Hi everybody, me again! Yes I know it's been a long, long time since I've updated, but I'm working incredibly hard to finish this story before summer's over. I also have a limited amount of computer access, but that's going to change when I get my new computer! Which should be happening soon. So never fear, this story is not abandoned! And I have not abandoned fanfiction at all! quite the contrary. Tomorrow I plan on catching up on all of the new updates I've missed in the last month and a half, which, again I apologize for.
So, before I let you guys loose on my next chapter let me thank you once again for being so very patient, and let me thank my good friends Xion5 for never giving up on me, Fanty for her patience, Drago and Star and all my other friends for being so helpful to me.
"Who?" Pitch demanded. "Kozmotis, I don't remember seeing this boy in any of my visions. Who is he?"
Kozmotis smirked. "Pitch, I'd like for you to re-meet your adoptive son, Nightlight."
It took five long seconds for Kozmotis's words to sink in, and with each second that passed Pitch's eyes grew wider and wider until he finally managed to open his mouth and say one word.
Kozmotis busted up laughing. He couldn't help it! The utterly bewildered look on Pitch's face was about as rare as a blue moon, and he was probably the only person to have seen that look, so he was going to take full advantage of that fact. Plus, you know, the look itself was absolutely priceless.
Pitch gawked at his other self, half in shock from the bomb shell that had been dropped on him and half angry that he dared laugh at him! What, what does this mean? He wondered, looking from the laughing Kozmotis to the boy in the cage. Truth be told, he looked nothing like either of them. The white hair which illuminated the interior of the cage did indeed stick out in all directions like his own, but instead of sharp spikes or a long ponytail, this boy's hair curled and twisted like snakes, as if the strands were alive.
"K-Kozmotis," He stammered, the shock still making it a little difficult to speak. "What are you talking about?! Does- do you mean I have another child? And… and Seraphina has a brother?"
Kozmotis barked out another laugh. "Boy, you really don't listen do you?" He asked, cocking his head to the side and grinning at his other self. "I said adoptive didn't I?" Then he turned to look at the boy in the cage. "No, sadly Archaline and I only had time for one child, but Nightlight might've just as well been ours."
Pitch gaped at Kozmotis for about another five seconds, then he snapped his jaw shut and just blinked owlishly at the boy inside the cage who, though he looked just as sad as the others, actually managed to smile back at them. Pitch blinked. Had that been a trick of the light?
"Wh-where did he come from?" He asked finally, and once he started it was like he was unable to get the words out fast enough. "How old is he? What is he?"
"Well, that's still a bit of a mystery," Kozmotis admitted and Pitch whirled around to face him.
"Which one?!" He demanded.
Kozmotis shrugged. "All of them."
Pitch couldn't help it. His jaw fell open and, for the second time in mere minutes he stood gawking at his other half. Thousands of thoughts were reeling through his mind, among them: WHAT?! and, He didn't know where he had come from, how old he was or even what he was and he let him be around our daughter?! The latter actually made its way out of his thoughts and through his mouth before he could stop himself and when he said it, he noticed a flicker of movement in the cage out of his peripheral vision.
Kozmotis regarded him thoughtfully for several minutes, his face a blank slate. Just like Pitch and their daughter, he had the gift of completely obliterating any visible emotions when he chose; except for this time it was taking all his strength to keep his face calm and neutral. Why didn't Pitch understand? He had gone through almost the exact same thing!
It's because he doesn't remember, the little voice that Kozmotis had taken to calling his commoners sense told him.
Kozmotis sighed. It was true. He didn't remember anything, other than the false memories and little snippets the Fearlings had allowed him. Therefore he, Kozmotis couldn't blame him for his reactions. He didn't remember the boy, or his story. So it was natural that he would be distrustful and angry at him for letting him be around their daughter. He just had to set him straight about it and tell him Nightlight's story.
And so he did.
"First of all," He began slowly, trying to remain calm and composed. "Seraphina hadn't been born yet when the ship came back with Nightlight on board."
"Ship?" Pitch interrupted, puzzled. "What ship?"
Kozmotis sighed in irritation. This was going to be harder than he'd thought. "The ship that brought Nightlight back from his planet," he explained patiently, though it was clear that Pitch's rudeness and insensitivity was getting a little more annoying with each word he said. "Now, don't interrupt."
Pitch opened his mouth to do just that, but the hard look Kozmotis gave him was enough to make any reply he could have made wither and die in his throat. Gods above, who knew I was so scary, even as a human! He thought, averting his eyes from Kozmotis's.
Kozmotis folded his arms and nodded in approval. Pitch might be the Boogeyman and Nightmare King, but he was Kozmotis Pitchner, General of the Golden Age. He had struck fear into many a monster, demon and vengeful spirit's heart. Not only that, but he'd been a father. And to a pretty adventurous little daughter at that! He had had to think up some creative stories to tell her to keep her from wandering off, which was probably where Pitch got his talent for terrifying tales.
"That's better." He grunted. "Now, the ship I was talking about was a beautiful two-masted Brigantine ship commissioned by the Man in the Moon's father, Tsar Lunar the eighth, on an exploration mission to see how many planets on our star system could support life."
Pitch listened intently, wondering what this all had to do with the boy. Was he a captive?
"They were gone a year," Kozmotis continued. "And when they came back the ship was nearly torn to kindling by sky pirates, half the crew was dead, along with the Captain. The one good thing that came out of that mission was this boy, Nightlight. He was much younger than he is here of course," he added, pointing to the boy in the cage. "About the size of an eight year old, and he didn't have any armor."
Pitch frowned. "Wait, so did your men take him away from his family?"
Kozmotis gave him another look and Pitch flinched slightly, remembering the no interruptions rule. Then Kozmotis chuckled and shook his head.
"No. According to the report and interviews I had with the men of the ship, Nightlight had been hiding on a small planet at the farthest reach of the star system we called Dantowi and he was alone. He couldn't talk then, but he showed them the ruins of his home and they assumed that he'd been the only survivor of a Dreampirates raid. He seemed to be alright, as far as nutrition was concerned, so they took him aboard. Later they found that he absorbed his energy and strength from light, and that is why we gave him the name Nightlight."
Pitch, who had gotten past most of the shock he had been feeling once Kozmotis had assured him they hadn't taken this boy from his family, nodded. It was better to just accept this as truth and move forward. "Very appropriate." He commented. He was feeling a little better about asking questions, but decided to word them as politely as possible, should Kozmotis get pissed at him again. "So, did he tell you anything else about himself? Who his parents were?"
Kozmotis shook his head. "We didn't pry, Pitch. It was obviously a painful topic for him and we chose to make him a new family, rather than keep the only one alive by talking about them."
Pitch nodded. "I understand. But still, there must've been theories." He pressed. "A child doesn't just show up out of the blue and people won't talk about who they think he is."
Kozmotis nodded and chuckled. "Oh yes, there were numerous theories. Some people thought Nightlight was the son of a constellation and a star- and no they are not the same," he added when Pitch opened his mouth. "Some people thought he was a member of a race older than even us that we barely have any record of, but the most popular theory– and the one I personally believe –is that Nightlight was the illegitimate offspring of one of the Lunanoffs."
Pitch frowned. "The king and queen?"
Kozmotis nodded. "Just like the baby boy I knew and the Man in the Moon you know, Nightlight had amazing gifts with lights and an astounding resilience towards fear. This was a trait that the Lunanoffs have handed down through the generations, and when we found out that Nightlight possessed it, well..." He grinned a little sheepishly. "It caused a bit of an uproar at court."
Pitch laughed. "I can imagine," he said, looking back at the boy in the cage. He could only see his eyes and hair through the bars, but he could've sworn the boy was smiling.
Kozmotis nodded. "But yes, Nightlight was a kind and very caring boy. He stayed with us for about ten years, training with me in the art of being a soldier and taking care of little Seraphina whenever possible. He doted on her like his real little sister and, though we tried and tried to teach him he didn't talk much, he taught her her first word. Light." The memory brought a tear to his eyes and he wiped it away before continuing. "After...that happened, he and Sandy scoured the star system and beyond, looking for you."
Pitch closed his eyes. "But they didn't find me." He whispered to himself, subconsciously thinking back to that time.
Honestly, it was all just a big blur to him. His consciousness had been created automatically from Kozmotis's as soon as he had woken up, but the Fearlings had smothered it and used his body like a puppet to let him leave the place he now recognized as the Lunanoff Palace. After that, it was just a bunch of blotches. He vaguely remembered the fight with Sanderson, killing Archaline and getting thrown into that tree by Seraphina, but that was it. After that, nothing until the Guardians had broken the barrier that had kept him from taking control.
"No, they didn't." Kozmotis agreed. "And the only reason Nightlight wasn't there with Sandy on the night you attacked was because he was still out searching for you. Just like Seraphina, he still had a childish hope that the man he has once called father was in there."
Pitch felt guilt twist his stomach again. "And he was right," he said firmly. "Even if you hadn't gotten free yet, if he had found me I think I would have turned out much more differently."
Kozmotis shrugged. "We'll never know." He replied. "What happened happened, and there's no point in thinking about the what-ifs when there's more important questions we both need to be asking."
Pitch nodded. Finally, they got back to the cages. "Indeed we do." He said, looking at the cage with its black tendrils winding around the bars and a cold look grew on his face. "So, do you have any ideas about why it wouldn't open?"
Kozmotis turned to him and shook his head. "No. I felt certain that, when you touched it they would respond to your element and open. I don't know what would have happened then, but I assume they would've just all opened and this would have been over."
Pitch nodded, thinking this over for a few seconds. "Did they do the same thing to you when you tried to open them?" He asked, knowing immediately from the rueful look on his face that it was.
"Yes," Kozmotis said bitterly. "I must've tried to open those damn things a hundred times before I realized what would happen."
Pitch nodded and, seeing Kozmotis's frustration suggested that they go back around again and try to spot something they had missed. Like a switch to open them all or something else of that nature. Kozmotis nodded and they made another loop of the cages, this time checking the ones without actual people in them, but they found nothing. The cages were just that: cages. The doors were being kept shut with dark magic, and they would have to find something to counter-act that dark magic in order to open them.
At least, that's what they thought.
Pitch getting frustrated. Actually, scratch that. He was already extremely frustrated and was teetering towards the realm of maniacal fury. With each round he made, searching for a way to open the cages he got a little closer to just snapping and hurling bolt after bolt of nightmare sand at the cages until they broke open, even though he knew that wouldn't work. Still, it was satisfying to imagine it.
He was hovering on a cloud of dreamsand, just above the cage which housed the Lunanoffs and looking at them through the bars. It's cruel, he thought. Not just to me, but to these memories. I'll be lucky if they are complete when I get them. If I get them.
He sighed. Kozmotis was hovering on the other side of the room next to Sandy's cage, looking it up and down in an effort to find a way in or a way to get him out. Pitch watched his counterpart fruitlessly searching the outside of the cage from top to bottom and he had to look away. Seeing Kozmotis so determined to find something that probably wasn't even there was enough to make him feel sick.
They probably don't even open, he thought bitterly, turning away from the Lunanoffs' cages and descending down through the air towards the ground. I wouldn't put it past them. This will probably all end up being another of their sick jokes and my memories are all dead already. I have no chance of finding them, none! Just like I never had a chance of being-
But before he could finish that thought, Pitch noticed a quick flash of light from one of the cages out of the corner of his eye.
Pitch stopped and blinked. What was that? He wondered, looking around at the cages. There was nothing here that could make that kind of glint. Everything was dull and dark here, just the way the Fearlings liked it. The only true source of light was Kozmotis, and he only glowed golden. The flash of light he had seen was more blueish, or even-
"Silver," Pitch whispered, raising his head and looking up.
Straight into the eyes of Nightlight.
Pitch blinked again and rose upwards, wondering what the memory of this boy had done to make such bright light. "Nightlight?" He asked as he drew level with the cage.
There was a flicker of movement inside the cage, as if the boy had nodded.
Pitch frowned. He'd thought these memories, battered and abused though they were, weren't capable of doing much more than crying and moaning in pain. They weren't the real people, after all. Just memories and reflections.
"Nightlight," He said quietly, looking over his shoulder to make sure Kozmotis wasn't watching. "Nod if you can understand me."
The same flicker of movement. It was true! The boy could understand him!
Pitch opened his mouth to call Kozmotis over. Maybe this was a clue to opening the cages! But before he could even get a word out, the boy moved again. He leaned his head and body slowly towards the bars and into the meager light until, for the first time, Pitch could fully see his face.
Though most of it was still in the shadows of the cage, Pitch could clearly see that unlike Sanderson's or any of the others, Nightlight's face was unmarked by scratches or any other evidence of the Fearlings' abuse. His skin was already paler than Jack's, but his bright eyes made it positively translucent. Not only that, but his eyes also cast a light bluish glow around the inside of the cage and as the light rebounded off the bars, Pitch noticed a slender white finger rising silently to the boy's lips.
He frowned. "What does that mean?" He asked, but he did it quietly. "I can't tell Kozmotis you can understand me?"
Nightlight slowly shook his head, then he lifted his hand away from his lips and pointed down towards the bottom of his cage.
Pitch looked in the direction he was pointing and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. There, where he was absolutely one hundred percent sure it had not been before, was a lock. And it wasn't just any old lock.
Pitch frowned and sank down a few feet so that he could look directly at the lock. "Where the hell did this come from?" He demanded, flicking his gaze up at Nightlight. He was smiling again and Pitch could've sworn he heard a quiet laugh from the cage above him, but he ignored it. This lock was more important and deserved his attention more than the boy did. In all honesty, it looked like a plain old padlock and was made from the same material as the cage, though less rough. Like it had been sandpapered and smoothed over.
But that wasn't the most unique thing about this lock. Instead of a keyhole in the center, it had the shape of a trapezoid cut into the metal and Pitch frowned, reaching out a hand to touch it, but Kozmotis appeared behind him before he could and forced his hand away. Apparently Nightlight's light hadn't gone as unnoticed by Kozmotis as Pitch thought it had.
"Do you want to get zapped again?!" He demanded angrily, but Pitch yanked his hand away.
"I wasn't going to touch the bars, idiot." He snapped, gesturing to the strange lock before them. "I found a lock."
Kozmotis, who had been about to spit back an acidic response, instantly forgot about Pitch's insult and leaned in over his shoulder. "Really? What kind?"
Pitch shrugged and turned back to the lock. It looked nothing like a traditional keyhole, and Pitch couldn't even see the inner mechanisms. "It looks like one of those child-games," he told Kozmotis. "You know, like putting a colored block in the hole that fits that shape."
Kozmotis nodded. "I had one of those for Seraphina when she was three. I cut them and painted them myself. " He said and for a second he grew misty-eyed as he remembered his time with his lovely little daughter. Then he shook his head and the look faded. "Have you found any others?"
Pitch shrugged. "I haven't looked yet. I just now found this one!"
So they looked through the caged again, and discovered that only the six cages with actual physical representations of the people in Kozmotis's memories had the locks on them. The one with the one with Sandy in it had a circle, the one with Archaline had a diamond, the side of the cage with his mother had a square, the side with his father a triangle, the cage with the Lunars' a moon, and the one with his little Seraphina in it had a star.
"What do you think this means, Kozmotis?" Pitch asked, looking from one cage to another after they had made sure there were no more locks. "Do we have to go find keys now, or should we try to open them ourselves?"
Kozmotis shrugged. "Truthfully, I have no clue. I've never seen these locks before, and I have no clue how they work. Maybe we do need keys, but that would mean leaving here to find them, and we can't do that. There's a chance they won't let us back in if we do."
Pitch raised an eyebrow. "I thought you had control over everything in here?" He asked.
Kozmotis nodded. "I do, but so do they. And there are about ten thousand of them in here, and only one of me."
Pitch nodded in understanding. "Ah. I see."
They stood in silence for a bit, each of them regarding the trapezoid lock and trying to think of ways to break it. Pitch was sure that blasting it with nightmare sand wouldn't make a dent, as it hadn't with the cages, but maybe using the sand as a lockpick might! He voiced his idea to Kozmotis and Kozmotis said they could try it, but he didn't sound very confident and sure enough, when the sand entered the lock, it didn't work.
Pitch wasn't very surprised, to be honest. These cages had been made from the darkest powers of the Fearlings, and it wasn't going to be easy for him to break them.
Kozmotis suggested that he try to pick the lock with his light, but that was a bust. The lock didn't even allow the light to enter the trapezoid-shaped hole. It just rebounded off the lock and sent reflections of his light bouncing all across the room, nearly blinding Pitch when one ray rebounded off a cage and blasted him right in the eyes!
"AAH!" He yelled, throwing his arms up to warn off the light. And can you blame him? He had been walking through dark forests and looking in dim cages for however long he'd been here, so the light was bound to hurt. Pitch ducked his head down and covered it with his robe, just in case of another painful onslaught of beams was heading his way.
Luckily for him, the light eventually stopped reflecting off the cages and when it did, Kozmotis tapped Pitch on the shoulder. He looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame and Kozmotis had to fight hard to keep from laughing. "Pitch, are you alright?" He asked. The light hadn't affected him as much or as severely as it had Pitch, considering he was made from light, but he was still blinking spots from his eyes.
The angry growl that came from beneath the Boogeyman's robe in response nearly made Kozmotis completely lose all vestiges of self-control. "I am fine, thank you Kozmotis. But in future, could you please refrain from blinding me with that damn light of yours?!"
Kozmotis smirked. "I'm sorry; I didn't know that would happen." He apologized, though he'd actually had a hunch it would. Light and dark, it was like trying to mix oil and water. No-brainer.
Pitch slowly raised his head and lowered the arm of his robe. "Is that damn light gone?" He asked, looking around but keeping his hands tense in case it was just waiting to attack again. Or, at least that was what it looked like to Kozmotis.
"Yes Pitch, it's gone." Kozmotis told him, patting him reassuringly on the shoulder. He'd seen the fear in Pitch's eyes when they had first met; the terror as a great, golden figure of iridescent light towered over him, ready to kill him. Or so Pitch had thought at the time. Once he had revealed himself and Pitch realized he was in no danger, the fear had disappeared. Still, he knew that- though he would never admit it, he was afraid of light.
Pitch still looked a little uneasy, but he swallowed the majority of his fears and turned to the cage again. "Alright, so we've established that our respective powers do nothing to this lock." He said, looking at the trapezoid lock with intense dislike. "So what do we do now?"
Kozmotis bent down to examine the lock once again. He didn't touch it yet, because he wasn't sure if he would get zapped again. "Did you touch it?" He asked Pitch, without taking his eyes away from the lock.
Pitch rolled his eyes. "No, remember? You grabbed my hand because you thought I was going to get myself electrocuted by darkness again before I could."
Kozmotis nodded. "Hmmm. Maybe you should try it."
Pitch raised both eyebrows at that. "As I recall, it was you telling me that the cages would kill me if I got zapped too much."
"Yes, but I don't think the locks will hurt if you touch them."
The eyebrows lowered into a frown. "Are you sure?"
Kozmotis shook his head. "No. I'm not." Then he added, "Then again, neither of us have really been sure since you got here."
Pitch nodded in acknowledgement. That was true. "Well, there's only one way to find out." He said, lifting his hand up and readying himself for the violent shock that was very likely to come as he went to touch the lock. His fingertips were millimeters away, and Pitch closed his eyes, wondering what would happened if he wasn't shocked. Would the lock break? Would it fall to the ground and disintegrate? Would the cages break apart all at once and would his memories finally be free?
Kozmotis's thoughts were almost the exact same as his other half's'. Excitement made his heart flutter and he almost bit his lip in anticipation. Both of them were so intent on the lock that neither of them noticed the movement in the cage above them, and when the thin, white hand descended from the cage which held the young boy called Nightlight, neither Pitch nor Kozmotis saw it until it was wrapped around Pitch's wrist.
Pitch would swear to the end of his days that he did not scream, jump or in any way react like a common human when he felt the cold fingers close around his wrist. Though, since no one but Kozmotis had been there it really wouldn't have mattered. Still, it was a matter of pride, not truth. And the truth was, he screamed like a woman. And Kozmotis wasn't much better.
When Pitch screamed and leaped back, almost losing his balance but regaining it again once he realized what the cold touch was, Kozmotis did the same and then some. He didn't scream, but he did leap back as if a scorpion had bit him and when he realized what the reason for Pitch's scream was, his eyes widened to the size of dinner plates and he was unable to speak for shock.
Pitch experienced the same phenomenon, but only for a few seconds. Then he recovered himself again and glared at the hand. "Dammit boy, what was that for?!" He demanded, instinctively touching the wrist Nightlight's cold fingers had wrapped around.
Nightlight withdrew most of his arm back through the cage bars, leaving just the milky-white hand that was reminiscent of a glove resting outside the bars. The fingers were curled in a lazy fist, but when Pitch snapped at him all of his fingers but one tightened into a more sure fist and the single free finger straightened. He was pointing.
Pitch turned around, wondering what the boy was pointing at. Kozmotis was still too shocked to move. As Pitch followed the direction of his finger, his eyes alighted upon the side of the cage where his father resided. He frowned.
"What?" He asked, looking from his father's cage to Nightlight's slim finger.
Nightlight didn't respond verbally; only gestured more insistently to the side of the cage that held his father.
Pitch looked from the cage to Nightlight again. "Nightlight, I don't understand. What do you want me to do?" He asked, trying to discern any meanings or reasons in his movements, but he couldn't figure out what the boy meant.
Nightlight rolled his eyes, again reminding Pitch of his grandson Jack, and shifted the direction of his finger down so that it was pointing to the lock. Then he leaned forward as much as he could so that they could clearly see his face, and shook his head.
Pitch frowned, looking at the lock. "You don't want me to touch the lock?" He asked, wondering why the boy would want him to do that.
Nightlight nodded very deliberately. Then he pointed to the cage that held his father again.
Pitch frowned again. "But you do want me to touch the lock on the other cage?"
At this point, Kozmotis had overcome enough of his shock to swallow, open his mouth and ask, "H-how?" His voice was very shaky, even for one word.
Pitch ignored him. "Why?" He asked Nightlight. "Will it hurt?"
Nightlight shook his head and pointed again at the other lock.
"H-how can-" Kozmotis had to gulp again before he could get the full question out. "How can he understand you?"
Pitch glanced back at Kozmotis, then at Nightlight. "That's a good question, but I don't know." He told Kozmotis. "How can you understand us?" he asked, directing this question at Nightlight.
Nightlight gave them a smile, then he turned his gaze to look straight at Kozmotis. He didn't make any movements or signals, but some message still passed between them and Kozmotis's face changed from confused to happy in less than a minute.
"The dagger," he whispered, not taking his eyes off of Nightlight. That had to be it!
Thoughts whirled inside Kozmotis's mind amidst intense feelings of joy, relief, confusion and a little bit of fear. Kozmotis knew from when he had heard the boy's name earlier that Pitch didn't know the boy and therefor hadn't seen him before, but what he didn't know was if the Guardians had seen him since the battle. If they had, that meant the boy in the cage was either a really strong memory, or-
"Dagger? What dagger?"
Kozmotis broke out of his thoughts to see Pitch staring at him in confusion. He internally winced. Oh shit, I forgot! He doesn't remember the fight either! Kozmotis took a deep breath, knowing that he was going to have to explain things veeeery carefully, or else risk confusing Pitch even more.
"Well, Pitch..." He began slowly, drawing out the words in an effort to buy some time to think. What was he going to say? That the boy in the cage was part of a soul that had transferred through a dagger when Nightlight had sacrificed himself to beat the Fearlings? That this might be the only part of the boy that still exists? No, he couldn't tell him that. "Do you remember when the F- when they," He corrected automatically. He didn't even like saying the word Fearlings. "When they were in control of our body, at the last battle before the Guardians…brought you to the surface?"
Pitch sighed. Kozmotis was being really nervous about something, and it was beginning to annoy him. "Yes," he told him tiredly.
Pitch rolled his eyes, fixing him with the stern gaze of the General who had lain dormant for so long. "Kozmotis, just spit it out." He told him.
Kozmotis sighed. He might as well get this over with and, once that thought sparked in his mind, the words began to tumble from his mouth like stones, each making him feel a little more guilty but no matter how he wished it, he couldn't stop. "In that fight, the Guardians were only able to defeat you because Nightlight sacrificed himself to stab you with an ancient relic dagger that was given to him by the Man in the Moon's father made from diamonds and moonlight!"
Complete and utter silence.
Pitch stared at Kozmotis like he was a total stranger- or at least off his rocker –and was unable to think of any response for several very long minutes.
Kozmotis sighed, half in relief and half in regret. There. It was out. Now he was beginning to feel a bit better, though guilt still gnawed in his heart for the boy who had been like a son to him. Nightlight had sacrificed himself to save the world, because he, Kozmotis hadn't been strong enough. "From what I know," he said, a little more slowly and with a notable tone of sadness in his voice, "the dagger pierced the Fearlings and, because it was invested with moonlight, it temporarily trapped them. Giving you full power, for the first time."
Pitch was still staring at him and, though the expression in his eyes was completely indeterminable, there were the tell-tale signs that he was thinking very hard; a slight widening of the pupils, a miniscule shift in his lids that gave him the air of being slightly sleepy. This expression lasted for a long time, unwavering and immobile and after a bit Kozmotis was getting uncomfortable.
"Pitch," he asked after a while. "Say something!"
Pitch blinked once, then he slowly nodded his head. "OK."
Kozmotis blinked once. Twice. "OK?" He echoed. "That's all you're going to say? OK?"
Pitch shrugged. "I really don't have a response to that Kozmotis." He responded, his face a clear mask of emotionlessness. "I'm thankful to the boy, and I understand his sacrifices, but there isn't anything else for me to say."
Kozmotis opened his mouth, ready to defend everything Nightlight had done and tell Pitch that he should be begging for forgiveness from the boy, but before a word escaped his lips he stopped. It really wasn't fair of him to be angry. Pitch was right. He didn't remember the boy, he didn't know how much seeing him ripped away from the world had hurt. He couldn't.
Kozmotis sighed and nodded. Pitch turned back to the cage with the boy in it.
"So, you don't want me to touch this lock?" He asked again, just for confirmation.
"But I can touch the lock on Kozmotis's father's cage?"
He nodded again.
"Alright." Pitch turned towards the other cage and crossed the space of the room until he was standing before the side of the large cage which held his father. He reached out a hand to touch the lock, but before his fingertips made contact Kozmotis, yet again overcome with worry, grabbed his arm. Pitch turned to look at him with a raised eyebrow. "What?" He asked, somewhat irritated.
"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" Kozmotis asked, looking from Nightlight to the cage that held his father. He trusted Nightlight more than almost anyone, but he was worried what would happen once Pitch touched that lock. "Absolutely sure? It could be dangerous, or another trap set by the Fearlings."
Pitch nodded and shrugged off the arm. "True, but hasn't this entire place all been a trap?" He asked.
Kozmotis conceded the point and tried not to feel insulted when Pitch shrugged him off. "Yes, but still. Are you sure you're ready for whatever these things are going to show you?"
Pitch shook his head. "It doesn't matter if I'm ready or not." He told Kozmotis firmly. "It's either touch the lock and see what happens, or stay here and wait to be eaten alive by the Fearlings."
Kozmotis sighed again. "Alright."
Pitch nodded and turned back to the lock. Kozmotis noted the stressful veins pulsing in his neck under the black cloth of his robe and the white knuckles of the hand which wasn't inches away from the lock. Pitch was as stressed out as he was! More so, probably.
"Here it goes," Pitch muttered, again bracing himself for a world of pain. There was less than an inch between his fingertips and the lock now. If this doesn't work I will never forgive myself for leaving Tooth, he thought. Half an inch. Oh please, please don't make this hurt!
And then…. It happened.
Skin touched metal, and Pitch Black felt fire erupt throughout his entire body. Some of it white-hot fire, as if molten metal was being poured into his veins and some of it a subtler, softer fire. But it was still fire. The feeling spread from his fingertips like lightning to the rest of his body and Pitch felt his other hand crackling with energy and power, but he forced himself to control it. Whatever this cage was doing to him, he would not let it overcome him! He closed his eyes, feeling a tidal-wave of emotions engulf him as he struggled to remain in control.
Kozmotis however, didn't close his eyes. He was too astounded by the sight before him.
To put it simply, Pitch looked like an angel. No, he did not have a halo on his head or white wings sprouting from his back, but once he touched the strange metal lock a jolt of magic was released in the form of white light that crawled up Pitch's body and down to his feet, outlining him in luminescent white. The white light was pulsating gently, like a living thing, and with each pulse that went out the light grew more and more bright until Kozmotis could barely see more than a cloud of holy white light and the cage in front of them.
"Good luck Pitch," Kozmotis called loudly as Pitch felt the tongues of soft fire licking his body begin to grow warmer. "I have faith you'll do what you need to and beat this!"
Pitch tried to respond, but the power of the lock was too immense and all he could hear was the ringing in his own ears as he hurtled forward what felt like pane upon pane of ice-like glass, ripping his very being to shreds and then assimilating them back together on the other side. Just like shadow-traveling, he thought idly. Then, as the strange feeling began to fade and the world around him began to re-form, he thought, I hope I'm doing the right thing.
At first it was slow. All he could see was flawless white and some blurry shapes. Then, as time passed- how much time he had no idea, the blurry shapes grew more pronounced and the blinding white were replaced by a rich green landscape and brown towers with explosions of bright color at their peaks. And then, in sudden burst of bright fire and light all the blurry shapes and colors sharpened, and Pitch Black found himself traveling at rapid speed, straight towards a green ground.
The impact hurt a lot less than he thought it would. Thankfully the grass was exceptionally soft and he only suffered from a minor head-knock. However, the softness of the grass did nothing for the bruising of Pitch's ego as he virtually face-planted into the ground, swallowing a fair quantity of grass and dirt as he skidded to a halt inches from the bank of a winding rainbow river.
"*cough* Ack!" Pitch sputtered, spitting out a mouthful of grass and trying to get to his feet. His body felt weary after all the beatings it had taken, emotionally and physically, and he did not need face-planting into grass on top of everything else!
Once he had managed to get to his feet, with no small amount of cursing mind you, he tried to get a good look at his surroundings. It was an odd place, no doubt about that. It reminded him strangely of a movie he had seen a few minutes of a few decades back while scaring a six-year-old who had eaten too much chocolate. Willy…something. There were thick, sturdy brown-trunked trees with flowering buds of every color all ringing the farthest reaches of this place, glowing flowers that sprouted absolutely everywhere, mounds of earth with green tops of grass that looked like stepping stones and when he looked down again-
A rainbow river?!
"Where the hell am I?" He asked, more out of confusion than anger. He had never seen this place before, not in the thousands of years he had been on earth.
He took an uncertain step backward, only to trip over an unseen something and go sprawling on the ground with a yelp that would've shamed Jack.
"Ow!" He howled, rolling onto his stomach to try and get up again but coming face to face- or rather, face to shell, with something he totally did not expect.
There was a little white egg standing not two inches from his nose.
Pitch stared cross-eyed at it for a few minutes, then he remembered that he was the fearsome Nightmare King and he said softly, "I have two words for you: Breakfast... item."
The egg gave a little EEP! and ran away on its short little legs, towards what appeared to be a pile of boulders but when Pitch got to his feet he realized that they were, in fact, giant stone egg statues.
"What the hell?" He asked in amazement, walking over to the huge masses and looking them up and down. Half of them seemed to be embedded in the earth itself and they had crude features chiseled onto their faces, unlike the smaller, moving one he had seen. They actually looked familiar, but before he could realize where he had seen these things before he noticed the little white egg again, peeking out from behind one of the big statues.
"What?" He asked snidely. "Is mommy going to protect you?"
Then the stone statue heads turned, revealing angry and war-like faces opposite the benevolent ones and Pitch decided to leave this vicinity quickly before he became even more injured than he was now.
"Scared of egg golems," he muttered to himself as he hurried away, watching over his shoulder as the golem heads turned back to happy and benevolent and the little egg gave a victory skip. "What am I coming to?"
But that wasn't the oddest thing Pitch Black was fated to see in this strange, new world.
Once Pitch was sure the egg golems weren't going to sneak-attack him, he stopped looking over his shoulder and started looking around a little more. There was nothing but green, flowers and growth as far as the eye could see. The glowing sun shone down on the trees, highlighting their colors and providing plenty of shade, should he need a shadow for a quick escape. Eventually the grass he was walking on thinned out into a small path which led up small hills and down into little valleys, but the changed didn't faze him. He was too curious and wanted to know where this strange little trail was taking him.
Eventually, the trail took him up a very steep hill and only when he stopped at the peak did he realize that he had been subconsciously following the strange rainbow river. He frowned and watched as the water-paint-liquid rainbows-whatever the hell it was sank down what looked like a waterfall and landed in a big pool below, then began to flow down the riverbed again. It looked strangely beautiful, and Pitch Black wasn't one to use that word often. Still, the shimmering colors as the liquid fell and caught the light were quite gorgeous, and Pitch found himself walking down the thin trail down to the flatlands below.
"It feels like I've been here before," he muttered to himself, looking from the flowing river no more than a foot away from him to the grassy meadow below. It was true. There was a strange déjà vu-like feeling pressing on his mind and he tried to ignore it as he descended down the path, but he couldn't get it completely out of his mind. The landscape, the rainbow river, it all seemed so eerily familiar! Especially those weird stone golem-things.
"But where in the seven hells would I have seen giant egg golems before?!" He asked himself as the path slowly sank from diagonal to horizontal and he felt grass beneath his feet once again. Honestly, with all the green moss growing on them and their texture, they looked like something-
He had been so far away that he hadn't noticed it before, but now that he had trekked across the flatlands and up those emerald hills, the figure that had been hidden behind them was now suddenly clear as day. He was sitting on a rock by the rainbow river, legs crossed, with a small object in his right paw and what looked like a stick in the other. His furry grey ears stuck up like twin radio-towers, swiveling from side to side as if waiting for something. Or someone.
"Something the rabbit would have." He finished in a whisper, staring off across the field.
Aster's ears swiveled around again until they were facing him, but his face never moved and his concentration never wavered from his task. Whatever it was.
Thoughts whirled around in Pitch's mind as he stood and stared at the still slightly blurry figure in the distance, intermixing with questions and the small amount of knowledge he had about his situation. He didn't recognize this place from any of his memories, but it was clearly the Warren. Or at least a memory or something of the Warren. He didn't think he had made it all the way out of his mind quite yet. Though why the lock had seen fit to bring him here of all places was a complete mystery to him.
A year ago, when he had ruined Easter to try and be believed in again, he sent his Nightmares to do the dirty work. He had directed them to the tunnels and let them loose on the eggs, but he hadn't gone himself to make sure of their damage. And that was why he hadn't recognized the world around him until now. He still wasn't sure where he had seen the stone Golems before, but that was a question for another time and he put it out of his mind as he began walking again, intent on demanding an explanation for this. A part of him knew that if this Aster was only in his mind he wouldn't tell him anything he didn't already know, but he didn't care. He just wanted answers.
As he got closer, Pitch began to notice more of the little details that had been too blurry to see before. There were seven great stone archways set into the wall behind the rabbit, each covered in intricate designs and each had a wooden carving covered in more green moss of what looked like the continents above them. The continents were a slightly darker shade of green than the walls they were carved from, and each continent- save Alaska, were almost completely covered in glowing golden lights.
Just like North's globe, Pitch thought as he climbed over small hillocks and other rises on the roving ground. It had looked deceptively smooth from up on high, but now that he had descended the waterfall-side path and was walking on the soft, green grass he could feel the bumps and dips that seemed to undulate beneath his feet, as if he were walking on a living, breathing thing.
What a gruesome thought. Pitch had an awful image of a pair of eyes looking up at him from the grass and shook his head to rid his mind of such disturbing images. Not the time for that. Aster still hadn't seemed to register his presence, other than to swivel his ears in his general direction. He just kept on painting that egg- for egg it was in his furry right paw. He just kept sitting there on that rock by the river, painting that egg, and by the time Pitch actually reached him he was wondering whether the swiveling ears were purely coincidental.
"Rabbit?" He asked, a little hesitantly. He wasn't sure what he would want to be called, so he settled on a non-committal label.
Bunny looked up, but he moved so slowly that Pitch knew he wasn't surprised. When their eyes met his lips parted in a smile and he set the egg and brush down on the ground beside him, dusted himself off and stood up with his muscular arms folded against his even more muscular chest. "Well well well…" he said, looking Pitch up and down. "What took you so long mate?"
Pitch looked down at his feet, feeling strangely self-conscious. Aster was one of the two Guardians he hadn't had any positive contact with yet, so he was unsure of how to respond. After an uncomfortable few minutes, he decided on retaining his normal attitude of aloofness and a slight hint of scorn. At least until he learned where he stood here. "Am I late?" He inquired, raising an eyebrow.
Bunny laughed. "Not really. Though I must say, it took you forever t'get down that path."
Pitch shrugged. "I was looking at the scenery." He responded, taking another opportunity to glance around. There was a large plot of land not six feet away that looked like a garden, and another archway cut into the rock behind Aster and to their left. This archway was etched with the records of great battles past, stretching far back in time before humans fully inhabited the earth.
Bunny laughed again. "You were lookin' at the scenery," he repeated with a touch of mockery in it. "Who knew the Nightmare King was a fan'a my home."
Pitch looked down again at his feet, trying to control himself. Before, he probably would have flattened the rabbit, regardless of what he was and where they were for mocking him. Now, he tried to calm himself down and tell himself that Jack mocked him every day, and this was no different. But his mind stubbornly refused to accept it. Jack was family, the part of him that was still the old him insisted. And soon so to would the rabbit, he told it.
"I've never been here before," he said, trying to keep his voice calm and steady. "And though I prefer the dark yes, I do have an appreciation for green and growing things. My daughter is Mother Nature you know."
Bunny's laugh echoed merrily off the water. "Oh yes Pitch, I know." He said, a little too smugly for Pitch's liking.
He was about to ask, "Just what do you mean by that rabbit?" But before he could Bunny picked up the egg and paintbrush he had been working on, dipped the brush in the river, and studied the half-finished egg with a critical eye.
"Do you paint, Pitch?" He asked in a conversational tone, still looking at the egg.
Pitch blinked, thrown by the question. "Ummmm…" Oh real intelligent response there Pitch.
"I know ya like reading a lot and listening to music," he went on. "But have ya ever picked up a paintbrush and just let that dark magic flow through ya, out onto the canvas?" Aster looked up at him, smiling. "I think ya would be good a'it."
Pitch blinked again. "Uh, no. no I… I haven't painted much." He admitted, somewhat confused by the rapid one-eighty degree turn the conversation had taken. Aster was still looking at him expectantly, so he went on. "I did try it in the fourteenth century when that de Vinci fellow came poking around my home and I scared him out of his wits by making a gargoyle from the local cathedral come to life. When he left he left his materials behind and I…" He paused. The memory of it was so embarrassing to him now. "I tried to copy one of my favorites. The Scream. It…didn't go so well." He admitted, blushing slightly.
Bunny's smile broadened. "Well, at least you tried." He told him encouragingly, putting down the egg and patting Pitch's shoulder. "You can't be afraid to fail ya know."
Pitch laughed bitterly. "Oh, truer words never said." He muttered. While inside he was thinking, can't be afraid to fail, rubbish! I am failing. Then the more determined part of him said, but I'm not afraid of it! "Now," He said, shaking his head to remove all those useless thoughts from it. He had questions, and was planning on getting answers. "Can you please tell me what the hell I'm doing here, rabbit? Or are we going to stand about chattering all day?"
Bunny let his paw slip down from Pitch's shoulder as he fixed the Boogeyman with a strange and somewhat off-putting look. Pitch looked back, raising an eyebrow as if to ask, what?
Finally, Bunny nodded. "Yeah, I thought you'd have some questions. That's good, because I got some too. Follar me." He said, turning around and walking away towards the archway cut into the rock. Beneath it there was a great stone door imprinted with a rabbit sitting on his hind legs. There didn't seem to be a keyhole or a knob, but when they drew level with the door Bunny slammed his foot down hard on the ground and the stone retreated into the ground, swallowed up by the magic earth.
"This way," Bunny said, heading immediately for the dark tunnel hidden behind the door. Pitch followed him, slightly bemused. He was curious about what was going on, but he knew from experience that people didn't give up answers unless they wanted to. So he kept silent.
They walked and walked for what felt like hours, passing room after room after room. None of these rooms had doors, so each time they passed one Pitch took a quick peek inside. There was a great cavern full of armor, an empty room, a room full of paintings, another empty room, a room with a few straw mattresses in it, and still more empty rooms. By the time they reached Bunny's destination, Pitch had counted twenty three empty rooms so far, and he didn't doubt there were more.
"Sorry about the mess," Bunny said when they entered. "I don't get much time to clean up around here."
Pitch followed him through the maze of painting easels and tried not to get any on his robes. The clutter in this room was unbelievable! "Why don't you move some of these to a different room?" He asked after nearly tripping over a scattered pile of paintbrushes on the floor. "You must have enough empty rooms in this place to house thousands of easels."
Bunny froze in the middle of stooping to pick up a crumbled piece of paper he had kicked.
Pitch didn't notice the effect his words had had until he bumped into the still frozen rabbit. He frowned. "Aster?" He asked, reaching for the rabbit's shoulder.
Bunny unfroze and straightened at his touch, but he didn't turn around to look at him.
Pitch's frown deepened as he began to sense the strong, unmistakable scent of fear radiating from the rabbit's body. Like rotten eggs, the smell permeated the room in an invisible cloud of anxiety and worry. Bad memories hung onto the edges of the cloud, threatening to resurface and Pitch wasn't sure what he should do. Something he had said had clearly resonated with the rabbit, and not in a good way.
"Aster-" he began again but Bunny shook his head, still not facing him.
"Bunny." He corrected. "Call me Bunny."
Pitch raised an eyebrow, but he nodded and didn't comment as Bunny began clearing off chairs for them to sit on. He relocated a few pieces of paper to the trash bin, picked up several sets of paint tubes and put them in a nearby tray, then he sat down and invited Pitch to do the same.
Pitch sat. Silence fell once more. Bunny's fear and anxiety was still there, though it had lessened some. Pitch frowned, trying to subtly search the rabbit's mind for a source but for some reason, all he saw was blackness. Just…black. No cause for grief, no reason for worry. Nothing but encroaching darkness.
"You can feel it, can't ya?"
Pitch blinked, coming back to the real world- relatively speaking. Bunny was still sitting across from him, looking at him and watching his face carefully. "Feel what?" He asked, in case prodding fears was considered rude.
Bunny's expression never wavered. "My fear. You can feel it."
Pitch shrugged. "I feel everybody's fear." He replied. "It's what I do."
Bunny nodded slowly. Then asked, "What's it like?"
Pitch's courtly decorum slipped once again as the question prompted yet another confused look to creep onto his face. "What?" He asked, frowning.
"What does it feel like?" Bunny repeated. "Feeling other people's fear? Is it cold, like ice? Warm, like fire? Does each person feel differently when ya sense their fear?"
Pitch blinked slowly at Bunny, unsure if this was a roundabout attempt to trick him into talking about his feelings of a genuine question, in which case it would be the first time anyone had ever asked it to him.
After a while, he answered. "It's…different for each person." He said, searching for the right words. "For some people they feel cold fear… like the fear of the hurt or abused who are too weak to do anything about their predicament but still hate their tormentor. Then there's those who feel hot fear, like the thrill of a child riding their first rollercoaster or watching a horror movie. Then there's the mixed fears like anxiousness and the blank fears like adrenaline. And, to feel that through people…" He paused, closing his eyes against the horrid memories. "It's a curse I would not wish upon anyone."
Bunny nodded slowly, drinking each word as it was spoken and when Pitch finished, he asked, "Can you feel ya own fear?"
Pitch frowned, again surprised by the rapid change in conversation. "Of course not," he replied automatically. "I'm not afraid of anything."
Bunny laughed again and his serious expression faded a bit. "Oh we all know that's a lie, Pitch." He said, his emerald eyes twinkling. "Everybody's afraid of something, even the great Nightmare King."
Pitch's expression hardened. "I am not afraid." He said firmly, glaring at Bunny through slitted eyes. "I am the master of fear!" His blood had begun to boil at the mere mention of being afraid.
The expression on Bunny's face morphed yet again, from mirth to what looked like pity. That enraged Pitch even further and he slammed his fist down on the arm of the chair. "STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT!" He roared, glaring daggers at Bunny. He had always hated being afraid, and he hated even more the feeling he got when he was confronted with the reality that he could be afraid. In truth, the fact that he could still fear things was why he had remained mostly human all these many, many years and he knew it. He just didn't like it.
But his outburst seemed to have no effect on Bunny whatsoever, and he just continued to sit there, placidly staring back at him.
After another long stretch of silence, he spoke. "You know," he began, speaking in a neutral tone that strangely irritated Pitch. "I've found that alotta times, when people say what they aren't and believe it, later they prove themselves to be the exact opposite."
Pitch started walking towards the door so fast that he didn't even remember standing up. He was so angry that he was seeing red as he stomped towards the doorway, away from Bunny. How dare he call him a coward! He was the great Nightmare King, afraid of nothing! He was the master of fear, and every single creature on this earth and more used to quail and quake in terror when they heard his name!
Pitch didn't look back. It was a waste of time coming here. If the rabbit was just going to insult him, rather than help him get through this blockage or whatever the hell Kozmotis had called it, then-
Pitch stopped and swung around, his ashen fists clenched. "WHAT?!" He yelled, ready to blast the meddlesome rabbit but when he turned around, to his surprise, the room was empty.
Pitch blinked, lowering his hand in which a ball of black light had already begun to form and looked around, wondering if he was just hidden behind one of his easels. He took a few steps forward cautiously, in case this was another trap, but nothing happened.
"Aster?" His voice echoed uncomfortably around the big, cluttered room, reminding him eerily of his own home. "Aster!" He called again, beginning to get worried now. What was going on? Where was he? "Dammit Aster if this is a joke," he began but, before he could finish he felt warm breath on the back of his neck.
"Oh this is no joke mate."
Pitch spun around, both hands extended and a ball of black sand writhing in the center of each, ready for any surprise-attacks. "Aster, what the hell are you doing?!"
A spooky laugh echoed around the dark room. Pitch hadn't noticed it before now, but once he and Bunny had entered the room it grew much more bright and alive, but now that Bunny was 'gone' it returned to its dull, lifeless state. The easels became squat goblins hunched over with paint-brush lances and the buckets of paint became drums, standing ready for an evil army to begin beating to signal an attack.
"Well, ya see mate," Bunny's disembodied voice said and Pitch tried to focus in on the source, but the room made his every footstep as he slowly navigated through the room echo like strokes on those drums. "When you first came in here, ya asked me what'cha was here for, and I didn't answer ya. I did that for a reason."
Pitch rolled his eyes. The rabbit was trying to scare him. Him! The King of Nightmares! He had no idea why, the idea was so ridiculous that he had never thought about someone- besides Abby of course, trying it, and he had no idea how to respond. After a few seconds he decided that he might as well play along with whatever game the rabbit was playing. "Oh, do tell." He drawled, still keeping his eyes carefully attuned to catch any flickers of movement. "Was it to annoy me? Well congratulations, you've succeeded. Now will you stop screwing around and come out of the dark?"
There was that strange, eerie laugh again and this time Pitch felt the tiniest prickle of anxiety on the back of his neck.
"Oh, but I thought ya liked the dark Mr. Closest-stalker."
Pitch gritted his teeth. "What's the end-game, rabbit?" He asked. His bravado had been definitely knocked down a few pegs. "Why am I here?"
"Why, to face ya fears, a'course." Bunny replied.
Pitch tried to keep calm as he slowly turned around to face the smug Pooka leaning against the stone wall behind him. "For the last time," he growled. "I do not…have…any…FEARS!"
Bunny remained smug. "Lie." He told him. Then he smirked. "You're quite good at that, ain'tcha? Do you ever tell the truth, Pitch?"
"Of course I do!" Pitch snarled, taking long strides towards the Pooka, intent on skinning him and using him as a throw rug, but before he reached the other side of the room Bunny tapped the floor with his foot and a hole opened up before him, which he quickly hopped into.
Pitch blinked in amazement as the hole sealed shut, as if it had never been there to begin with. He had no idea the rabbit could do that!
He stayed staring at the closed hole for a full minute before he shook himself out of it and straightened. He didn't speak, but he knew that the rabbit was still around here somewhere, watching him.
"I'll admit mate, you do tell the truth occasionally."
Pitch was getting severely tired of this. "Of course I do." He repeated, closing his eyes to try and block out all the excess noise. He needed to think. What was Bunny trying to accomplish with this, this game of shadows? He was clearly trying to annoy him, but he felt there was a bigger reason. He'd said something about facing his fears, and Pitch was about to ask what he had meant but Bunny spoke before he could.
"But never to yaself."
Pitch's eyes snapped open. "WHAT?!" He roared, his eyes blazing with black fire.
"You heard me."
Pitch made a sound like a rabid pitbull. A low growl deep in his throat. "You…are so lucky I don't flood this room with sand right now!" He practically screamed, his dark powers dripping off of his fingertips and landing on the floor like sandy oil.
"Now, what would that accomplish?" Bunny asked, this time sounding like he was hiding right behind the easel in front of Pitch.
Pitch didn't even bother looking. "It'll get you out of my hair," he snarled.
"Really? Now, think about this before you answer. Will it really make you happy to kill me and continue living the way you are now?"
Pitch was so angry he could barely think. Shadows were crawling all over the room, disorienting him and making him see a thousand outlines that looked like the rabbit hopping all over the room. "STOP IT!" He yelled, hunching over and trying to cover his ears, but the voice of the rabbit continued to worm its way through the tiny gaps in his fingers and into his mind.
"Fear is a poison, Pitch. It festers and corrodes away at the heart, soul and mind if left uncontested for too long, as I'm sure you know full well. And pretty soon, ya hidden fears will becomes so strong that eventually, they will rule ya life."
"No!" Pitch screamed. He could not deal with this. It was a lie! He didn't fear! "No, no no nononono NO!"
"If you keep maintainin' this lie Pitch, yer never gonna be able t'live the life you want, no matter how well you hide it! It will come back! Fear is a barrier, and if you can't accept the truth as to what you are afraid of and why, it will destroy everything ya love most. Tooth, Jack, Sandy, everything."
"NO!" Everything was whirling around him like a tornado. The room had become a shadowy blur of dust and darkness that caught him in a vise and refused to let him go. His stomach felt like it was going to leap out of his throat and his head was pounding, like a thousand drummers were marching through his skull.
"Or maybe," the disembodied voice continued, sounding smug now. "Maybe… that's exactly what you want. Maybe you're so wrapped up in yourself that you really don't love Tooth, and yer just being selfish. Yes, that's it! You don't think you can live without the Fearlings and you don't want to give up the power, even for those you love. That's sad, Pitch. Sad, and pathetic."
"NO! I LOVE HER!" Pitch screamed over the roaring, pounding, voices and thousands of other noises that were filling his head.
"THEN PROVE IT!" Bunny shouted back, appearing out of nowhere and bending down until he was right beside Pitch's ear. "Prove to methat you can clear the waters, tell the truth and rid yaself of these monsters once and for all!"
"ALRIGHT!" Pitch felt like he was about to explode. His lungs pumped air in like a forge's bellows as he heaved marathon-worthy breaths in and out; His knees were buckling and about to fold. "I'm-" his voice broke as he tried to get ahold of himself. "I'm afraid."
"Afraid of what?" Bunny pressed, grabbing Pitch by his shoulders and pulling him upright until he was looking Pitch straight in the eyes. "What are ya afraid of, Pitch Black?"
"I'm afraid…" Pitch could barely speak he felt so conflicted and emotional. All the anger that had been festering in his heart suddenly…dropped away. And he was left feeling hollow. And cold. "I'm afraid of myself."
There it was. The truth, at last. The thing he had been so damn afraid of since the beginning. Would he be good enough? Was he going to hurt someone if he couldn't control himself? The possibilities were too numerous to count, and he was finally beginning to realize that he had, in fact been procrastinating this entire time because he was afraid of hurting his potential family.
Bunny smiled and patted Pitch's shoulder. "Now that my friend… is the truth."
Pitch managed a shaky smile. All of his energy had gone towards suppressing the truth and now that it was out, he had no energy left. And when Bunny patted his shoulder, despite how light the touch was, the force was too much and he fell to the ground.
Thankfully, Bunny caught him before he hit the dirt. "Whoa mate, easy." He said, hefting Pitch back upright. He was crying. "Oh boy, that really took a lot outta you, didn't it Pitch?" Bunny told him softly, cradling him like a child while he cried gently into his furry shoulder.
"Oh gods Bunny," he sobbed, his voice muffled by the fur. "I'm so sorry." He felt like a limp doll, rubbery and lifeless, unable to do anything but cry and cling to Bunny like a frightened child.
"It's alright mate, I understand." Bunny told him, quietly patting his shoulder again. It was all he could do to not start crying himself! Because it was such a long time coming, and now Pitch was one step closer to getting his memories back. "Believe me, I know what it's like to be so afraid of something you don't wanna sleep at night, because you know you're going to see something terrible in your dreams."
Pitch sniffed and raised his head, finally in control of himself once again. "You- you do?"
Bunny nodded. "When I said that everybody's afraid of something, I meant it. I'm afraid of things- I'm afraid of a lotta things in fact." He paused and lifted his head to look up towards the roof of the room, as if he were looking up at the sky. "One thing in particular." He said, and Pitch noticed that his voice had gone soft and reminiscent.
Now, a few months ago, Pitch wouldn't be able to ignore the needling fear rolling off of Bunny in strong waves and he would have to fight hard not to drink it in like a sweet, dark tea. But now, here, he knew better. And he wasn't actually planning on asking what Bunny was afraid of, because one, this wasn't really Bunny and two, it wasn't his business. If Bunny wanted to tell he, he would.
At least, that was Pitch's frame of thinking.
Which Bunny blew out of the water when he just came out and said it, without any hesitation or prompting whatsoever.
"I'm afraid a'dying."
Silence fell for a few seconds as Pitch slowly took in the rabbit's words. He was afraid of dying. That was justifiable. Death and life were the two most volatile elements in the universe, and the most terrifying. They struck without warning, sometimes creating joy and happiness, sometimes bitterness and hate. They could not be controlled or stopped. Only stagnated and briefly cheated. And occasionally nose-thumbed by the more brazen humans. But that didn't matter right now. What mattered was that Bunny had been strong enough to admit his own fears, just like he, Pitch, had been able to.
Pitch smiled gently, realizing for the first time just how much he and the rabbit had in common."Don't feel too bad rabbit," he said, reaching up with his still slightly numb hand and giving Bunny a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder. "Everybody else in the world is too." Confidence was making him cocky, and he tried to make a joke. "You would have to be either immortal or stupid not to be," he said. Then his eyes widened. "Oh, I'm sorry Aster I didn't mean-" He started to apologize, but then stopped. Bunny was laughing.
"It's awright mate," he told Pitch, smiling and patting him on the shoulder again. "It's true." Then he sighed, his eyes drifting upwards again. "But I got more reason to be afraid than most people."
Pitch hesitated, not sure if this was an invitation to hear his story or just an idle comment. "Do… you want to tell me why?"
Bunny hesitated. "It's a long story Pitch," he said, glancing around as if someone was going to show up and reprimand him. "And this really isn't about me. You got what you needed, so you shouldn't be here anymore."
Pitch shook his head. "No, I want to hear it." He said, using a tactic he was unfamiliar with but pretty good at utilizing the first time around: Kind firmness. "And I want to hear it here."
Bunny still looked wary.
Pitch laughed. "Remember, this is my mind we're in Aster," he told the nervous rabbit. "I don't know anything about these pools or locks or whatever the hell they are, but I know that if I had gotten everything I needed when I admitted my fears I would already be gone by now. I'm meant to be here and hear your story."
Bunny nodded, thinking it over. "Yeah, I suppose that makes sense."
Pitch smirked, deciding on lightening the mood. "And anyway," he continued. "I know for a fact that I would never get to hear this story from your real-life counterpart. He's got such a macho complex that it's a miracle he hasn't died from a heart attack yet."
Bunny cracked a grin at that. "Aw'right," he agreed. Then he glanced over at the chairs. "Ya might want to sit down again mate. It's one helluva story."
Pitch nodded and, with his Bunny's help, they made it over to the chairs again, all anger and bitterness forgotten. Bunny eased him into a seat, took one himself across from Pitch, and sighed. "Well, I guess the story starts when I was a young buck." He began. Pitch listened intently, taking note of the steadiness in his voice and the inflections with which he spoke. That would help later if he started crying, because Pitch knew that if this was the reason Bunny was afraid of dying, it was going to be a sad story. "I grew up… basically in the middle of a war-zone."
Pitch nodded, remembering the look on Kozmotis's face when he had told him how old he'd been when their father had died.
"In the early years a'my life, I lived on a beautiful little planet at the end of a galaxy, entirely inhabited by Pookas. My people. The world was lush and beautiful, and though there were beasts in our world that tried to kill us, we were happy. A Pooka is happiest when he's fighting, creating new things, or traveling underground. Our people loved a challenge, which was why we never thought about moving away from out beautiful little planet." He paused, and sighed. "But as I grew older, things began to change."
Pitch had a feeling he knew what that meant. "The Fearlings."
Bunny nodded. "My people called them Shadrolels. And in the old days, we trained a few select individuals each year to hunt and destroy the few that were left on our planet, until finally we had destroyed them all. Then we sent the Shadro-catchers out into the galaxy to capture and kill the rest of them. My parents were both Shadro-catchers, and I wanted to be one too when I grew old enough."
"You…wanted to catch Fearlings?"
He nodded. "Yes. I wanted to be exactly like my fatha and motha. Hunt down demons and destroy them for good, making the galaxies safer for everyone." Then he sighed. "But I didn't get the chance."
Bunny looked up at him and, bizarrely, he was smiling again. "On the other side of the galaxy, some uppity general had already beat me to it."
Pitch blinked. "Kozmotis?"
Bunny nodded again. "Yep. That scrawny human took down thousands and thousands of Fearlings before I was barely outta the burrow! Imagine my disappointment."
Pitch suppressed a snigger. "You must've been an unholy terror as a child Aster," he commented.
Bunny nodded proudly. "Damn straight." Then the jovial expression fell from his face. "But my parents knew that they wouldn't be held for long, and they were right. They escaped and used their jailer as a host, ready to send hell and terror down on those that had put them there and destroyed their brothers and sisters."
Pitch felt a knot tighten in his stomach as he realized what the Fearlings had done. "Including your mother and father."
Bunny nodded. "My parents," he said, tears welling slowly in his eyes. His voice cracked. "My parents became instant freedom fighters when they learned they were loose, leading attack after attack on the Fearlings with what remained of the star guard and the miscellaneous factions of constellations, but it wasn't enough. They couldn't kill or exercise the Fearlings vessel, and eventually the Fearlings got angry."
Pitch closed his eyes, unable to look at Bunny's face. It was heart-breaking, knowing that he could have prevented all of this if he had just been a bit stronger, a bit faster, a bit more resilient. If he had just been a bit…better. Maybe he could have averted this.
"They decided to make an example of my parents by coming into our burrow and killing 'em while I watched, hopin' to Gaia that it was a nightmare."
Pitch opened his eyes again, and when he did and saw the tears streaming down Bunny's face, all he could do was sit there with that knot of pain rolling around in his chest. "Oh Bunny…" He couldn't think of anything else to say. He knew that saying sorry wasn't really effective after several thousand years, but he still felt like he should say something. "My father died in battle too." He said, reaching out for his paw like he would if Tooth or Jack were upset.
Bunny watched the slim, ashen hand wrap itself like a spider gently around his big, fluffy paw. "So ya know how much it 'urts." He said quietly.
Pitch nodded, though technically it wasn't true. Kozmotis had been the one who had really lost his father when the Fearlings had massacred his regiment, but Pitch had experienced enough fear and seen enough emotions from humans and other spirits to make a decent guess as to how it felt.
"I know." He told Bunny, squeezing his paw gently. "It's like having your heart torn out, while being chained to a wall and then watching it being thrown into a raging volcano." He had no idea where the words were coming from, but he knew they were right because Bunny's head leaned forward and his eyes closed as he listened. "Sometimes you just get so angry and frustrated; at yourself, at your family for leaving you and at the people responsible, that you just wanted to lash out wildly and hurt every-thing and anything in sight." Pitch squeezed Bunny's paw again. "Believe me, I know."
Bunny nodded. "Yes, but that's not the worst part of the story."
Pitch felt his heart drop into his stomach. What could possibly be worse than seeing your parents murdered right in front of you?
"By killing them in front of me," Bunny explained, "they ensured that the entire Pooka race would come for revenge."
"And they did?"
Bunny nodded sadly. "They did, and they were massacred. They set an ambush for 'em, catching them all in a net'a fear and watching as slowly, consumed by their fear and reduced back to shivering, screaming animals, they ripped each other apart. Every single able-bodied buck and doe that could fight was slaughtered by their own kind, leaving only the elderly and the young. And they died not long afta."
Pitch knew he was probably going to come off as morbid and disturbing, but he didn't care. He could tell Bunny wanted to tell him, if only to relieve the pressure of keeping it to himself at long last, and so he asked. "How?"
"Once we got the news that all our older brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers had died, the elder bucks and does that were left took us far underground, back'ta our ancestral home." Bunny paused and gestured around them. "Here."
Pitch frowned and looked around. "Here?"
"Yep. Before the Pooka race moved above ground, they lived in huge burrows like this one." Bunny said, standing up. Pitch allowed his hand to slip away from Bunny's as he stood too. A small smile crept across Bunny's face. "This used to be my family's room. We all lived in here together, with my dad's fatha next door and another family on the other side."
Pitch felt a smile forming on his own face as he imagined that life. Warm, comfortable, safe. "It must've been cramped." He joked.
Bunny laughed. "Yeah, it was. 'Specially with seven brothers and three sisters, all older than me."
Pitch grimaced. "Good gods, ten brothers and sisters? I know you were of a different race and all, and maybe that made it easier-"
"Oh no," Bunny interrupted, raising a paw. He was grinning now. "It didn't. It really, really didn't."
Pitch raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
Bunny rolled his eyes like, you don't even know, my friend. "Imagine growing up with ten hyperactive teens running around," he said slowly, then he thought about it. "Wait, no. Scratch that. Imagine growing up with ten hyperactive Jacks running around."
Pitch winced. Maybe I won't invite the boy to live with me after all. He thought as Bunny continued.
"Then give those ten Jacks thousands of years fighting knowledge, hand-to-hand combat skills and weapons training, plus enough magic to control all the elements and, when they get older, travel through time." He said, his grin widening as Pitch's horrified look grew more pronounced. "Hehe, yeah, it was something alright."
Pitch nodded, still trying to wrap his mind around the image of ten Jacks all flying around and disappearing randomly, then reappearing in different outfits and speaking in a bunch of different languages. Good gods, he thought. As long as I am still alive Jack will never ever meet Father Time.
"Anyways," Bunny said, interrupting Pitch's thoughts. He blinked, then focused back in on what was currently happening. And when he did, he saw that Bunny's expression of mirth had slipped back once again into gloomy melancholy. "We all lived together underground for a time, but eventually they followed our trail of fear and found us."
Pitch didn't comment. This part was obviously hard for him to tell, so he decided to just listen.
"I was on watch that night." Bunny told him. "We had a great brass bell mounted on top of a huge tower, ready to signal when the Fearlings were coming so that we could run. They came in the dead of night, howlin' and screechin' for the last of the Pooka blood. I was supposed to sound the call, but I got so scared that I ran away and hid until it was all over, making me totally responsible for the deaths of a hundred thousand souls."
Pitch sighed. Bunny was re-living it inside his mind and sadly, he was unable to resist the pull of his fear. Pitch closed his eyes, feeling the fear he had felt on that night, so long ago. Fear of dying, fear of disappointing his father, and then, like a sudden bolt had been shot into him a spike of pure panic. Sounds, ripping and screeching and laughing, like a hyena was ripping into the flesh of a fresh kill, but he knew it wasn't that. It was the Fearlings, using his body to rip the fear out of these poor, helpless creatures and turn that fear against them. Turn it into monsters that swallowed them whole, leaving nothing but their screams on the air.
He opened his eyes. It was too much for him to bear. "Aster," he said, reaching out a hand and shaking the rabbit's shoulder.
Bunny opened his eyes and looked up, smiling. "Thank you for listening Pitch." He said, standing up. Pitch followed suit. "I know the real Bunny won't remember this," he said, "but I want you to know that even he needs someone to talk to sometimes."
Pitch nodded. "I promise I will be that someone." He said firmly. Then, acting on impulse he embraced the rabbit one last time. And this time, there was no crying. No weak knees or knots in hearts. Just a simple, calming, brotherly hug between two people who finally knew each other's story.
"Thank you, Bunny." Pitch said quietly, tasting the nickname for the first time on his tongue. He was beginning to feel the same tug of magic as before start to pull him away, back to the room with the cages and Kozmotis. "You have no idea how much this will help me. And… I don't think I'll ever be able to repay you."
Bunny laughed again and pulled away, holding Pitch as arm's length. His green eyes were sparkling as everything else slowly gave way to the white light. "A few cartons of carrot-juice might do for a start," he said.
Pitch laughed. The sound echoed around the room, mixing with the beautiful music as Pitch, the figmentateous room and Bunny's body were engulfed in white fire.
He closed his eyes, reveling in the soft fire as it harmlessly burned through his robe, skin and flesh. It was like being wrapped in a warm blanket, he thought. Then the thoughts were gently pulled away by the smooth wind which blew in from nowhere, lifting the out outside mundane elements of humanity and emotions, leaving only a kindred heartfire burning in the center of the room and a pair of glowing green eyes watching it, making sure it found its way safely back to its owner. And soon those two went out, and the white room became nothing more than a memory, inhabited by a happy, laughing voice.
It felt like being put through one of those old-fashioned dish-wringers in the eighteen hundreds, Pitch thought as his body slowly began to reform. Particles flew back like tiny winged birds from the white room he had just left, through the thousands of shattered crystal mirrors and finally back to him, fitting in as smoothly as a puzzle piece.
When his eyes re-adjusted to the darkness, he smiled. One down, six to go.
Pitch looked up groggily. Kozmotis, of course. He was standing over him, peering down worriedly through the falling strands of golden hair that had escaped his ponytail. His golden eyes were glowing bright with worry, and as he knelt down beside him Pitch found himself wondering if Kozmotis remembered the two great Pooka Warriors who had given their lives to fight for him. Probably not.
"Pitch, are you OK?" Kozmotis asked, reaching a hand out but Pitch shook his head.
"I'm fine, Kozmotis. Just give me a minute."
He leaned his head back against the stone wall as all that he had learned slowly came back to him. Bunny, the fear, the locks. It was almost like a peaceful dream which could slip away at any time if he didn't think about it enough. But it wasn't a dream, he thought as his mind began to clear and small details became easier to see. It was real. It might've been in my head, but it was real.
He felt someone shaking his shoulder. Kozmotis again.
He looked up. "I'm alright Kozmotis, calm down! I just had to get my bearings." He grasped Kozmotis's hand and Kozmotis slowly pulled him to his feet.
"So, what happened?" Kozmotis asked when they were both standing again.
Pitch had to lean against the wall for a few seconds. It felt cool against his skin, where the white fire still lingered. Evidently the sudden rise had undermined all the progress made to keep his mind clear and now he was groggy again. He could feel Kozmotis standing there impatiently, waiting to hear what had happened while he had been gone for…however long he had been gone. And finally, when he had regained enough strength to speak he said, "I just spoke with Aster."
"How the hell did you manage that in less than a minute?!"