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Chapter Excerpt




The Rise of Sturd

YA fantasy


Maria DeVivo




Chapter One


If there was one thing Ogden Castleberry hated about his Life Job, it was not having a view of the sunset. His single office window was on the wrong side of the building, and only gave him the slightest indication that the twilight aura in the North Pole sky had completely vanished. Darkness crept its way in a semi-circle that engulfed the room, rather than giving a full frontal show.

Ogden loved sunset at the North Pole - when the sky wrapped itself in golds and pinks and the sun looked like an orange fireball ready to shoot its powerful rays at everyone and anything. As an elfling, he had marveled at this beauty, soaked in every last breath-taking moment. Norland had the best sunsets in the entire world, because Norland was the most sacred place to ever exist. Only the most special elves lived here. Headquarters was based here, and of course, it was the homeland of the one and only Santa Claus. But what should it matter now?

He began lighting the lanterns around the room, preferring the soft glow of the flames over the harsh fluorescence of the electric lights, the only sound his own footfalls.

"You shouldn't complain," he said, his voice booming in the room as he began to laugh. "It could be worse. You could be mining coal!" But his laughter ended in a long sigh, for as much as he was grateful to have such an easygoing job, he wondered if he would enjoy a more laborious one if it was coupled with some company.

There were multiple elves chatting away in the offices below and above him. They were sharing family stories, or working on projects, or commiserating about something. All Ogden could do was complain to himself.

If only the Council had let him have some company while he worked, then maybe all this wouldn't seem so tedious. If they had just let his twin brother, Orthor, work with him, then maybe he wouldn't feel the loneliness of his Life Job so much. But they didn't. No matter how many times he complained to Elven Resources about getting a new office, or at least having a companion of sorts, this was his fate. Sit. Wait. Watch.

He resigned himself to his swivel chair, propped his feet on top of his oak desk, and did just that. Sit. Wait. Watch. "I have the most boring job in all of Norland," he sighed.

He supposed it was a noble job, being entrusted with the most revered text in the Elven Realm. He and Orthor had been ecstatic when their mother announced they would be Book Keepers for the revered Book of Names. It was the giant magic book that held all the names of all the children in the entire world. The good. The bad. The boys. The girls. What elf wouldn't want to be privy to information of that magnitude? The brothers had been less ecstatic, however, when they had been informed that they would be split up. Orthor had to take the day shift, and Ogden had to take the night. "Divide the work, divide the spoils," their Master had said.

Ogden had been struggling with that concept ever since. What spoils? Where were the spoils? His spoils were awfully spoiled, because never getting to spend any time with his brother was worse than never getting to see a Norland sunset again.

He threw his arms above his head and yawned. His thermos, filled with hot cocoa, had been placed in its usual spot next to a brown paper bag that was filled with chocolate chip cookies. He was now prepared for another night of sitting, and waiting, and watching The Book of Names. Well, if he was going to be honest, sitting, and waiting, and occasionally glancing at The Book of Names, because nothing too dramatic really happened within the book.

The Book sat in all its glory within its rectangular glass case. The pages magically flipped forwards and backwards on their own. Colors of the scripted text changed from gold to red, red to silver, green to gold. This noble and esteemed job really didn't require him to do much of anything because the Book was literally a living document, and all Ogden had to do was sit there and let the Book do all the work.

When the spirit of The Big Night first entered a child's heart, their name was automatically written in The Book. Over time, the names changed in appearance - naughty girls were written in red, naughty boys in green, good girls in gold, good boys in silver. It is from this main source that the Lists for the elves at the North Pole were created. But when the time came, and a child no longer believed in the Claus, their name was grayed out and moved to the back of the Book where it eventually disappeared to make way for the new names of new children. Like a revolving door, the Book was in a constant state of rotation. Names come in, names go out, and whether the name was gold or red or gray was all up to the human child who carried it. Ogden had seen names gray out as early as five years old, others as late as thirteen. On average, a name stayed active in the Book for ten years.

The sound of the turning pages soothed him, and he closed his eyes, taking in the sweet rhythmic cadence of the "flip, flip, flip" of the Book. It sounded like the gentle flutter of Graespur wings flapping in the night sky, and he wished he wasn't confined to this chair, this office, this building. He longed so desperately to be free - to watch the sunset, to bask in the moonlight, to sit in a garden feeding the Graespurs, but instead he was confined here - this desk, this office, this lonely life.

The pages of the Book slowed down a bit, which was not unusual for this time of year. March was when things were the calmest. Children of the world were in what Ogden called a "lull-state." They were still coming down from their Big Day high, readjusting from their festivities, getting their lives back to a semi-state of normal. The months of February and March were typically the least active, not many color changes, not much graying. It wasn't usually until August when the pages of the Book acted like they were possessed, flipping sometimes violently back and forth. That was when the Good and Naughty Lists were finalized for the year, and last-minute decisions were made as to which List each child would ultimately appear.

Just thinking about a "lull-state" put Ogden into one of his own. His head sank deeper into the cushion on his chair, and he revisited his previous thoughts of the missed sunset. He crossed his arms over his chest, stuffed his hands in his armpits and grumbled, "It probably was perfect," before letting his body feel the first tingling sensations of a deep sleep. It's only March, he thought, it's not like. and he started to drift off to the sound of the gentle page turns of the Book.

The silence in the office startled him and his head snapped up from the side of his shoulder. It took him a second or two to collect his bearings. His hands were still firmly pressed in the deep cups of his arms, and the sides of his mouth were moist with sleep-drool. He looked around the room, making sure everything was in its proper place; the paintings undisturbed, blinds on the windows untouched, thermos and brown paper bag still in their spots. But something was amiss. Something was.

The Book.

The pages of the book stopped turning, and there was only one reason why that could happen.

In a near panic, Ogden jumped up from his chair to inspect the Book. His sweaty hands lifted the glass casing so he could get a better look. Sure enough, there it was - a black spot over a child's name, as if a smudge of coal had been forced upon it, stamping it out forever. There were some people in the world who just didn't believe in much of anything. Even though belief in the Claus might disappear, the true spirit of the season doesn't leave a person entirely. That's why the name is grayed out in the Book. Unless - a person loses all faith and love for the Big Day, and completely obliterates the spirit from their heart. Then they are stamped out, blacked, erased from the Book forever. A black spot over a name was not entirely unheard of. It happened, on average, two or three times a year. But in March?

Ogden stared at the name - Ryan Black. "The irony," he said. He touched the dark spot to acknowledge the eliminated name, which would free the book to continue its work. It felt like burnt paper, like a charred and brittle soul. He shook his head gently. "Poor guy," he whispered, removing his finger from the Book. Almost immediately, the pages began flipping back and forth again, quickly at first, then slowing down to a resting heartbeat's pace. He stood over the Book for a few moments, watching the magic ebb and flow, mesmerized by the changing colors as if they were strobe lights at a dance hall.

Just as he was about to put the glass casing back over the Book, the pages stopped again. The silence tied his stomach into knots. Before his eyes, another name was transforming from gold to gray to brown to black; the paper of the page bubbled up a smudge mark, branding the Book with yet another non-believer. Ogden was transfixed. He had never witnessed the transformation before.

Katharine Burnham.

Had this been the first black name of the evening, he would have chuckled at the irony, but this wasn't the first, and this was no laughing matter. In fact, this was unprecedented. He hesitated a little when he lifted his finger from the name, the anticipation bubbling over into his sweaty, shaky hand, the anxiety gnawing at his rumbling tummy.

Scared that it would happen again, he closed his eyes tight, praying to Claus to hear the pages of the Book start flipping again. "C'mon, c'mon," he said as if coaxing the Book, "you can do it!"

But there was silence. Only silence. The pages of the Book had not resumed rotation, and after waiting a few minutes, Ogden slowly opened his eyes to see the horror on the page before him - a third name had been blackened out.

For a second, he thought his heart had stopped. He took a deep breath, and without touching the smudge on the Book, quickly replaced the glass casing. He wasn't about to stick around to wait and see if any more names would be obliterated.

He went to his desk, grabbed his thermos, took a long drink of his hot cocoa, and began pacing heavily back and forth in the center of the room. "It's only March!" he said, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He tried everything in his power to remain calm. He told himself that maybe it was a mistake, maybe it was just a fluke, maybe it was a ramification of the Double Coal Night - the last Big Night when the bad kids had gotten two years-worth of coal. It could all be related. Couldn't it?

No matter how he tried to justify it in his mind, he knew that three black names in one night was something that needed to be reported, but the last thing he wanted to do was call Elven Resources. He was probably the last elf they would want to hear from, but if he didn't contact someone, the consequences could be severe for him.

He reluctantly picked up the blue phone on his desk and dialed ER's number. He'd called to complain so many times, he had it memorized. When the operator picked up, he didn't even have to identify himself. He said, "Goldie?"

Goldie, on the other end, sighed heavily.

"Yes, Ogden."

He inhaled deeply, anticipating how he was going to phrase his next sentence. "Goldie, I think there's a problem over here."

"Ogden, you know they're not going to change your office. They're not going to add any windows or."

"No, nothing like that."

"Okay, surprise me then."

"It's just that. um. the Book."

"What's wrong?" Her voice was higher, alarmed.

"It's just that. well. there's been some. black marks on the names and."

"What do you mean 'marks?' As in plural? More than one?"

He cracked his knuckles until there was nothing left to crack. "Um. like, say. three."

Goldie gasped. "I'm contacting the boss. Don't leave the room." And with that, Goldie hung up her extension.

The boss? He'd never met the boss before. Heard stories of the wrath of the boss, the apathy of the boss, the sarcasm of the boss, the magic of the boss, but had never actually come face to face with the boss!

He continued to pace the room for what felt like an eternity. A knock at the door made him freeze in his tracks. He was able to whimper, "Come in," in a voice that sounded like an elfling.

The door burst open and a figure stood in the doorway. The glaring light from the hallway and the darkness within his office cast a gloomy shadow around the figure that had materialized - the dark outline of the body coupled with what appeared to be a jumpsuit gave the figure the appearance of super elf height, taller than that of the Tree Elves from the Pole.

The boss.

"What's going on?" the figure said.

Ogden gulped hard, trying to clear the nervous lump that had formed in his throat. "I don't quite know for sure," he began. "The Book stopped turning pages and I saw the black marks. Kids names stamped out. I touched them and."

"Three? Is that what you said?" The boss's voice filled the room. Ogden thought he heard the panes of glass on the windows rattle gently.

He wiped his sweaty hands down the sides of his pants. "Well. I don't really know. I. I saw the third one and I just called Elven Resources."

The figure's arms shot straight in the air. "Well, go over and touch the darn name, Ogden!"

Ogden winced a little, then made his way over to the Book. He removed the casing and touched the last black name he saw. Abby Sutton. He stepped back as the pages immediately began to turn in a violent frenzy. His eyes widened when they stopped as soon as they had started, and four more names burnt out to almost dust.

He could barely breathe. He could barely move.

"Castleberry," the boss called from the door, "talk to me."

Ogden turned from the Book and faced the doorway. "There's four more names," he said slowly. "Miss Skye? I think you need to see this."

Ember stepped out from the shadows of the doorway and into the light of the room. Her counterfeit appearance of height diminished as she glided across the wooden floor. She walked over to Ogden and the Book, and he could see her hands were caked with coal dust. Her eyes nearly went wild when she saw the pages burnt to a crisp, the names of the hardened children barely visible now on the surface.

"Great," she huffed. "Just what I damn need!"


Chapter Two

An emergency meeting of the Council was called at once and all but one of the figureheads of Norland found themselves assembled in the Meeting Room on the 13th floor of the Headquarters' main building. From the looks on their faces, Ember could tell that they were not pleased to be there.

While they waited for the last member, Ember did her best not to make eye contact with the ten already present. Instead, she transfixed her eyes on the baby blue sky just beyond the picture windows. Puffs of white clouds lazily floated by as if they were nonchalantly saying, "hello! goodbye!" Their dreamy movements mirrored the feeling she had in the pit of her stomach. Hello. Goodbye. Get on with the show and back to business.

A nudge on her leg from under the table got her attention. Ogden furrowed his brow at her, and she realized she had been drumming her fingers on the table top. The others were staring at her as well. She curled her fingers up into fists and placed her hands in her lap. "Sorry," she mumbled.

One of the rules of any type of meeting was to remain quiet until all members were present. Every seat at the table was specifically designated for an elf. Each elf sat at a high-back mahogany chair with regal wood carvings along the sides and back, and at each spot was an official wooden wedge nameplate that bore the elf's name and title.

The seat assignments never changed. Ember looked down the line, reading the nameplates to herself to pass the time. The head of the table was reserved for Jolevana "Una" M'raz Ruprecht, Councilwoman #1. At the other end was none other than Docena Frost M'raz, Madame Claus.

Docena M'raz: Mrs. Claus, the Boss's wife, Lady Frost, the Boss Lady - many monikers for such a dominating force. Mrs. Claus was second-in-command to the Boss, she did his bidding, operated in his place at the Council, and most importantly, took the stress and worries off him (so all he needed to be concerned with was the Big Night and delivering the goods to all the children of the world). And even though Ember had been in her presence before, she still got a little star-struck to be in the same room with the legendary counterpart of the legend himself.

However, the missus was not at all the grandmotherly type that Ember had previously expected. The regal Madame Claus wore a pinstripe business suit, elegantly tailored to her svelte body. Yes, Mrs. Claus had silver-gray, almost white hair, pulled into a tight bun. Her round cheeks were rosy with a subtle pink blush, blue eyes carefully accented with black, and her lipstick a dark red, yet she oozed an aura of no-nonsense dominance.

Remembering the strong presence of Councilwoman #1, Ember wondered if there would be a power-play between the two alpha female elves.

Ember looked at her own nameplate at the table. It read Ember Skye, Coal Elf.

Of course it does.

She was the outsider at the table. She knew it. Everyone there knew it. She saw it in their sideways glances, hear it in their tones of voice when they spoke to her, sense it in the distance they kept when they stood beside her. The other Council elves were all connected - whether by blood or marriage. She had no ties with any of them. From the reception she usually got, she suspected the mere presence of a Coal Elf at the table made their stomachs turn - a Coal Elf who got special consideration from the Boss and got her Life Job changed, a Coal Elf who was now granted access to some of the innermost workings of their Elven Society. Someone didn't even have the decency to change her nameplate to Coal Deliverer, because in their eyes she was, and always would be, nothing more than a Coal Elf.

All of them made her uneasy, but the nameplate in front of the empty seat across the table made her squirm - Sturd Ruprecht.

Field Data Collector. His new position. Created especially for him. For some reason, the Council felt that his presence was a valuable one, and they had explained (in not so many words) that even though he had botched the whole "Coal-less Night" scheme, they were determined to keep him around in some capacity. What did Field Data Collector mean, anyway? The shear ambiguity of the title just reeked of trouble. She had little doubt that the familial ties played an underlying role in Sturd's new position.

Speaking of reeking, the air in the room drastically changed when he bustled through the office door, profusely apologizing, shaking hands with his kin. Ember shook her head in disgust as he approached her, a pointy-tooth smile plastered on his face. "Miss Skye," he said cordially as he lifted her hands from her lap, cupped them in one of his, and gently patted them. Ember's skin crawled at his touch. His skin felt like hardened leather and his sharp nails pricked her flesh.

"Mr. Ruprecht," she said in return as she nodded at him, but she could feel the bile gurgling up in her throat.

Sturd took his seat at the table, grinning the entire time.

This was the first time Ember had seen him since the Council had mandated that he take some time off to "soul search" as part of his punishment. Maybe it did do him some good? she wondered. He actually looked refreshed. His posture was more refined - he wasn't as hunched over as she had known him to be. His demeanor was certainly different, and his normal body odor of rotted flesh had seemed to disappear. There was something about him that she couldn't quite put her finger on. Maybe.

A banging on the table startled her and made her stiffen to attention.

"Now that we're all here," Mrs. Claus said, "let's begin, shall we?" She placed her gavel in front of her as a collective deep breath filled the room. "Now, then," she continued in her business-like tone, "we all are aware of the situation that has occurred with the Book of Names. As of this morning, there have been fifteen consecutive burn-outs."

"Seventeen," Orthor Castleberry interrupted, his hand meekly raised in the air. Mrs. Claus shot him an angry look for interrupting, but her expression soon changed to one of deep concern.

"Seventeen?" she asked.

"Yes, Madame," he replied. "Right before I left for the meeting, two more names blacked." He paused. "I just left. There could be more."

Mrs. Claus ran her hands over the top of her gray hair, just stopping at the center where her bun began. She closed her eyes tightly and shook her head before addressing the Council again. "This is serious," she began.

"Yes, it certainly is," a strong and haunting voice broke through. It was Councilwoman #1, Jolevana M'Raz Ruprecht - wife of Councilman #3, Zelcodor Ruprecht; aunt of Sturd; sister of the Boss himself. Una to her closest friends and family members. "Madame, I would hate to think that."

Mrs. Claus glared at her. "To think what? To think that the Council had anything to do with this? Because certainly anything that has happened after your so-called 'Coal-less Night' couldn't possibly be connected, right? Let's get one thing straight, Madame Councilwoman, the Boss is still upset about the whole debacle of the Coal-less Night, and he is still deciding whether or not."

"Whether or not what?" Una barked. "The Council operated in full accordance with the Codex. We broke no laws. It clearly states in the Eleventh Provision of Regulation Two that."

"You do not need to school me in the ways of the Codex, Una," Mrs. Claus interrupted.

Una folded her hands in front of her at the table and sat completely erect. In a calm voice she cooed, "Then, please, Madame Claus, your insinuation of idle threats is not appropriate at this table. The Council has done nothing wrong, and if His Highness wishes to pursue any further action, then I suggest you tell him to speak to me. directly."

Una and Mrs. Claus locked eyes as an awkward silence sucked the oxygen out of the room - a deep, pulsating silence interrupted only by Ogden's sporadic knuckle crunching. Una held Mrs. Claus's strong gaze in a weird kind of standoff with neither one backing down. Ember wondered if one of them was going to lurch across the table and strangle the other.

Sturd obnoxiously cleared his throat while Mrs. Claus's assistant, Senara Calix, put a gentle hand on her mistress's shoulder, trying to coax her out of her death stare.

"We need order and balance," Councilwoman #2 spoke out. Her quavering voice was barely audible. "Order and balance, or else everything ceases to exist, turns to dust." Her eyes dropped down, and Ember remembered that Cerissa Lux, Councilwoman #2, was the weak one of the bunch - the emotional one, the one who cried real tears for the victims of the Coal-less Night. Ember's heart ached for the pitiful tone in Cerissa's voice. The children of the world had not been punished with coal that year, and it left the elven world in a wicked state of peril. Over-grown Nessie fruits touched the ground. Sickness and death blanketed the entire North Pole. No elf was left unfazed, and Ember surmised that Cerissa must have experienced the devastating loss of a loved one that winter.

Una adjusted the purple cords around her black robe. "Yes, Ms. Lux," she said coldly, still staring at Mrs. Claus, "that is really what this is all about, isn't it?" Her eyebrows raised in what appeared to be a silent challenge to the Boss's wife before she looked over at her female counterpart on the Council.

Ogden couldn't stop fidgeting, and it irritated Ember something awful. She punched his leg under the table and scolded, "Quit it!" from the side of her mouth. Startled by the disturbance from her side of the table, Sturd's red eyes immediately focused on her.

Mrs. Claus scanned the group and folded her hands in front of her on the table. She sat up straight, and took a deep breath as if to collect her thoughts. "We all know that blackened names are not good for business," she said calmly, matter-of-factly, and Ember admired her controlled manner in the face of yet another potentially disastrous event. "The total and complete absence of the spirit from the heart of any human should not be taken lightly. Our arrangement with the human world -- good, bad, naughty, nice - is predicated on the belief. If not in the Claus, then in the spirit of the Day in general. The hope that it brings. The light that it shines in man's heart to motivate him to greatness. The spirit has existed far longer than our Elven race, longer than the humans, since before the division of time. Now we can sit here and debate Nessie fruit and power balance 'til the snowmen come home, but without spirit." She rubbed her face just underneath her eyes. "Ms. Lux is right. There won't be anything left to even debate."

Harold Pennybaker, who had sat in silence the entire time, began flipping through a notepad in front of him. "Castleberry, on average, how many black names a year?" he asked.

"Two," the brothers responded in unison.

"Two," Mrs. Claus stressed. "Council members, what say you to the recent wave of black names? Any thoughts? Any ideas for a solution?"

Thoughts lead to ideas. Ideas lead to plans. Plans lead to Lists getting ripped up and elves getting sick and loved ones getting hurt and worse. Ember wanted to scream, "No! No plans! No solutions!" They needed to figure out what it meant.

Zelcodor, Councilman #3, reached under his chair and produced a green binder. He slid it down the row of elves at the table until it reached Sturd. "Why, yes, Madame, we in fact have some interesting thoughts on the situation. My nephew, our newly appointed Field Data Collector, has been working on something that might help. For the last six months, he has been observing certain trends and habits in the human world, making notations - collecting data so to speak. With your permission, I would like Sturd to present his findings to the Council."

Mrs. Claus signaled for Sturd to proceed. Sturd opened the binder and rose from his chair. Smiling, he scanned the faces of the elves at the table as if waiting to receive applause or some form of recognition. He hesitated for a moment, and after realizing no such response was coming, he passed everyone a spreadsheet. "Timing," he began. "It's all about timing."

Ember's heart beat faster at the sound of his voice, and a sick feeling invaded her stomach. Having been privy to many of Sturd's over-the-top orations, she had a feeling this was going to be a real winner. She picked up the paper and stared at the color coded chart. It was divided by months, but separated into two columns - one column outlining the elven world, one column outlining the human world.

Sturd held up his paper, his gnarled forefinger pointing crookedly at one of the line graphs. "You see, this line here indicates the discrepancies in our time placement. The humans don't really start to take the Big Day seriously until mid-November, but by then it's too late for some of them. Our Lists are finalized by the last Quarterly Meeting in late August. That's a three- month gap between the final List and human interest. Who knows? A child can do much in three months. Go bad. Go good. Get better. Get worse." His emphasis on the word 'worse' made Ember look up from her paper, instantly suspicious.

As Sturd continued to speak, the other elves were nodding their heads in agreement. Much of what he said was true, but Ember couldn't seem to make a connection between the black names and the gap.

"So," he continued, "I suggest we coordinate a larger, more aggressive seasonal campaign."

Ember cocked her head to the side, puzzled, as Mrs. Claus eyed the Council members slowly. She looked directly at Sturd. "Proposal?" She didn't look impressed, but her expression indicated that she would entertain just about any idea at this point.

"I envision it as Christmas in July!" he exclaimed with his mouth wide open. His pointed teeth flashed under the fluorescent light, giving them dark, elongated shadows; they looked like fangs on a nightmarish monster.

The Council members all smiled, but Mrs. Claus was not completely sold on the idea. "Again, I ask - proposal? How do you think this will be effective?"

Sturd closed his eyes for a second and inhaled. He was obviously annoyed that his plan was not immediately well-received.

"Well, Madame, by starting Christmas in July, we could plant the seeds of the Big Day much, much earlier. Children will be more aware, cognizant. The August deadline wouldn't seem so unfair then. We could help organize fairs, bazaars, dedicated mall outlets, advertising, all the bells and whistles humans thrive on. Let's set up the new reindeer, Zyklon, to be the breakout star of the season. There's so much we can do! The human perception of the Big Day needs a serious shake-up. They're tired of the same old, same old. If we don't try to implement something, the situation could have dire consequences."


Ember's stomach dropped as bad memories quickly resurfaced. The last time Sturd had uttered that word, he announced a plan that had doomed many, many elves. It didn't feel right to her then, and it didn't feel right to her now.

Mrs. Claus looked back at the paper, back at Sturd, then to the Council members. "What says the Council? Your Honor?" she said to Una in a formal tone.

Una placed her hands on the table and smiled, "We, the Council, agree."

"Very well," Mrs. Claus acknowledged. "Mr. Pennybaker? Mr. Castleberry? Any objections?"

"Nay," the three answered at once. "Miss Skye?"

Ember's heart thumped rapidly in her chest like a newborn Graespur. Was this really happening again? Arbitrary plans not thought through, and implemented wantonly? Were they really going to go down an unplanned road that could quite possibly lead to dire consequences? Again? She knew that if she didn't say anything now, she would never get the chance again. It amazed her that no one else in the room had voiced this opinion. Clearly, this was a stupid plan! Why was she the only one who thought so?

"Yes," Ember blurted, and the faces on the elves at the table froze like stone. Sturd's lip curled up in a violent sneer, as if he were a rabid dog ready to attack. "This is bogus! It's a bogus plan!"

Mrs. Claus's eyes went wide with anger. "Young lady! How dare you."

"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry, Madame, it just doesn't feel right. I don't see how starting the season earlier is going to stop the names from blacking out. It's. well. kinda silly, don't you think?"

Mrs. Claus's eyes narrowed at the thought, and Ember thought she might actually have gotten through to her. "Mr. Ruprecht?" she asked. "Miss Skye does bring up a valid point. Would you care to address it?"

Zelcodor and Una exchanged fierce glances. Sturd cleared his throat as he calmly took his seat. "Well, Madame," he began, "as I said."

"I know what you said, Mr. Ruprecht. Can you please present the cadre with your analysis on how this is going to help our current situation?"

Sturd licked his lips and breathed deeply. "But of course. The humans are distracted. They are all about the 'now.' Their scattered minds are no longer capable of holding on to long-term thoughts or goals. An entire year between Big Nights is becoming more and more of a challenge for them to keep in their hearts. By exposing them at an earlier time, it's more like a reminder for them, and will ultimately make it easier for them to keep the Spirit alive in their hearts. I've spent some time studying them, my friends, and I've seen the way they have changed."

Ember's face twisted in disbelief. She balled her fists and slammed them on the table. "No way!" she yelled in an uncontrollable outburst.

All eyes were on Ember. Una's head snapped sharply in her direction. "Do you have a plan? I don't see you presenting the Council with a solution."

Sweat dampened Ember's clenched hands. "Yes. I mean, no ma'am," she stammered, "I mean. it's just that. the last time the Council instituted some sort of plan, if I remember correctly, nearly half of our Elven population either got sick or died, and."

Una's eyes went wild. "Hold your tongue, young one!"

Mrs. Claus extended her arm across the table to silence the Councilwoman. "Ember, I assure you, the Council does not dole out commands willy-nilly," she said in a stern voice."And while we may not all agree on certain decisions made-" she paused, and gave a brief, sideways glance in Una's direction- "we are all held accountable under the strict guidelines of our Codex."

"All the more reason." Ember began.

Mrs. Claus pointed her finger at Ember and continued, "And just because you've been promoted in your Life Job does not mean that you have the right or privilege to speak to anyone at this table with disrespect. Do I make myself clear, Miss Skye?"

Ember shrunk back in her seat, trying to hide from the staring eyes of the others at the table. "Yes, Madame. Perfectly clear."

"On that note, if there are no other suggestions at the table, it is settled. We will get the elves in order for a summer launch. Sturd, I want you to present to the Council a full-scale tactical report. We need to start informing the others as soon as possible."

He stood up from his chair. "Yes, Madame."

She waved her hand in the air, dismissing him. Sturd left the office, followed by Harold and Orthor and Ogden.

"Wait for me by my sleigh," Mrs. Claus said to her assistant, Senara, and she and Council members #2-5 exited as well. Left in the room was Ember, Una, and Mrs. Claus. Ember remained seated at the table, waiting for everyone to leave so she could be the last.

Una walked over to the opposite head of the table and waited for Mrs. Claus to stand up. "Oh, Docena, now you know what I was talking about. I presume that this is just the nature of the young one. Lots of growing up to do."

Mrs. Claus pushed in her chair and she and Una walked out of the office. Ember remained alone in the room staring at her nameplate on the mahogany table.



The Rise of Sturd Copyright 2015. Maria DeVivo. All rights reserved by the author. Please do not copy without permission.   




Author bio

Maria DeVivo is a native New Yorker that has had a lifelong love affair with 'the pen.' A graduate of St. John's University with a BA in English Literature, she has a passion for all things mystical and mythological. She has taught seventh grade Language Arts since 2000, and in 2010, designed the curriculum for an academic elective class entitled Folklore where she has been able share her passion and knowledge on concentrated topics such as folktales and mythology to her students.

Having grown up in a large Italian/Irish family of five children (where Maria falls as the oldest, and of course, wisest) the mystery and wonder surrounding holiday traditions were a main staple of her upbringing. At the age of seven, when her mother finally admitted the "truth" about Santa Claus, Maria became somewhat of a "Santa-phile," an obsession that has rooted its way deeply into every fiber of her being. She's one of those people who cry when Santa makes His grand appearance at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Couple that obsession with a spark of creativity for all things dark and twisted, and her debut novel The Coal Elf was born.

Maria resides in Florida, with her husband, Joe, and daughter, Morgan.

TTB titles:

The Coal Elf Chronicles
  The Coal Elf - book 1
  The Rise of Sturd - book 2
  Above the Ash - book 3

Author web site.





  Author News

Maria DeVivo, author of The Coal Elf, has upcoming author events in Florida.







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