“How is this even possible?” Toke asked as he and Zashiel made their way down the dark corridor. Having nothing else to go on, they had elected to follow one of the glowing green pipes in the wall, hoping that it would take them to the power source.
“I don’t know,” Zashiel answered. She stepped cautiously with one chakram gripped in her hand, as if she expected Navras to leap out at them at any moment. “You’re the inventor, aren’t you? You tell me.”
Toke stopped for a moment to look at the green pipe. At a passing glance, it only seemed to be glowing, but a closer look revealed a current in the unnatural light. It wasn’t sitting dormant in there, it was going somewhere— and that meant Navras was using it for something besides decoration.
“I’m stumped,” he finally answered. “Whatever he’s been doing here, it’s like nothing else any scientist has ever done before. There is literally no way for me to understand this right now.”
Zashiel paused and came to look at the vein as well. “It’s kaosuryo, right? We know how to make kaosuryo.”
Toke nodded. “Yeah, we figured out how to make a little bit of it. But this?” he motioned at the wall. “This is… almost ridiculous. If it takes a few feathers to make a single dodger, then imagine how much juryo he needs to fill this entire building with it.”
Zashiel nodded solemnly. “Enough to make a Gravity Storm.”
Zashiel leaned in even closer. “Maybe we should break the pipe,” she suggested. “Without this, he’s powerless.”
“No,” Toke said immediately. “If we let all that energy out, it’ll probably kill us.”
Zashiel gave him a sharp look. “If that’s what it takes, then—”
“Then we’ll do it later,” Toke cut her off. “First, let’s see if we can stop him without committing suicide.”
“We might not get the chance.” Zashiel raised her chakram.
“Zashiel,” Toke snapped, grabbing her wrist, “we’re not the only ones here! My parents are still in their cell. They’re not like you and me, they’re civilians! I don’t want to unleash a Gravity Storm in this place unless there’s absolutely no other choice.”
Zashiel thought for a minute, and then lowered her hand. Toke breathed a sigh of relief. If she had decided to break the pipe anyway, he wouldn’t have been able to stop her.
“Thank you,” he said, and turned to continue on his way.
“If we find Navras,” Zashiel said, following behind him, “and it doesn’t look like we can kill him, then I’m doing it.”
“Agreed,” Toke nodded. “And if you can’t, I will. Stopping the Storms is still our top priority, I understand that. I just don’t want to kill my parents in the process.”
Zashiel didn’t say anything, and Toke paused to push a heavy metal door open. On the other side, the vibrations grew even stronger. The floor shook under his feet, and he could hear a dull roar coming from further down the corridor.
“I think we’re about to find some answers,” Toke said, making his way toward the noise. His skin crawled, and he finally reached behind his back and drew his axes.
Zashiel could never beat the spearman, he thought in dismay, looking down at his tiny weapons. I’ll be less than useless!
Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.
The walls and ceiling suddenly ended, leaving them walking on a catwalk above a gigantic room. Even more kaosuryo pipes snaked their way through here, making it easier to see but giving the room a ghostly atmosphere. It was what the room contained, though, that caught Toke’s attention. Jidoryo grindstones, twenty feet in diameter, were lined up side by side on both ends of the room. They rolled automatically, assisted by an assortment of machines, grinding against a conductive metal floor. The blue sparks they threw up were instantly sucked into the floor and pulled into the building’s power grid. A grindstone a quarter of their size could have powered the Jerulkan Academy— and there were twenty of them in here.
“He made his own power plant,” Toke yelled over the noise. “There’s enough jidoryo being made here to light up a city!”
“That explains where he’s getting the power for his Storms,” Zashiel replied, and then brushed past him. Toke gave the grindstones one last look, and then followed her.
“This is insane,” he said once they’d left the noise behind. “That must have taken him years to set up!”
“You know what I’ve noticed?” Zashiel asked without turning around.
“That we haven’t run into anybody.”
Toke shrugged. “So what? Navras can’t be everywhere at once.”
“No, but where’s everybody else? Do you think he’s running this whole operation alone?”
Toke stopped to think about it. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “It doesn’t seem possible, but he’s Yas—”
Before he could finish, Zashiel spun around, pinned him to the wall, and clamped her hand over his mouth.
“Mmph?” he asked, unable to move his mouth.
“Shut up!” she hissed, looking warily over her shoulder. “Don’t say… a smiting… word!”
Her strength kept him from moving, but when she turned her head Toke caught sight of a light further down the hallway. A real light, he realized, not the eerie glow from the pipes. Taking a deep breath to calm his nerves, Toke nodded. Zashiel released him.
“Those are the only real lights we’ve seen,” Zashiel whispered, lowering herself into a predatory crouch. “He must be in there.”
“Yeah,” Toke agreed, anxiety rising up in him like nausea. The white light was coming from behind another thick door, looking completely out of place in the otherwise dark corridors.
“When we go in there,” Zashiel whispered, beginning to creep towards the door, “I’ll take him head on. You try to get behind him and hit him when his back is turned.”
“Isn’t that too cowardly for you?”
Zashiel scowled at him. “There are more important things than fighting fair. We’re doing this to keep him from destroying Yasmik!”
Toke nodded again. “Right. Okay.”
Zashiel started for the door again, but was stopped a second time when Toke put his hand on her shoulder.
“What?” she snapped. Her eyes were already wide with battle lust— and that was what worried Toke.
“Before we do anything, let me talk to him,” he said. “Please.”
For a minute, it looked like Zashiel was about to vent her anger on Toke like a volcano. Then, she let out a slow breath and said, “We already know he’s the bad guy. He said so himself. If you go in there thinking otherwise, we’ll never stop him.”
“But what if he’s—”
“Doing it for a good reason? What reason could he have to destroy an entire city?”
Toke clenched his fists around his axes so hard his arms shook. “I don’t know! But Navras is a hero. He kept the Vlangurtian army out of Yasmik practically single handedly! Why would he suddenly want to destroy the country he spent half his life protecting?”
Toke and Zashiel both gasped, and looked forward to see Navras standing in the doorway. With the light framing him from behind like some sort of divine halo, it was difficult to make out any details about him, but Toke couldn’t have mistaken that voice for anyone else’s. The professor’s shadow stretched across the floor, abnormally long, stopping just before where the two of them crouched.
“You’re right,” the old inventor said. “I don’t want to destroy Yasmik. But in the future, perhaps you two should be a bit more cautious as to where you discuss your plan of attack.”
“I don’t believe you,” Zashiel shot back, standing up. Both of her chakrams were in her hands now. “All I know is that you’ve killed hundreds of people, and you need to pay for it!”
“Zashiel, wait!” Toke yelled, and put his arm out in front of her. She stiffened, and Toke had to fight the urge to back down. Just like with the pipe, if she chose to ignore him, he had no way to stop her. When she didn’t push him aside, he looked back at Navras and said, “If you’re not trying to hurt people, then tell us what you’re really doing!”
Navras bowed his head and backed through the door. “Very well, come inside.”
“What are you doing?” Zashiel asked, her face livid.
“Just trust me!” Toke insisted. “I’m his favorite student. He doesn’t want to hurt me.”
“Have you forgotten what he did to Exton? How can you say he doesn’t want to hurt you?”
“Because,” Toke said, taking a confident step towards the door, “I’m me.”
He turned his back on her and walked towards the light, waiting for Zashiel to barrel past him and murder his professor. Maybe it was the right thing to do, but he couldn’t just give up on his hero that easily. Navras did have a good reason for doing all this, and Toke would understand everything just as soon as he stepped into…
The room full of Sorakines.
Toke’s axes fell from unfeeling fingers, ringing as they struck the metal floor. He didn’t care. His brain had already been overloaded by the sight of what was in front of him.
“Toke, what is…” he heard Zashiel come in behind him, but she too fell silent when she saw what was waiting for them.
Sorakines. More than a hundred of them, if Toke had an accurate count. All of them had been shackled to the walls, spread-eagle, just as Zashiel had been, but these ones had small clear tubes were coming out of their bodies. Their heads were hanging, unconscious but not dead, as made clear by the rhythmic rise and fall of their chests. Zashiel took a step backwards, even more appalled by the scene than Toke.
“Those… those…” she stammered, her eyes open wide with horror. “Those are the Sorakines that have been disappearing!”
“Yes,” Navras answered. Toke tore his gaze from the walls and looked at his professor. He was standing opposite them, at the end of the room, dressed in his Master Inventor’s robes. “Yes, they are.”
“Why?” was the only thing Toke could force out of his mouth. With a shaky hand, he gestured feebly at the Sorakines. “Why?”
“Because it had to be done, Toke,” Navras answered. He turned his back to them and began working on something that Toke couldn’t see.
“Toke,” Zashiel whispered, putting a hand on his shoulder. She sounded more terrified now than she ever had before. “Toke, look! Their feathers…”
Even though he couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do less, Toke forced himself to look back at the captive Sorakines again. What he saw made his stomach turn over. Every single one of theirs wings had been stripped of their feathers, leaving nothing but limp, fleshy stumps growing out of their backs. Toke swallowed, and put his hand on his stomach, fighting down the urge to vomit.
“That’s where you’ve been getting the juryo, isn’t it?” he demanded a few seconds later, looking at Navras again.
“It is,” Navras said without turning around. He made a quick gesture, like he was cutting something, and a weak moan came from in front of him. “I must admit, Toke, I’m a little disappointed. I expected you to break out of that cell much faster than you did.”
To his disbelief, Navras actually laughed. “Of course I knew you were going to break out! There wasn’t a doubt in my mind, my dear boy! You have proven yourself to be quite resourceful. Very impressive, given the fact that you only began your training a month ago.”
Toke balled his fists. “Professor, I don’t understand what’s going on! What are you up to?”
“Of course,” he went on as if Toke hadn’t spoken at all, “I would have expected nothing less from the man who would inherit my legacy.”
“Answer me!” Toke yelled.
Finally, Navras turned to face him. In his hand he held a bloody surgical knife. “You already have most of the answers. What more do you need me to explain to you?”
Toke shook his head. “You… so you really are causing the Gravity Storms, is that it?” Navras nodded. “But you just said you weren’t trying to destroy Yasmik. What’s your plan, then?”
Navras sighed, a sigh of genuine regret, and he set the knife down in a nearby tray. “I was telling the truth, Toke. Destroying Yasmik has never been my goal.”
“Was a terrible accident. One that I never meant to happen. All the tests I ran were in safe areas, far away from civilization. Those few casualties I caused were unavoidable. I could never have predicted that people would actually be in those remote places so late at night.”
“Ashram!” Zashiel was staring into the face of an unconscious Sorakine, with tears running down her face. “Ashram Trustor. I thought you were dead!”
Ashram didn’t answer her.
“The Exton Storm,” Navras continued, “was an unintended activation while I was moving the device. A small bump in the road was all it took to turn it on, and… well, you know the rest.” He put his hand to his chin in thought. “Come to think of it, it wasn’t so different than your own accident with Permissor Adal!”
Toke raised his fist. “Don’t compare my invention to what you’re doing. My batteries were never supposed to hurt anybody!”
“Neither was this. Not to begin with.” A grave look came over Navras’ face. “It was merely a way for me to finally realize my ultimate dream.”
What is the purpose of invention? To dream, and to make our dreams reality.
What could Navras possibly be doing that would require this much juryo?
Suddenly, it all became clear.
“You built a Terracaelum,” Toke whispered. “And you’re using the juryo you harvested from these Sorakines to make it fly.”
An approving smile rose to Navras’ face. “Now you’re using your brain, young man. Yes, that’s exactly what I did. Unfortunately, though, I have yet to take the Terracaelum into the sky. The Gravity Storms were caused because I was testing the turbines.”
This can’t be happening…
“Turbines?” Toke echoed.
“Yes!” Navras exclaimed, his eyes lighting up with excitement. “That was the key all along! The turbines are another invention of mine. They will be what propels the Terracaelum into the air!”
This is all just another invention to him. He doesn’t realize how many people he’s hurting… or, does he just not care?
“I know you have your doubts, Toke, but let me show you what I’m doing. I think once you understand, you will approve.”
With a sweep of his robes, Navras stepped away from whatever he was working on, giving Toke his first look at it.
“Klevon,” he choked out when he recognized the Sorakine suspended there. Lacerations crisscrossed his whole body, and blood oozed from where Navras had inserted the tubes. His wings, just like all the others, had been stripped bare.
“Surely you’re not that distressed to see him here,” Navras said from across the room. His hand rested on a large switch coming out of the wall. “After everything he’s done to you?”
“I- I- He…” Toke stammered, feeling like he was about to faint. “He didn’t deserve this! Nobody does!”
Navras arched his eyebrows in surprise. “Really? You’re a more forgiving man than I will ever be, Toke.”
With that, he threw the lever, and Klevon began to moan again as yellow liquid began to flow out of him, through the tubes. He didn’t scream, even though Toke was almost at that point himself. He was too strong for that, and Toke felt a grudging respect for the Seraph because of it.
A strong hand wrapped around his arm, and Toke jumped a little, until he realized it was just Zashiel. She was shivering now, and her skin had turned as pale as paper. She didn’t even try to speak as she watched Sir Klevon, one of the strongest warriors she had ever known, be bled like an animal at the butcher.
Klevon opened his eyes, and met looked directly at Toke. He drew in a raspy breath.
“Jury… O… Kine,” he grunted, glaring at the young man with every ounce of hatred left in his broken body.
“I’m sorry,” Toke said. It felt like his heart was beating in his throat. “I didn’t want this to happen to you.”
Klevon’s mouth opened and closed for a few seconds, trying to form words. Then his head fell forward, and he lost consciousness like all the others.
“Come,” Navras said, decisively, becoming them to follow him through another door. “I’ll show you my masterwork.”
Toke glared at his professor. “What about Zashiel? Are you planning on doing this to her, too?”
The old man hesitated, and then shook his head. “No, she is safe.” Then he gave her a hard, cold look. “Unless she tries anything, that is.”
He went through the door, and Toke turned to look Zashiel in the eye.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked, putting both his hands on her shoulders.
Zashiel met his gaze, and then broke down into tears. “Look what he’s done!” she cried, sinking to her knees. Tears were running down her face in rivers. “Look what he’s… how could anyone do this?”
Toke knelt down and put his forehead against hers. “I don’t know, but we’re going to make this right, okay?”
Zashiel’s hand shot out and grabbed him by the collar of his jacket, pulling his face closer to hers. She looked up at him, and the amount of anger and pain he saw in her eyes was enough to chill Toke to the bone.
“Kill him,” she whispered in a guttural, animalistic voice. “Kill him!”
Toke backed out of her grasp and looked down at his shoes.
“I think,” he said, almost choking on his words, “I think you’re right.”
He held out his hands, and his axes flew into them. He had given Navras another chance, and he had failed. This room… what he had done to these Sorakines… it didn’t matter what his motives were anymore. This was unforgiveable.
“Are you coming with me?” he asked.
Zashiel sat there for a few more seconds, sobbing uncontrollably. Then she took a few deep breaths, got to her feet, and nodded. She wasn’t wearing the hard, apathetic look she normally had, though. The look on her face now spoke of barely concealed rage, almost to the point of insanity, and heartbreaking sorrow. Toke wasn’t sure if she would pull off such an uncaring look ever again.
Navras had broken her…
NEXT TIME: Zashiel’s broken, and Toke’s faith in his mentor has been shattered. Navras has built his ultimate creation on the backs of a hundred tortured Sorakines. Will Toke be able to take him down before he… what exactly is Navras planning to do, anyway? Remember, if you’re tired of waiting for updates, you can purchase the entire book for $2.99 on Kindle and $16.00 for a paperback.