The pounding of feet, the shuddering gasps and the acrid smell of sweat and dried blood were strangely comforting to Ella. It reminded her of hope that her parents were somehow still alive, that the government would save them. What had once been a flight to safety had become routine to the survivors. It was ritualistic, a grim reminder of the day the world ended. Some ran the highway from the outskirts to the Commons for fun, surveying the destruction and the occupation of the dragons as they passed. After all, there wasn’t much left to lose. The Runners were worshipped for their bravery and their suicidal nature. A man who had no care left for his life in this world was considered a hero and it sickened Ella to her very core. This group of Runners, however, weren’t Runners at all but refugees from one of the last outlying human populations beyond the Commons. The outskirter waved Ella over as she melded seamlessly into the group of sweaty and broken humans. “Hey stranger, you heading my way?” The teenager grinned widely at Ella, giving her a sly wink. She purposely adjusted her position to step on his foot and he yelped, falling about half a foot behind. It took him a good fifteen minutes to wade through a pod of children before he caught up to her again. Running like this again was like getting on a bicycle for the first time after several years. The movements were all the same, but it felt new and strange again. Ella breathed deeply, enjoying the painful burn along her calves. “Sorry- about that-” The boy gasped, flicking his bangs out of his face. For an outskirter, he didn’t seem very bright. She glared at him, choosing not to speak to save her lung power for running. “Commons for goods, yeah?” Ella tuned him out, paying attention to the road stretching in front of her and the tattered flags barely visible in the distance. She could almost taste the freshly brewed moonshine and smell the bread being baked in old microwaves. The Commons closed their doors for no one and were not ruled by any one man. Decisions were made by the residents by popular vote and the law was enforced only when crime and murder became too much to handle. Crime and murder, after all, were a cruel but efficient form of population control.