Note: This was written while on the plane after I finished a book and before we were told to put our devices away for landing. Part-way through I decided to set this in Durndl, a city I made up last year or the year before last. I was unable to look up details, though, so I was vague in some places. Also, the names do not fit the naming scheme of Durndl’s world, so character names will change. The Runners are probably my favorites in Durndl, if only because they go everywhere.
Cold rain dripped like snot off the edge of Gillian’s nose. She twitched her lips, but didn’t bother wiping at the wetness. With the way the day was going, the miserable drizzle would last her entire shift. A church bell tolled out the half. A cart splashed down the street, its driver invisible in a high-necked coat and gloves with a bit of tarp pulled from the back and over his head. The horse, possibly white on a good day, was as grey as the clouds. Another half passed. Gillian’s stomach twisted with hunger—her earlier soup and bread more memory now than substance. Then, dark shadows spread wide over the street, darkening it further into night. Gillian rested back against the wall in relief. They had come. As soon as the balloons (dragons? planes? pegasi?) were out of view, she slipped out of her hiding place and sprinted to the nearest station.
The runners had stations in every neighborhood within the city. The greatest distance between two was only a half hour. Most people knew their locals, but, as a runner, Gillian knew every station in the city. The closest was once a guildhouse before the guild had moved up in the world and joined the rest in the guild neighborhood. It had a full kitchen, multiple rooms, and was, among the runners, considered the best station in the city. Gillian hurried up the steps to the station and pulled the door open with a sharp tug. An apprentice sat in the front hall, shivering beneath a thick quilt. He glanced up when Gillian came in and immediately sprang to his feet.
“They here?” he asked.
“I’ll go get Rhett.” The apprentice opened a side door and pounded up some stairs, leaving the door open. Gillian considered following the boy or possibly going ahead to the main room where a fire would inevitably be lit. Instead, she took a deep breath and, exhaling, bent over to grab her ankles. Her muscles were warm, but she hadn’t stretched before her sprint and she knew they would remind her of that once they cooled. She pulled until she felt the stretch and then stood back upright. In the quiet foyer she ran through the rest of her standing stretches. The rain, now that she was out of it, was soothing. Her breathing deepened. Her legs felt loose and steady.
“Finished?” Rhett stood beside the door the apprentice had used. Some said Rhett used to be a thief. Certainly, even with the cane that had ruined his Runner days, he moved silently.
Gillian bounced twice in place, testing her legs. “Yeah.”
“Come on in, then,” Rhett said, tilting his head toward the larger doorway. He tapped the door to the stairs shut with his cane as he walked over to join her. “Which way did they fly?”
“Up from the harbors, toward West Gate.”