Once Gust quieted, Thunderquake carried his limp form back to the house. Fauna held his hand firmly as she walked beside her mate. The bandages had loosened about her trunk, but the staggered breathing revealed she was far from whole yet. She opened the mudroom door, where they brought the shattered Element to the futon couch. Sitting down, Thunderquake rested Gust’s head in her lap. Stroking his pale blond locks, Fauna sang softly in hopes of bringing her brother some peace.
"Where the cold heart... waits and sleeps..." Though her pitch was hardly ideal, Fauna's whispers carried the song gently into the next room. ”... there’s a wishing... that it keeps... Hoping one day... warmth will breathe... carry life and... set it free..."
Thunderquake sat on the floor beside the futon, watching Gust’s swollen eyes closely. The black and white had swirled on the trek back, but now that his sister was singing, the white began to overpower the taint. His eyes relaxed, but they refused to close as his spirit’s grief preserved flickers of black.
Frey, Freja, Jake, Chelsea, and Flare gathered at the threshold between the rooms. Watching the sombering scene, each of them grasped the failure in the trees. As Frey's face twisted with anger, his mother turned to escape the scene, hiding in her room. The muted screams were still audible to those in the great room. Jake froze rigid from shock with tears falling from his eyes, and Flare hunched his shoulders as uncertainty swelled in his chest again.
Chelsea was the only one that seemed intrigued by the display. The song pulled at her chest in an inspirational way. She felt nostalgic for some reason. Had she heard this song before? Why did she feel she connected to it somehow? Without her realizing it, the youth started to hum a different tune that drew the three brothers’ attention.
"Come, my children," the youth absentmindedly began to sing after humming for a while. Chelsea had never been a great singer, but the Elements didn't seem to mind. ”Hear the howl, of the planet’s stomach growl." Thunderquake and Flare’s eyes trembled at the lyrics. Suddenly, they became innocent as children, reaching for maternal comfort. ”As she hungers, so do we. As you slumber, so does she."
“Mom...?” Flash whispered from the couch. His tremors calmed as he stared at the dazed teenager. The pale complexion remained, but his relief was obvious to Hawahkan, Jaime, and Flora. “She really is like... Mom...”
Kristen paused at the front door, hearing Chelsea’s round. There was an energy in the air that felt pacifying, even cool. All tension had left the room. Frey was sitting at the table with a sober expression. She heard Freja’s cries, wondering if she had been unable to hold herself together in such a presence. Glancing toward Hawahkan and the girls, the woman was in awe of how relaxed Jaime had become.
“I can see them...” Skye spoke softly.
“See what, Mr. Skye?” Kristen asked, feeling her instincts kicking in. He sounded like Hawahkan after one of his dreams, and she couldn’t help falling into the old habits.
“The streams... They’ve grown stronger...” He replied with wonder in his crystal gaze. “She’s drawing from one now, and her voice touches both Nature and mortal... I can sense Autumn’s energy from her...”
“Then the children aren’t helpless,” the holistic woman breathed with relief. Stepping beside him, Kristen gingerly took his limp right hand in both of hers. “What else do you sense, Skye?”
Looking beside him, Skye marveled at the shimmering hope in her eyes. His chest ached, feeling the nostalgic presence of his beloved. Lané had been so hopeful every time he was with her. If only he could draw on some of that now...
“Perhaps some of my power is accessible here,” Skye mused as he lifted his left palm up. “Three Avatars... Three Pillars... Nature... Sky...” Shaking his long-haired head, he refocused. “If there are three Avatars, each of them might be rooted in a different aspect of the planet's core.”
“But what other core is there than Lané?” Rain asked from where he leaned against the wall near them. His tension seemed to have ebbed away as well, allowing him to think more objectively than before.
“That’s the answer,” Skye gasped at the epiphany. “The planet is made up of more than one facet, branching from its core. That’s why one Avatar was never enough to crush us.”
“Do you know the others, Skye?” Kristen guided his excitement, not wanting him to lose his stream of thought.
“I do,” he glanced down at her. “Myself and the Will O’Oak.”
“But why haven’t they been able to strike since the wind storm then?” Rain stood upright, investing in the topic.
“The storm carried the Will O’Oak’s design for a host,” Skye answered with fascination, turning toward Rain as the pieces came together in his mind. “Inside the storm, the Elements were shielded and allowed to grow to maturity. When Flora left the island, drawing the rest of them out, she planted a seed in a mortal. This became the first host for the tree to latch onto.
“After that, the Seasons and Lané invited them back to the island to offer their gifts. They must have hoped to shield them from the Vanishing somehow by planting a piece of themselves inside them. However, Spring’s child was also the beloved of two Winds, so the storm’s host was chosen, granting him the domain.”
“Does that mean the others will develop domains as well?” Rain’s voice sounded more excited than he intended, but his face could never hide what he was feeling. This was hope, and it made Flora smile to see his faith grow in their human friends. “Are they guardians for the Will O’Oak maybe? Like the Seasons were for Lané?"
"Like you would be for me..." Skye answered softly.
There was a stillness as the revelations sunk in. Chelsea finally stopped singing, and Freja emerged from her room, at last, having cleared away her tears. It seemed the time to strike back was approaching. They just needed to come up with a plan.
"Do you think you could do something like that male Avatar?"
Holding his breath at Rain's question, the hermit had never thought of how his influence might manifest inside the atmosphere. He had watched how Spiral had manipulated the air with that baton. Could he possibly recreate such a phenomenon?
"If only I had my sight from the Rift, I might know for sure."
"The Rift?" Hawahkan repeated the word with intrigue. "What is the Rift?"
"My... prison," Skye answered with a shameful voice.
"Prison?" Flora balked at the reply. "Father, is that why you can only see Mother every hundred revolutions?"
"The path only opens for seven rotations at that time," Rain answered her. "She had hoped to take you this time to meet him, but she was unsure if you could follow the path as she does."
"Instead," Skye followed after him, "you opened the path when you called for me."
"This place," Hawahkan brought the conversation back around, "where is it exactly?"
"The edge of the atmosphere," he said softly. Glancing back at him curiously, Skye asked, "Why?"
"Is it a ceiling of stars... with black sands and rock... where reflecting streams pass?"
Skye gawked at the description. How could someone know what the Rift looked like so specifically? The man walked around the couch to approach them. Pausing a few paces from Skye, Hawahkan took a deep breath before continuing.
"If it is... my people call it the Dream Lodge between reality and illusion, where deep dreamers see visions beneath the spirit path of the wanagi. We go there to consult and commune with our ancestors and elders. Perhaps I could go there in your place to find what you seek using psychometry."
"Kan..." Kristen shuttered at the thought of trying to force a vision on himself. "You already have a difficult backlash when they come to you at random. If you try to-"
"I didn't come here to hide, Kris," Hawahkan spoke over her quietly. Frowning, he waited for her to stop protesting. "My vision urged me to seek you out to help you in this fight. I didn't realize how literal, of course, but this is my gift to share. I want to use it to help in this fight."
Skye stared at his clawed finger with new interest. He remembered the day it appeared on his hand, and he'd used it to manipulate his view from the streams in the Rift. If Spiral had a wand, perhaps this was his medium. Glancing up at Hawahkan, he nodded.
"We have to try," Skye spoke with conviction. "I want to protect the young guardians while they evolve, but that doesn't mean they are our only hope. The streams flow strongly in this place. It could function as a nexus of the three Pillars, like the storm."
"If we're going to do this," Kristen resigned to the plan, "Kan needs an ideal place to dream. Freja, you're familiar with lucid dreaming, right?"
"Aye... That's a powerful skill you have, my friend," the mother breathed before glancing down the hall. "Frey, we'll need your room."
"Whatever it takes to bring Lei home, Mamma," he replied, standing from the table. "I'll make room for you back there."
As the adults readied their preparations, Flora stood upright to find Rain's gaze. He looked back at her anxiously. Normally, he would draw strength from her encouraging smile, but it brought nothing but guilt right now. Furrowing her brow, the plant Element tried to maintain her positive expression, but she could sense the distance growing between them since the madness began. If they had time to talk, they might be able to clear the fog.
"Rain," Skye paused on his way down the hall, "I will need some vapors from you."
"Right," the water sprite spoke softly, turning away from Flora.
"He looks really tired," Jaime's voice broke Flora's trance from where she sat on the ottoman.
"Oh... yes, he does. Jaime," the youngest Element glanced toward her friend, "do you think I am helpless to shoulder his burdens as Thunderquake and Fauna do?"
"You like him a lot," the teen said flatly, making the Element laugh lightly. "I think he likes you just as much, but sometimes, it's not the right time to be together."
"How do you mean?"
"Yeah..." Flash piped up from the couch in front of them. He finally sat up without help, surprising the girls, but the lightning Element was still taking it slow. "When do you know this 'time' thing is right?"
"My aunt says that it takes more than just love to build a life with someone other than yourself. You have to make sure you're strong enough to be on your own, so you don't hurt the other person without meaning to..." Jaime paused as the words stirred up sentiments within her. Her gaze drifted to the mudroom door, where Jake had slumped to the floor against the wall. "You can't support someone when you're not ready to stand on your own, so you just have to be friends that deeply care until you're both strong enough to carry the future you want together."
"So... you need to know what future you want first, huh?" Flash mused for a moment. Leaning his elbows on his knees, he gave the advice some thought. "Maybe I'll figure that out one day for myself."
"What if you know what you want," Flora spoke softly, reaching to take Jaime's hand, "but they... don't?"
"That's up to their timing, I guess," the youth replied honestly, but there was empathy in her tone this time. She was still looking at Jake, sadly. "Sometimes... I think he's better off finding someone that won't make him wait."
Flora's gaze followed Jaime's finally. She had sensed the chemistry between Jake and her over their time together. There was an unspoken bond that the plant Element thought was already established. Seeing the same sadness in Jaime's eyes as her aunt reading Hawahkan's letter, Flora began to grasp the concept her friend was talking about.
"If we know what we want," she spoke up in a mature tone, "I think we can grow without losing sight of that vision. Perhaps it will only become clearer after weathering the storms of struggle. Is that not how faith works, Jay?"
Jaime looked back at the Element kneeling beside her. The comfort of her hands' grip on her own eased the ache in her chest. Without another word, they just smiled at one another. The message was understood already: fight one battle at a time, trusting their relationships to grow with them.