All agreed, Sigma and Capri's reactions were especially enthusiastic.
Santa chuckled. "All right, everyone follow me!" He headed toward the edge of the forest that fringed this part of the village, followed closely by the others. "It's only a short hike," He assured the group. "and it's quite a nice one, if I do say so myself."
Bez smiled. "Hope so. Sigma and hikes don't get along."
Sigma elbowed Bez in the ribs good-naturedly. "I don't like YOUR hikes. YOUR hikes are torturous...."
"They are not!"
"Oh? You remember that one hike we went on-the SIX HOUR ONE? You nearly got smushed by-"
Bez grimaced. "Yeah, I remember. I shoulda finished that guy off, then and there!" She mimed punching someone several times before shaking her head. "That nasty little twerp."
"Easy, you two! Save your breath for the hike!" Matrix chirped.
Gretel laughed. "Oh yeah! Like in the first adventure with the Twitar - uh - I mean - " she checked herself, "The Twilight gang."
Capri and NT snickered.
The group entered the forest.
"Oh, wow, did you hear how quiet it just got?" Bez whispered.
"Yeah. Why are you whispering?" Sigma whispered back.
Bez was about to reply but stopped herself. She chuckled, shaking her head. She looked up, studying the towering trees surrounding their hiking path.
Snow sat gently on the sweeping branches of the numerous coniferous trees. The air was filled with a fresh, crisp scent.
Criter seemed especially at peace, and soon, a relaxed smile crept over his face.
Thande took in a deep breath, holding it for a moment.
"Ya like the smell?" Bez whispered.
Thande nodded, taking in another deep breath.
"It's lovely." Pippi whispered.
Capri nodded, taking in a deep breath and sighing blissfully.
There were similar reactions of bliss from the others.
"All right everyone, here is where the climb starts." Santa didn't whisper like the others, but his voice was lowered to a gentle murmur.
They had reached the base of a small rocky outcrop.
"Me first!" Bez darted out and headed up the outcrop. The others followed quickly after her.
Very soon, they had reached the summit.
The village was spread out beneath them, looking like a vision from a child's fondest dream.
"Oh, wow..." Bez said softly. "Now that's somethin'!"
"Oh, my, just look at that!" Pippi exclaimed quietly, with an expression filled with wonder.
"Nice...very nice." Matrix said with a content smile.
"Coolness!" NT breathed.
Gretel said nothing, but breathed a very audible contented sigh.
"Oh..." It was all Sigma was able to get out. She stood silently, smiling ear-to-ear, taking in the scene.
Capri stood gazing in silent wonder, to the point of choking up. She barely registered the others' reactions around her, and did not want to mar the experience somehow by saying anything. She smiled broadly, but her eyes were glazing with tears.
Criter and Thande stood silently, taking in the scene. They were both still getting used to Christmas, and wanted to carefully preserve memories like this.
Suddenly, Pippi made a gesture toward something down in the village that caught her eye. "Is that all made of ice?"
"Yes, it is." said Santa. "Functional too."
"Really!?" Pippi nearly squealed. She looked excited enough to take off and fly down to that place if only she could.
"Wow! Cool!" said NT, who just couldn't think of much else to say at the moment.
"Oh! Almost like that glass world we were in!" Gretel exclaimed.
What Pippi was marveling at was a large playground with swings, slides, monkey-bars and anything else normally found in a playground, only this was all made of ice and snow.
"Ice! Nice..." Bez exclaimed excitedly. "Dibs on the slide."
"Not if I saw it first," Pippi teased back with a mischievous chuckle.
"Wow!" whispered NT. "Neat!"
"I had a pleasant dream about such a place once when I was a child," said Pippi, "It looked a lot like that, and somehow you didn't get too cold playing or resting there. Neither did the structures melt." Pippi couldn't hide her excitement.
"Wish my dreams were that pleasant," NT muttered.
"Seriously, I've got to come back here and try this out." Pippi said longingly.
"You are more than welcome to, Pippilotta, and Bez, and any of you." Santa smiled warmly. "Though I expect you'll be too tired to do so today."
"Thank you so much, Santa." Capri said dreamily.
There were several other buildings made of ice, and Santa pointed them out, pleased his guests were having such a wonderful time. The ice buildings weren't places where people lived permanently, they were tour attractions that melted away in late spring, to be rebuilt again in Autumn when the weather was consistently cold enough.
The rest were made of the usual construction materials, but were adorned with lights and decorations.
With the dark coming on fast, the lights and frozen landscape's beauty was absolutely stunning, and no one wanted to leave.
But eventually, cold and hunger started setting in for all present, except perhaps for Matrix. NT was among the least tolerant of the cold, and she had begun to shiver and yawn.
Santa's cell phone rang. "Hello, ho ho ho!"
There was a short pause, and then he said, "We're on our way, Jessica, I've just taken our guests to the lookout."
"Okay, see you very soon."
He hung up. "Jess--Mrs. Claus," he remembered to inform the visitors, who probably didn't know her by her first name, "has got our dinner started, so we better head for home."
"Oh, right," said Pippi, "I am getting hungry, and this day is just flying by."
"And freezing." said NT.
"You look freezing." Capri added, seeing NT put a trembling hand over her mouth to yawn.
They hiked back down and arrived at Santa's just in time for dinner.
Santa showed them into the dining area as Mrs. Claus began taking the food off the stove, out of the oven etc.
Introductions were made, and Jessica Claus welcomed them all warmly.
The dinner was a veritable banquet. A choice of French Onion or beef vegetable soup, and bread rolls, a tossed salad, and two choices of a main course, meat loaf Wellington and broccoli and cheese casserole. To go with the meat loaf were tiny roasted potatoes. There was a wide variety of hot and cold beverages to choose from. Not what one might expect upon first glance, and one might be forgiven for thinking it would naturally be a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. That was on the menu for Christmas Day. Santa, his household and workers ate all sorts of different things year round just like anyone else.
At first, it was fairly quiet as everyone dug in, some pausing just long enough to make compliments, while others who were too busy eating as if their lives depended on it, showed their appreciation by nods and "Mmmmm"s.
NT had warmed up, so had gone from tense with cold to relaxed and surprisingly talkative. "Oh, mmm! Haven't had meat loaf Wellington in a long time!" she said.
"Just wait 'til I crow about this to Indy, she'll be so sorry she had to stay behind and work." Pippi grinned.
"Hah, don't be cruel!" NT said, grinning back.
Pippi made a quiet mock wicked chuckle, adding, "We've got to get her down here for a visit once this vampire business is over with
Capri grinned, but said nothing and continued eating somewhat hurriedly.
Santa looked at Jessica with a nod. She smiled back.
"We'd have it no other way." Santa said, turning to Pippi.
Bez chuckled and commented, "Sheesh, this grub is delicious. And look-Thande and Criter and givin' all the human food a good taste!"
Thande was enjoying a bowl of beef vegetable soup.
"Hey, wait a second, I thought you were a carnivore." Bez asked in mock suspicion.
Thande cocked his head at her. "I do not eat the vegetables." He said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Meanwhile, Criter was devouring a ample portion of casserole. "This is fantastic..." He mumbled contentedly.
Gretel nodded and swallowed hastily in order to get in another compliment before the conversation started up again, "Good enough to have healing properties or pretty near."
"Oh, go on." Jessica Claus said with a modest grin and chuckle.
"Maybe it's a good thing Indy isn't here," Pippi said thoughtfully, still with a teasing grin on her face, "She and Bez, egging each other on with their barbaric behavior around food could put them on the naughty list quick."
"Oh, hahaha! Yeah, scary experience!" Capri laughed. "And are ya gonna be okay, NT?"
NT's sudden laugh attack made some hot chocolate come out her nose. Capri's comment made her laugh even more, and she had to put her drink down and try to recover. "Ouch, that hurt!"
"Hah, so much for healing properties." Gretel said with a bemused grin.
There was more laughter.
Capri was by far the quietest there, and she was first to finish her plate. When she was through, Jessica offered her seconds, which she gratefully accepted, but rushed through that as well. She seemed to be anxious or preoccupied, looking out the window every now and then, or down at her watch.
Jessica and Santa chatted and laughed with their guests and with each other. It was such a wonderful time.
Capri sat quietly for a few minutes after her second helping of food, and then began making as if she wanted to excuse herself from the table. "That was just fantastic," she complimented, "and I'm sorry to eat and run, but I've got quite a job ahead of me, maybe some additional ones too, I'd like to get as much accomplished as possible before the lackwit contingent out there comes out to play and does any more damage around here." She began getting to her feet.
NT giggled at Capri's sharp-tongued description of the enemy.
"Oh, but you haven't had dessert yet, and that's still coming." Jessica Claus appealed. "We have all kinds of things, shortbread - "
"Yes!" NT burst out.
Pippi laughed. "My goodness you're excitable, what's got into you!?
Jessica laughed. "Ginger bread men,"
It was Pippi's tern to be excited. "Oh! I love those!"
Jessica smiled. "Pumpkin pie, mince pie, fruit cake, nanaimo bars,"
"Mmmmmm!" That was NT again.
"That's our resident chocoholic," Capri grinned.
"Hehe Yes!" NT replied.
"Plum pudding," Jessica continued, beaming, "cinnamon rolls, spice cake, candy cane cookies, caramel apples - "
That got Capri's attention, and her eyes lit up. "Caramel apples!?" She sat back down quickly. "All right, you've twisted my arm."
There was more laughter.
The desserts were received with as much enthusiasm as the meal, and all except Capri sat around the table and visited for quite some time.
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