Author’s note: For those who spent it with loved ones and for those who spent it alone.
It is a joyous day for those who have found that special someone but a depressing hell for those who are yet to find one.
Of course, I, the ex-loner can recall all the lonesome Christmas I have spent in the past. I have spent every single Christmas with my family and with my family alone.
In this world, we do have new year’s festival, but we don’t have anything like a coming of an age ceremony or an old man dressed in all red giving out presents on a sleigh pulled by a group of flying a reindeer.
There is nothing like that, howeverー …..
「It suits you very well Lava. There is no mistake in my taste when it comes to fashion.」
Ligurila gave a satisfied smile through the reflection on the mirror as a slightly smaller version of myself stared back at me with an awkward expression.
It happened in the middle of the winter, just before the new year’s festival.
Ligurila invited me to her home for an occasion which wasn’t related to battles.
However, after a casual greeting, she dragged me into a changing room and ordered me to transform into my child form. Then, she dressed me up while I stood there in total confusion.
The dress she put me on was a deep red dress with fluffy white fur and pom-poms sewn onto it.
On my head was a matching pointed hat also with pom-poms sewn onto it.
This outfit is very familiar.
「This is a Santa outfit, right?」
There were some differences but no matter how you look at it, you would think that it was a Santa costume.
「What is a Santa?」
「….. It’s nothing. Anyway, Ligurila how did you come up with the design for this outfit?」
Ligurila’s head was slightly tilted but when I turned around and asked her the question, she replied it proudly.
「Just once, I wanted you to wear red clothes. But I thought a simple red dress would be too plain. So, I used pure white fur to give it an image of snow. Just as I have imagined it, you look very lovely in that outfit.」
「um, thank you?」
Right, without the knowledge of Santa Clause, I guess this outfit does look cute.
From my perspective who have all the memories from my past life, this outfit can only remind me of that chubby old man saying ho ho ho. But I guess from the perspective of someone who has never seen a Santa Claus before, my awkward reaction would be weirder.
As Ligurila gave me all the compliments there was to be given out, I scratched my cheeks feeling a little bashful. Yet, there was one question left on my mind.
「Why did you make this outfit in a child’s size? I think it’ll look good in my standard form as well.」
「Of course, I have a different design for your standard form.」
This outfit went well with my child form. Yet, it was a little uncomfortable for someone who is a couple hundred years old to be wearing a frilly Santa outfit.
If there is one for my standard size, I would like that one, please!
As I looked at Ligurila with a pleading gaze, she clicked her fingers and her familiar, Ilue appeared at her torso and put on the red dress for me.
「For this one, I went for a mature look by exposing the back and a wide slit in the skirt. The slit gives a beautiful contrast with the black stockings. With this, your beauty will be enhanced to the….. Lava, is there something wrong?」
「….. I, just really love this dress so I don’t need to hear the explanations.」
As Ligurila joyfully explained the design, I gave an awkward smile at the sexy Santa outfit.
Before Ligurila could make me try on any more dresses a customer came in, giving me a chance to run away.
I would much rather wear this than that sexy Santa outfit!
Since I didn’t have any time to get change, I’m still in that frilly Santa outfit. Oh well, I’m in my child form so it’s not too strange, I think.
Either way, I don’t have the mental capacity to deal with this right now…..
And like that, I ran out of Ligurila’s shop, but I don’t have anywhere to go to.
I was meant to meet up with Nectar after this but since the abduction incident, I have been banned from using my child form in front of him so I can’t go and see him now.
Also, it’s midday on the weekdays. I haven’t told him that I will be at Belgar early, so I feel awkward going there now.
Looks like I have no choice but to go back to Ligurila’s place, sigh.
Well, whining against this random wall isn’t going to make the situation any better.
I can already picture Ligurila pouting at me.
I guess I’ll get her something that she likes before I go back.
Then, I had an idea.
While I’m at it, let’s get something for everyone.
They’ve always treated me well, and I’m wearing a Santa outfit right now. There couldn’t have been a better time to do this!
I’ve placed all the money I have earned from that hunting industry in a different dimension so I’m all good to go shopping.
Let’s get going with operation dragon Santa!
Feeling hyped, I threw my right fist into the air.
「What are you doing there?」
Someone spoke from behind me.
I jumped a little, then I hesitantly turned around to look who was behind me. There, stood a girl who seemed to be in her mid-teens with a look of someone who saw a weirdly behaving creature.
Her red hair curled in the direction it wished to curl and cute little freckles scattered across her pale skin.
Wait, no, that’s not important right now.
「Did, did you see me?」
「Yeah, from where you were muttering to yourself up to where you threw your fist into the air.」
To the girl’s blunt words, I felt my face burn from embarrassment.
Santa outfit was embarrassing enough but for someone to see me getting all hyped up by myself is even worse!
As I was frozen on the spot from embarrassment, the girl spoke after a sigh.
「Hey, this area is close to slumps so someone with a clean appearance like yours will be sold out before you know it.」
Now that she mentioned it, I didn’t recognise the street.
It was an empty, dusty street.
It seems that while I was running around mindlessly, I ended up further away than I expected.
「You’re right, I don’t know where I am.」
「Where are your parents?」
「….. where’s your house?」
「I don’t have one (here) ?」
While I was wondering why she was asking me these questions, I remembered that I was in my child form.
I rashly tried to come up with an explanation but before I could say anything, the girl’s expression stiffened and she gave out another sigh.
「I see. You too got abandoned by selfish parents.」
「no, no that’s not what I !」
You’ve got the wrong idea! I’m really a couple hundred years old!
However, the girl agreed to the completely misunderstood conclusion and didn’t even notice me dissenting to it.
「You poor thing, joining the slump when it’s almost the new year’s. I can’t help it, you should stay at my place. They’re all cocky, annoying brats but it’ll keep you out of the rain and the cold.」
I’m not getting out of this, am I?
I don’t think there’s an explanation that can convince her.
「By the way, I’m Anita. Follow me.」
Like that, Anita who has smiled back at me led my anxious self to her home.
Anita’s place was very close to where we were.
「Nee-san, this place is….」
「It’s technically an orphanage built by the nation but they’ve never sent us any form of funding. At least it’s a sturdy building. There’s not even a single leak.」
It wasn’t the cleanest building but just like Anita has said, it didn’t look like it was about to collapse.
Unlike the other buildings in the area, it was a large land and they even had a front yard.
Instead of taking the front gate, Anita went in from the back door, passing through the part of the garden which was turned into a small farm.
Just behind the back door was a kitchen.
It was old yet spacious and the chilly air of the winter filled up the entire room.
I didn’t really feel the cold, but Anita placed down her heavy basket on the table as she shivered.
「Well that was exhausting. Are you cold? I’ll set the fire to the oven now.」
「I’m fine. By the way, what’s in the basket?」
「Oh, it’s the ingredients to bake cookies. We sell them at the new year’s festival. The new year’s feast is dependent on the number of cookies we sell so I can’t afford to slack off.」
As I saw Anita trying to set fire to the fire woods with rocks, I slowly approached her and used a spell when the timing was right.
「Well that’s unusual, it lighted immediately.」
As the fire danced furiously in the oven, Anita walked back to the table and started to take out the ingredients with a surprised expression.
Suddenly, a busy set of feet running towards the kitchen could be heard and the children rushed in as the door was flung open.
「Anita! I didn’t see you come in!」
「They’re not here yet!」
「Are you going to bake cookies again!?」
「Guys, guys, don’t talk all at once.」
The children quietened down obediently to Anita’s words, then she started to reply to each one of their questions.
「Josh, I’m back. Ken, thank you for letting me know, can you tell me when they come? Maria, I’m going to bake cookies so can you go and get everyone who can help? Mein, this is our new family. Please be nice to her.」
「「「「 Got it!! 」」」」
As the children scattered off, Anita sighed at the sight of their back. Then, she turned to me who was awkwardly standing there.
「In this house, you won’t get to eat if you don’t work. I’ll get you to help us even if you’re a newcomer. Got it?」
I can tell that Anita is a nice girl. That many children respect her so she must be taking very good care of them.
That makes it harder for me to sneak out of this place.
Either way, I decided to help her bake cookies, so I went to wash my hands as she has told me to do so.
Soon, the children gathered up in the kitchen and the cookie baking had begun.
The other children were used to baking cookies so even when they were talking to each other, their work pace didn’t drop.
First, we mixed the butter with the sugar in the bowl, then we added in the eggs and finally, the flour was added to the mixture.
Nuts and dried fruits were added in a different bowl afterwards.
「You have to mix it as if to cut through the doe, not press it against the bowl, okay?」
「Go, got it.」
The children who (looked) around the same age as me, taught me how to make the cookie dough.
At first, I was mixing all the ingredients but because of the way I was mixing it, I got moved to shape cutting job.
However, the children told me that my pace was slow, so I was feeling a little down. Then, I started helping Anita carry the fire woods to the oven and somehow, I ended up with butter mixing job.
「Wow, you’re really quick at doing this!」
「Amazing, it’s already turned white!」
I was a human girl when I learnt that butter turns white when you mix it with sugar.
The children complimented me as I mixed the butter with all my strength.
….. I kind of enjoy this.
Like that, the baking continued. The board was floured, and the older children stretched out the dough well.
Their small hands swiftly cut out the shapes from the stretched-out dough and lined it up on a metal tray.
Anita placed the tray into the warmed-up oven and within twenty to thirty minutes, freshly baked cookies were lined up on the table.
The room instantly filled up with the sweet smell of baked butter and sugar.
「I wonder what’s today’s dinner.」
「I hope there’s least a soup.」
Although they all looked at the freshly baked cookies with hungry eyes, there wasn’t a single child who would sneak a bite.
Anita who pulled out another tray full of cookies, sweating from the oven’s heat saw the children and spoke to them enthusiastically.
「Our feast depends on these cookies. We’re almost done so hold it together guys.」
As the children responded energetically, they started to wrap up the cookies into paper bags hastily.
I continued to soften the butter with a wooden spatula when I noticed Anita looking at the children with somewhat of a sad expression.
「Oh, it’s you. You sure are strong. We managed to make them faster than the other years. Thank you for your help.」
「No worries. By the way, how much do these cookies sell for?」
「That’s a funny question. Let’s see, because the children helped me out, it’ll be around…..」
Anita gave a surprised expression when I asked her the question.
However, even with my rough calculation, they wouldn’t be able to make enough money to feed all the children.
「Well, since we don’t have to pay the rent, we do get a decent amount of income from it. We get the older children to give the leftovers to the children who grew up in the hospitals so that they don’t go to waste.」
Anita gave a tired sigh as she gave a bitter smile.
「The Patron has been working hard to get some sort of funding. But it seems that most people don’t understand our side of the story. In the worst cases, they have told us to reduce the number of children. Lord, the orphanage is a place to protect homeless children. How can people say such a thing? ….. Oh well, you’re still too young to understand what I’m saying, I guess.」
Hearing what Anita has said, I was about to respond when the door flung opened again after a set of light footsteps.
「Anita! They’re here!」
「Just as I thought! They had to show up when the Patron wasn’t here.」
To the boy’s serious posture, Anita gave a serious yet nervous expression back.
「Where’s the Patron?」
「Kid and the others have gone to get him!」
「Got it. Josh, look after the oven.」
「Yes, got it.」
「Everyone, continue on with your chores.」
A nervous tension wrapped the kitchen and the children nodded in silence. Anita looked at each child, then gave a wide grin and walked off.
「I hope Anita is fine.」
「She, she’ll be fine! I think.」
「Hey, who came?」
When I asked the children, who were talking to each other in a worried tone, they all gave me an answer one after the other.
「The scary people.」
「They blackmail us whenever we try to sell cookies.」
「They say that we can’t sell cookies there unless we pay them.」
「But they’re lying. Everyone else pays them, only because they are too scared of those people.」
「They even take the money we’ve earned from selling those cookies.」
「So, both Anita and the Patron said that we won’t pay them anymore. But then, they started to come here, to make us pay.」
「Usually the Patron kicks them out but…..」
「….. Hold on.」
「Where did she go?」