Sin with a Grin
Summary: An ancient darkness is drawing children into the forest leaving the Guardians to fight a creature that doesn't need to be believed in to exist. Sequel to Where there is a Flame.
Author Note: Here it is folks! Like I said, the updates for this one will be erratic due to my work schedule (4 days away, 3 days home) so please hang in there if you deem it worthy. This is my holiday season gift to you all, so please enjoy it and drop a review if you deem it worthy!
It was the humming that caught her attention, a familiar tune that echoes through the wind. She turns her head and studies the line of trees looking for the source of the tune. The sledding hill was starting to clear out; kids heading for home as the sun that chased away the winter chill during the day allows the night chill to set back in across the clearing. She reaches down to grab at the tow rope hanging off her sled and looks back up the hill where a couple of kids are setting up to take their last sledding run for the night.
The humming continues, this time louder
She looks back at the tree line and walks forward, pulling her plastic sled- a Christmas gift- behind her as she works her way through the deep snow, intent on finding the source of the humming. The forest is silent, the sound of tree limbs clacking above accompany each crunch of her boots through the snow and the scraping of her sled. The humming is becoming louder and the tune more clear the further she moves into the woods. The sun finally moves beyond the hill and the shadows of the trees grow longer and larger, the eeriness causing the child to move with caution. She stops, looking around the woods as fear clutches at her chest. The tracks that should have been in the snow, imprints that would have allowed her to find her way back to the sledding hill are gone. The dead forest around her grows sinisterly dark and her breath begins to condense in the air as panic begins to set in.
There is a crunch in the snow
She spins around, gasping out a scream that is cut short abruptly
The clacking of the tree limbs as the wind blows through the barren trees hides the sinister laugh
Jack Frost crouches on a large tree limb watching as the thick snow begins to lightly coat the streets and roofs of the town below. He had just come back to Burgees after bringing a string of Nor'Easters to the New England towns, the children overjoyed with the extension to their break from school. Although the elemental should have been elated to be back amongst his first believers but his good mood dissipates quickly as he watches the somber gathering in the town's center. After 300 years the immortal has witnessed many of these types of ceremonies, ones in which the towns folk gather together holding candles that illuminate their tear stained faces while a member of the communities church says prayers.
He often wonders if the town gathered around his family and offered supports and prayers when he died and if his parents and sister found solace in the kindness of those people clutching the candles and standing close. This is a scene he's seen so many times the guardian has become almost immune to the sight but this time he can only be curious as to what has caused the community to gather.
He moves from his crouched position to sitting on the branch fully, suspended high above the gathering but low enough to hear the words and read the small tags around the candles. Jack's heart sinks when he recognizes the photograph of a young girl immortalized in the printed image.
"We gather here tonight to show support for Tabitha Coals and her family" the Church representative begins and Jack listens respectfully as he continues but frowns when he doesn't recognize the child's name right away. Since the children started believing in him more Jack made it a personal side mission to learn every young mortal in Burgees. The gathering listens and offer support to the distraught parents but eventually the citizens extinguished their candles and dispersed while the parents and siblings openly grieve. Jack watches with concern as Jamie and his friends walk home with their parents, knowing that none of the believers had seen him lurking in the trees. Jack raises his staff and leaps from the branch before dropping silently to the ground behind the raise platform the church official had been standing on during the community prayer. Invisible to the remaining adults the elemental moves quietly by them to where he can view the small memorial, his staff lightly touching the plastic sled wrapped in ribbon and surrounded by toys and candles. Jack crouches low and tries to read the newspaper clipping the best he could, his eyes squinting as he skims over the words he knows as frustration coils in his stomach.
"Come back to the church, we can speak there." The representative states, his kind face offering family support as they give the memorial a final look and walk off, the distraught sobs of whom Jack assumed to be the child's mother resounding loudly. Jack looks around the area once more before gently snatching the newspaper clipping from the ensemble and taking to the air quickly, the wind sensing his inner turmoil as it helps send the light winter spirit to his destination quickly. Jack lands with a dull thump on the narrow window sill of Jamie's new window, peering in as his young friend begins to settle in for bed. Licking his lips in hesitation Jack gently taps the window with the hook of his staff, sparking frost to grow across the glass pane and Jamie to twitch towards the sound. Jack gives a small wave as the eleven year old quickly scrambles to open the window.
"Jack!" he greet happily at the lithe spirit works his long legs through the narrow window then his torso before settling into a crouch and allowing the mortal to wrap his spindly arms around him.
"Hey Jamie, thought I'd come by and visit." He states and watches as the smiling child seats himself on the desk chair.
"I'm so glad you came! Have you ever seen my new room? Isn't it great!?" the boy asks rapidly, excitement of seeing his friend over riding the sadness he'd just been present for at the gathering. Jack smiles gently and makes a show of looking around the bedroom, his blue eyes committing every new feature to memory. The fire that had destroyed their house caused Jamie to lose everything he'd once had in his room.
Although, if Jack was honest with himself Jamie had more possessions in his room than Jack and his family had in their whole house.
But that was neither here nor there and barely a concern for the immortal now.
"Yeah… it's less cluttered." Jack remarks, still gazing about the room before dropping his gaze back to the squirming youngster on the desk chair. Jack can't help but feel a little regret in having to ask the happy and lively child exactly what happened with the girl.
"Jamie, what's going on? I saw the vigil in town.." he allows the silent question to hang and watches as the squirming child becomes still and focused, his yes growing sad as he looks downward at the floor.
"Tabby was out sledding a week ago. She didn't come to school the next day. Or the day after." Jamie admits softly, swinging his leg a bit. Jack wouldn't be much of a guardian if he couldn't detect the deep sadness in the believer's voice.
"You knew her then?" He presses, offering a comforting hand on the growing shoulder as Jamie gives a small nod, still averting his eyes.
"Yeah, she moved into town over break. We sat next to each other in home room every morning." He explains and sighs sadly; his narrow shoulders trembling as his chin join in. Jack shakes his head sadly and gently pats the mortal's warm shoulder.
Jamie is silent for a few minutes before he brings his sad eyes up to look right at Jack, the tremble in his chin growing as he curls into himself.
"She was out sledding over at the field, you know the left side… and I guess she walked off into the woods. When she didn't come back with the other kids her mom called the police." Jamie sobs loudly then, his whole body curling into itself. After three hundred years of solitary wanderings Jack isn't exactly sure how to comfort the child but tries his best anyway. Long arms wrap around the grieving child and pull him into Jack's naturally chilling embrace but Jamie doesn't seem to care if the cold seeps through the thin sleep shirt.
"Alright, it's alright." Jack soothes, trying to allow the youngster the time he needs but the need to know all the facts before he can move forward.
"Did they find her Jamie?" he asks softly and Jamie seems to shudder harder in the immortal's arms and that's the only answer the immortal needs. Gently he pushes the teen back from his shoulder and tilts his chin so Jack and look directly into his eyes.
"It gets better Jamie. It gets better I promise you. The pain you are feeling fades and eventually all you will remember are the good things." He states as more tears slip down the mortal's freckled face in large drops to become frozen as it touches Jack's skin.
"You promise?" Jamie asks in a sobbing hitch and Jack gives him a small grin.
"I wouldn't lie to you Jamie." He states solemnly and the brown haired boy gives him a nod before wiping away his tears.
"I listened to you… Me and Sophie. We haven't gone near the woods." He assures and Jack feels his heart swell with pride.
"That's good. Please, please remain out of the woods alright?" he demands again and Jamie gives a shuddering nod.
"After what happened to Tabby I don't think I'll go into the woods ever again." He replies furiously, allowing the sadness that had been present a moment before is replaced with a bitter anger Jack can see swirling violently in his brown eyes.
"You can't make hasty decisions like that after something bad happens. I thought you wanted to be an archeologist? They are out in the woods all the time." Jack reminds gently, hoping to steer his young friend away from making decisions in childhood that will impact his future.
"I-I know… I just…" Jamie trails off, shaking his head and moves away from Jack back to his bed. Jack watches and slowly backs towards the window, recognizing the signs of someone who wants to be alone with their grief.
"It gets better Jamie." Is all he can offer before slipping back on the narrow window and easing it down till no cold air can escape. With a final look at his young friend Jack leaps into the breeze and moves along the air towards the sledding hill. The wind howls violently and throws the immortal around but Jack is use to the rough treatment and uses it to his advantage to bring his narrow body into the darkened woods quickly. Jack's feet slam into the crunchy snow with enough force to create a thick spray of icy crystals.
"WHY DID YOU DO THIS?!" he roars into the darkened forest, staff held out in a defensive stance ready to strike at shadows. He can sense it, the darkness lurking behind the trees and bushes the laughter echoing out of the shadows as Jack moves in a small circle, eyes darting around anxiously. The darkness is there but it is old, the feeling of it still sinister and evil but not as vibrant as what he felt that day when he warned Jamie to stay out of the woods. His breath catches in his throat, anger coiling in his stomach at the failure.
His failure to protect a child
Tears burn behind his eyes and he blinks furiously an angry snarl curling his lips back
"I will find you." He quietly vows, his words carried by the lashing wind that had gathered around him. With a final look around the shadowed forest Jack takes to the sky with a growl.
"Take me to Santoff Claussen." The wind happily obliges, the strength of the gusts encouraged by the elemental's anger and rolling emotions.
Nicholas St. North sits huddled over at his work bench, goggles magnifying the intricate detail of his newest invention as he lightly taps at the ice with tiny fingertip tools. The fire behind him blazes away in the hearth and the elves move about the room performing small duties while the master toy maker works and hums along to the antique record player in the corner.
"This song… from my boyhood." The Russian announces happily as the track switches and a classic Russian temp picks up, bringing the toy maker's fingers to tap against the work top and his heels to hit the floor boards as the tempo picks up speed. The music drives the toy maker into a sculpting frenzy as he begins to etch away at a larger section of the toy. The elves bounce along with the music, their bells jingling happily as they work. The energy inside the work shop is lively and energetic ad North happily laughs at the elves antics, taking a break and stretching his back carefully.
"NORTH!" the shout accompanies the slamming of the workshops window and a vicious gust of bone chilling air that causes the roaring fire to sputter and struggle to burn. North turns to glare at the visitor, annoyed at the inconsiderate entrance.
"Really Jack, that is no way to enter another's home." He scolds but the elemental brushes the words aside, his words frantic and body language erratic.
"There was a child in Burgees who disappeared. No trace. She was just gone." He explains quickly, voice harsh and lacking its usual cocky edge. North frowns, he'd never see the younger guardian act in such a manner and stands, intent on stopping Jack's agitated pacing.
"Jack, calm down." He tries, reaching out to place a soothing hand on the narrow shoulder but Jack quickly dances away, his blue eyes growing haunted for a second before returning to the nervous agitation.
"No, no North. The kids are in danger." He informs, nearly hysterical as his chest heaves for air. North's eyebrows shoot to his hairline at the mention of children in danger and quickly works at calming the trembling, nearly hyperventilating teen so he can get more information.
"Jack, you need to calm down and tell me what has happened." North demands, taking the erratically pacing immortal by the shoulders and physically stopping his movement. Jack's hand brings the hooked staff upward in an attempt to strike out but the warrior simply bats it aside before bringing his face in close to Jack's, meeting his eyes.
"Calm. Down." He orders and for a moment Jack stops breathing, his body shaking violently but eventually Jack takes a deep heaving breath and blows it out, sense flooding back into his eyes as he finally nods. North holds the teen for a moment longer before setting him back on his feet.
"Now, tell me what has happened." The large Russian states, giving Jack a moment to compose his thoughts.
"There was a girl in Burgees who went missing… she was out sledding near the woods. She's gone North, disappeared." He informs, breath still hitching painfully but the immortal states.
"Jack, children disappear in the world all the time, for reasons we cannot bring ourselves to understand fully." North informs, wishing that he was able to teach the child this lesson later on in his guardianship. It was a lesson none of them liked to learn and it always hurt to hear a child losing their life due to something beyond their control.
"No. No, you don't understand. It wasn't a humans doing." Jack stresses, catching the older guardian off guard with the acceptance he can see behind the blue eyes.
"Did you think that after three hundred years I haven't seen the cruelty a mortal – even an immortal- can inflict upon another?" He allows a bitter laugh, so out of place for a jovial, carefree child like Jack. North shakes his head sadly at the idea but can't help but acknowledge the insight of a child left to his own devices for so long.
"I am sorry to assume Jack." He apologizes but Jack simply brushes it aside with a wave of his hand, telling North it is a subject the immortal teen would rather not touch upon.
"How do you know it wasn't a human responsible for this girl's disappearance?" North presses gently, getting the subject back on track. Jack gives a shudder and steps away a moment later, his ice blue eyes growing dark.
"I sensed it."
"Sensed what Jack?"
"Darkness, an old darkness North."
Author Note: So… how does everyone like it? Oh… I like the idea that it is Slenderman… very interesting plot twist…