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The Boy in the Tower

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    Jack was more than a little confused the night that he emerged from the lake, dripping icy water and mind completely blank.  

   Everything was so new; so strange.

   It didn’t even occur to him that the moon talking to him might be a bit odd.  He didn’t know any different.

    Jack Frost.

   It certainly had a nice ring to it.  It called to him and he knew without a doubt that it was the truth.  He was Jack Frost.

   The discovery of his powers was exhilarating, almost seeming to set his soul free.  The cool rush of power racing through his veins and bursting out of his fingertips into the solid wood of the shepherd’s crook he’d picked up earlier.  The magic pulsed through the conduit with a faint ethereal glow that Jack hardly even noticed, before exploding out through the crook like little white and blue fireworks.  The frost glittered in elegant designs over the ground, trees, ice - anything it touched was subject to a liberal painting of sparkly white frost. The sight of it caused a giddy giggle to escape the boy’s lips unbidden.  It was all so amazing, he felt like he could do anything in that moment. He was so full of energy he felt like he could even walk on air.

   He might have tried, too, if strange formless shapes hadn’t begun to melt out of the shadows of the surrounding forest.  They hovered just out of the moonlight, undulating in alarming and disturbing ways. They were everywhere, swarming to the edge of the clearing and gazing at him with an unearthly sort of hunger.  

   The sight of them lurking there watching him sent a shiver of pure fear racing down his spine.  He had no idea what they were, but he knew on an instinctive level that they were not there to play.

   Jack swallowed heavily, large blue eyes slowly slipping across the strange creatures gathering around him.  Every second that passed more of them crowded closer, straining around and over each other to get a better look at him.  He didn’t dare move, hardly even breathed as he stood paralyzed by the multitude of glowing yellow eyes, staring at him from every direction.  He was too afraid that even the slightest of shifts on his part would send them into a frenzy.

   They might have remained in their strange tableau, if one of the monsters hadn’t tumbled forward drunkenly, eagerly gnashing it’s dripping fangs at him, never once moving away from the line of the trees.  It was strange to watch and Jack felt like the creature should have made some sort of sound. But all was completely silent.

   The movement jolted Jack’s heart into overdrive and he jerked backwards, tripping over his own feet in his hurry to put more distance between them.  Now that Jack had broken from his horrified stupor he turned on his heel and dashed headlong into the trees behind him.

   One of the creatures lunged forwards abruptly, it’s obsidian claws aiming for his unprotected stomach.  Jack yelped, dancing to one side and sucking in his belly, narrowly avoiding being impaled.

   Jack stumbled away from the creature, caught himself on one of the trees, and bounced off it using it to bolster his speed as he fled blindly into the forest.  He dodged low hanging branches and jumped effortlessly over protruding roots as he struggled to remain ahead of his deadly pursuers.

   He couldn’t hear them, but he knew they were there; could feel them behind him, hounding every step he took.  He sprinted through the trees and over the forest floor, hardly registering the twigs and rocks bloodying the bottoms of his bare feet.  More than once he would feel the sting of a branch hitting him across the face because he was running too fast to dodge or duck away in time.

   He’d been running so hard that he was beginning to feel like someone was stabbing him in the side with one of the very tree branches he was trying so hard to ignore, his breathing was ragged and everything around him was beginning to blur.

   Jack couldn’t keep this up, he knew that, but he couldn’t just stop.  Maybe the inkblobs were starting to slow down? Maybe they had given up?

   Despite knowing better, Jack couldn’t help the small twitch of his head to the side.  Before he even knew what was happening Jack was turning to glance over his shoulder back the way he had come.  

   It was a mistake.  He could see them now.  He knew how close they were, knew that they were going to catch him.  He needed to move faster!  But with his eyes fixed on a point behind him and not on where he was going he wasn’t able to keep track of where he was putting his feet.  He tripped, over what it didn’t matter - a root, his own feet…the ground - whatever the cause, it was just enough of a distraction for the creatures pursuing him to close the distance.

   One slavering maw aimed for his face, another for his side, and yet another was moving in on one of his legs.  He didn’t see the one that got him, it clamped down on his wrist and yanked him backwards. The creatures in front of him snapped their mouths shut over empty air as Jack was dragged out of their reach.

   A hand clamped down onto the lower half of his face, covering his mouth and preventing him from yelling out.  Another hand, the pair to the one pressing over Jack’s face, swept in front of him, drawing some sort of black cloak over his head.  Jack sucked in a startled breath through his nose, his wide eyes watching through the strange material of the cloak as the horrifying creatures that had been chasing him snarled at each other angrily.

   “Be still.” A low smooth voice cooed soothingly into his ear.

   Jack obeyed, his whole body frozen at just a word.  Wide blue eyes stared out at the shadows milling about just feet away from where he stood, back to …whoever it was that had grabbed him.

   The monsters stalked through the trees, slowly, scenting the air as they moved.  Their sharp black ears cocked as they listened for their prey.  It was odd, watching them now.  He could see them more clearly than ever before and he still didn't know what they were.  They seemed to have a fluid shape, moving from an indistinct form into what could easily be some sort of hound only to then glide into what appeared to be a vaguely humanoid form.  Cat, Bird, horrifying blob monster, whatever they really were they moved through the clearing so slowly, glowing yellow eyes moving over Jack without any hint that they had noticed him.

   He wasn’t sure how that was possible, but he wasn’t about to complain.  He didn’t dare to even blink, afraid he might be heard or seen somehow, despite the strange enchantment hiding him from their senses.  It took forever before the shadowy things moved on, vanishing back into the trees.

   Once they were gone Jack slumped against his rescuer as the man removed his hand from Jack’s mouth.  Jack wasn’t sure his legs could support him right then, but the person behind him didn’t seem at all bothered by his weight.

   The stranger waited patiently until Jack pulled away on his own, once again sure that he would be able to stand without wobbling.  Jack turned to finally look up at the man who had saved him. He was tall and pale, with almost a grayish tinge to his pallid skin.  His hair was pitch black, and his eyes seemed to shift between liquid gold and pooled moonlight.

   A twig snapped behind him and Jack jumped, whipping around to face the sound.  Wide frightened blue eyes scanned the tree line, but nothing seemed to be out of place.  A hand settled on his shoulder, the long spindly fingers curling against his collarbone, “Calm yourself, Jack.”  The man soothed in his deep voice, “They shall not harm you now. You are safe.”

   Jack’s head jerked around, staring up at this stranger with an eager expression, “You know me?”   He gasped, excitement bubbling up inside of him at the prospect. 

   Maybe the moon had sent him?

   A sad look filled the man’s white-gold eyes as he looked down at Jack, “You do not remember me?”  The man sounded crushed, his husky voice trailing off into a whisper as if he didn’t want to hear his own voice.  Jack wanted to take it back, tell him it was a joke and of course he recognized him…but that would be a lie. “Do not worry about it, son.”  The man said when he realized Jack’s predicament, “Let’s get you home, where you can dry off and warm up.”

   That sounded wonderful.  Jack didn’t know where home was, and he may not be cold, per say, his clothes were still soaked and becoming stiff with ice.  It was very uncomfortable.

   He smiled uncertainly up at the man and nodded.

   The not-stranger’s lips curled up at the corners into a smile full of sharp teeth as he swept the boy away in a swirl of shadows.

***

   Mim watched this happen in horror, unable to do anything as Pitch Black stole his new Guardian before he even had a chance to warn North.

   Pitch vanished and Jack Frost was gone.

    Mim couldn’t sense him anywhere.  

   Desperately Mim sent down his moonbeams to scour the earth in search of Jack.  They checked everywhere. Every nook and cranny of every cave. Every small town and overstuffed city.  One brave moonbeam even ventured into Pitch’s lair. But none of his moonbeams could find the boy. He was truly lost.

   That night the moon went dark as Mim mourned his lost son.


Chapter Text

Aster, 300 Years Later

Spring was in the air. The scent of new green life drifted into the cool early morning breeze vying for attention against the crisp scent of a light snow.

It was all so perfect; just the kind of morning Easter was made for! But it was early, and the ankle biters were still tucked in their beds, sound asleep, unaware of the lone pooka working hard to give them the most perfect holiday he could.

Aster's tunnel broke the surface and he poked his head out, cautiously scanning the area for any wily children thinking they could sneak a peek at the Easter Bunny.

What he found came as a surprise, and he hopped out of his tunnel, landing lightly on a patch of grass so dark it was almost black.

The area he found himself in was odd almost misshapen with the shadows clinging to the decrepit walls and dripping from archways. It was as if he was looking through a fun-house mirror everything once normal distorted in grotesque ways. It was because of this strange veil of unease that clung to the buildings that he didn't realize where he was right away. It was with dawning realization, and no small amount of horror, that Aster's eyes roamed over the ruins, his mind automatically filling in gaps, rebuilding crumbling walls and draping the whole thing in brilliant red and gold tapestries.

He knew this place. He'd spent a good amount of time walking these halls when the building was new, when it was still filled with life and people milled about as they worked. He'd known this castle when it still sat in the middle of a bustling city and went by the name of Camelot.

This looked almost nothing like the once great kingdom he'd helped build. But his heart knew it, his soul crying out in recognition. Memories danced before his mind, drawing him back to when the kingdom was still at it's peak, when Arthur sat on the throne, peace and prosperity ruled alongside him.

That peace hadn't lasted. Camelot fell when Arthur died, and Aster thought Avalon had claimed the mighty structure and it was simply lost to time.

This was certainly not Avalon. Although the entire valley it rested in reeked of magic the pooka didn't recognize the location at all. He took a cautious step forward, his ears flat against his skull and his nose twitching.

Pitch. The stench of the Nightmare King hung heavy in the air blocking out any other scents that might otherwise have revealed any further secrets. It was strong enough to raise Aster's hackles, he knew Pitch had to be up to something; what he had no idea and he could only hope it wasn't a pressing matter he didn't have time to deal with it right that minute.

Easter couldn't wait. It wasn't something he could really push off and deal with later. He still had googies to hide and hunts to supervise (the googies always got a bit excited and were prone to wandering if not watched). He wasn't sure what had drawn him here, to this small dale, but he promised himself that he would return as soon as he was able to investigate further.

With one last look at the single remaining intact tower , Aster tapped his paw against the dark ground and disappeared into his tunnel, leaving behind a single bright yellow flower to brighten up the gloom.

***Frostbunny***

Jack lay on his bed late into the day, staring up at the ceiling in complete boredom. He'd woken up ridiculously early, but couldn't bring himself to climb out of bed. Yet the longer he lay there, the worse his boredom became until he started to twitch.

The boy rolled off the edge of his bed, pulling himself to his feet he stretched his back in a long satisfying line before snatching his staff up from where it was leaning against the wall. Then the boy slowly trudged his way out of his room and towards the door leading to the outside. Jack's room was located at the very top of the tower, a small balcony connecting it to the long steep staircase curling around the outside of the tower. It wasn't much of a balcony, the stone floor ending after just a couple feet. Naturally, Jack had expanded the space outwards with a thick slab of ice until he was happy with the width, he'd done much the same with the stairs, his father commanding them be iced over to prevent easy access to the tower.

Jack never really used the stairs anyway; the boy stepped up to the edge of the balcony, the wind gently buffeted against him in greeting. Grinning, Jack leaned forwards into the wind, trusting it to hold his weight. It stayed steady, easily supporting Jack's feather light frame. He hung there, suspended for a good thirty seconds before Wind grew bored of this game and dropped him like a sack of rocks.

Jack laughed as he plummeted towards the rocky ground. The wind raced down beside him, teasing his hair and wrapping his sheer white shirt around his thin torso in a playful caress. Jack had a brief thought for his cloak still hung on the shelf by the door, but he didn't really need it so it remained in it's place inside the tower.

The two danced, spinning faster and faster in their dive, Jack loved every adrenaline filled moment of it. As the ground loomed dangerously close the wind curled into the boy's stomach, curving upwards and guiding the boy into a quick loop before dropping him daintily onto his feet.

Jack landed lightly; the boy started walking swinging his staff in front of him carelessly, grazing the dark grass and leaving a fine layer of frost clinging to each blade. He didn't stay still for long, heading into the maze of ruins to have a bit of fun…that stuffy old tower could get so boring.

Every step his took, frost spider-webbed out in all directions. But it never lingered very long, melting way in the muggy atmosphere.

It was always like that and Jack had to constantly monitor any ice he used, like his balcony, to make sure it didn't melt on him. Frost was easy to make, but ice took time and energy to restore. Because of this, he liked to replace his ice as seldom as possible, once a week was ideal.

Jack wandered through the ruins slowly. He knew every brick and stone by heart, which was not very surprising considering he'd been exploring it since his father brought him home all those years ago. He assumed it had all been familiar to him before, this was where he'd grown up after all. But even now Jack couldn't remember anything before waking up in the lake. It wasn't like he hadn't tried. He'd spent years agonizing over it, trying to force the memories back.

But nothing ever worked, his mind remained as blank as the day he'd risen from the water. He wasn't even sure why he had been at the lake in the first place, his best guess was the Big Four had kidnapped him and tried to drown him. But he didn't remember, so he couldn't be certain. It was the only thing that made sense, though.

Father refused to talk about it, he'd grow cold and leave shortly after the topic was brought up. Jack figured it was hard to remember, coming home and finding his son missing. He never wanted to put his father though something like that again, it obviously tortured him even now.

So Jack resigned himself to life within the tower. He knew he should stay up in his room where it was safe and he knew if father ever found out he even came down here to play in the ruins he would be in trouble, but it was just so boring up there. He had to do something to keep from going mad.

Jack knew the ruins so well, in fact, that he quickly became bored again. He still had a couple of hours before night fell, so he decided to start up a little game. He gathered little balls of snow in his hands and started hurling them at anything that moved. It took a lot of imagination since he was the only living being in the whole clearing.

But if the centuries more or less spent by himself had given him anything, it was an excellent imagination. A little bit of magic was all it took, he quickly frosted over the walls and floors until everything gleamed with an ethereal blue glow. Then he gently coaxed that frost into shapes, pulling them off the walls and up out of the ground, they stood in front of him looking much like fairy creatures in the darkness.

The empty halls of the ancient castle quickly filled with fantastical monsters intent on laying siege to his Kingdom. They lurked around every corner, hunting the young man as he stalked the already damaged corridors of his home. Since his father, the King, was visiting a neighboring land it fell to Jack, the crown Prince, to defend his home.

A movement in one of the rooms caught the boy's attention and he quickly spun away, ducking behind a crumbling wall to keep out of sight. He steadied himself, his heart racing with the thought of what monster may be waiting for him in that room. Taking a deep breath the boy dove around the corner, letting loose a volley of pure white snow-bombs loose at the enemy. The bombs exploded upon impact with the creatures, turning the deadly foes into a handful of white glittery powder.

Miraculously, three of the monsters lurking showy corners of the room managed to dodge away from Jack's attack. Jack barely had time to see their long white bodies shimmering with magic in the darkness before they lunged at him.

Jack dropped into a roll, easily sliding between his opponents. He came up behind them, brandishing two more snow-bombs. He turned, launching them back at the beasts before they even realized he had disappeared. Everything exploded in a cloud of white glitter, but they weren't always so easily felled and so Jack blasted them with a ray of frost as well, just to be sure.

Yet even with this group felled the battle was far from over. Jack could hear the sounds of fighting further down the hall. The young prince dusted off his tunic and quickly scanned the room to make sure it was well and truly cleared before headed back out into the fray.

He followed the sound of fighting down the hall towards the staircase leading up to the next floor. Mounting the stairs quickly Jack ducked into the nearest room. He froze in the threshold, staring in shock at the monster lurking inside. It looked to be seven feet tall with long white horns curving back away from his sharp face and his glowing green eyes. The creature was grinning at him with long ivory fangs dripping with venom.

Aster. The Hoarder of Hope.

A black hole gaped sinisterly behind the demon, an opening for the others to follow behind. Jack swallowed nervously, he had to find a way to close that portal.

The young prince pulled his staff in front of him defensively as he tried to think fast.

"Alone at last." The creature rasped in a voice that sounded like death itself, "Daddy isn't here to save you and by the time he does find you it will be too late. You're mine now."

"Never!" Jack growled, lashing out with a barrage of icy daggers, the pooka leapt, agilely out of the way, sending his own attack at the prince.

Jack couldn't exactly see what it was he was throwing, that didn't stop him. Jack didn't even hesitate as he dove out of the way, rolling under the flying projectiles then leaping up at his attacker.

Aster snarled as they crashed together, grappling as they fought to maintain dominance. Jack thought, for a wonderful moment, that he was winning. But then the monster turned the tables on him, Aster gripped him tight around the middle and slammed him back into the wall. Only there was no wall behind him and Jack went flying out the window instead, dragging the pooka down with him.

The two grappled as they fell, both trying to gain the upper hand before their collision with the quickly approaching ground. Aster snarled, gnashing his dripping fangs at Jack's throat. Jack countered him by slamming his head up and head butting him right between his long curving horns. Aster didn't even flinch, but it was enough of a distraction to break the demons hold on the portal. Jack could feel it closing behind him the magic that had been holding it open fading away. The chill the portal had brought with it had been unnatural and with it gone Jack finally relaxed.

He smirked up at Aster, using the demon's distraction to pull himself way. Wind caught him easily, buoying him up carrying him safely out of the pooka's long reach. Jack watched with satisfaction as the creature landed with a loud thud. A thrill of pride curled inside his chest and he landed beside the felled pooka smugly, his chest puffed out as he looked down at the demon he had slain. Father would surly be impressed when he returned home. How could he not?

As Jack circled around his fallen enemy, something strange caught his eye.

He blinked in surprise, his made-up world vanishing to reveal the real world, in all it's drab paltriness.

What on earth was that? Jack had never seen anything like it before and couldn't stop himself from moving closer.

Right where his imaginary demon had landed was a bright yellow flower. It looked so strange sitting in the middle of the gloom he called home. But it was new, and different and Jack absolutely loved it.

He also knew his father would hate it; would destroy it the moment he saw it.

Jack just couldn't let that happen.

Chapter Text

    Staring down at the small spot of color in the blanket of black Jack was constantly encased in felt like a dream.  He’d never seen anything like it in his life and it baffled him as to how it even got there.

Jack didn’t know much about flowers in general; had never even seen one outside of the pages of a book.  He was reluctant to touch it, the one shining beacon of light in the gloomy shadow of his tower, on the off chance it would shatter.  But he also couldn’t just leave it there for his father to find.

   He could just get rid of it.  But that idea was horrifying to it’s very core, and Jack shoved it back into the pit it had crawled out of.  He didn't have very many options, and the only thing he could really think of was to hide it somewhere. Somewhere his father would never think to look.  

   Slowly Jack dug his fingers into the dirt around his precious little treasure and carefully lifted it out of the ground,a small chunk of earth still clinging to the roots.  Once he had it in his hands he panicked.   What did he do now?  Would it die if he didn’t put it back right away?  How much time did he have?

   Wind didn’t seem quite so worried, and knew just what to do.  It tugged on Jack’s cloak until the boy carefully climbed to his feet, eyes still locked on the fragile pearl of life sitting pretty between his fingers.  From there, it didn’t take much for the wind to lift Jack up, and whisk him and the flower back to the tower balcony.

   Jack landed on the ice gracefully, his bare feet gliding over the slippery surface with practiced ease.  He headed inside and quickly scanned his few belongings, selecting a fine glass goblet his father sometimes liked to drink his wine from.

   He settled his beautiful drop of sunlight into the smooth glass shell, making sure to get all the roots and dirt tucked safely inside.  Once it was out of his hands he was finally able to breath a bit better, not afraid he could drop it or otherwise damage the delicate bloom.  

   Now what to do with it.

   He couldn’t leave it here anymore then he could leave it down in the ruins.  In face, it was probably in more danger sitting in here.

   Jack needed to find somewhere else to hide it, somewhere away from the majority of his belongings.  Somewhere his father wasn’t going to go snooping around in.

With this in mind the young boy began scaling the sides of the tower, one hand securely clutching the glass, and Wind keeping him from slipping and falling.  

   The tower and grounds were definitely out of the question, but there was no reason for his father to come up here, so far above the everything else.  He glanced down at the balcony still directly below him before turning away completely. It was a start, but he had somewhere better in mind.

He sauntered around the edge of the roof, an easy, familiar action he had done a thousand times before, until he was on the opposite side.  This section of the tower was a bit different, he’d noticed it years ago while exploring, as the young boy was want to do on occasion. The roof only went down a few feet before ending in a bit of an overhang.  Below the overhang was a secret alcove tucked out of sight. It was such a strange little niche, you literally couldn’t see it unless you were standing in it.

  It was the perfect hiding place.

   He carefully set the prize down on a small stone pedestal, sinking down to sit on the floor, staring at it in awe.

   Jack didn’t know where the strange plant came from, but he also found he didn’t really care.  It was here, and it was beautiful.

   He had only intended to sit up there for a few moments before returning to his play.  He liked to sneak as much of that into his day as he could before his father arrived. Yet, Jack couldn’t seem to tear his eyes away from the only bright, colorful thing in the entire valley, and somehow time slipped away from him.  He was so caught up in his thoughts that he failed to realize the time, and didn’t notice Wind’s increasingly frantic attempts to get his attention.

  “Jack!”  A voice called; reality crashed into Jack like a thunder crack, jolting him to his feet.  His ears strained to hear what he hoped had only been a figment of his imagination.

   The familiar voice sounded faint only due to the distance between the boy and the speaker, but it was commanding all the same.  “Jack! Come melt this ice. I do not have the time for your silly little games.”

   Jack felt his stomach drop.  Oh no. This was bad.

   How could he have lost track of the time like this?  He’d never been so careless before. The boy paced the small space on top of the tower, keeping well away from the edge and out of his father’s sight.  

   If his father found him outside of his tower there was no telling what he would do, even though Jack had not technically left the tower…to his knowledge.  That wouldn’t matter, his father was very strict about this rule:

   Do not leave the Tower.

   Such a simple rule, and yet Jack found it so hard to obey.  Although he’d been very careful until now to keep this from his father’s knowledge, for all he knew, Jack spent everyday locked up in the tower, staring at the ceiling doing nothing.  Not what Jack would consider fun. Not by a long shot.

   And now Jack’s ruse was on the cusp of being discovered.  That was the last thing Jack wanted to happen! His father had a bit of a temper when things weren’t going his way, and Jack had no interest for that temper to be turned on him.  It didn’t happen often, and Jack didn’t like to think about when it did.

   Nervously, Jack crept around back around to the front of the tower, crawling over to the edge of the roof and peeked his head over the side to see where his father was, exactly.  He had to be quick, and he had to be stealthy because he stood out like a star in the night sky...the same stars that Jack hadn’t seen in three hundred years.

    The man was standing directly below him, glaring up at the balcony.  Jack ducked back out of sight, his heart racing at the prospect that his father might have spotted him so far from where he was supposed to be.

   This had turned into the adventure he’d never known he never wanted.  Every moment Jack spent trapped on the roof, the angrier his father would become; but getting back into the tower without being spotted would not be the easy.  If he could somehow sneak back inside maybe he could forstall his father’s ire, but that was the real trick wasn’t it?

   Fortunately, Jack was excellent when it came to tricks.  The best even, if he did say so himself.

   He signaled to Wind, who dashed down the side of the tower to distract the older man.  Jack’s father’s long robes whipped back, getting tangled with his lanky legs. It was perfect. Father swore and looked down as he tried to keep his balance and detangle himself, while Wind set about to harass the man, keep him preoccupied.

   Jack took the time Wind gave him and used it to the fullest extent, aiming his staff over the edge of the tower.  Ice spread across the ground under his father’s feet, the man, already distracted by Wind and completely off balance, never stood a chance.

   While the older male slipped and skidded across the icy carpet laid out for him, Jack slid down the side of the tower and dropped nimbly onto the ice floor of his balcony.

   Now safely back where he belonged, Jack settled down to watch the show.  He stretched out over the ice, laid out on his stomach, as he peered over the edge, his head pillowed on his arms as he smiled to himself at a job well done.

   Wind was really enjoying this new game, enthusiastically tripping Pitch every time it looked like he’d finally caught his balance.

   The man wasn’t having as much fun though, flailing wildly as he tried in vain to maintain a semblance of dignity even as his feet scrambled across the slick surface.

   Jack had never seen his father looking quite so disheveled before.  It was something he doubted he would see again, so he treasured every moment, not even trying to reign in his laughter.  The sound rang like bells off the frozen walls, echoing down into the valley of ancient ruins.

   Father seemed to freeze at the sound, and Wind shrank away from him like a kicked puppy.  Fury radiated off the humiliated man as he slowly turned his long angular face up at the boy in the tower.

   

   

   



Chapter Text

Anger churned in the yellow eyes glaring up at Jack almost making them seem to glow in the darkness.

Jack shrank back at the sight of his father's obvious fury. He quickly sprang to his feet, eyes wide, as it finally dawned on him how bad of an idea it was to prank his father. Father had made it very clear early on that he had no patience for Jack's light flights of fancy. He was stern and harsh, and Jack had quickly realized he had no sense of humor whatsoever.

His hold on his magic slipped with the sudden spike of fear, allowing the ice circling around the tower like a coiling snake to melt away, revealing a long spiraling staircase built into the stone exterior of the tower. Jack retreated to the doorway to wait anxiously for his father. His hands gripped his staff so tight his pale hands were actually beginning to hurt. He stood straight as a rod, afraid to give an inch for fear of what his father had planned as punishment.

Wind returned to his side, ruffing his hair with a fond apology. Jack couldn't really blame them, it had been his idea after all. But that didn't help him now. His lips twitched in a barely-there smile to show his forgiveness, before smoothing away leaving a blank slate in its place.

It felt like years before his father mounted the top of the stairs looking as unruffled as ever save for the tight line of his mouth and the burning fire in his white-gold eyes.

"Really, Jack?" He asked quietly, his anger was simmering just below the surface. Jack remained tense, he knew what was coming, but that didn't help matters at all. He swallowed heavily, the only visible sign of his unease. A sign that did not go unnoticed by his father's sharp eyes.

"I was bored." Jack said, his usual answer slipping past his lips before he had a chance to reel it back in. He cringed inside, knowing that answer would only make his father more angry. But there was nothing for it, it was out there and his father had heard every word.

The taller man's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits, that cut across his face like razor sharp knives. "Indeed?" He intoned, voice dripping with venom. He raised his eyebrows at Jack expectantly, and the boy could only shrug in answer. He felt like he'd swallowed a rock and it was lodged in his throat, Jack wasn't sure he could speak even if he wanted to.

His father stared at him scrutinizingly for a long, tense moment

He then brushed passed the boy entering the tower. "Then it is a good thing I brought this, isn't it?" the man said as he pulled something out of his shadowy robes and held it aloft as if it was the most precious of treasures.

Jack knew he wasn't off the hook. His father would wait until it was almost time for him to leave before finally punishing the boy. He would leave Jack tense and nervous all day, afraid of what his father had planned. There was no telling how bad it would be, either. His father liked to keep things...interesting; keep Jack guessing.

"Thanks." Jack said quickly as he snatched the object out of the older man's long spidery fingers. It was a toy,not anything particularly special. A small, brown plastic horse, like so many other similar presents his father had brought home for him over the years. Jack had long since grown bored with the things his father brought, but he would never be able to say so.

Jack's tower had a total of three main rooms. The largest of which was a combination living area / kitchenette, with a total of three doors. One door lead out onto the balcony outside, and the door to Jack's room was right next to that. About six feet down from his room was the third door which lead to what Jack referred to as the playroom. The playroom wasn't a very big room in the first place and over the years Jack had lived there it had become...overcrowded, with no real room to do any playing of any kind.

All the presents his father had given him were stored here, stacked against the walls and tucked away on the many shelves Jack had made. He flew up to the highest point in the room where he could see a little empty space on the shelf with other similar figures. Each icy shelf held a different type of toy, everything from stuffed animals to board games. Not exactly things he could really play with on his own, or were designed for children much much younger than he was.

He could feel his father's eyes on his back, solid as ice, as he slowly floated back to the floor. Jack didn't move for a long moment, his breath caught in his throat as he waited with baited breath for his father to strike out at him. The man wanted to, Jack could feel it heavy in the air around them a kind of tension that was not unfamiliar to the young boy.

He braced himself for it eyes squeezed tight and shoulders tense. His father wasn't always violent, but he was easily pushed into it and Jack knew he'd gone too far. Knew it was coming and if he tried to stop or delay it, it would only be worse when his father finally did snap.

But the moment passed. The heavy gaze moved on and Jack could hear the whisper of his father's cloak as he moved out of the doorway.

Jack's relief was fleeting.

He could hear his father rummaging around in the kitchen. The sound of glass tinking together and the clacking of the cupboard doors being snapped shut drew the boy out of the playroom.

Jack hovered just outside the kitchen area, watching his father's ever growing ire as he riffled through the cupboards. Jack felt his throat go dry, a foreboding feeling creeping into his heart.

Something was obviously wrong, but Jack couldn't quite put his finger on what it was.

His father stopped his search abruptly, slowly turning to level Jack with a look that could melt iron. Jack couldn't stop himself from retreating a step as his heart clenched in fear, "Where," The man whispered, his voice easily carrying across the short distance separating them, "Is my goblet, Jack."

The winter sprite swallowed, fear building inside him as his father glared down at him. The boy's eyes flickered to the open window behind the taller man. The goblet. His father's special goblet. The one he told Jack had been a gift, from Jack's mother. Jack's long dead mother.

How could he have forgotten about the bloody goblet?

He was acutely aware of it's placement on the roof above them, hidden from his father's wrath in a way Jack wished extended to him. He couldn't tell him, his father would never understand. He'd flip, destroy the flower and then turn his anger on Jack. He couldn't let that happen. He had to keep the flower safe. It was special. Innocent. He couldn't let his father hurt it.

So Jack did the only thing he could do in this situation. "I broke it." He lied, the words felt like lead on his tongue. He closed his eyes, not wanting to see his father's reaction. But it also prevented him from seeing his punishment coming.

Aster

With Easter finally taken care of, Aster was free to take some time to recover. Normally he was all for that. He would retreat to his Warren and just lounge in the hot-springs for days. Then sleep for weeks.

But not this time.

Not after he'd seen that hidden place, drenched in shadows that the Nightmare King had successfully hidden from the Guardians for far longer than Bunny was comfortable with. The whole place had stank of Pitch, and that no good piece of jackal-shit was up to something. Bunny knew it. He would find out what that something was and he'd stop him.

The other Guardians would probably become involved at some point or other, but that wasn't important right now. For the moment, Aster was focused on reconnaissance.

So instead of easing himself into a nice relaxing meditation to shake off the stress of his holiday, Bunny was standing in a tunnel under the exact location he'd accidentally discovered the dale the day before.

He knew he was dilly-dallying, but he couldn't bring himself to care. His ears kept perking up, angling towards the surface as if that would allow him to hear whatever secrets Pitch had stowed away in this hidden location.

Whatever it was, it had to be big for Pitch to go to this much trouble to keep whatever it was away from even Mim's eyes. If it hadn't been the work of Pitch Black, Bunny might have even been a little impressed.

As it was, he found himself standing below a hidden city, trying to make up his mind about whether this was worth missing his downtime for.

He dithered for a few more moments before deciding that, yes, this was worth it. It would always be worth it if he could stop Pitch from doing whatever unspeakable evil he had planned.

His thoughts briefly flitted to the other Guardians, maybe he should...

No. He didn't need their help. Not yet.

This was a simple scouting mission. No big deal. He would pop in, search around for any suspicious...things...before heading to tell North. He didn't know what he was looking for, but he was positive he would find something.

Bunny would be in and out before Pitch was even aware he'd been there.

Simple.

Stepping out into the open air, he was again struck by how bleak everything was. He knew instinctively that it was around noon, and he could feel the sun shining-his magic connecting him to the trees standing as silent guard around this be-spelled area. Trees that were no more than skeletal shadows of their former selves. Somehow the sun wasn't making its way through, what looked like, a tangle of dead trees that were caught outside the bubble of shadow magic that cloaked the tower's valley from the rest of the world.

The warm spring weather outside was replaced by the strange, stale atmosphere and Aster wasn't at all surprised to see that nothing grew here. Nothing could possibly survive in this place, where death seemed to hang in the air.

It was hard for the pooka to breath; his magic felt stifled and almost detached from him. He could reach it if he needed, but it was like trying to reach something while looking in a mirror. He knew where it was supposed to be, but everything felt backwards.

This whole patch of the shadows went against everything Bunny stood for as the Guardian of Hope and New Beginnings. It rankled with his magic, and left a nasty taste on his tongue.

As much as Aster would like nothing more than to leave and never look back, he had to find out what Pitch was up to. He couldn't let Pitch go unchecked. He was too dangerous.

He spent a short time combing the ruins of the castle. It was almost unrecognizable in its decaying state; walls crumbling if you so much as looked at them wrong, and shadows looming in places devoid of anything to cast said shadow. It was beyond creepy, and Aster felt a deep sort of depression settle over his heart as he looked around the once-proud castle now laid low and forgotten.

The weirdest thing about this place wasn't the lack of sunlight, the lingering chill of death, or the strange shadows; no, the strangest thing about this place was the thin layer of frost that clung to any available surface, and the random patches of ice he slipped on every few steps. Sure it was chilly, he'd noticed that the day before. But it wasn't cold enough to have frost, let alone ice.

It was a puzzle amidst a plethora of puzzles. That puzzle became a jigsaw when he finally stood at the bottom of the tower. Where the rest of the castle was falling apart at the seams the tower stood tall and proud, seemingly untouched by time. If that wasn't suspicious, Aster didn't know what was.

The circular tower was ridiculously tall, even if it hadn't looked like it from a distance. Now that he was standing at it's base he couldn't actually see the top. The rough hewn stone used to build the tower was covered in a thick web of frost, as if the frozen water was attempting to hold the old tower together. There wasn't a door or even any windows that Aster to could see, but there was a staircase. It curved along the outer wall of the tower quickly disappearing into the distance. The stones making up these stairs were considerably darker than the rest, with an obvious lack of frost.

Suspicious, Aster crouched down and drew the pad of one paw over the bottom step.

Just as he had suspected: Wet.

Now the real question was, why? Aster had never known Pitch to mess with the four elements before. If he was doing so now it could only spell disaster. How he had managed it, Aster couldn't say, but he had never really been able to understand how Pitch managed to do half the things he tried.

Pulling himself to his full height, the pooka started towards the top of the tower thoughtfully for a moment, before beginning to climb the stairs. With every step he took the cold damp stairs seemed to pierce through him and cling to the pads of his feet.

The tower was taller than he'd first thought. It seemed to go on forever until it disappeared into the clouds. This was another one of Pitch's tricks, one Bunny was actually familiar with since it was something the man had used before in his own lair. It was a simple spell that toyed with one's senses. There were two outcomes of such a spell, you would either be caught in an endless loop, forever traveling while making no actual progress; or it would make distances seem to drag out for forever before abruptly ending leaving any intruders teetering on the precipice of disaster, that is, if they managed to stop in time.

Once Bunny had recognized the magic he was able to see it more clearly, and move passed it, completely bypassing the dangerous edge of the spell. Now he was actually making progress, not stuck in Pitch's loop.

It was starting to get colder the higher he went, a brisk harsh wind whipping through his fur and almost seeming intent on tripping him. Was that another of Pitch's tricks? Something new he had learned now that he had some control over one of the elements? What secrets would he unravel when he reached the top of the tower? Could whatever had granted Pitch this kind of control be all the way up there? It would make sense.

He was almost to the top when the ice came. He could hear it crackling above him, singing a shrill song as it descended down the stairs, quick as a whip. Aster barely had time to gape, startled as the stairs in front of him disappeared to be replaced by a thick sheet of pure ice.

He went down with an undignified yelp as his paws lost purchase on the stair he'd been standing on. Claws dug gouges into the ice as the pooka flailed, trying to slow his descent. He was sliding down a slippery slope and the only thing he could do was flip onto his back and Hope for the best.

That hope went flying off the edge of the tower, which would soon become his own fate. Aster had climbed fairly high before this deathtrap had been triggered and now he was careening towards certain death. There was no possible way he would be able to control his descent enough to follow the curve of the tower without flying over the alarmingly short ridge.

Aster was in no mood to die today though, he still had things to do...eggs to hide.

No, Aster was not about to let it end like this, he wouldn't give Pitch the satisfaction.

Summoning his magic wasn't as easy as usual, but Aster had millennia of practice. He poured the magic he could into the action as he thumped his foot on the stairs. The magic sputtered out as his foot skimmed against the ice hard enough to crack it. But his paw only glanced off the surface, the ice too slick and his speed too quick.

A curse left his lips when he felt his magic clash with the ice then shrink back into his core.

Winter and Spring just didn't mix well. But Aster was from a long line of proud Pookan warriors and he wasn't about to give up. Unfortunately he was running out of time, the curve of the tower was too sharp and he was sliding too fast.

He almost felt like he was floating as he drew closer to the edge. He could swear he felt his back leave the ice. He glanced down, the ground looming below him like a hungry dragon.

A sound, like that of bells tinkling a resonance not dissimilar to a fey's laughter, tickled Aster's ears before the ice reached out and curled around him, groping him like an old lover as it dragged him back onto the slide.

Aster hardly paid any mind to the appearance of the lip that grew out of the ice next to him, he was just relieved to not be plummeting to his death. That didn't mean he was going to stay there any longer. He started thumping his foot against the ice in a mad attempt to escape, but the magic in the ice rebuffed him again and again until everything was a blur of slippery ice and solid stone whistling past his ear.

That didn't stop him from trying, desperately attempting to open a portal out of this nightmare of a ride with every chance he got. He was so caught up in the crazy slip-n-slide of death, and its strange contrary magic blocking his, that it came as a surprise when his magic finally took hold and the ground opened up beneath him, and swallowed him whole.

Aster lay where he landed, stunned with disbelief. He wasn't quite sure what had happened but he was done for the night.

He didn't think he could take anymore excitement just then, so he slipped back to the Warren to lick his wounds and nurse his bruised pride.

Chapter Text

 

Jack watched from the balcony of his tower as the stranger vanished into a hole in the ground with a feeling of satisfaction at having successfully run the guy off.

That satisfaction shriveled up and died when his eyes were drawn to something…odd.

He landed lightly, wincing and clutching at his ribs briefly before he was able to push the pain to the back of his mind. The familiar ache blooming across his whole body wasn't a new feeling, he'd been expecting it actually. Father wasn't a person you wanted to anger, and Jack had known this from experience and done so anyway. But he was used to it, and so could push it aside and focus on the something new he had discovered.

He slowly wandered closer, his eyes narrowing with every step he took until he was finally able to identify exactly what he was seeing. A horrified gasp escaped him and he dropped to his knees dramatically. "That black-hearted fiend!" He exclaimed, melodramatic, "And after all I've done for him." He pouted to himself, after all Jack didn't have to save him. It had been a choice.

Jack carefully ran a finger of the rough lines maring the otherwise smooth surface. He'd never seen anything like it before, long gouges carved directly into the ice slide as if the stranger had attempted to slow his descent, which was fair. But that wasn't the point!

Like with the flowers he couldn't just leave it like this, Father would know. And that would just anger him even more and Jack would rather avoid that if at all possible. So he summoned all the magic he could to smooth the ice over, until it was back to it's beautiful pristine condition. It was taxing, to say the least, leaving him out of breath and in a cold sweat. Normally it wouldn't be so difficult to do such a simple patch job, but he'd only just made that slide and with Father's punishment lingering...well it was more energy than Jack had at present.

Leaning heavily on his staff to ease his aching body he carefully inspected his newly formed ice for any other imperfections. "I should have let him fall." He grumbled under his breath petulantly.

Wind buffeted against him in admonishment and Jack huffed, childishly throwing himself onto the slide and steadfastly ignoring the wave of pain the motion sent cascading over his body. The pull of gravity as he slid down the ramp didn't do him any favors either but he chose to ignore that as well.

"What do you mean he didn't do anything wrong? You saw that travesty!" He'd adopted a bit of his father's posh accent to show Wind that he wasn't actually that upset.

Their playful argument was cut short when the boy came to a stop at the bottom of the tower. He skidded a couple feet before sliding to a slow stop right in front of a bright pink flower growing out of the cracked stone pavement.

Jack gaped at the strange sight, true shock pulling a gasp from his lips. He blinked rapidly, wondering if he was just seeing things, but his vision failed to clear of the hallucination that stubbornly clung to him:

The flower remained. As bright and cheerful as ever.

Its beauty was breathtaking; new and wonderful, and just as perfect as the one he'd found the day before.

Wide, blue eyes skittered around the courtyard as if attempting to locate whatever magic could have left such a beautiful gift behind. The ruins were just as bleak and uninteresting as ever, so Jack went back to pondering this new attraction. He didn't know where it had come from but he knew where it was going.

He couldn't very well leave it there in the middle of the walk way. His father would be sure to see it, or step on it. And then he'd turn his ire on Jack, and with how much he hurt right now he wanted to avoid such consequences for at least another month if he could help it. He knew hoping for anything else would be foolish, he was just too good at getting into trouble even when he wasn't trying to. So, a month was a good goal, he figured, but even that was pushing his luck.

No, he couldn't let his father find this little treasure. So again Jack went about rescuing the delicate blossom from his extremely unpredictable father. It was better to be safe than sorry.

Jack carefully pulled the bud from the ground and planted it in a plain white teacup, then whisked it up to his place on the roof to join it's cheerful yellow sibling. He was so enthralled with his new treasure that he completely forgot about his previously uninvited visitor and the painful reminders of his father's ire became nothing more then background noise.

***BitT***

Early the next morning, Wind informed him of the stranger's return. Everything came back to him in a ball of indignant rage.

How dare he return here? Hadn't he done enough damage already?

Jack didn't hesitate as he stormed over to the edge of the roof. His vibrant blue eyes scanned the terrain below, easily locating the intruder.

"Gotcha." He whispered as he dove off the side of the building, allowing Wind to catch him at the last moment and deposit him close to his target.

He found the man wandering through his maze, looking lost and confused. It was so far from what Jack had been expecting that he felt his animosity melt away and be replaced with curiosity. He'd fully expected the stranger to have malicious intent, he'd anticipated a long and grueling fight where he would be the victor and he could finally show his father he could do more then hide in a tower for his whole life; he could help him fight the Big Four.

This discovery derailed all his plans. He wasn't going to instigate a fight with someone who obviously didn't know that they were trespassing. The stranger felt peaceful to Jack, the magic curling around him warm and soft, which was so different from anything the boy had ever encountered. Both he and his father had cold, harsh magic.

Once he had banished all thought of a fight from his mind something new bubbled to the surface, just as bright and colorful as his flowers. This was a stranger! Someone new. He couldn't remember the last time he saw anyone but his father, and Wind wasn't exactly a physical person.

The stranger was standing in one of the large empty rooms that hadn't managed to completely fall apart yet. He looked to be examining the walls, leaning close and squinting before pulling back and scraping it with one sharp looking claw.

That must be what caused the gouges in his ice. The thought of how frightened this stranger had to have been to leave such deep marks in the ice left a bad taste in his mouth. When he'd thought this person was a threat it was okay to mess with him like that, but Jack had never wanted to hurt someone innocent.

Jack landed lightly on the window sill, the room beyond was empty and missing large sections of the outer wall. The boy cocked his head to one side as he studied this strange being.

And strange he was. When he stood to his full height he stood taller then even Jack's father, but he spent most of his time bent over or crouching low. He was covered with a thick grey fur, and had two long, pointed ears that twitched at every little sound.

Was this what humans looked like? It certainly wasn't what Jack had been imagining, but then again what did he know. He'd never seen a real human before, all he knew came out of the few books Pitch had brought him before discovering Jack didn't really like to read.

Wind must have become bored with the staring and decided now was a good time to playfully kick Jack's staff out from under him. Jack gasped and scrabbled to catch his crook before it clattered to the ground, long pale fingers curled around the shaft and the boy's whole body froze as he turned wide blue eyes back to the human.

Jack had a brief second to watch the man go stiff at the sound. Panic bled into his limbs and Jack dropped out of the window, his heart racing as he ducked into another nearby window and collapsed against the wall separating him from his guest.

His heart was racing and his breath was coming in quick bursts. He had almost been seen! That human had almost caught him.

Jack didn't know if he was relieved that he had gotten away, or disappointed.

Either way, this had just gotten dangerous. Father would be furious when he found out. Jack had to get rid of this stranger before that happened.

Aster

Dawn saw the Easter Bunny once again wandering around the maze of ruined walls that once represented the great kingdom of Camelot. He could see the Ice Tower peaking out at him from what had to be the very center of the ruins, a beacon of strength hidden amidst the tragedy of a long forgotten past.

The pooka had once known this very castle like he knew his own Warren but now…it was a twisted shadow of its former majesty.

Pitch's touch was like poison; an acid made to rip away everything familiar and replace it with…with this mockery. Aster wondered at the Nightmare King's plans as he walked; what could he possibly want with this place? And, more importantly, what had happened yesterday? At first he had thought it was just a trap set to deter anyone but Pitch from entering the tower. But now he wasn't so sure, that ice had acted as if it had a mind of its own.

It had saved him. There was no other way to look at it, it had reacted to him slipping off the side of the building and pulled him back in before setting up a barrier to keep him on track.

That was not something Pitch would have done. Any trap he set would have meant certain death, if not eternal torment. Which left one option. Something else was going on here.

Was the ice itself sentient? No that made no sense, he was missing something. Something obvious that he couldn't quite put his finger on. He'd briefly touched on the thought that someone was working with Pitch but none of the Winter spirits had been reported missing and Pitch would have flaunted it had he gained a new ally.

And that was the source of Aster's unease, Pitch was a showman. Proud to a fault, and petty beyond all reason. So why wasn't he gloating? Everything about this felt wrong, but all Aster could do was stalk through the rubble and guess.

The pooka climbed up a set of stable looking stairs to a higher level of the castle propper. While most of the outer portions of the city was little more than oddly placed rubble, large portions of the castle itself were still standing. Full rooms on the bottom two levels were still in tact and Bunny found himself wandering into these more secure locations.

Other than the tower, this location was the coldest. Drifts of powdery snow were pushed up against almost every wall, and ice coated random portions of the floor or dripped down from the ceiling in long, pointy cones. Frost laced it's way up most of the walls like a fine white climbing ivy, beautifully intricate and oddly solid.

Bunny spent a good amount of time just staring at the patterns in the frost, his mind wondering how he could replicate the effect on some of his googies next year, when the clatter of wood against stone startled Aster out of his thoughts.

There was a breathless gasp behind him, almost inaudible, and Bunny knew he would have missed it if he wasn't a pooka.

Someone else was there, in the room with him!

The pooka spun around, boomerangs at the ready, only to find an empty room.

Nothing moved, everything was exactly where it had been moments before. He might have thought he had imagined it, but he was a Pookan Warrior. He didn't make those sorts of mistakes…no matter how long it had been since his training.

There was no mistaking what he had heard. Someone had been in the room with him. His first thought was Pitch. It had to be, this place was drenched in his magic. But why was he hiding? Why hadn't he attacked?

Things weren't adding up.

The pooka turned to leave when something caught his attention. Aster paused, slowly turning around and approaching the window where a fine layer of frost sat innocently on the stone.

Aster frowned, tracing a finger through the fern like designs. Odd. This definitely had not been here before. That was why he'd been inspecting the wall, since it was the only location he'd noticed the frost patterns. Everything else was just ice and snow.

He leaned out the window and glanced around, but there was nowhere Pitch could have disappeared to unless he'd suddenly grown wings.

Aster shuddered when that thought conjured up the image of Pitch with Tooth's wings.

That was just wrong.

Shaking his head to banish that terrifying image, Aster turned to leave. The air in the hallway was chillier than it had been inside the room, suggesting that whoever had been spying on him was still nearby.

So, naturally Aster started checking rooms.

He could not find hide nor hair of the culprit but the everpresent chill and the unmistakable feeling of eyes following his every move told him he wasn't alone.

Not finding anything of significance within the ruins, Aster headed towards the most promising point in the whole valley: the Tower. It was obviously the centerpiece of the whole area and the closer he came the colder it got. He thought it was a bit odd that he hadn't noticed it at all the day before, but he noticed it now. Especially when the ground under his feet disappeared to be replaced with a sheet of slippery ice.

Aster went down with an undignified yelp reminiscent of the one from yesterday. His paws rebelled on him, each attempting to flee in the opposite direction.

He balanced for a split second, suspended in a painful position before he crashed to the ground. The impact send him spinning into the base of the tower.

This was going to be a running theme, he could tell by the tinkling laughter drifting on the wind.

Definitely not Pitch.

Slowly Aster climbed to his feet and took one last look up at the tower. As much as he would like nothing more than to continue his investigations he'd been wandering around the ruins for hours and his empty stomach was putting up a fuss.

Tomorrow was a new day, he'd just have to pick up from here in the morning. Hopefully his Host would be a bit more welcoming on the morrow.

He glanced around one more time, idly wondering if he could catch a glimpse of the illusive occupant of the dale. But there was no one around so Aster tapped his foot on the ground, summoning a tunnel in front of him. With a small leap he was gone, his tunnel closing up behind him.


 

Chapter Text


Jack blinked down at where the foreign creature had vanished, mouth hanging open in surprise.  Did that really just happen?

   If he hadn’t seen it with his own eyes he never would have believed it.  It wasn’t every day that the earth yawned open and swallowed someone whole.  

   Wind gently set the boy back on his feet, ruffling his hair affectionately as Jack dropped to his knees where the stranger had vanished.  In the their stead was a bright red flower, which was extremely out of place and as obvious as a drop of blood on snow.

   Two possibilities remained clear to the boy; either something nefarious had befallen the human and this was left as a marker of the tragedy, or this was the human’s doing.

   It seemed impossible, and he knew human’s seldom had magic of their own.  Yet, there it was. The beautiful drop of crimson left to mark the human’s departure.  And magic would certainly explain the stranger’s presence. He’d lived in this same Tower for over three hundred years and no one had ever visited before.  The only possible way for someone to locate him passed his father’s protections was through magic.

   Strong magic.

   The thought excited and frightened him, a strange combination of emotions that left Jack a little dazed.  His father had always stressed how dangerous the outside world was, but how could someone evil make something so…magical?

   It was confusing to think about, so Jack pushed the thoughts away and went about collecting this new addition to his growing collection.

***

   When morning came the next day, Jack was almost bouncing off the walls he was so excited.  Sure, if his father ever discovered what was going on he would flip. But that was why he wasn’t going to find out.

He’d come to a few conclusions during the night, the first and foremost among them was this:  If a flower showed up every time that man left then that meant he’d been here before...multiple times.  Which meant he might come back. Today, even.

Lightning sparked through Jack’s veins as he contemplated everything that meant.  It was new and fun, and Jack wasn’t about to let anyone ruin it for him. Even himself.  He wasn’t going to sabotage this; he wasn’t going to jinx it. He was going to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.

   He would have to make sure the stranger was long gone by the time Pitch returned, but Jack wasn’t too worried about it, he still had six days until his father’s next visit.  Plenty of time.

   He still didn’t know who -- or what -- his unexpected visitor was (although he strongly suspected he was human in origin), but that hardly mattered.  All Jack cared about right now was that he was different.

   If the man was capable of creating something as amazing as those flowers then what else could he do?  Jack was brimming with curiosity as he impatiently awaited his unwitting guest.

 

   The stranger did not disappoint, and in no time at all Wind was pulling Jack in the direction of the man’s entrance.  It didn’t take Jack long to locate the man, he had chosen to reappear almost exactly where he had vanished from not even a few hours earlier.

   Jack sat back and watched as the ground split open and Jack’s unnamed guest hopped out, tall ears held erect and nose twitching busily.  He stood to his full height as he surveyed the area with sharp green eyes as if he expected to be attacked any moment.

   It was such a ridiculously heroic pose that Jack couldn’t help himself.  He lobbed a solid white snowball in the human’s smug, pompous mug. One moment the stranger was standing all straight and noble like a knight straight out of a fairy tail, and the next his head jerked back as he was attacked by a fistful of snow.

   Jack’s breath caught in his throat and he promptly dove behind the nearest possible cover, a tall crumbling pillar that looked more likely to fall on him than protect him. Wind howled with laughter, whispering to the boy colorful descriptions of the stranger’s reaction.

   Jack wasn’t hearing a word of it; his breathing was coming in short gasps- he couldn’t get enough air into his straining lungs. Why would he do that?  He would be so mad!

Jack’s eyes wouldn’t focus on anything in front of him giving everything a fuzzy sort of quality, and there was a rushing in his ears, was that what was making Wind hard to understand?  All his muscles clenched painfully in his growing distress and he was distantly aware of the sharp sting of his fingernails biting into the palms of his hand. He couldn’t really concentrate on that though, not with his mind racing, trying to process his incredible stupidity.  What had he been thinking? The man would hate him for sure. He’d find Jack and he’d make him pay. He had no reason to curb his anger, like Father did when he was angry. Jack would deserve it. Father had told him over and over to control himself. He knew jokes like that only got him in trouble, but he’d done it anyway.  

   He had chased off his new companion before he’d even had a chance to meet him. Tears gathered in the boy’s wide blue eyes as he stared blankly into the distance completely lost in his own mind.

   Behind him, on the other side of the safety pillar, he could hear the deep timber of a low voice muttering obscenities under its breath.  It was a strange sensation to Jack, the voice reaching him through a great distance, or perhaps it was all underwater? He couldn’t seem to concentrate on it properly and although he heard every word:  “Ah, crikey. Tha’s cold.” His frayed mind couldn’t seem to put meaning to the syllables.

Despite him not being able to understand the stranger, Jack latched onto his voice automatically, using it as an anchor.  It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Jack. He focused all his scattered attention on the low continuous growl of words. Listening to the human’s soothing voice and strange accent finally allowed Jack to begin to relax, his breathing evening out.  Soon the meaning of the words were even beginning to filter into his tired mind.

Once Jack was back in control, he couldn’t help but pivot and peek around the pillar.  Heart racing he took care that he stayed well out of sight, unsure if the human would lash out the moment he laid eyes on him or not.

   The human was brushing snow out of his fur, bright green eyes blazing with inner fire.  Jack swallowed heavily as he felt the uncontrollable urge to stoke that fire. He wondered what he would do, it couldn’t possibly be as bad as when Father was angry.

   Was it a good idea?

   No.

   Was he going to do it anyway?

   Hell yes.  It would be loads of fun.  Even if it ended in pain he’d already managed to chase the guy off already, so what was the harm?

   While the human was distracted trying to dust the snow off his ruff, Jack summoned up his ice waving it forwards into battle.

   Slow and steady was the name of the game and the stranger never even saw it coming…literally.  The man went to step forwards only to have ice encase his feet pinning them to the ground. The human flailed wildly, pin-wheeling his arms to keep from face planting into the harsh ground.

Jack couldn’t have stopped the burst of triumphant cackles from escaping even if he had wanted to.  It was just so funny, even when the man regained his balance and his ears drooping slightly with his utter relief.

   The stranger’s whole body went rigid at the sound, his ears twitching as his head snapped up.  Emerald eyes pierced through the gloom and stared directly at the place Jack was attempting to hide.

   Jack swallowed heavily as he was pinned in place by those eyes.  The human was staring so intently that Jack felt his breath catch in his throat.  The man seemed surprised to see him, as if he had expected someone else to be standing there.  The world seemed to have slowed to less than a crawl before it all came crashing down.

   Jack sucked in a gulp of air, eyes almost painfully wide as he stared back into the stranger’s face.  This was it, he was going to blow up at Jack and then leave. The human opened his mouth to speak, but Jack couldn’t take it.  

   With a quick leap into the air, Wind was whisking him away, back to the safety, the normality, of his tower.  He landed lightly, at the top of the stairs immediately begins to stalk across the expanse of the balcony as he spat abuse at himself.  “Coward.” He hissed as he paced on the balcony. He was so stupid; you never run from a punishment. That only made it worse when Father caught you.

   Maybe the man had given up?  It wasn’t worth the trouble of climbing the entire tower just to get at him, right?  Father only did it because Jack was his son. Jack was his blood. He was duty bound to take care of Jack, even if that meant punishing him.

   Jack had no such connection to the stranger.  And why was he so disappointed with that thought?  The man hated him. Jack didn’t need to suffer two punishments in as many days.

   It was better for everyone if he left before Jack could get attached.

***Aster***

   A boy.  

It was a boy, barely in his teens.  His cheerful expression and laughing azure eyes were burned into Aster’s head, and so was his obvious fear.

   What in Mim was a boy doing here?  There was no way he could be with Pitch, not with a laugh like that.  It was pure joy. Full of innocent and life.

   That begged the question: was he here under duress?  Aster wouldn’t put kit-napping passed the boogieman, but that didn’t quite fit either.  Not when they boy could simply fly away.

   Aster had more questions than answers and only one way to get those questions answered.  He would just have to ask the boy.

First, though, Aster would have to catch him.  Not an easy feat when the boy had fled to the top of a massive ice encrusted tower and Aster was stuck to the cobbled floor by three inch thick ice boots.

   Aster heaved a put-upon sigh as he stared down at his already numb feet.  Normally he would open a tunnel, but that was impossible with his feet immobilized.  He couldn’t use his strength to break free since there was no way to get the leverage to just break out.  His next choice of action would be to melt the ice away, but he didn’t think that was possible in this place where the sun never touched.

   He stared down at his feet for a long moment before sighing heavily as he pulled out one of his boomerangs and crouched down to work.

   It took a few minutes just chipping away at the ice but he did manage to shatter it into pieces.  He kicked the sections of ice away from his numb paws and headed towards the long, winding stairs.

   Frost clung to each step but Aster could hardly feel it at all, which he considered to be both a blessing and a curse.  About halfway up the tower the frost turned to ice, it hadn’t completely masked the stairs but it did make climbing them more of a challenge.  Aster quickly took to all four paws, his claws gripping the ice more securely.

   Each step he took brought a shiver to the pooka, sure that this would be the step that would turn the whole staircase back into a slide.  Therefore it came as a surprise when his head rose above the stairs and he came face to face with wide blue eyes and a shock of wild snow-white hair.

   The boy yelped, falling back on his bum;  his staff automatically slashed forward accompanied by a flash of blue-white light that struck the ice covered stone beneath their feet.

   Aster’s green eyes darted down just in time to see the stairs disappear under a thick slab of ice similar to the one he’d encountered the day before.  “Ah, crickey.” He gasped right before gravity took hold and he went sailing right off the edge of the tower. His paws scrambled for the balcony edge, but it was too late and the pooka found himself taking the fast way to the bottom of the tower.  And this time there was no ice-net to catch him.

There was no possible way this would end well.  This was it. He was gonna die. The ground was racing up towards him and there wasn’t anything he could do to stop it.  A terrified sort of acceptance filled the pooka, this wasn’t the way he’d imagined going.

   Then something unexpected happened, it felt as if someone had grabbed him around the middle and yanked backwards.  It was very disorienting for the pooka, the magic that had grappled him from his impending embrace with the earth was the complete opposite of his own and so powerful it was almost suffocating.

   He was jerked backwards hard enough to give him whiplash, but he was no longer falling to his death.  In fact, he wasn’t falling at all. He hung a good three feet above the ground, still strung up in the magical net that had stopped his fall.  

   He assumed the magic belonged to the boy, it had the same cool winter feel as the icy tower and the frosted stone, but there was something about it that felt...off.  He couldn’t explain how it was different other then the fact that whatever it was had allowed him to levitate a good distance off the ground.

   He’d never heard of that type of magic before and it was as intriguing as it was terrifying.

   Then whatever invisible force had snatched him from certain doom, promptly dropped him.  He fell face first into a pile of fluffy white snow that he would swear had not been there seconds before.

   He was shivering violently when he crawled out of the snowdrift and stumbled back onto his numb paws.  He couldn’t have told you if he was shaking because of the cold, or his near death experience.

   A quick glance around showed the boy, he was hovering not far from Aster, concern plastered on his elfin features and his pale fingers were wrapped so tight around his shepards crook that the pooka was surprised it didn’t snap right in two.

   “It’s awrigh’, mate.  Ahm fine, lil bi’ shaken up, sure, bu’ no damage done.”  He stuttered out. He was aiming for comforting, but he wasn’t too sure he’d managed that.  The boy certainly didn’t look any less worried, but he was a little too shaken up to really deal with that properly, “Ahm gonna head back ta me Warren fer a bit ‘o rest.”  He informed the boy, “We’ll have a bit of ‘a chinwag tomarra’ awrigh’?”

   The boy blinked slowly, his bright blue eyes still impossibly wide, before nodding his head. It was a jerky movement and looked almost painful, but it was an agreement so he’d take it.