Walking a Mile in Another Person's Shoes
Sage and Aiko were trekking through the forest. Sage was holding up well, but the same couldn’t be said for Aiko. She felt as if she would wither away if she failed to get some food in her stomach soon. She chose to keep it secret from Sage, though. The two had dined on an assortment of nuts and berries for breakfast, and when Sage had asked Aiko if she had gotten her fill, she said she had. Aiko wanted Sage to think she was just as disciplined a warrior as he was, but when her stomach began to growl, the proverbial cat had been let out of the bag.
“Don’t tell me you’re hungry again,” said Sage.
“I can’t help it,” said Aiko.
“But we ate just a few hours ago.”
“Try telling that to my stomach.”
Sage grunted, then turned his focus away from his needy companion.
“I heard that,” exclaimed Aiko. “Oh, I was going to keep this to myself, but not after you made that little sound of yours. What kind of breakfast is nuts and berries? What do I look like, a squirrel? I need real food.”
“Enough,” said Sage. “Just hold on a little longer. Maybe we can find a fruit tree around here. In the meantime, keep your complaints to yourself.”
The bickering travelers were unaware that from behind a gathering of nearby bushes a shriveled up little old man was watching their every move. The conversation he had just listened to made him smile a fiendish smile.
An hour later, little had changed. Aiko was still hungry and Sage still felt he was playing the part of an older brother looking after a difficult little sister.
Aiko’s stomach growled again, prompting her to let out a nervous laugh.
Sage flashed a brief glare at her.
“What?” shouted an angry Aiko.
A bush a few yards ahead began rustling. Sage instinctively drew his sword, while Aiko readied herself for a fight. To the collective relief of the pair, a black cat pounced out of the bush and took its place on the forest path.
Aiko’s eyes almost seemed to sparkle as she gazed at the cat she found utterly adorable. “It’s so cute,” she said. “Can we keep it, Sage?” Aiko had asked while staring deeply into Sage’s eyes, hoping to elicit sympathy.
“The only way we’re taking that cat with us is if we eat it and it travels in our stomachs,” said Sage, who sounded nothing like a person being jovial.
“What?” gasped Aiko.
“You did say you were hungry, right?”
Had either been looking at the cat, they would have seen its eyes bulge after what Sage had said, making it seem as if it understood what was being discussed.
“Which part do you want?” asked Sage. “I suggest the tail. I hear they have a lot of meat in there. As for me, I’ll start with a leg.”
Aiko stood in front of Sage to keep him right where he was. “You monster. I won’t let you lay a finger on that innocent animal.”
Sage sheathed his sword. “For someone who likes to laugh, you certainly don’t know a good joke when you hear one.”
“A joke should never be used to scare someone,” said Aiko.
The cat looked toward the bush where it had come. The shriveled little old man was hiding within it and urging the cat to lead Sage and Aiko away. The cat then turned its attention back to the arguing two and let out a meow.
Sage and Aiko found the cat now walking away from them. But as it departed, it looked back, a tell-tale sign that it wanted them to follow.
“I think it wants us to follow it,” said Aiko.
“I’m not following a cat,” said Sage.
“Well, I am. It might have something important it wants to show us.” So with that said, Aiko began her pursuit of the feline guide.
Sage stubbornly stood his ground. But before Aiko disappeared from his sight, he decided it would be in his best interest to follow. Sage felt this way because he knew how easily Aiko could get into trouble. He believed if he went with her, then he could put an end to any problems before they could get out of hand.
The cat eventually led Sage and Aiko to a tremendous tree brimming with an abundance of what looked like purple pears.
Aiko’s mouth began to water as she gawked at the fruit that awaited. She wasted no time in making her way onto one of the branches.
To satisfy her demanding hunger, Aiko desired to pick only the largest and juiciest pear she could find. It took no time at all for her to spot what she wanted. Aiko immediately plucked the largest pear in sight from its branch, then dropped down to the ground.
Aiko then eagerly took a large bite out of the pear and made a sound that showed she found the fruit to have a very pleasing flavor. Having had her taste, Aiko extended the fruit to Sage so that he could sample it.
“I don’t know,” said Sage. “I’ve never come across fruit like this before.”
“It’s really good,” said Aiko, forcing the pear into Sage’s hand.
“In order for the spell to work, they must both eat the fruit,” whispered the little old man, who was once again hiding behind a gathering of bushes.
“Well,” said Sage, lifting the fruit toward his mouth, “it does look ripe.”
“Eat up, Sage,” insisted Aiko.
“Yes, eat up, Sage,” whispered the little old man.
Sage bit into the piece of fruit, and when the juice hit his taste buds, he nodded to show that he agreed with Aiko that the fruit indeed had a delectable taste. Aiko smiled, knowing that Sage was enjoying the pear she had picked for them to share.
“I told you it was good,” bragged Aiko, taking back the pear.
Aiko was about to take another bite, but before she could, an incredible pain inflicted itself upon her. The pear slipped out of her hand and fell to the ground. “It hurts,” she said, grabbing the sides of her head.
“What’s wrong?” asked Sage. Before he could say another word or receive an answer, Sage was attacked by the same pain ravaging Aiko. Sage cringed and also held his head as the throbbing was unbearably painful.
The little old man emerged from his hiding place, laughing heartily as he did. The cat ran to its master and pounced onto his shoulder. “How was the fruit?” he asked.
“Who are you?” asked Aiko, who had already started feeling better. For some reason after those words were spoken, Aiko’s eyes bulged.
The same surprised look appeared on Sage’s face. “Did you just . . .” He immediately clamped his hand over his mouth after finishing speaking.
The little old man began laughing hysterically. “The fruit you just ate had a curse on it, you fools!” he exclaimed. “When two people eat it at the same time, they switch bodies!” The little old man then continued laughing as heartily as ever.
Sage and Aiko began looking over their new bodies. Sage was about to touch his new chest when Aiko stopped him. “Don’t even think about touching those!” she shouted.
“I’m the only one who knows how to turn you two back to normal,” gloated the little old man, “but I’m not going to tell you how. If I told you that, then Lord Shadow Kahn would be very displeased with me.”
“Shadow Kahn, I should have known this was his doing,” said Sage, stalking toward the little old man. “If you aren’t willing to tell us how to reverse this spell, then I’ll just have to force the answer out of you.” He then reached behind his back to retrieve his sword but realized there was no weapon on his new back.
“Such harsh speech from such a pretty girl,” said the little old man.
“Don’t worry, Sage, I’ll take care of him,” said Aiko, retrieving Sage’s sword from behind her back. She then charged and swung the sword at the little old man him with all her might. The little old man disappeared within a puff of smoke and the sword flew out of Aiko’s grasp, wedging firmly into a nearby tree.
“You fool!” shouted Sage. “Look at what you’ve done!”
The little old man reappeared a few yards behind the two next to the fallen piece of fruit that had brought about the horrible curse. He then took it. “What do you think the master will give me as reward for this?” he asked his cat, who was closing in on the piece of fruit. The little old man pulled the pear away before his cat could sample it. “You flea infested mongrel!” he shouted. “Don’t you know that this fruit now holds a new curse?” The cat tilted its head and let out an inquisitive meow.
Sage and Aiko wanted to charge, but they were interested in knowing what the new curse was, so they stood their ground.
“Since this piece of fruit has already been used, then using it again would reverse the spell and result in the creator of the curse permanently changing bodies with the one who just ate it,” explained the little old man. “And I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life as a cat, understand?”
The cat responded with an elongated yawn.
“Why did I just explain this to a cat?”
“So, that’s how to reverse the spell,” said Aiko.
The little old man looked angered by the fact that he had let out the secret. “Well, I see that I’ve said too much,” he said. “But no matter. This knowledge won’t help you. You’re both going to be trapped inside your new bodies forever and there’s nothing you can do about it!” He then began laughing again, and as he did, his cat once again leaned in to attempt to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. The little old man angrily pulled the fruit away again.
“I’m not going to spend the rest of my life as a girl!” shouted a now charging Sage. With a devious smile on his face, the little old man disappeared within a puff of smoke, prompting Sage to come to an abrupt stop. “Damn him.”
From behind, Sage could hear sobbing. He turned to find Aiko on her hands and knees, tears raining from her eyes. “What’s wrong?” he asked in as gentle a voice as he could muster in spite of the incredible rage coursing through him.
Aiko gazed into Sage’s caring green eyes. “I don’t want this body!” she screamed.
Hearing that Aiko found fault with his body only added to Sage’s anger. What also upset him was the fact that tears were being shed. As far back as Sage could remember, tears had never before fallen from his eyes.
“I spent years to get that figure,” said Aiko, pointing at Sage. “And because of one piece of fruit, you get it and I’m left with this! How am I supposed to fight with this body? It’s too big! I won’t be able to use half my moves with this thing!”
“This is no time to feel sorry for yourself,” exclaimed Sage. “So get up so we can be on our way. We might find a town around here where we can get some information.” After not receiving a reply, Sage forcefully pulled Aiko off the ground. Doing so was surprisingly difficult as Sage’s strength was far less than it was before the change. Sage’s old body was also much heavier than he thought it would be.
A short time later, Sage and Aiko came upon a town. They hoped they would find the answers they were looking for at the local tavern, so that was the first place the two visited. The first thing they did upon entering was find a table to sit at and rest.
Aiko noticed everyone was having a grand time as they drank down what had to be a delicious drink. “I wonder what that stuff tastes like,” she thought. Having to know what the flavor of the drink was, Aiko got out of her chair so she could sample one.
“Where are you going?” asked Sage.
“To get something to drink,” replied Aiko. “Don’t worry, I’ll get one for you.”
With arms folded, Sage waited impatiently for Aiko. He looked infuriated by the position in which he found himself. But even so, a suave man had decided to take an uninvited seat next to the unattended angry young man trapped inside the body of a girl.
“What’s a good looking girl doing here all alone?” asked the suave man.
“I’m not here alone,” replied Sage, looking toward the counter at Aiko, who was having a good time laughing it up with the locals.
The suave man looked in the same direction and at Sage’s powerful frame standing at the counter. It would have surprised him to find that a petite girl was the one inhabiting it. “Oh, is that your man or something?” he asked.
“Hmph, you don’t know how far from the truth that is.”
“Oh,” said the suave man, sounding quite intrigued. “How about you lose that guy so me and you can get out of here and go somewhere that’s a little more private.” He then put his hand on Sage’s silky-smooth leg.
Sage removed the suave man’s hand from his leg and did his best to keep from exploding with rage. “I’m not interested,” he said through clenched teeth.
“Come now. A good looking guy meets a good looking girl. It’s not hard to figure out what comes next.” The suave man then scooted his chair so close to Sage that the two were touching shoulders. He then put his hand back on Sage’s leg.
“Can’t you tell!” shouted Sage, rising from his chair. “I don’t like men!”
Everyone in the tavern stopped what they were doing and looked at the table where all the commotion had come. A pin dropping surely would have made an echo.
The suave man rose from his chair and began backing away from the table. “Sorry,” he said. “I had no idea you were . . .”
“You had no idea I was what?”
The suave man was clearly too embarrassed to give a reply and continued to back away until he was completely out of the tavern.
Aiko returned carrying two drinks. “What was that all about?” she asked.
“It was nothing,” replied Sage, who turned his head in a vain attempt to hide how blushed his cheeks were.
“Good news,” said Aiko, taking her seat. “I found out where the old man lives.”
“Really?” asked Sage. “Where?”
“He lives in an old castle just north of here.”
“What are we waiting for? Let’s go after him.”
“Why are you in such a hurry?” asked Aiko. “We just got here. Besides, we haven’t had a chance to have our drinks.”
“But . . .”
“That’s my body and I expect you to take care of it,” said Aiko, cutting Sage’s plea short. “So we’re going to sit here and enjoy our drinks. Understand?” Aiko was more than a bit surprised by how bold she had just acted. “How do you like that?” she asked. “I’m even starting to act like you now.”
Sage reluctantly took his seat and then his drink. “What is this?” he asked.
“Oh, that’s just apple juice mixed with crushed cherries,” replied Aiko. “I would have gotten you the same thing as me, but they told me you were too young. Isn’t that funny?” Aiko then drank nearly all of her beverage in one swig. After her drink, she let out a howl. “No wonder they didn’t want you drinking this. A delicate little thing like you wouldn’t have been able to handle something this strong.”
“Well, I hope you enjoyed it, because it was your last.”
“Why?” asked Aiko before letting out a loud belch.
Aiko then waited for Sage to finish his drink, but as she did, an odd look appeared on her face. She immediately froze up, daring not to make even the slightest of moves.
“What’s wrong with you now?” asked Sage.
“It’s nothing, really, nothing at all,” replied a cringing Aiko.
“Something’s going on. Tell me.”
Aiko lowered her head. “I have to go,” she whimpered.
“Go where?” asked Sage. It took a few seconds for him to realize what it was that Aiko meant. “Oh my god!” he exclaimed, once again prompting everyone in the tavern to stop what they were doing and look toward their table.
“What am I supposed to do?” asked Aiko. “I really have to go.”
“I can’t let you go poking around down there.”
“What are you saying?” asked Aiko. “You want me to hold it in? I’ll explode if I have to hold this in much longer.”
Sage sighed, knowing a problem such as this would most definitely not be going away on its own. “Well, I suppose I can’t make you do that,” he said. “Seeing as it’s my body, I would rather no harm come to it.”
“What are we gonna do?”
“I have an idea,” said Sage. “Come with me.” Aiko did as instructed and followed Sage out of the tavern.
Sage and Aiko made their way behind a gathering of bushes. Their current location was just far enough away from town so that no one could see the unspeakable act that was about to happen between the two.
Sage took his place behind a very nervous Aiko. “Now, can I trust you to keep your eyes closed while we do this?” he asked.
“Of course you can,” replied Aiko.
“I know you’re lying,” said Sage. He then placed a hand over Aiko’s eyes, and with the other, began fumbling around the area he wanted to keep away from her.
“So, hear any good stories lately?” asked Aiko, trying her best to lighten the mood.
“This will go by a lot faster if you keep your mouth shut.”
As Sage and Aiko were experiencing the most awkward moment of their lives, the suave man from the tavern came upon the scene. “Hey, I thought you said you didn’t like men!” he exclaimed before stomping away.
“What’s going on?” asked Aiko, who was unable to see a thing with Sage’s hand over her eyes. “Who said that? What are they talking about?”
Sage’s face turned bright red.
“Would you please tell me what’s going on,” said Aiko.
Inside his castle, the little old man was looking into an enchanted mirror, watching as Sage and Aiko made their way to his home. “It would seem I’ve underestimated those two,” he said, looking at his cat that was napping on a nearby table. When the little old man turned to continue looking into his mirror, his cat opened its eyes.
“I’m actually pleased that they’ve made it this far. “This way I can finish them off once and for all.” The little old man then turned to look at his cat just as it was about to take a bite out of the accursed piece of fruit that had so negligently been left upon the table. Like a man a third his age, the little old man leaped at his cat and struck it on the head, prompting it to let out a deflated meow.
As Sage and Aiko drew nearer to the castle entrance, a number of bony arms thrust from the ground. Reanimated skeletons then began emerging from the moist soil. They wasted no time in surrounding the newcomers.
Aiko stood back to back with Sage. “What do we do?” she asked.
“What do you think we’re gonna do?” asked Sage. He then drew his sword from his original back. “We’re going to fight.”
Aiko marveled at how majestic her body looked holding such a magnificent weapon. The sight was inspiring to Aiko, who immediately took to a fighting stance.
“Do you think you’ll be able to fight using my body?” asked Sage.
“There’s only one way to find out.”
Sage charged toward the skeletons. He slashed his foes one by one, sending them all crashing to the ground in a heap.
Aiko then charged toward a skeleton and landed a powerful blow to its face. Unable to withstand such a strike, it collapsed to the ground. “What power,” whispered Aiko, looking at her fist. “A girl could get used to this.”
After making quick work of the skeletons, Sage and Aiko made their way into the castle. Both were right to assume that things would become even more dangerous inside.
The little old man was in his laboratory stirring up a bubbling concoction when the door was kicked open. In entered Sage and Aiko, both looking more than ready to engage in another fight. “What took you?” asked the little old man.
“Put us back in our bodies now,” said Sage, brandishing his sword. “If you do, I might show you mercy, though I can’t really promise it.”
“I have no intention of giving your bodies back.” The little old man’s mixture then began bubbling fiercely. “But I do have this for you!” He then stretched his arms wide, prompting a powerful wind to begin swirling inside the room.
Breathing immediately became difficult for Sage and Aiko.
To her knees fell Aiko, covering her mouth as she did. “Sage,” she gasped.
“When I’m through with the two of you, you’re not going to want your old bodies back,” exclaimed the little old man before letting out a maniacal laugh. “Because there isn’t going to be anything left of them!”
Sage fell to his knees and placed his hand over his mouth, hoping to retain what little breath he had remaining in his body.
The little old man stared intently into his bubbling potion. “Don’t hold anything back,” he exclaimed. “We’re so close to crushing these fools.” After those words, the wind’s ferocity grew, knocking things over and tossing articles around the room.
Unbeknownst to the little old man, the wind had become too powerful. The cursed piece of fruit that had been placed on a shelf to keep safe from his cat fell to the floor, landing next to an overturned wooden pail. The pail lifted up and hiding beneath it was the little old man’s cat, who upon seeing the juicy purple pear, took a bite.
The wind abruptly stopped.
Aiko gasped. “I’m me again,” she said, touching various parts of her body to make sure what she was feeling was real.
After getting back to his feet, Sage retrieved his sword. He was unsure of his next move, but he knew his sword would play a part in it. Sage then directed his glare at the little old man, who was napping next to the cauldron. Seeing this, Sage redirected his attention to the cat, who was staring wide eyed at the devoured piece of fruit.
Before Sage could decide what kind of punishment to administer, a familiar swirl of black smoke appeared. From it emerged Shadow Kahn.
Rather than acknowledging Sage’s presence, Shadow Kahn focused his full attention on the little old man, whom he knew to be inhabiting the cat’s body. He forcefully picked him off the floor by the scruff of his neck. “What do you have to say for yourself?” he asked.
The little old man let out a meow.
“Wrong answer,” said Shadow Kahn.
Sage picked up Aiko and leaped out the nearest window. Being on the second floor made the landing quite jarring, but the alternative was far less pleasant. A streak of fire exploded out the window immediately after the two landed.
Shadow Kahn walked through the flames and to the window. He and Sage then glared at one another for a while before Shadow Kahn disappeared back into the fire.
After putting the ordeal behind them the best they could, Sage and Aiko continued on their journey.
Unable to bear the burden she was carrying, Aiko decided to free herself from her agony and tell Sage what was weighing so heavily on her mind. “Uh, Sage,” she said. “I have something that I need to tell you.”
“What is it?” asked Sage.
Aiko’s cheeks immediately blushed a bright red. “When you weren’t looking, I grabbed something I shouldn’t have. Please forgive me!”
There was no embarrassed look on Sage’s face after hearing the news. He looked very much composed for someone in his position. “I can understand why you did what you did,” he replied. “It couldn’t be helped.”
“So, did you . . .” asked Aiko, too embarrassed to finish her question.
“I think you know the answer to that.”
“Yeah, I should have known you would never do anything like that.” Aiko then noticed that Sage had a smile on his face. “I knew it!” she exclaimed. “Alright, what did you touch and when did you touch it? I want answers and I want them now!”