Happy New Year! Have a chapter! Also, I should let everyone know that this is the last chapter I'd written in advance, and with the state of my personal life of late, there is a chance that there may not be a chapter prepped for next Wednesday. Rest assured this fic is not abandoned, and will be continued.

Recommended listening for this chapter:

6) The Placid Bastion: Nine Inch Nails – A Warm Place

Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are travelling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind.
- Henri Frederic Amiel

Jack lay there breathing slowly and deeply, feeling very disoriented and sore. Well, maybe more tingly than sore, like the feeling when your foot 'falls asleep' and then 'wakes up,' except all over. The rush of air into his lungs was brilliant, the thump of his heart in his chest, the drag of his eyelids as he blinked; all these things felt brand-new and incredible. Jack felt the tears well up, dripping slowly from the corner of his eyes along his temples to the ground. He was alive; whole and mostly hale save for the continued ache along his spine that he'd almost grown used to. He was here, in a place he didn't recognize, but knew somehow to be part of the Road, so he still had a chance to find Noddwyn and Baby and save Bunny. He just had to find the motivation to move, which was easier said than done. Being put back together again had done nothing to help his severely depleted reserves. He felt exhausted, wrung out, and while not on the verge of death, a nap would certainly not go remiss. He found himself afraid to let go, afraid to close his eyes, not trusting that he'd still be alive when he woke. He wished Sandy was there to ensure good dreams, but knew it was a futile wish. He'd just have to wait until this was over, and he was home. Of course, it wouldn't be over until he got up and got a move on, and so the vicious circle began again. He'd have spent another couple hours chasing his thoughts, if it hadn't been for the soft footsteps approaching. Jack struggled to push himself up to face the approaching person, but weak as he was he didn't succeed. He reached for his staff, but quickly realized that while he was here, his staff was nowhere near him. It was likely, Jack realized with slowly dawning horror, that while he'd restored himself somehow, that his staff was forever lost to him. That was also the moment he noticed that the slight breeze he'd been feeling all over his skin meant he was also nude. So, he was currently naked, prone and helpless; honestly, could this situation get any worse? Not much he could do about it though, other than wait for the approaching person to do as they would, and pray that there were not an opportunistic enemy and that these weren't in fact his last few undignified moments alive.

What he was not expecting was the earnest face that appeared as a woman knelt beside him, one slender, lovely hand coming out to gently stroke his brow. She was not particularly young, but not so old that she was showing clear signs of aging. She had plain brown curls pinned up away from a round face that was girl-next-door pretty with a soft, welcoming smile. She was clothed in a simple dress of an autumn orange with a white apron, not unlike something the women had worn in the time Jack had been human. In fact, she could have been his mother, or the mother of one of his human friends, if the gentle, nurturing vibe she seemed to exude was any indication. Jack felt himself relax into her soothing touch almost against his own wishes. The hand began to move then, petting his hair like a beloved child, and Jack found himself slipping swiftly into sleep. He fought for a moment, full of fear, but she shushed him, murmuring quietly to him as he dozed off. The last thing he remembered was the unknown woman speaking to him by name.

When he wakes again, Jack decides he is entirely sick and tired of slowly coming into consciousness is strange places. It's been a far too regular occurrence since he set out on this endeavor, and frankly enough is enough. He's just come to in what looks to be some kind of glade. It's as bright and sunny as the desert, but he's sheltered under the shade of a ridiculously large, leafy tree, the light filtering down to feather onto the ground all around him, dappling the soft moss and deadfall with odd patterns of light and dark. He lies among the roots, cradled in their hollows and the cool earth and greenery that grows there. He's still naked, but it's less uncomfortable now then it was with the impending audience. To his right is the tree's enormous trunk; much thicker than any he'd ever seen on Earth, and above him the canopy is so high that he almost feels vertigo just looking at it. To his left, folded on a nearby flat rock, are what appears to be a change of clothes, which he's grateful for, cause the bum-to-the-breeze thing is getting pretty old. He tries to rise, and this time manages it properly, if a little clumsily. His limbs feel coltish and awkward, which doesn't surprise him much, being the first day in his 'new' body. He doesn't bother standing, merely scoots himself over toward the clothes, ignoring the promise of grass stains on his pale skin. The fabric is soft and comfortable, but obviously durable and meant for travelling. The shirt is white, with a clerical-style collar and wide sleeves that gather around at the wrists with narrow cuffs. It appeared to be made of some kind of lightweight linen, with silver embroidery in a delicate, curling pattern along the collar and down the outside of the sleeves. In fact, Jack would be inclined to say that the threads are meant to resemble the frost ferns he creates almost unthinkingly. There is also a waistcoat of a heavier, thicker fabric in a rich royal blue, with the same silver embroidery patterning the front. The final item is a pair of sturdy woollen trousers not unlike his previous ones, only these are in a charcoal grey and not quite as snug as their predecessors; the extra leg room not entirely unpleasant although unusual. They are also perhaps a touch too long, as they drag slightly with every step, but Jack isn't willing to look a gift horse in the mouth, and besides, he can roll them up into a perfect functional cuff just fine, which he does until they hit just below the knee. Finally presentable for company again, Jack heads out, intending to walk in a random direction until he finds either trouble or where his friends got to, whatever comes first. Barring either of those, Jack would settle for meeting up with the mysterious woman again, which he knows couldn't have been a hallucination. He just hopes Noddwyn and Baby aren't stuck in the desert still, alone and mostly defenceless. The world around him is a deep, dense forest, the trees growing so close together that he has to carefully pick his way between them. Unlike the first forest he'd encountered the SpiderBunny in however, this one is vibrant and alive; the thick canopy of leaves above rustles gently in the breeze while the thick spongy moss below cushions his bare feet as he walks. Around him are random bursts of flora growing on ground and tree trunks alike; both greenery and flowers in a riotous variety of colours and shapes, none of which he recognizes, and he's spent more than his fair share of time in the Warren. Must be stuff unique to the Road then, Jack figured, appreciated the wild, untameable beauty of his surroundings.

Jack makes it about a hundred feet, just far enough to crest a slight hill between two incredibly large tree trunks, and summarily finds himself bowled over by an enthusiastic fairy-shaped projectile. A fairy that is significantly larger then he remembers her being; large enough in fact that she is comfortably carrying a certain Rockling with her, her arms tight around his midsection and his back to her chest the way a child would carry a beloved pet. The two are nearly of a size now, although Baby seems to have edged out over Noddwyn. She looks almost like a human toddler with feathers; she has proper arms now, her wings relocated to her back and wingspan several times larger than before. Her beak nose has shrunk in proportion to her more human-looking face, but her smile is the same as always, even as she delightedly chirps Jack's name. She looks like Tooth might have in miniature. Noddwyn hasn't changed as drastically, but his colouring has deepened, darkened, and his skin has taken on a slightly different quality than before. He seems warmer and softer somehow as Jack runs gentle fingers over the top of his head and down his back; as though the stone that forms him is truly living, and not just animated. Jack grins helplessly as he notices that his friend is making that happy purring noise where he snuggles into both Baby's grip and Jack's chest, Baby herself crooning wordless delight into Jack's bare neck. Despite his surprise at their appearance, Jack wastes no time in pulling them closer, holding them tightly, never wanting to let them go. He might never have done so either, if he hadn't recognized the soft footsteps coming towards them. They all raise their heads to greet the new addition; the brunette woman from before.

"Hello Jack Frost." She greets him, with a voice as rich as honey. "Welcome to the Bastion, the place of rest and healing at the heart of the Questing Path." Stunned, it takes Jack a moment to find his voice, and when he does, it is gritty from disuse, and he can't help but wonder how long it had been since he'd spoken last.

"Are... Are you the Oracle?" The woman laughs, but it is not unkind, more flattered than anything.

"No Jack, I am not. What I am is one of his avatars; and aspect of him, sent to greet and aid weary travellers such as yourselves. Most call me the Messenger, and this is my garden." The Messenger offered the gathered friends a warm smile, one that Jack could not help returning. The woman seemed sincere enough; her presence calming and soothing.

"So, this place... it's safe? No bad guys lurking in the corner or anything?" Jack couldn't help but ask, squinting his eyes and peering around the woman to either side, as if expecting something big and ugly to leap out at them. He knew it was futile though; something about this place instinctively felt like a safe space. There was just something in the air that he could feel in his bones that spoke of nothing but calm and peacefulness, but he wouldn't be satisfied until he heard assurances spoken aloud.

"Yes Jack Frost, this place is a neutral zone. You and your companions may rest here for a time and recover your strength before you continue with your quest. For my part, I am willing to answer any question I can about the Road and its inhabitants so far"

Jack blinked long and slow at the offer, obviously sceptical. "You can't mean that." His disbelief was clear in every word.

Now, the faintest hint of a frown crossed the Messenger's face. "Cannot mean what, Jack?" She said with honest confusion in her tone.

"The answers thing!" Jack proclaimed, completely incredulous. "I mean, no one just gives out answers anymore! It's all 'solve this riddle' or 'figure out this obscure clue,' nobody ever tells anybody anything straight up! Isn't that against some sort of code of conduct or something?" Jack would have gestured with his staff for emphasis, but he was currently staff-less and had his arms full of very-relieved-to-see-him-alive snuggle-buddies. He was however treated to the sight of the Messenger's face clearing with her amusement, her laughter tinkling in the warm air like a bell.

"Fear not, Jack Frost. Part of my appointment here is to ensure that any and all who Quest are prepared to proceed. The nature of the tasks set to you from this point forward are of a different kind than those that have already passed. Previously, it was your strength, cunning, and fortitude being tested, through physical combat with foes tailored specifically to you. Also, your willingness to sacrifice yourself for your friends and your cause was gauged, and found worthy. Now knowledge, in this case, is your most useful tool, and it is my job to offer any guidance you feel necessary. There are no tricks young elemental, and no strings. Just myself, and whatever information I can provide." Jack couldn't stop himself from matching her smile. While the prospect of the tasks still before them was somewhat daunting, Jack had confidence that together, the three of them could succeed. Giving his friends one last squeeze, Jack released them, letting Baby free to zip about as she pleased, and settling Noddwyn onto his shoulder.

"Well then!" Jack chirped cheerily; "Is this like, twenty questions, or what?" The Messenger smiled that gentle, indulgent smile again.

"Bring your friends this way, Jack Frost. We will settle ourselves more comfortably for our conversation." Without waiting for a response, the Messenger turned and picked her way carefully down the embankment, avoiding loose rocks and tree roots with the inborn grace of a long-time dancer. Jack followed, right hand helping Noddwyn to balance on his shoulder, the other hand clutching emptily at the absence of his staff. He fought to ignore the strange, uncomfortable sensation of vulnerability, focussing his attention onto Baby and her excited chatter instead. She filled him in as they walked; how, after Jack's little coup-de-gras, they found themselves alone, exhausted and injured in Baby's case. She described with no small amount of affection and appreciation how Noddwyn had carefully carried her, in an awkward piggy back fashion. It had taken days to finished crossing the desert as they were; since they had to stop frequently to allow Baby a chance to rest and heal, and Noddwyn a moment to reorient them. Luckily, their progress was not slowed or hampered at all by the appearance of any further enemies. By the end of the second estimated day, however, not only was Baby well on the mend, they had realized that she was growing. Soon, she was large enough to carry Noddwyn, instead of the other way around, and after that it was only a few short hours later that they'd stumbled out of the desert and into the Bastion and the waiting arms of the Messenger. They'd shared their tale of woe with her, prepared to spend their time of rest grieving, but the Messenger had assured them, with an odd smile, that their funeral plans were slightly pre-emptive. Not the next day, they had been told that Jack had made it to the Bastion, in critical shape, but was resting and recovering. It had been three days of anxious waiting before Jack and roused and they'd been brought together again.

Once their tale had finished, they walked in silence for a few moments more, just appreciating each other's company, before the Messenger led them to a glade not unlike the one Jack had awoken in. This one appeared setup for proper habitation however, with a large tent, a laundry line, and the remnants of a cooking fire. The Messenger bade them all to be seated on one of the logs encircling the fire pits, before gracefully alighting beside them herself. She carefully smoothed out the lengths of her skirts until they fell neatly about her, looking every inch the lady as she did so. Jack was impressed; even in his time he'd seen few women that bore themselves with the dignity and regal air that this woman did. In deference, Jack waited until she was comfortably seated. Jack took the moment to adjust himself comfortably, so that both Baby and Noddwyn were cuddling in his lap, their sides pressed together and their backs snug to his stomach. He had a brief flash of sitting like this himself in his mother's lap, back when he was but a small, human child, and the thought made him smile nostalgically. The Messenger seemed to read the meaning behind the thought, if not the thought itself, for she offered Jack and his friends a warm grin.

"Thanks, for the clothes and stuff, that was you, right? Cause pants are always appreciated, y'know?" Jack finds himself blurting out into the sudden silence; frost rising to his cheeks in a heady blush. "The whole naked thing was awkward, and uncomfortable in a multitude of ways, so yeah, thanks."

The Messenger offered Jack and amused grin, her merriment evident in her eyes. "You are welcome, Jack Frost, and I hope they serve you well. You may ask me any question you see fit to ask, Jack Frost. I will answer fully to your satisfaction. Know this though; any tasks yet to be completed, any challenges yet faced, cannot be revealed to you by our discussions. These are the only questions I cannot answer, for I know not what lies ahead of you."

Jack blinked in surprise, the last sentence catching him unexpectedly. "So, you know what I've done, but not what I'm going to do?"

Smiling gently, the Messenger shook her head. "Your path is yours to walk, Jack Frost. Even the Oracle, who sees all that has been and all that is now, cannot see what is to come. You determine your own fate with every action, every inaction, every choice you make and every enemy you face. I can see where you have come from Jack Frost, and I know what led you to come here and what you seek, but I cannot see where you are to go, and whether you will succeed."

Jack nodded, absorbing this. Made sense that even the most knowledgeable being in the known universe couldn't possibly know everything, and while it would have been nice to know that he was going to make it to the Oracle, it was also a relief that his destiny was not yet determined. He disliked the idea of being a puppet, just playing out a story already written. "So, can you tell me if the Oracle even has the power to bring Bunny back at all? I mean, I'd hate to have come so far only to fail on a technicality." Noddwyn nodded and Baby chirped, both in agreement.

"The Oracle can grant you this one boon, if you succeed in your endeavor."

Jack nodded again, looking down and frowning. He had so many questions, where to start? Catching sight of the two in his lap, the answer quickly came to him. "What happened to Baby and Noddwyn? Baby I know for sure has changed since we arrived, and I suspect Noddwyn has too, since we found him."

The Messenger seemed pleased by his question, clasping her hands in her lap as she spoke. "You are correct. It is due to the inherent nature of this place. The Road as you saw it Jack Frost, only exists because of you. It is formless magic swirling in the abyss until there is a Challenger to shape it. Everything you have encountered so far is a reflection of you, and to a lesser degree your familiars." The Messenger gestured daintily at Noddwyn and Baby. "You fear the Earth creatures known as 'Spiders' and felt a large amount on anxiety over your lost friend, and so you fought a foe that reflected those emotions. You have a large capacity for love, and a devotion to those you cherish, so your fight in the Quarry reflected that to as it forced you to place their wellbeing over your own. As a Winter Mage, the danger of desert and fire too were represented by the Road for you to overcome. Nothing you have faced is an accident or a coincidence, Jack Frost." The Messenger shifted slightly, angling her body a little more toward Jack and company. "But, as you shape the Road, so too does the Road shape you in return. Both in the lessons you learn from it, the gifts it affords to you," the Messenger looked pointedly at Noddwyn, and Jack clutched the Rockling a little bit closer, "and also, by the magic you absorb. It has augmented both of your friends, making them stronger, faster, and more capable then before. It has done the same to you, Jack Frost."

Jack eyed the Messenger warily as he replied. "I'm not sure I believe that. I mean, I can see what you mean about me shaping the environment, but not being shaped by it. Unless you mean my miraculous recovery back there? How did that happen, anyways? Was that you?" Jack's tone was skeptical, and for the first time, a slight frown tugged at the corner of the Messenger's mouth.

"No Jack Frost, your recovery was your own. You did something that most elemental manipulators from you realm have a difficult time doing. You held on to yourself; your memory and identity past the point that death should have claimed you, and used them to reshape your physical structure out of its own remnants. Essentially, you re-condensed yourself from the steam created by your meeting with the fire elemental. It's not an impossible trick, but not one you see often from your realm. Most elemental do not have a strong enough affinity or sense of self and purpose to do so. It impressed the Oracle very much."

Jack grinned a bit, feeling a nearly smug sense of accomplishment, until he noticed that the Messenger's face had tightened. "Do not be so prideful, Jack Frost. You are mistrustful, of both my words and the magics working upon you in this realm. One could perhaps understand such, having witnessed your adventures so far. But hear this; you have been marked as surely by your time here as your companions have, you just have not yet embraced your changes."

"Embraced my changes?" Jack scoffed, unable to help himself, ignored Baby's warning cheep to do so. "Lady, I've met every challenge head on without flinching, including certain and very painful death. What exactly am I not 'embracing' here?" Jack couldn't help the sarcastic tone, really he couldn't. He was an immortal teenager; sarcasm came with the territory, so sue him.

The Messenger looked at Jack, with what he could only describe as pity. "You do not understand yet, but you must, if you wish to endure the remaining trials before you. Accept yourself and the changes wrought Jack Frost, or you will not succeed alone."

The last word caught in Jack's ears and nearly stopped his heart in fear. "Alone?" Jack croaked weakly, "What do you mean, alone? I'm not leaving without Baby and Noddwyn!"

"You have no choice!" For the first time, there was a sharpness to the Messengers voice that shouldn't have surprised Jack, but did. "The trials you have passed so far tested your determination, your skill, your resourcefulness and your bond with both friends. The ones ahead are a different sort of test meant for you and you alone, as the challenger to this realm. You must continue on without accompaniment, or be sent back to whence you came." The Messenger straightened in her seat, lending greater force to her words. "There is no alternative, Jack Frost. Up until now, they were permitted to be with you because they were companions, not challengers in their own right. Only challengers are allowed past this point, unless you would have your companions continue from here alone also, to Quest on their own, separate paths as well?"

Baby and Noddwyn tweeted and clacked their readiness respectively, but Jack shook his head, already calculating the terrible odds his friends would face out there separate and unprotected. "No, let them be. I will go by myself, as you demand." Jack's voice was hard and flinty, pitched to rise above the angry caterwauling coming from his lap. "Will they be safe here until I can return?" Jack looked beseechingly at the Messenger, still ignoring Baby and Noddwyn's very vocal protests.

"Yes, your companions will come to no harm in the Bastion. Succeed or fail, they will both be returned to your homeworld when the trials end. You have my word as Messenger of the Oracle."

"Even Noddwyn, who was born here?" Jack asked.

The Messenger nodded in agreement. "Even Noddwyn, who was created for you and is bonded to you; he would not exist again should he stay behind as this world will unmake itself when you leave, in order to prepare for the next Challenger to Walk." Jack nodded, convinced. Or, convinced enough, at least. He would never trust easy, he was too scarred from a long history of solitude for that, but it would have to be enough. In his lap, Noddwyn was grinding away in displeasure, and Baby was battering the crown of Jack's head with her tiny wings in anger. "Guys, guys, chill. Look, I want to take you with me; believe me I don't want to go without you. But we have to keep moving. There is no reason to risk yourselves any further; this is my Quest, and you both have suffered enough because of me." The cacophony of wails started up again, but Jack cut them off. "That's enough! I need you to take care of each other, please, and make sure that if I fail, someone is here safe and sound to take the message back home, okay?" Jack looked at his friends, pleadingly. "Baby, I know that you cared about Bunny too, but Tooth and the girls need you. Noddwyn, I can't drag you any further into this mess then I already have. You can go back with Baby and meet our friends, and have a chance to live safe and happy. Besides!" Jack grinned, face brightening, "Who says I'm not coming back anyways? I'm going to Walk all over this Road, just you wait! It'll be a party of four heading home, I promise!" Baby calmed somewhat, reassured by Jack's optimism, snuggling into his jawline, although her grumbling didn't quite stop. In his lap, Noddwyn stopped squirming, settling himself into a soft purr. Jack smiled, hugging Noddwyn tighter and raising a hand to stroke Baby's feathers. Joy filled him up entirely, reverberating against his center, which was still intact even after all he'd endured so far. How did he get so lucky, to have such loving, loyal friends?

"If you are satisfied, Jack Frost, then I bid you and your friends to rest, for tomorrow you must leave." The Messenger's words were kind, but firm. "Now that you are healed, I am not permitted to shelter you any longer."

Jack jerked his head up in shock. "But, my staff! I'm a sitting duck without it; I can barely channel any magic at all! Did it even survive the fire elemental?" Jack could feel his breath speeding up, the panic forming.

Oddly enough, the Messenger seemed to be unconcerned in the slightest with Jack's Panic. In fact, Jack was pretty sure he'd caught a glimpse of a twinkle in her eyes, not unlike the kind North was known to get when he knew something you didn't. The Mona Lisa smile was snapped back into place a second later, leaving Jack to believe he'd imagined it. "The staff was as much ash and dust as you were steam, Jack Frost. When you reconstituted yourself back into a human form, it was just that; only your body, not your conduit. It is lost, forever."

Jack groaned, dismayed. How was he expected to defend himself against the trials of the Road without a weapon? He voiced as much to the Messenger, who merely smiled slyly.

"Ah, you forget, Jack Frost, you are not unarmed at all." From somewhere in the folds of her dress, the Messenger withdrew both the obsidian dagger gifted to him from Sandy, and the glowing rock from North.

Incredulous, Jack gasped. "Where did you get those! They were on me when I burnt! Wait, did the cloak survive too?"

The Messenger shook her head, sympathetic. "These did not burn like the cloak and staff did. They were carried here by the magic of the Road, and entrusted to me by the same power to be returned to you when you awoke." Standing, she slipped the rock over Jack's head, now tied up with long a cord to make a necklace. The dagger she handed to him carefully, hilt first. After inspecting it for damage and finding it intact, Jack slid in into the sheath she offered, shifting Noddwyn off his lap briefly so as to secure the dagger to the outside of his right thigh for easy access. "The Road is not unfair, Jack. Difficult yes, and most certainly overwhelming at points, but never truly unfair. These gifts are steeped in your magic and the magic of those that sent them with you; they are bound to you, and unless destroyed, they will always return to you."

Jack nodded, fingertips rising to the softly glowing rock around his neck. He felt greatly reassured to know that the tools provided by his friends were still with him, as if he could feel their love and pride echoed from the objects. He briefly mourned the loss of the cloak Tooth had gifted him and the staff that had saved his sister's life, but these were small sacrifices to restore Bunny to his rightful place. He had already offered up far worse to this trial, after all. Material possessions could be replaced; at least, i the case of his staff, Jack hoped so.

With a final nod, the Messenger rose, offering the trio the use of the tent for the evening. Despite having slept most of the last few days, Jack knew that another night's worth would be beneficial. If he was to proceed on his own, he needed to be in top shape, or all his promises would be for naught. Tucking himself and his friends into the comfortable blankets he found inside the tent, the three of them readied themselves to sleep. Curled around each other like puppies, they drew comfort from one another for as long as they could, knowing that come morning, they would be separated once again. The sun came up too quickly however, and Jack and his friends found themselves being led to the border of the Bastion. It was a strange place; like a veil draped over the world, shimmering and opaque so that none could perceive what lay beyond. Jack stood at the edge, the Messenger off to the side to allow the friends to say farewell. Baby nuzzled Jack's face with her own, and then Noddwyn did the same, murmuring blessings and purring assurances respectively to their friend. Jack reassured them all again that he was strong and smart enough to endure, and that he would see them again once this all was over. He kept it short and sweet though, fearful that if he lingered, he would be too tempted to stay entirely. So, without another word he turned, squaring his shoulders and stepping through the veil; leaving his friends and the Bastion behind, the words 'good bye' never having crossed his lips.

Bunny poked Jack in the side with his toe, mostly to get his attention, but also somewhat to annoy the other. "Time to head off, kiddo. North'll be expecting you soon."

Jack groaned, thumping his head back into the grass. They were in the Warren again, Jack furthering the cause of trying to convince Bunny to have fun by annoying him endlessly. "Do I have to? He's loud, and enthusiastic about absolutely everything even the stuff he shouldn't be, and the elves keep trying to give me shoes." Jack sat up, a bemused smirk on his lips. "I think they're under the impression that my feet might be cold, or something. I'd wear them to make them feel better, if I didn't avoid shoes on general principle." Truthfully, Jack hated shoes; they made his feet feel confined to the point where they ached. Jack knew it was psychosomatic but whatever, it was still uncomfortable.

Bunny chuckled, prodding the teenager to his feet. "Up you get now, let's not disappoint the man who adores you like his own, kiddo. North thinks the world of you, I hope you know. Now, be off, I have work to do. Besides," Bunny added somewhat slyly, "A little fairy sheila told me that North's been upgrading the sleigh again. Who knows, he might finally let you test drive."

Jack burst into a grin, bending to snatch his staff from the ground. "I'm gone then, 'Roo. Don't miss me!" Jack took to the air, trusting the wind to carry him through the right tunnel to the pole, and ignoring Bunny's hollered farewells behind him. Jack knew that the other hated it when he left without a proper good bye; feeling his sense of manners and propriety offended by each such instance. Jack hadn't yet found the words to tell Bunny the he never said goodbye because he was afraid that, if he did, there might never again come a time for a hello.

"Heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned; unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever; a happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story."
― Peter S. Beagle