“No!” Toke screamed, and sat up in bed. He sat there for a minute, shaking, before his brain kicked in and he recognized his dorm. After giving the room another glance to make sure he was alone, he hesitantly laid his head back down.
It’s been two days, he thought, trying to make himself breathe calmly. How long is this going to keep happening?
Two days of flinching at shadows and jumping at small noises, convinced that either Klevon or the police were waiting for him around every corner. He knew he was being paranoid. If they had figured out it was him, they would have come for him a long time ago. But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t figure it out eventually. He had barely been able to drag himself out of his room to go to class, and even then his concentration had been so poor that he hadn’t been able to get any work done.
A newspaper lay under his bed where nobody would see it, open to the article that had headlined the morning after his botched mission. “Wingless Sorakine Attacks Capitol!”, the bold, black words proudly declared. It went on to describe how the Sorakine had made a brazen attempt on Permissor Adal’s life before escaping and seriously injuring over a dozen guards. Luckily, nobody had been around to snap a photograph of him. The reporter had been smart enough, however, to connect him to the Juryokine sighting in Exton.
“Witnesses are speculating that this could be the same person that rescued an injured man after the Exton Gravity Storm. His intentions are unclear. Is he here to help us, or harm us? Officials state that, regardless of what he did in Exton, the attacker will still be tried as a criminal for his actions last night.”
At first, Toke had been relieved that the public was, apparently, withholding judgment on him after he’d saved the man trapped underneath the building. That relief hadn’t lasted long, though, as he quickly realized that saving a single person’s life wouldn’t be enough to excuse an alleged attack against one of the most powerful men in Yasmik.
“Don’t think about it now,” he whispered to himself, closing his eyes. “Just go back to sleep.”
He may as well have told his own heart to stop beating for as much good as that did. Images of Klevon coming for him were practically burned into the backs of his eyelids, making him sweat nervously under his covers. The hours passed slowly, and sleep never came. When the sun rose, shining so brightly through his window that he could see it with his eyes closed, he gave a weary groan and got up. He stepped onto the wall to do his pushups, but immediately gave up when his arms started quivering under his weight. He was just too tired.
Toke got dressed and combed his hair, noticing the dark rings under his eyes in the mirror, and headed for the cafeteria. If he was going to make it through Navras’ class, he was going to need coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
“You look like drops,” someone said, and slapped Toke on the shoulder. Immediately, Toke’s body went on the defensive, spinning away from the assailant and raising his fists to fight.
“Um,” Boam said, holding up his hands in surrender, “okay, I give up.”
Toke groaned and let his hands fall to his sides. “Sorry. I’m a little on edge.”
“Pull another all-nighter?” Boam asked, smiling.
Toke snorted and turned to walk with his friend. “You’re one to talk. How late were you up writing last night?”
Boam looked upwards in thought. “I don’t remember,” he admitted. “Numbers don’t make sense to me right now.”
Boam thought he had been up working on his battery, and Toke let him think that. It was better than telling him he was too scared to sleep, and that he was having nightmares when he did manage it. They found Wayli waiting for them in the cafeteria, already munching on a slice of toast.
“How’s the other guy look?” she asked when she saw the rings under Toke’s eyes.
“You’re hilarious,” he said, setting down his tray. He ignored his bacon and eggs in favor of the three cups of coffee he’d taken.
“You sure want to drink all that?” she asked, wrinkling her nose when the strong scent wafted over to her. “Maybe that’s why you’ve been so jumpy these last few days.”
“If anything, he needs more,” Boam argued. “Caffeine is an integral part of the creative process.”
Wayli responded by telling them about the time she got burned by cold coffee. Toke sat there, listening to them without hearing, chewing his food without tasting it. He tried to keep a calm face, but in truth eating in the cafeteria was one of the most stressful times of the day. There were people flooding in through the doors, sitting all around him, making so much noise that it was hard for his sleep deprived brain to focus on anything.
“And then BAM!” Wayli exclaimed, slamming her spoon down onto the table for emphasis. “I was—”
Toke’s body instinctively reacted to the loud noise, scrambling away from the table so quick that he fell over backwards from his chair. His training kicked in, and he rolled with his own momentum, doing a backwards somersault that left him in a crouch before his chair even hit the floor.
The cafeteria fell silent, and Toke’s face went red when he realized everyone in the room was looking at him.
“That,” Boam said after a few seconds, breaking the tense silence, “was awesome!”
The other students seemed to take this as permission to stop staring at him, and went back to their own conversations. Wayli blinked in surprise, and then shook her head.
“I told you all that coffee was bad for you!” she said.
“Where’d you learn to do that?” Boam asked.
From a crazy Sorakine girl who turned me into some kind of mutant.
“Learn to do what?” he asked.
“That- that,” Boam tried to mimic the movement with his fingers, “flip thing you just did!”
Toke sucked in a nervous breath, and glanced at the clock.
“I’ve got to go to class,” he said, and left the cafeteria before either of them could say anything else.
That was too close, he thought as he walked. Stunts like that were a sure way to raise suspicion, and suspicion was something he wanted to avoid altogether. He was just lucky that his first reaction had been to dodge an incoming attack and not anchor himself to the ceiling.
Virkhul wasn’t at his desk when Toke got to the workshop, which was a relief since his nerves were too frayed to deal with the secretary. He walked into the classroom, a good ten minutes early for once, and took his seat.
“Good to see you on time today,” Navras greeted him from his desk. “How are you, Toke?”
“Tired, Professor,” he said honestly.
Navras gave him a concerned look. “I can see that. Haven’t you been sleeping well?”
“No, sir. I think the stress is getting to me.” That wasn’t a complete lie. He was feeling pretty stressed— it just didn’t have anything to do with his battery anymore.
“Well, I’m afraid I still don’t have a jido crystal for you yet,” the professor said. “So why don’t you take the day off and try to get caught up on your sleep?”
Toke sat there for a moment, and then smiled as relief washed over him. “That sounds good, sir. Thank you.”
“An inventor knows not to overexert himself,” Navras said as Toke made his way to the door. “An exhausted mind is more dangerous than an exhausted body.”
“Yes, sir,” Toke nodded. “I understand.”
Toke waded through the crowd of students until he made it back to his dorm, where he collapsed into bed. The sun was shining bright outside, which helped alleviate his fear a little. Maybe, he thought as he closed his eyes, he could actually get some sleep now…
Toke’s eyes shot open again, and he sat up in bed, his hand instinctively reaching behind him for his axes. The sound had come from the window, but there was nobody out there. How could there be anybody out there? He was on the third floor! The wind must have just blown something into the glass.
Unless the person doing the tapping was able to fly…
A shiver ran down Toke’s spine, but he forced himself to think logically about it. If Klevon was outside his window, that would mean he had figured out Toke was the Juryokine. If that were the case, Toke doubted he would bother tapping at all— he’d probably fly straight in and murder him. Still not completely at ease, Toke laid back down and closed his eyes again.
“Who’s there?” Toke shouted, throwing aside his covers and getting up. There was still nobody outside his window, but that tapping was too regular for the wind to be causing it. Someone was out there.
His palms already slick with nervous sweat, Toke took a deep breath and anchored himself to the ceiling. The vent was at the corner of his room, and he’d spent almost the entire night after coming home from the Capitol loosening the screws. Now all he had to do was give it a gentle tug to make it pop free, spilling his Sorakine jacket onto the floor below. Toke left the jacket there, but pulled his axes up to his hands. He wouldn’t stand any chance against Klevon, and he knew it, but he still felt better with weapons in hand.
Now what? he thought, crouching down on the ceiling. Even from this angle, he couldn’t see anybody outside. Was Klevon flying laps outside, tapping on his window every time he passed by? What was the point of that? Zashiel had proven that Sorakines didn’t have any qualms about openly killing people. Why didn’t he just fly straight through the window and…
Wait a minute, what was that?
Something was wedged into the crack between Toke’s windowpane and the window itself. Toke hesitantly stood up to get a better look, still keeping one eye on the window to make sure Klevon didn’t go flying past. It was a piece of paper.
“Did Klevon leave me a note?” Toke wondered out loud, thoroughly confused now. He released his anchor on the ceiling and landed on the floor. Slowly, he reached out and touched the paper, half afraid it would burst into flames or something equally horrible. When it didn’t, he grabbed it, yanked it out from under the window, and sat down with his back against the wall where anyone outside couldn’t see him.
“Meet me at the corn field,
“Zashiel?” Toke exclaimed, standing up. She was back? Where in the world had she been? By “the cornfield,” she obviously meant the place where she had given Toke his powers. That made sense, seeing as how the people in Jerulkan would be on high alert looking for anybody wearing a white jacket. He got down and reached under his bed, brushing aside the newspaper, and grabbed the leather strips Zashiel had given him. When his jacket was properly hidden under his shirt, he stuffed the letter into his pocket and left.
Almost an hour later, he finally left Jerulkan behind and came to the cornfield where Zashiel had given him her feather. He paused for a moment on the edge of the field, remembering that night. It had only been a couple of weeks, but it felt so long ago. That night when he’d given away his humanity to become a Juryokine.
“Where are you?” he called as he pushed his way through the forest of stalks, fairly confident that there was nobody else around to overhear him.
“This way,” he heard Zashiel’s voice reply, and he turned in that direction. A minute later, he walked into a small clearing that she had cut for them with her chakrams.
“You really have no respect for other people’s crops, do you?” he asked. Before she could answer, he said, “Where have you been?”
To his surprise, the Sorakine girl didn’t look as angry as he had expected her to. She looked more thoughtful than anything.
“You probably have a good idea where I’ve been,” she answered. “You saw me fly away with Klevon that night.”
Toke was quiet for a minute. “You just said his name like you expect me to recognize it. That means you know I’ve talked to him.”
Zashiel sighed, and nodded. “Yeah, I know he’s been following you. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry you got involved in it.”
“So, where have you been?” Toke asked. “I assumed they were keeping you captive for questioning or something, but if you’re here now, then…” he didn’t finish his sentence, his point already being made.
“You were right, that’s exactly what they were doing.” She paused, and then added, “But the show you put on at the Capitol was all I needed to convince them that I was innocent.”
“Innocent?” Toke echoed. “Innocent how?”
Instead of answering, Zashiel looked him over. “You look tired. Go ahead and sit down.”
Toke hesitated a second, and then did as she said. He was tired, and the long walk to the farm hadn’t helped. Zashiel remained standing, which made him feel uncomfortable.
“By innocent,” she continued when he was seated, “I mean that the Seraphs knew if there was a Juryokine, that a Sorakine must be involved. Humans don’t just develop our powers on their own, after all. They were able to guess that it was me because of all the times I was flying to Jerulkan, so they brought me back and interrogated me about it.”
“And you kept me out of it, right?” Toke said, fighting back a yawn as he got more comfortable on the ground.
Zashiel snorted. “Of course not. I told them all about you.”
Suddenly, Toke didn’t feel tired at all.
“You did what?” he shouted, standing back up.
“Relax,” she snapped in response. “I didn’t tell them you were the Juryokine. I just didn’t deny my relationship with you.”
“What does that mean?”
Zashiel rolled her eyes. “They were watching me, so they obviously saw me going to you. I couldn’t tell them I wasn’t meeting anybody here because that would just make them even more suspicious. So, I told them that we were friends and that I was coming to Jerulkan every day to see you.”
Toke was sure he heard a pop! as his brain shorted out. “Friends?” he echoed. “And they bought that?”
Zashiel turned and looked at him with hard eyes. “Of course they did. Why wouldn’t they?”
Toke paused for a minute. That tone in her voice… had he just hurt her feelings?
“Well…” he said hesitantly, scratching his arm, “you yell at me a lot, and we fight more than we get along.”
Zashiel didn’t say anything for a long time after that, and she lowered her head so she wasn’t looking at Toke. Toke frowned and looked up at the sky, wondering what he should do. He’d never been good at talking with people, which was why a couple of oddballs like Wayli and Boam were his only friends at school.
“Can you keep a secret, Toke?” she asked, finally breaking the silence.
“Um, yeah,” Toke answered, “I guess.”
Zashiel went quiet again, and for a moment Toke thought she wasn’t going to say anything else. But then she looked at him again.
“You bug me sometimes, Toke,” she said, as blunt as ever. “You’re naïve, and you’ve got a stubborn streak a mile wide. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like you. You’re one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.”
That’s it, Toke thought, I’m so tired that I’ve started hallucinating.
“Maybe it’s weird,” she went on, shrugging when she saw his expression, “but that’s how I feel. Most Sorakine friendships come from going on missions with each other, and that’s what we’ve been doing, so I guess it’s natural that I’ve started to feel this way.”
Toke’s face started to turn red, and he had a hard time looking at her. She looked the same as he felt.
“Right, well,” he said, trying to keep his embarrassment from showing too much on his face, “what now?”
Zashiel cleared her throat, and her expression went back to normal. “I should be mad that you exposed yourself like that at the Capitol.”
“Hey, it was an accident!” he retorted, his face turning red for a different reason.
“But as it turns out, those reports were all it took for the Seraphs to decide I wasn’t the one in league with you, so they let me go.”
Toke shook his head. “What is it your people have against Juryokines, anyway?”
Zashiel frowned, but then nodded. “Yeah, I did promise answers, didn’t I?”
“And you’re a few days late giving them,” Toke agreed, a pit forming in his stomach.
She crossed her arms and looked at the ground for a few seconds. Then, hesitantly, she said, “The truth is, Toke, that making Juryokines is illegal.”
Toke gave her a blank look. “What, illegal as in against the law?”
“Isn’t that what illegal means?” Zashiel snapped. “I don’t know everything about it, but I do know that the law was made hundreds of years ago.”
“Smite,” Toke whispered, shaking his head in disbelief. “A law against Juryokines?”
“Something happened a long time ago,” she went on. “A bunch of Juryokines tried to invade our territory.”
“Klevon said that,” Toke exclaimed, flashing back to the conversation he’d had with the Seraph. “He said they were invaders.”
“That’s how it goes,” Zashiel said, nodding.
“What did they try to invade?” he asked. “Hashira?”
Zashiel shook her head. “No, nothing like that. They invaded the sky.”
Toke stopped short and raised an eyebrow at her. “You want to run that by me again?”
Zashiel took a deep breath. “The sky, Toke. The sky is sacred to us. It goes back a long time in our beliefs. The gods gave the earth to you humans, and the skies to the Sorakines. That’s why we built Hashira so it doesn’t touch the ground.”
“And you’re telling me the Juryokines tried to invade the sky?” Toke asked, incredulously. “But that would mean that… that we could fly!”
Zashiel’s expression grew severe when he said that, and he reflexively took a step back. “But that’s impossible. We don’t have wings!”
“There are other ways,” Zashiel said. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Toke was tempted to demand more information. He deserved that, didn’t he? This all had to do with him. But the look on Zashiel’s face told him it might be risky to push her any farther.
He sighed. “Fine, whatever. It’s illegal to make Juryokines. What does that mean for me?”
“It means that if they ever find out what you are, we’re both in big trouble.”
The jacket underneath Toke’s shirt suddenly felt like the heaviest thing in the world.
“How much trouble?” he asked.
Zashiel hesitated before answering, and Toke could see the uneasiness on her face.
“The law says that not even a single Juryokine is allowed to exist.” She faced him, and the look in her eyes made his blood run cold. “If they figure out you’re the Juryokine, they’ll kill us both.”
Everything grew still, and Toke swallowed hard.
“Great,” he said, nodding. “Just great, Zashiel. When were you planning on telling me this?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted, hanging her head so her long hair fell in front of her face. “Toke, for what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I was hoping we could get through this without anyone finding out. Then I would never have had to tell you.”
“Is this how I’m going to spend the rest of my life?” Toke demanded. “Looking over my shoulder, too scared to sleep because some winged maniac might come to murder me?”
“No,” Zashiel answered, and this time her voice was confident. “If we can figure this out and finish it without anyone catching on, then you’ll be able to throw away your jacket and never use your powers again. Eventually, everyone will forget.”
Toke sat down again, and put his head in his hands. “I’m a criminal just for existing!” he whined.
Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, and eventually Zashiel sat down as well.
“Well, now you know why I didn’t tell you everything from the start,” she sighed. “Who would have agreed to all this if they knew what it meant?”
“Not me,” Toke replied truthfully.
“But isn’t it worth it, all things considered?” Zashiel lied down on her back, her wings spread out behind her. “If we can stop the Gravity Storms, we’ll have done something good. Maybe even saved all of Yasmik. Isn’t that worth dying for?”
“You’re the warrior, Zashiel, not me,” Toke groaned. “You said so yourself. All I ever wanted was to get my inventor’s license.”
“I was wrong.”
Toke looked at Zashiel just as she sat up again. “Come again?”
“I was wrong,” she repeated. “You are a warrior. How many guards did you fight that night at the Capitol? And what did you walk away with? A couple scratches? How could you do that if you weren’t a warrior?”
“I was fighting for my survival,” he argued, looking down to hide how red his cheeks were turning. “I didn’t choose to fight those guards.”
“But you did choose to go to the Capitol. You had every reason to lie low after what Klevon said to you, but instead you stuck to the mission even though I wasn’t there to help you.”
“That’s different,” Toke said. “I couldn’t just let things go, not when I could do something to help people. That doesn’t make me like you.”
Zashiel looked at him for a few seconds, and then sighed and shook her head. “Toke, you just don’t get it. Do you think being a warrior means fighting for the sake of fighting? That’s not it at all.” She pointed at him. “A warrior does exactly what you just described: helping people because it’s the right thing to do. If you have to fight, then so be it.”
Toke gave the Sorakine a flat stare. “What are you getting at, Zashiel?”
“I’m saying that you’re not the same person you were when I found you on the street. You’ve changed, whether you wanted to or not. The Toke who ran away from a mugging wouldn’t have accepted my offer if he knew how much danger it put him in, but Toke the Juryokine… well, what does he think about it?”
Toke thought about it— and came to a conclusion that didn’t surprise him nearly as much as he felt it should have.
“He’d say let’s keep going,” he answered quietly. “If we can stop the Gravity Storms, we need to do it.”
Zashiel smiled smugly. “A warrior, indeed. You’re well on your way to paying off your debt.”
Toke frowned shook his head. “Please don’t bring that up again.”
Zashiel laughed and stood up. “I’m just kidding. If you ask me, you’ve more than made up for that by now.”
Toke looked up at her, shrugging. “Okay, so what do we do now, then?”
“Now,” she pointed at him, “you get some sleep. You’ve looked like you were about to pass out the whole time we’ve been talking.”
“What, here?” Toke asked, looking around. “In the middle of a cornfield?”
“You haven’t slept at all in the past two days,” Zashiel pointed out. “You’re on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. Sleep!”
“But what if Klevon—”
“Klevon doesn’t suspect us anymore, so he won’t be anywhere near here,” Zashiel cut him off. She reached back and drew both her chakrams. “But if it makes you feel better, I’ll stand here and keep watch the whole time you’re asleep.”
The knot in Toke’s stomach untied itself just a little bit when he heard this. Sleep really did sound good right now. And with Zashiel keeping watch, he would at least have a good warning before anything happened. He laid down on his back, crossing his arms underneath his head, and sighed in relief.
Zashiel might have lied to him, he thought with a yawn, but at least she did it for a good reason. Once you got past the cold, violent, condescending, Sorakine layer, she really wasn’t…all that… bad…
NEXT TIME: Toke’s come a long way in the past few weeks, but he’s not done yet. He and Zashiel still have to stop the spearman, and Klevon’s interference means that the stakes have never been higher. But now that everyone knows about the Juryokine, what course of action does that leave them?