174 Toll of the Bells
Cornelius Rellen, lord of the northern nobles, second in charge of the most powerful noble family in the north, and one of the strongest warriors in the north himself, was going insane.
His day had started fine. His armada had finally closed in and trapped the woman that was his key to the next Rank, the key to his future. Everything had been going well until that woman had defied him. He had meant to frighten her into submission, to take control of her and make her his own, but she had been playing him for a fool!
She had escaped from his grasp and he had ordered his armada to bombard the hole she was hiding in as a message. He had not been worried about her survival, because she was strong and as long as her body was intact he could get what he wanted. However, the events that followed had torn the foundations of his life down around him.
He had been a teenager when he had first been exposed to 'that'. His father had shown him something called Aethertech, a fusion of magic and technology that their society was not capable of producing. This Aethertech was one of the reasons that the Rellen family had been able to secure its position as the dominant noble family in the north.
His father had also told him of a city in the sky where this Aetherthech originated from, built and kept afloat by techniques that transcended comprehension, filled with uncountable secrets and vast amounts of knowledge and power. He was certain that his father knew more about this city and its secrets, but the information had been kept from him, locked away and inaccessible as long as his father was alive.
Learning about this Aethertech and city in the sky had changed his outlook on life. He had changed his goals, and focused on becoming strong enough to overthrow his father, to claim the apex of his family and finally unlock the secrets that his father held from him. Who would have known that the city would find him first?
That woman, she must be connected to the city and its secrets somehow. How else would she have access to such an incredible weapon? As he had watched his armada being dismantled and his sanity had started to slip from his grasp, he had become even more sure that the woman was related to the secrets of Aethertech and the mysterious city, and as a result had become even more determined to capture her, even if it meant using his sister as a means to do so.
When his armada had been completely destroyed and she finally appeared before him, his fragile state of mind had finally shattered. He had been left with no alternative but to free that demoness in human form that was his sister. But then the unthinkable happened.
His flagship had been shaken and the crystal prison holding his sister had shattered. For an instant he had thought that the woman had simply decided to destroy his flagship, but then a blue light pulled them into the sky.
It had been chaos, with crew panicking and trying to throw themselves overboard as the shattered prison crystal holding his sister bled its aura into the surroundings, causing even more terror among the crew. Lightning had struck the flagship, melting skin even in the deluge of rain, splintering the masts and gouging huge chunks of hull away with every strike as thunder bellowed around them like the drums of the gods themselves.
But despite all the chaos and destruction, they finally broke through the clouds, and Cornelius saw the sight that had been his goal since the day he had learned of its existence; the city in the sky! What miraculous set of circumstances had summoned the city he could not fathom, but it was as if a light had shone itself directly into his mind and illuminated his purpose once more. The woman and her dogs could wait. Once he had control of the city in his hands, he would deal with them. Oh yes, he would surely deal with them.
He had found the city, his promised land, and the secrets and power that it held would all belong to him alone!
Only… things didn't quite turn out the way he thought they would. In the chaos that had taken over the flagship, it was easy to miss the fact that they were getting closer to the city above them. The aura of terror that the prison crystal was emitting contributed to the chaos, and the lightning barrage the ship had been subjected to had not helped the situation.
The situation worsened as the Kreppelin was pulled into a large building and massive mechanical arms reached out and grabbed onto the airship, crunching through broken hull planks as if they were paper.
The chaos only stopped when every member of the crew suddenly had a white light surround them before they disappeared from where they were. Naturally the prison crystal and Cornelius were no exceptions and were whisked away by the light to unknown destinations along with the crew.
Markus Rellen was alone. The last 24 hours of his life had been one hell of a ride, one that he had never expected to have.
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He had witnessed Zoey, the woman who had spared his life, face his brother without batting an eye, something that he could not even dream of. Not only had she faced him, she had actually managed to walk away unharmed and enraged his older brother in the process!
Then he had been a spectator to possibly the most one sided Kreppelin battle in the history of Darren. He had guessed when he had been captured that he had been aboard a vessel of some kind, albeit a very advanced one made of metal and materials he had never seen before. But seeing the battle taking place through the magical display on the wall of the room he was locked into hammered home exactly how advanced and powerful Zoey's airship truly was.
Witnessing the battle had reinforced the mysteriousness of Markus's captor, leaving his mind full of even more questions about who she really was. She had a Harmonic Heritage, weapons that defied common sense, a mysterious origin that could not be tracked, and now a massive airship that could grind Kreppelins to dust and debris.
Of course Markus was curious about Zoey and the mystery around her, but he had lost the right to know, in fact, he never even had the right to know. His own hubris combined with his brother's influence on his life had taken that from him. Perhaps in another life, but not this one.
After the battle, Zoey had made a mistake. Instead of destroying his brother and his flagship with the overwhelming firepower of her own ship, she had stopped and went over to speak with Cornelius.
Markus thought it was asinine to do so. She should have killed him the instant she had the chance, preferably from the furthest distance possible. His brother was cruel, heartless, and if you allowed him even the tiniest advantage, he had the capability to turn any situation to his favor.
Markus knew this because for most of his life, his brother's control had been puppeteering his own thoughts and desires. Only after the control was gone was he able to actually identify what thoughts and desires were truly his own, and the realization had been life-altering.
He had panicked when he saw the state his brother was in and the blood red prison crystal that he held. If he cracked that crystal, they were all doomed! He had yelled at the display in futile desperation, hoping that Zoey would somehow hear his warning.
But in the end he had seen the crystal fall and break open just as the connection had ended. He had kept calling out desperately, trying to warn anyone who would listen, but nobody came to see him and the screen on his wall stayed dark.
Then while he was calling out in his desperation, he had suddenly been enveloped by a white light for a second before his vision went white, and everything faded away. When his vision returned, he was inside a building that looked like an ancient church, and he was still alone.
In the distance he could hear bells ringing, hundreds of them, and he could not shake the feeling that they had something to do with his arrival to this church. He had no idea where he was or how he had even got here, so he decided to leave the building to see if he could get his bearings.
When he stepped outside, he froze in place. There was only one path away from the church, a staircase leading up. Besides that, there was nothing except empty air kilometers above a storm of lightning and thunder that could still be heard in the distance. Above him was some sort of city, a massive one, suspended in the sky by unknown magics, a mind boggling sight that challenged his understanding of the world.
Where had the ship he had been on gone to? Where was Zoey and her crew? Was his brother here on the city as well? Oh gods! Was his sister here?! He had to find Zoey and warn her!
The only answers he received was the tolling of the bells echoing through the floating city's underbelly like an omen of ill fortune.