Christmas Lands in Senntisten (Part 2)
A story by Miss Alaska
Thank you very much once again to Chaos_Elemental for reading through and providing edit suggestions!
Commander Zilyana felt the weight of the dragonkin’s spear push into her shield, and she nearly lost her footing for a moment. The icyene managed to deflect the lunge just in time and swung her sword up in front to catch the next hit from the spear.
The Nodon enforcer was powerful and he didn’t seem to be tiring. She couldn’t remain on the defensive like this.
Zilyana waited for an opening. She felt the force behind the spear lessen for a half second, anticipating the setup of another strike from the enforcer.
The icyene pushed back against the spear with her sword for leverage, and in one jump, kicked her legs into the enforcer’s chest. It managed to stun the dragonkin and allow her the window to push off into the air - her wings beating once, twice - carrying her just above the reach of the enforcer.
Before her dragonkin foe had a chance to open his wings and launch into the air after her, Zilyana summoned a lightning strike with her sword. She plunged down, driving the blade into the chest of the dragonkin, as magical charge from the strike fell around them.
The Nodon enforcer went limp. He released his spear, before collapsing dead. Zilyana was pulled to the floor with him as he dropped, and she crashed on top.
Grunting, she tugged at her sword and managed to dislodge it, then stumbled to a stand. Zilyana watched the body of the dragonkin disappear in a flash of golden light, his death undone by the power of the elder artefact. The enforcer would be returned to his brethren elsewhere, to fight again.
That blasted Needle made this war relentless. It was becoming difficult to remain hopeful about the outcome.
“Now that’s a fight worth paying to see, lady!”
The icyene blinked alert, and she turned to find the source of the voice.
Searching about quickly, her sight caught a flash of blue and she focused back to that spot.
Of all possible beings…she found a snow imp sitting on a stack of crates, just at her eye level.
It was so unexpected, she couldn’t stop the small laugh escaping her.
“Are we truly in so desperate a position that we’ve employed snow imps into our ranks now?” she asked.
The snow imp gave an indignant flick of his pointed tail.
“First off – rude,” he replied. “And second – name’s Marvin. I’m here to deliver your Christmas pressie.”
The snow imp snapped his fingers and a brightly coloured box tied up with a bow dropped on top of the icyene warrior’s head with a rather heavy plonk. Flinching from the impact, Zilyana watched the box tumble across the ground in front of her.
“Lucky for you, Santa’s found ya to be on a better standing as-of-late,” Marvin continued. “But watch how ya talk about snow imps, or I’ll recommend you for the naughty list next year!”
Zilyana raised an eyebrow.
“Very well,” she said.
They were interrupted by a blast of fire landing between them. Marvin was launched off the crate, while Zilyana was knocked back into a nearby stone wall.
“INCOMIN’!” cried a voice from above. It had the unmistakable accent of a snow imp attached.
Marvin got up from his place on the ground and shook the imaginary stars away from his head. He looked up through the smoke, in the direction of the shout.
There was a Nodon guard flying down from the sky, preparing to land where Marvin and Zilyana had been standing prior. It was flying rather awkwardly though and seemed eager to get its legs on solid ground. The reason soon became apparent – two snow imps could be seen hanging precariously off the dragonkin’s wings.
“Marvin! We’ve been looking for ya!” one of the snow imps shouted out as the dragonkin landed. It was Morris. And there was Boris, grasping onto the other wing alongside him. They both let go of the wings and tumbled either side, getting clear of the Nodon guard crashing down.
“Where in bloody Infernus have you two been?” Marvin called out. Zilyana was already locked in combat with the new dragonkin arrival.
“Chasing down summa those Temple Knights, mate,” said Morris, “We’ve knocked off forty-eight from the list so far, and that’s not countin’ tallies from da rest of the lads on our team. Oh, Boris - tell him ‘bout the flappy dragon!”
The other snow imp jumped up from the ground and dusted himself off before speaking.
“You shoulda seen it, Marvin!,” Boris started, “There was one of those ‘dragonkins’ standing around. We grabbed hold of ‘im and flew up ta the sky!”
“Well you’re both lucky ta still have ya heads attached,” said Marvin, walking past his buddies. “Come on, we gotta find that druid guy next – Thaerisk-wots-his-name, and the rest of his lot.”
As the snow imps left, Zilyana managed to dispatch the Nodon guard. Sheathing her sword, and catching a breath, she glanced over to the present that had been left on the ground. She walked over, picked it up, and unlaced the ribbon. When she opened the box, she found a gold ornament, with the star of Saradomin in its centre. She recognised the design of the emblem around it.
“The queen’s pendant…” Zilyana said to herself, eyes widening with bewilderment.
Examining the box further, she fished out a scrap of parchment that held a short message:
A gift for our fearless commander. Carry this with you, and may it bring you the hope needed to make it past the battles ahead. -Efaritay
Two Mahjarrat – one Zarosian, and the other Zamorakian - were standing generous distance apart; each leaning with arms crossed against the stone ledge of the aqueduct platform. The blizzard had died down in the past hour - and while it didn’t necessarily change things for the Mahjarrat pair directly, it meant a stronger party of elves would be on the way to deal with stray glacors. The small defence they had mounted against Wen’s creatures would be able to push back with concentrated force.
But for now, the Mahjarrat mages known as Akthanakos and Enakhra had been signalled to switch out from the group holding back the Arch-Glacor so that they could take time to regenerate their strength. That entailed a lot of standing around and waiting. Ordinarily, Akthanakos and Enakhra would have walked their separate ways to avoid the torture of being in each other’s presence. But with how quickly things changed in the war, they needed to remain close to be called upon.
Bored and looking around idly, Enakhra’s eyes passed by Akthanakos to her right; she managed to catch the Zarosian’s stare.
“What?” Enakhra asked, annoyed.
He nudged his head slightly, indicating a place in front of Enakhra, on the ground. Following Akthanakos’ gesture, the Zamorakian mage looked below to the ice-covered floor and found a snow imp standing a couple steps away from her. It appeared to be carrying a box.
After all that had occurred in Senntisten since being summoned to the buried city by Zamorak, most new developments failed to surprise her. And this one didn’t break the mould. She regarded the snow imp with little interest.
“The glacors appear to be carting in some friends,” she said to Akthanakos, before turning back to face him. “Suppose we’ll need to be dealing with these now, too?”
Akthanakos sighed, dropping his head down.
“Is everything beneath you merely a pest, Enakhra?” he replied. “I think it’s trying to give you something.”
“And I’m no friend of a Glacier thank-ya-very-much!” the snow imp said. “Call me Franky if ya like.”
Franky the snow imp dropped the box he’d been holding and kicked it closer to Enakhra.
“This Christmas pressie’s for you, red lady. Seems ya did somethin’ right for once.”
“Excuse me?” Enakhra said, sounding more confused than offended.
“Welcome to the nice list!” Franky added, not really clarifying things for her. “Stick around on it ‘til next Christmas if ya able.”
Enakhra picked up the box, and - moving past some preliminary suspicion – pulled off its ribbon. She opened the container and found…
“Oh, you are kidding me…” she said, exasperated.
She held up the item from the box, along with a note.
“It’s a book on advanced necromancy. From Zemouregal, according to the parchment.”
Akthanakos immediately bent over and fell into a fit of laughter.
“It’s not that funny,” Enakhra grumbled.
“But it really is—” Akthanakos managed, halfway past a laugh.
The Zamorakian huffed a wordless reply. She casually opened the book on a random page and began flicking through its chapters, giving a quick scan of its contents. As absurd as the gift was - given her lack of connection to the subject matter – it appeared to be a professionally compiled tome. It would turn out an interesting read, even without any intention to practice the craft.
Enakhra snapped the book shut and her eyes wandered back to Akthanakos, who was wheezing laughter over Zemouregal’s latest attempt at courting her. She smiled when she caught sight of what was atop the ledge next to her Zarosian counterpart.
“Look out,” she said, placing her gift safely aside, “Seems you’ve got one too.” The Mahjarrat managed to get his laughter under control and turned to his side on the ledge where Enakhra was looking.
“What are you- gods…!” Akthanakos was caught off-guard by another snow imp standing right beside him on top of the wall. Jumping suddenly in surprise, the Mahjarrat nearly lost his balance, slipping on the ice floor.
“Hey, how’s it hangin’?” the snow imp said in greeting. “Benny here, with a pressie for one…Ak-than—Akthana-,” the snow imp mumbled to himself, sounding out the name on the list he was reading from.
“It’s Akthanakos,” the Zarosian said, tiredly.
“Dats da one!” Benny said. He held up the wrapped present in one hand. “Merry Christmas Aknaddafoss.”
Taking the gift from the snow imp, Akthanakos examined its packaging for a moment, before opening it.
“Rather thoughtful…” he said to himself. Akthanakos pulled out a pair of finely crafted leather gloves from the box. They were new and sturdy, and he could see the thick woollen lining peeking out from inside of them.
He held up the parchment that came with the gloves and read its message.
“Because you’ve never been one for the cold climates. Stay strong, my good friend. From Wahisietel.”
“Utterly endearing,” Enakhra said, putting on her most jaded voice.
That was another two names off the list. The snow imps, Franky and Benny, left the Mahjarrat mages and hurried off back towards the central hub where the present pile was kept.
“Have ya seen Dennis about yet?” Franky asked, skimming around an ice monster that had just been slain by the big, angry guy in a suit of armour and feathered helmet he’d dubbed ‘Mr Grumpy’. Delivering a present to Mr Grumpy hadn’t been easy – but after Franky annoyed him for long enough, he took the box simply to shut the snow imp up.
“I ‘eard from some other lads that Dennis has been workin’ through the elves. Claims he just delivered a gift ta King Baxtorian - didn’t even think that ol’ geezer was still on the list! Coulda sworn he was dead?”
“Guessin’ Dennis finally cracked it in the melon,” Benny said. “Watch it!”
Benny shoved into his buddy, knocking them both to the left and out of the path of the ‘Glacier’ that was charging towards a different man with a sword, shield and a glowing arm.
“What’s ‘is name then?” Franky asked, pointing back a thumb towards the glowing-arm man. “We crossed ‘im off yet?”
“Lemme check the list,” Benny replied. He pulled it out in front of him to read while they both kept pace on the trek back to the cathedral.
Norris, Melvin and Marcus had managed to get a couple dozen presents delivered, primarily to human guards from Varrock and Lumbridge. The rest of snow imps from team Mushy Green were focused on the groups of soldiers closer to the cathedral, where most names from the list could be found. But the trio had opted to stick together and looked further out in the east side of the city for some unchecked names.
A few stragglers were discovered as the trio ventured into the city’s graveyard – most of them holding no immediate affiliation to the Varrock or Lumbridge guards stationed at the quadrant. It seemed these were just normal folk volunteering their skills for the war after hearing about it. Those hardy individuals in the far reaches of the graveyard were few and far between, and they always remained fixated on the strange, congested growths of mushrooms that had overrun the place.
“I gotta bad feeling ‘bout this spot,” said Norris. He gave a cursory look at some overhanging moss trailed atop a statue. On closer inspection, the grey caps of mushrooms could be seen peeking through the moss.
He paused. For a second, he thought the mushrooms were moving – no…growing. Slowly multiplying outwards.
Rather than linger near the statue, Norris gave a shake of his head, then rubbed his eyes. He turned and ran to catch up again with his two teammates.
“By any chance Norris, do the stiffs have somethin’ to do with this ‘bad feeling’ of yours?” Melvin asked, a little sarcastically. Try to brush things off - that was the right approach in this situation. If they decided to not focus on the mushroom-covered bodies of the humans scattered around the place, the whole job would be just like every other Christmas present delivery they had ever checked off. Besides, they hadn’t seen any snow imps covered with mushrooms, lying around in ponds yet. The plants might just have preference for humans.
True that the still bodies were a little unsettling, but what was the difference? The entire city was a battleground and folk were dropping all over the place. Not very festive at all.
But then that was the point of their whole ‘secret mission’ at the end of the day - make a bad situation slightly better for people, even if it was just for a moment.
Marcus, who had been walking at the front of their procession, suddenly arrived at a stop. With hardly a second available to react, Melvin slammed into the back of his teammate. On impact, the presents Melvin had been carrying flew from his hold and scattered to the ground.
“What the bloody- Marcus! Get a move on will ya?” Melvin shouted, and he crouched down to collect his fallen presents.
Marcus remained stationary, frozen in place. He was peering at the path up ahead.
“Uh…is it just me, or are those mushrooms getting closer?” he asked, and indicated a spot further up the path they had been travelling along.
Both Norris and Melvin glanced over to where Marcus was pointing.
To their astonishment, clumps of light brown mushrooms were indeed moving along the stone path. They burst through the cracks of soil at first, before spreading over the rest of the stone floor. And as the seconds ticked by, the older mushrooms grew larger while brand new ones appeared next to them. They were spreading out, headed in the direction of the three snow imps. Rather quickly.
“Melvin…” Norris said quietly. He had shifted focus to their left, and gently clutched the shoulder of his friend. Melvin looked to where Norris was facing.
Another trail of mushrooms could be seen in the other fork of the stone path, also heading to the snow imps at an alarming pace.
Melvin spun around to check their other side and found another similar line of the same light brown mushrooms growing out of the road, towards them. A quick look behind, back in the direction of the cathedral, and Melvin’s heart sped up – there was yet another line of mushrooms closing in, shadowing the steps of the snow imps.
“What do ya reckon we do?” Norris asked, sounding worried now.
Melvin hesitated, unable to provide a good answer.
“We, uh…we need to get outta- AARGH!”
Melvin was cut short by his own panicked cry. A wild green vine had whipped and coiled around his arm. It pulled taught instantly, yanking the snow imp from his place.
“Melvin!” Marcus shouted, and he lunged to grab Melvin’s other arm. He wasn’t fast enough, and in a matter of seconds Melvin was being dragged back by the vine.
Norris, quicker than most snow imps (even if a bit clumsy at times), immediately sprinted after their entangled friend. Part way in his rush, he brushed past some light brown mushrooms that had been growing on a dead tree trunk, and their caps stuck to his arm. Shaking them off without too much thought, Norris kept running to Melvin.
He managed to catch up, grabbing onto his friend’s untangled arm and tugging back with all the strength he could muster.
“Come on!” Norris gritted out, refusing to let the vine take Melvin.
In the middle of all the chaos, a deafening roar echoed out across the area. With Norris completely focused on pulling Melvin back, it was only Marcus who looked up in time to catch the enormous sky-blue dragon soaring above.
The dragon circled about, and then slammed onto the ground with two powerful legs, wings spread open and silhouetted against the foggy light of the graveyard. It paused only momentarily, as a warm glow started to show through its throat. Fully primed, the dragon sent a scorching blast of flame towards the avaricious mushroom trails nearby. The clusters shrivelled into mounds of blackened cinder as soon as they were hit by the fire.
Marcus had ducked for cover, fearing that the dragon’s fire breath would reach him. But luckily enough, the creature only appeared to be targeting the mushrooms. It had quite good accuracy too.
The mushroom clusters were finally destroyed in their entirety. Focusing on the next priority, the dragon shifted its gaze over to Norris, who was still struggling to pull Melvin from the vine.
With unexpected swiftness, given its size – the dragon moved near the two struggling snow imps, and snapped its jaws across the length of stretched vine caught onto Melvin’s arm. When the vine severed, Melvin and Norris fell over and toppled to the ground.
“Norris?” Melvin rose from his spot on the stone floor and looked over to the other snow imp. Norris was laying on the path a few steps away.
Melvin began to approach his friend, but he was stopped in his tracks by a thunderous roar. The sudden noise shuddered around the graveyard, then ceased.
“Stop!” A low, commanding voice shot out from behind Melvin.
He turned around and found the owner of the voice - the blue dragon that had saved them. He was standing idle - wings still outstretched slightly, as if ready to take flight at any moment. Marcus was situated near the dragon as well, thankfully unharmed following the whole incident.
The dragon moved closer to Melvin, and stopped in front, bending down so that his head met closer with the snow imp’s line of sight.
“Your presence in the graveyard was not declared to me by Azzanadra, nor any of the other commanders,” the dragon began. He sounded furious. “Why are the three of you here?”
Melvin, still a little shaken by the events of the last minute and a half, stood quiet as he looked blankly at the dragon.
“We’re from the Land of Snow,” Marcus offered, stepping in place of Melvin to speak. He tried to draw the attention of the dragon, walking over, and standing slightly in front of his quiet snow imp friend.
“We’re only here a short time to deliver pressies, in place of ol’ Nick,” Marcus continued. “Most of us are back at the base, but us three lads thought maybe some folks would be further out-“
“There is no one else here,” the dragon said, with less aggression lacing his voice this time. “It is only I who remains.”
“And you are?” Marcus asked.
The dragon seemed somewhat calmer now that they were talking more openly.
“Gorvek. Former member of the Tenth Legion and mount to Vindicta, daughter of the esteemed riders, Morvannon and Hannibus.”
“Righto! We may as well be in the proper place after all,” Marcus said, “One of those pressies was for a Mister Gorvek!” The snow imp pointed to the presents that had been dropped on the stone path several paces away, and the dragon glanced over at them.
Gorvek looked back to Marcus, then over to Melvin. And then to Norris who was still lying on the ground, breathing heavily. The dragon took a moment to analyse the scene before him, trying to make sense of the unusual turn of events.
Strange and unexpected as the appearance of snow imps had been, they were still innocent beings in danger. Action needed to happen quickly.
“Your friend,“ Gorvek began, “The one that made contact with the Croesus spores-“
“-who-sus?” Marcus interrupted.
“Croesus,” the dragon replied firmly. “The name is not important – what is truly important, is getting your friend to the druid encampment as soon as possible. They have the resources on hand to save him.”
“Wait-a-minute…save him?” Melvin cut in, snapping alert again. “What’s gonna happen to him?”
“He is showing symptoms of the Croesus infection,” Gorvek replied, his level voice a contrast to Melvin’s panic. “If we act quickly, it can be removed without any lasting damage.”
Gorvek turned about on the spot, and hunched down, his tail planted down flat.
“Climb on,” he commanded to the two snow imps standing nearby.
Melvin hesitated for a moment, still playing catch up with everything.
But with the urgency of their situation crashing down, it didn’t take long for the snow imp’s head to switch back into gear. Melvin grabbed hold and rambled swiftly up the long tail, all the way to Gorvek’s back. He gripped the metal brace fitted on the dragon’s neck.
Marcus followed close behind – though not before swiping up a stray present from fallen pile on the ground. He tucked it under arm, and climbed up the tail.
Gorvek then moved over to Norris, who was still curled up on the ground. With a clawed foot, he lifted Norris in a gentle grasp. Then in one swift motion, the dragon pushed off into the air. Several strong beats of his wings, and they were soaring towards the cathedral.
It was a much shorter return trip, compared to the time it had taken the three snow imps to arrive in the middle of the graveyard. In under a minute, Gorvek had circled around the tall spires of the cathedral, before touching down upon the courtyard that circled its exterior. They had landed near the western door.
The dragon lowered Norris - still held in claws - back to the ground. He gently released the half-conscious snow imp from his grasp.
Following this, Gorvek crouched low and fell still, allowing Melvin and Marcus time to climb back down the tail again. Once fully dismounted and standing upon the stone floor of the courtyard, the two snow imps ran over to Norris, anxious to check how he was faring.
A small distance away, Some Crux Eqal druids had been preparing ration packs to disperse to soldiers under care at the infirmary camp. Noticing the odd assembly of the Zarosian dragon and three snow imps that had suddenly appeared nearby, and the druids left their work and hurried over.
“This one has been infected in the east,” Gorvek told the druids, as he shifted a clawed foot beside Norris. “It is in the early stages. Get started immediately.”
With a simple nod in reply, one druid pulled a leather bag from her shoulder and opened it. She kneeled in front of Norris and set to work. Another who had been standing with her began to assist with mixing salves, while a third druid turned and called to others in the camp, requesting more supplies.
With the healing underway, Gorvek faced the other two snow imps.
“He will be fine, I promise you. Now – I must return to my station in the east.”
Just as the dragon opened his wings, preparing to fly again, he was stopped by a shout from Marcus.
‘Wait!’ cried the snow imp.
Gorvek regarded Marcus, a stern look cast out from the dragon’s eyes. He then turned around properly and stood waiting as requested by the snow imp. Albeit impatiently.
Marcus ran to close the gap. He was still carrying one of the presents he had picked up before their escape.
“This one’s yours,” Marcus said, offering the box to Gorvek. “And please – if ya see any folks pass by, can you check the names on the other pressies back there and give ‘em to the right guys?”
“I can hardly-“ Gorvek started, before pausing. He felt the shred of an argument in him wither and drop, and he sighed.
The dragon took the box from Marcus, clutching it in a set of claws. Without any show of a farewell the dragon took off again, headed in the direction of the graveyard once more.
After Gorvek had left, Melvin and Marcus turned back and watched three druids work around Norris, each snow imp holding tightly to the promise left by the dragon.
Meanwhile, following a short flight back to the graveyard, Gorvek blasted a shot of flame on his landing spot – for good measure. He dropped to the ground below.
Holding the gifted box with his claw, he tore its top off with his sharp front teeth.
Packed tightly inside was a woven satchel. Gorvek plucked it out deftly with pinched claws, and it unfurled. It had appeared small in the box, but after removing it from its packaging, the satchel had turned out rather large. Too large for most satchel-wearers at any rate. It had a long and sturdy strap attached too.
He surmised that it had been crafted for the body of a dragon. But from whom had this gift been sent?
Turning back to examine the base of the box, he found a small scrap of parchment resting in its depths. Gorvek peered inside, and caught a message written upon the paper.
I doubt they were organised enough to provide you with one, so I took the liberty. You vowed to always return to me safe. When we reunite, uphold your word. V.
“Well that ‘bout seems ta be everyone from the list we can catch ‘ere,” Magnus said, walking down the steps. He had just delivered a present to the aviansie general, Kree’arra.
“About Graardor –“ Magnus continued, “- Murphy, Barry…you lads been able ta find ‘im yet?”
Barry shook his head.
“Seems to ‘ave disappeared clean off the face o’ the planet,” he said. “Along with some goblins and trolls on the list.”
“Sounds ‘bout right,” Magnus replied, quite untroubled by Barry’s update. “Well, tall birdy over here - ” he threw a thumb over shoulder back at Kree’arra, “- just gave me a hint as ta why we can’t find ‘em. They’re down dat big ol’ hole in centre.” Magnus gave a small tilt of his head up, indicating some distance ahead of where he had been facing.
Murphy, Barry and Charlie turned to look back towards the deep crater in the middle of the courtyard, where the bodies of druids, goblins, trolls and strange glowing stone creatures were scattered about.
Charlie turned back to Magnus.
“Well, it’s great ya managed to find that out. But it doesn’t change much. We ain’t deliverin’ presents down-“
“Race ya to the bottom, Barry!” Murphy shouted, cutting Charlie off - and suddenly sounding a significant distance away from where the group of snow imps had been standing.
Charlie whipped around to find Murphy next to the edge of the crater. The rogue snow imp held a stack of presents, and with little caution, tossed them into the dark hole.
“Murphy, don’t you dare--OOF-“
Charlie’s sentence was cut off when Barry knocked past him, running straight for the crater’s edge.
“Keep dreamin’ if ya plan on beatin’ me at anything, Murph!” Barry said, before tumbling a somersault into the air and plummeting into the pit. Murphy followed quickly after his friend, launching himself into the dark void as well.
Charlie ran to the edge of the crater and peered into it. There was nothing but smoke and darkness.
“Murphy!” he shouted desperately. “Barry! Can ya hear me?”
The pit offered no reply.
Charlie was suddenly breathing much more quickly. He clutched at his head, panic taking hold.
“They’re gone…” he said to Magnus, who all this while had been casually walking over to stand beside Charlie. Much more relaxed than his boss in the present moment, Magnus gave a curious look into the depths of the pit.
“Suppose we be goin’ after them?” he asked.
Charlie turned to Magnus, a weary look on the head snow imp’s face.
“Ya suggestin’ we jump straight after ‘em?” Charlie asked, exasperated. “We don’t even know what’s down the-EREAAAAAAAAHH!”
Magnus had given a quick shove on Charlie’s back and sent him careening down the dark pit. With no plan to hang around topside for much longer either, he jumped down after Charlie.
Charlie in the meanwhile was crying out his lungs while he fell to his death. After some seconds, he caught a glimpse of the walls around him grow lighter, with an orange glow. He was suddenly feeling a rush of warmth too.
He had screamed out his reserve of air and Charlie gasped for a breath. He looked down and quickly saw the ground rushing to meet him. His eyes clenched tightly shut.
A few seconds passed, and he didn’t feel the slam of a stone floor.
That was Magnus. Charlie opened his eyes cautiously, squinting at his surroundings. He was a short height above the ground, hovering gently. Looking over-shoulder, he noticed his wings flapping quickly. He had broken his own fall by instinct, buffeting air with the small but speedy snow imp wings on his back.
Charlie let out a sigh of relief. His wings stopped flapping, and he dropped to the ground safely.
“Never…do that again.” Charlie glared at his teammate, and Magnus had the audacity to throw back a crooked smile.
“Boss!” A different voice rang out.
“Murphy…” Charlie grumbled, turning around. He saw Murphy running over. Charlie stormed forward to meet him.
“What exactly did I tell ya ‘bout the big fiery pit?” Charlie shouted, his fists clenched tightly.
“Woah, woah, woah, Charlie boy – it’s all fine!” Barry dashed between Charlie and Murphy, stopping next to his boss. He swung a friendly arm around Charlie’s neck - which didn’t do much to cool the head snow imp’s anger.
Charlie didn’t move to shrug out of the friendly gesture. He just waited for Barry to convince him why this was all ‘fine’.
“Ya see, there’s nine pressies left for delivery ‘ere,” Barry started explaining, “All we gotta do is find the nine folks down ‘ere without pressies – includin’ the big guy, Graardor. We carry two pressies each - three for me, given I’m the strongest ‘n all.” Barry lifted one of his arms, making a show of inspecting muscles that weren’t there. Charlie rolled his eyes.
“Sound like a plan, boss?” Barry asked.
Charlie shrugged out of Barry’s arm and took a moment to get a bearing on their situation.
Well…they were already down here, weren’t they? And this entire plan to deliver presents in Senntisten had been his idea in the first place.
“Ok, we’ll deliver the pressies. But we stick together ‘right?” Charlie said, accepting their predicament and hoping to make the best of it.
Proceeding off from the entrance they had landed at, the four snow imps walked down the warm tunnel at a steady pace. So far, there hadn’t been much life about - but they did cross paths with a goblin briefly, and managed to hand over the goblin’s respective Christmas present.
Eventually, after travelling for some time, they discovered the source of the warmth. Entering a wider stretch of tunnel, the four snow imps found that the whole subterranean complex had been flooded with lava. Only the solid strip of middle stone pathway remained, cluttered with broken rock and other debris.
“What’s the deal with the lava?” Murphy asked. “Some cracked idea of a central heatin’ system for the whole city?”
“Murphy, shut up,” Barry said.
“You what?” Murphy asked sharply, clearly not keen on the suggestion.
“I said shut up, so da big lava monsters don’t come over ‘ere!” Barry grabbed Murphy by the shoulders and swivelled him around until his was facing up the path, slightly right.
Magnus and Charlie followed the line of sight as well and found that Barry wasn’t joking. Up some distance away, there were strange creatures that looked to be made of black stone, but with veins of lava glowing through their joints and seams. Similar looking to the dead ones scattered around on the surface.
Some of the creatures were rather short - practically snow imp height. Others were lanky and tall with a couple of extra limbs branching out of them, all jagged and sharp-edged. They didn’t look too friendly.
“It’s probably what all the folks from the surface are fightin’ against,” whispered Charlie. “Maybe they brought all the lava ‘ere too.”
“Well whatever they are, let’s keep a nice perimeter ‘round em boys,” Barry said, releasing Murphy’s shoulders.
The group of snow imps continued down the stone tunnel that was flanked with streams of lava. They made a conscious effort to remain quiet and keep an eye out for any more lava monsters.
Eventually, they heard some gravelly voices up ahead.
Charlie, being at the head of the group, peeked around a chunk of broken stone wall to see who might be talking.
“Lava monsters?” Murphy asked.
“No, turns out we got some luck on our ‘ands for once. Trolls and goblins, just-a-head. I counted seven o’ them.” He paused, looking at the presents they had all placed on the ground nearby during their momentary pause.
“Murphy, Barry – you guys are gonna hand out the seven pressies to the trolls and goblins nearby,” Charlie said. He took a second to adjust his scarf, making sure it was resting secure on his neck, and continued, “Magnus and I are gonna head a lil’ further along to find Graardor. Don’t wait for us ta get back – head out as soon as ya pressies are delivered. We’ll meet up on the surface.”
“Righto, boss,” Barry said, grabbing a stack of four presents. Murphy grabbed three. They each walked off in the direction of the trolls and goblins.
Charlie picked up the remaining box and started off walking. Magnus followed shortly behind.
“Ya can head back with the uvver two if you want, by the way,” Charlie said. “I included ya for this part ‘cause I expected the other guys woulda kicked a fuss if I went alone. So make sure ta tell ‘em I sent ya back. Knowing those two, they likely need a lil’ bit of directin’ anyway-”
“Don’t make a deal ‘bout it. We’re checkin’ this name off together,” Magnus said, cutting Charlie short.
Charlie chose not to challenge Magnus on it, feeling tired with their usual tendency for butting heads. Instead, Charlie turned forward and the pair continued walking in silence.
The heat was becoming less than tolerable, and it made the snow imps’ eyes sting. The one positive thing to spin out of their current situation was that they hadn’t encountered any more of the lava creatures yet.
Several more minutes passed. Charlie was starting to lose track of the distance covered, before Magnus spoke up.
“Ya think that’s ‘im?” Magnus said, pointing through the smoke to the outline of someone big in the distance.
“Only one way ta find out,” Charlie replied.
The two snow imps continued the rest of the way, a little faster on their legs. To their relief, they found General Graardor at the end of the path.
He was situated near an entrance leading to a large, seemingly vacant platform of rock. Charlie couldn’t see what was beyond the entrance; there was too much smoke obscuring the way ahead.
General Graardor didn’t look to be in very good shape. He was hunched over on one knee, breathing deeply. When he shifted his position slightly to face the approaching snow imps, he winced at a sharp jab of pain hitting one of his bones – but just for a moment, as if he were ashamed to let any show of weakness slip by.
“Mister Graardor?” Charlie asked, craning his neck up at the tall ourg before him.
“What?” the Bandosian general grunted.
“This ‘ere Christmas pressie is for you.” The snow imp raised the box as high as he could reach, in offering.
Graardor gave a slight angle of his head, not entirely sure what Charlie meant by a ‘pressie’.
“This a trick?” the ourg asked, angrily. “Some joke from dumb goblin?”
“Just – take it, ok?” Magnus replied, switching in for Charlie. “We travelled pree’ darn far to get this to ya. And ya not one to hang around on the nice list often…so make the most of it, buddy.”
Graardor huffed out in displeasure, not too fond of the tone Magnus used when addressing a general of Bandos. Either way, the ourg took the box from Charlie’s hands, and crushed it.
“What are you--!” Charlie shouted in dismay.
“Heh heh,” Graardor laughed low to himself, and held up what looked to be a miniature spiked mace.
The last of the shrinking magic from the Christmas packaging dissipated, and the mace grew to an enormous side – fitting perfectly in Graardor’s grip. The ourg seemed a lot more interested now that the gift was fully realised in his grasp.
“Not bad, where this from?” Graardor asked, looking at the snow imps.
Magnus walked over to the remains of the crushed box and had a gander at the sender’s message left inside.
“From what I can make outta the note ya so kindly crushed – this ‘ere present is from a guy call Zarador. Apparently, after hearin’ bout ya esca-pades down in this ‘ere lava pit…ah…geeze he rambles a bit…” Magnus paused for a time, reading the note silently, “…yadda, yadda, glory o’ Bandos, rightful honour for da general that challenged Carl Zook, yadda yadda…”
Magnus looked away from the note and turned his head up to Graardor.
“To be frank with ya, I’m not familiar with this much talk comin’ outta a Bandosian. But at any a rate, this Zarador wanted ta thank ya with a pressie. Santa picked up on that, and ‘ere we snow imps are, delivering it to ya. Enjoy!”
“Mace good,” Graardor simply offered. “Now leave.”
“Uh, wadda ya just say?” Magnus asked, feeling hot-headed at the complete lack of a thank you.
“Enemies here,” Graardor said, grunting as he rose to a stand. He used his new mace to prop himself up from the ground, then turned to face the wide rocky platform behind him. Up ahead, some glowing forms could be seen through the smoke, and they were getting closer.
“Blue things leave now,” Graardor commanded.
“He means us, Magnus,” Charlie said, and without sparing much more time, he grabbed his partner’s arm and pulled Magnus back in the direction they had travelled form. The two snow imps set off at a sprint.
Far back behind, they heard the sharp clang of Graardor’s mace hitting some unseen enemy – the lava monsters from earlier. But the two snow imps didn’t have time to look around, so instead, they kept racing to the place they had last seen Barry and Murphy.
At least they were heading back faster than they had departed, so it would only be a short while before Charlie and Magnus met up with the other two snow imps. Then the four of them could find a means of climbing back to the surface. Easy as plum pudding!
Suddenly, Charlie spotted movement a short distance ahead. He skidded to a stop, and Magnus stopped quickly afterwards. They both took a moment to look closely through the smoke in front, and saw, to their dismay, more lava creatures moving down the path right towards them.
Charlie only had a few spare seconds to process what was happening. Before he could formulate a plan, the head snow imp suddenly felt a push in his back from Magnus. Charlie stumbled to the left of the path, landing on hard on his face near a slab of fallen rock.
Magnus didn’t have a chance to find cover for himself. An approaching lava monster took an idle swing at the Magnus with one of its arms, clearing the path of ‘enemies’.
The snow imp was flung to the other side of the stone path, tumbling several times before arriving at a stop. He lay still on the ground.
“Flippin’ sleigh bells…” Charlie said to himself, looking anxiously towards where Magnus had fallen. The lava monsters weren’t too interested in hanging around and kept charging to the place where General Graardor had been standing his ground.
After about a minute, the stone path the snow imps had been stuck at was once again clear. There were no more lava creatures around.
Charlie ran over to Magnus.
He dropped near to the injured snow imp and hesitated for a moment, not sure if he should be moving his friend from the ground.
“Magnus?” Charlie asked, prodding the fallen snow imp’s shoulder.
“Urgh…” was all that Magnus gave in reply.
Charlie looked around. There was no one to call for help. All he could do was try to get the two of them back to the place they’d split off from with Murphy and Barry.
“Up ya get pal,” Charlie said, and he hoisted Magnus up with some strain, slinging one of the injured snow imp’s arms over-neck.
“I ‘ppreciate ya saving my hide back there, but now I gotta lug ya back like this. It’s better when ya not bein’ nice to me.” He was trying to make light of things, and keep Magnus awake so that they could make it back to the surface. He hoped it wouldn’t take them too long, and that they’d be free of lava monsters along the way.
Magnus coughed a little to clear his airways.
“Do ya think deliverin’ a pressie to the big guy back there was worth a couple-a swipes with death?” Magnus asked.
Charlie considered the question for a time. His first response was set to be ‘absolutely not’.
“If we all make it outta here intact - yes, it was worth it,” Charlie replied. He was feeling half honest about that statement at least.
“I was thinkin’ the same,” Magnus said, his voice genuine.
Charlie stumbled a little, then adjusted the hold he had on Magnus. Carting an injured snow imp through a heated lava tunnel wasn’t the easiest task of the job, that was for sure.
“But if I ever come up with a stupid idea like this again, talk me outta it properly will ya?” Charlie added.
Magnus huffed a laugh.
They continued limping slowly in the direction of the tunnel exit.
Santa’s present list for Senntisten was looking mostly finished. The snow imps had always expected - before heading into the city - that there would be names they failed to cross off. Fallen heroes, soldiers missing in action…the ones with the missed window, and no second shot.
But for the sake of morale, they needed to look at the crossed off names and remember that the whole trip was made worthwhile because of them. It was easy enough to say that when there were no major casualties in their number that day. Still some frightful clashes here and there, nonetheless.
There was Marvin, with a broken wing that he’d only noticed an hour after he took a tumble away from a dragonkin fireball. And then there was Dennis, who gave team Frosty Claw a scare when they found him stuck frozen in a block of ice summoned by a rogue glacor. He was seated in the sleigh with a blanket now, teeth chattering away.
Norris was still looking rather drained, and he was being closely monitored by Melvin and Marcus. The druids had worked some talent saving Norris from the fungus infection, but he still needed a lot of care before he would be back to standing upright without help.
The deliveries were finished now, at least. All that remained was the journey back to the Land of Snow where they could rest and recuperate properly.
With their boss not yet returned – a little concerning, but not entirely surprising – Franky was stepping in to take a head count around the sleigh.
“46, 47, 48…that’s nearly everyone. Where ‘ave Charlie and Magnus got to, boys?”
“We were in the pit, and they went-a-lookin’ for Graardor!” a snow imp shouted behind Franky. He turned around and found Barry running up. Murphy followed close behind.
“We managed ta catch a ride on the back of some goblins takin’ the exit outta the big crater,” Barry continued. “Charlie told us ta ‘ead on up. But that was nearly ‘n hour back! What if they…what if they didn’t make it to…“ The snow imp trailed off, hesitant about finishing his worrying sentence.
Franky suddenly caught sight of some figures emerging from the crater, a fair distance away from where the sleigh had been parked.
He squinted, peering at two trolls rambling up from rope pulleys near the crater’s edge. They were couriers in the Bandosian squad and one of them was wearing a backpack. The other had something blue hanging around its neck.
“Flippin’ sleigh bells,” Franky said, and he ran off to the crater. Barry and Murphy ran shortly behind him.
Stopping in front of the two trolls, Franky craned to look behind them. A snow imp was clinging to the neck of one troll. Once the troll was no longer climbing, and stood firmly on the surface, the snow imp let go and dropped down.
It was the boss.
“Charlie! Finally ya show up - just as we ‘bout ta leave!” Franky shouted. He put on his best face of impatience in effort to hide how relieved he was. He was worried their boss hadn’t made it.
“But where’s Magnus?” Murphy asked, looking around for their missing team member.
“Right’ere,” Magnus muffled from somewhere nearby.
The troll with the backpack shrugged the luggage off, and there was Magnus packed inside.
“Magnus ‘as a broken right arm, and ‘is right leg is a little busted too – kinda long story,” Charlie explained. “But with some ‘elp from our rock buddies ‘ere, we were able ta splint it up and make it back.”
He turned to face the two trolls.
“Thanks, both of ya. Really…we were ‘bout ta kick the bucket back there.”
The troll that had been carrying Charlie grunted.
“Urmph. Pretty Flower and Sparkly Crystal forget blue squishies even there,” he said, then turned and started lumbering off in the direction of the cathedral.
“Me find Big Rock now. Sparkly Crystal follow,” the troll said as he left.
The other troll with the backpack turned and followed behind, and they both departed without another word.
“I still ‘ave absolutely no idea what anything they been sayin’ means,” Charlie said, looking confused. “Somehow they understood ‘can ya please ‘elp us up’ well enough.”
Charlie helped Magnus to stand up, letting him lean on a shoulder for support.
“Well it’s good ta see ya both,” Barry said. “But uh…the rest o’ the guys are anxious ta get goin’. So you twos gonna join us in the sleigh already?”
Charlie, feeling all the exhaustion from the day stack on top of him now that their mission was finished, simply nodded.
“Righto! Next stop, Land o’ Snow,” Barry said. “Ya took the reins on the way here Murphy, so I get ta drive us home.”
Sipping a little of his mulled wine, Charlie sank back in the comically large velvet chair situated in front of the crackling fireplace. It was dark outside, but through the window in Santa’s living room he could see the snow falling softly outside against the dark blue. He’d had a peek before and saw the glittering floor of ice on the castle gardens shining in the moonlight. That was the best part of living in the Land of Snow. It was always pretty lookin’, no matter the time of the day.
He’d been in a lot of trouble with Santa at first. Ol’ red had clued in pretty fast and was waiting for them alongside the Queen of Snow as soon as the sleigh touched down. The queen and Nick were both pretty upset. The boss was looking a lot more redder than usual, so he was pretty darn mad in particular.
But they’d both cut the fuse on that cherry bomb quickly – for the immediate now, anyway. They all focused mainly on giving the necessary attention to the snow imps sporting injuries. There weren’t too many, luckily. And none of them had any lasting bumps or bruises. But that didn’t do much to make Charlie feel any better. He’d been in charge of looking after them - what if the whole mission had gone even more pear-shaped than it did? Grape-shaped?
The others seemed to be in higher spirits at any rate. As far as all the rest of the snow imps were concerned, they’d done something brilliant. They’d managed to get pressies to the people stuck in a big, dangerous fight in Senntisten. Maybe that helped make things a little easier on those Gielinor folk locked in battle. Despite all the close calls and scrapes with death, the other snow imps had been happy to be a part of Charlie’s delivery team that day. Even Magnus shouted him a drink at the gathering they’d held at the tavern a week later, leading the group in a cheers to Charlie.
Once he knew that the injured snow imps had made full recoveries though, only then was Charlie able to take a deep breath and relax slightly. It was how he found himself seated in Santa’s chair right now, drinking his cup and watching the fireplace crackle away. The snow had finally settled, and he felt himself accepting a little bit of contentment for the reasonably successful Chrismtas gift delivery run. Exceptional circumstances factored into it all, they did pretty alright.
“Ya think the War o’ the Eggs will be done by next Christmas, boss?” Charlie asked.
Nicklaus, seated in the second velvet chair facing the fireplace, turned to look at the little snow imp across to his left.
“You’ve all given them a reminder of what they’re missing out on when they’re not home for Christmas,” Santa replied.
He caught the look of dismay on Charlie’s face, so Santa quickly held up a hand to indicate that he was not finished.
“It will give them the hope and will to fight their way through to the end, so that they can make it to the next day. Home is waiting there on the other side.”
Charlie could at least rest easier with that prospect.
“Besides, they’ll have to be done before next Christmas,” Santa added, sipping at his cup of milk.
“There’s no way you boys can pull off the same sneak on me twice, and Lumi will be very cross if I were to make the delivery run instead. I pity the elder god who crosses paths with the Snow Queen on a bad day,” he said lightly, with a smile.
Charlie couldn’t help but give a chuckle at that. And he felt like things might just be fine and dandy after all.
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