Bez shrugged, a mischievous glint in her eyes."Well, I s'pose you're right...but I'll melt all over the place!" She looked over herself, shaking snow out of her hair and brushing it off her clothes. She took a few steps toward Santa's home. "But what if he isn't there? I mean, do I knock or just go in?"
"Come on, Bez!" Sigma said, smiling. "Just go! You never act like this.."
"Yeah, well this is Santa! I'm not arresting him or anything, so I can't just barge in like I normally would..."
Capri nodded in agreement. There was running about Santa's place in her Christmas daydreams, and then there was this. Suddenly faced with the reality of it made her feel strangely bashful.
"Just do it!" Matrix cheered. "What's he gonna do, put you on the Naughty List?"
"Hope not," Capri muttered, grinning.
Bez darted a withering look at Matrix and took a few more steps. "But...what if he didn't get our reply?"
Pippi grinned in bemusement at both Bez's and Capri's uncharacteristic behavior.
"BEZ! Come on!"
"Fine, fine, sheesh, don't blow a circuit, Matrix." She took the final steps to the door and knocked several times.
It was Capri's turn to chuckle.
There was the sound of hurried footsteps from within. The door was opened by none other than-
"Santa Claus!" Sigma exclaimed, her face full of child-like glee.
"Yes!" Pippi added, all smiles.
Criter looked over the man carefully. So this was Santa Claus, the one Bez had thoroughly explained as being an integral part of Christmas. He instantly felt at ease at the sight of the man. Something about him just seemed right.
NT giggled and was making a concerted effort not to jump up and down.
Matrix smiled, laughing happily.
Thande already had some minor expirience with Christmas, but had envisioned Santa Claus quite differently than the man that now stood before them. He found the difference relieving.
Capri burst out laughing, and hid her face behind her hand a moment, trying to get her excitement under control. This mixed with the shyness was overwhelming her with an odd inner conflict that she didn't know how to handle.
"Hiya, Santa!" Bez chirped. "You did get our message, right?"
Santa smiled, nodding. "Yes, yes, and thank you very much! I can't tell you how grateful we all are that someone is taking this seriously!"
"He sounds exactly like on my favorite Christmas specials!" NT said with a big smile.
"Yes!" Pippi replied, smiling at NT, then looking at Santa to smile at him. She nodded her head in greeting.
Santa looked past Bez and studied the others. "You should come inside! Looks like some people have been having a snowball fight..."
"That's for sure!" NT blurted out.
Several people laughed.
The group filed inside, where a hodgepodge of Christmas aromas filled the air.
"Mmmm! I smell gingerbread." said Pippi."
Gretel sidled up to her and gave her a nudge. "You can have it." she whispered in her ear.
"I bet they make fantastic shortbread here." NT breathed.
Criter took in all the unfamiliar smells with a pleasantly perplexed smile. He was looking forward to trying some of these foods.
Bez took a stand by the large roaring fireplace, sniffing the air. "Oh, gosh, I think I smell cloves..."
"Mm,hmmmm." Capri purred, nodding. "And such a cozy fireplace. Ahhh."
Bez started slightly. "Oh, sorry! Let me introduce the ragtag rabble. I'm Bez Marshall, that's Sigma Notrahn, he's Matrix, and the big scaly one is Thande. Oh, and that guy is Criterion MacAfee." Bez turned to Capri and friends. "You want to handle your own introductions?"
"Oh, sure," Capri breathed. "I'm Capri Monroe, and these are my friends, Pippi Longstocking," she indicated the red-headed woman who was all smiles from ear to ear.
"Hello, Santa, I'm glad to finally meet you in person." Pippi stepped forward, extending her hand.
"Pippilotta, never failing to make the nice list, the pleasure's all mine." Santa shook her hand.
"Oh, you remembered my first full name - it's been a while since anyone's called me that." Pippi chuckled, then she stepped back to introduce the short, pale brunette, NT.
"And you are - " Santa began as NT stepped forward, looking at him with wonder.
"My name is - NT Vanessa Maria Dawson, sir," she said quietly but distinctly.
"Oh," Santa gave a low "ho ho ho!" "There's no need to be so formal, come in and make yourselves at home!" He took NT's free hand and squeezed it between both of his warm ones. "I like my Ipod, too." he said to her.
"Oh, shoot," Nt suddenly said, "I think I forgot to turn it off!" She pressed a button or two, hit the switch, "There, my apologies."
"Go ahead and video or take a few pictures, I don't mind, especially since you are here to help out."
"Thanks." said NT.
"I'm Gretel, and pleased to finally meet you in person!" Gretel gave Santa's hand a hearty handshake.
"It's a pleasure, Gretel, welcome, come on in!" Santa laughed.
There was a momentary pause, and then…
"And now, Capri, don't be so shy, let's see if you shake hands as well as your friends," Santa encouraged.
"Heh," Capri gave him a lopsided grin, "I think Sigma should be next, after the snowball crushing she gave Bez out there, her hands are probably colder than mine."
Santa gave a louder "Ho ho ho!" smiling ear to ear, nodding at Capri, he turned to Sigma, and shook her hand heartily. "Welcome here, and a merry Christmas!"
Sigma giggled. "Thanks, Sandy Claus!" She blushed slightly. She'd referred to him as Sandy Claus as a young child, before she could properly say "Santa", and the sudden relapse to the nickname had surprised her.
Santa laughed heartily. "Sandy Claus! You haven't called me that since you were barely knee-high!" He gave her a one-armed hug and laughed again.
Capri looked on, smiling blissfully. She startled when it became apparent that Santa was not about to leave her out of his personal greetings.
"Capri Eponine Danae Monroe," he said, coming over to her, "Merry Christmas to you." He shook her hand heartily. "Why so shy?"
Capri felt her face flush with mingled excitement and slight embarrassment. "Can't quite figure that one out myself." she muttered.
"I think I can," said Santa with a grin, and a slight mischievous tone, "You're as excited as the others and you're trying not to let it show, why don't you just admit it?" He laughed, clapping her on the back.
Capri burst out into a stifled laugh.
"Come on, Capri, what's with you today?" Pippi said, looking at Capri, then over at Santa.
Capri deadpanned in response.
Santa looked at Pippi, "Your friend is a bit of a tough nut to crack, would you like to help me?"
"Sure, what did you have in mind?"
"If you'll just pick her up and, " he moved to the other side of the room, "toss her to me, and I'll toss her back."
"Oh, no!" Capri looked panicked, and started searching for a place to retreat.
"Oh, hahahaha!" Gretel's hearty laughter rang out.
Pippi caught Capri anyway, "Oh, no you don't, it's time for a little Hurl-the-girl!" She picked her up and threw her right into Santa.
"Ack!" Capri protested.
"Hehehehehe! Nice catch!" NT laughed.
Bez and Matrix burst into loud laughter, Sigma got caught up in a giggle-fit, and even Thande smiled at the sight. Criter couldn't help but laugh at the spectacle.
Santa tossed Capri back to Pippi.
"Argh!" But Capri was definitely laughing at this point.
There was more laughter from those looking on.
Then Pippi threw her up in the air in a twirling motion, catching her again, then threw her back at Santa.
Capri squealed and shrieked, landing in Santa's arms, guard finally down, laughing as hard as she might have if she had gone to see him as a little girl.
Santa laughed and asked her, "Now, what would you like for Christmas, Capri?"
"Nothing in particular," she spluttered. "I'm just sorry all of my friends couldn't be here."
"Oh, maybe they can't be here tonight, or right this minute, but you never know what the future holds." Santa said thoughtfully to her.
"Oh, I just thought of something!" Capri suddenly said as she extricated herself from Santa's arms, "Has Frosty the Snowman come to life yet?"
"Not yet, and we've tried. Either it's the wrong hat or else something's wrong and the magic isn't working any more."
"Oh, too bad, I would've loved to see him come to life and meet him as well." said Capri.
"Maybe this is all in connection with what's going on around here." Pippi suggested.
"I've thought of that, too." said Santa. "Well, why don't you all just make yourselves at home, enjoy the fire and there are lots of hot drinks and goodies of all sorts. Once you have had a little refreshment, I'll take you all on a tour, and we can talk business later on."
Everyone sat around the fire, chatting, laughing and enjoying refreshments that were so good, making anything else they'd ever had in the way of festive foods, pale in comparison.
Eventually, the room became quiet and the atmosphere filled with contentment. It was one of those times no one wished to see come to an end.
After a brief but well-deserved rest, Santa began taking them on a tour as promised.
First on the list was the toy factory, which actually covered much more than toys. Elves were still hard at work, making various things from dolls to computers. The machinery was all up to date just like in every other manufacturing company anywhere in America.
Bez nudged Criter knowingly and smiled. "Keep an eye open! I'm sure Santa will help you find some presents."
Criter nodded and watched the elves at work.
Every now and then, the visitors got a curious look and a smile from various elves as they walked on through, seeing how various things were made.
They toured the candy-making factory which smelled absolutely delicious. Everyone got a traditional candy cane fresh off the presses, and another type of candy of their own choosing.
Santa took everyone to see his sleigh. It was stored in a room that had many harnesses and a storage space where extra bells were kept, and other assorted odds and ends that were needed should anything start wearing out or breaking.
Santa passed around a bell that wasn't attached to anything yet, and everyone got to jingle it. NT was particularly excited about this, appreciating the fact these weren't just any old bells. This was an actual Santa sleigh bell!
Suddenly, there came a slight commotion from the sleigh. An outcry and gasp from Capri caused everyone to turn toward her.
She was standing right next to the sleigh, and seemed to be trying to recover from a bad fright.
"Let me guess, you get spooked by mice too?" Santa was used to a few of the elves being frightened of tiny rodents or bugs, so that was what he thought was wrong this time as well.
Capri caught her breath. "Not a mouse." she said. "Have you got a backup sleigh you could use instead of this one?"
"Yes, but why?" Santa asked her.
"Because this one ain't safe. Whoever these people are, they've got it in for you - in a - very - bad - way - this sleigh's got a death or at least serious injury curse on it."
Several gasps were uttered.
"What!?" Santa looked taken aback.
"It's set to blow up or crumble apart when you are in mid-flight."
There was stunned silence for a moment.
Capri continued. "I'll try to remove it, but I don't know how long that'll take."
"I have a replacement I could use," Santa said soberly.
"May I see it?" asked Capri.
"Certainly," said Santa, "Please excuse us a moment. He led Capri through a small door into another part of the storage facility.
Bez frowned thoughtfully and turned to the others. "Well this isn't good." She declared, after a slight pause. "First we have vampires, and now this?" She shook her head. "Someone really has it in for the big guy!"
"Sickos." Gretel said, incensed.
Matrix nodded. "Definitely grim tidings. Least Capri was able to detect the spell before it was too late!" He shivered. "Think of what could have happened..."
"And what else might be hexed? I've seen my share of this kind of thing." said Pippi grimly. "They never stop at just one."
Bez sighed looking around the room. "Hey, Scaly, what's with the face?"
Thande looked like he had just stepped in something unpleasant. "The sleigh. It reeks of something...evil."
Bez nodded. "Hey, hey! Now we have something to go on...You could track it, right? Give us a heads up if we got to a particularly strong spot?"
"Good. And if the whatever-it-is, I dunno, magics itself up, we're covered there to." She looked around at the group. "Looks like we're the perfect people for this job!"
Pippi nodded at Bez.
The door was heard opening, and Santa returned with Capri. "Now, he said, shaking his head to clear it, "How about moving on?"
There were various agreements made by the group.
Santa led them outside.
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