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The turning

Scarlet looked up with alarm, real alarm. Cassandra had never seen her supervisor look discomposed, but just now her fear was unmistakable.

She rose suddenly, a whole foot taller than Cassandra, though she was as slender as a willow, and similarly pale.

"I thought you'd gone home, Cassandra. Why are you still here? It's late."

"I had some work to finish up. I guess there's nothing more I can do. I'm sorry to have startled you."

"You shouldn't hang around here after dark, Cassandra. It won't be safe for you to go home. You walk, don't you?"

"I don't mind the dark," Cassandra said quickly. "I like to work late. I could use some extra hours, if you don't mind, Dr. Thorn," she added, recalling a conversation she had overheard between her co-workers. Humans liked to work extra hours, though she didn't truly understand why. But as a princess, she had never wanted for anything, and didn't think about money the way that they did.

Scarlet's phone started vibrating on the desk between them with a spinning motion that made it seem as agitated as she was. She picked it up and glanced at the screen. "Cassandra, it's time for us to close the laboratory. I will drive you home tonight." There was a forced calm to her words. "No, no, I can't," she muttered beneath her breath with an expletive.

"Please," Cassandra said hastily. "I'll just be going now. I'm sorry to have troubled you, Dr. Thorn. Good night."

She lifted her coat from the rack beside the door and tucked her purse beneath her arm.

"I don't feel well tonight," she whispered to herself on the elevator. The old building creaked with the sound of a sudden wind, and she jumped as lightning cracked. Power flickered as she continued to descend, and the hairs rose on her arms. "I wonder what happens to an elevator if the power is shut off .. ? Well, I feel ill. I bet my apartment is going to be really cold too, because I forgot to set the thermostat. There is so much to remember. I wish I could go home and forget all about this." She caught her words on a gasp and felt ashamed. These couldn't be the words of the princess of their people.

She had fallen into the habit of speaking to herself, because it seemed she went whole days now without conversing with another soul, except brief, stressful interchanges with Dr. Thorn.

"I feel so restless. I don't want to go home at all. I want to run. I want to break free and run through the woods and hear the sounds of night birds, and hear the wind rustling the leaves. I wonder if all the leaves have fallen in Drommende. And how long it will be till my return. Will I be home in time for the Solstice celebrations? If I don't, this will be the first year I don't participate in the Festival of Light. I wonder who will light the candle of hope if I am not there. My brother's girlfriend, probably. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. Who cares about that shallow pageant? What I'm doing here matters more. It's okay, Cassandra. It will be okay. Stay calm."

Despite the late autumnal chill in the air, Cassandra felt warm in the face. She wondered if she was having a panic attack.

When finally she reached the streets she found them slick from recent rain, and the smell of rain and smog was strong in the air. The light shimmered green from smoggy street lamps, and the gloom made her feel even darker.

"I wonder why Dr. Thorn decided not to drive me home. That would be really interesting if she had. I wonder what kind of car she drives. And how she drives." Cassandra laughed to herself. "It's something to think about. Something besides the rain."

An icy mist was falling, crystalline vapor against her cheeks and lips. The wind was high and restless, tossing her recently-shorn hair around her head wildly.

A man was approaching from the opposite direction. He was impossibly tall and slender, and his hair was long and pale as moonlight. She could see its glimmer as the wind tossed it to and fro like gossamer. She caught her breath on a gasp. It looked like the barista from the coffee shop who had been so kind to her before her job interview.

But as he drew nearer his face was narrow, his features sharp and hard as flint. Cassandra cried out as she realized he was close, much too close. She had assumed his haste had not to do with her, but he had run toward her, and now he was grabbing her.

Cassandra screamed and struggled in his iron grip. His hands were covered in long leather gloves that reached his elbows.

"Let me go!"

Her scream reached an ear-splitting peal as in the gaslight she saw his face distend, his lips part to reveal long, white teeth. She bit off her scream and filled her lungs with his scent. He was not human; his scent was blood.

Heat rose within her as his gloved fingers tangled in her hair and jerked her head to the side, baring her neck in the ghastly light. The sensation was unfamiliar, yet she had a creeping suspicion of what was happening to her. "Now? This will happen now? Let me go. Don't do this."

Cassandra shrieked again, this time from inward pain. She had felt ill in recent days but she had attributed it to stress and the weather, not the turning. It was soon for her, but she had heard it could come upon one suddenly in a time of great pain or fear.

She shrank in his arms, her form changing into that of a wolf -- a small gray-brown wolf with forest-colored eyes. The wolf, enraged by the assault, sprang onto the predator, and on the streets a deadly struggle ensued.

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