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Authors: Geanna Culbertson

Protagonist Bound (51 page)

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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No sooner did I explain this than our pursuers rounded the corner and came into view. Needless to say we decided to change course.

“Don’t let them get away!” I heard the black haired boy call out.

We ran back down the sewer tunnel, ascended the ladder to the alley once more, and dashed through the kitchen—knocking over several trays of desserts and a few disoriented caterers.

As we rushed through the halls we’d just been in, I held my wand tighter and tighter, understanding that I definitely wasn’t done using it for today.

Daniel led the way again. He was taking us up some stairs, down other stairs, through room after room in an obvious attempt to throw off our followers.

This time I actually
was
too preoccupied to think to question his guidance. Nor did I think to question the pieces of scorched hallway carpeting we kept coming across that definitely hadn’t been there a couple of minutes ago.

“Our best bet is to go out the front. It’s three floors down,” Daniel said as we kept pace with him. “Those guys won’t expect it, and the guards are concentrating on stopping people from getting into the Capitol, not out.”

Of course the guards that had been with our pursuers were trying to stop us in general. So that did pose a problem when we ran into a couple of them in the adjacent hall. They had their bows drawn and pointed at me.

Shield.

My wand spiraled out just in time to stop two arrows from piecing my sternum.

Blue ripped two throwing knives from her belt and hurled them at the guards. Each knife hit one of the guards directly in the hand—piercing them a bit too graphically to describe.

Their maimed palms dropped the bows they’d been wielding and prevented them from reacting in time to Jason when he came at them in the next instant.

Our friend whipped his axe from its sheath and swung the flat side at the first guard’s head like a steel bat, taking him out. He ducked a blow from the second guard before blocking and countering with several vicious strikes, swinging his axe around, and buckling the knee of his opponent. With formidable force Jason proceeded to punch the man in the gut, elbow him in the jaw, then finally send him toppling over like the first guard, throwing in an extra blow to the ribcage for good measure.

Jason flipped the axe back into his grip as we joined his side.

Blue retrieved her bloodied knives and reattached them to her belt, which I thought was a bit gross, but didn’t comment on.

“There’s a shortcut through the main library,” Daniel said as our group hurried past the now unconscious guards. “Through there.”

He pointed at a brown door on the other side of the room. When we reached it we plowed through and found ourselves in a seven-story, cylindrical library—three floors beneath us, three above.

The bookshelves wrapped around the room in an ascending spiral, mirroring the design of the glass ceiling above, which cast a shadow that reminded me all too well of the spiral marks we received when our prologue pangs hit.

Every level of the library had two sides to it—one that ran against the bookshelves and one that faced the wide open space in the center of the room, which separated staggering floors by at least thirty feet of distance.

Given that falling off one of these floors could’ve gotten you killed, every level of the library walkway was lined with a smooth silver railing designed to keep visitors from going over the edge. Which—at the speed we barged in at—I might have just done.

Jason promptly spotted our exit on the ground level. He had just begun to lead the charge for it when suddenly an arrow came out of nowhere.

My heart stopped for a moment. Time slowed.

The shot was close, and it almost seemed to move in slow motion as we watched it barely miss Jason’s body. Had he been another inch forward it surely would have killed him. Luckily, he wasn’t, so it didn’t. The arrow plunged into one of the bookshelves behind him and we in turn whipped our heads in the direction the shot had come from.

The person who’d fired the arrow was the third guard from the group that’d been chasing us. He was on the opposite side of the room, about one and a half levels beneath us on the spiral walkway. He started to run up and ascend to our level.

We readied to attack and raced to meet him, but Blue did not follow. Instead she dove underneath the railing.

Blue grabbed the edge of the floor with her hands, dropped over its rim, then released her grip—causing her to plunge through the air ten feet until her hands grasped onto the railing of the level directly below.

Immediately she hoisted herself up and used her body’s momentum to swing under the new railing. She landed with a gymnast’s grace on the library floor a mere six paces before the guard reached that portion of the spiral.

From across the library the four of us watched her finish the fight.

I had to say, for a girl who often embodied the head-on force of a runaway freight train, Blue’s combat movements could be as fluid as a ballerina’s. From the moment her boots touched the ground, her next three moves were already in motion.

As Blue spun up from her knees, her right leg thrust upwards and she kicked the guard squarely in the chest. Her right foot was still in mid air at that point, but she twisted her body around so quickly and strongly that she was able to throw a spinning back kick with the other foot sans the support.

This second kick buckled the guard’s knees. And in the instant it took for the pain to register across his expression, Blue whirled back toward him and drove her fist straight into his head—sending him slamming against the bookshelf behind.

Evidently her summer break village fight club stories had been accurate. Because she continued to attack the guard so powerfully then, that professional boxers would have winced. Even from the other side of the library her searing aggression was noticeable, making me wonder if during all those times in the practice fields we’d fought each other she secretly
had
been holding back.

With a final head-butt, Blue’s opponent collapsed. Despite the fact that he was already down and out, she kicked him purposefully in the gut one last time before letting out a grunt of satisfaction and turning back around to face us.

“Dang,” Jason said, his eyebrows raised.

“Yeah, well, I do a lot of cardio,” Blue said with a shrug.

Our group began to make its way to meet her on the lower level. I brought up the rear. However, unbeknownst to the others, I came to a stop a moment later. A book on one of the shelves had unexpectedly captured my attention—causing me to hang back.

I took a quick step toward it to read the title printed on the spine:


Shadow Guardians—Origins, Dangers, & Weaknesses.

I didn’t quite know why that particular book caught my interest. Maybe I’d seen those words in a textbook at school, or in one of SJ’s piles of periodicals; or maybe it was just the fact that the title was written in really shiny print. Whatever the reason, something inside of me was definitely drawn to the book in the same way it had been to that bunker.

Although since not even my dreams could rationalize this feeling, I forced myself to shrug it off and continue on my way. As it stood, inexplicable instinct had gotten me into enough trouble today. And my friends and Daniel were already a whole floor beneath me and I needed to catch up with them.

“Seriously though, you really laid into that guy,” I heard Jason say as he and the others reached Blue.

“It was no big deal,” she responded. “He tried to hurt you and I. . . Wait a sec. What is . . . Crisa, look out!”

Spear
, I thought without hesitation.

I spun to my left and blocked the sword that Blue had seen coming at me from behind. Then I jerked my elbow into the enemy guard’s chin, twisted my spear to knock the sword out of his hand, and right-kicked his shin. With one sturdy side-thrust to his ribs and a reverse swing of my staff to his head later, the guard was out for the count.

Wand.

I realized then that a bookshelf on the wall a few feet back had been pushed aside and was now revealing another passageway. This one led to a meeting hall that lay beyond this part of the room. When I turned around again I found Daniel at my side—evidently having run back up here to collect me.

“I thought there were only three guards with that group,” Daniel said, staring at my wand.

“And I thought you used to work here. What, did you never take a look at the floor plans?” I said as I gestured toward the gaping hole in the wall.

“You’re blaming me for this? You’re the one they’re trying to—”

“Um, guys,” Jason interrupted.

We both whipped our heads toward him. “What?”

Jason didn’t say anything; he just pointed upwards. In response Daniel and I tilted our heads and saw that about ten bookshelves on the higher levels of the library were beginning to slide forwards and to the side.

Oh, darn.

Daniel looked over my shoulder then grabbed his sword. “Duck, roundhouse, over the edge,” he said curtly.

“What?”

“Now!”

In the periphery of my sight I saw another guard rushing through the opening behind me and I got what Daniel was saying. The second the guard raised his sword to bring it down upon me, I ducked. When I did, Daniel had his sword at the ready and clashed it forcefully with the guard’s. His strike pushed the attacker off balance. I spun around the guard’s side and roundhouse-kicked him toward Daniel.

The wobbling guard sailed forwards and when he was within range Daniel hammered him in the face—sending him back to me to finish the job by grabbing his right arm and throwing him over the railing.

He landed with a thud somewhere below, out cold.

“Nice work,” Daniel said.

“Back ’atcha,” I replied. “I . . . hold that thought.”

Spear.

With the dull end of my staff I slammed an overeager guard in the side of the neck as he came charging through the doorway like a crazed bull. Then I rapidly rotated my arm to hock his leg out from under him.

He flipped like a pancake and landed with a splat on the floor beside me.

Wand.

I looked back up and saw that the bookshelves had now been fully pushed aside and guards were starting to pour out of them. Some began to run the library’s coiling floor to pursue us on foot, while others drew their bows and started to take aim and fire at will.

“Move!” I commanded Daniel and the others.

Arrows nipping at our heels, we raced downwards.

By miracle, a few dozen yards of descending spiral staircase later and the five of us piled through the library exit without being hit.

The guards were still on our tails so there was no time to catch our breaths. But, thankfully, we appeared to be in the home stretch. We were in the foyer of the Capitol now and the main entrance to the building was right in front of us.

Our fortune did not last though. When we reached the giant doors we all pushed together, but they refused to budge even an inch. They either weighed a thousand pounds a piece (which would have been highly impractical), or they were locked.

I glanced back and saw the first couple of enemy guards run out of the library and skid into the foyer. Wand clutched tightly, I lunged to go and meet them. But Daniel put his hand up to stop me. “Figure out how to open the doors,” he said. “I got these guys.”

Daniel grabbed his sword and charged the two attackers. When he met them he immediately parried the first guard’s strike and then punched the opponent in the throat with his free hand. The guard stumbled back, disoriented, and Daniel took the opportunity to swing his blade around and trap the arm of the second attacker.

Leveraging this guard’s weight against him, Daniel brought the base of his sword down on the rear of his opponent’s neck for a powerful blow—causing the trapped arm to twist, snap, and drop its sword.

At that point Daniel forcefully kicked the first guard before following up with a cross-handed strike to the face that sent the assailant straight to the ground.

Hmm. I had to say, if there was ever a time that I disliked Daniel the least, it would’ve been right then. The boy could fight.

Confident that he had things under control, I turned my attention to the door problem.

“There has to be a key or a lever or something,” Blue said, kicking the door angrily.

“Up there!” I said, signaling to an area across the room.

About sixty feet away there was a balcony with an unmanned guard pedestal—probably the gatekeeper’s post. There was a small red button on the wall next to it that must’ve been what unlocked the doors.

Blue rolled up her sleeves. “Maybe I can climb some of those tapestries and—”

“No need,” SJ interrupted.

Before Blue could ask why, SJ had fired her slingshot. One of her portable potions hit the red button like a bullseye. The moment it did, pink smoke exploded and we heard a deadbolt inside the doors slide down—unlocking them.

“Was that another sleeping potion?” Jason asked.

“I believe so,” SJ answered. “But it is not important. We just needed the impact so I picked one at random. Now come on, before something else goes wrong.”

“Daniel!” I yelled. “Let’s go!”

Daniel took out his fourth guard and then bolted to catch up with us. He did so just in time too because as skilled as he was, he surely would have been overwhelmed by the seven more guards that poured from the library in the next second.

With one final burst of strength, the five us pushed the doors open and sprinted outside to freedom.

Just kidding.

We didn’t make it halfway down the stairs before every member of outer Capitol security turned their attention and their weapons in our direction. If that wasn’t enough, the guards that had been chasing us came through the doors then and honed in on us as well. We were frozen on the stairs like statues. From every angle we were clear targets and had no plausible means of escape. That is, until we heard the roar . . .

From behind us, a deafening, high-pitched noise that sounded part lion, part demon pierced the air. The entire city stopped in cold blood to see what had caused the disturbance and discovered it was neither lion nor demon, but a silver, medium-sized dragon. The monster soared over the Capitol’s cupola—coming from somewhere behind the building. His shadow darkened the stairs that led up to the main entrance until he plowed into the street just ahead of the roundabout.

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
12.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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