To put it simply, Sol Badguy hated everything.

To say that he hated anything else was just far too specific. He hated people- both as individuals and a whole – but at the same time, he hated a lot of things that weren't people as well. One could say he hated society, but he hated things of nature just as intensely. Even to say that Sol hated the world was inaccurate, as his utter contempt stretched far beyond the wet sphere he was stuck on. Like an intrepid exploration vessel of a long-lost science fiction movie, Sol's hatred clawed its way out of the infuriating nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, past the contemptible chunk of gray rock that stupid canines howl at, around the ever-infuriating yellow star he was named after, and out into the damnable blackness of infinity.

Such utter loathing was not (and still isn't) uncommon to the human race- it's a luxury, to tell the truth. For every item that a regular man (or woman) holds with such disdain, there's always at least one alternative (usually the absence of the object of one's aggravations) for the hater to enjoy. Such is the nature of the human race.

However, Sol Badguy (as most of you know) was hardly human. His nature as a gear, combined with over a century and a half of existence, had forged him into an intensely tight-packed ball of malice, incapable of enjoying even the comfort of his rage. And so, Sol did the only thing he could; and that was to loathe everything that moved, along with anything that didn't.

He hated his surroundings- a dingy room staked out in an even dingier hotel, with stained sheets, a leaky ceiling, and fairly crappy TV reception. He hated the cold beer in his hand- a beer he only drank because he hated all of the other alternatives for beverages even more. He hated the absolutely awful music burbling out from the radio in the corner- music he only listened to due to the fact that he had put his foot through the television screen no less than an hour earlier.

But most of all, above everything else in the universe, Sol Badguy hated the ghost that flickered into existence before his eyes. Sol hated ghosts. He hated ghosts particularly more than any other form of the undead; mainly due to the fact that you couldn't kick something so insubstantial in the groin. It was, as specters go, fairly standard; fairly translucent, it was made up of a bluish-white ectoplasmic substance, maintaining what appeared to be a long white coat as clothing. Further insubstantial chains crossed the ghost's frame. Despite their transparency, the chains in question still managed to rattle up a horrendous ruckus within the small room, giving Sol another reason to be bitter to towards the world. "What the hell do you want?" the Gear growled, taking a pull from his drink.

"Sooool…" the specter replied.

"Yeah, that's me. You've been repeating my name for the last half hour. Whaddya want?"

"Soooooooooooool…." The ghost continued to moan and clatter.

"WHAT?"

"SooooooOOOOOooool!"

"Godammit, get a bigger vocabulary or get the hell outta here already!" This said, Sol took the opportunity to throw his relatively empty bottle at the phantasam- only to have it pass harmlessly through and shatter on the wall. "Stupid ghosts." He grumbled. "Can't kill 'em again. A pity."

"Zorry." The ghost noted, suddenly adopting a ridiculously cliché French accent. "I just wanted to geet eento character."

This sudden change of accent and suchlike prompted the gear to squint, as to examine the ghost before him further. "…Kiske." He snarled. If there was one thing worse than a ghost, it was a French ghost. If there was something even worse than a French ghost, it was a snooty French ghost that happened to be Ky Kiske. Even as he did so, however, confusion washed over the bounty hunter's mind. Briefly, a rare flicker of happiness flared in Sol's heart.

"Waitaminute…if you're a ghost, does this mean you're dead?"

"Eet would- if I was actually a ghost."

"What?" Sol scowled further, his chance at happiness suddenly gone.

"You see, I em not actually dead- inztead, I- along with a gathering of others –have been recruited for some sort of strange and mysterious project that eez supposed to save the world or somethink. And part of eet happens to involve playing ghost."

"…You're kidding."

"I only speak the truth- something you're not too familiar with, I'd wager. Some leetle American with glasses did enlist my help in thees, he did." The description triggered suspicions in the Gear-hunter's head, but Sol had no time to reflect on them as the Ky-ghost continued. "Eeen any case, three more of us will be visiting you over the course of the night, as to make you do somethink and save the world."

Baffled, Sol looked on as the ghost promptly faded from view. Over his many years of existence, he had never quite experienced anything such as this before. The unfamiliar feeling of surprise rose up in the Gear-hunting-gear's belly, prompting him to raise one eyebrow, while at the same time leaving the other still; the exact combination of facial features necessary to construe a 'quirk'.

Sol hated surprises.

Sol hated ghosts even more.

As if to prove this point, a battered, bearded, and hunched-over old man walked through a wall adjacent to Sol, carrying a ludicrously oversized sword with him. Even without the massive blade, it took Sol only a moment to identify this next visitor as Kliff Undersun, hero of the crusades, former Captain of the Seikeshidan, and one of the few men who almost earned Sol's respect.

Almost.

"Now what the hell are you doing here old man? I thought you retired, married some cabaret girl and moved to Tahiti."

"I did. Which is why I want to get this over with, dagnabbit. Didn't Kiske tell you what the hell was going on?"

"Like I actually listened to him."

Kliff (or at least Kliff's apparition) sighed, then swung his blade around, bringing the flat of it to clobber Sol's head with a resounding 'Clang!' as hard steel made contact with even harder skull.

"Oh, you've done it now, Geezer." Sol swore, ferally leaping at Kliff, Fireseal already flowing with magic. One could get one cheap shot off at Sol- but only one, as the bitter man didn't take slights lightly.

This old adage, however, was stalled as Kliff proved to be non-corpreal once again, allowing Sol to pass right through the old man- along with the wall behind him. This wasn't because the wall was a ghost (how –CAN- a wall be a ghost, anyway? It's an inanimate structure! Unless you count the ghosts of trees or bricks or something. Or maybe if someone was buried inside. Or unless…nevermind) but simply because Sol's leap carried just enough force in relation to the wall's structural integrity to bring him straight through.

Kliff laughed. "Boy, you never will learn, will you? I can hit you all I like, but you can't do anything to me. It's part of the whole 'ghostly messenger' package. Gotta make sure the message gets through alright."

Sol shook drywall and rubble from his frame in a manner akin to a dog shaking water from its coat, and peered at Kliff. "Ghostly messenger? What the hell kind of message do you have?"

Kliff paused at this, planting the tip of his spectral sword in the floor to lean against it. "The Frenchman didn't tell you what day it was?"

"Nope."

"Or just why we were coming here?"

"Nope."

Kliff grumbled in the way that only properly irritated old men can, with only a few select phrases such as "stupid frog" and "Jerry Lewis Marathon" slipping through. This done, he peered up at Sol. "Look, do you know what day it is?"

"Monday?" Sol hated Mondays.

"Yes, Monday- the Twenty Fourth. December Twenty fourth. Christmas Eve, and all that."

"So?"

"Well, what it boils down to is you shouldn't be spending Christmas alone like this. Ain't healthy."

"Neither is smoking, drinking, or fighting." Sol sneered back, patting his pockets in search of cigarettes. "Activities that I go through regularly."

"Don't I know it. You're part of the reason I quit, you know."

"And here I thought it was just because you were getting too senile." Kliff's brow furrowed, prompting him to belt Sol over the head with his sword a second time. "You just won't learn, will you?"

Sol winced, rubbing at a rapidly-developing bump on his head. However, he made no move to physically attack Kliff in retaliation, only glaring at the aged specter. "What the hell do you want?"

Kliff rolled his eyes, then simply said. "Y'know what? I'm tired of explanations. Follow me." This said, the dingy hotel hallway merely shimmered from existence, resolving itself into another scene entirely; though one that was somewhat blurred around the edges.

Sol hated flashbacks.

Two warriors faced off against each other, weapons clutched tightly hands slick with sweat. It was a shame that only one of them could win, for each was a master at their art, having spent years upon years training, honing their skills, and defeating the brave and foolish that dared to oppose them.

Until now.

The two warriors had crossed paths several times before; sometimes on friendly terms, sometimes not. But despite the varied circumstances in which they met, there was always one constant; every match between the two of them ended in a draw, an inconclusive result.

Until now.

In a strange twist of fate or luck, one of the fighters gained an upper hand in the melee, pressing his attacks against his female counterpart, blows relentless as he let loose a rain of destruction upon his foe. Near-hysteric battle cries filled the air.

Hadoken! Hadoken! SHORYUKEN!

With his opponent's fate hanging by a tenuous thread, the warrior drew his hand back to deliver the final, decisive blow. Victory was at hand, inevitable. But before the final strike could land, blackness overtook both the combatants, all sources of light instantly extinguished.

A silence fell as the epic battle came to a fateful halt. After an indeterminate amount of time, female laughter cut through the darkness. "Guess the blizzard knocked the power out."

A second voice sputtered back, still shocked. "But- I-…I- HAD you!"

"You did not!"

"Did too! You only had one hit left!"

"Ah, but I still could've made a comeback."

"…Liar." The second voice sullenly replied.

"Oh, come on Freddie- don't pout. The time probably would have run out anyway." The woman giggled. "Besides, now that the power's out, I think I know of some other ways to pass the time…" another giggle fluttered from the darkness, which was then followed by sounds of struggle- albeit of a far different variety.

"…I think I'm going to be sick." Mentioned Sol as he looked into the darkness before him.

"Well Sol- I'm not exactly sure what we're seeing here, but it's supposedly something out of 'Christmas Past' or something. Means a lot more you than to me, I guess." Kliff shrugged.

Sol only blinked a few times through the darkness, finally muttering below his breath. "Damn. I was a weener."

"What?"

"Nothing, nothing."

"Well, good. I think we've seen enough here, so I'm going to leave you with the next messenger. It's almost time for Matlock."

With this said, the darkness of the anonymous apartment instantly brightened, showing a surprisingly merry Christmas scene. Snow blanketed the ground, tromped down by dozens of booted feet; booted feet belonging to a motley variety of gaudily dressed girls, showing that holiday-themed sweaters and pirate hats rarely mix. In the center of the clearing, a massive fir tree stood, adorned with a variety of decorations ranging from crude craft projects of crayon and cardboard to ornate golden spheres with glimmering jewels embedded in them.

Surveying the scene was none other than a figure wrapped in an immaculate white overcoat and wide-brimmed hat, one hand loosely holding what appeared to be a slim cane at his side. The brim of the hat raised ever-so-slightly, revealing a pair of gleaming sunglasses.

"About time you got here."

"Johnny?" Sol grumbled. "You got roped into this?"

"What can I say?" The pirate shrugged. "I'm a sentimentalist at heart."

"So what the hell is this?"

"This? It's called 'Christmas Present'."

"So you're going to give me something? Better not be fruitcake." Sol hated fruitcake.

Johnny only sighed in response. "No, Sol. Present. As in 'Now'. Look." The pirate made a grand gesture to the scene playing out before them. "Every one of those girls is an orphan, an outcast, and an outlaw. Most of the time they're just trying to barely get by- pirate life's not easy, you know. But for just one magical day, they forget about all that, and can just take it easy for awhile. Think about that, Sol. There's more to life than fighting and drinking, you know."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yep. As a matter of fact, I'm reminded of a story my father once told me; heck of a story, really. Some have even called it life-changing. It all started in some little eastern European country-"

Before Johnny could continue, however, a shrill, yet eager, voice echoed out from the treeline. "Johnny! Johnny!" the voice grew louder as its owner approached while massive trees were pushed haphazardly out of the way, uprooted like mere weeds. "I found mistletoe! Mistletoe!"

At the mention of that fateful plant, Johnny's face paled to match the snow around him. "Sounds like May…well Sol, I'm afraid I'll just have to tell you the story later!" and, with that, Johnny sprung off, fleeing the lovestruck pirate girl.

Bewildered, Sol watched Johnny disappear into the treeline, then finally turned with a shrug to head off. In turning, however, Sol found himself facing a figure swathed in a black robe, bearing a gleaming scythe.

"Death? All of this crap, and all of a sudden I'm dead? Godammit." Frustrated, Sol lashed out with one booted foot, firmly implanting it in the crotchital area of the robed figure before him. An uncharacteristic (well, uncharacteristic for an entity as traditionally stoic as death) and high-pitched "YALP!" soon followed as 'Death' crumpled over and fell to the ground. The dark hood fell back, revealing long tresses of even darker hair, framing a pale, almost delicate face- a face contorted in the grimace of pain that only comes with brute force applied to one's genitals.

"You?"

"Yeah, me." The robed figure pulled himself to his feet- though leaning heavily upon his scythe.

"So they roped you into this too, Testament?" The black-robed figure nodded. "Figures." This said, Sol made it a point to send the other gear back to the ground with another well-placed boot to the groin.

"What was –THAT- for?" Testament squeaked, holding back tears.

"Fun."

"You know, I'm here to deliver some sort of important message, you know."

"You are?" Sol quirked a brow, then prodded at Testament with his foot. "Then shouldn't you be a little more…insubstantial?"

"Insubstantial?"

"Yeah. Your dad was."

"…You mean I could've set it so you didn't hit me? I knew I should have read the manual." Testament drew himself up in an attempt to recover what remnants of his dignity were left, and peered down at the apparently uncaring Sol. "Now, Sol Badguy, I am here to represent the-"

Sol cut him off. "Future?"

"How'd you know?"

"Well, we've done past and present already. It's only logical."

"I never pegged you as much of a detective, Sol."

"I watch a lot of Perry Mason. Now what the hell have you got to show me?"

At this, Testament grinned an evil grin, grip on his scythe tightening. "Why, the future of course." Testament snapped his fingers, causing the scenery to change once again.

The first thing that Sol noticed was the smell. Striking even to human senses, the combination of aromas hit Sol's gear-enhanced senses in a sensory experience much like getting hit in the forehead with a sledgehammer. A dozen different oils and perfumes combined with the distinctive scents of sweat, rubber, latex, and fried chicken.

Recovering from the sensory assault, Sol opened his eyes- and immediately wished that he hadn't. Before him was a scene of such extravagant debauchery, such widespread hedonism, such blaring obscenity, that no combination of words could even begin to describe it. (So with that in mind, I (the author) will not even attempt to do so.)

"Where the hell am I?" Sol clamped his eyes shut. His first instinct was to start killing things; but to do so properly, he would have to first open his eyes again; something that he wanted to avoid. However, in shutting the sight of the scene out, he had greater ability to note the sounds; a soft din of sliding, dripping, and squishing noises, all connected by the sound of a single overwrought saxophone.

"Well Mr. Detective, I'll let you figure it out. First you had Guilty Gear. Then Guilty Gear X. Then Guilty Gear XX. Naturally, the next logical progression is-"

"Guilty Gear XXX." Sol groaned.

"Exactly. Too bad you've got your eyes closed, Sol. There's some interesting stuff to see here."

"Shut up."

"Really! There is! Apparently, Jam can do more than just fight on one foot."

"Shut up."

"Seems Faust's playing doctor again."

"Shut up."

"Oh! And what's this? Looks like Kiske's found quite the creative use for that teacup collection of his…"

"Shut up!" Sol swung blindly with his blade in an effort to silence his antagonist-. However, where he expected the blade to sink into pale flesh, he felt it embed itself within something solid. Risking his sanity, Sol pried his eyes open to find himself back within the strangely comforting confines of his hole of a hotel room.

"…Was it all a dream?" he murmured in a far too cliché manner to nobody in particular.

"Nope." Came the voice of Testament, still beside him. Scowling at the black-clad gear, Sol made it a note to kick him in the groin for a third time. And for a third time that night, Testament toppled over, whimpering. Even still, this didn't seem to be enough, so Sol scooped Testament up with one hand and cast him out the nearest window, sending him careening towards the hard concrete several stories below.

Wind and snow whipped in through the Testament-shaped hole, causing Sol to involuntarily shiver. And through it all, the Bounty hunter realized something profound: his inherent hatred of everything on the planet (along with several notable objects surrounding it) just wasn't productive. After all, there were many other things out there that warranted more than just a base hatred. The other tournament fighters, Sol realized, each desperately needed a severe beating for any number of reasons. And France; something would have to be done about France.

But France could wait, as Sol mulled over something else entirely. "Wonder where I can get some freakin' Eggnog."