She got up in the dark, threw on yoga pants, t-shirt and a sports bra. The cold was biting, but she knew that once she got out there, she would get warm. She promised herself a long, hot shower when she got back.
These little bargains meant nothing in the greater scheme of things. She needed to move, to test herself like this. She made coffee in the small kitchen and looked out at the first rays of dawn as she drank it, black with a spoonful of coconut oil and a dash of cinnamon.
Each day out was progress. She did not run every day, but on the days that she did not, she thought about it. It became something to anticipate, and she incorporated her recovery sessions into the overall work she was doing.
The pain became fuel. It was easier to deal with in her body than inside her where it hurt more. She smelled more of arnica montana than perfume and there were nights that she awoke from the aches in her legs.
In the mirror, she saw the signs of her transformation. How she had burned away some of the softness, there was definition in her thighs and calves and she had started to like the woman she was becoming.
She went out, locked the door and started to jog, easing into the run and focusing on her breath. There would be little to no traffic and she could lengthen her stride until she needed to take the turning on the left, down the path where she would get on with the real work of her time out there.
She had first visited Ferra in her imagination. There were rolls of wallpaper festooned with colourful loops of crayon characters and single sentences as she fleshed out the world she had made. She had starting writing down stories in lined exercise books that digressed into essays on the ecology of the creatures and people that lived there. It had never occurred to her to be embarrassed by it at all, until her first boyfriend, Tim found one of her folders and picked through it, laughing at the names she had used.
It was another ten years before she let herself think about the place without that burn of humiliation in her stomach. When she was moving for the fifth time in as many months, tired all the time from work and college and weekends drinking away the pain, she found one of them, the tale of the Rolly Gog and sat there, reading through it with tears pricking in her eyes.
She sent off the first manuscript without any expectation of acknowledgement. She told herself she was curious but there was a drive within her that kept her writing. She burned with regret for the wasted years because something had been lost in the interim.The years had lent a weight to her thought processes and burdened her with a quiet anxiety that made writing about Ferra difficult.
At the writing group, she started a conversation about writer’s block and a chorus of sympathetic groans went up. Amongst all the advice was one that resonated with her that exercise helped. She had always liked walking, and from there, she decided to start running each morning before work.
She received the letter offering her a deal for the book and any subsequent sequels. She went to an agent in the city who managed to get another ten percent on top of an embarrassing sum of money and she started to figure out what a writer did with their days.
She ran and she wrote.
She had gotten through the first month when she decided to take the path through the woods. Her legs throbbed from starting too fast and too early, and she wondered if she should stop. The sky was a dark blue, and her breath plumed from her lips as she winced through a persistent stab of pain in her hamstring. Her vision blurred for a moment and she saw someone at the end of the path, broad shoulders and thick legs, the gleam of caramel eyes and the easy smile.
Marius. Her protagonist who lived in the woods, a king in exile.
She screamed and fell away in a dead faint.
He touched her face as she awoke and gasped at how close he was, how real he looked.
She remembered the rules, even as she wondered if she had finally gone mad.
Travel between the realms was limited to an hour. She took him home; they had ten minutes before he started to fade away. She laid on the couch, flustered and damp as she fought the urge to run back and call him to her again.
She went back with him. Only for an hour, but she stood within the Church of Giant Bones and sang along with the Ghoul Choir and that was where she realised that if this was madness, then she was entirely comfortable with it.
She has friends, both here and there. She misses them when she goes on book tours, so she begs them off for as long as she can.
She tells them she’s dedicated to her running. She’s deep into the next Ferra book, when in truth, she’s simply listening to the stories told in the inns whilst Marius brings back treasures, his rough hands being her favourite treasure.
She is warm as she runs and she starts down the path, seeing his outline against the rising sun.