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Powerless (The Powerless Trilogy): Chapter 56

Kai

Right.

Right.

Left.

Dead end.

Shit.

I tip my head back towards the cloudy sky far above us, seeming even darker from within this dusky maze. Taking a deep breath, I turn and jog back the way I came, choosing to head right this time.

Wrong.

Another dead end is tempting me to drive my fist into it, though I know that will only cause more damage to me than the plants.

I pick up my pace and breeze past a Sight, ignoring him and his unsettling stare. I’m in a pissy mood. Not exactly surprising, considering that I’ve been running around a maze in the heat, meeting only dead ends, and driving myself mad.

Other than evading being crushed by moving walls and encountering a few dozen snakes slithering out from under them, I’ve kept myself relatively busy with the constant running. I have no concept of time in here, but with my rapidly beating heart and ragged breathing, I know I’ve been at this for a while.

Sand shifts under my feet, and then the hedges shift at my sides.

I hear the muffled cries of excitement from the crowd as the maze begins to rearrange itself again, so I dart out of the path and into another that is also shrinking just as quickly. Turning right, I’m only faced with more closing hedges.

I spin, my eyes searching. Everywhere I look seems to promise death by plants. A pitiful way to die. I stand in the path, watching as the walls close in on me. I’ve never felt so powerless, so unable to do anything to stop this impending doom.

And then the walls halt.

My shoulders press into the two hedges now threatening to crush me. I step forward, arms scraping against the too-tight walls of foliage on either side.

A bitter laugh escapes me, the sound swallowed by the thick walls.

Clever, Father.

I sigh, pressing onward through the maze, knowing that if I come across another contestant, there is only one way to get around them.

Left.

Right.

Right.

Jaguar.

I blink.

That was not what I was expecting.

The jaguar blinks back, its coat the color of deep wine, its eyes the color of sweet honey.

“Hello, Andy.”

She cocks her head to the side, her mannerisms mirroring that of a cat toying with a mouse. And that worries me. I don’t know how long she’s been in her animal form, but I can see it’s been long enough for her to lose herself in it.

Andy’s ability is just as dangerous to others as it is to herself. The longer she stays shifted, the harder it is to keep her head. This is the exact reason she’s trained so much with her ability, and the exact reason why I don’t use it very often. When we were children, she would be in her animal form for days at a time, unable to shift herself back until finally waking up as a human again with no memory of what had happened.

Over the years, she’s learned to control it, learned to stay in her right mind even while being in a different body. But with all the adrenaline pumping through her jaguar form, her control seems to be slipping. Which is exactly why she’s staring at me like I’m a piece of meat.

“Easy, Andy.” I raise my hands slowly in the air, taking a step back.

She takes a step forward. No, she prowls forward.

Shit.

This path is so tight that there’s no way she could get peacefully around me even if she wanted to. Not that there is anything peaceful about the way she’s looking at me, the way she’s crouching low in the sand.

I don’t want to hurt her, but hell, she wants to hurt me. She’s eyeing me like a predator would, promising their prey a painful death.

I reach out for an ability close by like I’ve done multiple times since stepping into this maze. Plagues knows I’ve tried to grab hold of a Bloom’s power so I could flatten these walls and walk straight to the center of the maze. And that’s exactly what I would do if they weren’t so deliberately staying out of my range.

The thrum of Andy’s ability is overpowering, the only one close enough to feel—

Wait.

There’s a faint tickling my veins, the feel of a power coming closer. I grasp at it and—

Andy lunges.

Claws outstretched towards my throat, razor teeth bared, a blob of burgundy flashing towards me.

And then I’m standing behind her.

Andy crashes into the sand where she intended to crash into me. She lets out a roar of frustration and is barely able to spin around in the narrow pathway. Only the agility of a cat could fold itself to face me with such little room.

With another roar, she lunges at me again. And with another Blink of Jax’s ability, I’m behind her. Again. She follows the same pattern of spinning around to try and sink her teeth into me all over again.

And then Jax’s power coursing through my veins falters, flickers.

No, no—

And then it fails.

He’s too far from me now, lost in the maze and taking his ability with him.

Well, that leaves me no choice.

With only one ability available to me, I finally take advantage of it.

I shift.

Plagues, I forgot how much I hated this. There is a flash of light before my bones begin shifting, muscles stretching, every part of my body achingly aware of every change. I’m close to the ground, body sleek and strong and slicked with a shiny coat. I feel my canines elongate, sharpened to deadly points. My eyesight sharpens with them, narrowing on the smaller jaguar before me.

Keep your head. Keep your head. Keep your head.

With the little training I’ve had compared to Andy, it’s far easier for me to lose my mind to the animal I have just become. So, the faster this fight ends, the better.

Andy seems only slightly surprised that I have gone from human to jaguar, matching her, mirroring her. But she recovers quickly, and the sudden swipe of her claws catches me across the side of my face. She slashes upward, barely missing my eye.

I grunt in pain. No, growl in pain.

I leap towards her, slashing out with my own razor-sharp claws. I swipe her across the chest, and she lets out a cry of pain before leaping on top of me.

This might be the strangest fight I’ve ever been in. And that is saying a lot.

And yet, it feels so natural in this body. My claws and canines know exactly what to do as I slash at her. Red blood blends into her burgundy fur as we roll over one another, growling and slicing each other’s flesh anywhere we can.

We are quite literally fighting like rabid animals.

I let instinct take over, let myself tap into that animal side a little more.

Keep your head. Keep your head. Keep your head.

She’s on top of me and my teeth snap, meeting the soft skin of her neck. She yelps, and I throw her off me, watching as she tumbles into the sand and crashes into a hedge. I slink towards her, paws padding silently as I close in on my kill.

No. Not my kill. My family. Andy.

She’s trying to get up, trying to slice me with her claws and teeth as I approach. I crouch over her, this small jaguar who dared challenge me. My teeth are bared, and a growl grows in my throat.

I am Kai Azer, prince and future Enforcer of Ilya. I am Kai Azer, prince and fu—

Pain.

Jagged teeth are clamped around my shoulder, tearing at flesh and fur. I roar and raise my uninjured arm, ready to finish this with one swipe.

A flash of light momentarily blinds my sharp eyes and I stagger back, stunned as I’m returned to my senses.

I was about to kill her.

I need to change back. Now.

Blinking, I look down at where Andy should be laying beneath me. But there’s nothing there. A sudden shadow looms above, drawing my attention up towards the sky. Well, where the sky would be if I could see it.

Vines and thick foliage have created a barrier over the top of the maze, a dome of greenery enclosing us completely. I hear the rustle of feathers and a flash of wine-red wings flapping against the thick ceiling.

She’s shifted into a falcon, trying desperately to fly up and over this maze with no luck. A valiant effort, but one that the Blooms cannot allow.

Andy screeches, trying to claw at the branches trapping her in this cage. Then she’s diving back towards the sand, blinding me with a flashing light. I blink and she’s back in her jaguar form, not giving me a second glance before limping away.

I don’t waste another second before shifting back. My clothes are still intact, if not soaked with blood. I’m covered in deep gashes, the one on my face stinging as blood streams down into my eye. But it’s the bite mark that draws my attention. It’s deep and dripping blood, the outline of a set of sharp teeth imprinted into the skin of my shoulder.

And it hurts like hell.

I rip off a strip of fabric from the hem of my shirt and wrap it around the wound, trying to stop the steady flow of blood. My very bones seem to ache as I head off again through the maze, having wasted far too much time clawing at my cousin.

Right.

Left.

Left.

Screams.

I still.

Another cry.

Right.

Left.

Right.

I stop, suddenly.

The faintest tingle of power bubbles in my veins. I focus on it, willing it to grow stronger. It does. And I don’t hesitate to grab hold of it.

A smile splits my bloody face.

Looks like a Bloom got too close.


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