WARNINGS: Jackrabbit, eventually. This is not a warm fuzzy ficlit; rated for some heavy language and heavier character death. You know the drill, no life guard on duty kids, so swim at your own risk or get out of the pool. I'm jumping right into it with this one, have fun. ~CoD

Prelude

He was made of stardust. Of twinkling light and faint shimmering colors. Soft and airy, but enduring and true and shining, shining, always shining. His heart was fierce and loyal, his laugh was as musical as the tinkling chimes of dozens of very small bells, clamoring against one another as the sound swirled up from his small belly and cascaded from his smiling mouth. And oh, how did his smile light up the faces of those around him, especially those he cared for. It's light was not just the kind he kept all to his own face, but the smiles he wore were quite infectious indeed. He loved to play with the children, so many across the world, so many he called his friends, but those in the thriving town of Santoff Claussen were his closest, his dearest, his favorites.

He would answer the call of any child, for play or defense, to be a knight of pretend or a knight for real as he was since the golden days of long ago. The Golden Age had fizzled and faded, giving way to the long dusky days of the present, the Dark Ages were at the peek of their rein. But he was a light in this darkness, as he had been for eons, a light in the night and he knew in his heart of hearts that no matter how long a dark night stretched the dawn would surly come for he had seen many dawns. It would come, often just as it seemed darkest, often just when the moon had to slip away and it seemed the one who needed the dawn most thought themselves abandoned, yes, yes, then the dawn would come and the light would be restored. The light would be brilliant.

He smiled up at the moon, even though he knew his friend was not smiling back at him in this moment. They had wanted the same thing, to protect the children, always to keep the children safe and sound. He was made of stardust and wishes, and for years he had fought to keep the darkness at bay, to protect his charge and the children he came to care about, and he had always thought he would see the break of that glorious dawn on the day that the darkness was no more, forevermore.

Nightlight raised a trembling hand to his eyes, the blood soaked limb coming between him and his beloved moon.

He was made of stardust, and he was dying.


They had all felt the attack. A growing ball of worry, a sinking pit in their stomachs. Pitch had lashed out again, something was wrong again, it was time to go defend the world from the fearlings and their Nightmare King, again. But this time it was to be different, they knew it, they felt it. Despite the worry there was a hope, flickering and tiny, but there.

"We'll get him this time," Nicholas St. North declared. "We have all of the relics now! There is no place left for Pitch to hide. We will seal him away, forever this time."

This time, this time, this time for sure. How many times had she heard those words? A hundred? Two hundred, or three? Katherine didn't know anymore, but she was sick of this. No longer the little girl she was when Pitch had first broken free, she was now a full grown woman and a graceful and lovely one at that. And she loved her friends, the Guardians she was now running with, quickly through the tunnels her pooka friend made as he lead them, bounding toward where they felt the pull of their hearts to reunite with their comrades already engaged with Pitch. She loved them dearly, she believed in their cause, but now she was sick of it.

Pitch was weary of them at present, knowing they held the five relics of the Golden Era that could destroy him forever, and as being destroyed would surely be a hindrance to his plans he had become cautious. Lurking in the shadows, hiding, and watching, and waiting, and binding his time. He attacked them only individually now, searching them for the weakest link, or just the best way to knock them back on their heels. He'd been unsuccessful for years, but now he had struck again and this time he intended to make them fall back one way or another.

Katherine fell behind the others, she and Ombric always did. They were honorary Guardians, they shared their friendship, some of their magic, but not all of the powers. It was up to the Guardians of the Relics to really stop Pitch, Ombric and Katherine were there to lend whatever support they could. They pushed back fearlings and called out warnings, the training Katherine had received from Ombric made them both powerful magicians on the battle field. But she slowed and took a moment to stop and pant against the wall of a tunnel. They would always be the ones to push Pitch back now, and she didn't worry for she knew they would always succeed, she believed in it with all of her heart.

Tenderly, she ran a hand over her lower stomach.

What worried her right now was the war that was ever ongoing in the world. A war between light and dark that most never seemed to know about, only sort of feel. As Pitch coveted the innocence of Santoff Claussen, he focused most of his efforts in seizing it, believing himself that once he had it the rest of the world would fall to his feet. And the world would because they weren't entirely aware of who Pitch was, just that from time to time a darkness would blanket the land and a night would fall. But they had also grown accustomed to the bright moon and the fact that the night never seemed to last, no matter how dreadful it seemed. But as she lived in Santoff Claussen, she knew all to well the devious plans of the Nightmare King and she had to wonder when would it ever end. She wanted to be a mother someday, hopefully soon, settle down with the love of her life and raise a family. She never wanted to leave her home town, but would raising a child there be good for it? Could she handle if something happened and Pitch took the child, or hurt the child? Would she ever have these dreams fulfilled?

She wished Ombric, her adoptive father, had stayed behind. He had insisted that the Guardians always travel in groups now, and refused to let Nightlight make his usual worldly rounds alone. She had offered to go with the stardust boy instead, but a joking comment from North about how much time the two spent alone together already had made her back down and allow her father to take her place. Neither her nor Nightlight were sure yet if they wanted the others to know about them yet, about their love. They knew they couldn't hide it forever, they just...wanted more time in their honeymoon stage...

Now, she was mad at herself, and mad at North for letting her back down. She wanted Ombric here to tell her it would be okay, she needed everything to be okay, because damnit, how was she going to raise a family in all of this mess?! And she was running again, as fast as her feet would take her, faster then she normally ran, because now she needed to keep up with the others, now she needed to be there with them, to fight beside them, to defend what she held most dear.

It was going to be different this time. They all could feel it. They just didn't know how drastically they were wrong about the hope they were all desperately trying to keep alive yet.


Nightlight clawed slowly at the ground. He found his crystal dagger, the moonbeam inside flickering and faint. He told it to be strong, and tucked it inside a crease in his armor. Across the way he could see Ombric laying still, his body contorted painfully. He had to make it to him, he had to make sure Ombric was okay. Because one of them had to be okay, one of them had to survive.

Pitch's laughter echoed through the forest, faint but ever growing. Nightlight wasn't sure how much time he had before the dark king would be upon them, and he wasn't sure he could defend them both till help arrived, but oh, he was damned if he didn't try. The wound in his lower stomach was already burning from the shot of pure darkness embedded in it, the crawling making it worse. The shot wasn't new to Nightlight, neither was this type of wound, but the severity of it was. He'd never been hurt this badly before. He knew the darkness was eating away at him from inside now, but he didn't know if it would cause him to turn into a fearling, cease to exist or if the steady loss of his life blood would do him in before Pitch had the chance.

He was almost there, Ombric was within his reach. Nightlight pulled himself up next to the old man and laid a hand on his shoulder. "Ombric," he said aloud, his voice containing it's own kind of echo but not one that could be heard throughout the forest for his voice was soft with an ancient magic. He shakes the shoulder gently, the way he sees Katherine do it when she'd come to wake her adoptive father when he'd fallen asleep in the midst of his studies again. "Ombric, awaken," Nightlight says, "home to Katherine we must go, her help she will give to us." The arm he was leaning on trembled under the pressure of his weight and he feared if he moved at all he would collapse. "Ombric," Nightlight's voice trembled now, "awaken, you must be here for Katherine. Please. Awaken."

"Nightlight?"

The stardust boy of glowing light had just enough strength to turn his head and look over his shoulder. A tall lanky peasant boy with brown hair and eyes stood there with a bewildered look on his face. Jackson Overland. Nightlight had met the lad two winters ago and they played together sometimes. The children of Burgress looked up to Jackson as if he was the big brother to the whole village. Jackson smiled and started toward his friend when Nightlight collapsed. He rolled to the side to avoid the body beneath him and Jackson's eyes grew wide when he saw the gaping wound in his friend's abdomen.


Bunnymund was leading the Guardians through the tunnels, with his superior nose and hearing it made the most sense, though he wondered if he even needed to. They all knew where they were being called, they could all feel their hearts telling them which turns to take down the tunnels. Bunnymund knew, he knew it so well. Because the mind meld was a natural occurrence amongst pookas he knew too how to block out the unwanted thoughts of others. And right now he trusted that the other Guardians could both keep up with him, and be guided with their hearts to find him when the next battle started, that was why he wasn't listening to anything but his own racing heart, his own frantic thoughts.

In that critical moment when they all sensed something was wrong only Bunnymund had cried out. He had screamed actually. Katherine had enunciated what they all felt, that Nightlight and Ombric were in danger, but the pooka had been the only one to express the horrible jolt they all received. He couldn't help it. That sharp stabbing pain in his chest was was not unfamiliar to him, oh he had felt it several hundred times before, several hundred years ago. He never wanted to experience it again, no he could NOT go through that again. So he was praying, please, please, please let it be a fluke, a joke, a misunderstanding. Anything but what he thought was real. Anything but what he knew...

No. No. It would be okay. He was blocking the others thoughts because he knew they had more hope then him and he had to hold onto his hope now too. He couldn't give that up and he couldn't let his own hope, so fleeting, affect their minds as well. They would make it in time. They would push Pitch back again, they would lock him away, this time for sure, for sure. Everything would be alright, it was always alright at the end if you held onto your hope. He raced harder then he ever had in his life because he needed to believe in that glimmer of hope so thin shining at the end of this tunnel.

But he already knew what he was going to find when he emerged into those woods.


Jackson had been out checking the fur traps he and his father had set up for the coming winter, it was to be their last run of the season before the snow set in. Mischievous trickster that he was, Jackson had skipped off on his own, and because he was old enough now his father trusted the boy to know how to take care of himself and be back before dark. He would have been if he hadn't happened to look up and notice something streak across the sky, then a loud BANG! resounded in the area. Something fell and hit the ground pretty hard a bit of a walk away. Jackson waited to see if anything else would happen, anything strange, but the woods had gone eerily quiet then. He shifted the weight of the basket he had, filled with empty traps and no furs; it wasn't unusual this late in the season when the animals started hibernating. He took his walking stick, a long wooden branch with a useful natural crook at the top, and started jabbing the ground ahead of him as he walked. His bare peasant feet were numb in the dusting of frost and first snowfall of the land, but that didn't mean stepping into a metal claw trap wouldn't be painful if he wasn't careful. He smiled at the slightly morbid thought of losing a foot; at least then his mother couldn't harp on him for always making his siblings wear the shoes they got for him in the wintertime.

It didn't take long to find what had crashed to the ground and for a moment Jackson tilted his head in bewilderment; Nightlight never dropped by Burgess this late in the day. He called to his friend and started to smile, but the mirth was stolen away in his next breath as the boy collapsed. Jackson ran to Nightlight and dropped to his knees, heaving the basket to the side as he did so. He didn't know who this old man was beside him, maybe one of the people Nightlight spoke of on occasion? They looked bad, this was bad. Nightlight was bleeding heavily and for a few moments Jackson's hands waved frantically between the two in a panic over who to help first. Nightlight, the boy needed to stop the bleeding on Nightlight.

He pulled off his cloak, vest and shirt. The night air was cold but he hardly noticed in his sudden rush of adrenaline. The wound didn't go through, just punctured the front. "Nightlight," Jackson said, picking up the faintly glowing boy's head; had he always flickered drastically like that? "Nightlight, stay with me, okay? I need you to tell me how to get the armor off so I can dress your wounds."

"You cannot touch it," Nightlight gurgled, his voice strained. "I am dying...but do not let it...take you too..."

"What?" Jackson squeaked. He clawed at the armor trying to find a strap or clasp to undo, anything that would help, but the only opening to the body below was where the armor was violently torn asunder to expose the rip of the weeping flesh. It was as if the protective covering was never meant to come off. On a hunch he grasped at the jagged edges of that hole and tried to pull, but an oozing tentacle of darkness shot out from the wound and wrapped itself around his hands. Jackson screamed but not as loud or painfully as Nightlight did when he tried to pull away and jolted the wounded boy.

The eldest Guardian gritted his teeth and grabbed the manifestation of darkness, digging his nails into the black flesh and shining as brightly as he could muster. The thing let Jackson go in an instant, the lanky boy falling over onto his rump, and retreated quickly back into the depths of his stomach. In retaliation to denying it a feast of the innocence Jackson presented, the darkness took a long drag of Nightlight's life, nearly completely snuffing out his inner light. He cried out in pain and defiance, feeling it wiggling inside him, burrowing now deeper, choking him. Ombric had been the one to perfect the technique used to extracting these kinds of fearlings but they had never had so much time to burrow before; he wasn't sure they'd be able to get it out in time. His head rolled to the side in a daze of pain and was met with the crumpled sight of his friend and tears began to well in his eyes. It was finally dawning on him how bad the situation was.

Jackson grabbed his vest and started wadding it up. He pressed it to Nightlight's stomach, cringing a bit when the boy screamed but didn't let up on the pressure. "Sorry, Nightlight, but we have to stop the bleeding."

"No," the dimly lit boy gurgled. Blood coughed it's way up his throat and spilled from his mouth. "Take...this...go to the others..." With difficulty he reached into his armor, pulling out the crystal dagger he'd tucked away. The moonbeam was frantic, flashing dramatically and banging against it's clear glass case. Nightlight tried to smile at it but the look was more of a grimace. "Take...take the oath...you are a Guardian now, so...do not let him have this or all is lost..."

"Wait, wait, wait, what are you—what are you talking about?" Jackson stuttered over his words, his anxiety coming to a boil. "C'mon, c'mon, you're gunna be fine—fine. Shhh, shhhhh; Don't, don't—don't talk right now. I'll—I'll—I'll get you help, okay, okay? Just—just hold on."

"The staff..."

"What?

"Your Staff, Jackson!" Nightlight held out his hand for the discarded stick. "Bring it here...I need it..."

"You—you need to rest, okay? I'll—"

"No More Time!...Jackson...please...this is...important..."

The brunette swallowed hard as he looked back at the bleeding wound. Already the shirt was soaked through, a crimson stain on the faded yellow cotton. He realized he was listening to Nightlight's dying requests. "Shit," he hissed, a subconscious flinch drawing across his face at the hell his mother would raise if she'd heard him swear. He pushed away from Nightlight and reached for the staff, snatching it up and bringing it back to his friend. "Here, here," he said, holding it so the other boy could see. "What do you need it for?"

"This..." Nightlight said and he pressed the dagger against the wood. A light began to shine and the dagger melted, reforming itself around the center of the shepard's crook, spiraling outwards along each end. The design was beautiful, like glass ice and frost encasing the whole thing. Then with a flourish, the newly shaped dagger disappeared, sinking right into the very wood itself. Jackson blinked several times, his brown eyes never shrinking in size from a wave of what would have been disbelief if he hadn't been witness to this event. "Here..." Nightlight croaked, shakily holding out the staff for Jackson to take. "Take it...and run...they won't know...what to look for..."

"Wait, wait, I don't—"

"The time for talk is over, Jackson," Nightlight's voice rasped, weak it it's strain not to break. He grasped the brunette's hand, forcing him to take back his own staff. "Ask my Katherine...for the story..." He did smile at that as tears started leaking from his eyes. "Katherine tells...the best...stories..." The peasant boy gripped his friend's hand tight, feeling it go cold, watching the light dim in his face and finally in his eyes. Jackson shook, in grief, in shock, and in more then a little chill. He didn't have the heart to take back his shirt, nor the strength to carry two dead bodies back to his village for a proper burial.

"Shit..." he whispered again, hanging his head in more then a little shame.