Season’s End

There once was a girl who was born of the storm.

Her name was Cirrus and she was daughter to the King of Storms. But that isn’t important. It was where her story started but it didn’t define it. In truth she remembered little of that time, just rage and pain and fear. The important moment, the first one that she remembered clearly, was when something broke through all the bluster and rage of her father like the sun through the clouds. The first thing that she remembered was a face, peaking in at her through a window in the tower she lived in.

This was the boy who didn’t fear the Storm King. He would come to visit whenever he could sneak away from his parents’ chores and goats. To begin with she tried desperately to ignore him. Her father was always angry when she spoke to the villagers who came to give him offerings and she desperately tried not to make him angry for he would punish her for all her faults, real and imagined. But the boy was persistent.

He began to appear more and more, making funny faces and trying to get her to laugh or talk to him. Though Cirrus kept trying to ignore him she found herself watching for his brown hair or blue eyes at the window, listening for his whistle. Eventually she gave in and they would occasionally play together. Only in her room, for she wasn’t allowed to leave the tower and didn’t want to risk her father finding out that she had made a friend.

She tried to keep him calm and happy, coming when he called and performing any chore he had for her. But some things are inevitable and she could not calm the storm’s anger. He needed to do that himself and he found blaming Cirrus easier.

Then one day she was curled in her bed, tears falling like raindrops from her eyes, her cheeks smarting from her father’s latest remonstrations. She wasn’t aware that the boy had picked that day to visit until he was sitting next to her, an arm awkwardly outstretched in the half-formed promise of a hug he wasn’t sure he should deliver.

“Why are you crying?” he asked.

Without knowing what else to say she told him, “Because my father is angry. And when he’s angry he hits me.”

His face grew dark and Cirrus shrank back from him, scared that she had made him, her one friend, angry and that he would hit her. But his fury was not directed at her.

“Pack your clothes and whatever you don’t want to leave behind. I’m getting you out of here and taking you where he can’t hurt you ever again.”

“But that will just make him more angry!”

The boy smiled at her a crooked, half formed grin. “Then let him be angry at me. I can take it.”

The girl of storms packed mechanically, not believing that escape was possible. The Storm King would track them down and then she’d be in even more trouble. But she didn’t have the energy to fight and so she gathered her things and followed the boy out of the window and to the village below.

First he led her to a blacksmiths but it was closed up and dark. So he took her to a house instead, banging on the door and demanding to be let in. Cirrus followed behind, not paying much attention to her surroundings, still just going through the motions. She listened vaguely until she heard the boy say, “I need you to take her and go far away, where he can never find her again. Please.”

Then the reality of the situation finally began to settle in and she peaked around her friend at the people who would save her.

There were two women standing there. These were the mothers that Cirrus would come to love. One was big and expressive. She wore her bronze hair short and was always ready with a hug and a kind word. She was the mother of metal, called Eos or sometimes Kaolinite. The other was the mother of ice, Uki. Her hair was dark and she wore thick gloves on her hands. She was often withdrawn and quiet but when Cirrus needed her she was there and held her hand so tight. They were both bearers of cursed blades, one a dagger, one a sword, that they didn’t let out of their sight.

They all looked at each other then Uki glanced at Eos for a quick moment.

“We’ll look after her,” said the shorter one as the other nodded.

And like that she had a real family.

The boy went running after that, back to his family and out of her life, though not out of her thoughts. Eos sent a quick glance skating over the building before turning to Uki.

“I need to get some things from the smithy. Can you stay here for a while?”

Uki smiled coldly and showed her the bronze dagger. “He wouldn’t be the first elemental I’ve killed and I’d mourn him a lot less.”

“Take care.” With that Eos left and Uki started rummaging around, finding some rucksacks and filling it with food and other things. Cirrus stayed crouched by the fire, staring into the flickering flames and wondering when this dream would end. She was startled to feel a quick touch on her shoulder, gentle as a snowflake, and turned to see Uki standing there.

“Don’t worry,” was all she said. “You’re safe with us.”

And then the blacksmith return, packed a few more things and they were gone.

Across the plains, over hills and through forests they travelled, Uki stalking ahead, cold eyes searching out the path while Eos helped Cirrus along. They would hide from storm clouds, flinch from investigating breezes. Every night they’d huddle together, sharing Uki’s furs and Eos’ cloak, not willing to risk a fire that might draw attention. Cirrus would stare up at the sky, waiting for the thunder of approaching footsteps or the crack of a slap. But each day they would get up and start moving again, getting further and further away, and she began to hope.

Safety was a hole in the ground, the entrance to a tunnel that Cirrus would never have found on her own. Stepping into it was like being smothered in wool. A connection to the sky and weather that she’d never been aware of was abruptly cut off. She collapsed, gasping, but Mothers Metal and Ice sat with her, comforting her and waiting until she was strong enough to continue.

Then it was through tunnels, along passages lit only by the occasional lantern and otherwise by the glowing blades of the mothers. Through the labyrinth they strode, Eos in the lead this time and Uki holding her hand, until they came to a little green door. Kaolinite dithered in front of it, suddenly nervous, before knocking.

A small man opened the door, squinting up at them. His eyes were green and his hair a muddy brown. He was the same size as Cirrus and Uki and Kaolinite towered over him. “Hi Dad,” Mother Metal said awkwardly. “We needed to go where the storm couldn’t find us. Can we stay here for a while?”

There was a pause and Cirrus was afraid that all the travel would have been for nought. Showing up unexpectedly like this? She knew fathers and knew that a beating was what was expected. She flinched back when the knocker yelled but it was in delight, not anger.

“Of course, of course, come in!” he cried, seizing his daughter and guiding them inside to the fire.

And her family got a little bigger.

Grampa Kernowite dotted on her. She learned that Kaolinite, his daughter, had come to him as a teenager and that he’d never seen a child as young as her before. He would bring her little presents, interesting rocks and a few sweet treats that he found somewhere. She’d play with them in the flickering light of the fire, the sparkles in the rocks combining with the sugar in her mouth while the adults worked on expanding the home for all of them. Soon she had a room all to her own, a place of safety where she could hide away. And at first she did, spending days cowering in the quiet. Her mothers would bring her food and sit with her. Kaolinite would tell jokes while she ate and Uki would just sit in comfortable reassuring silence.

But every so often she would creep into the main room, where Grampa Kernowite would tell her stories, sometimes about the great legends of the knockers and sometimes, lovingly, teasingly, about the embarrassing things Kaolinite had done when she first lived with him. Those were her favourites, Kaolinite would squawk in fake outrage and swat at her father. Cirrus would find herself laughing, bell-like chuckles that filled the room with the smell of fresh spring rain. Slowly, like a plant growing, she began to spend more time outside. Her bedroom was always there when she needed it but she needed it less and less.

They stayed underground for years, growing in the dark and quiet. Cirrus grew taller, both inside and out. She grew confident, able to have a discussion or an argument without flinching, able to look people directly in the eye without feeling like it was a sin.

The first time she lost her temper felt like a failure. She found herself yelling at her family, her eyes flicking, her voice cracking like thunder, her hair stained a dark black. In that moment she saw herself as her father and her rage left her. Fleeing to her room she locked herself away in the dark, surrounded by self-hatred and recrimination.

It was Uki that came to her then, not Kaolinite like she would have expected. The two sat quietly for a while, getting used to each others’ presence and feeling out the situation. Then she embraced the cloud child, holding her close while she flurried with sobs.

“It isn’t wrong feeling emotions,” her mother eventually said to her. “It’s what you do with them. And while you blew and stormed you didn’t lash out. You are nothing like The Storm King.”

It was also Uki that started taking her on trips to the surface, letting her feel the weather, the sky, the wind and her connections to them. At first Cirrus was reluctant, worried that her father would find her, worried that this was another way she could be like him, but Mother Ice refused to listen to her. “The sky is a part of you,” she told her daughter. “Don’t cut yourself off out of fear.”

Cirrus might have complained more but being outside felt so good. It was like part of her soul was stretching out and connecting. So she said nothing and they’d make the journey outside regularly. Slowly she mastered her abilities. Going back underground was a pain but her family waiting for her there made it worth it.

And so, together, they persevered.

Until one day they got a message.

Deep underground they had been protected but above ground a harsh and dark winter had been raging with no ending in sight. Somehow a messenger found out where they were and came seeking Uki. He was wrapped in furs like she was but shed them as soon as he could. He and Mother Ice talked together for a while and then he went away.

That night they all gathered in the livingroom and Uki told them what had been told to her. Years ago a threat had arisen in the north and she had stopped it. Now it had returned, long before it was expected and her village had sought her out

“It’s my responsibility,” she told them. “I have to go.”

Kaolinite got up and embraced her, kissing her. “You don’t have to do this by yourself,” she told the other woman. “We’ll all go.”

And so, together, they prepared, some gathering and organising provisions, Kaolinite working on tools they’d need in her smithy. Grampa Kernowite helped them pack, made sure that they were all well provisioned and gave them big hugs. He and Kaolinite embraced for the longest, for they had been parted before and knew the pain it would bring. But they also had been reunited and knew that they would be again.

“We’ll be back,” Kaolinite promised. And then they left.

The going wasn’t easy. Snow lay thick on the ground and more joined it every day. However Cirrus found that she had some control over the weather and was able to ease their way. Uki was used to walking through snow and instructed them in the best way to do it. Together they made good progress.

But the further they went the more withdrawn Eos became. Her happy words became infrequent and she would spend hours just walking, not communicating with anyone, just staring haunted into the distance.

“We’re close, aren’t we?” Uki asked her one night. Eos grunted non-committedly, so the other woman continued. “We should go and see them. We have time and it would be good for you.”

Mother Metal looked at her wife with fear in her eyes. “But what if they drive me out again?”

“Then we will leave and think of them no longer. But you owe it to yourself to see if they’ve changed.”

Eos didn’t say anything else that night but the next day she took the lead and they headed in a slightly different direction.

By and by they came to a village. To Cirrus it looked identical to the others they’d passed through but Eos looked at it as if it was a dangerous beast, waiting to devour them. But Uki took her hand and she took a deep breath and led them through the scattered buildings to where a blacksmiths’ bordered on a house. She knocked on the door and after a while it opened.

The man looking back at them was clearly the blacksmith. He had the same general physique as Eos, with broad shoulders and thick, muscular arms. Life had carved deep lines into his face, beneath his brown hair and around brown eyes so like Mother Metal. He stared at Eos with shock for a moment, as another woman, his wife, came to see who was at the door.

“Eos,” the blacksmith breathed and then he threw himself at her in a hug. His wife joined them a moment later.

And her family got a little bigger.

They stayed there for a few days, healing and learning about one another anew. The weaver and the blacksmith were full of tearful apologies for how they had behaved, devastated that they had lost their daughter. Eos listened to these words and embraced them afterwards. They didn’t fix the past but it made it easier to face the future.

Sadly the winter waited for no man and, freshly provisioned and with hearts now full of good cheer, they left once again, promising to return.

They travel for almost a week before a flash of light cut through the night in front of them and they found themselves before a curious sight. A lighthouse, in the middle of a forest, the beam of it’s light swinging carefully through the darkness. They climbed the hill to its base together and knocked on the door.

The man who answered the door was a wizard according to Eos but he didn’t look like one to Cirrus. He wore a belt of tools and a leather apron instead of the robes that she would have thought and he had thinning brown hair instead of a glorious white mane and beard. But his eyes were kind when he greeted the travellers, beckoned them inside and made them comfortable.

“How can I help?” he asked while they drank from warm mugs of soup.

“You might not remember,” Eos began. “But many years ago you asked me to make you a heart.”

“Ah, the bronze worker,” the wizard replied. “You did excellent work.”

“Thank you. But now I’m here to ask you a favour. We must get to the far north as quickly as possible, to help stop this winter. Can you help?”

The wizard thought about it for a moment then smiled. “You’re in luck,” he said. “And right on time.”

They spent the rest of the night and the following day resting, enjoying being inside where it was warm and comfortable. Then that night he took them up to the top of the tower, where the beckoning light turned and flashed. They stood there, staring out into the darkness while the snow fell around them, thick white flakes that flashed in the light and then were gone. After a while Cirrus felt something approach through the air, something that felt like no cloud she’d ever encountered, too thick and solid.

It wasn’t a cloud and suddenly a ship was there, balanced impossibly on thin air. Details came sparingly with every flash of the light. One flash showed the sky blue hull, another the green sails, a third the name, The Emerald Queen, and the last the crew, dressed in long, blue coats and running about, getting ready to dock.

“This should get you north,” the wizard told the family.

“No, we can’t,” the captain of the ship said a little later. They were sitting together in the wizard’s bedroom while the rest of the crew were running up and down the stairs outside. “The wind is blowing from the north and we can’t sail against it. In this weather we might not even be able to leave. I’m seriously considering staying here until the winter is past.”

“This winter will never pass,” Uki told him. “Unless we get north.”

“I’m sorry,” the captain replied. “But we can’t get you there.”

The two glared at each other until Cirrus spoke up.

“I can.”

They both turned to look at her, surprised for she was quiet and rarely spoke. She inwardly quailed under their stares but kept talking. “I am the daughter of The Storm King. I can feed the wind into your sails if you will take us there.”

“It seems the easiest way to solve this problem,” the wizard said from where he’d been sitting quietly, watching the discussion. The captain stared at Cirrus with calculating eyes.

“If you can do what you say then we have a deal,” he finally said. “This winter is bad for business and we’ll all be for the better if you can stop it.”

And so they join the crew. The next day they went to board and saw the wizard standing on board talking to a man in a wheelchair and a woman made of metal. The woman considered them as they came on deck, her hair dyed the green of the sails, a sword sheathed at her waist while the hilt of another poked over her shoulder. On her left breast Mother Metal’s maker mark stood out prominently.

“Did you make her?” Cirrus asked her mother but the blacksmith shook her head.

“She made the heart that powers that body,” the wizard said. “Serafina came to me a sword that slotted into what you see before you. The mark appeared on its own over time.”

Serafina glared at Mother Metal in such a way that Mother Ice edged in front of her wife, one hand on the cursed dagger. Then, without a word she turned and stalked off. The man, who was a mechanic called Malcolm apologised. “She’s had a hard time of it and is not fond of her body,” he explained. “Just leave her alone.”

The rest of the packing went fine and the wizard said his goodbyes and left, casting off the ropes that bound The Emerald Queen to the lighthouse. The captain made a tour to ensure everything was shipshape then turned to the Cloud girl. “Shall we be off?”

Cirrus grabbed at the wind and bent it to her will. The prow turned to the north and, with a gust, they were away!

It was slow going. Cirrus could feed the sails but only if she stayed on deck. When she was too tired or cold they had to drop anchor while she went below decks to recover. Her mothers would spend time with her when they could, or the mechanic in the wheelchair would carve her wooden figurines but her most consistent companion was Serafina, the metal woman. She was constantly on deck, keeping watch, helping to furl and reef the sails, practising with her sword. But most of the time she walked the railing, her eyes ever outward.

“What are you looking out for?” Cirrus asked her one time while she was carefully threading wind into the sails.

“Sky pirates,” the sword said to her. She wasn’t sure whether that was a joke or not but spent the rest of the trip sending fearful looks to at the abyss beyond the ships’ railings.

Eventually, slower than they’d have liked but far, far quicker than if they’d walked, they came to the far north and the village that waited for them. The village whose name meant First Warning.

The ship didn’t stay long after they disembarked, let down on bosuns seats to the ground below. Once it was unloaded it turned south and was snatched away by the wind. Cirrus, Eos and Uki turned to see the villagers who came to greet them.

Most of them were welcoming and happy to see them but not the elders. They began lambasting Uki, right there in the ice and snow.

“You shouldn’t have left,” they said.

“I needed to,” she replied.

“We needed you here for when this happened again. We needed our Hero.”

“I would have wasted away here, torn by inner turmoil. There was no place for me here, waiting for something that could never have come.”

“But come it did,” they told her.

“I’m here to set things right,” she finished and would say no more.

That evening the sun set but it didn’t rise the next morning.

They set out into the cold and darkness. Eos had prepared for this, in her forge, and they clutched handwarmers deep in their pockets, strapped snow shoes to their feet and walked across the frozen plains, tied together and heading ever northward. Days past without notice, the dark making them meaningless. At night they huddled together in their tent, the spark of the fire the only light they would see. Every day was just like the last and nothing was different.

Until one day it was.

The glaciers rose before them like a slow wave, cresting the horizon and threatening to bury everything they knew. The ice walls looked eternal and unbreachable but Uki had beaten them before. It hadn’t been without cost but she had grown in ability and experience. And this time she wasn’t alone.

And so Uki made the climb but she did it with bronze climbing spikes that Eos had specially made. Only the tip was her special bronze and would sink in easily before the water froze around it. She did it with a rope around her waist, fastened to each spike she drove in and with her wife and daughter holding the other end. So when she did fall, near the top with the end in sight, her family was there to catch her.

First Eos then Cirrus came after her, carefully tying the rope on and half climbing, half being pulled up. They rested at the top, on the frozen sea where curls of waves lurked under the blanket of snow. Then they set off again, to the castle of ice that appeared in the distance.

“Almost there,” Uki muttered, almost to herself. She said it to be reassuring but it came out like a dark promise.

They crossed the sea, tripped and sliding but not falling, with the mocking call of the wind swirling around them. They reached the castle, a beautiful building made of ice. Uki said there was marble bones supporting it but if there was Cirrus couldn’t see them, just flawless prisms of green, purple and blue. Up the stairs they went and through the doors, following the wind. Uki took the lead, knew the way and they passed the frozen wonders of architecture like they weren’t there. The voice on the wind changed, turning from mocking laughter to tears.

Then they were in the throne room and the source of the winter, of all the hardship was before them.

Not on the throne but beside it, curled in a ball of white fur, hair and sadness. A little girl, sobbing her heart out.

Cirrus stared at the girl and saw herself, who she had once been, lost and alone and scared.

Her mothers’ stepped forward, Metal and Ice, different but the same.

“You have been causing these storms, this winter.” One said. It didn’t matter which, for they were both united in this.

“You have hurt people. You are hurt yourself.”

“But that doesn’t matter. We are here now. We are here for you.”

They both smiled and warm that had nothing to do with the seasons and everything to do with love filled the room. “We will take care of you, our daughter will teach you to control your powers.”

“You are safe. You are loved.”

“You won’t be alone any more.”

Cirrus looked down at the girl who would become her sister.

“Don’t worry,” Cirrus said. “We’re here for you now.”

The girl of ice got up from where she was crying on the floor and embraced the girl of storms. They held each other close, sharing the pain and reassurance. Slowly the women of metal and cold joined them, enfolding them in protection and love.

And their family got a little bigger.

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