The wind blows through my hair. It’s a great feeling. People often underestimate how a good breeze can change your day.
And on this day, when the sky is blue and clear without a cloud in the sky, who wouldn’t want to be outside? The air is cool, and the breeze is better than air conditioning.
It’s a perfect day for running. I’ve run through bad days when the heat can drop a horse, and I’ve run through thunderstorms, typhoons and even dog crap. Twice. And while I can grit my teeth and keep running even when the world’s against me, I live for the days when it has my back.
The wind cools and energizes me. As I sprint through the knee-high grass I grin. With the temperature in the air I won’t sweat as much. That means I won’t overheat and so I can run faster. It’s little things like that which make the difference between a good run and a great run.
A rock appears in the grass and I hop over it just in time. Careful. At the speed I’m running I can easily break a foot if I trip over one. I’ve split my toenails more than once by kicking rocks at high speed. Not fun.
Keep running. Actually, scratch that. Run faster. The wind blows against my face and I smile again. It’s the small things that make life good. Like the wind.
The wind cools you down. It gives you something to run against; makes you feel alive. It also helps throw off arrows when people are shooting at your face.
An arrow flies through the air and I change my course slightly. It slices through the air past my left arm. Too close.
I adjust my path and pick up speed. I’m nearly out of the range of the Goblins that have been hunting me. A few more seconds and I’ll lose them.
Goblins. They’re frightening little monsters with red eyes and pointy teeth. They look more like demons, actually. But they’re real enough, and they like eating humans. If they can catch them, that is.
One pops out of the grass as I run towards the city in the distance. It’s a larger Goblin than normal, and he’s wearing rusty chainmail and holding a short sword.
He swipes at me and I jump. Straight over the blade. The Goblin gapes as I land and then sprints after me.
My legs blur. The Goblin slices at my legs but I’m already out of range. He runs as fast as he can, but I pull away so quickly that it’s like he’s standing still.
I mutter under my breath as I keep running. I don’t have the time or air to actually say that out loud, of course. Besides, I’m not good at comebacks. Or…insults. Either way.
The Goblin stops after a few more feet and screeches at my back. I ignore him and keep running. After a while I hear the Goblin’s shrill war cries end as they give up the chase.
After what feels like a few miles or, to be more worldly, a few kilometers, I stop. I do a quick scan of the area around me. Shorter grasses dominate this gentle downwards slope. Looks like I’ve lost the Goblin tribe.
I take a few deep breaths and wipe at my forehead. Not much sweat. Good. I’d be worried if I got tired that quickly.
This is my morning. It’d be lying if I said it was normal for a girl born in the greatest city in the world*, but I can get used to anything.
(*Obviously, New York.)
Back to running. After a few seconds I start walking, and then transition into a jog. But time is money and soon I’m back up to speed. Not sprinting speed; I need to conserve as much energy possible for the emergencies like Goblin attacks, Dire Wolves, bandits, zombies, skeletons, Crelers*, and the other nasty things that live in the plains**.
(*I’ve never actually seen these particular monsters. I’m not even sure if that name is right—the locals just call them ‘Tunnel Crawlers’. Apparently they’re not something you want to meet.)
(**If I make it sound horrible, it’s only because I’m aware of the possible dangers. At any given time there’s really not that many monsters lurking around. It’s just that you never know when one will pop up.)
Anyways, I keep running. I enjoy the wind blowing through my hair for a bit and finally reach the city in question.
Tall gray walls, and spearmen and archers in towers that keep an eye out for monsters. This is Cerum, or something like that. It’s a city, one of the Northern Plains Confederation, which is to say a city-state*. And the my destination for the moment.
(*More like just a city. It’s not that big, but all of the cities have their own form of rule. Some are ruled by a council, others have elected leaders like we do back at home, and some still have lords and ladies, although apparently only one or two still stick to that system. The point is they all band together if threatened, but they have their individual squabbles and goals. Just like good old USA.)
I approach the open gates. A guard’s on duty so he can slam the gates shut if a dangerous person approaches or if they’re really ugly, but he doesn’t even twitch as I approach.
He greets me. At least, I think it’s a greeting. I wave at him.
“Goblins. A few miles outside the city.”
He nods and say something I don’t quite catch. ‘Shame they ran off?’ Something like that. I nod as if I’ve heard him as I run into the city and the grass changes to hard cobblestone. Annoying and harder to run on; I’m going to have to slow down.
From a fast run I slow down to a jog, but not the kind that you see in TV. I hate the stupid bouncy run actors pretend to do, which clearly misses the point of running. Jogging, like sprinting or walking or anything else should be fluid and concise. You don’t waste energy looking like you’re standing on a pogo stick.
Let’s see. Pedestrians are already out and about despite the early hour. Good. I’d hate to have to wait. I navigate down the streets, using the wooden signs posted above the streets for guidance.
It’s great that everyone around here speaks and writes in English. How amazingly annoying* would it be if they wrote or spoke a different language? But by some contrivance of fate, English is the dominant language in this world. Of course, other languages exist but apparently most species know English.
Anyways. As I slow down to let a cart go by I think of what the guard said. Was it a warning? Was he saying it was a shame I ran off and didn’t fight back? It’s going to bother me on the run back. Why don’t people understand that it’s not a good idea to say things to someone running? We barely hear them even when we don’t have an iPod blasting music* in our ears. Plus, I’m really bad at listening.
*Pop. And rock. And techno, but that’s hit-or-miss. Look, if I can run to it I will. I have a soft spot for country music, but it’s hard to keep up speed when I’m listening to a harmonica’s croon. Country is for crying or nostalgia. At least, that’s the only kind of song I download.
At last I reach my destination. By which I mean I reach a tall stone façade of marble and gaze up at a fancier class of painted wood door than I’ve seen elsewhere. Urban housing meets rich people.
I take a few deep breaths. This is the part I hate the most. But it has to be done, so I steel myself. And hesitate. I take another deep breath, worry about hyperventilation, and knock.
I really do hate this part the most.
Celum, just past dawn.
The instant Lady Magnolia, a member of the noble eschelons of the city opened the door she clasped her hand to her heart.
“Oh my! Are you here with the delivery already?”
The girl—the young woman who still thought of herself as just an older girl at times—nodded her head silently. Magnolia needed no further invitation.
“I hadn’t expected you so soon! But where are my manners? Magnolia Reinhart, at your service. You are Runner I’ve been expecting, yes?”
“Mm. Your seal?”
The young woman nodded. Lady Magnolia hesitated, and then touched her fingers to her brow.
“Oh. Of course. It’s been so long since I—I’d completely forgotten. Please come in while I fetch it.”
The young woman hesitated and eyed the pristine mansion behind Magnolia. The lady noticed her hesitation and glanced down. Her eyes widened slightly, but she took the moment in stride.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I have plenty of servants who can deal with little stains. Please, come in, come in!”
The young woman hesitated and then reluctantly stepped into the house. She looked up and around and the marble flooring she was currently dirtying, and the fancy rugs, the tapestries on the wall, and clearly wished to be elsewhere. But Magnolia was fiddling around with a little pot set next to the wall.
“Now, where did they put the seal? Normally I’d leave this all up to the head maid – Ressa, but I just knew it was my delivery. Hm…hmm…here!”
Her hand plucked a silver-and-sapphire token from the plate. The beautiful seal was half gleaming silver, the other half a semi-translucent pool of cerulean.
She presented the token to the young woman who received it with extreme care. Magnolia patiently waited as the young woman carefully stowed the token in a belt pouch at her waist and then undid her pack.
It was a backpack, but not one that would ever grace any store in the world the young woman had come from. Rather, instead of Velcro and machine-tooled stiches and individual and superfluous compartments, this pack was made of leather stitched to cloth and had all the aesthetics of a black bug crawling on her back. But it could be tightly secured with strings and opened without having to be taken off.
Carefully, the messenger for that was what she was, removed a heavily-wrapped item. She held it out.
Lady Magnolia practically snatched the parcel out of the young woman’s hands and carelessly unwrapped the heavy layers of wool and string that had protected the item. The young woman clanked at the detritus littering the floor and then looked back at the package she’d so painstakingly brought this far.
An enameled bottle of red crystal caught the light in Magnolia’s hands and practically illuminated the foyer with light.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
Magnolia swished the blue liquid inside the bottle and smiled gently. She turned to the young woman and bowed her head slightly.
“I can’t thank you enough for bringing this in time for brunch. I’m entertaining several of my friends and I promised them I’d share a glass of this delightful drink with them. It’s very expensive, but so delicious! It’s distilled from a very poisonous fruit – the Amentus fruit, I think they call it. So hard to get a hold of, but I did promise! And wouldn’t you know it, but I drank the last glass yesterday. And so I put in my request and here you are!”
She beamed at the young woman. The young woman said nothing. Her left eye twitched.
“Please tell the Guild that I’m very happy with their efficiency.”
Nod, nod. The young woman shifted her feet and glanced towards the door.
“Do you have another request?”
It was the traditional response and Magnolia dithered.
“Well, I suppose—but no, I don’t believe I need—well, at the moment no, but it would be a shame too—no. I suppose not.”
The young woman nodded and began to edge back towards the door. Magnolia was ringing a silver bell and aproned women and an elderly gentleman were descending the stairs towards their mistress, but when she noticed the young woman leaving she called out.
“Won’t you stay and have a glass? I would hate to send you on your way without a little reward.”
“…Sorry. I have more deliveries to make.”
Magnolia’s face fell, but she rallied at once.
“Then at least take this gift for your trouble. No, no! I insist.”
She pressed a coin into the young woman’s hands. The young woman tried to give it back, but Magnolia wouldn’t hear of it so she gave up.
The young woman left the mansion of a house and walked down the street. It turned into a job as soon as she had enough room, and she moved out of the richer housing and into the common districts. There she knocked on two more doors and, with much less conversation and a lot more efficiency, handed over a letter and a bag and received two red tokens.
Her deliveries made, the young woman took care to stow both tokens in the same pouch the silver and sapphire token had gone in. She made sure the pouch was closed as well. It was crucially important that she not lose any of the tokens, or seals as they were known.
Messenger Seals. A proof of delivery. Without one of the brightly-colored bits of stone, any delivery was suspect. A messenger had to deposit such seals in order to receive their reward, and so they were valuable.
To an extent.
Among the wealthier class of patrons, Messenger Seals were a sign of their status and power. Merchants and bankers used lesser gemstones instead of common stone, and the most elite members of society even had their own unique form of Seal to prove delivery beyond a doubt.
However, anyone without such means had to use the simple cut stone provided by their cities at nominal prices. These were cheap, but also meant that they could be used to prove false deliveries.
Cases of messengers taking goods and providing false Seals happened every year. Thus, trust was just as important with messengers. Their reputation for honesty was a key part of receiving individual contracts, just as much if not more so than their ability to deliver packages quickly.
The young woman set off for the gate. She was tired. Not physically tired, but drained from the effort of interaction. But her pace picked up as she went out the gate and soon she was running down a well-worn road that would lead her back to her city. She wanted to make more deliveries today, and so she had to beat the midday rush on requests if she wanted to get any of the profitable ones.
She was a messenger. Or Runner as they were referred to. Other names included Travelers, Sealers – after the Seals they used, Carriers, and a whole host of rude words whenever they ran into someone.
She preferred to think of herself a Runner. Because she was a runner and running was what she loved to do. The deliveries she could take and mostly leave, unless it was the wrong address. Or the deliveree was dead. That had happened twice.
The point is she was running, and there was a breeze in her face. At a moment like this she could ignore the fact that she was in another world, or that she had no way to get back, or even that the Goblins were chasing her again. She was running, and she was free.
She was also barefoot.
Her name is Ryoka Griffin, a name which she hates. She enjoys running, and not talking to people. Her hobbies include not mentioning her name, running, hunting, and drinking coffee. Currently—