“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I mumble as I walk closer, searching for some way up. It has ridges every few feet, but there’s no way I can climb up there while holding a plate of food.
“Chance!” I call out, hoping he’ll hear me. “I’ve brought food.”
The structure shudders as it starts to lower, each ridge from the top folding into the one beneath it until it’s only the bottom two and the fence part remaining.
Chance opens a gate and jumps out.
“Aldric sends food.” I hold the plate out to him.
“Thanks.” It’s all he says as he takes the plate and heads back to the nest.
Wanting to spend more than a second with him, I ask, “What do you do up there?”
“Keep watch.” He doesn’t bother looking at me or saying anything else.
He places the plate on the top of the platform and uses the ridges as steps.
“I like your parks,” I blurt out.
“They’re there for everybody.” He closes the gate and stares at me. “I hear Kenzo’s training you today.”
“He is.” This feels really awkward, this back-and-forth thing we’re doing. “He’s nice.”
“Good,” he mutters. He presses a button on a remote hanging from his belt, and it makes the structure rise into the sky. “You better not let Kenzo wait,” he shouts, moving out of my line of sight.
I really, really dislike Kenzo right now.
I don’t know what the time is. The training started taking on a torturous pattern. I run around the arena once, then jump from one piece of scaffold to the next, which are basically metal sheets held up by chains. I end the course by jumping and grabbing hold of a rope.
For now, I have to hang and hold on. Kenzo says I’ll start climbing the rope when I’m stronger.
I don’t think it will happen any time soon.
“How’s it hanging, kid?” Kenzo taunts me.
My hands burn from the friction, and I start to slip. Letting go, so the rope doesn’t tear at my skin, I fall with a hard thud. My shoulder and hip take most of the impact, and I let out a groan.
Sitting up, I say. “I need a break.” My palms are red from the rope.
“A break,” Kenzo chuckles darkly while glaring down at me. “A break is something you get when you fall from a rooftop, kid. Get your ass up and run.”
I drag my aching body off the floor. It feels as if something explodes behind my eyes. I clench my teeth together and start to run up the pathway again, pushing myself as hard as I can.
I complete the lap and focus on the first scaffold. It’s the easiest one out of the five.
Once I jump onto it, it starts swaying, slamming into the next one. It gets really hard after that, as they all keep banging against each other. Holding my balance is almost impossible.
Sucking in a deep breath, I jump the over the short open space between the pathway and the metal scaffold, landing in a crouching position.
Exhilaration pumps through my veins, and I propel my body forward with the momentum of the swaying scaffold. Landing, I spread my fingers on the floor to keep my balance. I can hear my heart pounding in my ears.
I’ve only managed to get to the rope four out of the thirteen times I’ve tried.
My throat feels thick, and I swallow and gasp for air.
You can do this. Focus.
I get ready to make the jump between the second and third scaffold, then launch myself forward.
I miscalculated my timing, and I slip right over the third one. As I fall off the side, the fourth one slams into my side, knocking the wind from me.
The fall is much harder than when I fell off the rope, and I hit the floor with a dead thump. A white-hot pain streaks through the entire left side of my chest, and tears well in my eyes, but I grind down on my teeth to keep them from falling.
Crap, it hurts.
Not wanting to come across as weak, I force myself to climb to my feet. I wince at the dull pain in my left side and shoulder.
“You better get going, kid,” Kenzo says, his tone tense.
He’s standing near the grid, only a few feet from me. The scaffolds still swing above my head, making an unnerving screeching sound.
Just as I start to walk toward the pathway to start running, I hear Chance say, “Kenzo, take over in the nest.”
My eyes dart up and lock on Chance, relief washing over me.
I fight the urge to cry from the pain in my ribs and keep my eyes locked on Chance, drawing the same strength from him as I did while I had to jump across the rooftops.
I don’t know what it is about him that makes me feel stronger than I am, and I’m not about to inspect it now.