161 Flight of Duality
When Zoey finished with her outfit it was almost time. The stranger was getting close, less than a kilometer away at this point. Just to be safe she sent out an alert through Eve to have everyone stay in their housing until the situation stabilized. Taigen and his group along with Max would monitor the situation from the bridge while Zoey went up top with Viridi to greet their visitor.
The Stella Tenebris was lowered to be just below the swirling sea of clouds that sat below the rim of the sinkhole, appearing as only a faint shadow in the mist and fog. Zoey made one last check before climbing out onto the cruiser's hull, Viridi following her into the fog. Inside on the bridge, the others stared at the hologram that showed the approaching rider form one of the drones overhead. They would be able to follow the scene from here.
Outside in the swirling fog and mist, Zoey checked her gear one last time. She was of course wearing her new gear that she had put together, and she was pleased with her new look.
Her hooded poncho had been replaced by a new outer layer that was a black trench coat with wide lapels and a maroon colored inner liner. The coat came down to her knees and was split for a short way up in the back so not to hinder her movement. There were three buttons down the front and a belt as well that she could use to close it up if necessary, but for now she had left it open.
Underneath she wore a black V-neck buttonless blouse that was trimmed with maroon as well and wasn't too tight nor too loose on her. Her blouse was tucked into her pants which were black as well with a maroon sash tied around her waist. The pants were of a style that hugged her waist and hips but were loose and flexible around her legs to allow her freedom of movement.
Her shoes had been changed to a self-adjusting shoe that rose up past her ankle for protection and support. They were also black with maroon lining and allowed good contact with the ground without losing sensitivity at the same time.
She also had a new pair of gloves that could be set to fingerless or full finger mode thanks to the advanced materials and techniques used to make them. Actually, all of her new gear was made from highly specialized materials, and the fabric she used for most of it had been a brand new materiel that she had created herself only a few hours ago.
She called it Aetherstrand. It was basically strands of silk spun by her Moon Web Rune that was interlaced with nanofibers, making it incredibly resilient and strong. Not only that, since it was made from Moon Webbing, Zoey was able to manipulate it with her magic! This allowed her to implement her arrays and magic coding in ways that she hadn't been able to before!
One example of this was the gloves. With some clever code and a magic array imprinted into the fabric on a nano-sized scale, she was able to change the construction of her gloves with a thought! When she had discovered this she had brainstormed a number of ways to improve her defensive arrays and had come up with some fantastic new methods of applying her runes to her clothing.
Her Ice Armor Control Rune, Null Field Rune, Mittra Regen Rune, Moon Web Rune, and her Gravity Rune were all implemented in some way in her clothing to provide her with the advantages she needed in combat. Her other runes, the Ice Venom Rune and the Shadow Blade Rune had been applied to her upgraded Crystal Claw Bracer.
The bracer itself had been completely rebuilt with her Aether Engineer talent so it could handle the additional runes, and so it was more comfortable. It still covered her right forearm from wrist to elbow, but there was now only one metal strip along its length, and the leather had been replaced by hardened Aetherstrand.
This new materiel she had developed had plenty of room for improvement and had a wide variety of implementations as she had discovered by hardening it to form the bracer's shape. She had more ideas for other implementations, but it would take some time.
The last part of her kit to change had been her mask. She had thought long and hard about what she wanted to do with this mask, and in a moment of clarity, Zoey had decided that she would do away with it completely.
She had initially wanted the mask so her looks would not draw any attention, but that was when she was new to this world with no way of protecting herself. Now she was a Rank 5 magic user with a multitude of abilities and techniques.
Not only that, her mentality had changed as she spent more time here. Before she would had avoided any attention and ran from trouble as she did back in the city of Colten. Now, she wanted to confront her problems face to face, not from behind a mask.
However, she still wanted something to take the strain of the her Dark Star Vision when she used it. Her mask had been the medium till now, so she needed a replacement. So she had decided on some glasses. Not ordinary glasses of course, these were glasses made from incredibly strong glass that also happened to be programmable to a specific tint should she so desire. The frame was sleek and made from hardened Aetherstrand, and overall the glasses had a sleek profile that seemed to match the Stella Tenebris's profile.
Zoey snapped them open and put them on, running a quick test with her Dark Star Vision to check them. Everything felt great when she activated her technique, and Zoey felt that her visual acuity and perception had increased significantly when using her Dark Star Vision since her rank had increased. No doubt her other Dark Star techniques had also improved.
And with that she was just about ready to head up top. The stranger was approaching the sinkhole now and was only a short distance away. She turned to Viridi who had been patiently waiting for her, and suddenly froze. Viridi was different. She was bigger. Considerably bigger! Before she had stood up to Zoey's chest, but now she was taller that Zoey was! Also, her draconian features had become more pronounced and aggressive looking, with most of her fur being replaced by scales that resembled armor plates overlapping in a protective matrix.
Her head was nearly completely covered by the armored scales, and the row of spines along her backbone and down to her tail were longer and deadlier looking than before. The claws on her paws were no exception, their razor sharpness gleaming in the light.
Viridi had almost literally turned into an armored, draconian tank, and the scariest thing was that she had clearly retained her feline form and flexibility despite the armored scales. Zoey could tell that she was just as agile, if not more so than before. And that deadly, spiked tail had clearly retained its lethal power as well.
Zoey could barely fathom the change she saw. Only moments ago, Viridi had been inside the cruiser with no indication of this form to be seen! After a few minutes of conversing through their link, Zoey understood what had happened. It was a transformation that Viridi had unlocked upon reaching Rank 5 alongside her. She could change between this form and her smaller one at will, and had wanted to show Zoey this as a surprise.
Well, Zoey sure had been surprised alright, but Viridi wasn't done. As Zoey turned her attention back to the task at hand and tried to figure out the best way to get up to the rim of the sinkhole, Viridi morphed the spines on her back until they changed into plates that formed the perfect spot for Zoey to sit right behind Viridi's shoulders.
Zoey was stunned again until Viridi poked at her with her tail and told her to climb on. Shortly after, Zoey found herself sitting comfortably on Viridi's back. Another surprise was that Viridi could manipulate the shape of the plates to give Zoey a better seat that would help keep her in place during flight.
That's right, they were going to fly up to the rim. Zoey was connected to Viridi, so she knew what her companion was planning, and she was strangely at peace with it considering her seat high off the ground on Viridi's back.
Then Viridi brought out her wings, the shadows bending and twisting before Zoey's eyes to materialize the massive black wingspan that was nearly twice the length of Viridi's current form. Viridi stretched out her wings once they were fully formed, rippling the aetherial muscles, tendons, and feathers as she crouched in preparation for takeoff.
Zoey lowered herself and held on tight, but she couldn't keep an excited grin from her face as the anticipation built up. Viridi turned her head back to look at her, and Zoey swore the overgrown cat was grinning at her.
Then Viridi raised her wings high into the sky and with a powerful leap, she brought her wings down like a typhoon, the powerful combination launching them off the cruiser and up into the fog. The two of them emerged from the clouds hiding the Stella Tenebris like a shark breaching the waves, fog and mist trailing off of them like streamers as they rose up.
At the apex of the leap just as they were about to fall, Viridi snapped open her wings, and with several powerful strokes launched them further up and over the rim of the sinkhole. The wind was in their faces, the sky spotless and blue as ever above them, and for a moment Zoey and Viridi completely forgot everything else in the exhilaration of their first flight together.
They were linked to each other and could sense each other's joy and the feelings of absolute freedom that only flight could give. Their thoughts were as one through their link as Viridi's wings swept the sky and brought them higher.
But they could not remain in their happy little universe for long. Far below them, staring up in dumbfounded shock was the stranger. He was on the ground now, as his mount had panicked and bucked him off the moment Viridi's draconic shape had launched into the sky from inside the sinkhole.
From their position above the stranger, Zoey crouched low as Viridi folded one wing and went into a dive, dropping like a meteor towards the frozen stranger on the ground. On her friend's back Zoey narrowed her eyes as they dove towards their target.
It was time to get acquainted.