There I was, lying on a blanket on the floor with another blanket over top of me, Vanessa asleep on my chest, my arm around her. I was so glad that she was okay, especially after she went M.I.A for about four or five hours. While I was out searching for her, I ran into a bunch of snags, but I found someone to help out. Her name was Sally, and she scared the crap out of me when I first met her.
No offense to her or anything, but she was kind of freaky. She was tall, pale, and had red hair. She wasn't exactly what you expect to see in the middle of the night. To be completely honest, I was flying by and when I saw her, I fell and screamed.
"It's alright," said the girl. "Everything is fine." Her voice was calm, and surprisingly soothing considering her appearance.
She was covered in black stitches, like they were holding her together or something. The weirdest ones were on her cheeks. They went from the edges of her lips to the sides of her head. Her eyes were huge, big and brown. She must be able to do some awesome puppy-dog eyes. She reached out a hand to me and helped me up. Her hand didn't feel like a real hand, more like I was squishing a teddy bear.
"Are you okay?" asked the girl.
"Me?" I asked. "What about you?"
Her dress was made of what looked to be leftover rags sloppily stitched together. She still managed to look pretty in it. She had normal brown shoes on, but they looked worn and old, maybe she was the fourth or fifth person to wear them. Her neck was long too.
"Yes, I'm fine. Why do you ask?" asked the girl.
"Well, you look like you were hurt or something," I replied, leaning on my staff.
"Oh, no. I'm fine. You're the one that just fell out of the sky."
"Okay. Hey, what are you doing out this late anyways?"
"I could ask you the same question. I won't be so rude as to even consider it, but it is questionable."
"Oh, I'm out looking for my girlfriend. It's nothing too major. Unless she's dead, but her friends and I refuse to think like that."
"What does she look like? Maybe I've seen her."
"Well, she looks like me, except she's a girl."
"That doesn't narrow it down very far."
"How many girls with white hair and pale skin do you see around here?"
"Actually, a lot more than you'd think. Look up."
My eyes followed her finger up into the sky, and I almost fell over again. Way up in the sky, there was what looked like an island made of clouds. I saw tiny parts of buildings that must have been the tallest ones on the island. Floating around were a bunch of white figures that must have been people or something. The ones with billowy hair must have been girls, and the hair was white. So she really did see a crapload of girls with white hair and pale skin.
"Never mind, you probably never saw her."
"Well, what's her name? I could ask around for you."
"Vanessa. Vanessa Frost."
Sally gasped. "The Vanessa Frost? As in the newest Guardian and bearer of total awesomeness?" I chuckled a little bit.
"Yeah, that's her. Let me know if you see 'the bearer of total awesomeness'. Tell her I was looking for her."
"You should talk to the Cloud Queen. It is said that she knows everything. Not the way that a princess named Thimble knows everything, because that is just generic stuff. The Cloud Queen knows all, past, present, and, most importantly, future."
I was about to fly away before she said that. "Like, literally everything? Even what I wore on my fourth birthday? Because I don't even know that!"
"All. She knows all. I will search around for Vanessa. You, I'm going to assume you are Jack, should go speak with her. She would normally never speak to anyone from the ground, but you don't really count. Also, she would gladly do a favor for a fellow Guardian."
"Go, Jack. She will explain."
And with that, Sally was gone, sprinting off to the left. I was about to say that the tower was to the right, but she was already too far. I shrugged and flew up to the little cloud island. I really wanted to ask this Queen a wackload of questions. If Sally was right, then she could tell me everything that I need to know. Like what was going on, what we had to do to end this, and what was going to happen to all of us. Would the rest of us be alive in twenty years? Or were we all going to die? It was tempting to go up there, tell her I was a Guardian, and then ask her everything. And I would have. Except for Manny.
Jack, it is not for you to know yet. Ask her all you want in a few months, but for right now, you will only ask young Nuvola the questions I tell you to ask. That way the carnage of this next battle will remain at a minimum of hopefully only eleven. He said Nuvola like new-vole-a.
But can I at least ask her…
If I don't tell you to ask her, don't ask her.
You are such a control freak.
No, I'm not. I'm the man in the moon and I'm trying to save your girlfriend and future wife's life. Don't rush ahead. Besides, the questions brewing in your teenage mind are all dumb. You don't need to know if all your friends will survive.
Stop talking to me. You're almost never helpful, not even in the least! I will ask her whatever I want to ask her and that's the end of it.
I can take all of your free will away. Can and will. Don't make me turn you into a puppet, you become boring when I do that.
Get out of my head, I'll ask her the damn questions you want me to ask, just stop threatening me. I'm not a toy.
That's very important Jack. Remember that.
What the heck is that supposed to mean?
In true Manny fashion, the minute I asked him the question, he vanished. I rolled my eyes and cleared the final stretch to the island and almost landed, but the fact that it was made of clouds kind of made me wary, so I kept flying, barely hovering over the ground. The men and women with swords and armor who looked to be guards would stare at me with a bit of suspicion, but then they'd see that I was hovering too, so they'd smile and nod politely. Nobody stopped me even when I went into the castle. I looked around when I was inside. It was actually much smaller on the inside than it was on the outside. It also looked like a church, only it didn't have benches and a preacher's podium. It had a pair of thrones where a preacher's podium would be, but that was it.
"Who do you seek?" asked the voice of a girl. It had an Italian accent. I turned around and there was a woman standing behind me.
She had white hair tied back in a long braid and pale blue eyes, like me. She had a friendly air, like my mom had. Her skin was pale, so I thought that she was like me. But that wouldn't be the case, as I would find out later. She had a white shirt with a blue corset on overtop. She wore a blue skirt in the same color of her corset. Her flats did too. She also wore a white apron, tied around her waist and going to about an inch above the hem. She seemed like the head maid or something. Maybe she would know where Nuvola was.
"I'm looking for Queen Nuvola. Have you seen her?" I asked.
"You are not one of the cloud-people. Why do you seek her?" asked the girl.
"I need to ask her some questions. Sally told me she knows all."
"Know all, she does, Jack Frost. She knows you're here to ask her the questions that Manny wants you to ask, but not any of your own. She also knows that she must say something now. Congratulations, Jack, on your engagement." She uncrossed her arms and smiled now.
"How did you know that? I wonder!" I said sarcastically. She laughed and drew me into a motherly hug and then knelt down to get a better look of me.
"Ask whatever you like. I will answer anything," said Nuvola.
"Question one; what are you the Guardian of?" I asked.
"Do you remember as a child how you probably laid on your back and looked at the clouds to try to make out shapes in them?" she asked.
"Yeah," I replied.
"Well, I guard that."
"That's not a highly important virtue for children to have. It's not a virtue, actually."
"Do you have any idea how many minor Guardians there are in the world? They guard the little pleasures and wonders of children. Did you know there's a Guardian of first crushes? Or that there was one for cookies? And for playing dress-up? There are literally thousands of us all over the world. I suppose the elder Guardians really couldn't teach you about all of us, but we exist. Why, did you know that some of your friends are Guardians?"
"What? But none of them died. Do you mean the ones who died?"
"No, Manny thought it kinder to leave those poor children dead. It's better for them, being taken care of by the Guardians of children who passed before their time. I meant the ones who live. Mainly, seven of them. Rapunzel, the Guardian of spring. Hiccup, the Guardian of fall. Merida, the Guardian of summer. Kida, the Guardian of wooden sword fights. Wendy and Peter, the co-Guardians of being a child in general. Thimble, the Guardian of a spicing of attitude. That's about all of them."
"What about Jamie?"
"He can't be a Guardian. He's the child being guarded," she stood back up and walked over to a red tasseled rope on the wall I hadn't seen when I came in. She pulled on it and I heard a bell ring. A girl a tad bit younger than me floated down from the ceiling.
"Yes, my queen?" asked the girl.
"Please go to the kitchen and get me and my guest some cheeseburgers and fries. Maybe with a drink." She turned to me. "Is there anything you want in particular? You can have anything, though I know what you want. I just want you to tell me."
I thought about what I would like as a drink. I could have anything, but I knew what I wanted. I remembered what Tiana had called it when she had given them to me and Vanessa.
"Balloon juice with plain hats, please," I replied. Nuvola smiled, but the girl looked confused.
"Two root beer floats with vanilla ice cream please, Fleecy," said Nuvola to the girl. When the girl was gone, she turned to me. "You certainly loved that root beer float you shared with Vanessa. She was very beautiful as a human and she's very beautiful as one of Manny's chosen Guardians. You're very lucky to have her."
"Thank you...I think," I replied. I wasn't really sure what she meant by that. Did she mean I was lucky because she was pretty or because she was way out of my league and I was lucky that she was even interested in me?
"I meant that you're lucky that you can be together, what with all that has happened. I did not mean that you are beneath her or she is beneath you. You were always equals. We might want to head to my dining hall, bueno?"
"Um, sorry, what did you say?"
"Bueno. It's Italian for good. The cloud people are from Italy, our first originating in Rome, or, as my people say, Roma."
"Oh. Well, in that case, that sounds bueno to me." She laughed and led me out through a door on the side of the room. She pushed it open and behind was a big room, but not as big as the room we just came from. There, on the long table in the center, in front of the head chair and a chair next to that, were platters with the most delicious looking burgers and fries and root beer floats I'd ever seen. The burgers were loaded, with lettuce, cheese, ketchup, mustard, pickles, and little bits of onions.
As I sat down, I remembered that most people like mayo, and so assumed everyone else did, so there was probably mayo on that burger. I didn't like mayo, actually. It smelled weird, like it was rotten. I didn't trust it. I discreetly peeked under the top bun and was amazed to discover that there was none there.
"Yes, I knew you didn't like mayonnaise, and neither do I. Nothing in the whole kingdom comes with that vile stuff. If anyone in the kingdom wants it, they must go to the ground towns and get it themselves." I smiled and ate a fry.
"That's convenient for me." She smiled too.
We talked and talked for a good long while. We laughed and ate and got serious only to laugh once again. She answered all my questions and I only asked the ones Manny insisted I ask. I found out the threat we faced was not really one of the physical kind. It was of the mental and emotional kind. Mental, because the enemy we were up against wasn't really Derek, although he would be there. It was an enemy who could take over your mind. It would be coming in about two weeks unless we made a sacrifice to Mother Earth, the greatest Guardian of all. Not a chicken or a blood sacrifice. It would take the willing sacrifice of the soul of a hero. Or, to be more specific, a hero who wouldn't realize their true potential until long after the sacrifice was made.
"Is that all you want to ask?" asked Nuvola when I was done.
"Only one more question. Is there I way I can get my mother and Bitsy back. I know they died of natural causes, but I still want them back. I didn't get nearly enough time with Bitsy."
"There is a way. The sacrifice comes with an exchange. Mother Earth will most likely exchange your mother and Bitsy for the hero's soul. Is that all?"
"For now. I'll be seeing you again soon Nuvola. And thanks for the food."
"Indeed. Ci vediamo, il mio re! Be seeing you, my king!"
I didn't understand why she said 'my king', so I flew back to the tower, saw Vanessa and explained. That's pretty much the gist of it. But I never bothered to ask who it was who would be sacrificed. I hoped it wouldn't be Vanessa. But if she volunteered to go, I would do anything in my power to make sure it wasn't her that went.