Toke’s head throbbed with pain as sunlight attacked his eyelids. The hot air was sticky with humidity, and the rough bed of corn cobs and stalks didn’t allow him the illusion that he was lying in his dorm at school. With a groan, he forced his eyes open, squinting in the morning light, and sat up.
The world swam around him, and he reached up to rub a sore bump on the side of his head, just above his right ear. He winced, but was relieved when his hand came away free of blood.
“What happened last night?” he asked himself, and then shook his head. He knew what had happened, even if he couldn’t quite believe it. He’d come to the cornfield determined to politely decline the Sorakine girl and then run for his life if needed. Instead, he’d agreed to commit high treason and then swallowed a feather from one of her wings.
“What were you thinking?” he demanded, and found this to be a much more suitable question. Trying to ignore the pain in his skull, he managed to get to his feet and looked around. Zashiel was nowhere to be seen.
“Stupid,” he muttered. Hopefully, she’d just decided to leave after he had been knocked out. If he was lucky, this would all prove to be a Sorakine’s idea of a practical joke. Feed a dimwitted human one of your feathers, watch him go for a ride, and then fly away, never to be seen again. The power to control gravity— Ha! He hoped she was laughing so hard she fell out of the sky.
Well, he decided with a resigned sigh, the only thing he could do now was go home and get ready for class.
Toke had never learned to tell the time by the position of the sun, but as he stumbled his way back to the road he estimated it to be somewhere around eight o’clock. If he hurried, he’d have just enough time to get to the school for class. Hopefully Professor Navras wouldn’t find out about any of this. If he did, Toke felt like he would die of humiliation.
With his tired, shambling gait, the trip back took much longer than it had the night before, and he was glad when he finally pulled open the big front doors and felt an artificially cold breeze wash over him. He immediately went to the nearest water spigot for a drink.
“Toke,” somebody called from behind him. He turned to look, careful not to spill his drink, and saw Wayli fighting her way through the crowd. “There you are. I tried to talk to you last night, but I couldn’t find you.” She paused when she finally reached him, and took in his dirt-streaked clothes. “Are you all right?”
“Um,” he stammered, and took a drink to buy him some time. The only thing he could think to say was, “Wild night.”
“Well,” she went on hesitantly, “Boam told me what happened. Or, as much as you told him, at least. He said you were really upset.”
Toke grimaced, remembering the way he had spoken to his friend the previous day. “Yeah, I need to apologize to him.”
Wayli nodded. “He’s already forgiven you. You know he can’t stay mad at a friend. But yeah, you should say you’re sorry anyway.”
Toke nodded, and winced when his head flared with pain again.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Wayli asked. Before he could protest, she grabbed his shoulder and spun him to the side, and gasped. “Toke, your head! What happened?”
“I had an accident,” he lied, gently brushing her hand from his shoulder. “I’ll be fine.”
“An accident?” she repeated, incredulously. “It looks somebody hit you on the head with a boulder!”
That’s not too far from the truth, actually, Toke thought ruefully, but didn’t say anything.
“You’ll be lucky if you don’t have a concussion,” she insisted, and tried to drag him away from the water spigot. “Come on, you need to go to the nurse right now.”
“I’m fine,” he said again, and pulled his hand free of hers. “I have to get to Navras’ class.”
“With that?” she pointed at his head. “You’ll pass out before you make it to the workshop!”
“I have to be there,” Toke argued. “He went to a lot of effort to get me this chance. I can’t just skip class.” When it looked like she was going to argue more, he said, “I’ll go to the nurse after I get out, all right?”
Wayli hesitated, obviously wanting to force him to get medical attention right then, but finally nodded. “Fine, but you do it the minute class gets out, got it?”
“Got it,” Toke said, and couldn’t hold back a smile as he turned to head for the workshop. Even if he’d flunked his class and been pranked by a Sorakine, at least his friends never changed.
Another thing that never changed, he realized when he finally made it to the workshop, was how nasty people could be.
“Oh, welcome back,” Virkhul said with a sneer, setting a stack of papers onto his desk to give Toke his full attention. “Never thought I’d see you again. Didn’t things work out with the Permissor?”
Toke ignored him and made for the door.
“Must be nice, being teacher’s little favorite,” the secretary snapped. Toke shut the door in his leering face, but wasn’t quick enough to block out the taunt. Every head in the classroom swiveled around to look, and suddenly Toke was the center of attention.
Teacher’s little favorite.
Well, it was true, wasn’t it? Navras wouldn’t have done this for anyone else, and Toke was pretty sure they knew it. What was that in their eyes? Scorn? Pity?
“Please take your seat, Toke,” the professor’s voice cut into the silence, and the students’ heads all snapped forward to face him again.
“Yes sir,” Toke said meekly, making his way to the table he’d always worked at.
“Everyone back to work,” Navras ordered, already making his way in Toke’s direction. When he was right next to him, he leaned over and spoke into his ear.
“It’s not like you to be late, young man.”
“Sorry, Professor,” he replied, trying not to look him in the eye.
Navras was quiet for a few seconds, and then said, “Have you been drinking, Toke?”
“What?” Toke exclaimed, and looked up at his teacher in shock. “No.”
Navras nodded his approval, but Toke could still see a hint of doubt in his expression.
“I would understand if you were upset last night,” he said quietly, so only the two of them could hear, “but alcohol only provides a temporary reprieve. Rely on it too much and it will destroy your life.”
“I know that,” Toke said. “I don’t drink.”
“I’m not saying you have been,” the professor said, though Toke could tell he still didn’t quite believe him. “Just keep what I said in mind.”
Toke’s face turned scarlet as his teacher walked back to the head of the class. Did he look like he’d been drinking? His clothes were absolutely filthy. Did Navras think he’d passed out drunk in some ditch? If he had been drinking, it would have been illegal, since the drinking age in Yasmik was twenty three. What would be worse, though? Letting the professor think he’d drank his worries away, or telling him that he had been pranked by a Sorakine girl?
“Great,” he grumbled, shaking his head as he stood up to go to the supply closet. “Just great.”
If there was one thing that would take his mind off this embarrassment, it was work. He had one month to make a new battery and to ensure it wouldn’t explode in the Permissor’s face again, and he was determined not to let Navras down a second time.
He climbed up the step ladder and began to collect the materials from the shelves. A block of rubber to melt down and coat the inside of the cylinder with, a thin sheet of nickel to form the cylinder itself, and a sheet of copper to carry the jidoryo power through the cap. The crystal itself would have to be ordered from an outside source.
The metals were right next to each other on the first shelf, and Toke grabbed them both and tucked them under his arm before reaching up to the third shelf for the block of rubber, which was just out of his reach.
“Oh, come on!” he grumbled under his breath, standing on his toes to try and grab it. His fingers still couldn’t quite touch it.
Toke had never fooled himself into thinking he was tall. Even his own parents stood a whole head above him, and never did this fact annoy him more than when he needed to ask a tall person for help. He was in no mood to ask for help today, especially since they were all probably bitter at him for being given a second chance. He would do this himself, one way or another. If only it was a little closer…
Before his eyes, the rubber block slid across the shelf, right into his hand.
“What?” Toke asked aloud, staring at the black cube in amazement.
“Did you say something, Toke?” Navras asked from his desk.
“Um, no,” Toke answered, still looking at his hand in bewilderment. “Sorry.”
He shook his head, making his wound throb again, and then got down off the ladder and went back to his desk.
The rubber had slid straight into his hand, like a piece of metal drawn to a magnet. He set it down cautiously on the table in front of him, as if he was afraid it would explode, and stared at it.
The power to control gravity like a Sorakine…
No, no, no. He forced that thought away. The bump on his head must have addled his brain. He’d probably just leaned too heavily on the shelf and tilted it a little. He couldn’t let himself be distracted by fantasies. He had work to do. All the same, a clammy feeling washed over his skin, and he shivered.
His tools were laid out in front of him, and he busied himself with his work, letting the comforting monotony of cutting, rolling, and folding the metal distract him. For a few minutes, Toke almost forgot about the previous night’s events. Nothing mattered except his invention, and he had to make sure it worked this time. He was so absorbed in what he was doing that the workshop around him began to fade away, as it usually did, leaving the materials and his tools floating in front of him in a silent black void.
“Hey, can I borrow your screwdriver?”
A finger tapped Toke on the shoulder, bringing him out of his trance with a jolt. His classmates were used to this, but they weren’t used to the way every tool on Toke’s desk flew into the air, striking him and then falling to the floor with a clatter that could be heard from the hallway.
“Toke, what are you doing?” Navras asked, looking at his star student in surprise.
“I- I, um…” Toke stammered, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from mess of tools and materials littering the floor around his stool. To the others, it probably looked like he had accidentally kicked the desk and knocked everything off of it, but Toke knew the truth. He hadn’t touched the desk. He hadn’t touched the tools. They had just jumped off of the desk, directly toward him, as if he had…
“I need to go,” he said suddenly, standing up.
“Are you all right?” Navras asked, rising from his seat as well.
Toke motioned distractedly at his head. “My head. Got hit last night, and I, uh, don’t feel good.”
Navras nodded. “Go see the nurse, then. Can you make it on your own?”
“Y- yeah,” Toke said, turning and almost tripping in his haste to make it to the door. “I’ll be fine. I’m sorry!”
If the professor said anything after that, Toke didn’t know because he had shut the door with a firm slam behind himself.
“Showing up late and leaving class early,” Virkhul snickered. “You’re never going to pass if you keep this up.”
“Shut up,” Toke snapped, and hurried down the hall before the secretary could say anything back.
Toke didn’t bother trying to weave his way through the crowd of students this time. Instead, he waded through, pushing past them if need be. A few sharp words were thrown at him, but he ignored them. A strange feeling was building up in his stomach, and he was sure he was about to be sick.
Finally, he made it back to his room. He unlocked the door and shut it behind him just in time, because at that moment the weird sensation reached its peak. He doubled over, thinking he was going to throw up, but instead found himself falling over. He landed hard on his shoulder, but managed to keep his head from striking the floor. He lay there, too dizzy to move, and it took him a couple seconds to realize he wasn’t lying on the floor— he was sliding across it.
“What on Fissura?” he exclaimed, just before slamming into the wall. He fought back the dizziness and struggled to stand up, but whenever he put weight on his foot it refused to gain traction, almost as if…
Toke froze, his skin turning pale. Slowly, he put his hands onto the wall in front of him and pushed himself up. He sat up on his knees, and began to tremble uncontrollably. He wasn’t sitting on the floor, he was sitting on the wall.
“What’s going on?” he asked again, trying to keep his mind from going blank with panic. The wall was like the floor to him. His bed, his nightstand, and his dresser all seemed to be clinging to the wall, defying gravity itself. But they weren’t the ones defying gravity. He was.
No, not defying it, he thought wish dismay. Controlling it.
As if waiting for its cue, the strange sensation came again over him again, and Toke fell from the wall and landed face first on the floor. He moaned, half in fear and half in pain, and scrambled on his hands and knees to his bed. He wrapped his arms around the bedframe like a drowning man grabs a life preserver, and held on as tightly as he could.
Gravity was no longer consistent. It had a mind of its own, and Toke was just along for the ride. Terrifying images of himself falling endlessly into the sky, or being flung across the streets until he struck a building flashed before his eyes. He couldn’t go outside anymore. It wasn’t safe to be anywhere where the walls were more than a few feet apart. He could fall onto his own ceiling and die!
With a tremor of fear, he glanced up at the ceiling— just as the odd feeling exploded inside of him again.
“No!” he shouted as he was suddenly carried away from the floor. Only his firm hold on the bedframe stopped him, and suddenly he was dangling from it upside down, his toes only a couple of feet from the ceiling above him… or was it below him?
“Stop it!” he cried desperately without knowing who he thought he was talking to. “S- stop it!”
And then, just as quickly as it had come, it was gone. His arm went limp under his own weight, and he collapsed in a heap on his mattress.
“This can’t be happening,” he whimpered, grabbing his pillow and burying his face in it. “It’s all a dream. Just a really bad dream.”
He tried to convince himself that when he looked up again, he would awaken and start the whole day over. He hadn’t really accepted Zashiel’s offer to swallow her feather, he hadn’t agreed to commit treason with her, and he most certainly couldn’t alter gravity!
Toke’s was a logical mind, though, and when he opened his eyes to find himself staining his bedsheet with his filthy clothes, his head pounding where he had struck it, he wasn’t at all surprised. Tears stung his eyes, but he tried to hold them in. Now wasn’t the time for crying. Now was the time for thinking. He had to figure this out. He needed to figure out how to reverse whatever had happened.
Zashiel. He needed to find Zashiel!
It took him a few minutes to gather his courage, but when he finally got out of bed he stepped across the floor as gingerly as if he thought it was going to break. The strange sensation in his stomach was gone, but in its place had come a sudden wave of exhaustion. Twice, he stumbled over his own feet, having to catch the wall for support to avoid falling flat on his face.
“Are you okay?” somebody asked, but Toke ignored them and, with effort, pushed the door open and stepped outside.
As the sun beat at him from the sky, he suddenly realized he didn’t know where Zashiel was. She had left just after he’d swallowed her feather, he remembered that much, but she hadn’t told him where to find her. She wouldn’t just abandon him, would she? Not if she actually expected to pull off the featherbrained plot she had concocted.
Half unconscious, Toke tottered down the sidewalk, leaning on the buildings he passed to keep from falling into the road, until he came to the alleyway where the mugging had taken place. He paused, looking into the narrow space between buildings. She’d tracked him down here twice already. It was as good a place as any to look.
“Hello?” he called, very conscious of the other people around him. It wasn’t that weird to shout into an alley, was it? Or was the exhaustion and heat just taking their toll on his brain? He should have drank some more water before leaving…
“Zashiel?” he called again, half delirious from dehydration. “Are you in here?”
Suddenly, there was a flash of yellow light, and Toke found himself with his face pressed against the hot brick wall.
“Shut up, you idiot!” the now familiar voice hissed into his ear. “What’s wrong with you?”
The bump on Toke’s head throbbed from the sudden motion, and his vision began to go dark.
“Sorry,” he mumbled before his legs gave out beneath him. Zashiel’s Sorakine strength kept him from collapsing, but he still found it hard to focus.
“Idiot,” she said again, grabbing him under his shoulder and pulling him further into the alley. “Haven’t you had anything to drink all day?”
Toke tried to answer, but only managed a series of confused mutters. Zashiel pulled him behind a pile of garbage bags waiting to be taken away and laid him down on the ground.
“Drink this,” she said, pulling a small canteen out of an inner pocket of her jacket. She lowered it to his lips, and as he drank he wondered in passing how the girl could stand to wear such a thick garmet in this heat. The canteen was smaller than his hand, yet somehow it held enough water for him to drink for nearly five minutes straight.
“I’m sorry I had to leave you out there by yourself,” she said when his thirst was finally sated. She placed the canteen back into her jacket, somehow still more than half full, and pulled out another bottle. She uncorked this one and spilled a few drops of a dark blue gel into her outstretched hand.
“What did you do to me?” he asked, thinking much more clearly now that he was properly hydrated.
“You know what I did to you,” she answered, smearing the gel around her palm with her thumb and fingers. “Don’t play dumb.”
Before he could react, she reached out and rubbed the blue stuff onto the side of his head. He flinched when she touched his bump, but a moment later the pain faded. She continued applying it for a few more seconds before pulling her hand back. Toke reached up to feel his head and found that the wound was gone.
“I couldn’t stay after you started to change,” she explained, putting the bottle back into her pocket. “If somebody had found both of us together, my plans would have been ruined. If they only found you, they would have assumed you were trespassing and let you go with a warning.”
“And just ignore all the corn you destroyed?” Toke shot back.
Zashiel shrugged. “A small fine for vandalism. No jail time, no probation. It was better this way.”
Toke sat up indignantly, his face reddening again, but before he could protest she was speaking again.
“By the look in your eye, I’d say your powers have started to manifest already. Did you do anything that would bring attention to yourself?”
“I didn’t do anything,” Toke spat. “That feather you gave me just…”
Zashiel held her hand in front of his face, silencing him. “Did anyone notice you?” she asked again, emphasizing each word. The cold look in her eyes was back again, and Toke decided it would be best, and safest, to appease her.
“No,” he answered. “Nobody saw me.” He decided not to mention the scene he’d caused in Navras’ classroom.
“Good,” she said with a satisfied nod. “Then the next thing we need to do is teach you how to control your abilities.”
“I don’t want to control them,” Toke said, getting to his feet. “I don’t want them anymore. Take them back!”
“Get down, you idiot!” she hissed, and pulled him roughly back behind the cover of the trash bags. She shook her head in disbelief. “There is no going back. Your body is producing juryo on its own now. The only way it will stop is if your heart stops beating.”
A shiver ran down Toke’s spine under her angry glare, and he subconsciously put a hand to his chest, as if the look she was giving him might be able to stop the beating inside it.
“You agreed to this with complete understanding of what was going to happen,” she went on, accusingly. “I didn’t lie to you or withhold any information that you would have needed, and you still agreed to help me. You will not back out on me now!”
Toke wanted to keep arguing, to somehow convince her that she was insane, but the look in her eye told him that there was no point. Slowly, feeling as if he were signing his own death warrant, he gulped and nodded.
“Then the next thing you need to do is learn to control the juryo. A Sorakine can do this by instinct, but you humans aren’t so lucky.”
Toke arched an eyebrow, looking at her quizzically. “How many times have you done this?”
Zashiel shot him a sharp look, and he leaned backwards in surrender.
“We should get started immediately,” she decided. “We’ll go to the Massaro Quarry outside town.”
“That’s forty miles away!” Toke protested. “We can’t walk all the way there.”
Zashiel rolled her eyes. “We’re not going to walk there, stupid. I have wings, remember?”
The moment she said this, a flutter of fear wormed its way into Toke’s chest.
“You’re not serious,” he said, shaking his head. “You can’t carry me all the way to the Massaro Quarry!”
“Yes I can,” she replied matter-of-factly. “It’s part of a Sorakine’s training.”
When Toke only gave her a blank stare, she explained, “Our mentors leave us in a remote location with another trainee and tell us to fly to a location at least fifty miles away while carrying the other. When we arrive, we switch places and our partner carries us back to our point of origin. We do this once a day until our strength builds up enough that it’s no longer difficult.” She paused and held her arm out, as if expecting Toke to feel the muscles inside the thick white jacket. “Carrying you forty miles won’t be difficult at all.”
Toke gulped. He wasn’t comfortable inside an autocarriage. There was no way he’d let this girl fly him forty miles away from Jerulkan. But, as if she thought they’d reached an agreement, she held her arms out, waiting for him to climb into her grasp.
“B- but,” he stammered, pressing his back against the wall, “if you’re carrying me, then everyone below us will see us together. You said your plans would be ruined, didn’t you?”
For once, a confident smirk rose to Zashiel’s lips. “You have no idea how fast a Sorakine can fly. All they’ll see is a bright yellow streak.”
“No way,” Toke exclaimed, all of his worries instantly confirmed. “I am not going to—”
He was cut off, though, when Zashiel lunged at him, wrapping him in a bear hug. Her impossibly strong grip pinned his arms to his sides, completely immobile. She let go of him with one arm to raise her hood, hiding her eyes behind the dark glass visor, but then had clamped onto him again before he could struggle.
“Wait, wait!” Toke screamed, but Zashiel paid him no heed. She bent her knees and launched herself into the air.
The city flashed past underneath them, the buildings and roads and people nothing but a multicolored blur. The wind blasted his face like he was in the middle of a hurricane, whipping his hair behind his head and stinging his eyes.
“Close your eyes!” Zashiel yelled, but Toke could barely hear her. They were moving so fast that the sound of her voice was being left behind almost before the words reached his ears. “The wind can hurt them when we’re moving this fast!”
Toke didn’t have to be told twice. He clamped his eyes shut, making the rapidly moving landscape below disappear. He closed his mouth as tightly as he could too, afraid that he might throw up.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, he felt Zashiel begin to descend. Her speed didn’t let up until they were only a few feet above the ground. Toke yelped when the thin topmost branches of a tree swatted him on the rear, but then Zashiel angled up sharply for a moment, and then set her feet down gently on the ground.
Toke managed to stand for a couple of seconds when her strong arms released him, but then the shaking in his legs caused him to fall flat on his face.
“N- N- Never do that to me again!” he shouted, hardly able to form words with his body trembling like it was. He took deep breaths, in, out, in, out, trying to calm his racing heart. As he lay there on the hard, gravelly ground of the quarry, he decided that he could ride in an autocarriage every day from now until he died without a single complaint if it meant he would never have to go up in the air with Zashiel like that again.
“Get up,” the Sorakine ordered, her face devoid of any pity. “We have work to do.”
“Give me a minute,” Toke complained, shooting her a sharp look. “I have to catch my breath.”
Zashiel snorted, and shook her head. “If a fifteen minute trip scared you that much, then we’ve got more work to do than I thought.”
“I don’t suppose it would do me any good to tell you to just find someone else?” Toke grumbled.
“It wouldn’t,” she confirmed. “Now, on your feet!”
His heart was still pounding in his chest, but Toke forced himself up off the ground. They were at the bottom of one of the canyons, he saw. The walls on every side of him undulated in height, sometimes only twenty feet tall, other times forty.
“The first thing you need to know,” Zashiel said once he had focused on her, “is that you can’t fly.”
“I know,” Toke replied. “You told me that last night.”
Zashiel held up two fingers. “The second thing you need to know is that you can only alter gravity when there is something nearby to anchor yourself onto.” She pointed to the canyon wall, “Right now, you could anchor yourself to that wall and it would become like the ground to you. But if you were standing in an empty field, with nothing around you but flat land, you wouldn’t be able to change your anchor because there would be nothing to anchor yourself too.”
“Okay,” Toke said quietly, devoting all this to memory. He couldn’t fly, and he could only change gravity’s pull on him if he had something else to act as the ground. He asked, “How close to I have to be to something to make it my anchor?”
“You’ll have to figure that out,” Zashiel answered. “It’s different for every Sorakine, so I assume the same is true for Juryokines.”
There was that word again. Juryokine. Suddenly self-conscious, Toke held his hand up in front of his face, studying it closely. They looked exactly the same as they had the day before. Could it be true that he wasn’t a human anymore? He wasn’t a Sorakine, either. He was something new, an unnatural mixture between the two.
“The third thing you need to know is that you can change how strong gravity’s pull on you is,” Zashiel said, bringing his mind back to the present. “You can make yourself lighter or heavier, depending on what you need.”
“If I’m lighter,” Toke reasoned, “I can jump really high.”
“And run much faster,” Zashiel added.
“Yeah,” Toke agreed. “But why would I want to make myself heavier?”
“It can benefit you in fights. The heavier you make yourself, the harder it is to stagger you. Make yourself heavy enough, and it will be like punching a rock.”
“That makes sense,” Toke said, nodding as he brought his fist to his chin to think. It sounded quite useful, as well.
“But keep in mind that you’ll be affected by it too,” Zashiel warned him. “Make yourself too heavy, and you won’t be able to support your own weight. You’ll collapse. You can even break your own bones.”
Toke’s face went pale, and he dropped his fist to his side again. That, he decided, was one thing he wouldn’t be trying anytime soon.
“Lastly, you need to know that you can make yourself a center of gravity as well.” Zashiel unhooked one of her chakrams from the loops on her back, and tossed it away. It clattered on the rocky ground, coming to rest five feet away from her.
“Watch,” she instructed, and held out her hand. Instantly, the chakram leaped back into the air and flew into her palm.
“I did that earlier,” Toke blurted without thinking. “A block of rubber slid into my hand when I needed it during class.”
Zashiel turned and gave him a frightening look. “I thought you said nobody saw you.”
“They didn’t,” Toke amended, holding his hands up. “Nobody was looking.”
The Sorakine glared at him for a few more seconds before finally looking away. She pointed to the wall closest to them.
“Go to that wall,” she ordered him. “I want you to alter your gravity to make it your anchor.”
“I don’t know how,” Toke protested, making his way to the wall all the same.
“Stop talking. Face the wall and feel the gravity.”
“What do you mean feel the gravity? You can’t feel the…”
The sentence froze in Toke’s mouth as he realized something was different. He stood there, looking at nothing but the sandy limestone wall in front of him, trying to concentrate on this new feeling. It was different from what had happened in his room. He almost felt like he was standing in a river, only this river didn’t have one current— it had several. More than he could count, and they were all swirling around him at the same time.
“You’re doing it,” he heard Zashiel say. “Everything around you has gravity. Most of it is just too weak for humans to even notice. But the Sorakines are different. We feel the gravity coming from everything around us— and now you do too.”
“What do I do now?” Toke asked, awed by the new sensations running across his body, over his skin. Goosebumps began to spring up on his arms as gravity drifted around him, though it was neither hot nor cold. It was so surreal.
“Find the current that leads to the rock wall,” she told him. “Latch onto it.”
He had no idea how to latch onto a new anchor, but Toke began to focus on the different currents all the same. The strongest one, by far, was the one beneath him, keeping his feet planted firmly on the ground. He tried to ignore that one, feeling all the other currents individually. Finally, he settled on one that felt like it was the second strongest. It was coming from directly in front of him.
“Now what?” he asked, keeping his eyes trained on the wall, like he might lose track of it if he looked away.
“Connect with it,” was the answer. “Release your connection to the ground, and replace it with the one from the wall.”
For a moment, Toke put his focus back onto the pull coming from the ground again. It was more powerful than the others, and it felt to Toke as if it was there to stay. How was he supposed to just let go of it?
As if sensing his thoughts, and the meaning behind them, the pull of gravity beneath him abruptly shut off. For the briefest moment, Toke felt completely weightless, like he was about to float away, but then it was back. After the split second of freedom, the sudden return of gravity was like a shock to his system, and he fell to the ground.
“Try again,” Zashiel ordered, though her voice sounded less severe now. Almost excited. “Don’t wait so long after releasing your first anchor to latch onto the new one.”
Getting back to his feet, Toke nodded, his eyes wide with amazement. He’d been weightless— as buoyant as a feather. It was incredible. This time when he focused on the gravity around him, he felt more determined.
The ground let go of him again, but this time Toke immediately searched for the pull coming from the wall. Once he felt it, he told himself to grab it. The weird sensation exploded in his gut again, just like it had in his room. It was like telling his arm to move, he realized. He couldn’t explain how he did it, he just did.
But then the ground wasn’t the ground to him anymore— the wall was. With a yelp, he fell forward, landing face down on the wall.
“I did it,” he said, pushing himself up so he was sitting on his knees. “I did it!”
“Try standing up,” Zashiel told him.
Toke turned his head, and was met with an odd sight. To him, he was still standing on the floor, which meant that Zashiel was perched implausibly on the wall fifteen feet above him.
“All right,” he said, and pushed himself up. He could still feel the gravity coming from the ground, the gravity he’d been tethered to since the day he was born, but it didn’t pull on him. He looked back up at Zashiel, and a smile slowly stretched across his face.
Not waiting for her to give him any more directions, he spun around and raced up the wall, laughing with delight. When he reached the end, he turned around and ran back the other way.
“This is incredible,” he said when he was close enough to reach out and touch the ground. He turned and made his way back to the top, slower now, amazed by his new ability.
“Be careful,” Zashiel warned him. “You’ll wear yourself out.”
“What do you mean?” Toke asked, turning to look at her again. It was at that moment, though, standing atop the edge of the cliff, that his brain decided to process what he was looking at. The ground was twenty feet below him, and he had nothing connecting himself to the wall except his own two feet.
“Um,” he said, beginning to feel uncertain. Vertigo struck him, and he stumbled. The warm feeling in his stomach came back, and suddenly the wall was no longer his anchor. With a scream, he began to fall downwards, the rocky ground quickly rising to meet him. Then, a split second before he crashed, a bright yellow flash blinded him and his descent stopped.
“Told you to be careful,” Zashiel said, wings unfurled behind her as she hovered in the air, holding Toke above the ground by the collar of his shirt. She landed, and set Toke down beside her.
“Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “I got scared.”
To his surprise, instead of rebuking him for cowardice, Zashiel nodded.
“That’s fine. Your fear will go away the more accustomed you become to doing this.”
Toke was silent for a minute, sitting on the ground, thinking about what he had just done.
“So,” he said at last, “what now?”
Zashiel turned to him, her eyes flashing with determination, “You start training.”
NEXT TIME: Toke might be a Juryokine, but he’s still got a lot of work to do before he’s ready to take on Zashiel’s mission. Can he learn how to be a Juryokine while still working on his invention? If he has to make a choice, will he choose to stop the Gravity Storms or change Yasmik?