There was a strange vibration in the air when Toke began to regain consciousness. The kind you can’t really hear, but you feel deep in your bones. He groaned and forced his eyes open.
He was in a tiny room, he realized, and his arms were shackled to the wall above his head. He sat with his back to the wall, legs stretched out in front of him. The shackles were so tight his wrists were already raw. He would have had to break his arms to stand up.
There was a dim green light coming from somewhere above him, and with it Toke was able to see the wall of bars on the opposite end of the room. A cell. Virkhul had put him in a cell. A glance upwards revealed the source of the light: a vein of green energy, thicker than both his arms put together, was running through the wall.
“No smiting way,” he whispered, his eyes growing wide in awe.
“Toke?” a voice called out, making him jump. “Are you awake?”
Toke turned to looked further into the cell, and saw a familiar figure chained to the wall perpendicular to him. “Professor Navras!”
The old inventor had his arms bound above his head, just like Toke. He still wore his robes, but a dark, ugly bruise marred his face. He moaned as he raised his head to look at his pupil.
“Thank goodness,” he said. “I was beginning to think that madman had killed you.”
“Are you okay, Professor?” Toke asked. With a bruise like that, he wouldn’t have been surprised if Navras had a concussion.
Navras nodded wearily. “I will survive. What about you? How do you feel?”
Toke did a quick mental inspection of himself. Apart from the metal chaffing his wrists, he felt fine, given the circumstances.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“I wish I knew,” Navras answered. “I was unconscious when they brought me here, same as you.”
Toke gave his professor a sharp look. “They?” he repeated. “So there is more than one of them!”
Navras was about to answer when another voice interrupted him. “Toke? Toke, are you there?”
Toke looked out through the bars. He could barely make out two other figures in another cell across from his.
“Dad?” called back. “You’re here too?”
“And your mother,” Brin said, the relief plain in his voice. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” he told them. “Mom, what about you?”
“I- I think I’m all right,” Evanya’s weak, frightened voice replied.
Toke sighed. “Good. But if you’re all here, then that means…” he paused, and then shouted, “Zashiel, are you here too?”
“I’m over here,” came her reply. “I’m fine.”
“All right,” Toke said, trying to gather his thoughts, “all right, all right, all right… What’s going on here?”
“Your spearman took us to his lair,” Navras answered. “That much should be obvious.”
Toke looked at his professor in surprise. Even now, when they were in mortal danger, Navras was in teacher mode.
“Okay, but why?” he asked. “Me and Zashiel, I can understand. You too, if he found out you knew his secret. But why did he bring my parents?”
“Toke,” his father interrupted again, “tell me what is going on right now, young man! That- that man in the glowing armor. What does he have to do with you?”
Toke grimaced, and faced his father as best he could with his hands bound. “It’s kind of a long story, Dad.”
Even in the darkness, he could almost sense his father’s scowl. “Well, son, it looks like we’re not going anywhere. You may as well tell us.”
Toke sighed and looked down at his shoes.
“You already know a lot of it,” he said. “You heard what Permissor Adal said. Smite it, you even saw me standing on his ceiling!”
There was the sound of rustling cloth, and then Toke’s mother spoke up. “What a load of rubbish! Are you trying to tell me you’re really the assassin everyone’s trying to find?”
Suddenly, Toke wished more than ever that his hands were free, because he desperately wanted to wring them.
“Kind of,” he answered through gritted teeth, “but not really.”
Both of his parents went silent in surprise. Then his father asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means,” Toke answered, “that yes, I’m the Juryokine. But I’m not an assassin. I never tried to kill Adal, and Lampa was… he was an accident.”
Looking through the bars again, Toke could vaguely see his father take a surprised step backwards and put his hand to his head.
“Well,” Brin said a minute later, “that is, quite honestly, the last thing that I expected to hear from you, Toke. My son, a criminal!”
“He’s only an outlaw because your government is full of selfish, dimwitted pigs!” Zashiel shouted from whatever cell she was in. “He hasn’t done a smiting thing wrong.”
“Toke,” Evanya’s gentle voice spoke out before Zashiel could fling any more insults, “tell us what happened.”
Toke sighed and leaned his head against the wall. “I guess nobody would care at this point if I said it was all Zashiel’s idea, would they?” When nobody laughed, he continued, “Zashiel came to me the day I failed my first presentation. She told me she thought the Gravity Storms were manmade, but needed help proving it.”
“Rubbish,” his mother said again. “They’re just—”
“You saw one!” Zashiel interrupted. There was anger in her voice, hotter than anything she’d ever directed at Toke. “The spearman made a Storm inside Permissor Adal’s office. You were in it! What more proof do you need?”
Evanya didn’t say anything, but Toke could hear Brin shuffling his feet. “Sorry.”
“Turns out, she was right,” Toke went on. “The guy who brought us here is the one who’s been making the Gravity Storms happen. Before you ask, no, we don’t know how yet. All we know is that if you mix jidoryo with the chemical that lets Sorakines fly, you get kaosuryo. Somehow, he’s been using that for the Storms. That’s why the Storms are green, and his suit too.”
Mr. Gnasher groaned, and Toke knew he was nearing his father’s breaking point. A man could only take so much insanity in one day, after all.
“Honestly, son,” he said, “I couldn’t care less about what that lunatic is doing right now. I want to know what happened to you!”
“Everyone calls you a Juryokine,” Mrs. Gnasher added. “What the smite does that mean?”
Toke blinked, stunned for a few seconds. It wasn’t often that a swear word made it out of his mother’s mouth.
“Basically,” he explained, “it means that I can control gravity like a Sorakine. I can’t fly, but… well, you saw me standing on Permissor Adal’s ceiling. I can do that with any solid surface I see.”
“Good heavens,” Mr. Gnasher was running his temples now. “What else is there? Is it dangerous?”
“No, just…” Toke answered, and then bit his tongue. It would be better not to let them know how close he’d come to death during his transformation.
“Besides the fact that literally everybody wants him dead now,” Zashiel spat, her words dropping with venom.
“Zashiel!” Toke snapped. “Will you knock it off? They’re my parents. They deserve to know this!”
Zashiel fell silent, and Toke tried to compose himself again.
“That’s about all there is to it,” he said at last. “And… I’m sorry you two got dragged into it.”
“We have to figure out what we’re going to do now,” Zashiel spoke up again. “We’re in the spearman’s base. If we can break out, we can find whatever he’s making the Gravity Storms with and destroy it.”
“That is too dangerous!” Brin exclaimed, coming to stand by the bars again. “I forbid it!”
“You have no idea what you’re—”
“Dad,” Toke interrupted her, “somebody has to do it! Virkhul’s destroyed one city with it. If we don’t stop him, who knows how many more people he’ll kill?”
“Then let her do it. She’s a Sorakine. That’s what they do!”
“I promised to help her stop the Storms,” Toke argued. “This will probably be our only chance, and I intend to take it.”
“Toke,” his father said in a low voice, “I forbid—”
“It’s my decision, not yours,” Toke cut him off. “You can’t forbid me to do anything, because I’m…” he hesitated. “I’m an adult now.”
The moment those words came out of his mouth, he realized they were true. He wasn’t just pretending at being grown up anymore, he actually was grown up. And it had happened without Adal’s permission…
“Zashiel,” he called, “are you chained?”
“Yeah,” she answered. “My arms and legs have three shackles each.”
“Smite!” Toke spat. Even with her strength, she wouldn’t be able to break out of bonds like those. The Spearman had known what he was doing. After a few seconds, he asked, “Why are we even here? Why didn’t he just kill us all at the Permissor’s office?”
“If I might have a moment,” Navras said. Toke turned to look at him. The professor had been so quiet over the last few minutes that he’d almost forgotten he was there. “I believe I have the answer to your question.”
Toke leaned as close to Navras as he could. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I was the first one to wake up after being brought here,” he answered. “The spearman was standing guard, and he told me to give you this message.”
A chill ran down Toke’s spine. This was the first time the spearman had actually tried to communicate with them.
“He says that the final stage of his plan begins today. It is too late to stop him. But he doesn’t wish to kill you.”
Toke snorted. “Could’ve fooled me.”
Navras went on, “He says that he has great respect for you, Toke. Without your batteries, he never would have been able to accomplish this. So, he would like to spare your life in exchange for your cooperation.”
“My cooperation?” Toke echoed. “My cooperation in what?”
“All he wants is for you to not interfere,” Navras answered. “He says that he is not your enemy, and that, in time, you would understand everything.”
Hearing this, Toke’s face turned red with anger, and he clenched his fists. “How can he say he’s not my enemy after everything he’s done? He killed all those people at the Flashing River. He destroyed an entire smiting city!”
Navras shook his head. “I don’t know, Toke.”
Toke groaned, but took a few seconds to let himself calm down. “Did he say anything else? Like, what he’s planning to do?”
“Yes,” Navras said, darkly. “He didn’t go into any details, but he said that in just a few hours he’s going to launch an attack that will change Yasmik forever.”
Everybody in the prison fell silent. Even the sound of their breathing vanished. For a few long seconds, Toke could hear nothing but the incessant buzzing of the kaosuryo pipes in the wall.
“He told you to tell me that,” he finally said, “and he still expects me to join him?”
“He said that this would be a change for the better,” Navras clarified. “Again, he says that you will understand in time.”
Toke looked down at his feet again, thinking. “He made you the same offer, didn’t he, Professor?”
A wry chuckle rose from Navras’ throat. “Yes, indeed he did. That’s why he brought me here with you.”
Toke glanced at the cell his parents were being held in. “That’s why he brought them too, isn’t it? Just in case I need more convincing to join up with him.”
“Perhaps,” Navras agreed. “Or, perhaps he wanted to keep them safe during his attack. A symbol of his good intentions.”
“Good intentions my foot!” Toke retorted, and then clamped his mouth shut when he realized he’d been yelling. He settled back against the wall to think.
The decision should have been easy. The spearman was trying to destroy Yasmik. Ergo, helping him should have been the last thing on Toke’s mind. But, somehow, he was having a hard time reaching that conclusion. If it were just him and Zashiel here, he would never have considered it. As scary as it was, he had been telling the truth when he told Zashiel he was willing to die to stop the Storms. But now his parents were here, and the wrong decision might get them killed as well.
“What are you going to do, sir?” he asked.
Navras shook his head. “Don’t worry about my decision, Toke. Make your own, and do what you think is right.”
Toke bit his lip. If Navras had told him what to do, one way or the other, that would have made the decision so much easier. If nothing else, it would mean that the professor was ultimately to blame, and… Toke felt horrible for even thinking that way. Slowly, he turned to look into his parents’ cell again.
“Mom?” he called into the darkness. “Dad? Did you hear all that?”
“We heard,” Brin said a few seconds later. He sounded more defeated now than Toke had ever heard before. Even more than when Zashiel had scolded him.
“What do you think?” he asked.
Neither of them responded for a long time.
“You have to do what you think is right, son,” Mrs. Gnasher said at last. “We can’t make that decision for you.”
Cold sweat broke out on Toke’s hands. “But what about you?”
“You said it yourself, Toke,” his father answered. “You’re an adult now. You have to make your own decisions.”
Suddenly, it felt like a knife had been driven into Toke’s chest, but somehow it felt… good. Tears rolled down his cheeks, splattering onto his shirt, and he turned to look at Navras.
“I can’t do it,” he whispered. “I can’t just sit here and let him destroy Yasmik.”
Navras gave him a flat stare. “That is your decision, then?”
For a moment, all was still. Then, Navras sighed.
“I have to admit, Toke, that I am disappointed.”
Toke looked up at his teacher again. “What do you—”
Before he could finish his sentence, Navras gave his shackles a sharp jerk, and they popped open.
“I was hoping you’d see reason,” the old inventor said, standing up. He rubbed the soreness out of his wrists, and then fished a key out of an inner pocket of his robe. “Very, very disappointed.”
“Professor,” Toke sputtered, unable to believe what was happening right in front of his eyes. “What’s going on here?”
Navras unlocked the cell door and stepped outside. He gave his student a cold, but sorrowful look, and slammed the door closed.
“I’ll explain everything in greater detail later,” he said. He turned with a sweep of his robes and began to walk away. “After my plan has been completed.”
NEXT TIME: So it was Navras all along, huh? What does this mean for Toke? What does this mean for all of Yasmik? Oh, and… smitesmitesmitesmitesmitesmitesmitesmite! 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.