Picking up right where I left off! Please enjoy, and my comments will be at the bottom.
The Primearch of Nature held her hands above her head, and the bell from before rang out across the clearing. Every spirit at the table stopped talking and turned to face Mother Earth, who's features were smiling brilliantly. She raised a hand and a glass chalice appeared in her hand, while all around the table identical glassware appeared at ever place setting. "Friends," she said warmly, "The New Year is upon us!"
There was a cheer from the gathered crowd as spirits picked up their glasses, raising them high. Jack followed suit, wrapping his fingers around the ornate cup. Tendrils of frost danced over the glass, coating it in a frigid layer of intricate spirals. Jack lifted the up, marveling at how it sparkled in the moonlight.
"While the night is far from over," Mother Earth continued, "The last few seconds of this year draw to a close, so it is at this time that I offer a toast."
As she spoke, the glasses around the table filled with a shimmering liquid that pulsed with a soft blue light. It looked like water, except it was so vibrant and blue.
"The gift of Life is a precious thing," the Primearch of Nature smiled. "It is something we are all sworn to protect, defend, and cherish with ever fiber of our being. This next year will be a test for us all, as the human race forward at a frantic pace, faster than anything we have ever seen, but Life always finds the means of adaptation. So do we…" She smirked and there was a round of chuckles that arose from the guests. "So let us all do our best, and may we see each other again next year!"
Mother Earth raised the glass to her lips, and the rest of the table followed suit.
Jack brought his cup up, surprised that the water hadn't frozen in his touch. Some of it had crystallized, and as he drank it seemed to have the consistency of a slushie, but it hadn't completely frozen which Jack found to be remarkable… but it was nothing compared to the feeling he got once the liquid passed his lips. Jack felt a surge of energy like nothing he had ever experience.
Magic seemed to flow through his veins, pulsing at the tips of his fingers, vibrating in his skin, and making his hair stand up like an electric charge. He had never felt so charged, so vitalized, so alive! All around the table, spirits were turning to look at him, and he suddenly felt very self conscious. Jack looked down at his cup to and noticed his own reflection…
He was practically glowing.
Well, his eyes were glowing at least. They were shining with pulsing, white light and his skin was luminous, like the surface of the moon. What was going on with him? He felt a pair of hands on his shoulders, and he turned around to look straight into the face of Death. Thanatos had a concerned look upon his features, while other spirits around him were caught between shock and awe.
Jack blinked several times, hoping that each time when he opened his eyes he wouldn't see everyone staring at him. They were totally killing the sense of euphoria he had gain from the drink.
"Strange," Thanatos muttered.
"What?" Jack frowned. The feeling was completely gone now.
"It's gone," Death explained.
Jack looked at his reflection in the glass again, and was glad to see that he looked completely normal again. "Yay…" he waved his hands in mock excitement.
"Oy! Frostbite!" Bunnymund came hopping up. "Are you alright?"
"Yes, Bunny!" Jack growled. "I'm fine!"
"But…" the Easter spirit looked like he wanted to say something, but Jack's glare prevented him from doing so.
"This has happened before?" Thanatos raised an eyebrow, his question directed at Bunnymund.
"Once," the Easter spirit muttered, talking to the Spirit of Death under his breath.
"I'm right here!" Jack snapped. "I can still hear you."
"Sorry," Thanatos frowned in embarrassment, something that Jack never thought he would see on the face of Death. "Your transformation was just… intriguing."
"His power is manifesting," Nyght spoke up from her seat. She hadn't risen for the toast, and her glass was the only one on the table that remained untouched, its glowing contents remained not drunken. She rose to her feet, glancing pointedly at the Man in the Moon, "A word with you, please."
Manny nodded and rose from his seat to comply. Solara also rose to her feet, which prompted Nyght to speak further.
"Alone," the Primearch of Twilight said, her tone allowing for no argument.
Solara frowned, looking as if she wanted to argue, but Manny turned to her and smiled. "Hey," he caressed her cheek softly, "I'll be right back."
"You better," Solara grumbled.
"You're adorable when you get clingy," he chuckled, turning and walking back towards the Hearth. Nyght was already at the top of the stairs, apparently unwilling to wait around and watch the public display of affection.
Jack watched as the two of them disappeared into the wide, arching entrance, and he was left with nothing but uncomfortable silence. Solara was glaring angrily at the entrance to the Hearth, looking as if she would love nothing more than to set it on fire, Sam Hain grabbed his latest pumpkin and walked off, muttering something about too much drama, and Jack was left with a stoic looking Spirit of Death and a rather concerned Easter Bunny.
"Are you certain you're alright, mate?" Bunny asked again, placing his paws on Jack's shoulders.
It was the last straw. Jack wasn't really irritated at Bunnymund, rather he was just irritated at his life in general. He was upset that things weren't the way he wanted them to be. He wanted answers, but all those answers brought were more questions. He still didn't know why he was chosen to become a spirit, even though Jack knew what his center was: he was supposed to bring fun to the children of the world. It wasn't enough; Jack wanted to know why he was originally created. What made the Primearchs think he was worthy of becoming a spirit to begin with, and why was Manny avoiding him?
Even though the Man in the Moon had been right there, talking to Jack the entire night, the Winter spirit had been unable to get the most important answer: Why was he ignored?
All of Jack's anger and irritation boiled over at that point, and he jerked away from Bunnymund's touch. "I'm fine!" he shouted. "I'm not some fragile kid you have to keep checking up on!"
Bunny's ears drooped as Jack yelled at him. He held his paws up in the air, letting Jack know that he wasn't going to try and touch him again, "Look! Whatever you say, mate!" Bunny narrowed his eyes, "I was just trying to be helpful."
"Well stop!" Jack snapped. "You're not being helpful! You're patronizing!"
"Hey!" the Easter spirit stamped a foot, towering over the white-haired boy, "I don't have to be anything! I thought we were friends, and friends look out for one another!"
"Yeah," Jack laughed, "But they don't stand around waiting for each other to screw up!"
"I didn't say you screwed up," Bunnymund growled.
"No, but you were over here awfully fast," Jack glowered.
"You were lit up like the north star!" Bunny threw out his arms in exasperation, "Everyone saw it!"
"So I embarrassed you, is that it?" Jack's voice turned frigid. "You hurried over here to make certain I didn't make the Guardians look bad?"
"You're doing plenty of that right now, kid," Bunny gestured at the audience who was watching their argument.
"Screw you!" Jack's fist flashed out. Bunnymund was so shocked by the action that he didn't even have time to defend himself. Jack's fist struck the Easter spirit right in the jaw, knocking him on his rump and leaving him completely speechless.
Without another word, Jack turned on his heel and stormed off toward the Hearth, vanishing through the entrance.
The crowd which had been watching the argument dispersed, having enough decency to let Bunny nurse his wounded pride in peace. Well, almost everyone dispersed. Bunnymund was slightly annoyed to find that the spirit of Death was still standing there, looking down at the Easter spirit with an emotionless gaze.
"What do you want?" he growled.
"Picking a fight with me won't help," Thanatos smirked. "I hit much harder than Jack."
"Since when are you two on a first name basis?"
Death shrugged, "That is what he said to call him."
"Great," Bunny stood up, rubbing his tail. He'd landed directly on it and now it smarted fiercely.
Thanatos walked over to the end of the table and picked up Nyght's untouched glass, handing it to the Easter Bunny. "Here, this will take the pain away."
"I'm fine," Bunny walked past Death. While he appreciated the offer, Bunnymund knew that the Water of Life wasn't going to take away the pain he felt, because it wasn't a physical pain.
Aster headed straight for the bar, intending to drown his pain in the best way possible. He'd only gone over to Jack because he'd been concerned. For crying out loud, the boy was glowing! Jack looked exactly the way he had during the fight at the North Pole, so why couldn't Bunny be concerned. He hadn't meant to start a fight…
He had been hoping to get closer to the Winter spirit, but now Bunny lamented as he seemed to have driven Jack further away. "Great," Bunny ran a paw across his face. "Just great."
He turned around to ask Death a question, but was surprised to find that Thanatos had vanished. The Grim Reaper was no where to be found, which left Bunnymund with very little to do other than wallow in his own self-loathing. There really was only one thing he could do. He had to go find Jack. It probably wouldn't solve anything, and Bunnymund was fairly certain they would end up fighting again, but he couldn't just stand around without at least trying to apologize or explain him.
No, he probably wouldn't try and explain himself. It hadn't gone so well the last time he'd tried to do that, but if he apologized, then perhaps Jack would be more willing to open up to him and explain what was going on. Bunnymund wasn't the most knowledgeable spirit, but he was more observant than most. He knew that something was wrong with Jack; the Winter spirit had been emotionally unstable, anger and mistrust were evident in his features, and, no matter how hard Bunny tried to do damage control, he could feel Jack slipping away.
That was an outcome Aster was unwilling to accept, and as he trudged up the steps to the Hearth he promised himself that he would do anything and everything within his power to make Jack happy. Even if that meant Bunny wasn't the one who could personally make that happen.
Jack was stalking through a corridor at that precise moment, grumbling to the wind about his various sources of irritation, none of which happened to be present. It was a pointless thing for him to be doing, but it made him feel better.
Right now he felt pretty low.
Complaining wasn't something Jack enjoyed doing, but he found himself filled with complaints recently. He hated feeling uninformed, he loathed feeling looked down upon, and he had nothing but disdain for Bunnymund and his over-protectiveness. The Easter Bunny wasn't really at fault, and Jack understood that it had been rude to yell at him. Still, Jack's frustration had clouded his better judgment, and now he was in a foul mood.
For the most part he had been enjoying the evening.
Even though he had nothing but more questions, Jack had actually learned a great deal. He'd spoken with Thanatos, learning more about the Spirit world from Death than he had from any of the Guardians, and he'd been able to speak with Nyght. How many spirits could say that they had a private conversation with a Primearch?
Jack was going over his encounter with Nyght, revisiting the way she had acted and spoken. The Primearch of Twilight had been strangely compassionate, yet there was a sense of lethality around her as well. Nyght seemed to command absolute authority, but for someone with that amount of power she seemed almost normal, down-to-earth.
His thoughts ground to an abrupt halt as he ran into something solid. Jack stumbled backwards, and he would have fallen, except that a pair of arms wrapped around him and pulled him close. Jack felt himself pushed up against a solid mass of muscle and was staring directly into a dark clothed chest. So, that's what he ran into?
Looking up, Jack found himself face-to-face with Thanatos. "Hi," Jack muttered. "Can you let me go?"
"Certainly," Thanatos smiled. "Can you promise me that you won't run into me again?"
"Yes," the Winter spirit mumbled. The arms released him, and Jack took a step backward. "Sorry."
"Think nothing of it," Death chuckled.
There was a moment of silence before Jack decided to resume his wandering. He walked past Thanatos and continued down the hallway, but he was acutely away of the tale, pale man who was matching pace beside him. Jack looked at Thanatos out of the corner of his eye, "Are you following me?"
"Yes," Thanatos responded with a straight face.
"Because I would hate for you to get lost."
Jack had a hard time determining whether or not Thanatos was kidding. "I don't need a babysitter."
"Is it wrong for me to enjoy your company?" Thanatos looked hurt.
"No…" Jack frowned. How was he managing to be rude to every person who showed concern for him.
"Alright," Death nodded, continuing to walk in silence.
"You're not going to say anything?" Jack raised an eyebrow.
"About?" Thanatos cocked his head in inquiry.
"That…" Jack motioned behind him.
"The hallway?" Thanatos smirked. "You've already apologized."
"No!" Jack growled in frustration. "That whole thing with the stupid Kangaroo!"
"I assumed you didn't want to talk about it," the pale man's smirk widened into an amused smile.
"I don't!" Jack nodded, walking a bit faster as his temper flared.
"That's why I didn't say anything."
"You're really annoying, you know that?" Jack muttered.
"You seem to be feeling better," Thanatos remarked.
"A little," the white-haired youth confessed.
Thanatos reached out and grabbed Jack's hand, pulling him down a corridor.
"Hey!" Jack protested, "What are you doing?!"
"I want to show you something," Thanatos gave him that smile, the one that was so brilliant yet knowledgeable as well, and Jack felt a surge of excitement. All of his previous irritation was replaced by curiosity.
"What?" Jack couldn't help but smirk. "Where are you taking me?"
"That's a surprise," Thanatos' silver eyes sparkled with excitement. "I promise it will make you feel better."
Jack couldn't argue, because he already felt better. He had completely forgotten about his fight with Bunnymund, his anger over his treatment by the Man in the Moon, his distaste of Solara, his confusion about Nyght… Jack was entranced by his insatiable curiosity, and he was unable to hold onto his previous irritation.
Who would have thought that Death would be the person who could lift his spirits?
When he had decided to go and find Jack, Bunnymund hadn't actually taken into account how difficult of a task that would be.
Jack could be anywhere inside the Hearth, and the Hearth was huge! Dozens of corridors led to hundreds of rooms, most of which Bunnymund had no idea what their purpose was for. He tried the library, he tried the observatory, he tried several lounges, but no matter where he searched, Bunny was unable to find the boy.
The only thing he could think to do now was wander and hope that he found Jack soon.
"Don't you dare take that tone with me!" a voice snapped through the silence of the corridor.
Bunnymund's ears perked up at the sound, and he slowly began walking toward the disturbance. It wasn't that he wanted to eavesdrop, but the Easter spirit could hear the anger behind that voice. There was wrath there, back up by undeniable power. Something deep within him knew that this conversation was meant to be private, but in the back of his mind Bunnymund knew that he also wanted to know who was speaking. Something important was going on…
"You're being unreasonable," another voice said. It was a deep male voice, and Bunnymund was certain he'd heard it before.
The Easter spirit silently walked up to a doorway which was partially open. The voices were coming from the other side. He crouched down low and peaked around the door frame to see if he could catch a glimpse of the figures inside. Bunnymund's jaw almost hit the floor when he found out who was speaking. It was the Primearchs, well two of them anyways. He was eavesdropping on Nyght and the Man in the Moon.
"I am not being unreasonable!" Nyght snarled. "It was unreasonable for me to trust you in the first place!"
"No!" Manny barked. "You can't put this one on me!"
"Really?" the dark haired woman gave him a cold look. "Let me remind you which one of us has a track record of dishonesty and betrayal."
"You know that's not what happened?" Manny reached out a hand towards Nyght's shoulder.
"Don't!" Nyght's voice was practically venomous as she jerked away from his touch. "Don't you dare touch me with those hands, not after you've been touching her!" She spat the word as if it were the most profane thing she could muster.
"Your hatred for your sister is so childish," Manny frowned.
"You've always been soft where she's concerned," Nyght sneered.
"Someone has to be," the grey-haired man sighed. "After you and Mother Earth practically exiled her."
"She deserved it!" Nyght seethed.
"It solved nothing."
"What would you know?"
"I know you used to trust me," Manny looked sorrowfully at the woman. "…once."
"And that was the biggest mistake of my existence," Nyght responded icily.
"How long are you going to hold this against me?"
"Till all the light has faded from the universe, and everything returns to my embrace," Nyght said bitterly. "Until then you can go back to my sister. The two of you seem so happy together."
"You used to be so compassionate," Manny lamented.
"I used to be naïve."
"I said I was sorry," Manny pressed. "I never meant for him to get involved."
"Involved!?" Nyght cried, looking at the man with disbelief. "You promised to leave him alone!"
"I did leave him alone!" Manny snarled, showing his temper for the first time. "I left him alone for three hundred years! I left him alone until he started to hate me! What did you expect me to do?"
"Keep your word!" Nyght snapped. "That was our agreement! That was why I broke my vow! That was why I created another spirit after four thousand years of self-imposed exile! You promised me that he would be protected!" The Twilight spirit looked practically broken as she said these words, the pain in her eyes so evident, so raw, that the Man in the Moon had to turn away from her.
"He is protected!" Manny threw his hands up into the air. "He's surrounded by people who protect him, who look out for him! What more could you ask for?"
"He was supposed to have a peaceful life," Nyght appeared directly in front of the man, refusing to let him avoid her gaze. "He was supposed to have a simple job. You've cursed him… like all my other children were cursed."
"Jack Frost is stronger than that," Manny said firmly.
"I know that," Nyght muttered. "It's why I agreed to create him in the first place, but there are things out there in the darkness, forces you have chosen to be blind to."
"Nyght," Manny looked at her with a disapproving frown. "You've been so afraid of another war that you've let you fear control you."
"War is coming, Erebus," she said coldly. "You and the others may be unwilling to accept this, but it is the truth."
The Man in the Moon shook his head sadly, "I feel sorry for you, Nyght. You've lost your way."
"Don't you dare presume to judge me!" she snapped.
Manny held up his hands in surrender, not willing to argue the point further.
"And you will refrain from any further contact with Jack," Nyght said threateningly.
"No," Manny crossed his arms. "He deserves to be prepared for what is coming. He doesn't know how much power is at his disposal. You saw him at the dinner."
"I will decide how my son is prepared for the future," Nyght shouted, her hand flashing out and striking the Man in the Moon across the face. "Don't forget that it was my power you needed for his creation, and they were my terms you agreed to. For the sake of what little honor you still possess, don't you dare try and cross me."
"You want him to hate me." Manny said softly. It wasn't a question.
"I want him to know just what kind of person you really are," Nyght whispered viciously. She turned and stormed towards a doorway across the room, which obviously led to a different exit.
The Man in the Moon was left alone, holding the side of his face where he'd been struck. A melancholy smile came over his features. "That's the first time she's touched me in over two thousand years," he said to no one in particular. "I guess you could consider that progress."
Bunnymund stood frozen in his place outside the door. Was Manny speaking to him? He didn't want to move. If he moved then his presence would definitely be discovered. There was no telling what kind of trouble he would be in; Bunny knew that the information he'd overheard was highly sensitive. If the wrong people learned that Nyght and Manny had created Jack Frost… it would create an uproar in the spirit community. Jack would receive even more unwanted attention, not to mention the Winter spirit would probably take the news badly.
It was a horrible situation, and the Easter spirit now wished he had never decided to eavesdrop. Curiosity killed the cat, or in the case would probably kill the rabbit.
"I won't make you come out of hiding," Manny said softly. "Just promise me you won't tell Jack what you heard here tonight."
What?! Bunny couldn't contain his shock. How was he supposed to keep something like this from Jack? If the boy ever found out, if Jack learned that Bunny had kept a secret like this… the damage would be irreparable. Jack would never forgive him.
The Winter spirit already felt like the Guardians were keeping secrets from him. What Manny was asking him to do would only cement Jack's suspicions. It could tear the Guardians apart.
"I can't do that," Bunnymund said, steeling his nerves as he stepped visibly into the doorway.
"Ah, Aster," Manny smiled warmly. "I was afraid you were the one behind the door."
"You didn't know?"
"Not for certain," Manny chuckled. "I knew one of you was out there."
"I can't lie to Jack," Bunny said again.
"I'm not asking you to," Manny explained.
"If I keep this from him…"
"He has no reason to suspect it," the Moon spirit said firmly. "The only reason he would, is if someone were to tell him. I trust you won't do that."
"He has the right to know," Bunny said angrily.
This was met by a harsh, humorless laugh. "Trust me!" Manny groaned bitterly, "No one knows this more than I do."
"Then why haven't you told him!?" Bunny demanded.
"Because I made a deal with my devil," Manny confessed.
"With Nyght?" the Easter spirit eyed the doorway through which the woman had departed. He was now more suspicious of her than ever.
"Yes," the Man in the Moon smiled longingly at the very same doorway.
"Because I wanted to be closer to her," Manny's blue eyes seemed to shimmer with repressed tears, creating the most sorrowful expression Bunnymund had ever seen. "I did something unforgivable, many years ago, and it was the only thing I could think of to get close to her again."
"Jack…" Manny whispered.
"What about Jack?"
"I knew she would be interested in him," Manny smiled. "He was such a vibrant human. Nyght was always inspired by the vibrant ones… they reminded her of stars. I knew she would want to save him… she was the only one who could."
"But she wanted something?" Bunny asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yes," Manny's face twisted in regret. "Her price was high."
"What?" Bunnymund growled. "Why would you agree to help her?"
"Help her?" Manny shook his head. "No, she agreed to help me. I didn't have enough power to save Jack. His creation would have left me drained for years… the Guardians would have been nearly powerless."
"Then why would Nyght agree to create such a spirit?" Bunny's confusion was mounting.
"Because Jack was pure…" Manny smiled. "He was the purest soul I'd ever seen. Nyght agreed with me, and she agreed to help with his creation if I would make certain Jack was protected."
"Kept away from the rest of the spirit world," Manny nodded. "Away from the influences, the dangers, the troubles… Nyght agreed to create another spirit if I promised not to interfere after the process was complete. Nyght also forced the other Primearchs. Father Time took Jack's memories, and Mother Earth made him into a Force of Nature, a simple job. Jack was supposed to be allowed a carefree life."
"That's why you left Jack alone," the Easter spirit breathed out slowly. His anger rushed out of him, leaving Bunnymund feeling completely deflated.
"I couldn't keep my word though," Manny laughed, though the sound was angry and filled with self-depreciation. "So many nights, Jack would shout up at me, demanding answers. It was so hard to remain silent, to just ignore him. So I found a loophole."
"You made him a Guardian," Bunny shook his head. "That's hardly a loophole."
"I wasn't necessarily interfering," Manny chuckled. "I just gave him a choice."
"And now the most powerful spirit in the world has it out for you…" Bunny couldn't believe he'd stumbled into the middle of something like this.
"She's just disappointed," Manny sighed, running a hand through his salt and pepper goatee. "I can't blame her. I allowed my selfishness to get the better of me, even though I knew she was testing my resolve."
"You think she was using Jack just to test you!?" Bunny felt his anger return.
"Perhaps," Manny shrugged, "Perhaps it is my own vanity, groundlessly hoping that she still cares enough about me to do so."
"I hope for Jack's sake that you're wrong," Bunny spat in contempt. "He's not some guinea pig, and while I don't much care for her high-and-mighty act, I agree with Nyght."
"You do?" Manny looked surprised.
"Yeah, I do," the Easter spirit turned to leave. "Jack's the most precious light I've ever witnessed, mate. He needs to be protected at all costs."
"You can't tell him," Manny said sternly.
"Try and stop me," Bunny reached up to grab one of his boomerangs.
"I wouldn't have to," the Man in the Moon gave him a sorrowful look. "I can make you forget."
"Just like that?"
The Moon spirit nodded, "Just like that. The choice is yours."
"Fine," Bunny's shoulders slumped. "I won't tell him."
"Thank you," Manny breathed a sigh of relief.
"I'm not doing it for you," Aster growled. "I'm doing it because I hope that Nyght actually has a plan. If Jack gets hurt, I don't care if you are Primearchs. I'll be comin' for you."
Whew! So much information!
I didn't give you overload did I? I'm always afraid of doing that.
So, big reveal, huh? Nyght help Man in the Moon create Jack Frost. How many people saw that coming? Show of hands? Yeah, I figured you all probably guessed that already. I kind of foreshadowed it, like... A LOT! If I did catch you by surprise then, yay! I'm glad. If I didn't, hopefully there was still some information in the reveal that managed to catch your attention or hold your interest.
Things are going to start moving fairly quickly from here. I know where the story is headed, and we are going to be seeing the villain reveal themselves in probably the next chapter to two. Yep. That's how fast things are gonna be. I think this story is going to end before we reach Chapter 25 (I mean that in my actual chapter numbers, not the number of updates.) This is Chapter 17, so... I'd say Chapter 23 to 25 is around the right time frame for the ending to get near.
I know. It's kind of sad, but like I said: there are two ways I can end it. I have a vague idea for a sequel, if people think I should do it... or I can just end this fic and tie up all the loose ends nice and pretty like. I'll leave the choice to you.
As always, this story is funded by your Reviews. So please help a poor author out! ;)
See you with the next chapter.