Eostre had bounded from the train moments before the engine had shot off the tracks and into the water, utilizing the chaos of the steam, the oncoming rush of the Redcoats, and the ensuing battle to mask her flight across the ice, winter white fur blending with the frozen landscape. She'd known the source of the bright flash the moment it had lit up the eternal night of the Pole, casting long shadows through the passenger car. And she'd made her mind up to throw all caution to the wind in the hope that Dieter still lived.
At the base of the wall, she'd found Finn and Coll near the place where they'd fallen. Coll, being undead, had survived the fall, but the arrow in his neck had caught on something and twisted, snapping the spinal column; unlike George Romero's zombies, he hadn't died, or undied, or whatever it is undead do when they cease to be animated corpses. He hadn't deaniminated. Become still. You get the idea. He was, however, fully occupied in trying to keep his head from rolling at useless angles so that he was either staring entirely at the sky, the ground, or his chest. Eostre gave the best assistance she knew to given that Coll was one of the Leprechauns directly responsible for her imprisonment and Dieter's kidnapping and possible murder.
She tore his head off and kicked it like a football out into the frozen lake, where it eventually sank to the bottom. Coll became effectively deanimated.
Finn had fared better than his undead first officer in the fall, but was clearly aware that he was going to fare worse if Eostre reached him.
The fall had only broken his leg, and so he had dragged himself towards his gun, which was still connected to the box. There was a small amount of the golden liquid pulsing inside of it which had leaked from inside the box through the tube and into the gun. He reached it just as Eostre reached him. Her hind leg kicked out at him and shattered his forearm before he could close his fingers around the grip.
Finn screamed in pain and uttered a string of curses that was cut short by another kick from the giant hare's back leg which connected with Finn's mouth, causing him to lose a serious number of teeth.
"You sick little bastard," Eostre said, looking down at the gun and the device it was connected to. "You stole the life right out of him...and for what?"
Finn tried to mumble something through broken teeth, a lacerated tongue and the blood that kept filling his mouth, but Eostre had picked up the syringe end of the device, whirled and jammed it squarely in the middle of Finn's head. He dropped into the snow, as deanimated as Coll.
Eostre looked up to the top of the battlement, looking for the place where the Redcoats had fallen from. She spied it at the top; one foreleg, hanging over the edge.
* * * * * * *
The force-shield Granny had woven about the front of the train engine moments before impact with the lake emerged from the water,icy cold liquid sluicing of its surface. The Conductor, Blackout, Courtney and Lara gazed out at the massacre of the Redcoats. A great circle of carnage radiated out from a centrifugal point, and in the center of it all, a tiny figure sat, huddled in the snow.
"My God," Blackout whispered. "What the hell happened?"
"Andrew," Lara said. "That's Andrew out there."
The force bubble floated at Granny's command towards Andrew. It looked to them all as though the Redcoats had been hit by a steam roller, a brick wall, and then dropped off the Empire State Building for good measure. Granny set the bubble down a few feet from where Andrew sat, staring wide eyed out at nothing. Lara felt the wind blow on her face as the force shield dissolved, and ran to Andrew's side, dropping to a crouch beside him in the snow.
She took his face in her hands and asked him what had happened.
"I surrendered," Andrew said. "I gave myself over to the Tree, and...I became a part of it somehow. I can't explain it. Up until that moment, the Leprechauns seemed a terrible threat. And then in a moment...they were like gnats that were causing an itch...so I swatted them." He looked around at the devastation. "But now that I'm just me again...it doesn't seem so insignificant. I hadn't intended for...this. But when I merged with the Tree...I felt so angry all of a sudden."
"You sensed the Tree's perception of what was happening here and gave vent to it through your human emotions," Granny said. "We aren't meant to channel eternity through these forms."
Andrew nodded. "I'm so very tired."
"I'll fly us up to the city," Granny said, "And hopefully we'll all be able to get some much needed...oh my."
Granny was staring at Eostre, who was carrying Dieter across her back. There was a rude puncture wound in the male hare's neck, and his breathing was coming in short, shallow bursts.
"He's dying," Eostre said through tears.
* * * * * * *
Lara stepped forward without hesitation and placed her hands on Dieter's soft white fur, stained with his own blood. She could sense the life of Spring in his body, only a tiny flicker, like a guttering candle trying to hold its flame in the face of a strong wind. She closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and again, as with Eostre at Granny's house, she could see the roots, the branches, the great trunk of the Tree. The sap rose, flowed through her, and into Dieter's body, giving strength to the flame. It spluttered, then flared to life again, and began to grow. Where Andrew had felt the Tree's rage at the attempt to destroy Life, Lara sensed Its desire to return that Life to its former vitality. Beneath her touch, the flame within Dieter quickened.
* * * * * * *
Hours later, an old man with a long white beard who Andrew would have recognized as Lump stepped from the red and gold sleigh, to stand beside Ilmari-Pekka as he supervised the extraction of the train from the lake, and the removal of the fallen Redcoats.
"It took them long enough to find you," Ilmari-Pekka said, a note of chagrin in his voice.
"I'm not supposed to be found while I'm on my vacation," Father Christmas replied, his face tanned from weeks in the Dominican Republic. "I'm not sure they would have found me if I wasn't already on my way back." He surveyed the tableau before him. "Quite a mess these Redcoats made."
"The boy proved worthy of the gift," the elf said. "In the end."
"If I'd known how quickly the forces of Chaos would rise to beset him, I might have made another choice. It's worse than ever before. They've gained footholds on so many branches."
"The choice was a good one. He rose to the occasion."
Father Christmas smiled.
"Take a group of the menninkäinen when they return to their world," Father Christmas said. "I have gifts for them all. They've certainly earned them. And I think that shop could use a little elven craftsmanship."
Ilmari Pekka nodded.
"And Eostre and Dieter?" Father Christmas asked.
"Dieter is still very weak, but the girl brought him back from the brink. He's not strong enough to go the grotto and bring Spring...but we've made provision for it."
Father Christmas raised an inquisitive eyebrow.