She ran. She didn't know how long she had been running. It had been too long.

Five hours earlier

The girl eyed the jewelry booth. She had never seen anything like it. There were beautiful bracelets and necklaces. She had no use for those. But then there were the earrings…

Her ears were pierced. She didn't know when that had happened, because she certainly couldn't remember having her ears pierced. It must have been before she had been turned out on the streets. But she had been keeping small bones stuck through the tiny holes in each ear. That wasn't too comfortable, but she really didn't want her ears to close up.

Those earrings were the most beautiful things she had ever seen. But she couldn't buy them. She had no money. The earrings that she wanted were strings of tiny emeralds. They were the same color as the grass that grew sparsely on the pathways. Earlier that morning, she had stolen a breakfast of two crickets (she had stolen it from a pet shop). Crickets weren't too bad, but they certainly weren't as good as ants. She used to tell herself that ants tasted like chicken, but she couldn't know, because she had never tasted chicken before.

The girl loved the earrings, and she edged closer to get a better look at them. Then she reached out her hand and picked them up.

"Stop thief!" the vendor suddenly yelled. The crowd surged forward and enclosed her.

"I didn't steal anything!" she cried. She tried to put the earrings back, but the crowd had pulled her away from the booth. So she gave a very shrill scream, and ran as fast as she could.

She ran to another part of the market. But people were following her.

This game of cat-and-mouse carried on for three hours.

As it became clear to her that the earrings must be very valuable, and that she still had them in her hand, it also became clear that she could no longer stay in this town. But the townsfolk would chase her until they got back what she had stolen. There was only one place to go: the Desert of Time.

The desert was hot, and the temperature was never less than ninety degrees during the day. And this was where she would have to run. It was not a good place to run to. The sands would burn her feet, the air would scorch her lungs, and the sun would roast her skin. If she ever got out, which was unlikely, she would resemble the breakfast of a wealthy man. She would look like bacon.

Still, she was much faster than the few men running behind her. That was a stroke of rare luck. But she didn't know how long she could keep up this furious pace.

Suddenly, she ran smack into a cactus. The spines stuck in her skin, but she immediately picked herself up and ran again, picking out spines as she went. The apron dress she wore flapped in the wind.

She had stolen that apron about two weeks ago, when the burlap sack she had been wearing suddenly started to rot. She had taken it from a wash line. The apron was enormous on her, and it worked perfectly as a halter dress. The girl never got enough to eat, and she was much too skinny.

"Stop, girl!" shouted one of the men still following her.

"No!" she screamed back.

The furious running was making it very hard for her to breathe. It was starting to look as if trained runners were following her. They didn't even look the least bit tired. She was losing stamina too quickly.

On and on the chase went, until the girl slammed into a Fordal tree. She glared balefully at the dry, ugly tree, and scrambled away again, without nearly as much determination as before. A plan was forming in her mind. She knew she could run longer if she had to, she just needed to tire them out so that they couldn't follow her.

When they realized that she had changed course, they too changed course, and followed her in a circle. She repeated the strange maneuver. They probably could have caught her at this moment, but that thought never occurred to them. So the girl and the five men trailing her went in a huge swooping circle many times, the girl always several yards in front. The followers were definitely tiring out. Now for the final leg of her plan.

She went even faster than she had been going. Hurtling along at a neck breaking speed, the men slowly stopped. She kept running. They could regain energy, and then they might come after her. Best to keep running, even if she was getting dehydrated. How many miles had she gone by now? She guessed that she had been running for nearly an hour. She had probably gone only about five miles or so. The sand was making it considerably hard to run, but she could still run fast enough. This was the desert. It was very pretty, but that was slightly spoiled by the occasional human bone that popped up out of the sand.

Pain tore through her body. She had definitely over-exerted herself. Her lungs were burning. The bottoms of her feet were bloody and covered in blisters. And then there were the pricks left by the cactus that seemed to have actually been a poisonous cactus. She could practically hear her muscles ripping. It hurt that bad.

Then she tripped on a rock. She went flying headfirst into a sand dune. She inhaled some of the fiery sand and she choked. The pain ripped into her brain, and she fainted.