The story starts on particular summer twilight in Paris. You think it romantic? If that's so, then you must have missed the grime on the streets, and the sad, broken windows gazing emptily down at you from every direction. You might have also missed the beggars lined against the buildings, but I don't blame you. Their rags are filthy enough to match the approaching night.

No, don't feel sorry for them. You're not close enough to smell their stinking breaths, yet, but don't try it. I can assure you now that it's the piercing smell of alcohol. Give them a coin and they'll spend it on liquor. They're incurable, these poor wretches.

Let's go away from them, now. After all, this story isn't about beggars. It's about an artist, a nobleman, and a prostitute.

You can see the last one, now, standing there. She looks rather desolate, don't you think? I can tell you want to give her your coins—the ones I made you withhold from the beggars. Do her wide eyes appeal to your philanthropic side? Or is it her body that appeals to your trousers?

You really make me laugh. All this excitement, and you don't even know her name, yet. It's Fleur, if you're interested. Simple. French. Different from the language you're reading. But I cannot write French well, so we'll make do with the language of my preference.

Let's turn our attention upwards. No, no, too high. I didn't mean the sky, Reader, but it is starting to get quite dark out now, isn't it? You can't see the stars from this part of the city, but I can tell you now that they're there; hundreds, thousands, millions of them. Now, if you will kindly lower your gaze a little…

Do you see that shadow at the window? That is your first glimpse of the artist I mentioned. He's standing by the window right now and looking down. Can you imagine what he finds so fascinating on the filthy avenue below his apartment? Yes, you guessed correctly. It's Fleur. They don't know each other, however. Not yet.

That, Dear Reader, is how our story starts. It's no longer twilight, but night—a warm, summer night in Paris. Now, follow me and try not to get lost in the winding streets. I assure you you'll never find your own way back.

It's time now to return to the story.