[For a refresher on Jack Rory’s backstory, please click here.]
In the months following his tumultuous return to the North Pole, Jack Rory sank into a deep depression. His world felt tarnished and empty; he had somehow veered so far off course that he saw no hope of recovery. His eyes were twin pools of suffering, a reflection of his tortured soul.
Once his playground, the Pole had become a prison; a snowy cage without escape. The barren white landscape stretched bleakly in every direction as far as the eye could see. Its chilly blankness was a metaphor for his nonexistent hopes and dreams.
Was he the only one who noticed? The only one who felt the oppression of having to embrace the Christmas Spirit seven days a week, 365 days a year? How could they all just go on, day after day, lifting their voices in joyful carols, hobnobbing with whimsical woodland creatures, playing the same old reindeer games, over and over again. Did none of them suspect there could be more to life?
And yet, when he had dared to embrace a world outside the boundaries of the North Pole, he had found himself rocked to the core by a discovery he could not have anticipated. A discovery that sent him fleeing back to the Pole in the safety of Santa’s sleigh. A discovery that transformed him into the ruined failure of an elf he was today.
Unable to tolerate the relentless cheer of his holiday-obsessed brethren, he spent as much time as possible out on the frozen tundra, where he could be alone. Alone, that is, but for his memories. The memories…dear God, the cruel, twisted memories!
How he craved the sweet release of forgetfulness; a return to the simple naiveté he once took for granted.
Naturally, Jack Rory’s melancholy had not gone unnoticed by those around him. On the contrary: in a community governed by the strict code of the Christmas Spirit, his persistent gloominess was viewed as antisocial and defiant.
Even his closest friends eventually distanced themselves once they realized their most sincere tidings of comfort and joy failed to elicit the faintest of smiles. He was no longer the Jack Rory they had once known and loved.
He had become an Undesirable, and he would be dealt with accordingly.
One day, Santa Claus summoned Jack Rory to his study for a chat.
“Jack Rory,” he said sternly. “It has come to my attention that you have forsaken the Christmas Spirit.”
“It’s true, Santa,” Jack Rory said. “I just don’t seem to have it in me anymore.”
“Jack Rory, this mustn’t do, oh ho ho, no,” Santa said. “We need to find a solution and I think I have just the thing.”
“What is is, Santa?” Jack Rory asked. For the first time in ages, he felt a glimmer of something akin to hope rise in his gut.
“Well, my boy, have you ever heard of a little ritual called The Wreaping?” Santa asked, his eyes twinkling.
“No…I don’t think so,” Jack Rory answered.
Santa chuckled, his considerable stomach undulating like a bowl full of jelly.
“Ho, ho, ho! Well, Jack Rory, The Wreaping is part of an annual ceremony called The Gluttony Games. Communities from around the world use The Wreaping to select a candidate–someone they call “a tribute”–to participate in the Games on their behalf. The tribute should be the best, the brightest, the wittiest, the strongest…”
Santa went on, but Jack Rory’s heart was suddenly beating too wildly with excitement to hear what the old man was saying.
“Santa!” he interrupted. “Are you saying…well, the Wreaping, do you mean that I could…am I the chosen one?!”
Santa looked gravely at Jack Rory. “That is what I am saying, Jack Rory. I think you are just the one for the job. If you’re willing, all you have to do is repeat after me: ‘I volunteer as tribute.'”
Jack Rory’s heart was in his throat. At long last, his life was getting the jumpstart it so desperately needed!
“Yes, Santa,” he repeated obediently. “I volunteer as tribute.”
“Thank you, Jack Rory,” Santa replied. “May the odds be ever in your favor.”