The little girl’s eyes lit up at the mention of teaparties. "Oh Really Trick?!" She bounced excitedly in a flounce of ruffles and dark fabric. "We can have it at my house! I know how to get lots of cake too!" Her fearlings never let her go without anything she wished for. The abandoned Victorian house she called home always seemed to have lovely sweets on the table for her. They were beautiful, delicate things of sugar and jam, sometimes cakes and cookies, other times tiny elegant pies and macaroons decorated with piped icing and topped with candied flowers.
She went to take his hand, giggling. "C’mon, C’mon! This way!" Sera smiled to him, very very excited about the thought. "Do you have anyone you want to invite?"
"You have cake?" Trick marveled, his brows arching with envy. "That’s amazing! I always have to steal it from North’s kitchens… and the yetis get mad…!”
He trailed along after his fellow Darkling, his hand tucked neatly into hers. They traveled through shadow, of course—it was much faster and smoother than walking, and it allowed them to avoid the sun’s spiteful rays.
"Let’s just have a party with you and me!" he suggested. "If we have fun, we can invite more people next time.”
When they arrived, at last, in Sera’s home, Trick was surprised to find that he was standing in an actual house. He’d always assumed that Sera lived underground, or in a deep, dark cave, like most of their kind. He tried to mask his discomfort with a cheerful grin, but his free hand twisted at the hem of his robe.
"Where’s the dining room?" he asked. "Do we have to lay out the china?"
She had only brought these fearlings with her on her trip, the others stayed back at her home, making sure the captive there was safe and secure and that he wasn’t a bad Daddy. She didn’t like bad Daddies, bad Daddies had to be punished and that got messy. Sera tipped her head as the other pulled his fearlings to him, perhaps as a way to show off?
It confused the girl to no end, she only wanted to find her Daddy, not fight. Boys were weird. She smiled and gave a slight nod. "That’s what everyone keeps saying..so..I suppose that I am.." One of the fearlings shifted at her side, assuming a large quadrupedal shape that sat there, watching the other curiously while a small hand rested on its head. "They said they’d take me to my Daddy so…I followed them here. I guess they got a little distracted."
If it was the case that their fearlings were drawn to one another, Sera reasoned that perhaps her dark ones were lonely? They had each other, sure, but meeting more of their own kind was probably why they had brought her here. Sera turned her gaze from him to look around the large huge lair, much bigger than the little home she’d made for herself, admiring it curiously. "You have a big house Trick! Did you make it yourself?"
Trick listened silently and patiently to Sera’s words, his eyes round and unblinking as he tried to riddle out the girl before him.
Best as he could tell, Sera was a Darkling; a child overwhelmed and possessed by Fearlings, twisted into a shadow of her former life. Her human father was likely eaten by Fearlings, which explained why they would lead her to the Boogeyman’s lair. The Nightmare King was now the only “father” Sera would ever know, regardless of who had sired her in her mortal life.
All of these things were assumptions, of course—but none that Trick wanted to bring to Sera’s attention. Like himself, Darklings could throw terrible tantrums when enraged, and he did not want to upset Sera by prying into her former life.
Instead, he focused on her question.
"No, my Daddy made this place," he said, motioning to the great, dark labyrinth around them. "My Papa added the ice, though there isn’t much of it right now… When Papa comes home, the whole cave fills with frost, and we have snowball fights!"
The boy grinned, for he enjoyed bragging about his parents. It made him feel special.
"You can stay here for a bit, if you want. Lots of Fearlings come and go, especially in the daytime."
"My son. I want to thank you for that talk the other day. You keep growing wiser with each passing moment. One day you will be a fine Guardian." Mani crouched down, embracing the boy. "I am so proud of you."
Trick brightened under such immense praise, his little arms wrapping around Mani’s neck to return the embrace.
"I’m already a fine Guardian!” he laughed. “I’m really smart and clever, and everyone should listen to me more often, don’t you think?”
Giggling, the boy pulled away and smiled up at the Tsar.
"I’m glad I could help," he said a bit more seriously. "I just want you to be happy, Mani!”
*Leaves a small package. Within it are monstrous looking gingerbread cookies*
Poor North. All of his hard work was ruined nearly the moment Trick set eyes on the package, for as soon as he’d taken it in hand, the little Fearling gave the box a furious shake.
There was nothing malicious about the action—Trick was merely emulating what he’d seen human children do on Christmas morning. Holding the package to his ear, he shook it again, and the carefully crafted cookie was reduced to crumbs.
Trick didn’t seem to mind, however. Blissfully unaware of the damage he’d done, the boy’s face brightened with excitement and joy as he tore open the lid. From what he could tell, North had filled the box with small, bite-sized cookies, perfect for grabbing fistfuls at a time. Reaching in with both hands, Trick did exactly that, and relished their sweet taste.
"They’re so good!" he laughed, crumbs dusting his chin. "I wonder how North got them so small!”
The Muse snorted a bit at Trick's reaction. "Well, to be honest, I think he's reaching an age where he doesn't need me to take care of him any more, so he might be gone soon." She grimaced, "I'm more worried about Juneberry, my little corgi. Hutsumi has a tendency to get her into trouble."
"It’s hard to get people into trouble when you’re a purse,” Trick muttered. He grinned mischievously beneath the hood of his cloak, picturing what a calm, quiet handbag Hutsumi’s hide would have made; it didn’t occur to Trick that he was just as troublesome as Hutsumi, and that many might wish him the same fate.
"Have you tried leaving out treats?" he asked. "That used to work on Hutsumi all the time! The sent of fresh sausages would always send him running. Unless… he’s gotten too smart for that."
Love Pitch too.
Seems like he’s a lonely person.
4 Days’ count down in the U.S!
But still 13 days for Taiwan…
"Mani, why do you need a love potion to change how you feel about Nightlight? Don't you love him any more?"
"Of course I love him… But I— There are things adults do that I seem incapable of when he is in a different form. I want to play these… these games just like Pitch can, But I seem inept.”
He sighs. Attempting to explain this to a child was all but impossible. Still, Trick was perceptive and intelligent. Mani could avoid the more raunchy nuances, but still get the point across.
"It is not that she will not let me play… it is that my own body will not." He shifts before settling down. "I try to play, but then I feel sick and upset…which only creates more anxiety because I am not as prepared as I thought. These feelings cascade and curl into one another until I am left absolutely petrified."
He ran a hand through his hair. “I love Nightlight with all my heart. But as a woman, she frightens me.”
There were certain words in Mani’s speech that rang in Trick’s ears: Anxiety. Petrified. Frightened.
These were words that stirred something deep inside of Trick—a feeling akin to empathy, a need to understand. With most Fearlings, this feeling was a hunger, a thing to be satiated, but with Trick it was more compassionate. He wanted—needed—to understand Mani’s fears, but not to exploit them as other Fearlings would.
He reached out with his Fearling senses, searching for the source of Mani’s fears.
Though the particulars of a sexual relationship were still unclear to the young child, Trick began to understand that Mani did not want to kiss or touch Nightlight as he normally would—not so long as Nightlight had a woman’s body. This, too, confused the young Fearling, for he did not understand why one gender would be preferable to the other—but it clearly upset Mani to feel this way, and Trick bit his bottom lip.
"Mani…" he began, reaching out to touch the Tsar’s hand. "I don’t think… It’s not wrong to be afraid.”
Trick tried to smile for his father, but the boy was clearly out of his element.
"It’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to be… disgusted. These aren’t bad feelings. You can be afraid of something and still love it very much.”