Constable Gil Hadrian leaned against the side of a building, taking a break from his weaving walk through the alley somewhere in the Priesthorpe district of Ashford. All these temples looked alike after seven drinks. Or was it eight? He ran his hand through his salt-and-pepper hair and pulled himself off the wall. He almost never drank this much, but it was just as rare that Captain Simmons was buying.
On the Winter Solstice, Simmons followed conventions and held a “feast” for the twenty-third precinct. In a wealthy household the house lord might serve a banquet to his servants, but in the twenty-third, that meant free drinks in the bullpen. Hadrian had enjoyed toasting everyone, then took his leave to wander the streets with the masked revelers enjoying the longest night of the year. Tomorrow the days would get longer and winter’s sway would begin to weaken, but tonight, winter was at its height.
Off to his right, Hadrian heard chanting. “What in the gods is that?” he said, slurring slightly, as he looked around and moved towards the sound.
The alley let out onto a large square, at the center a round, snow-covered green. Tonight, it held a circle of two dozen half-naked men and women, standing in a circle and chanting “Exsolvo Frigus Invictus” over and over again. Snow swirled at the center of the circle.
Hadrian reached for the talisman he always wore around his neck, the one that would protect him from magic, and grasped nothing. He had left it in his desk at the precinct. After all, he was off duty. He shrugged and increased his pace, half running, half falling, towards the nearest chanter: a woman in her twenties, wearing a red skirt and not much else.
He reached for her shoulder and said, “Stop it! I’m an ossifer… an officer of the law.” She turned towards him, and he missed her shoulder. Red-faced, he pulled his hand back. “Sorry. That was on accident. You need to cease and stop it right away.”
She stopped chanting long enough to spit at him and turn away.
“Hey!” Hadrian yelled, reaching for his cudgel. It wasn’t there either. “You all need to stop chanting magic stuff and go home, or you’re all under arrest.”
One of the men in the group, wearing a wolf mask, broke away from the circle and approached Hadrian. The mask slightly muffled his deep voice. “Look what has been gifted to us on the eve of the return. A sacrifice. We will offer him to Frigus Invictus when he arrives. Fourth and Fifth, hold him until then.”
Two large men also left the circle and approached Hadrian. The Constable lifted up both fists to defend himself and took a wild swing at the first that approached. This man was apparently much less drunk than Hadrian, and was easily able to dodge the attack. Hadrian’s momentum carried him down into the snow at his feet. The two men picked him up and brought him into the circle, held tightly by both arms.
“So, what are you guys calling?” Hadrian asked, his voice neutral but his muscles tensing. “You calling up an imp to play with for the night, or maybe some Fey creature to have your way with?”
The apparent leader called out, “We release Frigus Invictus from his bonds. Only on this night, the winter solstice, do his bonds weaken enough that we can free him, and bring a winter that never ends. As long as his form remains on this plane, spring cannot come, and winter will reign!” The chanting increased in intensity as he spoke. “When Frigus Invictus is freed, we will offer you to him as sacrifice. You should be honored.” The swirling increased at the center, and the snow began to pull into the center of the small maelstrom.
“Listen, maybe Frigus isn’t going to be interested in a sacrifice, right? Just let me go, and Frigus can make that call on his own.” The adrenaline in Hadrian’s system was a quick agent of sobriety, and he was starting to get worried. He continued to struggle against the men holding him, but they were strong, and he couldn’t budge them.
A shadow formed at the epicenter of the whirlwind, and the chanting reached a fever pitch. Hadrian closed his eyes, unable to look at the thing forming.
Suddenly, the chanting stopped.
“Lord Frigus Invictus,” the voice of the wolf-masked leader called out. “We offer this man as sacrifice to you, an offering from your faithful.”
The hands holding Hadrian dropped away and a high-pitched voice called back, “Your offer is happily accepted.”
Hadrian opened his eyes and looked at Frigus Invictus. It was a creature of snow and ice, all strange angles, but still vaguely humanoid. It was only a single hand tall. “You’re Frigus Invictus? You are smaller than my baby niece’s first snowman.” He smiled at the tiny demon, chuckling.
“Lo, look upon me and despair, mortal! As long as I walk the ground of this Plane, no snow will melt, no plant will grow!” The doll-sized creature marched towards Hadrian with hands raised. “I am the harbinger of never-ending win–”
The voice cut off as Hadrian crushed it under his boot. “Okay, I think that takes care of Mister Invictus, right, wolfy?”
The masked leader looked at Hadrian through the eye slits in his mask, then down at the snow that used to be his patron demon, then back up at the constable. “Scatter!” he yelled. The circle quickly dispersed into individuals running in every direction trying to get away.
Hadrian just shook his head and oriented himself towards his apartment. “Holidays always bring out all the weirdos,” he said as he thought about a hot mug of tea and a warm bed. “Next year I’m just staying home.”
Ben Nein writes from a cold basement office in Winnipeg, Canada. You can find his work here at Every Day Fiction and at Flash Fiction Magazine, Shotgun Honey, 101 Words, and upcoming at Story Shack and in a future Ink Stains Anthology.