It was a pleasant day on the Island of Buyan. The cool cove was licking the warm, sandy shore. Gentle breezes fingered through the foxtail grass growing closer to the mainland. Aside from a few animals roaming the grasslands, the warm domain was unoccupied and quiet.
A sudden tear ripped in the air above the heated beach - as if someone had just slashed a line in a curtain. The mammals in the prairie glanced up curiously at the phenomenon. Buyan was hardly foreign to strange changes in nature, but this was something out of the ordinary. As the line began to rip outward - two, gray hands visibly pulling it apart - the wildlife ran further inland in fright.
A slender, black shoe emerged from the rip in space. The elegant, pointed toe shape covered the wearer’s toes, base, and heel before vine-like straps coiled over the top of the foot and up the shin. After planting the first step, a black taint splashed on the sand under the foot as the rest of the visitor came into view.
A pallidly grayed woman dressed in a dark gray, waterfall skirt, pale gray standing collar dress shirt, and black high-low corset coat appeared with a smug grin on her face. Her right foot joined her on the beach, resting perfectly beside her left. A twisted black and gray scepter rested in her lithe grip. The frightening framework of jagged vines twisting up to the top housed a multi-faceted, black crystal. A smooth black stone rested in the center of her forehead above her matching eyes, taking in the scenery.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” she chimed in a motherly voice. Smiling with pursed lips, the woman preceded to walk further inland. Silver locks flowed from her scalp like a train down her coat passed her waist. With every step, the ground beneath her feet rotted rapidly. “It’s rude to keep a lady waiting, Nature.”
The stroll toward the heart of Buyan both pleased and annoyed the visitor. She looked at the lush grass before her with a dull gaze, but her smug lips coiled as the green turned to black beneath her shoes. Tapping the sleek scepter in her right palm, she appeared to be sizing up the landscape, as if she had a few improvements she wanted to implement. When she reached the field of flowers, butterflies, bees, and other small creatures fled as her footsteps destroyed their home.
“Ah, there you are,” she mused at the sight of the stone cottage in the hillside.
As she approached, Winter and Summer exited the home. Glaring at the newcomer, the Seasons appeared to be aware of her presence and effect on their island. Just within, Spring and Autumn were embracing an anxious Lané. The gray lady sprouted a perfect smile in response to her welcome.
“How splendid,” she spoke with dignified enunciation. “To be greeted by my predecessors seems appropriate for such an occasion. I do hope you were expecting me after I announced myself so openly.”
“We’re nothing like you!” Summer barked at the statement. Winter said nothing in return, but his icy gaze conveyed an equal distaste. "Lané breathed new life into us, and we’ll never go back!”
“One can never truly escape their role in the universe, elder brothers,” she hummed with amusement at their frustration. “The laws of the cosmos govern all, and their design can only function as it was created to. Struggle only prevents evolutionary growth.”
“What do you want?” Lané asked as she stepped into the daylight. Her starburst, crystal irises searched for understanding in the haughty woman’s dark gaze. “We have grown and evolved for ages, but it's never enough. What have we done that defies our design? Please... tell me what I’ve done to defy you?”
“It’s quite simple. I’ve come to crush your crystal.”
“What?!” Autumn cried, stepping in front of the stunned Lané.
“What have you to gain from this?” Spring asked perplexed by the woman’s blatant disregard for Lané’s pleas.
“The two of you were Avatars, but I suppose you’ve forgotten your purpose after she augmented you.” The woman rested her right hand on her hip as she tapped her left forefinger to her silvery brow, still holding her scepter. “Avatars are designed to mirror the balance of a world in order to overthrow it. I was made to counter Nature, and my mission is to destroy its crystal.”
“Why would you want to destroy Nature?” Winter asked darkly. “That would doom the planet as a whole. Who are you to condemn an entire world?”
“The Principles condemned this defective planet from the beginning,” she replied with a pleasant tone. “It has managed to counter every intervention attempted, but now, the core of its balance has been realized. You may call me Bedlam for the time you have left, elder brother.”
Summer snapped, rushing toward Bedlam with a clenched fist. Rather than surprise or alarm, the Avatar smiled maternally at the violent reaction to her explanation. She didn’t even try to dodge his incredible speed. Instead, she reached her right hand up to touch his approaching fist.
“A noble effort, elder brother, but I think it’s time you returned to your original design.”
Summer gawked at the veins in his dark skin turned black where her slender fingers touched his knuckles. As the infection raced through his hand and into his arm, the Season cried out in pain, stumbling backward. Gripping his right wrist, he stared at his limb as it burned from within.
“No...!” He gasped sharply, ” Not again...!”
“Summer!” Autumn cried desperately as she ran toward him. “Hang on! I’m coming!”
“Spring,” Winter hissed through clenched teeth, “you must get Lané to safety.”
“I’m not leaving you,” she replied sternly. “Not against something like that.”
Speechless from Bedlam’s revelation, Lané had been staring at the dead flowers left in the wake of the Avatar’s stroll. Seeing Summer writhe in agony, something about the black, rotted flora struck her as strange. Just as Autumn was about to reach him, movement caught Mother Nature’s attention that made her reach out toward them in fright.
"AUTUMN! LOOK OUT!"
Black tendrils sprang through the flowers toward the cool wind Season. As Bedlam smiled past the scattered petals drifting in the air, Summer gawked at the sight of Autumn frozen beside him. The now rigid limbs had run through her. Dried leaves drifted away as her body broke down. It was too quick for her to register the pain, but her sunset orbs locked onto his burning red pools.
“Don’t let her in your head, love...”
Reaching up with his weakened hand, Summer felt cold air strike his face as brittle, dried leaves burst across the field. An oval opal fell into his open palm as panic overtook the heated Season. Black seeped into the whites of his eyes just before a bloodcurdling scream left his strained throat.
"FALL!" The remaining Seasons gaped as half of Summer’s body glowed from the fire in his veins. The other half was overcome by Bedlam’s infection. Holding the opal against his chest, Summer screamed as the fever took over his mind, scorching the flowers closest to him. ”FALL BACK! TOO HOT! FALL BACK!"
“Please, my dearest,” Winter turned to look at Spring, “you must protect Lané. Go now.”
Looking into his silver gaze, Spring reached to stroke his cool cheek. Tears clung to her long, pale lashes. She knew what he was going to do, and she understood her mission. It didn’t make the heartache any less though.
“Promise me you won’t lose the warmth in your heart,” she whispered to keep her voice from cracking.
“You will always warm my heart,” Winter pulled her forehead to his quickly, “but I could never hold back the heartache of losing you.”
“Believe in Creation then,” Spring found her voice at last. “From the greatest disaster, the most beautiful rebirth can bloom.”
Pulling herself away, the eldest Season dragged Lané away from the cottage. Watching her friends’ demise had stunned her, so she could hardly resist Spring’s grip. As Winter turned to rush his brother, Lané watched Bedlam’s gaze turn their way. Shaking her head in denial, she clenched her teeth, cursing her own helplessness.
When the tendrils sprang up this time, Spring pulled Lané away from their touch. The corded wrap about her skirts pulled the layers close to her legs, granting her the mobility she needed. Kicking her legs in spirals through the air, Spring used her warm winds to knock back the twisting limbs. Leaping about Lané’s fragile form, the Season held her own for a while, but it proved too slow moving forward.
Just when Winter reached his brother, he froze at the sound of Spring’s grunting. Against all reason, he turned to look back. Lané screamed as the thin vines overcame Spring’s nimble form. It was only a moment of struggle before the tension was too much. A warm wind burst across the field as Spring screamed in pain. Green leaves grazed past Winter’s cheeks as a single tear slipped from his left eye. A jade stone fell where Lané slumped to the ground to sob.
There wasn’t time to grieve. Summer screeched as the heat overtook him. The blackened eyes had become scorched husks from the searing heat in his body. He couldn’t even form words anymore. Bedlam’s cackling laughter echoed above Summer’s cries to Winter’s ears. The icy Season grasped the balled fist at Summer’s chest. Steam hissed as Winter took Autumn’s stone from his brother, throwing it toward Lané.
“Go to the place even the Principles cannot reach,” Winter’s voice bellowed as the tear streak froze on his face. Once the icicle reached his eye, sheets of ice rushed across his silver orbs. “Leave Summer to me. I will not let them take us again.”
“You speak as though you had a say in the matter,” Bedlam chuckled. Her grayed face beamed with intrigue as her predecessor’s true forms began to surface. Hugging her slender form, the Avatar trembled with ecstasy.
“You misunderstand the nature of our relationship,” Winter retorted with numb indifference. Holding Summer in a firm grasp, the steam rising from their touch seemed equally painful for the mad Season. “When we were created, we were not separate Avatars.” Grasping Summer’s other wrist, Winter held him, trying to get him to focus. ”Lané gave us hearts, guarded by Spring and Autumn. It is that heart that we will never surrender to one that has yet to grasp its own existence.”
“What jargon are you muttering?” Bedlam asked, thoroughly confused by his statement. “Your purpose is to destroy this planet and nothing else. What more existence is there than that?”
“Once free, a slave fights for their freedom. Remember that, Bedlam.” Grappling with the larger Season a moment longer, Winter finally got Summer to face him. “This is not how you want to live, brother. We must cool you if you wish to return to the life you desire. You know what we must do.”
Summer paused. Nodding sluggishly, the struggle ceased. Winter released his arms. Flexing their right hands in unison, Bedlam watched to see what they could possibly do to stop all she had put in motion. Throwing back their arms, they struck forward with all the strength they possessed.
“NO!!!” Lané screamed as she reached toward the scene.
The Seasons pieced each other’s chest, grasping their hearts. Steam exploded from the touch, knocking Bedlam backward. Once the steam cleared, Winter and Summer stood transformed into blackened rock. Growling, the Avatar glared at how they had thwarted her initial plan. Now, she had to actually work.
“How anti-climatic...” Bedlam grunted, standing from the crushed flowers she’d fallen on. Turning her scepter toward the weeping Lané, the gray lady stormed across the field. “Don’t move.”
Shaken to the core, it was all Lané could do to pick up the stones and stumble to her feet as the stiff vines began to crack loose again. Nevermind that she’d just lost her closest friends. The fate of her world was on the line. Every living thing would perish if she did. She couldn’t let the Seasons’ sacrifice be in vain. There was only one place to go.
“Please, Will O’Oak,” Lané choked on tears as she tore her crystal cord off her neck, “let her have me, but I beg you to keep my core from her hands!”
Pressing the chiseled crystal against the bark, she trembled at the thought of what was coming. It struck her that the children would be next, and there was nothing she could do to save them. She could only create. This Avatar seemed to rot away at her growth. She hoped Rain could rally the Elements and fight on, or their world would fall for sure.
Quieting her cries, she noticed the roots closest to her were moving. A wide hole sunk deep into the earth. Gawking up at the tree, she felt a sense of calm wash over her. Holding the two stones to her chest, she let go of the crystal as it sunk into the trunk. Glancing one last time at the raving Avatar approaching, Lané descended into the hole just before the root closed down upon her.
"Get back here!" Bedlam screeched as Lané disappeared into the earth. Stretching her left hand toward the ground at the foot of the tree, her tendrils shriveled up as soon as they sprouted. Striking the trunk with the metal scepter, the attacks had little effect on the strong bark. Grasping the remains of the cord protruding from the trunk, she tried to pull the crystal back out. When she'd all but exhausted her energy trying, she screamed in a tantrum. "I command you to relinquish the crystal, Nature!"
As if in response to her demands, a root swept up from beneath the Avatar, knocking her into the air. Crying from fright, Bedlam gawked at how the tree resisted her influence. Before she began to fall, the same root swept her midair, casting her off the island.
"SPIRAL!" Bedlam yelled frantically, "DO SOMETHING!"