Sanctuary: The Fortress
by K. Stonham
first released 21st December, 2012
Jack missed the moon. His yearning, his need to see the moon again, even if Manny was silent, was like a knife in his chest.
But the moon was obscured, and under the dingy gray clouds of this winter, the snow did not sparkle. It was not clean and white. Nothing, nothing was pure anymore.
And it was so cold.
Letting the wind carry him, he closed his eyes and stretched out his senses, reaching for any trace of warmth. Anything that might still be alive, or indicate life.
He found nothing, for as far as he could sense. Just cold and gray, death and ruin.
Today's had been a very long and futile search. Keeping his eyes closed against tears that wanted to spill, Jack whispered, "Wind, take me... take me home."
The wind whirled him away.
The structure in Antarctica was called the Fortress, or, more casually, the Fort. Jack had started it as a playground. But when it had been needed, it had exploded, growing up and out and down on its own without his conscious control. Jack had found it disconcerting at first, but he'd always known where he was in it, and he'd had no time then to worry. Later, when things had gotten less hectic, he'd asked Toothiana, and found that all the spirits' "hideouts," as he'd once called them, had the habit of doing the same. They were as big as they needed to be. Luckily.
Nowadays, the Fortress looked like an enclosed crystal city carved of ice and snow. Its pale blue glow on the horizon was a balm for Jack, proof that life still existed in the world. He could feel the warmth inside, hundreds of people living and breathing, protected from the weather and the fallout.
It was a small beacon of light in the middle of darkness, and seemed so very fragile.
But it had survived for years, sheltering the survivors, and he had to believe in that. Believe that eventually the winter would end, and humans would be able to leave their sheltering walls and truly live again.
He landed in a courtyard, and walked through glass-ice doors into the heart of the Fortress. Noise, the warm reassuring sound of voices, washed over Jack as he entered. He didn't waver in his path, though, didn't respond to any of those who spoke to him, welcomed him, entreated him.
This was a huge room, dominated by a globe the same size as the one North had up at the North Pole. This globe, however, Jack had made of flawless ice. And unlike the one he'd first been introduced to, a mere handful of brilliant gold lights shone from its surface.
The Fortress, at the South Pole. Santoff Claussen, at the North. The Warren, under Australia. The Tooth Palace, in southeast Asia. A bright speck in the middle of the tropical Pacific Ocean was Sandman's Island. Ireland held the Leprechaun's Underhill. Halloween Town was in central Europe. North America had two lights, Pitch's Lair, and Turkey's Village. Groundhog's Burrow gleamed from Brazil. Cupid's Castle floated around in the clouds; today, it looked like it was over what had once been Mongolia.
Eleven magical locations, holding all that was left of the human race.
Jack looked up at it for a moment, closed his eyes, then kicked himself into the air. Floating over the globe, he reached out, touched the section of Italy he'd covered today...
...and frosted it.
A disappointed murmur came from those below.
Bowing his head, Jack let himself drift back to the ground.
He didn't meet anyone's eyes as he left.
The magic of Need was a very powerful thing. It did have limits; no matter how much Jack and the others needed to see Manny again, they wouldn't, not until the dust in the sky settled and was washed down by rain and snow. But smaller things, like rooms and schools and resources in their sanctuaries... those things that were needed simply came into being, if a spirit was strong enough. If they were believed in enough.
Given that there probably wasn't a single person alive who wasn't sheltered in a spirit's stronghold, belief had never been stronger.
So if people needed his Fort to be cool, rather than cold, it would be. For them. Jack's own rooms were icy, and it was there that he retreated now. He couldn't bear to disappoint anyone any longer. Not now. Not until he got over his own disappointment, and could be strong again.
Jack slumped into a beanbag chair, letting his staff fall to the ground as he hid his face in his hands. It was always a long shot, every day, looking for survivors. Of any species. Cats and bats and snails were all precious now, and even rarer than humans.
It had been nearly a year since he'd last found anyone. Or anything.
Toothiana, Jack knew, worried about him. But he couldn't stop looking, and both of them knew it. He was the best one to be doing this. Tooth's fairies had been able to search at first, for children losing their teeth. Which led to finding the people around those children. But the fairies had smaller amounts of magic, and had gotten sick from the radiation. Tooth had eventually needed to call them all back, to let them heal in the magical haven of her Palace. North, though his sleigh had proved invaluable, wasn't as good at the searching. Neither were most of the other Legends. But Bunny, with his long ears and ability to hear movement from miles off, was good. Only, the temperature had kept dropping, and fur coat or not, he couldn't handle long periods of the cold. Which left Sandy, who could only search for the sleeping, Pitch, who could only sense fear, and fear was mighty thin these days, and Jack, who could feel voids in the freeze of the world.
Like the one that had just entered his rooms.
"Bad day?" asked Jamie.
Jack laughed hollowly. "Aren't they all?"
Careless of the cold, Jamie sat down on the beanbag next to Jack's. "From my point of view, they're all good ones." Glasses with thin gold rims framed his brown eyes, and at seventy, his hair was now as white as Jack's own, but Jamie's smile was the same as the day he'd first believed in Jack. "We're all still alive, my lord Frost."
Jack conjured a handful of snow and tossed it at his friend. "Don't call me that."
"You're ruining a good depression," Jack warned him.
"I live to serve." Jamie leaned back further into the beanbag.
Jack pulled some of the chill from the room and tossed a blanket at Jamie to boot. "Any problems while I was out looking?"
"Just the usual." Jamie pulled his glasses off and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "People are, sadly, people. Even in the midst of survival and living in this." His gesture took in the room, and by extension the Fortress as a whole. "There's a reason I was a teacher, not an administrator."
"And you." Jamie had spent years playing with various science toys, trying to prove that Jack existed. Or at least that magic did. His research was the reason they had known that magic won out over radiation. Jack had a weight on a scale, so he had mass, but no radiometer had ever gone off within three feet of him, not even the tiny amount they did around regular humans. Jamie had spent long, wistful hours dreaming of academic papers finally proving the impossible... until Jack had asked how that would affect magic itself.
Magic was the opposite of science. It was not something to be pinned down, measured, quantified, explained. It just was, and trying to make it into science killed it.
Jamie had majored in education instead.
"How's Cole settling in?" Jack asked.
Jamie grinned. "Phil's son is a godsend. If he has any more kids he wants out of his fur..."
The truth was, Jack had little clue how his Fort was run. He had set down one rule only for its inhabitants: Be Civil. The rest wasn't his job. Despite the fact that a disturbing number of the residents referred to him as "Lord Frost," he was a Guardian. Not a ruler. Thus, one of the first tasks the Bennett clan, already used to the presence of magic in the world, had faced post-N-Day was setting up a working infrastructure for the survivors. And they'd managed it. Jack could scarcely comprehend how, but his sanctuary had a government, and jobs, and a hospital, a marketplace, currency, a library, and schools. People were productive, for the most part. And now they were used to the yeti who formed a volunteer security force, which unto itself was a small miracle.
Jamie studied Jack for a minute, then threw off the blanket and stood, pacing toward an ice-block pedestal that stood along one wall. A silver hilt stuck out of it. Jamie grasped it, and pulled a transparent sword out of the ice. He looked sideways at Jack. "Sword duel," he suggested.
"I'm serious. When was the last time you played, Jack?"
Jack had to think about it. He eventually came up with over a month ago.
Jamie smiled. "All work and no play..." he suggested.
Jack had to crack a smile. He stood, conjuring an ice sword into his own hand.
With a feral grin, Jamie attacked.
Jack laughed, blocking.
This was a game the two of them had invented for themselves. It was their own style, evolved with no input from Toothiana or North, who were also swordmasters, but whose dual-blade styles were very different from Jack and Jamie's. They were fairly evenly matched: Jack had the advantage of flight over Jamie, but Jamie was better on tactics, and knew Jack's moves like the back of his hand. They were calling out insults on one another's techniques by the time the battle spilled into the hallway. Conscious of bystanders, the pair of them dodged around and over their audience, using them as shields and obstacles as the game moved steadily north-east along one of the outer passages. Jamie's running form was like Jack's own; he went over and around things like a man a fraction his age, until finally Jack soared in hot pursuit out into the Wonderland -
- and was hit dead-on by dozens of snowballs.
Shocked, he dropped his sword. It shattered on the ground like the icicle it was, as Jack shook snow from his eyes.
Jamie stood grinning before him, surrounded by what seemed like half the Fortress' children.
There was no doubt whatsoever in Jack's mind that Jamie had planned this ambush.
"You like to live dangerously, don't you?" Jack asked all of them, and Jamie in particular. Grinning widely, he summoned a snowball to his hand. Jamie hefted a ready-made one in return.
The war was on.
Though he was too busy to note it, Jack's laughter rang through the Fort like a protective spell. The citadel pulsed in response, blue and white light growing the walls thicker, stronger. More protective of the people Jack Frost Guarded and loved.
Waiting until the day, someday, its doors would once more open.
Author's Note: I watch a cute, fun animated movie about holiday icons, and dream up a fanfic about nuclear winter. Is there something wrong with me? I suspect it's probably predicated on two things. One, the notion that Tooth's Palace is as big as it needs to be to house all the teeth, and thus must grow over time. I can picture the yetis having built North's place, but I cannot picture the Fairies having built Tooth's. Therefore, magic. And, item two, my frustration with Bunny having an egg tunnel to Antarctica and Tooth saying she collects teeth from seven continents. There are no children in Antarctica. Only a handful of researchers live down there. If, on the other hand, Jack ever actually set up a base like the others, it might be there just so he didn't tread on North's territory... And, yes, there was a buried Avengers-reference pun in the story. Instead of Phil Coulson, it's Cole, Phil's son. :)