Once upon a time, Montechristien traveled to where his brother worked.
Montechristien leaned upon a heavy staff as he walked. Rain dripped through his thinning hair.
He pounded once, twice, thrice on the door of Baltasar’s tower.
And Baltasar answered.
“Brother,” said Montechristien. “I have come to beg.”
Baltasar sneered. “As you have always done.”
“I know what sorcery you plan to work,” said Montechristien. “I cannot let you do this thing. Please stop.”
Baltasar rose to his full height in anger. His teeth clenched. Lightning flashed.
“Gar-ga-mel?” he asked.
And Montechristien found himself fighting not to cringe, for all that years with Yseult have given him some strength.
“You plan to summon and bind the tripartite God,” Montechristien said. “It is madness.”
Baltasar turned aside, as if he did not object to Montechristien’s defiance. He gestured his brother inside.
“I told your woman,” said Baltasar, “that the two of us share a soul.”
Montechristien brushed the mud from his feet. He walked inside.
“I told her that it would do her no harm to sleep with me,” said Baltasar. “For when two men share a single soul, they share a single seed—and, in fact, that that seed is mine. So why refuse me? I asked. When you have borne me six children already?”
Montechristien held his face tight against anger.
“They are your children as well,” Montechristien agreed. “You should visit them.”
“She did not believe me,” said Baltasar. “She shouted, ‘I can’t have had your children! You’re weird old Baltasar!'”
Montechristien started to grin. But Baltasar’s eyes flashed and thunder boomed and the smile vanished from Montechristien’s face.
“Then she shouted, ‘Ack! Yagg! Igg! Ptui!’ and began to spit.”
“To . . . spit?”
“. . . I don’t understand why she thought it would help,” Baltasar confessed.
“So she hurt your pride.”
“She inspired me,” snapped Baltasar. “She showed me how low I have fallen—I, whom you once called your master! So I will redress this. You will have your pathetic golden eidolons. I will infuse myself with God!”
“I could stop you,” said Montechristien.
“You won’t!” said Baltasar. Then he spun on Montechristien. He thrust out his palm. Montechristien, on ancient reflex, flung himself back into the corner and cowered.
From Baltasar’s outthrust hand a mandala of energy grew. Then seven more formed around it. Each touched the others; each orbited the others; each served as the center of the pattern. Among them were faces, wings, fires, jade, and gold.
“In truth,” laughed Baltasar, “I have waited only for your arrival. I have learned to manifest it, brother! The one pattern that can bind even God Himself—the Wheel of Enoch!”
Montechristien feared his brother of old. But for Yseult’s sake, he marshaled his own powers.
He was too late.
Baltasar flung back his head. His eyes went white. There was a great wind before the throne in Heaven and the seraphim cried out. The sun and the stars and the planets froze in their procession. The whole world shook.
But Baltasar did not summon God.
From above him, below him, around him, from the center of the wheels, hands stretched for Baltasar, red and black and burning hands.
They seized him.
They clawed at him.
They carried him screaming away.
And three days later Montechristien returned to Castle Gargamel and said disconsolately to his wife, “Now I am damned.”
Yseult touched Montechristien’s hands, his arms, his face, but it took warmer measures to console him.
Thus did Montechristien and Yseult conceive the ninja, Elisabet.
We do not know how Montechristien Gargamel came into his power. His origins are a mystery. How such an ungainly, strange, and immoral man could rise so swiftly to prominence puzzles even the greatest scholars of our time. Of his life once established in Castle Gargamel, however, certain facts are known.
He took to wife the Lady Yseult Gargamel, one of the great beauties of his day; and though many a rival pressed for evidence that he’d bewitched or stolen her, none was ever found. They had and loved six children of their flesh, until the seventh, Elisabet, killed Yseult with the complications of her birth. Each of these children was a prodigy, possessed of astonishing talents. When at last Montechristien stumbled towards the grave, the talents of his children turned against their siblings, every hand against the other, until at last they could dispose of the matter of their legacy.
This is the seventeenth installment of the story of that time.
A magical reindeer flies down from the sky and lands before an fifteen-year-old Elisabet.
Its nose shines red.
It says, “Elisabet Gargamel?”
Elisabet has been practicing with her shuriken. She ceases, now. She turns, and fades into human shape. She smiles at the reindeer, charmed.
“Yes,” she says.
“You are needed at the North Pole. Christmas is in danger!”
“I am a ninja,” says Elisabet.
“Please forgive me,” Elisabet says, with an unusual formality. “But I must explain that I cannot box presents or make toys or cure a sick Santa or see through fog. The duty of a ninja is to kill those who must be killed.”
The reindeer tilts its head to one side. “That is not exactly the Oriental tradition….”
“Well,” says Santa’s reindeer, “in any case, there’s killing to be done.”
“Yay!” says Elisabet. “I can save Christmas!”
She looks around.
“And you don’t want Manfred? Or Tomas? Or anything?”
“I was sent for you.”
So Elisabet gets a wide smile and says, smugly, “Cool.”
“Come on,” says the reindeer.
So Elisabet gets on its back and rides the reindeer up into the sky.
An Unclean Legacy
How Elisabet Saved Christmas
“Why do you want me?” Elisabet asks, as she rides.
“You’re nice,” summarizes the reindeer.
“Wow,” says Elisabet. She blushes a little.
“There aren’t many supernaturally-effective killing machines on Santa’s nice list,” the reindeer explains.
“It’s because of the life,” Elisabet says.
“Daddy says that Yseult gave me all her leftover life when she died. That I’m more like her than anyone else. And she was really cool, although she wasn’t a supernatural killing machine.”
“She was on the nice list too,” the reindeer agrees.
“But she always tried to shake down Santa for coal instead of presents,” the reindeer reminisces. “She’d set traps for him, you know. He was too nimble! She couldn’t catch him.”
“Hee hee,” laughs Elisabet.
The reindeer is arcing down now into a land of snow and tinsel. The air is cold and Elisabet’s breath puffs out black. The great candy-cane marker for Santa’s workshop is ahead. But the reindeer does not land there. Instead, it lands on a field of ice nearly a mile and a half from the north pole.
Elisabet gets down.
“I don’t get to see Santa?”
“There’s no time,” the reindeer says. “The centipede is almost here.”
Elisabet looks to the west. She sees it there: a great hundred-legged monster, shrouded in shadows and in fire, eight feet wide and two hundred feet long.
“That?” she says.
“It is the child of a centipede and the Devil,” says the reindeer. “So naturally it wants to destroy Christmas. Each day, it comes for Santa, and we lose more lives holding it back.”
Elisabet steps away from the reindeer. She stands there on the ice, desolate and alone.
Her bangs blow in the wind.
“Is this the destiny of Christmas?” Elisabet asks.
Snow falls gently around her.
“Does even the innocence of the holidays draw to itself the sorrow and the pain of all this troubled world? Will there ever be love and peace that is not transient? Tinsel that is not stained with blood?”
Elisabet bows her head. She squeezes her eyes shut.
“I don’t know what to say,” the reindeer admits.
Elisabet sets her jaw. She opens her eyes. She puts her hands on her swords. She dissolves her human shape and becomes a thing of shadowy protoplasm.
“I am ready,” Elisabet says.
Then the air is hot and smoky. The centipede’s great head comes down towards her. But Elisabet has already leapt into the sky. A dozen blades wing from her hands and burrow into its flesh.
“Rowr!” shrieks the centipede, and it flails for her. It catches her with one great limb but Elisabet dissolves around its touch and leaves behind only a poisoned needle that numbs it.
The ice grows hot with their battle and turns to water. The tinsel-coated trees fall down. There is thunder and heat all across the northern wastes.
The centipede strikes at Elisabet in the air. Elisabet twists with the unnatural dexterity of her shadowy form and catches the end of its limb. She drags it after her using a force-redirection technique. The centipede falls onto its back. It lands amidst the melt of their battle, and she stands on its chest and stares at it with creepy ninja eyes.
It stops moving. It is chilled by what it sees in her eyes.
Slowly its head sinks back beneath the water.
Let me go, it pleads.
It cannot move. It is drowning.
I will spare Christmas. I will live in peace. I will serve you.
Elisabet does not relent.
The centipede thrashes once, twice, three times, and then it dies.
And that’s how Elisabet saved Christmas!
Wasn’t that a heartwarming holiday tale?
Check back on Monday for the conclusion of Elisabet’s story: “Way of the Ninja!”