Note: read “The Silence of the Fluffies” first.
It’s Christmas Eve in the city so many of the ChaotiX call home, and at Dr. Pierre Faucheuse’s School for Gifted Individuals, the ChaotiX is throwing their annual Christmas party.
But under the School, things aren’t so merry.
In his cell beneath the School, Umbra sits by himself, reluctantly eating the contents of a GAME Christmas Tinner.
It’s exactly what it sounds like, and exactly as disgusting and depressing as you think.
Then Umbra hears a voice.
A very familiar voice.
In a flash of light, a man appears.
Neat black hair, sunglasses, a black business suit, and pale skin.
And he’s wearing lots of chains, too.
Umbra stops eating, turning to the newcomer.
“Wearing the old colors again, Number Two? Is there a reason for this visit, or-- wait. What’s with the chains-- oh no. Are we really doing this?”
Klaus Oldman, nephilim, currently posing as his former identity of Number Two, grins at Umbra as he shifts to nephilim form, the suit, sunglasses and chains being replaced with white armor, a halo and feathery wings.
“That’s right, Umbra. Tonight… you will be visited by three ghosts!”
“Just three? Because I’ve killed a lot more people than that. Who’s putting you up to this? Is this Korkea’s idea? Because I must inform you that trying to teach me,” a sneer, “the true meaning of Christmas is a wasted effort.”
“Oh, I know. But no, this wasn’t Cal’s idea. HIS idea was dyeing your fluff green in your sleep.”
“Well, I am feeling a bit… Grinch-y right now. But anyone would, if they were spending Christmas like this.”
“Is it worse than Christmas in Hell?”
“…No, I suppose not. Torture isn’t much more bearable when the demons are wearing Santa hats. I assume that your Boss’ son is throwing a birthday party Up There?”
“Actually, Jesus wasn’t born on Christmas Day. The mortals get a lot of the details wrong. Anyway, now that I’ve Jacob Marley’d you–”
“You’d think Korkea’s shitrat would be playing that part.”
“–I’ll get out of your… fluff. Things are getting interesting upstairs.”
“If you’re trying to make me want to join the festivities, it’s not working. I hate Christmas, I hate parties, and I hate every single person upstairs!”
Klaus cracks a grin.
“Yeah, and look what all that hatred got you. See you around, Umby.”
Klaus vanishes in another flash of light, and Umbra scowls.
“This is going to be a loooooooooong night.”
A couple of hours later, as Umbra is curled up in bed, someone walks through the wall, and the golden light takes on a chilling blue hue.
But the anti-magic field doesn’t become any less anti-magical.
Umbra, who knew it would be futilie to go to sleep tonight, turns to the new arrival.
“You’ve got to be joking.”
The visitor looks like Pierre.
A pale, transparent Pierre.
Umbra narrows his pure red eyes.
“So is this one of your brother’s illusions, Pierre?”
The ghostly Pierre shakes his head.
“This is no illusion, and I am not Pierre Faucheuse. I am the Ghost of Christmas Past, Umbra.”
“Really committed to the role, aren’t you?”
“Make your jokes if you must. Are you ready to begin your journey through time and memory?”
Umbra shrugs as he clambers out of bed.
“Let’s just get this over with. I’ve got two more appointments tonight.”
The Ghost of Christmas Past nods.
“Then let us be off.”
The saferoom cell vanishes, colors swirling around Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Past.
When the colors settle, they’re standing in an alleyway. It’s dark, and cold, and snowing.
Umbra huffs in annoyance.
“So this is the past, is it?”
The Ghost of Christmas Past nods again.
“Indeed. Your past. Nobody can see or hear us, Umbra. Have you guessed where and when we are?”
Umbra looks around.
“I know this alleyway. I’ve been here before.”
“Yes, this is your past.”
“But then… this is…”
Umbra turns, seeing a man and a fluffy sitting on the ground.
Another Umbra, and a hobo with greasy black hair, an equally greasy beard, and sunglasses. They’re sitting next to a trash can, the contents burning.
The present Umbra grimaces.
“My first Christmas after escaping the incinerator. Back when it was just me and Number Two. Before the Order of Darkness.”
The past Klaus is eating a can of cold baked beans, occasionally giving the past Umbra a spoonful.
The past Umbra grimaces identically to his present self after swallowing a spoonful of cold beans.
Number Two replies, his voice flat and hollow.
“I’m sorry, Master. This was all I could find.”
“This may be the most depressing Christmas dinner anyone’s ever had, Number Two.”
The present Umbra chuckles as he remembers his most recent Christmas dinner.
“You have no idea how wrong you are, Umbra.”
Umbra waddles up to his past self, waving a hoof in front of his face, but eliciting no reaction.
“So they really can’t see us? Shame. I’ve got a lot of advice for myself.”
The Ghost of Christmas Past chuckles.
“And that’s why they can’t see us. Do you really think that you would be allowed to travel through time if you could change anything?”
“…Okay, that does make sense. So what’s the point of this?”
The Ghost of Christmas Past gestures at the past Umbra and Number Two.
“Reminding you of your beginnings. This was only a few months after Pierre attempted to euthanize you–”
“You mean after you attempted to euthanize me–”
“You still think I’m Pierre? Amusing, but inaccurate. Listen to yourself, Umbra.”
After swallowing another mouthful of beans, the past Umbra continues.
“This time next year, things will be different. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, Number Two. We’ll need a headquarters. We’ll need resources. And we’ll need more minions. People who won’t be missed. And fluffies, there’s plenty of those that won’t be missed.”
“And then what, Master?”
“Then we begin our campaign of vengeance against the Faucheuse brothers.”
“I’ve never met them, Master.”
“You should hate them. If they didn’t create me, you’d… well, you’d probably still be doing this, but without me ordering you around. They ruined both of our lives, you know.”
The Ghost of Christmas Past looks down at the present Umbra.
“Always blaming other people for your own decisions. Pierre and Deston didn’t make you brainwash Klaus Oldman. For the record, you were wrong about Klaus. Had you never met him, he would have returned to his family and sobered up. He would have supported Chris, when the latter descended into alcoholism too. You took that away from them. You inflicted harm on an innocent family because you wanted a servant.”
Umbra wiggles a hoof in annoyance.
“He had hands and I don’t. Again, Pierre’s fault for making me a fluffy. And Number Two practically let me take control of him. Is it my fault that his psychic defences were entirely nonexistent?”
“It’s your fault that you invaded his mind. If a woman is wearing skimpy clothing, is that an invitation to have your way with her? I don’t think so.”
“If the weak don’t want to be brutalized, they should stop being weak.”
The Ghost of Christmas Past smiles amusedly.
“Said the fluffy.”
The colors swirl around them, transporting them back to Umbra’s cell in the present.
“I think your next appointment will be here soon, Umbra. If you need a bathroom break, now’s the time.”
“Who wrote your script, Pierre? Because it needs more gravitas than that.”
“You still think I’m Pierre? Well, you’ve always been slow to get a clue. Farewell, Umbra. Tell the other two I said hello.”
The Ghost of Christmas Past walks out through the wall, the light turning back to gold.
And Umbra turns towards the litterbox.
“I do need to go.”
He waddles towards it, muttering to himself.
“That canned Christmas dinner is going to be even worse on the way out.”
Fifteen minutes later, another ghost walks in, the room turning blue once more.
As Umbra clambers out of the litterbox, eyeing the ghost, he sighs.
“Well, I already got one Faucheuse brother.”
The ghostly Deston chuckles.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present.”
“You don’t say? Please don’t tell me that the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is who I think he is.”
“You’ll find out later. Are you ready, Umbra?”
“It doesn’t matter if I say no, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
Again, the cell vanishes, colors swirling around, and when they settle, Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Present are outside of the School, in the heart of the city, covered in snow by Calvin, courtesy of Mallow.
Yes, Calvin and Marley got around to copying that power.
Snow isn’t really something naturally occurring in these parts.
Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Present stand before a massive monolith, many names engraved on it.
Umbra looks up at the monolith, reading the names.
When he reads the name Amy Oldman, he realizes what the monolith is.
“This is a memorial.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present nods gravely.
“Yes. A memorial to all of the humans and fluffies who were killed in the Demonic Invasion. Those who died because you summoned a horde of demons, and flooded the streets with Pheromone 53. Do you understand the effects your actions have had on the world, Umbra? Are you aware of how many innocent people suffered and died, all because you wanted revenge against your creators?”
“I never bothered to count them. Do abusers count the fluffies they kill?”
“Is that how you see it, Umbra? They hurt your people, so it’s okay for you to hurt them? All you do is perpetuate a vicious cycle of pain and revenge. And to what end? To nurse your wounded ego? You don’t care for any fluffy who isn’t you, Umbra. So do not act like you are some… some avenger of fluffykind. You have only ever cared for yourself, and you have paid the price for your egotism so many times! You have died and gone to Hell, twice, you have been consumed by a darkness beyond darkness, and still you think it’s all about you? Umbra, Umbra, Umbra! What will it take for you to finally learn your lesson?”
Umbra does not have an answer to that question.
“Why should I care about others? Nobody cares about me! I’ve always been alone, you know! Not counting my minions, which proves my point. I had to brainwash, manipulate and terrorise people into helping me! Not even my creators cared about me! If they did, they wouldn’t have tried to incinerate me!”
“To be fair, you were dreaming of world domination from a young age, and were clearly insane.”
“Oh, but if a human is insane, they don’t drop him into an incinerator, do they?!? They didn’t even try to reason with me!”
“Would you have listened to reason?”
“That’s not the point! They only ever treated me as a test subject! As an experiment! And Pierre had the nerve to call me son! Acting like he’s my father while trying to kill me! I’m pretty sure a father gets his children taken away from him for that!”
The Ghost of Christmas Present chuckles again.
“Umbra, be honest: if people did care about you, would you appreciate it? If you had been adopted by a loving owner–”
“I won’t submit to the monkeys. Those hypocrites shower love and affection on their house slaves, while leaving the rest of us out in the cold! To Hell with all of them!”
Umbra realises he’s being watched, and looks around, seeing passersby of various species glaring at him.
The Ghost of Christmas Present grins at Umbra.
“You do realize that this is the present, don’t you? People can see and hear you.”
“So what? I’m used to being hated. Just take me back, so I can get through the last appointment and go to bed.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present nods.
Another swirl of colors takes Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Present back to the cell.
“It won’t be long, Umbra. You must be thirsty after all that shouting. Have a drink, the last of us will be here shortly.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present walks out, the light turning golden, and Umbra waddles over to the food and water bowls.
“I’m a bit peckish, too. Shouting always works up an appetite.”
Fifteen minutes later, the third and final ghost walks in.
And as the room becomes significantly darker, the light becomes a faint blue.
Umbra turns, seeing…
“Okay, so are you who I think you are?”
A mysterious figure in a black hooded cloak, their face obscured in darkness.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come silently beckons Umbra with a finger.
Umbra grins as he waddles over.
“Not going to say anything? Strange, you’re usually so chatty.”
Still, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come remains silent.
The cell vanishes again, colors swirling around for the fifth time.
When the colors settle, Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come are standing outside a museum, in the city so many of the ChaotiX call home.
But the buildings are far more advanced, cars flying through the air.
Umbra raises an eyebrow.
“I was expecting a graveyard.”
The city is covered in snow, Christmas trees on either side of the museum’s entrance.
Umbra groans when he sees the sign above the door.
CALVIN KORKEA MUSEUM
“Really? He gets a museum?”
Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come head inside, Umbra waddling up a ramp, seeing a tour guide, a chipper young woman, lead a group of humans, aliens and fluffies to a pair of doors.
“And this way, we have the Rogues’ Gallery, dedicated to all the vile villains Calvin Korkea defeated…”
Umbra and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come follow the group to the Rogues’ Gallery.
They pass a gift shop on the way, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come grabs a fluffy-sized baseball cap from a stack of identical baseball caps, caps with the words “CAL’S OUR PAL” on them, placing the cap on Umbra’s head.
“Can you not?”
As they walk into the Rogues’ Gallery, they see wax statues of various ne’er-do-wells, tourists happily taking pictures.
A wax Ianos, a wax Adam and Kushim, a wax Hans. A wax Demeter, in her Goddess of Nature guise. A wax Zhala Sr., a wax Demon Chris.
One tourist, a teenage girl, is taking selfies with a wax Scha and Duwen.
Wax replicas of all the villains we’ve seen Calvin face, and those we’ve yet to see him face.
On the walls, there are big screens, displaying videos of Calvin in his greatest battles.
But Umbra notices that someone is missing from this museum of mimicries of malevolent miscreants.
The tour guide leads the group to the center of the room, and the centerpiece of the gallery.
“Here we have one of our favorite pieces. These statues of Calvin Korkea, locked in battle with his greatest nemesis…”
Umbra waddles over to the center of the room, grinning.
“Oh, of course. They wouldn’t put my statue anywhere else but the middle–”
Umbra’s jaw drops when he sees the statues.
Calvin, the Sword of Kings in his hand, blades locked with Dehak, wielding a big scythe.
Umbra scowls, shaking with fury.
“Dehak? Dehak?!? How dare they?!? How could they forget about me?!? I was his first enemy!”
Suddenly, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is standing right behind Umbra, and the genius fluffy turns around, looking up at him.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come lowers his hood, revealing the ghostly face of Calvin glaring down at the genius fluffy.
“Actually, I think you’ll find that Demon Chris was Calvin’s first enemy.”
Umbra rolls his eyes.
“I knew it was that face under the hood. So what’s going on here? Why am I not in this museum?”
“It scares you, doesn’t it? Because this is your greatest fear, Umby. You’re afraid of being forgotten. You wanted to make a mark on history, and your worst nightmare is that you won’t even be a footnote.”
Suddenly, Umbra feels like the room is getting darker, the voices of the tour guide and the tourists growing fainter, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come continues.
“Everything you did was for the attention. People didn’t love you, so you settled for making them fear you. Or making them hate you. Whatever got you into the spotlight. But this is what that attitude will get you. Nothing. Not even a mention.”
“No! No, this can’t be how my story ends!”
The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come smirks audaciously.
“What story? There’s nobody telling your story in this era, and nobody who would want to hear it. After all, who wants to hear yet another story about yet another bratty smarty who isn’t as important as he thinks he is? They already know how it ends! The fluffy gets got, and life goes on!”
“That’s not true… I was the Darkest One, ruler of the Order of Darkness…”
“Was. The Order is already a thing of the past in the present. All you gave the world was death and despair, and any idiot with a gun can do that!”
“Face it, Umbra: despite all your magic and supposed smarts…”
“Don’t say it!”
“You’re just another shitrat!”
Umbra wakes up in his cell, looking around.
Everything seems normal, the room tinted by golden light.
According to the clock, it’s early Christmas morning. Soon, children across the city will be waking up, excited to unwrap presents.
“Oh, don’t tell me it was all a dream–”
Then Umbra realises what he’s hugging like another fluffy would hug a stuffy friend.
A baseball cap with the words “CAL’S OUR PAL” on it.
Umbra quickly lets go, crawling out of bed.
“So it wasn’t a dream?”
Calvin and Marley appear.
Calvin is wearing a disheveled tuxedo, he smells of booze, he’s wearing a lampshade on his head like a hat, and he’s holding a present, wrapped in paper with little Xs in octagons on it. Judging by the size and shape of the present, it’s possibly a book.
Marley’s fluff is just as dishevelled, and he smells like apples. Well, mostly apples. He fell in the punch bowl, and discovered too late that June had spiked it with her infamous suicider when no one was looking.
There weren’t any kids at the party, relax.
“Mornin’, Umby. You missed a hell of a party last night. Nice cap. I got you something.”
He places the present on the floor, and Umbra stares blankly at it.
“Am I supposed to unwrap it? Do you see a pair of hands on me, Korkea?”
“Is that how you ask someone for a favor, Umbra?”
“Could you pl-- hrrk– could you plea-- hrrrrk–”
“Sayin pwease makes yu sickies, Umbwa?”
Umbra snarls through gritted teeth.
“Could you please unwrap the present for me, Korkea?”
As Umbra gags, Calvin nods, kneeling down.
When he unwraps the present, revealing that it is, in fact, a book, Umbra reads the title and sighs again.
“Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. So you know how I spent the night, do you?”
Calvin smirks audaciously.
“Tell me something, Korkea: were the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come the real deal, or just you and the Faucheuse brothers under a glamour?”
Calvin points up.
“Umbra, the three of us were upstairs the whole time. Lots of people saw us and will back me up on this.”
“That doesn’t mean anything! All three of you have the means to be in multiple places simultaneously, I know that!”
Marley looks up at Calvin.
“Umbwa gutta point dewe, daddeh.”
Umbra smiles smugly, pointing at Marley with a marshmallow hoof.
“See, Korkea? Even your shitrat agrees with me!”
“Nu caww Mawwey a shitwat.”
“I’ll stop calling you a shitrat if Korkea stops calling me a shitrat.”
“Deal, and I won’t go back on it if you don’t.”
“So were the Ghosts you three or not?”
Calvin mulls it over, rubbing his chin.
“You know, that is a good question. But if you’re as smart as you say you are, you can figure it out by yourself. I hope you enjoy the book.”
“It’s going to be hard to read it.”
“Save up some more Good Fluffy Points, you’ll be able to afford a Bestest Book Friend.”
That’s the Flufftopia brand of page turners for fluffies.
Umbra rolls his eyes.
“I don’t know how you can say that with a straight face, Korkea.”
“Hey, when you live with fluffies, you get used to Fluffspeak. But I hope last night got you thinking, Umbra.”
“Honestly, I’m just wondering why your shi-- Marley didn’t make an appearance as Tiny Tim.”
Marley giggles again.
“Cuz Mawwey weggies nu am bwoke, mebbeh? Gawd bwess us, ev-wee wun!”
“And I was just gonna Grinch you up good. Oh yeah, I’ve got something else for you.”
“Another book? Not How The Grinch Stole Christmas, I hope.”
“Nah, better save that for next year.”
Calvin reaches into his bag of holding, pulling a bowl and a bottle of wine out.
He places the bowl on the floor, uncorking the bottle with a hard light corkscrew, filling the bowl with wine.
“Dark berry and milk chocolate… is that a genuine 2001 Catena Zapata Estiba Reservada?”
Calvin sits on the floor, taking a swig.
“Yeah, Vic gave it to me. Dude’s got a killer wine cellar. I thought we could spend a while just… talking. My kids aren’t awake yet, we’ve got time to kill.”
Umbra tilts his head.
“Really? You want to sit down, drink wine, and talk with me? Is this an interrogation in disguise? You think you can loosen my lips with what is, admittedly, a very good wine?”
“This isn’t an interrogation. I just want to talk, and it doesn’t have to be about Dehak. You and me have had a few encounters, but I never really got to know you.”
“Have you forgotten that we are enemies, or that I am your captive?”
“I haven’t forgotten, Umbra, but it’s Christmas. This is supposed to be a day about peace on Earth, goodwill to men, all that jazz. Can’t we put our mutual animosity aside and be civil for just one day?”
Marley sniffs the bowl, and curiously laps up some wine.
“Hmm, dis nu am bad. Umbwa, yu can gu back tu hate-in us tuu-moh-woh. It am cawwed Boks-in Day.”
“Right! Look, I know we’re not friends, Umbra, and if we ever become friends, they’ll probably need some warm clothes Down There. Point is, if you ever wanna get out of here… shit’s gotta change. And you’ve gotta change. You’ll always be you. But you can decide who you are.”
“Do you think you can talk me into a change of heart with books and wine?”
Calvin takes another swig.
“Who knows? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve redeemed one of my enemies. Al told you what he did when he was evil, right?”
“Yu knu wut happund tu Owd Kweh-zun Sitty, wite?”
“And now the dude is like a brother to me. You might think that redeeming you is impossible, Umbra. And to be honest, I kinda agree with you on that. A lot of people would agree. But here’s the thing…”
Calvin reaches for Umbra, who flinches, only to realise that Calvin is merely patting him on the head.
“Finding ways to do the impossible is what the ChaotiX does.”
“This doesn’t mean that you’re going to let me out of here, does it?”
“Not for the time being. I’m not stupid, Umbra. If you want us to trust you enough to let you out, you’ll have to earn it. Because you’re not getting out of here unless I know, for a fact, that it’s not going to end poorly. You get one chance to earn our trust, and if you betray our trust, we will never even think of trusting you again.”
“Su yu am gunna haf tu fink weawwy hawd bee-fowe yu bee-tway us.”
“Now, do you want to talk or not? Because my kids are gonna wake up soon, so we need to go clean ourselves up, and I’m not sure I’ll have time to talk to you again today.”
“Going to spend all day at the graveyard again, are you? Yes, I know what you do on Christmas.”
“I’ll be stopping by with the family, but no, not all day. Last chance, Umby.”
Umbra laps up some wine.
“Don’t worry about me, Korkea. Go. Stuff your face with food and watch your kids unwrap their presents. But could you leave the bottle?”
Calvin drains the bottle, and gets back up.
“You’ve got a bowl, and that’s more than you started with. Learn to quit while you’re ahead. Come on, Mar.”
Marley waddles over to Umbra.
“Am yu gunna make sickie wawas if Mawwey gib yu huggies?”
“I can’t promise that I won’t.”
“Den Mawwey nu am gunna fwip dat coin.”
Umbra chuckles as Marley waddles back over to Calvin.
“That may be the right call.”
Calvin looks Umbra in the eyes.
“Alright, try to behave yourself while we’re gone. We’ll send someone to see how you’re doing at noon. Oh, one more thing.”
“Merry Christmas, Umbra.”
“…I’m not saying it back at you.”
“So tsundere, Umby, but I expected that from you. You’re pretty predictable, y’know.”
Calvin and Marley vanish.
And Umbra looks around the cell.
With those two gone, it suddenly feels a lot quieter.
Umbra’s pure red eyes linger on the plush toys of Calvin and Marley in one corner.
The plush toys have felt audacious smirks on their faces, and now the smirks look like mocking smirks to Umbra.
“Bah! Humbug! Damn it, I was trying not to say that all night…”
He grits his teeth, closing his eyes and muttering.
“Don’t do it, Umbra, that’s what a normal fluffy would do…”
Resisting the urge to bury the plush toys in feces in an act of displaced impotent retribution, Umbra trots over to the litterbox instead.
As he feels his gut growling, Umbra braces himself for the coming storm, trotting faster.
“I did learn one lesson last night: fluffies should not eat Christmas Tinners!”