SPECIAL | The Tallest Mountain Peak and Winter Solstice Dawn
Freya Chocolate ends the Mass Migration! Are our weary travelers home at last?!

Through the autumn woods, the Sylvanians traveled bravely onward. The weather had grown cool and crisp; the Buttercups and the rabbits spent their days scouting ahead. Every day they would bring home enough foraged fruits, vegetables and wild-grown food to eat. Often, everyone crowded into their few tents, staying warm. The children and the babes seemed indifferent- every day was an adventure! Yet in the back of everyone's minds remained the question: when would they find a place to call their home? The Van Dykes and the Redwoods nimbly gathered fallen wood from the forest floor as they traveled; Molly crafted bags out of what fibrous reeds she could. This, she insisted, would help everyone carry whatever they needed. She was so industrious that her determination made everyone happy- and more determined to find what their hearts all sought.

Crisp leaves began to fall. Soon, the trees exposed their gnarled and gritty branches; tiny birds began to fly south for the winter. A chill was in the air. It brushed through the Sylvanian migrants' fur. To the children's delight, the first flakes of snow began to fall from the sky one evening as the stars winked at them before slowly going to sleep.

"Oh no," fretted Mrs. Corntop one evening after she tucked her children to sleep within a pile of blankets which were beginning to wear thin at the edges, "we really need to stay warm. We're not in the plains, but even in the forest, we have very little now." She leaned into his chest and glanced around at the other Sylvanians. The weather had taken a turn for the worse; they had tied all three of their tents together for extra warmth against the cold wind.

"Don't worry," assured her husband, patting her. "I'm sure something will work out. Something wonderful, you know? We just haven't found it yet."

One pair of ears were listening nearby. So, thought Freya Chocolate to herself, if we haven't found what we're looking for yet, maybe if I just try harder and get lucky...When everyone had fallen asleep, she carefully crept out of the snoring Sylvanians' tents and looked out at the night sky. To the distance, the dark shape of the mountains loomed. Through the evening she trudged until she felt she could travel no more. Quickly realizing her mistake, she found she was too tired to make the trip back down the steep wooded hill to her family and friends! Oblivious to the eyes upon her, Freya fell asleep. Luck was in store for her.

"Where am I?" she asked, blinking sleep from her eyes. Her voice echoed. As Freya stood to look around, she noticed that she stood atop a snowy balcony, but with a small fire burning nearby. Two tall fluted stone pillars- crumbling slightly, yet still standing firm- greeted her sight. She was inside a stone hallway, her paws cold. Shivering, Freya looked around.

*

Freya? Are you here?





"Freyaaaa??" called Mrs. Chocolate. Sleep crusted her eyes; she had scarce been able to sleep. The soft rustle of fabric had woken her up- and she was terrified when it seemed Freya had gone missing! She hadn't wanted to wake anyone else up if her daughter was near by, but she kept rehearsing what she would tell her wayward daughter when she found her!

No response across the vast, pitch-black woods. Using her keen sense of smell, Mrs. Chocolate crept slowly and caught the whiff of something foreign- spicy and resinous, further off to some other direction. Just as she was about to give up, she caught wind of her daughter's bright, floral scent! Her motherly instinct had her leaping through the woods to catch up. She couldn't be far now, she thought. Sure enough, as the snow began to fall more steadily, Mrs. Chocolate could pick up on paw prints on the ground which matched her daughter's. The path ahead was steep... Nonetheless, she ascended the mountainside. At the very least, she thought to herself, if I return back to our campsite I can tell them we can stay here at the mountain's base...

The cold began to bite Mrs. Chocolate's nose. She frowned as she caught scent of something foreign and spicy. Again...
"Freya?!" she called, swiveling her keen ears around.

"Mom!?" Distant, but faint- and an echo.

"My word!" gasped Mrs. Chocolate in sheer relief, her heart pounding. Bounding up with her powerful legs, the cream and tan-colored rabbit jumped up a rocky slope. Minutes later, ribs heaving from the exertion in the cold, she found the sight of two stone pillars. "A balcony?..."

Freya's ears were crimson as she got a stern talking-to. She hung her head. "I don't know," she explained yet again, "and I'm sorry, Mom! I just wanted to find us a home, you know? We travel and travel but everyone's tired. We've been traveling for months. Winter's here now. When are we staying put?"

It hurt Mrs. Chocolate to hear the same words coming from someone so young. "Dear, I..." she sighed. "Here, let's find us some firewood to at least keep this fire going. Did you make this yourself? You're a bit too young to be setting fires!"

Freya shook her head. "It was here already."

"Then that means..." No, such thoughts wouldn't do. Survival came first. "Freya," her mother sighed, "let's just take care of things. We'll figure it out in the morning."

The two sat down by the fire. Slowly it began to shudder into ashes and small embers. "Let's get some firewood," declared Freya. Raising an eyebrow and still relieved that she had found her daughter, Mrs. Chocolate nodded mutely. The two struck out and found a fallen tree not too far from the balcony. It laid on the ground and seemed as though it had been recently cut down; a great majestic spruce.

"Very lucky bunny," she told Freya. Together the two pushed it slowly back towards the balcony. Mrs. Chocolate jumped up and began taking care of it.

Freya lit up. "Mother, I have a marvellous idea!" she exclaimed. "Let's make a holiday party for our friends and bring them here!"

Mrs. Chocolate looked horrified for a moment. "Dear, we have no idea where we are. There's too much danger right now!"

Freya looked crestfallen as her mother began pawing some of the deadfall out of the tree's branches. The fire roared to life; the two rabbits quickly were warmed. "But it's almost time for the brightest star in the sky, and we celebrate every year..." She stared longingly out at the clouded night sky. One of the clouds rolled lazily past; a single bright star shone down on them.

Mrs. Chocolate shook her head. "I'm sure we'll figure out something, sweetheart," she said as she fondly patted her daughter's head. How was another question entirely. The night was going to be a long, hungry one, it seemed.

The scent of fresh apples caught both rabbits' noses. Curious, they explored the hall. A doorway was to the far left end- and they found a table laid out with food.

"Have we been expected?" Freya asked out loud, smoothing her new fancy dress Molly McBurrows had made for her but days earlier. It matched her mother's, and made her feel good knowing how much care the dusty-black mole woman had put into making it, even despite tending the babes.

"It sure seems that way, but who?"

"I don't know, but can we have a holiday party here and invite them?" Freya asked insistently.

Staring at her daughter, Mrs. Chocolate sighed, smiling. Always so optimistic, she mused. Maybe this will at least help pass the time. "Tell you what," she told Freya. "If we can find a way, let's decorate this tree and see what we can do."

"YAAAAY!" exclaimed Freya merrily. "Let's make the best holiday party ever!"

The two got down to work. Back and forth they traveled after eating the apples they had found in the side room, from camp to their newfound site out of the wind and snow. Waking Molly and shushing her quickly, the black mole smiled and winked knowingly.

"Burr aye," she agreed, "this'm be's a gurt plan, mizz Freya!"

The three grinned and set about their tasks.

Gradually, it was completed. Between the three of them, they were able to get the tree raised. Their spare bolt of red fabric was carefully laid around its base, and Freya had found a box full of shiny ornaments in a cabinet near where they'd found the apples. Molly laid out the packages that they had brought from their camp, containing all the little things everyone had planned to give each other. It was quite a lot of work. Molly yawned a lot, but Freya decided that was because the mole woman had been taking care of the babes all day on top of their hard work! Still, their spirits ran high. Freya wondered if she could stay awake long enough to finish decorating, and almost fell off her mother while trying to post a wreath she'd made of spare branches and twine!

"This is all very exciting," Mrs. Chocolate whispered to Molly as she bundled up Freya by the fire. Her daughter was falling fast asleep. "I'm worried, I freely admit it. Here we are on someone else's balcony. How long has it been here? I know you've picked up on the other scent on the path back to camp."

Molly shook her head. "It's not something familiar," she shrugged ruefully.

Mrs. Chocolate's ears sagged. "Still... I suppose after all this work maybe things will work out if we're friendly. Maybe my daughter had the right idea, but she's so young."

The mole's eyes sparkled with the firelight's warmth. "Mizz, if there's one thing I knows, it's trust them children to keep us hopeful."

"That doesn't keep them safe from danger!" Mrs. Chocolate protested, alarmed at her friend's advice.

"But it may be these youth who keep us older ones on our paws, right? So maybe whoever owns this place- if they're even here..." Molly let the statement hang. Slowly, Mrs. Chocolate nodded.

"If they're okay with the youth and what we've done, if if if," the rabbit countered, though her tone was thoughtful. "Just if someone is still here, if they're okay with us holding this party and appealing to them for sanctuary for the winter- at least temporarily... it's an idea, at least."

Mrs. McBurrows smiled wisely. "We'll see, yes?"

Mrs. Chocolate smiled and waggled her ears as the two carried on setting out the Sylvanians' gifts to one another around the balcony. "Come dawn," the rabbit said, "we will see what happens."

Winter Solstice Dawn

"Oh, pish and tosh," came a voice echoing further down the hallway. It was an authoritative voice, accompanied by a female voice going "hmph" indignantly. "When have we ever been caught? T'is the season and all that, wot wot. There's youth and her mother in the other room. T'wouldn't be proper not to introduce ourselves this time around."

"Oh I suppose you're right, Pine my dear," muttered the softer voice again, "but certainly we need to take care of everything else on our to-do list as well!"

"Holly, right as rain, y'are, and that's precisely what we'll do," answered the first voice belonging to someone called Pine. "Right, along we go then."

Mrs. Chocolate wiped sleep from her eyes, ears catching every word. Next to her in the great stairwell, Molly yawned, her black pointy muzzle showing her sharp little white teeth in the shadows. "Shhh," Mrs. Chocolate hissed in alarm, ears straight up.

"Sorry," whispered Molly back. "Oi'm gurt tired, oi am." Her voice echoed in the hallway. Grunting, she hefted herself up the last of the steps. Great tall furniture and a cold iron wood stove sat to their right; to the left was a doorway. "Someone's coming!"

"Oh?" inquired Mr. Pine Yule as he rounded the doorway. "Well," he chuckled, "already with Yule surprises. And who might you be, miss?"

"My name is Terry Chocolate, and this is my friend Molly McBurrows," answered Mrs. Chocolate as she noticed his fine emerald clothing and heavy grey woolen vest with a little mistletoe accent. "Is this... place... yours?"

"Hardly," Pine answered as he waggled his ears curiously at her, helping her up from the stairwell. Molly brushed herself off in the meantime. "This vast place is called Mosswood Fells. Mayhaps you've heard of it?"

"Ahem," came the voice from behind him.

"My apologies," Pine conceded as he moved out of the way. "This is my wife, Holly."

"A pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Chocolate," Holly smiled, curtseying in her rich burgundy dress. Terry smiled back. "As my husband was saying, this place isn't ours. It belongs to the Lords of the Mountains, the Zan pandas, though some in this mountainous region would claim otherwise."

"Oh?" asked Mrs. Chocolate. "Zan pandas..." The words felt strange in her mouth. She couldn't think of anyone like that before.

Mr. Pine nodded sagely. "Aye, pandas. A panda is a black and white bear. The family of pandas- the Zan pandas- rule this place wisely, with the help of a bunch of felines with their heads in the clouds. They call them the 'Sibilant Solitaire Siblings', since they hiss quietly when speaking, you know."

Molly and Mrs. Chocolate didn't know, but felt like eyes were upon them. "I do apologize," Mrs. Chocolate answered. "We're migrants trying to find a place to call home for the long run. We've been traveling for months with our children and our friends and their children as well. It grows cold; our food supply grows thin. My daughter wants to host a holiday party to cheer everyone up. She wandered last night and found the balcony here, and so... well..."

"Hah, the balcony hall is decorated now," piped up Molly with a twinkle in her eye. Unbeknownst to her, it matched that of Mr. Yule.

"Oh-hoooooh, well is it now?" murmured the rabbit with green-furred ear tips. "That just so happens to fall in line with what we are doing..." He looked over to his wife.

Mrs. Yule nodded mischievously. "You see..." she began.

"We are doing much the same thing. You see, we traveled to Mosswood Fells all the way from our home in Greenbearshire, off of Cape Holt."

Mrs. Chocolate tried to remember. Graciously, Pine nodded knowingly. "A boat ride to the northern island due west of here, known as Atlandia, and then to its southwesterly corner, another boat ride."

"Oh!" exclaimed Terry.

Molly nodded next to her. "I've heard of it. A great place, but I've never been," she explained.

"Agreed, then. A very faraway place from here. You see, we grew up with holidays when the nights grow long, the land cold and full of snow, and this is nearing that time. So wherever we roam, we leave presents at this time of year. We've just finished doing so in the living room hall behind us."

"Ohhh!" exclaimed Mrs. Chocolate in understanding. "Your traditions are very similar to what we were just doing! My daughter and all our friends and family love to exchange gifts, decorate a tree and have a good feast!" Everyone burst out laughing and nodding. They echoed off the stone walls.

A hissing suddenly filled their ears, and the three rabbits and mole froze. "Ssssss..." came the sound. "Sssss.. ssssssssssSSSSsss..."

"The Sibilant Solitaire Siblings," whispered Holly, flattening her ears. "They know we're here. Well, that's okay, they've just ruined the fun for themselves by predicting our arrival and departure. We live around here, but not within the mountain. Too cooped up for us, don'ch'a know." She readjusted her glasses. "What are they?" Molly asked, practical as ever. Her dark eyes sparkled in curiosity.

"Cats," murmured Pine, "and always speaking strangely about the path of the stars. They're the advisors to the Zan family. If you ask me, you may want to set up an audience with the lords first thing this morning before springing that party on them. I know they'll take it well as they do to our little annual visits, but..."

"But?" echoed Terry Chocolate worriedly, biting her lower lip.

"Well... they're interesting, to say the least. Please be sure to bow to them as you approach. It's a sign of respect to them. If you're looking for lodging for all your loved ones, then they might be able to help with that. No guarantees, you see." The elderly rabbit stroked his white whiskery moustache.

Mrs. Chocolate knew what had to be done, though her heart pounded nervously. It was going to be a very long night indeed. Holly and Pine nodded to her and excused themselves, heading down the stairwell. As she glanced over to Molly, the black mole nodded back, expression resolute.

"To the lords of the the mountain. The Zan family of pandas," the two friends determined in unison. They traveled throughout the massive mountain castle, quickly finding that the living hall was decorated with strands of lights, a small tree, and a few tiny gifts! Eventually they discovered the next flight of stairs up and ascended. In the depth of night, the two Sylvanian travelers came across a heavy pair of oaken doors side-by-side. Hissing filled their ears.

"It is as foretold, ssssssss," came one whispering voice, so softly Molly wondered if it was in her head. She looked towards her friend; Mrs. Chocolate was shaking her own. "There are arrivals...sssssssssss."

Another voice, slightly raspier, agreed. "It is foretold in the sssssssstaaarss."

"Agreed, sisssster," came a third voice. "Be it so, let us ssee what words they have to give us."

As if by magic, the doors swung open. The sudden bright lights in the room blinded Molly and Mrs. Chocolate! After a few moments, their vision cleared up. Both Sylvanians' jaws dropped. The room was carpeted over its stone floor; to their right, a cooling fireplace whose crackles began to slumber. A small clock sat on the mantel. Five-thirty am. Mrs. Chocolate began to feel sleepy once again. "I..." she murmured, but the word stopped short in her mouth. She remembered Mr. Pine's words. Bow. She bent her back to the strange-looking Sylvanians before her. Without hesitation, Molly did the same beside her.

Both were very nervous.

"Welcome, travelers," said the broadest panda as he rose from a scroll at his desk. "You have been expected for quite some time. I am Zan Zheng. My wife beside me is Zan Feng, and our two rather sleepless, excited children are Qiang and Jing." As each panda was introduced, they politely bowed. Mrs. Chocolate couldn't help but smile at their curious expressions. In front of them, the eccentric felines remained on guard.

"An honor to meet all of you," Mrs. Chocolate said warmly as she and Molly rose, though her ears sagged from fatigue. "My name is Mrs. Chocolate, and I apologize for disturbing you at such a late hour."



She regained her confidence. "My daughter Freya found your balcony while exploring last night. My friends and family have been yearning and traveling for a new home for months, and she was sleepless last night with worry. When I found her here, well..."

"It is as foretold," hissed one of the felines to Zheng. "They may be the ones. The stars are in proper alignment tonight."

Knowingly, Zan Zheng nodded. "As it is so. The longest night is soon upon us, and the snows grow ever colder and longer. Indeed, midwinter is fast arriving. She could not sleep for fear of survival, yes?"

Molly's jaw dropped; she quickly glanced at Mrs. Chocolate, whose expression was stunned. The two nodded, mute.

"Your poor young ones," murmured Zan Feng in sympathetic, fluid notes, her voice clear as a bell. "Surely you all need a place to stay. It would be cruel for us to say no."

Zan Zheng looked over to his wife and nodded, his expression emotionless to Mrs. Chocolate's eyes. "Indeed, the very stars would have us see to open our doors to you and yours, Mrs. Chocolate."

One of the panda cubs looked antsy. "Do you really have chocolate?" he asked. "I mean, your name is-"

"Please remember your training, young Qiang," his mother gently hushed him.

Mrs. Chocolate's ears flushed, unsure what to say. To the point at hand, then, she told herself. She explained to the pandas that they would only be there until the last snow fell and melted, and surely they'd be on their way.

To both Sylvanians' surprise, the pandas shook their head. "Should you choose, this mountain is more than large enough for all of you, providing you accept our leadership, the Sibilant Solitaire Siblings as our advisors, and do what you can to adapt and be a part of our culture," Zan Zheng said. "There is plenty we can do together to be a community. If the prophecy holds true- and it will- then thanks to you, our local population will be vastly grateful as it has come down to just a few of us- our family, these fellow felines, and the Moss reindeer. It may be hard at first, but once everything settles down, I am sure we will have a wonderful community and way of life once again."

The rabbit and mole both were exhausted, but thrilled at the open acceptance they had received. "Thank you so, so much," Molly blurted out. Mrs. Chocolate nodded.

"We humbly accept with gratitude. Also, my daughter Freya has arranged a small celebration in the balcony. I couldn't break her heart," Mrs. Chocolate said.

The panda smiled broadly at her then, the first time his stoic features had shifted. "We would be honored to attend and meet all of your fellow Sylvanian migrants," Zan Zheng responded. "Sibilants, please retrieve the young one and help out as needed wherever they may need assistance. See to it everyone gets their own lodging, and give them a tour around the mountainside tomorrow when they are fresh, after the celebration. I think it's about high time these stones saw some pleasantry and revitalization coming through."

The young pandas cheered; Feng smiled and hugged her children.

"As the prophecy foretold," the felines agreed, bowing. Soon thereafter, Freya was back in Mrs. Chocolate's arms, snoring. Bed felt like the most wonderful comfort ever as she sat down once she'd tucked her daughter into a bed next to hers. Molly had fallen asleep on her own bed the next room over. The mole woman's snoring was heard readily enough. Mrs. Chocolate gave directions for the Sibilant Solitaire Siblings to track down her fellow migrants, and sleep was full of good dreams.

The morning would be beautiful.
The morning indeed was beautiful. The brightest stars faded as the first rays of sunlight shone, sending rainbows over the freshly-fallen snow. Everyone quickly was woken to the sounds of an excited Freya and her mother, along with a strange sight- snowy-colored felines with grey noses, ears, and tails! Tents were quickly broken down and cheers rose up into the air even more swiftly. Their Freya had been so brave and found them a home!

By afternoon, everyone had reached the Mosswood Fells grand hall. Clasping paw in paw, they hefted along their camping supplies. Upon entering, they were greeted to a great feast! By evening, the Zan pandas made their appearance and formally greeted all the Sylvanians who had sought for so long to find a new home. When they were all finished eating, the Sibilant Solitaire Siblings directed everyone to the grand hall the next room over from the dining room... and to everyone's utter joy, they were informed Freya and her mother were responsible for the holiday decorations and the gifts!

The children began first.

Selflessly, one of the tiniest babes saw one of the Solitaire Siblings and offered her little present to her! Graciously, the feline accepted, feeling the holiday spirit, and she smiled carefully, afraid of making the little kit scared of her. But the little one was just so happy! A new friendship began.








When they were done opening all their little toys and gifts, the babes were brought upstairs to a decently-sized youth room. Their paws sank into warm emerald and white carpets, and they issued sounds of delight! Some didn't want to go to bed, but they all fell asleep from the help of Molly, her daughter Heidi, and their newly-made friends, Nara the Wandering Water Dog Monk and Cromwell Kaze the Wind Rabbit Monk! Bernise helped baby Slydale, too. Young Peanut kept giggling at the round ring toss and bright baubles!

Indeed, the children had quite fun! They danced and played outside in the snow. Misty climbed up on the pole to sniff the flowers, only to her embarassment that Mrs. Spotter had caught up to her and chastised her for being so far up! She giggled. Just then, the light went on!



Menawhile, Zan Zheng took aside the Sibilant Solitaire Siblings and they admired the northern lights. He then gave them instructions on how to help the new Sylvanians adapt to their mountainous home, for settling down midwinter would be hard, but well worth it! The Siblings nodded and agreed.

Inside, all the adult Sylvanians were gradually opening their own gifts and complementing the Chocolates for their mother and daughter's hard work- and marveling at their beautiful new home.

Mrs. Slydale, true to form, couldn't help but tease the new Sylvanian she'd met- Mr. Moss! "Your present is right here! Can't you see it?" she asked.

"Why no," replied Mr. Moss, "is it invisible? It must be very special!" Behind her, Mrs. Slydale's tail quivered in amusement.



Inside, the Buttercup family had discovered the common living hall! Having had just a bit too much coffee, Grandfather Angus bragged. "I feel so much more lively and clear-headed! I feel like a young bull again!" he exclaimed. Daisy glanced over at her father, who shook his head. "Dad, I think you probably should at least calm down and get ready for bed," he said.

"I'm no young whippersnapper; don't tell me what to do!" Angus shot back.

Hornbull sighed. "Dad..." He glanced down at his daughter. "No coffee for you this late at night dear," he added wearily. One of the Siblings showed up in the doorway and nodded. "We should find out family chambers."

Angus shook his head. "Kids these days..." he protested. Meanwhile, Daisy bit her lip as she tried not to laugh.

"I'm glad you're finding amusement in all this, daughter," Hornbull murmured out of the corner of his mouth.

"It's just that Grampa is so happy to be off his hooves, you know? I'm happy too. We have a new home."

Hornbull smiled and hefted his daughter up onto his shoulders. "Aye, we do, my dear. It's wonderful. Let's go help the other families get the tour rolling. It's getting late. Ooph! And you're getting big!"

Daisy giggled. Behind her, Grandfather Angus shuffled along behind them. Together, everyone began to go down the halls towards their brand new rooms in their new home!