Hey guys! Glad to see me?
OK OK, stupid question. OF COURSE You're glad to see me!
OK, just warning you for future, I have a lot of work on my hands and I believe that this is going to be the last chapter I update before my vaca. to those who actually read this story, I'm sorry, but I've GOT to finish the Boogeyman, and homeschool- what little I have of it -is taking over! Plus I've got these awesome meetings with fellow female writers on Fridays now, I'm super psyched about that!
Anyway, I might update later, but since hardly anyone seems to read this one The Boogeyman Tries to Understand Fanfiction and Somebody That We Used To Know comes first.
Still, I hope you enjoy.
One instant. That's all it took. One instant and Jack was in a completely different world, or so it seemed.
"Welcome to Arendir, little brother, " Autumn said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Or, as we like to call it, the coolest place on earth, and then some."
Jack stared, astonished by what he saw. They were in a big, round room with golden-painted walls- or they might've been solid gold. He didn't know. Light seemed to shine from somewhere, but he couldn't see any point brighter than the rest to indicate the sun and he assumed they were underground. The walls were decorated in beautiful signs and symbols and the floor beneath his feet was a stained-glass window of a tree with thousands of branches twisting off in all directions.
The light caught the gold walls and Jack was awed at the brightness of the rainbow colors that reflected off the shiny gold. Vibrant reds, light blush pinks, feather-dustings of blue and shimmering ribbons of a thousand other colors that had no name. The room was made even more beautiful by the watery golden light that was cast over them and Jack felt happier than he ever had felt at Santoff Clausen. North dealt in wonder, but this place was head and shoulders more beautiful than anything North could create, apologies to the old toymaker.
"What is this place?" he asked, staring.
"This is Arendir." Autumn replied, pointing to the doors that lined the walls. "Take a look."
Jack turned around and, for the first time, noticed the doors embedded in the golden walls all around the room. He gazed at them in awe. There were millions of doors, all stacked on top of one another like honeycombs. There were doors of every shape and size, ranging from a tiny round door about the size of a button, to a big triangle door that had tiny planets and stars drawn on it. There were doors made of brass, copper, wood, other metals and Jack even saw a few made of glass, but they were too murky to see through.
The wood doors had symbols carved on them in many languages Jack didn't understand, but he could see a few in English He couldn't read them, he hadn't had the privilege to learn to read in his village and he hadn't ever bothered to learn, but he could see the craftsmanship and care that had gone into the carvings. Some of the doors were speckled with them as if they'd been drawn in paint, others had them carved in straight lines, and still others had them marked out in charcoal or hammered into the wood and metal in gold or silver filigree
Jack gazed up at the doors in rapture. They went all the way up to the ceiling where they seemed to transform from doors into stained glass. Jack tilted his head back and badly wanted to fly up there and get a closer look, but then he remembered he didn't have his staff and looked back down at the floor glumly. As he looked down, he saw the beautiful mural on the floor and he also saw a strange glint beneath the glass floor. He bent down. There were more doors! Beneath the floor, as if there weren't enough doors on this upper level!
Jack tried to see farther down to the doors themselves, but he could only recognize the shapes. There seemed to be a million and one of them in this strange place and when Jack looked up, his eyes were caught by a black, wooden door on the far side of the room. He saw the glint of a golden name-plate and he eagerly walked forward to read it, but Autumn got there first. She stood in front of it with her arms outstretched and a stern look on her face. "Nothing of importance here, move along!" She said, pushing him away from the door.
Jack tried to fight her, but Endymion, of all people, grabbed Jack's shoulder tightly and said, "You don't want to go through that door, Frost. Trust me."
Jack ignored him, but he didn't try to get at the door again and instead pulled away from the Seasons and wandered into the center of the room, staring at the ceiling and wishing he could touch the ceiling. The thing he was in awe of most, besides the beauty, was the size of the place. It was huge and it upwards farther than he could've imagined, and the many thousands of doors that covered the walls were just to amazing for words. The details, the intricate carved symbols on the doors, it was all so beautiful he could barely stand it!
Suddenly Jack felt an overwhelming sense of dizziness and he had to lean against one of the golden walls to stop his head from spinning. "What the-" he said, shaking his head to try and rid the dizziness from it. "What was that?"
Autumn smiled. "It's the magic. There's so much magic in the place that it's overloading your system temporarily. Give it five or ten minutes. You'll be fine."
Jack looked at the golden wall he was leaning against and said, "While I do what, you think you could explain about this place?"
Summer moved forward before Autumn could say an word and when her sister Season tried to object, Summer looked at her with her piercing green eyes and said shortly, "You were just complaining about how you have to explain everything, back in Cloud Castle. Let me to the explaining again."
Autumn just backed up, raising her hands like, Hey, I don't care. Go ahead.
Summer shot Endymion a challenging look, but the spirit of spring just looked away.
"Right then," Summer said, rubbing her hands together. "Jack, this place is kind of like a railway station for worlds. There's a door for every single world here, and there's a door for every sub-world too. That one there, she said, pointing to a small green door right behind Jack, "Is the door to the Leprechaun's fields." Jack turned to stare in awe at the door. "And that one there," she said, pointing to a normal-sized door with red hearts painted all over it to his left. "Is the door to Cupid's world."
Jack just stood there, marveling.
"There are doors to every spirit's realm on this planet, and a few others." Summer said, grabbing his hand and walking him along a line of doors. "There's the door to Wonderland," she said, pointing to a circular glass door several feet above their heads. Jack stared in wonder. "And this one here..." she said, pointing to a brown door with ivy growing out of its woodwork, "Leads to the Caverns of Vizalto, the queen of Ivy. She's a nasty character."
Jack was so amazed by all this that he didn't say anything for several long minutes. Then, he finally turned to Summer and asked, "But why are we here?"
Summer smiled and pointed to four doors that were on the ground level. "Those are why. Those are the only doors to our homes. Each of us has our own home, through those doors."
Jack stared at the doors in awe. One was made of green wood and it had blue and yellow flowers growing on it. The other was painted brown with tendrils of green moss snaking out from behind it. The third was a door which was painted blue, and had a yellow circle in the center. The sun, he guessed. Jack walked closer and saw, with a loud "HA!" of delight, that there was also a door with a thin coating of ice on it and a doorknob that had icicles dripping down.
"Is this one mine?" he asked, looking from the door to the other seasons and practically jigging with excitement.
Summer nodded. "Yup. The one with the flowers on it is mine, and the brown moss door is Autumn's. The other one is Endymion's."
Jack ran to his door excitedly and was about to wrench the door open, but Summer laid a hand on his arm.
"Hang on, cowboy." she said, pulling him away from the door.
Jack cast a regretful glance at his door, wondering what mysteries lay behind it, but then he shook himself and turned back to Summer. "What?" he asked.
"Don't you want to see the ones up there?" she said, pointing to the higher doors."
Jack shrugged, glancing up. "Yeah, I guess so, but I can't fly without my staff, which your sister made me leave behind," he said, casting a glare towards Autumn.
"Don't worry, we'll get it back, but I'm not talking about that kind of flying." she said with what Jack assumed was an eager grin. "Want to have the best flight of your life?" she asked Jack.
Jack frowned, but nodded uncertainly.
Summer's smile broadened and she said, "Alrighty then. Jack, when I'm done, hold onto my feathers tightly. I don't want you falling off."
"Huh?" Jack said, but he was interrupted when Summer's head began to twitch.
Jack moved a bit to the left, away from Summer and said cautiously, "Summer? You OK?"
Summer nodded. "I'm fine." she said. "It just takes a little bit to get there."
Jack frowned uncertainly. "To get. . . where?" he asked.
Summer smiled, then her body began to undergo a strange and beautiful transformation. her hands, which she splayed out widely, spreading her fingertips to their maximum length, began to shift and turn a different color. Red- no, orange. The color began to creep up her arm as it began to grow feathers. Then her legs, covered by jeans of course, began to turn orange and soon they too grew feathers. Jack looked at her feet and saw her bare feet that all of the Seasonal spirits, including himself displayed, were beginning to darken and curl slightly.
In under a minute the transformation was complete and Jack was staring into the golden eyes of a giant bird about twice his length, with sharp steel talons and a black beak.
The bird pushed it's head towards Jack, sniffing his scent. Jack instinctively closed his eyes, then felt foolish when he heard Autumn and Endymion's laughter echoing around the chamber.
"She's not going to eat you, Jack. She's just smelling you. She doesn't know you in this form yet, but she will." Autumn said, walking over to stroke the bird's beak.
"It's still Summer," Endymion added, also coming over to pet the bird. "She's just in her Phoenix state now."
Jack frowned. "What's a Phoenix?" he asked, staring at the giant bird.
Endymion and Autumn both laughed. "You mean you don't know what a Phoenix is?" Endymion asked, laughing.
"Leave him along, Endymion. He's a winter spirit, as you well know." Autumn ordered, stroking the red and gold feathers of the Phoenix's neck.
"Jack, she's really a wonderful bird." Autumn said, turning to him. "I think you'll like her. Just put out your hand and let her lick it."
Jack did as he was told and laughed when she licked his hand. The saliva Summer's large green tongue left behind sparkles like newly fallen snow in sunlight.
"So, what was Summer talking about, 'hold onto her feathers'?" Jack asked, remembering Summer's words before she transformed.
Autumn laughed and said, "Isn't it obvious? She wants you to ride her!"
Jack froze, looking from Autumn to Summer and back again. "Um, no thanks." he said quickly. "I think I've out-done my quota for flying and not being in control of it today. Maybe next week or some-" he was cut off when Summer suddenly jerked her head towards him, forcing him to stare into her huge golden eye that was the size of half of Jack's head!
Jack felt something strange come over him then. He felt kind of whoosy, not unlike when he'd had the little dose of magic overload when they'd first come into this place, but this time it somehow felt different. He didn't feel in control of his own body and he even felt a little nauseos.
Suddenly Jack opened his eyes (without knowing he'd shut them of course), and found himself on the Phoenix's back!
"Hey, what the-" he said, but his words were lost as the Phoenix spread her wings and let out a booming cry that reverberated off the walls and sounded like a very loud and shrill violin chord. With one majestically swoop, they were in the air. Jack just barely remembered to grab onto her feathers before he was lifted up, past hundreds of doors and into the air. At first, he was terrified as Summer took him around and around the room, circling on the very edges of it like a giant bird of prey. Then, all of a sudden, he started enjoying the feeling.
Jack whooped and laughed. "Come on, Summer. Faster!" he called.
Summer let out a tremendous cry and obliged, flying around the room faster and faster until they were like a golden orange whirlwind, and Jack knew a few things about whirlwinds.
After a while he was getting a little light-headed, which was weird, since he'd been able to fly almost to the stratosphere with his staff and he cried, "OK Summer. Take us down!" Summer let out a caw in reply and swooped low, coming to rest like a plane about four feet from Autumn and Endymion, who were clapping.
As Jack jumped off the huge bird, the phoenix changed back into Summer and she wrapper her arms around her younger brother, hugging him tightly. "Oh, that was marvelous! I haven't flown like that in so long!"
"Bravo!" Autumn cried, clapping Jack on the back when Summer released him. "I knew he could do it!"
Jack smiled and then glanced at Endymion. "You did well, for a beginner." he said simply, and then he turned towards the blue door with the sun on it and opened the door. Jack craned his neck but he could see nothing beyond the doorway. Just greyness.
"It doesn't work like that, Jack." Endymion said, catching the younger spirit's eye. "You've got to be invited first, and you are not invited."
With that he walked through the door, disappearing into the nothingness and Jack jumped slightly as the door shut behind him, all on it's own.
Jack turned to the other two Seasons and Autumn grinned apologetically. "Sorry about that, Jack. Endymion's a high-strung, but you'll get used to him!" she said brightly, grabbing his arm and steering his towards the other three doors.
"So, where do you want to go? My room, Summers, or yours?" she asked, waving her hand at the three doors. "You have full permission to come into any of those three. The other doors in this place must remain closed, unless you are absolutely sure where they lead."
Jack nodded. "Well. . ." he said, sizing up the three doors. "How about my room first?"
Autumn smiled. "Ten bucks to me!" she said happily, holding out her hand towards Summer.
Jack raised an eyebrow and Summer shrugged. "I figured you'd go to Autumn's room first," she said.
Jack nodded, smiling. "And why did you think that?" he asked.
Summer smirked. "Because of the roller-coaster Autumn has in her room and thinks we don't know about it."
Jack's eyes widened. "Roller-coaster?!" he yelped, running over to Autumn's door. "C'mon, let me in," he complained.
Autumn pointed her finger at Summer. "You cheated!"
Summer smirked. "Ten bucks to me," she corrected.
Autumn grudgingly handed over the bills and a few coins, and then snapped her fingers.
The door opened and Jack saw the same kind of murky fog that had been behind Endymion's door, but Autumn just snapped her fingers again and the fog cleared instantly.
"Come on in," she said, leading the way.
Jack was just about to follow her when he looked back and saw Summer heading towards her door. "Aren't you coming?"
Summer turned around and, seeing the confused look on his face, shook her head. "No. I've got a few things to do before the Guardians get here." And with that she turned around and vanished behind her door, which promptly shut.
Jack stood there for about half a minute, looking at Summer's door curiously. Then Autumn grabbed his arm and, without warning, pulled him into her room.
Jack was about to tell her off for pulling him, but then his eyes caught site of his surroundings and he realized something.
Room was a huge understatement.
North and Bunny were arguing. Big surprise.
It was Bunny's point of view that this could all be a trap.
"We don't even know who this girl is!" he said, thumping his foot on the ground in anger and frustration.
Sandy stared off to the side, occasionally glancing in the direction of his Cloud Castle. Tooth was there, waiting for them. All alone. Well, not quite, he decided. She had Baby Tooth with her, and all the little teeth.
Sandy let out a breath and tried to tap on Bunny's shoulder, but the Pooka was too busy arguing with North.
"I realize that, Bunny, but we do not have any other choice. Besides, if Autumn is Jack's sister then she probably won't be treating him too badly." North replied.
Bunny scowled. "I'm still not convinced she is his sister. She called him Blake, for the love of carrots. Does he even sound like a Blake?"
Sandy was about to interrupt, a picture of Jack and Autumn forming over his head, but North got there first.
"Granted, the girl might be a little confused, but just suppose she is his sister. What does that mean?"
Bunny let out a grunt and Sandy was very tempted to use a huge dream-sand boot to kick him in his furry behind. Time was ticking on, and they had to get going! And. . .
Tooth is all alone, he thought again. Then he reprimanded himself. Tooth is not alone, he told himself. She has Baby Tooth.
Meanwhile, Bunny and North were still arguing. "Bunny, dis is ridiculous. Why would she want to find Jack if she's not his sister?"
Bunny threw up his paws. "I dunno, mate! Maybe she's a crackpot, escaped form the local loony-bin!"
North gave Bunny a chastising look. "The girl is no more insane than I am."
Bunny let out a laugh and started slapping his knees. His laughter softened Sandy's expression and made him regret his angry thoughts. Then Bunny opened his mouth and Sandy changed his mind.
"Maybe not the best comparison, North old man."
Sandy and North both rolled their eyes and Bunny continued to laugh.
Sandy, knowing it was mean but no caring a bit, made a giant dream-sand greyhound modeled after Abby, Jamie's dog, and made it bark loudly.
Bunny, who, despite being six-foot one with nerves of steel, as he often said, heard the noise and let out a sound of his own, much akin to the sound of air being let out of a balloon.
Before he saw that the greyhound was made of sand, he jumped up and over North, landing in a terrified and shaking heap, cowering behind him.
"Sandy!" North admonished, staring at the greyhound, then back at Bunny, who had realized his adversary was made of sand.
"SANDY?!" he said loudly, jumping up and staring at the tiny man angrily.
Sandy gave him a frown of his own and pointed in the direction of his castle.
North and Bunny looked at each other and nodded. "Yes, I'm sorry Sandy. We shouldn't be arguing when Jack needs us."
Bunny, who wasn't going to forgive Sandy any time soon for the greyhound, just huffed and said, "I ain't taking your sleigh, North."
Sandy made a picture of his dream-sand plane and North nodded. "I think Sandy's plane will do nicely."
Bunny groaned. "Haven't I made it clear that I don't fly?!"
Several minutes later, North, Sandy and Bunny, despite his protests, were hurtling across the sky in the direction of the Sandman's home.
"Sandy, can't this thing go any slower?" Bunny asked, holding his stomach.
"Sandy, can't this thing go any faster?" North asked, holding his hands up in the air like a kid on a roller-coaster.
Sandy glanced back and, only because he was looking a bit green beneath his fur and he'd already played a trick on Bunny today, Sandy kept at the speed he was in.
Bunny thought about thanking the little man, but when Sandy had to swerve to void hitting a cloud, making the plane lean towards the left and he was perilously close to falling out, he thought better of it.
"Sandy, RIGHT THE BLOODY PLANE!" he bellowed, wishing he was back in his Warren.
Sandy looked back and gave him a cheeky salute, then he turned the plane to the other side and tilted it the right, making Bunny nearly fall out the other side.
SANDY!" he bellowed again, trying to hold in his lunch.
Sandy smiled and righted the plane. North was enjoying himself immensely and he turned back to Bunny, who was looking really green.
"How's it going, Bunny?" he asked.
Bunny burped and said, "The little man is gonna bloody kill us, North. We won't reach Cloud Castle!" Then he leaned over the side and North had the sense to turn back. Pooka vomit, though more colorful than regular vomit, still smelled.
Jack stared, completely dumbstruck.
The ground beneath his feet was covered with a bed of green moss and, though he normally froze all green life the instant he touched it, this moss remained alive and fresh and even felt squishy beneath his toes. In front of him was a giant oak tree, towering up to the ceiling. Or, at least Jack thought it was the ceiling. It was the same kind of backdrop of the sky and Jack felt a slight wind ruffle his hair, so maybe it was the sky. Beyond the tree, there was a large expanse of water and he could just barely make out a boathouse on the far bank.
To his right, more trees formed a thick and luscious oak grove and to his left he could see a giant jungle-like area with trees, vines and other natural materials. It really reminded him of North's take-off tunnel, especially when he saw the loop-d-loops. It was a marvel, to say the least.
From what he could see it was built completely out of trees and branches, but the plants had grown in such a way that one could climb to the top and slide down, then be thrown up in the air and, using your momentum, landing on the next branch. The branches were all strangely large and flat, but they curved inwardly to make a kind of tube. It looked just like a waterslide, but within a jungle.
This must be the rollarcoaster Summer mentioned, he thought, turning to his older sister."How did you do all this?" he asked, amazed.
"It wasn't me, little brother. "
Jack's widened and he stared incredulously at her. "Wait, you mean this- this was waiting for you?"
Autumn nodded. "This was waiting for me, same as Summers' and Endymions'. And same as yours, I reckon."
Jack stared at the huge space around him. It looked more like a forest than a bedroom. The moss beneath his toes, the lake, the grove, the rollarcoaster in the trees and the giant oak. . . It all blew him away.
"But that's not the best thing, brother. Not by a long hot," Autumn said, grabbing his arm and pulling him along. They walked towards the giant tree and Jack noticed something that made him lose any doubt that this was more wonderful than North's toy shop.
The tree wasn't just a tree. It was a tree-house!
"Holy icicles!" Jack said as they walked towards the tree. From a distance, it could be hard to see, even with his spirit eyes, but now that he was closer he could see quite clearly.
The tree, which was about thirty feet wide, he guessed, had been completely hollowed out and he could see oval holes that had been carved into the bark of the tree and must have served as windows. They were about twenty inches wide and about that tall and Jack saw that they appeared every six feet. He assumed that meant there were different levels of the tree, each with a window.
Jack started counting the windows, trying to see how many there were, but he was jerked along by Autumn before he could get farther than six.
"This place is amazing," Jack breathed, staring down at the roots of the tree at his feet. They were thicker than him and they erupted from the earth like bumps of a sea serpent's back. Jack sat down on one of them and tested it. It didn't even shift.
"Yes, it is beautiful, isn't it?" Autumn said, staring up at her house with a loving look in her eyes. "This place was once a tiny sapling. A seed, from the great tree Yggdrasil."
Jack frowned and looked up from his seat on one of the bigger roots. "What?"
Autumn sighed happily and sat down next to him. "Yggdrasil is a giant tree that, in Norse mythology, reached with it's branches into the nine worlds." she explained. "Now, Yggdrasil is an old snag but it's seedlings, like this tree, are what keep the world together. If this tree was cut own, the whole world would literally fall apart."
Jack nodded, trying to make sense of it. He wasn't good with mythology, and he'd never heard of this ig...dress ill tree. Tree.
Something clicked in his brain and he looked up. "A tree! On the floor, the stained glass-"
"Yes, that was Yggdrasil in her prime." Autumn said, standing. "But, more of that later. I've got to show you the inside!"
Jack blinked. "Really?" he asked, staring in awe of the huge tree.
On the outside, it looked like an ordinary Oak tree, except for the windows. But the closer he looked, the more he began to notice things. There were no branches on the tree, save a few up on high. They were the regular branches, though. The ones that had leaves and even a few birds nests, sprinkled here and there. But down where there were windows, nothing. Not a branch in sight.
The tree itself was also interesting. Jack could tell it was an oak, but it's bark had a grainy texture that was dark and healthy. That shouldn't be possible for a hollow tree, Jack thought. Then he wondered what inside would be like.
"Oh, and of course you've got to meet Lazuli."
Jack frowned. Autumn had been talking to him, but he hadn't heard. "Lazuli?" he asked, turning to give her a curious look.
"Yes. Lazuli. She's the dryad for this tree."
Autumn gave Jack an impatient look. "Yes Jack, Dryad. Are you turning into a Parrot, Jack?"
This one confused Jack more than anything. "Parrot?"
Autumn laughed again. "Apparently you are."
Jack just looked at her. He obviously had no idea what she was talking about.
Autumn sighed as if she despaired her brother's intelligence. "Lazuli is the dryad that lives in the tree. A dryad is a Greek tree spirit that resides in oak trees. She's my friend, but she had a bit of an eccentric personality. Just warning you."
Jack nodded and looked back at the tree again, wondering if his room was this extravagant.
Well, if she has a rollarcoaster made from trees and vines and a lake and a tree house, I'm probably going to have the same. He thought happily.
He was about to ask Autumn a question but it- and the wind -was knocked out of him as something tall and green barreled into him, knocking him down. Jack's first impulse was to fight, but then he remembered his fight with Autumn of the tower roof and he just laid there, staring into a pair of green eyes and a green face.
"Ohmygosh,I'msosorrythatIknockedyouover,hereletmeh elpyouup!" All this was said in one quick breath and the green thing grabbed his arm and yanked upwards, hard.
Jack let out an "ow!" and the green thing squealed.
"OhmygoshI'msosorry! Ididn'trealizehumansweren'tasbendyasus!" she said. "Here,I'llhelpyouup!"
She yanked again and this time, Jack was pulled to his feet, but the momentum of the yank caused him to overbalance and fall on his face.
"OW!" he said, trying to push himself up, but the green thing still had a a hold of his arm.
"Ohmygosh,I'msosorry," she said again, grabbing the back of his hoodie and pulling him up, inadvertently cutting off his air supply and causing his face to redden and he started to cough.
"Down girl," Autumn said and the green thing backed away.
Jack leaned against the roots of the tree and tried to catch his breath. After a little bit his eyes cleared and he was able to see the green thing for what it really was. A tall, green-skinned girl in a green dress, with dark green hair and even darker green eyes.
"Jack, allow me to present Lazuli. Lazuli, Jack."
Lazuli jumped forward and grabbed his hand, shaking it vigorously.
"HimynameisLazuli,callmeLaz- becauseLazuliissuchamouthful -anditsoundsmorelikeacrayonthananame." she paused for a breath, then she was off again. "Omg,you'reJackFrost! Autumnhastoldmesomuchaboutyou, IfeellikeIknowyoualready!"
"Oh, and she might unexpectedly pop up out of nowhere." Autumn said with a straight face, looking at Jack.
"Yeah, I think I got that one," Jack grunted, trying to stand up.
Lazuli smiled and before she could go off again, Autumn put a hand on her shoulder and said, "Remember what we talked about? Breathe."
Lazuli turned to look at Autumn, nodded. "OhyesI- I mean, oh yes, I remember." she said, slowing down and speaking more clearly.
Autumn smiled at Jack and said, "Lazuli get's excited easily."
"Yeah, I noticed."
Jack tried glaring at Lazuli, but it didn't work. She was just too happy and full of life to actually be affected by his glare-of-doom, which he'd learned from Pitch and used successfully for a few months now.
Jack decided to be friendly and said, "So, Autumn told me you live in. . . a tree?"
Lazuli nodded, her dark green hair bouncing. "Oh yes, I love my tree. Oaks are the most magical wood in the world, you know!" she turned to survey her tree and Jack found himself smiling. This girl, dryad, whatever, she was pretty nice.
Autumn elbowed Jack in the ribs and whispered in his ear, "Not your species."
Jack opened his mouth and looked at her indignantly.
"Don't even bother. I know that look." she muttered to him.
Lazuli, who hadn't heard them, turned around and said, "After Autumn gives you a tour, I'd like to show you-"
"Jack's got to talk to some people first, Laz. I'm only showing him around briefly, then we're going."
"Oh." Laz said. Her smile sank into a straight line and she said slowly, "OK. Um. . . I'll see you around then. Bye." And she disappeared into a poof of green dust.
Autumn turned to Jack and said apologetically, "Sorry about that. Dryads are very emotional creatures."
Jack nodded, still staring at the spot where she'd disappeared.
Autumn smiled and waved her hand in front of his face. "Yo! Earth to Jack!"
Jack pulled back and said, "What?" kind of angrily.
Autumn sighed and said, "Come on. we've got to hurry if you want a tour before the rest of the Guardians arrive."
She then took his hand and led him around the base of the tree, to the side that had been shielded from sight.
Jack opened his mouth to speak, but no words came to him. Behind the tree, there was much more that just moss.
"I am never. . . ever. . . in the rest of my life, going to fly with that little lunatic." Bunnymund decreed, dropping onto a sand couch and sighing with relief.
Sandy gave him a hurt look and North and Tooth laughed.
"I'm serious!" Bunny yelled, to Sandy's annoyance. "That guy makes North's driving seem tame!"
North stopped laughing and shot Bunny a confused look. "What about my driving?"
Tooth and Sandy laughed, even though no sound came from Sandy's mouth and Bunny was about to reply, but Tooth interrupted them. "Come on, guys. we can discuss driving another time. Jack and Autumn said that we should come as soon as we could."
She and Sandy shared a look and Sandy nodded. He'd neglected to mention a few things to the other Guardians, among them Jack's relationship with Autumn and the fact that there were more than two people waiting on them.
North sighed and said, "Very well. Tooth, did she leave you directions?" he was still a little stung that they didn't want to bring Jack back to the Cloud Castle or his place, but it was understandable. Coming to a place of her choosing would give Autumn home-field advantage, in case she wanted to run.
"Not exactly." Tooth said, pulling out the golden leaf. "Autumn told me to blow her name on this and it would lead us to-"
"Hey, lemme see that," Bunny demanded, hopping up from his couch and over to Tooth. Tooth obliged and Bunny held it in his paw gently.
"I've seen this before. . ." he said slowly.
This caught Sandy's attention. Did that mean that Autumn had met more spirits than Jack and Pitch in her time? Sandy made a question mark and Bunny looked up.
"Eh? Oh, no Sandy, I don't remember."
Sandy frowned, wondering if Bunny was joking with him because of the greyhound thing.
"Are you sure?" North asked, peering at the tiny leaf.
Bunny shook his head. "I'm not sure, mate, but I remember seeing this kind of leaf somewhere before."
They all were staring at the leaf in his hand now. All thinking different thoughts.
Sandy was wondering when Bunny had seen the leaf before, and if it was a clue.
Tooth was wondering how Autumn had gotten such intricate details into the piece of metal.
North was wondering where Autumn was going to have them meet.
Bunny was wondering who he'd seen with this leaf before, and what it meant.
Baby Tooth was wondering when they'd all remember that Jack was gone and they needed to get him back! After about a minute of impatient waiting she zoomed down between the Guardians, chittering and squeaking and waving her hands to get their attention.
That broke the spell. The Guardians all turned to look at Tooth.
"What's-" Tooth started to ask her tiny daughter, then Baby Tooth chittered again and Tooth laughed. "She's angry that we aren't trying to find Jack." Tooth reported to the other Guardians.
North sighed and said, "Enough talk then. Blow on the thing for goodness' sake Tooth so ve can go."
Tooth nodded and blew, whispering Autumn's name as she did so. A split second later they all felt a jerk and the four Guardians, plus Baby Tooth, tumbled through a giant wormhole that had opened up beneath their feet. North yelled, Tooth screamed and tried to use her wings, but they just hung limply at her sides. Sandy tried to make a rope to haul them all out, but the sand just disappeared into the wormhole. Bunny, who like holes, jumped right in and disappeared before they could warn him.
This all happened in under a second, and in another second they were all standing in a big black room with a golden door, and that was it.
They all stared at the door, afraid to move. Tooth didn't even flutter her wings. She just stood on the ground, staring at the door.
Sandy and Bunny were doing the same. Different questions and ideas plagued each of the Guardian's minds, but one thought among them was unanimous:
Where are we?
Bunny was the first to speak. "You sure about this, mate? Anything could be behind that door."
Tooth and Sandy heartily agreed. North, however, wasn't so hesitant. He let out a nervous laugh and said, "Vhat harm could opening a door do?" he moved towards the door, but Sandy got there first, standing, not hovering, in front of North, the little man-made a big yield sign above his head.
"Sandy," North said, but Sandy just shook his head. He stood his ground and made a shooing motion.
North sighed and said, "Very vell, but be careful."
Sandy gave him and the others a glance that said, quite plainly, aren't I always?
"No." They all said at the same time, and then they all looked at each other and laughed.
Sandy rolled his eyes to the ceiling and reached for the doorknob. The other Guardians watched with baited breath, and in a second it was open. The door swung open and North, Sandy, Tooth and Bunny all surged to get out of the tiny black room. What they didn't realize was. . .
The door was about ten feet above the floor.
Tooth and Sandy managed to grab onto Bunny and North before they fell too far, but they only managed to hold them up for about a minute before gravity proved to be too much for them and landed, they fell anyway, down ten feet and landed in a heap. Well, Bunny and North landed in a heap. Tooth and Sandy let go before they were dragged down all the way and they landed a few feet away.
Sandy made a few sad faces and Tooth said, "Sorry about that, guys."
North, who had landed first, pushed Bunny off his stomach and rolled to the left, pushing himself up easily. He was laughing.
"Yeah, North old man," Bunny said, brushing his fur off. "You might want to take Jack's idea about the treadmill to heart."
North frowned and said, "Vhat's a treadmill?"
The other three Guardians laughed and North Just stood there, wondering what they were talking about.
Bunny laughed the hardest, however. He was slapping his knees and doubling over in mirth. "Oh boy, North," he gasped. "This year we're the ones giving you the presents at Christmas. A treadmill from me, a bench-press from Tooth, and a set of weights from Sandy."
Sandy made a picture of Jack and then a pair of running shoes with a ribbon tied around them.
Bunny saw it and laughed. "Yeah. And some jogging shoes from Jack."
At the mention of Jack, the rest of the Guardians looked around and, at the exact same time, all their jaws dropped.
"Holy Molars," Tooth whispered. That about summed it up.
They were in the largest room any of them had ever seen. The walls were a shiny golden color with intricate designs carved by what looked like hand. That wasn't the most amazing thing, however. The most amazing thing was, there were doors everywhere. Golden doors, bronze doors, doors of wood and doors of glass. doors painted and doors unpainted. Doors decorated with jewels, plain doors, and some doors too tiny for them to see.
"Where are we?" Tooth finally asked.
"You're in Arendir." A calm female voice said. The Guardians turned around, weapons raised. "Oh, there's no need for that," the voice said. They looked around, but saw no one.
"Show yourself, please." North said. He didn't recognize the voice. It wasn't Autumn, that much he knew.
"Yeah, Sheila. We don't like games with shadows." Bunny said, moving forward to sniff the air.
The voice laughed and something moved out of the corner of Bunny's eye. He swung around, his boomerangs raised, and found himself face to face with a tall, slender girl with bright blonde hair and green eyes. Green eyes that he knew.
"S- Summer?" he asked, dropping his boomerangs and staring at the girl with wide eyes. His heart started beating a mile a minute.
She smiled and said, "Hello Aster."
They stared at each other for about half a minute, then Bunnymund stepped towards her and engulfed her in a hug. The rest of the Guardians just stood there, wondering what was going on.
They hugged for about a minute, then Bunnymund released her and held her by her shoulders, looking her up and down. "By my sightly boomerangs it's good to see you again Summer. How've ya been keepin'?"
Summer shrugged. "Good."
"How's Spring?" Bunny asked.
She shrugged again. "He's Spring."
Bunny was about to ask another question, but Summer laid a hand on his furry forearm and said, "I think your friends would like to talk to you, Aster."
Bunny turned around and said, "Oh, yeah. Sorry mates. Ahem. Tooth, Sandy, North, this is Summer. She's. . . ah, an old friend."
They all noticed that Bunny was very nervous about something. They could tell because his tail was twitching and they wondered what it as, but nevertheless they all smiled and greeted Summer.
Tooth and Sandy already knew her, but the three shared a quick look and it was decided that they wouldn't revel this until absolutely necessary, so Tooth and Sandy acted just like they would meeting any other spirit.
"Nicholas St. North. Pleased to meet you, my dear." North said, shaking her hand.
"Toothiana," Tooth said. "But you can call me Tooth. Oh, wow, yours are spectacular!" she before Summer knew what she was doing, Tooth was poking her hand inside her mouth, examining her teeth. "Whiter and whiter! Children certainly know how to take care of their teeth these days. No evidence of brushing, however. So how did you get them so white?" Tooth hadn't gotten a chance to check the season's teeth out back at the Cloud Castle, so she decided to seize the opportunity. Plus, she knew it was how North and Bunny expected her to act.
Summer just went along with it, opening her mouth obligingly and showing them all her gleaming white teeth.
"Tooth," North and Bunny said at the same time.
Tooth looked up and immediately whipped her hands out of Summer's mouth. "Oh, right. Fingers out of mouth. I'm sorry," she said, grinning apologetically at Summer. "Very old habit." Then Tooth folded her legs in midair and adopted a kind of yoga pose, closing her eyes and breathing out slowly and carefully. "People's teeth are their own business. Peoples teeth are their own business."
she repeated it kind of like a zen mantra and Summer looked at her blankly, then she turned to the other Guardians and asked, smiling slightly, "Is she always like that?"
North and Bunny and Sandy all nodded. "Always."
Summer shrugged, still looking with an amused expression at Tooth. "It's no biggie. I've met plenty of spirits who couldn't be in the same room with me for very long. Cupid, Jack, Seamus," she ticked them off on her fingers. "Yin Lung-"
"Pardon me," North said, "But did you say Jack?"
Summer nodded. "Yes. Jack Skellington, the spirit of Halloween. I hated that guy."
North sighed. So she wasn't talking about Jack. Well, she was, but not the right Jack.
"Speaking of which," Bunny said, "Summer, have you seen our Jack? Tall kid, white hair,"
"Blue hoodie?" North added
"Really white teeth?" Tooth put in.
Summer glanced at Sandy, who gave her the thumbs up. She looked back at the other Guardians and said, "Well, I guess this is a good as time as any." she took a deep breath and stared at the Guardians. "Jack's here, with us."
North and Bunnymund looked at each other. "Us?"
Summer nodded. "Yeah. Me, Autumn and Endymion. The seasons. I thought Sandy had already told you."
Bunny and North turned to look at Sandy and Sandy sighed. This would take too long to explain in pictures, so he decided to use an easier mode of communication. ASL. American Sign Language.
I didn't tell you because you two were fighting, he signed to Bunny and North.
Bunny and North looked at each other and North chuckled. "I guess that's true."
Bunny nodded and said, "But how did Jack get with you?" he asked Summer.
Tooth stepped in, thankfully, before Summer could get started. "After Autumn took Jack, the first place she came to was Cloud Castle. She wanted to apologize to us and tell us that Jack would be safe with her, but a bunch of things happened after that and, well," she paused, looking at Sandy and Summer. "Maybe I should wait and explain this all when the rest of them are here."
North frowned. "The rest of them? You mean the seasons?"
Summer nodded. "Jack and Autumn are taking a tour of her room and Endymion is in his room. Wait here and I'll go get them. Then we'll find out how to explain all this sufficiently."
The Guardians all nodded and the instant she was walking away, Bunny and North turned to Tooth and Sandy and started grilling them.
"Why didn't you tell us?" Bunny finally said, turning to Sandy.
Sandy rolled his eyes and made an image of North and Bunny. Their mouths were moving but no sound came from them.
North and Bunny looked at each other, then Bunny said, "OK, granted. But still, you could've said something."
Sandy gave him a queer look, but Bunny turned away and the little man got the impression that he was more ticked off that he hadn't mentioned Summer being there than anything else.
North sighed and said, "Alright, look. Sandy chose not to tell us for a reason, although that reason had yet to be explained," he glanced at Sandy and Sandy stuck out his chin and folded his arms.
I couldn't care less, was his message and it was received loud and clear.
"Although that reason had yet to be explained, if must've been important." North finished.
"It was," Tooth spoke up. "They asked us not to mention them until we were here, so we could all explain it at the same time without any confusions."
North smiled and joked, "Well, that's out the door."
Tooth smiled and even Bunny and Sandy's expressions softened.
Jack and Autumn were just about finished with the tour of her place. The inside of the tree was as beautiful as the outside. The wood was dark brown and polished to gleam. Paintings hung every few feet along the wall by various famous artists like Herve, Salvador Dali, and some others he didn't recognize. There was a bathroom inside the tree too, even though spirits rarely needed that kind of thing. There was a hot tub in the lowest level, a flat-screen T.V and a computer in the second, a rec room with a pinball machine and pool table in the third, and even a library with just about every book in the world filled up the fourth level with floor-to-ceiling shelves.
"But the best is yet to come," Autumn said as she led him out onto a balcony and up a flight of stairs. Stairs, he noticed, that were more like flattened branches. He looked down as they went up and saw that the stairs, (branches,) grew out of the tree a split-second before he or Autumn stepped on them. It was like a revolving staircase, he decided. Although he'd never seen one in real life, he'd had North explain the concept to him one night when he couldn't get to sleep.
She led him up higher and higher, into the trees' top branches. He watched the ground slipping away and felt like was flying again.
"Here we are," she said. Jack looked back up and his jaw dropped. They were standing on the edge of the canopy- the very top part of the tree where there were the most leaves and the smallest branches, all intertwined to make a thick hedge-like hat for the tree. But, instead of the wild and rounded canopy you'd normally see in a tree this big, it actually looked like someone had cut the top part of the canopy off and build on top of it because, sure enough, there was a tiny little pavilion on the canopy top and there were stones, resting on the branches to lead the way.
Jack gaped and Autumn said, "Yeah. I know. Lovely, isn't it? Come on. It's quite safe. There's something about this canopy that makes it thicker and almost impossible to fall through. "
Jack was about to say yes, he'd love to, but then he heard a loud whistle from down below. Autumn and Jack both turned around and peered over the side, wondering what in the world that could've been.
Suddenly there was a flash of blonde and Summer appeared beside them. Apparently she'd just run up the side of the tree.
Jack noticed she looked really excited about something. He wondered what.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Are they here?" Autumn asked.
Summer nodded. "They're here. They came out of Sanderson's doorway."
Jack frowned. "Doorway? You mean there's a door in the Arendir that leads to Cloud Castle?"
Summer and Autumn nodded. "Yep." Summer said. "They took longer than I expected."
"Agreed," Autumn said, gazing towards the direction that Jack figured the door to Arendir was.
"So, are we going to go get Endymion then?" Summer asked.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Why should we? He's a grouch."
Summer and Autumn looked at each other, then they giggled. "Funny. That's how Endymion always described me." Summer said. "And that's what I called Autumn."
"And I've called you that on more than one occasion," Autumn added. "Maybe it's a circle thing. We've found the last season but some how the first one still gets laughed at."
Jack shrugged, not sure what they were talking about and Summer said, "It's alright, Jack. He is a bit of a grouch, but only because it's October. He hates leaving Arendir in any season that's not spring."
Summer nodded. "I get the same when it's winter, and doubtless you the same for summer."
Jack nodded. "Yeah. I prefer to stay at North's place in summer and spring. Fall is OK for me though. I get to spread a bit of early frost."
Autumn nodded. "Yeah. I can hang out in almost any weather, but only because Fall is the mid-way point. It's in between winter and summer, and it's usually neither cold nor hot."
Summer glanced down behind them and said, "Oh, speaking of North, we'd better get down there. Autumn, is it OK if we use your room for the central meeting point? I'm a little worried that something might happen in any of the others and, as you said, your room is the most neutral."
Autumn nodded her assent and Summer smiled, then jumped off the canopy. Jack moved to the side and watched her arc gracefully like a swimmer, land on her feet and take off running towards the door. Then Autumn grabbed his hand and she and Jack quickly ran down the stairs, Jack taking three at a time. He was excited to see the Guardians again, and he couldn't wait to tell them this whole thing about being a season.
When they got to the ground, Autumn grabbed his arm and said, "Hold on." Jack paused and looked back at her.
Autumn let go of his arm and said, "I think it's best if they come in here first. That way it might. . ." she trailed off, not knowing exactly how to put this.
"You don't want me going to them in case they try to grab me and take off." Jack finished bluntly. He understood. He just wished that she could trust them like he'd trusted her.
Autumn nodded. "I'm sorry, but they might think you're in danger or something. We just don't want any misunderstandings. You see?"
She was doing this for the good of all of them, so Jack forced himself to smile and said, "Yeah. It's fine."
Autumn gave him a quick hug so glad that he was OK with it, and then she said, "Alright then. I'll bring them back. Just wait for me in here, and don't go exploring too far."
Jack nodded and sat down on a root. Autumn smiled once more, and then she was gone.
Jack sighed and wondered how the rest of this was going to turn out. Would the Guardians be OK with him helping the Seasons, or would he be forced to go back with them. Honestly, if it came down to a choice between his family and his friends, he didn't know which he would choose. He didn't even know which were which.