Chapter Fourteen

Toke’s alarm clock had barely begun to ring before his hand shot out, turning it off.  He swung his legs out from over his bed and stood up, yawning as he stretched his arms and rolled his head, popping the kinks out of his neck.
 
“All right,” he muttered, pulling his shirt off and throwing it back onto the bed.  He ignored the rumbling in his stomach, insisting he put off his exercises until after breakfast, and stepped up onto the wall.  Now the wall was the floor to him, and his bed and dressers were suspended impossibly on the wall.  Taking a deep breath, he got down on his hands and knees, stretched his legs out behind himself, and began a set of pushups.
 
Thirty pushups at normal weight, Zashiel had instructed.  Every time he came up, he had to clap his hands before going down again.  He was breathing heavily before he was even halfway done, and by the time he reached thirty his arms were shaking so hard he could barely hold himself up.  Getting back to his feet, he allowed himself three minutes of rest, just like Zashiel had told him, watching his clock from his perch on the wall, and then stepped onto the ceiling and began doing another set.  For these ones, he weakened gravity’s pull on him so that every time he pushed up the momentum carried him almost all the way to his feet.  He would clap three times before falling back down and doing it again.
 
These exercises served a dual purpose, Zashiel had told him.  First, they would build up his muscle and endurance.  Doing them on the walls and ceiling would help him get better at maintaining his anchors under duress.  His attention lapsed a couple times, nearly sending him tumbling back to the floor.  That was why he had chosen this particular spot on the ceiling, right above his bed.  With every pushup he grew wearier, making it even more difficult to concentrate, but he forced himself to focus.  It was kind of like when he was at work in Navras’ class.  If he concentrated on nothing but what he was doing and the goal he was trying to accomplish, everything else faded away.  His muscles still quivered and his lungs still burned, but they were easier to ignore.
 
Thirty! he thought, letting himself collapse under his own weight.  For a few seconds he simply laid there on the ceiling, but then he let go of his anchor and fell onto the bed.  He wasn’t done yet, though, so he made himself get up again and got into position once more on the floor.  He intensified gravity’s hold on him, nearly collapsing under his now-doubled bodyweight, and began another set of pushups.  This was the hardest part of the workout, as it was like somebody was sitting on his back for the whole thing.  Luckily, Zashiel had said he only had to fifteen of these, and he didn’t need to take his hands off the ground for them.
 
Toke’s arms cried for mercy as he lowered himself to the floor, but he ignored them.  If he listened, he knew he would give in.  He didn’t want to do these exercises, but if he and Zashiel were going to accomplish what they’d set out to do, he would need to be stronger.  Still, he’d have preferred if she had started him off with something easier.
 
You could just not do the exercises, his subconscious told him.  Zashiel would never know!
 
“No!” he argued with himself, his voice strained as he struggled to push himself up again.  “I’m sick of doing everything wrong.  I’m sick of letting everybody down.  From now on, I’m going to make them proud.  Fifteen!”
 
With that last pushup completed, he collapsed on the floor again.  He lay there for over ten minutes, his arms numb and his chest burning with every breath.  Inside, though, he felt a spark of satisfaction.  Zashiel had given him the workout, and he’d done it.  He couldn’t stay there all day, though.  Navras was expecting him in class.  With a groan, he got back to his feet and got dressed.
 
“That’s gonna hurt later,” he said under his breath, rubbing his biceps as he locked the door behind him.
 
He felt nauseous as he walked to the cafeteria, but he ignored it and was soon forcing down eggs, toast, and three tall glasses of water.  If he didn’t eat now, he wouldn’t get another chance until after he got back from Zashiel’s training.  That would leave him weak during their sparring sessions, which would only result in the tar getting beaten out of him again.  So he ate, mechanically chewing his food, trying not to taste it, for fear of throwing it back up.
 
“Hey, he’s back!”
 
Toke looked up just in time to see Boam sit down across the table from him.  A moment later, Wayli joined them as well.
 
“Where were you?” the overexcited writer demanded.  “We were worried sick!”
 
“I was—” Toke began, but was cut off.
 
“Even Professor Navras didn’t know where you were,” Boam was gesturing wildly with one hand while dumping salt onto his eggs with the other.  He wasn’t paying attention, and a tall white hill began to build up on top of them.  “He came and asked us himself.  You’re gonna have some explaining to—”
 
“What happened to your face?” Wayli demanded, this time cutting Boam off.  Boam fell silent and leaned across the table to get a better look.  His eyes grew large when he saw the line of pink flesh running across Toke’s cheek.
 
“Where were you?” he asked slowly.
 
“It was the Nails,” Toke answered in a low voice.  “Keep it down, okay?  I don’t want everyone in the school to know.”
 
“The Nails got you?” Wayli asked, turning a shade whiter.  “Are you all right?  Is anything else hurt?”
 
“No, they just got my face,” Toke tried to reassure her, but it was a wasted effort.  She stood up, her food forgotten, and came around the table to inspect him.
 
“I’m fine, really!” he insisted as she squeezed his arms.  “Besides, I’m pretty sure if anything was broken, that would only make it worse.”
 
“Oh, right,” she said, jerking her hands back.  “Sorry.”
 
She went back to her seat and began to eat.  Toke returned to his meal as well, and noticed that his nausea was gone.  As he spooned a pile of eggs into his mouth, a thought occurred to him.
 
“Hey, Wayli,” he said, “have you heard anything from your family yet?”
 
“Yeah,” she answered without hesitation— a good sign.  “I got a letter from them yesterday.  They’re all okay.  Our house was destroyed, but they made it out all right.”
 
Toke let out a sigh of relief.  “That’s good.  I’m sorry about your house, though.”
 
“It’s fine,” she said, idly grabbing the still-moving salt shaker from Boam’s hand.  “They’re living in one of the rescue tents right now.  I’m just glad they’re alive.”
 
“Did you guys see the newspaper yesterday, though?” Boam asked, his eyes gleaming like only did when he had a story to tell.  “They had a report from Exton.  Some guy said that he got—”
 
“Aw, smite,” Toke said suddenly, looking at the clock.  “I’ve got to get to class!”
 
“Okay, I’ll tell you later!” Boam said before finally taking a bite of his salty eggs.  He made a face.  “Dropping smites, the food here is terrible!”
 
Toke’s sore legs didn’t appreciate the run to the classroom, but he managed to get there on time.
 
“Have a big night?” Virkhul sneered.  “So did I.  I didn’t have to miss a whole day of class for it, though.”
 
“You don’t even take the class,” Toke snapped going through the door.
 
“Glad you could make it today, Toke,” Navras said from behind his desk.  Please take your seat and begin working.”
 
“Yes, Professor,” he said obediently, retrieving his materials and going to his usual stool.
 
I’ll have to get another crystal before long, he thought as he lit a bunsen burner to begin melting the block of rubber.  He’d already welded the metal cylinder together.  The next step would be to line the inside with rubber for cushioning and insulation.  Maybe he needed to give it an extra layer to prevent it from exploding like last time.
 
“— heard it blew up in the Permissor’s face.”
 
The words rose above the soft chatter, and Toke looked up in surprise.  A quick glance failed to reveal who had spoken, so he went back to his work, his face a bit more pink than it had been before.
 
“They should have just kicked him out,” another voice added.  Toke froze, his hand halfway raised with a tool.
 
“Navras gave him extra time,” the first voice agreed.  “Wouldn’t have done that for the rest of us.”
 
Toke’s face burned with embarrassment, and he fought the urge to look up and seek out the people saying these things.  Professor Navras had done his best to keep things quiet about what had happened in the Permissor’s office that day, but obviously word had gotten out anyway.
 
“Teacher’s pet,” the first voice said.
 
Toke looked up at Navras’ desk.  The old inventor was sitting in his chair, his eyes scanning the classroom sternly.  Toke didn’t doubt he had heard everything.  Unlike Toke, though, he didn’t seem at all flustered by the remarks.  He didn’t even speak up to silence whoever was making them.  He just looked around and then went back to his paperwork.
 
Just get back to work, Toke commanded himself.  You’re on a deadline.  Don’t waste time!
 
“Wonder what he did to—”
 
Toke ignored the voice, putting all his attention on the metal cylinder in front of him.  He breathed a sigh of relief as the world around him faded away, and began to work on the battery once more.
 
The bell rang almost without Toke realizing it.  He was tempted to ignore that as well and keep working, but Navras’ hand on his shoulder jerked him rudely back into the real world.
 
“Would you like to stay and work late today?” the professor asked.
 
“I wish I could, sir,” Toke answered, looking longingly at the materials spread across his desk, “but I have someplace I need to be.”
 
“Someplace more important than completing your invention and passing your presentation?” Navras asked, raising his eyebrows.
 
Toke grimaced and shrugged.  How could he answer that?
 
“I would warn you that you need to start taking this more seriously, Toke,” the professor said.  “I would remind you that it was by my urging that Adal granted you a second chance, not your own.  I would tell you that such a thing would not happen twice.  But you’re an intelligent young man, so I’m sure you already know all these things.”
 
“Yes, Professor,” Toke said, looking at his shoes sheepishly.
 
“Well, off you go, then.”  Navras returned to his desk and opened a newspaper that had been folded on top of it.
 
“Sorry, Professor,” Toke said, hastening to put away his tools and half-finished project.  “Um, Professor Navras?”
 
“Yes?” Navras lowered the paper.
 
“I’m going to need another crystal soon.  Do you think…”
 
“Leave it to me,” the professor said with a nod of his head.  “I’ll have one for you before the week is over.”
 
“Thank you, sir.”  Toke shut his locker and hurried out the door, Navras’ disappointment weighing heavily on his shoulders.  Virkhul said something on his way out, but this time Toke ignored him.
 
I can’t live up to everyone’s expectations, I guess, he thought forlornly as he made for the front door.  That thought cast a shadow over his heart.  Zashiel’s training was taking away valuable time he could be using to finish his battery.  He still had a while before Adal’s deadline, but he would be cutting it pretty close.
 
The work he was doing with Zashiel was important, he knew that.  Zashiel had proven her point about the spearman causing the Storms.  Who knew how much destruction he would cause if nobody stopped him?  Getting his inventor’s license was important too, though, right?  Zashiel might scoff at the idea, but Navras said Toke’s batteries could change Yasmik the same way his own harnessing of jidoryo did.  If it came down to it, whose expectations would he choose to live up to?
 
Hopefully, he thought as he jogged down the sun warmed sidewalk, it wouldn’t come to that.
 
He found Zashiel waiting for him in their usual spot, but the look on his face made him hesitate.  She was scowling at him from behind the pile of garbage, looking as rankled as a cat that had been thrown in a bathtub.
 
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
 
“Put your jacket on and let’s go,” she said, stepping aside to give him access to the grate they’d stowed it in.
 
“Did I do something wrong?” he asked as he lifted the metal slab, trying not to turn his back on her.
 
“Shut up and come on,” she snapped.  He stood up and she wrapped her arms around him, flexing her wings and taking off.
 
Toke struggled under her grip to raise his hood, wanting to see the view again as they flew, but this time she stubbornly kept his arms pinned to his side.  With a sigh, Toke clenched his eyes shut and waited for her to land.
 
Zashiel touched down in the center of the bowl she’d chosen for them and unceremoniously dumped Toke onto the hard ground.
 
“Okay,” he said as he got back on his feet, “now will you tell me what’s going on?”
 
In answer, Zashiel reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a rolled up newspaper.  With a flick of her wrist, she opened it and pointed angrily at a certain article.
 
“What do you call this?” she demanded.
 
“I think I’d call it a newspaper,” Toke retorted, leaning in closer to look.  “What, do you Sorakines not have…”
 
He fell silent when he saw what the headline said.
 
“Exton Storm Survivor Saved by Unknown Hero!”
 
Oh no, Toke thought, a sinking feeling forming in his stomach as he scanned the rest of the article.  It was exactly what he had feared.  The man he had pulled from the wreckage that night had gone on to describe the event in detail to news reporters.
 
“I thought he was a Sorakine,” he was quoted saying, “but he didn’t have wings.  He told me he was a Juryokine.”
 
“What did I tell you about being discreet?” Zashiel hissed, jerking the paper away and throwing it to the ground.
 
“Well, what would you have done?” Toke shot back defensively.  “Just left him there?”
 
“I wouldn’t have had any reason to hide.  You’re supposed to be keeping yourself a secret!”
 
Toke threw his hands up in the air.  “Then where were you?  Last I remember, you were off by yourself investigating or something.”
 
Zashiel groaned.  “Toke, you don’t know what’s at risk here.  You can’t just...”  She paused and rubbed her forehead.
 
“I thought you wanted to help people,” Toke said, taking advantage of her hesitation.  “Isn’t that what you said?  Isn’t that the whole point of being a Sorakine warrior?  To help people?”
 
“Yes, we help people!” Zashiel shouted, rounding on him with angry fire in her eyes.  “But we don’t take stupid risks to do it!”
 
“A stupid risk?  I was saving that guy’s life!  What would you have wanted me to do?”
 
“I don’t know, okay?” Zashiel seemed to wilt a little under Toke’s glare, and she leaned heavily against the wall.  “I just don’t know.”
 
Seeing her like this, head down and back slouched, made some of Toke’s irritation fade away.  After a few seconds, Zashiel sighed.
 
“You don’t know what’s at risk here,” she said again.  “I’m keeping you hidden for a reason.”
 
“Why, because whoever’s doing this might find out?”
 
“No, because,” Zashiel hesitated, “well, I’m pretty sure he knows now anyway.”
 
Toke sat down cross-legged on the canyon floor.  “All right, oh great and wise teacher, what should I have done?”
 
After thinking for a bit, Zashiel said, “You shouldn’t have told him you were a Juryokine.  You should have just said you were a Sorakine.”
 
“A Sorakine without wings?”
 
“He was injured, had lost a lot of blood, and had spent the better part of a day inside an oven made of rubble.  Everyone would have assumed he was delusional.  He probably would have believed that himself, in fact.”
 
“Maybe they’ll still think that.”
 
Zashiel shook her head.  “I doubt it.  Had you ever heard the word ‘Juryokine’ before I said it to you?”
 
Toke shook his head, the pit forming in his stomach again.
 
“That’s true for almost all humans.  He wouldn’t have learned that word from a hallucination.”
 
Toke got to his feet, shaking his head.  “Well, so what?  If nobody knows what the word means, then what do we have to worry about?  They’ll still think he’s delusional.”
 
Zashiel didn’t say anything for a full minute.  The silence was heavy in the small round crevice, so much that Toke began to feel nervous as he waited for her to break it.  Finally, he saw her mouth moving, but she spoke so softly he almost didn’t catch what she was saying.
 
“It’s not the humans I’m worried about.”
 
“What does that mean?” Toke asked.
 
“Nothing,” Zashiel brushed the issue off with a wave of her hand.  “Get your axes out.  You need to practice.”
 
Sighing with resignation, Toke did as she ordered.  He unhooked the axes from his back and then stretched the rubber strips over them.
 
“Defend first,” she instructed once her chakrams were prepared.  “Try to keep that stance I showed you last time.”
 
Toke held his weapons up and the Sorakine girl came at him.  She moved slowly, like she had the day before, and Toke reacted.  He struck one of her chakrams before it could reach him, keeping the other axe safely in front of his chest, and then brought the first axe back to its point of origin.  Zashiel attacked with the other one, which Toke knocked that away as well.  They did this for ten minutes, with Zashiel attacking from a different angle every time.  Toke managed to block every one of them, though his arms quickly began to grow tired after the exercises she’d made him do that morning.  Then he put his foot on loose pebble, throwing off his balance.
 
“Dead,” Zashiel said, touching her chakram to his now unguarded chest.
 
“I think I’m getting pretty good,” Toke said, gathering himself for another bout.
 
“Only when fighting in slow motion,” Zashiel corrected him with a chuckle.  “Do you want to try speeding it up?”
 
Toke hesitated.  “You won’t, um,” he sputtered.
 
Zashiel gave him a wicked smile.  “I’ll only use what I’ve already taught you.  I promise.”
 
“Okay,” Toke said, raising his axes into a battle stance.  This is gonna hurt…
 
“Begin!” Zashiel said, coming at him full speed.  Her chakrams whipped out at a blinding speed and Toke yelped with surprise.  Even more surprising, though, was how his body reacted without having to be told what to do.  His right hand shot out, deflecting the incoming blow, while the other hooked around Zashiel’s second chakram to keep her from swinging it.
 
With a grunt, Zashiel swung her chakram back, pulling Toke’s axe out of his hand in the process.  The steel rang against the stone as it fell, too far away from him to reach.  He didn’t stop to worry about it though— he ducked to avoid a powerful strike Zashiel was aiming at his head.  Now Toke only had one weapon while Zashiel still had two.  He hastily fended off a second attack while still crouching low, and then held out his hand like he had seen Zashiel do.  He doubted it would work, as he’d never even tried it before, but it was better than fighting his opponent at such a disadvantage.  He groped blindly with his powers, unable to feel such a small object’s field of gravity, and gave a pull on everything in its general area.  To his amazement, the axe, along with a few small rocks, leaped into the air.  The axe reached him first, but its momentum was off and he had to lean far to the side to catch it.  The impact stung, but he gripped it as tightly as he could.  Zashiel, for once, looked surprised by this turn of events.
 
Then the rocks Toke had pulled on hit her in the back.
 
“Bad form, Toke!” she exclaimed as she stumbled a bit.  But Toke wasn’t paying attention.  The rocks, whether an honorable move or not, had taken her attention off of him.  He squatted down and jumped, letting go of gravity as he did, and soared up and over her head.
 
He landed on the other side of the small arena and immediately spun around to face his opponent.  Zashiel charged at him, and he reflexively threw an axe at her.  She batted it away with a chakram, but again the action had taken her attention off of Toke.
 
“Take this!” he shouted in exhilaration as he put one foot on the wall behind him and pushed off from it.  He weakened gravity again, and the force sent him flying at Zashiel.  He extended his other leg, intending to kick her in the stomach, but the Sorakine’s speed caught him off guard. She lashed out, catching hold of his foot, and swung him around before letting go.  Her enhanced strength, combined with the weak pull of gravity Toke currently had, sent Toke flying more than twenty feet into the air until he struck the wall.  His shoulder ached from the impact, but it could have been far worse.
 
At that moment, Toke realized that he was clinging to the wall’s gravity purely by reflex.  He got to his feet, looking down at Zashiel.
 
“If you’re not coming down,” she called to him, “then I’m coming up there to get you!”
 
She extended her wings, launching herself into the air.  Toke managed to block her incoming attack, almost collapsing under her sheer momentum, and then dropped to the wall and rolled away.  He used the ground’s gravity to pull him down, away from Zashiel, before letting go and standing back up on the wall.  Zashiel turned to face him.
 
This has gone beyond what she’s taught me, he thought in bewilderment.  I’m doing all this on my own now!
 
The fight was still a puzzle, which meant he needed a strategy.  It didn’t matter how much he hopped and rolled if he couldn’t actually hit her.  The advice Zashiel had given him the day before came back to him.  Everything is a Juryokine’s battlefield.  Everything…
 
An idea came to Toke just as Zashiel dove for him.  He remembered the way he had used his powers to evade the spearman in Exton.  This wasn’t a life or death situation, it was just a training spar.  The lack of pressure allowed him to think much more clearly than he had that night, and in a split second he had worked out a plan.
 
Toke waited until Zashiel was almost on top of him, and then jumped.  The leap spanned half the width of the hole, and then he anchored himself to the opposite wall.  Zashiel streaked past where he had just been, a blur of yellow light, but she quickly righted herself and flew at him again.  Toke released his anchor to the wall just as Zashiel’s chakram whipped past, hitting the stone behind him.  He fell to the ground, landing on his feet, and then anchored himself to the opposite wall.
 
Above him, he could tell Zashiel was growing frustrated.  She swooped in at him again, and Toke fell to his knees and anchored himself to other wall.  He ended up sliding across the ground, right underneath the airborne Sorakine, and then released his anchor and got back to his feet.  Before Zashiel could turn around, he jumped as high as he could, raising his axe above his head, and then increased his weight to make him fall even faster than he normal would have.  For a second, it looked like he was going to score a direct hit on Zashiel’s head.  Then the Sorakine spun around in midair, extended her leg, and kicked Toke in the stomach.
 
All the breath rushed out of Toke’s lungs in one gasp.  He perched there, seven feet off the ground, balanced perfectly on Zashiel’s foot.  His stomach felt like he had been run into by an autocarriage.
 
“Not bad,” Zashiel said, her leg still extended.  “You’re starting to think like a Juryokine now.”
 
She kicked her leg up, throwing Toke off of it, and then caught him by his shoulder.  “I think that means we can stop fighting in slow motion all together.”
 
Zashiel descended and set Toke back on the ground.  He immediately sat down, groaning and rubbing his sore stomach.
 
“The only thing I didn’t like was how you threw rocks at me from behind,” she concluded.
 
“I didn’t mean to do that,” he said, his voice hoarse.  “I was just trying to get my axe back.”
 
Zashiel brought her hand to her chin in thought.  “Hmm.  In that case, that’s what we’ll practice next.   Put one of your axes on the other side of the hole.”
 
Sucking in a painful breath, Toke got up and did as she said.
 
“Singling out a field of gravity as small as that can be hard,” she explained.  “The only way to get good at it is by trial and error.  Reach for the axe and pull it to you.”
 
“Okay,” Toke said and held his hand out.  Again, he could feel all the gravitational fields around him, but almost all of them were from the ground and walls.  The others were so small that they were dwarfed by the bigger ones to the point that they may as well have not been there at all.
 
“Try focusing on the axe,” Zashiel instructed.  “If you block out everything else, it’ll be easier to—”
 
The axe leaped up and flew straight into Toke’s hand.
 
“That was fast,” she said after a moment of stunned silence.  “How did you do that?”
 
“I’m good at blocking things out,” Toke said, lowering his hand.  “That’s how I get my work done in class.”
 
Zashiel seemed to consider this for a minute.  “What class are you taking, anyway?”
 
“I’m trying to get my inventor’s license,” Toke answered, with no small amount of pride in his voice.  “Navras says my batteries are the next step in what he discovered with jidoryo.”
 
Zashiel gave him a blank look.  “What’s a battery?” she asked.
 
“It’s a device that holds jidoryo power,” he replied, falling easily into the explanation he’d given a hundred times before.  “You put it into the machine, and it’ll power it just like if it was plugged into the wall.”  He hesitated.  “At least, until the crystal runs out of power.”
 
“Wait,” Zashiel held up a hand, “these things have jido crystals in them?”
 
Toke nodded.
 
“Oh, skies above,” she groaned wearily, putting her hand to her head, “and here I thought you were weak.”
 
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Toke demanded.
 
“Turns out you’re actually insane.  That’s why it exploded in the Permissor’s face, isn’t it?”
 
“My batteries are safe!” Toke shot back, his face growing hot.  “I- I just have to make them more sturdy!”
 
Zashiel gave him a skeptical look, but then shrugged.  “Whatever.  What you do with your life is your business.  Just try not to kill yourself before we get this finished, all right?”
 
Toke glared at her and didn’t reply.
 
“Keep practicing with your axe.  We’ll move onto something else in a while.”
 
The afternoon turned to evening, and Zashiel had Toke run through a long series of exercises.  Every couple of hours, she would make him fight her again.  Toke experimented with his powers as he fought, but never managed to actually land a hit on her.  No matter how hard he tried, or how close he got to her, it was clear that she was going easy on him.  Every time he came close to hitting her, she would perform some mind bending move, usually disarming him and knocking him flat on his back at the same time.  Still, he was getting better.
 
“That’s enough for tonight,” she said finally, when the sky had long since turned dark.  Toke nodded, finally letting his muscles relax as he put his axes into the loops behind his back.  When he reached up to raise his hood, though, Zashiel stopped him.
 
“Wait, there’s something I want to talk to you about first,” she said.
 
Toke lowered the hood again.
 
“You’ve gotten a lot better since we started.  You’re not a master by any means, but you’ll be more than a match for any human you might come across.”
 
“What, really?” Toke asked in surprise.
 
“You’re stronger,” Zashiel said, nodding, “even if you can’t see it yet.  And your reflexes have gotten a lot better.  You won’t be beating any Sorakines, but I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with other humans.”
 
Toke resisted the urge to feel his arms.  He already knew there wasn’t any noticeable muscle gain.  “Wow.  Um, thanks.”
 
Zashiel continued, finally getting to the point.  “I think it’s time to take this to the next level.  Are you ready?”
 
She had that fire in her eyes again.  Gooseflesh rose up on Toke’s arms underneath his jacket.  “What do you mean?”
 
“I mean that tomorrow, I want you to begin your mission.”
 
“You mean the spying,” Toke said.  Suddenly, his mouth felt dry.
 
Zashiel nodded.  “You’re already good at moving around on walls and ceilings.  If you get into a fight, I think you’ll be able to handle yourself.”  She made a fist.  “You saw what that man did in Exton.  What he did to Exton.  Whoever he is, he’s not making the Storms just to destroy things.  He’s working towards something bigger.”
 
The image of the green glowing spearman appeared in Toke’s mind, and he had to swallow before he could speak without stuttering.  “What makes you think that?”
 
“Because bad guys who kill and destroy for no reason only exist in books,” Zashiel said.  “Nobody would do something like this unless they had some kind of motivation.”
 
“Maybe he’s from another country, like Vlangur,” Toke suggested.  “Maybe he’s trying to start another war.”
 
“Maybe,” Zashiel nodded, “but I still think it’s somebody in your government.  Why else would they forbid me to investigate when I asked?”
 
Toke tried to come up with a good reason, but couldn’t.
 
“Anyway,” Zashiel said, bringing the discussion back on track, “it doesn’t really matter why they’re doing it.  The point is that we need to stop them before they reach their goal.  Exton was the first city to ever be hit, and look at the damage it caused.  I think that was the next step in his plan.”
 
“He was confident enough in the Storms to stop making them in the middle of nowhere,” Toke finished for her, finally catching on, “and decided to strike somewhere where there were people.”
 
“Exactly.  We don’t know how he plans his attacks, though.  That means we have to figure out who’s doing this and stop them before they can cause another one.”
 
Toke nodded, but his anxiety still didn’t go away.  “And you think I’m ready?”
 
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Zashiel answered.  “That’s why I asked you.  Are you ready, Toke?”
 
Toke’s gut was a roiling mess of emotions.  He didn’t want to start yet.  In truth, he didn’t think he’d ever be comfortable with the idea of spying on his government.  If he was caught, the consequences would be fatal.  He couldn’t deny her point, though.  The sooner they finish this, the more lives they would save.
 
“All right,” he said.  “I’m ready.”
 
 
 
NEXT TIME: And so it begins.  Toke has twenty four hours before he becomes a full-fledged traitor to his country.  Will it be worth it, or could Zashiel be wrong about the Storms?

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