The steam from the hot chocolate warms your face as you stare down into its brown depths, the warmth from the piping hot beverage heating up the palms of your cupped hands as they hold it up.
The golden base of the goblet rests patiently on your knees, which you have folded up to your chest in a makeshift table as you sit on the right side of the large window’s expansive ledge, nothing but a thin sheet of glass separating you and the artic scenery beyond.
Jangle sits a bit in front of your feet, staring up at you, concerned.
He’s the one who brought you the hot chocolate, waddling around a corner a few moments after Tooth had left you alone to the devices of the otherwise vacant hallway, the jingle bell on the top of his head softly chiming with each step.
You only took the goblet out of politeness. You really have no appetite right now.
Still, you’re thankful for the company. And the hot chocolate has helped you a little, its steam bearing a calming effect on you, preoccupying your hands.
Unable to take a sip, you halfheartedly swirl the goblet around a bit, throwing the drink into a mad frenzy at the motion.
You then set it back down on your kneecaps, watching the waves of chocolaty liquid crash into the sides of the cup and one another in a dizzy stupor, trying to regain the peaceful stillness that existed before you disturbed it. The few marshmallows present ride the waves like ships caught in the middle of a storm, trying hard not to capsize but forced to just go with the flow, melting slightly from the friction.
You sympathize with them.
All was well, then something shook up your world. You’re just like one of those marshmallows, forced to go with it as you’re tossed about helplessly, forever scarred even as the waves subside.
The marshmallows slowly vanish, the fluffy white blotches disappearing as the hot chocolate claims them one by one.
And then you hear the doorknob turn, the door creaking ever so slightly as it’s opened.
You set down the goblet suddenly as you turn your attention to the door, causing Jangle to jump up and nearly fall off the ledge.
Tooth is the first to emerge from the room, her face grave. She offers you a feeble half-smile as you stand up straight from setting Jangle down on the floor.
Hovering in the middle of the hallway, she solemnly nods in response to your unspoken question.
She was successful.
Jack’s memory has been wiped clean of you.
He won’t be doomed to a horrible existence.
A new pang sears through your heart. You feel your face grow hot as your vision grows blurry from fresh tears.
You take a deep, shuddering breath, gulping down the knot in your throat and fighting back the tears. Jangle places a four-fingered hand on your shin in hopes of comforting you.
The door opens wider. Tooth flies to the side a little, her back to the opposite wall of the hallway as you brace yourself once again.
A large black boot precedes its owner.
You weren’t ready for what you’re now facing, though. The sight makes you want to fall to the floor and cry your eyes out until there are no tears left. To just sit there for eternity, your heart ripped out of your chest, defeated.
But all you do is exhale.
North stands just in front of the door, facing Tooth. He’s holding Jack in his large arms, much like how one carries an asleep child. Which is exactly what Jack seems like at the moment. His body is completely limp, his head leaning against North’s chest, his long, thin legs dangling over the Guardian’s arm. His eyes are closed, his lips just barely parted. He’s clutching his staff in his right hand, which is laid on his own chest, holding onto it dearly even in slumber. His left hand rests gently on his stomach.
He looks healthy. As healthy as the spirit of winter can look, anyhow. There are those bluish tints. You can practically see his cool body temperature in his pale skin. The malady has definitely left him, the pain gone.
He looks so peaceful...
North’s piercing blue gaze meets yours.
“To the sleigh,” he quietly says as he turns and begins to walk down the hallway.
You and Tooth follow him in a silent procession. You take no notice of your surroundings, your focus entirely on what parts of Jack you can see around North’s broad back. A glimpse of white hair. The hook of the wooden staff. His shins and slender feet.
The air becomes colder, the ice on the walls growing thicker as you trek onward.
“Where are we going?” you ask Tooth, finally finding your voice.
“It would be odd if Jack woke up in the Pole,” she responds, continuing to look ahead. “He needs to wake up somewhere that makes sense to him. You see, he’ll remember the days just so his sense of time isn’t completely thrown off—so it’s not like he missed out on months of his life and doesn’t remember them. He now remembers the days as if he was alone in them, doing the things that you did together by himself. You’ve been taken out of the picture entirely, right from the first day he even took an interest in you. The things he did just for you, such as making certain things, he doesn’t remember at all. The day he first fell ‘ill’ was a blur to him, from what I saw, so it’s as if we’d be picking up right after this last day…”
You get it. You’re going to drop him off back at the lake, as if he had fallen asleep stargazing.
You blush a little, realizing that Tooth saw every kiss, every hug, every intimate action that you and Jack shared during her scan of and operation on his memories.
You forget your embarrassment as North comes to a sudden halt.
Yetis of a wide variety of color combinations populate this vast, rectangular room, weaving in and out of the thick wooden beams that stretch from the icy floor to the tall ceiling. The walls seem to be made entirely of ice, as if the room was carved into a pre-existing glacier. Two holes bear into the wall to your right, the light fading from them and giving way to darkness due to their depth.
To your right stands an impressive set of wooden double-doors. They are as wide and as tall as the wall itself. The designs on the doors match the ones found all over the Pole, with interweaving triangles and rectangles and whatnot.
Two strong yetis open the doors, unveiling a dark, gaping hole. The sounds of heavy hooves clopping against the floor grows louder and louder.
Then, they emerge.
They’re large, powerful beasts, brown in color with the exception of their white chests, a patch of white on their midsections, and the undersides of their short tails. Each of them has massive antlers sprouting from their heads. They trot past you, their hot breaths visible in the cold air.
They pull a sleigh unlike any you could have possibly imagined.
Two sets of skis connected to shiny silver springs on each side hold up a bright red open carriage, which has four or five rows of benches stacked inside, reminding you of an amphitheater. Sitting at its front is a globe, millions of small, golden lights flickering on its blue and green surface. As the reindeers and thus sleigh come to a stop, a pair of rounded wings elevate and take their places on either side of the transport in a flurry of activating mechanisms, sitting just under the main body of the sleigh.
All in all, there’s no way you can say that Santa isn’t modern. His sleigh is far from being outdated.
North gently lays Jack into the sleigh, his head rolling to the side so he faces away from the open center. North stands in front of the globe, wrapping the leather reigns around his hands as he prepares for takeoff. You climb in after him, taking a seat in the middle row. A few elves scramble around the bottom of the sleigh, making final preparations.
Tooth stays behind, her hand elevated in farewell. The Baby Teeth are fluttering around, admiring the many sights offered by the room.
“Business?” you yell out to her over the commotion of the room.
She nods, smiling warmly. “There’s teeth that need collecting, I hope to see you again!”
You find yourself smiling in return. “Me too!” you call, knowing that it’s more likely that you’re never going to see her again. But you ignore that fact, waving goodbye as North whips the reigns, the sleigh lurching forward.
He steers the reindeer to the left path, telling you to hold on as you quickly gain speed. Not finding any handles or seatbelts or anything of the sort, you grip onto the edge of the bench.
You steal a glance at Jack, who is still sound asleep, sitting on one bench with his back against another, his legs stretched out in front of him.
You sadly smile at him, relieved that he has finally been cured, even if it is at a very high price to you.
The tunnel that North is going through is smooth, obviously built for a quick, painless, smooth launch. It grows more illuminated the closer you get to the outside. You risk a glance over the side to see a large, wooden ramp with flight lights at its end jutting out from the side of the glacier, dropping out into nothingness.
North whips the reigns once again, yelling a curt “hyaa!” out to the reindeer. You rush forward with a final burst of speed that presses you against the sleigh.
And then, after a split second on the ramp, you’re in the air.
It’s absolutely incredible.
It’s like flying in an airplane.
In spite of your less-than-happy situation, you’re smiling at the fact that you’re riding in Santa’s sleigh.
You see North take something out of his pants pocket and hold it up to his lips. A magic portal snow globe, you presume.
He tosses it out in front of the sleigh, confirming your suspicion. A flash of a picture of the lake later, a familiar swirling vortex lies in your direct path, waiting to take you to your final destination.
You check on Jack one last time.
Then, the vortex consumes you.