A White Christmas
The Mage wasn't really concerned about freezing, exactly. Yes, it was cold. And snowing. Snowing enough that they were slogging through at least a foot of the blasted stuff, even in the protection of the trees tucked near the mountain. They all had enough magical resources that while none of them were comfortable, freezing wasn't likely to be a problem.
Remaining lost, however, particularly with certain someones having Tempers -
THAT was a problem.
"Does anyone - *huff* - have a blasted idea - *growl* - where the Abyss we are?!" Ava snarled and kicked either a stone or a snowball out of her way.
"Not the Abyss, that's much warmer."
"Book, if you don't have something useful to say-"
"Demonspawn, if you don't have any polite way of saying things, maybe you should't be asking questions!"
Ava did the slightly terrifying thing where her face was sweetness and dripping polite kindness, but her eyes and gritted teeth were weapons in their own right. "O great and wondrous book of centuries of accumulated knowledge, please enlighten me as to our location."
"Well let me see," Grim drawled at his most annoying, "snow, mountains, snow, some trees, snow – Nope, we're lost."
Eron and Gargormeth heaved a quiet sigh at the same time, which of course set the Plooff off growling at the paladin who started pretending he had any idea whatsoever how to find their location in the middle of a small blizzard.
Another lovely day on the trail, the Mage thought sourly, and heaved her own sigh. Thankfully, everyone else was busy sniping at each other, and just ignored her. She was in the lead – not that it mattered – and could pretend that by tuning everyone out it was just another lovely day near the Citadel -
"Wait. What's that?" The bickering trailed off as they all saw the strange, flickering blue light ahead.
"Will-o-wisp?" Ava asked cautiously, loosening the straps to her sword.
Eron was already shaking his head. "No, it's too soft a blue. We should investigate."
Later, the Mage couldn't help but think that Eron always had the worst ideas.
Happy Holidaze from Our Family To Yours
It was a chest high door with a strange crystal protruding from the rock next to it, and some kind of sign hanging above. Unfortunately, by the time the party reached said door – tucked into the rock and well away from the protective trees – the snow had increased so much that none of them could read it. The Mage simply pounded on the door, hoping someone was in residence because the possibility of the party spending yet another freezing night huddling with the Plooff under a too small tent -
No. Just no.
She was hauling back to pound again when a sliding panel roughly level with the Mage's navel slid open and suspicious eyes gazed out at them. "Yes?" The voice was vaguely feminine, but gruff and clearly not human.
"Er, hello." The Mage was more than a little off kilter, since she'd figured that after this much pounding, the inhabitants were either long dead or goblins.
Possibly both, but that wouldn't have been much a problem.
The reality, of course, was much worse. When they identified themselves as adventurers, and somewhat working on behalf of the Mages Council, the door was cheerfully swung open by a terrifyingly solid hutchen woman who brought them (doubled over) inside. They were chivvied down a long hall into what looked like an old mine, past more glowing blue crystals which seemed to be the standard illumination for the place and a disconcerting amount of slim lightly coating most of the walls.
Gargormeth, for a wonder, clearly didn't like anything.
They were finally led into a kitchen that had clearly been expanded for humans ("My husband's very best friend is a human, you see, and he wanted to be able to visit some times!"), seated, and stared at by two tiny hutchen children – a boy who seemed quite engrossed by his nose's contents and a girl who was a quiet miniature of her mother. The hutchen woman insisted – in her no-nonsense, hardly likely to let anyone else talk for that matter way – that they eat before introductions, and since they seemed to not be on the menu for once, it seemed reasonable.
The suspiciously glimmering stew – much like the slime on the walls – was palatable, but not quite so reasonable. At least there was bread and strawberry jam to chase it down.
"Now. You all seem comfortable, so I'll start the introductions. I'm Esme, this here is Violet, and Junior is – Junior, stop picking your nose. There's company. Welcome to Pleasant Mines!"
"Pleasant Mines," the Mage repeated vaguely around a roaring in her ears. It... might not have been her imagination that Grim was quietly chanting "nononononono" over and over again at her hip, but at least it seemed to be quiet enough that... Oh Nameless. Esme. "Junior... what?"
Esme's smile surely couldn't have that many extra teeth. "Glimpy Junior, of course. That would be my husband. He's off doing business right now – I don't suppose you've run into his caravan? He sells all sorts of things adventurers could use."
Before anyone could let their anger boil over and completely bollocks up what could be an otherwise perfectly lovely evening, no really, the Mage forced a baring of teeth that might be called a grin. "Of course!" she declared, either brightly or at least she could claim it was meant to be. "I helped him get to Iceholm a few months ago."
Junior, who had removed his hand from his nose only to have spent the subsequent time staring rudely at Ava, grabbed the jar of jam. Before anyone could say or do anything, he dumped most of the jar on the family's elderly Redfang pretending to be a rug in front of the fire. The started beast whined and looked at Junior, who grabbed a handful of jam and smeared it on his face.
"Imma 'venturer!" Junior hollered, before lofting the jar into the air and charging at his sister with it. She shrieked and ran from the room, Junior chasing after and waving his "weapon" and calling for his "p'oof!" to charge after.
The Redfang whined and slithered further under the table.
Eron looked like he would rather enjoy doing something similar.
Ava groaned and plonked her face into her hands.
And Esme smiled indulgently at her children before turning back to the Mage. "He's so like his father. You have to tell me everything that happened dear – I didn't think his escorts tended to survive!"
I will not mimic Ava, I will not mimic Ava -
Of course, the ungrateful wretches took the opportunity to "repair and polish gear and whatnot" while she was talking, since they hadn't been there.
They took the Plooff, too.
A Special Gift For You
When the Mage finally escaped (mostly because Esme had stopped interrogating her in order to give the old Redfang a bath), she found Ava frowning near a mine shaft. The Lightbringer had her sword out, and was eyeing a whetstone almost bemusedly.
"I hate you all," Grim croaked. "You LEFT me there!"
The Mage snorted. "I was the one having to do the fast talking-"
"And I had to endure ESME!"
Rather than let Grim loose for a tirade, the Mage settled on what she thought was a thoroughly reasonable question. "So what's with the face? You look like you don't know whether your sword is good enough or nor."
Ava shrugged uncomfortably. "I think Junior... likes me." She wrinkled her nose. "He came out and sold me a new whetstone 'at a reasonable price and discount' – and while it's old, it's not too bad. Like Junior, I guess."
They spent awhile trying to make the best of... a remarkably odd situation until Eron wandered by, looking lost. When they learned that he had been checking over his gear, and somehow lost his only whetstone, Ava stood up with a furious gleam in her eyes.
"JUNIOR!" she roared, stalking off back towards the kitchen.
Grim's cackling did not help the Mage find Junior – and rescue him – first. At all.
A Peaceful Holiday and A Happy New Year
"Are you sure you can't stay any longer?" Esme frowned at the adventurers gathered at the front door, packs a little heavier with bread and a few jars of jam. Ava was still simmering with the death glare in her expression, Eron was trying valiantly to hide his annoyance, and Gargometh was almost pawing at the door.
The Mage was praying quietly that he wouldn't; they would surely have to stick around long enough to replace the blasted thing.
"Yes, I got a magical summons from the Council, they need us back right away," she lied smoothly around another fake smile. She kept that rictus on her face though overly long goodbyes (and two separate attempts by Junior to join the party), and at least a league away from the damned mine.
At least it had stopped snowing.
And for once, everyone was thoroughly happy to be moving along, without any complaints about the walk, the weather, or anything beyond what they were leaving behind.
Wish You Were Here
Esme snorted and made sure the door was solidly barred. Ridiculous humans. She bent over, giving Violet and then Junior a kiss on the head. "Such good children," she crooned, before shooing them off to their rooms with some nice winter treats. Then she went to her own room, shutting and barring that door before turning to find the wonderful dear had already set the small table with a sumptuous feast for two.
"My beautiful turtle dove," Glimpy crowed, saluting her with a goblet of wine.
"And clever, and quick witted, and - "
Such a dear, her Glimpy. He let her go on at length, even adding in his own accolades in between the two of them feeding each other tasty tidbits. When she finished – not the food, of course, there were several more courses left – Glimpy toasted her again. "Such a wonderful Yule, all due to my sweet and only Esme. My hero!"