Tensions run high. Generally, it's what they do. When tensions aren't running high, they are often running just under the surface waiting for loose ground that will fall away at their rapid approach making them quite high indeed. When that happens, when the proverbial sink hole opens up and you find yourself in The Waters of Tension that are deeper than you are tall, flailing and screaming will accomplish nothing. Well, except expertly drowning you.
Those few precious seconds are the time to step back and assess the situation.
The Bow Breaks
While the snapping twig may or may not have alerted the armed guard flanking the edges of the forest that you approach, a row among your troupes certainly will. The guard will not hear the hushed voices at the beginning of the argument, but when panic sets in and your people lose their ability to judge what is good for them and what is not, all will be lost.
The guard will come with cudgels and lances in hand. They will rend heads from necks and shoulders. The guard will not argue amongst themselves. They are not the ones fighting for freedom under a canopy of conifers. The first few of your people will not know that they have been attacked and killed by the oppressors they had been hunting just moments ago.
The first few will have been lucky. The rest, less so.
The Arrow Flies
While the snapping twig may or may not have alerted the armed guard flanking the edges of the forest that you approach, you know that they will hear a row among your troupes. In the few seconds before the bow breaks, you aim the arrow and release it.
Before anyone can whisper a word, you head to the epicenter of the seemingly imminent earthquake and hush everyone before anyone can make a noise. You cock your head and listen. In the few seconds you have while the people are frightened but not reacting to the source of the breaking twig that to them sounded like a klaxon, you think.
Although your mind is racing, you do not allow panic to steal over you and take off with your senses.
In this still time, just before panic erupts, you work out a plan.
The guards probably did not hear the twig. As far as you are from the edge of the forest and as many other noises as their are in a forest - birds chirping, wind sloughing through trees, animals in the underbrush - you wager that if they did hear it, the twig was just another woods noise. It didn't stand out.
You know that you cannot diffuse the situation, but you can separate it. If you send the group in different directions, have them fan out, they cannot be close to the person who stepped on the twig. You reason that, from a tactical standpoint, if the guards do come, a higher survival rate will be more likely if you aren't all bunched up in one place.
Silently, you put out the order to fan out. The person who broke the twig is an axis on which all others distribute themselves. If the guards come, which you are fairly certain they won't now that you have diffuse the situation by using the tension create a better mode of attack, the unlucky soul who stepped on the offending piece of wood will find peace first since it's her they'll be tracking.
Taking those few seconds to assess the situation and subtly adjust how people will react to the immediate stimulus will save lives. Yours included. Losing your cool or letting the group turn vicious because of their fear does nothing but end lives. Not every situation will have the same variables. Even if they did, they are variables: there is no guarantee that they would follow a script - especially when actual people are involved.
Put yourself into a life or death situation. How would you avoid breaking the bow? How would you make the arrow fly?
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