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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 34

Paedyn

The familiar stench of loot fills my nose, and I suppress the urge to gag.

Home sweet home.

The long, wide street is cast in shadows, cleared of merchant carts and beggars for the night. I pass clumps of homeless huddling together in the adjacent alleys jutting off Loot, gambling or using their powers to entertain themselves.

It’s nearly a quarter past midnight already, and with a huff, I pick up my pace. Because tonight I have somewhere to be, and questions to be answered.

Tonight I’m finding the Resistance.

It wasn’t hard to slip out of the palace, especially since Lenny doesn’t guard my door at night. The Imperials that litter the palace weren’t a problem either, seeing that I’m used to sneaking around unseen. I crept out through the garden and followed the road by the Bowl all the way back to Loot since I haven’t the slightest idea how to ride a horse and figured tonight wasn’t the best time to figure it out.

I pass by the alley where I first met Kai, and smile at the fond memory of robbing him blind.

Good times.

I push thoughts of him away, not allowing myself to get distracted as I turn down a familiar street. My street. The one where the small, white shack of a house resides. I swallow the lump in my throat at the sight of it. I haven’t been back here since I fled from it five years ago. When it was covered in my father’s blood, and I was smothered by grief.

But this is where that boy’s note led me, the one I now know is a part of the Resistance. I’m suddenly standing at the door, breathing hard as I stare at the familiar cracks and dents in the wood.

Here goes nothing.

I take a deep breath and pull at the door.

Locked.

But bolted doors are child’s play to a thief. I pull out my father’s dagger and pick the lock with ease, seeing that he taught me that skill with this exact door and this exact blade so many years ago.

The door swings open, creaking on its rusty hinges as I step through it. I clutch my dagger tightly while I cautiously peer around my old home. It looks completely ordinary, completely the same. The old furniture resides in the exact same spot I left it in, the cracks in the walls still climbing up to the ceiling. Cobwebs cling to almost every surface in the house, looking as if someone hasn’t been here in years.

Maybe I was wrong.

“Well, well, well. Look who the Plague dragged in.”

I have my knife raised, aimed, and ready to throw at the figure standing in the shadows behind me.

In the darkness, I see the shadowy outline of hands raised in surrender. My eyes adjust to the dim light, catching a flash of red, tousled hair falling over a freckled forehead.

“Lenny?” I whisper, my mouth falling open. He takes a slow step forward and his familiar brown eyes and grin come into focus.

“The one and only.” His voice sounds as light and kind as it always is in the palace. But that doesn’t mean I drop the blade still raised in my hand. I’m confused, disoriented, and in need of answers now.

“What is going on?” I demand, staring at him suspiciously. “Why are you here?”

Is he a part of the Resistance? He must be, but—

“Yeah,” he rubs the back of his neck sheepishly, “we have a lot to fill you in on.”

I blink. “We?”

“Yes.” He points a finger to the creaky floorboards beneath our feet. “We.”

I just stare at him, waiting for an explanation on what the hell is going on, why the hell he is here, and who the hell he is with.

His gaze flicks between my face and the knife still ready to fly into his heart. “And once you put the knife down, I’ll show you what I’m talking about.” He speaks slowly as if trying to calm a crazed animal, and I’m sure I look like just that.

I lower the knife slowly and nod, once. He puffs out a relieved breath, his shoulders losing some of their tension. “Plagues, you really are terrifying sometimes, you know that? I mean, sure, I’m the Imperial here but, man, you could probably whoop my ass—”

“Oh, and I just might if you don’t tell me what is going on,” I say, teeth clenched.

“So demanding,” Lenny sighs, gesturing for me to follow him. “On second thought, you might be better suited as a royal than an Imperial, aye princess?”

He tosses a smile over his shoulder as he turns towards the study. My father’s study. The room where he was murdered. I feel like my lungs are being crushed, my heart being squeezed, as we step into the room.

Ordinary. Completely ordinary, just like me. There’s no blood soaking the floor or the chair—

The chair he was murdered in.

It’s gone. A pang of sadness hits me as my eyes sweep the room, trying to find the chair he loved to read in so much. I’d sit at his feet or on his lap as he told me stories about better worlds, ones with magic and heroes and girls who didn’t have to hide who they truly were.

Lenny walks up to the leaning bookcase in the corner of the room, littered with books covered in dust and cobwebs. I’m about to ask what exactly he’s doing when he suddenly grips the edge of the bookcase and pulls. I watch, awestruck, as the wooden shelf slides easily to the left on some sort of track beneath it. And behind lies descending stone steps.

I have never seen that before.

Lenny flashes me another grin, gesturing towards the darkness that lies behind the bookcase. “Ladies first.”

What I should have done was laugh in his face before making him go down the staircase first, but I’ve thrown caution to the wind and hastily replaced it with curiosity. The sound of my footsteps against the stone echoes as I brace a hand on the grimy wall and continue down into the darkness. When I’m standing on smooth, solid stone at the bottom of the steps, I stop.

Lenny runs right into me, nearly running me over.

“Ow, shit—I mean, sorry—uh, I didn’t see you stop.”

“Yeah, well, that’s because we can’t see anything,” I snap, assuming I’m glaring at his face in the darkness.

“Now that, I can help with.” A female voice coming from the darkness makes me jump, and I collide with Lenny all over again. I hear the flip of a switch and the hum of dim lights turning on. Then I’m blinking, trying to understand what I’m seeing.

I’m standing in a large, damp room, filled with tables overflowing with charts, maps, and supplies. Notes and papers are plastered to the walls, making for an odd sort of wallpaper. On the other side of the room, there are mismatched chairs scattered in a circle with papers thrown on top of them, and messy cots are lining the far wall.

And, arguably the most important detail, there are people standing in this room. One of which I immediately recognize as the boy I stole from, the same one from the ball. The male to his right is older, around the age my father would be, with straw-colored hair and pale blue eyes that watch me closely. The girl beside him looks only a few years older than I am, a mere copy of the man beside her.

His daughter.

Then my eyes land on the smiling girl next to the light switch. Her olive skin seems to glow against the rich black of her waist-length hair, and her deep brown eyes watch me curiously.

“Sorry to keep you in the dark,” she sighs, “literally.” The girl crosses her arms over her orange tunic, taking me in. “Lenny’s bat ears heard the door open, so we plunged ourselves into darkness, just in case.”

Lenny gives her a sarcastic grin before he casually answers my unspoken question. “I’m a Hyper. I have enhanced senses, which some people like to make fun of. Even though it’s saved their life a few times.”

I give him a confused look. “You’re a Mundane? But Imperials—”

“Are normally Offensive or Defensive Elites,” he cuts in with a sigh. “Trust me, I know. It took forever to climb up the ranks to get to the position I have.”

Well, that only slightly cleared up one of the dozens of questions whirling around my brain. “Okay, can someone please tell me what the hell is going on?”

Lenny shakes his head beside me, murmuring, “So demanding…”

“I wondered when you would find your way here.” It’s the boy from the ball who cuts in before I can kick Lenny’s ass like I promised. “I mean, after you stole half my silvers and the note in my pocket, I figured you would show up eventually.” He’s amused. “Took you long enough.”

I open my mouth only to find that I’m speechless.

Plagues, what is going on?

The blond man clears his throat before saying, “Finn, would you grab Paedyn a chair, please? We have a lot to catch her up on.”

Finn nods and does just that, adding another chair to the circle of seats awaiting us. The four strangers walk over and plop down without another word.

There’s a hand on my shoulder one moment, and the next, I’ve twisted it at an odd angle out of pure instinct. “Shit, Paedyn! Easy!” Lenny gasps. I blink, look at what I’ve done, and drop his hand.

“Sorry,” I mutter. “I’m a bit on edge.”

He’s rubbing his sore arm, looking at me cautiously. “So, note to self, the princess doesn’t like to be touched—”

“Don’t call me princess, Lenny.”

“Okay, so, the princess also doesn’t like to be called princess.” I fix him with a glare, but he rushes on. “Alright, look. You are going to hear a lot of information tonight. Information that will shock you. So just…” His eyes search mine. “Listen, okay?”

“Of course. I’m a great listener.”

He snorts. “We’ll see about that.”

“Why are you here?” I ask abruptly, my voice calmer than I currently feel.

“Patience, Princess. I’ll tell you that soon.” He slowly puts a light hand on my shoulder, eyeing me to make sure I don’t snap his wrist. When he deems himself safe, he gently guides us to the circle of chairs and sits beside me.

The blond man is seated across from me, sighing as he looks me over. “You must have taken after your mother because you don’t look much like your father.” My heart stops, my eyes widening at his words. “But you have his spirit, his will. That much is evident in how you showed up tonight.” I open my mouth to let the questions loose, but he cuts me off. “And I see you still have your father’s dagger. Good.” He nods to the knife still clenched in my fist, the handle now slick with sweat.

“My dear, you have…” His eyes bore into mine so intensely that I fight the urge to look away. “So many questions. For starters, I’m Calum. Welcome to the Resistance. Well, a small part of it. We’ve been patiently awaiting your arrival.”

“You’ve been awaiting—?” I start.

“Good listener, my ass,” Lenny mutters beside me. I cut him a look that makes Calum chuckle and Lenny squirm, eying the dagger still clenched in my fist.

“I promise I’ll answer all of your questions, Paedyn. But first, let us make our introductions. This is my daughter Mira,” he gestures to the blond girl beside him who barely offers me a smile, “and this is Leena.” He nods towards the girl with the raven hair falling elegantly down her back.

“You are smaller than I thought you would be,” Leena says with her head tipped to the side. “Now I’m even more impressed you survived the first Trial.” Her tone isn’t mocking, but rather, curious.

“I’m tougher than I look, I assure you. The strongest weapon a woman has at her disposal is that she is often underestimated,” I answer with a small smile. “And I wield that all the time.”

Leena’s face splits into a beautiful smile that lights up her features as she says to no one in particular, “I like this one. We’re keeping her right?”

“She’s not a dog,” Mira mumbles with a roll of her eyes.

“And you’ve already met Finn,” Calum cuts in. Finn gives me a quick wink and I almost scoff. “Now, I have a lot to explain in only a short matter of time, so I’ll get right into it.” He takes a deep breath. “Your father and I were very close.”

And yet I’ve never seen this man in my life.

“And I know you don’t know who I am.” His words cut into my thoughts. “And that is because your father kept me a…well, a secret. Just like he kept the Resistance a secret from you.”

My head is spinning and I’m suddenly thankful that I’m sitting down.

“But your father didn’t just know about the Resistance. You see, the Resistance has been around for nearly a decade now, and Adam was one of its original leaders. That is the very reason we are still in this house, using it as a headquarters like we did when he was alive.”

“Why did he keep this all a secret from me then?” I ignore the look Lenny shoots me at my interruption.

Calum heaves a sigh. “It wasn’t just you he kept the Resistance secret from. In those beginning years, we laid low, silently spreading word of our cause through those we could trust. It was dangerous for you to be a part of the Resistance, so he wanted to wait until you were older to join.” He pauses before quietly adding, “But he never got the chance to tell you. And when we found your father…you were gone.”

I manage a slight nod, swallowing the lump in my throat before I ask, “Is that why the king killed him? Because he learned of his role in the Resistance?”

A look of confusion crosses Calum’s face as he continues to stare at me. The intensity in his gaze is almost unsettling before he looks away and nods slowly. “That is what I assume, yes.”

I swallow, hoping I would feel lighter after finally discovering the reason for my father’s death after years of guilt and guessing. And yet, I don’t.

“You, and most of Ilya, are only just now beginning to hear of us because we have grown,” Calum continues. “Grown in size and strength. We have kept the Resistance quiet for many years now while we gained more members and found more Ordinaries. But the king is having difficulty containing us now. Difficulty keeping us under wraps and under control.”

“So where are the rest of you?” I quickly add, “Who are the rest of you?”

“We are everywhere,” Mira says, but her piercing gaze speaks volumes. It’s clear she doesn’t trust me any farther than she can throw me.

Calum calmly continues, “During the Purging three decades ago, more Ordinaries remained in Ilya after the banishment than originally believed. They hid in secret, right under the king’s nose. There are Resistance members spread all over Ilya since it is obviously both unsafe and unpractical for us to all reside in one area. Even I do not know where or who they all are. We have leaders assigned to different areas of the kingdom, allowing us to spread information to Resistance members smoothly and without suspicion. Word travels fast when the leaders converse and pass on information to the members in their section.”

“And that is why we met here tonight,” Leena says brightly. “To discuss plans and then make our sections aware of them.”

I blink at them all. “You are all leaders? I mean, you’re so…young.”

“And handsome,” Finn sighs. “But yes, we are some of the leaders that were able to make it tonight. Honestly, we are just glorified carrier pigeons who pass along information secretively so the Resistance can stay united despite not being able to gather all together.”

“I am no carrier pigeon,” Mira huffs.

“I’m not sure why we are talking about birds,” Lenny sighs, “but, yes, they oversee informing Resistance members in certain sections of the kingdom. And it’s no simple task. Ordinaries are still killed constantly, and if information of who is a part of the Resistance gets out, even more will die.”

“So,” I glance between them, “are you Ordinaries?”

Finn grins. “I sure am.”

“Same here,” Leena says proudly.

I stare at the two of them, these people who are just like me, just as Ordinary.

My eyes snap to Mira as she says, “And I’m a Silencer.”

Calum cuts in before I can spew anymore questions. “The Ordinaries in Ilya tend to adapt the ability of the Hypers since it is a fairly easy power to pose with.” At that, Leena shoots Lenny a smug look. “When Ordinaries find us and join the Resistance, we help them build a life, teach them how to survive.” He offers me a sad smile. “Not everyone had a father like yours who taught them to actually become powerful. Your Psychic ability has been trained into you since you were a child, and it’s the most convincing cover I’ve ever seen.”

He pauses for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “As for who we are, well, obviously most of us our Ordinaries. But we also have Elites on our side.”

“The Fatals,” I breathe.

“Yes.” He seems to stiffen at the title. “And it seems you have already encountered one.”

The Silencer I fought in the alley comes to mind as I say slowly, “Was he…?”

“Yes, he was a Resistance member.” Calum holds up a hand, silencing the apology I was about to utter for taking one of their members down. “There is no need to apologize, Paedyn. It was Marcus’s own foolishness that got him caught.”

“He always was a hothead,” Lenny mutters. “And a dumb-ass. A reckless dumb ass. To think he could take down the prince, the future Enforcer, without consequences…”

My eyes dance between the five of them. “Do I get to know exactly why this Micah is a reckless dumb-ass?”

“Because he saw the prince already weakened and his anger got the best of him,” Mira says, her expression void of sympathy. “Long story short, Prince Kai killed someone very close to Micah, consuming the Silencer with rage and a need for revenge. When he saw the prince in that alley, worn out and preoccupied, he took the opportunity to try and take him down.” She pins me with a stare. “But you took him down instead.”

“At the time, we didn’t know who you were,” Lenny adds. “We put the pieces together when we saw your name on the banner in Loot and saw you at the interviews.”

“I thought you were dead, Paedyn.” Calum says gravely. “And then you suddenly showed up in the Trials, and we had found Adam’s daughter. Well, you found us.”

“Who would have thought that Adam Gray’s daughter, the kid of a Resistance leader, would be the one to rob me blind and find that note,” Finn says with a sigh. “The note that led you right to us and right back to your own home.” He looks up at the ceiling and smiles to himself. “When I saw you at the ball, saw you recognize who I was, I knew it wouldn’t be long before you came and found us.”

I swallow, unable to move on from the prior topic. “I’m sorry about the Silencer…about Micah.” I can’t help but feel guilty, seeing that I’m the reason he was caught. “Do you know if he is still alive?”

Calum’s expression grows grim. “We aren’t sure. But if he is, it likely won’t be for much longer.” He continues before I can try to apologize again. “And there is no need to feel guilty, Paedyn. Micah was his own undoing.”

He takes a deep breath before casually carrying on the conversation. “Now, as I was saying, the Resistance is made up of both Ordinaries and Elites, including the Silencers, Mind Readers, and Controllers. Since the king also tried to kill the Fatals off and has continued to do so, they want justice as well. Other Elites have joined the cause for their own reasons. Those who care enough to think about it don’t buy in to the idea that the Ordinaries were suddenly banished because of a disease.”

“So, the Resistance members don’t believe the Ordinaries are weakening the Elites,” I say, watching as Calum nods. “Does anyone have proof to use against the king and his Healers?”

Calum’s eyes search mine before he sighs. “No, we don’t have proof.”

Lenny adds, “We are just the Ilyans who care enough to realize that it doesn’t add up. Ordinaries lived with the Elites for decades before the Purging, and even now, they hide under the king’s nose and live right alongside the Elites with no complaints of any abilities dwindling.” He sighs. “But just because the king and his Healers said the Ordinaries were diseased, most of the Elites won’t think twice if it means their powers and lives are at stake.”

I nod slowly as my brain is suddenly flooded with questions once again.

What exactly is the Resistance’s goal, and what could I possibly offer them?

I open my mouth to ask this, but Calum beats me to it. “The Resistance is finally ready to take action. And unlike what the king has said about us, we are not radicals who kill for the sheer fun of it. We want justice. We want the truth to be told. We want Ordinaries and the Fatals to live in peace with the rest of the Elites once more. To not be hunted and killed for things they cannot control simply because the king wants an Elite society and is willing to lie about Ordinaries to get it. So that is our goal. That is our cause.”

And that’s exactly what I want, exactly what I’ve hoped for all my life. To be accepted and free.

I realize it then, how badly I want to be a part of this. How badly I want to help and make a difference. I think I’ve been waiting all my life to find such a purpose.

“What about the ball?” I blurt out. “Why attack at the ball?”

Lenny and Calum exchange a look before the latter sighs and says, “Our attack was as much of a surprise to us as it was to the guests.” I’m reminded of how unprepared the few Resistance members looked, how they were trying to fight their way out of the ballroom.

“It was never part of the plan,” Lenny interprets as I raise an eyebrow, urging him to explain further. “So, basically, the ball was the perfect cover to sneak in a small group to search the castle, using the festivity as a distraction. And, well, let’s just say they got caught.”

My gaze slides to Finn. “You were there and escaped. What happened?”

Finn clears his throat. “I won’t bore you with the details, but a guard found me in a back hallway during my search, and thought it was rather suspicious that a serving boy was so far from the festivities. So, when he asked prying questions, naturally, I lied my ass off.” He ducks his head, shaking it at the floor. “Only after he dragged me back into the ballroom did I discover he was a Bluff who could sense each of my lies.”

“But Finn wasn’t the only one caught,” Mira cuts in, looking grim. “Turns out, there were a lot more Imperials crawling around the castle than anticipated.”

Finn heaves a heavy sigh. “We were all equipped with low-damage bombs, knives, and suicide capsules, though we weren’t planning on having to use any of it. But we discreetly wore our leather armor and had our masks as a precaution in case we needed to fight our way out. And that’s exactly what it came to. An Imperial was the first to set off one of our bombs, not knowing what it was, and that’s when the ballroom broke out into chaos. We tried to escape, but Elites started fighting us, and all we could do was try to fight our way out.” He pauses, swallowing his sorrow. “In the end, we all used the bombs while those who were caught used the suicide capsules.”

Leena’s pretty face is pinched with grief, her next words hallow. “Our secrets are too valuable to lose, and they were too loyal to divulge them. They knew they would lose their lives anyway.”

The room goes silent as if taking a moment to honor the lives of those they lost.

“We weren’t intending for the kingdom to learn of the Resistance that night, or in that way, but it seems fate had other arrangements,” Calum says softly. “Sadly, sometimes it takes martyrs to show people that there is something worth fighting for.”

I let the information sink in, sitting silently before voicing the question that has slithered its way to the forefront of my mind. “What was it that you were searching for?”

It’s Lenny who offers me an answer. “As an Imperial, I’ve been informed that the final Trial will be held in the Bowl, and that is where we are going to show ourselves to Ilya. Now, the castle is riddled with secret passageways and tunnels that lead in and out to various places. We need to find the one that leads right under the box in the arena. Securing the king is the trickiest part of this, so we need to use the element of surprise against him while the rest of the Resistance can come through the many tunnels leading into the Bowl.”

My brows knit together in confusion. “How do you know there is even a tunnel leading into the waiting room beneath the box?” I don’t remember seeing a door down there before the interviews, but then again, I suppose I was rather distracted.

“Because I’ve seen it,” Lenny says simply. I open my mouth, but he quickly cuts me off. “And that’s all good and dandy, except that the tunnel doors only open from the inside, and I have no idea where the other end of that passage is.”

“Oh,” I say softly.

Lenny’s laugh is dry. “Yeah. Oh.”

I look between all of them expectantly. “So, what, you need me to find the tunnel that leads there?”

Their response is practically in unison. “Yes.”

I choke on a laugh. “If Lenny hasn’t been able to find it yet, I’m not sure I—”

“Yeah, well, it would be a hell of a lot easier if I had the future king wrapped around my finger,” Lenny murmurs under his breath.

I shoot him a look as Calum slowly says, “Your relationships with the princes are…valuable. Specifically, your connection with Prince Kitt.” He leans forward, urging me to understand. “Paedyn, I believe you hold far more sway over that boy than you give yourself credit for.”

I’m not sure he’s right about that, but I nod slowly, taking in his words. “You want me to use Kitt to find the tunnel.”

“Bingo,” Finn says.

“He has already begun to trust you,” Calum insists. “So, use it. What was it you said earlier? ‘The strongest weapon a woman has at her disposal is that she is often underestimated.’ So let him underestimate you. He is a means to an end. Make this boy bow if he must.” His eyes are locked on mine. “Just get us into the Bowl. We’ve been planning this for a long while now, and it will be the first time that most of the Resistance will be in one spot. So, this needs to go right.”

I nod again. “I can do it. I will do it.” There is a beat of silence before I ask, “What exactly is the plan?”

“It’s really quite simple,” Calum says. “The majority of us will finally all gather together, and we’ll show the people of Ilya who we are and what we have to say. Show them that we are not a threat while also reminding them of who they have been killing for decades. The king is going to have to either admit his lies about the Ordinaries or simply give us our freedom. And you are going to help us do it.”

“We need you to find the tunnel,” Lenny urges. “I’ll be there to help with anything you need, of course, and we will check back in soon with Calum.”

So, Calum is the head leader?

“Yes, I suppose you could call me the that, though none of us really have titles,” Calum says coolly, running a hand through his tawny hair.

Plagues. He’s a—

“Yes, I am a Mind Reader, Paedyn.”

My breathing quickens.

He’s been reading my thoughts the entire time. He’s probably reading them right now—

“Yes, I have been reading your thoughts the entire time, and yes, I did just read them again.” I don’t try to hide the look of betrayal on my face, which only softens his expression. “I’m sorry for invading your thoughts, but I had to make sure you were truly on our side. Truly willing to help us.”

Get. Out. Of. My. Head.

He almost smiles. “So very headstrong, just like your father. But now that I see you are trustworthy, I will leave you to your thoughts.”

Lenny clears his throat and stands, offering me a hand. “We should get going. We have a lot of work to do. And you need to spend as much time with the future king as possible, so you can find us our passage.”

“Yeah, I still need to figure out exactly how I’m going to get that information out of him,” I admit.

“Flirt,” Finn chimes in at the same moment Lenny says, “Bat your eyelashes or something.”

I snort before Lenny waves me over to the stairs. “Come on. We need to get you back to your room.”

I nod to the small group before me. “Thank you. You gave me something to fight for.” And with that, I turn away, heading for the stone steps behind Lenny.

“Paedyn?” I spin on my heel to see Calum watching me. “Your father would be proud.”


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