Hok sharpened his sword and fantasized. He wanted to get into a great adventure- one where he goes off shirtless, all muscley with his giant sword and hacks his way into some Realm of Darkness or Land of Night, through huge, frightening and preferably grudge-bearing monsters to rescue a damsel in distress.
The damsel should be beautiful, royal and predisposed to gratitude. Maybe she got into distress because of some momentary bewitchment or moral dilemma or even just kidnaped by a dragon. Maybe she allowed herself to be taken hostage to save a baby! A baby with a destiny! Yeah, some prophecy spoken of in mangled couplets:
When ten years old your age does reach
You must defend your crown from the creature creach
Something like that. Although as Hok thought about it he realized he didn't necessarily want his damsel to be way more nobly virtuous than he himself was, because the whole point was to impress her. And save her. Which would also impress her.
Ideally Hok would find himself nearly mortally wounded and facing some final, nigh-invulnerable foe, the boss of the underworld or a rhinowyvern or something like that. After an epic battle full of reversals and heart-stopping heroics on Hok's part, he would finally vanquish this enemy, and, gasping for breath, maybe spitting up blood, he would reach the damsel and unchain her.
In rapturous gratitude, she would fall into his arms, breathe "Oh Hok!" (somehow she would already know his name- undoubtedly his fame and reputation preceded him) just as he collapses into a coma. Well, maybe not a coma because he would need to regain consciousness fairly quickly, on account of the demon king or whatever would rise up, surprisingly not dead after all, or more likely undead and reanimated.
The damsel would bravely and spunkily try to defend Hok but she would trip or something and it would be up to Hok to get up and save the day. Again.
Hok looked at his sword. It was about as sharp as it was going to get. Which wasn't very sharp at all. He wasn't even really supposed to have it, being a humble archaeoherd. His herd at the moment consisted of three archaeo sows and a calf, all munching placidly. Like they always did. So Hok used his sword to kill boredom, since he had no enemies to speak of.
His pasture where he grazed his archies was the site of an ancient battleground, so he would occasionally find rusted weapons and bits of armour. The good stuff had been looted ages ago, but Hok had been thrilled to find his little sword. He threw it, knifestyle, into the ground. When he retrieved it he saw that he had dislodged something kind of shiny. He poked it out of the ground.
It was a jewel. But not any kind of jewel Hok had ever seen. The inside of it glowed like green lava, though it wasn't hot to the touch. He tried to rub some dirt off of it, and it broke.
From the jewel emerged a nightmare, a fire demon if fire could be the color emerald. Hok screamed, and threw his sword at it. It bounced harmlessly away and landed in the dirt.
"Easy little one," said the monstrosity. It had a pleasant voice. "My name is Mangerog. You have freed me, and now I am bound to grant you a wish. Haven't you heard the stories?"
Hok's heart was still beating double time and he was shaking so bad he couldn't answer.
"Shhh. It's alright. Does my appearance frighten you? I can change it." Its visage became that of a kind looking, matronly woman with greenish skin and hair. "See? I'm your friend. I'm not even one of those trickster gods that twist your wish and turn it into ashes. I'm just here to help." She laid a hand on Hok's shoulder.
"Time, however, is short, so please. Tell me your wish."
Hok told her his fantasy.
"I see," she said, "That's . . . doable, certainly. It's just that, are you sure that's what you want?"
"With all my heart."
"I mean, you may think that, but honestly, this wish will come at the cost of your soul. I don't mean that is the price I will charge you, because my help is free. I mean that granting you this wish will change who you are. Your wit, your thoughtfulness. Your very ability to dream these dreams!"
"It is my wish."
She sighed. "Easy enough. And to prove that I am no trickster, I will return to you in one year's time to reverse the spell if that is your desire."
Her magic was more than equal to the task. Some of the details were more cliched than his fantasy, and some less. So it more or less cancelled out and came out equal. She couldn't find any real-life women that fit all his vapid stereotypes, so she simply transmogrified a lamp. Hok never noticed.
A year later Mangerog strode into King Hok's castle, leading a herd of archaeotherium. Kind of a nice touch, a little theatrical perhaps, but calculated to remind Hok of who he truly was.
She barely recognized the person on the throne before her. Physically he was different, of course, that had been her doing. All muscle and shiny sleek perfection. A perfect match for the "lady" who sat beside him in "her" own throne. But his aura was different, and that was the true measure. She had warned him.
"Milord, it is I, Mangerog, and I have returned to you as I promised I would."
King Hok looked quizzically at her. "What manner of strange beast are you? We have beings of all kinds in these lands, from elves to ogres, and verily, I can say I have not seen your like before. And you say I know you?"
"Yes, lord. You do. Behold your sword, which you discarded in the field a year ago when we first met. I bring it to you now." She withdrew the weapon, hilt-first and offered it to Hok's guardsmen, who sniffed it warily. One of them presented it to Hok.
A glimmer of recognition troubled his face.
"I have come to offer you your soul back, Hok. Your life. All you need do is ask."
Hok looked around at all that he ruled. Then at his sword, his archys, and Mangerog.
"I know you not, creature. Begone with you before I set you to the dungeon."
Mangerog nodded and turned to leave.
"Wait!" It was the woman on the throne. "I . . . this doesn't feel real to me. It never has. Please. I know you did something. Can you change me back?"
Mangerog nodded, and it was so. Hok was left holding a lamp and Mangerog deemed it wise to go.
- Nathan Waddell