Canker Sore Part III: How the Cookie Crumbled

At last, the party stood before the confectionery castle. Sheer walls rose dizzyingly into the sky, encasing a set of monumental gates. We cast about for a viable point of entry, only to discover Mersh had absconded yet again. He always has something cooking, so we let it be. As had become habitual, Buckles took a sampling of the building material: rock sugar, naturally. If I wasn’t contractually obliged to be spokesperson of whimsicality, I might have joined Tibles in his exasperation.

Staring blankly at the blank rock-sugar face, we finally tried the door, which swung inward with only a moderate creak. It seems they really didn’t anticipate intruders here. Or perhaps Krampus was confident in his ability to dispatch any so foolish to dare trespass in his halls. There was no welcome mat, but no booby traps either, and so we made our way inside.

Four doors faced us: one labelled Factory, another indicating Krampus’ office, a third leading to the “Basement” and a fourth, unmarked door. We first investigated the Basement, and sure enough uncovered a dank dungeon. Corpses lined the cells, though none remained alive. Peregrine had been here, but no longer. There was nothing for us there, and we marched up the stairs again. Well, I can never resist a mystery, so this time I crossed to the unmarked door and opened it to reveal… a broomcloset. Something about it got Tibles’ wizard’s senses were tingling however, and with a wave of his hand, the buckets dissolved and there stood an extensive alchemy lab.

Beakers and potions of all descriptions littered the scene, and a hefty tome rested on a pedestal in the center of the room. While I helped myself to some little bits and bobs, Tibles examined the book. It contained spells of powerful evil, and he happened upon the one used to create the Cinnamon stone. The enchantment could only be undone by its opposite, which would explain the stone’s imperviousness to our brute force attacks. We tried reciting the enchantment backwards, and a few other stock tricks of the trade, when a thought struck me. The opposite of such evil as Krampus, must be the purity of joy and cheer epitomized by the Spirit of Solstice. Inviting my companions to add their voices in song, I took up my harp, and directed the full force of a rousing carol at the festering spice rock. Our voices melded in camaraderie and nostalgia, and the stone cracked down the middle like the crustiest of humbugs. The elves had no more to fear from the Cinnamon stone. Their minds were free from Krampus’ icy clutches.

Peregrine was still captive however. Tibles stashed the spellbook for safekeeping, and we entered the factory door to continue our search. Though the elves were no longer in thrall, the nutcrackers still remained hostile. We were met by a sorry scene, the little workers rebelling against their wind-up oppressors, and our aid was too little, too late. All the elves were slaughtered. Just as we were about to jump in and finish off the evil automatons, Krampus himself appeared on a balcony opposite, with Peregrine in chains behind him. Mersh appeared then, and drew the ice demon’s gaze from us. Grateful for the distraction, we slipped away to ambush the monster from behind.

The only other passage left was though the door marked “Krampus”, and how fitting that was. We charged up a narrow stone passageway to find our way barred by an enchanted door. It tasked us with riddles to forestall our advance. Time was of the essence, and so long as I call myself their bard, no talking door was going to get the best of the Tiki Company. Woe to he who challenges Moira Magee to a riddle battle.

Deftly dispatching its attempts at profundity, we bested the obstacle and proceeded into Krampus’ office. I had expected more of a lair lay out, but that was neither here nor there. Doors at the back opened onto the balcony where Mersh bravely continued to battle Krampus. Quickly we flipped the mighty oaken desk to serve as a makeshift barricade, Tibles then cast a pit at the entrance to entrap the great beast.

Finally, we were ready. We made our presence known, and Krampus burst into the study with an enraged roar, quickly turning to surprise as he tumbled down into the magical pit. From there, we set to the great demon. Arrows and spells bombarded him, and there was no chance of escape. In his death throes, Krampus lashed out with dagger like claws, and we jumped and wove to avoid the deadly thrashing. At last, the giant’s hands began to slacken their grip on the edge of the pit as Krampus gradually slackened his grip on the world. With a murderous bellow, he fell to the depths amid a nest of writhing tentacles, fire and poisonous gas, and was silent.

Seeing Peregrine’s sorry condition from across the pit, I dug into Volkin’s saddlebag for a restorative herbal remedy, and hurled it across the void. This roused the catatonic ranger enough so Mersh could help him cross over to the rest of the party. We had just begun to assess Peregrine’s wounds when an ominous, low rumbling permeated the air. Without the magic of its architect to sustain it, the plane of Krampus was disintegrating.

There was no time to loose. Buck hoisted Peregrine on his shoulders, and we took off at a dead – or rather-not-be-dead – run towards the portal. As we sprinted, consuming our very last reserves of energy, the landscape was coming apart at the seams. In the village, a gathering of elves stood patiently, fatalistically, while their cookie houses crumbled down around their pointed ears.

We shouted for then to run, to save themselves, but they only smiled sadly. They would not make it, and this plane was the only place they could exist. By saving our friend, we had inadvertently destroyed the existence of an entire species. But we had also prevented the deaths of possibly hundreds more of Ashan’s citizens. Such are life’s choices.

Gasping and faltering, we all tumbled helter-skelter though the unremarkable arch, just as it too collapsed to dust behind us. We were safe, and Krampus was destroyed, along with all his creations, for better or for worse.

Now all that remained was to deliver the sad news to the inhabitants of the New Shire: we had come too late to save the rest of the townsfolk. Buckles took Peregrine to find his faithful Doug waiting by a nearby lake, and the rest of us respectfully gave them some time alone together. Those two had catching up to do, and I was told it was unlikely it would be a pretty sight. So it goes.
Tibles, Mersh, Albion and I turned with leaden steps towards the village. We did not know how much time had passed, and we stopped a passing youngster to inquire, “What’s today, my fine fellow?”

“To-day? replied the boy, “Why it’s Solstice Day!"

Though days had passed, the majority of the population didn’t seem to have noticed, for the party roared on with just as much zeal as when we had left. We looked at one another sadly – a fine day for the news we had to deliver. Nevertheless, we prepared to enter the tavern, when a ghostly apparition appeared before us.

It was Jeffery, the karma accountant from before. He explained to us that, due to the large influx of souls in the past few weeks, and some shoddy bookkeeping by the sodding interns a clerical error, they would have to return a large portion of the kidnapped victims. All around us, astonished halflings began to materialize in the crisp winter air. The strange lights caught the attention of the revelers in the tavern, and some began to emerge, blinking, into the daylight.

Numerous touching reunion scenes ensued, not the least when Peregrine emerged from the forest, and swung his Bonny in an elated arc.

The Toques were reunited, and Solstice was saved. All in a few days’ work for the celebrated Tiki Company.

This calls for a ballad. Ach, but this wretched cold still has me harp out of tune.

— Moira Magee

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