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The doctors had not been able to find anything wrong with Maisie – as there was nothing wrong. Since she was lucid, her mother was advised to re-admit her if she became a clear danger when having another 'episode'. She had rolled her eyes at that remark. The discharge papers had been written up, and she had happily gotten into her mother's car to go home. Driving out of town, they had passed by a most amazing sight.
A woman old enough to vividly recall Operation Masterdom was dancing underneath a twirl of snow. Though Maisie's mother smiled as she watched the woman, she was unable to see the tall rabbit who was somewhat flustered by the elderly woman's attempts to draw him into a dance with her. The young girl giggled at the antics.
"It's good to hear you laugh again." Looking up at the rear view mirror, Maisie found her mother's eyes staring back at her, alight with hope. For the first time, she realized how worried those around her had been. The introspective thoughts stopped abruptly as she caught sight of Piers. The boy she had been so happy to see in the hospital was cavorting merrily with Santa Claus. She dared not tell her mother that when she asked her to stop. Maisie ran over to the group, calling out to the older boy.
Hearing his name, Piers looked up, surprised to find the girl from the hospital rushing towards him. He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her tightly when she reached him. "Finally let you out, huh? Realized you weren't cracked?"
Maisie chuckled. "They just decided I wasn't the dangerous type." Looking past Piers to Bunnymund, she grinned. "After all, I'm only seeing six foot tall blue-furred rabbits. Not hearing voices." Toothiana giggled as the hare in question blushed.
"Well, now, that's just a shame." Maisie gasped, both from the proximity of the voice and from the chill generated by the sudden snow shower directly above her. Twirling about, she saw a white haired man floating three feet above the earth, a staff in his hand swirling the air, apparently the source of the flakes raining down on her. His mirth and playful demeanor offset her initial fear. Seeing someone controlling the snow had given rise to the apprehension cultivated by Annis.
Conall came running out of the house, the glittering golden Sandman directly behind him. Transported on a cloud of dream dust was a tray full of tea things. "Is she really dead, Gran? Did you really kill her?"
The older woman chuckled. "Dead probably isn't the right term. She's … asleep. And hopefully, she will be for a very long time."
He had slinked alongside them in the shadows through the entire night. They had been so focused on the witch they had not even noticed his presence. He had neither aided nor hindered any of them, though he had been given ample opportunity to do both. Slithering much like a snake, he had concealed himself within the darkness that had always been his purview. When Jack had returned to clear the snow and ice for several hundred meters around her petrified form, making certain that the harridan would not be able to draw on the elements themselves in an attempt to reinstate her power, Pitch had felt a sinister grin spreading across his face.
The days after the hag's defeat had been filled with activity. The field had hardly been empty – even at night. With the threat of the soul-sucking witch no longer hanging over them, the children were all too happy to play after dark. Sunlight hours were increasing exponentially as the seasons tried to right themselves once more. As Annis was no longer imposing winter upon Britain, the nation slowly drifted back into its normal routines. Though they did not forget the eight month winter, those who had not believed in the witch, or whose belief was a truly fickle thing, easily let the incidents regarding deceased children slip from their memories. They did not wish to recall the horrors of those months.
Pitch had watched from the shadows as the number of visitors to the statue quickly dwindled. Bronwen had eagerly brought all of the children of her village to see the petrified witch. Word had quickly spread among the youths. In the first few days, as he had watched, the field had been filled with visitors. Many of the older generation brought various forms of aniseed. They had not believed the old ways of dealing with the evil spirit would be sufficient. The added factor of being considered cruel to animals had kept them from action – after all, the ritual called for a dead cat soaked in aniseed oil to be dragged through the town before passing by Annis' bower. They were grateful to learn that the feline had not been necessary in order to bring the witch to the only justice they could.
With the lengthening days, the possibility that the hag would be able to free herself from her stone prison lessened. The seedlings that had been planted in a five foot radius of her petrified form were the humans' insurance. The long ferns and brilliantly white flowers of anise were interspersed with shorter thin green stalks, tiny leaves split in three sections and spread much like fanned out maple leaves. The scent was pleasant enough as it tickled his nose.
As the visitors dwindled over time, they no longer came at night. When he was certain there would be no one to interrupt him, he approached her frozen form. His feet slipped silently over the ground as he walked to her granite tomb. He placed a hand against her cheek, an act he would never have dared if she had not been petrified. Pulling the shadows about him, he revealed his scythe, tightly held in his other hand. The base of the staff made little noise as he placed it gently against the soft earth.
"They did finally best you, Annis. So sure of yourself." He clucked his tongue, mocking her. "It would be such a shame to let all of that wonderfully malevolent energy you possessed simply rot in this tomb until you happened to muster enough strength to break free of both the rock encasing you and the ring of aniseed they've planted about you." Lifting the scythe, he traced the blade down the cheek below her empty eye socket, the hole in her face not appearing nearly as vicious without her dark essence behind it. "So I've decided that such delicious evil shouldn't be trapped."
His movements were deliberate, and he fancied if she had been able to move her eye at all, it would have shown relief briefly before realization dawned on the witch. As he swung his scythe downward, the arc bringing the blade to penetrate her shoulder cleanly, he imagined that her eye would have widened with terror, then narrowed in understanding. He could not allow her to regain her freedom. She had shown she was far too willing to eradicate the very children he relied on for his own power.
As the scythe connected, he felt her energy sluggishly coursing through the instrument. He had not expected that this would be a speedy process. After all, she had been around for millennia and had amassed a great deal of power in that time. Siphoning her essence into him was an intoxicating experience, one he savored as the decimation of spirits was not something he was likely to repeat in the near future. The thought had occurred to him, though – if he could not strike fear into the hearts of every human through their dreams, perhaps there was another way.
"After all," he mused aloud as he drew the last reluctant drop from the stone husk, "what would children fear more than someone who was able to kill the avatars of their hopes and dreams?" Withdrawing the blade from her shoulder, he looked up to the dimly lit moon hanging overhead. "And then, my old friend, I will rule over it all. I can be like you."
Evil laughter echoed through the clearing as he slipped into the shadows once more.