Ozpin woke with a start. He was surprised to find himself in bed. Then the previous visions of the evening struck him, but he couldn’t tell if they were dreams, manifestations of his imagination, or if they had been real. Thinking it best not to dwell on them too intently, he laid his head back down and tried to fall asleep again until he heard the church bell ring twice. “‘Expect the second when the bell tolls two’,” he quoted Ironwood.
Suddenly there was a shining light from across the room. Ozpin lifted his head and looked at the door across from his bed. Lights danced from underneath it and through the door itself. He then heard jolly laughter. “Oh-ho!”
More out of fright than curiosity, Ozpin rose and went to the door. Just as he was about to turn the key to lock it, a voice bid him by name to enter lest he wanted to be fetched in person. With a shaking hand, Ozpin grabbed the knob and gave it a turn, but when he opened it, he was amazed at the wonders he saw.
It was his own room; there was no doubt about that, but it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were draped with living green from which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if many little mirrors had been scattered throughout the room, and there was such a mighty blaze roaring up the chimney unlike any there had ever been before. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, great joints of meat, suckling pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince pies, plum puddings, cherry red apples, juicy oranges, immense cakes, and seething bowls of punch. Atop the throne was a jolly giant with grey hair, a moustache, and beard with not such a little, round belly but a portly belly. In one hand, he held a weapon that was a blunderbuss musket on one end and a double bitted axe on the other, while in his other hand, he bore a glowing torch in the shape of Plenty's horn. He held it up high to shed its light on Ozpin as he came peeping round the door.
“Oh-ho! Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man!”
Ozpin entered timidly, still shaking. He kept his gaze low and tried not to meet the spirit’s, but Ozpin had taken notice that the spirit’s eyes weren’t immediately visible.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”
Ozpin did so slowly.
“You have never seen the likes of me before?”
“Have you never sought out and met my brothers?”
“I don’t think I have,” said Ozpin. “Have you had many?”
“Oh, just more than eighteen hundred.”
“Eighteen hundred? Quite a tremendous family to provide for.”
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose with a chuckle.
“Spirit,” said Ozpin submissively. “Conduct me where you will. I went forth earlier on compulsion, and I learned a lesson which is working now. Tonight, if you have something to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“Teach?! Why, if I could will myself mortal, I would be a professor,” said the Spirit. “But enough of that. There is much to see. Touch the hem of my robe.”
Ozpin did as he was told and seized the edge of the Spirit’s red robe. They were conducted away from Ozpin’s room and down into the streets of Vale. The sun was high in the sky and people were bustling about in their finest clothes and highest spirits wishing the day’s best to each other. Some cluttered the streets with joy, singing carols while children threw snowballs at one another in good humor.
The Spirit and Ozpin happened upon a market where although it was busy, the people were courteous to each other like they had never been on any other such day. Ozpin noted that he had never heard the market sound so joyful. Even the jingling of coins and ringing of scales against the countertops sounded all the cheerier.
As Ozpin and the Spirit waded through the people, the Spirit would pause to pinch the flames of his torch and sprinkle a flavor upon the people’s food as they carried it about.
“Is there a particular flavor in what you sprinkle from your torch?” asked Ozpin.
“Oh-ho! There is. My own.”
“Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day?”
“To any kindly and lovingly given. But to a poor one most.”
“Because it needs it most. Come!” said the Ghost, placing a hand on his shoulder. He led Ozpin down the street to a handsome home wherein they walked straight through the wall into a room brightly lit, gleaming, and warmly furnished. Men stood next to high back chairs where their wives sat, sipping tea, and all faced a man standing at the hearth.
It was a great surprise to Ozpin to hear the man have a familiar laugh. It was a much greater surprise to Ozpin when he recognized the man as his nephew who the Spirit smiled at with approving affability.
“He said that Christmas was a humbug. As I live,” cried Qrow. “He believed it too.”
“Then all the more shame on him,” said Ozpin's niece, Winter, indignantly.
She was very pretty; exceedingly pretty. She had snow white hair tied into a tight bun with a single curled tress dangling next to her left ear. She had blue eyes and a fair complexion with a stately face; she looked as if she had never known any stress or drink in her life. And as she sat on a stool, sipping tea, she sat regally with her back impossibly straight and one long leg crossed over the other. It was actually a shock to Ozpin that his messy, alcoholic nephew could court a woman of such noble bearing. She was more akin an Atlesian soldier than a drunkard’s wife.
“He's a comical fellow,” said Qrow. “That's the truth. And as unpleasant as he is, I have nothing to say against him.”
“At least he is blessed with a miser’s fortune,” replied Winter.
“What of that, my dear? His wealth is of no use to him. He doesn't do any good with it. He doesn't make himself comfortable with it. He hasn't even the satisfaction of thinking that he is ever going to benefit us with it,” chuckled Qrow.
“How is it that you’re able to stand him, Qrow?” asked one of the huntsmen present.
“Truly, I feel sorry for him; he who suffers by his own ill whims. He takes it into his head to dislike us, and he won't come and dine with us. What's the consequence? He didn’t lose much of a lunch.”
“I think he lost a very good lunch,” quipped Winter. Everybody else said the same.
“Well, I'm glad to hear that. But the consequence is much more severe than that. In taking a dislike to us, and not making merry with us, is, I think, a great loss of some pleasant moments, which could do him no harm. I am sure he loses pleasanter companions than he can ever hope to find in his own thoughts, whether in his moldy old office or his dusty chambers.
“He may rail at Christmas till he dies, but he can't think worse of me—I defy him to—if he finds me going to his office, in good temper, year after year, and saying, ‘Uncle Ozpin, how are you?’ And if it only puts him in the vein to leave his poor clerk fifty lien, that's something. And I think I shook him yesterday.”
Ozpin balked. “Surely you jest, nephew. I was neither shaken nor stirred. Humbug.”
But despite his words, Ozpin found himself thinking at least a little bit better of his nephew. He had always been of the mind that his nephew enjoyed bothering him once a year to wish the spirit of the season upon him, or he only did it in duty to the memory of his mother. But if Qrow truly meant what he said, then it was more than Fan’s memory that propelled Qrow, but Fan’s adoring spirit.
“All right, that’s enough,” said Winter, standing. “I refuse to have my Christmas haunted by Uncle Ozpin. So let’s have some music and then some games.”
Following Winter’s directive, they cleared away their tea and proceeded with the music. They were a musical bunch, and sung well the old glees and catches. Winter played the harp and among the many songs she knew, there was one piece that Ozpin remembered from the dances at Ooziwig’s. Those fond memories of Christmases shown to him by the Ghost of Christmas Past further softened his disposition and he found himself wishing all the more he had not surrendered Pyrrha.
But when Winter plucked the last string, Ozpin’s reverie was gone and he returned to the present.
“Where did you venture off?” asked the Spirit heartily.
“I saw it in your eyes. You were far from here. Dwelling amongst other ghosts were you?” said the Ghost, smiling.
“I was just… It doesn’t matter.”
“Oh-ho!” smiled the Ghost. “Well, we have lingered here long enough. Come, there is much to see.”
Ozpin and the Ghost headed for the door when a voice rang out, “Hey-ho, Winter! That was lovely, but I was promised games, and by gods, I’m going to get one.” Many people laughed at the simple demand.
Ozpin stopped. “A game? I wonder which they’ll choose.”
“Very well,” said Winter. “Qrow, why don’t you start us off with a game of Yes and No. He always picks the most delightful subjects.”
“I love Yes and No,” said Ozpin. “I was great at it when I was a young man.” Ozpin turned to the Ghost. “May we stay for one game, Spirit? Only one?”
The Spirit chuckled. “Good to see you in such fine spirits! But, yes, only one. We still have much to see.”
“Very well, my dear,” said Qrow. “Now, for those of you who have been living under Mountain Glenn, the rules of Yes and No are simple. I’ll think of an object, person, or thing, and you have to guess what it is, but I can only answer with either yes or no.”
“Think up a good one, Qrow,” encouraged Winter.
“Will do, my dear.” Qrow looked up to the ceiling and was silent for a moment. Suddenly, he chuckled to himself. “All right, I’ve got one. You may begin.”
Qrow was beset by a brisk fire of questioning from which it was elicited that he was thinking of a live, rather disagreeable animal, which growled and grunted sometimes, lived in Vale, stalked the streets, wasn’t from Menagerie, was never killed in a market, and was never any sort of Grimm.
At every fresh question that was put to him, Qrow had to stop himself from bursting into a fresh roar of laughter. The ones about the Grimm especially tickled him for if Qrow’s animal could be hunted, it would be hunted more passionately than any Beowolf on Remnant.
At last, Winter, who had been silent for a while now, stifled a snicker. “I know what it is, Qrow.”
“Go on, my dear.”
“Well, if it can’t be my own father, then it must be your Uncle Ozpin!”
Qrow burst into laughter. “You’re right!”
“Excellent choice!” congratulated one huntsman.
“I still think it should’ve been the Beowolf,” said another.
“What can I say,” said Qrow with a shrug. “He has given us plenty of merriment, and I am sure that it would be ungrateful to not drink to his health.” Qrow lifted his flask. “To Uncle Ozpin.”
“Uncle Ozpin,” chimed the rest with their glasses raised.
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the old man, whatever he is. He wouldn't take it from me, but he may have it, nevertheless. Uncle Ozpin!”
Ozpin had imperceptibly become so light of heart, that he would have pledged the unconscious company in return, and thanked them in an inaudible speech, but the Ghost hadn’t given him time. The whole scene passed off in darkness at the breath of the last word spoken by his nephew.
A new vision came into view of a snow covered cottage in the middle of a wide clearing somewhere out in the middle of the woods.
“Spirit,” said Ozpin. “Where are we?”
“The island of Patch.”
“And what chore brings us?”
“It’s Christmas here too, you know. And there,” said the Spirit, pointing, “is the dwelling of one Taiyang Cratchit, Esquire, whose family owes their good fortune and Christmas joy to the high principles and esteemed charity of his employer, Ebenezer Ozpin.”
Ozpin took a long look at the cottage. It was a fine log cabin, large, well built and sufficiently impressive. “It is quite the handsome home,” said Ozpin. “I didn’t think Taiyang could afford such a home on his salary.”
“Out here on Patch, property values are a tuppence compared to those in Vale.”
“Did you say Patch? This is indeed quite a ways from the city. No wonder Taiyang is perpetually late. But even for Patch, this home is a palace.”
“It might seem that way, but before you get any ideas of cutting your clerk’s salary, perhaps you should look in the window and see things as they really are.”
Ozpin did as was commended. He wiped the frost from one of the windows with his sleeve and looked through it. Inside he saw a home scarcely furnished, dark except for the few windows that let light in, and it was quite dusty. The few pieces of furniture that there were seemed old and rickety as if they could go any minute.
Ozpin wondered at the dinginess of the home when he spotted a woman in a white riding hood bustle around the kitchen counters, preparing a Christmas supper. She peeled potatoes and let them boil in water while she checked on a Christmas fowl in the oven and several saucepans on the stove. For such a diminutive woman, she moved quickly indeed.
“Is that Mrs. Cratchit?” asked Ozpin.
“It is,” replied the Ghost. “That is Tai’s wife, Summer.”
“She has silver eyes…”
“That she does.”
“Such a remarkable woman to take on so great a task by herself.”
“She must be remarkable for she is a huntress.”
Ozpin looked up at the Spirit in awe.
“She’s one of the best on the island.”
“Remarkable. I had heard the legends about silver eyed warriors, but I didn’t think they were true. This must be how Taiyang affords a house like this. His wife supplements his income.”
“Not just his wife.”
Ozpin looked up at him confused again. Suddenly from around the bend in the forest came a girl with long golden locks and violet eyes, pushing a rusty, yellow motorcycle that had seen better days. She pushed the bike into a nearby shed and closed the door before rushing through the door of the cabin.
“Mom! I’m home!”
“It’s about time, Yang,” replied Summer. “I was afraid you’d miss surprising your father.”
“I’m sorry. Bumblebee isn’t what she used to be. Some trips she just can’t make anymore.”
“Well, never mind. It’s almost your father’s time. Hurry up and hide!”
Yang shook the snow and chill from her body before bounding up the stairs to the second story and hiding in a bedroom.
“Who was that young lady?” asked Ozpin.
“That was Tai’s daughter, Yang.”
“I didn’t know Taiyang had a daughter.”
“Not but one.”
Ozpin looked at the Spirit all the more confused. But instead of getting an explanation, the Ghost looked up and away along the path leading to the home. Ozpin looked too and saw Tai approach with a young girl riding up on his shoulder and wearing a red riding hood. The two seemed happy as can be as they marched home through the slowly falling snow.
“I’m so hungry, Dad,” said the girl with a smile.
“Me, too, Ruby. I hope your mother has supper ready as we get through the door.”
“Ruby?” repeated Ozpin.
“Tai’s youngest daughter, Tiny Ruby.”
“Why does he carry her on his shoulder like that?”
As Tai and Ruby made it to the front door, Tai put Ruby on the ground gingerly. He held onto her shoulder as she pulled a giant, red metallic object from underneath her cape. It sprung open into a deadly design that made Ozpin recoil.
“Is that a scythe?!”
“It’s also a gun!” replied the Spirit fondly.
“What is such an adorable little girl doing with such a dangerous weapon?!”
“It’s her crutch.”
Ozpin felt a tiny tinge of pity hit his heart when he saw the young girl hobble through the front door followed by her father.
“Mom! We’re back!”
“It’s about time you two,” said Summer. “Supper’s almost ready.”
Tai closed the door and looked around. “Where’s Yang?”
Summer’s face fell. “She’s not coming.”
“Not coming!?” repeated Tai.
“What do you mean?” wailed Ruby. “It’s Christmas!”
Suddenly there was a creek from the upstairs bedroom followed by a heavy footstep. Tai looked up and with a smile stretched from ear to ear, he threw a punch up at the air and it collided with a yellow metallic gauntlet. The two fists pushed off each other to the side, forcing Yang to one side and Tai to the other.
“Yang!” said Tai as she rebounded off the floor.
“Merry Christmas, Dad,” she said, giving him a jolly hug.
“Yang!” cheered Ruby.
“Ruby!” said Yang. “Oh, how I’ve missed my baby sister!” she exclaimed, embracing Ruby in a grisly hug before lifting the young girl up oton her shoulders and gallivanting around the house.
Summer sidled up to her husband. “And how was little Ruby in church?”
“As good as gold and better. Somehow she gets so thoughtful, sitting by herself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. She told me, coming home, that she hoped the people saw her in church because she was a cripple, and it might be pleasant for them to remember upon Christmas Day those who fight to keep the kingdom safe and the sacrifices they’re forced to make.”
Tai's voice was tremulous when he told Summer this, and trembled all the more when he said that Tiny Ruby was growing stronger and heartier every day.
“Spirit,” said Ozpin, “I am much confused by what I see.”
“Ask your question then and I shall answer.”
“You implied that Taiyang’s income isn’t just supplemented by his wife’s. Tell me truly, is his oldest daughter also a huntress? Is that why she bears those shot-gauntlets?”
“Aye, indeed,” replied the Spirit. “She has as much brawn as she does beauty,” said the Spirit with a smile and a strange humor.
Suddenly, inside the cabin, Yang stopped laughing and smiling, and shivered.
Ruby looked down at her sister. “Yang? Is something the matter?”
“I just felt as if some lecherous gaze from an otherworldly place fell upon me and admired my figure in an ungentlemanly way.”
Ruby cocked her head to one side. “What?”
Ozpin looked at the Ghost who cleared his throat and looked the other way.
“One more thing, Spirit,” said Ozpin. “I can believe that Mrs. Cratchit and Tiny Ruby are related—the resemblance between them is uncanny, right down to their hair and clothes—but what of the oldest daughter? She takes much after Taiyang but is neither like her mother nor sister.”
“Tai once had a wife before Summer. She was Yang’s mother.”
“What happened to her?”
“No one quite knows. She simply vanished one day and has never been seen or heard from since.”
The mysterious disappearance of Tai’s first wife disconcerted Ozpin greatly. How terrible it must have been for Tai to not know what could have happened to his first love. But Tai’s great loss reminded Ozpin of his own and he began to feel a kinship with his clerk he had never felt before.
“All right, you two,” said Summer to Ruby and Yang. “Sit down. Time for supper.”
Yang listened to her mother and set Ruby down on her chair and sat down next to her. Tai sat at the head of the table as Summer served the Christmas goose, boiled potatoes, and apple sauce.
“Such a scant dinner,” commented Ozpin. “Especially for a family of warriors.”
“But very much appreciated,” replied the Ghost. “It would be heresy to say otherwise.”
The last thing Summer served was the roiling punch. Once everyone had their glass, Tai lifted his and toasted, “Mr. Ozpin. I give you Mr. Ozpin, the Founder of the Feast.”
Both Summer and Yang’s faces reddened, putting their glasses down.
“What do you mean by that?” asked Summer.
“Yeah, Dad,” agreed Yang. “Are you trying to ruin our Christmas?”
Tai was shocked into silence.
“The Founder of the Feast, indeed,” said Summer. “I wish I had him here. I'd give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he'd have a good appetite for it.”
“Summer, Yang,” Tai pleaded. “It’s Christmas Day.”
“It has to be Christmas Day,” continued Summer, “on which one drinks to the health of such an odious, stingy, hard, and unfeeling man as Mr. Ozpin.”
“Yeah, Dad,” interrupted Yang. “You know he is. Nobody knows it better than you. How long have you been working for him and he hasn’t given you a raise yet, forcing Mom to risk her life and slay Grimm? Cruelly forcing me to take all the hunting jobs I can in Vale so far from home? And what about Ruby? Will there come a day when she’ll have to help support this family, too?”
“But I want to help, Yang,” replied Tiny Ruby.
“I know you do, sis. But you shouldn’t be forced to.”
“Now, now,” said Tai. “I know Mr. Ozpin can be a little hard, but for the sake of Christmas, we should be thankful for all we have and for those who grant us the privilege of buying what we need.” Tai raised his glass, waiting for his wife and daughter to do the same.
Summer sighed before lifting hers. “I'll drink to his health for your sake and the day's, but not for his. Long life to him. A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.”
“I’m sure he’ll be very merry and very happy,” mumbled Yang out of the corner of her mouth.
Tai’s eye twinkled. “That being the case, Merry Christmas, my dears. And gods bless us!”
“Gods bless us. Every one!” said Ruby with an innocent smile.
“Such a remarkable child,” said Ozpin. The child too had silver eyes which Ozpin knew would destine her to the life of a warrior. But how could she fight in her condition? “Spirit,” said Ozpin, with an interest he had never felt before. “Tell me: is Tiny Ruby sick?”
“Oh-ho! What’s this? Concern for the well-being of another?”
Ozpin’s bottom lip trembled. “Will she die?”
The Spirit looked up and his eyes lost focus. “I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner, and a scythe without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered, none other of my race will find her here.”
Ozpin rubbed his hands together nervously.
“But so what, then? If she’s going to die, she had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Ozpin recoiled in shock to hear his own words quoted against him. He was overcome with penitence and grief. A single tear tracked down his face.
“Man,” said the Ghost, looming large over Ozpin, “if human you be in heart, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered who the surplus is and where it is. Will you be the judge of who shall live and who shall die when it may be, that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child?”
Ozpin bent before the Ghost's rebuke and trembling, cast his eyes upon the ground.
“Come,” said the Ghost, again placing a hand on his shoulder. “There are more shadows to see.”
The island of Patch drifted away into the darkness and was replaced by the burning of a bonfire far from any civilized place on Remnant. Around it were four huntsmen, sitting on logs and cradling their weapons. The Ghost plucked another flame from his torch and sprinkled it on the nearest huntsman. Finding a new spirit, he pulled out a flute and began playing a Christmas carol. It took several bars, but soon his fellows began singing along with his tune. Ozpin became aware of dozens of red eyes glaring at the four huntsmen. Their low growls could be heard just over the flute, but as the men sang, their spirits gained strength. Filled with the season’s tidings, they all rose and likewise lifted their voices up to the night sky to give thanks and praise on this Christmas night.
As their song drifted over the country side, Ozpin saw many similar gatherings, from Anima to Menagerie, from Vale to Atlas. There were many bonfires, many huntsmen far from home who had naught but each other for company. Though peril surrounded them, they became cheerful as the Spirit visited them. Even when their songs had ended, their joy was still present, forcing the Grimm to retreat as if they were afraid to contract some disease.
Ozpin recognized many of the huntsmen as being those in his employ, and he was surprised to find them capable of indulging in the spirit of the season. They were struggling, desperate men, but they were patient for their greater hope, and in it, in misery’s great refuge, they found themselves very rich indeed.
The night was long, as if it could only be one night. Ozpin doubted it could be as the holiday appeared to be condensed into the time he passed with the Ghost. It was strange to him as well that while Ozpin remained unaltered in his outward form, the Ghost grew older. Ozpin did not comment until they found themselves in a churchyard.
“Are spirits’ lives so short?” asked Ozpin.
“Oh-ho! My life upon this globe is very brief. It ends tonight at the stroke of midnight.”
Ozpin looked up at the church as the great bell began tolling. “Must you go? I’ve learned so much.”
“There is never enough time in the world to do all that we should. All we can do is do what good we can with the time we are allotted.”
Ozpin sought for something to say, something to keep the Ghost rooted to the world, but as he looked at the ground, something caught his eye. “Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Ozpin, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe. “But I see something strange, not belonging to yourself, protruding from your robe. Is it a foot… or a claw?”
“It might be a claw for all the flesh there is upon it,” said the Spirit. “Behold!”
The Spirit opened his robes and there within its folding were two children; wretched, abject, frightened, and miserable. They knelt down at the Spirit’s feet, clinging to his robes.
The children were a boy and a girl. The boy was in green with dark hair and looked descended from Anima, but the girl looked descended from Vale with faded orange hair, bearing pink tatters. But despite their differing clothing, they were both yellow, meager, ragged, and wolfish. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out and touched them with fresh tints, a stale and shriveled hand, like that of age, had pinched and twisted them and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacingly. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has ever spawned monsters half so horrible and dread.
Ozpin stared at them, appalled. “Spirit. Are they yours?”
“They are Man's,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for written on his brow I see Doom.
“Deny it!” cried the Spirit, looking to the city of Vale. “Slander those who tell you; admit it for your factious purposes, and you will bear witness to your just punishment.”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Ozpin.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
Ozpin felt a chill shoot down his spine, but before he could compose a response, the bell stroke twelve and suddenly, Ozpin could no longer see the Ghost or the wretched children he bore.
He turned about in the churchyard and recalled Ironwood’s last prediction that the third spectre would appear in her own time. “Her own time.” Those three words spooked Ozpin worse than any he had heard that night for he knew not their meaning. But as he ruminated upon them, a circular red and black energy appeared before him and out stepped the dread phantom.
Keep writing, my friends.
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