72 The Amber Cage
When Zoey came back to her senses, she was outside the pillar again. She would have liked to take stock in what changes her body had gone through, but she also wanted to go find Athena is case she needed help.
She decided to go find Athena first, and headed back through the cathedral. There was only one main path, so as long as she did not turn into any of the side paths she figured she would be ok. Soon enough, she could hear the sounds of battle through the corridors ahead. Readying her knife and applying Dark Star Control to it, she continued on to where the action was.
After a few more turns she peeked around a corner to find what she was looking for. Athena was there, facing off against the combined forces of the Sand Sharks and the Siren Vultures who had shown up. The two leaders, Loxon and Serena were coordinating attacks against Athena who was simply preventing them from continuing deeper into the cathedral. Oddly enough, on the far side of the battle area Zoey could see Doris and his group simply watching the fight. For some reason they had not joined in.
Athena on the other hand was handling herself admirably. Her staff had changed into a deadly looking, blueish-silver spear that she was using to defend and attack. The two attacking mercenary companies were using a combination of ranged attacks from the Sand Sharks, and magical attacks from the Siren Vultures. They seemed to have some kind of shield set up that prevented Athena from getting too close, and they were clearly trying to exhaust Athena with sheer volume of fire. Despite how many arrows and spells that she dodged and avoided, she couldn't do that forever.
Sure enough, it was only a moment after Zoey peeked around the corner when Athena got into trouble. She had jumped to the side to dodge a cluster of fireballs and had landed on a rune that had been covertly placed on the ground. As soon as the rune activated, Athena was locked in place by chains that sprang from the ground and wrapped her arms and legs, preventing her from moving.
"Do it now!" the leader of the Siren Vultures shrieked. Her mercenaries quickly produced what looked to be some kind of energy crystal, maybe they were Aether stones? The mercenaries placed the stones on the ground and did a quick chant, after which a golden cage formed around Athena who was still struggling with the chains, and completely stopped her from moving. The inside of the cage instantly filled up with what looked like golden amber, making Athena look like a museum piece frozen in time.
Zoey was surprised. She did not expect that the mercs would be able to capture Athena like that. Of course, Athena was fine. Even though she was trapped inside the cage, through the faint connection she and Zoey had, Zoey could tell that she was not in pain and not panicking in any way. If she had actually been in danger, Zoey would have acted already. Still, Zoey did not know what the mercs would do, so she pulled on her mask and waited for her chance to strike.
"Took you long enough," grumbled Loxon as he and Serena approached the trapped Athena.
"You do realize that spell cost the equivalent of an entire Rank 3 essence stone right?" replied Serena. "I expect full repayment, including the payment for her as well," she pointed at Athena.
"Yeah yeah, you'll get your money," Loxon huffed at Serena. He then placed his hand fondly on the cage as he looked at Athena, his anticipation clear on his face. "Don't worry dear. I will take good care of you. You'll have to stay in your cage for now while I gather the necessary items for the marriage, but it won't take long, I promise."
Serena watched him with a disgusted look on her face, then said, "Remember, the girl that was with her is mine. There was something... special about her."
"You could tell with that mask on her face? She's probably disfigured," Loxon replied absently as he gazed hungrilly at his prize.
"I have ways to fix that," replied Serena. I am more interested why Athena would care enough about her to block our path. There is also something else about her that I just can't put my finger on..."
There was a loud snort that interrupted the two leaders. Loxon and Serena turned to find Doris leading his troop past them into the cathedral.
As he stomped past he glared at them and said, "I hope you to are proud of using such filthy methods to beat her. I'm ashamed to be associated with the two of you!" He spat on the ground to make his point and stomped away.
Loxon sneered and raised his middle finger at Doris's back, "It doesn't matter how we win as long as we win, you muscle brained idiot!"
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Zoey jumped quietly to a support arch near the ceiling above her as the Doris and his Flame Scorpions passed below. She now knew why Doris had not joined in the fight. Seems like he was the only one of the three merc leaders that still had some semblance of honor left. Zoey's opinion of him improved a little thanks to that knowledge. After they passed, Zoey turned her attention back to the others. She needed to find a way to free Athena. She contemplated shooting the cage, but was not sure what would happen to her friend inside if she did. As she was thinking of what she could do, she got her answer from Serena talking to Loxon.
"Here is the controller for the cage," Serena said as she handed over a metal rod to Loxon. "It only works one way, so when you are ready, place the controller into the cage and it will open on command."
Loxon eagerly took the controller like it was some precious treasure and nodded in understanding. Zoey narrowed her eyes behind her mask as she saw the item. That was what she needed. Now all that was missing was the opportunity to strike...