Chapter 4: Return of the Guardians
Chapter 4: Return of the Guardians
Travelling between the realm of the Guardians and the Real World tends to make one feel...woozy. If described, it's much like riding on a high-speed roller coaster, except there wasn't any seat belts or safety buckles. The Portal would make its snake-like twists and turns before coughing out its passengers at their intended destination, so it wasn't surprising that first-timers had it bad.
It's also noteworthy how each Guardian's Portal is unique; although its function is the same, using a Portal you're unaccustomed to travelling with can sometimes result in a nasty, upset stomach. For all that, this particular Portal had been summoned by the Jack Frost, who could ride upon the swiftest winds and a practical expert in the racing arts sledding, skiing, skating and snowboarding (you name it). And he would be absolutely disgraced if it were anything short of the most thrilling ride.
Still, Jack, aware that this human girl only came with him in an unexpected twist of fate and otherwise would have never had to experience this sort of travel, was at least concerned for her. He hadn't personally known any human who have come to the world of the Guardians, therefore he could not be certain of the effects Portal-travelling would have. The cases are thin on the ground - although not unheard of, such as the case of Sophie Bennett three years ago. At any rate, what cause did any human have to warrant leaving their own world?
He wondered if Lily's sister knew what she had got herself into.
They slid across the icy smooth, polished floor of North's Workshop when the portal ejected them. Jack hastily tried to ease the girl to a stop while glancing at her with concern. She seemed to have coped fine (no apparent signs of being sick in the stomach or visible trauma) admirably even, which flushed him with unexpected relief.
Somehow, they had ended up just beside the Globe of Belief, the massive scaled-down model of the planet sprinkled with luminous golden dots, twinkling away like smallish gold-coloured stars. For a brief instant Jack looked on, wide-eyed and half-expecting to see the precious dots coldly extinguished the same as the last time Pitch threatened their safety. But the Globe appeared to be very healthy-looking and the flickering dots plentiful, their number looked as though they had grown since he'd last seen them.
Glancing around, Jack felt calmed by the the bustling, contagious energy of the most amazing toy factory in the world. He could practically feel the ever-present rush of coming Christmas demanding its due, which reminded him the holiday was just around the corner. At this time of the year, the Workshop was mounting and running at its zenith. Noise filled every corner, and above their heads was a full airshow of soaring toy planes and cheery streams of rainbow confetti. In fact, Jack needed to dodge an incoming flock of flying discs. As a result he nearly knocked into Lily's sister.
"Sorry." He murmured, earning himself a raised brow from her. "Oh. Watch out!"
His warning came just in time as the girl expertly avoided colliding into a Yeti carrying an armful of a doll house.
On every floor, rum red and chestnut banners hung overlooking the tables where the Yetis were so busy crafting magnificent and testing toys that they hardly noticed the new arrivals. Others were packing them up, reaching for the bright wrapping paper with methodical speed. The rest were pushing along carts and making sharp turns whenever they found a stray elf in their way, spilling over some of the toys inside. The elves were…well, being elves - and they're not exactly the smartest (or the most helpful) beings ever.
Despite their urgent situation, Jack could not help but relish in how good it felt to be back at the Workshop. This is Santa's Toy Factory, for heaven's sake! It is every kid's dream to come here. At least the title of Guardian has its perks, Jack inwardly grinned. It means Jack could visit the North Pole whenever he liked and the Yetis would (technically) not able to throw him out since he's now the rank as North. Granted, he hadn't visited the Workshop in a while, but he thought he really should come more often. Simply being here made Jack almost tempted to forget that there was anything was wrong with the world at all!
Except something was. And that was why they needed to come here.
Not wanting her to be knocked out by Phil, he grasped Lily's sister's hand and pulled her along to tap a Yeti's shoulder. The huge mustachioed creature slowly turned to them, green eyes narrowing slightly.
"Ah excuse me. You know me, Jack Frost. I kinda really need to see your boss. You know, big man, Santa Claus? Nicholas St. North?" Seeing the Yeti's suspicious eyes, Jack impatiently added. "It's an emergency."
Jack had possessed a reputation of trying to break into North's Workshop more times than could be counted in his past 300 years as the spirit of mischief, which, understandably, earned him a certain caution amongst the working Yetis. With him not having visited North for a few years, this air of caution hasn't exactly dispersed.
Nevertheless, the Yeti did lead him to North. Or rather, to put it more correctly, led North to them.
The stocky, large-framed man, clad in his usual red sweater and black trousers, shooed aside some pointy-hatted elves and helloed Jack happily, arms open and welcome:
"Merry greetings, Jack! Sorry I couldn't have welcomed you properly…'been a bit busy you see. Christmas is only 27 and a half days away," He nodded very seriously. "and I'm having a busy enough time without tripping over these silly elves wherever I go!" As if to push his point further, North nearly toppled over as an elf skimmed by his feet on a roller skate. North cursed in Russian under his breath.
"Good to see you so enthusiastic." Jack commented with a grin.
"Ah anyway, look at you - still looking the same as ever, eh?" North swung one of his buff arms around Jack's shoulder and crushed him to his side." I had to say I didn't expect your visit. Come, why don't we come into my office and have a little chat. How's life as a Guardian been treating you? What's it been, three years since..."
"North, listen! As much as I like it, I'm not here to have a little chit chat." Jack said, brushing off the heavy hand North had put on his shoulder. He felt a little regret saying that, having to turn North's enthusiastic offer down, but this is… "This is important."
"What is, Jack?" North asked innocently, then he noticed Lily's sister silently observing them from a distance behind Jack. He beamed immediately.
"And who is this lovely young lady?" North went to clasp his two hands over hers. North was a giant, and he was positively looming over her. "Now there is really something to talk about. My, I've always known you were a great number of things, Jack. But you really outdone yourself this time." North chortled loudly. "Tooth will be very pleased."
Jack groaned. "C'mon. This isn't about me. This is about Pitch. He's back, North! Back and a whole lot stronger than before!" He felt guilt twist in his gut as North's expression dropped. He hated being the bearer of bad news. "Look, we need to call the others. This is really important. My love life can be discussed another day."
North stared at him and blinked several times. Even the tall Yetis beside him were glancing at each other worriedly. They remembered the last Nightmare was as clearly as if it had been yesterday. Months of work, destroyed. Friends injured. The Pole wrecked. It was every Yeti's Nightmare.
"Shostakovich, you're not joking, Jack?" North asked anxiously, wanting to make sure he had heard right.
The younger Guardian nodded firmly. "Trust me on this, Nick. I wouldn't joke about this." North nodded grimly in return, fully trusting Jack's word.
He briskly patted Lily's elder sister's hand and then let go. "Excuse me, my dear." He apologized. "Business to attend to." Then the jolly Russian headed off to send the message to the other Guardians. The Yetis remained motionless until their boss yelled at them to get back to work and they obeyed but Jack could still feel every eye in the Pole upon him. He didn't care. He was more worried about Lilly's sister.
Jack stole a glance at the girl. Her hair covered half of the side of her face as her eyes trailed after North. She seemed amazingly calm for someone who was probably baffled by what was going on or going to happen. Instead, she stood quietly beside him, unfazed and stern. Jack wondered if she was as composed as she looked.
Probably not, he guessed, remembering the first time he had been confronted with all this chaos. True, their situations were entirely different, but he was sure she felt just as he had. Shocked, amazed, nervous, awestruck and probably a little scared too. Who wouldn't be in a strange place like this?
Jack almost winced as he recalled that all the Guardians would soon be present. And it's just gonna get worse, he thought with a sigh, making a mental note to stick close to her in case she panicked. North had reacted very amiably to her presence it was true, but he sincerely doubted the others would do the same. He would have to explain to them. In fact, he would have to explain to both sides, Lily's sister included. The thought made him realized just how caught up in the middle he was. And why?
Because you listened to a stranger, that's why, Jack thought wryly. Famous last words.
Thankfully for his sake, aside from breaking into the Pole and snowballs, there was one other thing Jack Frost was famous for: going with the flow. It was a natural trait that he had somehow always had, and than had enabled him to go through his years as both a spirit and a human without being weighed down by could-have-beens and what-ifs, as his sister had called them. Soon he knew, he would have to employ that age-old coping mechanism again.
The northern lights was quickly scattered in four directions, traversing hundreds of miles in mere minutes. Soon, they would reach the intended receiver, and a full gathering of Guardians would take place at North's Workshop.
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter, he tried to reassure himself. He would just go with the flow and somehow manage it. The others will be here to help him, too. Can't discount that. Though I don't know how much help the rabbit will be, he added, glancing up. The northern lights was quickly scattered in four directions, traversing hundreds of miles in mere minutes. Soon, they would reach the intended receiver, and a full gathering of Guardians would take place at North's Workshop.
He sighed again, wanly rubbing his forehead. Next time a mysterious voice tells me to go somewhere, he promised himself. I'm just going to go home and sleep.
Since the last Nightmare War, the guardians had gotten much better at their reaction time when the lights were spotted. Back in the days before the war, when things had been simple and none of them had spent half the time glancing over their shoulders at shadows, they had barely ever bothered to stop in on one another. They barely communicated at all, in fact which had partly been why it was so easy for Pitch to take them down.
However, that had been the old days. Now, North had a state of the art system rigged up for the lights so that they could actually find each and every Guardians, no matter where they were in the world. This new system cut down on travel time by at least a third and was why the Guardians, one by one, appeared no less than twenty minutes after the lights had been released.
Naturally, Bunny was the first one to appear. He popped up one of one of his signature holes on the ground, poking the tips of his ears out first like a sensor to probe the cold air. Then the rest of him followed- all fur-covered six foot seven of him. He still carried that weird boomerang thingy on his back, Jack noted. Still wore the leather bracers too.
"Awright, what's the trouble, North?" He demanded grumpily, scanning the area for the big man and completely over-looking Jack and the girl who hadn't moved or spoken since they had got here. "Urghh, this place is like living in an icicle!" He shuddered, rubbing his furry forearms to combat the apparent cold.
North rolled his eyes. "Bunny for the last time, we do have central heating here. It is not as cold as all that." He explained to the dramatic rabbit calmly, as if he had gone over this many many times.
Bunny humped and turned away, murmuring about frostbitten paws.
"Is that grumbly old Bunnymund I hear?" Called the next arrival in her gentle, bell-like voice.
Jack turned and a smal smile split his face as he saw the elegant form of Toothiana flying in through an open window. She looked just like she had the last time- half beautiful bird, half radient warrior woman. Her feathers gleamed in the warm light of the pole and cast gentle riples of rainbow light across the walls, much like the northern lights in fact. As always, she was accompanied by 'her girls'. The tiny versions of their mother flew around her head and body like little bees, whispering reports of teeth and probably loads of other things that he couldn't understand.
Suddenly a tiny flash of teal blue and pink whizzed past Jack's vision like a bullet. Jack blinked, then heard the familiar gentle thrumming of hummingbird wings near his ear. The smile grew fonder on his lips.
"Hey Baby Tooth. Long time no see, huh? You doing okay, girl?" He held out his palm for the little tooth fairy to perch on.
Baby Tooth chatted excitedly in return, spun a few times around Jack's head before settling on his shoulder.
"What's that?" A feminine voice said, filled with curiosity.
Jack jumped. "Oh, right. I almost forgot you were there!" He said, turning to Lily's sister, who was looking at Baby Tooth.
She gave him a expressionless look and he ducked his head."Thanks." She replied with a twitch of annoyance.
"Sorry." Better to just change the subject. And quick! He held out his hand for Baby Tooth to hop on and she did. "This is Baby Tooth. She's a fairy. Say hello Baby Tooth."
Baby Tooth studied the girl, raising her beak to sniff the air around her. She let out a tiny sneeze, then gave Jack a loopy grin that he hoped indicated she was alright with her presence.
"Hmm." The girl murmured, staring at the little fairy sitting in his palm thoughtfully. "She's kinda cute."
That instantly won the little fairy over. She jumped back into the air and buzzed over to the girl who pulled back anxiously, as if in fear she might bite or sting her. But she did neither of these things. Instead, she smiled and rubbed her cheek against the girl's.
The girl stood frozen, her wide eyes flickering from Jack to the fairy against her cheek. "What...what is she going?" She asked, baffled yet strangely amused.
Jack chuckled, folding his arms over his chest as he watched them with glee. "It means she likes you." He reported.
She didn't respond and although she was obviously unused to the company of such magical beings, she didn't flinch from Baby Tooth's affectionate treatment; finally, the little fairy pulled away and squeaked her thanks for the compliment.
Jack grinned wickedly, "Relax! Did you think she was gonna attack you or something?"
His words had the intended effect. He might as well have poked her, because she lifted her chin and straightened up.
"Certainly not. And you'll excuse me for being wary over a creature I've never seen, however harmless she appears to be." She pointedly said, her expression a cross between dignified and indignant.
Jack strained himself not to let his smile grow any wider than it already was and forced his mind to focus on their surroundings.
Meanwhile, during their little conversation the last of the Guardians had come at last.
Sanderson Mansnoozie- otherwise known as the Sandman, had been in the middle of the East China Sea, giving dreams to the children of Amami when the lights had shown up. Of course he had jumped in his little dreamsand place the second he had finished with his work and sped as fast as he could to the North Pole, but it had taken time.
Thankfully, he had made it before the others had started wondering where he was. He stepped out of his little dreamsand plane which disintegrated back into golden sand the second his feet touched the ground and came back to its master who re-absorbed it back into his body as smoothly as anything. Just like the others, he hadn't changed a bit. His hair was still the picture of bedhead, rising up from his scalp like the sun and he was garbed in the little golden onesie he had grown so fond of.
"Ah, Sandy!" North exclaimed, striding forward to give the little man a hug. Sandy rose up a few inches and embraced the jolly Russian gladly. "Thank you for coming!"
Bunny rolled his eyes as Sandy sank back down to the ground. "Thank us by tellin' us what we're doing here North." He grumbled. "Last time I was here, I almost spewed all over the bloody death trap you call a sleigh," he gave a shudder. "And by the end of our little walkabout I got shrunk to the size of a guinea fowl. On an EASTER SUNDAY to top it all off!"
Jack tried not to chuckle, as he knew it wouldn't help their situation but it was hard. Bunny's whiskers were twitching wildly, giving him the look of a cross cat as he continued to rant exasperatingly.
"All I'm sayin' mate...is that this had better be bloody important to haul us all up here. And it'd better be good North." He raised a warning paw at the jolly Russian.
"Isn't good and important the same thing?" Jack interjected, smirking as the rabbit rounded on him.
"You can stay outta this frostbite." Bunny ordered. "This is between me and the drongo who pulled the switch what got us out here."
The large bearded man laughed. "Moy dorogoi zaika, turning you into tiny leetle bunny was not my fault," He judiciously reminded the cross hare. "And it was not me who made the call today. 'Honour belongs to Jack." North extended his hand towards the winter Guardian who flinched, in spite of himself. Here we go.
"Jack?" the others all turned to him, clearly trying not to look so surprised (with the exception of a disgruntled Bunny of course, who made no such attempt).
"What happened?" Tooth asked, curious and wide-eyed. Sandy nodded in agreement.
Jack took a deep, calming breath and sighed. He knew once he said this, nothing was going to go back the way it was.
"Pitch is back." There. He delivered it. The truth. Plain and simple.
The moment was stunned into silence. Eyes blinked at Jack, all but unbelieving as if waiting for him to say something. To tell them it was just a good joke, another prank of his that they'd laugh of at the end of the day.
He couldn't give it to them. When the other Guardians realised this, there was instant uproar.
Bunny let out an exasperated moan and threw his hands up in the air. "What?! Are ya kiddin, mate?" His shock was go great that he even forgot to call Jack names as he turned to North and dryly said, "You know, this is twice in a row that Pitch has reappeared in the North Pole. Should I take a cue every time I'm invited now?"
"Who said it was at the Pole?" North argued. "Let the boy finish his story."
Jack nodded. "Thanks North. "Now, it happened in the Real World. I was there, minding my own business-" Here Bunny snorted and mumbled something sarcastic under his breath which Jack politely ignored. "I met him in a town called Winston. His target was a little girl. Her name's Lily and she's about three years old." Jack proceeded to narrate what happened. The others listened, even the tiny fairies stopped chittering and leaned in to hear.
For a time, no one in the vast hall spoke. The news seemed to have sent them into a daze and when he finally finished, he looked around at the others, waiting for a response.
"Well?" He asked, hoping that at least one of them had an idea as to where Lilly was. "Do you guys know anything about this?"
"How could this be?" Tooth asked Sandy in an almost inaudible whisper. Her hands were at her mouth in shock. "The last time Pitch disappeared, it was for a hundred years. This time itt's barely been three since we last saw him. How could he have escaped his own Nightmare that quickly?"
Jack shook his head. "I don't know." He said, interrupting the Sandman who had just been about to speak. "What I want to know about is what happened to Lily?" Once again the Guardians turned to face him but Jack wasn't paying any attention to them. "How can someone just...disappear like that? I mean it was just one little flash of light, Pitch left and boom, she was gone!"
"This doesn't make any sense!" Exclaimed Bunny, pulling out his boomerang and spinning it in his paws as he spoke. "Pitch has always been intent on making children fear him. He never actually hurt an ankle-biter, let alone causing her to disappear entirely. That violates everything a spirit's supposed to be! Even he wouldn't..." He trailed off. No one was sure what Pitch would or would not do any more.
"Perhaps not entirely." North said, turning to Jack. "You say Pitch escaped, that might indicate he hasn't done everything he set out to do."
Jack nodded slowly. "Yeah... maybe-"
"May I see that gemstone?"
Jack blinked. "What, this?" He reached inside his hoodie and pulled the stone out, handing it to North as gently as he could.
Upon touching it, North's face lit up with wonder. It was a white gem that, despite the moonlit hall seems to possess a light of its own. It shimmered like the face of a thousand stars on a clear midnight and glistened with the light rays of an early sun touching an autumn pool, speckled with flakes of rainbow. Its surface was unclouded and its sidereal beauty could not be found in any of the fine gems under the earth. North peered at it with great admiration and for a long time he studied it meticulously.
Finally, the old spirit closed his piercing blue eyes and searched through his endless wealth of memory. North had seen this before, a jewel of this calibre. That, he was certain. But how? When? Where?
His eyes flew open.
"It can not be." The bearded man murmured, shaking his head in disbelief. He turned and looked ruefully at the nearest fireplace; he was frowning so much his dark brows made it virtually impossible to catch a glimpse of his blue eyes. "It can not be..."
"What is it? What's in that stone?" The others, alarmed at his grave expression pressed him for an answer.
North didn't register their urging voices. He knew he needed to compose himself first, he and the millions of calculations passing through his mind. When he spoke again, the old Guardian's face was painted with a terrible fury, which reminded all those who knew him of just how scary Nicholas St. North could be if he ever wanted.
"My friends, I'm afraid Pitch Black has indeed returned, much earlier than we had ever anticipated. And he has discovered a formidable, ancient, very dangerous power." North stopped for breath. "The children are in danger."
"What do you mean?" asked Jack impatiently. "What has this gem got to do with this whole mess?"
"It has everything to do it with it." North said, his voice grave. "This…" North slowly turned to gaze at the Globe of Belief.
"…is Soul Pertrification."
It seems we won't be learning Lily's sister's name in this chapter. There is a reason for this. It's just something I'm compelled to keep a secret until that right moment (though I imagine it's inconvenient for readers as well)
I'm posting chapter 4 immediately after this, since it's been written as one chapter. But if I were to keep it as such, it would be too long for a single chapter.
*Lines in italics indicate characters' thoughts