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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 36

Paedyn

“Focus, Paedyn. Just calm down and focus. You can do this.”

I nod in response to Kitt’s reassuring words, shutting my eyes before taking a deep breath. After a moment, I peek at him and nod again. “Okay. I’m ready.”

Kitt heaves a dramatic sigh, his eyes filled with amusement. Then he says, slowly, “Three…” I smile knowingly back at him. “Two…” I tilt my head up. “One.”

In a flash, he throws something into the air. I open my mouth expectantly, ready to savor the sweetness of the chocolate, only for it to land on my nose before bouncing off onto the floor.

Kitt’s laughter echoes off the walls of the busy kitchen, and I catch the servants smiling at the familiar sound. He holds a hand up to me when I start to speak, clearly needing a moment to collect himself before he looks at me. But when he finally straightens and meets my gaze, he’s laughing again.

“Okay, so my coordination when it comes to catching food in my mouth isn’t…great,” I mumble, unable to stop my smile from spreading.

“Isn’t great?” Kitt runs a hand through his messy hair, still choking on laughter. “Tell that to Gail who has wasted half her chocolates on you.”

I cross my arms defiantly. “Well, you didn’t catch every chocolate either, Your Majesty.”

Kitt leans closer and flashes me a smile. “True. But I at least ate the evidence. You, on the other hand,” his gaze slides to the floor now littered with sweets, “did not.”

I snort, drop to the ground, and begin collecting the tiny chocolates in my cupped hand. Kitt’s suddenly crouching in front of me, helping place them in my awaiting palm. I stare at him for a moment, still stunned with every show of kindness or shared smile. But with all the time I’ve been spending with him lately, the differences between the king and his son seem to surprise me less and less.

A partnership I only accepted to get noticed by the people has now blossomed into an unlikely friendship. It isn’t hard to spend most of my days talking and spending time with the future king to find the tunnel for the Resistance. None of it is hard, though the guilt that is eating away at me for doing it is. I selfishly find myself wishing he were more like his father because it would make this betrayal far more bearable.

A small, pretty servant passes by, gasping at the sight of us. “I know, I know.” Kitt sighs, “She’s horrible at catching things in her mouth.”

“No, no, Your Highness!” The servant rushes over, alarm written all over her face. “Please, don’t trouble yourself! I’ll clean this up right away!” Before I can speak, she’s already dropped beside me and begun plucking the chocolates from my palm.

“Thank you, Liza,” Kitt says, standing. He holds out his hands for me, and I take them, letting him pull me to my feet.

Liza smiles at her prince. “It’s my pleasure, Your Highness.”

Of course he knows his servants by name.

Dozens of them bustle about around us, bumping into each other in their haste to get where they need to be while a booming voice calls out to us. “Kitt, I love you, dear, but I don’t think my kitchen can hold one more person!” I spot Gail eying us from across the room, smiling at what she sees. Then she gestures with her hands, shooing us out the door. “But since I’m kicking you out, you will have to come visit me again soon.”

Kitt chuckles and places a gentle hand on my back, and I don’t flinch away from his touch. He guides me towards the door while calling out, “Oh, you couldn’t keep me away, Gail.”

The hallway is teeming with servants, all busy and bustling in preparation for the next ball tomorrow night—a reminder of the dwindling time I have left to find the tunnel that leads into the box.

I have spent day after day with Kitt, earning his trust all while crafting a plan to get the information I need.

I almost run into a servant, or rather, they almost run into me. The gangly boy shouts his apologies before scurrying off to wherever it is he needs to go.

Perfect timing. Here goes nothing.

I turn towards Kitt and force out a laugh. “Don’t you ever just need a break from the chaos of the castle?” Even as I say it, I already know the answer. He practically admitted to feeling trapped in the palace, in his position, when we were stuffed in the saferoom together. And yet, here I am, using that information he trusted me with against him.

He looks at me, eyes seeming to search mine with a certain sadness. “You have no idea.”

I throw my arms out, exasperated. “So, why don’t you? You could visit Loot for a day. Granted, there’s just as much chaos there as in the castle, but…it’s a different kind of chaos. You blend in. Let the chaos wash over you until it’s a familiar feeling. Until you become a part of it, swallowed in it.”

Come on. Say yes.

Kitt’s staring at me like he can’t believe what he is seeing. A slow smile is spreading across his lips, green eyes sweeping over my face as though he’s worried I’ll stop looking at him again.

“What?” I ask, slightly concerned.

He blinks and shakes his head slightly, trying to clear it. “Nothing. It’s just…the way you talk about Loot.” He looks away, muttering something that sounded like, “Hell, just the way you talk.”

I don’t dwell on it before slowly asking, “So…is that a yes?”

His smile slips. “I wish I could see Loot. Truly. I haven’t been since I was a boy. Since before I was…”

“Trapped here?” I supply softly.

I hadn’t realized we’d stopped walking until Kitt tugs me from the middle of the hallway, sparing us from being trampled by bustling servants. “Exactly,” he says with a small smile. “You’re one of the few people who understands that.”

I nod slowly, smiling slightly. “Kitt, I’m about to tell you off, okay?”

He laughs at that. “I would expect nothing less from you. Go on.”

“As the future king,” I sigh, “you should see your people. See how they live in the slums. See how they survive.”

“I know,” he says hollowly.

“So what’s stopping you?”

He huffs out a humorless laugh, rubbing the back of his neck as he simply states, “The current king. I never leave the castle unless it’s absolutely necessary and seeing my people is not, according to him. I’m the heir to the throne and he won’t risk me leaving the palace, let alone helping like I tried to when the Resistance attacked the ball.”

I try not to stiffen at his ignorance, at the idea that the Resistance attacked the ball. But it’s best to not tell the prince off about matters I should know nothing about.

“And do you agree with him?” I ask carefully.

“I understand him. And I respect him—”

“And you will never stop trying to prove yourself to him, so you’ll do as he says. I know.” There’s a bitter bite in my voice that I quickly try to conceal. “Then just one night, Kitt. Go see your people. See what it was like for me in the slums. Don’t trap yourself here.”

Kitt leans his head back against the wall and laughs. “I can’t exactly leave, Paedyn. There are guards everywhere and I don’t have the clearing to just walk right out.”

And that’s exactly what I hoped he would say.

Still, I give him a flat look. “But you’re the prince.”

“Yes, well, sometimes I’m only a prince in title, not in privilege. I can’t just walk out the front door.”

“So, walk out a different door.” I take a step closer, throwing my hands up only to let them slap against my sides, feigning nonchalance. “You can’t tell me there isn’t some way out of here that no one knows about? Some sort of door that isn’t guarded?” I sound totally casual, curious even.

Come on. Trust me. Tell me.

If I can get him talking about the tunnels, get him to take me through them, there’s a chance of him telling me about the one I need to find. I would act like I’m curious, ask questions about the other tunnels in order to learn about one in particular. It’s not my most solid plan, but it’s a start.

He looks me over in a way that vaguely reminds me of Kai. I push thoughts of the other brother away, instead choosing to focus on the one in front of me. The one who is easy to be around, easy to talk to—

Easy to trick, betray, use—

“Oh, yes. There are plenty of ways for me to get out of the castle unseen,” Kitt says with a smile, cutting through my screaming thoughts.

My heart is pounding, my voice quiet when I say, “I’ll take you. One night. You’ll see Loot and your people. What they’re like, what their lives are like…” He’s staring at me so intently that I stop for a moment, swallowed by those emerald eyes I didn’t dare look into a few days ago. “A king who doesn’t know his people cannot be a king for his people.”

Despite the truth of my words, they taste bitter in my mouth for the reason behind me voicing them.

All it takes is one seed of doubt, one grain of uncertainty to fester and grow.

And I just planted it.

I give him a reassuring smile as though I’m not lying through my teeth.

Trust me.

“Maybe,” he says, studying me. I fight the urge to try and convince him further, careful not to sound desperate or draw suspicion. “I’ll think on your offer.”

“Kitt.”

The hair on the back of my neck stands up at the sound of that voice. That cold, calloused voice. I slowly turn on my heel to see the king at the end of the hallway, making his way to us. I give him the smallest curtsy, biting my tongue as I offer a small smile.

“Kitt, I need you in the study to finish our discussion with the advisers.” His eyes sweep over me, finally deeming me worthy to look at. They are the same bright green as Kitt’s, and yet, they couldn’t be more different, more…cold. I nearly shiver, reminded of why I could barely meet his son’s eyes. The king’s gaze flicks back up to Kitt before saying, “Now.”

Though he doesn’t sound too thrilled, Kitt replies with a curt, “Of course, Father.” He steps beside the king, ready to walk with him back to the study.

“Go ahead, Son. I’ll meet you there.” His stern voice leaves no room for argument, and Kitt nods slowly in response before throwing me a small smile and turning on his heel.

I can barely stand to look at him, but I force my eyes to meet those of my father’s murderer. He’s looking at me like I’m the scum he scraped from the bottom of his shiny shoes. I can’t stand it, but I force myself to be still rather than squirm under his scrutiny. So I offer him a bright smile all while wondering if it looks like I’m baring my teeth. “Your Majesty.” I say in farewell before moving to go around him, to escape this man and my raging, revengeful thoughts.

His shoes click against the stone floor as he steps in front of my path.

I halt, looking up at his large frame. He’s in great health for his age, making it easy to see where his sons get their strong build and handsome features from. The similarities between Kitt and his father are astounding, but it’s the king’s Brawny ability I’m focused on, reminding me of the fact that he could snap my neck with ease.

“Miss Gray, good to see you made it out of the first Trial mostly unscathed.” He doesn’t sound happy about my well-being in the slightest. “Well, thanks to my son, that is.”

I can only imagine the king’s reaction upon seeing the footage of Kai with me in the Trial. I know he hated it. Hated that his son helped me—a no one, a Mundane, a Slummer.

An Ordinary.

“Yes, I am grateful I had Kai as my partner,” I say coolly, unsure of where this conversation is heading.

“Hmm.” The king looks down at me, eyes narrowing.

Before he can say anything else, I add, “And I am very much looking forward to the next Trial. And the one after that.”

Lies.

I just wanted to see the look on his face when I sounded so confident about surviving that long. I follow up my statement with a fake smile, ready to leave him and this conversation behind when he says, “Let me be frank, Paedyn. You are not winning this.”

I stiffen. “I’m sorry?”

“I know that is what you want. To win the Purging Trials and have a better life for you and your seamstress friend.” He laughs, bitter and biting. “That reminds me. I should congratulate you for the little stunt you pulled with your dress at the ball. You certainly got what you wanted. Reminding the people of their Silver Savior.”

I look away, unable to stare at him any longer as he continues with a wave of his hand. “Tell me, have you seen the polls?”

I had. A day after the showing of the first Trial, the contestants scores and votes from the people were combined and tallied up. The rankings of the remaining seven opponents were everywhere, displayed on banners and fliers throughout the city. Kai was at the top, followed by Ace with Andy close behind in third. That left Blair and I tied for fourth with Braxton and Jax tied in last.

 It seems that the kingdom of Ilya doesn’t quite know what to do with me. Those from the slums are likely voting for their Silver Savior, while those outside of it are likely rooting against me, hoping to watch the Slummer die an entertaining death. And if I’m receiving any votes from those outsides of the slums it’s no doubt because they find me amusing.

“Yes. I have seen the polls,” I say through my teeth.

“Good. I doubt your ranking will get any higher, so what I’m most concerned about is your involvement with my sons. They don’t need you dragging them down, or worse, influencing them.” I stare at the king’s chest, watching as he fixes the cuffs of his jacket. “I doubt I need to remind you of your place, so stay out of their way and we won’t have any problems. Understood?”

The dagger tucked into my boot has never tempted me more, tormenting me with the thought of shoving its blade through his chest like he did to my father. But he didn’t just kill my only parent that day, he killed a piece of me in the process.

And I have never hated someone so wholeheartedly because of it.

My fists are clenched tightly at my sides, fingernails biting into my palms. But I school my face into a submissive, sweet expression when I say, “Understood, Your Majesty.”

If I didn’t want to win before, I certainly do now.

“Good,” he says curtly. “Then we should thank the Plague that you are alive and well, isn’t that right?”

There is a certain challenge ringing in his tone, flashing in his eyes. I mirror his smile, even as I swallow my pride.

I’ve never said the filthy phrase, and I swore I never would. And yet, here I am, opening my mouth to let the words fall out as though they aren’t foreign on my tongue. As though they aren’t leaving a foul taste in my mouth.

“Yes, thank the Plague indeed.”


“Hold still or I’m going to poke your eye out.”

I grumble while Ellie only grins. She’s still swiping a wand across my lashes despite coming dangerously close to accidentally blinding me on several occasions. She likes to blame it on my squirming, and I like to blame it on her unsteady hands.

“Alright, time to suck it in!” Adena is bubbling over with excitement behind me, her hands gripping the laces of my dress. She allows me one final breath before pulling the ties tight, squeezing the air out of my squished ribcage. She works the laces, slowly pulling the bodice tighter to cinch the open back together.

Gripping the chair in front of me, I gasp, “One more pull, A, and I think a rib will puncture my lung.”

I doubt Adena can even hear me over her squeals of delight. “Pae, it’s perfect! You know, I was a bit worried about the hem but look at it! It falls just right and, oh, the cut is incredible…” She pauses, huffing out a sigh. “Ugh, forget it. Just look at you!”

Her hands grip my arms as she spins me towards the mirror, her glowing face peeking over my shoulder. I blink, and the girl in the mirror does the same.

The silver dress I wore to the first ball was stunning, seductive, where this one is simply beautiful, breathtaking. Deep red fabric envelopes me, pooling to the floor. It’s shimmery and sleeveless, but rather than the bodice being rounded at the top, the edges end in elegantly pointed corners. It’s tight, cinching in my waist with the laces at the back, now tied into a neat bow and exposing skin between the fabric holding the dress together. The skirt is full, revealing the wide slit up my right leg where my father’s dagger is displayed for all to behold and baffle at.

“Adena, I love it…” I trail off while my eyes trail over the fabric hugging my body. Then my gaze meets the excited hazel one in the mirror, and I turn to face my best friend. “I love you, Adena.”

She glows, beaming at me brightly. “And I love you, Pae.” Her smile turns sly. “And everyone is going to love you in this dress. Especially a certain prince…”

It’s not difficult to figure out that she’s referring to Kai. I shoot her a look, not particularly wanting to talk about this topic. “Adena…”

“What?” she asks far too innocently. “In case you’ve forgotten, I watched the recap of the Trials. I saw what happened between you two.” She quirks an eyebrow. “And I’ve been waiting for you to come and talk to me about it.”

“Well, there’s nothing to say.” She gives me a flat look, forcing me to add, “Alright, I don’t know what to say. He’s confusing and captivating and I’m failing miserably at keeping my distance.”

“Right,” she says quietly. “Because you’re…you.”

“And he’s…him,” I sigh.

Because I’m and Ordinary, and he’s the future Enforcer.

Adena huffs dramatically. “Well, I don’t blame you for not being able to stay away. I mean, look at him.”

I roll my eyes, laughing despite myself. In an attempt to avoid this current conversation, I marvel in the mirror at what the girls have turned me in to. My hair is pulled into a complicated braid down my back combined with dark makeup that frames my eyes in shadow and my lips in shiny gloss.

Miracle workers. That’s what they are.

We’re talking and laughing when a sharp knock sounds at the door.

Lenny whistles when he sees me. “Look at that. You actually look like a princess, Princess.”


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