I’m not one for the winter season, but I can’t help but enjoy the holidays. The lights, the decorations, the festive atmosphere, there’s just something about this time of year that can put me in a pretty good mood. Christmas used to be mostly about the birth of a paladin who sacrificed himself for humanity’s sins. It’s now more of a holiday of gift giving and being with your love ones. Mamono were the ones to popularize that last bit.
While not much, I do have my own way of preparing for the holidays. With some old decorations I got from my parents, I’m in the middle of decorating my apartment when I hear a knock on my door. Not sure who it could be since I don’t get too many visitors and it’s a little early for carolers.
Opening the door reveals to be a friend of mine from University: Santina Nicholas the White Horn. She looks like any other White Horn except she’s only a foot taller than me and I’m about average height. Maybe she’ll continue to grow? Also, while most White Horn wear blue and white; she is wearing, and tends to wear, red and white.
“Hey, Santina, what brings you by?” I ask. A pleasant surprise if I might add.
“Hi! I hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Santina says.
“Not at all, would you like to come in?” I offer, stepping inside more to leave room.
“That’s okay, I…kinda prefer the cold.”
That’s right, she’s a White Horn. It must be miserable for her during the warmer seasons. I guess that explains why she seems more cheerful around this time of year. Fortunately, I keep my shoes and coat next to the door so I slip them on real quick and step outside.
“Was there something you needed?”
“Actually, there’s a favor we would like to ask…”
“We?” I ask, when I suddenly notice a pointed ear peeking out from behind Santina. I move around to get a better look till I see who it is.
I can’t help having a smug grin on my face when I see her. Diana Willow the Elf, also from the same university as Santina and I, a close friend to the White Horn and reluctant acquaintance to me. Unlike Santina, who loves the cold, the Elf is pretty bundled up in a thick coat, gloves, earmuffs that don’t quite cover her entire ear, and wrapped up in a scarf which are all different shades of green. Of course.
“Hello, Diana,” I greet the Elf with a smug grin on my face. She doesn’t answer and just looks away while her scarf doesn’t quite cover up her reddening face.. “Surprised to see you out in the cold.”
As much fun as it is to tease the Elf, I think she was really starting to get irritated with me since Santina puts herself between me and Diana. “Anyway, about that favor…”
“A friend of my grandfather is a toy maker that lives in this city and every year he sells the toys he makes. Since starting this tradition a couple years back, his place has been getting popular more and more each year so I was asked to help. Diana volunteered to help as well.”
I bet Santina said she would be working and the Elf immediately jumped in to volunteering. “So I’m guessing you’re here to ask if I can help.”
“We just need someone to help restock the shelves and maybe some other things if necessary.”
“…How long would I be working for and when?” I ask, giving it some thought. I’m not really busy, but I don’t really want to spend the holiday working.
“It’s in a couple days and it’s only for one. Plus, you will get paid for helping. I know it’s a bit sudden…”
“I shouldn’t have anything going on then, so I don’t mind helping out,” I say, giving my most reassuring smile. I didn’t necessarily want to work, but I definitely wouldn’t mind spending some time with Santina.
A huge smile brightens the White Horn’s face as she grabs me and pulls me into a surprisingly tight hug. “Oh thank you so much, I’ll text you the time and address!”
After a quick exchange of numbers and an obvious pout from Diana, the two girls head out while I go back into the warmth of my house. I am a little curious about this toymaker, but I’m looking forward being around Santina the most.
The day has arrived as I stand in front of the store Santina’s directions lead me to. It’s a quaint little store with two large windows showing off some of the toys and some Christmas decorations. A train set, some dolls and puppets, and other toys that definitely look more handmade than factory built.
Not wanting to stand out in the cold, I make my way inside as a small bell jingles when I open the door. The inside actually looks more impressive than what I could see from outside. Many tall shelves lined with all sorts of toys on them. Somehow, seeing all these toys give me a warm feeling in me.
“There you are!” a feminine voice I recognize excitedly says. “I was worried the directions I gave weren’t that good.”
I smile as I see Santina walk over to me. “Nah, they were fine. I made it in time, right?”
“Of course, just let me introduce you to the owner and we’ll get you set up!”
She leads me to the back of the store where I see a man with white hair and a full beard but not all that old looking, and a beautiful young woman standing next to him, watching him work on one of his toys. The man doesn’t seem to have noticed us yet, but the woman next to him looks up to us, smiles, and lightly shakes the man. Once she got his attention, she pointed to us and the man gets up off his workbench and comes over to us.
“Ah, sorry about that,” the older man says, taking and shaking my hand. “I was just doing a bit of tweaking.”
“Mr. Petto, this is the friend I told you about that agreed to help,” Santina says introducing me.
“Ms. Nicholas did tell me about a strong, young man she knew,” Mr. Petto chuckles, playfully elbowing me in the arm. As cool as it would be for Santina to say something like that about me, I know he’s just teasing.
“What can I do to help, Mr. Petto?” I ask.
“Nothing too difficult,” Mr. Petto begins. “You’ll mostly just be managing the shelves, making sure there are toys and those that get taken down but not bought are put back. My lovely wife here, Mari, will help you find more toys to stock with and where best to put them.”
At the mention of her name, Mari wraps an arm around Mr. Petto’s arm. Now getting a real look at her, she has short, black, curly hair; large eyes that looked like they had actual emeralds in them; and a light-blue flowing dress. I also notice she has a line going down from each of her eyes and what look like ball-joints at the elbows. Is she a…?
“I’ll show him around before we properly open,” Santina says, placing her hands on my shoulders and lightly pushing on them like she wants me to move.
“Sounds great!” Mr. Petto says, as he and Mari move back to the workbench. “I’ll finish up this toy and we’ll start opening shop.”
As he starts working on the toy, Santina pushes me towards the front of the store. Once we’re a distance away from the couple, I turn to the White Horn. “Mari’s a Living Doll, isn’t she?”
“Yeah, Me. Petto says he made her himself when he got the idea from a dream.”
“Huh, Living Dolls are usually…smaller, but I do have some concerns though,” I say, walking over to one of the shelves.
“Are you worried about the toys he makes?” Santina asks. I nod, examining one of the toy soldiers. “Trust me when I say that Mr. Petto wishes nothing more than to see the smiles of children. Besides, this place is heavily inspected by the Order.”
The Order. When they’re not harassing poor Mamono who aren’t looking for trouble, they make sure that Demonic Energy isn’t haphazardly being spread around. If a girl is getting Monsterized, it has to be through consent and paperwork.
“Don’t worry, I believe you,” I state, giving Santina the best reassuring smile I could muster. It seems to work as she smiles back even brighter.
“Hey, Santina, how does this loo-“ We both turn to see as short-haired blond Elf starting to turn a shade of tomato. Every ounce of me is trying not to laugh, and it is very difficult to do right now.
Diana is standing in front of us wearing a green dress that showed a nice bit of cleavage and was just short and tight enough to hug her upper legs with a big belt around the waist, red and white stockings that go up her legs with green shoes that curl up at the toes with a little bell at the tip, and a stocking cap almost similar to Santina’s but green and red instead. I should probably be nice and at least compliment her.
“Hey, Diana, you look…nice,” I say, still trying my best to hold back a laugh.
“S-shut up, this wasn’t my idea!” Diana exclaims turning even redder so the edge of her hat starts to blend in to her skin.
“Well I think you look absolutely beautiful, Diana,” Santina says, wrapping an arm around the Elf’s shoulders. The redness of her face doesn’t lighten up, but Diana does start to look less tense.
“Alright everyone, it’s time to open up shop! Quick review: Santina and Diana will go around greeting and helping customers, my wife and the young man will help keep the shelves stock and also provide help if needed, and I’ll be managing the cash register.”
With that rundown on what we’re all doing, Mr. Petto goes over and flips the sign to Open. It was only at this point that I noticed the crowd of people, Mamono and human, standing outside. When Mr. Petto opened the door to invite them in, it was like he opened the floodgates.
There’s a tug on my shoulder and I see Mari smiling at me and pointing to the back of the store. Oh right, probably should know where the toys are. Before I follow the mature looking Living Doll, I see Santina already gaining the attention of the children that have come. Seeing her beaming smile warms my heart as I get ready to work.
I still can’t believe how popular this place is right now. The kids seem absolutely fascinated by all the toys. I figured kids would be more interested in electronic toys and games, but even the toys that aren’t bought are played with like they’re the best things ever. Even if they’re not laced with Demonic Energy, there does seem something magical about them.
Almost as popular with the toys is Santina, as the children seem really fascinated with her. She’s even allowing the children to pet her fur and ride on her back. The parents, not even missing a beat, take the opportunity to take pictures of their children with Santina.
“Excuse me, Miss Elf lady,” a little girl says, tugging lightly on Diana’s dress.
“H-hello, do you need help with something?” Diana asks, squatting down to the child.
“You look really pretty,” the little girl states. Diana doesn’t say anything as her face starts turning red, again, and she pats the little girl on the head. I sometimes wonder if Diana knows how easy it is to tease her.
“Santina!” Mr. Petto calls out from behind the counter and pulling out a wrapped gift box. “Would you mind delivering this to family friend of mine?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Petto,” Santina says, taking the gift.
“Oh, and take the young man with you. It would do my heart good to have someone go with you.”
“I’ll be fine, Mr. Petto. Besides, don’t you need his help here at the store?”
“I think we can handle things, now stop arguing and get a move on you two,” Mr. Petto says with a huge grin on his face.
“Fine, would you like to accompany me?” Santina asks me. I definitely agree, and as I put on my coat, I catch a quick glimpse at Mr. Petto who gives me a wink. That sly dog…
Stepping outside reminds me that it’s a pretty cold day, though just being near Santina I can feel a slight warmth from her. Now, I know what the toymaker had in mind, but I doubt I can follow up. I like Santina, I really do, but I don’t know if she feels the same way. Honestly, I’m fine just being her friend…
“Hey, if you get too cold, I don’t mind if you stand a little closer,” Santina suddenly speaks up as we’re walking.
“Thanks, I-I think I’ll be fine,” I say, being completely taken off-guard by her statement. I do inch a little closer to her, though.
“You know, this reminds me,” Santina says, giggling a little. “My grandmother use to tell me stories of a White Horn who would go to all of the villages in the frozen north to make sure children got presents for the holidays.”
“That’s sounds pretty cool,” I say. “You both do seem to like helping kids.”
“I do want to become a teacher, after all.”
“You’d probably make a great mom, too!” I state. Wait…what did I just say?
“…Thanks.” Despite her face as red as her coat, Santina is smiling.
While the rest of the delivery is accomplished without any incident, I can’t help but mentally cheer at myself. I think I just scored some appreciation points with the White Horn. The only thing that could make this better is an awesome Christmas present, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
“H-hey…” Santina says as she tugs on my coat sleeve after we get back. “Thanks again for the compliment.”
“I mean, I was just saying the truth and…” Before I could finish my thought, Santina had planted a kiss on my cheek. I’ve lost all train of thought as I place my hand on my face and look at Santina’s red, smiling face. Screw it, it’s now or never!
“Santina!” I call out, gaining the attention of the White Horn before she opens the shop door. “What are you doing for Christmas?”
“Oh, I was just going to hang out at my place. My family lives far away so I can’t really afford to travel.”
I take a deep breath in-and-out and give Santina a serious expression. “I won’t be visiting my family this year, either, so would you like some company?”
“…I would love that,” Santina says as we head back into the shop.
Finally at closing time and after everything has been cleaned up, we all start heading out. I even get a firm grip on the shoulder and thumbs up from Mr. Petto. I guess our plan making didn’t go unnoticed. Santina gives me her address and we make our way separately.
The next day, I get another knock on my door. Curious if it was Santina, though she did have my number, I opened the door and was surprise to instead see a familiar looking Elf. Before I can even say anything, she shoves something into my arms; a wrapped present.
“It’s a gift for Santina. Just sign your name on it and give it to her on Christmas.”
I’m…actually very happy that she did this. I know her and Santina have always been very close so I figured she would a bit miffed about me spending time with the White Horn. Is this her way of say she approves? Did she know something?
“Thank you, Diana,” I say to the Elf, giving her my most genuine smile. She actually smiles back as she turns around and waves.