Chapter 1

The Beginning

"Sebastian, we cannot keep living like this." I say, frowning at my useless older brother. He has half a stale loaf of bread in each muddy hand and is chewing on a bit of dried meat.

"Living like what?" He asks, saliva flying out of his open mouth and onto the cobblestones. If it weren't for his lack of table manners and a respectable name, my brother, Sebastian Alfonse Miguel Apadaka, would catch every lady's attention. He is tall, blond, strong and excruciatingly handsome. The fact that he oozes charm isn't a hindrance either. I, unfortunately received the leftovers from my utterly perfect brother. Really, the only things about me worth commenting are my ears. True to the Apadaka name, my ears are broad and long. Those two monstrosities are the only reason I bother to look in the mirror, which I do often enough, with the Narcissus I call a brother buying as many looking-glasses as he can afford. All this self-centeredness is becoming quite depressing, so I'll cut it short. I am the homely sibling, Sebastian is the beauty. He is the dense one and I am the one who bails him out of all his troubles.

"Like animals," I reply dryly.

He sits up and stares at me indignantly. "Animals? Is that what we are to you? Animals?"

I repeat, "Animals."

"Do you not appreciate the treatment I have given you? Allowing you to stay with me though Mother and Father wish to pluck me off these filthy streets and pull me back into their loving embrace?"

"Oh, shut your mouth," I say, smiling. This is the farthest thing from the truth and he knows it. Sebastian, you see, has a horrible habit of spending money he doesn't have. Mother and father would rather have me home, a disappointingly hopeless child than their spendthrift son. "I just mean we could get jobs. I'm tired of living on the streets, never knowing when or where my next meal would come from. I just want to sleep in a bed."

He smiles at me sympathetically and places and arm about my shoulder. "And you will, sister." Suddenly, he leaps up and says, "We will go away!"

I don't understand. "Away? Where will we go?"
His eyes are sparkling with excitement. "France." Snapping back into reality, he stoops down and takes my hands in his, pulling me up next to him. "I'll reinvent myself and marry someone rich! We can live like royalty again!"

I can't help but smile at my delusional brother. He dances around the alleyway, going on and on about the new and improved life we would lead together in France. Thinking too far into the future is not one of my brother's few talents. If, and only if, a rich young French girl wanted to marry him, and did, I would never see a cent of her money, no matter how much he begs and pleads. He probably thinks he and I would still frolic in the mud together.

"…and we could have mud ball fights in the rain again…" he says, reading my mind. I put my hand on his shoulder and bring him down from his high.

"No, love. Not anymore." He sits back down next to me. "Things will never be like they were. We need to look for jobs. I'm tired of eating stolen food." I say, looking at the two loaves sitting in my brothers hands.

"But there isn't anything I'm good at. I have no talents other than singing and writing poetry."

I sigh and look away from him. "Maybe you're right." I smile at him and kiss his cheeks. "Let's go to France. We need a change of scenery. Then we can have another shot."

The sad shape his face had taken not a few moments ago is now a devilish grin.

"We'll be off at the first light of dawn!" He says romantically, an index finger in the air.

I grab his arm. "Tomorrow? Let's leave tonight!"

--

The gypsy La Esmeralda taps her tambourine against her round hip and moves her delicate feet to the rhythm. She whips her long raven hair around her, letting it fall slyly over one emerald eye. My brother is standing next to me, drowning in a puddle of his own drool. From her cleavage, she draws a sheer scarf and wraps it around my poor brother's neck, leaving it there. She winks and turns to another audience member. Sebastian is smitten.

I feel a twinge of jealously at her beauty, for I will never be that lovely, but I attempt to shake it off.

"Sebastian, we need to leave. We need to find-"But I am interrupted by his protest.

"Dear sister," he begins, forcing himself to tear his gaze away from the undulating body of the sensual dancer. "The only woman I have seen in a fortnight is my little sister. Please, let me have a few moments of pleasure." With that, he turns his head back to the alluring woman and her curve-hugging dress.

Disgusted, I wander away until I find myself at the steps of the great cathedral Notre Dame. I gaze up at the smooth stone walls and marvel at the beauty at this amazing man-made structure.

"It is quite glamorous, hmm?" I turn to see a man in a judge's uniform standing regally a few steps under me. His hair is the color of the cloudy sky.

"Yes, very." I say in my very best French.

"The gargoyles, especially. They are magnificently frightening."

I look up and see the terrible beasts staring down at the city. "That they are." I smile.

"Yes. This has been quaint, but I must go. I have business up in the bell tower. Good day." He walks into the church, his robes billowing out behind him. I look down at my dirty dress and frown in shame. I hang my head and go back to wandering around the city. It starts to rain. When I look up I see Sebastian sitting at a tomb in a graveyard. I rush over to him.

"Sister! How did you find me?"

"Never you mind. What are you doing in a graveyard it the real question."

"He shuffles his feet. "If I tell you, you must promise not to get angry."

I stare at him. "What, oh, what did you do now?" I ask, my hands on my hips.

"Ah, ah, ah," he wags his finger at me. "You must promise."

"Sebastian, out with it!" I am tired and hungry. The fact that my brother is baiting me is distressing me very strongly.

Sensing my agitation, he spits it out. "I followed La Esmeralda here."
"Oh, Sebastian," I sit next to him on the stone slab. "That is shameful. You were the one who wanted to come here, to start a new life. We can't ruin it by associating ourselves with gypsies."

He puts his head in his hands and sighs. "I know, I know. But you saw her. She was…"

"Beautiful. I saw. But you can't follow beautiful girls through the streets! Especially gypsies. They would cut your throat in an instant."

He smiles dreamily. "Not her."

"Especially her. That's what they do, you know. They teach the prettiest, most delicate girls to fight and cut your purse. That makes it all the more surprising when they gut you by the light of the moon."

"Sister, do not judge so harshly. We are on the street, same as them."

Frustrated, I throw a rock, not caring where – or who – it hits. To my surprise it strikes the tomb across from us, but instead of hearing the sound of rock against rock, it makes a strange hollow thud. I stop my rant and inquisitively throw another rock, which produces the same sound.

"Now what on earth could that be?" I say, trying to push the stone from its place. When it budges only an inch, I turn to Sebastian. "Help me move this!"

"And raise the dead? I think not!"

I look up at the angry skies, drenching us in rain. "We'll need someplace to stay for the night. It's a lot nicer in Spain. We don't need to worry about catching our deaths out in the night. But here we do. Now help me push!"

He sighs, rolls his eyes, and relents. Getting down on one knee, he braces himself and then pushes with all his might. The slab moves about a fourth from where it originally was but it is just enough for us both to slip inside, out of the wet. I squeeze down the steps, Sebastian right behind me until my foot touches water. I shriek and jump back.

"I don't think this is a tomb, Sebastian." My voice is quivering. He wraps his arms around me and I lean into him.

"I knew this wasn't a good idea," Sebastian says, still a few feet behind me. I try to see who is holding me but his grip is too tight and it's too dark. So I do the only thing I can.

I scream.