Whilst his attempts at talking the stranger with the gun down weren’t quite the distraction that she had been hoping for, Natalie couldn’t help but feel heartened by the fact that Luuk hadn’t frozen. She doubted that he were truly trying to talk the man down, given the circumstances. It seemed far more likely that he had come to the same conclusion as Natalie herself, and was trying to provide her with the opportunity to make a move that would allow them to escape relatively unscathed. Hopefully she wouldn’t let him down.
That said, she couldn’t help but feel a little torn when her student willingly stepped in front of her, placing himself directly in the path of the gun’s barrel. On one hand, Natalie couldn’t help but admire that Luuk was willing to place himself in harm’s way to try and protect her, even if her assessment was correct, and it was only to serve as a distraction. On the other, she was older than him, and the teacher here besides. It was her responsibility to look after him, not the other way around, and Luuk intentionally placing himself in harm’s way made her sick to her stomach with both worry and guilt. Natalie tried to fight the feeling down, but it looked to be a losing battle. All the more reason that she act, as quickly as she judged safe, and take advantage of the opportunity that he was trying to provide her with.
Now that the gunman’s view of her was at least partially obscured, and his attention was seemingly focused on Luuk, Natalie risked a small, shuffling step backwards. She held her breath, waiting for him to yell out for her to stop, or for the gun in his hand to spit hot death, and was relieved when nothing happened. Had he actually not noticed, or did he think she was merely afraid? Natalie didn’t know, but either way, she intended to take advantage of his oversight. She chanced a second small step, and then another, and another, slowly shuffling backwards until she was backed right up against the coffee table. With her gaze still fixated on the stranger and her hands hidden behind her back, she ran her fingers across its surface blindly, searching for a pen or a brush or anything else that she could use.
After a few seconds of blind probing, her hands closed around a discarded marker – originally just another forgotten part of her home’s ungodly clutter, but now, a precious tool that very well might just save their lives.
With her hands still hidden behind her back, Natalie set about the task of drawing the sigil she wanted on the inside of her palm. Working blind was dangerous, but with a gun pointed at them, it suddenly seemed the smaller risk to take. Natalie felt that she had little choice but to trust her own ability, her own experience, and hope that her hands weren’t shaking badly enough to ruin her plans. Thankfully, the sigil that she planned on using now was simple enough. Hopefully so much so that she wouldn’t screw it up now, at such a crucial moment.
Once she was done, Natalie would crouch down as slowly as she could manage, before pressing her palm into the floorboards underfoot. Like always, the ink on her palm seemed to bleed into its surface, darkening a small area around it. Nothing seemed to happen at first, each second dragging on for what felt like an eternity as she waited to see if her efforts would bear fruit. The cold hand of doubt reached into Natalie’s chest, grabbed her heart, and squeezed as the moment dragged on. The silence was broken only by the harsh words of the gunman, who had finally noticed – or simply had enough of – Natalie’s strange behaviour.
“Hey, you! What do you think you’re-“
His words were cut short as a tremor seemed to run through the entire room, accompanied by a loud crack, causing all of its occupants to stumble. Natalie would straighten up, a satisfied grin on her face. Her aggressor, by comparison, seemed a touch uncertain now. He’d glance around the room briefly, before brandishing his weapon at Natalie anew.
“What did you do?”
Whilst Natalie didn’t have the time to respond, the answer to the stranger’s question would become clear enough. Almost as soon as the man had finished speaking, the very ground that they were standing on gave way. The floor itself collapsed inwards suddenly, dumping all three residents into the apartment below in a shower of wooden splinters, plaster, dust, and pieces of Natalie’s furniture.
Natalie landed hard on the floor below. Having been the only one prepared for what had just happened, however, she was the first to recover. She had been lucky and avoided landing on anything, and despite the pain, it seemed that everything still worked. She staggered to her feet and started stumbling towards where the gunman had fallen, coughing and spluttering all the while. Natalie threw herself at the man as soon as she was close enough, falling atop him and grabbing at his wrists.
It quickly became clear that the gunman was physically stronger than her, but he was both hurt and dazed, and Natalie had the element of surprise on her side. She’d manage to knock his gun away, sending it sliding across the floor and out of immediate reach. Even then, she’d continue to struggle against the man, seemingly determined to subdue or incapacitate him completely.