Santa Claus fell to the dusty earth. His eyes watered and his ears rang from the impact of the strike. He pulled himself up on one knee and watched the drips of blood form a tiny pool at his feet. He wiped his nose with a soft white glove, flecks of crimson streaking the fur fringe.
“That was better,” exclaimed Trosto Menad. He whirled his staff around his head and plunged the it into the ground. “Let’s try again.”
The stars were still in Santa’s eyes. He shook his head to clear the ringing. Somewhere during the last sparring session, Santa had lost his own wooden staff. Trosto had begun the session unarmed but through a series of pushes, punches and pokes, he had disarmed Santa and used his own weapon against him. The violent numbness in his jaw gave way to a dull ache. Santa’s weary body had been beaten, broken and bruised over this first year. The Academy had turned out to be as difficult as he had imagined it in his nightmares. No sleep, strenuous physical activity from dusk until dawn, and mental exercises which were somehow more draining.
“I can’t,” Santa said as he plopped down.
Trotso moved slowly toward his fallen student, throwing his staff aside. He pitied him in a way. He pitied all of them really. The twelve-hundred year old Elf master had trained so many Saints, Tzadiks, Walis and Rishis at this point that he felt he had forgotten more of them than he had remembered. Each one elected to the Academy had some holy virtue about them, a sanctity only afforded to a chosen few. However, they were men and women at their core and thus subject to mistakes and stupidity. Trotso was there to beat the humanity out of the Spirit’s roster of soldiers.
Trotso knelt next to the budding young saint. “One day my friend,” he spoke in his thick elvish accent, flicking his tongue at the end of each sentence. “You will bring much happiness to the world. Your name will be uttered in a thousand languages. And they will know you. And the Spirit will know you.”
The muscular elf stroked Santa’s hair, his thick fingers gently caressing the young Saint’s head. Trotso grabbed a handful white hair and yanked back, exposing Santa’s bare neck. In one fluid movement, he had unsheathed his Chrono-Dagger and pressed it to Santa’s throat. The ancient knife glowed with an eager violence, pulsing with the anticipation that it might slake its thirst.
“But” Trotso whispered. “You are weak. If you cannot even defeat an old elf like me, then we are surely doomed and The Spirit’s vision of the Solstice will never be fulfilled. The desolate Winter will claim the joy of many. And you will have failed.”
Santa’s eyes reddened and an unnamed strength animated his weary limbs. His veins pulsed with the Stirring, boiling his holy blood. He grabbed Trotso’s wrist and pried it from his exposed throat. The Elf Master dropped the Chrono-Dagger, his hand throbbing from the immense grip. Santa grabbed frantically at any weapon he could use. Pawing at the ground behind him, Santa felt the outline of a large rock, which he swiftly crashed across Trotso’s face, staggering him. A black haze spun around Trotso’s dizzy head. The lump of coal had nearly disintegrated from the force of the impact.
Trotso waved the dark halo of swirling powder from his eyes. As his vision sharpened, he saw a red-clad behemoth standing before him, ready to charge.
“Nice. Very nice.”