178 The Little Guardian“s Purpose
When Max regained consciousness after being whisked off the Stella Tenebris's bridge, he found himself lying in a precarious position, barely a meter away from a ledge that dropped straight off of the flying city to the raging storm below.
His initial reaction was panic. He didn't know where he was, and he could not sense Zoey's presence anywhere nearby. Her calming aura was gone, and only now did he realize how important it had become to him. He tried to calm himself down, but it was as if his body would not listen to him at all. His breathing was rapid and he was sweating as if he was sick with a fever.
He was finally able to calm down after mimicking something his grandfather and Zoey both had taught him. He sat down in a meditation pose and started to control his breathing, focusing his mind and emptying it of all thoughts, and after a few minutes, his breathing was under control and the sweating had stopped.
"Eve, what was that just now?" He asked, still trying to control his breathing.
"The symptoms you experienced are most commonly associated with panic or anxiety attacks. It appears that the symptoms have largely subsided," came the reply.
A panic or anxiety attack? He had never heard of anything like that before, so after he calmed down some more he tried to use Eve's interface to search for some more information. However, Eve was unable to connect to the database due to the interference caused by the city, so he was unable to find out any more information. But even without Eve's knowledge, he knew that the reaction he had was somehow related to Zoey.
Ever since she had entered his life, he had become more and more attached to her. She meant more to him than anything else in his world, even more than his own grandfather! That may seem strange, but Zoey was the one that had saved him from the torment he had been trapped in after his mother's death. Not only that, she had reunited him with his grandfather, and given him a reason to live. Without even realizing it, he had become dependent on Zoey and her presence. Now that she wasn't with him, he was lost like a ship at sea with no navigator, and it was clearly affecting him.
So he was now in a strange place on his own, experiencing these mysterious 'attacks' that he never had before, and he had no idea what to do next.
Looking around, he seemed to be very close to the underside of the flying city, and in fact there was some kind of lift across a walkway not too far from him that seemed to go up into the bottom of the city.
He was plagued with indecision about if he should stay where he was, go up into the city, or go down to the hanging structures and towers below. Eve was unable to locate any other Eve signals, so he had no idea where Zoey and the others were. He was on some sort of balcony, and everywhere he looked was unfamiliar to him. Wherever he was, it was not anywhere near the place that the Stella Tenebris had been taken to.
He finally decided to go up into the city, hoping that the others would have the same goal. Perhaps inside the city he would be able to gather some information about where he was and where the others were. Zoey in particular was still in his thoughts, and every time he started to wonder if she was OK, he once again started to breath in rapid gasps and started to sweat like before. The only way he was able to stay calm was by keeping his mind off Zoey and focusing on his own situation.
Once he decided to go up to the city, he carefully made his way across the walkway to where the lift was, holding tightly onto the railings so as not to let the wind sweep him off and into the abyss below.
After struggling across the walkway, he took one last uncertain look around before getting in to the lift. It was a mechanical lift, not as advanced as the ones in the Stella Tenebris, but there was only one lever to control the lift so it wasn't hard to figure out what to do.
Max pulled the lever, and the doors closed with a clang as the lift groaned to life, the sound of mechanical gears rumbling behind the walls as it did. The lift clearly had not been used in a long time, so it was shaky and scary as it jerked and jittered its way up, but it eventually smoothed out until it was steady for the rest of the ride up.
It was a longer ride than Max had expected, but eventually the lift came to a stop with more mechanical noise filtering through the walls as it did so. Then, once everything settled and quieted down again, the lift doors slid open.
Max stepped out of the lift into an large, open area that seemed to be a crossroads of sorts. There were three hallways, wide ones with tall ceilings, one to each side and one to the front. The hallways were long too, and Max could not see their end as they stretched away from where he was.
The architecture was still the same as the hanging city below, but up here it was cleaner and colored with a copper finish that reflected the light. Compared to where he had come from, this place was relatively better maintained, but he could still see signs of age and disrepair.
Eve had still to find another signal for him, and he could not see any signs that anyone had come here before, so he decided to go straight ahead in hopes of finding someone that he knew. He headed off down the hallway, padding along silently as he carefully tuned his senses to the surroundings.
He walked for a long time before he started to find rooms and hallways that split away from the main hall he was in. The rooms were big, and most were piled high with machinery and boxes upon boxes of machine parts. From what he could gather, Max guessed that this area was some sort of storage for the city, but he had yet to find out what had stored all this stuff here and for what reason.
After an hour of walking, he entered into a large, circular room that had hallways splitting off from it in every direction. It was a hub of some sort, and in the room's center was a section of lifts leading presumably to the upper level.
As Max approached the lifts, his Eve suddenly chirped to life!
"Eve signal detected above," she said as he raised his hand to look at the bracelet.
Sure enough, on the next level above was an Eve signal, shining like a beacon. He had to get up there to see who it was! Without hesitation he ran to the lifts and got into one, pulling the lever to send it up. Whoever was up there was someone from the Stella Tenebris, and he did not want to be alone anymore.
The lift look a seemingly absurd time to get to the next level. To Max it seemed like it was moving at a snail's pace. Eventually, it came to a gear-grinding stop and the doors opened up with a clang. Then, Max's eyes widened as he finally saw what was waiting for him.
It was Zoey!
But something was wrong! Zoey was in some kind of cage, a mechanical frame with thick glass panes surrounded her body which was suspended in the air. When he saw how she was locked up, all Max could think of was that he had to get her out! Every thought in his mind converged into a single, blazing purpose, and he sprang into action.
He leapt from the lift, heading straight for the cage holding Zoey, intent on smashing it to pieces if he must to get her free. But just as he emerged from the lift like a bullet, he was suddenly grabbed by his neck and lifted into the air!
In the next moment, as time seemed to come to a stop, he was brought face to face with the man that had caused this entire mess; Cornelius Rellen! The noble's face was twisted in a maniacal mix of insanity and purpose, and Max knew that this man's intent here was none other than Zoey!
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It was purely by reaction that Max twisted his body and smashed both feet into Cornelius's face, sending the two of them flying in opposite directions from the impact.
Maybe Max really was strong, maybe Cornelius had been caught unaware by Max's strength, but he had surely not expected that a mere boy could send him rolling across the floor like a sack of grain with one kick!
As he furiously recovered and got back to his feet, his face stinging from the sudden attack, Cornelius looked up only to see the boy inches away from landing another double-kick to his face.
Max's grey eyes were burning like molten silver as he landed his second kick, sending the noble flying once again, this time with even more force than before. Max's mind was currently re-focused on a single, all-consuming thought, one that took complete precedent to everything else in his mind;