Chapter Twenty Nine
The front door of the school loomed up in front of them, more imposing than Toke remembered it being before. Even on his first day at the academy, when he’d stood on the curb waving goodbye to his parents, those doors hadn’t looked so intimidating. Taking a deep breath, he reached out and put his hand against the hard, sun-warmed wood.
How many people already knew what had happened last night? Did they know he was the Juryokine? Klevon didn’t seem the type to boast about his victories, at least not to a bunch of lowly humans. Besides that, the urgency of his mission would have made the Seraph bring Toke back to Hashira as fast as possible… right? That’s what he told himself, at least, as he glanced at Zashiel, who was standing behind him and looking just as nervous as he did.
“Just keep your head down and stay behind me,” he said. She nodded, and Toke pushed the doors open.
Holy smite, everybody’s staring at me, he immediately thought as the school’s front hallway came into view. For half a second, he was tempted to turn and run, but then Zashiel gave him a gentle push from behind, and he stepped inside.
“Don’t be paranoid,” she whispered as she followed him down the hallways. “It’s all in your head.”
It’s all in my head, Toke repeated to himself, afraid of looking at anyone in the eye. Eventually, he settled for looking at the floor, navigating solely by the pairs of shoes and ankles he saw. It’s all in my head…
Despite his fears, they both managed to make it to Navras’ classroom unmolested. And there, sitting outside the door, was—
“Virkhul!” Toke exclaimed, freezing in midstep. The secretary’s head jerked up out of his paperwork and looked at Toke like he was expecting someone to take a swing at him. His skin, Toke realized, was almost as white as his bleached hair.
“Oh, it’s just you,” he breathed a sigh of relief, holding his hand against his chest. “I thought you were…” he paused and shook his head. “Uh, never mind.”
He and Toke locked eyes, and Toke frantically searched for any indication that Virkhul recognized him from the night before. His face had been covered, but Toke still spoke to him in passing all the time as he came and went from Navras’ classroom. Was it possible that Virkhul had recognized him by his voice alone? That would explain why he had been so startled just by Toke’s voice.
“You- you’d better get inside,” the secretary finally said, pointing toward the door. “Big day. You don’t want to be late.”
Toke nodded slowly and made for the door, never taking his eyes off him. “Right. Thanks.”
Zashiel was only a step behind him, and the look she was giving him and Virkhul were beyond confused. Toke gave her a quick shake of his head, and she took the hint and kept her mouth closed. Toke opened the door and ushered her through it before closing and locking it behind them.
“Toke?” Navras exclaimed as soon as his student stepped into the room. “It’s been more than twelve hours! What happened?”
Toke went to his usual stool and collapsed onto it. “I failed, Professor. I’m sorry.”
The old inventor nodded grimly. “I figured that out when Virkhul came in to work this morning.”
“The man sitting outside?” Zashiel asked. “What does he have to do with anything?”
Navras’ head swiveled around to look at her, as if he hadn’t even noticed her coming into the room. He ran his eyes over her, and hummed in concern.
“A Sorakine with her hair dyed and her jacket ruined. I take it things went even worse than I imagined.”
“I did like you said, Professor,” Toke said. “I found Virkhul at the Sandmist. You were right, he was meeting with two other Vlangurtians there. I cornered him after he left, but then a Sorakine named Klevon appeared and took me prisoner.”
Navras’ eyebrows drew low over his eyes. “Sir Klevon, the Seraph?”
Toke sat up a little straighter when he heard this, and Zashiel immediately came to stand by his side.
“Toke,” Navras urged him, “tell me exactly what happened.”
Toke bit his lip for a second, and then explained his unplanned trip to Hashira the night before, making sure to go into detail about how Zashiel had been the one to rescue him. The entire time, Navras’ face went back and forth from worry, to shock, and then to amazement.
“The two of you managed to fight your way out of Hashira by yourselves?” He asked when Toke finally concluded his story. “Forgive me, but that seems highly unrealistic.”
Toke shrugged. “Well, Zashiel’s one of the best warriors they have.”
“And Toke,” Zashiel added, putting her hand on his shoulder, “is a Juryokine. He has ways of fighting that most Sorakines have never seen before.”
Navras frowned. “Even so, it would…” he closed his eyes and waved his hand. “No, I’m getting sidetracked.”
“But you didn’t know any of this, did you?” Toke asked, bringing the conversation back on point. “Not even that I’d been caught.”
Navras shook his head.
“So, I was right,” the young man mused, sitting back and putting his hand to his chin. “Klevon was in such a hurry to get me back to Hashira that he didn’t take the time to tell anybody about it.”
“It would have been big news, if he had,” Navras agreed. “People on the other side of Yasmik would have already heard about it.”
“That’s good, then,” Toke said. “If nobody knows I’m the Juryokine, then I should be safe here for a while.” He looked at Zashiel. “How long do you think it will be before he shows up and starts spreading the word?”
Zashiel shrugged. “I don’t know,” she whispered. “I’d say a day, at the most.”
Toke swallowed, and nodded. “Right. That should give us plenty of time to… to…”
He couldn’t finish his sentence. A thick, tense silence filled the classroom.
“You two are planning on going into hiding, aren’t you?” Navras asked, finally.
“Yeah,” Toke sighed. He slumped forward on his stool, looking at his shoes. “We were hoping you could help us find a place to go.”
He looked up at his professor, silently begging for him to say what he hoped to hear. They didn’t have to go into hiding. If anybody could help them sort out this mess, it was…
“I’m afraid you’re right,” Navras said, folding his hands solemnly behind his back. “Normally, the Yasmikan government would intervene to protect one of their citizens in such a predicament. We humans are, after all, not subject to Sorakine law.”
Toke glanced at Zashiel, remembering the way she had murdered a Nail simply for stealing a necklace. If there was one thing all Sorakines had in common, it was their disregard for human laws.
“Unfortunately,” Navras went on, “in light of what happened to Permissor Adal’s son, I highly doubt such security will be granted to you. I’m afraid going into hiding sounds like the best option, at least for now.”
Toke’s hopes fell so quickly he could almost hear them shattering on the floor. If the brilliant, world famous inventor Dranibor Navras couldn’t think of a solution, there must not be one.
“Do you know any place we can go?” he asked, trying to keep on a brave face.
“Several places,” Navras answered matter of factly. He strode quickly across the room, as if all this were just another item on his daily routine. “But first, there is another matter you must attend to.”
Toke sat up a little straighter. “What’s that?”
Navras opened one of the lockers. Toke’s locker.
“Before you put yourself into exile,” he said softly, taking something in his hand, “perhaps you would like to finally realize your dream.”
He turned and placed a small, silver cylinder on Toke’s desk. Toke sucked in a deep breath. His battery. The thing his entire life had revolved around for the past four years. The thing even Navras himself thought could change Yasmik. He reached out, hesitantly, and picked it up, running his thumb over the cold metal.
He should put it down. He and Zashiel were in too much danger for him to waste time talking to the one human who wanted him dead above all others.
“Will it be safe?” he whispered instead, unable to take his eyes off his blurry reflection in battery’s polished metal shell.
Navras huffed in his throat. “It most certainly will not be safe. But if you truly believe in your invention as much as I do, then perhaps it would be worth the risk.”
“Wait,” Zashiel broke into the conversation. “What’s going on?”
“Yeah,” Toke muttered, ignoring his friend. He gripped the battery a little tighter. “Maybe it would. But what about after that? I can’t just hand over my invention and vanish.”
“I hardly think that would be an issue,” Navras answered. “If Adal can be shown what potential it has, then I doubt he would care what happened to you afterwards. He would begin mass production of your batteries, and Yasmik would be changed with or without you.”
Toke grimaced. “They’ll change Yasmik without me,” he echoed. “That… doesn’t sound so great.”
“What part of this situation do you think is ideal?” Navras asked.
Toke nodded and looked back down at his battery. “Right. Point taken.”
“Hold on just a second!” Zashiel snapped, stepping between the them. “Are you two insane? We’ve got an army of Sorakines coming after us, and you want to put Toke in front of the guy who thinks he murdered his son? No smiting way!”
Navras’ eyes narrowed. “Young lady, that is not your decision to make.”
“It’s my job to keep him alive,” Zashiel shot back. “He wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for me. I acknowledge that. That means I’m going to protect him, just like I promised I would!”
Toke’s cheeks turned a shade pinker. He didn’t know whether to look at Navras or Zashiel. Both of them looked like they were on the verge of taking a swing at each other…
“If it weren’t for you,” Navras said slowly, letting each word slice through the air like a knife, “Toke would be able to present his invention to Permissor Adal without having to worry about being arrested for murder.”
Those words were meant to hurt Zashiel, and they clearly succeeded. She shut her mouth like a trap and, after giving Toke one more pleading look, retreated to let the men discuss it alone. Toke frowned.
“It’ll be fine, Zashiel,” he assured her with confidence that he didn’t really feel. Navras was right, going to Adal right now was perhaps the most dangerous thing he could possibly do. But the professor was also right in saying that the risk was worth it. He’d put too many dreams into this to just give up on it now.
“If we’re going to go,” Navras said, standing up, “then we need to do so now. We have just enough time to get to the Capitol without being late.”
Toke got up too, and went to fetch the light bulb.
Everything is going to be fine, he told himself before turning to Zashiel, who was sulking on the other side of the room.
“Come with us,” he said, heading for the door. “Just in case something does happen.”
Zashiel looked at him warily for a second, and then followed.
“I don’t trust him,” she whispered as they left the classroom.
Toke did his best to look everywhere but at Virkhul when they passed him.
“Who, Professor Navras?” he asked when they had left the secretary behind. “Why?”
“He doesn’t like me,” she explained, keeping a wary eye on his back. “Actually, I think he hates me.”
“Well,” Toke felt a pang of sympathy for his teacher, “he kind of has a history with the Sorakines.”
Zashiel left it at that, but Toke could tell she wasn’t at ease with the old inventor yet. The three of them walked out of the building in silence, and Navras led them to his autocarriage.
“There’s room for three,” he said, turning the crank. A moment later, the engine roared to life.
Zashiel took a step back, and Toke looked to see the most horrified look he’d ever seen on her face.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, spinning around to look for any sign of Klevon or another Sorakine. There wasn’t any.
“I, um, think I’ll just walk,” Zashiel said, taking another step away from the autocarriage.
“Get in!” Navras ordered. “We have to go!”
Toke gave the Sorakine girl a disbelieving smile. “You’re scared of the autocarriage, aren’t you?”
Zashiel’s face turned red. “No, I’m not. I just… don’t like small spaces.”
For the first time, Toke realized that Zashiel had probably never needed to ride in one of the loud, bouncy contraptions that humans had become so fond of. Why would she, when she could fly instead? He took her wrist and pulled her forward.
“Relax,” he said. “Professor Navras is the best driver in Jerulkan.”
Zashiel bit her lip, but didn’t resist as Toke guided her into the autocarriage before taking a seat beside her.
“Buckle up,” he said, snapping his leather strap in place. Zashiel tried to do the same, but the strap wouldn’t reach all the way around her. “Zashiel, you have to lean back.”
“I don’t like having my wings against the wall,” she argued. After a few more failed attempts at buckling up, she finally flipped the topmost strap over her shoulder and fastened the lower one around her legs.
Toke frowned. “That’s not—”
“She’s stronger than a human,” Navras cut him off, climbing into the driver’s seat. “She’ll be fine.”
He backed the machine out onto the road, and sped off towards the Capitol. Toke looked out the window, watching the city he’d grown to love speeding past him. This would probably be the last time he got a good look at it. It would be many, many years before it would be safe for him to back into Jerulkan again.
Don't’ think about that, he chastised himself. Think about the Permissor, and what you’re going to say to him. You can worry about running away later…
What am I going to tell my parents?
That last thought made his heart lurch painfully in his chest. His parents would be at the Capitol, waiting for him. How would he explain the situation to them? How was he going to explain anything?
His thoughts were suddenly diverted when he felt a strong hand grab hold of his own. He looked up to see Zashiel staring out the windshield in front of them, her face as pale as a ghost’s.
“We’re going really fast,” she murmured.
“You go way faster than this when you’re flying,” he reminded her.
“We’re getting really close to those other autocarriages,” she said as another driver went past in the opposite direction.
“Professor Navras knows what he’s doing,” Toke promised her. “He invented these things, you know.”
This didn’t seem to comfort her, but Toke began to blush when she squeezed his hand even tighter.
“Just try to distract yourself,” he suggested.
Zashiel hesitated, and then nodded. Then she turned to Navras.
“How do you know Klevon?” she asked.
Navras looked so sharply at her that suddenly Toke was afraid he would get into an accident.
“You said his name earlier like you knew him,” Zashiel said, reading the old man’s expression. “The names of Sorakine Seraphs aren’t common knowledge amongst humans. How do you know him?”
“Um, Zashiel,” Toke said, suddenly wishing he hadn’t put the Sorakine between himself and the professor. “That might be a personal question.”
“No, Toke,” Navras answered, “it’s fine. It might be to your benefit for you two to know.”
He took a deep breath, never taking his eyes off the road, and said, “You’re right, Klevon and I do have a history.
He paused as he waited to make a left turn, and then looked at his student. “Toke, do you remember what I told you about the battle at Zetheran Pass?”
Toke nodded. “The one where you thought the Sorakines were coming to help, but they left you on your own?”
Beside him, Zashiel made a strange noise, but didn’t say anything.
“After the battle, I personally went and spoke to the Sorakines. Do you know who they sent to represent them?”
Toke’s eyes opened wide. “Are you saying it was…”
A wry smile spread across Navras’ face. “Young lady, do you know how old Sir Klevon is?”
Zashiel shrugged. “No idea. Old enough to be my father, I guess.”
“Old enough to be your grandfather, actually,” Navras corrected her. “Yes, Toke, Klevon was the one I spoke to after the battle. Sorakines age differently than humans. After they reach maturity, they will not age visibly on the outside until they reach a very old age— close to death, in fact.”
“I saw him myself just this morning,” Toke said, shaking his head in wonder. “He looked like he was in his mid-thirties, early forties at the most.”
Navras nodded. “He looked much the same when I confronted him at the base of Mt. Betsu. He told me that human affairs should be handled by humans, and that he saw no reason why he should endanger the lives of his people for our sake.”
Zashiel made that strange sound again, and when Toke looked he saw she was digging her fingers into the seat beneath her.
“That’s horrible,” he said. “They live in Yasmik too. Didn’t they see the invasion as a threat to them, as well?”
“We’re not a part of Yasmik.”
Both Toke and Navras turned to look at Zashiel, who had her arms nervously across her chest.
“Hashira isn’t a Yasmikan city,” she explained when neither of them said anything. “It’s a micronation located in the middle of Yasmik.”
Toke arched his eyebrow. “I don’t get it. You’re still in Yasmik. How does that not make you a part of it?”
“She’s right,” Navras agreed. “The Sorakines may be located in the middle of our nation, but they have their own, separate, ruling government. They keep to themselves, and we do the same. It isn’t a topic much spoken of, but the border between Yasmik and Hashira is situated in a ring about five miles away from Mt. Betsu’s base.”
Toke sat back in his seat. “And that’s their excuse? They’re not part of Yasmik, so they don’t fight Yasmik’s wars? What would have happened if Vlangur had won?”
“I doubt it would have mattered much to them,” Navras said in a low voice. “Up in the sky, I’m sure that what happens down on the ground seems perfectly trivial.”
“It’s not like that!” Zashiel snapped, her face turning red. “It’s…” she shook her head. “You wouldn’t understand.”
Navras looked away from the road for a moment to give her a flat stare. “Try me.”
Zashiel took a deep breath. “We’re stronger than you are. We’re faster, we have quicker reflexes, and we can smiting fly. If we were to fly down and help you humans with every little thing, you’d become dependent on us.” She looked down at the floor. “It’s best that you learn to handle problems on your own.”
Navras harrumphed, but turned his attention back to the road.
“Don’t we have an alliance with Hashira, though?” Toke asked.
“No, you have a truce with us,” Zashiel corrected him. “We both live in the same area, but we leave each other alone. What we choose to do to help each other is entirely up to us.”
Silence fell in the autocarriage, and Toke could see the hard look in the professor’s eyes as he drove. Zashiel, for her part, actually looked contrite for her confession.
First fear, and now guilt, Toke thought. And both in less than ten minutes!
“Still,” she spoke up, surprising them both. She turned to Navras, “It was wrong for us to abandon you that day. I know it doesn’t mean much now, especially coming from me, but I formally offer you my apologies on behalf of the Sorakine people.”
Toke raised his eyebrows. In all the weeks he’d known her, the only thing she’d ever apologized for was putting him in danger. The fact that she was confessing the sins of her own people carried more weight than he was sure Navras understood.
Navras glanced at the Sorakine girl out of the corner of his eye, and the lines on his face softened a little.
“I have held my grudge against the Sorakines every day for over fifty years,” the old inventor admitted. “But you are the first one to ever admit the fault of your actions. Perhaps…” he hesitated. “Perhaps it is time I let go of the past.”
He pushed on the brakes, and the autocarriage came to a stop outside the Capitol. Navras and Toke both opened their doors and got out. Zashiel followed, and Navras rounded the vehicle before giving her a slightly-less cold stare.
“But that doesn’t mean that you are off the hook, young woman. Since you gave Toke these powers, he is your responsibility. No matter where you go after this, never forget that.”
Zashiel nodded solemnly, as if she were receiving orders from a Seraph. “I won’t. Toke will be safe with me.”
Navras returned the nod and turned to his student. “Are you ready, Toke?”
Toke gripped his battery tighter. “Yes, Professor.”
Navras turned toward the Capitol, his black robes billowing behind him. “Then let’s go and meet your destiny.”
NEXT TIME: Toke’s going to get his invention passed by the Permissor even if it’s the last thing he does! Unfortunately, the way things are looking now, it might actually be the last thing he does. Can he convince Adal before Klevon finds him?