In 2005, Knightmare fans embarked on their fourth Interactive Story: a Knightmare fanfic written jointly by members of our forum, one post at a time.
As before, we weren't sure where the story would go. It went somewhere a little Christmassy. Then a lot more Christmassy. Where would it end? Be you Christmas tree friend or Christmas tree foe, we hope you enjoy finding out.
Treguard was sleeping quietly in his new antechamber. Well, not quite new. Same time, same place...new look. The person who had just entered gazed around, and noticed the Dungeon Master was completely alone, and the pool was empty save for a large green cloud.
Treguard snorted softly and shifted in his seat. The newcomer reached out for his shoulder.
The newcomer shook Treguard to wake him up.
"Wha-, what? Who are you?" Treguard started.
"Treguard, have you really been here all on your own this past 11 years?"
Treguard nodded sadly, he was still half asleep and wondered if he could be dreaming.
"Well, that's going to change, because I've got someone here to see you" the figure smiled.
Treguard jumped with a start "Wait a minute, aren't you..."
Treguard wondered why he hadn't recognised his guest before now.
The figure that stood before him was dressed in the robes of a holy man but his faces was shrouded with a Hood.
"Brother Strange!!" Treguard said in a mixture of shock and joy at seeing an old ally. "What brings you to Knightmare Castle again after all these years??"
"Dungeon Master, I bring some news and another guest. He is I believe at the threshold of your castle now, I did not invite him in as that task is the job of a Dungeon Master."
The mysterious monk bowed his head in respect to the Dungeon master and stepped aside to allow Treguard to pass and invite there other guest into the antechamber in the customary way.
When he perceived the guest's identity he was momentarily convinced that it must be a dream after all, a notion dispelled only by the certainty that such a shock would have woken him up, which had not occurred. Treguard couldn't work out what he was doing there or how he should deal with him, but it was unquestionably he in face, build, clothes and voice:
"Greetings, Dungeon Master."
Treguard stared, almost incredulous that not only was this incarnation of evil standing before him after an absence of many years, but also that this was the first time he and Mogdred had actually met in person. And this inaugurated a feeling within the heart of the Dungeon Master that he considered it a sin for him to broach: the feeling of fear. He, Treguard of Dunshelm, found himself doing what he had resisted doing so many times in days of yore: he was looking upon Mogdred, and quailing. How could this happen? He experienced a resurgence of the fleeting shame that he used to feel as dungeoneers walked to their deaths, while he sat passively in his chair so far from the 'front line', like a corrupt despot on his throne. As if in response to his shame, he leapt to his feet, and met his erstwile enemy's nonchalant gaze with his own trademark glare.
"What," demanded Treguard, losing himself for a moment in cliché, "is the meaning of this?"
Mogdred countered with a cliché of his own. "I was not dead, Treguard. I was merely sleeping."
"And it was I who woke him," confessed Brother Strange. Clearly, 'let sleeping dogs lie' was one proverb that had not made it into his volume. "With the aid of two of my brethren: one who remembers Mogdred's dominion, and one who remembers his departure."
Two names came to Treguard's troubled mind: Cedric and Mace. Seemingly, the three monks had somehow retrieved Mogdred from the purgatory he had been banished to after his last manifestation. But, why? Why would they...
"I am here because the Powers That Be need me," intoned Mogdred. Relishing Treguard's disgust at this idea, he continued. "A certain deed has been perpetrated by my alter ego, and the monks of your Dungeon, while greatly troubled by its implications, know that I can help like no one else."
Treguard found his voice faltering. "Merlin? He... he's back? What has he done?"
"Yes. It's Merlin," said Brother Strange slowly. "He's stolen Christmas."
"Christmas?!" said Treguard in disbelief. "But that's preposterous!"
He cast his mind back to a quest which now seemed so long ago. Young Giles and his advisors Robin, Andrew, and Bret, who came so close to victory. Just a few more rooms and the Cup that Heals would have been theirs, but, alas, Christmas Day was less than a week away, and the path closed for another year.
"But Merlin showed no disdain for the holiday when I last saw him" said Treguard. "Why the sudden change of heart?"
"On the contrary" replied Mogdred. "His love for the event has grown to enormous proportions, to the point of insanity. He feels that only he should have Christmas, as he is the only one who deserves it"
"As you can see..." interrupted Brother Strange, pointlessly, "this is indeed a grave matter".
"It certainly sounds unusual" said Treguard, "but I am willing to help. And we need to get on with it, too; we only have a short time before the holiday returns"
"As much as it pains me to say so...I agree" replied Mogdred. "And here's what I suggest we do first..."
Before Mogdred could say any more, the viewing screen in the antechamber shimmered and whined. The old and long-disused equipment took a while to display a clear image. A woman was gazing with furrowed brow upon the room. The Dungeon Master hurriedly stepped forward to address her.
"Sidriss. What may we... I... do for you?"
Sidriss replied in a voice more austere than when Treguard had last heard it. "Greetings, Dungeon Master. I am aware of the Dungeon's current predicament." She paused. "As is my father."
A tall figure appeared at Sidriss' side. His beard and hair were white, his outfit a rich and familiar shade of red, but it was bound across his round stomach by a belt that looked suspiciously like a silly rope.
"Ho... Ho.. Hordriss?" spluttered Treguard.
"Mace?" uttered Brother Strange.
The figure blinked slowly and sighed. "Call us... Macefact."
Eyeing the screen, Mogdred was doing something he hadn't thought possible: he was withholding a maniacal laugh. He was greatly amused, but this precarious situation called for restraint - for now. He settled for a mere smirk. "I assume this was Merlin's doing?"
Macefact grimaced curiously at Mogdred, and nodded. "Merlin wanted to create an agent of Christmas to do his insane bidding, and felt that an amalgam of two - myself and er, oneself - would result in something akin to the fatherly personification of Christmas from the dungeoneer's realm. He caught us unaware, and we were unable to resist."
"Adding Brother Mace to Father has really improved his sense of humour!" continued Sidriss blithely. "But it also sharpened his Latin, and he was able to cast a complicated spell and escape from Merlin."
"This is the magic of shift-and-blend," declared Mogdred, relishing the importance of his superior understanding. "Merlin is able to blend individuals, just as he was able to shift the evil from within him into the form of a new individual. Yet removing so much of himself is what has left his mind so unstable." He scrutinised the listeners, waiting for them to realise what he meant.
And indeed, Treguard did. He ruminated on the phrase "shift and blend", which had mysteriously entered his vocabulary some years ago. He thought of the magic Lord Fear had somehow acquired and used to combine Bhal and Shebah into Firestorm some years ago. And most of all, he pondered Merlin. He had always wondered how someone as august as that could never go senile, forgetting names and sleeping for years on end. Now he understood. Every mind needs a balance of dark and light - he recalled his own earlier days as a far more sinister man, and Hordriss' - but Merlin, by extracting his own dark side and turning into his 'alter ego', had slowly but surely unbalanced his great mind. Calling himself Marlin was one thing; stealing Christmas was quite another. Something had to be done.
"There's nothing we can do for my father at the moment," said Sidriss, as the monk-mage next to her frowned and nodded. "We have more pressing concerns. I went to seek help from the elves, but they're gone, and I found out why. Merlin's kidnapped them all to make toys for him. All except one..."
And everyone turned as that very elf charged breathlessly into the antechamber.
Pickle rushed in "Master, I'm back! I heard about this predicament and now I believe there's something else you should know..."
He turned around. There where a magnificent pair of red, firey dragon's wings on his back
"Merlin did this to send toys to all the different levels, to eliminate the need for Smirkenorff. But I ran away before he could do anything else" Then he whined, "But I can't stand Elita's nagging."
"Stop obsessing with your own problems, elf. Can't you see everyone's in a mess?"
Pickle gulped. "Sorry, Master-but I think you should know...he's planning to do something very similar with you and there's only one person who can put an end to all this."
Treguard's eyes widened "Oh no, I had enough of them the first time round"
"But it's the only way, Master. We have to make allowances..."
Mogdred was puzzled. If the elf was right, and there was another who could stop Merlin, then why did the monks go to so much trouble to resurrect him? He felt a sense of trepidation creeping within him, as he realised that he might be nothing but an inferior pawn within this latest Dungeon game, soon to be knocked off the chessboard; for he knew so little about the forces that had sallied forth into the Dungeon during his years of absence. He loathed to contemplate it, but perhaps the Opposition had been taken over by one with powers as great as his own.
Mogdred no longer felt like laughing. He decided that he must tacitly learn all he could, and recommence the fight for his own interests only when he could be certain of victory...
"If I may raise a question," spoke Brother Strange. "If Merlin wants to steal Christmas, then why would he have elves deliver toys across the Dungeon? Even to Level 3? Cavernwights, catacombites, gargoyles: do they know it's Christmas time at all?"
"Old habits die hard," replied Macefact, realising with a slight smile that this was the probably the wittiest thing one could say to a monk who collected proverbs. "Merlin is so accustomed to distributing clue objects and scrolls throughout the Dungeon that we suspect his broken mind is feverishly obeying that custom. Except that these toys he would not have left to others as presents - he wanted me to steal them back."
Sidriss piped up, determined not to be forever in her father's shadow, even if he had experienced the novelty of being merged with a monk. "Father told me that Merlin's stronghold is in Winteria." She looked hopefully at Pickle for confirmation, and he duly nodded, shaking snowflakes from his thick hair. "He wanted to guarantee himself a white Christmas."
"Queen Aesandre would be a valuable ally," said Macefact, finishing the thought. "But does she still rule Winteria?"
Treguard was no fan of the troublesome ice wench, but could not deny the potential of Macefact's proposal. "Aesandre has not been heard of for many years," he explained. "It's possible that Lord Fear took revenge on her for freezing the Dungeon."
Mogdred listened intently. 'Lord Fear'? A pretentious joke of a name if ever he'd heard one. But this Lord of Fear could be a greater threat to his plans than anyone else.
Before he could be interrupted, Treguard seized the initiative. Moments ago he had been snoozing in his chair; now he was being given the chance to prove to all who doubted him that he deserved his chair, his antechamber, his castle... his Dungeon. "I suggest that we journey to Winteria, find Aesandre, and pool our resources against Merlin. Without delay." He looked around. "Unless anyone has any other ideas?"
"If it would be any help old thing then I do" said a familair yet cheery sneer.
They turned to see Lord Fear stood at the door yet instead of wearing his familiar clothes, was wearing a long dark red coat, a dark blue and yellow waist coat, an Edwardian bow, a 15ft long multi-coloured scarf, light grey trousers with cowboy boots. Yet wearing his shiny helmet. What was strange though is that he had a carpet under his arm.
"Lord Fear what are you doing wearing that ridiculous garb?" Treguard asked, "Merlin's magic?"
"No, I usually wear this on my good days, helps brighton the day don't you think?" said Fear trying to get a pun in, "But anyway as I was saying..."
Treguard looked again at the insanely motley crew that had found its way into his antechamber (not that Motley the jester was among them):
The elf, who sported a set of wyrm's wings it appeared he couldn't use yet;
The monk who was Strange by name and by nature;
Not one, but two pale sorcerers whom Treguard once viewed as dangerous arch-enemies, and whom he now feared could undermine him at any moment;
And on the viewing screen, an erudite and eccentric cross between another monk and another sorcerer, with a trainee sorceress standing beside him.
The antechamber hadn't been so outlandishly crowded since... since Merlin filled it with decorations and sent those boys home in time for Christmas. The memory of which brought Treguard uncomfortably back to the task at hand.
"Lord Fear," asserted Treguard, "Because of the imminent crisis in the Dungeon, I will excuse your uninvited entrance into my castle. But I'm not quite sure we want any ideas from you, particularly if they're as ludicrous as your outfit!"
Although he was keen to get underway and begin the journey to Winteria, Treguard waited to hear if Lord Fear, or indeed any of his other bizarre guests, would say anything more.
...However, most of those in the antechamber had fallen oddly silent. Certain faces looked a little pained, but Treguard put this down to anxiety over their unusual situation. Macefact cleared his throat.
"Dungeon Master, your antechamber should not be left unattended. Certain factions might choose to take advantage." Macefact looked at Lord Fear, who said nothing.
"I appreciate your concern, but this matter demands my attention," retorted Treguard. He'd spent more than enough time in the antechamber - the Dungeon needed him, though he needed the Dungeon more.
"In that case, may we offer to look after Knightmare Castle in locum tenens? Although we escaped from Merlin, we are still bound by his magic, and the only way for us to return to Winteria would be the way we left - the singular method of travel that Merlin wanted us to use."
Macefact muttered something in Latin, and the view on Treguard's screen changed, to show a sleigh with Grippa and Rhark tied to the front and looking rather limp.
As Macefact and Sidriss reappeared on the screen, Treguard was still gawping, with Pickle exclaiming, "He's mad, Master! He must be stopped!" Treguard agreed that the Sidriss and Macefact should take care of the castle, knowing he could attempt to use Hordriss' calling name if he had to. He wasn't keen for Lord Fear to join the expedition to Winteria (assuming he'd come to the antechamber purely to gloat), and felt that Brother Strange was better off returning to the monastery and updating the monks on recent developments. Oddly, neither Fear nor Strange voiced any objections to this.
Knowing that travelling to Winteria by magic would alert Merlin immediately, Treguard gathered supplies for a journey to Winteria on foot. He hoped to enter the hibernal kingdom as quietly as the snow fell, and keep hold of the element of surprise. He also wanted plenty of time to decide exactly how Merlin was to be dealt with, and to develop sufficient trust in Mogdred, much as a child might take a heap of cold, pale snow and build it into a snowman. Though he armed himself with a sword, just in case.
And so, with Lord Fear and Brother Strange having silently departed, Macefact and Sidriss arrived at Knightmare Castle and wished Treguard and Pickle well as they set off with Mogdred. Though no one gave much thought to why Fear and Strange had become so quiet and compliant. It was Mogdred's doing. Just as he had constrained Treguard many years ago, preventing him from speaking to his charges while Mogdred enveloped a dungeoneer in a SHROUD spell, so he had used what magic he could muster to silence Fear and Strange. He had plans for his encounter with Merlin, and he wanted no one to speak out against him. When the monk and technomancer got control of their voices back, they would find that any attempts to warn the others about Mogdred would be too late.
Quest mess time
The unusual trio - the Dungeon Master, his former assistant and his erstwhile enemy - trod a depressing path across Wolfenden as they headed through Level One. The marketplace was deserted: Christmas shopping was non-existent. So were decorations. Children stood crying in the street, then ran inside screaming when they saw Mogdred. The townsfolk were discovering what winter was like when there was no Christmas to look forward to, and were clearly finding it very hard to take. Treguard tried to offer reassurance to those he passed closest to, but his own morale was being shaken with every corner they turned.
By the time they reached the Crazed Heifer on the edge of the Forest of Dunn, Treguard suggested pausing for a drink. How cowardly he felt for wanting to seek courage in a flagon of ale, but he justified it by convincing himself that chill and thirst demanded it. Mogdred seemed to be occupied by his own thoughts and did not argue, and Pickle was keen to search for familiar faces in the familiar tavern.
Treguard had fond memories of slipping out to the Crazed Heifer on Christmas Eve for a cup of mulled wine. But as he pushed open the creaky door of the pub, he had no idea who or what might lie within.
Treguard's expression was a picture of surprise as he found that the attractive barmaid he would sometimes flirt with when...verbally and spacially challenged had been replaced.
Instead, he found...
Merlin seemed to have done something miraculous because Elita was less violent, even...pleasant.
"What can I get for you facea..." She couldn't get it out.
"Merlin obviously wanted to make her more polite and pleasant to deal with, Master", Pickle whispered, "But I don't think he'll succeed."
Elita, on the other hand, was equally confused. She had worked in the tavern for the past six years trying to buy an antidote from Julius Scaramonger. She hadn't seen Smirkenorff for years, so she was both delighted and revolted to see Pickle. She thought Treguard and Mogdred were mortal enemies, why were they going out for a drink together?
She decided this was too much for her to think about today and poured herself a drink. As she sipped it, she noticed tears cascading into her glass. As she looked at them through watery eyes she said:
"What do you want from me?"
"How about a little less deceit?"
The others gasped as Mogdred broke his silence. Glaring at Elita, he continued. "I assume that the male elf has been telling the truth to us, and your story does not match his. 'I ran away before he could do anything else. But I can't stand Elita's nagging.'" Clearly, Mogdred had a sharper memory than his alter ego. "What is more, Pickle was given the wings of a wyrm by Merlin - where are yours?"
Treguard furrowed his brow. Mogdred, he grudgingly acknowledged, was right - this didn't add up. And the Elita standing before him was acting very much out of character. Then Treguard had a idea. Picking up the smeary bottle which Elita had placed on the table, he began to rub it...
The ersatz Elita was consumed in a belch of sparkling smoke, and in her place stood her true form.
"Yes, alright, it is me. Merlin kidnapped me to play genie in Christmas pantomime. I had to use disguise to escape. Real Elita is back in Merlin's workshop." Majida paused, but when Treguard began to speak, she interrupted like a pouncing panther. "I knew I would find you here, drinking the day away. We must sneak back into Winteria. Come on! No time to waste!"
Mogdred was concerned. This jinnee spoke too much, and could scupper his plans. He tried to constrain her as he'd constrained Fear and Strange, but her mouth was too powerful, and she continued to berate Treguard. Pickle was annoyingly talkative too, but they needed him, as he knew the elf paths that would make their journey on foot to Level 3 that much easier. This impertinent shrew was someone they did not need. But since she could not be quieted by magic, Mogdred would just have to ask.
"LOOK UPON MOGDRED NOW, LOOK UPON MOGDRED, AND QUAIL!"
Majida had paid no attention to Mogdred until now, but was unfazed. "Quail? I think you mean pale. You need eye-shadow. Speak to Lord Fear."
"Impudent jinnee! My patience with your kind ran out five hundred years ago. We are on a mission of great importance, and your rudeness threatens to ruin it. If you insist on accompanying us, then you must pledge to remain QUIET! DO YOU SO PLEDGE?"
Majida looked at Mogdred and was about to deliver a sarcastic put down when she caught sight of Treguard giving her a very dangerous look.
"I'll be quiet." she said sulkily.
"Right then," said Treguard. "First things first: we came in here to get supplies. So Majida, if you would be so kind as to gather up some food for us all. We will then set about our journey to Winteria."
Majida glared and got a cloak and knapsacks from what seemed like absolutely nowhere. Treguard noted that she had learnt a little magic during her employment at the Crazed Heifer and decided she could be useful after all.
Majida threw a small plastic packet into Treguard's hand.
"What's this?" he inquired.
"Hand warmer" she replied. "Technology has moved on" she added sarcastically.
Treguard rolled his eyes. He could see that he may need the mulled wine after all.
Despite having gathered supplies before leaving the castle, Treguard had procured yet more at the Crazed Heifer. Pickle and Majida liked using their mouths, and Treguard reasoned that if were using them for eating, they couldn't use them for talking. So he had encouraged them to take plenty of food with them. Mogdred, by contrast, did not seem to eat.
The group's trek through the Forest of Dunn was uneventful. No goblins or wolves hassled them, which slightly disappointed Treguard, since he was hoping to prove himself by spilling some hostile blood. Among the aged trees, holly and mistletoe were growing in abundance.
Cursing quietly as he caught his wings on thorn after thorn, Pickle guided the crusaders to an elf portal, which whisked them to Dungarth. Treguard had said that there was an abandoned wellway to Level Two within. They found it easily enough, but like all the wellways, Lord Fear had blocked it up when he took control of the Opposition.
As the quartet pondered a way to solve this, Pickle noticed something very worrying. Hanging in the corner of the room was a large, dark sphere. "Master! master!" he hissed, "Merlin must know we're coming. Th-this chamber is mined!"
Treguard turned sharply to follow the elf's gaze. He'd seen what 'bomb rooms' had done to some of his dungeoneers, and the thought of being in one set his heart racing. But as he looked closer, his worry was infused with puzzlement. "It's no ordinary bomb, Pickle..." Indeed it wasn't. The sphere was a gigantic Christmas pudding. This was certainly Merlin's work. And as they stared, a small flame sprang up on the surface of the pudding bomb...
"It's going to blow!" screamed Mogdred.
"Master, this certainly is the end, isn't it?" said Pickle.
There was a loud, confusing, horrific noise as the pudding should have exploded, instead they found a decorative cracker and a scroll.
Majida tentatively walked over and opened the scroll to reveal: 'Pull the cracker, but don't touch it.'
The group looked at each other in bewilderment as they tried to think of a solution.
"Of course, of course!" cried Treguard.
"Merlin here is having a joke at our expense. Well, in his eyes anyway. He saw the fabled 'Reach Wand' as nothing more than a cobbled together piece of technomancy with what I believe a dungeoneer called 'sticky tape'. Therefore, it accompanies the cracker as being a suitable accompanying jest. Now, if we use the wand we can pull this cracker without touching it."
Treguard rummaged around for a few hours within the mass of supplies looking for the wand and upon finding it ordered his ensemble to step right back and proceeded to put it into action.
Majida's bulged in direct proportion to the size of the cracker and wanted to exclaim "It's so beeeg, Treguard!!" but sensing a dirty look or two she thought better of it.
However when the cracker did go off, it did so with a pathetic excuse for a so-called bang and left behind a variety of Christmas treats that may or may not be of use in their trip....
While Pickle and Majida scooped up the Yuletide trinkets, not even stopping to examine them, Treguard noticed that the wellway was now unblocked. He raised an eyebrow at Mogdred.
"I prodded a piece of rubble that loosened all the rest. The blockage crumbled away," said Mogdred indignantly. The others, relieved that the pudding bomb hadn't dismembered them, believed him. But he was lying. He'd used a dose of his old stone-crumbling magic. His powers were slowly returning, but he had to keep that a secret for now. Otherwise, his plan could be scuppered. Without another word, he vaulted into the wellway, and the others followed.
Wellways weren't designed for so much 'traffic'. Treguard had clambered in nervously, blacked out for a moment, then was pleased to arrive in Level Two with a soft landing. Though when it turned out to be Majida, his motion sickness caught up with him, and he had to hurry off to wretch in a corner. Am I really cut out for a quest? Treguard thought to himself.
Treguard noticed that there were stocks in the room with a figure sitting in them. This wasn't uncommon in Level Two, but the prisoner looked decidedly strange. As soon as it dawned on Treguard who it was, he rushed over to Pickle, who was still dazed from the fall and hadn't noticed the stocks.
"Pickle! Pay attention, sprite. Do you remember that book which Merlin tried to force you to read - A Christmas Carol?"
"Why yes, Master. He'd translated it into runes especially. It rather bored me, but I remember some of the characters' names. Scrooge, Marley... and that Tiny Tim child. Had an injured leg, did he not?"
"And do you recall that spell of Merlin's that was never cast because he ushered in Christmas?"
"Indeed I do, Master. Merlin said that it had its uses, though we never found out wha... it was called TINY!"
Majida complained that her back ached and that she wasn't following. But Mogdred was. "You are suggesting that Merlin reclaimed that spell, and has used it to create a version of Tiny Tim."
"Yes!" cried Treguard, pleased at the bridge of understanding. "And he's over there!" He pointed towards the stocks. Pickle gasped while Majida protested. "Pickle, tell her," said Treguard impatiently.
"Merlin's turned Skarkill into a child!"
The boy in the stocks opened his mouth...
Skarkills mouth moved and a small sound was produced. Treguard and the group looked bewildered.
"He ees so tiny, he could feet in my pocket!" exclaimed Majida, stepping towards the stocks.
"Be careful Majida - although he is small I'll bet he still has a few tricks up his sleeve!"
Treguard did not hold Majida back, but cautiously took a step back. Suddenly, a loud noise startled the group: the sound of a horn.
"Blasted goblins!" cried Pickle. "They'll eat us for sure!"
"Be quiet Pickle - look."
Three goblins sculked into the room, each wearing a paper crown. In place of where their horns should be were party hooters.
"I'll deal with this!" Lord Fear emerged from the shadows of the room. He rasied his hand and began casting: "SPELLCASTING: F I R E!"
All at once, from the tip of Lord Fear's fingers came a bright light, but instead of a fireball, ribbon spewed forth and covered the goblins.
"Oh my.." said Treguard. "It would seem Merlin's magic is getting stronger as we descend through the dungeon!"
Lord Fear was annoyed. Very. Annoyed. No-one makes fun of me, Lord Fear thought to himself. He had to take his anger out on something... or someone.
It was sometime before they decided what to do with the miniturised Skarkill. They had agreed Majida couldn't snuggle him away in a pocket as that would just be 'too nasty' and wouldn't be very sporting. Brother Strange having been silent for a long period then requested Pickle play some over the top melodramatic music whilst he attempted to dispel the deep and dark magic.
"Dispel N I T Y"
With a flash that caused Pickle to stop playing abruptly Skarkill was gone and in his place stood Tiny the Hobgoblin dressed rather strangely...
There he stood, dressed in fairy wings. "Help me!" The group heard a tiny voice which sounded like Pixel's.
"Pixel! Where are you?" asked Treguard.
"Right in front of you" the exasperated voice replied.
They all stared at Tiny, Tiny stared back and began to speak again. "Merlin mixed us up! He wanted me to be bigger and Tiny to be more... Christmassy"
"Master, do we have to take them too?" Pickle whispered to Treguard.
"Of course we have to! The more the merrier...and they could help us against the goblins that roam around the levels"
Just as he said that, a goblin horn sounded and a buzz of panic flew in the air...
"Quickly, through the door! The right hand path has always been the correct route to take!". Treguard and the group rushed down through the doors. Lord Fear stoped just behind the door, and looked at the left hand door.
"I dont need this!" Lord Fear exclaimed, and boldly stepped through the left hand door.
A figure skulked after Lord Fear... hiding in the shadows.
The group minus Lord Fear all rushed into a room and found something to bar the door.
"Phew...that was close" said Pickle.
"Where ees Lord Fear?" whined Majida.
Treguard groaned. This day couldn't get any worse.
"Well, he knows the dungeons well, he'll be fine," he replied. "So stop worrying, I'm sure we'll find him again."
Clued in, cast out
They found themselves in a clue room and looked at what was on the table.
Pickle moved over to the table for a closer look, but he soon retreated away again. Something on the table was giving off an awful stench!
"A dead bird... charming."
Treguard picked the bird up and looked at it.
"Its a Robin. Probably one of Merlin's puns?"
"Eet ees deesgusteeng!"
Majida turned away and tried to cower on Pickle's shoulder, but Pickle pushed her away.
"Well, there might be use for it yet..." said Treguard as he put the Robin in his pocket of holding. "Now, what else have we here?"
Suddenly they disturbed by the sound of commotion from what seemed to be an adjacent chamber.
Now, dear reader, although our own intrepid band of Dungeon-Dwellers couldn't hear what was going on, let me bring to you a summary of what actually transpired...
Lord Fear had just stepped through the left hand door and was greeted by a woman in headphones.
"Oh, Mark, thanks heavens you've finally come out of that place. We've been after you all for some time but you've all been so immersed in your roles since we announced Knightmare was cancelled and just plainly refused to come out of character. We even tried bringing more and more reality in via the ever increasing presence of Christmas but to no avail. But now, to quote a well known BBC2 comedy series, you're BACK TO REALITY!'
Fear, or should that now be Mark, took a seat and sneered at them all.
"You mean it's all over. No more gloating at the kidsies, no more banter with Treguard, no more ...you know...with Marta...How long has all this been?"
"Well in 1991 you first started filming with us Mark and four years later the show was cancelled. We are now approaching 2006. Your stubborn refusal to confront the real world has caused us many hassles and charges not least for the technology we have had to pay for."
"Wait some of my memory is returning. These Merlin and Mogred fellows, they came before me so why are they also in this realm you say you have created?"
"Well That's why you were brought in Mark. John Woodnutt who plays both is suffering some form of dementia and we left him to be wandering freely and he's now convinced of both his acting personas."
Mark was then blanketed and given a cup of coffee wondering which reality was real. As he contemplated things before the vast crew now at Televirtual the 'action' continued in the clue room....
The clue object table housed a mince pie, which duly went in the knapsack, a sprig of holly, an approximately cubic box wrapped in colourful paper and shiny ribbon, and what looked like a letter, as well as the tradition scroll. The latter Treguard took and read aloud:
"Take not the pair but its fallen and that bound by his doom's driving force."
"What in the levels does that mean, master?" said Pickle. Majida considered this for a moment before tossing her head in frustration; she got as far as "It's too d-" before Pickle found his hand unaccountably muffling her voice.
Treguard, meanwhile, examined the other piece of paper, recognising Merlin's handwriting and quietly voicing his words:
Well, what a year it's been! As you can expect, things have mostly been as dull as ever in the Dungeon, but after careful plotting have I got some big news for y- Oh, good grief," he interrupted himself as the penny slowly dropped.
"What is it, master."
"It's a round robin."
"And this is a dead one," said Pickle, beginning to understand. "So let's not take both - just the 'fallen' one. Well, we have. But what about 'that bound by his doom'?"
"Think, you silly sprite. The scroll says the bird's male, which makes close inspection mercifully unnecessary. Now, who killed Cock Robin?"
"The sparrow, bu-"
"A bow and arrow, bu-"
"And with what type of knot is it traditional to tie the ribbon around Christmas presents, this one being no exception?"
The others' pennies, whose slow descents had ceased, now completed them in an instant. Taking corpse and (still wrapped) present, they continued on their way.
Meanwhile the headphone-wearing woman was staring into a two-way spyglass. "Yes, your wizardry," she said. "I think he's falling for it."
"Marvellous!" replied Merlin, smiling into a two-way spybauble. "Keep working on him, Ariadne. I only want the Dungeon Master, his half-witted elf, and my alter-ego to make it through. Keep me informed!" He waved his hand with an exaggerated flourish, and the woman's image disappeared from the bauble, which he hung back on his Christmas tree.
It had been a strange idea of his to turn Ariadne into a television producer, but the 'web of reality' charade was proving a success. Lord Fear had been caught in it, and hopefully the others could be picked off too. But not Treguard, Pickle or Mogdred. If they could get all the way to Winteria, then Merlin was content to deal with them himself.
Merlin closed his eyes and thought about what a wonderful Christmas he was having. True, his Mace-and-Hordriss Father Christmas creation had escaped; and most of the elves had found an old elf portal and fled the workshop; and his spell to turn Pixel the pixie into a Christmas tree fairy had gone most awry; and he'd mislaid some important items; and Treguard was leading a band of party-poopers on a quest to stop him; but this was going to be the best Christmas ever. Because it was his and his alone. Merlin slowly opened his eyes...
...And saw that he'd somehow been transported outdoors. A stern woman was glaring at him across a snowy plain.
"Enough of this!" screamed Aesandre. "Christmas has no place in Winteria, old man. You turned my Turkish delight into turkey, my white wolves into white chocolate, and you've stolen my palace. I demand my domain back immediately!"
"Madam," said Merlin, "You obviously don't know who you're dealing with. You may be a derivative snow queen, but I am derived from the greatest wizard who ever lived. I have chosen to hold Christmas in Winteria, and I'm afraid you're not invited. But I do have a present for you. Spellcasting! L!"
At this point, Aesandre should really have tried to stop Merlin, but she was transfixed by his insanely slow casting of a very short spell.
With a minimum of fuss, a huge lion fell from the sky and slammed onto Aesandre. "Good boy!" cried Merlin. The lion roared and vanished, leaving no trace of itself or of Aesandre. Chuckling, Merlin turned and walked back towards the palace.
Meanwhile, up on Level Two, there seemed much less to chuckle about...
"Master.. surely we could just leave her here?"
"I'm afraid not, that would be cruelty to lions."
The lion and Aesandre had appeared and fallen onto Majida - trapping both of them under the lion's weight.
"Hmm.. but how best to get the lion off them..... AH! I know - we must use the clues that we just gained so that we don't drag them more than three rooms at most!!"
Treguard took the robin out of his pocket and threw it at the lion. The lion jumped up, grabbed the robin and skulked off through the middle door.
"And what of the present master?"
"Well Pickle, we have a comatose Genie and Aesendre's somehow disappeared leaving just some rags behind in the snow. Fetch it for me!"
Pickled scarpered over to the bundle, picked it up and threw it back down in disgust.
"The rumours are true master - she does indeed wears Underwear that is Icy!"
"Ewww, nasty!" chorused the crowd of travellers.
Treguard gently placed the unwrapped present beside Majida so that when she woke up she would at least have a reason to shut up, if only for a second while she unwrapped it.
After that, those remaining set off once more and found themselves with not far to go for they had now reached...
The group walked through the right hand door and they fell straight into a hole in the ground - which led into Level Three.
The group emerged at the foot of a giant pyramid. each massive block was made of a present. At the top was a large figure.....
"No.. it couldn't be?"
Treguard peered at the figure of the Dreadnort in a santa suit.
Almost simultaneously a loud peal of laughter was heard and there was a disturbing crash of light and a rather more disturbing bout of flatulence...
Everyone looked at each other, said nothing and blinked, ignoring the stench that had now pervaded the area as they now had a more serious problem:
Merlin, growing impatient, had summoned himself before them and in no uncertain terms requested that either they leave him be or they would soon be hanging from a gigantic Christmas tree...
Keen to display heroics without resorting to unchivalrous violence, Treguard tried to reason with the once-great wizard. But when he attempted to speak, he found himself quoting carols. He fast became frustrated. Pickle (whose dragon wings had vanished) was also unable to speak - all that emerged was the sound of sleigh bells.
"You see, I am much too powerful," cried Merlin cheerily. "You'll never get Christmas back. It is mine forevermore!"
At that moment, back on Level Two, Majida was unwrapping the present. It turned out to be an egg-timer with a letter M carved on it. But when she tried to examine it, it disappeared...
Only one other traveller had been transported to Merlin's Winterian 'antechamber' along with Pickle and Treguard: Mogdred. And Merlin's magic could not stop him from talking.
"Dungeon Master, listen to me. Just as Merlin expelled me from himself to become good, so must I be blended back into him to mend his unstable mind. You and the elf must form a bridge, connecting me to him. Do you so consent?"
Treguard saw no other choice. "Ding-dong merrily on high," he muttered, nodding gravely.
They repositioned themselves swiftly. Mogdred grasped Pickle's hand; Pickle held Treguard's hand; Treguard reached out to touch Merlin, who was too slow to move aside. The room was instantly filled with a myriad criss-crossing lightning forks, temporarily blurring Treguard and Pickle's visions. When they cleared, they saw that they were alone with a tall man standing majestically before them. He had long dark hair and beard. Mogdred and Merlin had become one. Smiling, he turned slowly to Treguard, who expected to be congratulated. But he got nothing of the sort.
"Fools!! This was my plan all along. I never wanted to balance Merlin's mind - I have used my growing evil to take it over! Now I am powerful enough to make the entire Dungeon quail!!"
The New Mogdred indulged in a very sinister laugh. Treguard, crushed by his failure, staggered backwards... and knocked something over. It was the egg-timer, which had quietly appeared on the floor a little earlier. It had been Merlin's: he'd adapted an old 'pause-timer' to rewind time, so he could enjoy opening his Christmas presents three times.
New Mogdred didn't notice this, and resumed gloating. "And as for Christmas, the Dungeon won't get it back, for I will destroy it altogether! Bah, humbug!!"
At that very moment, the rewind-timer did its work, and the last word was heard three times. By a remarkable coincidence, 'humbug' just happened to be the ironic, self-chosen calling name of one of the Dungeon's most formidable figures.
There was a burst of scarlet light, and Lillith, more irritable and powerful than ever, was woken from a long sleep and summoned to the room...
Lillith stared at the assembled mass of Dungeon Denziens before her.
Slowly, one by one they were all being sucked back into their positions before all this had begun. The rewind-timer had been very powerful indeed.
All that is, except Mogred who cackled and proceeded to address Lillith:
"So you see now dear, the Dungeon can now be ours if you wish to join me in my most devious plan yet.
Whilst those nincompoops go back to their relative areas of the dungeon we will have the chance to claim levels 1,2, 3 and of course that little 'storey' in between that I've taken great pains to keep the little fools out of.
So this time Lillith, I not asking for marriage as I did so long ago when you rejected me, you rejected me, causing me to banish you before I myself was deposed.
Instead, I just want you to be by my side as we have the dungeon for ourselves - do you so agree?"
Lillith, paused for a few seconds and adjusted her hair to look its best and then cried out shrillly:
"You fool! You don't realise soon we will both be travelling back also unless we quickly do something to counter this monstrosity of festivity that will make me back to a non-entity!"
After 5 minutes of further squabbling the two finally looked through their collection of spells they had availiable between them - GLORY, BACKFIRE and BUT. GLORY had been never used and so returned to Mogred and BUT and BACKFIRE had been attached themselves to Lillith as she had been summoned after such a long passage of time.
GLORY was the eventual decision but in a very cruel twist of fate it played against the scheming schemers - sending them back also but with the added bonus of sending a scroll, detailing all that had happened, to Knightmare Castle to be duly transcribed by Cadrighan the Chronicler.
"Who dares disturb my slumber?" shrieked Lillith. "I suspect my ex-husband's hand in this, but I do not see him here." She caught sight of Treguard and, recognising no one else in the room, fixed her eyes on him.
"Hark, the herald angels sing!" protested Treguard.
Confused, Lillith swept her gaze around the hall, and her disgust grew. "Christmas? So concentrated in one place? What foul conjuring is this? SILENCE!" she screamed, as New Mogdred tried to interrupt. "This will not do at all. Whether you have caused it, or simply cannot eliminate it, I do not know; but only one thing can end Christmas. Spellcasting: S-A-L-E-S!"
The hall filled with dense, glittering smoke, as Lillith uttered several other incantations that weren't quite audible. When the smoke cleared, the room had been transformed from a Christmas grotto into an indoor market. Julius Scaramonger, Ah Wok and Honesty Bartram clamoured for custom behind stalls piled wide with Merlin's Christmas presents. There were other traders too, and among them was the familiar form of Merlin, fixed in his seller's guise from years earlier. "Supplies and equipment, equipment and supplies!" he exclaimed.
"Master, if Merlin's back, then..." Pickle's question was both interrupted and answered when the old Mogdred strode out from among the stalls and approached his ex-wife, enraged. The traders seemed unruffled.
"I am separate from Merlin again! My plans are ruined!" screamed Mogdred. "You will pay dearly for this!!"
"You won't pay dearly over 'ere, generous discounts on all items!" chimed in Scaramonger from across the room.
"My magical endeavours have weakened me. I'm returning to my sleep," declared Lillith. "But not alone." She looked Mogdred in the eye. He'd hardly changed. And he could 'cross the zone' like no other man she'd ever been with. She leaned close, but some residual magic stopped her from taking him.
Treguard realised what Lillith was trying to do. Spotting a piece of mistletoe on the icy floor, he grabbed it and, with a thrust of his sword arm, flung it towards Lillith and Mogdred. As it passed over their heads, she sealed their reunion with a kiss, and Mogdred was powerless to escape as the couple vanished.
"Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace," Treguard called after them. And Pickle, knowing that Merlin's carol spell had worn off earlier, broke into a grin.
It took a few days for Treguard to confirm that Merlin's changes to the Dungeon had been undone, and by that time, Christmas Day had come and gone. In the hope that there were still lights up in Wolfenden and a little mulled wine waiting for him in the Crazed Heifer, Treguard and Pickle slipped out of Knightmare Castle and headed for the tavern.
"Is Hordriss joining us, Master?" asked Pickle as they trudged through Wolfglade.
"No, Pickle. He's still busy installing Sidriss as the new queen of Winteria. But he promised to drop in on McGrew's Hogmanay celebrations. Any more questions?"
"Well actually, yes. Will Merlin ever try to steal Christmas again?"
"Who's to say? But if he does, we'll just unite and stop him once more."
Treguard took a breath of chilly air. It was true that he hadn't marched out, sword gleaming, and single-handedly saved the Dungeon. He'd done something far more honourable: he had saved the Dungeon as part of a team. If there was any mulled wine left at the pub, Treguard knew he'd earned it. He noticed that the elf was dawdling.
"Come along, no time for pooka-watching. And if there's an elven short-cut nearby, do tell me. We do want to be there for happy hour, don't we, sprite?"
The storytellers were, in order of first contribution: Emii, Becxsmagic, Skarkill, Thanatos, Drassil, BillyH, LordF, Mashibinbin, Turaga Nuju.