Toke clenched his fists so hard he was almost afraid he’d crush his battery, but that was the only way to make them stop trembling as he made his way up the stairs to the Capitol’s door. The same carvings he’d seen a month ago were still there, and his eyes instinctively sought out the one of Navras, bravely wielding his spear against the army of Vlangurtians.
If Professor Navras could face down an army for five days, he thought to himself, then I can face Permissor Adal for ten minutes.
Navras pushed the door open, and Toke noticed the way his hand deliberately moved to cover the carving of himself. He didn’t stop to question it, though. He had much more important things to worry about. Nodding his thanks to the professor, he stepped inside the Capitol with Zashiel right behind him—
And was immediately set upon by his parents.
“Young man, where have you been?” his father demanded, taking him by his shirt collar and dragging him across the foyer. “You have less than a minute before you’re late!”
“Walk a little slower,” his mother said, trying to palm her son’s hair flat as he was pulled towards the Permissor’s office. “Honestly, Toke, you’re a mess! Didn’t you shower last night?”
“Mr. and Mrs. Gnasher,” Navras said. He caught up with them and then folded his hands behind his back, somehow managing to look dignified even though he was almost jogging. “I’m afraid I must take responsibility for your son’s present state. I had him up all night making a few last minute modifications to his battery.”
Brin whirled around like he wanted to snap at the professor, but remembered who he was talking to and held his tongue. A few seconds later, they arrived outside of Permissor Adal’s office.
“Couldn’t you have at least washed your face?” Evanya fussed, licking her thumb and wiping a smudge off his cheek. “As if that scar isn’t ugly enough.”
“It’s not like he can wash that off,” Zashiel interrupted, coming to stand beside him. She was scowling now, with no hint of the playful flirtiness she’d shown the previous day. Mrs. Gnasher paused when she saw the sour-faced Sorakine.
“I’m sorry, but do we know—” Her eyes lit up with understanding. “You dyed your hair.”
Mr. Gnasher came to look at her, his brow furrowing suspiciously. “I’ve never known a Sorakine to dye her hair before.”
Zashiel crossed her arms and gave them a haughty look. “Yellow just wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I decided to change it.”
“Yes, well…” Brin looked back to his son. “You have your thing, son? Yes, good. Then get in there and show it to him.”
Toke looked down at the battery in his hand, and hesitated.
I have to tell them, he thought, his heart sinking into his stomach. I might not get another chance.
“Mom, Dad,” he said, looking back up at them. “There’s something you need to know.”
Before he could get any further, Zashiel’s hand was wrapped around his arm, giving him a painful squeeze.
“Tell them after the presentation,” she said.
His parents exchanged a confused glance. “Tell us what?” Evanya asked.
Zashiel gave them a sharp look. “He’ll tell you after he’s done here.”
“She’s right, Toke,” Navras agreed, giving him a gentle push towards the office. “Permissor Adal won’t give you a third chance. Get in there before he loses his patience.”
“I…” Toke looked at each of them in turn. His mom, his dad, his teacher, and the partner who had become his friend. Each of them had, in their own ways, made the biggest impacts on his life of anybody in the world. Seeing them all together like that, Toke was suddenly almost overwhelmed with emotion. “Okay.”
Before he could go, his father grabbed him by the shoulder.
“We’re all proud of you, Toke,” he said, looking his son in the eye. “Do well in there.”
Toke nodded. “I will.”
Standing taller than he ever had before, Toke turned and walked into the Permissor’s waiting room. The same receptionist sat in front of the door, and he confidently made his way to her.
What happens tomorrow doesn’t matter, he thought. This is what I’ve been living for, and I’m not going to let it get away. I’ll worry about Klevon later. Right now, it’s time to change Yasmik!
“Cassitoka Gnasher,” he said, holding up his battery and lamp for her to see. “I’m here for my presentation with Permissor Adal.”
“Good, he’s been waiting for you,” she replied. Getting up from her chair, she led him to the door and knocked on it.
“Is it him, Missa?” Adal’s voice came from the other side. A shiver ran down Toke’s spine, but he forced himself to stand still.
“Cassitoka Gnasher, for his presentation,” she called back.
“Send him in.”
Missa gave him a smile. “Good luck!” she said before opening the door and ushering him inside.
“Thank you,” Toke said, and stepped inside the office. Missa closed the door behind him.
Almost immediately, Toke could sense a change in the mood. Adal was sitting behind his desk with his hands clasped in front of him, watching as the young man came to stand before him. His eyes were hard, and his mouth was curved down in a scowl.
“Permissor Adal,” Toke said, bowing his head respectfully. “I want to thank you for agreeing to see me a second time.”
His heart was pounding so hard he could hear it.
“You may remember me from a month ago, when—”
“I remember you,” Adal said in a low voice.
Toke gulped, and his hands began to sweat. It looked like the Permissor hadn’t forgiven him for setting a bomb off in his face last time.
“Yes, well, I promise things will go differently today.”
Adal put his hands flat on his desk. “I expect they will, young man.”
Toke stood still for a minute, waiting for Adal to give him permission to begin. When the Permissor remained silent, he took that as his cue to start anyway.
“Sir,” he said, holding up his invention, “today I’m here to show you the future of jidoryo power. As I explained last time, I have found a way to provide energy to our machines without having to plug them into an outlet. This,” he tapped the metal tube, “is going to change everything.”
There was a small table in the middle of the room, so Toke emptied his hands onto it and turned back to the Permissor. Still, the man behind the desk stayed silent.
“I call it a battery,” Toke went on, gesturing toward it. “It is powered by a small jido crystal, no bigger than an adult’s thumb.”
A flicker of irritation crossed the Permissor’s face, and Toke winced. Of course he would remember that part. But, still, Adal said nothing. He just kept staring at Toke with those cold, angry eyes.
Toke spoke quickly, “Because of design flaws brought to light by our last meeting, sir, I have made some alterations to the battery’s outer shell. It will not fall apart as easily as it did before, and the crystal inside it is still safely immobile in a thick layer of rubber.”
He turned back to the table, and picked up the battery. “Observe.”
Please, please, PLEASE let this work!
With a swift, practiced motion, Toke inserted the battery into the lamp’s dock, and held his breath. Less than a second later, though it felt like an eternity, the lightbulb flickered to life. Toke let out a sigh of relief, and turned back to Adal.
“This one battery has enough jidoryo energy to power that lamp nonstop for over a month,” Toke said, unable to hide the pride on his face. “In fact, the lightbulb itself will go out before the battery does.”
But, somehow, the Permissor didn’t seem impressed. He barely gave the lamp a glance before fixing his gaze back on Toke again. A sinking feeling formed in Toke’s gut.
“Is that quite all?” Adal asked.
Toke gulped again, and nodded.
Adal’s scowl deepened. “Good. In that case, young man, we have other business to attend to.”
It was in that moment, staring into Permissor Adal’s eyes, that Toke realized what was going on. His entire body went numb.
“You know,” he whispered, his invention entirely forgotten.
Adal nodded. “I know.”
Toke barely had time to register what was going on before the Permissor picked a small bell up off his desk and jingled it. Immediately, his door burst open, and no less than a dozen guards came rushing into the office. Every single one of them was armed, and they knew exactly who their target was.
Reacting with the speed Zashiel’s training had instilled in him, Toke anchored himself to the ceiling, and immediately fell out of range of the guards’ swords and clubs. As soon as his feet touched down, Toke sprang backwards so that he was behind Adal. A few of the guards were carrying crossbows, but he was willing to bet they wouldn’t fire if the Permissor was between them.
Toke had expected Adal to panic when the distance between them was suddenly closed, but instead the Permissor looked up at him with a triumphant expression.
“I knew it!” he declared. “You are the Juryokine!”
Toke’s axes were hidden just underneath his shirt, bundled up in his jacket, and he itched to whip them out. He resisted that urge, though. The guards were ready for a fight, and drawing his weapons would definitely not calm them down. Plus, he’d clearly just confirmed the Permissor’s suspicions by walking on the ceiling. There was no point in denying things, then. All he could do was come clean, and hope Adal was in a more reasonable mood than Toke had any right to expect.
“I know what you think,” Toke said, slowly raising his hands in surrender. That put them almost even with Adal’s face. “But I didn’t kill Lampa.”
Adal’s expression hardened at the mention of his son, and he finally stepped around so his desk was between him and Toke.
“You expect me to believe that, you scum?” he snarled. “After I’ve already caught you trying to do the same to me?”
Toke shook his head. “I know how it looks, sir, and I don’t blame you for thinking that. But I wasn’t in your office to kill you, I was just… looking for something.”
Adal’s face turned red, and he held up a hand. The archers behind him raised their bows, ready to fire.
“I don’t care why you did it,” he said. “You killed my son, and you tried to kill me. Because of that, Cassitoka Gnasher, I hereby convict you of treason against Yasmik and sentence you to die!”
How many times can someone get the death sentence in one day? Toke wondered.
“Permissor Adal,” he exclaimed before the old man could give the signal to fire, “your son’s death was an accident. I was trying to take down the Nails, and he was their leader. I just—”
“How dare you?” Adal roared, his face darkening from red to purple. “Lampa was the very definition of civility! He would never have anything to do with those lowlifes!”
No good. Of course he wouldn’t listen to accusations like that from his son’s murderer. To Adal, Toke probably sounded like a criminal blurting out every story he could think of in a last ditch attempt to get away. There was nothing else for it, then. He would have to fight his way free. But right now he was at a disadvantage. He needed to keep Adal talking until he could arm himself.
“How did you find out?” he asked, slowly moving his hands behind his back, where he could reach his axes. He’d fought more guards than this the last time he was here, but that had been outside. In such a small room, with hardly any room to move, he’d be turned into a pincushion before he was in striking distance.
The window, he realized. The window was right behind him. There were probably even more guards stationed outside, just in case he did exactly what he was planning to do, but he would fare infinitely better out there than in the office.
A smug half smile rose to Adal’s face. “A friend of yours stopped by just before you did. He told me everything, and offered me justice for my son’s murder. How could I turn him down?”
“Who was it?” Toke asked, even though he had a sinking feeling that he already knew.
Adal cautiously made his way to his desk, and when Toke didn’t attack he rang the bell again. The door flew open a second time, and three people were shoved inside. His mother, his father, and Zashiel. Zashiel fell to the floor, already unconscious, with a nasty looking bruise on the side of her head. And then a fourth man followed, confirming Toke’s suspicions.
“Hello again, Juryokine,” said Sir Klevon from underneath his hood.
“Klevon,” Toke returned the greeting. The moment the Seraph had stepped into the room, Toke’s mind had kicked into high gear. His chances of survival had suddenly decreased by a very large amount. Even escaping out the window wouldn’t help him now.
Brin rolled over on the floor. “Toke, what’s going…” his voice trailed off when he saw his son standing on the ceiling.
“Dad, I…” Toke stopped. Saying he could explain this was a lie. “I’m sorry.”
Mr. Gnasher looked like he was in shock, and Toke’s mother didn’t look much better. Both of them were staring at their son, seeing him defy gravity itself as if it were as natural as breathing.
“You’re the… the…” Brin stammered.
“I know what you’ve heard about me,” Toke interrupted him. “None of it’s true!”
He was more afraid now than he’d ever been in his life. He had fought the man causing the Gravity Storms, spied on Yasmik’s politicians, and singlehandedly taken down a notorious street gang. Just that morning, he had escaped from a city full of flying warriors after being given the death sentence. And yet, seeing his parents on the floor, looking up at him like he was some sort of monster, it was like none of those things had ever happened. He was a child again, ashamed and waiting for his parents’ judgement.
I… I did this for a good reason, he thought, desperately trying to get his confidence back. It was nowhere to be found.
“I’m sure you’ve figured out what happens next,” Klevon said, bringing Toke’s attention back to him. “Surrender yourself, or I will not hesitate to kill your parents.”
Toke’s heart began to pound even harder, and he turned to Adal in desperation. “You can’t let him do that!” he shouted. “My parents are Yasmikans, they’re not bound by Sorakine law!”
Adal huffed. “They are accomplices to an assassin. I don’t care what he does to them.”
Toke shook his head wildly. “My parents are innocent! They didn’t know about any of this until right this minute!”
“That may be true,” Klevon responded, “but that is a risk the Sorakines are unwilling to take. You might have told them the secret to making Juryokines. Smite it, they might even be Juryokines!”
Brin looked from Adal to Klevon and shook his head. “Now, see here!” he said, his outrage overpowering his fear. He began to get to his knees. “I demand to know what is going on, and why you think my son is—”
He was cut off when Klevon put his hand over his face, and shoved him back to the floor. Under the Sorakines superior strength, Brin collapsed like a scarecrow. Toke ground his teeth together.
“Dad, don’t do anything,” he said, and then turned to Klevon. He had been backed into a corner, and everybody knew it. With Zashiel unconscious, he didn’t stand a chance against Klevon, not to mention the half dozen armed guards packed into the room with them. He wasn’t ready to give up yet, though. If he couldn’t fight, perhaps he could bluff.
“Why should I surrender myself to save my parents,” he asked after taking a deep breath, “when you’ve already said you’re going to kill them too?”
For once, a smile rose to Klevon’s face, and he chuckled. Toke was surprised the expression didn’t split his face in half.
“Now you’re finally talking like a criminal,” he said. “I’m willing to cut you a deal, Juryokine. There are tests we can run on your parents to see if they are Juryokines like you. Give yourself over peacefully, and I give my word that they will receive those tests. If they are found innocent, we will release them.”
A soft moan came from the floor, and everyone looked to see Zashiel stirring.
“Not… a criminal,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper. “A warrior. A warrior… indeed.”
The half of Klevon’s face that was visible beneath his visor turned red, and he raised his foot and stomped and Zashiel’s head, knocking her out again.
“That is my offer, Juryokine,” he said, looking back up at Toke. “Take it, or leave it.”
Toke was still for a minute, contemplating his options. It didn’t look like he had any.
“You’re lying,” he said, slowly. “You’re a Seraph. You don’t care how many humans die, so long as you kill me in the end.”
Klevon went rigid.
That’s right, you dropper, Toke thought. Sorakines aren’t the only ones capable of using their brains.
“If that is the way you want to do it,” Klevon growled, and pulled Evanya to her feet by her hair, “then I will oblige.”
Toke’s mother screamed, but was powerless to keep the winged man from doing what he wanted. Brin, shaking off his fear a second time, got to his feet but was put down again by a swift kick to his stomach. With his other hand, Klevon drew one of his spears. Instead of extending it, he slowly began to inch it closer to Evanya’s chest. She looked up at her son with a terrified, pleading expression. A cold sweat broke out all over Toke’s body. Klevon wasn’t bluffing. He was actually going to kill his mother.
“Wait!” he shouted, holding out a hand towards his mother.
Klevon’s weapon froze where it was, and he looked expectantly up at the young man.
This is it, Toke realized, and a chill ran down his spine. There really is no way out of this.
“Let- let her go,” he said, trying to sound as brave as he could, “and I’ll come down.”
Without further argument, Klevon released Evanya, and she collapsed back to the floor, trembling and whimpering.
“Mom, I’m sorry about this,” Toke whispered. She looked up at him, and he could see the terror in her eyes.
“Don’t do it!” she screamed.
Toke paused just in time to not release his anchor.
“He’s going to kill you, Toke!” his mother said, still lying on the floor. “Don’t let him. Run!”
Toke’s mouth fell open. “But…”
“Toke,” it was his father speaking this time, “I forbid you to die, do you hear me? I forbid it! Leave us here. Run!”
Now Toke was at a complete loss. His parents actually wanted him to leave them to die.
Klevon glared at them both from behind his visor. “Well,” he said, “if you’re both so eager to die, then I can speed up the process.”
He hefted his spear again, and extended it to its full length with a flick of his wrist. He pointed it at his father this time, and Toke knew there was no way his aim would fail.
He let himself fall back to the floor.
Klevon turned back around, actually looking surprised. Toke tried to summon up the anger to glare at him, but there was nothing but shame and defeat in his heart now.
“Toke, no!” his mother screamed.
“Perhaps there is a little nobility in you, after all,” the Seraph mused, and lifted the spear a third time. “Not that I particularly care.”
“Stop!” Permissor Adal exclaimed, and suddenly he was standing by Klevon’s side. “You promised me justice.”
“I’m giving you justice,” Klevon argued. His voice sounded like he was on the verge of losing his temper. “The one who murdered your son is about to die—”
“By my hand!” the Permissor insisted, pulling a knife out of his belt. “If it’s going to be justice, it has to be by my hand!”
Klevon scowled at him from underneath his hood. “That is not Sorakine custom! I must be the one to do the deed!”
Adal shook his head stubbornly and glared at Toke. “The freak dies either way, so what does it matter?”
Klevon mulled this over for a few seconds, and then finally lowered his spear. “Very well.” He turned to Toke. “Nothing has changed, Juryokine. Just keep in mind that if you resist, your parents are still right there.”
“Toke, please,” Evanya begged him. “Run now!”
“I can’t, Mom,” Toke whispered, looking at the Permissor.
Adal was old, and that flimsy knife looked pathetic in his hands. It was more like a letter opener, Toke thought as the Permissor cautiously made his way towards him. He could beat him without even breaking a sweat. But he wouldn’t. Not when his parents were still at Klevon’s mercy.
He’ll kill them anyway! the warrior Zashiel had turned him into argued. You’re not saving them from anything!
But if I don’t, I’ll have to watch them be killed. I can’t save them, no matter what I do.
With that, the last remaining spark of rebelliousness inside him was doused.
“Lie down on the floor,” Adal said, now only five feet away. “Do it now!”
Toke obeyed without argument, and found himself looking up at the ceiling. There were a pair of dirty footprints up there…
“Don’t do it!” Brin shouted. “Please, I’ll do anything!”
“This is for Lampa,” Adal said, standing over Toke and raising the knife. “This is for my son, you dirty, rotten dropper!”
Before the Permissor could plunge the knife into Toke’s heart, a bright green light lit up the room, and the window imploded. Glass rained down on Toke as a big, black object flew above him.
“What in the world?” Adal screeched, spinning around just before a metal spike erupted from his back. Sparks flew from the tip, making his body twitch. He was dead before he even had the chance to scream.
Holy smite, it’s him, Toke thought, too stunned to move from his spot on the floor. He’s here!
The spearman put a foot on the former Permissor’s chest and pushed him off of his weapon. His body fell to the floor with a wet thud, and his unseeing eyes seemed to focus on Toke. On the other side of the room, the guards were so surprised that they hadn’t even turned their weapons on the new intruder.
Virkhul… he figured out who I am, after all.
Klevon didn’t seem to care much that Toke’s stories about the spearman had proven to be true. He reacted with the speed Toke would expect of a Sorakine, and drew both of his spears, extending them to their full length. Then, with a howl of rage, he charged at the Spearman.
What’s he doing here, though? Why not just let Klevon kill me?
Virkhul parried Klevon’s first attack, and then kicked him in the chest. The armor once again displayed its power as the Seraph went stumbling backwards until he struck the wall. Then, before he could attack again, Virkhul pounded the butt of his spear on the floor.
Instantly, the green light grew brighter as a Gravity Storm was created inside the Permissor’s office. Everything that wasn’t nailed to the floor rose into the air— including the people. No two objects followed the same path. The Permissor’s desk went flying through the ceiling, up into the floor above them, while the guards were thrown to different corners of the room. Toke lost sight of his parents immediately. The only thing remaining on the floor was Virkhul. Toke, for his part, found himself flying directly at him.
Virkhul’s hand shot out and caught Toke just before they collided. Ice flooded Toke’s veins as he looked into his visor, but could only see his own reflection. It was like looking into the eyes of death, itself.
Then Virkhul raised the butt of his spear and slammed it into Toke’s head.
Everything went dark.
NEXT TIME: Oh smite… oh smite… ohsmiteohsmiteohsmiteohsmiteohsmiteohsmite. Yeah, I think that about covers it. Remember, if you’re tired of waiting for updates, you can purchase the entire book for $2.99 on Kindle and $16.00 for a paperback.