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Christmas On Mars

By Sandra Knight All Rights Reserved ©

Romance / Scifi

Christmas On Mars


 To her horror, the mug toppled over, sending a tiny wave of black coffee over the surface of the table.

 Lucia stood board stiff, staring emptily at the guests—one of whom she'd just spilled coffee on—lost for words. Her teeth ground together so tightly it made her jaw ache. She gulped and carefully set the remaining two cups of coffee on the table in front of the guests who had ordered it, stifling the urge to release a long, annoyed sigh.

 "I'm sorry." Lucia told the guest opposite her, who was wearing a thin coat of coffee on his lap.

 "Oh-ho-ho, don't worry about it." The hefty man laughed, swatting a hand through the air casually, his cheeks puffing on either side due to his broad smile. As his grin grew, his bushy silver beard continued to conform to his face along with his expression changes. "Ahh, it’s the season for forgetting and forgetting, ain't it? Merry Christmas!"

 "Thanks." Lucia said, nodding and swallowing her feelings of awkwardness as she felt a few lingering eyes resting on her. I have to get the hell out of this place...

 Just before Lucia decided to turn and leave, the bearded man spoke again.

 "Hey youngster, I've got a favor to ask." He said.

 "I'll get you a new coffee." Lucia replied, wishing dearly that she could leave the diner and avoid the staring eyes of the guests.

 "Oh no, not that... although, I would like a new coffee, please... er..." He said, leaning forward and resting his arms upon the wooden table, his two younger companions watching him silently from their seats. "No, it’s something else, youngster. Something a bit more important."

 "What...?" Lucia questioned vacantly.

 "Your poppa owns this place, right?" He said. "Your dad, I mean. Could you ask him something for me?"

 "Sure." Lucia agreed. Please just let me leave...

"Ask him if he'd be willing to host a Christmas convention in this old lodge of his." The bearded man requested. "It’s quite the ideal place for a nice little get-to-together, I think. It’s on the side of a mountain, out of the way, far from any towns or cities... oh, and there's always a foot of snow outside, too. This is the whitest part of this red planet I think I've ever seen."

 Lucia continued to listen, waiting for him to finish.

 "I'd pay, of course." He added. "We save up funds every year in order to pay for our annual Christmas convention. It’s a family tradition, you see..."

 "Alright." Lucia nodded. "I'll ask my dad about it."

 After giving him a small wave and a faint half-attempt of a smile, she shuffled off, vanishing into the large hallway between the diner and the lobby.

 Though most parts of The Black Dingo—her father's lodge—were very large, the rooms all somehow seemed smaller than they actually were, all maintaining a very comfortable, cozy vibe. The lobby contained a few armchairs and two large couches facing towards the massive windows, or towards the huge brick fireplace on the left wall. It really was the ideal place for a Christmas convention.

 "Christmas..." Lucia muttered to herself. "Who the hell would wanna spend an ass load of money on Christmas...?"

 Lucia then approached the glass doors that led outside, but she stopped when she spotted her reflection.

 Lucia shifted a few of her ginger bangswith her fingers, then slightly patted down her short hair. Her blue-green eyes shone in a beautiful way in the reflection. Her unique eye color was perhaps the only thing she liked about her appearance. She usually looked drained and unhappy, or homely, even... then, there was the scar along her right cheek… that big, nasty scar...

 "Hey." A familiar voice called from behind her, sending a mild wave of panic down her spine.

 Lucia sighed and spun around.

 "Hope you're not thinking about going outside." Her father said, marching towards her with his eyes fixing on her in a very direct way. "You were supposed to clean your room last night. And you haven't even gotten to the water heaters yet. Are you ever gonna do anything?"

 "Maybe if you pay me." Lucia said, only halfway kidding.

 "Cute." Her father responded with a smirk. "Get to it. And if I catch you outside before you're done with your chores, it’s your ass."

 He made a few guiding gestures with his thumb, ushering her on, then pushed the glass doors open and stepped outside. Lucia watched as he strolled towards another wing of the lodge, through the unbelievably thick blanket of snow... folding and crumbling as he kicked it from his path... that beautiful snow...

 The brisk, cold air swept over her as the doors swung shut, consuming her body in a feeling unlike anything she ever felt inside the lodge. As she watched her father get further and further away, pressing her face against the glass, a bitter, uneasy sensation began to brew in the pit of her stomach... That bastard... he's a complete tyrant... I'm not allowed outside? Really? I have to fix the water heaters while he goes off and drinks with his buddies over at the bar...

 Lucia began towards another hallway, the one leading towards the basement. There were three rooms in the basement of the main building: a spare room, the room with the water heaters, and a storage area for food, water, and other supplies. The spare room belonged to Lucia; it was an old basement, but using very little resources, Lucia had somehow managed to turn it into a very comfortable little den. When she returned to her crummy room, she plopped down onto a thick mold of ten blankets—which she'd fashioned into a bed—and made herself comfy. Lucia had no intention of cleaning her room as of now. There's nothing to clean in here, anyway... I got rid of all the trash, and I don't have a dresser for my damn clothes. What the hell does he want from me? He just needs something to whine about... something he can make my fault...

 Lucia’s thoughts continued to swarm through her mind. Ever since she was eight years old, she'd been living in this place... this gigantic winter lodge, out in the middle of nowhere, supporting a man who had no concept of respect... someone who took her in when she was a child, after her family was killed during a caravan run... killed by Reptilians... she barely remembered... barely cared, anymore... He's not even my real father. The only reason he took me in was to get some free labor. He doesn't give a damn about me.


 "Hey loser. Open the door." Carlos said from the hallway, then turned the knob and entered her room without permission.

 "Get out of my room." Lucia grumbled, lying on her side and staring at the wall.

 Carlos made a face at her.

 "Oh, get out?" He said in a challenging tone. “Is that what you want me to do? Get out?”

 Then, an enormous weight landed squarely on her back. Most of her breath escaped her all at once.

 Carlos sat on top of Lucia as though she was a fine leather couch. He extended his arms along either side of her body, leaning back and making himself comfortable.

 "Uggggh—you fat ass—GET OFF!”

 Lucia was not a weak girl, but her lunging and squirming proved useless against Carlos's gorilla-like body. Though Lucia had somewhat of an athletic build, Carlos was easily twice her size. As she continued to struggle, he began to smile.

 After a while, Lucia grew exhausted. Then, Carlos reached his feet, laughing and stuffing his meaty hands into his jacket pockets.

 "Dad says to fix the heaters, fry face." He said, then stepped out of her room, slamming the door behind him and knocking over one of her clothing hampers as he did.

 Lucia lie on her bed for what felt like years, her hair completely askew now, her face red, and her hand-me-down shirt—which was much too big for her—twisted sideways along her torso. She gazed into the old gray ceiling, feeling more miserable than ever. It was impossible to tell who she hated more between her adopted father and her adopted father's son, Carlos. That fat, over-fed, pampered oaf… that snide and hateful bigot, who was privileged enough to live in a lodge suite while she, Lucia, was forced to live in a nasty old basement...

 Something ran through her. It was a sudden, powerful rush—something that urged her to move, to leave, to do anything other than sitting and sulking in her room like she did every day.

 Lucia stood from her makeshift bed and approached her window, the only window in her room. It was a rectangular window at the top of her wall, and it was the only part of her room that wasn't underground, beneath the cold, red soil of Mars. It was completely blocked by snow; no daylight could get through.

 Still, it seemed just big enough to fit a person... just barely...


 Carlos nodded, glancing into the diner.

 "Some old guy told me to ask you about it, I'unno." Carlos told his father, shrugging. "It was an old dude with a beard. He wants to host a Christmas convention here."

 His father exhaled a heavy breath, slicking back his dirty blonde hair. He and Carlos headed into the diner towards the bearded man's table.

 “I've heard tell that you want to host a convention here." He said to the bearded man.

 "Oh! You're the owner—yes, pleasure to meet you." The bearded man replied. "My name is Nicholas. I'm the host. I run this convention every year, you see. I’ve got folks from all over looking forward to it, and my back-ups have all fallen through. Then, I found this place... seems like a godsend."

 "Mhm." Carlos's father replied, narrowing his gaze at old Nicholas. "So, this convention. Exactly how many rooms do you need on reserve?"

 "Nearly two hundred." Nicholas replied, reaching his feet.

 When Carlos's father made a slightly shocked face, Nicholas continued.

 "Oh I've got the money—red gold, plenty of it—everything we need will be paid for. I just need the consent of your hospitality, mister...."

 "James." Carlos's father said. "My name is James Black."

 "Mr. Black, lovely to meet you! Merry Christmas!" Nicholas exclaimed, grasping James's hand and shaking it almost violently.

 "Yes, er... mutual." James replied, staring at Nicholas oddly. "So... as long as you can pay for the service, I don't see why we can't host it here. Uh... the traditions of this convention..."

 "Nothing bad." Nicholas assured. "Nothing violent, no nudist parties, nothing you'll need to worry about... just a weekend full of music and big dinners."

 "Alright then." James nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Although, I'll need you to pay upfront for the rooms... come with me—"

 "You can't host a convention here!" A third voice chimed in, making James and Nicholas both whirl around curiously.

 An old man approached them, his wrinkled face portraying the utmost of concern.

 "You outta yer damn minds?!" The old man scolded. "That monster lives 'round here, you can't be bringin' fresh meat around these parts!"

 James wanted to leave, but Nicholas seemed to be very interested in whatever the old man had to say.

 "Monster?" Nicholas asked.

 "They say it’s all taken care of on the news." The old man went on, pointing at the television in the corner of the diner. "But it’s a damn lie... them lizards are gearing up for war, and that green monster's been lurking 'round these parts for years now. Reptilian raids on innocent hard workin' people are on the rise. You think that green monster ain't involved? They're smart! They got spies all over!"

 Nicholas looked like a deer caught in headlights, but James appeared rather unmoved.

 James knew very well what the old man was rambling about; the monster—or, as some would call him, the green man—was a rumor that had been floating around these parts for years. People would claim that a green man would sometimes appear during Reptilian raids on humans, and some even claimed that the green man lived at the top of Mt. Janessa, the mountain on which his lodge resided.

 "I don't much appreciate you spreading fairy tales to my new guests." James said forwardly, glaring at the old man. "Please refrain from spreading disinformation about my lodge. I've heard this silly story more times than I care to remember, and I must say, it’s getting very old."

 Once Lucia finally managed to pry the window open, a small flood of snow fell into her room, but she didn't care. She stuck her arm through the opening, attempting to shovel the snow to the sides in order to clear a path. Her arm was covered in goosebumps in a matter of seconds.

 At last, her fingers made contact with the frozen red dirt, and daylight began to bleed into her room.

 After locking her door, Lucia wrapped herself in a large leather jacket, then placed an empty crate upside down in front of the opening. She climbed up, sticking her head out the window and examining the outside.

 Mt. Janessa was waiting in the back yard of the lodge. Lucia had always wanted to explore the crescent mountain; it was an enormous structure covered in snow, perhaps the biggest mountain on Mars, and here she was, living on the bottom of the mountain day after day, never allowed to leave...

 Not anymore.

 Lucia slipped her arms through the window and slowly levered herself up into the tiny opening, her torso squished by its frame. Once she was halfway through, she gave herself a last, strong push, and before she knew it, she was sprawled in the snow and staring up at the sky with a smile.

 Lucia stood and brushed the snow off, then gazed up the mountain. She began to climb the hill, and the further she went, the steeper it grew. There was no telling exactly what made this day so very different, why she suddenly had the nerve to abandon her prison of a basement and her stupid chores. She was sixteen years old, and she had no friends, no pets, and nothing to live for apart from the chores forced upon her every day. Lucia had nothing to lose.

 As she continued up the mountain, occasionally overcoming a large rock or a steep pattern and trying not to slip on the snow and ice, a couple of hours went by, and the sun began to set. The two moons of Mars, Phobos and Deimos, were growing steadily more visible as night time arrived. Lucia kept on, higher and higher…

 Feeling exhausted, Lucia finally decided to stop. She stood on a large rock and peered down at the lodge. It was barely visible to her now. Lucia grinned happily, having never been so far from the lodge before now. It was wonderful.

 Okay, she thought. I'll look around a little bit more, and then I'll go home and fix the heaters. I wanna explore up here just a little bit more...

 With her hands frostbitten and her cheeks and nose red, Lucia strolled around one of the highest surfaces of the mountain, examining its many shapes, rocks, formations, and the deepest pits of snow. It took her a moment to spot another human-shaped figure standing nearby.

 Near a few of the large rocks, another person was stood eerily still in the night. It looked like a shadow, and if she hadn't imagined it, she could’ve sworn that the figure was watching her...

 Maybe it’s not a person, she pondered silently, her heart beginning to pound. It’s standing really still. Maybe it’s just another rock.

 As if hearing her thoughts, the hooded shadow stepped forward. It drew nearer and stepped into the moonlight, and Lucia was able to see that the person was wearing at least three layers of winter clothing and two scarves around its neck.

 "You okay?" Lucia asked, growing nervous. "Wha... what're you doing up here? Are you lost?"

 The stranger didn’t reply.

 Lucia wanted to step backwards, but behind her was one of the many steep hills which made up Mt. Janessa. She couldn't risk falling.

 "Please… don't…" Lucia gasped as the mysterious person came within two feet of her.

 When the stranger extended its hand, Lucia broke into a run; she darted around the stranger towards the flattest area in sight, hoping not to fall down the mountain. She pressed her back against a huge rock, her breath becoming rapid. There was nowhere to go…

 The stranger moved with a swiftness unthinkable for a human; it grasped her by the throat, its cold, rough fingers tightening around her windpipe, quickly cutting off the flow of air to her lungs.

 The creature's claw-like nails dug into her skin as it continued to strangle her, its scaly hands colder than ever... It’s not... it’s not human... 

 As her vision began to blur and distort, her body jolting and panicking, her hands then balled into fists and she resisted with all her might, but to no avail; the scaly man was much stronger than her.

 Her mouth opened and she gaped for air, desperately trying to make a sound, but she wasn’t able to…

 Something hit them hard.

 Another figure hurdled from seemingly nowhere and tackled the scaly stranger. The clawed hand released Lucia, making her slump into the snow, gasping for breath.

 Now, she sat horribly disoriented and barely conscience lying against the rock behind her. Lucia squinted into the snowy night, attempting to figure out what had happened.

 The second hooded figure came into full view, and was wrestling with the first one. They were trading a few harsh blows as they maneuvered through the snow, and the second hooded man charged Lucia’s attacker with another tackle—

 Lucia gasped.

 Both of the hooded men stumbled backwards.

 They fell over the nearest edge, the edge of the humongous Mt. Janessa.

 Lucia stood bolt upright and rushed towards the ledge, staring over it and ignoring her dizziness.

 The crescent mountain had many rocks and ledges the entire way down, and, after staring intently into the endlessness of the mountain, Lucia was able to spot one of the hooded men lying dangerously close to another ledge about fifty feet down. She wasn't able to see the other one; he must have fallen all the way down.

 Then, she spun around and headed for the slope as fast as her tiring body would allow, careful not to slip, lest she meet a similar fate as her attacker. She continued down the mountain until she was level with the ledge on which her savior had fallen, and she cautiously weaved through the rocks towards it.

 Once she finally found herself on the rocky platform, Lucia knelt beside the hooded man—the man who had rescued her.

 She examined him closely.

 It took her a moment to fully comprehend what she was seeing.

 He was a man—not a Reptilian, but a human man—wearing an ancient pair of jeans, an equally old black shirt, and his whole body was covered in a very thick, black cloak which harbored a few tears and holes. The hood still covered most of his head, but Lucia was able to see his face... his terribly bizarre, yet strangely captivating face...

 It was a slender, beautifully carven face, but that wasn't the most marveling thing about it. His skin was a mild greenish color. And, along his cheeks and jaw were cracked lines, his skin splitting open slightly where a few small scars were. Lucia noticed that similar cracks were covering both of his arms up and down as well. The openings in his skin glowed a brilliant green, and his hair, being a little longer on the top than on the sides, was stringy and messy in a strangely stylish way. Both his hair and his sideburns were a deep Christmas green like the color of pine needles. His eyes remained closed as he lay in the snow. He looked to be simply sleeping.

 "Hey, wake up." Lucia said, forcing herself to stay calm and ignoring the man's flabbergasting appearance. She leaned over him and gently placed a hand on his cheek, giving it a timid shake. "Are you okay? W-wake up."

 The green man released a low, quiet moan.

 Lucia watched him, awaiting some kind of response.

 The man winced. He stirred himself awake and stared up at her in a daze, his ominous eyes shining emerald underneath the light of the two moons.

 The green man sat upright and bit his lip. He made a pained, muffled noise, only just realizing that he’d been injured.

 Lucia’s heart skipped.

 The man's right arm, the one he presumably landed on, was dangling at a completely unnatural angle by his side.

 "Your arm's broken..." Lucia breathed. "Let's go to the lodge, I might be able to find you some help there."

 The man met her gaze a second time, his large eyes staring into her in a deep, mysterious manner. He then grasped his forearm, glaring at it for a moment and taking a deep breath. He seemed to be bracing himself for something.

 Lucia watched him.

 "What are you—"


 She jumped.

 The green man forced the dislocated arm back into its socket. He looked as though he was using every ounce of his energy not to howl in pain.

 Then, the arm continued to change; it made a few more horrible craaackling noises as it conformed, ever so slowly, back into its original shape. The man stared into his arm, waiting for it to finish repairing its own bones.

 Lucia watched in astonishment, her insides squirming as the green man's broken arm healed itself before her eyes.

 The open cracks along his broken arm were an even brighter green than before, and after about a minute, the arm had fully healed, and the glowing cracks in its skin returned to a dimmer light.

 "How did...?" Lucia muttered, unable to tear her eyes from him. "How did you do that?"

 The man looked her way again, saying nothing. After briefly scanning over his arm and ensuring that it had healed properly, he stood and walked away from her without saying a word.

 Lucia watched him until he was out of sight. 

 "Where the hell have you been?" James snarled the moment he caught sight of Lucia, who only just wandered into the lobby, her body covered in snowy flakes, her hair screwed up, and her expression even more distant than usual.

 "Nowhere." Lucia answered emptily as she headed for the back hallway, but her father's hand clamped onto her shoulder, stopping her mid step.

 "You don't go anywhere unless I send you there. You have a nice long list of stuff to do now. I can't afford for you to start screwing things up right now—now of all times." James told her.

 Lucia blinked, noticing Carlos standing just feet behind his father.

 "I'm leaving for the weekend." James said. "It’s a, uh... a business meeting type thing. I'm not coming back until around the 27th."

 "You're leaving for Christmas?" Lucia said. "You're just leaving us here alone for Christmas? Really?"

 "No. Er... you." James said, releasing her shoulder. “I’m leaving you here for Christmas.”

 Lucia glimpsed at Carlos again.

 "You mean he's going with you on a Christmas trip... and you're just gonna leave me here by myself." Lucia growled, her tone rising. "Are you serious?!"

 James released a deep sigh.

 "I need someone here to watch things." He said. "There's going to be a convention here all weekend, and the people should start showing up tomorrow. You're gonna have to manage that."

 "WHAT?!"' Lucia exclaimed. "So you and Carlos get to go vacationing, and I have to run the place by myself all Christmas? What the f—"

 "That's enough!" James hissed. "I need to know you can run this place if you’re ever going to—"

 "I CAN! Better than that useless prick!" Lucia hollered, waving a hand towards Carlos, who looked taken back by the insult. "Have fun. Just leave. Bye! Hope you both die in a lizard raid!"

 Lucia stormed away, and James, who's face was beginning to turn a deep scarlet, marched the other direction, out the lobby doors and into the snowy night, suitcase at hand and Carlos following close behind.

 It was almost one in the morning before Lucia realized what she'd done.

 She returned to the open area she'd discovered on the top of Mt. Janessa only hours ago. Surprisingly enough, the journey this time wasn't half as exhausting as it had been the first time. Lucia guessed that her anger had helped fuel her second climbing of the mountain.

 Returning to the ledge overlooking the world of Mars, she sat on the flat snowy rock, staring down at the lodge at the bottom of the mountain. She crossed her arms around her legs, the icy air whizzing by as snowflakes began to descend and flutter through the wind.

 Lucia hardly remembered climbing the mountain again, and she'd almost forgotten that she was attacked by a mysterious hooded Reptilian upon her previous visit to the top of Mt. Janessa. The only thing occupying her mind during her second climb was the face of her father... that stuck-up, angry, bitter old fool, and that overfed pig of a son of his... just because I'm not technically related to them by blood, they treat me like I'm not even part of the family... or maybe it’s because I'm a girl... or maybe because they just don't like me. Most people don't like me. I'll give them that... I'm homely, I hate dressing up, I hate girly stuff... I can't stand the stupid rules in that damn lodge... and I have a big ugly scar on my face... of course they hate me... who wouldn't...

 "Are you mad?" A voice came from behind, startling her.

 Lucia whirled around.

 "You were nearly killed up here." The green man said. "And you come back two hours later? Are you completely mad?"

 "Who are you?" Lucia asked curiously, reaching her feet.

 "The green man!" He replied, making a few comically spooky gestures with his hands and arching his fingers as though they were claws. "The monster of Mt. Janessa, the Reptoid spy, c'mon... you really never heard of me? I’m the big scary boogeyman of the mountain."

 "I've... heard stories." Lucia admitted. "But you... you don't seem..."

 The green man crossed his arms.

 "The stories make you sound.... bad." Lucia told him.

 "What makes you think I'm not?" He asked, smirking.

 "It’s kinda obvious you're not." Lucia answered honestly.

 "Well'p, once in a lifetime opportunity for you, innit? You get to ask me any questions you want now. Find out if the rumors are true." The green man said, stepping closer to her. "Do I really dine on human flesh alongside the Reptoids? Do I come down to the lodge and scare the children at night? Aaaargh!"

 He made a snarling noise and a falsely monstrous motion.

 "Why do you sound... foreign?" Lucia asked.

 "Of all the questions in the world..." He said. "I'm from the European Colony east of here."

 "You're British..."

 "Very good."

 “Okay, so… why didn’t you talk to me earlier? Why did you leave without saying anything?”

 “Mmm, I dunno. I guess I was shocked. People don’t usually talk to me civilly like that. I didn’t really know what to say.”

 Lucia glanced down the mountain, then back.

 "There aren’t any towns or houses for miles out here." Lucia said. "Do you live up here?"

 "Ye'ap." He responded, cocking his head proudly.

 "In the snow? How do you survive up here? It gets below freezing sometimes."

 "In my house, of course. I survive by being in my home. I know how to make fires to keep warm. Don't you have any better questions?"

 Lucia paused.

 The green man, seeming to read her thoughts, quietly anticipated her next question.

 "You're not a Reptilian..." Lucia said, drawing a little closer and studying him. "How did you get... I mean.... How..."

 "How did I get green?" He finished for her in a halfway humorous tone.

 "Yeah." Lucia responded, stealing a glimpse of the open glowing cracks in his skin. "And... your arms... and your face. Doesn't that hurt?"

 "What, these?" He said, lifting one of his arms and fiddling with a small section of his open skin. "Ah, no. No, these scars haven't hurt me for ages."

 "How did that... happen?" Lucia wondered, hoping that she wasn't treading into uncomfortable territory.

 His expression seemed to soften.

 "I'm not sure you'd believe me if I told you." He answered.

 The wind picked up, and Lucia began to shiver.

 "You look cold." The green man said.

 "Aren't you cold?" Lucia asked, looking at his exposed arms, the sleeves of his old shirt being far too short to conceal his freakish skin.

 "Eh. Sometimes. Whenever the feeling comes back." He said with a shrug.

 The light flurry of snowflakes had grown into a heavy gust, and Lucia swallowed, cradling her arms and doing her best to shield herself from the icy air.

 "Maybe we should go inside." He said. "Or you'll freeze to death."


 "My place."

 Lucia looked around. “But there’s no houses up here…”

 "It’s not a proper house." He informed. "Come see."

 He began down the slope, and after a small moment of hesitation, Lucia decided to follow. They headed down the slippery path, curving around the rocks and steep edges. A few minutes went by as Lucia followed the green man down the narrow path alongside the mountain. Soon after, they reached a large rocky ledge, which was apparently their destination.

 The green man approached a cave, then stopped when he realized Lucia was no longer following him.

 “Arent'cha coming?" He said.

 “You live in a cave?" Lucia mumbled.

 "Sort of. Come inside." He said, waving her along and stepping into the darkness. They both traveled about ten yards into the cave and arrived at a rusty door. The green man twisted the handle and pushed the door open.

 Lucia expected to see a small and enclosed area, but the inside was enormous. The cave expanded into a vast, dungeon-like opening, and it was filled with machines, loose clothing, a crookedly shaped handmade bed, and a variety of decorations along the cave's walls: posters, bones, and a huge glowing green clock, as well as many other peculiar items that Lucia couldn’t name if she tried.

 "Holy..." Lucia whispered.

 The green man turned and faced her, looking bemused.

 "How long have you lived here?" Lucia asked him.

 "Since I was about ten years old, give or take." He answered. "Where else would I stay? I’m not exactly welcome in regular society..."

 "Why not?" Lucia said.

 He held up one of his arms. The glowing green cracks seemed even more prominent, now that they were inside and away from the moonlight.

 "I tend to scare people. In fact... I can't for the life of me figure out why you're not scared to pieces." He explained, squinting at her.

 Lucia sighed.

 "Can I ask..." She said. "How did you... get like that?"

 His expression faded into a thoughtful, profound one.

 "I was in the city..." He started. "When the bomb fell... I was in the Capitol."

 "What?!" Lucia responded. "There's no way—that city was turned into a crater. You'd be dead."

 "You'd think so." He said, nodding. "The only nuclear arm used in the war, and I had to be right underneath it. I had a... a father in the city. He was a scientist for the human military, the one opposing the Reptilians. I went to his lab one day... after he told me to stay away, of course... and we were in a room full of chemicals. Biological toxins and viruses that were supposed to be effective against cold blooded creatures exclusively. Those chemicals were going to be used in the war... then, the bomb fell. My father shielded me, and he was killed instantly... along with everyone else. Oh!"

 The green man hurried across his spacious home, dug through a large pile of indescribable junk, picked up a large crossbow, and aimed it at a sloppily painted target on a homemade burlap punching bag, which was hanging in the middle of the cave.

 "Watch this!" He said excitedly.

 He pulled the lever back, aimed, and fired.

 The small bolt flew through the room and hit the dangling bag squarely in its center, making it wobble a bit.

 "Ha!" He yelled happily. "It’s the funnest thing ever! I honestly don't know why anyone leaves their house if they have a crossbow!"

 Lucia released a breathless laugh.

 "But... you..." She said. "That doesn't explain why your skin is kinda... greenish. Or why it’s splitting open like that."

 He grabbed another tiny bolt from the floor, placed it on the crossbow, and pulled the lever back again.

 "The room was full of glass." He said, trying to aim the crossbow steadily. "Everything shattered at once. It cut up my skin pretty bad. The scars never went away, never healed properly.”

 "How did you survive?" Lucia asked him.

 He pulled the trigger, and the second bolt met with the back end of the first one; it sliced the first bolt into three jagged pieces.

 "Not sure." He said truthfully, lowering the crossbow and looking around for another bolt. "Radiation. I know it’s got something to do with radiation. I didn't just wake up looking like this. It happened over a long period of time. Ten years or so. Over the months following, it started to make sense... a massive dose of radiation, combined with all those enhanced chemicals in the lab... I was exposed to it all at once, and look at me now. A one-of-a-kind mutant."

 "So... radiation from the Capitol nuke made you like this." Lucia said. "But earlier today... when your arm was broken... it fixed itself."

 "Yep. Sure did." He located another bolt and loaded his weapon a third time. "I'm not immortal or anything. I can definitely die, just like any other person. But... if I've got enough time after an injury, and if I focus really, really hard, then I can fix it. I can heal it. I'm not exactly sure how. I've got a lot of fast thoughts nowadays, too... thoughts I didn't have as a kid... sometimes too fast to stop."

 He fired the crossbow again, and the third bolt hit the exact spot where the first two had hit. All of them popped off of the burlap sack and scattered along the cave floor.

 "Fast thoughts..." Lucia said, giving him an odd look.

 "Rapid thoughts. Lucia.” He faced her again, his luminous eyes shining as they zeroed in on her. "Alone and burned... they're coming, all coming... connections, loose and strong, but scattered, patterns, broken patterns... people... traveling the wrong way... wrong way caravans... wrong way, wrong—stop!"

 He planted his fist into his forehead. The knuckles against his skull made a thick thumping noise which echoed throughout the cave.

 "No, don't stop." He corrected himself. "Close to an answer—no—yes—no, but almost... almost… something here I'm not quite getting, got it—no I don't—people, Reptilians… something's here I can’t see... see... and what better time than now? Now that the man in charge walked out with a suitcase—now that he’s gone—it’s now!”

 He clamped both of his hands over his face, then began to breathe in a very hard, slow way, hoping that his thoughts wouldn't escape him again.

 "How do you know my name?" Lucia wondered, still trying to make sense out of his ramblings.

 "Oh, I... I don't know." He said quietly, allowing his hands to slide off his cheeks. "I must have… must have heard it somewhere before. Been living near the lodge all my life, must have heard your name a lot of times. Funny how that... works."

 Lucia continued to stare at him, looking deeply intrigued.

 "Lucia." He said by accident again. "Sorry—Lucia—that ringing name. Agh."

 He grabbed his head and winced.

 "Are you okay?" Lucia asked.

 He placed the crossbow on the ground and met eyes with her again.

 "Luc—sorry." He said, gritting his teeth. "It’s getting away from me—again—my head!"

 His fingers curled around the cloth of his hood, his head now throbbing madly.

 "What's wrong?" Lucia asked with a look of concern spread across her face.

 "Nothing—sorry." He said, trying to maintain eye contact with her. "I think too fast sometimes... dunno why… or how… but it hurts. It always hurts."

 "Well... are you okay?" Lucia asked again.

 He gazed at her for a moment.

 "Oh… that's nice." He said, patting his chest. "Oh... good. That's a better feeling. Yes. No one's ever asked me that before. Good feeling... good feeling... yes.."

 I'll take that as a yes, Lucia thought.

 "What's your name?" She wondered.

 "Elias." He responded, adjusting his hood. "The green Reptoid monster man!"

 He made another fake monster pose, and Lucia laughed.

 As Elias continued to scrounge around in search of another bolt for his crossbow, Lucia observed him. During her life in the lodge, for as long as she could remember, locals and guests alike would spread frightening rumors about the green man, the monster of Mt. Janessa. Many people believed him to be in league with Reptilian extremists, because he apparently had a habit of showing up whenever Reptilian raids would occur. Or, maybe it was just because he was green... or because he had an outlandishly strange appearance. Some people even claimed that the green man himself was responsible for the attacks. And after meeting him, Lucia was certain that he had a few screws loose.

 But here, now, watching him marvel over his crossbow like a child with a new toy, Lucia couldn't imagine why anyone was frightened of him. He seemed like an ordinary person, with a slight mutation and a touch of eccentricity.

 What made everyone so terrified of him?

 "Lucia!" Elias yelled, his voice bouncing off the walls of his cave and snapping Lucia out of her thoughts.


 "Come try. Wanna try?" He held up his crossbow, but Lucia shook her head.

 "No thanks." She said.

 He shrugged and aimed at the target-painted bag again.

 "You're pretty open about... everything." Lucia said. "You answered every question I had... told me everything about yourself."

 "I've got nothing to hide." Elias replied simply, then aimed the crossbow at some of his wall decorations instead of the burlap bag. "You're the only one who's ever asked. It’s nice to have someone to tell."

 "Thank you." Lucia said, her heart giving a nervous thump.

 Elias fired the crossbow a fourth time, and the bolt flew through the open area in the blink of an eye. It hit the skull of a Black Dingo, which was hanging on his wall many yards away. The bolt stuck itself squarely in between the skull's eye sockets.

 Then, he turned, raising his eyebrows and staring at Lucia.

 "Thank you for what?" He asked.

 "S-saving me earlier today." Lucia replied. "From that Reptilian. What was it doing here, anyway? This isn't their territory. It’s way too cold for them to survive around here."

 "Terrorists." Elias said. "Terrorists with bad intentions. That Reptilian, the one who tried to kill you… you remember what it looked like, right?"

 "Not really. It was wearing a lot of clothes..."

 "Exactly! It was wearing a lot of clothes!" Elias exclaimed, hopping in place and dropping the crossbow at his feet.

 Lucia watched him, feeling confused.

 "Wearing a lot of clothes—why? Because they're cold blooded. It’s night time in the winter time—cold, cold, cold blooded terrorists, they wear a lot of clothes so they don't freeze out here! Keeps them disguised as well, they might be mistaken for ordinary people if nobody sees their scaly skin—bleeding into human society, plotting, planning, caravans—killing—more killing—killing, killing, killing—Agh!"

 Elias grasped his head again.

 "Stop thinking... stop it." He scolded himself.

 Lucia watched him. Does it really hurt him to think too much? That’s insane…

 "Well, I..." She began awkwardly. "I have to get... back home. I have to run the lodge this weekend. There's a convention."

 Elias looked her way.

 After a small moment of silence, he nodded. "Alright."

 "You could come..." Lucia said. "Uh... there's gonna be parties and dinners all weekend long. You could come... visit."

 He eyed her.

 "I... I don't think I'd be welcome in the lodge." Elias said doubtfully. "I'm sorry."

 "No, it’s fine." Lucia responded a little too quickly. "Well... see you later, I guess. Merry Christmas."

 It took her a moment to actually bring herself to move. When she left the green man's cave, a weird sensation spread throughout her body like a cold fire. She couldn't erase the green man's innocent, childlike face and orb-like eyes from her thoughts the entire way down the mountain.

 The silence of the cave was maddeningly loud. It always felt that way, always stayed far too quiet for his liking, but somehow, it seemed as if the silence was fifty times louder than it ever had been before in the minutes after Lucia left.

 Elias continued shooting at random ornaments and collected items of his, hitting his marks with flawless efficiency each time. He had such skill, such amazing abilities, many amazing abilities, all of them useless, all empty, all wasted, all without purpose. If just he, by himself and alone, was the only one to benefit from his abilities, then what good were they? What was the point of being skilled and strong if he was simply going to waste away in a cave by his lonesome?

 Perhaps he could use his abilities to determine why a Reptilian found its way up the crescent mountain.

 "Why indeed..." He uttered to himself, pulling the trigger and landing a bolt directly in the center of his gigantic green clock. "A Reptilian, lurking around on my mountain. Why?"

 He continued to shoot his own belongings, pick up the bolts after they’d fall, and repeat the process.

 "Indeed why... indeed why..." He murmured, firing shot after shot, faster and faster each time. "Indeed, indeed, indeed why... sneaking, lurking, slithering, snake-like people—hiding in plain sight, why? Why, why, why? Intentions, motives, and their fire—always using fire—always burning—angry, ignorant, vengeful—pieces like a puzzle—hiding on the mountain, where nobody would look—caravans destroyed far from society, far, far, far out of sight—of course—but how? How, how, how? No knowledge of our land—no way to survive the cold—so then—how? How, how, how, how, how?! Christmas convention—convention, convention, convention—motives—rage—fury—motives—something—something—augh!"

 Elias dropped the crossbow and clutched his head with both hands, his skull pounding horribly as a splitting headache overcame him. Nearly every item on his wall had a bolt stuck in it now, and after forcing his thoughts to slow, he heaved a long, heavy breath.

 His back hit the wall, and he slid down, sitting against the rocky interior of the cave and rubbing his temples as he did. Though he tried, he could never eliminate the thoughts from his mind... yes, he could calm himself, he could cease his focus, he could calm himself somehow or another... but the thoughts would return... they'd always return... a few loose ends, a few random images from isolated bits of his memories that he couldn’t recall, or a familiar name slipping through the cracks of his mind like a snowflake in a fiery grip...


 The morning came much too early.

 Lucia had completely forgotten about her escape through her basement window, and now that the snow was no longer blocking it, a glare of orange sunlight was free to invade her room, illuminating it in an almost blinding way.

 When Lucia finally blinked herself awake, she found it rather odd that nobody was hammering on her door or ordering her to get up and do her chores. And, stranger still that the whole basement was flooded with sunlight. This day seemed to start very differently than most, but Lucia didn't mind one bit. It was quite refreshing.

 An entire weekend without Dad or Carlos, she thought, standing upright and rifling through her clothes hamper. I don't know why I had a problem with it. It sounds like paradise!

 Elias appeared in her mind again, but she shook the thought away and dumped the hamper onto the floor, revealing a few of her outfits which she hadn't worn in ages. One outfit in particular stuck out to her; it was a black and white, long sleeved, tightly-fit top, one with the two colors mashing together like a beautiful swirl of watercolors. The shirt fit her perfectly, but she usually never wore it.

 Smiling, Lucia picked it up and draped it over her body. It stuck to her stomach, chest, and back exactly how she remembered, and it looked very pretty. It wasn't the look she'd usually go for, but with her father and Carlos both gone, she found herself entranced with an unusual feeling of eagerness, of happiness, and strangely enough, she wanted to look her best today. It was a beautiful Friday after all, and she'd have to welcome all the convention goers who'd show up today, party on Saturday, and stay for Christmas Sunday.

 After slipping into some black skinny jeans, Lucia left her room and made her way to the diner. It was about halfway full of families eating breakfast, and outside of the enormous windows was—not only a gorgeous glare of sunlight—but a fresh flurry of snowflakes falling to the world below. Lucia suspected that Mars had never seen such a beautiful winter before.

 Since everything seemed to be in order—as far as she could tell, anyway, as her father hadn't left her any real instructions regarding how to keep the lodge running—Lucia headed into the bathroom. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a few articles of make-up and a hat.

 Last Christmas, she'd found the hat left in one of the hotel rooms. Someone had forgotten it, and Lucia, figuring she may eventually have a use for it, claimed it.

 Lucia applied a thin layer of black-and-silver make-up, along with black mascara, then placed the Santa hat atop her head, her short ginger hair reaching out from under it, lying on her neck and bordering her face. She was absolutely pleased with her appearance today—even seeing her scar as plain as day in her reflection.

 When she reached the lobby, Lucia was surprised to see that it was already packed with people; families with suitcases and backpacks, as well as quite a lot of children, were standing in line at the front desk.

 The man behind the front desk was attempting to handle everything by himself, and the spot beside him was empty.

 "Need help?" Lucia offered, stepping behind the desk and powering on the second computer terminal. "I can get someone over here!"

 Some of the conventioners from the line broke into a second line, forming behind Lucia’s side of the desk. After grasping a vague idea as to how to enter guest information, Lucia greeted every family happily and punched their info into the computer. Twenty minutes went by, and the crowd had finally died down. Lucia gave the lobby man a salute, then strolled off to check on the rest of the lodge, and, all the while, she barely realized that she was in an unusually good mood.

 "Miss!" Someone yelled when she was halfway down the hall.

 Lucia turned to see old Nicholas, the host of the convention.

 "Sorry to bother ya' miss... oh! You're wearing a Santa hat. You're in the spirit now, huh?" He said as he approached her.

 "Yep." Lucia agreed with a grin.

 "Er... where's your father?" He asked.

 "Away for the weekend. I'm in charge, apparently."


 "Yeah... weird, right?"

 "Oh no, it’s not that... but, er... I was wondering if you could spare an extra employee to help me decorate. I have my two grandkids hanging up lights and whatnot, but I'm afraid we won't get it done on time if we don't have an extra person—"

 "I'll do it." Lucia told him.

 "Will you?" Nicholas said, trying not to sound surprised. "Well... God bless ya' sweetheart!"

 And so, Lucia followed Nicholas to his stash of decorations just outside of the lodge. They unloaded the boxes, and Nicholas kindly suggested where and how the lights ought to be hung. They spent the next hour or so carrying around two large ladders and stringing up the lights, both inside and outside of the lodge, and at some point, Nicholas had rigged a soundtrack of Christmas music onto the loudspeakers somehow.

 Once Lucia had exhausted her supply of lights, Nicholas gave her a thumbs up, and she replied with a simple wave and marched away. It was eleven in the morning now, and Lucia couldn't figure out what to do next.

 Dinners! She thought. There's gonna be a lot of people here, and I bet Nicholas ordered a lot of food. The chefs probably need help.

 Lucia maneuvered through the diner and entered the kitchen, where, as she predicted, the chefs were scrambling to cook a lot of things at once. Many gigantic plates of food were assorted along the counters, and the chefs were moving from one spot to another, weaving around each other and trying not to knock anything over.

 "You guys need help?" Lucia asked loudly, trying to speak over all the noises in the kitchen.

 A few of them looked her way, seeming to recognize her as the lodge owner's daughter.

 "You wanna help? Help us cook?" The head chef asked, somehow balancing a monstrous plate containing a whole turkey and a large pitcher of tea on one arm.

 Lucia nodded.

 "Er… right, um… ah! In the back—in the freezer—could you grab us a couple of hams? I've got everyone busy here..." The chef asked, and Lucia nodded again.

 Cautiously, she traveled through the kitchen, dodging the people, pots, pans, and preparations taking up most of the space. When she finally reached the other side of the kitchen, she realized that the freezer was in an entirely different room.

 Lucia opened the door and stepped into a large, dark room, and just ahead of her was a massive, vault-like metal box that radiated such a cold temperature, the entire room could have been used to store frozen goods.

 That's the biggest freezer I've ever seen in my life, Lucia thought as she placed her hand on the handle of the freezer’s large door.

 She pulled the giant metal door open with considerable effort and stepped inside. A fog of blisteringly cold air emerged from within the freezer around her ankles and knees, making a wave of goosebumps travel up her body.

 The freezer was a vast wonderland of frozen foods. It was astronomically enormous on the inside, and, as she ventured deeper into it, Lucia noticed that there was no handle on the inside of the door.

 This would be a good place to trap someone if you wanted to freeze them to death, She figured. There's no way to open the door from the inside.

 Lucia located the hams, stuffed two of them underneath either of her arms, and slowly left the freezer, unable to close the door behind her with her arms and hands being occupied by frozen meat.

 She came out of the back room and placed the humongous hams on the closest counter, then asked a nearby chef what they needed help with.

 Lucia spent the next two hours making more trips to the freezer, wrapping large chunks of meat in aluminum foil, saturating them, and putting them in ovens, along with stirring soups, retrieving cans from the pantry, and last but not least, washing the dishes.

 The dishes in particular proved to be the most exhausting chore. Nearly another hour went by, and after a long while, she finally finished, placing the last clean plate on the rack and releasing a heavy sigh. Despite her tiredness, Lucia returned to the kitchen, prepared for more work.

 "Anything else needing done?" Lucia asked them, adjusting her Santa hat.

 "No. Well… yes, just one last thing." The head chef replied. "Just pop back into the freezer and grab us another ham, we're one short... and then... yep... we'll be all accounted for. After that, you go ahead and take a break, kid. You've certainly earned it. I hope your father's paying you."

 Lucia gave him a polite smile, stifling the urge to breathe a sarcastic laugh, then headed through the kitchen and towards the back room again. She stepped into the back room and approached the giant metal door once more, ignoring the hungry rumbling of her stomach.

 Lucia turned the handle and pulled the heavy door open—


 Her heart could have stopped.

 It was the last thing she expected; a person flew out of the freezer, wrapping its arms around her tightly and squeezing her in a very close embrace.

 "There you are!" A familiar voice shouted exasperatedly.

 Lucia pulled away from the person, but he did not release her.

 Elias, only inches from her face, placed his hands on both of her cheeks, looking incredibly relieved and happy. He seemed to enjoy the touch of her skin very much.

 "What the hell?!" Lucia stammered. "How the—what—how did you get in the freezer? What are you doing here?!"

 "Warm, warm, warm, so very warm..." He exhaled with a broad grin. "You're so warm! I came d-d-down to join you… the convention… snuck into the lodge, saw you helping in the kitchen... I hid in the freezer... I w-wanted to surprise you... but the door... the door l-l-locked... couldn't get out... so cold!"

 He continued to toast his hands upon her face, and despite her shock and bewilderment, she allowed him to. His hands were cold to the touch, while his green hairs were dripping bits of frost, and his body was trembling madly.

 "You've got it—t-t-t-ten times colder in that bloody freezer than the winter wasteland out on Mt. Janessa!" Elias said, sounding awestricken and pointing to the freezer. "H-h-how on Mars did you manage that?!"

 "I don’t know, I didn't build the freezer!" Lucia replied, gently placing her hands on his forearms, his cloak shedding flakes of ice. "Jesus Christ, I can't believe you hid in the freezer! You're out of your mind!"

 They gazed at one another for a moment, then erupted into laughter simultaneously.

 "Come on, I'll find something warm for you to wear."  Lucia told him, grasping him by the shoulder and leading him out of the back room. "Let's try and get to my room without anyone seeing you."

 Lucia, having explored the lodge numerous times, was able to take the ideal route back to the basement with very little attention from guests and conventioners. When they slipped into her bedroom, Lucia closed and locked the door behind them.

 "Still cold?" Lucia asked.

 He nodded, still shivering and crossing his arms tightly across his chest.

 "I think I've got a cold." He said. "Ah… that's weird. I’ve never had a cold before. Hold on, I can fix it..."

 Elias extended his arms, and the openings in his skin began glowing with an intense green. He inhaled a long, fluent breath, and the brilliant glow spread into the tiny cracks on his cheeks as well. About a minute later, he let out a long exhalation, and the glow diminished.

 "Warm..." He mumbled, opening his eyes and giving Lucia a light smile. "Much better."

 "How do you do that?" Lucia asked, looking befuddled.

 "Just made myself warmer... don't feel sick anymore." He answered. "Think I might've burnt it outta me. Good for me. All purged. Ha!”

 "Okay, so... what're you doing here?" Lucia said. "I thought you didn't wanna come."

 "Changed my mind." Elias told her, glimpsing around her room.

 "You've never come here before. I've been here all my life, and you've never come down the mountain before. Why now?”

 "Cause, now I have a reason."


 Elias’ shining green eyes met her turquoise ones.

 "Aren't you wondering why that lizard man tried to kill you? Why he was on the mountain in the first place?" Elias asked her. "I think that's worth looking into... and a weekend long Christmas party is a pretty nice bonus, innit? And, I even made a friend. It’s a win, win, win."

 Lucia swallowed, trying not to look flustered.

 "Why're you interested in that?" She asked. "The Reptilian, I mean. Why do you care? It was just a straggler by himself. It doesn't mean anything."

 "Is that what you think?" Elias said in a soft tone. "You think he was here by chance? He looked pretty purposely dressed for winter to just wander onto the crescent mountain of winter hell by chance, didn't he? And he's not the only one. Lots of those cold-blooded people have been lurking around these parts for years, killing human caravans, killing loners like yourself—but they don't have any colonies within fifty miles of your lodge, or Mt. Janessa. They appear from nowhere, and none of you have any idea why. Doesn't that bother you?"

 "I don’t know... I guess." Lucia replied. "Nobody really cares. I mean... the news never talks about that kind of thing anymore. Nobody seems to think it’s a big deal.”

“That’s because it’s something that they can’t explain, either.” Elias told her. "Why would anyone pay attention to a problem that they can't possibly solve? A problem with seemingly no solution? No explanation? That's too terrifying for anyone to face. It’d cause panic to provide news coverage for a problem with no solution. They won't report anything that would generate panic, even if it’s true. Even if it’s a legitimate problem that desperately needs solving. They don't report it, but people still die. They don't see it because they don't look for it—never look for it—obvious signs, sneaking, stealing, killing—where do they come from—come from nowhere—tensions rising, hate in the air—bad intent—bad intent surrounding—all vulnerable—asking to be killed—killing, killing, they hate—want to kill, kill, torture—win a war—make a point—ngh."

 Elias clasped his hand onto his forehead. He took a deep breath before allowing himself to speak again.

 "Sorry." He said. "Trying not to get ahead of myself here, but that's what I do, see? I think!"

 Lucia tried to ignore the rising anxiousness brewing inside her following Elias’ words.

 "Okay, so... assuming this is all true... why are you here?" Lucia questioned. "Why you? It doesn't have anything to do with you, does it? Why bother?"

 "Someone’s gotta deal with it.” Elias answered. “If not me, then who?”

 Lucia stared endlessly into him. He's trying to save the human colonies by himself? All those people who treat him like a monster, and he's trying to save their lives...

 "And you... you think you'll find leads here?" Lucia said.

 "There's no other nest of humans around here for miles. If they plan anything bad, this place will be their first target. And, it’s nice to… well… I could use some help."

 They stared at one another for a moment.

 "What, me?" Lucia asked. “You want my help?”

 "Of course." Elias replied without a moment’s hesitation.

 "You want me to help you investigate my dad's lodge and look for lizard terrorists while I'm trying to run a humongous Christmas convention all weekend?"


 "Just the two of us?"


 “Are you serious?”


 There was another moment of silence, during which they continued watching one another.

 "Okay." Lucia said. "I’ll do whatever I can to help, but... I'm gonna need help too. I've got a lot to do this weekend. And you... you're gonna need some new clothes."

 Without waiting for his reply, Lucia began searching for a new outfit for Elias.

After digging through her closet and making a horrible mess of her room in doing so, Lucia was able to locate a few outfits that she swore she'd never seen before. She'd found two matching black gloves, long enough to cover up a person's wrists, and a coat which was styled to look like a suit. The coat had three loops along its front, intended for keeping the coat closed, and the hips had two large rectangular pockets on them. The collar area was white and separate from the rest of the coat, which was black. The collar—despite the somewhat casual look of the rest of the outfit—looked very businessey, and it held a false navy-colored tie. The long black sleeves were just a little too small for Elias, but the gloves covered the skin that the coat wasn't able to. The outer collar and shoulders were draped with two thick layers of cloth, meant for keeping the wearer warm in harsh weather. Matched with the sleek black pants and shiny dress shoes Lucia had given him, he looked absolutely stunning.

 "What's wrong with what I was wearing...?" Elias asked a few minutes later, looking down at himself and scanning every inch of his body, craning his neck in order to examine his backside. "This is... different."

 "It’s fantastic!" Lucia said happily, adjusting his tie for him.

 "My hair..." Elias said, running his fingers through his green fohawk. "This isn't normal, is it? People might think it’s weird. Green hair…”

 "Some people are born with unnatural hair colors nowadays, it’s a common mutation. Nobody will question it... you might get some stares, though." Lucia told him.

 "Wouldn't be the worst thing I've got. And my skin?" Elias placed a hand on his face. "People don't usually turn green, do they? Is that just me?"

 "Um..." Lucia began. "You're not that green. Your skin tone is really mild. I don't think anybody will care. They'll probably just think you painted your face to look like an elf or something."

 "Elves are green?"

 "Uh... I don't know."

 "Me either. But my scars..." Elias grazed one of the open slits on his cheek. "There's no real explanation for my scars, is there? How many people have open wounds that glow green?"

 "Most of your scars are covered up." Lucia said. "You only have three scars on your face, and they're all really tiny. You can't really notice them unless you're looking for them."

 "That's... true." Elias agreed hesitantly, staring at himself in Lucia's closet mirror. His face only harbored three small scars; one on his left cheek, and two on his right. None of them exceeded an inch in length.

 "Well then. Shall we?" Lucia asked, gesturing to the door.

 Elias was quiet for a moment.

 "What?" Lucia said.

 "You." He answered, seeming to stare right through her. "I just realized... you're unbelievably kind. Giving me clothes, helping me fight terrorists, and letting me stay for your Christmas shin-dig..."

 Lucia’s heart leaped into her throat.

 "And you still haven't told me..." Elias went on, giving her a curious, serious look. "Why aren't you afraid of me?"

 "I... well… why would I be?" Lucia told him. "You're not scary."

 "You've seen what I can do." Elias said. "No one ever sticks around after they see what I can do."

 "That doesn't bother me." Lucia said truthfully.

 They observed one another for a moment.

 It was a long, profound moment.

 Lucia's gaze didn't waver one bit as Elias studied her, her pale face, her short orange hair, her blueish-green eyes… her face... her face...

 Elias’ eyes drifted over to Lucia’s cheek.

 "I hadn't noticed..." He said so faintly she barely heard him. He lifted his hand, gracefully sliding his fingers along her face and staring into her scar.

 Lucia stepped back, covering her scar and suddenly looking defensive.

 "I'm sorry." Elias whispered, his hand still raised. "I didn't mean to... I only just noticed..."

 Lucia gulped.

 "Oh... Lucia." He said quietly. "They've hurt you."

 Lucia still said nothing.

 "They've burned you. They used fire. They always use fire." Elias continued, taking a step towards her. "They burn everything. They like to watch things burn. They love the heat. Love the suffering."

 "Stop it." Lucia said without thinking.

 "Never again." Elias told her, advancing another step, now barely a foot apart from her. "That's never gonna happen again."

 Lucia averted her eyes and stared down at her feet.

 Elias placed both of his hands on her cheeks as gently as possible, carefully forcing her to look at him.

 "I promise you. Lucia." He told her straightly, making a thousand feelings erupt within her like a volcano. "Never again. I won’t ever let that happen again. That's what I'm here for."

 Elias gave her a small smile, hoping to get some sort of positive response out of her.  

 Lucia, unsure of how to react, merely nodded.

 "Yeah, come on. Let's go... do something." Elias said.

 He led Lucia out of the bedroom, but Lucia quickly took the lead when Elias realized that he had no idea where to go.

 As they ventured up the stairs, the fuzzy sensation spreading throughout Lucia’s body didn't go away. She couldn't exactly pinpoint why she felt so intense; she'd never felt such a thing before. Then again, no one had ever spoken so sweetly to her before...

 Elias was the only friend Lucia ever had, so naturally, she didn't know what to expect. She didn't have a clue how friendship was supposed to work.

 "Where do we go now?" Elias asked once they reached the ground floor.

 "What are we looking for?" Lucia said, turning to him. "Reptilians. How do we look for them?"

 "Well..." He slipped his hands in his pockets again. "Hoods. People wearing a lot of clothes... people wrapped up in jackets, hoods covering their heads, most of their skin covered up..."

 "Okay. C'mon."

 They both headed down the hallway and emerged in the large doorway of the lobby.

 The lobby was packed; it was an ocean of people, both adults and children, most of whom were wearing large jackets with hoods. It made sense, considering the weather outside.

 "Well... this complicates things a bit." Elias said, raising his eyebrows at the crowd.

 "It’s twenty degrees outside. Everyone's dressed like that." Lucia commented. "What else are we looking for? Do they have any tells?"

 "Scales." Elias bit his lip. "Claws. Scales... and... mean."

 They stared at one another for a moment.

 "What?! They're a lot easier to spot when they're out attacking caravans!" Elias exclaimed.

 Lucia tried not to laugh.

 "There you are! My personal Christmas helper." Nicholas pushed his way out of the crowd and approached them. "Everyone's showing up now. We've even got people waiting outside... there's not enough room in this big ol' lobby! By jingle, I'm happier than ever! I hope the rooms are ready. They are ready, aren't they?"

 Lucia and Elias exchanged faces.

 "Yep." Lucia answered, nodding and hoping dearly that she was telling the truth. "Rooms are all clean and ready for people."

 "Great! And who is your friend here?" Nicholas asked, looking at Elias.

 "Elias. His name is Elias. He's my… ah... assistant. He's helping me run the place while my dad is away." Lucia told him.

 Nicholas's gaze seemed to linger on Elias for a moment.

 “We’re just checking on everything right now. Making sure everything is in order." Elias assured. “I’m just here to make sure it all goes smoothly. Everything’s gotta be in the best shape possible for the holidays, yeah?”

 "Wonderful! Listen—we could really use some help decorating the banquet hall. That enormous room in the back of the building with the mile long table, that's where I plan to have the Christmas dinner this Sunday. We've been so busy decorating the outside and the interiors—the lobby and the diner—we haven't gotten to the banquet room yet." Nicholas replied.

 "Nobody's used that room in a long time. It probably needs a cleaning too." Lucia told him. "We'll go straighten it up and hang up some lights."

 "The lights and the ladder are already in the banquet room, but nobody's gotten around to using them yet. Thank you so much for your help… and here, Merry Christmas."

 Nicholas grasped her hand and placed a small chunk of glistening gold in it.

 "Red gold? Wait, I can't just take this—"

 "Yes you can. You've been laboring over this convention all day long, kiddo. You deserve it." Nicholas responded. "Bye bye, now."

 After Nicholas strolled away, Lucia stared at the nugget of gold in her palm. It was the biggest hunk of red gold she'd ever been given.

 "Well'p, let's go decorate a big ass room."

 Feeling overjoyed at being paid for her hard work, Lucia headed off to the banquet hall with Elias following suit.

 Lucia pushed the double doors open and marveled at the inside of the humongous room. The ceiling was easily forty feet high, and the only thing inhabiting the room—apart from a jukebox, a ladder, and an entanglement of Christmas lights—was an incredibly long table. The room was bigger than a gymnasium.

 "Nicholas should have a dance party in here. It’s huge!" Lucia said. "I don't think I've ever actually been in here before. This place is amazing…”

 "Fantastic!" Elias beamed, rushing over to the lights. He lifted them up, separated some of them, and began to wrap them around his body.

 "What the hell are you doing?" Lucia asked with a snicker.

 "Fantastic! Brilliant! I just love these lights!" Elias twirled the lights around both of his legs, his torso, one of his arms, and finally, his neck and head.

 "You make a good Christmas tree." Lucia giggled as she watched Elias play with the lights, his green hair even messier than usual now that the lights were draping over his head. "What're you doing...?"

 Elias' eyes sparkled in a childlike way. He gave her a sly smile.

 "Watch this." He said, holding up the plug for the lights.

 Elias rolled up one of his sleeves, then gently pushed the two prongs of the plug into one of the larger scars on his arm.

 "Don't do that!" Lucia gasped. "Doesn't that hurt?!"

 Elias’ grin began to grow. He balled his hand into a fist and flexed his arm. It seemed as though he was channeling as much power as possible into his arm, the cuts in his skin beginning to shine again as he held the plug firmly in place.

 Then, something unthinkable happened.

 As his scars glowed green, the various colors of the Christmas lights all lit up at once up and down his body.

 "How are you doing that?!" Lucia asked, feeling both incredibly shocked and deeply impressed. "You're like a generator!"

 "Ha!" Elias laughed, letting the plug fall to the floor. The Christmas lights all died as quickly as they’d lit up. "I've always wanted to try that!"

 Lucia took a moment to process what she'd seen.

 "We need to get started..." She told him, still smiling.

 It took about half an hour for them to string up the lights around the ceiling, and they used extreme caution in doing so; the ladder reached 35 feet, just high enough to place the lights along the top of the walls. After they finished, Lucia climbed off the ladder only to see that Elias was eyeing the jukebox.

 "Music." He said. "That’s the only thing we're missing."

 "We should probably go back... see if Nicholas needs anything else done. We're stretched for time and there's a bunch of people here right now." Lucia told him.

 "Of course, of course..." Elias nodded, glimpsing between her and the jukebox. "We should... we should really… go find him… yeah…”

 After meeting Lucia’s eyes for a split second, Elias dashed towards the jukebox and powered it up.

 "Five hundred songs!" He yelled excitedly, flipping through the songs on the machine. "Ohh—this one!"

 The machine then erupted with a Christmassy song that Lucia had never heard before. After roughly twenty seconds of music, Elias decided to abandon the machine.

 He stepped in front of Lucia, extending his hand.

 "What?" She said, looking lost.

 "Dance?" He offered.

 Lucia's heart skipped a beat.

 "No..." She mumbled. "I've never danced before... I can't..."

 "Come on, it’s easy. I promise."

 "Can you dance?"

 "Sure. There's not much else to do when you're alone in a cave all the time."

 "But I can't..."

 "Come on, we're the only ones here."

 Elias motioned his fingers, revealing a faint smile.

 Lucia, sighing nervously, grasped his hand.

 Elias placed his free hand on her waist, then began moving around in a smooth, in a rhythmic way. Lucia was hardly able to make eye contact with him as they drifted around the room, her hands sitting tenderly on his shoulders and their faces only inches apart.

 As the song continued to echo throughout the enormous room, Lucia's heart seemed to thump harder and harder, and she briefly wondered if Elias was somehow able to feel it. His emerald eyes were absolutely captivating, and it felt as though she was staring into infinity, gazing into them... and Elias, who stood at about a foot taller than her, was completely lost in her eyes as well…

 They drew closer to one another as the joyful music bounced off the walls of the banquet room.


 They both looked towards the doors.

 Four hooded strangers were standing in the massive room now, two of them at each entrance, all of them glaring at Elias and Lucia.

 Elias, now looking positively serious, stepped in front of Lucia.

 "Stay behind me."

 "Who are they...?" Lucia whispered, forcing down the panic that was rising inside her.

 "What we're looking for." Elias answered, his hands grasping Lucia's wrists, securing and shielding her as he faced the hooded strangers. "And my guess is... they know we're onto them, and they want us to stay silent."

 "They're here to k-kill us?" Lucia stuttered.

 "Probably." Elias replied. His eyes darted between the hooded Reptilians as they all slowly inched closer.

 "What do we do?!" Lucia asked, her hands beginning to shake.

 "You... stay put." Elias responded as quietly as possible. "I'll deal with it."

 Then, Elias stepped towards the four assassins.

 Two of the hooded killers were carrying a couple of long, jagged blades, one of them was unarmed, and one of them held a large crooked firearm. It wasn’t an ordinary gun, Elias knew. Ordinary firearms were shunned by the Reptilian society because they were inventions of mankind; Reptilians had their own variety of firearms.

 The Reptilian carrying the firearm raised it, aiming at Elias, and pulled the trigger—

 Lucia gasped, her eyes wide with shock as the large barrel of the Reptilian's gun sent a wave of fire towards Elias. The flames flickered in the reflection of her eyes as the fire consumed her friend, and an overwhelming sensation of fear overcame her... something she hadn't felt in ages...

 Astonishingly, Elias was still moving forward with no apparent damage done to him as of yet. His scars began to glow brighter than Lucia had ever seen them, and his eyes became a blinding green as he pierced the armed Reptilian with a snake-like leer.

 Elias advanced, and with one swift movement, he grasped the end of the gun and squeezed it; it shattered in his hand, its crumbled remains scattering onto the floor at both of their feet.

 Once the Reptilian lost its weapon, Elias was able to sense the creature’s fear; he caught a glimpse of its scaly humanoid face from underneath its hood, its mouth hanging open, its eyes glistening with a quiet panic…

 Gritting his teeth, his expression fierce and his eyes still burning green, Elias clasped his hands onto the Reptilian's head and twisted with all his might—


 Lucia jumped, covering her mouth and stifling a very sudden feeling of disgust as the Reptilian fell to the ground, its head hanging loosely from its broken neck.

 The unarmed Reptilian rushed Elias, hoping to tackle him to the ground—

 Elias grabbed its head, halting the assassin, and it met the same fate as the first.


 Lucia looked away for a split second. She heard the second body hit the floor.

 A third Reptilian dashed forward, blade at hand, and Elias clamped both of his hands on the creature's wrists.

 The Reptilian let out a wailing screech, which echoed terribly throughout the banquet hall; it dropped the blade and scrambled away from Elias.

 He's hot to the touch, Lucia realized. He absorbed that fire.

 The third Reptilian ran for it.

 It headed towards the double doors as the fourth Reptilian scurried towards Elias, making a few rapid stabbing motions…

 Lucia launched her foot into the Reptilian's side, making it stumble onto the floor.

 Elias lifted the creature by the collar. Its hood slid off, revealing its oddly shaped head.

 "No… please…!" The creature hissed, its yellow eyes terror stricken as its slit-shaped pupils gazed up at Elias, who looked absolutely furious.

 Elias paused. He glanced at Lucia, then the Reptilian's two dead comrades, then back. His eyes and scars began to lose their glow, their light fading as he stared into the creature's face.

 "Fine." He said in an unusually dark voice. "Leave."

 The creature hurried for the nearest set of doors, and Elias watched until it was out of sight, wearing a particularly grave expression as he did.


 Nicholas made an aghast face after hearing the story. He gaped at Lucia wordlessly for a moment.

 "Don't let any guests into the banquet room until somebody cleans up the... the bodies." Lucia said as Elias approached her from behind, the three of them standing alone in the large hallway outside of the banquet room.

 "Good heavens..." Nicholas exhaled. "What a horrible turn of events... we… we have to call the authorities. We have to tell them everything you just told me."

 "Might not do any good." Elias said, his arms folded and his face still oddly gaunt. "This has happened out here before... countless times. The authorities will come, mind you... but not for a long while. It takes them quite a while to travel out here, and most of them time, they won't act on hearsay. Usually they wait until after somebody's already been hurt, like the caravans and traders who go missing out here. You should call them, definitely, but don't anticipate their arrival any time soon."

 "How do you know?" Nicholas asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at Elias.

 "Because I've been through it." Elias responded through gritted teeth. "Every time I've witnessed it, the authorities don't even spare an investigation into the attacks, don’t even respond to the calls. We're all on our own out here."

 They stared at one another for a few tense seconds.

 "They were armed, you said?" Nicholas said. "How did you manage to kill two of them, and chase two of them off?"

 Lucia glimpsed between them.

 Elias glared at old Nicholas quietly.

 "Go call your cops." He told the old man, then marched passed him and down the hall, Lucia following close behind.

 When they turned the nearest corner, they found themselves alone in another long hallway, and Elias stopped.

 He placed a hand on the wall and released a huge breath.

 "What's wrong?" Lucia asked him.

 "Tired." He responded. "Too much... too much power..."

 Elias allowed himself to sink onto the floor, his back against the wall as he stared up at the ceiling. His exhaustion became visible on his face.

 Lucia sat beside him and observed him intently.

 "Are you okay?" She said.

 "Oh yeah, I'll be fine." Elias told her. "Of course, I'll be fine. I’ll be fine…"

 Lucia didn’t tear her gaze from him.

 He turned his head and met her eyes.

 "Are you really?" Lucia asked. “Are you really okay?”

 Elias didn’t answer right away.

 "It feels like I..." He started, sighing. "I... burn up my life, when I'm like that... resistant to fire, ridiculously strong, all that... but when it’s over... I feel like I'm... like I’m drained… like I'm an inch away from death..."

 Lucia gulped, trying to mask her concern.

 "One day... sometimes, I think..." He paused, took another breath, and kept speaking. "Sometimes I think that I'll... I'll over-do it one day. I'll use up every ounce of energy all at once, and I... I'll just die. Flicker out, like a light... and just... die."

 He closed his fist and reopened it slowly, as if he was releasing an invisible butterfly.

 "Gone like dust." He mumbled.

 "I won't let it get to that point." Lucia told him.

 He blinked at her.

 "I'll stop you." Lucia said, gently resting a hand on his shoulder.

 "Thank you..." Elias said sincerely, unable to look away from her.

 His voice sounded muddled... distorted, almost... and, if Lucia hadn't imagined it, his eyes had started to water…

 Elias looked away, biting his lip and forcing down every unexplainable feeling that began to brew in the pit of his stomach.

 "You're a godsend." He said.

 “Pfff… no I’m not.” Lucia replied with a snigger. “I’m nobody.”

 Then, Elias faced her again, his eyes unmistakably filled with tears.

 "You're everything." He told her.

 He pulled the glove off of his right hand and wrapped his warm fingers around Lucia's wrist, staring into her as though he could see the gates of Heaven in her eyes.

 Lucia returned the look, quickly becoming bombarded with a million unfamiliar emotions.

 I'm everything? What does that mean?

 Elias sniffled and heaved a long, shaky breath.

 "So... convention still on, then?" He said, attempting to smile at her.

 "Convention still on." Lucia agreed.

 She stood and extended a hand to Elias. He grasped her hand, and she pulled him to his feet.

 "I can't believe you're not..." He said. "You're not… after what I did... and you're just fine with it... you're fine with it...?"

 Lucia knew exactly what he was referring to.  

 "I don't care." Lucia said honestly. "They wouldn't have gotten killed if they didn't show up here to kill all of us. They're not the innocent ones here. And you... you even spared two of them.”

 "You're fine with me..."

 "Killing? You're protecting everyone here. So, yes, I'm fine with you killing them."

 Yeah, Lucia decided. They don't show mercy to us. They deserve whatever's coming to them. Elias definitely isn’t the bad guy here.

"You... are fantastic." Elias told her. "Unbelievable."

 "That reminds me..." Lucia said, holding up a finger. "I have something to show you. Come on."

 Smiling, Lucia took Elias’ ungloved hand and pulled him down the hallway. They entered the lobby, pushed their way through the crowd, and made their way to the stairs. Lucia and Elias climbed three floors, veered down a left hallway, made another left, and at last, they were out of the eyeshot any of the Christmas conventioners.

 "This one." Lucia said, stopping in front of one of the hotel rooms and pulling a small keychain out of her pocket. "I got us a room."

 "A room?" Elias responded. "Don't you have a room already?"

 "I have a basement, yeah, but I wanted to spend the weekend in a hotel suite for once. All at my dad's expense. And since you're here, you're gonna need a place to stay too. Most of the other rooms will be full by now, but I put this one on reserve before all these people showed up. C'mon."

 Lucia turned the key and pushed the door open.

 The room was enormous; a thick, extravagant rug with a crimson design stretched over most of the floor, and a flat-screen television sat opposite of the gigantic queen sized bed. The bed was covered in a fluffy scarlet quilt, and the head of it was layered with at least ten pillows. A huge window was at the end of the room, allowing the late afternoon sunlight bleed in, and on its left was a large green refrigerator. To the left of the window was another large door, which Lucia assumed must have led to the bathroom.

 "Damn, there's only one bed." Lucia muttered.

 "Ha! But it’s a regular beast of a bed, innit? Oh, I love it!" Elias said happily, making a loud joyful clap with his hands.

 As Lucia closed the door, Elias bolted forward and dove onto the squishy mound that was the hotel bed, stuffing his face into the ocean of pillows.

 "I'm pretty sure Nicholas is gonna keep that whole incident on the down-low." Lucia said. "He really wants this convention to happen. And even then, there's not really anywhere we can send all these people if we decide to pull the plug, is there? We're just gonna have to wing it."

 "Wing it?" Elias said, rolling over and peering up at Lucia from the infinite fluff of the bed. "That's my best suit, winging it!"

 "I like to think I'm good at winging it too." Lucia told him.

 "I majored at winging it." Elias replied smugly, grinning as he nuzzled the pillows with the back of his head, both making himself more comfortable and screwing up his hair. "Point one for winging it! Improv heroism!"

 Lucia smirked.

 "What do you think they're planning?" She asked him. "We know they're planning something, otherwise they wouldn't have tried to silence us..."

 "A large convention is here... a lot of humans from many other human colonies." Elias said. "If they wanted to make a political statement via violent means, this would be the time, and this would be the place. The question isn't if they’re planning something, it’s how are they going to carry out their plans?”

 "So… how are they gonna carry it out?" Lucia wondered.

 Elias stared up at her ominously.

 "What do you think?" He said.

 Lucia took a moment to think, crossing her arms.

 "One of them had a gun that shot fire..." She uttered. "They like fire. We know that much."

 "Ye'ap, they're cold blooded. They like everything hot."

 "And... they apparently know how to move around the lodge without being noticed. How else would they have followed us to the banquet hall?"

 "Good, very good."

 "They... they wouldn't be planting bombs in the place, would they?"

 Elias exhaled, staring up at the brilliant chandelier hanging over him.

 "I don't think so." He replied. "This place has great central heat and air."

 When Lucia gave him a bewildered look, Elias explained further.

 "They're cold blooded. And, they're incredibly cunning. They wouldn't destroy this building. I think they'd be more interested in... liberating it." He informed.

 "For the heat." Lucia said. "They want a warm place to stay out here."

 "Ye'ap, so... my guess is, they don't want to destroy the lodge. They only want to destroy the people in the lodge." Elias added. "So, we won't be looking for missiles or bombs falling from the sky, or an armed force attacking from outside... we'll be looking under the hoods of our guests. They're doing spy work as we speak. They're in the walls."

 Lucia suddenly felt uneasy.

 "I think we should go to the diner with the other guests." She asked him. "They're having dinner right now, I think."

 Elias squinted at her questioningly.

 "I mean... we were by ourselves earlier when we got attacked. They won't come after us again if we're in the crowd. And, we'll get to observe everyone, and everything... look for clues." Lucia explained.

 At that, Elias hopped off the bed in one swift leap, his green hairs now messier than ever.

 "You are brilliant." He said, smiling.

 They both left the room and headed down the stairs. They found themselves in the diner soon after.

 "How do I look?" Elias asked her, turning to her and looking away from the ocean of people inside the diner. He straightened his false tie, looking rather proud to be wearing something other than his cloak.

 "You look fantastic." Lucia told him, adjusting the flaps on his shoulders.

 "As do you," Elias said, placing his fingers on the edges of Lucia’s Santa hat and pulling it down a little, making it secure on her head.

 Before either of them could speak again, two girls rushed up to them appearing almost frantic; they looked to be about Lucia's age, both also wearing Santa hats, both of them rather skinny and having flowing blonde hair.

 Lucia instantly became tense. Oh God, what the hell do they want...

 "Hi! Omigod, are you Lucia? Are you?" One of them said frantically.

 Both girls eagerly awaited an answer as Lucia stared at them both, looking absolutely awestricken.

 "Um… yeah." Lucia answered.

 The two girls squealed with joy, trading happy expressions with one another.

 "Nick won't let us set up a Santa piñata without permission from the owner—can we? Can we please? Please? Please?" One of them said, and they both repeated the word 'please' more times than Lucia’s brain could process.

 "Yeah… yeah, sure, just don't set it up near anything breakable." Lucia told them.

 The girls squealed again and rushed back into the crowd.

 Lucia gave Elias a depleted expression, making him choke on a dry laugh.

 "You look like a Black Dingo caught in headlights." Elias told her.

 "Girls like that never talk to me." Lucia said. "Unless they're calling me names."

 "Well, I know how you feel." Elias said, pocketing his hands. "Shall we?"

 "Shall we what?"

 "Well... everyone in here is doing a lot more than eating. They're talking, drinking—a few of them are dancing—and I expect there's gonna be a piñata hanging from the ceiling soon. So... shall we?"

 Lucia and Elias both vanished into the crowd, and they were careful not to lose sight of one another as they claimed a few slices of ham and spoke politely with anyone they'd happen to bump into. During their time in the diner, Lucia found herself bombarded with requests from the guests; someone wanted permission to play a particular soundtrack over the speakers, a group of teenagers wanted to smoke on the lodge grounds, and the two blonde girls approached her a number of times asking questions about how and where to set up their piñata. Elias would appear by her side occasionally, breaking away from his small talk with the guests and hoping to keep a close eye on Lucia throughout the course of the evening.

 "The first night of the conventions are never the worst." Elias said into Lucia’s ear, trying to speak over the loudness of the crowd. "But it seems rather crazy tonight, huh? I can't imagine what tomorrow night is gonna look like. I shudder to think."

 "It’s nice." Lucia said, holding up her wine glass. "It’s nice to see everyone so happy for no reason... and to be a part of it for once... it’s really nice."

 "Oh, they have wine? Where did you get wine?" Elias asked.

 "The counter. They don't have it at the tables because they don't want kids drinking it. It’s the strongest stuff we have.” Lucia told him, twirling her glass a bit and making the wine dance inside it.

 Elias’ eyes lingered on her for a moment.

 Lucia, noticing, blinked at him.

 "What...?" She said.

 "Nothing, just... be careful." He replied, glimpsing at her half-empty wine. "Don’t get too indulgent. I'll be right back."

 After Elias vanished into the crowd again, Lucia turned up her glass and drank it all at once, then placed the empty glass on the table nearest to her.

 I only had three glasses, she thought. No big deal... now what should I do...? Damn, I forgot what I was thinking. Maybe I'll get some more ham...


 Lucia turned to see the two blonde girls again, both of them giving her excited looks.

 "It’s your turn!" They both told her.

 "My turn for what?"

 They both grabbed her by the wrists and dragged her through the crowd without restraint. They emerged on the other side of the diner, near a large, open area, and hanging from the ceiling was a hilariously disfigured paper-made Santa piñata, presumably filled with candy. Judging by the gaping holes and dents in the piñata's body, many people had already beaten it severely. The poor fake Santa didn't look like he'd last much longer.

 The two girls placed a blindfold on Lucia’s head, put a wooden bat in her hands, and they proceeded to spin her in place three times in order to disorient her.

 She wasn't able to see them, but Lucia was hearing many people chanting her name, cheering her on. Grinning, she advanced forward and began swinging, hoping dearly that she was aiming in the right direction. The bat made contact with something, and she continued beating it until she heard that fatal tearing noise.


 The piñata burst open, and everyone scrambled for the candy lying along the floor at their feet. Lucia threw the blindfold off and dove for the candy, resisting the urge to fend off her competition with the bat in her hands.

 After filling her shirt with candy, Lucia forced herself into the crowd again, hoping to find Elias and show him her prize. She felt unusually proud to be the one who burst the piñata... all this candy... I won't be able to eat this all by myself... I can't believe I got so much! Ha! He's here somewhere... damn it... Elias, come on... where are you...

 Lucia’s vision blurred, and no matter how far she'd travel through the crowd, it seemed as though the mob of people was simply infinite, and she'd never find her way out... but Elias... Elias has to be here somewhere... somewhere...

 Paying no mind to the few pieces of candy she'd dropped along the way, Lucia kept going, silently wishing that people would stop bumping into her... or, maybe she was bumping into them... she couldn't be sure...

 At last, someone clamped a hand on her shoulder, stopping her.

 Lucia looked up, expecting to see Elias, but was disappointed to find that he wasn't there.

 A stranger had grabbed her by the shoulder, and Lucia narrowed her eyes, trying to get a clear view of its face. The stranger was wearing a rather large hood, two jackets, and a pair of very thick gloves...

 It all hit her at once... this person... it wasn't a person...

 Just when panic began to consume her, she heard the distant voice of her friend calling to her from seemingly miles away...


 The hooded stranger pressed something against Lucia neck... something cold, sharp, and metal... it would be quick... nobody would notice... she'd try to scream for help, but no one would hear her... she'd be gagging on her own blood... dying silently in this mob of Christmas conventioners... unable to call for help... for Elias...


 Elias appeared from nowhere, grasping the stranger firmly by the throat and hurtling him back with all his might. The disguised Reptilian fell to the ground with a harsh thump, making a few people nearby gasp and stare.

 Then, Elias grabbed Lucia’s wrist with a viselike grip and led her away as fast as possible, making her spill all of her candy on the floor. Dazed, Lucia followed as fast as she could, and they both darted into the empty kitchen, dodged all the loose plates and pans along the counters, and entered the back room.

 "Where are we going—?" Lucia asked.

 "Somewhere it won't follow us." Elias told her, pulling the freezer's heavy door open. "Get inside. Come on, come on!”

 Elias shoved her inside and stepped into the freezer with her. The door of the freezer was still open, and Elias stood board stiff, facing the opening and standing his ground in front of Lucia.

 "Why are we in here?" Lucia whispered.

 "It's pretty bold to think it can kill us in the middle of that crowd—no! Wait! Auugh, I'm so bloody stupid!" Elias said, hitting himself on the head. "They know who I am—they know I won't fight in front of all those people, I'd blow my cover! I can't protect you when we're in that crowd—damn them!"

 "I'm sorry." Lucia said.

 "No, no, no. I should've thought of that before." Elias replied, still watching the opening intently, waiting for any sign of movement. "We're in here because it won't follow us into this blasted icebox of a freezer. I wasn't kidding when I said it was colder than the wintery landscape outside. A Reptilian would die in minutes inside this concentrated below-freezing temperature. Maybe less. And believe me—it wouldn't survive my company for long, either. It won't come in here."

 Lucia stood behind him and couldn't see his face, but she imagined that he was fuming.

 A few long seconds went by, during which the only thing stirring were the clouds of breath visible after each of their exhalations. Then, they were both able to hear the wooden door of the back room creak open, and moments later, the hooded figure appeared in the freezer's doorway.

 Elias glared heatedly at the Reptilian, and it returned the cold leer.

 The Reptilian seemed aware of the drastic temperature change inside the freezer, and as Elias had predicted, it did not come inside. It then began to examine the door of the freezer, and Elias, noticing, became anxious.

 Suddenly reading the Reptilian's intentions, Elias rushed forward—but he wasn't fast enough.

 The Reptilian had pushed the massive metal door closed, and Elias slammed his fists against it just after hearing the hatch click, sealing them both inside.

 "Damn! Damn, damn, damn, damn, them!" Elias hollered, bashing his fist against the door, his scars glowing again blind to his knowledge. "We're trapped in here—trapped—should have seen it coming—should have—watched the crowd, lurking, spying, heathen monsters—watch them, hoods, jackets—hiding—hiding—I should have known—I—should—have—KNOWN!"

 He continued hammering his fist into the metal with every syllable he screamed, so hard it sounded like it could have been shattering his bones upon each impact.

 Lucia grabbed his arm and halted him mid swing.

 Elias stopped moving entirely for a moment, releasing a huge breath cloud that was visible in the icy air.

 He turned and grabbed Lucia by the arms.

 "I'm not having this. I want you to know." Elias said. "I'm not having us freeze to death in here. I promise, I'm not..."

 He trailed off for a moment, his fingers curling around Lucia’s arms more tightly. He was able to feel her trembling.

 "You're already cold." He said softly, a glimmer of worry now visible in his eyes. “You’re skin’s icy to the touch already.”

 Lucia returned his gaze, unable to find any words.

 Elias wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her, her hair nuzzling against his chin. He covered as much of her as possible, gently placing a hand on the back of her head, his scars illuminating the inside of the dark freezer with a bright, magnificent green.

 "Don't..." Lucia said, her voice muffled as she spoke into Elias’ chest. "Don't warm me up... stop it..."

 Elias continued concentrating his power, his body radiating heat.

 "Don't...!" Lucia said, pushing away from him.

 Elias gave her a look mixed with concern and shock.

 "You're wasting your power." Lucia told him, cradling her arms and trying not to shiver. "I don't want you to..."

 "I'm not going to let you die!" Elias proclaimed.

 There was a small moment of silence between the two of them.

 "That's right..." He uttered in a raspy voice, approaching the door. "I'm not...."

 Elias placed one hand on the rim of the door, and the other on the freezer's interior frame. He then began to pull them apart from one another, his scars and eyes igniting a blinding green almost instantly.

 Lucia wanted very much to stop him, but she didn't.

 Elias used all of his strength to the door apart. Astonishingly, the metal began to bend to his will, his arms shaking as the door made a series of loud crackling noises.

 Bending the metal became immensely difficult, and Elias, his arms scalding hot and aching terribly, released a long, horrendous scream as he continued to pry.

 The hatch snapped, and the door flew open.

 Elias toppled onto the floor just outside of the freezer, sending a tiny explosion of frost particles into the air as he did. His scars and eyes lost their glow instantly, and he let out a long victorious breath, now completely exhausted.

 Lucia pulled him to his feet and escorted him to their hotel room, careful to avoid anyone wearing hoods or thick jackets the whole way. To her relief, the Reptilian that had trapped them was nowhere in sight. If they could hide away in their suite, then Lucia could keep Elias away from the potential danger of the convention while he regained his energy.

 “I’ve got you…” She said as she dragged him along. “Come on… come on…”

 Lucia closed the door of the hotel room with her foot, then turned the lock.

 Elias was leaning on her, one of his arms wrapped around her shoulders. Lucia led him to the bed and pulled the thick covers open, allowing him to collapse into the pillows.

 Lucia placed the quilt over him once he was lying down. Then, Elias grasped her by the arm.

 "Freezing..." He mumbled. "Stay... please..."

 Elias gazed up at her, barely able to keep his eyes open. Lucia hesitated for a moment. The skin of his hand, which had been burning hot not too long ago, was now ice cold, curled around her wrist tensely, and Lucia felt him trembling.

 "Freezing... freezing..." He breathed. "Warm... you're so warm… so, so warm..."

 Lucia carefully walked around the bed without releasing Elias’ hand and climbed underneath the covers beside him.

 Elias wrapped both of his arms around her, binding her close. He seemed almost desperate for her touch; Lucia couldn't imagine what he must have felt like. He'd used up a lot of his power at once when he ripped the freezer door apart, and now he seemed to be freezing to death inside this warm, toasty lodge.

 Lucia embraced him as he gently laid his head on her chest, his face resting tenderly against her collarbone, and his green hairs poking lightly at her face. She held him tightly for a long while. It could have been minutes, or it could have been hours. Eventually, Elias stopped shivering. Lucia stared silently at the ceiling as Elias drifted into a long, peaceful slumber.

 Her heart thumped beneath her ribs, her body filling with a nervous sensation as Elias slept on her, hugging her like a life-sized teddy bear. Still, despite her anxiousness, she felt unusually comfortable lying with him, so close, so intimate... and at some point, her exhaustion began to outweigh her willingness to cling to the moment, to this wonderful, unthinkable situation... so close... so very close to a friend, a loved one…

 It was a thing she’d always wanted more than anything else in life.


 The splendor of one of the lodge's most expensive suites was entirely visible now that the sun was rising, the weak yellow light filling the extravagant room with an indescribable beauty. The enormous bed was covered by a stream of morning sunlight, along with the bed's inhabitants.

 Elias had never slept so comfortably before in his life. When the sunlight met his face, He began to blink himself awake, wondering why he felt so very content and unwilling to move. He lie motionlessly on something soft... something very, very soft... warm, captivating, inviting skin... and a gentle, rhythmic heartbeat, one that had lulled him to sleep the night before...

 Elias’ shining eyes fixed on Lucia’s chin, her neck, her chest...

 He easefully began to prop himself upright, careful not to wake her, as one of his arms was still trapped underneath her body. He leaned over her, taking in the sight of her longingly. He could scarcely comprehend that she'd lain with him all night, holding him, keeping him warm... another time when he’d found himself an inch from death, and she, Lucia, had pulled him from the brink of it...

 "Thank you." He said quietly, stroking her lightly and removing a few loose strands of her hair from her face.

 He warily slipped his arm out from under her and reached his feet, crossing his arms and staring out the tremendous window, a smile forming on his face.

 A little time went by.

 "Travel—where, how, and why—caravans—caravans—caravans—wrong way, caravans—hiding, sulking, attacking—where—how—where could they be hiding? Where, where, where, where, where? Ahh!" Elias rambled, then realized that he'd left the eggs on the stove for too long without flipping them. He hurriedly set the gigantic pitcher of orange juice on the counter, grabbed the spatula, and flipped the eggs in the pan, making them sizzle loudly. "Stupid—bloody—eggs, cooking—no idea—never cooked on a stove—never—Reptilians, convention, cooking—eggs, eggs, eggs—stupid eggs—stupid!"

 Elias sprinkled a few seasonings on the eggs, then returned to the orange juice and filled two glasses full to their brims. He then placed the pitcher in the fridge and examined the eggs again, squinting suspiciously at them as they cooked.

 Lucia rolled over, allowing her eyes to drift open. That smell...

 Her vision adjusted, and she spotted Elias moving around the small kitchen area doing a number of things at once.

 Lucia sat up, her legs hanging over the edge of the bed as she watched Elias from behind.

 "Dammit!" He swore. "Don't you spit on me, eggs!"

 He whipped around in search of a rag, but instead met eyes with Lucia.

 "Oh, thank God you're awake." He said. "How do you cook eggs? How do you know if they're done?"

 Lucia tried to conceal a smirk on her way into the kitchen.

 “They're done." She told him. "Actually, they're perfect."

 Elias didn't waste a second; he rummaged through the cabinets rapidly until he located the plates, then set them on the counter and slung the eggs onto them with the spatula.

 "Breakfast!" Elias sighed, smiling. "Happy Christmas Eve!"

 They both sat at the table and began to eat.

 "This is really good." Lucia said, slurping up half of an egg at once. "Thanks for cooking."

 "Nah, thank you. Thank you for..." Elias began.

 Lucia glimpsed up at him.

 "I have an idea." She said. "We tell Nicholas to monitor everyone's clothes until the end of the convention... like... tell the guests they aren't allowed to wear hoods in the building or something. That's how they keep hiding. They cover up their big ugly heads so they can hide in the crowd."

 "Yeah, yeah of course." Elias agreed, nodding. "And another thing, too. You don't leave my sight."

 "Hm?" Lucia mumbled, stuffing her mouth with her second egg.

 "We'll to need to be a part of the crowd again tonight... for the reasons you said. To keep an eye on everything." Elias explained. "And it'll be even crazier tonight than it was yesterday. One of the chefs told me last night that they're using the banquet hall this evening for a party... a sort of... rhythmic ritual-type thing."

 Lucia blinked at him.

 "You mean a dance?" She asked, grinning.

 "Yes!" Elias said suddenly, snapping and pointing at her. "Dance! Dance! A dance! That's what he said! But… but the banquet hall... it’s huge, and it’s going to be darker in there. No hoods is a good idea, but they might find a way to lurk around in the darker areas of the place tonight. And you..."

 Elias paused.

 Lucia finished her eggs and gave him a curious stare.

 "They know that I won't use my power around the crowd." Elias said in a serious voice. "I can't have everyone here finding out who I am. They all think that I'm... well... evil. But they still won't approach you if I'm with you. They'd wait until we separate, just like last night. So... you don't leave my sight."

 "Okay." Lucia responded.  

 She took a long, fulfilling swig of her orange juice, quenching a massive thirst that she didn't know she had. Elias continued to watch her.

 As Lucia kept downing her juice, suckling it until the glass was empty, Elias stood and marched away. He returned seconds later and placed something on Lucia's head.

 "Hold still." Elias said, maneuvering the Santa hat onto her head perfectly. "You're gonna need this today. We have a lot to do."

 Elias and Lucia spent the day assisting Nicholas in making extra preparations in anticipation for the party, which was set to happen in the late afternoon. Nicholas made it clear that the conventioners were unaware of the Reptilian threat, and the authorities had been tipped off. The authorities were expected to arrive within the next 24 hours in order to give the threat a quiet investigation. When 6:00 pm came around, the party began, and the sun began to set outside. The day soon transitioned into a long, winter night. The only lights in the gigantic banquet hall were the Christmas lights that Elias and Lucia had strung all along the ceiling, and a few large neon lights placed on the long, empty table in the center of the place. Many conventioners had glow sticks and glowing necklaces, and the music was exclusively rock-and-roll covers of Christmas songs. As the conventioners continued to pour into the banquet hall, forming a crowd which made the first party of the convention look like a tea party. Elias and Lucia broke away from the bulk of the party and stood against the wall, watching everyone at a distance.

 "Madness." Elias said, smiling and shaking his head. "No matter what's going on in the world, humans always find a reason to celebrate. The funnest form of madness."

 "Thanks." Lucia said.

 "For what?"

 They met eyes.

 "I would've died about ten times over in the last few days without you around." Lucia replied. "And, you helped me put all this together, too."

 "Aw, don't worry about all that. I'm just doing my job." Elias said, folding his arms and staring into the crowd again. "What about you?"

 "Me...?" Lucia asked. “What about me?”

 "Well..." Elias cocked his head. "The authorities should be here some time tomorrow... and everything's gone smoothly today. I think we're in the clear. We don't have much to worry about now. So... I think you're free to enjoy yourself tonight."

 Lucia kept her gaze on him as he examined the crowd.

 "Go out there, into that mob of party animals... find yourself a nice guy. Dance a little. You've been getting some looks tonight. I hope you've noticed." Elias said. “Just stay in my sight, and you’ll be fine.”

 "No... I don't get looks." Lucia laughed. “You’re delusional.”

 "I'd bet to the contrary." Elias argued. He gave the crowd an odd look. "Go find yourself a guy, Lucia. You deserve a break. Go have fun."

 He turned his head and faced her.

 "I don't... I don't really want to." Lucia responded. “I wanna stay with you.”

 There was another moment of silence, during which they maintained a long stare. It seemed as though the glistening emerald color in Elias’ eyes only shone in reflection to Lucia’s luminous blue-green ones, like the moon's reflective light from the sun, and the seconds they gazed at one another seemed to stretch for years.

 Elias could have sworn that Lucia revealed a faint smile. He could have imagined it; this room was dark, enormous, and filled with obnoxious flashing lights of all colors, not to mention the noises of the people’s voices and the music bouncing off of the large walls… he probably wasn’t seeing it right…

 "Lucia…" He uttered softly, his heart making a nervous leap. He silently prayed that his sudden uneasiness didn't result in the slight glowing of his scars or eyes, because in this dark banquet hall, it would be fairly noticeable if he began to glow green, even despite the glow sticks amongst the crowd.

 "Yeah?" Lucia replied in a similarly light voice, as she too was feeling particularly affective.

 Elias opened his mouth, hoping to channel his puzzling feelings into words somehow, but he wasn’t able to. And, as he searched and scrambled for the right string of words inside his head, he couldn't bring himself to look away from Lucia’s face... that beautiful face, with the deep eyes, gateways to her innocent soul, and the scar that she hated so very much… that scar, just as flawless as the rest of her... the scar was a part of her, and that made it was beautiful... beautiful, beautiful Lucia... the only human alive who didn't hate or fear him, the only one who cared for him... and as the music echoed throughout the building, it sang to his heart, subduing him, bringing into an unfamiliar place… a comfortable place... a safe place… or, perhaps it was Lucia’s eyes that made him feel so very content, so loved... maybe it was her face... maybe her voice... he couldn't know for sure...

 As he exhaled, having failed to verbalize his feelings, everything inside of him seemed to mellow itself into a milder state, his thoughts becoming slow and manageable for the first time in his life, his mind finally having discovered some sense of ease. Just the sight of Lucia made the stress, the random and un-pieced-together thoughts, and the maddening nonsensical ideas swarming through his head slow down like a calming storm. Her angelic, human face was so very simple, so very real... the face of a loyal friend, the face of something he, until now, thought to be nonexistent...

 Then, something new happened. It was subtle and quiet, but it was something of monumental, immeasurable importance.

 It crept up on him; his thoughts hadn't abandoned him. No, they remained in his head, but they’d become calmer, cooler, like a swift winter breeze... and astoundingly, as Elias gazed infinitely into Lucia, all of his thoughts seemed to fall directly into all the right places. The caravans... the Reptilians... the hoods... their plans, the holes, the pieces of his observations that, for years leading up to now, simply did not add up... wrong way caravans... human caravans, traveling in the wrong direction... towards the lodge... Reptilians appearing from nowhere, despite their lack of colonies in the surrounding areas... the broken water heaters... it made sense... it all made sense...

 "Lucia!" Elias exclaimed, clamping his hands onto her shoulders and startling her. "It’s—it’s clear! Clear, clear, clear! Oh, I can see it! I can see it! They—the water heaters—they've stolen parts from your lodge's water heaters in order to keep themselves warm in their hideout! That's why your water heaters are always broken! Wrong way caravans—they don't always burn the caravans! They steal the clothing and the vehicles from the humans they kill, and they disguise themselves as humans in order to travel to the lodge! They've been doing it for years! Years! They've been living here—here—right under your noses for years, years, years, years, years! Don't you see—we're not looking for an underground cult of human-hating lizard terrorists, we're looking for an underground cult of human-hating lizard terrorists!"

 Lucia gaped silently at him.

 "Under us!" Elias continued excitedly, pointing to the ground. "It’s the only place they can keep warm! Where do reptiles go in the winter time? Underground! Under our feet! Living in the red soil of Mars—nobody guessed it, either! Nobody! They've been planning this for years! They've been waiting until the lodge was full, as full as it can get, until they'd have enough humans in this spot to make a huge statement—they want to kill as many people as possible all at once! They’re anti-human extremists! And now—now, there's more activity from them than ever before! What, with them attacking us and trying to silence us? That means they're planning something soon—very soon—dangerously soon—soon—"

 When his thoughts caught up with him, Elias’ expression dropped. He stared into the crowd solemnly.

 "It's tonight."

 "What?" Lucia said worriedly.

 "Tonight..." Elias mumbled, his eyes sparkling intensely as he glared at the conventioners. "It’s tonight. It’s tonight. It’s tonight!"

 Then, Elias bolted away. He shoved his way through the crowd, dodging people and pushing a few of them out of his path. When he reached the center of the crowd, he climbed onto the table, standing over the ocean of people and making a serious face as he looked between them.

 Lucia watched him from outside of the crowd. What is he doing?

 The people nearest to the table began to point up at Elias, muttering and gossiping to one another, and a few of them laughed.

 "Listen, people!" Elias began to yell, but he was barely able to hear his own voice over the deafening music. "People, listen to me—listen—oh for God's sake, turn that off!"

 Elias’ left arm shone green for a moment, and he made a thrusting motion towards the jukebox. He sent a small surge of power into the musical machine; a few loose sparks flew out of it. The music stopped and the jukebox powered down, making the large speakers connected to it fall silent.

 Everyone began looking in every direction, trying to figure out how and why the music had stopped playing. A few people started boooo-ing, and Lucia drew closer to the crowd, hoping to hear whatever Elias had to say.

 After the music died, the only noise occupying the giant room was the chattering and questioning noises of the party goers. Elias stood on the surface of the table, in between the two gigantic neon-purple lights, which were shining in his general direction, illuminating him like two dim spotlights.

 "LISTEN!" Elias bellowed. Everyone shifted their attention onto him in an instant.

 Hundreds of people were staring up at him expectantly, a few of them visibly irritated.

 "You people..." Elias began. "You're all in danger, all of you! You don't understand it. we made the mistake of choosing not to warn you—we believed the situation was under control—but it’s not. It’s very, very much not in control. To make a long story short... there is an underground terrorist organization plotting an attack on this lodge tonight. We need to leave. We need to have a calm evacuation—"

 "Shut up!" Someone hollered.

 "Put down the wine, you drunk!" Another person yelled, making a small fraction of the crowd explode into laughter. "Turn the music back on!"

 "I'm not joking!" Elias shouted back, growing frustrated. "You're all in danger—these people—these things—they burn people alive! They'll give you no mercy, trust me, I've seen it firsthand—"

 "Bullshit!" Someone else screamed from the back.

 "Would you shut the hell up?!"

 "Turn the music back on!"

 "Get off the table, you dumbass!"

 "Go back to your basement you tin-foil-hat wearing conspiracy nut!"


 As the crowd continued to shout insults at Elias, he sighed, looking from face to face and wondering how he could possibly sway them. Lucia appeared just as hopelessly stymied as he did, her eyes stuck on Elias and her expression grave.

 "It’s the green man!" One of the hecklers called out, making everyone else gasp in shock. The annoyed faces of the party goers turned into stunned ones, all glaring at him as though they'd never seen anything quite like him before.

 "Yes." Elias admitted, holding up both of his hands. "I am the green man, yes. But—"


 "Go back to your mountain!"

 "He's going on about Reptilians—he's one of them!"


 "Lying freak!"

 "Somebody get him out of here!"

 "Yeah—somebody get rid of him!"

 "Kick him out!"

 "Throw him out in the snow!"

 "Yeah! And turn the music back on!"


 "SHUT UP!" Lucia roared from the rear of the crowd, and everyone closest to her whipped around, all of them giving her nasty looks or muttering some insults that she wasn't able to hear. "He's trying to help you guys! Just listen!"

 "Screw you, bitch!"

 "Daddy's little girl thinks she runs the roost!"

 "Shut the hell up, little girl! Who do you think you are?!"

 "Yeah, seriously, who put you in charge?"

 "I bet that green freak gave you that scar!"

 "This ain't your lodge! Just shut up!"

 "Yeah! Where's your daddy? Huh?"

 "Probably abandoned her! Left her with the lodge because he was sick of looking at her messed-up face!"


 They kept yelling vulgarities at Lucia, and Elias, still having yet to formulate a convincing argument, was becoming livid. Standing atop the table, he clenched his teeth and glared into the crowd, seething, his scars beginning to emit emerald light, his eyes burning a fiery green. He balled his hands into fists, staring at the people in a quiet rage, his heart bashing within his chest, his thoughts becoming a furious tornado once again, poisoned with rapidly resurrecting feelings of anger and resentment that he almost forgot he had.

 "Monsters." Elias snarled.

 "What?!" The people nearest to him shrieked, all of them looking particularly offended.

 “You heard me. You're MONSTERS!" Elias screamed back. "Monsters! Humanity—no WONDER they hate you all so much. No WONDER I stopped caring about you all. NO WONDER! Maybe it'd be BETTER if they killed you off—maybe you DO deserve to burn—to die in a fire with the skin melting off your bones! But I'll tell you what, people—you’re lucky. You're the luckiest monsters in the whole world tonight. Because there's still one person—just one person in this room that I'm willing to protect with my life. And because of that—not for ANY of you—but because of that one person—because of her—just her—I’m going to stop them."

 Surprisingly, following Elias’ words was not an uproar, not an outrage, not a mob of angry people lashing out at someone who had insulted them. Instead, the crowd had fallen deathly silent, and the room became filled with a quiet tenseness that weighed on everyone.

 Elias stepped off of the table, and everyone backed away from him, his scars and eyes glowing heatedly. He was the brightest thing in the room, and he continued walking through the crowd, wearing a stony, embittered face and leaving behind a blurry green light in his wake. People moved away from him as quickly as they could as he marched through the room, and he approached Lucia, who took him gently by the hand and led him out of the banquet hall. Nobody followed them. Nobody yelled after them. None of the people had the nerve to respond to them at all now.

 The further they got from the banquet hall, the more apparent the silence became, and Elias and Lucia were both thinking along the same lines. They simply couldn't believe the outlandish behavior of the convention's attendants, the people they'd been trying to protect all weekend—and Elias, as Lucia knew, had dedicated his life to protecting those people, despite their unjustified prejudice and intolerance of him. Still, they both knew very well that anything outside of the ordinary should expect to be shunned by society; all people seemed to condemn the unknown, out of fear, out of misunderstanding, or out of simple ignorance and primal avoidance of anything or anyone outside of their comfort zones... be it an antisocial, temperamental girl with an ugly scar on her face, or an oddly colored man who had the unfortunate experience of being mutated by a countless amount of unnamed chemicals and radiation.

 When they entered the empty lobby, Lucia turned and faced Elias. His enraged expression began to fade into a softer one, a hurt one.

 Lucia took hold of his wrists, stroking his skin with her thumbs. She hated to see him look so defeated.

 "I just wanted..." He said, his voice cracking. "They... I just wanted to..."

 As if reading his thoughts, Lucia took him into her arms, embracing him in a smothering, loving way. Elias rested his head on her shoulder, returning the hug, and he found himself holding back tears, just like yesterday.

 Still, his eyes began to water, and a tear escaped him, rolling down his cheek and onto Lucia’s shirt. He swallowed the urge to sob, squeezing her tightly, feeling more conflicted and rejected than he ever had before.

 "Wanted to protect them..." He choked out as Lucia cradled his head, almost able to feel his pain bleed into her. “I don’t understand them… I don’t…”

 "We will." Lucia assured. "Even if they don't deserve it, we’ll protect them."

 Elias straightened up, his shimmering eyes locking onto her.

 "That should be my life’s motto." He said, cracking a grin. "Yeah… yes… we will protect them, won't we? Me and you."

 "You and me." Lucia replied confidently.

 They squeezed one another again.

 "Now what?" Lucia asked.

 "Now... we plan." Elias told her, glimpsing out the enormous glass windows and doors of the lobby, watching the snow fall outside in the starry Mars night. "I can fight. I'm resistant to fire... to some extent... but I'm not sure if I could take on an invasion force. That night be a bit much, even for me."

 "What can I do?" Lucia inquired.

 Elias paused for a moment.

 "You can stay safe." He told her. "Go to up the mountain, to my place. Stay there, and you'll be—"

 "No. I'm not leaving you." Lucia told him firmly. "I want to help. Tell me what I need to do."

 Elias released a large breath.

 "Alright... guns." He said. "Any guns—any conventional firearms—Reptilians are like any other living creature. You shoot 'em, and they fall over dead. Have you got any guns in this place? Any at all?"

 "My dad has a gun case in his room." Lucia said. "On the top floor."

 Elias smiled. "Off we go, then!"

 They both darted up the stairs and into the express elevator. They stood patiently until the elevator reached the top floor, floor number five.

 It was much smaller than every other floor, and Lucia herself had only visited it a handful of times in her life. It was a single hallway, with a thick, elegant rug leading to a pair of double doors. When Lucia attempted to turn the knob, it wouldn't budge.

 "Damn, he locked it. I don't have a key." She mumbled.

 "Well, lives are at stake here. I'm sure your father will understand." Elias said, winking at her.

 Then, Elas took a few steps back, exhaling a single, harsh breath, his eyes igniting with a momentary green light, and he darted towards the doors—


 He planted his foot into the doors, delivering a powerful kick.

 The lock broke into several pieces, and the doors flew open, sending a wave of loose wooden shards into the air.

 They entered the room; it was the biggest bedroom in the lodge, with a few giant windows, velvet red curtains, a large chandelier, a wall-sized flat screen television, and much more accessories. Lucia approached the king-sized bed on the opposite side of the room, and beside it was a large, wooden case with a glass window revealing the assortment of rifles and shotguns inside. Lucia tried to open the gun case and let out an annoyed scoff, realizing that it, too, was locked.

 "Again... it's for the cause." Elias said, holding up a fist.

 Without any warning, he punched the glass as hard as he could, shattering it completely. Then, he reached inside and pulled out a few of the guns, examined them, and placed them on the bed.

 "Pick your pleasure." Elias told Lucia, gesturing to the firearms.

 Lucia chose her favorite of her father's guns; a large 357 magnum revolver.

 "I've never shot anyone before." She said.

 "That one’s gonna have a kick to it." Elias replied, looking at the revolver. "There's about twenty guns here. We'd have enough for the others, if any of them wanted to put up a fight. But they... they won't believe us."

 "You're wrong!" A third voice shouted out.

 Elias and Lucia both turned, surprised to see a panting, exhausted old Nicholas standing in the doorway, leaning on the wall and attempting to catch his breath. He was accompanied by a few people who were about half his age.

 "I talked to them... sigh... after you left... told them everything that had happened... over the weekend... cough... some of them... some of us... we want to be prepared. Just... just in case. We want to be ready... to fight." Nicholas explained.

 Elias and Lucia exchanged expressions.

 Then, Elias grinned at them, holding up one of the largest rifles of the bunch.

 "Arm yourselves!"

 Old Nicholas and his six conventioner companions—two of whom were the blonde girls who'd set up the piñata in the diner, and two others being Nicholas's grandchildren—came forward and chose a gun. Lucia quickly dug out the boxes of ammunition from the bottom of the gun case and distributed it accordingly. Much of the night had already come and gone, and if there was going to be a Reptilian attack on the lodge, then it was bound to happen very soon. As they all exchanged conversation and helped one another with the use of their firearms of choice, time passed, and nobody realized when the clock above the bed had struck 4:00 am.

 "Er..." Nicholas grumbled, examining his rifle and holding a single bullet in his hand. "How do I...?"

 Elias took the gun from him and opened it, placing the bullet inside and showing Nicholas how to load it properly.

 "Thank you." Nicholas told him.

 "No problem. Thank you. For talking to them." Elias responded. "At least some of them came around. That's more than ever before."

 Nicholas nodded, grabbing a few more bullets from his box. He took a moment, glancing at Elias and seeming to be in thought.

 "You're the green man." Nicholas said.

 "Yes, I am." Elias responded.

 "But everyone's told me you're a monster. How can you be a monster and still want to save Christmas? I think I've been horribly misinformed." Nicholas told him, smirking and stoking his beard.

 Elias smiled appreciatively at him.

 "But, uh... how do you know it’s going to be tonight?" Nicholas wondered. "Their attack, I mean... how do you...?"

 Elias opened his mouth to reply. Just when he was about to speak, a loud rumbling shook the building, followed by the frantic screams of everyone on the bottom floor.

 Elias, Lucia, Nicholas, and the others all froze for a split second.

 Then, Elias darted passed everyone and out the door, Lucia sprinting after him and everyone else tailing the both of them closely, their firearms at hand. They didn't bother with the elevator this time; everyone followed Elias down four stories of stairs, and after a lot of running, they all appeared in the hallway of the banquet hall.

 People were flooding through every entrance of the gigantic room, and the music inside it had stopped following a large explosion. The jukebox had erupted into a million plastic and wooden pieces, and a group of thirty-or-so armed Reptilians were lighting the room up with their fire pistols.

 Many of the people had already been lit ablaze; some of them had crumbled to the floor, smoldering in a mess of ash that was once clothes, along with thick clumps of burnt skin that smelled absolutely putrid.

 "This is it..." Elias muttered, watching the scene excitedly, his eyes sparkling and his heart hammering. "This is it! This is it!”

 He, Lucia, Nicholas, and the others entered the banquet hall. They spotted the Reptilian army, who were still occupied with lighting their remaining human captives on fire.

 "STOP!" Elias yelled, his voice echoing horribly throughout the room. "Leave them alone! They've done nothing to you!"

 When the Reptilian killers paid no mind to him, Nicholas and his followers raised their guns, and Elias dashed towards the killers at top speed, his scars and eyes illuminating more brilliantly than ever before. He flew across the room in a streak of green, then tackled one of the Reptilians to the floor full force.

 Elias stomped on the disoriented Reptilian's gun, shattering it beneath his heel. The others rounded on him—aimed their pistols—


 A horrible, ear-splitting sound set off, and one of the Reptilians closest to Elias hit the ground, leaving behind a scaly mess of blood and bones in the air.

 Lucia’s finger grazed the trigger of the revolver in her hands, and she took aim again.


 Her second shot hit one of the Reptilians in the arm. Blood began to squirt uncontrollably from the creature as it let out an awful, screeching howl.

 Two Reptilians remained in close proximity, and they seemed to be trading glimpses between Elias and Lucia. Both Reptilians had fire pistols pointed at Elias, but the infamous green man responded to the threat only by piercing them with a paralyzing glare, holding up both of his hands and crackling his fingers as his glow shone even brighter.

 Lucia gulped. There wasn’t time to give in to the sickening sensation in the pit of her stomach. She’d never shot anyone before, but now wasn’t the time to react to the terrible feelings it gave her.

 Both Reptilians pressed their triggers at once, sending two waves of fire through the air. The flames engulfed Elias, who was beginning to radiate like a green sun, and he pressed forward, his skin emitting what appeared to be an emerald fire.

 Elias grasped the closest Reptilian's head and pushed it backwards in one strong motion; the sound of the spinal cord snapping was the loudest thing in the room, apart from the screaming and gunshots...


 Lucia fired off a third shot, hitting the second Reptilian squarely in the stomach. It collapsed onto the floor, and seconds later, it was motionless.

 She and Elias glanced at one another, then continued onward.

 Nicholas and his companions were firing shot after shot into the Reptilian army, careful to keep their distance; the fire pistols used by the Reptilians had much less range than the conventional firearms used by the humans. And, by some Christmas miracle, none of them had been lit on fire so far.

 But the Reptilians seemed to be focusing mostly on the remaining unarmed conventioners in the room, who were sobbing and panicking, unable to muster the strength to run for their lives, and those who did ran blindly into the darkness. The Reptilian killers continued to light them ablaze in small groups, and the screams were unbearable...

 Elias approached the attackers, and when Lucia followed him, he stopped.

 "Stay back." Elias told her, swatting his hand.

 "What?" Lucia replied. "You can't take them all by yourself!"

 "Just stay back! Trust me!" Elias yelled.

 He strode towards the remaining Reptilian invaders.

 Elias stood before them, having yet to grasp their attention, holding out both of his arms as his glow became a searing green that was almost a hot white; transparent greenish flames arose from his body, and it looked as though he'd become a human conduit of pure, raw energy.

 Elias’ blood boiled beneath his skin; his power had never been so unrestrained before. He couldn't see anything... no walls, no people, no Reptilians, no Lucia... everything was lost... except green... blinding green light... he knew what he was doing, even though he'd never done it before... focusing... concentrating... holding the power... until just the right moment... and then... and then...

 It was astonishing; Elias’ light exploded like a thunderclap, making a deafening rupturing noise fill the entire lodge. Everyone within ten feet of him was blown back—not just blown off their feet, but burned... vaporized... their skin was ash before the lump sum of their bodies hit the walls behind them...


 As the last of the Reptilians met their deaths instantly, Elias hit his knees, his vision entirely obscured. All of his strength had abandoned him completely, his head incredibly light, the room spinning...

 Just when he was sure he'd hit the floor, Lucia landed just in front of him, sitting on her legs and embracing him. Those arms of hers caught him… he inhaled that sweet scent, the scent of Lucia…

 He lay tiredly on her, his cheek pressed against her neck as he tried to keep hold of his consciousness.

 "Are you...?" Elias murmured.

 "I'm fine." Lucia told him. "I stayed back like you told me. I’m fine, I promise."

 Elias forced himself to sit upright. He stared dazily into Lucia’s eyes.

 Lucia's hands were placed firmly on his shoulders, hoping to hold him steady as she returned the stare.

 "Are you okay?" Lucia asked.

 Elias attempted a smile, looking somewhat disoriented.

 "Always okay." He said raspily, giving her a single, exhausted nod. "Lucia..."

 He grasped both of her shoulders as well, leaning on her and pulling her closer, his eyes positively flaring despite his depletion of energy.

 "The people... find them.... they're not safe..." He croaked.

 "But the Reptilians are dead." Lucia said. "You killed them all."

 "No... no... I haven't..." Elias replied. "Too many... I've seen too many caravans... far too many... traveling the wrong way... all these years... this wasn't all of them... there's another army somewhere... a second wave... we're not done fighting yet."

 "Why are we going home early?" Carlos moaned from the passenger seat, making his father scowl again.

 "Because it’s Christmas day." James replied sternly, trying to hide his annoyance as he kept his eyes on the road. "We're almost home now. We're not going back. End of story."

 Carlos sighed, staring out the window and watching the dawn at its peak. The sun was barely beginning to rise in the sky, and snowflakes began to descend once again.

 As James turned the last corner on the road leading back to his lodge, he had no way of knowing what awaited him.

 "Be careful..." Lucia said, keeping a strong hold of Elias’ arm as he made himself stand.

 "Outside." Elias said, his eyes trading from body to body throughout the banquet hall. Dead Reptilians and humans were everywhere, and the large windows along the upper half of the enormous room began to shine, indicating that the sun was rising. "It’s now... it’s going to be now... they know the authorities are coming... they want their victory before the authorities can snatch it away... they're... we have to get to the fight...!"

 "You can't!” Lucia proclaimed. "You can't even walk!"

 Elias’ eyes lit up, his scars glowing once again, and he stiffened his stance, cracked his neck, and gave Lucia a powerful, fearless look.

 "Watch me!"

 "What in the Sam Hill?!"

 James stopped his car just at the curb, leaning over the steering wheel and squinting at the parking lot of his lodge.

 Just outside of the lodge were about twenty strangers wearing hoods, standing in the snow and surrounding the entrances to the lodge's lobby. Some of the hooded Reptilians were carrying fire pistols, and the rest were carrying blades. They all carried themselves as though they were ready for battle at any given moment.

 James reached between Carlos's legs and popped his glove compartment open. He then pulled out a small silver revolver and held it by his side.

 "Stay here." He told his son, who gave him a flabbergasted look in response.

 When James opened the driver door as quietly as possible, he slipped out of the car and began inching towards the group of disguised Reptilians. Moments later, Carlos decided to disobey his father and exit the car. He followed his father slowly, and as they made their way closer to the lodge's entrance, they realized that the hooded attackers were not alone.

 Old Nicholas, the Christmas convention leader, was at the front of a slightly smaller mob; it was a group of convention goers standing their ground in front of the lodge, each of them carrying one of James's guns, aiming at the Reptilians and waiting for someone to make a move.

 Thankfully, none of the Reptilians had spotted James just yet, so he was able to maneuver along the side of the building and join the crowd of humans without being noticed, and Carlos stuck close to him. James approached Nicholas from behind and gave him a light tap on the shoulder.

 "What the hell's going on here?!" James asked in a harsh whisper, a few of his slicked-back hairs dangling over his reddening face.

 "Reptilians." Nicholas answered quietly without taking his eyes off the hooded terrorists. "They've infiltrated the lodge… killed people… and we're trying to stop them from killing any more. Your daughter can explain."

 "My—where is my daughter?"

 "Still inside, I think. Oh good—you have a gun!" Nicholas said once he laid eyes on the revolver in James's hand. "That's one more man on our side! By jingle, this is gonna be one hell of a Christmas showdown!"

 James glimpsed back at the building, then at Carlos, then the small militia members standing with him, holding their guns at the ready and eyeing the Reptilians.

 Then, James stepped in front of Nicholas, now at the front of the crowd.

 "Listen here." He called to the Reptilians, who all focused on him. "I don't know who you are—any of you—and I don't know why you're here, but you're going to leave my lodge in peace. I'll not have any more of this today. You've killed my guests, attacked my business, my home—and I'll not have it!"

 The Reptilian leading the invasion, the one standing closest to James, lifted its pistol—

 "Dad?!" Lucia’s voice exclaimed from the back of the crowd as she and Elias departed the lodge, joining their Christmas militia.

 James lifted his gun, but Nicholas had already—


 A shot tore through the Reptilian leader's stomach, the noise echoing throughout the miles surrounding the lodge and Mt. Janessa. The Reptilian leader hardly managed to squeeze the trigger, if only for a split second, before hitting the ground on its knees. The fire from its pistol was small and brief, and the flames barely licked James's arm, burning his fingers slightly, but he didn’t notice.

 It began; the humans began to fire off shots, including James, and the Reptilians were sending waves of fire into the Christmas militia, burning some of the people up front. Some of them let out screams of pain, but none of them wavered in their efforts. Some of the Reptilians charged in full, swinging their blades and making slicing motions towards the humans; some of them made contact, but while the Reptilians had the humans outnumbered, the humans were better equipped. One of Nicholas's grandchildren began ordering everyone to "watch for the blades" and prioritize the targeting of any Reptilian bold enough to charge the crowd with their steel knives. Carlos was the only human in the crowd using his fists, and he was doing surprisingly well; James took down three Reptilians before his gun became empty.

 Lucia tried to join the fight, but Elias stood in front of her, blocking her path with his arm. They both watched as the Reptilians and humans slaughtered one another in the large, snowy driveway of the lodge, the sound of shouting, gasoline-powered fire, and gunshots now extremely overwhelming, and the snow on the battleground becoming stained with blotches of blood as the war dragged on...

 Elias and Lucia stood board stiff just outside of the lodge's lobby doors, both of them looking particularly stricken as they observed the war. Elias had a firm hold of Lucia’s wrist, keeping her behind him so that she couldn't break away and join the bloodbath. It was a positively abhorrent sight to behold; he'd seen many things like it... his father vaporized, his home city destroyed... Reptilians attacking caravans, killing innocent humans before Elias could stop them... but this... this was, quite possibly, the worst thing he’d ever seen, and as he watched the killing commence, his breath heavy and fast, his big emerald eyes moving from person to person as soldiers on either side continued to fight, holler, and fall, Elias couldn't help but feel a vast, unexplainable sensation overcome him... something familiar... something terribly, horribly familiar... perhaps a memory... or de-ja-vu... he had no idea... but it was all consuming, this feeling... war, killing, stabbing, shooting... hatred, anger, mine, yours, divide,  conquer—bombs, guns, missiles—my land, your land—my god, your god—my money, your money—my people, your people—wrong--you're the enemy—war, war, war—blood spills—people fall—Earth destroyed—always succumb to this—always resort to this—always—this—why this? Why, why, why, why, why?

 "We can't..." Elias said aloud. “It can’t come to this again. It can’t… we can’t…”

 He turned to Lucia, grabbing her gently by the shoulders, his eyes peering into her in a profound, indescribable way.

 "You trust me…." Elias said to her. “You trust me…?”

 Lucia nodded without a second's thought.

 A thousand feelings swarmed around inside of Elias now. He opened his mouth to verbalize his thoughts, but yet again, he couldn't figure out how to construct them into words. He gazed infinitely into Lucia, her radiant turquoise eyes beginning to calm the storm of his mind once more.

 "Then... I.." He started, wondering how on Mars he could possibly express his feelings now. "The Red Lake—the lake across from your lodge—it’s still there, right?"

 Lucia blinked, looking defused, then nodded again.

 "Good, good... Lucia." Elias said, releasing a breath and continuing to stare right through her. "I…”

 He sighed again. Elias didn't have the slightest clue how to say it—or even what to say. The feeling—this limitless, pure feeling—didn't seem to have any words which could fully carry the weight of the feeling itself. It was beyond words... beyond thought... beyond a species-based war for a planet, or a nuclear bomb, or a strange radioactive mutation... beyond everything...

 At a loss, Elias shook his head and glanced upwards. He then laid eyes upon something small, something that seemed to sum up his whirlpool of emotions.

 Just above them, hanging from the edge of the lodge's roof only about a foot above their heads, was a single, dangling mistletoe.

 Lucia, noticing the same thing, flushed.

 They met eyes again, and Elias gulped. When he leaned forward, Lucia could have sworn that Mars had stopped turning, and the war being waged was a million miles away...

 His lips brushed against hers, and they shared a long, tender kiss. Elias embraced her, holding her as closely as he could, and Lucia let her revolver fall beside her feet as she returned the hug.

 An eternity later, Elias finally separated his mouth from hers. He gave her a softened, loving stare. Lucia couldn’t look away from him. Her cheeks faded into a deep scarlet.

 "I love you." Elias said, releasing her.

 Then, Elias turned and bolted towards the battleground.

 Lucia reached out to stop him, but she narrowly missed.

 "THE GREEN MAN!" Elias exploded, standing dangerously close to the action, his arms open spread-eagle and his eyes flaring green. "RIGHT HERE!"

 Some of the humans were dragging their fallen companions away from the danger, while a few others were still partaking in the fight. But, the Reptilians' attention seemed to avert completely over to Elias.

 "Humanity is superior! You get that? HUMANITY IS SUPERIOR! Humanity found this planet first! Humanity will inherit the world! Ohhh, and doesn't that just BURN YOU UP INSIDE?!" Elias shouted.

 The Reptilians had all stopped fighting, their snake-like eyes all fixed on Elias now as the humans withdrew, tending to their injured.

 "EXACTLY MY POINT!" Elias yelled, holding up his arms and trading glances between all of the Reptilians. "EXACTLY! You mention humans, or human superiority, and there, I've got you!" He said, snapping his fingers. "Gotcha! You're all so blinded—so controlled by hate—that I can say a trigger phrase like that and have your attention with no effort whatsoever! Now honestly—don’t you see something wrong with that? Your reaction right there—all of you giving me death glares, ready to kill me on the spot—that's the reaction I was going for. You're all controlled by your anger and hatred—even by your enemies! Don't believe me? Well listen to this—I'M THE GREEN MAN! I've killed so many of you, I lost count around a hundred. I'm sixteen years old, and I'm stronger than ten of you combined! All those terrorists you've sent to these parts to orchestrate your little attacks—haven’t you ever wondered why they vanished from your radars? Why you never heard from them again? BECAUSE I KILLED THEM! I KILLED THEM ALL, AND GUESS WHAT? THEY BLOODY DESERVED IT! HA!"

 The Reptilians didn't hesitate; they all charged at Elias, who dashed away from them full speed.

 Elias dodged their shots of fire and stab attempts, weaving his way around all of them as he ran to the other side of the lodge's parking lot. After he got to the opposite side, the Reptilians chased him off the lodge's grounds, across the street, and towards the location of the Red Lake, leaving the humans alone in front of the lodge.

 Lucia gasped frightfully; she ran as quickly as her feet would carry her after the Reptilian mob. She disappeared from the battleground as quickly as they had.

 James, narrowing his eyes in the general direction of the fleeing Reptilians, released a groan and hit the ground.

 Two of Nicholas's companions grabbed James and laid him gently in the snow, examining his injuries.

 "Holy—Dad, you okay?" Carlos said, leaning over his father. "Your hand is all... and you... you got stabbed! You’re stomach’s bleeding—"

 "Go find your sister." James ordered his son. "Go on. Now."

 "No." Carlos replied. "No, Dad, I can't—"


 With all his remaining strength, James delivered a single, powerful slap to Carlos's face, making him do a full 40 degree head turn.

 "Go find your sister, NOW!" James hollered.

 Carlos, holding his cheek and looking completely shocked, reached his feet and headed off into the same direction as Elias, the Reptilians, and Lucia. Nicholas and his friends continued to mend the wounded as James allowed himself to drift into an unwitting, uncomfortable sleep, his blood now covering his nicest suit and darkening the snow beneath him...

 Elias slid down the snowy hill, still able to hear the shouting and hissing of the Reptilians, who were hot on his tail. When he hit the bottom of the hill, his feet met with a hard, rock solid layer of ice.

 He was standing on top of the Red Lake. It was frozen, covered in a foot-thick layer of ice. He couldn't imagine how cold the water underneath must have been, but it was far too cold for any cold blooded creature to survive in. He knew that much for sure.

 Elias threw the gloves off his hands and pressed his fingers and palms against the ice around his feet. His scars and eyes were glowed, and his hands felt as hot as lava. As the ice around his hands began to melt, a long, underlying craaaaackle occurred under his feet, indicating that his plan was working.

 He ran further onto the surface of the lake, then placed his hands on the ice again, heating it and weakening it in another spot. Craaaaackle.

 The Reptilians appeared at the top of the hill. They all glided down the hill on their stomachs like a group of large scaly penguins. When they reached the bottom, they stepped onto the frozen lake and began towards Elias.

 Elias scrambled even further away, using his hands to heat the ice a third time. The Reptilians were not moving towards him as quickly as before; they were trying very hard not to slip on the ice.


 When the Reptilians were within a rock's throw of him, Elias moved onward, placed his hands on the ice a fourth time, and...


 Elias stood upright, giving the Reptilians an unyielding glare.

 They all stopped before him, raising their fire pistols.

 "Go ahead." Elias said in a dark voice, holding out his arms. "Light me up. Burn me, for the sake of your stupid senseless hate! GO ON! DO IT!"

 It was seconds... no, perhaps not even seconds before the creatures pulled their triggers, when Elias noticed a lone figure standing in front of the lake, on top of the hill, watching... Lucia... staring out at the scene, looking terrified and watching Elias nervously... no... Lucia... don't look... I don't want you to see...

 The Reptilians unleashed their fire, and the flames engulfed Elias completely. Elias felt the fire bleed into him, his body absorbing the relentless energy like a sponge. His greenish glow became blazingly bright and almost impossible to look at directly, and the Reptilians did not show mercy. Within seconds, Elias had absorbed so much energy he wasn't sure how much more he could handle; it was hot, hotter than hell itself, burning him inside and out, his skin enduring a torturous amount of pain, his blood feeling like a rapid flow of magma inside his veins... it kept coming, kept coming... he couldn't stand it...

 Then, at last, Elias lashed out. He held out his arms, his hands balling into tight fists, and screamed, all the wicked energy bursting out of him at once. The thunderclap of green was the final straw; the ice gave away, crackling and shifting, and finally, the long jagged cracks busted open, and the ice shattered.

 It was like watching a green bomb detonate the icy layer on top of the Red Lake; all of the Reptilians fell into the freezing water, and so did Elias. Everyone was entirely submerged, and would likely freeze to death any second.

 Lucia’s heart jolted. Elias—you idiot!

 She didn't remember when she started running.

 Lucia whizzed through the snowy air, scurrying alongside the lake at a breakneck speed that most people would’ve thought impossible for her.

 Lucia stepped onto the most stable chunk of ice in her sight, praying dearly that it would not break. She moved as quickly as possible over the icy surface, careful to avoid the cracks, until she found the spot where Elias had fallen...

 Her breath quick, her hands shaking, and her stomach lurching, she fell to her knees beside the open ice, then reached her arm into the freezing cold water... please... please, Elias, please, please, please... please be alive... please...

 Thankfully, somehow, her fingers intertwined with another set of fingers—Elias.

 Without restraint, she clamped her hand around Elias’ and pulled with every bit of strength her body could possibly muster. She felt a couple of her muscles pull themselves, making a splitting pain shoot up and down her arm, but she paid no mind to it.

 Lucia pulled Elias out of the icy water, and with the strength of ten teenaged girls, she managed to drag him off the ice and onto the solid snow-covered ground.

 He'd planned it that way, Lucia knew, forcing down the maddening urge to burst into tears as she sat in the snow, cradling the drenched and unconscious Elias in her arms, staring into his slender, sleek face, his wet hairs dripping water. He led the Reptilians to their deaths, and he was willing to sacrifice himself to do so.

 "Idiot..." Lucia choked aloud, her lip trembling as she squeezed her friend, holding him close. "Elias... Elias... come on…”

 Elias remained motionless.

 Her eyes began to water. Tears ran down both of her cheeks as she gave Elias a few light shakes, her face only inches from his, waiting for his vibrant green eyes to open, to spark to life, to portray his endless compassion… his fierce, fierce loyalty… if only he’d move, if only he’d breathe, so that he could walk, dance, play, fight, and smile... just like he was supposed to...

 "Please..." Lucia begged. "I love you too... please... please wake up...!"

 A tear slid off of Lucia’s face, landing perfectly on Elias’ cheek, the salty liquid seeping into one of his small facial scars.

 Elias gave no response.

 Lucia buried her face into Elias’ neck, embracing him as tightly as she could, unable to hold back her sobs any longer. Her tears weren't noticeable on his soaked jacket.

 Then, something grasped her attention, making her fall silent at once. It was a subtle, mild feeling... something warm...

 Lucia’s face was pressed against Elias’ throat, his skin coated in that freezing cold water... but his skin felt warm... very, very warm... impossibly warm...

 Lucia sat up, staring at Elias as his scars lit up. It was not the same as his normal glow; it was much deeper, much thicker. This light was not transparent. Soon, the fantastic light was flowing out of every visible part of his body—not just his scars.

 Elias erupted into a coughing fit very suddenly, making Lucia jump.

 As soon as Elias had sprung back to life, the light faded, and Lucia simply couldn't hide her joy and relief. She laughed, squeezing him a little too tightly.

 "Angel..." Elias breathed in a hoarse voice, peering up at her and giving her a faint smile. "Ha... you're an angel... a saint..."

 "You idiot!" Lucia yelled. "You almost died!"

 "No..." Elias exhaled, resting soundly in her arms and feeling more comfortable than ever despite his body trembling due to the freezing air. "I... I did die... and you… you did... something… and I... came back... to see you..."

 Lucia gawked at him in disbelief, and Elias’ tired smile grew.

 Before she could think of a response, she heard footsteps crunching in the snow nearby. She turned her head, only to see Carlos, his blonde hair completely screwed up, his clothing askew, and his meaty face harboring a large bruise upon his cheek.

 "Give me your jacket!" Lucia ordered her brother.

 Carlos blinked at her, still looking dumbfounded.

 "Give me your JACKET!" Lucia repeated, startling him.

 Carlos shuffled towards them, slid off his large black jacket, and handed it to Lucia, who used her free arm to drape it over Elias’ body.

 "I can't believe you..." Lucia said to Elias, gently removing a few of his dangling bangs from his eyes. "I can't believe you... you did that for all those people."

 Elias shook his head very slightly. He wasn’t able to move much just yet.

 "For you." He corrected.

 Lucia let out a small laugh.

 "You've been doing this long before you ever met me." Lucia told him. "Protecting those stupid people."

 Elias was using most of his strength to keep his eyes open.

 "Yes..." He admitted, smiling again. "But now… now… I actually have a reason to… a real reason."

 Silence fell in the hours following the war.

 By eleven am, the police had swept the building clean. They were searching for the entrance to the rumored underground hideout belonging to the Reptilian attackers when the afternoon arrived. An ambulance and a rescue squad helped the lodge guests and conventioners dispose of their dead, both human and Reptilian, and promptly used a section of the lodge's hotel suites for hospital treatment for the injured who needed immediate attention. As Nicholas provided all the information about the incidents to the detectives, emphasizing that the owner of the lodge had been badly injured and shouldn't be disturbed, Elias and Lucia were alone in their hotel room, avoiding the whole situation for as long as they possibly could.

 They cuddled in bed together for a while, Lucia’s arms wrapping around Elias as he slowly became warmer and warmer. Later, when he was sure that he was as good as new, Lucia searched around for a proper outfit to replace the one that had been saturated in icy lake water.

 "Feel better?" Lucia asked after she finished buttoning Elias’ new black shirt. "This was my dad's shirt... sorry if it’s a little big on you."

 "It’s nice. I like it!" Elias replied, lifting one of his arms and examining himself all the way around. "You think he'll let me keep it?"

 Lucia swallowed, looking down in thought.

 Elias observed her.

 "What's wrong?" He asked.

 "I'm glad you're alive." She responded. "I... I was scared earlier."

 "Me too." Elias replied with a nod. "And I know you're not lying about that one bit, but... I think there was something else on your mind just now. Something besides me. What is it?"

 Lucia gave him a peculiar look.

 "How do you know?" She wondered.

 "Because I'm the green man!" Elias answered, making a laughable monster pose with his arms in the air. "I read people's minds, worship reptoids, and eat the hearts of children!"

 Lucia laughed breathlessly, and a moment of silence loomed over them.

 "What is it?" Elias asked in a serious tone.

 "My dad." Lucia said quietly, glimpsing at the door. "He's gonna kill me."

 "For what?"

 "For all this..."

 "It’s not your fault."

 "Maybe, but..."

 "How can he possibly blame you for this?"

 "Because... this is the only time he's ever left me in charge of the place." Lucia explained. "The only time, and it ends up becoming the scene of a terrorist attack."

 "Pfff. I'd be proud if I was your father." Elias scoffed. "He'd be completely mad to think anything that happened here is your fault. And besides that, he's lost a lot of blood, I've heard tell... he's probably completely disoriented. This may be a good time to talk to him, eh?"

 When Lucia didn't respond, Elias gently took her by the hand and led her out of the hotel room. He strolled down the hallway until he located one of the rooms being used for emergency medical care, then gently pushed the door open, peeking inside.

 "I saw them bring him in here earlier." Elias whispered. "Your dad's in this room, right here. Looks like he's sleeping. Come see him."

 "I... can't." Lucia said, shaking her head.

 "Come on, he's not gonna be mad at you."

 "It’s not that, I..."

 Lucia took a moment, biting her lip. Elias watched her closely.

 "I..." She placed her fist against her mouth, forcing down the urge to cry again. "The last thing I said to him was... I hope you die."

 "But look..." Elias said, cautiously pushing the door open with a slow, long creeeeeak. "Lucky for you, he hasn't died. Come on."

 Elias stepped into the room and approached the bed, and Lucia slowly followed him. In the bed, James was lying by himself, his best suit having been cleanly cut open, revealing the area where the doctors had performed a quick surgery on him in order to close his stab wound. When he heard the creaking of the wooden floor, caused by Elias and Lucia's footsteps, he tiredly turned his head, gazing at them both and wearing a dazed, sleepy expression as he did.

 "Com'ere." He mumbled to Lucia.

 Lucia stepped closer to her father.

 James's brown eyes stared up at her with the same unreadable glint they always had.

 "I'm proud of you." He told her.

 The words hit her like a fist. Lucia had no clue how to respond; her father had never told her that he was proud of her before.

 "Now I know that you can handle this place. That wasn't really the plan, but... hell... this weekend proved everything I needed to know. Now I know you'll be able to take care of this place when I'm gone." James explained.

 Lucia shook her head. "You're not..."

 "Nah, I'm not dying right now." James said, smirking and making Lucia feel embarrassed. "But I am gonna die someday, and you're gonna be left with this place."

 "Me?" Lucia said, finally piecing together what her father was saying. "Me? You’re leaving the place to me? Not Carlos?"

 James released a single, coughing laugh.

 "You think he can run this place?" James chuckled. "No. He's got a good future ahead of him, sure, but it's got nothing to do with this place. He can't run a business. That's not a 'Carlos' job. That's a 'you' job."

 Lucia stared at her father, and Elias watched her from behind, his arms crossing and his mouth forming into a grin.

 James glanced between Elias and Lucia.

 "Hey... do me a favor, sweety." James said. "Go check up on Carlos for me... make sure he's not shitting himself out there. Alright?"

 "Alright." Lucia replied. She turned and headed out of the room, allowing the door to swing shut behind her, leaving Elias alone with James.

 They both looked at one another silently for a moment.

 "You look familiar." James said.

 "I’m the green man." Elias responded, holding up a single hand and wiggling his fingers. “Hello.”

 "No..." James shook his head. "You weren't green the last time I saw you."

 Elias gazed at James, his arms still folded and his expression somewhat blank.

 "You were a kid." James said. "The last time I saw you... you were a little kid. You're the one who brought Lucia here."

 Elias said nothing.

 "You weren't quite so green at the time, though." James added.

 "This happened over time." Elias said, raising one of his arms and examining his skin and his scars. "I'm not sure why. It’s not the kind of mutation that anyone can relate to. I'm one of a kind."

 "You know... she eventually told me what happened." James said. "That night, all those years ago, when you brought her here, into my office... she wouldn't talk for days. But she eventually spoke up... told me her family and friends were killed in some kind of raid. Her family ran a caravan through this territory."

 "Reptilians." Elias said gravely. "I tried to stop them... but I was only a little kid myself... didn't have the slightest clue what had happened to me, or why I'd become so strong. I didn't know how to use my power back then, so I wasn't able to stop them before they killed everyone. Well... almost everyone."

 "You stopped them from killing her, at least." James said. "That's pretty impressive for a five year old."

"I met Lucia a little while back, on Mt. Janessa. She was exploring. She was just a girl, at first... a fantastic girl... but after she invited me to this convention, I noticed..." Elias said. "I noticed her scar, and... that's when it hit me. I realized that she was the same little girl from the burned caravan. The same little girl they burned. They would have burned her alive like everyone else if I hadn't..."

 Elias trailed off. He began to relive one of his earliest memories, the night he'd discovered Mt. Janessa, shortly after a run-in with a caravan, and a group of Reptilian nationalists who intended to destroy it. He tried to help, of course, but he wasn't any match for them. The Reptilians burned almost everyone on the caravan, except for one little girl; the child was hiding in the snow, hoping that the watery ice would protect her from the fire. When the Reptilians advanced on her, Elias remembered feeling a sudden burst of energy... he'd killed the Reptilians... killed them all... he couldn't recall how, exactly... but afterwards, he picked up the girl, the girl with the horrible burn on her face, and carried her to the closest place around, the Black Dingo. He had marched into James's office, gently placed the burned child in front of his desk, and waited for James to react. When the lodge attendants began tending to Lucia’s injury, Elias slipped away from the lodge without a trace.

 "I'm glad I had." Elias muttered, more to himself than to James, revealing a delicate smile as the sunlight casted a glare over his eyes, making them even more shiny and vibrant than usual. "I saved us both the day I saved her."

 Another moment of silence lingered in the air.

 "So, uh..." James said. "Nicholas didn't spare me any details. Told me everything... told me that you two have been in the same hotel room all weekend... you and her."

 Elias blinked, his eyes widening.

 "Oh—no, no, no, nothing happened, we haven't—"

 "Yeah, I know." James said. "It'd be pretty easy to tell if you had, son. That's why I'm gonna let you hang around. Hell, I owe you that for going through hell and high water keeping this place from burning to the ground. Lucia will be able to run this place better with help, anyhow. You and her both. But, I expect no hanky-panky until about 40 years after the wedding, alright?"

*  *  *

 The sky on this Mars night was clear of clouds on the eve of the new year, and the two moons hung in the sky beautifully, surrounded by thousands of shining stars millions of miles away. Nearly everyone from the Christmas convention had managed to stay an extra week in order to celebrate the new year, along with their victory over the Reptilian terrorists. The media was slightly downplaying the situation, of course, but the most pleasing thing on the news during the week following the attack was the sight of the protesters from the larger multispecies cities; humans and Reptilians in the big cities, protesting side-by-side, filling up the streets with their signs and bullhorns, demanding the truth from the media and the two governments. It seemed that a revolution had been pending, and it only took a single Christmas party getting crashed to set the wheels in motion. Knowing this, Elias and Lucia sat on top of the lodge's roof together, staring down at the parking lot where everyone had gathered. The guests were filling the lodge grounds, waiting for the fireworks to begin, and some of them had placed large blankets on top of the snowy pavement so they and their families would have a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the show.

 "The past week's felt like a year, hasn't it?" Elias said, leaning back on both of his arms and gazing into the sky. "And it’s snowing tonight!”

 Lucia grinned at him.

 Elias noticed, and he returned the look.

 "Everybody's pretty okay with you now." Lucia told him. "Nobody's called you any names all week."

 "And you." Elias added, nodding at her. "Of course, now they don't have any choice but to love us, after all the bloody crap we did for 'em. But as ungrateful as people can be, they cook a mean turkey and ham dinner, don’t they?”

 They both went quiet for about a minute.

 "Hey." Elias said, grasping her hand softly and intertwining his fingers with hers, which made her heart skip a few beats. "Old world traditions, 101. Lesson number one, the mistletoe. If two people are caught underneath a mistletoe, they're supposed to kiss. You see? That's brilliant! I love old world traditions! And here's another one..."

 Elias released a breath, met Lucia’s eyes, and spoke a little more calmly.

 "On New Years, just after the countdown, it’s said that if two people kiss at the end of the countdown, they're going to be together forever." He told her.

 As if on que, the crowd in the parking lot began to chant.

 "Five...... four...... three...."

 Elias and Lucia inched closer to one another, both filling with the same fuzzy, fluttery sensation, and Elias’ scars began to glow.

 "Two..... one....!"

 They met lips, sharing a long, soft kiss, and Elias placed both of his hands on Lucia’s face, stroking her cheeks and allowing her hair to engulf his fingers. The fireworks exploded in the air over them as the crowd cheered from down below, though they barely heard it, as they were oblivious to the world around them now...

 A wonderful, horrible Christmas had brought them together, these two sequestered souls. By some miracle, they found each other… and as they remained lost in one another, Elias and Lucia completely forgot to care that the year had ended. Neither of them paid any attention to the hundreds of voices all cheering the same line when the countdown had reached its end.

 "Happy New Year!" 

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