A bit short. I’m beginning work on 29 immediately. It’s time to put myself to the true test of a writer.
(28)First Season, Fourth Season
“The following is the account of my late brother’s misdeeds as far as I am able to tell: murder, betrayal, treason and destruction of personal property amounting to over five hundred thousand gold and silver pieces to members of Guild, the South Island Trading Industries, and Soulfire Tower. In the absence of any real easy way to create order among the Seasons and regulate them, I am taking it upon myself to warn further incarnations of the perpetual Cycle that they are entering into- and to especially warn future carriers of the title of Fall of the acts they are destined to commit.”
Winter stares at the paper for a while. It’s unmistakably familiar, it’s definitely her writing. The cold, crisp manner to it, the intricacies of each letter as it curves. She can remember learning to write, but she couldn’t remember her name when she first came here. The meaning behind it seems simple enough. She can absorb what she’s reading.
“Fall is unable to help himself- destiny drove him to his fate, and it will continue to drive future carriers of the title to distance and sequester themselves from the other Seasons. While it would seem prudent to keep a close watch on them, it is impossible to track the movements of most of the Seasons, especially Spring, who of all the seasons, is the most vulnerable to Corruption. The filthy snake-tongued womanizer is a coward at his heart, though, and in a position of weakness would bargain with anything, even at the expense of his own brothers or sisters. Whether this is a constant in all of the incarnations of the First Season or whether it is only him I do not know.”
Winter hardly believes what she’s reading. Did her previous incarnation mean to say that Spring was the one manipulating Fall to be this way? At what personal gain? Yet- then again, Spring had tried to make Fall turn against them, hadn’t he… She had wanted to believe that Spring was good. She still feels skeptical though, so she forces herself to read further.
“The Third Season, Fall, is the most unstable of all. His descent into madness is made easily explainable by the type of energy his mind craves and devours, and the research he will inevitably undertake in order to go through a process he always calls ‘Refraction’. He will shine the cold light of decay through his own body, using the magic of the Wish element in order to complete it- once he has done this, his descent into absolute madness will be absolute. There is no way to cure him but death and the cleansing of the Paths of the Dead, once he has gone that far.”
Winter blinks, at that. It’s troubling that her past incarnation had known so much- or had professed to know so much.
“Beware, those wish to undertake the trials leading one to become a season, for the Fourth Season’s spiritual shell is inherently flawed, and will obliterate every part of the soul that attempts to take on the mantle. Truly the Fourth Season, that which governs Winter and death, is synonymous with spiritual and physical oblivion. This has been evident in both the past incarnations and, in truth, it was what happened to the soul which my spiritual shell swallowed in order to grant me the powers of the fourth season. I don’t know who I was, only what I am now, and future incarnations, won’t hear me.”
“If you are reading this, you know that the worst has happened. Whether you found this place hidden in the snow and were lost, seeking shelter- whether you are the next incarnation of the second season Summer, snooping in on me matters not in the slightest. The metal in here would be the doom of anyone but a mortal, and so I hope these documents, my testament, are kept safe here- either forever or until the time is right.”
Winter stares at the papers, almost disbelieving it. And how long had it been since that incarnation was around? Had she really lost all memory twice- once when she had first entered the ‘shell’ and again when Fall had bound her?
Yes, that would make sense. But she had regained much of the memory she’d lost when Fall had originally bound her.
She fashions a coat for herself, and boots, a deep blue t-shirt made of sparkling cold, as well as pants and undies. She pulls them on, stuffs the documents into a pocket with shaking hands, and then turns to stare at the frost covered-metal on the floor.
“The last tile is in place, fourth season,” the spider-armed one says. “Should I have a drone carry the documents in?”
“Don’t bother,” Pure-Winter-Snow replies quietly. “I’ll do that myself when the time is right.”
“That will kill you,” The spider-human states. It doesn’t articulate its emotions with its mouth, but the movements of its four arms seem to indicate distress- hanging limply.
“Be that as it may, it is what must be done,” Winter says simply. “And now I must face my brother.”
“No,” Winter whispers.
A crunching noise makes Winter look up to the door.
“Spring,” Winter breathes, backing away from the metal and nearly tripping on the chair behind her. The first of the seasons stares at her from the doorway, and his normally waving green hair is twisted and withered, curling like dead grass.
“Winter,” He says slowly, flatly. There’s more malice packed into her name than Winter thinks she has ever heard before- from anyone. Her heart is a frozen core in her chest.
“You gave my sister’s baby to Fall,” Winter says, and the words drop like stones into the silence- at Fall’s name, the hut doesn’t pitch or roll, but it may as well for the trembling of the world as the accusation leaves her mouth. It clatters on the floor, striking the metal tile resoundingly loud in Winter’s head- had she gone too far? No, she’d already gone too far by coming here. She can see it in Spring’s eyes. But strangely enough, she doesn’t feel afraid.
“I did,” the Eldest Season says simply. “I won’t bother denying it, now that you’re here- and you would expect something different? He is invulnerable as He is, there is not a one among us who could face Him and win.”
His hands- there is no power there. His hands are limp and his eyes- his whole form is one of sadness rather than battle.
She wonders if he realizes it, but he’s standing just short of the doorway, just to the left so that if she were to run, she could easily slip by him before he knew-
It’s a trap, Winter, Summer hisses. He’s standing like that on purpose.
– it… Winter stops staring at the gap, forcing her eyes up to gaze on Spring’s own. And in his eyes she sees the ruse. The way his stance shifts when she meets his eyes with her own is nearly imperceptible, but Summer points it out to her.
He’s waiting for you to try to run. Here- in with so much metal- how can he touch you? In your own domain?
Winter steps back, bumping into the desk. Crackling with power that Spring can’t see, she keeps her hands behind her, gazing at him steadily.
“What do you want?” She asks, buying time to think.
“The bead, Winter. If you and Summer go to fight Fall, you will die, but more importantly, you will lose the only piece of illmetal in known existence. I need that bead to set things right.”
“What will you do with it?” Winter pries.
“What do you think, Sister?” Spring replies sharply. “With that single bead I can wish Autumn from this world altogether! Our wayward brother’s existence could be destroyed utterly!”
“Why don’t you simply create another?” Winter presses, biting her lip. Fall needed to be stopped, it was true. But to remove Him entirely…? Without decay, would the world even work?
“The creation of a piece of Illmetal even a tenth the size of what you hold requires the heart of a dragon,” Spring sneers suddenly, demeanor changing in an instant. “Why do you think the Council thinned? Why do you think they’ve learned to hate the fey?”
He paces outside the door now, glaring at Winter, hands clenching in a manner reminiscent of Fall.
Winter’s eyes widen. “You mean-”
No way, Summer whispers weakly. There are no real words to describe how twisted that is.
“I killed them off, Sister!” Spring’s lips curl, and his green eyes flare with anger. “The dragons are dead because of me! The ends justify the means- you now have my brother’s bead, and at this point one is as good as the other! He must be stopped!”
Her heart freezes further in her chest, and she wants to strike out at him then, now, to kill him where he stands. But she pushes it away. Unsurprisingly, Summer urges the opposite.
He should die. He’s been killing dragons. Maybe for years.
Some things don’t add up, Winter whispers in her own head.
“Why did you stop us from saving Autumn?” Winter asks. Now she’s curious- apprehensive, but curious.
“You can’t save Him,” Spring says fiercely. “History cannot be turned. Time is like a tide. I should know that better than anyone! The Cycle of the Seasons will play out- it would take an unimaginable force of magic to redirect it!”
“You deliberately caused Fall’s Refraction! You’re part of the reason he fell in the first place!” Winter accuses, words like venom.
Spring shakes his head, glaring at her, envious green gaze locked on hers. “Don’t lecture me on the peculiarities of time! Do you think this is the first such Refraction? He has played this out many times- every incarnation over and over since time immemorial! The cycle itself is flawed!”
Winter looks away, unable to stare her suddenly furious brother in the eye. The normally kindly face has turned into a vicious grimace, almost animalistic in its ferocity. “Give me the bead- don’t you see it’s the only way?”
“I won’t believe it!” Winter snaps. “Even if that was the only way to stop him then I still wouldn’t do it! I won’t murder my own brother!”
“Then face oblivion,” Spring snarls. “After all, I rebuilt you once, I can do it again!”
For a horrible moment, Winter wonders if he might simply ignore the metal and attack her. Her hands shake behind her, and even with the full might of her at the ready, Spring is a complete unknown. Whatever powers he has control over would surely be terrible for him to make a threat as grave as that and have any hope of fulfilling it.
Instead, Spring smiles a brittle, chilling smile, an unexpected frost in his voice as he calms himself, gathers his composure, and disappears in a cloud of dew that cracks as it strikes the ground, shattering into hundreds of glittering shards.
Winter, for her part, takes a deep, shivering breath, and lets it out in a long sigh, steadying herself, settling back against the desk and trying not to let her legs fall under her.
Winter- what will we do?
“How much were you awake for?” Winter asks wearily, barely daring to feel relief.
I read the notes with you…. and… it looks like we can’t trust Spring.
“Gee, you think?” Winter laughs, her voice weak. She can’t remember the last time she laughed- and even though it’s humorless it still feels good. “When was your first clue?”
She pushes herself up from the throne, power crackling with her. She doesn’t feel weak, even if her body acts the part well enough. But neither does she feel safe. Two mad brothers to contend with? Will it ever end? The betrayals- the lies!- She can’t deal with this!
She steps out from the shack moodily, easing over the metal, pushing her way out the door, turning to close it.
Shack secured, she stalks back through the snow, leaving the way she came and closing the door to her innermost sanctum. It makes a resounding boom. She has one more bit of business to settle here, Spring and Fall be damned. One more debt to repay before she deals with her wayward brothers. If she can deal with her wayward brothers.
Winter’s feet remember the way through the dark halls, back up the long cavern, all filled with rough stone. A hole in the wall, melted through with cold light, lets the darkness in. Here the air is stagnant, but as she steps through the hole, the passage through the rubble of the cavern she can feel the body of her most faithful Servant here. So close in link, how couldn’t she?
It seems as if she walks forever before her hand finds a section of scaled hide. Something protected her Servant from rot- something kept her embalmed here, dry and… warm still, as if from an inner light, an inner energy.
“Jane,” Winter whispers.
She shifts uncomfortably in the heat, the stifling warmth of the cavern. Summer draws back from her shock just enough to wonder at her behavior.
What are you doing? We can’t bring her back, you know- she’s dead now, we nearly died the last time and I was in control. I don’t think you can do it the same way I can.
“What’s yours is mine, Summer,” Winter says, half a smile gracing her lips. “Believe me when I say that this is well within my power right now.”
She can feel it- it crackles along toes, fingers and palms. It sparks and cries out to be used, a hymn, a resonance that fills her body.
She reaches out and rests her hand fully against Jane’s body, fingers splayed.
She closes her eyes, feeling her will- feeling with her will. The scales slide in her mind- dry now, cold and dead with age, but untouched by the horrors of rot.
There’s no way this will work, Summer hisses. You could kill us both!
“Trust me,” Winter whispers, eyes still closed. “This will work.”
She curls her fingers against her Servant’s corpse. Cold- no, pure frost hisses out from her hand, glowing faint blue as the magic coats Jane’s fur and scales. She takes a deep, shuddering breath, barely daring to believe what she’s trying to do. Can she bring Jane back on her own? The conduits seem familiar somehow, the energy flowing from her hand, from her heart, frozen so much she can practically feel Summer’s teeth chattering together in her head.
Eyes still closed, she can see the lines of her magic vaguely, and she forces more of it from her, focusing her power. Her whole body shudders suddenly, and it stings in her fingertips and pounds in her head, her every fiber singing with magic far more ancient than mere words- the power she is pushing into her Servant is pure, undiluted… energy.
Behind closed lids, the world flares blue and white, scars, flashes and blooms dotting her black vision. Her legs drop her- and now her mouth forms a word, a spell older than time itself.
“Life,” Winter gasps.
Winter’s power coalesces around her in a crackling, swarming cloud of blue sparks- as her eyes open she realizes her entire body tingles, stings and aches with it. It needs direction, and she hasn’t built the right channels for it to flow through. All around her, dust and rocks jump and hiss. She can feel it, frustrated, snapping in the air around her! But…
None of it flows into Jane the way it should. None of it will touch her still, dead Servant, and Winter, in the midst of a cloud of life, curls her fingers into fists, taken by despair.
It hadn’t worked. It isn’t working. Her hands shake and her teeth dig into her lip. She had been so sure.
“Winter,” A voice whispers, close to her ear, but when she turns, there is no one there.
A pair of clawed arms wrap around her waist from behind, and she yelps.
“I can tell you why it isn’t working,” Silk purrs softly. “But what will you give me if I do?”