The Returners Save Christmas
“I’ve been in the revenge business so long that, now that I’ve achieved it, I don’t know what else to do.” – Inyigo Montoya [Mandy Patinkin], The Princess Bride.
What happens to a band of heroes who come together to save the world after they’ve finished saving the world? Where do heroes go from there? It seems that, after such a momentous task, anything and everything would be a step down or anticlimactic in someway. This is definitely true in the case of a band of heroes known as The Returners; Fourteen souls pure and brave, some man, some woman, some neither. Overcoming odds so daunting as to render a world hopeless and impotent, they battled an insane genocidal demigod bent on destroying everything. And they won.
So now what?
The Returners have banded together once again, however, what pushes them now is not the desperation borne of the shadow of a horrific evil stretching over the land, but the desperation borne of boredom and having nothing to do. How the mighty have fallen. Now, just one year after their apex of glory, the Returners have seen their fifteen minutes of fame rapidly expire. Now, they have been reduced to the most menial and degrading of yuletide tasks.
This is their story.
THE RETURNERS SAVE CHRISTMAS
A Yuletide Tale of Heartwarming Schlock, seasoned with festive and seasonal peppermint-flavored parody and sarcasm.
Winter came quick and harsh to the little hamlet of Mobliz. Potent winds brought loud and malicious hailstones that buffeted the windows and wooden sides and roofs of one large house, each sheltering a share of a village comprised almost entirely of young children. Two of the adults, who were such in little more than name only, Duane and Katarin, were young lovers with a biological child of their own and, hence, were poorly equipped for the task of reassuring a score of prepubescent little snots.
Faith, a girl aged nine years old, began to wail incessantly after several large hailstones came close to cracking the glass window.
“Geez, I wish this rain would stop,” Duane remarked to his wife. “Do you think you could do something to calm that kid down?”
“Damn it, Duane, can’t you see I’m nursing Hope?” Katarin snapped back. “I’ve almost got her to relax enough to go to sleep! You go shut her up before she gets Charity to start crying too!”
“I don’t know how to handle kids!” Duane protested.
“We’ve been watching the little snots for a year now, ever since the bloody Day of Kefka!” Katarin hissed back. “Don’t give me that excuse.”
Hope began to fuss.
“Great, just great,” Katarin snapped bitterly.
“Fine, I’ll do it,” Duane said, “But I’m not promising any results.”
“I’m not expecting any!” Katarin shouted at his back as he left.
Duane was telling the truth. He still was all but clueless in the realm of child psychology and child rearing. Terra had been the one who always handled that for them. Terra Branford, once upon a time a ferocious and mighty Magitek knight, discovered a latent maternal instinct within her. It had blossomed when she found the devastated town of Mobliz and its all-child population. Her sword now collected dust as she dedicated her life to ensuring the safety and welfare of her surrogate children – which included Duane and Katarin, who were still in the tail end of those awkward teenage years when the village was razed and Terra arrived on the scene.
But lately, Terra had become withdrawn, her vital energy seeming to be on the wane. Something was amiss in her life, and she either could not or would not express it to her children. Duane and Katarin had been left to pick up the slack of the hands-on rearing, and the stress of the job of parenting twenty children. Terra had not become negligent, nay, not by any stretch of the imagination; she could always be relied upon to come to the rescue in any crisis the community faced. But that was the problem; she seemed to linger in her house, resting, always tired, and emerging more and more only in times of crisis.
Duane decided hysterical children qualified as a crisis, so he opened the door, braved the hail, and stalked over to Terra’s house, knocking loudly on her door.
“Terra! We need your help!” Duane called out. Eventually, Terra opened the door partially. She stuck her head out into the opening, and looked at Duane with heavy eyes.
“What’s wrong?” she asked in a gentle but exasperated tone.
“The hail’s really bad, and it’s upsetting Faith and Hope.” The sound of another wailing child entered into the chorus of the night. “And Charity,” Duane added.
“You dragged me out of bed for that?” Terra asked, sounding slightly critical.
“Well, like, what do I do?” Duane asked helplessly.
“Read them a story, or something.”
“It doesn’t really matter!” Terra replied. “It’s how you tell it, not what you tell, really. As long as it’s happy. Make one up for all I care, it doesn’t really matter.”
Duane looked at Terra. “All right,” he replied in a tone devoid of confidence.
“All right, all right, I’m coming,” Terra conceded. “Hold on.”
A minute later, Terra emerged in a red evening robe, her greenish hair hastily and chaotically tied back, and a large book entitled Great Bedtime Stories for Children tucked under her arm. Duane escorted her back to the largest house that still stood in Mobliz, where everyone except Terra now lived.
When Duane returned with Terra, anarchy had been loosed upon the house. Katarin was fighting a desperate and doomed battle to calm down the children, who were all either shouting, crying, or running around. All fifteen of them; Faith, Hope, and Charity; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Thomas, Judas, Virginia, Tiny Tim, and Cindy Loo Hoo (who was not more than two).
Katarin looked ready to have a mental breakdown.
But all the children suddenly stopped and calmed down when Terra appeared. Those who were old enough to walk huddled around her, cooing “Mama!” and nearly tripping her up as they tangled themselves in her legs.
“Scary noises, mama!” Tiny Tim pleaded. “Make ‘em go away!”
“Is there a monster outside?” Mary asked.
“No, it’s just the rain!” Thomas answered.
“No, it’s a monster!” Faith contended. “Make it go away, Mama!”
“Maybe it’ll go away if we give it candy!” Charity suggested.
“Monsters hate candy! Maybe we should give it Tiny Tim!”
Tiny Tim began to cry.
“Judas!” Terra screamed. “That was a very very VERY bad thing to say! You apologize to Tiny Tim right now!”
“Sorry,” Judas said sheepishly.
“And there’s no monster outside,” Terra reassured them. “Now, mama is going to read you all a nice bedtime story, but then she needs you all to calm down and go to sleep, okay?”
One by one, all the children agreed to the terms.
Terra opened the book, but as she thumbed through the book, she found herself dissatisfied with all the stories within. So she began to improvise.
“Once upon a time, there was a kind and gentle king who was loved by all his subjects. He ruled with a gentle and just hand, and always took care of his people and made sure nothing bad ever happened to them,” Terra began.
“Like you do with us, mama!” John blurted out.
Terra flashed a tired, yet warm smile. “Yes, that’s right. But one year, bad luck befell his kingdom. A wicked wizard stole all the money from the royal treasury, cast a spell on the king that turned him into an old man, and kept the crops on all the farms from growing. And everybody was very sad, especially the king. He always did all he could to take care of his people and his kingdom, but now he didn’t have the means to do so. And he didn’t know what to do.”
“So, on the longest day of the year, the king sent out his four mightiest warriors as messengers; A Ninja to the north, A Samurai to the south, A General to the east, and a Beastmaster to the west, to find somebody, somewhere, who could help him figure out what to do.”
“Did they find anybody?” Cindy Loo Hoo asked.
“For a long time they didn’t find anybody,” Terra replied. “In fact, each of the four messengers returned empty handed. And the king was very sad. But then, suddenly, as the king and his four messengers sat around and despaired, three wise men from afar, who had heard of the kingdom’s predicament, came to the castle.”
“Yay!” the kids called out.
“They told the king that there was a good wizard, who flew up in the sky, all over the world, in a magic airship, and on the longest night of the year, he would fly to every house in every kingdom in every land in the world, and he would reward the good and the just by giving them the thing they wished for the most.”
“And the King asked the wise men how he could contact this good wizard, for he knew that he was a good king and that his people were good also, and with the kingdom now so poor after the evil wizard stole all their money and all their food, that they truly needed a visit from this good wizard and his flying ship the wise men spoke of.”
“But the wise men told the king that there was no need; if he was good and just, and his heart and his wishes were pure and noble, the wizard would know, and he would fly over every house in his kingdom on the longest night of the year and give the king and his people all they desired and needed.”
“So for six months, the king waited, and made sure he did only good and noble deeds. Even though he was now a frail old man, and had little to give, he shared all he had with his people. He never turned away empty-handed any of his subjects who came to him in need. He had to sell off all his royal possessions; his robes, his tapestries, his scepter, his horses, and finally even his crown, to the people in other kingdoms, in order to raise money to purchase food, which he shared with his people, often going hungry himself.”
“And the kings of the other countries looked at the king, and they made fun of him, and laughed at his misfortune, and called him names. They looked down on him because he no longer had his robes, or his tapestries, or his scepter, or his horses, or even his crown. And they teased him, and they told him he wasn’t a real king.”
“And even though they made fun of him and often refused to give him full value price for his things as he sold them off, nevertheless, every day, he went out and endured their teasing and their cheating him, because he knew that what he endured; hunger, humiliation, and fatigue, he endured for the sake of his people, in the hope that the good wizard would reward him and the people of his kingdom on the longest night of the year.”
“And every day for six months, the days grew shorter, and the nights grew longer, and one day, it was at last the longest night of the year. But the king fell ill, and he had to lay down. He had no royal bed anymore; he had sold it. He had no money anymore; he had spent all he had raised on food for his subjects. He went out and asked the kings of other lands to share their beds and their wealth with him, for he was very sick and very tired and very old and needed to rest. But all the kings laughed at him and turned him away. He went back home to his kingdom very sad.”
“Even some of the king’s subjects had begun to turn against him as he ran out of money and food to supply them, and as he asked his people for a bed, they turned him away. They all turned him away, except for one little girl, who lived alone with her pet Moogle and his friend, a giant Yeti. The king asked them to let him sleep in a bed. They told him that they had no bed, but he could stay in their manger, as all their horses and cows had run away when the food ran out.”
“So the king slept on a bed of straw on the longest night of the year, and it was very cold, but as he went to sleep, he thought of the good wizard the wise men had spoken of, and he had a dream about the good wizard. In the dream the good wizard landed his magic airship outside this manger in which he was sleeping, and woke the king from his slumber, and told him that he had been such a good and noble and selfless king, that he and his subjects would be rewarded with all they needed and desired, and the good wizard invited the king to come onto the magic airship and help him distribute gifts to all the subjects of his kingdom, for the good wizard had saved this kingdom for last, because the king had been the most noble and pure of heart in all the world that year. The king was very excited and agreed, and they rode through the night, giving food and clothing and gold to all the people in the kingdom, for that is what the king wished for most. As the midnight ride came to an end, the good wizard put the king down outside the gates of his castle, and restored to him all that he had lost and sold in the previous year. Not only did he restore the contents of the Royal treasury tenfold, but he also restored to the king his robes, and his tapestries, and his bed, and his horses, and his scepter, and his crown, all even more beautiful than they had been before, but he even restored the king’s youth. And with that, the good wizard departed into the night sky.”
“The king awoke the next morning with a heavy heart, as he remembered his dream vividly, but realized it was only a dream and hadn’t really happened.”
“But then, something amazing happened. As the King looked around, he saw the manger he was sleeping in was now full of animals! Cows, horses, pigs, everything! Excited, he ran out of the manger and towards the house of the girl who had taken him. Once there, he discovered the young girl was clothed in a beautiful white dress, and her cupboard was full of breads and cheeses and sweetmeats, and she was sitting upon a mound of gold pieces. Her pets had all the meat they could eat, and they were very happy.”
“Excited, the king called out for his four messengers, and they ran to him. They were each aghast as they looked at him. He asked of them what surprised them so, and they responded not by speaking, but by holding up a mirror. The king looked at himself and saw his familiar shape; he was once again the handsome young man he had been before the evil wizard’s spell! The king was very happy. He became overjoyed when his messengers told him that, waiting for him back at the castle, was a full royal treasury, and all his belongings that he had been forced to sell had been restored to him.”
“And when the king returned to the castle and saw that his messengers had been right, and that all his things had been restored to him, he organized a huge feast and festival in celebration of the miracle and in honor of the wizard in the magic flying ship. All the kingdom was able to partake in the festival, but the king sent special invitations to the three wise men who had foretold of the wizard, and to the young lady who had given him a place to sleep when no one else would.”
“And when the feast was over, the king sent his four warrior-messengers out again, to the north, the south, the east, and the west, to announce he was going to marry the young lady, and also to spread the word of the good wizard in the flying ship who rewarded the good and the just by granting their biggest wishes.”
“And everyone in the kingdom lived happily ever after and once again their land was the envy of the world.”
With the story told, the kids shuffled off to bed, all of them going without a fuss, except, for Virginia, who asked “is that a true story? Is there really a wizard with a magic flying ship who rewards good people?”
Terra smiled, thinking of an old comrade, and answered yes.
But later that night, she grumbled to herself as she thought of the look in her children’s eyes. It was already December, and the longest night of the year was fast approaching. Had she only set them up for disappointment in the name of temporary relief?
Damn it. Why can’t those fools Duane and Katarin grow up and start taking more responsibility?