As Christmas Eve counted down, I stood guard in my armor. That Whirlygig business was then, and this was now, even though now is later for me. Everyone had themselves an exciting night of feasting and fun, and it was winding down. Guests stumbled back to their rooms or were helped by some of the more responsible faculty when they weren’t carrying kids back to rooms. Eschaton ran off to immediately try out this new VR headset somebody left in front of his door that promised it came with several pre-loaded porn videos. I waved off someone who would have helped me with Qiang, who had passed out in the refectory.
I let them empty the place out and I watched over her, alone. Psychsaur and Venus lingered at different times, looking at me. I ignored them until they left. I was still pissed at them. I can’t really be disappointed. Of course their trust was only skin deep and dependent on me “getting help” whatever that means. No, I know what that means. That means prison and a psych ward where somebody tries to rewire my head until my thinking’s roughly in agreement with the kinds of psychos I see walking around every day. It’s a little hard for me to accept that I need to be more like people who are quieter about it.
I’ve seen what people are. I’ve done their dirty work for them. I can’t fight to defend that status quo. Turns out I can’t force a better world on them, either. Those options didn’t matter anyway, though. Inconsequential. The fight in front of me isn’t some grand, epic battle for a greater cause. This is about me and my daughter.
Midnight ticked on down and then… time stood still. It stopped passing. My internal clock even stopped counting along, though I could still move. I heard bells jingle and whistling sounds. A hole opened in reality, letting in chilling air. The giant satyr-like Krampus swung his chains back and forth as he stepped through, snow clinging to his fur and to the hair-clad Belsnickel who waved at me with a switch. Pere Fouettard, or Father Whipper in English, rolled his whip back up as he walked through. Knecht Ruprecht, the old man in the brown robe with the staff, followed after.
“It’s time to give the devil his due,” I told the Companions of Kringle.
Krampus grinned toothily and stepped up close to me. He sniffed at me, then stepped around, eyeing Qiang asleep on the table behind me. Then he jumped right over here and toward the doorway, stalking off with what should be an ominous clip-clop. Ruprecht nodded at me. I turned to look straight on at Krampus as he ran down the hall and spoke. “Eschaton, you might want to take off those VR glasses now.”
“What’s going on? That’s that Krampus guy from the movie!” he said from down the hallway.
“Yeah, it was a bit of a bait and switch on the porn there, bucko. But if it’s any consolation, maybe help a brother out when he needs it. Or she, in this case. Eh, you’ll probably be fine.” I cut the feed. I’m not known for my conscience, but I think it’d sit just fine with that one.
I heard a howl of pain from where the Krampus ran. I also caught the delightful scent of singed fur. “Tougher nut to roast over an open fire than you expected?” I asked Ruprecht.
Fouettard disappeared into snowflakes. I heard whipping noises, followed by a whoosh and a cry of pain. “Say,” I said to the two remaining Companions, “Y’all don’t seem to know a whole lot about technology, do y’all?”
“We mostly give out candy and sweets,” said Belsnickel, scratching at his hairy clothes. “The big guy gets to do all that.”
I nodded. “I hear ya. Just curious about that. And, hey, I did what y’all asked. We’re all clear, right?” I walked over to the tree and all the presents. I plucked a rather large spherical decoration off, softball sized. “Right?” I turned to look at Ruprecht, since he seemed to be calling the shots here. A rogue fireball hit a hallway wall at an angle from further along. Wow. Good construction here, because that looked like wood to me.
Knecht Ruprecht set his staff on the ground. “Yes. You have made a believer of the hero Eschaton and fulfilled your part of the deal.”
“Regarding Qiang, that means…?” I pushed him along. I wanted him to say it for clarity’s sake. And because I know this game. I’m supposed to be the devil people make a deal with who turns the letter around on someone to screw them over.
“We hold no claim to your daughter anymore,” he finished. “We can touch neither of you now.”
I suspected as much of Qiang. I doubt there are very many kids these guys can truly go after. I mean, these beings were invented when normal childhood behavior involved drinking moonshine and mugging people at musket-point. It was that or kick around the ole kickin’ rope. Fun childhood game, the kickin’ rope. Kept plenty of kids entertained, until Daddy borrowed it when that Great Depression thing started. Was a lot harder to kick around after that until they got him down. What, as if they had money to buy a second kickin’ rope?
I popped the top off the decoration and pushed a button on the inside, thinking about how bad an idea it is to extort me. I chucked the thing at Ruprecht’s head. He brought his staff up to knock it away, but it exploded into a fine mist that chewed through the staff and most of his body. He disappeared, but without blood. Maybe he Obi Wan Kenobied, maybe he Nightcrawlered. I didn’t write him off automatically just because I dropped a DIME on him.
That’s Dense Inert Metal Explosive. I tossed another one at Belsnicknel before it could react. The bomb flew through the air and, when it reached its target, the explosive inside went off. The force of it pushed out microshrapnel consisting of heavy metal for all the rockers in the house. It also turned the casing into more microshrapnel. If Belsnickel was mortal, the results would have been quite nasty for it. Within effective range, it’s like getting explosively sandblasted with stuff that can give you cancer. A relatively short distance away, it did nothing to Qiang except make her cry. The first one woke her up already, so I guess I kinda ruined things that way.
“It’s ok, baby,” I said, rushing over to hug her. Most people don’t actually like being around explosions for some reason. I turned while holding her and saw the frosty hole in reality. Carrying Qiang, I headed over to one large square present and tore off the bow, pulling out a large pin. I gave it a push with my free arm and sent it on through the portal. Then I turned and put a little distance between myself and that bomb.
Behind me, it sparked and crackled with electricity and a humming sound ramped up. Just as the sound grew its loudest and wind began to blow through the refectory… the portal vanished with a weak “bloop”. Exactly as bloopin’ planned, with a minimum of disruption on this end of it.
Qiang and I were safe over by the windows. Even the presents were probably still ok. I’ll make sure Qiang isn’t the first to open hers, just in case something slipped in from elsewhere. “Look!” Qiang pointed outside where snowmen were picking themselves up out of all the snow and began dragging their round, legless bottoms toward the school.
It seemed like a good time to walk on over to the nearest fire alarm. I can only guess that the school is actually used to people setting stuff on fire with powers and that’s why Eschaton’s fight with the Companions hadn’t set it off already. Jolted out of sleep already thanks to explosions, Qiang didn’t care so much for the fire alarm either. I’m sure the rest of the school did, but it changed things. My HUD clock went all screwy as more people awoke.
I kept Qiang with me as I ran to go see what was up with Eschaton, Krampus, and Father Whipper. I think the name’s better in English. I actually caught up to them to see Eschaton flying circles around an nude Krampus. He’s a lot less impressive furless and burned. If I had a fork, I could stick it in him. Instead, I had a kid.
Then again, a simple knife may not do the trick. Maybe Eschaton was holding back this whole time due to being inside the school.
He got his chance to shine. Whipper appeared behind him in the foyer, clinging to the wall above the door. Whipper’s whip whipped out and wrapped around Eschaton’s throat. Eschaton had enough of that shit and rocketed out through the door, blowing it off its hinges and smashing several snowmen in the process. Out there, he burned brighter. The French bogeyman of folklore had flown out with him but was dropped back to the ground when Eschaton burned through the whip. Pretty sure it was no normal whip, either.
Krampus threw his chain at Eschaton, spinning around side to side like chain shot. Eschaton held his hands together and intercept it with his own personal cutting torch that sent two pieces careening into more hapless snowmen.
Closer to home, Qiang wiggled free of my grasp. Kids do that. You try to grab hold of them, but you can’t do it without hurting them. She scooped up a ball of snow and threw it right at the closest snowman. It knocked off the hand of one of its thin branch arms. These were not tough enemies.
I saw a pair of wood hands begin to reach out of the snow behind her. I stomped them into broken pieces, then down into the snow between them just in case the thing had a head of some sort.
The cavalry arrived behind us. Heroes and children dressed for sleep arrived en masse. It was really good coordination, so maybe they have plans worked up. I think there are signs posted around the library, but I haven’t bothered reading them. Too busy microfiching Playboy for the articles. As soft as they are, I wouldn’t do it for the porn.
“I don’t know what you did, but we’ll talk later. What’s going on?” Venus said, walking up to survey the situation, which involved Eschaton fighting a whip wielding old man in a robe while a giant satyr slowly regained its fur and unburnt appearance in the midst of the snow.
“I was a little mad about the lack of trust around here, showed Eschaton these guys when they arrived to kidnap Qiang, and they went after him for some reason. I dunno, maybe he’s been a bad boy this year.”
“Yeah, I bet,” she said. “Why do we have Frosties?”
I shrugged. “I dunno. Happened around the time I blew up two others of these Christmas guys and the portal they used to come here. I suspect a link between them and our ambulatory precipitation here.”
“Alright, here’s what we’re gonn-” Venus started to say.
She only got that far because Ball Boy interrupted by yelling, “Snowball fight!”
If Venus thinks she was angry over someone stepping on her lines, just imagine how pissed I was that I couldn’t tell a group of concerned superheroes to stay frosty. Or maybe I’d have said “Slay Frosty, everyone.” The point is, I didn’t get a chance for either one. Thank you very much, stupid happy people.
The resulting battle was as vicious as it was fun. Just an absolute snowbath, because the snowmen didn’t have blood. Waterbath then? That’s just a bath. This metaphor’s a wash, but the fight was awesome. Just so much fun. Ball Boy himself had a great time throwing glowing balls around at all the snowmen. I’d say it was cheating, but nobody really cared.
Krampus and Father Whipper didn’t stick around much longer once reinforcements arrived. They disappeared in swirls of snow. That meant, goodness gracious, the snowmen stood no chance against Eschaton’s great balls of fire. I even joined in, but only after running back in to grab Qiang’s robe, slippers, and jacket. And mittens. A hat, too. This one shivering kid tried to grab the robe from me, but I kicked her cold ass away. Then I sighed, remembered I was supposed to help her, and just dumped all the clothes on Qiang. “Put these on, honey bunny. I’ll be back.”
I grabbed the freezing girl and hauled her inside to pile heavy blankets on her. Helping her is why I wasn’t out there when all the snow on the ground sucked itself up into a pile. The little snowmen disappeared as well, their snow contributing to the body of one far larger than the others, with arms of grand leafless maples trees. I don’t know where it got them from, but I knew a couple good stabs would give us all the syrup we’d ever need. It roared and swiped at heroes. I pulled out a grappling hook and fired it at Qiang to yank her away from where one giant maple hand smashed into the dead grass everyone stood on.
“Everyone back!” said Eschaton, being just the biggest damn buzzkill, even compared to the giant bee woman I’ve had sexy times with.
“But I wanna kill the giant thirty-foot-tall snowman!” I yelled, probably guessing its height wrong. There was no time to have my HUD add Subway foot longs for a more accurate measurement. It didn’t carry over the enormous gout of flame. Steam hissed, and warm water soon splashed onto the courtyard and came rushing toward the entrance as a wave. I grabbed Qiang, ripped my helmet off, and shoved it over her own head. Just as the wave reached us, I saw the digital numbers on my HUD clock roll over and over before settling on 12:01 and-
I sat bolt upright where I was somehow sleeping in the refectory. I looked over to the table Qiang had been on and she also sat up. The clock read 12:01 and the sound of fading jingly bells still floated on the air. I stood up and ran to the window where I thought I saw something flying through the night sky. I’d have sworn I heard the laugh, too. Ho. Ho. Ho.
Despite that, snow still coated the ground. There was no evidence of the fight, including scorch marks where Eschaton had been flaming up the place. It was while examining the absence of my explosive decorations that the rest of the school came in, similarly awakened from the dream. Qiang had been busy examining all the presents hidden on a different side of the tree.
“What the fudge was that?!” Venus wondered in a kid-friendly way. “Did you put something in the food?”
“Not this time,” I answered. “You think this was some kind of plan of mine? No. Face it, unless my only goal was to protect my daughter, I failed here. Everyone’s here and safe. I didn’t even get to enact Plan M.” I gestured toward her as if Venus knew Plan M was the one where she died.
“Here, presents!” said Qiang, holding up one for each of us.
“Who gave me a present?” I asked while Venus asked, “Who gave her a present?”
“Santa?” asked Venus after reading the tag. “It’s sweet you got all these, but I have questions. Questions that,” she glanced around as amped-up kids already tearing into all the new presents on what was technically now Christmas. “Can hold until later, pending a drug test.”
I popped open the crotch access. Venus pushed it back closed. “Later!”
It’s safe to say I hope everyone else out there had a Happy Psycho Christmas as well.
The sea is a fickle mistress, luck be a lady, and Psycho Gecko is currently a woman. But then, I’ve been just as fickle a mistress even as a dude. I’ve been known to turn petty arguments into deadly feuds, and just walked away from people trying to kill me. So there’s the precedent. Now, what do I do about this EAGLE thing?
I’m tempted to walk away. I got things to do. I still need to kidnap some biologists and geneticists, for instance. Plus, I got a voicemail from one of the Directors talking about fearing for his life and a move by one of this rivals to create a special security force answering only to them. Hell, I could go rob the Cheesecake Factory and it would probably be a better use of my time. Up until an animal-themed vigilante swoops in, knocks me into an open tank of cheesecake criminals, and an underground surgeon is unable to fix the physical disfigurement it causes me.
On top of that, someone’s trying to get my attention. I woke up today with a snowman’s head in my bed. Underneath the top hat was a sealed, waterproof envelop. I didn’t open it until I’d sealed myself in my armor, in case snow wasn’t the only powder found in it. I have a lot of fans who would no doubt love to send me things like Anthrax or Neflix or jury duty. A guy’s got to be careful what he sends in the mail. Better off just leaving the mail behind completely. On second thought, I think I’d like to get jury duty sometime. That’d be fun.
It was a rich, dark green, like the needles of a pine tree, but with an embossed golden border. It had my name on the front of it. Looking at it, I kinda hoped Mix N’Max had found a new way to annoy me with Christmas greetings. Because this stank of the holidays. Wait, not the holidays, the Holidays. You save Christmas ONE time and personifications of holidays start asking for favors. Always something to be wary of this time of year for me. I’ve gotten off easy, but it’s only a matter of time before Kwanzaa Bot or the Hannukah Zombie show up needing me to do something. Ya know, Hannukah wouldn’t surprise me this year if it wanted a favor. Lots of Nazis running around.
I was going to throw it away, but I remembered I had a kid. It was somewhat easier to remember that since she weighed down my lap at the time, oblivious in her slumber. It would be difficult to toss it like that, especially with my aim, so I hid it and resolved to burn the thing later. It’s not just for my own sake, either, though my own sake is often enough. I didn’t need Qiang getting caught up in all that and having to deal with it her whole life. Plus, who needs visions of surgarplum fairies dancing in their head?
I didn’t need the distraction either.
That’s one reason why we were back at a hotel. Away from the house with her friend and her friend’s parents. They were wanting to cuddle and inviting me to stay. I’m trying to avoid my own married life; I’m not eager to insert myself into anyone else’s. And as I am a woman at this point, then that is what she said. So I took Qiang and we got out of there. Another big room at a hotel, courtesy of stolen money. The kind of place that can afford what she was doing to the walls with watercolors. It was a lesson in appreciating the arts.
When she finally awoke, I had forgotten about the envelop and instead resolved to get a little of my side work done around here.
Later that evening, I was scouting out a nearby college. I stood on campus, behind a bush, eyeing grad students. Since I didn’t want to appear threatening, my armor made it look like I was wearing a trenchcoat. Yep, just a nonthreatening woman in a trenchcoat looking at young men and women from behind a bush. The woman thing really must have been a big enough difference, because nobody called campus security. Got invited to a few parties, though.
“Mmm, baby, show me what you’re working with,” I said to myself as I spotted one woman walking along with a thick textbook. “Mmm, mmm, mmm, I’d love to get better acquainted with your biology,” I stopped and took a sip from a bottle of a soft drink made by someone who should pay me if they want me to say their name, before continuing, “Class.”
All of a sudden, I saw it. There, up in the sky! The Gecko signal? No, just an augmented reality message provided by the spy program. It gave me a real time update from one of the many devices I spied on around the Master Academy. They’d found him. The bomber and the hidey hole of his compatriots that I like to think of as the EAGLE’s Nest.
“R U sure?” asked one message about the confirmation.
“Positive. He is moving around, but no further than an area comparable to a building. We found out the problem before was the computer reading vertical change the same as horizontal change. Elevators.”
I bet this was an in-house programming job. While children and teens are historically known for providing a pool of free or low-cost labor, it is generally understood to be unskilled labor. Having someone who dabbles in programming is fine for many things, but perhaps not for trying to track a surreptitiously-bugged suspect in a bombing investigation. Sadly, whatever computer they are tracking him from has not yet been infected by the Gecko-transmitted disease that’s spreading through other devices around campus. I know they know where he is, I just don’t yet know where he is myself. But I will, as soon as they head over there.
The person who used too many single letters sent another message. “Send to ECPD, FBI, ATF. They get 1st dibs.”
Goddamn government, going around calling shotgun on all the good murders. This is as bad as that time they refused to let me strangle Charles Manson. Fucker was cheating at Go Fish. Those shoelaces should have been mine.
Something itched in the ol’ nasal cave and blowing my own trumpet turned up another green and gold envelop flying out of my nose. Ok, nice trick, but I’d rather have a quarter or some lighter fluid. Hmm, I wonder if I can create some sort of gland in my nose that lets me spew fire from my nostrils… nevermind. Instead, I put the envelop in a different trash can, and set the trash can on fire, and threw the trash can out a window. It was then I was struck by a sudden urge to visit the lavatory that filled me with a little bit of disbelief. One trip to the toilet later and I had another envelop on my hands. Well, floating in the bowl. Whoever’s sending them didn’t quite think this one through.
“Ok, whoever just sent my ass a letter,” I said, raising a finger and angrily addressing the air, “I just want to say that I’m willing to what I need to make this stop, as long as you give me something a bit cleaner than all that. After finishing my business on the toilet, I stood up to leave and felt my abdomen harden up on its own, followed by an ache down there. A literal pain in my ass. It was like a ripple down there. It relaxed for a second, then did the whole thing over again. Standing there, wondering what the hell was wrong with me, I had to drop my pants again. As soon as I did so, I began squeezing something out of bajingo, which is like a vagina for people who don’t like talking about pussy.
I had to stare down, water on my face from sudden, localized rain clouds, at the incredible sight before me. “Did I just fucking give birth to? Did an ass-gargling envelop drop out of there?”
Ok, fuck the EAGLE. Someone else clearly wants to jump ahead on my deadlist. I opened this one.
“Though mischief you are want to make, and lives you plan to tear asunder, heed us, you should stop and hesitate…” it read, the top half of the card showing a cartoon scientist rubbing his hands together while in front of a cartoon atom bomb sticking halfway out of a red and green present without its top on. Underneath a dividing line, the bottom half showed Santa Claus slapping a “return to sender” sticker on the same present whose contents is still visible as the top can’t completely close over the bomb sticking out of the opening. I turned the page to see a newspaper of showing a newspaper with an image of the scientist next to another of a mushroom cloud. “…or else hope you can outrun the thunder.”
I felt an urge to invent new cuss words. I intended to barge out of that college bathroom and get back to my room to figure out what the shit was going on, and pulled my pants up accordingly. As soon as I threw open the stall door and stepped out, I found myself in a frozen, snow-filled landscape with wind blowing flurries all around me. It wasn’t quite so cold as I expected. Looking around, I saw it was a hill of sorts. Down below, in what should have been similar weather, was a small fortress with thick walls of concrete in the middle of a forest. I could see it perfectly, no need to zoom in.
I didn’t see the bag coming until it was too late. Big-ass bag materialized out of thin air and smacked into my helmet. Ashes got everywhere. I turned to see the arm holding the bag was likewise appearing from nowhere, belong ing to a white-bearded man in a brown robe with a pointy hood and small bells hanging around it in places. A staff materialized in his other hand. My HUD labeled him “Anomalous.”
“You did not ask about his prayers,” said a French-accented voice from the side. This one didn’t appear until I looked as well. He was also in dark robes with a similar beard, but without the hood to cover a head full of wild white hair that stood out against his sooty face. Chains jangled, hanging off his waist and arms. He had a whip instead, which he swung at me. I caught it around me arm, looking at the Anomalous label popping up for him too.
A stick broke over my helmet from behind, used by another figure appearing. This one had a mask with a big, fake tongue hanging off it and looked like a bum with furs sewn into his clothing. He had a fur hat with bells dangling off it. You guessed it, anomalous. That one spoke up, “It matters not; the woman is as naughty a being as I’ve ever seen.”
“What in the wide, wide world of sports is a-goin’ on here?” I asked. “What kind of geriatric sex party did I just stumble into?” I pulled on the whip and grabbed its wielder when he flew toward me. “Explanations fast, or grampa gets to see what’s behind the bright light.”
Something bumped me from behind, which suddenly appeared as a large, black, hairy satyr with a greasy beard a tapering, pointed tongue that fell over my helmet. In my arms, the anomalous whipper disappeared. Before I could get away, the satyr wrapped chains around my arms and bound them against my side, then lifted me up. “We did not bring you here to fight. Cronus has seen to that.”
“Now shut up and look,” said the very first one of the bunch, pointing with his staff to the valley below. “We didn’t save your life for nothing.”
“Nowhere you shoved cards counts as saving my life.” I muttered. “How about I show you the best place to shove things when I get free?”
The furry hobo raised his broken switch to his mask. “Shh.” He then pointed down there as well. I looked to see what they were on about and noticed the eagle design on the helmet of a man walking the perimeter. He stopped and turned as if seeing something, but fell. The crack of a sniper’s rifle accompanied his death. An alarm sounded from within the base and guards began to stir.
A man flew into view. He had a short, black, square cut of black hair, which was the closest to normal-looking he got. The man had glowing green skin. He wore a black outfit with a tactical vest, but no coat. It wouldn’t have fit too well with the tank he wore on his back. Hoses from it stretched from it directly into holes in his back, neck, upper arms, and upper legs. It pulsed with a light blue glow that sped up as the man held his hands toward the base.
The base blew the fuck up with the distinct cloud in the shape of a mushroom. I was close enough to see a guard disintegrate from it. One moment he’s there, the next he’s blowing away like dust in the wind. All they were was dust in the wind. And despite my proximity, I felt nothing. No shockwave, heat, or EMP. After the roar of the blast was silence, until I asked, “I’m really going to need some explanation here.”
“You called it the EAGLE’s Nest,” spoke the staff wielder. Broke-ass Gandalf cosplay followed up by saying, “And this is where you would have been if we hadn’t intervened.” He pointed and the distance seemed to shorten and shift. The base was back, and now I could see inside it. I noticed it wasn’t snowy there. A door opened on its own, and I noticed minor shifts in the grass as something walked briskly out of there. At the sound of the sniper’s shot, I lost track of the invisible figure until a guard on a nearby wall flew off as if knocked outward. I didn’t see what was going on again until the nuclear blast, when the hologram dropped and someone in my armor was thrown outward, armor glowing red and melting around the person.
“That’s what y’all say happens, if this nuking occurs. Don’t know of too many heroes who would use that kind of firepower on American soil,” I said.
“This already occurred,” said the bearded wizard person.
“You’re welcome,” hissed the satyr who held onto me in those chains.
“No, you’re welcome I haven’t introduced all y’all to a beatdown yet. Let me go.”
“You shall not leave!” said the staff guy, suddenly yelling. He raised it up, then slammed the staff on the ground. “You shall not leave us until you have agreed to return the favor we have performed for you.”
“I hate to be a buzzkill,” I said, perhaps purposefully mixing up hate and love, “But y’all already did the favor, and without my prompting or anything. Just all on your own. That kinda means you can’t expect reciprocation.”
“We are the Companions of Kringle,” spoke the furry one now. “The darker and lesser spirits of this season, and powerful enemies.”
Shit like this makes me regret saving Christmas that time. “You interrupted something y’all had no part messing with.”
“Yesssss,” hissed the Krampus.
“Don’t do that again,” I said to him, trying to stretch my neck so I could tell him that to his face. “The fuck did I do to deserve this visit.”
“You have knowledge,” said guy with the staff. “Where other mortals have belief, you know we exist. Knowledge is always stronger than belief. This makes you a beacon among mankind. Beings such as we sometimes require the aid of those who walk in your world. This is one time.”
“You’re expecting an awful lot of friendliness here,” I said. The satyr growled at me. If these things are related to the holiday shenanigans, that’d make him the Krampus.
“We only need obedience, not friendliness,” said the hair guy. That’d be Belsnickel. It’s much easier when I have a frame of reference. “You would be ours to punish if not for Nicholas. He has become soft-hearted. He is out of town but still binds us from truly harming you.”
I struggled against the chain then, pushing with all my might. I couldn’t break the damn thing, but just when I thought my body was about to give, it disappeared. I fell, having just then realized I’d been held up a bit by the Krampus. I stood up, brushed the snow off myself, and looked around for a way back, like the bathroom stall door. It wasn’t there. “Huh,” I said. “Ya know I’ll freeze or need food or something eventually here. You can only loophole this forever.”
“We will send you back even if you reject our offer,” said the guy in the robe with the hood, who should be Knecht Ruprecht if I guessed right. “But it is a task you would delight in.”
“I’m currently disinclined to help the holiday spirits, especially ones who kidnap me,” I told him, still looking for any exits. I’d have taken anything, even a wardrobe. But I figured I’d find out a little more about my predicament. “But what did you have in mind?”
The world flew by our hilltop until we were looking out over a man who burned hot white as he flew through the sky. I knew those flames as belonging to Eschaton, the hero who burns as hot as the sun. It’s a tagline, so I don’t know if it’s actually accurate, and he’s never really had a reason to go that far I tink.
He raced to catch a crop duster overflying an airbase in the South. Whatever he dropped also dropped people when they breathed it in. Eschaton finally reached it, his flames burning through the chemical weapon. He soared up to ram the airplane, causing the rear of it to explode. The pilot fell out of the wreckage, waving his hands and screaming, until he was caught from behind by the now-human arms of Eschaton, who carried him off to jail.
“What do you have planned for Eschaton?” I asked.
“He hasss been naughty,” said Krampus. “Ssso naughty. We must have him.”
Under my helmet, I raised an eyebrow. “Got a bit of a crush, do ya?”
“He was a good man and a hero before this year,” said Ruprecht. “The higher the paragon, the deeper the fall. He is despondent and gave up believing in Santa Clause decades ago. He puts up no tree, nor lights, nor dons gay apparel.”
I dunno, the guy had this mask shaped like flames once that became real popular in pride parades.
“So, what, you want me to make him believe in Christmas again?” I asked. I’d become trapped in a holiday movie. And a bad one that didn’t involve killing terrorists in a skyscraper.
The beings around me nodded at once. “Make him believe,” said Belsnickel, reaching a hand out to me. Then he clenched it in a fist. “Then, when he believes, he’s ours for the taking.” He let out a laugh I’d classify as “molesty”. Krampus snickered around his tongue, while Ruprecht just stared at me.
“Get him to believe in Christmas so the evil versions of Santa Claus can kidnap him and spend Christmas whipping the shit out of him?” I asked.
They all nodded again. I mean, I’ve heard worse deals.
“I’ll consider it,” I said. “But what if I…” A yawn interrupted me. “Don’t…?” I started to ask, but realized how woozy I felt all of a sudden. I normally only get this way with a little help from drugs. When I could no longer stand to, uh, stand, I fell on my back in the soft snow, my eyelids closing as if on their own.
The sudden exhaustion passed, and I opened my eyes to find myself in my room. The clock in my helmet flashed 12:00 a couple of times before setting itself to a day after I was taken. The whole experience felt like a dream, but something nagged me about it. Like one last little bit I could barely remember, no matter how many times I tried to replay it in my mind. So instead, I replayed it in my mind. I pulled up the recording made by my eyes and cyborg portion of my brain. “Then we take an impressionable child in his stead,” was Ruprecht’s answer to my question. I glanced down to see Qiang asleep on my stomach.
Like hell they will, I thought to myself.