Disclaimer: If I owned ANY of this, I'd have a lot more money than I do, and would not have to make this fan fiction. Merely give it to a small army of assistants and have them animate it or draw it, or whatever.
Dedications: First, to ChibiSecchan, co-administrator of the Mahora Forums. She's been an enormous help, pointing out when, where, and how bad I screwed up. (By the way, that was always, everywhere, and very badly.) And generally being really helpful. Second, I'd like to thank the brownies my mom made Tuesday night, because they kept me awake long enough to write this.
A Truly Enchanted Christmas
Chapter 01 – Let the Festivities Begin!
Humming quietly to himself, Negi strode down the halls of Mahora Academy towards the classroom that had become his own. In his arms rested several cardboard boxes, their total height easily obscuring Negi's vision. He was thankful for Chamo's guidance from the top of the boxes, although the ermine's roving weight had already nearly toppled the stack three times.
"A little further, Aniki...whoah!" Negi stopped abruptly at the rodent's yell, sending him flying from atop the boxes in the form of a furry white missile. Negi cringed as he heard pained whimpers from the direction Chamo had flown.
"Sorry, Chamo-kun. You told me to stop so suddenly..." Negi trailed off, hoping that no permanent damage had been done. He turned to face the door, and glanced at Chamo. A slight dent in the wall evidenced where he'd hit it, and he sat leaning against the wall, a fresh cigarette in his mouth. Negi grinned uncertainly. "Could you...could you open the door, please?"
Chamo looked up at the ten-year-old and nodded. "Sure thing, Aniki. He hopped over to the sliding door, and taking the edge in both paws, pulled it open slowly. Puffing slightly at the exertion, he leaned against the doorframe heavily as Negi stepped quickly into the classroom. With a sigh, Chamo dragged the door closed and stepped inside himself.
Negi quickly strode over to his desk and sat the boxes on the edge. With a happy sigh, he wiped a trickle of sweat from his forehead. "Those're heavier than I thought they were." Not taking even a moment to rest from his trek, he began to unload the contents of the boxes onto the desktop. Several long strands of garland were removed from the first box, and Negi grinned with relief as he decided they would be long enough to string across the room. From the second, he pulled various small decorations, snow globes, wall hangings, and a single wreath. He sat the third aside, determined to use it later on that day. Motioning to Chamo, the child set about decorating his classroom for the coming holiday.
Asuna Kagurazaka stepped out the door of the newspaper supplier, a heavy bag draped over one shoulder. She shivered as a cold morning breeze made it's way through the street, a lonely howl rising through the branches of the dead trees. She hugged her arms tightly around her body, seeking any warmth she could find. She hated the cold with a passion. Always had, and she figured she always would.
Although cold, it was actually a little warmer than usual for that particular time of the year. Several degrees higher than average for December 20th. Asuna had heard, though, that a massive cold front was moving in that would cause the mercury in the thermometers to drop like lead, and bring about several inches of snow-fall as well. Something else Asuna was none to fond of.
Shrugging the shivers from her spine, she broke into a jog down the street, robotically firing off papers into the correct slots, almost without looking. She'd been doing the job longer than she'd realized...
Negi sat at his desk, fidgeting nervously as his class began to filter slowly into the room. Each student gaped in surprise at the various articles hung around the room. The room was totally different than it had been when they left the day before.
"What's with the new decorations, Negi-kun?" Makie asked as she messed with the wreath hanging on the front of his desk. "Throwing a party?" She looked up at him hopefully.
"Well...sort of." Negi cast her a knowing a smile. "You'll find out, won't you?"
Makie frowned and rapped Negi lightly on the head. "That's not fair, Negi-kun. You're not supposed to keep secrets." Pouting exaggeratedly, she took her seat, and immediately began leafing through a book, although she continued to glance at the decorations from time to time. Konoka, with Setsuna behind her, walked up to Negi eventually.
"Did you do all of this by yourself, Negi-kun?" Worry hovered in Konoka's eyes.
Negi shrugged. "Not really. I had Chamo-kun to help."
Setsuna pointed at a paper snowflake hanging above Negi's head. "Chamo-san helped hang these?" She raised an eyebrow curiously at Negi.
Negi flushed slightly. "Okay, so I did it mostly by myself." A small cry from the floor reached their attention. "It wasn't that hard, really." It was a good feeling to have people worrying over him.
Konoka ruffled his hair lovingly. "Just don't press yourself too hard, Negi-kun. Wake me up early next time you need help, okay?" She smiled at him, and he couldn't help but nod and smile back. Setsuna allowed a smile to briefly cross her face, and nodded in such a way as to signal that he tell her as well.
This continued for a while, until nearly the entire class had commented on the decorations. As the final bell began ringing, Yuuna skidded into class. "Sorry, Negi-sensei!" She flashed him a thumbs up and made a bee-line to her seat, sighing as she sat heavily into it as the bell ceased it's annoying knell.
Nodoka Miyazaki cleared her voice. "Stand." As one, the class stood from their seats. "Bow." The entire class bent forward, and a loud "Good morning" rang through the classroom.
Negi returned the bow. "Good morning, everyone." Nodoka quietly ordered the class to sit, and they did so without hesitation. This is such a great class Negi observed. He realized, of course, that most classes were just as well behaved, but the difference was that these were HIS students. It was a good feeling.
The group was staring at him expectantly, and Asuna made a motion as if to say "Say something, brat!" Flushing automatically, Negi leaned against his desk. "Today, as you probably know is December 20th." A murmur of ascent marked his assumption as correct. "That means it's only five days 'till Christmas." He looked out at his students, and found that about half of them nodded in understanding, and the other half remained looking at him with a nonplussed expression.
"I have obtained permission from the Headmaster to let Class 3A decorate the school for Christmas. That means you have all the rest of this week off, basically." The entire class beamed happily at him. "But that doesn't mean you're doing nothing." Their expressions made a radical figurative u-turn.
"In Wales, Christmas is a pretty big holiday. I know everyone here probably know some things about Christmas, but since it's my favorite holiday, I thought I'd show you how we do Christmas where I'm from." He smiled happily at the class. Christmas had been his favorite time of the year since he could remember. It was a time when wishes came true, and his hopes for the granting of his constant wish rose every year around Christmas time. It was the one time of they year when EVERYONE was in a good mood.
"So what do you need us to do, Negi-sensei?" The class representative, Yukihiro Ayaka, looked up at him curiously.
"I've actually got quite an extensive list." He grinned and pulled a sheet of paper from his pocket. "First, I'll just go over the general details. Some of us will be procuring a tree to be put up in the courtyard. Another team will decorate the tree while another group hangs various decorations around the school. Tomorrow, we're going to hold a Christmas party for the staff. "The day after that, we're ALL going to sing carols throughout the school, and if we have time, throughout the Mahora area." Several members of his class frowned at the prospect of singing, but the idea of celebrating Christmas for five straight days easily outweighed their discomfort. "On Christmas Eve, you all have permission to leave school grounds to do any Christmas shopping you may wish to do. Giving gifts is NOT necessary, but I hope you will." Negi smiled encouragingly at them all. "And Christmas itself is a free day."
"Do we get to pick the groups?" Konoka couldn't help but look towards Setsuna as she asked.
Negi grinned in unspoken understanding. "No, but I really thought about the groups, so there shouldn't be too many problems." Seeing as there were no more immediate questions, he continued. "Since I can only be in one place at a time, the two teams that I'm not in will each have a leader designated by me." He paused again, in the unlikely event that there were any questions.
"The groups are NOT the same size, mainly because the jobs are different. Alright, then. The group that's going after the tree will consist of Kaede-san, Chachamaru-san, Makie-san, Kuu Fei-san, Asuna-san, Tatsumiya-san, and both of the Narutakis." It was kind of odd to use a couple of their last names, but he was in class, so it was probably more proper. "The group leader is Iincho-san." Characteristically, the class rep beamed at him.
"I'll do my best to find us the best Christmas tree possible, Negi-sensei." She paused for a moment. "How far are we allowed to go to find one?"
"As far as you want. Just make sure it's not too far to bring it back."
"Bring it back?" Ayaka stood quickly. "How are we supposed to do that, Negi-sensei?"
He merely cocked his head and grinned at her. "That's part of the fun." He waved dismissively. "It shouldn't be too hard. I have faith that you guys can do it."
Ayaka smiled at the inferred praise. If Negi-sensei thinks I can do it, then I won't disappoint him! "You can count on my group, Negi-sensei." With a small bow, she sat back into her seat, a rather oblivious smile on her face.
"The next group is the one I'm in charge of, and will be decorating the tree. I, of course, am the leader." He smiled again. "Working with me will be Evangeline-san, Setsuna-san, Konoka-san, Zazie-san, Nodoka-san, Yue-san, Paru-san, and Chisame-san." Across the room, several of the aforementioned students took to blushing. Konoka simply smiled at Negi in a happy way, then sat back in her chair, content. Setsuna shifted uncomfortably, but not unhappily. Nodoka gasped quietly, causing Yue to send an interested glance in her direction, while Haruna simply grinned to herself, already forming a scheme.
Seeing this, Negi began to wonder if he shouldn't rethink his decisions… "This same group will also clean up the room while we wait for Group 1 to return with the tree." This produced several expected groans, which Negi simply waved off. "We're not going to be using the room until after Christmas, so don't complain. Besides, there won't be much to clean up."
"The third, and final group, the one that will be putting up decorations around the school, will consist of everyone that I've not already called on, with Asakura-san as the group leader." That certainly saved me a lot of breath, Negi thought as he eyed the rather long list of names that hadn't been read yet.
Kazumi raised her hand and waved it around a bit to draw Negi's attention. "Negi-sensei, what are we going to use to decorate with? I don't think the school has all that many decorations."
"You're right, they don't. But luckily, I've got plenty." He grinned, yet again. "I'll show them to your group later."
He cleared his throat, a little nervous about what came next, but he had been assured it was a fairly normal event. "To cover the cost of the tree, I'd really appreciate it if everyone could pitch in around 100 Yen." No-one seemed to have any objections, something for which he was extremely grateful, so he continued. "Please give the money to Iincho-san, since she's in charge of Group 1."
Figuring Negi was done with his "lecture," nearly the entire class to began to chatter noisily. They talked everyday, but not anywhere near this. They all seemed genuinely happy with the arrangement, including the reclusive Evangeline. "Well, if no-one has any questions, I say we get started!" He clapped his hands together in a gesture of finality. "You've got your assignments, so let's go! Group 2, follow me." Picking up a box from behind his desk, he started for the door. Behind him, chairs scooted across the floor and the wave of chattering picked up. With a sigh, Negi stopped at the closed door. "Makie-san, could you please open the door?"
"Sure, Negi-kun." She grinned and pulled the door open. With a muttered "thank you," Negi strode quickly out of the room, hoping his group was following him.
Back in the classroom, Chamo scampered across the floor for a familiar shoulder. Before Kazumi could protest, he'd raced up her body to come to a rest on her left shoulder. "What do you think YOU'RE doing?" Kazumi asked, mocking a glare at the ermine.
"I just thought you may want my assistance, Asakura-no-neesan." He smiled craftily at the red-head.
"You just want a place to sit." She put her fists on her hips in the fashion of a scolding mother. "I know you better than that." From her right side, Shiina Sakurako cast her an odd glance.
"Kazumi-chin...why are you talking to an ermine?" Kazumi flushed and pushed Chamo roughly off of her shoulder. He landed with a thud on the floor at her feet.
"What ermine?" Shiina cocked an eyebrow and looked at Chamo, then back at Kazumi.
"Never mind. Maybe I don't want to know." She turned on her heel and started off towards Yuna.
Her eyes blazing, Kazumi grabbed Chamo by the nape of his neck. "Look what you did, Chamo!" She waved him wildly in the direction that Shiina had gone. "Now she thinks I'm insane."
His head still in a whirl, Chamo gave her an inquisitive look. "You are, aren't you?"
Kazumi glared hard at the white ball of fur, then placed him on her desk and started for the front of the class. "C'mon, Group 3. Lets go find Negi-sensei and his supplies."
Setsuna fought down a blush as she felt someone grab hold of her arm. "Secchan!" Konoka stepped up to her side, and walked slightly in front of her, her smiling face turned towards the swordsman.
"Konoka-ojousama." Setsuna acknowledged with a nod. Despite her best efforts, her face began to redden, and she looked away from the cute girl beside her.
"It's great that we're in the same group." Konoka stated, obviously fishing for some sort of response. Setsuna nodded emphatically, but said nothing, not trusting her voice. Her smile dropping a bit, Konoka relaxed her grip on Setsuna's arm, but didn't let go entirely. Behind the two, Chisame watched them warily.
"Nothing but the crazies here..." she muttered shaking her head in some despair. A hand suddenly clapped onto her shoulder.
"What was that, Hasegawa?" With a small cry, "Chiu" turned to find the smiling face of Haruna Saotome WAY too close to her own.
"Saotome! You almost gave me a heart attack!" Chisame glared at her over the top of her glasses and brushed the green-haired girl's hand from her shoulder.
Raising an eyebrow, Haruna persisted. "Well? What did you say?"
"Nothing." Rolling her eyes, Chisame started back down the hall, speeding up a bit to catch up with the rest of the group. Why me?
At the very front of the group was Negi, leading them through the academy towards the teacher's lounge. He was obviously rather pleased with himself, or the day's planned events, or something, as a large smile was plastered on his face, and a bounce was present in his step. Directly behind him was the ever-flustered librarian and Ayase Yue, who was, as usual, whispering suggestions to Nodoka. Each of them caused Nodoka's blush to deepen ever so slightly. Negi, of course, was oblivious.
For several moments, the group strode the hallways in general silence, aside from Konoka's quiet humming. When Negi reached the teacher's lounge, he produced a key from a pocket and swiftly unlocked to door, then flipped on the lights. He motioned for his group to follow him, then entered.
"Setsuna-san, Konoka-san, Zazie-san, could you please get those boxes on my desk there?" Negi pointed to a small stack of boxes atop his desk, and the three girls nodded. "The rest of you can help me get these boxes here." This time, Negi turned around and opened a small closet, revealing several stacks of boxes as tall as he. Not that that was really all that tall.
Just as Kazumi and her gang were approaching the teacher's lounge, Negi stuck his head out of the doorway and pointed at nearly 10 boxes in the hallway. "There you are. Those are your teams. Have fun." He immediately ducked back into the room, leaving a rather surprised Kazumi and Chamo standing outside.
"What is he? Psychic?" Kazumi mused. Chamo mere nodded, and tried to avoid losing his footing when Kazumi bent to grab a box. "C'mon guys, lets get these to the main hall." At her command, nearly half of her group began grabbing cardboard boxes. Several sighed. It was going to be a rather long walk...
"C'mon, gang. Time's wasting, and we've got a tree to find!" Ayaka pointed energetically at the main gateway to the Mahora Campus. "Let's go!" She started off at a light jog, assuming that the rest of her group was following.
Behind her, Asuna glanced at the group, shrugged, and started off after their "intrepid" leader. The rest of the group glanced between themselves and followed as well, walking quickly to make up the lost distance.
For several moments, there was little or no talking between the students, but eventually, most of them seemed to pair off and strike up conversations to pass the time.
A little hesitantly, Asuna stepped up beside Evangeline's partner. "So, how's it going, Chachamaru?" She gazed curiously at the girl who looked so human.
The robot girl turned and replied nearly instantly. "'It' is going just fine, Asuna-san." She was silent for a moment as she calculated the best way to pursue the conversation. "How are you?"
It's still weird talking to a robot... "I'm fine. A little cold, but otherwise I'm fine." She grinned at Chachamaru, her teeth chattering slightly.
Without a word, Chachamaru slipped her school-issue uniform coat off, and draped it over Asuna's shoulders. Asuna blushed and held up her hands, ready to refuse the generous offer, but Chachamaru spoke first. "I do not require a second layer of clothing in order to maintain optimal heat levels, Asuna-san."
Asuna lowered her hands. I guess she's got a point... "Thank you, Chachamaru. And please just call me Asuna."
Chachamaru nodded. "Yes, Asuna-san." Asuna sighed in defeat and drew the edges of Chachamaru's jacket tighter over her arms.
Kuu Fei sidled up next to Mana, tugging on her coat sleeve to get her attention. "Any idea how long this's gonna take, Mana?"
Mana looked down at her, patience in her eyes. "No. My family has never been much on celebrating Christmas, and I've never really been on the look out for trees before."
Kuu nodded. "Same thing here." They again began to walk in silence through the empty streets of the Mahora district, heading towards the nearest set of stores.
For quite a while, they walked almost randomly, stopping only long enough for Ayaka to survey a shop's display of Christmas trees, and to inquire as to what their largest was. No-one seemed to have a tree like Ayaka wanted, so they continued to walk, all the while, Asuna only got colder.
As they reached the largest shop yet, Asuna dashed up to a large sleigh that was sitting outside the establishment, probably for decoration, and leapt inside, snuggling into the velvet-covered corner of the front seat. Ayaka cast her a disdainful glance as she walked up to the largest Christmas tree they'd encountered yet. It was around 3 meters tall, and a forest-green in color. The Narutaki twins rushed up to her side and whistled in awe. "It's so big!"
Ayaka nodded as she walked around the edge, quite satisfied with it's width as well as it's height. "It is, isn't it?" She muttered to herself for a few seconds as the rest of the group caught up, each commenting on the tree. Finally, without asking the rest of the group, Ayaka turned and entered the store.
"Shopkeeper! I'd like to make a purchase." From a back room, a short elderly man emerged, smiling warmly at the rambunctious blonde.
"How can I help you, miss?"
Ayaka pointed outside the shop. "I'd like to buy that large Christmas tree you have standing outside."
The shopkeeper balked. "I...I'm afraid that's not for sale. It's only for decoration. Promotion, you see." He frowned as Ayaka's expression fell.
"Are you SURE it's not for sale?" She put both hands on the counter and leaned towards the small man, him leaning away from her as she did so.
"Eh...yes?" Ayaka grinned. Clearly, the battle was won.
"How about I pay you ¥10000 for it? Does that sound fair?"
The man's eyes brightened, and he rubbed his hands together happily. "Yes, I think that's about right, miss. I assume you have some way to transport it?"
"Actually, I was hoping that sleigh you have out there was also for sale." I'm positive Negi-sensei would be thrilled if I brought that back as well. As I recall Santa Clause rides in a large sleigh. Or was it a sled...Ah well No matter. "I'm willing to pay you another ¥3000 for it."
The man flinched a little bit. The sleigh was something that regularly brought in customers, but he'd been rather hard up for money lately..."I suppose that's enough, miss."
With a grin, Ayaka took the ¥3000 her classmates had donated, and added ¥10000 of her own. She slid it across the counter to the man's eager grasp. He quickly slipped it into the cash register and typed up a receipt for the rather large purchases. "You realize that I don't have any way to take apart that tree OR to help you move the sleigh, correct?"
Ayaka nodded. "I figured as much. That's fine, though. I've got it all figured out." As she left the store, she cupped her hands around her mouth and called, "Asuna-san! Makie-san!"
Asuna slowly sat up from her position in the sleigh, and Makie walked quickly over the class rep. "What do you want, Ayaka?" Asuna asked as she stuffed her hands into the pockets of Chachamaru's school jacket.
Grinning, Ayaka stepped up to the side of the sleigh and motioned for Makie to follow. "I need you and Makie-san to walk to my estate and retrieve a couple of things for me." Her grin was nearly acidic, and Asuna winced upon seeing it.
"Oh, just a couple of horses." Ayaka's grin widened as Asuna's jaw dropped. Beside her, Makie stared on in surprise.
"What the hell do you want a couple of horses for?" Asuna stood up in sleigh angrily.
"Why, to help move the sleigh, of course." Ayaka held a hand out to Asuna to help her to the ground. "You'd better go ahead and get going. We don't want to be late, do we?"
Glaring all the while, Asuna took the proffered hand and stepped down from the sleigh. "C'mon, Makie. Let's get the stupid horses." Grumbling under her breath, she began stalking back the way they'd come, Makie keeping a safe distance from the volatile girl.
Going at full speed, it took a little less than 50 minutes for the two students to reach Ayaka's rather spacious estate. Neither of them were completely out of breath as they stood before the tall gates. Asuna walked up to the butler who had been summoned, and introduced herself. "Ah, yes. Kagurazaka-san. It is good to see you. Since your last visit, Yukihiro-ojousama's mood has been much better." He smiled at her in a fatherly fashion as he unlocked the imposing gate.
Asuna blushed the compliment away and stepped inside quickly. "Can you please tell me where the stables are? We need two horses and a couple meters of rope." The butler bowed. Yes, Kagurazaka-san. I would be glad to. Please follow me." With a short bow, he started off around the right side of the large building, trusting that Asuna and Makie were following him.
Makie stepped up to Asuna's side. "I didn't realize the Class Rep's house was so big!" She stared in awe at the large building and it's tall windows. The sprawling grounds, and at the gardening staff that bustled around. "She must be REALLY rich."
Asuna shrugged. She supposed it was impressive for the first time one saw it, but after awhile, it was just another building. A big building, but just a building none the less. She did feel compelled to divulge a bit more information though. "She's even got an indoor pool." For some reason, the amazed look on Makie's face was humorous, and Asuna couldn't help but to chuckle.
Makie tore her gaze from the house to Asuna. "They really act like they know you, Asuna-san. Do you come here often?"
Asuna shrugged again. "I've been here a couple of times, yeah. Me and the Class Rep know each other from grade school."
Makie nodded. "I didn't think you guys really got along. After all, you're always fighting." She was silent for a moment. "I guess that's just how you show you care. It's common enough." She really didn't seem to be speaking to Asuna anymore, just thinking out loud, so Asuna managed to hold on to her blustery retort. She was right, after all.
The rest of their walk to the stables was in silence, except for the sound of wind blowing through the trees. When they finally did reach their destination, it was with great displeasure. The smell of manure hung heavily in the air, mixed with the smell of hay and something that neither Asuna nor Makie could place. "Which two horses are the fastest?" In response to Asuna's question, the handler in charge led them to the back two stalls, which a tall black stallion stood, beside a smaller white mare. Each of them had a calm look in their large brown eyes.
Makie reached out to pet the white one's nose, giggling as it snorted on her hand. "It's nose is so soft!" Asuna smiled at her, then called one of the servants over. As were his duties, he feigned a look of interest and hurried up to Asuna.
"What can I do for you, Asuna-san?" He steepled his fingers before him, and tried to tune out the giggling girl by Rosemary's pen.
"I need both of these horses saddled up and equipped to pull a heavy load. I also need around 10 meters of twine." Even in the horse-stables, the wind blew, and Asuna shivered again. "And please bring one of Iincho's heavier outfits.
"Certainly, Asuna-san. It IS an irregularly cold winter, isn't it?" With a bow, he quickly left the rather dimly lit stable. Asuna shivered yet again as a breeze drifted through the briefly opened door.
Several seconds after the servant left, three younger men in old blue-jeans bustled up to them. With a curt "Hello," they went about preparing the large animals for riding. Makie stepped out of the way when two of the men began throwing blankets over Rosemary's back. Neither of the horses seemed to notice the increase in activity around them.
By the time the servant whom Asuna had spoken to returned, she was downright freezing. Had she been thinking, she attributed the lack of doing so to the cold, she would have remembered to move somewhat to generate heat.
The suited man held the outfit out to her. "I thought one of Ojousama's heavier riding outfits was appropriate."
"As long as it has a pair of pants, I'm thrilled!" Asuna snatched the bundle from the servant's hands. She looked around for some place she could change in privacy in. The servant pointed to a door at the back of the hallway between the stalls.
"There is a large closet there, if you'd like to change in there." Asuna nodded and dashed into the darker room and slammed door.
The servant looked at Makie, who shrugged. He began to lean back against one the corner-posts of a stall, when Asuna burst out of the closet, wearing the blue, white, and gold riding outfit. "Much better!" she sang out to no-one in particular.
The servant straightened with a start, and eyed Asuna in surprise. "Where are your old clothes, Asuna-san?"
The red-head smiled. "I just put these on top my uniform. They're a little big after all." She frowned in dissatisfaction and glanced down at her chest.
Makie giggled, and the servant cleared his throat uncomfortably. "The horses are ready for you, so if there is nothing else..."
Asuna's face screwed up in thought, then she shook her head. "No, I think that about does it. You've been a big help; thanks."
The servant bowed and began to back out of stables. "My pleasure, ladies. Give Ayaka-ojousama my regards."
Asuna turned to the stallion, and stopped when she realized that she'd neglected to ask what it's name was. What should I call you... Asuna scanned the large animal critically, and the first word that popped into her head was Destiny. Wait, why Destiny? Oh well.
With a shrug, she moved to Destiny's left side and easily slung one leg over it's back, then slid to the center of the saddle. Asuna glanced to her left at Rosemary, and saw that her saddle was empty. "C'mon, Makie. We should be hurrying."
"Um... I've never ridden a horse before, so..." Asuna sighed in exasperation, and slid easily off of Destiny's back. She quickly strode into the next stable to find Makie fidgeting nervously beside the docile white horse.
Asuna took Makie by the hand and led her to Rosemary's left side. "You never mount a horse from the right side." Makie nodded, but said nothing. Asuna took Makie's right hand and placed it on the saddle horn. "Now, put you other hand in the middle of the saddle, then just haul yourself up."
With a nervous look on her face, Makie sprung up and slid one leg over the saddle. That was as far as she got before she began to slip back off. Asuna grinned and pushed her completely into the saddle. Makie steadied herself as Asuna took the reigns and led the horse into the middle of the stables. She held the reigns out to Makie. "Hold these, but don't pull on 'em." Makie nodded, and clasped the leather strips gently.
Asuna quickly jumped back on Destiny and guided him to stand beside Rosemary. Asuna took the mare's reigns from Makie. "Now all you have to do is make sure you don't fall off." Makie's expression changed to one of worry, and Asuna laughed. "Don't worry. Being a gymnast, you shouldn't have any problems." Makie nodded, but said nothing as Asuna started off for the stable's exit, Rosemary in tow.
Thirty minutes later, the two arrived where they'd left their classmates at, to find them all in the sleigh. The Narutaki twins were out cold, leaning against Kaede, who sat between them. Ayaka and Kuu were playing a rather heated game of rock-paper-scissors, while Chachamaru watched the sky with an unreadable look in her eyes. The robot was the first to notice them. She turned to Ayaka. "Asuna-san and Makie-san have returned, Iincho."
Ayaka looked up from her game to see Asuna and Makie cantering towards them on her best horses. She frowned when she noticed what Asuna was attired in. "Did I tell her she could get into my closet..."
Kuu chuckled and stood up, stretching loudly. "Now we can get out of here! I'm starved!" She jumped off the leading edge of the sleigh, and pulled on one of the two rings at either corner. "Throw me the rope, Asuna!"
The mounted girl fished around in one of the saddle bags, wishing she'd checked out which one contained the rope before-hand. "Yeah, yeah, hold your horses..." Asuna turned around to start looking through the other saddle-bag as Destiny walked up next to Kuu. "On second thought, go ahead and hold my horse." She chuckled at the pun, but only received an exaggerated groan from Kuu. I was pretty proud of that...
Makie sighed happily as Ayaka took Rosemary's reigns and began guiding her to the sleigh's side. She gleefully slid off the white mare into Ayaka's helping arms. "She's a nice horse, Iincho, but you can ride her from here on." Ayaka merely chuckled as she deposited Makie in the front seat of the sleigh.
"Hurry up with that rope, Asuna!" Ayaka turned to cast a glare at Asuna, and ducked as a coil of rope nearly missed her head. Grumbling to herself, Ayaka snatched the rope from the ground and led Rosemary far enough from the sleigh that enough slack would be present in the rope that if they came to a sudden stop, the horses wouldn't be hurt. With practiced ease, Ayaka secured the rope to the appropriate fittings, then to the ring on the left side of the sleigh. With a sly smile, she leaned against the front of the sleigh and watched Asuna slowly do the same.
After connecting Destiny to the sleigh, Asuna pulled the two horses closer to each other and lashed them together. "There we go." She brushed passed Ayaka and hopped up into the front seat of the sleigh. She shook the Narutaki twins, waking them up rather abruptly. "You MIGHT want to hold on to something," Asuna cautioned, glancing at Kaede pointedly. Kaede nodded and wrapped her arms around the twins protectively. "Everybody get ready." Asuna sat heavily on the bench seat at the front of the sleigh, and picked up the reigns.
"I don't think so, Asuna-san." Ayaka jumped in and pushed Asuna to the side, stealing the reigns from her. "I've got MUCH more experience at this then you." She smiled sadistically at her friend, who responded in kind with an aggravated frown. Asuna sat back in the seat and crossed her arms. Makie leapt onto the seat beside her, and Asuna turned to make sure that everyone was accounted for before they started off.
Kuu, the Narutakis, Kaede, Chachamaru, Makie, Mana, and Ayaka. Yep, that's everyone. She turned back to Ayaka and nodded. "Let's go."
Ayaka returned the nod and snapped the reigns sharply. With a snort, the horses broke into a fast walk down the street, drawing the gaze of passersby. It wouldn't have been quite so odd, had a nine-foot fake fur tree not been trailing behind the large red sleigh.
Negi sat back into his desk chair, sighing with pleasure. It was nice to sit down. Despite what he had said, there actually was quite a bit of cleaning that could be done. Nearly three hours after they had started, they were finally done. He had been hard-pressed not to summon up a bit of magic and quickly deal with the problem, but not everyone in his group knew of his abilities. He decided that secrecy could be a real pain sometimes. Deciding to try and make himself a bit more comfortable still, he went ahead and propped his feet up on the top of his desk, and hoped that Takamichi or Shizuna-sensei wouldn't drop by.
Scattered across the class, his group dropped into their respective seats, although Konoka slipped into Kugimiya Madoka's normal seat, happy to be nearer to Setsuna. They all seemed nearly as tired as he, discounting Setsuna, whom the work was hardly a bother for. Chisame, on the other hand, all but collapsed into her seat. Silence reigned as everyone attempted to recover from the three hours of hard labor. The quiet was so suppressive that Negi found himself beginning to doze, and decided that wasn't really a problem. Someone would wake him if anything drastic happened, after all. Sighing happily, he settled into a light nap.
"So, Secchan, how long do you think it'll take for Iincho's group to bring us a tree?" She gazed at Setsuna with her deep brown eyes, happy to merely be in her company.
The swordsman coughed uncomfortably, and shrugged. "I don't know. She seemed pretty determined to find a good tree. It could be quite a while before she's satisfied." Konoka nodded at the inherent logic, and continued to watch Setsuna for several moments. Feeling the pretty eyes on her, Setsuna shifted in her seat, and looked around, desperate to find something to draw Konoka's attention. She didn't really mind it, but…it was unnerving.
Her gaze settled on Nodoka, who was shyly watching Negi, but trying to make it seem as if she wasn't. Setsuna smiled, a little in amusement, and a little in self scorn. Nodoka's courageous enough to admit to Negi how she feels, even though she knows it's wrong. Yet I can't do that. It seems entirely opposite, one would think. Shaking her head, she leaned back in her seat and locked eyes with Konoka. "Are you hungry, Ojousama?"
Konoka frowned and shook her head. "No, I'm not really too hungry. I had a big breakfast."
Setsuna nodded, but didn't avert her gaze. At the back of the classroom, Chisame shuddered in revulsion. That's just…wrong. She shook her head and went back to typing her latest journal entry.
For several moments longer, the room was completely silent, until from outside, Zazie noticed the sound of metal scraping on brick. She stood and walked to a window, craning her neck to try and see what the noise was. Yue looked up curiously and followed the taller girl, frowning when she could see even less than her classmate.
Zazie gave up trying to see as the sound came annoyingly closer. She instead stepped up to Negi's desk and lightly tapped him on the shoulder. "Negi-sensei, something odd is happening outside."
Negi blinked the sleep out of his eyes and concentrated on Zazie. "What's odd?"
She pointed out the window. "It sounds as if something metal is scraping against the ground in the courtyard. At this classroom's angle, we are unable to see whatever it is though."
His eyes completely devoid of the confusion left by sleep, Negi pulled his legs off the desk and stood, his chair scraping against the floor as it moved back. He walked quickly over to the window, then turned back with a grimace as he realized that as short as he was, it wouldn't do much good. "Maybe it's Group 1 back with the tree..." Negi mumbled as he walked quickly to the door, not noticing as the rest of his group rose from their seats to follow him.
His class close on his heels, he almost jogged through the halls towards the main entrance. It was to his and his class' credit that they made almost no noise, as despite what THEY were doing, the rest of Mahora was observing normal school activities. Negi practically leapt out the entrance in his excited haste, then stopped short in amazement, causing Konoka to plow into him, sending him tumbling down the rather long flight of stone steps in front of the school. "Sorry!" She called after him as she dashed down the steps, hoping to catch his fall. The ground was much faster, and Konoka found herself helping him to his feet rather than catching him.
"That's okay, Konoka-san." Negi shook his head to clear the bright lights, then refocused on what stood in the middle of the courtyard. A grand red sleigh with golden trim skidded to a stop behind two horses, a tall black stallion, and a shorter white mare. It was large enough to fit nearly half of his class in, without elbow room The inside was divided into four compartments, a small area in the front for the driver and perhaps two others, the second area seemed to be for passengers, the third looked like it could hold cargo, and the forth only appeared large enough for one or two people. Negi pondered briefly what it could be for, then decided to think on it later. Instead, he broke into a dead run for the sleigh.
"Wow! I didn't expect you to get a sleigh! Great job, everyone!" Ayaka smiled widely as she stepped out of the first compartment. As Negi got closer to the sleigh, he stopped running and balked at the great green protrusion from behind the red conveyance. "I didn't know there were fake trees that big! Wow! This is great!" He started towards the tree, leaving Ayaka standing with no-one around her, her grin slowly leaving her face. Back in the sleigh, Asuna stifled a laugh and stepped out, quickly heading for the school. These clothes were warmer, but she had better clothes in her room.
Negi bustled around the tree, first marveling over it's size, then trying to decide on what would be the best way to right it and move it to the middle of the courtyard. It would be quite a problem, especially if he was not to display his magic. The thing looked very heavy. He was fairly certain that between his group, they'd be able to move it into place, but it'd take a great deal of time. Time they didn't particularly have. An idea struck him as he watched his students disembark from the sleigh.
"Um, Paru-san, Zazie-san, and Chisame-san, could you please escort Group 1 back inside and get them all hot drinks? Everyone looks pretty cold."
"Sure, Negi-sensei," Haruna quipped. She grabbed both Zazie and Chisame by the arms and began to practically drag them back towards the school. Zazie simply picked up the pace and followed, while Chisame glared the entire way. Why am I stuck with such lunatics?
Once Negi was sure that both Group 1 and his three team members where gone, he motioned for the rest of his group to come nearer. "Okay, everyone spread out and make sure no-one's coming. I'm gonna move this in a LITTLE unorthodox way."
Setsuna nodded in understanding and rushed off for the school entrance, Konoka quickly behind her. The rest nodded and spread out to cover all of the entrances. Each flashed Negi a thumbs up, which he returned. Then he turned back to the hulking green fake tree. Rolling up his sleeves and taking his staff into his hands, he concentrated, then spoke. The Latin words sounded completely alien, even to Yue. Their meaning was not important, as their effect was immediate. From nowhere, a strong wind began to blow, ruffling Negi's long coat about him and setting the wrapping around his staff flipping about. The fake tree branches swayed in the magical wind, then slowly, like sails, the branches began to cause the tree to move towards the center of the courtyard. Negi opened his eyes in satisfaction, then he winced in surprise as the sound of metal on brick reappeared. His gaze flew to the rope connecting the tree and the sleigh. Frowning, he reached over and swiftly unknotted the short bit of rope. Immediately afterwards, the tree practically jumped across the vast area, then slid across the ground to lay in the middle.
With a single word, the winds changed from horizontal to vertical, if such an occurrence were possible. Seemingly from beneath the tree, winds pushed at it, forcing it to tip upward. Slowly but surely, it seemed to fall in reverse until it was standing as straight and true as any real tree. Negi slumped against the side of the sleigh, slightly tired out. Even though wind magic was his forte, that was a LOT of wind magic. He heard footsteps beside him, then felt a warm gently breeze flow over him. He opened his eyes to see Konoka and Setsuna beside him, Konoka's hair slowly floating down from a magic induced breeze. "Thanks, Konoka-san."
Konoka smiled and leaned against a slightly flushed Setsuna. "Not a problem. I'm supposed to try to use my magic more to make it stronger. Eva-chan said so, anyway."
Negi nodded. "Yeah, that's the best way to do it. Just like everything else, you have to practice." The young wizard clapped a hand on Konoka's shoulder appreciatively, then started off for the tree. "Evangeline-san, could you please take someone with you and fetch the boxes with the decorations from inside the school?"
The blonde vampire shot Negi a glare, then nodded slowly. Almost as if angry, she turned on her heel and motioned at Nodoka to follow her. The two climbed the many steps and disappeared into the labyrinthine school.
Satisfied, Negi turned back to the tree, a Christmas tune finding its way to his lips. As if the whistle were some sort of summons, his group converged on him, and he noticed that the three he had sent with Group 1 had returned. They strode quickly down the steps and to his side. "How did you get this tree moved and set up so fast?" Hasegawa demanded, thrusting an accusing finger at Negi's chest. "It's not possible!"
Negi smiled innocently. "But it's been done, so I guess you're mistaken, Chisame-san. We merely worked together like any good team." Chisame frowned and walked around the tree, searching for signs of foul play, and sighing heavily when she found none.
"Negi-sensei! Please help me!" Nodoka called out from the stone steps. Negi could already picture her balanced precariously on the edge, as had been the case so many times. With a defeated sigh, he rushed across the courtyard, arms outstretched to catch his students, as well as his breakable ornaments which were, of course, in the box Nodoka had chosen. As Negi neared her, she seemed to regain her balance and walked quickly to the center of the stairs. The ten-year-old teacher hesitated at the foot of the steps, then decided that she'd be fine, as he could see Evangeline emerged from the shadowy entrance and stepped briskly down the steps.
He hurried back to the tree and motioned for Setsuna to retrieve one of the ladders that Negi had requested be left outside for their use. She returned with the metal construct right behind Nodoka, who sat her box of ornaments beneath the edge of the tree. Negi took the ladder from Setsuna and set it up near the tree, shaking it to make sure it was steady. With an anxious grin, Negi pulled the top of the box of ornaments off and tossed it aside. From within the cardboard-container, Negi pulled a glass sphere.
An errant ray of sunlight glinted off of its rippled surface, casting an odd shadow across Negi's youthful face. He smiled as he looked into its depth, seeing something that was not apparent to anyone else In the area. He looked almost wistful as he stood, holding the ball gently by a silver hook that protruded from it's top. "This is the only thing I have from my mother." Negi explained, sensing the question that hung in the air. "My sister said she bought it when I was born. Ever since she died, we've considered it my ornament."
With an unreadable expression, Evangeline walked to the ladder and gripped it's edges, motioning for Negi to climb. With a nod, he did so, carefully making sure the glass ornament wasn't jarred. A strange kind of magic permeated the air as he slipped the silver hook over one of the false branches. Negi liked to think that at Christmas, at least, his mother was with him.
He stepped down a step on the ladder, and looked happily at the simple decoration, then turned to his group with a smile. "Well, have at it, everyone. There're plenty of ornaments to be hung. Make sure to spread them out all over the tree."
Chatting broke out among his students as they milled about the three boxes, poking around for ornaments they particularly would like to hang. It wasn't long before the previously bare tree seemed to have some life to it.
While his students busied themselves with the ornaments, Negi retreated to the school, and to his classroom, to find his set of tree lights. He hadn't realized they'd return with such a large tree, and was almost worried he wouldn't have enough lights to cover the rather expansive green surface. He stepped into his classroom and flipped the lights on, then strode quickly for his desk. Stooping, he pulled yet another card-board box from beneath it's surface and sat the lid on his desk-top. He bit his lower lip in worry as he began to pull the long strands of simple white lights out. As tangled as they were, it was difficult to tell if they would be long enough. Regrettably, they would have to be untangled first.
Quickly, he stuffed the lights back into the box and unceremoniously dropped the lid on it, picked it up, and walked slightly unsteadily out of the room, closing the door with his foot afterwards. The trip to the courtyard was thankfully uneventful, and the lights were still intact when he reached the now distinctly-NOT-bare tree. He grinned over the edge of the box at his students and their handiwork. "Great job, everyone!"
He sat the box on the ground, away from the others, and again started to draw the lights from it. "Zazie-san, could you please give me a hand?" Nodding, the magician sat down the reindeer ornament she'd been holding and came to stand at her teacher's side.
"While I'm untangling this strand of lights," he held up the strand in question, "could you please start on this one?" He motioned at one that lay on the stone ground.
"Sure, Negi-sensei." She sat lightly on the ground and deftly began to untangle the lights. She was done far faster than Negi, and he allowed her to untangle the rest. He stepped back and scanned the tree critically. "Do you think we've got enough lights to cover the tree, Zazie-san?"
Zazie looked from the tree, to the lights, then back to the tree. "I think so, Negi-sensei. They'll be a little spread out, but they should cover it well enough."
Negi nodded. "Just what I wanted to hear. Please ask Evangeline-san to give us a hand hanging these then. I'm gonna go get another ladder." Zazie nodded, and they each started off on their different objectives. Moments later, he, Zazie, and Evangeline were all standing midway up three different ladders, trying to hand the lights around to each other. Haruna giggled as Negi waved his arms wildly, trying to maintain his balance after handing a strand of lights off to Evangeline.
The lights proved to be a slow process, and Negi realized with a grimace that it would have been best to have hung them prior to the bulbs, but it was too late for that now. Hind sight's always' 2020. Eventually, the three worked their way to the very top of the tree, and to Negi's satisfaction, the lights did indeed completely cover the tree. With enough left over to plug in his tree topper.
"Thanks a lot for your help, Zazie-san, Evangeline-san." He stepped down off the ladder, his two helpers following his example. Negi stepped to the side and motioned at Konoka. "Konoka-san, would you mind putting this at the top of the tree?" From within one of the pockets of his long coat, he produced a simple golden star. From the bottom hung an electrical plug, and if one looked closely, they would see evidence of the lights that could burn within the star.
Konoka grinned and nodded happily. "Sure," she chirped. Walking with a happy bounce, she plucked the star from Negi's grip and started climbing the ladder, which Negi quickly took hold of. It wasn't the ladder he would have suggested she use, but it should be fine.
Konoka reached the top of the tree quickly, and stood on her tip-toes, stretching her arm to it's limit to slide the top of the tree into the conical opening at the bottom of the star. "C'mon…." she whispered to herself as the tallest bit of the tree missed the opening, swaying mockingly just out of reach. She stretched a bit more, and managed to slide the star onto the tree with a victorious yell.
"Can you plug it in, Konoka-san?" Negi called up from the ground. If she couldn't, it'd be fairly difficult to plug it in at all.
Konoka eyed the end of the lights and the end of the electrical cable on the star with a critical eye, then looked down at the ladder. "I…I think so." She looked down at Negi and nodded. "I'll give it a shot."
Setsuna stepped up beside Negi before Konoka looked back at the tree. "Be careful, Ojousama." Konoka nodded.
"I will be, Secchan." A determined look in her eyes, she leaned farther off the ladder, and gripped the lights. Her right hand brushed against the cable on the star, sending it out of reach momentarily. She tried again with the same effect, although this time, the cable didn't swing back, and instead got stuck on an errant branch. "Hmm…." Konoka stepped to the very edge of the tallest step on the ladder and grabbed for the cord. Her fingers gripped the cool plastic surrounding the copper wire, and with a triumphant grin, she connected the two ends. As she released them, the breeze that had been blowing shifted, and Konoka's world suddenly pitched wildly as the ladder swayed under her. With a frightened scream, her foot slipped from the edge of the ladder, and she began a long plummet to the unforgiving granite of the courtyard.
With a lunge, Setsuna caught the falling girl, and barely managed not to fall herself under the sudden addition of weight. She looked down into Konoka's frightened eyes and smiled. "I told you to be careful, Kono-chan."
For several seconds, Konoka simply stared up at her knight, then with a happy cry, she wrapped her arms around her and buried her face in her shoulder.
Negi watched the two, relieved that Setsuna had reacted so quickly. The brown-haired girl had been halfway through her fall by the time Negi had realized anything had happened. Of course, it WAS Setsuna's duty to protect Konoka. With a smile, he signaled to Chisame to plug the extension cord he'd borrowed from the school into one of the outside outlets. She stepped back quickly when the connection was made, as if it there were something odd about the cord, and with a grin, Negi connected the lights and the extension cord.
The tree lit up instantly, casting a pale white light on the group. Konoka looked up to see Setsuna's smiling face ringed by the pure light, and smiled. "You look like an Angel, Secchan. And you don't even have your wings this time."
Setsuna flushed a bright red and turned her head to look at the tree. She would've said something, but something seemed to have killed all cognitive thought temporarily.
Negi stepped back and his group gathered around him to look at the tall tree. None of them, Negi included, had seen a tree that large decorated before, and they had done an excellent job. "Wow…" Nodoka breathed as she watched the lights dance off the glass ornaments, almost magically. "It's so beautiful…"
Negi grinned. "And it's all because of you guys. Good work." Everyone smiled to some degree and nodded. Thus far, it had been a rather fulfilling day. Of course, they still had some clean-up to do…
Kazumi slid heavily down the wall, glaring at the last of the paper snowflakes that had been in the boxes that Negi had given them. "I never want to see another one of these things as long as I live." She muttered to Chamo, who was still sitting upon her shoulder.
"It wouldn't have been so difficult if it hadn't been for all those technicians. What was it they were installing?"
Kazumi shook her head tiredly. "I don't remember. Something about a new security system. I'm too tired to care, frankly."
Chamo nodded and curled up as comfortably as he could. "I wonder how Aniki and his group did. I hope they had as bad a time as we did."
Kazumi glanced at the ermine in surprise. "That's certainly unkind of you, Chamo. And it's Christmas at that."
He snorted. "It's my one fault. I get angry when I'm tired."
It was Kazumi's turn to release an indignant snort. "You've got no reason to be tired. All you did was try to direct the group. That's MY job, y'know."
Chamo shrugged and tried to tune her out. "Just trying to help, Neesan. Just trying to help."
Author's Note: If this was a really bad chapter, I recognize that and am trying to make the next one better. I think the main problem was that I tried to focus on too many characters at one time. I'll be more selective with future chapters.