Jack Frost sailed across the sky, bringing winter to every continent he visited. While the snow he dusted on the equator never seemed to stick for long, it still satisfied him when the people looked up at the snow in awe. However, these days it wasn't as rare a sight for them. Humans, as always, adapted to their new environment.
It was ridiculous to see islanders in winter coats, and this sight soon became so amusing to Jack that he visited often. He liked freezing electricity lines, ruining merchandise, and canceling sporting events. He was having the time of his life, trying new forms of sabotage he hadn't often took part in before. Sometimes the humans below would love it. Sometimes they would curse the clouds above them. Humans, too, were indecisive.
After a while, Jack noticed a gradual change in the children. They seemed to mature faster than they ever had before, abandoning their juvenile tendencies at a younger age. Even so, that didn't stop them from doing the one thing Jack loved the most.
"It's Jack Frost!"
An ice-skating teenager looked up, her mouth agape.
"I knew there was something behind this unnatural climate! But to think that theory of all theories would be correct…"
Jack landed in front of her, grinning from ear to ear. It had been a while since he'd seen Sophie. He was surprised at how much she'd grown.
He examined her shocked expression, chuckling to himself. Did she not remember meeting him in her childhood?
"This never gets old. So, you said you had other theories for what's behind this weather?"
Sophie shook herself, apparently not yet accepting of the concept of chatting with the spirit of winter.
"Y-yeah. Global cooling, a shift in the earth's rotation or gravitational field, and even some crazier ones. It's just… Of all of them, this was the one I wished for the most, but-"
"Apparently there was some part of you that believed, otherwise you wouldn't be seeing me now, squirt."
That seemed to knock her out of her initial shock.
"Aren't you the same age? No, wait, you're a spirit, right? So I guess you're centuries, maybe millennia old…"
"Three hundred years, give or take a decade. I'm not the wind, you know."
Jack grinned. It seemed she had become a very sensible being. The fact that he had been able to maintain the belief of such a rational mind- a teenager no less- must have meant his influence was spreading farther than he thought.
"Look, you need to get out more."
"You don't have many friends, right?"
"How did you-?"
Jack glanced around, grinning. He took account of the other teens on the pond.
"Nobody's too old for a bit of fun."
Jack picked up a handful of snow near his feet and formed it into a perfect sphere. Taking precise aim, he threw it at one of the guys skating by. He watched as his magic slowly worked to bring out the boy's sense of fun.
"Who threw that?"
"Dude, I think it was that chick over there."
"Hey, what are you doing?"
The girl demanded an explanation from Jack. He just shrugged and handed her ammo. Moments later, she and several others were engaged in a full-fledged battle. With each snowball thrown, it seemed three more were in the process of being created. Jack ran through the teens' ranks, thickening the naturally thin ice below. It hadn't been until recently they were even able to skate on this pond. If it weren't for Jack, there would be no fun to be had here at all.
Jack smiled as he continued his work. A touch of his finger, a twirl of his staff, and everything became enjoyable. Every now and then, he even brought a cocky kid down a few notches with a particularly slippery bit of slush.
It felt good to make older humans have fun, too. He knew it had been a long time since some of these people had seen such a grand snow day. He even recognized some of them from snowball wars of years prior. He briefly wondered if any of them had been friends before. The thought of introducing them again after all this time sent a thrill through Jack.
You see? The cold helps bring people together. It causes them to huddle close to one another to stay warm, to seek out each other's company. Ice can be a wonderful thing when used properly. Ice, and cold, and darkness.
A while later, Jack realized he had gotten carried away. The height of the snow piled around the pond was quickly growing taller.
The children weren't the only things changing. Jack could feel his ice growing more slick, his snow deeper, and his blizzards stronger. It seemed that with every believer he gained, his power multiplied again. He realized the same must have been true for the guardians during their time. If that was the case, were their current weakened states really the starting point for their powers? How had they managed to operate in the beginning of their existence?
"It certainly is fascinating to see you in your natural element."
"Pitch, it's been a while."
Jack turned around to greet the shadow.
"It hasn't been that long. Only a year or two, I'd imagine."
Jack laughed sheepishly. He was never good at telling time. The only way he ever knew a year had passed was when he overheard humans discussing New Year's. The only point in time he could really pinpoint was the year of his genesis.
He found himself curious about a specific piece of news.
"How are the guardians?"
Pitch's demeanor practically screamed the shadow was annoyed that this particular topic was the first to come up after having been separated for a while.
"They're just fine. They each have new centers of operation since they lost their grandeur, but they still can cover no more than one village with their influence. Why must you always make a point of asking? It's not as if they matter anymore."
Jack mused over this new information. Though he found himself annoyed they could cover an entire village with their false hope now, he did find a strange lingering fascination with the remaining guardians. He didn't quite understand it himself.
He suddenly remembered a point he'd been meaning to bring up with the shadow.
"Hey, Pitch? About the nightmares… Haven't you been going heavy on them recently?"
The shadow seemed unconcerned.
"Of course. I send them out most every night, as is my duty. I don't know if I'd call it heavy but it's the usual amount. It only grows as my own power grows, which has been a gradual process, I assure you."
"Well, I still don't think that much tossing and turning every day is healthy. They need a good night's rest every now and then, right?"
"Perhaps, and I do give them that. My nightmares can only reach a fraction of the children every night, after all. At the same time, it's important for them to receive a healthy dose of fear from time to time."
"I don't know; to me it seems a bit overboard."
Pitch gave him a dramatic sigh.
"I'm underappreciated even with you, aren't I? That's the role I've always played, so I should be used to it. You see, Jack, fear is important to their daily lives. It serves as a warning to them to avoid danger. Without fear, children, and even adults, would do the most idiotic things. Fear is what prevents them from going near wild animals, getting too close to the edge of a precipice, or gorging themselves on drugs. Not just fear of death, but fear of the police, or of hurting or losing loved ones. There are many different types of fear, and each has its own benefits. Humans are too reckless for their own good. Fear is a preventive measure that helps. Do you see?"
Jack pressed his lips together and grumbled. Fear was what prevented children from coming out to play when he accidentally made it too cold or one of his blizzards went overboard.
"I guess. But it really puts a muffler on my fun."
"So your fun is more important than the children's well-being?"
Jack sputtered, caught.
"Of course not!"
"Then what are you doing here at this lake? Isn't that ice supposed to be too thin to hold a human's weight?"
"Yeah, but that's why I'm here. No one's going to fall in because I can just freeze it right back up again."
"But what if you weren't around to do so?"
"They wouldn't skate if it was too thin."
Pitch inclined his head toward Jack, seemingly amused.
"If you say so."
Jack noticed something foreboding in the gesture. He wanted to press the issue, but figured it wouldn't be worth it. He sighed and continued his line of questioning.
"Then the nightmares..?"
"I suppose I could give the humans a brief reprieve, but I can't let them alone for long. Courage is a result of fear as well, and without that, much of the world wouldn't be able to operate. In return, I will require a bit of your free time."
Jack mused over the request a few moments, then shrugged.
"I guess that's fair."
To Jack's surprise, the shadow smiled. He imagined it was a rare sight. He wondered what the shadow could possibly have in mind.
"It's a deal, then."
"So where are we?"
The shadows had transported the two immortals to what appeared to be a shady back alley. Pitch stepped toward the light at the end of the pathway.
"Cape Town, South Africa. This is one of a select number of cities in which fear is most rampant. Of course, the danger in this place is greater than in most, which is why I must extend my hand so heavily here."
"Maybe if everyone wasn't afraid all the time, they wouldn't commit all these crimes."
Pitch snorted at Jack's muttering.
"It's not always the fear that causes the crime. Do you think those men over there are afraid?"
Jack looked the direction he was pointing and furrowed his brow. The men in question didn't seem quite right. They were dressed roughly and smelled of liquor. There was a definite sense of danger about them. A moment later, he realized the two were staring at something, laughing and smirking at each other. Upon closer inspection, he noticed a young woman hesitantly peeking into the alley. She couldn't have been any older than twenty. Jack's eyes widened as he ran to her.
"Hey, wait! You should really get going, Ma'am."
She walked right through him, and for a moment, Jack relived the pain of his years of loneliness. Of course. That girl at the pond's ability to see him at such an age was rare. It should have been certain this woman couldn't see him. The thought pained him.
"Do you see, Jack? This human holds little fear. She probably even thinks herself to be adventurous, but can you see where that line of thought will take her?"
"Pitch, we have to do something!"
"Why? This sort of thing happens all the time. Didn't you say I was going 'a bit overboard?' Shouldn't I continue to give her a brief reprieve from her fear, as you requested?"
Jack inhaled sharply.
"What do you think men like that could do to such a naïve girl? It's too bad she doesn't have the good sense to avoid such a suspicious spot in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. You'd think it'd be common sense, but I hear a certain nightmare king is taking the day off."
Jack glared at Pitch, then noticed the men edging closer. He gritted his teeth and jumped into the scene, icing over much of the alley's pavement. In a moment, the ruffians were on the ground and Jack was furiously throwing walls of the frozen water to encase them. In seconds, the two were trapped in a glittering prison, and the young woman was on the ground, staring at the duo in shock.
All around them, a cold storm was forming. Snow had begun to fall. Coldness had accompanied darkness, and the elemental's anger was palpable.
Jack could barely control his voice.
"I get your point now, Pitch. Are you satisfied?"
"As a matter of fact, I am."
Pitch nodded his head at the scene, and a moment later, the girl regained her senses and ran away. The fear was back.
"My dear Jack, I'm afraid it's getting a bit chilly here. I'm starting to think something may happen to those men you have in your new sculpture."
The sprite snapped out of his brooding and realized one of the men was no longer moving. He let out a gasp and allowed the prison to fall apart. He ran to them as a shivering ruffian began cursing to the other as he tried to help him up, but when he bent down to offer his aid, he let out a yelp. The second man had flash frozen. Jack felt Pitch's warm hand on his shoulder.
"It seems your power is getting out of hand, Jack, though I do compliment you on your first direct victim."
Jack shook away the warmth and backed away from the scene.
"I didn't mean to… It wasn't on purpose, I… I've never intentionally…"
Pitch frowned at the sprite.
"What's wrong, Jack? It's not as if the man deserved to live. You do realize what he was going to do to that poor girl, right? Truthfully, that trembling wretch next to him doesn't need to exist either."
"But… He was alive. While he was alive, he still had the chance to turn his life around. But I..."
"Really, Jack, what are the odds he would suddenly realize the err of his ways? The world is better off without him. I really wish you would do this more often. It makes my job much easier. My terror is spread thinly enough as it is."
Jack couldn't believe Pitch's words. As rational as they sounded, he couldn't help but think they were far too rational. His words were too… cold.
But you see the truth in them, correct?
Of course he did! There were several times in Jack's life where he had witnessed events like the potential trouble that could have occurred a minute prior. He had thought such dark thoughts to himself in the past, and he suspected that many humans often had the same judgment on occasion. It wasn't an uncommon opinion by any means.
But it certainly wasn't right.
How can you be so certain? You just admitted that you've wanted a human dead under similar circumstances at one point in your life. Pitch is just putting voice to your own thoughts. Why are you reacting with such vehement denial? You should be more honest with yourself. You wanted that man dead for the crime he was about to commit. If you weren't such a coward, you would want the other in the same position.
Jack gripped his staff tightly. The weather wasn't getting any warmer.
A moment later, he finally snapped, shooting into the air away from the horrid scene before him, away from the act he had committed.
Pitch didn't follow.
Jack sat in the middle of his birthplace and hugged his knees, his staff on the ice next to him. He had been there for nearly an entire day, his mind ablaze with thoughts of the act he had committed. Part of him was outraged he would be the direct cause of death for a human, and another part found itself agreeing with the points Pitch made afterwards. Jack had been responsible for many deaths before, but those were always through indirect means. He had never personally iced around human beings before.
The face of his victim flashed through his mind. Killing a human was unthinkable. Jack always made a point of watching over the people, wishing for their well-being. Even when something happened, he never meant any harm, but today was different. He had intentionally frozen two humans in ice. What was he thinking? Humans weren't as durable as immortals; freezing one over should cause serious problems. Why hadn't this occurred to him before it was too late?
Because you had to act quickly. There was another life in danger. You traded one life for another. The price was you taking one yourself.
Jack looked up, desperately looking for justification. His voice cracked when he spoke.
"That's right. I was helping."
But there's something you haven't considered.
In trading one life for another, you weighed each life and came to the conclusion that one held greater value than the other. You acted as judge and chose who deserved to live more. What happened to your view that everyone deserved a chance, Jack? What happened to your idea that every human's life is equally precious?
"But it happened in a split second. I didn't have time to-"
To think? Perhaps. But your body acted for you. Even if it was subconscious, you recognized that there was a difference in the weight of the two lives. You have, in essence, played god.
Jack looked down at his feet, stunned. It was true. Even if he hadn't originally intended for the man to die, he should have realized his actions would be dangerous to the human. He had acted as judge and executioner, all in the same moment.
The idea scared him.
Jack had never thought of doing such a thing. His action would prevent the man from ever harming another victim. For all he knew, he could have saved more than just the woman from this one act. Perhaps he had truly performed a service for the world by ridding it of its filth. Perhaps it shouldn't be the only time he helped the earth in such a way.
He shook his head as he remembered the cruel way Pitch had driven his point home. At this point in time, fear was necessary to warn humans of danger, including other humans. Pitch had made that amply clear, but what if Jack could render such a role unnecessary? What if he could eliminate the power that prevented many children from enjoying life?
Jack gasped as he realized where his line of thinking was heading. He had the power to carry out such a plan, now that more and more children believed. But should he? There certainly would be no need for any more fear if he followed through. Jack could simply act as arbiter and protector, and everyone would be better off for it.
But where would that leave Pitch?
He would become unnecessary. Just like…
Jack jumped to his feet, realizing something important. He stood there, piecing things together in horror. The thin ice at the other pond, Pitch's strange look when Jack promised he would keep the ice thick for the kids to play on, and now Jack's withdrawal into himself. He wasn't particularly concentrating on solidifying his hold on winter, and without his influence, the snow would probably melt soon in certain parts of the world. And in others, things may revert to their natural state.
Jack burst into motion, commanding the wind to make his journey swift. To his surprise, it obliged, even considering the rude manner Jack addressed it with. He decided not to think too much on this occurrence and focused on the imminent danger.
Of course. Humans adapt to their environment. This was a simple concept that had been obvious from the beginning. If something in their surroundings was a certain way for a period of time, they'd eventually take it for granted. There might even come a point when they'd stop checking to see if it had turned back to its previous state. In this case, it was very possible that the children and teens who now frequented the pond didn't check for thin ice anymore.
They wouldn't fear thin ice anymore.
Jack felt something clench his heart. It was as if he'd seen this sort of situation before, a long time ago, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. The shadow of a memory danced at the edges of his perception, but he couldn't seem to capture it.
He arrived at his destination in what seemed to be no time at all, but upon setting his sight on the scene below, his heart stopped. The clouds had long parted, and the ice had most certainly grown thin. In fact, in one spot, there was a large hole leading to the water below. An older boy stood above, looking down into the deep. It was Jamie.
"No… No, no, no!"
Jack dived headfirst into the water, searching. All he could see was darkness. He kept still a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust. A moment later, his eyes caught the blurry shape of a human. It wasn't moving. He held back the panic he felt rising to his throat and bulleted to the shape, grabbing it and pulling it toward the small light emanating from above.
Upon reaching the surface, he dragged the body onto the ice and searched its vitals for any sign of life. He could feel no breath from its mouth, feel no pulse on its wrist or chest, and it showed no signs of waking. He felt despair overtake him.
Jack looked up at the young adult, tears beginning to freeze on his cheeks.
"You can still see me..?"
Jamie faced Jack as a man in his twenties, obviously too old to still believe. And yet…
"My sister. Did you save her?"
Jamie looked at Jack with a look of pure hope.
Look, Jack. Bunny influences humans, even now. He still exists, therefore hope also exists. Certainly, its light is most prominent where the rabbit is currently located, but his weak power still exists. And where there is hope, there will also be despair.
Jack couldn't speak, but his eyes communicated everything Jamie needed to know.
The young man fell to his knees. Jack backed away.
"I'm so sorry."
Tears began to fall, and words began tumbling out of Jamie in a jumble.
"This… She just wanted to make a friend, that's all. I told her no one would be at the pond in this weather, but she wouldn't listen. She was convinced someone would be here. I just came to check on her, and…"
Jack's eyes widened as he remembered his own words.
You should get out more. You don't have many friends, right?
Jamie couldn't stop now; his words nearly unintelligible through his sobs as he stared at the body in shock.
"That hole was there. I couldn't find her. I didn't think… I mean, I should've stopped her from… She was so lonely, but she was so smart. Why couldn't anyone pay her attention? She had to play make believe. I imagine she vaguely remembered the days when we could see you, though I think she saw more than me. Was she imagining skating with them? Why couldn't anyone have been there..? Why couldn't I have been there?"
He finally fell silent, his body wracked by his sobbing.
Jack backed away, unable to handle the image of his first believer in such grief, unable to handle the dead eyes that stared at him from his old believer's corpse.
Wasn't she the sort of human Jack was meant to protect?
The appeal of the pond. Wonder. Her recollection of the times when the guardians played with her. Memories. The crushing look on Jamie's face. Hope.
Her lack of caution at the pond. Fear.
Jack left the boy to his engulfing despair, unable to watch any longer. As he fled the scene, he thought he felt something inside himself snap.
From that moment forward, Jack set about a new task. Snow blanketed the earth, thick and heavy. No continent was spared, and the onslaught was maintained for as long as Jack could control it. It wasn't long before he found himself able to keep up even the heaviest of storms for weeks at a time, his believers multiplying rapidly. He needed more power to look after the earth, and if he had to sacrifice lives for that purpose, so be it. He would trade their lives for the wellbeing of the world.
And one other matter needed tending to.
It wasn't until afterward that he again curled up in the middle of his pond. A heavy blizzard circled the surrounding area, and the slightest shadow materialized beside him. Jack looked up. He had been expecting this visitor for quite a while.
"I see you've finally come to understand the role I play in this world, as well as your own."
Jack's expression twisted, changing into something dangerous. He nearly spat his words.
Pitch seemed taken aback by the threat hanging behind the sprite's words, but quickly collected himself.
"I suspected something might occur, but I didn't realize anything would happen so soon. I believed you would do as you promised and maintain the ice in the area."
"That's not the point."
Pitch instinctively stepped backward as Jack slowly rose to his feet, staff in hand. Murderous intent could be seen on his face. The shadow cowed from his form.
"Now, Jack, let's not get carried away."
"In case you were wondering, your fear is no longer necessary. Neither is wonder, memories, or even hope. None of them. I've done away with all of them."
Pitch was stunned. He hadn't expected his manipulation to end in a result this extreme.
"You can't mean…"
Jack smiled maliciously. Before Pitch could fade into the shadows and run, he found his legs stuck fast to the ice beneath him as it slowly crawled up his body.
"Are you mad? I've already shown you! Fear is a necessary part of society."
"Not anymore. I'll make certain of that."
Pitch felt himself begin to panic. This simple elemental he had attempted to mold after his own image was no longer stable. Something had gone horribly wrong. Had he gone too far?
"I hope this is more painful than the end I passed to the others."
True to Jack's word, as the ice slowly crept up Pitch's leg, he could feel his innards freezing, bit by bloody bit. He sent his shadows after Jack, mare after mare, but none could reach him through his storm. What sort of monster had Pitch created?
He felt panic clutch his heart as he desperately threw everything he could muster at the boy, but as the pain grew greater, he couldn't even manage to conjure his shadows. The ice encased his legs, giving him the horrible sensation of decapitation. It then rose slowly to his groin, to his abdomen, to his chest. He writhed in agony, screaming, begging, but nothing came of it.
"You were right."
The ice crept over his face, finalizing the deed. The last thing Pitch Black discerned before fading into darkness was Jack's calm smile.
"I'll give them a world where everything is Jack Frost."