Chasey huddled in her room, at the foot of her bed under the window, cowering already. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Her father would come home any time now, drunk and menacingly violent. Her mother was still out on her business trip, leaving only Chasey to serve as her father's punching bag.

Chasey tensed as she heard the front door swing open and hit the wall with a loud bang. Next came her dad's unstable staggers.

"CHASEY!" he bellowed. It could be Chasey's own imagination, but the walls and floor reverberated at his shout.

Trying not to whimper, Chasey stumbled down the stairs to her own doom. Locks of orange-blond hair already stuck to her damp, cold skin.

Before even realizing she'd reached the bottom of the staircase, Chasey was knocked out of her thoughts by her father. A rock-hard fist slammed across her jawbone, causing her to stagger backwards and nearly fall down. Chasey barely managed to keep her balance; she couldn't fall. If she did, she'd be subject to her dad's deadly kicks.

Now whimpering openly, Chasey tentatively touched her tear-stained jaw.

Her father advanced.

With a cry, Chasey backed up against the wall. She glanced over to her right; the front door, open wide, was only about five meters away.

Much too drunk, Chasey's father hadn't noticed her obvious glance at the door. He stumbled forward toward his daughter, fists held ready.

Screaming, Chasey tore away from the wall and bolted for the door.

"'Ey! You! Come back 'ere!"

Heart thudding much too hard for her liking, Chasey sprinted down the complicated, twisting alleyways of Venice. Adrenaline was pumped fast and hard through her body, so much that she could no longer feel anything. She let the adrenaline take over her mind and her body, letting it lead her. When Chasey was finally sure that her father would no longer be able to find her, at least for tonight, she let the adrenaline slack off, but kept on running as it felt good.

She ran at the same speed for a while until she was suddenly aware of someone else running at her from the opposite direction, and he was a bit too close for her to avoid now.

...

Scipio's jaw clenched as he heard his dad's loud footfalls just outside of his door. Swinging his knapsack over his shoulder, he stepped right out to meet him.

Dottore Massimo strode up to his son angrily. "Where is it?" he demanded in a harsh, loud voice, right in between yelling and being deadly quiet.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Scipio answered calmly.

The Dottore smacked his hand against his son's pale cheek as hard as he could and slammed him against the wall, grasping his collar. "WHERE IS IT?" he roared.

Scipio's face was now deadly pale, save the red spot where he had been slapped. "I don't know," he breathed, trying to hold back his tears.

Suddenly Scipio shoved his father away from himself with as much strength as he could muster. He sprinted at top speed down the corridor, slid down the banister while praying that he wouldn't fall off, and bolted right out the front doors.

He ran at this speed along the familiar alleys toward his favourite place in the world.

As he ran, Scipio pulled a black sweatshirt out of his bag and threw it on, wriggling his arms out while turning a corner. Next came an all-too-familiar black mask with a long beak curving out from it. Smiling for the first time that day (and night), he slipped the mask over his head.

Suddenly, Scipio saw a bright orange flash of hair, and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground, two of his fingers in terrible pain and a bruise already starting to swell on his knee.

Remembering the orange hair, Scipio scrambled to his hands and knees and crawled over to a girl lying on the cold ground. She looked about fourteen or thirteen, his age, had straight, shoulder-length orange-blond hair with a very neat fringe, a thin nose with an unattractive bump on the bridge, and very big, dark lips. He couldn't see her eyes, as they were closed.

She was not the prettiest girl Scipio had ever seen.

There was a red scrape across the girl's forehead, almost between her barely visible eyebrows, where Scipio's mask had hit her. That and the hard ground combined must have knocked her out.

Feeling guilty, Scipio awkwardly kneeled and shook her. Her body was limp. He clapped loudly right beside her ear and shook harder, but received no response.

Finally giving up, Scipio leaned over and slid his arms under her knees and shoulders. He hefted her up easily and started jogging again, this time slower. For the first time ever, Scipio was glad his father had forced him to work out since he was eleven.

...

"I wonder what's holding Scip up," Hornet said worriedly. Her eyebrows were knitted together, her hands on the window ledge.

"Don't worry, Hornet, he's probably just having some trouble with his dad," Prosper sighed, putting his book down. "Honestly, why are you so moody these days?"

As if to prove his point, Hornet whipped around, instantly changing from worried to venomously angry. She stamped her foot, sparks flying from her eyes. "Do you have any idea how that father of his treats him? Do you even care about Scipio at all? Do you know how hard it is for him to..."

Her rant went on and on until at last a pounding on the fire exit door floated up to the children on the balcony.

Prosper, Hornet, Riccio, Bo, and Mosca went flying down the stairs to fling open the door in relief.

"What happened to our password?" Scipio asked, clearly annoyed. He pushed past his gaping friends and turned to face them. "Any spare mattresses?"

Hornet immediately scrambled to pull out their last mattress, while Prosper found some of Hornet's old sweats and a shirt for the new girl at Hornet's order.

"Who's she?" Riccio demanded, watching as Scipio gently laid the girl down on ratty mattress.

Bo hurried over with a blanket taken from Mosca's (who usually slept with extra blankets) bed.

"I don't know. I ran into her...er...a bit too hard," Scipio explained, pointing out the gash on the girl's forehead. A purple bruise was beginning to blossom around it.

"She must be freezing by now!" Hornet rushed over and pulled the girl's muddy shoes off to reveal unusually pale feet. She slipped her warmest socks onto the icy feet. Next she fitted Prosper's mittens over her hands and gave up her own blanket so that the girl could warm up. Finally she cleaned and stuck a Band-Aid over the gash and sat back.

"I guess we can ice her bruise later, when she's all warmed up and awake," Hornet sighed. Then she turned her gaze to Scipio. "What happened!" She was staring at his reddened cheek and ripped collar.

With a heaving sigh, Scipio dropped himself in one of the cinema's plush red velvet chairs. "My father happened," he said glumly. "And I guess hers happened too." He jabbed a thumb over at the girl he had just brought home.

Much to her friends' alarm, Hornet suddenly burst into tears and ran upstairs to her bed.

"Er...shall I go after her?" Prosper asked awkwardly, feeling it his responsibility as he was Hornet's best friend.

He silently agreed as the others slowly shook their heads.

...

Chasey turned over under her warm blankets. What happened last night? All she remembered was her father hitting her, and herslef running away. After a minute of thinking, she remember the boy, and a stinging pain on her forehead.

Chasey slowly became aware that she was awake. She forced open her mucky eyelids and blinked for a few moments. The first thing she saw was a black ceiling far away, and a blurry face looking at her uncertainly. Chasey blinked again, and the face came into focus. It belonged to a girl with huge gray eyes and long, braided dark hair with a fringe.

Chasey's eyes widened. "Where am I?" she cried in alarm.

The dark-haired girl turned and called over her shoulder, "She's awake!" Then she switched her attention to Chasey. "Hi," she said kindly. "Don't worry, we won't hurt you. Scip here brought you home after he, uh, bumped into you last night."

Chasey looked up and saw a boy about her age walking up to her and the girl speaking. He had dark brown hair and even darker, melted-chocolate eyes. In his hand was a black knapsack and a mask with a long bird's beak curving out of it. Chasey vaguely remember a long black thing stabbing into her forehead.

"Hello. I'm sorry about last night," he apologized, holding out his hand for Chasey to shake. "I'm Scipio, but since you're here, you may address me as the Thief Lord."