A/N: hello again everyone! I'm sorry this chapter was so late in coming, but life and NaNoWriMo got in the way but here we are now. And as usual I own nothing so let's go
The one condition the nymphs had was that the nature should be protected. They would stay in the Warren, the center of all plant life in the world, and keep it safe and alive.
Oddly, it was Jack that they disliked. Seeing the boy of winter, one of the nymphs of the Corycian Cave, Melaina, walked up to him and said, "I preside over nymphs inside caves and in subterranean places. I know I am not of the forests or the springs or creeks, but I will say this. Your ice is not welcome!"
"But—" Jack started, staring up at her.
"Winter kills! We will not have your ice kill the life here!"
"But I haven't killed anything!"
Axioche laughed aloud before saying, "I have lived in Pisa all my life! I have seen the year without summer! I saw what you did!"
"Enough!" snarled Pitch, stepping in front of his son, staring down the lovely women. "You were born of nature, my son was born of ice. He could easily say that your life and creation destroys the winter he creates with same as you accuse him. He is not responsible for every winter that has ever killed a flower."
"You defend his annual destruction of nature?" asked Myrtoessa.
"I defend that he has not touched nature since the year without winter. He has lived in my care in the Forbidden Palace, and has only recently come aboveground." Jack was privately very glad that he did not mention the one time the wind convinced him to slip through the crack and to fly away, freezing and making it snow and stealing his journal all those years ago.
"We will keep watch. If we find a frozen leaf, we will be far less than happy," warned Melaina, before the nymphs left.
"Don't worry, Jack," said Tooth, smiling at him. "They won't actually do anything to you. They just want to protect nature."
"But winter is part of nature."
"Persephone is a harsh subject for them. Menthe most of all," was all Tooth said after a long moment. But Jack had heard that story many times and knew what she was talking about. The nymph who seduced Hades, the stolen spring goddess, how she turned Menthe into mint plant in revenge of her stealing her husband away. It didn't make it any better, how the nymphs hated him, but Jack was willing to just accept it and avoid them entirely.
"By the rising of the moon, by the rising of the moon. Put your pike upon your shoulder at the rising of the moon," Jack was singing, sitting by the shining river of paint while the adults discussed what to do. Apparently the fact that the nymphs were here meant that the Seelie were in fighting shape again. Jack was amusing himself with the little songs he knew back when Unseelie would come visit Pitch. They had all been very secretive, going deep underground and whispering the whole time, but they had been kind to Jack and a few times they had sung him a song at his request.
Jamie was sitting with him, and Cupcake was teaching him to make daisy chains, and though she had offered to teach Jack, he shook his head. The nymphs would not be happy if he plucked so much as a blade of grass, he could tell. And so he watched as Cupcake showed how to make a hole in the stem with her thumbnail, singing quietly to amuse himself.
"What are you singing?" asked Jamie, looking at Jack as Cupcake happily finished her crown of daisies.
"I don't know what it's called. But I learned it ages ago from an Irish spirit that came to visit Papa," he answered as Cupcake put the crown of flowers on Jack's head.
"Cool," she said. "Are you sure you don't want to make any chains with us?"
"Yes. The nymphs don't like me. They keep glaring at me like I've done something wrong. If I pick a flower they might yell at me again." The kids nodded, because they had seen them shout at him and it had honestly been a little scary. They continued to chat along the same lines for a while, until a nymph came to collect them, looking critically at Jack for a moment before taking them to where the adults were.
Everyone looked extremely solemn and sad, each parent going to their child, Pitch included. When they were all together, it was North who said very solemnly, "We will be collecting to retaliate. We are going to war." The children were frightened by this, but he pressed on. "First priority will be to keep you safe, children."
"The only reason we are being attacked is because of you, but because of that we will fight back. We must keep you safe," added Tooth. "Balance must be achieved, but that is second to your lives."
"But we need warriors to keep you safe," said Bunny. "We can't lock you underground in the Warren."
"So what does that mean?" asked Claude.
"It means that we will be here for one more day before we go to the Tooth Palace," said John Weber. "The Guardians will be getting her fairies and they will protect us while they try to balance out the courts and bring it all into order so they don't try to harm us."
"But how will you get the fairies?" asked Jack. "They were in cages." Pitch closed his eyes and sighed.
"Never you mind," he said, stroking his white hair. "But it will be done."
"Will you be alright?"
"I do expect so."
"This will work?" asked North, following Bunny and Pitch into one of the tunnels.
"Yes. I just need darkness," answered Pitch. "It will be disorienting for you, possibly a little painful, but it is instantaneous."
"Painful?" echoed Tooth. Sandy didn't look bothered however. Perhaps being turned into nightmare sand softened him to the Unseelie way of thinking.
"Possibly. This will do." And they came to a halt. "I will do the best I can, but I cannot guarantee anything. I can give you time. It may not be much time, it may not be enough time, but it will be time not to be wasted." The Guardians nodded solemnly, and suddenly they were falling through darkness. True enough, there was a little tingle of pain around the edges of their beings, but seconds later they were in the shadows of the Forbidden Palace. "It's just like how it used to be," breathed Pitch, reaching up to touch a relief carved into the wall. A touch from Sandy made him turn and nod, understanding. "The fairies are in the Hall."
"And how do we get them?" asked North.
"That is your task." He tossed North a bag. "The cages will open to the touch of an Unseelie. As you are the complete opposite, you will need the Nightmare Sand."
"What are you going to do?" asked Bunny.
"That I will not tell you. Go that way" he pointed "and no matter what staircase you take you will reach the Hall, it just depends on what level. Go as high up as you can." And as the Guardians did so, moving surprisingly silently, Pitch turned and walked through the shadows, emerging in the room that used to belong to his beloved son. The bed of ice was still there, the quilt still in the Emperor's Palace, the chair he had sat in when he had done his best to act as therapist, the table where the tray of food would go, the crack in the ceiling that the moon was shining through that very moment.
Help my seconds, the Man said, the message transferred through the moonbeams. Pitch sighed and rolled his eyes before turning and opening the door loudly. This room was added, it was unknown to many. It was simple to pitch his voice to sound different and call out, "I found a room! I think it's the Prince's!" slipping into the shadows, he watched as people came curiously, an illusion of footsteps and continued calling explaining the absence. It was a little painful to watch the place that had only ever been theirs become invaded even by his own people.
At the same time he stood near the entrance farthest from the hall and screamed in a frightened child's voice, "Mama! Mama! Seelie monsters! Seelie monsters!" Seconds after he heard the appropriate response of aid coming, he appeared down near the old nurseries, still untouched, and took one of the forms he used to take avoid suspicion when he lived among the mortals when it pleased him, that of an old man.
In this form he had been able to assure himself shelter as a pilgrim, taking the opportunity to craft special fearful nightmares that haunted those who received them. When he had lived among them for a time, his court felt the surge of power in response to their fear.
But this time he did not do anything but begin to sing. It was a simple song, but fond and popular among the Unseelie back long before the war, it had since become nothing but a lullaby where before it was a grand ballad of love. It sang of how when silence was around and all was hopeless love still existed and that was enough. It had once belonged to a concert repertoire that had been one of Pitch's favorites. It, like most others, told a story. That song was that of the heroine singing of how though life was bleak she still had love and that kept her strong through hardships that enemies placed on her.
Last he had heard it, the Unseelie and Seelie had practically been friendly, with minor trade of knowledge, magics, and art styles. All those who had lived then were dead but he and the Seelie King, but he forced himself not to dwell on it, for now there were people coming, curious of who was singing the familiar song in the old empty nurseries. Children who knew not what they were were just curious of the song, the adults heartbroken and touched by the choice of song and location.
And even as he sang, his voice disguised as the rest of him, he reached out with his powers and sensed the fear and panic of those who thought a child had been stolen, the curiosity of those who explored Jack's room. Distractions enough for the Guardians to free the fairies.
And so he continued, continuing from song to song, an impromptu performance of songs he remembered from ancient times. They were songs even he had forgotten. And now he wanted to remember them all, to bring them all back, to sing Jack a new song, and tell him that even though love was not always perfect, it was still something to admire. As soon as this war was done and his court restored, he would bring them back, that he promised himself as he sang a song with his reedy voice that in ancient, bloody times had soothed even children who had seen the battlefield claim parents to slumber.
And one of the Guardians had been seen. Not the whole of them, but just a little, just enough that the Palace was sent into panic. One of his Generals, a man simply called Snake, came running in, shouting to hide the children for Seelie were in the Palace and had already taken one. In the confusion it was easy to slip away, to hide in the shadows and return to his normal shape, the familiar body he had always had.
Still, in the mad rush to get the children safe, the soldiers assembled, and to find where they had been, where the child they had supposedly stolen was, and so on, Pitch returned to the Hall, and stood upon the highest processional, untouched by its slope, watching as those below him panicked and feeling guilty to adding to it. But all in all, it was for their good and he would console himself with that.
The cages were empty and it was easy to find where they were now. Appearing before them, he threw each of them through the shadows back to the Warren, before following himself, leaving his court to their fear. They would recover, and so long as he never let on what he had done, it would be enough to not feel as if he betrayed them each time he watched them bow before him.
The fairies, small as they were, were known by all to be great warriors, and fearless beside. And Pitch hoped with all his heart that they would not attack him in that moment. They did not, which he appreciated, as they were too busy flocking about Toothiana, but delicacy was the name of the game in this new shaky alliance, and he slipped away from where they celebrated their return to Toothiana with coos and high pitched squeaking.
Jack would like to learn this language, Pitch thought. Knowing him, he would. Sandy walked beside him now, both silent, but communicating all the same. As they walked past the pine trees at the entrance to the tunnel, Sandy questioned why he had chosen the distractions he had. Pitch silently explained the protectiveness of children, the fear they had that the Seelie would come and take and hurt their children again, how the Unseelie knew of their Prince, yet he shied away from saying anything about how he had gone to mourn the children by singing of love in the old nursery. For that was truly what he had done, and he had no desire to tell the Seelie Seconds exactly how he still mourned though he had Jack and had never personally lost a child to the war.
The children were playing when they came across them, the same ball games the nymphs played, and Pitch smiled for it. The children did not notice them, running past after the ball, laughing as they did.
"I swore to protect them only because their belief keeps Jack healthy," said Pitch. "But I am becoming fond of them." Sandy smiled, images of many people above his head. As are we all, he was saying.
"The human children we are fond of, your son we are not," said a nymph, tending to the mushrooms that grew nearby with great care.
"You have made your position very clear."
"He who kills nature will find no love in a nymph's heart," she simply said, before bending and kissing the head of a mushroom.
Pitch just let out a noise of displeasure and walked away saying, "The sooner I get Jack out of here the better."
The fairies began to fly around, happy with their newfound ability to do so and the space they had to do it in. None of the fairies had names, none of them felt the need to, only Toothiana had a name, and she was their queen and their mother all in one so she was the only one who needed one.
There was one particularly brave fairy, one with a series of spots near her eye and a golden feather similar to their mother's, who was flying freely through the Warren, delighting in the power she felt from adults believing in her queen mother and therefore her, and loving the stretch her wings were getting.
She flew and flew until she saw a boy sitting apart from the children who played with the nymphs, looking at the Bogeyman, the one who caught her! The Bogeyman could not have the boy too! Why wasn't queen mother doing something?!
Diving down towards him, she attacked him, stabbing with her sharp beak at any exposed flesh. She thought it odd that he was barely fighting back, and was angry when she was caught by a pair of cool hands. "Stop it!" a boy was saying. "Stop attacking him!"
When she was free, she saw that it was the boy she had seen, and began to explain the danger he was in, but the boy looked angry and he said, "I know you were trapped and I'm sorry but Papa let you free and now you can't hurt him!"
She looked between them for a while before she landed on a branch. Why aren't you playing? But the boy did not understand her, and instead said, "You're one of Toothiana's fairies. Do you have a name?" She shook her head.
"The fairies don't have names," explained the Bogeyman. "Toothiana's name is enough for their army."
"Oh. Well, would you like a name?"
"You cannot name a fairy!" but the little fairy liked the idea of a name. She squeaked happily, fluttering before the boy's face.
"I think she wants one. How about Dido?" She shook her head, noticing the smile that spread on the Bogeyman's face. It was a fond smile, one she never thought to see on him. "Penelope? No. Schwertleite? Cassandra? Andromache? Hecuba? I can't just call you Milk Tooth!" But that name was pleasing. It told of her job, what she protected and collected, the milk teeth of children across the world. Perhaps she hadn't done a good job protecting them, but it was her job.
"I believe she likes the name," offered the Bogeyman.
"Milk Tooth? Okay. Hello Milk Tooth, my name is Jack Frost." She squeaked a greeting, and there she saw it, a spark of curiosity and interest in his eyes.
"Jack," said the Bogeyman suddenly. "Have you tried flying down here?"
"I don't think Biegkegaellies' power reaches down here."
"You should try. I believe you would enjoy flying with Milk Tooth." And the newly named fairy watched as Jack climbed to his feet and took a staff in hand, lifted a little off the ground. It wasn't much, but the boy was happy, and together Jack and Milk Tooth flew.
"Tooth!" the woman turned to see Jack there, one of her daughter-soldiers perched on his shoulder. "Can you teach me the language the fairies speak?" She startled a bit at that. No one ever wanted to learn, not since the Seelie Court had stopped holding regular court. Since then, no one had ever asked but her fellow Guardians, and they gave up soon as she started.
"You want to learn?" she asked.
"Yes. How else can I really talk to Milk Tooth?"
"Who…?" but then her daughter-soldier squeaked happily informing her, Jack named me! I am now Milk Tooth!
"She wanted a name, so I gave her one."
"Why Milk Tooth?"
"I offered other names! But she liked Milk Tooth." Toothiana smiled at that and said,
"When we have time or when the war's done, then I'll teach you. But for now we are going to get you to my Palace."
"What's it like there?"
"Give it a minute and you'll find out."
"I think I had a vision of it before. This place is familiar too. It was very beautiful. Like you." Toothiana blushed a bit and fluttered off, as they waited for everyone to gather as they dragged the sleigh over, an Unseelie Spear still stuck to the bottom. Pitch identified it as having come from a foot soldier, and the Guardians had all gone deathly pale at the realization that a foot soldier threw a spear hard enough to hit the sleigh and stay in. They had agreed to not tell the children.
The nymphs promised to look after the reindeer that had been injured, and the other reindeer were to be taken with them to the Tooth Palace. None of them had enjoyed going through the portal, and so it was decided that Bunny would send them through his tunnels. They gathered around the sleigh, the adults talking quietly among themselves as the children climbed on the sleigh, excited about this new place they were going. The nymphs bid farewell to them all, even if they looked distastefully at Jack before retreating to the trees and plants around them, watching as Bunny tapped his foot and they all fell through, the children riding the sled, the parents taking a different path.
Jamie had never experienced anything like the ride through the Easter Bunny's tunnels. They were riding along in one big one, wind rushing past them as they whooped and laughed, and hundreds of other tunnels branched off, but Jamie had no idea where those went either. The ride was exhilarating, sitting in the sleigh that slid smoothly along the moss covered tunnels. It was just like sledding, but in the summertime.
Their ride came to an unfortunate end, however, and they slid out into a perfectly clear pool of water. It looked like there was a mountain around them, with trees covered with purple flowers and leaves. There were walls of rock around them, covered in murals and paintings, some fresh and clean, some faded, and some nearly gone. But it was beautiful and it was entirely different from the North Pole or the Warren.
They all turned when a new hole in another rock wall opened, and deposited their parents and the Guardians and the Bogeyman on the grass. Toothiana and the fairies were already flying away, the Tooth Fairy holding a golden tube gently as she flew away with it. Jamie didn't know what it was, but she was holding it like it was the most important thing in the world. And it could be too and Jamie would never know.
"I'll freeze a bridge," Jack was saying, climbing out and standing on the thin layer of ice that developed just for him, tapping at it with his staff to thicken it. But even as the children climbed to land, he was lifted up by a cool wind, touching the gold on the lowest platform and watching as frost spread across.
"Jack!" Pitch was calling. "Jack, come down here!" but he did not seem to, or want to, hear, instead flitting about, looking with awe at everything.
After finally catching the boy, and the humans showed to a corner of the palace that was fit for them, they were told that the children would have to say their goodbyes to Jack, as the spirits would leave to try and start conflict with the Unseelie Generals outright. None of the children wanted Jack to go anymore than he wanted to go, and so the goodbyes lasted a very, very long time. And in the midst of this, no one noticed when a little fairy recently named Milk Tooth hid in the collar of Jack's tailcoat, to ride with them where her sisters would be protecting the humans and their last tube of memories.
And with a last wave goodbye, the fae retreated to Toothiana's own version of a war room. It was there that they began to discuss the future. "Given how your people want a war, it seems we'll have to engage, and then have you talk them down," Bunny was saying. "Explain this whole balance ideal."
"I could do that," volunteered Jack. "I can explain."
"Jack, that would mean that you would be in the midst of fighting," said Pitch warningly.
"How? You just said that after they're beaten we talk to them."
"War doesn't always work that way," said North. "Sometimes soldiers not want to stop." Jack nodded, looking down. "Real problem, we have not many soldiers."
"We have the tuurngait and the tupilaq."
"But that's not enough," said Pitch. "Will the nymphs fight?"
"Never," said Toothiana. And as they tossed about ideas for where to get nonexistent soldiers, Jack furrowed his brow before he said,
"Well, what about the Emperor's soldiers? The ones made of clay?"
"The Terra Cotta Warriors…" muttered Bunny. "Plausible."
"We could make golems too…" said Toothiana. "Out of clay or rock..."
"Jack you are brilliant!" declared North. Jack smiled, even if he didn't understand why no one else had thought of it. "We will make golems immediately, and talk to Emperor about soldiers."
"Papa?" asked Jack as the Guardians went to do just that. "How will we find the people from your court?"
"It's easier than you think," he replied. "Never you fear, Jack, we will keep you safe. Now would you like to see how a golem is made?" Jack grinned and bounded after the Guardians.
They ended up with eight golems, four of clay and four of stone. Their creation had been brought about by a very long spell, one that went on for minutes at a time, all that was being chanted. Jack had watching in awe as the golems were created. Bunny's were shaped like eggs, North's looked like it had been based off of a yeti, Tooth's were shaped like a human, and Sandy's didn't look like any creature Jack had ever seen. It was magic that created them, and even as Jack was becoming more and more familiar with it, he still thought it amazing to watch.
They set out then, taking Pitch's advice to go towards densely populated areas, to find entrances to the Forbidden Palace and there would be those they sought. Jack took to riding atop one of north's golems as they made their way around the outskirts of Amritsar, searching for one of the entrances that were sure to be there. And then he felt something at his neck, and panicked because of it.
As the boy began to scream, the Guardians turned worriedly, but Pitch was already there, asking, "What is wrong? Are you hurt? What happened?" but Jack was moving his shoulders as if something was there, so Pitch reached and found a tooth fairy tucked against his neck. "Look Jack," Pitch was saying gently, holding his son against him. "It was only a fairy. Just a little stowaway."
"Milk Tooth!" he said in recognition, even as the panic was slow to drain out of his limbs and heart. "I thought you would be at the Tooth Palace!" but the little fairy just squeaked at him, and Toothiana fluttered up by them, taking the fairy and talking to her in the chirps and chitters.
"She says that she has an allegiance to you?" she said, looking at Jack confusedly. "Do you know why that would be?"
"Jack named her. Calls her Milk Tooth," said Pitch.
"That would do it."
"Should I not have?" asked Jack.
"It doesn't matter. Now you have a little warrior looking after you." And she smiled, letting Milk Tooth fly back to Jack's shoulder. "She'll help keep you safe too." And they continued on, Jack no longer frightened by the fairy and instead talking to her about the war best he understood it.
Together they walked or rode the golems in Jack's case, looking for the entrance that should have been easier to find, given how close it was to such a densely populated place. And finally Pitch held up his hand and they fell silent, coming to a stop.
"…And as we all know, the first time is so important for so many reasons," a voice was saying, and a look at Pitch confirmed that it was in fact an Unseelie speaking.
"Please stop. There are children inside that Palace." And now they knew that they had found the entrance.
"I'm just saying that if you've already walked down the aisle you already sent that postcard so you need to find a new one."
"Seriously, you need to stop." A moment's pause. "Do you smell that?"
"Smells like clay."
"You are going to come with me and we are going to find it. And if it's a threat then you are going to fight and I am going to go get help."
"Such sacrifices you will make." But now footsteps were approaching, and the Seelie readied their weapons as two young Unseelie, no older than Jack, approached, holding their spears tightly. The two young soldiers saw them, screamed, and fled back to the entrance, screaming, "The Guardians are here! The Guardians are here!"
"And so it begins," said Bunny, a grin on his face.
The Battle of Amritsar was the first. The Unseelie were led by a general named Snake, and he fought without remorse, twin blades in his hands with nasty spikes along one edge. The Guardians fought valiantly, the golems not killing but immobilizing dozens of soldiers. And Jack, the youngest of them all, merely froze the feet of those approaching him, not wanting to hurt anyone but terrified of being hurt.
The battle lasted four consecutive days as the entrance sealed to protect those inside the palace, no rest or break for food or drink from either side, even as Jack merely sat down in the middle of the ring of would-be attackers frozen from the knee down, replenishing the ice as it melted, growing weary after the third day. Pitch, armed with a scythe that required two hands to wield, took over from Toothiana's battle with Snake, shouting at him in some long dead language or another.
And on the fourth day's evening, Snake fell and was held down by Pitch, the nightmare sand weapon pressed against his neck. "Surrender!" he gasped. "We will hear you, majesty, we will hear!" And the fighting came to an end, weapons dropped and wrists held out for chains. The Unseelie were practiced in defeat.
"Listen well," said Pitch, standing before them as they waited. "You will not be chained, you will not be banished from each other, you will not even be demeaned. But you will listen and that is all we ask. Will you listen?" an affirmative rose up. "Then you will listen to my son. Jack, would you come tell?" And Jack told. And they listened.
A/N: I can't think of much to say about this particular chapter, so let's just head to the notes
Melaina: the nymph who presides over all the subterranean nymphs
Axioche: the mother of Chrysippus, a divine hero whose father was the king of Pisa (in Greece, mind). He was supposed to attend the Nemean Games but was kidnapped and raped by his tutor Laius, who was punished by the gods in addition to his city and family.
Myrtoessa: a nymph of a well in Megalopolis
Menthe: a nymph who tried to seduce Hades and was turned into the mint plant by Persephone
Jack's song: "The Rising of the Moon" an Irish ballad about the Irish Rebellion of 1798, which was first published in 1867.
Milk Tooth: just another way of saying Baby Tooth
Golems: In Jewish mythology, a golem was something created out of rock, clay, or mud. Traditionally they could only be created by the most holy people, as Adam was made of mud. But from around the 20th century onwards, as the mythos has been accepted by mainstream Europe the holiness piece has mostly faded out.
Amritsar: The largest city in the Punjab state of India. It's best known as the home of the Harmandir Sahib, the Golden Temple, and for being the site of the Amritsar Massacre during British reign.