Shift World Book II Chapter 1
by Christopher W. Gamsby
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Two months ago, Karp awoke in a Royal Guard tower after losing her left hand fighting the followers of The Mandrake. The stump had mostly healed, but sometimes she'd misjudge a distance and hit the tender flesh, and then a flash of pain would shoot through her arm. She hadn't left the tower since waking up, except for when she ventured to the Shift World to walk around, exercise, or eat extra food if the meal her captors brought wasn't sufficient.
Every day, Karp watched people milling about the street. The first day after she woke, the empire threw a festival throughout the Crossroads. Revelers darted from stall to stall in packed streets. The people behaved just as Karp had imagined the citizens of the Crossroads would. They had purpose, drive, and moved with vigor and determination. After the festival, though, Karp glimpsed the reality of the capital. Few residents actually traversed the streets, and when they did leave their homes, they aimlessly drifted from place to place.
To pass the time, Karp created stories about the distant travelers she spied through the window.
that plump woman in orange is a farming baroness whose family became wealthy from selling...pumpkins, of course. that man in a blue tunic is sad because he can't swim in the ocean while he’s working in the crossroads. the child in green and the child in tan are great friends. they're going to travel the world one day together. the one in tan is a shifter, and she'll be brash and will always run into danger. the one in green will be a merchant. he'll sell the spoils the one in tan finds and keep her supplied for her travels. one day they'll settle down and forget all the trouble they've seen.
Karp stopped looking out the window. These daydreams frequently haunted her, reminding her of Slart. No such dream would become reality unless she escaped.
The door’s bolt scraped open, the door gently creeping ajar, and a behemoth entered carrying a steel tray with a covered plate. The man wore red steel plate from head to toe. A picture of a bear's face was stenciled into the faceplate, masking his expressions. His name, Dorac the Polar Bear, came from that stencil and from the white fur bracers over his forearms.
"time for breakfast?"
The Polar Bear quietly placed the tray on the nightstand sitting next to Karp's bed. He made no motion to reply, instead uncovering a bowl of oatmeal mixed with fruit and brown sugar. Under normal circumstances, the exquisite meal would have tantalized Karp's senses. The apples, raisins, and blueberries mixed well, and the brown sugar added just the right touch of sweetness, but eating the same meal every morning had become unbearably dull.
"you can talk!"
Desperate for human interaction, Karp felt a loneliness akin to being trapped in the Shift World without Wili. Wili had shielded her not only from danger but also from isolation. Had she spent months preparing to save Korg alone, she probably would have cracked, which would have resulted in facing The Sunflower unprepared. But she had had Wili, and in that way, Wili had saved her.
"You're too stubborn, and babysitting you is a waste of time. Do what you are told, and you'll have your freedom."
The Polar Bear pounded on the door to be let out. The door scratched open, and he walked out. Emptiness sucked back into the room as the door slammed. Karp stared out the window again but eventually felt restless.
Karp shifted into her storehouse and beelined out of the main door. She breathed a sigh of relief and stretched her arms skyward. The Shift World's air was fresh compared to the tower. Inside the Shift World, the rolling deserts gave Karp a sense of possibility which disappeared when she was back in the prison. In the Crossroads, Karp could only look in one direction at several buildings, empty streets, and a series of mountains that likely hadn't changed for centuries.
Karp yawned as she reentered her storehouse and strolled to the supply jars sitting near the wall. Before Karp's captivity, food, medicine, and bandages had filled the jars. Now, though, the containers sat mostly empty. She hadn't realized how long the empire had planned on keeping her captive, so she had blown through her goods without regard for the future. Clean replacements for the bloody, dirty bandages covering her stump had run out ages ago. Trying to make the most of her time, though, she trained, studied scrolls to develop new ideas for weapons, and practiced general living with only one hand.
Time had slipped away. At first, her guards had fabricated excuses as to why she couldn't leave and others couldn't visit. As long as reports detailing the search for Nort came in, though, Karp was content recuperating. However, once she became too restless, the pretenses disappeared. Reasons gave way to demands and then punishments. Food portions shrank until she only received two small meals a day.
Karp realized too late that their treatment was setting her up for darker plans. They were lowering her rations in order to starve her, and the guards stopped talking to her in order to isolate her. They were trying to break her, and Karp wasn't sure why or how far they were planning to take such torture.
The Demons had Karp's dragon fire weapons, water dragon blade, and seashell armor, but her sunshine steel practice gear still sat on a shelf in her storehouse. Karp picked up a seashell steel dagger and departed the storehouse. She strolled to the house where a roaming skeleton had attacked her more than half a decade ago, an attack that had left Karp bleeding and dying on the floor of the general store at the Village of the Traitor's Tavern, which had resulted in her meeting Slart and The Whitecoat. It was a surprisingly bittersweet memory. Karp reached the little house's well and dropped a bucket down the dark shaft. It splashed at the bottom and bubbled. Karp struggled to haul in the water with only one hand but finally pulled the bucket free, liquid sloshing out of its sides. She drank from the bucket, gasping between gulps. The drink had made her struggle worthwhile, and she rested against the well.
A slight hunger cramped Karp’s stomach, signaling her to return to her storehouse because if she didn’t shift back to her world soon, she’d be too famished by dinner.
Two weeks later, hunger pangs woke Karp from an uneasy rest. Moonlight shining through the open window couldn't illuminate her tower room well enough for reading or writing, so she sat up in pitch blackness and moved to the window. Stars spread through the horizon, and mountains cut swaths from the blanketed night sky. The Crossroad's scattered buildings projected a hollow darkness. A lone bright room in a single-story building in the distance penetrated the emptiness.
Karp leaned against the tower's wall and stared into the void until light breached the horizon's edge and filled the gaps between mountaintops. The sun was rising on another countless day. Karp walked toward the cell's main door but stopped at a crack of light that shot into the cell's window and broke apart in the morning's damp air. A prismatic rainbow arced from the window to the far wall. Karp ran her hand through the ephemeral light show, but the illusion wavered when she broke the stream of light. She returned to her bed but, instead of lying down, simply sat there.
Karp's resolve now drained, she stared out the window. The city remained sluggish as the sky awoke. Karp watched for travelers roaming the streets so that she could create stories about their lives, but she was unable to spot a single person. The roads were emptier every day, and even though she sometimes caught a shadow ducking in between buildings as they transited from their home, no one lingered in the open anymore. Karp moved from the window and sat on the floor in the corner.
Light repelled the tower's darkness, and Karp saw her barren prison for what it was. When she first arrived, chairs, tables, sculptures, rugs, papers, and books had cluttered the room's interior, but guards gradually cleared away those creature comforts, originally removing the sculptures and art under the pretense of needing the works elsewhere. Next, Karp's captors had removed papers and books with promises of replacements, but new novels never came. Then, furniture began disappearing after Karp's open hostility had upset her captors. Soldiers removed the desk as punishment for her having brought scrolls back from the Shift World. One frigid night, Karp had retrieved a fur blanket from her storehouse, and guards soon burst into the room, stripping her bed and removing the chairs. Now, only a straw mattress on a light wooden frame and a small nightstand remained. Karp hadn't brought back anything from the Shift World since for fear of retribution, but she also couldn't spend much more time in the Shift World without resupplying her storehouse.
By the time the sun lingered above the mountain ranges, Karp’s head swam with hunger. The main door’s bolt scraped open, and Karp got up from the ground to return to her bed. A man walked in carrying a tray with a small covered bowl. A dragon fire cuirass and thick leather armor covered his body. Dragon fire plates protected his thighs, biceps, and forearms. The man, known as Troled the Wolf, had received his name from his wolfskin leather armor, which gave off a lighter hue than cow leather, although it was no stronger. Troled also had a small set of wolf ears sculpted into his helmet.
Karp liked Troled; he was different from the other guards. The Polar Bear, The Narwhal, and The Sea Urchin were only ever cold. They'd bring her food and relay the same message each time: “Do what you are told, and you'll have your freedom.” The Wolf, though, conversed with Karp, if only for a few minutes at a time. He'd speak of his friends who had slowly died off in the last few years, all victims of The Mandrake conspiracy. His fiancée lived in the Creeping Ice, and she only saw him when he was not working away from home. Luckily, he frequently returned to deliver food and supplies. Sometimes, he'd even tell Karp stories of happier times, obviously before the Royal Guard, when he explored the Creeping Ice with his childhood friend Tomire. After a few weeks of this interaction with The Wolf, however, he abruptly stopped chatting.
The tray on the nightstand looked strange, so Karp inspected the meal more closely. It was slightly smaller than the one from the last breakfast. The realization didn't come because the size difference from the previous dish was vast, but because the bowl looked tiny compared to the nightstand. It must have been half the size of the dishes from two weeks ago and possibly one quarter of the volume she had received when she first arrived. They hadn’t stopped reducing her portions even after cutting her down to two meals a day. The incremental changes had been unnoticeable from day to day, but this new realization now explained Karp's increasing hunger. She turned to address The Wolf, but he had already passed through the doorway, the door shutting behind him.
Karp took the bowl of oatmeal and sat back in the corner. She dug into the flavorless mash with her fingers and polished off the breakfast within moments. She watched the sun creep across bricks until guards rustled outside her room. She rose, moved to the exit, and placed her ear on the wooden door. Eavesdropping was now her only opportunity for vicarious human interaction.
"How was she today?"
"Good. No outbursts. She didn't try to bring anything from the Shift World either. She's behaved."
"That's great. The boss is gonna want to hear this. Did they chat at all today?"
The on-duty guard hesitated.
"I don't think he's cut out for this. He's soft. He just gets a disgusted look when he comes and goes."
"The process takes time. It becomes easy once you see the tamed for what they really are. Besides, he's useful in other ways."
"Yeah? Like how?"
"Well, he was telling me 'bout the rebellion. Apparently, The Paladin is becoming very popular. He found a way to kill a fury. They say he gives the rebels hope. We'd never know this if he wasn't around."
"What do we care about some rebellion? It doesn't affect us."
"Well, the boss wants 'em around, so keep your ideas to yourself. You don't want to upset him."
"Very true. You need anything before I go?"
"No, have fun in the tavern. Not too much, though."
The pair laughed despite making the same tactless joke every time they spoke. Karp sat on the hard stone staring at a drain in the middle of the floor. It seemed out of place, given there was no need for drainage. Karp's attention snapped in and out as her thoughts alternated between escape and life outside of the tower. Hunger and discomfort muddled her wits, and she couldn't concentrate during the hours between breakfast and dinner. When the door slid open, Karp faced the entrance, looking for The Wolf, but he didn't enter.
The man who had pretended to be an innkeeper at a village that supported a Royal Guard outpost stepped into the room instead. After the initial shock, Karp looked him over, trying to find her dinner, but he wasn't carrying a tray.
"Don't worry; you'll eat tomorrow."
"who are you?"
"My name is Bron."
"that's not what i mean."
"What do you mean?"
"should i ask tark?"
Bron balked at hearing The Silverfish's name. Neither Karp nor her captors had ever mentioned Tark during the last few months of Karp's incarceration.
"Why should I care about The Grand's Steward?"
"i'd be asking the princess."
Bron wore surprise on his face and cracked a wry smile.
"When did you figure that out? Here?"
"i figured that out at the grand's meadow. what i can't understand is who you are. you're not with the royal guard, but you're not royal family, either."
"I'm The Demon's Wrath."
"the demon's wrath? that's a person?"
"It's technically a title, like The First Shadow or The Grand."
"does that mean you were the one who attacked the traitor's tavern?"
"You knew that too? You can imagine my surprise when I heard rumors that shifters had attacked the Traitor's Tavern after we went through the trouble of leaving a survivor. Unfortunately, we couldn't correct the mistake or that would have looked tacky."
"best not to look gauche."
"I'm glad you understand. Does that mean you're willing to cooperate?"
"with what, exactly?"
"It's easy, really. Go home, let Tark take credit for everything you've done, and tell anyone who asks that you didn't do it. Just live your life as though The Mandrake never existed."
"had i realized you had attacked the traitor's tavern before I lay dying on the floor of the citadel, i wouldn't have even gone to the grain fort. i would have fled the grand's meadow...?"
"It's true that it's her fault you're here, and she's also responsible for The Morning Shield's disappearance and for you losing your hand, and for your...discomfort, but everything will only get worse if you don't agree."
"tell you what. let me out and i'll let everyone know the empire was so cowardly that they destroyed the traitor's tavern and didn't even say anything. that i did what the royal family couldn't!"
"I was hoping you'd be further along by now, but you'll come around. And then you'll be free."
A week later, Karp awoke before dawn, starving and itchy from lying directly on a straw mattress. Hunger made her head swirl and her balance uneven. She didn't even attempt to stand at the window. Instead, she struggled to the corner and stared into the pitch-black abyss. Nothingness answered her cry to speak to someone or something. Time became strange; minutes, seconds, and hours blurred into an indistinguishable slush.
After a while, banging noises echoed around the Crossroads and through her window, beckoning her to welcome the unknown. Karp obeyed and stumbled to the window. Only a loose shutter clattered on a building, though, and she grew despondent again, watching the empty streets. A simple “bang bang bang” had raised and then dashed her hope for connecting with another living being. She returned to her corner.
The door's sliding bolt signaled breakfast, and Karp's mouth watered. Karp swallowed when two guards in leathers entered. The men approached the little nightstand and dragged it from the chamber. Next, they removed the bed. The guards looked the place over one last time as if to ensure that all the furniture was gone. They left without acknowledging Karp's existence.
Blackness gave way to a dull light, and Karp watched the tiled stones change colors. The door slid open again, and Karp's long-anticipated meal arrived. Her legs were cramped from dehydration and from sitting on the hard stone floor, but she managed to kneel. Danil the Narwhal entered carrying a wooden tray with a single stale roll. The Narwhal wore a full set of dragon fire chainmail obscured under a dragon fire cuirass, gauntlets, and sabatons. A whale adorned the cuirass's steel face. According to the guards, The Narwhal’s name came from a special six-foot-long lance. The weapon was forged with a thin handle and three intertwined steel bars that thinned to a deadly point. The design mimicked a narwhal's natural bone horn. Even though the lance had been recently remade in seashell steel, it must have weighed nearly one hundred pounds and was unwieldy to the extent that fighting solo was impossible.
The Narwhal placed the tray at Karp's knees, and Karp pounced, tearing into the bread without a moment's breath. The Narwhal smiled, returned with the tray to the door, and knocked to be let out. She turned back toward Karp.
"Obey The Demon's Wrath, and you'll be free."
The door opened, and The Narwhal left. Karp fell back into the corner, sitting and thinking.
free? the demon's wrath will free me? if i leave here, will i be free? i can go back to the traitor's tavern, but they'll be there watching, waiting to report to the princess. i'll never be free again. that demon's wrath is a liar.
Karp shrunk and held her knees to her chest. A few tears rolled down her cheeks, as she could no longer hold back the tide of loneliness and the emotions from the loss of Nort. Soon, though, Karp regained her composure and returned to her inner world. She fought the instinct to shift. Her storehouse was usually a haven, but spending time in the Shift World without supplies would be impossible. Every moment in the Shift World would only prolong her suffering, so she endured the pain.
A few hours later, the door slid open, and The Demon's Wrath sauntered in wearing a wide grin. While his mouth twitched in the first motions of speaking, Karp mustered every bit of strength she had and spat in his face. His smile turned into a scowl, and he stormed back toward the door; but he stopped before exiting.
"I don't want to hurt you; I only want to set you free. The princess needs you to comply, though. So, just comply, and I'll free you."
The Demon's Wrath departed, and Karp focused on The Demon's Wrath's words before nothingness encroached upon her again.
Karp awoke on the floor of her cell. Five meals and seven sunrises, or maybe nine nights, had passed since she had seen The Demon's Wrath, though. Pain ripped through her shoulder as though it were tearing from the socket. Her shoulder joint hurt, and the tendons had stiffened, which made pushing herself upright excruciating. Bruises covered her hips, rear, and back. Infection had rotted some of the sores that polka-dotted her arms and legs. Blisters scourged other areas. Karp's mouth and throat were dry since her captors had stopped bringing her water throughout the day.
Karp shifted to her storehouse. Her joints felt momentary relief when the stone floors changed to packed dirt. She pulled herself off the ground and barely made it to one of the storehouse's tables, where she leaned for support. Several drinking gourds dotted the table. One by one, Karp lifted the containers and put them to her lips, but she failed to find even a modest sip from any of them. She had polished off each one over the last few weeks. She raised one of the gourds and trudged toward the exit, but it was too heavy and she dropped it before even passing through the door.
Karp dragged herself toward the nearest well. She followed a sand streak that marked the path from her storehouse to the well. The well sat behind a house where the skeleton had attacked her during one of her first times in the Shift World. By the time she arrived at the well, Karp was so dehydrated that her forehead, which should have been covered in sweat, was still dry. Karp placed her hand on the house to confirm that it was real. The world jerked to a stop as she held on, but it appeared to sway again as she limped toward the well. Karp tripped on a pile of sand and reached out her left arm, but because of her missing hand, she misjudged the distance. Her stub became buried in the chalky ground where she crashed down. Karp coughed, and dirt-filled mucus spewed from her lungs.
Karp fought her way back up to her feet, persisting. Step by step, her destination felt further and further away until she touched the stone well. She reached, accidentally knocking the bucket down the shaft, dragging a rope into the depths. The bucket splashed, and the attached line jerked to a stop. Karp grabbed the rope and pulled. She heaved with her whole body and grunted. A few minutes later, a panting Karp drew the bucket from the well. She slurped, and water dribbled down her front and over her clothing. Karp wiped her mouth and shifted back to the prison cell without returning to her storehouse.
She shuddered at the change in temperature between the Arid Desert and the Crossroads, and she sat, resting her head on her knees in the corner. A few minutes, moments, days, or hours later, the door bolt slid open. Two guards in leathers carried in a cap designed to cover the drain in the room's center. The guards aligned the lid over the grate and hammered. Then, they silently departed, and the door bolted shut behind them. Karp looked toward the window; the sun hadn't risen yet.
Karp passed out five times, maybe six, and when she came to, sunlight filled the room. It could have been evening or morning. The door bolt slid open again. Karp rolled her head back and stared at the door from just under her eyelids. Krath the Sea Urchin entered carrying a tray with a small bowl of oatmeal. The Sea Urchin wore only leathers on her limbs; a dragon fire cuirass and open face dragon fire helm protected the rest of her body. The Sea Urchin's name came from her bow, in which each arrow was a stinger, to be released for a deadly result. The Sea Urchin dropped the tray at Karp's feet. Then, she bent to Karp's level and dumped the oatmeal onto the tray and floor. Krath smiled warmly but, conversely, managed to not make eye contact or even acknowledge that Karp existed.
"If you obey, The Demon's Wrath will free you."
The smile warmed even more, and Karp felt a little hope. The Sea Urchin turned and left. Karp sat in the empty room, feeling empty herself. She gorged on the oatmeal and felt warmth rush through her body, but her hunger didn't subside. She sat quietly in the corner, thinking about her pain and suffering.
all this happened because i decided to help the empire. tark came, and i thought i could save the world, but it cost me nort, slart, my life, but the demon's wrath is trying to help me. maybe if i give in, everything will be all right. but maybe it won't.
Karp sat, just staring and thinking; she was tired. The door slid open, and, instead of The Sea Urchin, The Demon's Wrath entered. Karp pushed herself off the ground and gave a weak smile. She could barely stand, and her effort seemed to amuse The Demon's Wrath.
"Not much energy this time?"
"you're wasting your time."
"I've almost won already."
"that grate? i relieve myself in the shift world, so that's useless."
The Demon's Wrath laughed at her obstinance.
"That's not what it's for. Just remember that when you listen, you'll be free."
The Demon's Wrath cleared out of the room, and a hole caused by the lack of human interaction tore away at Karp. She again stared into space, thinking about her situation and options. The sun set, and the change in light drained Karp. She struggled to stay awake, but sleeping was easy and peaceful, so she submitted.
A few minutes after Karp closed her eyes, a slot in the door opened, and a wooden tube slid into the room. The guards pointed the tube toward Karp. Water shot from a small hole in the tube's face, violently waking her. The water tingled as it splashed and rolled off her body. Instead of clean well water, though, this water reeked of putrescence, as though waste skimmed from a cesspool was being dumped into the room. The water rolled down the floor and collected at the capped drain so that both the smell and water lingered. Karp sat staring at the door, rocking back and forth, waiting for the next blast.
The next morning, Krath brought more oatmeal, which Karp greedily eyed. Krath sauntered to the room's center and dropped the tray. The empty wooden tray floated in the middle of the room, but Karp didn't see a bowl of oatmeal. Karp looked back at Krath just in time to see the archer turn her hand over and drop its contents straight into the putrid water. Karp shot up to knees and meant to glare at Krath, but instead of a menacing glare, she could only smile. Her smile widened so far that her cheeks burned. Karp felt that Krath must have understood because she bent down and returned the smile, and Karp felt warm.
Karp sat in a puddle of putrid water. At first, only a small pool surrounded the capped drain in the room's center, but every time Karp dozed, a panel slid open and more water shot her awake. She couldn't comprehend if the sun had risen twice, six times, or four times. Several inches of water covered the floor.
The door's panel slid open, and a roll flew inside, splashing into the putrid liquid. Karp dashed toward the bread and pounced onto her only food. She lifted the soggy bread and bit. A rancid smell flooded her nostrils as the foul water seeped into her mouth. Her eyes flared and burned, and her vision temporarily splintered. She fought to regain herself, took another bite, and gagged as the last bit of roll slid down her throat.
Each restriction had forced Karp to shift to her warehouse in order to sleep, drink, and relieve herself. Her warehouse had normally functioned as her sanctuary, but it twisted into a dungeon where pain flooded back. Now she hated the sight of the desert. She slept to keep a grasp on her sanity and fill a biological need, but she always felt starved after waking. Every agonizing step out to the well felt like a death march, so Karp would avoid it for as long as possible.
The day dragged on, and the light flooding her prison cell struck the water as it rippled on the floor, fracturing it into a glistening rainbow. Karp smiled despite her pain. The dancing light fragments reminded her of the sand art at The Whitecoat's compound. If she got out of prison, maybe she could return home, but her home would never be safe as long as the princess planned on attacking. Karp shoved the idea from her mind in order to enjoy the rippling water, one of the last joys Tark hadn't taken.
A few hours later, the door's bolt slid, and the door opened. Some of the foul water drained into the hall. With a splash of his boot, The Demon's Wrath entered with a big smile. He spoke more softly and with greater compassion than he ever had before.
"Have you come to your senses?"
"i'm going to escape. i'm going to find the princess, and i'm going to cut her throat!"
Karp screamed and smashed her fist into the water. The Demon's Wrath burst out laughing.
"I told you I'd break you."
The Demon's Wrath strolled out of the cell.
Karp couldn't remember how long it had been since she had threatened the princess, but her captors still kept her locked away. Since that exchange with The Demon’s Wrath, only bits and pieces of her time in the cell came into focus. Sometimes she felt like days had passed, sometimes it felt like weeks. Her memory was becoming myopic. She remembered longer stretches of times the more recent the day, but the time from shortly after water began flooding her cell until a few days ago had become a blur. All Karp knew was that if she didn't take her next chance to escape, there wouldn't be another. After she left, all she would need to do was kill the princess, and then she would be free.
Today, long before the sun graced the sky with its magnificent glow, the door to Karp's cell scraped open, and two guards in standard leathers carried a wooden shutter with which to seal the window. The guards scrunched their noses as they entered. Karp laughed maniacally, startling the visitors. She hadn't spoken to anyone but The Demon's Wrath for however long, and the guards all seemed to have forgotten she could even make noise. They eyed each other. She laughed and laughed, and they returned to their task. Her cackling gave her a cathartic relief that eased her torment momentarily.
When Karp quieted, the guards tensed further and looked back to her. The right guard gurgled and reached for his neck. The other choked on his blood before he could process that he was dying. The guards' bodies fell into the water, and the wooden shudder splashed between them. Blood tainted the cesspool. Karp stepped forward in her sunshine steel armor.
Her spare armor resembled the set taken by her captors, but every piece was sunshine steel. A scorpion embossed the right breastplate and an open coat pressed into the back. Sunshine steel chainmail covered her arms and legs, and a faceplate-less helm protected her head. Karp removed a throwing knife from each of the guards' throats.
"i'm sorry. i wanted to leave peacefully, but i couldn't last any longer. a sadist will be cruel, and all i had to do was upset her, and she's predictable."
Karp sloshed to the door and banged at it to open. She drew a seashell steel dagger as the door creaked open. The guard's eyes widened, and he collapsed to the floor as her blade pierced his heart. Karp stepped over his corpse and stumbled to the stairwell, weak from hunger.
Karp skulked down the stairs, but a dizzy spell struck, and she clutched the wall. By the time she reached the first floor, she was panting to catch her breath. Before escaping, Karp rested in the Shift World, eating the last couple of days’ worth of food she had, which wasn’t enough to undo months of damage. She stumbled through the hall and balked at voices. Guards on break sat in a mostly vacant room, snacking and chatting. Karp had been so docile the last few weeks that the guards probably couldn’t even imagine that she'd try to escape. It would certainly never occur to them to look for her sneaking around.
Karp slipped past the hall. No one saw her as she found the exit and disappeared into the early morning's darkness.