While not completely required, I do recommend reading the following stories before this one for a bit of context on some events mentioned.
Bridgett Means Fire and Little Dragon Girl
The Black Cat
The Striped Samurai
Man’s Best Friend + Kobold’s Best Friend
My Friend From Hell
I hope you enjoy, and Merry Christmas or whatever it is you celebrate!]
Ruth set down her beer as she stood and peered out the window into the blackness of the night. Her softly flaming and flickering red eyes with black sclera reflected back at her. The lights around the Hamilton manor reflected the small layer of snow that was falling around the grounds. “Ruth!” Daisy, the small kobold called before joining her at the tall floor to ceiling window, “Is something wrong?” The kobold ran her fingers through her long light brown hair that matched the short fur on her arms and legs. Her bright blue eyes blinked at the hellhound, “Or are you just staring out at the snow?” She adjusted the bright red collar around her neck, a thick hoodie that belongs to her husband Jackson hung loose on her torso and some loose sweat pants that might have been his at one time hardly stayed up around her waist despite it being folded over twice. “Never seen the snow before,” Ruth grunted with bewilderment. The hellhound was recently married and had become the sixth member of their little club that got together quite often. Usually the girls would drink and chat while their husbands played their pen and paper games together, but with about half of the group being pregnant, only one or two could drink. Ruth shook her dark leather jacket and ran her claws through her black onyx or brimstone hair. Her torn and hole covered dark jeans hardly contained the thick fur on her legs and revealed some of her ashen colored skin, “I grew up somewhere pretty tropical.” “You will get used to it,” Kimiko grunted from her seat. The massive jinko samurai assured the hellhound, “I do not believe the winters will be as harsh here as they were back home, thankfully,” Kimiko spoke with a heavy Zipangese accent and wore her usual kimono that matched it. She adjusted the eyepatch on her face with a hand covered in thick, black striped orange and white fur. Her other other hand held a glass of sake near her two katanas. Anyone could easily guess she carried a short tanto or two beneath the clothes. She worked as Maxine Hamilton’s body guard, the second daughter of a wealthy business woman. “We did not have electric heaters back home!” Gwen, the fluffy weresheep laughed. Her thick wool was a nice cream color and she wore a thick purple knitted sweater. Her daughter, Bridgett, a large green scaled dragon girl of about eight years of age, slept with her head on the weresheep’s lap. Gwen gently ran her fingers through the little girl’s black hair, “Last year was quite cozy, but I am glad we have been gifted with snow this year. Its your first Christmas with Gabe isn’t it, Ruth?” The hellhound nodded and picked up her drink again before settling in on one of the luxurious couches scattered about the lounge room, “Yeah. I’m pretty worried about what to get him, too.” “Do not worry too much about it,” Maxine, the black haired cat witch smiled from where she sat, “But I do understand fretting over your husband. My first Christmas with mine last year was quite stressful. All the money in the world couldn’t buy my hubby the perfect Christmas gift,” The young witch sighed as she carefully adjusted herself. Her pregnant belly made it a little hard for her to sit comfortably. She wore a loose fitting witch’s robe of a dark black color with a matching wide brimmed conical hat that folded over a little at the top. Her bright emerald colored eyes smiled at the hellhound. “With your fortune, I am sure you could purchase whatever you wanted for him,” The kikimora, Svetlana, said to her best friend, ribbing her playfully. While she usually wore a black and white traditional maid’s uniform, the now eight months pregnant, feathery brown haired kikimora wore loose exercise clothes and a thick coat. “Svetlana’s right!” Daisy laughed, sitting down carefully herself, also pregnant, “I’m hoping I give birth before Christmas. A little gift for both of us,” Svetlana nodded in agreement, but she knew she was still a month or two away from her first childbirth. “I hope so too,” Kimiko grinned, “My triplets are going to need playmates more durable than Maxine’s first born and Gwen’s little sheep.” “Just keep them off of her little Ross,” Maxine frowned, “My precious Sophia already has her eyes on him! She can sense the magical abilities he will have in the future.” “Whatever you say, Maxine,” Gwen shook her head. She never really understood what the cat was on about when she said that. She had been saying that since the two infants first interacted. “Heh, maybe I’ll have kids soon,” Ruth grinned, it was mostly wishful thinking on her part. Mamano already had a lower fertility rate, but girls like hellhounds, manticores and other more powerful and aggressive girls have even lower pregnancy rates. She had been trying for months now, “Even if they’re younger, I’m sure they’ll keep up.” “Have three boys, would you? It would make it easier on both of us,” The jinko grinned, “Or at least one for them to fight over.” “I hope I have a strong baby,” Svetlana smiled sweetly as she rubbed her swollen belly, “Maybe they’ll be tall like my husband too,” She checked her phone, hoping her husband was done with his game. Gwen and Ruth checked their phones as well. Gwen wanted to get her daughter home. She was sure the babysitter they had hired to watch the twins was eager to get home as well. Ruth was worried near constantly about her husband, Gabe was a timid and nervous creature that she doted on constantly. He got along with the other girl’s husbands, or at least he said he did. Both girls frowned when they saw no texts from their respective husbands, “They’re running late,” Ruth growled quietly. “Indeed they are,” Maxine sighed, “Christmas night is in a few days. Do you think the Claus family will be bringing you anything wonderful this year?” “This again?” Gwen sighed, “Maxine, you’re in your twenties, you should not be talking about such fairy tales!” Maxine was taken aback, “I can assure you that their magic is very much real! I can feel it in the air this year! I felt it last year too! I received a gift from Santa last year!” “It was your husband, he merely wrote Santa on the tag,” Gwen hissed back, not wanting to put up with her friend’s nonsense. Her daughter stirred, pulling the old wool lined jacket around her. It had two large holes on the back that were torn to allow wings to poke through. It belonged to an older dragon at one time. “B-but--” “Will you two stop fighting!?” Daisy barked, “Who cares if Santa is real or not!? Gwen, would you tell HER that Santa isn’t real and kill the magic?” She pointed an accusatory finger at the peacefully sleeping dragon. “Of course not!” Gwen clutched her daughter’s head protectively. “Santa’s real to whoever believes in it. Just because Christmas is dead to you, doesn’t mean it has to be for lil’ Bridg’ or the cat,” The assertive kobold folded her arms, pouting, “O-or me...” Even if Gwen felt a little hurt by Daisy’s words, she knew she was right. But on the other hand, the weresheep mused about being surrounded by children. Magic may be real, but tall tales still existed, “Kimiko, Ruth, Svetlana? Do you two have anything to say on this matter?” The jinko shrugged then used her claws to scratch her scarred face, “My homeland has different myths but none that deliver gifts on a specific night. This ‘Santa’ myth might be one of my favorites this land has to offer. An excuse to be charitable and kind as the ground cools and snow covers the land. And the whole nice and naughty lists will be terrific incentives to keep my children in line.” “Its wonderful for the children. I remember a certain childlike wonder I had when I first learned of Santa,” Svetlana grinned as she recalled it. Ruth snickered, “I think a certain lamb might be on the naughty list.” Gwen snapped, “I am not--!” She stopped herself, “Very funny Ruth,” She checked her phone as it buzzed. Theodore was finally out of his little game with his friends, “Looks like the boys are finally done,” She struggled to lift her large daughter to go find her husband. “Allow me,” Kimiko grunted, picking the dragon off of her lap. Bridgett nestled into her fluffy paws, still asleep, “Allow me to carry her to your car.” “Thank you, Kimiko,” Gwen sighed as she stood up, leading the jinko to find her husband. “D-do you really believe Santa is real?” Daisy asked the witch quietly, praying that Gwen wouldn’t hear. “I know it!” Maxine snaped, “I will prove it to Gwen too!” “Of course you will, Maxine,” Svetlana laughed. Maxine pouted at her. “Yeah, and make sure she’s not on the naughty list,” Ruth giggled as she finished her drink, “C’mon, Daisy. I need a hug from my man.” Daisy nodded and carefully got up to follow the hellhound, her baby gently kicking her stomach. Maxine and Svetlana followed them, ready to see them out. Gwen had already collected Theodore and was on her way out the front door after the two of them had said their goodbyes, “Were we still planning on that white elephant gift exchange?” She inquired. “Two gifts, twenty dollar limit?” Theodore asked as he took Bridgett from Kimiko, “I’ll bring two things for Bridgett so she can play along.” “That sounds wonderful,” Maxine smiled, “You two have a wonderful night.” “Hey--” Gabe was cut short as Ruth wrapped her arms under his and picked him up in a big hug. Daisy started to gently berate her husband for taking so long, “Honey, put me down,” Gabe laughed nervously. “Night, all!” Svetlana called as she and her husband, Corey both slipped away to their abode behind the Hamilton manor. Kimiko was itching to do the same thing, “Maxine?” She grunted quietly at her employer, waiting to be dismissed. “Hm? Oh, yes, of course. Calvin, please make sure my employee gets enough sleep,” She joked to the man with a little smile. He nodded, adjusting his own katana on his hip, “You got it, boss. Kimiko, let’s grab the kids and head to bed,” He seemed just as exhausted as her. “Agreed,” She grunted as she led her husband by the hand to the nursery where her children slept. “Night!” Daisy called as she took Jackson by the hand and started to pull him outside to their car. Jackson quickly thanked Richard for hosting again, “C’mon Ruth! Gabe!” The kobold called to their carpool buddies. “Yeah, yeah,” Ruth sighed as she wrapped her arm around her husband’s shoulders, “Maxine... Uh, good luck with proving Santa’s real.” “What?” Gabe asked but was pulled away before he got an answer from either of them. “What was she on about?” Richard asked as he did some stretches. Maxine shook her head, “No need to worry about it, my dear. Let us be off to bed. I am quite exhausted from the day’s festivities.” “Theodore,” Gwen put her hands on her husband’s shoulders from behind the couch. He straightened up as her hands firmly rubbed his sore muscles, “I am going to take Bridgett to the park before all this snow freezes over.” He nodded, “You got it, dear. Are the babies napping?” Gwen shook her head, “Should be soon, at least,” She handed him the baby monitor, “Be back in a few hours, darling,” She kissed him on the cheek before picking up her warm coat. Bridgett was already ready to go. She wore a wool lined hoodie and shorts. Her natural fiery magic would keep her warm enough. The weresheep took her daughter’s hand and led her down the sidewalk of their little quiet neighborhood. The streets had been plowed and the snow had been shoved aside. The air was too cold for it to melt any time soon, apparently. At least the news had said so. Bridgett picked up a mass of snow in her claws and spewed fire into it, “Look, mom!” She cried as the melting snow slipped between her fingers. “Very nice dear. Just don’t burn down any other children’s snowmen, okay?” Gwen smiled, happy that her daughter would be able to enjoy the snow for once. It was a few days since Gwen had last seen Maxine, Ruth and the others. While she enjoyed her friends’ company, she was still a little peeved over the whole Santa conversation. She tried her best to push it from her mind, not wanting to be upset with her friends over something she considered so childish and silly. The Santa mythos was something for children, she told herself, just like Kimiko said. An old world myth that some magical mamano now clung to for some reason. The few casters that Gwen had known all her life stoody by the strangest ideas! Soon, the two arrived at the park. There were a few other children playing in the field of four inch deep snow, building igloos and snowmen. Gwen made herself comfortable on a bench that some other park goer had dried off before she had arrived. Using the tablet that her husband had given her for her birthday, she began reading a book that had piqued her interests lately. An old science fiction book about a sand planet, giant worms and something called Spice. Although her friends liked to tease her over it, she fully accepted that she was sort of a nerd just like her husband. Ruth held Gabe in her arms as they rested in their little home. He nestled against her warm fur as she breathed hot air onto his neck, “More coco?” He asked quietly as he reached for his own glass of the hot chocolate beverage. She shook her head and squeezed him tight, her head landing on his shoulder as she grumbled to herself, “Wh-what’s gotten into you?” “I’m stressed out,” Ruth suppressed a low growl as she smelled the anxiety of her husband, “Hey, don’t worry about me. I just want this to be your best Christmas yet.” He sighed, “I’ve got you. That’s all I need.” Ruth dropped her arms off of him, “But I want to do more for you.” Gabe carefully slid off of her lap. Gently, he ran his finger tips under her chin, one of her favorite spots to be scratched. A small smile spread across her lips slowly and her ears flattened against her head. She leaned gently and reflexively into his hand, trying to get more chin scratches, “If you want to get me something, I won’t stop you. But I can’t think of anything else I want or need.” “I want it to be a good gift,” She grumbled quietly. Her husband’s hands moved to the top of her head, scratching her behind the ears now. Her fluffy ears twitched and wiggled as her little smile turned into a happy grin. She grabbed his shoulders and forced him onto his back, his head resting on the couch’s leather armrest. He always smelled a little nervous when she manhandled him, but he did his best not to show it. She gripped his head in her large paw hands and forced him to stare her in the eyes, increasing his anxiety a little bit, “I want this to be as special as I can make it. We have the tree, gifts under the tree, decorations on the tree... I feel the need to do more.” “D-do--” He stammered, shut up as Ruth lowered herself onto him, covering him in her body heat, “Do whatever you think would make this special,” He smiled, running his fingers through her hair. Ruth didn’t respond, instead she lay still, absorbed by her thoughts as she pondered what to do. Gwen glanced up from her reading as she heard Bridgett start to argue with someone. Three older kids, all hardly taller than her, told her something that seemed to upset her. The little dragon girl slumped over and with her head hanging, walked to her mother, abandoning her impressive snowman, “Bridgett? What is the matter?” Gwen asked as Bridgett sat next to her on the bench. “Christmas is cancelled,” The dragon grumbled with a sad look on her face. “What happened?” “I’m cancelling Christmas, mom,” She pouted, “No more Christmas.” “Bridgett!” Gwen grabbed her daughter’s shoulder and put her tablet away, “What is it?” “Santas not real. What's the point of it all if Santa isn’t real?” Bridgett demanded angrily, spewing smoke out of her mouth as she usually did when upset. “Bridgett...” Gwen sighed, “Come on. Let’s go home. I think your father is making your favorite for lunch,” She tried to entice the dragon. Still pouting and with her arms folded, Bridgett nodded and offered her claw to her mother, letting her lead her home. Daisy opened her door as the rapping came, “Merry Christmas!” She cheerfully called as she threw the door open. Her large hellhound friend stood in her doorway, “Ruth! Come in! Come in!” Daisy gestured for her to enter, “Jackson’s not home. Went grocery shopping solo. Lemme uh--” Her heart skipped a beat as she saw all the Fuckman comics she had left out. She quickly snatched them up and tried to hide them. Ruth picked up one that she had dropped, “Oh man, issue seven of Fuckman Versus the Loli Menace!” She thumbed through the pages, “Oh, this one’s good. I only read it online. You’ve got quite the collection.” Daisy calmed down slightly as Ruth calmly looked through the raunchy comics, “Heh... Yeah... Jackson thinks they’re funny. But, I uh...” “Y’know they say these are based on true stories?” The hellhound changed the topic. “Of course I do! The in-universe joke is that whoever is making the masks is using these comic book sales to fund their operations against evil!” Ruth emitted a howling laughter, “Oh, god. Don’t tell me you believe in that stuff!” “We’ve BOTH been involved in a shadowy organisation! Our husbands too, to varying degrees!” Daisy snapped, “There’s weird shit in this world!” Ruth giggled some more and shook her head at the snappy kobold, “I know there is. But... Its a little much for me to believe.” “Whatever you say,” She quickly put her comic books away and turned back to her friend, “What’s up? Lookin’ to go on a walk together?” “I need help,” Ruth quickly admitted, “Its about Gabe.” Daisy turned pale, “What is it? What happened? Sit, sit!” She demanded as she plopped down on the couch. The hellhound did the same, “Nothing’s wrong,” She quickly stated as she smelled the kobold’s fear, “I want to do everything in my power to make this Christmas great, but I have no idea what to do.” “Well...” Daisy trailed off, “Um...” “He’s so sweet, I just want to smother him with love and affection.” “Then do that!” “I do that EVERY day! I want to do it every day! But I want-- Need to go above and beyond for this!” Daisy sighed, “How about we go down town? We can window shop I guess. He likes games, right? We can find him some games or something.” “Maybe...” Ruth scratched her chin. “Material goods are how I show my man I love him!” “I thought the blowjobs were,” Ruth grinned as she hurried to the door before Daisy could start to bark at her. “Did something happen?” Theodore asked, setting his things aside as a pouting Bridgett and concerned Gwen stomped inside. “W-well...” Gwen trailed off, unsure how to explain it to her husband as she stripped her down jacket from her body, “Bridgett?” The little dragon stood in the entryway, snow gently falling off her horns and jacket as she stared at the floor with her sad expression. Theodore knelt down in front of her, leaving the babies in their little bouncy seats. He helped his daughter remove her jacket by unzipping it for her, “Princess?” He quietly said her nickname, trying to get her to at least look at him. “You lied,” She growled sadly. “Huh? A-about what?” “Santa! He’s not real! You’ve lied to me all my life!” She sobbed, tears welling in her eyes. She quickly tore off her coat and ran upstairs, slamming the door to her room. Wordlessly, Theodore picked up the coat and took it to the entryway closet, “T-Theodore,” Gwen stammered. She knew that look on her husband’s face all too well. When he had those visions of Emily, when their daughter ran away, when the nightmares wracked him. Gwen gently placed her hands on his shoulders, “I’m right here for you,” She pressed her head against his back, forehead to his neck, before wrapping her arms around him firmly. “Gwen,” He sighed. “Hm?” “She doesn’t hate me, r-right?” “Of course not. She’s a child! She’s overreacting, is all. It-Its a--” She stopped herself from saying ‘phase.’ She knew what happened last time, “Give her some time to cool off. I will talk to her first.” “Thanks. I-I’m gonna go sit down. I think Richard should be calling soon about our dumb game. Foods in the kitchen whenever you wanna eat,” He turned and hugged his wife before moving to the couch, drinking a cold beverage as calmly as he could. With a sigh, Gwen sat with him to keep him company, the only sound in the room was the sound of the twins bouncing in their little rockers. Theodore used Gwen’s shoulder as a pillow, letting her run her hands through his dark hair. “Yo! Theodore!” Richard hollered into his phone as he folded one leg over the other, opening one of the large tomes containing the rules to their pen and paper game. He wasn’t sure what old world game to really compare it to. Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t very close, but it did use a full set of polyhedral dice like good old ‘Dund’ did. It was the most popular pen and paper right now since there were rules to play as nearly any race of mamano. Though only one of the five players, Richard being the Game Master, was playing as a mamano, it was still a good system. Gabe was playing as a hellhound that was definitely derivative of his wife. Maxine sat next to her husband as she idly prepared spells within her tome. “Hey,” Theodore grunted into his phone. Maxine’s ears perked up as she heard his sad tone through her husband’s phone. “Have you been reading through your options? I’ve only talked to Gabe so far and it sounds like he’s picked up some fire based spell casting. Are you still considering more points in lock picking?” “Maybe...” He sighed quietly, completely distracted. “Well--” Maxine hissed in a whisper, “Ask him if he’s okay!” Richard blinked, “Huh? Uh, alright. You doing alright, man?” “Eh,” He mumbled into the phone, “Bridgett’s upset at me. Some older kids at the park told her that Santa isn’t real. She’s mad I’ve been ‘lying’ to her all this time,” Theodore explained quietly. He glanced up from the RPG book at Bridgett who sat in the living room near her sibling’s playpen, playing with little cars, running them into blocks. She had been sulking since she had returned from the park, not even speaking at the table, “She wants us to take the tree and all the decorations down, acting like there's no point to any of it.” “But Santa IS real!” Maxine cried in frustration, “I’ll bet Gwen had something to do with this.” “Gwen wouldn’t do that,” Richard calmly explained to his wife. “She wouldn’t,” Theodore agreed, “I just don’t know what to do.” Maxine leapt up from the couch, new determination flowing through her, “Where are you going?” Richard asked as she started to dash from the room. “I have to prepare for something!” “Prepare...?” Richard was left to wonder what she meant, but he didn’t dare stop her. Not even the magical ink in his skin would give him the power to do that. Ruth huffed, “Nothing good,” She picked up another game and put it back down, “I have no idea what he likes either,” She growled at herself. She was in a small game store with Daisy trailing her as she wandered the shelves. Every nerd in the store hid from the hellhound, terrified for their pelvises. Ruth ignored them, too focused on the task at hand. “Just pick out a good looking one or three,” Daisy sighed, exhausted already. She rubbed her swollen belly through her thick jacket. “But what if he doesn’t like it!? Or he already has it!?” She snapped at her friend. Daisy bared her sharp teeth in frustration, “Then he can return it! Exchange it! Who gives a single shit!” She barked. Ruth was unphased, “I give one! You think I WANT to make him do that!?” Daisy glared at the hellhound, “I’m going home. I didn’t come here to be yelled at by you.” “Daisy,” Ruth sighed, dropping everything she was carrying on a shelf and following her best friend outside, “Daisy!” She called, grabbing the stomping kobold’s shoulder. Daisy swung around. She had tears in her eyes, a few gliding down her red rosy cheeks, “I want this to be a good Christmas too! But everyone is fighting and no one’s in the spirit! I want a happy holiday!” She started to cry in the middle of the dimly lit sidewalk. The two of them had been out almost all day. Ruth frowned and wrapped her arms around the kobold, “I’m sorry. I haven’t been a very good friend today. I keep snapping at you. I’m just so... Damn stressed.” Daisy hugged her back, “I know you are. Come on. We should go home. You’ve got a few more days till Christmas anyways.” “At least I got some other shopping done,” Ruth figured with a long, defeated sigh. “Get anything good for lil’ Bridge!?” Daisy excitedly asked, quite proud of the gift she had gotten for her. “Eh, just one of those foam dart guns,” Ruth shrugged, “It’s what she told me she wants.” “She told me she wanted Legos!” Daisy laughed, finally in a good mood, “How about we get Gabe and bring him to my place? I’ll make you both a nice pre Christmas dinner! I made rolls just yesterday!” “I’d like that,” Ruth smiled, glad that she had moved into the same neighborhood as her friend a few months back. “I pray you are not serious,” Kimiko growled at Maxine, “You really plan on showing our friends that Santa is real?” “I am very much serious and I do,” The witch replied, lounging in the barber seat as the green scaled lamia, Morrigan, carefully cut her hair with a pair of scissors, “Bridgett, Gwen, Daisy, Svetlana, Ruth... You. All of you need more Christmas joy in your lives.” “I am exhibiting enough Christmas joy,” Kimiko grunted. “You are not even wearing a Christmas sweater!” Morrigan laughed. She wore a thick ‘ugly’ sweater underneath her apron. “My kimono is festive enough,” It was red and white imprinted with a floral pattern and held together with a bright green sash, “Do I need to find a sword with a red blade and green hilt as well?” “Why are you so resistant to this?” Maxine asked with a sigh. “The cunt probably thinks she’s on the goddamn naughty list!” A small voice cried. A small fairy with orange hair and a green and red striped dress flew into view. “Fíon!” Morrigan smiled, “I didn’t hear you come in. Please, make yourself comfortable. I should be done soon.” “It is not that, you foul-mouthed fairy,” Kimiko calmly explained. “Then what is it, bitch? Hm? I fucking love Christmas!” Fíon twirled in the air, leaving a trail of sparkling Christmas colored fairy dust behind her, “This shit is the best! Except the fact that the cold can freeze my wings.” Kimiko groaned, wanting to just ignore the fairy, “Kimiko?” Maxine asked as her hair cut was finished, Morrigan had shortened it up so it was ready once more for her trademark short and messy appearance. For now it was at least somewhat styled. “Yes, ma’am,” The jinko responded, standing up straight as Morrigan vacuumed all the loose hair from the witch’s clothes. For once, she was in a loose shirt and jeans that she easily filled out. She gave the samurai an expectant look, “You wish to know? Hm?” Kimiko uttered quietly, “I will tell you in private,” She gave both Fíon and Morrigan shifty looks. “Bah humbug!” Fíon mocked her in her best Scrooge voice making both Morrigan and Maxine giggle. Kimiko said nothing, easily maintaining her composure. “Ah, Morrigan, before I forget,” Maxine reached into her pockets and produced a small wrapped package that was much too large to have been actually in her tiny pockets. She quickly handed it to the snake woman. “Oh, Maxine,” She graciously took it, “You didn’t have to!” “None of that!” Maxine laughed, “Just doing my part to spread a bit of cheer. Fíon, before you complain, this is for you,” She grabbed something else within her magical deep pockets. A nice bottle of bourbon sealed with red wax. The bottle was much larger than the fairy. Fíon snatched it up quickly, “Oh! You shouldn’t have!” The fairy laughed, “Well, I shouldn’t say that. Because you absolutely fucking should have! Consider me officially infected with the Christmas cheer!” “Good! Both of you have a wonderful day and a merry Christmas,” Maxine bowed slightly in a polite way before grabbing her thick coat and walking out of the little barber shop and into the snowy streets. Kimiko was right behind her, tugging her somewhat loose kimono around herself. Through years of diligent training, her body was immune to all but the most extreme conditions. She grabbed the door to the horse drawn carriage that would ferry them back to her estate and pulled it open for the witch, “Thank you, Kimiko.” “Of course, ma’am,” Kimiko grunted as she climbed in after her. The carriage driver cracked the whip, signaling the horses to start moving. Kimiko was forced to hunch over due to her size, resting her arms on her knees as she sat across from her employer. “So?” Maxine pressed gently, trying to get an answer out of Kimiko. Her curiosity was killing her. Kimiko sighed, “I do not believe in Santa, Maxine. While I do enjoy the mythos like I said a few days ago, I do not and cannot believe that he is real.” “Why not!?” Maxine demanded, broken hearted to hear another of her friends was a Santa denier. She grumbled, “Last year I received nothing from Jolly Saint Nick. No coal even.” “No...” Maxine slouched in her seat as she stared into her friend’s sad face, “H-he has to be. I got something from him and I know it wasn’t given to me by my husband. He brought my husband something too.” “Maxine,” Kimiko sighed, “I do not know what to tell you.” “I just have to prove it to you too!” Maxine decided, “I need to make some calls. I need materials and gear.” “Good luck with your mission, ma’am,” Kimiko sank in her seat, unsure if she was really feeling the holiday spirit any more. “Good luck?” Maxine scoffed before beginning to cackle, “Why, you’re coming with me, of course!” Kimiko looked at her employer. Knowing she didn’t have a choice, she merely nodded. Ruth jogged down the street. Hundreds of thoughts in her head were drowned out by the music being blasted into her ears. All of her worries and fears were starting to get overwhelming. Daisy was no help. To make it worse, she was starting to feel sick and was putting on a bit of weight. It must have been all the stress. These morning jogs were hopefully going to keep that away. She stopped at a crosswalk, waiting for the walk signal. Cars and carriages slowly coasted through the lights. Keeping her momentum, Ruth did some stretches, bringing one of her ankles up to her butt behind her and holding it there. Her athletic pants clung to her legs as did her track jacket to her torso. The cold snow didn’t bother her much, even if she was almost barefoot. She only wore thin sandals just to keep her feet clean. As her legs stopped moving, her brain started thinking. No matter what she started thinking about, it always turned back to her husband. Usually, she worried about Gabe, and she still did, but on top of that she was also worried about Christmas. To make matters worse, she only had three days to pick something out. She had already gotten him numerous things that he had deliberately told her that he wanted, but she still felt a profound need to do more. Something unexpected. Everything else was something he asked for. A very pleasant surprise! That's what she wanted to do! Ruth was so entrapped in thought that she didn’t notice that the signal to walk had changed. She still needed guidance, she decided silently, maybe someone wiser than Daisy could help me? The oldest of the friend group. She had to have some kind of guidance. Gwen sat up straight as a loud knock came from the door, “Bridgett, would you get that, dear?” Bridgett solemnly nodded before quietly stepping towards the door. Gwen was trying to enjoy her time off of work, but with her husband and her daughter both in horrible moods, Christmas cheer was hard to come by. Bridgett was still mad and didn’t want anything to do with Christmas now. Theodore was almost non responsive now, merely nodding and shaking his head when questioned. “Hey kiddo,” Gwen heard as the door opened, “Gwen around?” The husky voice asked. “Mom’s in the living room...” Bridgett grumbled before walking away from the front door. “Uh... Alright.” “I am in here, Ruth!” Gwen called from the couch she sat on. Ruth carefully stepped into the room, slipping off her sandals in the entryway, “What brings you here, Ruth? Is everything alright?” “Oh... Just on a jog, ya’ know? Thought I’d swing by and see the kids,” She knelt down by the twin’s playpen and where Bridgett was playing with cars and blocks. She stared at the babies and they stared back with big goofy smiles on their faces as they chewed on their toys. She was filled with an intense desire to have her own children, just like every time she interacted with her friends’ children. Ruth turned to Bridgett to try and cheer her up a little bit by playing blocks with her, “Which car’s your favorite?” The hellhound asked. “Uhm...” She perked up a little bit. She picked up a red truck with a few scratches in the paint, “This one goes fast. Dad says its because its really heavy. It used to be his.” “That’s really cool! How about this one?” Ruth picked up a new looking, sleek black car and dragged it across the floor. Bridgett gave her a look like she was an idiot, “Its not fast. Its no good.” “O-oh.” Gwen stifled her laughter, “You cannot have come here just to play with Bridgett, Ruth. What is it you and Daisy call her? Lil’ Bridg’?” The dragon girl started to angrily spew smoke from her mouth at the mention of her lovingly given nickname. “W-what?” Ruth tried to shrug it off, “Only Daisy calls her that! Where’s the man of the house, Ted?” “Theodore is getting some work done, he has been a bit behind recently. Are you trying to change topics on me?” Gwen asked slowly, “Ruth, what is wrong?” “W-well...” Ruth trailed off, “I guess I need a little help. Its about Gabe.” “Oh dear,” The weresheep frowned, “Come sit with me. Bridgett, be a dear and get her some water, please.” “Okay,” Bridgett was quick to move to the kitchen to find a cup. “She’s so big,” Ruth mumbled, “She’s gonna get bigger than me!” She chuckled. “Bigger than you?” Gwen pondered for a moment, “I do not know. You are quite large for a hellhound already, but--” She turned to the hellhound, a half glare staining her face, “Ruth. Tell me what is wrong.” “Well...” “Out with it.” “Okay, okay!” She looked down at her hands, “I-I’m stressing out over what I should do for my husband for Christmas. Daisy’s been teaching me some good recipes for the day of, I’ve gotten him a bunch of stuff from his list, but I just want to do something extra!” “Ruth, I think you are overthinking this.” “He means the world to me, Gwen!” She snapped. She saw the hurt in the weresheep’s eyes, “I’m sorry. I’ve been having these mood swings, I-I-I’m so stressed, a-and I haven’t been sleeping well, and I feel sick all the time...” “Ruth, its okay,” Gwen put a hand on her shoulder gently. “I just want to make him happy,” Ruth held back her tears as all of her stress and anxiety came to a head. She wanted to cry, vomit and scream all at the same time. Gwen wanted to offer her physical comfort, but wasn’t sure if she should pet her ears or what. Instead, she gripped the hellhound’s shoulder tightly, “I know why you are stressed. I had similar issues when I first married Theodore. But I know both of you, Gabe loves you. Whatever you get him will make him happy, I am sure of it.” “B-but what if I mess it up?” “Give him lots of hugs and kisses,” Bridgett chimed in, “Mom and dad do that a lot and it makes them happy,” Ruth took the water from her and sipped on it slowly, “You can call it Christmas kisses and--” Bridgett’s jolly mood instantly died at the mention of the holiday. Ruth’s need to protect started to overwhelm her own worries, “What’s got ya down, kid?” “Christmas is cancelled,” Bridgett put simply before storming away to her room. “Poor girl,” Ruth frowned, “Christmas seems to be dead for everyone but Maxine.” “Even she seems worn down by the rest of us,” Gwen grumbled, “I just wanted a happy holiday for my family and friends. I feel as though I’ve caused this. I’ve ruined the holidays for everyone.” “Its just a bad year for all of us. Those revolts in other parts of the world... War is looming--” “No! There will be no utterances of such things!” Gwen demanded, “I am terrified my little girl is going to be caught up in it.” “Hey,” Ruth put a hand on her friend’s shoulder, “Trust in the Maou’s strength. That’s the most you and I can do. I should get going. I’ve been enough of a downer on you for one day.” “You put a smile on my daughter’s face. I had not seen that for some time, Ruth. Thank you for that. Get home safe, would you?” Gwen asked as she saw the hellhound out. “Of course I will. No one would dare tangle with a hellhound, ya know?” Ruth chuckled. Daisy panted, struggling as she tried to cook. She felt heavy. Her stomach was quite large and she felt like she could burst any day now. She wiped her flour covered hands off on the shirt she wore. Although it belonged to her husband, it was a bit fitting on her now thanks to her now shapely body and swollen stomach. She grunted, almost in pain as she tried to mix the dough by hand. She would have been sweating if she could, but dog girls like her and Ruth lacked that ability. Luckily panting usually got the job done. As of now, her body was so taxed that she always felt hot. Only the cold of the winter air could help her at this time. She put the mixer down, “Jackson!” She called her husband as she plopped down into a chair, “Jackson!” She hollered again. Jackson left his tools out as he dashed from his reloading table. He slammed the door as he exited the garage and ran into the kitchen, “What!?” He knelt down next to where she sat, one hand going to her belly and the other to the top of her head, scratching her behind the ears in an effort to calm her down. “I love you,” Daisy smiled weakly. Jackson sighed, his wildly beating heart slowly calming down, “I love you too, Daisy,” He smiled as he scratched her under the chin, “I’ll finish the bread. You need to rest.” “N-no... I--” “If not for your sake, then the baby’s.” “For the baby’s sake?” Daisy laughed, “I...” She grunted as she felt a powerful kick, “O-okay... I’ll take a break. But I want you to take a break when you’re done.” “I will, dear. I’ll finish up that order for .45 tomorrow,” Jackson picked her up in a bridal carry and took her to the couch as her tail wagged and she stared at him lovingly. He slowly bundled her in a thick blanket and put the TV remote in her hand, “Rest. Please,” He begged. “Think I’ll give birth soon?” “You’re so excited for that, huh?” Jackson chuckled as he returned to the kitchen. He couldn't let Daisy know his worry and stress over it, “I’m sure you will. You’ve been pregnant for a while now,” He mused as he stripped himself of his dirty apron and gloves. He cleaned himself and got to work on the dough. “My little Christmas baby... I think its gonna be a boy, my stomach is so big.” “What are you planning for him? Think he’ll take up the sword like Kimiko’s children? A spellbook like Maxine’s?” “Maybe he can have what you might consider a normal life?” “An office job?” Jackson spat, “No son of mine is going to waste away in a nine to five like that. I’ve worked too hard for him to have to do that. He’ll work at the range or pick up a trade. I’ve been meaning to get into gunsmithing. Maybe he could take it up after me.” Daisy frowned, “I just want him to be safe.” “You’re afraid of him ending up like Calvin. A man trapped between two lives. Grueling office work and the blade.” “O-or Gabe. I love that man, he’s so kind, but he wastes away doing almost nothing all day.” “Daisy. He has numerous hobbies. He’s not doing nothing all day.” Daisy grumbled and settled into the couch, “Ruth coddles him too much.” “And I coddle YOU too much!” Jackson teased as he put the dough in the fridge to rise. Daisy turned on the TV to drown out his teasing. “A pinch of this,” Maxine murmured to herself as she toiled over a pestle and mortar. Her crystal ball shimmered nearby, idly showing her visions of those she usually spied-- checked in on. Ruth jogging, Gwen in a bad mood, Daisy lounging with her husband. Maxine paid it no mind as she focused on her spells. She needed a way to the North Pole. A helicopter or plane wouldn’t do, but she was struggling for once. She hadn’t struggled like this since she first devised the spell that would transport her from her homeworld to this one, “A little bit of that,” She whispered as she poured a handful of mana infused salts into the stone bowl. Svetlana stood near the wall of the basement, watching her friend work as she prepared to help any way she could. She silently refilled the witch’s cup of tea so that she could wet her hoarse throat. The large basement that Maxine stewed and toiled in once served as her bedroom, but was now only her personal workspace and library full of books in script that few could read and fewer could write. The windows were all closed and the curtains were pulled. The only light cast upon the room was from the magical candle sticks that blazed colors of green and red. Kimiko sat on the floor, legs crossed as she took the time offered to her to meditate. Her sword lay on her lap, not in its sheath, as she ran through mental exercises. She found herself wondering again if she had the strength and diligence to keep up with Maxine’s antics. As both Maxine’s mother and the demon known ‘Mother’ that had mothered Gwen had decided, Kimiko was the best fit for the job of watching over Maxine. Her diligent training all of her life allowed her to push most of her personal needs away and all of her wants. Her focus was on those around her that needed her aid. She had given Calvin her aid first and now she was tasked with guarding the witch, not to mention her own children. She smirked, remembering that she had to trick Calvin into becoming hers. “Ah!” Maxine yelped as the potent ingredients exploded. Svetlana and Kimiko both leapt to her side, “Maxine!?” Svetlana shouted loudly as worry coursed through her heart. Maxine merely laughed it off as she wiped her soot covered face with her scarred hand, “Oh, what a rush!” She cried as she cackled again. Svetlana sighed and used a damp cloth to wipe the soot from her friend’s face while Kimiko brushed the soot from the witch’s robes, “It is quite strange. I have not had such trouble with a spell for a long time,” Maxine mused aloud as the two women cleaned her. She pulled away from them before either finished dusting her off. Streaks of soot still lined her face as she began to write with her own script in a leather bound book, “It is as if the north is shrouded in a veil. My powerful scrys cannot pierce the snowy blizzards. Even my master and hers would struggle to view it.” “What does that mean?” Svetlana timidly asked, “Can you pierce it as you once pierced through worlds?” “Mayhaps. I only have a few days until Christmas, afterall.” “We have little time, Maxine,” Kimiko grunted, “What can I do to help?” “I have few favors left to my name. But I suppose I must call most of them in. There are terrible magics afoot, my friends.” “Evil? Or terribly strong?” Kimiko pondered aloud. “Both. Something like this, a coven of baphomets and witches may be involved.” “Then you are in luck. I am trained against all things evil and the ability to ward it off,” Kimiko rubbed her chin, “Perhaps I have some friends that could aid us. Or my husband’s friends, more precisely.” “Rest a bit, please, Maxine. I’ve seen you push yourself too hard too many times,” Svetlana pleaded with her friend. Maxine scoffed, “Fine. I will rest. Tomorrow morning I will call upon whomever I can to aid me.” “We also have that white elephant exchange tomorrow,” The kikimora reminded her. “Everyone is so down. I wonder if we should postpone,” Kimiko proposed, “Wait until we all feel the spirit.” Maxine rubbed her chin, “Can’t delay ‘till Christmas eve. Most of us are seeing family that day. I think we’re going to be skipping it, girls.” “I’m sure mom will understand,” Svetlana shrugged. “Oh, thank the Maou. This is the first time I have been happy to be caught up in your schemes!” Kimiko laughed. “No love for Calvin’s parents?” “Of course I love them. But they can be a little long winded. It will save me the headache.” “Both of you, our preparations should be complete in two days. Be ready for transport then,” Maxine ordered, dismissing both with a handwave. “Hopefully we can make it home in time for Christmas morning,” Svetlana murmured to herself as she stepped from the room. “Are you sure it is wise to bring her?” Kimiko asked quietly. “Of course!” Maxine nodded, “What dangers will there be in Santa’s workshop?” “Fair enough. Good night, ma’am.” Ruth lay in bed, wrapped in blankets, “Sick on Christmas Eve,” She whimpered, feeling bad for herself. Gabe had demanded she rest this morning due to her nausea. At least Maxine, Svetlana and Kimiko had needed to reschedule, so she didn’t feel bad about having to cancel on the white elephant exchange. Gabe returned to the bedroom, a disposable mask over his face at the hellhound’s request, “Here’s your soup,” He smiled as he put the bed tray on her hips, “Some crackers too.” “I don’t want to make a mess in bed,” She whined in response as she picked up one of the Saltines. “I-I can wash the sheets. Just eat, please.” Ruth started to grumble again but quickly began to eat the food that had been prepared for her, “I’m sorry,” The hellhound whimpered quietly, “This has to all be really disappointing for you. Our first Christmas together and I’m sick.” Gabe smiled, “I’m not mad, Ruth. A-As long as you don’t die, I’m sure we’ll still have a good time.” Ruth could smell the anxiety on her husband. He was good at not showing his emotions on his face, but he could not completely hide how he felt from the hellhound. She could only guess what had him so worried. Her sickness, perhaps? Maybe he was just as worried about Christmas day as she was. He stood at the bedside prepared to aid Ruth however he could. She downed the broth after eating all of the noodles, “Thanks,” She grumbled quietly, passing the dishes back to her husband. He dutifully took them and left the room, quickly headed to the kitchen. Ruth sat up, pulling the once loose sweats she wore up on her hips. She felt like she was getting wider as the sweats were getting tighter. She wondered if she was getting fat, “Tell me the truth, am I getting fat?” She asked Gabe as soon as he returned. “I know your boobs have gotten a lot bigger. A-and those hips... I-I mean...” He stammered as the anxiety emanated from his body, “Those are child birthing hips, Ruth.” Ruth started to glare, “So I am fat!?” She shouted as her mood shifted violently. “No! That's not what I’m saying!” He tried to plead with her. Ruth felt a surge of emotions, guilt for snapping at the man that loves her the most, great sadness that she would get angry with him over this, and a mountain of anger towards herself for never finding a gift for her husband. Ruth suddenly had a massive surge of energy and a flash heat, “I-I-I need to run. I need to go outside. I-I’m suffocating in here. I’ll be back,” She stammered as she frantically got out of bed. “Ruth!” Gabe jumped in front of the doorway, blocking her, “What’s going on? Have I done something wrong!? Just tell me, please!” He begged with tears in his eyes. Ruth put her arms under his and picked him up in a big firm hug. She turned, removing him from the doorway and gently putting him down, “I-I just need a bit to myself,” Gabe was silent, his worry taking hold and keeping him from speaking his mind. He walked with her to the front door, staring at his feet the whole time. After putting her sandals on, Ruth gently grabbed her husband’s chin and planted a kiss on his forehead, “Don’t worry so much, please,” Ruth whispered before stepping out the door. “It is done!” Maxine shouted as she brought the stone bowl to her nose. She took a whiff of the foul mixture and scrunched up her face. “Maxine!” Svetlana cried as the witch shook herself. She merely cackled in response, “Be more careful!” “Bah!” “Svetlana is right, ma’am,” Kimiko scolded, “Should you spill the mixture, we shall not make it in time.” “This mixture has been too costly to make. I would not spill it!” Maxine moved the components to two containers made of vellum from a calf. She had two uses of it, enough to send them to the north pole and return them home. Its creation had been the joint effort of many. Kimiko had proposed the usage of a certain magical plant from Zipangu which helped crack through a layer of the protection that the aid of her sabbath friends had not been able to. Maxine’s master had given her some potent herbs for the mixture as had her own master. A few other helpful witches and wizards gave what little guidance and aid they could to the young cat witch, “Come along,” She ordered as they made for the garden. The samurai and the maid both followed. Kimiko wore her usual winter garb, merely a thick kimono with her swords at the ready. This one was green with white trim and a white sash around her waist. “Kimiko, here!” Svetlana giddily and without warning wrapped a thick red scarf around the jinko’s neck, “You look so festive in those colors!” The kikimora wore a thick coat with an ugly christmas sweater with a depicting cartoon Santa over it. Her pants were thick too, forcing her to waddle as she moved about. The maid had a massive smile on her face as she followed Maxine outside. She felt only excitement as she walked into the garden. Maxine ran her hands over her black robes. It was enchanted with a light heating spell which went well with her warm sweater that she wore under them, “What do you both expect when we get there?” She excitedly asked as she stepped through her mother’s well kept garden. There was no snow in the garden as it was protected by Maxine’s magic. A place where flowers, strawberries, pumpkins and various other plants grew year round, unaffected by the cold or winds that would kill most plants this time of year. “The cold,” Kimiko put bluntly. “Festive lights! Oh! I hope we see the Aurora Borealis!” Svetlana chirped excitedly. “Maxine!” A man cried as he came running out of the house. “Richard...” Maxine trailed off as she faced her husband, “Do not try to stop me! My mind is already made up.” “No, I’m not trying to stop you,” He grunted, “Just... Stay safe. Okay? We don’t know what's really up there.” “Trust in my blade, Young Lord Hamilton,” Kimiko bowed, “I shall keep the Young Lady safe.” “I pray for your sake that you plan on protecting Svetlana as well. Corey will have your head if she gets hurt,” Richard grunted. “I trust in her blade!” The maid pouted, “We will be fine, Richard!” “I hope you’re right. Its not like Santa would attack you,” He rubbed his forehead, “Alright, alright,” He gripped Maxine’s shoulders and gently kissed her forehead, “Good luck, Maxy.” “Thank you, my dear. Let you be at ease until my return,” Maxine grinned at him and caressed his cheek, “Our return, I mean.” “I’ll rest and try to keep myself busy. I’ll go help Corey and his mother-in-law prepare for tomorrow’s feast,” Richard slowly left, leaving the three girls to their magic. “Maxine, now is the time,” Kimiko warned, “We do not have the time to delay much longer.” Maxine nodded and moved to the stone tiled pavilion where she usually teleported from. The magical runes encircling the area glowed gently at their master’s approach. Their power served to bolster Maxine’s teleportation magic and act as a place to more easily teleport to. Maxine placed one bag of components within a large stone bowl atop a small ornate pillar, “Are you both prepared?” Svetlana nodded excitedly and Kimiko nodded with a bit of nervousness in her heart. Maxine tapped her staff on the ground, igniting the aether crystal on the top. She touched the magic crystal to the magical ingredients and began to utter the magic words. Her clothes and that of her allies billowed in the wind as the aetheric winds of magic began to blow. Gwen sat alone on the couch. The only joy in the house seemed to be from the two little babbling babies. Despite the red, green and silver decorations and numerous lights, she felt very little cheer for the holidays. Theodore silently tapped away on his tablet, even if it was Christmas eve he kept doing his work silently. Gwen was just glad he was finally speaking to her. Bridgett wouldn’t speak to either of them, still mad about ‘being lied to’ about Santa. Both Gwen and Theodore had tried to explain to her that the Santa myth was just supposed to be something fun but she refused to listen to either of them. All three snapped to attention as the doorbell rang, “Bridgett? Would you please?” The little dragon nodded solemnly, paused her game and trudged to the front door. As she opened it, she heard a startling cry, “Merry Christmas!” A group shouted as the door opened. Gwen leapt up and hurried to the door. Bridgett growled before she could get there, “Christmas is cancelled!” She shouted and tried to slam the door. The weresheep grabbed it, “Bridgett! I have told you many times how rude it is to slam the door on someone,” Bridgett stormed off, stomping on the hardwood floors and spewing a trail of smoke from her mouth, “I am so sorry,” Gwen sighed as she looked out the door. She was amazed to see eight people on her doorstep and that she recognized most of them. Her hairdresser, Morrigan, a lamia that also cut Maxine and Daisy’s hair and her husband. The loud and foulmouthed fairy, Fíon who worked for Gwen as well as the fairy’s husband. A harpy named Eve that was friends with Daisy. Eve’s husband was desperately trying to keep her from crying. Two others stood with them, a gargoyle and a medusa with green scales. Each person was bundled up, double so for the two snake ladies, and each person held sheet music in their hands. “I don’t want Christmas-Holiday to be cancelled!” Eve sobbed loudly. One of her wings was in a sling like it usually was. She hadn’t broken her wing in a long time, but felt a need to wear it to keep herself from flying. “Christmas isn’t cancelled!” Her husband insisted. “Eve, Bridgett is just in a bad mood,” Gwen explained as Theodore slowly walked to her side, “She’s not in the spirit this year. Christmas is not cancelled. It never will be.” “Oh!” Eve instantly calmed down and wiped her face on her husband’s coat, “Christmas-Holiday is back on!” “Sheesh,” Fíon grunted quietly, “I thought Kimiko was a damn grouch, but...” “Poor thing,” Morrigan sighed sadly, “I hope you two are doing well at least.” Theodore shrugged, “The only joy in this house is my two babies. Its been kinda rough. I don’t think I know you two,” He glanced at the medusa and gargoyle. Fíon cleared her throat, “This bitch is Cleo,” She pointed at the sad looking medusa, “and that bitch is Tera,” She gestured to the gargoyle, “Some of mine and Morrigan’s drinking buddies.” “Fíon talks a lot about ya, Gwen,” Tera grinned then both she and Cleo started to snicker knowingly. The fairy’s cheeks turned red with embarrassment. “I am glad to see that someone is still out trying to give out Christmas cheer this year,” Gwen sighed sadly, “Hopefully you are having luck.” Cleo nodded, her snakes coiling tight to her head underneath the wool beanie she wore, “Its been a lot of fun! Not meeting any boys like Fíon said we would, but no one has slammed the door on us! ...Except for your daughter.” “Sorry about that,” Theodore smiled weakly. “Can we do the... uh... Singing-caroling now?” Eve asked excitedly. “Yes, please,” Gwen smiled, “We need a bit of cheer today.” Kimiko’s hand tightly gripped the hilt of her sword as the air was forcefully torn from her lungs by the teleportation process. She always hated teleporting, but she was somewhat used to the stretching and squashing that was involved in the process. She shuddered as the cold bit her skin. She was expecting a blizzard like Maxine had kept viewing through her scrying, but thankfully, the air was calm, “Grr,” The samurai grunted as she steeled her nerves and pushed the cold from her mind. “Look!” Maxine shouted, “Is that...” She peered through the dark of night, “A warehouse?” “That doesn’t look very Christmas-y,” Svetlana complained, “What is that?” Kimiko identified it with a glance, “An airfield. With numerous hangers. Big trucks seem to be moving something to them. Perhaps there are planes in there? Maybe they are transporting something from these warehouses. Maxine, please do not tell me you have teleported us into a secret government base.” “No, no, no, that cannot be!” Maxine stomped her foot in the deep snow, “This has to be it! Come on! I am NOT leaving until we find Santa!” Svetlana quickly started to waddle after Maxine as she stormed towards the warehouse. Kimiko’s eyes and senses were peeled, scanning the area for any signs of danger. She was not too concerned for Maxine’s safety. There had been a few times where kidnappers had attempted to abscond with Maxine, and the witch would easily defend herself with her spells and tricks. She was only a little slowed down by her pregnancy. She was worried about the maid, at least. Although she was not a high value person, Svetlana would need protecting, especially because of her swollen belly “Hmph,” The samurai grunted as she stopped to shake off her wooden sandals during each of her long strides. The three girls stomped to one of the doors. The kikimora tried it, “Locked!” She whined, “I want out of this cold!” “Step aside,” Maxine uttered some magic words and touched the door, “Try now.” Svetlana pulled it open, “Yes!” She tripped as she tried to step onto the concrete floor and out of the snow. She managed to catch herself, but struggled to rise thanks to her swollen belly. Kimiko looked around once more. She spotted a spot or two that seemed like someone had been standing in for some time. She stepped inside after Maxine and picked the maid up off the floor, “I do not like this, Maxine,” She warned quietly. “You are being too worrisome!” Maxine looked around the dim warehouse, “Wooooooow!” She looked at the mountains of colorfully wrapped presents. There was an uncountable number of them. Maxine dashed over to a pile and looked at some of the name tags, “These HAVE to be the gifts Santa will deliver all over the world tonight!” “No way!” Svetlana ran to join her, “Where’s mine!? I want to shake it! I have to know!” “Svetlana! Don’t!” Maxine’s warning came too late. The kikimora grabbed a random box. A few presents from the top of the pile rolled down. She tried to put it back, which only made it worse. The pile rumbled as colorful boxes slowly tumbled down towards the two girls. Kimiko grabbed the back of their clothes and pulled them away from the impending avalanche of presents. The witch pulled the brim of her hat over her eyes, unable to watch as the gifts tumbled down in a loud crash. Kimiko sighed, “Be more careful! What if someone had heard that!” Svetlana sniffled, “I’m sorry!” She sobbed as she fell to her knees. “There!” A voice growled from the other side of the warehouse. Numerous people ran down a path between the piles of gifts. “Intruders!” They formed a half circle quickly, trapping Maxine, Svetlana and Kimiko between them and the wall. A larger girl with a flaming lizard tail stood at the center of the half circle, “Surrender yourselves peacefully,” She ordered with a growl as she drew her long sword. Kimiko glanced back at Maxine. The witch helped her friend up and gave a stern look to the samurai. She simply nodded, giving her the order. With a sigh, the jinko drew her katana and pointed it at the salamander, “I can assure you,” She resheathed her sword and took a low stance, gripping the hilt of her sword as her tail flicked from side to side, “We will not go peacefully.” Jackson set a big plate on the coffee table in front of Daisy. She grunted and whined as she frantically went for the cut up apples, cheese, peanut butter and crackers that her husband had laid out on the table for her. Jackson merely watched as his wife devoured the food that she had desperately craved. Cheese and peanut butter on top of a salty cracker with a bitter slice of apple following behind it. She groaned as she chewed, “So good!” She shouted before downing some grape juice. “P-please don’t choke,” Jackson stammered at her, “I’m too scared to perform the heimlich maneuver on you. What if I hurt the baby?” Daisy ignored him, “Rub my belly,” She growled, “Now!” Jackson quickly sat next to her, rubbing her stomach with one hand as she lay back, content and with a full belly. Her tail wagged as she leaned on her husband, “You’re so sweet, rubbing my tummy on command,” She grinned, “I love my husband~” “He loves you back,” Jackson sighed, “We should get you to bed. You can watch TV there.” “I don’t wannaaaaaaa!” Daisy whined as she rolled away from him. “Daisy, come on. Stop being a baby.” “But what about my baby? I have to eat more peanut butter for him!” “Okay,” He pinched the bridge of his nose, “But afterwards, a warm bath and a nice warm bed. Then, we can open presents together tomorrow,” He gently pet Daisy’s head, “And we’ll see your parents tomorrow, right?” “Jackson...” Daisy was panting, “S-somethings wrong...” “Huh?” He glanced down at her sweats. They were soaked, “Oh, shit! Did your water break!?” He tried and failed to stay calm, “How do you feel!?” “Uuuugh,” Daisy groaned as she grabbed her stomach, “It hurts... T-the contractions...” “I’m taking you to the doctor,” Jackson decided as he ran his hand over her head, “You’ll be alright, Daisy,” She cried out in pain as she felt more contractions. Without another word, Jackson picked her up in his arms and carefully dashed to the car. He loaded her in the front seat and buckled her in before jumping into the driver seat and pulling out of the garage, “Just hold it in, Daisy. I’ll hurry.” “Call Ruth! My best friend has to knowwwww!” Daisy demanded before crying out in pain again at the contractions, “Call mom too! Call my sisters! Oh, fuck, just call EVERYONE!” Jackson nodded and sped down the street, “You’ll be okay sweetie, just stay calm,” He was just as scared as she was. He was at least thankful that not many people were out at this time. He glanced at her, “J-just hold it?” He pleaded, looking back to the road just in time to swerve as a slow carriage inching out into the road, “Son of a bitch!” He sneered, holding himself back from honking at the careless driver. “Jaaaaacksoooon!” Daisy cried while grabbing at his arm. He idly gave her his hand as he ran a yellow light, seconds before it turned red, “Oh, Jackson,” She gripped his hand. He wheezed as she nearly crushed his bones. He grit his teeth and endured the pain for her. She cried out again, “I can feel the baby! He wants out!” “Hang on!” Jackson grunted as he hardly slowed down at a stop sign, “Fucking bikers in the road!” He growled, half because his wife was breaking his hand and half out of frustration as he swerved around two lovers on a tandem bicycle. Daisy started to laugh, “You’re really funny when you’re mad!” “There! The hospital!” He shouted as he ran a red. Within moments, he sloppily pulled into a parking space and hopped out. He pushed the pain in his own hand out of his mind and grabbed Daisy before running inside. She cried out again as the contractions made her body shudder once more. Kimiko sneered as she deflected two blows, one from each of her assailants. Lizard women, minotaurs, amazonians and men lay at the jinko’s feet, “Is that the best you can do?” She cracked a small, cocky smile as she sheathed her sword and stepped away. The two guards, a man and a lizard woman, glanced at one another and charged at once, both shouting a war cry as they prepared to cut into the samurai’s flesh. Kimiko dropped low and swung her sword wide as the two got close. Kimiko’s superior Zipangese steel folded hundreds of times sliced through the guards’ light leather armor and warm coats. They dropped their weapons and fell to the floor. The people on the ground groaned at their demon silver cuts as their energy flowed from their bodies. Men and mamano of various species. All garbed in red and green armor and coats, “Is this really the best the north has to offer?” “I will make you choke on those words,” The salamander hissed as she stepped forward, sword in hand. It wasn’t about defending the workshop anymore. This was for honor. The salamander started taking slow, careful steps forwards. “Oh? You wish to fall with your comrades?” Kimiko chuckled, “Very well. I will grant you your wish. You shall join them shortly,” She dropped low and prepared herself for another fight. She saw the rage in the salamander’s eyes. She had the captain exactly where she wanted her, she seemed like the type to get sloppy when aggravated and she was already quite furious. “I’ll take your other eye,” She hissed through grit teeth. “I will take the flame from your tail. Maybe your tail as well. Perhaps it will taste good cooked?” “Oh oh ho... I am going to kick your ass, mother fucker!” The salamander snarled. She instantly stopped and put her clawed hand over her mouth, “Oh no,” She dropped her sword with a metallic clang. Kimiko stepped away, completely confused by this new tactic. Maxine felt the ground shake as a door was slammed open on the other side of the warehouse. Svetlana yelped and cowered as she heard two pairs of cloven hooves on the hard floor, “Noel!” A voice boomed. “Y-yes my lady?” The salamander dropped to one knee facing towards the woman who was approaching. Maxine stepped in front of Svetlana, prepared to protect her. Kimiko stood in front of both of them, ready to defend them with her blade, “I have told you many times, Noel,” The voice scolded, “No swearing in the buildings,” She told the salamander with a deeply disappointed tone. “Y-yes ma’am. I-I was set off by these... Intruders,” The salamander slowly stood up and gestured at the three girls. Maxine peered into the darkness and stared at the four legged woman. She was definitely some kind of centaur, a white horn, it seemed. She had long white hair on her head and a tiny pair of glasses resting on her nose. Her thick coat was red and lined with white cotton. She pushed the glasses up to her eyes, “Hm? Oh! Visitors!” “V-visitors? Ma’am these three--” “Noel,” The whitehorn smiled sweetly, “These three are not here to destroy Christmas. Collect your guard and I will handle this,” Grumbling, Noel quickly gathered her slowly awakening team before all of them left the warehouse, “Oh, what a mess,” The white horn sighed as she gazed upon the scattered presents. “I-I’m so sorry, ma’am,” Svetlana stepped forwards and bowed her head, “I-It was an accident,” She sniffled quietly, trying to get a hold of her emotions. “Oh, do not look so sad, Svetlana. Here,” The white horn produced a wand. She uttered some magical words in her own tongue that sounded a little bit like a Christmas carol. The spilt gifts were swept up on the aetheric winds and placed precariously back into their piles. “That magic,” Maxine whispered in awe, “Wait. How did you know my friend’s name?” “I know your name as well Maxine, and yours, Kimiko. I also know all three of you are on the nice list this year,” The woman chuckled, “This way please. Let us get out of this drafty warehouse. I am sure you travelled here for a reason.” “Excuse me,” Maxine stopped her as she turned to lead them somewhere else, “Just who are you, ma’am?” “Oh, how rude of me,” She smiled warmly, “You may call me Missus Claus.” Ruth sat alone in a dark park. The snow fell gently around her as she stared into her hands. She watched the snowflakes gently fall into her hands with almost no flames in her eyes. The snowflakes melted and the water soaked into her fur. She leaned back on the bench and glanced around. It was the usual park that she took walks to with her husband. But now she felt cold and lonely. She wanted the warmth and happiness that the season usually brought her, even back in the old world, the winter months were full of the warmth of family. Now she had pushed her only closeby family away. She had been at a horrible low in her life when all of her sisters had moved away, but she now felt like this was the lowest she had been in her entire life. Feeling ill and sad. She felt as if she had nothing now. Nothing but her own misery. She couldn’t go home yet. She still had yet to find a gift for her husband. She scooped up a snowball and angrily threw it at a tree, shattering the loose clump of snow with a less than satisfying, wet noise. An unintelligible cry of frustration and anger bellowed from the bottom of the hellhound’s lungs. She kicked at a snow structure that had been left behind by whoever had been at the park when the sun was out. Her foot easily obliterated the cluster of small snowmen. She howled again before running at a larger snowman and drop kicking it with blind fury. Ruth lay on her back, staring up at the dark sky as bits of snow began to cover her face. She felt tears fill her eyes and then spill over the sides of her head, running down her temples. She took handfuls of the cold powder and tossed them aside as her anger dissipated. It made way for deep sadness and guilt. With another cry, one without anger but full of grief. She had only wanted to do one thing this winter, and that was make her husband happy with a nice surprise. She curled into a ball as she told herself she had failed to do even that. She hugged her legs to her chest as she continued to cry in the cold snow. She desperately needed a sign, something to tell her what to do. She wished her mother were alive, even if she was hard on Ruth and her sisters, she always knew what to do. She started to calm down slowly. Whimpering and mewling as she lay in the snow. She grabbed her phone where it lay in her pocket. She wanted to speak to someone. She needed to, but who else was there? She quickly considered and discarded Maxine. While she was a witch, and Ruth respected her, she was much too brash to be of much help. She really only had one last option left. “So... You’re married to the big guy?” Svetlana asked as she picked up the cup that Missus Claus had filled for her with warm tea. “Yes I am,” The white horn nodded, “I am quite sorry that you will be unable to see the man this visit. He is quite busy. Christmas eve, afterall,” Maxine merely stared at her in awe, basking in her magical Christmas joy filled aura. She found it quite infectious. “I still find this hard to believe,” Kimiko grunted, “How does one man manage to bring presents to everyone on this earth? It does not seem logistically feasible.” Missus Claus chuckled, “Oh, my dear. It is more than one man’s burden to deliver the gifts. Numerous people ride along in magical carriages, pulled by equally magical beasts. My husband is one of those riders as well as the boss around here.” “And what of the Santas that we spy in the malls?” Svetlana inquired excitedly. “More servants of my husband. And before you ask, no we do not make all of the gifts here. We do outsource a lot of gifts, especially electronics and magical things. We work closely with a sabbath or three and a few gremlin and gargoyle groups. Maxine leaned forward, “How did Santa come to exist? All records before mamano kind came to this new world point to the fact that he was little more than a myth!” “Well,” Missus Claus giggled, “He was. I was!” She broke out into a laugh as Maxine gave her a wonder filled grin, “The combined beliefs of those of earth made him and I real. Once infected with mamano mana, I turned into this. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.” “Will we ever see a Claus junior!?” Svetlana asked excitedly. “Well... I am sure you know their names. You know Dasher, and Prancer. And Comet and Vixen. Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you know my youngest daughter, Rudolph?” “Yes! Of course!” Maxine laughed, “My husband loves that movie!” “I-I hope Rudolph didn’t get bullied like she did in the movie,” Svetlana frowned. Missus Claus laughed, “Of course not! Even if she is the youngest--” Everyone jumped as a phone’s ringtone began to play loudly. Kimiko’s hands dashed to her little pouch under her kimono. She pulled out the phone, amazed that she got reception out here, “Ruth?” She tilted her head to the side, “Kimiko speaking,” She said as she answered. Ruth answered weakly and sadly, “H-hey, Kimiko... You busy?” “My friend, you have been crying,” She easily picked up from the tone of her friend’s voice, “What is the matter?” “Put her on speaker, if you would, my dear,” Missus Claus requested quietly. Kimiko nodded and did as told. It took her a few moments to figure it out. “Oh... Ya’ know,” Ruth sniffled, still trying to sound tough, “Laying in the snow. Crying my eyes out,” She chuckled, “Kimi, I don’t know what I’m doing,” She grabbed a handful of snow and tossed it aside. “You are still hung up on what to give him?” Maxine asked. “Maxine? Svetlana around too?” Ruth sounded a little disappointed. “Missus Claus too!” Svetlana excitedly announced. “Uh...” “You fear your husband’s wrath, my dear?” Missus Claus mused. Ruth sat up, feeling at ease as she heard the sound of wisdom she had not heard in years, “Who...?” “Your friend just introduced us, did she not, my dear?” Missus Claus chuckled again, “Do you believe there is really an ounce of rage within Gabe’s heart?” “N-no... I just... I just want to make him happy. I can’t get this wrong. I can’t.” “If you’re out crying in the snow, you might have already messed it up,” Maxine grunted. Svetlana, Kimiko and Missus Claus all glared at her. Maxine merely shrugged sheepishly. Missus Claus sighed, “Ruth, dear, if you want a perfect gift for him. Give him something that only you can. Something from within you. I am sure the hint you need will come soon.” “Well... Within me?” Ruth swallowed nervously, “Alright. Thanks, uh, Missus Claus.” “Of course, dear. Please write next year, we do love receiving letters.” Ruth stood still as she listened to the tone of her cellphone. Kimiko and friends had hung up. She glanced down at her phone again. A bunch of missed texts from Daisy and a few from Gabe. Gabe’s message was simple, ‘Please come home soon.’ Daisy was screaming in her texts about going into labor. Ruth pushed a few buttons and soon her phone rang, calling Daisy, “Ruth! Ruth!” Daisy cried as she picked up almost immediately. She cried out in pain as a contraction wracked her, “Its happening! My baby is coming!” “I-I’m happy for you, Daisy,” Ruth smiled as she stood, shaking the snow off of herself. “I’ve been trying to get a hold of you! Where have you been!?” Daisy stifled a pained shout. Ruth started to trudge out of the snowy field, “Been... Soul searching? Crying... but I talked to Missus Claus. That was kinda cool.” “What!?” “D-don’t worry about it. She told me to give Gabe something from inside me.” “That sounds kinda weird,” Daisy laughed, “Any idea what she meant?” “I--” Ruth froze as she slowly figured this was the clue she needed, “When you got pregnant, like at the beginning of it, how did you feel?” “Oh, super nauseous. Mood swings. Just totally awful. I was really happy--” She grunted loudly. Ruth could hear Jackson grunt in pain as well as if Daisy was gripping his hand incredibly tightly, “But then I was really damn happy!” “Thanks, Daisy,” Ruth grunted and hung up the phone. She headed to the one place that would be open this late. There was something she needed to get her hands on. “If I may ask,” Missus Claus gave the three girls a confused look, “What brings you to this domain? You must have been quite determined to come here. It is not easy to get to the North Pole. I know you have magic, Maxine, but how did you manage it?” Maxine huffed haughtily and smugly, “You used sabbath coven magic to conceal yourselves. While it is powerful, most sabbath covens only have one trick up their sleeves when it comes to this sort of magic. Although it wasn’t the first trick we assumed it was, it was the second. Do not worry, no one else should know my technique. All that other sabbath knows is that we were trying to get past an anti scry and teleport zone,” She quickly explained, still purring in satisfaction. “Hmm... I see,” Missus Claus huffed, “Perhaps I need to upgrade the security.” “Well, I am available for consultations. I...” Maxine pat her cloak searching for something, “Here it is!” She revealed a black card with golden text and offered it to the white horn. She gladly took the card, “As for why we are here. I am afraid I bring grave tidings,” Kimiko rolled her eyes at how melodramatic Maxine was acting, “It is about my close friends. I fear the Christmas spirit has left each of them. Especially Gwen, Theodore and Bridgett. You already heard on the phone that Ruth and Gabe could use some as well. I came here so that I may take some joy back for them and to prove to Kimiko that you and your husband exist. I also wanted to check if Gwen was on the naughty list.” “A noble cause,” Missus Claus nodded gravely, “It is nearly time for us to fly and bring presents to the world,” She stood and walked to the window of the little cabin, “You will be happy to know that Gwen is not on the list,” Maxine and Svetlana sighed with relief, “As for your friends. Perhaps we can save Christmas for all of them. But... Kimiko, why did you not believe?” “To tell you the truth, ma’am,” Kimiko sighed, “I received nothing from Santa last year.” Missus Claus chuckled as she grabbed a thicker coat, “Perhaps if you allowed yourself to want anything, we could have brought you something.” “What do you mean?” “How are we supposed to bring you a gift when your heart wants for nothing? Nothing but the safety for others that you so easily provide!” She laughed, “Kimiko, tell me before we leave, what is it you desire? Something for yourself.” “I... Want...” Kimiko echoed quietly and without any ounce of confidence, realising she was facing her toughest challenge yet: putting herself first for once, “A...” “I never expected Kimiko to find anything difficult,” Maxine smirked. “Hush!” Svetlana hissed at her. Kimiko wracked her mind, trying to come up with something as the other three sat patiently. She couldn’t recall anything that she herself needed. Maybe a better version of something she already had would suffice? That throw blanket, she pondered silently, “A-a new blanket. A soft and warm one,” She went one step further, indulging herself in a feeling she had never really had before, “A-and a pillow. One large and firm.” “A wonderful and practical choice,” Missus Claus chuckled, “Come now, ladies. We have a sleigh to prepare.” She led the three outside into the cold snow along a paved path from the cabin down to the runways. Maxine glanced around as mamano of various races along with a few men loaded large burlap bags into red sleighs. Each was pulled by a reindeer or a white horn, though Maxine did spy one pulled by a massive centaur. Each sleigh was manned by a man or woman in festive garb. None paid too much mind to them as they walked to a far hanger, a few took off headed south to various towns and cities around the world. “Amazing,” Svetlana mumbled in awe as she watched the operation seamlessly go off. “Isn’t it?” Missus Claus chuckled, “I am quite proud of them. Here we are,” She grabbed the red doors of a wooden shed and threw them open to reveal a sleek red sleigh, “This is the one my husband used to use. Although I usually do not fly, I will make a special exception this year. Kimiko, if you would bring the sleigh out,” Kimiko grunted and easily moved it out into the snow. An elven woman hurried over with a somewhat smaller burlap sack and loaded it into the back of the sleigh, “Well, girls,” The white horn smiled, “I suppose you had better hop in, hm?” “Oh my god,” Maxine mumbled as she ran a hand along the frame of the sleigh, “T-this is practically a magical artifact... A Christmas artifact!” “Maxine! Come on!” Svetlana called from the front row. Kimiko sat in the back with the bag of gifts. Maxine scrambled to climb in and had to be helped by Kimiko. She easily grabbed the back of the witch’s cloak and lifted her in. “There's our cue,” Missus Claus mused quietly as a goblin down the runway waved her into the runway with her light sticks, “Hang on, girls!” She cried as she started down the runway. Her brisk trot turned into a jog, then into a sprint before the sleigh left the ground with the white horn easily pulling it along. Soon, the girls were lifted above the clouds. Svetlana reached out to the pillowy and fluffy looking things, expecting a handful of something akin to cotton candy, instead, she only got wet. She frowned with disappointment. “Odd,” Maxine grumbled, “I do not recognize the magic I am picking up. No navigation system on this either.” “It runs on pure Christmas spirit! One of the most potent magics of all!” Missus Claus laughed, “Do you really think I need a navigation system? I have been doing this for ages!” “Where are we headed first?” Svetlana asked excitedly. “To spread a little Christmas joy, then get you all home.” Gwen’s eyes flew open. She could hear noises downstairs. Mumbles and heavy footsteps. Someone had to be in the house! What a perfect way to end this awful holiday season, Gwen told herself, “Theodore,” She shook her husband awake, “I think someone is in the house!” The man looked at his wife and blinked softly, “You’re just hearing things. If there is someone, its probably Maxine looking for eggs again.” “Darling, please. I am scared.” “Fine. I’ll go look,” He rolled out of bed, grabbed a shirt he had discarded the night before then grabbed one of the battle axes he kept on the wall. Usually it was just decorative, but the battle axes were sharpened and ready for use at a moment’s notice. He grunted at his wife’s fear filled face then started to stomp down the stairs. Strange, he thought he had turned off all the lights when he turned in for the night. He definitely heard the voices now, “You dummy!” One cried softly, “It is a bottomless bag! Just think of what you want to pull out of it!” “Y-you do it! I cannot figure it out!” “Here, dear, allow me,” A kind old voice chuckled. Theodore stepped from where he was hiding as he sensed no danger, “Uh,” Was all he could utter as he looked at the four girls standing in his living room standing around his brightly lit Christmas tree. Maxine and Svetlana watched the old white horn carefully as she expertly produced wrapped gifts from a burlap bag. “Merry Christmas, Theodore,” Kimiko grunted as she quickly spotted him, “Nice axe.” “Theodore!” Maxine whispered urgently, “Quickly, collect Gwen and Bridgett! We do not have much time!” “Uhm,” Theodore glanced at the kind looking whitehorn and nodded, “Alright. Hold on,” He stomped back up the stairs and into his room where he set the axe down, “Go downstairs,” He grunted at her, “I gotta grab Bridgett,” Gwen didn’t argue, instead she hurried down the stairs, curious as to what was going on. Gwen gasped as she gazed upon her three friends and the white horn, “Maxine? What is going on?” “Merry Christmas, my friend!” Maxine cackled somewhat quietly, “We have come bearing Christmas joy! We all know that you need it.” “W-who...?” She trailed off looking at the white horn. “Why, Missus Claus of course!” Svetlana grinned, “We went to the North Pole! We did not get to see Santa, unfortunately, but he must be quite busy tonight.” “Gwen, hm?” Missus Claus mused, “I believe I have something for you in here...” She dug through the sack and produced a red and green wrapped gift, “Here you go, my dear.” “Th-thank you,” Gwen stammered as she felt the heft of the gift. “Wooooow...” Bridgett was astonished by what she saw, “A-are you...?” She asked the white horn. “Yes, my dear, Missus Claus. You have been quite good this year, have you not, Bridgett?” The white horn asked. Bridgett nodded, still in awe, “Here, I brought this for you, and take your father’s as well,” Bridgett looked at her gift greedily, “In the morning, dear.” The dragon nodded and put both under the tree then stomped over to her father, “I’m sorry, dad,” She whimpered as she hugged his legs, “You didn’t lie to me.” “Of course I didn’t,” He grunted as he dropped to his knees to hug his daughter tight, “Why would I lie to you?” Bridgett started to cry as she felt horribly guilty. Gwen got on her knees as well and hugged the two of them, “No crying, honey. Everything is fine,” She cooed, “That goes for you as well,” She smiled at her husband. He had tears in his eyes and a smile on his face, “To bed, both of you,” She ordered. She finally felt some warmth and happiness for the holidays. Theodore nodded and lifted the little dragon girl with a grunt, carrying her to bed. “We must be off. We have a few more long stops to make,” Missus Claus smiled before taking a few bites of the cookies that had been left out for her, “Please, have a wonderful Christmas day, Gwen. Oh, and do not pack the stockings so tightly next year. I can hardly put any candy in them like this!” She stepped through the red and green portal that was placed by the fireplace, followed by Svetlana and Kimiko. Gwen grabbed Maxine’s hand before she could walk through, “Thank you, Maxine,” Gwen was holding back tears of joy, “You’ve saved Christmas for my family,” She squeezed the witch around the neck in a tight hug. “Heh,” Maxine smiled, “What are friends for if not for proving the existence of mythical beings to their friends to make their daughter happy?” Gwen laughed and let her go, “Again thank you, and merry Christmas, Maxine.” “Same to you, friend. I will speak to you soon,” Maxine turned and walked into the portal. Ruth quietly unlocked the front door of her home and stepped inside. She glanced at the sad looking, glowing tree and few wrapped presents underneath it. She sighed as she spotted her husband curled up on the couch, thankfully he was asleep. Ruth picked up one of the cookies that she and Gabe had put out earlier and bit into it. She wondered if that was a bad idea because Santa might actually come to her home. She shrugged and hurried to the bathroom, wanting to check something before waking her husband. Ruth held the plastic device to her face in the dim light. Her heart pounded as she saw the results. She sighed, unsure whether to be happy or afraid. She cleaned herself off before making her way to the couch and gently picking up her husband and dumping him on her lap, “Ruth?” He whimpered. “Sssh,” She whispered, “Why are you sleeping out here?” “I was waiting for you to come home,” He snuggled against her, “Where did you go? What did I do?” “You didn’t do anything,” Ruth assured him quietly, “I-I’m sorry. It was me.” “What’s wrong?” “Well... Its Christmas now, isn’t it? Merry... Christmas, Gabe. Sorry I didn’t wrap it,” Ruth carefully put a little plastic device in his hand. “Ruth... You’re pregnant?” He asked as he examined the pregnancy test. Ruth nodded, her eyes blurring as tears of joy filled her eyes and her husband’s, “I-I-I’m really scared, Gabe. W-what if I’m not a good mom?” “You’ll do great!” Gabe grinned as he wrapped his arms around her neck, “We both will, won’t we?” The two hugged, giggling at one another as they pressed their lips together. Ruth put Gabe on his back as she moved her lips to his neck. The fire in her eyes came back as she licked her lips. She grabbed his shirt and prepared to rip it off of him. “Should we come back later?” Ruth jumped up as Svetlana chuckled at her. Maxine and Kimiko were there too and the jinko’s face was as red as a tomato. They had all just walked out of a red and green portal that had just appeared by the fireplace. “H-how--” Ruth growled, “I should--” She stopped as another woman joined them, “Ah! Ruth and Gabe. I think I have something for both of you in here.” “Missus Claus,” Maxine explained gesturing to the white horn. “Uh huh,” Ruth folded her arms and glanced at all four of them, a little upset that they were interrupting her time with her man. Missus Claus pulled two gifts from her bag and put both under the tree for them, “I can see you two have some plans for the night,” She giggled, “Come, ladies, we must be off.” “Merry Christmas!” Svetlana cried before dashing back through the portal. “Yeah, yeah. Merry Christmas,” Ruth grunted as she watched Missus Claus grab a cookie and go through the portal followed by Maxine and Kimiko, “Ugh. C’mon, bed time,” She picked up her husband in a bridal carry and took him to bed, her tail wagging the entire time. “It seems like this is where we part ways,” Maxine bowed to Missus Claus. All four stood around Maxine's family's Christmas tree. Kimiko held the gifts for her family and Svetlana did the same for hers. “Aye. It is,” The white horn nodded, “I have a few more stops to make tonight. I pray you all will have a good remainder of the evening and a merry Christmas.” “Same to you, Missus Claus. Thank you for everything,” Maxine bowed again slightly, “Perhaps I will see you again next year?” “We will see. Merry Christmas, Maxine, Svetlana and Kimiko. And to all a good night.” “Hmph. I wonder if you are going to prove the existence of the Easter Bunny come April,” Kimiko chuckled. She frowned when she got knowing looks from both Maxine and Missus Claus, “Well. I am off to bed. Good night all.” Maxine waited for Missus Claus to leave before walking her two friends out, “What a wonderful night,” Svetlana sighed dreamily. “Aye. Just wish we could have seen Daisy,” Kimiko frowned, “Though Missus Claus did say they were receiving a wondrous gift.” “A baby!” Svetlana excitedly finished Kimiko’s thought. “We will see her tomorrow. I’m sure she’ll have her baby with her too,” Maxine declared, “You two should head to bed. Good night. Speak to you in the morning.” “Night!” Svetlana called as Kimiko silently did the same with a polite nod. Maxine was left alone, a smile on her face. She took a brief moment on the way to her own bedroom to check on her little girl. Sophia was sound asleep, thankfully. Maxine leaned down, kissed her forehead and pet her locks of white hair, a little regretful that she was not there to tuck her in that night. She left the room as silently as she came and returned to her bedroom. She froze as she saw the bedside lamp on and her husband still awake, “Why are you not asleep?” She asked quietly as she began removing her winter clothing. “I was putting up the stockings and stuff. Where were you?” Richard asked as he put his book down. Maxine huffed smugly, “The North Pole. Missus Claus gave me a ride home. We made some stops at our friend’s houses to drop off some Christmas joy!” Richard stared at her, disbelief obvious on his face, “Did you, like, get a picture or anything?” “N-no...” Maxine frowned as she climbed into bed with her husband. She ran her hand over his chest, the magical tattoos on his chest around the scar he got from a sword glowed slightly at Maxine’s touch, “Ask Kimiko, Svetlana, Ruth, Gabe, Gwen, Theodore or Bridgett when you see them!” He looked skeptical again but just nodded his head, “Fine. I’ll ask,” He said a bit sarcastically, “Get in bed and let's get some sleep, okay? Your mom is gonna want us to take a lot of photos tomorrow.” Maxine started to pout but got into the soft fluffy bed, facing away from her husband. He wrapped his arms around her hips and pulled her into him. He gently kissed one of her ears, making her blush, “Merry Christmas, darling.” “Merry Christmas.” “Your turn, Ruth,” Daisy informed the hellhound. All of them sat in Maxine’s lounge. The sky was dim, a feast had been had, and personal gifts had been exchanged. Each couple tried to give every other couple a gift no matter how small. Now, everyone was taking part in a white elephant exchange. Gabe was a little disappointed no one had put any funny gag gifts in. Everything was useful like tools, knives, liquor, blankets and food. Ruth peeked one eye open as she continued snuggling up against her husband. She still felt the love and joy from learning she was pregnant and hadn’t let him go since, “Bridgett,” She mumbled, “Grab that small one for me,” Ruth ordered. She had brought it, but she wanted the gift card it contained to her favorite barbeque place. “Okay!” The dragon girl leapt up and scurried over to the pile of white elephant gifts. “Honey,” Gabe mumbled, “Why not steal the jerky? You love that stuff,” He gestured over to Gwen, “I’m not even sure she eats meat,” Ruth didn’t respond. She merely kissed him on the cheek and took the present as Bridgett offered it to her. Gabe sighed, “I-I’m sure she’ll trade you for it, Gwen.” “I would appreciate that,” She chuckled, “Maxine, how was your Christmas morning? You have been quite quiet.” Maxine looked up from the children she was watching. She desperately wanted Ross and her Sophia to make some kind of connection early on in life, “Oh... It was fine.” Richard could hardly stifle his chuckling, “Maxine. Tell her.” She glared at her husband but ultimately gave in, “Fine. I got coal from Santa. APPARENTLY organizing a team to go to the North Pole and slipping into their warehouses and factories is naughty list worthy,” She hissed, “Despite the fact that I saved Christmas for all of my friends!” “I kinda wish I got to go with,” Jackson smirked, “Sounds like you guys had fun,” He was icing his hand. It was still bruised from when Daisy was in labor. Svetlana turned to Kimiko, “Did you get what you asked for?” She nodded, “A nice blanket and a new pillow.” “That blanket is really nice. She won’t share it,” Calvin grunted, “I want one of those.” “Maxine?” Gwen frowned as she looked at the present that she had given to Ross. It was a picture of Ross and Sophia sitting together on a blanket in a picturesque field, “I... Don’t remember being there when this picture was taken.” “Oh,” Maxine forced herself to not sweat, “We got a picture like that taken, remember? I merely had that background, what do you call it? Shopped? I had it shopped in, the background I mean,” She lied. She couldn’t let her friend know she kidnapped her son for a photoshoot. “I suppose that makes sense,” Gwen nodded. “What are we going to do next year for Christmas?” Daisy asked, “I think this has been a wonderful Christmas overall!” “I want next Christmas to go exactly the same!” Bridgett declared. Gwen, Theodore, Ruth, Gabe, Jackson and Kimiko’s heart rates all spiked at the thought of another year like this, “No,” Ruth grit her teeth. “But you can have the Christmas baby next year!” Bridgett whined, spewing smoke from her mouth. Ruth was weak to Bridgett’s puppy dog, pleading eyes, “W-we will see,” She smiled weakly as her small amounts of flames in her eyes turned into smoke. “I had fun this year!” Svetlana smiled, “But I do understand that it was quite stressful for most of you. I got to go to the North Pole!” “I need to go!” Bridgett shouted, “I really want to go!” “You better take her with you next time, hon,” Corey told the kikimora, “And take pictures.” “Please do not take my daughter to the Arctic,” Gwen pleaded with Maxine. “I am already on the naughty list, Gwen,” The witch grinned, “But, as you have asked, I will not. Also, Missus Claus might come to me as the North Pole’s magical defence consultant. If she does, I will take Bridgett with me if I ever have to make a trip there.” “Mom!? Please!?” Bridgett begged. Gwen looked to Theodore who nodded, “Fine. You may go. But only under those circumstances. I do not want my daughter crying if she happens to receive coal because of your antics.” Bridgett ran over to Maxine and started rapid-firing questions about the North Pole. The witch could hardly keep up. Kimiko gave an amused smile as she helped her babies sit up. Calvin helped her get a photo of each of them. Daisy handed her baby to Jackson as she stole the jerky from Gwen. The weresheep sighed with relief and then stole an electric blanket from Svetlana, locking it in. The kikimora glared at her and went for another gift. Ruth set down her soda as she stood and peered out the window into the blackness of the night. Her softly flaming and flickering red eyes with black sclera reflected back at her. The lights around the Hamilton manor reflected the small layer of snow that was falling around the grounds, “Ruth!” Daisy called before joining her at the tall floor to ceiling window, “Is something wrong?” She blinked at the Hellhound, “Or are you just staring out at the snow again?” The hellhound shook her head, “No. Honestly, I’m just thinking about what a wonderful Christmas this has been,” She smiled at her friend, “I love my friends.” She smiled back, “We love you too. But uh, I don’t think you’re going to love all of us anymore. I think Kimiko stole that gift card from you.” “WHAT!?” Ruth shouted, “Gabe! Help me steal it back!” She cried in desperation, the cold winter night filled with the laughter of her friends.