"Who goes there?" spoke a strong male voice from Maxwell's left.
He swerved his head around and found himself face to face with a hamster with ash gray fur. On the sides of a black stripe that dripped from his forehead to his nose, two yellow eyes gleamed.
"I asked you, who goes there?" spoke the figure again. After a minute or so, he spoke again. "Are you deaf? I'm asking for an introduction!"
"M-Maxwell!" Maxwell blurted out after a long pause. "My name's Maxwell."
The figure looked amused. "Right then, Maxwell. What business do you have here?"
"Nothing." Maxwell said instantly. "N-nothing at all!"
"Hmmph," the hamster sniffed. "I doubt that. The barrier that protects this village is strong. Only one with true intent to be here may pass."
Maxwell was silent for a minute, but then said, "I'm looking for a hamster named Fuzenko."
"Hmm," the hamster sighed with a slightly shocked look on his face. "Few know me by my real name. Unless, of course, they have met me before. Tell me, mortal, have we met before?"
"N-no." Maxwell stuttered. "But I'm glad I've found you. I need to know how to break the curse that binds Sandy!"
"Curse?" Fuzenko said lazily. "What curse might you be speaking of?"
It was Maxwell's turn to sigh. "This won't be easy." He whispered to himself. "Sandy. She's got tiger stripes."
"I think I know who you speak of." Fuzenko said, rubbing his chin. "But I knew her by another name."
"What other name?" Maxwell asked, listening intently.
"Nothing." Fuzenko said. "I knew her as the one with no name."
Maxwell looked severely puzzled. He could try to understand this later. He needed to get to the point.
"That's all fine and dandy," he said. "But I need to know how to break the curse!"
"As the saying goes," Fuzenko smirked. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. I will lift the curse, but it must be replaced onto someone else."
"Me!" Maxwell cried. "Save Sandy, and in return, I'll allow you to curse me instead."
Fuzenko looked taken aback. "Why would one such as yourself put yourself forward in order to save such an ordinary girl?"
Maxwell hesitated as a blush crept up into his face. "I love her." He stated, staring into the blinding whiteness of the snow.
"I do not understand such petty mortal emotions." Fuzenko spat. "But very well. When you meet this girl again, her curse will be lifted and another curse shall be placed onto you."
"Will I end up like Sandy?" Maxwell asked.
"Who knows?" the demon smirked again. "I said another curse, not the same one as hers."
"Are you perhaps going back on the agreement?" Fuzenko asked.
"O-of course not!" he cried, looking slightly offended. "Sandy is the most important thing in the world to me! I won't let her continue under these circumstances."
"Fine." Fuzenko nodded. "The deal is done."
"Aren't you going to curse me?" Maxwell asked.
"Didn't you hear me earlier?" Fuzenko spoke harshly. "When you meet with this girl again, it will take effect. That's all you need to know."
Maxwell stared into the snow. He thought of a few more questions, but when he looked up, Fuzenko was gone.
He was about to begin the long walk back to Sandy's house, but something peaked his interest.
"This is it." He realized. "That fairytale the teacher told us! It really happened! Then that means…"
Maxwell looked around. Nothing but white could be seen from every angle. He scanned again, and again, and finally he saw a glint of gray amidst the mass of colorless snow.
He continued in the direction of the gray speck for a few minutes. It grew larger as he gained closeness. The object seemed to be around Maxwell's size.
He finally came up right next to the gray bit. He knew it was only a hole in the snowy blanket that covered the object. He brushed the snow aside, revealing a stone statue of a hamster girl, her eyes filled with a calm yet sad happiness, and her paws stretched up towards the sky.
"Here it is…" Maxwell breathed. "The statue of-"
A sharp intake of breath followed as Maxwell's eyes trailed upward and stared into the face of the statue.
A look of pained horror and misunderstanding crossed his face as he noticed the surprisingly familiar stripes…
When her eyes opened, all Sandy noticed was how cold it was.
She tried to pull her blanket around her, but she found that there was no blanket at all.
"I must have fallen asleep." Sandy told herself. "But this isn't where I fell asleep, was it?"
She looked around. Everything was bright white, and she felt a shivery chill pass through her body as the icy wind hit her.
"Where is this place?"
She looked around the place. There was absolutely nothing to be seen. Everything was white. But… there! Amongst the snow, far away, she saw a small speck of brown, and a glint of gray.
Sandy didn't know why, but at that second she felt like she needed to run towards what she saw. And she did, she ran. She didn't stop until the brown and gray were in view.
"Maxwell?" she called. Indeed, Maxwell was kneeling at the foot of the gray object.
Sandy raced to his side. He smiled at her, but it was a shaky, weak smile.
"Hi Sandy…" he said, his eyes teary. "Y-you never told me…"
"Told you what?" Sandy asked. In reply, Maxwell shifted his gaze towards the face of the statue.
"It's that statue from that fairytale." Sandy mouthed. "But that's…" she paused as her eyes grew wide. "That's me, isn't it?"
Maxwell nodded. "But there's s-still some things that I d-don't understand." He shuddered.
Sandy didn't know what she was doing, but the feeling inside her told her to place her paw on the side of the statue.
Instantly her head was filled with many phrases, pictures, and sounds. It was all too much to handle. She fell to the ground, crying out in pain.No…
This isn't real!
I understand everything now.
It wasn't a fairytale after all…
And the nameless one…
This is all a bad dream.
I'll wake up any second…
But she wasn't dreaming. She was shaking violently.
"Maxwell?" she said. "I-I'm scared! I don't know how I can feel it, with Fuzenko and all, but I'm terribly afraid. Afraid of the truth. I finally get it, but now I wish I didn't…"
Fear. Maxwell thought. She's regaining her feelings. I knew I felt weaker than before…
Maxwell cradled her in his arms. "It's okay Sandy." He said calmly. "Tell me everything."
"I remember it now." Sandy began. "I lived in this village a long time ago. I was going to get my prophecy read, but I ran out before it could be given. The Foreseer told everyone I was possessed, and no one talked to me."
"I was truly the Nameless One. For the next six years, not one word was spoken to me. But one day, I met a boy. He was funny, and nice, and we were friends from the start. I began to like him in a way I never imagined. One day, he proposed to me, and the next day we were engaged to be married."
"But it was bad luck. He was called into battle the day before our wedding. He left me with nothing but a promise that he'd be back someday. And so, on his word, I waited. I stood on the cliff over the sea, constantly scanning the waters for the little boat that would bring him back to me. But he never came back…"
"Of course, I found out after a long time that he was killed in the war. But I didn't cry. I knew I'd meet up with him again. So I kept waiting. I remained at my spot by the sea, looking out over the blue depths. But this time, I refused to eat. I just stood there, night and day. I never left, not once. Eventually, I ran out of strength, and collapsed."
"When I awoke, it was dark. It came across to me that I had died. But then I met Fuzenko. He made a deal with me. He said that he would grant me eternal life until I met my true love. I agreed to the deal without looking for the fine print. He said, 'When true love is found in one place, it will be lost again in another.' And so, when you said you loved me, the curse took effect, and I was unable to love."
Sandy looked up at Maxwell. He had more tears now. He heart almost broke at the sight of his weeping face.
"But now," she said. "I don't know why, but I'm starting to feel again."
So… Maxwell thought, as he felt some energy drain from his being. The curse…is finally lifting…
"Maxwell…" Sandy said. "I noticed something. I wasn't able to feel it for a while, but now it's crystal clear to me now."
Sandy closed in on Maxwell and their lips met in a tragic kiss.
"I love you." Sandy smiled. "The curse took place when you said you loved me. You're my true love."
"Thank you Sandy…" he whispered, feeling the last of his strength drain. "I love you too. That's all I needed to hear from you… Now I can rest easy…"
And with that, he close his eyes.
"Maxwell?" Sandy asked. "Maxwell? This isn't funny! Open your eyes!"
Maxwell did not respond.
"No…!" Sandy whispered. "You can't…!"
Her eyes brimmed with water, and the warm tears fell down into the snow.
"More fake tears." Sandy said. "But what's this feeling eating away inside of me? It hurts! I feel worse than I've ever felt before…"
"You're sad, aren't you?" said a melodic voice from above.
Sandy looked up from the form of Maxwell. A white hamster with a shining halo and wings drifted downward and landed in the snow beside Sandy.
"I'm Harmony, tee hee!" giggled the hamster.
Sandy knew Harmony could be trusted. "Harmony, why? Fuzenko took away all my emotions, but I can feel fear, and love, and now sadness. Why?"
Harmony looked gravely down at Maxwell. "That boy's a special one, isn't he?"
"What do you mean?" sniveled Sandy.
"He made a deal with that pest, Fuzenko." Harmon responded. "He lifted the curse placed on you, and in return, he was cursed instead. He must truly care about you."
Sandy didn't try to stop the tears. "Maxwell…" she whispered. "I never wanted you to love me back. I wanted to admire you from afar, so I could still love you. And now, I'm as far away as I can get…"
Harmony snapped her fingers. "You are never truly far away from the ones you love dear!" she smiled. "This is where you come in."
With that, she raised her wings and sailed off into the sky. Sandy watched her fly away until she heard a muffled, "S-Sandy?"
"Maxwell!" she cried, flinging her arms around him. "You're alright! I'm so glad!"
He smiled up at her. "Yeah, I guess I am. But how? I thought Fuzenko cursed me."
"We had a little help." Sandy smiled.
"But this is great!" Maxwell sat up. "Now we can begin living normally! We can forget this ever happened and…" Maxwell's eyes suddenly filled with horror. "Sandy?!?"
Sandy looked down. Her small hamster body was beginning to fade. She looked at Maxwell.
"I…was afraid of this." She said. "Fuzenko said that I would have eternal life until I met my true love. But now that I've found my true love…" She trailed off with a trace of sadness in her voice.
It dawned on Maxwell what was happening. "No! This can't happen!"
"Maxwell…" Sandy said, as her body became lighter. "I won't forget you…"
And she faded away. Suddenly, a bright light shone around the statue. Maxwell shut his eyes. When he opening them, the statue had changed.
The statue's stone eyes were closed now, and a smiled hung from her stone lips. Her paws were folded up across her heart.
Maxwell's tears faded into a sad smile. "I won't forget you either Sandy."
And the snow continued to fall as Maxwell walked away. And like the last time, the statue was covered with powdery white snow…
Maxwell entered the classroom with the best smile he could muster. He knew it would be hard to explain to everyone about Sandy.
He walked to the teacher's desk.
"Um, teacher?" he said. "About Sandy and the reason she isn't here today…"
"Sandy?" the teacher said. "I don't remember ever having a student named Sandy."
Maxwell looked confused. He walked up to Stan.
"Hey Stan, you remember Sandy right?"
"Who?" he asked.
"Your twin sister Sandy!" Maxwell cried desperately.
"Sister!" Stan laughed heartily. "That's a good one Maxwell."
"You have a very active imagination, Max." Pashmina stated. "But save it for your oral report. We were supposed to do a report on what we did over the weekend, remember?"
Maxwell nodded. He should have expected this. He opened his case and pulled out a stack of paper.
When it was his turn, he walked up to the front of the class.
"This weekend," he spoke. "I visited the Village of Eternal Snow."
"Oh, that fairytale place that we learned about a while ago!" Stan called. "It's real?"
"Yes," Maxwell responded. "Entirely real. And so is the story about the Nameless One."
He pulled out a picture and passed it around the room.
"This is that statue." Stan commented again. "The one of that girl."
"Hey! She looks a little like you, Stan!" Boss joked.
"It looks different though…" Pashmina noted. "The picture of the one in the textbook looked sort of sad, like she was waiting for something…"
Maxwell just nodded. "Well she certainly doesn't look sad." He said. And silently, he added to himself, "And she definitely found what she was waiting for…"