A Very Healer Christmas

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Chozon1
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A Very Healer Christmas

Postby Chozon1 » Fri Dec 16, 2016 12:57 pm

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I heard the bells on Christmas Day' Their old, familiar carols play,
and wild and sweet, The words repeat, Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

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A cloud of moist air billowed into the frozen night; the origin of the misty breath shadowed under the snow-laden branches of a fir tree. The rapidly dissipating vapor was the only indication the shallow shelter was not as empty as the other dozens of trees standing silently in their sleep on the mountain. From where the man stood, no sound cracked the crystalline globe of silence that domed the small city and the mountains surrounding it. No engine purred on empty streets, no laughter rang in the warm embrace of the city lights as the gentle snow fell from a cloudless sky.

The man cleared his throat with a rumble, expelling another breath into the icy air, watching, waiting; Peter was running a few moments late, but it was not in Harold’s nature to worry. Not even in such potentially apocalyptic circumstances as these. The Shard had come to earth, and already the crystalline sentience had begun working its way across the globe, taking a foothold in the little mountain town that was, in Harold’s best estimation, half a mile away down a gentle slope.

Harold stamped his massive, booted feet to loosen the accumulated snow, and placed a hand on the large device nestled carefully in moldering pine needles to his left. The large cube was earth’s main hope for a silent night; he drummed the fingers of a giant hand on the device, humming ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ softly in the back of his throat, smiling cheerfully beneath a large, red beard as he did so.

Harold checked the computer on his wrist, poking at it until a clock appeared. The device was very handy, when it worked. He would need to talk to someone about making it larger; for Harold had trouble making it do what he wished, thanks in large part to tiny icons that were hard for him to hit. He frowned slightly at the ticking clock. It was later than he thought, and Peter needed to hurry; if they did not make it to the church before dawn, the sunlight would bloom the Shard into crystals a hundred times their current size. A problem that was much harder to deal with.

Harold shifted as he looked down towards the city; speaking of which, where was the distraction? Making it to the mountain top would be very difficult if the Nightmares were not drawn away.

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In the sleepy city below, several darkly clad figures crept. Avoiding the brightly lit streets, sticking to dark alleys and rooftops, they crept their way through the lifeless town. Pale figures could occasionally be seen lurking in buildings, or dashing across streets. At these times, the dark figures would stop, frozen like shadowed stone itself until the way was clear.

The large crane at the city center was their goal. It was still in place from where it had been used for quick repairs of an adjacent building the day before. Its owners had no idea of how it would be used tonight, nor the Hand who had placed it there, perfectly.

“I’m on the roof, and starting to mount the lights,” a calm voice came over one of the shadowy figures radios.

“I’m in the cockpit of the crane...still got plenty of juice, just gotta do some vaguely legal magic to get it running,” came another.

“And I’ve got the package,” wheezed another. “I’m attaching it to the hook-ball thing at the end of the line.”

“We’re cutting it close, team,” came the first voice. “And we’ve got to make it tick like clockwork. I’ve got the light ready.”

“Star is hooked up,” crackled the third.

“Crane is...live.” Every member of the team tensed as the large diesel engine roared to life, breaking the silence. The team leader could almost feel a thousand curious thoughts bend their way as the industrial equipment moved slowly, creaking as the boom raised, lifting the silvery metallic star high into the air.

“Everybody ready to run like it’s Black Friday?” The team leader whispered; as the other two members of her team checked off, she activated the high power halogen lamp, sending a beam like a miniature sun blazing through the night, setting the gigantic Christmas star aflame in silvery luminescence.

“We’ve done our part; head back to the drop point and pray. Hopefully, we’ll wake up to gifts and cookies, and not a plague war.”

“I feel that way every Christmas, boss.”

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Harold chuckled as the star blazed in the sky, accompanied by faraway cries from unseen throats. Harold stifled his chuckle immediately when he heard the faint crunch of snow beneath a weighty foot behind him.

He turned to see a slight figure, shoving through the snowy forest with dark mutters. Harold recognized the voice, and cracked a smile. “You are late, friend Peter. Did you get lost?” Even Harold’s whisper was large, shocking the other man with baritone warmth that emanated from seemingly nowhere.

The man, Peter, looked up with wide eyes; the only portion of him which could be seen beneath a heavy parka and ski mask. “Harold! Don’t do that. We’ve enough to fear without you playing the wraith.”

Harold laughed expansively, unfolding his eight-foot frame from beneath the tree. “What have we to fear, Peter? This is Christmas eve, and yon shines a star, like that night so many years ago. If that does not free our hearts from the grasp of fear, what shall?”

Peter’s mask twitched, suggesting he was either smiling or grimacing beneath the thick fabric. “That’s not a star, that’s a distraction of light and plastic.”

“Bah.” Harold waved behind him as he reached beneath the tree for the large cube. “It’s the symbolism that is important here. We were given a gift that night, and the Giver is with us still. He will not let us down.”

Peter shrugged, “Then we should be on our way.” Peter drew a pulse rifle, a gun which fired low velocity non-lethal rounds. “I do not doubt Him, but surely He would have us do our part.” In reply, Harold simply lifted the heavy device and slung it over a shoulder. It clanged loudly on the titanic metal shield which rested on his back; ignoring the noise, Harold began stomping through the knee high snow, whistling lowly.

“Why are we walking through this blasted cold instead of taking the road to the church, Harold? Or better yet, simply flying there? Not that I’m opposed to climbing, but surely either would be quicker.” Peter said unhappily as they crunched through the snow.

“The Shard controls all roads here, friend Peter. It has begun taking over the mountain as well, yet we still stand a chance of making it this way. The road is covered with Nightmares, Shardsouls, and Sleepers. We would have to fight and hurt many to reach our goal, and still perhaps not reach it in time. We cannot fly in this weather either; the Shard would surely attack the engines, sending us plummeting to the earth like a badly hung ornament.”

“Some would say it would be worth the risk, to protect the earth.” Peter said testily as a branch slapped him in the face, slinging white powder all over his head.

Harold shifted his burden, shrugging into the straps. “Some would, yes. But friend Peter, probably not the families of those we would hurt or the children we would risk. It is Christmas, my friend. Hard journeys to present a gift are part of the season. We should take joy that we walk in the footsteps of those in the past, and most especially He who was the greatest gift of all.”

Peter said nothing, spending his energy instead on trudging through the snow, placing his steps in Harold’s path. The big man wore nothing but a light vest over a thick sweater and pants, and cut through the snow like it was high grass in the middle of summer. Peter hated the cold, and honestly couldn’t come up with a reply that wasn’t cutting and angry.

Harold lifted a hand with a swiftness belying his size. “Hold!” Peter rolled behind a tree, taking aim at the shadows in front of them. “What do you see?”

Harold set down the sonic amplifier, dropping into a crouch. “Nothing...it is what I hear.” Harold dropped to his knees and began sifting through the snow at the foot of a large oak tree, utterly confusing Peter. “Is it the Shard?” Harold said nothing.

Deliberately pushing down his ire, Peter stood to his feet. “Sleeper? Dreamer? Nightmare? What?”

Harold laughed, “Nothing like that…Hah! I have found you, little friend.” Harold triumphantly lifted a massive hand into the air, pushing to his feet. He held in his gloved hand a the tiny form of a baby chipmunk. It was still as ancient ice, and nearly as cold; Harold had heard its tiny heartbeat, slowly fading as it was buried beneath the snow. It was small, and not far from the grave.

“A dead squirrel? The earth is being attacked by aliens, and you stopped to pick up a dead squirrel?” Peter didn’t bother trying to hide his ire this time. He would give Harold the gift of honesty.

Harold snorted, frowning at his friend. “It is a chipmunk, and shall not die if I have my way.” He pulled off his thick leather gloves, wrinkled and crackled with age, and cradled the minuscule form in a hand capable of wrapping around a basketball. He placed his other hand above it, leaving a slight gap between his palms which he proceeded to breath into, speaking words in his native Norwegian that Peter couldn’t begin to decipher.

“I repeat: Fate of the earth, and you stopped for a munkcicle.” Peter eyed the sonic amplifier, wondering if he could carry it. The black cube weighed at least two hundred pounds. He eyed the mountain trail ahead. Not a chance.

Harold frowned at him; the bushy eyebrows hung low over glacier blue eyes, looking incomprehensibly sad. “I am surprised at you, friend Peter. Was it not our Lord who said to care for ‘the least of these’? Who is lesser in our sight than this little beast? And what day of the year is better for caring?” He lifted his hands to his face, peeking into the small gap like a child. He grinned, opening his grasp to reveal the small creature sitting on its haunches, shaking its head as it cleaned itself. “There now, see? I told you that you would live.”

Peter didn’t answer. He knew Harold wasn’t talking to him, but to the rat.

“My friend and I are on a very important mission,” Harold said seriously; the baby chipmunk sat back and directed all its attention on the large man, “Yet I would not leave you alone. Is your clan nearby?” He stared intensely into the chipmunks eyes. After a moment, during which Peter stamped his feet and muttered, Harold nodded sadly. “I see. I am sorry, little one. Well, I shall be your kin. And perhaps Peter too; he is not a bad man, when he is not so rushed. Into my pocket, then.” He held a hand to his vest; Peter was not surprised when the chipmunk leaped from Harold’s palm to his vest, clambering into his sweater pocket. That was simply Harold’s gift at work.

“Any more woodland creatures to adopt, or are we ready to go?” Peter said, half regretting the words the instant they left his mouth. But only half.

Harold raised an eyebrow, his eyes flashing with sadness before their customary cheer returned. “None are near, friend Peter. But the night is young, and gifts are the norm of this night. Who can say?”

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And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth, I said.
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“A moment please, friend Peter! Were I Saint Nicholas, I would perhaps bear my burden with more aplomb. As I am just a man, I must rest.” They had stumbled onto what was evidently a hiking trail, complete with benches and rest stops with signs faded from age. A small pool, once flowing with water but now frozen solid, sat at the edge of the cliff they had just scaled.

They had climbed perhaps a half mile up the snowy slope, fighting against drifts of snow and cliffs, and Peter was, to put it stoutly, winded. However, he didn’t believe for a second that his viking friend was tired. Harold had strength like something from a fable, and had been known to lift five hundred pound tigers above his head to nuzzle them like kittens. Tigers. Plural.

“You just want to feed the rat, don’t you?” Peter accused; Harold looked at the snow sheepishly, replying by punching through the two-inch thick slab of ice coating the fountain, wetting his hand, and letting the little chipmunk lick the droplets off his fingers.

“I swear, or at least I would if I did.” Peter slumped onto a bench as Harold bit into a candy bar, sucking the chocolate off of a peanut before giving it to the squirrel. “There are other reasons, friend Peter.”

“Clearly. If you try to sing it a lullaby, I’m jumping off the cliff,” Peter snorted.

Harold chuckled, “No. Not to feed Shrub. It seems the Shard knows we are here; the star is a distraction no longer. Yet still, beautiful in its own way.”

Peter jumped from the bench, unholstering his rifle. “We need to leave then, not sit!” Harold patted the bench beside him as he removed the sonic amplifier and tucked it carefully behind the structure. “It is too late, I fear. Several Nightmares are very close to us. It is the first wave of those hunting us, as I can read, and I would rather fight them here than risk them catching us on some misbegotten cliff face up ahead. You are in agreement?”

Peter squinted at his friend; “Yes. A little more warning would be appreciated though. Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

Harold shrugged, “You were already worried, Peter. There was nothing to be done until now, and I did not wish to add to your burdens. And Shrub needed tending. But now he must go back into my pocket, yes?” The little chipmunk twitched his nose before darting into the warm sanctuary.

Peter rolled his eyes, hoping faintly that wasn’t the pocket Harold had pulled the candy bar from. “How many?”

“Ten hearts approach, as I can tell. Whether there are Shardsouls with them, I cannot say.” Harold stretched, reaching his mammoth arms behind him and popping his shoulders. “How familiar are you with the Shard?”

Peter checked the clip in his gun, making sure the chemical rounds hadn’t frozen. “Not very. I got picked because I was one of the few people on hand in the Bastion. Can we not just activate the amplifier?”

Harold shook his head vigorously, spilling snow from his hair and beard. “Not for our lives, friend Peter. We dare not risk the Shard realizing we know their weakness. We must fight. You are late to learn of our foe, perhaps,” the big man said as he unslung the shield from his back, pushing the huge metal plate over his right arm, “and we do not have time for a lengthy discussion. If they look human, they are Dreamers, and you should treat them gently. If they look as icy abominations, risen from some unholy abyss, they are Nightmares, and can take a bit more a beating. Yet they are still human at heart, so take some care. If they look like walking snow men, shatter them to bits with righteous fury; they are Shardsouls, crafted from the crystal itself. There is no need to redeem such as them.”

Harold swung the massive shield through the air, apparently warming his arms. The silvery weapon was shaped like a traditional knights shield, and emblazoned with the head of a wolf in lapis blue; as Peter watched, the wolf head transformed into a bear, then a fox, then a rabbit, then a dove. He blinked, and it was back to a wolf, only now a squad of golden kittens wandered around the edges.

“Stand ready, friend Peter! They climb the cliff even now!” Harold boomed, shouting through the suddenly blasting wind and snow. Peter heard nothing; he saw nothing. Yet Harold leaped forward with a cacaphonic roar that catalyzed Peter into action, even if that action was stumbling in the snow and firing several rounds into the air.

Veni veni Emmanuel! Captivum solve Israel!” Harold sang in immense baritone as he threw himself at the creatures coming over the lip of the cliff. A Shardsoul took the massive shield in the chest, scattering into a thousand crystalline bits as the weapon crushed through it. With his other hand, Harold grabbed a Dreamer by the shoulder and, as gently as such an action might be taken, slung the man over his shoulder into a tree. A third target took the shield to the face, but Harold grabbed the unconscious man before he fell and laid him gently in the snow.

Qui gemit in exsilio, privatus Dei Filio!” A Nightmare leaped over the edge, slashing its bladed arms at Harold, who matched each strike with his shield before sending a massive fist like a cannonball into the infected victims chest, knocking it back down the cliff. “Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel; nascetur pro te Israel! On your feet, friend Peter! Battle is upon us!”

Peter was on his feet, firing at the shapes as they became clear to him. The Dreamers looked like very cold, snow covered people; even as Peter shot them, he worried over their welfare in this weather. The Nightmares he was not so worried about; the people were so lost to the infection they were creatures of crystal and shadow. Every inch of the person they once were was obscured by crystal the shade of the moonlit sky. Faceless abominations of facets and edges, their hands were replaced by two-bladed swords, and sharp little knives sprouted from every bend and joint.

Peter’s pulse rifle was ineffective on the hard crystalline shells, and it took several shots of concentrated fire to break through the crystal to the person beneath. Several times he was nearly beheaded only to have Harold’s shield thrust between the deadly blade and himself at the last second. The Shardsouls were even worse; Peter had to blast at the joints and literally take them apart, piece by piece.

“Veni, Veni O Oriens,” Harold belted at what Peter sincerely hoped was the top of his lungs, else the man would damage his hearing, “Solare nos adveniens. Peace brother!” Harold said as he danced away from the Nightmare lunging at him with bladed appendages, “We undertake this journey for your welfare! AHH!” He roared in pain as the creature bit down on his shoulder with the glass needles it owned for teeth. Harold grabbed the Nightmare with his free hand, impacted the shield into its face, and slung the senseless monster back over the small cliff. “Your salvation then.” Harold straightened as stillness overtook them; the attack was over.

“How fare you, friend Peter?” Harold slung the shield over his back like it was a toy, turning to search for Peter in the same motion.

“I’m fine, thanks to you. I owe you one.” Peter kicked the powdery head of a Shardsoul, shattering it into a fine white powder. “Are you alright? And is the amplifier OK?”

Harold was in the act of picking up the large cube up and examining it. “I have already healed, and the device seems to be unharmed. As is Shrub; he took his first battle courageously, wouldn’t you say?”

The tiny chipmunk sat inside the collar of Harolds vest, contentedly munching the peanut. Peter glared at the big man and the little ‘munk, not sure which was more aggravating. He shrugged the snow off his jacket; it was falling heavier now. “Are we clear to keep going?”

“To be certain; onwards to the summit.” Harold began humming another Christmas carol, one unfamiliar to Peter as they pushed forward along the narrow path. The map on Harold’s wrist computer was useless; the church they were aiming for was remote enough that it had no coordinates in the GPS. They simply knew it was shortly below the summit on the west side of the mountain.

The trails was getting steeper, even as the snow fell heavier. The moon had undertaken the path to its daily bed, and hung low over the crest of the stony outcropping they traveled along. “Harold...” Peter said simply.

“I know, friend Peter. The dawn is only a few hours away. I do not believe we are far, but I think you will not call me pessimistic when I say I am expecting more resistance at the church.”

“So what is the plan?” Harold was silent in reply, walking slowly through the snow. He stopped suddenly, cocking his head at an angle. He chuckled.

“I think, friend Peter, that God has smiled upon us once more. Help is very near, if they do not mind offering it. Follow me.” Harold reached above his head, grasped a tree on the outcropping above his head, and pulled himself up and over. Peter, much shorter and twice as ill-humored, scrambled up as best he could. He reached the top to see the giant footsteps heading into a thicket.

With a sigh, Peter followed and nearly ran into Harold’s large rump when he broke through a wall of shrubbery; the big man was on all fours, head and shoulders wedged into what appeared to be a small cave in the side of a gully.

“Uh...Harold?” Peter stood awkwardly for a moment, before drawing his gun and taking a guardian stance at Harold’s back, wondering how he would explain the catastrophic failure of this mission back at the Bastion. So far, he was having trouble figuring out how to put a positive spin on ‘the earth is now facing a consuming alien plague because my partner saved a chipmunk and stuck his head in a hole’.

“Another few moments, friend Peter. You must get to know someone before you ask them for a favor, yes?” Harold’s muffled voice came from somewhere under his armpit. Peter said nothing, doing his best to ignore the high pitched squeaks and yowls coming from the hole.

“Thank you, my friends! Lead on, and we shall follow!” Harold pulled back from the cave and to his feet with grace belying his size. A foul stench blasted from the small cave as dark shapes pranced from the opening, stinging Peter’s eyes.

“Oh my—wolves? You stuck your head into a wolves den?! And what is that smell?” Peter coughed, trying to force the odor of rotting meat and animal spoor from his nostrils.

Harold shook his head, frowning. “Coyotes, Peter. There are no wolves here, or at least very few. And you would have a strong odor too, if you had only ever bathed with your tongue. Come now, friend Peter; who better to guide us up the mountain than those who dwell here? These friendly beasts have graciously agreed to lead us to the church and provide an honor guard for us until we reach our destination.”

Four rangy adults with patchy coats stood as nobly as they were able at Harold’s side, flopping their tails around in the snow. Half a dozen mangy, stinky babies—Peter couldn’t think of them as puppies and had forgotten the proper term—danced around Harold’s feet, gnawing at his leather boots. One sniffed curiously at Peter’s boots until he glared at it, sending it scampering back towards Harold.

“I don’t suppose we could find something herbivorous?” Peter said carefully.

“Not to fear, friend Peter. They will not harm us. And we have no time. According to Strong one, their leader, it has not snowed this season.” Harold said as he picked up the heavy amplifier.

Peter looked at him, and the coyote giving him the stink eye, incredulously, “I suppose the snow is imaginary?”

Harold shook his head gravely, “Think, friend Peter.”

Peter felt the blood love his face. “This is Shard spore, isn’t it?”

Harold nodded cheerfully, “Rather obvious in hindsight, no? We must reach the summit before the sleep overtakes us, lest we settle in for a very long winter’s nap and awake as Dreamers.”

“Tell the dogs to shake a leg, then.”

Harold blanched, “They understand more than you realize, friend Peter. Try to be polite to them.”

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For hate is strong, and mocks the song of ‘Peace on Earth, good will to men’.
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The coyote pack, small as it was, made a cacophony that nearly drove Peter insane. It did not help that Harold sang loudly with them. Peter would never be able to hear ‘Silent Night’ again, and he pushed through the snowy forest thinking only of something warm to drink and his family at home, far away in the safety of the Bastion. And occasionally, punching a coyote and a Harold.

As the Strong one reported to Harold they were near the church, the big man politely asked the coyotes to cease their marching music; they approached the crest of the hill, peered over it, Peter deliberately ignoring the sight of four coyotes and six cubs poking their heads over a hill at the shoulder of a viking doing the same. Even the chipmunk was stealthily peering out from behind Harold’s ear. Peter joined them, ignoring the stench rising from the animals, as they surveyed the church.

It appeared that, though the Christmas Eve service was long over, there were still occupants in the building. Warm yellow light blazed from within windows, and saints illumined by it in ancient stained glass cast their visages on the pseudo snow.

“It seems clear,” Peter whispered.

“I think so too, friend Peter,” Harold rumbled.

“It is, at the moment,” a third voice said. Remembering Harold's admonition, Peter looked to the coyote at his right, blanching as it panted rancid breath into his face. “You didn’t just...”

“She didn’t,” said the voice again. “I did.” Peter leaped to his feet to confront the voice, and found a priest standing over him. The man’s eyes were a deep emerald, and not a speck of the Shard contaminated his white robe. The cloth was so white, it almost hurt Peter’s eyes, and it was stretched on a frame that was, unbelievably, bigger than Harold’s.

Harold was on the man in a flash, wrapping him in a mammoth hug, “Johnathan! What are you doing here, my friend?”

The other man grinned, showing teeth that again, were whiter than the snow. “I was in the neighborhood on assignment, and I was ordered to lend a hand to those coming to the church tonight. At the risk of quoting a superior, you have no need to fear the church. I didn’t know it was you coming though, until I heard your voice mixed with that of coyotes.” The man grinned, “I said to myself: Hark, Harold’s angels sing.”

Harold boomed out a laugh, “Oh my friend. You have been waiting a long time to use that one.”

Johnathan nodded, “Unashamedly. I waited a good two minutes plotting that out before I approached you.” He turned to Peter, “I am sorry, Peter, if I have been rude.” He held out a hand resembling a baseball glove in its size, “I am Johnathan, servant of God Most High. Very pleased to meet you.”

Peter stood dumbfounded, trying to process that he had just shaken an angels hand. Electrical prickles crackled on his neck. He had done a lot of strange and awesome things in service to his God and in the employ of the Healers, but never had he shaken an angels hand. He peered at the appendage as if it were something foreign to him.

“This has been a hard night for friend Peter,” Harold said understandingly, “He is not used to working with me, I am afraid.”

Johnathan nodded, trying to hide a smile. It turned to a frown as he looked over his shoulder. “I am sorry friends, but you must hurry. My assignment was to guard the church; I cannot fight this battle for you. The church and its surroundings are clear, but will not be for long. We must get inside and accomplish your directive.”

“For certain, Johnathan!” Harold took off at a trot towards the church, ten coyotes in tow. Peter stood dumbfounded, looking between Harold and the angel. Johnathan thumped him gently on the head, “To the church, Peter. This battle is not over.” He disappeared in a blaze of light, startling Peter. He shook his head fiercely, then took off at a jog towards the church.

Harold was already inside the stony structure when Peter reached the doors, pushing the heavy wooden panels closed behind him; he locked them, for whatever good that might do, and turned to find Johnathan and Harold walking down the main aisle of the sanctuary, looking at once out of place and perfectly belonging.

The coyotes were sniffing at the corners of the room, nosing the hanging tapestries and carpet. Only then did Peter realize the beasts had followed Harold inside. “You brought the coyotes into the church!” Peter exclaimed, rather louder than he had intended. Immediately, he flinched in the instinctive reaction one has when they make a loud noise inside of a church.

Harold raised an eyebrow, looking confusedly at Peter. “What else would I do with them, friend Peter? We are about to be swarmed by dangerous creatures. Where better to take sanctuary than a church? I could not send them out alone anyway. They will not harm anything.”

One of the pups was squatting on the carpet beneath the pews; Peter grimaced. “Can we at least put them in a smaller room, or something?”

Harold nodded appraisingly, “That is a good idea; they will be safer that way. Strong one!” Harold called; the coyote trotted up to him like a dog to its beloved owner. Harold knelt and rubbed the animal behind the ears, “My friend, it is not safe here. These beasts you cannot help us defeat. Would you mind following friend Peter to another place where you and your pack shall be safe?”

“Harold, that’s not what I--” Peter stumbled as one of the larger puppies crashed into his leg, latching sharp teeth into his pants. All four adults turned and fixed hazel eyes onto Peter, as the other five cubs swarmed him.

“Apologies, friend Peter. But I must set up the amplifier, and it must be carried to the bell tower. They will follow you faithfully, and settle where you tell them.” Harold hefted the heavy device once more, and then disappeared into a door behind the alter.

Johnathan smiled understandingly, then followed Harold. Peter waited until the angel was gone before he began his grumbling, and didn’t slacken the stream of complaints as he hurriedly wandered the short hallways of the church. The first door was a supply closet of some sort, and one look at the curious pups rolling beneath his feet suggested placing them in tooth’s reach of chemicals was a bad idea.

The next room was apparently a private study, having only a bookshelf, a small desk, and a few chairs. A large rug was centered in the cubical. Peter hoped it wasn’t a valuable one, or at least that Harold would shoulder the blame. “In here dogs,” he stepped wide and held the door open, motioning for them to enter. To his surprise, they did so. The large male Harold had called Strong one took up a sentry position with eyes glued in the direction of the window, while the rest scattered to various corners of the room. Despite the stench, there was something noble about the beasts.

Peter shut the door gently then, upon seeing it in the hall, pushed a heavy shelf in front of it, scowling as he did so. He had spent too much time around Harold. He then took off at a sprint for the bell tower, jinking heavily to his left as the main doors boomed at the sound of impact. He stumbled over a pew and slammed to the floor with a grunt, backpedaling instinctively.

Another boom sounded as he reached his feet. “Harold!” Peter shouted as he charged up the long, spiraling staircase to the bell tower.

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Then pealed the bells more loud and deep, God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!
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Harold set the heavy device on the ancient wooden planks making up the top floor of the tower. The world outside was a wonderland of ice, snow, and the gentle warmth of a slow dawn pouring its silken vale upon all. On another night, at another time, Harold would have fallen to his knees and praised his God.

Tonight Harold knew truly his God would rather have him attend to the work at hand. The massive bronze bell hanging in front of him was an instrument of another time. As old almost as the church beneath his feet, it was adorned with all manner of beautiful scribing and casting. Two chubby cherubs hung a banner between holly trees, making Harold smile.

“Friends of yours, Johnathan?” Harold teased.

Johnathan looked at the bell and grimaced. “Not that I want recognition at all, but how would you feel if people walked around representing you with chubby, naked babies that fly around and sniff flowers?”

Harold paused in his tinkering; he had turned the device on, and was waiting for it to link with its brethren. “The baby part is fine; I wish for such innocence. It’s the naked part that I would find troubling. Most people would, I think.” He leaned against a nearby pillar.

Johnathan smiled, then immediately relinquished it as his eyes narrowed. “Beware! The enemy approaches!”

Harold dashed to the short stone wall and looked into the gray night; rising from the blanket of snow like misty wraiths were dozens of Nightmares and Shardsouls. For one cold moment they stood as empty sentries of the churchyard; silent specters like ghosts of a thousand dark futures.

Then they charged as one, moving like a pack of wolves towards the church. A moment later, amidst thunderous impacts as the Shard tried to gain entry, Harold heard Peter’s cry. Blast! How had he missed the scent of their blighted souls? Harold berated himself for not paying attention. He rushed to the sonic amplifier, stifling a growl as he read the screen; unlinked. The other teams must not have their machines running.

It might doom them all; dawn was but a fraction of an hour away. Harold and Peter were supposed to be the final key to launch the attack. Peter crashed through the trapdoor, rolling to the side and slamming it shut. This made things simpler, for Harold.

“Friend Peter, it is not linked. You must activate the device. I will hold the creatures at bay.”

“Harold, you can’t--” Peter began.

Harold interrupted him; “Arguments shall not aid us, friend Peter.” He unslung his shield and ripped off the vest in which the little chipmunk slept and tossed it gently in Peter direction. “Guard Shrub, friend Peter.”

As Peter instinctively caught the vest, with a very disgruntled Shrub, Harold rolled backwards over the ledge; roaring as he fell, Harold landed on his feet in the stone courtyard, letting the pain flood his muscles with fury.

“Come friends! You shall have your Christmas presents!” Harold shouted at the first Nightmare’s who came within his reach; as quickly as they entered it, they were gone again, knocked away through Shard laden air. Harold picked up a Shardsoul with one hand and shattered the abomination on the pavement. Another was beheaded by the edge of his shield, then crushed into white powder.

The swarm of Nightmares was slowly encroaching; one group surrounded Harold with darting and slicing blades even as another beat upon and attacked the door. Rueful howls of the enclaved coyotes bled through the stone walls. Harold swung his shield like an oar cutting through an ocean of Nightmares, scattering them in all directions. He charged the heavy wooden door, knocking the attackers away.

Suddenly, pealing with vigor that could only be wrought by the air of miracles that Christmas morning brings, rang out the bell. Loud, and long, and unending they rang; the bell rang out in a solitary note, increased by the amplifier to painful levels, shattering the night with joyous sound.

The night was not alone; before, beneath, and around Harold the Shard creatures began to fall apart; Shardsouls fell into white powder, then dissolved into dust. Nightmares fell to their knees as their crystalline shell cascaded to the barren ground at their feet.

Then another bell rang out from elsewhere in the valley; and another. All the bells in the little town rang into the night, crescendoing into a note of harmony that cleared every bit of the Shard from the ground, the trees, and the people. The crystalline sentience shattered by the pure and holy notes of Christmas bells.

As if summoned by the happy song, the sun peaked over the edge of the mountains, casting the little church into a blue shadow as the town below was enflamed with the newborn dawn, the light of Christmas morning.

Harold sighed in relief; his clothing was rent and bloodied, ice covered his beard, and tears ran freely down his face. He sat upon his shield, breathing hard, and surveyed the most beautiful morning he had ever seen. A moment later, his laughter rang out, nearly as loud as the bells.

******************************************************************************************************
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with Peace on Earth, good will to men.
******************************************************************************************************

After handing out blankets, looted from a store room Peter had found in the church, to now freezing victims of the Shard, and ushering them into the warm church, there was not much for Harold or Peter to do. Johnathan had disappeared during the fight, his task apparently complete. Harold was sorry, for he was good friends with the angel, and wished to spend Christmas morning with him.

Harold had released his coyote friends from their temporary imprisonment, and now sat in the parking lot with them, sharing some of the canned ravioli—also borrowed from the church store room—he and Peter had warmed up for the frightened people.

“I must leave soon friends, and...I cannot take you with me,” Harold said sadly; Strong one looked stoically down the mountain; Mother placed her head upon Harold’s knee and whimpered sadly as even the puppies stopped their playing to turn golden eyes upon him.

Harold shook his head, “I am sorry. There are many such creatures as need my help; you are strong, healthy, and have a good life on your mountain here. Stay away from the city, stay together...you will be fine. I care for those injured, or sick; would you have me take you home and perhaps miss another who needs me more?” Harold felt himself choking up as he said it.

Mother stood up and, after carefully surveying her brood, grabbed one of the cubs by its scruff; the little cub squirmed but acquiesced as Mother set him in Harold’s lap. “Mother, I am sorry, but I--” The coyote nosed at the pup, rolling it over in Harold’s lap; the poor little cubs back left leg was twisted. It had been broken when it was very little. It had seemed to keep pace last night...but then, they were moving at a walking pace. Harold frowned, wondering how he had missed it last night. He was off his game.

He squinted, looking between Mother and the little one. “I could protect him, make sure he has a good life. Do you trust him in my care?” The coyote nudged the puppy again, then licked Harold’s face. Harold grinned. “In that case, I shall certainly take him. I thank you for your trust in me. What do you think, Shrub?” Harold said to the little chipmunk, who was nestled between Harold’s broad neck and the thick collar of his sweater with another peanut. The baby chipmunk surveyed the coyote pup, who was now gnawing the ear of one of his brothers. Shrub sneezed.

“Yes, well,” said Harold, “that can be remedied.”

*****************************************************************************************
Then ringing singing on its way, The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, Of peace on earth, good will to men

*****************************************************************************************

Peter left the church and came upon Harold as he was saying his last goodbyes to the smelly beasts; much as Peter disliked them, the creatures were beautiful in their own way. At least under the influence of Harold, who kept them from tearing him apart. They had helped them.

“May the blessing of the Father be upon you; be as gentle as you may be in lives such as you live. Thank you for your aid, friends. Goodbye.” The animals turned and loped into the forest, disappearing shortly after they entered.

Harold turned around and smiled as he saw Peter. “Hello, friend Peter. Is everything in the church shaping up?”

Peter nodded. “Emergency crews are busy helping people down in the city, and our guys and gals are helping figure out who is missing and who is accounted for, and using scanners to find people lost in the woods. We haven’t reached all the rural areas yet, but it seems like everyone is going to be OK. Even the temps are warming up, so exposure won’t be an issue.”

He stopped as he saw Harold’s sweater squirming. “Harold, did you steal a puppy?”

“Not a puppy, friend Peter. A pup. Oti’s parents entrusted him to me. See?” Harold pulled the pup from beneath his shirt and showed Peter the damaged leg. “I will heal him when we return to Sanctuary.”

Peter watched the big-eared pup turn into a sleeping ball of happy in Harold’s massive hand. He shook his head, “It’s probably against the law, you know.”

Harold shrugged. “So is kidnapping pets from bad owners. That has never stopped me before.

Peter shook his head again; it was Christmas morning, they’d just saved earth, and he was arguing with an immortal viking about kidnapping a coyote instead of calling for transport to his home. There was no possible way he was going to win that argument, and technically the coyote’s parents had given him away. He sighed; “Merry Christmas, Harold.”

“Merry Christmas to you as well, friend Peter!”

Shrub the chipmunk squeaked.
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ccgr
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Re: A Very Healer Christmas

Postby ccgr » Mon Dec 26, 2016 7:04 pm

Neat story! Thanks for sharing it!

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Re: A Very Healer Christmas

Postby Chozon1 » Tue Dec 27, 2016 7:32 am

Thank you! ^_^
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Re: A Very Healer Christmas

Postby kittycathead » Mon Jan 15, 2018 3:37 pm

Nice job! :3


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