Desmond landed with a thud, his screams of terror cut short as the wind was knocked from him. The ground beneath him felt softer than he’d expected. There were also pillows upon it.

Confused, Desmond’s hand felt around his surroundings. He couldn’t find the edges of the grave; he only felt his own sofa. 

Gasping in surprise, he scrambled to his feet, feeling his familiar floor beneath him. There was a bit of dim light filtering in around his heavy drapes, and he ran toward his foyer as he heard voices outside. Hastily flinging open his front door, he found the source of the voices; there were children playing in the neighboring yard as families were gathering. They were also now silent, as they were looking toward the wild-eyed Desmond that had just frantically charged out onto his doorstep.

“What’s today?” he asked of the first child to make direct eye contact. 

The boy looked back incredulously. “Eh?”

“What’s today, my fine fellow?” Desmond repeated. 

“Uh… it’s Christmas…” the youth responded hesitantly. 

At that point, the boy’s concerned father came around the side of his minivan, carrying some gifts toward the house. Upon seeing Desmond talking to his child, he called out: “Hey, Dylan, your mother needs you inside now, bud…” 

Desmond barely took notice of the concerned father looking warily upon him, as he rushed back inside to get his keys. 

Cecil Turner was surprised as his doorbell rang just a few minutes past noon – it was far earlier than he’d expected to receive any of his guests for that evening. When he answered, he was alarmed to find Desmond outside, arms laden with grocery bags. 

“Desmond?” Cecil began, not even sure which question to ask first.

“I decided to come by, after all,” Desmond replied gruffly, “… and I brought some things to help with dinner.”

More confused than usual, Cecil stepped aside and let Desmond in. Soon, the two of them had set about preparing the meal for the evening’s festivities. Cecil even caught Desmond smiling a few times, though his demeanor quickly shifted back to his typical curmudgeonly airs when the others began to arrive. 

Though Desmond’s very presence indicated to the guests that something had clearly changed about the man. There was some initial awkwardness, of course, but Desmond’s showed remarkably strained negativity, which allowed all gathered to ease into their typical holiday cheer. 

In the post-meal minging about the Turner estate, Madam Luna managed to insinuate herself into a quiet, isolated corner with Rain Sunbeam, Cecil’s Fae friend of many, many years.

“Desmond showing up is a surprise, huh?” Luna asked casually.

Rain eyed Luna with a hint of a smile, giving a half-shrug. “Everyone can have a change of heart, I guess…”

The two women turned to watch the gathering again, where most seemed to be distracted by the drunken antics of Melanie. Luna raised her cup of mulled wine as if to drink, but spoke quietly behind it.

“So he was at Landie’s, like I said?”

Rain nodded slightly, the smile at her lips growing a bit wider.

“So you did some kind of… Fae magic to scare him?” Luna continued, still not quite sipping her wine, yet.

Looking to Luna with feigned indignation, Rain put her hand to her chest. “Of course not! That’d be immoral.”

Luna actually chuckled at the response, finally allowing herself to drink from her glass.

Rain looked back to the crowd, adding casually: “I dropped some acid into his tea.”

The party all shot glances in their direction as Luna began choking on her drink.

On December 27th, Desmond returned to the Convocation building, having actually taken another day off to relax from the holidays – Melanie was far from the only guest at Cecil’s home that indulged in some drinking. 

As he strolled through the halls, he noticed that the carpet had been restored, just like in his dream on Christmas Eve. He actually knelt down to examine where he’d vividly recalled a particularly eaten-away patch being mystically repaired. 

“Good morning, Desmond!” came Violet’s cheerful voice. 

“Mmm,” Desmond replied, rising to stand his full height and look down at the apprentice.

“I hope you had a good Christmas. Is the carpet fixed enough for you?” 

Desmond looked up and down along the hallway, nodding. “It will suffice.”

Violet smiled and gave a little bow. “Good! I cleaned up the Alchemy lab like you asked, too. I’m about to help Madam Luna with something, unless there was something else you needed me to do…?”

The look on Violet’s face indicated that she was clearly frightened at whatever other tasks Desmond may come up with. Desmond pretended to think on the question for a moment. “No, that will be all. Move along.”

Without even the slightest hesitation, Violet took off down the hallway and quickly out of Desmond’s sight. Once she was gone, he allowed himself a little smile before ducking into his office. 

“Perhaps that dream had… some effect,” he mused aloud, once alone inside his sanctum.

Desmond then froze as he caught a glimpse of something. “No, it can’t be…”

In the middle of his desk was a small gift wrapped in shiny gold paper. The tag only read “to Desmond,” with no indication of who had left the offering.

Afterword from Nine: I hope at least a few of you out there read and enjoyed the story! I know a lot of other devs do special renders for their holidays, but I still don’t really consider myself a visual artist, so I wanted to give my Holiday gift to my followers in a different way. And hey, bonus for the people who did bother to read this: There’s some definite hints about the game hidden in this little non-canon story!

Special props to Christa, who somehow figured out that Rain drugged Desmond’s tea right after Stave One!!! Or maybe I’m just predictable. 

Keep the Spirits alive!!!

– Nine of Claus ♥