Chapter Twenty Six

Toke’s feet dragged on the floor like he was wearing bricks for shoes when he walked through the door to Professor Navras’ classroom.

 

“Toke,” The old inventor greeted him, and stood up.  “How was the visit with your parents?”

 

“Could have been better,” Toke muttered, and sat down heavily on his stool.  He shouldn’t be like this, not today.  Tomorrow, he was going to change Yasmik with his batteries.  These feelings, this depression, were something he didn’t need to deal with right now.  And yet, every time he tried to divert his attention, his traitorous brain brought him right back to Zashiel.  That stupid, stubborn Sorakine…  he hadn’t meant to hurt her like that.

 

“Well, I’m glad you’re here,” Navras said, bringing him up from his depressing thoughts. “We have things we need to talk about.  Please, step into my office.”

 

Any other day, Toke would have exploded like a jido crystal at such an offer.  Last time, Navras had brought him there out of necessity.  Tonight, he was actually inviting him.  But the young man’s emotions didn’t seem to register how big an honor that was— not when Zashiel was still out there, probably hating him…

 

“Toke,” the professor said, more impatiently this time. “Look lively, if you please.”

 

“Yes, sir,” Toke said, hopping to his feet before he could get distracted again.  “Sorry, sir.”

 

He followed the professor into the office, and took a moment to look around again.  He hadn’t paid much attention the last time, but tonight he made an effort to see what Yasmik’s greatest inventor was hiding from the world.  Besides the desk, the sink, and the worktable in the center of the room, Toke spotted a suit of armor standing against the wall.  It was a big, cumbersome thing, last used in the war against Vlangur— the war Dranibor Navras had helped to win.  Improvements had been made to the armor used in Yasmik’s military since then, making the hulking metal figure all but obsolete, but Toke knew it must have a lot of sentimental value to the old soldier.  Its hand was closed around a spear.  The same spear Navras must have used at the Zetheran Pass.

 

“Now,” said the professor, closing the door behind them, “I want you to tell me more about what you and the Sorakine have been doing.”

 

The Sorakine…

 

“I’ve told you just about everything we’ve found out,” Toke said before he could get distracted again. “What do you want to know?”

 

Navras hummed in his throat, and then said, “You mentioned a spearman who could control the Gravity Storms.  Tell me more about him.”

 

The thought of his glowing green foe was enough to get a shiver out of Toke, and he nervously glanced at the suit of armor by the wall again.

 

“He was—” Toke began, but was interrupted by a sharp rapping at the door.  It was so sudden that Toke jumped to his feet, instinctively reaching for his axes, even though he’d left them in his room.

 

“Yes, Virkhul, what is it?” Navras asked, giving the door an irritated look.

 

“Just wanted to let you know that I’ve finished the paperwork, Professor,” the secretary said.  “I’ll be going now.”

 

“Don’t be late tomorrow morning,” Navras replied. “And you had better not be hungover this time, do you hear me?”

 

Virkhul muttered something on the other side of the door, and Navras sighed.

 

“What am I going to do with that man?” the professor sighed, shaking his head.

 

“With all due respect, sir,” Toke chimed in, “I don’t know why you haven’t fired him already.”

 

“I have my reasons.  Perhaps someday I’ll tell you what they are.  For now,” he motioned with his hand, “tell me more about your spearman.”

 

“Like I said, I’ve only seen him twice,” Toke began, settling down in one of the spare seats.  “Zashiel’s seen him three times.  She says that the first time she saw him was after the very first Gravity Storm.”

 

“And the other two times you’ve seen him,” Navras prompted him.  “They were immediately after a Storm as well?”

 

“Only one of them.  I first saw him when Zashiel and I went to investigate the aftermath of the Exton Storm.  He saw me, and he just attacked me.” Toke paused to take a breath, images of that night flashing before his eyes. “He would have killed me, if Zashiel hadn’t shown up.  He did manage to give me this scar, though.” He pointed at the mark on his cheek.

 

Across the room, Navras’ face didn’t give away what he was thinking, but the way he clenched his fist on the arm rest of his chair did.

 

“The second time was at the Flashing River,” Toke went on.

 

“Why in the world were you at the Flashing River?” Navras interrupted him, just before understanding dawned on his face. “You’re the one who brought me that crystal, aren’t you?”

 

Toke nodded, and continued his story, “We got to one of the work camps and found out the spearman had already killed all of the workers.  Zashiel and I fought him together, and this time we were able to drive him away.  He tried to blow us up with the crystal I brought you.”

 

“Then it sounds like a better question would be, why was he at the Flashing River?” Navras mused, stroking his beard in thought.

 

Toke shrugged. “We never found out.  Maybe he was planning to start another Storm.”

 

The professor shook his head. “No, that doesn’t make sense.  If he were going to cause a Gravity Storm in the middle of a work camp, then why bother killing all of the workers beforehand?  The Storm would have done the job for him.”

 

“Oh,” Toke said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

 

“If he already had the crystal that he threw at you,” Navras hypothesized, “then I would hazard a guess that that was his reason for coming.”

 

“You mean he just wanted a crystal?” Toke asked.  “But there has to be easier ways to get one than that.  Why would he go all the way to the Flashing River?”

 

Navras gave him a pointed look. “Why did you?”

 

“Right,” Toke said, nodding.  “Less security.  Easier to get one.”

 

“The question we need to be focusing on is, why was he after a crystal in the first place?” The Professor stood up and began to pace, still stroking his beard.  “What use would he have for one, single crystal?”

 

“Maybe for his suit?” Toke suggested. “His armor is always glowing green.  You need both juryo and jidoryo to make kaosuryo, so maybe he needs crystals to power it.”

 

Navras thought about this, and slowly began to nod.  “That sounds likely,” he said, and then turned to face his student. “Toke, I want you to describe everything about him you can remember.”

 

“He had his kaosuryo armor,” Toke began. “It lets him control the kaosuryo, and maybe makes him immune to it too.  I think, maybe, there must be something in it to make him stronger, too.  When we fought him, he was jumping around like…” he paused. “Kind of like I do.”

 

“And I supposed he used that to his advantage while he was fighting too,” Navras added.  “Did his spear have kaosuryo powers too, by any chance?”

 

“No,” Toke shook his head, remembering the blue sparks that always flew from it. “But it was jidoryo charged, somehow.”

 

Navras froze.  He stood as still as a statue for almost a minute, and then slowly turned to face Toke.

 

“Say that again,” he commanded in a quiet voice.

 

“It was really weird,” Toke said. “But yeah, his spear had jidoryo in it.  If it touches you, you get shocked.”

 

Navras face went pale, and he shook his head. “No, it can’t be.”

 

“Um, I got the bad end of it once,” Toke said pointing to his face again. “I’m pretty sure I didn’t imagine that.”

 

But Navras wasn’t paying attention to him anymore.  He was staring at the wall above Toke’s head. “It’s not possible.  How would he… how could he…”

 

“Professor?” Toke asked, leaning forward in his seat in concern. “Are you okay?”

 

“I most certainly am not,” Navras answered, his expression turning grim.  “There is only one place on Fissura that man could get a spear charged with jidoryo.”

 

Toke’s eyes shot open wide.  “You know where he got it?”

 

Navras nodded, and then pointed to the spot on the wall he had been staring at.  Toke turned to look— and felt his blood run cold.

 

“Is that a…” he stuttered, pointing at the relic hanging on the wall behind him.

 

“It is,” Navras said, stepping forward.  He delicately took the object down from the wall and, with tender care, set it down on the work table in the center of the room.  Toke could only stare at in in disbelief.

 

It was a spear.  There was a thick cord coming out of the midsection, which ran for a few feet before connecting to a large, heavy looking metal box.  Two leather straps were connected to the box, perfectly situated to fit over somebody’s shoulders.  A small hand crank came out of the left side of the box, the opposite side from where the cord went.

 

“This is another one of my failed inventions, Toke,” Navras said, gesturing toward it as if he were making an introduction. “A spear designed to shock your enemies with jidoryo on contact.”

 

Toke stood up and went to look at it.  “Are you saying,” he asked, hesitantly, “that you made the spearman’s spear?”

 

“Yes and no, it would appear,” Navras said.  The look on his face was distraught, like he was going to be sick at any moment.  He pointed toward the box.  “I designed it so that a small jidoryo grindstone could be placed inside there.  The wielder would turn it with that handle, and it would charge the spear with jidoryo.  But, as you can see,” he waved his hand dismissively, “it was far too cumbersome to ever be used in battle.  Not only would the box weigh the soldier down and the cord be a tripping hazard, but the constant turning of the crank would leave him with only one arm to defend himself with.  Like the Terracaelum, it just wasn’t a feasible idea.”

 

Toke leaned in closer to get a better look.  “Well, it looks like you were wrong, Professor.  How else would the spearman get it to work?”

 

“That much is obvious,” Navras agreed.  “But I’m afraid you won’t like the answer I have for that.”

 

Toke looked up at him in confusion. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean, Toke,” he pointed a finger at the young man, “that you may be just as responsible for arming this madman as I am.”

 

Suddenly, it felt like the ground had been pulled out from beneath Toke.  “I don’t understand,” he said, his skin already crawling at the idea. “How is this my fault?”

 

“Did the spearman have a pack on his back like this one?” Navras asked. “Or a cord running from his spear to some part of his body?”

 

Toke shook his head.

 

“Then there is only one conclusion as to how he must be powering his weapon.” The professor fixed Toke with a steady gaze, and Toke’s heart sank into his stomach.

 

“My batteries,” he whispered in horror.  “He’s using my batteries to energize his spear?”

 

“So it would appear,” Navras said, nodding his head sadly. “I’m sorry.”

 

Toke backed away a couple steps and sat down heavily in the chair again.  His head was spinning— his whole world had been turned upside down.  His batteries, the invention he had slaved over for the past four years in order to change Yasmik for the better, were being used by that maniac to kill people?

 

“I- I think I’m going to throw up,” he said, honestly.

 

“The sink is over there, if you need it,” Navras said, sympathetically.

 

“No, I’m fine,” Toke amended.  He sat still for a few minutes without saying anything.

 

“I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he’s using them to power other things as well,” Navras said when Toke finally looked up at him. “His suit, for instance.  That seems to be a far more plausible explanation for its power than sticking an entire crystal into it.”

 

“I’m gonna kill him,” Toke said, still trying to come to grips with this new piece of the puzzle.  “He stole my idea, and he’s using it as a weapon.  I’m going to kill him!”

 

“Toke, calm down,” Navras said. “Don’t be too hasty.  That’s what’s gotten you into trouble before, remember?”

 

The professor came around the table to stand in front of his student. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t act, but you must do so carefully.”

 

Toke sighed and nodded. “You’re right, sir.  I’m sorry.”  He stood up and looked at the old spear again. “Now we have a new question: who knows enough about my batteries to be able to steal my idea?”

 

“That question, I believe, will be easy to answer.”  Navras stepped in front of Toke, looking very much the teacher again. “Apart from you and me, who is the only other person who has had unlimited access to my workshop?”

 

Toke thought for a moment, and then his eyes opened wide.

 

“Are you telling me,” he said, giving the professor an incredulous look, “that the one behind all of this is Virkhul?

 

Virkhul, Navras’ sarcastic, bullying secretary with a petty grudge against all the students?  The one who made snide remarks just to get a reaction?  Toke wasn’t sure if he should have been surprised to learn this, or ashamed for not having figured it out himself.

 

“It’s not as surprising as you might think,” Navras explained.  “Tannis has a bit of a, ah, history, you might say.”

 

He went and sat down behind his desk again, folding his hands.  “Virkhul and I first met on the day of the battle that made me famous.  He was fighting on Vlangur’s side.”

 

“What?” Toke exclaimed.  “Virkhul fought in Vlangur’s military?  But that was… he can’t be that old!”

 

“Virkhul was only a child,” Navras went on.  “Vlangur has some questionable laws when it comes to being drafted into the military.  If you are strong enough to pick up the first weapon they give you with one hand, you are a made a soldier.  The children are not given any choice in the matter.  Virkhul was barely nine years old when he was forced to march through the Zetheran Pass.  Naturally, he didn’t stand a chance.  He was wounded and unable to retreat with the rest, but he survived.”

 

Poor guy, Toke found himself thinking.  The he remembered who he was feeling sorry for, and pushed the feeling away.

 

“I found him out there,” Navras said.  “I bound his wound, and he told me that if anybody found out, he would be executed as a traitor.  Yasmik’s military protocol is to keep any wounded enemy soldiers as prisoners of war but… well, he was only a child!  I smuggled him into Jerulkan, and set him up to be adopted.  I told him never to mention his involvement with Vlangur’s army to anyone.  Years later, on his sixteenth birthday, he asked to be enrolled in my inventor’s class.”

 

“So, he’s a soldier and an inventor?” Toke asked, incredulously.

 

Navras sighed. “He tried to be, but he failed on both accounts.  Do you remember what I told you about people with no imagination, Toke?  How it would take a truly pathetic person to be unable to come up with their own original ideas?  Well, Tannis Virkhul is one of the few men I have ever met who fits that description.  All he was ever capable of was recreating other inventor’s ideas.  It was inevitable, but when he went to meet Permissor Adal, he was flunked.”

 

“And now he’s your secretary,” Toke finished for him.

 

Navras smiled humorlessly. “Well, I’m not completely heartless.  I had brought him here, so it was essentially my fault his people would have considered him a traitor.  It felt wrong to condemn him to lower class labor, so, yes, I hired him as my secretary.”

 

“That doesn’t make sense, though,” Toke argued. “If he had no imagination, then how did he manage to alter your spear to be compatible with my battery?”

 

The professor’s eyebrows drew low, and he glared at the weapon on the table. “That is the infuriating part.  How long has he been biding his time, pretending to be stupid until he came across the perfect opportunity?  Even I never would have guessed that it was all an act.”

 

“So, he was just pretending the entire time?” Toke shook his head in bewilderment. “But why?  What’s the point?”

 

Navras sighed and shrugged his shoulders.  “Unless we learned how to read his mind, it would be impossible to say for sure.  Perhaps it’s an opportunity for him to strike back at Yasmik after we defeated Vlangur.  Or, perhaps, he’s simply insane.”

 

“He doesn’t act like he’s insane.  Grouchy, maybe, but not insane.”

 

“Oh, Toke,” Navras said, putting a hand on the young man’s shoulder, “I spent a great part of my life giving orders on the battlefield.  I have seen what all the violence and death can do to people.  Some walk away all right, but others… it destroys their mind.  The worst part is, it’s a type of insanity that is impossible to see.”  For a moment, his eyes went vacant, and he stared at something Toke couldn’t see. “Impossible, until it’s too late.”

 

An uneasy silence fell over the two of them, and Toke cleared his throat. “So, Virkhul’s smarter than anyone thought, he’s insane, and he wants to destroy all of Yasmik.”

 

“Yes, I suppose that sums it up,” Navras gave him a meaningful look. “What does that mean to you?”

 

“It means,” Toke said, hesitantly, “that he needs to be stopped.  And there’s nobody to stop him but me.”

 

“So, what are you going to do?”

 

“I… I don’t know.  Zashiel’s gone, another Sorakine’s hunting me, and the Permissor’s probably hiring assassins as we speak.  But I guess none of that’s important, is it?”

 

Navras said nothing, just gave his pupil an expectant look.

 

“I told Zashiel that if I had to, I’d die for Yasmik.  I can’t just back out now that that’s a possibility.”  He gulped. “A very real possibility.”

 

Navras nodded his approval. “Spoken like a true soldier, Toke.”

 

A warrior, indeed…

 

“Now,” the professor went on, “if you are going to go after Virkhul, I won’t stop you.  But if you decide not to, I won’t judge you for that, either.  There has to be some sort of legal way we can have him convicted for his crimes.”

 

Toke shook his head. “No, that would take too long.  While we’re busy trying to convince the judges, he could just destroy Jerulkan with a Storm.  I have to go after him, and I have to do it tonight.”

 

“Very well,” Navras said, standing up and leading the way to his door.  “I don’t know how Virkhul creates the Storms, or where he does it, but I do know that he has a habit of stopping by the Sandmist most nights.  Have you heard of it?”

 

“No, sir,” Toke answered, following him out into the workshop.

 

“It’s a seedy pub in south Jerulkan.  If you go there, you might be able to find him and follow him.”

 

“All right,” Toke said, nodding his head as he formulated a plan.  Would he be able take down Virkhul without Zashiel’s help?  His first instinct was to say yes, but then he reminded himself that Virkhul wasn’t the cowardly secretary he’d always thought he was.  At the very least, maybe he stood a chance if Virkhul didn’t have his spear or armor.

 

“How should I do it?” he asked slowly, looking at his teacher. “Should I wait until he can fight back, or just ambush him?”

 

Navras’ eyebrows rose in approval. “I know it might seem cowardly to attack him when he’s unarmed, but keep in mind that Virkhul has the ability to destroy entire cities.  You said it yourself: we have to act quickly, before he has a chance to cause any more damage.”

 

Toke nodded. “All right.  I’ll go to my room to get my jacket, and then start looking for him.”

 

Navras clapped him on the shoulder again as Toke headed for the door.

 

“Save Yasmik tonight,” the old inventor encouraged him. “Change it tomorrow.”

 

Toke closed the classroom door behind him, but didn’t set off.  He stood where he was for a minute, with one hand still on the doorknob, contemplating what Navras had just said.  Save Yasmik, then change it.  That was exactly what Navras, himself, had done.

 

“And I can do it too,” he whispered to himself.  With that, he steeled himself for what he knew was going to come, and headed for his room.

 

Five minutes later, Toke stood in an alleyway, putting his jacket on as quickly as he could.  After the commotion last night, Klevon was almost definitely skulking somewhere out there.  Toke needed to work fast and attract as little attention as possible.  Even if he could prove Virkhul’s guilt, he had a feeling Klevon would still find him just as guilty for being a Juryokine.  The police would be easier to deal with, but Toke didn’t want to fight them unless he absolutely had to.

 

“Find him, take him out,” Toke said under his breath as he climbed the wall at a swift jog, “and then get the smite out of there.”

 

South Jerulkan.  That’s where Navras said the Sandmist was, so Toke pointed himself in that direction and took off across the rooftops, jumping and running like no human could.  Every few seconds, he glanced around to make sure he wasn’t being followed, but never once saw the telltale yellow glow that marked a Sorakine’s wings.  He tried to stick to where the buildings were clustered together tightly, only jumping across roads when he had to, figuring he would be less likely to be spotted that way.  South Jerulkan was a part of the city he’d never visited before, as it was known for being one step above the slums the Nails had made their base in.  While it wasn’t at the point of falling apart, it was widely known that the streets were rarely patrolled by the police, making it somewhat of a safe haven for criminals.

 

I might have to make use of that myself soon if I’m not careful, Toke thought, flinching when he leaped across a road, right above the head of an oblivious policeman.

 

He needn’t have worried, though, because on the other side of that street he was greeted by an illuminated sign, its cracked and faded paint reading, “S NDMI T.”  Toke crouched low at the edge of his building, peering into the windows.  The pub was busy at this time of night, but it still only took a minute to spot the white-haired secretary.  He sat with his back to the window, hunched over a table.

 

Toke hummed in his throat as even more questions surfaced.  Was Virkhul working with somebody?  It made sense, now that he thought about it.  Orchestrating and creating the Gravity Storms was surely too big a task for one person, no matter how deceptively brilliant they were.  If Toke could just get close enough to see who they were, he could bust Virkhul and his partners at the same time.  But how was he going to get in there when everyone in Yasmik was on the lookout for the Juryokine?

 

Oh wait, Toke realized, putting his hand on the zipper of his jacket.  I’m stupid.

 

A minute later he was walking across the street to the bar, his jacket hidden safely underneath his shirt.  He glanced at the bartender as he entered, afraid that he would get thrown out.  He needn’t have worried, though.  Even if he wasn’t the legal drinking age, it didn’t look like the man behind the bar cared.  He got the distinct feeling that, if he had the money, he could have ordered whatever he wanted.

 

Toke had no intention of drinking tonight, though.  After a quick look around the place, he selected a table on the end opposite where Virkhul was sitting, and hunched over so his hair hung over his face.  From there he could easily see his target, but hopefully Virkhul wouldn’t spot him in the midst of the crowd.  The secretary sat with two other men, both middle aged and with hair every bit as white as his own.

 

So he is working with other Vlangurtians! Toke thought as the three of them tapped their glasses together before downing the contents in a single gulp.  His stomach turned a flip inside him.  Maybe it was a good thing he’d discovered this before the government.  If it was found out that Vlangurtian agents were actively working inside Yasmik’s borders, that would be the start of another war, no matter who the Vlangurtians were really working for.  This way, Toke just had to take out those three, and the whole thing would be forgotten.

 

“To the Empty Room!” one of the Vlangurtians said, the alcohol slurring his words.  He was referring to the name his people gave to their king’s throne room in Vlangur.  The identity of their king was a closely kept secret, even to his own subjects, and when questioned they would always answer that the throne room was empty, with no king to be found.

 

After draining his mug, Virkhul set it down and picked up a pencil.  There was a sheet of paper in front of him, and he stared so intently at it that Toke almost thought he would set it on fire.

 

“You’re not still doin’ that, are you?” one of his friends asked. “It’s never gonna work, mate!”

 

“Drop off!” Virkhul snapped, and then began scribbling furiously.

 

Are those his plans? Toke wondered, fighting the urge to lean forward.  He was too far away to see what he was writing anyway.  Still, if he was writing down his plans for the next Gravity Storm, then stealing them could answer a lot of questions about how he was making them.

 

“There,” the secretary declared, getting to his feet so fast he nearly lost his balance, clutching the paper like a trophy, “it’s done!”

 

“Don’t do this to yourself, Tannis,” one of the others groaned, but Virkhul ignored him, stumbling across the pub to the bar.

 

He’s faking it, Toke thought, watching him.  There was no way he’d get that drunk during a war meeting.

 

“Oh, Pimble!” he crooned, leaning heavily on the bar.  This caught the other patrons’ attention, and they turned to look at him.  Suddenly, the bar was completely silent except for a couple of snickers.

 

What on Fissura is he doing? Toke thought.

 

A big bosomed woman came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dirty rag.  When she saw Virkhul there, grinning like an idiot, she rolled her eyes.

 

“This again?” she groaned.

 

“My dearest Pimble, I have written you another poem,” Virkhul said, and drew himself up with as much dignity as he could muster. “This one is guaranteed to make you fall head over heels in love with me!”

 

Before she could object again, he launched himself into it:

 

“Pimble my darling, I love you so,

 

You smell better than finely aged wine.

 

Will you please let me be your beau?

 

I promise I’ll never treat you like swine.”

 

The entire bar drew its breath, and Toke couldn’t keep from shuddering.  If there was any comfort to be taken from all this, at least there was one person in Yasmik worse at wooing women than he was.  He couldn’t even imagine what Zashiel’s reaction to such a putrid poem would be.

 

“What do you say, my darling?” Virkhul asked, stuffing the paper into his pocket with a dramatic flourish that almost put him on the floor. “Will you marry me?”

 

He leaned forward, looking meaningfully into Pimble’s eyes…

 

And she backhanded him across the cheek.

 

The entire bar roared with laughter when the white haired man went spun on his toes and collapsed to the floor.  He scrambled back to his feet, almost falling over onto another patron’s table, but was shoved away.  He grabbed one of the bar stools to steady himself, but ended up bringing that down with him.

 

“I done told ya a hundred times,” Pimble said, spitting on the floor by his head, “I’m married!  Now git lost!”

 

Virkhul got back to his feet, slowly this time, and raised his hand to his cheek.  Pimble shook her head and went back into the kitchen.  The bar laughed again, and he made for the door, head hanging.

 

“Oh come on, Tannis,” one of his friends said as he passed them. “Have another drink!”

 

“I hafta go,” Virkhul muttered without looking at them.  “Perfessor said not to be hung over tomorrow.”

 

He left, slamming the door behind him as the bar erupted in laughter yet again.  In any other situation, Toke would probably be laughing with them.  Getting to see Virkhul get what he deserved was a treat he never thought he’d get to have.  Tonight, though, there was only one thing on his mind…

 

He still has the plans in his pocket!

 

It couldn’t be just a poem, could it?  If he was working on it with his partners in crime, there had to be something important written on it.

 

“Hey, no free tables!” a gruff voice barked.  Toke looked, and saw the bartender staring at him. “You gonna order something or what?”

 

“No,” Toke said, standing up. “I got what I came for.”

 

Virkhul’s companions could wait, he decided.  Virkhul was the one stealing his and Navras’ inventions.  He was the one Toke needed to deal with.  Now that he knew their faces, Toke could come back and deal with his cronies later.

 

Once he was out on the street, it only took him a moment to spot Virkhul wobbling away.  Taking a deep breath, Toke backed into a nearby alley and put his jacket on.  The cold metal of the zipper sent a shiver down his spine when he felt it touch the skin of his neck.  This was the night Zashiel had been training him for.  The reason he’d been made into a Juryokine.  This was the night it ended…

 

He almost felt bad for doing this without Zashiel, but she wouldn’t want him to wait just for sentiment’s sake.

 

He took out both his axes and ran to the top of the building.  The sounds of the Sandmist were audible even through the roof, and he took advantage of that to mask his footsteps as he ran and jumped to the next building.  Virkhul was still tottering down the sidewalk, completely unaware that he was being followed.  Toke caught up with him in less than a minute.  Gripping both axes so tightly that his knuckles turned white, he put one foot on the ledge.

 

He won’t go down without a fight, he thought to himself. I’ve seen how good he is.  But without his armor or spear, I can take him!

 

Without giving himself time to think about it more, Toke jumped from the building and anchored himself to Virkhul.  With a shout of surprise, the secretary was yanked off the ground, and Toke kicked him in the stomach as they collided.  The wind was knocked out of Virkhul’s lungs and, while they were still in midair, Toke wrapped his arm around the older man’s neck before anchoring himself to the wall nearby.  They both fell towards it, and Toke shifted so that he landed on top of Virkhul, driving his elbow into his back.  Virkhul moaned, and Toke let them both fall back to the ground.  As soon as their feet touched the ground, Toke grabbed Virkhul’s shirt and slammed his back into the wall behind him.

 

“How are you doing it?” he roared into his face.

 

Virkhul took a few seconds to recover from the shock, but when he did his eyes went wide with horror.

 

“You’re…” he stuttered, raising a hand to point at him, “You’re the guy who tried to kill—”

 

“The only one I’m thinking about killing is you,” Toke cut him off, raising an axe. “Quit wasting my time.  How are you making the Gravity Storms?”

 

“What are you talking about?” the secretary asked, pushing himself further against the wall to get away from Toke.

 

“I said,” Toke raised the axe higher, “how are you making the Gravity Storms?”

 

“What do you mean, making them?” Virkhul demanded, his eyes flicking from Toke to his weapon.

 

“I know you’re the spearman I fought in Exton and at the Flashing River, so stop playing innocent!”

 

“Wha- spearman?”

 

Toke slammed his axe into the wall, burying the sharp blade three inches deep in the brick.

 

“You’re not wearing your armor,” he growled into Virkhul’s ear.  “Imagine what that’ll feel like going into your skull!”

 

Virkhul’s skin had turned as pale as his hair, and he began to whimper. “I swear, I don’t know what you mean!”

 

Toke wrenched the axe free of the wall and raised it again.  He was going to kill Virkhul here, he had come to terms with that the minute he left Navras’ office.  Getting answers out of him might help keep this from ever happening again, but they weren’t essential.  As long as Virkhul and his cohorts were dead, the problem would be solved.

 

“Last chance,” he said, speaking slowly to emphasize each word. “How are you making the Gravity Storms?”

 

“Nobody makes the smiting Gravity Storms!” Virkhul wailed, his knees collapsing underneath him.  It was only Toke’s hand that kept him from falling down.  Tears of fright were running down his face now. “I don’t know what you want from me, I swear it!  Please, don’t kill me!”

 

That was that, then, Toke decided.  If he wasn’t going to give him any answers, then it was time to end this and…

 

Toke heard a thud behind him, and the alleyway was flooded with bright yellow light.  His heart leaped inside his chest.

 

“Zashiel!” he exclaimed, turning his head to look at her. “I figured it out!  This guy’s the…” His voice trailed off.

 

That wasn’t Zashiel.

 

Sir Klevon’s fist struck him square in the nose.

 

Everything went black…

 

 

 

NEXT TIME: So, Virkhul was behind the Gravity Storms all along?  Whoda thunk it?  Too bad Klevon had to show up and ruin everything.  If Toke’s going to take out Virkhul now, he’ll have to escape from a Sorakine Seraph… and that ain’t gonna be easy.

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