Chapter Twenty

Toke lay on the cool evening grass for a few minutes, letting his frantic heartbeat slow down.  His eyes were glued to the spot in the sky where the spearman had vanished.  Had he and Zashiel really just gone toe to toe with him, and come away alive?  It had only happened minutes ago, and yet he already found it hard to believe.
 
“Zashiel,” he said at last, sitting up and seeing the Sorakine girl still lying on her back. “Are you okay?”
 
She didn’t answer, and Toke got to his feet, a pit forming in his stomach.  How hard had the spearman hit her?  She’d only looked dazed when she fell down, but what if he’d actually hurt her?  It seemed unlikely that a bump on the head could take out a Sorakine, but… well, it had seemed impossible that a human could manipulate gravity to fly without wings, too.
 
“Hey, talk to me,” he said, kneeling down over her.  Her eyes were closed. “Wake up!”
 
Toke hesitantly shook her shoulder.  As soon as he touched her, her eyes shot open and her fist lashed out, striking him on the cheek.  Toke fell over backwards, his head reeling and his cheek numb.
 
“Zashiel, it’s me!” he cried out, holding up his hands in placation as she got to her feet. “It’s me!”
 
“I know it’s you!” she yelled, her hands balled into fists. “What is- You just- HOW COULD YOU?
 
Toke looked up at her in shock. “How could I what?”
 
Zashiel pointed in the direction the spearman had gone. “You let him get away!  We could have stopped him.  We could have ended this whole thing tonight.  But you just stood there and let him go!”
 
Zashiel was clenching her fists so hard that her hands started to shake, and she closed her eyes.  It was difficult to see in the moonlight, but Toke swore he saw a tear trickle down her cheek.
 
“I’m sorry,” he said.  Zashiel’s emotions weren’t the only ones acting up— Toke wasn’t sure if he should feel guilty, defiant, relieved, or light headed as the panic slowly went away.
 
“How many more people are going to die now, Toke?” she demanded, advancing on him. “How many more Storms are there going to be?”
 
“I said I was sorry!” Toke shot back, getting to his feet.  His irritation was quickly overpowering his other feelings.  “Can’t you just be happy that we survived?”
 
“I don’t care that we survived,” she yelled, all semblance of control gone.  “I want that dropper dead!”
 
Toke shook his head and took a step away.  This wasn’t like Zashiel.  Even when she got angry, she never went ballistic like this.  Hearing her rage against the spearman instilled a fear in him that even the spearman himself didn’t create.
 
But Zashiel wasn’t done yet.  “He deserves to suffer for what he’s done!” she ranted. “I need to hurt him because… because…”
 
Her emotions finally overwhelmed her, and she couldn’t finish her sentence.  Her voice wilted into a pitiful whine, and she fell to her knees.  Her face contorted as she tried to hold in her sobs, but she couldn’t stop the tears from spilling out of her eyes.
 
“He- he killed him!” she whimpered, not even talking to Toke anymore.
 
If hearing Zashiel lose her temper had stunned Toke, seeing her cry terrified him.  The strong, independent warrior who had convinced him to commit treason against his own government was now sitting in the grass, bawling like a child.  It was like seeing a rock break down and cry.
 
“Killed who?” Toke asked cautiously, not sure if he should come closer to comfort her or take another step back.
 
“Sir Miron,” she managed to choke out.
 
Toke watched her for a few seconds, and then sat down across from her with a sigh.  When she didn’t try to hit him again, he lowered his hood and leaned in closer to her.
 
“Tell me what happened,” he said softly.  “Who was Miron?”
 
Zashiel looked up, as if surprised hear him ask that.  Then she seemed to realize what she was doing, and cleared her throat and composed herself.
 
“Sir Miron was my mentor,” she answered.  She was trying to put her apathetic mask back on, but her voice still cracked when she spoke.  “He trained me for ten years.  Everything I know, I learned from him.”
 
No matter how hard she tried to pretend she didn’t care, there was no way to hide the blush that colored her cheeks when she talked about him.  Toke frowned.  There was already something she wasn’t telling him.
 
“We were out training one night,” she went on, “and we got caught in a Gravity Storm.  As far as anyone knows, it was the first one to ever strike.  Miron protected me, but…” she paused, her emotions threatening to take control again, but she forced her face into a stony expression. “But he died.”
 
Toke let the silence hang in the air for a few seconds before asking, “Was it the spearman?”
 
Zashiel shook her head. “No.  He was there, but Sir Miron was already dead.  Miron died because I fell on him.”  She looked up at Toke, and the look in her eyes was enough to make him feel sick. “Just like you fell on me tonight.”
 
Toke swallowed.  That tone… was she accusing him of something?  “You mean when we got thrown into the air?  That’s what killed him?”
 
Zashiel looked down at her lap and gave a weak shrug. “We were a lot higher up.  But yeah, the landing broke his neck.”
 
Toke bit his lip, trying to think of what to say.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered at last.
 
Another tear fought free of Zashiel’s eye, and she quickly wiped it away. “I don’t care how sorry you are,” she grumbled. “He has to pay, and you just let him escape.”
 
Toke winced, and looked away.
 
“No,” Zashiel said, shaking her head. “No, Toke, I’m sorry.”  She looked up at him again, and put her hand on his shoulder. “I shouldn’t be taking my anger out on you.  It’s not your fault.”
 
“I didn’t mean to let him go,” Toke said back. “I just froze, you know?  I couldn’t make myself…”
 
“Kill him?” Zashiel finished for him. “I know.  It takes a long time to teach someone how to kill another person.  We’ll…” she sighed. “We’ll get him next time.”
 
Toke looked into her eyes, and could still see the pain she was feeling.  She hadn’t recovered, far from it.  She was just putting on a brave face for his sake— and that made him feel even worse.  Like a child.
 
“He saw your face,” he said suddenly, his pulse spiking. “We’re supposed to be keeping a low profile, but now he knows you’re the one working with the Juryokine.  What if he tells someone?”
 
Zashiel frowned. “That was a risk I had to take.  I wasn’t expecting him to escape again this time.”
 
Toke mentally kicked himself. “Right.  Sorry.”
 
“I said don’t worry about it,” she snapped.  “But if it comes to it, it could still work to our advantage.  If he tells anyone about us, he’ll reveal himself.  Then we’ll know exactly who to go after.”
 
The look on Zashiel’s face was so cold that Toke was surprised he wasn’t breathing fog.
 
“Unless he comes for us first,” he added.
 
Zashiel held up a finger. “Comes for me,” she corrected him. “You had your hood up the whole time, so he still doesn’t know who you are.  If I’m found out, then yes, that will cast suspicion on you again.  But if you play it safe and don’t do anything stupid, they should move on before too long.”
 
Toke growled softly in his throat.  Whether it was because of his friendship with Zashiel, or his shame for having let the bad guy get away, he didn’t know, but the idea of letting Zashiel take the fall by herself made him angry.
 
“No,” he said, reaching back with one hand and feeling his axes. “If anything happens, we handle it together.  We’re a team, remember?”
 
Zashiel looked at him in surprise, and then smirked. “A warrior, indeed,” she said.  “There might be hope for you yet.”
 
Toke shrugged and looked around.  After the miniature Storm the spearman had created, half the work camp lay in tatters.  More importantly, dead bodies were strewn all around the area.
 
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “But I do know that we need to get out of here before someone shows up and sees us.  If they don’t think I’m a terrorist already, they definitely will if they catch me in a place like this.”
 
Zashiel nodded. “Good idea.”  She went to retrieve her jacket, which was lying on the ground a few feet away.  While she put it on, she pointed at the box by Toke’s feet. “Take that with us.”
 
“The crystal?” Toke asked, picking it up.  He could faintly hear the jido-infused rock humming from inside.
 
“It’s what we came here for in the first place, isn’t it?” Zashiel finished zipping up the jacket and came to pick Toke up. “If it’s what the spearman was after too, then I say that’s even more reason to keep it.”
 
Toke gripped the box in both hands as Zashiel wrapped her arms around him. “Good idea.  Try to fly smoothly, though, okay?”
 
Three hours later, they landed in the outskirts of Jerulkan.  Zashiel set Toke back on his feet in the middle of the cornfield she had decimated twice.
 
“So, what happens if the spearman decides to come for us?” Toke asked nervously, still clutching the wooden box as tightly as he dared.
 
“We’ll worry about that when it happens,” Zashiel answered.  “Until then, just go about your normal life.”
 
Toke nodded and was quiet for a few seconds. Then, quietly, he asked, “Do you think he will?”
 
Zashiel frowned. “He could, but I don’t think so.  Everything he’s doing depends on secrecy.  By revealing us, he would be revealing himself to Yasmik as well.  We might not even have to hunt him down ourselves if that were the case.  So, no, I think it’s safe to assume that he’ll keep his mouth closed.”
 
This offered Toke some comfort, and he managed to smile at his friend. “I never thanked you for saving me back there.”
 
A smirk rose to Zashiel’s mouth as well. “We’re friends, Toke.  We don’t have to thank each other for that kind of thing.”  She pointed in the direction of the city. “The sun is coming up in an hour, so you need to get going.  What are you going to do with that thing?”
 
Toke looked down at the box in his hand, and for the first time realized that he had no plan now that he was back home.
 
“I guess I’ll sneak it into Professor Navras’ workshop before he gets there,” he said. “He told me he had ordered one, so he’ll probably just think that’s what it is.”
 
“All right,” Zashiel consented, and took a step back.  “You’ve only got an hour, so you’ll have to do it fast.  Be careful.”
 
“I will.  You too!”
 
With that, Zashiel launched herself into the air again, and zipped away in the direction of Hashira.  With her gone, Toke stripped off his jacket, hid it under his shirt, and took off towards Jerulkan at a brisk jog.
 
The sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon when Toke walked through the front doors of the school.  The hallways were empty except for the cook heading for the kitchen to make breakfast, but Toke still kept a wary eye out as he headed down the hallway that led to Navras’ classroom.  He kept his hand clamped over the box, trying to keep it shut tight enough that the light didn’t shine through the lid.  He stopped outside the door, took a deep breath, and pressed his ear against it.  He didn’t hear anything on the other side, and so tested the doorknob.  He breathed a sigh of relief when it turned in his hand.
 
“Set it on his desk and get out,” he whispered to himself as he darted inside the room.  The irony that, even after fighting a superpowered maniac, sneaking into his teacher’s classroom before hours was the most stressful thing he’d done all night wasn’t lost on him.  He placed the box on Navras’ desk, turned to leave,   and—
 
The doorknob rattled again.
 
“Smite!” Toke hissed between his teeth.  The door started to open, and he did the only thing that came naturally to him: he anchored himself to the ceiling.
 
Cassitoka Gnasher, he thought, lying on his back and looking down on the classroom from above, you’re an idiot.
 
But it was too late to do anything now.  The door opened the rest of the way, and the person outside stepped in.  To Toke’s surprise, it wasn’t Professor Navras.
 
It was Virkhul.
 
The white haired secretary crossed the classroom in slow, shuffling steps, blinking lethargically like he had just woken up.  In his hand, he held a stack of papers.
 
“Oh, my poor head,” he groaned, stopping for a moment to rub his forehead with his empty head. “Smiting broad packs a punch.”
 
Toke held his breath, ready to bolt if it even seemed like Virkhul might look up.  Luckily, he seemed too preoccupied with his headache to look anywhere but right in front of him.  He made his way to the desk, and paused when he saw the box already sitting on it.  With a grunt of annoyance, Virkhul swatted it with the papers, and Toke had to choke back a shout when it fell over on its side.  He breathed a sigh of relief when it remained dormant, and Virkhul slapped his papers down onto the table and left.  As soon as the door closed behind him, Toke fell back to the floor.
 
Can’t go out that way now, he thought.  His time attending Navras’ classes told him that Virkhul would sit down at his own desk outside the door, making it impossible for Toke to leave through it undetected.  That only left the window.
 
After a quick glance to make sure nobody was around, Toke quickly unlatched the window and hopped outside.  Just as he was reaching inside to close the window again, though, he heard the door unlatch a second time.
 
Smite it, Virkhul! he thought, ducking down behind the window. Stay where you belong!
 
But it wasn’t Virkhul’s voice that came out the window.
 
“Did you get the forms filled out last night?” Professor Navras asked.
 
“Yes, Perfessor,” the secretary answered, his words slurring.
 
“Good.  Today, I need you to…”  His voice trailed off.  “What’s this box?”
 
“I ‘unno.  Was there when I put the papers on your desk.”
 
Toke’s skin prickled, and he unconsciously pressed himself up harder against the wall.
 
“Good grief, it’s a jido crystal!  Who put this here?”
 
Toke didn’t wait for Navras to discover the open window.  Moving as quietly as he could, he took off running and didn’t stop until he had gone around the whole building.  He took a minute to catch his breath, and then walked in through the front doors again.  After quick trip to his room to change clothes and stash the jacket in the vent again, Toke swallowed his nerves and went back to the classroom.
 
“Don’t you even say a word to me,” Virkhul snapped as he walked up to the door. “I have a headache and I don’t need your sass today.”
 
Toke lowered his eyebrows and glared at him. “You’re the one who always—”
 
“Shut up!  Oh, oh, my head!” the secretary put his head in his hands and moaned.
 
Must have been out drinking last night, Toke thought, shutting the classroom door behind him.  It made him happy to see Virkhul in such discomfort.
 
“Ah, Toke, you’re here,” Professor Navras said, standing up at his desk.
 
“Good morning, Professor,” Toke replied, nodding respectfully and doing his best not to look at the box on his teacher’s desk.
 
“Go ahead and get your tools out,” Navras said, motioning towards his, locker.  “I’m giving you the private workroom today.”
 
Toke raised his eyebrows and tried to act surprised. “Did my crystal get here?”
 
Navras nodded. “It did.  It was on my desk this morning when I arrived.” He gave the box a quizzical look, and then handed it to Toke.  “Apparently, they delivered it at night, after I was gone.  I will have to write a letter to the delivery service about that.  Such a dangerous material should never be left lying around in the open like that.”
 
Idiot! Toke thought, mentally kicking himself.  He hid it, though.  At least Navras didn’t suspect him for it.  Why would he?
 
“Well, you’ve got work to do and not much time to do it,” the professor said as the other students began to make their way in. “You’d better get started.”
 
 
 
NEXT TIME: Looks like Toke and Zashiel are safe… for now.  That’s good, because Toke needs every minute he can get to finish his battery.  What are they going to do during his time off, though?  With the Capitol on high alert, there won’t be any spying for a while.  Maybe it’s time to get back to training…

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