The pounding of his racing heart, and the wheezing of his shallow breaths, were the only sounds that Jack heard through the dark.
Clutching his staff in his hand, he rushed through the abyss. Jack groped his way through the shadows, and pushed through bracing gusts of wind, as he ran from the ominous presence that lurked behind him.
As Jack blindly ventured into the darkness, the laughter of this omnipotent force echoed through the gloom. A cold shiver shot down his spine as he heard its laughter growing louder, and its presence drawing closer.
Suddenly, a desperate voice infiltrated his thoughts. 'Keep running, Jack!'
Jack felt a hand in his, and stumbled blindly as the person it belonged to pulled him along.
The touch of this person lingered on his skin. Although Jack had no idea where this person came from, let alone who this person was, his fingers instinctively coiled around the hand.
Jack had to admit, he wasn't just scared, he was terrified. But somehow, as he clutched the hand, his fear gradually diminished. He clung on to this person for dear life, and thought of him – or her – as a beacon of hope.
'You can't run, boy,' mocked the voice. 'Not unless you want the Frozen Flame.'
Without warning, Jack froze on the spot. He attempted to shift his legs – to run, to scream, to do anything, but he couldn't.
'Jack?!' Screamed the voice. 'What's wrong with you?! It's right behind you! Move! Move now!'
An invisible force held him in place, and smothered him within its suffocating embrace.
'Not unless you want to save her.'
Just then, the darkness cleared away, and Jack caught a glimpse of the person who grasped his hand. A girl who looked about his age, whom had with firey red hair, stared firmly into his eyes. Her face was smudged with dirt, her dress was torn, her arms were bruised, and her eyes glistened with terror.
This vision only lasted a second. Soon, the darkness returned, and the hand that held onto his let go. Jack stood helplessly as its owner was swept into the gloom.
It was then that her fearful screech pierced through the dark.
2nd February 2009
'NO!' Jack cried, awaking with a start.
With a fearful cry, Jack bolted upright, and headbutted the winged child who hovered above him.
'WHOA,' cried Cupid, stumbling off the tree branch that Jack was sitting on. Seconds later, with wings outstretched, he soared back towards Jack's resting place.
Shooting Jack a dirty look, Cupid questioned: 'What's wrong with you?!'
'I just – you know,' muttered Jack, rubbing his eyes. 'It was the…' Jack eyed Cupid's worried expression and sighed. 'It was nothing.'
'Yeah. Uh huh, sure.' Cupid rolled his eyes. 'I know you well enough to know that you're lying through your teeth.'
'I'm serious,' insisted Jack, giving Cupid a nervous smile. 'I'm okay. But if it's all the same to you, I'd rather be alone toda-'
In the quietest voice Jack had ever heard from him, Cupid whispered: 'It was the nightmare.'
Staring at Cupid with an unreadable gaze, Jack's voice died away. A lump grew in his throat as Cupid's eyes burned into his.
'I'm right, aren't I?' asked Cupid, giving Jack a look that testified his age.
Jack diverted his gaze from Cupid's intense stare. He refused to meet his friend's eyes, nor did he wish to answer his question.
'Jack, this is serious,' said Cupid, his voice sounding deeper than it normally did. 'I've been around for a while – and I mean, a long while. And I've never met another magical creature that has nightmares.' Cupid's eyes narrowed. 'The Boogeyman may have power over the dreams of mortals, but not over ours.'
'It wasn't the Boogeyman,' concluded Jack. 'He hasn't been causing much trouble since…a hundred years ago, or something?'
With a gravelly voice, Jack declared, 'it felt like it was something worse.'
Words betrayed Cupid, and the winged child grew quiet.
For a long time, Jack and Cupid sat on the branch in silence. As they watched the wind play with the leaves, and the town of Burgess buzz with activity, Jack continued to dwell on his thoughts.
At first, he attempted to steer clear from any thoughts about the nightmare. He began to think about the fun he would have with the kids in Burgess today, the snow days he would bring, and the snowball fights he would start.
He was sure that Nathan would have loved the next snowball fight – after all, his aim was getting better. The twins would show up, for sure. So would Jamie. And Sophie. And Amelia, that redheaded girl who lived down the street.
That redheaded girl in your vision, chided Jack's thoughts.
Suddenly, her horrified face filled his mind, and he groaned with discomfort.
As Jack turned towards Cupid, who stared into the distance, a nagging premonition lingered at the back of his mind. Was it just him, or did Cupid look as bothered as he did?
'Was it like the nightmares you told me about last week?' asked Cupid, turning to Jack. 'Last week, it was just a few random pictures in your head. Was it like that today, or was it worse?'
'Oh, come on,' laughed Jack. 'You're not still bothered about that, are you?' He faked a grin. 'Lighten up, and let's have some fun, Cupid. We'll go into town and –'
'Jack, answer the question,' commanded Cupid.
Jack groaned. Cupid's current attitude belied his playful nature on so many levels.
'Since when are you so interested in stuff like this?' asked Jack, his grin slipping.
With a burning stare, Cupid remained silent, and waited for Jack's answer.
Jack sighed, 'It got worse. Now there are voices…'
Cupid's eyes widened momentarily. 'Voices? You mean that there's more than one?'
'Yeah. One voice belongs to someone who sounds like they're in desperate need of a therapist,' said Jack, recalling the malicious laughter that echoed through the gloom. 'And the other belongs to –'
Jack paused. He recalled the girl's terrified voice.
'Jack?' asked Cupid, breaking him free from his thoughts.
'I can't remember,' muttered Jack, diverting his gaze from Cupid's.
Cupid's eyes narrowed suspiciously. Then, he turned towards the distance with a wary stare. 'Father Time was right…'
Jack blinked. 'What?'
'Don't you know?' said Cupid. A worried expression was plastered across his youthful features, 'Father Time wanted to meet me only because I was a friend of yours.'
However, Cupid didn't sound very envious. (He would have normally fumed over the fact that Jack attracted Father Time's attention, and not him.) Instead, to Jack's horror, he sounded petrified.
'So what?' asked Jack, incredulously. 'Why would he be so interested in "Jack Frost"?'
'Uh,' Cupid froze, his eyes widening with terror.
It didn't take Jack very long to realise that his friend had said too much. This didn't surprise him, though - Cupid was the biggest loudmouth of the magical world. It wasn't very wise to trust him with a secret.
Jack knew that if he pushed Cupid far enough, he would reveal what Father Time had told him. However, Jack guessed that the consequences of revealing Father Time's secrets would be grim. Being the loyal friend that he was, he refused to let Cupid suffer under the Timekeeper's wrath.
With every ounce of his willpower, Jack breathed. 'It's okay, Cupid. Drop it. I'll figure it out sooner or later.'
Cupid seemed almost relieved. Suddenly, his eyes lit up. 'I'm heading off to Egypt. Come with me.'
'Sure,' shrugged Jack. 'But why?'
Cupid blushed, 'Well, there was a couple in Egypt – a girl and a boy from two families. These families came pretty close to killing each other.'
'Oh no,' said Jack, 'you're not planning on –'
'Getting them together?' suggested Cupid. 'Oh, I tried.' His face shrivelled. 'It didn't end well.'
Jack raised an eyebrow. 'What happ-'
'Don't ask,' said Cupid, monotonously. 'Let's just say that I have a thousand rotten arrows to pick up, and I'm not very thrilled of doing it alone.'
Jack laughed. Normally, he would've ordered the wind to carry him off, and wish Cupid the best of luck with cleaning up his idiotic mess. However, his curiosity got the best of him, and Jack agreed to go along.
Who knows, thought the winter spirit, Maybe I'll figure out if they had a "Romeo-and-Juliet" ending.
That wasn't the only reason Jack agreed to go. As much as he liked his friend, Jack knew that Cupid would mess the job up if he went alone. (He would probably leave a thousand more arrows lying around. Egypt would be in flames before the day ended.)
He also assumed that a trip to Egypt would help him forget about his horrible vision. That, and he would forget about Cupid's peculiar words.
With Cupid by his side, Jack rode the winds to Egypt, hoping that the trip would be enough to clear his head.
As he and Cupid played a game of tag through the clouds, Jack assumed that this was the last that he would hear of the nightmare, and felt his spirit soar as high as the winds were carrying him.
If only he knew how wrong he was.
One thing was for sure – Jack would never, never, never go on a "field trip" with Cupid for the rest of his immortal life.
Instead of delving into all Egypt had to offer – its culture, and its magic – Jack and Cupid spent twelve hours cleaning up after Cupid's mess.
Normally, it wouldn't have taken so long. Jack and Cupid were the fastest spirits in the magical world. With these two working together, any job would have been completed in seconds. However, an army of sand dwarves had accidentally stumbled upon this treasure trove of rotten arrows, and this made them a little crazy.
Okay, really crazy.
Anyone who saw the dwarves would have assumed that the apocalypse had arrived. They swung from the buildings, the trees, and anything else they could climb. They caused more mischief in one hour than Jack could do in a day – they pelted pedestrians and animals with garbage, they cracked open windows and broke into houses, they attempted to spray paint the pyramids...
And they did many other things that are better left unsaid.
Not only did Jack and Cupid have to pick up hundreds – no wait, thousands – of rotten arrows, they were also forced to pacify these crazy little midgets. It was a tedious task, but Jack and Cupid managed to collect the arrows, and stop the dwarves, before Egypt was completely destroyed.
At the end of the day, with their muscles burning, Jack and Cupid sat atop the great Sphinx. They watched as the Egyptian sun descended beyond the horizon, bathing the sky in an ethereal orange glow.
Jack lifted a bruised hand, and pointed a reprimanding finger at Cupid. 'I'm supposed to be Jack Frost – spirit of mischief and fun.' He drove his finger into Cupid's chest, 'But because of you, lover-boy, I've spent the whole day stopping mischief, and I've been doing anything but fun.'
'Oh, please,' said Cupid, a smile spreading across his lips, 'you got bit on the leg by one of the dwarves. That was pretty fun.'
'Yeah, for you.' muttered Jack.
Suddenly, Jack's eyes sparkled with enlightenment. Then, he shot Cupid a smile that wiped the child's grin clear off his face.
'Seeing ten dwarves pelt you with rotten tomatoes was pretty fun,' laughed Jack.
'No it wasn't,' insisted Cupid, his voice rising an octave. 'And you helped them, you jerk!'
'I told you,' said Jack, stifling a laugh. 'It was an accident.'
'Oh, okay,' Cupid scowled at Jack. 'So I'm supposed to believe that you "accidentally" dropped a heap of tomatoes over my head?'
'Yep,' declared Jack, his smile fading, 'just like you "accidentally" pushed me back into a crowd of dwarves so that you could get away.'
Jack and Cupid glowered at each other, their eyes burning with accusation. Seconds later, as the sun disappeared beyond the horizon, the pair of friends burst into laughter.
'You are such an idiot,' said Cupid, giving Jack a warm smile.
'Back at 'cha,' admitted Jack, smiling in return.
It wasn't long until Cupid decided to make his way back to his hideout. Waving goodbye, Cupid spread his wings, and flew towards the night sky. Jack watched as Cupid disappeared into a magic portal, and stared at the moon that remained in the starlit sky.
On nights like this, when the moon was clear and bright, Jack assumed that the Man in the Moon was listening to him.
And that there would be a chance that he would reply.
Jack sighed, 'Who am I kidding? There's no use in trying to talk to you.' He muttered, 'you haven't answered before. Why would you answer now?'
Jack could've sworn that his eyes had deceived him – the moon glowed slightly brighter, and it shimmered faintly with a blue light.
'Jack,' said a voice.
Goosebumps exploded across Jack's frozen skin. He whispered, 'What?'
'Jack Frost!' called the voice.
Jack froze on the spot. After all this time, did the Man in the Moon decide to reply? But this voice didn't sound at all like His. It sounded faint, distant and…and…
Wait, that wasn't the man in the moon.
Suddenly, Jack felt a presence behind him, and smelt the familiar scent of roses. He whipped around to see a girl with green hair smiling cheerily at him.
'Well, well,' breathed the girl, 'I almost thought that I was dreaming! It is you, Jack Frost. In the middle of one of the hottest places on Earth.'
'Sister Spring!' grinned Jack, giving the girl a high-five. 'Yeah, long story. Let's just say that Cupid owes me big.'
'Ah,' said Spring. 'So Cupid's the one that brought you here.' She shrugged. 'Say no more. I can guess what kind of trouble you've gotten into today.'
Jack laughed, then his expression faded into a sheepish frown. 'Oh, um, Spring…' He scanned the area, his voice falling into a whisper. 'Um, your mum's forgiven me about the, uh, the…'
'Oh, mum?' asked Spring. 'Yeaahhh…Mother Nature isn't very happy that you decided to give the kids in that town a snow day. You know, in summer.'
Spring held up her hands, which were ringed with flower bracelets, 'But don't worry, Frost. My sis…I-um…Lady Summer has forgiven you.' She grinned, 'we'll take care of mum.'
The last time Jack had seen his friend was when Burgess witnessed winter changing into spring; that was last year. Seeing as he hadn't spoken to her since then, Jack decided to delay his return to Burgess. After all, this wasn't just any Susie Nobody he was talking to. This was Sister Spring.
Mother Nature and Old Man Winter, also known as her mum and dad, actively patrolled the Earth and controlled the Seasons. However, they weren't the only superstars in her family. Spring and her siblings, Lady Summer and Autumn Revelry, were also in charge of manipulating the seasons.
Spring's family was full of magical creatures that influenced the forces of nature – this made her a little bit of a celebrity.
However, Sister Spring's star-status came with a price – she didn't get to spend much time with her family, as everyone was always so busy. This encouraged her to entertain herself, and had led her into tons of trouble.
Trouble that Jack loved to hear about.
'So, what brings you to Egypt?' asked Jack.
'Not rotten arrows, or murderous dwarves, I can assure you.' laughed Spring. An excited grin spread across her lips, and her eyes glistened with the colours of the rainbow.
'I'm here,' said Spring, 'to find the Hall of Records.'
Jack remained silent, then scoffed, 'you're joking.'
Spring's smile fell. 'What?'
'The Hall of Records? As in the mythological library that's said to be buried underneath the Sphinx?' laughed Jack. 'You're really looking for it?'
'Of course,' said Spring. 'Come on, I know it's real.'
'Oh, I don't doubt that it's real. It's right underneath us, actually.' Said Jack, earnestly. 'But what I don't understand is why you'd want to visit it. I mean, you don't read books, do you?'
'I read books!' insisted Spring. 'Really, Jack. I want to read because I don't want to end up a dummy like you.'
Spring laughed as Jack pretended to be shot in the heart.
'And what better place than the Hall of Records?' asked Spring, her eyes glistening with delight. 'It's the greatest library that the world has never known.'
Built by the first Egyptian Sorcerers, the Hall of Records was buried beneath the Great Sphinx. It was rumoured that the library was so massive – bigger, in fact, than the whole of Egypt – that millions of books were hidden within its walls.
These books were unlike any ordinary manuscripts. They contained stories that were lost to time, and answers that so many people have tried – and failed – to find. They were special, and needed to be concealed within the library. After all, if they were not, the secrets they guarded would be abused.
Jack and Spring passed through the jewelled ceiling, and their feet touched the glistening floor. Then, as Spring rushed off to the nearest shelf, Jack gawked at the giant chandelier that hung above his head.
His gaze drifted from the chandelier, to the marble columns that supported the library, and to the hieroglyphs that glittered on the walls.
This wasn't a library.
It was a palace.
'Hey, slowpoke, are you coming or what?' asked Spring. She dashed underneath a marble arch, which shimmered with the light of the chandelier.
'Okay, okay,' smiled Jack, as he followed his friend.
He passed through the arch, and entered the walkway that stretched beneath it. Small wax candles floated centimetres off the ground, illuminating the hieroglyphs that adorned the floor.
As Jack passed through the walkway, he realised that hundreds – no, gazillions – of different arches were spread across the walls of the room he entered. He had no doubt that they led to the rest of the library.
Millions of golden shelves towered before him, and each held millions of books. They stretched towards the ceiling, which displayed a mural of the first ancient sorcerers, and showed pictures of the magical creatures in Egypt.
Jack couldn't believe it. For once in his life, he was amazed of a place with books.
What a breakthrough.
Jack spotted Spring sitting crossed legged in front of a shelf. Several books were piled before her, and she appeared engrossed in the one that she currently cradled in her hands.
Jack knelt next to her, 'Good book?'
Refusing to look up from her book, Spring gave Jack a quick nod, and continued to read under her breath.
Jack laughed and rose to his feet.
He scanned the shelves, marvelling the titles of each book that sat before him.
'The first copy of the Bible,' read Jack, 'Cleopatra's diary, the map to El Dorado…whoa.'
Jack pulled a crumpled manuscript from the shelves, and blew a layer of dust off its surface.
He breathed, 'This is…wow. This is the map to Atlantis.' He flipped through the book. 'Look at this! It even teaches you how to speak its language!'
'Jack,' hissed Spring, 'this is a library. Shut it.'
Jack blinked. 'What does it matter? We're the only ones here –'
'Shhhh!' said Spring, shooting Jack a look that could kill.
Giving Spring a wry smile, Jack put the scroll back into place, and continued scanning the shelf.
As Jack examined the books that were shelved before him, he dragged his staff carelessly across a shelf. Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks, as his staff snagged against the leather covering of a book. The book toppled from the shelf, and caused several others to fall along with it.
'Whoops,' whispered Jack, hoping that Spring didn't hear anything.
Normally, he would have left the books where they were. However, this was a magical library – a library that, if he didn't know any better, might still be guarded by the ancient sorcerers that built it years ago.
Refusing to be cursed by these powerful wizards, Jack assumed that he should respect their property, and decided to put the books back into place.
As he shelved each book, he haphazardly read the titles off their covers: 'The scrolls of the red sea. The map to the centre of the Earth. The legend of the Frozen Flame...'
Something clicked in Jack's mind. Frozen Flame. Why did those words seem so familiar?
Jack flipped the book open in his hands, and fingered its shrivelled pages. He squinted at the words on the page. They didn't seem legible…they didn't even seem to be in English.
He raised his head, 'Hey, Spring.'
Engrossed in her book, Spring didn't answer Jack.
'Sp-ring!' he called, his voice growing impatient.
Again, Spring ignored Jack.
An irritated look drifted across his features. Jack held his staff to his hand, watched it glow with a mesmerising light, pointed it directly at Spring, and fired.
A ray of blue light shot towards her friend, and hit her square in the back. With a gasp, Spring jolted upright, and dropped the book she was reading.
She turned to Jack with a furious expression. 'Jack Frost!'
'Shivers up your spine?' asked Jack, smirking. 'Now come over here, there's something I need you to help me with.'
By the time Spring reached Jack, she didn't look happy at all.
'Yes?' she demanded.
'I can't read this,' said Jack, pointing at the words. 'What language do you think this is?'
Spring took the book from Jack's hands and read through its contents.
'It's the text of ancient Scotland,' said Spring. 'It's telling you the history of the four clans.'
Jack blinked. 'Four clans?'
'The ones that Father Time shared about when the magical world gathered together last Christmas,' said Spring. 'Weren't you listening to his story?'
'Oh, um, sure,' said Jack, looking towards the book.
Truth be told, he hadn't shown up at the gathering. Not because he wasn't invited, but because he simply didn't want to.
It was a childish reason, but seeing all the magical creatures in one room – all the creatures who the children of the world commemorated – reminded him about how he was the only one who wasn't believed in.
But he wasn't about to let Spring know that.
'But, uh,' smirked Jack, 'I think you're going to have to remind me.'
Spring smiled. 'Each clan was isolated from the rest for generations. However, this cold war ended once one brave hero encouraged the kingdoms to reunite.' Spring flipped the page, 'Princess Merida.'
'Princess Meri-wha?' asked Jack.
'Meri-da,' said Spring, pointing to the picture on the page. 'This one.'
Jack gave Spring a curious look, and gazed towards the picture. His eyes widened as he recognised the girl's crimson curls, and her familiar blue eyes.
'That's the girl of my dreams,' breathed Jack.
Spring froze. 'What?'
'No, I mean, um,' said Jack, 'that's the girl in my dreams. I've been having these –'
Jack noticed Spring's confused expression, and decided to leave it there.
'Never mind,' he cleared his throat. 'Well, good for her.' His voice softened as he tested her name on his tongue, 'Princess Merida.'
'Yeah, good for her,' shrugged Spring, 'until a foreign country decided to invade. What's more, they came with an army ten times the size of the four clans.'
Jack's heartbeat quickened, remembering the girl's - Merida's - terrified voice in his dreams.
'Then what happened?' encouraged Jack, as Spring flipped the page.
The pair were confronted with a picture of houses in flames, and villages pillaged. Foreign soldiers, who were clothed in black armor, led captured warriors away in chains.
'Well, I can guess that it didn't go very well,' whispered Spring.
Spring blinked – did Jack just turn paler than he normally looked?
'If it makes you feel any better, it says here that the royal families were protected,' said Spring, pointing towards a portion on the next page.
Spring analysed the text. 'The kings went to war, whilst the queens and their children were brought to safehouses across the country.'
'Okay,' breathed Jack, relieved. 'So that means that the princes and princesses of these clans were safe, right?'
'Yes,' smiled Spring.
Suddenly, her smile faded. 'Well…no. Not exactly.'
Jack paled. 'What do you mean, "not exactly"?'
'Um…' gulped Spring, and pointed to a drawing of a black horse riding away from a large castle – Jack assumed that it represented a safehouse. Its rider seemed to be riding directly into a forest that towered beside the safehouse; a forest that was filled with enemy soldiers.
'No,' gasped Jack, as he recognised the rider's fiery red hair.
'Princess Merida set off on a quest for the Frozen Flame,' said Spring. 'It was an ancient force that had the power to answer any question, or to grant one wish.'
Jack guessed that Merida wanted to wish for the safety of her people. That, or she would have wanted an answer to stop the war. Either way, Jack related immediately to this courageous princess – he, too, wanted answers to what he needed to do.
Not with a war, but with his life.
'Well, what happened next?' asked Jack.
As Spring flipped the page, Jack waited with baited breath for her translation. However, his face fell as he realised that a large chunk of the book had been ripped from its binding.
'I'm sorry, Jack,' said Spring, fingering the tear marks. 'These pages must've been ripped out ages ago.'
She eyed his crestfallen expression. 'They might be somewhere in the library. But trying to find them would be like looking for a needle in a haystack the size of China.'
Jack remained silent. The lump that formed in his throat had grown in size, and he struggled to breathe.
It wasn't long until Jack regained his senses, and croaked: 'It's okay, Spring. Thanks for helping me out.'
Jack refused to meet Spring's eyes, and lowered his gaze to the ground.
Suddenly, Spring felt an emotion she almost never experienced – fear.
The only reason Spring would ever feel scared was because she was confused. In this case, she was confused over what to do with her friend. Spring knew Jack Frost for quite some time, and not once did she see him so…so…
She closed the book, and gingerly placed a hand on his shoulder.
'H-Hey, now,' said Spring. Her hand moved towards his chin, and tilted it upwards until his blue eyes looked into hers.
'What's with the face?' she laughed, removing her hand. 'It's just a story, you know. It's got nothing to do with us.'
Jack struggled to hold back an avalanche of emotion. 'Y-yeah, I know.' He smiled. 'It doesn't matter.'
Even as he said the words, he refused to believe them. He couldn't exactly say why, but somehow he knew that this girl and her story did matter.
There had to be a reason why she was in his dream. There had to be a reason why he found this book. Jack didn't know what these reasons were, but he knew that it was only a matter of time until he did.
And the craziest thing was, he felt as though the adventure she had was all too important, and that her quest was about to become his.