Pine needles crunched beneath the boy’s feet as he ran; somewhere behind him he could hear the cries of an angry mob, out for blood. His breath came in ragged gasps as his aching lungs heaved for air. Every so often a tree branch would scrape his face, but he never stopped running.
The glistening stars above, which were said to be the Celestial gods themselves, did little to alleviate his growing panic. If the gods really were looking down on him they were very likely laughing at his plight.
Just a few hours ago his life had been normal; he was Scott Summerset, squire to Lord Essex, a knight of the crown. In fact, rumour had it he was just a few weeks away from being dubbed a knight himself. None of that mattered now as his life had been ruined by a foul demonic curse.
He had been tending to his master’s steed, as he did every evening after riding and training with Lord Essex, when he heard quickly stifled cry for help. How he wished he had never heard it.
By focusing intently on all noise around him he could her someone talking very softly but menacingly from the other end of the stables. Without thinking he had run to the far end of the tables and burst through the door into a small store room.
What he found was Derek Langshire, nephew of Lord Essex, accosting a young woman. As Essex’s only heir, as the lord had lost his wife and child many years ago, Derek radiated an arrogance one would expect from a member of the royal family. It did not surprise Scott to find him here trying to force himself on a girl.
What did surprise him was that the girl was Emoyen, daughter of the stablemaster. Although he had admitted it to no one, he cared about Emoyen dearly. The young lady regularly aided him in tending to his master’s horse and the pair and formed a strong bond.
“Sod off Summerset,” spat Derek, menacingly, “the lady and I want to be alone,”
“Scott, please, I said no but he wouldn’t let me go…” Emoyen tried to say but Derek slapped her down.
“Learn your place you common tramp.”
The rage had built in Scott like an inferno; he could feel the anger burning behind his eyes until at least it exploded from them like twin beams of hellfire. The blast hit Derek square in the chest and hurled the young man through the wall behind him.
Emoyen cowered in the corner and screamed so loud it hurt Scott’s ears.
“What…arrrgghhh!” more crimson hellfire exploded from his eyes, blowing another hole in the wall and smashing a lantern. Flaming oil covered the wall and the hungry flames quickly began to spread.
The young squire was so bewildered by what was happening he didn’t notice Emoyen charging at him, swinging a wooden bucket. The bucket connected with his head and sent him stumbling back out into the stables.
“Get away from me!” screamed Emoyen, “You’re not my Scott! Leave this place you hellspawn!”
“Emoyen please, its me! I didn’t mean to…” Scott tried to say but his love swung the bucket at him again.
“Liar!” she screamed, tears streaming down her face, “you’re a changeling, a filthy devil child!” she swung the bucket at him when he tried to step closer.
All around them the flames we’re rapidly devouring the stables; smoke stung the young man’s eyes as the terrified cries of panicked horses assaulted his ears. Emoyen was right, he wasn’t human; he was a changeling child, a filthy creature in human form.
And so he ran, not from fear of retribution, but from the look of disgust and hatred in Emoyen’s eyes.
It wasn’t long until he could hear a mob of angry people moving through forest after him. Several loud barks suggested the hounds had found his scent. They likely had pitchforks and flaming torches too; mobs always had pitchforks and flaming torches.
With the threat of a brutal death on his heels he ran, with no real idea where he was going. Panic had sent him running blindly into the woods, and that panic would likely get him killed.
Once again he felt the burning pressure behind his eyes and the twin blasts of crimson hellfire erupted forth, obliterating several trees. The sound could be heard for miles, and surely enough the shouting of the mob intensified.
Onwards he ran, until his side ached so much he had to stop for air. Leaning against a tree, he sucked in the chilly air, ever aware of the advancing rabble. A rusting nearby had him snap to attention and reaching for a sword that wasn’t there. A figure came pushing through the undergrowth, Scott couldn’t make up his mind whether to fight or flee, until a familiar voice said, “Scott it’s me,”
Emoyen stepped into the small clearly leaving Scott completely stunned.
“Emoyen, what are you doing here?” he knew she despised him but he found it hard to accept that she would be at the head of the pack to track him down.
“Shhhh sweet Scott,” she said soothingly, “we need to get you away from these angry men,” she grabbed him by the hand and started leading him in away from the approaching mob.
The young squire’s world was being turned on its head again; less than an hour ago Emoyen would have burned him at the stake herself and now she was trying to lead him to safety. His exhaustion and the dramatic events of the past hour were playing with his senses; it was hard to stay focused.
“You…you hit me with a bucket…in the head,” he was in a daze, nothing seemed right.
“Shhhh, I wasn’t in my right mind,” she replied soothingly, “I’m sorry I called you a killcrop Scott,”
Things were starting to settle in his mind now that Emoyen was with him, especially when she spoke to him so soothingly. Lord Essex had always said his mind was as sharp as a blade, he never missed the small details, and this came in handy now.
He stopped suddenly, and Emoyen tugged on his arm, “Quickly Scott, they’re coming.”
“You never called me a killcrop,” he said, “You called me a changeling and a filthy devil child…”
“Scott I said I was sorry…”
“And how did you keep up with me without breaking into a sweat? You’re completely dry.”
Something coiled around his right ankle jerked him off the ground before he could react. His first instinct was some sort of animal trap, but he was proven wrong when came face to face with a goblin squatting in a tree branch. The thing that had ensnared his ankle wasn’t a rope; it was the creature’s elongated tongue.
Scott had battle against a goblin raid once and the creatures had never shown such an ability before. The goblin resembled the rest of its kind; four foot tall with leathery green skin, bat like ears and teeth like broken glass.
“Dammit Toad I had him!” cried Emoyen at ground level.
“He wasshh on to you Raven,” said the goblin awkwardly, as it was trying to talk with his tongue extended.
“This wasn’t the plan you disgusting little creature, you were supposed to wait down at the lake with the boat while I brought the boy.”
“We got bored,” said a much deeper voice from somewhere nearby.
From the shadows emerged an extremely large figure; it was the fattest ogre Scott had ever seen. In actual fact he had only ever seen one ogre before, but it had nowhere near the girth of this one. Like all ogres it stood at nine feet tall, with pallid skin and two upwards curving tusks. With arms longer than its legs it’s looked like a big hairless ape.
“Damn you Dook!” shrieked Emoyen, “I suppose you were looking for food again?”<
“Yep,” replied Dook simply, before picking something unrecognisable out of his greasy brown beard and eating it. Scott shuddered, as it vaguely resembled a human finger.
It was hard to concentrate with all the blood flowing to his head, but the young man looked down at Emoyen and asked, “Emoyen, what are you doing with these…creatures? What do you want with me?”
Emoyen rolled her eyes in contempt, “I thought a squire would be smarter,” and to Scott’s complete and utter shock, she changed.
Her silky pink skin rapidly turned a dark shade of blue, almost black, as her slightly plump form became lither and her long dark hair turned a bright shade of red. The simple peasant dress she was wearing melted away and shifted into a much more alluring white dress. In the time in took the young squire to gasp his love had transformed into an elf maid with a skin colour the likes of which he’d never seen before.
“W…what are you?” it wasn’t the first time that night he’d been stunned.
“The future Scott, and so are you” she grinned.
“What have you done to Emoyen?!” he demanded, although he was in no position to demand anything.
“Relax boy, she’s probably back at the village, crying because her sweetheart is a demon,” she put a sarcastic emphasis on the word demon, “I was sent to collect you and posing as that stable wench you’re so fond of was the perfect bait.”
“You were sent to collect me? By who?”
“He he he, Magnussh wantsh you boy,” cackled the goblin named Toad.
“Magnus?” asked a confused Scott.
“This is no time for questions boy,” the elf waved her hand dismissively, “you’re coming with us and you don’t have a say,”
“I’m not going anywhere with you…demon spawn!” As he spoke a chill wind suddenly picked up, rocking the tree Toad was crouched in.