Santa's Angels

Everyone knows about Santa Claus. Not everyone knows about Krampus. And not everyone knows of the heroes that protects Claus, children, and everyone else from Krampus and the evil he sends out from the Burzee Plane.


3. Santa's Angels - Chapter 3

Santa’s Angels

Chapter 3

A wide, sickening grin curved on the demon’s face as the teenagers glared at him and his minions.  “Why is everyone so tense?” He chuckled, “My Kramplings and I are not here to bring any harm you or your precious mentor, at least not yet.”

“Like we’d believe anything you say, you son of a bitch.” Konani growled.

“And words from mu’ fuckas like you ain’t no different from hissin’ snakes,” Jaiklyn added.

“Jaiklyn, Konani.  Potty-mouthed as usual.” Krampus waved a finger at them, “What if Mrs. Claus should hear?”

The Kramplings cackled loudly watching Jaiklyn and Konani gnashed their teeth.  

Renard’s gaze flicked around as he counted at all the Kramplings. “I count---43...non, 47,” He whispered to Jaiklyn.

Iris searched past Krampus as if expecting someone or something to appear next to him, “Where your three li’l bastards at?”

“Concerned for them?” Krampus flexed his fingers, showing off his 2½-inch, sharp black claws, “Grip’s running around the kingdom drinking until he goes blind, Gunju’s somewhere in the Mortal Plane breaking more beautiful young whores’ hearts, and Garvan has locked himself away in his room until all the festivities are over.  I don’t want to ruin their fun over this small matter.”

He looked past them and saw Tommy in Fara’s embrace, “Ah, and I see you’ve been taking care of my little escapee.” 

A chill traveled down Tommy’s back when Krampus referred to him.  Fara tried to hide him the best she could, even though his eye and a tuft of his hair could be seen.  He was the most horrifying thing Tommy had ever seen.
“You’ve caused quite a mess back home: dirtying up my lovely castle with crumbs and your sooty footprints, making my idiotic but loyal Kramplings look even more foolish, upsetting my lovely Bowelbane below my castle, startling the denizens of my kingdom with your human presence and stench, and sic’ing the Angels on one of the most respected lords in my land.” The demon snarled, “And you are going to pay for all of that, you little brat.”

Krampus motioned to his minions.  Four Kramplings flew towards Fara, snickering evilly.  Jaiklyn, Renard, Konani, and Iris pressed together, forming a barrier, in front of Tommy and Fara.  Fara stood up, just as defiant as her sister and friends, gently tugging Tommy behind her.  The Kramplings stopped, glaring eye to eye with the juveniles.  

Krampus chuckled, “Foolish children.  You are not allowed to interfere with what I am tasked to do.  The inhabitants of Burzee are bound by these strict laws.”

“Yeah, we know Burzee laws.  But you’re forgettin’ one thing.  People who live in Burzee are the ones that follow them.” Konani smirked slyly, “We don’t live here.”

The sheer confidence on Krampus’ face quickly frowned to a quiet, contained anger.  Tensity grew with the silence between them and it made Tommy quiver.

Everything happened so fast.  The Kramplings let out eardrum-shattering screeches as they dove at the Angels.  With their wings expanded, Konani and Renard shot up in the air like rockets tackling handfuls of the imps in mid-air.  More Kramplings came at them at rapid volleys.  Iris blazed a bright flash as she clutched her pendant.  

Tommy shielded his eyes.  Winds whipped up similar to a hurricane’s sent him rolling along the floor and through the opened sliding door.  He flipped around up in time to see the cackling Kramplings diving toward him and quickly curled up in a tight ball.  He heard the door slam shut and the Kramplings bouncing of the glass.  He looked again and saw the Kramplings on the other side of the door, clawing and biting at the glass.  A flickering, almost invisible veil appeared in front of the door and the Kramplings wriggled viciously, howling in pain, until they flew away.

A small hand tugged him up to his feet.  Lo pulled him along as La pushed the TV stand back and pulled back on the carpet, revealing a flat, round door underneath.  La pushed a button under a small hidden panel and the door slid open.  

“Let’s go!” La jumped in through the hole.

Tommy crawled over and looked down seeing a shaft that got darker the deeper her tried to look.  “This is the fire escape,” Lo explained, “But I’ve seen the Angels use it lots of times.”

“Where does it go?” Tommy asked.

“I think to the bottom of the mountain,” La said.

“You think?!” Wind blasts from outside made the doors and windows rattles.  Kramplings, either determined to get after Tommy or knocked away from the winds, wiggled and writhed after crashing into the invisible forcefield.

“No time for thinking now!  Let’s go!” Before Tommy could get a word out, La pushed him into the hole.  Tommy screamed as he fell into a darkened drop then felt himself spinning and swerving in the twisting, curving slide.  He couldn’t tell which was up and down or if his heart was still with him.  He saw bright light at the end and he shot out the chute, rolling and tumbling along the snow.  

La popped up and slid right next to him.  She asked, “Are you okay?”

Tommy lifted his head up, face slightly covered in snow, “I think I lost my stomach in there somewhere.”

He looked around to see they were in a clearing with a forest of fir trees ahead and and the mountain behind.  They stood still when they heard a buzzing sound getting louder and louder.  A snowmobile zoomed out of the woods pulling a circular tube sled.  It stopped next to Tommy and La, engine still rumbling, revealing the driver to be Lo. 

“Climb on, we’re going to get you as far away from Krampus as possible,” Lo said.  She slammed on the gas as soon as Tommy and La clambered into the sled.

The scenery around them turned white instantly as Lo sped down the hill pulling the tube behind her.  Tommy peered at the mountain top as they got further away and saw see dark and colorful blurs zipping around.  

Lo turned as they came to a curve, “All we can do for you, Tommy, is get you to the Forest and you should be safe there for awhile.”

“What’s in the forest?” Tommy asked.

La answered, “We have good friends in the Forest of Burzee.  Fairies, Pixies, Ryls, Knooks.  Some of them look scary but they’re real nice.  And they’re real smart too.  They’ll know what to do.”

As they zipped down a slope, surrounded by trees frosted with snow, they heard wicked cackles from above getting louder.  A scattering cluster of Kramplings zoomed down on them, flapping their bat-like wings rapidly.  Lo picked up speed as the imps dive-bombed.  Instead of crashing into the snowmobile, they crashed into the snowy ground behind or beside it.  Those that avoided the crash continued flying after them.  They seemed better flying than running, floating beside the snowmobile and tube grinning menacingly at Tommy and the elf girls.

Kramplings closed in and made a grab for Tommy.  Lo swerved unexpectedly and Kramplings would zip past them or crash into the trees.  One Krampling managed to grab onto Tommy’s shoulder and tried to jerk him out of the tube.  Tommy held on to the rope handles on the side.  La reached into her coat pocket, wielding a wrench, and swung hard, striking the Krampling in the jaw and sending it tumbling back the group behind him, like a bowling ball striking pins.  

Lo shouted, “Hold on!  It’s getting bumpy!” Just as she said that, Tommy and La felt themselves being bounced around as Lo drove over row of hills.  Tommy held on tightly to the rope handles as he bounced up and fell down in the tube.  La was bounced out going over one hill, hovering in the air screaming. Tommy quickly grabbed her by the hand and pulled her back in before they hit the ground.

A Krampling caught up just as they were going up the last large hill.  Instead of going after Tommy, he zipped past the tube, startling Tommy and La.  It grinned as it showed off its short, pointy stubbed claws and took one swiped at the rope.  Lo heard Tommy and La’s fading screams and gasped when she saw nothing but the torn rope swinging behind the snowmobile.

They couldn’t see where they were headed, blinded by snow that fell from each tree they whisked by, until they felt themselves fall.  The tube flipped and they tumbled down a large pile of soft snow.  Tommy groaned, feeling dizzy and queasy, and rolled over on his back.  He immediately sat up when he heard La’s muffled cries and saw two small feet sticking out of the top of a snow pile.  He quickly ran up and pulled her out by her feet.  

La coughed, sputtering out snow, as Tommy helped brushed snow off of her.  They heard the snowmobile’s engine getting louder.  Lo burst through the trees and skidded to a stop, “You two alright?!”

“We’re okay,” Tommy and La slid down on the tube.  

Lo pulled out another length of rope from a satchel strapped to her waist, “This should take a sec.”

She suddenly felt intense heat around the new rope and immediately dropped it.  The inflamed rope melted the snow and disintegrated into nothing.  Tommy and La, stunned watching the burning rope, screamed as the tube burst loudly from underneath them, floating in the air in shredded pieces.  Krampus appeared in front of them, slowly sinking down from the tall trees. “Never send a Krampling to do a demon’s job,” he groaned.

Lo grabbed Tommy and La by their sleeves and pushed them to the snowmobile.  A loud crack zipped by their ears just as she turned around and the snow vehicle had coils of a black thick cord wrapped several times around it.  They were pelted with snow as the snowmobile flew up into the air and spiraled behind them.  It landed behind Krampus, who was held up an uncoiling whip, and clattered nosily as it cartwheeled down the hill behind him.

Krampus calmly sheathed his whip, then flung an arm at the three.  Tommy flinched from the harsh wind.  He heard metal clinking from his left and his right, then Lo and La yelping.  He whirled and both elf girls were on the ground, tied up in heavy linked chains.

“That takes care of your second escape attempt.” Krampus smirked at Tommy, shrugging, “I don’t even understand why you’re running.  The Angels told you everything.  You’ve no where to run.  You might as well accept your fate and come back with me.”

Krampus walked toward him.  Tommy was frozen in his footsteps until he heard La whimpering behind him.  “C-Can’t breathe,” she squeaked.

Tommy tugged on their metal binds trying to a way to free them.  It was difficult to find the end with the way they were tangled around them.  

“What are you doing?” Lo shouted, “Get out of here!”  

“He’s gonna get you, Tommy!  Run!” La pleaded.

He didn’t listen, still focused on freeing them as the heavy hooves crunched louder in the snow as he approached.  He felt a hard tug on his hood and his feet left the ground as he was pulled up.  Krampus chuckled, “Bid your little friends farewell.”

Tommy squirmed seeing his hooves lift a few inches off the ground.  But that’s as far up as he got.  

Galloping footsteps approached them and blurs zipped out of the woods, crashing into Krampus.  Tommy fell in front of La and Lo as the demon spiraled through the air.  He kept his focus, staying in the air to keep from crashing to the ground.  His glare met with Konani’s.  He, Fara, and Jaiklyn crouched protectively in front of Tommy, La, and Lo.  “You pigeons just don’t know when to quit, do you?” Krampus growled lowly.

Konani looked at Tommy, “You okay, kid?” Tommy nodded.  

Jaiklyn scooted over to La and Lo and unwrapped the chains around them.  Fara scooted behind Konani.  “Hop on, Tommy.” She whispered.

Tommy climbed up her back and wrapped his arms tightly around Fara’s neck.  She and Konani stood, their eyes still on Krampus.  “You ready?” Konani asked.  Fara nodded.

Tommy heard the chains clank loudly and then a loud flick.  He turned and saw the chains sunk in the snow and Jaiklyn, La, and Lo were gone.  Fara bounced back a few steps, still facing Konani and Krampus’ direction.  Next thing Tommy knew, Konani and Krampus were gone and the world around them was a blur.  Fara ran backwards so fast that the tree branches whistled short by his head.

A loud explosion, sounding similar to a loaded cannon going off, resonated from the opposite direction.  Timing herself, Fara jumped up turning herself around to run forwards, zipping past and around trees at an unspeakable speed.  “How you holding up back there?” Fara asked.

Everything had happened, and was happening, so fast that it took Tommy awhile to respond, “How are you running so fast?!”

Fara explained, “It’s all thanks to a little something extra.”

“But I thought your wings were taken.” Tommy said.

“It’s not Wing power,” Fara replied.  She leaned her head to the side to show a golden jingle bell topped with a small holly leaf and berries swaying on a leather twine around her neck, “Me and my sister are using the second best thing: Reindeer’s Gift.”

Soon the trees disappeared.  Tommy held on even tighter as Fara leaped from the tip of the cliff, hovering in the air before dropping several feet down onto the snow field below, startlinging a group of wild reindeer.  He was amazed at being so close to beasts and even more with Fara keeping up with the panicked herd.  He glanced behind them seeing what he thought was a reindeer trying to catch up.  The creature behind did had hooves but it wasn’t a reindeer.

Tommy gasped, “Fara!  Behind us!”  Fara saw Krampus out of the corner of her eye before he said anything.  She twisted around running backwards again.  The honking herd of reindeer parted in two groups as Fara headed for more woods with Krampus charging behind her, knocking over and stomping down trees.

“Don’t worry Tommy.  He’s not gonna get you.  Trust me,” Fara said with a sly smile on her face.  

She ran out of the woods and glided across the top of a large frozen lake, her dwindling speed coming to a stop and placing her in the middle.  

“Why’d we stopped?” Tommy asked looking around nervously.  He could hear Fara smiling as she spoke, “Just waiting for the elevator.”

“Elevator? Wha-” Tommy grasped onto her shoulders tightly when Krampus stormed out the woods.  He bolted across the ice lake.  Tremors wobbled under Fara’s feet with each stomp he took on the iced lake.  The slippery surface didn’t slow him down or cause him to slip.  

Tommy heard the ice cracking and watched cracks creep around Fara’s shoes.  Tommy buried his face into Fara’s back got Krampus got closer, “Fara, you said I could trust you!”

There was a loud splash and a powerful water geyser shot the chunk of ice Fara was standing up into the air.  Krampus skidded to a stop, snorting when his snout hit the freezing water spout.  Tommy’s stomach had dropped to his feet again.  He peered over the edge of the ice chunk and saw they were high enough to where Krampus and the trees below looked like small dots.     

He gasped when he felt someone grabbing him under his arms.

“You got it from here, Renard?” Fara asked.

Tommy looked up and saw Renard, his butterfly wings rapidly flapping over him.  “Oui.  Be careful Fara,” Renard replied.

Fara jumped off the ice chunk, falling to the ground and disappearing from sight. “Allons-y, Tommy,” His wings fluttered as he flew off toward Sorina Mountains.  Far behind him, a dark cloud of Kramplings were flying after him.

“I am sorry.  I would put you on my back if I could, but then I would not be able to fly.” Renard said, “Do you know what we are trying to do?”

Tommy looked up at him, “You’re taking me to the Forest of Burzee, right?  But where is it?”

Renard replied, “Far west of Sorina Mountains.”  He steadied his wings and they slowly glided in a diagonal drop, “I just hope the Great Ak is willing to help us.”

“Whose the Great Ak?” Tommy asked.  

Shrill screeches behind them got their attention.  A flock of Kramplings charged at them, cackling loudly.

“Tommy, accroche toi bien!” Renard dove rapidly in a downward angle.  Tommy panicked hearing the laughing Kramplings getting closer and trembled thinking he felt their claws scratching at his neck.  Renard glared at the little imps.  He raised his wings up, going into a few seconds of free fall, and brought his wings down hard.  The light breeze from his wings turned into hurricane winds sending the Kramplings spiraling backwards and crashing into those behind them.

Renard chuckled, “That takes cares of them for awhile.”  He gasped when Tommy abruptly got heavier bringing him down.  Tommy screamed and kicked wildly at the Krampling tugging and clawing onto his legs.

“No! Let him alone!” Renard’s only option was to swing Tommy back and forth.  Tommy continued kicking at the Krampling only to get either a scratch or bite in his leg.  Renard’s grip loosened from around one of Tommy’s arms when he swung him forward.  Tommy’s leg stretched out farther and the Krampling came up, grinning sinisterly.  

A wave of fierce heat whisked by Tommy’s shoes, disappearing just as it reappeared, and the Krampling had vanished.  Tommy looked down as he raised his other arm for Renard to grab.  Iris flew beneath them facing up, her arms outstretched and trails of smoke rising from her palms.  

Iris panted, “Are you alright?  I flew here as fast as I could!” Her fairy wings fluttered underneath her.  Tommy could see the outline of her wings thanks to the snow far below.

Renard nodded, “Merci, Iris.” He could hear the Kramplings chatting from behind.   A numerous amount of them built up in the sky forming a bigger cloud that charged straight for them.  “Iris, take Tommy to Jaiklyn,” Renard swung Tommy back again and let him go when he swung him forward.  Tommy only panicked for a little while before Iris quickly caught him in her arms.  “I will try to hold them off as far as I can.  Go!” Renard shouted. 

Iris didn’t hesitate. Her wings fanned so fast that they left behind white blurs.  Tommy gawked watching a massive army of Kramplings swooping at Renard.  Renard lifted his left leg high behind him, then swung it and himself around.  Kramplings hollered as a powerful wind blast sent them spiraling in an gigantic invisible funnel.

Iris flew along the top of Sorina Mountain, hanging around the left edging.  Tommy recognized some of the paths and caves below as some of the ones he traveled through.

“And there’s Jay-Jay to save the day.” Iris smiled seeing Jaiklyn waving to them from a cave.  Holding onto Tommy tightly, Iris bounced on her feet as she landed in front of her.

Jaiklyn asked her, “How’s everyone doin’?” 

“Konani’s a’ight despite a kick to the face.  He and Fara shoulda reached Renard by now.  Tommy?  I believe he’s still a full shilling after all that jumpin’ and flyin’ around.” Iris handed Tommy to her.

Jaiklyn could feel him shaking in her arms.  She didn’t know if it was from the cold or extreme fear or combination of both.  She maneuvered Tommy to hang onto his back.  Iris stared worriedly, “You think you can make the last leg from here?”

Jaiklyn held up a jingle bell that hung around her neck.  “I will don’t worry,” She said.  “Now hurry, go help the others.”

Iris skipped backwards lifting her arm up in a silly salute before flying off.  Tommy didn’t have to be told to hold on.  He tightened his grip on Jaiklyn’s shoulders once she whirled around.  They were out of the cave within seconds.  She leaped up and bolted along the thin, jagged frosted peaks that kept the ranges connected.  She reached the edge and jumped down to the ground, running along a bare snowy field.

Jaiklyn peered back at Tommy, “How you holdin’ up?”

“I don’t know.” Tommy panted, “I mean, this is so cool!  Your flying around and shooting wind and fire.  I feel bad for not being scared.”

“We just showin’ off, that’s all.” Jaiklyn smiled, “But it ain’t over yet.”

The path ahead of them began to change.  Ahead of the miles of snow, they approached a forest very different from the snow-frosted forest Tommy had seen throughout the chase.  The trees had intertwining branches with bright green leaves and thick vines wrapped around their trunks.  A purplish-pink fog shrouded and seeped between the trees and got thicker further behind them.

“We’re almost there!” Jaiklyn exclaimed excitedly.

Overhead, Kramplings that hadn’t been scorched or blown away were fleeing for their lives.  Krampus snarled seeing his minions flying past him in a panic as he caught up.  “Fools!  Get back here and fight!” he demanded.

“Looks like your Kramplings need better training, Grump-ass!” Konani snickered.  He, Renard and Iris floated close together as they approached the demon.

Krampus growled under his breath.  He noticed movement down below and could see Jaiklyn carrying Tommy down the mountain and heading straight for the Forest of Burzee.  “So that’s your plan.” Krampus glowered at the Angels.

Iris’ arms were engulfed in flames.  She didn’t flinch from the intense heat.  “And if you wanna get to them, your gonna hafta get pass us!” She warned.

Krampus could hear Kramplings, a handful of them, chittering and gurgling behind him.  He smirked, “That shouldn’t be too difficult.  Charge!”  The Kramplings flew past him, claws extended and fangs bared, screeching as they flew at the Angels.

Konani’s quickly curved his wings outward.  A loud noise emitted from his cupped wings, slightly pushing him back, rumbling through the air at the Kramplings.  The imps hollered putting their paws over their ears, their eardrums trembled as the loud sound.  

“Don’t let them get to Jaiklyn!” Konani shouted at Renard and Iris as they charged at the imps.

Flames lit up the night sky, harsh wind whistled through the sky, and heavy booms quivered the air as the three Angels fought against the small, ferocious miniature Krampus dopplegangers.  Iris sent a Krampling flying away with flames at its backside when something large zipped past her.  Krampus galloped through the air, like a bipedal, rabid bastardized reindeer, toward Jaiklyn and Tommy.

“Hold it, Grump-ass!” She took off after Krampus.  

He flew at such a speed keeping a sizable gap between them.  He could feel the oncoming heat from a fireball behind him and zip either to the left or right.  Each shot Iris threw at him, he easily evaded.  

“She’s getting reckless.  Perfect,” Krampus said to himself as he swerved and ducked a rapid volley of fireballs that had  increased to the size of basketballs.  He flipped around to face her, flying backwards after the last fire ball whisked by.  Iris had her teeth clenched and her smoking hands clenched into fist as she tried to catch up.  He smirked at her and puckered his lip as threw a  mock kiss at her.  

Iris snapped.  She screamed out in rage.  Each swipe of her arms sent a literal rain of hell fire at the demon.  By the time Konani  caught up with her, he noticed that Krampus floating above the snow-capped mountains behind Jaiklyn, “Oh shit!  Iris, stop!” He shouted.

His words came too late when she shot out her last fireball.  A gleam sparkled in Krampus’ red eye before he disappeared just as Iris’ fire attack reached him.   Iris gasped as the fireball crashed into the layers of snow piled high on the flat rock edges on the outer western walls of Sorina Mountains.

There was a low rumbling in the air that got louder as the sheets of  heavy snow rapidly glided down the mountainside.  “Avalanche!” Tommy cried.  Jaiklyn heard the rumbling getting louder.  She ran as fast as her temporary power could give her.

Fara burst out of the woods left of Jaiklyn bounding across the snow field to her.  She grabbed her sister’s hand and ran, pulling her along.  The shadow from the stampeding wave of snow caught up and loomed over them.

“We ain’t gonna make it, Fara!” Jaiklyn screamed, “Even reindeer can’t outrun this!”

Freezing darkness rushed over and covered Jaiklyn, Fara, and Tommy.  Konani clenched his teeth, Renard gasped shakily, and tears formed in Iris’ eyes as they watched everything unfold below.  

Krampus chuckled cruelly, “So much for your fearless leaders.”

“And you killed the kid too, you sick son of a bitch!” Konani fumed.

“I don’t see why you care.  You didn’t know the runt and you were determined to defend him.  You humans are confusing creatures,” Krampus calmly replied.

“We are glad not to be like you!” Renard screamed.

Krampus smiled, “I don’t know why you’re getting mad at me.  Iris is the one who buried your friends and the brat in an icy grave.”

“I was aimin’ for you, you sick goat!” Iris shrieked

Konani, Iris, and Renard dived at Krampus.  Krampus stayed in his place.  He took a deep breath and heaved out a large, thick purple mist that the Angels flew into.  Fists was inches from Krampus’ face.  They couldn’t move; it was like their joints had completely locked up and couldn’t move no matter how much they budged.

Krampus watched as the Angels drifted downward like sheets of paper caught in a draft.  “I should sell my breath as a pest repellant,” Krampus joked. “ ‘Angel Away’.”

“Jaiklyn!  Fara!”  Krampus looked down at the newly covered snow field in front of the Forest of Burzee hearing the young boy’s voice.  Someone in a green hoodie was frantically digging through the snow with both hands. 

“Ah-ha, so he did survive,” Krampus leisurely descended toward the area, flicking his tail wildly.  No one could stop him from going after the boy.

Tommy didn’t notice the demon coming down from the sky.  “Jaiklyn!  Fara!” His fingers were getting numb from digging through snow, “Say something! Please!”

“And here we are again.” Krampus landed a couple feet behind Tommy, “No where to run.  No where to hide.  And no Angels coming to save your sorry hide, brat.”

Tommy backed away from him and stumbled onto the warm grass edging the Forest of Burzee.  Krampus’ imposing, frightening figure froze him in place, making him forget that freedom was behind him, only inches away

“Wait.” Tommy panted, “Wait, please.” 

“No more waiting.  The coal mines are calling your name, and we need plenty for the big day,” Krampus grinned evilly.

“I’ll go with you--” Tommy managed to gasp out. Krampus stopped in his track, stunned, but he saw the boy had more to say.  “I’ll go with you, if you’ll get Fara and Jaiklyn out of the snow.  Please?” Tommy finished.

Krampus laughed loudly, “You must be joking.”

Tommy pleaded, “Well, can you give me some time to dig them out?  Then I’ll go with you.  I swear.”

Krampus chuckled amusingly, “They’re dead, brat.  If not from being crushed by the avalanche, then they’ve been smothered and frozen.  Don’t cry over dead bodies when you’re going back to work in those coal mines for the rest of your suspended life.  And just in case--”  

He threw an arm out.  Just like with La and Lo, long, heavy chains materialized out of thin air and wrapped around Tommy trapping his arms tightly to his side.  

“Just accept it.  You are doomed and there’s nothing you can do to change it.  And your concern over two dead Angels sicken me,” Krampus said.

A few steps forward, Krampus was startled by a scream of rage.  Someone had burst out of the snow, right next to the demon, and shoulder-tackled him in the stomach.  He coughed and nearly buckled forward.  He felt someone else grab him around his waist tightly and haul him backwards, slamming him hard on his back.  He scrambled to his hooves and saw Jaiklyn and Fara glaring at him hatefully.

Tommy smiled widely, “Jay!  Fara!  You’re okay!”

Krampus cursed under his breath and backed towards Tommy.  “The game’s over, Angels,” he said, “You’ve lost.”

“Says who?” Jaiklyn scoffed.

“Says me!  The brat is my property.  No different from a car or a pet or a potted plant,” Krampus replied.

Jaiklyn and Fara said nothing.  Their eyes flicked past him before focusing on him again.  

“Is it finally sinking in now?  Or are you expecting the Great Ak to step onto the scene?” Krampus asked, “And don’t think you can fool me with that ‘behind you’ trick again, Jaiklyn.”

He stared suspiciously at Jaiklyn as a victorious smile curved on her face.  He calmed himself and heard leaves rustling and branches scrubbing against it each other.  He whirled and saw thin, living branches had slithered out of the woods and intertwined into a protective, half dome around Tommy.

“No,” Krampus’ voice quivered angrily.  He quickly paced left and right roared angrily at the trees, “You damned Immortals!  You shouldn’t stick your noses in other demons’ affairs!  Tell your woodland pets to release the brat or I’ll hack up these branches for brand new switches!”

It was quiet except for a chilly breeze that rolled by.  Tommy peered around inside the branched cocoon nervously.  Whoever or whatever behind the living branches didn’t listen to Krampus’ order, but he wondered if this was another evil entity taking advantage of the situation.

Krampus’s bottom eyelid twitch,  “Do you hear me in there, you weaklings?!”

A loud, feminine voice boomed out of the enchanted woods.  The anger in her words trembled through Krampus, Jaiklyn, and Fara’s bodies, “You are not the commander of these woods or of the beings and creatures within them, you foul demon!  As long as the child remains on this territory and the Angels are determined to protect him, you shall not bring harm unto him!” 

“And the beautiful nymphs have sung,” Konani charged up the hill with Iris and Renard behind him.  Tommy watched through a gap in the joined branches as the reunited Angels circled around Krampus.  The demon looked more angrier than ever.  “Ready for Round 2?” Konani taunted the demon.

There was quiet ringing in the air before anyone could move or anything could be said.  The jingling of oncoming sleigh bells had the Angels look up to the sky.  Even the branches shielding Tommy wiggled.  Krampus just smirked, “Uh oh, here comes the boss man.”

“No way,” Tommy saw a small wooden sled being pulled by two reindeer descending from the sky.  A large portly man in the driver’s seat guided the antlered steeds to the ground.  The sleigh skidded to a stop next to the Angels and Krampus.

Krampus smirked at the man, “Really Claus, you should keep a shorter and tighter leash on your attack pigeons.”  

“Nic, I can explain.” Jaiklyn said as she walked in front of the Angels while the man approached.

The man crossed his arms, “Yes, please do.  All the ruckus on the mountain top has caused quite a stir back at the castle.”

Jaiklyn briefly told him about how Konani, Iris, and Renard discovered Tommy and what Tommy told them when they brought him to safety.  The man asked, “So the little boy is here?  Where?”

Jaiklyn pointed at the wrapped-up branches behind them.  Tommy scooted back as the man walked up closer.  The man raised his arms up, “Wood Nymphs of Burzee, please release the child.”

The branches hesitated, quivering excitedly before slithering back into the woods bit by bit, revealing the chained Tommy underneath.  The man standing in front of Tommy had a long, curly beard that was white as snow, his soft blue eyes glimmered like snowflakes twirling under a full moon, and draped in a red cotton coat with a matching modest cap.

 Tommy couldn’t believe his own eyes, “S-Santa Cla-”

“Okay Claus, we’re both very busy so I’ll get straight to the point.” Krampus said walking up to the portly man’s side, “My bumbling Kramplings broke the crystal that was holding this kid’s soul.  Soul got out, the kid’s normal again, he sneaked out of my castle, blah blah blah, you know the rest.  So if you don’t mind, I’ll just take the kid and put him back where he belongs.”

Lost in deep thought, Santa said nothing as Krampus picked up and carried Tommy under his right arm.  The Angels waited for Claus to say something as Krampus whisked past them carrying his prize.  Claus didn’t turn around or utter a sound.  The Angels panicked.  Jaiklyn clenched her fist watching Krampus walking further away.  Tommy’s eyes welled up with tears as stared at back her.  She bolted after the demon without warning.  Konani and Fara ran after her.  All three of them were getting geared up for another fight.

Krampus whirled around when they were within an arm’s reach and extended his claws.  Jaiklyn was frozen in mid-run, her face a couple inches in front of his claws.  “You want to risk losing this pathetic, thankless volunteer job that you love so much?” Krampus growled, “Then go ahead.  Attack me now.”

Fara and Konani eased back a little, nervously watching Jaiklyn.  Her body twitched wanting to attack, but what Krampus said was the truth.  She took a step back, turning her head away to look at the ground.

“That’s what I thought,” Krampus sneered.

Fara heard Iris talking with Claus, who was still quiet, as Krampus continued his walk.  She couldn’t hear her words but she sounded like she was pleading.  She jumped when Jaiklyn snarled again.  Again, she charged for the demon.

“Jay!” Konani grabbed her, trapping her in a full nelson hold.  He grunted as she fought him, “There’s nothing we can do, Jay.  Let it go.”

“Get the fuck off me, Konani!” Jaiklyn struggled relentlessly, “Get the fuck off me!!!”

Konani gritted his teeth as he held onto her tight.  How he wanted to let her go as the demon taunted them by simply walking off with Tommy toward the mountain instead of flying off.

“Just a moment, Krampus,” Claus walked past Jaiklyn, Fara, and Konani to catch up with Krampus.  Krampus stopped in his tracks, though he didn’t know the reason why, and turned to him giving the man a cold glare.

“I believe you heard the saying ‘everything happens for a reason’, correct?” Claus asked him. 

“It’s mortals’ saying.” Krampus shrugged, “It doesn’t have a thing to do with me.”

“No it doesn’t, but it may have something to do with the young boy there,” Claus replied. “Whether if it was your Kramplings’ doing or something else, this boy’s soul was returned to him for a reason.”  

Krampus growled, “What’s your point, Claus?”

“I believe he deserves a second chance.” Claus answered.

Krampus’s eyes widened and he nearly lost his grip on Tommy, “You can’t be serious!” The demon yelled.

“He sounds as serious as a knife up the butt, Krampus.” Konani grinned and released Jaiklyn, feeling the favor leaning toward his and the rest of the Angels’ side.

Krampus cackled and said sarcastically, “Oh sure, just let this brat go.  Maybe I should just release all of the little brats’ souls and let them go back to their parents and let them live happily ever after.”

“That would be nice,” Renard commented.

“But it’s not going to happen,” Krampus taunted. “Look Claus, be reasonable.  You can’t tell me not to do my job.  You don’t see me trying to stop you from giving the mortal brats something they truly don’t deserve, especially the ones standing behind you.  Give them some power and they think they can break whichever rules they want.”

“Now now Krampus, don’t infuriate them any further.  It’s been a long day for all of them.” Claus said, “And I know you don’t like to come to a conclusion of things unless a fair arrangement is involved.”

Krampus rubbed his chin, “A deal, eh?  Okay, I’ll trade you the boy for one of your Angels.  Jaiklyn can wash the walls of my corridor from top to bottom.”

“And I’d do it by dragging you all over the place by your tail, Grump-ass,” Jaiklyn snarled at him.

Claus waved his gloved hands, “Just a minute, just a minute.  No, not a trade Krampus, but a deadline.”

“A deadline contract?” Krampus thought for a moment, “Whatever you are planning, Claus, I don’t like it.  And even if I should even think of agreeing to this deal, why should I?  This kid could be the baddest out of all the brats in my mines.”

“I don’t believe he’s so bad,” Claus said.

“What makes you think so?” Krampus asked.

“I’ve been watching everything, from when he awoke in the hospital to before I showed up,” The white-bearded man looked at the shaking boy under the demon’s arm, “Ever since he’s been freed from your clutches, all that has been on his mind is that of the well-being and recovery of his twin sister.  He even showed concerned for Stella and Stello and Jaiklyn and Fara when his own freedom was threatened.”

Krampus scoffed, “Whoop-dee-doo, I’ll give him a cookie before I suck his soul back out.”

Konani zipped in front of the demon before he could take a step, “And you say we’re the ones breakin’ the rules.  You’re kidnapping a kid whose done good things.”  

“One rule we do follow is protectin’ all kids, bad or good, from you.” Jaiklyn glared, “And if we have to, we’ll continue beatin’ on your ass until you let him go.”

“Or until you wear yourselves out,” Krampus replied. “No deal, Claus.”

Tommy’s chance for freedom was almost non-existent because of the demon’s stubbornness.  He struggled in his binds until Krampus’s claws firmly gripped his chin.
Another loud voice, a strong male’s, rumbled from the Forest of Burzee, “Krampus, you shall regret not taking Claus’ deal.  We, the Immortals, are the witnesses of this injustice.  We may not have complete control over your domain, but we can make it suffer.  We will stop the waters so that you can no longer create your tainted stews or sludge potions, the toxic plants you use for your liquor and wines will shrivel up and die, and the monsters you abuse to fear them into doing your evil bidding will turn against you.  And that will only be the beginning, Krampus.”

The threats weren’t pleasant images to the demon.  “Can they really do that?” Krampus asked Claus.

Claus kept a serious, not angry, tone in his voice, “You’re not the only evil entity they have dealt with, Krampus.  Remember, they went to war against the mighty and terrible Awgwas and their strong allies several ages ago.  Now the Awgwas you can no longer find anymore in their former mountains.”

Krampus peered at the forest behind Claus and he thought he saw many pairs of eyes peeking from around the trees.  He chuckled to himself, “I’m being threatened by fairies and nymphs now, am I?” He lifted up his arm and Tommy dropped to the ground.  Krampus held onto one end of the chain like a leash, “Alright Claus, what’s the deal?”

“Can I relax now?” Iris sighed as she and the Angels felt a little relief.

“Not yet.” whispered Jaiklyn.

Even the air of strain over the Forest began to waver.   

Claus looked at the shivering boy, “What is your name, my child?”

“T--Tommy,” he stuttered in a squeaky voice.

Claus continued, “Seeing that Tommy has a brave and kind heart, I propose that he continues his good deeds.  When I believe he has done plenty of good deeds, he will have his freedom and his soul to keep.”

“Hold it, old man.” Krampus slowly shook his head chuckling, “My deals are not easy, one-way streets.  It needs to be more than just ‘plenty’ of deeds.  ‘Plenty’ means ten good deeds in all at your terms and that doesn’t seem fair to me.”

“Then what would you propose?” Claus asked.

Numbers flickered around in Krampus’ head.  He grinned when the perfect one popped in his head, “I would be pretty impressed if he were able to do one hundred good deeds.”

“One hundred?” Fara gasped, “That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

“Are you able to complete one hundred good deeds, Tommy?” Claus asked.

Krampus grinned down at the boy, “I can raise it up to one thousand good deeds, if you want.”

“I can do one hundred,” Tommy squeaked, shivering in his chains.

Claus pulled a large sheet of blank paper from his inner coat pocket.  It floated in front of him and laid firm, as if laying on a table, as he scribbled on it with a feather pen.  

“Okay Claus, we’ve got the who and what.  Now we need a ‘when’.  When do I come and pick up the brat?” Krampus asked.

Claus didn’t respond until he reached the part of the contract where the time limit had to be settled, “Seeing as our annual trips are only two weeks away, why not the week after?”

“That’s too long.” Krampus shook his head furiously, then he smirked, “How about on the 22nd?”

Claus asked, “That won’t interfere with your day?”

Krampus laughed, “I’d consider it as an extra special Krampusfliege present after a hard night’s work of collecting new slaves.”

The Angels shuddered in anger.  Claus nodded solemnly and finished writing out the contract, “If you don’t mind, Krampus, I’d like to read it aloud to see if it will sounds precise.”

Krampus nodded once.  Claus cleared his throat before reading, “Tommy Lightfoot will hereby be turned over to the custody of Nicholas Claus to complete the performing one hundred good deeds.  Successfully completing of the aforementioned terms will grant Tommy Lightfoot and Zoe Lightfoot the freedom of their souls and termination of their imprisonment.”  

“Two brats?” Krampus frowned, “When did the sister get involved in this?  He’s the one who just happened to get his soul back.  She’s still in my castle on permanent kitchen duty.”

“Quit bein’ so damn stubborn for once, you stingy ol’ goat,” Iris snapped, “Ya got over a million kids locked up in your miserable kingdom, and ya can’t spare two?”

Konani had a smug grin on his face, “Just take the damn contract, Grump-ass.  ‘Cause if you don’t, it’s gonna be mighty hard to make your Black Hoof Ale without water, swamp russula, and scium berries.”

Krampus’s temper flared.  The only thing keeping him calm was fantasizing about the Forest of Burzee being set ablaze and how how he would like to make each Angel suffer.  He snorted, “I accept, if it’ll mean shutting up the bickering nymphs and whiny children!”

Claus signed his name at the bottom. Jaiklyn and Konani stayed close to him as he walked over and handed the contract and pen to Krampus.  

“I have my own pen,” Krampus said.  He exposed his sharp teeth and fangs and his indescribably-wide bite range before biting down hard on the back of his hand.  He dipped a claw in his blood and scribbled his name below Claus’.

“Then it’s settled.  Tommy’s fate is determined if he can finish his task before the 22nd.” Claus said, “If you could, Krampus, release the boy.”

Krampus didn’t move at first.  He clutched the chain so hard that his fist trembled and he wondered if he just did the stupidest thing in his immortal life.  The Angels’ focused leers on him made exhale a disgusted groan.  He knelt down by Tommy and gripped at a part of the chain behind his back.  The Angels relaxed a bit, keeping their cautious eyes on the demon.  

Tommy took a huge breath when the heavy chains dropped down in his lap and around his hips. It didn’t feel real to him.  “Tommy,” A whisper that sounded almost like Zoe’s voice rang in his head.  He looked up and saw Fara motioning to him to walk to her.  He started to stand only to be forced to sit back down when a clawed hand pressed down on his head.  The Angels immediately shifted into combat stances, ready to charge Krampus if he made a wrong move.

Krampus knelt right beside Tommy, his whispers sounding like a snake flicking its tongue into his ear, “One hundred good deeds in 2 weeks?  I’d say your chances are about ten thousand out of one.”  He said, “Don’t think you’re safe because your on Saint Nick’s side of the mountain, boy.  Who knows?  I can always sneak over and steal you back while everyone’s guard is down.  Or maybe I won’t, since I still have your twin.”

The demon felt Tommy tense up.  He chuckled evilly, “Oh the things I could do to her.  Put her in your place in my labyrinth coal mines.  Sell her off to fellow demons who live far on the other side of the Burzee Plane.  Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll eat her soul.  It hasn’t ripened after only a year, but to me, it’ll taste all the sweeter,” He grinned evilly.

Tommy gritted his teeth holding back angry tears, “You leave my sister alone.  I’ll do all the good deeds, then me and her can go home and never see you again,” he managed to utter.

The Angels were impressed at the little boy’s bravery and smiled seeing Krampus’ smirk disappear after hearing his words.  

“If you can finish all the good deeds.” Krampus’s whispers sounded more sinister, “And even if you complete this impossible task doesn’t mean you won’t see me again.  All it will take is just one...teeny...tiny...slip-up.  And I assure you, you will see me again.”  He stood up and swiftly lifted his clawed hands off the boy’s head.  

Tommy bolted, flying into Fara’s opens arms.  She hugged him tightly as she, Claus, and the rest of the Angels watch Krampus slowly ascend into the air.  

“Good luck, brat.  You’re gonna need it,” Krampus chuckled waving a switch tauntingly at Tommy before he disappeared into the clouds above the mountains.

All eyes were on Claus as everything calmed down.  He had a solemn look standing in a deep thought.  Jaiklyn quickly walked up to him, “If there’s anyone to blame here, Claus, it’s me.  Don’t take everyone’s wings because of my bad decision.  If Krampus hadn’t showed up like he did, we would’ve brought Tommy to you and asked what to do from there.”

“You all were doing what you felt was right, Jaiklyn.” Claus replied, “If you would have brought the little one to me in the beginning, I would have been forced to tell you to return him from whence he came with no questions asked.  I was just as shocked that Krampus agreed to my agreement.”

“Hardly agreed,” Konani said. “I felt like he was gonna take off with Tommy when he didn’t let him go right away.”

Tommy had his head turned in Claus’ direction with a fixed gaze.  Fara rubbed on his back, thinking Tommy was stuck in shock.  “You were very brave, Tommy.  You even caught Krampus off-guard,” She said to him softly.

Tommy gently pulled away from her, walking between the Angels and up to the bearded man.  The little boy tilted his head slightly, “Are you. . . .really Santa Claus?”

Claus kneeled to be level with Tommy to get a good look at him.  Claus smiled warmly, “I believe one Christmas you asked your father for a camouflaged-painted Justice Jet bicycle, but--”

“But he couldn’t find one, no matter where he went.  Dad said people had bought that bike way before Christmas, even before Thanksgiving.” Tommy’s eyes grew wide as realization sparked in his mind, “But then I got up that Christmas morning, and it was leaning against the wall by the tree with a big red and white bow on the handlebars.” 

Claus nodded with a smile, “And your dad, as confused as he was, said he managed to find one.  I made that bike especially for you.”

Tommy gawked up at Claus, still shocked and speechless  Next thing he knew, he had flung his arms around him in a tight hug.

The Angels smiled watching.  “Looks like you regained another believer, Claus,” Iris said.

A quiet, comforting voice came from behind the Forest catching Claus’s attention.  He guided Tommy to the Angels, “Please take Tommy back to the castle.  I’ll be along shortly.”

The Angels all responded with a “yes, sir” as Claus headed for the trees edging the woods.  Tommy climbed onto Fara’s back.  He looked back and swore he saw a group of strange people, hidden behind the trees, talking with Claus.  

“Race you two back?” Konani smiled competitively.

Jaiklyn and Fara smirked, “Sure.”

Jaiklyn tapped Tommy on the shoulder, “Be our ref?”

Tommy was quiet for a second before smiling at her, “Okay!”

After a quick countdown, Konani, Iris, and Renard rocketed into the sky and Jaiklyn and Fara’s kicked up clouds of snow as they zoomed through the trees again.  Tommy giggled excitedly as they zipped past trees, slid down snowy hills, and jumped over acres of snow fields all the while keeping his eye on the sky to watch the flying Angels as they either flew over or disappeared behind them.   

When they reached Santa’s castle, instead of heading for the village entrance, Fara and Jaiklyn headed for the front of the mountain where there were no accessible paths to the top.  They rapidly bounced up to every rock ledges and sunken curved edgings, leaping with the greatest of ease.  “This is awesome!” Tommy cried out in mid-laughter.  Jaiklyn and Fara soared over the lengthy smooth rock wall near the top, hovering in between the airborne Konani, Iris, and Renard.  They plunged toward the balcony, cluttered with broken chairs and tables and cracks in the tile flooring, and all feet clopped to the ground concurrently.

Konani announced, “It’s a tie!”

“Tie?!  My ass!  We won that race!” Jaiklyn shouted.

“That’s because you two took a fuckin’ shortcut, and that’s cheating!” Konani argued back.

Jaiklyn fumed, “Man, nobody took no damn stupid shortcut!”

“Guys, guys, you’re forgetting our ref.” Iris thumbed at Tommy.

The little boy panted, as if he had ran alongside the sisters, and had wide smile on his face.  “You both won,” He said.

“Can I get a second opinion?” Jaiklyn asked.

Konani smirked leaning towards her, “Poor Jay-Jay.  Can handle beating up Grump-ass and his little bastards but can’t handle losing to one of the best Angels here.”

Jaiklyn shoved her face into his, pressing her forehead against his, “Then I wanna rematch!”

“Then bring it!” Konani snarled pushing back harder.  

Tommy watched Jaiklyn and Konani bickered back and forth, right in each other’s faces and shoving and pushing.  He looked at Fara, Iris, and Renard.  Iris slowly shook her her head, heaving a soft sigh.  Renard had some worry in his eyes and was probably thinking about stepping in between the two.  Fara was the only one who didn’t look at fazed at all.

Two arms suddenly shot out over Tommy’s head and reached for Jaiklyn and Konani.  One hand pinched and twisted around Jaiklyn’s left ear and the other did the same to Konani’s right ear.  Their arguing stopped and they were yelping, frozen on their tiptoes.

“That’s enough out of you two!”  A chubby, elderly woman stepped into Tommy’s view.  Her snow white hair was tied back in a bun and she wore a light pink and white gingham tea dress with long green apron edged with red edgings on the front.  Her green eyes blazed as she glared at Jaiklyn then Konani, “As if it’s not enough we’re behind schedule.  You couldn’t have started the fight miles away from the castle?  You’ve got all the elves frightened out of their wits and for the umpteenth time, made a mess on the balcony!”

Tommy sidled by the angry old woman and behind Iris’ legs.  “ ‘Mrs. C’?  Mrs. Claus?” He asked looking up at Iris.

Iris nodded with a smile, “We call her ‘Mama Claus’ sometimes.  You can see why.”

“We’re sorry, Mrs. C!  We’ll start cleaning up right now!” Konani managed to utter out, cringing from the aches of his twisted ear.

Mrs. Claus released their ears with a snap.  Jaiklyn and Konani headed through the sliding door, rubbing on their ears.  “You know where the cleaning closet is.  No dawdling,” she spoke sternly, tapping her foot.

“You wouldn’t think they were going together with how much they argue,” Fara said

Mrs. Claus shook her head sighing softly, “I’ll never understand these modern couple.  How in the world does anger and bickering replace love and affection?” She noticed a pair of curious eyes and a tuft of black hair peeking from around Iris’ leg, “And is this the little one you saved?”

Iris pushed Tommy out from behind her.  The shy little boy froze in place as the old woman squatted to his level and looked him up and down.  “You don’t seem the naughty type.” She replied warmly, “How did a cute little thing like you end up in that ugly beast’s caverns?”

Tommy looked down at his shoes, his cheeks tinted red, “I’m still trying to figure that out myself, Mrs. Claus.”

Jaiklyn and Konani returned pushing wheeled wasetbaskets and carrying an armful of push brooms.  “Right, everyone grab a broom.  I want this balcony free of splinters and fabric scrap,” Mrs. Claus ordered.

Tommy walked with Fara and Renard to grab a push broom until a hand gently grabbed his shoulder. 

“Tommy, you’re gonna have to be serious from here on out.  You heard the contract and you’re gonna hafta follow by it.” Iris said, “You and your sister’s soul are on the line here.”

“I know Iris.” Tommy replied.

“We did the hard part, now you have the hardest part.  Do these good deeds quick, so you and your sister can get home.” Iris finished.

“And you’re gonna start your first good deed by helping us clean up,” Konani tossed an elf sized broom to Tommy. “Let’s get to work.”

Tommy eagerly sweeped up broken bits of woods and pushing it toward the trash pile everyone was making.  He seemed to sweep faster than everyone else.

“It’s how many good things you can do, Tommy, not how fast.” Konani said as the boy pushed another stack of broken furniture into the pile.

“Bet I can sweep up more thank you can, Konani.” Tommy grinned.

Jaiklyn exaggerated a loud gasp, eyes wide open. “I think he’s challengin’ you, Konani,” she said.

Konani shook his head and waved his hand, “Nah kid, not in the mood right now.”

Jaiklyn stood silent, a goofy look of astonishment on her face, then scooted next to Tommy with a big grin on her face, “He got beat by two girls.  I dunno how’d he react if you beat him, Tommy.”

Her words were a swing to Konani’s competitive pride.  He pushed Jaiklyn out of the way and chuckled, “Okay kid, you’re on.”

They lined up side by side in the middle of the cluttered deck behind an imaginary starting line.  With Iris as starter, she waved a white rag in the air.  Tommy and Konani rapidly whisked their brooms around, forming a pile of broken wood as big as they can in front of their broom bristle before racing over to final pile next to the wastebasket.  The rest of the Angels, still sweeping, often had to make way for the race-sweeping duo as they neared them and stopped and cheered for Tommy or Konani for awhile.  Even Mrs. Claus stopped to watch at times to clap and cheer with them.

The added fun got clean-up finished quicker.  Konani had even forgotten that he was competing.  “You’re pretty fast, kid.” He panted after getting the last pile of trash, “And you’re alright too.” He ruffled Tommy’s hair before pulling the loaded wasterbasket inside.

“Wow, it’s not that easy to get Konani to warm up to others,” Jaiklyn commented.

Mrs. Claus lifted up her apron to wipe sweat from her face, “Well then that’s that.  I have to get back to the kitchen and I’ll see if I can find someone to look after little Tommy and give him a place to stay.”

“Can’t he stay with us?  We’ll look after him and keep track of his good deeds,” Fara said.

“I know you and rest of the Angels would do things for Tommy to help him succeed, but the contract must be followed fairly, Fara.” Mrs. Claus answered, “He needs a proper caretaker who is bound by Santa’s law.”

The Angels nodded, though they didn’t agree wholeheartedly.  

“I’m starvin’,” Iris said holding onto her tummy, “So what’s for dinner tonight?”

“PIZZA!” Jaiklyn and Renard shouted at the same time.

“Papa Ronnie’s party pack?” Fara suggested.

“And it’s my treat, since I pulled you guys into this huge mess.” Jaiklyn said.

Iris wrapped an arm around Jaiklyn’s shoulder, “Jake, anytime you pull us in a mess where we kick Grump-ass all over Burzee is a great one to be in.”

Jaiklyn checked the bills in her wallet as everyone headed inside, “What’s your favorite topping, Tommy?  Pepperoni?  Anchovies?”

She didn’t get a response.  She turned around and saw Tommy looking at Black Spire in the distance.  Krampus’ departing words rang in his head along with images of Zoe and how pale and robot-like she was.  He gasped when a hand landed on his shoulder.

Jaiklyn had a calm, sincere look in her eyes, “Don’t let Krampus get to you.  If you say you’re gonna get your sister back, then you’re gonna get your sister back.  As long as you don’t forget that, you’ll stay on the right track, okay?”

Tommy nodded.  

Jaiklyn smiled, “So, pizza then?”  

Tommy nodded more eagerly, “Supreme?”

“Sure, whatever toppings you want.” They walked inside joining the others.

Tommy had known his guardians for only a day and they already made him feel like one of them.  He had gained a new confidence and felt that he would be able to complete the task to earn his and his sister’s freedom.  But like all goals in everyone’s life, with or without a contract, there would be many hills and mountains in his way.

(The Forest of Burzee, Laughing Valley of Ho-Ha-Ho and the Immortals are © L. Frank Baum.
All other characters are © Rai Pager.

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