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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 41

Paedyn

There is a rock in my shoe. The same one that’s been there for the past half hour, but my hands are too busy keeping me from falling to my death to do anything about it.

We’ve been climbing for hours. There are far fewer trees now, giving way to steep slopes covered in slippery plants. My hands are grasping at large boulders as I catch my breath, turning my eyes toward our destination.

The peak.

Despite our constant climbing, it still looms far above us. Jax is beside me, panting just as hard as I am. “I think we’re out of shape,” I say breathlessly.

He flashes a smile before rasping, “You think?”

I huff out a laugh while forcing my feet to move again. My legs are shaky, strained from climbing nonstop for hours with no food and no water to aid us. I hold out a hand to Jax, helping him over a particularly steep patch of rock, returning a favor he has done for me multiple times.

“How cute.”

Jax and I stiffen at the sound of that voice, considering that the owner of it tried to kill the both of us. I bite my tongue, forcing myself to stamp down the flare of anger igniting inside of me and ignore him instead.

Ace sighs dramatically as he continues to climb nearby. “Well, this is awkward. The three of us being paired together to be a team.”

It’s not awkward—it’s intentional.

Everything the king does is deliberate. Twisted. And this Trial is no exception. The fights, the teams, and the tension between contestants are all calculated.

“What? Are you just going to ignore me until we reach the top?” Ace croons from behind.

I’m thankful that Jax happens to be the other Elite I’m paired with, so I don’t have to fight the urge to kill both of my teammates. Though, that may be a bad thing considering that I likely trust Jax too much. But I ignore the thought just like the boy behind me and continue carefully climbing.

“At least—” Ace’s words die on his tongue before he cries out, “Paedyn! Look out!”

I turn to face him and instead spot the giant snake slithering around my ankles. A strangled scream tears from my throat before I can stop it, and I stumble. My ankle catches on a rock, and I trip, falling backward—

The last thing I see before I’m about to fall down the mountain and likely to my death, is the snake scattering into shadows when my foot connects with it.

Illusion.

But it’s too late. My body is falling and I’m going to tumble down the slope with no way to stop myself.

What a pathetic way to die—

Hands are suddenly at my back, pushing and pulling me to my feet before I can collide with the rocks and roll down the mountain.

“I got you,” Jax grits out behind me. “I think.”

I reach out a hand and claw at the closest jagged rock, helping to get my feet beneath me. When I’m standing mostly upright on unsteady legs, Jax Blinks back in front of me, sweaty and panting. I’m sure I look no different, but I offer him a weak smile and hope he sees the gratitude in my gaze. This boy Blinked behind his opponent to save me from—

The thought vanishes from my head, along with any other rational one that might have been residing there. I whirl on Ace even as I cling to a rock, not trusting my shaking body.

His smile is cold. “Careful. I wouldn’t want my teammate to get hurt.”

You,” I spit. I’m about to slide down the slope and strangle him with my bare hands—

“Don’t,” Jax says quietly. “Not yet.”

I hesitate, slowly returning my eyes to his dark ones. After a long pause and a deep breath, I nod. Jax is not only right for reminding me I can’t kill our teammate, but he’s clearly far better at reigning in his rage than I am. So, I stiffly turn back towards the mountain, focusing all my attention on scaling it.

 We climb in silence for a moment before I clear my dry throat and say softly, “Thank you, Jax. You didn’t have to help me, but you did.”

“Of course I helped you,” he says with a shrug. “Besides, I’m not sure my brothers would forgive me if I hadn’t.”

His brothers.

That night Kai and I danced during the first Trial—the night we spoke so openly about our lives—was when I had first learned of just how close the princes truly are with Jax. Kai briefly told me of the advisers’ shipwreck on the Shallows, and how they took their son in when he was barely six.

I force out a quiet laugh. “I don’t know, I’m sure Kai wouldn’t mind having less competition.”

He gives me an odd look, clearly trying not to laugh. “Not if that competition is you.” I huff in response, but Jax carries on cheerfully. “Speaking of Kai, I wonder how he is handling this.”

“Handling what?”

Jax pulls himself over a jagged rock with a grunt before breathlessly saying, “The mountain.” When my expression remains confused, Jax adds, “He hates heights.”

“What?” I choke out. “But I watched him climb up one of the pines in the Whispers during the first Trial. He seemed—”

“Fine?” Jax finishes for me with a laugh. “Calm even? Yeah, he’s pretty good at hiding what he feels.”

“Just another mask he slips on,” I mutter under my breath.

Jax nods, causing a bead of sweat to roll down his face. “He’s gotten a lot better with heights though, but only because of all the training the king put him through.”

I knew enough about the king’s twisted training, but Kai had never mentioned anything about his fear of heights. “What did the king do?”

“He…he made him climb the highest trees in the Whispers, over and over again until he was convinced Kai had gotten over his fear.”

“What?” My voice is as shaky as the legs carrying me up this mountain.

His own father forced him to relive his worst fear over and over again.

It seems that the torture Kai spoke of enduring was not all physical.

“I was little when Kai was going through most of his training to be the future Enforcer, but I’ll never forget the nights he would come home covered in blood and tears.” Jax looks down at his feet, suddenly more serious than I’ve ever seen him before. “I think he was afraid that I’d be scared of him, so he’d sneak back into his room every night. But I still caught glimpses of him, heard him hacking at his bedposts with a sword.”

We climb in silence for a moment, and I ignore my screaming thoughts just as I ignore the tightness in my throat and the pressure behind my eyes. Then a weary smile spreads across Jax’s lips as he says, “But I couldn’t ask for better brothers.”

“I’d hate to interrupt your cute conversation,” Ace drawls, “but am I the only one who feels that?”

I’m about to dismiss what is likely another attempt to trick me with an illusion when I start to feel it. A slight tremor runs through me, coming from the mountain. The small rocks are rattling around us, and I bend closer to the ground, clutching at anything to hold on to.

“Rockslide,” I breathe.

Dread floods me, followed quickly be determination.

I will not die today. Least of all, from rocks.

I swallow down my panic at the sound of heavy boulders tumbling towards us, crashing against one another as they race to crush us. “So,” Jax pants beside me, “what’s the plan?”

“Don’t die,” I say simply.

“How incredibly helpful,” Ace mutters, far too casually for our current situation.

The rumble of rocks grows louder as I watch the boulders come tumbling towards us. Dodging them is far easier said than done. The mountainside is steep, making it hard to jump around without fear of falling to our deaths. I’m grasping at plants and divots in the rocks beneath me as I scramble out of the way of the rolling boulders.

Jax is Blinking out of the path of falling rocks, flickering in and out of my vision. Ace is somewhere behind me, and if I’m lucky, a boulder has already sent him tumbling down the mountain.

I scramble to the right, barely saving my arm from being crushed. Then I jump to the left and—

Something collides with the side of my head.

Spots dance in my vision. I’m dizzy, dazed, only vaguely comprehending that my name is being shouted. I look up just in time to see that I’m about to be flattened by a boulder. I dive out of the way, landing hard as I claw at anything to grab hold of. And as quickly as it happened, the mountain seems to still beneath me as the rocks slowly stop their slide.

I struggle to my feet, blinking away the hot, heavy liquid that is threatening to spill into my eyes. I can feel the blood oozing down the side of my face, can feel the pounding pain of the wound there. I’m almost certain I have a concussion, just like I’m almost certain I’m going to puke.

“Jax? Are you alright?” I call, taking a step forward and reaching out to steady myself against the rocks. Yes, I think I’m going to be sick.

“I’m okay,” he calls, Blinking in front of me. We are both covered in scrapes and bruises already beginning to bloom across our skin.

“Thank you for asking, Paedyn. I am quite alright,” Ace says, his voice lacking any tone or tenderness.

I wipe the back of my hand over my eye, clearing it of the blood that is dripping from my wound. “How unfortunate.”


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