Writing villains is so much fun. Or maybe, deep down, I’m just evil. 😉

Either way, my ‘big boss’ is Lem’po from the Proto-Uralic religion. Most of what is known about that pantheon has been corrupted by Christian influences, thus Lem’po has been recast basically as a Lucifer stand-in. But some pre-Christian sources hint that he was far more complex, being the God of love as well as hate. Here from Chapter 4 is the connection I’ve created between Lem’po and the demon shapeshifters. 

Artem glanced up as if reading her thoughts. “I know what will take our mind off things. We should tell spirit stories.”

Aleskij snorted. “Do you think we are youngsters to be scared wide-eyed at a story?”
“Is that a challenge?” Artem replied, his eyes glinting. 

“Sure,” Aleskij said, reclining back. “Go ahead. Tell us of the Mara, the night pressers, who steal the breath from the chests of men as they sleep.”

Inari also repositioned herself so she could watch Artem; he was a great storyteller. 

“Ah yes, the skeletal women – locks disheveled, red gums grinning – who crawl over your bed just as you are falling asleep causing you to lurch upward in fear…”

Artem leaped forward and all three of them laughed. 

“I will tell you of the worst of them,” said Artem, “Louhi, ancient toothless dame of the Northlands. In the days of the ancients, you know how she bargained with Ilmarinen, the Godsmith, to make her the magical Sampo. In return, she offered her eldest daughter to be his. Well, Ilmarinen made the Sampo with its lid of many colors, a treasure beyond price. But miserly Louhi looked to get out of her end of the bargain. But who would help her trick a God when she had given her word? Who would join in something so dishonorable? Only the fickle, false-hearted one who gives lovelust with one hand and violence with the other: Lem’po.”

Inari could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. They were never to say the name lest they drew the Evil One to them. Aleskij sat forward. 

“Artem,” he said warningly.

“We are in runout!” Artem protestted. “For three days – and nights! – we do not have to follow the rules …”

“Yes, the King’s rules,” Aleskij argued. “Not the laws of the Gods!”

Inari looked out into the dark night and wondered if even now the Evil One was watching them.

“Have I scared you?” Artem asked mischievously. 

Inari giggled nervously. “Yes,” she admitted. 

But Aleskij would not back down. “Fine. Finish the story,” he challenged. “It’ll be on your head, not mine.”

Though it was Artem’s turn to be unsettled, he recklessly continued.

“Lem’po agreed to help Louhi and devised impossible wooing trials for Ilmarinen: releasing his herd of ill-tempered moose for IImarinen to harness, sowing a field full of vipers for Ilmarinen to plough. You know IImarinen did all that and more to win the maiden. But what is less known is what Louhi had agreed to do to acquire Lem’po’s help in the first place.”

He paused dramatically then whispered, “she had agreed to bear him offspring. But then angry at Ilmarinen’s success, she tried to refuse the Evil One. He forced his way.”

As Inari’s eyes again swept the darkness she wondered who had dared tell Artem this part of the story or if he was just making it up. The fire created flickering shadows along the brush and it was easy to imagine a pair of glowing red eyes …

“But Louhi the Mara was also half-mortal, half-wolf often stalking the night in search of innocent prey. So when she and the Evil One lay together without love, she bore him four shapeshifting demons who sprang from her fully formed. But they woge not just into wolves – any animal that men fear: lynx, ice bear, …”

Suddenly, they heard a distant sound. It could have been a scream. She was up, heart pounding, automatically stringing her bow.

“Now you’ve done it,” Aleskei whispered as the three of them melted back from the light of the fire. Several animals made sounds like mortal screams, but the lilt and trill of the evening cicadats had ceased. They stood, weapons out, straining every sense… 

Here is Lem’po as a gaming character and on the Godchecker website.

And if I’ve interested you in Mara here is a link.

Postscript: I got a lovely rejection note from an agent who said in part, “I found your query and sample pages well-written with a strong concept” and thinks “another agent is going to be intrigued enough to ask for the manuscript.” So I guess I’ll keep at it!

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