“This morning, the town woke up to the burnt remains of the beloved, yearly Christmas tree. We now go live to the city center where the story is developing. Molly?” “Thanks, Steve,” An elf woman smiled into the camera before gesturing behind her, “As you can see, I am downtown by the city center. The giant christmas tree that goes up every year has been burnt to a crisp! The reason? Unknown for now! Maybe the Grinch paid us a destructive visit?” The camera man followed the elf as she started up the steps toward where the tree stood. She stopped at the police tape where a few officers were poking around in the snow. A mass of ash and partially burnt branches sat on the pedestal where the tree had been just hours before, “As you can see from all this ash and the burnt remains, it seems like the tree has been burnt down. Was it on purpose? Or a freak accident? Now, the police have not revealed much information as of now, but they did tell me they have spoken to some of the suspects. No arrests have been made. Once we have more information, we will let you know, Steve.” “Thanks, Molly. Such a shame this happened so close to Christmas…” The screen went dark as Kiara pressed the power button. The hellhound’s eye fire went low as her frown deepened. She had seen that tree last night while out shopping with her friends. They even took a picture in front of it. Kiara pulled up the group chat to see the picture they had taken. Pin, a gremlin and her best friend, was in the front holding up two peace signs on her hands. Kiara was behind her with her hands on her shorter friend’s shoulders. Next was Wiktoria, the dark skinned pyrow with glowing piercings and short white hair. Then was Camellia, a taller yeti in a big fluffy coat. Lastly was Angie, a massive minotaur in a plaid coat with her black and cream hair pulled back. The five were all standing in a line from shortest to tallest. “Kiara?” Her husband called, rousing her from the stupor and depression. “Yes?” The hellhound’s tail wagged slowly as she got up, quickly going in for a hug with her man. Gordon froze as the hellhound appeared from the couch and nearly tackled him to the ground. Her big fluffy, and surprisingly strong, hands pulled him close. The shorter hellhound, standing at about four-foot-eight inches, buried her face in his chest. Gordon hugged her with one hand and ran the other across her scalp and down the back of her head slowly, “Good morning to you too,” He chuckled, “Everything okay?” “Something happened to the big tree…” The hound whined, “The one by the mall.” “Ah,” Gordon sighed, “I saw that this morning. Are you sure your friends didn’t have anything to do with it?” He joked. Kiara released him and put her hands on her hips, “They would never burn that tree down!” “Not even Pin or Wiktoria?” “Pin would never do that! She’s too nice for that!” Gordon did his best to hide the grimace he made, “And Wik put her cigarettes out responsibly. At least when I was looking. But there’s no way she’d commit arson on this scale.” “Well…” Gordon gave her a sheepish glance before stepping over to the kitchen to put a pan of milk on the stove and turn it on. “What?” “Jack and Bob both told me that the police arrived at their houses…” Gordon frowned. “What!?” Kiara gasped, “They really can’t think they did it, can they?” Gordon grabbed a couple of mugs and some coco mix, “I don’t know. Jack didn’t say much, but Wiktoria was allegedly involved in that fire a few months back.” “That was never proven!” “Plus you all were there last night and I’m sure they saw you on CCTV.” Kiara, without really thinking about it, grabbed the kettle as it began to whistle. She poured some heavy cream into the milk along with some vanilla extract and brown sugar. Next was the hot chocolate mix that she began to whisk together, “I need to go see my friends today. I know you said you wanted to do a bit of grocery shopping together, but you can handle it, right?” “Mmm…” Gordon didn’t let his disappointment show on his face, “I can.” “I’ll make it up to you tonight, I promise,” The hellhound gave her husband a big smile before pouring the hot chocolate into two travel mugs and topped them with shredded chocolate and marshmallows. She stood on her tippy toes, her claws digging into the wooden floor before kissing her man on his beard-covered cheeks, “See you tonight,” Kiara scooped up a few little boxes she decorated herself and threw them in a bag before grabbing her drink and her keys. After throwing her coat on, she was out the door. Kiara’s pickup truck coasted down the snowy road. Her short trip through the suburbs and past the houses and playing children felt a little more gray than usual. To the hellhound, it felt like the whole town’s Christmas spirit was down from the disappearance of the big tree. The sight of that pile of ashes wouldn’t leave her mind. She needed to get to the bottom of all this, for her own sake. The drive concluded in front of a snow covered home. Snow caked the driveway and path up to the door. The garage door was open past a frozen over little car. Kiara parked next to the sidewalk on the street and hopped out, hot coco in one hand and a little present in the other. The sounds of heavy metal came from the open garage. A slapped together, mishmash of speakers attached to an old sound system played classic metal. A torn up leather sofa sat at the back of the garage with a workbench and some storage boxes nearby. The hellound’s nose scrunched up as the scent of cigarette smoke hit her nose, “Wiktoria?” The ashen skinned hound woman called. A pyrow stood in the garage, wiping a microfiber cloth across the glossy black and blue-flame painted body of an old Harley Motorcycle. Her blue-flaming tail flicked back and forth with her black and blue wings tucked behind her back. She wore a torn up bomber jacket-- olive green over a tight black hoodie. A lit cigarette hung from her lips, the orange glow of the tip matching her hot orange glowing facial piercings. She ran her fingers through her white, blue striped hair, “Huh? Oh! Kiara, what’aya doin’ in my neck a’ tha woods?” “Firstly, Merry Christmas,” She offered the pyrow the present. “A gift for me? Ya shouldn’t have!” Wiktoria grinned as she put it on the work bench, “Some a’ya famous bakin’?” “Yup!” Kiara’s tail wagged happily, “A nice batch of cookies for you and Bob. Speaking of, where is the guy?” “Eh, well… rode hard an’ put away wet, let’s say,” The pyrow grinned mischievously after blowing a puff of smoke in the shape of a heart, “I can get ‘im if ya want. He should be decent enough.” Kiara shook her head, “No, I just needed to talk to you. Um, Gordon told me you had a visit…” “From the coppers. Yeah,” The pyrow sighed as she collapsed onto her couch. The old leather crunched beneath her, “Look, I got a little excited last America day and set off our own, private firework show at Pin’s place. Look, that old vineyard needed to be burnt down. Shit was an eyesore. We put it out anyway, I know. But now I’m suspect number one every time there's a fire. Ya know, ignore the actual fire spirit who lives across town.” Kiara paused for a few moments, mulling it over as Wiktoria grabbed a black electric guitar with a scratched up blue pickguard covered in band stickers. The pyrow played along with the song blaring from the speakers, “Well, I don’t think you did it,” The hellhound decided, “I doubt Pin did either, but I should go talk to her.” “Trying to figure out who dunnit?” “I don’t know… I just want peace of mind, I guess,” The hound’s eyes burned dimly, almost merely a tiny, smoldering flame, “Did you see anything weird when we were at the tree?” “Not really. I was too busy horsing around with Angie,” Wiktoria fiddled with the knobs on her guitar before setting it on the couch, “Lemme come with ya. I need somethin’ to do today and I wanna check on that engine I left Pin.” Kiara shrugged, “Alright, come on then.” Wiktoria fiddled with her box of cigarettes. She flipped the top open and held one between her fingers before sliding the box back into her breast pocket, “You know I don’t like that stink. Especially not in my truck,” The hellhound warned with a stern look. “Sheesh, I know, lil’ doggy,” She gave the hound an eye roll, “Just gotta hold somethin’ between my fingers. Dunno whatta do with my hands.” “Don’t know what to do without your man’s bone to hold, eh?” Both girls chuckled at the crass joke. Their drive took them to the countryside past rolling white hills and snow covered trees. Farms, orchards, and the aforementioned vineyard all passed by in the windows. Wiktoria spun the cigarette between her fingers idly as Kiara’s tail thumped along to the pop music that softly played through the radio. Wiktoria didn’t really get pop music. A lot of it sounded the same to her. She missed the blaring metal in her garage. Kiara turned off the road and onto a cleared gravel driveway. The pickup rumbled as it drove across the rough stones before coming to a stop next to a house. It was a small, one floor house, at least smaller than the ones Kiara and Wiktoria lived in. To make up for that size, a large, snow covered airplane hangar dominated the field behind the home, “Ugh, what an eyesore,” Wiktoria grumbled, “Ya think Pin is compensating?” “You know that hangar is full right? That’s why all these tractors are outside,” Kiara smirked as she pulled up next to another pickup truck. “Looks like Angie’s truck,” Wiktoria pointed out as she stepped out of the vehicle, “How the hell do they remove so much snow?” She saw a path cleared from the house’s back door to the hangar along with some area in front of the hangar’s big door. A man weilding a shovel with a big metal tube strapped to it with a glowing box by the handle glanced around the grounds. With a nod, he scooped up a pile of snow which caused a bright stream of flames to shoot from the tube. The man continued to melt snow with the shovel-flamethrower combo as the two girls watched in shock, “Now we’re talkin’!” Wiktoria cheered before dashing over to him, “Mornin’ Jack.” “Hm?” He pulled his hood and welding goggled off to reveal short black hair and a stubble covered chin, “Oh, hey you two. No one told me you’d be coming over.” “It’s kind of an impromptu visit,” Wiktoria snatched the shovel from him as his guard was lowered. He opened his mouth to speak but just shook his head as she used the pilot flame to light a cigarette. “Good morning, Jack,” Kiara came at the man from behind and gave him a quick hug, “Sorry for dropping in on you.” “Not a problem. I’m sure you can guess where Pin is,” He jabbed a thumb over at the hangar, “Working all day even when it's almost Christmas time.” “She’s a workaholic. You knew that when you got into this,” The hellhound snickered as she made her way over to the workshop. “I was more worried about her rampant dwarven alcoholism.” “So what’s with the flamethrower, man?” Wiktoria nudged Jack a little too hard in the ribs. He grunted, “Pin built it since we can’t be assed to shovel all this white bullshit,” He snatched it back from her, “Check it out,” He put the shovel in front of him and began to walk, the head of the shovel scraping along the ground. As the head of the shovel hit the snow, the flames shot out and Jack was able to melt a line of snow in front of him as he went, “Pretty simple, really.” “I gotta get my hands on one of those,” Wiktoria decided with a grin as she puffed on her cigarette. Jack held it defensibly now, “Go talk to the wife,” He led the two into the hangar, still clutching the shovel. The scent of oil, salt, booze, and smoke all hung in the air. There were work benches covered in projects, each in various states of completion. A mint green jeep sat nearby, past that was a red tractor, and a long looking vehicle covered in a tarp. Beyond those were parts and pieces of Pin’s life's work, a fully completed head of a large mech design she had fallen in love with. Near it was the beginning of a body hung up on the ceiling along with a foot and hand. The dim mono-eye of the mech made Wiktoria shudder. In the main staging area of the work stop was a white van, the hood was up and a chain held a mana reactor engine above it. Sparks and lights flew from beneath the vehicle. On the side of it was a logo: Happy Holistaur, it read. Above the simple all black bold lettering was a simple depiction of a cartoon minotaur or holstaur hugging a man overlaid on a bottle. Angie, wearing a ribbed white sweater and dark shorts, sat on a stool that looked way too small for her. “Hi, Angie!” Kiara greeted. “Hello, friends,” The minotaur smiled softly at them. She looked exhausted. Wiktoria puffed her cigarette, “Doin’ alright, moo tits?” Angie sighed, “I’ve barely slept since my van broke down after we hung out downtown. Been worried sick about the business. The mechanic was going to take way too long so I brought it here. Pushed it the whole way.” “Best mechanic in town,” Jack chuckled before slamming a hand on the van, “Pin! Guests!” The gremlin slid out from underneath the van, a welding torch in one hand, goggles on her face, and a scarf wrapped around her head. She pulled the goggles and scarf off before setting the welder down on the skateboard she had been laying on, “You should have given me a bit more warning, Jack,” She grunted. Standing at a whopping three and a half feet, the fierce, long, green, and messy-haired gremlin stood with her hands on her hips, glaring at her friends, “I’m not much to look at right now,” Her apron and jumpsuit were both covered in oil stains and burns, “Put that damn cig out, Wik.” “Whatever you say, short round,” She dropped it outside in the snow before stepping on it. Pin took a deep breath, “Alright. What’s goin’ on?” She pulled her gloves off and dumped them on the board. “Firstly, Merry Christmas, bestie,” With a fast wagging tail, Kiara gave the gremlin a little box, “And for you, Angie.” “Thanks,” The cow’s tail flicked as her tired smile got a little wider. Jack looked over Pin’s shoulder as she tore the box open, “Oh! Cookies!” The gremlin exclaimed. “Yup! Enough for the both of you!” “You know we never can get enough of your work,” Jack’s eyes went wide as he looked at the cookies. The gremlin picked one up. Gingerbread cookies, each one with a smile, a post stamp mustache, a comb over, and a fancy looking military uniform, all painted on with dull colored frosting. Jack couldn’t help but notice one of the arms was raised in a very particular salute, “Is that…” “It’s Great Grandpapa Adolf!” The argentinian hound looked completely genuine with a smile on her face, “My hubby calls them ‘Hitlerbreadmen.’” Pin shrugged as she bit off the arm, “So why’d you guys come here? Not exactly down the street from you.” “Did ya burn down the big ol’ tree downtown?” Wiktoria asked as she examined the van’s engine. “Pfft,” Pin scoffed, “Hell no I didn’t! They think I’m involved because they found one of these by the tree!” Pin gave the box over to her man and went to a workbench. She snatched up a device familiar to everyone in the room. A brass disk with the Grem Tech logo in the center. The device was split into five parts. A center square with the logo of a wrench and shotgun crossed with the wording over them. The other four parts were near identical half circles. Turning the top one activated the device, making the left and right portions heat up, easily gripped in two hands. The bottom piece could adjust the heat, “Someone discarded it there. They think it might have been the cause but everyone in this county has bought at least one of them! It’s bullshit!” She grabbed a flask from her apron and drank a big swig of the liquor contained. “I get a lot of use out of mine,” Angie piped up as she pulled hers from her pocket. Her hand warmer was a larger, custom size, “Nice and toasty, every time I need it.” “I think I was using mine to light cigs,” Wiktoria smirked, “Did they ask you about it, Angie?” She moved to a dark workbench and flicked on a light to examine a motorcycle sized mana engine. She nodded in satisfaction at the gremlin’s dwarven design. Angular and efficient, just the design she had in mind for the bike. She gave the pyrow a look, “Yes. They did.” “What? You?” Pin scoffed, “What reason could they have? This town loves you.” “No idea,” Angie shrugged, “The feds could not link me to the second Great Chicago Fire four years ago or pnning me as the udderboss of Tortelini Crime Family. But they still think it was me.” Jack nodded slowly, “Ah…” “What’re ya up to, Kiara?’ Wiktoria asked as she joined the hound. The woman pulled the blue tarp off of the far vehicle revealing an old airplane. “Just checking in on my Focke-Wulf,” She replied. “Gordon shit himself when that was dropped off on your lawn,” Jack recalled. The German World War Two fighter was dark gray with a black iron cross painted on it. The propeller had been replaced, the engine swapped with a mana powered one, and the interior reupholstered. The machine guns, unfortunately, had to be removed, but Kiara had put her own flair on it with Hell’s Hound now painted on one of the wings. “When the fuck did you guys get a goddamn plane!?” Wiktoria was awestruck at the sight of it. Kiara’s tail wagged, “A gift from Great Grandpapa Adolf. I think.” “How could you be related to him? You’re not even German. We’re all from the old world.” The hellhound gasped as if deeply offended, “Uh, excuse me,” She opened up her coat and lifted her sweater to reveal the Argentinian jersey beneath, “I am PROUDLY Argentinian.” “That’s not Germany!” “Wik,” Jack shook his head, “Argentina has a huge German population.” “And ‘Grandpa Adolf’ probably fled there,” Pin added, “Just drop it. Cover that back up, Kiara. Gotta keep it dry.” “Alright…” Her tail and flames drooped before replacing the tarp over the remodeled fighter plane. Angie looked at the group of much smaller monster girls and the one man, “Now what? Keep looking and trying to figure out who did it?” “That’s too hard,” Pin shrugged as she put her gloves back on, “If the cops can’t figure it out how can we? And don’t say magic, any of you. I’m the only one that can do some, and it doesn’t apply to shit like this. Big guy, can you go get me another drink?” “Sure, sure,” Jack nodded, “Water?” “Rum and Coke.” “Right… You’re lucky you can magic away kidney stones, Pin.” “Yeah, whatever,” The gremlin gave him a little smile, “What do you want to do, Kiara?” “I wanna save Christmas,” She said, her mind quickly made up, “This town has been so much more miserable and gray since the tree burnt down yesterday.” “Has it?” Pin mumbled, completely oblivious to the world outside her little building. “How do ya plan to do that?” Wiktoria slapped the head of a wrench into her palm before pointing it at the hellhound. “I don’t think we can find a new tree that big…” Angie chimed in, “Or the lights and garnish for it.” “Well… I’ll ask Santa. He should be able to help. I’m sure his place is loaded with Christmas trees!” “Oh come on, do we really…” Wiktoria shut up and cleared her throat as she saw Pin and Angie nodding in agreement, “How ya gonna get there? North pole is a ways away.” “The Focke-Wulf, of course. It should make it with the mana reactor engine, right, Pin?” The gremlin returned to the plane and tore the tarp back off, “Well. I can install a gravity dampener so we can load another mana reactor on the back and put in a second chair so I can work some machinery. Its a good thing that your man wanted that Short Stackifier device, otherwise we wouldn’t fit,” She continued to ramble and mark down changes that were needed. "The what?" Asked Kiara. "Nothing, just some technical jargon you wouldn't get." Pin dismissed. “Why do you need to go?” Angie huffed, “I could go.” “You don’t know how to navigate or use a device that’ll let you past their forcefield,” Pin reminded her as she started to grab a few aetheric crystals and wiring them to a strange brass satellite dish, "Plus I'd have to short stackify ya," The cow woman shuddered at the thought. “You’re telling me ya know where Santa is and know he has a big shield to protect his workshop?” Wiktoria scoffed at them as she fiddled with a power drill. “Of course. You know Maxine, right?” Pin asked as she put the satellite dish in a housing container before throwing it on a cart. She moved on to a set of two smaller chairs and had Kiara help her load it onto the cart. Next was a few panels of nobs, switches, and screens, “Well, Maxine got contracted to help set up the forcefield. And I was subcontracted to build a system to keep it running. Mister and Missus Claus have access to a very special mana that we all call ‘Christmas Spirit’ which we can channel into their generators. It’s also how all of Santa’s helpers can fly and deliver gifts at a crazy fast rate.” The three girls stared at Pin in shock, “How did you never tell me this!?” The hellhound demanded as she stomped a foot. “It's supposed to be a secret. So no telling.” “Weird to think about you getting a contract like that,” Angie whistled. “I’ve worked with Maxine before. She knows I’m more reliable than other goblinoids. It was mostly her design, to be honest, but I built the physical devices,” Pin loaded a few more devices onto the cart and wheeled it over, “Better finish your van first, Angie.” A sigh of relief escaped Angie’s lips, “Thank you. I didn’t want to say anything about it.” “Kiara, I’ll let you know when we’re ready. Oh, and be ready to pack some sandwiches.” “Got it. Hopefully we can get this done before Christmas.” “Sheesh, ya two don’t have much time then,” Wiktoria noted as she picked up a half finished device, the pipes steaming and gears slowly rotating. She decided better than to press a button or pull a trigger. “Put that the hell down,” Pin ordered as her husband reappeared, “Hey, thanks, big guy. Do me another favor and get the runway cleared. Take a line of heaters out.” Jack sighed and wheeled out a modified golf cart. On the back, he put two massive spools of small, aether crystal devices on holders, “Is that all, my compact queen? Or do you need me to feed your rat’s cage too?” He asked as he fed the devices into a robotic hand that moved to place it on the ground. “You know Tilde does that,” She grabbed his arm and pulled him down onto one knee. She kissed his cheek, nose, and softly placed one on his lips, “Thank you.” “No problem,” He gave a little smile before climbing into the cart and driving it out of the front. He pulled a lever as he went, causing the metal hand to place the small heating devices in neat rows up and down the runway. “Good for planting, and good for this,” Pin admired her own handywork, “Alright. Back to work. Feel free to hang out, girls. But I’ll have this van done before dinner.” “Thank you,” Angie smiled softly before sitting back down on the stool and fiddling with a phone that looked much too small for her. “We’d better go,” Wiktoria nudged Kiara, “I gotta make sure Bob wakes up and does his chores.” “And I gotta get cookin’ for Gordon,” Kiara nodded, “Have a good day you two, I’ll talk to you soon, Pin.” “See ya!” Pin was quickly back under the van and working on the bottom of it. Christmas Eve. Gordon drove his truck out to his best friend’s house. Kiara was bundled up in three coats, a scarf, and a hat to keep her dog ears warm, “You’re really going through with this?” The man asked. “I get to fly my plane and meet Santa. Why wouldn’t I?” She glanced back out at the warm looking morning sunshine. “I’m just worried you won’t make it back,” Gordon admitted with a sad whimper. The look in his eyes behind his glasses told Kiara just how worried he was, despite his attempts to hide it. Kiara gently took her husband’s hand in hers, “I have the hopes and dreams of this town on my side. And Christmas Spirit, German and dwarven engineering too! Just give me your faith, hubby.” “Alright, I’ll be praying for your safe return. We’re here,” Gordon’s tone was still full of doom and gloom as he pulled into the cleared driveway. He pulled up along the runway where Jack and Tilde, the automaton, were pushing the plane into position. Pin had a clipboard in hand, checking off tasks with a green pen, “Food, water, some tunes…” She mumbled to herself, “A quick smooch,” She grabbed her husband’s hand and pulled him in for a kiss, “Should be everything.” With a sigh, Jack folded his arms, “Are you sure?” “She has quadruple checked now. Including four kisses,” Tilde interjected as she moved the boarding staircase into position. The long runway was littered with brass devices that glowed in the morning sun. It was a good day for flying without any clouds in the sky. Jack relented, “Right. Your co-pilot is here.” “Pin!” Kiara hurried over, wearing a wool laced coat and carrying a shoulder bag, “How’d the conversion go?” “Well,” The over confident smirk on the gremlin’s face said it all, “I had to expand the cockpit a little, but we had the space. Most of the internals were gutted and swapped for lighter, smaller parts to allow for two larger mana engines. It’ll take us wherever we want to go and has the tech to get us there. Cloaking from radar, communications array, the works. Did you bring your part?” “It's not nearly as much as all the work you did, but yes, I did bring food as you requested. Freshly made this morning,” She proudly pat her shoulder bag, “Jerky to snack on, some biscuits with jam for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and, if we don’t make it by dinner… more sandwiches.” “I wish I could eat that well today,” Jack jested as he handed Pin her flight jacket embroidered with ‘CYCLOPS SQUAD’ on the back, “Let’s get you two in the air, gotta make it before nightfall.” “Right,” Pin put on a warm, wool hat that her ears stuck through the flaps of. With Tilde’s help, she climbed into the rear facing seat and turned on the engines. Kiara was next. Tilde held her arm as the hellhound climbed the short staircase. She got into the pilot’s seat, feeling herself sink a little into the plush leather. She set her bag aside and looked back at Pin, watching her tie a flask of liquor with an elastic cable to the top glass, “Ready?” “Checking temps…” The gremlin mumbled, “Low, nominal, our radar jammer is running a little hot, but we should have that cooled when we get in the air. Energy is high, nearly at the max. Emergency las-cannon is also looking fine, as is our radio comms.” “We do have a weapon?” “It’s only got three shots, but you never know if a dragon will think our plane looks like a good treasure to take back to her lover,” Pin’s words rang with venom, “We won’t have my AA’s to scare her off.” “Uh, got it,” Kiara flipped on the propeller and checked her own systems, “Ready?” Pin looked out the window and waved at Jack and Tilde, “Yup. Let’s fly.” “On it,” The hellhound gave her husband a salute before easing the throttle. The plane took off down the runway, rumbling on its wheels. Kiara pulled back as the plane picked up enough speed. In a surprisingly smooth motion, the plane took to the air, easily turning north as it climbed higher and higher. Kiara put on a pair of sunglasses as the sun made the snow below brightly glow. Pin flipped on the jammer, causing magical energies that coalesced into a shimmering, clear sphere around the plane. With a satisfied nod, she leaned back, keeping an eye on her gauges and trackers, “We should be high enough to throw autopilot on. I’ll keep the jammer on until we clear town.” “Gotcha,” Kiara sighed, trying to pop her ears with a fake yawn as she flicked a switch on her left. She could feel the plane list gently to the right, “Is the autopilot working?” “Should be–” Pin gently rotated a knob and pulled a lever down, “The sensor for tilt is a little off, I’ll fix it,” After pulling off the panel in front of her, she fiddled with a few unmarked wires, suddenly causing the plane to adjust its tilt, “Good to go.” “Thanks,” Kiara put her hands in her lap, staring out at the morning horizon, “Breakfast time?” “Please,” Pin gladly took her share of food before settling in for a long trip, “I’ve got some cheese, craisins, and cashews if you want some.” “Glad to hear you eat just like your ‘big guy,’” Kiara teased, “I swear, you two need to pay for a chef or at least those meal delivery kits.” “Or put that chef utility into Tilde. She hasn’t been able to cook since we fixed her up. Her OS has crashed trying to cook. It's like that function is separate from everything else and just needs to be swapped,” Pin sighed before deciding to change topics, “Do you think they’ll find who burned that tree down?” “Who knows,” Kiara laid a napkin out on her lap before taking a bite of her food, “You sound like you’re ready to make a wild accusation.” “You know me so well,” The gremlin smirked, “I’m gonna accuse Angie’s husband of it this time.” “Just like every other time.” “He’s always out to get me in his short hating ways. He could have left that hand warmer there, easily. He knew we were out, he definitely had at least one of those, and their van broke down soon after. He could have done it, easily!” Pin explained. “Yeah,” Kiara shook her head with a sigh, and set down her food, “The only problem was that he was at a work party for Münder. Remember? Angie was talking about it when we were hanging out.” “Ah,” Pin folded her arms and stared at a monitor for a few moments, “Was that company anywhere near there?” “Pin,” The hellhound’s eye flames diminished as she groaned, “Just drop it. I don’t care who did it. I’m just gonna fix this. For all I know, one of us could have done it by accident.” Pin slouched, “Yeah…” The two went quiet for a time before Kiara turned on their radio. Through the static, she could hear some pop music and began fiddling with the dials. Soon, a song by some gravelly voiced goblin came on full of thinly veiled innuendos about getting picked up and plowed on every surface by a husband twice her height. Kiara mumbled along to the music, slightly shaking to and fro with the beat, “Jerky?” “Yeah, gimmie a few,” Pin reached back, also slowly getting into the fast beat of the music, “By Harrak’s holy beard, I can’t listen to this without thinking of my man.” “Pin,” Kiara put her head in her hands, “I really don’t need to hear about your wedding night. Again.” “Fine. Keep us on course, I’ll make sure everything’s good,” She frowned, “Jammer is still hot. I really hope I don’t need to drop it or something. Nothing to worry about now.” “Alright. Thanks,” Kiara brought the plane a little higher and turned the plane slightly, “Should be a direct course. I’ll re-route when we are near that airport to the north.” Pin nodded and fiddled with buttons and switches, “Good call. Last thing I want is for us to get noticed.” The flight continued with little issue. The clouds had rolled in over some of the most northern parts of the world. Darkness was here, the sun was hidden away this time of year, and a light snowfall fell upon the plane. The radio was off, only static came through when it was on. Kiara’s heart pounded, she felt like she was flying blind, but the screen told her to keep on going. Pin had headphones on as she fiddled with dials, “What happens if we hit this barrier?” The hound woman called back. “Well, the mana reactors die temporarily, we pass out, and we would hopefully be rescued from a fiery crash by the North Pole staff,” The nonchalance in the gremlin’s tone made Kiara nervous. “So how do we not hit it!?” “I’m working on it!” Pin hollered over the howling wind, “Where is it… we should be– aha! I can see the generators on this side.” Kiara saw the dome appear on her display. Through the darkness, the hound swore she could see something, “Two minutes till we hit it. Pin nodded, “Damn snow, blocking my comms. Shit,” She flicked a switch and Kiara saw a radar dish open up on the right wing, “Alright, gonna try to get on the same wavelength as it. Cloaking is off.” Kiara could feel herself clench up as her heart started to pound, “Minute and a half…” “I know, I know,” The gremlin fiddled with a dial, “Ugh, Holiday Spirit is on a weird wavelength. Working on it.” The hound’s eye flames started to die as she swallowed nervously, “Pin…” “I’m workin’ on it!” “Pin!” Kiara hollered as the lines on her display got closer and closer. “I know!” She cried back as she fiddled with the knob, “There! Press the button! The red one!” “The red one!?” Kiara gazed around the cabin in a panic before seeing a red button on the right light up with the words ‘PRESS ME’ on it. Kiara smashed it with her fist and recoiled as the dish shot out a green ray that struck the dome. As a hole was torn in it, the lights on the ground became visible in that section of shimmering air. A whole Christmas village and air strips glowed in red and green. “Hurry!” Pin shouted, halting Kiara’s awe filled stare, “The hole won’t stay open long!” She began to flip switches and the static of the radio came back on. Kiara gripped the flight controls with her fluffy digits and pushed them forward, urging the plane to go faster. The engines groaned, pushed to their limits as the wind made the wings shudder. The two held on for dear life as the plane sped up, the turbulence becoming uncomfortable, and the wind howling around them. Kiara tilted the plane as she saw the magical shield start to close, snaking her plane through the barrier and into the airspace above the North Pole. She sighed with relief, “Now what? Can we land?” “Working on it,” Pin grunted, “Access code, H-C-One-Two-Two-Five. Over.” A voice came through the radio, “Copy. Code accepted, but who are you? We don’t have anyone on the ledger for today.” “And how did you get past the shield?” Another voice barked. The gremlin cleared her throat, “Pin Ironstone and Kiara Boga. Sorry–” “We need to speak to Santa! Or Missus Clause? Or anyone else who can help!” Kiara chimed in, “Please!” The more harsh voice sighed, “I see…” She paused, “Pin, right? You worked on our security system. No wonder you managed to get in. Let me– You’ve been cleared. Please land on strip B, north or south.” Kiara looked down and saw a long runway light up bright green and red. With surprising skill, she easily circled around and brought the plane down gently, landing on the runway with the tires screeching as the plane slowly came to a stop near a set of long hangars. A few short elves came out of the open door, running past rows upon rows of red sleighs. The two women used red, glowing lights to direct them off the runway and onto a little patch of concrete. Kiara slid the glass of the plane off and looked around as a little set of stairs was brought over by a centaur. Like Kiara had seen from the air, there was a big village of cabins and even a grocery store off to the east side of the area. In the center was a giant workshop, covered in cheery Christmas lights. Then on the west side, dominating a large part of the grounds, was a surprisingly large airport. There were four hangars, the biggest of the four housed a 747, and the other ones had numerous red sleighs that were being checked and double checked by Santa’s engineers. The two elves looked over Kiara’s plane as the hellhound and gremlin disembarked, very glad to be able to stretch their legs, “We’ll take good care of her,” The elves said as they and the centaur began to push it towards the hangar. “Over here!” A gruff woman called. A tall salamander woman with long crimson hair and tanned skin in three layers of coats waved the girls over, “The boss wants to talk to you.” “The boss?” Pin cocked her head. “The boss!” Kiara gasped excitedly, “Santa!” “Don’t look too excited,” The sword carrying salamander smirked, “The big man himself is real busy. Always is. Missus Claus is our admin. Come on,” Kiara nodded and quickly followed the woman. Pin glanced over her shoulder at their plane then dashed to catch up, “I’m Noel, captain of the guard here. I know the gremlin is Pin, so you must be Kiara.” “Yes I am,” Kiara was beaming, “You really work at the North Pole? Does everyone here?” “I work here year round in my security duties. You would not believe how many people try to come here. Thankfully the shield your friend made knocks them out and we can place them somewhere else. And before you ask, no, not everyone here works here year round. Various contractors like aviators and centaur-like girls to pilot the sleighs, we have various builders come in to help with whatever the elves here can’t build, magically inclined girls to help channel Christmas Spirit, and various other ones. There’s a lot more that goes into this operation than you know,” Noel explained as she shivered from the biting cold. Despite how cold she seemed, there were tall metal heaters dotted around, each one making the arctic weather much more tolerable to Kiara, “I have to ask, why did you two make the trek out here in that old plane? The reason has got to be pretty important, doesn't it?” “I’m here to save Christmas for my town,” She announced, “The Spirit of Christmas is dying after someone burnt down the town’s tree.” “Ah. Arson. We’d have someone’s head for doing that here,” Noel scowled, “Not that we have a lack of festive trees.” Just like she said, the three were surrounded by an abundance of evergreens lit up brightly with festive lights. Each one had its own personality, from different lights, whether they be red, green, gold, silver, or any combination and flashing or not, to the garlands and baubles and ornaments covering them from tip to trunk, “Any one of these would do…” Kiara scrunched her brow as she looked them over with deep scrutiny. “Why not just grab one with that hellhound strength?” Pin jested. Before Kiara could reply, Noel cleared her throat, “We’re here, ladies,” The hellhound and gremlin both stared up at an all wooden building positively glowing with Christmas lights. An elf came out the front of the building through a set of red double doors, “Kiara? Pin? You’re a little late but we can still squeeze you both in, come on, hurry up!” She started barking at the two as she pushed the glasses back up her pointy nose. Her pointed ears were flushed red, her business attire was a red suit jacket, a green tie, and a green skirt, both covered in candy cane print. The elf was somewhere between the height of Pin and Kiara, standing at about four-foot-four. Inside the building was a surprisingly modern waiting room with a small tree in the corner and a reception desk with an elf sorting mail. “Uh,” Kiara felt like she was rushing to keep up with the elf’s long strides. Pin was actually jogging to keep up, swearing under her breath. The elf grabbed a cup of coffee off the receptionist’s desk and led the two to an elevator, “In! In!” She barked. The two women hurried up and stepped in before the elf hit the top button, “What were you saying?” She gave Kiara a stern look as she impatiently tapped her foot. The elevator rumbled as it started to move up. “This is where you work?” Kiara mindlessly said, just trying to fill the air now. “No,” The elf rolled her eyes, “It's just a prop we bring in for visitors. Yes we work here. Do you have a problem with that?” “N-no. Of course not,” The hellhound folded her arms defensibly, “Um, what’s your name?” Kiara asked, trying to be polite. Pin smirked as she leaned against the side of the elevator. The elf slowly sipped her coffee, “Jaqueline. Jacky. Doesn’t matter. If you want to know what I do, I’m one of the assistants of our bosses here. Missus Claus, mostly,” Jacky drank more, “You’d be surprised how calm this side of the operation is this time of year. It’s all on the workshop and Santa now. We’re here,” Jacky took a deep breath before adjusting her outfit. Almost right after, the elevator dinged and the door slid open. The elf stepped out as soon as the opening was wide enough for her to get out. Kiara and Pin were right behind her. They stepped into a waiting room devoid of people, but there were plenty of plush red couches and oak chairs. A single set of double doors was the only other way out of the room. Jacky scurried over on her pumps and pushed one of the doors open on silent hinges, “Enter. She’s waiting.” “R-right,” Kiara suddenly felt her tail between her legs and the pounding of her heart in her ears. Pin nudged her, “Kiara? Come on, we’ve come this far,” The gremlin was obviously rather nervous as well. “Well?” Jackie tapped her foot impatiently, the sound echoing through the large room, “She does not have all night.” “Calm down, Jaqueline,” A kind, older woman scolded gently from within the room, “Come here, dears. I am sure you wish to return home before morning.” Kiara felt a surge of confidence course through her. The two stepped across the middle of the room, out of the dim entry room and into a brightly lit office. It was surprisingly large with a massive, dark wooden desk in the middle, an elderly white horn sitting behind it. The woman wore a festive red coat with white fluff trim. She brushed her long, white hair over her shoulders and pushed her reading glasses up the bridge of her nose, “No need to look like wee babs being handed to a mall santa for the first time,” She chuckled, “Kiara, Pin, how good to finally see you in person,” Kiara quickly looked around. In the corner was a Christmas tree covered in baubles, a dusty ping pong table folded up and pushed into a corner, a fully stocked book shelf, rows upon rows of file cabinets, and a big, framed painting of Mister Claus and this white horn together on the wall. “It's… nice to see you too,” Kiara approached the desk and climbed onto one of the matching stools with a red pillow atop it. Pin did the same, “Missus Claus, right?” “How rude of me,” The white horn’s smile was infectious, making Kiara feel at ease almost instantly, “Yes, I am Missus Claus, wife of Santa Claus. Now then, how can I help you both? It must be important for you to fly all the way here.” The hellhound glanced at her gremlin friend. Pin glanced back and nodded quickly. Despite feeling somewhat at ease, she found it a little hard to find the words, “Well… I wanted to try and save Christmas for my town. We had a big tree in the middle of town, a Christmas tree. It completely burnt down a few days ago, and it was never replaced. I feel like there is a cloud of gloom over the town and I really want to fix it.” “Ah,” Missus Claus nodded and rubbed her chin. She took her glasses off and stood, “I know the gloom you must be feeling all too well. I think this may be an easy fix. Is there anything else you need? Or is that really all you two came out here for?” Kiara scratched her ear, “Um, that was it for me… Pin?” The gremlin shrugged, “Some toys for my pet rat? An electric blanket for my husband? Cat food?” She sighed, “I can’t think of anything as selfless as Kiara’s wish here. I guess a request to not put us on the naughty list.” Missus Claus chuckled to herself, “Is that all? You could have called for all these requests, especially yours, Kiara,” The white horn stood and stretched her legs, “How about we send you two home? It's close to Christmas day and you have family to return to.” “Agreed, you need to rest, Missus Claus,” Jackie piped up from where she stood by the door, “You’re much too busy to have uninvited visitors like this.” “Enough, Jackie,” The older woman smiled, “I love guests. Hopefully the next time we have enough time to sit down for tea and cookies. But the day is late. Come along,” Missus Claus gestured for the three to follow. Through the waiting room and down the elevator they went. Through the reception area and back out into the snow. The precipitation had lessened, making it easier to trek across the freshly cleared grounds to the hangar. Sitting out on runway B was the girls’ plane, now decorated in sparkling Christmas lights. A pair of elves gave Missus Claus a thumbs up before hurrying back to the hangars, “Ah, here they come,” Missus Claus turned as she saw another, much younger white horn with a shining red nose. The white horn carried a brown burlap sack over and gently placed it next to the plane. “Rudolph,” Kiara whispered to Pin excitedly. “Yeah, I’ve seen the movie, dummy,” The gremlin rolled her eyes. “Here, dears,” Missus Claus offered them the sack, “Take this. Save our workers two stops. And this,” Jackie offered the duo a small cube shaped present wrapped in green wrapping paper covered with printed on red baubles, “Open it when you get to the remnants of your tree. But get there before Christmas day or it will be too late.” “Before–” Pin sputtered, “That only leaves us five hours! We’ll never make it!” Kiara saw the sparkle in the white horn’s eyes, “We can make it,” She said confidently, “Come on!” The hellhound took the small sack with her and climbed into the plane. Pin took the smaller present and followed her in. “Thanks for visiting!” Missus Claus waved to the two, “Make sure you give us a call before you visit next time!” “Got it!” Kiara buckled herself in. She looked around, seeing that the interior looked the same except for one, peppermint candy colored button. Pin scrunched her brow at a new gauge. ‘SPIRIT’ was all it said. When the plane rumbled to life, the gauge was fully on ‘F’ for full, “Looks like we’re good to go!” Pin hollered over the engine. Kiara eyed the new button, “Good here too! Taking off! Thanks again!” “Bye girls!” Missus Claus waved again as the plane began to speed down the runway. Kiara eased up the controls, making the plane lift off. A hole in the shielding opened up to let them through. Soon after, a fleet of red sleighs each pulled by a single centaur, white horn, or similar mamano followed in behind the plane and fell into an arrow formation. Pin didn’t understand this magic much, but it was breathtaking to see the lit up sleighs next to them. Kiara saw the pilot of one of the sleighs make a hand sign pointing forward before grinning. She reached forward and pressed a button that made the sleigh speed off at breakneck speeds. One by one, the other sleighs did the same. The hellhound leaned forward, finger hovering over the button, “I hope this old girl holds up,” She muttered. “What?” Pin took hold of the previously empty flask as she heard a sloshing from it. Without another thought, she took a sip of the flask above her. She raised an eyebrow at the peppermint schnapps and nodded, “Good shit… We’ll make it, Kiara. Just keep it steady. Not like we can go as fast as them.” “I think we can!” With her claw, she carefully pressed the button. The plane rumbled for a few moments, “What did you do?” The gremlin shouted. “Uh… Christmas something something?” “You–” Pin was interrupted as the plane lurched forward. The machine groaned as it sped up, much higher than its usual top speeds. Kiara felt herself sink into her seat as a grin spread across her lips. Pin was thankful she had her seatbelt on as she was nearly thrown from her seat. With a grumble, she had more of the schnapps and just held on for the ride. It felt like no time at all before Kiara had returned to the airfield they had taken off from. With the second pressing of the button, the plane slowly returned to its usual speed. With Pin’s guidance, Kiara easily landed the plane, only bouncing off the runway a few times. The plane was hastily parked in the hangar before the two girls ran to Pin’s home. The gremlin burst in through the back door, “JACK!” She yelled. “What?” He groggily called back from the living room. A game on the TV was paused and a few empty bags of chips were strewn across the floor. The fat rat slept on a pile of chip bags while the two cats slept in Jack’s lap. Gordon was laid out on the couch and Jack was on the recliner, “Come on! Get up!” Kiara shook her husband awake, “We only have an hour!” “For what?” Gordon grumbled as he slowly sat up. “The tree! We have to go see the tree! Missus Claus said so!” Kiara frantically tried to get him up. Pin quickly moved both cats to their tall cat tower, “Jack! Get your car heated up!” Jack and Gordon gave one another looks. Despite their weariness, they knew better than to say no, “Glad I didn’t drink, huh?” Jack smirked as he stretched, “Get my keys and coat, Pin,” The gremlin dashed to the master bedroom and quickly returned with a thick coat and the keys. “Come on!” Kiara barked, her tail wagging at rapid speeds as her eyes burned with determination. Kiara carried both the burlap sack and the small present from Missus Claus outside as Pin led the way to her husband’s red car. The two girls climbed into the back seat as the men got up front. Jack quickly left their home and started down the road towards town. The roads were empty and thankfully clear of snow. The bends and long straights were only lit up by the speeding car’s brights. Gordon glanced at his wife in the back seat, “So you two made it? Did you meet Santa?” “We got to meet Missus Claus,” Kiara replied, “And Rudolph too! I wish we could have stayed longer, but we have a mission now, right from Missus Claus.” “Oh!” Pin grabbed the burlap sack, “What did she put in here…?” Pin looked the small bag over, “Magical of course, a bottomless bag for sure,” She determined with a quick examination, “Let’s see,” As she reached her hand in, she raised an eyebrow and pulled a present out. The shining red box was wrapped with a gold ribbon. The sticker on it read ‘KIARA.’ The gremlin dug through the rest, finding one for her, the two men, and even for her pet rat. Pin could tell by the sloshing of her gift that it had to be liquor. Though she wanted to tear it open, she put it back with a sigh, “Guess that’s what she meant by saving them a trip.” “And what’s in that other gift?” Jack asked as he looked at the one in Kiara’s hands through his rearview window. The hellhound’s clawed thumb tore a small line of the wrapping paper, “I don’t know. She said to open it when the time was right.” “My heart is racing,” Pin admitted, “This might be the most excited I’ve ever been for a gift. Think they stuffed a whole tree in there?” “Could be…” Kiara turned the box over in her hands. She could feel something shift inside as she moved it, “I don’t know much about magic.” The passengers all got quiet as the car rolled past the sushi joint on the edge of town, then down the overpass, the gas station, and then into the town proper. Taller buildings flanked both sides of the road, street lights cast the glow of yellow lights upon the street, and small banks of snow were piled on the sides of the road. Disregarding the ‘no parking’ sign, Jack pulled up next to the sidewalk and Kiara quickly disembarked from the warm car and into the freezing cold of the Christmas Eve night. Gordon, Jack, and Pin were right behind her, “We don’t have much time, Kiara.” The police tape was still there and was easily slashed through with Kiara’s claws. The black, charred tree still stood, slowly waving in the breeze. Kiara tore the present open, revealing a small cardboard box. Gordon leaned over and picked up the discarded wrapping, “Something wrong?” “Just… nervous,” The hellhound took a deep breath and grabbed the flap. As it opened, golden light streamed from the package. She reached in and brought out a golden, shimmering star. She turned it in her hands, “It's a tree topper. Gordon, get me up there, please!” “Uh,” Gordon looked at the tree, it wasn’t too high but he wasn’t sure how to do it, “Jack?” “I think the two of us can lift her high enough,” He nodded, “Just like cheerleading, right? Or gymnastics?” The hellhound smiled, “Too bad none of us have done those. Let’s do it.” Gordon and Jack knelt down, hands near the ground. Kiara clutched the shining star and looked around, thankful that the streets were empty. Pin stood nearby, arms folded with an amused expression on her face. The hellhound took a deep breath and nodded before stepping onto the hands, “Ready?” Gordon asked. Jack and Kiara nodded, “One, two, three!” With relative ease, Gordon and Jack lifted the hellhound up. One hand beneath her feet, lift and the other holding a fluffy ankle. Kiara stood on her tip toes and reached to the top of the tree, just missing the top of it and unable to reach it, “Dang it,” She whispered. The star shook, jumping out of her hands and leaping the final few inches onto the tree. The whole tree lit up in a blinding gold light that nearly knocked the three over. They quickly put Kaira down and stepped back, watching the tree’s transformation. First the wood returned to its natural state, the bark growing back in mere seconds, then the limbs and needles returned, shooting out like party streamers. The tree grew taller before numerous glimmering baubles of reds, greens, and gold grew on the limbs of the tree like fruit. Lastly, Christmas lights started snaking down the tree starting from the top. The lights glowed gold just like the star at the top. Kiara leaned against her husband, gripping his cold hand as she stared at the newly fixed tree. Just then, the town hall’s bell tolled as it ticked over to midnight, “Merry Christmas, hubby.” “A Merry Christmas to you too,” Gordon replied with a relieved sigh. “Ooop!” Pin squealed as Jack scooped her up into a princess carry. He rested his head on her and sighed wearily, “Yeah, yeah. I know you’re tired. It's way past your bedtime, big guy. Merry Christmas anyways, you big dummy.” “Merry Christmas,” He mumbled back before a yawn. Kiara giggled at the two, “Maybe we should hurry home, Pin.” “Agreed,” Pin sighed. “And now we go live to downtown, where the story of the Yuletide caper has taken a surprising turn. Molly?” “Thanks Steve,” The image on the TV showed a smiling elf in front of the glowing Christmas tree, “Like you said, this story has taken a very unexpected turn. It seems like someone, a good samaritan or a guilty arsonist, brought a new tree here last night. While footprints in the snow were found this morning, all cameras facing this public area mysteriously shut off around ten PM and didn’t turn back on until one AM. While the arson case has gone cold, the police will not be investigating this Christmas miracle. Back to you, Steve.” Pin changed channels before resting her head on her husband’s chest again. Discarded wrapping paper littered the floor. Two cats played with the discarded ribbon and a fat rat chewed on his new set of wooden blocks that Pin had built into a little house. The duo laid out on the couch, sipping peppermint schnapps, the stuff Santa had sent in her present, together and basking in the warmth of a lit fireplace. Jack played on his phone, eyeing the new model kits that both Santa and Pin had gotten him. Tilde sat nearby, playing with the cats. She had wanted more toys for them and she had gotten some from old Jolly Saint Nick. Angie sipped hot coco along with her husband, Max. The news had been cheerful and uplifting for once and Max wasn’t quoting short woman crime statistics. Angie had gotten a new crock pot from Santa and a few cases of 700 nitro express from her husband. The man had been given a nice fluffy wool sweater covered in cow print from his cow wife and some new pants from Santa. Bob rolled his eyes as Wiktoria strummed loudly on the new guitar he had gotten her. He turned off the news on account of not being able to hear it anyways. In his hands, he held a ‘Your Bitch for a Day’ coupon. His mind raced with the possibilities. Along with that, he had gotten some good liquor from Santa. Wiktoria had thrown the coal she had gotten into the fireplace already. Kiara and Gordon lounged on the couch in matching red and green pajamas. Both had hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls. Gordon had a new Argentina jersey laying across his legs, courtesy of his Argentinian hound wife. Kiara had gotten a thick cookbook from Santa, and a new assortment of spats from her husband in all kinds of patterns and colors, including Argentina colors, “Merry Christmas,” Kiara whispered as she set her drink and food aside and cuddled up to her husband. “Merry Christmas,” Gordon replied. In his hand he held a positive pregnancy test that he set aside to hold the hellhound in a snug hug.