The Runner

Kay is an eighteen year-old girl living on the streets of the city. Stealing from the rich and wreaking havoc against the plans of the tyrannical King, she has earned a name for herself as The Runner.
For the last five years, she has used her speed and street smarts to outwit the King's guard and remain under the radar, until a handsome stranger appears and offers her the opportunity of a lifetime.

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5. Chapter 4

The next day dawns predictably: bright and hot.

I pass the morning by first making a quick stop at Harold’s cart, quarrelling about the rate of his wares and ultimately compromising on the exchange of my silver candlestick for six of his freshest rolls and eight of his day-olds. I wander away, munching a piece of bread, making sure to chew slowly and carefully so as to savour the sensation. The remainder of the food I dole out to the young mothers hanging around the outskirts of the square and a couple of handless beggars.

Stomach filled and pockets lighter, I decide to head into the Intact sector and see what business I can drum up.

The Intact sector lies towards the centre of the City and is easily distinguished by both the colourful window treatments and the lack of washing dangling across the streets. Here, people amble through the paths and alleyways clad in rich clothes of vibrant silk, as unhurried and elegant as the citizens of the Fragment sector are rushed and crude.

Painted and polished women clasp onto the arms of distinguished suitors, their genteel voices commenting on this gorgeous hat and those delightful pastries. Their concerns are so vapid, it makes me sick.

No one pays me notice as I whisk through the crowd. I feel myself a part of the landscape, no more conspicuous than a bench or flower box.

My eyes move carefully over the throng, systematically noting the qualities of each individual person. I spot two women giggling over a shared joke and walk closer, veering off a second later after realizing the quality of their gloves is not as fine as it could be. Most likely these ninnies received only the barest of allowances.

A gentleman walks briskly by me, an ivory cane clacking on the swept stones. I stick with him briefly but pretend to become distracted by a shop window when he spots me and his thin lips lift into a sneer.

A flash of crimson startles my vision as a young woman exits the shop I was regarding. She pauses a moment to unfurl her lace parasol and strolls away in an unhurried manner.

I wait a few moments before following her, watching as she occasionally glances in the windows of various shops and noting that she keeps her purse dangling from her right wrist. When she stops to consider a display of cakes I slowly sidle up, waiting until she glances in the opposite direction and knocking my head purposefully against the open parasol, startling her.

“Ohh…” I groan, rubbing my head and bending over.

“Oh my goodness! I am so sorry, are you alright?” Her eyes widen as she steps closer and makes to touch my shoulder before noticing my ragged clothes and pulling her hand back.

“I don’t know! I’m not bleeding, am I?” I tilt the top of my head towards her, my eyes now completely focused on the purse swinging from her wrist.

She leans over me, scanning my head for a mark while I seamlessly unsheathe my dagger and cut the string binding the purse to her arm, catching it soundlessly when it drops into my open palm.

“No… I don’t see anything…” She takes a step back and tries to look at my face.

“It’s fine, probably just a scratch.” My task complete, the next order of business is to put as much distance between us as possible. She stands dumbly as I slip back into the crowd and dart away, making several turns before taking refuge in a darkened alley.

I grin to myself, holding up the purse and examining it. Very finely made, the leather is dyed white and there appears to be some embossing along the hem. I am about to pull it open when a hand snakes out of the shadows and clamps down on my wrist.

“What the-?” I shout in surprise and on reflex bring my elbow up hard, slamming it into the chin of my attacker. The action sends shots of pain through my arm.

I hear a man cursing and my wrist is released. Immediately I sprint deeper into the alleyway, feinting left at the end but turning right and tearing down the next street.

I can hear his footsteps behind me, gradually gaining. He is quick, I will give him that. I turn right, left, right again, heading back towards the main street, hoping to lose him in the crowd.

I no longer hear the footsteps as I run and for a moment think that I’ve lost him, when suddenly a body appears from the pathway to my left and slams into me, knocking me into the wall and throwing me to the ground.

My head rings as I struggle to gather my wits, vaguely aware that my pursuer is getting to his feet and speaking to me.

“Relax, will you! I just want to talk!”

I blink rapidly, his words stirring a memory. His voice is strangely familiar, but I can’t place it in my blurry state. I reach behind my back and grip my dagger as I look up.

My heart races even faster as my brain pieces together the information. The close-cropped hair, the squared jaw. This is the Intact who addressed me in the library. I fight to control the rising feeling of panic in my chest. This is not some do-gooder seeking to avenge a lady’s honour and retrieve her stolen purse, this is a person whom I have personally robbed, and whose father I assaulted, nonetheless.

He approaches me slowly, gripping my elbow as he pulls me to my feet. My other hand still clutches the dagger behind my back, rotating it so that the angle will be exactly what I need it to be.

“You’re not hurt, are you?” His eyes are concerned and the stubble on his face has lengthened since yesterday.

I catch my breath and shake my head. He continues to hold my elbow but his grip loosens. I seize my opportunity and bring the dagger down, raking it across his forearm. He yells angrily in either surprise or pain and releases my arm, giving me the opening I need to lash out with my boot and sweep his feet out from under him, turning as he falls and taking off back towards the main street.

This time I don’t bother to listen for his footsteps and simply throw myself into the crowded intersection, causing several people to yell out in annoyance as I hurtle into the next alleyway, turning once then chancing a glance over my shoulder.

I don’t believe it. He is still chasing me.

Ignoring the tightness in my lungs I turn again and tear towards a chained gate at the end of the street. I re-double my speed and jump at the wall to the right of the gate, kicking my feet off the bricks and clearing the wire seamlessly. I land in a crouch and take off again, whipping around a corner and pausing momentarily, my chest rising and falling rapidly as I struggle to regain my breath. Surely he can’t make that jump.

I glance around the wall in time to see him clear the gate and land seamlessly.

“What the fuck?” I curse and start running again.

Who is this guy? Is he really that desperate to get his ridiculous candlestick back?

I glance up the sides of the buildings as I run. Up. I need to go up.

But he knows to look up.

I quiet my subconscious as I turn again, my lungs burning and my legs shaking. I leap at the next wall, catching a protruding brick. If I don’t manage to get up right now, I won’t have the energy to keep going.

A rough hand clamps down on my weak leg and pulls me loose from the wall causing me to fall backwards and slam into his thick chest. My leg sends a spurt of pain up to my hip and I cry out. Before I can grab my dagger again, he whips me around so that I am facing him, capturing both my wrists in his hands and slamming my arms above my head back against the wall.

I struggle and kick out at him but he sidesteps my attacks easily. We are both breathing heavily, his face close enough to mine that I can see beads of sweat gathered on his forehead.

“Are… you… done?” He pants. His jaw is clenched in anger and his thick eyebrows are lowered.

I finally stop kicking, my chest rising and falling in frustration. I keep my mouth shut and glare at him, my arms slowly going numb from his grip.

This is it. He’ll take me to the Palace and turn me in to the guards. I’ll be tried and lucky if they let me keep my life, but they’ll most certainly chop off my hands. Stupid, Kay. I should have stabbed him in the throat when I had the chance.

“I’m going to let you go, now. I don’t want to hurt you.”

I blink up at him, confused.

“Do not stab me again. I don’t care about that purse you took, I’m not going to turn you in to the guards. I just want to talk, alright?”

I continue to stare uncomprehendingly.

“Well? Is that savvy with you? Have you gone mute?”

“Yes... I mean no. Let me go. I won’t stab you.”

He lifts the corner of his mouth in a tight grin. “Not that I don’t trust you…” With one hand still pinning my wrists but reaches behind me with the other and I stiffen. He loosens my dagger and tosses it down the street.

“Alright, Runner. Let’s talk like civilized people now, shall we?”

He releases me and steps back, his eyes wary.

I drop my arms and wince as I put weight back on my bad leg. We stand on opposites sides of the shadowed alleyway for a few moments, eyeing one another.

After what seems like eons, he extends a hand.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Will.”

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