A Tale of Christmas Cheer:


First Post
Blame it all on Arkhandus...


Heh! Anyone else thinking of Narnia, where the beleagured hero(in)es are met, out in the snow, by jolly old Kris Kringle, who gives them each a gift? Now imagine you're down in the Dungeon of Dreadful Doom, beset, be-bothered, and bewuthered by beasties of balefulness, and trying to get a few hours shut-eye in the cold, dank darkness where you're forced to hide...

Suddenly, the sentry wakes you all... In the darkness, you can hear a rustling, which grows ominously louder... Weapons are drawn, spells readied, chain shirts and shields prepared...

In the darkness, there is a loud "THUMP!", then lights, revealing a jolly old (Half?) Elf in the chimney, box in hand, the lid held up by a rod, as unearthly music wells out, filling the room and sweeping down the corridors...

You know you shouldn't trust this strange... stranger, but somehow, a wink and a nod from him leave you quite sure that you have nothing to dread from him. He pauses for a moment to light a fire (doffing a large sack from his back, producing firewood, lighting it in the chimney, and then lighting his pipe from a splinter). He then produces several large, ornate red-and-white stockings, each engraved with your names, which he hangs over the fireplace.

He smiles, as you feel compelled to burst into song, and his fat belly shakes as he laughs at your musical stylings... Not in derision, but in merriment. As he watches you, occasionally he catches someone's eye. When he does, he points to you, and then a stocking hanging over the fireplace, in which the flames are now merrily dancing. You know this one's yours.

As you sing and cavort, weapons and spells forgotten, suddenly the door bursts open! Normally, this would concern you, but tonight, you turn to see what other wonders await.

The red-and-white suited old man also turns, smiles at the kobold, orcs, and bugbear, motioning for them to come in. They do, slanty eyes looking around warily. The jolly fat man motions you over, producing a large mechanical clock from his bag, and staring at it.

Suddenly, a tiny door on the clock's face opens, and a miniscule golem emerges, banging on a gong a dozen times! Smiling, the old gent puts the clock back into his sack, and motions you towards the stocking with your name on it... He points to the kobold sitting on the floor at his feet, staring up at him. You reach into the stocking, finding a small box there that, somehow, you know belongs to this being...

Feeling oddly friendly to him (you being an Elf, and all), you hand the small, oddly-wrapped box to the kobold (who, wonder of wonders, accepts it from you). He opens it, and inside is a collection of small sticks, and lumps of black rock.

The creature looks at them, then fingers one of the sticks, sniffing it. He then picks one, holds it in the fire for a moment, then chews something off the heated end... Shishkabobs?

Ony by one, as the music plays from the sparkling box, the other PCs are summoned to their stockings, producing gifts for the orcs and bugbear. Foods, drinks, gaudy clothing of clashing colors, red bandages the color of dried blood, and healing herbs are produced. The jolly one smiles, smoking his pipe as you distribute the goods, then motions you to your stockings, again.

You reach in, pulling out a tiny case... Unsure, you open it, revealing some very cold, red berries. Blinking, you stare at them for a moment... Holly?

"Wendy? Are these any good?" you ask, walking over to the Druid. She leaps to her feet with a squeal of delight that makes the bugbear guffaw, losing part of his jug of... whatever he's drinking. The Dwarf, pulling his arm from his own stocking laughs, too, holding a sprig of mistletoe over your head, as the Druidess snatches the goodies from both of you, lavishing hugs and kisses on you both.

"Why of course they are! Holly AND Mistletoe! You know I lost mine! Now I can use my spells, again!" The Cleric, meanwhile, has fished a few more things from his stocking... Finally, he grins, holding up a new Holy Symbol to replace the one eaten by the acid trap up on level four. Many cheers from the party ensue!

Rising, he looks at the remaining small items he had previously fished out... A pair of small wooden drumsticks go to the kobold. A pair of large bongos to an orc. A large, oddly shaped horn kind-o-thang to the bugbear, and some small items of food are heaped on the mantle, where the "guests" quickly demolish them.

"I can't use this, but maybe you can!" he tells the Ranger, who has been busy with some leather thong since he drew it from his own stocking... He hands him a knife to replace the broken-pointed one he has been trying to cut the thonging with. The Ranger smiles.

"Why thank you, brother! And this is for you!" Quick as a wink, he has snatched the Cleric's new Holy Symbol and securely fastened it to some loops of thong, dropping it about the priest's neck.

"Why thank you, my friend!" the priest replies, as the Ranger quickly finishes his chores, and rises to offer the Druidess a similar harness for her Mistletoe.

"And this must be for you, my good Dwarf!" he says, handing over a new throwing axe (to replace the one lost in the big fight back up on level two).

"An' this-here mus' be fer you, Pater!" says the Dwarf, proffering the tiniest vial of Holy Water any of you have ever seen... Hardly useful for combat, but good as a material component...

"I think I'd better pass out my gifts, next." says a deep, quiet voice, "I have to be leaving, soon!" All eyes turn towards the jolly old one, smiling by the fireplace. A respectful hush falls upon the small crowd of former enemies.

"Daerin, Ranger, Hunter of Humanoids... many are your wounds, and gone is your shield. May these suffice to cover both!" A vial and a buckler are passed, accepted gratefully, drunken, and donned. The Ranger's wounds heal over, as he admires his new defense.

"Wendy, Lady of the Woods, you were never wounded, but your path has brought you to ungentle places, where the going is hard. May these protect you, and ease your path." New leather armor and a hiking staff are passed.

"Brother Thaddeus, your power, too, has been restored, but these few simples will aid you in bringing healing and light to the dark, and reviving yourself." Another healing draught, some material components, and a Healer's Kit are handed to the Cleric.

"Grognard, son of Tankard, Fighter of Deeping Delve! Your wounds are always the deepest, as your caution is the least! Carry these, and use them wisely, and perhaps your life will be spared!" The Dwarf receives a helmet to go over his chainmail coif, and three healing draughts. He consumes two immediately, his many wounds shrinking in size, then thinks better of drinking the third, tucking it away in his girdle. The fat man smiles.

"And for Elfstone, the Mage," says the now-solemn jolly man, eyeing the comatose figure wrapped in his bedroll and laying in the corner, "I have this," (he holds up a small pot of salve, and a spell component case). "You will have to apply most of the salve to him before he can join the party, I fear..."

"And finally," the old one sighs, eyes twinkling a bit less, "to Eowyn, Paladin or Rochan, dead now these two days..." He turns to Brother Thaddeus, again. "I give to you, to hold for her, these things... This salve, to anoint her body, for Restful Repose. This note to Pater Dinkin at the Temple of Nurn in the Cwm (he'll know what to do with it, when you get her there), and this vial of dust, to be sprinkled over Vellerun, her steed. He will stay with her and carry her body, thereafter... And finally, this helm... Tell her to wear it, instead of the dern one with the giant split in it!" He smiles and winks, as the brother accepts the gifts for your fallen ally.

Finally, he turns to you. "And for you, my young friend, I have but a poor gift, I'm afraid... I know that you would rather have a magic sword, but giving weapons rather works against Peace on Earth, and Goodwill towards Men... Instead I have three things, for you, each useful in their own time. This scroll, a key, and this small bag of spikes, which you are to throw away, when the time is right..." Handing over these odd gifts, he turns to the kobold.

"Jikki, son of Kosh-narg, you will enjoy your sticks and coal, for the world is a cold, cruel place to a small one, such as you. Yet you have not wholly succumbed to it! You may yet rise far above your own kind, if you do not misuse the gifts you ask for... So in token of this, I have two gifts for you." Reaching into his bag, the stranger pulls out a motley hat, with a jingling bell. Cutting the silver bell of the cap's tail, he hands it to the kobold, then sets the cap upon his head, where it promptly falls obligingly over one of his eyes.

While the creature capers, shaking the bell in excitement, the jolly man reaches into his bag and produces the tiniest masterwork harp any of you have ever seen. Unbelievably, he hands it to the kobold, who reaches up with straining fingers to grab it!

""AH-ahh-ahhh!" he cries, racing over to the corner where the magical box sits, trying to play along with the carols, to the amusement of the orcs and bugbear. He squeaks something in Draconic (you assume), which Santa answers, in kind.

"You have always been a fool, Jikki," says the bugbear, "now a right proper fool you can be!" The orcs all laugh raucously, and even the PCs have to chuckle (especially Elfstone, who is now up and checking out the food on the mantle, having missed all the meals, today, while unconscious).

"And to you, Billi the Axe, and Grondo and Grohndo, sons of Grogor... I know all you want is better weapons, but those I'll not give out, as you've all misused the ones you have!" An edge of flint and iron enters the old man's voice, threatening to spark flames, if any of the orcs deny their misdeeds. None do; they all shuffle their feet and stare at their horny toes, like errant schoolboys called to task. "Neither would you appreciate sticks and coal, even though they might warm your cold hearts... Therefore; I give to each of you the following: Grondo, to you I give a new prybar, to replace the one you broke opening the door. May you never misuse it!" The orc accepts his gift with some confusion, then bows, and sits down. "Billi and Grohndo, to you I give these magic rings, and a warning... They will allow you to become a small mouse, exactly ONCE in your life, but be warned! Once you go mouse, you never go back!"

The two orcs stare at the rings for an instant, then snatch them, and put them on. Jikki squints at them from the corner, and they turn away, retreating to the opposite side of the room.

"And last but not least, to you, Grum, son of Grond," he says to the bugbear, still sitting on the floor, "I return this: The crown of the Lower Halls, stolen from your great grandfather by Olagoff, the Troll." The bugbear stands slowly, eyes wide, as a battered crown with only a few shattered gems remaining, is drawn from Santa's sack.

"Where you get this?" croaks "King" Grum.

"It was recovered by Eowyn of Rochan, at the cost of her life! She slew Olagoff,... with the help of these few..." Santa indicates you.

"Oh!" grunts the bugbear, looking chagrined. Then he smiles, putting on the oversized crown. "Olagoff dead? That good!" A chorus of cheers rise up from Jikki and the orcs, as Daerin the Humanoid-Hunter winces. Elfstone offers him a glass of brew...

"AND NOW," says the oddly-garbed man, "I must be going! I have other presents to deliver!" A chorus of goodbyes erupt from all of you, both good creatures and evil, but he raises his hands, shushing you.

"Now humanoids," he says, "don't forget to give these nice people THEIR presents!" The orcs and Grum look shocked, as Jikki hugs his harp, looking alarmed.

"MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL, AND TO ALL, A GOOD NIGHT!" says Santa. Then, stepping into the fire with his great black boots, he lays his finger aside of his nose, and rises up the chimney, out of sight.

Except for the oddly twinkling, tinkling music box, the room is silent for a moment... The room seems... emptier... without the red-clothed man, somehow! Then, King Grum clears his throat. The orcs cringe. Apparently, this means some great pronouncement is coming...

"Grum got no gifts," he says, "What peoples want?"

"Maybe we could ask him for the way out?" suggests Elfstone.

Grum smiles. "Grum knows ALL the ways, and what's there!" the bugbear replies. A long session of map making (requiring several more draws from the stockings, since no one has any map-making tools left) soon reveals that he doesn't, but where Grum falls down, Billi gets to give his present, and where Billi falls down, Grondo has been, and where he hasn't, Grohndo has.

As you sit, listening, you begin to understand why Santa didn't bring the dungeon's denizens any stockings... This way, they had to give you "presents" of information, instead!

After a map has been hashed out (and Grum has warned you away from the Ogres, and Minotaurs, and the Dragon, and other such things "too big to fight"), he orders Jikki over to offer his present... The surly kobold looks most unhappy, clutching his new harp.

Absent-mindedly humming along with the music box, Wendy suddenly breaks into a carol, just to break the tension. That does it! Now everyone is singing (some better than others), with the orcs banging on the bongos, or slapping hands and feet on the bare stone floor, and Jikki using the drumsticks. Several more carols follow, until Grognard gets up to go fish in his stocking, again. He's at it for a while, until finally he finds what he wanted!

"Ah! Here it is! I figgered there'd be a bottle in thar, somewhar!" He chortles as he drops another load of food and drinks on the hearth. The carollers break for another long snack, after which everyone is too stuffed and full of goodwill to do much else...

Having somehow ended up next to Jikki, Daerin casually looks over the kobold's tiny harp as it tries to strum it in time with the music box. The soft sounds produced being discordant, at best.

"You know how to play that thing?" Daerin asks. Jikki stops strumming and clutches it tightly, again.

"Oh, I don't want it, I just wondered if you knew how to play?" he asks, cooly.

"No. You?" grunts the kobold.

"A little." admits the Ranger. "Here, you hold it, and I'll showya... Like this, see?" The orcs says something in orcish, and then laugh. Something about Elves' fingers and kobolds, you think. Daerin replies, also in Orcish, and they shut up.

In a few minutes, Jikki is tinkling along with the music box. Surprisingly, it is no longer discordant!

After a few more minutes, King Grum gets to his feet, saying something to the orcs. Daerin looks up, as does Jikki, and the orcs rise, grabbing whatever they can of the goodies. Jikki grabs his harp, clutching it tightly, and disappears behind the ranger.

"Well," Grum says in broken Common, "Grum go. You sleep, here. We go sleep." He shows his fangs, in what you hope is a grin, speaks to the orcs, and away they all go. Ever the cautious one, Daerin gets up and spikes the door shut, behind them, even though he does it to the cadence of "Jingle Bells".

Having "rested" all day, Elfstone volunteers to stand guard while the rest of you sleep. As you unroll your bedrolls, you finally notice Jikki, hiding in a corner...

"Uhm, guys? Looks like our harper stayed behind..." Everyone stops to look.

"No take harp," says the big-eyed bundle of rags in the corner, "Grum take harp! You no Grums!"

"I think that's the nicest compliment I've ever gotten... from a Kobold!" says Daerin. The room dissolves in laughter.

"So what're we gonna do with him?" you ask.

"Let Elfstone watch him." says the Dwarf, rolling over and dropping off to sleep. Seeing himself ignored, Jikki moves over by Daerin.

"Jikki stay?"

"Jikk behaves, Jikki stays... tonight. Jikki doesn't behave, Jikki goes back to Grum, quick!"

"No Grum!" Jikki hunches his shoulders.

"Now go away, and be quiet!" says Daerin. "Sleep time." The kobold moves off, watching him as he prepares for sleep. Seeing him remove the old, broken-pointed knife, Jikki perks up.

"You no want old knife? Jikki want!" Suspicion flares for a moment, even with all of the good cheer in the room. Daerin gives the scrawny jester a cold, penetrating look.

"Why?" Jikki looks uncomfortable, sensing a test. He looks down, then shrugs, and slowly pulls out the small box of sticks and coal. Fishing in his pocket, he retrieves a small piece of rock.

"Sticks!" he says, pointing. "Coal!... Flint!"

"Steel." the Ranger finishes for him.

"WARM!" effuses the kobold, hugging himself and blaring his eyes.

Irritated by his own, uncharacteristic feeling of generosity towards a favored enemy, he holds the blade up, catching Jikki's eyes. The kobold looks at it, him, it, him, again...

"You ever misuse this, and you won't even have a chance to regret it..."

"No misuse!" Jikki gulps (wondering what misuse means).

"Better not." says Daerin. Sensing no motive other than an honest desire for a tool and fire maker, Daerin tosses the kobold his old knife, flipping the blade towards him. Jikki catches it (without injury), grinning like an imp, and scurries away to the hearth, where he settles down to sharpen the blade on the stones.

The night passes. Eventually, sleep visits most, but Elfstone keeps an eye out, and Jikki does what he can to repair HIS new knife's blade. Once, Daerin wakes up, sensing something. Out of one barely-opened eye, he sees Jikki crouched nearby, newly-sharpened knife in hand...

Tensing, the humanoid-hunter prepares to draw and strike, but relaxes as he sees Jikki eyeing the knife in his sheath... Is he plotting murder, or just theft?

The kobold's eyes go back to his own, broken blade, again. Then he looks up at the ceiling, says something, shrugs, and goes back to the hearth. Elfstone glances at him, as he goes.

Daerin, who speaks Draconic, understood. "A point would have been nice... but thanks." After a few minutes, he goes back to sleep. The rest of the night is undisturbed.

The next morning, everyone wakes up (alive, even, with the single exception of Eowyn). Last night's cheer seems almost a dream, except that there is Jikki, still trying to sharpen a point on his stub of a blade, and the refuse left by the orcs' feasting... Indeed, the cheer would have been gone, entirely, if not for the moving images somehow magically inscribed on the stockings still hanging above the chimney!

"Y'don't suppose these still work, doya?" queries the Dwarf.

"I can't read any of them," Elfstone says, "It must be Illusionary Script! What do they say?"

"This one has my name on it," replies Wendy, "but you're right! I can't read the rest!" Sticking her hand inside, she squeals, pulling out an orange. "It works!"

"Walnuts!" says Grognard, pulling out a handful.

"Well, at least you've found a non-violent use for that throwing axe I gave you, last night!" laughs Daerin.

"Walnuts, and BEER!" yells the Dwarf, fishing out a couple of bottles. "Now THAT's breakfast!"

Brother Thaddeus and Wendy thoughtfully gift Elfstone and Jikki with some of their bounty, as the pair had no stockings of their own. Elfstone accepts some cheese danishes, while Jikki enjoys a few chunks of cheese with the remainders of his shishkabobs.

While the spellcasters meditate or memorize, Daerin and Grognard take over the watch, sharing a few walnuts cracked by the Dwarf's new axe. Jikki joins them, brandishing his new snub-nosed knife in an attempt to catch the Ranger's attention.

"Y'know," says Grognard, "usually, I'd be in a hurry to get out of here, and baptize my new axe in Orc-blood, or sumpthin', but today..."

"I know what you means," says Daerin, "today, I just don't feel like fighting. I'd rather find another way out... Do you think Grum and his Orcs still feel the same way? They seemed okay, last night..."

"Grum no like peoples. Peoples no like Grum. Grum no trust peoples. Peoples no trust Grum unless peoples dumb as Grum."

"That settles it!" laughed Grognard. Jikki grinned, too.

"Jikki come? Play Jingly Bells?" he asked, trying to appear innocent.

"You want to come with us, Jikki?" asked Elfstone, coming up behind them. "Why?"

"Go somewhere warm? Make fires for peoples? Play Jingly Bells? No Grum! Keep harp!" He squinted at the Elf, wondering if he'd said too much... Elves were supposed to be bad!

Elfstone squinted at Daerin. The other Elf returned the gaze, nonplussed. Elfstone shrugges. "Fine by me!" Jikki grinned, immediately launching into a rousing rendition of "Jingly Bells" (which seemed slightly better than last night's rendition). Once again, the group found themselves carolling, despite being trapped in the Dungeon of Doom...

When the song was done, Jikki carefuly put away his harp, and asked, "Jikki get box?"

"The box!" said Elfstone. He had completely forgotten it, even though it had been playing - fairly loudly - all night! As Daerin and Grognard removed the spikes and opened the door, Brother Thaddeus and Wendy pulled out their Everburning Torches. Jikki grabbed the box, and closed it. The multi-colored lights dies, and the cheery music suddenly ended... The dungeon was once again dark, cold, and fearful.

"Coast's clear!" whispered Daerin.

"Okay, the plan is to head for Grum's side hall, and then wait while Daerin scouts the way. If Grum and his people don't bar the way, then it's out through the side door on the next level down." said Elfstone.

"Grum has no peoples, just Orcses." said Jikki, trying to be helpful. He was ignored.

Taking a deep breath, Daerin stepped out. "Okay, let's do it!"

The next half hour was the typical dungeon-delving they'd done many times before. Wandering through the maze of tunnels in the dark, seeing 20-40 feet ahead, and knowing that anything else down here could see their light a lot further off... Grum's map was surprisingly good, however. It seemed that the Christmas magic had held true, and their "gifts" from the Goblin-King were good.

In fairly short order, they were at the side hall of King Grum, and Daerin went off, alone, to scout the way. Jikki wouldn't have been him for all the torches in the world, but he was being quiet, so he continued saying nothing. As long as he did, everyone ignored him... He really wanted to play his harp, though!

Then Daerin came back. "Grum is in the hall, and all the other ways are blocked, too. Looks like he's expecting us." Jikki shook his head. Not good!

"I'm still not feeling like fighting... How about you?" asked Elfstone. Everyone else agreed. "I suspect, then, that maybe Grum won't either." He stopped ignoring the Kobold.

"Jikki, what would Grum do, if we... paid him a visit?"

"Paid? Grum likes pay. BIG pay! Grum not let you go, though. Grum take harp, weapons, armors, things, closes; Grum keeps. Maybe let you keep hides."

Grognard hmphed. Elfstone frowned. "Ideas? Any way we can get around this?" Everyone looked at the map, except Jikki. Much talk ensued. Finally, they decided to move to a safer location to plan. A nearby storeroom fit the bill.

"If only we could get to here..." Elfstone said, "it looks like there's a door, here. Maybe there's a way through?" Jikki looked at the map.

"No. No way through. Storeroom. Like this!" He waved his arms around him.

"Still, if we could get there, and force our way through here..." his finger traced lines, "where would we come out?" Jikki looked at the map, and pointed.

"These stairs down?" he asked.

"Yes, those are the stairs down...?" replied the Wizard.

"Then we be there, then." Jikki pointed.

"So the stairs are just on the other side of the storeroom, Jikki?"

"Yah, yah! BIG room! Like this!"

"So how thick is this wall?" asked the Dwarf. "I aint got no pick!" Jikki held up his hands, moving them farther apart, then closer, then shrugged.

"Not really know. No interest in walls. That important?" He looked a bit confused.

"It might be," said Daerin. "Depends on how hard it is to break down." He peered at the map for a few moments. "We still need to get there, though. There are orcs here, here, and here..." he stabbed the map with his finger. "We have to find another way around... Maybe go this route."

"No. Baragunda!" said Jikki.

"Huh? What's'e sayin'?" asked the Dwarf. Jikki looked irritated.

"Orc's name. Baragunda!" He pointed to the map. "Bragnor! Bragmore! Delrat! Bladuk! Snakrag! Snarbad!..."

"Okay, okay, we get it!" said the Dwarf, taking off his new helmet for a moment, to scratch his head. "So how do we get past'em?" He looked consternated, and put his helmet back on.

"Go low way." said Jikki.

"Low way?" asked Elfstone and Daerin. "Where's that? Show us on the map." The kobold shook his head. "Not on map."

"Where?" said Elfstone, glaring at the kobold. Jikki squirmed, then shrugged, trying to show them on the lines-on-paper "map" Grum and Elfstone had made. It was wrong, so it was hard, but Jikki tried.

"It goes all the way from here to the other storeroom?" Daerin demanded, angrily, after he had done his best.

"Yah," said Jikki, with a blank look, "low road is for moving stuffs. Go from one big storeroom to next. Grum yells 'BRING ME STUFF!', some little body gets kicked, told to go get suff Grum wants, hurry, hurry. Jikki get kicked a lot." He looked at the Ranger.

"Do you know where this door is, Jikki?" The kobold looked at the Wizard. He thought Wizards were supposed to be smart! He pointed. Then they couldn't find the door. Then they asked him if he knew how to open it! How could he get Grum stuff, if he didn't know how to open doors? Stupid peoples!

So Jikki opened the door, and went through. That shut them up, until he started walking towards the other storeroom. Then they called him back, and planned, some more. Lots of big Common words he didn't know. Then the pretty Wendy-lady said something about soffenstone, and everyone was very happy with Wendy! Jikki was glad; she seemed nice. Then the peoples were all ready to go, and asked Jikki to lead!

So Jikki lead them to the other storeroom, where another kobold was. Jikki made them wait until he left, then he opened the low road door, and they all entered the other big storeroom.

"See?" Jikki asked. "Big storeroom, no orcs, no trouble. Low road for kobolds, mostly. Orcs too lazy to get stuff for Grum. Lazy orcs only kick somebody smaller!" Then Wendy smiled at him, kind of funny-like. Almost sad... Sad for Jikki? Not sad for orcs? Sad for orc-kicks? Jikki smiled back.

"Okay, Wendy, time to do your stuff!" said Daerin, nocking an arrow to his bow, and facing the storeroom's main door. Wendy did some Adept stuff, and the wall became mushy. Then everyone pushed, and parts of the wall came down!

On the other side, though, were orcs that Grum had stationed to guard the stairs down. Only 50 feet or so down the hall, they shouted, and raised the alarm. The party could hear shouts going up all around them, already. Unfortunately, these orcs had entirely missed Christmas, and weren't at all feeling like avoiding a fight! Missiles started to whiz towards the party. They ducked back behind the wall.

"Oh dear!" said Wendy. "Looks like the proverbial goose is cooked!" Briefly, Jikki wondered what a proverbial goose was, whether it was good, who cooked it, where it was, whether or not the peoples would let him have some, and why the pretty Wendy-lady was thinking about it, instead of orcs? He shook it off, looked up at her, then reached up and grabbed her hand.

"Wendy-lady make more soffenstone?" he pleaded. She looked at him, wondering.

"Well, yes, but I don't see how that can help us...?"

"Soffenstone FLOOR!" Jikki urged. Her eyes lit up. She understood! She called to her friends, and then started doing the Adept-singing, again, touching the floor and rolling something in her hands. Suddenly, the floor fell, and Jikki and Wendy did, too. He landed on something soft, and rolled over to see that it was part of what used to be floor; now nice and soft. Light blazed, as Elfstone peered down from above. Wendy was okay.

"Tell peoples to jump!" yelled Jikki, running to Wendy and helping her up. There was a loud crashing noise from above, followed by yells from Daerin and Grognard, and Orcs! Then the party came jumping down, landing on the soft floor-pieces.

"Orcs broke through the storeroom, and Grum's behind them!" said Daerin.

"GRUM IS HERE!" the bugbear yelled from up above. "Seal off the stairs, and cover this hole! Keep them down there! You lot! Get down there and don't let them out!"

There were some muffled replies, and then orcs started raining down (some willingly, a few apparently kicked). Jikki looked around, fear growing in his belly... and it wasn't because of the orcs!

Jikki's foot had struck coins. The peoples' magic torches shed greenish light on gold. Jikki had never had gold, but even he knew it wasn't just left lying around on the floor! He crouched, peering into the shadows, and started trying to slink away into cover, somewhere... ANYWHERE!

The peoples and the orcs started fighting, but the peoples and two of the orcs didn't want to. They just tried to get away... And then it happened!

The terrible sound shook the ceiling, and even the orcs above trying to seal the hole stopped for a moment. Then they pushed more stuff over the hole, and screamed. Lots of orcs down here screamed, too, and all but two of them ran for the exit. Flames shot out and fried them all...

And then the voice spoke, again. "Who dares enter my den?" Jikki had never seen a dragon, before, and he didn't want to, now. But he did! It was all greenish and golden, in the torchlight, and big, big, big! Bigger than hundreds of Grums! Bigger than that Troll the Paladin-lady had killed! Bigger than lots of Trolls! Maybe too big to notice poor kobolds? Jikki certainly hoped so!

"Uhm, we do," answered Daerin, in Draconic, "but we were chased here by orcs, uh..." he trailed off, as the dragon drew nearer.

"And where are the orcs?" the voice asked.

"Well, there are two... uh... standing here," Daerin motioned towards the two who had been in the room with the red-suited fat people. The dragon lowered her head for a better look.

The orcs panicked. They wanted out, and they didn't want to die! ANYTHING was better than that! Anything? Even being a small, insignificant creature? Like a mouse?

Yes! Even that! *Poof!* No more orcs. Two tiny little mices, instead. They crouched down, and froze.

The dragon's eyes narrowed. She looked back at Daerin. "What is this?" she hissed. Wendy stepped forward.

"Uhm, can you speak Common? I'm afraid most of us don't know Draconic, uh... Ma'am?" The dragon looked irritated, and Jikki cringed.

"Yes. Now where are the orcs?" snapped the dragon. Wendy jumped.

"There are a whole host of them, on the stairs, Lady!" replied Elfstone, thinking fast. The dragon cast him a glance.

"The two who were just here! Did you polymorph them, or were they just illusions?" Elfstone looked confused. Wendy tried to step in and tell her that no, they were real, but she didn't know where they went, and...

The dragon looked very angry. She was staring at Wendy, who was very scared, and talking faster and faster (and making no sense) and... Jikki gulped. They were all going to die! Wendy, and the peoples, and the Dwarf, and the two Elves, including the one who had showed him how to play Jingly Bells, and the other one who had let him sit by the fire all night, and even the Dwarf had let him have some walnuts for breakfast, and lick the bottles, and nobody had kicked him in two days, and...

Just when life started to get better, and the funny red-suited old people had given him a harp, and he was learning to play it! Now, he had to run into a dragon, and they were all going to die!

Still, the Christmas magic was working, and even though he wanted to run, and didn't want to die, he didn't want to see Wendy die, either! She was nice, and pretty, and she'd given him some cheese for breakfast, and even the Ranger and the other Elf were pretty nice... He realized that he liked these Dwarves and Elves and Peoples, more than any of the orcs, or even Kobolds that he had ever known! The last two days (all except the last few minutes) were the best times he'd ever had...

He had to do something! But what?

She wanted orcs? Okay, he'd give her the orcs!

As he decided, she breathed in, and started to open her mouth... OH, NO! She was going to breathe on Wendy!

He jumped, and her head snapped around, tracking him. He landed and snatched up the two cowering mice, then flipped open the music box with the other hand. It began playing, and he paused (fearing being flamed), and put up the longest rod. The carols rang through the cavern at some volume...

"See?" he asked, holding up the mice-orcs and trying not to look at her. "Here are the orcs! They were very afraid of you, and used their mice-rings to go mouse!"

The dragon looked from him, to Wendy, to the music box (blaring, with multicolored lights), to Elfstone, to Daerin, to Grognard, to you, and back to Jikki and the two mice he was holding.

"Bring them here." she ordered.

"But..." Jikki began.

"NOW!" Jikki ran to obey, but he really wanted to run the other way... His feet didn't want to obey him, and he slipped in the piles of loose coins, going down hard. The mice scrambled for cover.

"CATCH THEM!" the dragon roared. Jikki scrambled after them, while Daerin drew his bow.

"ALIVE!" she hissed. He dropped it in his hasty retreat.

Meanwhile, Jikki was pursuing the two mice through piles of coins, while they did their best to escape. Eventually, the dragon sank down on her haunches, closer to the action. She seemed almost like a cat, watching birds play outside the window. At last, the kobold cornered the remaining mouse in a goblet, and brought the pair to her.

"Try that again, and I shall EAT you!" she said in orcish. Jikki cringed. "Not you, jester. THEM!" she said, as she eyed him. He relaxes, slightly. The mice froze. Jikki held them up, by their tails. The dragon inspected them, then she did an Adept-song, too... It was kind of like Draconic, only it wasn't... but there were words in it, too. Jikki couldn't understand it, but he knew it was magic. He shook his head. She noticed, and he froze, again. She finished whatever she was doing, then examined the orcs carefully.

When done, she instructed Jikki to put them in the goblet, and go get a plate to set on top of it, heaping coins on top of that... The mouse-orcs being thus secured, she turned her attention back to the party...

"This way," she said, "Elf, pick up your bow, but if you try to use it... you know what will happen." Daerin did as he was told, and they preceeded the dragon. "Bring my mice," she told Jikki, "and that music box!" He, too, obeyed.

She secured them in a large room (without coins on the floor), with a door big enough to let her head in. They were trapped! She ordered them to sit, and keep their hands away from their weapons... Then she turned back to Jikki.

"Now, mouse-rings?" And so the tale began. She wanted to know all about them. Then she made Jikki remove the plate, and take the rings off the mice. Then she looked at them very closely, again. Then more questions! Where had they gotten them? She threatened them, if they lied. No one dared!

When they came to the part about the people in the red suit, she stopped him. "Santa Claus?" Jikki didn't understand. Elfstone cleared his throat. She looked at him, expectently.

"Ah, if I may, Madam... He didn't give his name, but I believe that he is known as that, to some... The Elves call him Chris O'Karningle..."

"Kris Kringle?!" asked Grognard, in surprise, then quickly shut up as the dragon's great eye turned his way.

"Aye, and Santa Claus, Father Christmas, the Yuletide Spirit, and many other names." Elfstone added.

"And Grand Pere... something, I forget, in distant lands, I have heard..." added the Ranger.

"And a thousand names besides!" finished the dragon. "I think that you had better start at the beginning..." So they started with the noises in the chimney, and the appearance of the Santa Claus, and hanging the stockings. When they got to the point of the music box, she asked to see it, too, and again examined it closely. Then the tale continued until Grum, the orcs, and Jikki arrived. Then she made him back up and tell her what he had been doing before that. Once satisfied, the party told the rest of the happenings until they had arrived in her lair.

"Very interesting... and all true!" she said, looking at the mouse-rings now littering the floor. She mused for a moment.

"Let me see the stockings!" Everyone jumped. Elfstone was the first to respond.

"Well, they may not work, now..." he said.

"They worked this morning," said Jikki, "maybe she's hungry!" OOPS! He wished he hadn't said that! What did hungry dragons eat, anyway? Not kobolds?

Anything they want!, he thought, and giggled. She noticed.

In any case, the stockings were soon produced, and many small gifts were produced. So what do you give the dragon who has everything in her hoard? Various meats went over well, a few coins were produced, but she seemed unimpressed. A large, pink rubber handball (such as Elfstone said people children played with) was, perhaps, the biggest hit, even though the first time he threw it it hit her in the mouth. She seemed to like things that bounced!

After the party had refreshed themselves, she wanted to see the gifts. When she got to Jikki's harp, she wanted to hear him play, so he did "Jingly Bells" the best he could. It was harder than usual, because his hands were shaking, but he got through it... Then she told him it was "Jingle Bells", and he had some of the words wrong, and made him do it again. When he got it right, she made everyone sing... After that, she seemed in a better mood, and they sang some more carols as the music box played, and Jikki tried to pick out a few chords on the harp.

Eventually, you had to ask what she was going to do with the lot of you... She replied that she was going to make you stay overnight, and that Wendy had to memorize her Soften Stone spells, again. Then, they were going to use them to penetrate the walls, and after that, everyone would be free to go. Her presence was a bit intimidating, but since death didn't seem to be on the agenda, everyone calmed down enough to sleep. Luckily, she didn't snore...

The next day, the dragon used her flames, twice, to torch as many orcs guarding the staircase as she could. Then, the gate was opened, and the party had their first breath of fresh air in weeks! After that, Wendy's spells allowed the dragon to pushed down the parts of the wall supporting the gates.

"There!" she said. "Now, we can all leave!"

"What? You mean you were trapped here?" asked Elfstone, in shock.

"For longer than you've been alive, Elf-Mage! And now, your Wendy has freed me! What a wonderful (if late!) Christmas present! Thank you all, ever so much!"

"So you no eat us?" asked Jikki, hoping. The dragon's laughter shook the remaining walls, and frightened orc on the two levels above, so that they ran and hid.

She didn't eat you, of course. Instead, she offered the party a job... Free of her lair at long last (after having grown too big to use the exits left by the orcs), she now needed help transporting her treasure hoard to a new location... The party agreed, but first, there was another job to be done...

So the party climbed up out of the valley, and back to the entrance to the dungeon, where their faithful men-at-arms were still camped, taking care of the horses. They sprinkled the dust on Eowyn's mount, then fought their way back down through the levels to where they'd been forced to abandon her body. They used Santa's salve to preserve her, then fought their way back out again. A few days later, at the Temple of Nurn, Brother Thaddeus was able to present her with the helmet Santa had left her... after she was resurrected, of course. Santa's letter to the Pater had done that, too.

And Jikki? He never did misuse Daerin's old knife. He quickly learned enough Common to understand what "misuse" meant, and found out his new friends weren't really dumb, after all. While they regaled the healing Eowyn with tales of the adventures after Olagoff had died, Jikki disappeared, for a while, then reappeared, again... By then, the stockings had stopped working, and the music box, too, but Jikki had learned to actually play the harp.

Yep, that's right, folks,... A Kobold Bard! Santa said he had the potential to outdo the rest of his race, and boy did he ever! Even Daerin and Grognard had to grudgingly admit that they could use a first level Bard in the party (even if he was a Kobold). He came in handy a few times, as they helped the dragon load up her treasure and move it to her new, top-secret lair... Then she told Jikki to make up a new song, and spread it everywhere, telling where Krakillith the Golden had hidden her fortune! And, of course, he did!

And he bacame a great adventurer, too, and was never kicked again. He always had a fire spell handy, and whenever he saw someone else being oppressed, and kicked, especially, he had a decided tendancy to immulate Krakillith, and roast their buns...

He kept Daerin's knife even after he had enough money to buy a good one, too... even though Daerin and Grognard (and eventually the rest) kept reminding him that it was pointless...

The next year, of course, someone eventually remembered the Christmas Stockings, and the music box, and they pulled them all out... The 15th, it was, and they were working, again! Naturally, the first thing out of the first one tried was a new knife, of peculiarly koboldish design!

On the 25th, Santa dropped in, again, and Elfstone, Eowyn, and Jikki got their own stockings. They stopped working on the 31rst, of course, but on the first of the next December, they started up, again. Vellerun (Eowyn's steed)'s "stocking" was more of a feedbag which filled three times/day. Unlike the others, it didn't stop working, and was a staple of Vellerun's adventure until the day he died.

The orc-mice, of course, remained so. As Santa had warned them, "Once you go mouse, you never go back!" As far as we know, Krakillith kept them... maybe they still push the pink ball around her treasue pile... Who knows? (If Jikki does, he isn't writing any songs about it!)

And of course, Santa and the party had plenty of other adventures... But we have to leave some tales for next year, right? :D
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Richard Rawen

First Post
Tis amazing what you'll find wandering the halls of EN World-gone-by...
I hope this bump brings a bit O the Christmas spirit into you all, Lord knows the bad news needs some competition to lift our spirits, no matter what time of year it is!

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