Monday, 24 December 2012

The Expedition: Epilogue

(The following constitutes the legible sections of a moleskin journal recovered at Site R-4 by HMLGEM.  The first page is erratic and scribbled, apparently written following the rest of the journal, and likely the final document written by the deceased, whose remains have been sent to Greenwich for aether-analysis)

Why write a diary that no-one would ever read? The thought occurred to me as I shiver in this bloody, guts-strewn hole in the ice, the heat given off by the discarded entrails of fresh kills providing little respite. I expect I shall have no more than a few hours. I hope they don't find me until then. I can only hope that should His Majesty's League for the Governance of Extraordinary Matters order a second mission, or deign us valuable enough for a rescue. Crozier's gone, our League retinue are gone. I pray that they discover this journal, and discover that this is the Joulutonttu's land. I only pray that they do not remember that their realm once spread farther...

I can hear them now. Must stop.  Must.... sleigh bells... laughing... bells... bells...

(The rest of the page is unreadable. Beside the remains was a map of King William Island, with the following written in blood over the landmass)

(What follows is the remains of the journal, date unknown: several pages are missing)

It's just Crozier, myself and the League now. Stanley set off south with the rest of the men. Two dozen died in the battle, including Fitzjames: only forty went south. God almighty, I hope they make it. That Thing on the Ice has slapped away shot and harpoon like chaff and straw, and they certainly couldn't outrun him. Crozier was confident we had a chance to carry out the mission, and briefed us on the little he knew.

The being which we Christians call Father Christmas and his elves, Crozier claimed, are a prehuman race, once the dominant race of Finland and the northern reaches of Scandinavia.  Their true name is unknown, but the people of Finland call them the Joulutonttu, "Winter Settlers," so named for their migratory pattern of appearing only in winter.  For much of the pre-modern age, they were unknown to the world: even the white-furred apes who would give rise to modern humanity knew nothing of their existence.  With the coming of the Ice, they spread further south than ever before, and reigned over what is now Scandinavia.

However, their dominion could not last forever, and they were invaded by the Sami - the descendants of a mysterious people of what would become the Yamal Peninsula - who travelled westward in the chaos of the Ice Age.  Centuries of fighting ensued, and eventually, the Joulutonttu were driven further and further north.  When the Ice Age ended, the surviving diaspora were spread across myriad islands and peninsulas, their unity gone. Nowadays, there are only isolated communities of the great tribal people, scattered throughout the Uttermost North of the world, such as Kaffeklubben Island, Kvitøya in Svalbard, Disko Bay in Greenland, and King William Island. The largest such community can be found in Korvatunturi in Lapland: it is believed to be the most ancient and holy of Joulutonttu places.

King William Island is the realm of Joulupukki. The Joulutonttu were once a tall, proud, handsome race of heroic proportions, but are now are small, dark, gnarled, misshapen creatures. It seems the so-called Bran Cult may have been onto something with their outlandish tales of "Worms of the Earth," "People of the Dark" and "Children of the Night," though the Joulutonttu do not appear to be related to those denizens of the deep places of Europe. Reindeer are central to their existence: beasts of burden, sources of food and fur, trade, even mounts.  Reindeer horns and relics adorn their garments, giving them a frightening and imposing appearance.  They wield great hooks festooned in macabre spiral designs of red and white, and the bells on their garments and clothing create a frightening, unworldly jingle that chills to the bone.

But one member of the race has retained a semblance of their greatness, albeit grotesquely and monstrously mutated. He is the Joulupukki - "Winter Goat" - larger and stronger than the others, sporting an impressive beard symbolising his authority as their king, warlord and alpha male. Around Midwinter, his cheeks swell and redden, his belly expands grotesquely, like the throat of a frog or a Great Firegatebird. At midnight, he roars a terrible, shuddering bellow akin to the macabre roar of the hippopotamus, his belly-sac quaking like a crashing dirigible. This precedes a period of violent and monstrous activity among the Joulutonttu, who visit the villages of Men further south. None are left alive. Once, each community had their own Joulupukki, and hundreds of tribes roamed the earth. The other tribes are now lost: the Joulupukki of King William Island is the last. It is well for the world that there is only one remaining.

There has been little contact with the Joulutonttu since the great winter wars of ancient Finland. Indeed, the very name and etymology has been altered and warped into modern meanings - now the most common translation is "Christmas Gnome," diluting the terror of the beings like so many examples of the fey and supernatural in these modern times. One wonders what Mr Hans Christian Anderson would make of them.  However, there are exceptions.

We came to the site, the portal to the Joulutonttu's realm. Evidently the hall's residents were out on the hunt. There was no sign of the great factory the League were hoping for, nor the riches and artefacts they sought.Just a great hall of ice, with dark red streaking through the frozen columns like grisly marbling, hunks of flesh and fur and bones strewn throughout, and unintelligible runes. At the head of the long table was a great throne of antlers and hide: built into it was a curiously smooth and unnaturally geometric block of black stone.

Crozier had enough. He was sickened by the death and misery and cold, and set about dousing the whole bloody place in oil. The League protested, citing the possible anthropological value, but Crozier had none of it. Yet no flame lasted more than a second in that freezing Hall of Hell, even when the oil caught a spark: it just flickered out, as if some unseen hand smothered it. The fire in Crozier's heart was extinguished just as swiftly, and for a while we were all stricken by a chilling apathy.

Then we heard the bells.

Merry Christmas...

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