Kahina tried to forget the look on Seti’s face as their eyes had met across the foyer.
She tried to ignore the way something had crumbled inside her as he turned and ran away.
She tried imagining his triumphant return to take her and her brother away from the death that lingered over them. But she failed.
She had been a fool to think he would help her brother escape all this–a joke to let him in so close. There had been a sense of falsity around Seti as if he were a collection of lies he had started to believe long ago. Maybe she had wanted to believe them too. She had noticed the way bits of her jewelry had gone missing after spending the day with him. Mostly rings and hairpins, she could live without those. Junaid complained one of his ornate daggers had disappeared, but even that wasn’t valued enough for either of them to complain about long. She hadn’t dared to confront him about it.
Because she liked this fantasy world she had built in which he was everything she could have wanted: charming, confident, warm-hearted. He had looked at her as if he wanted to see beneath the facade her family had made. He asked her about herself as if he wanted to know who she was. He would ask to spend the day with her–one-on-one as if he didn’t want her parents speaking for her.
And he had run.
She let the rage fill her–at herself and Seti. And her parents, and this Gods-damned city. She held the anger like a rope because it was the feeling that allowed her to stay on her feet. It was the thought of what she wanted to say to them all that made her want to keep living because if there was one look she wanted to see on Seti’s face, it was a look of shock and pain because of her. She would live long enough to see that. And she had to look strong because Junaid needed someone to be there for him, together, even if it was to an execution.
That was a thought to leave for later.
Along with the explosion that had come from the direction Seti had gone. There had been shouts from the other guards that someone had blown a hole through the back wall. How had he pulled that off? She thought back to the sudden heat she had felt before the furniture had moved off the trap door. Seti had looked too thin to her like he had never done any work in his life, which she had expected–but he had been able to clear the door.
Kahina wondered at the other characteristics of the man that she had also expected. In fact, besides his gentle nature, there was very little about him that marked him out as different from all the other suitors with which her parents had tried to get her to spend time. Until she had seen his face changed at the mention of her brother’s magic, she had never been able to put her finger on what it was about Seti that drew her to him. A wall had fallen, and Seti had stood before her with sincerity in his eyes. His words had been soft and calming–she decided then that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with that man, regardless of what anyone had to say about it.
And he had run.
In answer to her thoughts, the ground beneath her feet shook– slightly but enough to cause her to stumble. The sound pierced her eardrums sharply enough to make her check for blood. She coughed as the dust swirled and settled again. That was when she saw the crater forming on the Temple’s floor.
At first, she assumed the second shock had caused more damage to the already crumbling building.
But it was the stone melting.
The path of destruction headed straight for her and Junaid and led away from a woman’s hand. Kahina grabbed Junaid’s shoulder, but there was nowhere for them to go–the guards blocked their sides, and the wall was to their backs. Her grip tightened as she watched the crater grow. People around them scattered as the stone groaned and collapsed.
She pulled Junaid to her, hiding his face from the destruction. One of the guards lost his nerve and bolted for the door only to have the floor give beneath him. The other didn’t have time to move from his firm stance before the crater reached him. Kahina murmured a prayer to the Soul-Herder that He would guide them to a peaceful afterlife.
The crater stopped. There was a couple of feet left of floor between it and where Kahina stood. She stared at the lip of the hole as rocks crumbled down into the darkness. Oh Gods, she thought, it was like a gateway into the Afterlife. The very underworld was coming up to get her.
Kahina jumped at the shout that came from the woman lying on the floor. She had forgotten entirely about the woman in all of the chaos. And the crater stemming out from her outstretched hand.
Their eyes met for a second before she was pulling her brother along with her towards the door. But she chiselled that face into her mind, hoping that one day she would be able to thank the woman. Hoping she would live long enough to at least try.
She and Junaid ran down the streets blindly, trying to put as much distance between themselves and the Temple as possible. She ignored the burning in her muscles and kept going. It was amazing how the chaos of the city made it unrecognizable. People ran in all directions is if no one knew which way safety lay. Kahina didn’t know either. She kept running.
Then the world erupted.