The farmhouse is old, two hundred years of stone and silence pressed down by the weight of snow on the roof and drifts gathering about the walls outside. As water erodes cliffs, so does the snow seek to erode the stone further inland, not forgetting what it truly is. The family who make their living here were painfully grateful for the surprise tickets to Hawaii for Christmas, as much because of the weather as because of the recent string of murders the police were refusing to release any details about at all. Not how many had died, not anything about the killer, and that kind of silence generally means something had gone badly wrong with the world.
That, or someone was covering up gross incompetence, but in this case it seemed the former. It hadn’t taken much magic to procure tickets for the family, and almost less to push them into taking the trip, which left behind an empty house, myself, and Dana. Neither of us filled it in any way that mattered, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve visited four of the other homes murders had happened in, spoken to the world and learned a few things. Enough that Dana had altered her fae glamour to appear to be a girl of six years of age and was walking about in pyjamas with fluffy pink slippers on.
I throw another log onto the perfectly normal fire Dana had started in the fireplace as she sat beside it with the carefully blank expression of a child in a horror movie.
“We have at least a few minutes before the killer arrives,” I say dryly.
“I have no idea what you mean.” It could have been my imagination, but it felt like Dana hadn’t quite pulled off being a child, that fae glamour – often said to be so good it fooled reality – was somehow slightly off. I say as much as she shrugs lightly. “Fae aren’t children in any true sense: it is why all changelings are found out in time. Parents see through such glamours if they have a care to. If glamour had no limits, we would be gods that the gods would envy. We are not.”
Which is more than I’ve learned from her in weeks. “You have been acting distant, even for you.”
“I am trying, quite hard, not to laugh. You did not know how to make a fire in a fireplace.”
“I’ve never had cause to.”
“You were never a scout?”
“I came into my power as a magician before I was fourteen, not understanding it for some years. I wasn’t a magician then, but there was enough to me that it set me apart. There are a great deal of things I’ve never been taught, and many I use magic for so never needed to learn.” I pause a beat. “Diplomacy sometimes comes under that.”
That wins a soft laugh. “We do make a pair, magician. I have never needed it. Being a fae is always the bigger stick, and you start from a position of power at all times. You believe this ruse will work?”
“Whatever this creature is, it only kills parents and only speaks to children. Who are often left too broken to speak about it, which at this time of year –,” I trail off into a shrug.
“Yes. There are no good possibilities for that.” She stands and heads up the stairs to one of the bedrooms. “Be careful.”
The main bedroom is on the ground floor. I head into it after making sure the fire is warm and we’ve left out milk and cookies for Santa Claus. I raise up no wards about myself for the first tine in a very long while, not wanting to risk driving our target away, and trust Dana will hold it all together. I hear nothing drop down the chimney or walk across the living room floor, not that I expected to.
I expected a monster or some creature from Outside the universe. You expect those sorts of problems if you are a magician: what you don’t expect is for a fae disguised as a human child to push open the door to the bedroom and smile winsomely.
“Daddy? Santa is here to see you,” Dana says, and there is nothing quite like having a fae pretend to be your child for making you feel very, very strange.
“And where is Santa?” I ask in my best sleepy voice, still under the covers, and it is one of my talents to speak questions that must be answered by the truth.
“Here,” Dana says, and splits open, tears apart to become some humanoid creature at least seven feet in height, all claws and teeth and wearing a bright red coat stuffed with pillows.
I start laughing at the false beard, which is definitely not what it expects.
“You can see me?” it begins, moving backward instead of forward, which I don’t mind at all as those claws are definitely sharp and ugly.
“Magicians see what humans often don’t,” I say as I get out of the bed. “That’s how it works, then? Only children see you, so they let you into their homes in your disguise, so happy at Santa Claus being real that they don’t see too deeply. And you them kill the parents who can’t see you at all.”
It growls, moves, and then is a little girl again between moments, slamming face-first into the wooden floor.
“It does put the children to sleep so they don’t have to see what happens,” Dana says from the doorway. “It was, however, stupid enough to copy the form a fae was using, which means I can keep you in that form as long as I desire.”
The creature scrambles to its feet with a hiss of fury, trying to flex claws that no longer exist.
“You could have sent out a call for a fae to get rid of your hunger or change it,” Dana says softly. “You did not.”
“You are weak, fae-thing. I can smell weakness on you and you will die, and I will be –.”
I cough. The creature turns and shrinks slightly under my smile. “I bind you,” I say softly, pulling a name out of its head. “You call yourself Krampus and you are a Dana too, and I bind you to to the form you wear, and I bind you to find every family you harmed, to help every child whose trust in the world you shattered, and to help them heal. After all this, creature, you will come and find me. And if I am feeling very kind and very nice, I will release you from this binding.”
“And if not?” it says, glaring up at me in bravado.
“Then I will extend it to every hurt child the world over and you will never know rest or freedom. And that is only what I could do; Dana can do far worse when her strength returns. It is reason enough for you to do this job very, very well without trying to break it at all.”
It stares at me, then is gone, vanishing from the building entirely in a fit of fury with some of the small scraps of power I have left to it. I work other bindings: that it will not kill the children to ‘heal’ then, that its strength could only grow with helping and other limits and protections it will know only when it has to. Then I walk into the living room and drink the brandy we left for Santa.
“It actually put you to sleep.”
“For a moment,” Dana admits, eating a cooking and shrugging into her normal adult human form. “I will need to find some way to begin to heal my strength soon, magician.”
I consider options as I finish the brandy. If I were to help her find it, it would mean I would know a way to take strength from fae as well, and that I doubt she could allow to happen. “You broke free, though.”
“I will not say it didn’t cost.” Dana looked away.
I take a deep breath. “Jay trusts people, Dana. That’s who he is. Even if they hurt him, he’s rather trust them first. Charlie doesn’t, which means they work quite well together. We don’t. We’re too much alike in ways that make us see sides to ourselves we don’t care to see. At least in my case.”
“And?” she says, not moving.
“There is going to be a new year soon. The world is different at such times. We will be close to the solstice, with echoes of Christmas behind us, a shifting of balances, an opening of ways. You cannot heal yourself alone. But perhaps, if I gave you my magic for a time, you would find a way to do to this.”
Dana goes still at that. “Why?”
“Pick a reason: we’ll go with that.”
She almost throws a cookie at me, but just nods and walks outside. The weather still doesn’t touch her. I leave her to that and head into the kitchen. There is an old rotary phone in it that does not ring. I wonder if Jay is trying to get ahold of me. I wonder if Charlie wants to call me. I could find out. I could even call them.