Chapter Thirty Six

Fierce anger like nothing Toke had ever felt burned in his stomach as he flapped his artificial wings, rising out of the roof of Navras’ laboratory.  The ceiling must have been at least thirty feet above his head to begin with, and yet when he shot out into the open air he found himself surrounded with lush, green grass.

 

It was underground, he realized as he climbed higher and higher. Of course it was underground.  Nothing that big could stay secret for so long otherwise.

 

None of that mattered, though.  Toke could see the path the Terracaelum had taken the moment he left the laboratory.  A long line of bare earth stretched out into the distance, with trees and boulders strewn haphazardly all around it.  The inventor’s ship had, indeed, created a massive Gravity Storm in its wake, but all traces of kaosuryo seemed to have passed as the Terracaelum left its birthplace behind.

 

A blast of cold wind hit Toke square in the face, and he had to flap his arms as hard as he could to keep from being thrown off balance.  His legs flailed, threatening to spin him around and flip him upside down, so he pressed them both together and tried to keep his body in a straight line.

 

I wish I had thought of this before, he thought as his journey into the sky continued.  The trees, and then the hills the trees were growing on, gradually became smaller and smaller as Toke ascended. This would be hard enough even if I knew what I was doing.

 

The Terracaelum’s path of destruction became even more obvious the higher he went.  From the sky, he could easily trace the ship’s course as the devastation continued in a straight line for several miles, and then looped around to the left.  After that, it continued in another straight line before…

 

There it was!  So far in the distance that Toke had to squint to see it, there was a barely detectable glimmer of green in the sky.  The Terracaelum, and the inventor it carried, were shooting across the horizon like a comet.  And then, abruptly, it changed directions again, this time coming straight back towards the base.

 

He had to loop around so he could build up speed, Toke thought.  And now he’s going to make a beeline straight for Hashira.

 

He wasn’t going to make it, though.  Toke clenched his fists around his wings and took off in the direction Navras was coming from.  He would stop him.  He had to stop him.  If he didn’t, every Sorakine on Fissura was going to die.

 

The Terracaelum approached faster than Toke expected, and two minutes later the tiny spark of green had turned into a raging ball of kaosuryo big enough to engulf a building.  The ship itself looked like it was being chased by the Gravity Storm, and had a lead on it by about fifteen feet.  Even though it was miles away, Toke could already hear the engines roaring.

 

Toke was now thousands of feet up in the air and the wind was battering him like an ocean current, always trying to throw him off course.  It took all his strength and concentration just to stay lined up with the Terracaelum.  If his estimates were correct, the Terracaelum would pass about a hundred feet directly below him in less than a minute.

 

He would only get one chance to do this right.

 

Still flapping his wings, Toke counted in his head as he watched the Terracaelum come closer.  And then—

 

“Now!” he grunted, and pulled the cord at his waist.  The straps binding the wings to his body came free, and they were immediately blown away from him.  Toke began to fall.

 

Keeping his eyes on the approaching Terracaelum, Toke flipped himself upside down so that he was falling toward Fissura in a perfect nosedive.  His heart pounded in his ears, but his rage was strong enough to bury his fear.

 

He could see Navras’ silhouette through the glass windshield on top of the Terracaelum.

 

“I trusted you,” he said through gritted teeth, and began to untie the white cord around his waist.

 

He could see the land behind the Terracaelum being torn to pieces by the Gravity Storm.

 

“I respected you,” he said, taking the cord in one hand.  The metal gear he’d tied to the end thrashed around in the air behind him.  With his other hand, he drew one of his axes.

 

The air itself started to vibrate, though Toke couldn’t tell whether it was kaosuryo or the power of the machine itself doing it.

 

“I idolized you!” he yelled, and swung the cord with all his might.

 

The cord, and the gear tied to it, lashed out in front of him like a whip.  For half a second, terror overpowered Toke’s determination when he thought he had missed his mark.  Then, however, the wind going through the turbines caught hold of the gear and sucked it inside, bringing Toke’s fall to a sudden stop.  Now Toke was being towed behind the Terracaelum, much like how the gear had trailed behind him as he’d fallen.  He looked backwards, but saw that the Gravity Storm was still a good five feet behind him.  That wouldn’t matter if his grip gave out, though.  If the Storm didn’t tear him to pieces, the fall would kill him.

 

Putting the axe handle in his teeth, Toke bit down on it as hard as he could and grabbed the rope with both hands.  The Terracaelum was so close.  He couldn’t fall now!  Weakening his gravity as much as he dared, he began to climb hand over hand towards his target.

 

I have to get to the controls, he thought as he inched his way nearer.  Fighting Navras was a lost cause, he realized that now, but if he could sabotage the controls the Terracaelum would crash.

 

Reaching out, Toke put his hand on the cold steel of the ship’s rear and hauled himself onto it.  Just like he’d predicted, the Gravity Storm was so far behind them that he could anchor himself to the machine.  The winds pounded him harder than ever, but now that he had a solid surface beneath his feet he no longer felt like he was in danger of falling.

 

Unfortunately, falling was the least of his worries.

 

His feet were heavy under his increased gravity, but he managed to walk up the Terracaelum’s hull to the back of the control room.  He could see Navras standing at the wheel, his undivided attention on the open skies in front of him.  Bracing himself, Toke jumped and pulled himself on top of the control chamber.  He took the axe out of his mouth, and drew the second one.  He would have to take Navras by surprise, or else—

 

With the sound of screeching metal, Navras’ spear came up through the roof, nearly taking Toke’s foot off.  Toke dodged out of the way, but lost his balance and went tumbling over the side of the cockpit.  Now he was lying on the front of the Terracaelum, the bow of the aircraft coming to a sharp point thirty feet in front of him.  He rolled over, and saw Navras glaring at him through the black visor of his helmet.

 

Oh, smite…

 

Navras gave the steering wheel a sharp tug to the right, and Toke anchored himself down as strongly as he could.  The Terracaelum flipped over sideways, corkscrewing through the bright blue sky.  Even though he’d increased his weight to more than ten times what it normally was, Toke still went sliding across the ship’s smooth exterior.  In a desperate move, he swung both of his axes, digging the crescent shaped hooks into the metal.  Sparks flew as he dragged the blades behind him.  It didn’t do much, but it did manage to stop the ship’s momentum from throwing him off.

 

When Navras righted the craft again, Toke breathed a sigh of relief.  That relief was short lived, however, when he saw the murderous inventor slip two leather straps around the prongs of the steering wheel to hold it in place.  Then, taking up his spear, he kicked open the door of the control chamber and walked outside.  His kaosuryo powered armor glowed, and he stood facing his enemy with more balance than Toke could believe possible.

 

The controls are unmanned, Toke realized, looking back at the cockpit.  The door was flapping open and closed in the wind, but with Navras outside…

 

Toke stood up, bracing his feet against the wind and the Terracaelum’s speed, and held his axes out in a fighting stance.  The teacher and his student faced each other, but neither said a word.  There was nothing left to say.

 

Navras moved first, taking his spear in one hand and lunging at Toke.  Toke dropped to the ground, the spear passing an inch over his head, and weakened his gravity for half a second.  In that time, he shot forward, extended his leg, and tried to trip the professor.  Navras merely raised his own leg, letting Toke slide underneath him, and then spun around to swing the butt of his spear at him.  Crossing both his axes over his head, Toke caught the spear in between them.  Navras’ armor-enhanced strength nearly made his arms buckle under the impact, but he didn’t waste his time struggling against his teacher’s power.  If Zashiel couldn’t do it, then he definitely couldn’t.  Instead, he reached out with his powers until he felt the glass walls of the control chamber and anchored himself to it.  Uncrossing his weapons, he shot out from underneath Navras’ spear and fell towards the controls.

 

He landed on the window hard enough to crack the glass under his weight, and looked up just long enough to make sure Navras was still on the other side of the Terracaelum.  Then, with a skillful flip, he jumped up and fell through the open doorway into the cockpit, anchoring himself back to the floor again in the process.  A quick glance at the elaborate controls told him that flying the machine was out of the question.  Still, he thought, raising his axes, he could at least throw it off course.

 

Before he could swing, Navras’ metal-clad hand grabbed him by the back of his hood and hoisted him off the ground.  Drawing him back a little, the inventor threw his former pupil into the windshield.  The cracks Toke had made earlier widened, and the entire window shattered, sending him skidding across the Terracaelum’s hull again.  Glass rained down all around him, and he felt warm blood leaking from at least three different cuts.  He caught a glimpse of Navras putting one foot on the hole he’d made in the window, and instinctively rolled out of the way.  Sure enough, a moment later the jidoryo powered spear slammed down into the metal where he had just been lying.  It punched a hole straight through the ship’s hull, sending up a shower of blue sparks.

 

For the first time, the hopelessness of Toke’s situation finally dawned on him.  Navras outmatched him like a lion outmatched a mouse, and even if he did manage to divert the Terracaelum, there was no way he could survive the crash.  One way or another, he had signed his life away the minute he’d strapped those wings to his arms.

 

And yet, he didn’t care.  He charged at the man he’d practically worshipped, and their weapons met with the sound of a ringing bell. Navras kicked Toke in the stomach, sending him sprawled out on his back again.  This had been Zashiel’s mission first, but there wasn’t anything else she could do.  It was all up to Toke now, and that meant this was his mission, and his alone.

 

And he intended to complete it.

 

With a wild shout, Toke leaped into the air and threw one of his axes at Navras.  The professor batted it away, just as Toke had known he would, and it went flying over the edge of the Terracaelum.  While Navras was distracted, though, Toke threw his second axe at the control room.  It flew straight and true, slicing through one of the leather straps and cracking the window behind it.  The Terracaelum rocked as the steering wheel bounced with its newfound leniency, but Toke was able to keep his balance.  A new spark of exhilaration lit up in his heart, and he held out his hand to draw the weapon back to him.

 

He felt the gravity field behind him shift at the last second, and dodged out of the way just in time to avoid being skewered by Navras’ spear.  It slammed into the ship’s hull again, leaving a second hole in the metal.  Before Toke could get up, Navras raised his foot and brought it down on Toke’s chest.  The Juryokine’s breath was knocked from his lungs, and though he struggled, his enemy’s strength was too great for him to break free.  With deliberate slowness, Navras raised his spear again and aimed it directly for Toke’s heart.

 

“No!” Toke shouted.

 

His hand shot out as Navras lunged, and he caught the spear just before it pierced his jacket.  Jidoryo surged through his body, making him twitch and thrash on the ground underneath Navras’ boot, but he refused to let go.  If he let go, if he let Navras kill him, then the entire Sorakine race would pay the price for his weakness.

 

The smell of cooking meat reached his nostrils, and he realized it was coming from him.

 

Even though he could barely focus through the pain, Toke looked past Navras and saw the steering wheel in the control room.  One of the straps had already been cut.  If he could just…

 

With one hand still holding the spear away from him, Toke tried to reach out with his powers.  The pain was too much, though.  With the jidoryo frying him from the inside out, he couldn’t concentrate enough to create an anchor.  To be able to do this, he would need a clear head.

 

Don’t think about it.  Just do it!

 

With a ragged gasp, Toke let go of the spear.  In the split second reprieve he had from the jidoryo, he anchored himself to the steering wheel and pulled on it as hard as he could.  The strap snapped just as Navras’ spear pricked his skin, but then the inventor was thrown off his feet when the Terracaelum turned on its side.  Both he and Toke went rolling across the ship’s bow.  Navras drove his spear into the hull again, just as his feet went over the edge.  Toke, following a split second behind him, grabbed hold of his ankles.  Dangling from an out of control airship thousands of feet above the ground, the only thing keeping Toke alive was his own enemy.

 

Grunting with exertion, Toke threw himself upwards and anchored himself to the Terracaelum again.  Navras tried to grab him, but Toke managed to step out of his reach.  With Navras hanging from the edge of the ship, there was nothing between Toke and the controls.  His body quivered from the jidoryo shock, but he forced himself to walk toward the back of the ship yet again.

 

I don’t have to fly it, he thought once he stood behind the wheel. I just have to crash it.

 

Taking the wheel in both hands, Toke pulled it to the left.  The ship righted itself, and what Toke saw before him was enough to make him freeze in terror.

 

Hashira hovered before them on the horizon, almost blinding as it reflected the afternoon sun.  The Terracaelum would be there in just a few minutes.  Toke was running out of time.

 

His axe!  Looking back, Toke found his axe still lying on the floor of the control room.  He picked it up and turned to the controls again.  He didn’t know how to fly this thing, but he didn’t need to.  If he messed enough of it up, Navras wouldn’t be able fly it either.  All he had to do was point it in away from Hashira.

 

He raised his weapon just as the Sorakine city disappeared behind the spearman’s black and green armor.

 

“Smite it, no!” Toke yelled in frustration.  Before he could take a swing, Navras grabbed him by the collar and hauled him out of the cockpit, tossing him away like piece of garbage.  Toke landed on his back on the Terracaelum’s prow, and somersaulted onto his feet.

 

Navras was reaching inside the cockpit, desperately trying to put the Terracaelum back on course.  Toke tried to pull Navras away from the controls, but the kaosuryo in his armor still prevented him from anchoring himself to the professor.  There was one thing, though, that wasn’t filled with the chaotic green energy.  Anchoring himself as tightly as he could to Navras’ spear, he gave a mighty pull on it.

 

To his surprise, the spear actually shot towards Toke.  Navras, not expecting such a strong attack, was pulled off balance, though he refused to let go of the spear.  Toke weighed himself down, and continued to pull.  For a minute the two of them struggled against each other, Navras trying to regain his weapon and Toke trying to break his opponent’s grip.  Toke’s advantage was gained purely out of surprise, though, which he realized when Navras began to pull the spear back in his direction.  His armor was strong enough to rival a Sorakine’s strength.  If he kept this up, all Toke would manage to do was wear himself out.

 

So he let Navras win.

 

Without giving the professor any warning, he released his anchor on the Terracaelum and came flying at Navras like an arrow out of a crossbow.  Caught off guard again, Navras reeled when the force pulling the spear away from him vanished, and wasn’t prepared when Toke slammed into his chest feet first.  With his enhanced strength, the impact only made him stumble backwards a couple of steps.  That was all Toke needed, and he swung his axe at his teacher’s helmet.  The blade struck the black glass visor, shattering it.

 

Navras cried out in pain, and for a moment Toke let himself hope that he had scored a fatal blow.  Then the inventor’s fist struck him in the face, making him lose concentration, and he fell back onto the Terracaelum.  With an agitated grunt, Navras pulled the axe out of his helmet and flung it away.

 

Now I’m completely unarmed, Toke realized as he looked up at the insane old man’s face.  Through the slit in his helmet, Toke saw a thin trickle of blood running down his face, but no sign of considerable damage.

 

Acting out of anger rather than skill, Navras kicked Toke where he lay, sending the Juryokine flying head over heels towards the tip of the Terracaelum.  Toke landed on his head, and stars danced in front of his vision when he collapsed onto his back.  Through his clouded vision, he could see Navras crouching in front of the control chamber.  He leaped into the air with a green flash, and raised his spear.

 

At that point, Zashiel’s training took over completely.  His conscious mind was too muddled to do anything, but the instincts his Sorakine instructor had drilled into him had honed his reflexes, and his instincts knew exactly what to do.  Kicking his legs up, he put his hands on the floor and sprang upwards and out of Navras’ way just as the energized spear came down, puncturing yet another hole in the Terracaelum’s metal shell.

 

Toke landed on his feet facing Navras, fists raised to defend himself, but he found the professor standing motionless, staring at the place he’d stabbed the Terracaelum.  Toke followed his gaze downwards, and realized what he was looking at.

 

Navras hadn’t just stabbed the ship, he had punctured the battery.

 

For a fraction of a second, their eyes met.  Then a surge of jidoryo greater than any Toke had ever seen travelled up the professor’s spear.  Trails of the blue energy wove their way around his body, making the glowing veins of his armor flash an even brighter shade of green.  He twitched and jerked, but didn’t seem to be able to let go of the spear.  Then, just like Toke knew it would, the battery exploded.

 

A blinding blue flash and a wave of heat struck Toke, throwing him off his feet.  He flew backwards over the Terracaelum’s pointed tip, and was only saved by the ship’s own speed.  Almost as soon as he went over the edge, the Terracaelum caught back up to him and he was able to grab the ledge.  Dangling by his fingertips, he watched as his former teacher was thrown into the air as well.  Even with his armor, Toke doubted Navras could still be alive after taking that much jidoryo into his body.  Still, as if the Terracaelum itself wanted firm closure on the matter, the Master Inventor’s body was sucked into one of the still-spinning turbines.  Whether it was chopped to pieces, or if the armor protected his corpse from the spinning blades, Toke wasn’t sure because at that moment a second explosion rocked the Terracaelum, nearly throwing him off.

 

Half in shock, Toke hauled himself back onto the ship and got to his feet.  His knees wobbled, and he had to put a hand to his head to stop it from spinning.  He had won.  That, alone, shocked him even more than seeing the man he’d idolized all his life be killed.  He had beaten Navras, and was still alive.

 

He turned around, and whatever sense of victory he was feeling vanished.  Hashira loomed in the distance, closer now than ever before, and the Terracaelum was flying straight for it.  Even if its power source had been destroyed, the ship still had enough energy left to propel it all the way to the floating city, which meant Toke’s job wasn’t finished yet.

 

Now that the battle was over, his injuries were becoming harder to ignore.  In the space of a few minutes, he had been thrown around, beaten, sliced, and shocked.  Quite frankly, he was surprised that he was still on his feet.  He couldn’t let his pain get the best get the best of him, though.  With grim determination, he began to limp back to the cockpit.  Blue sparks were shooting up all around him, and every few seconds a smaller explosion would shake the ship, but he ignored them.  If he could do this one last thing, it would all be over.  His mission would finally be completed.

 

It had only been a month since Zashiel had approached him and asked for his help.  One month since he’d swallowed her feather and became a Juryokine.  One month since he had made enemies out of the Nails, Yasmik’s government, and even his own hero.  It felt like a lifetime ago, and the memories of when he had been a frail, weak boy with no goals except to become an inventor seemed to belong to belong to somebody else.  He wasn’t the same person he had been a month ago.  Not just in body, but in spirit.  He was Toke Gnasher, the Juryokine.  The transformation had been painful, but looking back now, he wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

 

Taking his place behind the Terracaelum’s wheel, Toke gripped it with both hands.  This would be the last thing he ever did, but it would also be the greatest.  He hoped that his parents would be proud of him for this, but in the end it didn’t matter.  It was the right thing to do, and he was proud of himself for doing it.

 

 

NEXT TIME: Navras has been defeated, but Terracaelum is still flying straight for its target.  If Toke doesn’t do something, Hashira is going to fall anyway.  Can he turn the machine out of the way in time, or has this all been for nothing?  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.

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