The strange noise that had awakened Argente, and subsequently Pudgy for that matter, was Cobalt as he was flying overhead. The bald eagle had just started his morning patrol, and was circling over Pudgy’s forest. In the distance, the sharp-eyed eagle spotted a strange animal flying towards the hedgehog’s home. As the green winged creature approached, Cobalt extended his talons and cried out, “get away from these woods you monster!” The warning was either not understood, or it was ignored, so the large bird of prey flew past the creature at an uncomfortably close distance. The creature roared out, “leave me alone you stupid eagle! I’m here to visit friends in this forest!” Cobalt banked around, “a likely story monster! I will never let anyone hurt Pudgy, or his friends. Now return to wherever you flew from, or I will have to attack!”
The eagle started to fly in for an attack run, crying out again in his shrill tone. However, the creature called out, “wait a moment! Cobalt! Is that you? It’s me … Xylenia! You know me, search your memories, I’ve only been here a couple times before.” The eagle pulled his legs back up alongside his body, and retracted his talons. Flying up alongside of the green dragon, “how do you know my name? Have we met before?” The former human asked, which drew a look of concern from the dragon’s silver eyes. Xylenia nodded slowly, as it would alter the course of her flight, “I’m Xylenia. The dragon Pudgy met when he went to the center of the earth? Then we went to Santa’s castle, and I stayed back with my mother. Then last year I came to bring Pudgy to Savannah to find Mrs. Claus?”
Cobalt chirped, “I can remember bits and pieces. I’m sorry, I do not remember you. Do you wish to harm Pudgy or his friends?” The dragon roared a bit, “I would never hurt them! Pudgy and the others are all friends of mine, and I am your friend too Cobalt.” The eagle chirped, “you seem nice, and I do not sense any ill will from you. You may land, but I will be keeping my eyes trained on you at all times.” The dragon looked a bit exasperated, but started to descend into the autumn leaf filled canopy of the trees. She watched as the eagle flew overhead, and then power dived through a break in the trees. He flew in much quicker than she did, which was a sight to see. Swooping in, Cobalt landed with wings outstretched and fluffed out. He shook his wings and body, then folded his wings back, while striding over to the round front door of his hedgehog friend.
Xylenia landed a bit rougher, as she was bigger and heavier than the eagle. She watched as Cobalt tapped on the front door with his yellow beak, and watched her intently with one eye. The round door opened, and soon Pudgy appeared. “Good morning, Cobalt! Argente woke up Pudgy early … she said she heard a noise?” The eagle nodded, “I was on patrol, and found a monster. She claims to know you, and identified herself as Xylenia. Do you know such an animal?” The little hedgehog peeked around the eagle, and saw his green dragon friend giving Cobalt a dirty look. “Yes! Pudgy know Xylenia!” The critter scurried out the front door, and around his eagle friend, to excitedly leap towards her for a flying hedgehog hug attack. The dragon giggled, and started to hug back gently.
Argente peeked out of the door as well, and watched as Cobalt backed up and moved out of the way. The silver fox padded out, and wiggled her ears. “Hello Xylenia, it is good to see you once again! Sorry for your welcome, Cobalt is still having trouble remembering things.” Xylenia could not stay too mad at the eagle, since the little hedgehog was hugging and bouncing in front of her. The dragon looked around the forest, and saw that the water wheel was gone. There had been multiple changes since last she was here. Beaver dams had been constructed along the creek, making large ponds of water, and little cascading waterfalls to each pond, before eventually spilling over into the lower creek. There was also a little log cabin built farther up the creek, complete with a smoking stacked stone chimney.
“My goodness Pudgy, you and your friends have been quite busy. Wait …what happened to your home?” The dragon spotted the large room’s bifold doors had disappeared. In its place was a much smaller door, and the remainder of the former opening was covered with tall weeds growing into the dirt. Argente giggled, “well since all the humans went away, there was no need for a meeting room anymore.” The hedgehog looked up at his confused dragon friend, “we turned it into a big store house. That way we have a place to store large quantities of food and supplies. Cobalt helped build it for us, when he used to be a dragon.” Cobalt looked at the group, “Pudgy, I must be off. If you need me, call out, and I will escort your visitor away from these woods.” The eagle gave the dragon a look, before leaping up into the air, and taking flight. Once more to fly through the trees, and into the skies above.
Xylenia frowned, “so many changes … so many adventures. Pudgy, I am worried about you. It is not safe for you in this forest. I want to ask Santa if it would be alright for you to stay with us permanently at the North Pole.” Argente shrieked, “NO! Pudgy will not be going there forever, He is staying put here with us. He just got back from an adventure!” The silver fox quickly padded over, and with a gentle motion, quickly picked up the hedgehog with her mouth. Pudgy landed on her back, and soon found the female fox bolting off into the woods. He held on, and laughed, “wait Argente!” The dragon grumbled, and started to run along the ground on all fours behind the fox. Past the storehouse, past the secret tunnel, make the left, up the hill, and to the clearing they went where Argente’s cottage stood.
The fox knew she had to act fast, and soon slid up to her front door, and pawed at it to open it up. Then with a quick shake, she tossed off her hedgehog friend. He was chuckling, and thinking it was a game. Soon the hedgehog found himself inside the cottage, with Argente blocking the door. Her large black tail, with its silver tip swishes back and forth in front of him. The dragon ran quickly up to her, and wiggled her tail behind her. “Argente, please stop! I am only concerned about Pudgy.” The female fox began to whimper a bit as her brown eyes burned brightly, “he is my friend too. You would be outnumbered here, if the others knew you wanted to take him away.” The dragon sighed, “all right …all right… I get it.” Xylenia started to giggle, as she saw Argente began to squirm and giggle. Pudgy had decided to wiggle free of her cottage, and was in the process of squeezing around her.
Pudgy once free of the cottage, walked slowly up beside Argente, and hugged her from the side. “Pudgy really liked the North Pole, but Pudgy would miss everyone here. Pudgy can not live there forever, would have to come back. Pudgy remember what Mrs. Claus told Pudgy, that Pudgy was not magical, and would not be able to stay.” The dragon nodded, “I remember that, I was going to suggest building a home just outside of the portal to the North Pole.” The hedgehog shook his head, “no, Canada is not safe anymore. Cobalt saw the wolves amassing there, the Silver Claw ordered Cobalt to patrol the area.” Argente looked at Pudgy, “see … another reason he can’t go.” The fox stuck her tongue out at Xylenia, who stuck hers out right back.
The little hedgehog nodded, “oh, Pudgy left front door open of Pudgy home. Pudgy need to shut it, be right back.” The hedgehog scampered over to where the gates were for the tunnel, and then quickly slipped inside. This left the two females alone in the clearing, and Argente giving the dragon a look. “I was only thinking of his safety Argente,” Xylenia said quietly. “But I can see how much he means to you, so I will drop it. I have not mentioned any of this to Santa.” The fox nodded, “thank you Xylenia. I worry about him too. All of these never-ending adventures, each time he spends longer and longer away from us. I can never relax, always worrying. And now, the threat of the wolves to the north of us … is the last thing we needed.” The dragon nodded, “agreed. Everyone here needs time to rest, recover, and enjoy each other’s company.”
Almost as quickly as the hedgehog had left, he emerged from the tunnel once more, and shut the gate behind him. Motioning to follow, the little hedgehog started to scamper through the clearing towards the grove of oak trees where the ley line node was located. Argente and Xylenia started to walk, and quickly caught up to the hedgehog. After a couple of minutes, they reached the former cavern home of Cobalt when he was a dragon. Xylenia looked at the large wooden door, solar panel, and two exterior lights on the outside. “Who lives here,” the dragon asked as she watched Pudgy knock on the door. There was some movement behind the door, and slowly the door started to slide open inwards. A red panda appeared and waved, “good morning Pudgy and Argente! Oh wow, who is that?”
Pudgy smiled, “good morning Mr. Drew, this is Xylenia Dragon. She came all the way from the North Pole to visit us.” As the hedgehog spoke, a white fur covered artic fox appeared from an alcove, and wiggled her ears. “Good morning, everyone ….” The sleepy female fox spoke with her eyes half closed. Pudgy bounced, “Xylenia, this is Mr. Drew and Ms. Mary. They used to be humans, until they were turned into animals. Can we come inside for a visit?” The red panda and white fox nodded, and backed up. Pudgy, Argente, and eventually Xylenia entered the cavern. In the time that the new animals had moved in, they had made some changes to the interior of the cavern. Alcoves were built, giving a semblance of privacy and blocking any potential air drafts. The rows of tools that Cobalt had salvages were still hanging in their spot along the one wall. The fireplace and chimney were still the center focal point at the rear of the cavern. The remnants of a fire were within the hearth, but cold from having been burned out.
“This was the cavern home that Cobalt built when he was a dragon.” Pudgy narrated, as he watched Xylenia look around. “Mr. Drew, Ms. Mary, Xylenia can change her size when she needs to. Cobalt could not for some reason.” The female dragon giggled, noting the size of the cavern, “if I were to be upset … I do not think I would fit inside here fully. This leads me to believe that Cobalt must not have been a fully developed dragon. I’m confused, why did he switch to being an eagle?” Pudgy wiggled his nose, “dragons are not natural to this world from what the Great Spirit and the Bear Mother told Pudgy.” Drew looked at Xylenia, “Cobalt apparently started to die as soon as he came back. He was grievously injured at the island of bears, and passed away after Pudgy left to return home. By the time I returned with Mr. Bear and his father, Pudgy had returned with a wild tale of the moon dinosaurs.”
The hedgehog nodded, “the eagles took Cobalt, and he changed into an eagle when Pudgy fell off the Lightning Tree.” Xylenia nodded, “oh.” Argente sighed, “I hope we are done with adventures.” Pudgy nodded, “Pudgy hope so too. Pudgy have too much work to do, have to prepare for winter. Gather what limited food is left, gather firewood to heat home, plan with Winter’s Eve party, have the party, and keep friends happy.” The other forest animals nodded, with Mary giggling, “too bad all the stores are gone. I had a credit card with a $20,000 limit, I could have bought anything we needed.” The dragon looked at her, “what do you mean?” Argent looked at the green dragon, “all the human buildings are gone. They have been swallowed up by the earth, burned down, or obliterated by other means.”
Xylenia looked sad, “I was wondering why the ground was so dark last night. The time Pudgy and I flew up to see Santa the first time, the human towns were numerous, and lights covered the ground. I figured the power was out, not that all the buildings were gone. I will have to let Santa know, so he is aware. He would sometimes navigate by using ground-based landmarks.” The hedgehog nodded, “Mr. Drew … Ms. Mary … would it be all right for Xylenia to sleep here during her visit?” The arctic fox and red panda nodded in unison. The hedgehog bounced happily, and started to hug them excitedly. Argente giggled, especially when she received her hug, and looked over at Xylenia, “I am sorry I was so angry earlier.” The dragon nodded, “that’s ok, I understand why you were upset Argente.”
Mary wiggled her white fur covered ears, “what did Xylenia say Argente?” The silver fox giggled, “she was going to take Pudgy away to the North Pole forever.” The fox and red panda looked at the dragon, and in unison with a firm tone said, “NO!” The dragon raised up one of her three clawed paws, “it has come to my attention that this is a bad idea. I am not taking Pudgy back with me.” The group all started to laugh, with Mary and Drew asking all sorts of questions to their new visitor. The visit lasted well into the afternoon, when Pudgy started to rub his belly. “Pudgy hungry, need to make dinner … everyone invited to Pudgy home.” The group grinned at each other, and then started to follow Pudgy out of the cavern home. Xylenia backed out of the cavern, and pulled the doors shut. Drew worked the clasps, so the door would be secured. Wiggling his ears at the dragon, he smiled, and then scampered off.
The parade of animals headed back down the hill, through the clearing, past Argente’s cottage, down the hill, past the secret tunnel, make the right, past the store house door, and up to Pudgy’s front door. As the hedgehog quickly opened it, and scooted inside, Xylenia sighed. “I can’t go inside Pudgy’s home anymore. The meeting room was the only place I fit. I can grow smaller, but I have my limits.” Drew nodded, “you are about third of what Cobalt used to be dragon wise. He couldn’t even get inside the meeting room, other than his front half, so he could work.” The little round windows opened one by one along the front of the hedgehog’s home, and soon Pudgy was peeking through a window. “Pudgy have to make fire, then can start cooking.” Soon he disappeared, and the familiar sounds of Pudgy making a fire could be softly heard.
Mary looked at Argente, “well we have some time …shall we show Xylenia around?” Argente nodded, “excellent idea. Pudgy … we are going to show Xylenia around, but will be back soon.” The little hedgehog appeared in a window again, “okie dokie Argente!” The hedgehog disappeared almost as quickly, and all watched as puffy white smoke started to come out of a pipe from the top of the hedgehog’s underground home. Drew laughed a bit, “I will stay here, and come find out when dinner is ready.” The two female foxes, and female dragon nodded, and headed towards the beaver ponds that ran along the creek. They paused at the wreckage of where the water wheel once stood. Xylenia frowned, “Pudgy’s water wheel … what happened to it?” Argente nodded, “we had a very bad rain storm here. The water was so high and fast, it ripped out the water wheel except for that one support part. Cobalt had driven a steel rod deep into the ground, and that was the only part that survived.”
Mary giggled, “but our beaver friends have been very busy. Look, they even incorporated the rod into the dam construction.” A visibly rusting steel rod could be seen out the top of one of the beaver dams. The dragon counted three dams, with signs of a fourth being started, and they ran up the creek. The water had ponded, and formed a series of calm pools. The water flowing from up the hill downwards, kept the water moving in each pool, preventing stagnation. Mary looked down, “oh my … I see fish in there now. When did that happen?” Argente looked down, and could clearly see silver minnows swimming about. “I do not know Mary. Maybe they came from above somewhere? When the beavers first came, they dammed the creek up much higher in the forest. That resulted in Pudgy’s water wheel not working. Cobalt had to negotiate with the beavers, to allow water to flow.”
Xylenia giggled, “Cobalt was human then? I bet that was rough, since he could not understand animals at the time.” Argente nodded, “but Pudgy translated, and we were able to have water again. Point being, that original beaver pond, is still up there.” Mary nodded, “ahh, the fish are growing there, and then following the creek. They must love our new ponds …” The dragon nodded, realizing there was a flaw in the animal communication processes. Air breathing animals could speak, but the aquatic ones could not. They never developed speech, which would make conversing with them hard. There were exceptions though, dolphins and whales breathed air, so they could speak. A fact Raymond Herron learned when he had his run in with the dolphins.
The tour continued further up the hill, along the creek, to reach a log cabin. Mary tapped on the door, “hello Mrs. Waffle Cat, are you there?” The wooden door opened, and soon both a female and male bobcats exited their home. Mr. and Mrs. Waffle Cat waved their paws, and Xylenia giggled and waved back. Argente made the introductions, “Xylenia … this is Mr. Waffle Cat and Mrs. Waffle Cat. They were once humans as well, and have since become bobcats. This is Xylenia, Pudgy’s friend from the North Pole.” Mrs. Waffle cat smiled, “a pleasure to meet you Xylenia. Pudgy ahs told us many stories of his adventures at the North pole, and with you in Savannah.” Mr. Waffle cat nodded, “Hello Xylenia, a pleasure to meet you as well.” The dragon looked around, and smiled at the little cottage for the bobcats, “A please to meet you as well. What a wonderful home you have,” she said with a toothy grin.
The red panda scampered up to the group, and wiggled his fluffy striped tail. “Pudgy says supper is ready!” The group laughed softly, formed a parade of animals, and scampered through the forest. Along the creek, past the ponds, make a right, up the small hill, to Pudgy’s home they went. The same long flat stone that had been set up for the Thanksoween feast, was now covered with little pots of steaming food. The hedgehog waved at the group as they appeared, and started to serve everyone. Xylenia sat down at the end of the stone, and looked at the spread laid before her. As the other animals sat down as well, Pudgy bounced happily. The little hedgehog had made a soup of wild onions, herbs, mushrooms, and other edible plants. He had also made several pots of tea, and each animal had one tiny bread roll. They were triple hedgehog sized portions.
Xylenia looked at the meager portions, and frowned a tiny bit. “Pudgy, is this all the food that you have? I shouldn’t take this, if you are starving.” The little hedgehog looked up, “you missed Thanksoween, we had a big feast with all of the animals of the forest. Everyone was so stuffed of good foods, that everyone slept for a day or two afterwards. Please eat, Pudgy know it is not big, but it is tasty.” Argente giggled, “yes … eat please …” The dragon reached down, and picked up what appeared to be an 8-ounce human coffee cup that was beige ceramic. She gingerly sipped it, and the broth was delicious. The little hedgehog started to eat his soup when she took her first sip, and continued to bounce happily. Talk turned to the upcoming Winter’s Eve celebration being hosted by Mr. Bear. Mr. Waffle Cat was laughing, “oh boy … if what Mr. Bear says about that still of his .. we should have apple jack by Christmas.”
Mrs. Waffle Cat giggled, “alcohol would be a nice treat for the party. It has been so long since I had a proper drink.” The Red Panda nodded, “it’s been 35 months …I think … since I had a drink. I do not care to start, so I will celebrate with a water.” Mr. Waffle Cat looked up, “you gave it up, I’m impressed.” Mr. Drew nodded, “I had a problem, but with my faith, and support from lived ones, I was able to get it back under control. Although, I never suspected that I would have so much help maintaining sobriety.” Mary giggled, “all the stores were sucked into the ground, burned down, or were blown away. Any remnant of alcohol has been wiped away from the face of the earth.” Mrs. Waffle Cat nodded, “the whole country is a dry county. Well, until December, and enough for 2 bears … and maybe a bobcat and a fox.”
Pudgy nibbled on his roll, also using it to mop of the last traces of broth. “Pudgy watched a video with Cobalt a long time ago, about farmers. They would put apple juice in a barrel, and the barrel would freeze in the winter. The center was adult giggle juice, that would make people blind. Pudgy remember to keep all apple juice in Pudgy house, for safety.” Argente giggled, “yes Pudgy, that is a good idea.” Sadly, there were no cookies, but the little hedgehog began to serve spice bush tea to his friends. As the animals sipped their tea, Xylenia was giggling at the conversation, and making many mental notes. Dinner concluded once the skies darkened, and the little hedgehog scurried back and forth taking the various serving items into his home to be cleaned. Each friend received a hedgehog hug, and then departed for their various homes.
Xylenia looked at Mary and Drew, “I need to take care of some business. I will join you two later.” The red panda and snow fox nodded, and scampered up towards their cavern home. The dragon watched as Pudgy’s door and windows shut, and the little hedgehog was in the kitchen window doing the dishes. The forest had changed so much since she had left, all of the animals had changed, the world was not the same anymore. The world was silent, dark, and felt hollow somehow. The lack of the humans had an effect like none other, which made the dragon ponder as she walked through the woods. Across the beaver creek pond, up the hill, past the thorn bush, across the meadow where the road once stood, up a small hill to a new forest that had grown Xylenia headed. Navigating the grove of trees, she found the spot where Cobalt’s house once stood.
A huge ravine had formed, and was covered in trees all the way to the bottom. A small river was flowing fairly quickly at the base, and she could hear the water splashing against rocks. “Glitter, I am alone now.” The ornament floated down from out of the sky, and started to glow softly. The fair skinned elf’s face appeared, “how was your visit with Pudgy, Xylenia?” The dragon sighed, “well Cobalt tried to attack me. I know he is somewhere watching me, even now. Pudgy is well, and there are all new animals here, that were once humans. They are all friends, and the forest seems to be peaceful. But …” Glitter nodded, “the world is empty now. No humans mean … no Christmas … no letters to Santa … no toys … no celebrations …. no need for us anymore.”
The dragon started to inform Glitter as to what she observed on the way to Pudgy’s home. She also went into detail about the forest, the changes, and events so far. The ornament also started to change, with more elves, and Santa’s face appearing as well. Santa started to speak, “Xylenia … thank you for going there as our scout. What do you think the animals needs?” The dragon nodded, “food definitely. Pudgy made a wonderful supper, but it was meager portions. I noticed that our hedgehog friend has definitely slimmed down.” Glitter giggled, “does he have a one pack abs now?” The conference call all started to laugh in unison, with even the dragon giggling. “Well, who can tell, with his little vest on? Food and friends would mean more, than toys and games in this world.”
Santa nodded, “Xylenia, I concur. As such, I have instructed all of the elvish operations to be converted. The stock piles of toys are being disassembled. Section heads, report please…” An elderly male elf with a long white beard and thick round glasses nodded, “section 33 … paper mill … is pleased to report we have begun production on easily tear able wrapping paper. This does not require tape, nor adhesives to stay closed, and can wrap the present just by tension.” Santa nodded, “good, this will assist animals who do not have claws to open the packaging.” A female elf appeared, “section 24 … lumber mill … is please to report that we have created boxes of all sizes. The lids are operable by animals with no claws. We believe that in conjunction with the paper products, we can facilitate transport of the gifts.”
Each section head reported in, and the dragon began to see the scope of Santa’s new plan. Father Christmas would deliver presents this year, to all of the animals of the world. Instead of toys or video games, he would deliver more useful presents. Food, clothing, ways to heat, ways to cool, and toys that were suited for animals. After each of the section heads finished their reports, Santa started to laugh. “It is just as big a job as prior years, but at least I do not have to worry about security systems or lit fireplaces anymore!” All elves on the call started to laugh, and fade away one by one. Only Santa and Glitter remained, with Santa speaking, “Xylenia. Remain in the forest, and keep an eye on our quill covered friend. I will begin making deliveries to the animals, and on the night of the Winter’s Eve celebration, will make an appearance at the party.” The dragon nodded, “that sounds like a plan Santa.” The ornament faded away once more into a cloud of mist, and soon the forest was quiet and dark once more.
Xylenia turned around slowly, and looking up into the trees, she could see the twilight was fading. There was also a bald eagle at the top of the tallest tree, with his eyes locked onto her. The dragon grumbled, “stupid eagle…” With the retort spoken, across the ridge, down the hill, across the meadow, past the thorn bush, down the hill, across the beaver creek, up the hill, make a right, past the hedgehog’s storehouse door, past the secret tunnel exit, make a left, up the hill, past Argente’s cottage, through the clearing, up the hill to the cavern where Mr. Drew and Ms. Mary stayed. The doors were open, and the exterior lamp lights had been turned on. Giggling as she approached, “wow … those lamps sure do brighten the area.” The red panda and snow fox nodded, and waved for her to enter. Slowly entering the cavern, the dragon eased down, and smiled at her new friends.
The doors were closed by Drew, and a small fire had been built to warm the cave. As the flames danced on the logs within the hearth, all three animals fell asleep. During the night, a light rain began to fall, and the forest was peaceful. In the days that followed, the dragon fell into the flow of the forest. Pudgy was really busy, gathering as much food as he could. The dragon helped how she could, with the other animals assisting. The main issue was the little hedgehog did not like it when Argente or the other meat eaters would hunt. So, there were many days where they did not stop by, mainly to ensure their little friend would not see the natural world in operation. It is not that he was oblivious to the fact that their diets required more than onion soup, or rolls for that matter, it was just that he did not want to see it.
When the animals saw Cobalt go berserk during the coyote attack, and begin to eat the attackers, that put a chill in the forest. It was universally agreed that the former human’s conversion to that of an eagle was much better for all who lived within the forest. Xylenia began to agree with that assessment as they described how he was in dragon form. The female dragon nodded, and when she returned to the North Pole, had many questions for her mother. Following the creek, instead of making the right to Mr. Bear’s cabin, led to a much larger pond. This pond formed a breakwater, before spilling into a much larger creek that ran past the cabin. This was a spot where fish were born and grew up, before making their trip further downstream. Mr. Bear and his father knew about the pond, but also knew to leave it alone. Otherwise, there would be no fish to eat downstream.
Xylenia sat beside the pond, watching the frogs and turtles swim about within it. They would stop by to chat, wondering what she was, or why she was there? The dragon was kind, and listened as they told wild tales of ghosts and demons in the woods. They always headed up the creek, towards the little hedgehog’s home further up the creek. They rarely ventured that far, since the water falls made it difficult to travel up stream. Winter was coming soon, so they were making preparations for their long slumber. It is not that they hibernated, it was just that they slowed way down. But more importantly, the dragon was gathering intelligence, on what the animals needed. The intelligence was sent to Santa via the ornament, and teams of elves processed the information provided.
The days passed quickly by, and soon it had been several weeks since the dragon arrived. Even Cobalt the eagle had warmed to her, and no longer kept a silent vigil over her. The two went on patrol, flying over the forest, seeing the changes that had occurred. The stream that wound its way past Mr. Bear’s cabin, eventually connected into a huge lake. The lake covered what used to be the human town that once stood beside the forest. Large geysers of water were shooting out from deep under the earth, and sent water cascading all around them. All the creeks had been rerouted to flow into the lake, with one exit leading further southwards. There was one last remnant of a human building beside the lake. It appeared to be an auto parts store at one time, but it has been completely burned by lighting fire. As Cobalt banked to the left, and began to circle back to Pudgy’s forest, Xylenia followed and sighed.
“Cobalt, how can you be fine with this? These lands were your home, all the people are gone?” The eagle continued to flap his wings, “I have been assigned to guard this territory by the Silver Claw. I care not what it once was, only what it is now. From what has been described to me by the Aerie, humans were terrible creatures. I know that I was once one, and for that I need to atone for any actions I might have taken against the animals.” The dragon shot him a look, but did not respond to the statement. In the time she had spent with the former human, she could tell that his mind was fragmented. Perhaps Santa would be able to jog his mind, or at least deprogram him a bit? In any case, being able to spend time with the former human, she was able to see what the effects were of the conversion process. This was Cobalt’s second form, and he had lost more than half of his memories.
The two headed back to Pudgy’s forest, and landed shortly afterwards in front of the underground home. Argente was standing in front of the home, with a little wagon hitched up behind her. Pudgy and the field mice were busy loading all sorts of goodies inside of the wagon. Cobalt chirped, “Pudgy, I see you are filling the wagon. Is it time to head over?” The hedgehog scampered around Argente, and bounced excitedly. “Pudgy didn’t think Winter’s Eve Day would ever get here!” The dragon giggled, and watched the field mice stow away the last of the food items in the wagon, and then climb inside. The hedgehog scampered back to his home, and made one last check inside. Comix Hawk and Angeliki Raven were perched up in tree nearby, and were chatting with each other. As Pudgy scampered out, and secured the door to his home, he turned to address the group.
“Ok everyone, it is time to Mr. Bear’s cabin!” Pudgy announced excitedly, while scampering around to climb up onto Mr. Drew’s back. The red panda led the way, with Mary the snow fox, Argente and the field mice in the wagon, Mr. Waffle Cat, Mrs. Waffle Cat, Patches the house cat, Mr. Beaver, Mrs. Beaver, and Xylenia following. Cobalt took flight, and soon was joined by the red-tailed hawk, and raven. Down the creek, down the three water falls, make a right, up the hill, past the granite boulder, up the hill further, past the grove of pine trees, to Mr. Bear’s cabin the group headed. By the time the parade reached the bears’ home, it was early afternoon. Grandpa Bear was outside, trying to tie green leafy garlands around the covered porch supports.
Pudgy waved, “hello Grandpa Bear! We have come to help set up for the party!” The elderly gray bear grinned from ear to ear, and waved with one of his massive paws. “Merry Winter’s Eve everyone, thank you for coming early. I need the help. These old paws don’t work like the once did.” The animals laughed, and soon started to fan out and help the bear as he decorated. Pudgy and the field mice started to unload the wagon, and began to run trips inside of the cabin to where the banquet table was set up. Mr. Bear was inside, with bubbling bear sized pots of food on the wood stove. Greetings were spoken, and directions given, as the bear gained the assistance of three tiny sous chefs. Even Xylenia helped the brown bear cook, which was also greatly appreciated.
After many hours of preparation, the cabin was ready. The decorations strung up, and the fire roaring in the hearth. A Christmas tree decorated with red bows was in the corner. The banquet table was not full, but it had enough food for all to partake and be satisfied. One by one the animals walked or flew into the home, and took their respective spots around the home. The birds chose a rafter to perch on, and chirp happily as Mr. Bear looked around. “Welcome one and all, and merry Winter’s Eve!” The group spoke in unison, “merry Winter’s Eve!” Pudgy wiggled his nose and bounced happily, everything looked so good to eat. Plus, he was with all of his friends too. Who needs presents, when you have love? In any case, those thoughts were quickly put away as dinner began to be served. Mr. Bear made the rolls where hot comes out, and whippy butter too!