Written by Nada Hemida
Previously: Long Live the King: Episode 8 – Snuff the Light
For the past two hours, I had been running through the streets like a maniac. I woke up to my alarm at nine in the morning per usual, only to find that Nour wasn’t home. I waited for a while, assuming she might have gone on a morning run, but then I went to her room and her bed was made, untouched. In the kitchen, the dinner I had left outside for her was right where it was, untouched as well. She hadn’t come all night.
I called for a while, the call ending before it even began – she had no cell service. With my heart thundering, and mind throbbing with horrifying ideas of where she might be, I put on my shoes and ran. I went everywhere I thought she might be, calling her every minute all the while – until it finally started ringing. She had cell service again, but she wasn’t answering.
She had never done this. Due to our proximity to death threats, we had always assured each other every few hours of where we were. She wouldn’t do this to me.
Why isn’t she answering?
Where is she?
Where had she gone last night?
Had she come back at all?
WHERE IS SHE?
It’s 12:14 p.m. already, and she is nowhere in sight. Could she have gone back home? Once the thought crosses my mind, I bolt back home. Feet clapping on the asphalt, I turn my head to every direction, looking for her: a girl that walks like a warrior and smiles like a storm was coming. Spotting landmarks, I realize I had gone a long way, far from home, and start praying for time to pass by faster, and praying to find her.
I make my way back to the mansion, and there I find someone’s standing in front of our gates, frozen as though they don’t know how to move, with their back to me.
Nearing, I see her soft brown curls, recognize her shape.
Her phone is ringing, from my call, but she makes no move to pick it up. Something’s wrong.
“Nour,” I call, slowing down.
She turns, ever so slowly, and I notice everything all at once: her scent is nauseating, her clothes are covered in mud, her eyes are bloodshot with tears long shed, and her hands are bleeding.
“Nour,” I say cautiously, inching toward her even though she looks like she cannot identify me, cannot see me at all.
Her eyes unwillingly roll into the back of her head – “NOUR!” I scream, and catch her before she touches the ground.
“Oh my God,” I say under my breath as I hold her up, carrying her inside. “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
Where was she? What happened?
A million questions run through my mind as I lay her down on the couch. Thankfully, there is no blood on her body, no serious injury.
“Nour, Nour, talk to me,” I say, touching her colorless cheeks.
It has to be exhaustion. After all, she hasn’t slept properly in days, I lie to myself.
I know this isn’t just sleep deprivation. I’ve never seen Nour like this. I run to the kitchen to grab her a glass of water. “Nour, Nouri, wake up,” I say, and her eyes shutter ever so slightly. I find myself exhaling in relief, and I hand her the water. “Drink,” I say as I hold up the glass for her. I rest her head on my hand as she bends to drink, and then put down the glass softly.
She doesn’t speak a word or even open her eyes for what feels like ages.
I woke up the morning after, Fadel said. He was worried sick. He’d brought me up to my room, taken my filthy boots and jacket off me. He stayed by my side all day and night until I finally woke up. And when I did, he did not demand any answers. He only looked into my eyes, pleading for a sign that he shouldn’t be worried. Yet, I couldn’t even bring myself to speak, if only to comfort him. It feels like I’m drowning, has felt like that since I was in the tunnels – and for the life of me, I cannot breathe.
After a long bath, I changed into clean clothes and found Fadel waiting for me in the kitchen with a freshly cooked meal. I didn’t find the words, still, but I smiled at him slightly – and at that he seemed relieved. I was taking painfully long to finish my food, and even though it looked and tasted delicious, I only continued to eat to calm Fadel’s watchful eyes.
Only a while after did I finally speak, and when I did, I told him everything. Seif Wael, my theory about the underground tunnels, and finally, the truth I had been looking for, that I so badly wish I had not found.
The tunnels linked ‘Science and Tech’ to the Royal Palace.
The King was planning to be immortal, so his cruel reign would go on forever.