Christmas Serial in 25 parts
for good boys and girls everywhere
Story by Steve Englehart Art by Joe Staton
December 10: Vanished!
It was just dawn when Rustle, Mymla, Chiss, and Melchior came to the edge of Melchior's forest and spied a frozen river. On the far side was the desolate-looking mouth of a cave. "That's our goal," announced Chiss with complete satisfaction. "Even though Yørgøn flew the last bit, I know he went there!"
"It is well-situated," said Melchior, "for I must leave you here."
"What?" cried Rustle. "No!" He felt a bond with the king of the forest, a deep bond despite the short amount of time they'd known each other.
"I must," the moose repeated. "I am a creature of this forest, and unlike my cousins, the caribou and reindeer, I cannot cross ice. But I will keep watch from this side until you signal your success."
"Come on, then! We're wasting time!" hissed Chiss, and stepped out onto the river. Almost immediately he fell on his behind.
"Little fool," murmured Mymla, not unkindly. "You've been melting the snow beneath your feet right along, but snow is not ice. Let me carry you. That's one of the reasons Nick sent me along, after all."
"Fooey!" sniffed the fire-elf, but he really had no alternative. So he climbed onto her narrow shoulders and glowered as she accompanied Rustle across the river. Her leg, fortunately for them all, was completely healed now.
Once on the other side, Chiss jumped down, and the other two ran eagerly into the cave. If they wondered why he didn't join them, they didn't ask, but when they came back out five minutes later, they knew.
"It's empty!" Rustle wailed.
"I knew that," said Chiss with a superior air. "I felt the new path leading away from here as soon as I set foot on the embankment -- and it's only a few hours old!"
"Yørgøn and the Coalman?" asked Mymla hopefully.
"No, just Yørgøn. But he's bound to lead us to his master. This way!" And he led them quickly north along the river bank, accompanied by Melchior's farewell salute from the far side.
Just before noon, it began to snow, and not long afterward, they rounded a bend and spied a small outpost of persons up ahead, at the base of a vast glacier which served as the source for the river. "Yørgøn's gone out onto the glacier -- the nasty gnome," said Chiss, looking unhappily at his ice-melting feet.
"That's not our biggest problem," said Mymla. "Unless we want to make a wide detour, we're going to have to go through the village."
"So? Elves are invisible to persons, unless we want to be seen."
"Walking trees aren't," she said.
"Oh," he said. "Ah."
"Wait here, you two," Mymla said, and slipped away toward the town. It was almost half an hour before she came back, dragging a huge purple coat behind her through the snow.
"Whoof!" she gasped. "I had -- to look all -- over the village -- to find one of these things -- that wasn't being used by some -- person. On top of that, it's really heavy. But it's big enough to cover you, Rustle, if you bend your top branches down along your trunk -- and there's a floppy hat in one of the pockets and a scarf in the other. Here -- put them on."
That proved to be a difficult project, made more so by the increasing force of the snow storm, but with the sleeves hanging loose over the ends of the two limbs he was using as "arms," the hem dragging on the ground, the scarf wrapped high and the hat pulled low he stood a chance of passing persons unnoticed. If the snow kept up. If no one looked too closely.
And so the three of them walked into the hamlet, with Rustle stumbling now and again as his roots caught in the unaccustomed clothing. But there were very few persons on the streets now, and as they passed each dwelling-place without anyone yelling "Look! A tree!" their confidence grew -- so much so that Chiss suddenly decided to run an errand. "Stay here for a moment!" he announced, and vanished into one of the shops. Rustle and Mymla both called, "No!", but by then he was already gone.
So they moved back into the shadows, and waited nervously. Soon, a group of persons walked right past them, but their heads were lowered against the storm, and they were talking among themselves.
" -- a good holiday, Christmas. Good to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But it seems so solemn, somehow."
"Yeah, you'd think a celebration would be more upbeat, instead of just a remembrance."
"I've got an idea. Maybe we should have parties -- give presents to each other -- "
"Presents? I need everything I've got right now; I can't be giving things away."
"That's for sure. You have to ask yourself: what's in it for me?"
The group of persons passed on down the street, as Rustle and Mymla looked at each other. "Something's not right. Stay here!" she said, and ran toward the nearest shops. She was back inside of five minutes, followed by an agitated Chiss.
"There's no sign of Nick in the store!" he cried. "No pictures of him, no decorations -- no fun!"
"Is there supposed to be?" asked Rustle, but even he knew the answer by now.
"There's no sign of him anywhere on the street! Nobody's talking about him!" wailed Mymla. "I looked and looked and looked!"
"Oh my goodness," whispered Rustle in awe. "That must mean -- the Coalman has already destroyed him!!"
"It's as if he never existed!" babbled Chiss, agitated in a way Rustle had never seen.
"But why do we still know about him?" Rustle asked.
"Because we're magic. We're special," said Mymla, close to tears. "But persons -- "
"We have to get the bell back," Rustle said firmly. "We just have to!"
"We will! We're close! To the glacier!" shouted Chiss, and it really seemed to Rustle that the passing persons would have to hear him. But as before, they didn't.
Ten minutes later, the threesome set foot and root on the ice. Before them the entire world seemed empty and cold
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