The Krampus hunt was officially over at 11:23pm, with Sera and Jason stood solidly in the lead with thirty-two Krampus’, Hazel Squill and Calloway Ramsbuckle had bagged twenty-eight. They might have gotten more, but Hazel had fallen headfirst into a muddy snowbank and they went back early.
“Looks like we win the pot again,” Sera said, as the announcer called the end of the hunt.
“Wonderful,” Jason said without a hint of inflection.
“The after-Krampus party probably started already, let’s head back,” Sera said. It was another tradition to follow-up a night of Krampus hunting with an excuse to get drunk and add a little holiday cheer to their lives.
But the part of the hunt she really liked was to be able to walk through Eldrea when it was covered in snow, enjoying the quiet streets and admiring the houses and cottages that were decorated with lights, wreaths and candles. It was nice.
“Ever wish you could just freeze a moment in your mind, so you could remember it when the bad times come?”
“No,” Jason said.
“I forget, they sucked the romanticism out of you,” Sera said. “Oh, look, that bakery is still open. And there’s a huge Solstice pudding on sale.”
“I’m going to buy that cake.”
The party was in full swing when they arrived, with drunken cheers to greet the giant cake.
“Do we have candles?” Sera asked.
“Only the ones we use for rituals,” Jason said. “I believe a few of them have been recycled. Is that wax or dried blood?”
“Never mind,” she said quickly, breaking off two thin twigs from the wood pile and blew on them. The twigs lit up in a burst of sizzling fire, sparks dancing off without burning the wood. She stuck the two twig sparklers on the pudding. “Hah. Winter Solstice can kiss my ass.”
“Lovely sentiment,” Jason said.
Sera headed over to the buttered rum and helped herself to a mug. “Having a good time, Calloway?”
The Mage was slumped in one of the chairs, the one time of the year he didn’t sit ramrod straight and Sera couldn’t make fun of the stick up his ass.
“It’s good rum,” Calloway said, nursing his full mug. “We could have had you, you know. If…if Hazel wasn’t such a pampered little –”
“Really? You didn’t trip her into the snow, so you’d have an excuse to call the night early?”
“No,” he said belligerently. “She slipped on ice and fell. Is that Solstice pudding?”
“We have a buffet from Cornucopia Catering.”
“That fruit cake is heavy enough to leave a dent in the floor,” Sera said. “By the way, we found two Krampus’ surrounding a house today.”
“Naughty list?” he said knowingly.
“The house was on Docker Street. Name of Ramsbuckle,” Sera said pointedly.
It took a while for recognition to light on Calloway’s face. “Oh right, them. Second or third cousins. Yeah, that kid is a little shit. Tried to set my hair on fire and then bit me on the ankle.”
“I’m surprised he’s still alive.”
“Neither of his parents became Mages, but this kid has potential, so they treat him like porcelain. In a few years, he’ll start training.” A grim smile appeared on Calloway’s face. “That will be punishment enough.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
Sera spotted Jason sitting in front of the fireplace, staring into space and went to sit next to him. “Are you roasting chestnuts? And is that…eggnog?” She sniffed at his cup.
“It tastes like egg and sugar,” Jason said, staring into the fire. “I heard the chestnuts were a thing.”
“Look at you, getting into the holiday spirit,” Sera said with a grin. “You know, I think half the reason people find the holidays depressing is because the alcohol is just really available this time of year.” She sipped her buttered rum. Ah, sweet buttery alcohol.
“It’s because retail marketing focuses too much on family togetherness,” Jason said. “Families are allowed to be horrible.”
She sniggered. “It’s so depressing how that’s funny.” She looked around at all the Mages surrounding them. Some were digging into the buffet, others were parked by the rum and the brandy, and some were off doing questionable things. Compared to their usual activities of training, patrolling, dueling and generally snapping at each other, this really was the most normal she had ever seen for a room full of Mages. It was almost like they liked each other.
“It’s really not that bad,” Sera said contemplatively. “We’re warm, we’re fed, we have a roof over our heads and we’re not alone.”
“Cheers to that.” They clinked mugs and sat quietly together.
“I think your chestnuts are burning.”
“Good, I hate chestnuts.” Jason poured the rest of his eggnog into the fire and watched as it gave a little burp of flames.
And that’s it! If you enjoyed this short story, check out THE MAGE, available for free from January 1 to 5, 2021. Don’t forget to check out Book 1 of the Onmyouji Chronicles series, LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE, available for $0.99 from January 1 to 7, 2021 for some YA urban fantasy fun!