Reeter swore loudly as, for the fifth time that day, someone knocked her head first into the roadside gutter. Did no-one have eyes in this rotten place? Couldn't they see the small girl darting around beneath them?
Or were they just too stupid to register her existence?
Picking herself up, Reeter slunk off to a small by-road off the main street and rubbed her bruised elbow, still hissing curse words. She'd been looking for hours and still hadn't found anyone to help her. She was starting to despair on the idea.
Then a sound from behind her snapped her out of her reverie, causing her to whip around, fists raised, ready for a fight. A figure stood in the shadows not far behind her, partially hidden behind a broken cart. It laughed:
"Sorry about that. Didn't mean to spook you, I was just passing by. I won't hurt you, calm down now."
It was a boy's voice, probably only a few years older than Reeter, and it seemd amused by her ferocity. She narrowed her eyes and glared at him:
"What do you mean? What are you doing skulking around back here?"
"I could ask the same of you" replied the boy "are you lost or something? Looking for somewhere in particular?"
Reeter opened her mouth to snap at him, but paused momentarily. Could this be the person she was looking for? Maybe this boy was the guide she'd been seeking.
"Sort of." she said cautiously, "I only arrived here a few hours ago, I'm looking for a friend of mine. I think she may be... lost somewhere and I need to find her."
The boy in the shadows laughed and stepped out from behind the cart. He was slightly taller than Reeter, and broader in the shoulders, with pale blue eyes and a mess of muddy brown hair. He was spattered with mud and grime and his trousers had more holes in them than a tree with a terminte problem. He held out a hand, and Reeter shook it tentatively:
"You came to the right person lass, I know every inch of this city like the back of my hand. Name's Jack by the way. And who, pray tell, are you? I don't think I've seen you around here before."
"I'm Reeter. I'm not from around here, I came from the forest. You know this place do you? Well, could you tell me where to start looking?"
Jack laughed again and clapped Reeter amicably on the shoulder: "No worries Reet, you won't need directions. Why you ask? Because I'll take you there myself, free of charge. It's been a long time since I've had company and I'm feeling charitable. So come on, let's go and find this friend of yours."
Following Jack out of the alley, Reeter chewed her lip, puzzled. Why should he help her free of charge? Was this a trick? She'd heard of thieves using trust to steal people's belongings. And who was this Jack boy?
But, never look a gift horse in the mouth, thought Reeter. Jack may be shifty, but he was her only chance of finding Omelia.
But that didn't mean she had to trust him.