Chapter Nineteen

When Toke finally awoke, it was night time.  He sat up, wincing as the hours spent lying on corn stalks took its toll, and saw Zashiel standing right where she had been before, chakrams still in hand.
 
“What time is it?” he asked, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
 
“Past ten,” she answered, putting her weapons away.
 
“I slept for more than twelve hours?” he asked, standing up.  “I’ve never done that before.”
 
“You’ve probably never stayed awake for forty eight hours, either,” Zashiel replied.  “But now that you’re up, let’s talk.”
 
“Gimme a chance to wake up,” Toke grumbled as the Sorakine girl came to stand in front of him.
 
“Did you learn anything at the Capitol that night?”
 
“I learned that Yasmik politicians hire the worst guards in the world to protect them.”
 
Zashiel frowned.  “I’m being serious, Toke.  You created a panic that night.  Tell me you at least came away with some worthwhile information.”
 
Toke tried to decide what to tell her.  It wasn’t as if he hadn’t thought about it.  He’d mulled it over in his head almost nonstop over the past two days.  The problem was figuring out how to tell Zashiel about the conclusion he’d come to.
 
“I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Permissor Adal,” he finally said.
 
Zashiel raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
 
“I was in his office while he talked about his missing son,” Toke went on.  “He’s been having people look for him all over Yasmik.  That means, even if he were capable of causing the Gravity Storms, he wouldn’t risk it when he doesn’t know where his son is.”
 
Zashiel nodded in response. “That makes sense.  Adal was a weak theory anyway.”
 
Toke frowned.  He wanted to be offended that Zashiel was able to throw away his only idea without hesitation, but she was right— there was no point in dwelling on a theory that was obviously wrong.
 
“What else?” she prompted him.
 
“Um,” Toke’s face went a shade paler, “nothing.  That’s it.”
 
This time, Zashiel’s eyebrows lowered themselves in disappointment.
 
“Things didn’t exactly go according to plan!” Toke spat before she could say anything.  “I couldn’t just stick around after they saw me, could I?”
 
Zashiel sighed and shook her head. “I guess not.  It’s just disappointing that that’s all you came away with.”
 
Toke shrugged. “Well, what do we do now?”
 
“We can’t go back to the Capitol now, not for a long time.  I don’t want to risk training you again yet, either, just in case someone were to see us.”
 
“I thought you said—”
 
“I did say that, but it doesn’t mean we should take any unnecessary risks.  Our innocence is dependent on nobody having a reason to suspect us.”
 
“All right,” Toke agreed, “we don’t go back to the Capitol, we don’t train, so… what do we do?”
 
For once, Zashiel didn’t have an immediate response for him.  She seemed to think about it for a few seconds, and then shrugged.
 
“I don’t know.  What do you normally do when you’re not working with me?”
 
“Um, well,” Toke gave his head an awkward scratch, “I’m usually working on my assignment for class, or with my friends.”
 
“Your assignment,” Zashiel echoed. “Your… battery, you called it?”
 
Toke nodded. “Professor Navras says it’s going to change Yasmik just like his inventions did.  People won’t have to plug their machines into the wall to use them anymore.  They’ll be able to take them anywhere so long as they have a battery to power them.”
 
Zashiel nodded slowly.  “So, how’s that going?”
 
Toke hesitated, and then grimaced. “I’ve gotten as far as I can, but now I need the jido crystal to power it.  My deadline’s getting closer, but Professor Navras’ll get me the crystal in time.”
 
This time, Zashiel was the one who grimaced. “I still say you’re crazy to be playing around with those things,” she said.
 
“I’m playing around,” Toke shot back. “This is serious work.  I take all the proper precautions before doing anything with them.”
 
Zashiel snorted. “Except ones that will keep them from exploding in the Permissor’s face.”
 
Toke tried to think of a rebuttal for that, but all that came out of his mouth was a weird, choking sound.  His face grew hot, and he settled for scowling at her.
 
Zashiel laughed when she saw his expression. “Okay, okay, fine.  If you want something to do tonight, then let’s go get you one of those crystals.”
 
Toke pointed at her. “Now you’re the one who’s talking crazy.  You want to fly us all the way to the Flashing River?  And even if we managed to find one, how are we going to get it back to Jerulkan?”
 
“We’ve got all night to get to the Flashing River,” Zashiel answered.  “But you’re the expert here.  You tell me how we’re going to get it back.”
 
“Well, we’d need a sealed glass box,” Toke replied.  “Or a wood one, preferably lined with rubber on the inside.  Do you have one?”
 
Zashiel spread her arms as if to say, “Does it look like I do?”
 
“Well, without an insulated box the crystal will either shock us to death or explode.”
 
Zashiel waited for him to say something else, and then shrugged.  “It’s your invention, Toke.  If you don’t think we can do it, then I won’t bother.”
 
Toke gritted his teeth.  Those words, especially coming from her, were like an insult.
 
“There are work camps there,” he said through clenched teeth.  “That’s where people extract the crystals from the river.  If we go, we’ll probably be able to find some containers there.”
 
Zashiel folded her arms. “I thought we were trying to lay low, Toke.  Now you’re telling me you want to break into a crystal harvesting camp?”
 
The thought made Toke’s skin crawl, but he gave Zashiel the most defiant look he could muster anyway. “It was your idea in the first place.  Is a camp full of sleeping humans more than a match for a great and mighty Sorakine warrior?”
 
Zashiel’s face turned red at the insult, and she spread her wings.
 
“Fine,” she said, holding out her arms for him to join her, “but if we get caught, this is on your head.”
 
Toke took out his jacket wordlessly and put it on before letting her wrap her arms around him.  Then she launched into the night sky, a blur of bright yellow and spotless white.  As they flew, Toke wondered if it had been a good idea to provoke her like that.  She’d just admitted that he was her only friend, and he’d responded by making fun of her.  She was right, in a way.  Going to the Flashing River just to get a crystal was a risk they shouldn’t be taking.  But the thoughts of finishing his battery and finally being awarded with his inventor’s license were too alluring to resist, and soon he found himself lost in daydreams.  Dranibor Navras, the most important inventor of the age, had gone out on a limb to get him this chance.  Toke couldn’t let that chance go to waste just because the crystal took too long getting there.  He would make his professor proud, no matter what…
 
Zashiel was silent for the first hour of the flight, and Toke busied himself by watching the scenery zip past below them.  Then, a strong gust of wind struck them, and Zashiel had to tighten her grip on Toke to keep him steady.  In that moment, Toke realized just how close he was to Zashiel.  Her arms were wrapped around his middle, holding them together.  Their bodies were pressed against each other, and Toke could feel Zashiel’s tight muscles even through their clothes.  It was almost like they were…
 
No, bad! he scolded himself, shaking his head to rid it of such thoughts.  His cheeks burned hot, even more noticeable in the chilly night air.
 
“What’s wrong?” Zashiel said into his ear, though his hood, almost making him jump in surprise.
 
“N- nothing,” he stammered, glad that they were facing away from each other. His heart was hammering inside his chest, and he hoped she couldn’t feel it.  They were definitely close enough to…
 
Luckily, before Toke’s flustered mind could embarrass him more, he spotted a flash of blue light underneath them.
 
“There it is!” he said, all thoughts of Zashiel immediately chased from his head.  “The Flashing River!”
 
“I know,” Zashiel responded, and angled downwards so that they were flying right over it.  From the surface, the waters looked calm and serene, but Toke knew how dangerous they were.  The river came out of the Wruthfoz mountain range, which was the only known place where the sediments that made up jido crystals came from.  After being washed out of the mountain, the sediments would settle on the bottom of the river, where over time the current would press and roll them together until they formed crystals.  That made the Flashing River a hazardous area for those who didn’t know what they were doing.  Even touching the water in the wrong place could shock somebody enough to kill them.  As Zashiel flew, a mere five feet above the surface, the water lit up in another blue flash as a crystal exploded beneath it, sending bubbles and steam to the surface.
 
“Don’t touch the water,” Toke told her, his palms growing sweaty at the thought of her accidentally dropping him.
 
“I’m not stupid,” she responded, and angled away to carry them to the bank on their right.  She arched upwards to slow down, and then fluttered her wings to gently touch down on the rocky shore.
 
“Now, where do we go?” she asked, setting him down.
 
Toke turned around in a circle, and then shook his head.  “I don’t know.  I’ve never been here before.”
 
Zashiel sighed. “Hold on,” she said, extending her wings.  She lifted off the ground, flapping lightly until she was fifty feet up.  She pirouetted gracefully in the sky, and then rejoined Toke on the ground.
 
“There’s bunch of equipment just over that hill,” she told him, pointing.  “I assume that’s one of the work camps you were telling me about?”
 
“Probably,” Toke agreed, setting out in the direction she’d pointed. “Let’s go.”
 
“Be cautious,” she said, keeping pace with him.  “We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile, remember?”
 
“I’m not stupid either,” he said, getting on his hands and knees as they drew closer to the top of the hill.  When they reached the top, Toke stopped and looked at the campsite that stretched out in front of him.
 
A series of long, narrow tents snaked their way from the riverbank to a small army of wagons.  By the water was a strange looking wooden contraption that Navras had told him about once.  It reached out over the water, and what looked like a giant shovel hung from the bottom.  The workers would operate it from the shore, making it scoop sand and stones from the riverbed.  That sediment would then be shaped and hardened in kilns kept inside the tents to make giant grindstones, which would be transported to power plants around Yasmik.  Toke tried to explain all this to Zashiel, but the Sorakine didn’t seem at all interested.
 
“We’re not here on a field trip,” she snapped, cutting him off halfway through.
 
“Oh come on,” he shot back. “How can you not find this fascinating?  This is how our whole nation gets its power!”
 
“Maybe because I’m more interested in getting out of here without being caught,” she replied, looking back down at the camp.  “I’m only here because you insisted on it.”
 
Toke glared at her. “Coming here was your—”
 
“Do you want to go home?”
 
“No, I do not.”
 
“Then quit whining and tell me where they keep the crystals.”
 
Toke thought for a minute, scanning the tents below him. “I don’t know,” he finally admitted.  “They won’t get turned into grindstones because they’re too volatile, but they must still get pulled out of the river by accident.” He turned to Zashiel. “What would you do if you were them?”
 
Zashiel took a few seconds to answer. “I would keep them in a safe place, far enough away from the workers that they wouldn’t be disturbed but still close enough to get to in an emergency.  Then I would take them somewhere nobody would be, and dispose of them.”
 
Toke gave his friend a sidelong glance. “That’s… unusually perceptive of you.”
 
Zashiel frowned. “Just because I’m a fighter doesn’t mean I don’t know how to use my brain.  Disposing of the dangerous exploding crystals is the only logical explanation.  The question is, where do they dispose of them?”
 
“Probably further downriver where they’re not digging,” Toke answered, and then shook his head. “That doesn’t matter, though.  If they’re already disposed of, we don’t have a chance of getting them back.  We’ll have to find ones that are still waiting to be taken away.”
 
“Okay,” Zashiel stood up in a crouch, “let’s go.  Move quickly and quietly.”
 
Toke reached out and put his hand on her shoulder, stopping her. “Are you sure you want to go?  Your wings will be a dead giveaway.”
 
Zashiel glanced back at her glowing yellow wings, and then slipped her jacket off.
 
“We have ways to work around that,” she whispered, turning it around and zipping up both of the holes in the back.  “How did you think I was able to follow you around without you knowing?”
 
“I never really thought about it,” Toke lied, unwilling to admit that he hadn’t been able to figure it out.  When Zashiel put the jacket back on, she tucked her wings in as tightly as she could,  With the zippers done up, the fabric was thick enough to hide the light, even though they left two distinctive bumps in the back of her jacket.  Zashiel motioned for him to follow her, and set off towards the camp again.
 
Toke’s heart began to beat faster as they drew nearer.  There was no way a simple work camp would be as heavily guarded as the Capitol, but memories of that night were still enough to make his hands shake.  He tried to tell himself that he wouldn’t be in any real danger with Zashiel there— but at what cost?  Would she be willing to kill the workers to get out alive?
 
They made it to the edge of camp without trouble, and Toke fought the urge to draw his axes.  They weren’t here to fight, and if they did get caught, the sight of him holding weapons definitely wouldn’t do them any favors.  So he forced his hands to stay at his sides, clenched into nervous fists as they made their way further inside.
 
A gentle gust of wind blew through the encampment, rustling the grass and making the tent walls flap.  That was the only sound Toke could hear.  The workers would all be asleep, of course, preparing for the next day’s work, but he still wasn’t comfortable with how silent everything was.  It was too quiet.
 
“Zashiel,” he whispered, just as the Sorakine stopped.  She hesitated a moment, and then stood up straight.  “I think something might be wrong.”
 
“There is,” she agreed, looking around the camp.  “I can smell something in the air.  Can you?”
 
Toke shook his head. “What is it?”
 
Zashiel frowned, and her hand inched towards the chakrams strapped to her back. “It’s blood.”
 
A chill ran down Toke’s spine, and he finally gave in and drew his axes.  “Blood?” he asked, coming to stand beside her. “Why is there blood?”
 
“I don’t know,” she whispered, and turned towards the nearest tent.  “Stay behind me, and move as quietly as you can.”
 
Zashiel crept towards the tent, and Toke followed as close behind her as he could without stepping on her heels.  He clutched both axes in hands that were getting sweatier by the minute, and he had to clamp his mouth shut to keep his breathing calm.  Zashiel knelt in front of the tent, and lifted the flap up.
 
“Oh, smite,” Toke whispered when he saw what was on the other side.
 
Bodies.  Dozens of them, all piled on top of each other, leaking ruby red blood onto the grass beneath them.  Now that the tent flap was out of the way, Toke could smell it­—­­ and it was so strong it made his head spin.
 
“What’s going on?” he demanded, taking a step backwards.
 
Zashiel let the flap fall, and stood up, her posture telling Toke she was ready for a fight.  “I don’t know,” she answered, “but be on your guard.  Whoever did this might still be…”
 
The sound of another tent flap being thrown back came from across the camp, and Zashiel immediately grabbed Toke’s jacket and pulled him to the ground.  The two of them crawled to hide behind the tent they had just looked inside, and not a moment too soon.  As soon as they both had their back to the stinking fabric, a bright green glow came from around the corner.
 
Oh no, Toke thought, exchanging a glance with Zashiel.  She understood what was going on, too.  Heavy footsteps tramped across the grass, and the glow grew brighter as they came nearer.  All it took was one glance around the corner to confirm Toke’s fears.
 
The spearman was there with them.
 
“Move back!” Zashiel whispered, motioning for Toke to hurry.  He scooted backwards as quickly as he could, and rounded the corner of the tent with Zashiel right behind him.  She stood up, moving cautiously so as not to make any noise, and glanced back around the corner.  Toke’s heart was hammering inside his chest.  He could still see the glow of the spearman’s armor coming from the other side of the tent.  Had he seen them, Toke wondered?  If so, he was undoubtedly getting ready to attack.  Unable to take the suspense, he crawled forward and peeked around the corner again.
 
And there he was.  He stood motionless in the pale moonlight, facing away from them.  His spear was in his hand, pointing at the sky, and even as Toke watched a small shower of blue sparks burst from the tip.  Toke clamped a hand over his mouth to keep from making moaning, and slipped backwards.
 
Zashiel glanced down at him, and then nodded in the spearman’s direction.  She raised both chakrams, and…
 
Toke’s eyes widened with horror. “What are you doing?” he hissed as quietly as he could, getting up and grabbing her shoulder.
 
“Be quiet!” she snapped back, yanking herself out of his grip. “This is our chance!  If we kill him, we stop the Gravity Storms!”
 
“Not if he kills us,” Toke argued. “Then who’s going to stop him?”
 
Zashiel hesitated, and then pointed away from the tent. “If you won’t fight with me, then go hide until I finish him off.”
 
“But you…” Toke’s words fell on deaf ears as Zashiel turned back towards the tent.  Pulling both chakrams back, she let them fly, slicing straight through the fabric of the tent.  A moment later, she held her arms out to her sides, and the bladed rings zipped back around into her hands.
 
A few tense seconds passed, and the green light didn’t fade or move.  No attack came from the spearman either, so Toke crept up beside Zashiel.
 
“Is he dead?” he asked, hardly able to believe that such a thing could be so easy.
 
As if waiting for its cue, the light exploded into blinding intensity, and the tent was instantly torn from the ground.  Ropes, pegs, tools, and bodies flew through the air in a chaotic whirlwind— and Toke and Zashiel were caught right in the middle of it.
 
“Hold onto me!” the Sorakine screamed, grabbing Toke’s arm with lightning quick reflexes just as the senseless gravity took hold of them.  As they spun and flipped, being pelted on all sides by flying debris, Toke caught a glimpse of the spearman below, the only thing still rooted to the ground.  His hand was extended towards them, like some kind of salute.  Then he dropped his arm, the green light vanished, and everything fell back to earth.
 
Toke yelped in fright, and Zashiel twisted in midair so that she was clutching Toke to her chest.  She flipped them over as they fell so that she was below him.  They only fell fifteen feet, but Toke could still feel the impact when they landed, Zashiel’s body acting as a cushion for him.
 
“Cover your head!” she yelled, rolling them both over just as the debris came raining down around them.  A tent pole crashed into Zashiel’s back, and she coughed as the wind was knocked out of her lungs.
 
She’s protecting me! Toke thought as the last body fell.
 
The spearman was still standing where he had been, but now he turned to face them, leveling his flashing spear at them and taking up a fighting stance.
 
This isn’t going to end well, Toke thought, and a pit formed in his stomach as Zashiel slowly stood up.  She drew her chakrams again.
 
“I don’t know how you’re making the Gravity Storms happen,” she said, lowering herself into a defensive posture, “but we’re going to stop you.”
 
We’re going to stop you, the words echoed in Toke’s mind.  Not I’m going to stop you, we are.
 
It’s hardly the time for that! he snapped at himself, scrambling to his feet.  The two warriors paid him no attention, but he took out his axes anyway.  What good would he be against the spearman, though?
 
Zashiel moved first, throwing one chakram at the spearman while dashing in closer to swing at him with the other.  The spearman reacted with fluid grace, batting away the first chakram and then swinging his spear around to strike Zashiel.  Zashiel blocked that attack, but wasn’t able to counter with her own before being forced to retreat from the energized tip.  The spearman followed her by putting one foot forward and thrusting out with the spear.  Zashiel didn’t have time to parry, and so jumped up into the air.  Her weakened gravity carried her up and away from her foe, but when she tried to spread her wings— they wouldn’t come out.
 
“No!” Toke heard her gasp as she fell back to the ground.  She landed on her feet and skidded backwards, her free hand desperately reaching behind her to undo the zippers that kept her wings inside the jacket.
 
“Look out!” Toke yelled, and Zashiel spun around just in time to block another attack from the spearman.  The head of his spear grazed the metal blade of her chakram, and Toke could see the flash of blue as jidoryo jumped from his weapon to Zashiel’s arm.  She cried out in pain and had to let go of her weapon.  Now she was unarmed, and the spearman knew it.  His leg shot out, kicking her in the stomach.  Zashiel bent over double, clutching her stomach, and the spearman raised his weapon over his head.
 
Toke’s breath caught in his throat.  That maniac was actually about to kill Zashiel!  His teacher.  His partner… his friend.  And the only thing he could do was stand there and watch.
 
Or is it? he wondered, looking down at the axes in his hands.  He tightened his grip on them as he pushed his fear into the void, and concentrated.
 
“I am such an idiot,” he whispered, and then charged at the spearman.  He let out a wild yell to catch his attention, and then jumped as high as he could.  He soared over his adversary’s head just as he turned around.  The spearman must have been surprised, because he turned from Zashiel and raised his weapon to fend off Toke.  As he began to fall, Toke raised both his axes over his head and threw them at the spearman.  Just as he’d predicted, the spearman spun his weapon, knocking both axes off course, but while he was distracted Toke anchored himself to him and increased his gravity as much as…
 
What the smite?
 
The anchor didn’t take.  Instead, Toke felt a weird, crawling sensation on his skin.  He released the defective anchor, shivering, and the feeling vanished.  Before he could wonder what was going on, the spearman charged at him and grabbed him by the throat.
 
He’s going to break my neck! Toke thought, panic breaking through his concentration.
 
A blur of yellow light collided with the spearman, sending both him and Toke spinning until they hit the ground at the same time.  The spearman’s gauntleted hand never left Toke’s throat, and Toke’s head began to feel light as he struggled to breathe.  Across from them, Zashiel landed, her wings stretched out behind her.  She looked… different somehow.
 
“Let him go!” she roared, and threw a chakram at the spearman.  The spearman swung his legs around, dodging the ringed weapon, and got back to his feet.  Then he hefted Toke up into the air and flung him at Zashiel.
 
As Toke flew towards his friend, and saw her eyes widen as he came closer, he finally realized what was different about her: she’d taken off her jacket to free her wings.  That left her face completely uncovered for everyone to see.
 
Oh smite… Toke thought, and then he collided with her.  Zashiel was thrown off her feet, and the two of them rolled and skidded across the grassy ground before coming to a rest in a tangled heap.
 
“Are you all right?” Zashiel demanded, wasting no time in getting back up.  The motion flipped Toke over, and he found himself looking up at her.  Without her jacket, she had only a white sleeveless shirt for protection, but of course that didn’t stop her.  She spread her wings and launched into the sky before angling down to dive-bomb the spearman.  The blades of her chakrams appeared yellow as they reflected the light of her wings, but quickly changed to green as she hurled them at the spearman.  Once again, he casually deflected both weapons, but this time he didn’t have a chance to dodge Zashiel herself.  The Sorakine struck him like an arrow shot from a crossbow, wrapping her arms around him and picking him up off the ground.  The man thrashed in her grip, but for the moment her inhuman strength kept him from breaking free.  Toke watched them from the ground, his knees feeling weak just from observing the spectacle.  It wasn’t until Zashiel arched even higher into the air that he realized what her plan was: to drop the spearman and let him fall to his death.
 
The armored man waited until she was over fifty feet above the ground, and then jabbed his spear at her.  It was an awkward attack, them being so close, but it was enough to make her let go of him.  Free of Zashiel, he thrust his arms and legs straight out in an X-shape, and his suit flashed blinding green again.  Toke had to shield his eyes for a few seconds, but when he looked again he saw that the spearman was now levitating thirty feet above the ground in a sphere of green light.  Zashiel was circling him, keeping out of range of the light, throwing her chakrams and pulling them back when the spearman’s gravity flung them off course.
 
For a moment, Toke’s scholarly side took over, and he forgot what was going on.
 
Amazing! he thought, watching them wide eyed in awe.  He’s actually manipulating gravity in a way that lets him hang in midair!
 
Toke couldn’t do that.  Even the Sorakines could only fly because of their wings.  What this spearman had accomplished was a scientific marvel that, unless Toke was very much mistaken, rivaled Professor Navras’ harnessing of jidoryo.  Then again, he noted as Zashiel and the spearman continued to duke it out in the sky, perhaps what the spearman was doing couldn’t exactly be called “flying.”  He seemed to be restricted to the area he had been in when he’d activated his armor, while Zashiel was still flying rings around him.  Even his movement seemed limited, as he was obviously being careful not to extend himself out of the sphere of light.  He was letting the abnormal gravity do most of the work in fending Zashiel off, only using his spear whenever the Sorakine got too close.  Zashiel wasn’t having any luck in getting to him either, as the miniature Storm would sling her chakrams in a random direction every time she threw them at him.  They had reached a standoff.  Zashiel seemed to realize this at the same time Toke did, and came to a stop in front of the spearman, drawing her weapons back to her hands again.
 
“The sky is the realm of the Sorakines,” she said, giving her foe the coldest look she could muster.  “I demand that you return to the ground.”
 
To Toke’s surprise, the spearman looked at Zashiel for a few seconds, impassive behind his visored helmet, and then began to float downwards.  Was it because he was honoring Zashiel’s request, Toke wondered?  Or did he just know that the fight would be more in his favor once he reached the ground again?  Somehow, Toke assumed it was the latter.
 
Once his feet touched down, the spearman twirled his spear dramatically, changing hands with it.  Zashiel flapped her wings, making them flare even brighter yellow.  It was almost like they were putting on a show for each other, both trying to intimidate the other before the fight began again.  Neither of them paid even the slightest amount of attention to Toke, and he was okay with that.  He had been trained by a Sorakine, and he’d fought a small army of Capitol guards, but his courage didn’t stretch so far as to let him fight the spearman in his gravity altering armor.  Zashiel was doing all right for herself, now that she’d become accustomed to what the spearman could do.  Maybe she could actually win this fight…
 
The spearman must have realized this, too, because he didn’t wait for Zashiel to attack.  He reached behind him with his free hand, into a pouch strapped to his waist that Toke hadn’t noticed, and pulled out a wooden box.  It was small enough to fit in his hand, but it was enough to make Toke’s heart leap into his throat.  In a place like this, there was only one thing that could be inside that box.  When the spearman stretched his arm backwards, Toke could even see the faint blue glow coming from the cracks in the box’s lid.
 
He came here for a crystal too? Toke thought.  But why?
 
Now wasn’t the time to think about that, though.  The spearman was holding what amounted to a bomb!  Zashiel was already flying towards the spearman.  Even if she saw what he was doing, she was going too fast to react in time.  Toke had seconds, if that, to do something.  Just like he had at the Capitol, he acted without thinking about it.  Dropping his axes on the ground, he charged at the spearman.  Instead of tackling him, though, Toke ran for the gap in between him and Zashiel.  He watched the spearman’s arm, timing himself so that when he flung the box at the oncoming Sorakine, Toke leaped into the air.
 
Time seemed to slow down.  Toke’s weakened gravity would carry him to the right place to intercept the box, but he had to do this perfectly.  One moment too late, and it would either hit him and explode, or fly past him and hit Zashiel.  If he grabbed it too hard, or landed too roughly, it would explode anyway.
 
Toke stretched his hands out in front of himself, focusing on the flying box and nothing else.  He felt its gravitational pull, as weak as it was, and gave it a tug.  It changed course only slightly, and came right into Toke’s outstretched hands.  He clamped his fingers around it, twisting his body into a front flip to help ease it out of its momentum, and then weakened his gravity as much as he could.  Instead of falling to the ground, he drifted downwards like a leaf come loose from a tree.  When he touched down, his weight was so light that the grass itself could almost support him.
 
And, behind him, things snapped back to normal.  Zashiel folded her wings and spiraled to the right, but she would have been too slow to avoid the oncoming missile.  The spearman turned to look at Toke, and Toke almost dropped the box when he felt the armored man’s unseen eyes fall on him.  He took a step towards Toke, and the young man did the only thing he could think of: he brought his arm back, ready to throw the box.  The spearman stopped.
 
“You- you stay where you are!” Toke snapped, trying to hide how terrified he was.  “I’ll use this!”
 
He took a deep breath, and glanced back at the box in his hands.  He had the power to end this all right now.  All he had to do was throw it at the spearman.
 
“Do it!” Zashiel yelled from the air, twenty feet above them. “Kill him!”
 
The spearman stood immobile, watching him.  All Toke had to do was throw it.  They were less than ten feet apart, it would be impossible to miss.  The box would shatter, and the crystal would explode.  He may be able to control gravity, but Toke doubted his armor could withstand a direct jidoryo explosion.  All he had to do was throw it… all he had to do was…
 
He couldn’t do it.
 
“Do it!” Zashiel screamed again, but she was too late.  Toke had delayed too long, and the spearman made his move.  There was a flash of green, and suddenly the spearman’s helmet was inches from Toke’s face.  Toke flinched and stumbled backwards, but the spearman’s hand shot out and grabbed his wrist before he fell.  He dropped his spear, letting it fall to the ground, and reached for Toke’s other hand— the one that held the crystal.
 
Do it now! Toke’s panicked mind screamed at him. He’s going to kill you, so do it now!
 
  Suddenly, the spearman’s head jerked to the side, and a crackling sound filled Toke’s ears.  The spearman released Toke, and they both fell to the ground.  When Toke looked again, he saw that a spider web of cracks now covered the right side of the spearman’s visor.  Zashiel stood five feet away, and her chakram flew back into her hand as the spearman grabbed his spear and stood back up.
 
“I thought you were willing to do whatever it took!” she yelled, her face burning red with anger.  Toke blinked, confused, until he realized she wasn’t talking to the spearman.  She was talking to him.  She took another threatening step forward.  “I thought you were a warrior!”
 
“I… I…” Toke stuttered, unsure of what was going on anymore.  He glanced back and forth between Zashiel and the spearman— who seemed just as confused as Toke did.
 
“I was wrong about you,” she growled, gripping her chakrams tighter.  “You’re still just a coward!”
 
With that, she flung both her weapons at the spearman.  He deflected them just as easily as ever, and then came at the unarmed Zashiel.  He spun around, and slammed the butt of his spear into Zashiel’s head.  The Sorakine girl took a step backwards, stunned, and then fell to the ground.  The spearman, sensing his chance to escape, bent his knees and jumped.  His armor gave another green flash, propelling him upwards, and when he landed he was over a hundred feet away.  He jumped again and again, getting farther away until he was nothing but a green speck in the distance.
 
And then even that disappeared.
 


NEXT TIME: Well, you know what they say: if something can go wrong, it will go wrong… and this went really freaking wrong.  Not only did they let the spearman go on a murder spree at the worksite, not only did Zashiel reveal her identity, not only did they let him get away again, but now Zashiel is mad at Toke again.  And they were getting along so well, too!

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