There were swirls of gold everywhere, but it was still cold.

If he knew just one thing, it was that this cocoon of illuminated grains was supposed to be warm. For as lightly as they caressed and soothed, the lack of comforting warmth left his skin irritated and rubbed raw. The gold was supposed to be safe, and it felt wrong instead.

Dream. Jack was having a dream. His pain was distant, but the cold that shouldn't faze him was making him leery. He stayed still, uncertain whether Sandy was doing this intentionally or if his own mind was just churning something different from his memories. He didn't know how long he reclined in the swirling cavern, and how ironic that he struggled to stay alert in this dream state.

It wasn't until the gold began to fade that he realized the sand was his only illumination. His focus sharpened, watching the drifts and tendrils flicker like a bad filament. Jack squirmed, reminded of the bright/dark chatter and the stabbing pain of the Tesla coil he'd once fallen asleep in.

Then the rumbling started, ominous and low and coming from all directions. He wanted to curl in on himself and away from the sound. His eyes darted about for fear that something horrid would jump out from the folds of safety that didn't feel safe. … Confusing.

Nothing did jump out, but what met his eyes was even more terrifying. The tendrils of sand began to writhe around him, the smooth motions turning jagged and rough. The golden light was leeched away by encroaching gray. That darkened to black, roiling masses of inherent danger.

Just like the shadows.

With a horrible pain searing through his heart and down his arm, he screamed.

His yell into wakefulness was much weaker to his ears than it had been in his head. The jolt that went through his body kicked off a series of painful waves that mimicked his final moments in the dream. His chest burned and constricted, his left arm throbbed to his pulse, his side made it impossible to breathe.

It was becoming his usual wakeup routine, and he hated it.

There was a touch to his forehead, a large hand too hot to be comfortable. He managed a choked-off groan. After that, Jack focused on catching his breath in the least painful way possible – short, shallow puffs of air.

"Breathe, Jack. Just breathe, is all right."

That was North, murmuring low and grumbly in his throat, and it was so comforting to know someone was there.

But North wasn't who he was hoping to see.

"Wh-where…" he choked out, but that was as far as he got. North kept shushing him, and it only aggravated his mind while his swimming eyes roved the room in search of a hint of gold. He tried again.

"Where's S-sandy?"

North froze for only a second, but with his hand stroking through Jack's hair, it was hard to miss the hitch.

"Don't worry Jack, focus on yourself now."

"I h… had a dream," the younger spirit gasped, insistent because for crying out loud, didn't Santa understand? "I need to see him." Wow, he was actually proud of how steady the demand was. But North withdrew his hand and looked stricken.

"Please." Because what else could he say to make him understand?

"What kind of dream?"

Jack groaned. There was no time for that right now! His mind was panicked and unsettled and he felt as if he wouldn't catch his breath until he caught a glimpse of comforting, golden sand.

"Jack!" North demanded, gripping his shoulders firmly against the mattress. The discomfort shook him into the present a little, and he met North's close gaze with a rock of nerves sinking sharply into his stomach. "What kind of dream?"

He stopped to think, or tried to, at least. His breath came shallow, but he supposed as long as he was getting air with minimal pain he'd deal with it. He closed his eyes to force his concentration, tried to think of the best way to answer completely with as few words as possible.

"Uh… gold sand all around me… turned black."

North's grip shifted from firm to gone so quickly that Jack had to open his eyes to make sure he wasn't suddenly alone. He wasn't, but he may as well have been. North's eyes glared out the nearby window, where Jack's staff leaned innocently in its sill. The winter shepherd had no idea what to make of the expression he saw, but it was absolutely terrifying the way the bottom dropped out of his stomach because of it. Dread welled up in him and made the pain clench in his chest and arm. The inexplicable, ancient knowledge that there was something he had to do washed through his veins and lent him strength and urgency.

"North," he said, gripping the man's tattooed forearm as tightly as he could. "Where is Sandy?"

His nose twitched constantly against the stale, acrid air. His feet were silent against the damp, crumbling ruins and dank earth. His shoulders were relaxed, but ready, wiry arms double-fisting his boomerangs with a light, experienced grip.

E Aster Bunnymund knew how to hunt.

Toothiana was silent, padding on her tiny feet just behind him, the constant whistle-hum of her wings silenced in favor of stealth. She grasped two ancient, jewel-encrusted scimitars with a cold efficiency that gave the Easter spirit chills. He hadn't seen her in battle mode for centuries, but it never failed to remind him she was no delicate hummingbird.

The tightening of little arms about Bunny's neck brought him back to the present. Sandy's breathing was turning ragged against the back of his neck, and it was disconcerting. If they wanted this plan to work, they had to find Pitch quickly while they had the element of surprise on their side.

A distant whinny echoed through the dank shadows, chilling and so very wrong in its deathly call.

"Are you sure you can do this, Sandy?" Bunny whispered over his shoulder. The hesitation that followed sunk a heavy rock of dread into the pit of the warrior's stomach, but after a moment Sandy nodded against the scruff of his neck, a light motion of sand against fur.

"Ok," Bunny breathed. He crouched down, moving carefully into open darkness as he followed his nose, followed the vinegar stench of fear as it coalesced and grew stronger, palpable and rank.

They were going to do this. It was too late to turn back now.

"Wh… what?" Jack gasped. He shifted carefully as he sat up, nearly able to do it on his own, now. "Why? Why would he do that?"

North felt a stab of sympathy for the young spirit's panic. For Sandy to fall into the temptation of revenge so thoroughly was a notion St. Nick had never entertained. Watching such a wise spirit fall to a mortal weakness was so alien a thought that he hadn't understood it at first, either, but he had had hours to think on it.

"We are only immortal, Jack, not flawless –"

"No, not that," Jack flapped a hand at him, and North could only watch him with what he was sure was a very stupid look on his face. "I get that we're not gods and we have some rules we have to abide by, but…" He took a moment to breathe. "Why would he tip over the edge because of me?"

Oh, strike the old saint through the heart with a pick ax. What was he supposed to say to that?

"Jack… you are very special to us."

"Yeah, for about a week," Jack huffed. He didn't mean it as a cutting remark, North knew, but it still stung. He also knew that Sandy had helped the young spirit a time or two in his lonely years, if even from a distance. The rest of them…

"I want you to consider something, Jack," he said. "After centuries of neglect and misunderstanding, you stood by us with far less hesitation than you were warranted."

Jack raised his hands to protest, but North knew what the argument would be, cut him off before the young shepherd could fool himself into thinking he'd done it for selfish reasons.

"Before you knew about your missing memories, before we realized Pitch's plan, you were standing by us. Ok, with some resignation, but eh…" He shrugged. Then he paused to chuckle. "And you were knocking Bunny off his high horse." Jack's grin was a bright light in the midst of a dire situation. "Jack, besides everything that happened with the nightmares and with Jaimie, you must understand you were chosen as Guardian for very good reason. That makes you instant family."

Never mind that this boy had brought the Guardians closer together than they had been in centuries, or that it had taken him just one day to remind them where their heart should lie: in the children, not in the job.

"Ok," Jack conceded, sounding a little lost. "I won't question it anymore. But you do realize we have to help Sandy, right?"

And then he was making that face: the face of a prankster set to a task he would not release until it was finished. He wouldn't take no for an answer. He wouldn't listen to reason. He wouldn't give up.

Oh great.

The heaviness of the dark here weighed him down. Perhaps that was because some of that darkness was within. These menacing mares that remained were still a distant extension of the Sandman – moreso now because of his closer ties to the dark realms.

Sanderson Mansnoozie had to cut those ties, and it had to be done immediately. The gate maintained by Pitch's very existence – the one that bridged his underground and the darker, sinister realms – had to be shut. But doing so and not making it revenge… Now that was a real challenge. He kept the same mantra playing in his head: "Protect the children. Protect the Guardians. Pitch's habitual realm-crossing must come to a final end. For the children. For the Guardians."

But it would have been so easy to let the mantra be: "Revenge. Revenge. Revenge." So much easier to think. So much easier to repeat and focus on.

Sandy gasped against the damp fur on Bunnymund's neck and squeezed his arms tighter. He had to focus beyond the painful changes of his body now. He had to keep the darkness at bay until they found Pitch.

"All right, there?" Bunny whispered cautiously. Sandy nodded firmly, feeling each purposeful step vibrate up the solid muscle and frame of the Easter spirit's body. It didn't matter that the question was a bit stupid, and it didn't matter that Sandy was lying. What mattered was finding that gray-skinned idiot coward.

While a part of him hated to admit it, whilst they crept about in a dark layer full of shifting shadows and horses made of black sand, this mission would be so much easier with a child's raw faith at his side. He missed the innocence, and the uncapped imagination, the pure heart. He needed that support. Without it, he was dying.

But that help wasn't available. It was up to Sandy and his fellow Guardians. And this lair was so vast! There was a dark, niggling doubt in the back of Sandy's mind, telling him they wouldn't find the Boogey Man in time; telling him the cold, biting pain in his heart would consume him.

He was terrified of the tiny part of himself that welcomed the cold and the dark. So much easier than remaining warm in a cruel world or staying faithful in a time when guiding lights were frequently abhorred.

The pain in his chest twisted, wrapping barb wire sparks around his quickening pulse. Sandy gripped his hands tightly in the fur of Bunny's shoulders. For the children. For the Guardians. For the children. For the Guardians…

This was a bad idea. This was going to be like taking the Czar's Faberge egg on a wagon ride over pitted streets, and he knew it even as he brought Jack's gift into the room.

"Here," North huffed, dumping the soft mound onto Jack's lap. Bewildered, the young spirit shifted the cloth around on his lap, pushing it flat. North huffed again, both impatient to get moving, and horribly tetchy about giving in to Jack's stubborn demands to be part of Sandy's rescue plan.

"Wha - North, my old one is fine," Jack stuttered quietly. He ducked his head as he leaned back against the mountain of pillows, hiding the blush creeping into his lily white cheeks.

"Nonsense," St Nick grumped, traveling to the window sill to collect the shepherd's crook. "Too many bandages to look after, and traveling will not be pleasant. That new hoodie will be more comfortable. Bunny's design, my materials – seemed like a good idea."

To be honest, the new sweatshirt wasn't much different from the old one, save for the zipper running down the front and a few enchantments that would come in handy. That particular shade of blue was even an exact match – North had made sure of that personally.

"But I like my old one."

"Old one is still here," North soothed, smiling softly despite himself. "You can switch back to that one when you're better" He sat on the bedside chair, which gave a long creek, and set the staff on the mattress.

"Need help?" he asked. He knew the answer already, but it seemed Jack would be less likely to put up a fuss when given a "choice" in the matter. Besides, they didn't have time to dawdle and argue. With a sigh and a minute roll of the eyes, Jack took the hoodie in his good hand and tossed it at North.

"The zipper cuts the pocket in half," he griped, just because he could. North grunted, unzipping the hoodie and helping Jack situate his sore left arm into the sleeve.

"Pocket is enchanted," he explained. The raised brow his answer induced was amusing, and he stayed silent until the fleece was properly donned. He aligned the zipper and closed up the front with the word, "Watch."

As the zipper closed, the front pocket, which had been split in two, shifted on its own. The cloth wove itself together over the zipper with a quiet shuffle, and the pocket was magically whole. It was Jack's turn to grunt his acknowledgement, the sound light and pleased.

"You guys made this for me?"

"Da," North replied, standing to don his red coat. "Fleece will never lose its softness. Sleeves will never fray no matter how many centuries you wear it. The hood is little larger, for your sulky days –"

"I do not sulk."

"– and there is extra special pocket close to the heart." North picked up Jack's staff, holding it before the boy, sweeping the argument with a heartfelt sigh. "You can hide this in the breast pocket, in case anyone tries to take it from you."

The weight of his words hit home, he could tell. The way Jack blinked at him, the way his brow cinched in thought, and the way long fingers curled around the shepherd's crook, familiar and reverent. It was a heavy subject they hadn't breeched yet, and suddenly it was choking the air between them: Pitch's effort to separate Jack from his conduit, and what that may have done to invite the shadows into the young spirit's body.

A chilling breeze swirled around the men, tousling silky white locks on them both. The fresh air drew Jack's eyes up to meet North's gaze, steady and understanding.

"Ok," Jack said with a nod. No request for a demonstration of the special pocket, just trust that the enchantment would always be there if he had need of it. That's what family was supposed to do, afterall, right? Trust.

Because it would be a truly frigid day in hell before Jack ever found himself or his conduit in danger without an entourage to back him up.

"So," Jack piped, leaning into an upright posture, "Can we go now?"

North wasn't sure if "yes" was the right answer, but it was the one he gave.

He knew better than to think the mares didn't notice their presence – that was a fever dream. But as he tumbled gracelessly to the ground, grunting a silent exhalation, he knew he had made a mistake anyway. Refusing to consider how closely the mares watched had been a ghastly oversight.

His vision swam, anger threatening to overtake the balance he was struggling to maintain. He couldn't let the shadows take him. He couldn't, he couldn't…

For the children, for the children, for the children…

He felt horrible for thinking it, but he needed a child here with him. His strength was waning.

"Come on, Sandy!" strong, delicate hands picked him up, but Tooth's voice was confident, unrushed, and grave. The mares must have been easily dealt with, then. They were still weak. But a part of the ancient dreamer couldn't help but wonder. Were they targeting him because he was invading their home, or because he was becoming the stronger embodiment of darkness in the underground labyrinth?

Thick fur beneath his palms shook him out of his thoughts, and he grasped Bunny's scruff again.

"We gotta move," Bunny was muttering, his voice low and mumbling under Sandy's tired ear. "He's going gray."

"We have to find Pitch quickly," Tooth agreed. "I'll take care of the nightmares if you'll sniff him out."


Sandy spared the thought to be thankful for his fellow Guardians, and continued his mantra.

For the children, for the children, for the children…

This totally could not be happening.

"No way!"

Jamie sorta wanted to squeal when he saw Santa standing in his backyard, sleigh and reindeer ready behind him, but held his breath. He didn't want to attract his mom's attention in case she saw him squealing at what she would think is thin air. He ran to the giant man instead, arms out for a hug. He got his hug, and a little suffocation in that big beard, as he was scooped up in huge arms and held like a best friend.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, leaning back in Santa's arms to look at his face. North's smile made his eyes crinkle, but it didn't make them sparkle like Jamie remembered. The younger felt his own smile falter.

"Jamie, we are in trouble, and we need your help." The reindeer behind North snorted and pawed the ground, eager to go. Santa shook himself a little as he set Jamie back on the still-cold ground, and turned to the sleigh. Jamie followed him, climbing up on the rail to look in just like Jack had done that day they had saved the world –

The young boy gasped, swallowed it back halfway through, and held his breath. There in the corner of the sleigh, cradled by a yeti's careful embrace, was Jack. He looked even more ghostly white than Jamie remembered – gray, even. His sweatshirt had no frost, and he was so, so still. But it wasn't Jack's appearance that really bothered him; it was the look on his face: pained, weak, and tired.

Jamie didn't know what was wrong with Jack, and he knew he was probably too young to understand. But he could look at his new friend, and know something was very, very wrong.

"What happened? I thought we beat the Boogieman." Jamie was worried. Everything seemed ok around here; his friends weren't having nightmares anymore, they hadn't seen any dark horses around, and he'd had a really good dream just the other night.

"We did, Jamie," Jack replied. He sounded like he was hurting. Jamie hardly noticed Santa lifting him into the sleigh, but once he was in, he rushed to Jack.

"I don't understand," he admitted. "If we beat him, then what happened?"

Jack's eyes swam a little as he thought, and it looked like he was working hard on an answer. But maybe he was trying to remember the words to an answer he had already thought about – Jamie had seen a similar expression on his mom's face when she had to explain why his dad had to leave the country for a while, why it was important to serve.

"It was important for us to send Pitch back underground. But… I think he gets lonely down there. He… tried to force me to be his friend, and I got hurt because of it."

"Are you ok?" Jamie blurted, because what else could he do?

"I'm ok, I'm ok," Jack assured him, and took one of his flailing hands and held it. His fingers were cool, but no less comforting. "It turns out, while Sandy was gone, Pitch tried to force him to be his friend the same way, and we just didn't know it. Sandy didn't even know, and now he's hurting. We need your help to rescue him."

"Well… What can I do?" Jamie asked, his voice quiet and skeptical.

"Sandy relies on the light of believing children to exist, just as we do. You are Last Light – the strongest light." Santa said, and he smiled a warm smile that didn't last.

"I hate to ask it of you, Jamie," said Jack, "but will you come with us to help save Sandy?"

Why was that even a question? He and his friends had faced a tidal wave of dark sand, and it had only taken a brave touch to dispel it. If he knew anything, he could protect the Guardians as much as they protected him.

"Where are we going?"

"We must make a visit to Pitch's lair." North replied.

… That sounded scary, actually. But if the Sandman was in trouble, he had to help. If he didn't, what would happen to kids' dreams? Would everyone have nightmares forever?

No matter how scared he was, Jamie knew he needed to help. His dad would help anyone and everyone who needed it, no matter how scared he was. That was why he wasn't home this Easter, and wouldn't be home this Christmas.

Squeezing Jack's hand, he said, "Can we get back in time for dinner, so my mom doesn't worry?"

"Nearly there," Bunny muttered. He gagged on the overwhelming vinegar smell of fear, trying to keep the horrible sound quiet. Pitch was close, and it made him angry. But with Sandy's fists clenched in his scruff and his breath puffing over his shoulder, the scent changing with every exhalation, his concern was far stronger than his rage.

The baying whinnies of dying mares ahead of them was reassuring, easily disbursed by Tooth's swift attacks. But while the sand horses were weak, they were growing in number. Bunny had no doubt they were becoming attracted to Sandy's changing scent.

And the dream maker was struggling. Manny help them all, he was fighting so hard…

"Over here!" Tooth called down the dark path. Despite the shadows, Bunny bounded over uneven ground with confidence and grace. Or perhaps it was fear. He would have collided with the fairy if her fluttering wings hadn't alerted him to her position. He skidded to a halt behind her.

At the end of her scimitar, standing in what looked like a bottomless corner of darkness, stood Pitch Black. He hunched at the shoulders, his eyes glowing and smile reflected in the bare half-light.

"I hope the mares were welcoming," he said through his grin, and Bunny felt his fur bristle under Sandy's grip.

And just as suddenly as he saw him, Pitch was gone from view with an echoing laugh. Bunny was tilted as Sandy's weight disappeared, and the little man flew into the corner and melted into the darkness. Tooth shouted after him, flew into the corner, and collided with crumbling stone. They had both melted into the shadows…

Bunny looked frantically about, following his twitching ears. A flare of light caught his eye. Far above, on a crooked set of stairs that led to nowhere, Sandy's whips cracked through stale air, and Pitch's scythe sliced a dangerous arc. Night mares gathered in roiling swarms around them, lingering along the edges of the fight.

"We have to help him," Tooth whimpered. Bunny placed a paw on her shoulder to steady her.

"We can't. It's up to him now."

She winced at a loud crack of whips, and Pitch's resultant yell. "He'll take revenge."

"We have to trust that he won't."

The fight vanished again, re-materializing on a different staircase, and then a crumbling bridge. Bunny could see, in their movement and their reactions, that both Sandy and Pitch were suffering exhaustion and weakness. But the grayer appeared on Sandy's robes, the stronger his strikes became.

Sanderson Mansnoozie was losing himself.

Dread clenched Bunny's heart when Sandy delivered a blow strong enough to ground the Boogieman, driving him into the crumbling floor. Mares whinnied like a rabid crowd as Sandy followed after, landing squarely on Pitch's chest to pin him down. He slapped a hand over the taller man's forehead. Pitch cried out, squirming against the intrusion in his mind, and there was a pause as if he were listening.

The moment was stilted and awkward to Bunny, whose paws itched to help, to defend, to protect, to save. Pitch's withered laughter a moment later angered him.

"I can't do that, Sandy, and you know it!"

Sandy scowled, pushing Pitch's head against the blackened ground, and another cry rang through the air. Bunny wondered what it must be like to have such a silent man yell inside your head, and shuddered at the thought.

"The gate isn't mine to close!" Pitch insisted, his voice breathless and still laughing. "I've made my mistakes. It shouldn't have gone this way, but it's too late now. You have no choice! Embrace it, brother!"

The dream master snarled, shaking from the war inside himself, and raised an empty fist expectantly. Panic overtook the Easter spirit, and he bounded forward. He knew he wouldn't make it.

The sandy form of a dagger begin to build in that waiting palm. In that plummeting moment, Sanderson's face turned gray.

"Sandman, stop!"

Time froze. The horses vanished in a wave of dust. The clear, young voice echoed in the cavernous space. It was so strong and so real and Bunny felt a spark of hope flare up. Sandy had frozen before the strike, eyes wide with horror and pain. He tossed himself away from the Boogieman – a good Samaritan running from the plague. He lay there, on his side, gasping and clutching his chest as the dark filigrees danced over his robes, his face, his hair.

Bunny dared to turn around, to see if it really was who he thought it was – how could he dare to hope for such a thing…?

There stood the Last Light, closed tight against North's side and half-hidden in his fear. Bunny felt he might die of thankfulness. Standing tall beside him, too, was Jack, leaning on his staff, looking pale but determined. His hand was wrapped around Jamie's shoulders, and he tugged the boy encouragingly.

"Come on, Jamie," he muttered. "Let's go talk to him."

"Is he ok?" asked Jamie.

"He will be, as soon as he sees us."

Bunny hoped with all his might that Jack was right.

He had blacked out, he knew that much. He hadn't been himself anymore after Pitch refused to close his gateway to the darker realms. Sanderson had lost himself to shadows and ill intent, if only for a moment, before the voice of innocence cut through.

And he held an eternity's worth of guilt for that one, brief moment of true darkness. With so much of that feeling constricting his chest, it was no wonder he couldn't breathe. It was hard to hold his physical form together. Perhaps it would be easier if he let himself turn to dust for a while…

He lay where he had landed instead, fearful that changing his form before the young presence would cause further distress. That clear voice still rang in his ears, the voice that could only belong to the Last Light. His core trembled to think of the bringing the boy here – to the birthplace of nightmares – despite that it had just saved his life.

"Sandman?" Jamie called quietly. He knelt before him, uncertain. Sandy could feel the tremulous fear rolling off him, but he was so proud of the boy for being brave; it did his racing heart good. "I'm…I'm sorry we weren't strong enough to get the shadows out the first time. But I'm here now, so tell me what to do."

Oh, Jamie, Sandy thought with a rueful smile, precious Light, you couldn't have known. How good you are to me.

Sanderson's shaking hand beseeched him, and Jamie took it. It was a miracle to see the gold come back to his hand, begin to travel slowly up his arm in a wave of warmth and hope. He clutched as his aching chest, pain coming fresh as the fight against darkness was revived to a fever pitch. A single, innocent touch could dispel it from his arm, but it was up to him to dispel it from his own heart.

How could he maintain innocence after all he'd been through, all he'd seen? How could he hope to dream again? The despair hurt him as much as the shadows.

"Sandy," Jack's voice floated over his ears, making him wonder when he had closed his eyes. Also, how on earth was the winter Guardian standing under his own strength? "What do we need to do to get the shadows out of you?"

"Oh, give it up," Pitch wheezed somewhere behind him, and the darkness flared up. Sandy curled around the pain and worry. A special touch could take it away, but a single voice could bring it back. What was he to do?

"You know what, Boogieman?" Jamie said sternly. "If you were so lonely, why couldn't you have asked them to be friends instead of trying to make them?"

Were it possible, the shock would have taken Sandy's breath away.


It had never occurred to him that being alone could make Pitch do the things he did.

"I don't need… friends," Pitch snapped.

"Yes you do," Jack replied softly. "And I'm sorry we can't be there – not as long as you're doing all this dark stuff."

"Save your pity!"

"It's not pity. It's an apology. I wish I could help you."

A flare of gold blinded Sandy behind his eyelids. It felt so warm and so good that it actually hurt, but he missed it as soon as it was gone. His strength had leapt at something just there... A different presence – cool and soothing – flowed over him then, and the world behind his closed eyes turned blue and bright.

"Manny…" Bunnymund whispered.

"Oh," Toothiana gasped, "he's here!"

Manny was here. The man in the moon himself had come to intervene for Sandy's sake. Or perhaps for Pitch's sake.

"You guys talk to the moon?!" Jamie shrieked. It hurt Sandy's ears and drove such a delightful laugh from him that he found the strength to open his eyes. With the moon's presence tucked closely in, shining through a tiny, crumbling skylight, Sandy remembered something his old friend had told him upon his transformation:

Mankind can take away your body and abilities, it can diminish your will and your strength, but it can never stop you from dreaming. You must guard the thing little ones do not know they can keep.

He had to let go. He had to let it all go, or he would lose this fight. Much as he wanted them, innocence, hope, and wonder would not save him.

He knew what would.

Sandy squeezed Jamie's hand and smiled at him, mouthing a 'thank you' to the boy. He levered himself up to sitting, then to standing, feeling a little lighter than he had in several days. He repositioned his tiny hand in Jamie's, patting their connection to keep the Last Light's touch with him. He turned to face his greatest enemy.

Pain flared and darkness tempted as he gazed steadily at Pitch, who had propped himself against a collapsing pillar. His former strength was gone, but his glare was steady, and perhaps a little desperate.

He prepared his heart and his mind, and he approached the shadow king with confidence. As his heart accepted what he knew he must do, the pain ebbed, and his feet left the ground, if only by inches. With one last glance at Jamie, a warm, reassuring moonbeam on his shoulder, and his family at his back Sanderson Mansnoozie opened his mouth, and took a breath. Velvet and thunder and magic echoed through the lair.


Light exploded around them all.

Hello everyone! Happy new year! Grand news, which will also explain my extended absence: I am now officially a published author. YAY! My first piece comes out in January – a short story that has been included in a steampunk anthology. My first full-length novel will be released sometime in 2014. I'd say more here, but I don't want to break the solicitation rules for .

The story is not over! More chapters coming soon, but I'm certain my updating pattern will continue to be erratic… Sorry. Mark my words, it will be finished! On that you can count. If I were honest, the Sandy plotline was a bunny that wouldn't cooperate or leave me alone the entire time, so I'm glad it's been wrapped up, for the most part.

A bagillion thanks to my reviewers: savedbygrace94, Alaia Skyhawk, Fumus000, Lovepuppy316, falseDemigod, kyuubecky, Sheeijan, Nefertari Queen, Dragowolf, Eternal She-Wolf, E, Candle dark, Twilightheart12343, Chuni Luni, 91Silver, Mystery Cinderella, PippaFrost, FreeFallingOnAMusicNumber, IstariannaCrudgo, NinjaStar777, Oluhasuu, and a guest review as well!

And also many thanks to all the followers and readers. Ya'll make writing worth it and I love you all from the bottom of my teeny little heart.