Chapter 6: Night time at the Pole
Chapter 6: Night time in the Pole
"Here, hold out your hand. I got something for you." said Nicholas St. North.
He held out a necklace. A bright silver chain glimmering like moonlight passed through a tiny hoop on the pendant, which was small and fragile in appearance. A twinkling crystal - Lily's heart, gently nestled in delicate flower-like case. Lily's sister's eyes softly rested on the stone; behind her wall of composure and control she felt a stab at her heart, for she could feel the presence of her sister in that tiny, little gemstone.
North gently placed the necklace in her hands. Her fingers curled up around it, as if protecting and sheltering that precious flicker of life within the jewel.
"Thank you, North." She said, filled with gratitude, yet in that moment her voice sounded unmindful to the rest of the world.
Lily's sister sat in her bedroom, which was provided for by North at his Workshop. She had put the necklace around her neck, and she felt peace in her heart. She felt as though her little sister was asleep upon her shoulders and had wrapped her hands around her neck, just like when Lily was only a tiny baby.
The memory of her sister filled her with so much love, love that also brought pain and immense sorrow. She covered the little stone with her left hand and touched it softly. I promise you, you'll be okay. I'll bring you home, Lily.
The feeling of her own sister's soul beneath her fingers made her want to cry. Here, in this lovely and yet empty room, there is no one in front of whom she must urge herself to remain strong. There was no one there to mock or pity her, her and her inability to prevent the whole situation from ever beginning. She could be her true, shaken self here, in the enclosed privacy of the place, in the lack of others there. But it was also lonely. Very lonely to be here, and to feel like this.
The sound startled her, even if only by a bit. From the corner of her eye, through the long strands of hair sweeping over the side of her face, she caught the sight of a very familiar furry creature.
She let out a sob.
"Oh Luna. Why are you here?"
She took the cat onto her lap. It didn't resist and curled itself on its new 'nest', enjoying the warmth of its owner.
Luna's own warmth, however slight, comforted her.
Everyone needs rest once a while. Yes, it was less than a month before Christmas, but even the furry, towering Yetis and the pointy-hatted elves are no exception. That's why it's so quiet in Santa Claus' Workshop right now. Jack supposed he should be glad that North took his workers' wellbeing into great consideration.
After midnight, everyone had retired. The lights had gone in most halls, all of which were filled in a breath-taking silence. But that silence is not empty. It was the sort of queer silence, when one thing you've always thought of as restless or perpetual motion suddenly becomes unfamiliarly still like a millpond.
All residents of the Workshop was most likely in slumber, but Jack rarely felt like sleeping when everyone else did. He had this contemplating habit of sitting by a glass window, face hidden behind his hood and staring at the faint glow of night. Night had always possessed a sort of redeeming light, but it is so obscure hardly many take notice of it. This light from the night is made of starlight and moonlight, cool and soothing. In the pole, one may have the chance to observe the aurora, its ethereal beauty. It is another reason why Jack had always enjoyed visiting North. They had got along well, but there is a pleasantness of the pole that perhaps only winter spirits can understand.
Before the lights went out, a meeting between the Guardians had taken place privately. In that meeting, the Easter Bunny had been selected to track down Pitch's whereabouts, which of course came as no surprise to Jack. Bunny had an excellent sense of hearing and smell, and he could enlist the help of the flora on the way. Tooth and Sandy would take turn locating the Boogeyman as well, but only as a secondary measure. North would be in charge of supervising any intelligence the group can find; and they would be communicating via snow globes when necessary, although Bunny had insisted that he'd rather use his own magic to contact North himself.
More instructions and advice were then given to Jack on which route he should take on the journey ahead of him, since his human companion would have not been familiar with the land's layout. The Guardians had also warned Jack against possibility that Pitch Black will target Jack's group in order to take back Lily's heart. Since performing such a spell takes up tremendous power, Pitch won't be doing it again any time soon. But that also meant that Pitch would be all the more desperate to steal the gemstone.
"Be very careful Jack. We can't be sure what he'll do…" North's words still echoed in his mind.
Jack redirected his thoughts back to the view outside. The spark of stars were like diamonds, resting against the dark blue satin of the sky. Wind and snow swooped over the jagged mountains. Jack caught an odd movement of something small that didn't quite follow the roaming draught, instead hovering still. That was when he noticed Baby Tooth trying to catch his attention.
"Baby Tooth? What on Earth are you doing out there?" He leaned with one hand pressed against the glass, trying to figure out what she was trying to tell him.
Baby Tooth was pointing to something outside. Jack couldn't make out what it was, but before he could say anything in addition, Baby Tooth motioned him to follow her and flew away.
"Hey wait a minute!"
Since the windows couldn't be opened here. Jack snatched his staff and skipped across the halls until he reached a door that led outside. He quickly opened it and projected himself up into the sky, where he found Baby Tooth waiting for him.
Baby Tooth chatted excitedly in her cute little squeals and again gestured for him to follow.
They trimmed through the moistureless and perishing polar air, around the entirety of North's Workshop. Finally, Baby Tooth suddenly zoomed to an end.
"Now, what is it? What's wrong?" He asked.
Baby Tooth quickly shook her head and pointed to a balcony below them. Jack followed her direction and saw someone he had not expected.
"Lily's sister? Is that why you took me here?" He exclaimed at Baby Tooth.
The little fairy nodded.
He glanced worriedly at the girl. "Did something happen to her?"
Baby Tooth shook her head vehemently, and she kept pointing at her.
"What do you want me to do then? Go and talk to her?" Jack whispered to her urgently.
Surprisingly, this time she responded with a nod.
"You do?" He resisted the urge to groan, seeing they were keeping a low profile. "Gosh. Geez. Maybe you don't know but things are a little…difficult between us right now. It's my fault that her sister was turned to a stone. And...I don't know. I think she might resent me for it." Jack explained, finding it difficult to discuss the matter.
Baby Tooth just looked and listened to him. Jack had expected Tooth and the others calling him for help, but it turned out Baby Tooth wanted him to have a conversation. With Lily's sister, no less!
Jack looked down at the balcony again. Lily's older sister was leaning against the barrister, a light wool blanket thrown on her shoulder, her hair moving with the wind. What distracted Jack was her face, her eyes were searching the distance in the way he often did; only, she couldn't seem to find what she needed. Her brows frowned and her mouth was set in a grim line. Her face looked so troubled and forlorn that he promptly understood why Baby Tooth would want him to help her.
"Ggrrh, but how am I supposed to do that?" He turned to Baby Tooth, who was giving him an encouraging look. "Just say I walked by while on an evening stroll?"
He didn't know how to come up and talk to her. He didn't have a private conversation with her since, well, since Pitch attacked them and take Lily away from them. Lord, he hadn't had one decent conversation with her either since they met either.
Luckily, he was helped with his trepidation.
"Is someone there?" From below them, the girl said sharply, alert.
Cripes, she heard them!
"I heard you." She stated, as if hearing his thoughts.
Figures. There really is no time like the present, Jack thought with the slightest bit of disdain.
He dove underneath the balcony. When he shot up again and suddenly appeared in front of her, she pulled back in surprise, but calmed down quickly enough as she recognised him.
"I thought I heard someone talking." She mumbled.
"Yeah, well, I was just, er, out for a midnight stroll." Jack scratched his head. "Mind if I join you?"
"Not at all." She said quietly.
Jack stood beside her and leaned on the barrister, too. A vast stretch of the North pole laid before them. North's Workshop was built like a fortress on a mount, so below them were the edge of a stunning precipice.
"Couldn't sleep?" Jack asked.
"No, I couldn't." She admitted. "And yourself?"
"Yeah, it's been one hell of a day, huh?" He tried to ease the tension between them with a light tone.
She nodded but didn't say anything else.
It has become quiet between them again, and Jack had no idea whether he should interpret it as disagreeable or plain.
"Are you thinking of your sister?"
It was a casual question, enough to be friendly while it should him prod the mood.
She shifted somewhat, her shoulders just barely tensing.
"Yes." She said, uncomfortable for not knowing what more to say.
"Do you want to tell me about it? I mean," Jack offered tentatively. "I may not look it, but I know how much you're going through."
That got her to tilt her head slightly and look at him. "I remember. You were there, after all." she said emotionlessly, fist tightening.
He breathed in deeply.
"It's not that. I had a sister once. Her name was Emily."
For a most fleeting moment she was as still as stone, then her fists loosened on the barrister as she recognised what he meant. Jack felt slightly more hopeful as he saw the steel edge in her eyes soften.
"How old was she?" She asked thoughtfully.
"Eight." He replied with a small smile.
"And what sort of spirit was she? Was she a Guardian like you?"
"No." Jack said, realising he had raised his voice. "No..." He tried again more evenly. "She was human. Not all spirits are born. I was a human once, too, before I became a spirit."
She understood him quicker than he'd thought. Her eyes widened in shame and she looked taken aback.
"I-I'm so sorry." She hastily said. "I shouldn't have asked."
"Hey, it's okay. I'm the one who brought it up." He said reassuringly.
Upon hearing that, she looked at him with questioning eyes. There wasn't pity in them, but it was a piercing gaze that made Jack briefly falter before it. It was as if she could see - not just his pain, not just his sensitivity about the subject. It was as if she could see him. As if she knew there was a part of him - a part that he didn't know himself, has not healed.
"I'm sorry." She said again; but this time he got the feeling she was saying it for a different reason.
He mustered a hearty laugh. "What is it - Apology Day? What are you feeling so sorry for?"
She shook her head. "I doubted you when we first met. Even though I knew you weren't lying to me, and that you had nothing to do with what happened to my sister, I didn't want to admit it. I guess-I guess I felt bitter at not being able to save Lily myself, and I projected some of that bitterness onto you. I realised now how unreasonable that was. And now you're forced on this journey. You shouldn't have agreed to come." her gaze hardened and she stared intently into the distance.
He was startled by her statement. "Look, your plan gave us a chance to put up a fight against Pitch. And I wasn't forced to go. I chose to."
She didn't seem at all convinced and was stubbornly looking anywhere but him. He sighed and reached out a hand to touch her shoulder, making her jump and whirl around to face him.
"I would have gone with you even if the others didn't say so." He said to her with sincerely, earnestly. "It's my fault for letting this happen. You're the one who should not have been involved." He spoke softly, swallowing the truth with much shame. Suddenly, her gaze felt heavy on him and he couldn't bear to look at her like this.
Her sister was turned to a Soul Stone because he couldn't stop Pitch. It wasn't as if no one was there to help. A Guardian had stood in the Boogeyman's way, and yet his efforts amounted to nothing. The darkness became that powerful in only three years. And what was he doing all that time? Hadn't they all known that Pitch would one day return, for he couldn't be destroyed? He had been doing his job, spreading fun to children's hearts all over the world during those three years. Even so, wasn't it part of their job to stop the darkness from growing? Jack Frost had failed when the Boogeyman took Lily's peaceful life away from her.
And now her sister's too.
"What? No!" She exclaimed, rising to defend him from himself. "How can you think it's your fault, Jack? You did all you could to stop the Boogeyman."
"You don't know that." He replied painfully.
"I do." She took his hands and forced him to look at her. "You did your best."
"But it wasn't enough, was it?"
"Sometimes it's all we can give." She said softly. "Sometimes even our best can not give us what we desire. But it's more important that we're willing to give it again. Without you, Pitch might have taken Lily away and we would never have known what happened to her."
"It was Manny who saved us in the end. It wasn't me." He pointed out. He didn't know why he was so bent on contradicting her - it was silly. He was actually terrified that she would finally realised that it was indeed his fault that her sister was endangered; and worse, she would hate him for it. To lay out all his feelings like this made him feel raw and vulnerable and exposed. But...maybe he was doing it because he knew somehow that she wouldn't let him.
"It doesn't matter. You've brought me here. I only got to save Lily because of you, and I'm so grateful for that." She smiled at him.
In the back of his mind, Jack vaguely wondered if this girl had no fear. She was about to embark on a journey fraught with danger enough to make any spirit think twice. But she said it was an opportunity?
"Don't you blame me at all?" He asked her in disbelief.
"Why would I blame you? Of course I don't." She said, eyeing him as if he'd said something ridiculous. "Pitch should be the one who's sorry." She added venomously.
Jack could only look at her in amazement, but somehow her words made him feel at ease again. He relaxed into his casual manner, and a playful smile appeared on his lips.
"Speaking of this little excursion" An attempt to change the subject on his part. "You volunteered for it so readily back then. Aren't you even the least bit worried?"
"Of course I am." She answered straight away. "And I shall admit to feeling afraid as well. So many things are unclear to me. However," she said. "I have decided that I will not allow fear to rule me and my decision. Whatever may happen, I shall overcome it, for Lily's sake."
Through her words, Jack felt he could understand what it felt like, perhaps even better than before. He would have done the same for Emily. But he could not help but admire her resolve. She is just one human girl – one girl against countless evil spirits and Fearlings that will try to take her younger sister's heart for selfish purposes, one girl wiling to walk a distance of a continental scale to reach the Perennial Mountains, where she would have to face the most ancient and unpredictable spirit; and worse even, she would have to persuade the ancient spirit to restore her sister's life.
Yet, she would still do it without wavering, without falling to fear.
For once, he felt glad, even honoured to be her companion, and she his. Unlike him, she did not have magical powers. And while the lack did not make her weak and fragile, he was determined to protect her and see her through to the end – for the sake of their shared dream.
Silence blanketed them once more and this time, Jack felt a certain warmth, a kind of softness to it. They both sent their gaze beyond the far horizon, where Jack could detect a small splotch of light, glowing unknowably.
With the rising of the wind and sudden splinter of moonlight, Jack said his companion.
"Well, looking forward to working with you, Lele."
She stared at him, round-eyed. Suddenly, she chuckled.
"That's the nickname Lily gave me. Lele isn't my real name you know."
"Huh? Really?" He scratched his head sheepishly. "Heh, I thought it was funny."
"Don't you make fun of it." She shot him a glare.
He hadn't expected her reaction. Apparently the name was precious to her in a way, even if it sounded sort childish. He made a mental note for himself that perhaps he should expect being surprised by her more often.
"Relax." He said hastily. "I think it's cute. So, what is it?"
"What is what?"
"My partner's name." He grinned at her.
She glanced briefly at Jack as if trying to decide he really meant it, then absent-mindedly knitted her fingers.
"Mary, huh?" Jack echoed the name gingerly. He was almost nonplussed to know she had such a simple, unexceptional name. She was anything but. "It's a pretty name." He told her in earnest.
She smiled gently and turned away. "It's very old-fashioned."
They watched the world together, the aurora and the arctic night, and it wasn't until the new day had peaked that Mary went back inside and Jack flew away with a goodbye.
Oh God I tried to write something sweet. It's such a daunting thing! I don't know why it's one of my favourite chapters.
* Lines in italics indicate the character's thought.