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Authors: Geanna Culbertson

Protagonist Bound (49 page)

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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That matter having been settled, the ambassadors cleared their throats—and consciences—and went on to discuss farm reports and new construction projects for the better part an hour.

My back was beginning to hurt from crouching underneath that dessert cart for so long when, finally, one of the ambassadors announced it was time to close the Summit with the signing of the peace treaty. I perked up at that and strained my ears to hear the sound of them signing the document.

When the last ambassador had provided his name, they all applauded their amicable behavior and the Summit was officially ended. We readied ourselves under the carts as the dignitaries began to shuffle out. My heart pounded faster as the sound of conversations dissipated.

Eventually the final ambassador exited the room and we heard the sizeable doors swing shut. I slowly peeked my head out from under the tablecloth to make sure the coast was clear.

It was.

“All right, we’re good,” I called to the others.

Blue, Jason, and SJ peered out from their carts and then the lot of us fully emerged from our hideouts.

The meeting hall was as vast as I had imagined. The blue-tablecloth-covered desks formed a large semicircle around the room with one huge, golden desk at the center. That was where they had signed the treaty, and that was where the quill they’d used was waiting for us. It lay there forgotten—pretending to be unimportant.

But we knew better.

Blue grabbed the quill. “I guess we can check our ‘Something Strong’ off the list. That’s one down and two to go, folks,” she declared triumphantly as she stuffed our first piece of the In and Out Spell puzzle into her boot for safekeeping.

“Well, that was easy,” Jason shrugged.

“I wouldn’t relax just yet,” Blue said. “Trust me, I’ve read enough of these stories to know that no win is ever this simple. If you ask me, we should get out of here fast before the other shoe has a chance to drop.”

“Guys . . .” Daniel suddenly interrupted. “Did you get what the ambassadors were saying about the books?”

The five of us exchanged a solemn look. We’d all heard what the ambassadors had said. There was no denying it. But did we
it? That was another matter entirely.

These were twenty-six of the people our realm trusted the most. My own family had an ambassador in there who was meant to be representing our kingdom and its people’s best interests. Wrapping our minds around the idea that they were conspiring together to do something so despicable felt unnatural. It also felt an awful lot like betrayal,
the very kind of malevolence that they and the Godmothers were supposed to be protecting us from.

“They’re working with Lena Lenore and the Scribes to forge books for royals who don’t have them and destroying commons’ books when they are too frequent,” I summarized bluntly.

SJ shook her head. “This cannot be true,” she said.

“You heard them,” Daniel asserted. “It is true.”

Blue crossed her arms. “They can’t be allowed to do that. It’s not right.”

“No, they can’t,” I agreed. “Every person in Book has the right to know who they really are, even the people of Alderon. They all deserve a chance to be protagonists if that’s what they’re meant to be.”

“So then it’s up to us to stop them,” Jason said. “Stop the ambassadors and Lena Lenore somehow. We have a responsibility to, now that we know the truth about what they’re doing. Don’t we?”

We halted our discussion when we heard the sound of footsteps on the other side of the door. Fully on alert, we waited for the noise to pass and completely subside before continuing.

“You’re both right,” Daniel said once the sound had gone. “But for now we need to get out of this place before someone finds us. I’ve worked here long enough to know what they do to trespassers. Come on, we’ll deal with this later.”

Swallowing our confusion and anger, the rest of us concurred. This was not the time to go yelling at twenty-six of the realm’s most powerful people. There would be time for that in the future. I hoped.

With our business done in the meeting hall, we slowly opened the epically large, gold-encrusted doors and crept out of the room.

The Capitol’s fancy corridors were pretty deserted by then, with the exception of several staff members and a few guards here and there. We hid from them with relative ease as we made our way back to the kitchen. Daniel led us there, so thankfully it didn’t take very long to navigate across the building.

We’d just hustled behind another corner to avoid being seen by a guard and were waiting for Daniel to give us the all clear when I made the fateful mistake of taking a look back at the elegant hallway behind us.

That’s when I saw it. A door at the far end of the hall we’d just run down was open a crack. And streaming out of it I could see a strange, blue glow that called to me like a lost memory. Without thinking, I started moving hypnotically in its direction.

I guess the others hadn’t seen me take off, because several beats passed before I heard my name being whispered urgently.

“Crisa? Crisa!”

I shouldn’t have ignored them. I mean, it was fairly inconsiderate given that we were kind of on a deadline, kind of not supposed to be in the Capitol, and it was kind of my crazy idea that had gotten us here in the first place. But I couldn’t help it. That light, it was almost like . . .

I was about to reach the door when I was yanked backwards unexpectedly.

“Are you out of your mind?” Daniel practically barked.

My friends were right next to him and seemed equally upset. I cleared my throat and emitted an assortment of incomplete words as my response.

They were very articulate and went something like:

“I . . . um . . . er . . . uh . . .”

SJ glanced behind me at the doorway I had been headed toward. She noticed the bright blue light emanating from it and crinkled her eyebrows. “What is that?”

“I . . . I was trying to find out,” I stuttered. Then I turned away from them swiftly and grabbed the doorknob before they could stop me. “I have to find out.”

With that, I threw the door open all the way and entered the room of my dreams. Well,
my dreams anyways.

The five of us stepped inside the room with the black marble floors, the sleek shelves that wound around the perimeter like an anaconda, and the fifty-foot tall ceilings held up by white Corinthian columns.

There, hanging from the ceiling in the middle of it all (right where I remembered it being in my dreams) was the source of the blue light—the incredible chandelier.

As majestic as it had been in my dreamscape, seeing its magnificence in reality all but made me stop breathing. The chandelier was constructed entirely of tiny, blue, bottled-shaped sapphires. The numerous bottles not only sparkled like the millions of dollars I was sure they were worth; they also glowed. Not concurrently though. Rather, each bottle’s light seemed to be flickering with its own pace and consistency like a weary heartbeat—giving the impression that whatever luminescent force was inside them was individually alive.

“It is beautiful,” SJ said in awe.

“It’s fantastic,” Blue agreed.

I walked right toward the center of the room, keeping my head back and my eyes fixed on the light. “But what is it?” I murmured as I stared upwards like I was asking the ceiling itself.

After a minute of silence, SJ came up behind me and put her hand on my shoulder. “Crisa, it is just a chandelier. It is like nothing I have ever seen but—”

“We have to go,” Blue finished.

Despite the fact that my gut was telling me that this was somehow more than just a decorative light fixture—I knew she was right. It was best if we left now while we were still ahead, and undiscovered by Capitol security.

Just as I was about to call it quits on this little rendezvous though, the tip of something shiny and silver caught my eye.

“Hold on,” I said abruptly.

I scurried across the room. The sound of my boots against marble echoed in my wake. I made my way under an open, arched doorway toward the object I’d seen.

The small extension of the room I now found myself in had more bookshelves and columns, but it also had something extra. Directly to my right was another dragon statue—composed of dark gray stone and scaled to a tenth of the size of the one in the roundabout outside. The tip of the creature’s snout had caught the light at precisely the right moment to capture my attention. And, gazing at its magnitude head on, my dream from the beginning of the week began to come back to me with more clarity.

I whirled around and saw the silver knight statue. In his hand was the black sword that the cloaked girl in my dream had been wielding.

I was no longer in control of my actions. I had found the puzzle pieces and needed to put them together. My friends and Daniel, as a result, no doubt thought I was losing it as I ran to the knight, ripped the sword from his hand, and then dashed back toward the dragon. But I didn’t care. I had to do this. I had to know.

I stopped in my tracks in front of the creature—staring into its large, black stone eyes and turning the sword over in my hand.

Was it really going to work
I mean, was I insane? I was standing there, holding a sword, and what, I was going to shove it into a dragon statue’s mouth and something miraculous would happen?

It was likely that the others were only going to tolerate my crazy behavior for a few more seconds, so a decision had to be made.

To heck with it. What have I got to lose?

With a burst of gumption I plunged the sword into the dragon’s mouth and rotated the handle. I didn’t know if I was more worried that something would happen or that something wouldn’t. Regardless, after a couple of mortifying moments, something did.

A spine-shivering creaking noise filled the room. I turned around slowly. My friends, Daniel, and I watched as a bookshelf against the wall moved forward and to the side—revealing a hidden passageway.

Hmm. Freaky déjà vu or not, you’ve gotta love the classics.

“Did you know that was going to happen?” Jason asked, clearly shocked.

I didn’t respond. I just allowed my subconscious to continue guiding me as I made my way over to the opening.

The passage contained a stairwell that stretched downwards. How far, I didn’t know. I just knew that I’d been through it before. It was dimly lit by torches spaced out along an old brick wall, and it smelled of mortar and bad judgment. I placed my hand against the wall for a second then—still having trouble accepting that it was truly there.

“How is this possible?” I whispered to myself as my fingertips grazed the worn clay and I gazed down at the uneven stairs.

The sound of Blue clearing her throat drew my attention away from their depth. I glanced over my shoulder and back toward the others. They were standing a dozen feet behind me with their mouths agape.

“You coming?” I said as I gestured to the mysterious stairway.

This time it was their turn not to say anything. They simply pursued my lead and we began the descent into the shadows together.

About ten feet down the stairwell we found a metal lever with the word “Open/Close” written on it, which looked as if it controlled the door to the passageway. Jason put his hand on the lever and glanced at us for approval. We nodded our consent. We definitely didn’t want anyone following us.

He pulled the handle down and we heard the bookshelf above slide back into place.

Aside from the sound of SJ’s portable potions clinking together in the pouch at her waist, all remained silent for the rest of the journey. That was okay by me; creepy hidden stairwells weren’t exactly great places for casual conversation. Moreover, I was so spellbound by the surreal nature of what was happening that I doubted that I could’ve articulated anything of value.

After what seemed like an eternity, the stairs came to an end in front of a rugged, wooden door. Which, upon jiggling the handle, I discovered was locked.


“I’m on it.” Blue drew her hunting knife out of its holster and approached the door.

A few expert lock-picking motions later and a loud clicking sound echoed through the stairwell. The door creaked ajar and we timidly pushed it open the rest of the way and stepped inside.

Ok, you’re familiar with that old saying, “Curiosity killed the cat,” right?

Yeah, well, I used to think I was too. As it turned out though, I wasn’t taking the “killed” portion of that statement as seriously as I should have.

But then, how could I? Right now my fellow cats and I were just far too consumed with curiosity over checking out the room we’d stumbled into.

This room (which was really more like a bunker) was lit up solely by a rickety, bronze chandelier dangling from the ceiling. The atmosphere of the place felt pretty damp; the floor even had some thin trickles of dirty water stretching out from the area beyond its walls. There were several dozen wooden chairs stacked against one wall, as if in anticipation of a small town meeting. And a few gray filing cabinets resided in the corner by the door we’d just come through.

Blue and Jason immediately took it upon themselves to work on unlocking these cabinets.

Meanwhile I stood in front of the podium at the head of the room and looked up at the wall behind it. Because, of course, there was the map with the colorful Xs I’d envisioned—hanging right where it was supposed to be.

Even as I stared at it in all its non-fictitious glory, there was something strange about the image. Like, despite the fact that the map was right there in front of me, it still felt like I wasn’t completely seeing it for everything it really was.

It was a normal map of Book. As in my dream, different colored Xs were littered all over it—marking miscellaneous locations across the realm in a pattern that I couldn’t understand, but sensed I desperately needed to.

Then there was that inscrutable black X. It was the only one of its kind on the map, and inexplicably made me swallow with apprehension just from looking at it.

In real life this black X wasn’t as huge as the one in my dreams had been; it was actually the same size as all the other, more colorful ones. Even so, it still intimidated me. What surprised me more though, was the fact that it seemed to be purposefully placed on the far left side of the map in the area of Book where Lady Agnue’s and Lord Channing’s were located.

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
11.58Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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