"People of Fern Kingdom!" King Erasmus, donned out in his jewels, gold, and crown, silenced the busy courtyard. "I stand before you today to tell you which lucky soldiers are going to hunt down the shapeshifter!" A spring breeze passed over the courtyard's brick walls and blew his long brown hair. Birds soared overhead, flying in a perfectly straight V formation.
"Yeah!" shouted the villagers below the balcony. They clapped for their king. Their leather boots left dirt stains on the white brick.
Erasmus cleared his throat. "These four will visit the sites where the shapeshifter has been sighted, and whoever brings back his head will win a lifetime supply of gold coins!"
The villagers cheered like little children getting out of school.
"Thank you, thank you." Erasmus bowed. "Without further ado, give it up for Percival, Gawain, Axis, and Poe!"
The trumpet players on either side of the balcony's door blasted confetti from their instruments, right when four figures emerged from the shadows into the sunlight. The young men wore chainmail armor with silver tunics and brown belts. Except for one man, who hid his face and upper body under a black cloak.
He tripped over the blanket-like fabric and fell into the other men. All of them went down via the domino effect. They landed in a heap at Erasmus's feet.
"No! No! No!" shouted the man who wore the cloak. The collision knocked the hood off his… Wait, her head.
It looked like Evangeline had just climbed out of bed with her snarly, fiery-red hair. The freckles around her nose blended in with her tan skin because they were just as nervous as her.
Erasmus's deep brown eyes widened to the point they looked like they would burst.
The other men mimicked his reaction. There was dead silence on the balcony.
Eva tried to free herself from Axis's muscular arms, but his oh-so-handsome, perfectly symmetrical face distracted her. Small, red and yellow flames escaped her hair.
"Yipe!" the men yelled. They quickly untangled themselves and stood up.
Erasmus, just as shocked, clutched the balcony's golden railing. "Um," he called down to the courtyard, "we'll be right back."
Three days earlier
The scream snapped Eva awake. There she was, sitting at the bar's counter, with her beer mug next to her, and the display of different types of beer still very visible in front of her: whisky, rum, and more.
"Young lady, move!" Ernest, the forty-year-old bartender yelled.
"Wha-What?" Eva asked, hiccupping. She nearly fell off the wooden stool.
"Snake!" Ernest pointed at an eight-foot-long snake slithering across the counter.
What a magnificent creature it was! Its green and yellow scales looked abnormal with its bright blue eyes. The spikes on the end of its tail left marks on the counter's peeling wood.
"Yikes!" Eva did fall off the stool. The white hem of her blue dress fell over her blue headband, revealing her white pantyhose and black shoes. Eva calmed herself before her hair could burst into flames. She tossed her dress off her head.
The snake took her place at the bar. It stuck its face into her nearly-empty mug. How strange it was to see a snake drink.
Eva struggled to her feet. She stumbled through the crowd of evacuating customers, past tables and chairs that had been turned upside-down. She was one of the last people out. The top of her head touched the tavern's sign that read: The Dragon's Egg. Flames engulfed it like an inferno.
"Aw!" yelled a pregnant woman. "Nice going, Evangeline's Flame! That was my husband and I's favorite spot!"
Eva chuckled nervously. She turned to the angry customers. "Hey-Hey, at least we won't see an-any more of that sna-snake." She spoke too soon.
The snake slithered out of the building, just before the whole place caught fire. It carried Eva's mug over its tail.
The customers did not move. They let the snake carry on with its business. It vanished in a dirt hole under a few barrels of swords.
The bartender interrupted the awkward silence. "Is everybody out?" he asked.
The tavern continued to burn. Eva's intense flames lit up the whole night. They were so bright; they blocked out the star canopy in the moonless sky.
The pregnant woman mumbled, "I hate that shapeshifter," under her breath. She had no idea why it liked to frequently turn into a snake. She glared at Eva. "I blame Evangeline! If she didn't catch the building on fire, then we would have him by now."
"He-Hey!" Eva snapped. She straightened her posture, but she could not exceed the woman's height. "It's not my fault I-I was born like this!" She hiccupped again.
The woman crossed her arms. "Then maybe you should get your pretty, fifteen-year-old butt over to the castle and sign up for the shifter's hunting party."
Eva relaxed her face. "You know, that's actually not a bad idea." She grasped the woman's shoulders. "Thank you, ma'am!"
The woman could not believe she actually fell for that. She almost laughed when Eva danced through the crowd and in the direction of the alleyway's exit. Except, she tripped and fell into a puddle of mud.
The woman cackled to herself. "Yeah, good luck with that."