Chapter 17: Home

Annabeth had found herself in the lead of their little game, as Jack expected the pain in her leg was forgotten. Turning slightly she watched as Jack hopped behind her slowly catching up to the twelve year old, Annabeth giggled before having to catch her balance from standing still on one leg.

Jack was surprised to see how far they had gotten he slightly wished he tried something like this sooner it would have made their journey fly by. Looking up from his feet he saw Annabeth watching him, smiling in return he chuckled slightly as she wobbled before hopping off again still in the lead.

It didn't take long for the winter teen to catch up, he would have even overtaken had Annabeth not decided to cling to him. Their game came to a violent end however as they tripped sending them into the snow.

Annabeth sat up laughing, "So who won?" she asked looking at Jack who was brushing snow off his face.

"It's a tie?" He said not entirely sure, standing up he brushed off the loose snow before doing the same to Annabeth.

Annabeth smiled. "Okay." Standing she dusted at the end of her dress, looking at the snow covered road and forest she sighed slightly. "How long will it take to get home?" She asked looking up at Jack.

Jack looked at the road before them before turning his attention to the sky the sun was hidden behind a thick layer of dark grey snow clouds leaving him clueless for the time of day. "Hopefully not too long." He replied in honesty, "We should make it back by nightfall though." he smiled.

Annabeth turned on her heels and began walking, "I can't wait to get home. Mom and Dad will be happy to see us." she spoke gently. "I miss them."

"They miss you too." Jack said walking up behind her, holding his sister's hand they continued down the road.

Their journey was continued in silence until Annabeth started giggling randomly, Jack cocked his head slightly as he looked at his sister's face for an explanation. Annabeth's smile grew causing Jack to become even more confused.

"What are you smiling about?" Jack asked a smile appearing on his face.

"I was just remembering the time when you had a bad case of the hiccups." She replied, Jack said nothing as he waited for her to continue. "Yeah, you were unfortunate enough to have them for a whole week." She laughed. "I don't remember much of what happened during that week except that you took forever to do something."

"What else have I done?" Jack inquired his curiosity peeked.

"Well a couple of years ago when all the adults were at the last town meeting you threw a skunk into the room." Annabeth laughed, "The town hall stunk for days and needless to say you were grounded. But you made all the children laugh." she smiled.

"Another time you mixed water with the milk. You claimed it was an accident but Mom banned you from helping in the kitchen for a month." Annabeth said.

Half an hour had passed without either of them noticing, peeking through the clouds the sun was past the midday point as the afternoon rolled on. Both were too busy talking and reminiscing about the past couple of years, Annabeth mostly spoke about how Jack had done something foolish or how he inspired the other children. Jack felt his heart tug lightly as it felt warmer than it had since he woke at the lake. He was enjoying the stories of how he would terrorise a few adults and chase animals only to be chased by a herd later on. It was fun to learn of all the fun he had and apparently caused on the more miserable days, such as a rainy night or foggy day when people barely left their homes.

Neither of them had noticed that their game of hopscotch had ended having once intended to keep playing. Too caught up in the stories the speed at which they had been travelling to get home was slowed from a fun energy filled game to a casual walk.

Claire and her group had headed to the local inn where they met a man she could only describe as rude. Like her daughter they to had been refused a room to rest, this however did not upset Claire. It was only due to the fact that she had overheard the man's comment about a young girl and how they acted alike.

Claire had instantly asked the inn keeper questions about her daughter and was more than angered to learn that she had been refused a room so late a night in a strange and creepy village. The inn keeper had little time to react before Claire began to speak her mind, not only had she deeply intimidated the man but the other staff had not dared to bother her as they rested in the inns living room.

Now she was awake and ready to seize the rest of the day, according to one of the men she was travelling with it was past noon and they were wanting to head off back home. Everyone wanting to be back home for noon the next day, this of course meant that they would have to spend the night in the forest. Claire was unfazed by this as she causally went on her way, the men however were somewhat cautious, she only guessed that it was because of the odd vibe that the village was giving off. Claire didn't care what challenge faced them ahead as nothing was going to stop her from getting home and seeing her children, that much she was sure.

"That's not all." Annabeth said between laughs. "You have succeeded in making every pet in the village scared of you, no dog or cat dares to come near you."

"And why's that?" Jack asked a large grin on his face, his face red from all the laughing he had been doing recently.

"Because during one of your prank wars with Thomas you put a cat in the village well. So that when Thomas pulled up the bucket to get water the cat dived out of the well drenching Thomas in the process. Only Thomas didn't pull the bucket up instead Mrs Greenly did when she was looking for her cat which was currently in the well, everyone thought there was a ghost in there with all the yowling it was doing." Annabeth giggled.

"So…" Jack said connecting the dots of the latest story. "Mrs Greenly got wet?" He finished.

Annabeth nodded biting her lip as she tried to contain her mirth. "As well as a few other people. Though everyone now refers to her cat as the fastest animal in the village, no one's ever seen a cat move so quick while being wet."

"So other than animals, and adults surely I've done something dramatic with the children of the village." Jack questioned.

"Well they weren't as funny as the pranks you pulled on all the older children and adults but in one case you did get a prank to effect not only the younger people but adults and teens too."

Jack tipped his head with curiosity and interest. "About a year ago you scared everyone with a story, it took us a whole week before we could start sleeping properly. You had said something about the Bogeyman, you did make it up to us by offering to play a lot of games." Annabeth said, Jack looked slightly surprised before laughing slightly.

"Huh, I never would thought myself as someone to encourage belief in someone so dark." Jack replied.

"That wasn't the only time you encouraged belief in the Bogeyman. You had pulled a prank on everyone excluding the adults. Now that I think about it, it is rather funny." Annabeth giggled. "You would steal shoes causing people to walk around without them." She laughed. "You had blamed the Bogeyman for stealing them as they supposedly protected you from his evil deeds." Annabeth laughed again.

"I'm just surprised that within a fortnight even adults were believing your tale of the Bogeyman stealing shoes." Annabeth smiled as she turned to look at Jack who was laughing silently to himself. "It's amazing how it lasted until Autumn when everyone began finding their shoes in random places, though it's even more amazing at how you were able to hide everyone's shoes for so long."

Jack just smiled unsure of what to say, Annabeth had fallen quiet as well but not from the lack of stories to tell her brother instead she was looking at the small wooden settlement. Annabeth's face was soon covered in a wide grin as she took in the aspects of her village. All the houses neatly packed together with some children running about, though from this distance she couldn't identify them.

She easily spotted her house, the small wooden building just off from the cluster of other buildings. With the darkening sky it became harder to see, when they arrived in the village it's streets were almost completely empty. A couple of adults walked about not really paying attention to Annabeth as she walked towards her home.

Coming closer to their home Jack and Annabeth noticed that no light came from any of the windows. Thinking that they were in bed Annabeth gently pushed the front door open upon arriving. Stepping inside she noticed that the interior was just as cold as the evening air.

"Mom? Dad?" Annabeth called as she began checking the rooms. The kitchen was first but like the living room that they started in it too was empty and cold. Moving to her room then her brothers she found the same, finally opening her parents door she was saddened to learn that the house was empty.

She took in the small double bed, its quilts still neat as though no one had slept in it, the fireplace was just how it had been left a few days ago, several logs sat within waiting to burn and warm the room. Leaving her parents room she went back to the living room where Jack had made himself comfortable on the small sofa lining the wall. Like the fireplace in each bedroom the one in the living room was also built up but unused.

Jack looked up at hearing the floor groan as Annabeth walked towards him, he guessed by the small frown on her face that they were the only people in the house. Without saying a word Annabeth kneeled by the fireplace and began to light it, it took less than a minute for the wood to start burning. Content that it would now sustain itself she went to sit by Jack on the sofa.

Annabeth curled into herself as she rested against her brother her gaze fixated on the steadily growing flames in the fireplace. She could hardly feel the cold radiating from her brother when the fire grew to its peak. As Annabeth began to drift asleep Jack only held her close while he traced the grooves and frost upon his staff with his free hand.

Having grown bored of his staff he placed it aside before checking on his sister, the twelve year old looked peaceful in her sleep half of her warm from the fire the other cold from leaning against him. He would have left her be had she not shivered causing herself to shake violently against him. With a sigh he moved slightly making sure with each move not to wake her. Once free from the couch he went to one of the bedroom, he notified it as Annabeth's by simple worn fluffy bunny by the pillow. Scanning the room he noticed a thick furry blanket half stuffed into a chest, opening it he pulled it out before turning to leave the room. Stopping by the door Jack looked back at the bunny before picking it up with a sigh.

As he walked the short distance to the living room he studied the fluffy toy with a perplexed expression, he knew that many rabbits had patterns and markings on their fur but the markings on this one just seemed odd. At a dark shade of grey blue to contrast to the pale grey blue fur on the toy the markings seemed to resemble shapes.

Shaking his head he put the toy by Annabeth before wrapping the blanket around her before resuming his place on the couch. Jack relaxed when he checked to make sure he hadn't disturbed his sister. With a smile he leaned back into the soft fabric his thoughts wondering as time slowly passed by.

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