A Tale by Rhianna DeAngelo
The otherwise silent night at the DeAngelo household was disturbed only by the frantic jittering of a very eager Zelda, sniffing circles in the snow. She licked the cold white snowflakes off her nose and looked around the yard, her ears on high alert, waiting for any indication that the portal would soon open. She ran to the back doors of the house, put her snow covered paws on the glass and gave a loud “woof” before running again in circles.
“I think that means hurry up humans!” said Michael as he adjusted the laces on his snow boots. As he finished tying, Peanut rubbed her body along the side of his boot, then quickly rushed to her food bowl, releasing an insistent meow.
“It’s so much easier when they can talk. It’s becoming my favorite part of Christmas,” said Rhianna as she hurried about making final preparations for their journey.
“Uh, once a year we travel to a fictional land we thought was imaginary but thanks to Christmas magic is real, and hang out with Santa, battle evil and save Christmas, and your favorite part is the talking animals?” Michael said incredulously.
She gave him a half smile in return while fastening the final button on her jacket. “Yes that’s exactly correct. I mean you do the ‘pretend’ voiceover for both of them all year. It’s nice to hear what they have to say in their own words. I always wonder what they’re thinking—this is the only time they can tell me.”
In that moment, Peanut’s chorus of “meow, meow…” stopped, and a new voice entered the conversation.
“…cease your relentless chattering. My bowl is dangerously close to empty, please address this immediately, and while you’re at it…unhand me!”
Rhianna gleefully lifted the restless cat and held her tightly in her arms.
“It’s midnight!” said Michael as he held open the back door and closed it tightly behind them. Together, they watched the flickering light of the portal begin to emerge.
The sound of the steadily quickening wind was joined by the excitable chanting of “It’s time, it’s time, it’s time, it’s time,” by a very anxious Zelda.
Rhianna whistled for Zelda, who had an awful case of the zoomies, to join them as they watched the portal form through the snow.
“How did we do this last Christmas again?” asked Rhianna.
“Oh you know, just jumped head first into a swirling vortex of doom—the usual,” Michael replied.
Zelda was the first to jump in, followed closely by the rest of the family.
The world distorted into a rush of color and lights as they could feel themselves entering the distant realm. Though the journey took an instant, the breathtaking beauty of the experience filled their minds and hearts with a sense of wonder.
They felt the cold, crisp air of Tellest touch their feet as they fell through the portal. While Rhianna’s eyes shut tightly, her face buried in Peanut’s fur. Michael was the first to look out at the landscape… Or rather, down at it.
“Uh oh,” he said, as he took in their surroundings.
The portal had opened about ten feet above a straw-covered roof. Their bodies dropped like stones in a river, creating two large holes through the ceiling as they crashed into the stable. Their fall was cushioned by a large pile of hay and what they presumed—unfortunately—was reindeer manure.
“Gross!” yelled Rhianna. She stood and released Peanut at once, who had climbed her way onto her captor’s head in the last instant to avoid sullying her pristine white fur.
Zelda greeted her humans with a look of delight, with a reindeer following close behind.
“You made it! You’ve been gone forever! I made a friend!” she said, playfully patting at the reindeer’s muzzle. “And you smell…interesting,” she said while tilting her head.
Michael plucked the hay out of his hair. “What do you mean we’ve been gone forever? We were only a few seconds behind you.”
The stable door creaked opened as a slender figure emerged. “Actually, Zelda here arrived about an hour ago,” said the young elven maiden in green tights and a red tunic. “Time works differently here, if you’ll recall. You may not have noticed in your previous visits since you all arrived together. Come, let’s get you inside for some cookies and warm milk…and a change of clothes,” she said, suppressing a giggle.
As they entered the building adjoining the stable, they were greeted by a warm hearth and the soft, golden glow of candlelight. The dark wooden walls were adorned with garlands of evergreen, and the smell of spices, meats, and pine permeated the air. The DeAngelo family stood in the center of the room, not wishing to dirty any of the red velvet chairs in the room with their soiled clothes.
“First, let’s get something warm in your bellies,” she said, as she presented a large tray with silver steins of warm milk and a platter of delicious looking round cookies. Michael was the first to take a bite of the cookie, only to immediately spit it out.
“Ah, so this is the evil we’re facing this year?” he said with a look of horror.
Peanut ate the fallen cookie after a quick discerning sniff.
“Why would you do this to me on Christmas?” said Michael as he gave the elf a sad look of betrayal. Rhianna placed a comforting hand on his back.
The elven maiden looked taken aback. “Silly me, I should have let you know. We’re trying to give Santa a traditional Christmas this year. This is an ancient Nordic dessert recipe: fiskeblugen. It means crusted fish balls. It’s made of…”
“Nope, nope, don’t want to know,” said Michael.
“Why are you trying to poison our guests, Rosewyn?” a deep, booming voice echoed through the hall. “Santa!” Zelda shouted, and she pranced over and jumped up to greet him. He patted her with a velvet gloved hand as Peanut curled around his leather boots, rubbing her face on the silver buckle.
The elf’s cheeks turned pink with embarrassment. “I will fetch something simpler, and check on the clothes for you both. I’ll be back in a moment.”
Rosewyn paused in her tracks as Peanut yelled “Stop! Leave the fiskeblugen!”
The elf gave her a kind smile as she lowered the tray to the ground and exited the room.
While Peanut occupied herself, Zelda, Rhianna, and Michael greeted Santa.
“It’s good to see you again. I wish we were more…well, more presentable” said Rhianna, gesturing to their clothes.
Santa chuckled, “No worries my dear, you would have had to change into something else more suited to your journey this year anyway.”
“Why would we need a change of clothes?” asked Michael.
“All will be revealed when I introduce you to the wizard that will be accompanying you on your journey. We have a rather important adventure this year, though a…shall we say smaller adventure. But sometimes the smallest adventures are the most important,” he said, a hint of wisdom in his tone.
The DeAngelos stared at him blankly, waiting for a proper explanation.
“Perhaps I may be of assistance” a tiny voice said. A shadow grew large on the wall opposite the fireplace, which projected the image of large pointed hat, robes billowing, staff in hand, and a long, thin tail. They looked in the direction of the light to greet the guest but saw no one.
“Ahem. Down here,” said the voice. Peanut hissed at the tiny figure.
“I am Raskagar, the herbalist, at your service,” he said, bowing deeply.
“A…a mouse?” asked Zelda. “I have a you at home. Do you squeak too?”
The mouse let out an angry harrumph. “I am not a mouse, I’m a man! A curmudgeonly old man and powerful wizard! And I most certainly do not squeak!” he said, in a small squeaky voice.
“Um, excuse me” said Zelda. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I have the biggest ears in the room and I can’t hear you.”
Raskagar gave Santa a pleading look, and then switched his nose in a pointed sniff toward the elf entering the door.
Rosewyn returned with a small assortment of cheeses, two hot cocoas, two small water bowls, and what appeared to be a plate of proper chocolate chip cookies. Michael grinned from ear to ear.
“Come, join me by the fireside. And let’s make conversing with your journey guide a bit easier, shall we?” said Santa, pulling a vial of swirling purple liquid from his pocket. He passed the vial to Rosewyn, who set the tray down and placed a single drop of liquid in each drink. She placed the water bowls in front of Zelda and Peanut, who eagerly bound over to quench their thirst.
“Wait! What exactly are you giving us?” asked Rhianna, halting the animals.
Santa chuckled with a glint of mischief in his eyes. “It’s more fun if I don’t tell you, but I expect you will guess easily enough when you see your new dressings. Rosewyn, are the garments prepared?”
“Indeed they are!” she replied, as she gleefully held out the palm of her hand, revealing an assortment of tiny costumes that appeared to be meant for toys.
“You…you’re shrinking us?” asked Michael.
“Is that even safe?” asked Rhianna, wary of the thought of unknown potion.
“Ahem,” Raskagar cleared his throat, shouting in his tiny voice so all could hear. “Shrinking magic is my personal specialty. How on earth do you think Santa fits all those toys in his sleigh? Hmm?”
Michael and Rhianna locked eyes, and gave one another a shrug of understanding before each taking a cup of cocoa from the tray. “To Christmas,” they said in unison as they gulped down the warm beverage. Zelda hastily lapped up her drink, but Peanut hesitated.
“Is this not to your liking?” asked Rosewyn.
“I prefer milk, warmed for exactly thirty six seconds” said the cat. “But I suppose this will do for now.”
“I don’t feel any different,” said Michael, as he bit into a cookie. The cookie suddenly became impossibly heavy, and the world suddenly rushed upward. Rhianna and Michael found themselves buried, naked under a sea of their clothes.
“You didn’t warn us about the clothes!” yelled Rhianna from under the folds of fabric.
“Oh I’m sorry, I should have mentioned that before” said Rosewyn. She passed the small costume through a hole in the sleeve so she could change, and did the same for Michael.
“I’ll prepare Zelda and Peanut while you dress yourselves” said the elf in a cheery voice.
They readied themselves, attempting to ignore the smell of their previous clothes.
“I don’t understand my costume” said Zelda, eyeing the small gold winder key attached to her back, spinning in circles as she attempted to investigate the curious object.
Peanut seemed mildly happy with her patchwork design, with makeshift stitches attached to the outer corners of her calico markings. “A simple disguise, though it appears as if I were crafted by peasants.”
Rhianna adjusted the green gown of her doll costume while Michael, dressed as a toy soldier, fiddled with the gold buttons on his top.
“Ok, where are we going and who are we fighting?” Asked Michael, brandishing the slim metal sword attached to his belt.
“We are fighting the greatest enemy of all…disloyalty!” said Raskagar in a much deeper tone now that they were all similar statures. His determined expression wavered as he looked at the four confused faces before him.
“We are running out of time, Raskagar” said a booming voice from above that caused the group of adventurers to jump. Santa, as tall as a building, loomed over impatiently.
The mouse looked un-phased, and began his tale.
“As I was saying, about a week ago, my apprentice and I had a disagreement. I dabble in various experiments from time to time, in all areas of alchemy and herbology, and I enjoy making new potions and elixirs…all manner of cures and conjuring. My creations are intended to push the boundaries of our understanding of what’s ‘possible.’ I had intended only to create a potion of inspiration, a simple cure for when one feels unmotivated for creative pursuits. However, my fool apprentice added the mugwort before the powered dragon’s liver! You can imagine what happened next!” Raskagar shook his head as he recalled the incident and scratched the fur behind his ears in frustration.
“So that’s what turned you into a mouse…” said Rhianna with an understanding nod.
“Don’t be ridiculous” said the wizard, twitching his whiskers. “That’s when the spoon began to talk!”
Zelda’s head tilted as far sideways as it would bend.
“The potion of inspiration became a potion of animation! That spoon was Barnabus’s favorite implement in the arcanium. He would often talk to it, rather than talking to himself, whenever he was tasked with keeping a concoction stirred. You can imagine after stir number six-thousand-seven-hundred-and-four of any standard healing elixir on any given night, he would want a companion to speak with.”
“What did the spoon say?” asked Zelda excitedly.
“It mostly complained about work,” said Raskagar nonchalantly.
“I discovered the next morning that something was dreadfully amiss. Barnabus was nowhere to be found, and most of my potions ingredients were gone. He had bottled the whole cauldron and snuck away in the night. I knew he intended to recreate the potion and needed to be stopped. I would have never known had that disgruntled spoon not informed me of his treachery.”
“Can you get to the point?” asked Peanut impatiently.
“Peanut! That was rude.” scolded Michael.
Peanut’s ears lowered, but her eyes looked pleadingly at her human. “I’m sorry but I want to eat him.”
Raskagar let out a chuckle and looked fondly at the dismayed feline.
“It’s alright my dear one. When I am human again, I promise I shall ignore you thoroughly.”
Peanut’s ears perked up at the offer. “That is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
Raskagar let out one more “ahem” before resuming his story.
“When I discovered him, he was standing over a cauldron where it was clear he was attempting to recreate the mixture, but in a much larger quantity. I first scolded him for his insolence and demand he had over the stolen potion, which I could see hung in a glass vile around his neck. When he refused to listen, I then attempted to take it by force. But the scoundrel shoved me into the ingredients shelf in a rage. The cauldron toppled and some bottles fell during the scuffle… well, I can assume our current states are the result of an unfortunate mix of transfiguration potion, some pest repellent, and olive oil. Though the one bright spot on this dark tale is my fur is quite silky.”
“Our? You mean you both transformed into mice?” asked Rhianna.
“I became a mouse, and fitting that the traitor became a big fat rat! As soon as I fought my way out of the sleeve of my robes, I saw the rat escaping out a window, dragging the vial behind him as he fled.”
Michael stepped forward.
“This is a lot of exposition, what exactly is our mission here?”
“Why, to stop the rat from ruining Christmas of course!” said Raskagar.
Santa’s booming voice interjected. “In short, Barnabus has somehow managed to disperse the stolen potion to all the toys we crafted this year. What’s worse, he has commandeered the workshop and commanded the legion of toys to prevent my elves and I from entering. Were we to reclaim it by force, and return the toys to their proper state with the antiserum Raskagar concocted, we may harm the toys in the process. I would not risk ruining even a single child’s Christmas, and I cannot possibly deliver toys that are, shall we say alive, to the Children of the world.”
Michael nodded and once again brandished the sword. “So the plan is we infiltrate the workshop, masquerade as toys under the Rat’s command, and when we take down their leader, we’ll order the toy legion to…”
“Will you stop with the stabbing gesticulations? We are trying to reason with the imbecile!” shouted Raskagar, straightening the brim of his small pointed hat. “Come, we need to get into the workshop through the ancient secret tunnels…” Raskagar went on, pointing his staff toward what appeared to be a small crack in the wooden masonry.
“…That is a hole in the wall” said Rhianna.
“Astute observation, madam. I was adding dramatic flair,” replied the mouse.
“What if there are spiders?” she asked, mildly panicked at the thought of entering the dusty space.
Michael put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sure there aren’t many spiders at the North Pole, and if there were, they would be magical Christmas spiders that just want to give you four hugs.”
She let out an exasperated sigh as he hugged her tightly in demonstration.
Santa chuckled above them.
“You will need this to get out,” said Santa, reaching down with a small golden key and handing it to Rhianna’s outstretched hands.
”The key to my workshop will come in handy when the shrinking potion eventually loses its potency. Now hurry, we only have an hour before I need to depart if I’m going to make my deliveries in time for Christmas morning.”
Raskagar led the way through the dusty wooden crevice, illuminating their path with the glowing tip of the staff held in his paw. He muttered an incantation to dim the light as soon as the glow from the workshop became visible through the cobwebs in their path. The group attempted to avoid the sheer obstacles, but pieces still clung to their clothes and fur. Rhianna shivered with anxiety and rushed to the narrow opening in the wall. She emerged into a room bathed in the glow of dozens of silver lanterns. Shelves of deep mahogany wood lined with white lace covered every inch of the walls. On the shelves were hundreds of porcelain dolls of every shape and size. Each wore a unique dress, in every variety of fabric and color imaginable with intricately embroidered patterns. Under the shelves and along the walls were crafting tables, some covered in buttons and ribbons, and others with tiny brushes and small containers of paint.
“The porcelain room,” whispered Raskagar from behind, as the rest of the group emerged. “We have entered the most delicate room in Santa’s workshop. I need not tell you why it is absolutely imperative we all remain as silent as—”
Zelda interrupted with a loud sneeze that caused her to ears to flap loudly as her head shook.
The group eyed her incredulously.
“It was dusty in there!” whined Zelda.
Michael gave her a slight smile and bent to pet her behind the ears, but his hand slowed as he noticed the heads of every doll lining the shelves slowing turned in their direction. Some blinked, while some unfinished ones stared blankly with unpainted eyes. The fur on peanut’s back instinctively rose.
“That’s not creepy at all,” said Peanut
“What do we do now?” asked Rhianna, slowly backing away. Raskagar put a paw on her shoulder. “My dear, you’re meant to be one of them, remember?” he said, nudging her forward.
“How am I supposed to do that?” she asked in a frustrated whisper.
“Everyone knows dolls are notoriously critical. Just select one to scrutinize and the others shall follow suit. We can sneak away while they’re distracted.”
Rhianna stepped forward, knocking the dust off her sleeves and smoothing down the material of her green dress. She selected a curly blond-haired doll in the corner with an elaborate up-do and a painfully ruffled pink gown. She eyed it up and down and shook her head in disapproved. Slowly, the others joined, and all eyes were on the new target.
“That was too simple,” said Rhianna
“I told you madam: it’s the most fragile room in Santa’s workshop. That includes their egos. Come, let’s get out of here before your ruffle-clad friend turns their attention back on you.
The next room was adorned with garlands, with iron lanterns on large oak tables. Boxes and wooden crates in neat piles covered the floors. From the ceiling hung carefully painted hot air balloons and various carvings of birds in flight. The shelves along the walls were home to a menagerie of painted wooden animals of all species imaginable. A row of rocking horses and dollhouses towered over the group as they stepped further into the wooden room.
“Look!” said Zelda, bounding over to a small box nearby, walled with winding keys like the one strapped to her back. As she approached, a small shadow scurried away and attempted to hide behind a dollhouse. Zelda chased after it. “Come back!” she cried, “I’m nice! Let’s be friends!” She gave an investigative sniff as she approached the house. The small head of a little yellow duck peeked its way around the corner. Its wooden feet made a faint tapping sound as it waddled forward, its winding key spinning in the effort. As the duck approached, Zelda gave it an affectionate boop on its orange-painted bill.
“Perhaps your friend here is the only one in this room affected by the potion,” said Raskagar as he observed the toys surrounding them. The moment he uttered the words, the rocking horses began a slow back and forth dance, creaking the floorboards as they reared. The animal figures on the shelves stamped their hooves, flapped their wings, or opened their jaws as they inspected the intruders.
The carved creatures appeared ready to leap from their shelves. The little wooden duck waddled forward between Zelda and the encroaching stampede, quickly winding her key in a tight spin which stopped suddenly with a resounding “pop.” The duck’s feet raised about two inches from the ground with one small jump, and then it flopped back in place on the floor. The wooden creatures stopped in their tracks, but whether they halted in fear or bewilderment was left to the imagination.
“Apparently that brilliant display of dominance was enough for us to gain safe passage! Make haste, our time is running short.” Raskagar quickened his pace.
Zelda nudged her new yellow friend, who followed by her side with the quick pitter patter sounds of her wooden flippers on the floor.
‘”How is it that Barnabus could have distributed the potion to so many toys? He barely had enough for a few, let alone an army,” the mouse pondered as they entered the archway into the next room. “It would have been impossible to distribute the potion individually. He must be doing it all at once somehow.”
“If that were the case, then wouldn’t everything be moving? The tables, the chairs, the… scissors,” said Michael.
Raskagar pondered the statement. “I do not believe so. A potion of animation would target any object where there exists an assignment of expectation for reciprocated affections.”
Zelda stopped bounding around her duck friend long enough to tilt her head sideways at Raskagar’s comment.
“In other words,” said the wizard, “it’s a matter of wanting something to care for you in return. A child would want a stuffed bear to return its affections, but would not likely feel the same for a fork.”
Michael halted in his tracks. “Hold on, you said Barnabus’s spoon was talking after he stirred the potion.”
“I did indeed, but I also said he often spoke to that spoon, having no one else to talk to on long nights.”
“So that’s why certain toys are “alive” but other’s aren’t?” asked Rhianna. “Why the dolls moved, but not the dollhouses?”
“Indeed” said the wizard. “You wouldn’t expect your own house to start moving about on its own now would you? We have more pressing priorities at hand, and at this rate, we will never find him in time. We need a way to get through the rooms with more ease.”
Peanut let out a small cough.
“Something to speed up the journey…”
Peanut swatted the mouse’s robe with her paw.
“A quicker means of transportation.”
“The train!” hollered Peanut, causing Raskagar to jump.
From the far side of a lavishly-decorated room stood the most impressive Christmas tree the DeAngelo family had ever seen. Its beauty was magnified by their small stature, since they stood no taller that the ornaments adorning its branches. The walls of the mahogany room reflected the radiance of the twinkling, fluttering lights that encircled the tree—like fireflies but more vibrant in their hues. “Lumibugs,” said Michael with a fond smile.
Encircling the base of the enormous tree was an elaborate toy village so perfect in detail that the small group might, for a moment, have imagined themselves full-sized again. On the outskirts of the village sat a small set of railroad tracks atop a smattering of artificial snow. The tracks ran from one side of the room to the next, with small archways just high enough for the train to pass from room to room. A far-off echo of a train whistle reverberated through the walls.
“I’ve never been on a train before!” piped Zelda excitedly as she bound toward the tracks, the waddling wooden duck trailing behind.
As she neared the tracks, the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching from behind the tree. An army of wooden soldiers emerged from there, marching in two neat lines. The ba-rum bum bum of their drum beats matched the pace of their footsteps as they blocked the path between Zelda and the tree.
“I’ll handle this,” said Peanut, noticing the slight shiver of Zelda’s tail as she stood bravely in the face of the army.
Peanut gave her loudest warning hiss in their general direction. They drew their swords.
“You handle this,” said Peanut as she fled and turned about behind Michael.
Raskagar gave him a pat on the back. “Not to worry. These fellows are all the same. Just distract them long enough for the train to arrive, and then we can all jump on and be on our way to find that rat.
“I have an idea,” said Michael. He marched forward to their same drum beat, then drew the sword from the scabbard at his hip and held it in the same position as the soldiers held their own weapons. Then, he sheathed the sword. The army mirrored his action. Michael saluted the wooded solders, and sure enough they all returned the gesture. “This is creepy, but I like it,” said Michael, bemused by the situation.
From the hole in the wall they could see the soft billowing of white smoke from the stack of the train.
“Quickly!” said Raskagar, ushering the group to the far left of the room. Michael followed them, but in a backward run so the army of soldiers would continue looking in the other direction.
The train was intricately crafted, with black, gold, and red designs along every gear and wheel. Rhianna picked up Peanut as they broke into a run, and tightly clutched the gold key she had thus far been using as a walking staff.
Zelda hoisted her duck friend onto the small train platform with a gentle nudge under the wooden tail feathers before jumping on herself.
Raskagar and Michael were the last to jump on the caboose, and just as Michael’s attention turned to the train, the army of soldiers all at once turned around, drew their swords, and charged them at a full run. Luckily for the group of travelers, the hundreds of soldiers did not have sense enough to funnel their way through the narrow opening without a leader, and instead crashed into the wall.
“Ooh, that sounded bad. I hope they didn’t get damaged. Santa said every single toy needs to go to the child it was made for” said Michael.
Zelda looked him sadly. “But not all of them, right? Maybe we can keep just one?” She gave the little duck at her side a soft pat with her paw.
“I don’t think so Zelda, I think this one was made for some special child in the world that needs a little friend,” said Rhianna.
Zelda’s ears drooped.
“Maybe Santa will have a special stuffed toy just for you when we get back,” said Michael, just as the train billowed past a carpeted room filled with stuffed creatures and patchwork toys of every color and texture imaginable.
“I suppose it’s my turn to face off against our next challenge?” asked Peanut with her head held high.
Raskagar chuckled lightly. “No, let’s not stop here. These stuffed ones tend to be a bit…full of themselves.”
He ignored Peanut’s scowl and addressed Zelda, whose head was resting on the duck’s wing.
“Friends aren’t all you expect. They can betray you in an instant! That rat I considered a friend as well as an apprentice. And this is how he repays my generosity! He will get what he deserves. Every action has a price.” The mouse’s face was suddenly bathed in an angry red glow as they entered the next room.
The group could see two velvet chairs facing one another in front of a large fireplace with crackling flames. The mantel was filled end to end with a variety of board games and playing cards. Some were familiar, but others must have been meant only for the children of Tellest, with silver and gold symbols and lettering that exuded an air of magic. Nestled between the chairs, and glowing from the fire blazing behind it, a small glass table supporting an intricately carved chessboard sat. A figure emerged behind one of the stone castles atop the board, and a shadow moved across the ceiling, depicting a massive black rat with outstretched claws.
Peanut’s fur stood on end at the sight of the rat. Rhianna put a hand on her back to calm her as Michael whispered to Raskagar. “Were we supposed to be sneaking up on him? Because I’m pretty sure he saw us.”
Raskagar stood atop the toy train, and batted aside the puffs of white smoke blowing in his face as the engine chugged along.
“This is no time for subtlety lad. Santa will need to depart at a moment’s notice.” He held his staff high in the air with both hands and shouted an incantation in a language they had never heard. “Apfrit te amba iflict nicht et um bret elooris altu mat enofin vepa tevik sha letera!”
When he tapped the staff to the train, the train came to a halt.
“Wow, what did that mean?” asked Zelda, amazed at the display of magic.
“That is an ancient language, long forgotten in this world. It’s difficult to translate, but I’ll give it a go. It means “stop.”
“So that’s why it’s long forgotten,” said Peanut dryly.
The group abandoned the train and headed for the glass table to meet their foe. Raskagar began chanting a levitation spell that resembled the language he had spoken on the train. As they drifted upwards toward the board, Michael readied his sword. Rhianna clutched the gilded workshop key to her chest, and Zelda did little tumbles in the air, enjoying the sense of floating upward.
As soon as their feet touched the board, the pieces took immediate notice to the intrusion. A voice behind them yelled “charge!” as the pawns moved forward. The stone figures were flanked by the black and white knights atop their horses, whose thundering hooves shook the board as they closed the distance between them. Zelda stepped forward in a defensive stance, the little wind up gear on her back shivering slightly with the rest of her body as she prepared for the battle at hand.
Suddenly Peanut ran forward, and in a calm, nonchalant voice said the words “apfrit te amba iflict nicht et um bret elooris altu mat enofin vepa tevik sha letera.” The pieces halted in an instant.
Zelda’s eyes widened. “Are you a wizard now?” she asked the feline.
“I prefer sorceress. And yes,” said Peanut.
Raskagar stepped around the two animals and approached the large rat, who had adorned himself in doll clothes fit for a king.
“Barnabus, come out from behind that castle this instant. Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”
The rat hissed angrily as it crouched lower behind the stone chess piece, his sharp black claws menacingly scraping the sides. “No,” said the Rat.
“Barnabus, do not test me” said Raskagar.
“You can’t see me” said Barnabus.
The mouse sighed in annoyance. “You are right there. You are a huge, hairy beast who is getting a talking to.”
“But I’m not here.”
“I can see you, you’re right there.”
“No I’m not,” said Barnabus.
Michael leaned over to Rhianna, whose face bore the same perplexed expression.
“What is happening?” he asked his equally confused wife.
“I don’t know, but this is the most bizarre encounter we’ve ever had. And we’ve fought penguins,” she said.
“Barnabus you get over here right now and apologize for what you’ve done.”
The giant rat, with his shoulders hunched and head hung low, slowly approached the mouse.
“I’m sorry Uncle Raskagar.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For stealing the potion and almost ruining Christmas and making us tiny and…I’m just sorry,” he said with a small sniffle of regret.
“Hold on, your nephew is your apprentice? You described him as your friend,” said Michael.
“Yes, well that’s nepotism for you,” said Raskagar casually.
Michael shook his head. “No, I mean, the way you described him I was expecting…well, someone older. You did say he’s going to get what he deserves, that there’s a price to pay…”
“Ah yes, the price must be paid for your betrayal!” Raskagar boomed as he turned toward Barnabus and wagged a disapproving figure at him. “No cookies for you this Christmas!”
The boy gasped in horror at the declaration and began yelling in outrage.
“I know I messed up. But I was lonely! You’re gone all the time, and I’m all alone stirring potions with nothing but a spoon to play with!”
“It builds character!” shouted Raskagar.” Besides, I always come back! Am I not entertainment enough?!”
“It’s not the same! You’re old!” yelled the boy in a rat’s body.
“Preposterous! And besides, you don’t have time for playing. You’ll soon be graduating from potion-stirring to spell-crafting.”
“I…I am? Wait, you still want me to be your apprentice?” yelled the boy.
“Then why are we yelling?”
“Because it’s Christmas and we’re family! It’s what people do!” shouted the mouse.
Both rodents chuckled softly, as Raskagar gave Barnabus a comforting pat on the back.
“By the way, how did you manage to awaken all these toys at once?” asked the wizard.
“I used the smoke,” he said, and pointed to the train, still motionless on the tracks.
“Clever boy! But come, let’s put in the antiserum in the smokestack and undo this magic the same way it was done, shall we?”
“I’ll do it. This was all my fault. Besides, I want to say goodbye to my friends,” Barnabus said, a wistful look in his eyes. Raskagar handed him the antiserum and gave him an approving nod.
“He’s going to change them all back?” cried Zelda, nuzzling the little duck at her side.
“Don’t worry little one. Trust someone who understands the laws of magic. No matter how much we want certain things to be, all things return to their natural state. I can turn leaves to gold in an instant, but they will still be worthless. I will soon turn back into an old man, as I am not meant to be a mouse. I am sure of this because my constant craving for cheese is slowly abetting. But I can tell you this: I will return to my natural state with a new appreciation for the little things.”
The train departed, with a tint of purple smoke billowing gently through the air as the serum began to disperse. The chess pieces returned to their positions on their respective side of the board. Everything grew silent.
“I think it’s time we go,” said Rhianna, as she suddenly felt her body rumble with the familiar sensation of magic. Raskagar muttered an incantation that levitated the family from the glass table to the floor below. As soon as their feet touched the ground, they sprung up to their full height in one swift motion.
Thankfully for the humans in the group, the clothes magically grew with them. The animals shook their fur free of any remnants of their disguises, and committed themselves to the joys of stretching after feeling compressed in their smaller bodies.
The mouse wizard and the wind-up duck looked up at them from the chessboard.
“Are you coming with us?” asked Michael, looking down at Raskagar.
“I’ll be along in a moment. I feel as though I too shall change back soon, but first I’ll escort this little one back home!” he shouted, with a barely-audible squeak.
Rhianna reached for the workshop key that had fallen during her transformation to full height and ushered the rest of her family toward the exit.
As they unlocked the workshop door, Rosewyn let out a loud cheer. “They worked! They really worked,” she cried with a small dance. “What worked?” Michael asked.
“The clothes, of course! That’s why they took so long to prepare. I made them with an enchanted fabric so they would grow when you did.”
“Ha!” said a deep male voice behind them. “How embarrassing to have saved all of Christmas only to celebrate in the nude!”
Rosewyn let out a shy gasp before covering her eyes with one hand and placing the other over her mouth to stifle the laughter.
There, standing in the doorway was the wizard Raskagar in human form. He was a tall and gangly old man, standing with his hands on his hips, with a white beard on his sharp jaw that stretched far enough below his navel to offer a semblance of modesty.
The elf maiden composed herself long enough to fetch a blanket from Santa’s chair and offered it to the bare wizard.
“No, I shan’t my dear. Though my nephew may have use for it in a moment. The cool air feels wonderful after spending all that time covered in fur! I think I shall take a walk. Lovely to meet you all!” he said. He gave them a low bow before walking out into the snowy night.
The DeAngelo family watched the portal close behind them as they returned to the back yard of their home. The moon shone so brightly, they thought, for a moment, that Christmas morning had already come.
“It’s a shame we didn’t get to say goodbye to Santa,” said Michael, brushing some snow off his red soldier uniform.
Rhianna picked the hem of her dress up and away from the snow. “Rosewyne said he left in a hurry as soon as the door to the workshop opened. At least children around the world will have toys on Christmas. And we got to keep these outfits.”
“They’ll certainly come in handy during convention season,” said Michael, reaching an arm over his wife’s shoulder. She hugged him around the waist, and then noticed the silence around them. She looked for the animals to ensure they had followed through the portal.
Peanut was sitting impatiently by the door, staring at the handle as if willing it to open. She muttered to herself through a clenched jaw “should have asked that confounded mouse for more spells.”
Zelda lay in the snow with her head down, sniffing at the place where the portal had vanished.
“What’s wrong puppy?” asked Michael, bending down to stroke her fur.
Zelda let out a sigh. “I understand Barnabus. He was just sad being alone all day. My favorite part about going to Tellest is making new friends. My least favorite part is saying goodbye.” She nuzzled her head somberly against Michael’s hand.
“Don’t be sad. It’s Christmas!” said Rhianna. “We still have a few hours of magic left. Let us know what you want. What would make you the happiest?”
Peanut suddenly backed away from the doors with her ears pointed upward in high alert. “Something’s different” she said. Zelda sniffed the air and perked her ears forward toward the house.
“She’s right… There’s a…a something, moving around in the house.”
Michael took a protective stance in front of his family as he opened to doors to their home. Sitting under the Christmas tree was a box wrapped in silver paper, with a large purple ribbon on top.
“Santa must have made our house one of his first stops,” said Rhianna, as she approached the gift.
On the end of the ribbon was a small note that read:
For the DeAngelo family. May this be a reminder that little things can lead to big adventures.
Zelda and Peanut both approached the box, sniffing circles around the small gap in the lid.
The box shook and they jumped backward. From within, they heard a small woof.
Rhianna and Michael both gasped in delight. Zelda’s eyes widened as she saw a tiny black nose pop out from the small gap in the lid. The little nose sniffed the air as Zelda brought her face closer to inspect the new member of the family. Zelda looked up at her humans with eyes glistening in happiness. “Santa really brought me a friend for Christmas,” she said with a small whine of excitement.
Michael hurried over to undo the ribbon so they could greet the puppy.
“Peanut, can you believe it? We have another puppy!” said Rhianna with joy.
And as her humans opened the lid, and Peanut was whipped in the face by the eager wagging of Zelda’s bushy tail, only one phrase came to mind: “I’m doomed.”
Happy holidays to everyone!
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