It is snowing in the town of Drecshire. It creates a thin layer over freshly shoveled paths. The Conroy Taffy company building sits at the center of this busy town. Today, however, the streets are empty except for the few people who must run out to finish some errands. It is Christmas eve and the town is quiet, except of course for Conroy Taffy Company.
Inside the Conroy Taffy building, people through the halls. The phones are ringing none stop and everything is abuzz with the cacophony of frantic conversations.
On the top floor, inside a small windowless conference room sleeps a young white-feathered Aarakocra. His chair leans against the wall. His bow sits to his left and a small quiver lies to his right. He snores softly as his wings twitch occasionally but they remain snuggling his body. His worn leather armor looks dull against his plumage.
The room has bare walls except for a small black clock on the north side of the room. It ticks away quietly. Aside from the clock, there is a small rounded wooden table with the seven remaining chairs arranged neatly around it.
A small hooded figure walks into the room. A small crimsoned scaled hand carries a simple staff that reaches above the creature’s head. A red pierced tale follows suit. The Aarakocra jolts from his sleep, grabbing at his bow. The hooded figure raises his hands out in defense. “Sorry sorry, I mean no threat,” Says the hooded figure as he removes the cloak revealing a Kobold.” My name is Hox. I am here for mission. You give mission?” The Aarakrocra is stunned by the Kobold’s presence.
The Kobold is a bright crimson color. His eyes are a bright yellow. His ears are pierced and they twitch nervously as they wait for the Aarakocra to answer. On his face, odd symbols run down his cheeks almost like tears. Hox’s chest rises and falls quickly.
The Aarakocra relaxes. He puts his bow on the ground and retakes his seat. “Sorry, bud. It’s a reflex. They call me Aus. I’m here for the quest too”
“Do you know what quest is?” Hox asks, also relaxing as he takes his seat next to Aus.
Aus shakes his head as he closes his eyes and leans back against the wall. His yellow beak shines under the lights. “Not a clue”
Hox calms as he walks towards Aus. “This is strange no? We no have no information”
Aus nods “yeah but” he is cut off midsentence as the door opens once again. The two turn to the small figure at the door. A brown-skinned halfling walks in. Her raven black hair comes to just past her shoulders. She wears clothes made with the finest fabrics. Her ears are pierced with diamond earrings. A small gold necklace hangs from her neck with a tiny pendant at the end. Gold bangles hang from her arms and they jingle as they walk. She walks in with the grandeur and elegance of a noble. On her right, a rapier with a jewel-encrusted hilt bounces against her hip. On her left, nestled in her belt is a small pan flute.
She looks at the two characters who watch her curiously before saying “Good, I am not the smallest one here. My name is Euphemia Hogscallar. It is a pleasure!” She smiles as she makes her way to the two. They shake hands and introduce themselves.
“Do you have quest for us?” Hox asks. His nostrils catch a whiff of her sweet perfume. His tail wags slowly. His mouth begins to water.
“Me?” Euphemia asks curiously “I am here for the quest. I don’t know anything else. I was only told a time and place.”
“That’s odd” Aus adds. Looking at the clock on the wall. “Well I guess we keep waiting”
Not much later, the door opens one more time. This time a purple Tiefling walks in with a bewildered and startled look on her face. She has slightly darker purple ram horns that wrap around on either side of her head. She has a few piercings. Four on each ear. A small stud on the bridge of her nose. Four 4 studs go across her forehead. Her eyes are pitch black. She quickly averts her gaze away from the party.
She wears simple cotton clothes. Her shirt is sleeveless. Tribal tattoos run down both her shoulders into cloth wrappings that go from her knuckles to almost her elbow. Her shoes are worn, thin, and dirty. The number four is tattooed on the right side of her neck. “I’m” she begins softly, barely audible. “I’m he-here for the um quest.” Her voice shakes. Her eyes stare at her shoes. She rubs her right forearm nervously.
Euphemia walks up to the Tiefling. “Well, you are in the right place!” Euphemia’s voice is booming in comparison. She reaches up and grabs the Tiefling’s hand. Her hand is much smaller as it wraps around two of the fingers. She pulls the Tiefling deeper into the conference room. The Tiefling follows reluctantly.
“Well this is Aus and Hox and I,” she says letting go of the hand and turning to the Tiefling “am Euphemia. It is a pleasure to meet you! What’s your name?”
The Tiefling glows red. She averts her gaze and stares at the floor. “My…um..my name is Bel…Belyis. Nice to meet you.” Her voice is a whisper, almost inaudible.
“You’re a shy one aren’t you. Can’t say I’ve ever met a shy Tiefling before” Euphemia replies.
“Well aren’t we a strange collection of heroes. A kobold, an Aarakroca, a halfing and Tiefling. Sounds like there might be a joke in there somewhere. I can’t say I want to find out the punchline.” says Aus as he scratches his head, examining his partners.
“Trust me, as someone who tells jokes for a living. If this is a joke, it’s probably a really good one!” Euphemia says as she turns to Aus.
Before anyone could answer, the door opens. A man with dark glasses and a neatly ironed grey suit walks in. His brown skin is covered in old faded scars. He carries with him a suitcase. He pulls out a gold plane pocket watch from his pocket and checks the time. He sets down the briefcase and opens it.
“Thank you for coming on such short notice. I am sure you have a lot of questions, please save them till the end. I have a lot to go over and we don’t have a lot of time. Please take a seat” The party arranges themselves around the strange man.
“You can call me Mr. Duke. I am what you might call a middle man. I contract people with special skills, such as yourselves, to fix problems and clean up messes. You have been hand-selected because you have a particular set of skills that will prove useful to us.” He pulls out a stack of folders from the briefcase. Folders thick with documents and pictures. He throws them on the table between the party. On the front of the folders is a sticker with a phoenix and the words “The Ministry for Magical Defense”
“At 0600 we received an emergency transmission from the North Pole.” Mr. Duke pulls out a crystal ball from the case and sets it gently on the table in front of the party. He taps it twice. A dim light shines around where his finger taps the glass. The ball begins to fill with thick purple smoke.
When the ball is full, an image of a bloodied dirty halfling appears. “My name is Finmin Goldwood. My team and I were sent here on a rescue mission. Santa is in trouble. Our transport was shot down at the edge of Santa’s Village. We…” Loud banging from away stops him mid-sentence. “My team is dead. The toys are alive. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s as if..”
More banging stops him mid-sentence. There is the sound of wood cracking slightly. “We tried to make our way through the city, but it’s overrun with living toys. They hunted us down” The banging gets more violent. “There might still be people held up in the workshop. Whatever this is, whoever unleashed this evil must be stopped.” More banging. The sound of wood breaking is clear. “If you get this, I am already dead. Please hurry. Save Santa.” The ball goes black and the smoke fades to nothing.
“Communications have gone dark since. Your mission is to infiltrate Santa’s village and figure out what the hell is going on. Now, this isn’t going to be easy. You are going in blind and alone. If anything goes wrong, you are on your own.”
“Um,” Aus asks as he raises his hand “what exactly are we doing?”
“It’s a rescue mission. You are there to save Santa”
The party looks at each other in confusion.
Seeing the confusion on everyone’s faces, Mr. Duke adds “Yes. Santa is rea. Set whatever you beliefs aside and focus. This is your mission. Everything you need to know… Everything we know is in those folders.” He leans up against the table and looks at the party. “So what do you say? Will you help us?”
Hox grins as his tale wages wildly behind him. “Think of all new things out there. I’ll help. Hox will help!”
Euphemia and Aus flip through the documents. Studying them carefully. Euphemia is the first to speak. “Can I have the book rights to this little venture?”
“You’ll have to change a few things and submit it for approval but as long as you don’t mention me or the Ministry of Magical Defense, there shouldn’t be an issue.” Mr. Duke replies.
Aus puts down the stacks of papers. “I don’t like this. What is the Ministry of Magical Defense? Why don’t we have more back up?”
“The Ministry of Magical Defense is a secret organization that was created to deal with world-ending threats” Mr. Duke explains.
“You’re sending us to deal with a world-ending threat?” Aus asks.
Aus leans back on his chair and takes a deep breath. “You’re asking for a lot. We just met you. You expect us to just drop everything and go on some suicide mission?”
Mr. Duke clears his throat. “Look, I know this is a lot to take in. I wish we had more time. I wish we could ease you in better. I wish we could send a bigger team but this is the best we can do with the time we have. It’s not going to be easy, but it needs to be done. If you want to leave, there’s the door. Just know this. This isn’t just some isolated incident. If those toys finish their business, they will spread to the rest of the world. We need to get a handle on this before it gets out of control. We did the math, you guys are the best shot we have at nipping this in the bud”
Aus’s Talons scratch at the floor. He shakes his head. “I don’t like it.” He goes silent as he thumbs through the pages “If there’s no other way. I guess you can count me in.”
“There isn’t” Mr. Duke replies. He turns to Belyis who is watching from her corner of the table. “That just leaves you”
The party turns to her too. Belyis who had returned to her natural purple color turns red again. She averts her eyes. “Um,” she says, her voice a squeak. “I don’t know. I don’t um…”
Euphemia walks up to Belyis. She looks up at her with a sweet smile. “What do you say Bel? Do you want to be part of the team?”
Belyis’s face burns with embarrassment. “Sure,” says her whisper.
Euphemia claps and giggles with glee. “Yay! We’re going to be such good friends!” She wraps her arms as much around Belyis as she can and squeezes her. Belyis’s face is frozen with fear and confusion. Her face glows red from the embarrassment.
“A strange Kobold, a loud Halfling, a shy Tiefling, and an Aarakroca walk into Santa’s Village. You’re right. This is a pretty good joke”