Capri left her friends to their merriment and returned to the sleigh that was cursed. She worked carefully to remove that curse first, then went on her way to give the whole place a good going over. This was to see if anything else had a dangerous curse that needed to be removed, then to put magic protection up to stop any future curse attempts.
When she walked into the main workshop, she nearly startled the elf foreman out of his wits.
"Who are you?" he asked gruffly, looking up at her with a stern expression in an effort to show he'd recovered from the start a second earlier.
"I'm Ms. Monroe," she replied coolly, "And I'm here to help get to the bottom of these troubles you people've been having lately.
"Is that true?" The foreman asked the elves who were assembled there.
"It's true," Gilda replied.
"Yes, she and several other visitors were at the rink this afternoon." Hermey put in.
"Well, all right then," said the foreman, reluctantly, "Why don't you take a seat. "We're holding a funeral for some of our company who were just recently..." he broke off and turned away from Capri. His head went down.
"I'm so sorry." she said. "I was just coming in to check things out and, well, carry on." She turned to leave.
He nodded, and she exited the workshop.
Capri could detect nothing in the way of bad magic in the main workshop itself, but planned to return at night to give it a more thorough going-over.
Meanwhile, Criter tentatively approached Santa about getting presents for his friends.
"Um...excuse me, Mr. Claus-"
"Ho! Ho! Ho! There's no need for that. Just call me Santa!"
"Ehm...Santa, I-well, this is my first Christmas, and I don't have any gifts for my friends. I was wondering if you could...could help me?"
Santa laughed. "Say no more! Oh, Dingy!"
The tiny elf entered from a side room. He had been busily working on a project, and had occasionally looked in on the guests, giggling gleefully at their merriment.
"This fellow seems to have forgotten to get his friends presents! Could you give him a tour of your workshop? I'm sure you two could find some suitable gifts."
Dingy grinned and squealed in delight. He loved showing people around his small workshop.
"Come on, Mister." Dingy encouraged. He looked up at Criter and smiled. "Right this way!"
He headed toward the side room he had entered through, Criter following him hesitantly.
Bez watched them as they departed, and called after him just before he left. "Have fun, boys!"
Criter looked over at her and laughed quietly before following Dingy into the next room. He led Criter through the room and down a flight of stairs into a workshop. It was full of shelves and crates, and various half-finished items littered several worktables.
"Criter, so, Mister Criter, what sort of things would your friends like? Or you could just browse, and see if anything sticks out."
Criter looked through the workshop, chatting with Dingy as he did. "So, is it common for elves to get their own workshops? I thought-well, we saw the assembly lines, so..."
"It's not uncommon. There are plenty of other elves with their own workshops, but we have to make sure we don't spend too much time in them." He giggled. "We have to make presents for an awful lot of people, so, when we have free time, we work in our personal workshops."
Criter nodded and paused as he happened across a rather unusual looking device. He picked it up and examined it. "What's this?"
"Oh, that? It's a puzzle box. Took me weeks to work it out. It's pretty hard, if I do say so myself."
Criter smiled. "How long do you think it would take an average human to figure it out?"
Dingy frowned thoughtfully. "Well, assuming he doesn't obsess over it and play with it constantly, it should take a week or two to fully solve."
"Then it should suit Matrix perfectly."
Dingy grinned. "Great! I can get it wrapped all nicely for you, so your friend won't know what it is."
Criter smiled. "Thanks."
He continued browsing, finding things for everyone, even finding something that Thande would like. Dingy began to wrap the gifts at lightning speed, and just as Criter was about to march back to the group with an armful of presents, an overwhelming wave of nausea hit him. He stumbled, nearly dropping the gifts.
Dingy frowned. "Are you okay, Mister Criter?"
"Fine..." Criter mumbled, though he knew he was far from fine. The nausea subsided, and he looked over at Dingy, his eyes glinting menacingly. "You know, it must be very quiet down here..." He mused. "Do you ever hear anyone from upstairs?"
Dingy shifted his weight uncomfortably. "Um...well, sorta."
Criter placed the presents carefully on a worktable and walked toward Dingy slowly. "So, does anyone hear you when you're down here?"
Dingy took a faltering step back, bewildered by the sudden change in Criter's personality. "N-no, I suppose not."
Criter smiled ghoulishly. "Good."
"M-mister Criter-are you f-feeling okay?" Dingy asked again.
Criter blinked and frowned, paling visibly. He let out a shuddering breath and looked away. "Sorry..." He muttered.
Dingy let out a sigh of relief. "Mister Criter, what just happened?" He asked timidly.
Criter smiled bitterly. "It's a long, rather unhappy story, and I'd rather not spoil the festivities with it."
Dingy nodded slowly. "Well, all right...but you're better now?"
Criter nodded. "Yes. But it makes me think-something needs to trigger an episode, and I've been fine the entire evening, even when we were by the hexed sleigh. Which makes me think-maybe, maybe whoever's responsible...is closing in."
Dingy gasped. "What! We've got to let Santa know!"
Criter nodded. "And we should let Capri know. She went out there-and if that thing is out there too-." He stopped abruptly and shook his head.
Criter gathered up the presents, and he and Dingy hastily ascended the stairs.
Meanwhile, Thande had been growing steadily more on edge. He had smelled a hint of the same foul reek that he had first smelled by the sleigh. Now it had grown quite powerful, and Thande knew something was very wrong. Just as Criter and Dingy entered the room to tell their suspicions, Thande declared,
"Something is here."
The festive mood darkened instantly.
"What do you mean-something?" Bez asked warily.
"The thing that cursed the sleigh. It is here."
"That's what we were going to tell you!" Dingy announced. "Mister Criter, he got all sick, and he figured it was because that thing set him off!"
Criter nodded. "Something is very wrong here."
Sigma frowned. "But didn't Capri just go out to-"
"Yes!" Bez cut her off. "And that means she could be in trouble! Well, this is Capri, so, unless she gets outnumbered or something, but it's still bad news!"
"All right, everyone, stay calm." Santa said. "We can find out if she's okay, and then, send help if we need to."
"I'm on it." Bez said, pulling out her Unicom. She dialed in the right frequency, and began to speak. "Hey, Capri! If you're okay, you need to answer, and listen up! We've got some seriously bad juju goin' on! Whatever hexed the sleigh, it's out there, RIGHT NOW, and it could have its sights set on you!"
There was no reply.
"Something's definitely wrong." Pippi instinctively stood up, alarmed.
There were several very worried looks being exchanged.
In the meantime, trouble had found Capri. She had only begun walking down the hall when she was suddenly hit with a violent tremor that nearly caused her to stagger and fall. She skidded to a wall to lean against for support until she could regain her bearings. Then, her vision swam.
Capri groaned at the recognition. Something definitely wasn't right.
Shouting was heard from somewhere down another hall.
Capri forced herself to hurry on, even with the sensations, she had to get to where the trouble was, no matter what tremors and dizziness, she would simply have to fight through them.
Somewhere up ahead, there was a sharp turn to the right, and then another long passage.
the shouts seemed to be coming from down that passage. Someone, probably an elf, screaming for help and to be let go. This was answered by a sharp-toned woman's voice telling the elf to keep quiet. A man, or maybe it was more than one man were faintly heard, but Capri couldn't make out what he/they said.
The elf's distress cries seemed to be getting fainter, even as Capri ran down the hall.
Then, the sound of a door slamming up ahead, and the parties Capri was listening for, seemed to be coming from outside. If this was another elf about to be vamped, Capri was unfortunately the only one right there in the vicinity to try and prevent it. Fighting back her own inner-shudders, she had no choice but go out there and do what she could.
"Oh my - freakin' - " Capri gaped at the sight of the enemy. One in particular, she recognized, but couldn't quite believe it.
"Oh, it's you!" this enemy seemed equally shocked to run into Capri. It was a young woman with red-blonde hair in long braids, cold green eyes, a sharp-featured face, makeup to kill, a lush figure, and this woman's posture and manner were all too unpleasantly familiar.
The one thing that was different about her, however, were the vampire fangs, which she opened her mouth in a smug sneer to flash at Capri.
"Forget that stupid little elf!" she barked at two of her accomplices who held a squirming little person between them. "I want HER!" the young woman pointed at Capri.
"To hear you is to love you." both drones responded, and they let the elf go.
Immediately, the elf ran back inside, as fast as her legs could carry her.
"Thande," Santa said, "could you help us to search her out?"
They were about to set out when loud, urgent stamping steps came rapidly toward Santa, Bez, and the others.
"Help! Somebody!" A pale, wide-eyed elf panted, nearly running into Gretel on the way.
"What is it, Elsa?" Santa asked, trying to hide his growing alarm.
"Vampire attack! B-behind the main shop!"
"Oh good heavens!" exclaimed Santa.
Immediately, all company raced out and down to where Elsa said the attack was underway.
In the meantime, things were not going well out there.
"Don't assume these two are the only ones with me, Monroe," the woman continued."
"I always knew you were utterly disgusting, Miranda, but it truly knows no bounds with you." Capri glared at her.
Before anyone had any time to even react, another one of the enemy who was hiding behind a tree, came out, and together, they all surrounded Capri as if hemming in an elf or reindeer for another vamping.
But Capri presented much more of a challenge and the woman knew it, even if her pals did not.
"Projesterex." Miranda demanded.
One man quickly put a cloth in front of Capri's face.
She pushed it away.
But she was still feeling shaky and dizzy, because her magic sense was reacting to the same evil in one of the enemy that had also effected Criter. It was a good thing Capri didn't have Thande's sense of smell or she would've become violently ill by this time as well.
"Light." the woman barked.
Someone handed her a match, she lit it, and put the lit match against one of Capri's hands that was sticking out from where she was being held.
Capri screamed in pain, which meant she had no choice but breathe in, so the drug in the cloth being held against her face, began to take effect.
Capri continued to scream but couldn't seem to do anything else.
"Leave her to me, boys!" Miranda demanded.
They withdrew without helping Capri to lie down, they simply disbanded, letting her fall down, hard, to the ground.
"This is even sweeter than I thought it would be!" the evil woman crowed as she knelt down beside Capri. "Santa will pay for being so unfair to me all my freaking rotten life, and now I get to get even with you too!" she hooted.
Capri would've had plenty to say to this if she only could, but she couldn't even turn the burned part of her hand toward the snow to relieve the pain let alone talk. The look of agony from the burn remained fixed on her face.
"No, I'm not going to kill you." Miranda drawled. "At least, I'll try not to. Though I haven't had a blood meal in a while and I'm famished. I'd make a vampire out of you, but I know you're probably resistant to that, so I'll just use you as a snack instead."
So, much as Capri wanted to, she couldn't move to stop this nightmare. She couldn't even faint, so was fully conscious of everything going on.
Miranda and her friends knew that, and wouldn't have it any other way.
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