My name is Holly Klaus.
If you’ve never heard of me, don’t be surprised. My more famous mom and even more famous dad don’t exactly advertise my existence, for perfectly understandable reasons.
“Good morning, Miss Holly!”
“Good morning, Wikijojo!” I smile cheerfully as I accept the cup of steaming hot cocoa the elf offers me. “Thank you!” It’s delicious, as is to be expected.
I’ve told all the elves they can just call me Holly. Some do. Wikijojo feels more comfortable with the “Miss” before it. I don’t mind; he’s still a good friend.
Warm cup in my hands and warm cocoa in my mouth, I step outside to get a breath of chilly fresh air and enjoy the sight of the sunrise light glistening on the snow. I take the final gulp of cocoa—if I let it out a few more seconds, it would have frozen. It’s -40°C out.
Not unusual, for late December at the North Pole. Whenever we bring humans here, it takes mom and dad’s magic to protect them from the cold. Fortunately, my family’s made of sterner stuff.
I walk around in the snow, waving at a couple of my elf friends who are having a snowball fight. This is a busy season for us, obviously, but mom and dad have instituted a strict policy that everyone has to take a minimum number of hours of R&R per week, no matter how far behind schedule they are. They say it’s a lesson they learned the hard way.
I spot Shokojiji and Momotiki and almost say hi to them, but decide to walk away and give them some privacy instead when I see they’re about to kiss under the holly. Good on them! It’s been obvious those who were holding a torch for each other.
...Yeah, under the holly. Not mistletoe, we don’t keep the stuff around in the North Pole. Mom and dad are… not fond of mistletoe, since the incident. It’s all from way before my time, but I get the feeling Baldr was their favorite kid.
I spot Tekniwowo, always the morning elf, already hard at at work. “Good morning, Tekniwowo! How’s it going?”
“Good morning Holly! Pretty great! I’ve finished upgrading the turret cannons yesterday, so now I’m making sure their ammunition is fully stocked. We had a bit of a scare when it looked like we lost the temporal stasis shells, but it turned out we’d mistakenly filed them with the new nets woven out of materialized sleeping spells.” He gives a thumb up. “If Surtr shows up, he won’t know what hit him!”
“You’re the best, Wowo!” I give him a thumbs up of my own and resume walking.
I mean, Surtr probably won’t show up. It turns out poorly for him whenever he tries. The North Pole is the best-defended fortress on Earth.
That’s why dad’s enemies usually attack him during his yearly round.
I continue my walk, admiring a snowman. This one actually has a teeny-tiny smidge of my magic on it that’s preserved it for many years. I’ve made thousands of snowmen in my life, but this one’s special—it’s from the first time I ventured outside the North Pole, the first time I made some human friends, the first time I got to bring some friends home for Christmas. Well, actually, the friends I made in a human city helped me save Christmas (that hadn’t been the plan, it just… sorta happened), then dad encouraged me to invite them and their whole family for the holiday. It was magical. So, I keep the snowman we made back then in mint condition, as a souvenir.
Mom and dad don’t force me to stay cooped up here all year, but they do insist on planning my sorties outside the North Pole carefully—discreet point of entry, disguise to hide me, only non-obvious uses of magic, and a careful exit plan. I don’t blame them—dad’s got plenty of enemies, and if they found out he had a daughter… Well. Mom and dad have had centuries to get over the trauma, but losing their first family clearly hurt them. Obviously.
The whole thing’s always been a bit weird to me. I, the elves, the humans, practically everyone—we know my parents as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. The jolly old magical fellow who hands out gifts in wintertime, and the wise old lady he’s married to. The “Odin” and “Frigg” they were in the olden days feel like entirely different people. Ruthless, brutal, the leaders of the Aesir. And the only members of their side to survive Ragnarök.
So, they won, they saved the world. But they lost their family. That sort of thing changes you. So, they parted ways. They spent centuries wandering the Earth. They’ve told me a few stories from that time, too. The things they did. The people they encountered. It’s pretty obvious they dealt with grief by spending those centuries becoming kinder people who treasured life.
Eventually, they met again. They got back together. They built themselves a home in the North Pole, even created a new race of elves who would live there... And then mom had one of those visions of hers. A dark future. Industrialized warfare. The rise of a new breed of tyrants. Industrialized death camps. Genocide. Atom bombs, followed by worldwide devastation on par with the worst-case scenario for the original Ragnarök.
So, mom and dad decided to avert the dark future. And this time, they’d do it differently. Not by killing the bad guys, or building up an army. No, they didn’t want a repeat of that. This time, they wanted a soft touch.
And so, one night, dad put on magical boots that let him stretch time long enough to visit as many kids worldwide as he needed. To those who had been honest and kind and generous, or who were at least trying to be good, he gave toys. To those who were freezing in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter, he gave coal and warm clothes. (He stopped the coal at some point when it turned out global warming was an issue; now he sticks to warm socks and the such.) He went and did it again, one night every year.
Doesn’t sound like much, right? Wrong. A whole generation of kids grew up knowing Santa Claus cared about their well-being and good behavior. If only one in a hundred among them grew up to become a better person? That was enough to change the path of History. Just a little more people who cared meant a lot more people got the help they needed. It meant more injustice was opposed. It meant messages of peace found a more receptive audience. The late 19th century, the whole 20th century, the early 21st century… they’ve all seen an era of unprecedented peace. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I know there’s still plenty wrong with the world. Wars still happen. Cruelty and greed are still problems. But less than ever before.
The downside of mom and dad’s plan, though, is that it revealed their existence to the world. And while humans think of them as kindly Santa and Mrs. Claus… there’s a few old enemies, who survived Ragnarök, who recognized them as Odin and Frigg.
Nidhogg, Thrym and Surtr? Those maniacs want to destroy everything. Nidhogg thinks eating dad will restore his power, so he can eat the entire world. Thrym’s bitter, and vengeful, and has been studying ice magic, and keeps coming up with ideas for hijacking the magic of Christmas to freeze the whole planet. And dad’s been keeping Surtr’s big magic sword under lock and key, so he can’t use it to set everything on fire.
Fafnir actually used to be a dwarf. Now he’s a dragon. It’s a whole story. Anyway, his thing is greed. Dad’s magic bag can produce all the toys and gifts he needs, so Fafnir wants to steal it to produce treasure instead. Which… is about as pointless as it sounds. I just wish he understood that.
And then there’s Fenrir. Mister Big Bad Wolf himself. Werewolves, the Beast of the Gévaudan, any other human-killing monster wolves you’ve heard about? Yeah. Fenrir loves killing people. Which is why dad tricked him into swearing an oath that the next person he’d kill would be him. He expected to kill dad right away. He didn’t expect dad to basically keep dodging him for the next century, staying safe at his impregnable North Pole fortress most of the year and traveling across the world at incredible speed the one night he gets out. So, until he gets dad, which he never will, Fenrir can’t kill anyone.
...People tend to underestimate mom and dad. They’re good at what they do.
Anyway, because of those jerks, dad’s big yearly sortie is always a high-stakes affair where he has to plot an unpredictable trajectory, set up fake Santa sightings to misdirect his enemies, and bring all sorts of magical self-defense tools with him in case they do catch up. Even then, there were several times it took some outside help to save Christmas. It happens.
So obviously, people learning Santa Claus has a daughter—one who visits human cities every now and then—would be bad. I’d be a target. It would no longer be safe for me to leave home, and nobody wants that—as much as I love the North Pole, I need to get out every now and then.
Like now, for example. I’ve been planning this visit to Prague all week.
I don’t actually know the Austro-Hungarian Republic all that well, but I’ve been to Prague before, and I love it. There’s beautiful architecture everywhere I turn my gaze. For my personal taste, it might actually be the world’s most beautiful city.
“Spare change, ma’am?” asks an old man who looks like he hasn’t seen a bed, a full meal or a shower in a very long while.
“I’ll do you one better,” I smile at him as I extend my hand.
Our first stop is the general store, where I buy him an apple, new clothes, and a couple books from authors he said he liked. Once again, I am thankful to Gigifofo for making sure the North Pole always keeps some modern currency on hand.
Our next stop is a cheap hotel. I explain to the receptionist (and then to her boss) that I just want to get the room for my friend for one day. It takes a while, and they’re unsurprisingly reluctant, but I manage to eventually win them over by talking about how hard living outside in winter gets, plus my best sincere smile, plus the Spirit Of Giving in my aura. ...The Spirit Of Giving is weak enough magic that our enemies won’t be able to detect it. It doesn’t make people act generous, but it reminds them of what generosity feels like, and you’d be amazed how often that helps.
Gabek (that’s my new friend’s name) uses the shower. Next, we hit a nearby restaurant. Nothing fancy, but we both get a warm, filling meal while he tells me all about himself. We follow that with a little tour of the town, as he shows me some of his favorite landmarks. We both have a good time. But I can tell he’s tired, so I lead him back to the hotel, and we part ways as I wish him a good nap and a merry Christmas season. He cries a little, and I hug him, and then off I go.
I don’t know if I’ll meet Gabek again. I know there’s only so much the material aid I gave him (including the money I left in his hotel room) will help over time. Will the inner warmth last him longer? I know there are all sorts of logistical reasons mom and dad don’t just bring all sorts of people in need to live in the North Pole, but it still stings that I can’t help everyone as much as they need to be helped.
I can probably arrange to see Gabek again in late January. I’ll clear a day in my schedule.
The next seven beggars I meet on the way, I don’t help as extensively as I did Gabek. I only give them money (about enough to get a few warm clothes and decent food for a week) and an encouraging smile. That’s as much a part of my visit as the actual sightseeing.
“Well hello there.”
I stare at the girl. This may be the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. She smells wonderful, too. “H-hello,” I stammer as I smile at her.
“Forgive my forwardness, but I could not help but notice you. You are, if I may, rather striking.”
I’m striking? ...OK, Aesir blood is part of why I’m actually pretty beautiful by human standards, as plenty of people have told me. But next to this, this princess… Her beautiful golden hair, her noble features, her heavenly scent, the lovely winter ensemble that complements her so well…
OK, I think I may have a crush. It happens. I’m a healthy teenage Aesir, and a pansexual one at that; crushes are a thing that happens!
“I… Thank you,” I manage to say. “You’re, ah, pretty lovely yourself.”
“How kind of you to say,” she smiles, twirling that umbrella of hers. “Perhaps I could tempt you with a warm drink? I know of a lovely teahouse a few blocks from here.”
“Sure!” I giggle, happy to follow this gorgeous girl around.
I’m not much of a tea person. This place doesn’t serve hot cocoa, but the gorgeous girl still managed to order me something nice.
“Warm milk with honey, huh,” I say, licking my lips clean. “Surprisingly good combination.”
“It can be bad for some people’s digestion,” she concedes, “but you struck me as the type to enjoy it.” She grins attractively as she takes a sip from her tea.
I sigh happily as I rest my elbow on the table and my chin on my hand. “You really are beautiful,” I tell her. “I don’t think I got your name, though. Mine’s Holly.”
“Geraldine,” she replies. “Pleased to meet you.”
“That’s a pretty name,” I say. “French, right?”
“Indeed. You might call me a true-bred Parisian.”
“Heh. Are you here for tourism?”
“Oh, much as I love Prague, I’m actually here on a little errand,” she says. “I’m looking for a very special Christmas gift for a girl I know.”
I’m both happy to hear that and a little sad. “That’s sweet! Is this girl your girlfriend?” Yeah, I can be direct. If this girl I’m totally crushing on is taken… well. I’ll treasure my feelings for her privately, maybe help her find that very special gift, and move on. Even when you’re immortal, life’s too short to waste on regrets.
Geraldine grins. “My, my. I find your curiosity curious in itself. Is my vanity seizing the reins of my imagination, or might it be that I have caught your eye?”
My blush deepens. “Eh-heh. Well, you’re very… charming.”
“No doubt my new perfume is to blame,” she shrugs in mock helplessness. “A fragrance guaranteed to ensnare the female heart, it is said.”
I giggle. “A product living up to its advertisement? It’s a Christmas miracle! But, seriously, your perfume smells wonderful.”
“Why thank you,” she smiles, looking very pleased with herself. “It can be a bit of a challenge, finding the fragrance that will lure the object of one’s desire. After all,” she says, “taste is a factor of biology, and biology can be surprisingly varied. A perfume that will please a near-universal audience might not please certain highly specific types, and thus, one might be sent back to the drawing board, hunting for a more elusive fragrance.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” I giggle again. “I don’t know anything about perfumes. I just know I love your scent.” I take a look around. The teahouse is designed so that we have some privacy. I give her a smile. “Seriously, though. If you’re taken, I’ll respect that, but if not… Well, I don’t know if my obvious crush on you will lead anywhere, but I’d love to find out.” I’m blushing so hard right now, but there’s a gorgeous, charming girl in front of me and we’re flirting and it’s awesome.
She grins. “Consider me more than a little flattered. As for my answer… Well. Perhaps I ought to show you something,” she smirks as she grabs her umbrella.
Huh. Why would she-
The umbrella opens.
It’s… beautiful. A whirling vortex of colors that catches my eyes, leads them to the next bit of the whirling pattern that leads me to the next that leads me to the next to the pretty colors to the spiral to the next to the vortex to the pretty to the beautiful to the colors spiral pretty whirling vortex colors pretty spiral…
So happy. So relaxed. Feeling my mind turning soft and malleable. So happy. So relaxed.
Love Geraldine so much. She’s so wonderful. She’s so commanding. Like an Empress who must be obeyed.
Love Geraldine so much. Love obeying Geraldine so much. Love obeying her like she was my Empress.
Geraldine is my Empress. I love obeying my Empress so much. I love being loyal to my Empress.
I belong to Empress Geraldine. I love belonging to Empress Geraldine. I love being Empress Geraldine’s rightful property.
I’m generous. I love giving gifts. Empress Geraldine is… the focus of my generosity. Empress Geraldine is… who my generosity goes toward. Empress Geraldine is who I want to be generous with. I want to give myself to Empress Geraldine. Being a gift to Empress Geraldine is my life’s purpose.
I gift my love to Empress Geraldine. I gift my loyalty to Empress Geraldine. I gift my obedience to Empress Geraldine. I gift my submission to Empress Geraldine. I gift my adoration to Empress Geraldine. I gift my thoughts to Empress Geraldine. I gift my mind to Empress Geraldine.
My mind is my gift to Empress Geraldine, hers to do with as she pleases. My mind is a toy I’ve gifted to Empress Geraldine. I love it when Empress Geraldine toys with the mind I gifted her.
I am Empress Geraldine’s gift toy, hers to play with. I love it when she plays with me, enjoying my gift to her.
I express my generosity by being a good little plaything for Empress Geraldine.
I open up my eyes, and the first thing I see is my beautiful Empress.
...Huh. She is my Empress. I love her. I’d do anything for her.
“Empress Geraldine,” I say, star-struck. “How… Is there anything I can do for you? Give you?”
“Mayhaps,” she says regally, extending her hand palm-down.
It takes me a few seconds to get it, but then I take her beautiful hand and kiss it.
“Good girl,” she says, filling my heart with joy. “And truth be told, I’ve had my eyes on a certain gift I’d love to receive.”
“Anything,” I stare at her lovingly.
“Your mind, sweetie,” she replies. “I wish to own your mind. To shape it like soft clay. Play with it, make it my toy.”
She can do that. Of course she can. It’s… why I feel this way, isn’t it?
This is the merriest Christmas ever. “I am yours, my Empress,” I say reverently. “I’m your new toy, and I hope you’ll love playing with me! Merry Christmas Eve!”
“What a delightful little toy you are,” she smiles as she pets my head, and I feel like I’m melting from sheer happiness.
The rest of the day is a blur of happiness and good cheer. My Empress takes me on a quick tour of homeless shelters in town and has me give them major donations in her name (I guess Empress Geraldine is really rich; this is “buy a whole city block” kinds of money). She opens a magical portal to one of her homes, where I meet and make fast friends with other toys of hers (I guess she really likes cute, submissive girls). I get to be a good toy for her, showering her with love and adoration and obedience. She plays with me, making me kiss her hand, her feet, her breasts (I wouldn’t mind getting a bit, ah, cozier, but she says something about keeping me in “mint condition” and tells me not to worry about it). She even plays with my mind, giving me all sorts of fun settings, like being silly, or a dolly, or a puppy, or a little girl again.
Best. Christmas Eve. Ever.
Eventually, though, Empress Geraldine tells me it’s time to say goodnight. She opens her pretty parasol, and… Yes… I’m happy and hypnotized… Yes, I’ll forget every part of this day from the moment I saw you…
Abducting young ladies and holding them hostage for ransom—even when they were technically young goddesses—was, admittedly, not the classiest thing Geraldine, Countess of Linventeur, had ever done. Still, she liked to think she had at least done it with class.
“As promised, Mister and Mrs. Claus, your daughter—physically and mentally unharmed, without any hidden surprises. I always keep my word. I trust you will uphold your end of the bargain.”
“You…” Daphne Miller, supergenius technologist, rare intellectual peer, fellow hypnodomme, and beloved girlfriend to Geraldine, struggled with words, as was often the case. “You tracked down a parallel Earth where Santa is real, and extorted a permanent spot on the Nice List for me?!”
“De facto,” Geraldine smiled. “Technically, I didn’t ask him to put you on the Nice List—I asked him to use a strictly utilitarian ethical system to determine which list to put you on, rather than a more deontological approach to ethics. Certainly, we can agree that you have caused a lot less harm than good this year.”
“I don’t think saving multiple worlds makes it OK that I brainwash innocent boys and girls for my harem.” Mostly girls, admittedly. While Geraldine was full-on lesbian, Daphne herself was somewhere in the upper half of the Kinsey Scale.
“Perhaps not,” Geraldine said with a conciliatory gesture. “But even so, you’re definitely on my Nice List. Merry Christmas, Daphne.”
“Merry Christmas, Geraldine.”
They opened their presents. For Geraldine, Daphne had designed a new, highly resilient charbonnite-based compound (charbonnite being the type of super-coal used by most technology in Geraldine’s native steampunk world), and gotten a skilled artisan to carve into it a beautiful rendering of the ceremony in which Emperor Napoleon the First had granted his noble title to the first Count Linventeur. She loved it.
For Daphne, Santa had provided a magical holly brooch. The attached instruction manual explained that while Daphne wore it, any girl who saw her and was naturally in favor of being mind-controlled by a cute girl she’d just met would feel an irresistible urge to kiss her. Geraldine thought it was a little passive-aggressive, but as Daphne loved it, she decided it was fine. And so, they had a merry Christmas and resumed their inter-dimensional adventures.
About a year later, the evil board of directors of a multinational toy company gathered all of Santa’s enemies together in a concerted effort to destroy him once and for all, and it took the timely intervention of a dimension-hopping snakewoman to save Christmas. But that is a story for another time.