Canker Sore Part I: The Frosting

Ah, at last I have a moment to set down the tale. Though, the snow burns me scribbling hand, so I'll try to be brief.

Piece by piece, the Tiki Company was beginning to reassemble. There be mischief in these frosty winds, and devils take me if these lads aren’t the ones to sniff it out. The good Artemis had called a party gathering, and after a fair bit o’ tromping, Tibles, Buckles, the amnesic Mersh, and meself finally thawed our boots in the Dusty Drink — mercy me, you wouldn’t recognize it! The townsfolk seemed to weather the weather in good cheer, however. Even if the local taste in Solstice carols is a mite off-colour. But I’ve wandered off track.

In efficient, journalistic style, Artemis related the tale of disappearances sweeping across the continent like a bad cold. With the bad cold. This concerned the good hearts of me colleagues, and we pondered how to approach this particular pickle jar, when a glowing pink hobbit tumbled through the tavern door. I’ve never seen a creature so starved for a bit of breath. The lad – Dasher, I gathered from his wheezings – thrust us a letter from his steamy paw.

Peregrine was gone.

The letter was from a distraught Bonny; the roving halfling had been missing for three days when the letter was written, and now more like weeks. This was serious for one so versed in the art of survival as that tricksy Touque. After a stunned moment of digestive silence, the party sprang into action. I don’t think I’ve ever seen three hundred pounds of dragon move so fast.
Only pausing to tug our woolens back into their armour-like configuration, we saddled our mounts of magic and muscle and mounted our rescue mission, towing a rogue accepting the name of Mersh along for the ride.

An oddly injury-free breakneck gallop brought us to the “New Shire”, where though the town may be merry, the outlook was anything but bright. And the gatherin’ gloom was none helped by a queerly loomin’ mansion which had appeared at the outskirts of the halfling settlement, I tell ye. We were told it were a rich recluse named Scourge who lived in that there monstrosity, and true to appearances was definitely not a community minded fellow.

We were greeted enthusiastically by Bonny, and all trundled into her comfy hobbitage to get the tale in full. Bushels of drying “herbs” hung from every rafter and cornice, givin’ the whole abode a right mellow air. There was a mite o’ the meet and greet with Peregrine’s lad Belkar – a healthier sprout I never saw – and it would’ve been a big ol’ family reunion, if it hadn’t been for the glaring absence of a crucial member.

Bonny related that Peregrine had been roaming about the woods at night when he disappeared. There had been disappearances every night since, and the townsfolk were becoming increasingly disturbed. We decided to get the investigation underway as soon as possible, and set out for the local watering hole to gather some more information.

On the way, we ran into – or rather, were run into by – a living rockslide going by the name of Albion. We were about to continue on to the tavern, when a demented screaming caught our ears. The resident in the dark mansion was screaming his miserly head off it seemed. We figured we should go see what was happening, in case this meant the inhabitant was the next victim of the mysterious disappearances. Mersh volunteered to go to the tavern and gather the townsfolk, while Tibles, Buck, Albion and I set off for the mansion.

We were greeted by a friendly, if absent-minded butler, and talked our way upstairs to the source of the wailin’. He appeared to have had a mighty fright – and indeed he told us a ghost had come a-callin’ just recently. Seeing as we were competent folk, he offered us a princely sum for protection from the paranormal intruder, should it return. We could nay refuse the blighted bugger – me especially in the golden light of promised payment – so we decided to stay.

Before we had a moment to cool our heels, the aforementioned spirit materialized before us. The band of us confronted the ghost, demanding to know the reason for this haunting. The ghost, deciding to go by the name o' Jeffrey for the day, revealed that our patron’s karma accounts were in need of balancing, and he was tasked with the audit.

Much pleading and weighing of souls ensued, until our good Cavalier decided that Scourge had been true to his name for too long, and it was about time he answered for his miserly ways. But bless him; Buck didn’t leave the old sod entirely in the lurch. For, before pocketing the 800 gold pieces and abandoning him to the ghostly accountant, Buck promised to donate his portion to Scourge’s sorry excuse for an orphanage in Gootham. That ought to make up for something at least.

Precious daylight was wasting, so we hurried back to the tavern to meet with Mersh. Quick thinking as always, he had gathered the town’s population in the tavern to keep them safe from any further disappearances. Though, I reckon the townsfolk didnae need much of a reason for a party. We waded through the seething throngs of halflings, finally gathering out in the gathering night.
With no time to lose, we set off for the site of Peregrine’s disappearance. To draw out the nasties lurking in the woods, our competent Rogue went out in front while the rest of us followed at a cautious distance. We arrived at the cliffs without incident, however, and it seemed as if the trail had gone cold. With few other options presenting themselves, Tibles went to investigate an unremarkable – remarkably unremarkable in fact – stone archway we had passed on our way. True to his wizardly senses, the archway was heavily enchanted. On its side, an inscription in a strange, ancient language warned that this was the entrance to the realm of Krampus, and peril awaited all who dared to enter. Well, this was a wee bit confusin’, till Tibles related his memories of the childhood myth of the demon Krampus, who comes at the time of Solstice to steal away the wicked. Now, we put the two together, and figured it must be this Krampus fella what has captured Peregrine, but for the life o’ me I can’t imagine why such an upstanding citizen would be a target for this fairy-tale villain. Whilst the wizard and me were theorizing, that promise o’ peril was a mite too appetizing for Mersh, and quick as you please he stepped under the archway, and out of sight.

Alarmed, we all piled in after Mersh, and found ourselves… on the other side of the arch. Except, it wasn’t. Time had passed, or gone backward, and it was day once more. Thick, fluffy snow carpeted the ground, and it was oddly quiet, except for a far off, mechanical hum. As we stood trying to make sense of the shift, we spied a group of small humanoid creatures running towards us. They looked akin to wee elves, and I hailed them hoping for some explanation of this place.

In answer, they bared small, striped and pointed teeth, and redoubled their approach. Alas, no solstice-cheer from this lot.
Tibles was first on the draw, and engulfed the garishly-clad horde in a mighty fireball, but to no avail. Albion, Buckles and Mersh set to with relish, and made short work of the candy-coated minions, minus one. Before the last elf was slain, Tibles and I managed to call off the muscle.

The poor thing revealed the group had not been running to us, but rather running from… from him. Krampus. Feeling sick to my stomach, whether from their poison candy-cane daggers, fear or guilt, I sent the lone survivor on his way to the portal.
There was nothing for it then, we ventured further into the sinister, sugary plane. Soon, we came upon a shanty town – no doubt where the luckless elves had lived – made entirely of life-size gingerbread houses. Tibles found this a bit difficult to stomach, but the hardy Buck and Vulcan had no such trouble. Eh, this was a right queer fairy-land, and no mistake.

After munching through a few walls, we uncovered a couple cowering elves, who willing to spill more about the situation in exchange for our quick departure. Krampus had the elves mining sugar in nearby hills, and kept his prisoners in the factory. We also heard vague tales of a mysterious object called the Cinnamon Stone, which seems to have some influence over the elves. So, the mines were our destination.

We were beginning to form a plan of attack, when lo! The demon himself appeared. Our noisy snacking had not gone unnoticed: enormous, blue skinned and cloven-hoofed, Krampus stood enraged before us.

We stood our ground, and fell into battle formation. My comrades fought valiantly, and I spurred them onwards with my song, while Tibles granted his magical protection. Albion and Buckles cut deep into Krampus’ evil hide, never giving an inch. Mersh danced with a deadly grace, and nearly brought the demon low. But, ere the killing blow could be struck, Krampus turned his cowardly tail and fled to his lair with all the speed of a wounded beast.

Too battle weary to give chase, me brave compatriots slumped on the blood-soaked snow, awaiting the wizard’s healing touch. Failing to slay the ice-bound face of evil outright, we went to strike at his secret, cinnamon heart.

~ Moira Magee

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