I'm so disorientated that it takes more than a few seconds to realise that Crown Tower has been attacked. I'm lying against the wall, or perhaps now it's the floor. Through a window in the… ceiling? I can see the indigo of the coming night. My back aches from the force of the fall but, other than a few bruises, I don't think I'm injured. My mum slowly stands up beside me. We both appear to be fine.
Sitting up, I survey the room for the first time. Magic has kept the contents of the room intact. A patterned rug is still spread across what was once the floor. There are bookshelves around the walls, and their books dangle in a perilous threat over my head. Vials filled with swirling liquids of different colours are locked up in a massive cabinet. I also spot a desk with three drawers that probably contain important papers.
"We need to get out of here." My mum says, holding out a hand to help me up. I take it and unsteadily rise to my feet.
"How?" The only way in and out of the room is the stairs, which won't be easy to navigate considering the orientation of the tower.
My mum sends a blast of magic towards the window in the new ceiling. The glass shatters. "Only the blood of the king and queen may fly through the windows." I always thought the spells prevented anyone from flying in and out.
We both allow our bodies to become weightless and float up towards the glassless window. My mum flies through the hole first. I follow on her heels.
"Now!" I'm barely through the hole when I hear my mum's shout. I sense something racing through the air. Before I even have a chance to think, I shoot upwards. An arrow whistles narrowly below my feet. I look in panic at my mum, and her calm exterior after she just witnessed me being shot at.
I fly down from the tower to plant my feet on solid ground. I run. I run away from the palace and towards the town. I have no plan. I only know that evading attack will be easier in the streets than the open air. I can't think about my mum; I need a clear head.
My dress catches on a bush, and the bottom of the skirt rips as I pull away. In the same instant, another arrow scrapes past me, missing my side by mere millimetres. Magic gives me a boost as I propel myself over the large walls surrounding the palace gardens. The moment I land on the other side, I leg it, zig-zagging down streets. Someone is hot on my tail. More arrows are aimed towards me from behind.
A blast of magic from my right almost catches me out. There must be more than one assailant. I can't take them on or outrun them because they could easily corner me; I can't even see them. Instead, I need to find cover. If I can shake them off, maybe I can turn the tables. For now, though, I throw up a magical shield around my body. But I know the shield alone won't be strong enough to protect me from a direct hit.
A dagger flies through the air from my left. At least three of them, then. I bite back a cry as the blade grazes my left arm. My shield faulters momentarily before I regain control. I can't run forever; I need shelter.
But I know these streets. I've walked them so many times that, even in my haste, I know exactly where I am. I round a corner and stumble through a door.
"Hide me!" I plead to the woman behind the counter, rushing past the racks of clothing. "They want to kill me."
Wordlessly, the woman unlocks the storage room at the back of the shop and I slip inside. I've hardly made it in before I hear someone barge into the shop. I quickly lower my shield so that no one senses it.
"Where is she?" The male voice sounds menacing and angry. I focus on quietening my breathing.
"Where is who?" The shopkeeper's voice is convincingly innocent and confused.
"The princess." A strong female voice answers. "She has run away from the palace and must be returned safely. We saw her come this way."
"I'm sorry, the princess hasn't visited my shop since last month. But perhaps while you are here you might like to see my wares." Judging by the all-black getups and mysterious hoods I can spy through a crack in the door, I can't imagine them wanting to browse.
"Not interested." The third assailant's voice belongs to another male. "Are you sure the princess isn't here?" He questions condescendingly, beginning a careless search through the shop. The other hooded attackers also make their way around, knocking over racks and discarding clothes on the floor. I move further behind the door, so I can no longer see. "She disappeared right outside."
"You will not find her here. But, if you don't tear my boutique apart, I will send word if I see her. I presume I could find you at the palace?"
"Most likely." The female says non-committedly. She sounds too close for comfort. Something bangs outside. "She's still out there." The female's voice becomes further away as she talks.
"Let's go." The second male says.
"If the princess shows up," It sounds like the first male is threatening the shopkeeper. "Do not let her leave without us."
I remain silent and still.
After a minute, the poor shopkeeper opens the door for me. I breathe a long sigh of relief. We are both safe, for now. But as I assess the room, I feel guilty for the mess left behind. Trampled, muddied clothes litter the floor, spilling out from racks tipped over.
"Thank you, Maribelle." I say to the woman in front of me as she crosses her arms.
"Care to explain why I just allowed my precious boutique to be ransacked for your sake?" She asks.
"I don't know myself. My mum took me up Crown Tower for the first time. They attacked the tower. Then when I escaped, they attacked me. I don't know who they are, or why they are after me, but they tried to kill me." My voice shakes, and I feel a tiny bit of wetness in my eyes.
"It's alright now, princess. You're safe." Maribelle talks softly, wrapping her arms around me. I wince, and she pulls back.
"Dagger. My arm." Is all I can croak out. She looks, noticing the wound for the first time.
"It doesn't look very deep." She comments. Then she holds out a hand over it. She hisses, rapidly retracting her hand. "Poison. I can't heal it."
"Poison?" I mean to ask what kind.
"I can't tell what it is though. All I know is it's blocking my magic. Are you feeling anything unusual? Dizziness, maybe? Tiredness?"
"Nothing that feels like an effect of poison."
"Well, that's good news for now. If you stay the night, I can run tests to…" I hold up a hand to silence her.
"I need to leave. No one who fails to kill a royal gives up. Everyone will be safer if I sneak off. Don't try to stop me or follow me; the less you know, the safer you will be."
"But your wound needs…"
"I will sort it. You have done enough for me tonight." I take off the necklace my mum gave me this morning and hold it out. "Repayment for your trouble."
"I can't take something so valuable from you." Maribelle tries to insist.
"It's yours now. I have far too many necklaces at the palace. You can either keep this, or I'm sure it would sell for a high price to redecorate your store."
Reluctantly, Maribelle takes the necklace. "Thank you and good luck, dear princess." She hugs me again, this time carefully avoiding the cut from the dagger. "Here," She goes into the storage room and comes out holding a long black cloak. "Take this to hide your lovely gown."
I wrap the cloak around me and smile. "Thank you. Goodbye, Maribelle."
Putting up the hood, I wander out onto the street.