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Authors: Geanna Culbertson

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BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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Don’t worry; I’ll tell you more about that later too. For now, though, back to the room.

After all, what’s a story without a proper setting?

Suite 608’s floors were wooden and its walls were the palest mauve. The edges of both the floor and ceiling were encrusted with a thin gold design that mirrored the vines climbing our balcony outside. The gold edging also matched the frames of the three identical canopy beds spread out across the room. Each one was decorated in various shades of maroon and purple and had corresponding desks and nightstands constructed of richly dark mahogany on each side.

SJ opened the doors that led to the balcony, which we always kept open during the school year. Meanwhile, my first priority was to kick off the demon heels that had been crushing my poor feet. Thankfully, the blood flow started to return to my toes.

I sauntered over to my bed and set my precious satchel down next to the rest of my luggage, which, somehow, had managed to beat me here.

I opened the largest of the suitcases and dug around inside in search of one of my many pairs of beloved combat boots. But, just as I was elbow-deep in miscellaneous clothing, I stopped short. My hands suddenly felt like they were burning, as if I had stuck them in a lit fireplace. They appeared fine, but my palms were inexplicably pulsing with pain and felt like they were getting hotter.

“Oh no,” SJ gasped from outside.

I tore my attention away from my painful problem at hand (no pun intended) and hastily made my way onto the balcony. SJ was standing at the railing with her shoulders stooped and her head down. When I got closer, I saw why she was upset. The lush green vines that normally decorated our balcony had all died. They were now brown, dry, and in desperate need of some serious mercy from Mother Nature.

“I hope they grow back.” SJ sighed as she held one of the withered blossoms.

“Don’t worry,” I said as I rubbed my hands against my dress, trying to keep calm and keep the escalating burning sensation under control. “All they need is a little water and a little motivation.”

“You think?”

“Definitely,” I assured her. “Watch, I’ll even get ’em started.”

I cleared my throat, ignoring the fire-like pain emanating from my fingertips, and forced a smile as I held one of the dangling blossoms.

“Come on, flower! Live, darn you! Live!” I shouted overdramatically.

My theatricality having successfully pulled SJ out of her funk, she turned her attention back to the reason she’d come outside in the first place. She sang a happy melody and in seconds several blue birds flew over to us and joyfully finished the tune with her. SJ hadn’t seen these birds since we’d left for summer vacation, and they seemed extremely delighted to harmonize with one another again. I, however, did not join in so as to spare the birds the agony of witnessing my inability to sing in key. While SJ’s voice could’ve hypnotized a siren, mine could’ve easily driven a canary to commit suicide.

SJ stood for Snow Jr. by the way. As in,
Snow White
Jr.

Unlike in my family, the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree in SJ’s family. Or maybe in this case it was the poisoned apple that didn’t fall too far from the tree.

Ha-ha, fairytale humor.

Seriously though, SJ was the spitting image of her mother. For starters there was her appearance: skin as white as snow, hair as black as night, blah, blah, blah, etcetera, etcetera. The only notable physical differences between the two were their eyes; SJ had massive dark gray eyes while her mother had dark brown ones. SJ also preferred to keep her long black hair in a tight French braid, as compared to her mother’s chic, shoulder-length bob.

In temperament my dear friend was also very similar to her mother. She was graceful, poised, polite, and had great vocal chords and a natural bond with animals. SJ Kaplan, in short, was everything I was not—a proper princess.

Once in a while I would get a little jealous. Having a best friend who embodied princess perfection was a constant reminder that I was nothing like I was supposed to be. It usually didn’t bother me all that much that I was nothing like SJ, or my mom, or any of the other princesses at this school. I was just me. No matter how hard I tried, I could never seem to be anything but. And someday I would have to try to make peace and make sense of that.

After being sufficiently reacquainted with her winged friends, SJ waved good-bye and we returned inside. As I approached my desk I realized that my hands had stopped burning.

Weird
, I thought, as I examined them. They seemed completely normal—no burning sensations, no pain. Whatever had been causing the problem had been taken care of, it seemed. So I brushed off the odd experience as SJ and I continued with our unpacking.

While my bed and desk occupied the center of the long room, SJ’s inhabited the left side. There were dozens of glass animal figurines perched on her desk, which she’d been collecting for years now. Mounted on the wall behind her desk was a rendering of an old woman in a checkered apron.

Originally, I’d assumed the picture was of one of SJ’s relatives. Although the elderly woman did bear a striking resemblance to the lady who sold churros two blocks away from our castle back home. They were really good ones, too—crispy, always fresh, and covered in enough sugar to make your teeth hurt . . .

Dang, now I want churros. Why didn’t Mom and I stop there on our way over here?

That’s a seriously major oversight on my part.

But I digress, as that is so not the point right now.

The poster lady was neither a relative of SJ’s nor a local churro vendor. She was actually Madame Curio, the realm’s most famous potions master and SJ’s total hero. You see, SJ was an amateur potionist herself. Well,
she
would say amateur to be modest. The truth was, she had a gift for it and had been at the top of every potions class we’d ever taken. It was, without a doubt, her favorite and best subject.

Our third roommate, Blue, had her desk and bed on the right side of the room. To my surprise, a super girly unicorn poster with a rainbow was taped on the wall just above her desk. I was about to point this peculiarity out to SJ when a large hunting knife suddenly flew across the room and nailed the unicorn poster dead center.

Blue.

Our dear friend Blue Dieda stomped into the room and headed straight toward the poster.

“Ugh!” she groaned. “They can never leave up my normal stuff, can they?”

Blue proceeded to remove her knife, which was firmly indented into the wall from the force of the throw, and take down the unicorn poster. Then she reached into her duffle bag, pulled out a folded-up poster, and taped it to the wall in its place. This one had a picture of a knight mercilessly stabbing a giant black dragon.

She sighed with relief. “That’s better.”

At that, Blue whirled around and gave us one of her classic, giant grins.

“Hi guys!” she said, the annoyance in her voice replaced with happiness.

“Hi, Blue,” I said as we gave each other a huge hug.

“Blue,” SJ lectured, “I know I cannot stop you from throwing knives in our room, but a warning would be nice. You gave me a small heart attack.”

“Nice to see you too, SJ,” Blue responded as the two exchanged hugs.

Blue’s book had appeared courtesy of the Author almost four years ago, but at the time it was already the middle of the school year. With few free spaces available, SJ and I had subsequently volunteered to let her have the empty bed in our room. A fateful and rewarding choice since it wasn’t long before she became a true best friend to both of us.

To put it in its simplest terms, I totally loved her.

For starters, it was refreshing to meet someone at Lady Agnue’s, or anywhere really, who wasn’t afraid to be completely frank about their strengths and weaknesses.

A second admirable quality of Blue’s was the way she carried herself. She walked around every day with complete confidence. She never doubted herself, never hesitated, and never cared about what anyone else thought of her.

I glanced at my friend as she started to unpack the suitcase she’d dragged in. Unlike us, Blue was not a princess. Even so, she was still a Half-Legacy because someone in her family had experienced a fairytale and protagonist journey of their own. Blue’s older sister, Rachel Dieda, was the main character in question, though most people probably knew her as “Red” from
Little Red Riding Hood
.

Blue was just a baby when the whole thing with the wolf and trip to Grandma’s went down, but she had grown up with the story at the forefront of her mind. Not in the sense that she aspired to be like Red. Actually, it was the opposite. She absolutely hated the story that made her sister famous.

It wasn’t that Blue didn’t love Red, because she did. But the way Red had been so easily tricked, so gullible and defenseless, and so in need of someone to save her, sickened Blue. And I totally understood why.

I mean, come on, anybody who would mistake a talking wolf for his or her grandmother seriously needs to get it together.

Because of Red’s weakness and lack of admirable protagonist qualities, Blue spent her life striving to achieve something quite different. She wanted to be nothing like her sister—nothing like a damsel in distress. She wanted to be a hero.

This, sadly, was a dream that most of our teachers (particularly our headmistress, Lady Agnue) regularly tried to discourage.

Our school broke down its students into two separate categories: princesses and common female protagonists. The princesses were supposed to be princesses and nothing more. Meanwhile, the common protagonists had the option of either being damsels who got themselves into perilous situations that heroes had to save them from, serving as feisty sidekicks to boy protagonists, or winning the heart of a prince or other male main character. Being a
hero
, in short, was not even up for discussion. It was a career opportunity reserved for the male protagonists in our land. And the matter was sternly, cold-heartedly non-negotiable.

I have a few thousand things to say about that, but I’ll keep it to five words:

What a bunch of malarkey.

Blue’s feelings on the subject were equal to my own and, ever the gutsy one, she spent every day trying to defy the restrictions that people like her sister had always been bound by.

In my opinion, thus far she had been truly successful. She was one hundred percent nothing like Red. Honestly, the only thing the two had remotely in common was the fact that they were both nicknamed after the color of cloaks they constantly wore. Other than when she was asleep or at one of our school balls, Blue was never spotted without the powder-blue cloak that hung from her shoulders like a fashionable security blanket.

That, however, was where the sibling similarity ended.

Unlike Red, Blue was fearless, bold, and rebellious. She loved taking risks just to test her strength, which both physically and emotionally was unyielding. Above all else, she had devoted her life to becoming the fiercest of fighters. A big believer in the importance of warrior versatility, through a combination of her own self-teachings and the athletic electives our school offered its common protagonists, like Runaway Carriages 101 and Charm and Death, she’d become skilled in a myriad of combat forms. Sword fighting, archery, hand-to-hand combat, jousting—you name it, she’d mastered it.

But Blue’s favorite form of kick-buttery, by far, was her knife. Rather, her hunting knife. She usually kept several tiny throwing knives on her at all times, but the hunting knife she’d been given when she was eight years old was like an inanimate best friend. She almost always kept it in a sheath that hung from her belt. And she polished it constantly; despite how frequently she practiced with the weapon, it gleamed like new silver.

That was the knife we’d seen sail across the room minutes ago. And, as per usual, Blue was now wiping it off against her pants leg in preparation for returning it to its sheath.

SJ was not as fond of it—or the various other weapons Blue utilized—as I was. In her opinion, ladies did not play with knives, especially not in such close quarters. But this was precisely another reason why I loved having Blue around. While SJ’s princess decorum was habitually my norm fifty percent of the time, Blue’s warrior persona impacted my other half. The most obvious way she influenced me being in the area of combat.

I loved the challenge of combat practice as much as Blue did; however, before she’d come along, it had been quite difficult for me to find anybody to train with. None of the other princesses would’ve ever been caught near the practice fields where many of the common protagonists worked on their fighting skills. And even though they were usually very nice and relished any opportunity to practice, the common protagonists typically felt awkward fighting me
because
of my princess-ness.

Basically, it was a lose-lose situation no matter how you spun it.

That was why it worked out so well that Blue was probably the most skilled fighter in school, and that she did not feel awkward in the least coming at me with a knife . . . so as to push me to improve my skills, I mean.

Blue unpacked several new long blades and a fresh set of throwing knives. I grinned at the prospect of the training-related fun that awaited us in the days to come. Although Lady Agnue’s was far from my favorite place in the world, I felt happy to be back in this familiar room with my two very different, very best friends.

It was funny how well we worked together—them being so dissimilar and all. I mean, one aspired to be the model princess and the other to be a scrappy female hero. But, personality contrasts aside, it just felt right when we were together. We were like the Three Musketeers—the beauty, the brawn, and the—

Wait
.
What was I exactly?

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
12.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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