Nature Calls, Autumn

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Evolution

“RAIN!!!”

Sandy-brown wet locks lifted off Flora’s shoulders as her bloodcurdling scream echoed through the park. It wasn’t just her voice that was chilling. The grass beneath their feet and the trees surrounding them were trembling, sharing her turmoil. As her hair extended further from her head, her roots bled to a chestnut bark brown, as if to convey the depth of her emotional distress. The very air around her began to contort as an ominous energy wafted off the plant girl. Reaching across the lake with her left hand, she continued an unending scream as the muscles in her hand flexed.

“Flora, no...” Jaime gasped before starting toward her friend.

Before anyone could react to Jaime’s foreboding words, the grass across the park sprang up in a throng of ribbons. As the teens cried out in fright, the earth seemed to move as the rapid growth disturbed the soil. Jake’s first thought was to grab Chelsea and Leif’s hand, pulling them after Jaime.

“Jake! What’re you doing?” Chelsea cried as he dragged her along.

“Sticking with Jay,” he answered with only a hint of anxiety in his voice. “She’s got the answers right now, so we gotta stick together!”

“Ow!” Leif yelped as Jake pulled him along.

“What’s wrong?” Chelsea asked, trying to look toward him.

“The grass! It’s sharp!”

“Try humming a few bards to push it back then,” she called back.

The young man felt foolish for not thinking of it sooner. As the song drifted from his nostrils, the grass brushed away from their path. Jake didn’t waste time catching up to Jaime, but they paused at the sight they discovered by the water.

Jaime had been cut on her hands and face, but she was holding Flora from behind with her left arm, covering her eyes with her right hand. The teenagers recognized the method they used to help her with her own fits. Flora was still screaming though, reaching across the lake, which was the only clear area. The surprising part was that Flora grown a bit taller, and she was still growing...

“Oh, Flora...” Chelsea choked with grief. “This isn’t how you should have evolved...”

“Jaime!” Jake called, releasing his friends to run to her side, “what do we do?”

“I can feel her intention...” Jaime grunted, trying to keep her footing, “but this isn’t what she wants... She wants to destroy any trace of the Avatars, but the Elements are half Avatar...”

“She’ll take out her family in the same attack,” Leif shuttered at the thought. “How do we get her to stop?”

“We need to get Rain’s necklace...”

“But he...!” Jake stopped himself from finishing the sentence next to Flora’s ear. “You know...!”

“The stone is broken... but the chain and setting should still be there... We can’t let that Avatar have it...” she replied wearily. “I’ll hold her here, while you go get it...”

“But won’t the grass attack us, too?” Chelsea pressed for clarity. “How do we even get over there?”

“I got us here, didn’t I?”

Chelsea glanced at Leif’s grim tone. Gust had sensed he was still in danger somehow, but it would be the fastest route across the lake. As he looked back at Jake, the youth furrowed his brow with regret.

“You said it yourself,” Leif swallowed a lump in his throat. “Fairytales are dangerous, but I’ll keep you both safe.”

“What am I supposed to do though..?!” Jake held out his palms anxiously. “We still don’t know what I can do! I’m not like you two!”

“You already know...” Jaime’s voice made his chest feel warm. “Trust your gut to find the gift Summer gave you...”

“What if that psycho gets up? Can we even deal with an Avatar?”

“Think of him as the world’s worst bully...” Jaime grinned back at him tiredly.

Leif didn’t wait to start singing the soothing aria. Without words, he could control the intensity of the winds to move faster. Drifting toward the dark red sky, Chelsea and Jake reached for each other as they lifted off after him. Crossing the lake, new voices reached their ears. The Elements were crying out in pain. Leif nearly cracked hearing Gust’s howls. Chelsea shed tears when she caught Fauna’s sorrowful cries for Thunderquake.

“You get the necklace, Chels,” Jake’s firm voice drew her back. She looked into his eyes, startled by the sharp gaze. His metal orbs looked like a hot blade ready to cut through an obstacle in his way. “I’ll keep that Avatar back. Leif can keep the wind up get us out as soon as you find the necklace. Remember, you have wind to move the grass to look from Autumn. He dropped it somewhere near the lake.”

“Right...” Listening to his voice, she realized his strength came from not backing down, even when he was afraid. Seeing Summer’s struggles, she knew the Season must have wanted to give him an extra boost in the face of an inhumane fight. She smiled back warmly as Leif set them down among the whipping grass. “Thanks, Jake. I’ll try to find it quickly.”

Swiping his baton, Spiral managed to cut himself loose from the crazed foliage trying to crush him, gashing his legs in the process. Crying out at the new sensation of pain, the Avatar felt his cold resolve settling back in. He looked about himself frantically, searching for Rain’s presence. How could it just disappear?

“Where are you hiding, sprite?!” He grunted as he swept his baton about to cut away the grass ribbons trying to ensnare him again. “Don’t think you can hide from me! I still sense your energy! I will find you!”

"SHUT UP, ALREADY!!!"

Spiral froze instantly, feeling the paralyzing energy grip his chest. Looking behind him, his dark orbs swelled as the giant Season, Summer broke through the grass, balled fist swinging toward his face. The contact sent Spiral backward into the throng of grass blades. Once he made contact with the ground, he knew he had to move to avoid getting strangled by the grass, but his head was buzzing.

“How...?” The logical Avatar muttered, cutting the grass back quickly with his baton to get back on his feet. “How is that guardian here...? Bedlam said he was gone...”

“DO US ALL A FAVOR,” Summer’s booming voice barked as the Season rushed the Avatar for another grounding blowing to the head, “AND STAY DOWN!!!"

Gust’s cries carried from where the ribbons had coiled around his limbs and trunk. He was barely conscious from shock as his torso was crushed under the grip of the vengeful grass. Try as he could, he couldn’t disperse himself, leaving him helpless to escape.

A warm wind breathed over him, relaxing his anxiety. The ribbons still held him fast, but the lack of resistance seemed to cease their increased strength. Turning his head toward the source, tears fell from his eyes at the worried expression drifting toward him.

“Gust! I’m here!”

“Mo...ther...?” The wind Element asked weakly. While she appeared confused by his reaction, Spring hovered over him, stroking his pale cheeks. “Is... that you...?”

“Gust, don’t you recognize me?” The lyrical voice sang down to him.

“It is you...” Gust smiled wearily. “I’m so relieved... to see you... Mother...”

“Gust! Don’t crack on me now!” Flare grunted from where he tried to break free of the ribbons cutting into his bare arms. The pain was nothing compared to Flash’s electrocution, but that didn’t mean he liked it. “Oh, come on! I can’t catch a break once?!”

Finally, the fire Element looked up to see if Gust was toast. He paused at the sight of Spring floating above the violently swaying grass. How was this happening? He’d just accepted their parents were gone, so how were they there now?

“Thunder...!” Fauna gagged as her abdomen was crushed within the ribbon’s grasp. Her tangled limbs reached for her mate while pulled to the ground. She’d tried to crawl her way out to reach him, but the longer she struggled the worse her snare. All the while, Thunderquake was suffocating before her eyes. “Thunder...!”

“Back! Get back!” Fauna paused at the familiar voice snapping on the other side of Thunderquake. The grass parted with a chill breeze as Autumn stormed out. Her desperate glare shifted to fear. “Thunderquake!”

The cool wind Season dropped beside her son, reaching to tear the grass coiled around his neck and face. The gasps relieved both Season and Element as Thunderquake proved he hadn’t surrendered yet. As his swollen eyes looked up at his savior, he paused with an innocent gleam in his candlelight eyes.

“Mom...? How are you here...?”

Autumn jumped with surprise at his question, as if she didn’t know what he was talking about. Turning her head toward Fauna, the two looked at one another for a brief moment before the Season rolled to her feet. Pausing, she shook her head with regret.

“I’m sorry, but I have to go! I promise we’ll stop this craziness, but I have to find it first!”

“Find what...?” Fauna asked quietly as Autumn fled back into the grassy walls.

Breaking through the floral sea, Chelsea cried out as she nearly fell into the lake ahead of her. What was going on?! Fauna and Thunderquake had called her Autumn. Were they delusional from pain or something? Glancing along the bank, she tried to make out the metal chain in the dark red lighting. It gave her a chill just looking at the surface of the lake, seeing the crimson reflection.

“Oh, where is it?! Autumn, if you have any hints, I really need them now!”

A cool breeze swept around her, drifting across the lake. Glancing at Flora reaching where Rain had stood, her hazel gaze followed in a line a few paces to her right. Using the plant Element as a reference point, she hurried along the lake edge in that direction. When they were directly facing one another, the youth dropped to her knees to grope in the dark. Oddly enough, her shadow didn’t inhibit her vision.

When her hand went into the lake, she felt metal. Grasping it, Chelsea pulled it out. Sure enough, it was Rain’s wrapped pendant. The woven chain and warped wirewrap were still there, but the setting was gone after the boot’s impact. Her chest ached, reliving the moment all over. Why would he do this? Shaking her head hard, she pushed the emotions back down.

“Jake! Leif!” She called over the screams and cries. “I found it!”

It killed Leif to leave Gust when he looked so relieved. He couldn’t fathom why the Element thought he was Spring, but if it brought him comfort, that was all that mattered to him. Pulling their foreheads together for a brief moment, he whispered in song.

“It will be over soon, Gust. Wait for me.”

“I will...” Gust replied hoarsely with bliss. “Help my leaf... Mother...”

Leif felt a shutter as tears poured down his cheeks. Drifting away from his boyfriend felt like snapping a lifeline to his heart. He hoped this madness would end. It was too much to watch the Elements this way.

Spiral finally stopped trying to get up as Jake towered over the Avatar with bruised knuckles. He’d felt the need to fight this out, but he hadn’t thought Spiral would be this weak. Maybe Rain had already roughed him up in the cloud or something. Just when he was about to relax, the youth noticed the grass moving in on his legs.

“Seriously?!” The hothead yelled as he kicked his feet to try shaking the ribbons loose. As Spiral was ensnared in the thrashing tendrils, Jake realized Summer had been an Avatar once. Did that make him one of them now, too? When the ribbons' strength increased, the teen got his answer. “Guys! A little help over here!”

“I got you, Jake,” Leif’s lyrical voice seemed stuck now in lyrical tune. The warm winds tranquilized the grass wrapping up Jake’s legs as the youth drifted up toward his friend. “What happened?”

“I dunno... It’s like the grass didn’t notice I was a threat till I stopped wailing on that nut job.”

“How are your hands?” The fair youth asked sadly, reaching to check the bruised skin.

“Lucky for me,” Jake replied solemnly, “the guy can't take a punch.”

Leif didn’t press further, shifting his attention to the lake to pick up Chelsea. She was holding the damaged jewelry in the air, waving frantically. Jumping excitedly at the sight of the boys, her own winds seemed to draw up into Leif’s, and the three glided across the water like dandelions in a breeze toward Flora’s outstretched hand.

“Flora!” Chelsea cried, stretching her hand toward the Element’s. “It’s safe! Take it!”

As soon as their hands touched, Flora gripped the piece with desperation. Chelsea took her hand in both of her own, reassuring her it was with her now. The screams quieted with sobs as the wildly thrashing grass blades lost their life, slumping back to the ground. All of Flora’s strength left her as she collapsed against Jaime in her grief. Leif and Jake helped to support her as Chelsea knelt down to hold the broken girl in a strong embrace.

Jaime alone was left standing, looking over the dark park. With the grasses calmed, the Elements were freed, but so were the Avatars. She observed Hysteria, who had been shielding Bedlam in his arms, uncoil from his balled position. Spiral rolled to his side, heaving for air after Jake’s assault. The once peaceful getaway spot had been cast into utter chaos after the cosmic clash. It left a void in the young woman’s chest to think they weren’t done yet.

The gentle glow of fireflies drifted over the now still trees into the clearing. With no moonrise yet, they provided sorely needed illumination in the face of such grim straits. They seemed to come from every direction, drifting over the scene toward the lake. As more drew closer, the will o’wisps gathered toward the young humans and Flora, but Jaime seemed their true focus, grasping the two remaining Avatars' attention.

“Spiral,” Hysteria gazed at the scene with warmth, “what are they?”

“More annoyances...” The irritable Avatar grunted as he tried to force himself to rise. “Just one more obstacle in my way...!”

Spiral paused on his hunches as the ground felt heavy after his words. Even Hysteria shuttered at the ambiguous energy wafted out of the very soil. They both stared across the lake at the seemingly glowing teenager. All of the will o’wisps were gathering to her, and her icy gaze was locked on them both.

“You hurt my friends,” Jaime spoke in a voice that seemed to come from inside her throat and around her as a whole. The tone was calm and even, but it seemed to terrify the Avatars. “You hurt my family.”

The glow transformed the youth into the stark white form of Winter. His glacier eyes stabbed through both Spiral and Hysteria from across the water, gripping their chest. There was no need to threaten them, for both could sense the crushing weight of something even far more frightening lingered inside the frozen Season’s frostbitten expression. Guilt was a far greater weapon it seemed.

“We see you,” Winter’s low voice breathed softly with the same eerie presence Jaime had, “daemons of the demiurge.”

“Daemons...?” Hysteria gasped at the word he had thought before. How could this being he’d never seen before know it? Pulling Bedlam closer, his anger toward the Elements changed to fear. He had seen the girl before this change, and everything in him warned him she was dangerous. “Spiral... we have to run...”

Spiral couldn’t move. His black orbs were frozen on Winter as ice began to form on the lake, racing toward them. A single tear escaped his left eye, realizing he was powerless to do anything to protect himself.

“Spiral!” Hysteria’s voice yelled with strength for once as he pushed his legs to stand. The titan Avatar rammed the other, knocking him to the heeps of long grass below. With Bedlam in his arms, all he could do was kneel to look the stunned Avatar in the eye. “We have to get out of here! That girl is channeling the energy all by herself! She’s too strong for us! We need to go!”

Spiral blinked back at Hysteria as panic tore his thoughts apart. This shouldn’t be possible. The principles hadn’t imprinted any of this onto him, and yet, there seemed to be a great deal their designers had missed about this planet. Grasping his dreadlocks, he raked his mind for some logic to cling to: his Pillar. That was all that matter. All he had to do was stop his Pillar, and he would be freed of this fear.

“Right...!” He shuttered, swiping his baton to his right. Hysteria watched the fissure open, but instead of explaining anything, Spiral just rolled into the tear himself. The cut sealed back on itself, leaving Hysteria to gawk in its wake.

“Hysteria...” Bedlam moaned weakly, “Let him go... Think of your own design...”

“Fine,” he grunted as he glanced back at Winter just before the ice reached their side of the lake. “I’ll figure out how to fix you.” Hysteria ran for the exit of the park, holding Bedlam close and cradling her scepter against himself. “That will be my design.”

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