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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6. Chapter 5

I stare at his outstretched palm and the dried blood soaking the sleeve of this white shirt. Numbly, I reach out my own hand and shake, my addled brain still trying to make sense of the sudden turn of events.

“Kay.” My voice comes out hoarse and I clear my throat, now staring at his face. His brow twitches and he holds his injured arm as we withdraw.

“Kay. I would say it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, but really these circumstances could stand to be less painful.” He gestures to his bloody arm and grimaces again.

“What do you want?” I am in no mood to dole out sympathy.

“I want to put a bandage on this. And it looks like you could use something for that leg.” He has noticed that I am heavily favouring my right. I straighten slightly and wince.

“Come on, I have a spot nearby where we can patch up. I’ll explain everything there.”

“Are you jesting? You just gave me the gods damn scare of a lifetime, chased me through the streets, slammed me against the walls and wrenched my knee into a very unfavourable state, and now you would like me to go to a strange location with you to chat? Forgive me, whatever-your-name-is, but we are going to have to establish some trust first.” The nerve of this man is staggering.

“It’s Will.”

“Will, fine, whatever. Tell me why you’re here.”

“I do not think this is the best place to talk.”

“I am sure you are used to being surrounded by marble floors and fine china, but this location suits me just fine for talking.”

“For gods’ sake, you are a mouthy thing aren’t you?”

“You have no idea. And you haven’t answered a single one of my questions.”

He takes a step forward, forcing my eyes into his.

“My name is Will Cain, I live at five-seven Trompton Street, and I aim to overthrow the monarchy. Now will you please come with me to get cleaned up?”

That’s twice now that this man has left me speechless.

“All right.” I say eventually.

I pick up my dagger and re-attach it to my belt, checking that the stolen purse is still tucked safely in my pouch. I nod at Will, “Lead the way.”

He starts to walk back through the narrow alleyways, wisely choosing to avoid the main street as I am sure that our odd partnership and various injuries would draw a lot of attention.

He notices me limping and comes closer to offer an arm around my back. “Here, let me help you.”

“I’m fine.” I jump away from his touch.

His mouth twitches up into a half-smile. “Suit yourself.”

Twenty minutes later, we are holed up at the top of a nondescript apartment building on the fringes of the Intact district.

“This is not what I expected.” I say, standing awkwardly in a room decorated with only a few scattered pieces of furniture.

“The marble floors and fine china not up to your standards?” His voice carries from the back of the apartment, where he has busied himself collecting supplies.

“Can’t you afford something nicer?”

I can hear his muffled snort of laughter before he walks back into the room, laying some bandages and a bottle of water on the table between a shabby couch and chair.

“You don’t have to just stand there. Please, sit. How’s the leg?”

“It’s fine.” It’s not, but I concede to sit down and perch on the edge of the couch. “You really have a habit of avoiding my questions.”

“You’re in the habit of asking a lot of questions.”

“Oh, I am sorry for that. Hopefully I haven’t inconvenienced your day.” I grab the water and drink greedily, closing my eyes and savoring the sensation.

He doesn’t say anything while I drink and when I lower the bottle I see that he is staring at me, a look in his eyes that I can’t quite place.

“What?” I run my fingers over my mouth, thinking I must have spilled water on my face.

“You aren’t what I expected.” He says, looking away before lowering himself into a chair and unrolling a long strip of white bandage.

I can feel my face growing warm as I concentrate on placing the bottle carefully back on the table.

“Yes, I think it’s time we talk about that.” I regain my composure and stare at him again. “You seem to know a lot about me, and we are going to have to get the reasons for that squared away before we discuss anything else.”

“Yes, I know who you are. I’ve been looking for you for a few months now, and you’ve proven a very difficult person to find.”

I stay silent, forcing him to continue.

“I’ve been following your work for awhile. It’s extremely impressive and I think you are exactly the person we are looking for to join our cause.”

“And what cause is that?”

“I already told you. There is a collection of Intacts, more than you might think who aim to see this oppressive monarchy gone forever.” His voice has risen and he fairly spits out the last few words. His fists are clenched and I find myself a bit taken aback at the abrupt change from his nonchalant attitude.

“Why would you object to our government?” I ask, “You stand to benefit the most from it.”

He sighs and runs a hand along his scalp.

“Do you think it right that some of us are born into a higher caste than others? That we are treated better for no reason other than we happened to come into a different set of circumstances? It isn’t right that one half of our society thrive by benefiting off of the labour and suffering of the other half. I love this City, it is my home and we as its people are responsible for taking care of it and one another.” He is leaning forward in his chair, elbows on his knees. His eyes are burning into mine again, more intensely than before. “And that means that we must take it back.”

I blink, silenced again. The peril of my people spoken about from someone like him was something I never expected to hear.

“You really believe that?” I ask eventually. The last thing I want to do is to blindly trust this near-stranger, swallowing his lines and rejecting my instincts.

“Yah, I really do. And I’m not the only one.”

“So would your group be willing to join forces with the Fragments?”

“Yes, they would. Our aim is to abolish the separate sectors and ultimately work together. In the new City there will be no Intacts and no Fragments.”

I scoff, biting my lip as I study his earnest expression.

His dark brows lower. “What is it?”

“Frankly, I think it’s precious that you would assume the Fragments would be willing to fight with Intacts after everything that we’ve been put through.”

“We need to show them that these old prejudices can be abolished. That’s where you come in. The Fragments respect you; they’ll listen to what you have to say.” He begins to unbutton his soiled shirt. I avert my eyes and pick at a loose thread on the sofa, noticing the linen peeling off his chest from the corner of my eye.

“Perhaps, but I haven’t made up my mind about you yet.”

“You really don’t think much of anyone from my sector, do you?”

“I just mean, this attitude is just all quite shocking. I’m not used to working with an Intact, I’m more comfortable grouping your lot together and robbing you blind.” I make myself smile and glance up to see if I got to him as well.

He is grinning in that small way again, busying himself with cleaning his arm. I catch a glimpse of the scratch and grimace.

“Och, I really did a number on you, eh? I guess I should apologize for that.”

“I consider myself lucky. I suspect you could have done a lot worse if you’d had a mind to. Thanks for the relative restraint, and staying away from my face.”

“I wouldn’t want to harm that.” I joke back, before realizing what I said and becoming interested in the sofa thread again.

If he noticed my slip he doesn’t say anything and I allow myself a glimpse at his fit physique as he finishes cleaning up his arm, bandaging it snugly. Very little blood seeps through the wrapping, which I know is a good sign.

He slips his shirt back on and looks up at me, “How’s the leg?”

“It’s all right,” I say, ceasing my hand from rubbing my knee subconsciously.

“Let me take a look.”

“It’s fine.” I emphasize, scooting further down the couch. “You still haven’t explained how you know me and why you found me.”

He leans forward to grab the half-empty bottle of water and takes a long sip before reclining again. I am struck by how he doesn’t seem bothered to put his lips where mine have been.

“You don’t give yourself enough credit, Kay. Anyone who’s listening has heard of you. The Runner.” He spreads his fingers and waves them, making me grin.

“They’ve maybe heard of the Runner but I have taken great pains to ensure that no one knows where to find me.”

“That you have, and quite effectively too, I might add. I had no idea what I was getting into when I volunteered to be the one to look for you. You are nearly impossible to track down.”

“Nearly.” I point out.

“I spent months walking up and down the streets, looking for someone I wouldn’t recognize, speaking with all manner of people, following rumour after rumour but never coming anywhere close. Until the most amazing thing happened: you came to me.”

I think back to that day in the library. When he looked up.

“But you didn’t recognize me in the library.” I say.

“How could I? I had no idea what you looked like. Months of searching and I had nothing to go on. You should feel incredibly lucky; your people clearly love you and would do anything to protect you and your secret.”

My heart warms at the thought. My people.

“So as I’m sure you know, not long after we shared a charming conversation my father comes bounding down the stairs, red-face and hollering about the Runner robbing the house. I took off outside and saw you.”

“Yes, because you looked up.” I blurt out the phrase that has been running through my mind ceaselessly. “How did you know I would be up there?”

That half-smile again. “I had a hunch.”

“A hunch?”

“Yes. I thought to myself, Will,” clearly he is pleased with himself. I roll my eyes. “Will, how do you suppose she does it? How can she hop from place to place, faster than anyone, appearing and disappearing seemingly from out of nowhere?”

He leans forward again and points at the ceiling. “She must go up.”

“Oh.” I am less impressed by his answer than I was hoping to be.

Will’s brow furrows. Clearly, he was expecting me to be dazzled as well.

I shrug my shoulders, “When you put it that way, it seems pretty obvious.”

His half-smile drops and I am immediately sorry.

“You’re rubbing your knee again.” I didn’t even notice I was doing it. “Will you please let me take a look?”

“I told you, it’s fine. What are you, some kind of doctor?”

“Yes, basically. In that I trained as one and work in the Palace as a physician.” The half-smile has returned and he moves to sit next to me. I recoil slightly.

“Just relax. Is this an old injury?” He picks up my leg gently and lays it across his lap, rolling back my pant leg and slowly rubbing the area with surprising tenderness.

For a moment I can’t find my words.

“Yes, I hurt it when I was fourteen.” I cringe as he lightly squeezes the sore spot, sending the familiar shot of pain up to my hip.

“Sorry.” He says, not unkindly. “How did you hurt it?”

“Fall… Jumping.” I correct myself. “I was jumping and I came down on it and…” I wince again, “It hasn’t been the same since.”

He nods and reaches across my leg for the roll of bandages, scooping up a small tin at the same time.

“Let’s try this.” He uses his forearm to brush his forehead before applying the balm to my knee. I can feel his warm breath mixing with the cooling effects of the medicine, causing a pleasant tickle. More than that, whatever he is putting on my leg is providing me with significant relief and I fall back against the couch, breathing shallowly.

His grey eyes crinkle in the corners as he looks up. “Feels better, doesn’t it?”

“Yah, it really does. Thank you.” I watch as he puts the cap back on the tin and begins to unroll the bandages.

“With an injury like this, you really want to try and keep it stabilized. As your doctor, I do not recommend you go hopping from building to building.” His teasing tone is a stark contrast to the gruff passion he was speaking with earlier.

“In the meantime, tell me something. How does a doctor learn to run like that?” I ask as I watch him lift my leg and begin wrapping it tightly.

“That is a result of fighting in His Majesty’s war of the Wastelands.”

My brows shoot up in surprise. The King’s army is made up of two types of men: those who go willingly and those who are drafted. The ones who choose to serve usually do so because of the stipends paid to their family along with the promise of plenty of food and shelter during their service. Intacts who enroll usually serve the safer position of King’s guard, working in the City enforcing the law and protecting the citizens. The Fragments who join, either through enrollment or the draft are most often shipped out to the Wastelands to fight in the war.

Looking at Will in his elegant, albeit torn and bloody linen shirt, I couldn’t help but wonder at the strangeness of this man. He was born into money, yet chooses to risk his life as a soldier for the King, fighting for the nation he ultimately wants to throw into revolt.

He finishes wrapping my leg, pulling the clasp tight and tapping lightly on the secured knee. “That should do it. I’ll give you this balm and some of these bandages so you can wrap it up whenever you need to.”

“Thank you.” I say, feeling a bit cold as he lifts my leg off his lap.

I am touched by his generosity, until I remember that he brought me up here for a reason, not just to tend to my injury.

My head is swimming with questions, but I can’t seem to articulate one clearly. The cool relief in my knee and the strangeness of Will are proving extremely distracting.

“Are you hungry?” Will asks, making me suddenly aware of how prolonged the silence has become.

“Yes.” I say quickly. I am famished.

“Let me see what I can rustle up.” He jumps out of his seat, jolting me and disappears into the kitchen.

“Do you need any help?” I call.

“No, no I’ve got it. You relax.” His disembodied voice floats back.

I sink back against the cushions and screw my eyes shut, rubbing them in an attempt to make sense of my scattered thoughts.

Will returns a few minutes later, his arms laden with dried meat, cheese and another flask of water.

“Sorry there isn’t much,” He looks embarrassed. “I’m due for a shopping trip, it seems.”

“It’s fine.” I say, trying not to appear over-eager at having a free meal. I lean forward and grab a piece of meat, trying to chew slowly even though I could scarf the whole mess down in a few seconds.

“So,” I swallow, “We have established that you are a rich man who rents a dingy apartment, a doctor who can hop fences, and a soldier in the King’s army who wants to see the monarchy usurped. Is there anything else I should know about you?”

Will laughs, emitting a rich, full-bodied sound that makes me smile as well. “No, I would say that about sums me up.” I notice that he hasn’t taken any food for himself.

“You’re one to talk, Runner. There is a great deal that I find strange about you.”

I waggle my eyebrows at him, but am curious about what this Intact could know about me.

“A girl from the streets who has bested the King’s forces, a professional thief who gives all of her earnings away. Tell me, Runner. What should I make of a person like that?”

How does he know what I do with the money I steal?

I shrug my shoulders, unable to think of a response.

“I’ll tell you. That you are the person I need to help us end this tyranny.” His voice has taken on that low, rough quality again.

I reach back towards the table and grab a wedge of cheese, breaking off a bit with my finger and popping it in my mouth.

“What was it you had in mind?”

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