“Hold!” cried the knight. The guards stopped but the inertia of their charge led them within striking distance of me.
The masked figures hesitated but after seeing my covered head, they shuffled closer until they were right beside me. I had intended to mediate but judging by my appearance and the reaction of the masked figures, it wouldn’t be difficult to assume that I was with them.
The guards readied their stances.
“Thank you,” I said, confident my charisma would keep them at bay. “Although you really should put out those piddling torches.” I pointed to the Molotov cocktails. “And didn’t anyone ever tell you not to run with sharp objects?” I faced the guards. “What if you hurt yourselves?”
The knight spoke, “Another miscreant?”
I feigned indignation with a hand on my chest and a foot behind me. “Me? Never. I’m just trying to make sure no one gets hurt. I want to resolve your hostilities, not partake in them.”
“You sound like a bloody bug,” said a masked figure behind me.
“Bugs can’t speak, silly. I used to be terrified of spiders as a kid and I would have never gotten over it if they could talk. The thought sends shivers down my spine as we speak,” I said.
“Enough,” said the knight.
The masked figures and the guards locked eyes. I was losing what little control I had over the situation. I needed something to shock them back into place. A daring strategy that nobody could predict which would give me total authority once again.
“I didn’t want to say this, but I guess I have no choice.” I took a few steps towards the masked figures, until I could smell the smoke from their molotovs. I turned my back on them and stared into the knight’s eyes. “Do you know who I am?”
The guards locked their gazes on me, looks of confusion and anger on their faces. The knight lifted his visor and squinted with his beady black eyes.
“A ruffian who dares disturb the peace of our glorious city,” he said.
“That is true,” I said, putting a hand under the rags that covered my face. “However, I am no ordinary ruffian, and you would do well to keep that in mind.” I lifted the rags just high enough to show my empty cheeks and neck. I also flashed a white-toothed smile for extra measure.
The knight crumpled his nose and slammed his visor shut. “Squad, hold.” Then he addressed me, “What house are you from, milady?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“My apologies, but we must ask you to vacate the area for your own safety.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then we will have to take you under our protection.” Some guards shuffled forward.
I raised a hand and they stopped. I tilted my head a little to the right and looked at the knight on his pedestal. “What’s your name?”
The knight hesitated. “I am the third captain of the Chart chapter of the Fore Armed Forces.”
“I asked for your name, captain.” I tugged at the rags around my eyes to better meet the captain’s eyes.
He hesitated. From up there, he must have seen me standing calmly between two hostile groups of battle-ready warriors. The molotovs – which had somehow not exploded yet – burning in the hands of the people behind me, and the reflection of sunlight ricocheting off the armor and swords of his soldiers, made the scene even more dramatic.
The burning building to the side was now the most major source of light in the vicinity, and the flickering red glint it cast on my body paired with the aura of assuredness that I exuded, must have finally tipped the scale.
“Captain Casio Dent, milady.”
“Well then, Captain Dent, please order your troops to withdraw. I spotted several people in need of assistance up the street, and would appreciate if you would limit yourself to containing the chaos, rather than exacerbating it.”
He nodded and motioned for his troops to retreat. Some of them stole glances at the masked figures and the burning building, confirming my suspicions.
I let the rags fall over my face again. The figures behind me were getting agitated. There were murmurs of bug and licker. I swiveled to face them. “I saw children running into that building. Instead of fighting a pointless battle, how about we go help them out?”
A few of them looked at the building but most of them eyed me defiantly. One of them spoke, “You’re just another lousy bug. You can’t stop the revolution of the burnt!”
“I’m not stopping anything. I came here because that douche on the jabber box asked me to come fight with you. Now, if you’re here on the outskirts of town instead of in the middle of the fight, you’re probably trying to protect that secret exit out of the city.” I pointed at the burning building.
That was why I’d made sure to get the guards to leave, rather than get their help rescuing the people in the building. Besides, those people had run into the building, so they were probably trying to escape the guards in the first place.
“Most of the usual spots are sealed, and the main gates are, obviously, blocked. If we wanna get kids like him.” I pointed at Ben, who jumped a little as a dozen eyes shifted onto him. “Out of the city, we’ll need to put out those flames.”
I didn’t wait for a response and ran straight to the well on the other side of the street. I started rotating the wheel attached to the well, which began lifting the bucket full of water.
“Fine,” said one of the figures as he grabbed another bucket lying next to the well. “We’ll talk after we’re done.”
“That’s alright with me,” I said. “In case you couldn’t tell, I love talking.”
He grunted in response as he grabbed the bucket I had lifted out of the well, poured the water inside into the bucket he was carrying, and ran back to the burning building. Other masked figures followed suit, grabbing whatever they could find and filling it with water before running back and attempting to douse the flames.
I let a more muscular person take control of the wheel, and soon there was a train of people carrying water across the street. Even Ben helped out, which was a problem because we didn’t have the time to help them.
I caught up to him as he was pouring water on the front of the building. “Ben, do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” he said.
I threw the pot I was holding aside and heard it shatter. “Someone’s crying for help, come on!” I grabbed him and rushed inside the building.
A few shouts arose, as well as some curses. Someone said, “Stop them!”
But the people who had been near me told them what I had said, and the shouts abated. That was the last I heard of them as I pulled Ben further into the building.
The furniture was on fire. The walls were on fire. The ceiling, the floor, everything was on fire. Wooden beams lay smoldering in the living room, and part of the ceiling had collapsed in the kitchen. I tried to remember which way the wall was while avoiding the flames, and trying to breath as little smoke through my rags as possible. I let go of Ben’s hand so he could cover his mouth with his shirt.
I crouched and made Ben do it too, so we wouldn’t be blinded by the smoke. However, we still couldn’t find a backdoor. I checked the walls for a secret doorway but there was nothing there. Sweat trickled down my back only to evaporate immediately. My eyes stung and my lungs protested in agony.
There was a creak above us. I shoved Ben aside and dove for cover as a wooden beam crashed into the floorboards. I coughed. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” yelled Ben over the crackling wood.
I got on my feet and saw the floor. The beam had gone straight through to the basement.
He looked at me from across the hole in the floor.
I pointed down the hole. “Jump!”
He shook his head.
More creaks. The walls swayed.
The floor collapsed under him and he fell into the abyss. As the flames licking the walls behind me ignited the rags around my face, I followed Ben into the hole while tossing them off.
A loud crash accompanied my jump, which was succeeded by an even louder, and more painful, crack, as my head met the ground.