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“You have a sister?”
“Keep your voice down!” Zashiel hissed, looking around warily.
The two of them were in one of the older parts of Doku, where the buildings were more run down and fewer were inhabited. It wasn't nearly as deserted as the canals near the Dammon Hotel, but they both felt more comfortable wandering around in this part of the city than they were in the more crowded parts. Zashiel had turned her jacket inside out so that it looked like a raggedy old piece of cloth, her wings tucked inside, and her long golden hair was concealed by a stocking cap she had knitted herself. Toke had thrown away the shirt he'd been wearing to conceal his jacket, quite stupidly now that he thought of it, so he had no choice but to stow the incriminating white garment on the floor of the boat and take the ride back bare chested. Vlangurtians didn't often care about the happenings in Yasmik, so it was unlikely anyone would give Toke and Zashiel a second glance, even if they knew who they were. Still, they didn't want to take that chance, especially not when there were bounty hunters looking for them.
“Nobody's going to figure out who you are just because I said you have a sister,” Toke shot back, rolling his eyes. He was sitting in the front of a long, narrow boat, while Zashiel stood at the back, poling them through the canals. “Seriously, why didn't you ever tell me?”
Zashiel's scowl might have been enough to cow other men into submission, but Toke knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't so much as throw a punch at him.
“I wanted to keep my family from getting involved as much as possible,” she said with a sigh. “You know what they do to Juryokines, and the Sorakines who make them. If Klevon thought my parents or my sister had anything to do with it, he'd have executed them the same way he did me.”
“Well, looks like they got involved anyway,” Toke said, crossing his legs and folding his arms behind his head.
“Thank you, Toke. I hadn't noticed.”
“So, I guess this means Klevon still hasn't...” Toke turned to look at Zashiel, and his voice trailed off. Her face had turned an alarming shade of red. When she saw him looking, she averted her eyes and stared into the calm waters beneath them instead.
Oh, right. Toke realized. I'm an idiot.
“Are you going to be okay?” he asked.
Zashiel didn't look back up at him, but she gave a curt nod. “I'm fine. I just need time to... to process this.”
Toke frowned. Zashiel was putting up her walls again. Just like when she'd lost her old mentor, Sir Miron. It had taken Toke weeks just to get her to lower her guard enough to become her friend. She hadn't been so reserved with him since the day he'd saved Hashira. If she put them back up now...
Toke's heart felt like someone had shot an arrow into it.
Spotting an old dock nobody was using, Toke reached out with his powers and anchored himself to it. His new gravity pressed him up against the side of the boat, and the boat followed his lead until it bumped gently into the dock.
“Toke, what are you—”
“I'm sorry,” he said, rising from his seat. He decreased his gravity enough so that when he walked across the boat he didn't shake it, and then took Zashiel in his arms. “I shouldn't have said that. Forgive me?”
Zashiel remained stiff in his embrace for a few seconds, but then she sighed and seemed to melt against him. A moment later, she hugged him back.
“I'd forgive you for cutting my wings off, Toke,” she said softly. “What else can I do after what you've done for us?”
She rested her head on his shoulder, and Toke smiled. The moments they embraced were, by far, the most vulnerable she ever allowed herself to be. It didn't just show how much she cared for him, but how much she trusted him as well. She was allowing Toke inside her walls, the one safe place she had, even when the rest of the world was against her.
“Zashiel,” he whispered, turning his head so he was speaking right into her ear, “would you believe me if I said that you're just as important to me as I am to you?”
Zashiel pulled away, and they looked each other in the eye. She had known for more than a year now that Toke had feelings for her. She continued to reject them, choosing to hold onto the memories of her dead mentor instead, but once he'd crashed the Terracaelum Toke had felt like she was opening up to him more and more. You could search all across Fissura and not find two friends closer than Toke and Zashiel, but did she know that he didn't feel the same way for her he had before? Because he didn't. Those feelings were long gone.
Now he was full blown smiting in love with her.
Slowly, hesitantly, Toke began to inch his head closer to Zashiel's. He kept his eyes on hers the entire time. His heart began to beat faster when she didn't protest. He had never kissed anybody before. What did he do? Pucker his lips? Close his—
Zashiel put her hand over his face and pushed him out of the boat. He yelped, and flopped into the water with an undignified splash.
“What was that for?” he demanded when he climbed back into the boat, sopping wet for the second time that day.
“Don't push it, Gnasher,” she said, picking up her pole again. Toke wanted to be annoyed, but there was laughter in her eyes now as she began to pole them through the canal again. He sighed, settling back down into his seat again. He'd wanted to cheer her up, right? Well, she was happy now.
They rode the rest of the way in silence. Toke wanted to think that it was companionable silence, but he could still feel the tension Zashiel was hiding just beneath her surface. He couldn't blame her. Finch Kal'Brynden, Zashiel's sister. Toke was an only child, but he thought he could understand what she was feeling. He had tried to keep his parents from getting involved in his and Zashiel's schemes too. That plan had gone south as soon as Klevon decided to use them to get to Toke, but all in all Toke decided he had gotten off easy. Even if his parents had been branded outlaws like him and Zashiel, at least he wasn't having to fight them. If it had come to that, he wasn't sure if he could have brought himself to do it.
Toke thought back to the way Zashiel had grabbed Finch's hand when she fell out of the bell tower, even though the fall probably wouldn't have killed her. No, he didn't blame her at all.
Zashiel silently pushed the boat up to another unused dock, and Toke pulled out a rope and tied it to the post. He could feel faint shifts in gravity behind a few of the walls around him.
“It's probably not going to be here tomorrow,” he said, stepping out onto the dock. He threw his jacket over one shoulder, still not wanting to put it on. Even in Vlangur, a Sorakine jacket would draw unwanted attention.
“That's fine,” Zashiel said, following him. Together, they set off across a rickety old bridge that spanned the narrow alleyways between buildings. “It doesn't belong to us anyway.”
Toke grimaced. Besides the bounty hunters, stealing was his least favorite part of being a fugitive, even if he knew it was necessary. Getting a job meant making themselves more conspicuous than Zashiel liked. If they didn't steal what they needed, they'd starve. That didn't make him feel better about taking someone else's property, though.
“It doesn't belong to them either,” he grouched.
“We'll get a new one.”
Toke gave her a sidelong glance. “You know, I'm starting to miss the days when you killed muggers and thieves in the streets.”
Zashiel smirked. “I could start again. Are you volunteering to go first?”
“Ooh, scary Sorakine warrior!” Toke teased her, punching her lightly on the arm. “Help, she's gonna get—ow!”
He cringed and rubbed his wrist. Zashiel stopped walking and, before he could protest, grabbed his arm and held it up to look at it.
“Be gentle,” he grunted. He knew she would be, but she was still a Sorakine. When one could lift boulders five times their size, “gentle” had a completely different meaning.
“It's still hurting you, isn't it?” she asked after examining it for a minute.
Toke's cheeks turned a shade pinker. “Only a little,” he said, pulling his arm away from her. “I barely notice it anymore.”
Zashiel narrowed her eyes and her mouth tightened into a hard, thin line. “Don't lie to me,” she snapped.
Toke frowned, but still hesitated.
“I thought we meant more to each other than that, Toke.”
Smite it... Toke thought. Out loud, he said, “Fighting the hunters today just made me use it more than I should have.”
He started walking again, hoping Zashiel would leave it at that. She kept pace beside him, though, and the look on her face told him that the conversation wasn't over yet. He sighed.
“Tell me what happened,” she demanded.
“I beat the first two, but then the last one knocked my axe out of my hand.” Toke raised his hand and flexed his fist a few times. Even now, there was an irritating pinching sensation in his wrist every time he did, but he kept his face straight so Zashiel wouldn't see.
“We should put more Chiyuka ointment on it,” Zashiel said.
“No,” Toke immediately countered her.
“Not being able to hold your weapons could get you killed!”
“We have less than a quarter bottle of the stuff left!” Toke insisted stubbornly. “We've tried Chiyuka already, and it didn't work. My hand's still messed up. That stuff could mean the difference between life and death just as much as anything else, so I don't want to waste it.”
Zashiel fell silent as the crossed yet another bridge. The sun began to set behind them, painting the canal waters a bright vivid orange. Toke could tell Zashiel wasn't happy, but at the same time she agreed with him. The miraculous Sorakine medicine had healed his arms when the bones had practically been reduced to dust, but there were some things that were beyond even it's almost-magical abilities.
This is the second time I've learned that, Toke thought, raising his hand to feel the scar on his cheek.
“It's the price of being a warrior,” Zashiel said.
Toke's face burned, and he lowered his hand. “I know that,” he said. “And I'm not sorry for what we did.”
“Good. When you begin to resent your scars, you begin to regret what you did to get them.”
Toke nodded his understanding. “We did the right thing, even if everyone in Yasmik and Hashira doesn't see that. I'll never regret that.”
They walked in silence for a few minutes, the only sounds the tramping of their feet on the wooden bridges and the water lapping at the edges of the buildings. As he walked, Toke idly kicked a pebble over the edge, watching it sink into the murky water until it was lost to sight. There was a weight on his shoulders that he hadn't shared with Zashiel yet, though he suspected that she already felt it as well. Part of him wanted to bring it up now and get it over with, but he kept it to himself. Better to wait until his parents were there so they could be part of the discussion.
“Tell me about Finch,” he said instead.
For a second, he thought Zashiel was going to wall herself up again. Instead, after a minute of consideration, she said, “Her name's Shaelyn. Finch is just the nickname I gave her because...” She took a breath. “Because she's my little sister. She was born when I was three years old, so she'd be eighteen now. She's not even an adult yet...”
Toke caught the hidden meaning to her words. Not full grown, but still thrown out into the world to hunt her own family.
“Were you close to her?”
Zashiel shrugged. “As close as Sorakine families can get, I suppose. We aren't raised by our parents.”
Toke gave her a startled look. “Really?”
“They keep us until we learn to walk, and then we're all taken to the Warrior's Academy. From there, the instructors may as well be our parents.”
“That sounds horrible.” Toke shuddered. His experiences with his own parents may not have been peachy, but at least they were there.
Zashiel shrugged again, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “It's not that bad. It isn't like we're never allowed to see our families. They let us go home on holidays, and our parents came to see us when we graduated each level of our training. Finch was three years below me when she started, so we hardly ever got to see each other. When she got older, our mentors would sometimes let us spar against each other. She was always a gifted fighter.”
Toke gave her a little smile. “Just like you?”
Zashiel nodded weakly. “So, yeah, by Sorakine standards I guess we were close.”
There it was again. That despair. Toke inched closer to her so that their elbows were brushing.
“We'll find a way to fix this,” he said.
“Toke...” Zashiel said. He could see her eyes starting to tear up. “Sometimes things just don't work out that way.”
“Maybe we could convince her to join us.”
“She'd never do that, not when Klevon has our parents.”
“Well, then maybe we can rescue them, too.”
“They'll never betray their own people.”
“Then we tell them what really happened. They're your family, Zashiel. They've got to at least listen! If we could just—”
“Toke!” Zashiel moved in front of him and caught him by his shoulder. “I'm the reason for all this. They're in danger because of me. I can't make things even worse for them.”
Toke stopped and looked into Zashiel's eyes. “Okay, fine,” he finally said, shrugging. “It's your fault. All your fault. You are officially the bane of your family's existence.”
Zashiel's face turned a shade redder. “Toke...”
“But does that mean you just sit here and let Klevon have his way?” Toke went on. He knew he was on thin ice, but he couldn't stand seeing Zashiel so beaten down. “Of course not! You take responsibility for the problem you caused, and you fix it!”
Zashiel took a deep breath, and Toke noticed the way her fist was clenched by her side.
Oh, boy, he thought, fighting the urge to step away from her, I went too far, didn't I? Yeah, I went too far.
Instead, Zashiel relaxed, and when she looked into Toke's eyes again there was a glimmer of amusement in them.
“Using my own words against me?” she asked. “Should I sue you for copyright infringement now?”
Toke let out a sigh of relief, half because it had worked, half because Zashiel hadn't torn his head from his shoulders, and grinned. “They were what brought me back when I'd given up. Figured it might do the same to you.”
Zashiel chuckled and shook her head, and they continued on their way. “Fine, you win. I don't know what we can do to help my family, but I won't give up yet. I'll keep searching for a way to help them.”
A minute later, they came to an old building Toke had deduced must have been a candy shop, if the multitude of empty glass jars by the windows, stained a rainbow of bright colors, were any indication. He hadn't been able to find out as much about this building as he had the Dammon Hotel, but he guessed that it must be considered cursed as well, judging by the way nothing had been looted over the years. The candy had all long since rotted away, but the jars and several crates the back still remained exactly where they had been when the store closed its doors for the last time. To Toke's surprise, when they moved in he had even found quite a bit of money stashed in its cash register. Weeks later, that money was long gone.
Toke leaned casually on the wall of the building adjacent to their hideout and reached out with his powers. Rather than anchoring himself to anything, he used them to scan the area. Everything had a field of gravity. That was one of the first things Zashiel had taught him. If he focused hard enough, Toke could even make out the shape of the object he was feeling. While he wasn't able to see through walls, since solid objects tended to block out the gravity of whatever was behind them, he was still able to get a vague idea of what was in the other buildings around them.
He concentrated on the building across the canal from them. His powers worked like his eyes, in that they were only really useful when he zeroed in on a specific spot. He could spread them out around himself like a forcefield, but that flooded his brain with so much information that he couldn't decipher any of it. At first he'd wondered if that was because he was merely a human with Sorakine powers, but when he'd asked Zashiel about it she'd seemed shocked.
“You're doing what with your powers?” she'd asked, incredulously. It turned out, the concept of using her powers to “see” had never even occurred to her. Toke had tried to teach her to do it, but she'd claimed the results were too “fuzzy” to make anything out. She had jokingly added, “You'd better be careful. I might get jealous if you learn how to use my powers better than I can.”
“There's some people in that building over there,” he said, pointing further down the canal, “but I don't think they're watching us.”
Zashiel nodded and went to the door. After giving the area one last cautious glance, she opened it and motioned for Toke to go in. Once Toke was inside, she came after him, shutting the door behind them.
“Mom? Dad?” Toke called. “We're back.”
The door behind the counter creaked open, and a pair of eyes peeked out from the shadows. After shifting back and forth to look at both of them, the door opened the rest of the way and a man who looked like an older, more heavyset version of Toke stepped out to join them.
“Well it's about time,” Brin Gnasher snapped, idly brushing dust off his sleeve. “We were beginning to worry about you two. What took you so long?”
Toke shrugged nonchalantly. “Busy day.”
His father frowned. “Well, busy or not, we specifically said that you were to check in with us every three hours. And,” he looked out the window, “you were to be back an hour before sunset. Does that look like an hour before sunset to you?”
“Oh, come off it, dear!” another voice said, and a moment later Brin was joined by a woman. Her dress and her blonde hair were both in disarray, something that had driven her mad for the first few months of her exile, but she'd eventually come to terms with it. She turned to look at her son. “You're safe, aren't you?”
“As safe as we ever are,” Toke said, walking to the counter and setting his jacket on top of it. When he saw the face his mother was making, he said, “Yes, we're safe, all right?”
“We have food,” Zashiel said, taking their attention off of him, which Toke was thankful for. She took her pack from around her shoulders and set it on the counter, letting the flap fall open and an assortment of fruits come rolling out.
“Oh, thank heavens!” Evanya exclaimed, reaching out and grabbing an apple before it rolled over the edge. She hesitated before biting into it, and then looked fondly at her son. “And thank you too, Toke.”
“Yeah,” Toke mumbled under his breath before taking a fruit for himself. “No problem.”
Despite his misgivings about stealing, it was disconcerting for Toke to see his parents be so okay with it. They would all be going hungry otherwise, though, so he couldn't hold it against them.
“Still,” said Brin, peeling an orange with his fingers, “I don't see why it took you two all day just to collect some fruit.”
Toke paused with his fruit halfway to his mouth. He and Zashiel had decided not to tell them about the bounty hunters, and instead had gone out with the excuse of bringing back food. There was no need to worry his parents about things like that, Toke reasoned, and Zashiel was only too happy to circumvent an argument with the anxious Gnasher parents. That was something that rarely happened, but they tried all the same.
“I know you kids mean well,” Mr. Gnasher went on, “but you're our son, Toke. How are your mother and I supposed to keep you safe if you stay out where we can't see you all day long?”
Toke snorted, almost choking on the bite of fruit he was chewing, and had to look away so his father didn't see the look in his eyes. Of all the... then again, he was talking to Brin Gnasher. Statements like that were run of the mill for him.
“We can't be too careful,” Zashiel said, rescuing Toke yet again. “The shop keepers watch for things like this. If we didn't take out time we'd have half of Vlangur chasing us. We're trying to keep a low profile here.”
And nothing says laying low like destroying a church, Toke thought ruefully. After taking another bite of his fruit, he sighed and hung his head. He had to tell them. Looking up at Zashiel, who was seated atop the counter next to her open satchel, he caught her eye and she nodded solemnly.
“Hey,” he said tentatively, setting his dinner aside. His parents looked at him expectantly. “I know we've only been here about a month, but...”
“But you want us to pack up and leave again,” Brin finished for him.
Toke flinched a little when he heard the disappointment in his father's voice, but nodded anyway. “Yeah. We've been here long enough. It's time to leave before people start showing up looking for us.”
His mother sat up straighter, her face turning a shade whiter. “Why? Has something happened?”
“No,” Toke answered a little too quickly. Brin and Evanya both narrowed their eyes at him. “Nothing's happened. Honest.”
“Toke,” Brin said warningly.
“If anything happened,” Zashiel snapped, “we wouldn't be sitting here right now. We'd already be on a boat out of here.” She looked darkly down at her fruit. “You don't have to be so suspicious of him.”
Brin's mouth curled downward in a frown, but her sharp words were more than enough to cow him into silence. Evanya, though, had no reservations about giving the Sorakine warrior a piece of her mind.
“Young lady, we are only trying to keep our son alive,” she said, her facing rapidly turning from pale to red.
“So am I,” Zashiel replied, taking another bite of her apple.
“And a fine job you're doing of it, too. Being hunted down like a rat, always in danger, never able to stay in one place for too long.”
Zashiel frowned. “I didn't mean for—”
“And all because of you! If it hadn't been for you, he would have graduated from his course in Jerulkan, and—”
“And Hashira would be a smoldering pile of ash.” Toke interrupted her. “And the Sorakine race would be all but extinct.”
Just like he knew it would, that shut his mother right up. She may not have been any happier with the situation than the rest of them, but even she wasn't going to come right out and say that it would have been better to let Hashira fall out of the sky.
Not to Zashiel's face, at least.
“Anyway,” he went on, sitting down with his back against the wall, “we'll be moving again as soon as Zashiel and I can get our hands on some boat tickets, so have your things packed and be ready to move as soon as possible.”
His parents chewed silently for a minute and then, as one, nodded their consent. Toke breathed a sigh of relief. All things considered, that had gone better than he'd expected.
“What we need to do,” Brin spoke up, tossing his orange peel away, “is open a store.”
Toke groaned. “Dad, we've been over this.”
Brin held up his hand. “No, son, you don't understand these things. What we'll do is find a good spot to open a store, and we'll sell all the best products and have the best customer service imaginable! That way we'll become a part of the community. And then, when people come to take us away, our loyal army of customers will stand up for us!” He smiled in satisfaction. “The Yasmikan government won't be able to touch us.”
He reclined with his hands behind his head, and Toke thought he heard him whisper, “And we'll be rich.”
Toke sighed and looked at Zashiel, wondering if it would be worth it to explain how that would be like setting off a flair for the Sorakines. A flair that would somehow spell Toke and Zashiel's name in the sky, with an arrow pointing right down at where they were hiding. Zashiel rolled her eyes and shook her head, and Toke nodded his agreement. They're already avoided one argument. No need to start another one, especially about something this stupid.
“Everyone get some sleep,” Toke said decisively a few minutes later. “Zashiel and I are going out early tomorrow morning to work on getting those tickets, so we need you two to be ready to move as soon as we get them.”
“Oh, very well,” Evanya said, rolling her apple core so that it came to rest in the corner beside her husband's orange peel. “It has been a rather tiring day, I suppose.”
“But what would we sell at my new store?” Brin persisted. “Fruit, perhaps? No, no, that market is oversaturated already. I need something that people will only be able to get from us, something they would pay,” he paused and chuckled, “their first and last waters for.”
Despite himself, Toke cocked his head. “Pay their what for?”
“It's a Vlangurtian saying,” his father answered. “Something about the first and last time they touch water, something sacred, blah blah blah.” He raised a finger. “You need to know how your customers' minds work, Toke. That's the only way to get them to come back.”
M-hmm, words of wisdom from Kassfar's most hated store owner, Toke thought, but wisely kept that to himself.
A few minutes later, Brin got up and went to join his wife in the back of the store, where they'd set up their sleeping quarters. Even if nobody in the city was brave enough to come into the cursed candy shop—Toke still chuckled a little every time he thought about it—they all agreed that it would better if they weren't visible to anyone who happened to look through the window. The bounty hunters had proven that they had no misgivings about setting foot into cursed buildings. As unlikely as it might be, none of them wanted to take the chance.
With his father gone, that left only Toke and Zashiel together.
“So, where are going to go this time?” Zashiel asked, spinning her apple core skillfully on her finger.
“I don't know,” Toke admitted. They were fugitives from the law, so there was no real reason to go anywhere in particular. The distance was more important than the location itself, and so was getting there without attracting any attention.
“How about Stal Atrieda?”
Toke looked up at her in surprise. “Vlangur's capitol?”
Zashiel shrugged. “Why not? It's hundreds of miles from Doku, and it's a big city. We'll be able to lose ourselves there without much trouble.”
Toke considered this for a minute. “Yeah, I guess you're right. But are you sure you don't just want to see the sights?”
Zashiel's face turned a shade redder, and Toke laughed.
“So what if I do?” she asked hotly. “We've been on the run for a year now, and that's probably never going to change. If I want to spend a couple months enjoying myself before we have to start fighting for our lives again, is that really so bad?”
The smile fell from Toke's face, and he looked away, ashamed. “Yeah, you're right,” he said softly. “Sorry, I shouldn't have made fun of you for that.”
“Don't worry about it,” she replied. She stood up and stretched. Her wings extended behind her back as she thrust her chest out towards him, a pose that might have looked seductive if it had been anyone besides Zashiel. Toke knew by now that flirting was as foreign a concept to her as reading Vlangurtian was to him—two things he hoped might change in the future. The near future, if he was lucky.
“Zashiel?” he finally asked. She turned to look down at him again. “Are you forgiving me for these kinds of things just because of the debt you owe me?”
Zashiel frowned, and her brows drew low over her eyes. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“I mean,” he clarified, “would you still be willing to let these things go if I wasn’t... well, me? If I wasn't the one who saved Hashira?”
“We are friends, Toke, if that's what you mean,” Zashiel said. “Why would you ever think we weren't?”
Toke groaned. “That's not what I meant! I mean... I don't know what I mean. I'm just nervous about moving again, I guess. Forget it.”
Zashiel nodded her understanding. “Tickets to Stal Atrieda aren't going to be cheap. We're either going to have to steal them or find a way to earn the money in just a couple days.”
“Or just stow away,” he suggested.
“I think that should be our last resort. Vlangurtians base almost all their beliefs around the water and their boats. Stowing away is one of the worst crimes you can commit here.”
Toke thought for a minute, and then mustered up a confident smile. “Don't worry about it. We're smiting Toke and Zashiel. If we can't think of a way to get four boat tickets, then maybe it's time to let the bounty hunters get us.”
Zashiel snorted. “Yeah, you're right.”
They sat in silence for a few minutes, watching the sun sink the rest of the way behind Doku's buildings, until the city was bathed in darkness.
Toke stood up. “Go get some sleep. I'll take first watch.”
“Are you sure?” Zashiel asked. “You took on three guys today. I only had one.”
“They were pushovers, just like all the others,” Toke lied. “I'll be fine. You go lie down.”
“All right,” she consented, getting up and heading for the other room. Toke's parents slept together, and Toke and Zashiel traded places in the other room, depending on who was on watch. “Wake me up when it's my turn. Goodnight.”
Toke turned to face the front door just as Zashiel’s door shut behind him and clasped his hands behind his back. The city was calm on the other side of the glass, the waves lapping gently at the sides of the floating buildings. When he concentrated, Toke even imagined he could feel the old abandoned store’s stilts swaying back and forth in the current. There wasn't much danger, especially now that he had dealt with the bounty hunters.
Finch was still out there somewhere, though.
Toke frowned and reached back to feel his axes hanging reassuringly from the loops on the back of his jacket. The Yasmikan government had sent dozens of human bounty hunters after them, but this was the first time a Sorakine had shown up. That didn't bode well. If Klevon sent one, he would send more. He and Zashiel had been able to beat Finch, but what if next time there were two of them? Or five? Or ten?
“We have to hide,” he muttered to himself in the darkness. It didn't matter how strong the two of them were, if they were fighting Sorakines they were eventually going to lose. Their only hope was to disappear. Either learn how to blend in with normal people, or else find someplace where they would never be found. Frankly, Toke wasn't sure either one was possible.
As he pondered their predicament, and the quiet night continued, Toke gradually found his thoughts wandering off subject to a place they seemed to be going more and more regularly. He sighed. The way things were going, it looked like he and Zashiel were going to be spending the rest of their lives together. How long those lives might be was a question neither of them could answer, but he did know that she would never leave him so long as she thought the Sorakines owed him a debt. Likewise, he would never leave her because... well...
Because I'm a smiting idiot who can't control his feelings, he thought bitterly.
It wasn't just that, though. He cared about Zashiel for more reasons than one. She was still his friend, even if he wanted to be more than her friend. He wouldn't ditch her either, even if he wasn't...
In love with her.
A cold sweat broke out on his skin, and Toke put his hand to his chest and could actually feel his heart beating through the fabric of his jacket.
“Smite it all,” he grumbled. They were in danger here. The last thing Zashiel needed was to be distracted by his feelings for her. For that matter, it was the last thing he needed too. So why wouldn't they go the smite away?
He stood there with his arms folded, glaring out the front door. He was so deep in thought, arguing with his subconscious, that he almost didn't notice the light that was coming from outside, getting brighter with every passing second.
Toke was snapped back to the present as soon as his brain registered what it was he was looking at, and he let out a ragged gasp. A pillar of green light was shining straight in through the window on the front door, falling on Toke light a spotlight. A wave of terror immediately swept over him, and it was only Zashiel's training that kept him from panicking. He'd seen that light before, he knew what it was. There was only one place on Fissura it could come from.
Or, rather, one person.
Toke could vaguely make out the shape of a person in that light, looking right back at him through the window.
“No, it can't be,” Toke whispered, groping blindly for his axes with sweat-slick hands. “It's impossible!”
He knew he should call for Zashiel while he still had the chance, but his throat was constricted with fear. Toke was a logical man, a man of science, but he couldn't deny what was right in front of his eyes as the figure in green slowly pushed the door open, letting his light shine so bright that Toke had to squint to keep from being blinded. The intruder became a black smudge in his vision.
“I'm dreaming!” he told himself. He shook his head vigorously, and even slapped his cheek, but to no avail. Even with his eyes closed, the unnatural green light was bright enough to see through his eyelids.
Slowly, he opened them again, and a calm sense of dread settled in his stomach. “You're dead,” he said, pointing feebly at the figure. “I killed you.”
The figure cloaked in green light didn't move, and neither did Toke. For almost a full minute they did nothing but stare each other down. The seconds crept by like time itself was slowing down to watch the confrontation. Finally, after what felt like an eternity, the intruder spoke.
NEXT TIME: Ohhh shoot, here come DAT NAVRAS! But didn’t Toke kill him in the last book? Something weird is going on.