Editor’s Note: This post takes place before episode 8. I don’t think it affects the story very much, just, logically Fara would have her Raineremass break before spring break!
…also, I know it’s a little late for Raineremass. But I couldn’t think of a good Xsian New Year post, and didn’t want to wait a whole year to post something that was like half-done already.
Editor’s Note: This post takes place before episode 8. I don’t think it affects the story very much, just, logically Fara would have her Raineremass break before spring break!
Fara was going home .
Not home as in the silverfish-infested dorm dwelling strewn with pizza boxes, home as in really home. Home as in home , her family house where she grew up in on the West End of Egmont. Through the six hour flight from Albrook to Egmont, she could barely contain herself. She struggled to sit still in her window sit as K-pop renditions of Raineremass carols blared in her headphones.
As the pilot announced the final approach was coming up, Fara watched the window intently. It was a foggy, snowy day in Egmont – perfect weather for a white Raineremass. Fara’s heat skipped a beat when she saw the tall, art deco skyscrapers of the city bursting through the cloud cover, with Consortium Tower and its distinctive needle piercing above them all. Even though in the back of her mind was the nagging knowledge that all of Egmont’s proud, tall buildings were medium sized by Albrooker standards (even Consortium Tower itself was dwarfed by GAHQ and half a dozen other buildings in Albrook), she didn’t care – this was home, and nothing compared to seeing the Egmont skyline again. There was still some rebuilding work going on from the Reklar attack – characteristically, the self-proclaimed New Modern City had rebuilt all of the damage newer, better, and faster.
Despite the inclement weather, her plane made a smooth landing at the airport. Going through customs was mercifully brief (after all, Albrook had been part of Tasnica not all that long ago, so this border crossing was barely worth getting her passport stamped.) Coming down the staircase, it was easy to spot Dad.
Ernst Somers was, like his daughter, a ginger. Unlike his daughter, though, he had a magnificent mustache and sported thick, beer-bottle glasses. His front shirt pocket rocked a pocket protector laden with pens and markers; he wore a truly hideous Raineremass tie with a tessellating pattern of the Goddess Rainere in her energy being form matched with snowflakes.
“Daddy!” Fara shouted, sprinting forward and giving her surprised father a giant bear hug. Up close, he looked much older than she remembered. His hair was grayer, and there was a lot less of it; even his bushy moustache seemed thinner. And although her father had never been in shape for as long as Fara could remember, he had distinctly gained a few pounds.
Fara’s father smiled, an easy grin of reassuring warmth. “Hey, Fara,” he said, patting her on the back. “It’s…good to have you back.”
Fara felt her mouth curling into a grin. “It’s good to be back.”
Fara’s father produced a paper bag. “I brought you an everything bagel with novalox,” he said. This was, of course, Fara’s favorite.
Fara seized the bag greedily. “Impossible to find in Albrook,” she said. “Well, impossible to find a good one. Finding a bad one is easy. Seriously, Albrook was part of Tasnica for thirty years and we neglected to teach them the secrets of this savory spread?”
“Well,” said Dad, “it’s really a local thing. At least, this style of it is – something the local fisherman used to do. Here, let me get your bag.”
Dad bent over to pick up Fara’s big, filled largely with her laundry and a few Raineremass gifts.
Climbing into the family car (a Kuat Eclipse), Fara immediately punched the heated seats up to full.
“Mom’s getting groceries,” said Dad, settling into the driver’s seat and starting the car for the trip home. “I asked your brother if he wanted to come, but he said he had a raid. He’s been really into that video game recently.”
“Which game?” asked Fara. She gazed out the window, the familiar sites of a snow-covered Egmont passing around her.
“Oh, some online game about the Great War,” said Dad. “It’s really weird to see the Great War turned into all this pop culture.”
“Yeah,” said Fara, “it’s almost like it’s the most important historical event of the past few decades, or something.”
Dad smiled and gave a half-chuckle. “Really, but a video game? I guarantee you that none of the people who were actually in the war are all that interested in reliving it. I mean, I knew some guys who died assaulting Grimestone Castle, and now my son is doing it on a computer? It’s just a little creepy, is all.”
“At least he can play a stupid computer game, and we’re not all slaves to the Dark Gods or something,” said Fara.
“Well, that’s true,” said Dad, not entirely satisfied with this line of argument. “So, how’s school? Are you getting along with your roommates?”
“Yeah, pretty well, mostly,” Fara said. The fact that one of them was a smuggler involved in revolutionary activities in Damcyan, or that one of them was the daughter of one of the most politically important men in Eblan did not seem especially worth mentioning. “I mean, Denise is kind of messy, but I’m kind of messy, too, so I guess I can’t really criticize.”
“That’s good,” said Dad.
“Yeah, I think I’ll stay with them again for another year,” Fara said.
“We’re all going to put in for the same dorm together. Hopefully we get good enough lottery numbers.”
“Uh huh,” said Dad. “Given any thought to your Major?”
“…no, not really,” said Fara. “I mean, I don’t have to declare until the end of my sophomore year. So I have plenty of time to think about it.”
“Classes going ok?”
“Yeah,” said Fara.
“What about your sports?” asked Dad.
“Oh, Fencing’s been kind of a pain,” said Fara. “I mean, I’ve messed around a bit with kenjutsu, which is kind of fun. Though I have to say I think katanas are more of a once-in-a-while thing for me, though – that little suba doesn’t do a damned thing for hand protection. Give me a basket hilt or solid crossguard any day. But yeah, fencing competition’s been going alright. Soccer’s been going really well though. Well, mostly. Some of the officiating is kind of bullshit.” Fara simultaneously led the U of A soccer team in scoring and red cards. Coach Sondert was getting increasingly nervous about playing her, except in the rare instances when an on-field enforcer was necessary.
“You think you’ll qualify for athletic scholarships again next year?” asked Dad.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Fara, well aware that her financial ability to attend an out-of-state college rested on her ability to procure athletic scholarships while maintaining a not-terrible GPA. The car rounded the corner out of downtown, heading towards the West End residential neighborhood. Snow-covered lawns surrounded by white picket fences all the way, as smoke rose from chimneys – keeping a hearth fire was a tradition for this time of year. Raineremass itself was a relatively recent holiday, but it had merged with the older Elementalist festival of Yuletide, and most Tasnican families tended to celebrate both.
“So…what about that Mana Knight thing?” asked Dad. “How’s that going?”
“It’s going,” said Fara. Although Fara had initially hid the Sword from her parents, but revealed it to them when the Reklar attacked the city last year. Since then, they hadn’t really talked about it much. Her parents even seemed remarkably accepting of this idea that she various half-mythological beings such as rock demons, Valkyries, and even Rainere herself were not only totally real, but the sort of thing her daughter ran into on a semi-regular basis. Or perhaps, Fara thought, they were not-OK with it but liked to pretend they were OK with it, which seemed like the sort of thing her family would do.
“How’s work going, Dad?” asked Fara.
“Eh, it’s ok,” said Dad. “The new Republic Gunship model has a few kinks to work out of it. After that’s done I think I’m going to transfer back to the Atmospheric Division. The space side is full of these young guns willing to grind out seventy hour work weeks. And that’s not me – I want to spend more time with my family.”
Fara laughed. “I’m at college, now, Dad, you have plenty of time for work!”
Dad sighed. “Yeah, you grew up faster than I thought,” he said. “And I’ve always regretted that Mom and I had to send you to stay with Nan when you were born. Mom was supposed to get a release order from the GA, but then the war took a turn for the worse, and the war machine decided they weren’t going to release anybody, even new mothers.”
“It’s ok Dad, Nan was awesome,” said Fara. “Besides, I was like a baby. It’s not like I remember.” A moment of silence passed as Dad activated the windshield wipers in response to a flurry of snow. “But,” asked Fara.
“But what?” asked Dad.
“You ever think about waiting?” Fara asked. “To have kids? You know, until the end of the war?”
Dad sighed. “Well, Fara, the thing about the war was, no one thought it would ever end,” he said. “It had been going on for as long as anybody could remember. It seemed like it would go on forever. But…well, that changed.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, Battle Trianable, turning point at Albrook, liberation of the Transbaron, I know, Dad,” said Fara. History was never Fara’s strong point, but even she knew this.
“No,” said Dad, “it changed –for Mom and I anyway – after you were born.”
“I don’t recall being present at any of the major battles of the Great War,” chuckled Fara. “Although, since I was like one at the time, I would one-up Celiose for youngest commander.”
Dad stopped at a red light, even though the streets were empty. He had been driving extra carefully, concerned for ice on the roads, even though they all looked to Fara well salted.
“Well, Fara,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe your Mom and I just decided we wanted our daughter to grow up in a better world.”
“Well, it is a better world,” said Fara, “there’s novalox bagels, online games, no Dark Gods bent on enslaving mortalkind. That’s win-win-win!”
Dad chuckled. “Yes, it is,” he said, pulling into the driveway.
The Somers family home was festooned in bright lights and traditional festival adornments, but it was still a handsome two-story affair with a snowman in the yard and a white picket fence. The smoke from the hearth fire curled out of the chimney, ascending into the cold winter sky. Despite the thick falling snow, the bright lots of the city center to the east glowed a pale radiance.
Fara’s room was just as she left it. No, not exactly – cleaner than she left it. The bed was made, the desk and shelves dusted, the carpet vacuumed – these things had only been intermittently true of the place when she had resided there. The well-kept, well-lit room was bright and inviting and had working heat and DIDN’T have a pile of empty pizza boxes – it was the polar opposite of her dorm room. Some of the clothes she hadn’t brought to college were all cleaned, folded, and nicely packed into drawers and closets. Alongside one wall, tall and proud, were her various high school trophies for soccer and fencing. She even had her own bathroom all to herself, immaculately cleaned, all to herself, with an unopened tube of toothpaste and an unused toothbrush.
She sighed, dropping her bag on the ground.
Fara spun around, and behind her stood her brother. “Brother!” she shouted, embracing him in a big hug.
Fara’s brother, Miles, stood there stiffly, awkwardly. He was taller than Fara remembered; in fact, Fara distinctly remembered being the taller sibling before she left, a fact that was no longer true. His dark hair was long, stringy, and greasy, and his skin was pale and pasty, and covered in acne. Puberty had hit Miles, and had hit him in a big way.
Fara took a step back and noticed that Miles was basically wearing all black: loose-fitting black sweatpants, a black T-shirt with something written in Eblanese, even black tennis shoes.
“How’ve you been?” asked Fara, brightly.
“Meh,” answered Miles.
“How’s school?” asked Fara.
“Meh,” answered Miles.
Fara intuited that she was not likely to get much in the way of descriptive answers from her brother, waited a moment. Surely Miles would ask some probing questions about her exciting college adventures!
Miles stood there, awkwardly.
Fara noticed something on a shelf out of the corner of her eye. “My Princess Pandora dolls!” she squeed. She bounded over to the shelf, and the twin dolls were there – perhaps a little worse for wear for being nearly fifteen years old, with their finely crafted features and fully posable limbs with multiple points of articulation. Their various outfits were neatly sorted in an office organizer nearby; the Naraya doll was clad in her wedding dress, one of the last outfits issued and a real collector’s item. The Nalini doll was wearing a pair of baggy harem pants (ironically often called “Naraya pants” after her sister who popularized the look), but was girded for battle with a compound recurve bow. Although in reality the two sisters had different builds, the dolls were the same size so they could swap outfits. Fara immediately grabbed them and started playing with them.
“Hey Miles,” she said. “You remember how we used to play with my Princess Pandora dolls and your GA Joes? It was really funny, because the scale was totally different for them – it was like your GA Joes had enlisted the aid of a race of giant women!”
“I remember,” said Miles, “I remember you took all of my Joes, including Grenadier Greg who was my favorite because he had a battery-operated flamer pack that lit up and made noise, so you could do something lame and girly like have a tea party with them.”
“They were doing Muay Pan training!” insisted Fara.
“Then what is Kriegsnavee Karl doing in your PP Palace Kitchen playset?” asked Miles, gesturing towards a rotund sailor standing on top of a chair near a small stove of a rather regally detailed miniature toy kitchen.
“Because he was preparing the big feast for the wedding!” insisted Fara. “It was a grand affair between Nalini and Tank Trooper Trevor – all of the Radical Rainbow Robot Rangers were there! Except Ranger Chromium Red, because our dog ate him and Mom wouldn’t buy us a new one.” Fara looked around the shelf. “Where is Tank Trooper Trevor?”
“…I tied him to a firecracker last Republikstag .” said Miles. “My friends and I were just having fun, blowing shit up. It was fucking hilarious.”
Fara’s eyes looked down. “No! Now Nalini has no husband! You…you… dummkopf !”
“….you know, the real Nalini is dead, right?” asked Miles. “Died a horrible and gruesome death at the hands of an awful dictator?”
Fara sighed. “I know,” she said, her body deflating. Both of the Pandora Princesses had ended badly. Although there was a brief, shining moment where it seemed like a fairy tale – Naraya had married a charming prince, and Nalini had become the latest in the long line of wise Pandoran queens. But the fairy tale ending didn’t last, for either of them, and both girls had met grisly ends. They don’t make Pandora Princess dolls anymore – despite the toy industry shopping around, no other royal family had since captured the hearts of millions of little Tasnican girls in quite the same way.
“Can’t believe Mom saved all this crap,” said Miles. “She even organized it.”
“Don’t you have some stupid video game to be playing instead of pissing all over my childhood memories?” asked Fara. “Weren’t you stuck in a maze or something earlier?”
“It’s raid night,” mumbled Miles, seriously.
“It’s Raineremass Eve!” replied Fara.
“I know,” said Miles, looking downcast. “Raid was called. Fucking filthy casuals have ruined the game.”
Mom’s call reached Fara’s room on the second floor. “Kids! I’m home! With food!”
Fara bounded down the stairs excitedly, into the den. Miles trundled after her – he was in no great hurry.
The Somers Family Den was big, and warm. It was clean, much cleaner than Roxanne’s apartment and its perpetual house guests, though that owed more to the family housekeeping drone than Mom’s fastidiousness. Rainermass and Yuletide decorations brightly adorned this, the center of the family’s household. In one corner, tall and proud, stood a glorious green Raineremass tree, wrapped in tinsel and gleaming with bright green-and-red lights, the angelic energy-figure of Terra herself sitting atop the tree. Dueling with the tree for illumination was a roaring, warm, Hearthfire, the Yuletide symbol of kinship in a time of adversity. Although there was wood and the fire, the real heat came from powerful magitek emitters to ignite a stream of natural gas.
All along the back wall was Mom’s collection of Winter Wonderland Town figurines and model houses, a thriving todo village recreated in miniature. Fara couldn’t help but notice that Mom had recently acquired a few new pieces, an adorable parka-clad neko family and a small porcelain white-brick lighthouse. Fara’s favorite was the tiny glass whale with working water-spout.
Underneath the holiday splendor were more year-round accoutrements. A family portrait, taken just last year before Fara went off to college (the day the Reklar attacked, Fara recalled.) A signed picture of Dad with Damien Gavalian in appreciation for his work on the Executor. Mom and Dad’s sepia-toned wedding photos, both in Grand Army uniform – Fara’s baby photo was similarly black and white, though by the time of Miles’ birth color photos had become common in the Web.
Mom entered carrying pizza boxes. Margaret Somers had her son’s dark hair but her daughter’s athletic inclinations. Though the Great War had cut her dream of being a world-class figure skater short, she still worked at the local rink as a coach.
“Pizza?” grumbled Miles. “From River Alenol Pizza Company?”
“It’s Fara’s favorite!” said Mom. “I knew she would want that Chocobo Wing Pizza.”
Fara jumped up and down excitedly. “Did you get the Pastrami Spring Rolls? With sauerkraut?”
Mom nodded, and set down the boxes. “Of course I did!”
Dad entered the room, and his face turned into a giant, dopey grin. Dad and Mom embraced, and Dad gave Mom a big, exaggerated smooch. “Hey,” said Dad. “Did you bring the ingredients for the stollen ?”
Mom nodded. “Yeah, the supermarket was almost out of cinnamon – I think I got the last bit.” Stollen was a special sweetbread filled with candied fruit, nuts, and spices – a traditional Tasnican dish for this time of year.
“Why do you need to make stollen again, Dad?” asked Miles. “You just burned it last year. And it’s never as good as what you can just buy at the supermarket.”
“Ah, but it’s special for us to make stollen ,” said Dad. “You know, there’s a story behind it! It’s a Somers family tradition! You see, during the Siege of Trianable –“
“I know the stupid story, Dad,” grumbled Miles. “You’ve told it like a billion times.”
Dad pursed his lips beneath his moustache. “Ok,” he said. “Let’s just eat.”
Normally the Somers family ate in the kitchen or dining room, but for Raineremass they had set up a card table and folding chairs in the den, so they could enjoy the table and Hearthfire while they ate. The family sat down, and Mom served the pizza (and Pastrami Spring Rolls) on paper plates.
“So, Fara,” asked Mom, “how’s college?”
“It’s fine,” replied Fara.
“Uh huh,” Mom said. “How’s Albrook?”
“Good,” said Fara, who felt like she had answered all of these questions already to Dad. “Oh, now that everyone’s here,” said Fara, “I’ve been thinking. Albrook is actually pretty damned big. It’s kind of hard to get around.”
“Well,” sad Dad, thoughtfully, “I thought the University gave you an unlimited-use A-Train pass?”
Mom nodded. “I read an article about Albrook that said the public transportation there is really good! I mean, the E-Track is OK, but Egmont’s a car town.”
“Well,” said Fara, “The A-Train is OK sometimes. But, well, one of my friends can fly. And the other does these ninja jumps around the rooftops.”
“…one of your college roommates is a krydion?” asked Dad.
“These aren’t my college friends, these are…other friends,” said Fara. “That I know from…that other thing.”
“Ah,” said Dad.
Fara awkwardly reached for another pastrami spring roll. She expected Dad or Mom to say more. They didn’t. Miles didn’t even seem to be paying particularly close attention to this conversation.
“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaanyway,” said Fara, “I was thinking that it would be handy for me to have some alternative mode of transportation. Like a jetbike.”
“A JETBIKE!?” cried Dad, exasperated.
“Those things are dangerous!” chastised Mom.
“No daughter of mine is going to ride some Guardian piece of crap!” exclaimed Dad. “These state-subsidized companies never produce anything worth a damn. You know who’s in charge of the Guardian Jetbike Company? Madyun Morris – the Chancellor’s brother. That statist economy is rife with cronyism and favoritism. What do you think he did to earn his place in the top spot, besides have the right parents? You think the Chancellor cares if his brother follows safety regulations? You think anyone in that state-owned welfare program the Guardians call a business even needs to work for a living?”
Fara sighed. “Spare me the lecture of the glories of capitalism, Dad.”
Fara shook her head. “I was just thinking it would be a convenient way for me to get around the city, especially late at night –“
“And what exactly are you doing out late at night, young lady?” asked Mom. “I got your grades, it doesn’t look like you’re studying…”
“You got my grades!?” asked Fara. “I didn’t expect them to be in for another week! And you opened them without me!?”
“We just wanted to know how you were doing,” said Dad. “It’s a big opportunity for you to go to college out of state. Neither of my parents ever got a degree, and I only got it because of the GA Bill. Your grades are the kind of thing employers look at.”
“You know we’re proud of your fencing and your soccer,” said Mom, “but it’s your education that’s going to get you a job.”
“I know,” said Fara, feeling exasperated. “C’mon, it’s Raineremass – slash- Yuletide. Can’t we just relax?”
“We’ll talk about this later,” said Dad. “But NO Jetbike.”
Fara ate another pastrami spring roll. It was really hard to find decent pastrami in Albrook, and impossible to find novalox, facts which forced her to question its status as the Web’s City. Fara noticed the tree, a dazzling illumination of Rainere’s grace. (Though some claimed that this was just the latest iteration of the tannenbaum meant originally to honor Dryad.) “Nice tree,” she said. “Is it natural?”
“No, it’s an artificial tree,” said Dad.
“Why didn’t we get a natural tree?” asked Fara.
“Yeah, Ernst , why didn’t we get a natural tree?” asked Mom, pointedly, and Fara realized that she had stepped into some familial deep doo-doo.
“Well, Margaret , because this tree is newer, better, and faster!” said Dad. “It’s constructed out of a material derived from Seraphim plastic.”
“Whoa,” said Fara. “So it’s like, unbreakable?”
“Well, it’s not actually Seraphim plastic,” said Dad. “It’s just a derivative. But still, it’s the most modern tree available! And it has an Omninet connection!”
“….why does a tree need an OmniNet connection?” asked Fara.
“Yeah, Ernst , why did we have to pay 2,000 extra GP for our tree to have a freaking OmniNet connection ?”
“It’s called the Omninet-of-things, Margaret ,” said Ernst. “The tree can interface with the houseputer, your cleaning drone, our toaster…there’s even an app for smartphones! Look at this!” Dad reached into his protected pocket to pull out his smartphone. He turned it on and futzed with it a bit, and the tree turned off. “There! See?”
“…you turned the tree off?” asked Fara.
“Not just that…!” said Dad, excitedly, futzing with his phone. “Boop!” The tree’s lights filled the room again.
“Meh,” said Miles.
“It’s not just that,” insisted Dad. “I could set a timer!”
“…have you?” asked Mom.
“Well, no,” said Dad. “But it’s the newest, best, most modern tree available! This is cutting edge technology! The omninet-of-things is the way of the future!”
“It’s a tree, Dad,” said Fara. “….and you spent HOW MUCH on it?” asked Fara. “…and you don’t want me to spend money on a jetbike?”
Dad sighed. “Early adopters are never appreciated.”
“Well,” said Mom, “what do you guys want to do after dinner? We could play a board game, like Commodity .”
“Don’t we always end up fighting when we play Commodity ?” asked Fara.
“Only because you insist on hording all the Magilyte Refineries,” retorted Miles.
“Didn’t you flush the Airship Tokens down the toilet?” asked Fara.
“I was like six!” protested Miles. “They were shaped like ships. I thought they would float!”
“I got a new version of the game,” said Mom. “It’s the special AAA Collector’s Edition. In a truly impressive display of cross-branding, it has tokens for all the AAA corporations.”
“I want to be Kuat,” said Fara.
“No, I want to be Kuat,” said Miles.
“No, I work at Kuat, that means I should be Kuat,” said Dad.
“Well, ok,” said Fara. “But I’m DEFINITELY not going to be Saeder-Krupp.”
“Fine,” said Miles. “I don’t want to play that stupid game anyway. It’s raid night and we’re supposed to down Polzack, Highest of the Gingrim.”
Mom sighed. “Miles, dear, I know you love to play that Gold and White Online …”
“ WHITE AND GOLD ONLINE , MOM!”
“Yeah…that…game,” continued Mom. “It’s just, your sister’s come all the way from Albrook, I was thinking we should do something as a family.”
“Fine,” said Miles, “it’s not like this is my once-in-a-week chance to get an upgraded item for my class or anything.”
“We could watch a movie!” said Fara. “My friends and I watch movies together a lot, it’s kind of our thing. I’ve been learning about the wide world of Eblanese cinema!”
This actually briefly got Miles’s attention. “Like, giant robots? Mobile Suit Damogun?”
“No, like, samurai stuff. There’s a really famous director, Akesawa, he’s really good. Great swordfight choreography. One of my friends is totally obsessed.”
“Oh, that could be interesting,” said Dad, hopefully.
“Meh,” said Miles.
Out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter – the Somers family sprang from their seats to see what was the matter. Away to the window they flew like a flash, to open shutters and throw up the sash. The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow, gave lustre of mid-day to the objects below, when, what to their wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, drawn by a tiny reindeer.
“Is that…?” started Fara.
“I thought he was just a story,” said Dad.
“Like Valkyries and Mana Swords,” said Fara, opening the window to get a better look.
There was a chill gust of wind, carrying an opaque cloud of snow into the den. Fara felt cold, even through her U of A hoodie.
Fara turned, and there he was, looking just as the stories said — bright red suit, beard as white as snow, broad face, stomach with a bowl full of jelly. Fara laughed when she saw him in spite of herself.
“Santa Claus!” said the man. “Yes, the Santa Claus.” He smiled, a little bit smug and self-satisfied, but still radiating good humor and gentleness.
“…Santa Claus,” said Dad. “Damn. I mean, nice to meet you. Welcome to our home.”
“…do you want anything to drink?” asked Mom. “Coffee, Kuat Kola…maybe beer?”
Miles appraisal of the personification of holiday spirit and cheer, a figure of legend and myth, known in stories throughout the Web of the Worlds and beyond: “Meh.”
Santa beamed. “Your hospitality is appreciated, but my time is short,” he said. “The Elements have decided that the Mana Knight must be tested.”
“…uh,” said Fara. “I just did a bunch of tests for my first semester. I studies really hard. I’m sure I passed.”
Santa laughed – although outwardly jolly, it shook the walls of the house. Fara could feel the bricks rumbling in their mortar. “Not that kind of test,” he said. “You must best me in battle!”
“….what part of the story is that?” asked Fara. “Like, deliver toys on Raineremass, but demand some lucky boys and girls must face you in honorable combat? I don’t remember that bit.”
“Fara, be careful!” said Dad.
Fara rolled her eyes, manifesting the Mana Sword (in classic broadsword form, solid crossguard. Fara knew the basket-hilt was probably better, but she liked the grip flexibility of the crossguard.) She hopped a bit, warming up. “No worries, Dad,” she said. “I should be able to handle some fat old dude.”
“HO-HO-HO,” said Santa. “This isn’t my battle-form!”
Santa vanished, turning into a cold swirling mist of sleet and snow, and slowly he solidified – froze – into a giant form that nearly reached the ceiling of the den. His beard turned to solid block glacier, and his eyes turned cold as Antarktis. His jello belly was gone – giant was stout but powerfully built, almost like a dwarf, but much taller. His hat and hair were gone, revealing a blue-skinned bald dome and pointed ears. Power flurried through the air, wisps of crystal snow frosting the table and leather couches. He laughed again, revealing fang-like teeth; this time, Santa’s laugh trembled the house to its foundations. This was a Gigas, an elemental giant of great power.
“FARA!” shouted Dad. “Don’t be crazy! You’re going to fight that….that GIANT!?”
“Let it go, Dad,” Fara said, facing the mighty gigas in front of her. “The cold never bothered me anyway.”
Fara’s first instinct was to call upon Salamando’s elemental fire, which seemed an obvious option when fighting a frost giant. Besides, it was often her element of choice anyway. The sword ignited into white hot-flame; in spite of herself, she was ready for a good scrap. If the extent of the test was ‘fire melts ice’ it was a lot easier than that damned History of the Great War class (naturally, a required class for all freshmen at the University of Albrook.)
The frost gigas – Santa – grinned when he saw this. He had row after row of jagged icicle-teeth, almost like a shark. “I, Santa Claus – Bringer of Snowy Winter and Yuletide Joy, Kris Kringle, Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, Terror of the North Pole – and now my sleigh has borne me here to face you in honorable combat!”
Aristeia. Of course. “Yeah yeah yeah, Fara Somers, University of Albrook Class of 47, number one goal-scorer for Screaming Eagles Soccer, Mana Knight, some other stuff. Let’s do this, you big snow-oaf!”
Fara charged Santa. The frost gigas was big, nearly filling his corner of the room, but that made him an easy target. He had no weapon to parry or guard; for all his menace, he seemed to Fara like little more than a big damned target. One big cut ought to end him, and it would be Merry Raineremass for all.
Fara’s mighty slash met only cold air – as she struck, the frost gigas dematerialized into a frozen mist of icy droplets. It was at that moment Fara recalled that gigasae could DO that sort of thing. The now-intangible gigas was not exactly invisible – his form hung in the air, a visible outline of suspended sleet and snow.
Then he moved – flew – to the other side of the room, and solidified again, like a giant ice-sculpture flash-freezing in an instant. The gigas – Santa – grinned his giant, scary icicle grin. The whole den felt colder; Fara could see her family behind her shivering, and could hear the house heater roar as the furnace struggled to maintain a cozy room temperature against the magical interloper.
The gigas pursed his lips and blew, a frozen gust of north pole air.
Instinctively, Fara dodged – a quick side-step. But she did not think what was behind her.
Miles was engulfed in magical snow, transformed into a short snowman with corn cob pipe and a button nose, and two eyes made out of coal.
“You frostied my brother!” protested Fara.
Santa cruelly laughed. “He was NOT a jolly, happy soul!”
Fara focused for an instant, feeling the cold, watery embrace of Undine; her sword no longer aflame, but subzero chill, kicking off frigid steam. The Undine aspect seemed strong, enhanced by the presence of the elemental giant.
Again she rushed, going for a big thrust. She was quicker on her feet this time, less cocky, more precise. The blade found purchase, sinking deep into the frost giant.
“HO-HO-HO,” chuckled Santa. “Ice? I WAS BORN OF THIS! ”
His giant hands, disproportionately large to his hulking body, wrapped around Fara’s body and he threw her threw the card table, sending chocobo wing pizza and pastrami spring rolls with sauerkraut flying everywhere.
Fara hurt, but she still sprang to her feet with a hop.
“You would seek to match my frozen power?” cackled Santa.
“…I was sort of gambling on the fact that a sword is still a sword,” retorted Fara. It’s the sort of thing that would easily work on a human spellcaster, or someone wielding a magitek weapon; but of course, this was an entirely different opponent, a being infused with mana itself, intimately tied to the Twelve Elements in a way no mortal being was.
“Your countermove has merely resulted in a stalemate,” lectured Santa, with a condescending tone.
“REALLY?” said Fara. “A chess analogy? Really? Really? REALLY? Who do you play chess with on the North Pole, your fucking reindeer?”
“LANGUAGE!” shouted Mom. “You may be battling an elemental giant, but you will not use such language in this household, YOUNG LADY !”
Santa did not attack; he merely stood, his glowering countenance feeding a fire of frustration in Fara. This was beginning to feel to Fara less like a battle and more like some dreaded exam, with Santa playing the part of patronizing professor (….as if she didn’t get enough of that from Eleod.)
OK. The cardinal rule of elemental combat states that your best offensive option is to use the opposing element, and the best defensive option is to match elements. Clearly this sometimes resulted in a dilemma similar to what she was facing now, where her options were only to expose her weakness or totally abandon the offensive. Of course, there was a third option – ten in fact, but the elementals often interacted with each other and the environment in unpredictable ways.
Fara wracked her brains, going through a mental checklist. Santa seemed content to wait.
Dryad? Plants, maybe?..in the middle of winter, in a house, in a major metropolitan area? Probably not.
Ofanite, the Spirit of Man and Technology? Maybe strong, here in Egmont…but what would that do to an enemy with no machinery or technology of his own?
Luna? Luna had a sharp cutting edge and could deliver critical hits. (But what the hell phase was the moon in now? Luna was kind of crazy and random, and if Fara tried to use it under the New Moon, she might as well be turning the Mana Sword into a giant wet noodle.)
Sylphid? Gnome? Both seemed really reasonable – there was air and earth virtually everywhere…but in her gut, Fara knew she would need fire for the final blow.
“You just going to stand there?” taunted Santa. “At this rate, the spirits Oktoberfest will be here before you defeat me!”
Fara went for Lumina, the Sword becoming a glorious, luminous light-sabre. (Fara was quite fond of the sounds it made, crackling through the air.) Lumina gave her extra speed – lightning on her feet, this time she was upon Santa in an instant, and sliced through his arm.
The gigas bellowed, as his body and arm dissolved into sleeting clouds and reformed away from Fara. When he reformed, his body was whole again, but clearly Santa’s patience was at an end. He rushed forward, his giant-stride covering the cap of the den in a few steps, knocking the sofa and folding chairs aside.
Fara rolled out of the way, and the gigas collided with the wall, smashing the Winterland Wonderland Town display.
“My figurines!” shouted Mom.
“You smashed my Mom’s Winter Wonderland Town figurines!” shouted Fara.
“Do you know how hard some of those are to find?” cried Mom. “The igloo-builder todo hasn’t been made since 35 WR!”
“Did you break the glass whale?” asked Fara, her gaze probing. “You smashed the glass whale, the one with working water-spout? YOU’RE A MONSTER!”
The gigas looked apologetic for a moment. “…sorry…”
Fara rushed the gigas again, as fast as ever, but this time the gigas dematerialized before she could land a blow. This happened thrice more – Fara was counting on it, staying on top of Santa, not giving him time to mount an offensive.
She stood near the family’s Heathfire, her heart ignited the Sword in Salamando’s fiery blaze. She flipped the sword backward into a reverse grip, and plunged it deep into the heart of the hearthfire, stoking the blaze of the house into a mighty inferno. She could even feel the temperature of the room inch higher.
Then she charged, doing her best to act before Santa could exploit her weakness – perhaps the change in element caught Santa off guard and he was not ready to attack. In mid-stride through focus and will she invoked the power of Sylphid of the Winds, the Sword crackling with electrical energy. She felt a scream or battle-cry escape her lips; changing elements rapidly was quite taxing.
Santa, as expected, transformed into frozen mist to avoid the expected strike. But Fara did not stop at Santa to strike – instead, she ran [i] through /i] the frozen, intangible cloud-body of the gigas, and then turned to attack, not at the gigas, but to cleave through the very air itself. The power of sylphid unleashed a mighty thunderclap, a gale-force wind that blew the misty-form of the gigas away – into the raging Hearthfire.
The gigas-body reformed in the fire place, not as an ice-brick crystallizing, but a snow-sculpture melting. The body was not solid or gas but liquid, and unable to hold any kind of form; a mouth-shape cried out.
Fara treaded forward, the Sword aflame again with Salamando’s inferno – she could stoke the conflagration higher. There was no need, though – she knew she had won. The mouth-shape of boiling water formed two, clear words: “I yield.”
Fara put the de-manifested the Sword, and hoisted the fire extinguisher Dad always kept near the fireplace. (Safety first!) The put the fire out, and droplets of moisture coalesced into a form, a body, a man – but this time it was not a giant frost gigas, but jolly old Saint Nick.
“Well done,” said Santa. “You are a true warrior of the Four Great Powers.”
“Meh,” said Miles, no longer a snowman.
Fara shot her brother a glare. “I just beat SANTA CLAUS!” she shouted. “He wrecked our house and trapped you as a snowman and I beat him and SAVED YOUR SORRY ASS…and you just say, ‘meh’?”
Miles shrugged his shoulders, dismissively.
Mom sighed. “Miles, dear, you really should say ‘thank you’ to your sister for saving you from an icy tomb.”
Miles sighed, and rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. “Fine, fine… danke.”
Fara turned to face Santa.
“The Elements are…satisfied with your performance…this time,” answered Santa. “And…they have seen fit to grant you a boon.”
“…what boon?” asked Fara.
Santa chuckled – a jolly, happy laugh. “What do you want for Raineremass, little girl?”
Fara looked around the den – the hearthfire was extinguished, the card table was broken, sliced of pizza and pastrami rolls were everywhere, and Mom’s Winterland Wonder Town was in ruins. She looked at her family – Miles did his best to maintain his mask of studied apathy, and Mom and Dad were doing their best to smile proudly like she had just scored a championship soccer goal, but underneath it was something else. Dad nervously adjusted his pocket protector, Mom kept glancing over at her ruined figurines, and Miles refused to make eye contact with her.
Fara sighed, feeling very tired all of a sudden. It was strange; she had won the battle, and yet the weight on her shoulders felt greater than ever.
“So, what will it be?” asked Santa. “A boomerang weapon orb, perhaps? Or….a shiny new jetbike?”
Fara faced Santa dead-on. Although she had no sword, she still had a balanced fighting stance. “Protect this house,” said Fara. “Protect this home. Protect this family.”
“Done,” said Santa, and with a wink of his eye and a twist of his head, Fara knew her family would have nothing to dread. Laying a finger aside his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
She heard him exclaim, as he drove out of sight: “Happy Raineremass to all! And to all a good night!”
“Does…this kind of thing happen often, Fara?” asked Dad.
Fara turned, wearily, to face Dad. He didn’t just seem older now; he seemed much more frail. He looked…like a middle-aged office worker who didn’t have any magical weapons, martial arts training, or mystic powers. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“Um, well…” said Dad. “You know. Stuff like what just happened. Does it happen a lot?”
“….define ‘a lot’,” said Fara.
Dad frowned, and Mom frowned too, her eyes already wet with tears.
Fara could feel tears welling up in her eyes, too. Even Miles was wiping his eyes with his sleeves.
“….it’s crazy, Margaret,” said Dad. “We did all we could in the Great War…I work hard at my job…we built a home for our family…and even after all that…it’s not safe for our little girl…even in our own house…”
Mom, her eyes full of tears, moved forward and hugged Fara. Her embrace was warmth in a still-cold den; the way she softly patted Fara’s back utterly familiar.
“Let’s make Stollen , Dad,” said Fara.
“Are you sure?” said Dad. “Miles says it’s not very good.”
“I don’t care,” said Fara, the tears rolling down her cheeks. “I don’t care. I want to make stollen , and I want to hear your story about how during the Siege of Trianable you had to make an oven out of a Spitfire engine and trade a month’s worth of cigarettes for just a tiny pinch of sugar and how you had to candy the fruit yourself in spare fuel tank…how your surprised Mom with it, because NO ONE could get anything other than bread and rice, much less actual honest-to-gods stollen ….I don’t care if I’ve heard you tell the story a thousand times, I don’t care if the stollen tastes like crap, we’re together on Raineremass and that’s what our family does.”
Dad nodded. “Ok, Fara,” he said. “Let’s make stollen .”