The Winter Solstice had arrived! During this frigid time of year, good cheer was felt by all beings across the Realms. Lights were lit to show that happiness still burned brightly during such a cold time. At least…in most buildings. Over in a Baron's place of business, said Baron was busy with his books and ledgers. He heard a slight scrape. "Just what do you think you're doing, Mr. Twelmek?" snarled the Baron.
"Th…the fire, Lord Droka…it's dying," explained the Flame Elf Clerk, Twelmek.
"Come here," snapped the Baron, Droka. Twelmek approached Droka's desk. "What's this draping over my body?"
"…A coat," replied Twelmek. A rather cheaply made coat, if one could observe it, almost like Twelmek's own coat.
"And under it?" asked Droka.
"A shirt," answered Twelmek.
"And what surrounds my legs?" inquired Droka.
"Pants," replied Twelmek.
"They're clothes," grumbled Droka. "Our respective species, Human and Elf alike, had the intelligence to protect us from the cold. If I see you with that coal shovel in your hand, it might be necessary for you to prepare your resume."
"Yes, my Lord," gulped Twelmek. He then returned to his seat and was about to sit down only to hear a knock on the door.
"…Well? Let them in!" snapped Droka. Twelmek opened the door to allow Malnar to come in!
"Happy Solstice, Your Highness!" greeted Twelmek.
"Oh no," groaned Droka.
"Happy Solstice, Mr. Twelmek!" returned Malnar as she lowered her hood to reveal her glowing face, her cheeks reddened by walking briskly in the cold weather. She then saw Droka. "Happy Solstice, Uncle Droka!"
"Load of nonsense," rumbled Droka.
"Something not balancing right?" asked Malnar in a slightly teasing tone.
"Not my ledgers, the whole holiday!" snapped Droka.
"…The Winter Solstice? A load of nonsense?" repeated Malnar. "That's a joke, I trust?"
"I can't afford to joke about it!" snarled Droka. "'Happy Solstice', to the Depths with the whole thing! All the Winter Solstice represents is racking up credit and being unable to pay it off the next year! If I had my way, any dimwit with 'Happy Solstice' in their head would have their heart burst upon even thinking it!" Someone rang the doorbell. "Oh, what now?!" moaned Droka. Twelmek had let an Inu male and a Dwarf female come in.
"Droka and Calna's, I believe," mused the Dwarf woman. "Have we the pleasure of talking to Mr. Droka or Mr. Calna?"
"Mr. Calna died ten years ago," grunted Droka, "on this very day."
"Then it is a pleasure to see you, Mr. Droka," greeted the Inu man as he handed a business card to Droka. He turned the card over, then rolled his eyes as he handed his own business card to them. "At this time of year," began the Inu man, "it is noted that many are in need of basic necessities."
"So, those of us with the money and resources to do so," continued the Dwarf woman, "should do their part in easing the suffering of those that cannot afford a roof over their heads."
"I'm hearing a pair of patriots," sighed Malnar happily. At that moment, they noticed her.
"Your Highness, I do beg your pardon!" gulped the Inu man as both bowed.
"Please, get up," directed Malnar. "Save the bowing for a Royal Audience. I should bow to you two if you're looking to help the poor."
"Hold on, aren't there villages?" asked Droka.
"…Plenty of them," replied the Dwarf woman.
"And the shelters, are they still in operation?" quizzed Droka.
"They are, but the conditions are rather…lacking," answered the Inu man.
"Then Poor Law is in full force?" continued Droka.
"Very busy at this time of year," remarked the Dwarf woman.
"Oh," sighed Droka in relief. "For a second there, I thought something had stopped them in their useful duty. I'm glad to hear things are going well."
"Not so well for the poor," corrected the Dwarf woman. "As my partner mentioned, the conditions are rather subpar to keep them safe and happy. Some of us are trying to raise a fund to buy them food and shelter, more STABLE shelter. What can we put you down for?"
"…Let's see, zero golds," mused Droka, "zero silvers, zero bronzes, zero coppers, and zero tins."
"…Ah, you want this to be an anonymous donation," guessed the Inu man.
"I want you idiots to leave me alone!" barked Droka. Their faces showed confusion. "You asked me what I wanted, so that's my answer! …By the Ones, must I explain it in full detail?! I already pay enough by giving to the shelters and making sure the Poor Law has the necessary funds to keep it going and to keep the poor useful! They must make use of it!"
"Many CAN'T make use of it!" protested the Dwarf woman.
"And that same number would rather die!" supplied the Inu man.
"Then tell them to hurry up and do so," snapped Droka. "The rest of us that want to be productive would get along better without the poor hanging on our sleeves! The door is right behind you, make use of it! Good day, you two!"
"Why, you heartless…!" snarled the Inu man.
"Sir, Madam, could you wait outside?" asked Malnar. "We can discuss my donation when I've finished up here."
"Of course, Your Highness," obliged the Dwarf woman. The two left the bank and left Malnar to confront her father's brother.
"Uncle Droka, that was…!" she hissed.
"Malnar, my niece," interrupted Droka, "keep the Solstice how you like and let me keep it how I like."
"No one keeps the Solstice!" argued Malnar.
"Let me leave it be then!" snapped Droka. "It never does ANYONE good!"
"Our spirits are lighter!" argued Malnar.
"I supposed that's why your father remarried," muttered Droka, "to make his spirit lighter."
"He remarried because he loves Ma!" protested Malnar.
"Loves her!" grunted Droka.
"You and I both know that love is a powerful force!" argued Malnar.
"It gets in the way of your goals," countered Droka.
"I think you'll find," refuted Malnar, "that it didn't get in the way of Daddy's goals. Why not have dinner with us tomorrow and see?"
"I'll see you in the Depths before that happens," snarled Droka.
"…I'm not asking much," urged Malnar. "I only want you to be a part of family life. Why can't you and Daddy be friends?"
"You're wasting both of our time with your mewling!" snapped Droka. He then looked at his watch. "Oh, Sweet Ones! It's closing time! Twelmek! Close up the bank!" Twelmek couldn't clean up his workstation faster. "I suppose you want the whole day tomorrow?" grunted Droka.
"If possible and convenient," confirmed Twelmek.
"It's possible, yes," sighed Droka. "But convenient? No, and neither is it fair. If I were to dock your pay for it, you'd strike, wouldn't you?" Twelmek gulped. "But you don't see the logic in me striking for paying a full day's wages for no work."
"It's only once a year," observed Twelmek.
"And it's still a day where a person's pocket is picked," grumbled Droka. "Still, you may have the whole day off. Be here ready to open the day after!"
"Yes, my Lord!" promised Twelmek. All three had hurried out. Twelmek made a dash for his house while Droka stormed towards his apartment, Malnar hot on his heels in the snow.
"Don't you have a home to get to?" snapped Droka.
"Not until I pick your brain for a while," replied Malnar. "I want to know what makes you so cold."
"Then you're in for a long night of never finding out," grunted Droka as he continued on his way. They arrived at his dingy apartment and he pulled out his key.
"It looks like you did SOME spending for elaborate ornamentation," remarked Malnar as she pointed to the knocker.
"What are you talking about? I never…!" Droka then yelped in surprise. The knocker had a Troll's face on it instead of a lion's. "C…Calna?" gulped Droka. "No, impossible!" The face faded and returned to being a knocker. "…No, the stresses of the day," dismissed Droka as he and Malnar entered the apartment building. They climbed the stairs and went down the hall to his apartment. He unlocked the door, found a small fire and his meal of soup, and sat down by the fireplace to take in soup. "There's some food in the cabinet if you must have it," grunted Droka to Malnar.
"I'm more freezing than hungry," shivered Malnar. "Can't you make the fire any stronger?!"
"Fire fuel is too expensive," snapped Droka. "Now, if you would REALLY insist on picking my brain, perhaps…" he was interrupted by a bell ringing. "Malnar, some quiet, please," grumbled Droka.
"That's not me!" gulped Malnar. The door then opened.
"I said, stop it!" demanded Droka.
"Uncle Droka, I'm not doing this!" yelped Malnar. She then froze at hearing the sound of chains being dragged across the floor. After five seconds had passed, a Troll man materialized partly, still transparent and looking more like stone than a living Troll should. The Troll was bound in many fathoms of chains made of cash boxes, keys, and bank books. Droka yelled and grabbed the poker, swinging wildly through the Troll until the Troll stopped the last swing.
"Take it easy, Drokky," advised the Troll. "I'd rather you not risk a heart attack, not until I've received proof that you heard what I needed to say." The Troll then saw Malnar. "Good Evening, Your Highness. Happy Solstice."
"H…Happy Solstice," replied Malnar weakly.
"My word!" breathed Droka. "You…you're…"
"Calna Drelmek," finished the Troll, "your old business partner and your best friend."
"But…but you're…dead!" gulped Droka.
"A chained ghost!" gasped Malnar. "I thought such ghosts never show themselves!"
"Not usually," replied Calna's ghost. He then turned to Droka as he was shaking his head. "What's the matter, don't believe in ghosts?"
"Not in YOUR ghost, no!" hissed Droka as he returned to his soup.
"Can't you see me? Hear me?" asked Calna. His spectral hand then placed itself onto Droka's shoulder. "Feel me?" Droka shivered at the sudden decrease in temperature on his shoulder.
"You're probably something I ate!" snapped Droka.
"Then I must have eaten the same something," mused Malnar.
"Exactly," declared Droka. "Any minute now, everything will return to normal! This is all a load of nonsense!"
"YOUR VERY ATTITUDE IS A LOAD OF NONSENSE!" roared Calna's ghost. Droka cried out in terror.
"Please!" wailed Droka, his stony face displaying abject terror. "Have pity on an old man!"
"Droka Emboramii, do you believe in me now?!" demanded Calna.
"YES! YES, I DO!" replied Droka. "But…but Malnar is right! Ghosts that are chained are never seen unless in extreme circumstances! Why do you make an appearance now?!"
"To help you escape my fate!" explained Calna. "Every spirit that walks the earth has to travel and go on a journey of change. Beings like Malnar take that chance so they could learn from other cultures to help assist in that change. She is comfortable with learning new things. As long as she stays the course, then her soul will be free forever when she dies! Do you believe the Depths of the After-realm are torture? No, at least you abandon hope and are comfortable being declared wretched! They do not know the torture of being shown what their actions have caused in the mortal realm! I am condemned to such a fate, trying to lighten my burden by helping those more wretched than me, but never being able to do so! Constantly burdened by my chains of sin!" He held out a length of the chain wound about him to explain.
"You mean, that chain represents whatever sin you've committed?" asked Droka.
"It represents a multitude of my sins!" wailed Calna. "No rest, no peace, no way to help those less fortunate than me!"
"…Calna, I can't understand why you are chained in the first place!" protested Droka. "All your life, you were excellent in banking!"
"And never turned my eye towards the consequences of my ruthless endeavors!" urged Calna. "I never realized until it was too late how unfair I was being to those less fortunate than me!"
"…Is that what this is about?!" snapped Droka, his usual demeanor returning. "Some spiel about changing your ways?!"
"I'm warning you, right now," insisted Calna, "don't waste your life as I did!"
"Waste?!" protested Droka. "How can you say that?! You were a legend in the banking business!"
"That was not my business!" wailed Calna. "The affairs of other people were supposed to be my business! The good of society was my business! Charity, mercy, kindness, all that good stuff, THAT was my business! Our trade is nothing but peanuts compared to our true business! Listen to me and listen well, Droka, my time is almost up! I came here tonight after 10 years of failed attempts to reach you to tell you that you have a chance of breaking your chain! There will be three guides coming for you! Listen to them carefully! Expect the first guide at 1:00 tonight!"
"Can't they all come and we can get this over with?" asked Droka.
"Expect the second guide," continued Calna, "on the following hour, and the third the hour after that. Pray that you never see me again!" The chain, as if strings on a puppet, dragged Calna through the window. His wailing joined with those around him, chained ghosts like himself, weighed down by the pursuit of material gain.
"…Well, this is a turn," mused Malnar. "So, who would be your guide?" mused Malnar.
"…A load of nonsense," grumbled Droka.