The Grey bounded through the endless woods, in the form of a great gray stag with sharp hooves and sharper teeth. The scent of his prey filled his nose, courage trying to hold up an all-consuming fear, and it both exulted and pained him at once. As always. It grew closer, and he breathed in triumph and regret as the hunt drew to a close, as he saw the small figure fleeing just ahead of him. A mighty leap carried him over the mortal, and he turned to face her as he landed. To her credit, though she gasped in surprise and fear, she skidded to a stop, and faced her doom bravely.
And then he paused, and as he stepped forwards, he dropped the mask, revealing an inhumanly beautiful visage, clad all in the greens and greys of a forest in midsummer, shadows chasing themselves across his features. He raised his mighty golden spear, and pointed it at her. â€œLittle Ghost, why are you in my woods?â€
For he knew this mortal, had seen her ofttimes in Lord Mallinâ€™s freehold over the past weeks since she had been taken. She was no prey, but a fellow slave, and the strangeness of a fellow in his hunting ground drove all thoughts of blood from his head.
Little Ghost bowed her head. â€œThe Lord told me.â€ She gestured. â€œHe said I must try to cross the woods.â€
â€œTurn back, child.â€ The Grey turned to leave. â€œI have no interest in a hunt without glory, but I must hunt any who dare cross my woods. So am I bound. Now go!â€
No.. The voice filled the woods, and the Grey staggered. Across from him, Little Ghost bowed her head, tears pooling at the corners of her eyes. She will continue fleeing. Now.
The Greyâ€™s jaw clenched. â€œMy Lord, you know that I am your faithful servant, but this is no hunt for me. What matters a child?â€
I have tired of her. But I will give her this chance. Run, Ghost.
The Grey sat down on the grass with a conviction that he did not feel. â€œA false hope is none. This hunt is not worth my effort.â€ He made a gesture with his free hand. â€œIf my lord will have you run away, Ghost, do so. It is no concern of mine.â€
As Little Ghost started to back cautiously away, the trees buckled under the sudden fury of the Lord, filling the waypoint. The Grey found himself forced to his feet, transforming back into the stag with which he hunted. I own your Heart, Grey! You will amuse me with a hunt!
â€œSo be it.â€ The Grey turned his snout towards Little Ghost. â€œI fear you must flee in truth, Little Ghost. Though it is no hunt worth the having, I am bound to obey my master. Rest well in your next life.â€
Little Ghost took two more steps backwards, then turned to run. Regret and familiar bloodlust rising in him, the Grey leaped to the attack.
Only to be battered to one side by a sudden lunge from the side. The stag rolled on the ground as the great hunting cat, silver and black, drove him off-course. She grinned a feral smile, shaking her head slowly. From behind her stepped a man, dressed from head to toe in silver, red, and black, with an amused smile on his face. â€œYour reluctance does you credit, I suppose. But now it is your turn to flee.â€
The Grey wanted to scream. He was the hunter, not the hunted. But then the cat roared, and he fealt something new â€“ fear. Turning, he fled into the woods, not knowing or caring that he remained in his hunting form. With another roar, the cat gave pursuit, tracing him through the woods.
With a slim smile, the strange man stepped forwards, kneeling to look at the girl. She shivered, meeting his eyes, and he nodded to her. â€œAre you alright, small one?â€
After a moment, she nodded. â€œAre you part of the lordâ€™s Court?â€ It was strange. Though she could see the points on his ears, and his beauty was undeniable, there was something comforting about him that she had never felt around the Court. He feltâ€¦ human.
And his laughter promised joy, not pain for some other person. â€œHardly. I have my own household. I am come to break this one and remove its power.â€ He paused. â€œThough I wouldnâ€™t call the Garnet Household here a court. And what is your name?â€
â€œI have no name.â€ The girl shrugged. â€œLord Mallin stole it from me. Iâ€™m justâ€¦ Little Ghost. Because I died the day my name was lost.â€
â€œDid you, now.â€ The lord nodded slowly. Standing, he held out his hand, with that strange, inviting smile. â€œWell, then. I think itâ€™s time we went and won that name back for you, Little Ghost. Do you think you are brave enough to come with me?â€
After a few moments, she took a deep breath and nodded. The man smiled deeply. â€œExcellent. Letâ€™s go, then.â€
For a few minutes, the two walked in silence, passing through the now-empty woods. Finally, the girl spoke. â€œWhat about your cat? Will he be alright?â€
â€œOh, my little angel will be very well, never fear. Sheâ€™ll meet us there, unless I miss my guess. Sheâ€™s just testing that strange warrior.â€
â€œThe Grey?â€ The man raised an eyebrow, and the girl shrugged back. â€œNone of us have names, here.â€
â€œPetty.â€ The man nodded. â€œBut yes, the Grey.â€
Little Ghost nodded again, looking over the stranger. â€œAre you a god?â€
The man laughed. â€œAnythingâ€™s possible.â€