In the Dark of Night

Frieda was surprised when Opa not only let them go to the meeting, he insisted on coming along with them.  Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised her so much.  After all, he took his responsibilities towards them very seriously.  However, that was the biggest reason why she hadn’t expected him to let them go at all.

The place where they were invited looked less like a community center and more like an old barn.  Frieda climbed out of the van as Opa drew up in the field with the rest of the vehicles.  As she set her feet on the ground, the sound of singing reached her ears.  She whirled around to look at Johannes.  Her little brother, held in Konrad’s arms, was shaking and hiding his face.

Glaring, she whirled around.  Immediately, she sought out the person singing.  She spotted her target after only a moment.  A young man was standing just outside the barn.  His voice was ringing across the field.  “Hey,” she snapped, stalking forward.  Behind her, Opa and Markus were calling to her, but Frieda ignored them.  “Shut your face, before I shut it for you!”

“Frieda,” Opa said.  His tone was exactly like the one their father used when he was torn between embarrassment at something Liesel said and pride that she’d come up with it.

The young man stopped singing as she reached him.  He looked her over and smiled.  “You’re going to shut my face?” he asked.  He crossed his arms over his chest.  “You’re… what?  Seven years old?  How are you going to shut me up?”

“I’m nine years old,” Frieda said, balling her hands into fists.  Shaking her fist at him, she said, “Having a fat lip makes singing rather difficult.”

“Ryan,” a stern voice said.  “I told you we were expecting guests.  What were you doing to upset them?”

“This little girl just threatened to punch me,” Ryan said, thrusting a thumb at her.

The Thurman Lance chuckled softly and nodded.  “You expected any less from a lance?” he said, arching his brows.  He waved at them to join him and said, “Your lucky you got a warning.”

“He made my little brother cry,” Frieda said, crossing her arms over her chest.  She stood between Ryan and Konrad as he slipped into the barn, still carrying Johannes.  Then, she sprinted ahead of her eldest brother to lead the way.  Markus and Liesel took up position on either side of Konrad, with Opa following just behind.

David Gilbert nodded as they stepped through the gathering crowd to the front of the room.  “I’m glad that you could make it,” he said, his gaze on Konrad.

Konrad smirked.  “There’s one difference between Crosses and Stars,” he said, his voice soft.  He set Johannes on his feet and smoothed his hair gently.

“What’s that?” the Thurman Lance asked, shaking his head.

Shrugging, Konrad said, “You’re talking to me as the one in charge.  Why?  Because I’m the oldest?”  He shook his head.  “That’s not how Crosses work,” he added.

“I’m the Cross,” Johannes said, looking up at David.  “That means I’m the head of our family.”

Ryan chuckled.  “I had you in tears just a moment ago,” he said, shaking his head.  “You’ve got a long way to go before you can be the head of anything.”

Johannes frowned at him and then closed his eyes.  Frieda couldn’t help but smirk.  Ryan and the others probably expected Johannes to begin singing, or humming at the very least.  However, she knew that he didn’t need to actually make sound.  Just thinking of the melody was enough to active his gifts.  Ryan found that out a moment later, as the power of Johannes’s spell song hit him and he sat down, holding his hands over his ears.

Immediately, Johannes’s eyes flew opened.  “That was just from me imagining the melody, Ryan,” he said.  “Imagine if I’d actually been singing.”  He shook his head.  “Then again, it’s probably not fair to judge power based on sneak attacks.”

He turned to David.  “We came to discuss what I told the Thurman Lance in the forest near the doorway.  Right?” he said.

Chuckling, David nodded.  “That’s just it,” he said.  He waved around at the gathered Defenders and Stars.  “There are members from nearly all of the local families here,” he said.  “None of us is a full family.  Each of us has at least one member of our families that… serves the Dark One, as you’d say.”

“They’ve allowed themselves to become corrupted,” Konrad said, his voice soft.  He took a seat and then lifted Johannes into his lap.  Frieda sat nearby, along with Liesel.  Markus drifted over towards the door and stood there.

“Sam said you thought that the Snow Queen and the Great Father were… the same,” a woman said, her voice soft.  She shook her head.  “Why do you say that?”

“Because it’s so,” Johannes said, shrugging.  “The Great Father came into the world on several occasions.  On one occasion, the Great Father used the form of a young woman, with power over ice and snow.  She was known as the Snow Queen and she saved her children from a spell that would have trapped the world in eternal winter.”

“That’s the story I learned,” a little girl said.  Then, she looked up at the Thurman Lance and added, “Except for the part about the Great Father.  Is that really right?”

Johannes nodded.  “She found that the storm had come from a gateway or portal that opened into a place in the spirit world that was impossibly cold,” he added.  He looked up at David.  “We’ve always been taught that she closed that portal, sealing out the world of the spirits and bringing spring into the world once again.”

“We were taught that she ushered the spirits back into their world,” the little girl said, her eyes wide.  “They brought the cold back with them and spring was able to return.”  She frowned and shook her head.  “The portal was left opened, though, and the spirits could come back the next winter.”

“We were supposed to guard the portal, though,” a boy about Frieda’s age said, frowning.  “So that no corrupted spirits could come through it and hurt people.”

Johannes nodded and looked over at Frieda and Liesel.  “I think that’s where the split happens,” he said.  “One group of the Great Father’s chosen ones decided to leave the portals opened, but guard them.  Another group decided it was just easier to close the portals.”

“Then,” Markus said, “there was another split.  The Stars that honored the Snow Queen’s command to keep corrupt spirits from entering our world and the ones that decided to let everything through – even opening portals where they shouldn’t ought to be, like Opa’s garden.”

“Factions within factions,” Konrad said, nodding in agreement.  It was just as he’d said earlier.

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