“Toke, are you okay? Toke, answer me!”
Zashiel’s hoarse voice sounded clear as a bell now that the Terracaelum was gone. The buzz of the kaosuryo, the whir of its turbines, and the roar of its engine as it fed off the gigantic battery had created a chaotic symphony of noise, and now that the nightmarish machine had taken off the ensuing silence was deafening.
“I’m sorry,” Toke said, his thoughts slow and thick. He still lay with his side pressed against the wall, unsure whether he could move and unwilling to try. “I tried to stop him, but…”
“Are you all right?” she interrupted him, and he heard her gasp in pain as she struggled to stand up. The sound pulled him from his funk, and he rolled over just in time to see her get to her knees and fall to the ground again.
“Don’t,” he said. “You’re can’t—”
“Can you see me?” she interrupted again, and raised a hand. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
“Did he break any bones? Can you feel everything?”
“I’m fine,” he insisted. “I just need a minute.”
They lay in painful silence for a few minutes, and Toke gradually felt the numbness fade from his limbs. He was lucky, he realized. That much jidoryo could have fried his insides like a Vlangurtian pie. Perhaps the jacket had absorbed most of the voltage, or maybe it really did just come down to luck. Whatever the case, he had come closer to death than he ever had before when Navras had thrown his spear.
“It was all for nothing,” he finally said, breaking the silence again.
He expected Zashiel to argue with him, to shoot back a snappy retort that it was only over if he’d already given up. He wanted her to say it, in fact. Instead, she only closed her eyes, like she had fallen asleep on the laboratory’s floor.
“We got this far,” she whispered, so softly he could barely hear her, “and we let him win anyway.”
Toke wanted to say something, but couldn’t think of the words. Even from across the room, he saw the unmistakable twinkle of a tear running down her cheek, and his heart skipped a beat. As terrible as the situation was for him, it was a hundred times worse for her. Toke had helped create the Terracaelum, but it was Zashiel’s people who would ultimately pay for it. The Sorakines had all been confined to Hashira, Klevon had said so himself. The entire Sorakine race, all in one place, just like Navras wanted.
Toke looked at her, and could tell that Zashiel had already figured all of this out. The stakes had been higher than either of them had ever thought, but by the time they’d realized it, it was too late.
“Is there nothing else we can do?” he asked, his voice hoarse.
“No,” Zashiel answered, her voice numb. She didn’t open her eyes. “I… I still can’t stand up. Without my wings, we’ll never get up there.”
Toke nodded his agreement. It was hopeless.
And yet, when he tried to sink into despair, he couldn’t. His brain was working too hard.
This couldn’t be the end of things, could it? Not after how hard he and Zashiel had worked. There had to be a way to fix this. He just had to think of it. Had to look at things from a new angle. He was an inventor, after all. That’s what he was best at.
But he’s up in the sky, Toke thought. The only thing that can reach him now is a Sorakine, and Zashiel’s hurt too badly to fly.
There was no way, and his common sense demanded he accept that fact. But as Toke sat up and crossed his legs in thought, he just couldn’t bring himself to give up. There had to be something… but what was it?
The only way I could get up there is if I sprouted wings and learned to fly.
He scanned the room, and his eyes came to rest on Navras’ inventor’s robes, cast away and left on the floor like an old bath towel. The black fabric looked almost like an oil spill on the gleaming metal floor. That, more than anything, was a symbol of how far the Master Inventor had fallen. First a soldier that had saved Yasmik from invasion, then an inventor who had ushered his beloved country into a new era, and now… a genocidal maniac.
I have seen what all the violence and death can do to people. The worst part is, it’s a type of insanity that is impossible to see.
Impossible… until they snapped and people started dying because of it.
“I’m glad he threw the robe away,” Toke muttered. It was a petty thing, he knew, but right then even the smallest sense satisfaction was welcome. “He doesn’t deserve it anymore.”
For a minute, Toke became blinded by his anger. Getting to his feet, he stormed across the room to where the robe lay, and picked it up. That simple garment represented everything he’d ever wanted. Everything he’d thought he’d known. He wanted to chop it into pieces, maybe burn it if he could. But as he stood there holding it, feeling the thin, yet strong fabric in his hands, he paused…
No, it’s not possible.
But then again… just maybe…
“Zashiel,” he said suddenly, his grip on the robe tightening, “I have an idea!”
Zashiel’s eyes finally popped open. “What? What is it?”
Even after giving up all hope, she was still ready to rejoin the battle at first glimmer of light.
Toke stared at the robe for a few seconds, hardly able to believe he was actually considering this. After everything he’d been through, though, he didn’t have any hesitations left to make. He turned to look at Zashiel, and then hurried toward the door.
“I need metal bars,” he said. “Lots of them. And a welding torch!”
The last place he wanted to go was back into the Sorakine room, but he fixed his eyes directly in front of him as he pushed open the door and made for the other side. He needed tools, and he needed them fast. This was Navras’ secret workshop, and that meant there had to be enough tools to make any inventor squeal with delight. Sure enough, the first locker he opened out in the hallway revealed exactly what he was looking for. Further down the hallway was a pile of scrap metal, and after a minute of digging through it Toke went back to the Terracaelum’s room, dragging two armloads of metal bars behind him.
“Toke, what are you doing?” Zashiel asked when he came back. “What’s your idea?”
Toke plugged the welding torch into the wall and set all his materials out in front of him.
“I’ll have to fly to get to the Terracaelum,” he explained as he drew his axes and began hacking the robe into two pieces. “But you won’t be flying anywhere until that wound closes up.”
He glanced at her, and was relieved to see that the stab wound was smaller than the last time he’d looked ,but the ointment was still working slowly. Even when it was healed, Zashiel’s blood loss would still keep her from flying him anywhere. Toke picked up the metal bars and began arranging them in a pattern. Then, raising his hood so the visor covered his eyes, he turned on the torch and began welding them together.
“If I can get close enough, maybe I can anchor myself to the Terracaelum,” he concluded.
“There’s a Gravity Storm around that thing!” Zashiel protested. “There’s no way you can anchor yourself to it.”
“I have a theory,” Toke said as he began to fasten the pieces of the robe to the still-sizzling bars. “The Terracaelum’s moving so fast that it’s going to leave an energy trail behind. There’s a good chance I may be wrong, but what if it was going so fast that the Gravity Storm ended up being behind it?”
Zashiel cocked her head, confused.
“He’s using the kaosuryo as the means to propel the machine,” he explained. “That means that it’s releasing the energy behind it. That means that the Terracaelum itself might be moving so fast that it’s not actually being caught in the Storm at all.”
“I have no idea what you just said, but how are you going to get up there? Even if you’re right, I still can’t get you close enough to land on it.”
“With these,” Toke answered, and held up his new invention.
Zashiel looked for a moment, and then her face turned pale.
“Toke,” she whispered, “if you do that, the Sorakines are going to come after you even harder than before.”
“I know, but if I don’t then they’re all going to die.”
Zashiel’s face paled further, and he knew he had convinced her.
“I know the skies are sacred to you,” he said, setting it down and pulling the white cord Zashiel had given him out of his inner pocket, “but I think your people are in too much trouble for either of us to worry about tradition.”
Zashiel gave a hesitant nod. Toke picked up a small metal cog and tied it to the end of the cord. After giving it a couple bounces in his palm to test its weight, he coiled the cord up and put it back in his pocket.
“All right, then,” he said, and picked up his invention. It was a simple one, but if it worked like he hoped it would, it had the potential to save every Sorakine in Yasmik.
With that thought giving him courage, Toke strapped his handmade wings onto his back.
He had chopped the robe into two long pieces, and then welded the bars to so that they had the general shape of wings. The fabric was tied between the bars, stretched taught like the membrane of a bat’s wing. A normal human would never be able to fly with it, but a Juryokine could decrease his weight, just like a Sorakine. That meant that when he flapped his arms, the artificial wings would lift him off the ground.
“I have to catch up to him,” he said, and a twinge of uncertainty wormed its way into his determination. “If I do, I’ll just have to hope that I was right about the Storm and land on the Terracaelum. After that…”
“You’ll have to crash it,” Zashiel finished for him.
A chill ran down Toke’s spine, but he nodded anyway. There was almost no chance that he’d survive the impact, but...
“When I said I’d die for Yasmik, I meant all of Yasmik,” he said. “Even if Hashira is technically a different country.”
Zashiel looked at him for a long, tense minute. Then, with a gasp of pain, she forced herself to her feet, staggered to where he was standing, and threw her arms around him.
“Zashiel, your stomach!” Toke exclaimed when she pulled him close.
“I don’t care!” she snapped. “If you’re going to do this, then… then I need this.”
They stood in silence for a few seconds, and then Toke raised his arms and returned the hug. Zashiel groaned a bit in pain, but refused to let go.
“Stay here and heal,” Toke said, and then helped her to lay back down. “If Navras comes back, take my parents and run.”
She nodded, gasping for breath. With her injury, even that had been exhausting. “I will. Be careful, Toke.”
Getting back to his feet, Toke walked underneath the opening in the ceiling. “I’ll save them, Zashiel.”
Zashiel rolled onto her side to look at him. “Toke, wait.”
He turned back to her.
“I don’t care if you’re a human,” she said. “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. You’ll never understand what it means to me that you’re going up there to do this. Thank you.”
Toke nodded in reply. “You’re welcome… but you’re wrong.”
Zashiel paused. “About what?”
Toke slipped his hands into the handle’s he’d made for himself in the wings.
“I’m not a human. I’m a Juryokine.”
And with that, he leaped into the air and flew.
NEXT TIME: Ready or not, Navras, Toke is coming for you! It’s all come down to this. Can Toke defeat his old teacher, his old hero, in time to crash the Terracaelum and save Hashira? The final battle happens next week, so be here, and be ready. 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.