That Time of Year

It was freezing cold, and despite his full winter gear Adam found himself wishing he was indoors with some nice warm sake. Still, he had work to do. And this—this felt right, somehow.

He allowed himself a small smile. Change was possible, after all, even for him.

He leaned against the telephone pole and cleared his throat a few times.

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay!
Remember, Christ, our Savior
Was born on Christmas day!
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray;
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy!
O tidings of comfort and joy!”

It was a mere seven years ago that Shelly was the one pausing at each intersection with a different song, her voice carrying far into the night. Back then, Adam had believed in the gods just so he could gripe about them, but he still found himself standing at attention, wondering if there was something to her beliefs.

He’d since come face to face (or close enough, anyway), to Divinity, and was inducted into the ranks of discipleship kicking and screaming. Yet, if he hadn’t, he would have sang anyway, as a tribute to Shelly and the life that she lived.

The life that he ended.

“We three kings of Orient are,
bearing gifts we travel afar:
field and fountain,
moor and mountain,
following yonder star.
Oh! Star of Wonder, Star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light.”

He paused for a moment to check the time, the little puffs of breath drifting away in the wind. Traffic in this part of town was low, which meant he didn’t have to put up with well-meaning but misguided pedestrians dropping change in front of him. Today, he was in disguise, but even back when he was a real bum he’d hated this ‘charity’.

A light came on across the street, and Adam tensed. That was the signal. Soon, his prey would be in sight. He took a few steps forward to the bus stop (his sword in disguise) so that he would be in arm’s reach of it. He continued into the next song, forcing himself to remain calm so his voice wouldn’t crack.

“O Holy Night,
the stars were brightly shining!
It is the night of the dear
Savior’s birth!”

***

“Christmas time is here,
happiness and cheer,
fun for all
that children call
their favorite time of year.”

Shimaru wondered why the pretend under-aged girl—one of Lady Half-Pint’s friends, if his memory proved correct, but he never did bother to keep close track—was standing upside-down on the ceiling of his office. Then he decided he didn’t care. He was here not just to hide from all the holiday-type festivities, but to get a head start on grading final exams. Besides, with Lady Half-Pint’s formidable spells in place, a creature of her level wouldn’t dare to try anything other than making noise; Shimaru had long since become an expert at tuning people out.

“Snowflakes in the air,
carols everywhere,
olden times
and ancient rhymes
and love and dreams to share.”

She actually didn’t have half bad of a singing voice, if she didn’t insist on using that disgusting, saccharine falsetto of hers.

A blur of orange and yellow at the edge of his peripheral vision meant that his late-night visitor had gotten bored with leaving footprints where no janitor could reach. “Ne, Shimaru-Sensei-sa~n,” she called, drawing out the last honorific in a playful tone. “I’m bo~red. There’s nobody to play with me~.”

Suspecting her of being telepathic, Shimaru kept his mind blank, but he couldn’t help letting a few of his sentiments slip.

“Aw, don’t be such a grump. You’re not doing anything really important, are you? So play with me! There’s nobody at the Shrine.”

That piqued Shimaru’s curiosity despite his best attempts otherwise. After all, if the Lord of Nightmares sets up shop in the neighborhood, one makes it his business to find out all he can. If the Shrine, a veritable center of chaos, were empty—on a night like this, no less—something strange was going on.

Then again, she could always be lying just to get his butt out of his chair. Shimaru took out his red pen and, almost without realizing it, began to hum the same tune that she’d been singing earlier.

“Sensei!” The girl sounded hurt. “I don’t lie—much. It’s too much work.” She sat on his stack of papers and began swinging her knobby legs against his desk. “I wouldn’t be bothering you if I didn’t have anybody else to bug. You know that.”

Shimaru continued grading.

“Come on, Sensei. It’s Christmas Eve.” She snatched the pen out of his hands and twirled it between her fingers. “Plus, in a minute your Graduate Assistant’s gonna come in here wearing a really knockout dress asking you if you’re busy tonight—”

In one motion Shimaru stood up, grabbed the pen back, and pulled on his jacket. “I’m not, but she will be. Tell her that these papers are for her to grade.”

She stayed where she was, her back to him so he couldn’t see her expression. “So where are you going, then?”

Shimaru stuffed his blood-free feet into a pair of thick boots. “None of your damn business.”

***

The house was quiet now that the children had been exhausted past the point of consciousness. Washuu tucked them in, kissing both of them on the forehead now that they weren’t awake enough to complain about being too old for that kind of display.

Children, after all, grow up. And there were advantages to being an adult, too, like having no curfew.

(The day that those two would be old enough to date, and not just each other—!)

Washuu stepped out into the street in her adult body and new Christmas dress, humming along with the holiday music.

“What Child is this,
when laid to rest,
in Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.”

She wasn’t the religious type (that tends to happen when one’s a goddess in her own right), but darn it if those Christians weren’t good at pulling heartstrings. Even the most cynical of people seemed to gain an air of propriety when it came to the season.

Well, enough with feeling nostalgic. Time to get drunk and party!

***

“Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigten Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!”

Falora, Shizuka, and Haki sat on the rafters of the cathedral drinking warm eggnog and listening to the choir below. As the song ended and the congregation knelt in prayer, Falora finished her mug and set it next to her.

“I suppose you already know why I’m here.” Her voice was soft and even except for a slight quiver on the word ‘know’.

Haki was about to protest when Shizuka laid his hand on hers. “How much time do we have?”

“Not much. Nii-san and I will hold them off for as long as we can, but—” Falora bit her lip, blinking away the tears at the edges of her eyes.

“We’d best get moving, then.” Shizuka helped Haki to her feet and nodded at Falora. “Thank you.”

Falora forced a smile. “What are friends for?”

***

Irene leaned back against the wall of the Shrine facing the Gate of Chaos and sighed. “Phew. No wonder the other Mazoku don’t like to be out on nights like this. There’s enough peace and goodwill to make even me feel nauseous.”

Elaine returned from trying to bait Shimaru. “Well, I got him out of his stuffy office, but he still won’t talk to me.”

“Too bad. He was our last resort.” Irene sighed again and closed her eyes. “Argh. How in the world did you ever convince me that reintegration was a good idea?”

Elaine pouted. “If it was my idea, that means you were considering it, too.”

“Yeah, but only you were crazy enough to actually try it.”

“As if living two lives was any more sane.”

“Girls, girls!” Xelloss stepped out from the shadows, shaking a gloved finger. “It’s Christmas! Everybody’s supposed to get along, even beings of evil! And besides, you’re only supposed to be partly evil.”

Irene’s eyes widened. “Dad! You shouldn’t—” But before she could finish her sentence she doubled over in pain.

Xelloss stepped through the vanishing Elaine and patted his daughter on the head. “I’m used to it, remember?”

“But—”

“Shh.” Uttering a quick spell, Xelloss changed Irene to her other form and gathered her in his arms. “Let’s not keep your mother waiting, ne?”

A moment later, the Shrine was empty save for the echoes of a very mischievous trickster priest singing at the top of his lungs:

“Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Reindeer)
had a very shiny nose (like a light bulb!)
And if you ever saw him (saw him)
You would say it really glows (like a light bulb!)—”

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