Demimind: Chapter 32

Short and sweet. Enjoy Chapter 32, I’ll see about a bonus update on Friday or sooner, to make up for my illness last week. ❤

Love you all,

-Eris

(32) Season’s Refuge

In time, things change. In time, Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring make the journey to Season’s Refuge along with Silk. Thomas and the orphaned girl already live there- they’d transferred shortly after the… well, the Resolution.

Season’s Refuge stands on a low field, and rises near fifty feet up from the earth. The courtyard is enormous and open- no iron gates bar entry by foot. The walls are worn from disrepair. The path up to the great wooden doors is weathered. In the courtyard a great oak tree snakes up to the sky, and as a wind blows across the plains its branches sway and creak.

It’s Winter who leads Fall- who carries Summer’s baby- past the worn walls girding the courtyard. He stumbles on cloven hooves, trying to keep up with her, bent over almost comically as he leans down to follow her beyond the worn walls and onto the path.

The baby, who Summer had promises to name once she found one she liked, is sound asleep. Fall had taken to him instantly, to Winter’s surprise- and despite the poor experiences the infant may have had when he was kidnapped by Fall, the baby boy had been able to sleep soundly every night, and didn’t seem perturbed at all by the horned man’s care.

“Really,” He says quietly. “You could pretend to show a little restraint, you know. Have some reverence for your home.”

Silk, just clearing the courtyard and obviously a little uncomfortable, trails along behind the pair of them slowly.

Winter ignores them both, shoving the big doors open one handed and stepping into the Refuge, letting Fall’s hand go as she races inside.

It’s exactly as she pictured it, as she remembers it. Still, Winter’s eyes tear up as she takes a step into the great hall. Columns stretch up into forever. Before her, an immense stone table with finely crafted wooden chairs set around it, for more than two score guests to sit at. It strikes her at once as both wonderful and horribly lonely at the same time. It’s a bit of a relief that she’ll never have to be all alone now, not with Summer and Autumn and Spring here.

Dust has been disturbed- everything is neat and tidy. The Seasons rarely actually used the great hall for anything other than entertaining guests. The only people who actually ate things at it were Fall, whose energy was always decaying, Summer, who enjoyed the tastes, and any servants they might keep around. Said servants were all long gone by now, surely.

The stone here is near soft underfoot from overuse, but still sparkles in Winter’s eyes. She hugs herself then, slowing down, taking everything in at once.

“Miss Winter?” A voice calls. “Miiss?”

Winter looks up and around, and smiles when she spots Miri, dwarfed by the great stone table she sits at.

The girl smiles back, but it’s clear something is on her mind. She’s sharp, Winter thinks to herself. I hope she’s done well here with Thomas.

“Miss Winter? I dreamed you were going to come today,” She says shyly. “You’re gonna come live with me an’ Thomas now, aren’t you?”

Winter grins and nods. “Mhm! Where is he, do you know?”

Miri shrugs indifferently. “He’s around here somewhere. This place is big!”

Independent, too, Summer murmurs admiringly. I wonder who taught her that?

Winter turns to go look for him. Miri’s hand on her arm stops her dead.

Winter stares at her uncertainly. “Yes?”

“Your baby, Miss Winter?” Miri asks quietly.

“It’s not my-”

“She’s in trouble.”

Winter blinks. There’s a certainty in the child’s eyes that’s just plain disconcerting. And she?

A cry from the direction of the courtyard takes Winter’s attention, and it’s Summer who shifts, pushing Winter out of the way and taking over.

She runs across the stone of the hall, throws open the door to the castle and finds Fall standing there, backing away into the hall. A mass of people is gathered before the courtyard- a score in all. A few men stand around in white armor holding torches, swords or spears.  Women bearing bags of goods or food, maybe personal belongings, women holding babies or holding the hands of children.

They gather together. It’s midday- the torches can’t be to provide mere illumination.

“We’ve drawn quite a crowd,” Fall says wryly.

Someone steps forward from the gathered people. His blond hair is familiar to Summer, as are his eyes.

His armor shines, and his voice is steady. In one hand he holds a torch, the other a long knife. “We are the descendants of the Ivory Templar, journeyed here from Wheel. We’ve come to take back Black Refuge in our ancestors’ names.”

Let me handle this, Spring urges.

“Miss Summer?” Thomas whispers, right next to her ear.

She jumps, then steps aside as he brushes past her.

Looks like that job is being taken care of, Fall observes to Spring. Aloud, he says “Careful, Tom.”

Thomas just grins back at him before he stands in front of the man. All he carries is the haft of his spear.

“What’s your name, sir?” He asks politely.

Winter shifts in while Summer isn’t paying attention, and she reaches out for the baby. Fall hands him to her gently.

The child hadn’t cried once the entire way to Season’s Refuge.

“I am called Mark Danehood. And you?” Mark’s tone is wary.

“I go by Thomas. Just Thomas,” He replies easily. His entire posture is relaxed, and his completely nonthreatening attitude seems to take Mark by surprise. Still, he recovers.

“Well, just Thomas, who do you stand with?”

“I should think that’s pretty obvious, sir,” Thomas says, with just a hint of reproach. “I’m standing with the Seasons.”

“This land is ours by right,” Mark says quietly. “If you are with the Seasons, you stand against us.”

“I’m sure we can work something out,” Thomas says lightly. His posture is open, and Winter wants to tug him out of harms’ way.

But something in his stance eases her fears. This is a man who has been through more than mere mortals can dream, Winter remembers. Still…

It isn’t until he turns his head slightly and winks at Fall that she lets herself relax.

Winter cradles the baby in her arms thoughtfully before she walks back into the Refuge.

Thomas can probably handle this, especially with Fall at his back.

What’s important is that you got my son out of that potentially nasty situation, Summer whispers. But how did the girl know that was going to happen? And how did they get here?

Portal, Winter replies as the idea strikes her. They came here through the portal, journeyed from Everspring to Season’s Refuge, probably almost the same time we set out.

Still, something else doesn’t quite fit.

“Miri?” Winter calls.

“Miss Winter!” Miri’s voice calls back excitedly. “I’m in the study! Come see!”

Winter remembers where the study is by sheer luck. Summer nudges her in the direction of the door. It opens as if on greased hinges, swinging silently aside. Winter takes a deep breath, closes her eyes, and steps inside.

Her eyes open again, and what she sees takes her breath away. Stacks and stacks of books, piled high, teetering here and there. There are so many of them that it makes her dizzy, stretching high into the air, some on shelves, some on the tile floor.

Miri sits in the middle of the room, legs crossed, grinning widely and holding a book. It’s title is in Eldritch, and Winter recognizes it as Poems, Songs and Sonnets from Ages. It appears ragged around the edges, as though it has definitely seen better days. The paper is old and  yellowed.

“Look!” Miri giggles. “It’s like the words you and Miss Summer use.”

“You can’t read that-” Winter starts, but Summer silences her. Miri opens the book and, flashing Winter a grin, begins to read.

No, not to read. To sing, in a wavering, but soft, pretty voice.

“Souls in cycle, follow along

Writ for wrote

Word for song

Souls in cycle, lead my heart

From place to place

From past to start

Beginning to end

First and now last

Find my heart in a looking glass

When demi of mind meets demi of soul

Push both together

And make them whole.”

Miri finishes, giggling, obviously pleased with herself. Then she frowns a bit. “What does it mean, Miss Winter?”

Winter blinks, smiles down at her and shakes her head. “It’s just a song. It’s a nice song, though.”

Like hell. That’s the song Fall taught you, Summer says flatly.

Yeah, Winter replies quietly. I think I understand what he meant by it, too.

Miri shrugs, though, obviously not accepting Winter’s answer, but not questioning it openly either. She stands up again. “Can I have it? The book, I mean?”

Summer’s baby stirs in Winter’s grip. Winter finds herself wondering at who his father could have been, and she’s so lost in thought that she almost forgets Miri’s question altogether.

“Mm? Oh! Yes, of course! You live here too!” Winter says hastily. “Just… well, be careful with it.”

“Yes, Miss Winter,” Miri says quickly, and scurries off, the book tucked under her arm.

What did he mean? Summer asks curiously, prompting her. Winter is about to answer her when she hears a clicking on the tile behind her.

Winter turns, and finds Silk standing in front of her, all of her arms folded.

“Half a mind and half a soul, both here together as one,” Silk says quietly. “With the Cycle broken and mended, with everything you could ever ask for right here…. can you forgive me, from so long ago?”

Winter blinks, then takes in a breath. In that instant, Silky puts a clawed finger to her lips, hushing her instantly. “No, don’t talk yet. I haven’t told you what I did and what I am asking of you. I haven’t told you what you’ve done.”

Winter quiets herself, curbing her own curiosity while Summer grumbles.

“Winter,” Silk says quietly. “Your daughter is mine by blood right. That is the oath I made to you long ago, that I would take your child.”

Winter nods slowly.

“The child you carry is yours as much as it is Summer’s,” Silk whispers. “Being of your blood, she is mine now by my law.”

Now wait just a second! Summer snarls in Winter’s head. Winter shakes herself, trying to make sense of it.

“What are you talking about?” She asks finally, heart sinking. “This child is a boy.”

“The boy is the dominant soul, yes,” Silk replies gently. “But underneath his shell and in his heart beats your blood, and with your blood a piece of you, Winter, as much as he is a piece of Summer.”

“How…?” Winter starts weakly.

“There was no union between you and any mortal man,” Silk says, and her voice is tempered by guilt. “Nor was there any such union between Summer and another. You two are bound together, but more than that- when your souls touched, I…” Silk closes her eyes for a moment, opens them again, her posture relaxing, claws falling to her sides. “I took advantage of your vulnerability. I used magic- my peoples’ magic- to create a child within you. I worried- and foolishly- that you would be incapable of having a child on your own so…” She pauses and then sighs. “I… violated your trust, my love.”

“Spells like that exist?” Winter asks, stunned, horrified, and wondering all at once. “And you cast one on me- you used magic on me without me knowing it?”

“It… It is more that I provided a spark for your own magic to use. But it was a spark made of all Seasons, from pieces of their magic that I plucked and spun together,” Silk says quietly. “All of you- Summer, Winter, Autumn, Spring- every one of you is a part of this being. Four children in one.”

“Why did you do this?” Winter pries, frowning. “Silk, you were- are- one of my most trusted friends.  Why? And why keep it from me, or from Summer?”

“You wouldn’t remember,” Silk says quietly. “And hopefully now you will never have reason to. It’s fine now- it’s worked out the way it needed to.”

“I don’t understand,” Winter says wearily. “But by now I think I’m used to that. I’ll figure it out later.”

“Are you going to run?” Silk asks quietly, as Winter starts to turn. There’s something almost desperate, something soft and hurt in her voice. Winter isn’t angry. She’s hurt. Like Silk is.

Feelings fight, boil and die in Winter’s heart. Running now feels like the only thing she can do… It’s too much for her to deal with right now, if she could just…

She’s a spider, Summer warns. She’ll lie and manipulate to get her way. I told you I had a bad feeling about her.

Winter wrestles with herself, takes another step, pauses. She’ll betray you again.

Summer means well. She means the best for her sister, truly she does. But…

Winter shakes her head, frowns, and stops, arms folded. “No,” She says finally, breaking into a grin. “I think I’ll walk.”

She turns to face Silk and reaches out. Silk stretches out her own clawed fingers to meet the fourth Season’s tentatively, gazing down at Winter, clearly a little worried for her love’s sanity. “Winter?”

“I don’t forgive you now,” Winter answers slowly. “And I’m not sure what to think. But I’d rather we found out together. I’ve spent too long without you, for all that I remember- that I’m starting to remember doing with you. I trust you, Silk, and I’m disappointed in you for not telling me the truth, but I won’t leave without you. And we won’t be gone forever.”

She cracks a smile, then, her eyes meeting Silk’s. For a moment, her heart skips a beat and she feels light. Silk returns the smile, obviously confused, but relieved. “Come on,” Winter says gently. “I think you’ve done enough moping.”

She grasps Silk’s hand and leads her away from the study, with the Seasons’ baby in the crook of her arm, unsure of where she’s going, but certain of where she belongs.

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Demimind: Chapter 31

What? You say my character Winter falls unconscious too often? Pshaw.

-Eris

(31) Duet

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.

“Right.”

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-”

He stops.

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.”

Demimind: Chapter 30

I’ll save the rant I have about this for another time.

-Eris

(30)Reckoning

Thomas gives a shout, of relief, of terror, as Winter appears. He reaches down and picks up the girl on the ground and drags her back with him to stand next to Winter. The former gateguard is shaking visibly.

“I knew you’d come, sisters,” Fall says, his voice rank with decay. “After all, who can resist the bonds of love?”

Winter takes a step towards her mad brother cautiously, staring at him with a mixture of pity and her sister’s pent up fury. Summer steals her lips. “Give me my son.”

“No,” Fall replies simply, smiling. “I don’t think I will.”

“Give him back!” Winter shouts- and for a moment, just one moment, Summer shouts with her. Their voices intertwine, and their power mixes. Summer can see it flowing out from Winter’s- her- lips. She can see it twisting, coiling around Fall and seeding itself in Him, flowing into Him.

It staggers Fall for a moment, the sisters can see that. Winter watches Him struggle- and as He does, she watches the baby stir. Her heart melts a little, her breath escapes in a sigh, and Fall takes full advantage of her weakness.

He recovers from her magic too quickly. Rippling, sickening colors surround an outstretched hand. With the other, He pushes Summer’s sleeping child into a hole which, after appearing, disappears just as rapidly, swallowing him.

“No!” Winter gasps, starting, taking a step forward.

Fall flings the technicolor power gathered in his fingers right towards her, and it descends on Winter with a noise like a hundred tortured wasps of light.

Winter doesn’t have time to think, doesn’t have time to scream.

It’s Summer who reaches out as the blast washes towards them, and it’s Summer who forms the formulae that Winter had taught her and taps into Winter’s power to form a calm area around herself- to form a zone where no tempest- no matter how powerful- could touch her.

Shield!” Summer shouts through Winter’s lips. Winter’s power floods her consciousness with cold.

She shudders inwardly, then cowers as the flood of her brother’s power slams into the shield. Even with the power of the Word behind it, her zone of calm shudders and shakes under the strength of the mighty blast.

Redirect it! Summer shouts at Winter. Come on! Snap out of it or everyone is dead!

Winters eyes dart to Thomas beside her, to the girl. Then up to her brother and the sparkling, howling helix of energy he’d directed at her, to his expression of anger and contempt.

Then, drawing on a reserve of energy she’d felt inside since she’d fed on the energy back in the hut, she slowly pulls the decaying magic inside her shield, takes it between her fingers and palms, and grinds it into nothingness.

She can see where the blast had really been directed. She can see Fall’s eyes fixed on Thomas.

Her hands burn coldly where they grasped at Autumn’s attack, but her heart screams bloody rage.

She focused, gathering the strength inside for a killing bolt, gathering her power at her hand, forcing it to listen to her, forcing more and more energy into a single, deadly blast. When she can barely control it, when her magic power shrieks for release, she hurls it forth, powering it with a Word, twining it around another.

Ice Bolt.”

The words twist her tongue and her throat raw. They leap out from her and coalesce in a sheath around her hand just as she lets her power free towards her brother.

Unlike the ripple he’d thrown towards her before, this power is pure hoarfrost- it shines in the air so brightly and so blue that it’s almost white, and as it streams out from her, the ground under its passage flash freezes.

Her brother raises a hand and smashes it aside. The blast keens, curves, and strikes a house, from which there isn’t even a scream- only the tinkle as bits of ice and frozen wood crumble to the ground. There’s a clean hole through the structure, and the rest of it seems likely to disintegrate under the pressure.

Fall isn’t smiling. His is a dark and terrible rage. Sweat has broken out on His skin, and His whole left hand is frozen blue.

“You mean to kill me,” He says flatly. “When I know where your son is being kept. Who is the mad one?”

“Don’t talk to me of madness, brother! You chase me from one end of the world to the other for this?” Winter shouts. She holds up the illmetal bead in trembling fingers- it appears there as if always meant to be. “Don’t plead innocence when the proof of your guilt is locked in my heart!”

“With that bead, I could set everything right again!” Fall hisses. “Don’t you understand? I could undo so much evil!”

Winter falters for a moment. Her brother is staring at her, pleading with His eyes even as the rainbow power of His entropy magic gathers in His hands, even as He readies himself to kill her.

Her resolve, hardened until then, wavers.

A thin streak of cold, visible as a hiss, a ripple in the air, snakes out from Winter’s fingertips and just barely grazes the rock face they’d been using as a target. It isn’t even close to where she’d been aiming.

“You need to want to use your power, Winter. You can’t just sit here and wish for things to happen- if you don’t have clear intent, you can’t do anything with all the magic you have.”

Winter backs away from Fall a few steps, then turns towards the rock wall again and gives him a shy smile. “How do you know so much? You’re younger than me an’ Spring an’ Summer.”

The boy’s brow furrows. He shrugs. He’s not spindly, like Spring, but has the beginnings of muscle definition, even as young as he is.

“‘unno. Guess I just… know.”

Winter giggles at the contradiction. “That’s stupid,” Summer says through her mouth, and Winter frowns at her sister’s intrusion. “No it isn’t,” She argues irritably. “You’re stupid.”

You’re just mad ’cause you like him. You should let me talk to him. You don’t have the guts to do anything cool around him. He’ll never like you.

“That’s not true!” Winter snaps. Fall, blinks at her, taken aback.

“What’s not true?” He asks. “What’s she saying to you?”

“She says I’ll never do anything cool. She’s so mean,” Winter gripes, then wipes her eyes hastily to hide tears. “Not that I care,” She adds quickly.

“Winter,” Fall says seriously. She looks up at him. “Everything you do is cool.”

He grins, and Winter grins back.

For a few moments at least, everything is okay.

Winter’s power crackles around her again, so strong that Thomas drags the girl further away from the Season, his hands trembling, numb.

“Miss Winter,” He starts. “I-”

“Go, Thomas,” Winter whispers. “I’ll come for you when this is over.”

“Not this time,” He replies quietly. “This is something I want to see. And frankly, miss, I don’t think it’ll matter if I’m a mile aw-”

Winter catches Fall’s lazy blast with one hand, and, gasping for breath, crushes it as before. There’s a terrible screeching noise, hellish and high, and then the power evaporates into nothing.

Winter studies Fall carefully. She can’t help but agree with Thomas’s assessment of the situation, now. If he were to run, Fall would just track him down. At least here he would be under Winter’s protection. Winter’s hands are shaking with shock and rage.

Thomas has done nothing wrong. The only reason he would be a target for Fall is his affiliation with Summer. Her anger rekindled, she directs a flurry of bolts at Fall, taking a step forward.

Fall, however, isn’t there. A blow like a hammer falls against her cheek, snapping her head to the side and burning like comet ice.

She reels, knocked aside, and Fall again takes the opportunity to gather a bolt meant to turn Thomas to dust.

Winter reaches out, gathers the bitter bite of an arctic wind- with none of the chill- in her fingertip and lets it jump, head spinning.

Somehow her aim is still true.

Something like white lightning draws a bright track along Fall’s chest and hurls him back. His raiment shreds under the force of the power. It had struck like a blade. There’s a long, curving- and puckered- scar along his shoulder now, and it bleeds even as it shrivels and fades, dripping blue for a few moments before the wound closes and becomes nothing but a long, fine white line.

Entropy! Decay! If Spring is the abundance of time, Fall is the inexorable crush of it!

“Translation?” Winter whispers, staring at the scar, wanting to flee but frozen to the spot in defense of Thomas and the girl.

He’ll heal anything in an instant! His magic can make things age to death in seconds- that includes wounds! Summer warns urgently. Be careful!

She doesn’t have time to be careful.

Fall whips a tendril of beautiful colors at her, flicking it towards her face, legs, and midriff, forcing her to take a step back or be struck.

She trips. Her ankle twists, pain jarring her slightly- the sudden crack startling her as her foot is caught in a hole- and she stumbles, staggers back throws a hand out to catch herself and suddenly finds a blazing tendril of color hovering directly before her face.

Her mouth opens to scream, too slowly, terror suddenly wiping out all thought.

Her brother stares down at her, face calm, eyes laughing.

It strikes.

“All of us make sacrifices for the ones we love,” Silky whispers to Winter quietly. “Isn’t that true for you, too?”

“I don’t know.”

“Winter, do you know anything Summer doesn’t tell you?”

Urgh. That really doesn’t feel good, Summer groans in Winter’s head.

Winter thrusts a hand out, lashing without thought. Cold seizes every part of Fall’s body, trapping Him as surely as a moth in amber. The air around Him is so thick with frost that he can barely even move. She tightens her grip when she comes to her senses, pouring the pressure on until she realizes that the whimpering is coming from His lips rather than hers, that she’s breathing hard, that cold fury has found an outlet, and it’s her brother that she’s killing.

“AH!” She gasps, when she can find her voice.  Her entire body feels as though it’s being eaten away. What’s worse, it feels familiar.  Her skin feels as though it could slough off at any moment.

She shudders, shaking where she lies.

“C-cold,” Fall whispers, and for a striking moment, she sees Him as He is- not a good man or an evil monster, but as a scared child, staring at her in blind terror of death and an end, of power He can’t possibly understand. “S-sister-”

Entropic energy crackles over her skin as she stands, and for a scary moment she can’t find her feet. Then her toes dig into the ground, her whole body burns, and she straightens unsteadily.

Share it.

“What?” Winter breathes weakly.

Redirect it to me! Let me take some of it, or you’ll die!

For a moment, Winter can’t understand what it is her sister is saying. Then a part of her pulls the words apart and picks at the meaning underneath. As her skin is eaten by the corrosive energies running rampant through her body, she gathers some of it in a wrap of her own power, and pushes it towards her sister, towards Summer in her mind. It’s as easy as sharing a thought.

Summer’s yelp in her mind frightens her for a moment, but it feels much better to shove that awful magic away from herself, so she respects her sister’s sacrifice. Between the two of them, they weather the entropic storm.

Blood is running, no, coursing down her body from where her skin and blood vessels ruptured. She takes a deep breath, skin crimson with it, her lungs aching.

You have the p-power, Summer stammers, voice weakening in Winter’s mind. Stop bleeding!

She flash freezes the blood and the wounds on the outside of her body, forcing her decaying power out on a sub-dermal level and wrapping herself in ice like a cloak, like a skintight suit.

Fall, wrapped in ice himself, closes his eyes. Winter guesses that he probably passed out.

Idiot! We… we need him for something… Summer’s voice is weak. The magic from Fall hurts her deeply- Winter can feel it eating away at them both.

“Your son,” Winter whispers.

Yeah… my… son… um…

Winter walks over to Fall, releasing her power from Him. Predictably, He springs at her, eyes open, face a snarl, mixed pain and triumph in his eyes.

Winter catches His fists with hers, and with the strength and force of grinding stone, pushes Him back to the ground.

“I have a bone to pick with you, brother,” She says lightly. “Understand?”

“G-give me the bead,” He whispers weakly, powerless in her grip, joints frosted over. “Please.”

“You don’t frighten me,” Winter replies sadly. “Not anymore.”

“Sister- you don’t understand,” Fall breathes, eyes half-closing. “He must be stopped.”

Winter’s expression changes. With slow, grim realization she closes her own eyes and pulls back.

Who? Summer asks woozily.

“Spring,” Winter says quietly. Then, “Spring, Spring, Spring!”, the name like a curse. It falls from her lips over and over, an echo. It almost drowns out the crunch of feet on dried grass next to her, and it almost drowns out the whisper of the wind in her ear.

She turns and faces her eldest brother. “Me!” He says simply, flashing her an exuberant smile.

The cold flicker in his eyes makes her take a step back, but it doesn’t stop the earth from rippling, forming a stony fist and slamming her under her ribs. White fire licks across Winter’s consciousness and tortures her body, all along a chest that seem to have cracked, a spine that seems to have given way.

Pain lances through her and pummels the breath from her lungs.

Winter blacks out.

“I knew you’d choose him over me,” Spring-Eldest-Season growls. “You’re as traitorous as Summer in that regard. Your love is commendable, if completely misguided.”

Pure-Winter-Snow opens her eyes and regards Spring where he stands. Even with all of his power over time he had been completely unable to stop her from freezing him in place.

“I didn’t choose him,” Winter says quietly. “I just didn’t choose you. You’re becoming dangerously unstable, Eldest.”

His arrogance had led him to first face her without once stepping into the past. Her predecessors had left her notes to help her fight him. Now had been different than before- she’d decided to face him first and foremost, rather than attempting to strike a bargain with him. A bargain he had faithfully broken every time down the Cycle.

Spring. His hair, withered black and dry, his eyes almost literally blazing with fury. She wants to cringe away from that gaze. As the youngest of the seasons, perhaps she should.

She doesn’t. Winter stands tall and resolute- as tall as she can.

“I already know why you want this, why you need this power,” Winter says slowly. “I already know why you want to kill Fall, to erase him from the cycle altogether.”

“Do tell, while you’re in the monologuing mood,” Spring hisses quietly. “I’m hardly in a position to ignore it.”

“You want his power,” Winter says simply. “The truth of it is you’ve become as corrupt as him.”

“Wrong, dear sister,” Spring replies. But Winter isn’t listening.

“All the lies and deceit, all the things you told me- none of it was really true, about wanting peace, about wanting the Cycle’s balance to be restored…”

“It’s amazing you’re still alive, really,” Spring says without moving his lips.

Winter pauses, staring at him. “After all, that blow shattered your ribs,” Spring’s voice continues. “No doubt you’re bleeding to death on the inside. I wonder what you’re dreaming of?”

The memory dissolves into white agony.

When Winter surfaces from the oblivion of unconsciousness, the first thing she sees is Spring’s hand above her face, waving almost comically, as if in an attempt to get her attention. Only the magic sparkling at his fingertips hints otherwise.

Her whole body screams at her as she rolls, and her shattered ribs clatter together in her chest as she forces her hands into the ground and shoves herself up onto unsteady legs.

Spring’s eyes flash in amusement. “Oh, faster than usual, sister dear.”

Winter! Are you… are you okay? Summer pries.

How long was I out? Winter asks weakly.

I dunno, a coupla seconds! Listen, you have to pull yourself together! Spring isn’t going to be an easy fight!

Tell me something I don’t know, Winter replies bitterly.

“Come now, I expected more of a fight than this! Or has Fall already worn you down?” Spring taunts.

Winter closes her eyes for a few moments to shut out the white pain. Summer screams a warning.

Instinctively, her body moving to the infinite protest of her chest, she ducks out of the way of a tendril of stone that makes an audible whoosh as it misses her face.

Spring’s arms are up, his hands working like a puppeteer’s, glowing green. His hair is blackened, but not totally dead, like in her memory. Winter wonders at that.

“All the better for me if he has,” Spring hisses quietly. “Be a dear and hold still.”

Winter stares at him for a few seconds. She isn’t sure she could move if she tried. Her eyes catch a glimpse of movement behind him, though, and maybe it’s that which gives Thomas away.

Spring whirls in an instant, and a tendril of the earth reaches up and snaps Thomas’s spear in two with a single blow. The tendril reaches up then and the crack it makes when it smacks into Thomas’s skull is sickening.

Summer uses Winter’s voice to scream.

“No! NO!

Spring whirls on them, grinning, triumphant. “Yes!” He shouts, and suddenly Winter can barely breathe, a sense of foreboding, washes over her and freezes her to the spot. Her muscles won’t move an inch. Summer strains at it, trying to force Winter’s arm to move, to raise, to fight.

An instant later, though, she sees why.

Sparks of green are climbing up her body from the ground, a trail of them leading out from Spring’s hand- still pointed at her. How?

Time! Summer whispers, voice choked. Damn it! He has all the time he needs to learn our moves, to learn what will happen! How long has he planned this?

Was it pointless from the beginning? Winter wonders. The pain in her shattered ribs threatens to drop her again, if her body would allow her to drop.

A movement catches Winter’s eye. Still covered in frost, Fall moves. Winter sees His eyes snap open. For the first time since Winter had seen Him after the Refraction- since the first time she had seen Him- He grins. Not a smile, not the calm, self-assured visage He usually exudes, but a sheepish, shy, almost apologetic grin. He raises one frost-coated hand, almost painfully slowly.

“You can’t best me,” Spring says quietly. “Not in terms of experience. Not in terms of anything, little sisters. You should have just done as I asked! You should have given me the bead! Getting Fall to bind Summer inside you was the smartest move I think I’ve ever made, Winter.”

“And that, elder brother,” Fall begins quietly. It’s clear to Winter that it’s taking almost all of his strength just to stay conscious. “Is exactly why they’re going to kick your ass now.”

For a moment she thinks He’s lapsed back into unconsciousness as his eyes close. Then there’s a jolt, a blinding flash of scintillating light. Something familiar about the energy- smelling of sweet lavender and the bitter-honey taste of decay. It’s Fall’s! She can feel it!

Spring’s yelp of surprise is cut short by an overwhelming wave of silence and deep, deep darkness.

Demimind: Chapter 28

A bit short. I’m beginning work on 29 immediately. It’s time to put myself to the true test of a writer.

Enjoy.

-Eris

(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.”

“Fall?”

“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?”

Demimind: Chapter 26

All I can say about this one is that I’m sorry it’s late! I know, I know, falling behind and that- but it’s been pretty busy at the college and at home. In attempting to write and get ahead, I have written and gotten behind. Enjoy- I should have a new short story, Unyielding Blue [Working Title], out in a week or less. That’s what’s caught some of my attention.

-Eris

(26)Bargain

“Why are you-” Summer begins, but Autumn cuts her off, pleasant demeanor vanishing.

“I don’t have time to play games. The illmetal bead, now. I’ll take it from you by force if I must,” Lord Autumn snarls. “Now give it to me.”

Summer tries feigning ignorance.

“You can’t be serious- illmetal? Why would we have-”

You were conscious when she stole it from me. You must have been. Give it to me or die, sister.

Fall’s voice is loud enough to shake the whole world. Summer feels her legs tremble, despite herself. She takes a step back, and Fall takes a step forward.

“I don’t have it,” Summer snaps.

Fall’s hand strikes her cheek, snapping her head to the side. Summer takes another tottering step back. All her power seems to have fled her, and the slap burns on her cheek, ice and fire.

“You lie,” He hisses. “How could you not? You are the same as Winter. Illmetal is the single rarest element there ever has been, I need it for one simple deed and then I will be done. I will never bother you again. Give it to me.

Summer wipes her cheek with a trembling hand, glaring at her brother. This close and without rage to fuel her, He seems far too strong. Every part of her body feels filled with lead, and her hand fights her, by her side. Her heavy feet want to run.

“I am not, brother,” She answers quietly, with calmness she doesn’t feel. “How could I be the same as her? We are one being, but divided in this form, for better or worse. You saw to that.”

Autumn snarls at her. “Are you saying you don’t have the illmetal bead?”

“I already said that, but you didn’t believe me. Ought I say it again?”

Lord Autumn’s hands clench, unclench in fury. “You-!”

“I don’t have it, brother! Think about it! Her body is separate from mine- if she had it in a pocket, where would it go? Do you think you can simply tear it from my mind?” Summer asks, voice rising. “If you wish to continue making a fool of yourself, by all means! Every second you waste is another you could be spending trying to find the other beads.”

Autumn pauses, at that. “Other beads.” It isn’t a question.

“Look around you, Lord,” Summer says mockingly, desperate to hide her fear. “This city is filled with humans. Surely the creation of a bead wouldn’t be so difficult here.”

“You would know how to do something like that, would you?” Autumn muses. “And what’s to stop me torturing you to find out what I need to know?”

“I don’t know how. But there were tomes in Season’s Refuge that might teach you what you need to-”

“Stupid bitch,” Autumn hisses. “I’m not about to fall for that. You could be a hundred leagues away by the time I returned.”

“If I’m right, why would you need to return?” Summer asks slyly. “If you need proof of my goodwill, I’ll tell you another secret. In a grove back in Evercold Forest, there was a bead of illmetal in a thicket near where spiders spin their webs.”

“With the Spider Queen. How do you know this?” Fall asks sharply. “Did you see it?”

“Yes, we visited there for a time. It was there while we were. Someone may have taken it after we left,” Summer says simply, eyes showing nothing. She can see Lord Autumn wrestling with Himself.

You dirty, lying little thief, Winter whispers. I love you. I hope you know what you’re doing.

The Lord of Season’s Refuge narrows His eyes. “I’ll take your word on faith this one time, Summer, but know this- I’ll always know where you are. There is nowhere you can run and nowhere you can hide- because all fall prey to decay eventually.”

His smile is horrible to behold. Summer matches it with a shining one of her own. “Fuck off,” She snaps, smile evaporating. “You don’t have time to fool around here.”

Lord Autumn turns on his heel, carves a hole in time and space, and disappears. The hole shimmers in the air for a moment before it curls in on itself and, like Autumn, vanishes.

Summer’s trembling legs near drop her, but she staggers up the steps to the portal and leans against it for support.

You need to get to Spring, Winter says quietly. We need to get to Spring. He said to meet him at the Shrine- well, now seems to be the time.

“Right,” Summer manages. She’d faced fire and death and heard the bitter sound of the guardians of the dead, but she had never- and never would again, with any luck- felt quite so helpless as she had been standing in front of her brother. Fall’s presence had struck her like a ton of stone, crushing her. What was the difference between the power He’d had in the cavern and the power now? He had been so strong she could barely move.

She feels rage stirring in her chest like fire, and with one trembling hand, smashes the stone on the dais, rapping a few sigils quickly, from memory.

Everspring appears in the gateway.

“Time to get some answers,” Summer growls, and strides through.

After she leaves,  a few saffron robed men step down from the guild’s shattered entrance and approach the enormous stone dais. Their steps are cautious, as if daring more legends to appear before them. When none come forth, they just stand there, one staring at the ashes that had been their second-in-command and the other warily approaching the shimmering portal.

“What in the Cycle was that all about?” the leader asks, peering into the gate where Summer can be seen storming up to the city.

“Politics,” The other replies. “I’m going to go have a drink.”

“Borigg is dead,” The mourner says hollowly. “Who’ll be Master now?”

The leader turns to him and shrugs. “Doesn’t really matter, does it? When monsters like those two are running around, it sort of brings your own insignificance into sharp perspective, right?”

It takes no time at all to find the Shrine. She stalks past the drowsy gateguard, who pays her almost no mind. The couples in the street, and the warm breath of eternal spring are not so comforting anymore. They seem to only cloud matters further for her, and it irritates her that her elder brother could be so frivolous. Carefree.

She storms up the walk into the courtyard of the Shrine, and there, to her surprise, stands Spring. He gives her an apologetic smile and spreads his arms. “Summer. You’re late, and- my goodness me, what’s happened to your face?”

“I’m right on time,” She replies grimly. “And don’t give me that, time-traveler. You know very well why I’ve got this.”

Her jaw hurts, a frozen burn. She’s surprised it doesn’t smoke. There’s a livid scar across her cheek, she’s sure and while normally she’d want to look at it, right now she’d rather forget she got it.

“Very well. Why are you here, other than the reason I called you?” Spring asks wearily. There’s a sort of exhaustion to his features, a fatigue that goes so much deeper than the skin. It seems to cling to the very bones of his frame, and as she looks at him, it seems to her that he looks much older than when last she saw him.

“I want to know more about who we are,” Summer says sharply. “Winter and I, I mean. Nothing has been explained. We’ve just been running, learning nothing, using knowledge we didn’t know we had- what are we? Why are we?”

“Well, that is a long tale. Shouldn’t we go inside?” Spring asks, chewing on his lip. “No? Hmm. Where to start.”

“I find the beginning to be a good spot,” Summer says dryly. Spring doesn’t seem to hear her.

“At the beginning of all things, after the final war was fought, the Cycle was made, and everything was in peace and harmony, four beings were created to govern the Laws, as their personifications. In this new universe, created by… er… whoever created it… there would need to be four original beings. It was to function on laws entirely unlike the universe before it. The original four beings, Sense, Wave, Space, Time, created more sub-beings to govern different sections of different worlds. For the world as we know it- named, rather unimaginatively, World, there are many such personifications. We four, the Seasons, govern only a relatively small part of it,

“First, there was me. Er. Spring. I was made to govern renewal and regrowth, as well as time, to a certain extent. I was the first created- but only by a few seconds. Summer, you were made next, and due to some form of cosmic joke, you were tied together with Winter when she was finally created. You were life incarnate, filled with conceit and arrogance and joy. Your job is- and was- to make every living thing understand that it was alive. Of course, no created creature can be perfect, it’s one of the fundamental laws of the universe. So occasionally you make a subconscious error and allow things that were born to be created without that spark of life.

“Then, there was Autumn, who was declared lord of decay, entropy and misery. Not to never know joy, of course… but to see to it that it remained in order, and that, when the time came, everything was to fall to pieces as it should. Of all of us, Autumn was to be the one most aloof from the others… And I think that may have been a mistake.

“Finally, of course, there was Winter, and you know her as well as I do, I’m afraid. She’s a bit of a strange one- not only does she govern death, but also, I believe she is responsible for the cold in the world, and, being tied to you, also is tied to every living being in a different way. It is up to Winter to see to it that everything dies, and to guide- subconsciously, of course- every soul to the continuation of the Cycle.”

Winter wonders at that, but Summer is more vocal about it.

“So what does that mean? Why is Winter bound to me?”

“It is as I said- there was a mistake. Her creation- and thus each incarnation afterwards- was imperfect. Lord Autumn feels that it is His job to correct that- for that He seeks the illmetal bead, so He might complete His Refraction and take over both Winter and His own duties.

“Unfortunately, if He were to do that, He would likely go completely insane. I believe that it is unavoidable at this point. It is only a matter of time until he seizes the illmetal from you, Winter. He will try to come for it as soon as you change again, Summer, though I doubt He knows when exactly that will be.”

Spring pauses, then stops completely, sighing heavily. “If only I had completed my research a day or so sooner.”

“Research,” Summer says flatly. “What were you researching?”

“The process by which you and Winter were created,” Spring replies ruefully. “I felt that if I were able to correct the mistake that caused you two to be created together…. well, we could somehow solve everything at once.”

“How?” Summer asks sharply.

Finally, some answers, Winter mutters.

I hope we can trust them, Summer replies silently.

“Firstly,” Spring says slowly. “We would need to create a shell for Winter- or separate her shell from yours. Then it would be a simple matter of transferring her soul.”

“That doesn’t sound so hard,” Summer says cautiously. “So what’s stopping you?”

“The amount of power it takes- well, I was researching easier energy sources,” Spring replies, equally wary now. “Ones… less costly… than what the spell originally called for.”

Make him tell us what the original sources were, Winter says grimly. I have a bad feeling about this.

“Spring,” Summer says quietly. “What was originally used?”

“Life force,” Spring says edgily. “Er.”

“How much life force?” Summer presses.

“You’ve visited Barrier,” Spring replies sadly. “How much do you think?”

Summer doesn’t get it at first, but Winter suddenly goes cold in her sister’s head. “What do you-”

The original spell to create us stole the life from everything in the Barrier. It wasn’t a wasteland before. That’s what he means, Winter says distantly.

Summer rocks on her heels, as if from a blow. “What?” She asks weakly. The prospect of that much death shocks even her- so much life snuffed for their sake? Who could possibly make such a call?

“Barrier is miles- leagues long, and at least a third as wide. It wraps around this patch of the world and isolates it near completely from the rest. So many creatures died that there is a permanent gateway from Barrier to the Pockets of the Dead. To draw on that much energy again would be unforgivable,” Spring says grimly.

“What other energy source did you research?” Summer asks hastily, changing the subject before it dizzies her further. “Didn’t you find anything else?”

Spring nods grimly, and then holds out a hand. “Summer, in order for us to accomplish this transfer, I will need the illmetal bead you have.”

Winter snaps back, thinking hard.

“I still have more questions,” Summer says quietly.

“They aren’t important,” Spring presses. “The bead, please. When the transfer is complete, we can worry about answering your questions.”

“What about my child?” Summer asks.

Spring hesitates just a second too long. “Safe. Of course it’s safe- in the Shrine.”

“Let me see him,” Summer says grimly. “When I have my child, then I’ll give you the bead.”

Summer… Winter whispers. What are you doing? I hate to say it, but isn’t this a little more important? He’s safe. Don’t worry.

Summer ignores Winter, just gazes at Spring steadily.

“I-” Spring stares at Summer’s expression, again looking old and weak. He stares at his feet, green hair waving gently in the breeze. “Sister- the truth is that your child is gone.”

Summer’s heart freezes, her hands and legs shake.

“What?” She asks blankly. Had she heard him correctly? “What do you mean?”

“Shortly after you departed the Shrine the first time, Lord Autumn came and-” Summer isn’t even listening anymore, cold, terrible rage wreathing her in flames. “He stole my baby,” She says, voice flat. “He came and took my child.”

“He said something about it being insurance. Sister- oh, I fear this is all my fault,” Spring whispers. “I told Him about the baby, you see. I didn’t know He was that far gone…”

Summer shakes her head. She hadn’t really known her child at all. But the baby was still- is still- hers. To leave him in Lord Autumn’s hands for any longer would be sickening. Especially not when she thinks she can do something about it.

“You’re a fool,” She snaps grimly. “How could you have been such a fool? If He is after me, of course He would take my child. Now I have no choice.”

“What are you going to do?”

“When I have my boy,” Summer repeats slowly. “I will give you the illmetal bead. Not a moment before.”

“Don’t do anything rash,” Spring chides. “Summer, if you strike at Him now He will not hesitate to kill you or your offspring.”

“Then I will die,” Summer says simply. “And I will deserve it.”

From the way her shoulders are set, the way her eyes flash with an internal, unquenchable anger, Spring can see that she means it. He’d seen this look in several Summers from the past, on many different incarnations. It frightens him now.

Summer turns away from Spring. “If you desire to see me return with the bead then you will give me anything you have that might ease this task.”

“I can give you only information,” Spring replies warily. “But it is good information. Fa- Lord Autumn… He cannot harm you with spells as strong as Words, for fear of destroying the illmetal along with you. He will fight you in a weaker state until forced to lash out. It… should be noted that the place He currently resides- in Season’s Refuge… It’s impossible to teleport within ten miles of the place. He has shielded it thus to keep our enemies out.”

Summer cracks a smile, which Spring can’t see. It’s a hollow smile indeed. “We’ll see.”

She pauses. “There is a girl and a man- Thomas. Take care of them while I am gone, brother. I have a few places Winter will need to go. This is my last day, and I mean to make it count. I have a few things I need to do…”

Summer frowns at that. The first place she needs to visit is Winter’s sanctum. There isn’t a doubt in her mind that some of her brother’s servants will lie in wait for her, if he even has servants.

Spring shrugs and sighs. “I’ll be busy enough, but I will take care of the girl. And Thomas can resume employment as my gateguard if he wants. I told his partner that he was gone, never to be seen again, so I imagine this will be good news- and Summer?”

Summer turns slightly, pausing at the gates.

“Be careful,” Spring says quietly. “Autumn may share your blood, but that only goes so far. In the state He is in, He may kill you before you have a chance. Take care of your sister, too.”

“I will.”

Summer, displaying restraint very unlike her, carefully opens the gate and steps out of the shrine courtyard. The air is thick with the smell of rain, but there isn’t a drop ready to fall anywhere- the only drops falling struggle their way down Summer’s face and drip down her chin.

But her formulae are clear as crystal as she works her way through a gate spell. She tears a shimmering line through the air in front of her, a single finger peeling back the layers of space one by one. When she steps through, it closes behind her.

Demimind: Chapter 15

(15)Of Spring and Healing

Summer stumbles when the change hits her. Winter’s body disappears- Summer’s pregnancy weakened body stumbles forward. Her hands slap the ground- she can’t seem to find her breath.

No one moves to help her either- Thomas is determined to look the other way, the mute man just stands and stares, and Fall, who seems to be taking some sort of bizarre revenge on Glory through her, just sits on the bed and pretends she doesn’t exist.

She manages to sit up, but her whole body feels raw, and her stomach- her womb- feels as if it’s been sliced open. She rubs her belly to make sure this isn’t the case. It isn’t- though she has blood on her hand when she takes it away. Summer takes a deep breath, and breathes it out slowly.

Feeling okay?

“Yes,” She lies, coughing once and giving herself a weak smile. “I’m feeling just fine, Winter.”

Thomas clears his throat. “I don’t suppose you’d care to put some clothes on?”

Summer blushes. She catches Fall smiling and snaps a glare in his direction. Then she closes her eyes, takes a deep breath. Drawing on the life in the room, she materializes a gauzy shirt and skirt, made out of summer gossamer and fading sunbeams. She slips into them easily, and they tighten snug about her figure, shining bright and literally blindingly beautiful.

“Better,” She says quietly. “You can look now, Thomas.”

He turns back toward her, obviously relieved that she’s wearing something more than her skin. Fall looks at her directly now too, half a smile on his face.

“For the record, I’d rather you were seeing me improper than leaving me to stumble and smack the ground,” Summer comments dryly. “Though admittedly I don’t plan on being so weak next time that I fall like that.”

Fall folds his arms and just watches her. Thomas leans down and offers a hand, which she accepts gratefully. She feels about a hundred pounds lighter with the baby gone. And strangely empty.

Thomas pulls her to her feet with frightening ease. “Miss, you’ve lost weight,” He says, trying a grin.

She offers him weak smile in return. “How untoward of you to notice.”

He blushes, but holds her smile until Fall coughs meaningfully.

“Summer, you’ve a task before you,” He points out.

“We need to be somewhere with more life to it,” She replies. “There isn’t enough for me to heal something like that. Not at my present power.”

A voice, at the door makes everyone jump. “I have something that might help.”

Spring walks into the shack boldly, his green skin and brown-tipped hair bright in the cool light of the moon shining through the window. When he arrives at the center of the room, he reaches into a pocket in his jeans and tugs out a flower- a rose, in fact. He sets it on the table. Summer stares at it.

It isn’t a normal rose. It glows brightly, and seems made of incandescent light rather than actual flower.

“Where did you get this?” She asks.

“What is it?” Fall demands. “Why are you here, brother? Are you for us or against us?”

“I am what I am,” Spring says quietly. “I am neither for you nor against you. I cannot help you and I cannot hurt you. I don’t much appreciate what you will do in the future, brother.”

“How could you know?” Summer asks sharply. “And you haven’t answered my question.”

Thomas remains silent, watching the display, face blank. Whether he knows what’s going on and is remaining quiet or is just confused isn’t obvious.

Spring smiles. “I am a product of past, present and future, my dear sister and brother. I am here, there, and all around, waiting for my time to come. That’s always how it’s been- so!” He rubs his hands together.

“Let’s get down to business,” He says seriously. “That rose is something special to you, Summer, is it not? I took the liberty of liberating it from your past self. You’re calling her Glory at this point, are you not?”

“Yes,” Fall says slowly. “What in the time of the Cycle are you going on about?”

“Patience. I’ll explain,” Spring soothes. “First, answer my question, Summer.”

“Yes,” Summer says, narrowing her eyes. She reaches over and picks up the rose. “I believe I remember now.”

“Excellent.”

“I remember you stealing this from me and disappearing,” She says sharply. “Start explaining.”

“I did not actually steal it from you,” Spring says cheerfully. “That was me from another timeline.”

“Horseshit,” Summer growls. “I didn’t fall for it then, I won’t fall for it now. This ‘timeline’ business is a myth. If there is one, there’s only one.”

Spring sighs a little, but looks amused at Summer’s deduction. “It’d be easier if just once you would believe me. You’re right, of course. The truth of it is that  there is no difference between the us of now and the us of later- not really. We are all predestined to do the things we eventually do. Summer from here- Glory- knows this, and seeks to set it all in motion. She needn’t bother, she would do it whether or not she tried to avoid it.”

He nods at Fall. “You, dear brother, will become a monster eventually. There is nothing that can stop that.” He glances at Summer. “And you, dear sister, will redeem yourself- or try to- for your past sins by killing Fall when he becomes the Moonlord. It’s a part of the grand Cycle, something we’ve done for ages. The Seasons are at war with one another. They can work together, but only for a time and only towards one goal- the destruction of one another.”

“How do you know?” Thomas asks suddenly, arms folded. “That sounds a little ridiculous, milord. Shouldn’t you at least try to fight it?”

“Well-” Spring starts, but Fall cuts him off.

“It’s obvious rubbish,” Fall snaps. “After hearing about what I’ve done? There’s nothing in this world that’d make me go that far off the deep end.”

Spring shrugs, then gives Summer a smile. “Bring that rose along with you, when you visit the shrine tomorrow.”

Summer sighs and sets the rose back on the table. “Fine, brother. But you’ll have a lot of explaining to do in the future.”

Spring steps back and takes an expansive bow. “Just don’t use it all up at once.”

He straightens, then vanishes in the breeze, taking another step backward and disappearing completely. A few leaves drift to the floor with his passage.

What a tool, Winter comments. He’s nothing like he’ll be later.

“Yeah,” Summer says quietly. She turns to the mute man, who stares at her. “Ready?”

He nods. His dark eyes flash at her. Something about his stare makes her more than a little uncomfortable.

Still, Winter wants him healed. She owes Winter a lot. Much more than this  healing could repay. She has to start somewhere… May as well be here.

She takes a deep breath and reaches inside of herself. Then, drawing a hand around the tight ball of her power, she weaves threads around her fingers and casts them out around her, making sure they touch everything but the man. Her eyes close, then open and open wide.

-You see me,- He says silently. -Will you still help me?-

What’s going on? He just lost a tongue, Winter wonders. Are you okay? You’ve been standing here for a while now.

Summer breaks out in a sweat, but doesn’t let the fear show on her face.

The man is not a man. He is a dragon. Or she. The voice is feminine, and cloaked in a mental hiss. She can’t make out the creature’s scales to know whether it’s evil or good. She can’t remember which scales mean what anyway.

“Yeah, I guess I will,” She says quietly. “Open your mouth.”

The man-illusion opens its mouth, baring the gaping hole. Taking another deep breath, Summer pushes her hand- still covered in glowing threads- into the illusory man’s mouth. She feels a dragon tongue curl around her hand and flick her arm. Razor sharp teeth hedge in her hand. She feels her legs shaking, and keeps them still.

Summer?

Thomas can only see her stuffing her hand into the illusion’s mouth, but he feels something must be wrong. “Milady, what-”

“Now bite,” She says, eyes shut tight. “And swallow.”

Well. Blood for blood-

The dragon bites down, severing Summer’s hand at the wrist. The tongue curls around the severed limb and the creature swallows it whole.

Had she judged right? Summer can’t help but wonder that, stepping back, one hand clutching the bleeding stump where her hand used to be and calmly applying pressure. Thomas is shouting, scrabbling for his sword- his iron armor lies on the stand in the corner of the shack. Fall is rising from his seat, a mixture of fury and concern written across normally placid features.

Summer feels her blood streaming past her fingers. Only for a moment. Through force of will she cuts the flow, using a single thread she saved- and connected to the rose- to hold her blood in place with her power.

She still feels woozy, and searing pain climbs up her arm in waves.

There’s an interminable pause, and Summer gets the feeling that perhaps she’d failed- but then the dragon’s scales rip through skin that was never there.

She sees Thomas shrink back. The illusory man fades, and the shack crumbles as the dragon regains its normal height, length, temperament and power all at once.

Fall stands firm, though his face goes white.

“Oh,” He says weakly.

She’s a dragon? Wasn’t expecting that, Winter remarks. Her mental voice is shaky, weak with pain. Summer had almost forgotten that it transfered through their link. She’s feeling shaky herself.

Summer sways on her feet. She can feel her body, now doubly weakened, almost stumble. Fear from the dragon’s presence is making it even harder to keep her balance. She leans against the table as bits of the shack’s roof rain down.

In the moonlight the dragon’s black scales gleam. An enormous, sinuous tail, ending in a long spade, flicks out spines reflexively as the creature stretches. Beryl eyes stare at her, a feral glimmer in them.

Summer has to commend Thomas on his bravery. He steps forward, having recovered his iron armor and struggled into the shoulders of it, at least. His sword is drawn too, though the tip weaves and he seems to be shaking in his boots.

Fall shakes his head slowly, clearly disbelieving it.

Summer, for her part, draws on the power of the Rose, letting the thread thicken. She wraps her arm in it, slowly, concentrating as hard as she can, drawing out the faint outline of her hand in her mind. Now heal.

Her hand reforms, skin and bone wrapped in one, tendons and nerves all coiling into place, fingers next, nails. Her skin, pale and pink, contrasts sharply with the bronze of her form, but at least it’s functional. Well, technically. She can’t move it just yet, and-

A familiar dragon muzzle opens in front of her, baring dagger-long teeth. It snaps closed an inch from her face. She hears Thomas drop his sword and scramble trying to pick it up.

-Are you frightened?- The dragon hisses, its tail flicking this way and that, curling and twisting like an agitated snake. Blood shines on its teeth as its lips curl back.

Yes, Winter whispers.

“No,” Summer says calmly, looking up and into its eyes. It’s not really a lie. Fear is knotted in her belly. But she doesn’t feel afraid.

-Why?- The voice roars in her head. The dragon hisses, its tongue flashing out and flicking across Summer’s face like a slap. Its saliva stings and burns like acid. But Summer simply stands there, still leaning on the table. There’s a burning trail across one bronze cheek, but she reaches up and wipes it off with her uninjured hand.

“You don’t scare me. I saved you. There is a binding on you now. You can’t hurt me.”

Are you sure? Winter hisses. I mean, are you really sure?

Summer tries to ignore her.

-I could crush you,- The black dragon growls. -You are lower than dust. I needed your help, but that doesn’t mean I am beholden to you, season Summer. You may have risen among humans, but you are no match for a dragon!-

“I never said I was,” Summer says mildly. “I have shed blood for you. I expect you to do the same for me. You should know how it works.”

The dragon hisses, long and low.

“You can’t harm me again,” Summer says simply.

-Just give me the chance,- It snarls.

“Open your mouth,” Summer says quietly.

The dragon roars at her.

Summer waits patiently until it’s done, and then slips her other hand into its mouth, letting it hover just above the dragon’s tongue.

It tries to snap its jaws shut, but something stops its mouth from closing all the way. It strains and hisses, clawing tracks in the dirt with its foreclaws. But it can’t manage it. She knew it wouldn’t be able to, somehow.

Summer watches the dragon struggle. Only when it stops moving entirely and just glares at her does she withdraw her hand. She meets its gaze steadily and pats it on the muzzle. “I healed you. It cost me deeply.”

-You’ll regenerate fully within the hour,- The dragon sneers. -What cost is that?-

“I drain things I love constantly in order to save myself. That is the cost. You know the balance- you’re a dragon, not a fool,” Summer says sternly. “You are being brash, you are filled with the arrogance of your race, and you know it. You wish you could control it, you want to thank me, but how does a dragon thank someone? It can’t. Everything is a dragon’s toy. I am not your toy, dragon. I am your equal. I saved your life of my own will. You are bound to me.”

The dragon answers with sullen silence. It snorts, puffing a cloud of acrid, sulfurous smoke from its nostrils.

Summer strokes its muzzle still, eyes watering. “It’s okay,” She murmurs quietly, wiping her eyes with the back of her recently regenerated hand. “You were in pain. You don’t want to trust me. It’s okay. I’m here to help. I wouldn’t have saved you otherwise.”

-They lied to me,- The dragon says, hissing softly. Its tail settles on the ground with a thud, and it settles lower. -They promised gold, tribute. They trapped me with a Word.-

Without quite realizing why, the dragon has moved closer and set its head next to Summer. The creature is enormous- almost a full thirty feet in length from head to tailtip. Its wings are little more than ornamental- no monster that size could ever fly without the aid of magic.

“Who?” Summer asks, voice soft as a gentle wind blowing through summer wildflowers. “Who did this to you?”

-The Slayers. The ones at Black Refuge. Humans.

“Well,” Fall says weakly. “That’d explain a lot, actually.”

Demimind: Chapter 10

Well! It’s the tenth chapter. A milestone, if I do say so myself. Actually it’s the eleventh, if you count the prologue. Remember that you can read any of the chapters by navigating up to the black bar at the top of the page and clicking on Demimind chapters. 

Enjoy.

-Eris

(10)Memory

Winter’s eyes are open, but she doesn’t register what she sees until Summer screams at her the third time.

Winter!

The world around her is in utter chaos. Twisting, writhing tendrils of light and dark lash out from all around. Thomas, the gateguard, stands by her side, holding onto her hand with the attitude of a scared, confused child lingering close to his mother. There is no consistency in this place.

No up, no down- everything is an agonizingly bright sea, or a coarse dark wasteland. It shifts and rocks and rolls in her vision, though she feels very firmly planted on the ground. Hissing, bubbling and shrieking fills the air, the whole world is a tortured temporal mess that wriggles and squirms in her vision until she feels she might be sick.

“Stop,” She says softly. She can feel the truth of her words as she says them, and the chaos doesn’t frighten her. “I know where I am and what this used to be. This is not how I left it.”

The world around her stops moving and falls, slowly, into place, colors and shapes changing- almost apologetically.

She turns, sees clouds of white in the ceiling- the sky?- and the twisting tendrils that once slipped up from the floor instead still, forming white grass. Everything is white here, different shades of brightness, but white all the same. Before her, three steps forward, is a table. The horizon becomes white, the earth underfoot is white.

“A pocket world,” Thomas whispers to himself, and Winter gives him a strange look.

“How did you know that?” She asks, genuinely surprised. Inside she wonders how she knew that. “I didn’t take you for a magic user. I don’t see how anyone but a magician could know.”

Thomas clears his throat and looks away. “I’m not a magic user. My dad was, but I’m not. Before the world went to hell and back- pardon my language, miss- my family was right respected. Long history of keeping portals of one kind or another. As it happens, my granddad used to tell my dad stories about pocket worlds. Folds in space, he called them. Places the Gods lived.”

“We’re not Gods,” Winter says quietly. “I’m not a God. There is no God. We’re just regular people.”

“Begging your pardon, miss, but you know at least two Words of power,” Thomas responds mildly. “If that ain’t God material, what is?”

Winter thinks about that. “There’ve been sorcerers who knew Words of power, haven’t there?”

Thomas shakes his head ruefully. “If there were, miss, I never learned about ’em. Sorry.”

Winter decides it’s time for a change of subject. She goes to take a seat in the white grass- but no sooner does she think of sitting down than a chair appears and forms under her butt from the vastness of white around them.

Creepy, Summer remarks. Never got used to this dimension.

“What do you know about Bringer-of-Spring?” Winter asks.

Thomas shrugs, then smiles, taking a seat as well. The world seems not to care what he thinks- when he sits, he sits down in the grass.  “What do you want to know about him, miss?”

“My name is Winter, it’s… kind of weird when you call me miss like that,” Winter says wearily. “As for what I want to know- tell me about how he is, what he does. Just about him, I guess. I didn’t have the chance to know him very well before we were… separated.”

“He built the town I was born in, mi- Winter. He’s sort of like a local, ah, God there,” Thomas starts, then stops, plainly uncomfortable now that he actually has to think about it. “He never really did much magic- but, strangest thing, it was in the middle of the snow plains, where he built it. Somehow he made it so that the snow and cold is sort of… surrounding it, but not affecting it. Like he took it… out of time or something.”

“What’s the name of the town?” Winter asks curiously. “There’s no sign or anything.”

“Uh, Everspring.”

“Very nice,” Winter says politely. A bit boring and cliché, Summer snips.

“Well, the town is always just warm enough to be outside, without ever being too hot or too cold. It’s sort of stuck between the two seasons- well, you know how Spring is, right?”

The man or the season? Summer asks dryly.

“Yes,” Winter replies.

“The town never sees winter- er, your pardon, not you, but the time of year- and it never sees summer or fa-” Thomas stops himself in time, looking around fearfully before he continues. “Or autumn. The trees are always healthy and the crops always grow and harvest time comes whenever Bringer feels like it. It’s magic, pure and simple, and it’s legend- and truth- that it was Bringer-of-Spring who did it.”

There’s admiration in Thomas’s tones, so much that Summer wonders how much is an act. Winter has no such thoughts, nodding for Thomas to continue. “Did he ever say anything about Words of power?”

“No, miss Winter. He never did. Not to my family at least, and we were closer’n most to him,” Thomas says. He sighs heavily again. “Sorry I don’t know much about him. He’s pretty mysterious.”

“He is,” Winter says shortly, suddenly lost in thought.

He saved you, you know. Summer volunteers. Let you run away when you needed to.

“Yes,” Winter replies quietly. “He did.”

“Sorry, miss?” Thomas asks, forgetting himself.

For a moment, a blissful, blessed moment, Winter is left alone in her head and can think. She figures she may as well make the most of it. She stands, looking around this white world. It seems safe from Fall, for now. She wonders at her brother. Where did He come from? What does He want? What had Summer taken from Him? Or had He meant Winter? Had she herself taken something from Him? If only she could remember.

She half-expects a book to appear out of the ether at that, with all of the answers. She’s almost disappointed when it doesn’t. Summer seems to guess at what she wants.

This place, as I understand it, is made from memory, Winter. It can’t remember what you don’t for you. I remember you told me there was a place that you stored your memories once, I remember watching you do it. But I can’t for the life of me remember how to get into that place.

“We’ve got seven days to kill,” Winter says to no one in particular. “Why not?”

Not knowing exactly what she’s doing, she walks off through the white grass. Thomas, not knowing what else to do, follows.

After a time- with a white forest of needled trees visible in the distance- she reaches a white pond set in white earth, flowing and swirling- a pond of opaque fluid, like glue or paint. She reaches down and cups some in her hand- but it feels as insubstantial as cloud. She watches it slip between her fingers and trickle back into the greater mass.

It triggers…. something, a memory rushing from the blackness of her mind and striking her squarely.

– 

A pond. She is near a pond, a blue pond, clear crystal blue, like the sky. Trees are visible off in the distance, but around her green grasses tangle with her feet. Green grass tipped with brown.

No, she sits with her knees up near her chest, and at her feet, half in the water and half out, there lies Spring on his back, his strange hair tickling her toes. His head rests on his arms.

“You should go home, Winter-Long-Frost,” he says, tone gentle as wind through leafy branches.

“You… you can’t tell me what to do,” Winter says, in barely more than a whisper. “Summer said to be out here. So I’m going to stay out here until she says for me to go inside.”

“She’s probably just pulling a prank, Frost,” Spring remarks. “I’d thought you’d get better at recognizing them, but Summer is right- you’re too easy to manipulate.”

“I don’t need your sympathy,” Winter snipes back, her sharpness surprising her. “I only listen to her because she’s older than me.”

“Summer will always be older than Winter,” Spring says mildly. “Are you going to let that dictate your life forever? What would it take to make you do things for yourself? It kills Fall a little when you get hurt, you know, and Summer will laugh every single time.”

“Fall?” Winter asks. She stares down at Spring suspiciously. “What about The-Leaves-Fall? Why should he care if I get hurt?”

“Winter, it’s almost painful watching you lie. Fall is ever so much more than a ‘brother’ to you. We’re all family, but you and Fall are like lovers, that much is no secret.”

Winter feels a sharp blush creeping up, starting with her tickled toes. “You really are shameless. I really hate you sometimes, you know that?”

You really hate me, not Summer? That’s a start.”

 –

“Winter!” Thomas hisses. “Miss Winter, what are you doing?”

Winter. You’ve just been standing there for close to ten minutes now. We have days to kill, but this is ridiculous.

Winter’s eyes focus and she comes back to herself. She gazes into the pool still, calling up a memory of Autumn’s face now. It swirls into shape in the liquid, formed of whiteness but still visible as the contours of the horned man’s visage. To Winter, it rises from the pool and stares back at her. She reaches out, leaning perilously close to the edge, her hand outstretched, seemingly completely oblivious to Thomas’s pleas or Summer’s admonition.

After a few seconds it becomes apparent she’s out of it.

“What is she doing?” Thomas asks himself. His eyes are drawn to the figure in the pool, flat in the strange white liquid. It looks startlingly similar to an old portrait of Lord Fa- Autumn He can’t help but wonder if it was drawn from life. 

Summer sighs mentally and rolls her figurative eyes.

If I knew I’d tell ya. If I knew and you could hear me, anyway.

 –

“Lord Autumn. What will you do to help us?”

The merchant is quaking in his boots. This close to the horned man it’s extremely difficult to keep your wits, its said his gaze can cause insanity, and the merchant looks as if he believes it.

Lord Autumn shrugs his shoulders expressively, half a smile creasing his lips. “I suppose that depends. Dear sister, what do you think is the best course of action?”

Summer grins and looks the merchant dead in the eyes. “You want me to decide a peasant’s fate? Lost your touch of mercy?”

“If I wanted mercy I’d let Bringer decide,” Fall says, his tone bored. “I think this case requires your rather unique touch.”

Summer regards the merchant. He’s a bit of a short, fat man, sweaty and covered in the thick stench of fear and apprehension. His face is one of a tired traveler. He stands before two legends. Things couldn’t have gone well to bring him here in the first place.

Summer shrugs. Empathy she might have, but sympathy has never been her strong point. She decides to defer this decision to her younger sister. Should be worth a laugh. 

In a flash, she shifts shape, becoming Winter, and leaving her mind-mate confused and too hot in what used to be Summer’s seat and wearing what used to be Summer’s clothes.

Here, Winter. Decide this case for me, Summer says. I’m too bored to bother.

Winter’s eyes, two piercing blue orbs, rest squarely on the merchant. She’s about to open her mouth when Fall interrupts her thought.

“She wants you to go home, pick two of your finest wares, and deliver them to the nearest temple of Winter. When you have done that you will be cleansed of evil, and you may converse freely with your rival without fear of hatred or anger,” Fall says. His expression is stormy, but it’s not the merchant’s fault, Winter is sure of that.

The merchant, however, flees anyway after the necessary farewells and thank yous.

When he is gone, Summer forces her way back into Winter’s body, shoving her weaker sibling aside and letting her resume her usual position- watching.

“Well that was boring,” She grumps. “You should have let Frosty decide.”

“Summer, I do not approve of you using our sister like that,” Fall says, his tone amiable, though his expression is murder. “It hurts her to have to make decisions so quickly.”

“It was just a joke. You ruined it,” Summer snaps. “I’m older than both of you, you can at least pretend that makes a difference.”

“To me it most certainly does not,” Fall says dryly. Leaves crackle in his voice. “A few moments difference is hardly something to go by. Bringer-of-Spring came before you. In any case, I was prepared to accept your interesting punishments for the poor man. That does not mean you needed to take Winter out into this hot throne room and force her to make snap decisions about his life.”

“She may be your lover, but that’s-“

Lord Autumn’s eyes glint dangerously. “Did I say I ask this out of love?”

“No, but-“

“Then do not place words in my mouth. You delight in tormenting her. You may be older, but I am more powerful, and I will not have you picking on your twin sister. There will be order, or there will be no mischief whatsoever, and you may find yourself imprisoned.”

Summer nearly snorts, but stops herself in time. She isn’t a fool. “Fine, brother. But one day I won’t need to listen to you.”

“When that day comes, I shall make pigs fly in celebration,” Fall says solemnly. “Perhaps also the world will cease to spin and the Cycle will stop turning.”

 –

Winter pitches forward into the pool face first. It surprises her so much she forgets herself, and takes in a lungful of the liquid.

You really are a ditz, you know that?

She surfaces after a moment, blinks. The liquid doesn’t seem to obstruct her breathing at all. She still coughs it up. It’s uncomfortably warm, even if it has all the substance of a cloud.

“Winter? Er. Miss Frost?”

Winter stares up at Thomas. “How do you know more of my name?” She asks, thickly. Her head feels full of white foam.

“You were mumbling. Staring at the… the water, and mumbling,” Thomas says sheepishly. “I just guessed.”

He’s lying, Summer says flatly. An image, complete with sound, appeared in the pool. He watched the whole thing. Now he’s terrified of you, I’d guess.

Winter sighs. She runs her fingers through her hair. It’s sticky and greasy. After the events of the today, well, that probably shouldn’t be so surprising.

“I need a bath,” She remarks. “Probably two.”

“You’re on the right track,” Thomas says without thinking. He looks like he regrets it immediately.

Seeing his expression she almost laughs. “You don’t need to look like that. I’m not going to bite, Even if I remembered how. And you’re right anyway.”

She steps out of the pond, wiping off the… stuff… from her frost jeans and shirt. It’s pleasantly cool here. She sits on the bank of the little pond and lies down in the grass. It’s been so long. Maybe in the morning she can worry about where she’ll go next or what she’ll do.

Mirroring her thoughts, the world darkens around her, white sky turning black. Thomas is greatly disturbed by this.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m going to sleep,” Winter says irritably. “Stop being such a baby. You can rest too.”

She closes her eyes. She neither sees nor cares what Thomas does, so long as she can finally get some rest. The power of the orb seems to have settled down the moment she set foot in this place.

It’s a bit of a comfort knowing she doesn’t have to worry about Fall here.

It’s a bit more of a comfort knowing she doesn’t need to worry about anything at all until morning.

Her dreams take her quickly, surrounding normally white thoughts with black until there’s no white at all.