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Authors: Geanna Culbertson

Protagonist Bound (52 page)

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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Great. As if we didn’t already have enough to deal with. Some rando dragon just had to be in the area and drop in on us too?

Carriages were barely able to swerve in time to avoid being squashed.

The dragon’s landing had been wobbly. He’d collided with the hind legs of the giant, gold dragon statue, causing a big clanging sound to echo around us. When the sound subsided all remained still and quiet for a moment. Then the silvery beast howled again and everyone else joined in.

Screaming people took off running every which way as they yelled in violent alarm. Meanwhile the regular Capitol guards forgot about our group and began firing at the dragon in immediate, aggressive response.

For a crazy split-second I felt kind of bad for the creature. It was like that griffin incident all over again. Poor guy wanders out of the forest into the city and gets pulverized for no reason.

But then I caught a look at the size of the dragon’s teeth as he violently thrashed his tail—shattering chunks of building and nearly killing a half dozen people in the process—and I felt less bad.

Regrettably, the murderous guards that had been after us—while momentarily distracted by the dragon—lost no such interest in us as the commotion progressed. In fact, it almost seemed like the chaos heightened the resolve of their chase. Luckily the confusion unleashed by the dragon still created the perfect opportunity for us to lose them though, which we immediately took advantage of.

We sped down the stairs with me naturally falling behind to bring up the rear again. (
Evidently running away was not my thing in more ways than one.
)

The dragon began bounding across the traffic circle as he tried to evade the guards’ fire. His weight sent shockwaves across the street like baby earthquakes, causing me and countless others to falter.

He roared again just as I was about to duck under the golden tail of the dragon statue. I glanced up and saw the creature’s distant face reflected in the metal just as he released a burst of flames from his enormous mouth.

I looked back over my shoulder and saw that in the dragon’s attempts to defend himself he’d just roasted the stairwell of the Capitol.

He was getting closer. So we moved faster.

When we got to the section of the roundabout that poured into one of the city’s inner streets, we merged into the sea of frantic people trying to evacuate the area.

It felt like everything was one noise now. The dragon’s roar, the people shouting, my heart pounding, Daniel up ahead yelling something about meeting at the carriage—it was all a blur of sound. But I was shocked back to reality when from within the crowd someone reached out, grabbed me by the wrist, and pulled me backwards.

Spea—No!

A civilian running by knocked my wand out of my hand before it had the chance to transform. As I watched it fall beneath the stampeding footsteps of a hundred terrified people my back was thrown against the wall of an adjacent alley.

The force of the grab had been so strong and sudden that I lost my footing when I hit the wall—sinking to the floor upon impact. Not a full second passed when I landed on the ground, and when I looked up to find the blade of a sword an inch below my throat.

The black haired boy from the Capitol was crouched at my level. He was leaning forward with one hand pressed against the wall behind my head and the other grasping the sword beneath my chin. He seemed a bit out of breath but just as confident as before.

His face being so close to mine, I discovered two things.

First and foremost, I finally knew where I recognized him from. He was without a doubt the same boy I’d envisioned in the bunker speaking with that cloaked girl during my fateful nightmare of days past. Which, I garnered, also meant that he was the same long-pondered-over, living, breathing source of the voice that had tormented my dreams for so many dreadful ages.

Second, while such dreams had long been characterized by a wish to know the face of this source with more finite clarity, I now realized that this had been a foolish desire. Seeing him so vividly brought me no peace or closure. Rather, as I stared at every inch of his face, my heart sped with trepidation.

This feeling was only surmounted by the painful sense that the nightmares I’d had of the boy thus far hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of the real ones he might be capable of bringing to my world.

As I drew these conclusions I found myself unavoidably sucked into his deep, piercing eyes. They were far darker than I’d originally assessed. I mean, yes I’d already noticed they were black. But seriously,
dang
. Looking into them was like looking into two black holes or two really, really strong cups of coffee.

But I digress, given that his dramatically dark eye color is not nearly as important as the fact that he is currently holding a sword to my neck.

“Crisanta Knight,” he said.

His voice at this proximity made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. Hearing my name on his lips only made me feel even more creeped out.

I gulped. “Um, yeah, hi there. Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” I replied, my eyes darting back and forth between him and the blade. “And you are?”

He smirked. “Arian. And the pleasure is mine.”

I glanced around the area. The alley was deserted and littered with a lot of broken bottles and crumpled, forgotten fliers. To my right was an empty grocer’s stand with an awning held up by two wooden poles. Next to it was a horse whose rear end faced our direction and whose body was tied to an empty produce cart.

To my left were the streets. There were so many hundreds of distracted people gushing through them that no one took notice of us. My friends probably hadn’t even realized I was gone yet.

Then I saw something catch the light a few yards away. My wand! It had rolled next to several bales of hay and was lying on the cobblestone street some eight or nine feet over. I began to slowly feel my left hand around on the ground behind me in search of a lifeline.

If I can keep this guy distracted a few more seconds I might have a chance here. I’ve just got to keep stalling until I find what I need.

“So. Based on the context I’d say you were about to try and ‘eliminate me,’ am I right?” I asked, trying to keep him talking.

“Unfortunately,” he replied. “It really is a shame though.” I kept my eyes locked with his as my fingers found what they’d hoped to on the floor of the alleyway. I grasped the object carefully. “And why’s that?” I asked Arian as I tightened my grip around it.

“For one, it was pretty entertaining to chase you around like that. After all, half the fun of the kill is the hunt, right? And second, well, you’re pretty easy on the eyes.”

I smirked. “Poor choice of words.”

At that, I swung my hand around and smashed Arian in the temple with a half broken glass bottle that my fingers had found on the alley floor.

The blow was fast and powerful enough to knock him out of his crouched position. The second it did, I scrambled to my feet and dove for my wand. I picked it off the ground and spun around as Arian got back up. He was holding his face, which had a large cut carved into its right side around the area of his eye where I’d hit him.

Spear.

“Still think I’m easy on the eyes?” I asked him as my wand morphed.

“You . . . you have a wand?” he said.

“Correction, I
had
a wand.” I aimed the blade end of my trusty weapon in his direction. “Now I have a spear. Which I’m not bashful about using by the way, so I’d highly suggest you answer my next two questions. Who are you? And why are you creeps after me?”

“You want to know who I am, princess?” Arian replied coolly. “It’s really very simple. I am the lucky antagonist charged with decreasing the number of problematic protagonists in the world. Now as to the reasons why I am after
you
specifically, they’re irrelevant. My team and I have our orders—we monitor for threats and eliminate them when they occur. It’s not my business to know the exact details. The simple fact is that your book’s prologue prophecy appeared a few weeks ago, Nadia gave the order, and here we are.”

“What are you talking about?” I asked. “Who is Nadia and how could
my
prologue prophecy possibly be seen as a threat? It’s as lame and docile as they come.”

“Oh, you poor, dumb princess,” he laughed. “You really have no idea, do you?”

I wanted to ask him what he meant, but my attention was drawn away from his patronization. In my peripheral vision I saw a pack of cobalt helmet plumes making their way through the crowds toward us.

The guards we’d been running from were almost upon me. I had to get out of here, now. But what was my strategy? If I ran, he would chase after me. If I fought him, the guards would get here in time to help him and they’d overpower me with their numbers.

Once again I took stock of my surroundings to reconfigure my options. At my feet there were a couple more broken bottles. And above Arian there was that awning, which cast the alley in shadow.

However, I now realized that on top of the awning was an extremely large amount of produce—clearly intended to be loaded into the cart of the horse behind Arian. A horse that, based on the way he was jolting around, was clearly getting restless and increasingly perturbed by the chaos in the surrounding streets.

I smiled. “I wouldn’t say I have
no ideas
,” I said in response to Arian’s snide remark.

Before my newfound foe could lunge at me, I spun my spear downwards—catching its end on the inside of one of the half-smashed bottles. With another twirl all too reminiscent of the one I’d attempted back in Lady Agnue’s stables with the horse dung at the start of the semester, I flung the bottle at the rear end of the disgruntled horse.

When it hit him, he whinnied and released a powerful back kick in protest, which snapped one of the wooden poles holding up the awning directly above Arian.

Arian raised his eyebrows—obviously thinking I had intended for the horse to kick him and not the awning. “I hope that wasn’t for me,” he said mockingly.

Wand.

“No.” I shrugged and pointed upwards with my trusty weapon. “But this is.”

The weight of the fruit being too much for the second wooden pole to hold up on its own, it snapped under the pressure of the awning and the hefty inventory came raining down upon my new enemy.

I didn’t linger to enjoy the sight. The moment that first cantaloupe hit Arian’s head I turned on my heels and made a break for it—leaving him to be buried in the avalanche of fruit alone.

For the next few minutes after that I just ran. I ran and I didn’t look back.

Bobbing and weaving through the panicked crowds, I tried my best to concentrate on the direction I was going and ignore the screams around me and the distant dragon roars coming from somewhere behind. Of course, the latter became a bit harder to ignore when a giant shadow glided over the streets.

Everyone and everything paused as the body of the flying dragon cast the city in darkness. He was circling over the capital now—letting out periodic roars, but not actually attacking. Honestly, from the way he was behaving, if I hadn’t known any better I would’ve said he was simply searching for something, not intending to terrorize the general public as our collective responses would’ve suggested.

The brief interlude of silence was cut short an instant later when one civilian lost his nerve and screamed bloody murder. Everyone else joined in and the panic escalated tenfold. Consequently it became even more difficult to move through the mass of people.

Still, I kept going. And eventually I pushed my way through the crowds into the alleyway where my friends, Daniel, and I had originally entered the city.

I barreled down its path until I came to the fence at the other end.

Reversing the shortcut we’d used to get into our realm’s capital only an hour ago, I climbed onto the nearby dumpster and leaped for the fence. My fingers grasping the wire, I proceeded to climb over it and jump to the other side.

From there it was a straight shot up a handful of grassy hills until I came to the forest where we’d parked. A few dozen pine needles stuck in my hair from plowing through the trees later, I found the others with our levitating vehicle. They all seemed both relieved and notably angry as I jogged up to the side of our carriage and leaned against it to catch my breath.

Blue punched me in the arm “Where the heck were you?!”

“Oh, you know, the city gift shop,” I panted.

“Crisa!”

“Look, does it matter? I had some trouble getting out of the city, but I’m here now so I suggest we get a move on while we still have the chance.”

The sound of the dragon’s screech tore their focus away from me and back to the distraught capital.

Century City’s infantry had taken to the skies on some of their reserve battle Pegasi. They were firing flaming arrows in their attempts to ground the dragon. But the arrows just seemed to bounce off the beast’s sturdy wings as he kept flying around in circles—letting out the occasional puff of smoke from his nostrils in protest, but mainly just smelling the air like a hound dog.

Escaping all that mess being more pressing than grilling me with questions, my friends hurried into the carriage. Daniel hopped into the front seat as he had before and picked up the reins. I put my foot on the front wheel and hoisted myself up next to him.

“What do you think you’re doing, Knight?”

“I’m not taking the back seat anymore, Daniel,” I snapped. “Get used to it. Now drive.”

For once he didn’t argue and just gave the Pegasi the signal to take off. I leaned back against the seat as we were pulled into the sky with a jolt.

The lot of us kept looking back at the city after we’d taken flight—nervous despite being airborne and in retreat. This anxiety only escalated when, all of a sudden, the dragon stopped circling the capital and stared off toward the forest area we’d just vacated.

This distraction was long enough for a flying soldier to fire a well-aimed arrow at the dragon. The shot hit a portion of the monster’s deep underbelly near the armpit (apparently one of the creature’s only soft spots not protected by scales). The dragon seizured with pain, letting out an enormous roar. Then, in retaliation he flapped his wings mightily and zoomed above the mass of guards. It was there that he hesitated and his silver belly began to glow orange.

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
10.57Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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