The Goblin King surveyed his realm apathetically. As a creature of purest fantasy, he was posessed of vast powers. However, he was also severely limited in the use of those powers. He was a mere pawn, victim of the real people who controlled this world of fantasy. His existence depended upon belief- in himself, in fantasy, in magic in general. When there was no belief, his world stagnated, frozen into the same cycle of events over and over and over... He had just seen the girl take her baby brother away from him for the thousandth time, perhaps the ten thousandth. As always, he was unable to do anything about it- unable to sway the girl to his side this time, unable to ease his loneliness with a companion, no matter that she would be an irritating one.

He produced a crystal globe, practicing with it to while away the time until he had to begin the endless cycle once again. No one guessed how much effort went into that seemingly effortless trick, how many hours of practice. The globe traveled around his hand, up and down his arm, flowing seamlessly with the illusion of free will...

Then it dropped. He let it vanish before it could impact with the unforgiving stone of his kingdom. What was that? Surely it couldn't be... But it was. Words. Addressed to him.

Goblin King, Goblin King... I entreat thee, rescue me from despair...

"Odd," he mused aloud. "I have not heard these words before." He felt a rush of excitement. At last, someone believed in him! At last, he could break the endless cycle and have a new experience!

He shifted into his owlshape and followed the call to its source. A young woman- older than the last girl, but still young- knelt on the bank of a pond. He settled to a tree branch and watched her closely. She had been crying, that much was plain from the tear-tracks on her cheeks. She was dressed all in black- a good sign for him, perhaps she was not another goody-two-shoes. Her hair was long and wavy, hanging well below her waist. He noted with alarm that she seemed ready to cast herrself into the deep pool and shifted into his human form.

"Who calls me from my kingdom?"

The words had an immediate and startling effect. The kneeling woman jumped up and spun around so quickly that she nearly fell into the water. "Oh!"

"You act as though you did not expect a response to your summons," he observed, gliding slowly towards her. His black velvet and satin garb fluttered in the breeze. He took a clue from his own appearance as to what kind of person this was, for her expectations shaped him even as her belief allowed him existence.

"I- uh- Your Majesty! I didn't think you would come, I..."

"I am here now, mortal woman. What is it you seek of me?"

"Salvation," she breathed, grey eyes locked on his own. "Take me from this place, from this pain and betrayal..."

"And if I should do this..." he said, with a smile, "what is in it for me? You bring no offering, no reason for me to do as you ask."

"I bring only myself, O King. Unworthy though I am, I ask that you grant my request..." Her voice trailed off at his open appraisal.

He licked his lips. "Do you know what you are offering?"

She gulped, nodded mutely.

"Very well, then... what is your name?" The predatory gleam in his eyes made her shiver.

"Mara," she whispered.

He gestured with one arm, and the world melted away into a royal bedchamber. He noted, with pleased surprise, that he had finally been able to break free of the boring castle which had held him prisoner for so long. Mara's eyes widened, then she threw back her head and laughed.

"You did it! You really did it!"

"Of course I did, my dear- how could I resist such an invitation? But now..." and he licked his lips again. "You shall pay the price."

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