Toke crouched atop a building, a cool gust of wind tugging at his jacket as he faced the Capitol. His skin crawled as he knelt there, sure that, at any moment, Klevon was going to swoop down and slaughter him. The mission had just become a whole lot more dangerous, and he didn’t even have Zashiel to guide him through it anymore. He couldn’t back down, though. Not when all of Yasmik was depending on him.
All of Yasmik depends on me, he repeated to himself. Does that make me a realist or an egomaniac?
He wasn’t even sure what he was going to do tonight. Zashiel was the one with the plan. She was supposed to tell him who to spy on and what to listen for. Without her, he was going in blind. All it would take was one wrong move and he’d have guards all over him. Not to mention an angry Sorakine with no qualms about killing him. He breathed deep, trying to make the void form, and wiped the sweat off his hands. He couldn’t just go to bed. Not when there might be something he could do to help. Tensing his muscles, he weakened gravity’s pull and jumped over to the Capitol.
Toke landed on the wall, instantly anchored himself to it, and then dropped to his stomach to wait. When nobody sounded the alarm, he got to his hands and knees and made his way to the roof and ran to the opposite end of the building. From here, Permissor Adal’s office was just below him.
“I’ll tear Yasmik apart if I have to…”
Toke still wasn’t convinced that statement had anything to do with the Gravity Storms, but he didn’t have any better leads to follow. Hopefully, he thought as he anchored himself to the wall again, Adal would be there tonight. He made his way down as quickly as he could, but stopped when he found the Permissor’s office dark.
“Smite,” he hissed, and then dropped to his stomach again. Now what? Adal wasn’t working late tonight, apparently, and none of Zashiel’s other suspicions had proven fruitful. Maybe he should just start looking into any window he saw with a light on, and see if he heard anything.
Or, he thought, looking closer at Adal’s window, I could take a look around the Permissor’s office.
The window was locked with a single pin, Toke could see it from his perch outside. It was a simple lock, but effective. All it took was a quick twist to undo it, but it would hold fast against anyone trying to open the window from outside. Anyone who didn’t have gravity powers, anyway.
After looking around to make sure there weren’t any patrols nearby, Toke held his hand over the window and reached out with his powers. He’d been practicing in his room, trying to pull things into his hand, and he thought he was getting better. This was much more subtle, though. He didn’t want to pull the pin out of the window frame, he just wanted to give it a gentle tug so that it would unlock. He pulled, but immediately let go when the entire window rattled.
“Easier, easier,” he whispered to himself, and reached out again. He began giving a series of tiny jerks, more akin to tapping his finger against the latch than actually pulling on it. It vibrated, coming out a fraction of an inch further each time.
“Come on,” he urged it, just as it popped free. “Yes!”
Giving another quick glance to make sure he wasn’t being watched, Toke grabbed the window and pulled it open. Then, in one quick motion, he stepped into the office, letting normal gravity take him once again, and shut the window behind him. He was in— and it was only then he realized he didn’t know what he was looking for.
Documents, he thought, his heart racing. Letters, plans, anything!
Still keeping low, he went to the desk and opened one of Adal’s drawers. Inside, he found a bunch of pens, pencils, and bottles of ink, but nothing useful. He closed it and went to the next one. This one had folders in it— perfect! He picked one at random and opened it up. The room was dark, and his hood visor wasn’t helping, so after a moment’s hesitation he lowered it to help him see better.
“Assessment of Crolly Wesjarl,” the first page was titled. It went on to describe a presentation Adal had been given a few days ago from an aspiring business owner. Adal had approved his request.
I’ll just bet you did, Toke thought, his mood turning dark as he stuffed the folder back into the desk. He knew he shouldn’t be thinking about his failed presentation, but that one little reminder brought his bitterness back to him full force. Maybe his own assessment was in that drawer, somewhere. Would it be possible to alter it somehow and approve himself?
A noise came from the hallway, jerking Toke out of his brooding. He froze for a moment, until he was sure nobody was about to come in, and then went back to his search. How could he have let himself get so distracted? He was on a mission here, smite it, not a trip to the library! He made himself form the void again as he shut the drawer and opened another. This one contained more assessments, but nothing he was interested in seeing.
Come on, he urged himself, bouncing restlessly as he crouched behind the Permissor’s desk. Think! Where would Adal put something as important as this?
There was a metal cabinet on the other side of the room, but when Toke tried to open it he found it was locked. If the plans were anywhere in this office, that’s where they would be, he decided. He didn’t want to risk attracting attention by breaking it open, though. The whole point of him being here and not Zashiel was so that they could do this stealthily. Smashing stuff was her thing. Sneaking was his.
There had to be something, though, Toke thought as he scanned the room again. There were some papers strewn about on top of the desk, but Adal wouldn’t be foolish enough to leave incriminating information right where anybody could happen upon it, would he? Then again, unlocking his window from the outside while he was gone for the night wasn’t exactly “happening upon them,” was it? Not having any better ideas, Toke crept back across the room and took a look.
One of the papers was a newspaper, and it had been left open to an article about the Exton Gravity Storm. Toke’s skin prickled under his jacket, but he pushed back the paranoia. It had been the first Storm to ever hit civilization— not exactly small news. That the Permissor, one of the highest government officials, would be reading about it wasn’t strange at all. Still, remembering why he was there in the first place, Toke couldn’t ignore the coincidence. After a moment, he set the paper back down and looked at some of the other things on the desk. Another half completed assessment, a letter to request more office supplies, and an invitation to dinner with another politician. Absolutely nothing of any use to Toke.
There’s nothing here, he thought with a sigh of resignation. I’ll have to try some—
“— coming on such short notice.”
Toke froze, and turned just as the door unlocked. That was Permissor Adal’s voice. He was still here! Toke looked at the window, but it was too far away. Besides, he’d latched it on his way in. The door opened, and Toke barely had enough time to dive underneath the desk before Adal stepped inside. Light flooded the room, and Toke flipped his hood back up.
This was bad. Very bad. Toke was trapped like a rat, and the only hiding spot had been the one place he knew Adal would look sooner or later. He heard the Permissor’s footsteps crossing the room, and gently anchored himself to the underside of the desk, putting his feet on either side to prop him off the floor. The wood groaned softly under his weight, and Toke gritted his teeth. Luckily, Adal was speaking again.
“Please shut the door behind you.” The door clicked. “Thank you. Have a seat.”
The chair opposite the desk squeaked a little as Adal’s guest sat down. Toke silently said a prayer to whoever might be listening that Adal wouldn’t choose to sit down too. His desk may have been big, but there was no way he could sit at it without his knees bumping Toke underneath.
“Now, I would like to know how the search for my son is going,” the Permissor said.
Toke breathed a sigh of relief.
“We’re doing everything in our authority to find him, sir,” the guest said. It wasn’t a voice that Toke recognized. “But I hope you understand why the process is slow. The Jerulkan police don’t have jurisdiction in other cities, so we have to leave the investigations up to them. That can make things—”
“What do I have to pay you to speed things up?”
There was a pause. Toke was listening so intently that he almost forgot how much danger he was in.
“I have a couple of… friends that I could get to carry out some underground reconnaissance,” the unfamiliar voice answered at last. “I could contact them.”
“Do it,” Adal replied without hesitation. “I don’t care what the cost is. I don’t…” the confidence in his voice broke for a moment. “I want him home before anything else happens.”
“I’ll do my best, Permissor.”
“Do better than your best, Inspector.” Toke heard Adal tapping his finger on top of the desk. “Have you seen this? A Gravity Storm brought Exton to the ground. An entire city, Gillfan! What if my son is in the next city that gets hit?”
What? Toke thought, his head snapping up so quickly he almost hit it on the desk. The Gravity Storms. Adal was talking about the Gravity Storms right in front of him!
The other man began to say something, but Adal cut him off. “I know, I know. There’s no defense against them. He’d be just as helpless here as anywhere else if one were to strike Jerulkan. For all I know, he was in Exton when the last one hit! I don’t care. Just find him!”
Silence filled the room for a tense moment, and then Toke heard the sound of a chair being pushed back as the other man stood up.
“We’ll find your son, sir,” he said. “Rest assured.”
“I don’t care what the price is,” Adal told him again. “I’ll pay whatever it costs. Just bring him home.”
Both men moved away from the desk, heading for the door. Toke’s heart was pounding in his chest as he anchored himself back onto the floor again. The office door opened, and Adal ushered the other man out into the hallway.
“Thank you for your time,” he said. “I appreciate you coming to see me at this hour.”
“Any time, Permissor,” the other man said, and the door clicked shut.
Silence. Toke counted under his breath, waiting for something to tell him whether Adal had left with the inspector or was still in the office. His palms began to sweat, and he wiped them on his pants again. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t been caught. Now was his chance to escape undetected— his only chance. If he could make it back out the window, getting away would be as simple as jumping to the next building. He just had to make sure he was alone.
Moving slowly, Toke edged out from underneath the desk, peeked over the top…
And found himself face to face with Permissor Adal.
Toke and Adal both froze, their faces nearly identical in shock.
“What?” the Permissor finally managed to stutter. “Who are—”
Toke didn’t wait for him to finish. He forced his feet to move, spun around, and lunged for the window. It was still shut and latched, but he didn’t have time to open it. Shielding his face with his arms, he crashed through it, shattering the glass with his increased weight. Behind him, he heard Adal shout for help, but then his voice was drowned out by the rushing wind as he fell. Toke tried to anchor himself to the wall, but his momentum was too strong. All he could do was weaken gravity’s pull before he hit the ground. It slowed his descent a little, but he still landed hard.
“Get up, get up, get up!” he told himself, rolling onto his back and scrambling to his feet. Nothing felt broken, but he wasn’t out of danger yet. To his side, a group of guards came charging around the building.
“There he is!” one of them shouted. “Get him!”
A quick glance showed they were armed and ready to kill him if necessary. Toke turned to run the other way, but stopped when a second squad came from that direction. Half of them stopped, training crossbows on him, while the rest came at him with swords drawn.
“Get on the ground!” one of them yelled.
Toke couldn’t let himself be arrested. He’d been caught spying on Permissor Adal, but they didn’t know who he was since he still had his hood up. He had to get away, and he’d have to move fast to avoid the crossbows. An idea took shape in his head. It was a long shot, but he didn’t see any alternative. As the guards drew closer, he put his hands on the back of his head, and crouched down.
“On the ground!” the guard said again.
How about not? Toke thought just as they reached him. One guard’s hand came out to push him to the ground, but Toke reacted the way Zashiel had taught him: quickly. He lashed out, grabbed the guard’s hand, and spun around. His momentum caused the guard to lose his footing, and he fell to the ground, tripping two other guards as they moved to interfere.
I was trained by a Sorakine, he thought as he weakened his anchor to the ground and leaped into the air. He thrust his leg out and spun as he went up, kicking another guard in the face, and then punched a third one as he came back down. I’m more than a match for any human.
A guard behind him tried to stab him with his spear, but Toke dodged the attack, spun around, and kicked him in his weapon hand. Toke was faster than they were, and more agile. Two beefy arms wrapped around him from behind, trying to restrain him, but Toke weakened gravity again and jumped. He curled backwards into a flip, and ended up throwing the guard onto his back in the process. The guards were human. Toke was a Juryokine.
The guards swarmed around him, and Toke let them. That was a key part to his escape. As long as they didn’t have a clear shot, the archers wouldn’t risk firing at him. For now, all he had to worry about was taking care of the guards with close quarters weapons. One came at him swinging a cudgel, and Toke ducked underneath it before finally drawing his axes. He couldn’t take down all of them, he wasn’t that good. He didn’t want to, either. All he wanted was to find an opening to get away.
The guard swung his cudgel again, and Toke increased his gravity as be blocked it with his axes, making the guard stagger under his own force. Toke kicked his legs out from under him, and then whirled around to hit another approaching guard on the head. He used the flats of his blades, but the impact still knocked the guard unconscious. Toke kicked him backwards into his comrades before he could fall, making a couple of them stumble as they caught him, and then thrust his elbow backwards into the face of another guard.
“Smite!” the guard yelled, momentarily retreating to recuperate. After a moment, he lunged at Toke again, thrusting a thin fencing sword toward his chest. Toke parried the attack, but then realized that that put the guard too close to him— and that had been the guard’s plan all along. Dropping his sword, he wrapped Toke in a bear hug, and then hooked one of his legs around Toke’s, bringing them both to the ground. The impact was so jarring that Toke lost his grip on his axes. The guard was bigger than he was, and his weight alone pinned Toke to the ground. He wormed one hand free, and reached towards Toke’s hood…
“No!” Toke shouted. If they took his hood off, it was all over. He reacted on instinct, and anchored himself to the Capitol’s wall. The guard’s weight was enough to keep him pinned to the ground, though, so Toke increased his pull as much as he could. Suddenly, he was heavier than the guard, and they both flew into the air. The guard let out a shout of fright, and then Toke kicked as hard as he could, flipping them so that the guard struck the wall first. They landed so hard that the bricks cracked underneath them, and the guard’s grip immediately slackened.
Toke rolled off the unconscious guard, and stood up on the wall. The guard, no longer supported by Toke’s gravity, fell back to the ground. When he looked up, Toke saw that all of the guards had frozen, staring at him in shock.
Now they know the truth, he thought grimly, and held out his hands. His axes shot up from the ground, into his grip. Toke held them in a defensive position, waiting for the first guard to recover from his shock. They were trained professionals, so it wouldn’t take…
Toke heard a dull thunk, and his left leg buckled underneath him as an arrow buried itself into the wall next to him. He sat down heavily on the wall as pain coursed up from his ankle. A quick glance revealed that the arrow had only grazed him enough to slice open his pant leg. A thin trail of blood was coming from his ankle, but it wasn’t bad. That meant most of the pain he was feeling was shock.
Keeping that in mind, Toke was able to ignore his wound. He didn’t have time to worry about it now. By anchoring himself to the wall, he had given the crossbow archers the perfect target, which meant he had to move. Even as he thought that, he heard the snap of another string, and he instinctively rolled to the right. Sure enough, the arrow drove itself into the wall right where he had been sitting. Toke got to his feet and sprinted further up, his light weight letting him run faster than a normal human. Another crossbow snapped, and he dodged to the left, narrowly avoiding the arrow. He needed to get to the roof where the archers wouldn’t be able to…
“Don’t let him get up here!” another voice shouted from right in front of him. A pit formed in Toke’s stomach when three more archers looked over the edge of the roof, their crossbows already drawn.
“Oh, smite!” he exclaimed, and jumped as hard as he could. He shot away from the wall, and the arrows zipped past harmlessly beneath his feet. While he was still in the air, Toke pulled both axes back behind his head, and threw them. They flew towards the archers, and Toke breathed a silent prayer that he hadn’t, in his haste, aimed wrong. To his relief, they both found their targets: the first and third archers’ crossbows. The force sent them stumbling backwards, and Toke used that as an opportunity to anchor himself to the archer in the middle. He kept his gravity weakened, or else he would have yanked the guard right off the roof. The archer staggered as he was suddenly pulled towards Toke, but managed to steady himself before he went falling over the edge— exactly like Toke wanted. He pointed his feet at his opponent, and let himself fall into him. The guard was thrown onto his back, and Toke stood on top of him as he skidded away from the edge of the roof. It was just in time, too, Toke realized as another volley of arrows streaked into the night sky where he had been only moments before.
Got to finish this, he thought as he backflipped off the unlucky guard. There’ll be more of them up here any second.
Toke spun around and saw that both the other archers had dropped their crossbows and were coming at him with clubs. His axes were still embedded in the wood of their crossbows, which lay on the ground behind them. Thinking quick, Toke crouched down and held out his hands, anchoring himself to both his weapons. They shot towards him, bringing the crossbows with them. The large, heavy weapons hit both guards in the backs of their knees, throwing their legs out from under them.
Zashiel wouldn’t like that, he thought as he caught both axes, and immediately stumbled under their weight. The blades were deep inside the wood, and no matter how hard he shook them they wouldn’t come free. Smite it all! Give me a break!
One of the guards was already back on his feet, and he rushed at Toke. Toke dropped one of his axes, using both hands to pick up and swing the other crossbow. The guard’s hands shot out, and he caught crossbow before it could hit him.
“Okay, that works too,” Toke grunted, and he jerked backwards on his axe as he could. Sure enough, it popped free of the wood just in time to strike the other guard on the head as he sneaked up behind Toke. Toke hadn’t planned that part, but he didn’t complain as the guard fell to the ground, unconscious.
Now for the other one. Toke jumped back, making space between himself and the now rearmed archer. He pulled the second crossbow back to him, and landed on top of it. Grabbing the axe with his free hand, he bent his knees and jumped a second time, yanking the axe free.
While he was still in the air, Toke heard a zip, and then cried out when an arrow struck him in the chest. The armor-like fibers of his Sorakine jacket kept it from piercing his skin, but it still threw his jump off course. Toke fell backwards, landing hard on his back. He laid there for a moment, dazed, until he saw the last remaining guard fit another arrow into his crossbow. Toke anchored himself to the guard, increasing his weight as much as he could, and slid across the ground towards him. The archer was jerked forward too, and they collided at the halfway point. The guard, who seemed to be figuring out Toke’s tricks, swung his crossbow down when they hit each other, striking Toke soundly on the head. Stars danced in front of his eyes, but Toke kept enough presence of mind to realize what to do. He leaned his head back until it touched the roof beneath him, and then head-butted the guard as hard as he could. The hard glass visor protected Toke’s face, but it smashed against the guard’s with a sickening crunch. Blood began to drip from the guards nose, and he looked at Toke, stunned, for a few seconds before rolling over, out cold.
Okay, now go, go, GO! Toke mentally screamed at himself as he got to his feet and made an all-out sprint for the edge of the building. Behind him, he heard even more guards call out as they finally got up to the roof. They were too late, though. Toke jumped, soaring out across the gap between buildings, and landed on the next one. He didn’t look back to see the guard’s shocked faces, he kept running. He’d just gotten a head start. Now he needed to keep it.
A few buildings later, Toke jumped down and weakened gravity before he hit the ground. A few people gasped when he touched down, but he ignored them. He’d known there would still be people out in this part of town. That’s why he had chosen it. Without giving them a second glance, he spun around and ran into the nearest alleyway. Once it was dark enough that nobody could see him, he stripped off the jacket and stuffed it into the harness beneath his shirt as quickly as he could. Then, trying to stop the shaking in his hands, he stepped back out into the street on the opposite side.
Nobody spared him so much as a glance as he joined the small crowd. Understandably, their attention was focused on the Capitol a mile away, where the sound of alarm bells ringing could still be heard. Toke’s heart was beating so hard that it hurt, and he could barely breathe. Had he really just done all that? And for what? To listen to another worthless conversation about Adal’s missing son.
Don’t worry about that now, he told himself as he turned down the street that would take him back to the school. You’re still alive. That’s what matters.
How was he going to spy on the politicians now, though? Security would be tripled, at the very least, after the stunt he’d just pulled. And Klevon… Toke shuddered. If Klevon was really looking for proof that a Juryokine was in Jerulkan, Toke had just given it to him.
NEXT TIME: We all knew Toke had gotten stronger after training with Zashiel, but did anyone know he was this awesome? Too bad it was all for nothing, though. Unless he can figure out another way to spy on the politicians, it looks like the mission’s at a standstill. Too bad Zashiel’s not here to help him out.