This is not the first time I've written about these characters, but truthfully, it will be the last. It pains me to put into words what I'm about to tell you, but I need closure. We all need closure for what happened.
I doubt this will be read by many- most of those who used to read what I wrote have probably moved on in their lives and forgotten about me entirely. For those that remain, and who still care about a winter spirit named Jack, this has been written for you.
It started, as do so many of these tales, with the Nightmare King.
The cave was dark, but not dark enough for his comfort, dimly lit by a hazy glow from the centre of the room that buffed out the edges of the shadows and gave the whole place a strange, dream-like quality. Pitch curled his upper lip, but dropped it quickly. There was no one here, and he was too weary to keep up the charade. Sanderson was one of the few that he couldn't be mad at; perhaps because of nostalgia? Or perhaps because the dream weaver was the only one who had ever seemed to understand his side of the tale.
Sanderson Mansnoozie could sympathise and empathise, but still stick strong to his beliefs; the former general in Pitch respected that, even though it did make him the most terrifying guardian to fight. The rabbit, the fairy, the Russian- nothing on their own, and barely a threat together. Sanderson and Frost however: the devout and the ignorant, as the two most powerful of that quintet.
Pitch had no deity to invoke when he cursed- not Notus, not Seraphina, and certainly not the wretched Lunanoff prince; but when he thought of how the power balance had turned out, he shook his head and took a leaf from the mortals' book: Lord help us all.
His lip curled again, this time into a small smile as the true impact of his discovery occured to him. The centuries long search was finally over. Wrongs could be righted and for once, good would triuph. The scapegoat would finally, finally be absolved of his sins.
Pitch touched the top of the dreamsand coffin. From his finger, tendrils of black began to spread, and his smile widened. It would take time for it to take hold- perhaps three days? He gave in, and allowed the grin to spread across his face, a deep chuckle rumbling out of him.
The mortals were right. In three days, the martyr would emerge from the cave, rising again to change the world.
Jack frowned at the food on his plate. It seemed to frown back. He picked up his fork and poked it: it wibbled; he poked it again: it wobbled; he accidentally bumped the table with his knee and it went ballistic, swinging dangerously from side to side and flipping every know law of physics the middle finger.
"I give up, what the hell is this meant to be?"
From the other side, Pierre and Lily were completely failing to contain their laughter, shoulders shaking as every few seconds a gust of breath escaped them.
"It's... it's..." began Pierre, dissolving each time back into mirth.
"It doesn't matter what it is, you promised you'd eat it!" managed Lily, before toppling off her chair into fits of giggles.
It had been about five years since she joined them, and honestly, the winter spirit had never once had reason to regret their decision. She was funny. She was smart. She was actually very sweet, and if that wasn't the most bizarre twist then he didn't know what was. Once the persona fell, it simply crumbled away: like dust in the wind, gone for good.
It was strange, this side of her; he'd never seen it before, nor Pierre, nor most likely any of the spirits around today. If anyone had, it would have been Gaia- location: unkown, mental state: batshit- or Notus- location: dead, mental state: still dead. He'd never actually run into her outside their home, but he didn't want to- from what the guardians had heard, she was still as cut-throat as ever out there.
And that was another welcome development:it had taken decades, Notus only knew it was a slow process, but they were finally... kind of normal again. North was back to drinking with the leprechaun, and Tooth would have girly teas with Verity and Lily, and Bunny would begrudingly share tunnel building techniques with the burrowers over mugs of sweet builder's tea. Sandy had made the most progress, and now hosted a monthly art group in his dream sand castle, open invite to anyone. Most who went became regulars, and immortal art was appearing worldwide. It was crazy.
It was good. Life was good, for all of them, better than it had been in a long time.
Except for right now.
"Can you please at least tell me what it is? It looks like... like Jell-o! With prawns in it! And lettuce! Please tell me it's not Jell-o with prawns and lettuce in it." He slumped as his so-called friends nodded, tears of laughter beginning to escape the corner of their eye. "This is bullshit! 1950's cooking in America was... was apple pies and stuff! And cherry pies. And rhubarb. Pear. Peach. You get it, it's a lot of pies- I refuse to believe this had anything to do with it."
Lily had climbed back onto her chair at this point, and silently slid the cookbook over to him. PRAWN COCKTAIL CELERY JELL-O SALAD DELIGHT! Read the title. The winter spirit sighed.
"Fine. Fine. But... come on, can you at least make me a pie after this?" He picked the fork back up, and cut off a hunk of the monstrosity before him. It was green, and there were little bits of romaine lettuce sticking out the sides. Fighting down a gag, he slowly lifted it to his mouth- and paused. "Why is it snowing?"
Pierre and Lily both hesitated, and then quickly glanced out the window like they were afraid he would escape if they looked away for too long. Which, fair enough, he might have, if he wasn't genuinely puzzled.
"You're the spirit of winter Jack, not us," said Lily, fixing her gaze firmly back onto him and leaning forward. "Now, are you going to keep your end of the deal or not?"
"I will, I will, I'm just... not making it snow..." The winter spirit trailed off, making his way to the window. "I can't even feel it. It's like rain, it's like... it's not a part of me." Pierre frowned, looking around the room.
"Jack, where is your staff?"
"It's upstairs- why?" Lily also frowned, looking between him and the window.
"Why is it upstairs?"
"What does it matter?" Pierre rose, looking discomfitted.
"Because in the centuries that I have known you, I have never seen you more than a few metres from it. Perhaps when you have it back, you will be able to control this again."
"Maybe... can you get it for me?" They both froze, staring in shock at the winter spirit. He looked over his shoulder, met their gazes, and with that seemed to blink out of the daze he was in. "Shit. What? No, never mind, I'll get it- I'll be down in a second." He hurried out the room, stomach rolling. How had he forgotten his staff? Even now, his hand was clutching the empty air where it usually sat. Something felt off, but he tried to squash down the niggling feeling.
"-they knew him best, perhaps they know what's up." The winter spirit paused outside the door at the hissed voices from within.
"Pierre, it's probably nothing, he's probably just got a cold or something. You saw me last time I hit a cloud of pollution!"
"This is not pollution, and you know it- if you were to try to use your magic when poisoned, you would be throwing up everywhere. I certainly did not see any vomit."
"Well, I don't know, maybe he flew too high into the atmosphere. Gaia only knows he's the only one that can stand those temperatures, maybe he OD'ed on ozone or something."
"I'll have you know," said Jack, pushing open the door and making them both jump guiltily, "that I only tried that once, and it didn't work. The air was too thin, the wind couldn't do it." Outside, the flakes continued to drift by. He sighed and shook his head. "Staff's not doing anything, I still can't feel it. I'm going to go check it out."
"Jack, I really don't think that's a good-" "Now just hold on a second Frosty" "-awfully rash of you to just-" "-stick around for a while and-" He ignored them, pulling open the window and tumbling out. "For Notus' sake!" he heard a voice yell as he tumbled, but he couldn't place which voice it was.
"Wind! Take me to whatever's going on!" he yelled, swinging his staff. Nothing happened. "Wind! Wind!" He contiued to plummet, the air tearing through his hair and whistling past his ears. "Wind, this isn't funny!" Panic took over, and he began to flail, voice choking up as he dropped. "Wind!" The staff slipped from his grip, and in an instant it was gone. Out of options, the winter spirit screamed.
The scream turned into a yelp of surprise and pain as fingers dug into his arms, pulling him to a juddering halt just a few hundred metres above the Atlantic. Hiccupping with fear, he was unable to do anything but cling to whatever was holding him and tremble.
"Have you never heard the phrase look before you leap? Christ, okay, let's get you back up to-"
"NO! No. Just. Dry land. Please." He looked up to meet Lily's incredulous gaze. She hesitated, his staff firmly tucked uder one arm.
"Jack, we're miles away from the coast, do you really-"
"Yes! Yes, I can't, I mean, I need the ground. I need it." She tried and failed to toss her windswept hair from out of her face.
"Okay, I think we're closest to Mauritania. Just like- is there any way you can get onto my back. I don't think I can carry you like this the whole way and-"
"And that's why Pierre put lifeboats in the house." The summer spirit smiled smugly as he floated down in front of them, but the smile faded as Jack scrambled into the basket, sending the entire miniature hot air balloon rocking. "Mauritania did you say?" The spring spirit shrugged.
"Unless my bearing is off. We need the closest coast for Jack to- well, to calm down. Are you okay Jack? What happened?" From the corner of the hot air balloon, the witer spirit stared at them with wide eyes.
"I... I..." The eyes swivelled down to the staff, devoid of frost. "My powers don't work."
In a small cottage in the North of England, Sophie Bennet leant her head back against the armchair and listened to the wind outside. The storm had been going for close to two full days, and she was getting email after panicked email from her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter.
... but the roads have all been closed with the snow, and the salt machines are focused on the motorways and the A-roads...
... called the police, but they're up to their ears in accidents and they say they don't have the resources to handle it if it's not an emergency...
... social services can't do it, all they've got in the area is one bloody little Ford Fiesta, what good is that going to do?!
...Are the girls behaving? Do you have enough food? Are the electricity and heat still on?
She was fine. She was absolutely fine, and her great-granddaughters were also fine, playing dolls in the guest room upstairs. One little snowstorm wasn't going to be the end of the world, nor would getting some extra time with the children. God only knew, ever since they'd moved to London it was like the North was some great big scary place full of wolves and wildthings.
Even with the windows closed, the curtains still fluttered with the force of the gusts, giving quick glimpses into an icy landscape beyond. Sophie frowned, pushing her creaking bones out of the chair and hobbling over. Outside it practically glowed white, towering clouds spitting out snowflakes the size of her palm. The snow was two feet deep at least, blown into bizarre configurations by the howling wind.
Jack, she wondered to herself, watching the snowflakes spin; what on Earth are you up to?
"There is something very wrong here," mused Pierre, blinking up at the sky.
"Well no shit! Frost's got no powers!" Lily looked stressed, pushing unkempt hair back from her face as she tried to secure the balloon. Jack remained silent, sat on the dusty ground and staring at his bare staff.
"Some of us believe in nuance, and looking beyond the obvious. What do you notice?"
"Anything that stands out to you." She threw her hands up and looked around.
"I don't know! We're in the middle of nowhere! There's a clump of trees over there, and some hills over there, and the ocean is that way. It's dusty, it's cloudy, it's cold- what do you want from me?"
"It's cold," murmured Pierre, continuing to gaze skyward. "And cloudy. At this time of year. In Mauritania. Does that not strike you as odd?"
"I guess. Are your powers not working either or something?"
"To the contrary- this area is currently in the middle of a heatwave. I can feel the energy being channeled into it. The problem is, there's something overriding that- making it colder than it should be. As the seasons of change, what range of powers do you and Arnold have?" Lily bit her lip, sitting down next to Jack and mulling over it.
"Quite a range? But not particularly strong. Like, moderate temperature changes, light drizzles, things like that, and then spring specific ones like making flowers bloom. Herbst has the same, but with autumn ones, like making leaves fall. But if you or Jack decided to bull ahead with something-" she gave the winter spirit a sideways glance, because they all knew just how often he had- "we can't really do anything about it. If you're thinking he's behind this you're wrong, unless he's somehow found a way to steal Jack's magic." Pierre joined her on the ground, and for a while the three of them sat silently.
Suddenly, Jack looked up.
"We need to get to the North Pole is what we need to do." He leapt to his feet, smacking himself on the forehead. "God, I was so freaked out, I didn't even think of it! We'll head on up, pull the aurora, and then ask them what they think. One of them has to know at least something." Pierre and Lily shared a glance and a shrug.
"I've got no better ideas," said the spring spirit, making her way over to the balloon.
"Nor I, and it would be good to hear some other thoughts," agreed Pierre. They climbed into the basket and Lily launched them.
"Of course, the obvious culprit is Pitch," Jack continued. He leaned on the edge of the basket, earlier shock seemingly shaken off. "He always had a bit of a kink for cold, tried to recruit me at least once with this whole 'what goes together better than cold and dark' schtick. But I haven't heard anything from him in forever- still, maybe that just means he's been scheming for the last seven or eight decades."
"This level of power would be far beyond Pitch," observed the summer spirit, gazing down at flat white lands beneath them. "He has no believers to fuel him even if he did find a way to commandeer your powers."
"But maybe he's using the power of my belief too!"
"I swear your power isn't based off belief," Lily managed through gritted teeth. The wind was picking up, and she was yanking the ropes as she tried to keep the balloon steady. "Otherwise, you know, no winters for three hundred years." She raised an eyebrow at the look he shot her. "It's an honest observation, Frost, and you know it."
"I've gotten more power since I've gotten believers. What do you think powers our super awesome weather balloon mansion? Electricity?" She snorted.
"Great; so you're only like, the most overpowered mortal alive, and your fucking magic stick stopped working."
"Overpowered? What do you mean?" Pierre's brow furrowed.
"Did you not realise?" The winter spirit shook his head. "As the only seasonal with no helpers, you have the entirety of the power that for Lily, Arnold and I is distributed. As seasonals we are already among the most powerful, and you are the most powerful of us. In addition to this is your power as a guardian, and having hundreds of millions of children believe in you and what you can do. You have the power of both groups put together. You are the overlap of the venn diagram."
"Wow." Jack leaned back, surprised. "I had no idea. Who's idea was it to give my dumb ass all the power?" Lily curled her lip and pointed upwards.
"Ask the little prince on his block of cheese. Now, sorry to burst you bubble, boys, but this is going to get rough." They looked out in the direction the balloon was flying, and both reflexively grimaced at the sight before them.
"Chances of our piddly little ballon getting through that?" asked Jack. The spring sprit shook her head.
"Zilch, especially since you can't fly. I don't know if I'd be fast enough a second time, not with winds like that. Do we have a plan B?"
"How about you fly to the pole, Lily?" They both looked at Pierre. "I would offer to do it myself, but the spirit of summer and snowstorms tends to be a bad combination."
"I could try," she said slowly, glancing back towards the storm. "Should I land her here then, and when I get there we'll snowglobe to you." Pierre shook his head.
"I'll fly the weather balloon back to Mauritania- or maybe even further south. I won't be able to tolerate this weather, and it appears to be headed our way." She nodded and passed him the ropes. Jack frowned.
"How come I don't get to steer?"
"We've already had one near death experience today, Jack," said the Summer spirit as Lily departed, "let's not risk a second." The winter spirit pouted but settled back down as Pierre redirected the balloon back to fairer weather.
In a chair made from clear cut ice, Pitch leaned back and smiled. He could feel the fear, feel it radiating through him with a power he hadn't experienced in... years. Besides him hunched one of his oldest friends, black oil slicks covering his eyes.
"Well, this really is incredibly enjoyable, I must say: just like old times. Only, you know- you're the one possessed this time." He gave the figure a jovial punch, only to wince as his entire hand was immediately encased in a brick of ice. "So, what's the plan?"
"Freeze... everything..." hissed the voice, and the nightmare king rolled his eyes.
"Well, yes, I know that, but once everything is frozen?" An inarticulate snarl was the only response, and he sighed: this wasn't half as enjoyable as he was trying to convince himself it was. For some reason, Boreas was... permanently possessed, rather than in the fits and starts that came with normal possession.
Likely due to having been inactive so long. Pitch wondered if the power had been building all this time- it would certainly explain the strength of this winter. Dimly, he also wondered why Jack and the other guardians hadn't mobilised yet, and he decided to try voicing this query out to not-Boreas.
"We control winter," came the hiss. "All the winter. It is ours." Pitch nodded to himself, and was prepared to leave it at that- Frost had no winter power- but then he found himself pinned to his seat. "WHY DO WE NOT HAVE IT ALL!"
It was a long time since the nightmare king had lost felt fear. Staring into the oil slick eyes, Boreas' feet either side of him and hands gripping the front of his cloak, something akin to it stirred deep within him. He leaned back as far as he could, which wasn't very far at all, and tried not to smell millenium-old morning breath.
"To create a storm of this magnitude, you must have all the winter power. Otherwise the merry band of misfits would be here by now to break this up."
"We have the winter. We do not have the winter power," was the hissed response, and then Boreas was gone, disappearing into the storm that raged around them. Pitch sighed, and slumped back into his chair. Even he, the nightmare king, had a bad feeling about this.
"Pierre, take my hoodie." The summer spirit looked up and accepted it gratefully, hunching in on himself as the snowflakes drifted down. He had nothing but his shirt, his shorts, and the flip flops he'd been wearing for the past 120 years, with little badgers on them. "We can try and find somewhere warmer?"
"Jack, I don't know how to break this to you: you don't get warmer." They were sat on the exact equator, surrounded by lush rainforest. Snowfakes drifted gently down, and the baleful cries of shivering animals filled the night. Jack sighed, staring at his empty staff.
"I just don't know what to do. Maybe if we go back to Mauritania Lily will be able to find us?" Pierre shook his head.
"She'll be long gone from there. If she didn't make it to the guardians, her first stop after Mauritania will be the house... if she can even get there. Barring that, she'll search the equator; we should find her soon enough." Jack shrugged.
"Maybe. It's fucking eerie though, being out here like this. Even without Lily, where are the other immortals. Why has the groundhog not come to find out what's going on, or a volcano sprite to fuck me over for snowing in their volcanos? They never had any trouble before."
"Perhaps, without your powers, they cannot find you? It would be like trying to find a mere mortal, who may be anywhere on this planet. Who knows how many of them can even travel at the moment- is the ground too frozen? The wind too strong? Are the water spirits trapped under ice?" Jack shuddered at the image.
"God, what do we do?"
"What can we do, but wait it out?"
"Nanna, when will it stop snowing?" Sophie smiled at her great-granddaughters name for her, and smoothed the floppy brown hair back from her head.
"Soon, my darling. It'll stop snowing soon, and then we can have summer again."
"Is Jack Frost doing this?" This voice piped up from the other end of the bed, as the twins were sharing tops-to-tails.
"Nuh-uh," said the first. "Jack Frost couldn't freeze a fly. Isn't that right nanna?"
"Well, he could- but he wouldn't. And that's all the distinction we need to worry about, isn't it?" Both girls smiled sleepily up at her, and she smiled back, reaching for the light. "Goodnight darlings- we can have pancakes in the morning."
Out in the hall, her smile dropped. The snow was halfway up the door now, and she could feel deep in her gut that something was very wrong. Perhaps it was Pitch again? Or some other, new villain? From its frame, the faded photo of Jamie smiled out. He was seventy there, with three grandkids of his own, and another ten years left before his heart gave out.
Why did you have to die? she wondered, running her fingers down the glass. She needed someone over the age of five who could understand her fears for the guardians, and for her favourite winter spirit. Why did you have to stop believing?
As always, the photo stayed silent. She sighed, and make her own, weary way to bed.
Bunny swore, fur fluffed up as high as it could go, trying to trap insulating air against his body. His ears were flat against his back, and a weight on his face made him suspect that icicles were forming on his whiskers.
He could definitely feel them in his cottontail
"Send Bunny to look for Jack," he muttered to himself in an impression of North's accent. "Tooth cannot be flying. Sandy cannot be flying. Sleigh cannot be flying. But Bunny has tunnels, da? Bunny can find Jack, Bunny can bring Jack back here, everything will be fine. I feel it! In my belly!" He let out a frustrated roar, barely audible over the howling of the wind. "What does your bloody gut say about permafrost, hey North? Did ya think about that? Send Bunny my arse!"
"You seem troubled."
Thankfully, the wind was too loud for anyone to hear his shriek, though her small smile suggested she knew anyway. She was sat cross legged on the edge of a field, about half a foot of snow piled on her head, her shoulders, her legs. This tumbled off as she climbed to her feet.
"Verity. What in the bloody hell are you doing here?" Bunny shook himself. "Actually, never mind that- what in the bloody hell is going on?"
"Everything is wonderful and perfect and nothing is wrong." Absolute lie. Really, really obvious absolute lie, which meant everything was really, really bad. He grimaced, nearly biting his tongue off in the process as his teeth rattled.
"Who's behind this? What are they planning? What's the endgame? What the bloody hell is going on?!" She blinked her mismatched eyes at him and stretched, seemingly unphased by the plummeting temperatures. Then she looked him dead in the eye, and her tattoos seemed to glow brighter.
"Everything is fine and perfect, and nothing is wrong, and Jack is completely safe, and you have nothing to worry about in regards to anything." Bunny felt his stomach drop. A new sense of urgencyy swept through him, shaking off the numbness of his frozen frame. He grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Verity. Remember the absolute truth you promised me? Yeah, I'm banking that now- where's Jack?"
"Where are we?" The balloon wreckage lay strewn about them. Pierre wrapped his arms around his torso, skin puckered like goosflesh and shivers wracking through him.
"Somewhere flat and completely devoid of shelter. That's all I can tell, Jack."
"Pierre, come on, we have to get you into a building or something. You're going to freeze!"
"What building Jack?! With what balloon?! How are we to do anything but sit here and hope that your benefactor will take pity on us, same as last time. Man in the moon, can you hear us? The guardians are in trouble! Possibly, I don't know, but Jack's in trouble and does he not count? Did he his not swear the same oath as them?"
"Pierre, please, calm down," Jack grabbed his arm, and they both automatically flinched away, before stopping. "I guess... I guess since I don't have my powers anymore..."
There was a long silence, both of them gazing into the featureless landscape. Snow blanketed everything, swirling around them in fat flakes and settling on their clothes. Finally Piere shook his head, and turned back to the winter spirit.
"But you do," he muttered, hands gesturing uselessly. "I was thinking this, and I was about to voice the thought to you when we were overturned. You do still have your powers, not your winter ones but your guardian ones- how else would the balloon have been able to fly? Why did the house not fall from the sky, even when you did?" Understanding dawned on Jack's face, and he threw his hands up.
"Well that's just great! I've got my guardian powers, fan-fucking-tastic. You know what that means Pierre? It means I've got a really bloody big battery and nothing to plug it into." This time, it was Pierre's turn to grab Jack.
"I understand your frustration. But at least this brings us closer to solving the matter at hand." He paused, but continued when he saw Jack's puzzled expression. "What could hijack your powers of winter, but not your powers as a guardian?"
The words were barely out of his mouth when a figure plummeted from the sky, smacking into the ground with enough force to crack the icy surface. Oily black eyes stared out at them. Jack gulped.
"Well, I suppose... the other winter spirit?"
He had heard description of Boreas, and Lily had even done a quick sketch of him once, at Jack's behest. Tall, tan, quite proper. Not usually described as a snarling, black eyed monster, save for once before.
"Where is the power?" hissed a deep, guttural voice. "We can feel it. We want it. Give it to us." There was a long pause. Jack and Pierre exchanged glances, and finally Jack stepped forth. He pushed his shoulders back, forcing a cocky grin to his face
"Hi, I'm Jack Frost, not really so nice to meet you but hey-ho; yeah, that power you're running around with, that's actually mine, so if you could give it back I'd-" Faster than his eye could follow, Boreas was pressed up against him, noses almost touching.
"The power. It must be ours." Jack felt like the air was being sucked out of him. For a moment, the blackness cleared, and he was staring into the eyes of someone scared, and confused, and not much older than him. Then everything began to burn. He hunched in on himself, the sound of his screaming mixing with Pierre's yells of alarm. Opposite, Boreas crumpled to the floor.
"Jack, what's happening? Are you okay?"
"I... I can't..." He could feel the power rushing back, tearing through him, and it was so, so much worse than the blizzard of '68. Every nerve tip was in agony, and he had to keep blinking to keep a black film of tears spreading across his eyes.
"Am I possessed Pierre?" His throat was raw, voice ragged. Pierre reached out to him, only to hiss and pul back, fingertips blackened. Jack couldn't even distinguish it from the other pain. "Pierre, am I... am I possessed? Are they going to get me? Are they... am I... will I hurt people?" The summer spirit stared at him helplessly.
"I think you are Jack. We need to find Sanderson, or your family, or something- they can help us! They can do something."
"I'm not going to get there in time. I... I can feel them..."
"I'll bring them here Jack. We can fix this, just stop the snow and we can fix it." Jack shook his head, the movement jerky; he felt stretched taut, on the edge of his control. From his peripheral vision, there was a flash of light, but he ignored it, focussing on the summer spirit.
"I can't Pierre. I want... I want to kill them. There'll be a war, there was a war be... before, and you heard Lily! I'm overpowered- I'm dangerous." Tears were streaming down Pierre's face, leaving small holes in the snow collecting around his ankles.
"Jack, don't do this... Please... Whatever you're planning, don't do this."
"Jack!" yelled a voice. Both swivelled to find Bunny fighting through the snow to get to them. "Jack, what's happening?"
"Pierre." Jack's voice was barely more than a whisper. Whatever it was, these things, they recognised Bunny. The black was rising over his eyes, and no amount of blinking could make it stop. The summer spirit stared back, devestated. "Pierre, I have to."
"I know." There was another yell from bunny, cut short by the howling wind. Jack's mind flashed back to a dream from years before, where it had come down to this choice: would he sacrifice his best friend to save his family?
Pierre's brown eyes were scared; his lips were tinting blue from the cold, and ice was forming in his curly hair. He clapped a heavy hand onto Jack's shoulder.
"Whatever you need, I will do."
"I think..." The winter spirit swallowed down his fears. "I think I need a hug."
Understanding dawned on Pierre's face, and with a jerky nod he pulled the smaller spirit in tightly. For a second, Jack couldn't feel anything. Then the burning began, at every point their skin touched, burrowing down into his core like fiery tendrils. He could hear Pierre's yells in his ears, and was distantly aware that he was screaming too. It was an all encompassing pain, like nothing he'd ever felt before.
Rather than let go, he held on tighter to the deadly embrace.
Sophie blinked awake very suddenly, like something had startled her. The room was still pitch black, save for the white glow of snow gleaming through the window from outside. Getting to her feet, she took a look.
The wind had stopped, as had the rest of the storm. Everything was eerily silent now, muffled by the heavy drifts and the fact that it was the dead of night. She wondered if that was what had woken her: the absence of noise.
That and the fact that she'd clearly turned the thermostat too high; the room was boiling, where just a few hours ago she'd been concerned that the heating wouldn't hold out. She struggled out of the bulky sweater she'd gone to sleep in, and then the thick woolen socks. It still felt stuffy, and perspiration began to bead her forehead. That was probably what had woken her: the heat.
Then a crack echoed through the house, and she paused. Something seemed... not quite right. Ill at ease, the matriarch of the Bennet clan reached for the door handle- and recoiled in surprise and pain when she found it scalding hot.
Grabbing one of her socks from the floor to cover her hand, she wrenched the door open, only to fall back with a cry at the wall of flames burning through the corridor. The heat poured into the room, overwhelming, and she ran to pull the window open before grabbing a fire extinguisher from the cupboard where it had always sat, a mere 'just in case'. The foam spray disappeared into the flames, too meagre to have any effect.
"Nanna!" came a yell, and Sophie felt like she was going to be sick. The twins.
Grabbing the jug of water from the side table, she doused a t-shirt and wrapped it around her face. Sandals were pulled on, and she braced herself: ninety years old or not, there was enough in her for one final sprint godamnit!
The flames licked at her bare skin as she went, and she could feel the singeing and sizzling of the hair atop her head. She didn't even want to entertain the possibility of it catching alight: that would be the end of all of them. Her feet were burning even through the soles of her shoes, blistering and rupturing as she ran, but she forced it away and kept going.
"Nanna, it's burning!"
The bed in the spare room was a column of flames, as were the curtains, and low level flames were creeping across the carpet. The girls were huddled in the corner of the room, faces tear streaked and sooty and lit up orange.
Sophie wrenched open the window, and nothing had ever felt as amazing as the blast of freezing air to the face. Even if by some miracle the stairs were clear, there was no way back through that corridor; but the wind had blown the snow against this side of the house, and it had piled up several metres deep.
"Girls, come here- sit, here, right on the ledge; we're going to need to jump."
"But Nanna, I'm scared!"
"I know you are darling, but you need to do this; you two jump, and then I'll follow you out, okay? On the count of three! One- two-" From above them came a deep cracking noise, and Sophie pushed the girls as the ceiling split and tumbled down upon her.
It took days for the snow to melt, and even then many places experienced flooding from the water runoff. News outlets went mad, with some calling it Ragnarok, or the end of days. Meterologists went mad too, trying to figure out how on Earth such an event came about. Television interviews with the nomadic tribes of Saharan Africa went viral as members described the first snow they'd ever seen; meanwhile, in the North, small communities and indigenous tribes from North America to Sweden to northernmost China began to count their dead.
In the North Pole, four guardians sat and stared into the fire. The most that was said was an occasional 'how?' or 'why?', and sometimes "I wish I had said this." They had tried to find Pitch, but the Nightmare King seemed to have vanished- they wondered if he was another casualty in all this. Verity was missing too, for all that Bunny wanted to wring answers out of her.
He had found Jack, but a fat lot of use that had done him.
Far above the Atlantic, Lily sat and tried to catch Boreas up on everything that had happened since the eclipse. He wept for Notus, and wept again for the destruction he had caused while possessed. He pored through history books and physics books, trying to understand everything from Napoleon to electricity. When Lily made a joke about him being the true winter soldier, she was met with a blank look.
Jack and Pierre would have gotten it.
In a flat field in Northern Bulgaria, locals marvelled at a ring of obsidian that had appeared seemingly during the storm. It glinted in the weak sunlight, glassy black crags a warning to all: keep away from here. The locals agreed it was clearly cursed, and when geologists from Sophia came to investigate, they were only given direcions. No one would show them the way.
Two weeks after the storm, a full moon shone down on a small island a fair ways off the coast of France. The British government was still trying to put itself back in order, but the people had carried through, with nothing more than the jokes and complaints that the country is known for. Along a quiet country road, residents of the village pointed out a charred husk to each other.
"They say it was a bad fuse, and the circuit breaker didn't work, and then, well."
"Two great granddaughters inside, and her at ninety being expected to look after them alone, it beggars belief, it really does."
"I heard it was a very tasteful funeral, but the casket was empty! No, I'm serious- the body was destroyed in the blaze, not even bones or teeth were left."
"Terrible. Just terrible."
But none were around to say these things now, and the moon was left alone with the house. One beam in particular seemed particularly bright, and concentrated on a pile of blackened rubble. Under it's gaze, bits of stone and brick and roof tile began to shift- slowly at first, then quickly, and suddenly a body rose up from the centre of it.
The figure couldn't be a day over 18 if she'd even made it to that. She was in torn skinny jeans and a band shirt, style from nearly eighty years before. Her eyes opened, and they were gold, matching the blonde hair longer than she'd ever kept it in life.
Sophie Bennet, the moon told her. Spirit of summer. Guardian of stories.
And that is where our story ends, and that is how I know all these things which I have told to you. It is not a nice story, no, but it was one that needed to be told. The guardians have read it, and they understand why Jack did what he did. They mourned, indeed- I do not believe any of us will get over it, but I do not believe any of us want to. Pitch was found, and begged to speak to Boreas before he was locked away for good, in a dream cage next to Gaia. They gave him this.
He, Lily and I now share a small cottage in the north of Spain. The weather balloon was suggested, but the thought was too painful; we have left it to drift.
Besides that, life continues. Spring cycles to summer, autumn to winter, and children unwrap presents and hunt for eggs as they have for centuries.
So all that was left for me to tell their story; the sacrifice they made likely saved the world, and for it they should be honoured. A memorial was constructed in the glade, but I wanted to tell you, the mortals, too.
So think of Jack tonight when you climb into bed, and tomorrow when you rise for a new day. He is the reason you are still he, he and Pierre, and they should be remembered for it.
Thank you for reading