Rated: PG-13 Black Dragon Arc Chapter I: Christmas comes to Canterdale 3:00 A.M. Christmas Morning With only three hours until sunrise, it would seem Father Christmas was running out of time to finish his rounds. Then from the woods stepped a tall figure with robes of deep satin trimmed in gold with a thistle of holly stuck on its hood. As it descended the slope towards the lonely village of Canterdale, the sack it carried slung over its back swayed back and forth. As it passed through the town, Father Christmas felt an emotion quite uncharacteristic to the man he was--jealousy, loathing. Father Christmas stopped in the town square and referred to a ridiculously long parchment with but a single name scribbled on it, and an address. He tossed aside the faux-list and soon came to the house he was looking for. With its walking stick the figure batted away the wreath with the crude wooden cross and found that the door was unlocked. Bad decision in these times Father Christmas thought. Oh well, makes my job easier. The only light in the living room was a dull orange of smoldering embers that barely radiated past the hearth. Father Christmas stopped at a bare evergreen and scooped up the few presents there. He placed them into his sack, then drew out three new ones and laid them under the tree. The middle present wobbled back and forth, and there came a faint scratching from within. The child had wanted a puppy for Christmas and would get just what he wanted--he had been exhibiting excellent behavior, in Father Christmas’s book. He came to the boy’s door and eased it open. Quietly he approached the infant’s crib. The babe lay sound asleep in hand-knitted pajamas. He picked the baby up gently, and holding the baby in one arm, he used his other to dump the contents of his sack into the crib. He felt the child sluggishly squirming in his arms. He quickly dumped the baby boy into his sack and slung it over his shoulder. Taking his leisurely time, Father Christmas made his way out of the cottage and through the quiet town whistling a yuletide tune as he went. When he reached the edge of the wood, he turned back towards the town and listened. From the once quiet cottage he heard a woman’s high-pitched shriek. She could give Malty a run for her money. “Merry Christmas to all,” Father Christmas whispered (but spat out Christmas). He held his breath until he heard the father’s cry followed by the sound of doors being thrown open and feet hurrying through the snow. “And to all a good night.” After a half hour of tromping through the dark woods, Father Christmas came to a moonlit brook. Sitting on a rock across the brook was a knee-high creature that resembled a bipedal toad with a pair of stubby bullhorns and a droopy oval shaped nose. Father Christmas swung his walking stick at the little creature. It connected with the boggart to a solid whack! “Rise and shine, Gnarrish.” As the boggart climbed to its feet, the adder wrapped around its staff hissed at Father Christmas. Father Christmas growled at the adder softly from beneath his cowl. “I assume you got tonight’s haul then?” the boggart asked angrily. “Yup.” Father Christmas offered the sack to the boggart. Gnarrish began to unseal the sack. Immediately upon its opening, a loud and steady bawling burst from the sack. The boggart fumbled to reseal the sack, silencing the baby’s noise. “Here,” the boggart handed Father Christmas his adder-staff and hoisted the sack over his shoulder. The little snake glared at the hooded figure. Father Christmas slowly moved a dirty-nailed finger towards the adder’s gullet and began to stroke the snake. The glare disappeared and it began a steady hissing like a cat’s purring. “We best be going. The humans are bound to have some of their kind out in the woods soon.” “Is the big twoll afwaid of the wittle bitty Children?” Father Christmas lowered his hood, revealing a lumpy face framed by tangled and matted locks of dark brown hair. Despite the stupid facial features, his beady eyes were keen, cold, and calculating. He growled at Gnarrish and barred his cavity-stricken fangs. He shared one feature with the boggart-a bulbous honker. “It’d be real easy to say that one of the Knights got you, Gnarrish. I doubt even Nudd would care if you went missing.” The troll pointed the staff at Gnarrish and opened his mouth to invoke its magick. “Shut up and give me the staff. You’ll put your eye out.” The boggart sprung up like a bullfrog and snatched the staff out of the troll’s meaty fist. “Do you remember your way home, or would you like me to hold your hand?” Gnarrish asked pleasantly. The troll’s whispered threats had begun to grate on Gnarrish’s nerves. Along their way to the mound he played around with the idea of setting his adder on the big lug. The sound of humans crackling and trampling through the underbrush came through like the sound of breaking glass and put speed in the steps of the troll and the boggart. After hurrying down an incline and into a ravine, the pair came to a hill surrounded by a ring of trees that allowed the pale moon clearance to shine. Set in the base of the mound was roughly constructed gateway made by propping up a pair of stone slabs, with a third lying lengthwise across the top. The solid earth in the stone doorway began to crumble and fall away in thick clods. Gnarrish and the troll passed through the gate and into a pathway lit by crystals that glowed with green light. Behind them the clods dirt began to rise back into place, separating their road from Adam’s world.