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Authors: Geanna Culbertson

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BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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Hours later, SJ, Blue, and I were standing on the balcony of Suite 608 in our pajamas.

Supper had ended long ago and it was nearly ten o’clock, but the air was still warm with the remains of summertime. We waited in silence—SJ brushing her hair calmly, Blue munching on a roll she had stashed in her cloak from dinner, and me just staring out into the dark quietude that felt like it would last forever.

Then, right on cue, the clock struck ten and our school’s shield came down without hesitation.

The purple force field descended from the sky and encased the property like a giant snow globe. When it reached the earth, silver sparks splashed upwards from the ground like sea-spray. The dome’s erratic, quilt-like patchwork of light flashed in clusters as the magic settled, glinting between different shades of indigo and translucent white. Then, after a minute, its color gradually fizzled. The whole dome faded to a paler shade of lavender until it blended in with the night completely. As the final sparks dissipated into the air, the entire thing turned invisible—out of sight, but most certainly not out of mind.

In and Out Spells did exactly what their titles suggested. They kept anyone from going in or out of the locations they protected.

Created by the combined magic of dozens of Fairy Godmothers, these were the most powerful spells that could be cast. Moreover, they had proven to be impervious to any attempts at breaking them in recorded history.

As far as we knew, there were four continuously active In and Out Spells in Book. One was around the entire realm and had been cast in the before times. This enchanted barrier protected our realm from the others—keeping us safe and completely separate from the various worlds that existed beyond Book.

The second spell was around the Indexlands (the forest where the Author was said to live). Meanwhile the third spell encased the kingdom of Alderon.

We didn’t talk about Alderon much—not here or anywhere. Lying on the eastern outskirts of the realm between the Indexlands and the Valley of Strife, it was the kind of place people feared. And, as with anything they feared, instead of facing the issue head on, people tried to push thoughts of it back to the farthest corners of their minds.

Unlike the other versions of the enchantment, Alderon’s version of the In and Out Spell was unique in that it was only designed to work at half capacity. Meaning that people could go in, but no one could ever get out. The reason for this was that, while our realm’s rulers did not want any of the kingdom’s residents to escape, they also wanted the freedom to regularly add to its population if need be.

See, most of the monsters and antagonists in our realm used to come from Alderon. So, long ago, Book’s Godmothers decided to block it off from the rest of the realm preemptively and use it as a vast prison. This way all newly captured villains, monsters, witches, magic hunters, etc. could be sentenced to one place from which they could not escape. And the rest of us were proactively protected from them, as well as from the horrible people and creatures that were said to be born there every day.

Talk about nipping a problem in the bud.

The last In and Out Spell in Book was the one around Lady Agnue’s. It was a full version of the spell like the others, but it was also a bit more basic. Not needing to be as strong, it only prevented people (and the occasional detrimental flux of weather) from penetrating its borders, while animals like birds, frogs, and deer could pass through at will.

Personally, I thought it was both stupid and insulting to have such an intense form of protection surrounding our school. Because, first of all, I highly doubted any of us actually needed to worry about threats coming to eliminate us. We were princesses, for goodness’ sake. As much as it pained me to admit it, the closest we ever came to mortal peril around here was when we wore heels on the lawn just after it’d been watered.

Furthermore, if we actually
in the amount of constant danger our severe security system warranted, Lady Agnue’s should’ve been teaching us how to protect ourselves against it, not hiding us from it like children in a lightning storm. We were princesses, not daisies. Just because we often came wrapped in gowns and glitter didn’t mean we couldn’t pack a punch. Frankly, I believed that we all had the potential to. That underneath the tiaras and the makeup, we could be just like the diamonds so many of us wore around our necks—a rare combination of shining and hard to break.

Alas, the school’s staff evidently disagreed with that sentiment and felt its “defenseless damsel” students needed to be constantly guarded from the threatening folks of the outside world.

Meanwhile, the boys’ school had no such magical prison around it because, unlike us, they were trained to fend for themselves.

Cue second major eye roll for the day.

The spell around Lady Agnue’s was activated when each school year began. Once it was, no human being could leave or enter the school grounds unless the barrier was lowered by a team of Fairy Godmothers. And that only happened for our monthly balls, other social events with Lord Channing’s, such as tournaments or similarly competitive sporting events, and the occasional heavily guarded field trip to somewhere off campus.

I watched the force field’s last spark merge into the night and wondered what my friends were thinking. It was impossible to tell. They both gazed out at the cloudless sky with blank expressions that made them appear much more solemn than teenage girls ever should.

After some time, the wind began to pick up and the three of us returned inside to prepare for bed.

SJ combed out the last few waves in her long black hair. Blue gently tucked her hunting knife into its sheath like a young girl tucking a precious doll into its bassinet. And I took off the pumpkin-shaped earrings I wore each day—a special gift from my mother that I’d worn since I was young.

The earrings were tiny and silver, and consistently reminded me of her. “Pumpkin” being what she’d always called me.

It was a cute pet name. Once, when I’d asked her why she’d selected it, she told me that it was because pumpkins, like so many things in life, could become more than people give them credit for. An idea she believed she’d learned from personal experience.

I didn’t argue that this was a nice thought. However, it was also one that perplexed me. After all, the people in our land submissively lived by the oppressive mandate that they couldn’t be anything besides what the Author had chosen. Ideas like change were beaten out of us from the very beginning. Example: in preschool I once told a teacher that when I grew up I was going to be a swordsmith who made blades by day and fought crime by night. And she’d responded by making me sit in the corner in a tiny throne facing the wall for the rest of the day—no recess, no talking, and tiara on at all times.

That was just one of the more mild forms of punishment I’d endured over the years for my resistance to the norm. Everywhere I’d gone in life the idea of a static existence had been banged into me. Our rulers had perfected a world of safe, stable, tried and true standards of conduct. Thus, they insisted that change was a concept we should never humor, much less believe in.

Still . . .

Despite all of this, and the backlash I’d gotten over the years, I held on to the hopeful idea proposed by mother’s nickname just as firmly as I did the notion that it might well be false. Both thoughts hung from my head on a daily basis, just like the very earrings that represented their duality. And I concurrently dreaded and looked forward to the day when one of the two sentiments would reveal itself as truth.

Placing the earrings on my nightstand, I kicked off my slippers as I hopped into bed.

“Well, here comes another exciting school year,” Blue said sarcastically from across the room. She proceeded to bury herself under her comforter like an animal burrowing into its den. A moment later, SJ turned out the last light illuminating our room.

“Sleep well, all,” she added.

As if,
I thought in response to both their statements. With that, I closed my eyes and wished for some peace of mind that I knew would never come.

The PITs (Princesses-In-Training)

“She could be useful.”

“Perhaps. But as it stands she poses too much of a threat for us to take that risk.”

“So how do you want to play this then?”

“Simple. I want her removed from the game entirely . . .”

shot up in bed as the voices in my head faded back into the shadows.

Thankfully awake, I rubbed my eyes vigorously, as if to drive away any residue of the vicious dreams I’d just woken from.

Exhausted and tense, I leaned my head back against my headboard. Morning had arrived far too quickly and way too suddenly—the shock of it coming head on like a beam bursting through my subconscious.

That had not been pleasant.

It’d been a few weeks since my last nightmare and, truth be told, I’d sort of hoped the restful streak would continue. Deep down, though, I’d known that it wouldn’t. Over the summer I had periods without horrid dreams, but for whatever reason, they came almost every night when I returned to school.

As I sat there and mentally buried the anxiety produced by the strange visions and voices in my head, I saw that SJ and Blue were still asleep. While Blue’s face was barely visible beneath a pile of tangled sheets, SJ lay perfectly tranquil—a true sleeping beauty with not a wrinkle on her pillowcase.

The peacefulness did not last much longer. A moment later, the mockingbird SJ employed to wake us up each morning flew through our open balcony doors and landed on her nightstand. He proceeded to make a high-pitched sound that filled the entire room like an alarm.

Blue groaned—displeased at the arrival of morning—but SJ’s eyes simply fluttered open. “Good morning, little friend,” she cooed as she stroked the bird on his head. “That will be all. Thank you.”

The mockingbird chirped happily, then took off back through the open doorway into the morning sunshine. SJ rose out of bed and stretched. She seemed way too well rested and had a calm contentment plastered on her face . . . That is, until she glanced over at me.

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
11.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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