Note from Nine: Yeah, this is a day late, sorry about that. December is a rough month for everyone, with holiday shopping, family shit, and work gatherings. I’m also preparing for a convention we’re going to at the beginning of January, and… ya know… working on some game called “Mythos”. I’m a busy fox. I hope you enjoy this!

Having been abandoned by the Spirit of the Past in what appeared to be a dark, empty version of the Convocation building, Desmond braced himself to address the next spirit. Though he’d heard her voice, he’d yet to see her embodied presence.

“The Spirit of the Present, I presume, if we’re following the template?” Desmond sardonically asked to the empty air.

“Let’s try to stay positive!” came the spirit’s bubbly reply.

Seemingly out of nowhere, a pretty young blonde clad head to toe in pink came bounding up beside Desmond. To his surprise, she wrapped an arm around his waist and quickly raised her phone to snap a picture of the two together. “Had to snag this for Insta. Oof… yeah, gonna need to slap a filter on this one. We can do that later.”

Snapping out of his surprise, Desmond yanked himself away from the girl. “What is the meaning of this? Who are you?!”

The Spirit didn’t look up from her phone as she was scrolling through something that must have been more interesting than her assigned duty. “You already said it, didn’t you? I’m the Spirit of the Present. With an I.”

Desmon balked, confused. “With… what? Where is the ‘I’?”

“You can just call me Present, if that makes you feel better!” she continued, ignoring his question.

“I see… I assumed the Spirits would take the form of people I knew at least,” Desmond remarked.

“Oh, you’ve seen me before, I’m sure!” chuckled Present (With an I), looking around the corridor. “Lemme see what I’m supposed to be showing you, here… aha!”

The spirit tapped something on her phone, and a burst of blinding pink light flared outward. Desmond had to shield his eyes, though he still found himself momentarily blinded by the luminance. After a few moments of pinkness burning through his retinas, he saw they were still in the same spot within the Convocation building, but this time well-lit… and inhabited. There were a few burned spots upon the carpet, but they were being tended to by Violet. The apprentice was on her knees, waving her hands over one of the damaged patches while muttering to herself. It seemed to be taking a great deal of effort, but the carpet was slowly repairing itself.

“This just happened!” Desmond protested, crossing his arms as if he were about to reflexively yell at Violet.

“Uh.. no doy,” snorted Present, who was still looking at her phone, “I’m here to show you the present. What did you think you were gonna see?”

“I thought we were going to see more of what happened to Vicky,” Desmond muttered hesitantly.

Present actually looked up from her phone at that, eyebrow raised. “Oh, that chick died.”

Desmond blinked, taking a step back. “What? You mean after she left that diner…?”

The spirit stared at Desmond for a few seconds before bursting out laughing. “What? No! Like… 60 years later. You do realize you’re old, right? Like… almost everybody from that diner scene is like… super dead, now. Let’s get with the present, okay? This is my show, now.”

Scowling, Desmond directed his attention back toward Violet. “Very well. Show me what you must.”

Violet had just finished up fixing the last of the carpet damage, sitting back on her heels for a moment to let out a sigh. “All done!” said Violet in a tired, yet still chipper tone. “Oh! Shoot!”

The little red-haired apprentice sprung to her feet and took off down the hallway at her normal frantic pace. Desmond looked at the spirit, who was back to looking at her phone, so he took off after Violet on his own. After taking several twists and turns through the labyrinthine structure, she stopped in front of a very familiar door: the door to Desmond’s office. Desmond narrowed his eyes as Violet put her ear up against the door, listening for a moment. Then, satisfied by whatever she heard (or didn’t hear), she carefully opened the door just enough to slip inside. Desmond followed, noting that he could phase directly through the narrowly-opened passage. 

Creeping around Desmond’s desk, Violet kept darting her eyes around the room and back toward the door, looking terrified of being caught. Desmond frowned as Violet reached into the inner pocket of her jacket, then his eyebrows went up as she produced something to lay in the center of his desk. The sliver of light spilling in from the hallway perfectly framed a small gift wrapped in shiny gold paper. Violet smiled to herself as she looked upon her present for a moment, before she quickly left the office as quickly as she’d entered, though leaving the door partially open in her wake.

Desmond leaned forward, squinting at the tag on the present. It read “to Desmond,” with no indication of who had left the offering.

“Even with all the shit you give her, she still wanted to give you something,” came the voice of the spirit from behind Desmond, causing him to jump with fright.

“Bah,” he replied, attempting to look as if he weren’t startled, “just to curry my favour, clearly.”

“Then why would she leave it anonymously,” questioned Present, smirking. 

He opened his mouth to reply, but Desmond found no immediate words. Instead, he just closed his mouth and shook his head. “Well, whatever.”

“Whatever? Uuugh, come on, then.” The Spirit of the Present stomped through Desmond’s desk and out the door, and Desmond followed. 

“Where are we going?” Desmond demanded as he stomped along. 

There was another blinding flash of pink, and again Desmond found himself completely unable to see until the light had faded and his eyes could once again adjust. He was quite surprised to find they were still standing in the Convocation building.

“We didn’t even go anywhere! What was the flash of light for?” demanded Desmond.

The Spirit shrugged, popping some gum that Desmond wasn’t aware she was chewing previously. “There had to be a segue. Anyway…”

Present lead Desmond a few doors down, strolling through the door to Cecil’s office without bothering to open it. Despite knowing he could currently do the same, Desmond braced himself and closed his eye before likewise phasing through the heavy wooden door.

Once the two of them were through, there were joyful sounds of light chatter and laughter, with several people gathered inside of Cecil’s office. The room was spacious enough to easily accommodate the small gathering, but still confined enough that it seemed like an intimate gathering.

“When did this occur…?” Desmond hesitantly asked, looking upon the faces of the other heads of the Convocation and a smattering of others.

The Spirit of the Present rolled her eyes. “Literally right now. The present. I am the Spirit of the Present. They all started gathering shortly after you went home, like they’ve been doing every Christmas Eve for years!”

There was an odd feeling in Desmond’s chest as he looked at his colleagues enjoying each other’s company, which the Spirit seemed to notice. “Awwww… is your heart growing three sizes, yet?”

“Bah,” Desmond scoffed, yet unable to take his eyes off the group, “clearly I’ve been deliberately excluded.”

“Nuh-uh. You just always say ‘no’. Cecil even invited you to his place tomorrow, even though he knew you’d turn him down!”

That made Desmond flinch, though his response to the Spirit was cut off as he heard his name mentioned.

“Is Desmond coming by tomorrow?”

The question was asked by Sparky, the head of the Pillar of Imbuement. Though she was (as always) wearing dark wrap-around sunglasses, she was clearly addressing the question to Cecil.

“Ah, I did invite him, but he declined,” came Cecil’s rather timid reply.

“Good,” came the gruff reply of Melanie, head of the Healers.

“Melanie…” began Cecil, as if to chide her, though his heart clearly wasn’t in it.

“No, she’s right,” chimed in Madam Luna, languidly, as she idly flicked the stirrer in her coffee mug, “he’s not exactly the most jolly guy.”

“Wow, even the sleepy one thinks he’s a downer,” joked Melanie, though she let out a shrieking sort of giggle as a coffee-soaked ice cube was flung in her direction.

“I hate to say it,” added Spark, “but yeah, it’s not really fun to have him around. Kinda dulls the festive atmosphere.”

Cecil sighed as he closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. “He’s still one of us, and I like to think of the Convocation as a sort of family…”

“We’re Mages, Cecil. Not the Olive Garden,” remarked Luna, wiping the coffee from her fingers on Sparky’s sweater. “And even families have their black sheep that they’d rather not have around…”

Desmond watched mutely as he was spoken about in such a poor light. When he looked back toward the Spirit, he found her cringing at him, rather than staring her phone. “Sorry,” she offered lamely, “but like… this is literally the entire reason you’re being visited by us, you know? You still have time to like… not be such a dick.”

“They already dislike me,” Desmond grumbled, not even noticing that the surroundings were fading into blackness.

The Spirit of the Present shrugged, looking down at her phone once again as she popped her gum. “Do they?”

As the Spirit walked past Desmond and into the unending darkness, she offered her last words without looking back. “Or do they dislike the shields you put up around yourself…?”

The pink-clad phantom faded from view, leaving Desmond in the void to contemplate her parting words.

“… I seriously have no idea where I know that girl from,” Desmond mused aloud.

“Maybe from a billboard. I doubt you watch TikTok very often,” came an actual reply, from the third and final Spirit.