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Reality Based


"...And Good Tidings to All."
by Wilfredo Martinez

This story is dedicated to ALL the people of RPGC, but especially to those who gave me permission to use them in the story.


The day was clear, and silent. There was no activity outside the RPGC's castle-like structure.

Suddenly, a shower of green sparks burst out of thin air in a spot on the castle's front lane. It quickly cleared, and two figures walked out of it. One was a man with dark hair and eyes and bushy eyebrows, wearing a green cape, but otherwise wearing normal clothes- a green T-shirt and blue jeans. Walking behind him was a teenage girl, also with dark hair and eyes; in her case her hair was long and tied back into a pony tail. She also wore a shirt and jeans, both dark blue.

The man smiled broadly as he saw the building. "Yeah!" he suddenly said. "I FINALLY get to teleport OUTSIDE of RPGC Headquarters. I'm getting better at this teleportation stuff!" Then he turned around and said to the girl, "There it is, Nelimar. How do you like it?"
-"...It's pretty" she said, without much enthusiasm.
-"You OK, Nel?" the man asked, eyeing her more cautiously.
-"Um, yeah."
He cocked an eyebrow. "Anything wrong, Nel?"
-"Umm... Uncle Wil... you really think this is a good idea?"
-"Sure it is! Didn't I tell you that these people are cool? Best people I've hung out with in years. Trust me, you'll like it!"
-"You know what mom thinks about magic" she said, sheepishly.
Wil snorted. "Bah! If I'd listened to Ivonne I wouldn't have become the adventurer, wizard, and champion of justice I'm today. She eventually came to accept me for what I am. And she knows you have the gift. I'm not saying you HAVE to be a hero, Nelimar, but at least you should develop your magical talent. We live in a dangerous world, you never know when you might need it."
-"Alright, I guess..." she said, still not sounding too thrilled.
-"That's m'girl!" Wil said, and turned to start walking to the castle's entrance.
-"Uncle, wait!" Nelimar suddenly said.
-"What?" Wil asked.
-"Remember to use the name I chose" she responded.
-"Eh? What for?" he said.
-"I don't want to use my real name. You said almost no one in RPGC does."
-"Yeah, but that's not a requirement" he answered. "It's just a tradition. I've always used my real name."
-"Still. I want to use the one I chose."
Wil sighed. "Fine. What was it again?"
-"Mako. You said it meant 'honesty' in Japanese, didn't you?"
-"That's 'Makoto'. Mako is short for it. Like 'Neli' is for 'Nelimar'.
-"I want it."
-"Ok. Mako it is' Wil accepted. Then the two of them continued to walk towards the castle.
Wil, however, stopped for a moment.
-"Hmm" he said. "No Christmas ornaments yet? Funny, Merlin usually has this place decorated as soon as the Holidays begin. Oh well."

They continued to walk to the entrance, but stopped right before the door. Wil turned to Nel, and, in a tone more serious than he had just used, said to her: "Nel. About... you know. Not a word. To anybody."
-"...Okay" she said, although with a touch of concern in her voice.

Then they walked in.

They failed to notice the pale-gray van, parked behind some trees, some distance away...


The moment they opened the door and walked into the reception hall, Wil and Nel were immediately hit by the-
-PURPLENESS of it all.

EVERYTHING inside was purple. The walls. The ceiling. The floor. The desk. The chairs. The potted plants. EVERYTHING.

There were some different shades, but otherwise, everything was as purple as freshly picked grapes.

Wil and Nel looked at each other, both baffled by the color scheme.
-"...Well. Looks like Merlin has been doing some redecorating. AGAIN." Will exclaimed.
-"Actually, it was 984" a deep voice said from a door to their right.
Standing there was a young man with spiky red hair, wearing shades, and red clothes with silvery pieces of armor here and there. "He's in charge of decor now" he finished.
-"Ah, Galloway! Nice to see you!" Wil greeted him.
Galloway nodded. "Martinez" he responded. Then he looked at Nelimar. "And this is?"
-"My niece, Nelim-"
-"UNCLE!" she snapped.
Wil froze, then sighed. "Mako" he corrected himself. Then he turned to her. "Mako, this is d Galloway. Captain of the RPGC Guard. He's a Super Saiyan, but don't worry, he's a nice guy."
-"...Pleased to meet you" she said, coyly.
Galloway just nodded at her.
"Gallo, I'd like her to join RPGC."
Galloway looked at her from behind his shades; it was hard to read to his expression. "How old is she?" he asked.
-"Thirteen" Wil explained. "That falls within the acceptable age limit, no?"
Galloway grunted positively. "However" he warned, "You cannot use that name for her."
-"Eh? Why not?" Wil asked.
-"We already have a member under that name."
-"We DO?" Wil said, baffled. "Since WHEN? I don't remember any 'Mako' in RPGC."
-"It's one of our affiliate members."
-"Oh, one of THOSE" Wil grumbled. "The ones who sign up and are never seen again. I wonder why they even bother?"
Galloway just shrugged. "Anyway, her name is on record. Our rules require different names for every member."
Wil thought about it for a moment. He looked at Nelimar, who obviously looked displeased. Then he asked Galloway "...What if we spelled the name differently?"
-"That might be permissible" Galloway grunted.
-"How about 'Makko' with two 'Ks?"
Again, Galloway shrugged. "I see no problem with it. But Weiila is the one who decides that."
-"Is she in?"
-"Yes, she should be in her office."
-"Great, I was looking for her anyway. Thank you, Gallo!" Wil said. Then he looked around one more time. "You know, I don't understand why they keep changing the decor here. I liked the original just fine. And we're a Society of Paranormal Adventurers, not a fashion company."
Galloway just shrugged.
Wil and Nel then started to walk deeper into the mysterious halls of RPGC.

Uncle and niece continued to walk down the purple halls. However, they hadn't gone when a young woman -with WINGS- suddenly stepped out of a corner. She wore a white robe, which contrasted her dark wings. Her hair was dark and long, and somewhat unkempt; she wore glasses, and was staring a several papers she carried in her hands, reading them as she walked. She looked like someone very busy.
-"WEIILA!!" Wil suddenly burst out, which almost caused the young goddess to jump in surprise. "How NICE to see you!!!"
-"Oh, Wil. Nice to see you too" she said, recovering her composure.
-"You're JUST the person I was looking for! I need a couple of favors. Can you spare a minute?"
-"Um, sure" Weiila answered. Gee, Wil sure was cheerful today, she thought.
-"THANK YOU! Ok, first of all, this here is my niece, N- I mean, Makko. I would like her to join RPGC."
-"Your niece? Really? I didn't know you had any family" Weiila commented. "You never talk about your family."
Makko stared at Wil
-"Umm, yes I have!" he said sheepishly. "It's just that, um, most of the time, we were too busy saving the world and stuff, for much casual chitchat."
-"Well, that is true" Weiila nodded.
-"Anyway. Makko, this is Weiila. She's in charge of RPGC's records. And get this- she's a REAL, honest-to-goodness goddess!"
-"Really?" Makko responded, wide-eyed.
-"Ahem" was Weiila's reaction. "Technically, yes. I come from a race of extradimensional beings who were once worshipped as gods by humans. However, I won't claim to true divinity. That's something that is beyond our state of being" she explained, in her usual wise tone. "But enough about me. Tell me about you, Makko."
-"Umm..." the girl stammered.
-"What's there to say?" Wil cut in. "She's a MARTINEZ! Smart, heroic, and, in our particular cases, born with the gift of magic!" he beamed.
*Boy, Wil is really laying it on thick* Weiila couldn't help thinking.
-"Well... You think she's ready? I mean, she's so young-"
-"Yes she is" he cut in again. "You don't think I would put her in danger intentionally, do you? Come on, I just want her to learn about magic, and the multiverse. And make more friends" he insisted.
-"...Very well" Weiila conceded. "But you'll have to come to my office to sign the requisite papers."
-"Sure, no prob" he said. Then Weiila turned around, and led the two of them around more purple halls.

Before they got to her office, however, Wil continued to talk: "Weii. About that other favor..."
-"I want to help with this year's Xmas celebrations."
Weiila frowned.
-"WHAT?" was Wil's reaction. "Don't tell me you're still mad about the incident two years ago. That WASN'T my fault! Besides, didn't we have a blast at Xmasville last year?"
-"Well... yeah" she admitted. "The thing is, we have already made plans for this year. I don't know if I can-"
Suddenly, Wil stopped Weiila by grabbing her by an arm. "Weii" he said, in a suddenly more serious tone, "I NEED to participate this year."
-"Eh?" was her puzzled reaction.
Wil actually looked contrite. "I just... just trust me, OK? I NEED to be part of the celebrations. Please, Weii."
Weiila looked at Wil, really surprised. She had never heard Wil this way. As long as he had known him, he had always come across as strong- wacky, sometimes, but always a bold hero. Now he almost sounded- desperate.
Behind him, Makko had turned grim, as well.
She wondered for a moment if she should question him further. But she decided to trust him, instead. Surely, if something were wrong, he'd tell her about it?
-"...Alright" she finally said.
-"GREAT!" he suddenly burst out, returning to his chipper attitude, and clasping his hands together loudly. "I have the COOLEST idea for this year's party" he continued. "How about if I get the gifts? I can ask everybody what they want, and then get it! I mean, who better than me? I can teleport across the whole freakin' multiverse if needed!!"
-"That does sound like a good idea" Weiila admitted.
-"It's a deal, then!!" Wil continued. "C'mon, let's get Makko signed in so we can start the gift-getting ASAP!"
Weiila nodded, and the three of them entered her (purple) office.


Outside RPGC HQ, inside the gray van hidden behind some trees, PC GLENTON continued to carefully monitor the sounds coming inside the castle.

The van was filled with the most advanced listening devices available in the Black Market. Glenton had originally considered bugging the place, but then decided it was too risky- some of the RPGC people had technology more advanced than anything else on Earth; they might be able to spot electronic devices.

However, they forgot one thing: sounds carry VERY far- just at a level undetectable by the human ear. With this subsonic-amplifying equipment, Glenton could hear even the steps of an ant as it walked on a windowpane.

So, at least for now, Glenton had access to the sounds of all events within the castle's walls- including conversations.

He would've preferred to just sneak in and steal their data files, but he just couldn't take that risk.

Not with RPGC.

Glenton mused about them for a moment. He didn't understand them. Not at all.
They possessed powers beyond what most of humanity did. They could take pretty much anything they wanted. Probably could take over the world, if they wished.

Instead, they remained hidden, and actually went out of their way to keep the world safe.

As a thief, Glenton cared only about himself. He knew that, if he had their powers, he'd certainly use them to *HIS* personal gain.

But that was the problem. Even thought he was a pretty extraordinary individual by most people's standards, he didn't have the means to exploit, much less face, RPGC.

At least, not YET.

He grumbled. His mind went back to his first encounter with them.

It had been two years ago. He had been hired by the organization known as the "Thought Police" to help capture the RPGCer known as Wilfredo Martinez. However, Glenton realized he was being mind-controlled, and ended up rebelling against them. RPGC discovered him, yet, despite what he had done, Martinez allowed him to go.

He didn't feel any debt to them. In fact, he wanted to stay away from them -and their accursed MAGIC- as much as he could. Yet, last year, in the middle of perhaps his greatest robbery ever -stealing the Spear of Destiny from the Vatican- he'd once again ran into an RPGCer, that Viking bitch, Esker. Again, he felt as if someone had manipulated him into foiling the Pope's assassination; he ended up fleeing without his prize.

He realized he just couldn't continue to ignore RPGC. He just didn't feel comfortable knowing they had such advantages over him. Besides, sooner or later, they would come AFTER him. He was, after all, the World's Greatest Thief.

So, he decided to strike first. It took him a year, following clues they had left here and there, but he finally had located their headquarters, and was now listening in on them.

So far, he'd only heard about their arguing over leftovers, and things like that. Really boring stuff. But, Martinez had arrived now. Perhaps now he would find out something useful...


Several minutes later, inside Weiila's office (where everything was -yes- purple in color) Weiila finished filling in all the RPGC paperwork needed for Makko.

-"...And that's it" the young goddess said. "You're officially a member of the Righteous Protectors of Good Causes, Makko. Welcome."
-"Gee, thank you, Weiila!" Makko said. She started to sound thrilled after all.
-"Good! You'll love it, Makko, trust me" her uncle said. "Now, let's go meet some other members, and ask them what they want for Xmas!"
-"Wait a moment, Wil!" Weiila said. "Take this with you." She offered him a paper.
-"What is it?" Wil asked, as he took it.
-"It's a list of our current active membership" she explained.
-"Oh, of course. Thanks!"
-"One more thing, Wil. You might want to talk to Videospirit."
-"Eh?" Wil asked. "Why?"
-"He was recently appointed the Headmaster of the Videan Academy of Knowledge. He might be able to help you."
-"The Whatsiz?" Wil asked. "I hadn't heard about that."
-"It's a subsidiary of RPGC" Weiila explained. "He started it, for the purpose of more formally studying the Multiverse. He has a small fleet of interdimensional ships. I think he would be willing to help you find all the presents."
-"Yeah, that would be a big help! Thanks, Weii!"
Weiila smiled and nodded.
Wil and Nel left her office, and Weiila returned to her paperwork.


Outside, PC Glenton smiled. He had heard everything that had just been said in Weiila's Office.

Interdimensional ships? He pondered the idea. Most of the people of RPGC, from what he had gathered in his investigations, had gained their powers outside of Earth. Not to mention, that things brought in from other worlds- even if they were commonplace in their homeworlds- would be considered extremely rare on Earth.

And therefore, very, very valuable.

If he could get his hands on one of those ships...

He continued to listen intently.


Wil and Nel hadn't gone far down another purple hall, when two armored figures suddenly walked in from another corridor. One was a young woman with short blonde hair and blue eyes, wearing a silvery armor with a dragon-like face 'sculpted' on its chest. The other was a tall young man, with brown hair (with blonde highlights) wearing a silver breastplate- and blue jeans.
The two were very good looking people- and yet, there was something menacing about their looks.

However, upon seeing the young woman, Makko's reaction was to shout:
-"VALKY!!!" and ran over to her.
-"Hello, Nelimar dear" Valkyrie Esker responded, patting the young girl's head affectionately.
-"I'm Makko now!" the girl responded proudly.
-"It's her codename" Wil explained, as he walked closer to them. "She just joined RPGC."
-"She what?" the viking warrior asked. "Isn't she too young?"
-"No, she's still within the acceptable age limit. I checked with Weiila."
-"...Do you think she's ready?" Val asked.
-"She is. Trust me, Val."
Val shrugged. "If you say so."
Then they noticed Makko staring at the man behind her. "Makko, this is Hunter. He, Val and I go way back."
-"Oh yeah, you told me about him! Isn't he- bionic?"
-"I used to be" Hunter explained. "It's a... long story. The important thing is, I'm human now. Mostly."
-"It's not what you are, but who you are that matters, Makko. Never forget that" Wil explained to his niece.
She nodded.
-"I'm glad to run into you two. Guess who's in charge of finding presents for everyone in RPGC this year?" Wil said, beaming.
-"...You?" Val said, raising an eyebrow.
-"Yup! It's gonna be the BEST Xmas ever, believe me! So then, what do you two want for Xmas? And don't give me any crap about being pagans or atheists, now. We are ALL coming to the party!"
-"Uh..." Valkyrie mumbled. "I can't think of anything right now."
-"Nor I" Hunter added.
Wil slapped his forehead. "Sheesh, you guys are too humble for your own good. OK, I'll check with you two back later. But PLEASE think of something, OK?"
-"Very well" Val nodded.
-"Is there anybody else at the Headquaters today?" Wil asked.
-"A few. Most of them are over at the caffeteria" Hunter said.
-"Should've known. OK, let's go there, Makko. You need to get acquainted with this place, anyway. See you later, guys!" Wil waved.

As the two of them walked away, Val and Hunter watched them.
Then Hunter turned to her, and, noticing her frowning, said:
-"Anything wrong, my lady?"
-"Um, no... nothing I can put my finger on" the valkyrie said.
But she continued to frown.


As the uncle/niece team walked around the seemingly endless halls of RPGC HQ, they spotted a figure sitting alone in one room. It wore a brown hood and a cloak, wrapped around itself so that its features were obscured. It wasn't moving, or making any sounds.

Puzzled by the sight, Wil said "Wait here, Makko" and then entered the room, approaching the figure cautiously.

As he came close enough, however, he noticed the figure was sitting in the "Lotus Flower" yoga position- most likely, meditating. More importantly, he noticed blue fur on its legs, and a tail between them.
-"Demigod?" He asked.
-"Martinez" Demigod responded, calmly.
-"Ah, it IS you. I hadn't seen you in a while. Glad to see you're back with us."
Demigod nodded.
-"Um... sorry if I disturbed your meditation."
-"Don't worry, you didn't."

For a second, Martinez just stood in front of Demigod, not quite sure what to say. Demigod had always been kind of a loner, and yet he still hung out with RPGC. Wil's nature was to help people, but he didn't know how to help the man.

Finally, he decided to just get to the point:
-"Err. I'm interviewing everyone in RPGC as to what presents they want for Xmas, so I can get them for them. Uh, do you want anything?"
-"No. Thank you" he said, matter-of-factly.
-"Okay... let me know if you change your mind" Wil said, then walked back to Makko. Then the two of them of them continued down the hall.
-"Who was that, uncle? He looked creepy..." Makko said.
-"Appearances don't matter, Makko. Remember that. Especially here in RPGC; we have all kinds of people, some of them aren't even human- or pretty. Got it?"
The young girl nodded.


The RPGC caffeteria was as purple as the rest of the castle. Purple fridges, purple coffee machines, purple couches, purple tables. But none of the people loitering around seemed to care; they just hung together in small groups (or sat alone) snacking, and talking.

No sooner had Wil and Nel entered the room, that Wil suddenly hollered, at the top of his lungs:


The RPGCers almost dropped their food in shock.
They then stared at Martinez, standing at the door beaming (with his niece behind him, looking somewhat embarrassed.)
-"Hey, how come this place isn't even decorated yet? The Holidays are here, you know!" he asked.
The people just continued to stare at him.
-"Wow, are you people dull, or what? What, are you still practicing to be zombies for the Halloween party?" Wil continued, then started walking into the room, Makko following close behind him. "Great news, people!" he continued to shout. "Yours Truly is in charge of getting the gifts for this year's Xmas party. So, tell me what each of you wants! C'mon, I don't have all season!!"

A young man approached him. He looked about sixteen years old, with tousled blonde hair, blue eyes, and slightly tanned skin. He wore traditional travelers' clothes, a golden bracelet, and a pair of katanas. "Wil! Nel!!" he exclaimed happily.
-"Omega! Nice to see you!!" Wil answered equally happy.
-"Err, my name is Makko now" Nel quickly corrected. "I just joined RPGC."
-"Really? Congratulations!" the young mage responded. "Wow, Wil, they actually let you in charge of the gifts?"
-"Yup. So, what do you want, Om?"
-"Umm. Well... What I want is to go with you people" Omega said.
-"Eh?" Wil said, puzzled.
-"You're going out around the Multiverse to get all the gifts, no?"
-"Well, yes."
-"Cool! I want to accompany you two. C'mon, it'll be fun!"
Wil shrugged. "Well, if that's what you want, sure!"
-"Great!" Omega exclaimed. Then he turned around and said, "Hey, GG! Come over here!"

Another young man, with scraggly hair, wearing traveler's clothes, sandals, and a sheated katana, approached. He looked like a character from "Rorouni Kenshin". Except he was munching on a pizza slice.
(Wich fortunately, was NOT purple.)
-"*Munch munch* What?" he asked.
-"You heard Wil" Omega said. "What do you want for a present?"

Between snacks, GG thought for a moment, then said. "...You know what a rainbow shell is?"
-"From Chronia, you mean?" Wil asked.
-"Yup" GG answered. "Always wanted one. They're pretty. But rare, too."
-"Sure, no problem" Wil said matter-of-factly; then he pulled out the Membership List and a pen out of a pocket, and wrote on it (next to GG's name) "Rainbow Shell."
-"I WANNA GO TOO I WANNA GO TOO I WANNA GO!!!" somebody small, fast and VERY hyper said. Everybody looked, to see a brown-haired, blue-eyed cat-eared little girl running around Wil, shouting at the top of her lungs.
-"Eh?? Who are you??" the Puerto Rican sorcerer asked.
-"My name's Kirokokori I'm new here can I go huh can I go can I go???"
-"Wait, wait a minute!" Wil said, stopping the girl. "What do you mean? You're a NEW member of RPGC??"
-"Yup!" she answered, beaming proudly.
-"Hold it! How OLD are you???" he asked, baffled.
-"I just turned eleven!!" she said happily.
-"WHA-AAATT??" Wil burst out in disbelief. He turned to Omega and Crono, who were giggling at his reaction. "Is THAT true??" he demanded.
-"Yup" Omega said. "Hey, don't look at me, it wasn't MY decision!"
-"But but-" Wil stammered, "She's a kid! A LITTLE kid!!
-"Makko's pretty young too" Omega countered.
-"Makko can take care of herself. I trained her myself!" he snapped back.
-"Hey! I can take care of myself!" the little catgirl protested.
-"I doubt that" Wil snapped, looking down at her. "A girl your age cannot hope to understand the complexities of life, much less of WHOAA!!!"
Wil was interrupted by the sight of the barrel of a huge BAZOOKA that had appeared out of nowhere in Kirokokori's hands, and was now pointing straight at his face!
Everybody else in the room froze!
Kiro giggled.
-"Err... careful with that, now..." Wil stammered.
-"This is my bazooka! You like it??" Kiro asked.
-"Err... it's very pretty... mind pointing it somewhere else?"
Kiro giggled again, then the thing disappeared just as fast as it appeared.
Wil let out an audible sigh.
-"Not so helpless, eh, Wil?" GG laughed behind him.
Wil snorted.
-"That's a HYPERION BAZOOKA!" Wil exclaimed. "One of the most powerful weapons of its type in the Multiverse! Where'd you get that??"
Kiro just giggled.
-"Ok, THAT'S it!" Wil said. "I'm going to talk about this with Weiila right now!" he snapped, and stormed out of room.


A few minutes later, in Weiila's office:
-"...But she's only TEN years old!" Wil shouted.
-"Eleven" Kirokokori, who was standing next to him, corrected him. Makko and Omega were also in the office.
-"BARELY!" Wil retorted. "You can't seriously expect her to deal with the dangers we RPGCers face, do you??"
-"Wil" Weiila snorted, not amused by his tone, "The Staff already discussed this subject, and we decided that Kiro can stay."
Wil didn't back down. "I don't care! How can you let a little girl with a BAZOOKA run loose? She's either going to get herself hurt, or worse, KILL a lot of people!"
-"Hey, I said I was sorry!" Kiro pleaded. "I wasn't going to shoot you, honest!"
-"We evaluated her maturity and abilities" Weiila responded, trying to stay calm, "and we found her acceptable. Besides" she continued, leaning forward a little, "Would you prefer that we allow her to run loose, with no supervision?"
Wil stopped then, not sure what to say.
-"Look" Kiro suddenly said, causing everyone to look at her. "I'm sorry if I was a little... hyper. I'm not usually like that, honest. I guess I ate too many sweets in the cafeteria. And... well, I was very excited by the idea of going around the world looking for christmas presents. I don't want to cause trouble. I just want to be accepted in RPGC."

All the others looked at the contrite little catgirl, and even Wil mellowed a little.

-"Besides" Nel suddenly cut in, "Didn't you just tell me not to judge by appearances, Uncle Wil?"
-"Uhh, err-" was his somewhat-embarrassed reaction.

-"...Okay" Wil finally said. "I guess we should give you the benefit of the doubt. And yes, you can come with us."
-"Yay!!" Kiro said.
-"BUT-" Wil added, "You have to do what I tell you to. No gallivanting on your own!"
She nodded.
-"And DON'T use that bazooka unless I tell you to!!"
-"No problem!" Kiro said, excitedly. "Besides, I don't entirely dependent on it! See, I can use magic as well. Let me show you! {WATER!!}
A stream of water suddenly sprung out of Kiro's hands-
-and straight into Wil's face, who was standing right before her.
-"Oops" Kiro said, as Wil stood there, dripping water.
Everyone else giggled.

They expected Wil to holler something, but instead, to their surprise, Wil said:
-"...Heh. reminds me of the difficulty I had with my first spells. Don't worry, Kiro, I've been thru worse things than getting soaked. Besides, it's better than getting a hyperion missile on the face." He smiled, then began to cast a spell to dry himself up.

Once dry, he added:
-"Okay gang, let's start moving, we have plenty of work to do!" and they started to head out of the Office.

Kiro ran ahead, to catch up to Nel, and said, "You're thirteen, right?"
-"Well, yes" she answered.
-"Good! There aren't many people our age in here. Maybe we can hang out together?"
Nel smiled. "...Sure, why not?"
Both girls giggled, in the way girls their age do.

The sight made Wil smile. Nel was starting to feel comfortable in RPGC.

And making friends.

However, as the girls took the lead, Omega walked closer to Wil, and whispered to him, "Are we REALLY taking her along?"
-"Yeah" Wil whispered back. "I want her were I can keep an eye on her until I make sure she can handle herself."
-"I don't like the idea. Catgirls are nothing but trouble. "
-"...I guess we'll find out" the older wizard responded.

As the group walked out of Weiila’s office, they ran into a thin teenage boy, with blue hair and blue eyes, wearing glasses, a black t-shirt and blue jeans.
-“Pokefreak!!” Wil said, smiling. “Long time no see!”
-“Hi, Wil!” Poke said. “I came back to help Weiila with all her paperwork.”
-“Helpful as ever, eh?” Wil said. “Say, you don’t know my niece Makko, do you? She just joined RPGC.”
Poke nodded at her. “Welcome to the team, miss!” he said, politely.
-“Thank you!” Makko said.
-“Say Poke, do you know where I can make copies of this?” Wil asked, pointing at the list Weiila had given him.
-“You can use one of the scanner/printers in the computer room for that” Poke said.
-“Thanks, Freak!” Wil said, causing all of them to giggle. Then he added, "Hey, Poke, what do you want for the Xmas party?"
-"Me? Nothing, really."
-"Aww, come on!" Wil insisted. "If somebody around here deserves a reward for his hard work, it's you. Come on, choose something!"
-'Well" the young man said, "How about a gil?"
-"ONE Gil?" Will said, surprised. "THAT'S all?"
-"I don't care apout money" Poke explained. "I'm just curious as to what one looks like."
Will shrugged. "Fine, if that's all you want."
-“Well, if you will excuse me, I got a lot of work to do!” Poke then said, starting to walk past them.
-“Sure, Poke. See you later!” Wil said, and they waved each other goodbye, as they walked away.

Several minutes later, in the Computer Room:

Wil used a device –that was, yes, purple- to make copies of the RPGC Membership List. He then gave a copy each to Makko, Omega and Kiro, and said:
-“Here you go. Now, go around the headquarters and ask everybody you see about their Christmas wishes- and write them down! Don’t worry about duplication; I’ll check the lists later. Come on, RPGC has a LOT of members, and we have to ask all the ones who are not present here as well. And then we have to actually GET the things. Move!!”
-“Yes, Commander!” Omega joked, and each one of them headed down a different purple hall.

* * * * * *

Wil found himself back in the cafeteria. There were still a few people there. He saw two young persons he didn’t recognize talking in a corner, so he headed over to them. One was a young man with black eyes, short black hair (which looked like he had just gotten out of bed) and cargo pants and shirt. The other was a rather attractive girl with dark, shoulder length hair (with purple highlights), dark clothing, and a grey cape (which looked kinda bulky, as if she were wearing a backpack under it.)
-“Hi there!” he said, merrily. “I haven’t seen you guys here before. Are you new, or are you lost?”
-“I dunno about him, but I’m new here. We’re not together, incidentally, we were just talking” she explained.
-“Good. I’m-”
-“Wilfredo Martinez!” the guy said. “I’ve heard a lot about you from the other guys here!”
-“Yeah? Well don’t believe a single thing. I’m a nice guy, really” he joked.
The guy laughed, but the girl didn’t.
-“I’m Lex” the guy explained, shaking Wil’s hand. “Master of Wushu.”
-“Bless you” Wil said.
-“Eh? No, I didn’t sneeze, Wushu is-”
-“A martial art, I know!” Wil laughed. “I’m master of the Lame Joke, in case the others didn’t tell you.”
-“Hah! Yes they did” Lex also laughed.
-“Well, did they tell you what I want today?”
-“What we want for our Xmas party presents, right?” Lex answered. “I’d like a Gunblade. With lots of special ammo!”
Wil shrugged. “Is that all? That’s easy!” then he wrote “Gunblade” next to Lex’s name on the list. Then he turned to the girl. “And you are…?”
-“Generic Anonymity” she answered.
-“Generic Anonymity. Reeeally” Wil snorted.
-“We are not required to use our real names here, are we?”
-“No, but most of us don’t use such literally fake names either. It doesn’t sound too- friendly.”
She shrugged. “I don’t know if I’ll even stay. I’m just checking out the place.”
-“Fair enough” Wil said. “Welcome to RPGC, anyway. Will you stay long enough for the party?’
-“…I think so. As for what I want…" she actually pondered it for a few seconds. “Well…I don’t know. It might sound absurd… then again, you people seem capable of some incredible things…”
-“Try me” Wil said, encouragingly. “I like challenges.”
-“Ok… All my life, my biggest fear has been, to commit mistakes I could later not fix. I always wished I had some way to fix my mistakes BEFORE committing them…”
Will was thoughtful for a minute. “Hmm… that’s gonna be hard. But, I’ll still look into it.”
-“Thanks” she said. “And you may call me GA, if you prefer.”
Before Wil could say anything else, a merry voice suddenly called from behind him, “Hey, Wil!!”
He turned around, to see a tall figure with PINK hair, armor and cape, carrying a glass jug (with a purple liquid inside) approach him. Its colors were so bright, that, combined with the purple background, almost made it hard to look at it.
-“Pink Lugia” Wil greeted the person. He couldn’t help but stare at it; even up close, it was impossible to tell Lugia’s gender, or even his/her age. Wil always wondered about it, but was too polite to ask.
-“Great to see you!” Lugia said, then raised its jug. “Ale?” it offered.
-“Uh, no thanks, I don’t drink. Alcohol, I mean.”
It shrugged. “More for me, then” and proceeded to drink straight from the jug.

Wil, Lex and GA couldn’t help staring as Lugia downed the whole thing in one gulp. “Ahh, hits the spot!” it said. “Hey, I hear you are in charge of getting the gifts this year?”
-“That is correct” Wil said.
-“Great! Could you get me some chocobo meat?”
Wil blinked. “WHAT kind of meat??”
-“Chocobo meat!” Lugia said merrily. “It’s the best in the multiverse!”
-“Wait!” Wil said “Are you serious? You eat CHOCOBOS!?”
-“Sure! Didn’t you know!? They make the best chocobo dishes out there in the Gaia Worlds!”
-“But, but…” Wil stuttered, “Some chocobos are SENTIENT! They’re PEOPLE!!! Don’t tell me you eat meat from THOSE, too!?”
Lugia seemed to think about it. “Well, honestly, I never asked if they could talk or not before eating them.”
Wil was at a loss what to say. Finally he said, “Uh… I’ll look into it.”
-“Great!” it said, then wandered off, shouting, “HEY! Anybody here feel like an ale-drinking contest??”
Wil was starting to realize that this task wasn’t going to be as easy as he expected…

* * * * * * * *

A short while later, the group had finished asking everybody in the Headquarters what they wanted for Xmas, and had gathered in the main hall.
-“Okay, we’re done here!” Wil announced. “Come on, let’s go!”
-“Wait.” a strong, female voice said from behind them.
They all turned, and saw Valkyrie Esker and Hunter standing there.
-“I want to come along, too.” the Viking she-warrior said.
-“Really?” Wil asked, surprised. “I didn’t think this kind of mission appealed to you.”
-“I have my reasons” she said, matter-of-factly.

For a moment, her gaze and Wil’s met, but neither said anything.

Finally, he shrugged and said, “Fine, suit yourself.”
-“If my Lady goes, I go” Hunter said, very deadpan.
-“I expected that” Wil said, smiling.
-“Oh, man!” Omega moaned. “First the catgirl, now this??”
The comment caused everyone, especially Kiro, to look at him.
-“You got a PROBLEM with me, mage?” Val asked, but before Omega could respond, Wil snapped, “HEY! This is a XMAS mission, OK? NO fighting.”
Val and Omega didn’t seem happy, but they decided not to argue.
The group then headed for the exit.

There, they saw Galloway, who was standing guard near the door.
-"Hey, wait!" Wil suddenly realized, "we haven't asked Gallo what he wants for Xmas."
-"Money" he said matter-of-factly.
-"Practical as ever, eh?" Wil said, smirking. "You sure you don't want anything else?"
-"Okay, you will get money. Err, a reasonable amount."
The group was about to exit, when Galloway said,“One moment, please.”
The group looked at him.
-“Miss Makko” he said.
-“Y-yes?” the young girl said, intimidated by his appearance and voice.
Then, surprisingly, Galloway smiled, and said,
-“Welcome to RPGC.”
Makko’s apprehension then vanished, and said, “Thank you!”

Then the group stepped out.

* * * * * * * *

From his hidden van, PC watched the group start to leave. He had been thinking for a while now, and realized that, if he wanted to get the interdimensional technology, he would not likely be able to get it on his own.

He was going to need help…

* * * * * * * *

Outside the RPGC castle, Makko, Omega, Kiro, Val and Hunter followed Wil until he stopped in the middle of the front lane. "Okay, gang" Wil then said. "Our first stop is going to be VideoSpirit's Academy. Weiila thinks he can lend us one of his interdimensional ships; that would be useful to find and carry the ton of gifts that our fellow RPGCers are going to want. Not to mention that it should save us some mana on teleporting spells."
-"Do you know where the Academy is?" Val asked.
-"Err, well, no, not exactly. But I don't need to" Wil explained. He then pulled out a picture from a pocket. "Video gave me this in case I ever needed to contact him" he continued, showing everyone the photo, which showed an image of the etheral warrior in some desertic place. "As you well know, I can teleport anywhere in the universe, long as I have a mental image of where I'm going. This should suffice."
-"Say, Uncle, can I ask you something?" Makko said.
-"Sure, dear. What?"
-"You know Santa Claus, right? Why don't we ask for his help?"
-"NO!!" Wil suddenly snapped, which surprised the heck out of everyone .
-"Ahh, want I mean to say is, he's too busy" Wil said, regretting his outburst. "Christmas is his busiest time of the year, don'tcha know? We shouldn't bother him with things we can handle ourselves."
-"Aww... I wanted to meet him" the young sorceress lamented.
-"Maybe next year, dear!" Wil said, trying to cheer her up.
-"Wil KNOWS Santa!?" Kiro said, wide-eyed.
-"Yep, he's a personal friend of mine!" Wil said, back to his cheerful tone. "You better behave, or he won't bring you any toys!"
-"Ok, I'll be very good, I promise!!" the catgirl said, excited.

But Valkyrie didn't ignore his reaction so easily. Wil was acting odd (even for HIM) and she had a feeling it was due to something bad. She was going to find out why. But, she decided to wait for the right moment.

-"Okay, everyone, in order for me to 'port all of us, we have to be in physical contact. So, everybody hold hands with the person next to you."

The six heroes formed a circle, with Makko to Wi'ls left and Omega to his right; Omega held hands with Kiro (much to his chaggrin) she held hands with Val, she with Hunter, and he with Makko, completing the circle.
-"Okay, now, repeat the following magic words, after me."
Everybody focused.
"Ready? Okay, here we go!:"


Everybody stared at Wil, baffled!

And then he burst out in laughter!

Getting the joke, Makko, Kiro and Omega also started laughing.
But Val didn't laugh. And therefore, neither did Hunter.
-"*Ahem* Wil coughed, apologetically. "Okay, seriously now. And no, you don't need to repeat my words. You DO need to stay in contact, however. Okay, ready? [WARP!]

A huge burst of (harmless) green sparks exploded out from the center of the circle, and enveloped them all; in the blink of an eye, the sparks vanished- and so did Wilfredo and his team.

A short distance away, in the van, Glenton had seen the heroes vanish. Yes, he was going to need help tracking them down, he decided.

But he knew just the individual to help him in his plan...


The sky was blue, but the cloud formations were strange- some were corkscrewed, others were light brown in color. The desert, however, was as rocky and desolate as any of Earth's.

Two buildings stood in the middle of the wasteland. One was a large dark building, its shape not unlike the art deco buildings you see in places like San Francisco. The other was similar, but smaller in size. However , it sported a large pavemented area next to it, where several starships of various shapes and sizes where parked.

The larger building had a campus-like area around it, and several people -thousands, literally- came and went from it. Most looked human, although many had unusual hair or eye colors. Others, however, were definitely alien in form. All were wearing the same blue uniform, however.

The crowd suddenly stopped as a burst of green sparks exploded in their midst.
Wil and his friends materialized in the middle of it.

Noticing several hundred beings staring at them (more, actually, but it was hard for the rest to be seen thru the crowd) the group was understandably worried.
-"What is this, Starfleet Central?" Omega asked.
-"You sure we landed were we wanted, Wil?" Hunter asked.
-"Let me handle this" Wil said. Then, raising his voice, he said, "Er... we come in peace?"
The crowd remained staring silently.
-"Uh, maybe they don't speak our language?" Makko offered.
-"I doubt it, my translation spell allows communication with any verbal language" her uncle explained.
-"Maybe you need to say, 'Klaatu Barada Nicto' first?" Omega joked, which caused Val to stare at him harshly.
Before the group could do anything else, an atractive, blue-uniformed woman, with long red hair, approached them. "Who are you people? Where did you come from?'' she asked.
Wil stepped closer to her.
-"Umm... we are travelers. As for how we got here, it was, err, an experimental warp device" he said, thinking quickly.
-"Oh" the woman said, "I thought it was a teleportation spell."
Her comment surprised the heroes.
-"You know about magic?" Wil asked.
-"Of course" she responded, matter-of-factly. "This is the Videan Academy. We study magic and science all across the multiverse."
-"Aha! See? We ARE in the right place!" Wil said to his group. Then he continued talking to the woman. "I'm Wilfredo Martinez, of Earth's RPGC force. My friends and I came seeking help from your director, Videospirit, with a small matter concerning our holiday celebrations."
-"Oh" the woman said. "I'm Aisha. I'm a teacher here. You're in luck, the director is here. He's usually offplanet. I'll let you know you're here. Follow me."
The heroes followed the woman into the larger building.

Wil was looking at her like he was about to hit on her, but didn't, probably because both Val and Makko were watching him very closely.

* * * * * * * *

The group was lead into a comfortable, if somewhat odd-looking green waiting room, and told to wait there. They sat down on black chairs, and took the chance for some small talk.

Robin (Valkyrie Esker) merely watched Wil. She had some things to say to him, but she still felt this wasn't the right moment.

Hunter was silent too. He preferred to express himself thru combat anyway, especially when sparring with His Lady.

Next to Val, Makko and Kiro were talking amicably.
-"...So Kiro, just WHERE do you keep that bazooka of yours?" the older girl asked.
-"In my pocket!" Kiro answered.
-"Eh? How's that possible?" Makko asked.
-"Well... uh... I don't really know."
-"Katanaspace" Val suddenly cut in.
The two girls looked at her.
-"It's another dimension" she explained. "It's like an invisible container that you can access from anywhere. I use it too, to hold my weapons."
-"Cool!" both girls said at once.
-"You need to learn things like this for your adventures. You never know when you might need to know them" Val added.
They both nodded.

Omega was sitting next to Wil. He was a being a regular chatterbox today.
-"Man! This is really exciting, Wil!!"
-"You get used to being in alien planets after a while, Om" Wil said matter-of-factly.
-"No, I mean, getting to adventure with you, Wil!" Omega explained. "You always get involved in the coolest adventures!"
-"Um, not always, Om" Wil said.
-"Sure you do! Like when you defeated Nyarlathotep!"
-"I didn't beat Nyarlathotep, Om. RPGC did."
-"But you led the battle! Oh, and last year, when you defeated Loki-"
-"I didn't defeat Loki" Wil insisted. "He ran away."
-"Yeah, cuz he was afraid of you!" Omega said, excited.
Wil looked at Omega, surprised. He didn't realize the young mage had such an opinion of him.
-"Om, maybe you should study your facts more accurately."
-"Ok, ok, I will. Still, you can't deny, you're one of the greatest members of RPGC- not to mention, the wisest!"
-"Omega" Wil suddenly said in a serious tone, "You shouldn't idolize me like that."
-"Eh? Why not?" the young mage said.
Wil was silent for a second. Finally, he said. "...Well, have you heard the saying, 'Idols have feet of clay?' None of us are perfect, Om. Sooner or later, we all commit mistakes. And I'd hate to disappoint you."
-"Oh, I doubt you ever will" Omega insisted.
After a moment, Wil said, "...I hope so, Om. I truly hope so."

* * * * * * * *

Wil and the gang continued talking for a few minutes. They fully expected to have to wait for a while. After all, this was obviously a monstrously huge alien academy; who knows how much bureaucracy it might have.

To their surprise, Videospirit himself soon walked into the waiting room.

Wil, Val, Omega and Hunter were acquainted with him, but this was the first time Makko and Kiro had seen him.

They found his appearance striking. Video's face looked somehow both young and old at the same time; plus, his skin was kinda orange in color. His hair was blonde, and his eyes were purple; there was a bright purple crystal between them. He wore orange battle clothes, with dragon images across them. A purple katana-like weapon hung in a sheath by his side, and he wore a silver string around his neck from which hung an aquamarine stone. He was smiling, which allowed them to see that his teeth were slightly pointed.

-"Well, this was unexpected. What are you guys doing here?" he asked, in a merry tone.
Wil got up and approached him. "Hello, Video. It's nothing important, we just wanted to ask you a favor."
-"Oh?" VS said, intrigued. "What kind of favor?"
-"You know it's Xmas on Earth, right? Well, I'm in charge of finding the gifts for everyone in RPGC. I just found out about your academy, and your fleet of interdimensional ships. I was wondering if you'd be willing to give us a hand."
-"Eh?" Video was surprised. "You want me to collect the presents?"
-"No, no" Wil quickly explained. "I imagine you're very busy here; we can manage on our own. We could use an interdimensional vehicle, however. It's not STRICTLY necessary, mind you, but it would be useful. "
-"Phe, I'm not busy at all" Video said casually. "I hate posturing, that's why I'm hardly ever at the Academy. I'd much rather be out there, helping explore the multiverse by myself. I'll go with you."
-"Great! So... you CAN spare us a ship?"
Video seemed to think about it for a moment. "To be honest, the only thing the Academy can allow you to use would be a Hopper."
-"And that is...?"
-"It's an experimental kind of interdimensional ship" the warrior explained. "It travels by warping the dimensional barriers, instead of the planeshifting most mana-based ships use. It's a somewhat rough process, but it works."
-"That'll do" Wil said. "Long as it has room for us and some cargo."
-"They do" VS said, nodding. "Come, let me show you one."
Videospirit then turned and began walking out of the room. The group followed him.

* * * * * * * *

A few minutes later, the group had walked out of the main Academy building and all the way to the spaceport. They walked around several of the odd-looking alien starships. Finally, Video stopped in front one that resembled-

...A giant flea?

About the size of a Winnebago.

The group stared at it.

-"This is it. How do you like it?" Video said.
-"It's a... flea?" Kiro asked.
-"No, no" Video explained. "It's a cicada. You know, those bugs that make noise at night, worse than even crickets?"
-"Uh, why did you make it that way?" Omega asked.
-"*I* didn't make it like this, the academy engineers did" Video snorted. "I would've made it something cool, like a spider or a scorpion. But hey, at least it isn't a boring rocket or flying saucer. I mean, a starship can look like ANYTHING, since aerodynamics don't apply in space. So, why not go crazy and make them works of art while you're at it?" VS expounded.
-"Well, I guess you have a point" Wil said.
-"Come on, let's go inside, I want to show you guys how it works!" Video said, and the group came closer to the vehicle.

** * * * * * *


The room was dark. Silent. And there was a smoky smell in the air. Whether from cigarettes, incense or candles, Glenton couldn’t tell.

There was enough light to see by, however. Glenton could see all manner of odd trophies about: Pictures of Hitler, Mussolini and Toho; weapons of all kinds; and miniature models of warplanes and ships. The place was like a freaking war museum.

Or a shrine.

But then, that was exactly the kind of place that he expected his current host to inhabit.

According to Glenton’s underworld sources, he had been know by a variety of names. All of which paid homage to some world war two fact or another.

Currently, he was going by the monicker of…

Kamikaze Nagumo.

He looked like a young man, but Glenton knew better than to judge by appearances.
He had long blonde hair, tied in a topknot; his eyes were blue. Looked kinda Nordic, Glenton decided. However, he wore a samurai’s kimono, except it was night-black in color. By his side hung a sword, not a katana, but more like a Greek broadsword, with a black, winged handle. He sat, cross-legged, on a black, wooden antique chair, a cup of fine wine in his hand.

Nagumo, too, was quietly studying his guest. His own contacts had informed him of Glenton’s reputation and skills. He certainly looked intimidating: Slick black hair, shades, an expressionless face, black coat. Really, he looked like a MATRIX extra.

Glenton was the first to speak.
-“Kamikaze Nagumo, I presume?”
-“Correct” the white Samurai said. “And you are PC Glenton, the World’s greatest thef and mercenary.”
Glenton nodded.
-“What brings you here?” Nagumo asked. “Looking for employment?”
-“Actually, I have an offer to make you.”
-“Oh, Really?” Nagumo said, intrigued. “What kind of offer?”
-“Have you heard of The Righteous Protectors?”
-“RPGC?” Nagumo said surprised. “Are you in trouble with them?”
-“No” PC said matter-of-factly. “But they possess something I want to adquire.”
-“…And you need my help to adquire it?” Nagumo said, smiling sinisterly.
PC was still expressionless. “I might.”
-“What are we exactly talking about?” the samurai said, between sips of wine.
-“Interdimensional travel” Glenton said.
-“Is that all?” Nagumo scoffed. “I already have access to it!”
-“Via technology?” Glenton said, in an intrigued tone.
-“No. Magic” Nagumo said.
Glenton stiffened at the mention of the word. He hoped the samurai hadn’t noticed, but he had. He just kept quiet about it.
-“Do you possess the ability yourself?” Glenton asked.
-“…Maybe” Nagumo said, but Glenton didn’t believe him,
-“The problem with Magic” Glenton explained, “Is that you need PEOPLE to use it. And people are NEVER completely trustworthy.”
Nagumo agreed, but didn’t respond aloud.
Glenton continued.
-“Technology, on the other hand, is something anyone can use and understand- with the right training. No need for ‘Magic Gifts’.”
Again, Nagumo remained pensive.
-“The RPGC people have access to the greatest technology in this World. Including interdimensional travel. In the right hands, it could be most- profitable.”
Nagumo sipped again. “RPGC are dangerous foes. Is it worth taking on them?”
-“Anybody can be exploited… if you know their secrets.”
-“Are you saying you know those secrets?”
-“Are you saying you CAN help me obtain what I seek?” the thief countered.
Nagumo smiled. He rather liked the man. He considered most people to be below him, in taste and intelligence. Perhaps Glenton would make a n interesting partner.
-“…Very well” the samurai finally said. “But in order to help you, I’ll have to make a few calls.”
-“I expected so.”
-“Good” Nagumo said, standing up. “Looks like we’ll be joining forces in a most interesting enterprise.”
Glenton just nodded.


The inside of the bug-like contraption looked like a cross between a Winnebago and a pipe-filled basement.

Wil and Video were sitting on the front seats; Omega and Nel were on the second row, Kiro was on the third, and Val and Hunter were on the fourth.

Videospirit was explaining how the vehicle worked, describing its mana-recycling system, which absorbed Mana from the surroundings and converted it into power.

-“…And that’s how it works” Videospirit finished saying. “Did you understand?”
-“A mana-routing system” Wil exclaimed. “Impressive!”
Omega was also paying close attention. “Indeed, I have never seen anything quite like it!”
-“Did you understand all that, Makko?” Wil asked, leaning back.
-“Err…” the young girl said, nervously.
-“Ah, don’t worry” Wil said. “I’ll explain it to you more carefully later.”
-“What about the interdimensional shifting system?” Omega asked.
-“Well…” Video said, seeming somewhat reluctant to explain it. “As I mentioned, this experimental vehicle, rather than ‘phase’ between dimensions like we do with spells, creates warps. It’s like the difference between starships that travel at ultra-lightspeed around space, and those that create ‘holes’ in space to jump from one place to another.”
-“I’ve experienced both systems before” Wil said confidently.
-“Well. Umm. Remember, we’re still working the bugs out of this one” Video added.
-“What do you mean? Is it safe?” Kiro asked, worried.
-“Oh, yes!” Video quickly explained. “I assure you of that, we’ve already tested it successfully. It’s just that- well, the process just isn’t smooth” the ethereal warrior continued. “We’re only at the travel-testing phase. We’ve not yet fine-tuned it for the comfort of the passengers.”
-“Ah, don’t worry about that” Wil said, dismissively. “The important thing is that it gets us were we need to go! So, c’mon, let’s get rolling!”
-“My, you’re certainly in a hurry, eh, Wil?” Omega smiled.
-“Err, it’s the Christmas spirit” Wil smiled back.
But Makko didn’t smile.
And neither did Val, who continued to watch Wil, and bide her time.
-“Anyway, tell us how to pilot this thing!” Wil asked Video.
-“I’ll pilot it” Video insisted. “You watch me closely, in case you need to handle it yourselves later.”
-“Ok!” Both Wil and Omega said.
Video’s hands began glowing with magical energy, as he passed them over the controls, which lit up in flashing patterns in response.

Kiro leaned forward. “Hey Makko, isn’t this exciting? Not only we get to play Santa, but we’re going to see a LOT of cool places too!”
-“Yeah, I know!!” Makko responded. “We’ll explore the universe inside- THE CHRISTMAS FLY!!”
-“It’s a CICADA!” Video grumbled while charging up the controls.
-“Whoops, sorry!” Makko said.
-“Kiro, stay on the back, will you?” Omega snapped.

The little catgirl recoiled.

-“Hey! What’s your problem, Omega?” Makko snapped at him.
Omega was about to say something, but he caught Wil staring at him, and he decided not to.
-“OK, we’re about to start warping. Everyone put on your seatbelts!” Video shouted. The machine could be heard starting up, like an old car.
Everyone quickly made sure his or her seatbelts were safely tied on.

The Hopper began to hum. The pipes on the inside began to glow with visible streams of mana. The hum increased to a peak; suddenly, a golden bolt of energy shot front the bug-like vehicles’ front, stopping in mid-air as if it had hit an invisible barrier.
Lightning-like bolts erupted out of that point, flailing all around the Hopper: SHRRAAAKK!!
-“Whoa!” Makko and Kiro said aloud. The others (except Video) were also impressed, but didn’t said it aloud.

The storm intensified. Suddenly, a HUGE hole appeared in the beam’s focus, showing only darkness beyond.
The energy storm began rocking the vehicle like a hummer caught in a hurricane. The passengers were rocked about like the crew of the Enterprise during an attack on their ship. If they hadn’t been safely tied down, they would’ve been thrown against the walls!
-“WHO-OH-OH-OH-A!!” EVERYONE said THIS time!
-“It’s all right, this always happens!” Videospirit shouted.
-“I see what you mean about it needing ‘fine-tuning!' ” Omega shouted!
-“OK, NOW we take off! HOLD ON TIGHT!” Video screamed.

The giant Cicada stretched it’s ‘legs’, like a real bug about to leap.

A few seconds later, it did exactly that, as it took a HUGE leap- right THRU the yawning, screaming portal it had opened!

No sooner had it gone thru, the portal snapped shut, lleaving only a few quickly vanishing sparks…

* * * * * * *


The air was still, except for the occasional swirl. Snow covered everything, as far as the eye could see. There were no signs of human habitation, animals, or even trees.

Then the calm was shattered by a screeching sound:
-and a burst of lightning-like energies exploded from thin air, followed by the opening of a yawning black void, from which the Hopper suddenly came thru. The bug-like vehicle landed roughly, scattering snow in all directions. Behind it, the portal closed, and the dimensional storm quickly vanished.

Inside, the heroes gathered their wits about them. “Everybody okay…?” said a slightly dazed Martinez.
-“I’m used to it by now” Video explained calmly.
-“I will be okay, as soon as the World stops spinning around…” Omega half-joked.
-“Nel? Kiro?” Wil asked, somewhat worried.
For a moment, the two girls looked stunned.
And then, they both said, at the same time, “COOOOLL!!”
-“It’s just like a roller coaster!!” Makko said, excited.
-“Yeah, let’s do it again!!” Kiro added.
Wil snorted happily. *Kids* he thought. “V? Hunter? How about you?”
Val snorted. “It’ll take far more than a rough ride to unsettle me” the female warrior said. Hunter nodded in agreement.
-“So, where are we?” Omega asked.
-“Greenland” Video said, matter-of-factly.
-“Greenland?” Wil asked. “Do we have RPGC members there?”
-“I don’t know” the Ethereal Warrior responded. “I chose it only because I wanted to land on Earth, in a place where people wouldn’t be likely to see us. We don’t want to make people think they’re being invaded by cicada-men from outer space or something.”
-“Good thinking” Wil said. “OK, let’s start visiting RPGC members and asking them what they want; once we have checked with everybody, we’ll start hunting down the gifts.” He then pulled out his copy of the RPGC membership list, and began reading thru it again.
-“So, we’re in Greenland?” Kiro asked. “But… everything around here is white” she observed thru the Hopper's frontal windows.
-“That’s just the name” Omega explained, annoyed at the catgirl’s ignorance. “This place is mostly covered in ice and snow.”
-“Where on Earth is that?” Makko asked.
-“In the North Atlantic” Omega said. “We’re near Iceland, I think. Which by the way is greener than Greenland.”
-“So why isn’t Greenland called Iceland and Iceland Greenland?” Kiro asked.
-“Um…Err…Oh, stop asking stupid questions!” Omega snapped.
-“ALRIGHT!” Wil said with sudden enthusiasm. “I’ve got our whole course plotted. Video, how good is the Hopper at pin-point landings?”
-“Not terribly” Video admitted. “But just give me a particular address and I’ll make sure we land somewhere nearby and safe. We can walk from there to whomever’s house.”
-“Good!” Wil said, then began to discuss with Video where they were going and in what order.

A few minutes later, their course of action finally planned, Video announced, “OK, we’re taking off again. Everybody ready?”
Everybody said they were.
-“And don’t worry about the shaking…you’ll get used to it soon!”
He got no response to THAT comment.

Once again, he activated the Hopper’s controls, energy flowed in the pipes, the fabric of space/time was ripped open, and the oddest Xmas vehicle ever literally jumped into action!


* * * * * * * * *


By now, several figures were longing around the museum-like apartment.

They seemed to be waiting for… something.

But the room was still as quiet, shadowy, and smoky as when Glenton first entered it.

And then suddenly-

-one of the shadows- MOVED!!
-With NO BODY attached to it!!
Immediately, all the persons in the room took battle stances!!
All save one:
-“Easy, my friends!” Nagumo said, stopping them. “It’s just our final guest, arriving.”
The others froze, but were still ready to attack.

As they watched, the shadow took on more human proportions. Out of it walked what looked like a teenager, about 16, 6'2" in height, with short dark-brown hair. His clothes, including a hood, looked like shadows themselves. He wore two katanas, one shorter than the other, on his hips.
-“Gentlemen –and lady- I give you: Darkness Beckons. Master of shadow magic” Nagumo said. “Or would you prefer, ‘Beckons’?” he asked the newcomer.
-“Cut the crap, Kamikaze. Why did you call me?”
-“Easy, easy, my ‘friend’” Nagumo said, with an ironic smile. “Introductions first, no?” he added, with a sweep of his hand at the rest of his companions, who had (carefully) returned to a calm stance.

-“This” the dark samurai said, pointing at a man with the slick black hair, shades, and black trench coat, who was just standing in place, “Is PC Glenton, the World’s Greatest Thief. You may have heard of his reputation.”
-“If he has, I’m not being careful enough” the man commented.
Nagumo smiled again, then moved to the next person. “And this” he continued, approaching a young man with slightly punkish black hair and blue eyes, wearing light-colored clothes (with arm and leg armor pieces) as well as a pair of katanas, one red and one black, who leaned against a wall, “is Heaven’s Soldier, according to some, an actual half-angel.”
HS didn’t smile. In fact, he seemed quite uncomfortable in the room.

Nagumo moved to the next person. “This is Rommiel Lazarus, warrior for hire” he said, about a seemingly-skinny young man, dressed in black, grey and dark blue, with long black hair tied under a bandana. He didn’t seem to even react to the introduction, but merely continued to sit on a chair, silently.

-“And THIS-“ Nagumo said with actual glee, as he approached a curvaceous, obviously female figure, with blonde hair, her body wrapped in a dark cloak, by a corner of the room- “BEAUTIFUL Lady, is CALA-”
-“Cala!?” Darkness suddenly snapped, “Cala, the international ASSASSIN!?” Besides him, Heaven’s Soldier looked equally shocked.
-“Well” she said, in a foxy voice, “Looks like MY reputation precedes me; and unlike Glenton, I actually LIKE that.”
-“You didn’t say anything about this being an assassination mission, Nagumo!!” HS snapped.
-“Relax, my friends!” Nagumo explained, calmly. “It is not. At least, not unless needed…”
-“Forget IT!” Darkness snapped as well. “I don’t work with killers. I’m outta here!” He began to meld back into the shadows.
-“To go WHERE?” Nagumo snapped back at him. “Is there ANY corner of the globe where you’re not wanted by one government or another?”
Darkness stopped.
-“Let’s cut the hypocrisy” Nagumo continued, his voice uncharacteristically raised. “ALL of us live in the fringes of society. All of us depend in mercenary work to survive, either providing it or making use of it. We DEPEND on each other to survive!”
-“Besides” Glenton cut in, in a more calm tone, “If everything goes according to my plan, nobody will get hurt. AND, we’ll all be amply rewarded for our efforts.”
-“Ah, yes” Nagumo added, returning to his calmer, more sinister tone. “I forgot to mention, Mister Glenton here is in charge of the logistics of our mission.”

For a moment, Darkness and Heaven’s Soldier just looked at each other. Then they turned to their host, and. HS said,
-“…Ok. We’re listening…”

* * * * * * * *

While sinister plans were being formed in one place on Earth, several other places were being visited by the crew of the The Hopper:

Somewhere in the USA:

The brown-haired, brown eyed, freckled little boy was eating cookies right outside his favorite sweets store. He had just bought an armful of cookies, of every shape, color and taste. He ate them hurriedly and merrily, not minding the crumbs that were accumulating on his black cloak, his white t-shirt and his black jeans.
-“You’re going to get sick if you continue to eat nothing but cookies” a familiar voice said.
The boy turned around, then blurted out, “KIRO!!” (spitting some crumbs in the process.) Behind her stood several people he didn’t recognize.
-“Hi, Cookiemaster!!” the little catgirl said, and ran up to hug him.
-“Heey, watch out, you’re gonna make me drop my cookies!!” was the boy’s shocked reaction.
-“Sorry!” Kiro said, and let him go. Then she said, “Cookie, these are my new friends! The old guy is Wil (OLD?? Wil mentally snorted) the girl behind him is Makko, the guy with the annoyed face is Omega, the orange guy is Videospirit, the girl in the armor is Val and the guy in armor is Hunter!! Guys, this is my friend, Cookiemaster X!”
-“Wow!” the boy said, impressed by the heroes' appearances. “Kiro had told me about you people, but I didn’t see any of you when she took me to RPGC Headquarters to join!”
-“We’re always coming and going” Wil said, while checking his RPGC membership list to make sure Cookiemaster was listed.
-“How did you guys get here? I didn’t feel any magic being used nearby.”
-“We have like, the COOLEST ship!!" Kiro said, excitedly. "It’s shaped like a giant flea!!”
-“CICADA!” Video snapped.
-“Err, yeah, cicada ” Kiro corrected. “We landed in the empty lot near here. I KNEW I would find you by the candy store!”
-“So, is this your boyfriend?” Omega asked.
-“WHAT?? NO!!” both kids said at once.
-“Haw haw, Kiro has a boyfriend!” Omega laughed. “Kiro-and-Cookie, sitting-in-a-tree” he began to sing.
Then Mako gave him a shove!
-“What IS your problem, Omega??” she asked, furious. “You’ve been mean to Kiro since we started!”
-“Makko, you have no idea how annoying catgirls are. And Kiro is a CHILD catgirl. That’s even worse!”
-“That is true” Val said, to everyone’s surprise. “Catgirls were created by some perverts, using magic or science, I'm not sure which, to fulfill their dark fantasies. You can't expect much out of them.”
-“Huh? That’s not true!” Kiro said, puzzled.
-“Val? You too?” Makko said, surprised at her friend's reaction.
-“Just being honest with you, dear. If you're going to be an adventurer, you have to learn about things like that ” the she-warrior explained.
-“ENOUGH!” Wil snapped. “I SAID I wasn’t going to tolerate any fighting. We are on a CHRISTMAS mission! Anybody who feels like being mean can STAY BEHIND!”

Val turned towards him, then said, “That reminds me. You and I are going to have a talk. Soon.”

Wil and Val gazed harshly at each other for a moment.

Then he said, “Later” and turned around. “So, Cook. What do you want for Xmas?”
-“Yeah, we’re gonna get it for you!!” Kiro explained.
-“REALLY??” the boy said, excited. “Umm, the only thing I can think of are- cookies” he said timidly. “I just never get tired of eating them! But I eat them TOO fast... I wish I had a cookie that would last forever!”
Kiro shook her head at her friend, but Wil said, “Everlasting Cookie” aloud, as he wrote it down. “Thanks, Cook. See you at the party. Merry Xmas!” he added, turned around, and began walking back to the Hopper.
The others followed him.
-"Whoops gotta go see you later Cookie!!" Kiro shouted to her friend as she ran to catch up to the others.

Cookiemaster watched the group walk away, still somewhat puzzled by what had just happened.

Then he went back to scarfing down cookies.

As the group followed Wil, Video leaned over to Omega and whispered, “Um, is something going on here I haven’t been told about? Wil is acting kinda… odd.”
-“Yeah, he’s been like that all day.” The young mage whispered back. “He’s been seesawing between happy and angry… oh well, if he’s having some problem, I’m sure he will tell us about it later.”

* * * * * * *


The room was dark, and decorated with Metal Music mementoes.

A young, rather skinny man laid on his bed, but he wasn’t sleeping.
He had messy brown hair, one green eye and a blue one, and wore black clothing- a metal band t-shirt, jeans and work boots.

He was talking on a phone.

And he wasn’t happy.

-“Dammit, I didn’t mean it that way!” he snapped at the phone, but quickly changed his tone: “Sorry, didn’t mean to yell at you. Look, I can explain everything, I swear I can. If only you gave me a chance…! Yeah, I know, I know, but THIS time I mean it. Come on, darling, just listen to what I have to say!”

For a moment, there was silence in the room.

Then the young man said, “Thank you, baby, you won’t regret it, I swear! Look, it’s just that-”
-“WHAT THE HELL!?!” he screamed, as the thunderous sound reverberated around his house!
Quickly, he jumped out of bed and to the nearest window, one that looked into his back yard.
There, he spotted some kind of metallic bug, as large as a bus, and still crackling with sparks.
-“What the f-” he began to say, and then spotted some familiar people coming out of it.

He grumbled something under his breath, but before he could do anything, he noticed another, even more alarming sound in his room:
The sound was coming from the phone, which was still in his hand.
And its cord was stretched to the floor, where the hook lied, the connection cut when he accidentally knocked it off the bed.
He cursed again, this time more loudly.
Then he stormed out of the room.

He went out into his back yard, and ran into Wilfredo, who came ahead of a small team of RPGCers.
-“Ah, Rountree! Good, I was afraid we’d teleported into somebody else’s back yard by mistake. This thing is still not very precise-”
-“Don’t call me that” the young man suddenly said, interrupting him.
-“Eh? Oh right, right- you’re called Cybercompost now, aren’t you?” Wil said, apologetically.
-“No, I changed it again. It’s Genericangstyguy now.”
-“Huh?” Wil said, blinking. “What is it with you changing your name all the time?”
-“Why not? I’m a shapeshifter, dammit!” he said, and suddenly, his body twisted like taffy! The heroes couldn’t help gasping, even those who knew his abilities, as his shape changed in the blink of an eye, from a Viking to a horse to a white stuffed cat and back again! “Why should I have a single name, when I can have any number of identities I want?”
-“Fine, fine, ‘Generic’ is it” Wil said, then added, “By the way, this is my niece, Makko, she’s a new member of RPGC. I don’t know if you know Kiro-”
-“Forget the introductions! Just tell me what are you people doing here??”
-“Alright” Wil agreed. “We need to know what you want for a present during this year’s Xmas party-“
-“THAT’S IT??” Generic snapped. “You land that contraption on my backyard and make more noise than Metallica at full blast just to ask me what I want for Christmas!?”
-“Hey, sorry, we tried to land quietly, but-” Videospirit tried to explain.
-“I don’t care!” Generic insisted, “ Thanks to you goons, I may have lost my girlfriend forever!!”
-“Eh? How’s that?” Wil asked, puzzled.
-“I was talking to her on the phone when your arrival made me lose the connection! I was trying to explain something very important to her! Now I don’t know if she’ll ever forgive me!!”
-“Gee, sorry, Gen” Wil said, ashamedly, “We didn’t mean- ”
-“I don’t care what you meant! You want to give me a gift? Then GET ME BACK MY GIRLFRIEND!” he shouted. Then he turned into a lark, and flew away!

For a moment, Wil and his team just stood there, stunned.

Then Wil shrugged, and wrote “girlfriend” on his present list.
-“Eh?” Makko said, baffled. “Uncle? Are you really going to try to get Gen his girlfriend back? How??”
-“I’ll figure something later” Wil said, matter-of-factly. Then he added, “Let’s go, we still have several people to interview.”

* * * * * * * *


The street was covered in snow. A slight wind was blowing, which blew some snow around, giving the city a certain ‘winter wonderland’ look.

The young man walking down the street, however, wasn’t in the mood to appreciate it.

Wrapped in thick clothes to stand the cold, he walked with his mind in the clouds. His eyes were blue, and he had blonde hair, short except for a few strands that insisted on sticking out like antennas.
His face, however, betrayed an inner sadness.
-“Why the long face, Mabatsekker?” a voice said close to him.
-“HUH?? WHO??” was his shocked reaction. He turned around, and there, on the sidewalk, were standing Wilfredo Martinez, Valkyrie Esker, Hunter, OmegaFlare, Videospirit, plus two girls he didn’t recognize.
-“SHH!!” he shushed Wil, running up to him. “That’s my SECRET IDENTITY!!” he whispered. “I’m Chris Maxim when I’m like this, remember??”
-“Whoops, Sorry!” Wil said , embarrassed. “I used to seeing you mostly in Super Hero form, so I keep forgetting. Don’t worry, I don’t think anyone heard us.”

Chris looked around to confirm that, and after doing so, relaxed a little, and turned back to his friends:
-“What are you people doing in Helsinki?” he asked.
-“Looking for you, of course!” Video explained. “We had to look around for quite a while to find you.”
-“ Yeah, I’m just coming home from school. But it’s nice to see you guys! And say, who are the cute ladies- HEY! Is that a catgirl??” he suddenly gasped.
-“Yes I am!” Kiro said proudly. “My name is Kirokokori!”
-“My, aren’t you cute!” Chris said, patting her on the head. “Hey, could I draw you? I’m an artist, you know!”
-“REALLY? COOL!” she said, happily.
-“Yikes, Mab, I KNOW you love catgirls, but isn’t she a LITTLE too young for you?” Omega laughed.
-“Hey! I only meant to draw a normal picture, is all!” Mab snapped. Kiro gave Omega a harsh look.
Omega was about to say something, but noticed Wil giving him a don’t-you-dare stare, so he backed down.
-“Besides, I already HAVE a catgirl girlfriend, remember?”
-“Ugh. Don’t remind me” Val said.
Before things could get any uglier, Wil quickly changed the topic, by saying: “Chris, this is my niece, Makko. She just joined RPGC. ”
-“Really?” the young man said, smiling again. “Pleasure to meet you, young lady!”
-“My pleasure!” Makko said, almost giggling. “Uncle had told me about you!”
-“Makko is a sorceress” Wil continued to explain. “I’m training her.”
-“I’m sure you’ll do a good job, Wil” the blue mage said, smiling again.
-“Thanks” Wil responded, then added, “M- I mean, Chris, the reason we’re here is that we need to know what do you want for the Xmas party, so we can get it for you.”
-“You’re playing Santa this year?” Chris asked. “Oh well, you *ARE * Santa’s buddy, so who better? OK, let’s see… for the RPGC party, we’re going to need- RICE PORRIDGE!!”
Everybody blinked. “RICE porridge?” Wil asked, baffled.
-“Yeah! It’s the traditional Finnish Xmas Tradition! We fill a cauldron with porridge to share with all our friends! I think it would be cool to try that at this year’s party!”
-“Hmm… that actually might be a nice touch” Wil mused. “But- that’s kind of more like a party thing. Don’t you want anything more personal?”
Chris thought about it for a moment.
-“Well, I’ve always wanted a Vampire-killing Whip…”
-“Great, I know just where to find one!” Wil said merrily, then wrote both ‘porridge’ and ‘Whip’ next to Mabatsekker’s name.
-“Hey, don’t forget to put in a single almond in the porridge!” Mab quickly added. “ Tradition says, the person who finds it in his portion gets a wish!”
-“Really? How cool!” Makko said.
-“Can you sketch me now?” Kiro asked.
-“Sorry, Kiro, we gotta go. Maybe at the party, right, Chris?” Wil said.
-“Sure! In fact, I’ll be stopping by the HQ in a while, so we might meet again soon!”
-“Hey, bring your girlfriend along!” Wil offered.
-“Uh, well, ahh-”
-“What’s up? Anything wrong?” Wil asked.
-“Uh, no no, it’s all right” Chris said, with a weak smile.
Wil felt Chris he was hiding something, but didn’t feel like intruding in his life now.
-“…Ok, then, see you later!” he waved, as he turned around and walked away.

The rest of the group said goodbye to Mabat, and proceeded to walk to the park where they had hidden The Hopper.

As they walked, Wil put away the pen and the present list on his pocket.

It was then that he felt it.

-“Huh?” he said. He began patting his pockets.
-“NO!” he suddenly gasped.
-“UNCLE! WHAT?” Makko said, worried.
-“Nothing. It’s OK” he said, nervously.
-“Did you-” she began to ask.
-“I said it was NOTHING!!” he snapped at her.

This unexpected act caused everyone in the group to stare at him in shock.

-“Err… sorry. I left my… Trojans home. Hee hee!” he joked.
But the others were still staring.
-“Come on. We have no time to lose!!” Wil insisted, and walked ahead of the rest.

As the group continued to walk, Val approached Makko. “Nel, dear” she whispered to her, “Do you know what’s wrong with your uncle?”
-“Wrong?” the young girl said nervously. “I-I don’t know what you mean.”
-“…You’re not a good liar” the she-warrior insisted. “If something bad is happening to your uncle, don’t you think that the rest of us have a right to know?”

Makko was silent for a moment.

Then she said, “Val, I… am sorry.”

And then she walked away, looking pretty grim.


…Three figures on horseback could be seen approaching along a road that cut its way across wintry woods.

One was a young man, riding a magnificent white destrier, wearing medieval-type clothes; he was handsome, and had long blond hair and blue eyes. Besides him, on a smaller horse, rode another young man; this one wore a white robe with green trimmings, had short brown hair and brown eyes, and looked somewhat wiry. The final rider was somewhat between the other two, being blonde and handsome, but with shorter hair and a wiry frame. He also wore medieval-style clothing.

-“Man! You were right, Percival!” the last rider told the first. “These lands of yours are beautiful!”
-“I thank thee, Sir Erdrick” the paladin said, smiling.
-“I had no idea you were so wealthy, Perc!” the middle rider said, awed.
Percival shook his head. “These lands more truly belong to mine descendants, the Rhyndons” he explained. “Truly, had I not thought to revisit the lands I grew up on, I would not have discovered that such properties awaited me.”
-“Say, Perc,” the robed man again spoke, “Does this means you had children back in the Camelot era you never told us about?”
Percival laughed, somewhat nervously. “Not necessarily, Shalcar. T’is possible that the Rhyndons be descended from other relatives of mine. Of course, I’ve heard certain legends, ever since arriving in the 20th century, that I did have offspring. Perhaps I AM fated to return to the Dark Ages, and complete mine quest there.” He took in a deep breath. “I truly hope so.”

Their leisure stroll, however, was interrupted by the sounds of running footsteps coming from around a bend in the road.
-“Hark, friends’!” Percival said, stopping the group. “Someone approaches!”

A few moments later, a middle-aged man, wearing old, dirty clothes, suddenly came running. “my lord Percival!!” he screamed, upon seeing the knight.
-“Alfred!” he responded.
-“Your groundskeeper?” Shalcar said, surprised.
-“My lord!! Ye must come!!” the man gasped.
-“Calm thyself, my loyal servant! What is it that troubles thee?”
-“A monster!!” the man continued to gasp. “Some kind of gigantic monstrous engine!! It appeared out of nowhere!!”
-“WHAT? Where??” Percival demanded.
-“In the castle courtyard!! We were cleaning, and then-”
-“Rehearse it unto me later , mine friend!” the paladin interrupted him. “Follow me, fellow champions! We shall deal with this beast, whatever it might be! Onwards, my faithful steed!!” he shouted. His horse reared up, neighed, then bolted off down the road.
Shalcar and Erdrick likewise rode after him.

A few minutes later, the group could see the blue turrets of Percival’s castle rising over the treetops; a few moments more, and the full, beautiful white stone castle was visible. Also in front of it was visible some kind of metallic insect, the size of a bus.
Shacar gasped upon seeing it. “Oh NO!! I know what that is!!”
-“Really?” Erdrick asked, “What???”
-“It’s a ship belonging to the Cicada Men from Outer Space!!”
Erdrick did a double take. “Eh? That sounds like something from a bad Sci-Fi movie!!”
-“Err, well, now that you mention it…” Shalcar said, smiling nervously.
-“Beast or machine, from the bowels of hell or beyond the stars, it shall not have mine lands so easily! Charge!!” Percival screamed, drawing his bastard sword.
Shalcar and Erdrick likewise drew their weapons (a warhammer and a longsword, respectively) and followed their friend in his righteous attack.

However, just as the group got within striking distance, a metallic door opened on the contraption’s side. They stopped, and waited to see who came out of it, half-expecting to see humanoid bugs crawl out, their weapons at the ready.
Instead, a dark haired man, wearing a green cape, came out- a figure two of the riders recognized immediately:
-“Wilfredo!?” Percival and Shalcar gasped.
-“PERCY!!” Wilfredo shouted joyously, then jumped out of the cicada-ship, landed, then ran up to the young knight. “Err, I mean, Sir Percival! How nice to see you again! And Shalcar!! How have you been??”
-“Err, well, thank you” Shalcar said, still baffled. “What’s going on here, Wil?” he asked.
-“He he, sorry about the commotion” Wil said, sheepishly. “We didn’t mean to scare off the peasants.”
-“We’re still learning to land The Hopper” Videospirit said, as he climbed out. “It’s an experimental Videan interdimensional vehicle” he explained.
-“We just came here to ask you people what presents you want for the RPGC Xmas party” Wil added. “Sorry if we caused any trouble.”
Percival smiled. “Nay, my friend. Nothing that can’t be easily solved.” He then dismounted. “Ye are all welcome here.” The others dismounted as well.

More people climbed out of the Hopper. Omega jumped out, followed by Val and Hunter, and finally, Makko and Kiro.
-“Hey, Shalc!” Omega happily greeted the cleric.
-‘Hey, Om! Nice to see you and Video!” Shalcar responded.
Percival approached Val, and bowed to her. “Lady Esker, it is always a pleasure to see thee.”
Val bowed right back. “The pleasure is mine, Percival.”
Hunter stepped forward. He drew his blazing energy sword-!!
-and then held it vertically, in a typical warrior’s salute. “Percival” he said.
Percival held his sword in an equal gesture. “Hunter” he responded, the mutual respect obvious.
-“Percival, I want you to meet my niece” Wil said merrily, while pushing the nervous girl forward. “She’s a spellcaster like I am, and she just joined RPGC. Makko, this is Sir Percival, a REAL knight, and one of RPGC’s finest warriors!”
Makko couldn’t help but stare at the tall, handsome young man.
Smiling, Percival again bowed, and said, “Enchanted, young maiden. May your stay with us be a pleasant one.”
She still could say nothing.
-“Me me me!” Kiro said, suddenly running up.
-“Eh?” Percival gasped, suddenly noticing the girl’s strange ears.
-“She’s a catgirl!” Shalcar said, smiling.
-“A… catgirl? Is she not one of those creatures created for-”
A slight coughing from Wil made the knight realize his faux pas.
-“Ahem” he corrected himself, “Greetings.”
Kiro looked VERY happy.
Omega grumbled.
Percival then turned to his companions, and said, “My friends, I believe ye have not met Sir Erdrick yet?”
-“No, not yet. But, he’s in my list too, so it’s good to find him here!” Wil said.
Erdrick stepped forward, and bowed. “It’s an honor to meet you all” he said humbly. He then bowed to Val and the girls. “Ladies!”
-“Ohh, he’s cute too! Right, Makko?” Kiro said.
Makko continued to say nothing, but started to blush a little.
-“Come inside the castle, all of thee: I’m eager to show it.”
-“Sorry, Perc. But we’re late as it is” Wil explained. “Some other time. Right now, we just need to hear your Xmas wishes.”
-“I desire nothing in particular-” Percival began, but Wil stopped him.
-”Oh no, you don’t. You’re *not* going to avoid getting a gift out of chivalry. At the very least, accept it as a way to make the RPGC people who worry about you feel better!” Wil insisted.
Percival shrugged. “Very well. But thou must decide what.”
-“Good enough. What about you, Shalc?”
-“Umm… well, I’ve always wanted… but, no, it might be too much to ask…”
-“Ohh, spit it out already, Shalc!!” Video insisted.
-“Ok, ok! Um… is the Sword of Mana still available?”
-“We’ll find out” Wil said. “And you, Erdrick?”
-“Well… my only desire, as a Paladin, is to be on God’s good side.”
-“Now THAT is something you have to earn by yourself ” Wil said. “Anything more material?”
-“Well… I could use a more magical weapon” he said, looking at his sword.
-“Magic longsword” Wil wrote down. “OK, that’s IT!!” he suddenly shouted. "We FINALLY have everyone’s Xmas wishes! Now to actually go get them!”

Everyone said their goodbyes, and Wil's group started to climb back into The Hopper. However, at the last moment, Wil suddenly climbed out.
-“Is anything the matter?” Percival asked.
-“No, no!” Wil quickly said. “I just wanted to say… Percival, you and I hardly run into each other. We’re usually on different corners of the World. But I want you to know that… I hold you on great steem. And not just because you achieved the Holy Grail. You’re one of the noblest persons I ever met, who truly tries to live by the code of a real hero. I really hope that, someday, you find out what it is that fate wants from you, and succeed honorably at your quest.”
-“Thank thee” Percival nodded.
-“And you, Shalc” he said to the young cleric, “The first time we met, you saved my life. And, despite your occasional self-doubts, you’ve continued to be an invaluable part of RPGC. Get over those silly feelings, and follow Perc’s example in being steadfast and righteous.”
-“Thanks, Wil! I sure will try!”
Wil then shook both their hands, and then climbed back into The Hopper.
-“Hey, is Wil always like that?” Erdrick asked. “You’d think he was saying goodbye forever!”
Percival, too, looked mystified.

The three of them stepped away from the Hopper, along with their horses.

After a moment, as Percival and his companions watched, the Hopper started its rather stormy process of takeoff.

It was then that Percival felt it.
-“EH!? WHAT??” he shouted.
-“Perc! What is it??” Shalc asked.
-“SHALCAR!! Dost thou not feel it??”
-“Feel what??”
-“EVIL!! Evil, most vile!!” the knight gasped. “Coming from The Hopper! Quickly!! We must warn-”
But it was too late. The Hopper jumped thru the dimensional gate, and was swallowed by nothingness.
-“Perc, are you sure-?” Shalc asked.
-“Never have I been more certain of anything” the paladin said, his teeth gritted. “Arm thyselves, my friends ” he added. “We are needed!”

Continue to Part 2

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