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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 46

Paedyn

I clamp my hands over my ears, shielding them from the loud squealing.

“Okay, what do you think?!” Adena is beaming, gesturing wildly to the partially made dress draped across my bed.

“Wow,” Ellie breathes, leaning over my shoulder to get a better look at it. “It’s…” she trails off as her eyes trail over the fabric.

“Perfect,” I finish for her. “Absolutely stunning. You’ve outdone yourself, A.” I give her a smile, wide and full of wonder at how one person could be so talented.

“Well,” she huffs, snatching the half-made dress off the bed and settling it on her lap again. “It’s not finished yet. I only have two more days until the final ball, and it needs to be absolutely perfect—”

“A.” I give her a knowing look. “Don’t stress, it will be perfect.” Then I snort, shaking my head. “You could put me in a flour sack and somehow make it look good.”

Adena looks truly alarmed at that suggestion. “I would never put you in a flour sack.” She taps a finger to her lips thoughtfully. “And not only because it would be hideous, even on you, but because the fabric is much too scratchy, too stiff to—” Her big, hazel eyes dart between Ellie and I trying to suppress our smiles and failing. “What?”

Her hands are on her hips, eyebrows quirked, legs crisscrossed and covered in fabric. I’ve never seen someone try to look so stern while looking so innocently sweet at the same time.

It feels good to laugh, to do anything other than train and snoop around the castle in the hopes of finding the tunnel on my own. But it seems that Kitt is the only key, and I’m helpless without him showing me the passage. Helpless if he doesn’t trust me. I’ve spent nearly every day with him, careful not to sound desperate when I casually mention details about Loot, trying to entice him into sneaking away with me.

Nothing.

We are chatting quietly when a knock at the door has us all jumping.

Ellie throws me a look, silently asking if I was expecting anyone, to which I give her a clueless shrug. She scurries to the door and opens it hesitantly, revealing a tall, smiling figure.

Kitt.

Ellie dips into a curtsy and I’m suddenly beside her, a slightly mocking smile on my lips as I say, “Your Highness, what an unexpected surprise.”

Kitt dips his head gracefully towards me. “Why, Miss Gray, I hope I’m not intruding?” His amused gaze flicks from Ellie to my bed where Adena sits, wide-eyed and covered in fabric. “Miss Ellie, Miss Adena, would you mind if I stole Paedyn from you?”

Ellie offers him a shy smile as Adena tries to stifle a shriek before calling, “No, Your Highness, not at all!”

I duck my head, trying to suppress a smile from both embarrassment and amusement. Kitt is already looking down at me when I peek up at him, his lips quirked in a smile. “Shall we?”

Their giggling follows us all the way down the hall, and I sigh before asking, “So, where are you stealing me off to?”

“Actually,” Kitt glances around nervously, “I was hoping you could steal me away.”

I blink at him, my heart beginning to beat quickly. But I school my features, feigning confusion. “I’m not sure I follow.”

Kitt slows and leads us into a corner before leaning over me. I’m startled by this sudden turn of events, his sudden proximity, and the sudden scent of spices that washes over me.

His head dips close to mine, his voice dipping to a low hush with it. “Loot.”

And there it is.

That one word has my heart hammering.

“I want you to take me.”

“Really?” The word comes out breathy and a little too eager for my liking.

Kitt doesn’t seem to notice, too busy scanning the corridor to make sure no one can overhear. “Yes.” His eyes are back on mine, searching. “I shouldn’t, but I…I should. What you said was true. All of it. I need to see my people. I can’t rule over a kingdom I barely know, over people who have needs I haven’t learned of.” He pauses, considering something. “I need to start deciding what I think is best.”

He sighs. “I need to do this. As much as I don’t want to go against my father, and as much as I know this is a damn awful idea,” he chuckles but the sound is strained, “I know if I don’t do this now, I never will. And I have you to thank for reminding me of the type of king I never want to be.”

The joy that had warmed me only moments ago is gone, replaced by the frigid, icy fingers of guilt. I’m suddenly reminded of his kindness, his tolerance for me telling him off, his willingness to listen.

And look where it’s gotten him.

Betrayal.

I swallow the lump rising in my throat. “You’re doing the right thing. And I would be happy to show you my home since you’ve so kindly shown me yours.”

I smile, trying to look casual and not at all calculating as I wait for him to show me the one thing I have been searching for.

The tunnels.

He nods slowly, looking suddenly serious. “Are you sure you can get me there and back without anyone identifying me?”

“Do you trust me?”

The words taste like ash in my mouth, and yet they slide off my tongue like silk. My chest constricts, and yet I breathe a little deeper. My knees threaten to shake, and yet I stand a little taller.

You are betraying one man to save the lives of hundreds. To save the lives of your people.

Kitt’s smile is soft. “Yes.”

It’s astounding how severely a single word can damn someone.

And then my hand is in his as he unwittingly leads me towards the first step in finding my people’s salvation.


I never figured that salvation would be in the dungeons.

Kitt pushes through a large, heavy door connected to one of the corridors before we are stomping down the staircase behind it. The air grows musty and cold with every step we take. He nods to the guards scattered in this damp dungeon beneath the castle, looking completely casual. As if he always brings his lady friends down here to visit.

We pass by dozens of dirty, dingy cells, some of which are still decorated with the bones of their past residents while others are occupied by the living. They watch us as we pass, their eyes prickling my skin, arms reaching through the rusty bars.

“In here,” Kitt says, snapping my attention back to the task at hand. His head sweeps back and forth down the hallway, and after deeming the coast clear, we step into the last cell.

My heart leaps into my throat, and I swallow. The passage is in a cell. It’s brilliant, really. I would have never guessed that an escape out of the castle would be connected to the one place they don’t want anyone to escape from.

“We don’t put prisoners in this cell, though they would never be able to get into the passage even if they knew one was in here,” Kitt murmurs as his hands slide across the wall.

He pushes on a large stone just above his head, one that looks completely ordinary alongside the others. It slides back about an inch, and I tear my eyes away from it as I count the stones, marking its spot on the wall.

Kitt has a ring of jingling keys in his hand, shiny metal glinting in the dim light as he grabs hold of the last one and slips it off the ring. It’s large and dulled by age with faded raised swirls looping across the top.

Kitt tosses a smile over his shoulder as he shoves the key into a small keyhole that was only made visible after he pushed back the stone. He talks casually as he works on turning the key. “Like I said, even if we did hold prisoners in this cell, and even if they found this particular stone, they still wouldn’t be able to get out. I always have my key ring on me.” I hear a metallic click sound from the wall. “I figured the safest place for it is on my person.”

I manage a hum of agreement, my pulse racing in anticipation. Kitt drops the key back onto its silver ring before dropping them both into the inside of his pocket.

Then he pushes on a section of the wall, and it swings open in response.

The stones that once looked totally ordinary have now become a camouflaged door. Kitt grabs my hand and pulls me in after him before shutting the door and plunging us into total darkness. The blackness falls over us like a blanket, heavy and pressing.

I can’t even see my hand in front of my face, so I jump when it connects with his chest. That same chest rumbles with laughter before flames flare in his fist, nearly blinding me with its brightness.

“Shall we?” Kitt asks with a smile.

We walk down a wide tunnel, damp and slimy, our footsteps echoing off the walls. I think on my next words carefully, knowing I need to craft them as though I’m simply curious rather than desperate.

“Where does this tunnel lead, exactly? And are there a lot of these, like a maze underneath the one that is the castle?” I ask, keeping my voice casual.

My feet falter when we come to a fork in the tunnel where the path splits in two. Kitt halts with me, his answer as casual as my question. “This actually happens to be one of the main and larger tunnels, hence why it’s one of the only ones I have a key to. Several of them are blocked off or too dangerous to use now.”

I keep my face neutral despite the worry weighing on my shoulders. What if the passage leading to the Bowl is one of the dead tunnels? What if it has been blocked off or caved in or—

Kitt nods his head towards the tunnel to the left, cutting through my thoughts as he says, “That one leads out near the training grounds, but you can’t open the door from the outside.” Then he gestures towards the tunnel to the right. “And the one we are going down leads to Bowl Arena and into the room under the box. The one we stayed in before the interviews.”

I nearly choke. Between coughs, I blame the outburst on the grimy air and not the information he so easily shared with me. The exact information I needed.

My head is spinning. I invented the idea of Kitt using one of the tunnels to see Loot in order to learn where the other ones were, and which one led to the Bowl. And here we are, casually going through the exact one I needed to find.

Kitt pulls me down the tunnel towards the Bowl, and I’m flooded with relief after finally discovering the passage. We walk and talk for nearly ten minutes before Kitt’s firelight illuminates a heavy door.

There it is. Salvation.

He heaves it open, revealing the dark room beneath the box before propping the door open with a small rock so we can get back in when we return. Then we head to the trap door in the ceiling, pushing it open before I’m once again pulling myself up through it. I feel the ghost of his hands on my back before I climb into the glass box. Kitt follows quickly after, and we step out into the empty arena.

“How exactly are we planning on getting to Loot?” I ask, raising my eyebrows at him.

“Since the stable boys can’t know that we are quite literally riding off into the sunset,” Kitt flashes me a smile, “we are headed to the field beside the Bowl where many of the horses graze during the day.”

We make our way out of the arena through one of the many concrete tunnels, ominous even with its absence of a jeering audience. When we finally reach the clearing, the warmth of the sun is blocked by the looming Bowl beside us.

A beautiful white horse canters up to greet us, clearly excited to get away from the Plague-forsaken place as well. I clear my throat and swallow my pride before muttering, “I don’t know how to ride.”

“Then you better hold on tight,” Kitt replies with a grin, his eyes briefly meeting mine.

Without a saddle, Kitt helps me onto the horse before gracefully mounting himself. I don’t know where to put my hands, feeling suddenly awkward with my chest pressed against his back.

He turns his head to look at me, his golden hair gleaming in the sunlight. “Are you sure you can steal me away?”

“Please,” I muse, “I’m a thief. Stealing is kind of what I do best.”


Kitt hasn’t stopped coughing since we arrived at Loot.

“Plagues, it does reek here.” He stifles a cough, trying to clear his lungs of the thick air. “Damn.”

I snort, watching as he scans his new surroundings, still trying to take it all in. His gaze runs over the beaten merchant carts scattered across Loot, all decorated with faded banners or torn signs. He takes in the crumbling buildings and shops outlining the wide street, watching as his people meander in and out of them.

His head swivels in the direction of each shout, listening as one man advertises his fresh catch of fish while another haggles loudly with a woman over the price of fabric. Everywhere around us is chaos, a sort of blissful craze. And we are standing in the middle of it, surrounded by a swarm of people going about their lives. Selling and buying. Living and trying to live. Loot seems to buzz with people, and yet, all I see is the buzz of existence.

I reach up and tug the cap resting on Kitt’s head lower. I snatched that and a beat-up shirt for him to slip on, though I doubt anyone is paying attention to us. He returns my gesture in kind, chuckling as he pulls my own hat over my eyes while silver wisps of hair fall around my face. I huff and readjust my cap with a smile tugging at my lips before leading him farther down the street, dodging laughing children who scuttle around our legs.

Kitt is trying to take it all in, soak up every bit of Loot. Every drab banner leached of color, every person that bumps into us on the crowded street. There is a Veil performing magic for a few onlookers, wowing the crowd and using his power to earn a few silvers. Defensive Elites always do well in this part of the slums, standing out among the many Mundanes.

I watch Kitt while he peers down the smaller alleys and streets jutting off Loot, catching glimpses of makeshift tents and the homeless figures huddling together within them. He stiffens at the sight of lonely, young children weaving between carts, hands clearly itching to snatch any sort of food.

“They’ll be whipped when they’re caught,” I say flatly.

His eyes are trained on mine now. “When they’re caught?”

“Yes. When.” I sigh and continue leading him down the crowded street. “The young ones are reckless and too impatient to be good thieves at that age. And since most Elites in the slums are Mundanes, their powers are likely unhelpful when it comes to surviving. I would know.”

I stop us in front of the bloody post residing in the center of Loot, where thieves and criminals alike are beaten. “This is where your Imperials will punish those children for their crimes.” I jerk my head towards the guards lining the street, currently scanning the crowd for their next victim.

Kitt steps closer to me, closing the distance between us. His green eyes glisten with emotion he doesn’t try to hide. “Did you ever . . . ”

“Yes. I was one of those children once. More than once. And I have the scars to prove it.” The streaks along my lower back seem to tingle at the mention and memory of them. He looks at me with such pain, such pity in his eyes that for the first time since our walk in the garden, I can’t bear to hold his gaze.

So, I pull him away before he can say another word. “Come on. I want to show you something.”

I drag him down the street, holding his hand firmly so he doesn’t get swept away in the crowd. No one pays any heed to the future king walking among them, or the Ordinary in plain sight leading him.

I stop at the end of a familiar alley. My makeshift little home is still tucked into the corner where I’m shocked to find it undisturbed. Bittersweet memories claw to the surface of my mind as I step towards the barrier of garbage and rugs I know as the Fort.

Kitt is suddenly beside me, his arm brushing mine as he looks over the mound. “This is where you slept.” It’s not a question.

“Home sweet home,” I whisper, surprised at how strained my voice sounds.

And then my face is suddenly in his hands, and his voice has taken on a soft sort of sternness. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you had to live like this.” He sighs as his eyes search mine. “Thank you. Thank you for showing me this. Loot. My people.” He pauses. “You. Thank you for entrusting me with the details of you.”

My throat bobs when the guilt slams into me again, forcing me to fight to keep my voice steady as I say, “No, thank you for trusting me, Kitt.”


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