Chapter Seven

It was past noon when the great doors of the Capitol opened again and Professor Navras stepped outside.  He paused for a few seconds, shielding his eyes from the sun as he scanned the area, and quickly spotted Toke sitting against the tree.
 
“Have you been sitting out here all this time?” he demanded, helping the young man up.  Toke nodded, and the professor growled in irritation.  “It’s too hot for that.  Have you had anything to drink?”
 
Toke shook his head.  It was like an oven outside, but he barely noticed his parched throat.  His head was wrapped up in thoughts of the future and what it had in store for him.  More specifically, what the Sorakine girl had in store for him.  Navras produced a small canteen full of water from an inside pocket of his coat and handed it to him.  Toke took a long pull from it, and was instantly grateful as his head began to clear.
 
“I assume your parents are gone?” Navras asked.  Now that he was hydrated again, Toke noticed the stiff, brisk way that his professor was moving, and the scowl he wore on his face.
 
“Yes, sir,” he answered, and then hesitated.  “What did the Permissor say?”
 
Navras turned his glare on the boy, but his face softened and he reached up to rub his temples.  A pit formed in Toke’s stomach, but he had already been prepared for the worst.  What else could he expect?
 
“Nothing good, then?” he asked softly.
 
Navras grimaced, and put his hand on Toke’s shoulder.  “It’s not as bad as it could be.  I’ve managed to subdue Adal’s anger, but he is still far from happy.”
 
“I’m sorry, Professor.”  Toke’s shoulders sagged.  “I should have checked the cap before we came.  I… I don’t know what I was thinking.”
 
Part of him wanted Navras to comfort him and say that it wasn’t his fault, but he knew that it would never happen.  It had been his fault.  He had to take responsibility, a lesson Navras made sure to drive into the heads of his students.  Instead, the comfort came in a different form.
 
“All is not lost, my boy,” he said with a forced smile.  “I used my status to pull some strings, and Adal has agreed to give you a second chance.”
 
“A second chance?” Toke echoed, looking at his professor in shock.  Such a thing was unheard of!  If a student couldn’t prove themselves by their twentieth birthday, they had failed.  There were no second chances.
 
Navras nodded.  “It’s a bit unorthodox, I know, but I explained to Adal that I saw incomparable potential in you.  After a bit of, ah, persuasion, he agreed to let you stay another month at the academy.”
 
A whole month?  The look on Navras’ face was a strange one, and Toke wondered what kind of persuasion it had taken.
 
“You’ll need to be back in class tomorrow morning,” the professor went on.  “You’ll have a lot of work to do, but at least you’ll know what you’re doing this time.”
 
Toke nodded wearily.  His battery had exploded, and so had the machine he’d designed to run off it.  He would have to start all over on both.
 
“This is good,” he said, but the words were flat and unconvincing.  It was good that he was getting a second chance, spectacular, but at the moment his thoughts were tied up in what he was going to tell his parents.
 
“Don’t think of this as a second chance,” Navras advised him, reading the expression on his face.  “Think of it as an opportunity to improve upon what you already had.”
 
“How?” Toke asked.
 
Navras shrugged.  “That’s for you to discover.  But there is nothing that cannot be improved upon.”
 
Toke nodded.  For starters, he could find ways to reinforce the cap so it wouldn’t come loose so easily.
 
“I should go tell my parents,” he said.
 
Navras’ mouth twitched in irritation, and he glanced towards the road, as if he could see the Gnashers somewhere out in the distance.
 
“I wouldn’t tell them it’s a second chance, either,” he said grimly.  “Just call it an extension on your graduation date.”
 
This time, it was Toke’s turn to scowl at the street.  “They’re not going to be happy either way.”
 
“No, but saying it’s an extension won’t make them think you’re a charity case.” Navras paused, and then gave Toke a meaningful look.  “Which you aren’t, Toke.  I wouldn’t do this for any other student.  You are the most promising young inventor I’ve ever met, and I can’t stand to see such potential go to waste.”
 
It was meant to be encouraging, but all it did was make Toke’s gut tighten in embarrassment.  Professor Navras was giving him a chance nobody else would get.  How would his classmates react when he showed back up in the workshop the next morning?
 
“Thank you, sir,” was all he said.  It dawned on him, then, that if he was rejoining Navras’ class, he wouldn’t be able to help the Sorakine girl.  More importantly, he wouldn’t need to help her.  For a moment, he considered telling Navras about her and the cryptic offer she’d given him, but then he remembered the professor’s reaction the previous night when he’d mentioned her.  Perhaps some things were better kept secret.
 
“Go on, now,” Navras said, making his own way to the gate.  “You had better report to your parents.  Would you like a ride to their hotel?”
 
Toke glanced at the autocarriage, and then shook his head.  “No thank you, sir.  I can walk.”  He took another drink of water to put the old inventor at ease.
 
Navras sped away in the autocarriage, leaving Toke alone again.  Putting his hands in his pockets, he turned and made his way the opposite direction, towards the hotel.  His back hunched wearily.  What a day…
 
He stared at the sidewalk as he went, not looking up until he was more than halfway there.  When he did, he had to clench his fists to keep his hands from shaking.
 
WE OWN THIS CITY!, the brick wall across the street declared in black and red paint, the color alternating with each letter.  Above the message was a crude drawing of a black nail, the point red with blood.  The Nails were getting bolder every day.  Toke looked away and kept walking.
 
The hotel his parents were staying at wasn’t the fanciest place to rest in the city.  In fact, fancy was probably the last word he would use to describe.  That, he thought as he made his way to the front door, was probably why his father had been able to take them to Tivinski Kolo the night before.  The door was shabby and needed a new coat of paint, and the gray tile floor behind it probably would have been white if not for the inch-thick layer of dust that covered it.
 
“Can I help you?” the clerk asked from behind the desk, sounding as if he would rather do anything else besides help him.
 
Toke was about to ask him which room the Gnasher family was in, but closed his mouth.  Instead, he asked for a pencil and paper and scribbled out a quick note explaining the situation.  Navras wouldn’t have approved of that, but at the moment Toke couldn’t bring himself to care.  He’d been through enough today, and he didn’t feel like subjecting himself to his father’s ire again.  He signed the note, folded it shut, and instructed the clerk to deliver it to his parents, along with three bronze coins to help him forget how lazy he was for a couple of minutes.  And with that, Toke was out the door and heading for the school.
 
By the time he got back, he was so hot with anger that he couldn’t tell where his emotions ended and the weather began.  That, in turn, only served to make him even more irritated.  The usual throng of students crowded the hallways, pressing against him as he fought his way to the nearest drinking spigot and filled a cup with water.
 
“Hey, there he is!” a loud, boisterous voice shouted, making Toke jump and almost choke on his water.  Boam came shouldering his way through the crowd to pound his friend’s back enthusiastically.  “How’d it go, Mr. Inventor?”
 
Toke scowled into his cup.  “I’m not an inventor.”
 
Boam blinked in surprise, as slow on the uptake as always.  “What do you mean you’re not an inventor?”
 
Toke crushed the cup in his hand, heedless of the water that spilled all over his shirt and onto the floor.  “I mean that I didn’t pass, okay?” he snapped, looking his friend in the eye.  “My battery blew up in the Permissor’s face, Navras is giving me a second chance because I’m his favorite, and my parents think I’m a failure!”
 
“Oh,” Boam said, slowly.  “I- I’m sorry.”
 
Toke growled in irritation.  Inside, he knew that Boam was only trying to help.  How could he have known what happened in the Capitol?  Toke wasn’t interested in being comforted, though.  He’d kept his anger bottled up for too long.
 
“Don’t be sorry,” he said, pushing past the large man.  “You’ll get to keep your best friend for another month, after all.”
 
“Toke, don’t be like that!” Boam protested, but he didn’t follow.  “I’m sorry!”
 
Toke ignored him and hurried around the corner, breaking his line of sight.  He was glad none of the other students tried to talk to him.  If he wasn’t in the mood for talking to his friends, he definitely wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone else.  He made it back to his dorm and threw himself on the bed with an exasperated groan.  There was nothing he wanted to more than close his eyes and sleep the rest of this horrible day away.
 
Happy birthday, Toke!  Sorry, but you’re still not an adult.
 
There was still one issue that needed to be resolved, though.  The Sorakine girl was expecting him to be in the field outside Jerulkan that night at midnight.  Part of him wanted to just forget the arrangement and pretend it had never happened, but he kept remembering the way she had said she’d killed that Nail.  Cold, remorseless, and utterly convinced she’d done the right thing.  If he didn’t show up tonight, how did he know she wouldn’t turn that fury on him?  He shuddered at the thought.
 
After an hour of mulling over his options, Toke reluctantly decided that the best thing to do would be to show up and politely turn down her request for help.  It wouldn’t be wrong for him to do that.  She hadn’t even told him what he would be helping her with.  If it was so important, he reasoned, wiping his sweaty palms on his pants, then that would have been the first thing she did.  He nodded to the ceiling, his head sinking lower into the pillow.  That’s what he’d do.  And then tomorrow he’d show back up for class and try again.
 
Toke closed his eyes for a second, but when he opened them again the sky outside his window was dark.  Rolling out of bed, he grabbed the clock sitting on his nightstand.  It was a half hour to midnight.
 
“Smite!” he shouted, and rolled out of bed.  He was out the door and in the streets before he’d even rubbed the gunk out of his eyes.
 
Don’t worry, he thought as he was greeted by the sticky, humid night air.  Just tell her that things have changed.  You can’t help her anymore.  She won’t kill you.
 
His palms began to sweat again as he raced across town, thankful for the lack of traffic.  If he ran as fast as he could and didn’t stop, he would probably make it to the field in time so long he didn’t run into any Nails on the— no, no, he pushed those thoughts out of his head.  As if the Sorakine girl waiting for him wasn’t scary enough.
 
He sprinted across the road, flinching when an autocarriage driver hit his breaks and blew his horn at him.
 
“Sorry!” he called back without slowing down.
 
At last, he came to the end of the bridge that led out of Jerulkan and allowed himself to stop and rest.  He put his hands on his knees, trying to get his breathing under control while also doing his best not to throw up.  Five minutes later he was able to stand up again without the world spinning around him.  Maybe that girl had had a point about him being out of shape…
 
And speaking of the girl… He turned to the side of the road, where rows upon rows of corn stalks grew for what looked like miles in every direction.  There was a soft yellow glow in the distance.  For a moment, he hesitated.  This field belonged to somebody.  Wouldn’t going in there be trespassing?  Then again, even the crankiest of farmers probably wouldn’t cross a Sorakine warrior.  With a nervous gulp, he made his way into the forest of corn.
 
Once surrounded by the tall green plants, it was more difficult to make out the glow.  Standing on his toes, he was just tall enough to peek over the top, and he hurriedly made for the yellow light.  It was slow going, brushing the stalks aside with every step, but eventually he noticed trails of light coming through the dark cracks between plants.
 
“Hello?” he called out as he headed for them.  “I’m here.  I made it!”
 
He came upon the girl so suddenly that he nearly ran into her.  He stopped just short and then backpedaled, noting that the cold look was back in her eyes again.
 
“You’re late,” she greeted him.
 
“I’m sorry,” Toke said as quickly as he could without stumbling over the words.  “I just—”
 
“I guess it doesn’t matter,” she cut him off, her long hair swinging as she shook her head.  “What’s important is that you came.”
 
“Well, look,” Toke began again, trying to keep his voice as respectful as possible.  “I know I said I would help you, but…”
 
The girl flashed angry eyes at him, and Toke shut his mouth like a clam.  She glared at him for a few seconds, as if daring him to finish his sentence.  When he didn’t say anything else, she finally spoke again.
 
“I know you’re having second thoughts, so just listen to me before you make a decision.”  Her voice was sharp and accusatory again, just like it had been when she’d called him a coward.
 
“Okay,” he agreed meekly.  Suddenly, his self-assurances that she wouldn’t kill him seemed childishly naïve.
 
Instead of speaking, she reached behind her back and pulled out two large rings.  They were big enough for her to grip like weapons— because they were weapons, Toke realized when he saw the blades that ran all along the outer edges.  She held onto them with leather-padded handles that ran from one end to the other on the insides.
 
“What are you…” he exclaimed, but she moved before he could finish.  With an elaborate spin, she flung both of the ring-weapons away from herself.  Toke screamed and collapsed to the ground, waiting for the blades to slice through him, leaving nothing but a pile of shredded meat behind.  Instead, they travelled in a circle around the girl, cutting down the corn stalks in a circle ten feet wide on all sides, before abruptly changing course and flying straight back into her outstretched hands.
 
Toke lay on his back in the newly cut corn, his skin pale as snow, trying to come to terms with the fact that he was still alive.  When he finally found his tongue, the only thing he could make himself say was perhaps the stupidest thing that could have come out of his mouth:
 
“Th- th- that corn belonged to someone.”
 
“I don’t care,” the girl snapped irritably.  “We have more important things to discuss than some farmer’s vegetables.  Get up!”
 
His legs felt like wet noodles as Toke picked himself up off the ground and stood before the Sorakine girl.  She deftly slid her weapons back into the loops of fabric on the back of her jacket.
 
“You’ve heard of the Gravity Storms, haven’t you?”
 
“Of course I have,” Toke said, speech coming much more easily now that she’d put her weapons away.
 
“What do you think causes them?”
 
Toke paused.  Why would she ask him something like that?
 
“Nobody knows,” he answered at last, trying to figure out what she was getting at.  “They just started happening a few months ago.”
 
“Three months,” she corrected him instantly.  “Three months, one week, and five days.”
 
“Okay,” Toke agreed, skeptically.  He couldn’t remember exactly what day the first Storm had been recorded, but that didn’t sound too far off the mark.  “Why?”
 
“Those Storms destroy everything they touch,” the girl went on.  “Trees, grass, dirt, stone,” she paused, and then added, “even humans and Sorakines.”
 
“Sorakines?” Toke repeated curiously.  Despite the situation, he couldn’t keep himself from raising his hand to his chin in thought.  “But that doesn’t make sense.  Don’t Sorakines have the power to control gravity?”
 
The girl nodded, “We do, usually.  I don’t understand why, but the Gravity Storms take that control away from us.”  Her face fell, and he saw shame in her eyes.  “We become as helpless as anyone else in them.”
 
A thought occurred to Toke.  “How do you know this?” he asked.  “There haven’t been any Sorakines found in the Storms’ wreckage.”
 
“That doesn’t mean they weren’t there,” she said, the icy coldness back in her voice as she looked up at Toke again.  “They just weren’t found afterwards.”
 
Before Toke could ask what she meant, she launched into a story.  “The Storms began three months, one week, and five days ago.  I know that because I was there.”
 
Toke blinked in surprise, but she kept going before he could interrupt.
 
“I was out training with my mentor when everything turned green.  The sky, the moon, the stars, everything.  This was the first Gravity Storm, so neither of us knew what was happening until we both got pulled into the air and thrown around like weightless dolls.  It slammed us into the ground again and again, and then pulled us back into the sky.”  She paused, and Toke saw her shudder.  He didn’t blame her.  He was getting chills just listening to her.
 
“When it finally stopped, and the green color faded from the sky, my mentor was dead.  One of the falls had broken his neck.”  She looked away for a few seconds, but then fixed her eyes on Toke again.  “And then I saw him.
 
“Who?” Toke asked, intrigued despite himself.
 
The girl shook her head.  “I don’t know.  He was wearing armor that glowed green like the sky did, and he had a spear.  His helmet kept me from seeing his face.  He walked right up to us, like the Storm didn’t surprise him at all, and tried to kill me.  I managed to get away.”
 
She stopped, staring at Toke without actually seeing him, reliving the memory as she relayed it to him.
 
“I made it back to Hashira, but when the others came to retrieve my mentor’s body, it was gone.  They found the crater he’d made when he landed, but not him.”
 
“And you think the man in the armor took him?” Toke finished for her.
 
“No,” the girl shook her head again.  “I know he took him.  I don’t know why, but he did.  And that wasn’t the last of it.  Every time there was a Gravity Storm after that, more Sorakines have disappeared.  For some reason, though, they’re refusing to send anybody out to look for them.  In fact, they’re trying to put Hashira on complete lockdown.”
 
That explains why I haven’t been seeing any Sorakines lately, Toke realized.  Out loud, he asked, “So, you think this guy in the armor is following the Storms around and collecting the Sorakine bodies afterwards?”
 
“No,” the girl said again.  “Nobody knows how to predict the Storms.  To show up as quickly as he did, he had to have known exactly where it was going to strike.”
 
Toke shrugged.  “So, what then?”
 
The girl’s answer shook him to the core.
 
“I think he’s causing them.”
 
“Causing them?” Toke echoed, hardly able to believe what he’d just heard.
 
“Yes,” the girl insisted stubbornly.  “He’s causing them.”
 
Toke shook his head in bewilderment.  “You do realize you’re talking about the weather, right?  How could he control the weather?”
 
“The weather?” the girl yelled, taking a step towards him.  Toke recoiled in terror, and ended up tripping and falling on his rear again.  “The weather is the wind, the rain, and the snow!  Since when is gravity affected by the weather?”
 
“Okay, okay!” Toke pleaded, holding his hands up in surrender.  “Fine!”
 
The girl stopped, her fists still clenched by her sides, and took a deep breath.  When she released it, the anger in her eyes was gone.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to react like that.  But what you just said is exactly what the council said when I tried to tell them about my suspicions.”
 
“All right,” Toke said, picking himself up off the ground.  It would probably be best if he just went along with her for now.  “But how would he do that?”
 
“I don’t know,” the girl admitted.  “But he showed up immediately after the Storm ended, and his armor was glowing the same color as the sky.  It wasn’t just a similar green, it was the exact same shade.  That can’t be a coincidence!”
 
It made sense, Toke had to admit.
 
“Okay, fine,” he said.  “But even if he’s controlling the Storms, where do I come into this?  What do you need me for?”
 
“I need your help to prove it,” she answered.  “If the Storms are allowed to continue, they’ll destroy Yasmik.  One of them was so close to Finntimus a few days ago that it shook the buildings.  How long until they actually hit a city?”
 
“Um,” Toke began, but found he didn’t have a response.  What would happen if the Storms starting hitting cities?  It could be anywhere.  Jerulkan, Kassfar, Jaggin Heights…
 
“The reason I’ve brought you into this,” she went on, finally answering his question, “is so that you can collect information for me in Jerulkan.”
 
“Me?” Toke asked in confusion.  “Can’t you just…”
 
“No,” she cut him off.  “I’m not supposed to be there, remember?  Besides,” she pointed towards the glowing wings on her back, “don’t you think it’d be hard trying to spy with those things on my back?”
 
“You want me to spy for you?”
 
The girl crossed her arms.  “If I’m right, then this has to be coming from Yasmik’s government.  Who else would have the money and resources to do something like this?”
 
“You think my government is behind this?” Toke asked, incredulously.  A spark of anger sprang up inside him.  “My government is made of good people.  They would never do something like that!”
 
“That’s the only explanation,” she snapped.  “Can you honestly tell me that you’ve never me you’ve never met a corrupt politician before?  Even after today?”
 
Toke winced.  Those words stung.
 
“Adal isn’t corrupt,” he said, though it was difficult to admit it.  “My battery exploded in his face.  It would have been wrong for him to approve it after that.”
 
The girl rolled her eyes.  “Your parents are right.  You are just a child.  Your naivety shows it.”
 
Toke’s face turned scarlet.  “I am not a child!”
 
“Then prove it,” the girl challenged him, her eyes alight with zeal.  “Help me, and prove that you’re as grown up you say.”
 
I just walked into her trap, Toke realized, kicking himself mentally.  Now what?
 
“Look,” she said in a slightly gentler tone, “I’m not asking you to help me overthrow the government.  I just want you to find out if they’re the ones causing the Storms or not.”
 
“And if they are?” Toke asked.  “Then what?”
 
“Then I’ll have all the evidence I need to convince the council,” she answered.  “They’ll take the appropriate action and make sure the Gravity Storms stop.”
 
“But that could start a war!” Toke protested.  “You can’t just go around assassinating politicians.”
 
“Don’t worry about that,” the girl reassured him.  “We have our ways of averting war.”
 
This didn’t reassure Toke the way she’d meant it to, but he pushed it to the back of his mind to think about later.
 
“I don’t know how much I’ll be able to help,” he said.  “I’m not a politician.  I’m not even a politician’s son.  I can’t just walk into the Capitol and start listening in on their conversations.”
 
“I know,” the girl responded.  She extended her left wing, and plucked a single feather from it.  It glowed even when separated from the rest, illuminating her hand with a soft yellow light.  “How much do you know about how Sorakines fly?”
 
“A little,” Toke answered.  He’d once read a book on it in the Kassfar Library. “Your bodies produce a chemical called juryo that lets you control gravity.” He pointed at the feather, “That’s why your wings glow, right?”
 
The girl nodded.  “Sorakines aren’t like birds.  Even with our wings, we’re too heavy to fly.  Our bodies’ juryo releases us from gravity’s pull, and that alone gives us the gift of flight.  You can think of our wings as sails.  They steer us and propel us through the air, but without juryo they would be nothing but big feathery burdens.”
 
Toke nodded.  Even if he was discussing treason on a national scale, he still enjoyed learning.
 
“All right,” he said, “but what does that have to do with me?”
 
“Humans are born without the ability to produce juryo,” the girl answered.  “Without it, gravity will always be their master.”  She paused for a moment, as if second guessing herself, but then continued on.  “But there is a way to give them these abilities.”
 
Toke shook his head, the academic in him already forming arguments against her claims.  “That’s impossible.  There’s no way to make a body produce a chemical it wasn’t made to produce.”  He didn’t realize it, but he’d already forgotten what he had come here for.
 
“Yes there is,” the girl insisted, and held the feather out toward him.  “If juryo is introduced to a human’s body, it will begin producing the chemical on its own.”
 
“Introduce it?” Toke echoed in confusion.  “You mean like…”
 
“Yes, like eating it,” the girl finished for him, and then brought the discussion back on track.  “If you were to swallow this feather, the juryo in it would be absorbed into your system and your body would respond by making it on its own.  That would give you everything you need to gather the information I need.”
 
Realization dawned on Toke, and he looked from the feather in her hand, to her face, and then back at the feather.
 
“You’re joking,” he said hoarsely.  “You expect me to eat that?  Has this even been tested before?”
 
“There are records of these kinds of humans in the Sorakine histories,” she answered.  “In truth, though, they aren’t considered truly human, nor are they Sorakine.  They’re given a whole new label: Juryokine.”
 
Juryokine.  The word rang like a bell in Toke’s ears.
 
“You won’t be able to fly,” she explained when he didn’t speak up.  “You would need wings for that.  But you’d be able to control gravity like a Sorakine.  You could jump over buildings, walk on walls, or move things with your gravitational field.”
 
“And you want me to spy on Yasmik’s politicians with these powers?” Toke asked, finally finding his voice.
 
“You would be undetectable,” she encouraged him.  “You could crouch on the wall outside their office windows and listen to what they’re saying.  If anyone sees you, you’d just have to jump from building to building until they lose sight of you and then mingle with the crowd until they give up looking.”
 
The sensible part of Toke’s brain told him that the Sorakine’s plan was madness.  The only way he could be stupider than her was if he actually agreed to do it.  And yet, his eye continued to be drawn to the glowing feather in her hand.  Juryokine.  He didn’t lie to himself— being able to control gravity would be amazing.  Any old person could be an inventor, he could be a Juryokine.
 
She’s making a lot of sense, he thought, silencing the doubting voices that nagged him in his mind.  I’ll be able to do this around classes.  And if there’s really nothing wrong with the government, she’ll have no reason to go after them.  In fact, I might even be saving their lives by showing her they’re innocent.  She’s more than a little crazy.  She’d probably go after them on her own before too long.
 
“All right,” he said out loud, his voice cracking from both anxiety and excitement.  “I’ll do it.”
 
“Good,” the girl responded, her expression brightening.  She withdrew the hand holding the feather and extended the other.  It took Toke a moment, but he realized she wanted to shake his hand.  Funny, he hadn’t thought that was a Sorakine custom.  He took her hand and gave it a quick, yet firm, shake.
 
“My name’s Zashiel,” she said when she released him.  “What’s yours?”
 
“Toke,” he answered.
 
“Toke, if you swallow this feather, you are committing yourself to my mission.”  She spoke with a steely edge in her voice. “I will never leave you on your own, but you must swear to do the same for me.  From this night forth, until the day our task is complete, we will be a team.   Do you accept this?”
 
“Yes,” he said after a few seconds’ hesitation.  His palms were beginning to sweat again, and he hurriedly dried them off on his pants.  He wasn’t committing treason, he reasoned with himself.  He was protecting his leaders from the wrath of a dangerous Sorakine.  If anything, he was helping them!  The urge to back out returned, but he knew that was no longer an option.  He had gone too far.  Zashiel would never let him walk away now.
 
“Then take it,” she said, holding out the hand with the feather again, “and swallow it.”
 
Zashiel dropped the feather into Toke’s outstretched palm, and he felt the soft fibers brush his skin.  It was like holding a piece of the wind, he thought as he brought it closer to himself.  Even in the darkness, he could see every line and crevice in his hand from its light.  He was tempted just to hold on to it for a few minutes longer, but he was aware of Zashiel watching him.  His hand shaking with fear, he put the feather into his mouth.  His mouth was dry, so he held it in there for a few seconds, waiting until he was able to swallow.  Was this how feathers usually tasted, he wondered, or was he tasting the juryo it held inside it?  Finally, he tipped his head back slightly and forced the feather to go down his throat.  He looked forward again, and waited for Zashiel to say something.
 
“When your body digests the juryo,” she said, her face as unemotional as before, “it will throw your gravity out of balance.  It’ll be similar to what happens to someone during the Gravity Storms, but I hope it won’t be that powerful.  Don’t be afraid, and try to keep your body as limp as possible.  The stiffer you are, the more likely you’ll be to break bones.”
 
A strange sensation formed in Toke’s stomach.  At first he thought it was nausea, but then he realized it was more akin to what he’d felt as a child when he rode down the tallest hill in Kassfar in his wagon.  He felt like he was being pulled forward, towards Zashiel.  Then, suddenly he was being pulled backwards.  The feelings were weak, and he was able to resist them, until…
 
“Whoa!” he shouted as his gravity shifted again, throwing him off his feet so he landed face first in a pile of shredded corn stalks.  It didn’t stop there, though.  His feet were lifted up behind him until he did a somersault, flopping painfully onto his back.  He looked up at Zashiel, who was watching him impassively.
 
“If you survive,” she said, her calmness belying the situation, “I’ll find you.  Just remember what I told you.”
 
“If I survive?” Toke shouted in outrage, but wasn’t able to speak further as his body was jerked violently to the side, and he went rolling uncontrollably into the cornfield.  Panic engulfed his mind as he watched the yellow light slowly fade from view between the plants.  It came back into view briefly when he was thrown up into the air, but then vanished when he slammed into the ground again.
 
She tricked me! he thought, terror chasing away all rational thought.  She tricked me, and now I’m going to die!
 
And then his head struck a rock that jutted up from the ground, and he lost consciousness.
 
 
 
NEXT TIME: It’s beginning.  When Toke wakes up… if Toke wakes up, he won’t be human anymore. He’ll be a Juryokine.  What happens after that, nobody can tell.  Maybe they’ll catch the spearman, or maybe the government will catch them.  I hope it’s the first one, because high treason like this isn’t something they’ll forgive very easily.

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