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Chapter Six

An hour of walking later, the scenery went through a noticeable change. The docks were the pride and joy of any Vlangurtian city worth the waters they floated on. Even Doku, which was a modest city all things considered, was not exempt from this. Statues stood atop rafts anchored in the canal intersections, and the bridges and walkways were all sanded down to smooth perfection. Where the paint had been faded further into the city, now the walls gleamed with shades of white and blue that were almost too bright to look at. In the distance Toke could see white billowing sails, rising even higher than the buildings around him so that they almost blended in with the clouds.


“One of them has to be going to Stal Atrieda,” Zashiel said, stopping. “We just have to figure out how to get on it.”


“Maybe we could offer to work for them,” Toke suggested, stroking his chin. “Free labor in exchange for passage to Stal Atrieda.”


“Maybe. Can we count on your parents to pull their weight?”


Toke's hand dropped. “I, uh...”


“I figured.” Zashiel sighed. “No chance of us just leaving them here, I'm guessing?”


“Don't even joke about that, Zash. I'm not leaving my parents by themselves in a foreign country.”


“Well, then it's up to you to figure out how we're going to get them on board. You're my priority, not them.”


Toke's face began to burn. “Don't talk that way about my family, Zashiel.”


Instead of apologizing, Zashiel just shook her head and started across the bridge leading to the docks. Toke hesitated a few seconds, watching her back. Finally, with a sigh, he followed. A few minutes later, they were surrounded by massive, imposing ships—and people.


“Stay close to me,” Zashiel said as they forced their way through the crowd. Toke groaned and rolled his eyes.


“Could you make it any more obvious that you’re a Sorakine?” he muttered into her ear.


Zashiel raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about?” She asked, shoving a man nearly twice her size out of the way. “Everyone here acts like this.”


Toke looked around at the rugged men milling about the docks, drinking, cursing, and fighting. She wasn't wrong, but...


“You're the only girl doing it,” he pointed out.


Zashiel paused for a second. “You humans are so weird,” she finally muttered, shaking her head.


“It's you wingalings who're weird,” Toke retorted. “You're the only people on Fissura who act like this.”


“All that means is that the entire world is insane, and we're the only normal ones.”


“Zashiel, I can never tell if you're...” Toke's voice trailed off, and he stopped walking.


“Toke?” Zashiel asked in confusion. “What is it?”


Oh, smite. A spike of fear drove itself into Toke's heart, and he immediately grabbed Zashiel by the wrist.


“Keep walking!” he hissed through clenched teeth, pulling her deeper into the crowd.


“What's wrong?” she asked again.


“That man sitting over there by the fishmonger's store,” he answered. “Do you see him?”


“The big guy with a bandage around his head? What about him?”


Toke glanced back to make sure the man hadn't noticed them, and then said, “That's one of the bounty hunters from yesterday!”


“Really?” Zashiel dug her heels in, bringing them both to a stop, and looked over her shoulder. “He's big, I'll give him that. Looks like you did a number on him.”


“Just barely,” Toke grumbled. “He came this smiting close,” he pinched his fingers together, “to beating me.”


Zashiel crossed her arms and cocked her head. “You don't say. That might be more impressive than the fact that you did beat him.”


“I've never seen a human fight like he did. Now can we go before he sees us?”


The hunter was sitting with his back rigid, chewing on what looked to be a raw fish. Toke noted, with some satisfaction, the bandages wound around his right arm and his head, covering his left eye. His other eye was scanning the crowd of soldiers ceaselessly, as if he knew Toke and Zashiel were out there somewhere. Toke's palms started to sweat.


“What are you so scared of?” Zashiel asked, a teasing smile playing on her lips. “I'm here too, if you haven't noticed. Do you think he's any match for me?”


The hunter's gaze passed dangerously close to them, and Toke's grip on Zashiel's coat tightened.


“Does it matter?” he snapped. “If you get in a fight with him, then poof!  There goes our cover. Nobody will give us a ride to Stal Atrieda, and your sister will probably be here within the minute!”


The smile fell from Zashiel's face. After a moment's hesitation, she nodded.


“Yeah, you're right,” she said more softly now. “Come on, let's go.”


They began to worm their way through the people again, but just as they left Toke felt a shiver run down his spine. Against his better judgement, he turned around one more time...


And found the hunter looking right at him.


“Smite,” he whispered.


“Did he see us?” Zashiel whispered back.


“I think so. Just act natural. If he comes after us, maybe we can lose ourselves in the crowd.”


Zashiel nodded, and the two of them continued to work their way toward the ships. It was difficult, but Toke didn't let himself look back again. The hunter may be a mercenary, but he was still an agent of the law. That meant that he wouldn't attack the them when there was a chance he might hurt innocent civilians.




“Can you read any of these signs?” Zashiel asked a few minutes later when they reached a large billboard covered in writing.


“Haven't you been practicing your Vlangurtian like I told you?”


Zashiel's cheeks turned a shade pinker. “I haven't had a chance. Will you just read it?”


Toke rolled his eyes and stepped forward. “What would you do without me?”


He squinted as he scanned the billboard, searching for job ads.  Ever since they had come here, he had done his best to learn the country’s language.  Vlangurtian used the same runes as Yasmik, but that didn’t help him as much as he’d hoped.  His mind was made for building things.  Words, just like numbers, were as hard for him to grasp as a live, wriggling fish.  Still, he had memorized a few specific words he’d known they would need.  Instead of reading the endless pages of gibberish pinned in front of him, he sought out those specific words.  The ones that meant work, hire, and passage.  Whenever he located one of those words, he would scan the rest of the posting to search for Stal Atrieda.


“There's a barge shipping fertilizer to the kelp gardens,” he said a minute later, pointing to the ad he was reading.


Zashiel wrinkled her nose. “Fertilizer? As in...”


“Drops,” Toke said, nodding. “It'll take us halfway to Stal Atrieda, and then we could—”


“Find another one.”


Toke looked at her. “We're refugees, Zashiel, not tourists. We can't afford to be picky about things like this.”


“I reserve the right to be picky about working on a boat full of poop, Toke. Find another one.”


He sighed. “That one's bringing troops to Makal. That's, like, right next door to Stal Atrieda.”


Zashiel thought about it for a minute. “I can think of worse ways to get there than traveling with other warriors...” Her voice trailed off.


“But?” Toke prompted her, reading her tone.


“If we were found out, we'd be surrounded by armed enemies.”


Toke nodded. “Point taken. Hmm...”


It needs to be something my parents would be okay working on, too, he thought. The idea of his parents doing hard manual labor on a boat was almost enough to make him laugh.


“How about this one?” He stepped forward to get a better look. “The Seventh Swordfish is seeking new talent for its voyage to...” he paused when a sailor stepped in front of him, and had to stand on his toes to see over his shoulder. “Hey, it's straight to Stal Atrieda!”


“New talent?” Zashiel asked. “What kind of talent?”


Toke shrugged. “It doesn't say.”


Slowly, Zashiel nodded. “I guess that's our best bet, then. Let's go talk to the captain.”


After checking the ship's location on the ad, Toke led the way through the crowd again. He kept his hand around Zashiel's wrist the whole time, and Zashiel didn't protest. His eyes were peeled for the hunter, and he didn't want them to get separated in the event that a fight broke out. The farther they got from the city, though, the thinner the crowds became. Out here, where the ships were docked, there were only a few sailors around, loading and unloading their boats and inspecting them before their next voyage. That made Toke feel a lot better, but he still didn't relax. Behind him, Zashiel was just as tense, but he didn't think it was the hunter that had her worried.


As they walked, and Toke counted down the docking spaces to their destination, the Seventh Swordfish gradually came into view. Toke craned his neck to see over the schooner moored in front of it, inexplicably eager to see the craft that would smuggle them out of Doku, and...


Blinked in confusion.


“What... the... smite?” Zashiel whispered beside him.


Before them floated the biggest, brightest... thing… either of them had ever laid eyes on. It was a barge, Toke realized once his wits caught up to him, but it was painted a rainbow of different colors that made it stand out from the other ships so much that Toke was surprised he hadn't spotted it from the other side of the docks. He ran his eyes up and down the craft, unwilling to believe this was the ship they were looking for, until...


“The Seventh Swordfish,” he read, pointing to where the barge's name was painted in gleaming red letters at its bow.


They both stood there, staring at it, for a few more seconds—and then Zashiel turned and walked away.


“Where are you going?” Toke called.


“I'm not getting on that boat, Toke,” she said, stopping but not turning around.


“But we haven't even talked to the captain yet!”


“I said I reserve the right to be picky about working on boats full of poop. That goes for boats that look like a rainbow vomited on them too.”


Toke rolled his eyes and took her by the elbow. “Come on, we're at least going to see what kind of ship this is.”


“Toke...” she said warningly.


“Nope!” he cut her off. “If I leave it up to you, we'll never find one. Now come on!”


To his surprise, when he pulled her elbow again, she obliged and followed—albeit, not without a heavy, dramatic sigh.


“I feel like this is threatening my manhood,” she grumbled.


“You're a woman, Zash.”


“I know. It's that bad.”


They ascended onto the barge via a narrow plank that spanned the distance between the dock and the ship. Toke wondered briefly if they should ask before coming onboard, but seeing as there wasn't anyone guarding it he decided that would be a waste of time. Once he stepped onto the deck, he paused and looked around.


The Seventh Swordfish was even stranger than he'd first guessed. Standing at the edge of the ship, his view of the other side was obstructed by a tall structure that ran in a large ring around the deck. He couldn't see much else, besides the pair of poles that rose from the bow and the stern of the ship. Toke had thought they were masts at first, but they didn't seem to have anything for the sales to attach to. What they did have, however, was a thin cord that stretched all the way from one of them to the other. Other than that, all Toke could see were a few crates lying around the deck—and not a single crewmember in sight.


“Where is everyone?” Zashiel asked, echoing his thoughts.


“No idea.” He shrugged. “Maybe they're all out—”




Toke jumped at the sudden outburst, his hand going instinctively for the axe that wasn't hanging from his back, and they both spun to look at the wall-like ring in front of them.


“Get back! I said get—”


The voice was drowned out with a deafening roar.


Toke and Zashiel shared a look, and then sprinted for the ring. A weakened-gravity jump launched Toke to the top, and Zashiel was beside him a second later. The inside of the wall descended like steps—no, like benches, Toke realized—and below them in the very center was a man facing off with a—


“Holy smite!” Toke blurted out, eyes wide. “He's fighting a lion!”


The man had long brown hair that hung loose around his shoulders, and he wore a red coat that had probably been fancy at one point but now looked like it would fall apart at the seams the next time he shrugged. He didn't seem to notice Toke or Zashiel—and why would he, with a snarling lion looking at him like it had found its next snack? In one hand he held a short knife, and with the other he was making calming motions at the lion.


The lion snarled, tail lashing angrily from side to side. It bared its teeth and took an experimental swipe with its claws at the man.


“Gah!” he yelped, narrowly dodging the attack. He brandished his knife at it, but the lion didn't seem to care one bit. It lunged, snapping its jaws, but the man danced out of the way—barely.


“We've got to help him!” Toke exclaimed. He leaped, putting on his jacket even as he fell. He heard Zashiel yell something at him, but he couldn't make out what she said. He landed in the ring opposite the giant cat, both axes drawn.


Both the lion and the man froze, looking at him in confusion.


“What in the—” the man said, but then the lion spun around and attacked. Toke jumped backwards out of its reach, its claws catching nothing but air, and landed atop the lowest row of benches.


“Come on, over here!” he yelled, banging his axes together. He wasn't sure how well he would fare in a fight against a lion, but he didn't intend to find out either if he didn't have to. All he had to do was lead it away so that the man could escape.


“What kul Nass tyel do you think you're doing?” the man demanded.  He used words Toke had never heard before, but it was obvious he was cursing.


Toke glanced at him, trying not to take his eyes off the lion for longer than he had to.  He hadn’t moved an inch. The beast was coming closer, growling threateningly.


“Get out of here,” he yelled. “We'll take care of this!”


The man looked like he wanted to say something else, but the lion pounced before he could. Its powerful legs carried it across the distance between it and Toke, and Toke weakened his gravity again and jumped, performing a flip and landing lightly behind it. He raised his axe.


“If you touch that lion, I'm going to—”


Toke swung, and his blade sliced into the animal's thigh. The lion roared in anger, and spun around faster than Toke expected. Its claws lashed out again, and this time Toke didn't have a chance to react before they struck him. His jacket protected him, but that didn't stop him from being thrown off his feet. He skidded to the center of the ring, and the lion pounced again before he could get up. Toke closed his eyes...


Just as Zashiel swooped in and tackled it.


The lion let out a surprised half-roar as the Sorakine girl's arms wrapped around it, lifting it clear off the ground. With a grunt, she threw it, sending the giant cat flying across the ring until it struck the ring of benches on the other side. It got back up on shaky legs, staring at Zashiel in shock. Toke didn't blame it. It had probably never seen a Sorakine before, and the idea that something so small could overpower it so easily simply didn't add up.


Zashiel glanced at him as he got up. “You all right?”


Toke nodded. “Yeah, I'm—”


The cold blade of a knife pressed against his throat, and he stopped talking.


“Make one move, and I'll kill you,” the man in the red coat snarled into his ear.


“Toke!” Zashiel yelled. She began to turn to engage the man, but Toke pointed over her shoulder.


“Zashiel, look out!”


She whipped back around just as the lion came at her again. She reacted with her Sorakine reflexes, spinning in a circle and kicking it in the mouth. It toppled over a second time, and Zashiel put her foot on its neck to keep it down.


“What the shoostra is wrong with you people?” asked the man with the knife. “Get away from him!”


In an instant, Zashiel had drawn one of her chakrams, and was holding it behind her head. With her wings freed from her jacket and spread behind her, she was an imposing sight.


“You have three seconds to let him go,” she warned the man.


The man pressed his knife even harder against Toke's skin. “Yeah? If I even think you're going to throw that thing, I'll cut him open.”


“If you do, I'll kill you!”


“Yeah, well, I—”


Toke took his chance while the man was distracted. Hooking one leg around the man's ankle, he leaped, curling into a backflip and bringing the man with him. Once they were both airborne, Toke anchored himself to the benches on his right, sliding out of the man's grip before he could react. While the man fell back to the ground, Toke shot away and landed in a crouch on top of the seats.


“That was careless of you, getting caught like that, Toke,” Zashiel said, still standing on the lion's neck.


He shrugged. “Sorry, but I didn't think the next attack would come from the guy we just rescued.”


“You didn't rescue me, you krez!” the man cursed in his odd language, springing nimbly to his feet. He drew a second knife from his belt.


Toke and Zashiel looked at each other. “What else would you call keeping a lion from killing you?”


The man's face was as red as his coat now. “He wasn't going to kill me! We were practicing!”


“What do you—”


“Cap'n Treyn, everythin' all right?”


Toke turned around to see a large man climb on top of the seats behind him. His hair was pulled back in a knot and dyed the typical Vlangurtian white, and his shirt looked like it was about to burst from all the muscle stuffed inside it.


“About time you got here, Ludsong,” snapped the red coated man. “These idiots are trying to kill Dabba.”


Ludsong blinked. “Why do they wanna—”


“Just get one of them, you idiot!”


“Yes, Cap'n!” Ludsong gave him a brisk salute, and then lunged at Toke. He moved dexterously for a man his size, navigating the wobbly wooden seats, but Toke was too quick. With yet another gravity-weakened leap, he shot over Ludsong's head and landed on the top seat where the bigger man had just been.


“We're not here to fight!” he yelled, raising his hands in surrender. “We just came to ask for work!”


Treyn pointed one of his knives at him. “Don't care. You kicked my cat. Get him, Ludsong!”


“Aye, Cap'n!” Ludsong said again, turning and charging back up the rows of seats. Toke easily sidestepped him again.


“Zashiel, maybe you could consider letting Dabba go,” he called down.


Down below, Zashiel sighed and raised her foot off the lion's neck. Dabba was back on his paws in an instant, snapping at her with his gleaming white teeth, but Zashiel was already off the ground. Her wings beat against the air, letting her hover just out of the lion's reach.


“Have you got this one?” she called.


Ludsong threw a wild haymaker at Toke's head, which he had no problem dodging. The larger man's foot shot out next, and Toke hopped over it like a skipping rope.


“Don't worry about me,” he said.


“Hold still, aftdragger!” Ludsong grunted. He charged at Toke again, arms held out to grab him. Toke leaped over him, handspringing off the gigantic man's head, and vaulted back into the ring to land in front of Treyn.


“Captain, my friend and I would like to request work in exchange for passage to Stal Atrieda.”


“Nope,” Treyn said, and swung his knife at Toke's throat. Toke leaned out of the way, letting the blade pass less than an inch from his skin.


“Any chance I could get you to reconsider?”


The fields of gravity behind Toke shifted. Even if he hadn't been able to feel them, he would have heard Ludsong's enraged howl long before the large man charged. He jumped, and instead of Toke it was Treyn who suddenly found himself bowled over by his massive shipmate. A second growl alerted Toke to Dabba's presence, and he anchored himself to the seats again, falling away before the lion's claws could hit him, and landing next to Zashiel.


“Sorry, Cap'n,” Ludsong said.




“We should leave,” Zashiel murmured while Ludsong rolled off of his captain. “He's going to have the city guards on us before much longer.”


She was right. Even if Treyn didn't call the guards himself, the ruckus would surely attract the kind of attention they didn't want. And yet, he hesitated.


“They're going to Stal Atrieda,” he said after a moment of thought. “We at least have to try to reason with them.”


“Reason went out the window when we attacked their pet lion!” Zashiel snapped—but she was too late, because Toke had already leaped down into the ring. Treyn and Ludsong glared at him, but at least they didn't attack him right off the bat. That was probably because they expected Dabba to do it, but as soon as the lion growled Zashiel fluttered down to stand between it and Toke. It backed off as soon as it saw her—it had learned its lesson the first time.


“Captain,” Toke said, holding his hands up again, “I want to offer my sincerest apologies for what happened. We thought you were in trouble, and tried to help.”


Treyn's face turned red, but Toke was relieved when he didn't immediately tell Ludsong to attack. He wasn't worried about these two.  Should real violence break out, he was worried that he and Zashiel would hurt them in their escape.


“What the smite do you two even want?” Treyn finally demanded. “You come onto my ship uninvited, spy on us while we're rehearsing, and then attack us?”


Toke spoke as quickly as he could. “We just want jobs. You're going to Stal Atrieda. She and I,” he pointed to Zashiel, “and my family need to get there. We're willing to work aboard your ship if you'll get us there.”


Treyn and Ludsong shared a look, and Toke saw the way the captain's eyes narrowed.


“You just saw us fight,” he went on. “We could help protect the ship during the voyage. If you run into bandits, or...” He paused. What would be the Vlangurtian equivalent of a bandit? “Or, um, pirates? Zashiel and I'll take care of them for you.”


“Should I throw 'em overboard now, Cap'n?” Ludsong asked. He cracked his knuckles.


Slow learner, Toke thought.


Treyn held up his hand. “No. Let me think for a minute.”


Relief washed over Toke. Despite all odds, Treyn was actually considering his offer! Maybe things were going to turn out all right after all.


“You won't have to pay us a single coin,” he reasoned. “We'll just—”


“Thought about it,” Treyn cut him off. “Answer's no. Inaska!”


Before Toke could argue, he heard a sharp twang, and felt a sudden shift in the gravity behind him. The arrow hit him right between his shoulder blades, not piercing his jacket, but making him stumble forward anyway. He heard Zashiel shout his name, but the next thing he knew Ludsong was on him—literally. Toke was far from in bad shape, but even he couldn't support the gigantic man's weight, and he collapsed to the floor.


“Ha, gotcha!” Ludsong cackled, thumping his meaty fist on the floor in triumph.


Very slow learner, Toke thought. Then, making himself as heavy as he could, he groped backwards with his powers until he found the closest of the ship's masts. Instantly, he was whipped off the ground, flying through the air toward the pole, and taking Ludsong with him. Ludsong yelped in fright, and Toke flipped over to send him toppling down into the seats. There was a splintering crack as Ludsong smashed into them.


The mast creaked under his increased weight when he landed on it, making it sway back and forth a little. A quick scan of the area showed him where the arrow had come from: above him, a woman was perched on the tip of the mast, balanced so naturally Toke almost thought she must be a Juryokine herself.  A paper mask covered the top part of her face the same way Toke's visor did, but he could clearly see her glittering violet eyes behind it, and the way they widened when she saw him stand upright on the side of the mast.  To her credit, though, she held her ground. In her hands was a bow and arrow—and suddenly it was just the bow, because the arrow was zipping straight down toward him. Toke cursed under his breath, and jumped. His leap carried him further up the pole, letting the arrow pass beneath his feet. A second arrow followed the first—drawn, aimed, and fired incredibly quickly—and Toke hurriedly leaned to the side. Since he was still anchored to the mast, the shift in his momentum sent him spiraling dizzily around the thick wooden pole, while still continuing his journey upward. He landed on the opposite side of the mast than the girl was aiming, and a third jump brought him the rest of the way to the top.


“I'm not here to fight you!” he exclaimed, landing just below the girl so that they were looking at each other at an exact ninety-degree angle. She was wearing a tight leather top and a short skirt that shifted in the wind.  “We just wanted to talk to the—”


The girl drew another arrow and thrust it down, trying to stab Toke with it. His axes were out in an instant, parrying the blow.


“Okay, fine,” he sighed, and lashed out with his leg. He didn't intend to kill the girl. He would knock her from her perch, and then catch her on the way down, perhaps knock her out to keep her from shooting anymore arrows.


What he didn't expect was for her to jump.


The girl whisked through the air as gracefully as any Sorakine Toke had ever seen, backflipping and landing on the cord tied between the two masts. She balanced on it without even having to look down. Her long hair, dyed the traditional Vlangurtian white, whipped around her face in the wind.


“Smite,” Toke whispered in awe.


With a flourish, she knocked yet another arrow and fired it at him. Toke leaped out of the way, and then released his anchor on the mast. He arched out over the tightrope, above the girl's head, and weakened his gravity as he came back down. As light as he was, the wire still swung alarmingly when he landed, and Toke windmilled his arms to keep his balance. He tried anchoring himself to it, but it was too thin—not enough of a surface to attach himself to. Instead, he extended both arms to his sides, letting the weight of his axes balance himself out. Smite, this was perhaps the hardest thing he'd ever done! He could balance better than normal people thanks to his powers, but standing on a half-inch wide string was a different story altogether.


And through it all, the girl didn't even stir. She balanced atop the wire as naturally as if it were the ground.


“You're good,” he couldn't help but say.


“Likewise,” she said back. “How are you doing that?”


Toke jumped a little, nearly losing his balance. He hadn't expected her to respond. More than that, though, there wasn't a trace of animosity in her voice—a strange thing to hear from someone trying to skewer him with arrows.


“It's, uh, nothing,” he said, shrugging as best he could without upsetting his balance.


“Hm,” was all she said, and then she shot another arrow.


“Smite!” Toke cursed again, and instinctively swung his axe. He was quick enough to deflect the arrow, but the motion finally tipped him over the side of the wire. With a shout, he flipped himself over just as he fell, hooking the crescent part of his axe around the rope. Kicking his legs out in front of him, he created enough momentum to loop back around, and he unhooked his axe and landed on top of the rope again. Before he had time to regain his balance, the girl rushed at him, bow sheathed over her back and two arrows gripped in her fists.


She held them backwards, wielding them like they were knives. One went high, the other went low, and Toke had no choice but to leap into the air again, cartwheeling out of the way.  In the split second that they were close to each other, he got a fleeting glimpse of her face.  She was pretty despite the mask—beautiful, even.  Her mask was made of thick paper, painted metallic gold and dusted with diamond-like glitter.  It fit every contour her face so perfectly that it was obvious it had been made specifically for her.  The glimpse lasted less than a second, and then Toke's mind was back in the fight.  He extended his leg as he fell back down to the tightrope, hoping to land a solid kick, but the girl gracefully dropped and somersaulted away from him. Toke's foot came back down on the rope, but the awkwardness of his pose sent him tumbling right off again. He only just managed to grab the rope, his bad hand twinging with pain.


Enough of this, he thought, and quickly fastened both axes to the back of his jacket. Then, swinging back and forth to build up momentum, Toke corkscrewed around the tightrope, kicking out at the masked girl with every loop. She nimbly dodged every attack, but Toke went at her so relentlessly that dodging was all she could do. Never once did she look like she was going to lose her balance, but neither did Toke give her the chance to attack again. Foot by foot, they made their way back toward the mast where they had started, until...


“Take this!” Toke yelled. He swung himself up over the rope one last time, and then weakened his gravity and let go. He flew up into the air, and then anchored himself to the pole behind the girl and increased his weight, shooting toward it like one of her arrows. The girl gasped in surprise, but then ducked and rolled out of his way again—just as Toke had known she would. Twisting in midair, he drew one of his axes again, and hacked through the tightrope in one clean cut.


The girl gasped, and began to fall.  As graceful as her dance on the tightrope had been, she was still only human.  She couldn't fly like Zashiel or walk on walls like Toke, which meant her only option was to watch in horror as she took a sudden, unexpected trip downwards.  Thinking quickly, Toke grabbed the short end of the rope that still dangled from the mast. The rope, combined with the momentum of his fall, whipped him around the mast in a long, sweeping arc, and sent him flying right back in the direction he'd just come from. He let go of the rope and soared over the Seventh Swordfish's deck, lashing out with another anchor to the falling girl at the same time. She lurched in midair, and the two of them angled towards each other even as they descended. When she was within arm's reach, Toke curled into a flip and scooped her into her arms.  A last minute anchor to the mast behind them slowed their fall just enough for Toke to touch down without hurting either of them—right in front of Captain Treyn.


“So, like I was saying,” Toke said, but the captain cut him off.


“You're hired!”


Toke blinked in surprise. “I... what?”


Grinning like a maniac, eyes blazing with excitement, Treyn stepped forward and clapped Toke on the shoulder. “Welcome to the Seventh Swordfish Circus!”



NEXT TIME: A circus, huh?  This is either going to be the greatest thing ever, or the biggest disaster in history… which would still be the greatest thing ever.


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