Meg knew she was a background character. Or a side character, on lucky days. But never a protagonist. Never a love interest. Never a villain. And thank goodness for that, she told herself. They seemed to have the most troubles.
Despite the rain, Meg biked to the coffee shop. Her dark hair stuck to her forehead, nearly blocking her vision more than the helmet she’d strapped on. Had she been a main character, she wouldn’t have bothered with the helmet. But Victoria, the god that ruled them, couldn’t care less about her world’s ensemble, so there was always a possibility of being crushed amidst a spontaneous alien battle.
Meg stomped off her soaking boots before passing through the staff’s entrance of the shop. It lead straight into storage, but around a tight corner of boxes filled with beans was the counter. The smell of it all warmed her bones before the actual heating system did.
“Meg!” it was Caden’s voice, from behind the counter. Meg sidled through the tight corner, wondering for the thousandth time how Caden managed to squeeze through every morning without knocking anything over.
Once she safely passed the jenga tower of boxes, she found Caden squatting on the tile floor, brow furrowed.
“Bathroom’s that way,” Meg reminded him.Caden scratched his head, and sat back on his heels. He was a chubby, shorter young man, with blond hair and a round, childish face, which bore that tell-tale guilty look he always had when he’d misplaced something, which was more often than not. “I lost my ring,” he admitted.
Meg sighed. Make no mistake, Caden wasn’t married, or even had a partner in question; as far as Meg knew, he cared far more about his Magic the Gathering Cards than any romantic side plot.
She crouched beside him, wishing she could share his apathy about it all. “So which ring is this? The one to rule them all, or the one that makes small kitchen appliances?”Caden shook his head.
“You really should watch the actual version, and not just the Veggie Tales.”
“But it’s so long,” Meg complained.
It was then that the bell tinkled. Meg and Caden popped up from behind the counter, but in their haste to stand up, they bumped into one another, and Caden toppled back to the floor with a loud thump. Meg pretended not to notice. “Welcome to Ground Joy, how may I help you?” she recited. Her and Caden had silently agreed months ago that if anyone was to do the talking, it was her. Caden’s pudgey hand slapped the top of the counter to pull himself up.
The girl who strode in might as well have carried a poster announcing herself. She had flaming red hair and a slim figure clad in light leather armor and a brilliant red cape she most likely inherited from her mage grandfather. She turned to them with big, curious eyes, and a stoney expression on her beautiful features. There was no mistaking that this girl was a protagonist.
After a raised eyebrow at the clumsy greeting Meg had offered, (She must have been a quirky side today), she approached the counter with more purpose than Caden on his way to the bathroom after tacos. “This is of the utmost importance,” she declared, stabbing a finger into the counter, “Does this establishment contain an object with…” she glanced about, even though no one was in the shop but them- “unusual properties?”
Meg tried not to roll her eyes. “No,” she droned, “No plot devices in here. Try somewhere el-”
As if for the sole purpose of proving how wrong she was, an ear-bleeding shriek pierced through the room, and shattered the glass windows at the front. Meg sighed. “Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll fix themselves.” That was the nice thing about plot holes. Their shop had seen its fair share of asteroids, and the butt of wizard duels, but by the following morning, it always repaired itself.
At the sound of the scream, the girl straightened, and Meg could just imagine a pair of hound ears going stiff in her hair. Without a word, she vaulted the counter, and slipped to the staff room in the back, where the screaming had occurred. Yup, not only a protagonist, but possibly the main hero. No one else was that impulsive about helping people. Funny, the goddess Victoria typically made redheads villains, or annoying sidekicks. Meg and Caden watched the girl go with passive gazes.
“How much you want to bet that’s the villain?” Meg asked. She heard a few boxes tumble to the ground, their contents spilling.
“Nah,” Caden shook his head, “I’m thinking evil minion. Or maybe a new sidekick.”
The girl reentered amidst a wrestling match with what appeared to be her own shadow. No- a solid person. A solid person that looked identical to the girl, but in monochrome.
Meg almost laughed at how dramatic it all was. A battle with her darker side? In a coffee shop of all places? Well, no time to gawk. It was obvious how this all ended. Meg dodged a knife that had missed, and began starting up the coffee machines, while Caden filmed the fight with his phone.
“So who are you, anyway?” she asked the girl. After an incredulous look, the girl pinned her darker clone to the ground and answered.
The darker Gladia reached up and punched her.
“Nice,” said Meg, pouring herself a cup of coffee, “And what brings you here, brave hero Galdia?”
“Hero?” Gladia ducked to avoid a roundhouse kick. “I’m not a protagonist.”
Meg spewed her coffee, and it just so happened to hit Dark Gladia directly in the face. The shadow sizzled beneath it, screaming.
“Of course!” Gladia snatched the coffee cup from Meg and, before the clone could stop her, splashed the whole cup onto her. Dark Gladia smoked and shriveled, until a cloud of smoke remained. Meg stared, her hand not having moved since Gladia took the cup.
“Thank you,” the girl handed Meg the cup back. Before she knew what was happening, Meg felt her fingers curl around the foam cup and crush it.
“Welp, I’ll probably make more off this video than working here,” Caden lowered his phone. “Can I go home now?”
“Not a protagonist?” Meg repeated, “Oh please. Listen, I’ve met some humble ‘chosen ones’ in my time, but really? You? You just fought with your darker half! I’d be surprised if you weren’t the main character!”
“No really, I’m nothing special.”
Now Meg couldn’t help but roll her eyes. Heros were by far one of the most idiotic of characters. “Were you written to be this oblivious, or are you just trying to be cute?”
Gladia frowned. “Were you written to be my love interest?”
“Oh Victoria, I hope not.”
“Then why are you being so annoying?”
“Because you’re such a Mary- Sue. Perfect in every way, with no character, and no shame. The whole lot of you are pretentious windbags.”
Gladia huffed. “What gave you the impression that I’m pretentious? Besides, I’m not even a hero.”
“I’m tired of people like you thinking you’re ordinary. If you’re ordinary, what does that make the rest of us?”
“Lucky.” Gladia muttered without missing a beat. Meg paused. Lucky. Something in the way Gladia said was heartbreaking.
“What do you mean?” Suddenly, Meg’s voice was weak, and faint.
Gladia shook her head, and Meg swore she saw her eyes tear up. Meg could hear something within her sigh, and prepare itself for a tragic backstory about her dead parents, and revenge on whoever killed them. But Meg ignored it.
“I- I did something terrible.” Gladia began. “I’m not exaggerating, I mean I really hurt someone. And now I’m spending the rest of my days paying the debt.” she sniffed, wiped her nose, and straightened. “Heros are supposed to be good people. But a good person would never have done what I did. If anything, I’m the villain.”
Meg was silent. She really couldn’t think of anything to say to that. Gladia continued, “The rest of you are lucky. You don’t get thrown into random sidequests, or battles. You don’t have an entire people depending on you to save them. You get to choose your life.”
Another scream shattered the silence between them. Gladia jerked her gaze skyward, where the sound had emitted. That pompous heroic attitude wasn’t just given to her. It was her trying to make up for her past. It was tragic. It was stupid. It was….
Meg grabbed the girl’s arm just as she turned to leave.
“I want to go with you.”
Gladia smiled. She had a beautiful smile. Full of pain and hope.
“You want to be a main character? Because demanding to join someone on a dangerous field trip is the first sign.”
“You’re telling me you want to be one of those ‘pretentious windbags’ that Victoria tortures?”
“No. I’m telling you that I want to help. I want to have a purpose, and help you with yours.”
Gladia took her hand, that smile growing.
“Then what are we waiting for?”
“What a cliche transition. Never say that again.”
Gladia looked around. “Where’d the other one go?”
“Caden?” Meg glanced about the shop.
“He must have inexplicably faded into the background of the story. I say we do the same.”
With that, the pair abandoned the shop; without plans, or even foreshadowing to warn them of the dangers they would encounter. A few shards of glass still clinging to the window clattered to the floor. And, since Victoria had nothing better to do, a new story began.