"Ethan! Ethan, come back you're going to get in trouble."
Ethan could hear his twin's urgent, slightly panicky whisper behind him as he crept forward and scanned the hall, but he chose to ignore it. This was far too good an opportunity to waste listening to his timid, obsessively obedient brother.
All around them the castle was silent and still, everyone having hurried outside to complete the chores that needed doing there before the heat of the day became intolerable. Already the pale, yellow light of Rigial's primary sun, only newly risen over the horizon, was pouring in warm and strong through the windows mounted high on the external walls. But while Ethan knew the foot-thick, strogram-insulated barrier was there to protect them from the harsh, unforgiving climate that was all part of living in a binary system, having spent a lifetime cooped up in a tiny nursery, he was desperate to see what lay beyond them.
Edging forward, he hugged the pale, rendered wall and hoped the shadows created by the overhead light would hide them from any prying eyes that had remained inside. It was fate, he assured himself, that they should find their door unlocked this morning. In just a few days they were scheduled to be moved and start the intensive training that would make them fully fledged pleasure cats. Once that happened and they were inside the harem with its constant demands and endless monitoring, there would be no hope of them ever getting out and exploring the world.
No. This was meant to be, he reassured himself. For this one brief moment, this one tiny window of time, they would be free. They would lose themselves in their exploration and forget all about the heavy, restricting mantel that was about to descend on them. He just wanted to enjoy the moment, to rejoice in a little spontaneous youthful exuberance and freedom before it was all taken away from them.
Pausing to get his bearings, he could hear the sound of his own breathing as it rushed in and out of his lungs in excited pants. It was so loud in his ears, and his lean, lanky, fifteen-year-old body vibrated with anticipation. This was going to be fantastic. The adventure of a lifetime, he promised himself. He was going to see, touch, taste and smell everything there was to discover out here in the big, wide world of the castle. No. Not just the castle, the whole grounds. Now was the moment. Quite possibly their one and only moment of freedom.
Everything looked so much brighter out here, he realised in awe. More vivid. More alive and vital. He gazed around wide-eyed at the high vaulted ceilings and the ornate stonework columns of the massive halls. He wished he could get closer to the tapestries he saw lining the walls. Their stunning colours and interesting depictions drew his eye at every turn, but he didn't quite dare to leave the shadows he was hiding in.
With sheer willpower he managed to rein himself in. But it was hard. He felt like every pore of his body was thirsty for sensation and stimulation. On the other hand, he knew if someone came along and spotted them out here they would stop them from exploring any further. They would take them back to that dreary, boring, all too familiar room he and his brother had spent their whole lives in. And that just wasn't acceptable. Not after he had seen all this. He wanted more. He needed to see everything there was to see. And he was determined that they were going to do it.
Behind him, he could hear Devon scrambling over the slippery marble floor as he struggled to catch up. Ethan smiled wickedly, his bright, emerald green eyes twinkling with mischief. He knew Devon would follow him. His twin would always follow him. He was devoted and loyal to a fault. Of course, he was just as dedicated to his brother, but sometimes Devon needed a little push.
"We are going to get in so much trouble when the Master catches us." Devon gasped as he struggled to catch his breath after his mad dash down the hall. Trepidation danced in his pale blue eyes.
"If we get caught, brother." Ethan emphasised confidently, "If. We'll just have to make sure we don't, that's all. Now come on, I want to see outside."