“The mystery which binds me still—
From the torrent, or the fountain—
From the red cliff of the mountain—
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold—
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by—
From the thunder, and the storm—
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view—”

Edgar Allan Poe

Setting: Early Medieval Norse Lands, Hall of Thane Ragnar Svienson, Yule

It was a night of relentless Hyperborean cold, when old warrior’s wounds pulsed and last breaths steamed in the air. The hall was lavishly hosting the nobles from the surrounding realms, making merry by the warmth of kindled hearth as the winter seemed to stab any outside with icy daggers of merciless cold.

The moon of the solstice cast its eerie spell on the pellucid dreamscape, on the interplay of ethereal swirls of snow and moonbeams in phantasmagoric revel. The Norse Thanes had foreswore the old gods it was true, yet in the bannered hall, the holly and wreaths of the old ways still remained as did the memories of the old ways, lingering and haunting the imagination with its trappings, customs, and its monsters…

In the dark forest within sight of the keep’s battlements, wolves feeding on a stag carcass

lifted their heads from their kill as a looming figure raised its arms like an illusionist in the act of conjuring and the night wind seemed to ventriloquize a disembodied call at a frequency unheard by human ears. The eyes of the wolves seemed suddenly ignited in eerie blue, transfixed by the wordless incantation. They moved like a pack of dark hounds rallied and summoned by an immortal huntsman. The wolves answered the summons, packs merging into a great ravenous horde. Their cries arose in eerie choir as if heralding someone or something. Their cries seemed like the horns of a besieging army to the sentries pacing the windswept battlements in vigil.

They scanned the pale dreamscape of snow readying their bows and quivers, yet a sudden intensity of cold drove them reeling back to seek shelter. The interplay of swirling snow and spectral moonbeams was granted translucent form and face, surveying the keep calculatingly.

Above the feasting, the children of the lord and lady of the castle sparred with wooden  swords against the scolding of their nursemaid. Unseen by the castle guard, a great form leapt with feline agility and latched onto the keep’s wall, shifting colour to match its dirty grey masonry, lingering, motionless, and hideous as a gargoyle before scuttling up the wall. Two crimson eyes appeared at the darkened nursery window as claws scraped frost from the glass of the mullioned windowpanes.

Below in the bannered hall, as esteemed warriors made merry and flagons flowed with heady mead and boasts were made and toast followed toast, a charmed silence befell the company as the Skald approached the harp and held them spellbound with haunting songs and stories as he played with a conjuring hand.

Thane Ragnar stared dreamily into the roaring hearth fire. Under the bardspell, he seemed to behold the flames morph into crimson ghosts seanced by some pyromancy by the ancient songs retold. It seemed that among red visions of old battles and hunts, a malevolent nightmarish figure was conjured from the flames. There was one last of the old monsters to slay.

“Ragnar! Ragnar!” The words seemed distant…

The young Norse Thane had fallen asleep from a sleep haunted by strange nightmares, over his flagon at the meadhall’s longtable after a Yule eve of feasting and storytelling. A jarring voice intruded. “Awake I say. Curse thee!” It was the Lady of the castle. He rose groggily, disoriented, swayed yet steadied himself.

“What is amiss?”

“The beast has come to prey on the children. It is in the nursery! Hasten!”

She pushed him up the stairway. He slid into his chainmail hauberk and sword-sheathed baldric without breaking stride, and donned his boar-crested helm.

“Thrall! Rouse and rally the warriors!” she cried out to an ashen-pallored boy.

Drawing his sword, he burst into the room, wrenching a torch from the wall, panting…

“Naught is amiss. The babes are abed,” he assured.

She pushed past him, approaching the bear pelt covering under which little shapes stirred. Meanwhile, searching sweeps of the torchlight illuminated sinister red pawprints…he followed them and gasped as he beheld the nursemaid where she was struck down, sagged lifelessly against the wall with a crimson runic symbol painted in red above her. She pulled the covers back slowly and recoiled at the grotesque, impish figures that leapt to their feet hissing and cavorted, cackling with laughter.

“Dark elves! Changelings!”

They chattered like nocturnal insects as they lunged after her. He leapt between them, fending them off her, setting one afire with his torch. Suddenly, he froze as his torchlight shone crimson in three terrible eyes forming a triangle in the face of a terrible nightmarish beast as ever haunted nightmares. A towering ogre of an apparition confronted him. It loomed over him, like a rearing bear, a great hulking beast, and upon its head, it bore a great antlered skull of a prehistoric stag as a ceremonial mask. Great tusks jutted out from its lower jaw. It slung a great sack over its shoulder with squirming forms inside. He heard his children cry out.

“Stand down, mortal. Your puny blade will not avail you. You betrayed the gods of your forefathers. We still rule and still demand the annual sacrifice.”

It bared its yellowed fangs in parting. The beast pivoted and leaped from the window into the night, shattering explosively through.

“No!” she screamed.

“My Lady!” the thrall interrupted. “The horses are ready. The warriors are already mounted.”


“I am going. Fetch me the boar spear and my shield.”

Horns of alarm sounded shrilly as the beast retreated with its quarry, racing the final tolling of the bell and the dawn. It retreated with its prize to the grim, imposing monolithic shrine in the depths of the dark wood. A bounty hunter of lost souls. No longer did the North men sacrifice in his name, so he took the liberty himself. Yet the insolent mortals already awaited with swords drawn and torches.

“Fires of Ragnarok!” he cursed.

No matter. They were only mortal, he growled contemptuously. Insolently brandishing this new faith. No longer were shields and banners emblazoned with the sigils of ravens and wolves. Now they bore the cross of the new faith defiantly against the old gods of Asgard. The adoration of mortals was fickle. Hungry for “glory,” a warrior charged the beast on his horse only for the horse to rear suddenly in terror and rider to be struck aside dismissively, as if flung by a catapult’s arm. He would show them the power of the old gods.

“Shield wall! Stand your ground! Hold fast, warriors of the North!” Ragnar bellowed.

The ranks of warriors made way before a wizened skald, drumming their sword blades against their shields as if in climax of a ritual. He clutched a stolen child closer to its piteous wails…one more sacrifice to steel him against the Skald’s words. A once venerated demigod had been cast out as a demon by the new faith. The child fell unharmed as they beheld him, wavering in from between a graceful, gentle figure, radiant and with refined aquiline features, with cascades of golden hair from a diadem-adorned brow, singing out counter-spells and courtly robes before reverting back to a nightmarish, minotaur-like figure. The curse inflicted by Oden upon the brood of the trickster god Loki.

The Skald roared incantations like a battle cry in a duel of rival magics with the demigod’s counter-spells. He reached for his tormentor, yet his power had waned and dwindled too far to be invincible. A sword stroke severed his hand and he reeled back, howling in anguish, his immortal’s blood sizzling on the snow. The sack was opened and terrified children spilled out into the snow. Awkwardly, burly warriors gathered them up. He was being banished to subterranean rune-cast exile, confronted by a Skald, amid rune-inscribed swords and axes, torches, and great war hounds baring fangs.

Altering rapidly between two facades and forms, he began to dematerialize and found himself in the confines of an oubliette of a necropolis of ancient warriors, a court of skeletal figures clad in armour, as if mocking him with new retainers.

He extended his hand and cried out a powerful incantation…the ground shuddered, yet the rune-spell sealing him in captivity held. Maddened by its obstinance, he cried out again and again the old spells to no avail, and wasted by the effort, he sank down onto an antlered throne, motionless as a gargoyle.

It was beyond even his art to break. The insolent mortals had thwarted him. They had forsaken their forefather’s gods for the new faith. He was now relegated to myth like a usurped royal family in exile. Without the nourishment of mortal worship and sacrificial offerings, he grew drained and listless, slumping weakly into his throne. He was greying and calcifying from the feet up as ancient tree roots coiled around his legs like serpentine tethers.

One eve, his eyes flickered open from the dreamscape of the battles of gods of men and monsters passing by in phantasmal procession or crimson visions pyromanced in bonfires as bards sang in Valhalla’s halls.

The angry warding glow of the rune-spell was dwindling somehow, as if an underworld sun was eclipsed. Like a dormant earth fire, he began to stir…he dared for the first time in centuries to raise a taloned hand and cry out an incantation. Suddenly, the light of the rune-spell was extinguished and a crimson portal appeared like a reopened wound. The chill wind outside beckoned, tantalized him maddeningly.

He tried to rise, yet was too weak from centuries of neglect and wasting in the darkness. Then streams of crimson began to filter from above then as a rain…warm streams of seemingly sacrificial blood hailing him. He spread his arms in rapture, intoxicated as if by a flagon of wine. Red icicles formed as they flowed to him and he tore two free swords to confront a strange new world above.

He emerged like a dark, carnivorous plant growing in fast-forward, from the snow amid a circle of standing stones bearing eroded and faded runes, like faithful retainers awaiting their lord in the rain or a petrified forest. Disoriented, lethargic as a bear emerging from hibernation

“This used to be a forest…”

How long had it transpired as mortals measure their time? It mattered not. I need no mortal lackeys to wield my magick now. I am Krampus, son of Loki, the Trickster God, and the Goddess Hel, Mistress of the Underworld. The Yule season…Oden, grant me thine sight…

An enslaved blacksmith forged a steel claw to replace his severed hand.

A raven perched on a monolith fluttered to his shoulder and leaned its beak to his ear…

“What tidings then, dark emissary?”

The aroma of carnage tickled his nostrils and he followed curiously.

Setting: Thirty Years War, Germany

The punishing winter had lent a cold, fleeting armistice to the land. A solitary rider drew reign before the enigmatic standing stones. The beast had been tracked hither. A deep sigh sealed in the chill air. Dismounting, the huntress looked at the enigmatic trail that had led her hither. The pallor of moonbeams lent the monoliths an eerie ghostly pallor. How could she have not seen? Some were not standing stones, but child mercenaries that were heavily-laden with loot and disappeared from the march of the companies…too young to die, but not to kill. They were every bit as murderous and cruel as their elders. They were frozen into icy statues, their expressions set in a final paroxysm of fear, and their bodies arranged to form a sacrificial tribute…one that had not been seen for centuries…

“Krampus…” she whispered knowingly.

The word seemed to echo eerily, like the lyrics of a ghostly carol.

It can’t be…everyone knows the story…he has vanished from these lands…and yet…

Suddenly she saw the place as it was, as if an illusionist’s veil had been shed. The standing stones were crowned with antlered stag skulls, and the old cryptic runic symbols and petroglyphs had been restored in the crimson of fresh sacrificial blood and streamed down, as if defaced statues wept, forming red icicles. Scavenging ravens looked up like reddened beaks, fighting over the delicacy of eyes. She shuddered and turned; kneeling before red pawprints, she scrutinized them with a tracker’s eyes. The wolves had become numerous, emboldened from feeding on the aftermath of battles, yet this was no natural beast. She returned to her nervous horse.

We have the same quarry I believe, Yule Lord.

She was suddenly disoriented…the frozen bodies…

Why had their position shifted when her back was turned? They now encircled her, confronting her with their bloodless faces and soulless eyes and clutching dagger-sized icicles in their hands like sacrificial blades. Suddenly, they lurched towards her, closing in. She struck out with her torch, warding them off. They recoiled from the flame, hissing. She drew her sword with a pale flourish. Its consecrated blade shimmered eerily, as if ignited in reply to their unhallowed presence.

She had read of their kind.

The Draugr: ice revenants.

The Krampus, like his mother, the goddess Hel, could necromance the undead.

Evading their infected bites and attempts to stab her, she held them at bay long enough to pivot to her terrified horse. She mounted her horse before it could bolt, and wielding flame and steel, battled her way through them. Hours before, she had been silhouetted against a burning church…she had knelt by the side of a mortally-wounded monk.

“Where is my sister?” she asked.

“They have taken her to the keep yonder. Who did this?”

“Mercenaries. Brother Eustace has gone to plead for her release, yet I fear he goes to a cruel death.”

“I will go.”

“Godspeed, child,” were his last words.

A flight of ravens rose in a dark ominous plume from the forest, swirling cyclonically as the dark warhorse reared from the force of being suddenly reigned in. She looked on, aghast at the grisly spectacle of a zombified stag, riddled with arrows goring a huntsman against a tree.

She spurred away as the fly-buzzing head turned towards her. It turned to an approaching figure and nuzzled its gory decaying face on a pelt of grizzled fur. The cries of wolves arose in eerie choir, sensing his strange lordly presence as if hailing him with sonorous heraldry.

The new lord of the keep was a boy, an impish parody of nobility. Pudgy, flushed cheeks leered from two piglet-like eyes, clad in brocaded, scarlet, flamboyant fur-trimmed robes. His father was usurped and murdered by intrigue, leaving his sadistic young heir on the throne. Plunder was piled before him as he held court amid cutthroats and mercenaries, making merry and feasting with abandon and debauchery. In giddy euphoria, he vowed to denounce God and revive the old pagan faith this eve. His court cheered him on boisterously.

“Bring forth the offerings!”

The nun had been stripped and bound, splayed on a table with candles around her and a wreath of holly on her brow.

The exotic beasts of the keep’s menagerie howled and growled in an eerie choir and recoiled as a looming shape passed them. It grasped the sadistic handler and cast it to the hyenas that he had long baited and tormented.

They cackled jubilantly amid his screams, drowned out by the bawdy wassail and carols in the feasting hall. Suddenly, the ash-darkened rafters shook, as if something enormous was striding on their roof.

“Hooves? Father Christmas? Is this someone’s jest?” the young lord demanded.

Then they heard the ominous sound of chains being dragged above. The door was cast open and the cold wind rushed in with a disembodied howl, extinguishing the torches, and two crimson eyes shone from outside.

“Rekindle the flames!” it was ordered.

A snorted breath steamed in the chill air. Like a shark scenting blood in the vast dark fathoms, he sensed the child’s wickedness. He bypassed the bound victim and strode towards the boy on the throne. He strode into the hall like a lordly dignitary from the Elvish realm, then shifting back into a monstrous beast. His steel-forged claw grated along the wall sparkingly before impaling a guardsman. Krampus licked blood from the claw as the body slid free.

They heard bells…not silvery or melodious, but harsh like leper bells. The hearth flame turned eerie blue and morphed into spectral figures writhing amid the flames like condemned souls, like a pyromanced vision.

Suddenly, the two guardsmen came in, swaying as if drunk. Is this some rude jest? You mean to be flogged for this affront? They paused, and suddenly, the harlequin landsknecht attire were cast aside to reveal impish figures standing one on top of the other’s head. Dark elves…minions of Krampus. They evaded sword strokes acrobatically and with feline agility. They bared their serrated fangs like nocturnal scavengers at the young noble and squealed with merriment.

The boy shrieked in terror, crying out for his retainers to intervene, yet they were frozen in glacial statues. The Christmas tree was now a dark skeletal wraith, adorned only by a single crimson ornament that mirrored him like a fording cyclopean eye before falling and shattering.

The dark horde of elves squealed in macabre delight as they bound him in bright paper, as if mummifying him alive under the tree. Krampus pointed with a long-clawed finger and the Dark Elves swarmed him and dragged him from his throne by his velvet robes. Their sack seemed to inhale him as if digested by a leech.

Outside, in the collective hush, they seemed serenaded by a disembodied, ghostly carol like venomed honey, followed by a chorus of impish voices in parody of Christmas songs. Clawed hands raked at the mullioned windows. At a hissed incantation, vermin swarmed from the Yule tree.

The haggard monk stepped between them, brandishing a crucifix to hold him at bay and ward him off. Krampus clenched a taloned fist to strike him aside dismissively, yet a figure stepped in, a warrior clad in gothic armour, doffing her helm. Crimson hair spilt out like wine from a chalice and a shimmering sword was brandished.

“A valkyrie shield maiden of Oden?”

She laughed.

“Well met, Krampus, son of Hel and Loki…”

“I have not been called so by name in your mortal centuries…”

“I read…”

“Read? Like those insufferable monks…”

“Krampus Lokison, accursed by gods and men, banished from the mortal world and from the high halls of Asgard. Take your prize and go.”

The boy screamed and writhed in the sack.

“The Priestess…”

“She is a nun.”

“I need a sacrifice…”

“Then take me…if you can get past my sword.”

Krampus chuckled and outstretched his taloned hand…necromanced warriors that he had been entombed with lurched into the hall.

“Take this dagger monk and cut her bonds. Go. Take her. I will keep them at bay.”

“You think to thwart me, mortal…”

“It’s been done before…” she parried.

“I thought you knew me.”

“I know your story, Yule Lord…do you know mine?”

She kicked over a brazier and flames rose between them.

“Go, monk, now!” she cried.

He spread his arms and the flames were extinguished.

The dark elves cheered jubilantly. Her battle cry was akin to a lioness’ last defiant roar to a surrounding pack of hyenas.

Enveloped in flame, he advanced a terrible burning spectre mounted on a flaming undead stag, rearing and lunging at her nightmarishly like a red ghost. A skeletal hand reached for her and then her sword stroke cleaved it down, shattering it into a shower of crimson debris. She drew back her sword and cast it like a javelin. He clapped it between his hands, yet dropped it as its blaze sizzled on his palms. He looked up. Gone? She returned astride her great, dark warhorse. Swatting aside elves dismissively, she drew two pistols.

“Welcome to the 17th century.”

Krampus was cast back as silver bullets struck him. He arose snorting blood, clutching his chest, and looked anxiously for his adversary, yet she had eluded him. He grunted and began to drag the sack into the snow…conjuring a blast of intensely cold wind to cover his escape.

He must hasten…

Racing, the bells tolling as he neared the sanctuary of the stone circle with the sacrifice that would restore his old powers. He cried out and recoiled, finding the shrine had been ringed by silver spikes. He pivoted at hoof falls behind him. He snorted blood as a silver crossbow bolt struck him. The huntress raised the crossbow from where it was leveled on her black-gauntleted forearm. She dismounted, drew her sword with a silvery flourish, and strode to meet him.

She stood against a background of ethereal silvery snow like frozen tears as she struck with grim finality to the hilt. The cries of wolves rose like a ghostly dirge to a fallen lord. She stood like a lioness over her kill. She cleansed her blade and severed the chords binding the sack closed. The boy rose irately, confronting her.

“About time someone stepped in….he was taking me down to the underworld.”

“I would never allow him to do that. You are mine.”

She drew a smaller blade…

“For my sister!”

She struck, maiming him and leaving him, crawling towards the only hope of warmth…cutting open the beast’s body and crawling inside it….

The steeple bells rang midnight, and just as he reached the carcass and began to stab into it, he saw himself reflected in the opened crimson eye of the beast. As the huntress rode away, a dark, looming form arose, watching her ride away while licking his crimsoned paws.