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Authors: Geanna Culbertson

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BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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After lunch I had my math and finance course for the semester—Balls on a Budget: How to Maximize Your Happily Ever After without Bankrupting Your Kingdom’s Economy. I assumed later in the semester this class would involve a lot of spreadsheets and graph paper, the likes of which would probably suck out my soul. But today there was only a short lecture, and some brief brainstorming about the pros and cons of floral versus candle-based centerpieces for semi-formal summer night galas.

This pleasant itinerary left me in a good mood when dismal came around. Of course, truth be told, we could have taken a hundred pages of notes and spent the hour trying to crack algebraic equations and I still would’ve been chipper when we walked out the door because next, I was heading to my absolute favorite class in the world.

It wasn’t so much a class, really; it was our free period to pursue individual study. And the form of studying I chose to dedicate myself to during this daily, blessed hour was as close to my heart as it was compelling to my spirit and personal growth.

SJ typically returned to the potions lab during her free periods. Today she went with an extra hop in her step due to the gift Madame Alexanders had given her. Blue and I, on the other hand, went down to the practice fields situated at the east end of the property by the river that separated us from Lord Channing’s.

The practice fields consisted of a small track by the forest area, a rock-climbing wall, a pole vault pit, a bunch of obstacles for the horses, and about an acre of raw field. The stables, the barn, and a small weapons shed were also located on the practice fields. In sum, this area surmounted to the closest thing I knew to paradise.

Blue and I made use of the other areas of the practice fields from time to time, but normally we stayed hidden in the barn or the stables for our designated “individual study.” Currently, Blue was moving bales of hay out of the way to make the barn’s floor space wider, as I picked up a broom to brush away some clumps of horse “leftovers.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a rusty bucket sitting in one of the barn’s windowsills. It was turned on its side and calling to me. In an impulse of childish mischief, I took aim with my broom and smacked a clump of dung I’d been cleaning up toward it. The small, smelly mound sped across the thirty-foot distance and flew directly into the bucket—a flawless, figuratively clean shot.

Blue was initially startled by the noise, but then she grinned at my weird genius. “Bet you can’t do that again,” she challenged.

“Oh, you’re so on,” I responded.

One after another I swiftly scooped and heaved the dried wads of excrement high into the air. Then, even more speedily, I spun the broom around in my hand, brought it up as the dung fell, and struck each wad with a powerful swing.

I sunk four more perfect poop goals, adding an extra bit of flourish to the last shot with a spin and giving the broom a bonus twirl.

It was odd, really. The feel of the broom flowing and rotating through my hands felt so . . . natural. Way more than most things around here typically did.

Fantastic. I finally find something that comes easily to me at this school and it involves horse dung.

Just perfect.

“Well done.” Blue laughed. “That was both impressive and disgusting. I approve on both counts. Now you keep finding ways to entertain yourself; I’m going to go get a sword from the weapons shed. Be back in a minute.”

Blue opened the barn doors and strode out. Once she’d gone, I opened my brown satchel, which I’d been carrying around all day like I always did. The spacious bag contained my ordinary school supplies—a notebook, quills, ink, hairbrush, etc. But the weathered bag was not special to me because it had a lot of pockets for holding my junk. I loved this bag because it was where I kept the most precious object in my possession.

My fingers found what they were looking for within the satchel and wrapped themselves around the cold, sleek weapon that I held so dear.

My magic wand was one of a kind and the most useful enchanted object I’d ever seen. It was standard Fairy Godmother issue—about a foot long, silvery off-white, and thick as a potion vial. More importantly, it was all mine.

My regular godmother, Emma Carrington, was also my mother’s famous
Fairy
Godmother. She had given me the wand on my seventh birthday, nearly ten years ago. Naturally, I had thought it was just a toy wand at the time, but a couple of months later she’d sent a letter explaining the wand’s hidden abilities and that the reason she’d gifted it to me was to ensure my own protection.

Regrettably, I hadn’t seen Emma since that birthday. She sort of dropped out of contact with my family a long ways back for some unknown reason. I’d tried reaching out to the Fairy Godmother Agency she worked for many times since then in an attempt to track her down. But each time I did, I received a not so passive-aggressive reply from the Godmother Supreme herself, who insisted such contact with one of her employees was not regulation and, therefore,
not going to happen
.

In truth I didn’t know what was more frustrating about the situation. The mystery surrounding Emma’s disappearance bothered me, certainly. However, getting condescending, vaguely threatening follow-up letters from some Godmother named Lena Lenore—who even had the nerve to tell me in our last correspondence that it would be “in my best interest” to leave the matter “lest I wish to suffer the consequences”—was not that fun either. In fact, the whole thing thoroughly ticked me off. Fairy Godmothers were supposed to help princesses, right? So why was their leader so dead set on thwarting my good intentions?

Sigh
.

Even after all these years I really couldn’t guess what Emma’s reason for losing touch with us had been. Nor could I understand why this Lena Lenore woman seemed so consistently and maliciously set on stopping me from finding out.

Still, I remained thankful that I could at least be reminded of Emma every time I used this special, secret gift of hers (which, by the way, was very often).

Aside from my long-missing godmother, Blue and SJ were the only two people who knew about the wand and its true nature. It was vital that we kept it that way. While we did have access to the occasional enchanted knickknack (whether for designated use in one of our classes, or by accident in the real world), a wand was something special.

Only Fairy Godmothers were supposed to have them because they were only meant to be utilized in the practice of Fairy Godmother-brand magic. Granted, it was true that this wand had no such magic. Wands were just conductors, not creators of power after all. So, without a Godmother to operate it, this thing might as well have been a fancy stick.

Nevertheless, for whatever the reason this wand (
my wand
) had a special enchantment over it that made it far from useless in ordinary hands.

Moreover, between that and the nature of the thing in general, underserved Godmother-specific purpose or not, I knew that if anyone ever saw me with the wand it was as good as confiscated.

Lady Agnue once made me give up the roller skates I’d built as a final project for my Calceology (the Study of Shoes) class because she told me princesses were never intended to move on their own at more than eight miles per hour. I could only imagine what she’d do if she found out about my wand. She’d probably return it to the Godmothers and have me put on academic probation for the rest of my life.

As such, the wand had to remain a secret. Which was why I always had to be super careful about where and when I practiced with it. Here, that was normally limited to the barn, the stables, and our room during our free period or after school. Meanwhile, when I was at home in Midveil for the summer I had practically no such windows of opportunity. Castles were always bustling with activity. My parents regularly made sure to keep me busy with what they deemed “princess-appropriate” endeavors. And, in the rare moments I was alone, I was always too nervous to whip out the wand due to worry that someone might find me with it.

This past summer I had tried to get out of bed in the middle of the night to at least get some after-hours training in the privacy of my room. But even that proved to be difficult, as the guards assigned by my overprotective parents to repeatedly check my chambers deterred me from ever practicing for more than a few minutes.

Other than the brief hour or so of messing around with it yesterday afternoon in our room, it had been several weeks since my last good session with the wand. Ergo, I decided to warm up a little before Blue returned.

I grasped the familiar weapon in my hand with confidence.

Shield
, I thought, commanding the wand to morph.

No sooner did I think the word did the wand transform into a thick handle, which sprouted a shield that opened up like a large metallic flower.

Knife
, I thought.

The shield retracted back within itself as fast as it had expanded. The handle hardened and changed its shape at the same time. Barely a blink of an eye later it became a silvery leather grip from which extended a glistening eight-inch blade that looked so sharp it could have cut a person who stared at it too intensely.

I ran the wand through several more tests after that—morphing it into an archer’s bow, a boomerang, a crowbar, and then my usual weapon of choice, a sword—before returning it to its original shape.

My magic wand was enchanted to transform into whatever handheld weapon I willed it into. Which, in a word, was awesome. The enchantment was also extremely handy, versatile, travel-sized, and user-friendly.

The only forms I regularly changed the wand into were the shield and the sword. The archer’s bow was pointless in a close-range fight and completely useless unless I happened to have arrows on me. And the other weapons I’d tried morphing it into (the crowbar, axe, boomerang, etc.) were neither as helpful nor as practical as the sword was in my hands.

Then again, if I was to be totally honest with myself, I was not exactly a natural at swordplay either.

Okay, that was a vast understatement. The fact was I
naturally
sucked at it.

Between Blue, my brothers, and my own individual practice, I’d been honing my sword-fighting skills for a long time. As a result, I had genuinely managed to become pretty good.

But this understanding did little to bring me comfort. For no matter how you spun it, “pretty good” was just not that impressive when you had been training hard for nearly ten years.

What can I say? Practice apparently does not always make perfect.

A sword in my hand always felt awkward, unbalanced, and seriously lacking in harmony with my person. Frankly, that dang broomstick had felt way more at home in my hands than a sword ever had. And that was just depressing. I had this powerful, magical object at my disposal, and I continually did it injustice with my lack of fighting talent in any of the weapons I’d ever tried to change it into.

And yet, call me stubborn or unyielding, I was determined to keep at it. I trained, I worked hard, and I fought on despite my inherent hindrances. Because, one way or another, I had faith that I would get better in time.

Blue was that extra encouraging force I needed along the way. She not only helped me in pursuit of my combat-related goals, in our time together in the practice fields she also pushed me to further test my limits. It was difficult, often bitterly exhausting work, but I relished it and appreciated her every day for the skills I’d developed, and the drive it fueled in my heart as a result.

In that moment, my fearless friend returned to the stables. After slamming the door shut behind her, Blue tossed me an armored breastplate and a set of protective arm shields that I strapped on. The things were bulky, but I’d rather have worn twelve extra pounds of bronze than have risked Blue accidentally stabbing me if I was unable to block one of her strikes in time. The girl was my friend, but she took fighting drills super seriously, and she was not immune to losing some of her restraint due to an adrenaline rush.

Out of courtesy Blue also put on her own armored plates, even though I severely doubted she would need them against the likes of me.

All fastened up, I picked up my wand again and morphed it into the blade I was so used to.

Sword.

Blue twirled her own normal sword casually in her right hand as she paced the floor before me like a military sergeant. “Now I realize that since you and I haven’t practiced together since last semester, you have not been properly challenged for some time and may be a bit rusty. Regardless, I will not insult your skills or my own by going easy on you. This way you can get back into shape quickly. Understood?”

I nodded and drew into a fighting stance.

Blue charged.

My friend was fast and precise with all of her strikes, coming in hot at every instance. I was kept on the defensive most of the time, as she was usually able to anticipate any strike or countermeasure I attempted.

The first fifteen minutes we fought were really rough for me. Accordingly, I found myself feeling grateful to be wearing armor and having the ability to morph my weapon into a shield within a split second.

Eventually, after a decent match, our swords clashed against one another, neither refusing to yield. My arm, however, started to quiver under the weight of Blue’s superior position. I began to lose my footing and knew that my best bet was to break the clash abruptly and go for a low strike before she could stop me. I went for it. Regrettably, I miscalculated the reach of my blade and was unable to stretch my arm out far enough.

Blue saw her opening.

When my elongated jab failed to reach her, she forcefully underhand blocked with her sword, knocking mine out of my hand. Then, with a powerful thrust-kick, she sent me flying backward into a cushion of hay.

“You all right?” Blue asked as she picked up my sword from the ground.

“Fine,” I sighed, spitting some straw out of my mouth.

Blue extended her hand to help me to my feet, but I waved it away and got up on my own.

BOOK: Protagonist Bound
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