This Christmas, I challenged myself to write a holiday-themed short story for THE MAGE series, so here it is. I’m not great with short stories, but I really enjoyed writing this one.
In the common room of the Brigade, Sera Kishao sang, joyously off-tune, “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why. The Krampus’ are coming to town.”
She ignored her partner, Jason Zuchang, who was glaring at her.
“They’re making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. The Krampus’ are coming to town.”
“Must you?” he said.
“What? Kids have been singing this song for weeks in anticipation of the glorious Winter Solstice tradition of locking your doors in case a Krampus tries to get into your house,” Sera said. “Also known to us Mages as the Great Annual Krampus Hunt.”
“This is not a game. It is a necessary duty we are doing that saves the lives of citizens.”
“No doubt. Especially since it was Wiccans who caused the necessity of said duty in the first place,” Sera said. “One fake virgin during a ritual and suddenly we’ve got Krampus’ coming out the ass during Solstice.”
Jason sniffed. “All the more reason to take this seriously.”
“Where are we with the Krampus count?”
“Ninety-four at last check,” Jason said, handing her a canvas bag. “Here. We are using these to cart the Krampus’.”
“Why? I always use magick to make a net and it works like a dream.”
“Evidently, last Solstice some kids snuck a peek out of their windows and saw us carrying the horrible things and thought we were the Krampus’, delivering monsters to their houses,” Jason said. “There were complaints.”
“We scared the kids?”
“We disappointed them,” he said dryly. “They were quite looking forward to having pet monsters.”
All around them, the other Mages were also gearing up for a busy night. Some were discussing routes and traps, others were warming up with hot cider, and Tahru and Lemontine had started the annual betting pool.
“Every Mage pair puts in one silver,” Tahru announced to the crowd. “Whoever bags the most Krampus’ wins the pot. We’ve also got some side bets set up for anyone looking to get a little creative.”
“Put me down for three coppers that Calloway yells at random kids.”
“That’s a safe bet there. Two-to-one odds,” Lemontine said, ignoring Calloway Ramsbuckle’s glare.
“They shouldn’t be out in the first place,” Calloway snapped. “It’s Solstice, they need to stay inside with their families, everyone knows this.”
“And the early birds who bet that Calloway will be extra bitchy before the hunt even begins can come collect their money,” Tahru called out as a rush of Mages came towards him.
The betting was going strong when Dingle stuck his head into the common room and shouted, “Final Krampus count is one hundred and eight. The boss said we have to set off in ten minutes.”
“Final bets, Mages! Calling final bets,” Tahru called out.
“Two to one odds that we bag the most Krampus’,” Sera said, after adding in their one silver. “Too bad we can’t bet on ourselves. I would’ve made a mint on you destroying public property.”
“No one is taking this seriously,” Jason said, aggrieved.
They were off at the blow of a whistle. Tonight, the structured Mage patrols were discarded as the Mages tried to beat each other to the punch in collecting Krampus’.
Sera and Jason headed to the residential area of Crompton first, hopping onto the roofs of houses for a better view. A Gossamer Wings spell kept their footsteps light, not even leaving a print on the snow.
The streets were empty, but there were so many Solstice decorations lighting the area, that they barely needed the firefly lamps.
“I heard there’s a small gathering on Tuscan Street, where the farmers’ market is at,” Sera said. “Let’s try there first.”
Though the Coven issued a curfew on Solstice, there were still people who were so overwhelmed by holiday cheer that they felt obliged to spend it with their fellow man. Outdoors.
“I smell wine,” Sera said. Following the scent, they found a small group surrounded by candles and gathered around a table filled with pastries and a hot cauldron of mulled wine. Not to mention the three horned figures with fangs, matted hair and fleshy faces moving through the surrounding trees and shrubs towards that crowd.
“Krampus sighting,” Sera yelled, leaping off the roof and landing in the middle of the square.
The crowd of people scattered like mice just as the three Krampus’ jumped into the opening, shrieking and snarling as they waved their chains and birch branches, practically frothing at the mouth as their cloven hooves stomped on the snowy ground.
“Get the net,” Jason shouted, coming at them from the other side.
A huge, bright, tightly woven net appeared in Sera’s hands, just as Jason sent out a series of fire balls that had the Krampus’ scattering as well. He was prepared for that, sending out a burst of magick that forced them to back up into Sera’s direction, and with a quick swoop of the net, they had three Krampus’ in the bag. She gathered them up, watching them snarl and struggle in the net.
A buzzing sound came from Sera’s scrying pocket mirror and she could hear an announcer calling, “Zuchang and Kishao have started the hunt and bagged three Krampus’! Only a hundred and five more to go!”
“Show-offs,” a Mage yelled from across the street.
“Sore loser,” Sera yelled back. “Should we go to the collection point or wait until we have a bigger haul?” She shoved the Krampus’ in the canvas bag. They were yelling something in a language she didn’t understand, probably about her being on the naughty list. Hell, she was a Mage, if she wasn’t on the naughty list, she wasn’t doing her job right.
“Not yet. There are a few open squares in this neighborhood, we should circle the area. No doubt a few more reckless people will be looking to celebrate the festivities and…what are you doing?” he said, exasperated.
Sera paused mid-sip. “This mulled wine has pomegranate. It’s pretty good. Here, try some.” She poured a ladle of hot mulled wine into a paper cup.
Jason accepted it with a sigh. “You’re quite determined to inject some holiday cheer this year, aren’t you?”
“Even leftover cheer is better than no cheer at all.” She sniffed her slightly stuffed nose, the cold air sharpening her mind and raising goosebumps over her skin. Mage robes really only carried so much protection. She would have loved to cast a heat spell, but they tended to melt the snow which led to…incidents.
Jason actually drank the wine, so he was probably colder than he let on. The man was like a scrawny beanpole, it was no wonder he was freezing.
From their scrying mirrors, the announcer called out, “Tahru and Lemontine bag two Krampus’ and Ramsbuckle and Squill start off with a whopping five. They’re going to have to pay for setting that wreath on fire though.”
Jason threw the empty cup into a nearby recycling bin. “Let’s go.”
“Gotta keep our streak alive,” Sera said, and they leapt up onto the roofs and took off into the night.