dancing...” The fey Element replied with a relieved smile as tears formed in his eyes. “They both love to dance.”
The young man didn’t need any other hints. A wide smile sprouted on his lips before he stepped back. Pulling off his shoes, he ignored the muddy grass under his bare feet. Looking back at Gust, he smiled like a child.
“I finally get to be a faerie.”
Lifting his right foot up to his left knee, Leif spun about himself in a pirouette over and over. Warm wind flowed from the momentum he kicked up. Gust watched in wonder as he saw Leif smiling blissfully as himself again. Once he felt strong enough, the youth leaped into the air humming Spring familiar lullaby.
“We got things here, Gust,” Jaime said as she stepped backward. Leif was dancing a circle around the group, dragging a warm wind behind him. “Go help the others.”
Nodding, Gust started across the lake in time to see the black vines spring from the earth like a jungle of flailing tendrils. Hurrying to his sister's side, Fauna's fit had calmed. Dispersing to avoid getting struck, the fey youth settled around them to try keeping the wild vines back.
"Did I miss something across the water?"
The feral Element didn't answer, finally noticing what Thunderquake was probing for. Her brother's earlier statement and this desperate behavior grounded Fauna once again. The cocoon of vines was shifting as the Avatar inside tried to free himself. There was only one reason the exhausted daemon would throw everything she had into this tactic.
“Why is she protecting him...?” The feral Element asked genuinely. “Thunder, get the pod. Gust help me clear a path.”
Thunderquake finally set her down as they ran together into Bedlam’s summoned black jungle. Fauna cleared a path for her mate, jumping to knock the wildly shifting limbs out of his way. Gust created a funnel of wind for the titan Element to run straight for the tightening prison. Bedlam screamed as she forced all of her strength into pushing them back toward her, but when Thunderquake’s large hands grasped the coiling cocoon, she nearly fell to her knees in defeat.
“Please...” The earth Avatar wept, “Please don’t...”
“Why then?!” Fauna howled back, crouching in front of the pod, as Thunderquake started to uproot the vines. “Why are you trying to protect him?! Give us one reason not to cast him into the lake right now!”
“Because...!” Bedlam’s voice cracked as fresh tears poured down her face. Truthfully, she still didn’t understand why Hysteria was different from Spiral and herself. All she knew was his behavior toward this world had been curious and intrigued. Until this energy had touched her, she’d never even felt curiosity before, so how could she explain what she wasn’t designed to know?
“Because he’s a defect,” the Avatar wanted to bite her own tongue out using the word. “From the moment we awoke, he had no idea what his purpose was. He’s been nothing but a drone following orders, which he was still frustratingly useless with. But at least... he was kind to me... He hasn't done anything to earn your wrath... so please spare him our fate...”
Thunderquake growled as he finally tore the vines from their roots, holding the pod above him. Fauna shifted quickly to stop him. Their eyes met for a moment before he dropped the cocoon at their feet. They realized none of the vines were even touching them, making them finally understand the Avatar’s reasoning. She didn’t grasp her newfound heart, but it had already taught her to protect innocence. What now though...?
Across the lake, Jaime returned inside the wind barrier. Flora and Chelsea were trying to comfort the crushed fire Element as Jake sat across from his friend. His meltdown was growing worse, and they couldn’t get him to let go of his brother. Jake glanced up at Jaime.
“What should we do?”
“It’s up to Chelsea,” she replied solemnly.
“Me?” Her question sounded more like asking for affirmation rather than confirmation. Jaime nodded sadly. Chelsea bit her lip as she leaned forward to hug Flare from behind. “Flare... you have to let him go.”
“No!” Flare sobbed, painfully, “If I let go, he’ll fade away!”
“You can’t save him by holding him. Trust me... I know how loved ones slip through your hands.”
Her own voice cracked as Flare’s grip slumped, allowing Flora to pulled the older Element away from him. Instead of watching, the fire Element turned to hug Chelsea suddenly, wailing. She let him go on for a moment, holding him just as tightly.
“I’m so useless... What did I think I could possibly offer anyone here...? I can’t protect anything...”
“That’s not true,” Chelsea’s stern tone scolded him through her own tears. She forced him to sit upright, looking him in the eye. “You are the son of Summer and Autumn! I’ve seen you do incredible things, and you aren’t done! Your mother told me we all have the gift of those that came before us to unlock our own evolution. It’s time to find yours, now.”
Flare looked back at her sadly. She could tell he was listening. He just didn’t know how to do what she was asking. It reminded her of the Echo Cave’s voices that held her down. Could she try what Autumn did for her?
“Do you trust me?”
“Always,” he whispered softly with a sniffle.
Reaching with shaky hands, the youth put her hands over his ears. Pulling him toward her, she met his forehead with her own. There was a heat where they touched that startled her, but she grounded herself, knowing she was his key right now.
“Synchronize your breathing with mine.” As they both closed their eyes, it took no time at all to feel the heat wash over her. She felt consumed in flames, but it didn’t hurt a bit. Once she let herself fall deeper, she stopped feeling the wet grass beneath her skirt. Everything faded into nothingness...