A Sentinel’s Prerogative: Prologue

E. Aster Bunnymund sipped at his snow water as he watched the gathered spirits and gods carouse and party in North’s ballroom. Nicholas St. North himself was greeting everyone joyfully, his Sentinel a steady presence at his side and an unsubtle reminder of power, strength, and security.  For as North was also a Guardian, he was stronger than the most powerful Sentinel amongst the spirits currently and his power only strengthened his Sentinel and the bond the two shared.

Looking around, Aster saw Toothiana greet a feathered deity with glee and a very strong hug. A Native god of the Americas if appearance meant anything and one who cared deeply for Tooth for she had returned Tooth’s hug just as enthusiastically.

A glance upwards showed Sandy sitting on the wooden beams, his sand playful as it formed images for the few child spirits that existed, entrancing and beautiful. A gift for those whom most spirits either forgot…or purposely forgot.

Taking a deep breath, Aster shored up his mental shields as he felt the approaching storm. Thunder and lightning and wind, fueled by the small pride that was reaching North’s home. Invited, as all spirits were, and overconfident as there was so few Sentinels and Guides who made the transition to spirit life.

Slipping deeper into the shadows, Aster gently tapped at the floor, escaping to his burrow before the pride appeared. It was better this way.

He didn’t need to be subjected to anyone’s derision and hatred.

For as much as things changed in the eons of his life, much stayed the same.

He was a Guide without a Sentinel, a Guide whom many believed had no Sentinel.

The Pookan Sentinels had wanted nothing to do with him once he had come of age, for his spirit guardian was obviously non-pookan in origin and many had believed there was some fault with him. A giant avian of some type that was made of fire? At the time, there had been no record of any animal that matched that description. Fanciful, make-believe.

By the time Aster had become a full fledged adult on his homeworld, he was shunned by the Pookan Sentinels and Guides. Even his own familial pride had wanted nothing to do with him….except the military, the Pookan Warriors.

Aster buried all traces of his status as a Guide, locked his mental abilities deep within his mind, and trained. Years passed, gaining a reputation as one of the most deadly and respected Pookan Warrior.

The End of the Golden Age, landing on Earth and becoming the Spirit of Hope and of Easter.

Meeting other spirits, tentatively holding out a hand of friendship only to be spurned for being too animal-like, for not being human enough. Retreating to the farthest corners of Earth, making his home in what would become Australia, building the Warren and allowing himself the fantasy of a true pride.

A dream he knew would never come true. During the time he was building the Warren, he had released the walls holding back his gifts, his Guide abilities. It had overwhelmed him, for his gifts had grown while dormant. It had taken him six years to gain control back, to reassert his will and strength over his power.

Reuniting with his spirit guardian and learning from her the truth.

There were no more Pookas. He was the last.

He had still built the Warren, something telling him that it would be needed. That one day, far into the future, he would have the pride he dreamed of. He believed it nothing but fantasy but still had built it.

Emerging back into the world with the return of Pitch Black. Meeting the pirate king Nicholas St. North…a Guide. Meeting Katherine and Ombric, Toothiana and Sandy, defeating Pitch Black and sending him scurrying to the deepest, darkest corners of the planet.

Swallowing down pride and tentatively, cautiously, extending the hand of friendship to North, Tooth, and Sandy. Relief and a bit of caution and wariness when it was accepted. Meeting North’s Sentinel after the pirate king had hunted the man down once Pitch had been defeated. A man who made the transition to spirit in order to stay with his Guide.

Quietly living, coming out only on Easter into the mortal world for the children and on Christmas for North to assure himself of Aster’s continued survival.

Meeting the Spirit Pride…and fleeing once it was safe. Jagged emotional wounds torn into his soul, ripped and bleeding. Wounds that still to this day bled and hurt.

Aster walked into his Warren, a trilling shriek greeting him and he raised his arm up, his spirit guardian alighting upon his arm. “Hey there Sheila.” He greeted his guardian warmly, brushing his claws gently through her feathers, grooming and straightening. “You seem gleeful.”

His guardian trilled, nuzzled at his cheek as she was wont to do, and took off toward the sky, aiming for his burrow. Aster cocked his head to one side before shrugging and following his guardian. She had never steered him wrong and was the one creation in the universe he could trust without reservation.

Entering his burrow, Aster had to laugh. She was curled up in his nest, a pointed statement as he hadn’t slept in at least three days. Knowing better than to argue with her, as she had a tendency to light his Color River on fire when he did, Aster crawled into his nest and drifted off into sleep.

A soft, cold touch to his arm. He looked down and blinked. An arctic wolf was sitting at his feet, tongue lolling out as she poked his arm with her nose again.

*Come.* A solid, deep female’s voice commanded in his mind and he knew the voice belonged to the wolf. *You must see Guide of the Guardians of Earth. You must see, must know before all is lost.*

She turned and trotted off, Aster following. One did not disobey a spirit guardian, even if that guardian was not theirs. Spirit Guardians were guides, advisers, teachers. They rarely interfered and when one did, all paid attention.

He followed the arctic wolf deep into the snow covered lands. Seconds or hours later, his time sense non existent in this realm of souls, the arctic wolf stopped and howled. Before he could even begin to think of a question, a burst of fire erupted in the air before the arctic wolf and he stared as it formed into his spirit guardian, the bird of fire.

*You block him from his path.* The Wolf stated, blue eyes locked upon the Bird.

*Without a Sentinel, the path is fatal.*

Old pain, sharp pain lanced through Aster and he reached up, rubbing at his chest. Psychosomatic, as that empty place inside him, the place for his Sentinel, was in his mind not in his body.

*Do not fret E. Aster Bunnymund,* the Wolf said, voice warm and steady. *Your Sentinel is out there. It is simply not time for you two yet.*

*There are other forces at play,* his spirit guardian cautioned. *Other factors that have yet to be played, have yet to be created.*

*Look,* the Wolf said and turned to face the far distance. Aster followed her gaze and stared, immediately and automatically reaching for one of his daggers. In the distance, held at bay by large snow-topped mountains, was an insidious darkness. Perverse and hiding something dangerous within it. A danger worse than Pitch ever could be or was. *That evil is encroaching ever closer and brings death and malice with it. Earth is it’s first stop, and it is where it must be stopped. Contact your Man In The Moon. Converse with Guide Nicholas St. North and his Sentinel. Alert the other Sentinels and Guides amongst your spirits. Be vigilant and be prepared.*

*For if Earth does not rise against this darkness, there will be no more universe.*

***
Somewhere in Antarctica.

A lone arctic wolf sat in front of a glacier, it’s unsually bright blue eyes focused upon the large ice monument that jutted from the glacier’s surface. Inside the monument, encased entirely by the ice, was a young boy judging by appearance, no older than 14. He sat crossed legged, wooden staff held in front of him, blocking an invisible attacker.

The sun rose. The sun set.

The moon rose. The arctic wolf snarled at the moon, teeth gleaming and hackles raised. The moon set.

The sun rose. Then set. The moon rose but this time the arctic wolf ignored it, eyes locked upon the monument once again.

The third day. The sun rose. The arctic wolf howled, her voice heard all over Antarctica.

She stopped, focused on the monument. Seconds became minutes and as she prepared herself to howl again, she stopped.

For bright blue eyes that matched her own were seen in the monument. The boy slowly blinked once. She nodded.

He grinned, a feral look that promised pain and retribution.

The monument exploded, ice shards spreading in all directions, water erupting up and raining back down upon the icy continent.

When it all settled, neither arctic wolf, young boy, or the monument was there. It was as if the three were never there.

***
Deep in the Realm of Spirit Guardians

The Arctic Wolf stepped into the sheltered arbor, relaxing once she was inside and safe. She shuddered, shifting and turning humanoid.

“Your Sentinel has awoken?”

Arctic Wolf turned to face her mate, a smile on her face as she held out a hand that was eagerly clasped. “My Sentinel has Awoken and he knows mate of mine. He does not know details, for what I know is what he knows, but he knows of the disgust, the hatred, the cruelty. Once they have saved the Earth, the Spiritual Sentinels and Guides of Earth will be in for a very rude awakening themselves.”

“Then we must make sure not to miss a moment of it.” Fire Phoenix grinned ferally. “Do you suppose they remember their own lore?”

Arctic Wolf laughed. “Mate of mine, if they had, they never would’ve shunned your Guide.”

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