Every story of our childhood begins with, ‘Once upon a time, in a land far, far away.’ For the children now living, this one begins with, ‘Now, upon this moment, in a land you love.’
As we speak, four sisters are meeting under a starless sky on a moonless night. They’ve been gathering in this particular glade for as long as anyone can remember, and longer still, until only their mother could recall the exact night of their first council.
From the north came the eldest sister, who went by Nix. She was the sternest of the four, full of hard criticism and overly blunt truths, but she was dependable, introspective, and wise. She may not have shown her affection in ways that we would understand, but her sisters knew she loved them, and always turned to her for advice when times were low.
From the south came the next-to-youngest sister, who went by Aestia. Unlike the eldest sister, Aestia was nonchalant, prone to apathy, and largely unbothered by tedium. She cared more about the world around her than the world inside of her, and took all obstacles with her head held high and a confident smile on her face, full of certainty that everything would be alright in the end.
From the west came the next-to-eldest, who went by Vale. Of her sisters, Vale was the most beautiful by far, and the mere act of being in her presence for too long was enough to instill an unshakable feeling of sorrow. For in the corner of her eye she held a barely concealed sorrow—the promise of a goodbye to all who loved her.
From the east, waiting for the other three as they approached, was the youngest sister, Blossom. Like her name she was vibrant, cheerful, and full of all the hope and promise that came with her birthright. Unlike all three sisters who held onto names as archaic as language itself, she had chosen a new one that she loved dearly. Each of her three sisters sought her smile more than their own, and while they didn’t always get along she loved them more than they could ever know.
Blossom awoke to a golden glow and the sound of snapping fingers in front of her face. “Sisters,” she said sleepily, stretching her arms as she sat up from the ground. “Is it over already?”
“As always,” Aestia said, offering her hand to Blossom. “You’re in my spot, kid.”
Blossom beamed up at Aestia, took her hand, and allowed herself to be pulled away from the circle of stones she had called her bed for the past few months. As her feet left the ring all manner of bright, green grass and flowers shriveled and retreated into the earth. “Thanks, Tia. Did you get highlights?”
“Like ’em?” Aestia grinned, flicking her hand through her formerly black bangs. Even in the dead of night the new golden streaks somehow managed to shimmer. “Maybe one day I’ll look as good as Vale.”
Vale flicked her hand dismissively, but her other hand went unconsciously to the long, red curls falling down her shoulder. “I was thinking of dying my hair too, actually. Maybe purple or blue. Seeing how lovely you look may have inspired me to actually do it, Tia.”
“Go for it. Though blue might be more Blossom’s thing.”
“No, you should! Blue goes so well with orange,” Blossom said, circling Vale with a ruminative expression aimed at her hair.
Vale tracked her with a raised eyebrow. “Please stop looking at me like you’re about to put me in front of a department store. It was only a thought.”
“Darn it all.” Blossom shook her head. “Sorry. It’s just that every time I try to think of an outfit you’d look bad in I can’t come up with anything.”
“Some of us are born with it and some aren’t, sister,” Vale said with a smirk.
“We have work to do,” Nix said, cutting through their idle chatter. “The night won’t last forever.”
Aestia chuckled. “You heard the boss lady. It’s showtime.”
Vale smiled and patted her youngest sister encouragingly on the head, turning her shoulder dismissively to walk towards the stone circle. Blossom couldn’t muster any annoyance for it. That was how Vale normally was—where she meant ‘goodbye,’ Blossom meant ‘hello,’ and such a contradiction was bound to cause unexplainable friction between the two, even over harmless things.
And yet, it never stopped Blossom from hugging her.
Blossom wrapped her arms around Vale from behind and pressed her forehead against her shoulder-blades. “It’s so nice to see you again,” she said, muffled. She felt Vale’s shoulders shake as she laughed, and the warmth of a hand being placed over her own.
“It’s good to have you with us again, little one,” Vale said fondly, extracting Blossom’s hands from around her waist.
“I forgot to do this first. You distracted me with your talk of clothes.” Blossom walked over to hug Aestia a little more fiercely than Vale. The younger-middle sister was waiting for her, readily scooping her up with a tight squeeze and spinning her around in a circle before dropping her back on the ground. Blossom laughed and held out her fist for Aestia to bump, as was their ritual.
She had reserved her brightest, warmest, most loving smile for Nix, and at the sight of it her eldest sister’s icy countenance melted the barest of amounts. When Blossom pressed her cheek to her sister’s chest she lingered, silently expressing all of the tenderness and respect she held for the woman in a way that no word could manage. Nix wouldn’t have liked that, anyhow.
“Okie doke,” Blossom said, pulling back. “I’m ready to say goodbye.”
“No time like the present,” Aestia said, standing just outside the stone circle. “You have no idea how much I’ve been looking forward to this. I swear that every year I’m getting tired faster and faster.”
“You’d better not, Tia, Blossom may scribble on your face again,” Vale said.
“That was one time! When are you going to let that go?” Blossom objected.
“If she does then I really will look better than you, sister,” Aestia said with a grin. She flicked her bangs in Vale’s direction, then did it again for good measure. Vale chuckled and stuck her tongue out.
“Sisters,” Nix said pointedly.
“Yes, fine, we’re getting on with it. Look, I’m already standing at the circle! Can you see, Nix? Can you see me? Look! Now I’m stepping into the circle!” Aestia gasped dramatically. “Uh oh! I think I sprained my toe on that last step! This is clearly too dangerous, we should call this off!”
Nix crossed her arms and said nothing, boring a hole through Aestia with her stare. Waggling her eyebrows, Aestia completed her movement into the ring and sat on the ground with her arms draped on her knees. “After you, boss.”
Tapping her finger on her arm, Nix sighed and stepped up just before the ring. Blossom and Vale did the same, and together they held hands to enclose the space around Aestia’s head. Aestia smiled up at them.
“Upon this bed of root and stone, a sister leaves the three alone,” Nix began.
“Farewell, farewell,” the other two chanted softly.
A faint golden glow appeared beneath the stones.
“To lend her strength as Mother asks, till end of time we do this task,” Vale continued.
“Farewell, farewell,” the other two chanted again.
Small plants baring mature, green leaves and fruits sprung from the earth around the inner ring. Aestia reached out, plucked a nectarine from a tiny tree and took a bite, munching it slowly.
“And though it aches, through every pain, we swear to see you rise again,” Blossom finished.
“Farewell, farewell,” the three said together.
Aestia yawned. Her nectarine fell from her hand. Slowly, her eyes began to close, and she laid back across the ground. “See you…later…”
The ground rippled the moment her head touched the soil as her latent energy rushed out of her all at once. A warm wind blew across the glade, rustling the trees, signaling a subtle but important change that few would ever consciously notice.
“I will see you in three months’ time,” Nix said curtly, turning and briskly walking away.
“Of course,” Vale said with a nod. She flashed a brief smile to Blossom before doing the same.
“Wait! Don’t you want to go do some—of course you don’t,” Blossom finished sullenly as her two eldest sisters kept walking, disregarding her completely. “Three months it is.”
Except it wasn’t.
Three months came and went, and Blossom never got the call to wake her sister. Then four months. Nearly five. Finally, she felt the summons and took off in a hurry.
But when she arrived at the glade, she found a nightmare.
Aestia was already awake, sitting on a nearby stone. Her hair was drenched with sweat, and the earth around her was scorched and barren. Nix was standing before her. The grass around her feet had frozen solid, and frost particles swirled about her on a violent gale. Vale, however, was nowhere to be found.
When the eldest sister caught sight of Blossom the look she gave her was enough to stop her cold. “Where were you?” Nix demanded.
“W-what?” Blossom stuttered.
“Where. Were. You?”
Blossom’s mouth moved, but no sound came out at first. “I w-was waiting for the call. What’s going on? And where’s Vale?” Her sisters said nothing. A heavy silence fell upon the clearing. “Sisters?”
Nix regarded Aestia. “Shall you tell her, or shall I?”
“I didn’t do it!” Aestia shouted. The barren ring around her expanded.
Blossom stepped back in alarm.
“What about you, ice queen?” Aestia demanded. “You and Blossom were the only other two awake, and I’d bet my last nectarine that you did it before I start thinking it was her.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The Balance is sacred. Of the four of us I’m the last person who would disrupt it, unlike you. Tell me, were you really asleep all this time or did you have a fun two months fooling around as a mortal without your power? In which time you somehow—"
“I didn’t do it!” Aestia shouted, balling her fists up and springing to her feet. The ring of heat around her went to war with the ring around Nix, neither of which bowed to the other.
“Looking for a longer summer, Aestia?” Nix continued. “You’ll finally be the prettiest of us all. By default.”
“I’ll show you—"
“Sisters! Stop!” Blossom yelled, leaping forward between the two. A wall of fresh green growth sprouted up, driving a wedge between the warring powers. Her energies proved ineffective, and every plant she made either shriveled or froze immediately.
Nix fixed her gaze on Blossom. “And what of you little sister? Dearest, littlest sister? Is that smile just an act? Did you finally decide to do something about vain, dismissive Vale?”
“You leave her out of it!” Aestia yelled.
Blossom was shaking. The scream had ripped out of her before she had time to control it. She had tears in her eyes when she looked at her two older sisters, trembling. “What. Happened.”
Both Nix and Aestia blinked. The energies surrounding them wavered. At the sight of Blossom's tears, both Nix and Aestia dropped their magic at the same time. Aestia opened her mouth to say something, taking a step forward, but stopped just short of Blossom, tightening her lips into a thin line.
“Nix?” Blossom prompted, looking to the eldest. She looked more worried than Blossom had ever seen her.
Nix took a deep, shaky breath, and let it out slowly. “Vale… Vale is dead.”
Blossom blinked. “What?”
“She never left the glade,” Aestia continued, nodding towards the nearby forest. Turning slowly, Blossom looked behind her. It took her several moments to see what Aestia had indicated. A pile of orange and red leaves, harvest crops, and long, yellowing reeds had been arranged around a small hill. A burial mound.
Blossom shook her head. “No… That… That can’t be.”
“It is,” Nix said hollowly, clutching her arms tightly to herself.
Fresh tears sprung to Blossom’s eyes. “But… how… why—”
“We don’t know,” Aestia said, placing a hand on Blossom’s shoulder. “The only one who can kill a season—”
“—is another season,” Nix finished, glaring at Aestia.
“None of us would do that!” Blossom said, trying to cut off another fight between the two.
“Who else could have done it?” Nix asked rhetorically.
Again, Blossom shook her head. “I don’t know, but it’s not one of us. It can’t be.”
“We need to do something about her before she gets one of us next,” Aestia said, stepping besides her younger sister with a glare aimed at Nix.
“Blossom, come here. She’s too dangerous,” Nix said, glaring right back.
“No!” Blossom shouted, and again the two elder sisters quieted. “Stop it! Both of you! Our sister is dead! We cannot fight amongst ourselves; we have to find out who did this!”
“How?” Nix asked flatly. “Nothing like this has ever happened before.”
“I don’t know. But if something out there could kill one of us, then that means that something has changed. Something is wrong. We need to find out what.”
Blossom turned to look her family in the eyes, lifting her chin and exuding all the hope she carried, meant for every living thing. Now it was meant for those she loved most.117Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡFe8bErRVVC
117Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡGcldXFNUPa
It worked. Aestia stood straighter, and Nix’s frown softened by degrees. “Are you with me?” Blossom asked, offering them each a hand.
Glancing at each other, Aestia shrugged while Nix blew air from her nose. Then, together, they both grabbed one of Blossom’s hands. Blossom nodded firmly.
“Together,” they said in unison.
They spent what little remaining time they had before Nix’s sleep investigating, but to no avail. Nix promised to give up some of her power and wake early in exchange for a short winter, which Blossom readily agreed to—they needed her mind more than they needed Blossom’s hope. She and Aestia spent the winter furiously retracing Vale’s steps, trying to discern any mortals or beings who would or could harm her, but nothing ever led to fruition.
Despondent, Blossom spent what remaining time she had before Nix’s awakening sitting around Vale’s hill.
“Can you hear me, Vale?” she whispered to the reeds. “Are you truly gone? Even now I refuse to believe.”
There was no answer.
Sighing, Blossom made to stand up, when something caught her eye. A black, sludgy spot amongst the grass.
“Blossom. It’s time,” Aestia called.
Blossom stared at the spot a moment longer before joining her sister, saying, “Hey, Tia, let me show you something before we send you off.”
When Nix awakened, groggy and weak, Blossom showed her sisters the odd mark upon Vale’s grave. “It wasn’t there before,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”
“You’re right,” Nix said, nodding her agreement.
“What should we do? Should we clear it?” Aestia asked.
Nix waved her hand, attempting to freeze over the black sludge, but it remained unchanged. Aestia tried burning it, and Blossom tried growing plants over it, but neither attempt worked either. Furrowing her brow, Nix approached the mound, grabbed a stick, and shoved it into the sludge. Nothing happened.
“We should open her grave,” she said solemnly, rolling up her sleeves. She turned to face the other two. “We must see where this affliction is—”
While she spoke, the soil cracked and split apart, yawning like a hungry maw. Thick, inky tendrils grew from the oozing, earthly sore and rose behind Nix, dripping black slime.
Blossom screamed. “Sister!”
Nix whipped her head around. The tendrils surged forward. Blossom threw herself at her sister, knocking her from their path.
The ink grappled Blossom, twining themselves around her as tightly as any vine, curling up her chest and choking her throat. She stared wide-eyed at her family, pleading for help, but before Aestia or Nix could act the tendrils jerked backwards, dragging Blossom into the Earth and closing the dirt behind her with a horrific, final crack. The stain upon the mound retreated the moment it did.
Nix and Aestia threw themselves at the soil, freezing and burning it, using every ounce of magic at their disposal to rescue their sister, but no matter what they did the mound never seemed to shrink.
“This isn’t working!” Aestia cried in frustration, stamping her foot and erupting in a fiery conflagration. “Think, Nix! What can we do?”
“I… I don’t know,” Nix said slowly, shocked by her own impotency.
Silence reigned across the glade for a time.
“I’m going back to sleep,” Nix said at last. “I’m too weak, and someone must lend their power to Mother. You must figure something out on your own, Aestia.”
“I can’t do this alone!”
“You must,” Nix said firmly. “Of the four of us, you’re the most dauntless. You must take action while I’m gone.”
Aestia shook her head, falling to the ground to stare forlornly at what was now the grave of two sisters. “What does action matter without beauty to inspire? Without hope to keep me going?”
“It’s what we must save, sister,” Nix said, taking Aestia’s hand in hers. “We’re still here. So long as that remains, and so long as we keep Vale and Blossom in our thoughts without despair, we will find a way.”
And so, while one sister sleeps, lending her magic to their mother and filling the world with her power, the other seeks a way to excise the creature laying claim to two seasons. Though each carries the memory of hope and beauty with them, in their hearts and in their dreams, tirelessly moving forward to see the day where they're together again.ns 184.108.40.206da2