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chapter one | an impromptu evening run

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"Run faster, Andrè!"

Even though the twelve-year-old boy could easily outrun his nine-year-old brother, Jean-Luc made sure to stay behind Andrè. Julienne had no such obligation-- she had outpaced them a while ago, even with her skirt, and led them further into the maze of buildings.

In the moon-lit alleyway, where the cobblestones were slick with rainwater and the puddles splashed their feet, it was hard to see where they were running. It might not be raining at the moment, but when it started up again, the night would only get worse.

Jean-Luc could hear the pounding of hooves behind them, metal clanking together as their pursuer chased them further into the city. It was a miracle they hadn't caught up yet. Jean-Luc could only hope it was because of the tight turns and slippery cobblestones.

Glancing behind him again, Jean-Luc didn't notice Andrè had stopped until he crashed into him, sending them both sprawling to the ground.

He got back onto his feet with a groan, holding out his hand to help Andrè. With a frown, the younger brother shoved away the hand and scrambled onto his feet.

Jean-Luc rolled his eyes. "Why did we stop, Lenni?"

"Dead end," Julienne replied, her curls bouncing as she looked behind them and then back at the wall in front of them.

Jean-Luc swept his gaze over the alley walls, trying to spot a door, a window, anything that could help. His eyes snagged on the rusty stairs of a fire escape.

"There!" He called, pointing at their way out, and the twins hurried over to the metal stairs.

Julienne was the first up, her skinny frame smoothly skirting up the hollow-sounding fire escape. Andrè was next, not too far behind his sister, and Jean-Luc took up the rear again.

The sound of hooves pounding on the cobblestones became louder, and when Jean-Luc glanced below them, he spotted the rider and his horse. The rider was wearing brown leather, which covered him from head to toe.

"Faster," Jean-Luc whispered again, Andrè flashing him a frown over his shoulder but increasing his pace.

The rider pulled his horse in a circle, trying to find the children's trail, and stayed still when he saw nothing. He might not have spotted them if they had continued their quiet escape, but Andrè tripped.

There was a high-pitched screech as the metal handlebar scraped against the frame of the stairs, wiggling free from its screws, and then a clatter as it landed in the alleyway below.

The rider's head snapped up, his brown hood obscuring his face in shadows. He spurred his horse forward, to the bottom of the stairs, and then he dismounted and started up.

Andrè had righted himself and had caught up with Julienne, while Jean-Luc's few moments of watching the rider caused him to fall behind. He sprung into action now, catching up to the twins just as they reached the roof.

Most of the buildings were connected at different heights. If a roof dipped lower than its neighbour, there was usually a ladder that allowed access from one to the other. Using the ladder would take time, but the jump was too far to attempt without one.

Jean-Luc led them away from the alley where rider and his horse still was. He didn't know where he was going, exactly, but he knew this was the way towards home. He kept searching for a place to hide.

They ran over discarded slats and cardboard, the littered remnants of trash that the wind tugged out of their hiding spots. They managed to travel three buildings down the street before Jean-Luc checked over his shoulder, seeing nothing but his two siblings empty night.

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