It’s funny how humans can abandon all rational thought when faced with a crisis situation. Take me as an example; for the next few agonizing moments after the explosion, I stopped functioning completely.
Chaos had seized the square, that much I knew, but there were too many different stimuli for me to process all at once. Time was speeding up, people were yelling and screaming, bumping and shoving past us from all angles. Everyone was trying to get as far away from the palace steps as possible, yet there I stood, frozen, feeling as far removed from the scene as if I were watching it as a segment on the news. I was still planted on the lawn, but my mind had detached itself from the situation.
My lips parted and I heard myself say the name without thinking, my voice high and brittle, at least an octave higher than my last set of spoken words.
Did that really just happen? Is he alright?
The numbness began to fade, and I was overwhelmed with a flurry of sensations.
The scratch of rough fabric rubbing against my bare arm. A thud and a splash. Screams. A flash of light refracting off something shiny. The ring of metal kissing metal.
My mind began to catch up with the rest of the world. Most people were running towards the edges of the square, but not everyone. Concealed guards were emerging from the throngs of the frenzied spectators, tossing away bulky cloaks to reveal chain mail and blades of steel. Even though they were well armored and armed, they all looked terrified.
“They’re everywhere!” I heard one shout. “Close your ranks, don’t let them get to your King!”
I swiveled my head around to scan the lawn, fear growing from within the pit of my stomach. Who’s everywhere?
Then I saw them, and felt blood begin to pump faster through my body, throbbing through my veins and ending in my ears and wrists.
A second group of men was rushing towards the palace, armed with long, thin blades sharp enough to dice vegetables. From my vantage point, they looked to be dispersed evenly among the crowd, linked together by a single iconic piece of clothing: a bright white mask hidden under a dark hood. The masks had faces painted crudely over a clean, bright material that looked as glossy as polished plastic. The painted features were asymmetrical and lacked any semblance of artistic ability, each mask bearing a cartoonishly wide smile in black paint that extended all the way from one end to the other. Above the smile were two splotches of dark brown outlining the mask’s eye-holes.
I had not noticed anyone wearing masks during the start of the ceremony, but now there were dozens of them, sprinting towards the palace with weapons held high, slashing out violently at the guards trying to close off the palace steps. The guards far out-numbered their masked men, but the aggressors appeared to only have one goal in mind: to reach the King.
The smoke from the explosion had cleared, and I could once again see the outline of my husband, now lying face down and motionless a few feet away from the altar. I gulped. Get up Malcolm I thought. Please, just get up and get the hell out of here.
The fighting was getting closer, the guards driving the fight backwards towards us. My limbs began to work again, and I realized I could no longer afford to remain standing still.
“Come on Ko’sa!” I yelled. “Let’s go!”
I swiveled around in my spot. “Ko’sa?”
Had she left? I had been standing frozen in my spot longer than most others. She could have bolted back during the explosion.
I yelled louder, feeling the scratch on my vocal chords from the effort. “Ko’sa!”
I spun around a second time, now panicking, afraid that if I left this spot then the small girl would never find me. She had been standing right next to me at the edge of the pool, watching the ceremony, how could I have lost her?
As I made a third pass, a dark shape in the pool below me caught the corner of my eye. I squinted down at it, and felt the world stand still. I had found Ko’sa: her body was floating face down in the water below me.
Before I knew what I was doing, I had vaulted over the edge of the pool barrier and the water was rising up to meet me. The bite of the water’s white splash stung at my eyes, leaving me momentarily blind and disoriented. The pool was surprisingly deep, and my feet couldn’t touch the bottom without completely submerging myself in the dirty water. I poked my head above the surface, which was now sloshing angrily from my impact, and scanned the pool for my companion.
I spotted her a few yards ahead of me, her limbs limp and splayed out away from her body, bobbing in time with the ripples. I put my head down and began to slap against the water with my arms, willing myself forward in an awkward breaststroke. My progress was slow and laborious, each stroke sweeping aside waves of murky water littered with dead leaves. After a few more kicks my fingers bumped up against her leg, now as cold as the water submerging it. I hooked an arm around her thin waist and began to tug her back towards the shore.
Finally we reached dry land and I propped her up against the pool barrier, my muscles now screaming for relief. Ko’sa’s body flopped against it like a rag-doll, her chin falling forward onto her chest. As water dripped onto the yellow grass, I tried to recall anything I had learned in the past about CPR, which consisted entirely of watching it happen in fiction.
I looked up from Ko’sa to see Dalton staring at me, looking shocked. “What the hell are you two still doing here? It’s not safe!”
“Dalton, she’s not breathing!” I screamed. “Please, come help me!”
He was pushing me out of the way before I had even finished my sentence. “What happened to her?” he said, his voice cold and accusing. He held a finger to her neck, trying to feel a pulse, and swore. “Doesn’t matter now, get out of here.”
“I can’t,” I said. “I’m not leaving her!”
Dalton removed the pack from Ko’sa back and tossed it to me. “You’ve done all you can. I’ll meet you at the Yellow Woods.”
I stood in place, not comprehending. The clang of swords and fighting were getting louder.
He started to pound on Ko’sa’s chest. “The Yellow Woods- it’s an Inn on the West-Side. Now go!”
A masked man flew past me towards the guards, now so close that I could feel the rush of air. The guards- surging forward to meet him- were only a few yards away now.
Fear took complete control of me, and I turned and fled.
I walked through the narrow streets, feeling dazed and directionless. People were no longer yelling in screaming; now a muted hush had passed over the narrow, packed streets, except for the wails of young children still too young to take cues from the rest of the crowd. There was fear in the people around me, a feeling of uncertainty, that we had not yet escaped the danger behind us. I could overhear whispers around me, many wondering about the King, others asking about the affiliation of the masked assailants, and a few implying that this was the work of the Broken Prince.
A procession of guards lined the edges of the street, directing traffic out towards the edges of the city. “Keep moving,” one ordered to the crowd. “This is an evacuation. In the name of your King, please remain calm, and do not stop moving!”
I felt a hand grab my arm and I jumped. I turned around to find an older woman peering up at me, her face creased with wrinkles. The hand that held onto me was gnarled and arthritic, yet it held firm. “Have you seen my son?” she asked me, her face streaked with tears. “He has black hair, about this tall. Always carried around a toy sword made out of wood. Have you seen him?”
I shook my head and pried my arm from her grip. “I’m sorry, no I haven’t.” She darted away from me, towards the nearest guard to ask him the same question.
The sun had disappeared behind the horizon, and the streets were starting to darken. A cold breeze swept through the alley and I shivered. My clothes were soaked and clung to my skin, damp and cold as ice.
Another guard was waiting at the end of the block, funneling the crowd in a second direction. I approached him. “The Yellow Woods,” I croaked. “My friends said to meet them there. Please, I’m not from around here, where is it?”
He looked down at me, screwing his face up like he couldn’t decide if it would be less of a hassle to yell at me or help me. He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Could have fooled me, Outsider. Keep moving with the crowd till you get to Hanger’s square, turn right and follow that street to the end of the block, it’s on the corner where the road fork. Big yellow building. Now get moving.”
I nodded, my teeth starting to chatter, and hurried down the road in search of my destination.