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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8. Chapter 7

Two days later, my leg is feeling stronger than it has in years and I am able to leap nimbly out of my bedroom window, attempt a few horizontal jumps ledge to ledge and shimmy down to the ground by dropping and catching myself a couple feet at a time. I land on the street and walk down the main road, aiming to pawn the remaining items I had lifted from Will's house, no longer worried about any impending consequences.

As I walk through the market I dodge both Intacts and Fragments, everyone intent on stocking up on the latest shipments of food and water. These items are delivered to us at intervals, sometimes few and far between. Since our resources are drawn from a carefully-preserved oasis several miles outside the City, we have to ration a fair amount. 

The Intacts are given a livable amount of food and water courtesy of the City, but many of them will come into the Fragment market in order to stock up on extras. This leaves fewer goods for the Fragments but vendors will most often sell to the customer who can offer more coins.

I refill my flask near Harold's cart and spend a couple minutes chatting with him, laughing when he pretends to sneak me one of the burnt loaves of bread. When an Intact couple turns up I say my goodbyes and doff an imaginary cap to the man and woman, turning and taking off in the direction of the pawn shop.

Several twists through the alleyways later I found myself in a rougher part of the City. Here, the buildings are crammed tightly together and appear to loom inwardly towards the already-cramped streets. There are a few people huddled in filthy robes sleeping in the doorways. I locate the shop and swing through the door, glancing about at the new wares.

"Ah, there she is." Mo appears from the back room and situates himself behind the counter, drumming his scrawny fingers on the wood.

"How are you doing, Mo?" I untie my pouch from my belt and place the leather sack on the counter.

"Been better, been worse. What have you got for me?"

"Straight to the point, as always."

"What can I say, huh? I'm a man of business. You haven't got any of that silverware, have you?"

"I have something almost as good!" I declare, turning the sack over and displaying the odds and ends with a flourish.

Mo pokes through the few scattered bobbins. "Is this it?"

"What do you mean, 'is this it'? I have some really great pieces right here. Look, look at this." I locate the ivory hair comb and brandish it at him. He takes it and turns it over in his hand, squinting.

"Yes, this is quite a nice piece. But I am afraid I can't give you more than ten silvers for the whole pot."

"Are you kidding me? That comb is worth ten alone!"

"It may well be, at some respectable shop up in your hoity-toity districts, but down here it's worth three." I can tell that he's fighting the urge to smirk.

"You're a regular burglar; you know that, don't you, Mo?" I sigh and rub my forehead. If there was a better place in the City to take these goods, I would have tried to sell them there. Unfortunately, Mo was one of the few shops still operating as a not-so-strictly legal business.

"I'll tell you what," I bite my bottom lip, pretending to think it over. "Give me four silvers for that comb, and one for each of the rest. That's fifteen."

"Thirteen."

"Deal." He turns around and begins counting out my pay. I scoop the earnings back into my pouch and wish Mo a good day before heading back down the aisle and slipping out the door.

I look up and consider the bricks protruding out of the side of Mo’s shop, plotting my path. I jump up and pick my way towards the top, the sunlight breaking through the shadows and gradually creeping over me to warm my back as I move higher.

At the top of the building I situate myself and head towards the City centre, jogging lightly between each jump and enjoying the newfound strength in my leg and the comforting weight of the coins in my belt.

I leap from rooftop to rooftop, lost in the pure exhilaration of jumping when the familiar sound of rattling jewelry interrupts my thoughts. I stop running and listen, turning towards the source and walking to the ledge.

I peer into the alleyway below me and spy the top of two heads pressed tightly together, one brassy blonde and one dark. The girl's many bracelets are rattling together with each thrust the man makes between her legs. He shudders and falls into her, grunting.

I step back, my heart sinking as I recognize Lara. My stomach churns at the idea of someone paying for use of her body. Lara always made the transactions out to be very matter-of-fact, but I knew that even her flashy attitude could keel in that situation.

"Gordy, you can get off me now, you nasty bugger." My breath catches in my throat. Gordy?

"One more, Lara. C'mon, for me." his voice is repulsive, even at this distance.

"I know you haven't got any more money, so that'll do for now. Off you get, then." Her voice strains slightly and I peer over the wall again to see her shove Gordy back. My fists clench at my sides, and I am already mentally plotting the quickest path down to them. If he so much as lays another finger on her...

"All right then, gorgeous. I'll be off but I promise to see you again very soon." He stumbles slightly as he pulls his trousers up. "'Til next time, then."

"Yea, next time, Gordy." Lara waves her bracelet-laden arm absentmindedly, straightening her toga as he rounds the corner.

I swing over the ledge and drop from window to window, making my way down. Lara's lips are pressed tightly together when I land and turn to face her.

"So what is it, are you spying on me now?" Her voice is cold.

"I just happened to be passing above and noticed something caught between your legs." I don't bother keeping the disgust out of my voice. "Really, Lara? Him?"

"Yes, Kay. Yes him and yes any other man who can pay for my dinner." Her brow has cleared and she uncrosses her arms. "You know what I am doing out here, so why would you need to see it?"

"I didn't need to see it. I happened to see it.” My attitude softens. “That's enough now, Lara. You can't do this anymore." I fumble for the coins at my belt. "Here, look. Thirteen silvers, and it's all for you. I earned it and I'm not giving it away to the beggars, I want you to have it.”

I place the purse in her hands. “I can take care of us now, Lara. There is much more of this coming to us."

Lara regards the purse before looking back up at me. "Kay, it's really a lovely thought but we've talked about this before..."

"I know we have, but it's different now." My voice is rushed as my mind flashes back to the sight of Gordy pushing himself against her. "I took a job, a big one. This one that is going to change everything."

"What are you talking about?"

I grip her hands and the bag of coins falls to the street. "I'm talking about royalty. I'm going into the Palace, I'm going to pretend to be one of them. We're bringing them down, Lara. That whole rotten, stinking monarchy. We are going to bring them down from the inside and things are finally going to get better."

Her blue eyes blink rapidly at me. "You're, what? Going in? To the Palace?"

"Yes," I nod, "And while I'm there I will be able to lift enough goods to keep you taken care of. Once this job is done, there won't be any more Intacts or Fragments, and you'll be able to earn a living any way you choose."

Lara doesn't say anything. She stares down at our clasped hands for a long moment, eventually raising her head to look at me. Her pale eyes are moist.

"I don't want to do this anymore." She says finally, her voice cracking.

"You don't have to." I say.

"I want to believe you, Kay, but this plan... it's too much. It's too risky, even for you." She releases my hands and swipes a stray tear from her cheek.

"I know it's risky but what other choice do we have?" I kneel down to scoop up the coins, my fingers brushing hers as she stoops to help me. "This isn't a life, Lara. This isn't what I want for us. I can fix it, I can make it better, not just for you and I, but for everyone." I deposit the last coin in the pouch and hand it to her, straightening.

She laughs sadly. "Gods, you sound just like him."

I stiffen. "Don't talk about him, Lara."

"He used to go on like this as well. How we would be taken care of, how they would bring down the King and destroy the separate sectors." She is ignoring me and her eyes have taken on a glazed, far-off look.

"I said, don't talk about him." My breath catches in my throat momentarily.

"We have to be able to talk about him, Kay. He was your brother and he was my..." Her voices catches in her throat. I sigh and gather her frail body into a hug, allowing her tears to wet my tunic.

"This is different. I know what he did wrong, and I'm going to do it right." I close my eyes as I hold her, my heart breaking at the way her frail shoulders shake against me.

 Eventually she draws her head up, keeping her hands clasped behind my neck.

"I can see him in you, you know. You have the same eyes."

I nod, not trusting myself to speak.

"Are you really going to do this?"

"Yes." I say simply.

She sighs as trails her fingers down my cheek. "I don't suppose there is anything I can say to make you reconsider."

I smile slightly, "I'm afraid not."

"Just promise me you'll be careful."

"You must make a promise to me as well," I say, "Take the coins and get yourself a good meal. Get rid of those infernal bracelets and dump them in the gutter, I never want to hear them again."

She laughs lightly as she regards the bag of silver, shaking her head. "Gods, I feel like an Intact. Given an allowance and told not to work, that doesn't make me a very useful person, does it?"

"I do have a very important job for you, in fact." I say, watching her tuck the pouch away in the folds of her skirt. She looks up at me curiously.

"I need you to manage things here, while I'm away. I'll try to send money and items for pawning as often as I can, and you'll have to make sure that some coins go to Harry, and the beggars near the market and yourself, of course, and..."

She cuts me off with a firm kiss on the mouth, her full lips soft on mine. When she draws back she is shaking her head slightly and smiling.

"Dear, sweet Kay. Always looking after everyone else. Please remember to look after yourself this time, all right?"

"Don't worry about me." I grin, "I know exactly what I'm doing."

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