The First Noel
Notes: The characters are not mine (except Alexander) and the story is. I can't quite explain where the idea for this came from. I was thinking about another story of mine, and somehow that developed into this. Though I know that the view nowadays is that the Wise Men did not come on the same night as the shepherds, I have written it the traditional way, mainly for the effect and story purposes. It is a oneshot, and a standalone, but I have been planning the second installment for a long time now and I still intend to write it, as well. Merry Christmas!
Domino City was ready for Christmas before Thanksgiving. The lighted, wreathed arches were in place by the Monday before, as well as the candy canes, bells, and garlands that adorned the lampposts. Beautifully decorated trees were in front of malls and on corners, along with mechanical reindeer and Salvation Army Santas. And the snow flurries only added to the overall effect. It seemed that it was going to be a magical Christmas.
Alexander was completely fascinated. Every evening, while Dartz was working, the doppelganger would leave the Paradius building and wander around town. He never grew tired of the experience, and was always finding something new to be enamored about concerning the season. Every night he would return with questions for his adopted father, who would flatly and wearily respond.
"Who's this Santa Claus person?" was the question one day. "He seems really nice. I saw him holding a little girl on his knee, and they took a picture! And there were other kids around, too!"
Dartz glanced up with a sigh before returning to typing. "It's a legend handed down about a man who gives Christmas presents to good children," he answered. "It's prominent in Western cultures, with variations in many other lands. And like most legends, it did start with some basis of truth." And he told his secretary to get Alexander a book about the subject to keep him occupied. Alexander finished it in one night.
"Why do they fix the trees up all pretty?" the redhead asked the next night.
Dartz thought it over, realizing that he did not know offhand how to satisfactorily explain. After a trip to a website, he was able to give an answer that Alexander understood. But that was not the end of the queries.
"Why do they have wreaths? Bells? What's a candy cane?"
Dartz bookmarked the website.
One night they were driving back to their home in the canyons when Alexander suddenly looked out the window in awe. "Look at the big star!" he exclaimed, pointing at a large tree in the city center. He had never seen a decorated tree that immense before two nights ago, and he wondered how long it had taken to get it ready, especially without doppelgangers to fly up to trim the top parts. This was his favorite part of the city, and he wanted to share it with Dartz. "Can we stop? Please?" he begged.
Dartz sighed in exasperation. He wanted to get home. It had been a long day at work and he was exhausted. Still, when he saw how earnest Alexander was, he found he could not say no. "Very well," he finally agreed in weariness.
When the chauffeur put on the brakes, Alexander scrambled out excitedly and danced about in the lightly falling snow, obviously enchanted. His wings were spread wide, as if to catch more of the flakes, and his blue eyes were shining. The lights from the large tree reflected in them, only adding to the effect. He was not twenty, as he looked, but an awed and blissfully innocent child. Dartz wondered again, as he had many times in the past, how Alexander had been accepted by the other members of his race, and whether or not it was a good thing that Alexander did not remember.
Suddenly he looked back hopefully to Dartz, stopping in mid-twirl. "Will you come too?" he pleaded.
Dartz muttered more, but finally opened his door and eased his body outside. Immediately Alexander grabbed his hand and led him through the snow to the tree, which towered over the square. Dartz had to admit that it was hard to stay annoyed with the doppelganger's childlike enthusiasm. It seemed hard to even imagine life without the strange being, and Dartz wondered if Alexander was a bit more of the purity he had searched for far and wide and had never been able to keep hold of when under the Orichalcos's influence.
"Why do they have a star?" Alexander asked now.
For once, this was a question Dartz could answer without the aid of the website or a book. "It's because of the first Christmas," he responded, looking up at the brightly glowing object as memories flashed through his eyes. He had been alive then, due to the Orichalcos's curse. He had wandered the earth for centuries, and two thousand years ago, he had been in Bethlehem.
Alexander looked at Dartz, blinking curiously at the other's faraway look. "What happened then?" he asked in wonder.
Dartz sighed. "Well, it wasn't anything like it is now, that's for certain," he answered, and wondered why he was even telling this to the boy. He had never told anyone. "There weren't Christmas trees, or candy canes, or Santa Claus. Most people didn't even know the impact that the day would have through the centuries." Dartz himself was still amazed, and had often tried to solve the mystery of what the meaning of that first Christmas actually was. For centuries, he never fully had done so.
Alexander blinked in confusion, tilting his head to the side. "Why?" He could not comprehend what Dartz was saying. A Christmas without any of the things that made the season as magical as Alexander found it to be? What kind of Christmas could that have been?
"Oh yes, something happened," Dartz replied, and admitted, "but I'm still not entirely certain what it was. All I can really say for sure is that it was important, and that it has altered the world, though not in the way I expected at the time."
He looked back at the tree. "One thing that the first Christmas was, was bright," he mused. "There was a star, a very large star, that had not been seen before. It's what first caught my attention that something out of the ordinary was happening. . . ."
Over Two Thousand Years Earlier
Dartz pulled his cloak closer around his strong body as he passed through a large crowd of annoyed, muttering men. Apparently they did not want to be there any more than Dartz did. The difference was, they had to be there, while Dartz was merely passing through on his endless journey.
He had picked the wrong town to come through, he realized in irritation. It was a fairly small place, and now it was overly crowded with people coming for the census. Though, actually, there was not any place for someone like Dartz during a census, he thought sarcastically.
He no longer had anything—a home, a family, or a purpose to be there. Condemned to wander the earth, he had done so for the past eight thousand years. He had thought he had gone everywhere he possibly could since then, but this village was somewhere new.
As always, he did not want to be spoken to or even noticed, so he was a nameless traveler among many. He would fade into the shadows and soon be gone, and no one would know he had been there.
It did not seem that he could stay even if he wanted to. All the inns were completely filled. He frowned as he passed a man pleading with one innkeeper. His wife, obviously about to give birth, and in pain, was sitting on a nearby donkey. The man even asked if there could just be room for her, but the innkeeper shook his head.
Dartz sighed, passing them by. He would have to leave this place tonight and find somewhere else to go. Idly he hoped that the couple would be able to find a place to rest as well. But in this over-crowded area, it did not seem likely in the least.
Not to mention that people here were as apathetic as they were everywhere else. Everywhere Dartz turned, he had found corruption upon corruption. It was not at all as it had been during the days of Atlantis, when everything had been a beautiful paradise and everyone had tried to help each other and honestly cared about each other's welfare. Dartz was weary of wandering through such desolate, gloomy countries filled with selfish, warring people.
He knew that if he had truly been chosen to bring back Paradise, he would have to soon find a way to harness the great power of the Orichalcos. As of now, he had still not determined a foolproof way to go about it, though he had been experimenting with it for the past millennia or so. Ever since he had witnessed the immense power of the Pharaoh Atem, he had become confident that there was a way for him to accomplish the goals he wished so badly to reach. And then Paradise would return, effectively destroying all scenes such as the one here. Dartz looked to the onset of that day with eagerness.
As it turned out, it was not at all easy to find any means of shelter in the town or nearby. Dartz wandered about in disgust and irritation for several hours as the evening began to lazily pass by. The chill night air was making itself manifest, and he pulled on his cloak again to bring it closer. Muttering to himself, he began to trudge up a hill. He had entered a more rural area now, and he could hear the bleating of sheep from surrounding fields.
He frowned slightly in confusion to notice a light shining upon several of the hills and pathways. That glow had not been there before. He knew that he would have noticed it. Half-turning to look behind him, he was stunned and dazzled as he gazed at the new and brilliant celestial body that has risen in the night sky. It was hovering over a nearby area, and Dartz studied it, attempting to determine the exact location. It was so strange, the way it had suddenly appeared. Dartz had been in this part of the country for a while now, and he had never seen such a bright star. It was almost as if it was there now as a sort of beacon. But a beacon for what? And why?
Hearing voices behind him, he turned again, frowning as he watched several shepherds hastening to the pathway where Dartz was standing. They seemed to be very excited, and were engaged in deep conversation about something that they had apparently just come from seeing. They did not appear to notice Dartz, and he was starting to step out of the way when they suddenly looked up and saw him. The one in the lead called out,
"Shalom, stranger! Did you see it too?"
Dartz raised an eyebrow, not certain whether the person meant the star or something else. But none of them seemed to be looking at the object. "See what?" he asked finally, glad that he had learned their language. Over the past millennia, he had made it a point to become familiar with all major tongues throughout the world. It certainly made it easy to communicate as he traveled from place to place.
A second shepherd stepped forward, his eyes alight. "The angel!" he declared.
Now Dartz was truly baffled. "What angel?" he demanded, his eyes narrowing. All of a sudden, there seemed to be so many things happening tonight that had nothing to do with the census events of earlier in the day. And none of it was making sense to him.
"We saw an angel while we were tending to our flocks," the first man spoke reverently, his voice and his expression showing that he was still in awe. "The angel descended upon us, with such immense glory shining from him and blanketing the field in its brilliance. We didn't know what to think at first, and we were badly frightened, but when he spoke, we realized that there was not a need for it."
"'Fear not,' he said," quoted the second, "'for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.'"
A third came forward to continue the message. "'For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger.'"
"Then there were many angels, all singing and praising the Lord!" the first concluded. "When they left, we decided that we would all go back into Bethlehem to witness this thing for ourselves. And that is where we're going—to see this newborn Saviour! Will you come with us?"
Dartz looked from one to another as they spoke, and back again, overwhelmed by all that he was being told. A Saviour had been born? What did that mean? Had the gods sent down someone chosen by them to bring about the Paradise that Dartz had been longing to create? Dartz had believed that he was the chosen one, but had things been taking so long that another had been selected in his stead? He did not know at all what to think of this information.
And why would Someone so important be born in such a lowly place and be placed in a manger? In Atlantis, there had been a teaching that great men were humble, and sometimes born in such circumstances, but would that principle extend to a Saviour? It seemed too incredible. All of this was incredible, and mind-boggling.
He imagined that most people would dismiss the shepherds' story as utter nonsense, if they were to hear it. He had come to learn that people who spoke of visions were not well-received in this world, but because of his own experiences, he was inclined to believe that they were telling the truth. They would not all go mad at once and see a shared hallucination. And then there was the star, too. Was that its meaning—the birth of this Saviour?
At last he spoke. "What do you mean by the news of this Saviour being born?" he asked. "What will this Saviour do?"
The shepherds all looked at one another, as if they were not completely certain themselves. Then they looked back to Dartz. "In the holy scriptures, many things have been written about a Messiah Who will come," the second said then, "a Christ, Who will bring peace. This babe must be that Person!"
"But how will He bring peace?" Dartz returned, studying them as he waited for an answer. What was the secret to restoring the Paradise that had once existed on Earth? Could he learn from this Messiah on the correct principles? Perhaps He would know, when He was older, of how Dartz could completely take control of the power that he wished to use. Or perhaps there was even another way.
The shepherds shrugged helplessly. "Someone learned in the scriptures better than we are could surely tell you," said the third. "We are only poor shepherds who wish to worship this new Saviour. If you come with us, maybe we will all be further enlightened."
Dartz nodded slowly. "Very well." He wanted to know more. He would go with them. Over the many centuries, he had, of course, encountered people who had falsely claimed to be such Saviours and who attracted large crowds of believers. There had also been people who had insisted that they had seen visions or that they had been healed, and who had seemed either insincere or mad. But this seemed different from all of that.
There was just a feeling about the town, a feeling in the night air, that something important was taking place tonight. These shepherds were sincere; they were not lying out of greed, hoping to convince people of the vision so that they could get money, nor did they seem out of their minds. And the star continued to shine, the star that had not been seen in any night sky before. A false Messiah could not make such a wonder.
The shepherds had similar thoughts about the star's purpose as Dartz did, especially when they realized that it was shining from inside the city of Bethlehem. They followed its brilliance through the gates and among the buildings, and to Dartz's amazement, it moved with them. It moved until it had reached a location that it was satisfied with, and then it hovered there as the small group made their way over to where it had stopped.
Dartz was stunned anew when he found that they were approaching a stable belonging to one of the inns. Despite knowing what the angel had told the shepherds, it still seemed so unreal that a Saviour would be born in a place such as this. He could hear donkeys braying, cows mooing, and other animals making their trademark sounds. There would not be any peace, and how could there be any dignity?
Hearing the sound of camels' feet upon the ground, he turned to look at the approaching creatures. Three men were riding them, every one clad in elegant clothes of royalty. They were kings from other lands, the Atlantean deduced, most likely from somewhere in the East. And they seemed to be here for the same Event that Dartz had come to witness.
As they stopped in front of the stable as well and descended, each took up an exquisite container, and Dartz realized that they must be bringing gifts for the new Saviour. Neither he or the shepherds had been able to bring anything, but somehow he felt that if they truly were coming to see Someone so great and marvelous, it would not matter if they could not present Him with material things. Especially considering the location in which He had been born.
All seemed to be aware of each other's reasons for being there, and they proceeded inside quietly and reverently. The child's parents, hearing the arrivals, looked up. They were the same people Dartz had seen earlier, trying to find room at an inn. He was surprised in one way to see them again, and yet for some reason, it actually was not a surprise. It made sense, somehow.
The shepherds and the Wise Men all fell to their knees as they approached the manger, and one of the Wise Men spoke. "We followed a great star here, to see the new King," he said, and Dartz could hear his voice choked with emotion as he gazed upon the babe.
Dartz himself still could not see, and he stepped forward more, the swirl of confused emotions only becoming more pronounced. But when he came close enough that he could behold the infant's countenance, many of those feelings were swept away—replaced by a warm burning in his heart that he did not completely understand, but which felt wonderful.
He did understand that this child was important, so very important. The babe was beautiful, and it was not only because of His physical appearance. There was something radiating from Him—a light, that same warmth that Dartz felt within his heart. As He looked around at His visitors, He noticed Dartz and met the Atlantean's gaze. And Dartz—the former ruler of Atlantis and a man who still had many hidden powers locked away—was drawn to his knees.
Alexander gazed at his adopted father in awe as the tale came to a close. They were sitting on a bench in front of the brightly decorated tree, and the doppelganger leaned forward, placing his hands on the edge of the wood. "Who was He?" he breathed, as if to speak louder would not be appropriate.
Dartz sighed, shaking his head. "They called Him a Saviour," he replied slowly, "and He may have been." He clenched a fist slightly. "The things He taught later were principles that Atlantis had been founded on and ruled by, but most people were not interested in listening, and those who craved for power themselves believed that He was a threat."
"Oh. . . ." Alexander's wings drooped slightly as he considered this. But then he smiled, looking at Dartz with his bright eyes. "But enough people listened to still talk about Him today, and to worship Him!" he declared.
Dartz had to smile slightly at the boy's enthusiasm and innocent response. "That's true," he mused slowly. More to himself, he muttered, "Though the world is still in turmoil. . . ." And he wondered what would be the case now if more people had adhered to the peaceful values. He himself had chosen a different path, and if anything, had become intent on a much more violent solution to the world's problems by trying to revive the Leviathan and sacrificing people's souls in order to do it.
"Did you see Him again after that night?" Alexander chirped again. "I would have liked to have met Him. . . ."
Dartz was startled back to the present. He looked over at the childlike being, who was still leaning forward and looking at him with interest, his mismatched wings spread in both directions. The disfigured wing looked prominent, the way it was draped over the back of the bench with the lights shining on it. Idly Dartz recalled how he had met Alexander, and his annoyed and bewildered feelings at that time. He had wanted to be rid of the "thing"—but now he could not imagine ever not having Alexander around. The thought sounded extremely gloomy.
"I think He would have liked you very much," Dartz replied honestly. Then, remembering the question, he added, "I did meet Him again. But that is a tale for another time."
"I want to hear about it," Alexander answered, his voice soft.
Dartz sighed, ruffling Alexander's hair. "Tomorrow," he decided.
Alexander was agreeable to this, and he snuggled against Dartz as the tree's lights and the star continued to glow and flash blissfully and obliviously. "Can we get a Christmas tree?" he asked after a moment.
Dartz blinked, though he supposed he was not actually that surprised at the request. It seemed very much like Alexander. "We'll see," he said then, and imagined that Chris would enjoy such a thing as well.
Alexander relaxed more, laying his head against Dartz's shoulder. "And do you think we could see Santa as well?" he wondered hopefully.
Dartz had to wonder what the department store Santas would think of the curious, cheerful creature, but he sighed and did not refuse the request, knowing that Alexander would not understand. "Maybe," he said slowly. He had a feeling that he would regret it later.
The Atlantean leaned back against the bench, watching the lights, though his mind was far away. He had never actually thought that he would celebrate Christmas. But with Alexander around, it seemed that things might change. The doppelganger had already gotten Dartz to sit out in the cold for some time. And for the first time, he had spoken of that first Christmas, which he had witnessed and taken part in. He had not thought that he would do those things, either.
Now his mind was filled anew with the questions he had asked those millennia past. He gazed absently at the flashing star on top of the tree, as if it could give him the answers. Perhaps, he mused silently, another star already had done so.