Sebastian's footsteps pounded on the stone pavement as he ran through the city of Estolde. He looked rather out of place in the Palace Guard's uniform, which consisted of a scarlet plumed hat and a crimson cloak thrown over a gold-lined navy blue vest, which was worn over a freshly-ironed white undershirt. Below, he wore black breeches and supple leather boots. Passerby on the wide, sweeping streets parted respectfully, allowing him to pass. If he had been a mere street monger, curses would have been hurled after them - curses so ferocious that they would have made a drunken man swearing look like the purest priest - but as Sebastian was a member of the prestigious Palace Guard, no one dared to do such a thing. Instead, they watched him dash across the road, barreling over a cart of cabbages with a hasty apology. Sebastian knew that his behavior was hardly dignified. In fact, if the captain of the Guard had been witness to the spectacle, he would have stripped Sebastian of his rank in mere seconds. However, Sebastian was well aware that if he failed in his duty, the consequences would be much more severe. The Queen herself had tasked him with the duty to guard - or rather, follow - her second cousin with a close eye. Seeing as how his squad - which was normally a respectable group of honorable men - had gotten themselves drunk, the daunting task of watching Lady Genevieve de Beaumont had been left up to him. Sebastian had no doubt that he'd have been as drunk as the rest of his men had he not been patrolling the walls of Estolde at that time. He didn't know who had slipped several bottles of fine wine into the Guards' barracks, but he vowed to punish the guilty party once he found out who was responsible.

His eyes caught sight of a flash of green near a jeweler's stall, and he sprinted towards it. Unfortunately, he was exhausted from the wild goose chase which he had been participating in the entire morning, and didn't arrive in time.

" Genevieve?" Sebastian questioned the stall owner frantically, struggling to catch his breath. "Green hair, green eyes, fuchsia dress?"

The stall owner regarded Sebastian cautiously, not wanting to get in trouble with the Guard yet at the same time fearing Lady Genevieve's wrath. Sebastian pulled out a coin and the stall owner quickly pointed left, in the direction that Lady Genevieve had gone, pocketing the coin before Sebastian could change his mind. Sebastian left without so much as a word of thanks, running through the street and cutting through traffic. Lady Genevieve stood at yet another stall, examining a silver dagger with apparent interest. Setting down the dagger, she turned around and caught sight of Sebastian, her organza gown ruffling in the breeze. She regarded him laughingly, then ducked into a narrow alleyway. Sebastian pushed through the crowd in pursuit, coming to a stop at the entrance to the alleyway. Lady Genevieve stood in the center of the alleyway. The wind gently tousled her locks of olive green hair, framing her rather angular face. Smiling at him mischievously, she turned and fled through the alley. Sebastian chased her through alley after alley, back street after back street. He took no note of their surroundings, so intent was he on the chase.

Much to his surprise, he eventually found himself in Dead Man's Alley. The narrow alley was infamous for the numerous murders and thefts that occurred there every year. Towering, decrepit apartment buildings rose up on either size of it. They were dirty and grimy, covered with numerous graffiti and several stains which looked suspiciously like blood. The stench of death and decay hung in every inch of the alley. The ground was littered with bones and stolen purses.

"Lady Genevieve...," Sebastian began haltingly. He had no wish for her to take flight once more, like a bird which had only narrowly escaped being snared. Genevieve didn't reply. She took slow, deliberate steps towards him, an unreadable expression on her face. Sebastian froze, immobile, unsure of what she planned to do. Genevieve stopped a hair breadth away from him. He could faintly detect the scent of hibiscus flowers radiating off of her in waves. Sebastian was of average height - though slightly shorter than a majority of the Guard - but much to his surprise, he found that Genevieve stood half an inch taller than him. Her vibrant green eyes held him frozen in her gaze. Sebastian shivered slightly, feeling a shock run through his body. Genevieve silently turned around and walked towards the end of the alley. Sebastian followed after her after a moment's pause, feeling rather unsettled by the intensity of her stare.

Genevieve pulled out a small key. Sweeping aside some ivy, she studied the brick wall intently for several moments. Finally, she placed the key in a carefully concealed keyhole and turned it. Much to his surprise, Sebastian realized that what had at first appeared to merely be a large crack in the wall was in actuality the outline of a door.

"Lady Genevieve --" Sebastian began worriedly. Genevieve placed her finger on her lips, motioning for him to be silent. The door slowly creaked open, groaning in complaint. Without a sound, Genevieve walked through the open doorway and up a narrow flight of stairs, which led to yet another door. Sebastian's footsteps sounded like those of a giant beast compared to her silent, catlike tread. Genevieve suddenly halted near the top of the stairs, standing stock still. Sebastian nearly crashed into her, but regained his balance just in time. He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a single sound, the barrel of a rifle filled his vision.

Instinctively, Sebastian pushed Genevieve behind him. He raised his eyes defiantly, hoping that the wielder of the gun wouldn't notice how his legs were trembling. A middle-aged woman had suddenly materialized in the space before him. Waves of raven black curls fell below her shoulders, and her catlike eyes shone with a malicious gleam. She wore the clothes of an middle class citizen, yet something about her made her stand apart. Everything about her practically radiated danger. Sebastian remained rooted to the ground, frozen in fear. His instincts yelled at him to grab Genevieve and run, but his feet refused to move. However, Genevieve calmly pushed past him and ascended the last of the stairs, staring the woman in the eyes. Genevieve acted as though the woman was merely an acquaintance who she had happened to meet by chance, remaining calm and relaxed despite the fact that she was staring danger in its eyes.

"Have you fulfilled your end of the bargain?" the woman asked, speaking with a strange, lilting accent.

"No. Not yet. I need more time," Genevieve stated firmly, her posture erect.

"Time is not something that I have an abundance of," the woman replied quietly, her voice soft yet biting.

"It is an impossible task," Genevieve declared. "A week. Give me one more week."

"Oh? And how do I know that you will keep your word?"

"You don't trust me?"

"Have a reason too? I am no fool."

Genevieve grinned, a wolfish grin that chilled Sebastian's bones. "No," she agreed. "You are not a fool. That is why I'm offering you this -- a hostage in exchange for another week."

The woman with the catlike eyes gave Sebastian a quick one-over. Her eyes pierced into his soul, analyzing every inch of him -- his weaknesses, and the best way to kill him. Under her scrutinizing gaze, he felt particularly vulnerable and exposed. He knew that even with his years of training, she could kill him easily. She was the hunter, and he was nothing more than just another rat to her.

WIP A/N: This story was inspired by the below picture:


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