I just want to say to everyone how really, really, REALLY sorry i am for taking so long with this. I had a terrible case of writers block, which just about drove me crazy. but finally, here it is. Hope it was worth the wait.
Chapter 3: Hidden.
Parmon stood silently in front of the work bench in the team's tent. Laid out in front of him was a blue balance gear that had definitely seen much better days. The connecting rod was snapped, two of the weight pads were in pieces and half the outside was scorched. And that was just the visible outside damage. Artha stared over his friend's shoulder as he opened the gear and stared at the mess inside, but they both pulled back quickly when a few sparks flew.
"That sounds promising." Artha commented.
"Well, the pads and rod shouldn't be too difficult. The real challenge is the damage to the inner circuits. The capacitor board will need to be replaced while…"
Artha cut him off before he could start the techno talk. "Just do what you can. I'm confident you can get it working again."
Parmon nodded and reached for the tool cabinet. Artha left the tent and found Kaley standing nearby, rubbing Astrala's shoulder. Despite the mishap earlier, they both seemed to be alright.
Kaley looked up as Artha approached her. "sorry about the gear, Artha."
"It's not the worst that's ever happened. Just be thankful that this one wasn't accompanied by the regular bruises."
"Put that down to some quick thinking."
Artha didn't dispute that. He had been right behind them as they were coming out of that tight corner. The ramming ball had surprised both of them as it just missed Beau but hit the extended arm of the balance gear that Astrala was just about to deactivate. Both dragon and rider had felt the jolt but Kaley was first to see the sparks. Acting on impulse, Kaley had ejected the gear seconds before it had let off an impressive collection of sparks and bangs.
Kaley gave her dragon another gentle rub on her shoulder. "No long term damage. Seems like the gear took most of the impact."
Artha came up beside her and moved her hand aside. Kaley hoped he didn't notice her shiver, but he was more focused on Astrala.
"I don't think she's even going to have a bruise." Artha lowered his hand and turned to Kaley.
Astrala saw Beau across the ground with Cyrano and Wyldfyer. Needing a bit of a break from the humans, she gave Kaley a small nudge before moving off to join the others. Kaley just stared after her.
"What about you?"
Kaley took a few steps away from Artha before turning and answering. "Nothing so bad that I can actually feel it. But I'm not the one that was hit."
"You really care about Astrala."
"Is that unusual?" Kaley said suddenly and with a bit of an edge.
Artha held up his hand quickly, surprised at how defensive she had become. "No, I just mean, I've noticed how close you two are. It's really admirable."
Kaley's face softened and her gaze wandered over to the dragons. "She's the best friend I ever had. I don't know where I'd be without her." There was silence for a few moments. Artha was hoping Kaley might fill the gap. She did.
"I lost my parents years ago. It's just been me and her."
Kaley turned to face him. She had heard more than sympathy in his voice. Empathy. Understanding. Someone who knew the pain of such loss.
"You do what you need to." She said. There was more silence between them. Kaley looked away from Artha, hoping to hide the uncomfortable feeling that was growing inside her. But Artha noticed.
"Are you sure you're alright?"
Kaley looked back up, trying not to make her smile look to forced. "Yeah, probably just tired. I might grab Astrala and go."
"Do you have somewhere you can go?"
"Don't worry about us. I'll see you tomorrow."
Astrala was reluctant to leave, but she could always tell when Kaley was feeling uncomfortable. Saying goodbye to the others, she joined Kaley and the two of them left. Kaley could feel Artha's eyes following her the whole way.
Meanwhile, a few miles away, a group of four dragons slipped into the city.
Kaley sat in Astrala's saddle. Kitt and Artha were on either side of her. The three of them were waiting for the track starting gate to fall.
Since her first time on the track, Kaley had started to feel more confident with the races. And the fact that she was surrounded by friends made it a whole lot easier.
Moordryd came up on Kitt's other side and sneered at Kaley.
"Well, if it isn't the stable brats and the street girl." Kaley ignored him. "Good luck, you're going to need it here."
"Leave her alone, Paynn." Artha said firmly.
"It's ok, Artha." Kaley told him. "I can handle him."
"RACERS, ON YOUR MARK."
"you're going down, rookie."
"We'll see, city boy."
The starting horn blasted, the barrier fell and they were off.
Far below the track, four men in dark cloaks listened to the roar of the crowd above. One of them looked up, then over at the one of the others. He nodded and brought out a mag hammer.
Up on the track, Kaley was dodging Moordryd. He smirked at her and activated his blue star gear. Kaley quickly brought up her staff and hit them away.
"Not bad. But let's see how you dodge this."
Kaley heard the bang as the ramming ball was fired and came sailing towards them. She and Astrala had the same idea at the same moment. The ball was just five feet away when Kaley made her move, taking her feet out of the stirrups and sliding to the right side of the saddle, hanging so she was almost on the side of Astrala's head. Astrala had tilted her head slightly to the left to help Kaley remain balanced. As a result the ball flew straight over them and hit track railing, before bouncing straight back, flying over them again. Moordryd stared as the ball came rushing towards him. WHAM.
Kaley readjusted her position in the saddle and turned around to see Moordryd flat on his back.
She shook her head as she turned back. "Really," she said to Astrala, "Something's coming at you, you get out of the way. Is it really that hard."
Astrala was still laughing when they caught up to Artha and Kitt.
"Nice move." Artha called to her. Kaley winked at him.
Suddenly, Astrala pricked up her ears and growled.
"What is it, girl?" Kaley asked. Beau and Wyldfyer looked at Astrala.
*What's wrong?* Beau asked.
When Astrala answered, her voice was shaky. *something's not right.*
"Astrala?" Kaley sounded worried.
"What's wrong?" Kitt asked. Moordryd whizzed past them, but their minds weren't on the race right anymore.
"I don't know." Kaley replied. She reached out in front of her. "Hey, girl, what is…" but she stopped. Kaley had reached out her hand to touch Astrala's head. The minute she did, the track faded. She could hear crashing. She saw people fighting. Mag streams were flying. A voice, one she knew too well, calling to her. She quickly took her hand off. Artha and Kitt stared at her, worried.
"Kaley, are you ok?" Kaley looked at Kitt, but didn't answer. She had no idea what had just happened. But she suddenly got the same feeling as Astrala. Something was very wrong here. Parmon suddenly came up on Artha's com link.
"Artha. I'm getting a strange reading. It's a high concentration of black draconium, right below the track. But, it's unusual."
"What do you mean, unusual?"
Suddenly, the track shook. Kaley looked up and saw a loose sign in front of them. It broke free.
"Look out." the three of them steered their dragons away just as it feel.
"What is going on?" Kitt exclaimed. They entered the tunnel.
Below, the leader turned to the group member with the hammer.
"Do it." He ordered. The hammer guy magged up and smashed one of the track supports.
Astrala, Beau and Wyldfyer heard it.
*That doesn't sound good.* Wyldfyer said. The track behind them started to crack. Artha and Kaley looked back and saw it. Bits of the roof were falling, the walls cracked, huge chunks in the floor just fell away.
"GO!" everyone took off. Those who hadn't enter the tunnel stayed back. Everyone else hurried out. Kaley heard a yell and looked back to see Dorsull hanging through a crack in the floor of the tunnel, clammering to find a hand hold.
"We need to help him." she urged Astrala back into the tunnel. Highdyve was trying to help his rider, but he couldn't get to him. Kaley leaped off Astrala.
"Astrala, you get him to safety. I'll help Dorsull!"
Astrala nodded and urged Highdyve out of the tunnel. Highdyve hesitated.
*But what about…*
*My rider will help him.*
Dorsull looked up to see Kaley standing there, holding out her hand.
"Grab on, quick." he reached up and took her hand and she pulled him up. Once they were back on the track, he turned to thank her.
"No time. We need to go." The two of them hurried towards the tunnel exit. The racers were hurrying from the track as fast as they could. Kaley was a few feet away from the tunnel exit, which was only just holding, when a section of the track on her right exploded, bursting up like something had blasted it from below. The force threw both her and Dorsull to the ground. Dorsull hit the ground so hard he was knocked unconscious. Barely keeping it together herself, Kaley pulled Dorsull's arm over her shoulders and started dragging him. A thunderous creek made her look up, then she felt the ground jolt, and move down a few inches. Kaley slipped and the two of them went down hard.
Artha and Kitt had felt the ground shake under them and saw the flash inside the tunnel. Race officials and Dragon City Security were herding people off the track.
"Whoa, watch out!" Artha quickly pulled Kitt to the side as Astrala came bounding past them, heading for the wreckage, Beau right behind her. When they saw what had them going, Artha and Kitt quickly followed.
But the two of them ignore the DC officer's command, as well as the running behind them that followed. Astrala was only a few feet away from the tunnel when a huge crack appeared on the track in front of her.
*Astrala, the structure won't hold. It's going to fall.* Beau called to her.
The crack got bigger and the tunnel began to slip. Astrala activated her mag stream and wrapped it around one of the tunnel's still standing support beams. The falling structure stopped, but already it was still cracking. Astrala was straining hard. How long could she hold this? Would it be enough time for Kaley and the other rider to get out? If they could get out. What if they were hurt, or unconscious, of even…it was only then that she felt the structure was lighter somehow. Looking up, she saw 7 other mag streams had hold it. Beside her, Beau gave a roar that was answered by the other dragons.
Hundreds of human eyes were staring in wonder at the dragons working as one.
"Would you look at that!" someone yelled.
Artha didn't waste a moment. "Come on!" and he took off with Kitt, Wulph and three others behind him. Sliding to a halt just short of the crack, he called out.
Kaley yelled back. "I need help in here."
Outside Beau let out another roar. Kitt and Artha both knew what that meant.
"Get back." Artha pushed everyone away as Beau's mag stream blasted through the falling wreckage, clearing the view so they could see where they were. Before the dust had even cleared a blue stream was in and Kaley and Dorsull were being lifted out and clear of the tunnel. A second later, unable to hold much longer, mag streams were disengaged and the structure broke away. The crash shook the ground so much that many people lost their balance. Kaley's feet had barely touched the ground when she felt Dorsull's weight being lifted from her shoulders and someone else placing an arm around her waist.
When Marianis left the medic tent she was met by the Penn crew.
"Is Dorsull alright?"
"Minor concussion and a fractured rib or two." Marianis told them. "They're going to transport him to DC Hospital and keep him over night to be sure. But they're certain he'll be fully recovered soon."
Artha was sure he heard at least 3 relieved sighs. Marianis went straight up to him.
"How's your girl?"
"She's still in there. Didn't exactly go quietly."
As if she could tell that they were talking about her, the tent flap opened and Kaley came out.
"You didn't exactly give me much choice."
Artha acted like she hadn't said anything. "What did they say?"
"Nothing to be concerned about." Before Artha could reply she turned to Marianis. "How's Dorsull?"
Marianis smiled at her, "He's alright. I can't thank you enough."
"It was an instinctive reaction. I never like to leave anyone behind. I'd like to think anyone would have done the same."
"Well, if it wasn't for you, Dorsull wouldn't be here."
That may be truer than you realize.
Marianis notice Kaley's sudden withdrawal and placed a hand on her shoulder. Kaley looked up to see her warm smile.
"On behalf of the Dragon Fish, I want you too know that we are in your debt. Thank you."
Kaley smiled back, but Artha could see right through it. Kaley was off in another world. Before he could say anything Lance said what the others had been thinking.
"How did this happen?"
"They're still doing their preliminary examination of the track."
It was that moment that Khatah and Phistus arrived.
Khatah spoke before anyone asked. "They just finished. One of the main support columns collapsed. When it went down it smashed into the other one, which just sent the whole thing…" he flung his arm to the side indicating that it had gone like dominoes.
"Do they know why it went in the first place?" Kitt asked.
"Do they know what caused the blast?"
Artha explained about the flash they had seen that shook the ground. "Kaley, you were in there at the time, did you see what happened?"
"No, I was too concern with getting Dorsull and me out of there. I wasn't really paying attention." She immediately turned to Phistus. "So what's going to happen now?"
"DC Security and the Mid-City Racing committee are going to run a conjoined investigation into the cause."
"And how long will that take?"
"They don't know. But until they know exactly what happened all races are suspended and the whole area is off limits. They don't want to risk anyone else being hurt. How's Dorsull, by the way?"
Marianis smiled. "He's going to be fine, thanks to our fearless rookie racer."
Phistus and Khatah both turned to Kaley. "That was a really brave thing to do."
Kaley just nodded. "I'm just glad no one else was hurt. It could have been a lot worse from what I saw."
Even though you weren't paying attention. Artha was sure that Kaley was trying to avoid attention. So while everyone else was talking he pulled her aside. Once they were out of earshot Kaley waited for him to speak. Artha didn't really know how to say what was on his mind, so they just stood there for a minute.
Kaley broke first, "Well? Is there any particular reason for the cloak and dagger or did you...?"
"I want to know what happened on the track."
"I think we all would."
"I mean before the tremor, with you and Astrala."
"I couldn't tell you, it's never happened before."
Artha fought back his frustration. Kaley was deliberately dodging his questions.
"Look, I really want to go check on Astrala…"
"Kaley would you stop stone walling me!"
For the first time Kaley looked directly at him.
"You've been acting weird for ages."
"What are you basing that on?"
"What?" Artha couldn't help but notice that sudden change.
"Two weeks and suddenly you think you know everything about me."
"Hardly, you never give me a straight answer to anything." How did we get into this?
"Artha, I don't need you to monitor everything I do. I'm tired of everyone thinking I can't handle myself."
That took Artha completely by surprise. "I never said that."
Kaley looked away, to where Astrala stood slightly apart from the other dragons. Artha saw her hand go to the chain at her neck. He had never seen what was on that chain. Kaley took a deep breath and relaxed. "I'm sorry. Maybe I'm not as alright as I thought."
Artha just could not figure this girl out. But before he could say anything else Kitt, Parmon and Lance joined them.
"DC security wants to speak to everyone that was on the track."
Later that afternoon, the official announcement was made, suspending all races until further notice.
"How long do you think it's going to be?" Kitt asked.
"Who knows?" Parmon said. "This has never happened before. They have to be sure it's safe."
"I don't think this was an accident." Artha said.
"What do you mean?" Kitt asked him.
"Remember how the track shook before the collapse, like it was being hit?"
"And I did pick up that reading below the track." Parmon added.
"Speaking of which, what did you mean when you said the reading was unusual?"
Before Parmon could answer, however, Beau suddenly gave Artha an urgent nudge in the back, making him jumped.
"Whoa. Hey, what's up with you?" Beau just grunted. He sounded worried. "Beau, what is it?"
Parmon looked around, then turned to the others.
"Um, where's Kaley?"
They all looked around. Kaley and Astrala were gone.
"Wasn't she here just a moment ago?"
Artha didn't understand. Why would she just vanish? There was something strange going on. And they needed to find out what.
"Come on guys, let's go find them."