I made it to the north gate, only to realize my first problem. The guards and the gate check. It’d never been a problem before, I always had someone with me to help me through. Well, I had no contraband, or anything the guards would care about, but on the other hand, they probably knew me, and would ask why I was heading out of town.
Let’s see. I wanted to be truthful if at all possible, but telling them “I’m running away from home.” would probably end up with me denied exit, escorted back home, and watched carefully every remaining moment. So the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth seemed to be out. Let me take stock of what I had. Food, water, clothes, knife, belt, pendant, diamond. It was like I was going on a picnic.
Actually, in a sense, I was going on a picnic. Maybe I could say I was feeling an urge to eat lunch outside of the town walls? All, technically, truthful, and innocent enough. It didn’t explain the clothes though, but eh, it might work.
It was good enough for me to get in line and start thinking about it. Bribe the guards? With what? A diamond, which would get all sorts of questions, and everyone in trouble? My meager savings? It’d just draw attention to me, let’s not.
The line shuffled forward, and I kept thinking about it. What was on the road north? Virinum was somewhat northwards, Kerberos’s house… I really knew practically nothing of the world outside of Aquiliea. Hang on, could I say I was going to Kerberos’s house? I was technically engaged, it made sense, was there a reason to –
“Excuse me, miss?” The guard repeated himself to me, a bit less friendly than the first time. First time? Shit! It was my turn, and the guards were talking to me.
“Sorry, yes?” I said, flustered, broken out of my train of thought.
“Reason you’re going out of town?” He repeated himself.
“Errr… a picnic?” I said, panicked, having not yet settled on an excuse. That got me a suspicious look, but the guard was still relaxed, hands far away from his baton.
“A healer? At your age, alone outside the walls?” Blast, my healer tag. And being alone, outside of the walls. I could see why it didn’t look good.
“Come on, you don’t know Elaine? She’s Elainus’s kid, follows him around all the time, tries to constantly ‘heal’ us.” The other guard butted in, apparently finding sniping our conversation much more interesting than watching another trader leave town. “I heard about the fire, that was quite something. Let her through. If she wants a breath of fresh air, I wouldn’t blame her.”
Being vouched for by another guard was good enough, and I was through the gate in a heartbeat. “Be safe!” the friendlier guard called to me as I skipped down the road, overtaking the trader and his cart in a heartbeat. Free! I was free! I felt the chains and weight binding me fall off, turned to dust in the wind. The sky was slightly overcast, continuing its trend of not reflecting my mood properly, but I didn’t care!
I ran, I skipped, I jumped, I twirled, a blaze of motion, wind in my hair. I was on open roads, I could run as long, as far, as fast as I wanted! Who needed to carefully manage free stat points when I was free? Not me! Let’s see how fast I could go! I dumped all 22 of my free stats into Speed, and started to run with everything I had. Feet pounding, hair flapping like a kite, bag bouncing on my back, I was free!
The fork in the road where we’d turned to Kerberos’s place yesterday showed up, much faster since I was running, and not meekly following along in my best clothes. I gave the fork double fingers as I ran by, turning around to continue giving it fingers as I left. Some gestures transcended planets.
Free! I continued to run down the roads, pushing myself, delighting in a notification.
[*ding!* Congratulations! [Running] has reached level 55!]
Never got any solid chances to run in town – my stats and skills were too low to properly use the white zone, but too high to keep running in the park, and I’d been too busy to go out of the town walls to run like this. Miracle I’d gotten it to 54 really, and that was with a fire boosting it.
I dashed, I jogged, I sprinted, trotted, tripped and recovered, but most of all, I ran, reveling in every breath, every foot hitting the ground and springing up again, the flow of it all. I entered the great bamboo forest without breaking stride, large shoots of the grass going up into the sky, forming a great umbrella. I could run, and run, and run, even without being in amazing shape, even without training professionally. The benefits of skills, and the combination of a relatively low [Running] skill with high Mana Regeneration.
I felt a wild joy bubbling up inside of me, wanting to burst out into wild song! I sang then, not a song, just high, happy notes of joy, of happiness, of a feeling of freedom and release so good I wanted to eat it and never hunger again.
I kept running as farms turned to orchards, orchards turned to grazing land, and grazing land slowly, surely, transitioned into untamed land, fields of wildflowers waving to me as I ran by, mighty oaks reaching for the sky, untouched since creation. Nobody had ever tried to marry an oak off. Nobody had tried to chain an oak. Nobody would chain me ever again.
If bindings and restrictions were on me, they would be ones I chose for myself, like [Oath]. Nothing external. That made me wonder – could I turn my burning desire for freedom, to not be restricted, into a skill of some sort? Would it help me?
Did I even need a skill for something as fundamental and true to myself as a desire for sovereignty?
Whatever! Deep and weighty thoughts were for another day, today was a day to be FREE! To run, to explore the world, to see what nature – true, primal, unfettered nature – was like in this world. There were no pictures. There were no documentaries. It was all town, town, town, and even outside of the town was carefully cultivated farmland. This was nature! This was untamed wilderness, as free and wild as my heart.
The road was still Republic standard, which was to say amazing for the rest of the technology I’d seen so far. I flopped down in a nice little clearing to have some lunch and drink some water. No sign of Artemis or the Rangers yet, but the day was still young, and the bamboo was nicely shading me from the midday heat of the sun. I got back up to keep running.
I could – and would try – to run all day, this was just the best! Seeing the scenery change, the road going by, new things, new smells, escaping the bustle and crowd. This was wonderful.
A pain in my feet suggested that maybe, just maybe, I should check on my equipment. I took off my sandals – not the best for running, upon reflection – and checked my feet. Huge oozing blisters met my eye. Yikes. Maybe I should take it easy.
Or maybe a quick shot of [Detailed Restoration] could take care of it. Yup! Two in total – one per foot – and I was good to keep going! I wish I had a cellphone or something, I needed “Don’t stop me now”. Although the song, like many other things, were faded, a decade and a half between me and them.
One foot in front of another – just how far could a Ranger team with a wagon go in two days? Not too far, right?
I kept going, reveling in the ability to run, the occasional [Detailed Restoration] keeping me up when my body failed me, mana burning at close to the same rate as I was regenerating it. I see why I’d been offered [Runner] as a class, this suited me, like a velvet glove on my hand.
Ah, but my [Healer] tag suited me even more, like a skin. So often when something you love becomes your job, a subtle poison slowly taints it, consuming and overwhelming, until you hate the very thing you love. Like making your favorite song an alarm song.
As the sky started to darken, a terrible thought came over me. They were a bunch of insanely fit, dedicated, high level, high stats soldiers. Even with a wagon, they could chew up insane distances in a single day. I might have to camp out in the bamboo forest tonight.
Camp, with no ability to make a fire.
Camp, when the sky had gone from overcast, to promising rain.
Camp, when I had no supplies for a tent.
Camp, with no food for breakfast.
Camp, with an empty water bottle, and the nearest river I knew of a day’s run away.
Camp, when I had nobody to look out for me, or cover my back.
Camp, in a forest full of monsters.
I’m not sure I thought this “running away” thing all the way through.