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“Smite,” Toke whispered as the Sorakine girl stepped into mess hall. Suddenly, all the relief he felt from having told his story to Boam vanished at the thought of the argument that would surely begin the moment she got her food and sat down with him.
“What's wrong?” Inaska whispered back to him.
“She still wants me to leave Wayli and Boam behind,” he answered. “And she's still going to feel betrayed every time I tell her no.”
“They're your friends, not hers,” Inaska said with surprising force behind her words. “If you don't want to leave them, you don't have to.”
Toke snorted. “Try telling her that.”
He watched Zashiel out of the corner of his eye as she moved up the line, growing more tense with every step she took. He had let go of his romantic feelings for her, but he still thought of her as his best friend. But so were Wayli and Boam. He had two choices, but what was he supposed to do when both choices meant betraying someone he cared about? To his surprise, he found that his hands were shaking. He looked up, saw her accept her meal, and...
And sit down at a completely different table.
Toke breathed a sigh of relief. Almost immediately, though, all the stress came rushing back to him. He hadn't avoided the argument with her. He had merely postponed it.
“Smite,” he whispered again.
She turned to look at him, and Toke actually jumped in his seat. Those eyes... fiery, violent, and now positively venomous. Had she ever looked at him that way before? If she had, it hadn't been for a long, long time.
“Just explain to her why you can't do that,” Inaska said when he turned to face forward again.
Toke shook his head. “That won't work. I want to keep them around because I'd feel bad for abandoning them. Emotions... you can't argue emotions with Zashiel. She sees Wayli and Boam as a threat, so to her the only logical thing to do is get rid of them.”
Inaska hummed in her throat and stole a quick glance at the Sorakine girl. “You know, I think you've got it all wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“I look at her, and I don't see someone without emotions. In fact, I think I see someone who feels them more strongly than anyone else. She just hides them better.”
Toke raised his eyebrow. “But...”
“Does that look like the face of someone who feels nothing?” Inaska thrust her thumb over her shoulder.
“No,” Toke admitted. He didn't have to look. Zashiel's face was a storm of bitter anger.
“So, she does have emotions,” Inaska concluded. “She just expresses them differently than you.”
Toke thought about this for a minute, and then nodded. “That doesn't help me, though.”
“Maybe it does. You just have to figure out how to make her feel the same way you do.”
Toke barked a laugh. “I think I have more chances of picking up the Swordfish and balancing it on my head.”
“Don't say that around Captain Treyn.” Inaska leaned in, grinning conspiratorially. “He may decide to make that part of your act!”
Toke groaned, but that groan turned into a laugh too. Inaska had a gift for that. Whenever he felt bad, she knew exactly what to say to cheer him up. Maybe that was because she'd grown up in the circus. Or maybe...
Maybe it was because she understood him better than anyone else.
“Inaska...” he said hesitantly.
The white-haired girl's sharp ears immediately picked up the heaviness in his words. “Yes?”
“I...” He stopped. What was he planning to say? Did he plan to ask her to marry him right here and now? With a jolt, Toke realized that, if he hadn't stopped himself, that was probably exactly where his words would have gone.
On the other side of the room, Zashiel stood up, brought her empty plate to the front, and then left. Toke followed her with his eyes and, before he knew what he was doing, stood up.
“I have work to do.”
He set off before Inaska could say anything, tailing the Sorakine girl into the corridor. His stomach was already doing flips just thinking about what he was about to do, making the chili he had just eaten churn inside him like a spicy bean hurricane. He put a hand to his mouth, smothering the burp that rose unbidden to his lips, and looked just in time to see the glow of Zashiel's wings disappearing as the door to their cabin closed.
He clenched his fist as he stepped fully out into the corridor, making it twinge with pain. He was doing that more and more lately, he realized, as if he was using the pain to distract him whenever he felt things weren't going his way. And today, things really, really hadn't been going his way. He had made Boam mad, he had made Zashiel mad, and now he was probably going to make things even worse by trying to steal from her.
It's my fault Pruyal got injured, he thought, forcing his feet to move. He stopped right outside their cabin, hand hovering over the doorknob. It's my responsibility to make things right.
He took the knob in his hands as gently as if he thought it was going to burn him, turned it, opened the door, and...
Found Zashiel already in bed.
The Sorakine girl raised her head in confusion—it was barely past sunset—but her brows lowered themselves into a scowl that told him she hadn't forgotten about their argument that morning. She didn't lay her head back down, though.
“Long day,” Toke said, stepping inside and shutting the door behind him. “Thought I'd hit the sack a little early.”
Zashiel glared at him for a few more seconds, but then finally laid her head back down on her pillow. Even so, Toke could feel her eyes on him as he crossed the room and sat down on his cot. He swallowed hard and tried to make his face look as innocent as possible. He had a feeling he wasn't doing a good job. What would Zashiel think if she knew what how guilty he was feeling? Her mind surely wouldn't jump straight to the right conclusion. As far as Toke knew, she didn't even know about Pruyal's injury.
She'll probably think you feel guilty for arguing with her, he thought.
That made him pause in the middle of taking off his shoes. Smite it, that might be even worse. Assuming he felt bad would lead to assuming he agreed with her, which would lead to assuming that he wouldn't object if she threw Wayli and Boam overboard the minute they made port. He looked up at her, trying to read her the way she must be reading him, but her face was as emotionless as ever.
No, not completely. There was a coldness in her eyes that hadn't been there that morning.
Just as Toke was wondering if he should say anything, she rolled over to face the wall, her glowing wings further lighting up the room now that they weren't trapped beneath her. Toke sighed, but tried to push the issue from his mind. He had other things to worry about.
He laid down on his back, still wearing his clothes. If he were honest, this was perfect. Zashiel never went to bed this early, but since she was here she would probably be asleep within a half hour. As soon as she was, he could take what he needed, help the injured actor, and return it before she was any the wiser. And the early bedtime just meant Pruyal would have to suffer less.
Toke folded his hands beneath his head, sighing as he made himself comfortable. He couldn't blame Zashiel for wanting to go to bed early. After everything that had happened today, he was exhausted as well. In fact, if he wasn't careful, he might nod off himself. He couldn't let himself do that, though. If he slept through the night, who knew if he'd ever have... another chance... to...
Toke's eyes popped open, and he sat up with a soft gasp. Whirling around, his heart sank into his stomach when he saw how dark it was outside his porthole. The sun was gone, nothing but a memory as Fissura gave itself over to the night. He had fallen asleep. How long had it been? Had he missed his chance?
Clenching his injured fist, he forced himself to calm down. Panic would only set him back even further. Moving slowly, as quietly as he could, Toke turned and set his feet on the floor. The glow of Zashiel's wings showed that she was still lying on her side. Judging by the gentle rise and fall of her chest, she was sound asleep. Toke breathed a sigh of relief and, with Zashiel's light, sought out his shoes and slipped them back on his feet. Then he stood up and stepped up onto the wall.
Now came the hard part. Toke swallowed nervously as he crept up the cabin's wall and onto the ceiling, hanging upside down, until he was positioned directly over the sleeping Zashiel. Sweat began to bead his brow, and he hastily wiped it on his sleeve before it could fall on the Sorakine below him. Would that be enough to wake her? He was surprised the frantic beating of his heart hadn't already done the job.
He couldn't back down, though. He had given his word to Treyn that he would make things up to him and Pruyal. That meant he needed what Zashiel had.
He needed her Chiyuka ointment.
She was lying on her side, with the top half of her jacket unzipped to keep her from getting too hot while she slept. The light from her wings didn’t illuminate much inside her jacket, so Toke had to squint to see, but... yes! There it was! Sorakine jackets were filled with pockets, but he knew from experience that Zashiel liked to keep her ointment in one of the front pockets, where she could grab it at a moment's notice. The fact that only Toke knew where it was meant she wasn't worried about pickpockets. Besides, what kind of idiot would dare try to pickpocket a Sorakine?
This kind of idiot, Toke realized with a grimace. Still, he committed now. Even if he was caught, Zashiel wouldn't hurt him. Too much. Probably.
Toke steeled his nerves. The tube was right there. All he had to do was get it without waking the surly Sorakine. As far as he could see, he only had two options: use his powers, or use his hands. He could, theoretically, make an anchor to the tube and pull it out. That one would be trickier, since he wouldn't have direct control over the tube. It could easily tug on a fold in the cloth, or spin in midair and wallop her in the face. But using his hands meant getting on the floor and putting himself within easy punching distance. He was in trouble if he woke her up either way, but at least it would be harder for her to reach him up here on the ceiling.
He gave his head a little shake. He could do this. He wasn't the cowardly, untrained boy he'd been a year ago. He was doing things with his powers now that even Zashiel couldn't do.
Biting his lip and wiping his brow again, Toke hesitantly extended his hand and felt out with his—
Despite his months of training, Toke had to clamp his hand over his mouth to keep from yelping in surprise. He froze, knees bent, ready to leap out of harm’s way if he had to. Below him, Zashiel kicked lethargically, mumbled something under her breath... and then fell still. Toke sighed with relief. His heart was pounding so hard it threatened to break his ribs. He took a minute to calm down, and then reached out with his powers again.
As always, he became intimately aware of everything around him, the shape of the room, and even the odd crewmember passing by outside. Everything had a field of gravity, even if it wasn't as strong as that of the planet's, and it all called to him as if eager to be put to use. Even the Chiyuka tube. Closing his eyes and summoning the void, he was able to narrow the scope of his powers to include nothing but the tube and the small area surrounding it. Toke's heart began to race again. This wasn't like when he'd pulled on a fruit for his boatman back in Doku. Then, the area surrounding the fruit had merely been more fruit. Now it was a sleeping Sorakine warrior.
The tube twitched. Toke held his breath. If he wanted to do this without waking Zashiel, he would have to pull it straight out of the pocket. Pulling it out at an angle would catch on her jacket and wake her up. Thinking for a second, Toke took two steps forward. There. He couldn't make any certain part of his body an anchor, which meant that when he pulled the tube out it wouldn't come to his hand, it would simply come to him. He made another anchor to the tube, and it twitched again. Then, like a snake peeking out of its burrow, it slid out of Zashiel's pocket. Toke had made the anchor as light as he could, so it came slowly, fighting the planet's gravity as he carefully, carefully, coaxed it up into the air, and...
And then everything began happening at once.
Zashiel's eyes popped open at the same time their cabin door burst inward. Toke saw something coming toward him out of the corner of his eye, and his body reacted by instinct, leaping and releasing his anchor to the ceiling, even as he snatched the Chiyuka out of thin air, so that he fell and landed on his cot. A thick, curved sword embedded itself in the ceiling where he had just been standing. Zashiel was on her feet even before Toke landed, and the intruder's sword rang against the steel of her chakrams. Toke rolled out of his cot, grabbed his jacket from underneath his bed, and threw it on. By the time he had done up the zipper—the ointment safely hidden in one of his own inner pockets—the intruder was already on the floor, bleeding from a fatal wound. Zashiel spun around to face Toke, but he ignored her, rushing over to inspect the dead man.
“What were you—”
“This isn't someone from the crew,” Toke cut her off, standing up. Suddenly, all thoughts of helping Pruyal were gone. “I have no idea who this is. That means...”
“The ship is under attack!” they exclaimed together.
NEXT TIME: Oh, thank smite! I thought they were going to have to have a serious conversation or something. Pirates, though? Hell yeah, bring on the pirates!