Chapter 11: It's all fun and games until...
It had only taken fifteen minutes to get back, though Annabeth had been running the entire way. Jack kept up easily as they approached the small wooden home, once they were close enough, the smell of cooked meat filled the cold winter air, Annabeth welcomed it hungrily as her pace quickened her stomach now growling constantly for food.
Annabeth was through the front door and in the kitchen before her mother could even come to greet her. With a light laugh Claire spoke, "I was wondering when you were going to come in." She laughed as Annabeth sat across from her mother in her usual seat. "Where's Jack?" The woman asked.
As if he were being summoned Jack walked through the door a smile on his face, like that morning he too sat at the table in the same seat. "Where's your staff?" Claire asked.
"By the door." Jack replied, "With Annabeth's cloak and mittens." He added his mind casting back to the items of clothing on the floor by the door. Claire turned her gaze from the winter teen to her daughter who was currently stabbing as much food onto her fork as possible.
Just before Annabeth placed the fully loaded fork into her mouth her eyes wondered to her father's empty chair, "Where's father?" Annabeth asked setting the food aside for a moment.
Claire looked to the empty space as she remembered what her husband had said before leaving. "He's out on one of his hunting trips." Claire finally replied as she continued to eat, seeming satisfied with the answer Annabeth continued to eat.
The rest of dinner went by in a content silence, Annabeth had finished first having clearly been hungry. Just as the twelve year old was leaving the kitchen however she was stopped by her mother. "Annabeth can you help me wash the dishes please." Annabeth sighed with irritation she hated chores especially one's that involved cleaning. "Oh and Jack can you light another fire to keep the food warm." Claire called back as she continued to walk away with the dishes.
"Fire, right." Jack mumbled to himself as he looked for what he needed in the tiny kitchen. Trying the cluttered countertop surfaces first he searched for any signs of a tinderbox, having no luck he turned to the also cluttered selves, moving the dishes and cooking utensils for further access Jack could still not find what he needed. Sighing he looked at the higher shelves stacked with several weapon creating entrustments and materials.
Reaching up to move some of the stuff Jack learned that he was in fact just a little too short to reach the shelf. Looking about Jack's eye's rested upon on of the chairs, with a smile he pulled it over to the wall, now standing on the chair Jack searched the shelf for the box. "He really needs to clean this stuff." Jack said to himself as dust began to fill the air. "Achoo!" Jack sneezed as more dust filled the air, the chair under him began to wobble. Steadying himself Jack continued to search the shelf, unaware that someone had just came into the room.
"Jack?" Annabeth asked as she saw her brother floating in midair as though he were standing on something, looking at the fallen chair she pieced together a satisfying answer for herself. "Jack." She repeated again only louder this time. Jack turned to face her only to fall to the ground with a loud thud. "Jack!" Annabeth exclaimed as she ran over to see to her fallen brother.
Jack looked up to the brunette, "Well I think we can add that to my list of bruises." Slowly he got to his feet before dusting himself off.
"What were you doing?" Annabeth asked.
"Looking for something to start a fire with." He replied as he rubbed his newly sore arm.
"You mean this?" Annabeth asked before moving past the white haired teen to a bucket beside the fire place, reaching in she quickly pulled out the object Jack had been looking for.
Jack mumbled to himself before taking the tinderbox from Annabeth, the twelve year old giggled before putting the chair back, "Have fun lighting the fire Jack." She said as she was about to leave the room, "Oh!" she stopped and grabbed another worn cloth from a bench, Annabeth was only through the door before she stopped again, "Oh and Jack." When he did not reply she continued, "It might be best if you put some straw down first." With that the twelve year old vanished out the kitchen entirely.
With a sigh Jack looked for some straw, easily finding it in the bucket Annabeth had found the box in seconds ago. Stuffing it into the half burnt wood he began to use the flint and carbon steel fire striker to light the straw.
It had taken several attempts but Jack finally got a strike only it didn't light the straw like he hoped instead it burnt out as it came into contact with the ash. The second try had similar results and the third and forth. This began a fast growing pattern that Jack wasn't amused with. With the rest of his energy Jack struck the two objects together earning a large shower of sparks, the embers in turn lighting the fire.
"Yes!" Jack cheered as the straw began to burn, a gust of cold wind however blew down the chimney killing the tiny fire. "No!" Jack cried as he slumped against the floor. Determined to get the fire started Jack tried again despite his arm protesting to the amount of moment the bruise making it move painful with every action.
Once again after several attempts Jack had a small fire going only for a it to go out when he sneezed, clearly having still been affected by the dusty shelf. Trying again Jack had a fire going his wrists hurting from the constant repetitive action and the amount of force he was using to complete the simple task he had been assigned. Eventually the fire was going only determined to keep it going Jack pulled more straw out of the bucket before stuffing it close to the fire.
As if sensing the fuel it need to keep going the small yet rapidly growing flame was quick to light up the newly placed straw, with Jack's hand close by the fire licked the bare skin causing Jack to withdraw in pain. Looking back at the fire with hatefully eyes he was surprised to see that it had been extinguished once again.
Jack finally sighed in defeat as he laid on the floor staring up at the ceiling. How could such a simple task be so hard. Anyone could light a fire or so they said and yet here Jack was in front of a fire place with no fire despite his attempts.
Annabeth's mother choose that time to enter, "Having trouble Jack?" She asked not really needing to see the winter spirit on the floor to know that the task was beating him. Jack only mumbled a quiet 'yes' as his head turned shamefully away from Annabeth's mother. She had been counting on him to do this one task where as she had probably done several in the time it took him to fail this much.
Claire crouched down by Jack and tapped his shoulder lightly causing him to sit up, "So how about we do this together. Hmm?" Claire suggested as she took the tools from Jack. The winter teen sat up more as he watched the lady beside him. "A helpful hint for the future Jack." She said placing the tools aside for now, gathering up some of the straw in the fire place she gathered it into a small bundle using a long piece to hold it together temporarily, "Hold this please." She said giving the bundle of straw to Jack. She gestured for him to hold it over the fire place which Jack did without question, watching as she took up the fire starting tools once again, Jack memorised how she struck a sharp edge of the flint against the metal, sparks instantly flew onto the straw in Jack's hand.
Before he could be burned again he dropped the bundle onto the fire place, Claire said nothing of Jack's sudden fear of the fire but instead picked up the faintly burning straw before placing it beside more straw where it would be easier to start the fire.
"And we're done." Claire said as she stood up. Jack stood up slowly as he inspected his hand it was then taken into a gentle warm pair of female hands, looking up he saw Claire inspecting the tiny red burn mark on his index finger. "Easy enough to heal." Claire said as she pulled a damp cloth away from a clean bucket of water that hadn't been there earlier.
Placing the cloth against Jack's finger she waited a few minutes before pulling the cloth away only to be surprised when a tiny layer of frost was seen melting on the fabric.
"Hey Jack!" Annabeth called as she came into the kitchen, "Are we going back outside to play or what?" She asked ignoring her mother's fascination with a damp cloth.
Jack also seemed to snap put of his trance as he followed Annabeth out the kitchen, "Sure lets go." He said heading for the front door.
Annabeth laughed as she flew down the hill on a sled, Jack sat behind her laughing as usual. Slowly the sledge stopped at the bottom, Jack got off and began to pull it back up the now worn trail on the hill side. Annabeth held on tightly as she was pulled up behind Jack.
Once more the duo found themselves flying down the hill side, Jack laughing with delight at Annabeth's squeals. They had spent most of the afternoon going up and down the hill, Annabeth never got tired of trying to go further and faster as they rushed down the snowy bank. Jack on the other hand was having loads of fun but was suffering due to his aching body, the fall earlier that day must have taken more of a toll on him than he realised, his legs ached and begged for rest as he once again trekked back up the hill, sled and Annabeth in tow.
Using his staff he pushed them off the top of the hill, unaware that it was dragging along the ground as they continued their descent. Jack found himself once again pulling the sled, Annabeth giggled as they headed back up. At the top the pair readied themselves for another ride, Jack pushed off only this time running and pushing hoping to get more speed as Annabeth had continuously requested.
They hit the now iced over snowy trail at a fast pace, with a slippery surface and no brakes the two youths and the sledge flew at an alarming pace, the cold air whipping their faces.
Annabeth's hair went in her eyes more times than she would have liked but the speed that they were going at it was amazing it was almost like flying. Jack shared Annabeth's enthusiasm as he watched the bottom of the hill approach faster than before, he was surprised to learn that they didn't stop at their usual point. Instead the sled kept on going past the icy surface and back onto the soft snow.
It kept going as it approached the next hill a small distance away from the one they were just on. As they approached Jack's stomach twisted unpleasantly as he saw the steep drop before them and the trees at the bottom of the hill.
Warning bells sounded in Jack's head as the wooden sledge went over the top of the hill and began hurtling down the snowy slope towards the forest. Looking for a way to slow down Jack jabbed his staff into the ground only to watch as frost and ice spread out from it leaving a deeper frozen trail next to the sled marks.
Annabeth watched as the trees approached, she didn't know what to do other than hold on for dear life, never in all the years that she had been sledding has she went down this hill. Now she knew why, rumours of horrible sledding accidents were often related to this hill, someone had been unfortunate enough to collide head on with a tree. She always stopped listening after that the image of the accident in her mind was warning enough.
"Jack?" She called back her voice wavering on uncertainty. Jack heard her as they raced towards the trees. "Jack!" Annabeth called again more panicked than before, they were going too fast, they were going to crash for sure.
Jack was desperate now he had to slow the sled down, he could hear the fear in Annabeth's voice as she called to him, begging him to do something, or at least realise the full danger they were in.
"Come on." Jack growled to himself as he tried again to use his staff to slow the sledge. The thought of abandoning the wooden object occurred to him but they were going so fast surely gravity would still pull them towards the trees. Whatever the decision their destination seemed permanent, they were going into that forest one way or another.
Jack moved closer to Annabeth as he wrapped his arms protectively around the little girl in front of him. "Jack?" Annabeth's voice trembled as she spoke he was straining to hear past the wind in his ears.
"Everything's going to be fine." Jack assured her as he watched the forest approach. They were almost at the bottom of the hill, fortunately they wouldn't collide immediately with the first tree, but he wasn't sure about the second or third.
Shifting his weight a little the sledge leaned slightly to the side, that single act gave Jack an idea, if they were going into the forest on the sled surely they would be able to manoeuvre through it.
The closer they got to the bottom the bumpier the ground became, Jack panicked again, the ground wasn't covered in enough snow for sharp manoeuvres, twigs and rocks would be able to topple them.
Annabeth clung tightly to her brother as the first line of trees was seconds away, her arms knocking Jack's staff slightly as she moved closer to him. No matter what happened next she wasn't going to let go of her brother no matter what.
Jack watched as his staff's tip fell into the snow causing ice to form on the ground. Smiling to himself he crouched forward into Annabeth, extending his arm he held the staff out near the front of the sled. Ice instantly appeared in their path causing them to go faster. "Annabeth when I tell you to lean, lean!" Jack called over the wind. Annabeth nodded as she lifted her head to see what was happening, much to her surprise and horror Jack was making it worse.
"Jack?" Annabeth called back uncertain, "Jack we're going too fast!" she called as she clung onto the wooden sledge.
"Trust me." Jack said, Annabeth whimpered in reply. "Just think of it as a game." He called out.
"A game?" Annabeth almost yelled, he had to be joking a game in a time like this, what on earth kept him thinking of fun all the time. Her mind flashed back to the lake where she was in danger of falling in, he had played a game then and got them or at least her out of danger. Annabeth's heart sank, a game, a trick, she had been subconsciously tricked into forgetting about the danger and had focused on hopscotch. Annabeth shook her head in protest she suddenly didn't like this idea.
"No! No games!" Annabeth called back, she couldn't bare to loose Jack again. Jack was confused, he thought Annabeth liked games, apparently not according to her sudden protests.
"Okay-okay!" Jack soothed, "How about a contest?" Jack called as they passed a tree. Annabeth didn't respond, "If you can copy everything I tell you to you win! If not I win!" Jack said, when Annabeth remained silent he continued. "Whoever wins gets to pick the next activity!"
The first line of trees went past then the second and third, they narrowly missed the fourth as they raced through the forest. Jack kept the staff extended as the ice poured out onto the ground. "Left!" Jack called out, leaning in said direction, Annabeth copied as her grip on the wood tightened. "Right!" Jack called out again leaning into the turn with Annabeth copying him. "Right!" He yelled again. Slowly the ground became level and they slowed down, the ice keeping them from catching any stray twigs.
Out of nowhere a large tree blocked their path, "Look out!" Annabeth yelled spotting the tree before them. Jack forced them to turn the ice helping them slip past the tree with ease. The path sighed with relief until a sudden jolt had them thrown to the ground.