This scene contains graphic violence and death, and brief homophobia.
To the outside world it seemed Loupland was covered in a perpetual snow.
In the spring, however, Loupland thawed just like the world beyond the arctic sea.
Green grasses peered from under their blanket of snow. Flowers, covered in cold dew, rose from the earth, seeking the returning sun. It was the eye in the storm that seemed to consume the little country. A respite from the blizzards. In days gone by, the folk would have come out to till the fields and hold markets and dance under the festival wreaths.
Times changed, but at least the children still laughed and played.
That spring, a little girl from the village decided to go climb the mountain. She did not climb far, but she climbed far for a child. For a child, she felt she had climbed the entire mountain, in her kirtle and smock, getting dirty, laughing aloud and alone. She climbed over big boulders and ran up little hills and after an hour or two she could look back and see the village below her like a little brown square etched on the green and white earth.
On that day and atop that climb, the little girl met a demon on the mountain.
She was scared at first, to see the creature bundled up in a cloak, huffing and puffing and making noises to scare her away. But her curiosity led her to draw nearer to the monster and to stare into its eyes, and she laughed and called it a little imp and ruffled its cloak.
“I’m not an imp.” said the creature dejectedly.
“Can I stay here and play?” asked the village girl.
“Whatever. Don’t tell anyone about me.” replied the imp.
She returned the next day, and found the imp again and brought some food.
She found the imp not wanting for food, its lair strewn with frozen bones.
She returned the next day and brought the imp toys since it was clearly a child.
She found the imp to be a girl by her choice of a doll, which she clung to tightly.
She returned the next day and brought the imp a kirtle and a little smock.
“I don’t wanna dress up.” said the imp dejectedly.
“Will you dress up for me?” asked the village girl.
And the imp dressed in the kirtle and smock, but kept her cloak wrapped around herself.
“I’ll come back with more tomorrow!”
“You really do not have to.”
She returned the next day having brought a blanket, stitched up into a cloak.
“Will you wear this for me?” asked the village girl.
She helped the imp into her new cloak.
She found the imp had a furry little tail, and she wagged her own furry little tail.
Day after day, the village girl awakened early, ate her porridge and drank her milk quickly, and ran off laughing and smiling to the mountain to play with her newfound friend. She showed her friend many things from the village, fruits and toys and sweets. The imp barely played, choosing mostly to watch, but it was enough that she remained. She followed the village girl wherever the village girl wanted, and they explored the caves and crevices of the mountain, and climbed higher and lower, and had fun.
One day the imp stopped the village girl and spoke to her in a new voice.
“Want to see something strange?”
“Yes! Show me!”
Eager to learn anything at all about her new friend, the village girl followed the imp to a spring formed out of thawing ice, where the imp reached down into the water, and took from it a big fistful of frost. As her hand rose from the water, the spring froze where the fist had entered, the little waves and ripples on its surface etched hard in the ice.
She really was a demon! A demon that could do witchcraft! It was amazing!
Never had the village girl been this excited.
“Promise me you’ll keep it a secret.”
“Don’t tell anyone I’m here.”
“I won’t! I never have!”
And so the village girl returned home, and every day she would leave for the mountains to play again, and she enjoyed many moons of the thaw season in this fashion. But the thaw season was too short for the village and too short for the girl. Soon the snows began to blow over Loupland once more, and the thaw season, and its thaw jobs began to wane.
Despite this the village girl was resolved. Whenever she had no lessons or finished them early, she would put on her coat, put on warm leggings and thick boots, and she would go out, though the mountain was treacherous and slippery. Though she even took a few bumps, the village girl was very brave and made it to the Imp’s hideout without fail.
“Stop coming here.” Said the imp.
“No! Lets play.”
Reluctant as always the little imp would play with the village girl.
“Soon we’ll be separated by the ice. Or something else.” said the imp.
“No! Lets play.” replied the village girl.
She made a great effort to meet her friend whenever she could.
However, the village around her was changing. With the coming of the snow, there were more people walking the street with nothing to do, crowding the shops and bars, being loud. There was a lot of tension in the air, and it felt dangerous to go outside, but the village girl kept going, heedless of anyone’s caution. Her routine went unchanged.
One day, however, without her noticing, three men followed her right to the mountain.
They had bottles in their hands, and strange expressions on their faces.
“Every bloody day you leave the village, and come here, for what? Ain’t nothin’ here.”
“Little girls shouldn’t be running around making a racket when the village is struggling.”
“You’re too carefree! It pisses everybody off. What’s up here that’s so special?”
They reminded the village girl of her own father; drunk, jobless, shouting every word.
She felt very nervous, and could not answer their questions, and it made them irate.
“Didn’t your mother teach you respect? Huh? You think you can look down on us?”
One of the men shoved the girl down at the maw of the imp’s cave, and she cried.
In the next instant, the imp stepped out from the shadowed rocks.
She gazed coldly at the men and they gazed quizzically back at her.
“Who’s this? Why she hiding out here? Who’s daughter is she?”
“I’m nobody’s daughter. Go away.”
Confused, the drunks commiserated while the imp stared all of them down.
“Huh? What’s with that tone, you brat? You think you can talk to us like that?”
All three men had emptied their bottles and held them like clubs.
Across from them the imp stood unfazed.
Her tail stretched straight behind her, and her ears were raised in alert.
Meanwhile the village girl tried to calm everybody down.
“She’s not bad! She plays with me! She’s just living out here. She doesn’t mean any harm.”
“You shut up, you brat. You wanna get hit again?”
One of the men raised an arm to strike the village girl with cruel ease.
In mid-air, the arm stopped moving.
The Imp’s eyes turned icy blue.
Suddenly the man started to scream.
His raised arm started to shake, and his whole body contorted in pain. Dark black veins threaded visibly through her skin, becoming harder and sharper as if the blood inside them was thickening, hardening, stretching. Everyone present watched in horror as the man’s arm started to peel away along lines of the sinews like a blossoming flower of skin and gore, and the stem, blood frozen sharp right under his skin, glowing, and glowing!
The captive man was in such pain and terror that he could not scream anymore. He slobbered and twitched and hung as if his arm was dangling from an invisible shackle, suspended by some unknown force like a sack of meat, the blood in his veins freezing.
“Aatto no!” shouted Petra, little village girl Petra who only wanted everyone to get along.
“It’s a witch! It’s a witch! Kill her! Kill her!”
In an insane frenzy the remaining two men charged past their dying ally, bottles in hand.
“I’m sorry Petra, but you can’t hear what is in their disgusting heads like I can.”
Aatto, Petra’s friend, the mystical little imp of the mountain, raised her hand and without expression, pushed on the men and sent them flying off the mountainside, their bodies twisting and smashing and clinging to the snow and rock, collecting into balls of slush and blood. Blood drew from her nose and from her eyes, her glowing, icy-blue eyes.
Petra saw it, the blue steam that emanated from Aatto whenever she committed this sin.
She rushed to her friend and hugged her around the waist, weeping openly into her.
“Why are you crying?” Aatto shouted angrily. “They were going to hurt you!”
“I’m not crying for them.” Petra said, sobbing and screaming. “I’m crying for you!”
At Petra’s touch, the steam started to calm, and Aatto started to shake. She wept a little.
“Shut up, Petra. I did a good thing for once. I did a good thing.” Aatto muttered.
Ayvarta, Solstice Desert — Conqueror’s Way Approach
“Aatto! Open up!”
Atop a wooden staircase, Petra banged on the door of the camp’s command center module, a small air-conditioned mobile home set on the bed of a tank transporter. She saw beads of water dancing on the shuttered windows, and could feel air coming from under the door, so she knew Aatto was inside. She banged on the door twice, but there was no response. Behind her, General Von Fennec tapped his feet on the step impatiently.
“Why did she lock herself in here? I’ll have you both know this is my command center!”
Petra sheepishly turned to the General with her hands clapped together as if in prayer.
“Ah, well, Aatto really doesn’t like the heat, anything above 20 celsius is bad for her see–”
“Get that door open this instant, and that punk out in the desert fighting! Now!”
Petra twisted sharply back around to face the door and started to twist the handle.
She brought a foot up to the door and kicked it, doing little to move it.
Though she had basic combat training, Petra Hamalainen Happydays was not a fighter, but a support officer. Specifically, a radio operator, as well as deputy to Lieutenant Aatto Jarvi Stormyweather. She was, compared to the tall and fit Lt. Stormyweather, smaller, plumper, and far less capable of battering down a door. She stopped for a moment to tie her golden hair up into a ponytail, her tail swishing to and fro with excitement.
This pause to gather herself before her next attack prompted Von Fennec to scoff.
“Good god you’re all so useless. Out of my way!”
Von Fennec pushed Petra aside, and put his shoulder up to the door.
In the next instant, the General charged the door, and the door suddenly opened.
Von Fennec tumbled into the room, smashing into the carpet.
Petra stood at the doorway, her hands raised in alarm.
“Petra,” someone mumbled in an aggrieved-sounding tone.
Inside the command center, behind Von Fennec’s desk, was Aatto herself, seated sloppily on a rotating chair with her arms dangling, her head thrown back. Her black uniform jacket and shirt were both unbuttoned down to the belly, bearing glistening brown skin and a hint of muscle — and well over a hint of her breasts, her brassiere’s central clip snapped apart so as to almost fully bare them also. Her hair was down, long and black. She was sweating like, well, a dog; all of her body was profusely moist, and her icy blue eyes looked like they would roll back into her head. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth.
“Petra, I’m dying.” Aatto said. “Petra it’s 44 degrees. I am going to die here.”
Sighing, Petra wiped sweat from her own brow and maneuvered around the fallen Von Fennec as carefully as she could. She rushed to Aatto’s side and immediately fastened her brassiere back and started to unbutton her shirt and jacket, trying to save her dignity.
“Aatto you’re an officer now! And in an army of men! You can’t behave this way!”
“Petra, I’m absolutely going to die. I am melting.” Aatto mumbled.
She fixed Petra with a pathetic look. She had absolutely beautiful eyes, even then.
Petra tried not to stare too deep into them as she fixed the Lieutenant back up.
“Aatto, you slob! You barbarian!”
Petra sighed again, and behind her, Von Fennec helped himself up from the ground.
“You have a mission, you witch! You monster! Go out there this instant.”
“Petra, I’m so hot.” Aatto said, ignoring Von Fennec.
Von Fennec grit his teeth, while on the chair Aatto swooned and slumped.
Petra raised a hand to Aatto’s brow and found her blazing hot.
She couldn’t spot any of the blue steam, the sign that Aatto had overdone it with her ESP.
So it was not a supernatural malady — that fact scared Petra even more.
She could, somehow, heal Aatto’s self-inflicted psychic wounds. But she couldn’t heal this.
“She’s burning up, General!” Petra said.
Von Fennec stood, silent, stupefied.
“If I lose her, and the Vishap, and Von Drachen. My career– no, I’ll be over! I’ll be killed!”
He rushed to the desk and started shaking Aatto.
Petra grabbed hold of him and shoved him back.
“This isn’t helping, General!”
“Do something Petra! Do something for God’s sake!”
“I regret so much. I’ll never get to marry Petra.” Aatto said.
Von Fennec blinked and stopped struggling. Petra covered her mouth, scandalized.
“WHAT?” She then shouted.
“We’ll never get to raise a litter of pups–”
“EXCUSE ME?” Petra shouted again.
Von Fennec took a step back from the chair and rubbed a hand over his mouth.
He then suddenly kicked the chair, knocking it from under Aatto.
“Lieutenant Stormyweather, I order you to assault Conqueror’s Way this instant! Your sexual deviancy will be overlooked if you succeed!” General Von Fennec shouted.
On the floor, Aatto started laughing uproariously, and the room suddenly cooled.
It was as if all the heat of the desert had been extinguished with a thought.
“Will do, General Von Fennec! Just give me some water and a target.” Aatto said.
“There’s an entire goddamn river where you’re going! Move! Both of you!”
Petra, mortified, red in the face, and far more tantalized by these sapphic ideas than any good girl of Loupland should be, stormed off with her hands balled into fists, stomping.
Aatto raised herself off the ground, and looked out the door with distress.
“Wait, Petra! I wasn’t kidding! Let’s get married!”
She ran out the door herself, Von Fennec staring at her back with gritted teeth.
Like Petra, he too knew the weapon that lurked inside that oafish bush-tailed girl.