Always be with you

Chapter 5: The plan

"Of two sisters one is always the watcher, one the dancer." - Louis Gluck.

Chapter 5: The Plan

The other Guardians stared in horror at North while the two teenagers looked at each other, completely puzzled. The phrase meant nothing to either of them but evidently it meant something to the others, judging by the looks of abject shock on their faces.

Jack was the first one to voice his confusion aloud. "Whoa whoa whoa, soul what now?"

"A power wielded by only the mightiest, most ancient of spirits." North clarified for the teen's sake. "They are Father Time and Mother Nature, both are creators who govern the Laws of both our world and the Real World."

"The Legendary Spirits." Bunnymund added.

That phrase was one Jack recognized. "Oh yeah! I remember hearing about those!" He said. Then he frowned. "But...I thought Manny was one."

"Indeed Jack, he is. He's the only one who we Guardians can still actually talk to. The other two, well..." North shrugged. "No one has seen them in millennia."

Tooth had been unusually silent during this little exchange. Normally she would've voiced her opinions by now and asked a million questions and Jack noticed this. However, he needn't have worried, as she quickly fulfilled her stereotypicality.

"So...what exactly does this magic do?" Questioned Tooth. "And where is the little girl? Jack said she dissipated in that flash of light and only that stone was left, so did the girl turn into the stone or is her body somewhere else?"

Jack could feel the girl stiffening behind him and he thought about taking her hand to comfort her, but then thought better of it.

North, meanwhile, was answering Tooth's question. "Everyone knows a person's soul can not be touched by physical hands." He said, wiggling his fingers. "When they reside within a human body, they are always in ethereal form. Intangible."

Jack nodded. Made sense.

"However, it is possible for souls to be transformed." The Russian continued. "If you can pull out the core of a being in their deepest existence, and given enough pressure, you may condense it into a physical form. Often, the transformed soul becomes a sort of crystal called a Soul Stone. And here," North raised the gemstone to the light, which gently passes around and through it. "is one."

"No way." Jack said, unable to believe it. He felt like his stomach had just dropped to his feet.

North nodded sadly. "I'm afraid it's 'yes way'. And in answer to your question Tooth, yes this is the little girl. In a sense. And it's a good thing you rescued it Jack," he added in a somber tone. "Otherwise I should hate to think of what would've happened to it."

Tooth shook her head sadly. "I knew Pitch was evil, but I never thought..." Her words was lost and retreated into silence.

"None of us did." Bunnymund muttered darkly.

They were thinking the same thing. Pitch had broken the most important rule of their existence as spirits. Spirits are never to bring any harm humans. They may influence people by encouraging them to feel a certain way, or at most inclined to do certain things; but never, never harm them physically. Let alone touching their souls. By doing what he did, Pitch had broken the most sacred law of all. It was unforgivable.

The atmosphere in North's Workshop, normally so cheerful and robust, fell eerily silent. Not one of them dared to move, as if frozen on the spot by some grave spell. Every one could distinctly felt the dull, dark aura thickly weighing over them. That silence stretched on for an awful eternity before someone, in this case Bunnymund, dared to break it.

"That's...fine to know and all, but how does turning someone into a sparkler exactly help Pitch accomplish anything?" His ears twitched irritatedly. "Unless he's somehow into jewellery making?"

North let out a laugh, likely out reflex, but it was a joyless, hollow one. "Not precisely. Once a soul's been broken down to this form, it contains unimaginably large amount of energy. Pure energy. It can be harnessed and used quite easily, given enough knowledge. I suspect that is the reason Pitch went through the trouble of making one."

Sandy flashed some images, adding to the conversation for the first time. North audibly sighed. "Yes, you're right Sandy. The effort Pitch put into making a Soul Stone must have at least taken a good toll on him. Tell me what you think, Jack."

"I think," Jack hesitated a moment. "Pitch has become a great deal more powerful. Possibly more than I've ever seen him. He was in a poor state after he performed the spell. But even after then, he had enough strength to escape."

Jack withheld the reality that even then Pitch had the power to subdue him and Lily's sister. It was worrying, frightening even at the thought of just how strong Pitch Black had become.

"This is bloody nonsense!" Bunny exclaimed, frustrated and loud. "You're telling me that the Boogeyman became so powerful that he was able to use Legendary magic, after just three years. You'd have to be freakin bonkers to believe that!"

"Indeed, Bunny. The implications of his actions are frightening. Yet it can't be dismissed." North shook his fisted palm firmly.

"I agree. If we do, everything we stand for as Guardians may be destroyed." Tooth declared, levitating slightly higher in response to her gush of confidence. On the other hand, Bunny was simply not convinced.

"So what do you propose we do?" Bunny stomped his feet heatedly. "With that kinda power, who's to stop him from doing what he wants?"

"We are." Jack said purposefully.

"Oh fancy that." Bunny returned sarcastically. "Even you couldn't stop him."

Jack said nothing at that. Shame rushed through him as he heard Bunny's accusing words. Damn that rabbit, but he was right. Jack was their best chance at defeating the Nightmare King. He was there. And he couldn't stop Pitch Black. Jack turned away, unable to face his guilt and his friends.

"It's not Jack's fault." Tooth, kind as ever, came to his defence. "I'm sure nothing could've been done, if our enemy has grown so powerful."

"That's right. Rather than bickering amongst ourselves, we need a solution. A good one." North joined her, nodding and arms crossed.

The others quietened. With unpleasant apprehension, they realised they were all no closer to finding it.


"Perhaps you should start by finding a way to reverse this power." A clear voice, unheard before during the entire discussion, wafted and joined them.

Suddenly, everyone turned their attention to Lily's sister as if noticing her for the first time - she was lost to them when their focus was on the ill news Jack had brought. Suddenly, everyone turned their attention to Lily's sister. Most of them hadn't even noticed she was there and, now that they did realize it there were a wide array of varying reactions across the board. Tooth raised an eyebrow, Sandy blinked in surprise and Bunny completely flipped out!

He drew his weapons and fell into a defensive stance. "Now hold on, who's this?" said Bunnymund warily.

"I believe an introduction is due. Jack?" said North with the tinge of a smile.

"Uh…" Jack scratched his head, wondering how to go about this. "Everyone, meet Lily's older sister." Turning his head sideways he met the girl's gaze "This is North, also known as Santa Claus," North smiled and inclined his head as a sign of respect. "The Easter Wallaby-" Bunny shot Jack a venomous glare. "I mean Easter Bunny; Sandy, otherwise known as Sandman," Sandy waved to her goodnaturedly. "And finally Toothiana. She's the Tooth Fairy." He gestured to each one of them in turn and when he was finally done, North stepped up.

"We are the Guardians, wardens of Hope, Dreams, Wonder, Memories and Fun." He said. "Our job is to keep 'children who believe in us safe from the dangers of the world."

"A pleasure to meet you." Lily's sister said politely, but her face was unreadable.

"Not to be rude, mate, but why exactly is she here?" Bunnymund cut in bluntly. "I assume you were the one responsible for this." He added, glaring at Jack.

"I had to. It's not like I could just leave her there." Jack replied hotly. As if she would let me...

Bunny shrugged. "You could've." He muttered.

"Bunny!" Tooth hissed, slapping him on the arm. "Be respectful!"

"What?" He asked defensively, folding his arms over his shoulders. "It's weird enough that she can see us all, never mind what's happened to her and her sister. And the fact that it's all happening to her and us, now, I don't think that's just luck or fate."

"Well, luck, fate or otherwise," North argued. "We still need to figure out what to do about this. A girl's life is at stake and I don't think a girl who can see spirits is the most pressing thing we have to worry about right now!"

Bunny grunted. "Ha! I think it's a legitimate reason to worry North. Adults that can see humans are rare enough. She might be a spy for Pitch!"

"Bunny, she's not an adult." Toothiana corrected. "Perhaps a young adult certainly, but not a full adult."

"What does it matter? I don't like it. It's not natural that she can see us." Growled Bunnymund, glaring at Jack as if he somehow was responsible for the girl's strange abilities.

"Don't look at me. I have no idea how this works!" Jack complained, raising with his palms in defense.

"Neither do I." The girl answered coolly.

Bunny opened his mouth to answer but Tooth interrupted him. "Bunny, enough." She scolded him. "There is no need for you to be so crude. The girl has just lost her sister."

The rabbit had the decency to look shame-faced but said nothing.

Tooth turned to the girl. "Hi, I'm Tooth." She stretched out a hand and the girl took it gingerly. "Listen, I'm really sorry about your sister." She said gently. "I know how much this must hurt but I promise you that we will find Lily and punish those who hurt her."

Her heart ached at the mentioning of her sister. But she put on a brave face and forced out a thank you to the Fairy woman before turning to the others. She could feel her temper flaring up at these so-called Guardians. Protectors of children, they said! If they were somehow responsible for keeping children safe from 'the dangers of the world', they'd obviously failed at protecting Lily from harm. Seeing them arguing each other over her and her new-found 'rare' ability instead of figuring out how to amend the events just now sent a surge of bitter anger and frustration through. However, she was able to reign them in with masterly control.

"How I could see you," She cut in. "is not relevant at the moment. If I recall, there is a larger matter at hand."

Her words brought them back to their senses, and so the temporary excitement faded away.

Not wasting a moment, she continued on."You claim to be Guardians of Childhood, and I have heard of you. If you truly are protector of children, you must be able to do what I can't for Lily. I'm not a spirit, and I'm not magic. So I'm trusting you all to do what's right and save her. Because she doesn't deserve this."

North slowly stepped up and softly held her shoulders, which were rigid under his touch.

"I'm sorry." He whispered gently. "But that beyond us. Our strength does not lie in that brand of magic. And for such a complex spell-" North shook his head.

She quickly pulled back, as if his contact burned her.

"Then tell me, what will you do?" she clenched her teeth.

"We'll start by considering what you suggested." North answered. "I said reversing that power is beyond us. But there are others who can."

"Just one, really." Jack added sourly. He knew where this was going.

"From the original themselves." Tooth gasped in delight. All at once her fairies lit up and cheered, making chirping sounds and soft hums. Sandy clapped his hands and sand-fireworks popped above his head.

"You're all mad as a march hare! Have you all forgotten?" Bunny's sober voice dashed their little celebration. "Father Time has vanished since the dawn of the world. He sleeps, and will not awake before time itself froze over and stood still. He won't answer any of us! And Mother Nature? She's not always benevolent, and she is very unpredictable. She hid herself away in her mountain when even the Man in the Moon was young."

"Yes, but with her, there is still hope." Tooth tried saying. Bunny shook his head.

"She won't listen. She doesn't take sides."

"Well, can't know till we've tried." Jack's seemingly unfazed and light voice was the exact opposite of Bunny's, which only served to aggravate him more.

"Oh? Is that it? We'll just have to try?" Bunny snorted. "...Yeah right. If you know what it means to look for Mother Nature in her mountain, then tell me, Ice pop. Who's gonna do it, huh?"

Jack opened his mouth to answer angrily that he would lead the mission, in spite of the rabbit's beliefs, but before he could get the words out a voice he didn't expect to hear sounded beside him.

"I will do it." Lily's sister said.

The deadpan statement stunned the Guardians. Bunny stared at her as if a giant blue-pink Easter Egg had fallen on top of her. The others' expressions mirrored his own shock. Jack looked as if he didn't recognise her, his heart sped in worry as he opened his mouth and struggled to say something, anything to stop her. But Bunny beat him to it.

"You?" He asked dubiously.

"Yes." She returned his stare, eyes glinting dangerously.

"Tell me you're joking, mate!"

"This is hardly the time for jest." She assured him.

Before Bunny could utter another word, North interrupted him by standing in front of her.

"My dear girl, I forgive you for not possibly knowing. But," he said kindly. "to find the Queen Mother of Nature means entering the Unguarded Realms, which is a place filled with dangerous things. Sorcery, evil creatures and haunting places and the kind. To find her" He bent down to her, meeting her eyes with his grim ones. "means you must walk to the ends of the world. To a Fire Mountain with a destructive temper. And not before you've crossed under forests and twilight, across plains and seas and unbeaten paths. To find her on your own" He finally said. "is a wish of death."

She met the spirit's bright and wise gaze with even, soft eyes - ones full of resolution and understanding. "You're right. Maybe I frankly am not aware the dangers you told me of, and others you have not yet mentioned." She admitted. "But knowing or not, I will not change my mind. I will not shrink away into safety and resigned myself to wait while the game plays out, even if someone else would volunteer to do it, which I doubt. Tonight I have failed to keep my only sister safe. I can not forgive myself until she's back at home again."

"Enough. What are you saying?" Jack broke in in front of her, concerned and fearful for her sake. "This is not a fight for you."

She smiled grimly at him. "Lily is my sister. It is already my fight."


Once the Guardians came to the realisation that nothing they say would move her, they stopped and a solemn and respectful mood developed them.

"You are serious about this?" North asked cautiously.

"Indeed, sir." She nodded, solemnly as ever.

"Then your courage is most admirable." North bowed to her. "You have my respect."

"You know, you have a possibility of…you know, not coming back yourself." Bunny stated quietly (which earned him a reprimanding glare from Tooth and Jack).

"Not before I make sure she's safe." Lily's sister said in a fierce tone.

"Just wanted to be sure you know what you're doing," Bunny shrugged. "and not gone bonkers or anything." He reluctantly turned to Jack. "I hate it so admit it, but your girl's got guts. Not to mention conchy..."

"Hey, knock it off. I just met her." Jack protested, to which Bunnymund scoffed and shrugged.

"I wish you don't have to do this alone." Tooth told her with a comforting hand on the girl's shoulder. "I would be so much more comforted if at least one of us is going with you."

"Now that's a grand idea, Tooth!" North suddenly bellowed in excitement.

Tooth blushed. "Thank you. What was it again?"

Smiling broadly, North briskly explained. "Don't you see? The Guardians can not all go with her: some of us must stay and do our job. But at least one of us can be spared."

Bunny groaned. "Yeah, spared for magical fodder." He muttered.

Sandy, in contrast, seemed very excited at the prospect. His round face lit up with joy and his dream sand showed a great thumbs-up.

"Thank you, Sandy." said North. "That settles it. Let us appoint a brave and noble soul to help this young lady fulfil her cause!"

Four heads immediately searched for Jack, catching the Winter spririt by surprise.

"What?" He asked.

"Congratulations, Jack. You're the man for the job." North patted his back with his strong, muscular arm. Jack, light as he was nearly fell over.

"Thanks, North." he winced. "Why me, though? S'Not that I'm complaining, but wouldn't it make more sense to choose Sandy or yourself? You're clearly much more experienced than I am." And probably a lot more diplomatic, Jack thought.

"There's no need to be modest, Jack. You're such a seasoned traveller. I've heard some of your adventures in Santoff Clausen, Wayland Wood and High Valley, to name a few. Your resume couldn't be less perfect."

Jack was reluctant to say it, but most of North's words rang true. His three hundred years of solitary wandering had indeed taken him to many strange and lonely places. But that was before a long time ago, before he decided to leave the Unguarded Realms, opting instead to return to the Real World and find his place there. He wasn't sure he could still be called a traveller.

Nonetheless, when he raised this fact it was quickly dismissed - none of the Guardians could say they have stepped outside their borders in the last three centuries.

"Look, Jack. Christmas is almost upon us. I can't afford to risk going now - not when Pitch is back. I'm already on a tight schedule as it is." North argued his case.

"And Sandman and I are already working 24/7 to get our jobs done." Tooth chimed in.

"That leaves you and Bunny. If you'd rather then..." North said. Bunny's ears perked up as they mentioned his name.

"Whoa, say no more! It's obvious that I'm the best man for the job." Jack raised a hand, a grin teased his face as he eyed Bunny meaningfully. He loved to rub in the fact that out of the two of them, it can't be denied that Jack was the more powerful. "When do we start?"




Author's note:

I made a small reference to the book series in this chapter - see if you can spot it. (*Hint: it's got to do with Bunnymund). But again, I maintain that this story leans much more towards the films.

If you could spare just a few seconds to write a review, I would love you so much!

Next chapter: An unexpected conversation.

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