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Chapter Twenty Three

“Quiet,” Zashiel whispered as they crept toward the warehouse.  She had zipped her wings inside her jacket again, opting to take to the ground with Toke.  They had circled around to the far side of the building, and now had their backs pressed against the wall.
“Let’s go in through the second floor,” Toke suggested, pointing to a boarded up window twenty feet above them.  Zashiel nodded her agreement, and they both stepped up onto the wall.  It was strange, seeing Zashiel alter her anchors the way he did, but Toke reminded himself that they both technically had the same powers.  Zashiel, having wings, usually didn’t have to resort to walking on walls.  They stopped just outside the specified window, and Zashiel put her hand on his shoulder.
“Wait,” she said. “Take this.”
Reaching inside her jacket, she produced a long, white cord and held it out to him.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“It’s made of the same material as our jackets,” she answered. “Tie someone up with that, and they won’t be going anywhere.”
Toke nodded his understanding.  If he wasn’t going to kill the Nails, he’d need a way to restrain them. “Thanks,” he said, and turned back to the window.  Boards had been nailed across it, just like all the others.  Toke drew one of his axes.
“Only take a couple,” Zashiel warned him, “or they’ll notice what we’re doing.  And do it quietly!”
Toke held his axe against one of the boards so that the long, crescent hook of the blade worked its way into the other side.  It would work like a crowbar, he reasoned.  Just give it a push, and it would pop the rusty old nails right… out of … the wood.  He grunted, and gave the axe another push, but though the nails groaned they remained stuck fast in the wall.
“Get out of the way,” Zashiel said, pushing him back.  He withdrew his axe, and watched as she grabbed the board he’d been working on with both hands.  With a grunt, she tore the entire thing free from the window, nails and all, and then dropped it.
“I weakened it for you,” Toke grumbled.
“You did, huh?” she retorted, and then ripped a second board free.  “That one too, right?”
“Let’s just go,” he said, sheathing his axe and getting onto his belly to crawl through the hole.
There wasn’t an actual floor on the other wide of the window.  Instead, Toke found himself on a rusty catwalk that groaned when he put his weight on it.  He recoiled for a second, waiting to see if any of the Nails had heard him, and then weakened his gravity so that he barely shook the metal walkway when he stepped onto it.  Zashiel came in behind him, and he motioned for her to follow him further down the catwalk.  He could hear voices coming from below, and paused to look over the edge.
“I swear, I ain’t lying!” a very agitated man was yelling.  “It was that guy who attacked the Capitol!”
“That must be the one we followed here,” Zashiel whispered.  Toke nodded in agreement.
“Sure it was,” said another Nail.  He and five others were gathered around the one who had been talking, and Toke could read the unspoken threats in their posture.  “You know the rules, man.  Bring the goods, or don’t come back.”
“But I—”
“Shut it, dropper!” All six men closed in on him. “You think this gang funds itself?  We gotta have that money, or we’re broke!”
The Nail tried to back away, but was shoved back into the center of the ring by one of the thugs behind him.  There were more people in the warehouse besides them, at least two dozen by Toke’s estimation, and by now they were all coming forward to see what was happening.
“You broke the rules,” the one making the threats said.  He was wearing a ratty old jacket with a hood, and Toke couldn’t make out his face.  He pointed at the frantic Nail, and two of the burlier thugs grabbed him, holding his hands behind his back. “You broke your promise.  You know what that means.”
“No!” the Nail screamed, thrashing around.  The two holding onto him were too strong, though, and, at their leader’s order, they began to drag him to the front of the warehouse.
“Everybody come here!” the one in the hood yelled, stepping up onto a makeshift stage made from a bunch of old wooden crates.  The thugs dragged the screaming, crying man up there with him.  Judging by the way the other Nails hurried to obey, Toke guessed that if he wasn’t the leader, he must have at least been high ranked.
“I got plans for this city!” he said, speaking loudly enough to be heard by everyone, but not quite yelling.  “I got connections!  What do we write on the walls?”
“We own this city,” the others chorused together.
“And we do!  They just don’t know it yet.”  He started to pace the stage, the rotten boards creaking under his feet.  “My old man’s got power.  When we make our move, that power’s gonna be ours.  We’re gonna control this city just like we’re supposed to.”
“But,” he spun around and pointed at the unfortunate man being held behind him, “if you want in on this, you gotta follow my laws.  We don’t get money for what we do like the other droppers in this city, so we have to get our own.  We’re all family here, and family takes care of each other.  This dropper,” he jabbed his finger at him again, “broke that law.  He made up some pigdrop story about the Juryokine, and expects us to let him off easy.  Are we gonna do that?”
“No!” the others yelled in response.
“No, we ain’t!” the leader agreed, and pulled a knife out of his belt.  The Nail squirmed with renewed vigor, but his captors didn’t let him go.  “We gonna teach him what happens when you betray your family.  We gonna teach him…”
“Now might be a good time to intervene,” Zashiel suggested.
“Right,” Toke agreed, and they both stood up.  Toke took a deep breath, and at the top of his lungs yelled, “He’s telling the truth!”
Everything froze.  The leader stopped with his knife a half inch away from the Nail’s throat, and turned around.  As if they were waiting for his cue, the others all turned to look as well.
“You guys hurt somebody I care about tonight,” Toke yelled, drawing his weapons and putting one foot on the railing.  From his position, he and the gang leader were at opposite ends of the building.  “Now we’re here to take you down.”
With that, he thrust upwards from the guardrail and went soaring across the length of the warehouse.  As he flew, he anchored himself to the gang leader, and increased his gravitational pull.  The hooded Nail was pulled from the stage with a yelp, and Toke angled his body so that his feet connected with the man’s stomach.  The Nail grunted in pain as the wind was knocked from his lungs, and Toke released the anchor, letting him fall back to the floor in a heap.  Toke landed spryly on the stage, weakening his gravity again so that the crates didn’t break from the impact.  On the other side of the building, Zashiel landed behind the assembled Nails and flared her wings out behind her.  For a few seconds, everything was still.  The Nails weren’t sure which option was worse: an armed Sorakine warrior, or the lunatic who had staged a direct attack on the Capitol.  Well, Toke decided, tightening his grip on his axes, if they weren’t going to come him, he would come to them…
With a shout, he threw himself at the closest gang member.  The Nail only had time to flinch before the flat edge of Toke’s axe struck him on the head, and he fell down.  The second one had more time to react, but Toke still landed a kick to his gut before knocking him out as well.  On the other side of the crowd, Toke could hear the commotion as Zashiel took on the second half of the gang.
These guys aren’t trained to fight at all, he thought as he stomped on someone’s foot and then rapped him on the head. They’re even easier to beat than the Capitol guards!
One thug managed to get behind him and land a punch on Toke’s back.  While the blow staggered him a little, the Sorakine jacket absorbed most of the impact.  In retaliation, Toke jumped up, anchored himself to the wall behind him, and used his momentum to spin around and land a kick on his attacker’s jaw.  The Nail was thrown to the side, knocking over one of his brothers in the process, and didn’t get back up.  Toke anchored himself to the ground again, holding out his axes to strike two different Nails on the way down.  He made sure to never hit them with the sharp part of the blades.  Tonight, his axes may as well have been clubs.
To his right, a couple of goons had found a net and were working together to bring it close enough to throw it on him.  Toke couldn’t help but smirk as they came nearer, confident in their strategy like only a thick minded thug could be.  He let them get close, pretending not to notice them, and the moment they threw the net he anchored himself to the ceiling.  The thick ropes crashed down on top of him, but his reversed gravity quickly turned the tables on the Nails as he flipped over, sending the net falling right back onto the ones who had thrown it.  Now safely out of reach of his attackers, Toke took a minute to collect himself.  Zashiel was having no trouble, naturally, and there weren’t all that many gang members in the first place.  In just a few minutes, they would be finished here.
Toke wasn’t sure what pulled his eye away from the violence and to the front of the warehouse, but he was just in time.  The gang’s leader, who had laid motionless on his stage of rotten crates after Toke’s initial attack, was stirring.  The rest of the Nails were preoccupied either with fighting Zashiel or watching Toke, and nobody noticed him get up and make for the door.
“Their leader’s getting away!” Toke yelled, dropping back to the ground and landing on top of a thug.
From across the building, Zashiel replied, “Go get him!  I can handle these ones alone.”
Toke didn’t argue; he knew Zashiel was strong enough to take on the remaining Nails by herself.  Instead, he began leaping over the heads of those that were coming at him, heading for the door.  He didn’t bother hitting any of them, that would only slow him down.  He reached the door and opened it with a kick before running out into the muggy summer night.
A roar came from his left, and Toke jumped just in time to avoid the autocarriage that came speeding towards him.  Through the dark windows, he could just make out the hooded man behind the wheel.
“Smite!” Toke exclaimed, and took off running after him.  He weakened his gravity as much as possible, letting him run faster than a normal human could, but even that wasn’t enough to catch up to a speeding autocarriage.  The leader of the Nails gained distance on him by the second, glancing out the window every few seconds to make sure Toke wasn’t catching up.
“Smite, smite smite,” Toke yelled.  The man was almost thirty feet ahead of him now, and he wasn’t slowing down.  Toke had come too far tonight to just let him get away.  There had to be something he could do…
An idea came into his head, and he immediately acted on it.  He jumped, his gravity taking him more than ten feet into the air, and reached out with his powers.  He briefly felt the autocarriage, but then lost it when his feet touched down again.  He jumped a second time, and this time he managed to latch onto the machine’s gravitational field.  His descent changed course, and suddenly he was falling towards the autocarriage.  He kept his weight normal, not wanting to crash into it but not wanting to drift away from it either.  The result was that Toke was continually falling towards a retreating anchor, which meant…
I’m flying! he thought in astonishment.  He wasn’t actually flying, of course, but anyone watching him wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference.  It was like he was a kite, being towed behind the autocarriage by an invisible string.  Was this what Zashiel had meant when…
This wasn’t the time to think about it, he realized when the Nails’ leader looked back again and saw him, and nearly drove into the side of a building in his shock.  He floored the pedal, making the engine roar even louder.  Toke needed to end this before they got into the more populated parts of town, where it would be harder to disappear after everything was finished.  He increased his weight and steadily began to close in on his target.
The hooded man saw him at the last second, and jerked the steering wheel to the side.  The autocarriage turned, skidding on the concrete and almost spinning out of control, and took off down another road.
“Smite!” Toke yelled when he realized what the driver had done.  Even though he was anchored to the autocarriage, his momentum didn’t allow him to turn as quickly as it did.  He kept careening in the direction he had been going, and his connection with the machine broke when he got too far away.  A building loomed directly in his path, and Toke instinctively knew that he wouldn’t survive the impact with it even if he weakened its pull on him.  Thinking fast, he lashed out and anchored himself to the closest building behind him, increasing his weight as much as he could.  His wild flight slowed, and he came to a halt for a fraction of a second, his nose an inch away from the building he had been about to crash into.  Then he fell back towards the building he was anchored too.  He was able to slow his momentum down just in time to touch down.
“That was too close,” he said to himself, resolving not to be so reckless in the future.  After a moment of searching, he spotted the autocarriage again and took off after it.  He ran across the walls of the buildings this time, rather than on the road, hopping the gaps between them with ease.  Fortunately, the road the hooded man had taken was narrower and had more turns, which meant he wasn’t able to drive at the same breakneck speed he’d been going before.  Because of this, Toke was able to catch up to him again in less than a minute.
“No more fooling around,” he muttered to himself when he was ten feet behind his quarry.  “Time to end this.”
He jumped from the building and anchored himself  to the autocarriage again.  This time, he flew forward and landed directly on top of the vehicle’s roof.  The driver swerved, trying to throw him off, but Toke anchored himself down harder.  Then, drawing on of his axes, he began to chop at the thin metal roof.
“Got you!” he yelled when a slice as long as his arm had been cut.  He jumped into the air, and immediately anchored himself downwards.  Not to the autocarriage this time, though.  To the leader of the Nails.
The roof of the car ballooned upwards when the thug’s body collided with it, and then the crack widened and he slid through it.  The autocarriage went careening down the street until it hit the curb and flipped over, crashing into the side of an abandoned building.  The Nail, however, flew directly up towards Toke.  They met halfway, and Toke made sure to plant his foot directly in the thug’s face before grabbing him by his jacket and anchoring himself to the closest building.  As they fell, he flipped them over so that the Nail would be pinned in between him and the wall.  He didn’t make them land as hard as he could have, but they still struck hard enough to knock the wind out of the hooded man.
“Let me go!” he yelled, kicking and punching at his attacker.
“Trust me,” Toke said calmly said back as he hooked his elbows under the Nail’s armpits and somersaulted off of him.  “You don’t want me to do that.”
The man fell still as he realized his predicament.  While Toke was anchored to the wall, it was like the ground to him.  But the leader of the Nail’s wasn’t so fortunate.  The only thing keeping him from plummeting fifty feet to the cracked asphalt below was the one holding onto him.
“What… what do you want?” he asked, finally.
“I want you and your goons off the streets,” Toke answered.  “Behind bars, where you’ll never hurt anyone again.”
“I got plans for this city,” the hooded man protested, holding as still as possible.  “I’ll let you in on ‘em.  We can own this city, man!”
“I’m not even tempted,” the Juryokine said truthfully.  He was in enough hot water just by being what he was.  He didn’t need the added attention of trying to take over Jerulkan, too.
“We can work something out, man!  You don’t have to— whoa!”  He screamed as Toke hefted him up and threw him through an open window, into the empty building he was standing on.
“If you don’t want to get hurt,” he said, following him inside, shifting his gravity accordingly, “then don’t try anything.”  He pulled out the white cord Zashiel had given him.
“Smite you,” the Nail spat, staggering to his feet. “I worked too hard just—”
“Wrong answer,” Toke interrupted, and threw himself at the hooded man in a flying kick that knocked him into the wall behind him.  He stayed there, with one foot on the ground and the other pressing the thug against the wall.  “Give up yet?”
The Nail groaned, and struggled to break free.  Toke increased his weight, pressing his foot down even harder on his chest, leaving the man coughing and gasping for breath.
“Okay, okay,” he said at last, “I give up!”
“Glad to hear it,” Toke said, and took his foot off his chest.  The Nail fell to the ground, gasping for breath, and Toke began to unwind the cord.
“My dad’s got power,” he said, choking on air.  “He won’t let you get away with this.”
“I just took out the most dangerous gang in Jerulkan,” Toke said back. “I bet he’ll thank me.”
“You think so, dropper?” the man said, and sat up onto his knees.  Toke tensed up, ready to fight him again, but all he did was reach up and pull his hood off.  For a few seconds, Toke wasn’t sure how he was supposed to react.  Then, suddenly, he realized what he was looking at.  His round face, brown eyes, and wispy blonde hair.  It was like Toke was looking at a younger version of Permissor Adal.
“Lampa Adal,” he said in astonishment.  Now everything made sense.  That explained why none of Adal’s investigators all over Yasmik had been able to find him.  It explained why he kept claiming the city belonged to the Nails.  If they could have gotten into the right position, they could have used the Permissor’s power to rule Jerulkan— and through that, all of Yasmik.
“You don’t like my old man either,” Lampa said, slowly getting to his feet. “You tried to smiting assassinate him!  I can help you.”
“I wasn’t trying to kill him,” Toke said, shaking his head.  “But I heard him talking about you.  Your father’s been looking for you.”
Lampa scoffed. “I’ll bet he has.  I was never the son he wanted me to be, so he never loved me as much as the others.” He spat on the floor. “But he still can’t think why I might run away, can he?  He thinks I was happy there.”
Toke narrowed his eyes, even though Lampa couldn’t see it behind his visor. “Are you telling me that you started the Nails because you have daddy issues?”
The Nail jabbed a finger at him. “I did it to put my old man in his place!  I can run this city better than him, you’ll see!  He’ll see!  Sooner or later, I’m gonna get to him, and then—”
“You don’t get it!” Toke cut him off, holding up the cord. “The Nails are finished.  You’re going to jail.”
Lampa closed his mouth, glaring at him.
“Just don’t fight me, and I won’t have to hurt you anymore,” Toke took a step closer, and began to wrap the cord around him.  The whole while, Lampa followed him with his eyes, not saying a word.  But, just as Toke was about to tie the knot and finish the job, the Permissor’s son did something stupid.  With a shout, he charged at Toke, their close proximity not giving him any time to react.  His arms were tied, but he was still strong enough to push Toke across the room, toward the broken window.
“Don’t do it!” Toke yelled, but Lampa ignored him.  He gave a short, manic laugh, and shoved Toke out the window.  Naturally, Toke just anchored himself to the wall outside, but Lampa had forgotten that Toke still held the end of the rope in his hand.  When he went out the window, the cord went with him, and his weight was enough to pull Lampa out as well.  He screamed as he fell, and was temporarily halted when the cord went taut.  There was no knot to hold it together, though, and Lampa was sent spinning around and around as the rope unraveled.  Toke could only watch, holding his breath in terror as the Permissor’s son reached the end of the cord.  Lampa’s hand shot out at the last second, just as the last of the cord unwound itself, and grabbed hold of it.
Oh, smite, Toke thought, realizing what was going to happen just before it did.  Even with his gravity anchored to the wall, the sudden jolt Lampa gave the rope was enough to pull him off his feet.  In a moment of sheer panic, Toke’s fist clutched the rope even harder, and his anchor to the wall vanished.  And then they were both falling…
For one second, Toke locked eyes with Lampa Adal, and saw in them the cold, gut wrenching fear of a man who knows he’s about to die.
And then they hit the ground.  Toke heard a snap as he landed, though he couldn’t tell if it came from Lampa or himself.  Pain lanced through his entire body, and the world spun like he was a leaf caught in a whirlpool.  Everything began to go dark, and the last thing he saw before losing consciousness was a figure coming to stand over him.  Was it Zashiel?  The police?  Or something… even… worse?
NEXT TIME: Hoo boy, if Toke thought he was in trouble with Adal before, things are about to get a whole lot worse!  The Permissor’s never been the forgiving type, and I don’t think killing his youngest son is going to change that.

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