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Chapter Twelve

A strange crackling filled the air as the spear came down, but it was immediately drowned out by an even louder crack as it split the ground beneath it open.  Toke rolled and loosened gravity so that when he pushed up with his hands he was catapulted back to his feet.
If I hadn’t moved, he realized, that thing would have gone straight through my head!
With difficulty, he forced his attention off the weapon and got his first good look at his attacker.
The man, if it even was a man, stood tall and lean.  He wore armor that covered every inch of his body, and the black steel contrasted sharply with the veins of green light that ran all over it, producing his eerie glow.  Toke couldn’t see his eyes behind the black visor of his helmet, almost identical to the one on his jacket.  As he stared, his armored assailant pulled his spear out of the ground and pointed it at him.
Wait a minute.  A spearman with glowing armor?
Toke’s breath caught in his throat.
Holy smite, Zashiel was telling the truth!
Before he could think further, the spearman drew his weapon back and thrust it at him.  Toke backpedaled as quickly as he could, but tripped when his heel struck a slab of broken wall.  This ended up saving his life, because the spear passed above him as he landed hard on his back.  With the grace that only an experienced warrior could have, the spearman twirled the spear so it was pointed down at Toke again.
I’m going to die…
Not knowing what else to do, Toke reached out with his powers and anchored himself to a wall in the distance, sending him sliding across the road just as the spear came down, piercing straight through the pavement.  He slid a few yards further before releasing the anchor and scrambling to his feet.  The cracked and jagged pavement had torn his pant legs to ribbons, but the jacket proved just as strong as Zashiel had promised.  The spearman spun around to face him, and his weapon threw a shower of blue sparks in the air.
Toke froze.  Blue sparks?  That could only mean…
Another flash of green light came from the spearman’s armor, and suddenly he was flying at Toke.  Toke instinctively weakened his gravity and jumped, landing on top of the huge section of wall he’d anchored himself to.  Once again, the spearman’s weapon punched a hole straight into the stone block, shaking the entire thing.
He’s so strong, Toke thought, looking down as he pulled the spear free.  How is he so—
The spearman kicked the block of rubble, and it went rolling down the street as if it only weighed as much as a child’s ball.  Toke jumped again, his body reacting without thinking about, and shot up into the sky just in time to keep from being squashed.
No way! he thought, looking down at the glowing man.  That had to have had to have weighed at least a ton.  Not even a Sorakine could move something that heavy!
The spearman’s armor flashed again, and the next thing Toke knew the two of them were face to face.  He grabbed the front of Toke jacket in a steel gauntleted hand and flung him back down again.  Toke sucked in a deep breath, like he was about to go underwater, and made himself as light as he could.  Half a second later he hit one of the piles of rubble, bouncing off of it in a cloud of dust and rolling down to the bottom.  Stars danced in front of his eyes and a fierce pain erupted in his shoulder, but he made himself roll over and get to his knees.
This… this couldn’t be real.  Whoever this man was, whatever he was, his strength was impossible.  He was doing things even Sorakines weren’t capable of.  To Toke’s disbelief, the intellectual part of his mind was actually amazed by all this.  Whatever was going on, it was a scientific marvel and he wanted desperately to figure out what it was.
He only had a couple of seconds to think about it, though, before the spearman landed in front of him.  His armor plated boot struck out, sending him sliding backwards across the rubble.
You have momentum, he thought, struggling to focus through the pain. Use it!
As he skidded, he rolled and managed to get his feet underneath him.  Weakening his gravity again, he thrust up with all his strength and went jumped so high that he completely cleared the collapsed building in front of him.  There was another street on the other side, but when he touched down his shoulder flared with pain again and he collapsed to one knee.
Get up… Get up… GET UP AND RUN!
Stumbling back to his feet, Toke charged into the jungle of concrete and wooden beams.  He could never beat this guy.  His only chance was to escape.  If he was lucky, maybe he could lose him in the city.  Toke ran as fast as his battered body could carry him, weaving in between piles of rubble in what he hoped was an unpredictable pattern.  He kept to the ground and didn’t jump for fear of revealing his location to the spearman.  So much pain…  He’d only taken two good hits, and he already hurt more than Zashiel’s training ever had.  Speaking of Zashiel, where was she?
His blood ran cold.  Had the spearman already gotten her?
A glimmer of green light appeared in front of him, and Toke dug his heels into the ground.  Then there was a flash of blue, and the armored man’s spear came flying towards him as fast and straight as if it had been shot from a ballista.  Toke threw himself to the side, but wasn’t fast enough.  The weapon grazed the side of his face, slicing his right cheek open just beneath his eye.  Toke flinched, waiting for the pain to come, but was caught completely off guard when a different kind of pain surged though him.  It froze his muscles and made every hair on his body stand straight up.  It was even worse than the cut itself, and... it was a pain he was familiar with.
Jidoryo! he thought as he hit the ground. His spear has jidoryo power in it!
It was unmistakable.  He’d been shocked plenty of times working on his battery.  But how?
Blood ran down his cheek, staining the pure white fabric of his hood, as he finally gained control of his body again and stumbled back to his feet.  His brain was fuzzy after the shock, and he could barely process what he was seeing as the spearman launched himself down the alleyway with a green flash.  His fist slammed into Toke’s chest with the speed of an autocarriage.
Toke saw another flash, this one bright white, and he went flying up into the air.  For a few seconds his chest exploded with pain, but then he went strangely numb.  He barely even felt it when he hit the ground in a broken, limp tangle of limbs.  The blissful respite lasted a total of three seconds before the pain hit him like a tidal wave.  White hot, burning, mind-shattering pain the like of which he never even knew someone could feel without being killed by it.  His ribcage, no his entire skeleton, must have been destroyed with that one punch.  Through shadowy vision, he saw the spearman alight on top of a nearby mountain of rubble.  He had his weapon again, and he held it upside down as he jumped, ready to pin Toke to the road when he landed.
This is it, he thought, his mind going blank.  Why did I ever agree to help that girl in the first place?
As if waiting for her cue, a bright streak of golden light appeared out of the night.  Zashiel collided with the spearman in midair, throwing him off course, and then doubled back to land in front of Toke.  The spearman struck a pile of rubble, but performed a flip so that he landed neatly on his feet when he hit the ground.
“Are you all right?” Zashiel asked without taking her eyes off her enemy.
“Hurts,” Toke managed to croak.
“Just hold on,” she said. “You’re going to be—”
“Look out!”
Zashiel spun around just as the spearman hefted a block of cement over his head. Toke couldn't tell if she was surprised by the spectacle or not, because she reacted with calm speed when he threw it all the way down the street. Holding both her hands out, she grunted in exertion when the stone struck her, but managed to brace her boots on the gravelly ground.  The stone pushed her backwards a few feet, but it quickly lost momentum.  Unlike the spearman, merely stopping the attack had taken every ounce of Zashiel's strength.  Even so, she drew her weapons and leaped over the stone, looking deadlier than Toke had ever seen before.
"I knew I'd find you here," she said through clenched teeth.  Even from this far away, Toke could see the maniacal fires burning in her eyes. "Now I'm going to make you pay for all the Sorakines you've killed!"
With that, Zashiel opened her wings, a flash of bright yellow light piercing the darkness, and threw herself at the spearman.  She flung one chakram at him, which he sidestepped, and flew in a circle around him and came at his back.
Get him! Toke thought as another wave of lightheadedness washed over him.  He wouldn't be able to stay conscious for much longer.
Zashiel lashed out with her second chakram, but the spearman spun around in a whirl of green, knocking her weapon aside.  Zashiel held out her hand, summoning back the chakram she'd thrown, and swung an overhead attack, aiming for the man's helmet.  He leaned out of the way, her blade missing him by an inch, and then passed his spear from one hand to the other behind his back and struck her across the head with the staff.  Zashiel grunted and lurched downwards, her feet touching the ground for the first time, but then nimbly spun to the side on her toes to keep from being skewered by the spear.  She tried to get back in the air, but the spearman attacked in a flurry of swings and lunges, moving so fast that even the Sorakine warrior had trouble keeping up with him.
She's doing better than I ever did, Toke thought. But... she's still barely holding her own.
Zashiel ducked beneath one of the spearman's attacks, and then retaliated with a backflip that brought her foot directly up into the spearman's chin.  The spearman's head snapped back so hard that Toke thought me must have broken his neck, but then he lashed out and grabbed Zashiel by her ankle while it was still in the air.  Spinning around again, he flung her away.  Zashiel flew across the barren landscape, flipping and rolling so erratically that Toke thought she must have been out of control, but then she struck the wall in a perfect crouch, as if it were the ground, and rocketed back towards him.
This is incredible, Toke thought.  The two of them fought with such grace and skill that it was like watching a dance.  Zashiel had the advantage of flight, not to mention her Sorakine strength, but the spearman was still fending her off. No, he was doing more than that— despite throwing everything she had at him, Zashiel couldn't gain the upper hand. Even as she shot towards him, the spearman raised his free hand and made a fist. He was so calm. Any human fighting a Sorakine should have been nervous, if not terrified. He must have some sort of trick up his sleeve, Toke thought.
Or, he realized when a ball of green light appeared in front of the spearman’s fist, in his glove.
Zashiel flew straight into it and came to a halt as suddenly as if she’d struck a wall.  For a moment she hovered there, suspended in midair with a shocked expression on her face.  Then the spearman uncurled his fist, and the ball of light exploded.  Everything within a fifteen foot radius of him was suddenly thrown into the air— including Zashiel.  Stone, gravel, and wood were all flung in different directions, as if they were caught in their own personal tornadoes, and Zashiel was thrown backwards just as forcefully as she’d come flying at the spearman until she hit a flying chunk of cement.  She fell to the ground, but was immediately dragged across the ragged pavement in circles before being hurled back into the air again.
Green light?
Suddenly, Toke was terrified for an entirely different reason.  The area around the spearman had lit up the exact same shade of green as his armor.  The abnormal coloring came to an abrupt stop only a couple of feet away from where Toke was lying, and from there everything took on its normal hue.  His breathing got heavier as realization dawned on him.
The man in the armor had caused a Gravity Storm.
It was a small one, but the very idea of it denied all logic.  And yet, his eyes couldn’t deny what he was seeing right in front of him.
Zashiel continued to be thrown around in the small Storm.  She was taking a heavy beating, and even as Toke watched a chunk of cement as big as an autocarriage flew past, striking her directly on the head.  The only thing that wasn’t moving, not even an inch, was the spearman himself.  He still held his arm out in front of him.  He closed his fist again, and Zashiel’s course suddenly changed to bring her straight to him.  He lifted his spear and swung it as soon as she came within range.
She stood no chance.  Whatever opportunity she’d had to beat him had disappeared as soon as he’d summoned the Gravity Storm.
Then, to Toke’s surprise, she grabbed hold of the spear’s shaft, allowing the spearman’s strength to carry her all the way through the swing, and then let go.  The resulting momentum was enough to fling her straight out of the Storm.
She collapsed on the ground as soon as she was clear of the green light.  She was ten feet away from Toke, and even from there he could see that she was in bad shape.  Her broken, crumpled form looked so pitiful that he couldn’t imagine her ever getting up.  But if he’d learned anything about Sorakines, it was that they were stubborn.
With a grunt, half of pain and half of determination, Zashiel picked herself up off the ground.  Her hood had stayed on through the extent of the fight, but part of her visor had shattered to expose her right eye.  What skin Toke could see was either bloody or bruised.  Still, she was able to summon the strength she needed to hurl herself across the distance to where Toke lay and grab hold of him.  The moment her fist wrapped around the fabric of his jacket, she took off, rising above the shattered city as quickly as she could manage.
Pain made stars dance in front of Toke’s eyes as he dangled seventy feet above the ground, but he kept his complaints to himself.  Whatever discomfort he was feeling, Zashiel had worse.  More than that, she had saved his life.  She lurched alarmingly in the air, and he knew that she was as close to passing out as he was.  Would she be able to get them out of the city first?  He couldn’t tell.  If she lost consciousness while carrying him, there’d be nothing to break his fall.
Toke managed to turn his head just enough to see the spearman standing where they had left him.  For a moment, Toke was afraid that he would leap up after them, but he stayed there, watching them leave with his emotions hidden behind his helmet.  The green tint was already fading away as the miniature Storm died.
Who are you? He wondered, as everything went dark.  How are you doing this?
And why?
NEXT TIME: Obviously, that didn’t go nearly as well as Zashiel had hoped, and now she and Toke are both beaten within an inch of their lives.  She’d better find a safe place for them to hide out while they heal and think up a new strategy.  I hope Navras doesn’t mind if Toke misses another day of class… or ten.


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