This story was written for AMMC (A Merry Minion Christmas). Details and submission guidelines can be found here.
- In Elf Defense by Jeffrey Hollar
- Word Count: 1050
- Ebook: Yes
Oisin Strongheart awoke suddenly but silently. Drawing on centuries of field craft and covert operations experience with the elite warriors of the Alfar Special Forces (ASF), he willed his body to remain immobile, feigning sleep. In hostile terrain, every tactical advantage must be exploited to its fullest. The fact he was fully conscious and infinitely aware of his surroundings constituted just such an advantage. Oisin had learned, long ago, to never underestimate even the smallest factor that provided him any leverage over his adversaries. Niamh knew he could use all the help he could get on this mission.
He began by reaching outward with his senses, seeking any indication of what had brought him from his troubled, and much needed, rest. Slowly, silently, surreptitiously he breathed in through his aquiline nose. He first sought to disqualify the everyday scents and smells he, now, so readily accepted in this hellish place. He catalogued and subsequently discarded each odor. Mildew, dry rot, sweat, the stench of fouled garments and assorted bodily effluvia overwhelmed him with distaste and disgust. Elves were, by nature, both a fastidious and orderly people. Such a miasma of foulness would be unknown in their homeland but not…here.
Struggling to focus, Strongheart resumed his olfactory reconnaissance. An errant gust of cold air passed through the poorly-insulated barracks and there, beneath all of the rest, was a fetor of such appalling nature as to beggar belief such could exist and not be immediately noticed. It was a foul reek redolent of decay, putrescence and things so long dead and decomposing as to be more liquid than solid. It was the singular and unmistakable scent of The Claus’s demonic servitors, the Snowmen.
As if to confirm what needed no further clarification, his sensitive ears detected the peculiar liquid sucking sound of the creatures’ movements accompanied by the dry, scratching of their forelimbs probing various objects throughout the large chamber. There were five…no, six of the unearthly abominations in close proximity and, systematically, drawing closer.
His every warrior instinct cried out for him to rise and destroy these detestable creatures but the twin voices of prudence and experience kept him in check. There would come an accounting for these, but the time for that would not be tonight…soon, but not tonight.
As they drew even with his wretched bunk, his mind was assaulted by the otherworldly sensations of numbing coldness and boundless evil they radiated in their progress. For the briefest of moments all sense of hope, of self, of higher emotions was swept from his thoughts and his lean body shivered involuntarily. Just as quickly, he felt their fetid influence fade as they sloughed past and exited the single portal at the far end of the building.
Without realizing he had done so, he relaxed his tautened muscles and feeling returned to his extremities. He must act soon or all the willpower and resilience in the world would avail him naught. In little more than two weeks over a dozen elves had, somehow, slipped out of their beds into the night and taken the “cold walk”. Such was what the prisoners here had taken to calling it when the strain of further existence in such deplorable conditions became, at last, too much to bear and they wandered into the polar night to embrace the clean death of exposure rather than serve another day.
Oisin felt the weight of each of their deaths as a palpable burden on his conscience. He had been sent to end their bondage…to free them from the forced labor they had been compelled to perform. To date, he had failed to do so. He now knew ASF Headquarters had, if possible, grossly underestimated the sheer malevolence and supernatural power of the human sorcerer who ruled this place.
Like so many of his kind, he had heard rumors of this being of unknown abilities and of unspecified origins who was held in such high regard by the children of the Younger Races…this Santa Claus. That such a one existed, drawing arcane strength, unnatural nourishment and infinite longevity from the misguided worship bestowed upon him seemed absurd. That he had, by some means, kidnapped elfish citizens to craft the gifts by which he secured the Humans’ devotion was ludicrous. Or was it?
The briefing files he’d been furnished at ASF HQ proved otherwise. His mission was, on the surface, simple but he suspected would prove far more difficult. An ASF strike force was poised to deliver a fatal blow to this Claus but needed more accurate details as to the facility layout, disposition of forces and prisoner welfare before inserting. It would be Strongheart’s task to provide this much-needed intel.
With only days before this Christmas holiday left, he realized he could delay no longer. If The Clause were allowed to renew his unholy energies in that single night of tremendous significance, all hope to stop him would be lost for another of the Humans’ years. Though his were a long-lived and a hearty people, the prospects for their continued existence were slim if held for yet another season enslaved.
He had allowed himself to be taken by the demonic Snowmen, along with dozens of other captives, and had endured unspeakable indignities and hardships for nearly six moons. If he did not act now…tonight, all of the deaths, the suffering would be for naught.
Discounting the pain, he dug the ensorcelled gemstone from beneath the flesh on the heel of his left foot and spoke the code phrase which would transmit its stored data to the strike team. The crystal changed colors from deep red to verdant green signifying receipt and confirming the operation was a “go”.
Ghosting through shadows, he reached the door and bypassed the locks with a whispered cantrip. Braced against the bitter night air, he slid out and sprinted to a position of concealment. In theory, he could remain there and await extraction by the relief forces. Strongheart knew, this he could not do.
With a last silent prayer to his Gods for strength, he strode boldly into the courtyard, beams of eldritch energy shooting from his palms to, at long last, end the depravities of as many of The Claus’s henchman as his life force and time permitted before he was, inevitably, taken down.