Moosympus was once an ancient, thriving, Moose city built upon a mountain top. It covered the whole surface and some of the interior of the mountain with beautifully landscaped gardens, large marble halls, busy open plazas, and busy work shops. These days the mountain top is far more idyllic and quiet. At one time, Moosympus was a bustling place, at the very center of moosey activity across the multiverse. Now it stood untouched by the ravages of time and empty of life except for the scant handful who stayed behind to care for the place and help the humans who actually needed it. Occasionally, some of the older Mooses came back to vacation in the old days.
On that day, only Malos, the giant golden man walked the wide stone streets. He made his rounds regularly, serving as a caretaker and defender of the city. The water levels in the basement, kraken pool needed checking. The pegusi needed to be feed. The gardens needed to be watered, and the astrolabe needed oiling.
As he made his rounds he heard a noise coming from Mulcan’s old smithery. These days, Mulcan preferred to go by Miltin to avoid the muddled history the humans still remembered and the newer, additional expectations some might have, that he should have green blood and pointy ears, but he continued to make new and wonderous things that often took on life of their own, like Malos himself. They never broke down from age and use as a car might from a splashy universe, but some of them could be damaged, especially the oldest or smallest creations. When in need of help most of the automata found their way back to the workshop where they were created, so noises there were not entirely uncommon.
Malos eased his way into the high arch which led to the workshop so as not to startle the occupant or occupants. Then he froze in surprise. Dozens, perhaps, hundreds of little metal animals, and model machines, both real and fantastic (no two alike), scuttled about the room. They covered the floor and every surface with even some clinging to the walls.
As his eyes made sense of all the movement, he realized not only were almost all of them new, but most of the activity involved manufacturing and assembling one another. They worked with care and precision, but Malos could detect great haste as well.
“Excuse me,” Malos rumbled softly from where he stood, nearly filling the great arch. “Can I help you with something?” He kept his voice soft, but he could not quite keep the touch of ironic amusement out of his tone.
The room grew quiet as all activity stopped. Hundreds of pairs of eyes turned to gaze up at Malos. There was a moment of silence, then the air was full of hundreds of low volume voices talking all at once. Malos was overwhelmed trying to discern a common topic out of so many conversations.
”waiting for mulcan…’
‘…need more parts..’
‘…what are you…?’
‘..Where is the…?’
‘..many things need…’
Malos was overwhelmed by the sheer number of conversation lines being aimed at him. “Wait, wait,” he said. “I can not follow so many talking at once. Could just one of you please explain?”
A quiet, metallic rustling went through the room as if a loose bundle of wires stirred. With many tiny clanks, the whir of gears, and some steamy hissing, a path opened between Malos and a slightly larger figure amongst the many small ones on Mulcan’s main workbench, near to the forge. Malos held out a broad, golden hand with two fingers extended and the silver chased, golden owl flew across the room to perch there upon.
The two figures looked somehow right together as they studied one another. They shared the same theory of line and design in their making and a quality of being ancient and yet at the same time ageless that went so much beyond the shared metal with its bright shine.
“I remember you,” the owl said in a slightly raspy, deep, grandfatherly voice that seemed wrong coming from a metal bird the size and shape of a screech owl. Then you really looked at him, and listened, and could not imagine him sounding like anything else.
“I remember you, too. Bu…”
The bird cut Malos off before the old name could be finished. “Bob. It is Bob now. That other name belongs to someone else, a long time ago.”
Malos nodded. “A lot of them have gone that way. To many of the splashily distorted stories cling too closely to the old names. Mulcan goes by Miltin now. Mades prefers Max. Murpheus shortened his name to Murphy, and there are others.”
Some tension in the way Bob perched eased out of him as Malos spoke, as odd as it is to think of a metal figure relaxing. “So the Mooses and the others are not gone entirely. When I found this place empty, I feared that I might be all that was left of Moosympus.”
“They moved away, but are hardly gone. There are many more of them then there used to be spread across the worlds. They collect more new friends to help them every day.
“Between the questers and the Titans, it got so that they had trouble getting anything else done. Besides, they needed more space. But enough about the past. What brings you here? Are you building an army?” Malos did not sound like the idea troubled him any.
Bob tilted his head, like only an owl can do. A quiet sound of clockwork gears moving accompanied the head tilt. “No, it is not an army, but a collection of automata who are out to help bring good cheer at a small isolated orphanage for sick children in a small mountain country off in a splashy world.”
Malos gave a steam laced bass ‘humph’ but maintained his smile. “That sounds like a good thing to do with an army, to me. Why did you not ask for Moose help? They love that sort of thing.”
Bob looked around the formerly empty workshop with slow deliberation. “There was not anyone here to ask.”
“Good point,” Malos conceded, looking down at the new toys. Many of them had quietly returned to their self creation. Again he was struck by the controlled aura of haste. “What is the rush? I thought at first you might fear getting caught, but it can hardly be that now.”
“We want to be ready for Christmas,” Bob said as if the answer should have been obvious.
“Well of course you do,” Malos said rubbing the back of his left hand with his right. “But it is almost a month yet until then.”
“It took me over two weeks to get here and I could fly. Trying to move all of us, over land, without being noticed will be quite a bit slower.” Bob paused and looked down. He spoke the last bit to his brightly polished talons. “Also, my person will be missing me for all that he decided this trip needed taking.”
Malos nodded. “I see what you mean.” He did not specify which part he understood, probably all of it. “If you do not mind, I will contact Miltin that was Mulcan, and between us all, I am certain that we can make this Christmas a truly Moosey one.”
With permission from Bob and cheering from the rest, Malos went out to the Hall of Mirrors to contact Miltin. The others kept on with the construction project. They wanted to number enough so that each new resident could find a companion to suit for years to come, not just for Christmas. Those without a child to mind and love would watch over the adults, and see what they could do about keeping the grounds, building, and equipment in the kind of good repair the community simply could not afford. Many did their best with what they had, though.
Malos took longer to return than expected, but when he did come back, he did not return so alone. In spite of his many, many years and illustrious past, Mulcan that was did not loom, or glow, or stomp along darkly with his hammer in ‘Great Blacksmith’ style.
The dark tan Moose had short fur and taupe antlers with rounded tips rather than points. He stood rather smaller than most of the Moose Valley residents, much the same size as most of the toys. Miltin tended to be on the lanky side, and his belly always seemed a little hollow, except for right after meal times.
Miltin followed Malos into the room. Without disturbing or displacing anyone, he managed to cross over to Bob. He scooped the metal owl up in both pooves and spun around in a happy circle with the bird held as high as his small height could manage. After a moment of surprise, Bob opened his beak and let out a clattery sort of laugh which spread through the room with the knowledge of who this must be.
Miltin put Bob down, and the bird made quite a show of straightening his feathers with a soft, metallic rustle. Miltin smiled as Bob recollected his dignity.
“So, you are a child’s toy now, are you?” Miltin teased.
“Only so much as you or any of the other moosey ones are, when serving as friend and guardian to a child throughout the worlds.” Bob said, pulling himself up to a full height which actually exceeded the Miltin’s at that point.
“Heroes of the old sort can be hard to come by. I have found that many of their greatest deeds cannot compare to the courage and personal strength it takes just to get through a day, or even worse a night, when you are alone and ill.” Bob sounded angry or perhaps defensive, but Miltin just smiled.
Malos had turned away from the two and was sitting on the floor talking quietly with some of the new creations. They variously stood, sat, perched, clambered, and crawled about his person, to make up for the loss of floor space when Malos and Miltin joined the throng.
“It sounds like you have learned a lot since the last time I saw you,” Miltin said. Bob shed his aggressive posture and he probably would have blushed if he had been made that way.
“In fact, there is only one problem I can see in your new friends. It is one you have, too, so I cannot criticize your construction.” All eyes turned to Miltin and a wave of consternation splashed around the room.
“A problem?” Bob prompted when Miltin let the dramatic silence stretch uncomfortably long while he thought.
“You are made of metal. Someone soft to cuddle with would generally be more comforting. Do not worry, however. I can help with that, and still leave you with the durability and other benefits of your current configurations.” A general cheering rose up in the room, except for Bob.
“Won’t the upgrades take time?” the nightbird asked.
“Only a couple days,” Miltin said and shrugged it off.
“Then we cannot afford it. I did not plan to spend more than a day here or risk missing Christmas.” Bob shifted from foot to foot and resettled his wings.
“Oh, my dear, old friend, I have made so many wonderful new things since you went off adventuring. A friend has already gone to anchor the far end of a new slide in the grounds of your chosen home. I can give you a full set of feathers this afternoon and have you back with your person by nightfall.
“I will get your companions their improved coverings almost immediately. Then I and a few friends will stop by to deliver them properly on Christmas Eve while everyone is sleeping.” Miltin grinned, bouncing a little on his toes.
“And all the other things,” Malos added. Miltin had to put a poof over his mouth to catch the chuckle trying to escape.
“What other things?” Bob demanded, confused.
“When I contacted Miltin, he was not alone, and the others had their own ideas of things to add,” Malos said dryly.
“Oh, but, No, we…” Bob stammered, not even sure what his objection was.
“Do not worry about it. Mostly we just added your asylum to our usual Christmas Eve Sleigh Run. We bring new clothes, a good dinner, and sometimes extra decorations every year to places and people who need it even in places that do not celebrate Christmas. Mooses are neither omniscient nor omnipotent, but we have good memories once we find a place,” Miltin reassured the metal bird.
“The best gift will be the one they never know about,” Malos said while, very gently, stroking the head of a small, steel bunny. Bob tilted his head to the left and looked at Miltin in lieu of a lifted eyebrow.
“Our two best healers ride along and check on everyone in each place to see if there is anything a poof or two might be able to help with. They also make return visits for those they determine it would help. Mooses are for life, not just for Christmas,” Miltin said, the last a quote from something he encountered in a splashy world.
Bob flapped his wings a few times and turned his head around to prene his back before he had enough control of himself to say, “This is going to be the best Christmas ever!”
“No Bob,” Miltin corrected. “It will just be the best Christmas yet.”