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PROLOGUE

All the people began to count down the last ten seconds of the year 2099.

Then after they yelled zero

A very massive catastrophe occurred in the Ring of Fire.

It was an earthquake with a magnitude that was beyond of the seismologist’s imagination.

That was the largest and most powerful earthquake ever recorded in the entire history which triggered a series of other deadly quakes worldwide.

Chains of gigantic ground fissures appeared across different continents of the globe. They were so strong and powerful that they tore mercilessly the seven continents. The once growing and massive population of mankind shrunk dramatically in a minute. Several sophisticated infrastructures built thoroughly in years were all wiped out together. Fire ravaged several regions in different countries. Tsunamis and volcanic eruptions followed and increased further the death toll, injuries and damages.

Few rich people managed to survive by using all their personal planes and jetpacks. There were also a number of poor people left unharmed. They could not believe that for so many years that they had been waiting; a good luck finally came to them.

Most of the people were screaming and crying. Others were still speechless and on the process of absorbing the ordeal that they endured.

“W-What now…?”

Several questions crowded in the minds of the survivors but that was the only main question that they could blurt for the moment. Mixed emotions of hopelessness, fear, pain and sorrow ruled over their hearts.

All the people could not believe that on January 1, 2100 the earth would be in a total devastation.

Few days after, the earth finally accepted its new form. The seven continents were broken down to five major lands scattered in different directions around the earth. These continents came from all the fusion and large fragments from different lands. Survivors of different races, status and languages met and spread in these five continents. All of them were just staring with one another. They all knew that yes they couldn’t understand each other but deep within their hearts shared the same feeling of pain and loss…

The survival rate kept on diminishing because of the different factors that affected the people. There were famine and dehydration, extremities of temperature, murder brought about by the scarcity of resources, infection, toxins in the atmosphere which was the result of volcanic eruptions and many more.

The earth was doomed totally. Until then, six very large space vehicles appeared out of the blue and covered the dark gray skies. Several people got nervous as to what the intentions of the newcomers. Others got their hopes up, believing that the newcomers came to rescue them.

Mankind watched the five vehicles scattered. Each of them landed slowly in each of their designated area of assignment but the sixth vehicle remained in the air. Then, all the spacecraft projected a very large and live video stream of six men clothed in white coats and their faces were covered with black hoods.

“Fear not. We are here to rescue each one of you, our fellow human being,” one of the six men said.

It was the go signalof the five other vehicles to open. The survivors were shocked to see groups of people and robots equipped with protective gears.

The rescuers started to give out foods, drinks, protective suits and medications to the injured. Several people crowded immediately to the rescuers.

Most of them cried while eating and drinking. Others still hesitated for a moment but eventually gave up and sought for help.

But there were some who were stubborn enough and continued observing the behavior and intentions of the new group of strangers. While they continued the rescue operation process, the six spacecraft continued the live video projection.

We are the six head scientists called the Letrumeros. We are assigned and are currently managing the Lunar Base. We deeply apologize for this very late rescue operation. We had a long time in studying the restoration process of the earth and in making certain preparations for this rescue.”

English was the universal language but there were few people who had not learned and understood the language used so they were assisted by group of robots and scientists that translated the words for them.

Just then, one of the survivors yelled, “Hey, filthy scientists! You were all claiming that you were some group of gifted and expert people in the field of science and technology then how come you were not able to predict this?!”

“You just kept on inventing and re-improving some stupid stuff and yet you were not able to come up with an instrument to detect an earthquake accurately!” another person added angrily.

Several people were looking around and nodding with each other. They were astounded to what they just realized. After a couple of seconds, a man shouted angrily that awakened and intensified the wrath of the people.

Some rude groups of survivors started to assault few scientists and robots that complicated the conflict. Despite the insults and physical attacks, the scientists and robots remained calm and tolerated silently the pain.

“We’re only scientists.”

All the people gained their attention back to the live- video stream projector.

“We’re not gods who know everything. We’re only humans just doing our very bests to study everything and help the world with our discoveries and inventions. Our knowledge, skills and abilities have also some limitations.”

Most people recovered slowly their calmness. Others continued to frown and disagreed silently.

“Let us presume that we were able to detect a catastrophe like this in a given time. The same thing will happen that not all people will be saved. This fortuitous event will always bring death because death is inevitable.”

Several people recalled the loss of their loved ones and most of them began crying.

The earth is also aging. Like all living things, she will also die. But look at her now; she’s still standing like the rest of us. She is in bad shape and barely living. But she’s still hoping and waiting to be restored!”

All the people were shocked to the sudden emotional yell of one of the six head scientists.

“We should not give up just like her!”

One man had took the courage to step forward in front of the projector and said firmly, “Tell us what to do on how to bring mother earth back to life.”

“….”

The survivors remembered painfully the memories of all their efforts in building a strong and advanced civilization in the twenty first century. But everything was ruined in just a blink of the eye.

They just woke up with no choice left but to start from scratch again.

Mankind gave the five major continents a group title called Zerofem. Year by year, humans were able to clear the lands slowly with the major help of the Letrumeros. Several people were very thankful and acknowledged the Letrumeros as their heroes of the new civilization. But there were still some people who did not trust totally the six head scientists.

The first continent they cleared successfully in the year 2115 was named Adelphiel. It was the first place where humans lived more safely. It had a total land area of four million square kilometers that was big enough to inhabit the remaining population of the survivors.

Several people were so desperate to restore the land more quickly. After five years, they were able to touch the next land they named Eutha Rosse. It was larger with a total land area of five million six hundred thousand square kilometers.

Even after ten years since the day the people met the six head scientists called Letrumeros; the people still did not see and know their real faces and names. The Letrumeros had only code names. But these facts did not hinder the people in making them as their leaders and heroes. A01, B02 and C03 were the first three head scientists that managed the country of Adelphiel. D04, E05 and F06 were the remaining members of Letrumeros that governed the second country, Eutha Rosse.

Most people loved their way of taking care of the two countries. But there were really some people mostly the rich ones who kept on complaining and were not comfortable to the said leaders.

Because of this, they decided to live on other lands.

In the year 2122, most rich men abandoned Adelphiel and Eutha Rosse and with their joint resources and abilities cleared the land in the western part of the northern hemisphere all by themselves. They called that land as Chronaxus.

The Letrumeros ignored those rich people and continued living peacefully with the citizens who stayed with them.

Then a decade passed, the people living in Chronaxus cleared the land nearest to them. It was the southern continent located in the southern hemisphere and they named it as Uhloro with a total land area of seven hundred thousand square kilometers.

The population of the survivors all over the world began to expand and grow again.

Chronaxus was not satisfied with Uhloro so they decided to journey in the year 2140 and clear the last land in the eastern part of the northern hemisphere. They later named it as Philandura. This was the smallest land among the five which had a total land area of four hundred thousand square kilometers.

In that year, mankind was able to clear the five remaining continents of the earth. It was a good start of using to maximum limits the new inventions and resources they made. Among the five continents Adelphiel and Eutha Rosse were the two more advanced countries. They were followed accordingly by Chronaxus, Uhloro and Philandura.

The people built the five lands new and huge equipment that filtered and transformed the toxic air back to safe again. It was a very slow process but at least the toxins were diminishing constantly. There were several towering posts built around every huge continent to build a hidden, strong and massive barrier that regulated the temperature. Then infections were studied thoroughly and corresponding cure were made to combat them.

The scarcity of resources was still an underlying issue most especially to poorer families. Because of this, the poor resorted to murder, robbery and other crimes that made the rich and middle class people to join forces and establish laws. The privileged people asked the approval of the leaders of their own countries and their leaders agreed.

As a result, crimes deteriorated. All the people lived in peace and order. The laws helped the citizens to live in harmony with each other. With that problem solved, the country leaders were able to focus more on the scarcity issue. They came up with the decision of implementing a law that there must be an equal distribution of food and water regardless of the status of life. The rich men hesitated at first but were convinced later on.

Each person contributed on how to stabilize the food and water resources. They studied different scientific and artificial ways on how to produce more livestock, fruits and vegetables in a given short period of time. They also invented useful machines that filtered any polluted water to make it drinkable.

Humanity once sworn to restore everything back to normal and they succeeded gradually.

As they waited and prepared for the next century to come; they could not deny the tension and fear that knocked their hearts once again. But they knew that whatever may happen would really happen and they were all ready and prepared to accept anything…

Even death…

But as much as possible they wanted to live and relive their hopes and dreams.

Mankind wanted to win.

It was true that the pain brought by the nightmares of the past still hunted them but they endured and tried to go on. They realized that they were so far already to just give up everything.

It was time for humanity to make a major come back.

….

The dawn of the twenty third century was a matter of ten seconds already. All the people began to count down silently. After zero, they clutched all their jetpacks with cold sweats streaming down in their foreheads.

But nothing happened…

They waited for the next few minutes but still nothing happened.

“S-so the calamity forecast was accurate after all?” one man muttered shakily.

“Y-yeah

,”

his friend agreed, “I h-hope so…”

Then a worldwide announcement came in a firm tone, “The earth is now clear from any dangers. All of us are safe now. Happy New Year.”

All the eyes of the people widened and sparkled in happiness and surprise. They were so happy that they were given the chance to celebrate life again.

All the people sang and jumped in joy as the door of the twenty second century opened in front of them. All the people fully understood that the future concealed several good and bad uncertainties. But one thing for sure, they wanted to live and adjust well with those uncertainties.

They all knew that another century would bring changes and another set of trials, challenges and problems. But again, all the people knew that challenges, problems and changes existed to complete the cycle of life.

On January 1, 2201, mankind took another step forward to a new and different civilization that paved way to the…

~Outbreak of Catalysts~

CHAPTER 1 – “The Spring of Change: The Girl Leaves and Lives…”

September 10, 2215

She waited and hoped silently that a miracle would save her from certain banishment. There were several options in her head to escape from her state.

But she was afraid…

Afraid to risk and lose everything…

Tears started to form again in her eyes but she abruptly got up from her bed and confronted herself in the mirror.

“JUST STOP CRYING!” she yelled angrily to herself. The spring winds blew softly the curtains of the window behind her. Then a shaft of golden sunlight struck beautifully her dancing mid-length brownish black hair.

“Ais?” a soft sad voice called behind the door, “I have been knocking the door for several times already so

Ma-chi,” She gave the robot a long and sorrowful look. Her dark brown eyes rippled slowly as tears began to flow out, “What am I supposed to do?

Her confused voice trembled in pain and fear as her body collapsed back to where she was previously sitting. The thirteen year old young lady gave up all the tears she held back carefully.

The two and a half feet tall robot went nearer to her and replied sadly, “I know that you were too weary and pressured already of carrying the heavy reputation of the Lesacas but…”

The robot held shakily her hand and cried, “You have to obey your parents

The gentle and sorrowful eyes of the girl changed in rage as she took off rudely her hand from the robot.

“No! I had enough of living here as a prisoner!” Ais said and stood angrily, “And I am not planning to waste another decade of my life in that stupid academy!”

“Ais…”

“I-I thought that you would be the very person who would understand me…” the girl cried some more as she tried to wipe her flowing tears.

“I know the misery you have suffered here…” he replied as he flew closer to Ais and looked at her crying, “But you must understand…”

The robot put gently his hands to her shoulders and looked deeply to the sobbing girl, “That sometimes in life, it is not always the things that you really wanted that will make you happy…”

The girl stopped sobbing gradually. Then she looked at her robot in teary and confused eyes, “W-What do you mean?”

There are times that you have to feel miserable so as to feel also the other side of happiness. The one I called the sacrificial way of happiness…”

“That’s too vague! How am I supposed to feel happy when I am stressed and suffering?!”

“Are you not happy when you see your parents smile warmly?” the robot said and smiled sweetly.

The young girl was stunned for a moment as her eyes sparkled slowly in tears of realization.

“Ma-chi!” she cried and hugged tightly her robot.

The girl began to sob again as the robot continued, “I know how much you loved your family and I know that your family is blessed to have you as their daughter…”

Ais hugged her best friend tighter that made her robot choked.

“A-Ais

I’m

c-choked!”

“Eh?!” Ais released him instantly and laughed softly, “Sorry for that Ma-chi.”

The robot stopped laughing and said, “Do not worry Ais. You still have me.”

The girl smiled also as the robot continued, “We will have our new adventure in Shieldowrd Academy!”

Ais sighed and looked outside the window as she thought, Zid…

“Do not worry about him!” Ma-chi exclaimed.

The girl shrieked and knocked gently the laughing robot.

“I notice that Zid always bother your mind, huh?”

“No! No he’s not!” the girl looked away and blushed.

“If you want, we can sneak around sometimes and visit him!”

“Yeah… That’s what I’m planning too…” Ais said and smiled sweetly.

“See! You are attracted with that boy!” the robot mocked and laughed as the girl chased him angrily.

Miss Aisha Lesaca, you are to proceed at the roof deck now.”

Ais got up slowly as she freed her robot from her grip. Then she muttered seriously, “Let’s go now, Ma-chi…”

The robot nodded and the two went out from her room that was located at the west corner of the mansion. Ais paused for a while.

She looked around slowly…

Then she found all of them waiting below the first floor. They were all looking up at her sadly.

“Miss Ais!” one called out, “Please take care always!”

Ais felt a surging mix of pain and joy in her heart. She could not blurt a word. She never expected that all the robots designed and made to take care a hard-headed and naughty girl like her would come together just to bid their goodbyes.

Warm tears streamed again in her face as she recalled every special memory of sadness and joy that she had shared together with them.

Just then, the slim and tallest butler robot went out from the crowd and took off his black hat. “Miss Aisha, never forget to smile and be happy always…”

“Sky

,”

Ais muttered softly and nodded.

“Aissuuuu!!!”

Ais found the smallest robot jumped and landed at Sky’s shoulder.

“Star!” Ais called happily.

Star waved her left hand and smiled widely, “We will miss you… Aissuuu!!!”

Ais cried and sobbed louder.

Hey Ma-chi!” a group of robot gardeners called out, “Always protect our one and only Miss Ais!”

Ma-chi floated and gave them thumbs up. Then everyone heard the computer’s message delivered once more.

“…”

“Sky! Star! Everyone!” Ais called out, “Thank you very much! I will also miss you all!”

All the robots including Ma-chi were shocked and it was intensified when Ais continued, “I am so sorry for all the wrong things I have done in the past b-but I loved you all with all my heart and soul!”

All the robots were just speechless to what they had just heard. Even Ais was shocked that she was able to speak finally what her heart wanted to speak. Her eyes widened and her skin blushed furiously. She also started to rub with each other the fingernails of her two hands as a sign of her extreme shyness.

“Ais…” Sky said gently, “We know you by heart.”

Star gestured a signal and the rest of the robots smiled and said happily, “We will wait for your return, Aissuuu!”

Ais nodded and wiped her tears.

All the robots saw the two left and a sudden surge of emptiness, sadness and anxiety ruled their hearts.

“What’s with your faces everyone?” Star asked awkwardly, “Do not all worry! She will always be all right!”

All of the robots turned to her sadly when Star continued, “Come on guys?”

Everyone shifted their gaze away from Star except for Sky.

“Ma-chi is with her,” Sky said firmly that made the robots locked their attention to him, “Ais is strong.”

Star rejoiced and exclaimed, “Yeah right!”

The other worried and confused robots erased slowly all the remaining shred of fear and doubts in their hearts. Sky was right. It was true enough that Ma-chi and Ais were strong to protect themselves from any danger.

“Okay! Let’s get back to our work and live normally as though they are here,” Sky exclaimed, “After all, they will return here safe and sound.”

“Aye!!!”

The two walked silently in the long and dark hallway of the mansion. The low and brooding sounds of their footsteps echoed the same feeling within their hearts.

“Finally I can now leave this boring and old-looking mansion,” Ais muttered. Her firm and calm voice concealed pain in every word she mentioned.

Ma-chi did not know what to reply so Ais faked a smile and continued, “Everything here seems to be ironic right?”

The robot continued listening to her and the girl said, “Around three years ago, I was telling my parents that I wanted to get out of here but they refused. And now, I can’t understand why they want me to leave this mansion against my will?”

Ais let out a fake laugh and added, “Take a look at this mansion. She looks so old and obsolete but she possessed sophisticated and advanced features within.”

Ma-chi analyzed Ais’ thoughts when she muttered sadly, “and like my name, Aisha…”

“It means life but in reality I lived a lifeless life…”

Her last words prickled every part of Ma-chi’s existence…

He was deeply hurt… so deep to the point that the pain reached the very core of his soul…

Soul?, he laughed at the back of his mind, Do I even have a soul?

What am I thinking?, he realized sadly, All I have is the latest, most excellent and advanced artificial intelligence ever embedded by the Lesacas. There is no way for a mere robot like me to feel this pain… but why?

The two of them continued walking. They were physically with each other but their thoughts were miles away from each other.

“Ma-chi, let us take the stairs instead,” Ais requested.

The robot was fully drawn by his thoughts, Maybe I am just thinking too much so my

thoughts manifested into feelings? Yeah, right. Thoughts can manipulate anything even feelings…

“Hey,” Ais knocked his head softly, “Are you listening?”

“Ow!Y-yes of course!” the robot just processed in his mind what Ais requested so he replied, “We will take the stairs.”

The young girl eyed him suspiciously and went ahead.

He faked a laugh to Ais then thought, I cannot blame you Ais… I know that I am just an artificial being so there is no way I can give you beyond what has been programmed to me. But if you only knew that every single day of my existence I always wish that one day I can turn myself into a full human being…

But I guess, it would be a different story…

Ma-chi looked sadly to Ais and said to himself, I am sorry Ais. I am sorry if I existed

just this way. I hope someday true love and joy will find their way to you…

“Ma-chi, are you okay?” Ais asked, “You have been so quiet all the way here?”

“Y-yes, Yes of course!” Ma-chi exclaimed, “Do not worry…”

“Are you sure?”

The robot nodded and walked ahead of her, “Let’s go now before your parents got angrier to us.”

“Tch, Is that what you are worrying for?” Ais asked irritably, “Believe me, I can handle this.”

“Ho??” Ma-chi mocked, “Are you sure of that?”

“Yes of course! I am so sure!” Ais shouted this time, “Are you challenging me?!”

Ma-chi laughed and showed a funny facial expression that provoked Ais to run after him.

You are still young Ais…, Ma-chi thought, Just wait patiently. Maybe it is not today or tomorrow but I know one day you will wake up and see the other side of happiness… Your own happiness where you can truly laugh and smile…

“Hey Ma-chi!!! You are cheating!” Ais yelled angrily.

“Heh?” Ma-chi mocked, “I am not cheating. It’s just your speed is naturally slow!”

After hearing those unforgivable words, Ais doubled her speed that made the robot surprised, “Whoa!! She is so serious now!”

The purpose of my existence is to protect you and guide you. It sounds typical and simple but as I went through my journey with you; I began to realize something more…

That I can also be your best friend… And as your best friend, I want to make you happy as much as possible. That at the end of the day, you will also think of me with a little joy in your heart…

“Ais!!! We are almost there! So are you now ready?!”

“I am so ready all the way up here!” Ais yelled back.

“Okay! Here we go!”

The huge old door opened slowly in front of them and a bright ray of sunlight entered the room. They both smiled after remembering the same scene.

Ais chuckled and said, “This feels nostalgic…”

“Yeah,” Ma-chi smiled.

The door opened totally and the blinding sunlight welcomed them warmly. They closed their eyes and the spring winds greeted them a soft whisper in their ears. The fresh scent of various genetically modified flowers mixed perfectly in the air that created a perfume to the place.

“It feels so good to be out here right?” Ais muttered.

Ma-chi sighed in relief and nodded. “It’s good to be back here…”

“What took you so long?” came from a familiar cold voice.

A sudden chill crept in Ais’ body as she went nearer to the person asking.

“I-I just took a detour…” Ais said while rubbing each other the fingernails of her two hands.

“We are not playing here… little sister…”

Ais was dazed for a moment after seeing the cold and piercing stare of her older brother, Kei Lesaca.

“Come on, our parents have waited you there for so long,” Kei said aloofly.

Ma-chi thought, Tch, that usual aura… The robot stayed behind and the two left.

Ais and Kei reached the center of the roof deck and found their parents looking at them. Everything was well-prepared. The enclosed white cubicle known as the Cuby Generator emitted a glowing red light and a long deep siren. Those signals implied that the strong barrier and transporter was currently processing inside the cubicle.

Just then, she recalled the first time she encountered the Cuby. That was the most special and unforgettable memory that altered every aspect of her life. Up unto that moment, Ais was very thankful to experience such wonderful coincidence with them.

But that rare happiness was only ephemeral.

Another twist of fate was yet to happen and the Cuby would play again its part in delivering her in a new place. Her current feelings were different from the past

encounters she had with the Cuby. At the present, Ais felt so sad and a sore guilt tortured her each day whenever she remembered what she had said to her dear

friend

,

Zid.

Ais clenched her fists silently. She did not know what to do. She was caught in the middle of her beloved friend and family. She had to choose though it was very difficult for her.

In the end, she chose her family…

“Aisha Lesaca, my daughter,” a middle-aged woman approached, “We are so happy that you finally obey us…”

The young girl came back to her senses.

“Mama?” Ais was shocked when her mother hugged her suddenly.

Ais’ mind hanged for a moment.

My mom is hugging me right now? Ais thought.

Ais was so lost with her thoughts when she heard her father said firmly, “Everything will be all right Ais… Just trust us.”

She found her father smiled sweetly at her for the first time. The young girl was shocked totally.

What is the meaning of this? Why are they acting strangely to me? Are they this desperate in banishing me from this house? Or supposing what they had told me was true? That they are doing all these because they truly love and care for me? But I can’t understand?! Why do I have to leave this house?!

Ais was so confused when her father continued, “Your mother and I admit that we have not been a good parent to you and to Kei…And for that we apologize…”

The young girl cried silently as she watched her parents burst in tears. She felt her heart crumpled in pain. She did not expect that to happen… To see her parents cried

in front of her for the first time…

“Sorry because all we can do is say sorry,” her mother added.

Kei diverted his gaze away from the scene. He deprived himself from showing any sign of emotion. But he was also shocked within. He never expected that his parents will go that far.

Ma-chi observed them from a distance. Finally, I am happy for you Ais…

A gentle wind came and eased the solemn atmosphere.

“Mama? Papa?Ais asked, “Why do I need to leave?”

Her parents paused for a while. Then she saw her father took a deep breath to gather enough strength then in a firm tone he said, “We know that it is hard for you to understand everything now. But the right time will come that you will realize it yourself…”

Realize it myself? Ais wondered.

“All you need to do Ais is to trust us entirely,” her mother said, “Though we know that

it is difficult to earn your trust given that we have not done well as your parents…. But just this time Ais… We need you to trust us…”

“You have to leave this house and live…” her father said gently.

“Live?” Ais echoed, “Seems like a matter of life and

“Live there like a normal child.” Her mother interrupted and faked a soft laugh.

“We have realized that locking and protecting you here made no sense at all,” her mother continued, “Besides, going there will give you insights of what real life is! Insights that we ourselves cannot merely teach and explain to you.”

Her mother smiled dearly and kissed her beloved child.

The bright and warm sunshine enlightened Ais’ face as she cried loudly.

“Hey stop crying now,” her brother said and walked towards her. Then he got something from his pocket. Her older brother held a silver necklace without any special designs in it.

“Papa and I doubled your protection through inventing this necklace,” Kei said, “So stop worrying for yourself now.”

“I am not worrying for my

Kei put immediately the silver necklace to Ais that stunned her for a moment. After a couple of seconds, the necklace was lost!

“Eh! Where did it go?”

Idiot, it was not lost. One of its capabilities is to become invisible to every living and non-living object.”

“It cannot be detected by any powerful security regulator. That necklace will alert us if you are in danger,” her Papa said.

Does that also mean you see every move I take there?” Ais asked her father.

“That came into our mind but we just decided not to incorporate that feature.”

“Really?”

“Yes! We give the entire freedom to you!” her father said happily, “After all, if you trust us entirely why can’t we?”

Ais got teary again after hearing those melting words.

“We leave your actions to you Ais,” her mother said, “We trust you…”

Just then, the Cuby Generator announced the completion of the Cuby formation process. It was all ready to receive the order of destination.

Her mother cried and hugged her again. At that moment, Ais finally hugged her mother back. She hugged her mother tightly and it gave Ais a very warm feeling within her heart. She realized that she was indeed….loved.

“See you again… Ais,” Kei said and knocked her head softly.

The young girl smiled to her older brother. Kei shifted again his gaze away from her little sister.

“Ma-chi! It’s time to go!” Ais yelled.

The robot flew immediately to her.

Ais’ father accessed the system. Then the Cuby Generator opened instantly and it released a thick warm air and smoke that lasted shortly.

She saw her father encoded a control number in the Cuby Generator and its computer system announced the point of destination.

“Chanos City of the Royal Ground. The passengers may now enter.”

“So the Cuby is ready. May God bless you Ais good girl…”

,”

her father said,” Be strong and be a

Her father patted her head gently and kissed her in the forehead.

“Papa!” Ais cried and hugged her father tightly.

We will miss you… Ais…, his father thought.

Ais wanted to stay a little longer but it was time already. She entered first the Cuby Generator and Ma-chi followed her. Just then, the parents of Ais called Ma-chi.

The robot got frightened but he managed to answer politely, “Sir Edred and Máam

Acantha?

The couple smiled at him and Edred said, “Thank you Ma-chi…”

Ma-chi bowed his head and said firmly, “It is my duty to protect your one and only precious daughter…”

“Keep up the good work,” Acantha added.

Ma-chi nodded and entered finally.

Inside the Cuby Generator, only white surroundings and a black cubic barrier that worked as the main transporter and shield of the passengers could be found. That black cubic barrier was the Cuby. Black solid walls covered the Cuby inside and out.

A soft auburn light illuminated the dark and gloomy atmosphere within it. It had only

two seating capacities. The seats were facing each other and attached were glowing green belts that will secure the two passengers. The Cuby looked simple inside and

out but its features were very remarkable.

At the present, the Lesacas were able to build six secret underground channels. The channels were interconnected and could transport two passengers in any of the six places of Philandura. Each place corresponded a fixed time of travelling and the farthest place with a distance of 830km could be reached in twenty minutes the most. Its monstrous speed could not harm the passengers since the transporter was

a barrier itself.

Only the Lesacas had that kind of carrier. They personally invented it for the convenience of travelling quickly the different major cities of Philandura.

Please press the glowing green button to secure yourselves automatically with seat belts. This will only take five minutes or less. Enjoy.”

Ais sat perfectly still and she was staring blankly at the black empty floor. She was mentally and emotionally tired. Then she dozed off unconsciously.

Ma-chi thought. This must be too hard for you… But I know you can handle this…

The robot followed what the computer instructed. Then after five seconds the system powered up automatically. Bright red orange lights appeared and blinked in each corner of the Cuby. Ma-chi could feel the carrier floated slowly.

Outside the black cubic barrier, the white floor of the Cuby Generator opened gradually and it roared so loud but fortunately the uproar did not affect the sound proof Cuby.

After few seconds, the dark subway showed.

Ma-chi saw a green light appeared in the ceiling of the Cuby. It stopped all the blinking red orange lights and finally the floating Cuby dived into the dark subway.

The Cuby released its outrageous speed. The sleeping subway lights were awakened consecutively after contacting the Cuby sensors. That displayed a magnificent and graceful trail of bright yellow lights.

“How are they?” Acantha asked her husband.

They are fine. Only three minutes left and they will reach Chanos safely.

Ma-chi watched the sleeping kid because there was nothing left to do. Then he looked around the boring surroundings again.

, any skills in art and designs… Tch.

Man

this all black and boring surrounding make me sick. Kei does not really have

“Hachoo!”

“Kei, are you all right?” her mother asked.

The aloof guy rubbed his nose with a black handkerchief and mumbled, “Someone must be talking behind my back…”

Then Ma-chi was about to close his eyes when he suddenly saw Ais drooled.

He let out a big laugh that awakened the girl.

“Eh?! What’s your problem Ma-chi?!”

The robot had a hard time in restraining himself from laughing. Then Ais just noticed her cheeks were wet so she hurriedly look for her handkerchief and wiped immediately all the scattered saliva.

“Stop making fun of me!”

“I’m sorry Ais! But I can’t just stop myself from laughing!”

The Cuby lowered gradually its speed until it stopped moving totally.

“Eh? Chanos already?” Ais wondered.

The seat belts detached automatically and the door opened.

“All the passengers may now leave the Cuby safely. Welcome to Chanos the capital of Philandura.”

The two went out and found themselves in a dark and remote alley.

“Hey, do you hear that?” Ais asked the robot.

“I guess they have started already. Let’s go.”

All beloved citizens of Philandura, you have just witnessed the forty students coming from different wealthy and notable families. Now we may call on Carol Skyler, the only daughter of Sir Cordell and Madam Clyne!

All Philians clapped happily and proudly as the young girl stood in front of them. Carol looked at the whole crowd and she gave them a fake smile.

“Cackles!” the organizer called, “What are you doing?! Ms. Aisha Lesaca is still not here!”

The emcee went hurriedly at the backstage and replied, “What?! But Sir Edred contacted me that she’s here now!”

Vince, the organizer paused briefly and said, “Buy some time.”

Cackles stared blankly in the dark as the end call tune continued. Cold sweat rolled down from his forehead as he muttered, “I’m doomed.”

“No you’re not!

He gasped and turned his back to see the person.

“Ms. Aisha?!”

H-Hi. M-Mr. Cackles right?” Ais walked closer to the emcee and said while rubbing each other the fingernails of her two hands, “Um… Actually I was here already when Papa called you. II was just waiting for the right timing to come out…”

The emcee was stunned. He had a hard time in composing himself properly. He felt angry since he got almost lost his job and he felt so irritated towards the girl.

He told himself that perhaps he was just overreacting. He could not help himself but twitched a little as he remembered his expectations from the young girl.

What he saw and felt were the opposite. By the current looks of the girl, Cackles judged that no one would ever think that she was one of the Lesacas. Unlike most of

the Lesacas he had seen from the media, she was different. She was not really a head turner. Every Lesaca had that exotic beauty that could capture everyone’s eyes.

Her hair is a bit messy and in terms of her personality, she was still far beyond the

nature of the Lesacas

her… Maybe because she’s just an

She’s shy and meek and there was really nothing special in

Ais lost her cool after taking a glimpse at the eyes of the emcee. She interrupted his train of thoughts and said, “I still don’t understand the purpose of this boring event.”

Cackles returned to his senses and his silent irritation heightened. But he managed to give the young girl a fake laugh and said, “The King requested this event because he wanted to see personally each and every one of you. Since the fifty of you are children of the most respected and prominent families, all of us are regarding you as the next leaders of the following generations. The fifty of you are considered to be the hope and pride of the whole Philandura so you are all deserving to be shown and honored.”

The emcee felt proud to his speech and said, “Please prepare now, Ms. Aisha Lesaca. Just come out as soon as I am done saying your name.”

Ais nodded seriously and said, “I guess you forgot something in your explanation earlier.”

Cackles smiled fakely and asked as if he was curious to know, “My… my… What is it?”

“Never mind. I’ll just keep it to myself!” Ais exclaimed and smiled.

“Okay, no problem.”

The emcee went to the stage as irritated as ever and started babbling several flowering words to the Lesacas.

Ais muttered as he clenched her fists angrily, “This is just one of the many things I hate about human nature.”

“Behold the youngest member of the clan that leads in the manufacturing industry! One of the owners of the giant Mashinah Company and the only daughter of Sir Edred and Madam Acantha Lesaca who are the chief leaders of the council of the King, Ms. Aisha Lesaca!”

“I-I don’t want this,” Ais muttered and bit her lower lip to stop her tears from flowing.

“I know…” Ma-chi replied sadly, “But you have to…”

She had a very hard time in lifting her feet. Her knees were trembling and her heart beat faster and wilder. It was as if any minute she would just collapse out of

nervousness

and disgust.

What’s wrong with her?! Why is she not going out! Cackles thought.

The King and Queen wondered silently and so the whole crowd.

“Come on, Ais! Don’t make me transform back just to push you out! Don’t mind the crowd! Remember you are doing this for your family and not for those lunatics!” Ma- chi exclaimed, “Do you want the crowd to laugh at your family simply because you can’t face them all by yourself?!”

Ais got enraged and it was as if the built in nobility of being a Lesaca was awakened. Ma-chi got surprised silently as he watched Ais learned to walk decisively.

This is so cool… though I am just in the form of a shoulder bag. Machi thought.

One from the crowd clapped his hands loudly that stirred the whole crowd to do the same.

The King and Queen smiled to her and she bowed her head briefly as a sign of greetings and respect to them. Then she met the serious gazes of her soon-to-be

classmates. She stared blankly to each one of them except for the girl beside her. It was Carol. She looked so familiar to Ais.

Tch. I never knew that brat likes to play some suspense tricks. Cackles thought.

“I wonder how honest these people are,” Ais muttered sadly to Ma-chi, “There is that gleam in their eyes by which I could not really determine.”

Ais was so engrossed with her thoughts. She did not notice that the emcee started calling out the most awaited Royal-blooded students.

Is it really joy? No. I better regard it as jealousy… Or even worst… Hatred. Ais

thought.

The crowd kept on rejoicing and uttering words of delight and praise.

“I learned now the truth,” Ais muttered and grinned, “The people don’t want us to be here… Instead, they are all dying to take our place here to gain fame, honor and power….How lame.”

“Wow… So I’ve been talking to the wind,” Cleta said and smiled to hide her anger.

“I despise them all,” Ais whispered to herself.

“Ais! The princess must be talking to you! Enough with your thoughts now!” Ma-chi whispered.

As soon as Ais realized what Ma-chi told her, the King finished his brief speech that signaled the Red Airship to land at the right corner of the stage.

“This is the first time someone turned me down,” Princess Cleta said in a friendly way and followed her brother as they made their way to start the line.

Their six cousins, four from the side of the King and two from the side of the Queen followed Princess Cleta and her older brother, Prince Edison. After all the Royal-

blooded students were settled, the emcee requested Ais to line next to the last royal blooded student named Acelin Lacaden, daughter of the only brother of the Queen.

Ais forced herself to give her last and sweetest smile to the emcee. The emcee got surprised silently and he didn’t have a choice but to fake a smile too.

He watched Ais walked honorably but after she took few steps she turned back to him and said, “Mr. Cackles, I’ve changed my mind!”

He did not understand what the girl meant so he went closer to Ais and asked, “Miss Aisha, you changed your mind about what?” Then all of a sudden, the memory flashed back quickly to him like a song that was set to play back automatically.

Ais smiled and said, “The only thing you forgot in your explanation was that…”

Though Ais was smiling, Cackles could feel the sharp and intense glare in her eyes. He felt so intimidated and he begged silently for someone to end that heavy atmosphere that was only happening between him and the young lady.

“We’re shown here…,” Ais said and grinned blankly, “to be judged.”

Cackles stood motionless. He looked so pale and cold. He realized that the young Lesaca knew that he judged her too.

Cackles thought. I-I misjudged her. So this is how terrifying the Lesacas can be

“Hey, are you okay now?” Ma-chi asked softly.

Ais felt so great after releasing that heavy and uncomfortable feeling. She smiled and still with her right hand down, she raised her right thumb just for Ma-chi to see that she was feeling okay.

The fierce glare of the princess followed Ais as she walked to her designated place. She never dared looking back to the princess or else she might lose her cool and do crazy things.

Tch, I never expected that it would take faster than I thought. Ais told herself.

This time Ais made a new record. It only took her less than a minute and she now gained an enemy. Worst is that it was the daughter of the King. We might as well have the prince and their six cousins as our instant enemies. Man… What a good

start. Ma-chi thought.

The noise of the entire crowd intensified when all the fifty students turned to face them. The students stood in splendor as they showed to the whole world the emergence of a new and stronger youth force of Philandura.

“Whoah!!! Mama! Let’s work harder so that someday we can also be one of the top ten wealthy and notable families in Merchants’ Town!”

“Huh?! Why did you suddenly think about that Yumi?” the mother’s kid asked.

“Because I also want to wear the Shieldowrd Academy’s uniform!”

Her mother burst in laughter and patted the child’s head softly, “Then let’s work on your dream now!”

The child looked at the students for the last and longest time. Then a burning flame of determination sparkled in her eyes. The sun illuminated brightly the golden-orange outlines of the students’ uniforms and all the dark red color that covered the V-

shaped

the students’ skirts looked so magnificent when the sun emphasized its beauty. The outline of the flag itself represented the shield and within the shield the sword was placed. In the middle of the handle of the sword was a glowing atomic structure which implied the power of Science that will play a very significant role in students’ learning and the development of their knowledge.

skirt
skirt

of the girls and boys. The Shieldowrd Academy’s flag embroidered in

Yumi blinked after she realized that her mother was too far already. She ran fast to catch up with her mother. It was then she felt her heart beat so fast and a throbbing excitement built in her.

King Dario Avarone and Queen Callista Avarone smiled to their two children, Prince Edison and Princess Cleta. The two looked at them warmly and both children bowed to their parents. The rest of the students made their goodbyes to their families and relatives except for Ais.

Ais knew that her parents were back to their work. Although she still felt sad but she was now able to understand them fully. She smiled sincerely after she remembered that very rare and warmest scene she ever had with her family.

“Well, I guess I have to” Ais said happily when the communication device vibrated, “Huh?!”

Her heart almost jumped in joy after she saw the person calling her. She immediately received the video call.

“Papa!”

Her father smiled back to her and she could not believe her eyes that her mother and even her older brother, Kei were all in the video.

Ais got blushed and started rubbing the fingernails of her two hands. She got panicked after she realized that she unconsciously freed the device from her hands. Fortunately, the device floated automatically thanks for the help of Ma-chi who changed the settings of the device.

Her parents smiled awkwardly and finally Kei lost his cool and yelled, “Calm down Idiot!”

Ais took off his dark red hat and bit its edge to stop herself from crying. Then she nodded cutely when his father began his message to her.

“Ais listen carefully. You are blessed to have a family that will do whatever it takes just to protect you. You have Ma-chi and all the other robots that are strong and powerful enough to keep you away from danger. You may also have some good and loyal friends that may help you get away from tough situations… But when in the end, when all odds turned against you, when everyone fails to protect you, definitely there will be no one except you who’s going to defend and fight for your life.”

Her father looked intensely at her and continued, “Aisha Lesaca, promise me that you’ll keep on getting stronger and stronger no matter what.”

Ais nodded as tears began to flow freely from her eyes.

“I need to hear you firm and concrete answer,” his father said.

“I promise that I’ll keep on getting stronger and stronger and stronger and strongerrrrrr!!!” Ais yelled at the top of her lungs.

Her eyes sparkled in joy and unbreakable determination. She did not notice that all the other students heard clearly what she just yelled.

“Tch. Actually there’s no need for you to shout,” Kei said coldly.

“It’s time Ais. Please be safe and strong,” her mother said in teary eyes.

The video call ended. Ais clenched her fists and thought, I’m gonna make myself

stronger for all of you Papa. I promise that.

The students started to enter the Red Airship. Each student had their own designated seat and Ais had hers at the furthermost beside the window. Her seatmate was Carol Skyler who kept her eyes closed and continued to sit quietly.

Ais thought, Tch. Why do I feel so awkward whenever I’m with this girl? She’s really so familiar but I still can’t figure out why?!

The young lady sighed a little when all the seat belts attached automatically to all the passengers. A brief welcome came from the pilot and the Airship took off.

For so many years, I’ve been living with different kinds of robots. I can’t deny to myself that I preferred living with them than living with these filthy humans.

Ais eyed her classmates and she went back to her thoughts again.

Humans are hard to understand just like myself…

She cupped her face with her left hand. She felt sad but when Ais noticed the beautiful scenery of the entire Royal Ground, her eyes lightened with awe. Ais saw the golden Royal Palace shone beautifully in that bright, peaceful day. Chanos City, the capital of Philandura and the other three surrounding cities of Creta, Auxis and Aureo encircled the place where the Royal Palace stood. All the houses built in those four cities looked so colorful and inviting. A number of tall buildings can also be seen anywhere. Then in the right side of Chanos and Aureo was the Green Belt, the graveyard of heroes and other prominent Philians. The graveyard was filled with evergreen trees and lively green grasses. It even looked so beautiful when all the grasses started to dance with the wind.

As the Airship continued to move northeast, Ais saw a portion of SCIRE Federation, the place where brilliant scientists and engineers of Philandura worked together to power the whole country. SCIRE was an acronym for Source of Credibility, Inventions, Research and Energy.

Then just above the scientists’ realm was the Military Base. The Airfield was located in the leftt side of the main headquarters while the Navy port was just in the right most area.

After seeing the Military Base, a considerable amount of sadness rekindled in Ais’ heart. She knew that they were getting nearer to the dark and gloomy side of Philandura.

“We will now leave the Dawn Dwellers’ Paradise. We ask each valued passenger to press the red button so as to increase your personal safety. Thank you.”

After all the passengers except Ais pressed the said button, thick suits with grayish- black gas mask appeared and covered their entire bodies.

All the students were educated about the other main part of Philandura they were going to pass through. They were told that the place was said to be dangerous since outlaws hid and were just waiting for chances to attack from anywhere. The atmosphere was also filled with foreign, poisonous elements. But the students and their parents were rest assured that the protective gears were really effective and tight security monitored a large scope of area so any attempts of ambush will be futile. Most students and their parents felt bad and scared about the risky location of the academy but they didn’t have any choice. The Dawn Dwellers’ Paradise was fully occupied and the vast island where the Shieldowrd Academy stood was the most suitable place to use.

Carol Skyler who was just dead silent along the way finally decided to break her silence.

What the hell are you doing? Are you planning to get yourself killed?Carol asked calmly.

“I’ve learned the truth about this place. Believe me, that protective gear served a different purpose,” Ais said firmly, “If I were you, I’m gonna take that off. You’re making yourself look like a fool.”

Carol grunted silently and said, “I’m sorry but your explanation is quite shallow and vague. Just don’t blame me when you get yourself killed.”

“If that’s really for safety reasons then they should have come here already and forced me to wear that stupid, ugly suit.”

Light anger and irritation came to Ais as she replied. Carol could sense Ais’ overflowing honesty but too bad she could not just erase immediately all those negative things she learned from the place. It was very impossible for Carol to delete immediately all those notions that sank deeply to her mind and heart. It was like erasing something that was part of her system.

The Airship approached slowly the Dead Abyss, the official main border between the two main parts of Philandura. The said place got its name because it was an abyss where unidentified dead bodies were dumped. Rotten bodies kept on piling at the bottom. It made the abyss so polluted and was considered to be dead. Piercing smell of blood and rotten flesh hung in the air.

Ais shed a tear upon seeing the dreadful scenery of the Dusk dwellers’ Dark Paradise.

The world keeps on changing. I know someday, the rays of the sun will soon light this gloomy place and end the misery of the people living here. For the meantime, I have to stand still and find my way in this dark world. I have to keep on getting stronger. I have to…

Ais… Ma-chi thought as he watched the young girl clenched her fists silently.

“Hey,” someone interrupted, “Can you tell me the real purpose of it?”

It was Carol. She already released the red button which took off her protective gear.

Ais was a bit shocked as she dried quickly her eyes and muttered, “You have to see this.”

Carol gulped and Ais could see her eyes so terrified…and sad at the same time.

She asked, “S-so this is the place?”

“This is the shadow of the Dawn Dwellers’ Paradise,” Ais replied sadly.

“D-Do you believe that there are still some people living here?”

Ais nodded and gazed outside the window.

“The people living here are called as the Dusk Dwellers and this is their own Dark Paradise.”

Paradise? Carol thought sadly.

“We are currently at the Hazardous Zone. Later on, I’ll be pointing to you the area in which some very kind and good people lived,” Ais said and smiled warmly.

Carol got surprised silently after seeing Ais smiled so warmly. Then she asked seriously, “Hey, you haven’t answered my question yet.”

Ais shook her head and replied, “You’ve already seen the answer.”

Carol’s eyes widened. She paused for a while and reviewed everything she saw and heard. Then after that brief moment, she finally picked up what Ais meant and muttered sadly, “They used this mask to trigger that planted fear in our minds and hearts.”

They watched the other students holding tightly their masks. All of them looked so scared and they were all trying to guard themselves to the fullest.

“That made all the passengers focused only in their own safety thus the shadow of Philandura will never be seen.”

Ais wiped quickly her tears away and nodded.

Carol thought. We’re brainwashed. And I’m such a fool for believing that I am just living in a perfect and wonderful country. How sad that I’ve just discovered this.

They finished crossing Bloodwoods, the place where several dangerous outlaws were hiding. Ais and Carol were now watching the Giant Walmoura Barrier.

Carol’s eyes widened upon seeing the wonderful scenery.

“That long and giant mountain range protects the Cygnus Inhabitants from the outlaws living there at the Bloodwoods,” Ais said.

“Wow,” Carol muttered blankly, “Those people must be lucky. It’s as if Mother Nature knew the wretched situation they are in. And so she manifested herself there to guard and protect the Dusk Dwellers.”

Ais became silent after hearing Carol’s words. She felt so stupid because it was only then Ais realized an important thing. The thing was, she knew for so long the wretched situation they were in and yet she did nothing. She did not initiate some help for her dear friends. It was because she always relied and hoped that other people or for an instance her parents would take the step in helping them.

But they did not. Just like the King.

No one dared to take the heavy responsibility of saving those people. All of them were just busy playing blind.

Carol continued watching the long mountain range. It was when she noticed the shift in Ais’ mood and facial expression. She turned dead silent and Carol noticed that her seatmate had been staring blankly at the floor.

“Well, I guess this might take some few minutes,” Carol said and went back to her seat. She hoped for a response but Ais didn’t bother opening her mouth or even blinking her eyes.

Carol thought. You’ve changed a lot and it feels so sad that you’ve forgotten about

me… She sighed within her and continued. Why am I doing this?

Ais wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. But she couldn’t and remained playing numb and dumb.

She thought before that when the day came that she will be seeing them again, she would have the guts to feel happy. But she was wrong.

As she drew herself nearer to the Cygnus Zone, she just wanted to cry so badly. She felt every inch of guilt overtaking her back. The last memory she had with her dear friend played back perfectly in her mind leaving her a very suffocating and heavy sensation.

She wanted to break loose. But she can’t.

The guilt that ate her slowly was way powerful and firm. She could not resist or else she would just hurt herself further. So instead she calmed herself and changed gradually her thoughts.

Ais, you’ve done the right thing. There’s nothing wrong in choosing your family over them. You have your valid reason why you chose to break that promise with him. Besides, four years had passed already and he might have forgotten about you. He might have already realized that you were not his true friend. Perhaps he never wanted to see you again… So moved on, Ais…

“Hey, are you all right?” Carol finally asked and knocked softly her forehead.

Ais went back to her senses and saw Carol in front of her.

“Take a look at those people,” Carol said and went back to her kneeling position to see again those people gathering outside, “those must be the Cygnus Inhabitants.

Ais nodded and watched coldly the rejoicing crowd.

At that same moment, Zid was standing perfectly still at the edge of the rooftop. He was using his own version of telescope to see clearly the friend he was looking for. He could feel his heart beating wild and fast as he moved the telescope to scan the whole Airship. He didnt see anybody at the farthest left side of the vehicle. He

gulped and he took a deep breath. He held the telescope tightly still hoping that maybe she was seated at the farthest opposite side.

His nervousness made him unconsciously increased his speed in scanning.

Then finally something brushed his sight. He traced back quickly and there Zid smiled.

He zoomed in further and adjusted the clarity of his invention.

Zids smile died.

He stood frozen. His once gentle and glowing amber eyes widened and turned to be so empty and dark. His heart sank.

He just realized that he never prepared himself for the worst. So he was there, strangled badly by the slithering truth.

Despite the cold and intimidating glare of Ais, Zid never took his eyes away from her. He felt that there was that something beyond the gleam of her eyes. But as he tried to buy some time in deciphering that implied message, the more he realized no answers.

He felt so bad that a part of him started to feel smaller. Then a small, thin voice came and told him that the world of the rich and the poor will always go in separate ways and the gap between them will never die. It would only get bigger and wider as the years to come.

As if on cue, Ais finally diverted her gaze away from him like he was just nothing.

The precision of his telescope made him to see clearly the reality but it only brought confusion and sadness to his very heart and soul.

The cold wind blown the bluish-black hair of Zid as the rays of the sun started to tease and dance at the spot he was standing.

It was such a very rare moment when the suns rays could somehow penetrate the dark, polluted, cloudy place of the Dusk DwellersDark Paradise.

Whoah! This is so beautiful!Cara exclaimed and danced in joy.

This is the very first time Ive seen the suns rays entered this much. Could it be that the barrier here has been reduced? Zaki thought seriously. No. It couldnt be. Or else all those rich kids in that Airship would also be endangered. Maybe this is just some kind of a brief and personal welcome from the sun.

Zaki smiled and joined Cara enjoyed that special moment.

Lets go home,Zid said and left silently.

His two siblings got surprised. Cara attempted to ask his older brother about Ais but Zaki motioned her to stop.

So instead the two of them followed silently their older brother. Both were also eager to know what Zid found out.

Several people were waving their hands happily and others could not stop themselves from jumping in joy upon seeing their Airship. Carol could not believe that those people welcomed them more compared to the crowd in Chanos.

Why are they so happy despite the unfortunate situation they are in? What makes them happy? Do they think that our mere arrival here would make any better difference in their lives? Have they gone nuts?! They dont even know that only the two of us have seen them.

Carol wondered silently. Then she took a glimpse at her seatmate and noticed the restless movements of her very cold eyes. It was like Ais was searching for something or someone.

Then after a couple of seconds, Carol saw her stopped.

Carol thought. Did she find it? Or has she given up? And whats up with those cold eyes?

She wanted to know but Carol knew that it was none of her business.

Few minutes later, Ais turned back to her still expressionless.

“So that’s the Cygnus Zone which consists of six cities namely Central Crux, Zerpens, Lynx, Vella, Ursa,” Ais paused and continued, “Perxis.”

Carol thought. Tch, I dont remember asking her a question. Well, more or less you’re still you.

So I presumed those Cygnus Inhabitants must be the people whom you referred to as very kind and good,Carol said as she locked her stare to Ais.

Her eyes widened.

Carol went back to her seat and thought. See? I wonder who those special people

are…

Just then an announcement came.

“All the passengers may now remove your protective gears. We are now inside the vicinity of Shieldowrd.”

All the other passengers except Ais and Carol sighed in great relief after releasing their protective gears.

“Whoah! Finally, we’re totally safe!” Kiah exclaimed while fixing her long, rosy-pink hair.

Lance, the seatmate of Kiah smiled and nodded.

The students looked outside their windows and got shocked in awe. They saw several robots in various sizes doing busily their individual assignments. They were

also some group of people who were supervising and working in harmony with the robots.

“Wow!” Darel said, “just how did they make this?!”

“What a waste,” Ais muttered.

Carol eyed her seatmate and nodded.

“But it’s good to know that they have secured us fully and redundantly,” Carol remarked.

“For now our safety is guaranteed but what about tomorrow? Surely, this will worsen the energy crisis we are facing,” Ais said.

Carol sighed and replied, “So what are we going to do? Request the king to reduce the number of robots and this doubled barrier?”

Ais fell silent as she watched the prince and the princess talking with their cousins.

“You see? You cannot blame the king,” Carol said, “So stop worrying and be open- minded.”

Ais gulped in guilt as she understood the feeling of choosing and prioritizing one’s own family over the significant others.

“You still keep on worrying too much,” Carol murmured and closed her eyes.

After hearing those words, Ais remembered again something she could not really figure out. The feeling of familiarity over her seatmate aroused back within her.

“Carol,” Ais said.

Carol’s eyes opened and she moved slowly her eyes to her seatmate who was looking seriously back at her.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Did I say something wrong?”

Ais shook her head and smiled. As soon as she began blurting some words to Carol, the entire Airship quivered a little and a deep and thundering male voice came that covered everything what Ais said.

“Welcome to Shieldowrd Academy!”

“Oh, so we’ve come to enter the Air Gate,” Carol said while looking outside, “That explains the slight trembles of the Airship.”

Ais got irritated silently to the bad timing that interrupted her.

“By the way, what did you just say earlier?”

Ais shook her head and said, “Nothing important.”

“Okay,” Carol said and sat back.

There were some robots that guided and assisted the big, red airship to land safely

at the Multi-purpose area. All the students except Ais and Carol got more excited as

they watched their aircraft descended further. They could see from above, all classical buildings that surrounded an Assembly area covered with tight clay bricks.

A stage was set up just ahead that Assembly Area. Behind the stage was where the

great, golden clock tower stood. The flag of Philandura waved proudly at the topmost part of the tower. Just below the big circular clock was where the flag of Shieldowrd

Academy hung magnificently.

Those old-looking infrastructures remind me of my home,” Ais muttered sadly.

Carol agreed silently and said, “Either one of those two buildings in the far west can be our sleeping quarters.”

Ais sighed and said, “They’re much creepier than I thought.”

At last, the airship landed totally at the Multi-purpose area safe and sound. All the students were busy talking. Some with their old acquaintances while some with their newly found friends.

“So everyone agrees. We will set the boundaries and build our territory in that place,” the prince said, “and no one can ever set foot in it.”

All his royal-blooded relatives grinned in full agreement except for the Lacadens who just agreed half-heartedly.

“Hey Ais, just be careful. I just saw the royals grinned nastily. I think they’re up to something,” Ma-chi whispered.

Ais nodded while stealing glances to them.

A maroon bus arrived and transported the fifty students to the Assembly Area they saw previously. Few minutes after, the students got to have their lunch inside the bus.

The once, lonely wasteland of the Dusk Dwellers’ Dark Paradise in the Far East turned into a majestic training ground of the royals and nobles. It’s so sad that it did not reach the six cities of the Cygnus Zone. Ma-chi thought.

“Sir! Ms. Aisha Lesaca has just arrived safely at Shieldowrd Academy!” one of the robots reported.

“Good,” Edred said, “Now let’s resume and level up this investigation.”

All the investigating units went back immediately to their busy and crucial work. Acantha turned so pale and cold as she thought the risk they were taking. She was looking nervously at the huge computer monitor.

“Ais,” Acantha cried, “She’s still very young…”

Edred hugged her wife and he could not think of any words that would somehow comfort her. It was because deep within him, Edred could not really calm his restless soul.

“You’ve trained us the hard way,” Kei stood and went closer to the large monitor, “Life itself is a risk that you have to carry on until you die. It depends on each one of us on how we play and deal with different uncertainties that we will stumble along the way. And I believe now is the time that Ais takes part.”

Kei, it’s a shame that I am your father and yet this is just the time I’ve realized how

far you’ve grown. Edred thought and smiled.

“Aisha is in a different situation. Unllike us, she is not aware of everything which will cause her to act in a more confident and positive way.” Kei added seriously, “and it takes full composure and valor to win a very challenging game.”

Acantha wiped her tears away and watched her daughter who was walking in one line with the other students.

Ais, we’ve trained you to fight and defend yourself. It’s time for you to show us how far you’ve grown just like your older brother, Kei. Edred thought.

“After all, Ais is a pure-blooded Lesaca,” Kei said and his eyes gleamed coldly in the darkness.

The fifty students were split into five lines upon arriving at the Assembly Area. In front of them, they could see two huge buildings in both sides of the clock tower. Those buildings were well-designed and influenced by (Rococo architectural

designs…

ang Philandura ginclaim ya ang title nga Land of the Past)… Were busy looking and admiring their new environment?

Please elaborate this using your research

!Then state here nga no doubt

“This place sucks,” Jhon murmured, “though I’m so damn lucky to be here!”

“Will you shut your mouth?” Aria interrupted, “We’ve just arrived here so act appropriately.”

“Oh, I’m scared,” Jhon replied and giggled.

“Finally, I’m away from home,” both of the students said in unison.

They looked at each other with startled eyes and they laughed eventually after they familiarized each other’s faces.

“You must be Jadrien, the son of Air chief marshal Jancent Tapuro,” the guy said and offered his hand.

Jadrien nodded and shook hands with him. “And you are Elvio, the son of General Damien Sadural.”

“I know how you feel earlier,” Elvio said while looking at the great clock tower.

“Yeah, we must have shared the same childhood experience,” Jadrien replied, “although we’re like prisoners deported to another cell.”

Elvio chuckled a bit and said, “But I have to admit that this place is a bit sweeter.”

Just then, a tall old man with a wavy dirty-white hair that reached his knees came out.

“So what’s the feeling of facing your father at the stage?” Reid asked seriously.

“Alder,” Zeke said while looking at his father, “You can answer your own question.”

Reid rubbed his chin and replied, “Let me rephrase my question. What’s the

“I felt smaller,” Zeke said as he narrowed his dark blue eyes to Reid, “But proud for him.”

Reid grinned which altered shortly his constant serious-looking face.

“I bet you’re satisfied now,” Zeke said and continued watching over his father.

“Hachoo!”

“Eh? Ais?” Ma-chi whispered, “Are you okay? This is the third time you sneeze.”

“I’m okay. It’s just some people are talking behind my back,” Ais replied while rubbing her nose.

“Hey, can’t you see the Headmaster is here now?” Carol asked as she pierced her sharp eyes to Ais, “and who the hell are you talking?”

“A-aha-ha-ha,” Ais laughed fakely, “Nah, I’m just talking to myself.”

“I welcome you once again in your new and second home, the Shieldowrd Academy!” the Headmaster exclaimed happily.

The students heaved simultaneous sighs as they watched the Headmaster laughed heartily. As he moved, his long and curly grayish-white beard danced gracefully together with his very long hair.

“I didn’t know your father can laugh like that,” Reid whispered.

Zeke could not watch further and muttered, “Me neither.”

I wonder how many weeks did he practice for this. Zeke thought.

The Headmaster coughed a bit to regain his composure and said seriously, “I am your Headmaster Merlin Hacrow and behind me is the Deputy Headmaster Yves Walton.”

One of the students in the third line named Henry turned pale and cold as he glanced at his father, Yves Walton.

“You are all gathered here because of your promising skills and potentials. The whole Philandura has come to know each one of you today. So there’s no turning

back now,” Merlin said as he walked decisively at the left corner of the stage, “I’ll get this straight.”

The entire atmosphere changed drastically. More batches of grayish-black clouds piled up and covered the whole sky. It looked as though a storm was brewing but there was none really. All the students felt a chill in their spines as they waited for the Headmaster to continue.

“Tomorrow all the students will be taking the Grand Pre-Examination.”

“Whoah! For real?!” Calandra exclaimed, “Princess Cleta, this is all a bit sudden?!”

“Nope,” Cleta murmured and grinned, “This is expected.”

Calandra’s face was devastated further as she watched her cousins grinned confidently.

“Geez, I thought we will be given a sort of one week adjustment period,” Kiah said while twirling her hair.

“Oh my,” Enver said softly while covering his eyes to create some drama.

The students reacted differently. Others were very much thrilled and energized while some were so frustrated and angry. There were some who were sad and they just wanted to go home already. But a very small portion of the students chose to remain calm and one of them was Ais.

She was too focused on the last conversation she had with her father.

It was then when Headmaster Merlin continued, “The Grand Pre-Exams will measure your strengths and weaknesses in different aspects. It will also give us the ideas and first impression of what kind of students you are. And more importantly

Red Sigrun raised his hand and asked coldly, “Can you give us already the mechanics of that exam?”

“Red!” Fraco exclaimed and covered his older brother’s mouth, “I-I’m sorry Headmaster for his rude interruption.”

“Good question but we will explain the details tomorrow,” Merlin replied.

“Thank you very much,” Fraco bowed down as he also pulled Red’s head to bow down too.

“What are you!” Red yelled.

Fraco was quick in covering his brother’s mouth and he tried to fake a smile.

“So this will be a compulsory-individual exam,” Merlin continued casually as the students buzzed in a mixture of complaints and delight, “and for those students who are still not planning to take the exams, you will be locked up at the Forbyl’s dungeon for straight three days.”

The students turned silent as cold beads of sweat rolled down from their foreheads.

“The participants who will be violating the rules and regulations for tomorrow’s exam will obviously be joining with those students. And as for an additional motivation for each one of you…”

Ais could feel the atmosphere getting heavier and heavier.

The student who will get the highest score will definitely earn a reward from me,” Merlin’s smile vanished when he continued, “While those students who belong to the Bottom five will receive a corresponding punishment.”

“This is interesting,” Arrio murmured and smirked.

“Hoh? Arrio?” Jamarcus Avarone mocked, “I thought you’ve lost your guts?!”

Arrio lift his fist right away but fortunately Earl Avarone stopped him.

“Get hold of yourselves!” Earl exclaimed.

Prince Edison and Princess Cleta were grinning excitedly outside. They were hiding the fact that a vast amount of fear was already overtaking within them.

“That’s all for now,” Merlin said, “Have a good day and?

There was a brief pause when the right word came to the Headmaster’s mind. “Enjoy!” was all he could think and say.

“There’s no way we could enjoy this,” Fraco whispered.

Henry heard him and replied whispering, “I agree with you…”

“Hello students!”

All the students got surprised to see a friendly-looking seven foot tall, female robot in front of them. The robot was dressed in a pastel-colored ice skating outfit. She was still smiling cutely though she knew the students found it so awkward because of her height. She sighed silently and coughed a bit to make herself ready in giving a brief self-introduction.

“My name is Skates!” she exclaimed and spin herself gracefully which made some students smiled and got impressed, “and I will be one who will orient and tour you today!”

“Wow,” Catherine, a soft-spoken young lady said, “H-her skates emitted some shining dust particles…”

Skates glided happily to Catherine’s group then she flew quickly to the entire remaining students.

“I love her skates,” Azzra said blankly as she chased the robot by her eyes, “Can I have them?”

“How can her skates emit something like that?” Agatha asked softly.

Skates heard clearly what Agatha said from a far and she giggled. The robot glided swiftly towards the girl and she patted Agatha’s head softly when Ivan Berret came closer and said lazily, “Hey, I’m so freakin’ tired now so let’s get started and finish this already.”

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Skates said and glided back at the stage, “now students join me in shouting ‘S.A. Device’!”

All the students shouted the words S.A. Deviceand a pinned golden name plate appeared in each of the student’s neckline.

“H-how did it happen?” Agatha said with bewildered eyes, “h-how can she move that fast and have this pinned to us?!”

“Simply because she’s a robot!” Amber replied proudly, “a magical work of Science!”

Zeke gasped upon hearing those familiar words from Amber then he asked himself

silently, That Amber, just where the hell did she learn it? Her last statement is one of my father’s favorite original quotations!

Reid narrowed his eyes to Amber and muttered, “I was at the verge of throwing a big laugh in her first statement when she caught me off guard and killed me right on the spot by her next statement.”

“Tch, that’s just a coincidence,” Zeke replied, “and what’s up with this bunch of idiots? I can’t believe they still haven’t realized that the name plates were already given during the final inspection stage.”

“Yeah,” Reid agreed and grinned, “I bet Shieldowrd’s gonna have a tough time in teaching these morons.”

“Excuse me, gentlemen but you don’t have to generalize all the students here,” Luis Hames said decently, “and you do not have the slightest credibility and power to judge how far we, your classmates can reach.”

Zeke and Reid were put to silence but their eyes seemed to talk back something.

“So ‘S.A. Device’ is the magic word to deactivate its invisibility mode?” Eric said in a way that only Luis, Zeke and Reid can hear, “Hah, that even still gave me a hard time when exactly did that last robot pin me this name plate? The robot made it looked as though he was only scanning but actually he was just waiting for the right timing to pin this.

Zeke and Reid knew what the guy was doing and yet they chose to remain silent and a little bit patient.

“And how are you supposed to discover it? I guess by the soft, clicking sound of it, you’ll able to hear something? Or it could be that you can feel the slightest touch of it in your neckline? Or just by intuition? Or just some background knowledge?”

Hearing those last words made Zeke and Reid gritted their teeth in anger.

“Well most of us here don’t have that skills by now and that’s the main reason why we’re here,” Eric said, “And I guess all of us here basically know that it doesn’t mean that when you’re a noble or a royal it will also follow that you are already a genius and a skilled person.”

“Hey,” Zeke said with his eyes shadowed in deep anger, “Whom are you talking to?”

Eric got startled and said in a trembling voice, “I-I’m sorry but I was just talking to myself!”

Reid said seriously, “Tell me, what crazy tricks you did for you to get qualified here.”

Reid Alder, that’s enough,” Luis interrupted.

You better learn to control that loud mouth of yours, Eric Verrill” Zeke muttered seriously, “Or else I will be the one who will lock that up.”

Eric was still stunned when Reid added, “Insane people get expelled here so you better be careful, dupe.”

“That was super amazing!” Yasuo exclaimed and laughed, “I wish I could have that speed someday!”

All the other students didn’t know the conflict that happened to Zeke and Reid against Luis and Eric. Skates continued to amaze the students except for Carol and Ais who started to get so tired and annoyed.

“Okay! So before others get to be more upset, I would like you to follow me in a single file for your tour!” Skates exclaimed as she jumped down the stage.

The students moved excitedly back to the previous maroon bus they took. It was already three o’clock in the afternoon when they started their tour in Shieldowrd Academy.

“Attention everyone!” Skates exclaimed, “Now I am going to explain to you the importance of your name plates.”

“Really?!” Jhon gasped, “I-I thought this is just for identification purposes?!”

“Before!” Skates said, “But in this century, this name plate serves various features that losing this will make your lives so miserable here.”

“Wah! I’ve just lost my name plate!” Ace cried, “My life is going to be misera

“S.A. Device,” few intelligent students muttered.

Skates laughed and said, “Good job for those students who have analyzed and understood their device!”

“Oi, why does this have to be invisible?” Ace said in a very annoyed voice.

“Are you really that dumb?!” Zeta yelled finally, “its invisibility mode will help it protect our name plates from people who are planning to steal it from us!”

“Oh, I see,” Ace said in love-love eyes, “thank you so much for telling me. Now I know!”

Zeta is right. Your name plate stores important records about your identity and this academy so it is very important to limit its visibility.”

“This name plate is only visible for ten seconds,” Chandice said as she pressed her stopwatch, “How can we alter this default setting?”

“You will see at the back portion of your name plate, a sliding switch,” Skates said as she started checking the students in her left and right side.

“Slide that switch to the right and flip back your name plate. A red light is going to appear just at the middle and right above your engraved full name.”

“Skates, the red light did blink thrice but it got steady now,” Yuri asked softly, “What am I going to do next?”

“Hold your name plate that way and scan only one of your eyes.”

“Ms. Aisha Lesaca, welcome to Shieldowrd Academy,” a female computer voice came which signaled the name plate to split in horizontal halves and a holographic screen appeared like a tablet.

Ais got shocked a bit at the computer’s voice and she became amazed when some icons popped up one by one on the holographic screen. She touched the Contacts icon and a complete list of her classmates and teachers appeared.

Why are the Headmaster and his deputy not in this list of contacts? Ais thought.

It was such a great timing when Skates began to explain, “The Headmaster and his deputy are not in your list of contacts because all your school concerns will be directed to your Second Masters. But expect that each one of you will be contacted anytime by the Headmaster and his deputy.”

“That’s a bit unfair,” Darnell mumbled.

The students continued exploring their new device. They realized how important the device was. It contained the school’s manual about the usage of school facilities and properties, the Shieldowrd Academy’s map and its rules and regulations.

“Your S.A. Device will inform you immediately about the latest news and updates of Shieldowrd Academy’s important events, high-ranking students of the month and the like,” Skates said ardently.

The royals together with some students grinned silently. They were very interested to be ranked as the top performing student of Shieldowrd Academy.

Skates observed quietly the students and smiled. She knew Philandura would soon have her newly-bred of brilliant and skillful sons and daughters.

“A complete set of your notes will be uploaded right after you class discussions. But as per the additional notes of your Second Masters, it is one of your duties as students to take them down by yourselves,” Skates said and winked cutely.

“All right!” a group of high-spirited students yelled.

“That’s the spirit students!” Skates exclaimed happily as she raised her hand to cheer them.

Just then, a deep, brief honk of the bus came. All the students saw a huge, haunted- looking manor outside.

“So that magnificent building is the Males’ Sleeping Quarters,” Skates explained while pointing her finger to the said building.

Fraco, Henry and Frank shared the same feeling of uneasiness. They all wondered why they had to build the manor in a creepier way. Enver, on the other hand cried silently in desolation. He was imagining himself sleeping with some filthy

cockroaches, bugs and by morning some cute, little rodents would welcome and make friends with him.

Now what’s going to happen with my handsome looks?! Enver exclaimed in his

mind.

While Enver continued imagining himself covered with some dusts and cobwebs and the other three frightened students, Fraco, Henry and Frank were still under self-pity, all the courageous males grinned wickedly as they thought of the same thing. The

creepier, the merrier.

After few minutes, they arrived at the Females’ Sleeping Quarters which appeared to have similar creepy features. This time, Kiah Ricks joined Enver Mattix in mourning for the impending disaster that was going to ruin their most precious, attractive selves.

Zeta sighed in disgust and muttered, “Another duo of narcissists.”

“Okay students!” Skates exclaimed and continued seriously, “We expect you to read in your S.A. Device all the things you need to know about this academy. That obviously includes the rules and regulations of this school.”

The students listened attentively to Skates as she continued in a slow and serious manner, “Each one of you is well-monitored here. All facilities and buildings are embedded with SPECS. Those are considered to be a vast number of microcomputers that would spectate and record every move you will take. Not anyone of you will see them by your naked eyes since they are just the size of very minute specks of dust.”

“That violates our right to privacy,” Lyan said bravely.

“The Shieldowrd Academy has stipulated everything in the contract and an ample amount of time was given for your parents to think and choose the best decision for

you,” Skates said, “In the end, they signed the contract which implies that they have agreed to those terms and conditions that the Academy had set.”

“I see,” Lyan said seriously, “it pains me, whenever I think of my parents allowing this kind of humiliation.”

Some of the students could not grasp what Lyan was pointing out so they started to ask others who did understand what he meant. While the students were still busy talking and explaining their own insights, Lyan stood and asked seriously, “Since all the buildings and facilities are embedded with SPECS, does that even include watching us pooping and urinating?”

“Whoah?! That’s amazing!” Ace exclaimed after he thought of something dirty.

“That’s crazy!” Zeta yelled angrily, “We cannot allow something like that!”

Ais clenched her fists angrily as she waited for Skates to answer. She wanted to speak but she did not want to just explode and try anything stupid that would stain the Lesaca’s name. She tried to calm her silent anger when Sarah Kuper stood and held Lyan’s collar harshly. “Don’t drag down the Shieldowrd Academy to your pathetic level of thinking,” Sarah muttered angrily while looking fiercely at Lyan.

“That’s enough,” Prince Edison interrupted, “let’s just hear the answer from Skates.” Sarah sat back but her eyes were still sealed to Lyan who did not look so bothered and scared.

Skates tried to smile and said, “There are certain types of SPECS. The most common are those which can literally watch, hear and record your every move. The SPECS that are embedded in your bedrooms and comfort rooms are some living chips and sensors that would only detect anyone who would do something suspicious inside. Whenever those sensors detected a possible threat, it would send signals to notify directly the Control Room.”

Lyan sighed in great relief and said, “So those SPECS in the CR’s and our bedrooms are just some detectors while those SPECS that are located outside are more like surveillance cameras with live audio recorders.”

Skates nodded and said, “So please be careful everyone. Always remember that any wrong single move will lock you in that building’s dungeon.”

“The Forbyl’s dungeon,” Ais muttered.

The students felt a shiver in their neck when they reached the four story building called Forbyl. Compared with the students’ sleeping quarters, Forbyl appeared to be more normal.

“Okay let’s stop here for a while,” Skates said and motioned the students to stand up.

They went inside the building and they saw a very warm and inviting cafeteria. The smell of brewed coffee filled the whole place. Just then five robots came and distributed each student a cup of coffee.

“This tastes good,” Calandra said after taking a sip.

“Who would have thought this building has a scary dungeon,” Cleta said, “Oh, by the way, just look over there. The Lesaca is all alone by herself.”

“Yeah, and she looked so pathetic!” Calandra exclaimed and laughed.

Ais knew that some students were talking behind her back but she tried to ignore them. She was enjoying alone at the farthest table since Carol went with Catherine Locke, daughter of one of the business associates of the Skylers.

“This coffee would taste even better if,” Ais broke it off and said, “What am I saying!”

“Hey, Ais are you all right?” Ma-chi whispered.

Ais smiled a bit and sipped her coffee. I’m still with Ma-chi. She thought.

They finished their coffee break at around five in the afternoon. They went upstairs to see their classrooms in the second and third floors. There they saw their lecture room, the science laboratory, computer center and the like. In the fourth floor they saw a very advanced library. Rows of individual study desks surrounded the Academy’s Robot Librarian reception area. The study desks held a touch-screen computer inside that was used to search easily the needed digital books. Beyond the individual study desks were five long wooden rectangular tables with ten chairs each table. A door could be seen behind the group study area. That door led to a dim-lit room of thick crystallized shelves of digital books. Every edge of the shelves emitted a glowing blue color and at the right bottom of every shelf was a controller. It was where the code of the digital book should be keyed in.

Eh? There was another door at the far west corner. Ais told herself.

Curiosity crept into her and she decided to go there someday.

“Okay guys! Let’s go now,” Skates said and signaled the students to move out.

Skates led the students back to the maroon bus and some of them sighed in relief because Skates were not able to bring them at the Forbyl’s dungeon. But there were some students who got frustrated silently because they were curious to know how scary the dungeon looked like.

“It’s now darker outside,” Ais muttered sadly and leaned her elbow to the bus windowsill.

“So it’s dinner time!” Skates said, “Rest yourselves a bit because few minutes from now all of you will be having your dinner at the Headmaster’s Dining hall. But unfortunately the Headmaster will not be joining you in the dinner because of some important matters.”

“That’s okay, were going to enjoy with just ourselves anyway!” Jhon exclaimed and laughed loudly.

“Yeah right!” Ace agreed and laughed with him.

Sarah Kuper looked at them angrily that made Ace to space out with his love fantasies and Jhon to laugh even louder.

Most of the students were getting more comfortable with each other except for Ais who was getting homesick.

“I missed them already,” Ais whispered sadly, “Star, Sky and everyone… I wonder if how well they are.”

Ma-chi said nothing when Ais whispered, “I wish… I wish I could talk again with my parents and Kei…”

Ma-chi could not answer the young lady because Carol Skyler was standing and looking behind her.

“Getting homesick already?” Carol asked seriously from behind.

Ais wiped quickly the tears that were about to form and replied, “What are you talking about?”

“Don’t be so pathetic,” Carol said and before she walked away she muttered to Ais, “Back up the words you’ve yelled at Chanos.”

Ais remembered clearly everything that she had yelled earlier. It was a promise that she intended to keep for her family.

Ma-chi smiled and thanked Carol silently. Those were the words he wanted to tell and comfort Ais.

They did not notice that their vehicle was able to pass already the mini paradise of Shieldowrd Academy called Paragon. It was the said place where the Royal students namely the Avarones and Lacadens agreed to set their territory there. After few minutes, they were able to go back and stopped at the left side of the assembly area.

They were more captivated by the great, golden clock tower. It was sprinkled with several small bulb lights that shone magnificently in a clear and peaceful night. They left the bus at exactly six-thirty in the evening. As they walked to the Admin’s building, they could already see the well-lighted halls past them.

“I wonder what kind of foods they’re going to serve!” Raegan exclaimed as he rubbed his two hands in excitement.

“Yeah, I can smell the foods already!” Jadrien said after he wiped some saliva in his mouth.

“Eew! What’s wrong with these cheap people?” Kiah said and shrieked.

“I wonder what kind of upbringing their parents had to them,” Enver whispered to Kiah.

“I’m surprise to hear that from you, Mr. Enver,” Elvio said and smiled from behind the two classy students, “but I guess telling you the kind of upbringing we had would not make you believe me and worst it will just ruin this spectacular night of yours.”

Enver got shocked and a bit scared but he managed to regain his composure and said, “But I never remembered wondering the kind of upbringing you had?”

Elvio gave up a friendly laugh and said, “But Jadrien and I had almost the same kind of upbringing.”

Enver raised his left eyebrow and said, “Excuse me but we’re not that interested.”

Kiah added, “Let’s go now Enver before we got contaminated from their inelegance.”

After the two went away, Elvio said, “Wow, how rude…”

“Just ignore those two because we’re here now to feast!” Jadrien exclaimed.

A

small orchestra played automatically the music for the grand welcome celebration

of

the Shieldowrd Academy students. Everything was prepared exquisitely and no

wonder all the students were deeply amazed.

This way students!” Skates said as she glided off.

Though the students could not take away their eyes from the splendor of the place; they could still feel the smooth and softness of the red carpet beneath their shoes. The joyful music of the orchestra made most of the students to feel so alive. The delicious mixed scent of the foods scattered around the dining hall drove some of the students to eat though they were not that so hungry.

Ais found her seat at the farthest end of the long table. She sat quietly but her mind was so restless and still full of thoughts. She could not fully appreciate all the good and amazing things she had in Shieldowrd Academy because of that sickening thing she had done. As she recalled it in her mind, she could not help herself but to close her eyes and pinch her hand secretly. In that way, the pain would continue to hold the tears.

E-excuse me, M-Ms. L-Lesaca, are you okay?” the girl beside her asked in a trembling voice.

She narrowed her eyes coldly to Aleine, a very timid girl who mostly preferred to be quiet.

Ais was not aware of her action not until Aleine got startled and became frightened at her. Ais sighed silently. She knew that she was really bad at giving first impressions to other people.

The students continued eating and after several minutes they started talking with each other while others chose to relax quietly.

Ais was busy looking around. She wanted to see Skates so that she could proceed ahead at the Females’ Sleeping Quarters. But unfortunately, she heard Cleta babbling about getting-to-know-each-other stuff so Ais got stuck there for another long period of time.

That spoiled brat always gets into my way. Ais thought angrily.

“I suppose all of you have come to know our names because we’re part of the Royal bloodline so we would like to seize this moment in getting to know all of you,” Cleta said happily.

Most of the students agreed and there were few students like Ais who just wanted to move out and rest at their bedrooms.

“Let’s make this a little bit more interesting,” Prince Edison said as he stood.

“Sure!” Cleta exclaimed, “What’s your suggestion my dear big brother?”

After we introduce ourselves, we might as well include our own reason why we are here in this academy,” Edison said and smiled.

Ais thought briefly and she was able to realize the reason why she was at that academy.

“That’s a brilliant idea my dear big brother!” Cleta said and clapped her hands, “I think everyone is very happy with that suggestion so let’s start off with you my beloved cousin, Arrio.”

Arrio stood proudly and said, “I’m Arrio Lacaden. The reason that I’m here is to simply have some adventure and fun!”

Other students who got the same reason with Arrio smiled while all his cousins looked angrily at him.

“H-hello everyone, I’m Arrio’s little sister, Acelin Lacaden. My big brother and I have the same reason but he forgot to mention earlier that we’re here to support our cousins most especially Prince Edison and Princess Cleta.”

Acelin’s cousins smiled dearly at her that forced her to make a fake chuckle.

“Why the hell did you do that?” Arrio muttered angrily, “Edison asked about our own reason so there was nothing wrong in my answer.”

Acelin did not answer and pretended that she was focusing to other students who started introducing themselves.

Ivan Berret, Darel Breton, Edric Frakes, Jhon Tacder and Ace Wagner were the students who shared the same reason with Arrio. There were loud, simple-minded, mostly arrogant and easy-go-lucky students who always love to enjoy and live life to the fullest.

A slight mix of irritation and envy came to Ais as she observed those students. Then

a thing passed through her mind that she began examining her own life. Just when

did she enjoy and live her life to the fullest?

Jadrien Tapuro and Elvio Sadural stood together. All the students wondered why they have to stand together. It was as if the two were putting for a show. Ais came back to her senses when Jadrien exclaimed, “I am Jadrien Tapuro and this is my best friend!”

Elvio got shocked after Jadrien patted his shoulder but he was also happy to know that Jadrien recognized him already as his best friend. Elvio chuckled together with his classmates as he also patted his friend’s shoulder.

“You heard it right,” Elvio said, “I’m his best friend, Elvio Sadural.”

“And we are here to enjoy this semi-freedom!” the two exclaimed in unison and raised their hands.

How can they treat each other as best friends that fast? Ais thought while watching her two classmates laughing. And what’s with that Semi-freedom?

“To exude our beauty to the world!” Kiah exclaimed as she stood confidently.

“and to spread out pure elegance to the entire human race!” Enver added as he gestured his hands with great conviction.

“I am Kiah Ricks!”

“and I am Enver Mattix!”

“and we are the Guardians of Beauty!” the two shouted in unison while standing hand in hand.

All the students fell in an awkward silence when Zeta Emerson stood and said, “I’m Zeta Emerson and I’ve come to realize now why I am here.”

Kiah and Enver got so angry because they were ignored. The rest of the students got shocked and diverted their attention to Zeta who knocked the table hard.

“I am here to get rid” Zeta said, “I mean discipline all the students to refrain from becoming narcissists, flirting and getting involved in any perverted acts!”

Ais smiled within her. She admired the bravery and verdict Zeta showed.

“What’s wrong with you?!” the twins asked angrily as they stood together to fortify their side, “Who told you that flirting is really that bad?!”

“Excuse me ladies, before you start any argument, can you please calm down and introduce yourselves first then state the reason why you are here,” Prince Edison interrupted.

The twins calmed down instantly after the Prince said so. Then with their hearts beating fast the elder started, “I am Cera Flynn and this is my younger twin sister.”

“A-Akako Flynn!” the other continued.

“Both of us are here to find true love!” the twins exclaimed together. Their eyes were filled with passion and excitement.

“Ladies! Come to me and I will give you true love!” Ace exclaimed as he ran towards the twins.

“Sorry but you are not part in our list for consideration,” the twins said as they turned him off.

Ace felt his heart broke into pieces. He fell to his knees and started crying, “This is just my first day in this academy yet I got busted already…”

So these are the hope of Philandura? Ais asked herself while watching again the heated argument between Zeta and the Flynns. Is this academy really good enough

to change this bunch of weirdos and idiots?

Ais thought of the grim consequences if that kind of students will become the future leaders of Philandura. She clenched her fists angrily and got to her feet. Then she found herself walked away without a word.

“Lesaca, where are you going?” Cleta asked, “We’re not yet done here.”

All the students sealed their attention to Ais. They were all waiting for her most appropriate excuse. But her anger and impatience turned them down as she replied, I chose to stay here because of my family and for the whole Philandura.”

Some of the students laughed at the back of their minds. They didn’t expect a noble answer from her. But there were also a number of quiet students who secretly got struck in awe. Then Ais continued, “I presume each one of you have come to understand that we will be the next leaders of this country. Thus, I also believe that you have come here to accept that future responsibility.”

“Of course we all know that!” Cleta shouted and was shocked to find herself reacting that way. A drop of sweat broke down in her right ear as she chuckled and said, “I-I mean we should not forget to have some free time for ourselves! Remember, we can be more efficient and productive when we are in good condition.”

“Just for a friendly advice for each one of you,” Ais said, “Go out if you think that we’re just playing games here.”

Her classmates were speechless. The sharpness of her words hit precisely both of their pride and consciousness. Her words created a rift between the students. On the left side of the rift, were the students who took her words positively. But too bad, they were just afraid to stand up and join her. On the opposite side were those students who simply cared for their pride. The painful bruise Ais left to their pride was much unbearable. They never expected that a fellow student would start lecturing things and would act as if she was the most superior among them.

The students watched Ais faded into the dark. Then there was a brief and total silence among them. Several thoughts crowded their minds. They didn’t know how to sort them fast and convert those to words.

Until then, one student stood and decided to give up. He yawned as if nothing happened and said, “It’s getting late. We better rest ourselves and prepare for tomorrow’s Grand Pre-Examination.”

It was Zeke. He was one of the students who got stuck at the right side of the rift.

Carol Skyler caught an unusual grin drew to his face. She passed through him and

thought, You’re still not friendly, Ais. Just look what you’ve done to them. But I’m pretty impressed on how frank you are now.

Ais was walking along the dark corridors. She could still feel her entire body shaking in rage. She gritted after she recalled the piercing looks of her classmates to her.

“I don’t care anymore,” Ais muttered blankly, “I-I don’t care what my classmates think of me now.”

Ma-chi heard her clearly but he chose to remain silent.

“I’m impressed Ms. Aisha Lesaca,” a female voice came behind her.

Ais turned around and saw Skates smiling at her. She was holding several key chains. Attached to those were cute-looking vehicles that kept on swinging back and forth as Skates moved her hands.

I was pissed-off totally so those words came out,” Ais said, “It was nothing to be impressed about.”

Skates smiled further and threw one of the key chains to Ais. After the young girl caught the key chain, Skates said before she left, “But anyway, I still want to thank you.

She’s not listening at all, Ais thought while looking blankly at the key chain she was holding.

“Shucks! I forgot to ask her about this!” Ais exclaimed.

Ma-chi sighed and he finally broke his silence as he whispered, “S.A. Device.”

It was then she remembered the purpose of her S.A. Device. Ais called it immediately and did again the instructions they were told to do. After she accessed the device, she skimmed over several icons and found the Manuals Icon. She pressed it and a female computer voice came. It offered Ais different categories arranged in alphabetical order. She went over the Transportation category and she saw icons of different vehicles. At the rightmost corner of the first row was the icon of the key chain.

Ais pressed that icon and the computer said, “S.V. 0725, student vehicle of Ms. Aisha Lesaca.

Then several options popped up in the holographic screen and Ais pressed the demo icon. She watched carefully the video and few minutes after, Ais applied what she learned. First, she closed the holographic screen to turn back the device in its name plate form.

Then, she pressed a small button located at the rear end of the miniature vehicle attached at the key chain. A small rectangular port with thickness that was good for the name plate to fit in opened. Ais inserted her name plate there. The miniature vehicle lighted its edges and the name plate popped out. Ais got her name plate back and she threw the miniature vehicle in about three meters away from her. Finally the vehicle assembled itself in its bigger form.

Ais did not know her mouth opened slightly in awe as she watched the car unfolded its roof to complete its transformation. She went closer and studied its looks and features for a brief moment. As soon after she touched the hood of the car, its doors opened automatically. She entered the car and a computer voice welcomed her.

Ais noticed that the vehicle was good for one passenger only so losing her personal vehicle would also bring doom. She shook her head as she selected the point of destination, the Females’ Sleeping Quarters. The car received the order and departed.

Ais was looking outside the windshield. She wondered why there were no students around. Then a sudden chill crept in her body as she watched the stillness of the night. She wished the soft sounds of the running engine were loud enough to ease the eerie, quiet atmosphere.

Just then, her vehicle stopped. The doors opened automatically and she got out. The vehicle shrank instantly that startled Ais.

“Whoa!” Ais reacted as she caught the key chain.

She turned to her side and saw two eleven footer robots stationed in both sides of a huge, gothic door. Ais knew they were scanning her so she called out her S.A. Device to further authenticate her identity. The robots recognized her and they did not detect any suspicious threat so they let her in.

Ais sighed silently in relief as she entered the mysterious-looking building. An empty lounge area appeared in front of her. The big chandelier hanged at the center gave off a gloomy dimmed light. Behind the lounge area were two archways that housed darkness. Ais could hear the wild beatings of her heart. Only her echoing footsteps could be heard as she tried to look on where to go. Ais opened her S.A. Device and discovered her room number, F10. The device gave her the direction on where to find the only entrance that will lead to her room.

She found herself stopped in a strange, small, old-looking chamber. A small electrical lamp mounted at the stone wall was enough to illuminate a golden light in that narrow room. Ais was getting more frightened so she put her right hand immediately at the security scanner. Just then she heard a low grinding noise that caused the whole chamber to tremble. Ais was totally shocked and frightened to think properly. Before she got back to her senses the stone wall flipped and pushed her out.

The rude impact brought her to her knees. She felt numb and after a couple of seconds Ma-chi exclaimed as he transformed back to his original form, “At last!”

Ma-chi jumped at the thick, middle-sized bed and called Ais who was still in her knees.

“Oi Ais!” Ma-chi called while suiting himself in the softness of the bed, “Why are you not answering me? I’ve told you already that this room is free from any hidden cameras and audio recorders.

“That hurt!” Ais yelled while rubbing her knees, “Who the hell did that stupid passageway?!”

Ais wanted to kick the wall but she could not move her feet properly. Ma-chi sighed and went to help her. Then the robot muttered calmly, “That’s what gonna happen to slow thinkers like you.”

“What?! Me?Slow?!” Ais asked, “I’m not a slow thinker! I was just

“What?” Ma-chi asked as he narrowed his eyes to her.

Ais forgot to finish her sentence when she finally noticed the looks of her room. It was a simple, average-sized, concrete room with no windows and there was only one door going to the comfort room. She rolled her eyes to realize that the previous entrance she just took was also the only way out of her room.

“You must have prepared yourself already for the worst instead of losing to fear! Did you forget the things you’ve studied in your training?” Ma-chi continued lecturing her.

“I remember it but I’m just a normal person who also gets shocked and scared,Ais replied while customizing her room in her S.A. Device.

“If you always resort in that excuse then the same thing will happen to you for tomorrow’s Pre-exams.”

“Tch, tomorrow’s different,” Ais said in a more serious, lower tone.

Ma-chi was about to argue some more when Ais enabled the artificial windows option that stunned her for a moment.

Her eyes widened a little as she watched in a big screen the live feed of the entire outside view of her room. In the farthest distance, Ais could see few lighted houses of the place that was very close to her heart. Warm tears started to form in her eyes

but she stopped them directly. She yawned to hide perfectly the real reason why there were some tears in her eyes.

“We should sleep now,” Ais said after she yawned and stretched her body.

Ma-chi was only looking at her. He fully understood the reason behind her tears but he chose to ride on her play.

“Yeah,” was all he could say and forced himself to sleep and recharge himself automatically.

Ais turned off the lights and went to her bed. She lied down and poured out all the tears she hid carefully. She moaned within her. It was too difficult to cry silently. All she could do was to wipe again and again the raging flood of tears. She could not breathe well because of the pain and guilt that were drowning her much.

It’s true that I’m with so many people now… But how ironic that I still felt so alone…

Ais thought as she watched sadly the innocent city lights of the Cygnus Zone that continued blinking in that cold and peaceful, dark night. She closed her tearful eyes and flashes of vivid memories about that special place came back to her. She could not help herself but to smile as she heard some familiar, resonating voices calling her name. Ais could not ever forget that first fateful meeting that brought change in her insights about life. It was when she met her friend, Zid.

CHAPTER 2 ―”The Seed of Change: When Zid found the Girl…”

April 24, 2211

“Catch!” the boy yelled as he threw the paper bag carefully, “Zid!”

His bluish black hair bounced as he jumped and caught the bag easily. “Got it!”

“Be safe Zid!” the boy cried and jumped off to an open manhole.

“You, three! Pursue that Zelimir!” the leader ordered, “While the rest of us here will handle Zid!”

“Roger that!” the three minions separated and entered the manhole.

“You know now on what to do!” Zaros yelled.

His four members divided into two pairs. The first two went ahead north while the other pair went to the opposite side. Zaros and his right hand continued chasing Zid.

“You’re about to meet your end, Zid!” Zaros yelled, “So just give up now!”

Zid sighed and muttered, “That leaves me one choice…”

Zid bent quickly and adjusted to loosen and removed the outsoles of his boots.

“That’s it Zid! Accept your defeat!” Zaros exclaimed and laughed.

Zid gulped nervously after checking the second layer of outsoles attached with compressed springs. He then spread his feet and clutched the flush-looking handle located in both sides of his boots.

Then he muttered, “I hope this will not be my end.”

Before Zaros group could surround him completely, Zid pulled up the handle that instantly released the springs and shot him so high.

“Gyah!” Zid screamed in mid-air, “Help!!!”

His enemies laughed at him as he watched him struggling in the air.

“Damn this!” Zid cried and grinned at the back of his mind as he watched the safe landing spot they prepared a week ago.

Zaros stopped from laughing and shook his head. Then he grinned and said, “Another idiot died.”

His right hand said before he laughed, “May he rest in peace!”

“Yeah! And oh!” the other added, “In one piece too!”

They laughed together after they imagined how broken would Zid’s state be.

Just then, Zaros was shocked to see a pile of garbage bags falling from the building’s rooftop. They tried running away but they were too late. They got stuck and covered with a mountain of garbage bags.

“So who’s the idiot now?” Zid asked loudly and laughed.

“You’ll pay for this, Zid!” Zaros yelled.

“But for now, just enjoy the smell idiots!” Zid yelled below and left laughing.

Zaros and his group howled angrily as they watched their enemy walked away victoriously.

“Well, it’s time to go home,” Zid said and used again his invention.

The spring wind continued to support him in his flight. The rays of the sun took a glimpse of his delighted face when he jumped again for the next building. He could feel the soft touch of the breads inside the bag. Though their warmth was already fading, Zid could still smell their delicious scent. He smiled after he thought of his dear family waiting for him.

But that smile faded gradually after he saw several people below who were still gathering at the Town Circle of the Central Crux. A lot of them were still waiting for their turn in the King’s quarterly rations.

He diverted his gaze away from the scene below. His weary heart and soul could not bear any longer the longstanding pain of poverty. He let out a long, heavy sigh and tried to recover. As much as possible, he had to leave behind all negative emotions before he arrived home. Zid went on moving forward carrying a spark of hope in his heart.

“I’m getting so hungry now,” Cara said and her stomach rumbled.

Her second older brother, Zaki, stood and clenched his fists as he muttered, “I’m gonna rip him apart if he still screwed this.”

Aine their five year old youngest sister cried loudly after Zaki said those harsh words. Cara got upset and rebuked her brother. Before their conversation got worse, they heard Zelimir in their communication radio.

“Zil repeat,” Zaki said on the receiver.

“Zid’s at 2 o’clock,” Zelimir said, “The coast is clear.”

“But do not go back here not until Zid reach the safest zone,” Zaki replied.

“Roger that,” Zelimir said and cut their conversation.

Cara smiled silently to Zaki. She was happy to know that her second older brother was also concerned for their eldest brother, Zid.

Meanwhile, Zaros’ three minions went back to the narrow alley. They were all nervous because they failed to capture Zelimir. They were not yet prepared to face the wrath of their boss.

Upon reaching the said place, they were more frightened and shocked to find their boss stuck in a pile of big garbage bags. They went hurriedly to rescue Zaros and their co-members.

“Jared’s gonna kill us,” one stuck member said.

“Shut up!” Zaros yelled as he struggled to get out, “Make it quick, idiots!”

As soon as Zaros got out totally he went to the three rescuers and kicked them.

“Shameless fools! You can’t still handle that midget?!” Zaros shouted and muttered seriously, “Here’s the real deal. I’m gonna kill each one of you if you cannot find Zid before the sun sets.

“B-but Boss, where do we start looking for them?”

Zaros palmed his face and muttered, “Do you want me to kill you now?”

Five members of his group got scared and started to advance when Zaros’ right hand shrilled, “Wait!”

Zaros turned his back and looked fiercely at his right hand.

“B-boss, y-you have to see this,” he said to Zaros nervously while pointing to his right.

Hoh? A new fish,” Zaros whispered and grinned, “Let’s change plans.”

The poor kid in a black hood continued vomiting at the corner while Zaros’ group started encircling her.

“Run!” a soft voice came from the shoulder bag of the black hooded kid.

“What the?!” a member yelled and chased the escaping kid, “How did he know it?!”

“Stop asking questions!” Zaros yelled and muttered, “This is going to be a big catch.”

“What an amazing speed he has!” his right hand exclaimed, “We’ve got to recruit him, boss!”

“I know,” Zaros replied and grinned.

The kid doubled her speed and said, “What’s wrong with this place?! Why are they after me?!”

“For now just focus on escaping! We’re dead if they find who you are,” the shoulder bag replied.

This is bad. We can’t certainly use the Cuby to escape at Perxis. The kid thought.

“So where do we go now, Ma-chi?! Left or right?” the kid asked.

“Go left!”

Two other members of Zaros were approaching on that direction so they went back to the right.

“Shucks! They’re going to trap us!” the kid said while tightening her hood.

“Fighting them back is the only choice left,” Ma-chi muttered.

Zaros’ group succeeded in trapping the kid at the back of an old evacuation building. They were grinning and laughing to each other for the completed mission.

“Hello there,” Zaros started as he moved closer to his catch, “You surrender to us and we’ll make you our member.”

Instead of replying, the kid raised her two fists and prepared to fight.

“Whoah! So you would rather choose death?!” Zaros yelled and laughed as he swayed his big metal pipe, “What a smart decision!”

All members laughed so hard together with their boss not until a pebble hit exactly the forehead of Zaros.

“One versus Nine? That’s unfair!” someone shouted.

“Zid!” the members yelled angrily while looking around to find him.

“Where the hell are you?!” Zaros yelled, “Weakling!”

“Over here!” Zid yelled and signed his thumb down.

Right after the whole gang noticed him at the rooftop of the old evacuation building, Zelimir who was just hiding at the corner of the other smaller building threw five smoke grenades that confused them briefly.

“My eyes!!!” one member screamed in pain and coughed after inhaling a large amount of smoke.

Zaros walked angrily towards his captive. He was like a blind, coughing old man looking for his lost grandson when all of a sudden an outburst of shout and shock wave came that cleared shortly the dense smoke.

“Eh?!” Zaros reacted after catching a glimpse of Zid rocketed highly with the black hooded kid, “No!”

While all the members started walking around and touched each other’s faces, Zaros ran desperately to escape the thick smoke. He reached the nearby intersection of the unused road. His eyes were all watery and hurt. He was breathing relentlessly and his anger intensified the excretion of sweat in his body.

“I will never forget this humiliation!” Zaros yelled at the sky, “Zid Tacata!”

“Kyaaaaa!” the black hooded kid shouted.

Eh? Y-you’re a girl?” Zid asked.

The girl cried further and tightened her grip to Zid’s neck.

“DO SOMETHING! YOU, IDIOT!” the girl yelled.

“W-wait I-I’m choking!”

“Kya! I’m sorry!” the girl said and lessened her grip, “Don’t you pass out!”

Zid laughed and said, “You’re so funny! Don’t worry, I’m in control.”

Zid saw the safest spot to land on. He waited for the right timing to launch his parachute.

“Prepare yourself! We’re going to land now!” Zid said and pulled his parachute.

“YAAAA!!!” the girl screamed badly.

“HOOOOO!” Zid added and laughed.

The two kids reached a secluded vacant lot at Perxis. The land there was so dry and unhealthy that only few grasses grew and withered. There were also a number of skinny trees crowned with few yellow-brownish leaves. One of the Barrier Towers that protected the whole Cygnus Zone was standing from afar. Though the Barrier was regulating well the temperature, the inhabitants still felt dry and hot.

Rescue operation success!” Zid yelled and raised his right hand.

The poor black hooded kid was barely standing. Her whole body was still shaking all over but it did not hinder her to carry out her revenge.

She hit Zid’s head so hard.

“Aw! What the?!” Zid exclaimed, “Is that how you thank me?!”

“Thank you for almost killing me!” the girl cried, “You could’ve killed us instantly with that crazy, powerful rocket shoes you have!”

Zid laughed and said, “Yeah! We were like fired cannonballs!”

The girl hit his head again and said, “I could’ve handled them myself!

“Hey! That’s twice already!” Zid yelled while rubbing his head.

They continued their nonsense argument when Zelimir finally appeared beside Zid.

“Excuse me? Are you two quarreling?” Zelimir asked and smiled.

OBVIO” the girl tried to yell back but Zid stopped her mouth quickly.

“Hehehe! No! We’re just getting to know each other!” Zid covered up.

“My friend is a certified peace addict so just ride on,” Zid whispered to her ear.

The girl nodded and removed Zid’s hand from her mouth.

His hand smelled poop! The girl thought angrily but she managed to hold her composure.

“Hi! I’m Zelimir, Zid’s friend. I assume you’re new here so welcome to Perxis!” the small kid said and smiled.

“Oh I’m” the girl started and paused after remembering to hide her identity, “Just call me ‘A’.”

Zid and Zelimir stared blankly to one another. Then Zelimir said, “Okay, A? You should come with us. It’s safer there in our place.”

“Okay but just wait for a while,” the girl replied.

She went away from them and asked her other shoulder bag buddy, “Ma-chi, what do you think of them?”

“They’re nice,” the shoulder bag replied.

“Wow, a shorter response than what I expected,” the girl said as she narrowed her eyes, “So it’s okay to have a detour to their place?”

“Yes,” Ma-chi replied, “I know you want to go there too.”

The girl smiled and heard Zid calling, “A?! Are you going or not?!”

“Coming!” A replied and ran excitedly toward them.

The growing population of Cygnus inhabitants hoarded mostly at the Central Crux along with the nearby cities of Ursa, Zerpens, Lynx and Vella. Perxis was the poorest city in the Cygnus Zone so few people were residing there. It was also the farthest place from the main city of the Central Crux so getting basic resources and engaging in trade imposed difficulty and danger to anyone who chose to live there.

But even so, most families like the Tacatas learned on how to survive and adapt well in that environment.

“We’re almost there!” Zid exclaimed while getting something from his back pack, “It’s good you have covering in your body now.”

The girl looked blankly at the two boys and asked, “Hey, don’t tell me we’re going in there?”

“EXACTLY!” Zid exclaimed happily after he completed covering his face.

“Your suit is thicker than ours,” Zelimir said and smiled, “So don’t worry. Just walk closely to us and you’ll be safe.”

“Let’s go!” Zid said and left first.

“Wait!” A exclaimed, “Can’t we check for another route?”

“That will expose us to greater risk and danger,” Zid said and continued, “Besides, the only entrance to our home lies inside this vast field of giant stinging grasses.”

“Okay fine! Let’s go!” the girl lost her patience and agreed half-heartedly.

The three kids entered the thick clusters of giant stinging grasses. Zid and Zelimir bent the tall grasses to make a way for the girl. The two released the grasses after A moved forward.

“Wow

“These grasses are rubber-like.”

A muttered after seeing the grasses returned to their previous positions,

Zid laughed and said proudly, “We planted them here for security purposes.”

“Heh? But they can still burn these or cut these if the intruders wanted,” she replied.

“That’s why we prepared several traps around here,” Zelimir continued politely.

“I see. That’s better then,” A said.

They reached a small vacant space with a manhole.

“Here’s the entrance!” Zid exclaimed as he opened the manhole.

A shivered silently in fear and excitement as she followed Zid. Zelimir was the last who went down to the entrance.

“They made it!” Cara exclaimed upon seeing Zid got out from the manhole inside their compound.

“So the hero survived?” Zaki said sarcastically.

Cara elbowed his big brother and found him turned skeptical. She followed Zaki’s eyes and learned the reason of his suspicion.

Why did you bring that kid here?” Zaki asked in the megaphone.

“She’s our new found friend,” Zid replied in their communication device, “Now draw the bridge out.”

“But she’s still a stranger to us,” Zaki added, “Have you forgotten the

“Don’t you trust me little brother?” Zid muttered in a more serious tone.

“Tch, just don’t blame things on me stupid big brother,” Zaki said and pulled down the red lever.

The girl stood in awe when the ground rumbled and shook in front of her. Two pairs of big steel posts popped up from the ground and shoot some small and big bits of soil. The kids covered their heads. Each standing post near them released two nylon ropes that attached to their opposite pair. Ticking sounds came that implied the ropes were locked completely to the posts. It then triggered to unhook the hanging curve chains one pair after another. After few seconds the whole bridge was all set.

A was still stunned for a moment when Zid went closely to her and said, “Ahem!”

Zelimir giggled beside them while A went back to her senses and asked, “H-how did you come up with this?”

Zid laughed as Zelimir explained, “Through Zid’s intellect and inventiveness.”

“Heh?” A reacted and she turned so annoyed after seeing Zid’s smile widened. She then added mockingly, “Why on earth did you build this?”

Zid started crossing the bridge when he turned back to her and said, “To avoid getting killed.”

“WHAT?!” A exclaimed.

Zelimir followed and said, “We planted several mines below.”

A dropped her jaw and exclaimed, “Why did you not tell me sooner!”

The two just laughed at her and continued on their way.

“Hey! Wait for me!” A exclaimed and followed the two nervously.

I can’t believe how they secured their place so much, A thought.

Zaki, Cara and Aine waited them at the opposite end of the bridge. A could feel Zaki’s sharp and heavy stare to her. She knew Ma-chi felt the same way she did.

“Okay! Safe!” Zid exclaimed.

A wanted to sigh but she couldn’t. The atmosphere between her and Zaki was getting hotter when the boy asked, “Why are you not revealing your face and name?”

Everyone sealed their attention to her. She did not know how to answer safely that crucial question. Beads of sweat trickled silently within her mask as she prepared herself for combat.

Now I think going here gets me nothing but regret! She screamed in her head.

“Hey! A!” Zid started, “Just don’t mind this filthy, suspicious younger brother of mine!”

Zid pushed Zaki’s forehead gently and added, “Stop acting so cool! It doesn’t suit you!”

“WHAT?!” Zaki exclaimed and tried to punch his older brother’s face.

“Kya! Stop you two!” Cara exclaimed.

“Excuse me?” Zelimir said and the two stopped fighting immediately.

A stood there motionless and continued observing them carefully. She then gasped after Zaki spoke again, “Just bring her at the Scrapyard!”

Zid wanted to object but Zelimir stopped him so he forced himself to agree with them.

“Don’t worry A, I’m gonna tour you inside our car house in your next visit,” Zid said and smiled to her.

The girl nodded and thanked Zid silently for his friendly and reassuring words and smile.

The kids went behind the car house and reached the said scrapyard. In there, Zid bragged to A all the useful things he invented. He showed her different kinds of scraps that they collected everyday with his siblings and friends. Zelimir just went with Zid’s flow while Cara and Zaki palmed their faces in shame and disappointment.

Zid thought A was fully listening to her but she was not. It was past one o’clock already and the girl was hungry and thirsty. Just then a robotic female voice came.

It was a one- legged, two and a half feet tall robot. Her fuchsia hair was in a loose variation of twintail only that the left bunch was curled up rigidly while the right was curled down. Her rigid twintail hair wiggled up and down as she continued spinning and jumping around along with the two bags in each hand and one big container of water in her head. Every time the robot moved the buzzing sounds of the small motor wheels in her right foot could be heard.

“Deita! Stop that or you’ll drop and spill our water!” Zaki yelled angrily.

The robot ignored the poor boy and instead she ran happily to hug Zid.

“Zidduuu!” the robot girl yelled as she reached and hugged the laughing Zid.

Ais smiled at Deita after she recognized Star’s way of calling her.

“Whoah! You’re more hyper today!” Zid exclaimed and laughed.

Cara and Zelimir thanked Deita for the job well done and they immediately gathered the four bags and the container of water. Aine went with them excitedly to the car house to prepare their delayed lunch.

Zid grabbed the opportunity to introduce Deita to A. But when Zid started to tell and explain everything to her, Zaki stopped him. A was disappointed silently. There were still several questions left unanswered like why was the robot looked so familiar to her. But she gave up those questions already. She did not want to worsen the headache she was already experiencing at that moment.

Just then Cara and Zelimir came with two plates of small breads and a pitcher of water. Aine finished already her lunch inside the car house and she fell asleep there.

“Yahoo! Lunch time!” Zid exclaimed and reached for a piece of bread and a glass of water.

This is their lunch?! The girl thought.

Cara came and interrupted her thoughts. But A got shocked further when the young girl also offered her a piece of bread and water.

“Eh? F-for me?” A asked.

Cara smiled sweetly and nodded. A was about to refuse the offer out of shyness when Zaki stood and said, “Cara?! What are you doing?! We must save that for Mama and Papa!”

A gasped and said, “Z-Zaki is right. Thanks for the offer but don’t worry I’m not hungry.”

“But I reserved for them already!” Cara answered angrily to Zaki.

“Tch, what a selfish brat you are, Zaki,” Zid said and took another piece of bread. He went to A and said, “Here, eat my bread.”

Zaki grinned at them and said, “So who’s playing cool here?”

“Shut up!” Zid shouted.

Zaki fell silent immediately.

Mixed emotions ruled over in A’s heart. She could not believe that he was still willing to give his part despite his desire to eat it.

A smiled within and said, “Thank you very much but you can also save that bread for tonight.”

“Hoh? Acting tough huh?” Zid mocked and drew the bread closer to A’s nose.

“What are you doing?!” A exclaimed while brushing Zid away. She smelled the bread’s delicious scent that made her stomach rumbled in front of everybody.

“See??!” Zid said and put the bread in A’s hands.

The rest except Zaki smiled at A.

A blushed further not only because of embarrassment but most of all because of that rare, warm feeling brought by friendship. At that moment, she found herself removed the mask she mostly cared for. Everybody looked stunned when they finally saw her blushing and coy face.

“I- I’m Aisha Lesaca,” she said while focusing on rubbing the fingernails of her two hands, “You can call me Ais.”

An awkward silence fell to them when Zid broke it with a laugh and said, “Now I get it! So it’s A for Ais!”

Everybody laughed at Zid’s simple realization except for Zaki who was submerged deeply in his thoughts.

Lesaca? I think I heard it somewhere…

Zaki looked intently at Ais but he could not find the answer to his question.

“Deita? Are you okay? Why are you shivering?” Cara asked.

“I don’t know actually,” the robot replied and her tremors stopped, “Oh! Now I’m okay!”

Cara laughed and Ais finished eating her lunch.

“Thank you so much,” Ais began timidly.

All of them except Zaki smiled to her.

But their smiles vanished when Ais continued innocently, “So Zid? How much do I owe you now?”

“What?” Zid asked.

Zaki stood excitedly after he realized something and said, “A hundred million Pierras!”

Zid and Cara went to Zaki and hit his head. The poor boy screamed in pain when Ais replied, “I j-just wanted to return the favor…”

“So you’re going to give money?” Zid asked seriously.

“Of course she would!” Zaki shouted while rubbing his head, “She’s a Lesaca and she’s rich! And we know that rich people always think about business!

Ais gulped while Zid, Cara and Zelimir stared blankly to each other. It was obvious that only Zaki recognized how valuable the reputation of the Lesacas was.

“Tch, hopeless idio” Zaki yelled but his older brother interrupted.

Zid exclaimed, “I don’t care if she’s the richest person in the whole Philandura! I don’t even care of what she thinks of us right now!”

Zid walked to her closer as he continued, “All I know is that she’s now a friend. Our friend.”

Ais could feel the tears forming in her eyes but she tried her best to hold them back. She did not expect those words from him.

Zid was already in front of Ais when he knocked her head gently and muttered, “Idiot. We know how to do business and we could’ve done it way back at the vacant lot.”

Ais stood perfectly still. The tears were pushing their way out in her eyes but she bit her lower lip to stop them.

“And friends… Only bring and share kindness to each other,” Zid said and smiled.

Ais felt everything around both of them turned bright white. Then all she could see was Zid standing with the purity of his heart brimming in his sparkling amber eyes. She could not take her gaze away from his angelic aura. His light consumed every shred of doubt, fear and stale pain within her.

What was left now to her heart was that she began to see and know why she went into that place.

“Wuaaaaahhhhhh!!!!” Ais cried.

“Oi! Ais?!” Zid panicked, “Did I say something wrong?!”

“Gyah! Zid! What have you done?! We’re doomed! The Lesacas will hunt us down now!” Zaki shouted as he ran back and forth.

“Yosh! There’s no point hiding now!” Ma-chi exclaimed and transformed in his true robot form. Cara, Zelimir and Deita stopped laughing and dropped their jaws, Zaki’s state looked more doomed and Zid and Zelimir were struck in awe after seeing that interesting and magnificent model of robot.

Ma-chi laughed and said, “You have such good friends here, Ais!”

Ais nodded and continued crying.

Little did Ais know that Zid already planted the seed of change within her. As they nourished their friendship together, its roots grew stronger and deeper and so was the seed of change.

April 25, 2211

“What took you so long?!” Ma-chi whispered and narrowed his eyes to the girl’s backpack, “And what’s with that bag?”

Ais smirked and ran ahead of him. Then she asked, “Did you get the control number?”

Of course and will you please slow down?! Or else…” Ma-chi was about to continue when someone appeared behind them.

“Where do you think you two are going?” Sky asked and locked his eyes to Ma-chi.

“Gya! S-s-Sky! Ahehehe, we’re just pla,”

“I’m going to meet my friends!” Ais interrupted Ma-chi and smiled widely.

Ma-chi palmed his face as Sky gasped and muttered, “But Miss Ais… Your father doesn’t

“Aissuuu!” Star appeared at Sky’s shoulder and continued, “Can I come?”

Ais looked at the robot girl sadly and said, “But the Cuby has only two seating capacities…”

“Aww… But it’s okay!” Star turned Sky’s head at his back and yelled, “Go Aissuu!”

“Hey! Star! What are you doing?!” Sky exclaimed while struggling to recover the position of his head.

Ais ran and exclaimed, “Thank you Star! Bye Sky!”

“Ma-chi! You know what I’ll do to you if something bad happens to Miss Aisha!” Sky exclaimed angrily.

“Don’t worry Sky!” Ma-chi replied, “Just do your best in covering us from Sir Edred!”

“Be safe Ais!!!” Star exclaimed happily.

The two reached Perxis quickly.

Ais went out from the Cuby and exclaimed, “The med you gave is effective!”

Ma-chi followed her and replied, “Yeah, coz last time, it was just so gross!”

Ais narrowed her eyes to the laughing robot who went ahead her.

The two continued walking happily despite the gloomy features of the city that day. It was a sunless morning. Thick dark, gray clouds hovered the skies. Fogs started to invade the cities of the Cygnus Zone. The true color of the Dusk Dwellers’ Dark Paradise surfaced at that time.

The two entered the Tacata’s premises. It looked as though no one was around at their home but Ais started calling them.

“Hello? Zid? It’s me, Ais!”

No one answered and went out. Ais tried calling again but still to no avail.

“I think, they’re up to somewhere,” Ma-chi muttered.

Ais looked disappointed as he called again, “Zid! Hey?! Are you there?!”

Just then the bridge started assembling itself. Ais sighed silently and crossed the bridge after it completed itself.

She reached the next end and she was shocked to see Deita, Zelimir, Zaki and Cara only.

“What are you doing here?” Zaki asked.

Zelimir tried to rebuke his friend’s younger brother when Zaki added seriously, “If you’re looking for Zid, just go back next week. He’s having a hard time now.”

Ais gasped when Cara left them crying. Zelimir diverted his gloomy eyes from Ais while Zaki continued looking steadily at her.

“What’s going on here?” Ais muttered, “Can somebody please tell me?”

“Our youngest sister, Aine…” Zaki said while tightening his voice, “Is dead.”

Her eyes widened. Ma-chi looked at her sadly and muttered, “Ais… Let’s go home… Zid’s needs space.”

“Dead? But she was…” Ais paused and continued, “Just doing well yesterday…”

“What do you know about her?!” Zaki yelled angrily, “If you really insist! Then see the tomb for yourself!”

Zaki barged angrily inside their car house. Ais felt so blank and weary. She wondered why every time she tried to be positive in her life; the opposite always turned her down.

“Ais,” Zelimir muttered sadly, “Please bring Zid back here. He’s not listening to us anymore.”

Ais went back to her senses and nodded.

Zelimir brought the girl and her robot to the second manhole located at the hidden corner of their scrapyard. That manhole would lead them outside just behind their premises.

Ais and Ma-chi thanked their friend and went down the manhole.

The two reached the said spot. Ais started walking. It was only then she felt the cold stinging touch of the still wind. The mists were getting thicker around them but she chose to continue on her way. Just then, she heard the sea waves. She doubled her pace and she reached the cliff and found Zid sitting in front of Aine’s tombstone.

She hid quickly behind the big tree and tried to compose herself. Her eyes widened when she realized that it would be her first time in comforting a broken-hearted friend. She hurriedly searched for words that would somehow alleviate the pain he was experiencing. But no right words came… For deep within her, she knew no words could ease that pain…

“What are you doing?” Ma-chi asked softly behind her, “I thought you wanted to see him.”

Ais clenched her fists silently when Zid stood and wiped his tears away.

When Ais was about to lift her foot, her eyes widened.

Zid used his invention that shot him so high and disappeared in the thick mists.

that shot him so high and disappeared in the thick mists. Digital radar appeared in his

Digital radar appeared in his eyes.

Ma-chi initiated his scanning ability and a glowing

The young girl waited nervously when the radar’s alarm sounded and startled her.

“He’s now approaching the city of Ursa,” Ma-chi said while zooming in the blinking yellow spot in his radar eyes, “It’s too far… But let’s try.”

Ais put on her goggles and climbed at Ma-chi’s back. Then they took off.

The two thanked silently the thick mists that hid them from the Cygnus Inhabitants.

“Hold tightly Ais,” Ma-chi said and yelled, “Accelerate!”

The two vanished in just a blink of the eye.

As the two entered the next city, Ma-chi shouted, “He’s going to land at that tallest building!”

“Why would he go in there?!” Ais asked.

When Zid reached the tallest building, the two were shocked to see him took off again.

“He’s actually aiming for Zerpens!” Ma-chi yelled and continued, “We cannot go there further! I’m running out of power now!”

Ma-chi was busy initiating the safety for their landing. They were already going in a zigzag direction when the robot noticed Ais took off a small black vessel from her back pack.

“Ais?! Don’t tell me you sneaked in your brother’s lab?!” Ma-chi asked angrily.

Ais opened the middle junction in Ma-chi’s back and inserted the black vessel.

“Tch, she’s ignoring me,” the robot muttered.

Ais smiled after she saw the black vessel displayed ‘Transfer Complete’. The robot lighted up as the power surged through his body.

“Let’s go!” Ais exclaimed.

“Roger that!” Ma-chi replied and flew.

Zerpens was the second desirable city in the Cygnus Zone. It was located at the east side of the Central Crux. Most people of Zerpens were known to be the most peace- loving among all but that to the extent of ignoring the needs of their fellows and being blind to all the injustices happening around them. They chose not to care because of their fear in losing the kind of peace they believed for.

But there were still a few who chose to live differently.

Ais watched several small, cubic, gray houses lined beside the silent, empty streets. Few street lights were lighted that made their morning more like midnight.

They were already at the far eastern part of Zerpens when Zid landed and walked toward a house that looked similarly with the others.

“We’ll walk from here,” Ma-chi muttered and landed.

Ais took off her goggles and put on her black hood. The two sneaked toward Zid who was now talking with an old man.

“You want to eavesdrop?” Ma-chi asked softly.

The girl ignored again her robot. She continued observing him when she heard Zid exclaimed, “Please, Granchaf!”

The tall, old man looked sadly at him and went inside his house. Then he returned and handed a white paper to Zid.

Ais saw her friend read the paper. Then he jumped and gave the old man a tight hug. He bid his goodbye to the old man while Ais sneaked closer to where he was. But before she could reach the desired spot, Zid took off again.

“Shucks!” the girl exclaimed and took out her goggles again, “Ma-chi!”

The robot sighed and said, “I wonder what that kid is really up to…”

The two flew and went again after Zid.

“Is he going home?” Ais asked.

“I bet he’s not,” Ma-chi said while analyzing calculations in Zid’s speed, “Coz he’s going back to the Central Crux!”

“What?!” Ais exclaimed.

Her eyes darkened with fear and concern for she knew that Zaros and his minions were waiting to hunt him down at Central Crux.

Zid trudged the southwest of Central Crux. No hint of emotion could be seen in his face. He walked steadily in the midst of that foul-smelling, dark passageway. The streets were crawling with people who lusted for money and earthly materials. A lot of them set their filthy eyes on the poor kid, Zid.

But he ignored them. He was too focused on reaching Dedenrev, the main scrapyard of the entire Cygnus Zone. It was where all dead things owned by Dawn Dwellers were discharged for the Dusk Dwellers to revive and make use of them again. That was how Dedenrev got its name.

“Hey kid,” one man called and grabbed his arm, “You can’t enter unless you pay us.”

Zid turned slowly to the three men who were grinning with each other. He knew that they were up to their monkey business.

He prepared himself for that. He took a bag of twenty silver coins from his pocket and threw it at them.

The hairy guys opened the bag and checked the coins. Zid grabbed that chance to move on.

While the other two men counted happily their own share, the other guy realized that the coins were fake.

“Get that boy! We’ve been tricked!” he exclaimed angrily.

Zid reached Dedenrev. He was hiding himself in a large bundle of plain sheets while observing the surroundings. As expected, a lot of people engaging in black markets were there. But for anyone like him who was desperate enough to survive the day; that was the only best place to take.

He continued scanning the surroundings and after few seconds he found his target. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists after seeing the laughing, greedy guy who always claimed Dedenrev as his own.

Zid took a long, deep breath and shouted, “Jaaaareeeeddddd!!!”

Jared’s smile vanished. He and all his minions looked together at the far left corner near the entrance.

They found Zid standing and holding with a long metal pipe in his right hand. Everyone locked their fiery eyes to Zid as they waited for the signal of their supreme boss.

“What are you all waiting for?” Jared muttered and grinned.

“Ziiiidddd!!!” Zaros exclaimed as he and his eight minions charged quickly toward him, “Die!”

He stood still. His eyes focused on his approaching enemies.

“Fools…” Zid muttered and used his rocket shoes to fire himself like a cannonball.

“Gyaaa!” Zaros and his minions shouted.

His rocket shoes released a strong, powerful pressure that moved the scraps of varied sizes, height and weight. They fell and covered Zaros’ group while Zid rocketed precisely to hit his other main target.

“N-not a-again

Zaros’ right hand muttered and fainted.

Zid travelled at an incredible speed toward Jared who looked shocked and intimidated.

There was no time to evade and think…

Jared received a fatal blow that sent him several yards away from Zid.

Zaros could not look at the wretched situation of his boss. The blood in his forehead oozed as he gritted angrily because he cannot move himself out to help his boss.

Jared felt few of his bones broke. He spat some blood and his face was already stained with cuts and bruises.

His attacker walked slowly toward him. Zid nailed his dark and empty eyes to him. A glint of burning hatred and killing intent could be seen in both corners of his dark eyeballs. Zid tightened the grip in his metal pipe as he started running toward him.

If I had done this earlier…. I could’ve saved her…… DAMN IT!

Jared smirked after he injected himself with a large dose of modified stimulants. A rushing sensation came to him that increased his mental and physical alertness. Vast amount of energy took over the pain he felt in his whole body.

Zid did not notice the sudden change in the enemy’s behavior. As he raised his pipe with his two hands to finish the lying tyrant, Jared spotted the opening in his stomach. He got back quickly to his feet and plunged the knife to Zid.

“Too slow,” Jared muttered as he pushed the knife deeper to him.

Zid’s eyes widened. He coughed some blood when Jared took out his knife from his stomach.

He collapsed in the ground. Zid was now bathing with his own blood.

“Do you really think you can take Dedenrev from me?!” Jared asked and added, “Zid?!”

Their situation reversed.

Jared was now standing in front of him, laughing insanely while he was there lying and catching his breath.

“Nice try Zid,” Jared muttered as he grinned and reached for Zid’s metal pipe.

Zid gazed at the dark, gray skies as he thought. The odds will always go against

me…

His vision became blurry when Jared raised slowly the long metal pipe he owned.

Too bad… I couldn’t take them down…

“Be grateful Zid,” Jared muttered, “You’ll die in your own weapon.”

What a worthless life I had…

Zid closed his eyes slowly while Jared started to smash his skull. But before he could lower Zid’s weapon, a big strong steel hit his back that sent him few meters away.

Two black-hooded kids appeared.

“Go now!” Ais ordered her robot.

It was the first time Ma-chi heard Ais gave a firm and serious order.

The robot nodded and carried the injured Zid.

“Don’t do reckless things!” Ma-chi yelled and flew.

“That kid,” Zaros muttered from afar, “can fly?!”

Jared tried to get up but Ais went quickly and landed several kicks to him.

“YOU WILL REGRET THIS!” Ais jumped on him and elbowed his head.

The young girl panted. She was using all her energy and strength to deal damage on her thirteen year old enemy, Jared.

Just then she heard him laughing at the same time coughing with blood.

Ais got irritated and pulled Zid’s metal pipe from his bloody hands.

“I’m going to shut that foul mouth!” Ais yelled and raised the metal pipe, “Yah!”

Jared caught and squeezed her two hands.

The metal pipe fell down while she screamed in pain.

“Whoah! What a girly voice you have!” Jared exclaimed as he squeezed her hands further, “I love it! Shout more!”

The long silent audience of Dedenrev shouted and started cheering for Jared.

“Ais!” Ma-chi yelled after hearing the voice of the crowd. He looked at Zid and muttered, “I’m sorry Zid!”

He brought Zid with him and they went back to Dedenrev.

Ais felt her wrist bones could break at any moment. Her oppressor laughed some more.

“So Zid’s girlfriend came to rescue him, eh?” Jared teased, “I’m just wondering why you have to hide your face?”

Before Jared could lift the mask in her face, a young man taller than Jared appeared behind him.

“Let go of her,” he whispered.

Jared shivered and said, “No I’m

He gave Jared a harder blow in the face that threw him in the ground.

“Tch, Eleck,” Jared muttered as he spewed out some of his molars.

Ais muttered, “T-thank you.”

Eleck did not reply when someone called out, “A!”

The young girl cried in relief and frustration after seeing her robot came to her.

Jared got up and said, “Why every time I got to finish an opponent, someone always showed up and get beaten?”

“Bring that girl and escape,” Eleck said with his eyes still fixed at Jared.

Ma-chi nodded and carried Ais. He thanked their rescuer and fled off.

“Tch, this time, I’m gonna finish you for sure!” Jared said and attacked him.

Ma-chi took another black vessel to power up again. On their way, Ais asked Ma-chi to contact Sky. She asked him to send two best robot doctors at Perxis.

Sky gasped and asked about their situation but Ais yelled at him on the phone, “We need to save my friend!”

Sky paused briefly and said, “Okay, but please tell me that you’re okay Miss Aisha.”

Her eyes widened and muttered, “Yes, I’m okay. I’m sorry for yelling at you.”

Sky sighed in great relief and said, “We’ll send them right away.”

Zelimir and Deita were waiting on the deck of the car house. Their faces looked so sad and worried. Their expression changed dramatically after seeing Ma-chi carrying Ais and the bloody, unconscious Zid.

Just then, two robot doctors landed and checked their patients. They opened their brief cases which started assembling as medical facilities.

“Miss Aisha, we have to treat you first,” one robot doctor said.

“No! Treat Zid first!” Ais yelled angrily.

“B-but?” the other said.

“JUST DO WHAT I’M ORDERING YOU!”

Ma-chi gasped. He could not blame Ais. That moment seemed familiar to him. He could not figure when but he knew that Ais could not risk losing a friend… again?

“W-what happened to Zid?” Zelimir asked panting.

Ma-chi went back to his senses while the two robot doctors started their medical operation to Zid.

“Zil, Deita, don’t worry… Zid will be okay,” Ais said trying to conceal her fear.

“What’s going on here?!” Zaki said, “What happened to him?!”

“I found this in his pocket,” Ma-chi said as he handed to him a blood-stained paper.

Cara looked at it and covered quickly her mouth to stop herself from crying loud.

Zaki’s tears started to form in his eyes when he muttered, “That idiot!”

It was the same paper Zid asked from the old man at Zerpens. It indicated three kinds of products, each specifying the volume of order needed.

Zaki gritted his teeth while Cara started crying loudly.

Zelimir muttered sadly, “You really love doing things on your own…”

“Zid…” Deita mumbled sadly.

Several hours left them a cold, dark, silent evening. None of them tried to eat or drink. They just wanted one thing…

They clenched their fists as they imagined how hard it could be…

Fighting for your life against death….

The door knob of the car house sounded and stirred everyone alive. Cold sweat rolled over their foreheads as one robot doctor came out.

No facial expression could be seen from the robot. But despite that fact, they tightened their grip to hope.

“He won…”

Everyone’s eyes widened. Cara went hurriedly toward the door.

“Let me see him!” Cara exclaimed.

“Not yet,” the robot replied, “He still needs rest.”

Cara agreed and went to Zaki who was crying silently in the corner.

The robot doctor went to Ais and treated her injuries. She then apologized for yelling at them earlier.

“I think, Miss Ais,” the robot said. “To have a good friend is one of the best treasures that you can have in life…”

Ais got shocked to his sudden insight and the robot laughed and said, “W-Well, I’ve got to understand it through your eyes…”

Ma-chi smiled silently while Ais asked, “Really? I wonder how my eyes looked like then.

The robot doctor and Ma-chi giggled. Then they stopped after seeing her frowned.

“You better rest now Miss Aisha,” the robot doctor said, “We’ll watch over your friend.”

Ais agreed and leaned her back in the wall. The robot doctor went back inside the car house. His fellow doctor approached him with their findings. They were shocked to see how fast Zid recovered.

“What are we worrying?” the previous robot doctor said, “It’s good news.”

“B-But, it’s beyond a human can

The robot doctor stopped his fellow and said, “We’re just here to treat him.”

The other doctor bowed and apologized.

Ais was waking up from time to time. She checked her watch and saw that it was already past three o’clock in the morning. She got up slowly and went inside the car house to check Zid.

She gasped. Zid was no longer in his bed.

No, not again! Ais thought and went out silently.

Ais decided to look first at the cliff.

She went out from the manhole and the cold wind passed through her. She shivered but upon gazing at the skies, she was struck in awe. The stories she heard were true that the glowing transparent green barrier could only be seen in wee hours.

Few clouds appeared on that day and Ais was fortunate enough to see the stars clearly.

The rare beauty of Perxis mesmerized her fully until she heard the splashing waves of the sea. It brought her back to her senses that she was already behind her friend.

As the sound of the waves continued their rhythm, the cold morning wind danced accordingly and pulled her hair over her face. Ais gathered her hair and held it. It was then she noticed how the next wind played gently in Zid’s bluish black hair. She smiled and let her hair go again… She closed her eyes and extended her arms. Then a strong feeling of freedom and relaxation engulfed her.

Zid noticed that someone was behind him so he turned his head slowly.

“Ais?”

She panicked and said while rubbing the fingernails of her two hands, “Z-Zid! It’s c- cold here! We sh-should go back there now!”

Ais blushed after remembering how she looked dumb in front of him. But even so, she tried her best to fake a smile. As she expected, it did not ease the atmosphere.

She saw Zid’s hair overshadowed his eyes. She wanted to comfort him but she was afraid that she would only make it worse again.

“Do dreams come true?” Zid asked sadly.

Her eyes widened. The wind blew harder when she went forward and sat beside him.

She closed her eyes and offered a short prayer to Aine’s soul. Then she gazed at the distance and replied, “It depends upon the dreamer.”

“Then…” Zid muttered, “I’m not a good dreamer after all…”

She looked sadly at him who was now bowing his head, trying to stop his tears from flowing.

“I’ve laid my dreams for my family,” he said while controlling the firmness in his voice, “But now… One’s lost.”

Ais could also feel the tears stinging in her eyes when Zid cried, “Because I was too weak and slow in reaching those dreams!”

She clenched her fists silently. She felt bad because she was only staring at the unfathomed agony of her friend.

Had she knew them earlier, perhaps they could’ve saved Aine’s life… But she was too slow and afraid to venture the darker side of Philandura. Ais cried silently. She badly wanted to help him.

“If this reality will always come and stole each

“YOU HAVE TO PROTECT THEM!” Ais finally shouted in tears.

Zid got shocked while his tears continued flowing from his eyes.

“I know and feel you’re the kind of person who does things on your own… But please… Let me help you in reaching your dreams for them!”

Zid gasped while Ais wiped her tears and continued, “We’re friends right?”

His eyes widened as he thought. I’m sorry Aine. Working my dreams on my own was not enough… And it feels so sad and plain…

Ais was now crying loudly like a baby.

But now, it’s different.

Zid smiled when Ais met his eyes and blushed.

I’ve shared those dreams with a friend…

“Hey! What are you smiling at?!” Ais said and frowned as she wiped her tears away.

I hope someday you’ll see me reach those dreams for each one of you…

Zid stood and Ais exclaimed, “Don’t ignore me!”

Zid laughed and yelled, “I’ll be the future King of Philandura!”

Ais got shocked while Zid continued, “I’m gonna give all the comforts to my family and to every dusk dweller!”

Her mouth opened slightly. A smile curved in her face then she giggled.

“Ais?! What’s so funny? You think it’s impossible?!” Zid exclaimed, “I thought you’re going to support me!”

“I just never expected you to shout like that! Idiot!” Ais yelled back.

“Oh, I see!” Zid said and laughed.

Ais smiled and thought, Family… I have one… But I wonder when will I experience the true meaning of it…

May 1, 2211

Ais was standing at the balcony of their mansion. The bright, lively morning of the Dawn Dwellers’ Paradise illuminated the surroundings but it did not reach the depths of her heart.

She looked sadly at her communication device. But she couldn’t do what her heart was telling her.

A gentle breeze came to comfort her but she walked away. She shut the door behind her and went back to her room.

She walked wearily across the hall. She then wondered why the Lesaca’s Vertex was built that large when only one person was living there. It only emphasized her loneliness.

She sighed and smiled when she remembered how Zid’s family cared and loved each other. They may be deprived materially but they were so rich when it came to love.

You’re lucky Zid. It’s true that your parents are always from work but still they’re doing their best to go home and see you… You and your siblings always fight even in some trivial matters but the bond you shared was exceptional. That is why you have to treasure and protect each one of them

And as for me?

She glided expertly at the handrail of the swirly staircase.

I’m not yet giving up on them!

Ma-chi did not see her approaching so Ais bumped him into the floor.

“Wow,” Ma-chi muttered as he checked himself for any damage, “What a deadly morning.

Ais laughed and later Ma-chi joined her.

“So? Let’s go and meet them at Dedenrev!”

The two went out from the Cuby. Then she remembered the first time she arrived at that place. She smiled and ran toward Ma-chi.

“So did you call them?” Ma-chi asked casually.

“Nah,” Ais replied and knocked the robot’s head.

“Aw?!” Ma-chi exclaimed and chased her, “What’s that for?!”

“Just because!” Ais replied and left the robot behind.

The young girl felt free and happy as she ran and jumped for any obstacles that blocked her way. Ma-chi felt the same way as she did. He smiled warmly after seeing her eyes sparkled. Ma-chi followed her gaze and saw Deita waving her hands to them.

“Ai!” Zid went quickly to the female robot and covered her mouth.

“Deita, call her A…” Zid whispered.

The robot gasped and apologized.

Eleck was sitting and observing them from afar. He wondered why the two black hooded kids had to hide their identities.

As if one of them heard his thoughts, a black hooded kid came toward him. But it did not alter his monotonous facial expression.

“H-hello Mr. Eleck!” Ais said while rubbing the fingernails of her two hands, “T-Thank you so much for saving us.”

Eleck said nothing and continued gazing deeply at her. She panicked silently when she stepped backward and realized what she had to give him.

“Please accept this as our way of gratitude,” Ais said shakily and put the paper bag beside him.

Before she left, Eleck asked softly, “What are you doing here, Dawn Dweller?”

Ais gasped as a gush of wind passed through them.

She paused and muttered, “I want to enjoy the light I found here…”

Eleck saw her jumped and ran away toward her friends. Three birds flew back and stayed at the top of his head.

I see… Eleck thought. So you’ve come to see that light amidst the dark paradise this place has shown you…

He smiled only in his mind. Then he opened the paper bag filled with foods and drinks. He took a bread and broke it into halves. He crushed the other half and gave the bread crumbs to the three hungry, chirping birds.

As he ate his share, he thought. I hope Jared… you’ll find that light too…

“We’re so lucky that Eleck is here to protect us!” Cara exclaimed happily.

Deita nodded and said, “He defeated Jared so the bad guys are now afraid of going here!”

While everyone was rejoicing, Zid muttered, “Someday, I’m gonna ask him to teach me so that my fighting skills will further improve!”

“Keh! As if you already have that innate fighting ability,” Zaki muttered.

“WHAT DID YOU SAY?!” Zid yelled and chased him angrily.

Zelimir smiled and said, “Shall we get to our business now? Zid? Zaki?”

The two stopped immediately and started working. Ais came to them and joined their work.

Just then, someone behind them was calling Zelimir.

“Eh? Don’t tell me?” Zelimir muttered.

Before he could turn around, a girl jumped and hugged him from the back.

“Zeeliimiirrrrr!!!” the girl exclaimed happily and kissed him in his cheeks.

Ais dropped her jaw and whispered, “I-Is that his girlfriend?”

Zid and Zaki narrowed their eyes and shook their heads.

“That is his avid admirer,” Zid murmured.

“Y-Yoko,” Zelimir said blushing and struggling to keep his balance.

The girl in his back was still hugging him more when she finally noticed two black hooded kids.