Winter had come to Gensokyo, and everyone noticed. The cold white stuff falling from the sky was kind of hard to miss.

Like all winters experienced by the mystical country, this one was heavy, relentless, and cold. The icicle-covered trees stood naked toward the sky and the snow lay more than a four feet in places. The lakes and rivers were frozen solid in their paths. The winds alternated between being completely still to blowing so hard that they threatened to tear the clothing off of anyone foolish enough to be caught outside. And at times the temperatures dipped so low that if you were to try to toss a cup of boiling water into the air, you would freeze solid before your arm completed its arc.

Still, the general mood among the country's inhabitants was one of happiness and festivity, and for a good reason. Christmas was coming, and what better place to celebrate a holiday built upon the mystic and spirituality than a mystical land with actual spirits? The Human Village was lit up with red and green lights and filled with the sound of singing and laughing. In the town center, an enormous tree had been erected, covered with multi-colored bulbs, gold and silver tinsel, and hundreds of tiny jeweled stars. Not to be outdone, the Tengu Village was busy preparing for their yearly Christmas Eve parade, which traveled from Boss Tenma's mansion all the way to the Forest of Magic and back without once touching the ground. No one was sure what the Kappa's celebration consisted of, as the surface of the lake containing their own village was frozen solid. However, strange lights could be seen even through the thick ice, and their music could still be heard, so it was presumed that they were having a good time.

Other, smaller communities were also getting into the spirit of things. Never the one to miss the chance to throw an extravagant party, Remilia Scarlet had turned the Scarlet Devil Mansion into a virtual amusement park. The mansion grounds had been converted into a full-fledged festival, complete with games, food stands, live shows and even a carousel and a merry-go-round, while the interior served as the home of one of the largest Christmas parties in Gensokyo, filled with eating, drinking, and, as was to be expected by a party thrown by a vampire, excessive violence. Deep in the Bamboo Forest of the Lost, the Princess Kaguya Houraisan was likewise playing hostess to the rabbit tribes' yearly celebration and enjoying every minute of it. The normally orderly mansion of Eientei had turned into place of magnificent chaos that her loyal right hand Eirin Yagokoro was trying desperately to control and the rabbit leader Tewi Inaba was reveling in escalating. The Princess herself had pulled out her exceptionally large collection of Outside World games and was taking on all challengers, during which the sacred law of "No items, Fox only, Final Destination!" was strictly enforced.

And on the morning of Christmas Eve, in one snow-covered field at the foot of a range of low hills, two ice-fairies were busy putting their natural element to work, making sure that they would not be overlooked when the holiday itself finally came.

One of them, a blue-haired girl with six crystalline wings, stood at the top of the hill line, peering down at her project. She and her friend had been working on it since early that morning, and it was nearly done.

Cirno knelt down to scoop up a handful of snow. She crushed the tiny crystals together between her palms, squishing the mass into a hard sphere. Once she was satisfied, she tossed it down the hill.

Now contrary to what children's fiction would have us believe, rolling a snowball down a hillside does not turn it into a massive boulder-sized monstrosity by the time it reaches the bottom. However, if the one tossing the snowball was, say, a fairy whose elemental powers were entirely based around the control of ice, then things would be different.

The snowball spun and bounced its way downward. As it did so, Cirno began nudging the layer of snow that covered the hillside with her mind, instructing the crystals of ice to attach themselves to the swiftly moving sphere. Its mass quickly grew and by the time it reached the bottom, it was the size of a boulder. A perfectly round, white boulder.

Cirno cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted, "Okay, it's ready!"

Her companion's wings fluttered as she lifted off the ground. Like Cirno herself, Daiyousei was also a fairy who had power over ice. Other than that the two couldn't be more different. In contrast to Cirno's short blue hair and crystalline wings, Daiyousei had long green hair tied into a side-ponytail and golden wings. Also, while Cirno was impulsive, cocky, headstrong, and confident, Daiyousei was meek, shy, unsure of herself, and easily frightened. Cirno had a bad habit of getting Daiyousei into trouble, and sometimes Daiyousei's lack of a spine drove Cirno absolutely nuts. Despite this, the two had been best friends for well over fifty years and were virtually inseparable. Even in Gensokyo, opposites still attracted.

Daiyousei took position at one end of the large snowball and wrapped her arms around it. Cirno hopped into the air and floated down to join her. She grabbed the other end of the snowball and together, they lifted it off the ground.

Together, they slowly carried the snowball over their project. Cirno surveyed the uncompleted portion. "There," she said, pointing with one finger. "Put it down there!"

Unfortunately, the mere act of pointing required her to let go with one hand. The snowball started to slip from their grasp, and Daiyousei gasped as she tried to stop it from falling. "No!" she shouted. "Don't let g-"

Too late. The snowball tumbled from their arms and fell to splatter all over its intended destination.

The two fairies stared at the cold, wet lump that had been their snowball. Then, almost as if on cue, they looked up to stare at each other.

"Uh…" Daiyousei said. It was one of those awkward moments where there was literally nothing to say, and yet she felt that someone should say something anyway.

Cirno suddenly grinned. She winked and shot Daiyousei a thumb's up. "All right, perfect! Now it's exactly where it's supposed to be!"

"What?"

"You heard me! Come on, we need to get this finished!"

Cirno swooped down to where the snowball had landed. After a moment of hesitation, Daiyousei followed.

The two ice fairies began scooping up handfuls of the now and pressed them against the unfinished portion of their project. These clumps were then frozen in place. Fortunately, what they were trying to build had a very simple design, so Daiyousei was able to contribute more than she would usually be able to. If one were to compare Cirno and Daiyousei in terms of IQ or common sense, then Daiyousei would come out ahead (though that wasn't saying much). But in terms actual ice-craft, of using their control over the frozen element to create things of an artistic nature, then there was no question which of the two was the most skilled. Cirno had a natural gift. While she could barely read, had atrocious spelling, and could only draw stick-figures that would make a kindergartner blush, the stuff she could do with ice was nothing short of amazing. Once she had been struck with an artistic frenzy and had constructed a twisting ice dragon that had (briefly) made her a minor celebrity among the local youkai. Another time she had left a highly detailed but not at all flattering sculpture of the leader of the Human Village right in front of his home (after which she had proudly declared through swollen lips and missing teeth that it had been "Totally worth it"). Of course, she did not often find the patience to make anything exceptionally large, but when she did, the results were spectacular. The most Daiyousei could manage were ice bullets and lumps of ice that looked like boulders.

Their mutual friend Wriggle called Cirno's talent the gods' way of compensating. Neither of them was sure of what to make of that.

At any rate, this time around Cirno's idea didn't require much in the way of detail or finesse. Just lots and lots of ice over a wide area. Daiyousei was grateful that she could pitch in for once.

"Okay then!" Cirno declared as they finished off the last of the snowball. "Almost done! Another ten more of those things and that should do it!"

Daiyousei's wings wilted. "Ten more?" she said. "That many?"

Cirno twisted up her face in confusion. "What? Of course! We need to finish the last 'E'! And what do you mean by sounding so depressed? We've done like twe…thir…A lot already!"

"A lot of what? And what in the world are you two working on?"

The two ice fairies turned to see that they had been joined by someone new. The newcomer was a girl wearing a heavy wool coat, black mittens and a grey scarf. A large, brown fur cap was pulled down over her short blond hair. Her teeth, visible when she spoke, were tiny and sharp, and her eyes the color of freshly spilled blood.

Cirno grinned and waved. "Hi Rumia! And we're working on something awesome."

"Is that so."

"Yep! Isn't it awesome?"

Rumia gave the strange structure a skeptical look. "Um, yeah. Sure, why not?"

"You see!" Cirno said to Daiyousei. "She agrees that it's awesome! So we need to hurry and finish it!"

Rumia sighed and stuck her mittened hands into the pockets of her coat. "Uh, Cirno?"

"Hi!"

"What is that thing?"

The edges of Cirno's grin dipped downward in disappointment. "You can't tell?"

"Well, it looks like you're making some sort of platform thing, with a bunch of bumps on it."

Cirno pointed to the sky. "Look at it from above!"

"Do I have to?"

In response, Cirno cocked a fist. "Get up there already."

Rumia rolled her eyes but she complied, righting into the air and soaring up about thirty feet. She looked down at Cirno and Daiyousei's project and shrugged. She started to head down again when she frowned and looked at it again. She slowly moved around in a circle, looking at it from different angles.

"Cirno!" she called down. "What is this thing?"

Cirno's face fell. "You can't tell?" she called back.

"No!"

Cirno rolled her eyes. "Come on," she said to Daiyousei.

The two fairies flew up to where Rumia was hovering.

"Okay, what's the problem?" Cirno said.

Rumia pointed down. "Explain."

Cirno looked down, and then up again. "What's so hard to figure out? It's an arrow."

The snow structure in question was indeed an arrow, one the rose about eight feet from the ground and covered nearly half of the frozen meadow. On top of the arrow were raised kanji, still partially formed.

"Yeah, I can see it's an arrow," Rumia said. "I mean, explain why you're making you guys are making a big-ass arrow in the middle of nowhere. Because after that dragon thingy, this is kind of a step down."

"It's not a sculpture, it's directions!"

"What?"

"Do you see where it's pointing?"

Rumia shielded her eyes and squinted. "Um…the mountain?"

"Yes! And you see what's written?"

The look Rumia shot the blue-haired fairy could have melted steel. "I can't read, chillybutt!"

"Oh, right. Um, yeah, it says 'Santa! Cave Under Mountain! Bring Presents!'"

Rumia's jaw dropped. "Wait, what?"

The cave being referred to was the series of hidden caverns Cirno had discovered earlier that spring. The three of them, along with their friends Wriggle Nightbug and Mystia Lorelei, had been making their home there ever since. All in all it was a nice setup. The entrance was well disguised, and the caverns themselves were spacious enough to accommodate all five of them comfortably. Of course, they had spent almost two months straight cleaning the place out and getting some decent lighting going, but it had been worth it. Wriggle's ability to speak to bugs had been useful in coaxing many of nastier creepy-crawlies out.

Still, as Christmas had come closer, Cirno had started to grow worried that their new digs were too well hidden. And as such a certain someone might overlook them entirely, especially since they had yet to install a proper fireplace and chimney. Mystia kept saying that she'll get around to it. But in the meantime, Santa's attention had to be attracted somehow, and Cirno wasn't interested in taking chances.

Rumia, however, seemed to disagree with the ingenuity of the plan. "Oh, this is ridiculous," she said as she buried her face in her palm.

Cirno folded her arms. "It's not ridiculous! And as soon as it's done, Dai's gonna paint it!"

Daiyousei almost fell out of the sky. "Uh, w-what?"

"Gotta make sure he sees it, right? So the arrow's gonna be green and the letters are gonna be red! You know, for Christmas!" Then Cirno frowned. "Or would it be better if the arrow was red and the letter green? I don't know, which one looks more Christmasy to you?"

"I'm g-going to p-p-paint it?"

"Don't worry, Rumia'll help you."

Rumia just folded her arms. "No, I'm not."

"Oh, yes you are. You have just as much to lose as we do."

"Oh, no I'm not."

"Why not?"

Rumia held up a single finger. "Here's a good reason. Santa's not the only person who'll see that."

Cirno frowned at her. "Wait, what do you…" Her voice trailed off. Her eyes started to widen.

Rumia grinned and nodded. "Yep, everyone else will see the sign. And then they'll know where our hideout is."

Cirno looked down at the arrow. Panic started to cover her face.

"And then other youkai will come. Bigger ones. They'll all gang up and beat us up and take our cave for themselves, all because you left a big, honking-"

Cirno thrust her palms downward. There was a blinding flash of white light and the temperature, already abysmally low, plummeted even further. Daiyousei and Cirno were, of course, unaffected, but Rumia cried out in surprise and swooped upward to avoid the blast of freezing air.

When the light cleared, nothing remained of the arrow save for a very tall pile of powder snow.

Cirno wiped off her palms. "Fine, I'll just go to the Tengu Village and mail him a letter instead. See you guys later! Good work, Dai!"

She immediately took off toward the Youkai Mountain, leaving Daiyousei and Rumia hovering above the wreckage.

Rumia sidled up to Daiyousei, who was staring wordlessly at the pile of snow.

"Um, you okay?" she asked.

"What?" Daiyousei blinked. "Oh, it's…nothing. Just…this was the first time I could really help out on one of her projects. All the other times I kept messing up and she'd get mad and tell me to go away, so…"

Rumia looked at her quizzically. "Dai, did anyone ever tell you that you've got a bad case of Cirno-worship?"

"What!" Daiyousei stiffened in midair. "N-no I don't! I mean I-I like her and all, but…Not that way! I mean it's just…she's always so confident and cool and always has these great ideas and…"

Rumia rolled her eyes. "Okay, I get it. Cirno's awesome in a can. Kneel before the strongest!"

Daiyousei scowled. "You don't have to be a jerk about it," she muttered. "I just wanted to help her. I mean, she did look after me when everyone else was using me for target practice."

Rumia blinked. She opened her mouth to say something, grimaced, and instead said, "Um, yeah. I guess I get that. Sorry." Despite herself, the darkness youkai actually looked abashed, which didn't happen often. "And, uh, sorry about your arrow…thing."

"S'okay," Daiyousei said. "Next time, maybe."

"Uh, sure. Next time. Why not?" Rumia took a deep breath. "Well, this is getting way too awkward." She took Daiyousei by the hand. "Come on, let's head back."

The caverns that Cirno and her friends called their home sat at the base of the Youkai Mountain. The narrow entrance was sandwiched between two jutting slabs of moss-covered stone and surrounded by an overgrown thicket. It was incredibly difficult to find unless you knew where it was. Cirno's own discovery of it had been a one-in-a-very large number chance. And given the camouflaged door they had added to make it look like the rest of the wall, the possibility of someone duplicating that feat was now even smaller.

The interior definitely looked better than it did when they had first started to move in. Nearly all of the slime had been cleared away, leaving the place relatively dry (though everyone still gagged when they even so much as thought of the long, long month spent cleaning it up), and the creepy inhabitants had been persuaded to relocate. Replacing them where several boxes of supplies, personal items and several lanterns hanging from the walls. It was still a far cry from the totally awesome beyond all reason hideaway that Cirno envisioned, but all in all it was coming along very nicely.

Daiyousei and Rumia dipped into the thicket and, after quickly checking to make sure that no one was watching them, pulled aside the covering and slipped inside.

The first cavern was the largest and was thus used for the main gathering room. The lanterns were already lit, and in the center of the room a small fire had been built. Sitting next to the fire was a shivering lump of blankets.

Rumia started pulling off her winter clothes while Daiyousei walked over to the blankets.

"Uh, Wriggle?" she said. "Are you sure you're okay?"

The blankets moved to reveal a miserable looking face topped by a mop of green hair and two insect antennae.

"It's f-f-f-freezing in here!" she said, teeth chattering. "Jeez, you'd th-th-th-think living with i-i-ice fairies would b-b-b-bad enough, but godsdamnit it's cold!"

Rumia tossed her coat onto Wriggle's head. "You've been like this since autumn. How'd you even survive the last few years?"

Wriggle threw the coat back. "K-k-keep your smelly c-clothes off me. And by having a s-s-smaller sp-p-pace and a b-bigger fire. Weren't we suh-suh-supposed to have a f-f-f-fireplace in here? Wasn't that on the t-t-to-do list?"

"It's like fifteen feet of solid rock we'll have to dig through," Rumia said. "And our bullets and spellcards aren't that strong. Plus, I don't know about you, but I don't fancy on working on it in the middle of winter."

Wriggle glared at her. "Exce-ce-cept the middle of w-winter's exactly when we fuh-fuh-freaking need it," the firefly grumbled to herself.

"You'll live. And even if you don't, you'll just come back in a few minutes anyway."

Wriggle pulled the blanket over her head. The nearly formless lump that was her laid down on its side and curled up. "Shut up," said Wriggle's muffled voice.

Rumia laughed. She walked over to the bundle of blankets and threw herself on top.

"Daw, don't be so grumpy!" she said as she wrapped her arms and legs around the bulk. "You know you love me!" She wrapped one arm around where Wriggle's neck most likely was and dug the knuckles of the other arm into the firefly's head. "Love me, love me, love me!"

Daiyousei stared as a laughing Rumia wrestled around with the incensed blanket-covered Wriggle. She opened her mouth to say something and then thought better of it. Instead, she gingerly walked around them and headed into the passageway that led to the rest of the hideout and headed for her room.

The cavern that Daiyousei had claimed for her own was little more than an alcove, about the size of a small closet. A human would find it uncomfortably cramped, but fortunately fairies were much smaller than humans and Daiyousei didn't have much in the way of stuff anyway. Mostly just her futon, a couple lanterns, a box for her clothing and toiletries, a handful of personal memorabilia and a bag of chocolates that she had to keep hidden from Wriggle at all times. The firefly's love for them bordered on a dependency.

Daiyousei picked out a couple choice pieces of sugary heaven and munched on them as she reached into her clothing box. She quickly glanced around to make sure she was alone and moved her clothes aside.

At the bottom of the box were some special items. Gifts, to be exact. The previous year, Daiyousei had tried making Christmas presents for her friends by hand. After that disaster, she had decided to just save up the money to buy them their gifts.

Of course it hadn't been easy. Fairies rarely had any kind of dependable source of income, and Daiyousei had taken many odd (in every sense of the word) jobs until she had earned enough. But it had been worth it.

For Rumia she had gotten a small steel pocketknife with a wooden handle carved with the crescent moon. The darkness youkai always seemed to be fascinated by sharp objects, and she certainly loved the night. For Wriggle she had gotten a velvet cape, black on the outside and red on the inside. The firefly had always complained about losing her wings in her transition from insect to youkai, claiming that having them spread behind her would be completely badass, so it only felt fitting. For the fifth member of their team, Mystia Lorelei, she had gotten a pair of new oven mitts, with her first name embroidered on the left hand and her last name on the right. The night-sparrow loved to cook, but her current pair was starting to wear out. She had burned herself twice already. And for Cirno…

Carefully holding the object with both hands, Daiyousei lifted out her fellow ice-fairy's gift. It was a snowglobe, and a large one at that. Within was a miniature replica of the Youkai Mountain, complete with the Tengu Village at the top and the waterfall crashing down into the forest below. Dozens of tiny, multicolored crystals swam through the globe, mixing with the artificial snow so that it glittered when you shook it. The base of the globe was made from spun crystal and had depictions of numerous youkai and fairies chasing each other around and around. Beneath the base, nestled in a small alcove, was a tiny golden key that, once turned, caused a tinkling melody to play. Daiyousei had found this treasure at a crystal shop at the Youkai Market, and as soon as she saw it she knew she had to get it for Cirno. It was perfect, especially considering their new home. And Cirno did love all things winter, snow especially.

Daiyousei reached under the base and cranked the key around three times. The melody started playing, filling the small space. A smile spread across Daiyousei's face. She had never heard the song before, but it seemed to fit Cirno so well, at once fun and energetic. She couldn't wait to give it to her.

Well, there were only a few hours until Christmas. She could wait until then. Daiyousei carefully placed her friends' gifts back at the bottom of the box. Then she picked up the snowglobe to put it back as well.

That was when the curtain covering the entrance to her room rustled. "Hey Dai?" someone said as they pushed it away. "Can I get your help with something?"

Daiyousei jerked with alarm. "Don't come in here!" she yelled over her shoulder. Unfortunately, the shock made her lose her grip on the snowglobe. She desperately tried to steady it, but it was too heavy.

The snowglobe slipped from her hands to strike against a jutting piece of sharp rock. It shattered, spilling water, fake snow and sparkling crystals everywhere.

Daiyousei stared in shock at the mess before her. Something in the back of her head said that she probably should be reacting in some way. Panicking, for example. Trying desperately to put it back together. Perhaps breaking down and crying. But all she could do was stay standing where she was and stare. She couldn't even move.

The newcomer, however, did. "Oh jeez! Dai? What was that? Is everything all right?" said a girl with brown hair. Two feathered wings of the same color jutted from her back.

Mystia Lorelei rushed over to Dai's side. "What happened, was it…" She caught side of the smashed glass and sparkling water. "Oh. Oh, wow. Was that…"

Daiyousei's shoulders slumped. "Yeah."

"The one you got for…"

"Yeah."

"Oh wow." Mystia ran her sharp-taloned fingers through her hair. "Dai, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to startle you. I was just looking for help to get ready for the parade. You know how I usually have my cart there, and… I am so sorry, I didn't…"

Daiyousei just shook her head. It was hard enough to think, much less come up with an appropriate reply.

An extremely uncomfortable silence passed. And then Mystia said, "Where did you find that snowglobe?"

Daiyousei blinked at the odd question. "Oh. Um, the Youkai Market. At the crystal stand."

"And did they have any more?"

"I think so, yeah."

"All right." Mystia took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "How much did it cost?"

Daiyousei frowned. "Oh, uh, I don't really remember. Maybe…" She said a sum that she was pretty sure was close to the price.

"Sounds about right. Okay, hang on."

Mystia slipped through the curtain into the passageway beyond. Bemused, Daiyousei stared after her, wondering what the night-sparrow had in mind.

Moments later Mystia bustled back into Daiyousei's room. "Okay, here," she said, pressing something into Daiyousei's hands. "Take these."

Daiyousei's eyes widened when she saw the yen notes. "Bu…Huh? What's…"

"What's it look like? Money to replace the snowglobe. I'm due at the parade grounds in about an hour so I can't go myself. You'd better hurry though. There's only a few hours left and the Youkai Market sells out fast."

"But…why are you…"

Mystia scowled at her. "Oh, come on Dai! You think I'd make you break something that valuable and not offer to replace it? Come on, I'm not much of a jerk, am I?"

"Of course not! But…this is a lot, even more than what's it's worth!"

"I know. Those freaking merchants like to drive up the prices whenever they can." Mystia thought for a moment. "Okay, so I do that too. Sometimes. But the point remains."

"But…"

"Look Dai, it's fine, okay? Now get going."

Daiyousei was about to argue more, but she took a look at the ruined snowglobe and nodded once. She carefully picked up the pieces and stuffed them into a woven reed bag. Then, clutching the yen notes tightly, she darted past Mystia and headed for the main cavern.

Then she slowed. To get her hands on a new snowglobe, she would have to go back to the Youkai Market. While she generally enjoyed her trips there, it was always in the company of her friends for protection. The Market rules were very loosely enforced, and given that the crowd consisted entirely of wild magical creatures, it was a dangerous place for someone wandering around by themselves, especially on the last day before Christmas.

And unfortunately Cirno was still at the Tengu Village (not that Daiyousei would bring her along for something like this anyway), Mystia had to leave soon and Wriggle probably wouldn't even leave the cave for fear of freezing to death. Which left…

Daiyousei took a deep breath and resumed her gait toward the main cavern.

Wriggle and Rumia had stopped fighting and were now sitting in front of the fire, arguing about the details of one of their capers.

"I'm telling you, there were ten of them! You don't forget something like that, especially when they start pummeling you death!"

"What, did you take a headcount between blows to the head? It was eight!"

As the only one who had actually survived the incident in question, Daiyousei could say with some authority that the number they were looking for was actually four, but that wasn't important at the moment.

She walked up to them. "Uh, h-hey Rumia?"

The youkai of darkness looked up. "Yo?"

"C-can you go to do me a, a favor? Please?"

Rumia exchanged a look with Wriggle and they both shrugged. "That depends on the favor. I'm not breaking into the Human Village again. I like my head where it is."

"No, it's not that, it's…" Daiyousei glanced around. Then, speaking in a lower tone, she quickly informed her of Cirno's broken present and her desperate need to replace it immediately and won't Rumia please go with her to the Youkai Market to keep her from getting mugged and eaten?

Rumia's shoulders slumped. "The Youkai Market? But that's a long way away!"

"Please Rumia!" Daiyousei begged. "It's really important!"

"Why can't you go with Wriggle?"

"Nuh-uh," Wriggle said. "I'm not going out there. Turn me into a freaking bugsicle."

Rumia rolled her eyes. "Okay, fine. But you owe me one, shorty." She got and irritably put her winter clothes back on. "All right, let's get this over with."

On the whole, youkai and their brethren in spirit the fairies had a very loose relationship with the concept of civilization. Some of them managed it, but most of them didn't, preferring to roam the wilds. Here and there you would find the odd village, settlement, tribe, and so on, but for the most part many of them shared more in common with the beasts that they sprung from than the humans that they resembled.

Still, there were exceptions. Advanced civilizations such as the Tengu, Kirin, and Kappa more than rivaled their Human counterparts. And when it came to examples of capitalism in its purest form, nothing could rival the Youkai Market.

It stretched more than three kilometers long and a kilometer wide at its thickest point, taking up the entirety of a large field bordered by trees. Every morning merchants would show up to set up their stands, their booths, their carts, and their tents and try to get people to buy what they had to offer. The kinds of wares available varied from weapons to food to clothes to antiques to things that only a youkai would treasure.

Given that the place was entirely run by youkai and fairies, the rules were simple:

1. No Humans allowed.

2. You're responsible for your own shop. Don't come crying if the customer is scarier than you.

3. There's no lost-and-found. Hang on to your stuff. If you lose it, then tough luck.

4. If you must shoplift, don't complain if you get caught and sold. It's your own fault for being clumsy. And you know all those rumors about the kids who tried to steal from the butcher stall? Assume that they're true.

5. Take your fights outside the market grounds. Seriously, we don't need another Brawl of '74.

6. No flying. Things are confusing enough as it is without you punks dive-bombing everyone. You lift off the ground, expect to get shot down. Literally.

Cirno and her gang were common frequenters of the Market, though they rarely bought anything. They simple liked wandering the stalls and looking at all the pretty things for sale. It was also nice to go somewhere and not instantly be considered the biggest troublemakers around, though Cirno did have that ambition.

But as crowded as the Youkai Market was on a regular day, during the Christmas season the population would skyrocket. Any organizer in their right mind would shut the place down due to overcrowding, but as the Market had no official organizers and very few of those involved were in their right minds, it passed without comment.

As for the market-goers, youkai tended to either keep to themselves or travel in small parties with little in the way of any actual loyalty, one wouldn't expect them to be overly concerned about buying gifts. And for the most part, this tended to be true, Daiyousei's three youkai friends notwithstanding.

Fairies, on the other hand, were extremely social creatures who took any and every holiday very seriously. As such, the merchants of the Youkai Market were known to take advantage of this by increasing their stock and offering any number of limited time deals. And while most youkai didn't much care for Christmas itself, they certainly weren't going to ignore the slashed prices the holiday provided.

End result: the Youkai Market was packed. And Daiyousei was terrified.

She didn't like crowds, she never had. She could tolerate them if she had to; especially if she was with her friends. And she did enjoy going to festivals and browsing through the Market on a regular day.

However, seeing the place at nearly three times its usual capacity, Daiyousei was starting to have second thoughts.

Rumia seemed to agree. "Wow," she said as her eyes took in the teeming mass of bodies. "That is, uh. That is a lot of people."

Daiyousei nodded.

"You, uh, sure you wanna go through with this?"

No, she did not. But it wasn't like she had much choice in the matter.

"All right then," Rumia said. She took a deep breath. "Okay, into the fray. Let's do this."

They entered the crowd and were immediately swept up in the waves of bodies. Daiyousei held tightly to Rumia's hand as they pushed and fought their way through.

"How does anyone actually find anything here?" Rumia shouted over the noise.

"What?" Daiyousei shouted back.

"I said, how does-Hey, watch it!"

That last remark was directed toward a rugged old male tarantula youkai in a striped shirt and a bowler cap who had rudely bumped his way past the two girls. Unfortunately, he seemed to have better hearing than Daiyousei, not to mention a shorter temper, as he instantly whirled around to face Rumia.

"What'd you say to me?" he growled, showing a great many teeth that were quivering like the mandibles they had evolved from.

Daiyousei gulped. "N-n-nothing, please d-don't hurt us."

Rumia, however, was less than impressed. "Back off, ugly," she snarled, showing her own sharp teeth. "You bumped us. So piss off."

The tarantula hissed. He took a step forward, looking as if he were going to make an issue of the matter. But then he noticed a couple of large youkai working as bouncers staring at the confrontation. So he settled for spitting on the ground at Rumia's feet and storming off.

Rumia watched him go. Her lips moved up in a nasty grin. She held up one hand and squeezed it into a fist.

Immediately a sphere of complete darkness surrounded the rude tarantula's head. He cried out in surprise and stumbled into a shooting gallery. Annoyed, the booth's owner hit him with a right cross that sent the blinded unfortunate sailing into a goldfish scooping tank.

Laughing, Rumia pulled the aghast Daiyousei away from the commotion.

"Don't do that!" Daiyousei said.

"What? He had it coming."

"You'll get us thrown out!"

"They'll have to prove it was me first."

Daiyousei nervously glanced at the bouncers, who had yanked the tarantula out of the tank and were dragging him off. "No they won't! They just have to think it was us!"

"Is that so." Rumia rolled her eyes. "Fine, fine, I'll be good. Now, where's this crystal place of yours?"

"Um, it's…"

Daiyousei felt a brief moment of panic. She had stumbled across the crystal stand purely by accident, and hadn't bothered to make note of its exact location. She had a general idea of where she had seen it, but merchants had been known to change locations. It didn't happen often, but if the seller had moved his stand, then there was nothing Daiyousei could do.

However, Daiyousei was in luck. The two rounded a corner that Daiyousei found familiar and to her immense relief, the stand was there.

"There it is!" she cried. She yanked on Rumia's hand. "Come on!"

As they neared, Daiyousei's heart leapt. The crystal stand had apparently been doing good business. Most of the jewelry and knick-knacks were gone. But there, sitting by itself on a shelf, was a snowglobe exactly like the one that she had broken.

Daiyousei pushed her way forward until she was at the stand. "Um, excuse me…"

The shopkeeper, a pale-skinned youkai boy who's translucent eyes and brittle-looking hair made no secret of his appropriate origins, was engaged in a flirtatious conversation with two dark-haired fairies and didn't notice.

"Um, um, hey." Daiyousei waved her hand. "I, uh, would like to buy…"

Rumia cupped her hands around her mouth and shouted. "Hey! Chalky! Over here!"

"Huh?" The living crystal turned to the two. "Sorry, what?"

Rumia pointed at the snowglobe. "My friend wants that."

He shrugged. "No prob." He named a figure. "You got the cash?"

Daiyousei breathed out a sigh of relief. The sum was well within the amount that Mystia had given her. "Uh, yeah," she said as she reached into her pocket. "Hang on…"

Then she froze. She dug in deeper, feeling around for the bills. Then she started patting her dress down.

"Did I give the money to you?" she asked Rumia.

"No."

"I…I couldn't have…I put them in my pocket, I know I did…Did I leave them back at the cave?"

Rumia shook her head. "Nope. I saw you pocket them right before we left. You definitely didn't leave them behind."

"But…Where…"

The shopkeeper frowned. "Look kid, do you have the money or not?"

Daiyousei shot Rumia a panicked look. Rumia rolled her eyes. She turned to the shopkeeper. "Just one sec," she said. Then she pulled Daiyousei aside and said, "Are you serious? You lost the cash?"

"I didn't!" Daiyousei protested. "I had it! You said you saw!"

"Yeah, but it's obviously not here now. I don't see how…" Then Rumia's eyes widened. "Oh, son of shadow."

"Huh?"

"That spider! The one with the stupid hat! He took it!"

"How do you know?"

"The old bump-and-snatch trick! Oldest one in the book! Gah, I let him off too easy. I should have ripped that thief's throat out with my teeth!"

The shopkeeper leaned over the counter of his stand. "Look, if you don't have the money, you're not getting the globe. Don't waste my time, all right?"

"Can you hold it for us?" Rumia asked. "Until we get the money?"

"What, are you nuts? I'm not holding anything for no fairy! You guys are notoriously unreliable." Then he winced. "Uh, present company excluded, of course," he said to the pair of fairies he had been speaking to.

Daiyousei slumped. "S-sorry," she said. She turned and slowly walked away from the booth.

Rumia sighed and followed. Once they were finally free of the crowd, Rumia said, "Look Dai, it's not that bad."

"It's not?" Daiyousei sniffed. "I'm all out of money, and Christmas is only a day away."

"Look, just borrow some more from Mystia. It's not like she'll say no."

"Mystia's gone by now! The parade, remember? And I don't know where she's set up her cart!"

"Right, right," Rumia groused. "And I'm broke, and I know Wriggle is as well…"

"Right," Daiyousei said. She stared down at her bare feet. "And I can't exactly borrow money from Cirno for this. Face it, there's no way I can get her a new gift before Christmas."

"Well…maybe you can make her…Forget it, stupid idea."

"Exactly."

Rumia frowned. She rubbed her chin as she thought. "Well, maybe we can try what that asshole did to us. There's probably plenty of people with easy to access pockets around here."

Daiyousei considered this for a moment, then she shook her head. "No. Remember what happened last time?"

"Beheaded. Right." Rumia sighed. "Well, there is one other thing you can try. It'll get you the money you need pretty easily, but I can't promise you'll like it."

Confused, Daiyousei waited for Rumia's explanation.

"This is a bad idea," Daiyousei said.

"I know it's a bad idea," Rumia said. "I told you that it's a bad idea. But do you have any better ones?"

Daiyousei looked up at the imposing mansion of red brick, covered with rising spires, sharp spikes, grinning gargoyles and, paradoxically enough, blinking Christmas lights. "I'm pretty sure there's something better than working at the Scarlet Devil Mansion!"

Rumia sighed. "Look, it's not that bad. I used to work there, remember?"

"I thought they forced you to help out to repay that librarian lady because you smashed her-"

"Anyhow! It's not that bad, promise. And they're always looking for temp work for the holidays."

Daiyousei looked around at the crowd of people, all invited guests, milling about the mansion's grounds. It wasn't at the level of the Youkai Market, but it was sizeable. Darting to and fro through the crowd were several fairies, all wearing green or red maid uniforms.

"Uh, I can see why. But why are they all fairies?"

"I dunno," Rumia said with a shrug. "Guess youkai don't usually apply. But it pays pretty well. I guess so at least. They never paid me, the cheapskates. But if you get yourself hired legitimately, you should get yourself a decent amount.

Daiyousei shook her head. "I'm not so sure about this…"

"That just proves you're not a complete idiot, unlike some other fairies I could mention. Come on."

Ignoring Daiyousei's nervous protests, Rumia grabbed the small fairy by the arm and dragged her over to the large wall that surrounded Remilia Scarlet's property and the looming iron gate that sat at its exact center.

As they neared, Daiyousei stopped short and stared. Standing next to the gate was the most beautiful woman Daiyousei had ever seen. She stood well over six feet tall and had flowing hair the color of burnished copper. An all-too-short Santa Claus-inspired dress absolutely failed to hide her formidable curves, and her bare legs and arms were sleek with the lean muscles of a master gymnast. She wore a long Santa Claus hat to match her dress and was smiling and chatting as she greeted the arriving guests and took their invitations.

"Dai?" Rumia said. She waved her hand back in forth in front of Daiyousei's face. "Hey, what's up?"

Daiyousei shook herself. "Oh, um, sorry. I just…Who is that?"

"That? That's Miss Hong Meiling, the guard. I talked to her a couple times back during my, uh, internship. Nice lady, I liked her. Pretty, but not very bright. Crazy strong though. I once sat her get pissed and break a rock in half."

"Really?"

"Nah, it was a tree. Anyway, she'll know where you're supposed to go. Let's go."

She dragged Daiyousei over to the gate, where Hong Meiling was taking the invitation of a pair of sharp-faced harpies.

"Wonderful to see you again, Mrs. and Mrs. Stonetalon!" she said. "I hope you'll enjoy your time here, and Merry Christmas!" She turned to greet the next in line, who happened to be Daiyousei and Rumia. "Hello, and welcome to the Scarlet Devil Mansion's annual Christmas party, truly the best place to be this holiday season! Now, if I can just have your invitations…uh…"

Meiling looked back and forth, obvious confusion written all over her face. Then she looked down at saw Rumia waving at her, with Daiyousei trying to look inconspicuous behind her friend.

"Oh!" Meiling said. "Sorry, I didn't see you there, Miss…Uh, are you two on the guest list?"

Rumia grinned. "Nope! But my friend here," she grabbed Daiyousei and pushed her forward, "wants to know if you're still hiring for the party."

"Oh, that? Sure thing! At least, I'm pretty sure. Yeah, you see that tent over there?" Meiling turned and pointed out a pale crimson tent sitting a short way's away from the gate. A sign over the tent's entrance read "MANAGEMENT".

Rumia and Daiyousei nodded.

"Well, that's where you want to go. You're in luck too, because I think Sayuka's in there now. She's the one you want to talk too. I would hurry though, because she's never there for long."

"Okay, thanks!" Rumia said. "Come on Dai, let's move it!"

Daiyousei nodded, blushed, and bowed low before the magnificent creature guarding the gate.

"Thank you very much!" she cried in an unnecessarily loud voice.

"No problem!" Meiling said as Rumia dragged Daiyousei off. "And Merry Christmas! Ah, so wonderful to see you again, Mr.…"

As the two neared the tent, they heard a woman's stern voice talking. "I do not care if your employment here is only temporary. So long as you're wearing my uniform you will follow my rules. Another such incident and I will terminate you, in more ways than one. Do you understand me?"

Daiyousei gulped. That was not the first thing she wanted to hear from the person she was supposed to be hired by. Rumia, however, didn't seem much bothered by the woman's aggressiveness. Instead, she walked right up to the tent flap covering the entrance lightly rapped her knuckles against the fabric.

"Hello?" she said. "Hey, is anyone there?"

"What is it?" said irritable voice of the woman, whom had to be the Sakuya that Meiling had mentioned.

Rumia shot a glance at Daiyousei. She grabbed the hesitant fairy by the arm and pulled her forward. "Fairy inquiring about employment!"

"Oh, are you now? Just what I need, more fairies."

Daiyousei cleared her throat. "U-uh, if y-y-you don't need any more h-help, I can-"

"No, come in," Sakuya sighed. "I'm hopelessly understaffed as it is."

Rumia exchanged a look with Daiyousei and shrugged. She pushed the flap aside and went in.

The inside of the tent was filled with papers and boxes. Stacks upon stacks of papers piled onto wooden boxes containing who knew what. The far was taken up by an overhead map of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, modified to show the various attractions that the party offered. Various red arrows and scribbled notes covered the map.

In front of the map was a small desk, also covered with papers. Behind the desk sat a very scary looking woman. She was in many ways just as beautiful as Hong Meiling, but her steely blue eyes and fierce scowl set her apart as someone to be feared and respected. She had silver hair with two long, braided sideburns falling to either side of her face, and she wore a maid's uniform, not too dissimilar to that of the fairies Daiyousei had been seeing. However, hers was pale blue.

Standing in front of the desk with their heads bowed were three of the fairy maids: two green uniforms and one red. The two greens had blond hair, one curly and one straight, while the green-uniformed one had long black hair. There was something familiar about them though. Something…

The fairy with straight blond hair turned as Rumia and Daiyousei entered the tent. Her face lit up. "Hey, Rumia!" she shouted. "And Daiyousei! What are you doing here?"

Rumia blinked. "Sunny? And Star and Lunar! The hell? Don't tell me you're working here too!"

"Unfortunately, yes," Sakuya said as she rose to her feet. "Though if they pull another one of their so-called practical jokes, that issue will quickly be rectified. You three, get back to work and don't let me catch you sneaking spiders into the punch-bowl again."

"We would have gotten away with it too," Star Sapphire, the dark-haired fairy, whispered as they passed by. "But one of the other fairies saw us and snitched. Oh, she is so getting what's coming to her."

"Move it!" Sakuya snapped.

After the three of them had gone, Sakuya sighed and collapsed back in her chair.

"Every year it's the same," she said as she massaged her forehead with her fingertips. "I swear, it's impossible to get decent help around here. And I just can't get humans to apply. Fairies. It's always fairies." Then her eyes narrowed. "Well, except for the occasional youkai Patchouli shanghais into helping her. You would be Rumia, wouldn't you?"

Rumia blinked. "You recognize me?"

"I never forget a face, especially not one that's been on staff, however briefly or…involuntarily. As for you, what's your name, girl?"

It took a second for Daiyousei to realize that she was being addressed. "Oh! Oh, uh…Daiyousei. I-it's Daiyousei."

"Hmmm. 'Greater Fairy'. How woefully uncreative."

"Huh?"

Sakuya waved the question off. "Never you mind. Anyway, you would be the one who wants to work here, correct? During the party's duration?"

"Uh, yes. You s-see, I, uh, r-r-really need money to b-b-buy a gift for-"

Sakuya pulled out a sheet of paper from a stack that sat on her desk. She picked up a feather quill and dipped it into an inkwell. She started to write on the paper. "Isn't that sweet? And stop stuttering. You have enough marks against you already, what with your association with those three and Rumia here." Sakuya indicated the youkai of darkness with her quill.

Rumia was indignant. "Hey, what's that supposed to mean?"

"Whatever you want it to. It makes no difference to me. And anyway, are you also applying?"

"Me? No…"

"Then get out of here. I have little time enough as it is to waste it bantering with fools."

Rumia looked like she was going to start yelling again, but then Daiyousei whispered, "It's okay. You don't have to get yourself in trouble over this."

"Wise advice," Sakuya said, not looking up from the paper she was filling out. "Maybe you're not as hopeless as your acquaintances."

Rumia glared daggers at the maid, but in the end she said, "Okay, fine. Best of luck, Dai. And be careful."

"I will," Daiyousei said. "Thanks."

After Rumia had left, Sakuya said, "To tell the truth, if it weren't for the fact that I don't even have two-thirds of the staff I require to keep this thing under control, you probably wouldn't even be considered. But considering how shorthanded I am right now…"

Daiyousei's heart leapt. "So…I. Get. The job?"

"Too many pauses in that last sentence. I truly hope you don't work as slow as you speak. And yes, you get the job. Do not disappoint me."

Nearly flooded with relief, Daiyousei said, "Oh my gods, thank you! Thank you so-"

"Quiet. Now, sign here."

Sakuya had flipped the paper around. She handed the quill to Daiyousei, who took it and stared at the paper. She couldn't read a lick of it, which was to be expected, seeing how she couldn't read at all.

"So, you want me to-"

"Put your name here," Sakuya said, pointing at a blank line at the bottom of the page. "Or, if you are as illiterate as so many of your kind seem to be, just scribble something in place of your name."

Daiyousei jotted down a line of swirls that she hoped looked like a signature.

"Close enough," Sakura said. She took the paper and tossed it aside. "Now, you're expected to work until the party ends at midnight, tomorrow. During that time, you are to obey every order given to you by me, a guest, or any of the staff wearing a blue uniform. Annoy me too much, and you will be fired without pay. And don't count on my lack of help to save you, because I will kick you out, understand?"

Daiyousei nodded numbly. Then something struck her. "Wait, until Christmas? B-but that's not enough time! I need to buy-"

Sakuya waved off her protests. "You'll be provided with sufficient off time for sleep and meals. Use one of those breaks to go buy whatever. Now, put this on."

She pulled a green uniform out of one the boxes and tossed it to her. "After you've changed, go to the main hall and look up Lillian. She'll be the purple-haired fairy bossing people around. She's in charge of that area. Tell her that you're a new hire and do everything she tells you to. Understand?"

Daiyousei nodded.

"Good. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm need…everywhere. Hurry up and get to work."

Sometime later, Daiyousei was considering just making Cirno a card.

Lillian turned out to be an absolute tyrant, ordering Daiyousei and the other fairies around right and left, screaming in their faces if they screwed up (which was often), and always insisting that they were doing their jobs wrong. To top it off, Daiyousei found herself taking orders from her fellow temps as well, who had immediately pinpointed her as not being someone who was likely to fight back and started dumping all their jobs on her. Before too long, Daiyousei found herself buried under several conflicting orders at once without the slightest idea of how to get them done.

And then there were the guests. On several occasions she would be rushing to get some task or another done, only to be pulled aside by an irritated demon who wanted to know what she was going to do about the lack of pickled eyeballs or to complain that the arrangement of the decorations was somehow offensive to their family.

And finally there was Sakuya herself. It seemed that she always showed up in the main hall just as Daiyousei had stopped moving for the briefest of seconds and would berate her for not pulling her weight. Daiyousei tried to protest once and explain the situation, but Sakuya just snapped at her for making excuses and told her to get moving.

Finally, after nearly four hours of horror, Daiyousei found herself collapsed in a corner of an employee lounge. Around her, the other fairies were talking and laughing as if the chaos outside was of no matter. But then, why should it be? Daiyousei was doing all of their jobs, or at least trying to.

She curled up into a ball and closed her eyes. She wondered how in the world she was going to stay sane. If this was what having a proper job and being civilized was like, then it was no wonder that so many youkai and fairies preferred to remain feral.

"Hey Dai!"

Daiyousei cranked her eyes open to see Sunny Milk, Lunar Child and Star Sapphire staring down at her.

"What's up with you?" Sunny wanted to know. "You look like you got sat on by an oni or something."

"Or a rock giant," Lunar suggested. "That would hurt way more."

"Nuh-uh! Rock giants would just squish her! But an oni would probably jump up and down and fart all over her! They're jerks like that!"

"Hi guys," Daiyousei wearily. "Sorry, just really, really tired."

"No kidding," Star said. "What are you doing here anyway? Never thought I'd see one of you guys working for Remilia Scarlet."

"Sure they would!" Sunny said. "Remember Rumia?"

"They forced her! Did they force you, Daiyousei? Did you steal Sakuya's underwear or something?"

The other two lit up immediately. "Oh wow, please say you did," Lunar gushed. "Because that would be so cool!"

Daiyousei shook her head. "No, no. Nothing like that. I, uh, accidentally broke the present I was going to give Cirno and someone stole all my money."

"Ohhhh, ouch," Sunny said with a wince. "But what's that got to do with here?"

Lunar whacked her on the back of the head. "Moron, she's here to earn the money back! Isn't that right, Dai?"

Daiyousei nodded.

"Not going too well, is it?"

Daiyousei shook her head.

"Eh, don't worry about it. We've been doing this for three years in a row, and they still haven't fired us. And the pay's great, so long as you can put up with the bitchiness. Say, are you still on break?"

"Um, yeah. Why?"

Sunny grinned. "Well, if you got a minute, wanna see something cool?"

"And delicious!" Lunar put in.

Daiyousei wasn't sure if she liked the sound of that. "What-"

"Great! Let's go!"

They grabbed Daiyousei by both arms and yanked her to her feet. Once again, Daiyousei found herself being dragged off against her will toward something that would probably be very, very unpleasant.

"This way!" Sunny said as the four of them left the staffroom.

They headed down a long corridor with a red velvet carpet bordered on both sides by a line of marble statues of some kind of inhuman winged creature, all holding torches. Gold and crystal chandeliers sparkled from overhead. Daiyousei was then led (or rather, pulled), down another, less ornate corridor, which led to another one with even less opulence, and so on until they were flying through a hallway of plain stone, lit by wax-covered chandeliers of iron. Heavy wooden doors were set into the walls on either side.

"Where are we?" Daiyousei asked.

"Storage," Star called out over her shoulder. "This is where Remilia Scarlet keeps all the stuff she doesn't want on display. You know, food, stuff to do repairs, torture devices, stuff like that."

Despite herself, Daiyousei's interest started to wax. She was still a fairy, after all. "And treasure?"

"Eh, maybe. We've never found anything interesting though. But that's not why we're here. Come on!"

Sunny and her friends clustered around one of the doorways. Working together, they managed to pull it open.

Inside was nothing special. Just several bags of flour, corn meal, and other supplies for baking sitting on shelves and stacked on the floor. Daiyousei was confused.

"What's this?" she asked. "You want to bake a cake or something?"

Sunny grinned. "Nope! Forget the flour, that's not what we're here for either. Look at this."

She and Lunar pushed one of the stacks of bags aside. Then Sunny brushed the dust off a specific brick set into the stone wall and pushed it in.

There was a rumbling noise, and a section of the wall sunk in and slid out of the way, revealing a dark passageway.

"All right, it's still here!" Lunar cheered. She and Star exchanged high-fives. Sunny turned to Daiyousei and grinned at the other fairy's amazement.

"Pretty cool, huh? We found it our first year doing this. We figure this old mansion must have hundreds of secret passageways that nobody knows about."

Daiyousei shut her hanging jaw. "Buh-but where's it lead?"

"Hey, you want us to spoil the surprise already?" Lunar said. "Come on, don't be such a spoilsport. You gotta see if for yourself!"

Although Daiyousei still had many reservations, she let herself be led into the dark passageway. Fortunately, as a fairy, she had very good night-vision, and didn't have trouble following it as it turn and snaked its way around the gods knew what. Still, she noticed several thick spiderwebs in the corners and stretching from wall to wall, some with several exceptionally large spiders crouched within. Daiyousei wondered if any of them had transitioned into youkaihood and were now lurking these corridors. She thought of the tarantula with the quivering teeth and shuddered.

That was when she heard people talking, though it didn't sound like they were in the passageway. "All right, we're here!" Sunny said in a loud whisper.

There was a metal grate set in the wall, near the floor. Through it streamed a golden light. The four fairies clustered around it and peered through.

At first Daiyousei wasn't sure what she was looking at. She saw what appeared to be a room with a white-and-black tiled floor and several tables with white tablecloths. Legs covered in stockings constantly came into view as the mansion's staff walked past. However, one thing Daiyousei was able to tell for sure was that whatever room they were peering into, it was filled with delicious aromas. She smelled roasting meat, cakes, wines and cooking breads, all mixing together to form a mouthwatering barrage of scents that assaulted her nostrils with pure heaven.

"What is this place?" Daiyousei whispered.

"This is where they keep all the extra food," Sunny whispered back. "For the buffet and the feast. If anything ever runs out, they just come here to grab a new portion."

"Oh. Why are we here then?"

Lunar snickered. "Ain't it obvious? All the best stuff is here! We're gonna have ourselves a merry little Christmas."

Daiyousei's doubts suddenly returned. "We're going to steal the food? Uh, I don't think that's such a good idea. What if they see us? I don't want to get fired!"

"Dai, relax," Star said. "Stop worrying so much. We do this every year, and we still haven't got caught."

"But all it takes is-"

"Shhh!"

Daiyousei stopped talking. Out in the room full of food, someone had started talking, though it was too fast for Daiyousei to make out the specifics. However, all the legs started moving toward the far end of the room. Daiyousei moved forward as far as she could to see. The maids were all walking out of an oak double-door. When the last one had left, it swung shut.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Sunny looked confused. "No idea. This hasn't happened before."

"Shift change, maybe?" Lunar suggested.

Star wrapped her fingers around the bars of the grate. "Probably. But there's no telling how long it'll last. Let's move!"

Apparently the grate wasn't screwed into the wall, as it slid free with ease. Sunny grinned and held up three fingers. Then she slowly put them down one and a time. After the third one went down she snapped her fingers.

Daiyousei began to feel very odd. Her vision started to go blurry and she felt a sudden wave of dizziness. She closed her eyes until it passed.

When she opened them again, Sunny, Lunar and Star's bodies had gone strangely translucent, almost to the point of transparency. Daiyousei had seen Sunny pull this trick before. To anyone else besides the four of them, they were completely invisible.

She opened her mouth to ask a question, but no sound came out. Sunny, who was watching her, stuck a thumb at Lunar and grinned.

Right. Lunar's contribution was the removal of all sound. Combined with Sunny's manipulation of light-waves to produce an invisibility effect, they had a solid edge when it came to stealth. As for Star, she was able to sense nearby movement and therefore always served as lookout. All taken together, the three fairies had pulled countless heists, though with varying degrees of success. Things did sometimes go wrong, after all. However, this time it seemed as if the gods were smiling upon the four troublemakers.

As it turned out, the grate was located under a metal table with several Christmas chickens decorated with lemons and parsley. Smiling at their good luck, Sunny, Star and Lunar slipped into the empty room and immediately began filling their arms with treats. Daiyousei, however, held back. There was something wrong. She could feel it, even if she couldn't exactly identify what it was.

Lunar came up to her, her arms loaded with rolls and cookies. She frowned at Daiyousei and tilted her head toward the tables.

What's wrong with you?

Daiyousei looked around. Shrugged.

Something's wrong. Don't know what.

Lunar rolled her eyes.

Stop worrying and hurry up.

Daiyousei shook her head.

No. Too dangerous.

Lunar shrugged and bit the head off of a gingerbread man.

Your loss.

The other two fairies scampered back into the passageway, holding a large variety of foodstuffs. Once everyone was inside, they quickly replaced the grate and sped back toward the storeroom. It was then that Sunny and Lunar dropped their glamours, restoring full visibility and sound.

The first thing Sunny said was, "Jeez Dai, you didn't take anything? What's the point of brining you along if you're not going to freaking participate?"

Daiyousei shuddered. "S-sorry. It's just something didn't feel right."

Star was already burying her face into an entire frosted lemon-cake. "Well, don't expect me to share with you. You snooze you lose."

"Uh, hey guys?"

Everyone turned to Lunar, who was pushing against the large door to the outside with her shoulder.

"Someone closed the door. And I think it's locked."

Sunny walked over. "You're probably just not pushing hard enough. And I don't think these doors even have locks."

"They do now."

All four fairies screamed in surprise. They whirled around to see Sakuya standing behind them, her arms folded over her breast and a wry smile on her face.

"So, it was you three after all," she said. "I was wondering who was sneaking food at the last three parties. I really should have figured it out." Her gaze fell on Daiyousei, who was about really to pee herself. "And I see you brought an accomplice this year. Stepping up your game, are we?"

Sunny, Lunar and Star immediately dropped the food they were carrying. Lunar whirled around to point at Daiyousei.

"It's her fault!" she cried.

Daiyousei felt like she had been punched. She opened her mouth to protest, but all that came out where some sad sounding squeaks.

Sunny, however, didn't have any problem speaking. "It was her idea the whole time!" she joined in. "We were just-"

"Spare me the blame-mongering," Sakuya said. "I was watching you four the whole time. I know what happened."

"You were?" Sunny said. "But…but how?"

Sakuya shook her head and tsked. "And what's the point of living with an extremely powerful magician if you can't borrow the odd trick or two?"

Lunar groaned out loud. "We were set up! Star, why didn't tell us she was there?"

"She wasn't!" Star protested. "Unless she was standing really, really still!"

"Don't be too hard on yourselves. Like I said, I have a few tricks up my sleeves." Sakuya flicked her right hand. Suddenly, three razor-sharp silver knives appeared between her fingers. "Among other things."

The three mischievous fairies slowly backed away from the maid. As for her part and in the interests of not being ripped to pieces, Daiyousei said, "Uh…Miss S-S-Sakuya? I didn't take, I-I mean I d-d-didn't s-steal any-"

Sunny whirled to stare accusingly at her. "Traitor!"

"Yes, I know," Sakuya said, her eyes not leaving the three culprits.

Daiyousei blinked. "You…you do?"

"Yes. I have no doubt you were shanghaied into their little scheme without fully knowing what they were up to. It happens all the time around here. So because of that, and since catching these three has put me in a Christmas mood, I'm willing to let you off."

"No fair!" Sunny shouted.

Daiyousei couldn't believe her good luck. "You are?"

"Oh yes. But you're still fired."

It took a moment for Daiyousei's brain to register what she had just been told. "What?"

"You still went with them, even though you knew they weren't up to any good. And you made no effort to stop them. Had you said no and reported their actions, you probably would have gotten a nice bonus. But you didn't. So you're fired."

"But…but…Cirno's present…"

"What a pity." With her free hand, Sakuya pulled out a large pocket watch. She popped it open.

Daiyousei was going to plead her case some more, but then her eyes boggled and she fell over on her butt in surprise.

She was no longer standing in a stone room filled with bags of flour with a psychotic maid and three terrified fairies. In fact, she was no longer even in the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Instead, she was standing outside the outer wall in the snow. She looked down at herself. Her green maid uniform was gone, replaced with her usual clothes. She didn't know how Sakuya had gotten her outside and changed so quickly, but given everything else the maid had accomplished, Daiyousei didn't find it at all surprising.

Daiyousei looked up at the mansion. The sun was going down, and all the mansion's lights were all the brighter as a result. It was quite the impressive sight.

Daiyousei couldn't find anything to like about the view. She had failed. Because she had been stupid enough to go with Sunny and her friends when she should have just stuck to her job. Now she had endured four hours of hell for nothing.

Dazed, she wandered into the forest. What in the world was she going to do now? She had no money and no way to get any. She had been kicked out of the Scarlet Devil Mansion over something that wasn't her fault, the only one of her friends who had any money to speak of was out manning her eel booth somewhere far away, and Christmas was only a few hours away.

Sniffing, Daiyousei wiped her nose with her arm. Maybe if she offered to help the crystal merchant out with his booth, he'd let her have something to give to Cirno. It didn't even have to be the snowglobe, just so long as she had something.

Then she heard the rustling.

Daiyousei froze. Even this close to the Scarlet Devil Mansion, the woods were filled with all manner of dangerous creatures. She was technically one herself, though she didn't like the thought of that. And there were many, many other monsters bigger and stronger than she was who would swallow her with one gulp.

The rustling was getting closer. Holding her breath, Daiyousei pressed her back against a nearby tree. Praying to whatever god might be listening, she moved a low-hanging branch with one trembling hand and looked around, trying to pick out the creature.

There was nothing, just several naked trees covered with snow and shadow. The noises had stopped as well, which was never a good sign. Daiyousei started trembling. Maybe if she flew into the air real fast, she could avoid being eaten.

That was when she was aware of something hanging directly above her, something that was breathing on her neck.

Daiyousei squeaked as she leapt away from the tree. She stared up, but it was gone.

Then a voice spoke. "Hiiiiii. Who are you, little fairy girl? And why are you so sad?"

The voice was that of a small girl, but this being Gensokyo that didn't mean anything. Trying to figure out where the voice had come from, Daiyousei said in, "Uh, uh, Dai! Daiyousei! My name's Daiyousei!"

"Die. You. Say. Daiyousei. Hehehehe, I like that name. It's pretty. And you're pretty too."

"O-oh? Uh, th-th-thank you?"

"You're welcome, pretty fairy person. And why'd you just get thrown out by Sakuya? That didn't seem very nice."

Daiyousei still couldn't tell where the voice was coming from. It seemed to come from all around. "Oh, uh. Uh, she fired me."

There was a pause, and then the voice said, "Fired? That's not very nice. She does that far too often!"

Daiyousei squealed in surprise as she leapt to her feet. The voice had come from directly behind her. But again, when she looked, there was no one there.

"You…you know her?" Daiyousei said.

The person laughed again. Her laughter was high-pitched, disjointed, and definitely not sane. "Uh-huh. Very well."

"So…you work at the mansion too?"

The laughter redoubled. It echoed through the forest. All around her, animals started to yipe and howl in response. Daiyousei grimaced and shut her eyes tightly.

"I don't work there, pretty fairy lady person," Daiyousei's mysterious companion said. "I live there."

"You…do?"

"Yes. But they don't like talking about me much." The laughter dipped into a low cackle that rattled Daiyousei's teeth. "Oh, if Remi knew I was out, she would be so mad! Her face. It would get all red and she would start shouting…"

Daiyousei wasn't sure what to make of that. "So…you're not allowed out much?"

"Never."

"Why?"

The voice suddenly hissed. "No more talking about that!"

Daiyousei dropped to her knees and curled up in a ball, with her hands covering her head. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please don't eat me!" she cried.

There was another pause. And then she heard a twig snap.

And then there was the sound of snow crunching as someone made their way over to where she was cowering. Daiyousei squeezed her eyes shut and tried not to scream.

"Poor pretty fairy lady," the voice said. It no longer drifted through the air from all directions. It was now directly behind her. "I'm sorry I scared you. Please don't be afraid."

A cold hand, even to an ice-fairy, touched the shaking Daiyousei on the shoulder. It was all she could do not to faint.

The hand traveled down her back, its fingers running over the bumps of her spinal column. Daiyousei whimpered incoherently.

And then two small but deadly strong arms wrapped around her waist in an embrace as the someone pressed herself against Daiyousei's back. "Poor, poor Daiyousei," the person murmured. "Tell me what's wrong? Maybe I make it better."

"W-w-what?"

One of the hands reached up to stroke Daiyousei's emerald-green hair. "I don't want the pretty fairy lady to be sad. Tell me why she's crying, okay?" The hand suddenly squeezed into a tight fist around a handful of Daiyousei's hair. "Now!"

Suddenly finding her voice again, Daiyousei started going on and on and on about her day, beginning with the failed arrow for Santa to the smashed snowglobe and ending with being caught and thrown out by Sakuya. Her voice was driven by terror, and she found herself needing to go back and reword several parts just to have them make sense. Still, her terrifying companion seemed to enjoy the story, if her small giggles were any indication.

When Daiyousei finished, the other person said, "Oh, bad day. No money for presents, and no arrow for Santa. Poor little Daiyousei. Maybe I make it better?"

Daiyousei swallowed. She really wished the other person would stop touching her, or at least let her get up from her hands and knees. "H-how?"

"Watch."

And suddenly she was gone. Daiyousei was alone in the forest.

She waited a few moments to be sure that the other person had indeed left. The forest stood empty around her, with no sound but the wind whistling through the branches.

I'm out of here, she thought. She began to run, her legs pumping hard as they propelled her forward. Her wings beat the air and she lifted off the ground.

Daiyousei zipped and twisted through branches and around trees. The branches of the forest were closely knit together, so she couldn't just take to the air. But if she kept going she could probably find a way out.

That was when she heard the laughter echoing from all around. The monster girl had returned. Daiyousei was being pursued. She could feel it.

A quick glance over her shoulder told her that there was no one there, but she knew better than to trust her eyes. Her heart was beating so fast that she could literally hear it. Daiyousei doubled her speed, desperately searching for a way of escape. I'm going to die, she thought.

"I'm going to die," she said out loud. "I'm going to die I'm going to die I'm going to die…"

Suddenly she burst into open space and moonlight. She had emerged into a clearing. Overhead, the rising moon hung full in the sky. Daiyousei wasted no time turning her course upward, intending to sail over the tops of the trees.

That was when something hit her in the face, knocking her from the sky. Until to arrest her fall, Daiyousei screamed as she plummeted back toward the earth.

For a moment she wasn't sure if she was still alive. It was hard to tell sometimes. But then she felt the cold snow all around her, cushioning her body. There was something warm and wet on her face. She touched a finger to it and licked it. Blood. Her nose was bleeding.

Daiyousei shakily pulled herself up to a sitting position. She had to get moving, and fast. Whatever the monster girl had used to hit her would probably be used again.

It was then that she spied the bag sitting about a foot away. It was made from black leather and tied shut with a drawstring. Daiyousei picked it up and, after a moment's hesitation, looked inside.

Gold glittered back at her. Coins, more coins than she had ever seen, much less held. A small fortune was held inside that bag.

The air filled with another bout of high-pitched laughter. Daiyousei looked up. She caught the briefest glimpse of a silhouette with glowing red eyes hovering in the air, framed by the moonlight. There was a rainbow flash, as if the person were holding a line of Christmas lights. And then it was gone.

"Merry Christmas, pretty Daiyousei lady!"

And then, nothing.

Even though she knew the strange person was gone, Daiyousei didn't move for at least three minutes. She couldn't even think of moving. In fact, she had trouble just trying to think. The events of the last six hours made no sense whatsoever.

Then, as coherent thought slowly returned, she grabbed at a low hanging branch and used it to pull herself onto her shaky legs. She then checked herself over. Aside from a broken nose, some bruising and a near heart-attack, she was in more-or-less good condition.

Then, clutching her bag tightly, Daiyousei took to the air.

It was a long, hard trip back to the Youkai Market. The wind seemed bound and determined to knocking her off her path, and carrying the heavy bag didn't help matters. Still, sometime around eight in the evening, Daiyousei arrived. She was panting in exhaustion and soaking wet from the snowfall, but she had made it. It was her good fortune that her species was immune to the cold, else she might have frozen to death.

The Market was still fairly full, though not as nearly as badly as it had been earlier that day. Most of the customers had left to go watch the Tengu's Christmas Eve parade, leaving the last-minute shoppers and those looking to for extra low prices behind. Daiyousei hit the ground and half-ran, half-stumbled her way over to the stand where she had seen the snowglobe.

The crystal youkai was still there, polishing a couple of crystal balls with a cloth. As Daiyousei rushed up to his shop, he quirked a brittle-looking eyebrow and put his rag down.

"Well, look who it is," he said. "What do you want?"

Breathless, Daiyousei thrust the bag at him. "Snow…globe," she wheezed. "Please!"

A suspicious look on his face, the shopkeeper took the bag and opened it. His eyes went wide when he saw the money.

"Where in the world did you get this?" he said. But before Daiyousei could respond, he said, "Wait, never mind. I don't care. You still after that snowglobe?"

Daiyousei nodded enthusiastically.

The shopkeeper stared at the fortune sitting before him. Then he sighed and looked over to the shelf where the snowglobe had sat.

It was empty.

Daiyousei stared in shock. This couldn't be happening, not after all she had been through. The snowglobe couldn't be gone.

"Sorry kid," the shopkeeper said. "Sold it about an hour ago to some other fairy chick."

Daiyousei's hands started to tremble.

"But hey, I still got some stuff left if you want to get something else!"

Taking a deep breath, Daiyousei jerked her head in a nod. "What?" she asked. "Show me what you-"

"That's her!"

Daiyousei whirled around. It was the hat-wearing tarantula that had harassed her and Rumia earlier that day. He was storming toward the crystal shop with a furious scowl on his rough face. Accompanying him were the two bouncers that had pulled him out of the goldfish tank.

"Yeah, that's her all right!" he yelled at him. "She and her stupid friend were the ones that sent me into that fish tank!"

Daiyousei's jaw dropped. What had he been telling them? "I…didn't do…"

One of the bouncers, a mean looking youkai who somehow looked like had both bear and wasp in his ancestry, stomped over to her. "Hey, you causing trouble?"

"No! I-"

"Don't lie, fairy," growled the other. Daiyousei couldn't tell what kind of youkai he was, but if she were to make a guess she would say rock. "I saw you and your creepy little friend arguing with this guy here. Then he gets this big black ball covering his head and falls into a fish tank! Are you telling me you had nothing to do with that?"

Daiyousei was dumbstruck. There was nothing she could say in her defense, as it was technically true. Rumia had broken the Market rules, and Daiyousei had been accompanying her at the time. Of course, Market rules got broken all the time, so if you didn't get caught there was nothing much to complain about.

But now Daiyousei was caught. And she was a terrible liar.

Then inspiration struck. "He robbed us! Uh, me."

The bouncers stared at her. "What?"

"He took a bag of money from me! When he bumped into us."

The tarantula rolled his bulbous eyes. "Oh man, can you believe this shit? Girlie, just 'fess up and stop trying to get out of it."

"I'm not! You took my money!"

The rock-like bouncer frowned. "Saw him do it, did you?"

Daiyousei wilted a bit. "Well, no. Not really. But the money was missing after-"

"That's it, I've heard enough. Kid, you're out of here."

The bouncers each took one of her arms and picked her up off the ground. The tarantula leered and waved as she was escorted away. Absolutely stunned, Daiyousei couldn't do much but let herself be carried to the Market's borders, where she was tossed out.

"And don't let me catch you or your freaky friend around here again!" the bear/wasp shouted. Then he and his friend turned and reentered the Market.

Daiyousei scrambled to her feet and stared after them. She wondered if she should try to reenter the Market from a different area and try a different shop. It wasn't the first time she had been thrown out, so she knew that the bouncers rarely exchanged information about who was banned.

Yes, that was what she would do. She could still salvage this. And even if she couldn't get back into the Youkai Market, she could always try Center Tree. There were several shops there, and she had the money to try some of the nicer ones. It didn't matter so long as she found something…

That was when Daiyousei looked down and saw that her hands were empty. She felt a rush of dread when she realized that she had left the bag of gold with the crystal merchant.

Could she sneak back and get it? Fairies weren't very large, and there still was a big crowd. Maybe she could creep back in and snatch the bag away.

That was, unless the crystal merchant had secreted it away by now. Which he most certainly had. And even if he hadn't, the bouncers would have confiscated it. Which meant…

Daiyousei burst into tears.

The hideout wasn't far from the Market. It was certainly closer than the Scarlet Devil Mansion was. Still, it took Daiyousei almost twice as long to cover the distance. The winds had picked up in a big way, fighting against her tiny body every inch of the way. Plus, even if the air were still, she just didn't want to go back and tell Cirno that she had nothing to give her, not after everything the other fairy had done for her.

It just wasn't fair. She hadn't done anything wrong, and the entire universe had seemed to conspire against her. It didn't matter how hard she tried, something would go wrong and ruin everything. And when people did step into help, such as Mystia, Rumia, and…whatever that incredibly scary person had been, someone else would come and take it away.

The winds ebbed off a bit, allowing Daiyousei to regain some control. She looked down. Below her, the friend that she had Cirno had worked on that giant arrow in stretched below her. It was strange, seeing it then. Even though it had only been a few hours ago, it felt like ages. But it was completely unchanged. The mound of snow that had formed after Cirno had blasted the arrow was still there, looking lonely in the moonlight.

Daiyousei found herself staring at the mound. There was something about it that drew her attention. She frowned. It was nothing more than a sloping pile of snow. Larger than most, but other than that, unremarkable. But still…

It was then that it hit her. An idea had sprung into her mind. It was foolish, it was ridiculous, it was far beyond her capabilities, but it was the only thing she had.

Daiyousei looked toward the horizon, to where shadowed the Youkai Mountain stood against the night sky. She wasn't going to let this madness beat her. Cirno was getting her present, even if Daiyousei had to beat herself to pieces to get it.

She swooped down and landed on top of the mound. Then she scooped up a handful of snow and set to work.

The sun rose, signaling the birth of a new day. And, Cirno rose with it. After all, it was Christmas.

Grinning widely, she leapt off of her sleeping mat. Less than thirty seconds later she had stripped out of her pajamas and pulled on her trademark blue dress. Twenty seconds after that, she had her bow tied into her hair. And five seconds after that, she had left her alcove and was running down the stone corridor, lighting lanterns as she went.

"It's Christmas!" she called. "Wake up, everybody! It's Christmas!"

She threw open the cloth that covered Mystia's room. "Mysty, wake up! It's Christmas!"

The night-sparrow groaned and turned to squint at her through blurry eyes. "Oh, gods Cirno, will you give me another hour? I was up till-"

Cirno grabbed up a discarded pair of bloomers and threw them at Mystia's head. "Get up already, it's Christmas!"

"I know that already! Jeez, every year we go through this…"

Cirno wasn't listening. She was already rushing toward the next room.

"Wriggle!" she called as she threw aside Wriggle's door-covering. "Come on, get up!"

The heavy pile of blankets in the center of Wriggle's room moved. From deep within, a voice said something angry sounding.

Cirno ran over to the blankets and started kicking them. "Come! On! Get! Up! It's! Christmas!"

Then, without waiting to see if her orders were obeyed, she headed on to the next.

"Rumia!" she said as she yanked open yet another cloth. Behind it was a pitch-black wall that the lanterns failed to illuminate.

Naturally, this didn't stop her one bit. "Come on already!" she called at the barrier of darkness. "Don't make me come in there after you!"

"Go away!" Rumia shouted.

A small focus of will, and a snowball formed in Cirno's hand. She threw it in the direction of Rumia's voice. The angry bout of cursing spoke of her accuracy.

"Hurry up, or I'll freeze your whole room!"

And she was off again. Three down, one left.

"Daiyousei!" Cirno shouted as she threw aside the curtain. "Come on, sleepyhead! It's…"

Daiyousei's room was empty.

"…Christmas?"

She looked around. Daiyousei's room was small, and there was no place she could be hiding.

Screwing up her face in confusion, Cirno grabbed one of the lanterns and headed toward the main cavern, passing a disgruntled looking Mystia on the way.

"Daiyousei!" she called. "Are you sleeping in here?"

Again, there was no answer. She circled the walls, lighting lantern after lantern. In time, the cavern lit up. Their makeshift Christmas tree still stood in its place, but Daiyousei was still absent.

Cirno whirled around. "Mysty!" she said.

Mystia, who was sleepily rubbing her eyes, said, "What?"

"Where's Daiyousei?"

"Dai? I don't know. She wasn't in her room?"

"No!" She turned her attention to the girl who had just entered the cavern behind Mystia. "Hey Wriggle, have you seen Dai?"

Wriggle, who had covered herself with so many blankets that she looked like she had spun a cocoon, shook her head.

"Gah!"

Cirno rushed back into the passageways. She checked the storerooms, the bathroom, and rechecked Daiyousei's room. The green-haired fairy was nowhere to be seen.

"Rumia!" she shouted. The darkness youkai had just stumbled out from the unbanishable darkness that filled her room. "Have you seen Daiyousei?"

Rumia blinked at her. "Uh, what? You mean she's not back yet?"

"Back yet?" Mystia said as she walked up to them. "Where'd she go?"

"Rumia, did you lose Daiyousei?" Wriggle asked.

"No! Well, sort of."

Cirno stiffened. "Sort of?" she snapped. "What the hellsicles does that mean? Where'd you leave Dai?"

Rumia nervously glanced at everyone who was staring at her. "Okay, well, before I begin, I just want you know that this wasn't my fault and I was only trying to help."

"Help what?" Cirno said. "Rumia, am I going to have to punch you?"

"Uh, Rumia?" Mystia said. "Does this have to do with…that thing that happened?"

"What thing?" Cirno asked.

"Yeah," Wriggle said. "What thing?"

"You know!" Mystia said. "That thing! That…unfortunate accident!"

"Ohhhh. Right."

"Yes," Rumia said. "Exactly."

"Huh?" Cirno said. "What are you talking about? What happened?"

"Um, something?" Mystia said evasively.

"Can I go back to bed now?" Wriggle asked.

"No!" Cirno screeched. "No one's going anywhere until someone tells me what's going on! Rumia, you start!"

Rumia sighed. "All right, but I can't promise you'll like it. The last time I saw her was at the Scarlet Devil Mansion."

"What?" everyone said in unison, including the still-sleepy Wriggle. Cirno added, "What's she doing there? She's not pulling a caper without me, is she?"

"Uh, no. Actually, she was going to work for some money."

"Money?" Mystia said. "But I gave her more than enough!"

"Yeah, about that. It got stolen."

"Wait, it got what?"

Cirno was two seconds away from throttling both of them. "Okay. Someone tell me what's going on, or so help me, I'll freeze you all with a side of beef!"

Rumia stared at her. "What does that even mean?"

"Talk!" Cirno roared.

Mystia began first, telling Cirno about how she had accidentally caused Daiyousei to break the present she had gotten Cirno (all the while carefully leaving out exactly what kind of present it was) and how she had given Daiyousei money to replace it. Rumia picked the story up from there, telling Cirno of the unfortunate trip to the Youkai Market and how Daiyousei's money had been stolen. Then she moved on to Daiyousei seeking employment at the Scarlet Devil Mansion, ending with Sakuya kicking Rumia out.

All the while, Cirno listened in amazement. Daiyousei was going through that much trouble for her? But why? If Cirno were in her place, she probably would have just gotten her a card rather than willingly work for the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Or anyplace else, for that matter.

"And that's the last I saw her," Rumia finished.

"And you just left her there?" Cirno shouted.

"I told you, Miss Sakuya kicked me out! There was nothing-"

"There is now!" Cirno stormed past her. "Come on!"

"But…where?"

"Where do you think? We're getting Dai out!"

She marched into the main cavern, heading for the entrance. Then something occurred to her. She rushed over to the tree and picked up a box wrapped in green paper. If Dai was going through all that trouble for her, the least she could do was give her the present she had gotten her in return.

"Come on already!" she shouted at the other three. "We need to save Dai from working on Christmas!"

The other grumbled but complied, following her out into the cold.

Soon the four of them were flying through the sky. At the group's head, Cirno was busy formulating a plan. There had to be a way in. Everyone was probably hung over, so sneaking past them shouldn't be a problem. And Sunny, Lunar and Star were inside. If they ran into those three, they could help them find Dai and get her out before she got knifed or had her blood drained or something. It was going to be hard, but they had to try. They couldn't just leave-

"Cirno!" Mystia shouted. "Look!"

Cirno looked down. What she saw made her eyes boggle. She braked hard.

They were directly above the large field where she and Daiyousei had built that big arrow. The big pile of snow she had turned it into was still there, but it was a bit shorter. And there was now something standing on its peak.

It was of a humanoid shape and completely made out of blue ice. Its back was arched and it had what appeared to be one hand on where its hip should be and the other one pointing to the sky. Whoever had formed it obviously wasn't very good at it. The arm on the hip was far too fat, and the one pointing to the sky too thin, with nothing more than a bump with a spike attached for the fist and finger. On top of it was a lump that, with some imagination, could be called a head. The body was bulky and uneven. Out of its back jutted six icicles of varying length in two lines of three. As misshapen as it was, it was clear that the…thing was supposed to represent Cirno.

Curled up at its feet was Daiyousei herself. She was fast asleep.

Dumbstruck, Cirno, Mystia, Rumia and Wriggle stared at the frozen monstrosity. Then down at its exhausted creator.

Then Cirno walked over to the sleeping fairy and poked her. "Dai," she said. "Hey. Dai. Wake up."

Daiyousei twitched. Then she cranked her eyes open and sat up.

"Ugh," she said. "Where am I? Am I outside? Why am I-"

Then she looked up at the icy thing standing over her. Her face fell.

"Oh no!" she cried. "I didn't know it came out that crappy! Cirno, I'm so sorry! I tried, I swear I tried, but people kept taking my money and kicking me out of stuff and there was nothing I could do-"

"That's me," Cirno whispered.

"Huh?"

"That's me. You made a statue of me."

"There was nothing else I could do! I didn't have any money and was out of time! I'm sorry it looks so horrible. I did my best, I really-"

Daiyousei stopped talking, because that was when Cirno threw her arms around her.

Overcome with emotion, Cirno's voice started trembling. "You are," she said. "The bestest best friend I have ever had!"

Daiyousei made strangled-sounding noises. "Wha…"

Cirno pulled away. She placed her hands on Daiyousei's shoulders and grinned widely. "You made a statue of me!" she said. Happy tears were trickling down her face, leaving little rivulets of frost. "My very own badass statue!"

Daiyousei's mouth hung open. "But…but it's ugly, I did a terrible job! It barely looks like you, it-"

"Who. Freaking. Cares? You made me my very own statue! Don't you get how awesome that is?"

Daiyousei stared at her. Her lower lip started to tremble. Then she threw her arms around Cirno and bawled into her shoulder.

Behind them, Mystia nudged Rumia and Wriggle. "Maybe we'd better give them some privacy," she said. "I think they're having a moment."

Wriggle was hugging herself tightly as she shivered. "I'm going to have a moment of frozen near-death experience if I we don't get out of the snow like now."

"All right, we're leaving," Rumia said. She waved toward the two fairies. "We'll see you guys back at home!" she called. "Oh, and Merry Christmas!"

Cirno and Daiyousei didn't even notice them leaving. They were too focused on each other. Cirno held Daiyousei tightly and stared lovingly at her statue while Daiyousei cried.

"I was so sure you'd hate it," Daiyousei sobbed. "I thought you'd throw me out for making something that sucky."

"You mean awesome! And I'd never throw you out! You're my best friend."

Daiyousei slowly pulled back. A small smile was on her face. "Merry Christmas, Cirno."

Cirno returned the smile. "Merry Christmas, Daiyousei." Then she remembered the package held under her arm.

"Here," she said. "It's not as wicked cool as a statue, but…it's still something."

Daiyousei blinked. She took the gift from Cirno and sat down as she untied the ribbon. Then she carefully removed the wrapping paper and opened the box.

Daiyousei stared at its contents. Cirno wondered what was wrong with her. Did she like it? Hate it? Already have one? She couldn't read anything from Daiyousei's face.

Then Daiyousei started laughing. Her tears flowed again as she doubled over, laughing and crying at the same time.

Cirno was alarmed. "What's wrong?" she said. "Is it that bad? I thought it was nice! We can take it back if-"

Still chuckling, Daiyousei wiped her eyes with her sleeve. "N-no," she said. "I love it."

"For reals?" Cirno said in suspicion.

"For reals. Seriously, it's the b-b-b-best th-thing…" Daiyousei's voice choked up and she rushed to finish. "…you could have given…" She was unable to finish the rest, so she settled for wrapping her arms around a confused Cirno and hugging her tight.

Inside the box was an ornate snowglobe containing a miniaturized version of the Youkai Mountain.

Sorry to anyone who was hoping for a new Imperfect Metamorphosis chapter. But after the crazy that was last week, I really needed to take a break and do something different. Plus, I really wanted to do a Christmas special for some reason, and this was the result. The new chapter will be started tonight. Should be out in a couple weeks.

Anyway, not much to say about this story except that I loved writing every bit of it. Hope you enjoy it just as much and have a wonderful holiday.

Merry Christmas, everyone!