A Holly, Jolly Christmas Adventure

Eleth lien na falathier al kalenthyir dar latherbethin varnyir marstur da na kaleth falthen zethis puth vantak fen gladith. Eleth na sanganir na maztak do heleth ri walnarthir haled falathiar khar rys.

(Translation)

Beware the northern land of twisted canes for it is ever-watched and will permit no warrior’s feet to pass its wastes unchanged. Beware the blood and death which may flow if any dare to tread that frozen land.

-Prophecy of Galeth’na’frixyan’tor’zarayx’frintalth’zabiir’kar’gareth the bloody seer of the southern greenwood.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.

-Traditional Christmas song

 

It was a shivery and sparkling morning in early December when Jingles and Topper set out from Santa’s workshop. Santa had asked them to pay a visit to the Shimmer Dragon and ask for the return of the glitter brushes he had borrowed for decorating his cave. Santa knew the Shimmer Dragon had a good heart, but he was also forgetful and prone to falling asleep for months at a time.

“I need those brushes back,” Santa told the two elves, “so that I can finish up some very special Christmas gifts.”

Jingles and Topper were happy to help Santa, especially when very special gifts were involved. They liked walking through the North Pole and Shimmer was always a pleasant host–good at telling stories and serving the warmest, sweetest apple cider in all the world.

The two elves followed the gumdrop lane, singing carols and talking about all the wonderful gifts they had helped make for the children down south. After the gumdrop lane, they frolicked through the licorice forest. Then they skipped along the chocolate bridge over the river of blue dye #2.

It was not until they reached the frosted sugar planes that they began to notice something that was not quite right about their journey. The northern lights danced and twirled in the sky, but they shone with a red light that was not normally there. And the wind–which normally whirled and swirled the fluffy sweet-snow of the planes–began to prick and nibble at the tips of their elf ears.

“I’m chilly,” Topper said with a shiver.

“Me too,” Jingles agreed, pulling his jacket tighter. “Maybe Mister Winter left his door open. He should notice soon and take care of things.”

But as Jingles said this, a mighty thundercrack split the sky which flashed with blinding light. In front of them, black clouds frothed and grumbled with flashes of red lightning. The snow, instead of dancing, whirled up from the ground in blinding clouds that almost buried the two elves. Jingles and Topper grabbed hold of each other. They had never seen a storm like this before and were not sure what to do about it. It was not at all the peaceful, happy North Pole weather they were used to.

The black clouds spun lower and lower, flashing angry red and striking at the snowy fields below. When the clouds touched the ground, there was another great thunderclap that made Jingles and Topper throw themselves to the ground in fear.

“Jingles,” yelled Topper over the storm, “I don’t feel very holly jolly right now.”

“Me neither,” agreed the older elf.

The storm continued to blow and scream, and the elves burrowed down into the sweet-snow, hoping it would hide them from whatever not-nice thing was happening in those black clouds.

Then, with a final thunderclap that was the loudest and not-nicest of all, the storm was over. The elves peeked up through the snow that had blown over the top of them. The northern lights were dancing again–all blue and green and gold. The breeze was again frolicking with the sweet-snow and everything was as peaceful and merry as it was supposed to be.

Except for one thing.

Jingles noticed it first–the strange shape standing where the black clouds had been so angry only moments before. Jingles poked Topper and pointed as the whatever-it-was slowly stood up.

It was a person–though no sort of person the elves had ever seen before.

“Who’s that?” asked Topper, sounding very uncertain again.

“Let’s go see,” said Jingles. “We should find out if someone is here that shouldn’t be.”

“Like Krampus,” squeaked Topper.

“Or a parent,” said Jingles, sounding unusually anxious. The thought of a parent finding the North Pole was something elves rarely talked about. Oh, the problems it could cause.

So the two elves brushed themselves off and walked toward the new arrival.

When the stranger noticed them and also walked in their direction, Jingles wondered if he had made the right decision. The North Pole was the happiest place in the whole world, but this person might not belong in the North Pole, might not be holly and jolly and full of goodwill; Jingles had heard stories of such people. And Jingles didn’t know what that would mean at all if one of them found the way here..

As they got closer, the elves began to see the stranger more clearly. Dressed all in black, carrying strange shapes, more than twice their height–the stranger was clearly no elf; that much was certain. And they did not appear to be any of the other friendly creatures that lived in the North Pole either.

“Stand, little-folk,” called the stranger from underneath a deep hood. “Are you friend of foe?”

“We are everyone’s friends,” said Topper, frowning at the question.

“What land is this?”

Jingles looked closer. The stranger sounded female, though her voice was deeper than any elf’s and filled with far less cheer. She wore black woolen clothes, reinforced with light black armor, and a cloak of black fur that wrapped around her and hid her face in shadow.

“This is the North Pole,” Jingles said. “Now, may I ask who you are and what brings you here?”

“The frozen north,” the stranger said, more to herself than to them. “I actually made it.” She returned her attention to the elves. “And what of you, halflings? Who are you and what are you doing here? Are you scouts? Assassins? Do you work for the dark sorcerer who rules this land?”

“What are halflings?” asked Topper. “We’re elves. I–”

The strange woman let out a harsh laugh. “Elves? I would cut out your tongue for lies if I did not take you for a fool. You are no elves.”

“Yes, we are.” Jingles took a small step forward.

“Do not test my patience,” said the woman. She drew herself up to her full height, throwing back her hood and allowing her cloak to fall open. “I Gwynethtri’nas’larinth the unbroken, ancient warrior who has trod through the blood and carnage of a thousand battlefields, wielder of the Lightning Blade, and bane of the dark armies of the east. I am elvenkind and I do not think highly of your jests, puny fools.”

Jingles and Topper didn’t answer. They stared at the stranger. Her blonde hair, pulled back loosely, blew free in a sudden gust of chill wind. Her face, pale and sharp, beautiful and cruel, tightened as she stared down at them looking all too much like someone who would be found on the naughty list. The pale line of a scar lay across her cheek and her eyes shone golden in the dim light. Jingles counted the weapons that were now visible.

Three, no four, no five knives. Two swords crossed at her back and another at her side. A hatchet at her waist. A longbow and black-feathered arrows over her shoulder. A flintlock pistol tucked neatly at her belt. She looked like the tiny toy warriors Topper sometimes painted, except this tall and terrifying stranger had nothing to do with fun and games and good cheer. Jingles suspected she would scare small children rather than make them laugh. She was the scariest–and least jolly–person either he or Topper had ever met.

“Nice to meet you,” Topper whispered from behind Jingles’ shoulder.

The older elf cleared his throat, determined to be polite as all inhabitants of the North Pole should be. “Greetings. May we call you Gwyn?”

The elvenkind woman’s eyes narrowed in warning. “My name is Gwynethtri’nas’larinth and you will address me with all proper respect.

“Of course, of course,” said Jingles. “It’s just, I don’t know if I can say your name.”

“It is very long,” added Topper.

“Cursed feeble tongues,” muttered the woman. “Very well, the name… Gwyn, will have to suffice. I suppose I cannot fault… whatever you are if you cannot adequately manage the high speech of my people.”

“We’re elves,” Topper repeated, trying to sound annoyed.

The tall-elf snapped her eyes in his direction. “Watch yourself, little one,” she said softly. “You may not be halflings… gnomes maybe. You do not seem evil, or even capable of deception, but I do not trust you. You will answer my questions that I may complete my quest and depart this foul land.”

“There is nothing foul about the North Pole,” said Topper, trying to stand taller.

“My people have a prophecy about your frozen north, a prophecy from the bloody seer which warned of death for any warrior who came to this terrible place.

“You’ve barely even seen it,” said Jingles.

Topper perked up. “We’ve got candy and toys. We sing songs. Everyone is oh, so nice. We–”

“Enough,” said the tall-elf. “I seek an arcane crystal. My brother cast it into a portal of space and time millenia ago. It is now my duty to retrieve it. And save my people from destruction under the advance of the dark armies.”

The elves looked at each other. “Well…” ventured Jingles. “If there’s any sort of special treasure in the North Pole, Shimmer might know where to find it.”

Topper nodded. “He loves collecting things–paintings, jewelry, pretty rocks–”

“Where is this Shimmer?” interrupted the tall-elf.

“One day’s walk south,” said Jingles, pointing in the general direction. “That’s where we’re going. We can take you to see him, but…”

“But what?”

“But you have to be nice. Shimmer is sensitive. I don’t want you to scare him.”

Gwyn huffed and turned away from the two elves, muttering words in some other language. Jingles was glad he didn’t understand because whatever she was saying didn’t sound very nice at all.

“Very well,” said Gwyn, turning back. “I will not scare your sensitive friend. Lead on. With haste. Even as we speak, my people are fighting for their lives.”

Jingles took the lead with Topper close by and Gwyn, the scary, tall-elf, stalking behind. They stopped to camp when the moon rose high overhead, bright and shining. The elves waved hello, but Gwyn only bent down and began clearing a patch in the sweet-snow. They jumped back when there was a burst of light and a pile of flames appeared beneath Gwyn’s hands.

Jingles stared. There was no wood, but the fire burned hot and bright. Gwyn settled down beside the flames and sharpened one of her knives with a stone. The sound made Jingles’ fingers curl and his insides feel funny. Partly to get away for a moment, he went to the nearest candy cane tree and broke off two chunks for dinner. He and Topper were halfway finished eating when Jingles realized that Gwyn might like some as well.

“Would you like some peppermint?” he asked carefully.

“I have provisions enough.” Gwyn said. She frowned at their treats but didn’t say more. Shortly, she rose, watching something in the distance and stringing her bow faster than Jingles’ eyes could follow. “And the lady of the hunt favors me this night as well.” She walked into the darkness.

Jingles and Topper stared at each other for a moment before jumping to their feet to follow. Gwyn was quicker than they were, but they soon heard where she had gone.

“Help! Help!” came the cries from the night, as well as Gwyn’s voice shouting in her other language.

The elves ran toward the sounds, guided by the light of the moon and the stars. They did not have to go far to find what had happened.

Gwyn knelt in the snow holding her knife to the throat of Flipper the seal who appeared frozen in fear. Nearby, Sam the snowman ran–well, glided–in circles shouting for help with a black-feathered arrow protruding from the center of his forehead.

“No, Gwyn! They’re our friends.”

Sam turned to face them. “You know this woman?” he asked.

“She… she wants to talk to Shimmer,” Topper said.

“I don’t really know why,” Jingles explained. “But it did sound important.”

Flipper let out a tiny squeak.

“Gwyn,” said Jingles. “Please let Flipper go.”

The tall-elf snarled and released the frightened seal who flip-flopped away as fast as he could. “What sorcery is this?” Gwyn asked, now looking more intently at Sam. She walked a circle around him, prodding him with her knife.

“Christmas magic,” said Sam huffily, not at all appreciating being poked. “Now, madam, will you please remove your weapon from my head?”

Gwyn pulled out her arrow and replaced it in her quiver as Sam adjusted his waistcoat and hat.

“Thank you for not hurting me,” said Flipper from a safe distance, his voice recovered.

Gwyn spun. “Talking beasts. This land is more powerful than I believed.”

“We’ll just be on our way,” Sam said, beckoning Flipper to follow him.

“I’m sorry about all this,” Jingles told them.

“It’s OK,” said Flipper, who managed a faint smile.

“Just make sure you know what you’re doing,” Sam warned. “I don’t imagine Nick would want her wandering freely around the pole. Threatening innocent animals and such.”

“We’ll be careful.”

When Sam and Flipper had departed, Jingles, Topper, and Gwyn were left watching each other in the pale moonlight. “You shouldn’t have shot Sam,” said Jingles.

“I took him for an enemy.”

“And you tried to hurt Flipper,” said Topper.

“I did not realize the animals of your land possessed intelligence,” Gwyn said.

“Everyone here talks,” said Jingles.

“And they’re all nice,” added Topper.

“Except the yeti,” Jingles said.

Topper nodded. “Except the yeti. They take all the best candy canes for themselves. And once, one of them threw a gumdrop at me. On my birthday.”

Jingles nodded, remembering the scandal the yeti had caused that day. It was the most shameful thing he had ever seen. The yeti that had done it had received coal in his stocking for five whole years before Santa let him back on the nice list.

Gwyn did not appear to appreciate the significance of the story.

“I shall remember it.” The tall-elf started back toward the glow of the fire as Jingles and Topper scrambled to keep up. “Tell me more of your land. Tell me of the sorcerer who rules here.”

“Santa?” asked Jingles. “He’s not a sorcerer.”

“Then what is he?”

“He’s…” Jingles looked at Topper. He had never had to answer questions like this before.

“He’s Father Christmas,” said Topper.

“How long has he ruled?”

“As long as Christmas,” said Jingles.

“What is this Christmas you keep speaking of?”

“It’s a holiday when–”

“I hear he watches all the people of your realm,” Gwyn interrupted, “that he punishes wrongdoers and rewards obedience.”

“Well, I guess so,” said Jingles. “He does watch over everyone.”

“But he doesn’t punish them,” said Topper.

“He keeps track of all the children,” Jingles continued, “who is naughty and who is nice. And he brings toys and cheer to nice children all over the world.”

“And we help him.” Topper grinned at the thought. “We help make the toys and we fill the sleigh and–”

“He must be very powerful,” said Gwyn. “Are you certain he does not possess the arcane crystal?”

“I never heard of the crystal before you came,” said Jingles.

“But his power… It must come from somewhere.”

“Of course,” said Topper. “It comes from the spirit of Christmas. From joy and laughter and the belief of children.”

There was a pause as Gwyn looked at them without responding. “I have heard such claims from ruling wizard-lords before,” she said slowly. “They were always lies. Whatever the source of his power, if your Shimmer does not possess my crystal, I may have to do battle with this Santa and force the truth from him myself.”

Topper let out a squeak of alarm and turned his wide eyes on Jingles. Gwyn merely left the elves with their mouths hanging open as she returned to her seat at the fire “You want to fight Santa?” Jingles managed to ask.

“No, no, no,” said Topper. “Santa is good and kind and wonderful. You can’t hurt him. It wouldn’t be right. The children… what would happen to the children?”

“No one is fighting Santa,” Jingles said, laying a hand on Topper’s shoulder to calm him. “Everything will be alright.”

The two elves tried to sleep, but dreams of sugarplums were replaced by images of Gwyn breaking into the toy shop and smashing all of the elves’ hard work. Whenever Jingles woke during the night, he saw Gwyn still seated, unmoving, beside the fire.

The elves had more peppermint for breakfast, but Jingles found that he wasn’t very hungry, even for sweets. Gwyn, meanwhile, chewed at something tough and wrapped in leaves that she had stored inside her cloak. She also melted some sweet-snow over the fire to drink. When she was finished, Jingles again took the lead.

Late that morning, he and Topper tried singing Christmas carols. They were quiet at first, in case Gwyn got angry at them, but when she did not argue, they grew louder. By late afternoon, they had nearly forgotten the tall-elf who followed them dressed all in black. The two elves skipped along, jingling the bells on their shoes and hats and they sang all their favorite songs. After singing, they listed all their favorite candies, talked about their favorite letters from children, and finally settled into an intense conversation about the finer points of attaching wooden train wheels to models–an art that Topper’s family had been perfecting for over two hundred years.

“What dwells there?” asked Gwyn, halting their conversation.

Jingles felt some of his good cheer flit away as he looked up at the rock-candy mountain where Gwyn was pointing. “That’s where Shimmer lives,” he said.

“Finally,” said the tall-elf. “Let us hasten. I am short on time.”

Gwyn’s long legs nearly carried her away from them as Jingles and Topper struggled to keep up.

“Remember,” Jingles said. “Shimmer is sensitive. Be–”

“Nice to him, yes, yes.”

“He’s my friend,” said Topper.

“You’ve said that about every creature we’ve met on this insufferable journey.”

“I like having friends,” said Topper, his smile faltering. Jingles jingled a bell at him and gave him a cheery smile.

Shimmer’s cave was a long, winding tunnel into the base of the rock-candy mountain, and Jingles led the way into the glittering passage of pale green sugar crystals. Inside, at the center of the mountain, the passage opened into the giant cavern. Jingles smelled chocolate and peppermint, nuts and toffee and cinnamon. Piled in the center of the room were all of Shimmer’s treasures–gold and toys, artwork and candy, pretty stones and individual fuzzy socks that their friend had collected from all over the world.

Jingles heard Gwyn’s intake of breath at the sight and smiled to himself that even the tall-elf could appreciate the sight of Shimmer’s most prized possessions.

“Shimmer,” called Jingles, walking further into the cavern. “It’s Jingles and Topper. We’re here to see you.”

“Your name is Jingles?” asked Gwyn, suddenly.

Embarrassed that he hadn’t introduced himself before, Jingles was about to answer her when he heard Shimmer’s booming footsteps.

“What comes?” There was a ring of metal as Gwyn drew the swords at her back. The blades were black and one sparked with lightning.

“It’s only–” Jingles started to say, but before he could finish, Shimmer came around the side of the treasure pile, his mouth open in a wide yawn. What happened next, happened very quickly.

The Shimmer Dragon was twenty feet long, covered with bright blue scales that sparkled and glittered as he moved. His footsteps were loud, which was the one thing he wished he could change about himself. He always wished that his footsteps were as soft and gentle as his voice with which he loved to laugh and sing and tell stories.

As Shimmer came into sight, and before Jingles could say another word, Gwyn let out a terrifying cry and leapt forward with both swords drawn. “Face the wrath of the unbroken, wyrm!” she shrieked, her face twisting into something more terrible than Jingles had ever seen before.

“Gwyn, no!” shouted Jingles and Topper at the same moment.

But she either did not hear them or did not care, for she rushed at the Shimmer Dragon as her sword flashed with lightning.

Catching sight of the elfkind warrior, Shimmer let out a scream and immediately turned to run back where he had come from. He flailed, trying to gain traction on the carmels and gumballs that covered the floor. And in the moment it took him to stop and turn, Gwyn had nearly reached him.

“She’s going to hurt Shimmer!” cried Topper.

And Jingles knew it was true. He looked around for some way to save his friend and, spotting a large gumdrop on the ground nearby, he did the only thing he could think to do. He grabbed the sugar-coated sweet and threw it as hard as he could at the tall-elf. “I’m sorry, Santa,” he said as he released candy.

It soared across the room as Jingles concentrated with all the Christmas magic he had inside him. The magic was for making toys, not this, but it was very important that nothing bad happen and his magic seemed to understand that. The gumdrop flew as far and as hard as he wanted it to, hitting Gwyn solidly in the back of the head.

Topper gasped as Gwyn spun. Sliding to a halt, she lowered the sword that Jingles had not even seen cut the gumdrop in half. The two pieces of candy bounced on the floor. Gwyn fixed her eyes on Jingles, who backed up a few steps. But the delay was all the time that Shimmer needed to get away.

“Shimmer is our friend,” said Topper who was crouched behind a pile of pillows nearby.

Gwyn was breathing heavily, the swords still at her side, as she looked toward the two elves. “That wyrm is your… friend?”

“Shimmer’s not a worm,” said Topper. “He’s a dragon and you scared him.”

Gwyn got angry in her language again before sheathing her swords and marching toward the two elves. “Is everything in your land this weak and pathetic?”

“Being nice is not weak or pathetic,” said Jingles, finding his courage as he marched forward to meet Gwyn. “You just want to hurt everything. You don’t want to take the time to make friends or sing songs. You don’t want to be happy. That’s you choice, but don’t come here and try to take away all our happiness too.”

Gwyn was silent, but Jingles saw something soften in her face, ever so slightly. “There was a time I sang songs,” she said softly. “There was a time my people knew joy.”

Jingles didn’t know what to say to that. He waited as Gwyn turned to look at the cavern, at the toys and the sweets and the thousand little treasures Shimmer had worked so hard to collect. “Call your friend,” Gwyn said after a while. “I will not hurt him.”

It took some work, but Jingles and Topper finally convinced Shimmer to come back into the cavern. He stood at a distance from Gwyn, clearly unsure whether she would attack him again.

“My apologies, great dragon,” said Gwyn, “your land is a strange place. The world I learned to survive in is less friendly than your own. Indeed, even the gentler members of your kind I have encountered previously would have sought my life for the slightest misstep.”

“It’s OK,” Shimmer said, eyes wide at the thought of trying to hurt anyone.

“Shimmer,” said Jingles. “Do you happen to have any of your hot cider ready? We’ve come a long way, and I’d love to have a cup.” He knew that entertaining guests always made Shimmer happy.

“Of course, of course,” said the dragon, breaking into a grin as he disappeared into the back of the cavern again. The other three waited quietly until Shimmer returned with a kettle of spiced hot cider which Topper ladled into cups and passed to the group.

Jingles, Topper, and Shimmer told stories as they drank while Gwy sat in silence, sipping at her cup and staring into the far corners of the cavern. After many stories and as many cups of cider, Jingles leaned in toward Shimmer, suddenly concerned. “Shimmer, are you alright? You still don’t sound like your normal, cheery self.”

“I don’t know,” Shimmer answered. “I guess I haven’t felt very merry lately.”

“But why not?” asked Topper.

“I think it’s that rock I found,” said Shimmer with a sigh.

Gwyn looked up for the first time since the cider arrived. “What rock? What kind is it?”

“I don’t know,” said the dragon. “It fell out of the sky during a storm, and I liked how it looked. But ever since I brought it back here, I haven’t felt very happy at all.”

“Where is this stone?” Gwyn stood to her feet, now intent.

“Over there.” Shimmer gestured toward a pile of blankets near the wall.

Gwyn set her cup aside and hurried to the pile, throwing aside fuzzy blankets and cloth dolls to reveal the dark purple crystal that lay beneath. For a moment, she simply stared at it. Then, slowly, she reached down and lifted the crystal in both hands. “After all this time.”

Jingles felt something strange in the air, a sort of bubbly feeling that was not quite comfortable. It was like he sometimes felt after drinking too much of Mrs. Claus’s special holiday nog. The air almost felt alive and there were waves of something he could not see coming from Gwyn and the strange object she held.

“I must get home,” the tall-elf whispered into the silent room. “This changes everything. We may yet survive.” She turned to the elves and the dragon who watched her curiously. “Thank you. You have given my people hope like we have not known for many an age.”

“You’re welcome,” said Jingles, still not really sure what she was talking about but feeling that he should at least say something. It was the nicest that Gwyn had been since they met her. And she was almost smiling now that she had the crystal.

Going from stillness to motion, Gwyn tucked the crystal safely within her cloak. She adjusted her weapons and drew her hood low over her face once more. “Farewell,” she told them. “May you enjoy your festival and live long, peaceful lives.” With those words and a nod, she walked from the cavern.

Jingles turned to the other two. It had been a very strange adventure, very strange indeed. And even now that it was finished, he wasn’t sure precisely what had taken place.

“Your friend was very interesting,” said Shimmer, looking at the passage where Gwyn had disappeared.

“Yes, she is,” agreed Jingles.

“We should have given her a present,” Topper said suddenly. “I think she would have liked one.”

“We still have time.” Jingles looked around, trying to figure out what would make a good present for a tall-elf warrior who came from black stormclouds and had forgotten how to sing.

“Here,” said Shimmer. He held out a book with a worn red leather cover that displayed an image of Santa flying his sleigh across a starry sky. “It has all my favorite stories in it,” said the dragon. “Perhaps she will appreciate them as well.”

“Quickly,” said Jingles, taking the book. “We can still catch her. Thank you, Shimmer.”

The dragon smiled. “Since she took that stone, I feel better than I have in years. I feel like singing again.” And indeed, the dragon did sing as Jingles and Topper ran down the passage after Gwyn–the music of holly berries and yule fires echoing behind them.

However, the elves’ excitement faltered when the reached the cave entrance. Dark clouds and red lightning roared and flashed and swirled just beyond the mountain, but Gwyn was nowhere to be seen.

“We missed her,” said Topper, skidding to a stop at a safe distance from the unnatural storm.

Jingles stopped beside him. “Maybe not.”

Topper looked from his friend to the clouds. “What are you–you’re not saying that you want to go in there? Are you?”

“If we’re going to give anyone a gift this year, I think it should be Gwyn,” said Jingles. “I think she could really use one. Besides, she came through fine… from wherever she came through from.”

“If you say so,” said Topper.

The two elves waited a moment longer, side by side, and they prepared to walk into the swirling blackness that lay before them. “It’s the nice thing to do,” Jingles said, half to himself.

“Yes.” Topper took a deep breath. “The right thing.”

With a glance at each other, Jingles tucked the book tight against his chest, and the two elves ran forward into the clouds.

The dark tasted like smoke and burned their lungs. A thousand hot needles jabbed at their skin, and it felt almost as though they were being torn apart. Jingles felt Topper grab his hand as they stumbled together through the darkness and the fear and the pain. Then, just as Jingles began to suspect that he had made a horrible mistake, the two elves burst out the other side. The sight that lay before them was like nothing either elf had seen, or even imagined, ever before.

All at once, the two elves were overwhelmed by countless sights and smells and sounds–none of which were jolly or nice. The land as far as they could see in every direction was scorched and barren. Charred tree trunks leaned and crumbled–the only evidence that anything had once grown there. People screamed in languages they could not understand. The air was heavy with smoke and dirt. It stank of things Jingles had never before smelled and could not identify. And spread out in front of them, was a terrible sight.

Two armies clashed in battle below the hilltop on which the elves stood. They saw soldiers like Gwyn–tall and fierce, armed for battle. The soldiers fought against other creatures. These were hulking and evil. Their skins were dark greys and pale, sickly whites. They shrieked with hideous voices and fought with blade and tooth and talon.

And all across the battlefield, lay fallen soldiers from both sides of the conflict.

“I don’t like this world,” whimpered Topper as Jingles continued to stare in amazement at all he saw.

Breaking the haze that had fallen over him, there was a flash of purple light that made them blink, and a sound like shattering glass. The elves looked and saw a familiar figure on the hilltop opposite.

Gwyn stood alone above the two armies. In one hand, she held her sword that sparked with power. In the other, she clasped the crystal she had sought so fiercely. Her voice echoed, deeper and louder than ever before, as she shouted ancient words. The light flared brighter, and Jingles saw the elvenkind warriors cheer at the sight of her. They screamed their battle cries and rushed anew into the chaos.

“I don’t like this at all,” said Topper, tugging at Jingles’ sleeve.

“Me neither,” said Jingles. He looked at Gwyn, standing so tall and fierce across the battlefield.

There was a boom. The elves spun to see that the black clouds behind them were disappearing. “On no!” said Topper. “How will we get back?”

At that moment, Gwyn’s loud voice changed. Looking back toward her, they saw that she had noticed their arrival. She looked at them across the battle. Jingles held up the book, trying to indicate to Gwyn that they had brought it for her.

She nodded. Then there was a flash of purple light and a warm feeling swept over the two elves. As he felt himself start to disappear, Jingles dropped the book on the hilltop.“I hope she finds this,” he said.

As the world around them vanished, Jingles almost thought he heard Gwyn’s voice rise even louder, breaking into song that was fierce and beautiful and somehow full of hope. But then everything was gone.

The elves collapsed on their knees back in the safety of the North Pole–surrounded by sweet-snow and the whispering wind and all the scents of Christmas.

They found Shimmer still in his cave, where he provided them with more cider as Jingles and Topper described the strange and terrible world their friend had returned to. Then, after Shimmer found the glitter brushes he had forgotten to return, they sang a few more carols and the two elves set out to return home.

“This has been very strange,” said Topper, thoughtfully, as they neared the welcome sight of Santa’s Workshop.

“Yes, it has,” agreed Jingles. “But I think Santa would be proud of how we handled it.”

“Do you think Gwyn will be alright?”

Jingles considered the questions, considered the strange tall-elf who had forgotten–and then remembered–how to sing songs. “I think she will be,” he said, and found that he truly did believe the answer.

When they opened the door to the Workshop, they were greeted by all the familiar scents–of wood shavings and paint, of pine and holly, of sweets and cinnamon and fresh-baked cookies. And from inside the warm, bright workshop, came the sounds of a hundred elf voices singing Christmas carols.

Jingles stood in the doorway, hearing and seeing, smelling and feeling all of it in a way he hadn’t for many years. “I think we’re all going to be just fine.”

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