Disclaimer: I do not own Beauty and the Beast.

In an isolated winter forest somewhere in Europe, Anno Domini 1786…

A woman sat at a table, staring with unbroken concentration at a black ceramic bowl brimming with water. So intent was her gaze, she did not even flinch at the howling wind outside her single-roomed hut. Flecks of white snow occasionally found their way under the crack beneath the door, accompanied by blasts of freezing air that ruffled her gray skirts and equally gray hair, but she did not move to remedy this discomfort.

Nor did she seem aware of the squalor that surrounded her. A bed of rags in one corner was the only furniture besides the table on which the black bowl rested and the chair upon which the woman sat. Even the table was badly battered, its inclination to wobble remedied by piles of dead leaves under three of its four legs. The hut also smelled strongly. A visitor—had there been one on this most inhospitable of nights—might have first attributed the smell to the myriad hanging bunches of dried herbs that almost obscured the thatch of the ceiling. A second whiff of the air would have brought the undercurrent of mildew, old urine and dung to the nose. A third breath, if the visitor's nose had not already begun to clog from the strength of all the other smells, might have revealed one final aroma: old blood.

A ripple stirred the surface of the water. If possible, the woman's glittering golden eyes became even more intense. Her lightly lined skin shimmered a little with a sheen of sweat.

Slowly, so slowly the nonexistent visitor might have believed she was imagining things, an image took shape on the surface of the water. There was no sound to the image, but there was plenty of movement.

It showed a sickly young boy of about five or six, and a pretty woman in her late twenties. There was enough resemblance between them that they were clearly mother and son. Both wore extremely sumptuous clothing, particularly the mother. Her hair was piled to an astounding height on top of her head and powdered so heavily white it was impossible to tell its true color. They appeared to be arguing passionately; the mother scolding, the boy swinging between maturely holding his ground and stamping around the room in a childish rage. The mother flung up her hands in an exasperated gesture.

The view in the bowl expanded to show a room as opulent as the unseen watcher's surroundings were wretched. Gilding glittered from every surface. The walls were lined with expensive silk. A massive bed hung with magnificent curtains sat against one wall. Through the large glassed window, a light snow was visible, nothing compared to the blizzard outside the watcher's hovel, but enough to indicate that the seasons, at least, were the same.

An enormously fat man appeared at the door to the room, dressed as sumptuously as the other two. His entrance ended the argument, whatever it was about. The mother straightened and dipped a slight curtsy, the boy, though red in the face from his outbursts, reluctantly bowed. The man waddled into the room and kissed the woman on the cheek with gentle affection. She almost concealed her revolted expression when he touched her, but the boy noticed. Their unseen watcher noticed, too.

The man next beckoned to the boy. The boy came forward and the man patted his head absentmindedly. Standing next to each other, it was evident that if the boy were five times heavier than his present weight, he might bear as much similarity to the man as he did to the woman, marking this small group as a family unit.

The man spoke. Even in the small image it was clear he was asking what the argument was about.

The water in the bowl trembled in a particularly strong gust of wind from the crack under the door. Beads of sweat broke out on the watcher's face. After some struggle, the image cleared again to show the woman gesturing at the boy while the child glared with flashing blue eyes at both his parents. Then a drop of sweat rolled from the watcher's chin into the bowl, shattering the image as effectively as if a rock had been thrown point-blank at a mirror.

The image vanished. The woman gasped and sat back. She spent several long moments taking deep, steadying breaths. Then she seemed to gather herself. Cupping her hands around the bowl, she stared at it with the same intensity as before.

This time, a single image did not appear in the bowl. It was a series of flashing images that went by so fast there was almost no time to register one before a new one took its place. It showed images of starving people, of barren fields, of men speaking angrily to each other in taverns. The observer seemed particularly interested in the next image, that of a child-sized golden coffin. That image stayed in the bowl for several seconds, with enough time to see the same woman from the first scene weeping beside the little coffin. Then the images moved on to show an enormous hall full of well-dressed men arguing, large crowds breaking into a fortress, people waving flags and cheering in the streets, scenes that appeared to be trials and finally image after image of a device with a dropping blade, the blade covered in blood, severing the heads of person after person.

The watcher seemed to enjoy these images most of all. Keeping her intense golden gaze on the bowl, she could not prevent the slight, hungry smile on her lips.

At last, she closed her eyes. The images faded away from the water as subtly as they had appeared. The woman did not move for some time after that.

At last, she seemed to gather herself. Opening her eyes, she made as if to stand, but in so doing happened to catch her own reflection in the now-clear water.

She made a noise of angry indignation and put a hand to her hair. That hair, which when she first began to look at the image of the boy and the young woman had been the same darkish dull gray as her dress, had lightened several shades closer to white. There were a few new lines on her face as well. She traced the deepest line at the corner of one eye with a finger. Then she pushed the bowl away, splattering some water onto the table.

Rising from the chair, she picked up the bowl of water and carried it to the door, moving like an exhausted old woman. She managed to fling open the door dramatically, admitting the full power of the storm. The bunches of herbs tossed and rippled like a brownish sea above her head. The tiny room filled with whirling white powder.

The woman seemed not to notice the wind or the intense cold. She flung what was left of the water out into the air, which froze into a single graceful arc almost as soon as it left the bowl. The long, curved icicle fell into the snow on the ground and was instantly covered by wind and more snow.

The woman turned on her heel back into the hovel, slamming the door behind her. Luckily it was just sturdy enough that the force didn't take it off its hinges. Wading through the inch or so of snow that had accumulated on the dirt floor, she sat back down at the table, placing the empty bowl with care upon it.

"I cannot afford to use so much magic again. Not until it is time to reveal myself," she muttered. Her words, in contrast to her miserable surroundings, was cultured and educated. She balefully pulled a lock of whitish-gray hair in front of her eyes and examined it. Then she flung it back behind her shoulders. Reaching into the pocket of her dress, she produced a length of cord and bound her hair back so that she could no longer see it.

Reaching above her, she found a particular bunch of herbs and pulled it down. Thoughtfully, she broke off a few branches and idly began to chew them. Though her hair did not grow darker nor her face less lined, she did seem to gain more energy until her movements, at least, were as quick and graceful as a young woman's.

"I had hoped to wait several more years, until he was a bit older, a little more spoiled and corrupt of his own volition," she said to herself as she chewed. "But the fates, it seems, will snatch him out of my hands unless I act. It is unfortunate, but there is still much to be gained from this situation. If I do not act quickly, I shall lose him, and then I should be forced to choose another if I wish more power. This chance will not come again for quite some time."

Reaching again into her pocket, she produced a stone about the size of her clenched fist. Concentrating briefly, she stared at it until it began to throw off a significant amount of heat that finally combated the freezing cold. This effort brought no change in her appearance. With a satisfied sigh, she set it down on the table in the empty bowl and began to pull more bunches of herbs down from the thatch.

Author's Note: After several years' hiatus, I have returned to the Beauty and the Beast fandom at last, with another somewhat ambiguous fic, though without the potentially triggering material of Kissed By a Rose. The initial idea for this one came from a visit to Busch Gardens Williamsburg and the indoor 3D ride Curse of DarKastle, and those of you familiar with it will recognize some elements. After some discussion with the folks at the Bittersweet and Strange forum where I ironed out the more concrete ideas for this fic, and time off so that I could move and settle into a new job, I have begun it at last. It was such a cool idea that I didn't want to let it sit.

The title, btw, translates (I hope) as "Ice Creature" in German.