What? You say my character Winter falls unconscious too often? Pshaw.
White on black, like the threat of a supernova, deep, deep in space. White, like a flash in all spectrums, flooding everything and burning into Winter’s mind, into Summer’s mind.
It seems to Winter that it comes in symbols, and she reads them without thinking. They are written in Eldritch, and they are the meanings that they portray rather than merely conveying them. The twisting sigils twist and turn and spark in her mind.
Once apart, then joined, once whole, then broken- without one, the other is meaningless, without both, the world is gone. Find the balance between one, and you shall find the balance for the other.
Summer hears a voice, instead, and it seems to her to be made up of a strange mixture of every voice she had ever heard herself, Winter, Fall and Spring speak in, with echoes and overtones spread throughout, intertwined with and dependent on one another.
“The lightning strike carries life, death, regrowth and decay all in a single blow- separate the elements, the seasons, the rules and the laws are all for nothing. If you cannot find the balance between these forces, there will be no balance forever. Remember, apart you appear stronger, but only together are you whole.
“Stop this now before your chance is lost.”
“I don’t know what you just did,” Spring is saying, his back to Winter as her eyes open. “But I’ve had enough of this.”
He strides over to Winter as she lies on her back and, reaching down, pries her fist open, fingers an inch from closing on the illmetal bead within.
Thin, bronzed fingers wrap around Spring’s wrist.
“You killed Thomas,” Summer whispers quietly. “That was your first mistake.”
Spring’s eyes have time to widen in shock before Summer’s other hand closes over his throat in an iron grip.
The Second Season, Summer-Heat-Rising stands over her sister’s fallen form. With a sledgehammer strike, she slams a fist into Spring’s diaphragm and tosses him aside. His frail body lands a few feet away heavily, and then, coughing, wheezing and gasping for breath, he pushes himself upright, eyes blazing with anger.
“We had a deal!” He snarls. “What are you doing?”
“Do you think I’m deaf, dear brother?” Summer hisses back. “What deal do you suppose we had when you led Fall to bind me within Winter permanently? Where is the deal when you handed over my own son to Fall?”
The ground trembles at her younger brother’s name, and seems to quake even more as her next words escape, snapping into the air like licks of flame.
“You snake-tongued bastard!” Summer growls. “I’ll-”
Winter reaches up and grasps Summer’s hand. Summer blinks, looking down at her. Her little sister’s grip is like ice.
“Together,” Winter whispers. “He has too much- power. You can’t… face him without me.”
“Cute,” Spring snarls, rubbing his throat. “Oh, too cute. The kind-hearted cripple and the righteous whore. I’m shaking, truly.”
He raises his hands again. The ground seems to ripple around him, just as Summer pulls Winter to her feet.
“We’re not running this time,” She says to Winter, and her sister cracks a grim smile in response.
Hand in hand, the two stand their ground. Winter lifts her hand up. Her chest feels as though it’s on fire, and her hand is burning where it touches Summer, but in a good way.
It reminds her that she’s alive.
There barely seems to be enough power between them to do anything though, and Winter can feel Summer trembling.
“Toughen up, you wuss,” Winter whispers. “Or we’ll both die.”
Summer nods, almost imperceptibly.
“Life for life,” A familiar voice purrs quietly. “Do you understand?”
Winter doesn’t dare turn her head. Summer does, though. “Silk?” She asks incredulously. “What?”
Spring stares openly. Then he curses, snarls at her. “Twice now, doubly crossed by you. Wretched spiders spin their webs and more fool me for walking into them. No matter!”
“I crossed no line that you have not yourself stepped over many times now, Bringer-of-Spring. I’ve simply come to see the end.”
“And you’ll have it!” Spring sneers. He throws a hand forth. A pillar of the earth descends on the spider queen, who stands there unmoving. In a flash, though, the pillar is shattered into a hundred pieces.
A woman stands there, hand outstretched, side by side with Silk. Her eyes burn with hate, and her skin is ebon as night. Her hair is wild, but her form is younger than Aura. Summer takes a wild guess in her mind, but keeps quiet about it.
“For the crimes against my people, we hold and condemn you, Spring of the Four Seasons. Your reckless war against your brother has cost too many of us our lives for us to forgive you. You’ll excuse the lack of trial, Summer, Winter?”
Summer shrugs, then gives the woman a grin. “Yeah. I suppose I will. How the hell do you even remember me?” Seeing the girl’s expression, Summer adds, more than a touch bitterly, “Weren’t most of your ‘people’ dead shortly after I came and went?”
“If you hadn’t asked me to give you a ride to the Lair of Servants, I would be dead along with most of the Council,” Corevin replies steadily. “Instead I was captured. But that isn’t important. What’s important is that this worm-” She jerks her head towards Spring. “Is brought to justice. Fulfill your destiny, Summer of the Four Seasons. Then we’ll talk.”
Winter leans against Summer a little, and Summer takes her weight without comment.
“Are you ready?” Summer asks of her sister quietly.
Winter nods. The time Aura’s daughter Corevin had bought them by appearing along with Silk had no doubt been spent well. Winter seems better ready for the fight ahead, and after a moment she takes her weight herself, standing a little unsteadily.
Spring stares at the pair of them with obvious disdain. Winter notes his arrogant posture- he had yet to strike at them. With so much power, he was letting it rule him- and with good reason. Winter can’t think. She can’t come up with a strategy.
Spring, who has power over time, who can step into the past, probably already knows everything they are about to do.
“No time to worry about that now,” Summer says quietly.
“I’m waiting,” Spring taunts. “Do show me what the power of friendship is capable of, little sisters!”
He’s mad, Winter thinks plainly, suddenly. He’s completely mad! Why is he waiting for us to attack?
Summer hardens her stance and, drawing a hand back, gathers her power. Hot-headed Summer.
“I’ll wipe that grin off your face, you smug bastard!” Summer snarls, and snaps out at Spring with her power, a thin ray of pure heat scalding cobbles, glassing the dirt around him. But it doesn’t touch him. He just stands in the midst of it, laughing.
“Is that all?” Spring sneers. His normally kindly face has changed almost completely, almost bestial in its unlimited fury. But Summer can see sweat beading on his face, and she isn’t fooled. Before she can act on it, he seems ready to get serious.
He claps his hands together and pushes them towards Summer and Winter. A ripple forms in the ground, and it moves like water towards them, rising up and cresting like a wave of stone and earth ready to bury them.
Winter goes cold inside. Summer freezes.
“Move!” Winter shouts.
It’s Winter who shoves Summer aside as the earth crashes down, it’s Winter who propels them both out of the way on a stream of ice, sliding along the ground together. It’s Summer who picks herself up first, Winter who coughs, clutching her chest, spitting out grit and blood brought up from the fall.
Summer hurls another bolt of heat Spring’s way. The nearly invisible blast washes over her brother without even touching him. Again he laughs at her.
This time he makes a sharper wave of his hand, a flick of his fingers. It sends sharp spears of stone arcing from the ground up through the air towards Summer and Winter.
Summer freezes again, mouth open, unable to fathom why her attack hadn’t worked. Winter, on her knees, throws her hands up, closes her eyes and forces her power into a field around the two of them.
“Shield!” She whispers fiercely. The formula clicks into place and falls into cold being around her- the air thickens to the consistency of iron, so cold it makes Summer shake.
Razor sharp stone punches through her shield and hisses to a halt barely a span from Winter’s face, near an inch from Summer’s open mouth.
Summer gulps in the silence that follows. Winter shatters and redirects the energy of her shield, forcing her power out, in a stream towards where Spring was last.
As the stone spears are flung away and her vision clears of ice and sleet, she realizes that Spring is standing right next to them and that now all her power is streaming from her in a roaring- but ineffective blizzard.
“Oh,” She mumbles weakly.
“Yes!” Spring replies cheerfully.
His long leg snaps out, blurring with speed. Summer doesn’t even have time to blink, and Winter doesn’t even see it move.
Suddenly she’s gasping, arms around her chest to stop blood from oozing from the newly cracked ice holding her insides in.
Summer yelps, then snarls something. From her vantage point on the ground where she’d rolled, Winter watches her siblings fight. It’s surreal, and her eyes flick back and forth between the pair.
Spring and Summer exchange a few titan blows- and after a blackened eye and the wet crack of a rib breaking, Spring steps back with a grunt that echoes in Winter’s ears. That’s right, Winter thinks weakly. Summer has the advantage close in.
Her vision swims. In it, she can see a hazy Summer advancing on Spring. She sees Spring withdraw something from a pocket, a long, slim something- wand! Hears his voice, low and threatening. Summer’s bitter retort, then her scream.
Winter tries very hard not to black out with the pain, her shattered ribs aching horribly where Spring’s foot had struck them.
Her eyes close for a moment. If she could just be with her sister… now she’s sure she knows what she needs to do. She summons her power, one last time.
On the ground, Winter disappears.
And now she feels what Summer feels.
Summer feels the line of magic carving into her, and for a panicked moment she forgets herself and blood trickles down her belly. Then, with one smooth movement, she reaches down, yanks the tendril of it away and crushes it. Her fingers sting and her abdomen is a line of fire, but she stands firm again, warily as Spring, holding the wand unsteadily, grins the manic grin of a man truly at his wits’ end.
“You should just give in,” Spring hisses. “Even without Winter holding you down you are no match for me.”
Summer’s eyes narrow. Suddenly she can’t breathe for her anger. “Holding me down?”
How can she fight, though? Her anger is a weak one. She is tired.
Rose, Winter reminds her. The Rose!
Summer blinks as another line of magic lashes at her, hops back as Spring flicks the wand at her again, dangerously, conjuring stinging lashes of cutting power- of his own power.
Summer holds out a hand while Spring laughs madly. “That’s right, Summer! Even with your pathetic waste of a sister gone you’re helpless before true power!”
The flicking tendril of his magic carves a line along her arm and then her shoulder as she shifts to avoid a killing strike. It’s pain she barely feels through the pure, fiery anger burning in her body, burning all over.
“Who says she’s gone?” Summer whispers. Spring freezes for one moment.
His eyes dart, then, to where Winter last lay, and then widen. His mouth opens, and Summer moves.
Her Rose snaps into the air at her side, and then shatters as she drains all of its energy at once- the thorns dig into and then melt into her hand as she crushes it. All of a sudden she’s impossibly strong, impossibly fast, and impossibly furious.
In a flash, she moves, staggering towards him with speed borne of fury. Spring takes a step back and slashes at her with the wand. The tip draws a line of white pain along her arm as she grips him by the throat, lifts him up, and then slams him down into the ground hard enough to rattle his teeth.
“You fucking bastard!” She whispers. “Winter is-”
She kneels on his chest, one hand wrenching the twisted magic around her arm free, the other squeezing Spring’s neck until his face bulges. “-and always will be-”
“My sister and my friend. How- dare you!”
Her fist rises, then falls, a bare inch away from Spring’s face, trembling with her restraint.
Summer blinks, feeling the blood run down her arm and her shoulder. Feeling her killer instinct subsiding. Feels Winter in her mind with her, one with her. Watching. Feels the cold of Winter’s power in her fist along with her own heat, her own blaze.
Feels Winter gently guiding her fingers away from her brother’s throat, looks down and sees the tears streaming from Spring’s tightly shut eyes.
Then there’s a spark inside. Something missing is returned, something like lightning jumps through her, from the tips of her toes to the breath she breathes in- to scars- all over- glowing bright. It fades after a few seconds, but sparks of errant power still jump over her- the pure life energy from Winter and the last of the Rose’s strength joined together, one and the same.
When Summer’s voice returns to her and her mouth opens, the sound is like a mix, like a harmony between Winter’s and hers.
“More than that,” Winter/Summer says quietly, smiling, suddenly sure. “We’re always together. How can someone who’s been with you always ever hold you down? We know each other too well. And you should too! You’re our own brother!”
Spring’s sob comes out choked and raw. “You b-bitch. I was so close!”
Sumer/Winter still kneels on his chest for a moment, but slowly she moves away, stands again, staring down at him with something like pity. “In attempting to remove Fall from the Cycle, you would only perpetuate it. Your belief in the Cycle’s imbalance is correct, but the way you’re going about it is wrong. The Cycle is flawed, yes, and inherently, by design. We can’t deal with that by killing one another!”
“I suppose you think you’ve found the answer in your notes,” Spring growls weakly, pushing himself up. His hair is withered completely black now- the last of his power totally spent.
Winter/Summer shakes her head. Then, as if it had just struck her, she remembers the urchin, she remembers Thomas.
It turns out the former had watched the fight in relative safety- she’s crouched behind rubble and trembling in fear when Summer/Winter reaches out to find her.
Thomas is lying still.
His heart has stopped. His eyes are glazed. His fingers are closed and curled. He isn’t breathing. His head is twisted at an impossible angle and his hair is spread in a pool of blood. His long body is broken, another mortal killed senselessly, and for whose benefit? Worse, he was her friend.
Spring steps up behind her. “So your boyfriend is dead.”
Winter/Summer straightens. Then she smiles. “Not for long.”
“Rebirth and regrowth is my domain,” Spring snaps. “I’m powerless thanks to you, and there’s nothing you can-”
Winter/Summer is not listening. Her eyes are closed and her pale-bronze skin is glowing- scars all over her, Winter’s scars- are glowing white with sudden, impossible, unfathomable power.
In it, there is the scent of new flowers blooming, and growing. In it, there is the laughter of children and the taste of sunshine. In it, the soft chill of winter and the warmth of the sun, the heat and the sheer, limitless power of life itself. It gathers around Winter/Summer, and streams from her fingers down into Thomas. There’s no Word of Power, there’s no eldritch gesture- it’s as smooth and natural as if it were meant to be.
Before Spring’s eyes, the man coughs, sits bolt upright, neck slowly turning back into position. It isn’t flawless- he gasps for breath and his heart is beating too fast, his eyes are wild, then narrowed in fury and shock as they rest on Spring. His hand scrabbles for his spear, but finds only the broken shaft.
“You-!” He starts. But his eyes fall on Winter/Summer, on the bronzed tan against the pale of her skin, on her freckled face and her warm smile, and his jaw drops. His gaze wanders a little too long before he forces his eyes closed.
“Summer? No- Winter! Hold on- you’re both, aren’t you?” Thomas finishes weakly. He tries again, opening his eyes and looking away. “You… you brought me back.”
“A bit more efficiently than last time,” Summer/Winter says dryly. “Cut out the middleman in your case. For some reason your soul didn’t want to scatter. Something keeping you here, maybe?”
“That’s extremely unlikely,” Spring grumbles quietly. “He’d have to have some impressive willpower to keep himself together for longer than a few seconds.”
He stares at Thomas for a moment, then shakes his head, sighing heavily. “But then, you shouldn’t be alive at all regardless even of that. What have you done, little sisters, to surpass me in my own field?”
The rage seems to have left him now that he’d been beaten. Without enough power to go back and fix his ‘mistakes’ it seems the fire has gone out of her brother.
His gaze is still hate-filled as it rests on Fall, though, and Winter wonders at what happened between the two of them to create such a gap in feelings.
Summer/Winter fingers the jagged scar along her neck idly. “We’ve grown. You’ve stayed the same, dwelling in the past instead of the present. Why do you have such a grudge against Autumn?” She asks Spring. “What has He done to you? Did you ever stop to think about it?”
“Of course I think about it!” Spring snaps. “He’s a murderer. Down the generations He’s killed-”
“I didn’t ask you what He’s done to other people. We both know that Refraction creates in Him an uncontrollable imbalance. I asked what He did to you.”
Spring is silent, so it’s Fall who answers, laughing weakly.
“Sisters, oh, so clever. No, it’s nothing I did. He simply blames me for a certain attack on his village oh so long ago- an attack by dragons, I believe.”
“Dragons you sent!” Spring snarls. “I-”
“Idiot,” Summer/Winter whispers. “In meddling with the past you’ve broken your own future. When did the dragons attack your village? Before or after you struck back at them and used their souls? Past, present, or future?”
Spring stops for a moment, caught off guard. But he is not slow. His eyes shut, then, and his face contorts in bitter anguish. “I’m such a fool,” He whispers quietly. “Cycle around, but I am such a fool.”
“Hah,” Fall says bitterly. “You are the fool? Had it not been for Winter restoring my senses- had it not been for the cold and for seeing you here attacking her- I would not have seen myself reflected in you, brother. If you have been foolish, I have been more so. I chased her and struck at her for what? The solution was in front of me all along. Blinded by power, and now without it, I think I finally see.”
Fall shakes His horned head, pushes Himself up one handed, slowly rising with the creak of ice on His limbs.
“Alas,” He says morosely. “I fear that this bout of clarity is short-lived. I can feel the darkness of my power returning to me, and in time I think I will descend again into madness. Sisters, if you would?”
Winter/Summer stares at Him. Then she lifts the illmetal bead and smiles.
The column- yes. Now she can see what it meant. So long ago when she touched the column, she was really touching the earth. Earthmetal then, was the key. She looks around at Thomas, who, standing next to her- silently watching the exchange- gives her a tired smile. “I could really use a drink,” He says weakly. “Food, too, really.”
“Give me your spearhead, Thomas,” Winter/Summer says quietly. “I think I’ve solved a puzzle.”
Thomas stares at her for a moment, then nods. It takes him a while to find it, but after searching fruitlessly for it on the ground, he picks it up and holds it out for Winter/Summer.
Winter/Summer takes a deep breath and folds her fingers over Thomas’s. Instead of being blazing hot or ice cold, he notices that for the first time they’re simply warm, like any human hand.
They shake when they touch the earthmetal spearhead- the iron stings Summer/Winter’s palm.
“What are you-” Fall starts.
“Winter!” Spring says sharply.
Silk just smiles, and next to her Corevin looks on with disdain.
Winter/Summer can feel the power building in her.
But as she lets her breath out in a gasp, something jumps from her into the bead in her palm. She can feel it humming like a part of her, can feel it aching for her command. She only has one, and her wish flees her heart and explodes outward from the bead in a nova.
The Four Seasons stand, two in one body, two in their own, and for a few moments they’re outlined as the light envelops them.
Then the white light overwhelms and swallows them.
It is many incarnations before, and many incarnations back.
The four Seasons stand together and apart. Fall and Winter, Summer and Spring stare at one another, distant in a loose circle. The field around them is dead- blistered from old and intense heat, scarred by magic and battle. The bodies of the fallen lie, rotting.
None of it touches the four Seasons, though. The stench is dispelled by a cool breeze, the light around them bright enough to make the world beyond their little circle seem muted and grey, for all its morbidity.
They seem to be debating something.
“What did you do?” Spring-Eldest-Season asks sharply.
“Made things right,” Winter says softly. “This is how it should be. If we’re all apart, we can’t hurt anyone anymore.”
“That’s stupid, Winter,” Summer-Fire-Heart snips. “And anyway, I haven’t been hurting anyone lately, have I?”
Fall blinks, as though coming out of a trance. “I… I don’t understand. Why are we separate?”
“This isn’t the solution.” Spring’s voice is grave. “In fact, I think, sister, that you may have made things worse.”
“We’ll see in time,” Winter-Pure-Snow replies, and she smiles.
Winter-Long-Frost straightens, and opens her eyes. They seem to be her eyes. She can feel Summer stir in her head, and she takes a deep breath. Everything is as it should be if her sister is in her mind again.
Spring stares at Winter. His hair is green again, his whole body seems rejuvenated, and his mouth opens, then closes. “You… you gave me my power back.”
Winter almost giggles at him. “That’s not all I gave you.”
I could get used to this, Fall whispers in Spring’s head. The lack of murderous rage in particular is very nice so far.
“You-!” Spring starts, astonished, outraged.
“Don’t you understand?” Winter asks quietly. “You can stop any time you want. We’re meant to flow together. We’re meant to be together, to be able to meld and bond and share our power. We’re the Seasons. If we’re all apart we’ll bicker and fight. Have we ever been a true family before?” Her eyes flash, laughing at him.
Despite being, well, Winter, she has elements of Summer’s body- she’s bigger, her skin is a lighter shade of bronze than Summer’s, and her hair is longer- though still white.
“It’s too late for this nonsense,” Spring snaps irritably.
“It’s never too late for family,” Winter responds lightly. “We never were a proper one before.”
She has a point, Fall says quietly. Together maybe we can check one another’s power and prevent each other from growing out of control again.
“I know that,” Spring gripes. “I may acknowledge that you never started that attack, but that doesn’t mean I forgive you yet.”
He closes his eyes, then seems to gather himself. When they open, they’re filled with tears. He takes a deep, shuddering breath, and tries again.
“Why would you do this?” He asks Winter. “I tried to kill you and Summer not twenty minutes ago. I killed Thomas.”
“I’m still alive, actually,” Thomas says cheerfully. “And I figure, after you paying my wages for so long and, you know, giving me a living, I probably owed you a bit anyway.”
Spring isn’t sure he believes that at all. In fact, he’s not quite sure what he believes, or if he believes anything.
Winter shifts to Summer in a flash of heat. It seems that some of Winter’s figure has rubbed off on Summer as well- she’s thinner than before, and her hair is shorter than usual, though still blonde-white. Her eyes spark with amusement, and she smiles. Thomas, familiar with the expression, takes a step back.
“Spring, brother dear…. For being the eldest of us, you know Winter the least, so let me tell you why she wants us to try this. It’s a big secret, so get ready,” She says sweetly. She pauses for dramatic effect before going on.
“Winter is a softie,” Summer says quietly. “If it were up to me, I’d pulverize you. But for once in my life, I’m feeling soft too. We’re just going to be all giggles and cheer. Believe me, you’ve got a lot of ground to make up, and if you slip, we’re going to tear you to pieces. You have a lot of explaining to do and a lot of apologies to make, and we’re ready for every single one. Winter wants us to live in harmony, and if you spoil this for her, I will break you.”
Summer’s fingers twitch at the last words. Spring nods weakly. It had been no less than he expected.
Is that even right? Winter asks. I thought I said I wanted us to get along!
“Baby steps. We have to trust one another before we get along, right?” Summer replies simply. “And I have ideas about that.”
She grins, rubbing her hands together. Spring, to his credit, makes an effort to smile.
Oh boy, Fall whispers. Can’t wait.
“First,” Summer says quietly, staring Spring, and thus Autumn, in the eye. “Fall is going to take me to my child.”