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A Present For Delibird

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The stadium was packed. Johto tourists in their typical holiday gear made up the bulk of the crowd, of course, but there were Kantonians and even a few interested locals among the stands. After all, who would want to miss out on Alola's holiday delibird racing?

The top of the stadium shined and flashed with brightly-colored lights, and below, false mistletoe dangled from every available surface, wrapping everything in holiday cheer. The crowdgoers chattered excitedly, waiting for the race to start. "It's incredible that they can make all that ice here, just incredible!" a jolly, bearded man was saying, gesturing to the large, graceful incline the delibird would be sledding down. "THIS IS HOW I ROLL," declared his festive sweater beside a gold-and-white dradel, backed against a bright red. "Modern technology sure is amazing, huh?"

A reedy man smiled with nostalgia. He wore a dark red sweater, emblazoned with a welcoming stone hearth lit by a contented flareon and ringed with stylized snowflakes. "Oh, yes. When I was a boy, I attended the race in Goldenrod every year. I'm so glad they brought it to Alola! It's so great to be on vacation in the tropics and still not miss the one good thing about the holidays back home, eh?"

A bookish woman adjusted her glasses. A stylized shiny chandelure graced her festive outfit, limbs arrayed into the eight candles of a menorah. The warm orange flames nicely complemented the bright, ice-blue background. "Apparently, it's all done with converted desalination machines. They freeze it straight from the ocean. Quite resourceful."

The bearded man nodded with satisfaction for a moment, then scratched his chin. "Wait, it's all through machines, you said? Why don't they use ice-types? I mean, there must still be some here, right?"

The woman barked a laugh. "Ho, yes – on that mountain back there!" She jerked a thumb behind her, but the stadium walls obscured the view of Mount Lanakila. "It's the only place on the islands cold enough for ice-types to manifest. It'd be a lot easier if they just put the stadium up there, but good luck convincing them to build anything on that mountain!"

At this point the voice of a thin, wiry young woman rose over them, far louder than her small frame would suggest. "WOO!" she boomed. "This's my FAV'RITE HOLIDAY!" she slurred, pumping her fists to reveal a bright red HAPPY HANUKKHA sweater with a white menorah across the chest. It was one of those ones with the reversible sequins; the flames could be flipped from a red that blended in with the rest of the shirt to a fiery yellow, lighting them in sequence as the days progressed. Or at least, that was clearly the idea, but this sweater had been scrambled into a haphazard mess of color.

Their laughter was interrupted by the progress of the girl, who crashed roughly into the bearded man. She stumbled back, swaying but still grinning, and the man laughed good-naturedly. "Who are you, little lady?"

"MAX!" the girl yelled with appropriate volume. She turned to the field. "I LOVE DELIBIRD! YEAH!!"

"YEAH!" a burly man agreed, barging into the conversation. "LET'S GET LIT," his sweater menorah offered. He pumped his fist enthusiastically. "It's so great they imported delibird all the way here for the authentic Johto experience! It just wouldn't be the same with one of them weird Alolan pokemon!"

"WOO!" Max agreed, stumbling onwards only to bump into another fan.

"Hey, watch it! Are you drunk or–"

"Chansey?" A chansey appeared from the aisle, defusing the tension with an offering of chansey eggs to the crowdgoers.

"Oh yeah, sure!" the fan said, all anger forgotten in the face of delicious concessions. HAPPY HARIYAMAKKHA, his bright gold sweater said, a cartoonish image of the burly pokemon poking up underneath.

"I've already had enough!" Max yelled, swinging a hand wildly and letting out another laugh.

The speakers blared, "All bets are in! The race is about to begin!"

The hearthy man clutched a ticket to his chest. "Come on, Number Six! I've got a lot riding on you!"

"AND WE'RE OFF!" With the ding of a bell, the stable doors flew up all at once. The delibird took off with a chorus of squawks, launching themselves onto their bellies to slide down the icy slope. "A strong start! Cenotice is in the lead, but Youcantcallherthat and Off the Hook are hot on her heels, with Sir Patty bringing up the rear!" The delibird slapped their flippers against the ice in a rapid patter, trying to gain momentum. The whole stadium stood rapt – all except for Max, who seemed totally unaware of the race as she continued to stumble across the stands.

Some delibird slipped off-course on the slick ice and desperately tried to correct, and off on the edge, the one marked "5" was moving almost horizontally. Only the center bird remained focused, continuing straight as an arrow. "Oh! Looks like Youcantcallherthat was off by a few degrees, the other 'birds aren't about to let that slide! Lord Getaway overtakes it from behind!"

It was at this point that Number Five suddenly reversed its course, swinging back into the main cluster. It flapped and squawked madly as it swooped past, crashing straight into Number Four and sending the both of them sprawling across the ice. The other delibird shrieked and swerved, careening wildly to avoid the disruption. Number Three avoided the chaos by inches, narrowing its eyes as it accelerated towards the finish line.

"What a curve ball, folks!" At the edge of the stands, Max mouthed a silent Woo! before slipping out of sight. "Don't know if Scales of Justice meant to do that, but either way, looks like it's taken itself out along with Cenotice! It's just a straight shot to the finish for Lord Getaway now, folks!"

Amid the chaos, one delibird at the back, marked "6", pivoted just in time to avoid colliding with the wall. As the others crashed one after the other in a comic pileup, it zoomed forward, nearly catching up with the lead. "But what's this! An amazing recovery from Off the Hook! But will it be enough? It's neck and neck… and… and… IT'S LORD GETAWAY! LORD GETAWAY WINS!"

A roar went up from the crowd. A wild cacophony of cheers and boos erupted as the losers wailed at their misfortune and tore up their tickets.

"That was rigged! Rigged!" the hearthy man yelled, crumpling his ticket with tears in his eyes. "You all saw that! Number Six had it! It would have won for sure if it wasn't for that collision! Someone taught that 'mon an illegal move!"

The chandelure-menorahed woman scoffed. "Don't be such a poor loser! This isn't some casino. This is pokemon racing. Don't impugn the honor of such a great institution. Now, if you will excuse me," she continued, looking at her ticket with a smirk, "I have a winning to cash."

"Don't worry, buddy," the bearded man said, patting the loser on the shoulder. "It's not about money! It's about people coming together, man. As long as you had fun, that's all that matters. That's the real meaning of pokemon racing!"

Over in the stables, the guard slumped to the floor, covered in spores.

"Princess, return!" Max hissed, recalling her paras with a beam of light. "Okay, we got twenty minutes until the next race starts," she said to the pens, "so let's make this count!" Swiftly, she pulled out a tablet from her oversize sweater pockets and slapped a TM into the side compartment. She shoved the computer over the fence, where it was accepted by waiting flippers.

The delibird watched the video with interest. After a minute, it passed the tablet to the next pen. And the next. And the next.

Back on the stands, fans were waiting for the next race with bated breath. The hearthy man gripped the railing, eyes bulging as he laser-focused on the field. "All right, Number Three, if you're so good, win it back for me!"

"Enjoyin' the show?" Max asked, appearing from nowhere with a peeled orange in hand. She popped a slice into her mouth nonchalantly.

"O' course!" the bearded man boomed with a jolly laugh. "Oh, they're so adorable with their little flippers!" he said, wiping a tear from the laughter. "I can't wait to see the next one!"

The hearthy man only glanced at Max before turning back to the ice. "Who're you betting on?" he asked idly.

Max just stared off towards the stables with a knowing grin. "All of 'em."

"All bets are in! It's time for the next race!" The stable doors flipped up. Instead of leaping forward, the delibird stood up as one –

– and then everything went white.

For a single moment, the whole stadium was perfectly silent. Then, like cracks spreading across perfect ice, the silence fractured into a dozen disparate noises, wails of anguish, shouts of anger, chatterings of confusion. "REMAIN CALM – DO NOT PANIC –" the speakers blared futilely. "THERE HAS BEEN AN UNEXPECTED SNOWSTORM AND –" The words were drowned out, the audience only shouting louder as the snow on the track piled up higher and higher.

"What happened to the delibird?" the bearded man cried, no longer jolly. "This is a tragedy! Oh, how could this happen on the most wonderful time of the year?"

"IT'S NOT FAIR!" the gambler shrieked, on his knees and openly weeping. "IT'S NOT FAIR!!"

"A blizzard? In Alola?" the chandelure-menorahed woman spat, eye twitching at this affront. "That's ridiculous. Absurd. Impossible–"

"WHAT'S GOING ON?!" the hariyama-and-hanukkha enthusiast warbled, clutching his head as he stared out out the windows. The landscape was rapidly filling up with pure white. "ARE WE TRAPPED HERE? SOMEONE CALL THE RANGERS! I DON'T WANNA DIE! AAAAAH!!"

Only Max remained unaffected by the panic. Popping another orange slice into her mouth, she walked serenely through the wailing crowd and climbed to the top of the stands. She looked to the very top of the snowdrift, where the snow had overtaken the original track and was now piled up and over the stadium roof.

Through the raging snow, she saw flashes of red as the delibird tobogganed up the slope, over the walls, and away to freedom.

"Happy holidays," Max said, grinning as the crowd wailed below her.