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reprieve.doc
Keywords male 601999, female 483346, fox 127826, canine 82863, cute 78033, feline 69913, skunk 16866, fantasy 10740, christmas 8983, leopard 7227, lynx 6846, forest 5581, surprise 2353, holiday 2187, military 1452, fanfiction 1319, whip 1124, dreamkeepers 1007, mountains 927, holidays 856, fanfic 568, christmas tree 509, hiding 353, bill 261, bobby 224, mace 187, flashback 174, vi 137, namah 96, karo 80, troika 34, rumour 4, refuge 1, allspirits 1, allspirits eve 1
``Reprieve''

In an instant, she was there.

The abrupt change in setting was jarring, the brightly lit sandy rock replaced by total darkness, pierced by the cones of light projected from their torches.  While disorientating, it threw her off for only half a second.

A lot can happen in half a second.

She was already crouched low on one knee, Mark III snug against her shoulder.  She swept her weapon to the left while Karo cut to the right, twin beams of light cutting swaths through the inky black.  She didn't need to look behind to know that Bobby and Rumour were doing the same.

The room was illuminated one section at a time, revealing cold gray stone walls, several wooden crates wrapped in tarp, several exits with and without doors, the other pads next to them, and finally the telepad control panel upon its podium.  The space was less than half the size of the central chamber back at HQ and completely enclosed, but otherwise was identical in design.  It was also as still and empty as a graveyard.

As soon as her torchlight met Bobby's, she reversed direction and gave her quarter a second scan, panning over the area again to ensure that they were clear.  Within their limited range of vision, nothing moved.  Based upon the thick coating of dust on every surface, nothing had moved there in a very long time.  Still, those crates and doorways made her uneasy; anyone - or anything - could be lying in wait, poised to ambush any unwary Troika who sought to reclaim the outpost.

She swiveled her ears to the sides, tilting her head right and then left, straining to detect any unwelcome guests.  All she heard were the subtle breaths of her squad.  Didn't guarantee anything.  While it was highly unlikely that either a Nightmare or a Dark Dreamkeeper could remain absolutely motionless (or otherwise avoid disturbing the layer of dust) for days or even weeks in anticipation of the possible return of the facility's caretakers, Sandmen were more than capable of sitting in some lonely corner for months if needed, only moving once their prey has arrived.  This was all discounting the effects of some kind of Power or other ability, of course.  Or the possibility that the enemy knew they were coming - and had to only wait a few hours.

``Anything?''


Her voice was barely a whisper, almost inaudible to even her own ears.  Her mic could pick it up just fine, though, easily capturing her words and conveying them to the other headsets.

``Nothing.''

``Clear.''

``Nada.''

No guarantee.

They couldn't sit on this pad forever; they would have to make a move.

``Fan out and secure the room.  Check corners and keep your eyes on the exits.  Don't break line of sight.''

``Got it.''

``Understood.''

``Yup.''


They creeped across the floor at an excruciatingly slow pace, sweeping their weapons to and fro, carefully examining every nook and cranny while taking great pains to ensure they didn't lose sight of each other.  The soft scraping of their feet was a fanfare in the silence, every echo bouncing off the walls causing her to wince.  If there was anything waiting for them, it definitely knew they were there.

She meticulously examined the area around a large stack of crates, stamped with faux shipping approvals and tax IDs for legal fermentae.  In passing, she thought that it was far more probable that they contained weapons, armor, or medical supplies as opposed to disguised bottles of Scinter's Mark.  Fortunately, whatever they hid inside, behind them they only hid more dust.  She moved past them toward the infirmary, the entrance marked by a ragged curtain.

Taking a position on the right side, she crouched low, finger on the trigger; fire safety was not a concern - the only ones who had any business being there before them was the enemy.  She took a deep breath and steeled herself for a potential firefight.  She briefly considered hitting her Power, but it would only serve to alert any hostiles to her intentions and paint a bullseye right on her head.  She could have her halo up in a split-second anyways.

About two seconds later, her muscles exploded with energy as she sprang to the side, shoving open the curtains with the barrel of her weapon as she bathed the interior with yellow light.

Nothing greeted her but a row of sad cots and several harmless cabinets.

She relaxed only briefly before returning to her sweep.

In less than a minute she had reached the wall and she leaned against it.

``Are we clear?''

``Clear.''

``Clear.''

``Wait one... nope, we're clear.''


She sighed with relief.  There wasn't much left to search and if any hostiles were present, they would've attacked already, back when the squad was out in the open on the pad.

``Okay, Karo, you're with me - we'll sweep the remaining rooms and secure the entrances.  Bobby, Rumour, hold this room.  Alright?''

``Got it.''

``Understood.''

``Right behind you, Vi.''


It didn't take long to inspect the rest of the base.  There was an armory, two sets of living quarters, a briefing room, two storage rooms, a kitchen, and two entrances, leading out into the snowy night.  The locks were intact and a check of the surrounding area just outside revealed no indication that anyone had ever been there.

``Base secure and we're heading back.  Bobby, kick the gennys and get a pad warmed up.''

She heard a gentle hum as she and Karo returned to the central chamber, power surging to the pads.  Bobby was already fiddling with the control console while Rumour inspected one of the crates.

As she approached, Bobby looked up and waved her over.

``Some of the connections were loose, but nothing was actually damaged.  We can send them the go-ahead whenever you're ready.''

She nodded, slinging her Mark III over her shoulder.

``No reason to dick around - Karo, you're going.''

The winged raptor trotted over to the nearest pad while Bobby adjusted some knobs and inputted the HQ's receiver coordinates.  With the push of a button, Karo vanished with a sudden sizzle, leaving no trace of his previous existence.  Now all they could do was wait for him to return with everybody else.

She turned around to reexamine the room, leaning back against the podium, elbows up on the console.

``So... what do you think?''

Bobby raised an eyebrow, ears cocked back.

``It's cold, musty, small, and in bad need of maintenance.  There's a lot to clean up before this place is even remotely habitable and there's no guarantee that the heaters will run.  If not, we'll be chopping firewood.  And even if all of that goes well, there's nothing anybody can do to make this place any bigger.''

He surveyed the dismal space, a gloomy look on his face.

``What a terrible way to spend the holiday.''

She elbowed him the stomach - a gentle one, but enough to make him recoil.

``Nothing a bit of elbow grease could fix up!''

He had already retreated a few steps, well out of range, slightly bent and rubbing his abdomen.

``If you say so - ''

Vzzt!

Their heads swiveled in unison to witness Karo, Bill and a few others materialize out of thin air, some sitting atop a large stack of crates.  Bill opened his mouth with a forced smile, but before he could say a word Karo stepped out in front of him and bowed with a flourish, sweeping his arms toward the group.  For some reason, Bill looked disappointed.

``First wave of the New Home Redecorating Team has just arr - oof!''

He was cut off when their second smallest member, attempting to drop down from the pile of supplies, slipped and fell right into him.  They both went flying, Karo landing on his butt while the other crashed onto his face with a great cartoonish smack!

``Dammit!''

The little guy rolled over, cradling his nose, blood leaking from between his fingers.  Bill hurried over to help him up.

A feminine voice answered from the very top of the stack, dripping with sarcasm.

``Smooth one, Mace.''

Mace sat up, trying to stem the flow, voice muffled through his fingers.

``Eh slhepped!  Nut lek eh pwanned et.''

A little blue blur shot off from behind the stack and hovered near Mace's head.

``Heh swengy fwuh desh.''

Mace glared up at Whip.

``Eh doo nut shend lek Fwunn.''

Karo got to his feet, swatting his clothes and kicking up clouds of dust.  He eyed Mace with a grin.

``Eh, sorry Mace, but could you say that again?  I can't understand a word your saying.''

Mace dropped his hands and gingerly stood up, Bill supporting him at the shoulder.  Despite the gloom, the red around his nose stood out vividly against his white fur.

``Funny. Ow - !''  He clasped a hand to his mouth.  ``I... I think I chipped a tooth, and...''

Without anything to stem the flood, little red rivers began to pour out of both nostrils.

``Uh, guys, help, please?''

``Damn, Mace,'' Bill exclaimed.  ``Hold on, I got something... somewhere...''  He started rifling through his pants pockets, but she could already tell that he had nothing useful.

Vi sighed.  It's going to be one of those days.

Adopting a commanding tone, she snapped her fingers.

``Listen up, play time's over.  We need to clear the pad and start unpacking those supplies ASAP.  Karo, Bobby, Bill and - Namah, get down from there - move those crates.  Rumour, Whip, Mace - don't give me that look, just stuff something in there for now - inventory those stacks over there; we need to know what is in them and whether we can use it.''

While the others hopped to (except for Bill, now checking his jacket to no avail), Mace remained behind, looking dubiously at the blood on his hand.  Before he could speak, she placed a hand on his shoulder.

``Listen, when Lilith arrives with the medical supplies, we'll have her take a look at it, okay?  Just get a tissue or something for now.''

Lacking any tissues, Mace pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand and trotted off to Rumour, Whip whizzing just behind.

Karo tugged at Bill's sleeve and started dragging him toward the crates.  As everyone got to work, another vzzt announced the arrival of Igrath, Bast, and several MCPs.  Bobby was already directing them without her having to say a word.  Vi oversaw the activity with a keen gaze.

``C'mon, hustle people!  I would prefer we finish before Allspirits Eve!''

*******


The frigid wind tore at her with wanton hunger, its ferocious assault staved off by neither thick winter coat or meager layer of fur.  Blinding white powder, hard and compacted into a crust two feet deep, sought to leech the life from her legs, muscles straining to free themselves from the frozen grasp with each footstep.  The chill cut to the bone, her body quaking in a futile attempt to fend off the draining cold.  Straight above, the sun bore down harsh light, but the cruel air stole the warmth away, what little that made it through serving only to produce thin layers of liquid that quickly hardened into ominous icicles or slick, rigid films upon every surface.

Well, at least it wasn't snowing.

Happy thoughts.

Vi grunted as she dragged the poorly designed makeshift sled across the snow's surface, the icy crust crunching as she punched her thickly-wrapped foot through the drifts.  She had been searching for at least an hour and was fast running out of time.  If she didn't find a good candidate soon, she'll have to return to base empty-handed.

She stopped before a likely specimen.  Good condition, nice branches, beautiful color.

And way too damn big - it was at least a meter too wide.  It would never fit.

She growled in frustration, her breath instantly crystallizing in the icy atmosphere.  Before the dancing cloud of frosty particles had a chance to disperse, she was already moving on, the crunching snow and scraping wood echoing off the horde of tree trunks.

She had started regretting her decision over forty-five minutes prior.

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Like most.

While she planned for this occasion weeks in advance, it had never crossed her mind to fetch a tree, seeing as the Diony Desert had an untimely shortage of the buggers.  Go figure.  Their new location, however, sported a bountiful array, being nestled in a forest along the side of the StarFall Mountains, west of Norvondire overlooking the southern edge of the Eridan River.  As such, it wasn't unreasonable to expect there to be at least one tree that she could fit on the damn sled?  Right?

Right.

A perfect one rose up before her, webbed branches curling out and in, forming excellent hooks to hang ornaments on.  It was also three meters too tall - it would never fit through the doors.

She sighed and resumed her doomed fetch quest.

As far as everyone else was concerned, she was out collecting firewood.  The outpost's heaters were well past their expiration date and they could only bring a few with them from HQ.  Roaring fires have been the preferred method of warming the musty rooms for the past week.  Thankfully the facility's architects included fireplaces with ingeniously disguised outlets as part of the design.

She had already collected her quota for the day by working double-time the previous day.  It lay concealed near the entrance, waiting for her to pick it up and carry it on in, as if she spent the last couple hours chopping wood.  In its place she would put the tree, where it will remain until the night before, ensuring that no one got wind of her plans.

Everything else she needed was already hidden among the various equipment and supplies they brought with them, carefully smuggled in during the transfer.  Most of it was completed long before, during what little downtime she had during the troubled weeks that followed the failure of Operation Guillotine.  It also helped that some of it coincided with a project that Scinter had her working on.  Hopefully he won't have a conniption when he finds out what else she has been doing with his experimental fiber-weave.

The wind increased in intensity, morphing into a gale that threatened to tear her long ears right off her head.  She flattened them as far they could go, but they were already numb and resistant to her commands.  She doubted that she would feel a thing if they were really ripped off.  Her head bent forward, shoulders hunched, she pushed through the wailing gusts as towering columns of wood flanked her passage, mocking her for her stupidity.

Why was she doing this in the first place?

She vaguely recalled... was it a memory?  Or a dream?  Both?  Something, something that suddenly inspired her to embark on this ridiculous venture.

Whatever it was, it made her realize something about what they were.

At the beginning, they were comrades, brothers in arms (Sisters in arms?  Heh.), a tightly-nit, highly-trained resistance cell prepared over the course of years to fight a clandestine war against a dire threat and eventually overthrow the ruling body of Anduruna and galvanize its citizens into an army ready to defend the city against the Nightmares.  It was clean-cut, spelled-out, planned-out.  They were soldiers.

They had contingencies for complications.  But they couldn't plan for everything.  And no matter how hard they tried to expect the unexpected, the unexpected still managed to throw them for a loop.

They didn't expect the enemy to make a move so early.  They didn't expect the orphanage to be attacked.  They didn't expect the enemy to make such sudden, drastic, and sometimes contradictory changes in strategy.  They didn't expect kids.

Shit, a bunch of kids.  And not just kids that just happened to be there, but kids who were important, right at the center of everything.

She never expected those two boys to so important.

Above all, no one expected them to become a family.

It was both a blessing and a curse.

Families don't make good fighting forces.  More often than not, they are dysfunctional messes of melodrama and conflict that threaten to tear each other apart.  Then when you least expect it, they somehow manage to pull it together to bail you out when you most need it.

She didn't expect to a part of a family again.

A nearby mound of snow, a pile of powder that had yet to compact or freeze over, exploded into a mass of flurries that launched a furious air raid against her vulnerable form.  She squeezed her eyes shut and tucked her chin to her breast bone, hunching against the sudden attack.

The Archives was her first real action against a Nightmare.  Down in that dungeon, when she faced that rhyming monstrosity, she realized that the one she killed back on base was barely a pup in their ranks.  Yet, she didn't falter, even when death stared her right in the face.  The many times after were much the same.

It all changed when a ragged claw pierced her left lung and she nearly drowned in her own blood.

Almost dying has a tendency to change your perspective on life.

When she left the orphanage, she was secretly glad that she didn't have to be the big sister anymore.  Now, maybe she'd like to be one again.

Those weeks were hell, but there were some bright spots, too.  Little brilliant points of light, comprised of simple conversations, comical remembrances, small moments of hijinks, and one particularly memorable pillow fight.  But now something threatened to swallow it all up.

The flurries finally abated, leaving a fresh coating of frost on her arms, ears, and nose.  She shook it off, throwing a fresh dusting on her surroundings.  She wiped her snot on her coat sleeve and trundled along.   If there isn't a good one in the next five minutes, then she might as well give up and go back to a nice, warm fire.

How that bitch managed it was anyone's guess.  Based on her boasts, it was planned out even before they set foot in the Tower foundation, by the big boss himself.  Regardless, it cost them Operation Guillotine, their advantage, HQ, and the total loss of several cells.  Not willing to wait for the Nightmares to come banging on their door, Scinter ordered a complete transfer to an off-the-grid outpost, whose pad coordinates were known only to himself, Igrath, and Nainso.  Once everybody made it to this miserable place, they worked hard to reestablish contact with the remaining cells and coordinate the redistribution of personnel and equipment to prevent further losses.

At the moment, the Troika was in standby mode until the end of the month at the earliest.  Wait and listen, ears to the ground, carefully monitoring enemy traffic in total silence.  The desperate circumstances, terrible conditions, and unexpected hours of nothing but free time has set everyone on edge, forming a tense atmosphere of anxious anticipation tinged with depressing gloom.  As the week wore on, what good humor they had on move-in day had long sense evaporated; nobody talked, nobody smiled, nobody so much as cracked a joke.

Guess it was up to big sis, then.

What ill-formed plan she had prior was now more important than ever.  If she didn't do something, she feared they would never truly recover.

Too bad reality refused to cooperate.

Her shoulders slumped as she slowly turned in a circle, surveying an endless forest of giants, none of which suited her purposes.  It would've been so much easier if she had help, but she had already discarded that possibility at her plan's inception.  Scinter and Nainso would never stand for what seemed to be a complete waste of resources and while Igrath may be more sympathetic, she would bet that he'd too say that her time would be better spent elsewhere.

She beat Nightmares, she beat Dreamkeepers, she beat even death itself, but here she is, freezing her ass off in the middle of nowhere, thoroughly thrashed by logistics.

Abruptly, mercifully, the sadistic wind decided to give up the ghost and died out, leaving behind a silent calm.  She let her whole body relax, every muscle loosening, and fanned out her ears to absorb as much of the sun's rays as they could before the dreaded gale returned.

In what was supposed to be utter silence, a soft plop made itself known to her outstretched ears.

She swiftly pivoted to her right, unslinging her rifle and snapping it toward a particularly gnarled tree.  A pile of snow sat at its base, rough and powdery, distinct from the surrounding ice and obviously a recent addition.

Her sights tracked upwards, searching the branches.  A brief flash of blue, nearly indistinguishable from the white bark, bloomed in a gap through the center, attended by a small squeak.

She rolled her eyes, lowering her weapon.

``Whip, I know you're there.  Come out.''

A pair of small red eyes peeked around the other edge of the branches, peering at her.

``Reh.''

She folded her arms.  Of all the people she suspected capable of figuring out her secret plans, he was pretty low on the list.

``I honestly though Namah'd be the one to tail me out here.  I loaded her down with so many chores that she wouldn't have time to think.  Of course, I was also expecting her to skip them anyways...  But you...''

Whip floated out from cover, coasting lazily through the air at about two meters.  His tail flicked back and forth, ears pinned back.  He eyed her cautiously.

She snapped her arm out at lightning speed, snatching the end of his tail.  She was firm, but gentle, applying just enough force to ensure that he doesn't escape.

He squeaked and tried to dart away.

``Feh feh!''

She twirled the tip of his tail around her palm and gave a gentle tug.

``Hold it there, bucko.  I'm not letting you go unless you promise - ``

He peeked over his shoulder.

`` - not to tell anyone, got it?''

The tension in the spindly appendage slackened as he drifted back.

``Yuuvah fweh twenghy et meh?''

How did Mace ever learn to understand him?  Hell, even that Vanth girl was somehow grasping the basics.  Yet all she managed to get was that it was a question.  Maybe.  Damn, she was out of practice; Bobby always managed to do better.

``Not following, Whip.''

He twirled around, looking at all the trees with his arms outstretched.  He then pointed to the axe strapped to her back and the sled behind her.

``Erm, yeah, that...''  She trailed off as a wave of weariness flooded through her.  She rubbed her brow with her free hand, eyes closed.  Why did she ever think this was going to work?  Wasting all this time, time she could've spent honing her skills or making things that would actually help them win the fight.  And for what?  Holiday cheer?  Shit, was has she been doing?

``You know what, never mind, it was nothing.''

She let him go and turned back the way she came, lifting her foot and thrusting it through the snow behind her.  Before she could take another step, Whip blocked her way.

 ``Icshy mengh! Woo grengy vrangh meh.  Fweh zesh?''

She was annoyed enough as it is, if not downright depressed.  She brushed him away with a wave of her hand, the little guy nimbly dodging her half-hearted swipe.

``Wenghy-feh!?''

``Dammit, Whip, I'm not in the mood.  Let's just get back to base - ``

He maneuvered in front of her again, limps stretched out in an X, as if the few extra inches he gained could stop her.

She glared at him.

``Don't think I won't swat you out of the air.  And I won't be sorry about it.''

He stood his ground, folding his arms and returning her glare.

 ``Chenghy.  Teh dreshvah chegnoo.''

She tried to maintain her anger, but her dreary mood snuffed that out too.  Her shoulders slumped, eyes drawn to the white wrapped around her legs.  Hell, she might even cry.

``Whip, please, just leave it.''

Something tugged at the strap holding the axe.

``Neth desh.  Jeh?''

That one was a little easier to understand.  She pressed her closed eyes into the palms of her hands.

``No, Whip, let it go.  You couldn't do much any - ``

Hold it.

Her head snapped upward, causing Whip to zip several feet away in alarm.

Moron, of course he could help.  In fact, he's exactly what she needed.

``Whip?''

``Eh...?'' he answered, hesitantly.

``I'm looking for a tree, big enough to fill the main room back at base, but small enough to get through the doors.  Has to look real nice, with branches the curl down into little hooks.  To hang stuff on.''

He gave her a confused look.  A moment later, his eyes widened in realization.

``Treshna?''

Gonna assume that means he understood.

``Look, I don't have much time left.  Wanna help me find one?''

His face broke out in a grin and he nodded vigorously.

She grinned back.

``Good.  Whip out there and find the best one you can.  Remember, this is our secret, got it?''

Whip stood at attention in mid-air and gave her a cute little salute.

``Roo!''

*******


``Daddy, daddy, c'mon, c'mon!''

The little girl bounced into the living room, dragging her chuckling father by his long, fluffy tail.

``Alright, honey, daddy's coming!''

She gave his tail an extra shake.

``Right here, daddy, sit - no!  Here daddy!''

Giggling, she redirected him from the blue sofa and to the green chair with white stripes.  Sunlight streamed through the window, illuminating a sea of presents that have somehow redistributed themselves from beneath the tree to every bit of floor and half the couch.  Rolls of yellow and pink yarn sat on one of the arms, colorful streamers draped across the back.  Looks like his excitable ball of pink fluff had been quite busy this morning.

Mercifully she released his tail and he threw it across the back of the green chair.  His bottom had barely touched the cushion when something was shoved into his hands.

``For you, daddy!''

She beamed up at him.  Spirits, it was the most beautiful thing.  His cheeks were starting to hurt from grinning.

He looked at his lap to see a plain cardboard box, and written on the side:

                                          TO
                                            DADE

``Dade?''

Oh, wait, there's more.

He tilted the box to the side.  Seems like an errant ``E'' had snuck around the corner.

``To Dadee.''

Damn, his heart was melting.  That's it - this box was all he needed, it could be empty and he'd place it on his mantle.

She bounced on the tips of her toes.

``Open it!  Open it!''

He gently unfolded the flaps.  So that's where all the yarn went.

Nestled within the box was a yellow and pink weave, circular with two holes through the middle - a hat.

He ruffled her ears.

``It's beautiful, honey.''

His hand reached for the handmade garment.

``Nononono, daddy!  Wait!''

He halted mid-motion and raised an eyebrow at her.

``Wait a bit, daddy!''

She hopped onto the sofa and reached over the arm, out of his view.  She came back up with a similar, smaller hat clutched in her tiny fist.  She twisted around and knelt on the sofa, threading her ears through the holes and fitting the colorful apparel on her head.

``We'll match, daddy!''

He laughed.

``Yes, we will!''

He reached for his hat again.

``NO!''

He started.  He gave her a confused look.

``Lemme!''

Of course.  Obviously.

He held out the box and her arms dived in.  Once she had it in her hands, he bent forward, flicking his long ears in her direction.

Mouth open in a wide, childish smile, she carefully matched the holes with his ears and placed it snugly upon his head.

``There you go, daddy!''

She was practically bouncing on those poor cushions.

``And here I come!''

He darted forward and snagged the wriggling little girl, bringing her in close and tickling her sides.

Her laughter rang throughout the house, warm, pure, and more wondrous than the most magnificent works of art to grace the Dreamworld.

With cruel abruptness, the sound of thunder drowned the laughter as terrifying forks of lightning washed out the warm glow of the living room.

She was sitting next to a stranger, riding on a shabby groundcar.  She shivered in the rain, pulling the meager poncho around her shoulders, the thin fabric failing miserably at keeping her dry.  Her bottom was sore from every bump on the neglected dirt road.

The man who directed the manekale dragging the lonesome car never looked at her.  She was just another orphan; he had seen so many that he'd become numb and unwilling to invest any more emotion than necessary.

Through the stinging sheets of rain, a ship loomed ahead of them.

No, wait, not just a ship.  It was part of... something.  Some kind of scaffolding wrapped around it and there were several blocks that looked like buildings, shoved inside the framework.

Another flash of lightning lit a sign at the front, scribbled in disjointed letters:

DISCOUNT BANDERS

and ORPHANS


She jumped as the thunder reached her.

She sniffled.  She wanted to go home.

When they finally arrived, the man who brought her traded curt words with a large, ugly man whose nauseating smell the rain couldn't hope to wash away.  Papers were signed and the driver left, eager to get back home to his own family.

The ugly man scowled down at her, his mouth jammed full of frightening, razor-sharp teeth.

She stared back, mouth agape.

They remained that way for half a minute in the storm before he spoke.

``Watcha lookin' at?  Get yer arse inside `fore I flay yeh aleve.''

*******


Vi cracked open her eyes.

So that's what it was.

Maybe the memory had come to her one day as she idled somewhere on base, looking for something to do.  Or maybe it came to her as a dream, just like this one.  A fuzzy warmth rose up within her, as she realized that her father was responsible for her crazy idea.

Blinking slowly, she surveyed the room from her curled position on the couch.

All was still.

She had made sure that she and Whip would get the night watch, giving them the opportunity to set everything up in secret.  They would quietly sneak in the tree - the most perfect tree she had ever seen, beautiful color, well-formed branches, and by some miracle, just small enough to fit through the main entrance.  After that, they would decorate it and carefully array the gifts beneath.  The ornaments were among her smuggled supplies while the gifts were already in-progress back at HQ, finished during long, lonely watches.  Then, if there was time, she would try her hand at baking.  The outpost had a fully-equipped kitchen and its appliances were, thankfully, easy enough to repair, seeing thorough use over the past week.

Everything was going according to plan until Bobby and Bill both volunteered to take the night watch with them.  Vi had scrambled to think up an excuse, but Nainso immediately accepted their request and headed off for bed.  Karo tried to volunteer as well, but Nainso scoffed that if he assigned anymore people, they might as well have everybody stay up through the night.  She tried to puzzle out the mysterious reasons behind the guys sudden desire to join her watch, but she quickly shelved it as unimportant.  What mattered was that her plan, which she had just rescued from oblivion, was now in jeopardy again.

Later she berated herself for worrying so much.

After some prodding by Whip, she let Bobby and Bill in on it.

To her surprise, they not only found it to be a brilliant idea, but were also eager to assist.  Bobby still retained some baking experience from their days at Grunn's and Bill was a great help in setting up the tree.  Whip's Power was especially useful in floating the tree in.

They finished well ahead of time.  Now all they had to do was wait.

Evidently, she had nodded off at some point.  She pulled the blanket snug around her; she wondered which of them put it on her.

A scuffing noise made its way to her ears.

She peeked out of one half-closed eye toward the entrance to the dormitories.

Out came Mace, rubbing his eyes, absently pulling on his coat with one hand.

For some reason, she found it fitting that this particular little guy would be the first one up.

With her one eye, she quickly scanned the room.  She caught Whip hiding in a shadowy corner of the ceiling and a flash of yellow as Bobby dashed into a closet.  She spied Bill's green hat lying on a table, but no sign of the man himself.  Hopefully he had already booked out of sight; it would be embarrassing if he was taking a piss and walked out too early.

``Um, er, hey, Mace!  Uh, how did all this get here, heh..?''

She'd punch him.

Thankfully, nothing stirred but Mace, blearily making his way toward the kitchen in a distinctly zombie-like manner, no doubt looking to grab a bit of coffee to wake him up.

Then he crossed into the light.

He paused at the sudden warmth, eyes blinking slowly in confusion.  He turned toward the source of the light.  As his eyes found the sparkling tree, replete with a dazzling variety of twinkling lights and glorious glass bulbs, they grew wide in amazement and wonder.  They tilted downward ever so slightly, taking notice of the colorfully wrapped bounty that lay beneath.

He twisted his head back and forth, looking about the room in search of the culprits, or maybe an ambush.  His astonishment morphed back to puzzlement, likely perplexed by the absence of Whip and the others.  His eyes eventually settled on her.

She closed her eye to barely a sliver, watching him peer at her apparently sleeping form.  His features then showed relief, concluding that the others were merely patrolling somewhere else in the outpost and that there wasn't a devious band of Nightmares using the presents as bait.

He looked back toward the dorms, then to the tree again, trying to decide whether he should wake everyone up first.  After a minute of silent deliberation, he started to slowly walk toward the tree.  Occasionally, he would look to either side, still cautious.

Despite his slow progress, he soon arrived at the foot of the tree.  He gazed upward, mouth agape at the array of decorations and brilliant points of light, enthralled.  He tore his gaze away and turned his attention to the packages, searching them.  A small gasp escaped him when he spotted his name.

He knelt before the large, rectangular box, wrapped in red with gold ribbon, his name scrawled on a tag slapped onto the side.  He gingerly lifted it, tilting it with his hands, feeling the weight.  He looked about once more, just to make sure it was safe.

He stared at it for a few more moments, and then placed it at his knees.  He reached forward and gently undid the bow, pulling aside the ribbon.  Next, with almost excruciating slowness, he tore a seam in the paper and unwrapped a simple, cardboard box.  Finally, he undid the flaps.

Mace froze.

Those big blue eyes stared down at the contents, shiny and wet.

Shaking hands stretched down and brought out a soft, red object.

There wasn't much she could do when it came to gifts.  It's not like she could go out and buy something.  When it came to stuff she could make herself, she doubted Mace would go crazy for a gun.  But there was one thing she was very good at, something she has been doing for as long as she could imagine, something that Scinter had taken full advantage of, tasking her with the development of new, flexible varieties of body armor during her down time.  On the side, she used the extra material to make something else.

Mace unfolded it to reveal a handmade hoodie, nearly identical to the one he wore so long ago during his early years at Grunn's.  There was one difference, though.

He quickly took off his coat and pulled on the clothing, his head popping out the neck, ears wiggling.  After looking down to admire its fit, he slowly reached over his head and grabbed the hood.  Feeling with his fingers, he found the two holes and carefully threaded his wide ears through them.  The hood, far larger than its predecessor, fit snugly upon his head, comfortably enveloping his ears while leaving plenty of room for movement.

She couldn't help but grin.

Before she could hide it, his head quickly pivoted to look at her.

Having caught her, he opened his mouth, perhaps to let loose an exclamation.  She snapped a finger to her lips to shush him before he could.  Thankfully, he shut his mouth.

His eyes darted across the room, once again sweeping it for evidence of an ambush, maybe expecting Bobby to fly out of a trash bin with a datascroll.

Deeming himself safe, he quietly trotted over to her.  Vi remained curled in the blanket, the position far too comfortable to give up.

Mace stood before her, mouth working but nothing coming out, at a loss for something to say.

Taking advantage of his stunned state, she confirmed her fears by revealing that she was the real ambush.  Her arms swept forward and snatched the small boy up, hugging him tight, his shout of surprise muffled by her shoulder.

``Happy Allspirits Eve, Mace.''

He stopped struggling.

Then, his skinny arms wrapped around her and gave her a tight squeeze.

Over his shoulder she spied Whip, hovering next to Bobby, both with their arms folded and grinning.  And Bill... where was Bill?

Oh.

Holy shit.

She giggled into Mace's hoodie.  Bill's head was poking out of a trashcan, some kind of peel hanging from an ear, wearing an expression of strained cheer.  Evidently, he had dived in out of panic when Mace first stepped out of the dorms.

She loved these guys.

Vi loosened her hold and held Mace away from her.  He wiped his eyes as he grinned at her.

Beaming back, she squeezed his shoulder.

``What're you standing around for, Mace?  Go on and wake everyone else up.''

``Uh, y-yeah,'' he stuttered before hopping down and dashing away.

She unfurled herself and stretched.  Meanwhile Whip and Bobby walked over as Bill struggled out of his smelly hiding spot.

She leaned back and pointed at the tree.

``Hey, why don'tcha go open yours?''

They gave her dual expressions of befuddlement.  She rolled her eyes.

``You really think I didn't make anything for you two?  I snuck them in while you weren't looking, now get.''

Whip immediately zoomed off toward the tree while Bobby sat down in a chair instead, content to wait for the others.  Already, Mace's voice drifted from the doorway, intermingled with the rustling of sheets as their groggy owners slowly rose from their beds.

``Whatever possessed you to do something like this?'' Bobby asked in an amused tone.

 ``Just... something I remembered.''

Maybe the memory had come to her one day as she idled somewhere during the long days at HQ, or maybe it came to her as a dream, just like the one she just had.  However it came to be, a fuzzy warmth rose up within her, as she realized that, in a way, her father was responsible for this day.

She scooted up further onto the couch, bringing up her legs and pulling the blanket tight around her.  Tired from the strenuous night of preparation, she hoped that she would remain awake just long enough to see their faces as they unwrap their gifts and nibble on the plethora of cookies she and Bobby had baked up, all under the lights of an Allspirits Tree.  For at least one day, this place would be one of warmth and cheer.

Her damnable eyelids began to droop and no force of will could halt their inevitable fall.

Before she drifted off, she allowed herself one last smile.

Thank you, daddy.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Flight
Test
Flight
Test
Originally submitted to DeviantArt on December 25, 2017.  Yes, I made it for Christmas.  DeviantArt description below:

" WARNING:  This story contains mild foul language.  Yep, that's it.  Oh, and awws.  Well, hopefully awws...

NOTE:  This story contains mild spoilers for the Dreamkeepers Graphic Novel Saga, including yet-to-be-released pages of Volume 4.  They are sufficiently vague enough to avoid truly spoiling anything for free readers of the comic, but those with knowledge of Volume 4's ending will be able to properly understand one of the things mentioned in the story that would otherwise make no sense.

Now that is out of the way...

"When twinkles the mantle of snow,
'Tis time for the holiday glow.

Gathering closely
   'neath sacred tree,
Thanking yon spirits
   for all that is free.

Visitations in night
   the children will lift,
Bestowing to them
  their singular gift.

Reflections but past, on now to the feast.
Celebrations galore, let sorrows all cease.

Light up the fires,
Hang baubles and spires,

Put on a roast,
raise glasses in toast,

With gifts on the hearth,
and plenty of warmth,

Our year of endeavors
   settled in rest,
Spirit of harmony
   seeing all the best.

Pilgrimage over,
   the gracious reprieve,
Pray goodwill to all,
   it's Allspirit's Eve."

--"AllSpirit's Eve", a Dreamkeepers Holiday Prelude, by Dave & Liz Lillie

Possessed by a festive spirit (no pun intended), I decided that I should write a holiday-themed Dreamkeepers fanfic and that it would be done by Christmas Eve (yeah, failed at that; a couple hours late by my clock).  However, I lacked an actual plot.  Then Dave posted this years holiday prelude and I was inspired to make a Vi-centric story, where sometime after Volume 4, when the crew is at their lowest (so far), Vi decides to bring some holiday cheer to lift everyone's spirits.  Yes, I said Vi; read the story, it will make sense.

I fear that this one lacks polish due to the rushed nature of it (Why oh why did I want to have it done before Christmas?  Could've just waited until afterwards and do some editing, but then it wouldn't be the same.), but I also said that of previous works and they turned out fine, so what do I know?

Note:  I published this one as a pdf due to formatting loss when pasting into stashwriter.  I've noticed that while Chrome displays the file on the same page within a module, Firefox appears to be incompatible.  If you don't already know this, if you are using Firefox or is otherwise unable to view the pdf directly, click on the link provided below the preview image, which states that your browser is incompatible with the plugin.  It should bring up a new window with the pdf.  If all else fails, simply download the file and view it off your computer.

So, anyways, hope you enjoy the story and leave a comment if you can!

Oh, and Merry Christmas!!!

DISCLAIMER:  I do not own the Dreamkeepers universe, it belongs to Dave & Liz Lillie.  The flashback scene is based upon the 2017 Holiday Prelude by Dave & Liz Lillie.  The poem in this description is directly taken from the "AllSpirit's Eve" Holiday Prelude by Dave & Liz Lillie.  Any similarities to other fanfics/fanart is purely coincidental and unintentional.


Dreamkeepers owned by
Dreamkeepers
Dreamkeepers
.

Keywords
male 601,999, female 483,346, fox 127,826, canine 82,863, cute 78,033, feline 69,913, skunk 16,866, fantasy 10,740, christmas 8,983, leopard 7,227, lynx 6,846, forest 5,581, surprise 2,353, holiday 2,187, military 1,452, fanfiction 1,319, whip 1,124, dreamkeepers 1,007, mountains 927, holidays 856, fanfic 568, christmas tree 509, hiding 353, bill 261, bobby 224, mace 187, flashback 174, vi 137, namah 96, karo 80, troika 34, rumour 4, refuge 1, allspirits 1, allspirits eve 1
Details
Type: Writing - Document
Published: 3 months, 2 weeks ago
Rating: General

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