Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Race Circuit

For each NEW race the course follows the same 10 segments, but never the same exact path. Each race is determined by where the floating pylons have been placed. Each hovers roughly 10 meters above ground and are spaced one kilometer apart. Each vertical cylinder is two meters tall and half a meter wide. The lower half of the cylinder has bands of colored lights. Red is smack in the middle, and the only one currently lit up, meaning there is no race in progress. There is only one other band of light above red, and that's the yellow warning signal during crashes, or other issues. The rest of the lights run below red in bands from orange, yellow, white, soft green and then bright green at the very bottom which means the race is on.
The pylons are in fact the race course. Pilots have to stick close to them. The further away a lightship veers from a pylon the more points are lost. Not only are they racing against opponents, but to guarantee a win a pilot has to pass under each pylon no further than 10 meters out on either side. More than once in past races, a pilot finished first only to lose the race because of veering too far off circuit, incurring penalty points. With every 10 meters out from a pylon, a point is lost per pylon, and with 500 to 600 pylons, depending on the circuit setup, that could equal to a lot of lost points. Even with the rule of 1 second for every 100 points, over a full race, especially a 3 lap championship race, many seconds can be lost on penalty points.

Here's a detailed description of the Lightship Race Circuit from Chapter 6 : The Junker
On screen, two mid thirties male announcers, in sharp modern suits and with bright white teeth and big smiles, start describing the race course. They look very similar but are of different races so clearly not related. Both are sitting behind, and on either side of a flat table-like display projecting up a 3D image. The display between them is showing individual portions of each section of the course, their statistics, along with snippets of lightships either racing by or crashing. It seems that most of the footage is filmed from the pylons, so the viewers get to see the lightships coming at, under, and past the pylon recording them. There are also more distant angles from above and beyond the pylons, showing large sections of the course with the distant lightships racing in the larger scenery following the string of pylons.
"That's right Hondo." The announcer on the left refers to the one on the right. "It all starts with Section 1-West, as we like to call it, The Start. Ha-ha-ha." Both announcers laugh far beyond the level of the joke, then Hondo takes over.
"Yes Mando, section 1-West is the start. It's two kilometers of straight line racing out of the Bitani stands, on the south of table mountain heading west, which then turns sharply north on..." Hondo hands it off to Mando.
"Section 2, The Old Road. The course now heads up the base slope of our glorious table mountain. It's a 4km treacherous steep incline. A nearly 45 degree uphill shot towards the outcrop where the Carpati kids like to risk their lives to watch the race."
"That's right, and what a risk it is. We all saw the terrible crash that happened during the last prelims in the 3rd Section of the race, Tombstone Turn."
"That's right Hondo. Tombstone is aptly named. It's a sharp upside-down U-turn, from the old road, right up on the side of the stone outcrop. Go too slow and you simply fall off the side of the wall in your ready made grave."
"Go too fast, like our young Ricio did, and you overshoot the turn crashing hundreds of meters below on the other side of the outcrop."
"The lightships that survive the Tombstone Turn now head nose-down into a near vertical drop."
"But following the contours of the base of the mountain, the course gradually flattens out into Section 4, The Long Curve, down in the Carpati Flatlands."
"Section 4 is an 8km long gentle curve past the Township's West Market, turning the lightships to the north, only about a kilometer away from the Carpati stands."
"The perfect distance to see the lightships hit nearly top speed into the 600kph range. From there, the lightships make a hard left turn into the Crags."
"Ah yes, Section 5 the Killer Crags. More lightships have been chewed up and spit out in the Crags than anywhere else."
"It's certainly the end of the line for any pilot who has no business inside a bubble, beginning with the treacherous turn into the Crags itself."
"Just like with Tombstone, Flat Rock turn is another gravity defying twist this time forcing the lightships to ride sideways on the wall of the Long Mesa, as the circuit turns sharply heading back west. If you don't make it here, you won't make it in the Crags."
"You're certainly right there Hondo. The Crags are a horrendous maze of huge canyons between eroded stone pillars, some 2000 meters tall."
"When the pilots aren't ducking falling boulders, they're confronted with the many caves and crevices as the course snakes around, back and forth, and even up and down, through many canyons for more then 50km."
"Speeds are much slower through this treacherous section, only 100 to 200kph, yet in my opinion, it's probably the most exciting segment of the course."
"No doubt Mando. The circuit than opens up in Section 6, over The Great Salt Sea. This is 35km of over water high speed racing and sometimes lightship surfing when we get those 10m high waves."
"And what a sight it is seeing the great pilots anticipate the wave crash by riding into the barrel roll, to disappear for a moment, only to then shoot out like a bullet out of the other side just before the wave crashes completely."
"It's certainly a sight to behold, on one hand, but a complete horror during storms. Lightships that don't slow down for the huge storm swells get churned into the sea. And those that do, still risk being flipped and flooded by rogue crashing waves."
"But on clear days like today, we might see a few lightships ride the 3m waves, and most should have no problem traversing the Salt Sea to head into Section 7, The Long Straight."
"If speed you want, speed you get."
"That's right Hondo. Here the lightships race full out, maximum speed of over 700kph for a distance of a 100km. It's a test of engine endurance, and only the best lightships survive."
"That's right Mando. The record is still 782kph set by the great Hektor. Will it be broken today?"
"You never know. My bet is on lightship 1, The Silver Sickle. This is 100km of straight rocky flats that takes the course directly south, deep into the badlands. Huge gaps result here between fast lightships and those that can't keep up, so even a rookie like Ricio could break the record with a lightship as modern as his."
"So true, but to win the race it's all about the pilot's skill. In difficult sections a good pilot can easily close those gaps such as in Section 8, The Dunes."
"Here the course turns east in a 40km stretch of shifting sands, so they are never the same from race to race, and some dunes can be as tall as a 100 meters. The Dunes are almost as treacherous as the Crags, and many lightships get lost and entombed in the pyramids of sand."
"Lightships that don't fall prey to the shifting sands escape the dunes in Section 9, The Low Canyon. Here the circuit turns back towards the north-west, headed for the home stretch but don't let the name deceive you."
"That's right Hondo. The low canyon is a 50km long shallow and wide dry river bed between 10m and 50m deep, and 50m to over 200m wide in some places. The terrain is deceptively flat only to suddenly snake, left then right, with sheer stone walls ahead."
"You're very right Mando. It's easy to over-speed after the slower dunes only to realize there's no space to stop."
"And then lets talk about the flash floods during the rainy season that can suddenly come out of nowhere."
"Well, they do come from somewhere, Section 10, The Eastern Hills."
"So true Hondo. The Eastern Hills are made of porous soil and water seeps up from the ground. Add rain, and you've got the recipe for a thumbing wall of mud pudding."
"Ha-ha-ha, but no chance of that tonight Mando. Instead, it's the giant Baobab trees which the pilots have to watch out for."
"That's right. These giant trees have huge trunks filed with tons of water. They are a massive nemesis to the racers. It's easy to crash into them as they seem to pop out of nowhere between the many undulating hills at these high speeds."
"Which brings us to the end of the race, back to Section 1-East, The Finish. Once out of the East Hills there is another 15 kilometers of a mostly straight shot to the finish-line."
"All the excitement of the race comes to an end, right here, in the Bitani stands, where the pilot that crosses the line first and fastest, gets all the glory, in this most glorious of all events."
"Amen to that."
 Nayaa, who's been leaning over Mykee watching the panel, twists her lips to the side just before she speaks.
"Hondo and Mando? Really? What a couple of clowns." 
"Whatever." Mykee counters her. "I like them. I think they're good. They look just as excited about the race as I am. And I like how they described the course."
"I guess Bitani thirteen year olds look more grown up." Nayaa comments dismissively. 
"Here we go!" Mykee shouts ignoring Nayaa.
The pylons begin the flashing sequence from red to green, and end completely lit up in green, accompanied by another loud horn. The lightships are off!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Lightship 6 : The Streamliner

Check out this new lightship render I recently completed of Ship6 The Streamliner.


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Chapter 10 : Last Horizon

Lightship Chronicles
Book 1 : Sacred Warrior
copyright©2015 Zorin Florr
Chapter 10 : Last Horizon

Thank you for reading Lightship Chronicles. Without your support it would be impossible for me to continue writing this series. So please purchase a copy from Smashwords, it includes Chapter 10. We all work for a living and writing this series takes tremendous dedication and time, I'm sure you understand. I know you will enjoy the new revelations and twisted ending in Chapter 10. So please spread the love. Tell all your friends about Lightship Chronicles, and encourage everyone to buy their own copies so I can write more.


Zorin Florr

Smashwords here I come! I can't wait to read it all.

End of Book 1
To Be Continued In Book 2
The Ωmega Obelisk

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Chapter 9 : Doggstar

Lightship Chronicles
Book 1 : Sacred Warriors
copyright©2015 Zorin Florr

Andee and Nayaa are inside a shop in the Triangle. It's a first floor bakery and restaurant of sorts in one of the three story adobe buildings in the front perimeter of the Triangle, not far from the entrance. The interior walls are exposed adobe. There's a counter between the side walls separating the back service area from the dining room. The counter is made of a hodgepodge of wood, metals, and plastics similar to Andee's kitchen. There are different types of breads, pastries, including jarred and pickled goods arranged neatly on shelves on the back wall. Cooked meats, vegetables, and other dishes ready to eat, sit in large heated ceramic bowls, inset in the countertop under heavy ceramic lids. It looks like a small cafeteria buffet. People ordering food are served over the counter, in small clay bowls.
"I can't believe you drank it all already. You're going to be so fat." Andee comments at Nayaa.
"I didn't drink it. I barely drank any of it. My aunt told all the neighbors, and now they're always at our house getting jars full, even your mom."
"I know. I'm-going to get fat. I haven't drank water in days."
"See. I still drink water." She responds with a smug look.
"Then why are you ordering more?"
"I don't know. Because I can." She ends her statement with a toothy grin.
"Good enough, I guess."
Nayaa places her order for more berry-fizz with the shop keeper. They then leave and head for Old Tom's Antiques.
Inside the shed, Mykee is standing in front of his usual lounge. Mirceu is sitting so that he is at eye level with Mykee, who seems to be teaching him how Ricio's vidrom works. The white orb is floating in front of them. It then lights up and turns into a huge bear-like animal standing on two legs. Mykee scrolls through several shapes. Mirceu watches and nods impressed as Andee and Nayaa walk in.
"You guys seen this?" Mirceu shouts excited and giddy as a child even though he is a forty year old muscular giant. "Isn't this the coolest thing you've ever seen? Show them the fairy."
"They've already seen it."
"I haven't." Nayaa interjects. "I've only seen Lykon. I want to see the fairy."
Mykee turns the creature into Lyka.
"Hey everyone. Long time no see." Lyka greets them all with a beaming happy smile and a wave of her right hand. Nayaa stares at the beautiful light-fairy for a moment, the frown on her face growing. She finally reacts.
"Yeah-OK, she's hot, and blonde, with cute little wings. I don't like her." Andee giggles shaking his head. "Can you turn it into a guy light-fairy?" Nayaa continues with a perk of inquisitive anticipation, ignoring Andee.
"No." Mykee responds with an annoyed pout.
"Come on snot, I know you can."
"Don't call me that."
"Do it, and than I won't."
Mykee scrolls through his vidrom and changes Lyka into a tall male light-fairy. He has long flowing blond hair that drapes over his shoulders. From beneath, four dragonfly-like wings hang down over his back like a stiff transparent cape reaching to the back of his knees.
"Wow, that's hot. That's really cool actually. He looks good." Nayaa responds with a big satisfied smile.
"So blond guys are OK? Just not girls." Andee snarls.
Nayaa twirls on her toes to face Andee behind her and with a cute-coy grin, "Yes." than turns back to her man-fairy.
"Thank you Nayaa. But you are far more beautiful than any light-fairy I've ever seen." The man-fairy replies to her.
Looking back to Andee with a beaming smile. "Hear that?" Than turns back to her man-fairy. "I think I'll make you my new best friend, and we'll forget about Andee."
"Please don't make promises you don't intend to keep." Andee counters with a serious tone. Nayaa rolls her eyes in response then focuses her full attention on her new man-fairy friend, bubbling with excitement.
"Can you dance?"
"Of course."
"Whooho, lets dance!" Nayaa responds excited and starts moving her hips.
"What is your music of choice?"
"I like Prave." And before she even finishes the statement a Prave beat beams out of the white orb now hidden inside the male light-fairy.
"Wow, for real? I didn't know you could do that." Nayaa reacts surprised and excited. Andee and Old Tom both turn to the now dancing man-fairy surprised by the sudden blast of music. Nayaa instantly joins him and both start dancing as if Old Tom's shed is a club. Mirceu is smiling and starts gently moving his shoulders to the beat. Mykee is staring at them with a frown, not sure if he likes what he sees or is annoyed, but then his face quickly turns into a sneaky smirk. He starts tapping feverishly at his vidrom. The beat continues, but suddenly, the man-fairy turns into a horrid monster right in Nayaa's face. Startled, she leaps back out of the clutches of the dinosaur-like fanged and clawed beast. On her third step she trips and falls on her butt. She turns her eyes up to Mykee furious. Mykee and Mirceu are howling with laughter. The monster starts stalking towards Nayaa clawing the air menacingly, while the music is still playing. She jumps to her feet and holds steady. Old Tom is shaking his head from side to side displeased. Andee is smiling. Nayaa is just standing there, arms folded, staring at the monster unimpressed. It is still approaching, but in near slow motion, its monstrous arms clawing at her. Mykee is still howling with laughter, while next to him Mirceu is dancing with his shoulders and giggling at the scary monster.
"OK, ha-ha, real funny." Nayaa snaps at Mykee. "Can I have my dance partner back."
"Dancing is boring. This is more fun." Mykee counters with a beaming grin.
"Come on, just two minutes. I want to dance. Than you can play with your monster... snot." She asks struggling to make is sound like she is pleading, when in fact she is mostly ordering him.
"Fine." Still laughing he turns the monster back into the man-fairy. Nayaa immediately joins in on the dance.
Old Tom looks to Andee and takes a deep breath. Andee just shrugs his shoulders.
"Ayee, what's all this commotion?" A gruff voice startles them all. They turn to the dark corner of the shed.
"Lykon off!" Mykee shouts. It's suddenly silent, but in the dark depths of the shed there's something, something monstrous just standing there. Not a 3D light generated monster, but a dark dirty hairy monster, now slowly emerging into the light. Except for Old Tom and Mirceu, the rest stare at the creature slowly coming at them struggling to decipher it with their eyes.
"Is that..." Mykee asks but loses steam.
"That's the monster from the Crags!" Nayaa finishes Mykee's words pointing excitedly.
"I'm no monster." The creature answers with a raspy voice as he enters into the light. It's an old man with a huge broad beard, mostly black, but with a couple of white stripes down from either side of his chin. On his head he's got more curly long black hair so that only his dark eyes and the leathery brown skin around them is exposed. His puffy wavy hair is dirty and unkempt with more white streaks in it. Over his shoulders he is wearing some kind of furry cloak. It's long, dragging behind him on the ground. It's covered in dark brown fur, and off the shoulders and back of the arms, the straight hair nearly a meter long.
Andee quickly turns to Tom, while Mykee turns to Mirceu who stands up. Nayaa is still staring at the man. Mirceu steps up to bearded old guy.
"Guys, I think this is someone you'd like to meet." Mirceu turns to them all as he places his large left hand on the short man's shoulder.
Nayaa is still staring at the man hard. "Are you the thing in the crags that pulled The Ghost into that cave?" The man does not react, but Mirceu responds with a hardy laugh. Shocked by his reaction, Nayaa turns her gaze to Mirceu.
"He's not the monster. I was." Mirceu responds and continues laughing. Nayaa turns to Andee frowning perplexed. Andee turns to Tom who nudges his gaze back to Mirceu.
"What do you mean?" Mykee interjects.
"That monster was no monster. It was me." And Mirceu starts laughing again. He than grabs the cloak off the old man's back, and puts it on. He throws the hood over his head, and lunges towards Mykee growling. Mykee takes a gentle step back. With Mirceu being half a meter taller than everyone else, and with that cloak reaching to the ground while draped in that long hair off the shoulders, it does make him look like a giant hairy monster.
"That was you?" Andee cuts in shocked.
"Yup." Mirceu responds with a beaming smile.
"Wait!" Nayaa shouts. "That means... you!" Pointing to the old man. "You're The Ghost!"
 Andee and Mykee snap their gaze to the bearded man, eyes round with surprise and expectation, but the bearded man just looks up to Mirceu unsure. Mirceu nods his head in agreement as he responds.
"Don't worry, these are good friends. You're safe here."
The bearded old man looks at Mykee, Andee, and Nayaa, then nods his head up and down as he responds.
"That would be me."
"No way!" Mykee shouts jumping in the air excited.
"Whoa..." Is all Nayaa can say.
Andee causally approaches and extends his hand for a shake. The old man looks at Andee a bit suspicious, but then reaches out and shakes his hand.
"You have no idea how happy I am you're alive. I was so mad when that bastard crashed you. I left the races. I couldn't watch after that." The man nods not knowing how to respond.
"Me too." Nayaa ads, then she leaps forward, past Andee, and gives the man a hard hug. He almost falls back from the surprise of Nayaa's assault. She is nearly a foot taller than him. The top of his head barely reaches to under her nose.
Looking up to Mirceu Andee continues. "So that was you who pulled him in?"
"What is that? Why were you dressed like that?" Mykee asks pointing at the cloak.
"Ha-ha. It gets cold in those caves at night. Look at this thing. It's made from Naro Beast fur. You could sleep inside an icicle in this thing and still stay cozy and warm."
"What's a Naro Beast?" Mykee's eyes turn round.
"It was one of your animebot creatures. The big one standing on two legs with the long fur."
"You mean that thing actually exists?"
"Sure, they must, that's where this fur came from."
"Do they live in the crags?"
"No-no. There's nothing but lizards and snakes in the crags. No, the Naro Beast lives in the highlands past the north mountains, up in the cold. I got this fur from an old timer who said he'd been there ages ago, before I was born."
"Never mind the coat." Nayaa cuts in. "It's the Ghost." She reaches out for the old man. "Come on have a seat. I thought you died from that crash. Are you still injured?" She helps him to Mykee's lounge.
"I got the wind knocked out of me, and a concussion most likely, but nothing's broken. I don't think. Thanks to your giant friend here, he took care of me in that cave for a few days before I could comfortably walk."
Mirceu nods in agreement. "And I managed to collect most of his ship. It's smashed up in pieces, but I got most of the parts. It took me two trips to bring it all back."
"Really, could we rebuild it?" Mykee snaps excited at the Ghost. "Your lightship. I'll help you. I know how they work."
"You, little man? You know how lightships work?" The old man replies to Mykee with an amused smirk.
"Sure I do." And Mykee grabs his white panel and starts tapping at it.
"Whoa-whoa, hold it there little brother. What did I tell you before the race up on the outcrop?" Andee intercedes.
"But... but this is the Ghost."
"Who?" Andee lifts his brows at Mykee. Mykee's face and excitement drop as he shuts down is white panel, understanding Andee's subtle point.
"He's good." Old Tom's voice cuts in from behind nearly startling Andee, who quickly looks over his shoulder. "You can trust him. He's good." Andee suddenly frowns. He turns and looks at everyone else. There is a tense moment with all of them giving each other quick glances without knowing what to say. Andee quickly steps up to Old Tom.
"You trust him? Why?" Andee asks in a whisper.
"I know him."
"You do?" Andee responds with big round eyes. Old Tom nods then steps past Andee.
"It's alright Mykee. You can show him. I used to know the man long ago. He's no Bitani spy, that's for sure."
Andee leaps in front of Old Tom. "Wait. How can you be so sure?"
"I am."
"Who is he?"
"An old customer from long before you were born. He's good."
"Hold on. You've been on my case for not being careful, and now you're going to trust this guy who fell out of the sky?"
"I know him."
"You knew him. Before I was born. Lots could have changed."
"Andee, trust me, he's good."
"Why should I trust you? You don't trust me."
"Don't mean to be a bother." The old man's voice echoes in the large shed. The others watching Andee and Tom argue turn to him. "I'll go back to my cot, and be out your hair tomorrow. Don't mean to stir trouble between you folks."
"No you can't leave." Mykee intercedes. "We can help you. Rebuild your ship."
"It's fine. You're welcome here." Old Tom responds. "Andee is just looking out for me. Looking out for us all."
"I don't get you. You keep things from me, and your explanation about my father, I don't really believe you, but this..."
"Not now." Tom cuts Andee off. "If you want to discuss that, we'll do that in private."
"Ah, I see, so now..." Leaning in to Tom's ear. " don't trust him. Who is he really?"
"Like I said, an old customer, but our private matters are private." Old Tom finishes his words by walking past Andee to the sitting bearded man, with Mirceu's cloak over his shoulders again. "You're welcome to stay here as long as you need." Then turning to the rest. "I used to know this man before the purge. Because of how things were back then, no one ever used their real names. I did, because it's on the outside gate, but most of my customers got what they needed and all I ever knew about them was their face. So for now this man is The Ghost. He was a good customer and someone I could trust, but the Purge ruined that for all of us, so beyond that, I don't want to talk about it. But I trust him, so you can too. And of course, don't tell anyone he's here. No one. Got it." Old Tom accentuates his point looking at all of them individually. They all nod. 
"Tom, can I show him the schematics?" Mykee asks.
"Sure go for it."
Excited Mykee turns on his white panel again, places it in his lap and starts scrolling through it. Standing aside, Andee stares at them, arms folded and displeased.
"Look, I have the schematics for ship1." Mykee excitedly shows the bearded man.
The Ghost frowns as he stares at the screen. "Is that the Silver Sickle?"
Looking up to Mykee stunned. "Where did you get this?"
"From the crash. The other prelims."
"I found it." Mirceu beams with pride. "Can you believe my luck. I was first on the scene at that crash, and yours."
"And you have parts from that ship?" The Ghost ask coming alive with vigor.
"Some, but nothing like a light regenerator. But it doesn't matter. I'm learning how to build one." Mykee continues excited.
"You're serious?" The man looks at Mykee amazed.
"Of course."
"You're just a kid. Even Bitani kids can't build lightships."
"I have everything I need here." Lifting up his panel. "I still have a lot to learn, mostly physics, but I'm learning fast. It's all logical and mathematical. It all just makes so much sense, but there's a lot to memorize. In time, I'll be able to build a ship from scratch." The Ghost looks up from Mykee to Old Tom, then Andee standing a few meters away, as if he himself just saw a ghost.
"Is this kid for real?" He asks looking back at Old Tom baffled. Andee turns to Tom as he nods his agreement with a serious and strong look on his face. The Ghost's reaction softens. He seems satisfied. He turns back to Mykee.
"Kid, you're not talking about this to anyone outside this shed, are you?"
"Oh no. Not at all. It's just us in this room. They," Pointing to Mirceu, Andee, and Nayaa. "...find the Bitani tech and I learn how it works. We're like a team." Mykee continues satisfied looking up at them. All three, Andee, Nayaa, and Mirceu look at each other, a bit surprised at the concept at first, but then immediately nod approvingly. They seem to like the idea. The Ghost too catches their eyes, studies them for a moment, then locks eyes with Old Tom.
"Not bad." The Ghost responds with a satisfied deep long glare at Tom, as if reaffirming some long held bond made of many layers over time. In fact, it's so intense that all the notice. They each turn to Old Tom who suddenly becomes uncomfortable. Catching the tension The Ghost quickly changes subject.
"Mykee right?" He turns aggressively to the young boy. "I'm real impressed by you son, I'm real impressed. All of you in fact. You seem to have a good team here. And if you're serious about helping me rebuild my ship, I accept. I'll take all the help I can get."
"Of course I'm serous." Mykee bounds with excitement. "But don't you know how to build them? Who built your ship?"
"I know how to hobble parts together. Hook up the electrics and all that, but building anything from scratch is out of my league."
"Well me too." Mykee admits. "But not for long. The problem's going to be getting the right tools. Light regenerators can't be build with wrenches and screwdrivers."
"I can get you those tools."
"Are you serious?"
"So wait." Andee cuts in. "You don't live in the city right?"
"So you're from the badlands?"
"I am."
"Then how did you build a lightship?"
"Lots of people out in the badlands have lightships."
"What?" Andee stares at the Ghost absolutely stupefied.
"No way." Mykee interjects.
"Back before the purge we stole them from the Bitani, later won them in races or gambling, and some of us built our own from crashed parts."
"Wait." Andee turning to Tom. "Than you knew this. You sold parts. Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"We had this discussion. Things were different before the purge, and for your safety we couldn't talk about it."
"Hey, it ain't my place to change your rules, it's his." Nodding to Old Tom. "So I won't say any more if we ain't supposed to talk about this."
"No-no we're talking about it. Those rules are out the window." Andee responds aggressively. The Ghost looks up to Tom. Tom barely nods, but okay's his agreement.
The Ghost continues. "Even before the purge our lightships were contraband, so we kept them hidden, out in the caves. There's caves all over these mountains. When we got banished, we took our ships and we moved on."
"Wow, you were banished." Mykee jumps in amazed. "What did you do?"
"Won too many races." The Ghost winks at him and for the first time smiles.
"Did you ever race against Hektor?" Mykee continues beaming with excitement.
"Nope. Never against him."
"You think you could have won if you did?"
"Sure. With the ship I had back then I would have smoked him." The Ghost responds with a beaming smile under his big curly black and white beard.
"Then why didn't you race him?"
Still smiling The Ghost ruffles Mykee hair on the top of his head. "This race business is a complicated thing."
"Sounds like it." Andee jumps in. "But I still don't understand. If you're Carpati, and you stole the ships, how could you race them? Why didn't the Bitani just take them away from you then?"
"That's a big no-no, even today."
"I don't understand."
"One of the main rules of the race is that no one is denied if they have a working ship. Now if another racer can prove that the ship was stolen than it will be confiscated and given back to the rightful owner, but of course stolen ships are so modified there is no way the original owner can identify them."
"So the Bitani will let anyone race?"
"Even now?"
"Even now. They tried to change the rules many times, but the Bitani are corrupt. There's too many credits involved. Rich sponsors control the races, so they want as many racers as possible. Thank god for Bitani greed, otherwise things would be much worse for us."
"So if I build a ship that means Andee can race it." Mykee jumps in.
"You a pilot?" Looking at Andee with a smirk.
"Sure. Why not?" Andee responds with a half confident shrug.
"He will be, and I am going to build my brother a ship."
"I like your spirit kid."
"In fact I'm going to build him Lightship 1. I've got the schematics." Mykee lifts up his panel to emphasize his point.
"Can I see that?" The bearded man looks at it with a curious frown. Mykee hands him the panel. The man's index finger immediately starts moving at a hundred miles an hour swiping through various windows. Mykee stares at the man's finger dexterity. Both Andee and Nayaa also stare. Old Tom approaches, curious and concerned. The old man's eyes start to go round.
"Holly mother! You ain't kidding kid. You've got a gold mine here. This thing is full of schematics, diagrams, even part breakdowns. If we find enough parts, even broken we can marry them together and build new ones with the help of these schematics. Every system on here is fully upgraded to the latest Bitani tech. With detailed descriptions of the modifications. Kid." Looking back to Mykee. "With the information on here, and the right parts, I can put together a ship near as good as the Silver Sickle."
Andee and Mykee stare at him like two kids who just caught Santa Claus leaving them presents at Christmas. Old Tom on the other hand looks agitated.
"Hey Ghost, don't you think you're taking this too far. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it's not such a good idea for you to be here now."
The Ghost takes a deep breath. "Maybe you're right."
The kids look at Old Tom, than at the Ghost, staggered.
"Wait, what the hell is going on?" Andee asks baffled.
"Yeah, what's the deal? He's staying. He's staying." Mykee concurs.
"I'm sorry Mykee, but I was wrong. He can't stay."
"Tom I think you're losing your mind. I don't think you can handle all the secrets you're keeping from us." Andee responds. Nayaa folds her arms and nods aggressively in agreement..
"Why not? He can help us build..." Mykee insists.
"No he can't. He's a badlander. He can't help us, only hurt us."
"No he won't, right?" Mykee turns to the Ghost.
"Tom's right. I'm banished. Harboring a banished gets you the same fate."
"So?" Andee interjects.
"Come on. You don't want to be banished." The Ghost responds.
"You said there's lightships out there, that you live in groups. It's not all pirates."
"We do, but we struggle, we barely survive. People in my clan die on a weekly basis. Sometimes from a thing as simple as thirst. It's bad out there. That's why Tom is so protective of you. I don't blame him. I'd do the same."
"But you can build a ship." Andee counters.
"Yeah you can help us build a ship." Mykee ads.
"And what would you do with it?"
"Race it like you said." Mykee counters.
"Do you know who to talk to, to get registered?"
"What?" Andee asks twisted by the new turn.
"They'll let any ship race, but that doesn't mean they won't come after you if they don't think you belong. So you need to know the right people. Have credits to bribe them."
"How many credits?" Nayaa interjects.
"Anything from 5000 to 20000 will do?"
"What?" Andee moans stunned. Mykee and Nayaa react with open mouths.
"Our house is less than that." Mykee adds
"I've been around. I know people up there. It's easy for me to get in the races. But you two? If you two showed up with your own ship, they might let you in if you can pay the entry fees, and if there's an open slot, but they'll come after you later, and banish you for stealing Bitani tech, that is unless you have even more credits and know the right Bitani you can bribe to keep yourself safe. Do you?"
Andee and Mykee look at each other dumbfounded.
"You're serious?" Mykee asks incredulous. The man nods his head.
"So this is pointless. Why build a ship?" Andee scoffs disheartened. The man nods up and down. Both Andee and Mykee look crushed.

Ricio is walking down the long hallway of his home headed for the living room. Just as he is about to enter, his father steps in the way blocking him.
"Whoa dad!" Ricio stops in his tracks.
"Did you delete some of the logs from last weekend?" Brandberd immediately snaps at Ricio.
"What are you talking about?" Ricio responds defiant.
"The day after the race. Some of the logs are missing."
"Did you?"
"Your logs aren't my problem. Let me get past, I'm hungry."
"You didn't delete those logs?" Brandberd insists lifting up his super thin vidrom to Ricio's face still blocking him.
"Why would I?"
"That's what I'm wondering."
Ricio forces his way around his dad, walks into the living room, than up the five steps into the kitchen. After watching his son walk past him dismissively, Brandberd continues on his way disappearing into the hall.
Ricio opens up a wall panel. It's the refrigerator. He pulls out some food items for a snack. A minute later Brandberd approaches the kitchen island where Ricio is prepping his meal and places the skinny vidrom by Ricio's food items. On screen there's a surveillance image of Sickle2 arriving in the garage. The seats lower, Ricio exits, and is then followed by Andee. Brandberd is staring Ricio down. Ricio is nervously assembling his sandwich struggling to ignore his dad.
"You missed this one. So you did delete the other logs."
"I didn't do anything." Ricio responds scoffing, avoiding eye contact.
"Are you insane? Have you lost your mind?" Brandberd snaps at him.
"I'm not discussing this. Leave me alone." And Ricio slams his sandwich on the counter then tries to walk past his father but Brandberd block's his path.
"The racers are gone, and you're under house arrest."
"What? You can't do that! I'm..."
"No! I am the governor! And your father! And I can most definitely do exactly that! You just committed treason. Don't you get it?" Brandberd drives his point home by taping his finger into Ricio's chest. "If the Board finds out about this, not only will you be banned from entering the Regime, losing any chance at becoming Governor, but you could very well be banished. Wake up son! This isn't a game you're playing here. This is your future." But Ricio remains defiant staring back at his father unwavering.
"Fine banish me. I'd rather live in the Crags with monsters than a family willing to toss me away for doing the right thing." Ricio then forces himself past his father bumping shoulders as he walks away. Brandberd leaps after grabbing Ricio's arm, turning him back around with force.
"God damned! That kid is not who you think he is!" Brandberd shouts at his son.
"That's what you keep saying! Who is he, huh? A Starfighter? What the punk does that mean?" Ricio snaps at his father.
"Yes, actually. That's exactly what he is."
"So." Rico shrugs as if it's nothing.
"You want the truth?"
"Yes I want the truth! That's all I ever wanted." Ricio finally focuses on his dad.
"Fine. The truth. Andee's father was one of the few Carpati who got their hands on a lightship and was a pilot." Brandberd states mater of fact.
Ricio responds with a disbelieving frown but says nothing. Just stares. Brandberd waits for a reaction. Ricio finally responds.
"OK, so why hide that from the kid?"
"Because in the end he betrayed his people and his family, including his son." Ricio twists his face looking at his dad with a suspicious grin. "Remember the Doggstar?"
Rico frowns hard. "Sure why?"
"Do you know who he was?"
"Yeah, the pilot who took the crown from Hektor."
"And your friend's father." Brandberd adds nonchalant.
Once again Rico stares at his father suspicious. Brandberd nods emphasizing his seriousness.
"You're telling me, the Doggstar, was Andee's father?"
"Yes." Brandberd nods reemphasizing his point.
"I don't believe it." Shaking his head struggling with the concept.
"Believe it or not, The Doggstar was piloted by Danee Starfighter. Andee's dad."
"But he..."
"He became a champion right after Hektor."
"Hektor was a Carpati too, no?"
"Yes he was, but his crew was Bitani. The Doggstar was a completely Carpati crew. They were all Carpati."
"I didn't know that. And the whole crew? How did they manage that?"
"They were troublemakers."
"Andee's dad?"
Brandberd nods.
"I don't believe it." Ricio is physically squirming, struggling with the concept.
"It's true son."
"But... then... then how did they get into the races, all Carpati? And troublemakers at that."
"This is why you need the Regime. Everything will be thought to you then. Every little detail will be drilled into your brain so you know things exactly. All I can give you now is tidbits, that's why we don't do it like this."
"I can't believe it. If he was a troublemaker, how was he champion for almost two years?"
"It was different back then. There was a lot of corruption on our side. Many Bitani were making huge profits off the races so they helped and protected Danee because he made them rich. And he didn't start out a troublemaker. He was a good man. But because he had access to the city, they convinced him to steal Bitani tech for them. Eventually he was pulled into it, but he was just a pawn in their hands."
"OK. So they used him."
"At first, but eventually we used him."
"What is that mean?"
"We caught him trading parts to the troublemakers, so we convinced him to work for us. He became a spy for us. It was with his help that we were able to bring down the troublemakers, and have such a successful purge."
Ricio looks more confused than ever. He turns his gaze away for a moment. He then turns back to his father.
"But didn't the Doggstar die in that crash?"
"It's complicated. We thought he did , but he didn't die. He's around."
"You mean banished?"
"Nope. He's here. In the city."
Ricio's eyes go round with shock.
"What? I don't get it. You have him locked up?"
"No. He's free."
Ricio's face turns hard, his forehead frowning. "You're telling me he's free, living in the city?"
"He was for a while, but we've lost track of him."
"I'm totally confused now. Why was he living in the city? And what happened?"
"That was his reward for spying for us."
"You gave him a place to live for spying for you?"
"No, his sponsors bough him a house up here for being a champion. We gave him Bitani citizenship for spying for us."
"And he's here in the city, even now?"
"Like I said we lost track of him."
"Something happened to him. After living in the city for more than a year he vanished one day." Ricio shakes his head in disbelief, unable to say anything. Brandberd continues. "For someone like him being a champion was a shock. Suddenly everyone respected him. Women chased him, and with his wealth he could have anything. He started drinking, partying, even got hooked on cactii. Then the day before his next big race, he crashed during practice. At first we all thought he died, because we found the body of the pilot." Ricio frowns. "But it wasn't him. He was gone."
"This doesn't make any sense."
"I know. That's what the regime is for."
"I don't believe you. This sounds crazy."
"This is reality son. And this is what your thickheaded teenage brain refuses to understand. You like your friend. You want to help him. So lets see how helpful you'll be when you tell him his father became a champion, started drinking, and cheating on his wife with all the women that throw themselves at champions. Then confessed he was working with the Troublemakers, and sold them all out. The purge? It was all him. It was his information that made it possible for us to hunt them down and banish them all. Andee's dad is the reason the purge happened. Andee's dad betrayed his own people, and sold them all out."
Ricio looks staggered. He looks as if this news is not about a man that was someone else's father but as if it was his own. He looks devastated.
"I don't believe that. Why would he?"
"You don't understand what it's like to be a champion, especially a Carpati champion in our city. He was treated like a god. The most beautiful women chased after him. The wealth intoxicated him. He started drinking, smoking cactii, enjoying his new life of luxury and forgot about his family. He dethroned Hektor, won four championships over the next year, but then on the fifth he faltered, and then he had a breakdown. It was all too much for him."
"Why would it be too much? It sounds like it was going great."
"Maybe his guilt caught up with him. He betrayed his wife, betrayed his children, and betrayed his people. That's a lot of guilt for a man to carry. Personally, I think that's why he crashed. That's when he disappeared. Maybe he went back to the troublemakers, out of guilt. To repent for his sins. We don't know."
"But you said he's still up here in the city."
"He could be. We just don't know."
Ricio looks at his father with a suspicious glint. "What could possibly make you think that?"
"The crash was suspicious. We found a body. There was a dead pilot at the controls. Badly damaged and burned, but when we tested the DNA, it wasn't him."
Ricio is shaking his head too confused and shocked to respond. Brandberd continues.
"That's why the Commander is keeping an eye on the kid. We have reason to believe they might be in contact."
"With his dad? No way."
"We think he is son."
"Then Andee must be the greatest actor ever because when he told me about his dad, the pain of not seeing him for years, was the thing that was most obvious."
"Son, you've got a good heart, and you only want to see the good in people. But you have to remember, he is Carpati. No matter what we do they will never trust us. No mater how good you are to him, he will always be suspicious of you. So he will never tell you the full truth."
"That's our fault."
"How do you figure?"
"Look around. Look how we live, and look how they live."
"And who's stopping them from living like us?"
"We are!" Ricio snaps frustrated.
"Are we?"
"Of course. Andee is as sharp as any Bitani I know. Hell, he's smarter that most of my classmates, but he lacks basic scientific knowledge. If he had my education he'd probably be way ahead of me."
"See, this is what pisses me off. We have no right to keep..."
"Son! Listen to me. If the Carpati were as smart as we are why didn't they develop technology like we did?"
"That's what. We built everything we have. Now we're protecting them. Taking care of them. Should we also give them all our knowledge? All our technology, just like that for nothing."
"Yes we should help them."
"But we are helping them. Without us they would starve to death in this desert. And in the past our ancestors did try to help them by giving them our tech. Don't you remember the Troubles after the Carpati civil war? Or did you sleep through your history class?"
"No, I remember." Ricio responds deflated.
"Back then the Carpati had ships. Where do you think they got them? Initially we gave them tech, but they used it against us. Fortunately, they never could keep it properly maintained. They always needed new replacements. A lot of the tech down there, to this day, are leftovers from that time. The Carpati just could not handle the complexity and discipline of maintaining our technology, and without our help to maintain it they became primitive again. Never mind that back then they could also come up into the city, and all they did is stir trouble."
"Didn't they help build it?"
"Yes, they were the labor force. But eventually we had to put an end to that too, because when they saw what we had, they resented us. They started causing even more problems."
"That's when the Troubles started."
"Exactly. It almost turned into a full out war between us. Fortunately, we had the better tech, but more important, we could build more, they couldn't."
"You said they had ships. We gave them war ships?"
"No of course not. We gave them transport and maintenance ships, but they stole weapons and modified them. Started attacking us. They wanted to take over Grand Bitania. That's when our ancestors realized that giving the Carpati tech was a mistake. So they took it all back, and limited who could come up into the city."
"That's when the rule of only people over forty started."
"Yes. Older people aren't so willing to fight, and are more eager to work. They have families, responsibilities. Bringing someone like Andee here would only give him reason to hate us more." Ricio looks away for a moment.
"This just feels so wrong."
"I agree with you son. But we tried the friendly route with the Carpati and it failed. You're friend is convinced we're the bad guys. Many Carpati think we're hiding tech from them just to be mean. But we're the good guys son. We're the good guys in this struggle. We helped, and we got bitten for it. Yet we're still helping. Where would their health, food, and water situation be without us?"
"It's hard for me to accept the Carpati are so much dumber than us."
"They don't have our history. We've had tech for thousands of years. We know how to be responsible with it. The Carpati don't. If they started inventing their own tech we wouldn't stop them, but they don't. They expect us to give it to them. We tried and it failed. Now it's up the them to develop their own. Nobody gave us what we have. We Bitani built it. If the Carpati want the same, they need to build their own."
Looking saddened Ricio turns away.
"Son, just a piece of advice. If you plan on meeting up with that boy, don't tell him what I told you about his father."
"I don't want to tell him, but I think he needs to know. I can't even imagine how I would feel if you vanished and I had no idea why or how. Worse yet, if a friend knew and didn't tell me..."
"Son, you're a Bret. Soon you will have to make hard decisions. Your destiny is as a leader. Leaders make decisions. This is one of those decisions. Maybe your first task as a true Bret. You need to figure it out, and do what you think is best."

Andee and Nayaa are headed down a stairpath on one of the lower and broader terraces, not far from the Triangle. The slope is slight so each stone step is at least a meter or longer. Some even two. Nayaa is walking on Andee's left and both are carrying a metal berry-fizz canister on their back, by the build in straps, the way one would carry a backpack.
"I can't believe they're making me pick it up." Nayaa scoffs.
"Dude, you're getting gigantic containers of free berry-fizz. Plus they said they'll deliver them at the end of the week. We don't have to pick them up."
"I don't want to wait."
"Then don't complain."
"I'm not complaining. But damn this thing is heavy."
"Yup that wasn't a complaint."
"Shut up. Mine is heavier than yours."
"Of course it is."
"It is. Listen." And Nayaa proceeds to swirl her hips swinging the metal jug on her back in swift circles. Gentle sloshing sounds can be heard inside. "See. I don't think its empty."
"Stop and have a drink. Maybe you'll get your strength back." Andee counters with a smirk. Nayaa rolls her eyes at him. "I though you were a strong woman now. Why are you wining like a weak little girl?"
"I am a strong woman. You know any woman stronger than me?"
"No. You're the manliest woman I know."
Nayaa shakes her head displeased. "You really need to work on those jokes." Then with a snarling tone and clownish facial expression. "Stop and have a drink. Weak little girl. Manly woman." She mocks his words.
"Whatever." Andee dismisses her and takes a quicker step to get ahead of Nayaa, but with swift speed she hooks Andee's left foot with her own, swinging it out causing Andee to lose his balance and stumble forward down to the next broad step, and then the next, finally falling on his knees on the third, thrown off balance by the weight on his back. Nayaa stops behind him with folded arms and a hard serious glare. "Ha-ha, see how funny that was. About as funny as weak little girl." She scoffs at him.
"I don't need you teaching me lessons." Andee snarls as he jumps to his feet and stares back at her furious. As he leans to wipe the dust off his knees Nayaa notices something on his right thigh, partially hidden behind his satchel.
"Hey. Why are you wearing your Parza staff?"
He looks at her with a frown, still annoyed and doesn't answer. She gives him a dorky look mocking his anger. Andee looks back at her and this time answers.
"What's the point of having one, if we never have it on us?" He scoffs in response.
"You know the drill. No one is supposed to know about Parza. It's secret and all that. Plus, we'll get in trouble with the Bitani. Aren't they supposed to be watching us?"
"So." He's still dusting off his knees.
"Yeah, so?" Both start walking back down.
"You want to get banished?"
"Sure, why not?" Andee responds and Nayaa looks at him with a disbelieving frown. "You heard what the Ghost said yesterday. Lots of people in the badlands have lightships. What's so bad about being banished?"
"Cannibals?" Nayaa counters with a "duh" grimace on her face.
"Please, you believe that nonsense. I don't know what's up with Tom, but the more I'm around him the more it seems he's hiding from us." Andee scoffs becoming more depressed.
"Yeah, that is true. And he keeps getting mad at us when we don't tell him stuff right away, but he's the one with all the secrets."
"I know."
"Why do adults always keep secrets from us?" Nayaa asks looking up at the sky over the jagged crest of the north mountains in the deep distance.
"Because they're afraid, and can't admit it." Andee responds looking at the broad steps ahead of him.
"That's so true."
"They think we can't tell they're scared."
"We can tell." Nayaa responds nodding her head up and down.
"But they think they can pretend that everything is fine, so that they look strong to us."
"But they don't, they look dumb."
"Exactly. And they don't get it." Andee finally looks up from the ground.
"How weird. Aren't adults supposed to be wise?" She turns to Andee.
"That's what they say."
"The adults."
"They think they're wise."
"But how many wise adults do you know?" Andee turns to Nayaa.
"That's true, most are pretty dumb." Both are quiet for a moment, but then Nayaa continues. "That's weird. So you become dumber as you get older?"
"Nah, I don't think we get dumber. But some people get so scared they're afraid to think."
"Hmm. Weird. Master Sensei's pretty wise."
"True. Anyone else?"
"Nope, well you're mom's pretty smart."
"Yeah, but even she's lying to us."
"Adults sure lie a lot."
"I know."
"Especially considering they expect us to be honest, all they do is lie."
"About everything."
"So how can we trust any adult?"
"They're probably lying to us no matter what they say."
"And then they say--oh it's OK for them to lie because--they're adults, as if that's a good reason."
"They think they're protecting us."
"Because being lied to and kept dumb sure is protecting us."
"I don't understand why we need protection from the truth?"
"And you know what. In reality, we're the ones protecting them. None of them can fight like we can. Even Master Sensei can't keep up with us anymore. OK, that's it." Nayaa suddenly changes her train of thought. "I'm going back. Lets go." And she starts heading back up the steps.
"Where you going?" Andee's looking over up at her confused.
"To get my staff. Lets go." She stops to wait for Andee.
"Ah come on. We're six terraces down. I don't want to go all they way back up with this thing on my back."
"Fine." Nayaa drops her container next to the blackstone wall. "We'll leave them here. Lets go."
"I'm not going back up."
"Well, I'm getting my staff."
"OK go."
"Leave the thing and lets go." She insists.
"I'm not going. I'm too tired." As he drops the container off his back.
Nayaa shakes her head at him. "Fine, you bum. Than lay down and take a nap. I'll get it myself."
"Good idea." Andee drops on his but against the blackstone wall, next to the containers. "I am pretty tired. Maybe I will take a nap."
Nayaa stares at him stupefied. "I was kidding you dork."
"I'm not. I barely slept last night. And there's shade from the wall here. Plus, I still have to help you carry your stupid berry-fizz all the way back up. Go. It'll take you like ten minutes. I'll have a good nap."
"Fine, you weirdo. I'll be back." And Nayaa runs up the steps. Andee cuddles up against the blackstone wall and goes to sleep.

Brandberd is in the kitchen, now making his own snack. He taps the surface near the right corner of the kitchen island. A 3D hologram of the Commander appears hovering over the island from the waist up.
"Good day Governor. This is a surprise call. Is everything OK?"
"What's taking so long?" The Governor saps his words with attitude. "Your operative. Is he ever going to get me those DNA samples or will I have to get them myself? This is getting ridiculous."
"He will sir, he will. I ordered him to be discrete, but I'll make sure he gets them as soon as possible."
"He better, or I'll invite the kid to my house and get them myself."
"Excuse me sir?" The Commander reacts baffled.
The Governor takes a momentary break shaking his head displeased and continues with a more docile tone.
"My bleeding-heart idiot son nearly caused me an aneurysm today."
"How is that sir?"
"Of all the stupid things he's ever done he topped them all last week."
"That's unfortunate, but young people make mistakes."
"No, crashing the lightship was a mistake. This, this is beyond anything. And my son, the Governor's own son."
"OK, this sounds serious. What happened exactly?"
"What happened is that he made the worst possible decision he could have made. He brought the wrong guest into my house. Right here in my god damned kitchen."
"A guest sir?"
"Yeah, a guest, guess who?"
"No. You don't mean..."
"His new best friend, the Carpati kid."
The Commander looks staggered. He is so shocked that his usual military stiffness gives way to sincere shock. "I... I don't know what to say sir."
"This kid's going to be the death of me. The death of us all. I've been thinking. I'm wondering if I should tell him everything now, before the Regime."
"That is an option sir. Honestly, it might be the best move. I think your son could handle it. He's strong minded."
"That he is, but I don't think it's the best idea. If I have to I will, but I have a different plan for now. This may actually be a gift in disguise."
"How is that sir?"
"At this point it might be better for me to encourage this friendship and not resist. Instead of pushing the kid away, I need pull him in. It seems he already trusts my son. My best move might just be to encourage that. If we play our cards right we may even be able to twist his world view to the point he trusts us more than his own, and than he will reveal all to us."
"Sounds like a complicated strategy to me sir."
"My job is strategy. Yours is to enforce. I'll deal with my son and his new best friend. You! You need to get me that damned DNA, and get it to me now!" Brandberd drops his fist on the counter knocking out the connection with the Commander before he can respond.

With her folded Parza staff on her thigh, Nayaa is haply hopping down the stone steps before she stops above Andee. He's curled up in the shade of the wall. She squeezes her lips and looks down at sleeping Andee disgusted. She then lifts her left foot back, and snaps a swift sharp kick into Andee's buttocks. Startled out of sleep, Andee turns aggressively towards Nayaa, but as he does, out of the corner of his eyes, about six meters away, and several steps below, he catches what looks like... a glimpse of the man in the blue robe. Just a flash of him, sitting with his back against the opposite stone wall under the shade of a berryfruit tree.
"There!" Andee yells, rolling from his side into a squat. "The guy-blue-there!" Andee speeds his words out while pointing excitedly. Nayaa snaps her eyes down the steps following Andee's finger.
"I don't see anyone." She counters.
Andee focuses on the spot. "He's gone. Dam it!" And quickly picks up a rock and tosses it, but not where he saw the guy. Instead, a few meters further down the steps. The rock hits something invisible in the air, and then falls straight down. Suddenly the clearly visible man in blue stops, turns over his shoulder and looks at the rock. He is clear as day for a brief, just as he takes off running down the steps.
"There!" Nayaa yells pointing, then impulsively looks at Andee. A fraction of a second later, when she looks back, he's gone. "Crap! I saw him! Where he go?" Nayaa asks mystified.
"I told you! I punking told you! He has Bitani tech that makes him invisible!" Andee shouts excited leaping up on his feet.
"Lets go." Nayaa shouts and takes off. They both run down the steps leaving their canisters behind. They reach the road below in no time and come to a hard stop.
"Which way did he go?" Andee spins on his toes in the orange dirt of the road, frustrated as he looks around. Nayaa, standing a step above, looks everywhere. She then turns and looks back up the way they came. Her eyes squint, and her head lurches forward gently.
"Hey!" Nayaa snaps at Andee. "I just had a thought."
"This is not the time." Andee counters still scanning three-sixty.
"No listen. There's no dust." Nayaa looks back down at Andee.
"If the guy's invisible there should still be dust behind him, no? Look behind us. We can see our dust." They both look up the steps. The dust is gently settling. "You think he can make the dust behind him invisible?" Andee softens his agitated state. He looks around again. There is lots of dust behind them, but noting ahead where the man ran. "There is no dust." Nayaa continues. "If he's invisible, but running like us, there should be dust, no?" Nayaa asks again with the most serious and inquisitive expression she has ever shown.
Andee is baffled. He is on the road spinning round in a daze still searching. "What the punk is going on?" He then looks up to Nayaa, and both glare at each other. Neither know what to do next.
"I'm right though? Don't you think?" She asks.
"I don't know what to think. But you saw him this time, right?"
"I did. I did. He turned around. And you know what!" Nayaa's voice suddenly rises. "I saw the dust! When he stopped there was dust. And then I looked at you, and when I looked back, he was gone, and so was the dust. And now there's no dust anywhere."
"I guess he can make the dust trail invisible behind him."
Nayaa looks past Andee. She is gawking hard at the dirt on the road ahead of her.
"How about his footprints?" She asks catching Andee focused on something else. He looks at her confused.
"Look! The big smudged one." She points to a large foot print.
"Genius!" Andee suddenly brightens up with new vigor. "Nobody runs up and down these steps. Look for more smudged prints like you'd get from running."
"Got it." Nayaa agrees and both begging to scan the road.
"Look! That's it!" Andee finds another. They look in the direction of the print.
"There's another one. It's going east." Nayaa points down the road.
They start walking slowly, heads down, looking for the prints. One by one they discover print after print. They are hunched forward, odd looking, but too absorbed in their search to notice the weird stares they get from the few people walking the road. They follow the steps for about a minute when suddenly, there are no more. They come to an abrupt end in the middle of the road.
"What the hell?" Andee reacts frustrated and starts circling the area baffled, but careful not to destroy the prints himself.
"Did he just fly off or something?" Nayaa looks around mystified. "Look!" She points aggressively.
"That indentation. I get the same indentation when I do my handstand on my staff." Nayaa responds. Andee looks at her bewildered. She looks back at him with a frown. "Maybe he's doing invisible cartwheels on his staff like we do in sparing, but to throw us off."
"Oh-kay, if he has a staff. But then there should still be foot prints just further apart." Andee responds half disbelieving, but goes for it, and both continue scanning the ground. Nayaa is focused and meticulous, like a cat, stalking the ground attentively. Andee is spastic. Moving his head left to right, almost as if he is having a seizure. He's agitated, nearly seething with rage. His emotions are driving him hard. He moves his head rapidly from left to right, when... suddenly, once again out of the corner of his eye, he sees a blue streak. He freezes, takes a deep breath, and is ready to burst... but then changes his mind. He decides to act nonchalant. He starts looking around more gently. Nothing. No blue anything. He sweeps his head again really fast, and again out of the corner of his eye he sees a blue haze in the same spot as before. He does it again, snatching his head from left to right, than back and forth again. Each time he gets a small flash out of the corner of his eye, and each time more and more clear. It's the man in blue. He's about ten meters away, casually leaning against the stone wall of the two-meter tall upper terrace on the right side of the road.
As casually as he can, Andee steps up next to Nayaa. Without interrupting his stride, and pretending to still be searching, he whispers to her.
"Don't react, but I see him."
"Where?" She whispers without looking at him and maintaining her search.
"Ahead, to my right. Against the wall. But he keeps vanishing. I only get glimpses when I move my head really fast. Try it."
Nayaa sweeps her head to the right, than to the left.  
"Holy... poo! I saw him." Nayaa whispers in shock, but then quickly sweeps her head a few more times.
"Can you tell if he is watching us?" Andee whispers.
"This is freakier than freak. He keeps vanishing." She sweeps a few more times. "Holy monkey poo. This is creeping me out. But I see him. Kind' a."
"I don't know why, but it's the same with me. Hey, he's not moving. We got him. I'll move ahead and strike back, you counter."
"OK, I got your back. I think... damn, he keeps vanishing. He's like a ghost. He keeps blurring out."
Andee and Nayaa are a strange sight to behold. They are walking like chickens, hunched forward and spastically sweeping their heads from side to side, as if they're either high on cactii or full on jovial. Some people slow down and watch them curiously. Andee and Nayaa are far to focused on their hunt to notice let alone care.
Nayaa starts searching in place, remaining a few meters down of the man in blue. Andee moves ahead, sweeps his head right, and catches a glimpse of the man in blue moving away from the terrace wall. Andee leaps immediately into a forward cartwheel followed by a twisting-somersault, during which he grabs his Parza staff and snaps it open in the air, just before he lands turned one-eighty, now facing the wall and the spot where the blue man should be. At the same time, Nayaa snaps her staff open and leaps forward. In a flash, Andee spins his staff out towards the spot where the man's head should be, while Nayaa sweeps at his feet. Andee's staff 'woojes' through empty air as he catches a quick glimpse of the man swiftly ducking under, but Nayaa makes contact. For a fraction of a second the man's left foot is visibly thrown into the air from the impact of Nayaa's staff under his calf.
"I got his left foot!" Nayaa shouts. Both Andee and Nayaa are moving their heads like chickens again, with fast and spastic snaps side to side. They both catch glimpses of the man stumbling. He's clearly hurt, but Andee and Nayaa take no mercy. Their staff's start spinning like propellers in figure eights with so much force and speed no one can pass through. Two crowds form on either ends of the road, watching mystified at what these two are up to.
"He's in range." Andee shouts and explodes. As fast as lighting he swings his staff as he lunges forward. The man is a blue blur as he leaps up into the air over Andee and Nayaa's sweeping staffs. He double flips before he lands... right into Nayaa's flying left roundhouse kick. In mid air, the man skillfully catches Nayaa's foot and spins it inward forcing her forward, dropping her face first into the dirt. His counter attack is so sudden and quick it catches Nayaa off guard, and she actually hits the dirt with her face, hard, but spins overhead and on her feet, but in a squat. The man is nowhere. She does a quick left to right twist of her head and sees his left foot coming at her chest. She spins to block it with her forearm, but she's too late. The foot lands between her collar bones knocking her backwards, while Andee's staff comes down hard onto the man's left shin. Contact! But the man spins out of the way in a haze of blue and orange dust. For a second he is clearly visible as he leaps back up to his feet, but clearly favoring his right leg. Nayaa too, is back on her feet, but before they can attack again, the man pulls out his own Parza staff and snaps it open with the same technique as theirs.
Andee and Nayaa look at each other a bit baffled. They can now see the man flashing in and out of sight but he seems to have a hard time staying fully invisible. Sometimes he's a blur, at other times a haze, occasionally invisible, and then fully visible for a flash. He starts spinning his staff with the same expert skills as Nayaa. Andee focuses into his hood but it's low on his head, and with the fast movement it's impossible to see his face. There's an audience on both sides of the road, but the people look baffled, staring at Andee and Nayaa who look like they are squirming in a cloud of dust for no reason. The audience is squinting, struggling to figure out what the hell is going on.
Andee and Nayaa's surprise lasts only a second. They attack. An epic battle commences. Staffs, fists, and legs are swinging, spinning, and striking at astounding speeds. Loud thunder like crackles snap each time the blue man blocks Andee and Nayaa's staffs with his own, and vice versa. For the first few seconds Andee and Nayaa are masterful and on the offensive, but the guy is unreal. Even with an injured left leg he easily holds his own against both of them. He is able to block all their attacks. After an entire minute of battle, after raising up a cloud of dust, still no one is hit.
Nayaa suddenly stops and places her staff in front of her, in attention stance, just off the man's right side. She holds on to it, hands at chest level, then leans her forehead on the staff, but her eyes locked on the blue man as his image fades in and out. Andee suddenly does the same off to the left of the man, opposite Nayaa. Both have their eyes locked on him. He's trapped between them. 
The man is partially transparent as he stops and looks left, then right, at both, then again vanishes... at the same instant, Nayaa and Andee attack, but each with an opposite swing. Rather than swinging from right to left as is common, Andee's staff comes from left to right and at his chest, but it's blocked by the reappearing blue man's staff. Nayaa's staff also swings in the opposite, coming from behind, and nails the man across his back, so hard, he falls to his knees. In a fraction both kids spin their staffs back and swing them round for the next attack, but the staff in the blue man's hand's suddenly lights up like a rigid bolt of lightning while he spins out of the way of the second attack, and rolls onto his feet facing Andee and Nayaa in triangular duel. Arcs of electricity sizzle as they shoot out of his lit up staff climbing in arks up his writs and forearms, as if thousands of volts of electricity are passing through him, yet it causes him no injury.
He still looks hazy and is still flashing in and out along with his now lit up staff. Andee and Nayaa are once again stunned frozen staring baffled, but there's no time for wonder. The man spins his lit up staff, but now it instantly bends and looks more like a hundred sparkling streamers strung on a spinning rope, rather than a solid staff. Andee and Nayaa throw a glimpse at one another confused. 'How do you attack that?'
The man flips sideways towards Nayaa, spinning and sparkling his weapon towards her. She leaps out of the way but the glowing weapon catches her ankle.
"Aaaa!" She groans in pain as she lands hard on her side, while Andee's staff comes down onto the man's light string, and passes right thought it like nothing. The tip of Andee's staff hits the ground next to Nayaa's ankle. He looks shocked, and gets shocked when the man swings back, forcing the other end of his lit up weapon into Andee's chest, end on. It hits Andee as if still solid, followed by an electric shock which knocks Andee back. Startled by the literally stunning staff, Andee stumbles backwards electrocuted for a moment losing his concentration.
Nayaa leaps back up with a spin of her staff at the man, aimed at his feet, but he blocks it with his limp light weapon, yet this time his eclectic staff behaves solid, stopping Nayaa's staff. Arcs of electricity run up her staff engulfing Nayaa's hands, zapping her. She drops her weapon and falls to her knees. She quickly lurches forward reaching for it, just as the man kicks her in the face, while at the same time he blocks Andee's staff coming at his head from behind. More electric arcs shoot out zapping Andee, but he spins and kicks the man in his injured right knee. The man falls forward, right after Nayaa falls on her back from the hard roundhouse kick to her face. But as she lands on her back, she twirls towards him whipping her legs over and down kicking the guy in the side of the head, knocking the top of his head into the dirt. He reorients the momentum, and actually lifts up onto his head, spins one fast revolution, then leaps from that onto his feet, his lit up staff swinging round and right into Andee's left cheek. The blow knocks Andee to the ground hard. Blood immediately starts pouring out of his mouth as he struggles to get up without his staff. Half way up he stumbles forward and falls face first into the dirt. Nayaa crawls quickly to Andee dragging her staff. She lifts his head out of the dirt. He seems almost unconscious, but then he snaps back.
Both jump to their feet, but are staggering. Nayaa uses her staff for balance. Andee doesn't have his. The man is behind them. Nayaa swings her staff back, but the man blocks it with a swing of his own, so forceful, it knocks Nayaa's out of her hands. He than attacks her right ankle again, this time his lit up weapon twirling around her ankle like a glowing whip. She screams in pain from arcs of electricity, as the man yanks it, pulling Nayaa's foot from under her forcing her to fall back on the ground. Andee leaps at the man with a side kick but the man swiftly side steps, while dragging Nayaa a foot or two. Andee swings his fists like a boxer, but out of range. The man swings his lit up staff, from Nayaa's ankle into Andee's rib cage. It again acts solid on impact and hits him hard, as well as zapping him with the electric arcs. Andee falls on his knees hunched sideways towards the blow. The man twirls his lit up weapon like a string of sparkling streamers again, while Nayaa and Andee struggle to look up at him. He suddenly stops, and snaps it shut. It's a normal, folded, wooden Parza staff again.
From her hands and knees, Nayaa leaps at the man again from the side. The man swings his folded staff at her. Even folded, it instantly lights up into a glowing whip catching her over the shoulders before she can get to him. Electric arcs shoot out between the man, his whip, and Nayaa's body.
"Ahhhggrr." She screams in pain, blood dripping from her broken nose. Andee tries to jump forward from his knees but falls on his face. He lifts up his face out of the dirt. His lower lip is swollen and blood flowing out the corner of his mouth.
"Let her go! I know what you are." Andee shouts. The man releases Nayaa. His weapon instantly becoming a normal folded staff again. "You're a sacred warrior." Andee continues while Nayaa falls to the ground and starts crawling to Andee.
The man takes a step forward and squats down over Andee. Nayaa's breathing heavily, as crawls over Andee in a protective manner, struggling to look up at the man. He looks at both of them, from deep inside his hood, his face hidden deep in the darkened shade. Only his trimmed white bard is visible.
"I am Husarii." He speaks to Andee, then vanishes. Completely gone. Andee and Nayaa try to look around for him, but it's beyond their ability. They are hurt. Seriously hurt. Andee spits out a mouthful of blood and rolls on his back with Nayaa over him, in a hug. Blood is pouring from her nose completely covering her mouth and chin in red, now mixed with orange dirt. She wraps her arms tight around Andee, and starts visibly heaving and sobbing.
The crowd that formed around them closes in. An old man is first to approach, followed by a young guy. The rest of the crowd are more weary and watch from a few steps back.
"Why you kids fighting like that?" The old man asks with curious eyes. "Look at you two... in a mess."
Nayaa lifts up her head and starts wiping her eyes with her jacket sleeves.
"Come now. You can't lay here in the road. I'll help you up." The old man encourages them.
"Should we... should we try to pick them up?" They young guy asks the old man.
"You got a canteen of water? Get them a canteen of water first." They young guy nods and leaps up towards the crowd. While he asks around, the old man goes down on one knee and studies the two on the ground. Their clothes are plastered in orange dirt. Their faces are covered by thick smudges of blood and dirt. It looks like a thick red and brown goo, quickly drying out into flaky blood laden clay on their faces.
"I can believe you kids would fight like that... with sticks. Look what you did to yourselves. Look at you two. You're in a terrible mess."
Nayaa is now completely up off Andee, on her knees sitting on the back of her ankles. Andee is on the side of his right thigh, body up and leaning on his right arm.
"Old man, you're crazy. We weren't fighting each other. We were fighting the blue man." Nayaa responds still wiping her face, smudging the blood, tears, and dust, into a total mess on her face. The young guy drops on one knee next to the old man, with a flask of water in his hand.
"Here." He hands it off to the old man.
"Wash up with this." The old man offers and turns the flask to pour. Andee and Nayaa wash their hands and faces as the conversation continues.
"I heard what you were fighting." The old man continues. "Fighting imaginary Sacred Warriors, that's what you were fighting. I heard you young man. Damned be that cactii." The old man snaps his last words.
"A blue man?" The young guy asks curiously staring at Nayaa.
"Didn't you see him?" Nayaa responds to him.
"All I saw was you two youngin's swinging those sticks like two fools high on cactii. When you kids going to learn not to smoke that junk. Look what you did to yourselves." The old man interjects. 
"We're not high old man." Andee snaps at him. "Did you see him or not?"
"We didn't hit each other." Nayaa interjects.
"She's right." The young guy responds to the old man. "They were swinging their sticks in the air around them. They weren't hitting each other. But look at them." Then turning to Nayaa. "You said something about a blue man?"
"Yeah, you didn't see him?" Nayaa asks.
Andee jumps in. "He was invisible at first, but he was mostly visible at the end."
The old man shakes his head from side to side disapprovingly. 
"Ah-well...." The young guy continues hesitantly. "for a moment, there was something blue in the dust. But it was just a haze, not a man."
"Never mind. Thanks for your help. I think we'll be OK." Andee concedes and starts getting up, but he nearly falls. He's still dazed. 
"Stop smoking that stuff. You kids are too young and pretty for that. Look at you two. Wasting such beautiful youth. Listen to this old man. I know." He drives his point with full sincerity and a tinge of sadness in his tone.
"Thank you sir." Nayaa responds nodding her head. "No more cactii for me. That's for sure. I learned my lesson." The old man nods approvingly as he lends a hand to help them up.
Both struggle to hold their balance as they get up. They are seriously hurt and dazed. They washed as well as they could, but the sides of their faces are smudged with a disgusting sludge of dust filled blood. The bloody sludge is in their hair, on their hands, on their clothes, all under a thick covering of orange dust over their outfits. Andee can barely keep his left eye open, while fresh blood is still dripping from the left side of his mouth. Nayaa's nose has a fresh stream of blood pouring down to her upper lip. The two young warriors are battered, bruised, and broken, and look like they barely survived the battle.

End of Chapter 9