Bayani’s fingers moved quickly like a spider dancing on its web. The twelve strings of the bandurria were gossamer and delicate, vibrating in unison to the folksy beat directed by the hands that played them. The music wove its way through the air breathing life into the crowd of children, who clapped and danced. It was the Festival of Light and even the street children had something to celebrate.
Bayani had wide eyes and an upturned mouth as he played his music. This was his favorite festival of the year and he loved to put on a good show. He’d lived on the streets of Portallis all his life and looked after others. He was a father figure to many – orphans for the most part.
Bayani Adey was a young man of only eighteen years. He had dark black hair, and was big for a Portalline, which he owed to his mixed blood. He was only partly indigenous and the rest he wasn’t sure.
A crowd of children had gathered to watch Tinikling, a traditional folk dance involving four children – two pole drummers and two dancers. The two pole drummers were a girl and a boy, not more than fifteen years in age. They sat on the ground clasping opposite ends of a pair of twelve foot bamboo poles. They held the two poles in parallel to one another with a foot in between the poles. Each drummer had one hand on each of the poles. The pair drummed the poles against the ground in rapid percussive beats to the rhythm of Bayani’s rondalla music, while the audience clapped synchronously. After each beat, the children raised the poles a couple inches off the ground before beating them down again. Meanwhile, another pair of children, Kalaw and Yasay, danced in-between the moving sticks.
What made the performance interesting was that on every fourth beat, the two poles were clapped together instead of to the ground. This meant that Kalaw and Yasay had to jump out of the way and to the side or their ankles would be hit by the moving bamboo.
Bayani had practiced with these children for hours to perfect their performance. They wanted to put on a good show for their friends on this important festival. The real skill came in Kalaw and Yasay, who danced together. They had to not only avoid the bamboo poles coming together on every fourth beat but they also had to ensure that their steps and arm movements were synchronous.
So far they were performing marvelously. Kalaw and Yasay were dancing in circles around one another. Kalaw periodically reached his arms around Yasay to swing her, keeping his footsteps aligned cadence of moving sticks.
Bayani increased the tempo of his music. Time to give them a challenge. He strummed his fingers faster to the same tune. The audience matched Bayani’s tempo with their claps as did the children holding the poles. For Kalaw and Yasay, the steps of their dance increased. Bayani could see Kalaw’s face redden. Yasay perspired, soaking her shirt.
The audience roared with excitement. Bayani looked into their eyes. Not a single street kid in the audience blinked as their eyes were locked onto Kalaw and Yasa, dancing in the midst of the moving poles. Bayani’s fingers danced across his bandurria, never missing a string.
How long could Kalaw and Yasay keep this up? Only one way to find out.
Bayani slowed his music to a drawl. It was slower than at the start. Kalaw looked up at Bayani with a single upturned eyebrow.
Bayani smirked. He switched his tune to The Dancing Mongoose, his favorite. This song had a more challenging cadence; it was faster than the previous and required the children holding the poles to bring them together on every third beat rather than on every fourth. In addition, on every ninth beat the pole drummers raised the poles into a standing ‘X’ shape. Kalaw and Yasay had to be standing over opposite poles when this happened in order to avoid the rising sticks.
Children laughed and smiled at the pivot in the music. Bayani loved this feeling. These children were his family. All the family he ever knew growing up on the streets of Portallis.
He again raised the beat bringing the performance to its climax. Kalaw and Yasay’s steps were perfect. Sweat poured down their faces as the sun beat down overhead. Their feet were like clouds, moving so fast that Bayani could not follow them.
Bayani pulled down with his right hand across the tremulous strings of the bandurria, shifting the keys with his left. He imagined the mongoose depicted in the song as it battled its mortal enemy, the black cobra. The cobra lunged as Bayani strummed the strong chords on his instrument and the mongoose parried to the tune of the lighter chords. This continued for several iterations, faster and faster.
The music climaxed and Bayani brought it to an abrupt paused. The only silence in the song. He finished with single melancholic chord, signaling the end. The mongoose’ final strike, finishing off the venomous attacker.
The bamboo pole drummers stopped their beats. Kalaw and Yasay placed their hands on their knees and drew in deep breaths. Together, the four children stood up holding hands and bowed before the crowd. The street children whooped and hollered. This was the best performance in years. Yasay and Kalaw’s practice had paid off. Bayani beamed with pride at the performance of his two young pupils. Their best performance yet.
The audience’s roar was deafening. Children clapped and yelped, jumping up and down. Some even did cartwheels. It wasn’t every day they could see a show like that. Street kids couldn’t exactly afford to go to the fair. Even on a day like the Festival of Lights, the underprivileged were left out.
Bayani said “Great job Yasay. Same to you Kalaw. Your hard work paid off.”
“Thanks Bayani, I think I missed a few steps,” said Yasay. She was a girl of fourteen, and wore a red sash across her chest. She couldn’t afford the full traditional dress but this would do.
“You are the one who played well,” said Kalaw. “By the way, where’s your little brother Pin Pin? He usually is the first to tackle me after a performance.”
“Pin Pin? You’re right. He seems to have gone off. I’m sure he’s around somewhere.” Bayani’s stomach dropped. Pin Pin knew he wasn’t supposed to wander off. There were patrols everywhere on a day like today and he would be at risk of getting picked up.
Bayani closed his eyes and breathed in. His nerves settled and heart rate calmed. Where was Pin Pin? He could usually sense his brother’s presence. He didn’t exactly know how he did it but he just could. Maybe it was because his brother was one of the Walang Tao.
There. Bayani imagined Pin Pin and and recalled his scent. Not exactly a scent in the physical sense of the word, more like a mental perception of Pin Pin’s essence. Bayani saw. He opened his eyes and turned toward a a back alley road.
“Sorry guys, Pin Pin’s run off again. I gotta find him.”
“No problem boss,” said Yasay.
Bayani launched himself into a quick jogged off with his hands clenched. Pin Pin was only a child but he knew how dangerous it was for him to be running around, especially during the Festival of Lights. It was the one day of the year that the city was covered with Portallium orbs. These were Portallium crystals fashioned into spheres, giving them a melancholic, aesthetically pleasing appearance. The city was covered with them on the Festival of Lights. The whole city gave the impression of a starry night that descended to the earth itself.
Bayani could forgive his brother, who was only six, but the boy had to learn. Life wasn’t fair, especially for the Adey brothers. They had no parents and, to make matters worse Pin Pin was cursed. The Walang Tao had the opposite effect on Portallium as the adepts. Instead of chaneling Portallium, they cancelled it out. Anything or anyone that was bound with Portallium’s powers would automatically revert to a normal state when they were near Pin Pin.
The adepts hated the Walang. They hunted them. Anyone known to be a Walang was taken and never seen again. The ruling class of Portalllis couldn’t afford for a Walang Tao to wander near a rig or a lift or any of a number of contraptions that relied on Porallium to operate. It could mean an untimely death for a lift rider who found himself suddenly plummeting downward toward the ground. Very expensive equipment could be completely destroyed, people could be killed, wars could be lost. The ruling class had enough problems fending off the Adarans that they didn’t need to risk being accidentally being destroyed from within.
Bayani increased his pace, running past broken down, abandoned buildings and heaps of rubbish. The outer district of Portallis was a dumpster site inhabited by lowlifes, the disabled, the unwanted. It had once been a vibrant city center generations ago but that changed when the Rift was discovered. Then the ruling class moved to the peninsula, and made this area their garbage pit. Perfect for street kids.
Bayani’s mental awareness of Pin Pin’s presence increased. He was close, probably within a few hundred yards. He couldn’t quite find his brother? Bayani was going to be furious at his brother when he found him. How could he not realize the danger he was putting himself in?
Bayani saw a small figure in the distance in a fresh pile of dumped food. Pin Pin was skinny as any other kid on the street and had a dimpled smile. Like Bayani, Pin Pin had dark skin and black hair but was a little bigger than other natives given his mixed heritage.
As Bayani approached, Pin Pin looked up. “Come here Bayani, you have to see this,” Pin Pin said.
Bayani huffed as he ran, arriving at where his brother stood. He narrowed his eyes and scowled. “No, you come here Pin. You know better than to – “
Was that a whole lechon? The pile of food had fresh mangoes, hot rice porridge, sweet cakes, and an entire roasted lechon, or roasted pig. It must have been thrown out by a wealthy Mayaman, a wealthy Portalline who probably had dozens of leftovers from a recent feast. The slums made an excellent garbage pit. The rich didn’t have to bother dirtying their own backyard, and the poor would eagerly scavenge the scraps from the latest feast.
The boy hung his head. “I know, but Mongo ran first.” Pin Pin raised his head and displayed gigantic grin. “Look what he found!” Pin Pin jumped several times into the air pointing at the animal.
Eyes wide, the glands in the back of Bayani’s mouth throbbed as he stared at the food. Bayani’s hands loosened and his inner rage was dulled by the sheer excitement of the feast he saw before him.
Pin Pin’s small, furry pet mongoose sat gnawing on a piece of meat from uneaten, four foot long, roasted pig. “Mongo, you fantastic little furball. We can feed the whole neighborhood with this.” Bayani laughed aloud.
Bayani reached out and grabbed a chunk of meat with his right hand and a sweet cake in his left. Together, the two brothers scarfed down the food. Living on the streets of Portallis wasn’t easy so finding an entire lechon was the find of a lifetime for some street kids.
“I can’t believe Mongo found this,” said Pin Pin with food in his mouth. He continued to stuff himself. “Let’s tell Yasay, Kalaw and the others. They’ll be over the moon.”
“I don’t know how we’ll be able to run back with all this food in our stomachs Pin Pin,” Bayani said. “This is the best day of our lives.” He had in his hand a thigh bone and was chewing off a piece.
“That’s strange, Pin,” Bayani said. “That looks like the royal seal of House Alalay on these cakes.”
Pin Pin cocked an eyebrow. “You’re right. These must be straight from the royal palace.”
“Well, better for us then. We’ll live like princes.”
“This rice porridge is still hot. I want to eat it before it cools.”
Bayani scratched his head. “Still hot?” He dipped a finger in the porridge. It was in a clay pot that helped to provide insulation. It was indeed warm to the touch. Wouldn’t that mean that it was only recently placed here?
Bayani licked his finger. “Pin Pin, we should leave. The guards who dumped this here could still be -.”
“Hey, you there,” a voice called.
Bayani jerked his head. A guardsmen emerged from a nearby alley. The guard had no shirt but wore tattoos of snakes across his stomach and chest. He carried a long sphere and a satchel glowing with orbs.
“You’re welcome to this food. It is courtesy of Queen Tanicala herself.”
“Thank you sir,” Bayani said.
“Truth be told, I don’t know why she bothers. This food would be better off feeding our horses than your kind, but orders are orders.”
Bayani looked at the ground. If he didn’t make eye contact, perhaps the conversation would be quick. Pin Pin sat on the ground watching his brother and the guard.
“I’ve got these orbs I need to affix atop poles around the city. What do you say about giving me a hand? I’ll let you keep one if you do.”
“Um, I, um, I’ve got somewhere to be. We both do.”
The guard’s eyebrows turned in and he frowned. “I bet that’s more food than you’ve eaten in your life. Now, the least you could do help me set up some of these orbs.”
The guard lifted the bag of orbs as he spoke. The Portallium orbs gave a soft blue light that shone through the bag. Tentacles of light danced in the guard’s hand. The bag’s cyan glow shimmered and faded before his eyes. Eyes wide, the guard dropped his jaw. “You’re a -”
“Run little brother,” Bayani commanded.
Pin Pin leapt from behind Bayani and sprinted off in an escape. No one knew the ins and outs of the Outer District like a street kid, but he was only a child and needed time to get away.
The guard dropped his orbs and raised his spear over his shoulder. Bayani reacted instinctively, tackling the guardsman before he could throw his spear. The man was nearly the same size and build as Bayani but had much, much more training in hand-to-hand combat.
Bayani’s momentum carried him forward, his shoulder ramming into the man’s gut. They both tumbled to the ground. The spear clanged as it fell nearby. The guard reached his right arm to get a hold of Bayani’s neck but Bayani was too quick. He lurched out of the way.
The guard pulled out his Bolo knife from his right boot. Bayani’s heart skipped a beat. This was no longer a fair fight. He supposed he shouldn’t have expected it to be.
The guard sprung forward with his knife. Anticipating the guard’s attack, Bayani stepped to the side, like a mongoose dodging the fangs of a cobra. He grabbed the man’s outstretched knife-hand, twisting it. He forced the guard to drop the knife and turn his back to Bayani.
Bayani was surprised at himself. He had practiced fighting and had the occasional street skirmish but didn’t think his skills were this good. Bayani reached out to place the man in a headlock but the guard kicked. As Bayani dodged the attack, the man escaped and turned to face Bayani.
“You’re a quick one,” said the guard.
Bayani ran and tackled the guard again. This time he raised his head a smashed it into the man’s. The guard let out a yell and fainted.
Bayani’s own vision blurred. A sharp pain cut through his forehead from the headbutt. Next time, I’ll try a different tactic. Ouch!
Bayani stood up over the unconscious guard. He wobbled as he walked away, the blood still making its way back to his head.
As he walked back to his celebration, a club came down across his head and he blacked out.
End of draft.