Some Patience In A Pear Tree

Rand: Hm, any remaining preparations?

Alice: Nothing can prepare you.

Alice: Open your eyes to a world of wonder.

Alice: Underbridge.

Rand: All right, then!

Rand: Faculty roll call!

Rand: Alice?

Alice: Here!

Rand: Cynn?

Rand: That's you, Elliott.

Alex: I, uh…

Alex: …on my way!!!

Remy: I am already here.

Rand: That's a good Affliction.

Rand: All this time magic and yet punctuality remains an issue!

Rand: Clearly this is indeed a university.

Rand: Perhaps while we wait for our last few stragglers, we can talk about you guys.

Rand: Is anybody still new at the whole god business?

Remy: I'm not sure about the time frame of his background, but I think Remy is relatively unfamiliar with it.

  • Alex is here.

Remy: (I think his backstory timeline may be kind of messed up in-world.)

Rand: Now, let's all yell at Elliott to stop chasing ferrets and attend to important twilight business.

Alice: I'd pictured Alice as a couple years in, although honestly that just means the Alice I've pictured is the Alice a couple years in.

Alex: I'm in about the same boat.

Alex: I'm past the initial WHAT stage.

Alex: But that's about it.

Alice: I can probably rewind her back to her early days if you need a source of WHAT to paper over the fact that we don't actually have as much going on in our lives as an active Noble family probably should.

Rand: Eh, you have a fair amount. I know what's going on tonight, anyway, although it did key off Elliott at least a little bit.

Alice: Yay!

Rand: Vance, do you know a direct way to bother him? Preferably one that will ring very loudly next to his head if he's hung over somewhere?

Remy: I can try!

Rand: Good, good.

Alex: So you all know, my cell phone is <SOME ENORMOUS GNARLY NUMBER>. You should text it if possible, as my phone calls are largely disabled due to enormous spam.

Rand: If you need an HG, I'm reachable at <A NUMBER TOO ELEGANT TO CONCEIVE>.

Rand: Although when I put it like that, it sounds like I'm volunteering for some kind of Nobilis Emergency Hotline where I get called into to replace dilatory GMs.

Rand: Or to rule on really complicated miracle resolutions.

Rand: "Never call the hotline. Their verdict is always Actuals."

Alice: "Rand! Rand! The Power of Conspiracy Theories enchanted the enchantment they were casting so that it spread wildly, never happened, and created lone gunmen!"

Alex: "Actuals."

Alice: "I see, so you're in an Actual."

Alice: I guess the Kozlov equivalent would probably actually say "I see, so you're in Actual trouble."

Rand: Well, I suppose we may as well start without Elliott.

Alex: Alas!

Remy: My summoning woofs have gone unanswered.

Alex: He'll teleport in later.

Rand: As punishment, I will remove the double-T from his name!

Rand: Henceforth he is merely Elliot.

  • Alice thinks about whether you actually can target the miracle you are casting with an effect.

Rand: How does the "one conceptual action" work if you're modifying your miracle at the same moment you use it?

Rand: That's Actual city!

Rand: Man, Actuals really are the answer to every question.

Alex: A useful fallback. Do not meddle with the cosmos.

Rand: Anyway!

Rand: You're hanging about the Chancel, doing your usual thing, which you can expound on if you like.

Alice: Probably the one conceptual action thing with a self-modifying miracle requires that you use proper recursion or possibly flurry with yourself.

Rand: When you receive a message from one of the gnarled and ancient college porters who seem to do all the actual work-work about the place.

Remy: An undergraduate finds a lightning bolt of wisdom in a subway station—that's Remy Fiala, being helpful!

Rand: It seems you've got a bad case of extraneous elves.

Rand: Brownies in the basement.

Rand: Nixies in the night kitchen.

Rand: Sidhe under the sofa cushions.

Alex: Alex is reading the latest research journal from the Cleave in one of the libraries when he is so notified.

Rand: Fairy folk seem to be flooding in and causing trouble, and the Cynn normally in charge of Demihuman Studies is MIA.

Alice: Alice is sitting under a tree in what she likes to call "office hours" occasionally feeding a student's paper into her hand-cranked grading engine.

Rand: That's a useful device.

Alex: The tree breathes with Alex's breath. "Alice," it murmurs.

Rand: Actually, having the Reprieve as your professor sounds pretty awesome in general.

Rand: Like, that would mean the exact opposite of pop quizzes.

Alex: Quite.

Alice: She is a pretty popular professor, even in the random English classes she is nowhere near as qualified to teach as the Theater Studies stuff.

Alice: "Mm?" she asks the tree.

Alex: "Boss wants us. Apparently the Chancel is developing a peculiar fae infestation." Alex pauses just long enough to steal this punchline: "An infaestation, if you will. The usual handler is AWOL."

Alice: She turns the hand-crank a few times. It's actually a quite ingenious device that she created by reconciling a large pile of standards documents on requirements for faculty grading practices with a portable shredder. Or possibly it was buried with the previous Head of Theater Studies and she retrieved it. Stories differ.

Remy: A wind blows the notebooks of everyone in the library out of order, and Remy is here.

Alex: Alex's attention is clearly elsewhere in the wide world. Ripe for pranking.

Remy: "The Chancel's having themselves a wee fit."

Alice: "How terrible," Alice says. "The whole thematic balance of Underbridge is at risk."

Alex: "Quite," say Alex and the tree, simultaneously. "Remy is here in the north library. Blip yourself over, if you would."

Alex: Alex opens his eyes again, looks at Remy. "Evening."

Rand: You do seem to have more occupants than usual. I'm not sure how you would discover this since I am resisting the urge to have elves wandering about disguised as undergraduates, but presumably you can.

Remy: "Good to see you, Mr. Oak."

Remy: Superspeed headcount?

Alice: She stands up, dusts herself off, and drops a TMP into doing exactly that, the gauntlet on her right hand pulling open the air into Utena rosecam long enough for her to lower herself through a slanted air portal into the library.

Rand: Potentially, although a lot of the extras are hiding in basements and spare dorm rooms and things like that rather than wandering around.

Alex: Alex rises, his walking stick snuggling back in to his hand. "If Mother Serpent wants the fae out, then we'll simply have to roust them," he says, as Alice joins him and Remy.

Remy: "The wee folk are just a symptom. Or a distraction! I bet the roots of this problem run deep into the nature of the Chancel."

Alice: "Fair enough," Alice says. Then she nudges Alex with her elbow.

Alex: "I'm still unclear why it's a problem, beyond 'Mother Serpent says so.' We always have elves, don't we?"

Alex: He is nudged! His attention is thereby gained by Alice.

Alice: Alice appears to be more smug about the use of the phrase 'fair enough' than it really calls for.

Remy: "It's like white blood cells. Got too many, things aren't right."

Alice: "Well," Alice says, "let's find one and ask what's up."

Alex: "Let's check the basements, first. Weird stuff is always drawn in to the depths in this place."

Rand: You examine the basements.

Alice: "Man, I've been looking for this everywhere."

Rand: It does not take long to discover a family of brownies making themselves respectfully at home in the undercellar.

Alex: I use my Passion of "Just Do The Hard Work" with Aspect 2 for a Level 8 intention, etc.

Alice: "Repent! The hour of your judgment is nigh! And welcome to Underbridge. Are you new here?"

Remy: Remy fills a cup with some tea from his thermos and sets it out as a greeting.

Alex: Hollyhock God, if you could describe the nature and appearance of a brownie, I would be grateful.

Rand: They are small fae between two and three feet tall, nut brown and wearing pointed caps of various colors.

Rand: They tend to be about a 5 on the Tomfoolery Axis, with some tending to be tricksters and some angling more towards benign household spirits.

Alex: "Evening, fair folk."

Rand: They work very hard but dislike being thanked outright.

Rand: The brownies nervously confer amongst themselves before pushing forward one of their number as spokesman.

Rand: She accepts the thimble cautiously and bows. "Thank you, my lord. We come seeking sanctuary in the fortress of the Lord of Last Lights."

Rand: (That's Cynn, for reference.)

Alex: Alex drops to one knee, as if that makes him even slightly less intimidating.

Alex: "Ah. Well, bad timing, that. He's out and about, last I heard."

Alex: "But he has a way of turning up when he's needed…"

Cynn: "One wonders whatever you might need sanctuary from," Cynn says, blipping into existence.

Alex: "Case in point."

Rand: "Oh, great lord!" cries the brownie, prompting similar waily-wailying from her comrades.

Rand: "We come seeking succor at your feet! We are forced to flee our home!"

Cynn: "It's probably best to seek succor a little further north," Cynn says, offering one of them a very small flute of champaigne. "Wait. Read that statement exactly as written."

Remy: "Do we all get spirity folk?" Remy asks Alex and Alice.

Alex: "Yes, but mine only care about being trees, so. Less exciting."

Rand: "It is from the north that we came."

Cynn: "Damn. Took the shades of meaning a step too far."

Alice: "They seem like a lot of trouble," Alice opines.

Remy: "That's no kind of thing to say about people, just because they happen to be short."

Rand: "For these past centuries, we served in the keep of the Lord-of-Days, first as his slaves, and then, after our fight for independence, as free craftsworkers."

Alex: "Congratulations."

Rand: "But now we have been forced to flee and find homes elsewhere."

Rand: "To be honest, we can't even get near the place."

Cynn: "Oh dear. This is about him."

Alice: "They'd probably be more trouble if they were taller…"

Alex: Alex reaches out via incarnation to any oak trees near or around the aforementioned Keep. He exhales the scent of oak bark as he does.

Alex: The Auctoritas of the chancel will only let this work if someone under the shelter of an oak is asking for his help, tho.

Rand: "We just popped out to get the really good wood glue from that place in Stuttgart, and then when we get back, it's blizzards, thunderstorms, and, according to this one elf I spoke to, an army of angry birds."

Rand: "Although that part may have been exaggeration."

Rand: I fear this incarnation returns no result.

Rand: Oak trees as such are uncommon in the frozen north.

Rand: …unless you know something I don't.

Alex: Alex's eyes pop open. "Nothing," he says, and you all know him well enough that you know what he tried.

Cynn: "Is the Jolly Old Elf himself in a sour mood?"

Alex: Alex is not in a position to simply miracle an oak tree in to existence so he can stick his head in it.

Remy: Remy will attempt incarnating in the Speed of any lightning bolts that happen to be passing through a thunderstorm yon.

Alex: Better look quick, Remy. Won't be able to savor the view.

Remy: With a free +3 Strike, I guess.

Rand: Hm. You can definitely feel lightning happening around the polar area.

Rand: There's various thunderstorms circling in unusual patterns.

Rand: Sunblossom the brownie wiggles her eyebrows at Cynn in the manner of a woman who isn't prepared to gossip about the boss. "We can't say."

Alex: "Who is the current Lord, Lady, or Other Of Day?

Cynn: "Ugh. You don't even want to meet him."

Rand: "I mean, it's possible, but he'd have to be mad at nearly everybody."

Remy: "There are lady Santas?"

Alex: "Santa Claus is the Lord of Day?"

Rand: This is Niall Lord-of-Days, Power of Good Order. The Power of Day is somebody else.

  • Alex mutters about deceptive nomenclature.

Rand: He got the name as a result of inventing the concept of calendars and holidays back in Cneph-knows-when, and yes, his other job title is Father Christmas.

Remy: Submitted: a magic dog that retrieves the sun like a frisbee.

  • Rand takes this into consideration.

Cynn: "So, Sunblossom," Cynn says, taking a moment to retrieve her name from his mental rolodex of Escherian design. "Is Kringle in trouble, or missing, or just being a buttmuffin?"

Rand: He's a fairly big name, so basically imagine Santa Claus as envisioned by Guillermo del Toro.

Alex: Understood.

Rand: "…I think we'd all be happy to know exactly what's going on. Time is short until the big delivery."

Rand: "He needs all of us on hand!"

Rand: "We worry that he may be under attack, or some kind of curse."

Alex: "Cynn, do you think your dog can get us to the North Pole?"

  • Remy powers up the dog with a free Greater Preservation of Speed.

Alex: Alex pauses and realizes the absurdity of what he's saying. "Okay, yes, all the rest of you can just go there. Who can give me a ride?"

Remy: I have superspeed, and can ignore logistical issues associated with it, like how carrying someone else would do grievous bodily harm to them.

Alex: Can you carry me? I'm pretty big.

  • Cynn whistles. A shaggy black dog with mottled brown spots bounds out of nowhere. As it approaches, you realize that it is much, much larger than expected—it was simply very far away. Evulphias stands half-again as tall as its master, tongue lolling, eyes full of casual mayhem as if it were evaluating the marrow-crunchiness of each assembled treat.

Alex: Alex mounts up. "I think we can consider the transport issue solved," he says, getting his fingers in to the dense dark hair of the beast and holding on. "North we go?"

Remy: "Who's a good dog?"

Alex: "Certainly not this little guy."

Cynn: "I mean, he can get you there?" Cynn says, patting the dog on its nose and convincing it to do some minor shapeshifting to turn luminous red. "Ohoho, he's gonna hate this."

Cynn: "But a booster rocket might not go astray, Remy."

Remy: "Cynn, I feel like we shouldn't antagonize Mr. Santa Claus."

Remy: "He's… the guardian of children's hopes and wishes."

Cynn: "You haven't met the guy. He's 100% antagonizable material. And nominally my vassal, anyway, not that he so much as sends me a card every century."

Remy: "But who left the presents under the tree?"

Alex: "You will. You'll run back in time and leave presents for every child whose parents can't afford to buy them anything."

Cynn: "Huh. That's a fair idea."

Alex: "The rest, their parents bought them gifts, or made them."

Remy: "Merry Christmas everyone, have a stocking full of Actual."

Cynn: "Definitely bring it up with him! He'll hate it."

Alex: ~ Shall we progress the narrative? ~

Rand: Onward, then!

Rand: Dash away, dash away, dash away, dog!

Alex: Bark!

Cynn: He's not a good boy, but he is a Jubilantly Abhorrent boy.

Rand: You proceed at a greatly accelerated pace towards the North Pole.

Rand: Along the way, you are troubled by freak thunderstorms, some flooding, a police barricade, a mountain you are sure wasn't there previously, and yes, an army of angry birds.

Rand: Please feel free to make small talk about how you got past all those while I exposit about this very large castle.

Rand: The fortress of the Lord of Days is so large and multitudinous that it's frankly difficult for me to exposit accurately about it at all.

Cynn: I imagine Evulphias treated most of those objects like stray particles and micro-asteroids being caught up in a ship's ramscoop. Except the ramscoop is his mouth.

Cynn: Pacman Puppy.

Alex: Brutal.

Rand: Bits of it are very like a castle carved out of ordinary castle-building materials like stone. Other bits tread more into the fairy-tale genre and are built out of ice or candy.

Rand: Then there are other bits that are more like a traditional Santa-Claus house or a small elf village.

Rand: It's a giant and highly magical compound that's slowly spread over the entire Pole until it ran out of room to expand.

Alex: I'm imagining something akin to a Chinese industrial mega-complex, except for the aforementioned architectural tropes.

Alex: Probably just as prone to industrial accident, as well.

Rand: The Lord-of-Days has a lot of facets to his personality, as you would expect of somebody who has worn hats over the centuries from "brutal elf warlord" to "kindly grandfather figure to the world."

Rand: His house reflects this also.

Rand: So, I dunno, are you knocking or what?

Remy: Oh, yes.

Remy: Very upfrontly.

Alex: "Quite a place, isn't it, Alice?"

Remy: He knows when we come knocking.

Cynn: "Brace yourselves. He can be… he can be a lot."

Alex: Alex does the shelter-in-my-shadow thing, filling himself with the nature of the Oak to be more protective. 1 MP.

Rand: You knock on a reasonably frontish door, which in this case is a giant circular slab of cookie with a gumdrop knob.

Alice: Alice trudges up to the group through the snow, having caught a later flight to give herself time to dress properly for the weather. "Definitely," she agrees. "Beats Alnwick all to heck."

Rand: Surrounding the sill are tubes of licorice pointing at the stoop which may, or may not, be weapon barrels.

Remy: Remy takes a nibble.

Rand: The door opens exactly one second after you knock.

Alex: "Remy. Do not eat someone else's ho—"

Rand: "Don't eat that," says the Lord-of-Days.

Rand: He isn't actually looking at you.

Rand: He doesn't have to look to know if you have been bad.

Alex: Oh god. Bad dog?

Remy: "I'm sorry, Santa!" Remy squeaks.

Cynn: "Hello, sweetie."

Rand: He is looking at Cynn instead.

Alex: Alex clearly wants to scold Remy but is compelled by social context to not do this.

Rand: "It's really not of any consequence," Niall says, "at least, I suppose. Cynn, why have you come and brought all these much nicer people with you? There's a lot going on."

Rand: "Is it you who just declared war on me?"

Cynn: "No, no; if I had, you'd already be on a pike. Surrounded by elvish insurgents."

Alice: "We're the cavalry!"

Cynn: "What she said."

Cynn: "C'mon, Santa Baby. Let us in. It's cold outside."

Alice: Alice ponders. "Arguably 'chienry,' really."

Rand: "I'll agree to let you in if you agree to stop referencing popular Christmas songs."

Cynn: Cynn pouts. "You used to like my petulance."

Cynn: "No one brings it out quite like you."

Alex: "Cynn, please."

Remy: "Um."

Cynn: "But fine, fine," he says, marching in without waiting for an answer.

Remy: Remy drops his voice to a whisper.

Remy: "Were you and Santa boyfriends?"

Cynn: "Have you met my family? This is Remy, he's fast; this is Alice, she's smart; this is Alex, he's terrified."

Alex: "I am in no fashion."

Alex: "I am Alex Oak-Lord. Well met."

Cynn: "Oh Cneph, that's right, lords the both of you."

Alex: Alex shakes Santa's hand, if that seems like the appropriate sort of thing to do.

Alice: "I am in fashion," Alice admits, indicating her rather stylish winter wear.

Rand: "Please do not ship me with this reprobate; I am happily married. It is a pleasure to be introduced, although of course I already know you all."

Rand: Niall brandishes a large tome marked "NICE."

Alex: "As is the nature of the office, yes. No spoilers, please! I'm not prepared for infallible moral judgement after a trek like that."

Cynn: "The ship has sailed and sunk."

Rand: "So anyway, who exactly is it you've come to rescue me from? I've been a bit curious about that ever since the blockade started."

Alex: "We know no more than you. Your employees came to our chancel for shelter after they found themselves blockaded on their way home."

Rand: "I suppose there are worse places they could have gone. It's good to know that they're safe."

Cynn: "Not sure ourselves. Just had elves start popping up underfoot at the University, and heard you were either on a hate-bender like that time you brought the Good Boys and Girls a flood for Christmas, or that you could use some help."

Rand: "This is a monstrous libel."

Remy: "Slander."

Alex: "Technically, this entire conversation is occurring in a written medium, so it is libel. But that's a gross breach of the fourth wall."

Remy: "Libel's written."

Cynn: No one seemed to notice when or how, but Evulphias is now puppy sized, and leaps up into Cynn's arms.

Rand: "It is most certainly written," Niall declares, producing the book marked "NAUGHTY."

Alex: "Perhaps your assailant will be enumerated in that book?"

Rand: He opens it to the "C" section, where Cynn's most recent remark is transcribed.

Alice: Alice applies the Reprieve to the Naughty book.

Cynn: Mwhahahaha!

Rand: Or was, I guess.

Rand: Did you have a specific intention for this miracle?

Alice: She just feels like, y'know, the people in this book have been suffering under the label of "NAUGHTY" long enough. I suppose that it would probably take a major creation to reprieve everybody, so it's probably just a splash effect on Cs and names similar to Cynn.

Cynn: "Might want to check your own name, while you're there, Niall. Backsassing your king is at least a little naughty."

Alex: Alex sighs. X)

Cynn: Cynn and puppy-Evul turn and give Alice a big thumbs up. Even the puppy. It is unsettling. Stop that, puppy, where did you even get that thumb.

Rand: "I owe you no oaths. I took my crown by force of arms, which is more than you can say. In fact, it appears you have no bloody deeds recorded at all."

Alice: (So it is a Lesser Creation of The Reprieve to lift some writs of execution or, er, whatever, coal, mild judgments.)

Rand: Niall frowns at Alice. "This won't do. How can I determine what to give people if I can't judge their misdeeds?"

Remy: "Gift cards are always a safe choice."

Cynn: "You always did have the mind of an actuary."

Remy: "If they spend it at a naughty store, you'll know to give them coal next Christmas!"

Alex: "Gentlemen, your hijinx are endearing, but remember that we came here to accomplish a specific task."

Alex: "Niall, do you have any idea who might wish to wage war on you?"

Rand: "Lucifer, perhaps, or the generals of the Excrucian hosts. Or… anybody, really, who might want to take over my operation."

Alice: "Judgment has been rendered," Alice says. "Justice executed. But sometimes, in the darkest most hopeless nights, when one weeps alone knowing only that one is naughty, a light of Christmas may yet come." She finger-guns the book, winking.

Rand: "Someone, at any rate, who can muster large armies of spirits of the air."

Cynn: "Ugg. I hate fighting the air."

Rand: "Random acts of mercy are just as disruptive as random acts of cruelty. That's why I pride myself on carefully judging my gifts so as to encourage Good Behavior."

Alex: Alex pans his gaze over the tumultuous storm. "There was a spare mountain in the way, as well… And some police, but I don't think they represented any miraculous hazard."

Rand: "Hard to shoot, though."

Alex: "I think I managed to keep Evulphias from eating any. I really can't be sure."

Alice: "It is so tragic," Alice says. "That the world must be disrupted, to have mercy in it. What a terrible tradeoff."

Rand: "And that doesn't include things like the fungus that's been wreaking havoc on the lichens the reindeer eat, or the wrapping paper shortage."

Alex: "It sounds like a pretty broad-spectrum curse."

Alex: "Hmm. Proposal: I could offer you shelter."

Alex: "It would at least give me a moment to get a sense of who your assailant IS."

Rand: "It's more than a curse," declares Niall. "Someone has declared war on my Christmas operations. But I won't have it! In case anybody has forgotten, I win wars."

Alice: "…that has been forgotten," Alice says.

Alex: "And so the reminder is appreciated."

Rand: "You suggest that I hide beneath an oak tree? Oh, wait, I could build an oaken sleigh!"

Alice: "And slay the Excrucians to win the war!"

Cynn: "He's pretty good at hiding under trees."

Alice: "…I don't think he can actually do that, I just wanted to get the pun in."

Alex: "An oaken sleigh is surely a handsome vessel, but I was thinking I could just nip in to the near mythic and shelter your operation."

Rand: Niall's face darkens as he flashes back to the days, thousands of years past, when he subdued the many bloody-handed tribes of Northern fae and brought them under his command.

Alex: "I doubt I'll be able to hold up under this kind of onslaught for long, but, it'll give me a look at who's actually fucking with you."

Cynn: Cynn blips out for a few seconds, and then reappears.

Rand: "Sure, I don't see why not. It can't make things worse, just shadier."

Rand: "Do you need a coat?"

Cynn: "Just…pokin' around."

Alice: "The TV special will be called 'the shadiest Christmas ever,'" Alice theorizes.

Alex: Alex looks prepared to say something appropriately pompous and mythic, then pauses. "Actually, yeah, coat wouldn't hurt."

Rand: Niall waves a hand, and two elves arrive with a quite handsome wooly coat in whatever color you like best.

Alex: Alex dons the garment, and strides out in to the storm. He does something with his back, with the set of his spine, and… a Greater Emulation of '…offers shelter in its shadow (2)' for 4 PMP.

Rand: Then they hang around behind Cynn looking blandly threatening and offering people cocoa.

Rand: Hm, so, you're extending yourself out as this large-scale sheltering presence!

Alex: Yes!

Rand: You stretch out metaphysical roots of comfort and stability around the whole conceptual "Santa" business.

Alex: Remember also: It is my nature that the lightning is in love with me.

Alex: Oak calls the lightning to itself, and endures it, and grows strong despite.

Rand: This puts you in a pretty good position to see what's going on on a larger scale.

Alex: Alex may or may not literally expand in to an enormous, mythic oak tree.

Rand: There's quite a large operation here in terms of manufacturing, analysis, and delivery.

Rand: Just for reasons of scale, Niall doesn't do everything himself.

Cynn: "Hello Peaceblossom. How are the wives? Still good? And look at you, Coin, I like what you're doing with the ears now. Very chic."

Rand: There's quite a lot of elf-hours that goes into determining what gift or anti-gift will encourage a given child along the desired development path, then making that, and then delivering it on The Big Night.

Remy: "If we don't have any leads on the Big Bad, we could kidnap an air spirit."

Rand: From your elevated perspective, you can see these operations, and also the various ways they're being opposed.

Rand: It's obviously a highly-coordinated attack; no individual element would be that big a deal if it weren't all happening at once.

Alex: Excellent. If each individual element is small, I might be able to just plain protect the op.

Rand: The storms that hamper the progress of the flying sleighs, the floods that kept much of the personnel from returning to base, the national governments that suddenly put flying reindeer on the "shoot missiles at" watch list, the sudden lichen famine…

Rand: You're certainly prepare to absorb a few of the lightning strikes that dip down and seem to find you tasty.

Rand: I'm not entirely sure how your power will defend against lichen famine.

Alice: "It's probably pretty easy to trace back some of the other effects, too," Alice says. "Like all the security at the Fairbanks airport."

Alex: Alex can offer shelter; he can't protect from effects that have already happened, but any ongoing miraculous hazards and curses should start hitting him instead of their original targets.

Remy: Lichen famine doesn't sound miraculous.

Alice: It's more like a garage band.

Remy: That is a gross band name.

Rand: That kind of makes sense as far as the physical area goes, but it gets weird if somebody launches a missile at a reindeer over Oslo.

Alex: That it does. My power is, alas, finite.

Rand: Still, that's pretty good. And I suppose there's no reason lichen can't grow on you.

Rand: Being an oak tree and all.

Alex: Alex speaks with a big wooden voice: "This is a larger scale than even I operate at." He briefs the others.

Cynn: They are lichen the look of this.

Rand: Meanwhile, Cynn's elven bodyguards decline to confirm that his names for them are in fact correct.

Remy: Remy steps out at Mach big-number to snatch an air spirit out of the sky. A level 7 Aspect miracle of "Stalker."

Rand: What sort of spirit?

Remy: Probably a storm spirit.

Rand: So, you're grabbing a whole storm?

Remy: That's plausible at Aspect 7, right?

Rand: Yeah, seems like.

Remy: Yeah.

Rand: I'm just clarifying what's happening here.

Remy: I think the classic containment move is to spin around and suck it up with my own vortex.

Alice: Those brownies coming to us for a succor was the right move.

Remy: "What's your deal, wise guy?"

Alex: I protect Remy et al from the other spirits while they deal with this storm spirit.

Rand: "I am the Earl of Thunderhead, greatest of all storms save one! Unhand me, varlet!"

Remy: "I've pinned you fair and square, so tell me who you work for."

Rand: Seen mythically, this fellow is a giant hurling thunder-spears and wearing rather natty indigo armor. Not that it's helping him now.

Alex: Elliott, Fayola, you may want to assist Vance. Huge-ass giant may be a multi-person problem.

Rand: "You have bested me in honorable combat, 'tis true. I am a soldier in the glorious army of the Lady of Patience. We are here to lay siege to the fortress of the Lord-of-Days!"

Cynn: "You know, I haven't actually met her. That's a novelty. I don't like it."

Alice: "Patience," Alice says, as if the word were a curse.

Remy: "She got tired of waiting for presents, you think?" Remy says. "My Familia and I would like to have a conversation. How do we, uh, find her?"

Alice: Alice isn't very personally offended by the concept of patience but she is loyal to her Familia's Estates too!

Rand: The giant considers.

Rand: "She says she'll give you her cell phone number."

Alice: Alice will be quite embarrassed when it turns out that it was actually the Lady of Patients and a direct ally to her Estate.

Rand: He passes this information on.

Alex: "We're at the north pole. There's no signal here!"

Rand: "Well, I mean. There's a pole."

Remy: "In the meanwhile, Mr. Storm Giant, you've been beat, so no more mischief from you. You wouldn't like a second bout against me."

Alice: Alice experimentally calls her favorite psychic hotline to see whether or not there is in fact a signal.

Rand: Signal there does in fact seem to be. ("We're not savages," protests Niall.)

Alice: Alice hangs up on the psychic in the middle of some sort of raving about the blasphemous red dog.

Remy: TEXT: war on xmas?

Remy: TEXT: kinda messed up

Alice: "Oh, you should wish her happy holidays," Alice adds, looking over Remy's shoulder.

Remy: TEXT: hap hols

Rand: The Lady of Patience declines to engage in emoji-based declarations of war and just calls you via the videophone function.

Rand: "The holidays will indeed be happy," she says, remotely turning your speakerphone up to max, "once I have freed the world from the tyrannical dictat of the elven warlord."

Remy: "Patience. Explain yourself!"

Alex: Alex continues to shelter, in a fashion that is not particularly dramatic but which is useful given the circumstances.

Remy: "Also, hello, good to meet you. My name is Remy."

Rand: "How kind. I am Izbekiah."

Rand: "Izbekiah Chepkorir, Power of Patience and follower of Hell."

Remy: "Fighting Santa makes you an enemy of all the world's children—not their hero!"

Cynn: "Warlord. Not king."

Remy: "Oh. Well, that makes sense."

Rand: Izbekiah is a dark-skinned young woman in a very sleek grey suit with long ringlets of tightly-coiled hair.

Alice: "Alice," Alice says, and waves.

Izbekiah: "There's no heroism in letting the supposedly-jolly elf manipulate our young ones."

Izbekiah: "This whole operation is nothing more than a barely-disguised means of social control."

Cynn: "You know, she's not wrong."

Izbekiah: "Those who do his bidding are rewarded; those who resist are left with nothing and publically shamed."

Remy: "That's what holidays are, aren't they? Valentine's, Thanksgiving, Donut Day. Ideology given skin."

Alice: "Is this one of those things that you don't notice when you're a mortal?" Alice asks. "Because I don't remember much Santa-related public shaming, but I have noticed that I used to miss a lot of things."

Remy: "Christmas is the best holiday—why would you assail it, when you could be making sure I don't have to shop for my Dad on Father's Day ever again?"

Alex: "I distinctly remember buying my own Christmas presents," says the tree-god.

Izbekiah: "Observe the case of poor Natalie Terelieu," says Izbekiah, flashing some helpful pop-ups on screen to illustrate her case.

Izbekiah: "The fat man decided she had a great destiny as a doctor. She wanted to be in a ska band. But she was given only coal until she gave up beatboxing practice and improved her grades in Biology."

Alice: "How many sigmas off of normal is this case?"

Izbekiah: "Well, it involves a ska band, so."

Izbekiah: "But my point is, all the Naughty and Nice business is just how the fat man pressures kids—the most vulnerable parts of humanity—into acting the way he wants them to."

Alex: "A compelling thesis."

Izbekiah: "Humans should be free of these weird social controls set up by random self-appointed wizards."

Remy: "Mere correlation! A girl won't change her life just because of one day out of the year—she exercised her own free will in how to react."

Alice: "I mean, consider me persuaded if that's a meaningful element of what's going on in the mythic world, but I don't know how cherry-picked the case is."

Remy: "Wrong-o!"

Izbekiah: "The concept of 'free will' is a laughably simplistic way of describing human drives and choices. Is it 'free will' to do what those in power have pushed you towards? It is simple coincidence that 'free will' so often pushes us towards that course which has been laid down for us by the powers that be?"

Alex: "Surely you have a more civilized means of pressing this suit than open war."

Izbekiah: "Oh, I suppose I could hold a sit-in or something. But that would be dumb."

Izbekiah: "Negotiations happen between peers, not between oppressors and oppressed."

Alex: "So, hold on a moment. I just want to be clear on this. Niall, what proportion of Christmas presents are your doing, and what proportion are the act of mortal initiative?"

Alex: "Because I buy Christmas presents for people and I'd like to know how much I've been making a fool of myself."

Niall: "I've been trying to get up to 100%, but right now we're only handling about 68%. Probably less now with all the interruptions."

Remy: "There's plenty of powers that be. Surely Santa Claus can't be the absolute worst of them. Couldn't you get rid of people who incite violence and hatred, instead of being nice?"

Niall: "Nor am I going to be gainsaid by some whippersnapper, sent by the devil I might add, who has a bee in her bonnet about convincing children to be good boys and girls."

Rand: "I have a lot on my plate," says Izbekiah. "I'll be deposing some dictators in January; do you want to get in on that?"

Alex: "Yes, actually."

Remy: "Same."

Remy: "We should be antagonistic now, so that team-up will be more satisfying."

Izbekiah: "Okay, I'll pencil you in."

Alex: "Look, as tools of social control go, free presents are pretty anodyne.

Izbekiah: "But if you side against me with the fat man, I'll show no mercy in December!"

Remy: "Why don't you show us no mercy in person?" Remy says, completely unaware of whether or not he is flirting.

Izbekiah: "Because that would be dumb. Instead I will slowly deplete your resources and crush your attempts to rebuild, then declare a showy and public victory after Christmas fails to come."

Izbekiah: "Then I will invite you to my gloating party."

Alex: "I like her style," mutters Alex.

Alex: "So two-thirds of all Christmas presents are on the line here, eh?"

Alice: "Two-thirds of all Christmas presents, probably ninety-eight percent of the Christmas coal, and a surprisingly sinister agenda."

Remy: "Which means, of course, that contending with your forces directly would be a distraction—as of now, our prime objective is ensuring that Christmas happens."

Izbekiah: "See, see? You're acting like it's all about the presents. Christmas has become all about getting. This is exactly why I'm attacking you with armies of angry birds!"

Alice: Alice ponders. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to switch your modus operandi to giving children presents that bring them delight instead of presents that mold them, Mr. Claus?"

Niall: "Molding children into upstanding adults is the whole point!"

Alex: "Or, counter-point, Izbekiah, you might consider setting up a rival presenteering racket at the South Pole."

Alex: "Let the free market sort it out."

Cynn: "Oh man, you have no idea, Alice. Dude is a control freak."

Alice: "Molding children into upstanding adults isn't any kind of point!" Alice says. "It's criminal."

Alice: "Just how many tons of coal have you had to deliver to yourself, anyway?"

Remy: "Show of hands, have any of us ever met an upstanding adult? Everyone I know is just kind of trying their best to keep things together."

Alice: "The brownies honestly seemed kind of solid."

Alex: "Human adults."

Niall: "Bah. Try to raise a child without molding them at all. We all do it, just by existing."

Niall: "But some of us are trying to do it well, by teaching virtues like kindness and cleanliness and not attacking Santa with an army of angry birds."

Remy: "The big man has a point, Iz."

Rand: "Why is cleanliness second on the list?" asks Izbekiah. "That's like saying 'social order' is your second favorite virtue. I call it creepy."

Cynn: "Has this whole conversation gone on so long without any mention of the ethics of bribery?"

Alice: "That's stupid on its face, Santa," Alice says. "There's an immense difference between helping something to flourish as itself and choosing its destiny for it."

Alex: "Alright, this is increasingly silly."

Rand: "Destiny takes many possible paths," argues Father Christmas. "It's not like little Billy has a punk rocker blossoming inside him that renders all non-punk paths of development illegitimate."

Alice: "Who are you to choose?"

Alex: Alex sheds his supranormal aspect and returns to something like human form to better participate in what is becoming a round-table discussion.

Niall: "I'm Father Christmas. Which is to say, I'm an expert with hundreds of years of experience in educational theory, carpentry, and, like, being a magical elf."

Niall: "Also frankly there's a limit to how much psychic damage you can do with a bunch of wooden horse and oranges stuffed in a sock."

Rand: I wonder if I should have brought up y'all owning a school in this conversation.

Alice: "Yeah," Alice says. "Izbekiah, could I get some clarity on that? 'Cause this is a very different picture if he's like, practically precognitive and if he's just got a Psychology Today subscription."

Alex: "I'm inclined to agree with Niall, Izbekiah. While at a macroeconomic scope the influence of his operation is pretty significant, you aren't talking about macroeconomic concerns. Your focus is on individual lives being derailed. In that context, your argument is, frankly, weak."

Izbekiah: "I don't see the difference. If there's a large-scale wave pushing everybody in one direction, you can't just say 'well, no individual person's trajectory was shifted.' It's a huge, poorly-mapped weight on everybody's destiny, all determined by one pompous elf."

Remy: "Just one huge weight would be antithetical to free will. But when you have a whole bunch of them pulling you in different directions, so many contradictory impulses, it's hard to complain for want of options."

Alex: "What is the root of your objection - that he's doing this at all, or that he's doing this poorly?

Izbekiah: "…fine."

Izbekiah: "If it really means that much to you, I'll tell you the story of Izbekiah and the Magic Flute."

Alex: "Ooh."

Izbekiah: "When I was a little girl, I wanted to become a neurosurgeon. But my parents really, really wanted me to follow after my mother's mother, who was a world-famous pianist."

Izbekiah: So every year at Christmas, I'd get things like little pennywhistles, a recorder, that kind of thing, along with all the toys and fruit and candy."

Izbekiah: "Eventually the musical instruments got really intricate, things my parents could never have afforded."

Izbekiah: "One year there was even a harpsichord. Don't ask me how."

Izbekiah: "But I was set on being that neurosurgeon, so I kept on skipping music classes. And one year, the toys and oranges stopped coming."

Izbekiah: "My parents swore they'd bought some, but they just vanished. All there was under the tree was a piano."

Alex: "So this is quite personal, really."

Izbekiah: "A piano every year for three years, even when I was in college, which was admittedly an impressive feat."

Izbekiah: "So eventually I figured the universe was trying to tell me something and I switched to being a music major."

Izbekiah: "Anyway, to make a long story short, it turns out you can't make a living as a pianist these days."

Izbekiah: "So, instead, I became the goddess of patience and decided to put an end to the fat man and his scheming ways forever."

Remy: "Niall, do you remember delivering those pianos?"

Rand: "She's a really good pianist," Niall insists.

Niall: "I mean, yes, it was a little excessive, but it was to encourage her to follow her dreams."

Alex: "Her dreams?"

Rand: "People can have more than one dream!"

Cynn: Cynn is eating festive, caramel-covered popcorn. He knows when shit is getting good.

Rand: "It's true, maybe I should have intervened to help her become professionally successful. That kind of thing feels like cheating, though."

Alice: "Man," Alice says. "So you're not actually unnaturally, magically good at forcing people's destinies into line, but you are a fucked-up jerk?"

Remy: "Can you see how that was kind of a mistake?"

Niall: "Any delivery that leads to a hell-powered army camping at your front door to seek revenge was probably a bad delivery, yes."

Alex: Alex asides to the cell phone, "I admit that I'm impressed that you held the grudge this long. Goddess of Patience indeed."

Cynn: "Have we talked about the possibility that he's a jumped-up stalker yet?"

Izbekiah: "Revenge is a dish best served cold. It is very cold at the North Pole."

Alex: "Alright, so I think we have grounds for a compromise."

Alex: "Niall, you need to stop doing… the sort of thing you did to Izbekiah."

Alice: "We do," Alice agrees. "By defeating Santa, she will become Sant— oh."

Alex: "If you do that, I think, perhaps, Izbekiah will find it in her evil hellish heart to tolerate lesser beneficences."

Remy: "I think Izbekiah always deserves some recompense. It was a bad gift, and it spoiled some other dreams that could have been better. She deserves better, Santa."

Niall: "I mean, I can deliver a Neurosurgery for the Young package," says Niall, "but it probably won't make things better now."

Niall: "And I can say I'm sorry for interfering in her life and not making it better, which I am."

Niall: "But honestly she's probably still pretty mad."

Alex: "Causality is what it is. We can only go forward. She's more concerned, I think, with your future actions towards others than finding recompense for herself."

Rand: "That's correct," says Izbekiah. "Furthermore, my anti-Santa stance is merely a highly-personal extension of my ideological desire to prevent gods from exercising broad social controls over mortal life."

Remy: "She's still on the line. Ask her what she wants you to give her!"

Izbekiah: "Plus, I'm winning, and I don't think you're actually strongly motivated to intervene in his favor, so I don't actually have a strong reason to compromise."

Remy: "I call shenanigans on that, Patience. It's the problem with you Hell types—you take care of everyone but yourself. You got screwed over. You deserve to have a personal stake in this."

Rand: "In that case," says Niall, "all I can offer you, young lady, is a hope that no matter what happens, even if it ends with my destruction, that you have a merry Christmas."

Alex: "You're mistaken, Izbekiah: his employees, which you have made refugees, are impinging on our hospitality."

  • Cynn takes a quick shot from a hip flask.

Cynn: "Are you going to take a hard line about all Noble intervention?"

Cynn: "That's quite a few worlds to police."

Alice: Alice snorts at the notion.

Izbekiah: "No, but I am going to stick pins in people who think they can reshape the world just because they have one concept in 'em and are really, really old."

Alex: Alex huddles up discreetly with the Familia. "I think I was wrong about the compromising. What else do we know about this woman? What do we have for leverage?"

Remy: "We could offer to help her out in some other way. Not all of her goals seem bad, and our family is better-suited to taking direct control of reality."

Remy: "It sounds like she doesn't think she could take us head-on, so if we figure out where she is we could just bamf in and knock her out."

Remy: "Uh, time travel? That's gotta count as leverage."

Alex: "Yeah, but, shit, I'm not a huge fan of that sort of blue-on-blue. We're all in on the Valde Bellum together, right?"

Alice: "Personally," Alice says, "I'm not really OK with any outcome here that doesn't involve Christmas continuing, and with a change in outlook to aim more at joy and less at control."

Alice: "But he's Cynn's vassal, I guess."

Alex: "I'm kind of with Alice on this. What Niall did to Izbekiah was pretty bullshit."

Cynn: "Oh my sweet summer Oak, you've still got so much to learn."

Remy: "It was messed up."

Alex: "If she was just trying to get him to stop doing that, I'd throw in with her in a second. But she's going for a full-on revenge."

Cynn: "That's our currency, Alex."

Cynn: "And perhaps the only thing that keeps us notionally sane."

Remy: "I don't know of that one mistake is an impeachable offense, for the office of Santa, but it was a mistake. Christmas doesn't create good people reliably. A bit of change could do some real good."

Cynn: "You don't have to like it, but you do have to accept it. One day. When the puppy-dog glimmer fades just a little bit more."

Cynn: "And I agree with Remy. Niall: What are you willing to give now, as a gift of good faith?"

Niall: "I'd be prepared to offer a substantial tribute in recompense for an old slight, but that isn't very helpful if Lady Izbekiah won't accept it."

Cynn: "Not a thing, Niall. A deed. A gesture. A vow, an oath, a geasa, a promise, a notion."

Alex: "Cash only goes so far."

Cynn: "Faced with a failure in the Good Order of things, what can you do to improve?"

Niall: "I suppose I could take a vow… to let things go? That sounds really nonspecific, though."

Remy: "And if you can't improve, maybe a new hand could. Niall, what if you gave Izbekiah a chance at being Santa this year, or the next?"

Remy: "Let her see the difficulty of her task, test her theories, and maybe the two of you will understand each other a little better."

Niall: "She doesn't want anybody to be Santa, though."

Rand: "Yeah," says Izbekiah, "I don't!"

Alice: "Niall, you are such a negative Niallie."

Cynn: "Izbekiah, is there a gesture you would accept, some compromise?"

Alice: "But having a Power be Santa is probably a Windflower Law violation anyway."

Rand: Niall is a Power, though.

Remy: Illegal Santa!

Alice: Alice clearly does not realize this.

Alex: "Alice," asides Alex, "He's a power. Lord of Good Order."

Alex: "I know, I have no idea how that turned in to him being Santa Claus either."

Rand: "It wasn't easy," says Niall proudly.

Remy: "I think he was Santa Claus first."

Remy: "Like Dracula."

Alice: "'Lord.' 'Lord.' What is it with these nonstandard misleading titles anyway," mutters the Komtesse.

Rand: Ultimately the solution needs to involve Remy being Santa somehow.

Rand: If only because that's maximally amusing.

Alex: "Look, okay. Izbekiah, we need you to find some sort of compromise here or else this situation is going to escalate."

Remy: Offscreen from the videocam, Remy says, "She's not really engaging in diplomacy, even though we're at least a quarter-way on her side. All I can think to do is have a little dust-up and work things out after we've ensured Christmas happens, or go back in time and mess with stuff."

Alice: "Someone needs to be Santa," Alice belabors, "to deliver presents to all the children, to bring them delight."

Alex: "Going back in time and messing with stuff won't let us get in to her past. Power time is absolute, innit?"

Remy: "I think I can kind of… poke at things."

Remy: "It's resilient but not invincible. Mostly."

Rand: I don't see why you can't mess with time in 3e. Absolute Celestial Time is a 2e artifact.

Rand: Although obviously now it interacts with the Wound system.

Alice: "Nobody wants to see what happens if there are children who do not get such presents this year," Alice explains.

Alice: "On Earth."

Alex: "Look, if someone went back in to my past and started fucking with my timeline? I'd be cross. I don't recommend it."

Rand: "I kind of do," says Izbekiah. "Maybe they'll learn that people who hand out free gifts have weird agendas that they should be wary of."

Cynn: "And what of the poor alfar children in Alfheim, sister?"

Alice: "Izbekiah," Alice says, smiling, "what are you implying?"

Remy: "Do they even celebrate Christmas?"

Cynn: "Well, they call it Yule, but only ironically."

Izbekiah: "I'm implying that everybody's got an angle, and that if you don't know who the sucker in the room is, it's you."

Izbekiah: "Teaching a kid that is the best gift they'll ever get."

Alice: "I see," Alice says. "So you are attempting to mold them?"

  • Alex oh-snaps!

Izbekiah: "No, I'm teaching them not to tolerate intolerance. Don't try and paradox me!"

Cynn: "Everything is always already its opposite."

Alice: "Ah," Alice says. "You don't have an angle, then."

Alice: Alice is briefly enjoying herself, but it slips into a frown and sigh. "Izbekiah, what we must return to is that you have implied that I have a weird agenda, and I am deeply hurt."

Izbekiah: "Look, I am not making a manifesto against compassion here."

Izbekiah: "There is a difference between having a worldwide unaccountable child-molding program, and trying to convince people to do… not that."

Alex: "You kind of are? You're arguing that any industrial-scale application of generosity is necessarily suspect."

Izbekiah: "A lot of things are suspect if you make them an industry!"

Izbekiah: "Just look at health insurance."

Alice: "There is absolutely such a difference," Alice says. "But giving children presents to bring them joy is not the same as giving good children presents to mold them and control their destiny."

Alex: "Hang on a second."

Rand: "Well… yes. If it was just about giving people nice things, that would be fine."

Alice: Alice waves a hand. "The coal thing would strengthen my argument if examined in detail but I am leaving it out because it overcomplicates the actual statement."

Alex: Alex takes a moment to step away from the cell phone and knock a menacing storm-giant the heck away. "We are having a conversation! Throw your lightning elsewhere!"

Alice: "Exactly," Alice says. "I am not willing to accept any outcome that does not involve the children of the world receiving nice things, that are not to mold them, for Christmas. I was briefly willing to do so when I thought Niall was Cynn's minion and that I should be respectful of my Brother Caelestis' turf."

Remy: "If Christmas belongs to anyone, it's Ms. Reprieve."

Alex: Alex stomps back. "Compelling argument, Remy."

Niall: "I feel that as the person who invented the institution and put in all the work, I should get some say here."

Cynn: "Hush, sweetie."

Cynn: "You wouldn't like her when she's really upset."

Niall: "I've been very polite because the rest of you are essentially Nice, but I really don't see why I shouldn't throw you in the dungeon, Cynn."

Alex: "Because you're outnumbered and doing so would escalate the situation to violence."

Cynn: "That."

Alex: "We're trying to resolve this without resorting to brutishness."

Niall: "So instead you resort to brazen threats of brutishness."

Remy: "I mean, I have the utmost respect for you, Mr. Santa. You're Santa. But even with all the work you've put in, it seems like Christmas is a dubiously useful tool of Good Order."

Remy: "But it's one hell of a reprieve from the rest of the year."

Rand: Niall struggles not to be touched by this plea from an innocent and childlike heart.

Remy: "My sister caelestis runs that game, and she's got some great ideas. Why not see if you can make it better?"

Alex: "Remy, are you proposing to buy it off him?"

Remy: "I don't think he's looking to sell—he's put too much love into Christmas. And it's because you love Christmas, Santa, that you should want it to be the best it could be."

Alice: "You can't buy Christmas," Alice agrees. "I don't think you can even nod-nod-wink-wink not buy Christmas, although you may be able to go a step or two in that direction."

Alex: "…well, if Alice is willing, I admit it would be quite the adventure."

Alice: "I do think it might be a bit of a relief, Mr. Claus," Alice says. "Perhaps. To you. But that too is another matter."

Niall: "I'm not sure what you're suggesting here."

Alice: "Out of lov—" Alice coughs. "Out of sincere intellectual appreciation for the institution you built, I am suggesting that you allow a person or persons more focused on the spirit of Christmas, on the joy of Christmas, on making children happy, to take over in providing Christmas present fulfillment, and that given the date that you assist with the transition."

Niall: "That seems uncommonly like asking me to cede everything I was being asked to give up, only now I do it with a smile on my face."

Alice: "Well," Alice says, "it's out of respect for your place as Lord of Good Order that I'm assuming you don't want to do it yourself."

Remy: "Iz wanted no Christmas at all! If you can't see how that's different, why, it's hard not to doubt the sincerity of your Christmas spirit."

Alex: Alex stands well back from this one. He doesn't see that going well.

Niall: "All right, then. Let's play this a different way."

Niall: "Whatever else I am, I'm still a fairy at heart. So we'll have a wager."

Niall: "I'll let you give me a reprieve this year, and you can take over the deliveries as you see fit."

Alex: (Do you mind if I step away for a minute? There's a wedding cake that needs to be eaten.)

Niall: "If you can show that your way of doing things was better than mine, I'll hand Christmas over to you, lock, stock, and barrel."

Alex: "And otherwise…?"

Niall: "But if not, you must all swear to respect my claim to be the one true master of Christmas, henceforth and forevermore."

Alice: "Better in the lights of Good Order, The Respite, or Patience?"

Alex: "I think that's more than fair."

Niall: "Let's say all three."

Alice: Alice considers that.

Alex: "That's less fair, or would be less fair if you weren't one of them."

Niall: "Fine, then, we'll choose a neutral judge. Day, if you like, or Purity, or Ananda if you feel bold."

Cynn: "I'll abstain, all things being equal."

Alice: "I'd hoped to get in Joy, if there's such a Power," Alice admits. "I mean, I was prepared to do it myself, and prepared to rope in Familia, but I admit Delight or Joy would be ideal. But yes, a neutral judge. I suppose the Darkest Lord would be a bit too bold."

Rand: "This is… largely acceptable," admits Izbekiah.

Alex: "I think Ananda would be an appropriate judge, if we could get him."

Remy: "I heard Ananda is so hot you go mad if you see them, and I don't know if I'm immune to that."

Niall: "Joy will do."

Niall: "Then it's a bargain?"

  • Alex gives a long, low whistle. "Bold."

Cynn: "I can't be party to this, I'm afraid."

Niall: "Obviously I wasn't including you."

Remy: "Why not? Elf law?"

Alex: "Because they hate each other?"

Cynn: "Because I don't believe it's right. At least, not quite. But I won't stop it. It's Niall's wager to make."

Remy: "Oh! It's an ex thing."

Alex: "I don't think they ever dated, Remy."


Niall: "I have been wed since before any of you were born."

Alex: "Alright, so! Call off your hounds, Patience, if you would."

Cynn: "Wait, am I not older than you?"

Rand: "No," says Niall, firmly.

Alice: Alice looks at the sky for a moment. "I am not terribly sure what will happen if I become oathbound," she says. "If that is not catastrophic, then I suppose it is agreed."

Rand: "It's agreed, then," says Izbekiah. "My armies will withdraw, and I'll be sending an emissary to discuss our plans for the Christmas season."

Izbekiah: "There's a lot to do, if we plan to fill the world with delight."

Remy: "Come on, just send yourself. You sound cool and we should be friends."

Izbekiah: "Sorry, little buddy. Wheels within wheels."

Alex: "Well, this'll be exciting."

Cynn: "It will certainly be… a thing, I suppose."

Alice: "I'd actually meant Joy as, like, the person to take over," Alice admitted, "but judge, sure, judge, fine. Serendipity."

Alex: "It'll actually probably be a bit of a tedious bureaucratic industrial nightmare."

Rand: "I wish you every happiness of it," says Niall. "Meanwhile, I'm headed for Barbados."

Rand: And with a twinkling of elf magic, he vanishes.

Alice: "Have fun!"

Remy: "Don't worry, Alex. I can run really really fast."

Alex: "That worked out okay!"

Rand: And that was the story of The Year Without A Santa Claus.

Cynn: "Hmmph. No appreciation for siding with him for once? Poor boy's still holding a grudge."

Alice: "It's terrible," Alice says. "Losing would be really stressful. But! This should be fine."

Alex: "Cynn, you'll probably want to infeudate Alice."

Alex: "Or else none of Santa's crew are going to pay heed."

Cynn: "I am not party to the bargain. I cannot interfere in this, except," he says, turning to Sunblossom. "The lot of them are much better than I am. Let them show you that."

Alex: Alex salutes the elf.

Alice: "Mm," Alice agrees. "Delighted to meet you."

Alice: "I wish I'd had a chance to talk to you and the others here first and get your input; things got a bit heated." She smiles professionally. "I'll try to make up for it."

Rand: The elf considers a lot of possible responses before sighing and saying "Merry Christmas, ma'am."

Rand: As the thunder passes away, the snow begins, increasingly, to fall.

  • Rand draws the curtain.
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