SCREAMS, FIERY guitars and thunderous drums filled his ears, his room and environment snuffed out by the music in his headsets. Posters of superheroes, movies and rock bands filled the walls, his table cluttered likewise with towering novels, comic books and videogame CDs stacked in racks near its edge.
Lowering his head, he squinted as the early morning light stung his eyes, gaining a small grunt as he concentrated on his latest masterpiece. Cracking his knuckles, he sat back, putting his stylus pen aside as he lifted his tablet, smiling to himself. On its screen was a picture of a hero he created, his attire comprising of red and black plated armour and goggles, all designed and structured for speed and flexibility.
Smirking, he saved his work and swiped the program aside to stop his music and put the tablet down. Looking at the clock, he groaned, kicking the table to slide himself toward the wardrobe to his right. He stood, picking a backpack and left his room, entering the hall a woman trod into.
"Tom, time to get ready for school …" She raised her brow as he walked past.
"Yeah, I'm ready." He pocketed his phone.
"Uh, aren't you a lil early to get going?"
"I know." He turned, smirking. "Bye, mum."
"Okay." She sighed, shaking her head amusedly.
Leaving the house, he entered the garage, pulled out his bike, mounted it and rode down the street. Checking his wristwatch, he smiled to himself as he headed for school, much earlier than everyone else as he went past the newspaper boy.
THREE BOYS entered a classroom, laughing amongst themselves when they saw Tom seated in the corner of the room. Raising his brow, a blonde boy frowned as he approached him, groaning as he saw him wearing Beats by Dre and hum to himself.
"Yo, McCarthy." He tapped his shoulder.
"Yeah?" Tom frowned, sliding his headsets off.
"What's the deal? Thought you hated school, but you're the first one here." The blonde boy took a seat across from him.
"Waiting for something?" A black boy sat beside him. "Is it cuz of Mia?"
"Don't start that crap, Jordan, this has nothing to do with her." Tom slid his headsets back on. "And it's Mary, not Mia."
Shaking his head, Jordan, lifted his hands defensively. "A'ight, man, it's cool, it's cool."
"Tom, you know it's rude to wear headsets when people are talking to you." A redheaded boy smacked them off his head.
"Quit it, Nick!" Tom stood up.
"Well, why're you here so early?" The blonde boy folded his arms.
Tom's eyes darted around and he smirked. "I've been coming up with a plan to ditch sch –,"
"Oh, man, you still on that, bro?" Jordan raised his brow.
"We're nearing the seventh grade, thought you'd try to act more mature." Nick frowned.
"What'd Mia think of it?" The blonde boy teased.
"Y'know, I think you're trying to piss me off." Tom's brows stitched.
"Is it working?"
"Ugh, just listen to me." Tom picked up his headsets and sat down. "The first idea I had was maximizing my time outta school, so I'd wake up three or so hours earlier to get some work done." He huffed. "Obviously, that didn't work cuz I nodded off in class multiple times."
"Yeah." Nick chuckled. "Then you started singing the My Little Pony theme song."
"I told you, it was because of a damn commercial that got stuck in my head!" Tom frowned, his face flushed.
"I doubt they put the entire theme song in thirty second commercials." Jordan laughed.
"Weird how you know their exact length." The blonde boy sat back.
"What, you calling me out, Eric?" He frowned.
"Anyway, since all else has failed, I'll just go back to my old idea: pranks." Tom stuffed his books in his bag as students filled the class.
"So, your plan for quitting school permanently is to do pranks every single day?" Jordan raised his brow.
"How're you gonna keep that up anyway?" Nick frowned slightly.
"Trust me." Tom grinned. "Got it covered."
The room filled up quickly and the lessons began, the war for alertness ensuing as Tom felt his eyelids grow heavy. Despite knowing that all-nighters were a bad idea, he knew that his plan would succeed. Six years of confinement in the prison of mind-numbing boredom would pay off in a few minutes. As he expected, the intercom beeped, grabbing the students' attention as the principle's high-pitched voice came through.
"Attention, students, I'd like for us to meet in the hall if you please." She paused then growled. "Right now!"
The teacher groaned and gestured for the students to leave the class. Tom chuckled to himself and Nick frowned at him. "Man, what'd you do?"
"You'll see." Tom smirked.
Entering the hall, he stifled back a laugh as he saw students file in. Lowering his head, he squeezed through the crowd, submerging into the cluster as he headed for the exit. Peeping over his shoulder to see if the students were far enough, he pushed the doors open and ran into the schoolyard.
Moving down the pavement, he chuckled to himself as he saw that the guard had just left. Everything was going to plan and he was close to the prize when he felt someone grab him. Turning, he saw Mary, a white-haired girl with pink streaks clad in a Hello Kitty hoody, black shorts and sneakers grab his hand.
"Tom, where're you going?"
"Ah, c'mon, I'm nearly out." He groaned.
"You're gonna get punished for this." Her brows furrowed as she let go of his hand.
"I won't if I get outta here right now."
"You seriously think it'll end here? If you do get home, you'll just get in trouble with your parents and they'll ground you." She folded her arms. "That's much worse than spending a few hours at school then going home to your superhero designs."
"I had a plan." He whispered.
"Am all ears." She frowned slightly.
"…" He glanced to his right, making her look and ran for the gate.
"Oh, Tom, really?" She raised her brow.
"Hey, what're you doing?" The guard walked up to them.
Tom groaned. "God dammit." He sighed. "I'll take myself to the principal's office." He stooped as he headed back to the school building.
"Sorry, sir." Mary smiled uneasily and followed Tom.
"WHAT IS this like the fifth time this month?" Martha folded her arms.
"Tom, what's going on?" Ben frowned.
Lowering his head, Tom looked to his side, pretending to be deaf though he knew the attempt was futile even as a six year old. Glancing at his blonde-haired parents who sat across from him in the small living room, he huffed as he awaited his punishment.
"Tom, y'know this is pointless, right?" Ben raised his brow. "You got Mary implicated and she nearly got detention cuz of you. You're eleven, haven't you grown outta this yet?"
"I have." Tom mumbled.
"Then why're you acting like a seven year old? This isn't a cartoon like Kids Next Door or some old crap where things actually work out. This is the real world and there're consequences for your actions." Martha leaned toward him.
"So, grounded for a couple weeks?" Tom's brow curved.
"No, we've done that way too many times already." Ben sat back. "Go back to your room, do whatever you want, but this is not gonna repeat itself."
"Whoa, really?" Tom's face lit up.
"Yeah, but think while you're up there." Ben frowned. "Stan Lee, Hiro Mashima and all those authors you idolize needed school to become who they are today. Being a rebel won't get you anywhere."
"Tell that to Han Solo." Tom muttered.
"What?" Ben turned to him.
"Thanks, dad." Tom got up and headed for the stairs.
Hearing the faint voices of his parents discussing his behaviour, he went up to his room. Locking himself in it, he breathed in deeply and sat at his table, returning to his designs. He scoffed as he grabbed his stylus pen, dismissing his parents' lecture.
MARY DISMOUNTED her floral decorated bike and walked up to her front door, sighing as she opened it and entered the foyer. She walked through her house, ignored by her older sisters who, as usual, sat around the living room talking to their boyfriends.
Moving up the stairs, she went down the hall and greeted her mother who responded passively. She entered her room and smiled to herself, taking in the My Little Pony, Fairy Tail and classic Disney princess poster-laden walls and floral printed tablecloth, carpet and sheets.
Taking a seat, she pulled out a sheet of paper and crayon and began shading. After hours of work, she'd cluttered up her table with a pair of scissors, beads and straw, her craftsmanship held in hand. With a wide smile, she left the room.
A REDHEADED woman sat in a living room, barely watching TV as she spoke on the phone. Glancing at Mary who walked up to her with a grin, she cut the call and put on a smile as her daughter approached.
"Hey, sweetie, what is it?" Grace smiled.
"I just wanted to say." Mary giggled and held out a bracelet. "Happy Birthday."
"Oh, you remembered." Grace received it and gasped. "It's pretty."
"Took me all afternoon to make it." Mary held her hands behind her, fidgeting excitedly. "So, you like it?"
"I love it." Grace studied the bracelet then stopped at the centre of it. "What's this?"
"It's the map of Afrisia."
"No, I mean the butterfly design."
"Well, I thought I could put a fairy on it, but I failed to." Mary huffed. "It's still good, right?"
"Yeah, sure, honey, but." Grace sighed. "Shouldn't you grow outta this stuff?"
"What do you mean?" Mary's brows stitched.
"Fairies, magic and all of that stuff; it's not real."
"It is real." Mary frowned.
"How can a human being be that small? Humans can't fly yet alone have wings." Grace raised her brow.
"Fairies aren't humans, but they're real."
"So, where are they then?"
Mary sighed and lowered her head, shaking it as Grace sat back and looked at her daughter. She grew tired of such arguments, though her daughter persisted in believing the impossible. It had to end.
"Look, I know what you're gonna say." Grace interrupted Mary. "They live in the grass or Neverland or something like that, but Mary, those are cartoons, for children eight and below; you should've graduated out of that age group."
"I have." Mary turned to her.
"Then what's all this stuff?" Grace held the bracelet. "Huh? Look, I love the bracelet, but your belief in magic has to end; you need to grow up at some point."
"You're never too old to believe, plus, I'm not even twelve." Mary frowned.
"Growing up is in the mind, honey, you should know that." Grace put the bracelet down. "You need to think quicker than other kids cuz life's not all peachy. One day, your dad n' I might not be here, what'd you do?"
"I'll make jewellery."
"Outta straw and papier-mâché?" Grace raised her brow. "Why can't you be innovative like your sisters?"
"Mom, I'm an eleven year old; I can't make jewellery outta metal and dad would never let me use welding tools – if I ever wanted to use them anyway. And I am innovative; people do make money out of jewellery."
"Well, it's about time you take some real steps towards that goal, Mary." Grace sat back. "You can't spend your life daydreaming about cartoons and finger painting. Look at your sister Sarah who's in medical school or Cher and Charlotte who're gonna be actresses cuz they're working hard and pursuing realistic careers."
Mary frowned and sighed. "Mom, why can't you just let me be a kid for once? Why can't I be who I am? I can't go to medical school and I'm not an actress; I'm still in middle school. Why don't you appreciate anything I do?"
"Honey, I appreciate it, this bracelet is lovely and you'd be a great Jewellery Designer, but you need to get your head out of the sandbox."
Mary's lips quivered as she fought back tears. "Happy Birthday, mom." She left the room and Grace sighed.
MARY ENTERED her room and threw herself on her bed, blowing at her bangs as she stared at the ceiling. Wiping a tear at the edge of her eye, she sighed and thought of what to do next. There had to be someone else who'd believe her; magic was real.
A KNOCK came at the door and Tom headed down the stairs toward the foyer. Opening it, he groaned as he found Mary standing there with a smile on her face. Huffing he walked away from her when she cleared her throat, making him turn to her.
"Is that any way to greet your wife?" She raised her brow.
"What!?" He jerked back, his face flushed. "Don't come here and pull that Natsu, Lisanna crap on me!"
"I'm kidding; just wanted to see that look on your face." She chuckled.
He groaned. "What do you want?"
"Well." She tapped her thumbs together. "Are you free? Wanted you to take me to the park."
"Shouldn't I have come to your house then?"
"Well, I'm sure you wouldn't have, so c'mon." She grabbed his hand. "I wanna show you something."
"Ugh, let go of me."
"You're not even resisting." She giggled, making him blush.
"Fine." He frowned. "But it'd better be good cuz I was busy."
"Trust me, it's gonna be great." She laughed.
TOM AND Mary trod down a footpath through a large park filled with people reading and kids frolicking about. Ducking from a Frisbee, Tom pocketed his hands and turned to Mary who smiled at him, making him turn away.
"Uh, so, what're trying to show me?" He looked around.
"A secret friend of mine."
"You'll know him when you meet him." She lowered her head, tapping her fingers. "I'm just shy to talk to him is all." She glanced at him, seeing him frown slightly. "Relax, he's no competition for you."
"I didn't say that!" He frowned.
She giggled then sighed. "I was wondering if you could talk to him for me."
He huffed. "Fine, let's get this crap over with."
"Okay, let's go find him." She grabbed his arm, dragging him along.
The two ran around the park, Tom being dragged along as they searched for Mary's friend. After a while, he grew impatient and pulled his hand out of hers, jerk back in surprise.
"Okay, look, did you plan to meet this secret friend here or something? Cuz it seems like we're just running around for no reason." He frowned.
"He's usually here, he hangs around the park a lot." She looked around.
"Who is he?" He pocketed his hands.
"I can't say." She glanced around. "You'll find out when we find him."
"Does this guy wear dark coats, give out candy and drive a van?" He folded his arms.
"No, I'm not stupid." She spun around and gasped. "I found him. C'mon." She grabbed his hand.
He groaned as she dragged him along, irritated by her antics though he didn't put up any resistance. Running up to a bench, she stopped and chuckled uneasily, turning to him with an excited smile.
"Um, I haven't really known what to say to him, but here he is; Jack Frost!" She gestured at the empty park bench.
"Oh, c'mon not this crap again." He sighed and began to walk away.
"Where're you going? He's right here." She followed him.
"Look, I'm not gonna go through that whole arc the kids in the movie did; Jack Frost isn't real." He frowned.
"Yes, he is, he's sitting on that bench right now!" She grabbed his arm.
"Okay, explain how some random kid ends up falling through ice and comes back as a cane wielding ice wizard?"
"He's not a wizard; he's a Guardian of Childhood."
"Whatever he is, do you have any proof that he exists?" He folded his arms.
"Yeah, he's sitting right there." She pointed at the empty park bench.
Tom frowned and walked on. "You need to get your head out of the sandbox."
Mary tried to follow him, but stopped, her lips quivering as she looked around. Turning to the park bench, she frowned and followed Tom, wiping away a tear that crept at the corner of her eye.
Jack sighed as he watched the two walk away, tapping his cane on the ground as he sifted his mind. There had to be something he was missing, a solution had to be out there somewhere, but he couldn't figure it out. Rising from the bench, he pulled down his hood and flew away.
A PORTAL opened at the summit of a glacier and Jack stepped out of it, letting it close behind him. He looked over the icy landscape, seeing a large ice castle floating in the dim skies. Flying over the chasm between them, he entered the building, opening the heavy doors with the swing of his staff, walking down the massive foyer. The door creaked open behind him and he turned to see Tooth walking up to him, smiling uneasily.
"Hey. What're you doing here?" He put the pen down.
"What're you doing?" She looked around shyly.
"Well, just got home, so nothing much." He shrugged.
"Um." She walked up to him. "You wanna come somewhere with me?"
"Around on tonight's run. This's the only time since Pitch's attack that I'm going on the field, so I thought it'd be great if you came along again."
"Yeah, but I'm kinda … busy." His brows furrowed as he began to walk along.
"C'mon, returning to your flying fortress away from everyone? All night? It's only 6pm." She followed him. "It'll be fun."
He frowned slightly then shook his head, donning a smile. "Okay, let's go."
"Alright." She took off and he followed her.
LIGHTS IN the suburbs went off one by one, as if following them as Tooth and Jack soared over the neighbourhood. Looking around excitedly, she watched as the min-fairies flew into different houses, covering a large part of the area.
"Okay, y'know the drill, right?" She turned to him.
"Yep, I've done it before." He shook his bag of coins.
"Which house do we start with?" She looked around.
He pointed to his left. "Maybe that one."
"Okay, let's go."
Tooth and Jack swooped down, landing on its roof and walked over to the edge of it, looking down at the street below. Seeing a man walking across the street, they hopped over and Tooth phased through a wall, entering a bedroom. Jack climbed through the window, seeing a readymade bed and searched around and in the bathroom.
Jack leaned against the wall. "Kid's a late sleeper?"
"Not really, but she might be busy or something." Tooth sat on the windowsill.
"Guess we'll have to wait." He folded his arms.
"Yeah." She shrugged and looked around the room. She sighed and turned to him. "Y'know, I've always wanted to do this often, go on the field."
"Yeah. It's just that I've been so busy keeping tabs on children, making schedules on when to collect teeth and adding new-born babies to the list that I don't have time to really interact with them." She chuckled. "Never even seen kids in other continents, y'know, Afrisia, Eurostralia; never been anywhere else other than Amersia."
"Well, at least I have a reason cuz my powers don't work everywhere, like Afrisia so I'd end up stuck there and I'd have to call you guys for help."
"At least you've got a choice, I have to work extra hard to get a day to go on the field like today; your job's easier."
"Yeah … it is." He frowned.
She turned to him, her brows furrowing. "Is something wrong, Jack?"
"… N-no, it's-it's nothing."
"You seem down lately, especially when anyone mentions your job. You okay?"
"It's nothing, I'm just … a lil tired is all. I'm fine."
She smiled slightly. "Okay."
Jack sat back and huffed, looking around the room and at the beside clock. "Hey, is there a kid in this house?"
"Yeah, an Emily Swanson, age eight."
"Well, where is she? A kid that young would've passed out by 11pm."
"That is strange." She got on the floor and looked around. "Where'd she be?"
"Maybe her family's out or something?"
"Maybe." She headed for the door. "Let's just check before we leave; might be in another room."
He walked up to her as she phased through the door when she heard a small chirping sound behind her. A mini-fairy phased through the window, flying frantically up to them and landed on Tooth's shoulder, squeaking in a panic.
"Baby Tooth, what is?" She held the sprite, listening to it squeak. "What!?"
"What is it?" Jack raised his brow.
"Baby Tooth says there're no kids in their beds." She turned to him.
"In the whole neighbourhood?"
"How?" Jack frowned.
"I dunno." Tooth turned to Baby Tooth. "Are you sure you've checked everywhere?" The sprite nodded and she turned to Jack. "What's going on here?"
"I dunno." Jack walked up to the window and looked outside. "Something's wrong." He frowned. "Now that I think about it, I haven't seen Sandy's sand around here."
"What?" She walked up to him.
"Look for yourself." Jack gestured at the clear night sky. "If kids would be asleep, we'd have seen Sandy's sand all over, but there's nothing."
"Something's definitely wrong." Tooth frowned. "C'mon, we've gotta go to the Workshop."
"Yeah." Jack nodded.
Leaving the room, the three flew out of the house, followed by a stream of mini-fairies as they left the neighbourhood. Looking at the streets below, Jack frowned as he saw very little sand in the sky.
BUNNY SCRAPED a blade against the wood of his boomerang, smiling to himself as he sheathed it and stood as North entered the room along with Sandy who hovered behind him. Moving up to the Globe, the three stared at it concernedly as the lights flickered.
"Okay, I'm just gonna come out and say it; I dunno what we're doing right now." Bunny turned to him.
"There's an emergency, Bunny, but we have to wait until the others arrive." North turned to him.
"Shouldn't we signal them then?"
"I don't need to."
The door swung open and Jack and Tooth walked in. Jack looked at the others and then at the Globe. "Guys, what's going on here?"
"We've got a situation." North gestured at the Globe. "At around yesterday morning, Sandy discovered that several children have fallen into catatonia."
"How?" Bunny frowned.
"We're yet to find out so I thought it'd be best to discuss how we should uncover this mystery."
"How severe is it?" Tooth's brows furrowed.
"We're not sure, but it seems the majority of incidences have occurred in San Fransokyo." North turned to the Globe. "This means it's no accident."
"Someone's causing this? Who?" Bunny raised his brow.
"I'd say Pitch, but we already dealt with him. He shouldn't be able to recover for another century or so because children are no longer afraid of him with us guarding them." North folded his arms. "It's obviously an attack, but I doubt that it's him."
"So, what do we do now?" Jack walked up to him.
"We find out what's going on and fix the problem at the source, the Dream Realm." North turned to him.
"Whoa, you mean we're gonna see where Sandman lives?" Tooth smiled and he nodded.*
"We'll need to do this as a team." North turned to the others. "Whoever's behind this must have immense magical power so we'll need the full force of the Guardians to defeat whoever it is."
"Alright, finally got somethin' to do since Easter already past." Bunny brandished his boomerangs.
"Sandy, open the portal." North turned to him. "We need to move in now before something else happens to those children."
Sandy nodded and walked up to the centre of the room, away from the others and held his hands together. Breathing deeply, his body glowed and sand exuded out of him as he pointed his hands forward, weaving them into a spiral that swerved and emitted a bright light and forming a portal.
Smirking, he gestured for the others to proceed and he walked up to it and began to hover. Purple energy exploded out of the portal, knocking Sandy back as it disintegrated. Tooth quickly caught him before he fell, seeing him wince.
"Whoa!" Bunny ran up to him.
"Sandy, are you alright?" North frowned, receiving a nod from him.
"What happened?" Jack turned to Sandy.
"Uh, guys?" Tooth pointed forward.
Turning, the Guardians jerked back in surprise, North's mouth falling agape as he frowned. Two purple energy scythes floated upside down in an 'X' position where the portal used to be.
"What is that?" Fear dilated Tooth's eyes.
"… Death …" North frowned.