“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.
It was the end of October, the night of Halloween. The dark of evening was soon descending. The sounds of children going out trick-or-treating would soon fill the air along with house parties and delinquents pulling pranks. Candy, monsters, and terror would be in full force. Mamano loved Halloween. Whether they found it endearing that humans would dress up like them and still did or they found it a good excuse to dress up for fun, especially in the bedroom, most had a fun time with it– even the most cold-hearted of undead were enjoying themselves. It had even become such a big deal that most got the first of November off so people could stay up late. In a nice house on the west end of town, a little north of the river and that one weird store you always pass or see next to the pizza place you like, a few small machines were whirring on the floor of a living room. A gremlin stood over it with a tablet in her hands, the machine was automatically carving a face she had drawn into the pumpkin. Newspapers covered the floor to keep the carpet clean of pumpkin guts. The green haired gremlin’s ears twitched under her mauve witch hat as she smiled with delight, “Looks like it's working, just like I knew it would!” Pin was dressed up as a mauve-colored witch, the robes tightly fitting her small, plump body. The witch hat on her head had a wide brim and was almost comically too big for her. The automaton standing over her nodded, “Thankfully. You shipped the latest model with very little testing,” The automaton’s body was ivory white, her green eyes glowed, and she wore a black leotard with fake, black cat ears in her white hair, drawn on whiskers, and a black cat tail. “That’s because Jack was working on it, Tilde,” Pin smugly replied. She passed off the tablet to the robot, “Speaking of, where is my husband?” “Out to grab drinks for you and to grab his costume, remember?” The owner of the house, Gordon, reminded her. He was wearing a set of platemail with the helmet removed and a tabard in the colors of the argentina flag with the sun on the front, “Should be back soon.” “Right. You guys got that fruit punch, right?” The gremlin asked as she moved to the kitchen with the knight. “I think so. Kiara?” He called. The short hellhound standing on a stool turned. She had ‘spooky’ music playing from a phone nearby and was covered in loose wrappings like a mummy, “The juice?” She nodded, “In the garage fridge. Go get it, Gordon.” "Somethin’ smells good~” Pin sang as she climbed up on a chair nearby. A massive plastic tub had been set out for her. “Thanks! The horderves are coming’ along well. I’ll get some burgers and hotdogs going as soon as people start showing up!” The front door opened and closed as a man in a forest green cloak, an obviously fake and long, white beard, wig, and sunglasses walked in carrying four paper bags, “Got what you wanted,” He grunted, “You should have seen the looks the guy at the liquor store gave me. I thought he was gonna call the police.” At the same time, the knight returned loaded down with boxes of juice and soda, “A wizard again, Jack?” “Am I insulting your culture, old man?” He teased. “You know I’m not a wizard anymore,” Gordon frowned, “Kiara made sure of that.” “Pin never gave me the chance,” Jack snorted, “You her white knight?” “Stop fighting!” Kiara hollered from the kitchen, the flames in her dark eyes increasing as she glared around the corner, “Hubby, help me out over here.” “You too. Give me a hand, big guy,” Pin ordered as she opened a bottle of rum and poured it in the tub. Jack nodded and took his fake beard and wig off before cracking open the fruit punch and soda. "What time is everyone getting here?" Asked Gordon as he handed Jack another two-liter of soda. "Should be soon, it's quarter-til!" Kiara smiled widely, putting her finishing touches on the horderves, little 'halloweenies' her own take on pigs-in-a-blanket with spicy sausages made to look like ghosts with ketchup 'blood' on their lower halves. She finished poking eyes and slicing a mouth on the last one when the doorbell rang. “Oh!” Tilde leapt up from where she sat and grabbed the bowl of candy by the door. As she threw the door open, she expected ‘trick or treat’ but was faced with two awkward looking twenty-somethings. One was a rather tall man, while the other was a gargoyle about the same height as Tilde. Her athletic build was contrasted by the two enormous wing arms, whose large, clawed hands rested on her shoulders like a cape. The gargoyle, dressed like a classic vampire, cleared her throat, “Is Kiara here?” “Is that my girl I hear!?” The hellhound’s tail started wagging at mach speeds as she scurried to the door. Tilde stepped aside, allowing the two to enter as Kiara greeted them at the doorway, “Cathy!” Kiara hollered, almost leaping at her as she went in for a hug, “Look how big you are!” “I’ve been this big for four years, Kiara,” Cathy chuckled, “But it's good to see you. Is Gordon here?” “Of course I am,” He smiled as he stomped into the entryway, his armor clinking and clanking as he went, “I’d hug ya since it’s been a while since you went off to become a movie star, but I doubt I’d be good at it while wearing this shit." "Oh, I don't care, c'mere!" Cathy wrapped her arms around the knight with a smile. Gordon looked at her man beside them, "Hey, Owen. Keepin' her out of trouble?” He extended a gauntleted hand. “Evenin,’ Gordon, Kiara, as much as I can,” Owen shook Gordon's hand firmly but briefly. He was dressed as Frankenstein in a purple suit. He hadn’t shaved his bushy brown beard for the costume and his muscular arms were barely contained by the suit. It was apparent that Cathy had picked his outfit for him, “Nice place ya got here.” “Thank you, Owen. Come in, come in! Oh, that’s Tilde. She’s…” Kiara trailed off. “Fully autonomous, mana reactor powered, fully automatic daughter and weapons platform for companionship, protection, and emotional support. Tilde, automaton model eight,” The automaton bowed, “I am also a great dance partner.” “I… see,” Owen made a confused face before Cathy nudged him with her elbow. “Pin and Jack’s daughter,” Gordon added, “Well, kinda.” “Oh, they’re here already?” Cathy inquired as she removed her shoes and moved to the living room. She stood awestruck at the five machines automatically carving pumpkins. Owen nodded, “That’s where all those pumpkins out front came from. Doesn’t this kinda kill the point of it? Automatin’ it and all?” "Nonsense, just imagine how many kids'll be able to carve their perfect jack-o-lanterns!" Pin called from the kitchen. "Ya still gotta draw what ya want on it, so it isn't fully automated." Gordon explained. “And you can set them to randomize designs that you’ve entered into it, so you can still get slightly different pumpkins,” Jack explained further. "Pin!" Cathy cheered, heading further inside. Owen, Kiara and Gordon exchanged nods and followed the vampgoyle while Tilde went back to manning the candy bowl for any would-be trick-or-treaters. In the kitchen Jack and Pin were still mixing up the punch, Pin ladling up a sip every now and then before adding a little more alcohol, "Easy, Pin, there's a couple light-weights here." Jack warned with a smile. "I'm not that much of a light-weight!" Cathy protested. "I meant Gordon," Jack chuckled. "Yeah somehow the fattest guy in the room is the light-weight," Gordon grumbled, "It's like divine comedy." "Oh, quit your whining, not like you drink that much anyway," Kiara teased. Gordon nodded, "True. Just letting you know, Cathy, you get drunk and we'll never let you live it down." “I’ll keep that in mind. Good to see you, Pin,” Cathy gave the gremlin a wave, “And you’re Jack?” “Yes, ma’am. Gotta say, I’m a little star struck,” The robed man gave her a smile, “Is it true? About the last movie?” Cathy and Owen shot looks at one another, “Those first movies cost a helluva lot of money. Studio was over budget and as soon as they realized we might not get to make the third movie, the director vanished.” “That producer lady was probably borrowing money from a real life Junko family,” Cathy joked and nudged her husband with her elbow. “So what was gonna happen, anyways? I’m dying to know,” Jack inquired. “Only if you tell me what was going to happen with that abandoned book of yours, Jack,” Cathy challenged, making his face turn tomato red, “I was reading it between takes after Gordon here sent it to me when I was desperate for reading material. I can’t tell you how bored I was when that writer’s strike happened.” “Ah, Jesus,” Jack rubbed his face before moving to a cutting board, “Well, I assume you mean Stranger in a Strange Land, yeah?” He started slicing up citrus fruit and dumping it in the vat of alcohol. He glanced at Pin. “C’mon. Might as well empty your mind vault, big guy,” The gremlin encouraged as she opened the freezer and pulled out a bag of ice. Gordon nodded, “You and I can’t be the only two to know forever.” “Fine, fine,” Jack sighed, “Where did I stop? Tilde was fixed, the gang was looking for the big villain of the Black Hand group, right? They were headed to the dwarven keep. The keep was going to be overrun by those rat men, the gang would commandeer a steam tank or two and blast their way through. They’d meet up with one of Pin’s adoptive fathers, and activate a defense system using the box Pin was given by the sailor dwarf.” “So that box was important! I knew it!” Cathy pointed at Owen who rolled his eyes, clearly having heard many fan theories from the gargoyle. Gordon nodded, “I think after that it gets kinda fuzzy, right?” Jack shrugged and scooped up some jungle juice, making sure to get some lime slices in his cup, “Curtis maybe would have been able to call home through being on top of the mountain or whatever, had a heartfelt moment with his mom or what have you." "What happens to the dwarves?" Cathy asked. "They fight off the rat men with everyone's help, then they turn on the big plot device magic device. Curtis would then use it to find the key to the Maou’s prison. While the device is powering down, the bard would hop into the machine and find his mom using it. On the way to the keys location, they rescue her since shes being held as a slave in some high class human bar since she’s a musician. I think the reveal with her was that she had gotten a wish at some point and used it to wish to have a son." “And then?” Owen grunted as he got a drink for himself and his wife. He paused for a moment to eat one of the little hot dogs that Kiara prepared. “That’s really all I thought of,” Jack shrugged and hung his head, “Either the Black Hand was located under the human capital and they had to break in or something, or they had a compound they all broke into. A long running idea was Curtis would have to go alone and either shoot the villian in some kind of ‘oh, you’re no better’ ending, but I think Gordon told me to drop that crap. I can’t even recall what everyone would have asked for after they did save the Maou. Pin wanted money for her workshop, Joan wants to marry Eric, Rael gets healed, Rose gets her man, etcetera, etcetera,” Jack sighed and leaned against the counter, “Maybe would have cut when it came to Curtis to decide what he wanted. Sorry to disappoint you.” “No, I’m not disappointed,” Cathy smiled, “Thank you for sharing anyways. What are you and Gordon doing now, again? I haven’t had time to catch up.” Gordon’s eyes gleamed, “Just a little novel together.” “Oh yeah, having a pretty good time with it, to be honest,” Jack agreed, "Maybe we'll send you our first draft when it's finished, see what you think." "Oooh, now I can't wait!" The gargoyle cheered. "What about you? Gonna tell me how the last movie was supposed to go?" Jack asked the gargoyle. "Well, I did manage to speak to the screenwriter quite a bit about it, but it was always up in the air for how the director would… 'translate' it to his vision," She explained with a sigh, "Sometimes they'd disagree on things but ultimately the director would get his way. Did you know I was supposed to have a love interest in the first movie?" "You mean Alex Bones?" Pin wondered. "No, there was another one!" Jack snorted, "What? That's ridiculous!" "That's what the director said, 'Cathy shouldn't have a love interest! She should feel available for the lonely guy watching!' But eventually I managed to convince him to let Owen be my love interest. I didn't like the idea of being thought of as 'available,' not when I only just got married," Cathy smiled at her husband, "Had to talk him up quite a bit to allow it, but the other mamano put the pressure on and eventually it was allowed." Tilde grinned as wide as an automaton could, "Well that's great! How long have you been married?" "Oh, two or three years," The gargoyle smirked playfully. "Give or take," Owen added. "Well anyway, we had just finished shooting the scenes where Cathy defeated the nightgaunt when we ran out of money… I was supposed to have a big fight with Amber, or Amber's ghost, however you wanna look at it. Grandma Catherine would show up, help me one last time and get struck down by Amber for good!" "WHAT?! CATHERINE DIES?!" Jack hollered. "Not so loud!" Pin barked back. "Yeah, dude, spoilers!" Gordon jeered. "Sorry," Jack quickly quieted down. Cathy's smile widened as she thought of what was next. "So then that other wonderlander would have shown up to help me, oh, what was her name…?" "Fayette Alban Hopstead," Gordon answered, to Jack, Pin and Cathy's surprise. Kiara didn't seem the least bit shocked, "What? I liked the movies, too!" Cathy laughed, "Right, right. So, after I managed to kill Amber for good, the audience would have seen a bunch of flashbacks to her past with Jade and some other stuff, like I was reliving her life in a flash, in her final moments. I think I was supposed to have a conversation with her as well. The idea was that the nightgaunt and Amber's deal had backfired and I had actually absorbed Amber into my… consciousness or something like that." "That all sounds very… cerebral." Jack replied. "Yeah, the director seemed to have his cerebral all the way up his rectum," Gordon added before snorting at his own joke. "Ha, you have no idea," Cathy giggled, "Anyway, after that we got to Japan, the gang met up with Migi Junko and I was pitted to fight against other mamano in an underground wrestling deathmatch kinda deal. The idea was that Migi was going to prove that my genetics were superior, or some such nonsense by having me throttle the competition. It was kind of a crossover with that other movie the director did about wrestling." "Oh, Monster Mania?" Asked Gordon, this time no one was surprised. "Yeah, that's the one, I was fighting one of the main actresses for that one but we'd become friends, and the match ended in disaster when we refused to fight any longer. I was taken up to meet the true head of Junko where Migi was going to show off her other project. She was supposed to flaunt that weird portal machine she was working on. The story was gonna tie that loose end with the shoggoth baby being used as some kind of battery to power the thing, and when it opened it summoned… well, the mommy shog.” “Uh oh,” Was the unanimous response. “Yeah. So somehow I was supposed to banish it, or something with the machine would malfunction, or the entire Junko family was going to get sucked in, or all of the above. The director and the screenwriter couldn’t even decide on an ending before the movie got canned…” “Man… that would have been so cool,” Jack sighed, “I wish it could have happened. At least I know now.” “Horderves?” Kiara asked, changing subjects as she plated up the little hot dogs, “There’s soda in the fridge, grown up juice in that massive tub– Pin why couldn’t we drink beer or something normal?” “Beer is for chumps,” The gremlin grinned as she poured a mystery liquid from a rune covered flask into her cup of alcohol. Dwarvish hard liquor, Jack assumed, “And sports. Besides, this is a great party drink!” Kiara sighed as she started to plate up more snacks. A variety of chips were dumped into a few bowls, candy corn into another, and mixed candy into a massive one, “Well. The other guests should hopefully arrive soon. I’ll start hotdogs and burgers," Kiara said, pulling the patties out of the fridge first. "Here, let me help," Gordon offered, putting his gauntlets aside and taking the packages of meat off of the hellhound's hands. Kiara smiled and led him out to the backyard porch where the grill was, Owen deciding to follow after, leaving Cathy to mingle. The doorbell rang as soon as the grill had charcoal dumped in. Tilde grabbed the candy bowl again and hurried over. She opened the door and was face to face with a tall woman in a dark blue boiler suit and a hockey mask stained with fake blood, “Hi, Tilde,” The horned woman smiled behind the mask and spoke in a friendly voice. “Hello, Angie, please come in. Is your husband with you?” The cow-woman put her mask up on the top of her head and nodded. Her eight-foot tall stature forced her to duck down to come inside, being careful of her horns so they could clear the door frame, “Right behind me.” A much shorter man was quick to follow her in, being dragged along by the hand, “Hey,” He greeted, wearing a white jacket with a yellow scorpion on the back. “Hello, Max. You are welcome as well. May I ask what your costume is?” “Costume?” Max gave her a confused look. Tilde looked to Angie who shook her head, so the automaton decided not to press further. Pin was already on her second cup of jungle juice when she saw who had arrived. She nodded at Angie as the others exchanged greetings. As she saw Max, she poured an extra shot of her dwarven whisky into her juice, “Don’t start anything,” Jack whispered as she dumped a little into his cup. “Whaaaat? Me? Start anything with the self described sizeist?” The gremlin put on a fake smile before scowling, “He’s the one who makes allusions to pancakes as short stacks in my presence," She explained to Cathy who nodded, recognizing him from the few stories Pin had shared with her, "Why are you friends with this asshole?” The gremlin asked her man. Jack shrugged, “He’s based and his wife sends us free cheese wheels and butter,” Prompting Pin to shrug and nod in resignation. “Oh! Angie and Max are here!” Kiara practically sang as she spied her friends. She grabbed bags of buns and her husband grabbed condiments, “I forget, do you, uh, eat… beef? Is that weird?” Angie smiled as if she had heard this a million times, “I’ll take two burgers with extra cheese, please.” “Comin’ right up! Can you chop up some veggies, Jack? I think I know what everyone else wants,” The hellhound checked a paper in her pocket while Jack gave a thumbs up. The door opened again after a knock. A yeti covered in snow white fluff– more than usual at least, and a dark-skinned man dressed like a mountaineer with a big, fake orange beard both waved, “Looking a little out of season, you two,” Angie joked as she got herself a cup to drink. “I’m the adorable snow-woman from my favorite movie!” The yeti, Camellia explained. “She makes me watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in July…” The man sighed, “The Abominable Snowman and I’m Yukon Cornelius.” "Oh, I love that movie!" Cathy cheered, coming from the kitchen to meet new faces. “How are you not melting in that, Mark?” Gordon scoffed as he headed back to the backyard. “I could say the same to you, Gordon.” “Cooling runes, thanks to yours truly. In both cases,” Pin proudly explained, “Helps Camellia stay cool when she comes down from the mountains too. Is that bed heater working well?” “Almost too well,” Mark plopped down on the couch with his ever cuddly and fluffy wife. The yeti grinned, “It keeps us nice and toasty when we can’t use the heaters!” “Good!” The gremlin nodded, “Who else is comin,’ Gordon?” “Bob and Wik, I think,” The armored man rubbed his chin. “No Liana and Barth? I already knew Boom and Meiya couldn’t…” Kiara’s tail drooped and the flames in her eyes turned to smoke plumes of disappointment. Max shrugged, “Dude’s got three or four kids. I’m sure they’re going trick-or-treating as a family.” “I hope they swing by. Their children are fun to babysit,” Tilde smiled, “What about that… Spider, you three talk to? Is he coming?” Gordon, Jack, and Max all exchanged looks, “He’s uh,” Gordon scratched his head. “Too secretive,” Jack continued as he found the words. “I don’t think any of us know his name and he won’t confirm nor deny if he’s married,” Max finished with a shrug. “I hope he has a good holiday anyway,” Angie smiled with Kiara, Tilde, and Camellia nodding in agreement. The automaton hurried back to the door as she heard a knock. Finally, the trick-or-treaters were out. Mamano and human children were all going door to door in search of free candy. Kiara quickly finished up more than enough burgers and hotdogs for everyone. Most sat around their big dining table or at chairs at the kitchen counter. Everyone was also quickly introduced to Cathy and Owen as well. Shortly after, the final group of guests arrived with the smell of smoke. Crowding with the others into the kitchen was Wiktoria dressed in a pretty revealing nun outfit covered in crosses with a miniskirt and thigh highs alongside her husband, Bob, in a black trench coat, matching black cowboy hat, brown pants and an off white button up, “Hey, all,” Wiktoria smirked. “Late as always,” Kiara offered them plates, “Snacks on the counter and non alcoholic drinks in the fridge. Help yourself to some dinner.” “Thanks,” Bob smiled, “Sorry we’re a bit late. She wouldn’t let me leave on time.” “What’s the fun in arriving on time? Besides, I needed a few more cigs since hosts don’t like smoking,” Wiktora gave a sly grin as she got herself a cup of jungle juice. “Have you met Cathy?” Jack asked. Bob shook his head, “Cathy, huh? Wait… you’re the Cathy!?” “The one and only!” Cathy proudly flexed her wing arms, “Nice to meet ya.” “Likewise. Wik, don’t drink too much of that,” Bob pleaded when he noticed her getting a full plastic cup of jungle juice, “I’m sure Pin mixed it.” “Pssh, chill out,” Wiktoria gave him a grin as she took a sip. Gordon frowned at the tanned demon’s attire, “A nun? Well, I shouldn’t even call it that.” “Oh? You upset over it, Gordon? Afraid I’m gonna turn Bobby-boy into some kinda devil worshiper?” The demon’s piercings seemed to glow even hotter as she got smug. Mark, without smirking, retorted, “He already is. You’ve got him worshiping your ass nightly, I’m sure.” “Mark!” Camellia hollered at her husband. Wiktora’s smug smirk just got even more smug. “We just want you to go church more, dear,” Kiara explained softly, “Anywho, it's movie night, isn’t it?” “Oh, what are we watching?” Owen asked as the group grabbed another drink or snack before heading to the living room. “Can we watch War in the Pocket?” Pin quickly asked as she excitedly went for her bottomless bag. “Oh, god, not more Gundam,” Max groaned, “I deal with that enough online with you nerds,” Mark nodded in agreement. “Gundam?” Cathy echoed with a confused look on her face. Gordon shook his head, “Don’t worry about it, Cathy. It's more of a Christmas movie.” “Christmas movie!?” Camellia perked up instantly as she sat on the floor. Mark put a hand on her shoulder, “Not tonight.” “It’s a Christmas movie like Die Hard is a Christmas movie…” Jack explained, "It's also six episodes long, not really movie length. “Ghostbusters?” Bob asked. “Not much a Halloween movie, but I’d watch it,” Wiktoria agreed. Angie shook her head, “Pass.” “Alright…” Gordon rubbed his chin. It didn’t feel late enough to put on a straight horror movie. He looked to his wife as he tried to think of something else. “How about this?” Kiara pulled a movie off the shelf. Cathy. The first movie in the unfinished story, “We can watch what movies we have and the lead actress herself can regale us in how it was supposed to end.” Eyes turned to Cathy, hopeful and excited. She turned to Owen, “Only if ya guys want actor’s commentary,” The man jested, “Though I don’t have much for the first movie.” “I know Cathy has a lot to say,” Gordon replied, “Got that right when she came home!” “Any objections?” Kiara asked. None raised their voice, “That settles it,” Quickly, the movie started up as everyone settled in. The night had wound down. Most had gone home, but Cathy was falling asleep leaning on her husband. Max and Angie had to leave after the first movie, Mark and Camellia were next, and Bob and Wiktoria had managed to the end of the Cathy movies. With weary eyes, the two had left with Bob almost dragging his totally sloshed wife out of the home leaving Kiara, Gordon, Cathy, Owen, Tilde, Pin, and Jack to watch Gordon’s Halloween favorite: The Thing. Without work the next day, the group decided to put on one last movie, Young Frankenstein to wind down. Cathy looked around, Owen was mostly attentively watching the movie and drinking the last of the jungle juice. Pin was passed out on Jack’s lap with his cloak wrapped around her. Tilde was in low power mode next to them, resting her head on his shoulder. Kiara and Gordon were awake with the man finishing up the last of his wife’s cooking. Cathy stretched and yawned, “Sleepy?” The hellhound chuckled. “A little… I don’t know if we’re good to drive,” The gargoyle admitted. “Take the guest bed,” Gordon offered, “It's still the same as last time you stayed over.” “What about them?” Owen grumbled. Jack’s head rose and he yawned, “No worries. We’re good here.” Kiara passed them a blanket and pillow from a chest in the corner, “Go on then, off to bed.” “Thanks Kiara,” Cathy stretched again as she stood. “Any time. You’re family here, Cathy. I’ll make something wonderful that’ll get rid of the hangover in the morning,” Kiara promised. Owen nodded, “Gonna need that…” He grumbled. The two headed to bed after seeing Jack put his head on Tilde’s lap with Pin still laying atop him. Owen was quick to strip and get in bed, snoring almost instantly as the weariness of a long night overtook him. Cathy had a bit more time as she climbed under the sheets, her mind wandering slowly. She was happy to be home, especially since seeing her family friends. Gordon was a long time friend, even helping her land her lead role. Kiara, as long as she had been with Gordon, was like a second mom. Honestly, she was like a mom for everyone. The gargoyle sighed, thinking about the unfinished third movie. Even if she had taken the time to explain it, she did feel a little unfulfilled. At least it now meant she had time to focus on family and friends, both new and old. As she started to sleep, she began to daydream about playing a role in a movie based on a book that Gordon and Jack had written.