WARNING: Mentions of suicide and death in this chapter. If you are not comfortable reading about attempted suicide, I recommend you skip this chapter.
Thanks for reading,
Chapter 36: Typhan the Titan
Star almost smashed into the Sister of Water in her hysteria. "You feel it, don't you?" Star demanded, looking between the three Elemental Sisters. "What is it?"
Aura scowled at the storm that was churning above them. "Mother's having a tantrum. It's nothing new. The girl probably caused it."
"This is not normal," Star insisted, stricken gold eyes heavenward. "This storm is laced with rage and magic. And look to the ground!"
Star was correct—below them, trees were wilting and fog was spreading. The smell of dust was rising to their noses.
"Great Gaia," Xylan gasped. "The planet is dying!"
It wasn't possible. That kind of power couldn't be feasible, but Nixie knew she couldn't deny it. The Earth's pain ached all over her, and Xylan and Aura must have felt it too. Her limbs hurt, and there was shredding pain in her chest. She doubled over and Star held her. "Nix? What is it? Oh dear."
Star hiked a wobbly Aura and Xylan on her back and held Nixie bridal-style in her arms as she descended. The dirt was red-hot and powdery, all the snow beginning to melt, but Star knew she wasn't strong enough to carry all of the sisters, so she docked in the middle of the tiny village, laying the women out like beach towels.
"Nix, what's happening?"
"Mother—" Nixie croaked, suddenly too weak to move. "She's…she's hurt. Or worse."
Star ran her fingers through her blonde braid, thinking. Could the Second-Sighted One have done it? Had she killed Mother Nature, and now Earth was reacting to her death?
"Hey…" Nixie smiled softly, showing the gap in-between her front teeth. "You're not ill anymore. I can feel it."
Star started in realization. In the rush of bringing the sisters down, she hadn't even noticed the return of her full strength. She hadn't felt this powerful since the last True Wish she had granted, which, for all she knew, was eons ago. The sickness was no longer throbbing within her like a second heart.
"But how?" she exclaimed.
"Whatever happened…to Mother…it's hurting humankind as well," Xylan forced out between puffs of pain. "I can feel it now…humans all over the world…they are paying for something. Their greed is a vengeful poltergeist. This, in turn…heals you."
Anguished, Star looked to the village warriors. They were all beginning to be drenched in a diseased dark green, all of their human colors fading away, and they were all standing completely, scarily still. They couldn't have been breathing, and they were staring up at the storm, like they were waiting for the onslaught of rain.
"What's happening to them?"
"They're retreating to their purest form," Aura responded, gritting her teeth. "Creatures of the Earth turn…that horrible shade of green. Mother…must be defeated…for that to happen."
There was a ripping that skated across the sky. Shell-shocked, Star watched as debris began to fall from the clouds, silver tails following behind them. Panicked, Star erected a force field of stardust around them and the groups of villagers, and flinched at the meteors that clanged off of them. Dozens more meteors and comets continued to fall like flares, illuminating the ominous sky. Star glared at the villagers, annoyed by their lack of alarm.
"What are they waiting for?" Star whispered.
Nixie clutched onto Star's hand. "The end."
Charlotte was actually in outer space.
It didn't feel like space, though; it felt like she and Eldrid were underwater in a submarine instead of galloping on a horse. Blackness encompassed everything, and they were moving so fast, the stars were just jabs of light and planets were mishmashes of color.
"How are we breathing right now again?" she asked.
Eldrid rolled her eyes. "Oxygen bubble. It keeps my horse alive and gives us air to breathe. But every millisecond, it's being separated by tiny chemicals to be healthy for us to breathe and not intermingled with the oxygen being used to fuel my steed."
"Also, about Typhan: he's grouchy, old, and blind. He also is not a huge fan of anything Mother Nature related, so we have to be careful in how we handle this."
"But he creates Mother Natures," Charlotte said. "How can he not like them?"
"Truth be told, there have only, so far, been two Mother Natures," Eldrid clarified. "Pitch's daughter and this one. Things did not end well between the first one and Typhan, so he has been bitter about their place in the world. But they're necessary. Typhan was the original bringer of storms before Dream Pirates ruined him. In order to continue the existence of weather on Earth, he granted the first Mother Nature the powers over storms. And when she passed, he knew he was unable to pick up where she left off, so he invented the Mother Nature Legacy String to choose a new Mother Nature automatically."
"Dream Pirates?" Charlotte chuckled. But then she peered at Eldrid with curiosity. "You sure do know a lot about Mother Natures."
"I dedicate myself to the history of Mother. While Nixie, Xylan, and Aura became her warriors, I became her right-hand woman and secretary. If it furthers your comprehension, I am similar to your Tooth Fairy. The Elemental Sisters are to Mother Nature what the Guardians are to the Man in the Moon."
Charlotte whistled. "When you put it like that…it kind of puts it in perspective." She glanced down. "You were just doing your jobs."
"Jobs that Mother had appointed us to. Which is one main reason why we serve her so thoughtlessly." Eldrid sighed. "Mother picked each of us up when we died in our miserable human lives. Gave us purpose, and more importantly, the ability to choose our fates. She saved us."
"You guys are just like the Guardians."
"Not exactly. Their leader leads. Mother now just commands and expects us to follow blindly."
"Is that how it used to be?"
"Yes, but back then, we were willing because her demands were for the good of humankind. But as of late, her demands have been wicked. And she becomes agitated when we question her methods."
"Back before I came into the picture."
"I'm surprised you don't hate me like your sisters," Charlotte remarked.
"We don't hate you." Eldrid paused. "Well, Nixie hates you. Nixie hates most things and is a troubled spirit, but she's my best friend. But Aura and Xylan are brainless—they follow whatever Mother says and divulge in it, especially if it's wrong. Nixie cares for Mother more than any of us, and was worried about her before this whole war began. When we discovered about you, Nixie couldn't contain her fury. She's taking out her anger on you from all those years ago."
"She's not the only one."
Eldrid was still. "I'm not sure how much more I can add to Mother's lies. Whenever she ordered something to happen to you, her emotions would vary. Sometimes she'd be passionate, and sometimes she would be crying. It didn't look like hurting you was something she wanted to do."
"She did it anyway." To Eldrid's surprise, the words weren't bitter—they were thoughtful.
"We all do things we don't want to, Second-S—Charlotte. And she would also be highly protective of you as well. She cast dreadful things to happen to those who were hurting you and weren't…apart of the plan."
Charlotte didn't reply, her mind lost in space.
"You said she apologized?" Eldrid asked.
"Do what you will with this information, Charlotte: Mother never apologizes. For anything."
Charlotte's eyes snapped forward, glued to the back of Eldrid's head.
"Oh, also, we're here."
Naturally, Charlotte had never seen a Constellation up close before. And, if she was being frank, she wasn't sure if she ever wanted to see one up close ever again. Typhan was just a scattered collection of stars, sure, but Charlotte felt the heaviness and sorrow that weighed down on the forgotten Titan as soon as she and Eldrid approached. Only about ten stars made up his entire, broken body, and even they were dimmer than the other stars in space.
A voice rumbled quietly. "Who approaches me?" It was strong and seemed to echo into the galaxy, but also aged and tranquil.
Eldrid licked her lips before she spoke. "Hello, Typhan."
The Constellation hummed, as if trying to recall the identity of the voice that was speaking to him. "Sister of Fire," he said after a moment. "What brings you all the way out here?"
"I don't come alone. I bring a human with me."
"A human? This is unlike you, Sister."
"Yes, well, there have been changes on Earth beyond your imagination, Typhan."
The stars took on a cold light. "What has she done?"
"She's dropped into madness. I don't know how or why for sure. But I know it has something to do with the human I've brought."
"Human," Typhan boomed. "Your name?"
Charlotte gulped. "Charlotte…sir. Charlotte Bennett."
"Ah, yes," Typhan said. Charlotte could just barely make out a face between the stars. "Second-Sighted. Your tie to Mother Nature is prominent. What kind of tie, I cannot specify. But there is something there—a strong tie indeed. What brings you, human?"
Charlotte glanced at Eldrid, who gestured for her to reply. "Um, well, okay, Mother Nature…she's trying to destroy my world. Earth. She told me earlier…she had kidnapped me when I was a baby, and she was going to hurt me, but instead, she said…she said she loved me. So she gave me back, but she has a personality problem of some sort, and would flop between watching over me with care, I suppose, and setting up all these scenarios and deals between different Spirits to cause me pain over time. But she said she was guilty about the whole thing fifteen years later and tried to take me again to apologize. But she caused this huge war between her forces and the Guardians of Childhood, who were trying to protect me, and I rejected her apology, and now…" Charlotte took a breath. "She's gone insane."
"But she knew Charlotte wouldn't forgive her, Typhan," Eldrid added. "She set this entire thing up just to get rejected. And so we have come to you to ask for your help. What do we do?"
Typhan seemed to mull on the story for some time. Then, when he spoke, he sounded resilient. "Thank you for your words. There are two modes of operation. You could destroy her."
"With unyielding ambition, you all could break through wherever she has set herself up and take her out. Once done, I will choose a new Mother Nature, and it will be over with. But there is a second, more difficult, option. You could save her."
"Save her?" Charlotte repeated.
"Yes. One equipped with the strongest tie of all to Mother Nature could be the one to break through to her and save her from madness. That would be you, human."
"Wait—" Charlotte's eyes widened. "Me? I can't have the strongest tie to Mother Nature! I've only met her once!"
"Your relationship with her is far deeper than any other one I sense. Your history is complex and fearsome. But if you do this, you are entirely alone in your quest. You are the only one who would approach her and save her, if that is how you all choose to proceed. But obviously, considering the prowess of Mother Nature in this state, it is exceedingly dangerous for you, human."
"You don't have a preference?" Eldrid asked, looking sad.
"I do not," Typhan said. "Either way, balance is maintained, which is my goal for humankind."
"But, Typhan," Charlotte said, desperate, "how could I possibly save Mother Nature? She's so unpredictable and her powers are going crazy. I wouldn't even get close."
Typhan seemed to consider this, then one of his stars twinkled and an object emerged from it. It floated through the oxygen bubble set up around Eldrid and Charlotte and right into Charlotte's hands. It was a fingerpainting, with two figures sketched sloppily in various colors holding hands. A sun was painted in the corner, and spiky grass was across the bottom. Under the figures' feet were two names: Mommy and Me.
"She was holding it when I first met her as Mother Nature," Typhan said. "She left it here, and I never got a chance to return it to her."
Charlotte's throat was dry.
"I sense that the two of you came here to learn about Mother Nature's past," Typhan continued. "And while I will not tell you about it, I will show you it."
Outer space vanished in a burst of light. When Charlotte opened her eyes, she saw that she and Eldrid were now in a ramshackle little house. They floated above the scene playing below them: a woman and a little girl sitting at a kitchen table. The girl had tumbling bluish black hair and couldn't have been taller than Charlotte's waist. She was giggling and eating cooked vegetables.
But what shocked Charlotte was the woman sitting next to her. It was Mother Nature. Or, human Mother Nature. She was maskless, with the same blonde hair (now without any silver) and now sporting a joyful smile instead of a scowl.
"Did you like dinner, Sage?" human Mother Nature asked, taking the girl's place and washing it in the sink.
"Yeah, Mommy," Sage replied. Her two front teeth were missing. "Can I—can I have a treat too?"
"Hmm, I don't know," human Mother Nature said, smiling out of Sage's sight. "What's the magic word?"
"Oh! It's a…" Sage thought hard for a moment, then the word exploded out of her. "Please! Please may I have treat?"
"Alriiiiight," human Mother Nature drawled. "But, wait, what's that noise?"
"Noise?" Sage glanced around, concerned.
"Yes…oh no…it sounds like…the tickle monster!" Human Mother Nature scooped Sage out of her chair and plopped her down onto a couch in the living room, tickling her all over. Sage squealed and pleaded for her to stop, tears streaming down her cheeks.
Human Mother Nature laughed and kissed Sage on top of her head.
The scene changed. Now they were outside in the heat, surrounded by a lush, colorful garden. The garden took up the entire backyard, with cacti and wildflowers in dazzling shades of pink, yellow, and purple. People were strolling around in the garden, awestruck by its beauty. In the center of it all proudly stood human Mother Nature, wearing a slimming green dress and a sunhat.
A young man was speaking to her. "I say, Cicely," he said, and Charlotte's head spun by the fact that now she knew Mother Natures' real name, "your garden has gotta be the best garden in awlla Suncliffe. No, awlla Nevada!"
Cicely beamed. "Thanks awful nice of ya, Phil, awful nice!"
"How's the chickadee?" Phil asked.
Cicely glanced over at Sage, who was chasing a butterfly. The sun was beating down hot, so she fanned her sunhat in front of her face. "She's mighty fine. She starts school tomorrow."
"How has she been doin' so far? She made any friends?"
Cicely frowned. "It's the darndest thing. She's so charismatic when she's home, but the teacher kept tellin' me last year that she was antisocial. But we've talked about it," she added hastily. "She promised me she was gonna start makin' friends this year."
The scene changed again, and it looked like years had passed. Sage had spiked up in height, now taller and skinnier than Charlotte. She couldn't have been older than fifteen. Sage was sitting at the kitchen table with a scared look on her face. Cicely sat next to her, and was holding onto every word Sage said.
"I—I—I heard voices in math today," she was saying. "Hissing. But only Mr. Pinkin was talkin'. The voices were comin' out of nowhere, like usual. Mommy, I don't know what to do! Why won't they stop?"
Sage was near tears now, and Cicely looked exhausted. "We'll go to the doctor's tomorrow," she promised. "Don't worry about a thing. Your mind is just playing tricks on you."
"But—I hear them now! They're comin' outta the fridge—"
Cicely slammed her fist on the table. "There ain't no voices, Sagebrush!" she yelled. Then she faltered. "I'm sorry, honey. I didn't mean to. Mommy's just tired."
The next scene must have taken places months later. Sage looked terrible. She was skinnier than a pool stick, with bulged, paranoid eyes and purple circles under them. Her one eye was blackened, and it looked like she was in pain when she breathed. Cicely was on the phone in the next room, voice raising an octave with every syllable.
"I don't care what those girls say! They beat up my kid!" she screeched. "Little cows ganged up on her, when she was defenseless, and kicked the crap outta her! Principal Fulton"—her voice had quieted and she moved deeper into the living room—"you know about Sage's condition. That's how she acts. No, I can't afford therapy, and no, I can't afford to take her outta school. Yeah, well, when you 'get all the facts,' give me a call, and then I can hear all about how those she-devils hurt my daughter for fun!" She pressed the END button. Cicely went into the kitchen, found Sage gone from her chair, and sighed as she scanned through a stack of high-priced medical bills on the counter.
The last scene change must have jumped a couple more years. Cicely was drinking tea and staring at the very same fingerpainting Typhan owned at her home when she received a phone call. "Hello? Phil? I gotta come down where? No, I can't, sorry, I'm waiting for Sage to call me. She has art club after school today and I have to pick her up. What?" Cicely's face blanked and she dropped her cup, running out to her car as it shattered on the floor.
Charlotte and Eldrid followed Cicely as she drove into the tiny town of Suncliffe, Nevada and stopped at where the town ended and cliffs began into the wilderness. She sprinted into the pine-tree infested woods, arriving at a crowd that had formed feet away from the edge of the cliff. It was raining, and thunder was clapping above their heads.
"Cicely!" Phil ran up to her.
"Where is she?" Cicely demanded.
Phil warily pointed to the crowd. Cicely fought her way through until she had made it to the front.
At the very edge of the cliff stood Sage, arms spread out.
"Sagebrush?" Cicely's voice wavered. "What are you up to?"
Sage glanced over her shoulder. Her face was scrunched up and flooded with tears that were mixing with the rain. "I can't take it anymore, Mommy," she sobbed. "I gotta go. The voices keep tellin' me to, and I just can't listen to them anymore. They won't leave me alone."
"Baby," Cicely gasped. "Sweetheart, I know the voices are hurtful, but this isn't the way to make them go away. Just come away from the edge, and we can fix this together."
"It's not worth it anymore, Mommy." Sage didn't sound emotional anymore—in fact, she sounded blank and sure. "I'm a burden and a freak. I have no friends, I'm a horrible artist, and I bleed you dry with the medical expenses. It would be better if I was just gone."
Cicely was crying now. "Sagebrush Dalia," she said. "You are the farthest thing from a burden. You're my daughter, and I love you no matter what. The past years haven't been easy, no. The world has hurt you over and over again, and it will continue to hurt you in the future. But…do this, and the world will win!"
"Go away, Mommy," Sage said, turning to the edge. "Leave me alone."
"Wait!" Cicely dug something out of her pocket: the painting. "Look at this, Sagebrush. Do you remember this?"
Sage nodded, eyes narrowed.
"We painted this, together," Cicely said, choking on her tears. "When you were just five years old."
"Mommy, it doesn't matter!" Sage shouted.
"Yes, it does, Sagebrush. Because I painted this picture with the most important thing in my life."
Sage squeezed her eyes shut. "Stop!"
"I've kept this picture for all these years because it reminds me of you. It reminds me of a time when things were simple and beautiful. When I could just spend lazy summer afternoons drawing with my wonderful daughter." The rain roared over her words, but she continued. "You may think you're toxic, Sage, but you're not. You're the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I don't care about the money, or the bills, or even if you do make a tiny aspect of my life harder. It's all worth it in the end to make you happy. The world is a horrible place, yes, and it will hurt you, but I will always be there to help you through it. You've taught me so much: discipline, hard work, and how pain makes you stronger." Cicely gave a watery smile. "You make me stronger, Sagebrush. Please don't leave me."
Sage hesitated, looking over the edge of the cliff and down at the rocky stream below. Then she burst into tears and ran into her mother's arms, who ran forward to catch her.
"It's okay, Sagebrush," Cicely whispered, stroking Sage's hair. "It's all gonna be okay."
"Cicely!" Phil screamed. "Get outta there!"
Cicely's eyes burst open as she realized they were falling. The rain had been pounding down so hard, it was loosening the cliff, and the chunk she and Sage were standing on was separating from the rest.
Cicely didn't think. She just shoved Sage toward the solid ground.
Charlotte and Eldrid watched in horror as Cicely disappeared over the edge. Sage tried to crawl forward to see, but Phil guided her away, his mouth open in shock.
One last scene change: hours had passed. Cicely's broken body lay in a shallow stream, her hand still clutching the painting. Then she slowly dispersed into tiny shards of light that vanished into thin air.
Charlotte and Eldrid were then brought back to reality. Eldrid was crying, and Charlotte felt numb.
"You know the rest," Typhan said quietly. "I brought her here, explained her role, gave her the powers, and sent her on her way. She doesn't remember a thing. But if she touches that painting, it will all come back to her. So," he added, stars twinkling again, "have you made your decision on how to proceed?"
"What a putrid surprise."
Jack glared at Pitch and Sam as they stepped out of the shadows of the wall. "What are you two doing here?"
"Same as you," Pitch replied smoothly, eyes on the furious funnel that lead from the overhead storm and into a fortress growing with thorns and vines. "Following the breadcrumbs of calamity."
"Dónde está Charlotte?" Sam asked.
Just then, Eldrid and Charlotte came racing out of the clouds and landed on the ground. Eldrid snapped her fingers, and her horse reverted back into flames that swirled into her hand.
"Speak a th' devil," Bunnymund said.
"Vhat have you discovered?" North demanded, drawing his swords. "How do ve defeat Mother Nature?"
"We don't," Charlotte said simply.
"Umm…come again?" Jack asked.
"We're not defeating her." Charlotte held the painting in trembling hands, but her eyes were burning with passion. "I'm saving her."