Chapter Twenty One

“This is called a dodger.”

Toke and Zashiel were back at the Massaro Quarry, standing at the bottom of the cylinder shaped hole they had made into their training area.  It was two days after their misadventure at the Flashing River, and Zashiel had decided it was safe to go back to Toke’s training.  She held up a bright green ball for him to see.

“It was made to repel itself from every source of gravity it detects,” she explained.  “That means that if I let it go, it would fly out of my hand and zigzag around this hole until it shot out the top.”

Toke noticed how hard she was gripping it, and nodded.  “I’m guessing you want me to catch it, right?”

Zashiel nodded. “Exactly.  Sorakines use this to teach their trainees to fly faster and more agilely.  By the time they’re ready to be promoted, they should be able to catch it in less than a minute.”

Toke looked from the green ball to his friend. “How long does it take you?”

Zashiel frowned. “Eight minutes,” she said.  Then her face went neutral again. “Since you can’t fly, you’ll have to run and jump on the walls to catch it.  I’ll fly around the opening to make sure it doesn’t get away.”

“Can’t I just anchor myself to it?” Toke asked.  “That would bring it right to me.”

Zashiel raised her eyebrows challengingly. “Try it.”

Toke wasn’t dim.  He knew that if Zashiel was giving him the chance to try, he wouldn’t be able to do it.  Still, he wanted to know why he couldn’t do it, so he held his hand out and reached outwards with his powers, searching for the dodger.

“That’s weird,” he muttered to himself a few seconds later.

“What is?” Zashiel asked.

“I can’t do it,” he answered, lowering his hand.  “It’s like there’s an empty hole right where your hand it.”

“I told you, the dodger rejects any source of gravity it senses.  It’s made of an energy called kaosuryo.”  She gestured towards the ball. “Because of this, the dodger doesn’t even have a gravitational anchor to lock onto.  If I were to throw it out over a cliff, it would come to a stop once it ran out of momentum and just hang there in midair until something else came near it to set it off again.”

“If it flies away from anything with a gravitational field,” Toke said, trying to process all this new information, “then how do you catch it?”

In answer, Zashiel let go of the dodger.  It immediately shot away from her, and her hand lashed out, catching it before it could get out of her range. “By being faster than it.”

Before Toke could ask another question, Zashiel held the dodger at arm’s length. “Ready?  Go!”

With that, she released the ball, and it took off.  At first, it flew in Toke’s direction, but then turned at a 90 degree angle away from him when he lunged for it.  It zipped towards the wall, and then bounced back over Toke’s head. With a grunt, he gave a Juryokine-powered jump to catch it, but it shot in the opposite direction as soon as he came near it.

“You’re gonna have to move faster than that,” Zashiel said, taking off to circle the opening like she’d said. “You’ll never catch it at that pace.”

Toke anchored himself to the wall and let himself fall there instead of back to the ground.  He watched the dodger bounce erratically around the huge cylinder, sometimes going up, sometimes going down.  There didn’t seem to be any real logic to where it bounced after coming too close to the wall, which only made it even more unpredictable.  Toke crouched down, tensing his muscles as his eyes followed the green ball, waiting for the right moment.  Which was… right… NOW!

Toke launched himself at the dodger just as it flashed past him, grabbing for it like a juggler trying to recover a lost ball.  It expertly wove in between his hands, and then ricocheted off the wall behind him.

“Smite!” Toke cursed, landing on the opposite end of the hole.  It took him a second to locate the dodger again.  Was it just him, or was it getting even faster?

“It’s only gaining momentum by bouncing around in there,” Zashiel called down, sensing his confusion.  “The longer you take to catch it, the faster it gets.”

“Well, that sounds fair,” Toke grumbled, lining himself up for another go.  It whizzed by him again, and he threw himself at it again.  It dodged him a second time, and he immediately switched his anchor to follow it.  If he could just get the dodger between him and the wall, he thought, maybe he could trap it long enough to snatch it.  When he landed, though, it dropped down and shot between his legs.  Toke spun around to look, and threw up his arms with a yelp when he saw it careening directly towards his face.  It changed directions at the last seconds again, flying off to his right.

“Don’t be afraid of it!” Zashiel advised him. “It won’t touch you.”

Toke snatched at it again, and it shot toward the floor.  It came within an inch of the ground, like it did everything else, and then bounced straight up.  Toke let himself relax for a moment, eager to see if Zashiel could catch it before it got away, as she’d claimed.  To his surprise, the Sorakine girl didn’t try to catch it.  Instead, she sped to intercept it, and did a twirl in midair.  One of her wings struck the ball, actually struck it, and sent it back into the hole again.

Now’s my chance! Toke thought, leaping for it again.  He missed, and his interference sent the dodger bouncing crazily around the hole again.

Toke wasn’t out of breath yet, but he still made himself sit down cross-legged on the wall to think.  He had to think.  He didn’t have Zashiel’s wings, her strength, or her natural agility in the air.  What he had was his brain, and that was what he would have to use to catch that bouncing green piece of drop.

Come on, he urged himself. The dodger avoids anything that has a field of gravity, which means I either have to outrun it, or trap it.  It moves too fast for me to chase it down, so…

He hummed in his throat as he watched the ball zip around the enclosure, and an idea started to form in his head.  If he could just… then the dodger would… and then maybe he could…

Toke moved immediately.  He threw himself at the dodger at an angle.  His right arm and leg came first, going underneath the ball, and just as he’d planned, the ball travelled for a moment up the incline, and then shot straight up when it reached his body.  Then, landing on the wall opposite where he’d started, Toke pulled an axe out from the loops on his jacket, and threw it as hard as he could.  He intentionally sent it far out of the dodger’s way so that it wouldn’t detect the weapon, and while it was still flying he jumped back to his starting point on the other end of the hole.  Before his feet touched the stone, he spun around in midair and gave his axe a tug.  It wasn’t enough to pull it to him, he just altered its path so that it arced above the dodger, sending it flying straight back down.

Now! Toke thought, jumping once more.  This time, he waited for the dodger to go past him, and then followed it down, anchoring himself back to the ground to sped his descent.  He extended his arms and legs so to be on all sides of the ball.  As he’d predicted, the dodger panicked, trying to escape, but Toke was coming down too fast.  He hit the ground on all fours, ignoring the impact that rattled his teeth, and fell on top of the dodger.  Trapped underneath his body, the ball struggled to get away, but Toke was able to keep it contained.  Hesitantly, he let himself up a little, reached underneath his torso, and snatched the dodger before it had the chance to escape.

“I did it,” he gasped, rolling over onto his back, suddenly breathless.  The dodger continued to try to break free, but now that it was in his grasp it was easy to hold on to.

“Not bad,” Zashiel said, descending to stand beside him.  Toke got to his feet, and as he did so he noticed the sour look on his friend’s face.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

Zashiel shook her head. “Nothing.  You did good.  Using your axe to steer it where you wanted was very clever.  I was expecting you to take a lot longer than that to work out a strategy.”

Toke couldn’t help but smile.  “How long did I take?”

Zashiel hesitated, and then answered, “Six minutes, fifteen seconds.”

And, suddenly, Toke understood her displeasure.  Zashiel had been training for… ten years, had she said?  And yet, Toke was able to beat her record for catching the dodger by almost two minutes— and on his first try, no less.

“Give it to me,” she said, holding out her hand. “Try to catch it even faster this time.”

“Hold on a second,” Toke said, bringing the ball up to look at it.  “Do you even realize how amazing something like this is?  I mean, it’s practically antigravity!”

“We’ve been making them for over a hundred years,” Zashiel replied. “The novelty wore off after the first two.  Now give it to me.”

Toke ignored her, and held the dodger a little closer to his face.  Now that he was able to get a good look at it, he noticed that the ball wasn’t just green, it was actually letting off a dim green light.  Whatever was giving it its antigravitational abilities must have been producing the glow.  It almost looked like…

“Zashiel,” he said slowly, lowering the ball and looking at her with wide eyes, “how are dodgers made?”

Zashiel shrugged. “It’s not a natural process, so somebody has to make them.  Something about charging old Sorakine feathers with jidoryo.  I’ve never made one, so I don’t know.”

Something clicked in Toke’s brain.  Something small, but extremely noteworthy.  Without thinking, he thrust the dodger into Zashiel’s face.

“I think I just figured something out,” he said, pointing at the ball excitedly.  “Dodgers are green!”

Zashiel took a step back and gave him a strange look. “Yes, dodgers are green.  Very good, Toke.  Do you know what color my wings are?”

Toke shook his head wildly. “No, don’t you see?  What else is green?”

Zashiel raised her hands. “Um, plants?  Leaves?”  She paused, and the disgruntled look fell from her face.  She lowered her hands to her sides, and looked from the dodger to Toke, and back again. “The… Gravity Storms?”

Toke nodded, a smile rising to his face. “Yes!  Look real close, this dodger is the exact same shade of green as the Storms!  It’s just not as bright.”

Zashiel stood there, looking at him, and blinked a few times before taking the dodger from him. “Are you trying to tell me the dodgers are causing the Storms?”

“No, no,” Toke waved his hands, dismissing that.  Smite, how could she be so dense?  “I’m saying, maybe the two are connected.  What if the spearman is using the same process to create Gravity Storms that the Sorakines use to make dodgers?”

He turned around and started to pace, putting his hand on his chin.  “It’s on a much bigger scale, that much is obvious.  But it all fits together too perfectly!  When you charge Sorakine feathers, you get kaosuryo.  Not only that, but you get the color green.”

“How would do that, though?” Zashiel asked.

Toke stopped pacing and looked at her in surprise.  Had this really never occurred to her?  Was he… was he actually leading the investigation right now?

“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “But I think we’re onto something here.”

Zashiel was quiet for a few seconds, thinking about this.  Finally, she nodded. “It makes more sense than anything else we’ve thought of so far,” she admitted.  “So, what do we do with this information?”

Toke pointed at her. “You have books in Hashira, right?”

Zashiel glared at him. “Of course we have books there.  What does that—”

“Good.  Go get me as many books on making dodgers as you can find.”  He paused. “And if you can find anything about large scale kaosuryo production, bring me those too.”

“And what are you going to do until I get back?”

Toke shrugged. “Go back to school and make some last minute adjustments to my battery.  My presentation is only…” He stopped, unable to suppress the shiver than ran down his spine. “Three days from today.”

Zashiel thought for a moment, and then nodded. “All right.  Let’s get you back to Jerulkan.”

After stuffing the dodger back into her pocket, Zashiel grabbed Toke and flew back to the city as fast as she could.  Excitement buzzed in Toke’s veins as he watched the world flash past.  This was it.  They were on the verge of a breakthrough, he could feel it.  He didn’t know what they would do if they managed to figure out what the spearman was doing, but uncovering his plans was definitely a step in the right direction.

Zashiel put him down in the cornfield on the edge of town.  Ever since the night at the Capitol, they had both been careful not to take off anywhere within sight of the city.  Toke, likewise, never put on his jacket where other people might see him.  After waving goodbye to his friend, Toke hid the incriminating white garment under his shirt and set off jogging back to school.  It was already late in the day, and the sun would be going down in a couple hours.  Hopefully he could get some work done in the shop before Navras went home for the evening.  Toke had finished the battery the day he’d brought the jido crystal back, but the thought of another accident sealing his fate with the Permissor was enough to make him feel sick.  There was always something to improve, and Toke was determined to bring Adal the closest thing to perfection he had ever seen.

It’s going to be a little weird walking into his office after what happened last time, he thought as he climbed the steps to the school’s front door.  It’s not like he’ll recognize me, though.  I just have to pretend like everything’s okay.

Virkhul tried to make a snide remark when Toke arrived, but the young man walked right past him and into Navras’ classroom.

“Here to work some more on your battery, my boy?” the professor asked, looking up from something sitting on his desk.

“Yes, sir,” he answered, heading for his locker.  “I just want everything to be perfect for…” he gulped. “You know.”

“I do know,” Navras agreed, nodding sagely.  “Take all the time you need.  We can work on your speech while you’re here, too.”

“Thank you, sir.”  Toke retrieved his tools and battery, and sat down at his favorite table.

“Now, what is the first thing you will say to Permissor Adal upon walking into his office?” Navras asked, going back to work on whatever was on his desk.

“Permissor Adal, I cannot thank you enough for giving me this second chance,” Toke recited, tinkering with the battery.  A tweak here, an extra layer of metal there, and it would definitely be strong enough not to explode. “I apologize for the damage my battery did last time, but I promise that nothing of the sort will happen today.  You will not regret this, so now let me explain to you again what I am here to show you…”

Toke went through the entire speech, with Navras interjecting as needed to ask questions of correct him.  Toke did what he could to his battery, but before long he realized there was simply nothing left for him to improve upon.  He sat back, looking at it for a few seconds.  If Permissor Adal didn’t approve of it now, there was no hope for it.

“Are you all right?” Navras asked, looking up from his work again. “You’re not finished yet.”

“Sorry, sir,” Toke said, glancing up from the battery. “I just… I think I’ve done all I can.”

Navras continued to look at him expectantly, and Toke shrugged. “It just feels a litter weird, I guess.  I’ve been working on it for four years, and now I’m finally done.”

Navras nodded.  “There are two kinds of inventors, Toke.  Those who work their whole lives on one project, always trying to make it even better than it was before, and those who will finish a project and move onto something else, never looking back.”

“Which one is better, sir?”

Navras raised his eyebrows. “Better?  Neither of them are better than the other.  It all depends on the inventor himself.  If a man were to spend all his life on one invention, always changing it, never satisfied, then he has wasted his life.  But if one were to refuse to devote enough time to each project, leaving them unfinished or poorly made, then he has wasted his time as well.  An inventor must know when a project is worth his time, and when it is best left behind.”

Toke nodded. “I understand, sir.  Thank you.”

Navras looked down at his desk again, and went back to work on whatever was in front of him.  A pile of papers prevented Toke from seeing what it was, though.

“Professor,” he spoke up again, “what are you working on?”

Navras put down his tools and smirked at his student. “Not a groundbreaking new invention, I’m afraid.  It’s just a model that I’ve been meaning to finish.”

“A model of what?”

Navras hesitated a moment, and then held up a small metal shape for him to see.  Toke got out of his seat and came closer to look.  Whatever it was, it was shaped like an arrowhead, but it had several other mechanisms attached to it.

“What is it, sir?” Toke asked.

Navras sighed. “This, my boy, is an idea that I had to leave behind.  Long ago, I dreamed of helping mankind leave the ground.  This machine was to be my way of realizing that dream.”

“You mean,” Toke pointed at the model, “that thing could fly?”

“Thing?” Navras repeated, frowning. “This thing was what I spent several years of my life trying to build.  I called it the Terracaelum, and…” he paused, looking at it fondly, “And yes, in theory it would have bridged the gap between us and the sky.”

“But, the sky is the Sorakine’s realm,” Toke said.

Navras gave Toke a sharp look. “And where did you hear that?”

Oops…

“N- nowhere, sir.” Toke stumbled over his own words, trying to cover his slip up. “But, well, they have wings, and we don’t.  Their city is in the sky, and ours are on the ground.  It just seems like they’ve claimed the skies for themselves or something.”

“I’m sure they like to think that,” the professor said, “but it is just a delusion.  The sky is not a place, it’s merely the empty space above Fissura.  There is nothing up there to claim because there is nothing there at all.”

Navras set the Terracaelum model back onto his desk and laced his fingers together in front of himself. “Not that it matters anyway, I suppose.  Like I said, I eventually had to stop working on the Terracaelum and leave it in the past.”

“Why, sir?”

He spread his hands out in front of him, still looking at the model. “All methods I had of getting it off the ground were simply unfeasible.  The amount of power you would need was incredible!  No matter how much I thought about it, I could not come up with a way to get that much jidoryo power into it.”

Toke looked at the model.  Judging by the size of the little cockpit, the real thing would have been gigantic.  Navras was right, he realized.  Making such a large, heavy thing fly was impossible.

“Sorry, sir,” he said quietly. “I didn’t—”

Before he could finish his sentence, the door to the workshop burst open.  Toke spun around to look, instinctively reaching for his axes, and Navras was on his feet in an instant.  Boam was standing in the doorway, and when he saw Toke he came running into the classroom, despite Virkhul’s loud objections.

“Toke!” he said, grabbing his friend by the shoulders. “You need to come with me right now.”

The wild look in Boam’s eyes was one Toke had never seen before, even when his friend was hyped up on caffeine.  He gently took Boam’s hands off of him and pushed him back a little.

“What is it?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”

Boam was near hysterical, though, and all he could do was point out the door and stutter, “Got her, they got her, they got her!”

“Calm down!” Navras’ strong, authoritative voice rang out.  Boam immediately fell silent, and the professor motioned for him to speak. “Tell us what happened, and speak slowly.

Boam took a couple of deep breaths, and looked at Toke again. “It’s Wayli.  The Nails mugged her out on the streets. She’s being put in the hospital!”



NEXT TIME: The Nails got Wayli!  What does this mean for her?  What does this mean for Toke?  How is he going to react to this?

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