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Chapter One



“Great minds think alike.”

Toke looked up from his project, his cheek stained with grease, to where Professor Navras stood at the head of the classroom.  In his black decorated robe, arms folded behind his back, he cut an imposing figure.
Slowly, Navras turned his head left, and then right, looking at each of his forty students in turn.  His long silver hair gleamed in the sunlight that streamed through the windows, and Toke tried to imagine what his teacher might be thinking behind his brilliant green eyes.
A moment later, Navras began to speak again.  “Or so would the world have you believe.  In actuality, this is one of the greatest lies ever told.”
With slow, measured steps, Professor Navras began to walk across the workshop.  As he went, his eyes skimmed over the half-finished pieces of machinery that sat on the tables, with countless tools and materials strewn haphazardly around them.  No project got any less or any more attention than the others, but neither did he make a single comment.  As the professor came to look at Toke’s project, a hollow metal cylinder small enough to hold in his hand, the young man couldn’t help but sit a little straighter in pride.  He brushed a strand of raven-black hair out of his face, and tried to keep himself from grinning.  Though the professor gave no visible sign of what he thought of his invention, Toke knew that he was impressed.
Navras reached the back of the workshop, and turned on his heel to regard his class again.  “Can anyone tell me why that it is one of the greatest lies ever told?” he asked, resuming his lecture.
Out of his forty students, only fifteen of them raised their hands.  Toke was one of them.
“Yes, Mr. Biggtin?” he asked, nodding in the direction of a student sitting near the front of the room.
“Because everybody thinks differently,” he answered.
Navras nodded again.  “This is true, to an extent, but not quite the answer I was looking for.  Great minds think differently.  If all great minds thought alike, there would be no innovation or imagination.  Tell me, what is the purpose of invention?”
“To dream, and to make our dreams reality,” the class chorused to him.
“And why would anyone want to be an inventor if they knew that somebody else would have the same dream they did, and perhaps be even better equipped to make it real?”
Toke nodded in silence.  He had heard this speech before— most of them had.  It was Navaras’ favorite pep talk to give to his inventors’ class.  He recited it at least once a semester.
“Weak minds are the ones that think alike,” he continued, making his way back to the front of the classroom.  “It doesn’t take much to come up with your own ideas.  Just a little imagination.  To say that you think just like somebody else…”  He paused and shook his head.  “I can think of nothing more shameful.”
Not that Professor Navras would ever need to worry about anything like that.  Of the two decorations on his robe, the one that stood out most to Toke was the Grand Inventor’s badge.  Two silver wrenches crossing over each other, one with a green gem set in its crescent, the other a blue one.  It was rare that anyone was granted that badge, because it signified that they were such a gifted inventor that they had elected to never retire.  Professor Dranibor Navras would continue to bring his dreams into reality until the day he died.
He paused for a few moments, giving his class a meaningful stare.  “I’m afraid I cannot teach you how to think differently.  However, I can say that I have the utmost confidence in every one of you!”
Behind him, the large clock that adorned the wall began to chime the hour.  Navras dismissed them, and all of his students hastened to put away their tools and projects.  It was a testament to the professor’s genius that he was able to time the speeches he made to the exact moment when he would finish.  Toke, alone, remained where he was, hurriedly trying to get a little more work done on his invention.  It wasn’t until there came a sharp rapping on his desk that he finally looked up, and realized that he had become so absorbed in his work that ten minutes had passed without his realizing it.  Navras stood over him, but the expression on his face was not unkind.
“Sorry, Professor,” Toke said, standing up and grabbing the tools that were scattered across his desk.
“No need to apologize, Toke,” Navras chuckled, and reached down to grab the last few remaining tools.  “I know the feeling all too well.”
Toke beamed, and couldn’t help but glance at the small cylinder that sat on the table.  Navras followed his eyes, and smiled.
“A genius idea,” the professor said.  “I’ve said it a hundred times before, and I will say it a thousand times again.”
He gently took the unfinished device in his hand and examined it before handing it to his student with an appreciative nod.
“Sir,” Toke said, taking the cylinder to his locker, “would it be all right if I came in after hours to work on it some more?”
“All right?” Navras laughed, and clapped Toke on the shoulder.  “I was wondering if I was going to have to order you to!  When is your twentieth birthday?”
“Three days from today, sir.”
“Three days for you to finish your project and present it to Permissor Adal.”
Toke paused, his locker door still halfway open, and gave an involuntary shiver.  “Y-yes, sir.”
“You’ll have your work cut out for you,” Navras said.  “But I believe you can do it.”
“It shouldn’t take me that long to finish.  I can probably have it done by tonight.”
Navras’ eyes narrowed.  “I wasn’t talking about finishing your project, Toke.  I was talking about convincing the Permissor.”
Toke bit his lip nervously, and then nodded.  It was the Permissor’s decision whether or not an invention was worthy of being introduced to the public.  The final step in obtaining an inventor’s license was to convince him that it was.  Permissor Adal was known for being a difficult man to impress.
“I hope you’ve put together your presentation already,” Professor Navras said, bringing Toke back to the present.  “It doesn’t matter how amazing your invention is if you don’t present it properly.”
“Y-yes, sir,” he answered.  “Of course I do!”
“Good,” the professor said, clapping him on the shoulder again.  “I’d like to hear it sometime tonight.  Now, go on.  I’ve got another class coming in.”
Toke nodded, and turned to leave.  The first few students were already trickling into the workshop, even though the next class wasn’t scheduled for another fifteen minutes.  Out in the hallway, he joined the flow of students in the general direction of the cafeteria.  He folded his arms tight against his chest, trying to make himself as small as possible as what seemed like half the population of Yasmik pressed against him, forcing themselves through the narrow corridor.  As he walked, he began to catch vague bits of other people’s conversations.
“— gonna go home for the weekend, you wanna come?”
“— almost broke.  I need to find a job soon.”
“Did you hear there was another Gravity Storm last night?”
This last comment caught Toke’s attention, despite his efforts not to eavesdrop.  The one who had spoken happened to be walking right beside him, so it was easy to listen in.
“Really?” his friend asked.  “Where?”
“Over by Finntimus.  They said it got really close to the town this time.  Like, some of the buildings were shaking.”
The Gravity Storms had begun just over three months ago.  Nobody had any idea what was causing them, but the damage they left behind was fearsome.  Gravity itself would be thrown out of order, pulling anything it could latch onto wherever it pleased.  Rocks, trees, dirt, and whatever else happened to be nearby would be jerked into the air, slung around as if in a whirlwind, and then slammed back onto the ground before being thrown into the sky again.  A few unfortunate people had been caught in them, and the results were gruesome.  What’s worse, nobody could predict the coming of a Gravity Storm.  The only warning was when everything would suddenly take on an eerie green hue— and by then it was usually too late.
He didn’t get to hear the rest of their conversation, though, because they veered off course to head for another classroom.  Toke made his way to the cafeteria in silence, contemplating what he had just heard.  The lunch line was short, one of the benefits of having an early class, and he was seated in his customary spot five minutes later.
The Gravity Storms were getting closer to civilization.  If it had rattled the buildings at Finntimus, who knew how it long would be until one actually struck a city?  He didn’t want to think about what would happen.  Buildings collapsed, roads torn to pieces, bodies strewn all over the place.  Or what was left of them…
Toke was jolted out of his thoughts when somebody forcibly slammed their tray onto the table in front of him.
“Hey, Toke!”
Toke looked up to see a young woman flop down into the seat facing him.  Her short red hair bounced when she sat, and she gave him a mischievous grin when he took a deep breath to calm his heart.
“Hey, Wayli,” he replied.
“So, I cut myself on a sweet potato this morning,” she announced with pride before digging her fork into the thin slab of meat on her plate.
Toke arched an eyebrow. “And how did you manage that?”
Wayli took a few seconds to chew her food, and then answered, “Have you seen those things?  They’re vicious!”  She held up her hand to show him the bright pink bandage stuck to it, right underneath her knuckles.
Toke looked at it for a few seconds, and then laughed.  He wasn’t sure if he believed that Wayli had cut herself on a sweet potato, but he wouldn’t have put it past her.  She may have been the most upbeat girl in the school, but she was widely known for her ability to cut herself on absolutely anything.  As she devoured her lunch, explaining how sweet potatoes would someday take over Fissura, they were joined by a large, shaggy haired man who sat down beside Toke.
“You forgot to mention the alliance they have with broccoli,” he said, joining the discussion without missing a beat.  “By themselves, the only person they’re a threat to is you.”
Wayli paused, and then stuck her tongue out at him.  “Go sniff a book, Boam!”
Boam laughed good naturedly, and then promptly began to devour his food.
“So, how’s your project coming?” Wayli asked, turning to Toke again.
“Almost finished,” he answered, spreading butter on a roll.
Boam swallowed a large mouthful of meat and bread.  “You still don’t have it finished?  Your birthday is in three days!”
“I should be able to finish it tonight,” Toke shot back defensively.  “What about you?  Have you actually finished that book you’re always going on about?”
“Yeah,” the large man replied, reaching into his pack and pulling out a thick stack of papers.  He dropped it on the table, shaking the entire thing.  “Two months ago!  I’ve been editing it every chance I get.  Besides,” he added dryly, “my birthday isn’t for another four months.”
He absently began to thumb through the pages, his food momentarily forgotten.  “I think I might have to rewrite chapter fifteen, though,” he said.  “But that means I’ll have to change chapters twenty seven, thirty, and seventy five too.”
Boam had been pursuing a storyteller’s license ever since he was sixteen.  With his twentieth birthday quickly approaching, he said he felt confident that his 1,000 page book was nothing less than a masterpiece— until he found an error, and began obsessively combing through it, looking for more.
“Anyway,” Wayli said, bringing Toke’s attention back to her, “do you think you’ll be able to do it?”
“Of course I will!” Toke answered, finally taking a bite of his bread.  “I have to believe that.  Otherwise, what’s the point?”
“Good!” she gave him an encouraging smile.  “Now, are you gonna eat your dessert?”
They made light conversation for the next half hour, even after their food was eaten.  Wayli and Boam got into two more nonsensical arguments, which Toke elected to just listen to and laugh.
“So, I guess you’ll be doing overtime in the workshop tonight?” Boam asked at last, picking up his empty tray.
Toke nodded.  “Everything has to be ready by tomorrow night.  Professor Navras wants to go over my presentation too.”
Boam chuckled.  “Gotta get ready to meet Anal Adal, huh?”  He stopped talking when Wayli punched him on the arm.
“Watch it,” she warned him.  “Don’t jinx Toke before he even gets there!”
Boam rolled his eyes as they made their way out of the cafeteria.  “Oh, please.  Who’s gonna tell him?”
“I dunno, maybe his son who goes to school here?
Boam scoffed. “Lampa?  That lazy bum dropped out months ago.  Probably living in his daddy’s house, complaining that he had to lift a finger to summon his servant.”
“Even still,” Wayli snapped, giving him another punch on the arm.  Turning back to Toke, she asked, “What time is Navras expecting you back in the workshop?”
“After his last class ends.”
“Good.” She hooked one arm around his elbow, and Boam took the other.  “Let’s get some ice cream!”
“But we just ate!” Toke protested as his friends dragged him out of the building.  He squinted when the bright midday sun shone on him.
“Don’t care,” Wayli said.  “You’ve been inside too long.”
“Always worrying about your project,” Boam added. “It’s all you ever talk about.”
“You’re one to talk!” Toke shot back.
“You need to relieve some stress,” Wayli concluded.  “And we,” she motioned at herself and Boam, “need some ice cream!”
Toke let himself be hauled down the sidewalk for a few more seconds, and then shook his head.
“Okay, okay,” he said at last.  “I can walk on my own.”
Once he had gotten his feet underneath him again, they set off down the sidewalk toward the ice cream parlor.  Boam and Wayli chattered excitedly, but Toke hunched his back and stared fixedly at his shoes, trying to avoid bumping into the other people who were out on the town that day.  He flinched when an autocarriage went speeding past him down the road, it’s engine roaring, and he moved so that he was in the center of the sidewalk.
Jerulkan was a big city, one of the biggest in Yasmik, and Toke soon found relief from the glaring sun walking underneath the tall buildings on either side of the road.  It wasn’t until they were halfway to their destination that he finally looked up, more out of habit than to see where he was going.
The Capitol stood proudly across the street from him.  It was the tallest building in Jerulkan, and it was just as wide— a white marble cube that was almost as hard to look during the day as the sun itself.  In three days, he would be in that building presenting his invention to Permissor Adal.
“Don’t look at it, don’t look at it, don’t look at it,” Wayli and Boam chorused, both of them moving to block his view of the building and ushering him onward.
“You’ll have time to worry about all that later,” Boam said.
“Right now, you need to focus on ice cream!” Wayli agreed.
Toke nodded, and was about to keep going when a flash of light turned the daytime sky above them an even brighter shade of yellow.  All three of them ducked instinctively as a Sorakine soared over their heads.  She passed above them with plenty of room to spare, and touched down on the sidewalk a few feet away.  She immediately lowered her hood and visor, shaking her head to untangle her long, golden hair.
“Get out of my way!” she commanded, pushing herself between the three friends, her natural Sorakine strength moving them aside without effort.  She marched toward the Capitol without a backwards glance, her glowing yellow wings tucked in tight against her back.
“Wonder what’s got her feathers ruffled?” Wayli asked, sending a spiteful glare after her.
“No idea,” Boam answered, watching her go.  “You don’t see many of them around here anymore, do you?”
Jerulkan was the closest city to the Sorakines’ floating home, Hashira, so it had never been a rare thing to see one of the winged warriors out on the streets.  But now that Toke thought about it, he realized Boam was right.  How long had it been since he’d seen a Sorakine?  Months, at least.
“Just forget about her,” Wayli said, grabbing her friends’ arms and pulling them away.  “Whatever she was up to, that’s as close as we’ll ever need to be to Sorakine business.”
Toke hesitated for just a moment, watching the girl disappear behind the large wooden doors.  Then he shrugged, put it from his mind, and followed his friends.
NEXT TIME: I think Zashiel made a pretty good first impression, don’t you?  I bet they’re gonna be bestest best friends for life after that introduction.  What’s Toke working so hard on, though?  If it’s impressed Professor Navras, the greatest inventor Yasmik’s ever known, it must be something awesome.  Come back next Saturday to find out!

(Three Months Later)

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