I feel so frikkin' guilty right now. Once again, my muse was bring uncooperative. It went something like:
Muse: Write what's in the notebook, woman!
Me: But it's unnecessary! My readers like the current chemistry and besides it's-
Muse: WRITE THE CONFLICT, SLAVE!
Me: *takes deep breath* NO! NOW GO - AWAY! No, no, no, wait, I didn't mean that, I sowee!
Sigh, and et cetera, et cetera, and so forth. But, I promised a bit if action and hopefully this delivers! Really, I just wanted to make it clear what it is that Nia's job is as the Keeper of the Wilds. BTW, writing in Jack's POV is surprisingly difficult T_T
The One Named Moonlight: It is indeed! You're the first to pick up on it; I chose that for their language because it is beautiful and exotic but ancient at the same time. And also because it would be a pain to try to just make up the words. I'd end up writing gibberish, and I wouldn't be happy with it at all.
TwixyReitz: Glad you liked the banter. I was sugar high when I wrote that part. Go figure. Kathy will be mentioned in this chapter, and she will play a minor major role in the story later on, if that makes sense.
Guest (6/13/13): Thank you! And yeah, the chapters are lengthy but I figure I should give my readers everything I can give in between updates.
Xion5: Yup, I'm rather proud of that bit. Actually, I base Nia and Pitch's relationship off the way I interact with my own dad. We adore each other we both know it, but we practically bring the house down when we fight, even though we both know we'll make up like five seconds later.
Yatogirl: Yeah, I actually rewrote that part from the original in my notebook. It was more forward and Bunny tried to talk Jack out of it, but it revealed a key plot point for later, so I simplified it. And yeah, Jack's totally fooling himself ;)
And without further ado, enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. The sequel to the movie would already be out if I did.
Fire & Ice and Everything Nice
Chapter 6: Of Incidents and Demonstrations
Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects
- Dave Barry
After reassuring Phil that, no, it really wasn't Pitch Black right behind us, and no, we were not brainwashed, the sleigh was prepped and nearly ready to launch. Nia and Kozmotis stood a little off to the side, talking quietly and watching the yetis hustle about with observant, scrutinous eyes. I stood with Bunny, Tooth, and Sandy while North played head honcho and pretended not to stare.
Bunny gave the sleigh a cursory look and then glanced back over at Kozmotis, whose face had taken on a cool, blank expression. "I'm startin' to think this is gonna get uncomfortable." He grumbled.
Tooth smiled and touched his shoulder. "Give him credit, Bunny. After all, he's a whole other person with Nia around. Literally." She chirped optimistically. I scoffed.
"Still more or less a grouch." I muttered. Tooth sucked on her teeth dissaprovingly, exactly how my mom so often did when was human. One of the many reasons I simply adored Tooth; not because she was trying to replace my mom. But because she did it without a second thought and even seemed happy to have someone to fuss over.
"Jack, just imagine what the poor guy has been through! It can't be easy living with all those things on your conscience and not being able to do a thing about it. And just look at how he looks at Nia," she stressed with a discreet wave of her hand towards the two. I could see what she was trying to point out. Their bodies were completely angled towards each other, Kozmotis' arm around Nia's shoulders, Nia's hand gripping her father's coat. They watched everything with cautious, analytic eyes, a poised, defensive tension in their stances. Like they were ready to jump to each other's defense with the slightest hint of provocation.
It made me tilt my head in consideration. So many questions surrounding those two...I had a feeling there would be more to this little road trip than just finding this Nightlight. I mean, seeing and hearing everything in Nia's memories had made a lot, I mean a lot of questions crop up in my head. Contrary to my own statement, I wasn't all snowballs and fun times. I was a Colonial kid - practicality had been hammered into my head from the time I could walk. It gave me a good eye for seeing things clearly, and in this case, I could see there were a lot of layers to peel back, from both Nia and Kozmotis. Plus, I was starting to think that maybe Manny himself hadn't told us everything there was to tell. Crap, what was I thinking? This was MiM I was thinking of here; when was the last time he'd ever said anything other than a few scant clues? Case in point: yours truly.
It took Bunny punching me in the shoulder to snap me out of my musings, and I realized he and Tooth had been calling my name for who knows how long.
"Ack! Oh, s-sorry, guys. Spaced out for a second." I apologized. Jeez, come to think of it, the whole 'attention span of a sparrow' thing was a bad habit of mine. Must be a leftover from the 300 years of isolation. Unless I had ADD or something and crap, there I went again.
"Frostbite, fer dang's sake, pay attention!"
"Okay, okay, what?!"
"Sleigh's ready, ya drongo, get yer rear in gear!" Bunny growled and lightly cuffed the back of my head. I sucked my teeth and shoved him away, following the standard sibling rivalry protocol. Now that the Easter of '68 (and other assorted pranks) was behind us, Bunny and I were thick as thieves, and I couldn't be happier. I had vague memories of my older brother from when I was human, but he had died when I was very young. I couldn't remember how he'd died, could barely even remember what he'd looked like. I only had a blurry recollection of many days spent riding his shoulders and playing in the woods around Burgess. He'd called me Jack-Jack, and I, for some reason, called him Lix. But the trust, the love, the...yes, even the admiration, I'd felt for Lix was mirrored in my new relationship with Bunny. Nowadays, I didn't know what I'd do without that overgrown kangaroo.
Looking over at Nia as we piled onto the sleigh, I felt total sympathy for her. Our pasts were so alike it was scary. Could it be that it wasn't just coincidence? That Manny was up to his old tricks once more? As I looked over my shoulder at her and grinned, and have her grin right back, I could only conclude that we'd just have to wait and see.
"Hang on, Red." I muttered to her. Her smirk grew to flash one pearly wolf fang and she winked.
"I think I'll be okay, Jackie."
Oh, jeez, again with the nickname. What was it about her that drew me in so easily, like a moth to a flame?
Looking over at her dad, I went from spazzed to terrified in .5 seconds flat. If looks could kill, I'd be a stain on the wall. With a gulp, I whipped my head away and tried to fight down both dread and embarrassment.
Jeez, is this what human guys feel like when their girlfriend's dad is a military? Well, hopefully Mr. Grumpypants would change his tune as soon as-
"Yah!" North shouted with smart snap of the reins.
Yup, as soon as that happened.
All seven passengers lurched backward as the reindeer bugled and surged into the tunnels. Tooth and I grabbed each other's arms to steady each other behind North, and I looked over my shoulder to see Sandy throw his hands up with a smile while Bunny turned positively green around the gills. In the back row was Nia, legs crouched under herself, hair whipped back by the wind, grin nearly splitting her face as she whooped her excitement. And next to her Kozmotis was- What the hell?! He looked just as grumpy and bored as before!
"C'mon, Dad, have some fun!" Nia crowed and nudged his arm. Kozmotis scoffed, not batting an eyelash as we jarred violently on the tracks.
"I've been on faster skiffs!" He stated as the sleigh hit a bump and caught air before hitting the tracks with a screech and shower of sparks. I could not believe this guy.
"Seriously?! Vhat beasts have you ridden?!" North demanded over his shoulder as we swerved around a sharp corner and skittered up the wall nearly going inverted. The tunnel's end loomed about a hundred yards ahead.
Kozmotis smirked. "Imperial dragons, for one." He said simply. Bunny managed to squawk out an incredulous "WHAT?!" and Sandy formed a huge exclamation point over his head, but that was all anyone got out before the sleigh made a particularly large bump as we hit the launching platform and bounced over the planks. The rear thrusters gave a stomache-tingling FWWWOOOM! at the same time the reindeer gave a powerful jump and just like that, we were up in the biting air of the Pole.
Just like last time, I leapt up onto the side wings and whooped to the sky, throwing my head back with an ecstatic laugh. Oh yeah, this was living. And this time, I had quite the lovely howl chorusing my own. Looking back at Nia, she was practically leaning out of the sleigh, her parka blown back, hair whipping crazily in the wind. Her eyes gleamed like jewels and her smile was all shining teeth.
"That - was - AWESOME!" She crowed and threw up her arms.
I laughed. "Everyone loves the sleigh!" I sang with a wink. Nia laughed, and the rich, spirited sound made my heart pound faster. North bellowed merrily and then tossed something to Nia; a snow globe.
"Your call, dorogwiye devushki, where to first?" North asked as I climbed back into the sleigh.
Nia's smile curled into a grin and her wolf fangs flashed like gems. She chuckled as she swirled the glass sphere. "To the wildest of the wild, my friends...Amazon Rainforest." She whispered and then snapped her arm forward.
The portal burst in a vortex of color and light, and with one snap of the reins, we were sucked in and spat right back out clear across the globe.
The first thing that hit me was the heat. It was like the slap of an enormous humid hand that carried the scent of exotic fruits and untouched jungles. Strangely enough, thanks to Nia's spell, the blistering air seemed to slide right off my skin and all I could feel was a lukewarm breeze. Odd, but not unmanageable. We whipped past wispy clouds and over a crawling plane of tangled trees and mountains. It was a dizzying mish-mash of greens and blacks, laced with ominous fog.
"Wow..." I breathed as I leaned over the rails, trying to spy anything between the tangled chaos of the canopy.
"If you like this, you're gonna love the view under the branches, Jackie." Nia laughed behind me, but when I turned with a witty retort on my tongue, my brain flat lined.
If Nia in a parka was temptation incarnate, Nia without a parka should've been downright illegal.
Holy Moon and stars, what a frikkin' figure. I could've wrapped my arms all the way around that waist! She was very slender and willowy, though not in a worrisome way; and her sharp, youthful curves were a nice contrast in that her ferocity was softened by her gangly, long looks. Her delicate limbs were sheathed in lean, solid muscles that rippled like a panther's beneath her flawless russet skin. All in all, a gazelle-like build; all power, sleekness, and natural beauty. But maybe that wasn't perfectly accurate. She was more a lynx. An apex predator. Seeing her right at that moment, stance tall and proud, eyes shining as she looked over the untamed jungle, hair a wild flame in the wind, she was a goddess standing over her domain. Unreachable, all-powerful, the epitome of perfection.
Until her smile faded and was replaced with a rabid snarl.
"What the hell?!"
Following her line of sight, I spied what it was that had upset her. Five miles West of us, a large patch of the forest was being leveled by a small army of bulldozers and diggers.
"NORTH! Swing around, get me in closer!" She barked, eyes glued to the machines, which looked jagged and honestly abominable amongst the curving, twisting foliage. There was a nod from North, a tug, a snap, and we were over them in just a minute.
"W-wait, what're you doing?!" I demanded she jumped onto the sides and tugged her bow from her back to her fist. She gave me a narrow-eyed look.
"My job." She snarled, and then jumped.
It wasn't a swan dive. No, more like a falcon rocketing towards its unsuspecting prey. I leaned over the sides to watch, wide-eyed, along with Bunny, Tooth, Sandy, and Kozmotis, who looked more curious than concerned.
Nia drew the string of her bow, which I didn't understand until an arrow materialized between her fingers and the sight, an arrow of golden-violet fire whose glow was painfully bright, even from here. There was a thunderous snap and a crackle of electricity as the projectile flew, as though guided, towards the main digger and struck a perfect bulls-eye. The roof burst into flames that quickly licked into the driver's compartment. The worker inside barely had time to escape before the whole machine gave a groan, exploded, and collapsed in a shower of purple sparks.
Damn. I was wondering why she didn't have a quiver.
Oh, but Nia wasn't done, apparently. With a flip, she landed in a crouch on the pyre of the digger and snarled over the site. Before the workers could even think of trying to salvage the digger, Nia's arm drew once more and unleashed a perpetual rain of fiery arrows that impacted every machine in the clearing with point-blank accuracy. The explosions made my ears ring, and the crackles of electricity from her shots manifested as white sparks that danced along the metal sides of the sleigh and helped the few remaining machines collapse even faster. The humans' head were practically spinning; the attack had been swift and brutal, lasting no more than fifteen seconds. (And yes, I counted.) The palpatations of the magic in the air made my stomach twist and my blood vibrate.
I thought that would've been enough for Nia. To the humans, she was completely invisible, and so all they could figure was that all their machines had decided to spontaneously combust. But apparantly, she was trying to send a message, because she raised her fingers to her mouth and blew out a high, sharp whistle.
The piercing trill echoed over the whole jungle, shimmering in the air with its power. Even the humans trembled as the energy of her call went unheard but was felt; it was a ripple of pure magic. Nia flipped off the digger and ran to the forest's edge. Out of nowhere, there was a tremor and the feeling of many, many somethings being roused from a deep sleep. The energy that exploded from the very trees was so great, I went light-headed, and I saw Bunny stumble as well. I recognized it for what it was.
The forest was answering its Keeper's call to arms.
A screeching cacophony rose from the jungle, and then a veritable storm of feathers and talons rose from the canopy. Dizzying caws and whistles mixed with brilliant colors as the every able-bodied bird within a five-mile radius took the air and swarmed over the clearing. At the same time, hoots, roars, and screams of pure fury tore out from the trees, and the whole forest shook and shivered as hundreds of big cats, primates, and wild boars stampeded the clearing and swung in from the branches, claws flashing, pelts rippling with primal strength, teeth gleaming and bared. They snarled, hissed and snapped their jaws, pounding and pawing the ground, eager to defend their home.
Nia led the charge with a lion's roar of a war cry, bow raised like a queen's sceptor and the sound of the jungle's forces descending on the ones who had dared trespass on their land was as blood chilling as it was awing. There was utter silence among us six as the we watched the unthinkable spectacle unfold.
In the flurry of pelts and wings, I thought for sure that the humans would be nothing but stripped bones when the dust settled, but I was surprised once more when Tooth exclaimed and pointed to the fleeing party. Jaguars were nipping at their heels with vicious snarls and birds were pecking and snapping at their heads and their hands, but they were (mostly) unharmed by the time they'd been herded deep back up the path they had taken to the jungle.
And just like that, it was over as quickly as it had begun.
North cautiously brought down the skeigh, and Kozmotis made us all jump when he burst into raucious, whole-hearted laughter, the likes of which I never in a million years would've thought I'd hear from him. He was the first to jump out and started clapping, still chuckling enthusiastically, which made Nia turn to him with a wide smile.
"That's my girl, hahaha!" He chortled with a triumphant shake of his fist.
Nia practically glowed and bowed like a prima donna. Then, she turned her attention to her regathering troops. Honestly, it went against everything my dad had taught me as a little kid; he'd nearly tanned my hide this one time for trying to bring a wolf pup home. And here Nia was, just as scrawny and small as me, petting a bunch of ocelots, jaguars, and wild boars like they were house pets! Then again, that's exactly what they were acting like, these supposedly untamable wild beasts.
They rubbed their heads against her and curled around her legs, snuffling and licking at her hands. A black-furred spider monkey jumped onto her back as a Capuchin hugged her arm and a frikkin' huge harpy eagle perched on her opposite shoulder, its wickedly curving talons held delicately against her skin, not inflicting a single scratch, while a red macaw used her knee as a branch. Nia was just as cuddly with them, murmuring soft praises accentuated with deep purrs as she caressed their pelts and rubbed their tusks and chins, stroking their feathers indulgently.
"I'll make sure this is all fixed, you guys. Oh, thank you so much, you were all brilliant." She cooed as she hugged a jaguar and a boar, who both rumbled like spoiled kittens. The Capuchin on her arm chittered happily and hugged her neck, to which Nia giggled and scratched his chin with her free hand. "My pleasure, little one. You were very brave. Now go on, all of you, go back home. I've got it from here." She urged and gave a reluctant ocelot an encouraging pat on the rump to get her moving. The big cat mewled and licked her hand before loping off, back towards the trees. The harpy eagle on her shoulder gave her cheek an affectionate pinch before leaping into the air with his brethren, and every creature in the clearing dissapeared as swiftly as they had arrived.
To be honest, I was dumbstruck. And seriously impressed. I mean, come on, how many girls do you meet who can command an army of animals and chase off a group of humans who can't even see her, all with barely breaking a sweat?!
I could barely hear my inner sixteen-year-old screaming, "Jump her frikkin' bones! She is a keeper, do you copy?!"
And ohhhh, did I copy.
I could barely choke out a laugh. "You, my friend," I gasped "are frikkin' amazing." I stated as I loped up to her and bowed. "My eternal respect, fair lady."
Nia threw her head back with a laugh and a curtsey. "Why thank you, good sir. All in a day's work."
I laughed disbelievingly once more. "What, is that what you do every other day?" I demanded.
"Nahh," she drawled with a dismissive wave of her hand and twirled her bow like a baton. "That's what I call a drastic measure. Usually I'm directing migration patterns, stabilizing food chains and trying to reverse desertification. Cake."
Oh, she was too much. I could only laugh as Bunny scooped her up and spun her around.
"You - are - bloody brilliant, Sparks! Damn, I'd never seen ya in action 'afore now! Hoo-ee, r'mind me nevah to get you pissed again!" He chuckled and ruffled her hair. She laughed and shoved him away, putting on a playfully superior face.
"That's right, Bun-Bun, bask in my sheer awesomeness. Haha, no, seriously, if you think that's something, you should see my sis in action." She said with admiring eagarness shining in her eyes. Tooth laughed with an incredulous shake of her head as Sandy clapped enthusiastically. North gave a full-bellied laugh.
"Now I know vhy storm spirits say one should never cross de great Keeper! I pity dose humans should dey ever set foot here again. Mother Nature's lands are in good hands, dorogwiye devushki. My most sincere compliments!" North said with a wink and a small salute.
"Speaking of your sister, shouldn't you be contacting her about...all this?" Kozmotis intervened with a motion towards the leveled clearing and the still-smoking machines. Nia's brows furrowed and she twisted her lips as she surveyed the damage.
"Yeah...she'll want to get this cleaned up ASAP. These jungles are in enough danger as it is." She murmured, and walked to a spot in the middle of the clearing where she cleared the ground of debris and kneeled. Before my eyes, a single vibrant green sprout came curling up out of the ground, growing into a single slender orchid branch. One tiny flower was clinging to the vine for dear life, its curling gossamer petals of quivering timidly in the stiff breeze. It wasn't like any orchid I'd ever seen (not that I'd really ever seen many, mind you.) It was very delicate, with long tails. Its center started as a deep indigo, trailing into a rich persimmon, then golden orange, and finally pale gold with fuschia freckles on the outer edges.
"If only the Egg Tulips grew that fast," Bunny muttered, impressed as Nia kneeled beside it, cupping the moribund blossom with infinite tenderness in her hands.
"How did...what is that?" I asked to no one in particular, and Kozmotis spoke up from behind Tooth.
"That is Ekaterina's personal symbol. She calls it the Ignis Vitae Orchid."
"It's her way of letting me know what areas most need her help. It helps me open a link from the energies of the land to her powers. Just watch." Nia murmured with a soft curl of the corner of her mouth and then leaned over the orchid, breathing softly over it. Hints of gold magic drifted on her breath, touching the orchid and igniting it. With a vivacious snap!, the whole plant caught fire and burned bright as Nia stood and backed away from it.
When the orchid turned to ashes, everything was still for only a few seconds before the ground rumbled beneath us, and a blanket of green sprung up under our feet. Shoots became sprouts, and those became saplings that shot up at a thousand times the normal pace of a tree, becoming towering behemoths taller than some skyscrapers. Vines and crawlers creeped up the trunks and over the ground, blossoming with dazzling flora and mouthwatering fruits. Ferns and brush also burst up and with that, the dizzying transformation was complete. What had been a tarnished pockmark was now fertile, thriving jungle, sewn seamlessly back into the rest of the rainforest.
Safe to say, my jaw was on the ground.
When I looked back at Nia, she was gazing around at the restored jungle, hands on her hips, a satisfied smile on her lips. Then she looked at us and burst into laughter. She actually had to learn her hands on her knees, she was so hysterical.
"Y-you should see your faces, haheheee!" She stuttered and slapped her thigh. I felt my ears turn violet and frost over, and quickly shook off my embarrassment.
" W-well, can you blame us? It's not every day you get to see a Discovery channel documentary in fast forward. That was frikkin' impressive. Again, my compliments." I restated with a tip if my head. She nodded back in acknowledgement and tugged her bow from her back once more.
"Well, no use just standing here. Let's get a move on - the mountains are about a three hour hike from here, due North. Oh and, er, North, you might want to put a cloaking spell over the sleigh." Nia instructed with a toss of her thumb towards the reindeer, who had started sniffing the exotic plants around them curiously.
This was done, and just like that, we were underway in our search.