AUTHOR’S NOTE: Yep, the update’s a day early. I’m going out of town Saturday for a funeral, and I figured it’d be a good idea to put the chapter up now just in case I don’t have time tomorrow. And so, without further ado…
Chapter Thirty Four
The door Navras had gone through still stood open. Toke took Zashiel by the elbow and gave her a gentle tug.
“Come on,” he said, doing his best not to look at the crippled Sorakines on the walls. “Let’s go.”
This time, he led Zashiel as they went deeper into Navras’ base. Instead of a hallway on the other end of this door, they immediately found themselves in another gigantic room. This one was even bigger than the grindstone room, and there, smack dab in the center…
“The Terracaelum,” Toke whispered, awed in spite of himself.
“Majestic, isn’t it?” Navras asked. Toke looked up and saw the inventor on a catwalk above them. He stood in front of a control board, and his hands were flying across it, pressing buttons and pulling levers. “Here’s something I think you’ll find interesting, Toke.”
A machine came to life on the other side of the room, and a large crane arm descended to the floor to pick up a long metal cylinder. Seeing it, Toke gasped.
“A battery that big could blow up this entire building!” he exclaimed.
“It’s the only energy source powerful enough for the Terracaelum,” Navras answered, shouting above the noise. “Juryo is only half the equation, my boy. That’s what makes it fly, but I still have to turn the smiting thing on!”
He laughed, but Toke couldn’t tear his eyes off of the gargantuan battery as it was lowered into a cylindrical opening on top of the Terracaelum. The machine was, indeed, majestic. It looked like a giant bird of prey in the dark green light of Navras’ laboratory, watching them and waiting for its chance to strike.
Toke knew he should attack his professor while he was distracted putting the finishing touches on the machine, but he still had so many questions.
“What are you planning to do with it?” he asked. “You know it creates Gravity Storms, so what use could it possibly have?”
“I told you before,” Navras answered, “I didn’t intend for the Terracaelum to cause such destruction. But a true inventor doesn’t give up just because things don’t work out the first time. Even if it served no purpose to the general public, I could still think of one use for it.” The old man shivered with glee. “And oh, what a glorious use it would be!”
There was something in Navras’ voice that stilled Toke’s blades even more.
Keep him talking. Find out what his plan is.
“What’s that?” he asked.
Navras looked down at his former pupil. “You know, Toke, I thought I had everything planned out.”
With one hand on the rail, Navras descended the stairs to join Toke and Zashiel. Even now, minutes before unleashing destruction upon Yasmik, the professor was the very image of dignity and poise.
“But I could never have foreseen you becoming a part of it all. At least, not in the way you have.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Toke demanded. He held his axes at the ready, waiting for Navras to spring at him. Instead, the inventor ignored him, walking right past him and the Sorakine girl.
“I mean that, of all the people I would have expected to get in my way, you were the last one who would have ever crossed my mind. That night we met in Exton, you were lucky you had Zashiel there to help you escape. Otherwise, I would have killed you without a second thought.”
Zashiel made a strange noise in her throat, and Toke knew she was half a second away from attacking.
“The following day, when I saw the scar on your cheek,” he went on, tinkering with an instrument with his back turned to them, “I refused to believe it. How could Cassitoka Gnasher, the greatest student I have ever had the honor to teach, be the infamous Juryokine? Well,” he amended, “you weren’t quite so infamous back then, but my point still stands.”
“What about at the Flashing River?” Toke asked. “For someone who’s not trying to hurt people, you sure made a mess that night.”
Navras turned and gave him an amused smirk. “Why, I was there for you, Toke!”
Zashiel looked at him in confusion, and Toke shrugged.
“The delivery of your crystal was taking too long. If we had waited, your second chance with Permissor Adal might have been wasted.”
“So you went to the Flashing River to get one yourself? Why did you have to kill everyone in the camp?”
Navras turned to face them again, and the kind, grandfatherly face of his professor was gone. In its place was the cold, hard look of a professional soldier.
“I couldn’t allow there to be any witnesses,” he answered. “If even one of those workers had made it back to talk about me, it could have revealed my entire plan. Just like Exton, their deaths were regrettable but unavoidable.”
“Unavoidable?” Zashiel screamed. “They had nothing to do with your plan. You killed them because they were in your way!”
Navras gave her a sharp look. “I don’t expect you to understand, young lady. You call yourself a warrior, but to me you’re still just a child.”
Zashiel’s face darkened.
“I’ll admit, you’re a gifted fighter, but a few small scuffles does not a soldier make. You cannot rightly call yourself a warrior if you have never been to war.”
“I’ll show you a warrior!” the Sorakine shouted. Before Toke could stop her, she drew her chakrams and launched herself at Navras. The old man reacted with seasoned reflexes, and moved to intercept the first blade as she swung it at him. The chakram was halted midswing by Navras’ forearm, and a metallic clang rang through the room. Zashiel struggled against him for a few seconds, even though all the power behind her attack had been lost.
A green flash came from Navras’ empty hand, and his spear came hurtling at him from across the room. He caught it.
“Zashiel, look out!” Toke yelled, but it was too late. Zashiel didn’t have time to move before Navras plunged the spear into her stomach, the tip piercing straight through her jacket.
Zashiel’s eyes opened wide, her face ashen, and she went limp in Navras’ grip. Her entire body continued to spasm as the spear shocked her.
“Zashiel!” Toke screamed in horror as the professor pulled his weapon out and backhanded her across the face, sending her flying across the room until she struck the wall and collapsed in a broken, bleeding mess. “No!”
Toke ran to her and rolled her as gently as he could onto her back. Her stomach was bleeding profusely, but the fact that she was still breathing was a relief.
“Ch… Chiyuka,” she managed to croak, blood leaking out of her mouth when she spoke.
Toke nodded, trying to push down the terror, and rummaged through her pockets until he found the blue bottle. His hand froze for a second when he looked at it. The ointment could heal cuts and broken bones, but would it be enough for a stab wound like this?
It won’t matter either way if you let her bleed to death! Toke thought, spurring himself into action. He hurriedly unzipped her jacket and raised her shirt. The wound was just as bad as he’d imagined, and he had to look away for a couple seconds to keep from throwing up. Then, squeezing half the bottle into his hand, he set to work rubbing the ointment into her skin. Zashiel gasped when his hands touched the wound, but he didn’t stop. An injury like that could kill someone in a matter of minutes.
Finally, her skin absorbed the last trace of the blue cream. Toke stood up and watched, holding his breath, waiting for her to heal. At first nothing happened, but then the wound began to close up. The ointment worked slowly on such a terrible injury, and blood still poured out of it in the meantime. Toke’s heart sank into his stomach as grim realization came to him.
It might not be enough. And if it wasn’t, there was nothing else he could do for her.
He caught a flurry of motion out of the corner of his eye, and turned to see Navras casting off his inventor’s robes. Underneath them, he wore the glowing green armor of the spearman.
“There have always been three words I’ve thought could describe your entire race,” he said, looking derisively down at the fallen Sorakine. “They’re arrogant, reckless, and selfish. That, more than anything, justifies what I’m going to do.”
Toke clenched his fist as realization dawned on him.
“It’s the Sorakines,” he said. “You built the Terracaelum to use as a weapon against the Sorakines!”
Navras nodded again, but this time he didn’t smile.
“I told you, I never meant any harm to Yasmik or its people.”
“Those who died did so for a noble purpose!” Navras insisted. “I am not a cruel man, Toke, but I won’t repent for a few casualties. I am keeping my eye fixed on the grand scheme of things!”
Toke was so angry that the room seemed to spin around him.
“I can’t believe I’m hearing you say this!” he shouted. “Is that really what you think, or are you just trying to wash the blood off your hands?”
“I am a soldier, boy, not some dimwitted thug on the streets!” The professor roared, finally losing his temper. “I have had blood on my hands since before your parents were born. I don’t feel guilt for doing what is necessary, even if it makes me a monster!”
He pointed an accusing finger at Zashiel. “Her kind has been a thorn in Yasmik’s side since the beginning of history! They live on our land, they demand amnesty from our laws, and they help themselves to our resources, but when our nation is in danger they stay holed up in their floating city and refuse to help us.”
“You can’t punish their entire race for what happened at Zetheran Pass!”
Navras scowled, and turned to the far wall where he opened up another locker. “And what would have happened to us if I had failed that day, Toke? The Vlangurtian army would have invaded Jerulkan, executed every politician in office, and Yasmik would have been absorbed into Vlangur. Every single one of our citizens would have been punished for their cowardice, while they stayed safe and secure in Hashira.”
“What about their children?”
“What about ours?”
“They weren’t even alive when it happened. You can’t punish them for something their parents did!”
“And why not?” Navras turned around. He held the Spearman’s helmet in the crook of his elbow and his jidoryo spear in his other hand. “Toke, every Sorakine in that city will tell you they are a warrior. They stand together, not as a race, but as an army! I say, if they all salute the same banner, let them all die together.”
Zashiel grunted, and both of them turned to look at her.
“I told I don’t… condone what they did!” she gasped, and tried to sit up.
“Don’t move!” Toke ordered, running over to push her back down. “You’re just going to hurt yourself more.”
“You did tell me that,” Navras concurred, “which is the only reason you’re still alive. Perhaps there are others that would agree with you, but I have no intention of asking every Sorakine in Hashira their opinion on the subject. The Terracaelum is finally complete, and I’m going to launch my attack today.”
“You’re crazy!” Toke yelled, spinning around to face him again. “I don’t care how big a breakthrough your invention is, you’ll never be able to take on the entire Sorakine army by yourself.”
Navras chuckled, a hint of his earlier humor returning. “Oh, I don’t intend to fight them, Toke. Not the way you’re thinking, at any rate. No, this battle will hardly be a battle at all. I am going to attack them in the spot where they’re the most vulnerable, and wipe them out with one grand strike.”
Toke looked at the Terracaelum. The gigantic contraption looked formidable, but he couldn’t see any weapons mounted on it.
“What do you mean by that?” he asked.
“I mean,” Navras answered taking a menacing step toward him, “that I am going to fly my invention directly into Hashira. I have studied maps of the pillar’s innards, and I am confident that I can make it all the way to the very center of the city. Once I do that, I will crash the Terracaelum, and the ensuing Gravity Storm will make Hashira fall out of the sky.”
Toke froze where he was standing, all feeling leaking out of his heels. This whole time, he had assumed that Navras was embarking on a suicide mission. The entire Yasmik military probably wouldn’t stand a chance against the Sorakine race. While not much of a comfort, Toke had still been confident that his professor would never be able to carry out such a preposterous task.
But this… this could actually work.
“You understand now,” Navras said, looking into his student’s eyes. “Good. Then you know there’s nothing you can do to stop me.”
He pressed a button, and another machine rose out of the floor. From this, the professor stretched a hose to the side of the Terracaelum, which he inserted into an outlet.
“I could stop you,” Toke said, his voice a feeble croak. “Zashiel taught me to fight.”
Navras huffed in his throat. “You’ve seen me incapacitate two Sorakines today without suffering a single scratch. What do you think you’ll be able to do to me?”
Before Toke could respond, the old man pulled a lever, and the machine began to roar. Toke tensed up, expecting the Terracaelum to come to life and ignite a Gravity Storm. Instead, the hose it was connected to began to glow. A few seconds later, Toke noticed that the green pipes that encircled the room were growing dimmer.
He’s putting the kaosuryo into the Terracaelum, Toke realized, and his pulse spiked. I’m running out of time!
Toke’s brain began to work again. Navras was right, he wouldn’t stand a chance against him in a fight. There had to be something he could do, though. He had no idea just how much kaosuryo Navras had stored up in his base, but it wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to syphon it all into the Terracaelum. Even now, the hose was glowing even brighter than the veins on the walls, as…
All at once, he remembered Zashiel’s plan to cut the kaosuryo vein. Without his power source, Navras would never be able to get the Terracaelum into the sky. It would likely cause such a massive Storm that the entire base would be turned into a crater, but what choice did he have?
Toke pulled his right arm back, and hurled his axe at the hose with every bit of strength he could muster…
And, with blinding speed, Navras swung his spear and knocked the axe off course.
“I’m disappointed, Toke,” he said, looking at him with regret in his eyes. The axe clattered to the ground on the other side of the room. “I had hoped that you, of all people, would support me.”
Toke shook his head, angry sweat dripping from his brow. “You stole my invention, and you’re using to it to kill people. I’m a murderer now because of you, and you think I’m going to support you?”
“You failed twice with Adal. Your batteries are never going to be sanctioned.”
“Yeah, especially now that you’ve killed the Permissor.”
“But despite what the government says, I have put your invention to good use. Are you really not grateful at all?”
Toke looked at the Terracaelum again, thought of the man-sized battery it contained, and found that he was ashamed of it.
“This isn’t how I meant for it to be used,” he answered. “If this is what you’re planning to do with it, then I wish I’d never even had the idea at all.”
This, more than anything else, seemed to catch Navras off guard. When Toke looked back into his teacher’s eyes, he saw genuine pain within them. Navras was a Master Inventor. The disownment of such a revolutionary idea must have been akin to cutting on one’s own hand off to him. And, in part, Toke felt the same. But he’d meant what he said. His batteries had already caused enough destruction.
Toke raised his axe, and Navras fixed him with a cold glare.
“Hear me and hear me well, Toke,” he said, and his grip on his spear tightened. “The last thing I want to do is kill you. But make no mistake, nothing is more important than my mission. If you force my hand, I won’t hesitate to do it.”
A chill ran down Toke’s spine, but it didn’t dampen his resolve.
I’m a warrior. Zashiel said so. And if I have to die to save Yasmik, I’ll do it.
Without any further thought, Toke swung the axe. Navras batted the attack aside, and retaliated by thrusting the spear directly at Toke’s chest. Toke decreased his gravity, and jumped up just as the spear’s sizzling tip passed underneath his feet. Thinking quickly, Toke reached out with his powers and anchored himself to the spear itself. He knew he wouldn’t be able to jerk it out of Navras’ grip, the old man’s strength enhanced by the armor as it was, but if he was on top of it than Navras wouldn’t be able to hit him with it. He landed atop the weapon, balancing with decreased weight, and swung his axe again— this time at Navras himself.
“No,” the inventor said, leaning his head back so that the blade passed within a hairsbreadth of his neck. Then, taking the spear in both hands, he swung up and over his head. Even though he was anchored to it, the momentum of the swing made Toke lose his footing and he was thrown off.
Toke spun around in midair, and tried to anchor himself onto Navras, but the same strange, prickly sensation he’d felt at the Flashing River crawled over his skin. It was the armor, he realized. It was filled with kaosuryo, which meant that it would reject any type of gravity he tried to connect to it. Like two opposing magnets. He settled for anchoring himself to the wall, instead.
From his perch on the wall, Toke took a split second to analyze his situation. Zashiel was still incapacitated on the floor. He had no way of knowing how close the machine was to transferring all the energy into the Terracaelum, but he knew he couldn’t afford to wait until it had. In the meantime, he had Navras’ complete attention, and his second axe was lying on the floor on the other side of the room.
An idea began to form in his head. It was a long shot, but so was everything else he had done over the past month.
Here goes nothing, he thought, and leaped back to the floor. Decreasing his gravity, he charged at Navras with enhanced speed, and threw his last remaining axe. Again, Navras knocked it out of the air, but Toke was already initiating the second part of his plan. Reaching past Navras, he anchored himself to the first axe and pulled it back towards him, sending it flying at Navras’ back. As it zipped through the air, Toke leaped up and performed a flip over Navras’ head, drawing his second axe back to him.
Just keep throwing them, he thought when he hit the ground, skidding to a halt. Drawing one arm back, he let the axe fly at his old mentor, while simultaneously drawing the first one back to his hand again. Navras deflected this attack as well, but Toke had reversed the process, throwing the axe in his right hand a third time. The old man twirled his spear, swatting them aside, but Toke’s powers ensured that he would never run out of ammunition. He could keep this up for hours if he had to, and eventually Navras would be overwhelmed and make a mistake. All Toke needed was one lucky—
“Enough!” Navras declared, and hoisted his spear over his shoulder. Toke had barely half a second to realize what was happening, and then the weapon came flying across the distance between them, striking him dead center in his chest.
The Sorakine jacket had been made with defense in mind by warriors more than five times as strong as any human, but when Navras’ spear met the stark white fabric, the razor sharp tip punched a hole straight through it. Without his direct strength behind it, it only managed to prick Toke’s skin… but then the jidoryo hit him.
The impact of the attack threw Toke onto his back, and he could only lay on the floor as a surge of blue energy pulsed into his body, paralyzing him. The wound was shallow enough that the spear bounced free, but the aftereffects of the shock still made his muscles buzz.
“I warned you,” Navras said, casually making his way to where Toke lay.
Toke struggled to get up, but his legs were weak and they buckled when he put his weight on them. He could feel blood soaking his shirt underneath the jacket. A cold sweat broke out on his brow. He had been shocked plenty of times while working on his battery, but such a powerful, concentrated burst… he felt like he had a fever, spastically growing colder and then warmer.
“I told you,” the old man said, kneeling down and picking him up by the shoulder, “I don’t want to hurt you. Now, are you going to behave, or—”
Toke summoned what strength he had left and punched Navras in the face. The inventor’s head snapped backwards, and when he looked at Toke again it was with absolute shock. Not because he had managed to hit him, but because he had dared to hit him.
“You’re not my hero anymore,” Toke croaked.
Navras stared at him for a few more seconds, and then the entire room went dark as the last of the kaosuryo was pulled into the Terracaelum. Only the pale lights on the ceiling and the green veins of Navras’ armor provided any illumination, but it was more than enough for Toke to see his eyes narrow in anger.
“Very well, then,” he said. “Stay here, and I’ll decide what to do with you when I get back.”
With that, he cast Toke aside as if he weighed no more than a doll. The young man bounced on the hard, metal floor, then skidded, and then rolled until he collided with the wall. A nail of pain drove itself into his head, and the world spun in front of him. He took a deep breath to calm himself, and opened his eyes to see Navras place the helmet over his head, turning himself completely into the spearman Toke and Zashiel had learned to fear. After retrieving his spear, he went to the Terracaelum, and jumped on top of it with a green flash.
A loud rumbling filled the room, and a moment later the ceiling began to open up, revealing the bright blue sky. That rumble was soon joined by the Terracaelum itself, as Navras climbed into the cockpit and punched a button. The controls were housed inside a small glass room, held together by metal to keep the strong winds from tearing it apart, and Navras took his place behind a large wheel, the likes of which might steer a ship.
“No…” Toke groaned, struggling to stand up. He managed to get to his knees, but then the world spun around him, and he fell back against the wall again. “Can’t let him… not now!”
He and Zashiel had come so far. He had never believed they’d get this far, not really. The mystery of the Gravity Storms had seemed as impenetrable as an ocean fog, thick and dangerous if you wandered into it. But they’d solved it, and they had come so close to stopping the Storms… they couldn’t fail now, not after everything they’d done!
But try as he might, Toke could do nothing but watch as the Terracaelum, Navras’ greatest invention and Toke’s worst nightmare, rose from the ground and launched into sky.
Toke laid his head down on the floor in defeat.
He had failed.
NEXT TIME: They were so close, but now they have to accept defeat. Navras has both outsmarted and outmuscled them, and now he’s going to take revenge on Zashiel’s entire race. Zashiel’s too injured to go anywhere, and there’s no way Toke can catch the Terracaelum by himself. Looks like it really is over… or is 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.