Steffi Adler generally wasn't the kind of person to generate unnecessary drama. Boy bands which seemed to summon storm of hormones in teenagers all around the world evoked nothing but disdain in her, current scandals of various starlets interested about as much as political situation in Borneo and she didn't stand by the popular opinion that having to work on school assignments over weekend was a completely logical reason to commit suicide. In fact, the complete lack of exaggerated reactions on her part sparked many joking debates among her tiny clique of friends; debates that led to conclusions like 'she must have had her emotions surgically removed' or 'I bet she's gotta be a robot sent back in time from the future.' These claims were, of course, exaggerated; just like with every human being, even Steffi's stoicism had its limits. For her, it was getting up early. The annoying sound of alarm clock pierced the air, ripping her out of embrace of dreams violently, and the blonde sighed loudly. No way. It can't fucking be the morning yet, she thought and put the pillow over her head, but the time-tested tactic of ignoring the problem until it disappeared didn't work in this particular case, mainly because the sharp bleeping was burning its way into her brain mercilessly. There's always a tiny, microscopic chance this is just a nasty dream. Or a tumor in my head pressing against some nerves that affect hearing. Steffi clung to that foolish hope for a few seconds, but it was getting increasingly obvious she couldn't disregard reality forever; if she were to hesitate any longer, the damned alarm clock would probably awake her mom. While everyone knew Charlotte Kirsch as a kind woman incapable of harming a living creature, Steffi had learned the hard way that sleep deprivation caused by a night shift could warp her pacifist views significantly. I am fairly sure that getting up THIS early for class of physical education is illegal somewhere. It has to be, as it's pretty much against basic human right. The only question that remains to be answered is, why isn't it illegal here? This sure as hell isn't my idea of American dream! Rolling out of her bed, Steffi briefly contemplated dealing with this injustice the American way, which meant suing anyone tangentially responsible for your troubles and hoping to earn enough money to live comfortable for the rest of your life, yet she decided against it in the end. Her bullshit-o-meter was still calibrated by the German standards and frankly, certain part of her personality wished to kick herself for even considering such ridiculous course of action. Stephanie yawned in a distinctly unladylike manner and went to visit the bathroom; the fifteen minutes spent in shower made her looks significantly more like a human being instead of, say, a zombie in the first stages of decay. Even greater effect could be achieved if she bothered enough to put on some mascara, but unlike girls brainwashed by commercials full of perfect supermodels, Steffi didn't believe showing her face without make-up equaled to social suicide. Well, that, and then there was the chance her face would end up as if it was handled by a blind monkey if she were to try and use cosmetics so shortly after awakening. Slipping into her favorite comfortable attire - black wooly shirt, blue jeans and sneakers - Steffi grabbed a doughnut from the kitchen's table and stepped outside. It was technically autumn, but the weather did everything within its power to disguise it and the devious plan would have worked if it wasn't for the trees practically glowing in various shades of red, yellow and everything in between. The air still carried the sweet scent of summer, even though it was nothing but fading memory at this point, and you could go outside without wearing a jacket without risking pneumonia or some other lovely disease. The rain that belonged to this season just like outlandishly decorated trees belonged to Christmas would turn the soil into ugly, grey mush soon and half of the population would spiral into annual depression, yet as of now, anyone could enjoy the peaceful scenery. Our heroine was too narrow-minded to let her spirit soar in admiration of landscape, so she lit a cigarette and savored the nicotine instead. Her mom perpetually nagged her she was actively shortening her life-span, but the blonde stood by the opinion that life only appeared to be longer if you abstained from smoking and other forbidden pleasure. Inhaling the smoke with gusto, Steffi reached the bus station. There were some people standing around, but nobody from her age category; she classified them as unlucky individuals heading to work. Well, of course there isn't going to be anyone under twenty aside from me. Only my school resorts to child abuse. It seemed miracles could still happen for the bus arrived on time. Steffi was almost inclined to believe some horrible accident would meet them on the road in order to compensate for this unexpected turn of events, yet absolutely nothing out of ordinary marked their journey to the city. When they finally arrived and the bus spat out the travelers, she still had about three quarters of an hour to spare before the notorious German punctuality would force her to enter school building. That may have looked like an uneconomical use of time, but had she chosen to go by later bus, she would have arrived late. Ah, the joys of commuting, Steffi thought as she wandered through the narrow streets aimlessly, determined to avoid the hell-hole called school for as long as physically possible. Sure, exploring the city would have been way more amusing if it wasn't too early for any shops to be open, yet it still felt better than sitting alone in a completely empty classroom and pondering over how awesome it would be as a survival horror setting. That place fed off of human dreams! I'm bored. Bored. Bored. Boreeed. 'Bored' is actually a funny word if you repeat it enough times. B-O-R-E-D. Is its etymology related to 'red'? If so, why? Hey... What's this doing here? The inner philosophical debate was temporarily pushed aside by discovery of a tiny shop; shop squeezed between a barber shop and a drugstore. Steffi knew this city like her own shoes and she could probably navigate it with her eyes closed, but for some reason, this building had been escaping her attention up until now. Frowning slightly, she squinted to read the inscription on the signboard. Djinn's Lamp? An antique store? Now that sounded interesting; what intrigued her even more was the fact the little shop was apparently open despite the early hour. Well, I can either continue to find new and exciting ways to dissect the word 'bored,' or I can go inside and investigate a little. There was no harm in wasting the shopkeeper's precious time, right? Besides, Lenore's birthday was approaching in leaps and bounds. Her younger sister loved old trinkets, preferring them to new items as they contained stories according to her, so maybe she could see whether the store sold something worthwhile and return tomorrow with more money. Yes, that sounded like a reasonable plan! A bell suspended above the door announced her arrival, and a likeable old man from behind the counter raised his gaze from his newspaper to examine her. His face brightened with a sincere smile almost immediately, and she had to think of her long dead grandfather. "Good day, miss. Have you come for anything specific?" "Good morning," Steffi smiled in response, "and no, I don't think so. I'm just looking around." And she could tell even now that a thorough inspection would eat much more of her time than initially anticipated. The space may have been relatively small, but it was so cramped with items of questionable value it would make any archaeologist worth their title squeal in delight. Broken ceramics, statuettes of gods she couldn't recognize, old books written in unknown fonts and much, much more; Steffi had accidentally stumbled upon collector's paradise. "Alright, then. Feel free to see what I have to offer. Be careful, though. You may find more than you've bargained for," he threw in a conspiratorial wink and shifted his attention back to the newspaper. Ehm... What? Is that some American idiom I don't know? Have I finally encountered malignant effect of the language barrier? Steffi kinda wished to ask whether that comment meant some of his artifacts were riddled with parasites, but certain part of her - the one that didn't like the idea of being thrown out of the shop - suppressed the vitriolic remark. "Uh... Thanks for the warning, I guess." Shrugging, the girl turned to the shelves full of junk and started picking through it curiously, careful not to damage anything. The last thing Steffi wanted was to leave the store with a debt. Debt and a damaged reputation, to be precise. While the range of the merchandise was certainly wide, nothing really screamed 'buy me!' at her; something told her that her fourteen years old sister wouldn't find pieces of pottery all that exciting. Steffi was preparing the leave when something called out to her. A necklace, probably gold or made of a metal eerily similar to it, with a gleaming ruby embedded in its center. Logic dictated she shouldn't be getting too hopeful as the jewel would likely cost too much for a high school student whose pocket money barely covered her lunches, but there was something magnetic about it. Reaching out her hand, Steffi touched the trinket... And then her universe shattered to million pieces. The greatest pain she had ever experienced was breaking her arm in a particularly heated floorball game and even though it hurt like hell, this felt like pinching her finger in a comparison. Something invaded her body, tearing apart tissue from bones on a molecular level, and she wanted to scream, but her mouth wasn't where it used to be anymore. Before her perplexed mind could make a sense of the situation, the pain ceased and her body reassembled itself as if the nightmarish experience she had gone through had been nothing but an illusion. To be honest, Steffi would have been quite happy to accept this explanation if it wasn't for the fact she materialized in a freaking desert city that looked like straight out of One Thousand and One Nights! Wait... What the actual fuck?! If she had expected a clear answer to emerge from her subconscious, she was wrong; only silence echoed in her head. Well, silence and typical sounds of haggling from the market. People were arguing with each other over prices, lamenting that the other party wished to ruin them, and nobody paid attention to the lost girl standing in the center of it all. Okay, okay, calm down. There has to be a logical reason behind this. So, umm... Perhaps I hit my head in that store and this is just a really weird dream? Yeah, probably. Well, as long as I realize it's a dream, I can control it, which means it should be possible for me to wake up! Filled with new resolve, Steffi sat on the ground, ignoring weird stares from the people who saw her suspicious behavior, closed her eyes to maintain concentration and began chanting her mantra. "Wake up, wake up, wake up, wake up...."