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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1. The Runner

Kay’s fingernails scratch and chip as she grapples for hold of the building’s roof while her feet kick furiously against the rough stone below her. Finding purchase, her muscles screaming with the effort, she manages to hoist herself up onto her forearms and over the ledge.

Sweating from exertion and without stopping to catch her breath she pushes up onto her feet and takes off at a run, propelling across the roof towards the next building.  The edge swims into view while her ears perk to the sound of the latched roof door being flung open. Angry voices shout from behind her as the guard’s heavy bootsteps fall into pursuit.

Nearly there . Wracking her memory as she runs, she mentally calculates the upcoming height and distance. Her legs protest from the exertion as her feet pound across the rough stone service, the reverberation of heavy footfalls at her back spurring her onwards.

Finally, the span of the roof comes to an end. Without slowing down, she plants a single foot on the raised ledge and leaps. In the next instant she is sailing through the air, soaring weightlessly five stories above the ground and over the alleyway, landing smoothly on the next roof.

A grin spreads over her face as she rolls out of her crouched position, her legs feeling lighter already. Straightening, she winces slightly from a familiar pain shooting through her left knee as she turns to look back across the gap. She pushes her red hair away from where it whips around her face, swirling in the hot desert sand. Squinting into the sunlight she is able to catch sight of the four guards standing across the gap. The captain is in the forefront and red-faced, his sword raised menacingly towards her as he shouts into the wind.

She raises a hand to her ear, pantomiming deafness while the captain’s voice rises in fervor, gesturing madly for his men to return to the ground. Smirking, she turns and jogs lightly to the next ledge, rotating so that she is looking back at the captain standing across the distance. From here she can just make out his broad shoulders bunched up in anger and a trill of satisfaction runs down her spine. Cheerfully, she raises her hand to her forehead in a mock-solute and takes one step backwards, dropping off the ledge.

Instinctively her hands shoot up as she falls, catching a window ledge protruding from the wall. Her feet find purchase on the rough stone and gradually she is able to descend brick by brick into the alley.

Landing on the sandy stone path below, she dusts her hands together and lowers the bandanna wrapped around the bottom part of her face. With her ears perked for any pursuing footsteps she makes for the end of the strip, intending to weave her way through the tightly-spaced buildings before the guards reach the ground. Her patched leather boots scuff through the narrow pass until she emerges on the main street and collides directly with an older gentleman. His finely carved pipe clatters to the ground and she bends down to retrieve it with a flourish, smiling graciously while the man sneers at her in return, plucking the pipe delicately from her outstretched hand as he takes in her ragged appearance.

“Apologies, sir.” She throws him a wink and takes off across the main street, lightly dodging all manner of people, packed tightly together on their way to and from their designated districts. She manoeuvres between a groom and his horse and slips back into the alleyway opposite, jogging lightly while changing direction every so often until she is satisfied that her pursuers are completely lost.

Reaching a quiet intersection she finally stops to take a breath, leaning against a cool stone wall and sliding down it until she is sitting with her legs splayed out across the path. Grinning, she lifts up the finely woven leather purse she has clutched in her hand, tossing it from palm to palm and gauging the weight.  Likely the old man with the pipe would have noticed it missing by now, but an Intact such as him could stand to lose a few coins.

The purse was only the icing on top of a very successful heist. Sneaking into the army compound and methodically disabling the airships was no simple task but she had managed to incapacitate nearly twenty of them before being spotted by a member of the King’s guard.

The grounded airships would only delay the next draft, but the satisfaction of having contributed in some small way towards the plight of the Fragments, as well as knowing just how furious the King would be made the entire effort more than worth it.

She drops the purse into the pouch tied at her waist and saunters back down the alley, her slim shoulders manoeuvring delicately in the tight spaces as she picks her way back towards home. The streets were as familiar to her as the back of her own hand, she knew them like no other and when Kay was in her element, there was none who could touch her.

Hours later, once again high above the ground, Kay gazes out from a seat in the window of her single-room haven. The breeze from the desert night cools her skin as she takes in the million flickering lights spread out across the City before her, emanating from both the Fragment and Intact districts and stretching all the way to the Palace at the centre of the spiralling City. The glass walls of the Palace stretch high above the surrounding buildings, the light from within illuminating the glass walls in a spectacle of grandeur. Tonight the King and Princess, along with their gathered members of Court will be warm and secure in their beds, their minds free of any of the worries that plague half of their citizens.

Kay’s own window is darkened, the lamp empty of oil. Her stomach growls noisily as she rises to her feet, standing and tossing the old man’s purse into a corner of the small room. She knew she was much too thin these days and that was what partially accounted for her sloppy antics at the airfield that afternoon. That old leg injury might actually have some time to heal, if you would just take better care of yourself, she scolds herself inwardly.

Sighing, she stretches her arms over her head while actively ignoring the gnawing feeling of hunger, too tired to go out and scrounge up some food after the activity of the day.

She pads across the wooden floor to the threadbare mattress that passes for a bed, running a hand over her unruly curls and grunting when her fingers catch in a snag. The room is small and free of any furniture save for the mattress, some scattered cushions and a trunk containing her few personal effects. Mrs. Hatch rented the attic to Kay for a reasonable price and didn’t question her when she paid in various pieces of jewelry or some other trinket, which suited Kay perfectly. She didn’t mind the tiny space; her scarce belongings didn’t require much room and the view was unbeatable.

Giving up on the knot in her hair she sinks down onto the lumpy mattress and stares up at the ceiling, folding her arms behind her head while mentally reviewing the chase from earlier. That was a close one today. Too close. Was she losing her edge? The ongoing war in the Wastelands had recently increased the demands the Intact sector placed on the Fragments and she was beginning to feel the effects along with everyone else. Slowing down the war effort with stunts like the one at the airfield and stealing from Intacts seemed like small risks to take in retaliation to the cruelty the King wrought upon the Fragments, but at least it was something.

Rolling onto her side, Kay shuts her eyes tightly to the memories that threaten to surface. Gradually, she is able to ignore her hunger and succumb to a welcoming unconsciousness, the fight of surviving a single day finally over for a few precious hours. 

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