Tampering With Time
A voice called out in the darkness. "Jack? Jack!"
The young man turned in all directions as he tried to pinpoint the origin of the voice; it was too dark to see anyone though the voice sounded close enough. "Emma?" Jack called out, furrowing a brow. It had sounded like his sister, though that was impossible… she was long dead now, right? "Emma, is that you?"
"Jack, help me!" A shriek filled the air and Jack sprang into action, using his ice powers to slide in the direction that he thought he heard the voice come from.
"Hang on, sis!" He cried out as he frantically searched for her in the darkness. "I'm coming!"
Suddenly, a sinister chuckle that Jack would know anywhere stopped him in his tracks, chilling him to the bone. "Scared for your sister, are we?"
"No, leave her alone!" Jack demanded as he raised his staff in a defensive position. "Where is she? What did you do to her?! EMMA!"
Jack felt something punch him in the nose then, becoming quite disoriented. When his vision cleared and he saw Baby Tooth staring at him in the face, he blinked his eyes open as he was jostled from his nightmare.
"Baby Tooth? What happened?" He groaned as he rubbed at his nose, the small feathered creature shrugging at him. Jack glanced around and realized he was still in his napping spot atop one of the rafters in the North Pole's ceiling. He sighed and relaxed his head back, closing his eyes. "I had another nightmare, didn't I?"
Baby Tooth chirped a 'yes', looking at him sadly and with worry. A booming noise down on the floor kept Jack from pondering any longer about it, and he looked downwards to see his friend North stroll across the workshop.
"Ah-ha, I have done it!" North exclaimed.
"Jack!" Tooth called from below, levitating up to him. "You'd better come down, North is raving about his latest upgrade and wants to show you!" She giggled before zooming back down to the lower level.
Jack sat up a bit more, hopping down and stretching his back, relieving it for a few seconds until he winced, Bunnymund approaching from behind and giving him a rough pat on the back.
"Oi, lazybones is finally awake from his beauty rest!" The Aussie-accented rabbit laughed.
"Come on, that smarts…" Jack rubbed his back, standing up straight. "So, what's going on, again?"
"Jack, the children believe in you now! You are a guardian, like us, but we have been around a lot longer and have far more experience. So, we need to catch you up! To be a good guardian, you must learn from past mistakes to make for a better future! The snow globes can now not only bring us from place to place… they can also travel back in time!"
Jack tilted his head. "So… you added this feature just to give me a history lesson?"
North smiled, turning to wave his hand over the huge, revolving model of the planet Earth. "Jack, in order to get anywhere in life, we have to know where we came from. The past is the first steps, it is already written for us. In order to keep children believing in us, we have to learn where we have been successful and where we have failed... we can also see what has changed, and what has remained the same."
"Just don't get lost with those, North... it's one thing to get stuck somewhere and we can just get you, but getting stuck in another time is risky..." Tooth advised.
"We can go to all different time periods and see what truly brings joy to children, both then, and now. We can go back ten, fifty, five hundred years if we wanted to!"
Something sunk in for Jack, then. The thought of going back in time opened the door to possibly seeing his family again; his sister. How had they fared after his premature death? How had she grown up? Did she find happiness even without him? So many questions swirled around in his head that only Bunny shaking him a bit could snap him out of it.
"Dream time's over, mate. I've had enough of his rambling, will you get him out of my hair?" Bunny asked, heaving a sigh.
"Okay, okay…" Jack said as he went over to North. "Well, let's get started, I guess."
"Just remember to be careful, please!" Tooth frowned.
"Do not worry! We'll be back before cookies are done!" North laughed, using one of the snow globes to transport himself and Jack.
In a moment, they were zooming through time and space, Jack gritting his teeth as images and drowned out voices whizzed by him. North emitted a hearty chuckle as colors and shapes warped by them. They finally came to a stop, their feet touching solid ground. Jack looked around him, taking in the new environment. The air was a bit foggy, but the smell of baking bread and pastries filled his nostrils with a pleasant aroma. He blinked when children ran by, their shoes clattering on the cobblestone street as they laughed, chasing each other. It brought a smile to his face… he used to tease Emma, holding branches to his head to pretend he was an elk… he would chase her all through the house, and-
"Come Jack, let us explore!" North waved a hand to follow him.
Jack snapped out of his thoughts again, moving a bit faster to catch up to North. "So, what are we exploring, exactly…?"
"I already told you, Jack! I am going to show you everything you need to know to be a guardian, what you must provide to children to keep them joyous, the fundamentals of keeping the light within their souls aglow." North smiled as they continued along the street.
The laughter of children continued throughout, and Jack became more intrigued by the surroundings of 1800s London than by what North was saying. He soon drowned him out, becoming invested in the atmosphere. He saw fruit stands, men in top hats speaking to ladies in lace dresses and matching umbrellas tucked to the side. He heard children singing and laughing, playing games. He went from one street to another, his eyes darting everywhere, to the point that he hadn't realized he wandered away from North. He finally snapped out of it when he realized everything had suddenly become quieter… too quiet. He furrowed a brow, blinking before turning to see a building with a black barred fence, the tops sharp like spears. His eyes then gravitated towards words carved into the building like neat, chiseled scars that read; Houndsditch Home for Wayward Youth.
Now, of course Jack had never even been to England in his lifetime, but something about this place, a vibe emanating from it made him uneasy. He noticed a young girl in the window staring out of it forlornly… she could not have been older than sixteen. Jack focused on her, walking up to the fence and placing his hands around the bars.
"Psst… psst! Hey!" He whispered loudly, sighing when he realized she couldn't see him. He was about to make his way over the fence when he heard the sound of someone clearing their throat. He instinctively turned toward the sound, seeing a young woman look in his direction. He looked behind him, thinking she had meant it for someone else, but was surprised to see no one was there.
"Aren't you a bit old to be an orphan here?" The woman asked, a standard British accent in her words.
"Who… me?" Jack responded.
The woman rolled her eyes. She was fairly young, not quite twenty. She had dark blonde hair that fell a bit messily about her shoulders, deep green eyes, and wore a black and white striped dress. "No, I'm speaking to the air… what are you doing here? What odd clothes you're wearing… though, nothing is odd to me anymore, I suppose…"
"Uh... well, I…" Jack shook his head. "How is it that you can see me? Only children can see me, and… I don't think you're a child… by the way, what are YOU doing here? You're a bit old to be an orphan…"
"I happen to work here." The woman snapped. "I haven't the time to speak with lunatics today… Rutledge is right down the street, you can't miss it." She huffed, gathering a few things and heading through the gate.
"Wha- hey! What is this place? Why are the children so miserable?" Jack asked.
"Can't you read? Or listen, for that matter? This is an orphanage. The rejected or unwanted children of this city stay here."
"Wait… unwanted…? I… I don't understand…"
The woman sighed, approaching the fence, the bars separating them. "Alright. What are you really here for?"
"Look… I… I'm not…" Jack sighed. "My name is Jack Frost. I'm a guardian, I'm supposed to help look after all the children of the world, and-"
"Well, just the fact that this place exists, you're doing a fantastic job." The woman scoffed. "All the children here have been through something horrible in their lives… something that they need the doctor's help to forget… like washing thick grime from a window."
Jack perked up. "Well, that's what I- we're… North… I'll get him, we'll make them happy again! I-"
"The only thing that will help them is to forget. That's another reason I'm here. I want to forget my past, I want to forget all of the broken memories that haunt me. Again, Rutledge is down the street…" The woman pursed her lip a moment, smirking. "You're quite a looker for someone who's delusional." She chuckled. "Maybe we aren't so different."
Jack raised a brow. "Wait, wha-"
"Jack! Jack, I told you not to wander off!" A voice called from the distance.
"North! North, over here! O- Oh, hey miss, this was who I was-…" Jack looked around, his eyes going to the front door of the orphanage to see the woman give him one last fleeting smirk, chuckling as she closed the door behind her. Jack furrowed a brow before he was jostled about, shaken up a bit by North.
"Jack, what do you think you're doing?! I knew I should have gone over the rules with you first, we must go back before you cause any more damage!" North cried.
"But North…" Jack pointed back at the orphanage. "There are children in there that need-"
"Not another word, Jack! We're going back now!" North activated one of the snow globes, grabbing Jack despite his protesting. Jack had one last glance at the girl in the window, and he could see the woman he spoke to looking from the girl to out at him, speaking to each other.
When they arrived back at the workshop, Jack shook his head a bit. "North, what the heck?! You bring me in there to learn about all this historical stuff, and then I come across something, and-"
"There are two rules you MUST follow when you go back in time, Jack. One-"
"North, those children in there-"
"Focus, Jack!" North snapped. "One, you do NOT leave my side. Second, you do not speak or appear to ANYONE."
"Wait, you guys are back already? What happened? Did the snow globe malfunction?" Tooth asked as she hovered into the room, wearing a concerned expression.
North sighed, rubbing his forehead. "I should have explained this to Jack before using them. Jack, I told you before that history is already written. We must use what has already happened to make for a better future, to learn from the mistakes and failures of others to become better guardians."
"Okay, if you're done with your speech, can you please listen to me, for ONE second?" Jack exclaimed.
"Very well… what is it you want to ask, Jack?" North replied.
Jack furrowed a brow deeply then. "North… that woman I spoke to… she said-"
"WHAT?!" North's eyes widened. "You SPOKE to someone?"
"Uh, yeah, I've been trying to tell you-"
"Oh, dear… maybe, maybe it will be fine, if it was one child, it will be alright…" North muttered, pacing around.
"North, it wasn't a child." Jack said, making North stop in his tracks.
"Wasn't… a child?" North breathed, not believing what Jack said.
"What'd you say, mate? Adults can't see us, it's impossible!" Bunnymund said, laughing.
"I mean it, you guys. She was an adult! And if you'd listen, she was working at a place where unwanted and neglected children go! This… orphanage… North, these kids are miserable!" Jack exclaimed.
The other guardians looked at each other, and Sandy came forward, patting Jack's arm and shaking his head.
"Jack… there's something you have to know about children like that." Tooth cleared her throat. "See… part of what helps us to be believed in is when children are raised in love and care… when children don't have families to care for them, when they don't have any good memories to allow them to open their hearts up to us… then we will always be invisible to them."
The other guardians remained silent, and Jack frowned deeply, shaking his head. "No, we-… there has to be a way to-"
"I'm sorry, Jack… but this is why I didn't want you to wander on your own, there are things you must learn that you aren't ready for yet-"
"Oh, so I'm just supposed to stand here and accept the fact that I'm a guardian of children when there are children we can't help?" Jack shouted, shaking his head and looking at the big, slowly revolving globe. "What the hell are we here for then, huh?"
"Mate, listen… we-" When Jack wanted to hear no more, going up to his loft, Bunny tried to follow him. "Oi, Jack!"
"Let him go, Bunnymund." North sighed. "Jack has a lot to learn. It will be a while before he's as experienced as we are."
The other guardians followed North away. However, Sandy slowed to a stop, glancing back up to where Jack was, watching Baby Tooth fly up to him. Maybe there was a way Jack could understand…
Pitch brooded in his disheveled lair; since his defeat against the guardians some time ago, he had yet to recuperate and plan an act of retaliation. He grit his teeth, growling as he shot a burst of his dark sand at a wall, the impact making it crumble a bit. Indeed, his fits of rage and frustration had resulted in much wear and tear upon the underground abode.
"It's just a vicious cycle, isn't it?" Pitch said to no one, for he was alone. "I don't have the power to overcome the guardians because the children of this world don't believe in me… and the children don't believe in me because I cannot overcome the guardians!" He exhaled sharply. "I need a new plan… I'm doing this all wrong. I thought… I thought I could manipulate Jack… I underestimated him, as did the guardians… unfortunately it was all in their favor." He narrowed his eyes, looking up to the top of the underground space, the jagged rock formations staring back down, mocking him in a way; a constant reminder that Pitch had so much hanging over his head.
"But must I really bear it all alone?" Pitch asked himself the critical question. "There must be at least one other in this world that exists to bear the same ill fate as I…" He nodded to himself. "I've always bore my burdens alone, always carried the weight of the world… after all, I did do it myself for so long… then again… the guardians did not exist in the beginning." He began to pace about. "I need to act accordingly. First… I need to see if there is anything I can use against the guardians, any weaknesses at all… oh yes… I am the master of stealth… after all…" Pitch grinned wickedly to himself. "I am in the place the eye does not see… maybe…" He chuckled. "Maybe I've been getting it all wrong… maybe being invisible to the world, hidden, is not a curse, but an asset! Yes… I have much work to do."
He looked toward the jagged rocks, and his feet no longer touched the ground as he ascended towards them; he would emerge from within the Earth once more.
Jack sighed sadly, Baby Tooth hovering around him worriedly. "I just don't get it, Baby Tooth." He glanced to the side. "What's the point of being a guardian if we can't protect the children who need us the most?" The small fairy emitted a small series of squeaks and chirps, blinking when she noticed someone hovering up into the loft. Jack groaned. "Sandy, I don't want to be bothered right now."
Sandy narrowed his eyes, tapping his foot in midair before poking at Jack's head to get his attention.
"Wha- hey- sto- alright, alright, what?" Jack exclaimed, rubbing his head.
Sandy pointed at Jack, and then himself, signaling for him to pay attention. He then made a beckoning motion with his hand for Jack to follow up, putting a finger to his lips to tell Jack to keep quiet.
"Fine…" Jack said in annoyance, the two guardians floating down from the loft, steering clear of the other guardians. He followed Sandy up to some of North's bookshelves as he floated about, searching for something in particular. "Sandy, no offense, but I'm not really in the mood to-"
A single look shot from Sandy and a finger pressed firmly to his lips cut Jack off, making him rub his forehead in frustration. Sandy smiled, having appeared to finally find what he was looking for, pulling the book out a few inches, before shoving it back in its place. Jack blinked as the bookshelf began to open up, revealing a hidden passageway.
"Woah…" Jack breathed, following Sandy with his interest now piqued.
They traveled some ways before Sandy dusted a bit of sand upon a door, making it open and allowing them inside. Once there, Jack noticed that the only thing in the circular room, lit by torches on the wall, was a book sitting on a stand. Sandy approached it, closing his eyes and waving a hand over it. As the book cracked open, indistinguishable whispers echoed softly through the room, Jack looking around him for a few moments before he felt a light tug on his sleeve, Sandy nodding his head towards the book, signaling for Jack to read the page. Jack approached the book, reading the words aloud.
Children's minds are like an open book
Ready to be filled with words and stories
Ready to see, feel, smell, hear and look
Of the world's fantasies and all its glories
The words written upon their minds
Forms a door to joy and happy desires
For them to see things of all kinds
Before their childhood mind's eye expires.
A child fostered in love and care
Shall bring the door to open wide
A child fostered in depravity and despair
Shall slam the door and lock them inside.
Children of the former will make the connection
To the guardians sworn to watch over each one
Able to see, they know the guardians' protection
So long as the bond remains, it cannot be undone.
Children of the latter however, filled with dread
Have become blinded to the magic, they cannot see
They know not of the guardians for they are clouded
If the clouds are not lifted, no help for them can there be.
Jack paused for a moment, letting the words he had just read sink in. He slowly turned to Sandy, who exhaled lightly.
"Sandy… there's really… nothing we can do for them?" Jack asked quietly.
The other guardian shook his head silently, floating over to gently close the book. Jack shook his head, not able to believe something that was so devoid of hope. The two exited the hidden passageway together, but not before Sandy signaled to Jack to not tell ANYONE that they had visited the mysterious book that night. Jack gave an inkling of a smile, and a firm nod.
"You got it. Thanks for trying to help, Sandy." Jack said. Sandy responded with an understanding smile, gently patting Jack's shoulder before joining the other guardians in retiring for the night.
Despite how much Jack tried, he could not sleep, for there was far too much keeping his mind spinning. If the guardians could not help the children the book had described, then who could? What fate would they be left to if they could not be helped? Was there a possibility of all children ending up in such condition?
And what of the woman he spoke to… how was she able to see him?
The mystery of it all made his brain hurt, tossing and turning in his loft. Sandy silently appeared, sensing that Jack was restless, and he waved his hand, smiling sadly when Jack fell asleep, succumbing to his sand powers. Poor Jack, he thought. Indeed, his heart was in the right place, but he would come to realize as they did that there were just some limits they could not surpass.
Or would he?
The next day, North took one of the snow globes into his hands. "Now, remember the rules, Jack… no wandering off, no speaking to ANYONE. Understand?"
Jack sighed, nodding. "Fine. I'm up for some more history lessons, I guess."
North left Bunnymund in charge once again as he took Jack into the past, taking him around different parts of the world across the globe, and showing him all varieties of cultures and what made children the happiest. However, as North tried to show Jack all the positive things about each location, Jack could not help but allow his eyes to be drawn to the parts that were less desirable… children with broken families, upsetting conditions, the children who were miserable. It only made what he felt the day before increase exponentially. North noticed Jack's distant expression after a while, deciding that what he was trying to show him wasn't quite sinking in and that they needed a bit of a break.
"Jack, what exactly is it that's giving you trouble?" North asked as they sit on a park bench, just down the street from the Eiffel tower. He pointed to a couple of children playing a game in the street, laughing. "Look, Jack. Our job is to help keep the light strong within their hearts."
Jack glanced further down the street, seeing a small child, filthy and unkempt; wipe their brow as they swept a dusty porch. "But what if their light has already gone out, North? How can they be helped?"
North sighed. "Jack, I pity those children also… but there is a reason we cannot help them, and you will come to know it someday when the time is right."
Jack obviously wasn't going to tell North that he already knew the answer he spoke of, but if they could save the children of the world from Pitch, what was stopping them from saving these children? How did they get into this state in the first place?
"I think I've seen enough for one day… can we head back?" Jack asked, standing to his feet.
North nodded, exhaling audibly. "Alright, Jack." They headed back to the workshop, and Toothiana looked on worriedly as Jack silently went to his loft, curling up and sighing sadly.
"I'm worried about him, North." She said later on to the guardians. "I know it's a tough fact to digest, it still breaks my heart that there are some children that are beyond our help… but I hope he can get back to himself soon…"
Sandy kept his gaze down, not wanting the others to know what he had shown Jack the other night.
"It is what it is, mate… nothing we can do about it. He's got to accept it; it won't make him heartless, but it will make him focus on the ones we CAN help. This is how it works." Bunny commented.
"You're right, Bunnymund. Perhaps in the morning we will have this discussion with Jack and hope that he comes around soon." North said, and the others silently agreed.
Up in the loft, however, Jack glanced downwards as he was able to hear most of what the other guardians were saying. He sighed audibly, sitting up and resting his head in his hands. Baby Tooth squeaked lightly as she hovered around him, tilting her little head with concern. Jack looked up at her, shaking his head.
"They may be able to accept that as a fact… but I'm not. I'm going to do something for them." Jack looked around to make sure no one else was near, before leaning in. "I'm going to sneak back to that place I went with North first, tonight. I have to find that girl again. I have to ask her how it is she can see me… if she can, and she isn't even a child anymore… then those other children have hope for seeing us too. It's got to be true."
Baby Tooth furrowed her brows, shaking her head as she tried to tell Jack that maybe it wasn't a good idea to sneak around… but nothing would change his mind now.
"I need you to help me make sure the coast is clear after everyone is asleep, okay? I'm going to get my answers whether they like it or not. This is good for us, for the children… for everyone." He smiled to himself. "North wants me to be a good guardian… well that's going to start tonight."
Pitch traveled by the strings of shadow connecting pools of darkness together; in corners, in places where light was obscured by stone, fabric and metal, and eventually the veil of the darkening sky. There was only one he had to avoid tonight, and he grit his teeth as he remained plastered against a cold surface, hidden.
"Your ever watchful eyes will not rest upon me tonight, Man in the Moon… I will be as silent and transparent as air…" Pitch grinned to himself. "Tonight shall be the first of several in which I will spend in observation… depending on what information I collect, the time period may be shortened or lengthened. So many secrets the guardians must possess; guarded under lock and key in the isolation of the Pole's arctic tundra… but not even the bitter cold can keep me at bay… in fact, I rather like the cold… it draws the life from anything mortal."
Pitch continued to travel, weaving through the shadows undetected, one passing him onto another like a series of hands with long, slender fingers. After what seemed like an age, he finally reached North's workshop, narrowing his eyes as he approached it. He needed to find an unguarded entrance- his eyes widened as he heard shuffling from one of the watch towers, pressing his back against a windowless surface of the building, concealing himself. He exhaled inaudibly, taking a few moments to refocus. He peeled himself from the surface to carefully take note of any and all areas where eyes would be watching for intruders. When he was sure he had a route planned, he took care to time it right, moving speedily but soundlessly around, and then up the building. He pressed himself flat, trying to find any sort of gap in the windows. He found none, silently swearing under his breath… that is, until he smelled a wonderful aroma of cookies and candy canes; but that isn't what made him grin. It was a way in; the chimney was not far away, so Pitch took care to make as little movement as possible as he made his way to it. He climbed into it, descending slowly until he reached the bottom, inwardly chuckling to himself when he saw that even the hearth was barred at night time. No problem for him, however, as he simply slipped between the bars as black sand, rematerializing and finding a quick corner to hide away in. He took some time to observe his surroundings, for it had been some time since he had been here last. There didn't seem to be anyone around, and he heard no sounds of movement, so he assumed everyone was enjoying their slumber.
"Perfect." Pitch said to himself. "While they take a stroll into dream land, I will take a stroll around here and see what I can find."
Baby Tooth chirped quietly to Jack, beckoning him out of the loft as he quietly hovered down to the main area of North's workshop. He looked around, trying to think of where North would keep them. He rummaged through a few drawers and cabinets, not finding them in any. Frustrated, he put his hands on his hips.
"Where could those snow globes be…?" Jack asked himself, chewing on his lip in thought. He then heard a quiet chirp from Baby Tooth, looking to the direction of the sound. He floated over to where she was using her long, pointy nose to unlock the one large drawer of North's desk, the small creature smiling when she heard a click. Jack quietly opened the drawer, smiling when the snow globes were inside. "Baby Tooth, you are seriously the best." He smiled, holding his hand out, and Baby Tooth giggled, high fiving him with her tiny hand. He took one into his hand, pursing his lip. "Now, I need to figure out how this thing works…"
Meanwhile, Pitch had been searching the workshop for anything useful; so far his efforts had been fruitless, and he grew more and more impatient by the second. When he heard a small chirping sound from below, he stopped, narrowing his eyes a moment as he listened intently. "Hm… I don't seem to be alone after all… I must be extra careful."
Jack's eyes lit up when he finally seemed to figure out how to operate the upgraded snow globe. "Okay… now, I think this place was London… but what year… maybe… okay, this seems like around the year we went there…" He looked up at Baby Tooth. "You sure you don't want to come?" The small fairy shook her head, squeaking. "That's okay. Just keep an eye on things around here. If anyone asks, just tell them I wanted to get some fresh air. Thanks again, Baby Tooth." He smiled before throwing the snow globe down, disappearing in a flash.
Pitch had been listening in, his eyes widening a bit. "So… North's snow globes can travel through time now…" He grinned. "That may be just the thing I need… observation is over, now is the time for action."
Baby Tooth floated about, yawning after Jack left. She was about to drift off to sleep when subtle movement caught her eye. She blinked, looking around to see if she could detect the source of the movement. When nothing else happened, she let her guard down, about to drift off to sleep again when a sinister figure arose from the shadows behind her like rising smoke, a hand reaching out like the speed of lightening to clench its fingers around her small form. She squeaked in surprise, whimpering in horror when she realized who it was that had grabbed her.
"You have quick, sharp eyes, little one… but not sharp enough. And if you even think of poking me with that nose of yours again, I'll crush you into sand." Pitch said lowly, threateningly.
Baby Tooth had a burst of bravery then, chirping angrily at Pitch and wriggling to no avail in his grip.
"Oh… that's a pity. You know… no one else knows I'm here… but it would be quite a shame if, say… something happened to your precious fairy queen…" Baby Tooth whimpered frightfully as some of Pitch's sand formed into Toothiana's image beside him, and he extended his other arm to crush the sand around her throat, the rest of the sand falling into dust as he smirked. "Now… if you want her, and the other guardians here… to last until the morning sunrise, you will cooperate."
Baby Tooth shut her eyes tightly, nodding silently.
"See? Was that so hard?" He chuckled darkly. "Now, you are going to show me how these new snow globes operate, and point me into Jack's direction. I want to see what he's up to."
Baby Tooth's eyes popped open, shaking her head and squeaking in protest.
"Now hang on… I didn't say I was going to harm him… I just want to see what ol' Jack's been doing with his spare time, is all. Just remember, you agreed to cooperate." Pitch said, tightening his grip on the small fairy, and she whimpered in pain as she struggled to breathe. When she gave a nod of agreement, he let up, the small creature gasping for air. "Good." He said as he took one of the snow globes into his hand. "Now, tell me what to do."
Jack did his best to remember the way to the orphanage, looking for any visual clues that would help lead him in the right direction. When he saw a familiar street, and the familiar transition into the eerie silence that he had experienced before, he moved a bit quicker on his feet. He approached the black metal fence, floating above it to look into the window that he saw that young girl in last time… he tilted his head when he saw the room was empty, hovering over to other windows to see the same thing; empty rooms, not a single ounce of life inside.
"I don't understand… where are all the children…?" Jack breathed.
"You won't find anyone there."
Jack gasped, whirling around to see a young woman standing on the other side of the fence. His eyes widened. It was the young woman he'd seen before, but she looked a bit different; her face had a brighter glow to it, her hair was longer and better kept; her dress was a vibrant blue and white. He floated over to her, the fence separating them. "You… you look different."
The young woman shrugged. "I feel different too. A lot has happened since I saw you last."
"Wait… since you-… how much time has-"
"About six months, perhaps a bit more. I lost all sense of time between my stays here, at Rutledge…" She sighed. "I don't ever have to go back to either again. Honestly, I don't know what made me come here in the first place… but now I'm thinking it was you."
Jack looked back up at the building for a moment before looking back at her. "What is your name?"
"Alice. Alice Liddell." She smiled. "And you are Jack Frost, if I recall correctly."
"I thought you said I was some lunatic…" Jack raised a brow.
"Last time I checked, lunatics could not fly about the air." She smirked. "Also, I discovered that I seem to be the only one who can see you."
"How CAN you see me, anyway? Only children can see me… something about a… child's mind eye…" Jack said.
"My mind works different than most others. My mind can allow me to see things others do not see… what others see as a state of mind, I see as a place, a tangible thing." She smiled lightly. "So Jack Frost, with my mind clearer than when we first met, I believe you."
"Well, that's good at least, but… what happened to all the children here?" Jack asked. When Alice glanced to the side, he sighed. "Alice, I know you know."
"I used what was left of my inheritance to rebuild where the Mangled Mermaid had been burnt to the ground. I suppose I owe it to Nan for sticking around all this time. She's living there now, as well as the children from the orphanage. It's like a sanctuary for them." Alice's brows furrowed deeply. "What that… vile creature did to me… I was able to come back from, to an extent. But them…" She shook her head. "They are beyond anyone's help. The damage he inflicted was too great."
Jack blinked, frowning. "What do you mean…? They… they aren't sick, are they?"
"Oh, very much so, Jack. Their fates are worse than death. Their minds have been corrupted. There is one thing worse than reliving your fears each night… and that thing is completely losing everything you are, becoming an empty husk to be controlled by whatever malevolent force controls the strings as they coil deeper into your skin." Alice replied.
"Who did this, Alice? It couldn't have been… no, it couldn't have been Pitch…"
"Dare I say his name…" Alice spat. "And to think I entrusted my deepest parts of myself with him, my mind… that… that despicable excuse for a psychiatrist!"
"Wait… that doctor guy that… that you were working for?"
"Yes." She replied, the light breeze blowing through her hair.
"Look… Alice, I-… we, can help them… the guardians! We can find a way!" Jack said.
Alice stared at him a few moments, impressed by his persistence. "Come. Let me take you to them."
As Jack followed Alice, hovering over the fence to remain just behind her, a figure emerged from the shadows not far away, taking in the words spoken by Alice.
"Their minds have been corrupted…" He glanced back at them, remaining unseen as he stealthily followed them. "Who could this individual be…? And why have I never heard of them…?"
Jack followed Alice, approaching a newly established building before entering it. An older woman with dark brown hair was standing next to a child playing the piano, quite a bit off key.
"Don't cry over your mistakes, dear, it's how we get better. To learn to walk we have to trip and fall a few times." The woman turned when Alice entered. "About time you've got back, I was starting to worry. Thought you may have wandered off somewhere."
"I'm fine, Nan… was just getting some air." Alice replied. Nan jumped when a blood curdling scream erupted from upstairs, the woman holding a hand to her heart.
"That one's going to be the death of me, she is… always having her screaming fits about something or other…" Nan said, shaking her head.
Jack watched on silently, looking around at the children. Something was off about them, very off. There was a thickness in the air, seeming to drain the color and any trace of joy into itself. Some murmured to themselves, some stared at the wall or out a window, but seemed to be in a distant place. He furrowed his brow deeply as a little girl rocked back and forth in a chair, whispering a poem over and over again. Her hands were wrapped up from biting them constantly, dried blood stains showing through the bandages. As they headed upstairs, Alice bent down to scoop a small boy up who was giggling to himself, a disturbing smile spread across his face as he tugged on his bottom lip.
"Come now Charlie, I told you not to sit about the stairs…" Alice said to him, placing him in a chair upstairs.
"Open the bottle, pour me out, put me in a glass, take a gulp or two…" The boy muttered, giggling.
Alice entered a bedroom upstairs, the girl who had screamed earlier hugging another girl who was humming lightly to herself, not even realizing she was being hugged to begin with. Alice helped the manic girl rise to her feet.
"Eliza, I told you that the lake monster can't get you in here…" Alice said to her.
Jack widened his eyes… it was the girl he had seen that first day, staring out the window.
"He's going to swallow me up, Alice… with his cold, jagged teeth… his freezing water dragging me down to release my soul into itself…" The girl muttered.
Alice hugged the girl gently, looking up at Jack. "Do you understand now? Do you see their condition?"
Jack shook his head in disbelief, falling to his knees and staring at the floor. "I've… I've never seen anything so horrible."
"I know how badly you want to assist them. I do all I can but it doesn't make up for what they endured… it isn't enough. This is at least better for them than Rutledge… they'd only be harmed worse there. I would know." Alice replied.
Baby Tooth flew swiftly to where the other guardians were, gently poking at Toothiana as she slumbered, squeaking with alarm as she tried to wake her. Toothiana blinked her eyes open, sitting up tiredly. "Hey… what's the matter, little one…?" When Baby Tooth emitted a series of frantic chirps, Toothiana's eyes widened, shaking her head. "Oh no…" Her wings burst to life as she speedily went over to Bunnymund. "Bunny, Bunny there's been a breach! Pitch was here! He took some of North's snow globes after Jack used one and he followed him!"
Bunny was roused from his sleep along with the others, and North swore under his breath. "Jack… how could he do this? We must find him!" North exclaimed.
"Now hang on a second." Bunny interjected. "If we all go chasing after Jack, no one will be here to keep an eye on things. I'll go after him, and you all stay here and take a good look around."
"Good point… Bunny, you're the fastest on your feet, I know you'll be able to find him." Toothiana nodded. "Come on North, let's see if that horrible Pitch did anything ELSE in your shop… oh, my poor baby, I'm so sorry he hurt you…" She said, gently hugging Baby Tooth to her.
"You got it mate. I'll drag his sorry behind here, he's got a lot of explaining to do." Bunny said before taking one of the snow globes. "North, how do you work this damn thing?"
Pitch had seen all he needed to see. Indeed, what had been done to these children was far more excessive than his methods… whomever, or whatever, was the cause of this, he was quite curious to find. He began to make his way through London, searching high and low for any trace of the being. After turning up with no results, he grit his teeth in frustration… that is, until he heard something… it sounded like a train, but there was something off about it. It had a sprinkling of chill to it that seeped out from a brick entrance to the station in a hollow echo. Pitch made his way over to it, descending the stairs until he passed the waiting area, reaching the tracks. The place was empty, the only source of light coming through the small windows above, like fingertips reaching down onto the tracks. Pitch tilted his head, closely examining dried blood forever engraved into the wood of the tracks in one spot. He looked from one end of the tracks to the other as far as he could see, not a trace of any train to be found. Despite the sense of isolation, he felt somehow that he wasn't alone, that something unseen lingered.
"I know there is another present… reveal yourself." Pitch said to the air, glancing around. He then began to see mist forming, consolidating into a form, straightening his spine when the unrestful spirit appeared to him. "Well… not quite what I expected."
"What do you want from me? Unless you have something to offer, leave me to my domain." The spirit appeared to be a man in a suit, donning a top hat and glasses.
"Oh… that sounds a lot like something I would have said a short time ago… but it seems like we're in a similar situation. Hiding in our dank refuges, wasting away while any potential we contain goes right out the window." Pitch grinned.
"Who are you? And what do you know of me?" The spirit asked.
"The name is Pitch Black… better known in the dark ages as the Boogeyman… a certain… nemesis of mine led me here… it seems he has come to learn a hard lesson in his pitiful attempts to preserve the light within the hearts of children."
The gentleman chuckled. "Children's hearts are overrated. As I always say, the body follows the mind… and the minds of children are so easy to manipulate and control… just say something enough times, do something enough times, they will believe it, they will embrace it. Oh… all except for one, I'm afraid, the source of my untimely demise."
"Hm… would it be the headstrong girl who has made friends with the source of my own defeat? Goes by the name of Alice, if I heard correctly."
"Ah, yes… headstrong is a mild term to describe that wretch." The man spat. "Where are my manners… I am doctor Angus Bumby, former psychiatrist and outstanding citizen… the girl ended my life simply for providing a service to society; satisfying the tastes of the hard working citizens of London…"
"None of them understand nor respect our motives, but that is beside the point. You may be able to help me… and vice versa. The one thing standing in my way to my former glory in the dark ages are the guardians… especially that Jack Frost which little Alice seems to be acquainting herself with. From what I can deduce, you probably would like to give her a piece of your mind yourself… so, I'll make a deal with you. If you help me with my little problem… then I can help you with yours. Simple as that." Pitch said.
"That sounds all lovely and well… but if I were to help you… what long term benefit would I gain from our proposed partnership?" Bumby asked. "Quite difficult to continue any former hobby of mine in my current state."
"Hm…" Pitch raised a brow in deep thought as he rubbed his chin for a moment. "Well, I can offer this. One of my greatest assets is adaptation. You see, part of being the king of nightmares is to be able to read each individual mind I come across, incorporating the changing of times and settings with it. You seem to have a 'one size fits all' sort of technique… and believe me, from what I see, it's quite effective… so let me see how effective you can make of this…" Pitch said before opening his hands, black sand floating over towards Bumby, who extended his hand to absorb it into himself. The sand collected inside where his heart would be, spreading throughout in the transparency of his ghostly form. The sand began to change… it became stickier, more clumpy, losing its dry texture. It became something like ooze, his ghostly hand taking on the slimy texture. He looked over, bending down to grasp a small pebble, opening the dripping hand to see it resting on his palm. His hand rematerialized into ghost form, and the pebble dropped through his palm, clattering on the ground. A sinister smile graced Bumby's features, straightening up to look at Pitch.
"Well, it seems you have succeeded in convincing me to join your cause." He extended his hand as it took on the oozy form. "A partnership it is."
Pitch gave a firm nod, smirking as he took the hand, shaking on it. "So… why don't you tell me a bit more about this… Alice?"
"There is much I can tell you of her… but there is only one that knows her far longer, and better than anyone. She has been with Alice since the very beginning." Bumby replied.
"Who might that be? Where can we find them?" Pitch asked. "If it is a far trek, I can give you one of these devices I managed to nab from the guardians… it's a snow globe. Wherever this person is, it will take you to them." He handed Bumby one, who took a moment to inspect it.
"Ah, what a crafty device… I rather like it. You will have to tell me more about these guardians as we make our way to her highness' throne…" Bumby said, an image of their destination forming inside the snow globe. "Ah, that's it… now, prepare yourself, she's not accustomed to outside company… her forces will mean us harm."
Pitch shrugged. "Very well. I'm sure I can handle it."
They both soon found themselves in a rather… repulsive location; the entire place was covered in fleshy material and crumbling stone, bones, large eyes with heart shaped pupils, oversized teeth that seemed to nip and gnaw at the air sprinkled into the disgusting scenery.
"Well…" Pitch started, grimacing a bit. "This place is quite… organic."
Bumby laughed. "Ah, yes… 'tis the very epicenter of Alice's exasperating delusions… and where we will find her…"
Before Pitch could respond, they were suddenly surrounded by several card guards; their skull like faces shaped into a permanent scowl as they pointed their spears. Pitch raised a brow, narrowing his eyes a bit. "I suspect this is what you were referring to?"
"Indeed! Let's see what you are capable of, Pitch." Bumby said as he materialized into his ooze form, his hands elongating into sharp claws to slice his way through the cards.
"Likewise!" Pitch grinned, his dark scythe materializing into his hand as he swung it around to keep card guards at bay, summoning his night mares to battle them one on one, trampling over them.
He and Bumby were able to get through the first group in no time, but found that wave after wave came. Bumby, after slicing through enough, grinned when a small flame flickered on a finger, whipping around to slice into another card, simultaneously setting it ablaze. Pitch narrowed his eyes, conjuring identical copies of card guards with his black sand, controlling the sand to fight as the cards did to continue forward. After some time, they looked upon the result of the battle, victorious.
"Well, that was quite easy, I think." Pitch said with a nod.
"Yes, your abilities are quite intriguing." Bumby replied before they noticed a large shadow approaching them. Pitch was used to shadows being a source of relief and familiarity to him, so when he turned to see the Queen's rather large Executioner looming over them, emitting a threatening roar, they realized that their work to reach her was not quite done yet.
Jack watched over the girl Alice called Eliza as she finally slept, his expression forlorn. He gently took her hand to look at it, sighing before placing it back down. "I wonder if they can even dream…" He said.
"I'm sure I wouldn't want to, from all the torment they've experienced." Alice replied, glancing at him as she finished cleaning up the room.
"There's got to be a way to help them, Alice. I mean… you were able to get through it, you turned out fine, so why can't they-"
"Turned out fine?" Alice shook her head. "If that is what you're thinking, you are gravely mistaken. I heard the sounds of my sister's innocence being taken soon followed by her life. She was dead before a single flame was lit to my childhood home. After that I subsequently lost my parents, and my sanity. I spent ten years in a dreadful place where I was subjected to pain, torment, all for the sake of making me shiny new again, to deliver me unto the public where I could go about my life as if nothing happened… and worse yet, I was driven right into the clutches of the very source of my life's downward spiral!" She shouted, closing her eyes tightly as she exhaled sharply. "I apologize. I know you mean well, Jack, but you don't understand."
Jack looked up at Alice as she spoke, standing. "Maybe not… but there is one thing I understand. I… I had a sister once. I don't know what happened to her… but I know I died to protect her. That was a long time ago. So… technically I don't have them either, my family. But I have a new family now… the guardians. And… they would never hurt me."
Suddenly, the light coming in through the window was obscured, Alice gasping lightly as someone came in through the window… or was it… something?
"JACK!" A voice cried, stumbling and falling flat when their feet seemed to be stuck in the window. "Damn this… you can at least help me up before I decide to bash your head in, mate!"
"Bunny?" Jack's eyes widened, trying to pull him in but his feet were stuck. "Jeez, maybe try not getting stuck in places too small for you, this would be better suited for North, don't you think?"
"You're lucky he and the other two didn't come with me, because then we'd all be using you as a punching bag! Stop pulling so much, you're hurting my arm you, you buzzard!" Bunny spat.
"Well how else am I going to get you in here? Some big bully you are if you can't even get your oversized feet through the-"
Alice rolled her eyes, shaking her head as she went over to the window, pulling a stool over to stand on as the two guys shouted at each other. She raised a brow, giving the top part of the window a good shove, opening it wide enough so that when Jack pulled, Bunnymund came flying in, falling on Jack in a heap.
"Argh! Get off of me, you big rodent!" Jack cried.
"Call me that again and see if I don't sock you a good one, mate! You're already in deep sh-"
"It would be wise to at least thank me for getting you out with your jam, and perhaps knocking next time you decide to barge in here. Now kindly explain who you are and what you're doing here." Alice said, crossing her arms.
Bunny got to his feet, dusting himself off. He furrowed a brow then, looking behind him and then back at Alice. "Wait…" He glanced at Jack. "Is she… talking to me? Can she see me?"
Alice groaned. "What is it with you lot? Don't you know when someone is talking to you? And people say my head is in the clouds!"
"Woah, woah, first of all, little lady, YOU, are not supposed to see US. You are not a child." Bunny replied.
"Tried to tell you that…" Jack muttered, rolled his eyes.
Bunny shot a look at Jack before returning his attention to Alice. "As I was saying-"
"I'm sorry to disappoint you, but the fact of the matter is that I DO see you. As I explained to Jack Frost, my mind works a bit differently than others. I see things most others don't. So I will repeat my prior question, who are you and what are you doing here?" Alice asked, raising a brow.
"I don't have to tell you anything, Sheila. This…" He pointed at himself and Jack. "… is between us. So I will kindly ask YOU, to stay out of it."
Alice glared at him then. "How dare you tell me to 'stay out of it?' This establishment was built from MY inheritance money, so if you want to take care of business without me, then you can escort yourself outside!"
"Ooo… so scared…" Bunny waved his hands in front of his face.
"Bunnymund, knock it off, okay?" Jack interjected.
The corner of Alice's lip twitched a bit, leaning up so her face was closer to his. "Do not… trifle with me…" She said through clenched teeth.
"Do you have any idea who I am?" Bunny leaned in as well, the two trying to intimidate each other. "I'm the Easter Bunny."
"You could be the Tooth Fairy for all I care, no one comes into this place and pushes me around!" Alice exclaimed.
"Did you just trash talk- oh, that's it!" Bunny shouted, taking out one of his boomerangs.
"Bunny, cut it out!" Jack stepped in to keep them separated.
Bunny wouldn't have it however, taking his boomerang and whipping it right at Alice. She narrowed her eyes, and to Bunny's shock, she caught it mere inches from her face, smirking at him.
"Oh, want your little toy back? Well, that's too bad, because since you've been a rotten egg I'm confiscating it." Alice said as her smirk grew.
"Wha- hey! You give that back or I'll-!"
Jack stepped back as Bunny went to reach for it. Alice had been half turned away, but when Bunnymund wouldn't give it up, she timed it just right when he leaned in and grabbed her one arm. She whirled around, punching him right in the nose with her other hand. Jack's eyes widened as he stifled laughter. Bunny on the other hand, had gone right down, holding his face.
"And by the way? My name isn't Sheila. It's Alice." She said, casually throwing the boomerang on the floor near him before placing her hands on her hips.
"Crikey! You bloody wombat! You little bugger, you… mangy dog!" Bunny shouted as he held his face.
"You had it coming, Bunny…" Jack snickered before bursting out into another fit of laughter.
Alice's serious expression slowly melted into a smile, and for the first time in what felt like an eternity, she laughed. She held the tips of her fingers to her mouth; her face that had been despaired for so long was filled with cheer for that moment. Jack looked over at her, the two exhaling contently as they smiled. Alice cleared her throat then, trying to regain some composure, but there was still a lightness to her expression.
"Well, so happy that you were amused! So glad my pain gives you two hyenas some comic relief! Now let's give you a turn, eh Jack?" Bunny said as he got to his feet, pressing a closed fist into his hand. "Because of you, Pitch now knows about these upgraded snow globes and he's used them himself! So I'm gonna beat you to a pulp before he gets to-"
"Wait, woah woah woah!" Jack held his hands up. "Pitch? Pitch Black? How'd he find out about-"
"He snuck into the workshop somehow and saw you use one, so he squeezed some answers out of Baby Tooth by nearly squeezing her to death! All the other guardians are putting the shop on lockdown now because of the breach!" Bunny exclaimed.
Jack's face dropped, shaking his head as he plopped down onto the stool by the window. Alice looked from Jack to Bunny. "How could this happen…? I just… I wanted to help-"
"Well, you didn't, mate. Who knows what Pitch'll do now. We've got to go back and sort out this mess." Bunny said, cutting Jack off.
Alice took a step forward. "Wait a moment… who is this… Pitch Black you're speaking of? I thought you may have mentioned him earlier-"
"This is none of your business, you-!" Bunny flinched when Alice sneered at him, holding up her fist threateningly, lest she sucker punch him again.
"I'm not talking to you. You can go back to pretending you're invisible." She turned her attention to Jack. "Go on, please enlighten me."
Jack sighed as Bunny threw his hands up, muttering and swearing under his breath. "Pitch Black is… he's like the Boogeyman. He turns children's dreams into nightmares, and the last time we- the guardians- dealt with him, he nearly destroyed us because he made the children stop believing in us. He almost made Sandy bite the dust… no pun intended."
Alice nodded her head as she listened to Jack. "Interesting… so he seems to be giving you a hard time again; do you know the extent of his renewed vigor?"
"No, and we won't as long as we're just standing around here!" Bunny shouted.
Alice turned, walking up to him as she smirked smugly. "Very well then. We'll have to just go and see for ourselves."
Bunny blinked, shaking his head before chuckling. "Ohh no, Sheila. You are out of your marbles if you think you have a remote chance of coming with us."
Alice pursed her lip. "Well, I AM out of my marbles, I spent ten years inside an insane asylum, after all… so I suppose that answers that."
"You- wha- Jack, she is NOT coming with us! No outsiders are allowed to come to the workshop!" Bunny exclaimed.
"Oh, so you can just barge into MY place, but I can't come to see yours? How hypocritical of you." Alice rolled her eyes.
Jack shrugged. "She's got a point… you seem like the situation is dire, so we probably need all the help we can get."
"… ohh when I get my paws on you, mate…" Bunny grit his teeth.
Alice shrugged conceitedly, shoving past Bunnymund as Jack followed her. Bunny himself eventually followed them, still steaming as they used a snow globe to get back to the workshop.