December 23, 2000
Christmas Cheer - By Excrucior
"Look, it's nothing remotely to do with Medievia. Tales of tundra and your favorite
lichen are not going to impress the readership. They want tales of adventure, tales of suspense, tales," and here the speaker made a face, "of
dragons and blood and death. For some reason it's all they want to see." The reindeer nodded glumly and slowly made its way out of the Mudslinger Office,
its cloven hooves skittering slightly on the stone floor.
"Not sure, Mank. It's probably from excessive drinking. Let's face it - he's going to only be busy one day of the year so he's going to have to have
something to occupy the rest of the time with."
"Chitter," said the Imp thoughtfully, feeling his own nose as a precaution.
"Well," mused Excrucior, "If it happens to you, you can always get a job as a clown. Think of the fortune you'd save in make-up." Mank managed to put on a
worried expression and cast a furtive glance at the drinks cabinet, the lock of which he'd managed to circumvent many moons previously. "Wake up the Firedrake
and make me a tea, eh?" suggested Excrucior. Mank came out of his reverie and scuttled off, gathering other Imps in his wake.
As the protesting roars, screams and clattering noises subsided, Excrucior bent back over his paperwork and perused the next article on his desk. After a
minute's reading he just scrawled the words "No stories about Zeksagmak for now please" on the top sheet and gave it to a delivery Imp to take back to the
submitter. A quick glance at the next article had him writing out the same message again.
As the delivery Imp disappeared once more, Mank and a pair of other Imps came up carrying a steaming brew in a chipped cup. Setting it down they started to
scurry off, blowing on their steaming hands as Excrucior muttered something about getting a rubber stamp for rejections. He reached down and took a quick
"Mank?" The Imp scurried back, quivering expectantly. "Why is there foliage in my tea?"
"Chitter," the Imp announced with a wide grin.
"I don't care if it's seasonal, take it away, there's a good chap." Mank caught the offending greenery as it was thrown at him and started to carry his
dripping load off. "And Mank?"
"Chitter?" inquired the Imp as he turned back.
"This isn't Trellorian tea." The Imp gave a sickly grin. "You know I always have Trellorian tea in the afternoon and this is Broken Orange Ur-Vile. I take
it you have managed to run out of the Trellorian?" The Imp nodded slowly. "Well, you'll just have to get out and get me some more, yes?" The Imp gave a
shriek and cowered in a little ball on the desk top. "Don't be such a sissy - clan fifty is easy enough to avoid."
As Mank scuttled off dejectedly, Excrucior sighed and turned to his next paper. "Subordinates, eh? I'll give him credit for trying to disguise the
taste with the holly, though. May have to keep an eye out there."
"Hmmmm?" came a voice from behind. Excrucior blinked, stood up and turned around quickly.
"Boss? I didn't see you come in..." he began.
"As you were," Soleil told him, walking round to the front of the desk.
"Is there a problem?" Excrucior inquired as he sat back down, conjuring a rather better chair for his guest.
"Sort of. It's your office decoration." Two pairs of eyes followed the chain of blackened paper chains as they ran around the corners of the room, then to
the paper tree in the corner with the Imp sat on top. "Which one's that?" Soleil asked mildly.
"Him? That's Dats - he looked the best in a tutu and a wand. I'm thinking of seconding him to the pixies when the season's over. Quite fetching, eh?"
"Hardly traditional and hardly cheerful. I mean, black paper chains? What are they made of?"
"Oh - that's rejected Mudslinger submissions. They weren't that badly burned so I thought, 'Waste not, want not'."
"And the tree? More submissions I take it?"
"Oh yes, Mank is a whizz with origami if you let him have free reign. He's always got something up his sleeve. Well, he would have if he ever wore
clothes." Soleil sighed.
"It's hardly cheerful though, is it?"
"Looks all right to me," Excrucior said around a shrug. "It was all the Imps' doing anyway - they wanted to get into the spirit, not me. I've never been
that fond of the yuletide spirit anyway." His eyes narrowed as a nasty thought struck him. "Do you have something in mind?" he asked tentatively, noting a
gleam in his boss' eye.
"Dats?" called Soleil. "Get your friends, we're going to have a little decorating session." Dats clambered down the tree and scuttled forward to look
up at her, the star on his wand slightly askew from having been carried in his mouth.
"Chitter?" came the famous last question.
Excrucior watched the next hour's work with amazement. Imps scurried back and forth, carrying shiny paper, forming it into shape with razor sharp fangs and
sticking them to anything that didn't move. He jumped to one side as a posse of three Imps barreled past bearing a large roll of pink ribbon, Dats chasing
after them with a tiny blueprint and chittering for all he was worth.
"So," said Soleil as the Imps collapsed in a heap of exhausted bodies, "What do you think?" Excrucior looked around at the glittered snowmen glued to the
windows, the silvered stars adorning what appeared to be a real tree, the tiny dragons with red noses pulling a sleigh on a mobile, the bright paper chains
festooning the ceiling, the Santa outfit on the firedrake... He kept his face carefully neutral. "Well?"
A clattering at the cat flap gave Excrucior a good excuse to avoid answering. "Ah, Mank. Mission accomplished I trust?" Mank put down the earthenware pot
he was carrying and chittered briefly. "So what took you so long? Newbie clan playing 'Pin the tail on the Imp' again?"
"I see, I'll have to have a word with those Avatars later then." Soleil coughed meaningfully and raised an eyebrow at the pair. Mank looked up in
surprise, then did a double take as he stared around the office.
"Yes, it's very pink," Soleil replied, smiling.
"Chitter," announced Mank, smiling back but with sharper teeth.
"That's that dealt with then. I've got to get off to get the next print run organized, you boys just enjoy yourselves in the meantime," said Soleil,
vanishing in a beam of light.
Excrucior sat down heavily at his chair and looked at the adornments mournfully. Mank scurried up a table leg and casually sauntered across to
stand next to an inkpot, smirking for all he was worth.
"I don't know what you're looking so happy about. What do you mean, telling Soleil you like it?" Excrucior demanded, waving his arms around at the
decorations. "It's that brightly colored and cheerful I can't even look without getting a migraine!"
"Chitter," replied Mank.
"Well, yes, she is a busy lady. What of it?"
"Chitter," grinned Mank.
"So what if she won't be back for a while.... oh. I see." Excrucior pulled out a desk drawer and brought out a sheaf of papers. Mank grinned even wider and
pulled out a large match from behind his back.
"I think we can have this place looking like it was again pretty quickly, eh?" Excrucior mused aloud.
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