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Shifting and Slaying

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A red apple fell from the sky.

A young woman wildly soared, but involuntarily so. In actuality, she plummeted through the bright blue as if flung across the heavens. She'd fallen as if a heavy weight dropped from a great height, and she'd have been as good as dead if it hadn't been for the intervention of a little black cat falling along with her. In midair her descent slowed—in her unconsciousness she hadn't noticed a thing—and she continued to fall at a gentler speed. However, it was right above a shipping depot that gravity seemed to restore itself. The girl fell fast and wildly again, unaware of her reunion with solid ground when she crashed through shipping crates. Made of wood, thankfully, and only carrying apples within them. She hit the earth something hard, her unconsciousness enduring through the first moments she'd spent in a place she was a newcomer to. Something went terribly wrong, as usual. Hekseville had begun churning out a nasty reputation for itself. The cycle began again, only this time in a land utterly alien. She'd have lied out there longer, among the hot concrete and broken crates and the contents of which that had spilled out all around her. Apples, ironically enough.

It wasn't her guardian that woke her, either, but an angry voice and fiery words instead. She'd been harshly roused by the worker scheduled to pack the crates up, and with some good reason had he exploded; she'd done quite a number to his workload, only she would not even have the chance to process the damage, or him, or really anything: she jerked upward, complaining and groaning at the man's want of compassion and the throb in her skull. Her body ached, as a matter of fact. And Dusty, never far from her side, ran behind her when she finally gathered some portion of her bearings to flee. A shame she hadn't picked up one of the apples she'd loosened. Her stomach had a few choice noises for her about it, and at this she groaned, too.

How very bizarre that anyone's first instinct should be to yell and chew her out in her condition. She'd been hurt! She'd have, maybe, edged toward death, and all the man from before had only cared about were his crates. It was deplorable, worthy of rebuke, and she would have readily chewed him out for his behavior if she was in the shape to try. Well, it hardly mattered anymore: she'd gotten to her feet one way or another, and now she was walking along aimlessly, hopelessly lost, and disoriented. “Dusty, I'm so hungry,” she whined, weakly pacing around a city she had never seen before, let alone heard of. It all looked foreign to her, like a whole new world. Nothing like Heskeville or Jirga Para Lhao, or anything she'd seen before. The first thing to really catch her attention and tickle her perplexity was the lack of traffic in the air, and how, on the ground, vehicles resembling airboats ran along as if members of a herd; their trails uniform, typically in straight lines, one following the other. It was all strange to her, as if she'd been born anew, but she really didn't pick away at the details at the time. It was her stomach that begged for her attention more than anything else.

And it still managed to bother her that no one would so much as ask if she was all right. She certainly didn't look it, she knew, but was she the only one who did? People passed by her like ghosts, or machines—some fast, some slow; energetic, mechanical, but seemingly dead to the world. Or, simply, too preoccupied to care. It made them callous to her, but she remembered she was used to this sort of thing from back home as well. It just felt different, here, in this huge, gray, cold city.

Ah! There!

A concession stand! Sighted just some strides away, much to her overflowing relief. Just the thing to fix her right up. Gleefully she jogged right over, already fawning over the aroma that wafted out from the vendor's cart. Like a child smitten with brightly colored candies, she eyed the long and glistening piece of meat the vendor picked out of one of his cart's compartments, and he'd gone on to place it in the middle of a bun already sliced open to receive its occupant.

“Any condiments?” he wondered, watching her.

“No, thanks! I'll just take it as is!” she exclaimed, having found her vivacity, and already reached out for the hot dog but had inconveniently forgotten to exchange the money that it cost. When the vendor handed her snack over, announcing the price she'd have to pay, she paused as she was about to take a bite out of the thing. That's when she hesitated, humming as she thought over her money—or lack thereof. “Um, I just remembered. I'm a little broke...” As if wishing for an act of generosity, she delayed in returning the food which she had no right to have, eyeing the vendor with great big eyes, a pout, really the most pitiful expression anyone could have shown him in his life. But he denied her even something so small as a hot dog, and it was with all the reluctance in the world, and the heaviest heartbreak, that she had to part with her dearest treasure.

Crestfallen, moping as before, the girl walked the streets without aim or direction, cradling her stomach as if attempting to soothe it (or control its rage) until she'd find some way to have it filled. With the midday summer sun beating down on the city, she'd found it unbearably hot, and not even sticking to the crowded sidewalks had done much good for her. What little shade she would receive from the handful of canopies she'd walk beneath wasn't quite enough to relieve her torment. She had to go on complaining. “Dusty,” she moaned next, “I think I'm going to collapse at this rate.” Her cat only meowed at her, neither in disbelief nor in agreement. It was hard to tell what he meant, in reality. The city was tall and sprawling in all directions, and no one yet showed care toward a young lady in need. Had she really been so invisible to naked eyes? From what she could tell, no one had thrown a glance. However, given her clothes and the way her outstanding fashion stood apart from the rest—not including the color of her eyes or the mere existence of her cat—it was safe to wager that she'd been espied from further away, where any onlookers would not be as easily noticed. The possibility of such a thing hadn't really mattered to her: what she wanted was food, rest, and a cool breeze to blow. Having a little bit of money would have gone a long way, too.

Her little friend had cried suddenly, a sharp “mrow!”catching her attention and, thus, having her nose pointed toward an interesting scene some dozens of feet away. Seemed as though, out in the middle of a small recreational area, there had been a gathering of people, and the more she neared, the clearer she could see: bundles of soda cans left on outdoor tables, visitors dropping in to pluck one away for themselves at what appeared to be no charge. This was no mirage! Her lucky break arrived at last! Dusty was thanked, he meowed humbly in turn and bolted after his companion when she seemed to gain her second wind. Oh, the joy doubtlessly seen on her face as she bounced toward her objective, all aches forgotten and her misery ignored for, at least, a few moments of relief.