There was stillness for a moment, nagging the youth’s curiosity. Suddenly, Chelsea found herself inside a swell of liquid fire, and there were frightful screams echoing over the roars. The heat was still there, but she noticed the flows of lava were raging around her, as though it were trying to escape something. Was this a vision like the echoes she’d heard of her mother?
“FALL!!!” The monstrous cries wailed over the roar of the rushing flame rivers. “FALL HURT! FALL HURT!”
Chelsea felt Flare move in her grasp, but she couldn’t see herself or him. Since they seemed only to observe the scene around them, she held him firmly in place. She could sense his worry as his thoughts flowed into her own. He recognized this as his father’s voice, but he’d never seen this level of power from him. It didn’t take long for Flare to find his father in a maelstrom of lava in their shared vision.
Summer’s skin had split open in cracks all over his skin, pouring magma from within. His eyes were scorched husks as lava flowed like tears down his broken face. The sight frightened both the human and Element, but just when they feared they might be swept away in the burning flood, a billowing wind was heard.
“SUMMER!” Autumn’s disembodied voice screamed as funnels pushed the lava aside. The cooling flows formed glossy layers into walls, floor, and ceiling, but Summer still had lava seeping out of his fast, turning into funnels against the cooling touch. “SUMMER, I’M SO SORRY! PLEASE, LET ME IN!”
“I KNOW I HURT YOU! I WANT TO HELP YOU NOW THOUGH! PLEASE FORGIVE ME! I CAN’T BEAR TO WATCH YOU LIKE THIS!”
“FALL...!” Summer’s voice choked as he reached up wearily into the air, “Fall... not... hate...?”
“No...” Autumn’s own voice sobbed as she materialized above him, reaching for his hand. Tears streamed down her face to his frightened face, gripping the scorching hands. “I was scared, but I don’t hate you... I promised I would keep your head cool, remember? I know how much pain you’re in, so please let me help you!”
The steam rising off their grasped hands cooled down Summer’s arms and into his trunk. Once it reached his core, the flow stopped bleeding from him, sealing up the cracks. Autumn set down in front of him, pulling his head down to touch her forehead. Watery tears of relief flowed as his eyes reformed before squeezing shut. Slumping to the ground, the Seasons cried together in an embrace.
“If you can forgive me when my mind gets the better of me,” Autumn sniffled as she pet Summer’s fried hair, “I won’t run away ever again.”
“I’m sorry... I lost control...” Summer sobbed into her shoulder. “But I’ll do better... I promise I won’t fall apart again...”
As the scene faded away, Chelsea and Flare could finally see one another. Instead of being back in the park though, they found themselves floating surrounded by stars. Looking about wildly, they both gripped each other’s hand as if it might keep them from falling.
“Where are we?!” Flare yelped.
“I think... space?”
“How are we in space?! I can’t even go too far into the atmosphere without fainting!”
“Maybe it’s more like we’re seeing space then,” Chelsea mused as she tried to think of Autumn’s advice. “Remember what I said about you having the key to your own evolution inside you from your parents? Your mom was made by Lady Lané, right? Maybe this is where your dad came from?”
“So... my dad really wasn’t made by Lady Lané at all...?” Flare’s voice died as the answer came to him. “That woman said we had Avatar blood, so that must mean my dad was... one of them...”
“That’s not a bad thing, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Flare asked aghast. “Avatars try to destroy worlds!”
“But Lady Lané made him a part of her world, so he had a choice not to,” Chelsea countered with a smile. “That means you have a choice in how you use your element, too. You just have to stop rejecting it.”
“But it could burn the whole world!”
“If you let it,” she retorted with a firm grip. “Reach deep, Flare! You haven’t even had a taste of what you’re capable of! I can feel it! Maybe it’s your mom inside me, but I just know you have something just as powerful as Lightning and Thunderquake sleeping inside of you!”
Flare’s eyes shimmered with tears. Seeing her beaming smile and tears of her own, the fire Element felt warmth in his chest where pain had once been. The light huff of her laugh made something in his core flicker. Her grip made him feel at ease, like when his mom would sing to him.
“Come, my children. Hear the howl,” Chelsea sang in an alto tone she’d never possessed before, “of the planet’s stomach growl. As she hungers, so do we. As you slumber, so does she.”
Flare’s cool magma eyes swelled as he suddenly saw something growing from behind Chelsea as she sang. The closer it grew the warmer the color in his transfixed eyes. When his eyes were the brightest of yellows, he realized what was behind them.
“What is it, Flare?” Chelsea looked behind her at last, gaping at a massive star. All around it were short bursts of gaseous tongues, rising and dispursing from the surface. Every single one of them made her think of Flare for some reason. “Oh my god... Flare... that’s it! This is your key!”
“I know...” He replied in a muted voice, “... which is why you have to let me go.”
“What?” She whipped her head around to see his eyes weren’t just white. They looked like glowing orbs of starlight. “But I-!”
“Do you trust me?”
She clenched her jaw to hold back her pleas. This was it. She’d helped him find his key, so he wouldn’t need her anymore. Still, she wanted him to find himself as well, so she nodded her head as her face twisted with fresh tears.
“Then let me burn.”
Chelsea’s voice choked as she let go of Flare’s head. That was when she realized he had reached to hold her head as well. His trembling hands pulled back as the fire Element tripped over his feet trying to stand up. Tears fell down her face as she watched the glowing veins, reminded of his father’s cracked skin. She reached after him as he stumbled out of Leif’s wind barrier, unable to look away from what was about to happen.
“Hot...” Flare groaned as he gripped his head and shoulder. “It’s so hot...! Ah!"
As the heat coursed through him like a fever, Flare felt some of it rising off of him in wisps. Clawing at his jacket sleeves, his inhumanly strong fingers tore the leather at the seams, ripping them down his arms to see the red and orange tongues on his skin. Throwing his head back to scream, he could feel a burst coming on, but he didn’t try to hold it in this time. Suddenly, Flare combusted into the very gaseous vapors he’d seen in the vision.
"FLARE!" Chelsea screamed, standing to run out to the place he’d burst. Just when she escaped the wind’s touch, she saw the gas hadn’t dispersed at all and was actually condensing back down. In a flash just as sudden as his burst, a slightly taller Flare stood gasping as if he were coming up for air. “Flare...?”
The fire Element had evolved, but he looked about Flash’s age now. His bare arms had filled in, and there were still wisps of gas licking off his skin. His tremulous orbs locked onto her looked as vibrant as the star she’d seen in their vision. The more anxious he became the more tongues popped up. Shaking her head, the youth walked closer to him with her arms open.
“No!” Flare cried in a deeper voice that made him jump to hear. “No, Chels! I’ll burn you!”
“No, you won’t,” she said softly, reaching to wrap her arms around his neck that were higher than she was used to. There was an initial hiss when they embraced, but it was as if the heat was instantly cooled. “See? Just fine, you solar flare.”
“Technically, I think he’s more of a solar prominence, but I can see where that wouldn’t make a good name,” Jaime mused from still inside the barrier, watching the pair with Jake.
"Just... let 'em have this, Jay," Jake wiped tears of relief from his eyes as he huffed a laugh.
“Think you can go kick some Avatar butt now?” Chelsea leaned back to look the Element in the eye.
“Yeah,” Flare replied with the same soft eyes, “so look after my brother and Flora for us, okay? I think you have a wind of your own you could dance up, too.”
“You think so?” She blushed bashfully.
“I know so.” Pulling her arms away from his shoulders, the heat Element stepped back toward the lake. He held her hopeful gaze a moment before turning to join the fight.
Chelsea back away as well, thinking about the song in her head. Did Autumn even dance? Maybe she was hiding secret talents, too. As she neared the barrier, she felt her feet itching to tap.
“Oh? I hear you, Autumn,” Chelsea smirked at the inspiration. Falling into the stream, her feet kicked up a storm of cool winds from her feet. Whirling about herself, the youth fell into the motion her body moved her in. Grinning from ear to ear, she knew she’d never felt more alive than that moment.
Flora looked up at the two dancers. She knew that was Leif and Chelsea out there, but she could have sworn she saw Spring and Autumn, dancing together in the winds. Smiling, she wondered if she too could try something passed down from her mother.
Reach into the wet grass around Flash’s cracked emblem, Flora tried to make the grass grow faster. She had seen what Bedlam could do, so why couldn’t she? Furrowing her brow, she didn’t feel a response.
“Please... regrow new...!”
Jaime knelt on the other side of Flash’s motionless form. She knew Flora was trying to mend his emblem, but she could tell her friend wasn’t ready yet. Reaching out to touch both pale hands, Jaime whispered softly.
“Don’t force it, Flora. You know how to make it grow, so do what you know.”
Flora looked up helplessly. Jaime’s reassuring face reminded her of how patient they had been with one another today. Hadn't they told her father that earlier? Nodding, she closed her eyes again. This time grass did grow up around the damaged emblem, bracing the broken gem.
“I did it! I just hope it will hold until Mother returns.”
“What do we do now?” Gust grunted as his winds calmed at the lack of resistance. Across the lake, the vines were still blocking out much of their view, but the tendrils were moving sluggishly now.
“She doesn’t have much fight left in her,” Fauna sighed heavily. “We can wait her out. These vines aren’t even trying to touch us.”
“What about him?” Thunderquake glanced down at the pod at their feet. Hysteria was still fighting to get free, and without Bedlam’s focus, he would eventually untangle himself. “Is he really just their grunt? I thought that Spiral said there were two other Pillars beside Lady Lané."
"Flora's father said he was one," Gust mused on the subject, "and the Will O'Oak was the other. Does he play into that somehow?"
"Whatever he is," the feral Element spoke wearily, "they seem to be just as much in the dark as we are."
"Thunder!" Flare called in his new voice. The Elements looked at one another, trying to think of who that could be. "Gust! Fauna! I know what we have to do!"
Gust wove through the vines in search of the other Element. When he discovered the newly evolved Flare, even the fey Element was stunned into stillness. The flame Element moved through the vines in a rhythmic motion, sweeping his arms and legs forward to cast the flammable ribbons around him. Scorching the vines, the licks of visible gas burned through Bedlam's jungle throng, but not a single blade of grass was harmed.
"Is that you, Flare?"
"Yeah!" The younger Element laughed awkwardly as he danced forward. "I had a growth spurt, but I saw something really important! We gotta end this quick!"
"I think I know how to speed things along," the wind Element mused as his breeze swirled around Flare. "May I have this dance?"
Flare grinned as his body started to dissolve into the very tongues of gaseous wisps wafting off of him. The two Elements became a flaming funnel, billowing through the black tendrils in perfect sync. Fauna and Thunderquake smiled in awe at the feat, proud of the young Element's growth.
"What's the play here?" Gust asked genuinely.
"We break the staff," Flare replied, "and she's cut off from the Principles. With my heat, she's defenseless enough for you to grab it. Shatter that black crystal!"
"Great! Then we only have Spiral, since the big oaf is apparently useless!"
"What...?" Gust's voice grew small, "What do you mean?"
"Hysteria is the most dangerous Avatar of the three," Flare's tone brewed with dread. "He has no emblem, meaning his soul is inside him like a human."
There wasn't time to ask for clarification as they broke through to Badlam's defeated boundary. Her black eyes gawked at the terrifying phenomena billowing toward her, frozen in fear. The Elements broke apart, casting Flare's flaming tongues across the field in a wave. Striking Bedlam's core, the Avatar cried out in pain as she fell backward. Gust snatched the scepter from her loosened grip, carrying it into the air.
As Bedlam fell, she felt intense pressure in her forehead. Once she hit the ground, her agonizing voice wreathed as she grasped her third eye stone. Gust materialized behind the scepter his dense winds were crushing. This was what Flare had meant about destroying their emblems, but seeing what it did to them made him feel as bad as them.
"I'm sorry," he whispered down to the wailing Avatar as the crystal in her scepter finally cracked.
Hysteria broke free just in time to see the shattered pieces of the crystal drift away from of Gust. The vines that hadn't been burnt to a crisp withered instantly and fell away. The gentle Avatar's gaze fell to the ground below the wind Element, finding Bedlam slumped in silence.
"Bed...lam..." His broken voice trembled as he crawled out of the vined pod. Standing upright, tears poured down his pallid cheeks as an emotion he'd never known before rose up in his chest. He broke into a run to reach her. "Bedlam!"