Cryomancy, Chapter 1: The Dark Side of the Moon
Disclaimer: I don't own Frozen or Rise of the Guardians.
World: Begins after the events of both Frozen and RotG.
Notes: I'm aware that many Jelsa fics tend to recycle similar plot lines, so I'm sure others have thought of or written about the general concept I'm exploring in this fic. That being said, I think it's possible to bring even the most rehashed plot lines to life with enough dedication (look at all the Romeo and Juliet spinoffs, to name one obvious example). I'll do my best to do that here and offer what I hope will turn out to be a rewarding and interesting story. Of course, thoughts and impressions are most welcome, so please feel free to leave me a note.
Also, just so we're on the same page, I haven't ready any of the RotG books (though I should, I know), so this fic is based on the events of the film only. Any inconsistencies with the books are unintended, and I hope that doesn't bother anyone. I probably won't be updating this super often, but it's all planned and finalized as far as the plot goes, so I think I'll be able to get it done. Just please bear with my horrendously slow updates, sorry. I'll try to make them worth the wait!
The only thing worse than the prospect of being forgotten was the sheer ignominy of being beaten. The real tragedy was not his wounded pride, but their dogged pursuit of quixotic "ideals" and "morals" and "happily ever afters" about which they knew nothing. But don't tell that to them. They'd never listen to him, anyway.
The Boogeyman was evil, vile. Nothing worthwhile ever came out of his mouth, of course. Why, he was sure North could have shat under a child's Christmas tree and gotten away with it. A Guardian could do no wrong, but the Boogeyman?
"Pusillanimous fools. They know nothing."
But Pitch Black knew. More importantly, the Man in the Moon knew.
"I suppose you're proud of your homemade hero squad," Pitch said.
A full moon shined down on him and dispelled the darkness about him. Moonbeams hit nearby trees and cast winding shadows that crawled toward Pitch. He ignored them, unconcerned with such pitiful leeches looking for a power source to ride. There was no wind tonight, and Pitch's words went unanswered. It was always like this. The Man in the Moon was always listening, always watching, but he never acknowledged. He never apologized.
"So that's it, then? I go back to lurking in shadows like I don't exist? Like a coward?"
Moonlight illuminated Pitch's aquiline features. He was unused to direct exposure to the light, his skin having absorbed too much shadow to stand it for long. But he held his ground, for he had the most powerful weapon of all.
"You're the coward, old man," Pitch spat. "You can't even tell them the truth, can you? No, that would be far too hasty. We can't worry their pretty little heads or the spell will be broken, right? Well, I'm through playing a game with loaded dice. Someday, all children must grow up and face the filth of this world."
Crooked shadows shifted and tugged Pitch's long robe, but he waved his hand and tore at them with invisible claws. They cowered and receded to darkness. The moon above remained steady and solemn.
"Perhaps you would have them believe that light trumps darkness because it's "good." But sooner or later, even those cretins will figure it out. There can be no light without darkness. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow it casts." Pitch bared his teeth at the moon, wishing he would come down here and answer for his follies instead of making Pitch bear the consequences alone. "Even the great moon has a dark side no one can see. But I see it."
Pitch raised a hand and peered at the moon through his outstretched fingers.
"Someone has to." Shadowy ribbons curled among his fingers. "There must always be a balance. Stare into the light too long and you'll go blind..."
The shadow ribbons wove together and expanded. The tree branch shadows Pitch had scared away before scrambled toward the vortex, insatiable. Even the moon's light could not illuminate the portal's dark depths. Pitch cast the moon one last, lingering glance.
"Lucky for you, I'm happy to restore that balance. Your Guardians are tethered to this world, but nightmares, fear... They're universal."
With only the moon as his witness, Pitch stepped through the swirling vortex and let darkness engulf him. He was gone.
Elsa swallowed and pulled her shoulders back to correct her already perfect posture. The standing was not something she minded, but the waiting was grating on her nerves. To her left, Kristoff stood on shuffling feet, picking his nose. Elsa cleared her throat to get his attention, but he was oblivious. Try as she might, she could not look away as he dug out a lumpy booger and squinted at it on his fingertip.
Elsa tapped her foot and sent a chill up Kristoff's spine that made the burly man twitch, like he had ants in his pants. One of the royal guardsmen stationed behind Elsa chuckled, and Kristoff shot Elsa a wounded look. She bit back a smirk when he rubbed his finger on his shirt. Better there than in his mouth, she supposed.
Finally, Anna decided to grace the court with her ungainly presence. As usual, she had her hair in messy braids and looked as though she'd just come back from running a mile in snow slush. Perhaps she had, and that would explain her tardiness. But the smile on her face when she locked eyes first with Elsa and then with Kristoff was proof enough. Kristoff had forgotten all about Elsa's little trick and swiveled on the balls of his feet, ready to take off and sweep Anna off her feet at any moment. Elsa smiled. She could not have wished for a better match for her beloved baby sister.
Anna's pointed high heel caught on the blue rug and she face-planted on the floor. Her bouquet lay in smashed petals on the floor, and she rubbed her nose as she pushed herself up.
"Whoa Anna, you okay?" Kristoff loped toward her. His gait was not unlike a moose's, and he towered over Anna with the comparable height of a moose as he helped her stand.
Elsa sighed and her breath turned to snowflakes. No better match, indeed.
"I'm okay!" Anna said, letting Kristoff help her up. She tugged at one of her braids and glanced and Elsa. "Sorry. About the tripping, I mean. That was dumb. I'm dumb. I mean, well, not dumb, per se, it was an accident..."
"It's all right, Anna," Elsa said, her eyes softening. "Maybe we can do without the rug on the big day?" She gestured to one of the royal guardsmen stationed behind her, who saluted and scrambled to roll up the expensive rug.
"Yeah, maybe that's a good idea, haha..."
Elsa stepped down from a raised platform to join her sister and Kristoff. "There's still plenty of time before the wedding. We can practice again."
Anna beamed and took Kristoff's hands. "Can you believe it? We're really getting married!"
"I believe it. Although between us, ol' Pabbie was a little put off when I told him Elsa'd be officiating," Kristoff said, leaning in close and putting an arm each around the sisters as though this were some great conspiracy.
"Yeah, well, you remember what happened the last time your crazy troll family tried to marry us." Anna poked her fiance in the chest.
Elsa laughed and took that as her cue to leave the happy couple to enjoy their engagement. "I have some things to take care of, so I'll see both of you later, all right?"
"So soon? But Kristoff and I were going to talk about cakes for the reception."
Elsa's expression softened. "I'm sure whatever you choose will be perfect. It's your wedding, after all. It should be special."
"You know what says special? A giant ice sculpture of us in my sled."
Anna rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah? And who's gonna build that? Not you."
Kristoff gave his bride-to-be a wounded look. "But I'm the official Ice Master. That's something."
"Oh please. There's really only one ice master around here and she looks way better in a dress than you do."
Kristoff reddened. "You promised never to talk about that again."
"Hey, it's not my fault Olaf won your little bet."
Anna covered her mouth to hide her giggle. "At least now you'll take him seriously the next time you play Old Maid."
Elsa slipped away while they bantered, unwilling to intrude on their moment. She skulked through a side door through a hidden passage before emerging in a sitting room where she let out a breath she'd been holding. It steamed, and she rubbed her hands together. Not for warmth (she'd never needed warmth), but for comfort.
Anna was so good with Kristoff, whom Elsa had learned was a bit of a pariah himself. She could relate, although she'd never made a habit of talking to animals...or responding for them. He was everything Elsa wanted for Anna, for their family. To see him with Anna was a joy. A miracle. Elsa had seen miracles her her short life, and love never disappointed.
Silence and empty hallways. Arendelle castle was always bustling with people going someplace or other, but Elsa never saw many of them. At first, she paid it little mind, but after awhile the lies caught up to her. She didn't mean to avoid contact, not after everything she and Anna had gone through to save the kingdom (to save me, I was the problem). Old habits died hard. Aside from the daily court she held to hear the townspeople's grievances and requests, Elsa had little meaningful contact with people outside of Anna, Kristoff, and the elite guards stationed about the castle. She went outside, but she hardly ventured beyond the palace gates without guards. They weren't for her benefit, but for everyone else's. There had been no major incidents since she'd returned to Arendelle, but it paid to be cautious. With Anna's wedding on the horizon, no one seemed to notice or mind the Snow Queen's natural reservation; Elsa had always kept to herself when she could.
Elsa stole upstairs to her chambers. The sun had set and she planned to review the revised trade agreement with the kingdom of Corona in the south before bed. Work was a pleasant distraction that kept Elsa's hands busy and close to room temperature. This was the easy part of being queen.
Her chambers were dark when she entered despite the glow of the full moon outside. Elsa locked the door behind her and searched her desk for a candle. She struck a match and held it against a candle, but the flame snuffed out under a phantom wind. Elsa shivered (she never shivered).
"...Who's there?" she demanded, peering into the darkness.
There was no answer, and Elsa drew power to her hands. The temperature in the room dropped twenty degrees.
"Such a chilly welcome," a voice said from the shadows. "Though, I suppose I should have expected no less from the Snow Queen herself."
Elsa gritted her teeth and fired off an ice bolt. Blue light illuminated the shadows, and they dispersed across the room's walls and windows, obscuring the moonlight.
"Show yourself," Elsa said.
A man's laughter permeated the room from all sides. "What is it about you frigid types?" The shadows blended together and took the shape of a man swathed in shade. His yellow eyes caught the moonlight but offered no light of their own. "You're all so impatient."
Elsa's hands shook at the sight of this man. How he'd come here she could not say, but there was something dark and demented about him. Something cold and achingly familiar, but not comforting. She clenched her fists and stood her ground.
"I'll ask you again, and I suggest you answer me this time. Who are you?"
"You could say I'm an old friend. You and I have done great things together." He paused, and Elsa found no words for him. "I'm Pitch Black."
Elsa regained her bearings and glared at the stranger. "You're mistaken. I've never seen you in my life."
Pitch glided toward her (yes, glided, as though he had no connection to the physical earth, a shadow incarnate) until he was inches from her. Elsa held her ground and let her power leak through her fingertips, so easy despite keeping it bottled up most of the time. Pitch brushed his fingers against hers, and frost crystals dusted his fingers where they touched.
"No, but you've felt me." He waved his frozen hand before her eyes, and the ice crystals bled black until they smoked. "I'm your fear."
Elsa watched whatever magic he possessed warp her gift, mesmerized.
Not a gift; a curse.
She blinked to dispel the little voice in her head, one she'd buried deep in the pit of her heart after she'd made her return to Arendelle to rule. How did this man draw it out of her so easily after months and months of repression? Elsa had thought she was past such fears...
"Ah, it looks like you recognize me now," Pitch said.
Elsa remained still even as the logical part of her mind begged for retreat. Something kept her grounded, near. Intrigued. She'd spent enough time alone with her fear in her young life to grow curious enough to ask why?
"Why do you have this power?"
He almost appeared transparent, like he might fade at any moment. Was he even real?
Pitch grinned. "Believe in something hard enough and it's bound to come true... Well, whether you want it to or not. I suppose I'm in the not category, but I prefer to think of myself as a natural disaster. I'm sure you can relate."
"No, and I want you to leave. Now."
She indicated the door as though this would prove her point, but Pitch merely circled her, ignoring the door. Elsa shivered again, and she recognized the effect.
Not cold; fear.
Her only friend for so many years.
"You haven't even heard what I have to say yet. Elsa..."
His fingers brushed the wisps of her bangs, tender and real. And Elsa believed.
She shot a hand out to grab his wrist and squeezed hard. Ice thorns sprouted at her fingertips, spreading up Pitch's arm with a mind of their own. He faltered, and it was all Elsa needed. He was real, and he could suffer.
But he only smiled wider as black liquid oozed from frostbitten puncture wounds in his arm, dripping on the stone floor at their feet and burning through it like acid. All this transpired in silence. Curiosity needed no words.
She released him before his blood could coat her hands and watched as the dark liquid bled over the icy thorns she'd given him.
"I came all this way just to see you, so please," Pitch said, ignoring his injured arm like it was nothing.
Elsa swallowed and met his gaze. He was real, flesh and blood of some kind. She could believe that much, at least.
"...What do you want?"
"Why, I want to help you." He paused and gave her a once over. "You look like you need it."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Pitch chuckled and shadows danced at Elsa's feet. "Yes, you do. You're a queen now, congratulations. But even a queen fears what's under her bed at night. Or do you deny that your gift terrifies you?"
Elsa narrowed her eyes. "I'm past that. I was afraid once, and that fear hurt others. But things are different now. It's why I was able to return here."
Pitch crept close to her face. "Are you absolutely sure of that?" he whispered. "Are you so certain that you'll never make a mistake?" He licked his lips and peered into her eyes, searching and seeing. "That you won't...hurt Anna again?"
Elsa lunged for him without thinking, her frosted fingers clawing for his face. But Pitch disintegrated under her touch, and she only grasped at incorporeal shadows. Like he was never there at all.
Only his voice reached her as the window to her room burst open and starlight filled the void where he'd been before. "I'll give you some time to think about my offer."
With his voice the shadows left and Elsa was alone in her room again. She went to the window and peered outside, but there was no sign of anyone at all. Only the stars and the full moon looked down on Elsa.
He was wrong. Elsa had overcome her fear long ago. She would never hurt anyone again.
She closed and locked the window, her hands shaking all the while.
Days passed and Elsa was busy meeting with visiting officials from Corona about their trade agreement. The king and queen of Corona wanted more amendments due to some major changes the kingdom had experienced both with the return of a long-lost princess and forecasts for a dismal farming year. As understandable as the excuses were, they did not make meetings with with the Coronan officials, surly seamen-turned-politicians, any more bearable. But Elsa took it in stride. It was her duty as queen, and she was thankful for the distraction lately.
It gave her less time to dwell on her disturbing midnight visitor from the other day.
"No, this isn't good enough. Corona's looking at dry season coming up, and we'll need a better rate to account for the extra imports," one of the trade officials complained as he read over the revised agreement.
Erik, the Arendelle court's chief economist, shook his head. "Be reasonable. What you're suggesting is more than what Arendelle can part with."
Elsa looked on as her advisers and Corona's argued the terms. They were not getting far at this rate, and it was becoming clear that someone would have to relent. Her drafting attorneys, of course, would have preferred it be Corona what with the risk of generosity.
"Gentlemen," Elsa said.
No one heard, and the arguing intensified. She frowned.
One of her advisers slammed a hand on the table in anger and a Coronan official pointed angrily at Erik. Elsa clenched her fists.
Frost crystals spread around the meeting room down the legs of Elsa's chair across the floor and up the table. Mugs of tea and coffee cracked, their contents frozen. One Coronan official yelped and yanked his hand back to avoid frost burn.
The room was silent, but Elsa was not happy for it. She gripped the armrests of her chair so tight she thought her knuckles might burst and bleed. Something twisted inside, an old, familiar whisper in her ear. Her demons were quiet but never quite silent, always waiting for a chance to slither back into her ears to get at her frozen heart.
"Ah, it looks like you recognize me now."
All this passed in the span of a half second, and Elsa rose abruptly. She steeled her gaze, giving nothing away. "This meeting is adjourned. Erik." She turned to her chief economist, who watched her with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. "Fix this. I want a resolution by the end of the day. Corona is our valuable ally and I will not turn them away empty-handed. Am I clear?"
He nodded, "Y-Yes, of course, Your Majesty."
Elsa blinked, the other room's occupant's gazes getting to her. "...Apologies, gentlemen. I think we could all use some time away to regroup. Please relax for the rest of the morning."
She nodded to them, and everyone scrambled to rise and bow as she exited the room. Whispers followed her, and though Elsa could not make them out, she didn't need to. She already knew what they said about her.
As she walked through the castle, the Queen of Arendelle crossed her arms to hide her hands. Most of the palace's officials were used to her powers by now, even the unexpected outbursts from time to time. She never did any harm, and this world was alight with magics of all kinds, besides. Corona's own lost princess was rumored to have the power of the summer sun, giving life to the hopeless and the hurting. Elsa's anomaly was no surprise in the grand scheme of things, but people still feared that which they could not understand for themselves.
Elsa spent the rest of the day trying to take her mind off her troubled thoughts. She listened to the townspeople's complaints and requests with keen interest, making note of even the smallest grievances and overseeing their amelioration herself. The day lost track of her and soon darkness set in. Retreating to her room, she did not want to dwell on Pitch Black and his words, words that had followed her like a second shadow since his first appearance. Words that echoed in her ears as the Corona officials stared in shock at her uncontrolled outburst earlier. (They did come to an agreement in the end once Anna offered to sit in and parlay with the Coronan officials, but Elsa wasn't sure if she should be happy about that all things considered.)
The thick darkness, almost viscous in its density, that greeted her in her room was almost relaxing. Facing the fear as a tangible thing had to be better than hallucinations whispering in her ear.
"Queen Elsa, you're looking pale. Have you seen a ghost?"
Pitch materialized from the darkness beneath Elsa's window, his presence veiling the light of the moon. Unlike last time, he didn't bother lurking and approached her with purpose.
"What do you want, Pitch?"
Blue light crackled in her palms in reaction to him, ready to fire at a moment's notice. If Pitch noticed, he didn't care.
"I told you. I want to help you," he said, spreading his arms in show of trust.
"I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I doubt that."
Pitch sighed and let his arms fall to his sides. "You see, that's your problem. You have these black and white notions of "good" and "bad" in your head, but deep down you know the world isn't so simplistic. Just take a look in the mirror."
Elsa hesitated. "...I'm not evil. I would never hurt anyone."
"I'm not suggesting you would. I'm sure you don't want to, but accidents do happen, as they say."
Elsa said nothing to that, thinking back on the events of this morning. Her eyes fell.
"Like I said, I want to help. Wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to worry about those little accidents anymore? Someday, one of them is bound to go just a bit too far. It's only a matter of time, you see."
Elsa met his yellowed gaze. "...What are you saying?"
"I told you before that people believe in me. I am Fear. Everyone's afraid of something. It's the only universal besides death, although I like to think I'm a bit more fun than Death himself."
"Get to the point."
"...Of course. To be blunt, I can help you control your fear so that it can't control you. No more mishaps, and no more skulking about the palace avoiding people."
Elsa's hands reverted to normal and she let them rest at her sides. Such pretty words... "Why would you want to help me? I've lived in fear long enough to know it doesn't do anyone any favors. You're not offering out of the goodness of your heart."
Pitch laughed. "True, everyone has a price. But know this: Just because the night is dark, doesn't mean it's hiding monsters. Just because your magic and mine can kill, doesn't mean we must. It's all about perception. Some might know me as a nightmare, but to you I'm a dream come true. That is, if you take my deal."
When he spoke, she listened. Elsa got the impression that he was used to that effect on others. People tended to fixate on their fears, obsess over them and hold them dear even as they bled to death. Like selfish children hoarding sweets. This fear was hers to keep, and no one else's.
"How do I know you can do anything for me?"
"If there's one thing I know, it's that dreaded chill in your bones that keeps you awake at night, the little demons holding your heart hostage. They're mine." Pitch gestured to himself. "And so far, they've done right by me."
All the love in the world could thaw even the harshest winter, but Elsa's powers remained. Nothing much had changed since her exile except that now the people of Arendelle were used to Elsa's magic. She'd gained more control over herself, become braver, but the fear was still there, somewhere. It was there when Elsa lay in bed at night, her breath misting. It was there when she dreamed, her nightmares calling snow to her room as if to bury her in a coffin of her own delusional making. And it was there when she looked at Anna, the person she loved most. One mistake, one little slip-up...
"What would I owe you in return?" she asked.
"Just a favor," Pitch said, eyeing her with an unreadable expression. "The thing about being me is that my existence depends on people believing in me, especially children. Without that fear, even buried deep, I waste away. If that happens, I want a promise that you'll intervene on my behalf in any way you can."
"It sounds like you're expecting something to happen to you. I don't make blind promises."
"Come now, Elsa. All I'm asking is for a little assistance in case I'm about to die. Surely you would never refuse the wish of a man on his deathbed?"
She didn't trust him, not for a moment. But his offer was too tempting. Elsa had tried to move past the events surrounding her coronation debacle, but a part of her knew she could not. Not for as long as she had this thing inside her. If she could not kill it, she had to tame it. And who better to teach her how to control her fear than Fear himself?
Asking for his life in return was a fair price. A life for a life.
"...All right, I'll accept your terms on the condition that nothing of our deal will involve Arendelle or its people. This is between you and me."
Pitch grinned and he reached a hand out to her. The shadows surrounding him shifted, and for a moment Elsa thought he looked so frighteningly human that she hesitated, entranced.
"Then we have a deal."
Elsa brushed her fingers against his, and he closed the distance between them by gripping her hand. His touch was solid and firm, cold, not unlike her own. Shadows swirled about their clasped hands and snaked up Elsa's arm to her shoulder, finally hovering over her heart and sinking in through her dress. She gasped, but he Pitch would not release her.
"What are you—"
"Don't struggle. It's almost done."
Darkness danced around her, soaking her skin through her clothes and making her feel heavy. Elsa's breathing was short and labored for all of a few seconds, and just like that the darkness faded. She was herself again, and nothing was amiss. Pitch released her.
"What was that?" she demanded.
"My end of the bargain." He waved a hand before his face in a gesture of nonchalance, like it was so obvious. "This place gives me so much leeway, you know. I merely locked onto your fear and constrained it. You should have an easier time dealing with it. Of course, fear is chaos. Even I can't predict where it will go."
Elsa didn't like the sound of that, but she had to admit that she felt better, lighter somehow. She flexed her fingers and conjured sleet. Nothing much had changed except for the smile wanting to take over her face.
"Pleasure doing business with you, Your Majesty."
Elsa caught him about to leave, and she grabbed his wrist. "Wait. This favor you want... When will you need it? What are you planning?"
Pitch made no effort to break free of her hold. "I don't divine the future, unfortunately. For now, I suggest you return to your kingdom. When the time comes for our paths to cross again, you'll know."
Something about Pitch unnerved Elsa. Fear, as he said, was a disease shunned by every living being. But did that make it evil?
Did it make her evil?
Anna had shown her the answer to that question already.
"...Thank you," she said. "You don't know what it's like to be alone with this for so long. So thank you."
Something in his gaze shifted, and he used his free hand to gently pry her fingers away. "I have an idea," he said softly.
Elsa frowned. It was like he'd become a different creature just now, not just familiar, but comforting. She almost reached for him, but he withdrew.
"Until we meet again," he said, fading into the shadows.
With Pitch's departure, starlight returned to the room and illuminated the glass of her window. Elsa approached the window and caught sight of the nearly full moon, so bright after the comparable inkiness of Pitch's presence. She put a hand on the thick windowpane and let her power flow, the way she'd done as a child. Frostlings curled into the shape of lush leaves, little frost ferns. Normally, Elsa drew flowers in the glass, but for now she was content to let her magic do as it pleased. She thought little of it.
"Until then," she said, unsure whether to dread or look forward to it.
Jack Frost meandered the bright, red halls of North's workshop, poking at unfinished toys with his staff and freezing cookie dough about to go into the oven. Midget elves ran around, hardly noticing him in their haste to fix his trickery. Jack laughed.
I wish I could bring Jaime here. Bet he'd have a field day.
Months had passed since the debacle with Pitch Black and the Guardians, and now Jack felt better than ever. People believed in him, and he'd never felt so alive.
"Oh look, it's Frosty the Snowman, late as usual."
And just like that, Jack's good mood soured. "Bunny," he greeted over his shoulder.
Bunnymund smirked, but it only made him look like he'd eaten a lemon. Rabbits should never smirk, Jack decided. The thought made him snicker, and Bunnymund's expression fell.
"You were just thinking something crass, weren't you?" Bunnymund put a hand on his boomerang, though he did not draw it. "You know, I still haven't forgotten about 1968. I'd say you still owe me for that bloody mess."
Jack sighed and sent a small cold front up a nearby elf's tunic. The elf squealed and ran to hide behind a group of passing reindeer. "Aw come on, Bunny. That was like, ages ago. Plus, remember who helped you out with last Easter. Yeah, you're welcome."
Bunnymund pointed an accusatory finger at Jack. "You only did that because you wrecked the theone before that."
Jack pointed his staff. "Careful, you'll give yourself gray hairs."
As if on cue, the scruff between Bunnymund's ears frosted over and stood on end, making him jump at the chill. "You little—"
"Better hurry, we're late for North's meeting!" Jack said, laughing as Bunnymund chased him among the overflowing toy stations.
The two of them rolled into the meeting room where the other Guardians had already gathered. Literally.
"Hey, you two having a wrestling match? I take the winner!" North said, crouching down before a dishevelled Jack and Bunnymund.
"Nice going. I didn't know you had two left feet, Bunny," Jack grumbled, helping his fellow Guardian up.
"Me? You're the one to barreled into me!"
Toothiana buzzed around the room all aflutter. "Boys, boys, boys! It's almost time!"
Jack looked between her and Sandy, who was sitting on the floor half asleep and dreaming of candy. He shook his head with a smile. It had been awhile since they'd all gathered like this, and he'd missed them.
"Sandy, yo," Jack said, plopping down across from the tiny golden spirit.
Sandy cracked an eye open, reached over his head to grab a dancing dream candycane, and ate it. He waved at Jack.
Sandy's smile widened.
"Oh! Sandy, hon, you'll get cavities if you eat too many sweets. You should be more like Jack. Look at those chompers!"
Toothiana forced Jack's mouth open and giggled to herself. "Gee, ask a girl to dinner first, stud!"
Jack gently lowered her hands. "Nice to see you, too."
"So am I here for a routine cleaning or are we getting down to business?" Bunnymund asked, thumping his foot ever faster.
Toothiana and Sandy stared at the motion, their eyes shifting faster and faster as Bunnymund increased his speed. Jack waved in front of their faces to get their attention.
Toothiana fluttered her wings and shot into the air, surprised, and Sandy coughed up the candy cane he'd eaten before.
"Haha! That was a nice trick, Sandy Man!" North guffawed.
"I'm okay! A-okay," Toothiana called from the rafters where she'd landed on a ceiling fan.
"Guess it has been awhile since we were all in the same room together, huh," Jack said.
"Ah yes, my fellow Guardians. We are here today because Man in Moon has dire news," North said, all traces of his former amusement gone.
The five Guardians gathered at a wide, round table and took their seat, ready to get down to business. Jack tensed. The Man in the Moon didn't communicate much with anyone, and when he did it was a cause for concern. Things had been quiet since Pitch's downfall, and every day had been fun despite the warm summer that had accosted Burgess. Jack was happy to wait for the seasons to change in his hometown, though. For the first time in his second life, he didn't mind having all the time in the world when he could spend it all making children laugh.
"Tooth, if you please," North said.
Toothiana flew toward the ceiling and opened the rafters. Moonlight spilled onto the table and over the Guardians. Jack's snowy hair glowed as though with a light all its own, and he had a flash of his reawakening, unbidden. He frowned and dispelled the thought. It had been so long since he'd even thought about his death and rebirth, so why now?
The Guardians watched in silence as the moonlight intensified, almost viscous. A voice echoed all around them, everywhere and nowhere at once. It had been centuries since Jack had heard that voice, and he hardly remembered it as anything more than a dream. But this was real enough.
"Guardians. A world is in need of your assistance. Pitch Black has escaped."
Jack shivered in spite of himself. Not from cold, but from something more insidious. The Man in the Moon was their leader, he supposed, but he was a mysterious essence that remained far removed from the goings-on of the world. A benevolent creator, and an indifferent spectator.
"Pitch?" Toothiana said, tapping at her teeth. "But my baby teeth would have sensed him. There's nothing amiss here. Um, sir."
"Wouldn't put it past the slimy bastard to slither his way under our noses. I say we flush him out ourselves," Bunnymund said, drawing his boomerang.
"Man in Moon said a world," North said, pensive. "This means it is not this world, yes?"
There was no response, but the moonlight shifted and twisted into a new shape. A city surrounded by mountains and rivers.
The word hung in the air, but Jack was drawing a blank. He'd never heard of such a place. Sandy clapped his hands together and communicated his thoughts in a rapid flurry of changing thought bubbles.
"You know the place, Sandy?" Jack asked.
Sandy nodded vigorously and proceeded to explain.
"Ahh, so you need to cross a dimension to reach it," North said. He shrugged. "Makes sense."
"It does?" Jack was not convinced.
"But how did Pitch get there? How do you even get to another world? And what's he doing there?" Toothiana fired off questions at a mile a minute.
"Wreaking havoc, pillaging the hopes and dreams of innocent people. The usual," Bunnymund said, his expression solemn.
Sandy waved his arms up and down at Toothiana, explaining in his sand-speak.
"Hmm, so Pitch used his nightmares to cross over, yes? Makes sense," North said.
Jack rubbed his eyes. "How does any of this make sense?"
"Oh, oh! I know! Because nightmares are universal, uh-huh," Toothiana said. "Pitch can go wherever people are afraid, here or there or anywhere."
Jack stiffened. If that were the case, then Pitch was far more terrifying than he'd originally seemed. If he could conquer any world so long as the people there felt fear, what had stopped him from doing so before? What was he waiting for? And why?
"Well, someone's gotta go after him," Bunnymund said.
North pulled on his beard. "Yes, it is a difficult decision, but someone must go. I volunteer."
"But North! Christmas is in a few months. You can't just leave!" Toothiana said.
"Ah, and Easter's just after. No telling how long it'll take to find Pitch and haul his arse back here." Bunnymund crossed his arm and jutted out his bottom lip.
"And the teeth! I have to be here to collect them or the children will stop believing."
The room fell silent a moment and Jack stood up, nearly knocking his chair over. "I'll go."
Sandy floated next to Jack, his thoughts a whirl of unintelligible speech, but the meaning was clear: It's too dangerous.
"Hey, you have to stay and take care of people's dreams, right? Without you, kids will have nightmares, and that's probably what Pitch wants." Jack faced his fellow guardians, his expression set. "It has to be me. You all know it."
"But Jack! What about winter?" Toothiana ask, buzzing close to his face so her worry was plain to see.
Jack smiled. "I've still got a few months before it hits here. Besides, winter got on just fine without me before. I'll just find Pitch fast so it's not an issue either way. No sweat."
Toothiana did not look convinced, and Jack realized it was not winter she was worried about, but him.
"Jack you are sure? Pitch is tricky. We do not know what you will find in this Arendelle place," North said.
"I can handle Pitch," Jack said softly. "I did it before."
Bunnymund peered at Jack. "It wasn't easy last time, mate."
Jack clenched a fist as he remembered Pitch's manipulation. False promises and the possibility of hope steeped in darkness.
"What goes together better than cold and dark?"
A part of him pitied Pitch, understood him. But it was no excuse for Pitch's actions. It was why Jack was a Guardian now and Pitch had been banished. But Jack knew a thing or two about being forgotten, the misery of loneliness. To give in would be a fate worse than any death. Pitch was not the type to go down without a fight, like him.
"I'm not saying it'll be easy. But I don't have much of a choice unless we wanna let Pitch run free."
No further protests were entertained. It was decided. The moonlit image of Arendelle faded and only a beam of concentrated light remained in its place.
"So how am I getting to Arendelle?"
"Through Man in Moon," North said. "Nightmares are universal, and so is the moon."
Jack nodded and grabbed his staff. He stepped onto the table under the light, blinded. He could barely make out the other Guardians through the veil.
"Be careful, Jack!" Toothiana called.
"Yeah, don't make me miss Easter to come in there after you, or there'll be hell to pay," Bunnymund said.
Jack smiled a little. "I'll be back in time for the frost of the century."
"Godspeed, Jack," North said.
The moon's light intensified and Jack looked up, wondering if the Man in the Moon was looking down on him. But there was only blinding white, too bright, and Jack had to close his eyes to withstand it. He rose from solid ground, floating, and the light burned brighter. He opened his mouth to cry out, and suddenly it was gone.
And Jack was gone with it.